There Is No Cat

The alternative to flowers!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Manchester, so much to answer for

I started reading this story aloud to Laura, and she asked me if it was a joke or something. Well, it's not April, and the Guardian is allegedly a respectable newspaper (although they once mentioned me and a project of mine in an article or two, so that's subject to debate), so it would appear that maybe this is true:

The BBC plans to mark the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ this Easter with an hour-long live procession through the streets of Manchester featuring pop stars from The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays and featuring songs by The Smiths and New Order....

[A] character representing Jesus will sing the legendary Joy Division anthem Love Will Tear Us Apart before dueting his arch-betrayer Judas on the New Order hit Blue Monday....

Mary Magdelene, the penitent whore of the New Testament, is also getting in on the act: she is being lined up to sing the Buzzcocks hit Ever Fallen in Love (with Someone You Shouldn't have) accompanied by a string band....

The climax of the event sees Jesus sing the Smiths classic song Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now as he is being flayed by Roman soldiers. He will then come face-to-face with his Roman prosecutor Pontius Pilate with the two of them singing a duet of the Oasis hit Wonderwall...

I can see how being flayed would make one miserable. Hey, maybe they can resurrect late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis for the lead role. The story says Jesus hasn't been cast yet.

Nah, this can't be true. The Guardian must have been taken in by a hoaxster or something. MADchester indeed. (Via Salon.)

Posted at 6:14 AM
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Tuesday, January 24, 2006


This article in the New York Times about how the revelation that the U.S. government has been snarfing search engine records from companies like Yahoo! and MSN (and trying for Google as well) has made search engine users rethink their use of the sites is disturbing. It's the very definition of the chilling effect that government surveillance can have on free speech and free thought, and a perfect example of the harm that the Bush administration is inflicting on the American way of life.

It got me thinking, what search engines exist completely outside the U.S.? Seems to me there would be a market for a worldwide search engine outside the jurisdiction of our overreaching government. It would have to have no ties to the U.S.-based search giants like Google and Yahoo!, so the overseas versions of those engines are out, since we really can't prove if the hardware they use is in the countries they serve or not. The BBC has a search engine on their site that searches the entire web, but something in the back of lizard brain thinks maybe they do that in conjunction with Google, although I can't find any references to that now (that's a weakness of the blog search engines like Technorati; they're so focused on displaying the latest links that they make it hard to find something that was maybe posted about a year or two ago....)

Props to Google for fighting the subpoena, unlike their brethren in the industry who just laid down and thought of England. But who knows if they'll win their argument? It may be prudent to find an alternate.

Posted at 10:45 PM
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Monday, January 23, 2006

Gypsy Punk Invasion

I've been hearing for years about Ukrainian-American gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. A few months ago, I finally found one of their CDs, and was mightily impressed. It's the kind of cultural collision I love. The band is based on the lower east side of New York, in a neighborhood we spend a lot of time in, thanks to its profusion of great Ukrainian and Polish restaurants and hipster record stores.

BBC Radio 1 has a half hour long documentary about the band that should give you an idea what the band sounds like, and that appears to be airing on the station today (although it's not clear when). Or you can listen to it online. Good stuff.

Posted at 3:39 AM
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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Genealogy Guys

Doing some ego surfing earlier tonight, I came across a podcast about genealogy that mentions my other (largely dormant since we bought the house) blog about genealogy. One of the podcast's hosts, Drew Smith, wrote a nice column about my genealogy blog (and how to start your own) for Genealogical Computing magazine a few years ago. He says some very nice things about me and my site in the podcast. The rest of the podcast (the parts that aren't about me) is pretty interesting, too. :-) The stuff about me me me begins about 13:30 into the show.

I haven't been completely inactive with my genealogy in the past couple of years, but most of my genealogy files are still in boxes, and the few things that aren't in boxes are not as organized as they should be. But I've got a couple of interesting stories I haven't told on the site yet, so I should be able to add them, hopefully in the next couple of weeks. And the house is really starting to come together lately, so I'm hopeful that I'll be getting the genealogy files in shape in the coming weeks and can restart my research.

In the meantime, I've added The Genealogy Guys Podcast to my subscription list in iTunes.

Posted at 1:28 AM
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Sunday, January 8, 2006

The Pig's Big 78s

The best record label in all of Germany and probably one of the best half dozen in the world is releasing yet another must-have CD this spring. (This is a surprise?)

I was looking for some place that has the first two CDs in the new Zanzibara series by the French record label that has been releasing the exhaustive Ethiopiques archival series (now up to 20 volumes and no end in sight, much to the dismay of my smoking credit card....) None of the usual suspects had them in stock, but when I got to my usual source for German CDs, I also searched for my favorite Alpine folk-punk-electronica band Attwenger, and found that they had a new album. But no, that's not the must-have CD I refer to (although I must have it.)

No, the must-have CD is one I found when I went to the English-language site of Attwenger's label, the aforementioned best record label in all of Germany, Trikont. (They also have a site auf Deutsch that covers all of their releases, not just the ones they think might appeal to an international audience, some of which are as interesting as the stuff they distribute outside of Germany.) Trikont is releasing a CD of John Peel and his wife Shiela's favorite old 78 rpm records:

The phone call came out of the blue: "Would you be interested in releasing a CD of my favourite 78 records?" said a familar voice. "You're the only label I can think of who can do this!". John Peel was proposing a collaboration. He'd been a fan of Trikont for some time and we were long standing fans of his.

Yippee! The Pig's Big 78s comes to CD!

Posted at 11:27 AM
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Wednesday, January 4, 2006


If the field goal attempt bounces off the right upright, is it still considered wide right? Or would that be narrow right?

Ah, there's nothing like a good defensive struggle. When the game is close and both defenses are dominating the offenses, every play is a potential disaster in the making. The tension is incredible. The high scoring shootouts may thrill the lazy occasional fan, but there's nothing like the shot or ten of adrenaline from watching a good defensive struggle.

It's going to be a few hours before I can go to sleep tonight. I knew I should have taken tomorrow off. When my boss asked a few weeks ago if anyone was taking any days off in January, I replied that it depended on how Penn State's bowl game went. Little did I know it would go to triple overtime....

Posted at 1:25 AM
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Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Best Gift of the Season

The season of presents is over.

Of all the presents this year, I think my favorite was one that I gave my wife for our anniversary.

But wait a minute, you say (if you know us), you got married in April, didn't you?

Well, yeah, but I gave my wife her anniversary present in December, thereby subverting the whole idea of getting married in April so that my poor December-born bride would have a gift-receiving opportunity that wasn't overshadowed by Christmas.

I thought my original idea was really good. I saw this rug in a British home design magazine:

Let's Cha Cha rug

It fit perfectly with the black & white retro look we're going for with our living room. It had a touch of whimsy, perfect for a couple of goofballs like us. The dance steps on the rug played nicely off of my wife's passion for dance and of the fact that she'd been buying old dance instruction books on eBay. And the fact that the rug was called "Let's Cha Cha" was a nice reference to the fact that our first dance at our wedding reception was a cha cha. Perfect.


I contacted the company in China that designed the rug. They didn't have a U.S. distributor yet, but had one company identified that they were probably going to be working with. I contacted the U.S. company. They expected the rug in a couple of months. So when our anniversary came, I told Laura what I was getting her, but that it was taking a little longer than expected. Being the kind, understanding soul that she is, she said that it was okay.

Anyway, to make a long story short, after many months of trying, it became clear that the rug was never going to be available, and that I still owed my devoted wife an anniversary present.

Around the time I came to this conclusion, I was talking with one of my friends at work, and the name of a guy we used to work with came up. She mentioned that our friend had been on national television a year or so ago demonstrating an unusual talent. He's an accomplished artist on the Etch-A-Sketch.

Immediately, I connected the two, and came up with the idea of getting my wife an etching as a (belated) anniversary gift.

So I contacted Keith Drake, my old co-worker, to ask if he was still doing the etchings. Sure enough, he was, so I sent him a JPEG of one of our favorite wedding photos from our wedding at the beach:

Ralph and Laura kissing on a jetty at the beach

He said it would be a suitable image for an etching, and we were off. A few weeks and a couple hundred dollars later, I had this gift for my lovely wife:

Etch-A-Sketch rendering of the previous photograph

The gift was a hit. Laura loves it. And all of the other people we've shown it to (my brother and his fiancee, Laura's parents, her brother and sister-in-law and their kids) were impressed and amused. Our niece seemed awestruck when we showed it to her the other day.

Keith developed a process to fix the images permanently by removing the aluminum powder and glass balls inside the apparatus, and locking the knobs. He suggests that you treat it the way you would treat fine china to prevent the image from being damaged. In other words, don't force the knobs, and don't shake it and drop it and stuff and it'll be fine.

Keith has a web site where you can see some of his other work in this unusual medium.

Posted at 1:21 PM
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Monday, January 2, 2006

Site reborn

The site that's been eating my brain for the past four months is finally live. I actually did a soft launch of it the day after Christmas, but January 2nd marks ten years to the day since the original site was announced, so today marks the official launch. I put a lot of work into the site, basically most evenings and weekends for a four month period. A big chunk of the site is based around repurposed blog software, specifically WordPress 1.5.2. That was pretty interesting to work with. I got to know quite a bit about the software. In order to get it to do what I wanted it to, I had to write a plugin and edit a couple of others, and create a whole theme, because it just wouldn't do to have my site looking like every other WordPress site out there.

There's also a fair amount of custom development outside the WordPress environment involved. The two best features, to my mind, are the revamped database of programs available on shortwave radio and the database of receptions of various shortwave stations submitted by club members over the past seven years, both of which were custom development. Both make moderate use of AJAX, but do so in such a way that the pages degrade gracefully if your browser doesn't support the versions of Javascript required to work that way. I'm indebted to Jeremy Keith's wonderful DOM Scripting book for spelling out how to do this; I mean, I was always aware that you could do Javascript this way, but his book puts it in one place and in a manner that makes things really clear even if, like me, you've basically dismissed Javascript as a great way to make your site inaccessible and unfriendly to search engines. (I wrote about my impressions of the AJAX-related books out there a while back; the Foundations of AJAX book was also invaluable to me.)

And it was critical to me to make the site as accessible as possible. Shortwave radio has a significant audience of blind and visually impaired users who find, much like the rest of us, that radio has better pictures. I wasn't able to test with blind users, but I did add the ability to turn off the AJAX enhancements, because the vague pronouncements I've read that AJAX makes your sites less accessible compelled me to. In the end, the parts of the site I can test with automated tools are compliant with the W3C's WAI guidelines levels 1 through 3 with one minor, trivial exception in level 2 (in one case, I jump from second level headers to fourth level without an intervening third level head, but the fourth level headings in question are in the right navigation and just aren't as important as third level headings elsewhere, so I'll live with being dinged by the stupid tools).

The old site served the club well for ten years. It looked good when it was unveiled in 1996, and even won a couple of design awards. And search engines loved it; the site is the number 1 and 2 results in Google for "shortwave" and number 1 for "shortwave radio". But I let it stagnate after a few years because it was a pain to update, because I didn't want to mess up those wonderful search engine rankings, and because the hosting company I was using added a couple of useless disk-eating "features" that I didn't want, which made it impossible for me to add anything significant without triggering disk space overage messages and site shutdown. Feh. The hosting company was great ten years ago, but two purchases of the original company over the course of a decade left small users like me lost in their system, and they never ever upgraded the host capabilities (we were grandfathered in with what we had, and if we wanted any changes to that, would have to upgrade to their more expensive offerings). The move was long overdue.

I sent in my request to cancel the old hosting account yesterday. They were the best ten years ago, but now they're just offering ten year old hosting.

And today, I have a bright and shiny new site. Phew!

Posted at 1:17 AM
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Sunday, January 1, 2006

Template for a New Year's Day post

Reflections on year gone by. Good stuff happened. Bad stuff happened. Obligatory mention of Nietzsche.

Hopes for year to come. Mainly that there's more good stuff and less bad stuff.

Top ten list:

  1. Item 1
  2. Item 2
  3. Item 3
  4. Item 4
  5. Item 5
  6. Item 6
  7. Item 7
  8. Item 8
  9. Item 9
  10. Item 10
  11. Item 11

Felicitations to all for the new year.

(Feel free to reuse, filling in your own details.)

Posted at 2:45 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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