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Friday 8/31/01

National Geographic has an article on microbes that digest metal compounds in seawater and excrete the pure form of the metal. In particular, they do this with gold. Industry is naturally interested in harnessing these microbes for harvesting valuable minerals from the ocean, but it doesn't look economically feasible at this point. (Thanks, Warren)

The Orange County Weekly looked for people who had the worst jobs they could imagine and interviewed them. It's fascinating reading, especially for the fact that a lot of these people really enjoy their work. (Props to randomWalks)

ProleText is a clever way of providing formatting information for plain text by means of a series of tabs and spaces attached to the end of each line. This allows the text to remain completely readable in programs that only support plain ASCII while at the same time allowing a richer presentation in programs that support the ProleText format. I don't know of any that do, but this is sneaky enough to be its own reason for existence. (Props to BrainLog)

The headphones are going back. After working correctly for a moment when first switched on, the left channel fades out over about five seconds, leaving me listening to music in only one ear. Left 'em charging all day and night yesterday on the off chance that it was just a weak battery, but both batteries do it, and both have been charged. Bummer.

Thursday 8/30/01

Cringe-inducing headline: EU expands Microsoft probe. I thought they outlawed that kind of torture device (see "the pear") long ago.

Follow Me Here is back! And what a nice load of links Eliot has dropped on us for his return. For example, there's the article on "black holes" in the English language, a mysterious buzzing noise in southwest Germany, and science writer's Matt Ridley's assessment of a contrarian book on the environment ("the Greens have got it wrong," he says). Among much other interesting reading.

It used to be that the definition of "anticipation" involved the Carly Simon song and Heinz's ketchup. For me, today, it has to do with getting my wireless headphones but not being able to listen to them until tomorrow because the battery takes 24 hours to charge up the first time.

The front page of claims "unbelievable price" on an SMC 802.11 (Wi-Fi) PC Card. They are correct. I'll wager they don't have Mac drivers, but for you PC types, the cost of equipping your laptop with 802.11 is now just $70.

All right, all right, every other blog has already linked to this, but I just got around to reading it this morning, and I have to say that Kevin Smith's Date With Destiny, the story of his first kiss with his wife (in comic-book form and in the New York Times, no less), is funny and sweet and well worth reading.

Waz Under is a handy Web application that lets you effortlessly read all the HTML comments on a page without that annoying View Source command. It's a pain to have to paste the URL into the Web form, so they also provide a handy bookmarklet that you can add to your browser toolbar to view the comments on any page with a single click. Ever wanted to know what Weblogs are saying behind your back? Now you can tell. (Props to anil dash)

The Failure of Zero Tolerance at Salon. Zero tolerances policies have been one of Randy Cassingham's pet peeves for some time. It provides ample fodder for his weekly collection of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction news stories, This is True, but I think he'd be happy if that source of stories more or less dried up even if it means he has to look harder for material.

Meanwhile, why not try zero tolerance for stupidity. Now there's a standard to which all citizens should hold their elected and appointed representatives.

Wednesday 8/29/01

Here's a piece run last year by a local indie paper, The Stranger, on people who jump from bridges. (Props to gluechunk at MetaFilter)

Brain Cells Used to Make Working Semiconductor. It's a good start, but what we really need is the other way 'round. (Props to MetaFilter)

Finished my first deliverable at my new job today, a small HTML help system. They seem happy with the work I've done so far. I'm starting to really like working there, too.

Using the principle of marginal utility, it is possible to economically justify buying lottery tickets. Which means, sadly, that it's possible to justify just about anything economically. (Props to Lake Effect)

This humorously phallic graphic apears on the asphalt at the entrance to Dick's, a burger joint near the office.

Tuesday 8/28/01

Internet Explorer 6 for Windows has some improvements to the way it handles CSS. Looks like it's on a par with the Mac version now.

This is why I was late for work this morning.

Free VisorPhone with purchase of any HandSpring Visor PDA and a service plan.

Mmmmm. 10Gbps cable modem. That's gigabits, not megabits. Per second. To the home, using existing infrastructure.

I reiterate: Mmmmmmmmm. (Props to dangerousmeta)

The New York Times has word from an HBO spokesman about the odd single-frame image that Heather Champ, Derek Powazek, and yr obdnt srvnt found in various HBO programs. Apparently they're blaming it on a technical glitch; the server that Six Feet Under (and, presumably, the other programs the frame was detected in) was stored on was also used for The Air Up There.

I'm a little startled to hear that HBO broadcasts its programming from a computer. I mean, if you think about it, of course they do, as I'm sure all networks do; it'd be stupid to do it any other way. But for some reason I had this mental image of a bunch of guys in thick glasses shuffling Betacam tapes. (Thanks, Matt)

Monday 8/27/01

The Times of New York reports on the growing use of a particular Britishism to describe custom, craftsmanlike software development. Neal Stephenson is mentioned, as he employed the term in his novel The Diamond Age and is probably at least partly responsible for importing it to the States. (Props to Boing Boing)

Cat received a tip that purports to block e-mail worms transmitted via Outlook on Windows by adding a dummy entry to your address book. Since I don't use Outlook on Windows, I have no idea whether this works, but it seems modestly clever if it is true. Unfortunately, it would be trivial for a worm to validate all your e-mail addresses before adding them to a message, so I'd expect this "protection" to be extremely short-lived.

Duncan Sheik's Phantom Moon (music and understated performance by Sheik with orchestra, lyrics by playwright Steven Sater) has been spending a good amount of time in my CD player recently. It's a melancholy but surprisingly warm album. It's as if he knows how cold you are because he, too, was once just as cold, but now he's inviting you to sit by the fire with him and let the cold recede into bittersweet memory. There's pain in these songs, but there's also hope. Standout track is "Lo and Behold," which never fails to give me chills.

Saw The Others Saturday night. Nicole Kidman stars, although her ass, sad to say, does not appear in the film under its own recognizance. (Kidman's posterior was a definite high point of Eyes Wide Shut and improves any film in which it appears.) This is an old-fashioned ghost story made by a foreign writer-director (Chilean, in fact), which means it's all about atmosphere, and indeed it generally succeeds in being spooky as hell. Kidman is very convincing as a mother teetering on the edge of insanity, and the child actors who play her kids are also quite good. There are a couple of great "jump out of your seat" moments that will get you even if you think you're jaded, but there's no gore and little violence. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the advertising for the film did not feel compelled to give away the whole damn plot, as happens all too often.

SPOILER WARNING: This movie has a trick ending, and if you have seen a certain very popular supernatural thriller from a couple of years back, with which this film shares a sense of deliberate pacing, you will see the ending coming within the first reel. Doesn't much matter; it's still a very moody, beautiful, and engaging film, although not quite a classic one. A pleasant change of pace.

Sunday 8/26/01

As promised, Jerry's Finder 9 Patch (compatible with Mac OS 9.2 and 9.2.1) is now available on the Download page.

Saturday 8/25/01

Daniel Rozin's interactive art projects are really cool. QuickTime movies are included so you can see how they work. (Props to Inflight Correction)

A good price on the TDK Mojo MP3-CD player: $150 at J&R Music World, less a 3% eBate, less a $20 mail-in rebate, equals $125.50. Add $4.95 for UPS ground shipping for a delivered price of $130.45. If I'd bought it locally I'd have paid retail ($180) plus sales tax (over $15) for a savings of about $65.

T-shirts with error messages on. Awww yeah boyee, I gots ta get me some of that. (Props to /usr/bin/girl)

Friday 8/24/01

Since a few of my favorite blogs are on hiatus, I've been actively seeking out new ones to read over the last few days, and I've found a few new ones that I keep returning to regularly, so I added them to the list on the right side of my page to facilitate my daily surf. Perhaps you will find them worth visiting as well. Say hello to Dangerousmeta (which seems to be having DNS problems right at the moment), Flutterby, Geegaw, and Exciting Monkey Bum Stories for Boys and Girls.

Yay! They're beginning to roll out TiVo 2.5 to subscribers with the DirecTV/TiVo combo boxes. In addition to bringing support for these boxes' second tuner (allows two simultaneous recordings, or recording one channel while watching another, without an "additional receiver" DirecTV fee), they've also sneaked in a service code that can turn on a super-secret 30-second skip-ahead function perfect for zapping commercials. Can't wait to get my update.

Interesting overview of minimalist composer Philip Glass in The Atlantic. When I was attending Ohio State University, they had "Pink Noise," an installation by Richard Serra with music by Glass, on exhibit there. It was fascinating walking around the spaces and hearing the way the components of the music would mix together in different ways depending on where you stood. I was a 19-year-old product of the suburbs at the time and lacked the background to appreciate minimalism, only later sort of backing into it after hearing Tangerine Dream described as "minimalist" once. (Props to Reductio ad Absurdum)

Computer graphics can finally produce a compelling glass of milk. Moo! (Props to Exciting Monkey Bum Stories for Boys & Girls)

Sara is an Apple III emulator for the Macintosh. The Apple III was twice as fast as the Apple II, had a whopping 128K of RAM, offered software-modifiable text character sets, and ran an operating system called SOS (Sophisticated Operating System). Later, much of SOS came to the Apple II, where it was called ProDOS. III E-Z Pieces, an integrated productivity package for the Apple III, also later came to the Apple II, where it was called AppleWorks.

The Apple III's code-name was Sara. Quality problems in the first production run ensured it was Apple's biggest flop until the Lisa. Conclusion: Apple should not name computers after chicks.

The logos of Flexcar and Cingular Wireless: separated at birth?

Thursday 8/23/01

Ars Technica takes on metadata, specifically in the context of Mac OS X. Interesting read if you're interested in finding out why some Mac users are dismayed by some aspects of X. (Props to CamWorld and MDJ)

Chess is played in different ways in different parts of the world even today, and what the Western world calls "chess" today has remarkable differences from the original game. You'll learn more at the Chess Variants Web site. There are a lot of them, although I was sort of surprised not to see "chesh," Douglas Hofstadter's hypothetical variation played on a honeycomb, mentioned. It's called "chesh" because the "h" winkingly stands for "hexagon" the same way the second "s" stands for "square" in "chess." Hofstadter also named a triangular variant -- you got it -- "chest." (Props to Robot Wisdom)

Hydrogen would make a nice clean fuel for cars and many other applications, except for one minor detail: pure hydrogen gas is very light and tends to rise to the top of our atmosphere; thus, there is very little of it available for harvesting "in the wild." So we're forced to "manufacture" hydrogen by electrolyzing water, separating it into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen. This means that while hydrogen burns clean (its waste product is just water), all you're really doing is moving the pollution back up the energy chain to the electrical power plant. Pure hydrogen can, also at great energy and pollution cost, be extracted from natural gas as well. Centralizing pollution in this way may make it easier to manage, but it's still a tremendous infrastructure problem.

But now it may be possible to generate hydrogen using a modified photosynthetic reaction. Sunlight in, hydrogen (and oxygen) out. The University of Tennessee and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory demonstrated the concept using spinach and platinum. Unfortunately, platinum is expensive and there's not a lot of it on the planet, but it's nonetheless an impressive proof of concept and offers the intriguing possibility that some day, we may be able to grow our own hydrogen at home. (Props to Edgecase)

Tara Calishain has started a weblog to go along with ResearchBuzz, her excellent newsletter on finding information on the Web. Don't expect as tight a focus as the 'Buzz itself, but it's still all about finding stuff; recent entries have included a honey locator (in case you're a Web-enabled bear), a link to Glenn Fleischman's Search Engine Strategies coverage, rabbit resources, and Morris dancing.

Wednesday 8/22/01

The Kestrel 4000 is a cool weather gadget that measures, stores, and graphs information on just about every and atmospheric condition except for precipitation. We're talking temperature, wind speed, barometric pressure, humidity, wind chill, heat index, and more. It's due early next month for just over $300. (Thanks, Warren)

Best news I've had all day: Court says California strippers may touch themselves.

Laurie Spiegel, creator of the "intelligent instrument" software Music Mouse (which you can download from her site), has lots of interesting things to say about technology, music, and their intersections. Also, I learned a new word. (Props to Hexidecibel)

You mean there were actually people who didn't realize the giant cat photo was a Photoshop job? (Props to FirBlog)

Just testing a slightly remote version of my posting script. I've mounted my home machine's hard disk on the hard disk of my work machine (a tangerine iBook, for the moment) and am using the simplified version of my posting script that reads and writes files directly on that disk. At home, Interarchy should notice and upload the changed files to my Web site momentarily. Let's see if it works.

Tuesday 8/21/01

Behold what may be the worst Flash animation ever. It's technically competent, but only about half as subtle as a Captain Planet cartoon. (Props to Kottke)

Yeah, it's workin'. Kudos to the Interarchy crew.

I would look for a new release of Interarchy 5 soon, as they seem to have fixed the bug I was bitching about the other day. This Weblog entry, in fact, is being posted with a script that only modifies local files; Interarchy is taking care of uploading the files for me. At least, I hope. (Crossing fingers.)

Mac OS 9.2.1 has been released. It can be installed over 9.1 or 9.2 (the latter being installed on Apple's newer machines). Watch for a new version of Jerry's Finder Patch this weekend to support this update, if such turns out to be necessary.

The guys who wrote Interarchy are fixing the FTP Disk synchronization bug I found and posted about. Dig it.

MetaFilter is back, too, if you hadn't noticed. God's in his heaven and all is right with the world.

Monday 8/20/01

Los Angeles Magazine has a great article on Peter Bart, former editor-in-chief of Variety. You've probably never heard of him if you're not involved in the entertainment industry, but he sounds like quite a character. (Props to RandomWalks)

Heather "Harrumph" Champ found a mysterious single-frame image inserted into an episode of HBO's Six Feet Under. I saw this same image, in a copy of The Thirteenth Floor I'd TiVoed from HBO via DirecTV last week. Innocent technical glitch? Subliminal advertising? Global conspiracy? Alien communication? Or is this the work of Tyler Durden? You decide.

Everything you always wanted to know about Volkswagen's latest diesel engines (dubbed TDI) -- and more -- can be found in the TDI FAQ. My friend Warren has one of these engines in a New Beetle and is very satisifed. Modern diesel engines have more or less conquered the noise, vibration, and odor issues that have historically made diesels unpopular except for a brief window in the 1970s when diesel fuel was significantly less expensive than gasoline. Diesel engines develop a lot of torque at relatively low RPMs, so they can feel peppy to drive even with a low horsepower rating. Warren's Beetle gets better mileage, on average, than a Toyota Prius, a car which has an extremely complicated powertrain designed specifically to improve fuel economy. One can only imagine what kind of mileage you might get if you combined the Prius's electric hybrid design with a modern passenger diesel.

Diesel engines in US cars currently put out somewhat more of certain pollutants than gasoline engines do, and thus they are not sold in some states. Lower-sulfur diesel fuels (already available in Europe) and renewable biodiesel fuels have significantly better pollution profiles. You also have to weigh the vehicle pollution against reduced vehicle fuel usage as well as lower energy usage and pollution during the refining process, since diesel needs less refining than gasoline.

Diesel engines are incredibly long-lived and easy to maintain. They require oil changes only half as often as gasoline-powered cars (if you use a good synthetic, you might go an entire year between oil changes) and they do not need tuning up, because there is no ignition system; diesel engines ignite fuel through compression. About the only thing you really have to do is change the timing belt, although doing this in a timely manner is very important on a diesel. Large diesels in trucks typically last more than 500,000 miles, and you hear stories about older VW diesels going strong at 300,000+ miles (the body gives out long before the powertrain).

Diesels are not so great for colder climates, as you have to take some care about the kind of fuel you put in during the winter to avoid "gelling," but in a place like Seattle, they have much to recommend them.

You wanna be bad, but you happen to be white and thus completely lacking in badness? Let the Samuel L. Jackson soundboard help you out with that. Warning: Flash. (Props to Cheesedip)

Here's another spam blocker for protecting your e-mail address on the Web via entity-encoding. This one's written in Perl. Mmmm, camel. This will be the last thing of this nature I'll post, I promise. (Thanks to the script's author, David Szpunar)

An intrepid reader of this page has tracked down a little Windows program that converts your e-mail address to its entity-encoded form, as described yesterday. (Thanks to Andy Helsby)

Sunday 8/19/01

Here's a Web page that lets you easily build sophisticated mailto links incorporating entity-encoding for anti-spam protection.

I've been Lockergnomed! I woke up this morning to discover hundreds of hits on this site because Chris Pirillo's Lockergnome Tech Specialist linked to me. Thanks, Chris!

For Lockergnome readers, I'll reiterate the other anti-spam tricks I posted earlier this week. After all, some address harvesters can't be identified by their HTTP user-agent headers and look just like Web browsers. (Or maybe you're not using Apache as a server.) The easiest trick is one I use on this page; look at the source. Just convert all your e-mail addresses to HTML entities. Every character in the address is replaced with &# followed by the character's ASCII code followed by a semicolon. In other words, instead of writing you would write m a i l t o : f o o @ b a r . c o m (take out the spaces, they're only there to make this more readable). Web browsers have no problem with such links, but I'm not aware of any e-mail harvesters that can decode this morass of punctuation and numbers. (I've never received any spam on an e-mail address protected this way. None, nada, zip.) I have a little AppleScript for BBEdit that encodes the selected text for me automatically; I'm sure someone can whip together something in Visual BASIC or something real quick for Windows. (If you have something like that, drop me an e-mail and I'll link to you.)

Also, here's how to protect your e-mail address using JavaScript. This is somewhat more secure than the entity-encoding trick I just mentioned, because in order to decode it, an address harvester would need to include a complete JavaScript interpeter and actually execute every JavaScript in every page they download. Ain't gonna happen, folks. The downside is that lots of people surf the Web with JavaScript turned off to avoid pop-up ads, so some people might not see your e-mail address if you've protected it this way.

If you post to Usenet -- which is another popular place to harvest e-mail addresses -- a good way to protect your e-mail address without impeding real people's ability to contact you is to use a bogus e-mail address in your newsreader's "From" line but to add a "Reply-To" line with your e-mail address. (How to do this varies depending on what newsreader you use; some might not be able to.) Usenet spam harvesters use the XOVER command to retrieve a package of message headers that generally contains "From" but not the infrequently-used "Reply-To." However, when someone reads a message, they get all the headers for that message, including "Reply-To" if the message has it. So harvesters won't see your real e-mail address, but someone who has actually read your message and wants to reply to it will still be able to.

By the way, when you use a bogus e-mail address on Usenet, be sure to use a domain that ends with ".invalid," a special top-level domain especially for invalid e-mail addresses. An example of such an address is "nobody@nowhere.invalid." If you use a domain ending in ".com" or other real top-level domain, people at that domain will get spam intended for you -- that's not very neighborly. (Even if the account name you used isn't real, then their mail server must go to the trouble of rejecting spam, and their postmaster will get lots of bounce messages from these rejection notices since the return addresses used by spammers are rarely real.) Domain names ending with ".invalid" are guaranteed never to be registered, and people with smart newsreaders will be warned not to try to send e-mail when they reply to such messages.

At last -- incontrovertible evidence that NASA faked the moon landings. (Props to

Saturday 8/18/01

Science fiction becomes reality again. This time it's the Electric Monk, who appeared in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by the late Douglas Adams. And of course it was invented in Japan. (Props to Inflight Correction)

I take back what I said below about Interarchy 5.0's FTP Disk feature being the Holy Grail. After modifying my Weblog posting script to futz only with local files, I discovered that the August archive page had only one item on it. This turns out to be because Interarchy 5.0 deletes local files after uploading them, if they're in subfolders. Panic ensued while I reassured myself that the files had been deleted only from the local FTP Disk folder and not from the actual site. Obviously, i was able to fix things up, but seeing files you know are supposed to be there (and that you watched the program download when it created the FTP Disk to begin with) vanish is scary indeed.

This is either a serious bug ar a major design flaw. I cannot recommend Interarchy 5.0 at this time.

Interarchy 5.0 is out, and it is indeed the Holy Grail of FTP, or at least as close as anyone has ever come to it: FTP sites mounted as icons on your Mac desktop. In reality, they're just folders; when you create an "FTP disk" (Interarchy's term), the program downloads a complete copy of the entire site to a folder on your desktop, and then transparently monitors this folder (and its children) for changes. When you modify, delete, or add a file, Interarchy notices and uploads the changed file. It doesn't happen right away; there's a lag time of a couple of minutes so that if multiple changes happen at once, they can be batched up. Changes can be synchronized manually by clicking the Synchronize button in Interarchy's FTP Disk Manager window (this function can also be used to download any changes from the remote site that might have happened while you were offline).

Now, Interarchy's FTP Disk feature is clearly unsuitable for, say, browsing the Info-Mac archive and downloading files that strike your fancy, because creating the FTP disk in the first place, remember, involves downloading the entire site. But for maintaining Web sites, it's a godsend. My posting script for this very site, for instance, used to require explicitly telling Interarchy to upload each file changed by the act of posting a message to this weblog. (In fact, since the script was designed to support posting from multiple locations, it actually downloaded each file before modifying it and uploading the changed version.) That's all gone now. My script just modifies the local files and a minute or two later, Interarchy notices they've changed and uploads them. As you can imagine, this streamlines the script significantly, and simplifies it enough that I feel much more comfortable tweaking it to add further features.

Interarchy 5.0 is a free trial until October 1, after which it will presumably start nagging you to register it. It has lots of other features besides FTP Disk, of course, including a pretty robust suite of daemons (including a telnet daemon that lets you connect to your Mac and send it AppleScript command lines remotely), a TCP/IP traffic monitor that can show you what's going through your machine's network stack, and a highly customizable interface. Well worth the $45 they're asking for it.

Hexa-hexa-flexagons! A mathematical origami, in the shape of a hexagon, which folds when you flex it to reveal six sets of hidden faces. (Props to Apathy)

Friday 8/17/01

I've fallen to fifth place on the Yahoo/Google search for "world's longest penis." In part this is because I've started excluding my main page from indexing -- it changes so regularly that by the time someone searches for something, the thing they're searching for is probably off the front page. Now only the archives get indexed, so people can find what they want more easily.

Still, fifth place is clearly unacceptable. "How can I help?" I hear you asking. If you have a blog, or even a Web site, just link to my July archive (for that is the page Google currently associates with the phrase, at #5). The more links that page gets, the more it will move up, since Google ranks sites by popularity as determined by how many other sites link to it. For extra credit, use the words "world's longest penis" as the actual link text; this may give your "vote" even more weight in Google's ranking. Drop me an e-mail if you decide to participate.

I do not intend to lower myself to actually changing the text of my July archive page or its meta tags (it currently doesn't have any at all) in order to increase my ranking. That would ruin the experiment.

Science fiction writer and regular Wired contributor Bruce Sterling has a weblog. And, if the picture is any indication, a posse. (Props to Rebecca's Pocket)

Take otherworldly photographs without leaving Earth. Most digital cameras have CCDs that are sensitive to at least some amount of infrared light (hold a remote control in front of one and see if you can see the light blinking when you press buttons). All you need is a special filter that blocks the visible light to end up with some very intriguing pictures. (In particular, plants are highly reflective in the infrared, which means that trees and grass and such will be nearly white. Also, the iris of the eye is very reflective in the infrared, which can make peoples' eyes look very odd indeed.) Here's all you need to know, and here's even more. Not only it is fun, but it can be used with manuscripts and paintings to see into the past.

Once you're done photographing red light you can't see, why not try your hand photographing violet light you can't see?

My brain is full. I am experiencing mental buffer overflow. If anyone wanted to get some kind of thought virus into my mind, now would be the time.

Thursday 8/16/01

Dan Capps of Madison, Wisconsin can spit a cricket more than 32 feet. He is the Wayne Gretzky of cricket-spitting and holds an official world record. If it weren't August 16, I'd think it was April 1. (Salon)

Recently I read two science fiction novels by local authors. Neither is particularly new, but I read them both recently for the first time, so I'll talk about 'em now, if you don't mind.

Eric Nylund's Signal to Noise is full of interesting ideas. As the story opens, or rather before the story opens, a scientist has developed a mathematical formula that can determine whether a given random-seeming signal actually contains information. A rival scientist named Jack sets out to prove him wrong; he believes that the nature of randomness is such that you can find "intelligible" signal in almost anything. Of course, what he finds out in analyzing random cosmic noise is that there actually is a signal there -- and he initiates communication with an alien who calls itself Wheeler and deals in information. You might be forgiven for thinking the name a reference to the famous physicist, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that the alien chose the name because of his aggressive bargaining style. The alien gives Jack and his friends an advanced computer, cleans up and optimizes the human genome, and provides the secret of teleportation. All of it, of course, comes at a terrible price. Along the way Jack is subjected to impromptu brain surgery to implant special Chinese technology that allows him to hack directly into the virtual reality of Nylund's far-future world. (A small side-effect: the antenna for the device is right behind one of Jack's eyes, and the microwave radiation from the transmitter slowly hard-boils it.) There's lots of secret-agent hijinks, massive betrayal, and a cute Asian spygirl named Panda. Also the end of the world, and it's quite an accomplishment that this seems like the least of the events in the novel.

If there's a flaw in Signal to Noise, and there definitely is, it's that the novel is simply too short for all the stuff Nylund crams into it. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Arthur C. Clarke once famously said, and it's fortunate for the plot of this novel that it takes place in a world with very advanced technology indeed, because some of the feats the protagonists pull off happen so quickly and with so little apparent effort that they might as well have been achieved by sorcery. We really could have done with a little more attention to detail, not to mention a few more dramatic setbacks, in regard to what turn out to be major plot points. Our heroes rarely stop to consider the consequences of their actions. It's more like "The Sorceror's Apprentice" than a real plot at times. Still fun, though not quite fun enough to convince me to invest in the sequel.

If Signal to Noise is a thrill ride on a motorcycle, Greg Bear's Slant is a brisk drive in a fine German sedan through hairpin turns. This novel is solid, with Bear juggling plot threads and world-building in the effortlessly-skilled way that only a very experienced writer can manage. The novel's premise is that, as the pace of life accelerates, people must find ways to keep themselves mentally stable in order to prevent the collapse of their highly streamlined society. Nanotechnology provides the breakthrough they need, and most people in Bear's world have some sort of "therapy" to keep them sane under superhuman pressures. (The few humans who can cope with reality without assistance are known as "naturals" and often find themselves in positions of great power and responsibility.) But something is causing the nanotech to stop working, resulting in an epidemic of mental breakdowns. At the same time, an artificial intelligence is contacted by a rogue AI with intriguing information, and a group of commandos is planning an attempt to loot an exclusive cryo-storage facility for the wealthy. All these things are, of course, related, and much of the tale revolves involves revealing exactly how.

Some of the things in Slant we've seen before. The "therapy" breakdown reminded me quite strongly of Snow Crash, right down to the nonsense syllables its sufferers find themselves compelled to utter. The depiction of AI is fairly standard for science fiction -- although Bear's AI is more security-conscious than others conceived before the days of Internet worms -- and the well-worn device of the AI having some kind of connection to the outside world that its creators don't know about is employed yet again. There's even an echo of Bear's classic Blood Music in the mystery of the rogue AI. But these nitpicks matter not at all; Bear is a consummate craftsman, all the pieces of his puzzle eventually fit together smoothly, and the experience of reading Slant is utterly enjoyable. While it didn't blow my mind like, say, Metaplanetary, it did leave me sighing contentedly and saying, "Now that's science fiction."

First day at the new job today. I wouldn't expect too much in the way of posting while I'm there, as (at least for now) I have no Mac there and thus no ability to run my posting script. I imagine I'll be able to post the occasional lunchtime link once I have the lay of the land, but for now I'm going to have my hands full just learning everyone's name and getting the hang of how they do things 'round there. I suspect that even after I'm settled in, I'll generally be busier than I was at Widevine. Never fear, I still expect to post lots of stuff here; in fact, this evening I have a review of two science-fiction books by Seattle-area writers to post.

Wednesday 8/15/01

Some truly tasty optical illusions. First, keep your eye fixed on the dot in the center of this image while moving your head toward and away from the monitor. Next, consider this image and try to convince yourself that the horizontal lines are, in fact, all parallel (yes, really, they are). Last but not least, gaze in awe at the floating circle -- it helps to move your head around a little while staring at the circle. (Props to peterme, via JOHO)

The speed of light may have changed, scientists say. Not recently or anything, mind you, but in any event c may be rather more variable than most of us assumed. This is actually permitted by some modern superstring theories, although in Einsteinian physics c is held to be a constant.

With a comedy about a boy in a bubble due imminently in theaters, the Houston Press runs a fascinating, disturbing, and affecting article potentially revealing another side of the life of the original Bubble Boy, David Joseph Vetter. Psychologist Mary Murphy was his "best friend," and she claims that she promised David that she would write and publish his true story, not the feel-good story of an optimistic child with a sunny disposition repeatedly represented by the media. According to Murphy, David was angry and bitter about his lack of ability to do the things normal kids do. Her attempt to publish David's story in 1995 was blocked by legal threats from David's parents that scared off her publisher. Now she's trying it again. (Props to Obscure Store)

With brain implants that electrically stimulate specific portions of the brain, people may soon be free of mental disorders ranging from Parkinson's to obsessive-compulsive disorder to even depression, according to a Technology Review article. The "brain pacemaker" technology is already being used for epilepsy, and further fine-tunings (such as having the stimulation kick in only when a seizure is about to begin) are underway. Clinical studies will be performed this year for OCD, depression, and "minimally conscious state," or catatonia. Life is becoming more and more like science fiction every day. (Props to Also Not Found in Nature)

Here's how to identify many e-mail address harvesting robots used by spammers to collect addresses from Web sites, with instructions for blocking them if you use Apache. This will reduce server traffic, too, since it will prevent these robots from scanning your entire site.

An anti-spam solution that works for any Web server is simply to make sure there are no recognizable e-mail addresses in your Web pages. For example, you can use entity-encoding to turn all your mailto: links into a mishmash of numbers that spam harvesters won't see as an e-mail address. (Technically, harvesters could be modified to deal with this encoding, but that'd be a significant amount of work for very little return.) I use this technique on this page -- check the source.

Other techniques include using JavaScript or else not providing an e-mail address at all, but using a Web-to-mail CGI script with a Web form that allows users to contact you. (Thanks, Matt)

Tuesday 8/14/01

Fixed the broken layout on this site to put the AIM and E-mail icons where they belong. (Mac IE is amazingly forgiving of some types of broken markup; just got a chance to check it on Windows today.)

"If you had to sum up the ugly moment in one word? Aqua." Ouch. Why don't you tell me what you really think of my new Web site design, Ms. Heller? (Props to Obscure Store)

The San Francisco Chronicle thinks they can define what "cool" is, and who does and does not have it. Sorry, guys -- Frank Sinatra never lost his cool. (Props to Follow Me Here)

Vipul's Razor may be the beginning of the end of spam. It's a collaborative system that shares information about messages identified as spam with other users of the client software. If you identify a message as spam, then someone else can use that information to idenitfy their copy of that same message as spam, too. Conversely, if a sufficient number of people report having received a given spam, you too can reasonably consider it to be spam as well. This technology, or something like it, can be added to e-mail clients and servers reasonably easily.

My own idea, which I've had for some time, goes something like this. You receive your e-mail through a service which by default holds it for a given period of time, say a few hours. Before the message is released to your mailbox, the service checks to see how many other users have received the same message during the holding period. (Additionally, the service would have several "trap" accounts at major ISPs which are designed solely to collect spam -- these e-mail addresses would be publicized sufficiently for a Web or Usenet crawler to find them and add them to spammer address lists.) If enough copies of the message have been received, the message is marked as spam. Naturally, users would be able to designate certain senders as "trusted," allowing mailing list messages and other non-spam bulk mail to pass through immediately. (This could be done collaboratively as well: once a certain number of people have marked, say, This Is True as trusted, it could always be passed through without delay.)

Vipul's Razor is the same sort of idea, obviously, except decentralized and open-source. It's in the early stages of development now. About damn time. (Props to Boing Boing)

The cognitive insights Edward Redish has developed about teaching physics in a university course should apply equally well to the instruction or documentation of any technical subject. (Props to Abuddhas Memes)

7-Eleven is now making its own wines. Surely this is one of the signs of the Apocalypse. (Props to /usr/bin/girl)

This Brazilian group's music video for their song "Video Computer System" not only swept the Internet, it won Best Electronic Music Video at the 2000 MTV Brazil Video Music Awards. Now Golden Shower are back with a new video based on Ideal's Total Control Racing. While it's good clean fun (more so than the name of the group would lead you to believe!), it's not as much fun as "Video Computer System," in my opinion. They do, however, have several other songs available as MP3s, as well. (Props to Mad Science Laboratories, who showed up in my referrer logs because I showed up in their referrer logs due to a bug in Internet Explorer -- someone visiting their site had mine open in another window. They have icons based on Total Control, go check 'em out.)

Monday 8/13/01

Maybe what all those homeless people in San Francisco really need is voice mail. That's what they think in Milwaukee, anyway. (Props to randomWalks)

The Village Voice has a frankly astonishing little bit of current sociology about straight men who are picking up gay mannerisms and fashions. Why? To become more hip and fashionable, to advance their careers, and -- believe it or not -- to pick up women. (Props to Accidental Julie)

The beach wasn't crowded at all, but the sky was a bit too hazy for any good pictures -- not that I have a lens long enough for a good shot of Seattle from Alki Beach. I did get most of the way through XML in a Nutshell, though, and ended up with only a very minor sunburn; I doubt it'll even peel.

One thing I have determined, however, is that I must add "giving directions" to the list of things that Seattleites don't do well, the other items on that list being "delivering a decent pizza to your door" and "driving." The City of Seattle has a serious error in their directions to Alki Beach: it says to get off at the West Seattle Freeway exit from Interstate 5, but there is no such exit. The exit they mean is labeled West Seattle Bridge. Of course, I saw that exit and almost got off there, but I passed it by, thinking, "Surely the City of Seattle would get the exit name right." But you know what happens when you assume. Once I got out beyond the Seattle city limits I naturally realized they must have meant West Seattle Bridge, but there's no excuse for directions that assume you already know how to get where the directions are telling you to go. If they can't be sure of getting the name of the exit right, they should at least include an exit number for redundancy. Usability, people!

This is the fourth time in the year I've lived here that directions I was relying on turned out to have a major flaw that could have (and in two cases did) cause me to get majorly lost. When my mom was visiting, we followed the signs almost all the way to Mt. Rainier, but the last turnoff we needed to make wasn't labeled. That caused us to waste over an hour. I suppose it's Seattle's way of thumbing its collective nose at newcomers, but it's damned annoying. People in the Midwest give much better directions.

Think I'll go down to the beach today. I've got a chair I can sit on, some SPF40, a couple of good books to read, and a digital camera to bring home the views. The weather is partly cloudy and rather cool, which may keep the sun worshippers away. Time to go relax for a bit; see you this evening.

If you want to write a business plan, convert to Buddhism, cure a hangover, lie persuasively (almost said "write a business plan" again -- you can see how I might confuse the two), become a model, ace a job interview, join the Peace Corps, throw a bachelor party, become a sitcom writer, or do any of scores of other things ranging from the ordinary to the obscure, the site you want is (Props to Memepool)

In an effort to nail down the nature of quantum reality once and for all, some enterprising scientists are conducting the famous Schrodinger's Cat experiment on the Web. Never mind it's supposed to be a thought experiment. (Props to Brainlog)

Sunday 8/12/01

I've posted "Quantum Mechanics" to the Download page. It's a 5.1MB 192Kbps MP3 file of a piece I composed in my spare bedroom, way back when said bedroom was in Detroit and filled with MIDI and audio equipment. If I had to describe it, I'd say it's a sort of symphonic Tangerine Dream-type thing. I sold all the gear when I started freelancing, figuring that if I was successful with my technical writing business I'd buy much better equipment anyway. Today, I can get all sorts of synthesizers as software for my G4, which will neither empty my wallet nor take up space like my old gear. Eventually, I want to get back into doing some music.

Apparently San Franciscans are just now figuring out that they have a serious homeless problem on their hands. It was basically intolerable when I visited in January for Macworld Expo; somehow, it took natives several more months to notice how bad it had become. Unbelievable. (Props to Exciting Monkey Bum Stories for Boys and Girls, and no, I'm not making that up.)

Updates have been sporadic this weekend, and now you can see why: I've been working on improving the site design. Out with the retina-searing red; in with the cool, refreshing aquamarine. I'll be making further changes to the style sheets over the next little while, but I thought this was a sufficient improvement to be worth posting. Feedback welcome, naturally.

Saturday 8/11/01

AOL's "You've Got Mail" sound has appeared in two movies, which is enough to get the guy whose voice that is, Elwood Edwards, his own IMDB entry. His voice has also appeared in an episode of The Simpsons, according to IMDB. Although Edwards has done voice work for a long time, his relationship with AOL has made him recognizable enough that he now does that exclusively from a home studio in Orrville, Ohio. He's sufficiently in-demand, it appears, to be repped by the William Morris Agency in New York. Read more about him in this Wired article.

Well, I couldn't let Saturday go completely by without posting something. (Thanks, Matt)

Friday 8/10/01

I've accepted a job at OneName Corporation, developers of (how do they put it?) "the Internet's first universal addressing, automated data exchange, and privacy control platform," XNS. I start next Thursday.

Rich Luttrell obsessed for more than thirty years about the family of the soldier he shot and killed in Vietnam. He carried a picture of the man and his daughter with him. Eventually he wrote a note of apology to the man and left it, with the picture, at the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial -- the Wall. Then the letter and picture were noticed and published in the book Offerings at the Wall, which began a series of events that led to Luttrell meeting the girl in the photograph, now a woman, to return the picture of her father to her. Dateline NBC followed along.

It's a bit of a surprise that this story traces the same kind of arc that stories of reunions between adoptees and their natural parents often follow, yet at the same time, there is a twisted kind of sense of inevitability about exactly that. You wouldn't expect a grown woman of nearly forty to greet the man who killed her father with open arms. Yet she does. You wouldn't expect to feel sympathy for a man whose life has, arguably, revolved around selfishly seeking closure for his own guilt, but you do. And you might be leery of hearing the story from a news outlet that once rigged a crash test to make a GM pickup truck explode. Yet there isn't a hint of sensationalism in the coverage. Somehow the unruly layers of contradictory purpose and emotion serve make the story more affecting, not less. (Props to

Every once in a while you hear someone complain about how society today has taken all the art out of everyday life. Suburban housing developments are a frequent target of scorn, being disparaged because all the houses look the same. "Capitalism at its most obscene" is what architect Samuel Mockbee calls such mass-produced homes in this Salon interview, unintentionally trivializing true obscenities like the Ford Explorer tire cover-up.

I remember when it was enough to for a house to keep you and your family dry and warm and safe. Today, if your house is the same as the one beside it, it seems you'd be better off living in a cardboard box -- you unwitting capitalist tool, you. Pity the children who grow up in such an environment, their spirits crushed by the soul-destroying mediocrity of mass-produced housing! Oh, please.

Mockbee redeeems himself, however, by not being content to merely to stand around ranting about the creeping evil he perceives. Instead, he goes out and builds affordable custom homes, employing students (under his supervision) to do the actual design, and inventing clever methods of construction to keep costs down. Students get invaluable training on working under challenging constraints; their clients get exactly the house they want (assuming the house they want has walls made out of baled hay or recycled trash) at a price they can pay. Everyone wins. Even Mockbee, who recently received a MacArthur "genius grant" for his efforts, wins. Now that's what I call "progressive." (Props to RandomWalks)

Thursday 8/9/01

I felt like getting out of the house today and burning some precious fossil fuel, so I drove down to Portland to see what kind of trouble I could get into. In addition to hitting Powell's technical bookstore to get my own copies of some O'Reilly books that Widevine had bought for me, I also had the pleasure of dining with the Kitty d'Fry at a lovely pasta place, which just happened to be right across the street from where she works. Convenient for her, as she was headed right back to work after eating. It was a brief but enjoyable meeting.

After dinner I wandered around a bit more, then headed back up home. It's, like, hot down there. I actually needed my car's air conditioning. What's up with that?

I come back to discover that I had almost as many visitors to this site today as I had yesterday, despite the fact that I didn't post anything of substance at all today. I'm starting to feel superfluous.

Powell's technical bookstore's Web site has a "this day in history" feature. Today is the birthday of Amedeo Avogadro (Mr. 6.022 x 1023), paranormal chronicler Charles Fort, and MIT's Marvin Minsky. Also, on this date in 1945, we (meaning the United States, or more specifically our military) dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Powell's has these tidbits listed in a different order, but I prefer the downer ending.

I'm going to be out of town most of the day, so I probably won't be posting anything beyond this message until tomorrow.

Wednesday 8/8/01

John T. Schiffer Jr. believes he can emit visible balls of energy, which he dubs "floaters(foxes)," for the purpose of psychic communication with other people. And that's just the beginning. If you continue reading, you'll learn that "verbal communication goes on without speaking," that "the retina is actually an outgrowth of the brain," that the problems of homelessness and crime may be solved by entropy, and that the double-slit light experiment is analogous to two people striving for a leadership position only one can have (the one who fails "is humbled by double splitting one of the white stripes already double split"). Most importantly, you'll discover how to communicate by blinking your eyes without actually having to blink your eyes. It's a revolution in consciousness!

Just had a very promising job interview. Never having been laid off before, I wasn't sure how difficult it would be to find a job in a job market that would lay off a skilled dude like myself to begin with. Looks like not very hard. Of course, I'm really fortunate not to be primarily a Web developer.

Tuesday 8/7/01

PhysicsWeb looks at The Physics of the Web. Some of the stuff in this article is only surprising in the way it's been summed up in mathematical terms, but overall, it's interesting if dense reading. (Props to Blogdex)

Someone loves Perl way too much. (Props to Memepool)

Webmonkey tells you how to optimize your search engine results. Very well-researched and thoughtful article. (Props to Boing Boing)

A SignWeb article about wayfinding, the art and science of desiging public spaces so they can easily be navigated by those who will use them, points out that wayfinding is about far more than signage. I've often found that books about architecture and city planning yield interesting insights into information architecture, and wayfinding, a discipline of which I was previously unaware, offers an unusually direct mapping between buildings and their electronic analogs, GUIs and the Web. This stuff goes pretty deep and is not always intuitive: in real-world wayfinding, the author of this article recommends going so far as to use different floor surfaces in different functional areas of a building, so that visual cues are reinforced by tactile ones. Even elevator chimes contribute to a visitor's ability to navigate an unfamiliar building. The article left me thinking: how can I translate these cues onto a Web site, where all you have to work with are visual cues and perhaps the occasional auditory one? A potentially fruitful new angle of looking at usability issues. (Props to Blackbelt Jones)

Monday 8/6/01

It's been a while since a science fiction novel by a new (at least, new to me) writer has impressed me as much as does Wen Spencer's Alien Taste. I bought this novel along with two others at University Books last Friday to salve the layoff blues. Of that batch, I read this one last, but I'm reviewing it first. That should tell you something.

Warning: the following may contain mild spoilers, though I'll try to be gentle.

Set in a near-future Pittsburgh, the novel's protagonist is Ukiah Oregon, who's named for the town near which he was found, a feral child of about twelve, by a lesbian who secretly adopted him because she and her partner couldn't legally adopt a child. Ukiah was literally, up until the point he was adopted, raised by wolves, and possesses uncannily accurate senses and memory -- now, at 21, he's half-partner in a detective agency and has a reputation for being able to track virtually anyone, anywhere. But when he's called upon to investigate the disappearance of a roboticist working on the Mars Rover, and steps into a house still reeking with the blood of her three brutally murdered housemates, he sets into motion a chain of events that sheds new light on who he really is and where he comes from from, and pulls him into a tug-of-war between two alien factions struggling for control of the Earth. Naturally, nothing less than the survival of the human race hangs in the balance.

Alien Taste is a secret-alien-invasion novel crossed with a coming-of-age story, wrapped together in the guise of a briskly-paced police procedural. This gambit works well for drawing us into the action and keeping the plot moving along. Ukiah is well-drawn and likable, although Ukiah's detective partner, Max, verges on a crime-fiction cliché -- the tough guy with a terrible tragedy in his past -- and Ukiah's eventual love interest, an FBI agent named Indigo Zheng, is also not nearly as believable as Ukiah, although she does manage to display a distinct personality. For reasons you'll understand if you read the book, I was sort of rooting for Zheng to hook up with Max, not Ukiah. (Spencer, as you may have noticed, likes unusual names, but the names, for all their uniqueness, sometimes end up being too similar: the murdered scientist and an FBI agent murdered later in the story have last names whose similarity is modestly confusing.) Ukiah's two moms are just kind of there, and they're not differentiated clearly enough that I could remember which one actually found him in Oregon. The story's many astonishing revelations are accepted rather too calmly by the affected characters, and the obligatory romance is a bit rushed, but damn, the story moves along like a freight train, and at the end all the clues fall into place very neatly and all the weird stuff makes complete sense. The aliens' biology and memory are imaginatively worked out -- they are, in my opinion, some of the most interesting aliens since A Fire Upon the Deep, though I should hasten to add that Alien Taste is not cut from the same cloth as Fire.

In Alien Taste I can hear echoes of Alexander Key, who made a sort of career out of writing the alien-among-humans coming-of-age story, as in The Case of the Vanishing Boy. Steven Gould's deftly-executed Jumper also springs to mind, although Alien Taste is a good deal less intimate (Jumper is in the first person) and more action-oriented. Another point of reference is Emma Bull's fantasy novel Finder, also about a detective with an unusual ability. If you like that kind of stuff, you'll probably enjoy Alien Taste a good deal as well.

Amazon reviewers seem confused as to whether Wen Spencer is a man or a woman. "Wen" could be a further-abbreviated "Wendy" or it could, perhaps, be Chinese or otherwise Asian in origin -- so it's hard to say. The author's Web site is extremely circumspect about the matter, carefully avoiding the use of pronouns on the "About the Author" page. For this reason I'm betting on the latter (a male writer almost never hides the fact that he's a man), though there's nothing in the book itself to give anything away. The author is making promotional appearances at bookstore signings and conventions, so presumably this secret will eventually out.

Spencer's Web site brings the welcome news that there will be another book featuring Ukiah Oregon, titled Tainted Trail -- and the not-so-welcome news that it isn't due out until July, 2002.

Whew. Spent most of the day surfing the job listing and employment agency sites, and submitting copies of my resume to all of them. This was made much easier by the fact that MetaFilter's closed while its daddy is away on vacation.

If I drank beer, it'd definitely be time for one.

I'll hopefully be able to start rustlin' up some interesting links tomorrow.

I've posted a PDF version of my resume. I'll make an HTML version eventually, but it's a pain in the butt keeping three versions (PDF, plain text, and HTML) in sync, and the PDF is the "prettiest," so that's what I've posted for now.

If you're in the Seattle area and know a local company who needs an experienced, kick-ass technical writer or editor, pass it on.

Got another search hit for "longest penis" in my logs. Google sure does know how to make a man feel better when he's unemployed!

Sunday 8/5/01

The Project Without a Name challenges us to take the following test: when you're done reading this sentence, count the number of corporate logos you can see without moving your head. I can see AOL Instant Messenger, the Apple logo, Adobe's Acrobat logo, and the Internet Explorer logo just on the screen. Once I get outside the screen itself I see two KDS logos on the bezel of my two monitors, a Bantam Specra logo on the spine of a book laying on top of the monitor, a Keebler logo on a box of snacks also on top of the monitor, the Maxell logo on some CD-Rs on my desk, two Microsoft logos (one each on my keyboard and mouse), Klipsch and THX logos on my speakers, a 3M logo on the roll of Scotch tape, an Eddie Bauer logo on my watch, little Sanford logos on the Sharpie markers, and a CueCat logo on the CueCat. Just out of sight (I can see them if I turn my head without moving my body) are another Apple logo, a Fujitsu logo (on the DSL modem), Netgear (twice: cable/DSL router and a hub), Iomega, Lexar, SRS Labs, Microsoft again, Madlogix, Nikon, Sony, Roland, Hewlett-Packard, Memorex, Plextor, Handspring, UMAX, Washington Mutual bank, Network Associates, Ott-Lite, O'Reilly, Peachpit Press, Mead, Best Buy, Burger King, Pepsi, and Safeway. I won't even start on the pile of music CDs on my desk, each of which has a record company's logo on it, and I sure as hell won't turn to my bookshelves, which are jammed with software and books, each with their own logo.

Shocking, isn't it? Well, no, not really. I already know that virtually everything I buy has a logo of some sort on it. Even my underwear says "FTL" on the waistband. (No, my briefs aren't faster than light. Apparently that's the new hip way to refer to Fruit of the Loom, or perhaps they have changed their name to Fruit The Loom now.) It's really not much of a surprise to find that all that stuff still has logos on it. I only buy quality stuff, so the logos hardly ever fall off.

Jude Nagurney, proprietor of PWAN, considers branded merchandise a problem and offers a page of Personal Unbranding Resources which you may appreciate if you, too, dislike the idea of things you've already bought continuing to sell themselves to you. I don't find branding annoying enough to actually remove or cover the logos on the stuff I own, as Jude does; I estimate I'd have to be about 10,000 times more annoyed than I currently am to take any action at all to reduce the amount of branding in my life. Much higher on my list of things I'd like to eliminate are biting insects, my glasses, booming subwoofers in cars, income tax, computer crashes, and stupid people. (Props to randomWalks)

Saturday 8/4/01

I went to my first Seattle blogger get-together last night. It was held at the Rock Bottom Brewery at the base of the Rainier Tower, which would have been extremely convenient if I hadn't been laid off from Widevine (which has its offices in the 13th floor of said Tower) the preceding day. But as it turned out, I had to go to Widevine to get an iMac which I'd bought for my mom, so I was already getting gigged for parking, making it no big deal to stay another couple hours.

While walking over from the Seattle Hilton, where I'd parked the Buick Lesbian, I found myself a few paces back from a group of three people also heading in the general direction of the Rock Bottom. One was a petite young Asian woman carrying a small lunchbox in place of a purse, who I guessed (correctly, as it turned out) to be Zannah. Which obviously meant that the dude walking beside her was The James. I ended up sitting at the other end of the table from them at Rock Bottom so didn't get much of a chance to talk to them. I kind of wanted to, as Zannah was one of the first Seattle-area bloggers I discovered, and because one of the links she posted a while back (WhatTheFont) allowed me to finally track down the font that Widevine's advertising agency had used for our damn logo. (GLG acted like this was some sort of trade secret -- our PR manager reported that they said it was a "sans-serif," which wasn't helpful at all.)

Others at the gathering included, of course, its organizer, Dan Sanderson and his bride-to-be Lisa, Cameron Barrett (in town from New York to speak at a Web seminar -- he's a former Michigander like myself), Clark Humphrey of MISCmedia (who also brought copies of his quarterly broadsheet to hand out), Shawn and Erin of Slightly North, who sat slightly to my left, and several other people whose names or URLs I don't recall. (Sorry, new-people buffer overflow.) Oh yes, the proprietress of GeeGaw stopped by, but beat a hasty retreat when she saw how many people were already sitting around the table. The Pacific Northwest Journalers page has her name as Nina, which rings a bell. I feel like such a dork for having to go look up her name while she managed to remember what color I was wearing -- check her link to my site -- despite the brevity of our introduction.

As you can see, I'm terrible with names. Not as bad as I used to be, and not as bad as I thought I was -- imagine: as bad as I am, I thought I was even worse! -- but it's still one of the reasons I dread meeting new people, along with the fact that I'm more than a tad overweight and am also incredibly self-conscious about accidentally saying something stupid. I don't know why I'm so afraid of that, because I think there's plenty of evidence establishing that I'm actually pretty smart, but it leads me to act tightlipped around people I don't know well. I can handle meeting a few new people at once fairly gracefully, but the number of people at this gathering caused my brain to start thrashing. Hell, I don't even know the names of everyone who works at Widevine after working there for nearly an entire year.

Nevertheless, I'm determined to become more social. I realized recently I have no close real-life friends in Seattle besides the guy I already knew when I moved here. That's lame. And I only knew Warren because he'd moved from Detroit a few months before me -- to work at Widevine! I only knew him back in Detroit because he's the type of person Malcolm Gladwell dubs a "connector" in his book The Tipping Point. Warren knows basically everyone who is anyone in the Macintosh community, and he really gets into networking. He met me at MacHack one year and we had lunch every once in a while thereafter, and then he got me the Widevine gig.

Even though I saw the same people at Widevine every day, I rarely did anything socially with them. Now Warren's mostly back in Michigan for a few months to finish his residency, and of course I'm no longer part of the Widevine crew, and I'm finding, much to my surprise, that I actually miss the daily interaction with other people. I always thought of myself as a confirmed misanthrope, so this is a bit of a shock. Despite my initial trepidation, at the end of the evening it was good to have had met some new, smart people. Some of whom I'll surely see again.

Department of learning something new every day: "beeves" is a word.

Friday 8/3/01

All right, all right, everybody reads Kottke, so my linking to the Hypnotoad is utterly redundant. But dammit, it deserves it! (For those who aren't clued in, the Futurama episode featuring the Hypnotoad -- along with the entire Nibblonian civilization and flying brains with stupefaction rays -- aired last Sunday. Keep an eye out for it, it's one of the funniest things I've ever seen.) (Props to Kottke, of course)

Some localities already have hydroelectric "electricity storage" facilities -- I once saw one in Michigan. The basic idea is that, during the evening, when electricity is cheap because hardly anyone's using it, water is pumped from a lake or other large body of water into an artificial reservoir on higher ground. During the day, when the electricity is most needed, the water flows back downhill, powering hydroelectric generators in the process. It's basically a giant hydroelectric battery.

Now the same sort of trick is being used with compressed air. During the evening, cheap electricity is used to pump air underground, where it is stored at pressures up to seventy atmospheres. During the day, the compressed air (plus a little natural gas) powers turbines to generate electricity. Germany was the first to build a Compressed Air Electricity Storage (CAES) plant; there's one in Alabama now (it opened in 1991), and one will soon be built near Cleveland, Ohio. (Props to

One of the best hoaxes ever published in a major magazine (Sports Illustrated, in this case) is the story of Hayden ("Sidd") Finch, an unorthodox pitcher recruited for the New York Mets in 1985. Now, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, you can read it online. I remember reading this when it first came out and being awed by the descriptions of the young prodigy. I would have been about sixteen at the time. When in a later issue it was revealed to be a hoax, I re-read it and saw it in a new light. It was one of the first times I can remember realizing so forcefully that not everything printed in a respectable magazine was true.

Those who know me will wonder when the hell I was ever into sports enough to read Sports Illustrated. The answer is, really, never. My father had a friend who ran a barber shop and he'd bring various old magazines from the shop for our family to read. They were lying around so I picked them up and read them, just as I reflexively read just about anything with writing on it (then and now). (Props to matteo at MetaFilter)

Timeline of Graphical User Interface development. Ah, how those screen shots bring back memories. (Props to MetaFilter)

Thursday 8/2/01

You'll notice that the link to my employer on the right hand side now says "The ex-day job." That's because Widevine Technologies laid me off this morning. I've long been hoping to get laid, but unfortunately the Fates decided to throw that pesky "off" into the equation.

I was planning, as it happens, to take some time off this month and, shall we say, explore my alternative employment opportunities. Circumstances have obviously prevented me from doing this on my own terms, but this is hardly a catastrophe; just checking at Microsoft reveals at least a dozen openings I'm qualified for. I'll miss the people, though -- and the PowerBook.

Good luck, guys. Hope I don't see you on FuckedCompany anytime soon.

Meanwhile, if you are a Seattle employer and need an experienced technical writer/editor with graphic design and light programming skills to boot, drop me a line. I'll be freshening up my resume today and tomorrow, and will post a link to it when it's ready.

It's hard to tell a lot from a short Reuters article, but some progress is apparently being made toward treatment of the phenomenon of "insulin resistance," which is associated with obesity and with Type II (adult-onset) diabetes. A substance called adiponectin has been isolated by researchers in the U.S. and Japan, and it seems to influence insulin sensitivity in other tissues. Insulin resistance is the primary rationale behind carbohydrate-restricted dieting, and having long fought the Battle of the Bulge myself (I'm back on a low-carb diet at this very moment), it's good to see this angle being investigated. (Props to

R.I.P. Poul Anderson, science fiction writer and SFWA Grand Master, 1926-2001. "He is survived by his wife and writing partner, Karen, his daughter Astrid, brother John, grandchildren Erik and Alexandra, nieces Janet and Cathy, and by millions of readers." (Props to Boing Boing)

Wednesday 8/1/01

Ars Technica has an in-depth behind-the-scenes interview about Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which I gave a favorable review to a couple weeks ago. (Props to Also Not Found In Nature)

Please excuse Jerry from posting to his Weblog today. The dog ate his Website.

More to the point, an extremely busy day at work plus an outage at my Web host resulted in very few opportunities to post. I actually needed a nap when I got home! My apoplexies. Should be all better tomorrow.

Reeve & Jones Design has a server-side script that lets you generate GIFs of text in a very small font somewhat similar to Silkscreen or Mini7. Source code is available -- it's apparently really easy to generate GIFs and PNGs of text in PHP. Cool. (Props to MetaFilter)

Some sound effects CDs are not to be missed. The reviewers seemed to like that one an awful lot, at least. (Props to