There Is No Cat

The alternative to flowers!

Friday, February 28, 2003

Our reply was "no"

I had an incredibly depressing conversation with one of my co-workers today.

My friend is from a small country in southern Asia. He's been in the U.S. for about ten years. He got his bachelor's and master's degrees from American universities, and is now here working on an H-1B visa. He had been trying to get his green card. I'd been struck since I met him at how much he had bought into American culture, successfully assimilating. As he was saying today, he's always felt accepted here as an individual. He was telling me that when he was back home, his friends all asked him why he wanted to come to America. There were so many other countries he could go to, after all. But my friend wanted to come here and no place else, because only in America could he actually become an American and feel like he was accepted as an American.

No longer.

My friend was supposed to be going home to get married in a week or two. He would have left earlier this week. But thanks to new policies by the American government, he's had to postpone his wedding. If he leaves the country, he has no assurance that he'll be able to re-enter. From within the country, he can't get a visa that would enable him to return, despite the fact that he's been here ten years and been a model resident the entire time. If he goes home, chances are he would have to wait six months to get a visa to return, if he gets one at all. That's simply not feasible for a man with car payments and a lease on an apartment. Remember, too, that this is a man with authorization to be here to work. He works here now! Coming back here to get his Ph.D is out of the question; not a single male from his country has been awarded a student visa in over a year. One friend of his had been accepted to an American university recently, but couldn't get a visa; he wound up going instead to Australia to get his degree.

My friend's country has been identified as one from which all males resident in the U.S. must register with the government and be fingerprinted. That identification is somewhat dubious; even the American ambassador in the country said that Washington had made a mistake and should reconsider. My friend is a man America should be proud to call one of its own. He's brilliant, hard-working, and he believes in what made this country great. But because of the indiscriminate manner in which the government has reacted to the attacks of 9/11, dehumanizing people who have lived here for years and bought into the American myth, my friend is now bitter about the way in which America does not live up to its promises. He's been placed in a box from which he can't escape through no fault of his own. He may now be leaving America anyway.

America is unique in the sense that we were founded on ideals rather than on shared geography or ethnicity. Our promise is that if you come here, you too can have an opportunity to fulfill your destiny. There are no promises, just potential; no guarantees, just a chance.

But even this chance is being denied to people just because of where they're from, with no explanation, no consideration of an extended history of valuable contribution to our society and our economy, and no recourse to challenge dubious decisions.

America is a country of immigrants. The steady flow of newcomers has enriched our culture. I look at the area I live in and the changes that have occurred here in the past 25 years, and I can't imagine life without them now. We have restaurants, grocery stores, radio programs and the like that just wouldn't have been possible before. Our history is not unblemished; at various times, we've discriminated against Japanese, Chinese, Germans, Italians, eastern Europeans, and Irish, among others. But all of these communities are accepted as Americans now.

So many countries do not offer the opportunity to become an accepted part of that country. In Germany, there are Turks who are of the second and third generations in their families to live in Germany, but they have not been able to become citizens and be accepted. Another of my co-workers lived in France for over ten years. He came to America because he felt that if he lived in France for the rest of his life, he would still never be considered French, but in America, he could become an American, and has. Chinese communities throughout Asia maintain their identities at least partly because it is not possible to assimilate into the mainstream cultures in which they live. The descendents of German settlers brought to Ukraine and Russia are still considered Germans after hundreds of years, even after they have lost the language. America is supposed to stand in stark contrast to all that.

"Please take me as one of your own, America." That's what my friend said.

Our reply was "no."

That's my friend's loss. It's also our loss. We should be ashamed of what's happening to America and its ideals.

Posted at 7:02 PM
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Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Sometimes a banana is just a banana, Anna

Business 2.0 has an interesting article about how a cell phone shaped like a banana saved a Japanese toymaker by reinjecting a sense of fun into the company's product development process. Interesting stuff.

Posted at 6:51 PM
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Monday, February 24, 2003

Don't know how I missed this when it first came out

Jane Pinckard reports on a unique Japanese game for the PlayStation 2 called Rez (link kinda not work safe). Sadly, according to Tech TV, the trance vibrator peripheral that made Jane's experience so interesting is not included with the U.S. version of the game, although if you can get hold of one, the game will support it.

Posted at 2:06 AM
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Dos Caballos Viejos

I picked up a truly wonderful album this weekend. It's another in a series of collaborations between Ry Cooder and a group of Cuban musicians. Specifically, this time Ry recorded an album with Manuel Galbán, who used to be part of an incredible Cuban doo-wop group called Los Zafiros (The Sapphires). The album is called Mambo Sinuendo. Galbán turns out to be a fantastic guitarist, too, and the album the two of them have turned out has really turned my head. I loved the Buena Vista Social Club album, which I bought the week it came out (in fact, I almost bought it as an import a month before it came out in this country, but decided to wait for the domestic release so I wouldn't have to pay so much), and the first Rubén González album. The film about the BVSC was pretty darned interesting too. I liked a lot of the other Cuban albums that came in their wake, but the sheer number of them seemed to result in diminishing returns (although Ibrahim Ferrer could sing the Havana phone book and I'd be there).

This new album is rather different from the BVSC albums, though. For starters, Ry takes co-top billing this time, rather than receding into the background the way he did on the other albums. And while the BVSC albums tend to evoke the sounds of the 1940s and early 1950s, this new album is more like the late 50s and early 60s. It's mostly instrumental, with only a couple of songs containing a female chorus. The result is magical. At the moment, the song that's sticking in my head is "Caballo Viejo", or "Old Horse" It looks to me like maybe the song was originally an accordion-based norteño by Valerio Longoria. It looks like Brave Combo (another of our favorite bands) may have covered it on an album celebrating ten years of the Kerrville Folk Festival. Cooder and Galbán transform it into a raunchy organ-driven frenzy; at least that's what it sounds like to me, although the credits don't show any organ playing on the song, just guitar. I've been putting together music for our impending nuptuals, and I've been using mostly instrumental music so that the words of the music don't impinge on people's ability to hold conversations (I don't know, does anyone else have trouble carrying on a conversation when a song is being sung? My ears tend to jump to the song....) You can be sure that a track or three from this album will be included.

I didn't know this, found out from this article in Time that Cooder was slapped with a huge fine for travelling to Cuba for the original BVSC sessions. Damned embargo. He eventually managed, after great efforts, to wrangle a one-year exemption from the embargo, and it's that exemption that enabled this album to be made in Cuba. The exemption has expired, and if Cooder returns to Cuba, he faces possible imprisonment. Maybe Nonesuch should send a complete set of Cooder-related Cuban CDs to every Congresscritter. This music seems like a compelling reason to end the embargo.

Posted at 12:57 AM
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Saturday, February 22, 2003

Pay attention, damnit!

The world's greatest DJ ever of all times period end of sentence I'll brook no dissent on this one I tell you, John Peel, reviews Nick Hornby's new book Songbook (which I mentioned here a few weeks ago) for UK paper The Observer. Or rather, uses it as a jumping off point to meditate on how his list would be almost completely different. But that's okay, John Peel rambling is more amusing than most other writers staying on the point. In fact, the rambling is one of the best things about listening to Peel's show on BBC Radio 1.

One thing that Peel points out in Hornby's writing that brings a smile to my face is how frustrating it is when you try to get someone else interested in a record you care passionately about, but they couldn't care less. That's kind of part of what I was getting at a couple of weeks ago when I wrote about the inability of words to accurately describe the feelings music generates. I suppose that's what makes my friendships with the other music geeks I know so precious; even if they don't share my perspective on a particular piece of music, they know the passion that music can inspire. Kind of like how John Peel and Nick Hornby don't agree on their lists, but Peel recognizes Hornby as a kindred spirit.

Posted at 10:54 PM
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Thursday, February 20, 2003

Nationalism, war, and women

Shelley Powers picks up on a thread wending its way through the blogworld about why women don't participate in combat (which started as a discussion of whether or not there would be war in a world ruled by women). She makes the point that we've had matriarchal societies in the past, and yet war persisted. While I don't disagree with that, I do disagree with her reasoning on why women aren't generally allowed in combat today:

The only reason women aren't allowed in fighting infantry is the stupid old men in this country who don't want to face the political backlash of the first women killed in actual hand to hand combat. Horrors! A potential mother killed!

This may be part of the reason, but I think there's an even more visceral reason that explains the desire to keep women at a distance from combat, and that's the possibility of potential mothers being captured.

Jonathan Delacour talks about the changing role of women in modern combat in the western world:

When we consider the major psychological transformations precipitated by weapons and tactics that allowed man to kill at a distance in an emotionally detached manner, it is hardly coincidental that women are integrated into combat units in the US Navy and Air Force—where they would not be expected to engage directly with an enemy—but are excluded from combat in the US Army where the chance of face-to-face contact is significantly higher.

The long, sad history of war has shown that combatants are more than willing to use rape as a weapon. So often wars are precipitated by a sense of nationalism. We Foos are the rightful heirs to this land/religion/tradition, and those evil Bars over there are our God-decreed enemies, blasphemers against all that is right and holy about Fooism, and it is our sacred duty to wreak vengeance upon them for the wrongs inflicted upon us in the past. The very existence of Bars is an offense to us.

With this mentality, the fear of rape is the fear of introducing the enemy into your midst in the form of children borne of such unholy unions. If a male soldier is captured, he can be tortured and killed. So be it; now you have a martyr and another wrong inflicted to inspire vengeance. But if a female soldier is captured, the perceived danger to the community is one that lasts far longer and can even threaten the identity of the community in minds poisoned by nationalism. Excluding women for forms of combat where the chance of face-to-face contact with the enemy is higher minimizes the chance of this happening. It's paternalistic toward the women, but it's also based on a concept of preserving the community.

Even in "enlightened" countries like the United States, there's still a lingering residue of this kind of nationalism.

I'm not defending this point of view. I'm not saying it's right. I'm just saying it is.

Posted at 2:15 PM
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Farewell, Connectix

Microsoft bought Connectix. For you, maybe this doesn't mean much; Microsoft gets the ability to run multiple operating systems simulatenously, something that's at best a niche requirement for Windows users. For Mac users, this is horrible news.

To understand why, you have to look beyond whether Virtual PC, Connectix's current flagship program and the foundation of the technology Microsoft bought them for, has a future. Virtual PC is very clever and even occasionally useful, but it's not really indicative of what made Connectix such a fantastic developer of software for the Macintosh. Before there was Virtual PC, there was Soft Windows and Soft PC by Insignia Solutions, so Virtual PC wasn't even going somewhere new with the product.

What made Connectix special in the Mac market was the other products they created. They knew the Macintosh better than Apple did. Many many years ago, Macs were created with 24-bit memory address spaces. Because of the way that address space was laid out, it was impossible for certain early Macs to address more than 8 or 10 MB of RAM. Once upon a time that was a huge amount, but no longer. Apple threw up its hands and said "live with it." (In fairness, they had every incentive not to fix the problem, because then you would have to buy a new Mac, one not subject to the limitation, to work around it.) Connectix, on the other hand, wrote Mode 32, a program that fixed the bug. It was so successful and effective that eventually, Apple had to buy it from them and distribute it for free. (I seem to recall something about a possible class action suit if they didn't fix the limitation because of some advertising highlighting the 32-bit nature of the 68020 and 68030 processors, but I could be misremembering.) I came across my copy of Mode32 a couple of weeks ago when I was doing some cleaning and it reminded me of Connectix's cleverosity.

In 1994, Apple made a drastic change in its hardware, moving from 68000-series Motorola CPUs to the IBM/Motorola Power PC chips at the heart of modern Macs. In order to pull this move off, they needed to offer the ability to run the old software in emulation mode on the speedy new chips. They wrote a very good emulator, one that ran almost all the software you could throw at it. But it was a little slow. Connectix thought they could do better. So they wrote Speed Doubler, a new emulator for the old system. They threw in some other things to speed up the system, but the new emulator was the heart of the system. It was a huge success, and prodded Apple into upgrading their own emulator to match the performance of Connectix's. The Connectix emulator stopped working with OS 9, I think, but some of the rest of the Speed Doubler package lives on as Copy Agent.

Back in the day, RAM was expensive, and nobody ever seemed to have enough. Apple introduced virtual memory with its radical System 7 update to Mac OS, but it was slooooooow. Connectix had a better idea. They implemented virtual memory in RAM, compressing the contents of memory and decompressing it on the fly. They called the product RAM Doubler, and it was another incredibly clever move on their part. Interestingly, Apple didn't follow them on this one; they just let the falling prices of RAM eventually do away with the need for RAM Doubler. But in its day, it was a fantastic hack.

Connectix has had a long and honorable history of writing the most amazing software for the Mac. As I said at the beginning, they seemed to know more about the Mac than Apple did. They certainly knew how to make the machine jump through hoops it was never designed for. The programmers at Connectix were Mac programming ninjas. Microsoft isn't interested in writing little utility programs that fix Apple's mistakes and make Macintoshes better to use. Absorbing Connectix into Microsoft means we'll never see a jaw-dropping program from them again.

Update: Further exploration indicates that Microsoft isn't buying all of Connectix, just the part to do with Virtual PC. So perhaps Connectix will survive to write the next great Mac utility after all....

Posted at 4:42 AM
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Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Forward into the past!

Mike Wendland writes in the Detroit Free Press about a man who is bringing original radio drama to the Internet. Inspired by the old-time radio collector phenomenon (I have a few friends who do this), Bob Parsons is creating original radio serials, which are being streamed from AMPCast. Wendland doesn't link to Parsons' web site, but a little digging found it. Wendland focuses on a sci-fi serial called Invasive Species involving giant zebra mussels destroying Bay City, Michigan (hey, my great-grandmother was from Bay City!), but it looks like Parsons has another serial, Ambassador Service, that appears to be a comedy. I haven't had a chance to listen to either of these, but it bears further investigation. I'm delighted to see someone out there with a love of radio. God knows you don't hear this sort of thing on commercial radio in the US today (or even public radio, for that matter). You might hear it a little more in Canada. I remember visiting CBC Radio's studios in Toronto a bunch of years ago and seeing the huge studio they had devoted to recording radio dramas. It was quite impressive, with different areas of the studio capable of producing different kinds of ambience. Given the methodology Wendland describes in his column, where geographically dispersed actors recorded their lines on their own computers, and Parsons stitched them together, I doubt they'll have the kind of production values you can get with a studio like the one in Toronto, but it'll still be fun to listen to.

Posted at 12:46 PM
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Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Howard Johnson's got his HoJo working

The Howard Johnson's restaurant in Times Square is apparently going to close down soon, according to an article in The New York Times. It's a shame, although it's been years since the food at any HoJo was considered edible. We had a HoJo in the town I grew up in. It closed about five years ago, when it was torn down and replaced by an Outback Steakhouse. Laura and I had lunch there during the last week they were open. The food was decent, about on a par with diner fare around here. That HoJo hadn't declined the way some have. There's another HoJo on the boardwalk in Asbury Park. We tried that once a few years ago. Big mistake. The food was so disgusting we couldn't finish our lunches. The HoJo in Asbury Park is quite distinctive, and clearly was a complete marvel in its heyday. The building is cylindrical-shaped, and quite striking. You can see glimmers of that in the building to this day, but they're getting fainter and fainter. Hopefully Asbury Park will come back to life enough to give the HoJo there a chance to revive itself.

There's another HoJo on Route 301 in Maryland on the Delmarva peninsula that I've stopped at a couple of times on my way back from the Washington/Baltimore area in the past few years. It's charming. The interior is all wood paneling and such. It feels like you're eating in someone's basement. The food was nothing to write home about, maybe low-end diner fare, not as bad as some but not as good as others.

If you want to try one of the remaining 11 Howard Johnson restaurants, there's a list available on HoJoLand, a site dedicated to preserving the memory of this once-great chain. It's sad to see what it's been reduced to.

Posted at 11:51 PM
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Monday, February 17, 2003

I kinda wanted to take today off anyway

Lots of snow here. I haven't even thought about going out to shovel yet....

Laura's car buried under snow

Posted at 2:42 PM
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And I'm not Bartholomew

As I look out the window at the snow that has pretty much buried our cars, I can only think of one thing:

Thank God it's not oobleck.

Posted at 9:29 AM
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Sunday, February 16, 2003

Blogworld shakeup

When I noticed the time of day last night that Dan Gillmor posted his scoop about Google buying Pyra, the makers of Blogger, I realized that Evan Williams, the president of Pyra, would be a panelist at the Blogosphere thing going on at the same time. So it's amusing to see Ev's note from his position on the panel:

Holy crap. Note to self: When you get off this panel, you should probably comment on this.

Actually, he probably should have commented on it before he got off the panel. But hey, I wasn't there, maybe he did.

Sunday morning, there's still nothing on the Pyra or Google sites about this.

Very interesting news, though.

Posted at 8:54 AM
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Friday, February 14, 2003

Happy Valentine's Day

The Guardian has a ton of coverage for Valentine's Day, actually (see below). One of the more interesting pieces was about how couples handle their finances. The article seems to conclude that keeping individual accounts plus a joint account works best. Another interesting article there points to Marie Stopes International and their free Valentine's Vasectomy Voucher. How romantic!

Posted at 4:28 PM
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She blinded me with science!

The Guardian reports on a number of important scientific discoveries announced today. Well, some of them are scientific; others are triumphs of marketing over science.

Posted at 4:07 PM
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Thursday, February 13, 2003

Words of wisdom from a wise man (in every sense)

Swami Beyondananda gives us the 2003 State of the Universe address. (Found on Backup Brain.)

Posted at 10:03 PM
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The Music Men from Mars

Using the hook of a new compilation CD released a few days ago, Lileks bleats about song-poems, the scam where you're supposed to send in your lyrics to a company for evaluation, followed quickly by a check to pay for the recording of Your First Top 40 Hit Record. Like Lileks, I've long been a fan of the genre, much to the discomfort of my long-suffering fiancee. A small cadre of hipsters has been collecting these efforts for a long time, finding the evidence of misplaced self-confidence and naivete in thrift shops around the country. And they've been generous enough to share their finds with the rest of us. Phil Milstein maintains a web site devoted to the phenomenon. The new compilation on Bar/None records, entitled The American Song-Poem Anthology: Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood And Brush, is kind of a compilation of compilations; Tom Ardolino and Phil Milstein have been releasing LPs and CDs of this stuff on a tiny, poorly-distributed label for years. You can find most of those "original" compilations still for sale at Forced Exposure, in case you find your appetite whetted by Bar/None's compilation and want, nay require, more. And you may want to; the track list of TASPA:DYKTDBBWANB sadly omits my favorite track, Rodd Keith's "I Died Today". Fortunately, there's a CD filled with Rodd Keith-produced tracks of which that classic tune serves as the title track.

Posted at 4:21 AM
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Wednesday, February 12, 2003

His name was widely sung

The New Yorker has a lengthy piece on the last days in office of Vaclav Havel, now the former President of the Czech Republic. As I implied on January 30, I've long been fascinated by Havel, going back to his dissident days, and followed the whole Velvet Revolution and its aftermath very closely. So it's a real treat to find this fine-grained portrait of the end of his time in office.

One of the things in Havel's writings that always resonated with me was his insistence on "living in truth". The totalitarian regime under which he lived expected that the people would alter their behavior in minor, trivial ways that would demonstrate their fealty to their leaders. The example given in the New Yorker article from Havel's classic essay The Power of the Powerless is of the grocer who places a sign reading "Workers of the World, Unite!" among the onions and carrots. The sign is absurd on its face in that context, but the message it truly conveys is not that the workers should unite, but rather that the owner of this shop bows down before the power of the state.

In this atmosphere, refusing to act in ways contrary to ones natural personality, "living in truth", and by doing so insisting on ones own humanity, becomes an act of dissent.

I don't mean to equate totalitarian dictatorship with the corporate environment, but when I was working in a large corporate environment, I found much in that philosophy to inspire me. The path of least resistance is to flatter power. So when a higher-up asks what you think of a particular product/project/initiative, the "proper" response is to make suitably approving noises, participate in whatever manner is deemed appropriate, even when said project is absurd on its face. One thing more than one of my bosses commented on was my insistence on saying what I really thought (fortunately for me, they usually approved of this). Obviously, the pressures to conform aren't as great in a corporate environment, and the consequences of refusing to do so are much less severe (they can fire you, but they can't throw you in prison for years), so like I said, I wouldn't equate the two, but I find it interesting that I could relate to so much of what Havel wrote. Even his absurdist plays and satires on bureaucracy resonated with me.

Incidentally, I found this article from a link on Patrick Nielsen Hayden's blog Electrolite, which is subtitled "Growing luminous by eating light." I immediately recognized that as a lyric from a wonderful song by Peter Blegvad entitled "King Strut" from his album of the same name (an album produced by a long-time favorite of mine, Chris Stamey). There are some lines in the song that seem eerily appropriate to Havel's life, such as the couplet from which Hayden takes his tag line: "Now a man without a moral code is just an appetite / King Strut was on a diet growing luminous by eating light," as well as the following verse, which in a way describes what happened to Havel in 1989:

Some say it was a diamond, like the crown jewel Koh-i-noor
Or a talisman empowered by an ancient conjurer
A hot tip or a claim check, no one knows for sure
All we know is King Strut changed overnight from being poor to being an authority
Philanthropist, connoisseur who paid for what he wanted with a simple signature, King Strut

One of the things mentioned in the New Yorker article is that at the time of the Velvet Revolution, in addition to the graffito Havel na hrad (Havel to the Castle) that appeared all over the place, there was a second, triumphant graffito that appeared after the revolution was won: Havel je král (Havel Is King).


Posted at 12:43 PM
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In someone else's hands, this could be really bad

I don't know why you don't see more lederhosen-clad women playing ska on cheap keyboards and singing with bad fake English accents, but at least there's one. (Found via AccordionGuy)

Posted at 1:56 AM
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Monday, February 10, 2003

Sending the hairy beast

As we approach the dreaded St. Valentine's Day holiday, the Washington Post lives up to its hardboiled reputation with this steamy expose of the sordid tales behind the people who write the cards produced by Hallmark... er, well, no, not really. But it is a nice portrait of what happens at the company that writes all the stuff people want to say but don't know how to.

(Note: The Watchington Post requires that you submit demographic information when you view pages on their site. I usually tell them that I'm female, was born in 1900, and live in ZIP code 12345. I suggest you do the same. That'll mess up their nice little charts. Give 'em a nice spike of centenarians. They also insist that you eat cookies. They're not very tasty; I spit them out when I close my browser.)

The article reminded me of the best business book I ever read, Gordon MacKenzie's Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving With Grace. MacKenzie was an artist and holy-fool-in-residence at Hallmark, and his book is about how to survive as a creative person in the soul-deadening atmosphere of a large corporation. It's typographically inventive, profusely illustrated (both full-page illustrations and doodles on the page as appropriate; the book's production person must have had a blast and a nightmare with this book), and terribly insightful. Hey, the guy's title at Hallmark was Creative Paradox. You've got to love a book written by a guy with a title like that. His story of how gaining the title Creative Paradox gave him undreamed of power at the company is worth the price of admission alone. Needless to say, he used his power for good, not evil.

On top of that, he has a chapter, Chapter 19, entitled "Orville Wright", the text of which is the following, in its entirety:

Orville Wright did not have a pilot's license.

(That's quite profound when you think about it.)

So, as we approach Valentine's Day, honor the memory of the late Creative Paradox and find yourself a copy of this book. It doesn't have anything to do with Valentine's Day, but it's a hell of a read for anyone who tried to stay sane and human in a stifling corporate environment.

Posted at 9:08 PM
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Sunday, February 9, 2003

I wonder what kind of statues they have

I didn't even know that New York had a Museum of Sex, so I was surprised to see it listed first on The Observer's list of the ten best sex museums around the world. Unsurprisingly, Amsterdam is the only city that has two. I didn't visit either of them when I was there in 1993....

Posted at 7:40 AM
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Saturday, February 8, 2003

And you thought billboards on the highway were bad?

It's not enough any more to wear a logo on your t-shirt or maybe on a baseball cap. An ad agency in the UK is paying students to wear advertisements on their foreheads.

I don't think I can even bring myself to add my usual rant about the soul-destroying capabilities of the ubiquity of advertising.

Posted at 3:37 AM
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Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Dancing about architecture

What do you do if the purpose of weblogs is to write about what you're thinking about, but what you're thinking about is essentially unwriteable? The past few days, I haven't been able to get the Kronos Quartet's Pieces of Africa album out of my mind. It's an incredible piece of work. I could tell you how it contains pieces of music written by composers from all over the continent of Africa, ranging from South Africa and Zimbabwe to Sudan to Ghana, but that wouldn't really tell you why I love the album. I could talk about the way Kevin Volans used regional folk motifs in his piece "White Man Sleeps", and how I've heard the same motif show up in music by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Thomas Mapfumo, but that wouldn't really explain the sense of intense joy I felt when I figured out that the music by these three very different musical groups must have been based on folk culture and then found out that I was right when I sent away to John Schaefer's program on WNYC for a playlist for the show where he played the Penguin Cafe Orchestra piece based on this motif and he confirmed my theory. I could say that my heart soars when I hear the western strings of the Kronos Quartet mixing with the kora of Foday Musa Suso, but that wouldn't really tell you what the mixture sounds like or why it does that to my heart.

I could talk about the time I went to see the Kronos Quartet play Summerstage in Central Park on a Thursday night, and how I laid on a blanket on the grass under a tree and stared at the stars while letting this music (they were touring this album at the time) wash over me, but you wouldn't feel the sense of peace and rightness with the world that I felt at the time.

I could even sit you down and ask you listen to the music, and you wouldn't have the same reaction to it as I do.

Damned words. They're all I've got, and they don't do the job.

Excuse me, I have to go perform an interpretive dance about some architecture.

Posted at 11:23 PM
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She go bend she yansh

Deb at Slipstream has a hilarious and insightful entry comparing the skill set required to manage a high-tech project with that required to change a diaper. The match is quite close. My only problem with it is that half the high-tech projects I've worked on have been shit, rather than being designed to contain shit....

Posted at 12:20 AM
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Tuesday, February 4, 2003

Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money

The state of New Jersey has all kinds of interesting information available online about how to sue someone. For example, there are information packets and forms for How to Sue for an Amount of Money Under $15,000 and How to Get Financial Information About Someone Who Owes You Money (sadly only after you've got a judgement against them). They've also got a nice page explaining about Special Civil Part, where you sue someone who owes you less then $15,000 but more than $3,000 (anything under $3,000 belongs in Small Claims Court).

Then, of course, there's the site where you can file for unemployment, the site of the Division of Unemployment Insurance, which has information on how to file, and the Workforce New Jersey Public Information Network, which has job listings and information on how to find a job.

Did I mention that things aren't going particularly well at work?

Posted at 3:00 AM
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Sunday, February 2, 2003

Telling stories

Last night, I sat down and watched my favorite movie about space, a little film from Australia called The Dish. If you're not familiar with it, it's about the contribution a radio-telescope at a tiny town in the Australian outback made to the Apollo 11 mission by receiving the television pictures of Man's first steps on the moon, and the obstacles they had to overcome to do so. It's a very sweet picture, and seems to me to capture the innocence and awe of that time very well, when the entire world fell in love with space exploration. I watch it and I remember what it felt like to be almost six years old and spellbound. That's a very impressionable age. I know it had a huge impact on me.

There's one scene toward the end where they use footage from around the world, showing people watching the landing, whether in Russia, the Vatican, China, India, everywhere. My family went over to my grandparents' house the evening of the moon walk, because they had a bigger television than we did, and theirs was color while we only had a black-and-white TV. At least that's what we said; I think the real reason was because we wanted to share the story. After all, the pictures from the moon were in black-and-white. The movie mentions that 600 million people watched those grainy pictures from space. Kalpana Chawla would have been about eight years old, growing up in a small town in India. I like to think she shared the story too.

Willi McCool, the pilot of STS107, would also have been about eight years old at the time of Apollo 11. I presume he was as enthralled and inspired by that as the rest of us, maybe more so. I found out on a mailing list I belong to that McCool was a friend of a friend. Two degrees of separation from the skies above Texas.

I still pay attention to space. I can't pick out too many constellations, but Orion always seems to jump out at me every time I look up at the sky. Best known as the hunter, Orion was also known as a bard, travelling the Greek islands telling stories. In my shortwave radio hobby, it's important to pay attention to space. The "weather" on the sun has a direct impact on the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere, where the solar radiation ionizes the plasma and causes radio signals to reflect back down to Earth. Looking at the space weather tells me what kind of reception I'm likely to get when I sit down at the radio.

Doc Searls mentions that his six year old son was glued to the radio all day for news of the tragedy, which surprised even an old radio guy like him. It doesn't surprise me, though. My friend Kim Elliott of the Voice of America is fond of describing radio as "the most intimate medium". There's something about the disembodied voice unencumbered by distractions such as images. It reaches back to something primeval in us, the days when we would tell stories around a fire, maybe after the fire had burnt down to embers and you couldn't see much beyond your own hand. Radio is one of the best media for storytelling. When something tragic like this happens, it's stories that help us make sense of it.

Posted at 9:31 AM
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Saturday, February 1, 2003

Oh no! Not again!

What a shame. The breakup of the Shuttle Columbia this morning isn't quite as much of a shock as Challenger, but it's still a terrible, terrible thing. I found out about it from a post on Curious Frog, but you can probably read about it on damned near every web site in the world by now.

I've basically followed the space program my entire life. Men landed on the moon for the first time ten days before my sixth birthday. The first moon buggy, which went up with Apollo 15, was used for the first time on my birthday a couple of years later. I've always found space flight fascinating, as have many people my age. There was something magical about it when I was a kid, and I've certainly kept up my interest since then.

When Challenger exploded in 1986, I was living in State College, Pennsylvania, in the year after I graduated from college. My housemate woke me that morning to tell me what had happened. As I shook the sleep from my eyes, my first reaction was "but that's not supposed to happen. The space shuttle can't explode." This time, I suppose it was more "oh no, not again...."

There's not much to add, I suppose. I found it interesting that the debris trail from the shuttle apparently showed up on weather radar this morning. If nothing else is clear, it's that space flight is still the dangerous, daring adventure that so captivated me 30-plus years ago.

Posted at 2:00 PM
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Fire truck!

So a piece of spam got past the filters this morning, and it promised pictures of Gir1s forced to fsck by Drunk Men. I want to know, when did file system corruption become a major concern of drunks? I can just see it, photographs of frightened gir1s sitting at computers watching console messages scroll by and occasionally typing "y" while stern but sloppy men scowl at them. Oooh, what a turn on. Maybe they'll include a stuffed penguin in the pictures.

Posted at 9:38 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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