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

Is Davos the new home of the Trilateral Commission? Or is that still going on its own? (Or is it make-believe? Nope: they've got a website!) And what is Davos when it happens in New York? The New York Times coverage raises still more questions. Does the "zero-tolerance policy for lawbreaking" against the "constitutionally dubious state law against three or more people appearing in public in masks" include people wearing makeup?

I bet there'll be a lot of dubiosity there, as there will be wherever the rich and powerful gather. They don't want trouble. And they can afford to do something about it.

But I do like to think that Davos can be a positive force for transformation. They might start with figuring out how to have more than a "sprinkling" of Davos Women to go with the Davos men.

Of course, trying to peek through the windows to see how the truly elite manage world affairs is enticing. "Call it the W.E.F. Smackdown," the Times says. But the better running account by far is Lance Knobel's davosnewbies weblog. I don't know who he is, or why he gets to go, but I get to follow along on the web.

A picture worth a laugh out loud: How to tell if your ass is too small. (And it's not offensive!)

Disruption in the newspaper business, which is less and less about paper...

The good news (for merger backers) is that the EU approved the deal. The bad news is that they did so because, as the NY Times put it, the commission sees no domination risk.

If you're still not sure how to vote, you can visit the company-sponsored website, or the website of the opposition in the proxy battle.

Rich Karlgaard at Forbes offers up the strongest pro-Carly piece I've seen yet, possibly damning with faint praise, but with no love lost for the revolt of the sons.

I joked on an email list that having that bare-breasted statue at Justice draped would spare us the confusion about which one was the boob at Attorney General press conferences, but is he really afraid of calico cats? That would be too weird. The message from Washington seems to be "pay no attention to the man behind that curtain."

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

Just back from a long weekend in San Diego, our first go at airline travel since the events of last September. Boise, Salt Lake City and San Diego are a long way from New York, of course, but things are clearly changed. The biggest change was the construction at Boise's airport. Our cabbie filled us in with the details: a brand spankin' new international terminal, they're going to tear the old one down when they're done. Incredible.

They weren't as bad as I was prepared for. Getting to the airport an hour and a half early was twice ample in both cases. The security line in Boise has a sign up at the "10 minute" point, like an amusement park ride. Add a boutonièred gent to look people over at the ticket desks, an alirline agent to check boarding passes before X-ray, "empty your pockets" (oops, I forgot to, but of course had already removed the metal stuff), and -- get this -- take off your shoes everybody, because of one deranged (and fortunately unsuccessful) shoe bomber on an international flight. What will they do when someone comes up with a suppository explosive? But no need to get that comedic; I went through with my raincoat hanging loose, gloves in pockets, normally loose slacks. I could easily have had more than a pair of shoes' worth of stuff strapped on me. Frisk everyone?

There are people who have to fly (or think they do), and people who just want to. I'm not sure I'm in either category anymore, but I have to say whatever "want" I have was down by half after this rodeo.

Two daily papers to read, the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Wall Street Journal, but less to blog, because it wasn't convenient. Bill Moyers' new video magazine, NOW was also good viewing. I liked the quote from one fellow in the segment on Enron: "Listen, I know about fraud -- I'm from Texas."

In the fractured metaphor department, Arthur Levitt, former chairman of the SEC's take: "The smoking gun has exploded. That's often what it takes for a wake-up call." I'm glad I don't stay at that hotel!

And filed under "executive privilege," goes Dick Cheney's assurances that we have nothing to hide, and we'll go to court to make sure we can hide it. He's so avuncular in person, you feel a little embarassed about questioning his sincerity. Just imagine how hard it would be to run a country if "unvarnished" advice from outside contrib... er, consultants had to withstand the light of day.

I didn't see the interview, but this part of the NY Times News Service made me go hmmm: "We are weaker today as an institution because of the unwise compromises that have been made over the past 30 to 35 years." Let me check my calendar... 30 years... Richard M. Nixon?!

Another one of those "wake up calls," when one of our institutions thinks its privilege is more important than our democracy. I don't care how well the war is going, this thing stinks to high heaven.

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

"That's right, folks, tens of thousands of bloggers are spending day after day reading one another's weblogs and posting links to each other." Dylan Tweney starts his non-weblog weblog. (He knows how to get flow, too, by sucking up to the big guy.)

That's the attitude I've had from time to time, too. (The "I don't care what the rules are" part, not the sucking up. In fact, I'm doing the opposite -- blowing out? -- but that's not having any effect, either.) You can get news or surf blogs from anywhere, why should you come here? The only answer I can propose is that you know me and/or you like the "sound" of my "voice" and stop in from time to time. One pal likes my weather report even though it's now more than 2 years' stale. Of course, you can get an up-to-the-hour weather report on my site, but then it's too cold to be thinking about sailing just yet.

I don't want to do just a journal, because I don't think I'm that interesting (most of the time). This is getting too much like the column about "I can't think of what to write about in my column," though, and I've already used up my lifetime quota for that. (It's one -- every columnist gets to do that exactly once, and readers understand that they're not obligated to enjoy it.) I really didn't write all this just to have something written here. That's one nice thing about a weblog -- no deadlines, so no need to go on about nothing.

If there's nothing here for a while, then... enjoy it!

Tweney led me to haiku (in spite of himself?) which I thought was simple, but isn't.
Must study more.

How the Wayback Machine works: "Almost everything we can, we do in Perl -- for ease of portability, maintability, flexibility." That and half a million dollars of cheap hardware. Is there a business model in there somewhere, or is this an insane hobby? Maybe, maybe. I like the attitude of coming up with a (perl-based!) O/S that works with the way people (well, perl programmers, anyway) think, rather than forcing them to think in a new O/S way.

The editor of the late, great, lets slip the blogs of war, and has some fun with it. You go, boy.

2002.01.21 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Jakob Nielsen's latest Alertbox responds to the NY Times piece on commercial use of so-called anthropological studies. His analysis of wrong ways of asking questions (or even asking questions, rather than simply observing) seems on the mark, and can be extended to the general problem of surveys. Surveys are generally annoying, and they'd be even more so if you stopped to think about how poorly they're designed and how useless the data will be.

Many companies recognize the futility of collecting information in this way, and in fact are not trying to do that at all. They know that some amount of interaction on your part will engage your attention, and perhaps keep you thinking about their product longer, and help you remember them when it's time to buy. The political "push poll" is the most direct example of this. The questions are purposely leading; the survey's purpose is to lead you to the desired conclusion. Next on the list is the "important survey" that fills the standard 4-page begging letter, in preparation for the pitch, asking you to send in your donation. At least those efforts have a chance of accomplishing something; the attempts to actually collect information, are most often pathetically misguided, starting with the non-random sampling of whoever can be bothered to fill the things out and send them back in.

Another personal success story for "shopping" at Amazon: their customer reviews for telephoto lenses for the Nikon Coolpix line convinced me I should live without the $150 (2X) to $270 (3X) accessory. Not that I wouldn't like a longer lens, just that it sounds like the compromises are too significant. Another thing to think about before buying a digital camera: don't figure in accessories as part of the capability of what you're buying. Consider the package in-hand, what it does and what it doesn't do -- is that enough? I still like the Coolpix950, but I'll look for something longer the next time around.

19.Jan.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Arastradero preserve, April, 2001

Not content to ask a deeply meaningful question and collect the answers from leading lights in every field, this round, The Edge has asked its respondents to state their deeply meaningful questions. Such as, "Are we ever going to be humble enough to assume that we are mere animals, like crabs, penguins, and chimpanzees, and not the chosen protégés of this or that God?" from Rafael Núñez, and about a hundred more. Some are loaded questions, some are questions for which the respondents think they have (and want to tell you) the answer, and some are intersting questions for which they don't. Such as, "Why do people like music?", or "Can wealth be distributed?"

There's also one cognitive scientist who's not satisfied with answering his own (albeit rhetorical) question, and steps out to answer more than a dozen others. (His certainty in some extrapolation prompts reference to Clarke's First Law. C.f., Shermer's bit, referenced next...)

Michael Shermer's contribution included the observation, "the cosmos is very big and space is very empty." That made me think of the elegant model of the solar system created as part of the Discovery Center here in Boise. The sun is at the center, I forget how large, but since it's on a plaque of some sort, we know it's smaller than the modest-sized building. The planets are on small plaques mounted on bollards along the Boise River greenbelt. Pluto is a tiny nub, a good long walk away from the Center. The kinesthetic experience of covering that distance, and then projecting the one dimension into two, and then three, confronts you with this "very big, and very empty" space, even in our relatively crowded solar system.

I had a dream the other night that 2002 was almost over, and we were about to roll to 2003. What does it matter what number year it is?

Which do you like better: "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism" or the "USA Patriot Act"? Or perhaps you're like the EFF and you like neither. The key point is this: "Had the same surveillance and wiretap laws existed a year ago, she argues, they would not have prevented the terror attacks on Sept. 11." Beware of "solutions" that are really just new problems. It happens all the time in engineering, when you're not sure exactly what the problem is, but it's a really important problem, so everyone agrees that something should be done.

Of course, the technology industry thrives on difficult problems. The specific realm of "airport security" naturally expanded into cameras and face recognition. We're still waiting for the glorious report of a true positive, but reports of false positives are relatively easy to come by, if you're looking.

"George Orwell underestimated our enthusiasm for surveillance," said Baker, the former NSA counsel. "He correctly predicted that we'd have cameras everywhere. What he failed to imagine is that we'd want them so bad we'd pay for them."

The Enron story just gets worse and worse: Enron Chairman Urged Employees to Buy Stock, from the LA Times. "Enron Chairman Kenneth L. Lay exhorted employees in September to buy more Enron shares and reassured them that the company's upcoming quarterly financial report was 'looking great'..."

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

"Even though we're always right, reading is not a substitute for critical thought. Think before you write." This no doubt applies to at least some of the 4,541 comments posted in response to the article, "Is Your Son a Computer Hacker?"

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

Ok, when the novelty of my bicycle speedometer wears off, I'll need to get a set of Hokey Spokes, definitely.

Matthew Trump's journey into Radio8 is amusing, much like the stream of consciousness logging I've done when starting or beta testing new software. I think I don't want or need a tool that I'm not sure what it does. "Yikes. I didn't even know what was going on." It's slower to know what's going on, but some of us like it that way all the same. (And can he delete his unexpected site? I can't delete weblogs site. As Dave would say, "that's a bug.)"

Gotta come back to this later, when I have more time: 20/20 Foresight, from PCWorld. If I forget, and wait too long, it can be a retrospective, I guess.

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

The McLaughlin Group pundits this weekend thought that nothing in the Enron scandal would stick to the administration. Seemed likely enough to me, but after reading Paul Krugman's column today, I start to wonder. One piece he mentions, by Dan Briody in Red Herring, about the Carlyle group (where Papa Bush is now "working") is also interesting reading. The group's self-description is "a vast, interlocking, global network of businesses and investment professionals." (They also claim "a reputation for professionalism and ethics, avoiding areas of controversy that could adversely affect the firm’s and our investors’ reputations.") Crony capitalism, la plus ça change and all that.

When it comes to sex education, the American view seems to be that ignorance is bliss. It isn't. Amazingly enough, avoiding the problem does not make it go away. It makes it worse.

China produces about a billion tons of coal a year. 20% of that amount, 200 million tons, burns in underground fires. It produces about as much CO2 as all the cars and small trucks in the U.S. Fires there and in India, the Appalachians, Australia burn for years, decades, centuries, millennia.

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

Bush faints after... choking on a pretzel? And cuts cheek with glasses? Well, the only witnesses seem to have been Barney and Spot, and presumably they're not talking.

It's a bit incredible, but having been sobered by terrorist attacks on home turf, and waging a foreign war... the adminstration is laying the groundwork for renewed testing of nuclear weapons. We're in the less than fully respectable company of China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel in not having signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (commented on in 1999), none of whom are about to.

Oh, and those reductions in the warheads, bombs and missiles in our arsenal? We're actually going to just move them from the "current" pile to the "reserve" pile, and, I suppose, stop counting them. I'm with Daryl Kimball: "If the reduced nuclear weapons are kept intact and available for redeployment, it makes a mockery of the reductions."

Gaming the system: turning a grace period into a business opportunity, by allowing customers to "test drive" domain names. Everything's an arms race. (Nice coverage on Bret Fausett's, although I had to view source to find the "id" anchor inside the page.)

Blogging over the edge: using three content management systems at once. Two was too many for me, but there are plenty of features I'd like that my homegrown system doesn't have. I'd give Radio v8 a whirl if I didn't have to change operating systems first.

Kevin Kelley's writing usually makes me gag, but his warm and fuzzy paean to the web entertained. (I must say, though, it's the first time I heard Usenet called a "governmental depot." Whatever is he talking about? If anything, it's become a Googlific depot.) Oh dear, then the self-promotion at the end of his little piece kicks in the gag reflex again.

As a member of the "gift economy" he describes, I suppose the appreciation is just narcissism (did I spell that right?), but I've been a fan of "the miracle" for at least as long as he has. There's some videotape of me giving a presentation c. 1997 on how wonderful it all was/going to be.

A significant stride in miniaturizing a camera: most everyone could have a digital camera in his or her pocket, most all the time. How would that change the world? $150?! Where do I sign up? And can I get Autobrite(TM) in my other camera?! If it kills off those annoying X10 popup ads, that would just be gravy.

Jalalabad: Land of the Thieves. C.J. Chivers reports on "business" as usual in Afganistan. (NY Times) Happened to flip through CSPAN tonight, heard Lieberman saying something about how we'd "liberated Afghanistan." That's the good news and the bad news, maybe.

Corporate news: the it-could-be-worse dept.

The merger incentive spreads wider and deeper, but I still doubt I'll be in line for any of the $579 million in retention bonuses. It's thought Wall Street will like this idea.

HP cited in the post-Enron search for companies that can't handle their debt. "Pay as you go" used to be one of our core principles.

Everyone's talking about the colored cards now. (I used to feel a little bad about linking to NY Times articles, because you need a subscription, albeit a free one. Now I'm hesitating over linking to Yahoo! news stories, thanks to their deal with the insidious soft-porn X10 camera pop-ups. This one's credited to and Ian Fried, but I couldn't find the article over there.)

A search on Google for "vetta bicycle speedometer calibration" turned up the manual for the C-5/6 discontinued products, and the instructions on how to do it. Of course! The default was darn close: 700x25, versus my 700x26 tire. Looks like about a 0.25% error from their table... which says "discrepancies of as much as 50mm or more will not have a significant effect on the accuracy of the unit for most normal rides." 2.5% error is OK by them?! Yikes.

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

They swim in V formation, too!  On the Boise river

The inversion's well-cleared and the sun was cheery today, the temp a bit above 40F. After I watched the Packers beat the Niners (woo hoo!), I road 18 odometer units to the Lucky Peak Lake viewpoint. I imagined it was upwind going out, and that I was really strong. On the way back, I found out that it hadn't been upwind, but fortunately the breeze was light. As it was, I had to stop at Winco to refuel for the grind back home. 33 units in 3 hours, with stops to enjoy the scenery and take a few photos.

While reading an excellent edition of the Science for Democratic Action newsletter of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, describing threats to the Snake River Plain Aquifer from migrating nuclear waste, I had an epiphany about radioisotopes. The ones with really long half-lives, like iodine-129, make for good scare copy (17,000,000 years is a bit longer than we know how to plan for), but that long half-life also means they aren't putting out much radiation. Indeed, while I-129 exceeds the drinking water standard in a plume under 1.5 square miles, the total radioactivity of the buried I-29 is only 0.099 curies. If it were distributed evenly throughout the acquifer's volume, it would be 10,000 times below the drinking water standard.

[Update, 14.Jan: Gary Richardson of the Snake River Alliance forwarded a response with two things I hadn't considered: the fact that iodine is concentrated in animal (such as human) thyroid tissue, and that I-129 and tritium are the only radioisotopes that have been detected beyond the INEEL site's boundary. There's some question about what monitoring of I-129 is being done, and what the results are.]

Strontium-90 is a much more serious problem. Similar distribution of that buried waste would put the whole aquifer 23 times above the drinking water standard. Its 29.1 year half-life works in our favor, albeit slowly: if we can keep it reasonably sequestered for a century and a half, and distribute it evenly (serving for conceptual analysis, rather than a plan of action!) the contamination would just be at the drinking water standard.

Of course, this is rationalization to determine whether an immediate crisis exists, or not. No doubt the INEEL staff would argue that it's not an immediate crisis, in spite of the witch's brew of radioisotopes and toxic solvents that have been dumped haphazardly at the upper end of one of the largest aquifers in North America.

The IEER does not seem to be in the business of alarmism, or enviro extremism. Their recommendations for protecting the Snake River aquifer are calm, sensible, and should be instructive to Governor Kempthorne, who professes to not want our state to (continue) be(ing) a nuclear waste dump.

The most immediate personal concern for radioisotopes in one's environment should generally be radon gas. Radon is a way station along the decay path of uranium-238, as it turns into lead-206. Radon-222 has a half-life of 3.8 days, and it and its two "daughters" produce three alpha particles within the course of an hour. That's bad if you've inhaled them and the alpha particles are banging into your lungs.

I haven't ever gotten around to having our house tested. It has a basement, which puts it at greater risk, but since we bought it when it was 20+ years old, maybe we're OK... I'm going to shop around a bit; a couple of websites make it look like about $125 for an air test.

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

Peter Maass' reporting from the company of an Afghan warlord is sobering. Winning the war was the easy part, thanks to our advanced technology, infusion of cash to ensure the enthusiasm of enough local participants, and the co-ordination of the warlords. Creating any sort of durable society will not be so simple. The understanding of the way things used to be puts the rise of the Taliban in context: yes they were terrible, but they were an improvement.

"When the United States government went shopping last fall for someone to lead an army into the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, Gul Agha re-emerged as America's go-to warlord."

"This is the most massive insider bailout that we've ever seen and we've been prosecuting these cases for 30 years. The overall size of this case is unprecedented. As Enron stock moved to an all-time high, the pace of insider selling accelerated dramatically. In the end, of the $1.1 billion of stock that was sold, hundreds of millions was sold at all-time highs." (William S. Lerach, quoted in The New York Times)

One of the well-paid directors ($380,000/yr) was the wife of Senator Phil Gramm. She had the foresight to sell her shares in Nov. 1998 (when they were "only" $27 each), and take payment in cash after that.

The golden touch of Google extends to news headlines. Search, Usenet, news. What's next? The IPO?

From a NYT piece about the suicide of an elderly couple:

Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland, a professor at Yale and the author of "How We Die," said "In something like five out of six cases, if a physician is able to sit down and ask people why they really want to die, they can solve their problems with modern medicine or psychological help."

"Solve their problems." Ultimately, we all have one, big, unsolvable problem: we're going to die. That the medical profession supposes it can solve everyone's problems in 5 out of 6 cases says a lot about it.

Things that may not survive the mail anymore: CompactFlash cards, pharmaceuticals, contact lenses, biological samples, and photographic film.

Hmm, reviewing my left-hand blogroll column, I see O'Reilly's considerable stable of bloggers has an egg in their user interface. Links from blurbs redirect you to another blurb, with the link to the actual story you've shown interest in. Hope they lose that.

I put a speedometer on my bicycle today, prompted by having one around the house (fished out of the garbage in Palo Alto? Found cheap at a garage sale?) and a recent conversation with two friends who ride lots more than I do, and who know how fast and how far. Somehow, I've survived 40 years of bicycling without one. They're wonderfully simple now, thanks to miniature electronics. A clock, a counter, a reluctance sensor, a conversion factor, an ALU, a magnet on a spoke. Now I sort of know how fast and how far; my speedometer units are a little bigger than miles. I rode 11 of them (rounding) to go buy a tire downtown at Idaho Mountain Touring, and to see how the greenbelt looks in January. Rather dun, but the geese and ducks seem to like it.

11.Jan.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

One of those FOAF emails ("GOOD ADVISE"), but this time, one with unquestionably good advice, about how to respond if your wallet/purse/credit cards get stolen:

The thing to do today, before it happens, is make a copy of information and phone numbers to call from your driver's license, credit cards and any et cetera you carry around with you, and put it in a safe place where you can find it if need be.

You can read about the horror story incentive when the email makes its way to you.

Cloe, catnapping.

Tunnelling into the brains of the mighty, Steve and Bill. Cringely: "Success to Steve means getting his own way. That's all." I think it's nice for the world that all boxes aren't beige. But my silly beige stuff still works, most of the time.

Here's where some of the money Enron made off with came from: India. Arther Anderson LLP gets a little of the stink on itself, after its employees destroyed a "significant but undetermined" number of Enron financial documents. Oh is that what auditors do?

I noticed on the bottom of my monthly statement from the credit union that they'll be paying 1.5% interest this month on my savings account. Gas a dollar a gallon... Bush is president... Am I in a time warp? (Except I don't think there's been a time in my whole life when credit union interest rates were that low.) I'm glad I'm not trying to live on interest these days. Or on investment returns.

Geek streams merging: LinuxJournal goes to MacWorld.

Things could be worse department: Ford to close 5 plants, lay off 35,000. That's 10% of their workforce, a corrective fraction that seemed right to the Romans, too.

Judge rejects settlement plan in which Microsoft gets to invade the education market. Sounds like a wise decision.

Carl Kaplan's CyberLaw column in the NYT wraps it up, with a collection of forecasts from cyberlaw pundits.

Maybe some face recognition software works, but the ACLU's special report, "Drawing a Blank: The failure of facial recognition technology in Tampa, Florida" (pdf file) shows that the Face-IT® system from Visionics Corporation pretty much sucks. "The system has never correctly identified a single face in its database of suspects, let alone resulted in any arrests."

10.01.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"ZDNet UK logs reveal rather obvious vote rigging, and prove that it originated from within Microsoft." Of course none of those silly surveys and polls on the web do anything more than measure volunteer discovery and participation, which is never what they purport to measure. ("How many people are willing to press this button, how many times?") It still seems tacky, at the very least, for a grown company to try to take over "first place" this way, though.

How 'bout this for a one-time charge against earnings: $40 to $60 billion. That's the difference between what the market used to think AOL + Time Warner was worth and what it is now, and the FASB 142 Accounting Standard says they gotta fess up. Ouch. Goodwill drained out of that merger (way) faster than the depreciation out of a new car coming off the lot.

I heard about it on NPR, from some guy from Value Research (I think it was), and as a mnemonic for the company's name, I thought of "virtual reality."

Urban renewal in Mecca: there goes a 220-year old Ottoman castle. You're reading about it because it's being torn down to make way for a "leisure development" by the bin Laden family firm.

9.Jan.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Oops! Forgot to make any New Years' resolutions this year. Guess I'm off the hook then. More things I missed: the big MacWorld and CES announcements, King Dirk's State of the State (Realaudio) address. Damn the torpedoes, Dirk said, we're keeping all those tax cuts; we're going to cut state government by 10% instead. "Government should not be immune from the effects of a down economy," he said. Part of the good news: "there's snow in the mountains." And the governors' meeting will be here in Boise this year. That ought to put us on the map.

Dirk put in his $.02 to defend his decision to turn the Statehouse into Fort Kempthorne. He was following the recommendations of the National Guard and the State Police, dang it. I loved his method in this: are you accusing these professionals of doing something for political purposes? It's a beautiful bit of political judo. "I didn't take a poll. I did say a prayer. I will not play political games with the lives of the citizens I serve." Heck, he could make Dick Cheney's hiding sound like a good thing.

I missed Gray Davis' State of the State, too.

Oops, government funding of religious organizations not constitutional. Who knew?

New dress code being readied for release. Braids and cornrows yes, dreadlocks no. Some nail polish (for women) is OK, but no khaki or camo. No camo?! What kind of military is this? I think camouflage nail polish would be cool.

I like this, too: "Baldness, natural or otherwise, is now authorized." Hmm, so before if you went naturally bald they put you on report? No mention of appropriate dress in fundamentalist Muslim countries, but maybe the full document will go into detail on that.

Reading about Gate's spiel at the Consumer Electronics Show about Microsoft taking over all the appliances in my house reminded me of the recent correspondence I had with the Passport team, which reminded me of Dave Winer's expression about what M$ does to developers, "locking them in the trunk." It seems I signed up for a Passport account somewhere, some time, and now I can't delete it, because I can't remember all the magic words I put in the sign-up form:

Thank you for writing again to Microsoft.NET Passport.

I regret to inform you, but we implement this procedure for security reasons. If the information you sent does not match on what's stored on your account, I'm sorry, but I cannot process your request to delete your Passport account.

I recognize the importance of this issue on your part, and I apologize for the inconvenience this had caused you.

Thank you for your continued patience.

In other words, "I'm sorry, but I can't open the trunk." Of course, my assessment of the overall irony is different from Winer's: I've wanted to delete my "free" site on for 8 months now, but they have a policy of not doing that.

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

Is it worth sacrificing a promising career to protest a dress code? An even better question: why is our military helping support a regime in Saudi Arabia that breeds terrorism in the advancement of militant fundamentalism?

The Bush Administration's vision for the future (let's focus on a solution 10 or 20 years out) would be more convincing if it didn't mean ignoring today's problems. 10 to 20 year technology plans are fully speculative; something might pan out, or it might produce an answer to a question no one's asking any more. And there is no meaningful accountability for something on that schedule. The car companies won: they delayed being forced to improve mileage long enough that now they don't have to.

US carmakers turn in the worst fleet mileage in 21 years, and we have gasoline cheaper than it's ever been (in relative terms). And another war in the middle east.

Back to the beginning: "If this can be verified, it will dramatically change our understanding of the universe." Nice to run into a new idea from time to time.

The HP Board (minus one) posts a "Dear Walter" letter accusing him of lying in his SEC filings, by denying facts he claimed. Walter responds, describing the letter as "a careful construct of fine lines and half truths." It's getting ugly. It doesn't look to me like the Board is abiding by the Standards of Business Conduct and its standard of uncompromising integrity. It's looking like a scorched earth policy. It's embarassing.

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

The Web Standards Project takes a break, now it's up to all of us. From where I sit, it seems that Javascript will be my principle stumbling block. I went to check some airfares yesterday on, and after several long waits while "loading information," it dawned on me that Opera v6 was simply not going to work there. I went back to MSIE v5.5 and everything was fine.

I posted a request for help on Christmas day, regarding the hideously slow response engendered by my fairly simple sortable table script in the pages under my market capitalization tracking index in one of the Opera newsgroups, but it expired off the list with nought but a dull thud.

As an aside on UAL's site, yesterday's "Design Not Found" had given it a thumbs up for being clever enough to preserve form entry and ask which of multiple airports one wanted in Chicago. In my case, once I'd logged in with my MileagePlus number, the site guessed (correctly) that I wanted to leave from Boise, and filled in that field for me. When I submitted the completed form, it wanted to know whether I meant Boise, Texas, or Boise, Washington, or Boise, Idaho. D'OH!

I don't know who wrote the following compendium of pithy wisdom, as it came to me multiply forwarded and badly formatted. But I thought it deserved freshening up and a nice home. So:

  1. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.
  2. If you had to identify, in one word,the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be "meetings."
  3. There is a very fine line between "hobby" and "mental illness"
  4. People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.
  5. And when God, who created the entire universe with all of its glories, decides to deliver a message to humanity, He WILL NOT use, as His messenger, a person on cable TV with a bad hairstyle.
  6. You should not confuse your career with your life.
  7. No matter what happens, somebody will find a way to take it too seriously.
  8. When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that individual is crazy.
  9. Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.
  10. Never lick a steak knife.
  11. Take out the fortune before you eat the cookie.
  12. The most powerful force in the universe is gossip.
  13. You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and compelling reason why we observe daylight savings time.
  14. You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she's pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.
  15. There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday.That time is age eleven.
  16. The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above-average drivers.
  17. The main accomplishment of almost all organized protests is to annoy people who are not in them.
  18. A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person. (This is very important. Pay attention. It never fails.)
  19. Your friends love you anyway.

Thought for the day: Never be afraid to try something new. Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the Titanic.

Epiphany Permanent URL to this day's entry

This has been one of my favorite holidays for 16 years or so, since I became more acquainted with the term itself in a weeklong course in religious values and organizational development. (Hmm, that sounds like a good story, too.) This is beyond the Wise Men thing, and into those little bursts of understanding and enlightenment that we stumble into every day (if we're lucky, and paying attention). Our little subgroup came up with a suitable ditty for the process:

Epiphany do-dah, epiphany-ay
My oh my what a wonderful day,
Intuitive insight, comin' my way,
Epiphany do-dah, epiphany-ay!

Joel Spolsky runs a software company, and writes about the process of making software, and other things. His "typical day," described in Fire and Motion sounds familiar to me, and I'll bet to lots of other people in the "knowledge work" field. Of course, the particular insight he shares has been voiced before... The longest journey begins with a single step.

NYT's Online diary feature is looking rather webloggish, isn't it? (But alas, it's not regular enough.) The Dec. 20 issue has a nice bit on Google's usenet history (I figured the complainers about their initial modification to dejanews were premature; they've done their usual first-class work with it) and timeline, Segway not being "it," 37 Signals' Design Not Found schtick, and more.

Searching their site for "diary," I found a recent Metropolitan Diary, a feature I always enjoy, but which they seem to be moving around the week. It hasn't been in Sunday's paper for a while. The New Year's Eve edition has a nice couple of poems to our new year, including one celebrating its palindromicity. If you will.

And was it a miracle of the Christmas spirit that brought the Sunday paper's price down from $4.75 to the "good old" $4.00? Whatever, I like the change!

Cringely's forecast for the new year includes this bleak observation: "Microsoft owns the start page, the defaults, the windowing environment, and the content standards. It turns out they also own the traffic, the audience management, and if you're watching closely what they're doing with Windows Media, they're going to force you to pay licenses to show your own content on-line."

RFID stands for "radio frequency identification," and it's a technology in wide-spread use. Electronic access cards, car keys, anti-shoplifting tags, pet "collars," and so on. Now we can have people collars, too. "Just walk by the scanner, sir. If your ID matches your ticket, you can go right on board." What do you think, 3 or 4 years before we all get one of these injected? I suppose a needle "almost as thick as your pinky" to inject it might deter some voluntary applications.

Time to give back those royalties on blank media? There's a novel idea.

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

Spent the afternoon at a funeral today, in an unaccustomed venue: the Cathedral of the Rockies, the 1st Methodist Church here in Boise. There were way too many friends of Jimmy Hopper to fit in our little church. He was a wonderful, gentle, loving, and fun-loving person.

At the reception, I had that experience of seeing somebody who looks familiar, without being sure who s/he was, more than once. The crowd at a funeral is different from that at a wedding in that regard; you have to be "current" enough to be invited to a wedding, but anyone who cares to can show up at a funeral. It's anarchical. Funerals provide an opportunity to renew old connections, to be reminded of how important they are, and how fleeting they might be.

Here's the explanation of the secret connection between Enron and Argentina. "In the United States, you look at corruption as an abomination. We look at it as an art." Thanks to JQT for link.

Oh great, now we got a copycat teen suicide plane-into-building crash. I assume that's the story, a 15-year-old with 2 years' worth of lessons can steer clear of large buildings if he wants to.

Ouch, the National Park Service('s web site) is closed for the winter. Or something. "Due to conditions outside our department."

Having read the lastest salvo in the "to merge or not to merge" filings, Walter Hewlett's preliminary proxy statement, I have to say I'm ready to sign the green card rather than the white one. Reading Fortune's piece about Jim Collins' research on mediocre companies that have become great helped persuade me. It's not the same situation (HP's a great-from-the-start company with the potential to become mediocre), but the comments about leadership seem applicable. The ticket to greatness was not a man (or woman) on a white horse, nor was it a bold strategy. "It wasn't the leader's personality that mattered so much as the organization's personality."

Figured it was as good a time as any to finish my essay on being a Workforce Reduction Program survivor, "RIFfed." Continuing saga.

I guess I can kiss our State Farm dividend check g'bye this year. They settled a class action suit and (apparently) admitted that wrecked cars don't get fixed back to "like new." There's a shocker. How about an insurance claim for the mangling depreciation you get when driving a new car from the dealer's lot onto the street?

The view outside the Reagan library sounds nice, but the view inside is still uninteresting, thanks to Bush II's incredible, audacious executive order giving the sitting president a veto over releasing any old presidential records. "The archivist shall not permit access to these records by a requester unless and until the incumbent president advises the archivist that the former president and the incumbent president agree to authorize access to the records or until so ordered by a final and nonappealable court." Richard Reeves takes us on a little tour.

Air rage, road rage, what's next? Wave rage!

4.Jan.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The real McCoy was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame this year. Posthumously. It was good grease that he came up with. Whenever I think of lubrication, I think of Nancy Bokitch (may she rest in peace), who tossed out this bon mot at a dinner party: " Phatic is the lubricant of social intercourse." And so it is.

The father of QWERTY made the Hall, too. That was back when patent numbers only had 5 digits - #79,265. He was 59 when he added the SHIFT key. THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT!

Some entertaining illusions, and other fun, such as count the black dots. Man, those are sprightly little suckers! (Flash not required. :-)

The excitement about MacWorld is killing me. Well, NOT. I am curious to see what they come up with, and might be willing to buy after a subsequent release has winnowed the worst of the bugs. We'll see. In the meantime, the hype is at least spoofable.

If you think you're "media" going to cover Macworld, don't forget your business cards, letterhead and logos. They're apparently big on that kind of thing.

The Nando Times picks up the barricaded Idaho statehouse (a.k.a. "Fort Kempthorne") story, although doesn't get deep enough to learn about how the terrorist threat provided the cover for something Kempthorne wanted before 9/11: a more secure workplace. Their quote from Bill Hall is probably the best overall assessment of the tempest in Podunk: "I would guess Kempthorne has the same popularity he has always had. This is almost entirely a Boise Valley thing."

Krugman: "Republicans have moved so far to the right that ordinary voters have trouble taking it in."

Safire: "Federal Judge Mark Wolf, in a landmark decision, ruled that nobody in law enforcement had the power to sanction murder." But Ashcroft has the trump card to let 10 murders go unpunished: Executive privilege.

Keller: "This debate about missile defense is one we're not having." Dreamers and schemers go another round with missiles and missile defense.

Somebody's keeping track of things that have been sold in vending machines, just in case you were wondering.

All about geocaching: techno hide'n'seek.

How to sell more sugar water: hold back on the real stuff. The web holds the captured image (big) of the Coke "Success Story." Sweet.

(What do you do when you face a high water incidence rate?)

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

A piece of cardboard I bent up and scanned

Odd Todd is unemployed, but he has found something to do in the meantime. One of those presentations that explains why we need Flash on the web. (Probably better with a high bw connection...)

It's Texas' turn to try electricity deregulation. Even without the object lessons from California's debacle, having surplus generating capacity makes it much more likely to have a happy ending.

It only takes about 30,000 lines of code to make Homo sapiens Maybe two or three times as complicated as a nematode.

Brent Simmons' visit to Bill Gates' house made me laugh, too.

An insider view, behind the scenes of the best radio interview show I know about: "Being on Fresh Air is a reminder of how few broadcast outlets allow listeners and viewers the pleasure of sharing a mind provoked."

Just a reminder: you can listen to Fresh Air over the web! It feels like an intimate gathering in your living room (or car, etc.), but no bodies meet: it's a meeting of the minds.

Joel on Software: "Every time you decide that making users feel stupid is better than fixing your code, you're making an ethical decision."

Gleaning Al Qaeda's hard drive for clues to terrorism. Seems too well filled-in to be a hoax...

While thinking about the Corps of Engineers dredging the Columbia River 3 feet deeper for, oh, 100 miles or so, I was piqued by their Facts/Myths page. But they didn't have any of either. They're waiting for them to pour in? And what's with the https connections? Opera complained that their certificate wasn't quite right, but hey, what do I care? At least the FAQ page has some Q&A. They didn't answer the question I had, though: what do you do with 19 million cubic yards of stuff dredged out of the bottom of a river?

2002.01.02 Permanent URL to this day's entry

When the tall, dark strangers from the FBI or Secret Service come to call, it might be just routine to them, but it's not too difficult to imagine that it looks like intimidation to the folks they're visiting. Remember, it's completely American to know your rights and to demand that they be respected. Am I under arrest? Do you have a warrant? Do you really have any legitimate business asking me what's in my apartment?

Saying that bin Laden should have been person of the year... isn't that treasonous? How about Tom Friedman pointing out the shameless political advantage being taken of Sept. 11th? Certainly, counting the civilian dead in Afghanistan is.

Cursor: yet another fascinating weblog I can't possibly keep up with.

Dan Gillmor's Highs and Lows of the year in technology.

Dick Cheney, goin' where the oil is, to the tune of $36,000,000 last year. Nice work if you can get it. From "Debbie Does Politics," cute.

The New York Times' year in pictures.

Hendrik Hertzberg asks Is it O.K. to talk about the recount yet? (in the New Yorker). The media consortium's "finding, it turned out, was that, no matter what standard or combination of standards is applied, Al Gore got a handful more votes than George W. Bush. Faced with this conclusion, the consortium changed the question to who would have won if the original statewide recount had not been aborted. The reassuring answer to that question, again by a handful, was Bush." Oops. Wrong guy in the Oval Office. Maybe. Aw, heck, it's too late to change it now, why bother discussing it?

1.1.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Welcome to the palindromic year. Perhaps you remember the last one? It was a scant 11 years ago, a proximity that has never occurred before (in the calendar where I live), and will not occur again for a millennium. In the meantime, count on one every 110 years: 1881, 1991, 2002, 2112, 2222 (the deuces wild year!), and so on.

Artsy railing shot, no association with the text

Today is one of 40, count 'em 40, ternary days this year, then a drought until the end of the decade. One of them can also be rendered palindromically, in the colloquial European style of February 20th. Last year served up two palindromes: February 10th and October 2nd could both be rendered front-to-back same as back-to-front. One rendering covered both dates in the variant year-last styles (10.02.2001), while the date in October qualified in the software canonical, year-first form, 2001.10.02.

Paul Krugman: "The people who encouraged Argentina in its disastrous policy course are now busily rewriting history, blaming the victims." Incredibly to us, only 21% of foreigners and 12% of Latin Americans like the US because it "does a lot of good." And if we really think an American free trade area is the right strategy, we shot ourselves in the foot.

At last night's First Night celebration in Boise, the one event I attended was "Seven Stories from around the World," with immigrants from Afghanistan, the middle east and Mexico talking about their experiences so far. They left bad or horrible situations (in most cases) to come to the land of opportunity. Now they face the daunting hurdles of learning a new language, a new culture, a new neighborhood, trying to make the passage through menial work to the career they had, or hoped for. The audience was miniscule, but the possibility for networking made the event meaningful. A woman from Mexico has "made it," graduating from BSU and now working as an accountant for United Vision for Idaho, "building community coalitions to empower participation in democracy." She was eager to tell the more recent arrivals how they could find help to help themselves.

I thought about how the older ones - 30s, 40s,90s - were probably never going to integrate into American culture; the hope was for the youngsters, the teenagers to find a better life. The decision to come here was an act of sacrifice, for the betterment of future generations.


Tom von Alten

ISSN 1534-0007

Sunday, 15-Feb-2015 12:49:42 MST