There Is No Cat

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Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Git along, li'l kitty

Mark Pilgrim sensibly repudiates the idea that the entire web will ever live up to the ideal of the Semantic Web proposed by the W3C (an idea others mistakenly thought Pilgrim was an advocate of). He rightly claims that creating a semantic web is difficult even with a limited problem domain. In a previous job, we were attempting to create a semantically-rich SGML/XML-based representation of a documentation set for a complex product, to be rendered in semantically-correct HTML.The group I was working with had been working on this for more than two years when I was laid off last December, and based on what I've heard talking to a friend of mine who still works there, they're still working on it a year later. It's a tough problem. On top of the fact that you've got to define standards, then implement the standards, you've also got to get the people creating the documents to do so in a way that feeds into your system properly. It was difficult enough to do that with a few dozen writers who you could order to work in that way; you're paying them to do so, after all. Doing so for the entire web is simply impossible. It just won't happen. A problem like that makes herding cats seem like child's play. So I agree that it's great to create semantically rich sites for ourselves (I work in much the same way Mark does on that count, particularly on this site), but to expect the rest of the world to fall in line just isn't realistic.

Posted at 10:36 AM
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Mmmm, tasty

English is such a wonderfully flexible language. This story in The New Vision, a newspaper from Uganda, about a man who caught his brother having an affair with his wife, would normally be of interest to about three people (the man, his wife, and his brother), but I just love this little phrase: "[H]e caught with his brother chewing Sodom's apple in broad day light." I didn't think Sodom had anything to do with the story of the apple, but hey, it certainly is a colorful bit of writing.

Posted at 7:24 AM
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New Years Eve seems like a good time to look in to how bubbles in champagne work. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. Nice to know that the scientist in charge of the experiments is taking the time to do it right, with real crystal and only the best bubbly. It just wouldn't do to have an explanation of how the bubbles work in test tubes only to find that they work differently in real world conditions. We should all salute such dedication.

Posted at 7:05 AM
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Saturday, December 28, 2002

Writing, technically speaking

As someone who is occasionally guilty of committing technical writing, I found this contest for the worst manual amusing and instructive. I don't know how fair it is to describe the winning entry as a "manual"; it seems more like a rant. I love how the writer (no doubt the boss) spends nine pages berating employees and generally treating them like five year olds who need a time out, then closes with "Your are part of the Industrial FAMILY-WELCOME!" If my family was like that, I'd ask to be put up for adoption.

I know the intent of the opening of the winning entry is to provide a list of things not to do, but the way it's worded, you would think that poor workmanship, stealing, and unexcused absences were encouraged, nay, required. It reminds me of when I was hired at a department store during college and spent my first two hours of indoctrination being forced to watch three videos about how I shouldn't steal; then having a talk with the Loss Prevention Manager about how I shouldn't steal; being told by him that he had fired two people working in the back room for cracking open a single walnut from a bag that had broken open (he took particular pleasure in the fact that one of the unfortunate fired employees was pregnant at the time), then having to walk three miles downtown to the police station to try and get a statement from them that I hadn't ever stolen anything. Welcome to the family! Needless to say, I ran away from home as soon as I could.

The contest is like shooting fish in a barrel in some ways. Clearly most of the entries were just badly translated or something. But it's still instructive and amusing to look at. I'm glad that none of my work has found its way into this contest and trust that it never will. (Found via WebWord).

Posted at 10:15 AM
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Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Bring this tale to a very happy ending

As a special holiday treat, Fountains of Wayne are providing three MP3s to download, including "I Want an Alien for Christmas", the best Christmas song since The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl's "Fairytale of New York". I mean, how can you resist a song where the chorus goes like this:

I want an alien for Christmas
Bring me an alien this year
I want a little green guy
About three feet high
With seventeen eyes
Who knows how to fly
I want an alien for Christmas this year

Come to think of it, how can you resist a Christmas song like the Pogues' one that contains the immortal lines "You scumbag / You maggot / You cheap lousy faggot". It amazes (and pleases) me no end that that tune has become a Christmas staple. Ah, the Christmas spirit....

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Posted at 10:24 AM
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Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Dreaming of a white Christmas?

Here's how likely it is your dream will come true. No wonder living in New Jersey feels weird at this time of year. I grew up in locations where the likelihood of a white Christmas was 61-75%, only to wind up in a place where the likelihood was 11-25%. Jeez.

Posted at 8:00 PM
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Monday, December 23, 2002

i was e bloom richard hell joe strummer and john doe

Joe Strummer was the most important musician of his generation, and the world will miss him terribly. More specifically, I will miss him terribly.

Once upon a time, The Clash were The Only Band That Mattered. I loved The Clash. They spit in the eye of the record industry by insisting that their records be priced inexpensively, even when they released a double album (for only a dollar more than a single album), and then a triple album. It's hard to overstate how important they were to someone like me at a time when music seemed like a battlefield between the dinosaurs who dominated commercial radio and the young upstarts who made the only music worth listening to. Their music was the soundtrack of my college years. That double album turned out to be one of the best rock albums ever. I remember when we got a white-label acetate single of "Should I Stay or Should I Go" b/w "Rock the Casbah" at the station I worked at in college. That was one of the biggest things that happened at the station. We put it on the air right away, and proceeded to play the hell out of it. The Clash were the revolutionary vanguard of a new music. They really were The Only Band That Mattered. And I loved Joe Strummer.

Then Joe and Paul Simonon fired Mick Jones for musical heresy, and everything changed. A bunch of impostors released an album, but it wasn't The Clash. They said to Cut The Crap, then provided the crap to cut. I called the band The Joe Strummer Ego Trip. A wise man once said that it was better to burn out than to fade away. The Clash, the most important band ever, faded away. The band that was more than a band turned out to be just a band after all. Our heroes had feet of clay. I was so disillusioned. I hated Joe Strummer.

Joe Strummer disappeared from music for a while. He spent some years in the metaphoric wilderness, doing pennance. He did a little acting. He wrote some songs with Mick, whose musical heresy apparently wasn't so bad after all, which made the breakup of The Clash an even bitterer pill to swallow. I resented Joe Strummer.

We all got older. Joe publicly repented, apologizing for the way he handled the last years of The Clash. He showed up periodically on Andy Kershaw's program on the BBC to talk about some interesting records he'd been listening to. He delved further into world music, expanding The Clash's interest in reggae to cover a bunch of other things. I spent a lot more time listening to world music myself, too. The Clash had opened my ears to some interesting sounds and given me the entree into world music. My interest in the subject had started during the heyday of The Clash when I was at college and playing records on the radio, and expanded ever since. Joe played some records on the radio, too, hosting a program on the BBC World Service called "London Calling". Nice bit of blowback there, since The Clash had lifted the title of their all-time classic album from the ID used by the World Service for so many years. He played some interesting tunes from all over the world. I forgave Joe Strummer.

Joe got back into music in a serious way. He put together a band, The Mescaleros. They got some decent press. Andy Kershaw played them regularly. They incorporated a lot of the lessons Joe had learned from his extensive study of world music. They put out a couple of albums, and I heard a track on one of the compilations that come with copies of fRoots magazine a couple of times a year. It was catchy. I was intrigued. I bought the albums and found that Strummer was writing some really odd and interesting tunes that tickled my ears. He celebrated the multi-culti nature of life these days. He wrote an ode to his time on the World Service, "Global a Go-Go", celebrating the gumbo that results when you have Nina Simone over Sierra Leone and the Bhundu Boys rocking Acapulco. He wrote about the literal gumbo that results when you get all kinds of nationalities and their foods in one place in "Bhindi Bhagee". Joe had made great music with The Clash, and now he was making great music with The Mescaleros. I loved Joe Strummer again.

And now he's gone. He helped make the world a little smaller, and now he's left it a little emptier. I was sad when John Lennon died, even though I never liked The Beatles. This is worse than that. Requiescat im Pace, Joe.

Posted at 8:41 PM
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Must be a Clash! There's no alternative

Oh no! Joe Strummer of The Clash and The Mescaleros is dead!

Posted at 12:51 PM
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Saturday, December 21, 2002

For the glory (and a little cash)

There's a fascinating and lengthy story in this week's The New York Times Magazine about the cash-hungry monster that is college football. The story focuses on the University of South Florida, a school that's pretty new to the game, and has expended a lot of effort in building a program as a way to build a name for the university itself, with some success. I have to say, when I was looking at colleges lo! these many years ago, picking one that had a good football program actually was a consideration. Silly me. Anyway, the story's interesting, and it doesn't paint a pretty picture of the game. But then, you could probably guess that from the article's title: "Football is a Sucker's Game".

Posted at 11:37 PM
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Can you hear me?

Nick Hornby, author of the creepily-appropriate-to-my-life book High Fidelity, reviews six graphic novels for tomorrow's New York Times Book Review, and makes the case that graphic novels are a form in their infancy that we don't quite know how to read yet. Laura will be happy to note that Lynda Barry's One Hundred Demons gets the highest praise; Hornby says he's keeping his review copy rather than re-gifting it to one of his nieces or nephews.

Posted at 11:29 AM
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Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Fear of Music

As 40 approaches me fast, I think sometimes about my dedication to seeking out new music, something I've always done. The past few years, it seems to happen less and less often that I stumble across a band who really takes my breath away. I have this fear that I'm turning into someone I've always felt sorry for, someone whose musical taste is stuck at a particular moment in time (usually whenever they turned 20 or so). Am I doomed to listen to the same bands I liked when I was 35 forever? So perhaps I get a little extra thrill from the sensation of cheating impending brain death when I find a new band whose music sends chills up my spine. A band like Nathan, from Winnipeg, Manitoba. I heard a track of theirs on CBC Radio 3 a few weeks ago that's been sticking to the roof of my brain like peanut butter. I gotta love a band that includes tuba and accordion in its repertoire, even if you don't. But don't let that scare you away. The three tracks by them on CBC's New Music Canada web site sound quite different from each other, with the main connecting thread being the gorgeous female harmonies. "Measure Me", the track I heard on Radio 3, is a waltz, with the aforementioned accordion and tuba, and swings like crazy. "Australia", on the other hand, sounds like a sweet pop tune until the fifth or sixth listen when you figure out that it's about someone who's crazy, inserting herself into her new boyfriends past photographs. The tunes are catchy as hell. I think I'm in love. It appears that their main outlet here in the US is through CD Baby, who seem to specialize in less-well-known bands with poor distribution (hi, Shirley). Anyway, I look forward to someday (soon) hearing the rest of their CD. If it's anything like the songs I've heard so far, or even if it sounds completely different but has the same attitude, it sounds like the sort of thing I'll have to pry out of my CD player with a crowbar. And I feel a little bit more alive.

Posted at 9:33 PM
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Sunday, December 15, 2002

Sweeping me off my feet

Damn, there's a movie about curling. Who knew?

(Chuq Von Rospach, that's who. I don't know how a Los Angeleno becomes a curling fan, but this born-and-bred Detroiter has been a fan since seeing curling on the CBC from across the river. Even at an impressionable age, it appealed to my sense of the absurd....)

Posted at 12:39 PM
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All hail the stupid network

David Weinberger has an interesting exploration of how the move toward Quality of Service on the Internet (something the big media companies desperately want so they can pump their sludge into your home over the net instead of just over TV) results in other people's Degradation of Service. I particularly like the analogy of how VIPs are served ahead of peons in restaurants. The most interesting things on the Internet have happened because of intelligence in devices at the edges of the network. (I recently made extensive use of that insight when rewriting the web site of the lousy bastards I'm currently working for, nuking every instance where they talked about "carrier-class intelligent networks" and replacing it with a discussion of the increasing intelligence of edge devices. They don't deserve such wonderful writing.) If you make the network smarter, then you reduce the ability of edge devices to act in innovative ways. We don't need that; we've already got smart networks that deliver telephony and broadcasting. It would be a tragedy to shoehorn the Internet into those paradigms. The power of the net is that it isn't like the telephone and cable networks.

Posted at 11:53 AM
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Friday, December 13, 2002

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Women

The other day, I was looking for photographs of poverty (for reasons I may write about here in the future), so of course, I went looking for the amazing photographs taken by Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange during the First Great Depression. Even if you don't know who shot them, you'll recognize some of these photos when you see them; they're some of the most iconic representations of the toll of the Depression. I found a wealth of pictures, which to be honest kind of surprised me, until I realized that they shot many of their photographs for the US government. Specifically, they worked for the Farm Security Administration. So the photos belong to the government, and the Library of Congress' remarkable American Memory Project has a section of their site devoted to the work of all the photographers who worked for the FSA and their remarkable photographs. The fruits of their labors are just astounding, and will break your heart.

Posted at 10:08 PM
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The Lion of Zimbabwe

Woo hoo! I tuned in to Andy Kershaw's (archived) program on BBC Radio 3 tonight on a whim after getting my latest copy of the great Folk Roots magazine in the mail today, and found out that Andy's guest in session tonight was one of my absolute favorite musicians, Thomas Mapfumo, The Lion of Zimbabwe (and now of Oregon). Live songs, plus interview. Yes! (The program should be available on the BBC web site for about a week. Maybe they'll set up a separate file of the session later, too.)

Posted at 8:59 PM
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Thursday, December 12, 2002


Where on Earth did Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and Doak Walker Award winner Larry Johnson of Penn State get that suit he was wearing?

Oh, Baltimore....

(Wow, three awards, including two that are for "the football player of the year." Looking good for the Heisman this weekend....)

Posted at 9:14 PM
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R.I.P. Mary Hansen

I just found out by reading Edith Frost's weblog that Mary Hansen of Stereolab, one of my favorite bands, died this week. Further digging reveals that she was hit by a car while riding her bicycle.

I didn't much like Stereolab's last album. But I've been a fan of the band for a long time. This is terrible to hear.

Posted at 12:46 AM
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Wednesday, December 11, 2002

I thought he was Father Christmas in the UK

According to The Guardian, rumors of Santa's death have been greatly exaggerated.

Posted at 11:06 PM
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Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Star Star

It took Dan Gillmor a while to figure out why the Echostar (Dish Network) / Hughes Electronics (DirecTV) merger was quashed. I guess he hadn't been paying attention; Rupert Murdoch's fingerprints were all over it from the beginning. Given Murdoch's craven caving in to authority in the past, I'm not hopeful for the future of satellite TV here.

Posted at 10:41 PM
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Saturday, December 7, 2002

Sailing over a cardboard sea

I never realized that you could distinguish between humans and robots by spraying Binaca in their mouths and observing the reaction. Thank heavens for bored rock stars and the tedium of the Canadian Shield for bringing us this important study and methodology. It's amazing how many robots live among us. I had no idea.

Posted at 10:58 PM
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Friday, December 6, 2002

Square dancing tractors

This is why I miss the old county fairs I used to go to in Illinois when I was growing up. (Thanks to Dan Say for the link.)

Posted at 7:24 PM
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More pictures from space

CNN has a story about an art exhibit of photographs from space showing now at the Library of Congress. They link to a couple of wonderful sites about Earth as Art, run by NASA and the US Geological Survey. I would add that photos of the sun function very nicely as art, as well.

Posted at 7:17 PM
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A new perspective

I've seen plenty of pictures of solar eclipses, but never one taken from above. Get the scoop on

Posted at 6:40 PM
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Wednesday, December 4, 2002

The quality goes in before the name goes on

I don't know where Brig Eaton found this photograph of a Zenith Radio clock or whether it's of one she owns or not, but damn, I want one.

Posted at 9:22 PM
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As opposed to Camden Cheesesteaks

Afficianados of the delicacy known as the Philadelphia Cheesesteak have argued for years who makes the best cheesesteaks in the city. It usually comes down to two, Jim's or Pat's. I've only ever visited Jim's, a cool-looking chrome art deco place on South Street. Their steaks are excellent, and you can get the elixir of the Gods, Vernors Ginger Soda, to wash one down with. My idea of culinary heaven. I've never known where Pat's was. Now, I can just look at the directions on Pat's web site. Pat's is where the cheesesteak was invented. Sounds like a pilgrimage is in the making.... (Thanks to Dave Winer for the link to Pat's site, which he linked to because of the picture of Brian Setzer there.)

Posted at 6:52 PM
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Monday, December 2, 2002

CBC Radio 3 has issues

What do you call a radio station that isn't a radio station? CBC, the Canadian public broadcaster, has started something they call CBC Radio 3 (their first two stations are Radio 1 and Radio 2, and actually broadcast radio programs, many of them excellent, over the air). But this isn't something you'll be toting to the beach, at least not until free Wi-Fi for all is established in the Constitution. It feels more like an Internet-based magazine with a soundtrack. And in being that, it takes an interesting approach to net-based radio that I haven't seen anywhere else. One of my big complaints about net-based radio is that I'm usually using my computer for something else rather than as a radio. So it doesn't occur to me to tune something in, particularly when I have so many real radios within reach of my computer that I can turn on and hear something interesting. As a result, I very rarely listen to net-based radio. I often listen to the radio while I'm surfing the net. CBC Radio 3 is the first "radio station" I've seen that deliberately makes radio a background experience for while you're looking at something else, then provides the something else to look at. For the most part, the music plays continuously while you visit and read articles. There are a few exceptions; the music is paused when you go to an article that includes an audio component, such as this week's profile of Amon Tobin, an ambient musician, or the article about a new book called The Original Canadian City Dwellers Almanac, which contains a traditionally radio-styled audio report that's loosely coupled to the visual content.

There are a few problems, as is to be expected with something that's apparently only been running for a couple of weeks. First, I don't see any archives, so if you missed the first week as I did, it appears to be gone forever. Second, the site requires Flash, and apparently a pretty recent version, based on comments I see on Metafilter, where I found the link to the site in the first place. Choosing Flash imposes some constraints, such as a lack of bookmarkability (note how I wasn't able to provide links to the individual stories within the magazine in the previous paragraph), no back button, that sort of thing. (Interestingly, at least with Flash MX, these constraints aren't actually necessary; you can access named frames within a presentation by using the #name convention within a URL, for example.) But the site designers acknowledge the existence of the problems in their "Page One" intro, or as they put it, "We have issues." They also promise that they're working on them. I don't see that they'll work around the problems inherent with using Flash as the only interface to their content, but given the hip audience they're aiming at, it may be an appropriate compromise.

CBC Radio 2 has long had some interesting programs on in the wee hours of the morning aimed at a hipster audience, such as the great Brave New Waves. On occasions when I've been close enough to the border, I've been known to stay up way late to listen in. Radio 3 seems aimed at much the same audience. (Radio 2 also has some great programming when normal people can listen, too, like the wonderful roots music program Roots & Wings.)

All in all, I'm very impressed. It ain't radio, and it ain't a magazine, but whatever odd hybrid of the two it is, it sure is an interesting attempt to drag radio into the Internet age.

Posted at 1:12 AM
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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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