There Is No Cat

The alternative to flowers!

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

One, two, three, four

Liz Lawley suggests counting our blessings as the year comes to an end. Normally, as a year exits, I'm cursing on its way out, particularly with the kind of years I had in 2001 and 2002. But 2003 turned out to be probably the best year of my life. I'm hoping 2004 builds on the great things that happened this year rather than being steps backward like 2001 and 2002 were. So here goes.

I started out the year unmarried. Not that that made a significant difference, since my fiancee and I were utterly committed to each other and had been together for a long time. Still, 2003 was the year we finally got married, six and a half short years after I first asked her. Of all the things and people in my life, I am most grateful for the lovely woman who agreed to be my wife. Those rotten years would have been unbearable without her; the good ones like the one just ending are even better with her.

Getting married meant gaining an extra set of parents. And that played a big part in the second huge change in my life this year. Early in the year, Laura said she wanted to buy a house this year. I was a lot less eager; I wanted to wait a year or two until we could put together the down payment. But late in the year, an opportunity came our way that was just too good to pass up; my dad got a job in Florida, and my folks needed to sell the house I grew up in. When we looked at the numbers, we realized that, contrary to everything I had always expected, we actually could afford it. And the timing was such that we would be buying the house just as the lease on the house we were renting was coming up. It was just too perfect; we had to do it. But it took a lot of help from both sets of parents to make sure it could happen. I am extremely grateful for two such wonderful sets of parents, and for the opportunity to buy a house that I've always loved.

As 2003 opened, my job situation was tenuous. I was working as an "independent contractor" for a small start-up of dubious provenance. The "independent contractor" is in quotes because I didn't want to work that way, but it was the only way they would hire me so they wouldn't be responsible for paying my taxes. They didn't pay much, but even that was too much for them; getting paid was a constant struggle. They still owe me for two months of work, money I don't expect to ever see. As the year opened, the company was falling apart, and the job ended at the beginning of March when we were kicked out of our office for non-payment of rent. Because I was officially self-employed, I wasn't eligible for unemployment insurance, just another way in which that company screwed me over. There was a lot that I liked about the startup experience, but dealing with the people who ran the company and getting them to live up to their commitments wasn't one of them. I spent March and April working on the wedding rather than looking for work, and not getting paid, of course. A couple of weeks after we got back from the (brief) honeymoon, I got a call from a contract house looking for someone to fill a job that I was perfectly suited for. In fact, I dare say there was nobody in the world better qualified than me; the job was doing almost exactly what I was doing before I was laid off in December, 2001, for the same company. Needless to say, I got the job. The timing couldn't have been better, the fit was good, and most importantly, they actually pay me good money, on time. Seven months into a three month assignment, I'm still there. In a year when too many of my friends who left my former employer by layoff or buyout are still on the beach and the economy is still in the dumps, I'm grateful to have a good paying, reasonably stable job.

The year just ending has felt like a series of projects. The wedding was a big project that I felt at times just might not come off. I did a lot of the work on the invitations myself, and a couple of miscues on my part meant they didn't go out as early as I had wanted. There were a hundred and one things to do, and when you're trying to pull the whole thing together, sometimes it feels like if one falls through the cracks then everything will fall apart. I don't know if anything did fall through the cracks, but the day itself was just magical, everything we hoped it would be. Friends and family of ours came from all over, and it was just really neat to have them all in one place, friends from different "compartments" of our lives, mixing and talking and making friends with each other. My brother gave an amazing, wonderful toast. A lot of our guests brought their kids, which added a whole other dimension and gave our photographers something else to focus on. We got some spectacular photos. The day was amazingly relaxed, something I never expected a wedding to be and something we were definitely aiming for. The whole weekend was just amazing, something I'll never forget. I'm grateful for the wonderful friends and family who were there to share it with us.

I turned 40 this year. At the time, I posted a half-joking acknowledgement of that here, but as the year has progressed, I find that I'm honestly very happy to be 40 years old. I love the sense of perspective that the passage of time has given me. I find it much easier to understand things, why things happen and that sort of thing, than I did when I was in my 20s. I like being 40. I'm grateful to be 40, to be happy to be 40, and for the sense of, dare I say it, wisdom that age brings.

The demarcation between years, like most boundaries, is an arbitrary thing of no inherent meaning. There's no reason to expect that it really makes a difference whether the calendar says 2003 or 2004 or 2001 or whatever. So maybe it's not unreasonable to hope that 2004 just continues all the great stuff that happened in 2003. Happy new year, everyone.

Posted at 11:11 PM
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New Years Eve around the world

Inspired by something my friend Kim Elliott used to do where he would listen to the ringing in of the new year on shortwave radio stations around the world, Lou Josephs has put together a list of radio stations around the world with streaming audio feeds that you can listen to as the new year arrives. I've done this in years past, and it's fun, particularly in countries where you don't understand the language. Lou's list has been a big help in years past, and I expect it'll be the same this year. As I write this, 2004 is arriving in South Australia. Happy New Year, South Australia!

Posted at 9:29 AM
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Monday, December 22, 2003

I heard that word isn't in the dictionary

On Talking Points Memo this evening, Josh Marshall described Yvonne Ridley, the source of the story currently making the rounds that the Kurds caught, drugged, and abandoned Saddam Hussein for the Americans to find, as "an inexperienced reporter". The name rang a bell. There's a profile of Ms. Ridley on the BBC web site that describes the then-43 year old reporter as U.K. paper The Daily Express' "chief reporter and a highly experienced journalist who had covered several conflicts in many countries around the world." The profile comes from September, 2001, a time when Ms. Ridley was being held by the Taliban for sneaking into Afghanistan. She wound up converting to Islam as a result of reading the Koran while in captivity there. The newly-converted Ridley went on to become the editor of al-Jazeera's English-language service until she was fired last month.

In short, it sounds to me like she's got plenty of experience. Perhaps the word Josh was looking for is "gullible".

Posted at 10:39 PM
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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

You're despicable!

Joe Lieberman makes we want to puke. All this crap about how if Howard Dean were President, Saddam Hussein would still be in power. As if that really makes a difference in our safety, as he implies. If Saddam were still in power, he still wouldn't have any weapons of mass destruction, he would still be boxed in to an Iraq that posed us no threat, al Qaeda wouldn't have reaped the recruiting bonanza that the Iraq war presented them, and America would be safer as a result. More to the point, if Howard Dean were President, 544 American soldiers would still be alive, 544 American families would not be in mourning, and thousands more would have their bodies intact instead of being wounded.

If through some miracle Joe Lieberman gets the Democratic nomination, I'm staying home on election day. And Dick Gephardt is right behind him. I read his denial of involvement with what E. J. Dionne rightly described as the despicable ad now running in Iowa and New Hampshire that tries to tie Dean to Osama bin Laden. It was the most unconvincing argument I've seen since the majority opinion in Bush v. Gore. I used to respect Gephardt, but I wonder why now. If Lieberman and Gephardt want to hand the election to Bush by depressing turnout among their own base, they're right on target. Bastards.

Posted at 10:51 PM
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Friday, December 12, 2003

The right prescription for what ails radio?

Doc Searls has a lucid explanation of how soil conductivity affects daytime reception of AM radio signals, plus how signals travel farther at night due to a completely different mechanism involving the ionosphere. I read this shortly after reading an article in the New York Times about how the Earth's magnetic field is fading, possibly in preparation for a reversal that would place the magnetic North Pole roughly where the magnetic South Pole is today and vice-versa. The Times article says that there's really nothing to worry about regarding the changes in the magnetic field, but I'm not so sure. That ionospheric reflection that Doc talks about is dependent on the magnetic field functioning as it has; if it disappears, is it possible that you wouldn't be able to receive distant AM (and shortwave) signals any more? I'm going to have to ask some friends of mine who understand this a bit better than me.

Doc uses his musings to exercise one of his recurring hobby horses, the idea that the net is "radio"'s natural habitat and that old school radio is a dinosaur. It's an intriguing thought, but I can think of at least one major problem with it, at least in the short- and medium-term. Net radio doesn't scale well. The sunk costs that you need to spend to get started may be low, but every single listener you get costs you money. Become successful with a mass audience and it may kill you, just as a web site can be killed by the costs involved in being Slashdotted (and I know about this one first hand). Traditional radio, on the other hand, costs a lot to get started in (land, transmitter, antenna towers, etc.), plus some ongoing costs like electricity for the transmitter, but once you're on the air, your costs are fixed. It doesn't matter whether you have one listener or one million. If you can manage to cover your fixed costs (something that most radio stations manage one way or another), you can grow as large as possible within your service area without incurring extra costs. That's something that's not possible for net radio, and may never be possible (unless bandwidth becomes too cheap to meter, which I don't think will ever happen; it's possible to disagree on this count, which is why I say this argument holds in the short- and medium-term rather than forever). Net radio is a neat idea, and I love the possibility of having a virtually unlimited number of stations, not to mention stations that target audiences solely by interest rather than by geography, but I don't see it taking over from traditional radio any time soon. The economics dictate otherwise. I think it's much more likely that the current situation will continue, where traditionally-delivered radio dominates mass audience programming, while net radio evolves to serve small niche audiences that don't cost too much to support.

Posted at 10:27 AM
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Monday, December 8, 2003

Introducing... Rubén González

Anyone who pays any attention to "world music" will have noticed the massive success of the Buena Vista Social Club, a collection of elderly Cuban musicians gathered together by Ry Cooder, Nick Gold, and Juan De Marcos Gonzalez to record music in the traditional son style. The (revised) original plan was to record a couple of albums, one billed to the Buena Vista Social Club and a second to the Afro-Cuban All Stars. One of the musicians recruited for the BVSC sessions was pianist Rubén González. At the time, he didn't even own a piano. But his enthusiasm was such that he was always the first musician to the studio, waiting for whoever had the keys to show up so he could get to the piano and play. And his playing was wonderful, fluid and lyrical. It didn't take much to convince Gold, the head of the record label sponsoring the sessions, to record a third album, a solo album by Gonzalez. I think of the three albums released from those original sessions, the solo album by Rubén González is my favorite. I even used a couple of piece of his when putting together music for our wedding reception earlier this year.

All of which is to say that I was saddened to read that Rubén González died today.

Posted at 10:32 PM
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Sunday, December 7, 2003

Let it snow

We didn't get hit as badly by the early Nor'easter as some places, but we got enough snow to make the area look a lot like Christmas. My friend Tom down in southern New Jersey put together a nice panoramic shot of his back yard, so I decided to try the same thing. You can see the result on my photos page, along with a few other shots of our yard, and a bunch of other photos of the beach this morning (see below) in the aftermath of the storm.

The beach in Ocean Grove, New Jersey

Posted at 11:07 PM
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Saturday, December 6, 2003

Bushwhacked

If you thought George Bush was incoherent, you may find this recent speech of his enlightening. This makes everything clear. (Note that it gets pretty rude and not safe for work about halfway through.) The whole thing reminds me of a Ronald Reagan speech I heard in college where he talked about drinking a can of rotten meat. Wish I had a copy of that today.

Posted at 1:00 AM
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Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Who am I?

I discovered something funny in the way Radio Userland tracks comments on Radio-authored weblogs. The entire attribution bit is keyed on your e-mail address system-wide. So when I went to visit my friend Andy's weblog tonight and see if there had been any comments following up something I posted there, my comment was attributed to someone named Vanessa. Vanessa?

I've been burned in the past by leaving a usable e-mail address on Radio weblogs (scraped by spammers back when Dave Winer didn't think spam was a problem), so as a matter of policy, I don't do that any more. I use the address "me@privacy.net", which is an address that automatically bounces back a message to whoever sends something to it saying "someone gave you this address because they didn't want to hear from you and/or didn't want their address scraped by spammers." Apparently Vanessa uses the same trick. Because attribution is keyed on the e-mail address used, any time someone posts a comment to a Radio Userland-authored weblog that uses Userland's comment system and uses that e-mail address, it changes all attributions everywhere within the system. So poor Vanessa is now the author of a comment on a blog somewhere that's credited to Herman Munster, at least until the next time someone posts a comment to a Radio-authored blog using the e-mail address "me@privacy.net".

I love it when a poor design choice is exposed like this....

Posted at 6:38 PM
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Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Happy BlogDay, Loobylu!

Claire Robertson, proprietor of Loobylu Heavy Industries, marks four years of blogging, saying that it's changed her life. All I can say is that I'm glad Claire started blogging, because otherwise I wouldn't have known what a wonderful artist she is and then I couldn't have commissioned her to do a drawing of me and my lovely bride for our wedding invitations, and then our invitations wouldn't have garnered the overwhelming reaction they did. I love reading Loobylu, both for Claire's drawings and for her wonderful insights on everyday life and parenthood. Congratulations, Claire!

Posted at 7:07 PM
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Take cover

We're having an e-mail storm at work today. You know, someone accidentally sends a meeting invitation out to 30,000 people, and now for the rest of the day your mailbox is filled with people saying, "Why did I get this?" "I'm not part of this group." "You have the wrong [name here]". Yes indeed, you have the wrong [name here]. [name here]'s come in six packs.

My favorite response so far read simply "...ditto...". It came from someone whose signature said they were a "Senior IT Manager".

Personally, I think the next list of layoffs should be compiled from among the people who responded and fueled the storm.

Posted at 1:14 PM
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The glow of each other's majestic presence

This weekend, I picked up a really cool DVD at Tower, the documentary film Gigantic about the band They Might Be Giants. The band has been kind of below my radar for a number of years I guess. I was aware of their efforts scoring TV shows and writing theme songs, like the theme for Resident Life on TLC and the opening to The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC radio; I think they also did something for some show on Fox. Anyway, I'd heard about the movie a year or so ago, and promptly forgot about it until I saw the DVD and picked it up on a whim. Great stuff! The movie is perhaps a little on the long side and suffers a bit from a paucity of actual footage of the band in their early days, but still manages to make an engaging experience. But I don't know that I've ever seen a DVD so packed full of extras, which really make the thing worthwhile. There are a bunch of music videos from the early days which, as someone who doesn't watch VH1 Classic, I hadn't seen in years. I was really struck by how visually inventive those videos were. "Don't Let's Start" in particular just really drove home some things I was trying to do with my photography for the 26 Things thing, and I think maybe a tracking shot of old light bulbs and tubes in "Birdhouse in Your Soul" inspired my shot for "electric", although I didn't realize that until later. There's also a collection of songs that the band did for an ABC News special put together by my favorite oddball journalist, Robert Krulwich, and best of all, the band's appearance on The Tonight Show, performing "Birdhouse in Your Soul" backed up by The Doc Severinson Orchestra. Absolutely surreal. The site for the DVD is a little weak, but I think that's because they put everything they had on to the DVD, so there was nothing left to put on the site.

I think somewhere in the documentary, one of the Johns mentioned that their venerable Dial-A-Song is now available on the net. So now you don't even have to call from work to get it toll-free! I guess that makes it a bit less subversive.

Posted at 8:25 AM
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Monday, December 1, 2003

Information overload

Matt Haughey, King of MetaFilter, has a neat demonstration of just how much information a single photograph taken with a Canon Digital Rebel packs (and as a bonus, the photo is of his cat).

What Matt doesn't mention is how much disk space taking all these photos takes up. A month and a half ago, I had a fair amount of space on my 120 GB hard drive. Today, I'm figuring out what to move to offline storage. One trip down the shore to take photos last week wound up eating up more disk space than two years of photos from my old 1.5 megapixel Kodak DC260. (I shoot in RAW format rather than JPEG, which exacerbates the situation.) I'm not complaining, mind you, just noting that these things take up an awful lot of space. I need to figure out a cataloging scheme that allows me to move these off to DVD-Rs while still being able to find them. I'm wondering if Extensis Portfolio might be the way to go. If anybody's got any suggestions that work on Mac OS 9, I'm all ears.

What Matt didn't mention in his post on his blog was something I found out by looking at the past few days of his great photoblog, Ten Years of My Life: the Digital Rebel was a surprise gift from a grateful (and anonymous) MeFi user. Now that's cool.

Posted at 8:48 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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