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31.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Hackers v. Hollywood, part 2: RIAA Web site hit with a DOS attack after endorsing legislation to allow copyright holders to disrupt peer-to-peer networks. (Or, the funny papers version.) Can't we all just get along?

Reruns tend to be OK if you like the show but missed an episode. But The West Wing is such great TV that seeing the same episode over again is still a thrill. (A thrill? you say, what, has he lost his mind? No, I mean it.) This week they reran the season finale from the season before last, "Two Cathedrals." It's the episode with Mrs. Laningham's funeral, and the flashbacks in which we learn of Jed's and her relationship, and of Jed's abusive father, before the hurricane and lightning accompany the motorcade to the press briefing where we learn that Jed will announce he's running for re-election. He doesn't actually make the announcement, mind you, and everyone in the audience and on his staff is waiting to hear what he'll say. But we know, thanks to the dead Mrs. Laningham's ability to read the man. Leo says "Watch this!" and it's the last line of dialog for what seems an eternity, and we go to the credits on black.

I'd assumed the current plague of Mormon crickets (Anabrus simplex) (discussed and seen here earlier this month) was a local thing, but the USDA reports that "recent outbreaks have occurred in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming" and suggests it's a wake-up call to reform our ways of ecosystem mismanagement.

I'm thinking it's a bad sign when you hire a law firm to check your accounting. A hundred million here, a hundred million there, it's just "on the fringe of materiality," and errors "made honestly" at the Mirant Corp.

Are they earnings, or is it art? The Supreme Court rules.

Found WebElements when I had an elemental question today. A periodic table that you can drill into, very cool. I liked the "Strange Matter" cartoon under Fluorine, among other things.

30.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Got Gas?

We've set up our natural gas utility billing for autopayment from our checking account. It beats writing a check and mailing it off every month. When they offered online statements, that seemed like a good thing, too. I was thinking along the lines of an email message with the half dozen numbers that matter to me, but instead, the email message had a URL, which pointed to their website, from which I go to "View bill," login, and finally get what I'm after.

Except this month, I didn't get past the login, until I switched from Opera v6 to MSIEv5.5. I sent them a little note, before I'd figured out the workaround, thinking their site was broken. After the first couple messages, I tried IE and got my bill, and sent a reasonably polite response to the inquiry "can we do anything else for you?" asking them to please consider a simpler delivery method, or at least fixing their site so it works with Opera.

Today I got another message, "I will have your billing sent to you in the mail." Oh well, guess that's easier for them.

I guess all that's a pretty minor annoyance compared to spending a third of your income on clean water.

When you're Shaquille O'Neal and you go house shopping, you don't get just a house, you get a "portfolio of affordable-housing communities."

29.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"Senior administration and Defense Department officials" are blabbing to the NY Times about the various plans for war against Iraq, while the official stance is not to comment at this time. We do understand that "regime change is American policy," but some of us, at least are wondering just what the hell is going on.

Since civil liberties are apparently passé, I suppose world domination would be next on the agenda? It's OK, because Iraq's regime are evildoers, I suppose. Aside from the thousands or tens of thousands (or more) who will have to die as such a policy is carried out, this seems like a very slippery slope, with precious little evidence of significant opposition in Washington.

Iraqi buildup near border puts Kuwait on heightened alert. They're not really that stupid, are they?

Caught part of Le Show this Sunday, including the part about the buried lead (rhymes with screed, not with shed) in the story about Microsoft's .NET plans:

"Microsoft also warned today that the era of 'open computing,' the free exchange of digital information that has defined the personal computer industry, is ending."

I confess I read that story, and was somewhat alarmed by that paragraph, but given that it was almost at the end of a story which was supposed to be about .NET (according to the headline), it didn't register quite the way it should have. The free exchange of information is ending?! Yeah, maybe that should be a headline.

The NY Times continued: "The company is trying to influence an industry consortium called the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance, which has been trying to create a new standard that will build a cryptographic key system into future personal computers."

The Register: "The Internet Radio Fairness Act would exempt webcasters with less than $6 million in annual revenues from the additional RIAA royalty and from future royalty requirements."

Corporate bureauspeak revealed. You need to pay to see the full variety, but many can be sampled gratis. I see that "today is a difficult day" for Worldcom employees, both on July 23rd and 24th. That was bankruptcy day.

Meathead vs. Terminator: The next governor's race in California promises to be more interesting than this one, according to Maureen Dowd.

$1.5 billion of boo-boos in Qwest's accounting. Oopsadaisy.

Hollywood hackers comin' atcha. But don't YOU try hacking with your gear, oh noooo.

Hawaii lava flow draws thousands of spectators. Yeah, I can understand that.

Oh, and Iran, too?!

Sorry to see you go, Rob, but... the show must go on.

Now somebody else at the White House should be arrested: whoever gave the order not to accept the papers to be served on Dick. They used to let 'em do it when Bill lived there., just a click and a service mark away from justice, has a fairly bizarre advertising scheme: their site pops up an ad for... their site. That should draw the aggrieved in even faster. Later, you get a pop-under ad, too. "Please don't go" they seem to be saying.

While you're visiting, take their survey, asking "Would you use a legal service that operates via a 1-900, pay- by-the-minute, phone number, that allowed instant access to an attorney?" They're looking for "yes" or "no." I said "no," which gives a Javascript alert telling me I had to answer the 2nd question, which is how much I would pay for this service per minute. $1.99? $2.99? $3.99? $4.99? $5.99? None of the above is not offered. After choosing the most expensive option (what the hell?), I see that 86.67% of the responses were "no," while 92.28% were willing to pay $1.99 for the service. 2.81% liked $2.99 and 2.81% liked $5.99.

They could do a follow-up survey, "How many minutes do you think you could talk to a lawyer on our 1-900 line before you'd used up the most you could expect to get out of a class action settlement? I'd pick 10, if they go with the majority on the per-minute rate.

28.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The concept of the Burning Man always seemed attractive in a sort of abstract way, but it seems to be ever more institutionalized. They have their own DMV now, although the "M" is for mutant. I guess I shouldn't knock it 'till I've tried a visit to the "thoroughly flat, prehistoric lakebed, composed of hardpan alkali, ringed by majestic mountains."

At any rate, the website is awesome, check it out. You don't have to buy a ticket for $200 or drive through Reno to appreciate the Art Cars, the dust storms, the other-wordliness of it all.

If you've got an itch to go, but aren't quite sure, read this personal essay, answering the question "What is Burning Man?"

27.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

With Congress set to approve new bankruptcy regulations, the expected rush to file got me to thinking about human behavior and tax incentives. It doesn't take much of an incentive to change marginal behavior, and with hundreds of millions of people involved, it's a mob scene. Will there be a rush to die when inheritance taxes are reinstated after the 10 year tax boon created by the Bush administration? Or a rush to assist death? Perhaps that will be the argument to make the changes permanent.

Just in case you hadn't figured out that the game is rigged, here's Dennis Kozlowski, ex-chairman of Tyco, dodging the taxes on the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stock options he got. Of course that name sounds familiar - he's the same guy who was indicted for dodging sales tax on his art purchases. The IRS is looking into it.

Look on the bright side: "The truth may empty your pockets, but it will also set you free."

A Mormon cricket, up close and personal
One of our friendly Mormon crickets, not the sort that "sing" in our backyard

Tidied up the computer today, finally got around to sorting through all those files in the "tmp" directory that have been around up to a year or two, filing or deleting them, before backing things up to CD. Just before I started burning, I closed all the apps I'd been using to inspect files for the keep/dispose decisions, and Word didn't shut down right away. When I got back to it, there was a dialog I've never seen before: "This is taking longer than expected, do you want to continue waiting?" Ah, NO. That made it go away, as desired.

The name of this artist -- Dox Thrash -- was enough to pique my interest, but the description of his materials -- Carborundum (a brand name for silica crystals, I learned) and copper plates -- persuaded me to check it out. Nice Flash-based presentation of the art, with supporting information and text. Too bad he died in 1965; he's got a great name for the internet age. (Thanks to the Scout Project for the link.)

Also found the Chinese dinosaurs at the Australian Museum in their latest report. Very cool stuff.

And ZoneZero, an interesting site about analog and digital photography. I'm just starting the tour, with a story about Pedro Meyer's spinal injury in Ecuador, looking at the remarkable pictures he took while being sent to L.A. for surgery, on a stretcher...

26.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The opportunity of The Commons: "Thought experiment: Compare diversity of expression on television or radio with that of the Internet."

You would have thought that submarine warfare technology went out of style with the Soviet Union, but no. The administration just gave the go-ahead to the Navy for the potentially ear-splitting submarine detection sonar. They claim "224 submarines operated by non-allied nations" which seems rather incredible. (It would be even more incredible if they argued that many or most of these were undetectable by less risky methods.)

Apart from the very real possibility that bodily harm will be done to marine mammals and other creatures, imagine what it would be like to have a parade of kids with 1600W stereos in their cars, cruising your neighborhood for 3 out of every 4 days, with the volume up full for 4 hours a day. Where the hell is the environmental impact statement on that?

Congress read the writing on the wall and passed the corporate reform bill almost unanimously. "(Senator Phil) Gramm, the sole dissenter among the conferees who worked out the bill, said, 'In the environment that we're in, virtually anything could have passed the Congress.'" That's right, Phil, and contrary to what you apparently thought, it's your job to see that things don't get so bad we come to such a state.

Just in case you needed any, here are reasons to eat locally.

I don't remember where I found the link to this site, or what it was about, or what the site is about, but it's kind of interesting with a lot of different voices and sketchy and cartoony things: Killoggs. Lots of discussion going on, too, but I didn't drill down into that.

Why I Quit Bush's EPA, by Eric Schaeffer in the Washington Monthly. "Behind the scenes, in complicated ways that attract less media attention (and therefore may be politically safer), the administration and its allies in Congress are crippling the EPA's ability to enforce laws and regulations already on the books."

He spells out the process in great detail: shrinking the enforcement division (and leaving it without a leader); pushing back on the bureaucracy to divide and conquer; packing the courts (as usual); enlisting members of Congress to protect polluters in their districts; dumping enforcement off on the states; and "innovating" ever more gridlock into the process of environmental protection.

Can we learn from history? First we have to understand cause and effect, for questions such as how we ended the cold war. "The dominant view of the right and center is that military intimidation was the root of victory, a dangerous axiom then and just as foolish today and tomorrow." The Nation comments, from 1999.

Dear Mrs. Banning: Being an atheist isn't so bad. It's no worse than having a child out of wedlock these days.

We'll be waiting for Senator Lott to be castigating yet another act of party-switching disloyalty, but we will not be holding our breath.

25.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bob Cringely writes the recipe to end the recession: sign up for eBay, sell all your old junk.

Now this is chutzpah: Harvey Pitt wants a promotion and a raise. The guy should be a comedian.

Seems like the crew should have plenty of time to blog while waiting to get out of the Antarctic ice the ship is trapped in. But maybe their 'net connection is not so good. Or the minus 50C temps have their minds otherwise occupied. (Lake effect sent me down south there. That also sent me off to Le Monde diplomatique, happily translated, as my francais is nicht so gut these days.)

One of the arguments against nuclear power is the risk of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. That risk is looking more substantial all the time, what with news of stolen radioactive materials in Chechnya. That Pandora's Box thing. The US spokesman seems particulary adept at understatement: "Chechen groups have relationships with countries we do not find exceptionally desirable."

24.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Warren Buffett calls bullshit on all the corporate bigwigs who say they can't account for options.

"Or do you really think that placing a value on the option is just too difficult to do, one of your other excuses for not expensing them? If these are the opinions you honestly hold, call me collect. We can do business."

John Rennie in Scientific American: 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense.

Printed text can be dry and uninteresting, and we don't normally expect to see any "body language" in it. This whitepaper from Microsoft has some, though. After plodding through the "user experience" and procedures for "updating and downloading technologies" of Windows Update, Media Player, MSN Explorer, Messenger, Help and Support, certificates and their revocation, ActiveX and Internet time service, we come to Digital Rights Management.

This is not plodding. DRM "opens up some very exciting new business models for the electronic distribution of digital content." "When consumers choose to acquire secure content, they enter into a good-faith agreement with the content providers. Hackers essentially disrupt this agreement and curb the availability of quality content by stealing the content." If only the could hiss here! "By accepting the security updates, consumers agree to limit the damage that hackers can incur to content providers..."

Deep in the license details, we read the Windows Media Player is set by default in "silent mode" to "acquire and install" licenses as needed, with no user intervention (or approval). This should help folks do the Right Thing, eh?

Finally, the recommendation for "How to manage updates in an IT environment": "DRM systems may not be deployed effectively if they allow users or corporations to disable key features of the DRM technoloyg such as applicaiton revocation. As a result, the system administrator's best bet for managing the technology is ot understand how it works and what types of content may come protected by DRM." And just say yes, yes, yes to everything we tell you to do.

This is an exciting business model, eh?

Michael Dolny bursts our myth of the liberal media: "Both print and broadcast media have practiced in recent years an uncritical, if not reflexive, cheerleading of CEOs, mergers and acquisitions, the latest earnings, and deregulation. That hardly amounts to a liberal bias."

Building a net presence for yourself is a two-edged sword. Jennifer 8. Lee (interesting middle name) writes about eluding the grasp of Google. Have you done a "self-Google" lately?

I gave it a whirl, and one of the more interesting things I found was a Russian translation of my Spinout FAQ. At least I think it's Russian - that Cyrillic stuff all looks like Greek to me.

23.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Is Marketocracy searching for and finding the best stock pickers, or is it simply providing a lesson in statistics? With 50,000 people trying, the top ten (or hundred, or even 1,000) are likely going to look good, maybe even better than most professional money managers. But the same market forces that make the pros' stars rise and fall will act in this galaxy. Past performance is no guarantee of future results as the torrent of red ink on Wall Street tells us day by day.

The top 10 of my Top 100 have slipped below $2T, the top 100 has a whole is off 16% in just the last two months. Consider that: weak companies that drop in market cap will fall off the list, but even the variable list of 100 largest lost a sixth of its value. I don't know about you, but I'm ready for the plunge to be over. (Mary Voll says we'll look back at this and laugh. I hope so. The stat that the Nasdaq is now 75 percent below its peak is not reassuring.)

With news like this -- Citigroup facilitating Enron's fraud, and El Paso's pipeline of inscrutable accounting -- the feeling that the game is rigged and we ought to all run for the hills is hard to shake.

22.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What Texas and the Bush dynasty look like from across the pond: Dark heart of the American dream, by Ed Vulliamy. "Texas counts the worst pollution record in the US, top in the belching of toxic chemicals and carcinogens into the air, top in chemical spills, top in ozone pollution, top in carbon-dioxide emissions, top for mercury emission, top in clean-water violations, top in the production of hazardous waste."

The face of globalization: outsourcing data processing to Ghana. "Asked what she would say if she ever met a New York City police officer, Ms. Okine said without hesitating, 'I would tell him to improve on his handwriting.'"

More fun with TIPS: One Week in the Life of a TIPSter, from the Democratic

Bush speaks up about the markets again, and the plunge continues. He says we'll see them go up again. Thank goodness for that MBA training, eh? Could someone tell him to just SHUT UP about the economy, please?

Jakob tells us what makes him so great at his job: sheer brainpower! Sadly, he does not tell us how we can be smart like him, but he does give us a short bibliography on the subject.

The survey about intranet site that I took today was an example of what can go wrong with insufficient brainpower applied. They had a page with a list of links to various resources, and gave me hypotheticals about wanting one or another of them, and asked me where I'd go. "Say you want some badges..." and one of the links was labeled "badges." How easy was that to find? they wanted to know. Maybe they were pre-screening for the next round of layoffs.

24 cubic miles of ice going away. Each year. Just from Alaska. We just got a whopping electric bill covering some of this hot weather, over 400 kWh, at the new, new rate of almost $.07 ea.

21.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

One month of summer gone by, or winter if you're down under. Temperatures have returned to civility in Boise, a pleasant 90F in late afternoon, with plenty of 60s cooling at night. The floor was cool on my bare feet this morning. Ah.

Oh, and the crickets started up last night. July 19th, no crickets. July 20th, crickets. How do they do that? I love the sound of crickets coming in through the open windows at night, much better than barking dogs and yowling tomcats.

What would you do with a webserver on a $1 chip? It's the connectivity that gets you, of course...

Our day started with a sizeable bang about 7:30; a transformer explosion, and from the sound of it, something bigger than your average can-on-a-pole. I called Idaho Power straightaway, but expected the power to be out for a while. They got it fixed in 20 minutes, though, amazingly fast work. This transformer explosion at ConEd, well, that's going to take a bit longer to fix.

Q&A with a political science prof from ISU nicely summarizes the flapdoodle over under God and the Pledge, without rendering an opinion about it. It's interesting to read that Eisenhower "emphasized the need for spiritual weapons to combat materialistic communism." He had some insight about materialistic capitalism, too, warning about the hegemony of the military-industrial complex. (But did he actually do anything about the risks he perceived?) "Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply held religious belief -- and I don't care what it is," Eisenhower said. Of course, it is possible that our government makes no sense.

I'm more inclined to argue that it makes more sense if it's founded on a deeply held religious belief, but that's just me. This seems not so far from what Adler tells us Justice William Brennan's view was, that the "ceremonial deism" of the Pledge, motto, legislative prayers and the like are Constitutional because because "they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content."

Moses showed up for Larry Craig's 57th birthday part. Now that's political clout. The electorate will not perceive this as out-of-state special interest involvement, of course, because the vast majority of Idahoans think Moses is A-OK.

Übergeek skewers the Apple "switch" campaign, but good. Requires Flash.

Seeing all, the eye that never sleeps

Operation TIPS-TIPS: "Mark the informant." (Love the domain name, btw.) Also provides a link to get your Ellison National ID.

20.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Is there any chance of changing the rules of stock options? Leslie Wayne explains why the answer is "almost none." The Stock Option Coalition can afford more politicians than the other side.

Michael Ryan notes that George W. "get tough on terrorism" Bush personally signed off on the plea bargain deal for John Walker Lindh, maybe because he saw himself in the misguided kid from the suburbs.

But Zacarias Moussaoui, the Al Qaeda fall guy who wants to plead guilty is told he has to think it over. If we give him the dealth penalty, we want to do it fair and square, I guess.

Operation TIPS envisions "a national system for reporting suspicious, and potentially terrorist-related activity, (involving) the millions of American workers who, in the daily course of their work, are in a unique position to see potentially unusual or suspicious activity in public places." Or not-so-public places, such as where your utility meters are. Jennifer Bauduy at "The Spy Who Reads Your Meter."

Astoundingly, House Majority Leader Richard Armey just said no to that idea, along with the national ID card. Armey's Mark spells out his objections in clear terms: A national ID card is "not consistent with a free society." "Citizens will not become informants."

The US Postal Service said no, thank you to the idea of having postal carriers adding espionage to their duties as well.

18.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Microsoft is shocked, shocked that anyone might infer nefarious intent on the part of their Media Player EULA. They admit it doesn't "clearly explain" what they intended, and they're going to rewrite it to make it more "clear."

(Also?) On the positive side, Cringely notes that the good news is that Palladium probably won't work. At least not on the first or second try? But then there's always the collateral damage to worry about, and the forgone technology that their early announcements scares people away from developing.

Harvey Pitt's not ready to resign as head of the SEC, it's "the only job (he) really wanted since (he) got steeped in securities law." I can understand that, it's a prestigious job that presumably pays pretty well. But what kind of man says something like this for attribution: "It would be unthinkable to deprive people of my expertise." That's excerpted from a larger quote in the NY Times article, but it doesn't sound like it was delivered with self-deprecating tongue-in-cheek.

Note to Harvey: No one is indispensible.

Oh yeah: "We don't want to 'restore confidence in the stock market,' as both parties' leaders keep intoning. That's like restoring confidence in the casino after the little guys discover that the house and the big bettors always win. We need to restore the real economy, not the hyper-speculative stock market." From Publicus, on, which is of course the sort of site Tom Paine would have had if the 'net had been going back in the late 1700s.

He (?) also referred us to Robert Borosage's July 9th column in the Washington Post, whose URL I found with Google's help. I did try searching the Post's site, but got shunted into a cookie monster that wanted me to register and send money. Yet another Google disintermediation victory. Not that I really want to shout to content providers that they need to hide their content if they want to sell it.

Anyway, Borosage rejects the explanation that "the bubble did it," and explains that "Markets need rules." "A centerpiece of Gingrich's Contract With America was 'securities reform.' Passed in 1995 over President Clinton's veto, the bill shielded outside accountants and law firms from liability for false corporate reporting, and made it more difficult for shareholders to bring suit against fraudulent reporting."

Continuing, "Clinton's SEC chairman, Arthur Levitt, waged a long and bitter campaign to ban this basic conflict of interest. The accountants' lobby -- led by one Harvey Pitt -- blocked the reforms..."

(I was a little snide a few days back about the SEC getting a "bonus" in budget increases, but reading about how it's been starved, and how Bush's "first SEC budget proposed eliminating 57 staff positions, including 13 in the office of full disclosure and 12 in the office charged with preventing fraud" puts that and the proposal to hire 100 more investigators in a new light.)

Will Lance Armstrong make it four in a row? He won the 11th stage, and took over first place in the Tour de France.

Also on Jamin B. Raskin's response to the recent court decision, "One (Constitutionally Illiterate) Nation Under God; The Constitution Can't Protect Our Rights If We Don't Understand Them." "We need a national movement for constitutional literacy, and not just so Americans will be prepared to absorb the shock of judicial decisions that enforce the Establishment Clause. We need constitutional literacy as a basic tool of intellectual self-defense."

17.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

John's Stuff has a bloggish report on a hybrid road rally around Minnesota. (The site's framed up, so he wants you to follow the links: "hybrid road rally" on the front page today, dated July 16th.)

Greenspan: "It is not that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed had grown so enormously." Recounted by Floyd Norris, who drily notes that "Just for the record, all the major averages are still higher than they were when the phrase 'irrational exuberance' entered the lexicon."

Bush predicts that the SEC will clear Cheney. No doubt. More than two-thirds of the populace still views the president as honest and trustworthy, just in case you didn't realize we're living in an age of miracles.

Of course, if you don't like that poll, you can try a different one that says 2/3rds of the country thinks "the administration (is) more interested in protecting the interests of large companies than those of ordinary Americans."

Chevron's been in Nigeria for 30 years, and the natives don't have much to show for it. They're restless, to be sure: unarmed village women have stormed and occupied four ChevronTexaco pipeline stations.

Bob Herbert: "After 29 futile and tragic years, it is time to bring the curtain down on the institutionalized cruelty of the Rockefeller drug laws." Just in case you hadn't figured out that drug enforcement is racist, consider this fact from his column: "94 percent of the people doing time for drug offenses in the state of New York are black or Hispanic."

16.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Had an experience to connect to the clichéd phrase "a shot in the arm" today: a cortisone shot in the shoulder, for what the doc tells me is adhesive capsulitis. He's sending a note to the physical therapist to stop being nice, too, with a prescription to me for something to keep me from complaining when she starts yanking on my arm.

I'm not much for needles, and I studiously avoided looking at what he was up to while his assistant distracted me, held my arm and suggested I "relax, relax, relax" then wham, a bigger ache than any of the recent "episodes" chipping away at my mobility. The pain didn't persist, but the traumatic wake-up call was with me all day. Is it like that for everyone, I wonder, or am I just a weenie?

The Wall Street Journal experiments with demand elasticity, with 33% price hikes for its online content. I suppose once you've given in to paying $60 (or have it on the corporate expense account), it might as well be $80. Me, I enjoyed it when it was free.

Would you loan $2B to Worldcom? Me neither. Elsewhere, the NY Times chronicles Fraud 101 at the company.

Misery wants company: Hussein says all Arabs are Iraqis when the US comes knocking, or something like that.

Hope lives: peace in Northern Ireland, and the IRA issues an apology. "Astonishing."

I searched the Washington Post site for a link, but couldn't find one that matched the NY Times story about the Washington Post company joining Coca-Cola in accounting for options as operating expenses. That's two.

A useful guide to online photo albums. Thanks to PC World's Digital Focus newsletter for the link.

15.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Thomas Friedman's columns about the Arab world have been insightful and educational. His July 3rd column, Arabs at the Crossroads, for example:

For too many years we've treated the Arab world as just a big dumb gas station, and as long as the top leader kept the oil flowing, or was nice to Israel, we didn't really care what was happening to the women and children out back -- where bad governance, rising unemployment and a stifled intellectual life were killing the Arab future.

The scale of the problem is made clear by this parenthetical statistic: "The G.D.P. of Spain is greater than that of all 22 Arab states combined." These are states whose total population is about the same as the US', headed for more than 400 million in a couple decades.

Even well-intentioned men in charge can overlook the obvious, thinking that they're doing the right thing. For the National Institute of Health, it finally became obvious the women's health concerns were different than men's, and that action was needed, under the directorship of Dr. Bernadine Healy. This op-ed piece in the NY Times, Anne M. Dranginis tells us why the hormone study finally Happened.

"...Dr. Healy's stubborn insistence that the N.I.H. concern itself with women's health was not broadly supported at the time. In some quarters the study of women's health was somehow seen as the intrusion of 'special-interest politics' into the business of science. In 1991, when Dr. Healy was appointed head of the N.I.H., women were usually excluded from clinical trials, a practice that she ended...."

After a week of extreme ugliness in the stock markets, this cheery piece for Monday morning:

"The market has come down quite a bit from the unprecedented levels it reached a couple of years ago," Mr. Arnott says. "It has now reached the same valuation level as at the market top in 1929."

It's easy to forget that "irrational exuberance" came out in late 1996, more than 3 years before the markets topped out. One of the radio reports over the weekend said something about 1997 levels, as I recall, so go figure.

The firemap for July 15th looks like the west has the measles. Those are just the big (and named) ones, of course. The "manageable" fires, like the 6 on BLM land, 10 in the Boise National Forest and 7 on Idaho Dept. of Lands acreage that started from yesterday's thunderstorms aren't shown.

Temperature graph of t-storms breaking the heat wave

We finally got a break in the heat, and some time in the 60s last night. (It's a little cooler at our house than the airport, thanks to more plants and less concrete.)

The digital rights management (DRM) battle is escalating. Not content with killing off internet radio, the RIAA is now looking to electronic countermeasures to stymie freeloaders. The DMCA amounts to forced, unilateral disarmament, so the prospective customers should be an easy target. Sorta like 007's license to kill, Berman's legislation would give publishers a license to break in. (Thanks to Jeff Harrow's Technology Report for the links.)

Coca-Cola breaks rank on the issue of accounting for options! The price of righteousness for them would have been $202 million last year.

14.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It was still hot at dark last night, the concrete and bricks practically glowing with the heat of the day. Cumulonimbus had filled the sky and there was hopeful lightning, but by morning just dusty traces of a few raindrops and no significant break in the heat. Our thermometer got down to 70, briefly, but the little fan couldn't do much between when we crawled out of the basement and when it was time to close up again.

And smoke. The lightning lit some new fires in the area, with not much of a spark needed after everything has been kiln-dried by 4 consecutive days over 105F.

After a middle-of-the-night foray, Jeanette came back to bed and reported that no water was coming out of the tap. Rumor has it that our water company's well is going dry, and they're frantically digging a new one. I tossed uneasily, thinking about landscaping that wouldn't survive, how long our 5 gallon reserve would last, how many times we'd get to flush the toilet. But by morning, it was flowing again. For now.

The heat has me hiding out, missed a bunch of events this weekend, like Pridefest, and various demonstrations surrounding the National Governors Association meeting that runs through Tuesday. The one thing that sticks in my mind about the NGA is hearing that they'll be driving (driven?) around in unlicensed SUVs... with DOT permission obtained through some "emergency" override our executive gets. And how it costs us some million+ dollars to host this thing, and how they draw on a huge bank of volunteers to put it on. It just seems weird.

Ironically, given the venue, Marc Ambinder's news story on ABC suggests that the NGA is shunned by some (such as big Jeb) because it's too liberal. Hard to say; it's meetings aren't public.

The Statesman has been reporting on the events, of course, noting that they could all agree that the Feds should send more money to the states. Dan Popkey's column gives a little insight into power politics: Democrat fundraisers, no way, Kempthorne fundraisers, A-OK!

Nicholas Kristof tries out RV "camping" and finds it "convenient," if not quite the same as prior experience. Somehow, sleeping in a variety of parking lots doesn't sound that inviting. Back in the 70s, when I was hitchhiking and imbued with the spirit of Earth Day, the very term "RV" was derogatory. Now there are 7+ million out there, and the promise of many, many more as the baby boomers pass 55.

Our compromise is a minivan with rear seats that fold flat. It remains to be seen how long that will satisfy us, but I still have a hard time imagining being an RV pilot.

A nasty 3mm sticker fruit

Felt a little poke in a toe while walking through the house, and thought maybe I'd picked up a sliver. I sat down and absent-mindedly started feeling around on one bare foot with the other, then OW! What's that? I got a tweezers and a mirror, and had no trouble finding the fuzzy and prickly offender, just 2 or 3mm, but definitely an attention-getter. What kind of nasty fruit is this?! ("Photo" from an HP 6200C scanner.)

13.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Four warm nights in Boise, temperature graph

It's a rare spell of hot weather in Boise that leaves us without night-time cooling. Our low humidity usually gives us cool nights that provide 8+ hours of air conditioning, for the cost of running a small fan. At the end of a hot spell, it's not unusual to have a thunderstorm swell up and keep things hot until it breaks, but that's usually a one-night deal at the most.

This week, it's just been getting hotter each day, and each night. The natural A/C reservoir was close to empty the night before last, and gone last night. The good news is that it looks like some cumulonimbus are stacking up this morning...

Of course, it's always the heat wave when the heating and cooling guys are the busiest. Something tells me there's some overtime being put in this weekend. Yesterday, we blew one of the 2 30A fuses to our compressor; just too hot for it? And then yesterday evening, an unexpected dripping sound led me to find that our plenum was dripping all over the furnace and floor. Yikes! With no easy way into the sheet metal box (and Freon plumbing in the path of the hard way), I decided to have a look at the condensate drain pipe, and found the problem in a clogged elbow that was easy to get to.

Sleeping uneasily in the basement last night, I was not looking forward to our 4th (or is it 5th?) triple-digit day, this time without any "hard" A/C to fall back on, but this morning's repair looks like it'll keep our 30? year-old cooling system going for one more day. Whew.

The depth of ideological difference between the Islamic world and the rest of us seems clear in this snippet from a NY Times article by Neil MacFarquhaar, in Saudia Arabia:

"Well, of course I hate you because you are Christian, but that doesn't mean I want to kill you," a professor of Islamic law in Riyadh explains to a visiting reporter.

William Cadette: "Corporate America appears to be overstating its earnings by at least 20 percent. About half of the exaggeration reflects the lack of any recorded expense for options; the other half, manipulated operating earnings." The retired V.P. at JP Morgan gives his prescription for reform: "There can be no real reform without honest accounting for stock options."

12.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Exploring the history of climate in powers of 10: the Climate Timeline Tool.

We don't need Pandora's Box anymore, we've got all the recipes we need, and can whip the contents up from scratch.

Gretchen Morgenson, writing in the NY Times, details the problems with stock options, as she observes that the President didn't quite get around to addressing that issue.

"(O)ptions have risen from 5 percent of shares outstanding at major companies to 15 percent."

"At Enron, for example, deductions for stock options helped eliminate more than $625 million in taxes that the company owed to the government from 1996 to 2000."

At WorldCom, where the three top execs were awarded 18.5% of the company's grants in the last 4 years, "half the company's free cash flow in 1999 -- $886 million -- came from workers exercising options."

Meanwhile, the Times notes that the Dow is down 5% in the 3 days since Bush spoke. The Senate approved tougher penalties than he asked for on a 97-0 vote.

10.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

On the way home from work, the radio told me it was a hundred and four outside, and 9% humidity. Sorta like a free sauna. I left the A/C off for the 4 mile drive, and our house is still cruising on last night's cool. We may not be doing quite so well after another couple days of this...

But the onset of stable hot weather finally produced some summer morning wind, gratifying local windsurfers. Wish I'd been there.

6 years ago today, HP announced that it would close down its Disk Memory Division. Happy anniversary to a couple thousand of us.

Things could be worse: I could be working for Qwest, whose stock is flirting with $0, and whose employees were asked to take unpaid leave last month.

Or, we could've stayed in the business, like IBM, who reported a pretax loss of $423 million last year. Ouch.

The Army is giving away war games, and they have several hundred thousand takers.

The NY Post's teaser headline talks about vegans and oppressed bees, but the real gem in the story is the quote from South Dakota cattle rancher Jody Brown. I won't spoil it for you.

Judicial Watch's slogan is "Because no one is above the law." Their suit against VP Dick Cheney (et al.) helps make the point, too.

I've been admiring the latest permutations of the spam scam which is apparently known as the Nigerian Scam (among other things). PCWorld tells us that "the con has pulled in more than $5 billion and is one of the largest industries in Nigeria."

9.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I forgot to mention about yesterday... the crack of dawn was onomatopoetic on Monday. After rumbling and flashes woke me up, I counted after a couple of lightning flashes: 12 and 18 seconds, 2 or 3 miles. That could be directly overhead, up in the thunderhead, or somewhere down the road. The next one was right in the neighborhood, no need to count between the flash and the bang. Good morning!

Employees are finding their bosses contemptible in some cases, and hoping Congress does too. Ebbers sez "I'm innocent, but my lawyer tells me I shouldn't say anything."

Wired wonders if that's your tooth ringing: "A wireless receiver can be implanted into your tooth with the aid basic dental surgery. The implant can allow a person to receive digital signals from radios and mobile phones, from the privacy of their own head." I did that once, but without going through any dental work...

Is this "post-human evolution" or just mad science? What's the boundary between prosthetics and evolution?

Thanks to the Harrow Technology Report for the link.

Where to check when something in that movie you're watching just doesn't add up: The Math in the Movies Page. And, there's a site for insultingly stupid movie physics as well. Thanks to Science Magazine's Netwatch column for those; but you need to register to get to that (and they'll tease you with parts of the magazine you have to pay for).

The word "Movies" just looked weird to me. As if we called photographs "Stillies," or automobiles "Rollies."

I read this week's NY Times Magazine feature piece this morning, "What If It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?" I'm not anything like obese, but I've been gaining weight, and could stand to lose some. I've also believed in the "fat bad, carbs good" concept for as long as I can remember. I stopped buttering bread some while ago, because it was easier and felt somewhat righteous. Tonight, I happily put some on (can't quite bring myself to "slather" yet), and you know what? Bread's better that way! :-) Bring on that fat! Satiation is a good thing.

An acquaintance, Lee Mercer, went for a hike into the Jarbidge Wilderness with friends on the 4th of July. At age 44, he dropped dead on the trail. Life is too precious to waste a single moment.

Bush did not top John McCain's op-ed piece from yesterday. The prescription in his speech is for "strict enforcement" of the existing rules, and "higher ethical standards." The SEC gets to keep its boss, and $100 million bonus to hire 100 more enforcers. The maximum penalty for corporate fraud would get boosted from 5 to 10 years. Is that up to where minimum penalties for some petty drug crimes are yet? I don't think so. He's proposing a task force and a "10-point Accountability Plan." Yeah, that should get the job done.

8.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Helen Thomas summarizes where we are in the Bush imperial presidency, with the experience of many, many years watching the Executive branch. It's not a pretty picture, but apparently the silent majority are rolling over for it.

Speaking of imperiums, Janis Ian's alternate view of the internet music debacle is worth reading, too. It's a long and sordid tale.

The next blue chip to fall? Merck booked $12.4 billion in uncollected revenue. Oopsiedaisy. No effect on profit, though, and it's all done according to the glorious Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Maybe it's A-OK.

John McCain: Harvey Pitt should be sacked. Separate auditing and consulting. Count options as expenses. Cough up those ill-gotten gains. Send liars to jail.

Top that, George.

7.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The singing half of the 4 Fred Phelps protestors

Fred Phelps and his trio of supporters were punctual with their message of hate, and the counter-demonstrators were comfortably in place well before they showed up. The good news is that love outnumbered hate by about 20 to 1. (The Boise police outnumbered hate by 2 to 1 as well.) The troup of angels surrounded St. Michael's on the two sides facing State and 8th Streets and other supporters filled up the shady sidewalk around the church. Phelps' gang stood across the street, on the Statehouse square, coincidentally, their fluorescent signs well designed to grab the attention of passing motorists.

Our side was variegated, convivial, friendly, singing together in a gentle congregational alto, "We Shall Overcome," "We Are One in the Spirit," "America the Beautiful." Their side had the two gals with trained voices, piercing the choral murmur, but never seeming to find a clear expression. I thought about how vocal training can make you heard, but that the message it carries must come from within to be moving. One of the more remarkable messages on the anti-side was "I suffer not a woman to preach," a quotation from Paul's Biblical misogyny. One our side, others had come up with the same ideas for a message as we had: "God is Love," and Jeanette's "Love One Another."

Angels and pickets at St. Michael's in Boise

What I remember most vividly is the face of the parishoners coming and going from the church, and their minister as they greeted us and thanked us for being there this morning. Our pleasure! The fact that there was no particular hostility directed to the four demonstrators was also gratifying; they were so much more pitiful than they were threatening.

Krugman previews the Tuesday night speech: "He will sternly lecture Wall Street executives about ethics and will doubtless portray himself as a believer in old-fashioned business probity. Yet this pose is surreal, given the way top officials like Secretary of the Army Thomas White, Dick Cheney and Mr. Bush himself acquired their wealth...."

Doc Searls writes on the trepidation of shopping: "...since I almost never leave Costco without spending a bunch of money on stuff I never thought I'd need before I got there..."

Costco-ness divides the world into two kinds of people: members and non-members. The former have a behavior pattern that is rather charming to the latter: they enthusiastically aver that everything they buy there is a fabulous bargain.

From the Arab News: "Bin Laden no longer exists: Here is why"

Eric Raymond's final essay of the series is a more powerful call to arms than anything the US government has offered up, even though they seem to be working from the same mindset. Today's discussion at church (which I missed, unfortunately) was Pacifism v. Militarism, from two members. The latter made the point more generically: "Human nature, being what it is, and the politics of nations being what they are, seeking to achieve ultimate good through Pacifism in the face of great evil is a fool's mission."

Peggy Noonan waxes poetic on what's right with our great country. Her list includes blogging, which will no doubt get her piece blogged up one side and down the other. "The 24-7 opinion sites that offer free speech at its straightest, truest, wildest, most uncensored, most thoughtful, most strange. Thousands of independent information entrepreneurs are informing, arguing, adding information."

6.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

As we pick up the stray spent firework in our yard, we celebrate another holiday season in which no moron has succeeded in setting our house on fire. One old guy in a nearby neighborhood was not so lucky. As if a bottle rocket is not random enough, one budding genius decided to tie one onto a toy airplane...

5.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Yesterday's entry was exploded with the tons of ordnance lit off in bursts of patriotic fervor last night. Discussion question: which is more patriotic, flying the flag from your automobile, or lighting off 4th of July fireworks? I'm also wondering if there was a bigger melée than usual where you live this year. It certainly seemed like the density, frequency, and intensity of private "celebration" (or is that "private" celebration?) in Boise was beyond all previous attempts. I do hope you've all shot your wad at this point.

The evolution of the "African Minister" email finance scam is rather entertaining. Spam in general seems to be multiplying faster than pond scum, but most of it is not interesting. The different ways of suckering people who think they can skim off a large financial transaction, however, are. I suppose it's an outgrowth of the multiplicity of "legitimate" skimming that people see happening around them; if Morgan Stanley can get rich through brokering mergers and acquisitions, why can't I?

Today's offering comes from "smart joe" at the Auditing and Account Unit, Foriegn Remittance Dept., Credit Commerce du France, Lome-Togo. He starts his message with:
There is the usual stew of facts, lies, indirection and storytelling. What, you don't believe there are any facts? Try this: "I will not fail to inform you that this transaction is 100% risk free."

The closer always makes me want to respond... "I suggest you get back to me as soon as possiblstating your wish in this deal." My wish is that Mr. Smart Joe should just SEND ME THE MONEY and cut out the middlemen.

We've moved beyond commentary to meta-commentary about Wolfram's book. Jordan Ellenberg's piece in Slate is enjoyable, and includes a number of links for further exploration, including a lecture on "Popper and disconfirmation" from the Bolton Institute, and Brian Hayes' "full review" in American Scientist.

I thought a list of authors' reading lists sounded interesting, maybe there'd be some ideas I could use for my own. Even before getting to any of the lists, though, I found this interesting: I didn't recognize any of the authors listed. Maybe they're fiction writers? The first five were...

What do El Paso Corp., Microsoft, Philip Morris, the American Petroleum Institute, and Ernst & Young have in common? They were among the quarter million dollar club at a May GOP fundraiser, buying what The Daily Enron terms "Executive Branch prepaid legal services." (Not to be confused with the company called Prepaid Legal Services!)

Also from TDE, Where are Burton and DeLay on Halliburton? Asking in more specific detail what can be compressed into a bumper sticker, which is worse, screwing an intern, or screwing the country?

Something to ask yourself the next time you accept one of those "I agree" end-user license agreements, as described by Robert X. Cringely: "Did you just give Microsoft the right to go inside your computer and change pretty much anything they like even if it disables applications from other vendors -- applications you paid good money for? And if they do mess with the inside of your computer they don't have to ask permission or do anything except post an explanation on some web site somewhere?"

The answer will be "yes," sooner or later. You don't have much of a choice. That's why the call it a "monopoly."

If I were "confined to a wheelchair," as they say, I think I would find a way to afford an iBot, even if it cost as much as a car.

3.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

On the eve of Independence Day, it might be a good time to think about the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine and how the stated goals of increasing diversity of expression in broadcast media has not been met. Some questions for further discussion: Does the current balance of opinion in talk radio reflect market demand, or something else? Is it pulled by the audience, or pushed by the broadcasters? Are attempts to reduce funding for the Corporate for Public Broadcasting being pushed by the same forces?

Edward Monks provides the history lesson, for the Eugene, Oregon Registar-Guard.

After about 20 years in the area, we finally got over to the upper South Fork of the Boise River for a low-key, overnight camp. Hiked to a little hot spring, and partway up a trail used by motorcycles. I can understand the attraction to zip through the forest without doing much work, but walking seems a lot more recreational. We admired the thimbleberry flowers that are a week or two away from production, and the variety of campers well spread-out through the official and unofficial spots on the rivers and creeks. We were next door to a fifth-wheel outfit that looked set for a week, with gramma, grampa, and 2 grandkids. They were in bed well before dark. Oh, and no fireworks.

Our business executive-in-chief has a bit of a wobbly platform for demanding holier-than-thou adherence to security laws. It wasn't a lot of money, but the AP reports he didn't get around to filing all those disclosure forms on time. It's OK, though, just "like doing a 60 in a 55" speed-limit zone.

1.July 2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The heart of a Sego lily, in the Owyhee Canyonlands

There weren't any news stories about the potential destruction from tens of thousands of visitors this year, but cycling through Ann Morrison Park this morning, the damage was evident. City workers were having to clean up the scattered garbage, there were broken wine and beer bottles scattered about. I didn't look too closely in the bushes and trees along the river, but one can imagine...

The governer didn't declare a disaster emergency, and something tells me that I won't be seeing any stories about all the cleanup that was required, either, because it wasn't the Rainbow People this year, it was the Boise River Festival.

Here's one of the ways we're (not) spending out tax cut: stopping cleanup at EPA Superfund sites.

Is our Veep one of those chief executives "who have mismanaged their company in some fraudulent way (and) will have to pay"? Harvey Pitt says his SEC will find out. That could be interesting.

Holiday outing up Shafer Butte today, and a hike around More's Mountain. At 7000', it was an incomparable day, temperature in the 70s, cloudless sky, wild flowers in their glory, still flush with the water from snowmelt. The 4 mile hike through Douglas Fir forest with views of the ski area, Boise, Horseshoe Bend, the Sawtooths and the White Clouds was a wonderful tonic.

Our Prius' energy consumption display on the way down Bogus Basin Rd.

We took the Prius, and driving Bogus Basin Road without snow, ice, and (especially) traffic was delightful. On the way down, the game was maximizing fuel efficiency, enjoying the late afternoon light, and dodging the Mormon crickets. I managed to rack up a full display of 100+ mpg bars, with 7 diamonds (1 diamond = 50 Wh regenerated). The histogram shows average miles per gallon in 5 minute increments for the last 30 minutes, typically varying around the 50mpg middle line. With a stop at a drive-in on the way home, we eventually had a dozen bars, and more than half a kWh regenerated. We started at 49.0 mpg three-fourths of the way through a tank of gas, dropped to 47.4 at the top, and then shot up to 49.7 by the time we got home, all in 40 miles or so. Nothin' but tire noise most of the way down, we call it "Stealth mode."

Checking my logs, I saw >5000 hits one week last month, with 3000 of them from one site. Seems to be some blog-bot software gone awry (and then fixed, since it didn't keep happening), but Rajesh Jain's "Emergic" has a lot of interesting things going on. I like the idea of categories, for example, but with 477 days worth of postings, I'm not prepared to go back through them all and add metadata. At least not today.

At some point, I might have to quit using my home-grown perl script and get in the mainstream, too...

Neighbor kids are lighting off a bigger-than-ever collection of illegal fireworks. The 4th of July on a Thursday has to be the worst possible timing for those of us who can get by on a half a dozen or ten pops a year. It started last Friday, and will run more than a week.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Thursday, 01-Aug-2002 22:19:08 MDT