There Is No Cat

Hollering into the void since 2002

Friday, May 31, 2002

Mark Tully on India and Pakistan

Mark Tully is probably the most regionally-savvy western reporter in the Indian subcontinent, with 30 years in the field. After a career reporting from India for the BBC, he fell out with BBC's leadership a few years back and left. Now he's filing analysis stories periodically for CNN. His most recent story is from about a week ago, which could seem an eternity in the conflict brewing between Pakistan and India, but still makes for an interesting read. I'm going to keep an eye on the Tully archive on to see what he comes up with next.

In 1992, Tully wrote a book of essays about India and his experiences there. It was published in the U.S. as The Defeat of a Congressman and in the U.K. as No Full Stops in India (I guess the publishers felt U.S. readers wouldn't get the pun in the U.K. title, so they came up with a different punning title for the U.S. release). I haven't read it in a while; guess I need to pull it off the shelf. The books are well out of print by now, but Powell's has used copies in stock.

Posted at 7:43 PM
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East Egg Revisited

One of my favorite directors, Barbara Kopple, who directed the landmark 1976 film Harlan County U.S.A., has figured out how to get a serious documentary on national commercial television: bill is as a "reality mini-series". This Sunday and Monday, ABC will be showing The Hamptons, a four hour documentary about the retreat where the elite meet and greet. (Pity it's on ABC, a Disney network. I really don't want to watch anything on any network Disney owns, for reasons I've ranted about before.)

Maybe next up one of the networks will hire Albert Maysles or Frederick Wiseman to do reality mini-serieses for them.

Posted at 7:10 PM
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Three Strikes...

I heard on NPR in the car earlier that a court in Philadelphia struck down the most recent attempt of Congress to block bad stuff on the Internet. Hallelujah! One thing that I didn't see mentioned in the AP article on Yahoo that was in the NPR piece was a quote from one of the law's proponents who said that if this law couldn't survive judicial review, he didn't think anything that applied to the Internet could, and that it just might make more sense to rely on existing anti-obscenity laws. Exactly! Now they get it! And it only took having three laws they championed thrown out. Funny, the opponents of the laws have been suggesting exactly that approach since the beginning.... (The audio of the NPR story will be online later tonight, under the title Libraries and Internet Filters.)

Posted at 6:41 PM
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The Sene-Gall of it!

Senegal started the World Cup with a real bang today, shocking the world by beating the defending champs, France, in their first ever World Cup appearance. Wow!

I looked for the story on two sites. The Guardian, a mainstream broadsheet newspaper in the UK, has the story as its top headline. By contrast, the Sports Illustrated site has its story buried in an "other top stories" section which, while still being above the fold, isn't terribly prominent. However, the actual story in The Guardian is awfully short; the AP story run by Sports Illustrated is much longer and provides much more color and context. They mention things like the fact that Senegal is a former French colony, and that almost all of the players on the Senegal team play their professional soccer in France, making the victory even sweeter. So we'll call this one a 1-1 draw.

Senegal isn't going to be celebrating this one for hours. Not for days. Not for weeks. Not for months. They'll be celebrating this one for decades.

Posted at 5:47 PM
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Thursday, May 30, 2002


One of America's most respected news sources reports about the start of another pirate radio station. If you're anywhere in the neighborhood of Maplewood Street, you'll want to prick up your ears and tune in. The rest of us have to settle for being inspired by this young man's example. (Thanks, Doc.)

Posted at 1:23 PM
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Wednesday, May 29, 2002

More Knight Ridder

Steve Outing's Stop The Presses column this time includes a number of responses to his previous column about Knight Ridder's bad content management system, imposed on all their newspapers by managerial fiat. One of the responses is from yours truly. If you're coming to this site from the article, here is my original critique of Knight Ridder's redesign, and here is my response to Steve's original column (it's very similar to what I e-mailed Steve, although the version on the E&P site has been lightly edited and improved).

Don't scroll past the beginning of the column to get to the responses, though. The bulk of this column is a very interesting take on newspapers' attempts to charge for access to their archives and how libraries enable users to make an end run around them. Of course, if the newspapers were like Disney, they would curtail library access to the databases that make this possible (oops, I don't want to give them any ideas....)

Posted at 1:10 PM
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Tuesday, May 28, 2002

I'd be a mineral deposit, a ball of mica, inside a rock

The Boston Globe (!) printed a tour diary by Peter Prescott about Mission of Burma's trip to England to play the All Tomorrow's Parties festival. Prescott said he cried when he saw Consonant, Clint Conley's new band, play in London. I had almost the same reaction when I saw them last December. Laura and I went to see Yo La Tengo play the second Saturday of their Hannukah festival at Maxwell's in Hoboken, and I was just absolutely floored to find out that Clint's new band was the opening act. We didn't know that when we bought the tickets, or in fact until we got to the club. Hell, they weren't even known as Consonant yet when we saw them; they were billed as The Clint Conley Band. Gawd were they wonderful, and I was so happy.

So this past weekend I found a copy of the new record by Consonant. Wow. I finally unwrapped it tonight as I was fixing dinner, and, um, I've listened to it four times in a row now. I don't remember the last time a new album grabbed me like that. You can definitely hear the Burma-ness of the music, but it's not just Burma. Conley says they named the band Consonant to underscore the difference from the dissonance that was Burma's hallmark. He always was the poppy one. There are bits that remind me of the first Feelies record, and others, believe it or not, that make me think of The Monkees. The lyrics are interesting. Conley collaborated with poet Holly Anderson for more than half the songs, and the results are impressionistic fragments rather than straightforward narratives, and simply lovely. I wasn't surprised to find out that Anderson had helped Conley write the words to Burma's Mica, one of the more lyrically jagged songs Conley did with them. About the only thing missing from the record is that throat-clutching high-bass thing that Clint used to do with Burma. He plays guitar here, so no Burma trademark bass thing.

It's funny to see everyone saying that one of the reasons Burma decided to play again was the Michael Azerrad book about early 1980s punk rock that included a chapter about Burma. All the quotes in the articles I read tonight implied that the book enshrined Burma in the pantheon or something. They were always one of the most important bands of that period as far as I was concerned, and one of the few whose music I still pull out and play. It really holds up well. Incidentally, the Azerrad book, Our Band Could Be Your Life, is a great read. I got a copy for Christmas and devoured it.

My brother saw both the shows Burma played in New York in January. I considered going, and Laura really pushed, but it was shortly after I lost my job and I was still kind of shell-shocked and didn't want to spend a dime unnecessarily, so I said no. I've also got a natural aversion to seeing reunited bands. I would have no interest in seeing the Sex Pistols, for example. But I think I made a mistake in saying no to seeing Burma. They've got three shows booked on the west coast in July. I hope they come back to New York one more time before they go quiet again.

Posted at 9:39 PM
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Gilbert and George are taking the ssiP

Billy Bragg's Take Down The Union Jack made number 22 in the UK pop charts this past week. I was listening via RealAudio (the BBC edited the word "piss" out of the song, which came on right after a much ruder and more explicit song; go figure). Gawd, the British charts are, well, they're just like the US charts, I suppose. I never listen to that stuff either. Anyway, Billy had said he wanted to hit the top 20 so he could get on Top of the Pops on TV. He just missed the top 20, but he's going to be on TOTP anyway, singing his anti-royalist song to the nation the day before the Queen's 50th Jubilee. Congratulations, Billy! I look forward to getting my copies of the single from Rough Trade sometime this week.

Posted at 7:55 PM
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Payback is a bitch

An editorial cartoonist says he gets a lot more complaints from Bushies when he rags on W than he ever did from Clintonites when he would bust on Clinton. The Clinton people were more polite, too. Gee, does this come as a surprise to anyone who lived through the Clinton presidency? The wingnuts out there complained when Clinton breathed. They never, ever, over eight long, painful years, accepted that Bill Clinton was the legitimate president of the country. Funny that now that we have someone in the White House whose legitimacy can genuinely be called into question, they get mad when someone disagrees with him. Typical bullies; they can dish it out, but they can't take it.

Posted at 7:42 PM
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Monday, May 27, 2002

Maybe it was the right question after all

You know, I just realized that since W calls himself 43 and his father 41 based on the number of their presidency, that makes Bill Clinton 42. And we all know that 42 is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.

Posted at 11:36 PM
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Forty-One is going to hate this

Eating broccoli can prevent ulcers and even stomach cancer. I'm gonna have to get me some more General Tso's chicken....

Posted at 11:05 PM
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One Nation, not many more votes than that

Europe may be moving to the right, but on the other side of the world, Australia's most prominent anti-immigration campaigner (aside from the odious prime minister), Pauline Hanson, not only didn't get into the Senate nor her party into Parliament, but now she's being taken to court for electoral fraud. Of course, you could argue that the reason nobody voted for Hanson is because PM John Howard stole her program....

Posted at 10:47 PM
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Sunday, May 26, 2002

Blogistan neighborhoods

If Blogistan is a community, what kind of community is it? I was thinking about this on Saturday as I was driving through one of the original planned communities in America. Radio Userland-created weblogs are a huge apartment complex; everybody lives in the same place, and individual units are denoted by long strings of numbers. There are a few different kinds of units available, so many of the apartments look alike. The apartment complex is right next to a hugely influential industrial zone. Manila and Blogspot-hosted Blogger weblogs are condos, and there are a few of those complexes around town. Movable Type blogs are Levittown; most of them look fairly similar (particularly the ones that use templates that came with version 2.0; I can usually spot a blog that uses MT but hasn't extensively customized the design), but have some individual touches as the owners have made them their own. GreyMatter sites are the brownstone district; similar in concept to the Movable Type blogs, but from an earlier age. Slash blogs are frat houses on the edge of campus. Massive food fights often ensue. People like me who roll their own software are out in the distant townships with septic tanks and wells, and we all installed our own plumbing and electrical systems. Some of the houses out here are shacks and some palaces; with no zoning you get all kinds of structures.

Spare a thought for poor Dan Gillmor, locked up in the insane asylum of Knight-Ridder's content management system.

Posted at 3:59 AM
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Documentary bilong Australia

I found a very interesting site from Australia about documentary films, The Documenter. It almost looks like it's a site for a magazine, but there's nothing on the site about getting it on paper, so perhaps not. There are some very interesting articles there, like an interview with Albert Maysles, who co-directed films like Salesman and Grey Gardens, both of which I recently bought on DVD (but haven't had a chance to watch yet). I also read an article by a filmmaker who shot a documentary in North Korea. I think North Korea is fascinating. I love reading about things like Andy Kershaw's trips there and the music he brings back, where the songs have titles like "Song of Bean Paste" and "We are marching with bayonets firmly fixed".

It's interesting to read The Documenter, because Australian documentaries get, if anything, even less exposure here than American ones do. I don't know that I've ever seen an Australian documentary. Looking at the site, it seems like there's a fairly significant scene there. The films about Eddie Mabo and his struggle to establish that the native population actually owned their own land before the Europeans came and decreed Australia was terris nullis look particularly interesting.

Posted at 2:03 AM
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Friday, May 24, 2002


The EFF has set up a blog to cover their talks with Hollywood about Hollywood's attempts to gut fair use and cram an extreme view of copyright down the throats of everyone in the world. Part of this attempt goes under the seemingly innocuous name of the "Broadcast Protection Discussion Group", and the EFF is talking to this group to, well, I don't know what they hope to accomplish, because frankly, the objectives of Hollywood and those of the EFF are seemingly completely at odds. I guess EFF is trying to get some technology company to stand up and tell Hollywood that what it's asking for is insane, impossible, and likely to bring the peasants to their doors with pitchforks and torches if it ever comes to pass.

Cory Doctorow has posted an article about the effects of what Hollywood is hoping to accomplish. What they're calling for will make fair use merely a fond memory. It will make the Betamax decision of the Supreme Court that allows you to tape a TV program to watch later an aberration of the past. Past attempts at copy protection founder on the shoals of analog reproduction, where you can bypass any protections simply by bypassing digital reproduction; you can record a CD by passing the speaker output into your computer rather than ripping directly from the CD for example. You can tape a movie by aiming a camcorder at the TV screen that's showing it. Hollywood's control freakery extends so far that they want legislation that mandates copy protection in analog-to-digital converters, a basic technology that has uses so far afield from entertainment as to make their insistence on crippling it potentially a serious imposition on the world economy.

I read stuff like this and I just shake my head. There was a strand of thought during the Cold War that the effort of fighting each other was making the Russians and Americans inevitably more like each other; the Americans were more controlling and totalitarian than they would have otherwise been, and the Russians more democratic and free than they would have otherwise been. These proposals remind me of nothing so much as the mandatory licensing of photocopy machines in the Soviet Union in the Bad Old Days. Except this isn't in the service of keeping government in power; it's in the service of extending the profits that a few multimegaconglomerates make at the cost of very basic freedoms. The Cold War is over, but the momentum doesn't appear to have stopped. I don't know, is it worse to lose your freedom of speech to a bureaucrat or to a mouse?

This is really chilling stuff. The President (of Disney), he is insane.

Posted at 8:35 PM
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Ah, summer's here, and all the bennies are on their way down to the shore. The Garden State Parkway is living up to its name as the traffic crawls along, and commuters who work up north are cursing the bennies who clog the road and make coming home on summer Fridays a living hell. Yup, it's summer.

The restaurant where Laura and I ate lunch today, the Avon Pavilion in Avon-by-the-Sea, has a nice web page showing some nifty old pictures and postcards of the restaurant and the Avon boardwalk going back to the early years of the 20th century. I particularly like the postcards from the 1940s. During the off season, Avon is a lovely place to spend lunch time; the benches behind the pavilion area are sheltered from the road noise, so all you hear is the crashing of the waves on the beach.

I love living at the shore....

Posted at 4:27 PM
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Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Free The Mouse!

I've ranted in this space a couple of times about copyright extension and the danger it poses. Other people are actually doing something about it. Lawrence Lessig, The Most Wired Lawyer In America, and a bunch of other lawyers, are taking a case to the Supreme Court that challenges the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act as unconstitutional. I'm not usually in the habit of recommending casual reading of legal briefs for anything but their sedative effect, but the opening brief submitted to the Supremes by the plaintiffs (PDF, 153 KB) is actually a remarkably clearly written history of copyright law, if you skip over the legal citations and a bit toward the end where it gets a little dull.

Reading the brief reminded me that you used to have to specifically request a copyright extension. The initial term varied at different points in history, but in my lifetime, the standard was 28 years from the publishing date, with an additional 28 years if you asked for it. In light of the problems this case highlights of how the vast majority of copyrighted material that is being prevented from falling into the public domain are not being used and are not producing any royalties or income for the copyright holders, if they can even be traced, it seems to me that a return to a system where copyright had to be renewed makes a lot of sense. That's not what they're asking for in this case, mind you; they just want to throw out the most recent extension. But ideally, letting fallow materials drift out of copyright while providing for (reasonable) extensions for productive materials seems to me to be an excellent balance between the rights of producers and consumers. Of course, it made so much sense that we threw that away in 1978, but no matter....

And besides, if there is no cat, it's only fair that we free the mouse....

Posted at 11:22 PM
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We Are Amused

Simon Hoggart on the unveiling of a statue of Margaret Thatcher:

The sculptor is Neil Simmonds. Michelangelo said that he didn't create statues; what he did was chip away the surplus stone to find the image within. Imagine cutting away all those tons of rock and finding - Margaret Thatcher! What a terrifying surprise!

(Apparently the sculptor's studio in Dartford, Kent, is next door to a depot which provides clothes for Bosnian refugees. I'm told she kept breaking off from her sittings to give them lectures on the British way of life.)

There's more where that came from....

Posted at 7:03 PM
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Weird Science

This is sad; a prominent researcher at my former employer is being investigated for scientific fraud. I remember posting the press release mentioned in the article to the Bell Labs web site last November. There's nothing about this on either the Bell Labs or Lucent web sites today. I'm not surprised when I see Lucent get hammered for stupid business decisions, but I am surprised when Bell Labs gets hammered for questionable science.

Posted at 3:55 PM
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Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Now if only I could take it to the beach

I watched the last hour and half of the Library of Congress Copyright Office roundtable on March 10, and it seemed to me at the time that the people running the hearing listened carefully and were sympathetic to the concerns of the webcasters out there. Turns out I was right; today they rejected the CARP ruling that would have put almost all the webcasters out of business. (Found via Scripting News.)

Posted at 5:13 PM
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I thought it was supposed to be shoe shops

We got back Sunday from our annual tour of the shirt shops of quaint, Victorian Jersey Shore resort town Cape May. It was a nice trip, courtesy of Laura's brother, who gave us the trip as a Christmas present since we always go down with Laura's parents this weekend. We all stayed at a lovely bed-and-breakfast about five blocks from the boardwalk in Cape May. We had a suite with Laura's parents. We got the room with the twin beds, which aren't nearly as wide as they look in the pictures on the web site. Friday night we took Laura's mom out for Mothers' Day to her favorite restaurant, the Lobster House. You always have to get there early, because it's one of the most popular restaurants in town. We may have gotten there a little too early this year, though; there was a line outside the restaurant when we got there, waiting for them to open at 5 pm. No problem, the line moved quickly and we were seated with no real delay. I'm always the landlubber at this restaurant, since I don't eat seafood. At least this year the waitress didn't mention this little fact like the one last year and the year before. After dinner, we went out to Sunset Beach, but the sky was too overcast for a decent sunset. You need some clouds, but too many spoils it. Oh well. At least they had a shirt shop. Laura's mom pointed out that the water looked particularly nice even though the sky didn't, and that was true. I wasn't sure the camera would capture the subtlety of the colors, but it did a reasonably good job. If you want to see some really spectacular photos from Sunset Beach, you can look at the ones I took last October when Laura and I visited.

[ The water at Sunset Beach, West Cape May, NJ, 17 May 2002 ] [ Sunset at Sunset Beach, West Cape May, NJ, 17 May 2002 ]

Saturday morning it rained cats and dogs, but after breakfast at the B&B (eggs cooked in a hole cut in a big piece of bread with Havarti cheese on top, mmmm), we went for a drive up the coast a little to Wildwood, Stone Harbor, and Avalon anyway. Stone Harbor has a lot of shirt shops too, many of the same ones they have in Cape May, except the shirts say "Stone Harbor" rather than "Cape May" on them. By the time we got back to Cape May, it had stopped raining, so we went to the Mall and got some lunch and looked at some more shirt shops. We usually eat at the Lobster House on the second day to celebrate Laura's mom's birthday, but this year we planned to go instead to Godmother's, an excellent Italian restaurant that Laura and I had gone to when we were down in Wildwood and Cape May last October. We thought the food was excellent, and Laura's parents seemed to enjoy it too. After dinner, we went down to Sunset Beach again, and tonight the view was better. There was a freaking huge cumulo-nimbus cloud in the foreground that never caught the sun on its underside, but behind it, the sky was spectacular. But since we hadn't expected to come out to the beach, I didn't have my cameras with me, so you'll have to take my word for it.

Sunday morning we had breakfast at the B&B (waffles!) then checked out and said our goodbyes to Laura's parents. Since we were leaving, the weather decided to get nice again, so we walked the five blocks to the boardwalk, where we ran into Laura's parents, who were at Morrow's Nut House buying some fudge for Laura's brother and sister-in-law to thank them for the trip. So we got to say goodbye to them all over again. (Amazing! Morrow's doesn't have it's own web site....) Then we walked up to the Mall and looked at some of the shops that don't sell shirts (okay, we stopped in one and Laura bought some skirts).

On the way home, we stopped for an hour in Wildwood, which we had missed the day before because of the rain. I had a hankering for a Lime Ricky, and Wildwood is the only place I know where I can get one. There's an Italian deli right near us that sells Raspberry Lime Rickys, and Nagle's in Ocean Grove sells Cherry Lime Rickys, but there's no lime in those so-called Lime Rickys, where there is in the Lime Rickys you get in Wildwood. Laura and I also split a funnel cake. It was the first time I'd ever had one. It's basically dough being used as a delivery platform for grease and sugar, a vile concoction if ever there was one. Actually, it tasted pretty good the first time. It was just the repeats over the next three hours that turned me off to them. We continued up the shore for a while, stopping for lunch at a diner in Ocean City that also has no web site.

Posted at 11:21 AM
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Monday, May 20, 2002

Dare To Be Heinie!

One night last week, Laura and I were laying in bed, both reading recent issues of The East Village Inky, a zine that she picks up whenever we go to See Hear in the city (we're such hipsters!). It's a really charming handwritten (and drawn) zine about a family living in Brooklyn (originally living in the East Village, hence the title). The author of the EVI, Ayun Halliday, has her own web site now, to promote her new book, The Big Rumpus. We don't have a copy of it yet, but if it's anything like the EVI, it'll be well worth the money. Ayun and her husband Greg have a daughter, India (a.k.a. Inky), and a son, Milo Hanuman. I almost died when I read in the zine that his middle name was Hanuman. If you've ever heard the Kecak, the Indonesian monkey chant done for the tourists and based on the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, you'll know what I mean. Poor kid. Having the name "Monkey King" might be appropriate when you're two years old, but at 18 it's going to feel awfully embarassing.

Posted at 10:02 PM
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Genghis Waves

If you listen to NPR, you've probably heard Corey Flintoff reading the news at one time or another. Sometimes you need a change of scenery. Corey's involved going to Mongolia to teach journalism and radio production to people working at new independent stations as part of a program set up by the Knight International Press Fellowships. Transom has the story. A lot of the stations were set up by the Soros Foundation. I first became aware of the way Soros was planting radio stations in the ex-Communist countries many years ago when the former executive secretary of ANARC, Robert Horvitz, went to work for Soros doing the actual planting. It's interesting to see some evidence of those seeds sprouting, and that they're being tended by people like Flintoff and Bill Siemering, who used to be a bigwig at NPR.

Posted at 11:40 AM
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Friday, May 17, 2002

Come Drink Me Down?

I don't think Folk Roots magazine (one of my regular monthly reads) is going to like the tone of this article about The Copper Family, one of the cornerstones of English folk music: "Members of the Copper Family of Rottingdean, East Sussex, have been performing folk music for more than a century, but it's not social injustice that keeps them singing. It's the beer." I think this is part of what Billy Bragg is on about lately, too, about how the English don't take their own heritage seriously. The Coppers are one of the few remaining unbroken links to traditional English music; most of the rest are revivalists. You wouldn't know that from this article, though.

Posted at 12:21 AM
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Thursday, May 16, 2002

We apologize for the inconvenience

The Guardian reviews the posthumously-collected Douglas Adams book The Salmon of Doubt. Any Douglas Adams is better than the best of almost anyone else, I suppose. And as the review points out, most of Adams' books felt slapped together, so this one should fit right in. I still feel a little uneasy about reading something that was apparently never intended for publication.

Douglas Adams spoke at a conference of web developers I attended about five years ago. It was one of the funniest talks I've ever heard, even if he did repeat that story about the package of cookies. That apparently shows up in the new book, too. I didn't have the nerve to go up to him after his talk, because I was afraid I would come across as just another nervous fanboy with nothing more intelligent to say than "man, I really loved your books/computer game/radio series/phonograph record/TV show/book of radio scripts." My loss.

The world became a sadder place the day Douglas Adams died, and that's all our loss.

Posted at 10:58 PM
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Apres moi, le deluge

I was over at my parents' house earlier today and we were talking about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket or something like that. They mentioned something weird that's happening, and I mentioned something weird, and back and forth. One of the things I mentioned was the court ruling that SonicBlue would be forced to monitor their users' actions with their ReplayTV units to see if they were skipping commercials. They were amazed and appalled that a judge would do that, and relieved that another judge stayed the order. But their response in general was interesting. My mom already watches a lot of TV on tape and fast forwards past the commercials. The commercial skip button on the ReplayTV is a neat idea, but if having one means inviting Michael Eisner into her living room to track her every move with the remote, she'll just keep using the VCR, thank you. I suspect most Americans would feel the same way.

Hollywood just doesn't get it. The future is coming. It'll get here come hell or high water. And if they think they can hold their fingers in the dike, they'll be drowned. As reformed marketer Doc Searls is fond of saying, there is no demand for messages. People don't search out advertising (with the exception of things like classifieds, grocery store ads, and other such notices with specific, useful information). They go out of their way to avoid it. And the methods of avoiding those messages have been invented. They can't be uninvented. Hollywood needs to put its mind to creating new business models, or be prepared to drink a lot of water.

In general, the law is a reflection of what the people as a whole consider to be in their common interest. Laws that flout that principle tend to be honored most in the breach. And lawmakers who pass laws that run counter to the interests of their constituents can be replaced.

Posted at 10:11 PM
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Oh, go ahead and look back

Robyn Hitchcock has a new mail-order only double CD available called Robyn Sings. It's all covers of Bob Dylan songs. Maybe this way I'll get to know some Dylan songs. God knows I can't stand to hear Dylan sing them. I heard a recent Dylan song on the radio the other day and his voice was so bad I thought it was Kim Fowley.

Posted at 9:11 PM
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Wednesday, May 15, 2002

We mean it, man!

Billy Bragg has a new single coming out next week in the UK, and he wants everyone to go out and buy all three versions of it and push it into the pop charts. Why? Because it's an antidote to the fawning coverage of the Queen's Jubiliee, and because all the profits go to an organization dedicated to raising the minimum wage in the UK. Kind of a "God Save The Queen" for today.

Posted at 9:53 PM
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But how do they hold the bottle without opposable thumbs?

Fast learners could become heavy drinkers, according to a study of rats reported today by scientists in Canada. Scientists at Concordia University in Montreal, investigating genes and behaviour, found that rats able to quickly learn how to navigate a maze also drank the most alcohol.

Posted at 5:36 PM
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Magnus, Sir Lancelot reborn

I've been noticing a rather rude robot crawling my sites from in the past week. Damned thing scoops up the entire site multiple times a day, and keeps changing the user agent so it's spoofing Mozilla, MSIE, and Opera, among others. So I did a search. Nobody else seems to have the answer to what this is, but one person claims to have tracked it down and killed it. We'll see. I did notice a decline in accesses after a certain point yesterday. If it shows up in the logs again tomorrow, we'll have to send out a posse.

Posted at 7:50 AM
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Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Fifteen years? Now I don't feel so bad...

I think this is one of the neatest accounts of a marriage proposal I've ever seen:

The short version of the story is this: I met a girl in 1987 who I thought was amazing. Fifteen years later, today, I kneeled on the uppermost knoll of a hill we'd bought together, and asked her to marry me. She said yes, and subsequently, we were surrounded by 85 cows.

They even have a photo of them in the immediate aftermath, just like us. One of these days I'll write up the story behind the photo. (Found via evhead.)

Posted at 1:07 AM
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Monday, May 13, 2002

How do you stop the presses when the press is a web site?

Steve Outing's Stop The Presses column took Knight-Ridder to task for their homogenization of their web sites on May 8th, a day before I posted my take on the subject (hey, really, I didn't see it until today!) He blames content management systems. But a content management system is only a tool, not the problem. The real problem is that Knight-Ridder created an inflexible design with no room for local customization. That's not inherent to content management; it's just plain horrible design and stupid management. I've written a number of content management systems over the years, including the one that manages this very blog, and it's not impossible to make it easy to customize. There's just no room for it in K-R's world.

As I said the other day, I don't buy a paper because it comes from a particular national publishing company; I buy it because it's my local paper. Take that away, and the paper and its web site have no reason to exist. K-R has forgotten the most basic rule of the news business. Amazing. I'm not interested in RealCities; I have some real cities nearby, and I'd like to read about them. Anyway, it's nice to see in Steve's column that the rank-and-file (as usual) understand that management screwed up big time. In my experience, if you want to know exactly what's wrong with a web site, the second best group to ask is the people who work on it day after day. (The first best group, of course, is the people who use it day after day....) (I found the column through Scripting News.)

Posted at 11:14 PM
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Maps of information

I tossed out the term "information visualization" a couple of posts ago. There's a nice brief description of the term on Carl Malamud's mappamundi site, along with a very pretty picture of the net as visualized by the people at Visual Insights.

Incidentally, I looked at the Visual Insights web site today, and it turns out they did eventually do something to look at server logs. In fact, it looks like that's the main thing they push today. It's a shame I didn't have access to it when I was webmaster for Bell Labs.

Posted at 3:19 PM
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Sunday, May 12, 2002

Mapping Human History

There's an interesting interview from The Atlantic with the author of a book about genetics and how we're all very much genetically alike and interrelated. The genetic differences between "races" amount to a few hundred genes out of millions. The article also touches on genealogy and genetics' implications for it. I'm not sure that the revelation about different peoples' ancestries overlapping is such a surprise; there has long been a recognition in genealogy of the intermarriage of cousins and the like. (Article found via MetaFilter.)

Posted at 1:37 AM
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Friday, May 10, 2002

Zoom, zoom, zoom!

Interesting article in yesterday's Washington Post about Ben Shneiderman, the man who literally wrote the book about user interfaces. I saw him speak at CHI a few years ago. He talks in the article about how he believes (based on research, of course) that voice will never be the dominant method by which users interact with computers. He thinks visual methods are more suited to the way peoples' brains work. I've used voice to control my computer going back to the days when an SE/30 was a hot new Macintosh. It was interesting, but I have to agree that it's a niche thing at best. I think an office full of people talking to their computers would be one of the outer rings of hell, for example.

It looks like a lot of his work these days is on visualization of large data sets. Interesting stuff. I was going to say that I wasn't sure most people need to visualize large data sets, but then I thought about what you do when you go to Amazon or another such web site. I know I would like to have some truly visionary tools to look at server logs visually. I talked to a few people at Bell Labs about this when I worked there, and at one of the spin-off ventures, Visual Insights, but there was never a really useful tool that came out of it.

The article in the Post talks about some of the work the U. Md. HCI lab is doing on visualization, using a photo browser called PhotoMesa that Ben Bederson wrote as an example. It sounds just like what iPhoto does on the Mac OS X. PhotoMesa works on Windows, UNIX, and OS X, and anything else that includes Java 2 version 1.4 (who came up with that versioning scheme?) I think that leaves Mac OS 9 out. Oh well. When Shneiderman gave the keynote at CHI, he used a program based on HCIL's work with zoomable user interfaces (ZUIs) as his presentation tool. It was wizzy and everything, but I'm not sure how much it added over using PowerPoint to do the same thing. It seemed in that case that it was done because it could be, not because it was compelling. PhotoMesa looks like it might be a more appropriate application of a ZUI.

Shneiderman, Bederson, and Alison Druin, another very interesting speaker I saw at CHI lo! these many years ago, had a live chat on the Washington Post web site yesterday. I like Bederson's reply about whether gesture recognition systems will ever become available: "Users wouldn't be good at producing just the right gesture every time. And, how would you distinguish an explicit gesture vs. a sneeze?" Of course, that just refers to something like eye tracking or such. Gesture recognition via a tool (like a stylus) works pretty well. I've been using it for years, first on my Newton and now on my Palm.

Anyway, it's very interesting to see academic research on user interfaces actually get some exposure in the mainstream press. I don't remember the last time I saw that.

Posted at 3:39 PM
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Thursday, May 9, 2002

Real Cities or Potemkin Villages?

There was a lot of teeth gnashing when Knight-Ridder decreed changes to the web sites of all their newspapers to give them a common look and feel, largely because of all the broken linkage that would ensue. Dan Gillmor's weblog, for example, changed URLs for no good reason, and the redesign has some serious problems, which Dan is aware of, but can't do anything about because K-R controls the design.

The Centre Daily Times in State College provides another good example of why K-R's move was a bad idea. State College, for better or worse, is hugely football oriented, and the newspaper is an excellent source of news about the Penn State football team, even during seasons like the past two when they've been horrid and don't get the national coverage that front-runners get. The CDT, realizing that many of their hits came from PSU alumni and other former residents well outside of State College, placed prominent links on their front page to sections covering Penn State football and PSU sports in general. The football page maintained an extensive archive, so you could read what was written a month or two or three ago with no problem. When you went to the PSU sports section, it was subdivided by sport, so that if you had followed the women's basketball team (who were certainly excellent when I was there), you could easily pick out all the stories about the team and sport. It worked quite well.

The Knight-Ridder imposed redesign did away with that.

Go to the Centre Daily Times page today, and you'll be hard pressed to find anything about Penn State, not just the sports. State College is a small town that's dominated by the presence of 40,000 students (more than the year-round population of the town, I believe), but you wouldn't know that from looking at their web site. The navigation is DHTML popup menus decreed by Knight-Ridder, with apparently no customization for local situations. The CDT has some good local sports columnists, but if you select the item for columnists under the Sports menu, today all you get is something written for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I'm sure the Star-Telegram is a worthy paper, but how relevant is it when I'm looking for information about State College and Penn State? The football page today is all NFL stuff, of some interest, but news a former State College resident like me can find anywhere, and nowhere near the biggest football interest in town. But because K-R thinks pro football is more important than college football, that's what you get.

There's a small link on the subsidiary sports pages that says "PSU Sports". So there's some recognition that the local situation requires some customization. But even there, the situation has taken a drastic turn for the worse. There's no separation of sports, just a jumble of articles. Even in the physical newspaper there's usually some separation, some kind of common section header to let the readers navigate the section and find what they're interested in. But not on the Knight-Ridder newspapers' web sites.

There are a lot of cases when standardization makes sense. A company wants to present a single face to world to reinforce its brand. But the most important brands in the newspaper business are not generally those of the company that owns the paper. I don't buy A Gannett Paper when I buy the local rag here; I buy The Asbury Park Press. I don't want to read about Knight-Ridder's Real Cities (a link which has the most prominent position on every page of their sites); I want to read what's happening in a town I lived in for five years. By subsuming the important brands, the local brands, to their insane one-size-fits-all design, Knight-Ridder has destroyed much of the worth of their newspapers' web sites.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Posted at 3:31 PM
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Penn State or State Pen?

The hometown paper in State College takes the acquittal of two Penn State football players on assault charges as an opportunity to explore the discipline problems being faced by so many programs these days:

Now you can say that was just boys being boys and maybe it was. But it was also boys being bullies, boys wanting special privileges, boys demanding to be excused from doing what everyone else had to do, just because they were Penn State football players.

No doubt they are accorded dispensation frequently in this town, getting into parties uninvited, getting into bars without having to wait outside in the elements, getting served alcohol when they're not 21. If you think that's not happening, you're living in a bubble. It always has gone on here and in other college towns.

I don't know; maybe JoePa is losing control. When I worked on his television show, there were always one or two football players on the show, and they were definitely on their best behavior in JoePa's presence, all "yes, sir" and "no, sir". I had a few football players in my broadcasting classes, too; they did get special treatment, but only so far as being able to turn in their assignments late because they were travelling or something.

On the other hand, I do know of at least one case where a professor was pressured to rescind a failing grade for a star athlete (not on the men's football team). The professor resisted, and came under great pressure. I don't think he gave in, but they found some way to go around him and the star athlete's transcript no longer included the failing grade. So I've never thought of Penn State as being pure as the driven snow the way some alumni do.

Posted at 3:00 PM
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If the shoe Fitts

I'm glad to see I'm not the only person left who despises the interface of Mac OS X. I spend a fair amount of time booted into it because it allows me to develop sites in Apache and PHP locally, but that doesn't mean I like it. Working with that interface is like wading through molasses. I run screaming back to OS 9 every time I'm finished working on web stuff.

A year or two ago, I was exchanging e-mail with a friend of mine who is in charge of Mac development for MIT about how all computers could learn a lot from Palm and why all computers suck. I'll have to see if I can dig up a copy and adapt it for here. I could probably recreate it if I can't; it's a rant from the heart....

Posted at 4:04 AM
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At Penn State, at least they get acquitted

It's sad what the headlines about college football are during the off-season. On CNNsi, the featured story is about an agent going to jail for five years. In the "Top Stories"section, five of the seven stories are about players in trouble for off-field actions: Tee Martin taking money while he was QB at Tennessee, expelled Notre Dame players asking for reinstatement, a probe of academic fraud at Louisiana State University, an Ohio State linebacker indicted for possession of drugs, and drug charges dropped against a Texas player. Amazingly, Stewart Mandel still finds nine actual football-related items to talk about in his column.

Posted at 3:53 AM
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Wednesday, May 8, 2002

The Polder Model dissected

The Economist has one of their periodic surveys in this week's issue, where they spend 20 or so pages thoroughly dissecting some issue or place or thing that's currently in the news. This week's survey covers The Netherlands. The whole thing is not available for free on their site, but the first section is, and it gives some insight into why the political situation in the country was in such turmoil, with Pim Fortuyn mounting a frontal attack on the cozy "polder system" of consensus politics that has run the country and arguably contributed to its stability and prosperity over the years. Not surprisingly, The Economist argues that it hasn't contributed as much as it gets credit for. If you're interested in the first part, the issue should still be on the newsstands for a few more days.

Then as a followup, they of course cover Fortuyn's assassination and the effect it will have on European politics, particularly on the extreme right.

Posted at 7:30 PM
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Tuesday, May 7, 2002

Holland loses its virginity

My friend Andy Sennitt has a commentary on the Radio Netherlands web site where he says that the assassination of the right wing politician Pim Fortuyn won't shake the foundations of Dutch political life, just bring a little reality to the scene.

Posted at 10:49 PM
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Run away! Run away!

It looks like the UK is going to undergo the same kind of media consolidation that has given the US such useless crap on the radio. You would think they would look at what the kind of changes they're introducing have done here. Then you would think they would run as far and as fast in the other direction as possible....

Posted at 4:49 PM
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Monday, May 6, 2002

That's Entertainment

It's 25 years since The Jam released their first single. Ouch.

Posted at 9:33 PM
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And the dancing is really a substitute for sex

If you've ever seen the movie Ghost World, you know that it opens up with an incredibly infectious tune taken from the 1966 Bollywood musical Gumnaam. The song, "Jaan Pehechaan Ho", by Mohammed Rafi, sounds like a surf instrumental crossed with a James Bond theme song and the horns from a James Brown song with amazing Hindi vocals on top. (I would point you to a sample of the music on the Ghost World site, but the whole thing is done in Flash. You need to click on the boom box, then click on the CD on the floor to get a selection of tunes from the soundtrack.) Laura was reading Cool and Strange Music magazine last night, and in an interview Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes mentioned that he had gotten his original 20th generation copy of the scene from someone who had been housesitting for Peter Holsapple, guitarist-songwriter for the dB's, my favorite band from the 1980s, and copied it from Peter's collection. Amazing. Incidentally, the Ghost World DVD includes the entire scene from Gumnaam, and it's spectacular.

Meanwhile, Bollywood seems to be becoming quite an industry for Britain. The Guardian reports that with Bollywood films shooting location shots in the UK on a regular basis now, Indian tourists are taking package vacations to visit the scenes of their favorite movies.

Posted at 1:05 PM
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And it's called breakdancing because of what happens to your bones

Laura found this charming description of a Ukrainian wedding:

First timers at a Ukrainian wedding will note that the kolomeyka bears a striking resemblance to breakdancing. But unlike breakdancing,the kolomeyka has retained itís coolness long after the end of the first Reagan administration.

Posted at 11:59 AM
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Home Movie

Laura and I went into the city yesterday to see Home Movie, the new documentary by Chris Smith, one of the people who made American Movie, which I've been raving about for the past two weeks. It's playing at exactly one theater in the world right now. Fortunately for us, that theater is within day trip range. Laura had seen an article in the Star-Ledger about the movie over the weekend and pointed it out to me, along with a suggestion that we go see it. I'm a useless jerk, so I hemmed and hawed, but being fortunate enough to have someone like Laura to prod me into doing things I really want to do but am too lazy to get out of bed to do, we went.

It was a wonderful movie.

A lot of critics thought that American Movie was condescending toward its subject, aspiring filmmaker Mark Borchardt. I didn't see that at all. I found the story of this guy from nowhere overcoming a lot of obstacles (admittedly, some of them self-inflicted) inspiring. The guy actually made something, something that didn't exist before, and that without his efforts, wouldn't exist now. And now nobody can take away from him the fact that he actually made something. I think that's one of my prime motivations in life, pride of authorship. That feeling of having actually made something is one of the best feelings you can have, and Mark Borchardt has it, and that's why I thought American Movie wasn't at all condescending.

Anyway, so Home Movie doesn't get the same rap as American Movie. The Star-Ledger review starts out, "Chris Smith loves eccentrics." I think that's true, and I think it says a lot behind what he and Sarah Price did with American Movie. The conceit behind Home Movie is pretty simple. Five houses, five sets of residents. The houses are all in some important way a reflection of the people who inhabit them, and help illuminate the stories these interesting people have to tell about how they live their lives. Structurally, the film was like a sedate version of Errol Morris' wonderful Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, which similarly jumped from storyline to storyline about a number of fascinating eccentrics. Morris did so in a manic fashion, though; Smith's movie is much more relaxed about it. The part of the movie that took place in Louisiana reminded Laura of the section of Sherman's March that took place on an island off of Georgia where Ross McElwee lived for a few months with a grad student who was studying the local flora and fauna in primitive conditions.

Home Movie is not a particularly deep movie. It doesn't really delve into the motivations of why these people live in such odd surroundings. That may be because of the way the film was made. Smith was commissioned by a dot-com company,, who run the official site of REALTORS, to make a film about homes and their owners, and he would also use the same footage to make a number of commercials for the company. The credits at the end show that does in fact own the copyright on the film, but according to Smith, the commercials only aired a couple of times, and only in one city, Austin, Texas. Smith only spent two days with each family, so he perhaps didn't get to build the same kind of rapport with the subjects of the film that he did with Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank over two years of filming. But the portraits he comes up with are still charming and enjoyable.

I wondered if had anything about the film on their site. They didn't. I guess they've been preoccupied, because their press release section tells a typical dot-com tragedy of inappropriate accounting procedures being used to prop up the stock, restatement of earnings for years where the accounting was flawed, the near-delisting from NASDAQ, and the firing of the entire management team and their replacement with friends of the venture capitalists. It seems the film was green-lighted before the implosion, and the company kind of forgot that it owns it or something. Or maybe they just don't want to point it out, since in a way it's a symbol of the profligacy of that era. But hey, commissioning a talented filmmaker to make a documentary seems to be to be one of the best profligate uses of the dot-com billions that I've heard of. That's one excess I'd like to see duplicated.

Posted at 11:47 AM
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Sunday, May 5, 2002

It's that damned thumb problem again

Laura was explaining to me this morning that the reason the cat never shuts up is because he wants to get a Masters degree in Telecommunications. Here's an article explaining why pets don't get college degrees, penned by the dog of a former college professor of mine.

Posted at 9:34 AM
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Saturday, May 4, 2002


Lou Josephs comments about the new web search engine provide by the BBC:

The BBC decided they wanted a search engine that did what they needed and brought up more information about uk topics. So they have their own customized google.

Google appears to be exactly what you get when you search via the BBC. Compare the search results for BBC World Service via Google and for BBC World Service via BBCi. Damned near identical. Same sites, same order, down to the fact that comes up as the number seven link on both.

One of the designers of the BBC search engine, well-respected blogger Matt Jones, gave a fascinating presentation about it at the ASIS&T Information Architecture Summit in Baltimore in March. You can download the PowerPoint file he used for the presentation from the front page of his site. You don't get the benefit of his dry, mordant wit, but hey, there's got to be a reason why it's better to actually go to the conference. Matt mentions licensing as one possible strategy in the presentation.

Meanwhile, The Independent questions what the heck the BBC is doing in the search engine business anyway in an article entitled "Dyke said the BBC should focus on programmes, so why is he taking on Google? Search me...." They make explicit what we have divined on our own: the WWW part of the BBC's search is licensed from Google. The BBC claims to exclude "derogatory" sites. Interesting that they kept in their results, then. (Well, really, we at love the BBC, that's why we want to save them from themselves. No derogatory intentions.)

The Guardian, meanwhile, plays it a bit straighter and reports about other people being mad at the BBC for usurping a function from the commercial world. Mama BBC is going to take care of the British public, insisting that "[i]t is quite clear that the current search marketplace doesn't have the needs of internet users at its heart." Curious then that they would serve the needs of Internet users by, um, replicating something that already exists.

Okay, that's not fair. Matt's presentation at the Summit made it clear that the BBC is in fact engaging in a value add proposition. The search I linked to above for BBC World Service doesn't demonstrate it, but searching for Zimbabwe on the BBC's search engine brings up an interesting feature: results from BBC News and Sport provided next to the regular engine's results. And then there's a very subtle refinement to Google's results here as well: the first result has a bit of red text next to it that says "BBCi recommended". If you look at Matt's presentation, you'll notice that there's actual human input into the search indexing process. BBC has a dozen people in an office in London beavering away, picking the best sites for given keywords so that when you search on one of those keywords, those hand-picked results show up at the top with the "BBCi recommended" tag added on. Theoretically, it's an important addition. But most of the literature I've seen in the field deals with adding metadata and directing searches for comparatively limited sets of data. I'm not sure this approach scales well to the level of The Entire Internet. Maybe it does; conceptually, this is similar to what Yahoo does, where they search their own lovingly hand-crafted database first, then pass the search off to Google for the wilds of full-text search of the net as a whole (or at least that portion indexed by Google). But hey, if the British license fee payer is willing to foot the bill for the experiment, what the heck. Just don't tell The Independent.

Posted at 11:17 PM
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Geeking out on documentaries again

A couple of weeks ago, I was bemoaning the lack of classic documentaries available to the average Joe, preferably on DVD. I probably should have looked a little better, because it turns out there are quite a few of the classics available, although there are more that aren't than are. The Criterion Collection, beloved of cineastes everywhere, has some real gems, particularly the work of the Maysles brothers, including Grey Gardens, their controversial portrait of the aunt and cousin of Jackie Kennedy, living in a dilapidated old mansion on Long Island. I didn't see this one in college; I'm looking forward to seeing it after reading about it for so many years. Salesman, their classic 1968 portrait of a door-to-door Bible salesman (and when was the last time you saw one of those?), is another well-reknowned film I'm looking forward to seeing. The original full length feature documentary, Nanook of the North by Robert Flaherty, is also available. And coming up are Barbet Schroeder's film General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait, which I was previously unaware of but which sounds fascinating, and the notorious 1974 Oscar-winning anti-war film Hearts & Minds will be coming out later this month and next month, respectively.

I ordered the first three of those the other day from DVD Planet, which has a sale on DVDs from the Criterion Collection right now. The discs are 35% off, which brings many of them down to about the price of an average DVD, which is nice. DVD Planet can show you all 800 or so documentaries they carry, over 80 screens. I looked at them all, and while most are the usual World War II part 7, the Latrine Cleansing Corps type things that show up on the Nazi Chan... er, the History Channel, there are quite a few interesting films out or soon to be released. One that I'm really looking forward to seeing again soon is The Atomic Cafe, the classic look at America's relationship with The Bomb in the 1950s and 60s. I bought the soundtrack to that back when I was in college, and to this day I'm bound to bellow out a rendition of "Jesus Hits Like an Atom Bomb" at the slightest provocation.

Two DVDs of the Frank Capra-helmed Why We Fight documentaries are being released this coming Tuesday. I saw a number of those when I was in school, and they're fascinating propaganda. But what really excited me is an upcoming release of the British equivalent of Capra's films, Listen To Britain And Other Films By Humphrey Jennings, which will be released a month from today. Some of the films are short, between 8 and 18 minutes. Fires Were Started was 74 minutes long. It's been a long time since I've seen any of these, but they were really wonderful, and really gave an insight into how the British coped with the early defeats in the war. Finding that these were being released on DVD was an unexpected treat. And a number of spectacular depression-era documentaries from the US, including Pare Lorentz's hymn to the Mississippi, The River, are available on a single DVD called Our Daily Bread & Other Films of the Great Depression.

Current D. A. Pennebaker-related films on DVD include The War Room, which I saw at the Film Forum in NYC when it first came out, and, which tracks the rise and fall of a small company in those halcyon days when almost anything went. Just the thing an unemployed webmaster like me wants to see, yes? Well, actually, yes, I do.

There are a bunch of interesting looking music-related documentaries available. Generally these are boring puff pieces and the like, but there are a few that transcend the genre of music documentaries. The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack, about folk singer Ramblin' Jack Elliot, got good reviews in Folk Roots magazine a year or two ago when it first came out. High Lonesome, about the origins of bluegrass, is supposed to be pretty good, and was excerpted in the excellent series on roots music that PBS did last year. Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King was tipped as an affectionate portrait of one of the oddest rock bands ever. I remember playing selections from their debut record, a triple album set that included Bruce Springsteen covers, on my radio show back in college. Damn, they were odd. Songs for Cassavettes looks at indie rock bands. I don't know how good a film it is, but the bands include Sleater-Kinney and Dub Narcotic Sound System, so that's potentially interesting. I remember reading reviews of it in the indie rock press when it came out.

One oddball documentary that I'd really like to see (actually two, since they both come on the same DVD) is Dziga Vertov's Kino-Eye/Three Songs About Lenin. Vertov was one of the seminal innovators in film, crucial to developing the Soviet theory of montage, the creation of meaning through the juxtaposition of unrelated images. That should sound familiar to any webmaster who has read Scott McCloud. :-) I saw Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera in college (and use his self-portrait from that film to introduce my own page of still photographs). It was a difficult film to follow. I think that the opportunity to own his films on DVD would be worthwhile, because I think they repay repeat viewings.

There are a lot of gaps still; Frederick Wiseman appears to be completely unrepresented, and the work of John Grierson's stable of filmmakers in Britain in the 1930s is missing (though the Jennings DVD helps there). Flaherty's other work, like Louisiana Story and Man of Aran, deserve release. But the situation isn't as grim as I thought. Now I just need to get a job so I can buy some of these.

Posted at 9:32 PM
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Friday, May 3, 2002

You know, his name is French for "the pen"

The Guardian has an excellent package on the elections this weekend in France, where the vast majority of voters will go to the polls and vote against an odious Fascist rather than for anyone. Julian Barnes sums up the situation:

No one marches for Chirac. The outgoing president...has been physically active but politically inert, his face an embarrassed rictus as he waits to be re-elected, knowing that the majority of those who will vote for him dislike and, in many cases, despise him. In Jarry's play, Ubu Roi, a single actor plays "The Entire Russian Army". Chirac has been onstage for two weeks wearing a sash reading "I Am The Republic". It is not much of a part.

Meanwhile, one of my favorite writers on the subject of Europe, particularly eastern Europe, Timothy Garton-Ash, looks for a way out of the growing xenophobia sweeping the continent:

I don't want to idealise it - and I can already foresee an e-bucketful of protesting emails - but I reckon London is the closest anywhere in Europe comes to a civilised way of living with the ethnic diversity that is Europe's future. Of course we should never be complacent, but London alone is one big reason why it's less likely to happen here. Analyse what works in London, and we might have Europe's best answer to Le Pen.

It will be an amazing weekend in France. Anything more than 20% of the vote for Le Pen will mean he has gained votes, and will be a gigantic rebuke to the political establishment, and an expression of something that is frankly appalling. Only a victory of near-Stalinist proportions would give Chirac the Superliar anything approaching legitimacy of his own.

Interestingly, The Guardian's package includes articles from their archives about previous historical moments in France, including reports of the roundup and deportation of Jews in 1942 and of the Dreyfus trial collapsing in 1906. It's a good thing some papers are covering this; I've seen next to nothing in the American papers about this hugely important story.

Posted at 9:14 PM
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I've got a few domains registered with Verisign. They're the successors to Network Solutions, who I registered them with. I've been reading horror stories about Verisign lately that make me wonder if I don't want to move the domains that I've got with Verisign to a registrar other than Verisign. After all, I would hate to see one of my domains stolen from me because of Verisign's appalling business practices.

Posted at 3:53 PM
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Eat them up, yum!

I don't watch TV. So I don't have a TiVO or a ReplayTV. Good thing, too, now that the courts have ordered ReplayTV to batter down your door and watch everything you do with your TV. Oh wait, they don't have to, you brought them into your house thinking they were harmless. And they would be, if it weren't for fµckwitted judges and the companies whose bidding they do. Disney, the Most Evil Corporation On Earth, claim they need this information to prove that ReplayTV incites users to steal free TV by skipping the ads. Next Disney will be posting armed guards in front of your refrigerator and bathroom to prevent you from skipping out during the ads. (Found via Scripting News and a bunch of other weblogs, which means you've already read it. I'm sorry. I don't usually like to link to things that everyone else is linking to.)

What is it about Michael Eisner that makes him think he can dictate the way people use entertainment? Disney seems to be behind so many of the anti-consumer moves being made by Congress and the courts these days. They were one of the prime movers behind the royalty rates that seem likely to destroy online radio by the end of this month. They fought and won extensions to copyright because they didn't want Mickey Mouse to enter the public domain (he wouldn't have, but some of his early films would have). They have ripped off the rightful owners of Winnie the Pooh, to the extent of destroying documents subpoenaed in a court case after they had been subpoenaed (shades of Enron!) They're behind the SSSCA, which became the CBDTPA, the bill in Congress that would destroy the high-tech industry by mandating the universal incorporation of digital rights management software of a level of security that doesn't exist and is likely impossible to create.

The purpose of copyright is "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts". That's what it says in the Constitution. The means of promoting this is "by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries". Copyright has always been a limited right, as well, with fair use exemptions to make copyrighted material more useful to the people who use it, thereby promoting progress as the Constitution dictates. To create laws for the purpose of enriching content creators at the expense of consumers goes against the express purpose of copyright as laid down in the most basic law of the land.

When people think of Disney, they think of a mouse, but a more appropriate connection would be an octopus. They are extending their tentacles into every form of entertainment they can. They own ABC, ESPN, The Family Channel, Lifetime, A&E, Touchstone Pictures, Miramax, Discover magazine.... The list goes on and on. They license their properties to appear on clothing, cereals, toothbrushes. They're omnipresent.

Because of this, they see us as sheep to be herded wherever they think we belong. We're baby birds, waiting in the nest for Momma Mickey to bring us sustenance, craning our necks and opening our mouths.


Any company that treats its customers with such contempt and has such a condescending opinion of them does not deserve our custom. I'm starting to think Disney is more of a threat to the American way of life than Microsoft.

I'm going to miss the only thing I watch on TV, college football, but since Disney broadcasts a huge percentage of the football that appears on TV on its ABC and ESPN networks, including most of the games of the teams I'm interested in in the Big Ten conference, I won't be watching this fall, not as long as Michael Eisner is in charge at Disney. Fish rots from the head. So, apparently, do mice.

Posted at 3:30 PM
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Yes, it is indeed a Great Wall

I haven't seen this linked from any of the weblogs I read, which amazes me given how prominent the author is in webbish circles. Anyway, David Weinberger, Cluetrain co-author, and his 11 year old son Nathan (who is learning Chinese at his school in Boston), spent a week and a half in China, and blogged it for the Boston Globe. Interesting stuff.

Posted at 12:20 AM
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Thursday, May 2, 2002

Different Voices

There are a ton of programs on public radio that never show up on your local station. I'm always interested when I come across one that I've never heard of that does something a little different. Public Radio cornerstone and program-spinner WBUR has a program they're pushing called On Point. I dunno, it looks by and large to be just another news program, but they've got one interesting feature that intrigues me called "Radio Diary". They take unsolicited submissions from listeners of about 750 words earch for brief 3 minute or so essays. I'm always interested in hearing voices of non-professionals showing up on the radio. I'm not sure they range much beyond the usual public radio audience, but the idea is interesting. I'll have to keep an eye on this to see if they hit a wider range of voices. I'm a little troubled by the fact that their current page for the feature ends on April 16, as if they stopped doing it or something. Anyway, it bears watching (or listening).

This reminds me of something on the radio I wanted to hear but didn't get to. My friend John's daughter spent a few months in Madagascar last year (before the recent unrest there). John mentioned her letters home to a friend of his who works at the radio station in his city, and the station decided they wanted to run excerpts from the letters as a weekly series for a few weeks. John said he would send me a copy; I'll have to ping him to remind him. I've long had an interest in the music of Madagascar, which has an almost unearthly sound, so I'm particularly interested in what John's daughter had to say. (In fact, I put together a CD of Malagasy music for John's daughter before she left. John tells me she loves it.)

Posted at 3:50 PM
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I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille

Unless your name is Rosie O'Donnell or something, it's not every day when you can walk into the bookstore and find not one, but two, count 'em, two, magazines that have something about you in them. First was Monitoring Times, which had a paragraph about something that happened at the Winter SWL Fest in Kulpsville, PA, along with a picture of yours truly. (That article may eventually show up on the MT web site; currently they've still got last month's articles posted.) Second was Personal Journaling magazine, which included an anecdote about how I've found long lost family members through my other weblog, Geneablogy, in their article "Online Family Journals" (curious that they wouldn't post an article about online journals online).

I dunno, I think my 15 minutes were up a long time ago....

Posted at 8:59 AM
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Wednesday, May 1, 2002

More terror

My friend Dan points me to another radio program, this one from Radio National in Australia, that covers much the same ground as the WNYC program I mentioned. This one even has a transcript, so you can read it online.

Posted at 9:43 PM
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Covering Terror

WNYC AM had a very interesting program at 2 PM today about reporters covering terror. It was a recording of a panel discussion from last month, and included two reporters from the BBC, Stephen Evans, who was in the World Trade Center when it was hit by the first airplane, and Lyse Doucet, who was in Afghanistan after the US invaded (and who, incidentally, interviewed me for the BBC World Service last year). I didn't get to hear the whole program, as I was at the beach and had sadly forgotten to bring my radio since I hadn't planned on going there, but the whole program is available on demand in Real Audio format from their web site. Listen to it tomorrow, when the web radio strike is over. I wish WNYC had a separate page for the program, because the blurb about it on their front page will surely be gone tomorrow.

Posted at 4:48 PM
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This site is copyright © 2002-2024, 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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