unraveling

31.Mar.2001

A new interest in the subject of vertigo, occasioned by my experiencing it as I rolled out of bed in the middle of the night this last week. It's "the feeling of movement that isn't occurring," such as spinning, tilting, and rocking, and generally not a happy thing.

In the course of learning more about it, I learned more about the vestibular system in the inner ear, and once again had occasion to reflect on what a wonderful tool the web has become for finding out (nearly) everything about (almost) anything.

A coworker had mentioned hearing about a special chair used to reposition "crystals" in the ear that get displaced, and disturb the balance system. My search first led me to Utilization of virtual reality technology in the rehabilitation of balance disorder patients, where I learned about the "vestibular ocular reflex" (VOR). This is the servo system that couples the sensing of head movements to control of eye motion to allow us to maintain a steady gaze (and steady image of the world around us) while our head moves, or is moved. I found a presentation of the kinematic model of VOR, but saved that and the dynamic model (off that page) for another time.

After loading Shockwave v.something or other so that I could see some Flash8 stuff (and dismissing the Macromedia page and then spam that resulted from downloading) that should have been done with something simpler, I was told that balance is maintained by vision (recognition of horizon, orientation, etc.), gravity (sense of "down" provided by static and dynamic labyrinths), proprioception (position and tone of skeletal muscles provide information on orientation of body structures), and sensation (pressure, e.g. on soles of feet indicating where the ground is) and depends on the integration of all these signals in the brain. "Gravity" and "down" are bit too simplistic; the labyrinths give us dynamic information about the linear and angular acceleration we experience as well.

The Bobby R. Alford Dept. of Otorhinolaryngology and Communicative Sciences at the Baylor College of Medicine has everything going for it except readable graphics.

Finally, a bit of hide and seek with an abstract image map that points to things like otoconia (those crystals) and the other amazing things that are inside your head.

A week after my send-up of Microsoft's press release, and 3 brief emails advertising it to other bloggers, I went back and checked the referrers (a.k.a. "referers" as a monument to a misspelling back in the mists of web time) to see how it turned out. A link from Doc is worth several hundred hits. It was interesting to see the second tier from other bloggers who picked it up and referenced it, and what quotes they pulled out: Jake (where Bill St. Clair picked it up), and Christian Langreiter.

And the dust is still settling from Microsoft's announcement: Scott Rosenberg in Salon quotes the Passport user agreement: "you are granting Microsoft and its affiliated companies permission to: Use, modify, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, publish, sublicense, create derivative works from, transfer, or sell any such communication..."

Don't worry, that's just some boilerplate to protect Microsoft from troublemakers, right?

Last night, we watched the half hour wrap-up of this year's Idaho Legislature (yes, they're done before April) on public TV. Just to give you a flavor of the politics of this state... this year's innovation in reducing the cost of government was to have the Department of Health and Human Services stop advertising the services they offer to the people who can take advantage of them.

That's right, these are things the Legislature has agreed to fund, but they're hoping that people won't actually find out about them and take advantage of the programs.

For a brief and quite unrewarding period, we were a shareholder in Lucent Technologies last year. They spun off Avaya Communications during the time we owned the stock, and we still hold an odd lot of 33 shares from the spinoff. In the clueless offer department, they have a voluntary program running through April 24th, in which you can sell your odd lot or purchase more shares to round up to 100. The purchase or sale will be at the market price. The fee for this service? Just $1 per share, up to a maximum of $50.

So let's see, on any day I choose, I could buy 67 or however many shares I wanted, or I could sell my 33 shares, for the $15 my brokerage charges. Or, I could pay $50 to buy through Avaya, or $33 to sell through them, on a particular date.

I hope their business plan is more intelligent than this offer, but I guess as a stockholder, I should be happy if anyone's foolish enough to take their offer - more money for "our" company.

29.Mar.2001

Radio news snippet: "The economy turned in its worst showing in (some time period) last month, with GDP growth slowing to only 1%..."

Let's see, GDP has been growing for many months and years, right? And last month, it was 1% higher than the previous, record month. So that means that the economy turned in its BEST showing, ever. GDP set an all-time record, it's never been higher.

What is it about growth that turns simple arithmetic into error-prone higher mathematics?

I rode in before 7 this morning, from my room at the Creekside Inn overlooking Matadero Creek, up along it and for a loop through Bole park. An old woman was out with her dog, heaving from dog-side to cane-side as she struggled with her weight and age. I was riding slow on the dirt path, coming up behind her and as I passed I gave a cheery "good morning" to her. She responded with similar enthusiasm, and as I rode on, added "It's another beautiful day!"

Looking over the thickly wooded creek banks at a shaft of sunlight piercing that dark space, I agreed, "Yes it is." The marine layer burned off early, and sun everywhere, the air with a brisk bite to it, but the forecast for 70s and 80s. Windy, too; if I were still living here, I'd be thinking about windsurfing on the bay this afternoon. (Actually, I will be thinking about it, but if I lived here, I'd be doing it.)

I imagine I'm somewhere around half her age, thinking about the recent comment (where was that now?) that any technology that comes along after you're 35 just doesn't seem "right," how our culture's obsession with growth and youth and upward mobility doesn't seem to have a place for old women who have to struggle to walk, aging men whose skills aren't "recent."

At a clinic yesterday, I noticed a chart showing recommended checkups for various things from age 1 to 70. There's a flurry to start, then a sparse field of one-dot-per-decade rows, then from every other year for a lot of things in the 40s, to every year for a lengthening list beyond that. Evolution's 40-year mind and body clock of reproductive necessity, it seems.

How good is America's word? Not very, as it turns out. It's one thing to have the Senate never get around to ratifying a treaty, or voting it down, but to have one president repudiate one that a previous president signed?

And the stated reason why is so incredible; because the third world isn't required to participate in the effort. So... we'll abrogate, and the thing falls apart. How does that leave us better off? Simple: as Bush &co. say, the costs — to us — outweigh the benefits — to us. We're planning on drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, clearcutting our forests, building natural gas power plants just as fast as we possibly can, and filling our freeways with ever-larger and ever less efficient single occupancy vehicles. It would be inconvenient for us to change our plans.

David Victor, writing in the New York Times Op-Ed page, notes that piety at Kyoto didn't cool the planet, however, and the treaty was already being honored in the breach by the parties that matter.

The truth is, whether or not we can or should do something about global warming, and however much our actions have contributed to it, we probably do not have and will not find the global political will to take meaningful action.

I could be wrong; we did something about chlorofluorocarbons when it was called for, and that was a big deal. CO2 is just a lot bigger problem for us to tackle.

26.Mar.2001

When I'm laid out on a dentist's chair, I always reflect on the benefits of living in a technologically advanced society. For a small amount of money, you can trust a couple people to use sharp, steel instruments inside your mouth in a wholly beneficial way. For some years, the benefits for me have been limited to prophylaxy, but today it was time to have one of the old fillings from my checkered past refurbished.

Frost on the car windows, the temperature just above freezing, bright morning sunshine before 8am, a perfect morning to bicycle the two-and-a-half miles to the dentist's office.

Bit of chit-chat, gas? (no thank you), topical, loooooong shots of novocaine, numb up, dam around the construction site, floss, floss, floss, Dr. back in, I give the signal for tunes, they wait while I dial something in. I gave the high sign, before being reminded that it's pledge week(s) on KBSU, then discovered that the mindless begging chatter is, in fact, better than (hearing) a trip to the dentist.

In the respites, I got brave blindly exploring the tiny dial on the Sony radio, found some country music and just thrilled at the sound of a human voice singing. The station break sound effects must have some dentist drill mixed in, because I really couldn't tell them apart.

Before I knew it, the dam was off, a little bite, bite, and leveling of the new work, and we're done! Less than 40 minutes, and the quick-setting dental resin is ready to rock, be careful not to bite your lip while it's numb. Sunglasses and don't need the wool cap for the ride east back home.

Parallelling the hideous Fairview strip on narrow, quiet lanes, I enjoyed willows' spring green, antiphonal blackbirds, horses grazing, a prize black-faced ram, those 5 acre renegade plots slowly succumbing to creeping suburbia, a quail scared up and flying in front of me on the last block.

25.Mar.2001

Forbes on Microsoft's war of attrition. My tracking of the top 100 market cap companies — using Yahoo!s service — has turned into a hopeful hunt for the nadir. I keep wondering, is it today? Karlgaard's mention of Yahoo! down to $7B, from almost 15 times that much a year ago reminded me.

(Damn, that nice "100 at once" URL at Yahoo! doesn't work any more. This is about as close as I seem able to get now, and it doesn't have near as many useful parameters to play with. Back to 20 at a time, and lost the P/E? Yuk. Some whiz kid came in to "clean up" some unwieldy code and threw out a ton of functionality. :-(

On the positive side, this was just the motivation I needed to automate the whole process. I started with a week ago, from an earlier result, and will collect them in a new directory for now.)

Yahoo!s close to the top of this list but it isn't a good one to be on: large caps sorted by last year's return. Relaxing the market cap parameter by a factor of 10 brings such "household names" as Scient, CMGI, Covad, Priceline, Inktomi, and VA Linux into the top 20, with the best (VA Linux) off by more than 96%. Every one of these twenty was a "large cap" a year ago. In fact, 57 of the bottom 60 were valued over $1B last year, now only three are, and Broad Vision and Foundry Networks are on the edge of the threshold. (The third, Yahoo!, would have to fall another 85 to 90% to go under $1B.)

Stormy weather, through a glass, darkly

Worked on making soil yesterday, perhaps the most elemental thing humans can do in nature. Worked through our huge and neglected compost pile with a pitchfork until a blister made me stop. After I'd turned and dug, and chopped bark, and layered the deepest, darkest, loveliest stuff into the most recent grass and oak leaves and stalks, I thought it could use a good soaking. I didn't get around to dragging hoses out of the garage, though, and this morning, a blessed gift from the sky: a good soaking rain.

Paul Krugman: "They were merely trying to look objectively at the evidence, which points more or less unmistakably to the conclusion that deliberate withholding of electricity to drive up prices has been an important factor in the California crisis."

He offers a simple and expedient solution to California's crises, but suspects (as I do) that the Bush administration won't take it. That's too bad, because along with payback to those California Democrats, there are a lot of Republicans out west who are going to have trouble this summer.

24.Mar.2001

A view of nature speeds recovery:

One study looked at patients recovering from surgery -- some had a view of trees, while others had a view of a brick wall.

"The patients that had a view of trees from their rooms had one day shorter hospitalization on average, less need for pain medications and fewer negative nursing notes," said the article's author, Dr. Howard

Frumkin...

Reported by CNN, This is one of those "well, DUH!" moments in science.

Part two of Courtney Love's assault on the ripoff of recording artists. This is not a good time to start a labor movement, but now is a better time than never, and this is an industry that deserves to lose some of the power it sucks from artists.

After catching up my reading about Hailstorm, and getting around to a Microsoft press release, it occured to me to clean out some of the bloviage, and then edit it down to what they really meant to say.

23.Mar.2001

Bike ride, train ride, bus ride, plane ride, car ride and I'm home.

The more intermittent blog shows what a 4x10 schedule does to diversity of thinking: compresses it into separate compartments of "work week" and "weekend." Or maybe it's just that I don't have anything in the way of a portable device, or a will to extend my hours at work to do non-work computer stuff. Some of both. But I am finding that "ending up at work for 10 hours" in a day is not the same as "working a 10 hour day." Four of the latter seems more productive for me than five of the former.

I've been "cheating," though, and coming in for a few hours on Friday.

Blue violets, among the tens of thousands in our lawn

There's a lot of sex and violets going on in our yard right now. I started in on the year's backlog of large muscle activity on a beautiful afternoon warm enough to open up the house. Spring!

Altavista is now indexing news pages, giving access to late-breaking information, rather than just the best of what's been around a while. That would be a useful addition to the web, augmenting Google's ownership of intuitive results for minimal searches for established pages.

Alabama's government is "second to none in its inability to handle a crisis." Gail Collins, writing in the New York Times.

I was busy working when the Hailstorm (PR) hit. The brief glimpse I got of it was "everything in instant messaging, provided via Microsoft." The idea is revolting for two reasons: advertisers see "instant messaging" as yet another ad attack vehicle. There is almost no time or space that advertisers haven't thought about invading. The inside of the jetway I walked down last week had billboards in it.

Secondly, it's coming from one of the greatest monopoly companies of all time. I don't trust Microsoft, for oh, so many reasons. As Dan Gillmor puts it, "Now we're getting into a matter of trust. Microsoft hasn't earned it."

Other voices:
Doc: You can't privatize what only works because it's public.
c|net: How much do you want to pay today?
Seattle Times: The audacious vision left some software developers agape...
Microsoft: "Currently, users have a variety of different applications, devices, services they use daily but those technologies donít work seamlessly with one another..." Seamlessly, let's see what works seamlessly. Stretch fabric? That's nice.
TheTwoWayWeb has a directory of links, if you're a glutton for punishment.
Rael Dornfest: So what is this HailStorm?

The conservative view toward science: publish and perish. How about this connection: Bush wants to help his cronies in both the oil industry and the electrical power generation industry. Throttling California's power kicks the damn Democrats who control the state, produces gravy for the power generators, and shifts public opinion to open up ANWR.

It's so obvious... What may not have been so obvious to the censors, however, is that censorship is a lot harder now. (But an index of .GIFs is not all that great a counterattack: where are the captions?)

19.Mar.2001

Car ride, plane ride, bus ride, train ride, bike ride, and I'm at work by 8:30. The "regular" 4 hour commute.

More FERC action to get some of California's Utilities' money back, reported in the LA Times. They're up to $124M so far, how many billions left?

It's warm in Palo Alto today, a very pleasant spring day (in late winter). Is that why we're having a Stage 3 power alert and rolling blackout scheduled to hit the 1501 Page Mill site at 3:15? Or is it vengeance from the power generators to tell the FERC to back off?!

Who knows. We were "off" for about 45 minutes, and it was a pleasant respite. Some wasted effort in clean shutdowns, and process interruptions, but for a short time it was quiet in the office, with none of the HVAC and device fan background noise. There were lots of conversations! The phones still worked, and we made needed phone calls. There were things to read (love those skylights! but we could've gone outside, too), notebooks to catch up.

It would've been nice to go another hour, from my point of view.

18.Mar.2001

I used to be more of a stickler for hitting it right on the equinox, but theater and the relaxation of age have loosened me up. I started cutting back a week ago, with the partial result shown below. Today, it's time to go all the way and use the razor.

Two interesting pieces from Paul Andrews: describing his return to Glide Memorial Church, and the Blogwatch Creed, a reasonable introduction to what this blog thing is about, just in case you're wondering.

17.Mar.2001

Boise is having its 15 minutes or so of fame, with fans of several Important Basketball Teams having to find us on the map, and maybe even deal with getting here. (It isn't easy.) The Boise Weekly (hey, they're putting all their content online now, cool!) reports that some Iowa hayseed was like "Where's Boise at?" (That's OK, after the No. 2 seed was upset by Hampton University, he just needs to be able to find his way home. The winning Virginians probably thought they were playing the home team.)

With BW on the web, you folks in the wider audience can now enjoy one of my favorite columnists, Bill Cope.

Me, sunburnt and happy after a day in fresh snow
What I look like after "opening day," skiing fresh snow

One of the joys of being home is having the Laz Spectrum for Saturday morning entertainment.

The Wall Street Journal ran a long excerpt from the soon to be released book Going Up the River : Travels in a Prison Nation on Thursday. It's not just China that's using prison labor to produce consumer goods these days. The US of A does have some protections in place: if the goods cross state lines, the inmates have to get to keep at least 20% of their pay. (Think about that next time your withholding seems a little high!) We also have half a million more prisonsors than China does, with around a quarter of their population.

First we had private prisons, now we have prisons being run as profit centers. It's more than a little creepy. But it sounds plausible that many of the inmates like the arrangement, and if it gives them a better alternative than recidivism, maybe it's a good thing.

I think this will be an important book to read.

Meanwhile, back in Idaho, the prison director has resigned after a report of significant corruption in the "Correctional Industries" was released. It seems the inmate participants were doing a little bit too much of the management tasks. I didn't see where anyone pointed out that they were gaining skills that would help them in the corporate world, though.

The forest products industry, the recreational motorheads and the Bush administration appear to be gearing up to gut Clinton's ban on road building on a third of the national forests. The rules were supposed to go into effect last Tuesday, but they've been postponed, at least.

I probably don't have to tell you that it was a brutal week on Wall Street. Paul Krugman figures that "one day's stock decline might well depress consumer spending more than a whole year of the new, accelerated version of the Bush tax cut would increase it." Jeanette said she heard one commentator estimating that it won't turn around until after Tax Day, as forced sales continue to meet current tax bills. Then those capital losses will reduce next year's revenue, and the surplus... well, you get the picture. Things can change unexpectedly.

Meanwhile, the People Who Know About These Things are pretty much in agreement that the tax relief Bush is touting is not going to be a tonic for our current problems. It's too much, too late; if it could be applied when most useful (that's now), it could be much smaller and give the economy a boost.

Testing hallucinogens for treatment of mental illness is not a new idea, it was how they entered the popular imagination in the 60s. But there are still stigmas to overcome. The New York Times report notes that "By definition, hallucinogens are drugs that produce bizarre sights, sounds and feelings that appear to have no basis in reality."

If that were all there was too it, it wouldn't make much sense. But human experience doesn't distill so neatly, nor do the effects of psychoactive drugs.

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/16/opinion/16COLL.html Gail Collins assesses W.'s running the country as if it were a business:

"I was responding to reality," Mr. Bush said, explaining why he had repudiated his promise, humiliated the head of his Environmental Protection Agency and made it pretty much impossible for the United States to do anything about global warming for the next four years.

16.Mar.2001

The "bike commute" went off without a hitch; Amanda Jones is taking my likeness to Washington D.C. to help lawmakers expand their horizons (I guess). We had a nice little photo shoot before I hopped on Caltrain for the ride to SFO. It ended rather abruptly though; I'd planned on taking the 5:08, but ended up getting there so early, the 4:38 pulled in while we were talking, and what train rider can resist a train going his or her way?

Meeting the schedule of commuting takes mental energy. That's an advantage to private (as opposed to public) transportation -- you can go on whatever schedule suits you. But I had to get to the Bikestation to do the paperwork before catching a train no later than X, so I could get on a plane no later than Y. The last hour or two at work, I'm thinking about shutting things down, putting tools away, what am I going to take with me... I had to remind myself I wasn't moving, I was just taking a weekend off. :-)

Climate see-saw: Wednesday afternoon, a work errand sent me outside, across a lovely courtyard. The sun and blue sky were impossibly inviting, and I resolved to go for a bike ride. A quick jaunt of Page Mill, and to the Arastradero preserve gave me a chance to get some mud on my new tires, to lie on the verdant grass and breathe in ocean-freshened air. What a day. Thursday afternoon, the marine layer was stacking up over the coast range, way deep up by Millbrae, with a northwest wind making me think of sailing season. Friday morning, after a good hard rain overnight in Boise, I called the SnoFone and heard "six inches of new powder, temperature 21 degrees." Time to go skiing!

Snow reports have a certain surrealism, designed to dupe the hopeful. Six inches may have been an average of 0 (windblown) and 12 (drifts). A lot of the ("fifty-one inch") base has taken an early spring break, and there were dirt patches under some of the tracks on south-facing slopes. The temperature was at the top, of course; when I got to the bottom of the hill just after 10, it was right around freezing. In other words, right around melting.

They did tell the truth about the cloud sitting on top of the mountain, though. :-) Which was OK, because the snow and the skiing were best in the fog and the trees. Even so, a couple of runs in sunshine and heavier "powder" were a wonderful tonic, and the whole affair was a much better way to spend Friday than in a cubicle.

13.Mar.2001

Back to commuting, but with a twist. I had my new bike boxed, and schlepped it to the airport early, squirrely Monday morning. United was only too happy to check it as oversized luggage for the "modest" charge of $75. (Can you say airway robbery? Sure you can.)

The plane was full of business people, full of carry-ons, the usual panic of the poor saps in Zone 6 with rollaboards. You'd think they'd learn... I was in Zone 2, row 6, surprisingly grandfathered (!) as Mileage Plus Premier in spite of my return to travel sanity last year. My pannier/briefcase tucked under the seat in front of me, and my internal frame backpack tucked in the overhead, early.

A coworker was on the same flight, so I got to "hitchhike" with my bike for the delivery leg. 20 minutes after lunch had it reassembled (thanks to an expert packing job by the guys at Idaho Mountain Touring) and ready to ride.

I got a call back from Amanda Jones, the instigator of the Palo Alto Bikestation. I'd called her last week about getting a bicycle locker at California Avenue, but neither one of us thought that was the best match, using it just on weekends. Turns out the old baggage room at the Palo Alto train station is now free parking, and just what I need. She's going to meet me Thursday afternoon on my way back to SFO, get a picture for an upcoming presentation.

It's kind of crazy, and certainly two steps out of the mainstream, but I'm getting a kick out of expanding possibilities. The clerk at the hotel last night averred I was the first person to bicycle up to check in. No doubt! And what a pleasure to take a short ride before breakfast and work.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to Stanford Memorial Church for the installation of the new Dean of Religious Life, the Reverend Scotty McLennan. (You sort of know him already, as half of the prototype for Doonesbury's Rev. Scott Sloan.)

The day was glorious, the church is glorious, California sunshine coming through the west side stained glass and making the carved stone, dark timber framing and gilt mosaics glow. It's an overwhelming visual feast, topped and overflowing with the organ's music.

Not enough singing for the congregation for my taste (and the organ tends to overwhelm it anyway) but we made our way through a 4-square Protestant hymn, "Praise to the Living God," and later, the Stanford school song (which had verses and no music, we're all supposed to know it). The opening ritual used a U.U. chalice in deference to Scotty's ordained denomination, I felt right at home.

After more effusive welcomes, a student choral group, Talisman stood in a broad arc under the central dome and sang a beautiful African song a cappela: "Akanamandla." The sound was so wonderful, so suited to the space, the event, and their voices that it brought tears to my eyes.

More welcomes, more greetings from varied religious traditions. The reading William Sloan Coffin wanted, from Isaiah, followed by the one listed in the program, John 3:13-18.

I have called you by name, you are mine, saith the Lord.

Coffin's speech was badly slurred from a month-ago stroke, but it was clear that his mind remains sharp and clear. He formed his sermon around the question: Who tells you who you are? The possible answers he illustrated included institutions, money, power, enemies, conformity, and sin. For money, he quoted John Ruskin: "The highest reward for toil is not what you get from it, but what you become by it.

He interprets the passage from Isaiah to mean that we are not called to prove our value, and it does not come from institutions, or from some measure of our good works, etc., but rather it is a gift to us. What we are called to do is to express ourselves.

And most of all, to express ourselves through love. "Love is not easy; if it were, we'd all practice it." "Love demands courage. The world is full of gentle cowards who think their gentleness makes up for their cowardice. It does not." He said that it's not thinking that verifies our existence, but love. Amo ergo sum.

I can't do it all justice, I'm afraid, but I had to capture just a bit of it for myself, and for you. If they post Coffin's sermon on the Stanford Religious Life site, I recommend checking it out.

11.Mar.2001

Well, I did my part for the environment this weekend. Or at least I laid the groundwork for the coming weeks. I bought a nice commuter bicycle that I'll use for my ground transportation while visiting Palo Alto (again?! yup) in the coming weeks. I looked into renting but at $75+/week, in 3 or 4 weeks I'd have paid for a bike without owning one. The downside is that corporate accounting can handle wasting money on a rental, but not on the more economic investment in a small capital asset. (My personal finances are more flexible.)

It seems like it should be easier than it was: three trips around town in my car, stopping at 7 shops before I was done. Two of the shops - Spoke and Wheel, and REI - failed to initiate any interaction within a reasonable time and lost the chance of getting my business. (REI was a particular disappointment; a gal was standing in the doorway to the repair area, keeping an eye on the retail area, and couldn't tear herself away from some casual conversation going on back there.)

Capitol Schwinn had that depressing struggling-to-stay-in-business feel, two guys hanging out with nothing to do. The winner of the straw vote to help me tried to sell me what they had - mountain bikes - in spite of what I said I wanted, and compared two models' frames as "Chrome Moly" and "steel." Oops.

Idaho Mountain Touring ended up winning the business, as they did when we bought our nice Santana tandem. George's came in second place when the second of their shops I visited showed me a nice Gary Fisher hyprid that was about $50 more than I was prepared to spend. Both of these places feel like strongly going concerns, were promptly helpful, patient, reasonably strong technically (not that I pushed them), and enthusiastically friendly even when it was clear I wasn't buying right now. (I was closer than they might have guessed, though!)

I had IMT put on some real pedals, a luggage rack, and put it back into a box, so I could take it with me on the airplane tomorrow. When I got home, I figured maybe I'd better check with United... they said "yes, you can do that, but there are some conditions..." In addition to the rather outrageous $75 charge to carry it, I have to box it, and turn the handlebars and take off the pedals (as I expected), they have no tools they'll lend me (and I have no tools I'll lend them!), and I have to sign something with the word "Fragile" on it that no doubt absolves them of the liability for any damage they'll do. Such a deal.

I am going to have my employer pay for the shipping, but it's annoying to have most of the car rental savings for week #1 negated.

I was happy to see the "contains MTBE" stickers gone when we gassed up to get out of California. The supposed emissions-reducing substance appears to be a health-hazard, may not have reduced emissions, and definitely reduced gas mileage. The state gets bonus points for good intentions, but the execution and reality were a miserable failure. The phaseout was slow, but it appears to be well on its way.

Now comes the biggest beneficiary, Methanex, trying to sue their way back to the profits they've lost, via NAFTA. The New York Times describes a little of this new branch of secret government.

10.Mar.2001

My Manila site on weblogs.com looks like an outage this morning. I complained about the slow and awkward process for using it in my last post, and now it looks like it's another one of those "free" things that's just too good to be true. Should I merge my technology posts into this blog? Start another sequence on this site, maybe with greymatter for remote access? Decisions, decisions. I'll defer for the moment, post what I was going to put on Manila here.

The Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) looks like a nightmare for consumer rights, not only giving some of the most egregious sorts of abuse in end user license agreements (EULAs) the force of law, but actually expanding the field of possibilities for benefiting corporations, invading your privacy, and reducing the value of what you pay for.

Ed Foster writes in Infoworld about how some EULAs are being tailored to take advantage of UCITA. It gives one pause when thinking about an "always on" connection - things can be taken away over that connection, as well as given. So far, it looks like only two or three states have passed it - Virginia, Maryland and Iowa (maybe temporarily). But its industry supporters aren't likely to give up, and if the current administration in Washington can find any way to help, no doubt they will. ("UCITA Online's" status report looks like they used UCITA-friendly formatting software.)

Or how about Juno's innovation - they want to use your computing power, and indenture you as their system administrator. Interesting twist on "free," eh? We need the equivalent of plumbing backflow preventer on our internet connections.

(Referred by Dan Gillmor's eJournal.)

Life without parole for a 12-year-old's crime?! You've probably heard the term "judicial activism," but what do we call it when Legislatures create mandatory sentences that defy international law and morality? This country's use of prison to attempt to solve all of its problems is insane.

Bush says that what's good for the airlines is good for America. We simply cannot tolerate any possible interruption in our need for fast and inexpensive transportation. His attack against the Northwest Airlines mechanics was pre-emptive. Sorry about that organized labor!

8.Mar.2001

On the trailing edge of the transition from California back to Idaho, all those things that make this place different stand out a little bit more than they used to. It's colder, of course, but a bit of unseasonably warm weather came at just the right moment to ease our acclimation: it was up to 60 yesterday. The morning commute was brisk, however, still in the 30s.

As I bicycled through the old familiar suburbs, I thought about why I enjoyed riding to work in Palo Alto more than here. I think there are three main reasons, and a fourth that wouldn't matter were it not for the first third.

There are many fewer big trees. The West Bench still seems freshly subdivided (and indeed parts of it still aren't), freshly developed, even though some parts are 30 and 40 years old. In our neighborhood there is a higher density of big trees, but it thins going northwest, and many more are deciduous, not offering much comfort this time of year. Just about nothing in bloom here right now, either. Maybe that's a bigger factor. Palo Alto has something blooming all the time.

The ride from home to work is almost entirely flat. As in boring.

And much of the pavement is covered with chipseal. If you don't know what that is, God bless you. It's a coating of tar followed by a layer of gravel that is a sticky, windshield-cracking mess when its new, and then a cracked and leaky road surface from about year 2 on. Until it's worn in about 8 or 10 years (on the lightly traveled streets), it's rough and annoying as all hell to ride on. Then it's time to do it over again. Such is the state of highway science in Idaho.

The last thing is that the ride is twice as long. Even though I went "the long way" in Palo Alto as often as not, there is nothing particularly interesting or attractive that is anywhere close to my route here. There are the mountains, the everpresent Boise Front, but they are a distant tableau, they might as well be a mural from a bicycling point of view.

There are other differences: more sand and gravel on the road (a little front wheel skid in a turn yesterday evening got my attention!), the SUVs are even more gigantic here (XUVs?), bike paths start and stop along my route with no rhyme or reason, hardly anyone else is out on a bike... but I'm so used to them, I don't think they really deter me.

Another comparison: the NPR road reports. In the bay area, they're like a mantra, and for someone who never ventured out in the morning to experience traffic, a disembodied one. There are always "events" to report, rolled cars, cars on fire, injury accidents, multiple car crashes, stalls blocking one or more lanes. But it always seemed to end with "...and the usual backup to the maze." In Boise, they seem like a joke to me. "It looks pretty good" almost everywhere, almost every day. And if it doesn't, there aren't enough alternative routes to make the information particularly useful.

Today's was a standout, though. It ended with "and highway 21 is still closed from Lowman to Banner Summit due to avalanche danger." Ayup. It's closed from roughly December through March every winter. I'm just imagining some Stanley resident listening for that every morning and saying "dang it, gotta go around through Sun Valley to get to Boise again." (If you don't get the joke, take a look at an Idaho map. That's in a great web gallery of maps of the state, btw.)

Went to see Anna Deavere Smith last night at the BSU Student Union. At one point, I visualized her performance as a magician, pulling an endless stream of colored scarves out a sleeve, the rainbow arcing through the air and cascading into a silky heap. Her magic is in verbatim mimicry rather than colored silk. Studs Terkel, a Lubovitcher woman from Crown Heights, Ken Burns, a black woman prisoner, a woman from the Rodney King civil rights trial jury (along with that woman imitating half of the other jury members), an elderly Latino man from L.A.... She has an amazing talent, and weaves it into a powerful message. She was talking about "getting out of our houses" last night, escaping the comfortable, narrow-minded, homogenous culture so many of us gravitate to, and letting diversity into our lives. An important message for Idahoans.

Jeanette bought two of her books afterwards: Fires in the Mirror : Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities (a script) and Talk to Me : Listening Between the Lines, where she reveals some of the secrets of her magic.

If you get a chance to see her (she'll be on PBS in late April), don't miss it.

Interesting art, with details of the technique involved in making it.

Well, the Cayenne didn't take; Jeanette didn't have the strength of will to open the gash and put as much as was needed, and I wasn't certain that I'd cleaned it well enough. No harm done, in particular, just use the conventional methods a day later.

500 milligrams of the antibiotic Cefadroxil, in a convenient black
 and blue capsule

The nice folks at Doc-in-the-box yanked it open for me, cleaned it up (couldn't you warm up that water?!), patched it up with some ointment, gave me a tetanus booster and a prescription for an antibiotic. All but the last of those were just what I needed. I went along with the antibiotic hoping it might kill off the source of my heartburn for the last several months.

Of course, there was no financial incentive to be conservative. $10 copayment for the clinic, $5 for the drugs. And people wonder why medical costs are out of sight...

Very nice non-electric music via RealPlayer. (Except the electricity to get it to you over the web, of course. :-) Thanks for the tip, Bob!

6.Mar.2001

Click-through rates are low and going lower, so the industry response is... bigger and more obnoxious ads! As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

The web is a new medium and someday we'll be able to look back and understand exactly what happened about now. Three things I see that are facilitated by it, and happening on a new scale are transaction productivity, business experimentation, and interpersonal communication.

The transaction productivity has important branches going by monikers like B2B, B2C, P2P and lots of lesser TLAs that are part of the experiment. My personal example is for engineering development: if I need something, I look for it first of all on the web. Most of the time I can get the pre-sales information I need (or at least contact information, including an email address), make the purchase directly, or send an electronic request for quote and proceed from there.

The interpersonal communication aspect "goes without saying" if you're reading my weblog.

The increased experimentation brings with it increased failure. That's the nature of experiments. The new, bigger, more interactive ads are an experiment, which I expect to be mostly a miserable and obnoxious failure. Certainly what I've seen so far, like c|net's oversize square in the middle of its copy, are abysmal.

The nature of the problem is, as ABC News reports, "many of these bigger ads will take a bit longer to load into computer memory." Or a lot longer to load, maybe. Compare this to the ads in a newspaper or magazine: they have no cost in user time; they reduce the purchase price; they may entertain, distract, provoke, but they do not (generally) obstruct.

If we'd been paying for content on the web all this time, and ads came along and made it cheaper, that might be a successful business experiment. Or if forced viewing made something like 'net access free. (But is NetZero a winning proposition? It seems so Orwellian to me, I'd never consider it.) But that's not the world we're living in. Lots of good things are free, and the channels into transaction involving money are helpful, not interference.

The sad part about it is that there are plenty of useful things for marketing to do. Get to know me as a customer, anticipate and fulfill my needs, save me time, offer me unexpected value.

But get these idiotic ads out of my face. You're only annoying me, and making it less likely I'll do business with you.

5.Mar.2001

Not sure what happened with that date thing yesterday. First I missed the last step, then I missed March 4th. Anyway, that was then, this is now.

Paul Krugman: "Let's not forget that Texas is now in serious fiscal difficulty thanks to the tax cut Mr. Bush pushed through as governor..."

Bruce Perens' interesting response about HP, Openmail and Open Source. The discussion following it is interesting, too, but I sure wish the mature News interface was as ubiquitous as new web discussion formats.

4.Mar.2001

Unexpected adventure last night: I was sleeping in the basement while Jeanette rasped her way through the cold I gave her. I heard her get up to let Sami out, and went upstairs to let her know where I was. On the way back down, carrying a glass of water in the dark, I had an "off by one" error on the stairs.

A slightly bigger step caught only half of the last tread, sent me ass over teakettle and gashed my foot. Back upstairs for her assistance, getting some cayenne into it after I'd washed it off. Yow!

Rollercoaster US95 south of Burns Junction

I finished off a "roll" of film, 36 pictures, on our arrival back home. That makes 512 so far on the Coolpix 950, an even 29. Among them were the last of Palo Alto, and a little travelogue of the drive.

3.Mar.2001

We've done the move, and I'm now writing from Fort Boise, as opposed to Fort-Boise-in-exile. Setting up the computer was early on the list, and the (not quite a) week "off" seems to have disappeared in a blink. I should have written about the transition, but instead I tried to catch up on my email, and found other things to write about...

Copyright thought experiments and infinite monkeys, from Dylan Tweney. Richard Stallman's statement about the GNU GPL is succinct and agreeable, even if Jim Allchin didn't really mean to imply that open source software was un-American.

Forbes reports on Yahoo! working to avoid a hostile takeover. "(D)emand for ads is in a decline right now" and 90% of Yahoo!'s revenue is advertising. Ouch.

Doc Searls brings home the point with reference to that favorite button on your TV remote. (If only there were a "blank" as well...)

The last item he mentions, Friedman's column about the real "internet wars," bears attention going forward. The "new" economy will be born of the old, not simply the fact that we can do things online now.

What's next for HP's Openmail software? "Embrace and extend" works best with quislings, a title that is somewhere lower than slimy. It seems all too apt, unfortunately. Doc Searls' pointer to this was headed "What happens if the engine's running and the garage door stays closed?" Ouch.

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN: 1534-0007

Saturday, 08-Sep-2001 13:38:16 MDT
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/200103.html