There Is No Cat

A huge orangupoid, which no man can conquer

Monday, March 31, 2003

Family loyalty gone mad

WNYC radio's Brian Lehrer had listeners send in photographs and text of their favorite protest signs. A lot of them are just terribly imaginative and wickedly funny. My favorite is the one that reads, "I love my dad too, but jeez"....

Posted at 7:34 PM
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Sunday, March 30, 2003

Following up the followup

Dorothea follows up on my post below, as well as one by Shelley Powers, in response to her post about why software doesn't work. Normally, I would just post this sort of thing in comments, but since Dorothea doesn't enable comments on her site, I'll post it here.

She posits that if she ran a company and was offered a choice between disruptive usability experts for a week and an embedded programmer for six months, she would choose the embedded programmer. I disagree, and here's why.

If I were running the company and you offered me someone for six months, I would turn it down. It would take me a good three months just to train that person to do the job correctly. It would be another three months before said person felt comfortable enough with the job to offer suggestions and enhancements. Now just as my newly-trained worker has reached the point where they can be truly useful to me, you're going to take him/her back? Hell no! I'd much rather hire someone I think will stay. The disruption caused by losing a trained worker will be much greater than having a couple of researchers here for a week.

Dorothea's comments about "talking to" people betray a lack of understanding of what such research involves. If you're thinking of focus groups, Dorothea, that's not what I'm talking about. The kind of research I'm talking about involves being minimally disruptive, and more observation than conversation, particularly in initial stages. Ideally, it's like cinéma verité documentary filmmaking (or direct cinema, as the Maysles Brothers called it), where the camera operator eventually blends into the background. When you just "talk to" people about what they do, you get a pretty superficial level of insight. People often misunderstand what they're actually doing, or have difficulty putting it into words. A trained observer can pick up things that even people with a strong sense of self-evaluation miss.

As for whether employing the embedded programmer/direct experience approach would result in better software, I would expect it would improve upon the cult of the programmer approach Dorothea mentions in her initial post, but then almost anything would be an improvement on that. Whether it would be better than software produced with the assistance of trained researchers, I'm not so sure. I think it would take an unusually empathetic programmer to take advantage of the embedding approach, and while I've known some who fit that description, I've also known plenty who wouldn't be capable of the kind of insights Dorothea expects. I'd be more inclined to place my bets on researchers, who specialize in teasing out the sort of information required, as being more likely to produce useful information on a consistent basis.

Posted at 8:31 PM
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How to make software work

Dorothea Salo discusses the cult of the programmer, an insular world where programmers never ever ever talk to the people who are supposed to use their programs before they create them. She comes to the remarkable insight that if you talk to the users, you wind up with better software.

<sigh> Usability people have been screaming about this for years. There are entire professions dedicated to studying users and communicating with them to help programmers create better software. Ethnographers and anthropologists have found new uses for their esoteric fields in corporate settings, sussing out the needs of users. Techniques such as contextual inquiry allow development teams to glean insights into the way users use their tools before programmers start programming. Usability tests help refocus efforts once programming has started by checking to see if the assumptions programmers have baked into their programs match the situation on the ground.

I don't mean to rag on Dorothea, but given all the ink expended on usability in recent years, I'm surprised she's not aware of all this. I know usability is a dirty word with a lot of people, but there are facets of the profession that really do provide a decent response to the problem Dorothea points out. Sadly, it's a response more often honored in the breach than the practice, often brought into the development process at the last minute to sprinkle usability dust over a product that's already pretty well fixed in form if it's used at all, rather than being involved from the beginning in shaping the direction of development.

Posted at 1:28 PM
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Saturday, March 29, 2003

Ex-moron

The St. Petersburg Times has an article about an intriguing musician named Sveta Kolibaba. She used to play accordion in a band called Three Morons (Tri Debila in Russian); the other two morons played guitar and tuba. Sounds right up my alley, yes? The link from the SPT article to her site wasn't working because of DNS problems (maybe tomorrow?), so I did a Google search on her and came across this interesting compilation (Russendisko) of Russian punk, ska, and rock bands released recently by one of my favorite German labels, Trikont (home of the incredible Alpine folk-punk band Attwenger, among others, as well of some truly incredible compilations like the one I was listening to earlier today of Czech-Mex polka music from Texas). And lucky me, one of the sample tracks they have on the page is Sveta's "Hey DJ". Catchy little tune. No accordion, though. I'd like to hear Three Morons. Pity their track wasn't one of the ones linked to as a sample on the Trikont site.

(See the lengths I go to to search out unusual music?)

Posted at 7:38 PM
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Just taking after the Commander in Chief

One of America's star soldiers in Iraq has gone missing....

Posted at 10:53 AM
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Thursday, March 27, 2003

It's not fair!

Shelley Powers wrote to her favorite local radio station complaining about their blatant pro-war bias in their programming. This sort of thing has been happening quite a bit, particularly in stations owned by Clear Channel. In the comments on her post, Kafkaesqui shows that the station is owned by Infinity Broadcasting.

Infinity is, of course, the second 800 pound gorilla of radio in the US, and Clear Channel's main competitor. The two of them form a duopoly that controls a huge percentage of all stations in the country, thanks to the near complete deregulation of broadcast media ownership a few years ago.

I haven't written to any of my local stations asking for unbiased coverage because I don't listen to most local radio, and haven't for years. I'm not interested in their superficial coverage of current affairs, and my taste in music is such that I don't listen to them for entertainment either. The one local station I listen to is an NPR affiliate, and they air mostly national coverage or programs from the BBC World Service, so writing the station wouldn't make any difference.

I tend to think that any particular station will inevitably have a bias of one sort or another, so I figure I'll get my media diversity by sampling a wide variety of media. I'll turn on my shortwave radio, for example, and listen to the BBC, but I'll also listen to Deutsche Welle from Germany, Radio France International, Radio Netherlands, Radio Australia, and even Radio Jordan, which was using music as a subtle form of commentary when I tuned in yesterday. (All these stations broadcast in English, incidentally.) I also read newspapers from around the world.

I'm not saying Shelley's wrong to hammer her local station; I think it's a great idea. I think the repealing of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 was a huge mistake, and that action is what has allowed broadcast media to lean so far in one direction or another without consequences. There's nothing in the law that says they have to be fair or balanced. To nobody's surprise, Fox has even argued that they are allowed to lie in their broadcasts with no consequences. With the absence of the Fairness Doctrine, a court agreed with them. Given all that, it's imperative to seek out as wide a variety of media and opinion as you can.

Posted at 9:10 AM
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Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Protest Records

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth has started a new "record label" devoted to songs protesting this week's war. They're not releasing actual records, but they are providing MP3s, freely downloadable and sharable. Names I've heard of who have songs available right now include Eugene Chadbourne, the Beastie Boys, and Cat Power. The New York Times reports that a bunch of other bands plan to release songs through Protest, including R.E.M., The Fugs, and Ian Mackaye.

Posted at 4:17 AM
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Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Kevin Sites now "blogging" for CNN?

A few days ago, many bloggers were upset that Kevin Sites, CNN correspondent in northern Iraq, had been asked by CNN to suspend his own weblog. It appears now that the reason may have been that CNN would rather have him write his blog-like impressions for CNN.com rather than his own site.

Posted at 1:57 PM
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Countermeasures

Looking at my log files this morning, I found a dramatic jump in accesses to one of my other sites. A quick pass through the files found that someone was incorporating a couple of graphics I have showing maps of the village where my grandmother was born into their page. When I looked at the page, I found well over a hundred maps ripped off in the same manner. I also found that all the surrounding text was in Chinese. (I'm not linking to the page because I don't want to stress all the other servers being ripped off, but it's on a site called www.mopsite.com. That domain is registered to someone at an address in China that I can't parse because it uses abbreviations I don't know: Mop, SSR77, CS,HN,China 410007. Maybe in Hunan?)

Needless to say, I don't need hundreds and hundreds of "visitors" who aren't actually visiting. So I opened up my .htaccess file and whipped up a little mod_rewrite magic to ensure that anyone who accesses my files from the offending site is instead served a little file I created some time back to deal with a similar situation (warning, probably not safe for work).

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://www.mopsite.com/.*$ [NC]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} ^/grandma/map.*$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^.* http://www.brandi.org/photos/eye_med_bad.jpeg [R=permanent]

Let's go through this line-by-line. The first line simply makes sure that mod_rewrite is turned on.

The second line sets the first condition that must be met for the URL to be rewritten. It looks at the HTTP_REFERER variable provided by Apache. If it matches any page on www.mopsite.com, the condition is met. The .* is what says any page can match. [NC] makes the match case-insensitive, since domain names are case-insensitive.

Rewrite conditions are ANDed unless specifically ORed, so the rule will only be applied if the second line is true AND the third line is true. The third line looks at the REQUEST_URI variable, which is the portion of the URL requested that does not include the host name. The offending site was ripping off two of my files, both of which are in the directory /grandma/ and both of which start with map. The .* tells the comparison to match no matter what follows map. I set this to be case-insensitive for no particular reason, but it doesn't hurt.

The fourth line creates the redirect to the nasty response if the two conditions are met, that is, if a request is made for my map images with a referer of www.mopsite.com. It says take any request (^.*) and replace it with a request to the URL of the nasty response. The [R=permanent] tells the server to send this with a code that tells browsers that this is not a temporary move, but a permanent one.

I checked the offending site after putting this in place, and sure enough, there's now a special message from me there. I'll probably leave the redirect in place for a week or two, then check the site again, and if they haven't removed the inline link to my images, I'll replace the fourth line with the following:

RewriteRule ^.* [F]

That tells the browser that access to the file is forbidden, with a 403 status code. That will save me more bandwidth than the solution above, which still sends out a small file (although it uses much less of my bandwidth than the map files do). I figure the bandwidth use for my message file is probably worth it for a little while to send my special message.

Now all I need to do is get the message translated into Chinese....

Posted at 9:27 AM
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Monday, March 24, 2003

Media Network(s)

My friend Andy at Radio Netherlands has started up a new blog devoted to covering interesting news about the media, provoked by the speed with which things are developing in the Iraq war. The name Media Network was used for a long-running radio program (originally about shortwave radio, later expanded to cover all media) that Andy contributed to that went off the air a few years ago. The name has lived on in a section of the Radio Netherlands web site that covers media news and serves as the successor to the much-loved radio program. But things are moving so fast and changing so quickly lately that if anything happened outside regular working hours, they couldn't update the site. Hence the new blog. Nice to see the classic name applied to it. (Found via a post by Richard Cuff to the swprograms mailing list.)

Incidentally, this blog shouldn't be confused with Lou Josephs' blog, which also has the same name. Lou has also been a contributor to the Radio Netherlands radio program and now web site for a long time, although his site doesn't have any official connection with the station.

Posted at 5:03 PM
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War junkies, get your fix

Now you don't have to wait for the networks to switch to pictures of Baghdad; the BBC is streaming live video from the city 24/7. They do note that the feed may be interrupted.

Posted at 11:55 AM
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Sunday, March 23, 2003

About the TV War

Former BBC war correspondent and former member of the UK parliament Martin Bell, a man who has seen more than his fair share of war, has an interesting article in The Independent on Sunday about the impact of television on the war and on people's reaction to it.

What television is showing us is something that we should already know, but need reminding of: that war is not a glorious, cost-free adventure. It is a nasty, bloody, dirty business of killing people and blowing things up. It can only ever be justified as a last resort.

...

"Embedding" journalists with military units, done partly to control them and to show them the realities of soldiering, has brought warfare home to us as no war has been brought home before. Much as we can admire the courage under fire of our soldiers, I doubt whether we have the stomach for it.

Much good may come of this. The television war will make the next real war much harder to justify. It will force us next time to go the full UN route. And it will make us more reluctant to go where the Americans wish to lead us.

We can only hope.

Posted at 10:33 PM
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Friday, March 21, 2003

Blather

In keeping with my general inclination to avoid television for everything but college football and major breaking news, I've been spending a lot of time in front of the tube the past couple of days. I'm not terribly impressed with what I've seen. I think the "embedding" of journalists with the forces was a masterful move by the military; thanks to this, we get endless pictures that signify nothing. Grainy green Fisher-Price Pixelvision shots of glows on the horizon, or maybe indeterminate lumps that may or may not be Our Correspondent. Endless speculation by former military leaders about whether or not it was really Saddam Hussein on television after the first attack. Cheerleading about how "we" are doing (no journalistic objectivity for us, thank you). It's really been at about the level I expected, which is to say, pretty bad.

Ultimately, I have to judge the progress of the war by what Dan Rather is wearing when he's on camera. I've long used The Dan Rather Sartorial Index as my measure of how important a story is. In normal times, he wears a suit and tie. For important stories, he will sometimes wear a sweater or a polo shirt, or maybe native Afghan dress. As the seriousness of the situation increases, his dress gets more casual. I've long felt that if the world were to come to an end, Rather would be there to tell us about it unshaven in boxer shorts and a guinea-tee. At the moment, he's still wearing a suit. So clearly, the story isn't important enough for me to bother watching.

Posted at 10:32 AM
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Thursday, March 20, 2003

Pope sends Dubya to Hell; Dubya thinks it's a sauna

The Pope says that Dubya is going to have to answer to God. But Dubya's not worried; according to Roger Ebert, he's already got his answer. (Pope story thanks to my loving fiancee; Ebert story via Curious Frog.)

Posted at 10:22 AM
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Next up: a ban on the word "irony"

Supreme Court hack Antonin Scalia was presented an award for his advocacy of free speech recently. Displaying a remarkable tone deafness, he insisted that the press be banned from his acceptance speech.

This is one of the people we rely on to protect our rights. No wonder we're losing them left and right (mostly right).

Posted at 9:48 AM
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Radio war

So it begins.

I know that shortwave radio sales have spiked upward in the runup to this. I'm listening to the radio right now. The US broadcasts a Arabic-language pop music station, Radio Sawa, to the Arabic world. Looking at their web site, it appears that they've separated out a stream specifically for Iraq, Radio Sawa Iraq. I'm listening to them on 9805 kHz shortwave, and they're mostly playing their usual mix of western and Arabic popular music as if nothing was happening. The Sawa web site does include a photo of what is presumably a US jet over Iraq, so they're not ignoring it completely, and a newscast did come on at 11:45 pm (0445 GMT, 7:45 AM in Baghdad). The newscast is running longer than their usual five minutes, too; right now it's been running for more than 25 minutes. At 12:10 am, I heard a US telephone operator's announcement mixed in telling someone to hang up and dial again, so they're having some problems with this on-the-fly reporting thing. I am hearing multiple bubble jammers in the background, so it appears that Iraq is attempting to block reception of the station. I don't know how well it's working in Iraq, but it is making it kind of annoying to listen to the station at times here in the eastern US. I would expect the jamming transmitters to be bombed off the air in the next few days. You can also listen to the station online; the Iraq feed is the second one on the right-side navigation bar.

In Afghanistan, the 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard aired extensive psyops radio programming which was well heard around the world. They're performing the same mission over Iraq at the moment. The frequencies to listen to on shortwave are 9715 kHz and 11292 kHz. I'm trying tonight but can't hear anything because the sunspot numbers are too low to allow frequencies that high to propagate to North America at this time of night. I'll probably try during the day tomorrow.

My friend Mika Mäkeläinen has put together an extensive page on his shortwave web site, DXing.info, listing as many of the relevant stations in the region as he can. A lot of the stations broadcast on the AM broadcast band and are extremely unlikely to be heard in North America. There are plenty of stations that can be, however.

There are two stations aimed at keeping invading forces informed and entertained. British Forces Broadcasting Service has been widely heard in North America. Their schedule is available on Mika's page. American Forces Radio and Television Service has some relatively low-powered transmissions in single sideband mode, which is a pain to listen to on the kind of relatively inexpensive shortwave radios most people would be likely to have or buy. I haven't tried to listen to them. They mostly re-air domestic US programming in any case.

Radio Netherlands has a long history of closely following news related to international and clandestine broadcasts, particularly those on shortwave. They've put together a lengthy dossier on media in and around Iraq, which is updated regularly. They've got an interesting report on Radio Tikrit, which is apparently a "black clandestine" aimed at sowing confusion and dissension among Iraqis. One thing that's not included in Radio Netherlands' report is the discovery by Egyptian DXer Tarek Zeidan that one of the announcers on Radio Tikrit also appeared as one of the announcers on Information Radio, the radio run by the 193rd Special Operations Wing. Whoops!

I haven't seen any reports of anyone hearing the Iraqi state radio on shortwave recently. In the past, they've been audible sporadically on 11787 kHz. That's a frequency that might bear watching.

Posted at 12:22 AM
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Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Writer's Block

Every time I sit down and try to write something about The War, it comes out sounding like crap. Either that or it just refuses to come out at all. I've heard all the claptrap over the years about how artists do their best work when they're depressed, but I can't seem to create anything about The War. As the world situation gets more serious, I find myself taking refuge in stories about talking fish and flying sheep skulls. In past wars, I would spend my time listening to the BBC World Service on my shortwave radio. This time, I seek out things like Radio Tanzania Zanzibar, who play great music and who speak in Swahili, which I can't understand. This is an odd situation for a long time news junkie like me to be in. I dunno, maybe it's that I'm getting married in a matter of weeks and I don't want to think about anything that could place a pall over that.

I don't like what's happening to my country. I loathe the people responsible for that. But I don't see that there's anything I can do. Even my vote doesn't count any more. Posting incensed articles to my blog about the whole mess seems pointless too.

So I think I'll just keep reading silly articles and trying to escape from the nightmare that is the daily news, and working on the wedding, and listening to people talk in languages I don't understand. At least I know why I don't understand them; I can't figure out why I don't understand what comes out of Washington.

Posted at 3:06 AM
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Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Get it while you can

A friend of mine pointed me toward Illegal Art, an interesting site set up by Carrie McLaren, who has long published a zine called Stay Free that I've been reading for years. The site has some amazing stuff on it that I haven't seen in years, like the Binky slaps the Trix Rabbit cover of Bunnyhop Magazine, and Wally Wood's Disneyland Memorial Orgy poster, as well as some things I thought I would never see, like DVD-quality versions of Todd Haynes' Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story and Brian Springer's Spin, a compilation of "wild feed" satellite video from the 1992 Presidential campaign used to devastating effect (Larry King comes off particularly badly here). Fascinating stuff; there are so many potential lawsuits waiting to happen here it's not funny. Interesting that the site is supported by, among others, Brewster Kahle's Internet Archive and Rick Prelinger's amazing Prelinger Archives, which is devoted to preserving our heritage of corporate propaganda.

Posted at 8:54 AM
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I'll tell my mother on you

Jonathan Delacour has a lengthy piece on war, much of which is devoted to an exploration of the song Boo Hoo. I know this song well; it was on one of my favorite records when I was a kid, an album of mediocre sitcom actor and professional fussbudget Tony Randall singing hits of the 1920s and 30s. It also had such great tunes as Byrd, Oh What a Bird You Are, ("Over the North and the South Pole you flew / If there were East and West poles, you'd conquer them too") and "Winchester Cathedral" Now I'm going to have to dig up the tape of it my mom made for me a few years ago.

I don't expect anyone outside my immediate family will be interested in this, mind you....

Posted at 3:49 AM
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Monday, March 17, 2003

Paranoid Chant

I try to work and I keep thinking of World War III
I try to talk to girls and I keep thinking of World War III
The goddamned six o'clock news makes sure I keep thinking of World War III
I got a mile of numbers and a ton of stats
Of warheads
A billion Chinese with warheads
I don't even worry about crime any more
So many goddamned scared faces
I keep thinking of Russia, of Russia
Paranoid, stuck on overdrive
Paranoid, scared shitless

- Mike Watt

Posted at 8:48 PM
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Sunday, March 16, 2003

My, it's drafty in here

If your name is Howard Dean and you're running for president and you've discovered the incredible power of weblogs and have started your own, perhaps it's not the best idea to host your blog on ad-supported Blogspot....

Howard Dean's campaign blog displaying an ad for the Draft Gore web site

At the very least, guys, upgrade to Blogger Pro so you can nuke the ads....

Posted at 8:04 AM
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Eat a pizza

The man who could have been King of Italy returned to the country yesterday amid protests highlighting the divide between northern and southern Italy. Normally, I wouldn't bother pointing something like this out, but I found something interesting toward the end of the article. Vittorio Emmanuele of the House of Savoy visited Naples, the city where he was born. Among the trivial details of his plans while he's there, listed toward the end of the article, I found that he will:

[E]at a pizza at Brandi's in Via Thiaia where the pizza Margherita was invented - named in honour of his 19th-century forbear, Queen Margherita.

Huzzah!

(Yes, I was previously aware of the pizzeria. It's just amusing to see it mentioned in a newspaper.)

Posted at 7:21 AM
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Our lax media (or is that lox media?)

I've finally concluded that in order to get the full story, a completely unbiased view of world events, or even those in the US, you simply must read news sites from overseas (or listen to news from international radio stations, as I've long done on my shortwave radio). For example, why haven't I seen in any US media this story about a fish in New York who spoke Hebrew to the men who were trying to butcher it, telling them that the end is near and they should study the Torah? Instead, we get fluff about impending war. Sheesh!

Posted at 6:59 AM
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Thursday, March 13, 2003

And when you kick out those jams, make sure you're wearing Levi's Vintage Jeans

Detroit-based 1960s revolution rockers the MC5 are being shepherded around a press tour of the UK by PR flacks from Levis, who are selling a limited edition MC5 t-shirt. Honestly, I never cease to be amazed at what can be co-opted in the service of commerce. Next thing you know, they'll be exhuming the corpse of G. G. Allin to sell Hummers or something.

Posted at 12:41 PM
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My monitor is famous

I spent this past weekend in Pennsylvania at a gathering of shortwave radio listeners, the NASWA Winter SWL Fest. This year's get-together was particularly interesting, as there was a demonstration of digital shortwave radio, arranged by my friend Kim. I was impressed by the sound quality you could get out of a 10 kHz shortwave signal, very unlike the (outdated, in any case) stereotype of the crackly, unlistenable mess. So was the reporter from MSNBC who showed up. The user experience needs some work, but they've got time; the first commercial radios that users might use are still about a year and a half away.

I brought a PC along this year for the demo, but it didn't work for some reason, baffling the guys doing the demo. Oh well. At least they were able to use the monitor I brought. Hey, that's my monitor sitting next to the laptop computer on the MSNBC site! (Thanks to Jilly Dybka for posting about this article to the Fest mailing list.)

Posted at 2:45 AM
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Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Acid Soup for the Soul

Bill Moyers talks to New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges about the nature of war and its corrosive effect on the soul. Hedges was a self-described war junkie for many years, never feeling quite so alive as when he was in a war zone with the adrenaline pumping. At some point, he apparently realized what had happened to him and stopped. He makes the point quite clearly that people who have been through war hate war in a way that nobody else quite can. He also says that war destroys what is good within us and in our society. I think that's the thing that bothers me the most about our headlong rush to war; we as Americans are becoming that which we claim to despise. In the name of preserving our liberties, we discard them. We had to destroy the village to save the village. In attacking others for their sins, we destroy what makes us worthy.

Hedges was with the Marines in Gulf War I, and he says they hated the rah-rah cheerleaderish media like CNN. It may provide decent ratings, but such behavior betrays a total lack of understanding of what war is like and what it does.

I suppose as a result it should be no surprise that our war-mongering Resident should have such a spotty, appalling military record that included a year spent AWOL from his Reserve unit at the height of the Vietnam War. A true leader with experience of the genuine article would be more hesitant and more aware of the consequences. But then, nobody ever accused Dubya of self-awareness. (Link found via Stavros the Wonder Chicken.)

Posted at 9:17 AM
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Now they use Mercedes

The Zil, preferred limousine of Stalinist dictators everywhere, is on its last tires, according to the BBC. I actually saw one of these when I was in Prague in 1993. It was freaking huge. It's amazing to see how few of these were assembled even when business was good.

Posted at 8:44 AM
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Tuesday, March 11, 2003

When pigs sheep fly

A fan of a Norwegian rock band had his skull fractured by a flying sheep's head at a recent concert:

"My relationship to sheep is a bit ambivalent now," Hagen said.

"I like them, but not when they come flying through the air.

The band offered the poor guy tickets to another concert, presumably one that doesn't feature sheep butchering.

No word on whether the sheep pictured in the story is the one that flew through the air.

Posted at 10:10 PM
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Thursday, March 6, 2003

Revisiting the dim and distant past

Kottke points to a site that's asking for examples of early web culture. Lord help me, the first thing I thought of was Mahir, the Turkish "I Kiss You" guy. After drawing a blank for a couple of minutes, things started coming to me. There was Glenn Davis' Cool Site of the Day; that was hugely popular. There was another guy who had a hilarious site that ripped apart terrible sites (and no, it wasn't Vincent Flanders' stuff, great though that is). I wish I could remember the name of the site; all I remember was that it was hosted by a company out of Baltimore that I looked at when I was originally looking for a web host, run by Jim Jagielski on A/UX boxes. I remember submitting something to him and getting a reply that he didn't link to sites that used frames because not everyone could see them; that would place it at a time when Netscape was the only browser that supported frames. Um, what else? Travels with Samantha was something everyone looked at early on. Robert Toups got a lot of attention with Babes on the Web. I remember sitting next to Toups during a session at Internet World in Boston in about 1995 as whoever was on whatever panel we were watching started discussing his site.

I'm sure if I had more time today I could come up with some more. Maybe you can.

Posted at 12:40 PM
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Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Global Sound

The Smithsonian Institute is working on a web site to highlight archival recordings of indigenous music from around the world. One of their partners is the International Library of African Music, headquartered in South Africa, holders of the recordings made throughout Africa by legendary ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey from the 1920s to the 1970s. These recordings are invaluable; very few other people were interested in recording this music at the time, and it's largely disappeared today. A few ILAM recordings have been sporadically available over the years, notably on a few releases put out by the now-defunct Original Music label, and more recently on the Dutch SWP Records label, but they haven't been easy to find. I've got most of the Original Music CDs, and they're absolutely wonderful. The ILAM has been trying to digitize their holdings for a while; it's nice to see an organization like the Smithsonian get behind the effort. It appears that one of the things the new site is going to do is make the recordings available in MP3 format. The Smithsonian's Global Sound site isn't quite open yet, but I'm positively salivating over the prospect.

Posted at 8:24 AM
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Monday, March 3, 2003

You work sixteen tons and what do you get?

I am once again looking for work. The company I've been contracting to got evicted from its development office this afternoon for non-payment of rent. That goes right along with the non-payment of direct employees they've been doing for a couple of months and the non-payment of contractors since late last year. I suppose it's possible that the long-promised money that's has been "coming tomorrow" for the past month might actually show up tomorrow and I might have a job there, but I'm not holding my breath. The place has been shedding employees for weeks, with four leaving last week. That's a pretty big hit for a fifteen person company.

So anyway, if you need a webmaster or web designer/developer in New Jersey, let me know at the address at the bottom of the page or the one on my resume page. I wouldn't be uninterested in technical writing gigs, either.

Posted at 4:22 PM
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Sunday, March 2, 2003

Hell is other drivers

Jean-Paul Sartre for Dodge Dartre. I can't add anything to that.

Posted at 10:18 PM
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Saturday, March 1, 2003

Good radio

The Observer has a lengthy list of Good Stuff available on radio in the UK. Most of it doesn't make much difference to someone in New Jersey like me, but there are actually a few people and shows mentioned that I try to listen to even from this distance, particularly now that the BBC offers some of its programs on demand. For example, BBC Radio 4's Home Truths. The article cites the program's producer, Rebecca Armstrong, but the public voice of the program is the much beloved John Peel, who has a wonderful way of interviewing people. All those years as a DJ; who knew? The program is basically just people telling stories to John. It works incredibly well. As I've said before, radio is a great way to tell stories. I love this one from this week's program about a couple who had been shacked up for over 20 years who decided to finally get married. Now I don't feel so bad about being engaged for more than six years. :-)

Verity Sharp is a presenter of Late Junction on BBC Radio 3, one of a number of programs on Radio 3 focused on world music, a relatively recent addition for a channel normally focused on fine arts and classical music. There's some neat stuff available on the Radio 3 site. I particularly like the "World on Your Street" features that highlight musicians from around the world who now live and ply their trade in the UK.

Last but not least is Lyse Doucet, who reports for the BBC World Service. I was actually interviewed by Ms. Doucet a couple of years ago when the World Service decided to stop broadcasting to North America on shortwave. I was deeply involved in a (failed) campaign to convince them not to stop broadcasting. The producer I talked to in preparing for the interview warned me that Doucet was a tough interviewer who didn't throw cream puffs to interviewees. But I thought she gave me every chance to state my case for why the BBC was making a serious mistake, and I thought the eventual piece that aired didn't distort what I said. I wasn't crazy about them then bringing on the head of the World Service to ooze condescension over everything I said, but no matter, journalistic fairness dictates that they give the other side as well. Anyway, I think Lyse Doucet is one of the best things about the BBC World Service, or at least she was when I still listened to it. Nice to see that The Observer thinks so too.

Posted at 11:17 PM
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This site is copyright © 2002-2017, Ralph Brandi. (E-mail address removed due to virus proliferation.)

What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


There used to be a cat

[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

Mischief, 1988 - December 20, 2003

[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

Sylvester (the Dorito Fiend), who died at Thanksgiving, 2000.


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