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30.Aug.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

You're not imagining things, there are more cars parked in your neighbors' driveways and out on the street these days: our cars started outnumbering our drivers two years ago, 1.9 to 1.75 per household. The 0.86 bicycles per household apparently continue to gather more dust than anything else: sliced by mode of transportation, bike trips are lost in the other, and only 1 in 12 individuals over 15 said they'd made a trip by bike in the last week. As usual, our household is atypical: 4 bikes (with 5 seats), 2 cars, 2 drivers (with one more on the way), both of whom made trips by bicycle last week.

Perhaps you're not reading this because you're out on the road for the holiday weekend? In that case, do drive safely, so that you don't turn into one of the 488 fatalities expected.

Do you roll your eyes when you see inserts in your billing statements larded with fine print? Do you actually read through all that stuff, or just skim on by and give in to whatever legal traps have been set for you? Here's an idea: send some of that stuff back at 'em. This news story from the Madison, Wi. Capitol Times is rather heartwarming. "When their pest control contract was about to expire, Margo Rebar sent the company her renewal check, but also included an insert titled 'Addendum to Customer Agreement.' The insert urged the company to 'read this insert carefully.'" (Thanks to Mark O'Dell for those.)

If you've got some time, and bandwidth, and you're wondering how everyday things are made, from jelly beans to glass bottles, the Alliance for Innovative Manufacturing at Stanford has just the site for you.

29.Aug.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Here's my idea: I get a telephone system that I can program in six or eight of my neighbors' numbers, with a single "alert" button on my end. I press the button, and it quickly rings all the neighbors' phones, not with the usual pattern, but 5 or 6 times in rapid succession - RING RING RING RING RING. And then disconnects. Maybe a couple of them will like the system, and install their own, so with their selection of neighbors down the block, and so on. Then when anything in the neighborhood happens that gets my attention -- the mailman's coming, say, or someone is walking their dog down the street, or I can hear a siren, or a hot air balloon is in sight -- I'll press the button so that all my neighbors will know. That would be really great.

Speaking of obnoxious things in the neighborhood, here's one response to the annoyance of malware: help make the public aware of the offenders. Not sure if the scope of the resistance is adequate to the task, but it's worth a try, to ease the frustration, if nothing else. I've had pretty good luck with Lavasoft's Ad-aware for keeping this stuff out of my hair. (Hmm, I see their web style is broken on Opera v6.05, though. Bummer.)

The of one Andrew Clover offers a big catalog of parasites ("unsolicited commercial software") with a script to detect these things in your Internet Exploder installation. Another reason to have a browser with more explicit cookie control, so that only invited parties can leave things on your machine. (Hint, Opera is one.) Of course, having a less-than-mainstream browser (or O/S!) doesn't hurt, either.

The shipping business is big; bigger than ever. China's booming economy is driving it, sucking in raw materials and pouring out finished goods.

Speaking of good business, it may have taken him 36-years to pile it up, but $140 million still seems like a lot for running a stock market. That's a lot of skimming for Grasso to take home that kind of green. The NYSE, in case you were wondering, is a private, non-profit organization.

Remember when Rosemary Woods supposedly did that contortionist trick and "accidentally" erased 18½ minutes from one of Richard Nixon's White House tapes? Ok, well maybe you don't remember that, it was 35 years or so ago. Coincidentally, Microsoft says they lost 35 weeks of email messages about their business dealings with ("and we don't have any backups, either"), just when they would be most interesting for a little court case. Hmm, is Ms. Woods working in Redmond, now?

After yesterday's spam poetry, Mark O'Dell forwarded the link to ActiveState's Field Guide to Spam and its catalog of tricks, including the "invisible ink" one (at the very end).

Hall of Technical Documentation Weirdness: Instruction sheets that say things like "Prythee no sport with stingy or play asperity game. Winding finger have got bloodstream not wallk. Throagh of peril," and pictures that are worth a thousand such words. I'm behind slashdot in hearing about the site (who can keep up, for heaven's sake?), but enjoyed the wider variety of wit on the proprietor's blog.

I especially appreciated the tip toward the BBC's What The World Thinks of America program. O wad some gift the Giftie gie us... with dozens of comparative graphics.

The antipathy of the French (among others!) is quantified. Which of the following things about America do you think your own country should aspire to achieve? The French answered oui most weakly to economic opportunities, freedom of expression, democratic institutions, military power and popular culture. 2% for that last one; they like their own popular culture just fine, of course.

The story of the attack of synthetic diamonds reads like good fiction, at least. Brigadier General Carter Clarke (ret.) saluting his workers and his interviewer is just one of many nice touches. De Beers is in the story, of course, with "no comment" on the record. The government comes in: will the FTC require "synthetic" labelling for man-made diamonds, so that good old De Beers monopoly stones will be "all natural"? Even better, they ruled in April 2001 that man-made diamonds couldn't be called "diamonds"!

The Diamond High Council (I am not making this up) has an answer, too: "It is not a symbol of eternal love if it is something that was created last week."

The inventor of a chemical vapor deposition process to make single-crystal diamonds has already collected a veiled death threat.

27.Aug.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Even though we all know spam when we see it, the task of automated filtering is a fascinating contest between humans designing the opposing systems. Perhaps you've heard of Bayesian filters? They identify spam by spam words, and non-spam by the absence of spam words, collecting statistics from samples. As the reference sample gains experience from what you put in the two buckets, messages are sorted more and more accurately. It's one corner of the state of the art in spam detection.

The counterattack is to put lots of non-spam words in messages (preferably where the recipient won't actually see them, such as the text version of a multipart-alternative MIME-encoded message), with the "payload" thereby camouflaged to filters, at least. Today's sample is from one "Kale Cohen," with subject "scrambler." It's obviously spam to me, since I don't know anyone by that name. Using Outlook Express' "forward" command, with outgoing messages forced to plain text, I see the camouflage plain text, and can appreciate its technique (random sampling long words from a dictionary) as well as its unintended character of found poetry. (Inspecting the message properties / source, I see the trick is white text on an expected white background in an HTML-formatted message.) Here's half of it:

horsehair adherent potable member adulthood adequacies teasel savor tansy materialized porcupine adhered milestones augustus identifier bobwhite scientifically teleost accidently scrounge schooled counterpoint humanity explainer anglicanism tenaciously barth exporter hundredfold mechanically $RANDO MIZE tapestries breadboard booths ached hues ackley borrower scales mawkish counselling blanche metamorphosis craw tam coruscate matchless testamentary takings exponentiate bordered adsorbate pouch saunter bodice pol templates acyclically exhaustable breakfasts satire $RANDOM IZE exponentiated exclaim exemplifiers scented addressograph excavates acceptors tactician mercenary bergen austria polymeric actualization atkinson bounties brainstems bluster covalent methodological blundered playmate

Arthur Blaustein, writing commentary in Mother Jones, pretty well sizes up the current administration: Leave No Millionaire Behind.

"The President and his party have cooked up the ultimate recipe for keeping political power. A nation in a constant state of anxiety -- over the threat of terrorism, or a potential war -- is a nation off balance. And that insecurity is the perfect cover to divert public attention from the country's serious domestic problems and the administration's political agenda....

"The Bush economic policies -- and the overtly antisocial political priorities driving them -- are not based on a commitment to any high principles such as freedom, liberty, equality, justice, or opportunity, although such pieties are mouthed at the swivel of a camera. The administration's policies instead are based on the very narrow personal prejudices and biases of a group of men who have been motivated by the acquisition of money and power. Bush and Cheney have constructed a hypothesis to fit a simple notion: 'The plutocracy is good to me, so I'll be good to the plutocracy.'"

Well, they've rolled away the stone, in spite of the protestors. You'd think it was the original 10 Commandments the way these folks are carrying on. Of course it never was about rocks or golden tablets, but about what's in our hearts. Still some work to be done there.

Ellen Goodman's take on the issue ties together the frayed thread connecting us and other countries, other religions: "But these days we Americans look at ourselves in the global light of places like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan. Our breed of democracy does more than let the majority rule. It also protects the minority -- the Zoroastrian, Zen Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, Muslim -- and lets us live together."

It's not easy becoming part of one world economy. Jim Burrill's lament about America exporting jobs is familiar, but I don't think anyone can give him a response he'll like.

I'd heard of Extreme Programming without knowing just what was extreme about it. Turns out that two people programming on one computer is the bulk of it. Sounds like good social development for geeks if nothing else. (Will it keep all the software jobs from going to India and then China?)

It won't stop the jobs of fundraising callers from being exported, as the Republican Party demonstrates. Most of that work is done by robots, apparently.

Friedman: We're not rebuilding Iraq, we're starting from scratch. And as news reports today pointed out, it's not going to be cheap. The military cost alone is a billion dollars a week, and the infrastructure costs are on top of that. It's an amazing undertaking for an administration -- and country -- that derided the idea of nation building just a few years back. The challenge to hide the elephant of the economy(, stupid) is not going to be easy.

24.Aug.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Evening pool in Boston

Comparing American vacations with what the rest of the world gets makes our allotment look stingy. (Excepting Congressional time off, of course.) I'm a product of my culture, and "saved up" vacation over the years, apparently not wanting to miss too much work. Last year, HP instituted a new vacation plan as part of merging with Compaq, and now workers will pretty much have to use what they're given each year or lose it (with a few years' transition for those who have banked a bunch). At the high end of the seniority curve, my current quota is a European five weeks, which I've been using at about the same rate it accumulates (one day per half-month, essentially) to stay under the "cap." On my way out, I'll get all that saved vacation pay in a tidy lump. Then, something a lot like vacation (without pay!) will stretch from here to the horizon.

I'm still enjoying and observing the variety of reactions to the news that I'm calling it a day. One friend on Friday was all smiles about it, warmly congratulating me on the move and wishing me well. (Thanks, Ralph!) He's not any more concerned about my lack of immediate big plans than I am, and he expressed confidence that I'd do well in my new "career." This morning, after sailing at the lake, another friend found it perplexing that I didn't have a clear answer to "then what are you going to do?" He's worried I'll get bored. Could happen, who knows? I'm willing to face that risk, though! I finally decided that fear of being bored was not a sufficient reason for continuing to work.

Now here's an idea to save some government spending, and harness those thousand points of light at the same time: have vigilantes take care of patrolling federal lands. The ORA prefers "citizen volunteers," but they definitely do go in for insignia and armaments.

Their "About Us" page says: "Certified as Armed Officers with the State of Oregon, the Rangers do carry firearms for your protection and theirs, however, their duties are limited in most cases, referring heavy calls to traditional law enforcement." Indeed, the photo gallery shows jes folks doing mundane volunteer work, with no gun play in evidence. I'm thinking I'd find the woods to be an even safer place for my family without wannabe cops on the loose.

Along with all the other Big Lies (sorry to sound like a broken record, but there are a lot of them to talk about) is the one about how we've got to cut our forests down before they burn. Research paints a different picture: "...When fire does come, forests that have not burned for a long time burn with lower intensity than more recently burned forests. What's more, tree plantations experienced twice as much high-intensity fire as did multi-aged forests. That's right: Young stands, whether created by logging or by stand- replacement fires, are more flammable than forests full of big old trees."

23.Aug.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Under the cover of "compassionate conservative" spin, the Bush administration is hell on the environment, far worse than Reagan's team was. Osha Gray Davidson provides the details, writing in Mother Jones magazine: Dirty Secrets. The list includes: gutting key sections of the Clean Water and Clean Air acts; crippling the Superfund program; seeking to cut the EPA's enforcement division to its lowest level on record; reducing fines assessed and criminal prosecutions for environmental violations; no longer adding any species to the endangered species list; opening millions of acres of wilderness to logging, mining, and oil and gas drilling; denying the importance (if not the existence) of global warming. The agenda comes from the bureaucratic core of the administration, with industry lobbyists writing the score. Remember the "energy task force" that Dick Cheney led, and for which secrecy was so important? It's so important because if the American people knew what was going on, they would be adamantly opposed to what's going on. collects a Rollback Reader of Bush's environmental record.

The US Open without the Williams sisters will be like a day without sunshine. Venus has been in the last 14 grand slam events, and she and her sister have played for the championship in 6 of the last 8.

It's not quite a butterfly in the Amazon, but a powerline sagging into a tree in Cleveland seems closely related to the story of unexpected consequences from everything being connected.

Fair and balanced US District Court judge Denny Chin suggested that Fox News learn how to take a joke, denied their request for an injunction against Al Franken and his publisher, and called the motion "wholly without merit, both factually and legally." Franken's still reveling in the free publicity. "I never really had any doubt... In addition to thanking my own lawyers, I'd like to thank Fox's lawyers for filing one of the stupidest briefs I've ever seen in my life." It didn't exactly get laughed out of court, but close enough. Is Fox News smart enough to know when they've been had, or do you think they'll appeal to support their assault on the First Amendment?

The governor of Texas finally put an end to the nightmare of 35 people of Tulia, convicted by the bogus testimony of one Thomas Coleman. Coleman was once named 'Outstanding Lawman of the Year' by the Texas Narcotics Control Program. (Presumably the other 3 of the 38 were convicted in something more than just Coleman's testimony.)

22.Aug.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ah, fond memories of my old home state came back while reading this story about Sally Baron's obituary in The Capital Times. "She'd always watch CNN, C-SPAN, and you know, she'd just swear at the TV and say `Oh, Bush, he's such a whistle ass!' She'd just get so mad," Bettilyon said. Memorials in her honor can be made to any organization working for the removal of President Bush.

21.Aug.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Henry Waxman's Politics & Science index provides amazing documentation of the Bush administration's promotion of ideology over science. There's a long list of examples where they have "manipulated, distorted, or interfered with science on health, environmental, and other key issues." From A ("Administration officials have never acknowledged that abstinence-only programs have not been proven to reduce sexual activity, teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. Instead, HHS has changed performance measures for abstinence- only education to make the programs appear successful, censored information on effective sex education programs, and appointed to a key panel an abstinence-only proponent with dubious credentials") to Y ("The Bush Administration has suppressed important information about continuing ecological problems at Yellowstone National Park in order to avoid international attention") and 19 stops between.

Do voters care? Or is it OK to ignore science if you agree with the ideology?

Roy Moore's adventure with the 10 Commandments continues, with his 8 fellow Supremes standing against him (although not removing his administrative powers over the building in question), and a whole bunch of impassioned supporters standing behind him. What is it about separation of church and state that these people don't get, I wonder? Let Judge Moore put the damned rock in his front lawn if he wants to, but it has no business in the lobby of the State Supreme Court building.

But in the meantime, it's great theater. From the New York Times' account: "The muggy plaza was clogged with dozens of little girls wearing Jesus T-shirts, bearded men with thick arms and Confederate flags on their backs, black people, white people, the young, the old, the in between, a man who had walked from Texas dressed in a monk's frock and another who had driven from San Diego in a red truck with a sign that said 'Shame on America.'"

And this: "(O)n Wednesday hundreds streamed into Montgomery to chant, kneel, pray and cry on the steps of the state's highest court, shouting out the Almighty's name and at times lying on their bellies to block passers-by."

Ashcroft's road show is coming to Boise, how thrilling. Our local ACLU spokesperson asks a simple question: "If Mr. Ashcroft is truly confident about the Patriot Act, why doesn't he welcome public dialogue? What's he afraid of?" This is rhetorical, of course. He's obviously afraid of public dialogue, and photo ops with bare breasted statues. (We don't allow bare breasts in our town, so he should be OK.)

Coke alert (*): SWAT hand signals. Thanks to John Paczkowski's Good Morning Silicon Valley and somebody named John for that. I was over there reading stories with catchy headlines like Dell trims prices, HP market share, and HP posts third-quarter employee surplus, not quite so funny.

(* The Coke alert notifies readers to swallow whatever they may be eating or drinking before reading the following, lest they spew upon their keyboards while laughing.)

Texans in exile again, this time in New Mexico, hiding out from the rest of the Legislature who are apparently bent on Tom DeLay's bidding to gerrymander the Congressional districting so that a passle of new Republicans get sent to DC from Texas.

"The Governor has indicated he will continue calling special sessions until the Republican redistricting plan is enacted, despite the fact that the Republican-controlled Texas Supreme Court recently rejected the Governor's writ of mandamus filing to compel the Senators to return to the Senate. Meanwhile, eleven Democratic state senators are exiled from their state, unable to be with their families, friends, and constituents, for fear of being arrested as part of a partisan power play by Republicans. In the most recent indignity, Republican Senators voted to fine the absent Democrats up to $5,000 per day, and to revoke parking and other privileges for their staffs as long as the Senators are away."

Hey would you look at the compassion fairly dripping off this guy? That is so sweet...

20.Aug.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The John G. Ashcroft road show is not just in defense of the USA Patriot Act (please remember, this act has nothing to do with patriotism, but is rather an acronym, for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism"), it's also a lead-in to the next big chunk of legislation he has in mind: the Vital Interdiction of Criminal Terrorist Organizations Act of 2003 , or "VICTORY" Act. (Hmm, where's the "Y"?) "Y" are we prepared for yet another escalation in the War on Some Drugs? It seems to be part of the strategy to call everything we don't like "terrorism": the draft bill would reclassify some drug offenses as terrorism... and so enable subverting the Constitution, no habeus corpus for enemy combatants, secret trials and all that?

Let's hope that exposure to the light of day sends this cockroach of a bill scurrying back to the darkness the way it did for Patriot II.

If your hometown's not on the Ashcroft tour, you can visit the new website that tells you how wonderful USA Patriot is. And since it's a free country (for the moment), you can also visit the ACLU website to get a possibly more fair and balanced view.

Speaking of that, Fox News' legal attack on Al Franken's new book is giving a fairly balanced kick in the butt to potential sales. The publisher ordered another 40,000 copies and pulled the publication date up by a month to capitalize on the windfall. I'll probably check it out when the price goes down. I did certainly enjoy Franken's first book, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot: and Other Observations.

On the other end of fair and balanced (that would be unfair and unbalanced, I guess), we have Verizon vs. the Communications Workers of America: "Verizon Wireless, asserted in court papers filed late on Monday that union officials violated the company's trademark by using the 'Can you hear me now?' phrase last week during a conference call with journalists. In turn, the Communications Workers of America, one of the two unions representing Verizon workers, filed a lawsuit in federal court yesterday, accusing two Verizon executives of violating federal wiretap rules by listening to the conference call."

Here's a humorous introduction to getting those inkjet cartridges refilled. Don't miss the "Terms and Conditions" page linked at the bottom to make sure you're using the information properly.

The ink was barely dry on the articles talking about what a superstar Carly Fiorina was for executing the Compaq/HP merger when the company's 3rd quarter results came out and the castigation began anew. "Heck, if this is the merger that is saving Hewlett-Packard $3.5 billion a year and the Compaq side is still in the red, what does that imply about Compaq's real value? Either the company was worth well shy of $19 billion or Fiorina hasn't done much of an integration job."

One of the causes of the earnings shortfall mentioned was overly agressive PC pricing. Yet Dell is making plenty of money, and their response to today's news was to cut their prices. Ouch.

Apparently too many pesky employees is part of the problem too, and HP says it'll drop another 1300 of them. I guess I'll be contributing to that bottom line pretty soon, too.

Maybe SARS didn't go quietly into that good night after all.

The next big virus, Sobig.F, follows the last big worm without much of a pause to catch our breath. I've seen several bounce messages from strange servers, for messages I know I (or my computer) did not send, so mischief continues to abound.

Here's an exciting new web property:, with the top story that... "Bush-Cheney '04 Launches Grassroots Action Web Site." Y'all come! W. says "My campaign is going to take a hopeful and optimistic message to the American people," so I wonder if that means we're going to get down off of Terror Alert level Yellow one of these days. "I came to office to solve problems, not to pass them on to other Presidents and other generations." Hmm, so the burgeoning deficit doesn't count, huh?

The top story on that other GWB web property,, looks a bit more interesting, actually: "The 3rd Annual Crawford Retreat: President's Statement Kicking Off His Month-Long Fund-Raising Fiesta & Buckaroo Photo-Op Hoedown." This month off in August isn't just fun and games: "Indeed, all month long, me and Karl will be hopping in the F-250 for one-day road trips anywhere he can find a high-capacity conference center filled to the rafters with folks rich enough to fork out $2000 to listen to me stutter through some cue cards for fifteen minutes. You see, I broke all the records back in 2000 by spending $60 million on my campaign, and I'm aiming to double that this time."

I see Tom Tomorrow is now fair and balanced, too. Bob Harris' guest blog entry about Arnold's hallucinated political epiphany is a hoot, that famous Nixon-Humphrey debate in 1968.

And speaking of August vacations, the Supremes were too busy (or too certain) to bother hearing Jesus Castillo's case, after he was convicted of selling an adult comic book from the adult book section, to an adult. The jury in the case never bothered to decide whether the book was obscene, strangely enough. Maybe John Ashcroft can help with this disturbing dissemination of adult comic books, too.

Maureen Dowd, on the Magnet for Evil in the middle east: "The Qaeda and Ansar zealots, along with old Baath soldiers and new foreign recruits, are intent on keeping Iraq in anarchy, even as Afghanistan also slips back into chaos, with a reconstituted Taliban fighting machine killing 90 in the last month." It's a lot easier to maintain anarchy than it is to restore order.

18.Aug.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A random walk down blogstreet turns up a nice link from Dave Winer to this article about search. Google is still the top dog for me, but Lee Gomes says to look out for AskJeeves after they bought out Teoma.

Krugman: blame deregulation for the blackout, because no one wants to pony up and support transmission lines. It will make the Libertarians see red, but my suspicion is that he's right about this. If power generation is deregulated, we need excess capacity to create the slack for the system to support choice. But no one has the incentive to increase transmission capacity, because that part isn't deregulated. One counter argument is that we should go ahead and deregulate it all, but the idea of deregulated electricity transmission strikes me as quite insane.

While we're on tomorrow's Op-Ed page, don't miss the fair and balanced piece by Paul Newman, getting after the Department of HUD for usurping his residuals.

17.Aug.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Answers to questions about the blackout still don't include the essential why?: "Three transmission lines in northern Ohio tripped off, and a cascade of outages darkened the Midwest, Canada and New York, leaving millions in the dark. What caused the Ohio lines to trip remains a mystery." (In the Q&A, they note that "altogether, the average American uses nearly 12,900 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. The world average: 2,200." What's included in the "altogether," I wonder? In terms of what comes through our meter, the two of us use about 3,500 kWh a year, which would put us way below the world average, but that's just at home.)

Why hasn't the system been upgraded? "The cost, environmental opposition and the unwillingness of communities to locate new facilities near homes." Those latter two reasons sound much like the same thing. No one wants to be near a high voltage transmission line. Blame the Greens (who are they, exactly?) if you like, but the so-called "BANANA" problem -- Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything -- is a community thing, not a particular party or movement.

16.Aug.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The power back East is (pretty much?) back on, and now it's time to figure out what went wrong. All of a sudden, the unglamorous work of power engineering is of intense interest to millions of people, especially in making this never happen again. Today's NY Times story about the cause is a bit confused, in no small part because the experts are still sorting things out, but also because it's an complex subject. Some of the analogies and description don't match up with alternating current (AC) power distribution, but I thought this one was wonderfully apt:

"The problem is that the power grid is like a game of tug of war, which works as long as neither side -- the generating stations and the load centers -- wins. If one side falters, and the rope moves too far, everyone on the other side will fall down. In this case, the power swing, no matter what its precise size, sharply destabilized the flow of power, and eventually produced some first, specific failure."

In addition to the precipitating event, and the regional problem it caused, lots of people are trying to figure out why many of the provisions to keep outages contained failed to prevent a cascading problem that resulted in the largest blackout in the nation's history: almost 62 terrawatts of capacity from about 100 power plants dropped offline. The NY Times reports that (the state of) New York's demand was 28.5 TW, almost half of the total lost in 8 states and 2 Candadian provinces.

If you can handle Flash (and you have a free subscription), don't miss the interactive graphics, especially "The View from Space," comparing the eastern seaboard on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The advice from Baghdad is amusing, too.

The end of SARS in China, for now. While we were all obsessed with the 349 people who died of that disease in the last year, how many tens of thousands died from other, more common things, and traffic accidents?

Today's spam scam: mail purporting to be from Citibank, concerning my checking account. Since I don't have a Citibank checking account, and since it came in with an attachment, it's doubly suspicious. My SOP for inspection is to have message preview turned off, and to "forward" the message before opening it, with my mailer configured to forward in plain text. Inspecting the message source shows that "Citibank" is actually one, and the body is base64 encoded HTML. She, he or it is sorry for any "inconvinience" but would like me to "Click here to access our Terms & Conditions page and not allow your Citibank checking account suspension." I'm not going to fall for that, but I bet some of the recipients will, just as they will open the message in HTML with insufficient protection against malicious code.

Moments later, I accidentally opened the message by deleting the previous one while viewing it. (Usually I dispatch all spam before doing any "stack" operations, but I saved this to show Jeanette and warn her about the symptoms.) I hope my security settings are as strong as needed! The HTML "letter" included a stolen logo, and made a pretty convincing looking letter (other than that funny spelling error), with a link pointing to a website well-concealed by URL-like userid/password noise before a numeric IP address and a call to a perl script with my email address passed as a parameter. Nasty.

Salam Pax is still blogging from Baghdad and now The Guardian is publishing some of his stuff, too. This account of British vs. American occupying forces is interesting. The latest entries talk about 50+°C heat, which might drop below 40°C at night, if you're lucky. I can't imagine that. Not having electricity to run air conditioners is a Big Deal.

15.Aug.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

22 years ago today, Jeanette and I and a bunch of our friends and family climbed a path on Moscow Mountain, sweating in the morning mid-August sunshine, to celebrate our marriage. I have a lot of memories of the day, but the one that keeps coming back is Jon Norstog's reading of a Kabir poem.

Experiencing nothing shuts the iron gates;
The new love opens them.
The sound of the gates opening
wakes the beautiful woman asleep.
Kabir says: Fantastic! Don't let a chance like this go by!

Googleholes: the built-in myopia of our modern oracle. (Sorry, Steven, but if anything has ever deserved that title, Google does. No reader here needs an example, but just to make the point, I didn't bother digging out our wedding text, or The Kabir book but just gave Google the punchline in quotes to save myself the trouble of typing quatrain #9.)

As the news stories describing the big blackout in the East continue, I'm forced to wonder: if we don't know exactly what caused the problem, how can we be so certain that it wasn't caused by a terrorist exploit of a system weakness? It's certainly reassuring to hear our leaders tell us that it wasn't terrorism (as opposed to the color-coded threat levels, giving us unspecified cause for anxiety), but having Bush appear before the news media and state facts with authority seems a bit ludicrous. Have the press secretary do that, so we all know that it's just a functionary passing on what s/he's been told.

Jeanette found a book for me out of her library that I wished I'd started reading about, oh, 10 or 20 years ago: Richard Nelson Bolles' The Three Boxes of Life and How to Get out of Them: An Introduction to Life-Work Planning. As I go for box #3 (with some expectation of reprising #2 and #1 sooner or later), it seems like a good time to read it. The classic What Color is Your Parachute? is by the same author. Money is no excuse for not getting The Three Boxes: Amazon's new and used copies start at 8 cents. Plus shipping, no doubt.

14.Aug.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Keith Myers/NY Times photo of NY's blackout

How nice for New Yorkers that the lights should go out for a while, and let them enjoy the just-past-full moon and Mars. I hope the logistics don't interfere with the opportunity too much. (Oof - 2 hours stuck in a subway train? No thanks for that.) When the lights come back on, they'll all have a renewed appreciation for infrastructure, governments, civility.

I wonder why no nav lights showed on the ferries in this picture of Manhattan at sunset? They kept their lights off in solidarity?

Around the world in 171 chapters: that's a lotta time in the saddle. Thanks to Mike R. for the link.

13.Aug.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

All the signs and portents and registration at Capitol High School (for our niece) pointed to today being Decision Day. No more reveling in the myriad possibilities, weighing multiple job offers, moves to different cities, whatever, it was time to decide. My decision was to take the generous incentive to clean out my desk and reduce the corporate headcount by 1. The denouement is going to take some 3 months, but I just happen to have nothing but time at the moment. My favorite response was from a college chum who works at the same site. "I'm going to take the WFR," I said. "You scumbag!" he replied, obviously out of envy. As I've told friends and family, it's time to practice retirement. If it doesn't work out, I'm going to say it was a sabbatical. What am I going to do? Hey, I don't have to decide right away, but I've got some ideas. Check back later.

The Blaster worm is the latest Microsoft bane on the loose. WinXP and Win2k are the targets this time, and aside from hosing your local machine and creating general traffic jams on the 'net, the ultimate target is a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack on I suppose the technopath(s) who came up with the idea felt this was appropriate karma for the company whose operating systems have the vulnerability, but it creates a lot of collateral damage.

eEye Digital Security has a good detailed description of the exploit, how to detect it, remove it and prevent being attacked. Microsoft's page is also a must-visit if you're running WindowsNT, Win2000 or WinXP and aren't certain that your machine is properly patched. The malicious code is set to turn on this Saturday, August 16th, at which time it will doubtless be well-distributed, and bring the internet to its knees. Please do your checking, cleaning and protecting before then!

Do people in Lebanon still have a sense of humor? It looks like some of them do anyway!

The DLC vs. the rank and file: "Let the Right retreat to where they belong: the Republican Party." -- The Black Commentator

12.Aug.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

CD piracy - 30 to 40% of the total market. Yet another reason to figure out how to sell music over the internet. Heard about the report from Greg Aharonian's Internet Patent News Service, with this dry commentary:

You know, a word of advice for IFPI. I read this data and think to myself, "given the few prosecutions for this crime, it sounds like a safe crime to get into". Heck the report could easily be turned into a recruiting poster for priates - "Steal Music. Make Lots of Money. Don't Worry about Getting Caught." IFPI might want to report its problems differently.

Here's good news: the UCITA standby committee is discharged by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. UCITA (I pronounce it "you cheetah") is the "Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act" which a big team of lobbyists tried for a long time to foist upon all the states. Depending on which side of the argument you believe, it's either "anti-individual, anti-artist, anti-fair-use copyright law that would benefit only large corporate intellectual property holders, especially in the entertainment and software industries" or "accepted and familiar principles of commercial contract law, (providing) fundamental rules for licensing contracts between users and vendors."

The NCCUSL had already conceded defeat in February, withdrawing their motion to have the American Bar Association endorse the package. Only Maryland and Virginia had rolled over after years of persuasion in every state.

11.Aug.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Today's big news is that our Lootenant governor is going to stay right where he is: Dirk's not going to be head of the EPA, Utah's governor is. That's OK by me! But how is it for the country's environment? Well, we can't be too surprised to learn that Leavitt is pro-development and a friend of the oil and gas industries.

The count of moons in our solar system is incredibly beyond anything I learned in school. Sixty-one moons around Jupiter?! Three-fourths of those have been discovered in just the last 6 years. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have 124 moons among them. At 0.6 to 6 miles diameter, Jupiters last 45 moons look more like debris than satellites. The Science Times index has links to a couple interesting graphics, "When Jupiter was Very Young," and "Discovering Jupiter's Moons."

9.Aug.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Yet another opportunity to live an artistic existence, if only for a little while: this year's Burning Man with an organized parade of playa windsurfers. Mention of the DMV suggests a certain amount of institutionalization along with the living art, but so it goes. (It is the Division of Mutant Vehicles, but it has the feel of authority just like the real one.) Crowds need crowd control, sooner or later.

8.8.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Frank Gaffney, Jr., commenting on the Faux News website tells us that the big lie is that George Bush is a liar. He didn't lie to us! It was all based on what he believed to be true at the time! The Democrats are the big liars!

This little essay does not appear in the no-spin zone, to be sure.

74-year old Norma "Duffy" Lyon has carved up a little celebratory rancid butter, in the shape of a Harley Davidson motorcycle. A tasteful honorific for the company's 100th anniversary.

7.Aug.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Consultant Debunking Unit gets after "Who Moved My Cheese?" That the bestseller is completely lame (or was the review too curt?) is not a huge surprise, but a 94-page hardcover?! That is A-mazing alright, but more for what it says about our credulity than how to cope with stress. In case the Cheese worked for you, you won't want to miss Who Stole My Cheese?!! : An A-mazing Way To Make More Money From the Poor Suckers That You Cheated In Your Work And In Your Life and Who Cut the Cheese? A Cutting-Edge Way of Surviving Change by Shifting the Blame by Mason Brown. It seems like "Cheese for Dummies" can't be far behind.

The ultimate in outsourcing - Primate Programming.

"Well, well, well. President George was in one hell of bind this week when it turned that that Saudi Arabia funded Al Qaeda, not Iraq. Realizing we'd invaded the wrong country, Bush did the honorable thing: he's come out against gay marriages." More humor from Greg Palast. Oh wait, it isn't really that funny, is it?

Bob Cringely's looking at head count and figuring that "offshoring" isn't going to improve the fortunes of companies that figure they're paying more than they need for labor: productivity is all about doing more with less, not with doing the same with cheaper.

6.Aug.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I've been on the road, interviewing for a new job. Here are some of the adventures along the way.


Sitting in the plane, at the gate, waiting for our fire detection and supression battery to charge up. This is the first time I've flown out of Boise since they opened the new terminal. United's ticket counter is last in line, behind Southwest, Horizon/Alaska, Delta, Northwest, apparently placed in order of current business success. Passengers have to walk the furthest from the United counters to the gates, and in spite of that, the lines were longest at United. Are they just that much slower at getting people through? No, they probably do have more customers, still. One gal in front of me had a box of frozen fish with her, dry ice inside to keep them that way. That agent wanted to know -- needed to know -- how much the dry ice weighed. She did not know, and I guess the resolution was that she carried the box on rather than checking it. Too much dry ice and we all suffocate? The improbability of it didn't faze the agent. He had a Rule in mind, and Rules must be adhered to. When it was my turn, everything went according to the script, although the agent had no explanation for why the automated check-in kiosk hadn't worked for me - nothing special on my ticket. Perhaps because I'd used a "VON ALTEN" credit card and my ticket was for "VONALTEN"? (The one-word styled VISA card worked the next time; electronic check-in is great when it works.)

At the crowded gate, we learned that there was some sort of battery problem, but that they had a replacement plane ready if need be. Later, we learned that the counter agent didn't know anything more. Then that the rumor that one of the Chicago or the Denver flights had been cancelled was false. Then that the problem was either a battery or a circuit breaker. Then that there was to be a test, after which we'd know whether the plane was OK, or whether we'd all be moving from gate 10 to gate 21. Hurray, it's OK!

Boarding in "Seating group 3," I walked past the mostly full front of the plane. the plane was pretty much full. United's latest plan for expediting seating is to fill the front of the plane first. Brilliant. They've almost replicated Southwest's seating arrangement, with the substitution of "most come, first served" instead of "first come," and involving about 5 times as much human and computer time to solve the problem.

But hey, we're all getting to Denver (aren't we?) at the same time, it's not that big a deal to me. The wing's not in the way of my view back here in 21A, and by the time we get going, the morning sun may not be on this side of the plane, either. The guy on the microphone just told us that "30 minutes may have been optimistic" for getting the battery charged; the charger started at 45A, needs to get to 5, and it's at 30 now, 20? minutes after they started. The folks making connections in Denver (half of us? more?) are not so sanguine, they're starting to get nervous. One woman in the boarding area was talking about a 25 min. connection, that's toast.

Got a nice view of Lucky Peak on the way out. One kite bobbing and weaving, heading for the dam, must be Jon Bolt or Tom Caviani. One boardsailor in the main reach, a mostly white sail, powered up OK. 8:30-ish, a sailable if not spectacular morning.


DIA - The "caution -- moving walk is nearing its end" recording is boring into my brain at the Qwest business center. SFO's conveyor doesn't have audio; are people in San Francisco smarter than those in Denver? I got here about 3 hours early, totally relaxed and casual, anticipating a leisurely expense-account lunch and dessert, catching up on email, and then a flight to San Diego and an evening with my folks. Just before lunch, I took a look at the departures screen, and noticed that with a bit more alacrity I could've caught a 2:30 flight to SD instead of the 5:20. There's a 5:05 also, but it didn't seem worth the trouble to change for that. Tempting fate, besides.

I had a Chevy of some sort from Avis, didn't catch the model. I'd downgraded to a "compact" from the default midsized, for almost no difference in price and still twice as much space as I needed. It had manual window cranks, a quaint design feature. But some junior whiz kid in Detroit figured that it wasn't important for the front windows to roll all the way down - they left a little nip exposed at the trailing edge of the door, making me wonder what he was smoking. Note to engineering: windows should expose the full window opening when fully retracted. Duh.

The other notable automotive detail was trying out the E-470 tollroad on my return from Ft. Collins to DIA. $3.50 to cut a big corner between the airport and I-25 seems to be enough to deter nearly all of the potential traffic. I had the knee-non-jerk reaction to the exit sign on my way up. Tollroad? No way! I had plenty of time at the lights along 104th street to look at the map and realize that it was worth whatever they were charging to skip all that. It looks to save about 10 miles on the ground, or about the $.35/mile the IRS figures it costs to operate a motor vehicle. What's it worth to drive 70 mph with no traffic and two quick stops at toll plazas (or none, if you have the speed pass), versus stop and go to get to the "free" way and then heavy city traffic on I-25? More than $3.50 to me (especially when I'm on an expense account).

On the way down, I watched the early afternoon thunderstorms forming along the front range, considered the perspective at the high end of the Great Plains and on the Mississippi side of the Continental Divide, thought about the potential identity adjustment ahead of me, changing from an Idahoan of close to 30 years to a newbie Coloradoan. (I'll have to start with learning how they spell that.) Coming from deeper in Rocky Mountain obscurity, I don't think I'll have anything to prove, but the "I've been here for" clock gets reset all the same. With a check of my voicemail, my status as uncommitted/all options changed in an instant to "offer in hand / relocation pending," on the other side of the divide in my career at the same time as the geographic one. Called Jeanette and confirmed that what I thought was going to happen had happened, and talked about my morning driving tour of Ft. Collins, neighborhood shopping. At some point in the process, I realized that all those attractive houses were promising, but that it did require a house for sale to create meaning for us. Those little details.

Jeanette sounds like she's crossing the divide, as well, reconciling herself with the idea of moving out of the house we're in, leaving the community we've come to know so well, leaving familiar tasks, obligations, opportunities positions of importance, starting from scratch one more time. It's a Big Deal.

Flying to SAN in the company of three man-children from Iowa, on their way to boot camp. They started off rowdy and funny, but mid-flight ennui has kicked in now. I encouraged 19B to join 19D over in 19E, giving me and a young girl space between us. When I got here, I asked if she knew who was in 19B, trying to gauge how much to settle in, and she said she didn't know, she was travelling alone. "But I'm pretty sure it'll be full," she added. Her aplomb made me observe that she seemed like a pretty experienced flyer; she assured me that she was, although she was travelling without her mom for the first time.

The third young man is in 20A, and 18C is open; they could've talked 20C into moving to 18C and had a half-row to themselves, but didn't have the speed of imagination to make it happen. 19B's first reaction to my invitation for him to move was to say he didn't want to sit between two guys, 'cause he was going to get enough of that in the coming weeks, but ultimately friendship drew him out. 19F is really 19A; Emily sat in the wrong seat, but the flight attendants talked the business guy into swapping for simplicity. Is he annoyed at his misfortune? He's got headphones on, eyes closed with the sun on his face, seems content.

Before we'd climbed all the way through the turbulence along the front range, Emily said "Ok, I'm bored, how about you?" I laughed as I paged through the WSJ, said "I think I'll be alright." When the computer came out, tall and skinny 19D asked "got any cool games?" I said "sorry," and he was disappointed... for me? Or for himself, as if I'd invite him to play on my machine? The latter, I think -- the world is all for him right now, right up until the moment he gets off the bus at Camp Pendleton. TV is now pacifying the lot of them, an episode of Friends.


Driving "to work" Wednesday morning, I was going the direction away from traffic for a while, from Solana Beach, up and around Lake Hodges. But connecting to I-15 got ugly. The radio road report explained why, an accident just before the exit I needed, with no alternate route since I-15 has the only bridge over the lake on my map. The accident was cleared to the shoulder well before I got there, and traffic sped up after everyone had had a look. The car that got hit from behind was about half as long as it used to be, the other was badly mangled. Welcome to California driving.

After another full morning of interviews, and an hour and a half with a manager in another organization, I felt pretty well used, and started yawning through the afternoon, drive to SAN, fly to SFO, hustle to a mechanical-shortened connection, fly home to hot BOI.

3.Aug.3 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our normally reticent cat did a little territorial defense this morning, scaring up a young, white cat we hadn't seen before, chased it out of the backyard and up one of our spruce trees. When I showed up to see what was going on, Sami abandoned the chase, and the invader stayed treed. Two hours later, back from church, the cat was still up the tree, and now complaining about it. I got a ladder and relived the cliché of feline arboreal rescue, trying to coax it to me with kitten talk, then some cat food. It moved around a bit to get close enough to touch me once, show its scratched up face, and then retreat into the prickly boughs where man does not follow. The arrival of one of the neighbor's toms didn't help matters (although it did add to the conversation), and while trying to ease to a lower branch, new cat slipped, hung on briefly by the forelegs and then plopped the remaining 7 feet to the ground, not much worse for the wear. Good luck to it, but I hope the trauma convinces it to return (or hang out) somewhere else.

At church, we talked about poetry, with only half of the teacher-student pair who were to present, present. (The younger half having landed a summer job in Guatemala, teaching English at a Mayan girls school. Where were such opportunities during my high school summers, I want to know?) After description, discussion and example of a sonnet, I was prepared to create one of those more challenging forms, but the assignment turned out to be a haiku, better suited to the limited time available. Here's mine:

Job search

Wave's edge, rushed river
eddy caught, spun me around
bright new view upstream

Bush was happy to let the head of the CIA take the blame for the "willful deception" in his State of the Union address, and now it appears that someone in Washington is willing to divulge classified information about CIA personnel to intimidate those who speak truth to power. You'd think Poppy would be able to convince Shrub not to mess with the Company.

But just in case you've been distracted into thinking there's only one lie running around, consider this catalog of the tapestry of lies (PDF) behind the war in Iraq.

The Yangtze's rising to flood the Three Gorges, much of which I'll never see. If not for SARS, I would have had a chance. So it goes. At six inches an hour, floating boats will be easy, but seeing what once was will be very hard. It sounds like it'll be more lake than Gorges by November, when we're scheduled to have our chance to see it. (Thanks to JQT for the tip to the New Yorker article.)

2.Aug.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Krugman: "Whether pretending that the war on terror -- not tax cuts, which have cost the Treasury three times as much -- is responsible for record deficits, or that those hugely elitist tax cuts are targeted on working families, or that opening up wilderness areas to loggers is a fire-prevention plan, Mr. Bush has taken misrepresentation of his own policies to a level never before seen in America."

Frank Rich on the brewing hubbub around Mel Gibson's movie about Jesus' final 12 hours, "The Passion": "(T)he real question here is why Gibson and his minions would go out of their way to bait Jews and sow religious conflict, especially at this fragile historical moment."

First I heard about "Traditionalist Catholicism" too, a movement that rejects the Second Vatican Council.

Walter Williams examines the pattern of deception emanating from the Bush administration: "Outright lying is not the administration's modus operandi; willful deception is." That may be putting too fine a point on it. Willful deception is outright lying by other means.

1.Aug.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Clay Shirkey's essay, "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy" is about online groups, and the software that supports them, but it's also about any old group (which is increasingly likely to have an online component). It's fascinating reading.

The point about reputation management being driven by emotion was particularly interesting for me to consider. An analytic approach to understanding reputation is necessarily incomplete. "If you want a good reputation system, just let me remember who you are. And if you do me a favor, I'll remember it. And I won't store it in the front of my brain, I'll store it here, in the back. I'll just get a good feeling next time I get email from you; I won't even remember why. And if you do me a disservice and I get email from you, my temples will start to throb, and I won't even remember why."

Shari Caudron's piece on Carly in Workforce Management fairly gushes about HP's dynamic CEO. I take it the magazine is big on take-charge guys and gals. It's interesting to read this sort of thing with the informed but limited perspective of an insider, and weigh which things are true, false, overstated, and so on. I can't (or at least won't) help you sort out which is which, but can recommend this as a fine example of a hero(ine) story. Enjoy it as literature if nothing else.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Wednesday, 01-Oct-2003 21:44:21 MDT