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

One of my coworkers is climbing Mt. Everest. He's keeping a weblog with a few pictures that can make it over the satellite. His description of stepping into a crevasse is thrilling. Accounts from Everest are fascinating, often thrilling, and with each one I hear, I'm ever more certain I don't care to go there. Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air is a good place to start, if you need one.

When Alan gets back from the mountain, the merger is likely to be well underway, now that Hewlett's case has been dismissed.

Your tax dollars at work, in the courtroom: Qwest guy testifies that Microsoft crushing a potential competitor "couldn't happen." It would be "nonsensical." And oh, by the way, Qwest guy "knew little about Microsoft's past anticompetitive conduct and had no experience with the kind of Web-based services at issue in the case," and "had no specific knowledge about Microsoft's plans."

In the telecom business, we have that thing most like the "always-on infrastructure" that captains of industry like to talk about. Technologies work "seamlessly," and people have come to expect that. Failing to meet "this expectation of ubiquitous connectivity" would render a service with "little or no prospect of commercial viability." Hello telecom? Meet 500-pound monopoly gorilla. This ain't your daddy's AT&T, this is your worst nightmare.

What are your plans for the national day and moment of prayer, May 2nd, at high noon? (Is that noon UTC, noon EDT, noon local...?) In our capital, and across our mighty nation, the plan is for everyone to be praying together that G*d might grant supernatural powers to our president and Congress. (What about the Supremes, one wonders?)

For those of us who don't really feel it's government's place to tell us what and how to pray, a possible alternative activity would be to play the Doors' Soft Parade on your boom box. Otherwise, I suppose a simple shake of the head, chuckle, and moment of silence will suffice. Some reflection on the rather frightening religious views of our current First Father might be warranted as well, as I suspect that like Father, like Son in this case.

Some discussion of dissenting buttons came up, and one idea was Matthew 6:5-6. Seems just right for the occasion.

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

This morning's provocative sermon from Deb Smith was titled "Friends, Romans, Consumers?" One of the suggested questions was to examine state standards for graduation and consider how many of them are in service to capitalism, and how many to citizenship. Zilog's reposting of an Idaho Statesman piece from more than two years ago has this telling q&a:

Why did Idaho decide to develop graduation standards for high school students?

Idaho is one of the last states to develop standards. They grew out of a concern from colleges and industry that high school students may have a diploma, but they also have serious gaps in their knowledge of basics like reading and math. Both colleges and businesses say they spend too much time and money teaching employees the same material they should have learned in public school.

No citizenship there.

Our citizen Legislators had to pare the education budget to fit between post-bubble revenue declines and post-Clinton tax reduction. Some things came up short, but Sen. Darrel Deide from Caldwell tells us that the only thing to fear is fear itself: attitude is everything when it comes to the education budget. Funding for training teachers to teach to the standards test -- we're looking at rolling them in for 2005 -- is one of the things that had to be trimmed.

Speaking of consuming... Boise's sprawl and housing boom continues apace, although the Statesman reports that Harris Ranch is "scaling back." In our growth-oriented vernacular, that doesn't mean it's getting smaller, it only means it might not get as big as it was once imagined. Instead of topping out at 3,439 homes, now they think 3,282 should do it. They refer to the not-yet-constructed East Park Center Bridge as "all-important." That must be because "without the bridge, Wardle cannot build Harris Ranch out beyond 419 homes...."

Ok, so it has fewer than 420 homes now, they don't have the go-ahead for the bridge just yet, but (if and) when they do, they can "build it out" to... 7 or 8 times as many homes.

The general topic of advertising (and sprawl, and cars... they seem to go together somehow) made me think about what you don't see in automobile advertising (excepting locally-produced, bad-suit car dealer ads, since they don't have the production budget to escape reality):
No traffic
No dust
No waiting at the service desk
No construction zones
No tar and gravel chipped windshields
No sprawl
No road rage
No parking lot
No car salesmen
No smog
No heavy metals runoff
No junkyards
No oil spots on the driveway
No driveways
No garages
No pumping gas
No drilling for oil
No stinky refinery
No dirty little war

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

Mike Cassidy's color coverage of this week's trial of the century. The post-trial briefs were due a few minutes ago, and I expect Judge Chandler will give HP the high sign by Monday or Tuesday at the latest. The plaintiffs simply did not produce evidence that would justify throwing out the shareholder vote, imho.

As customers blast Idaho Power, I can't help but be amazed that someone who "said they bought their homes in the 1970s with the encouragement of Idaho Power, which touted the all-electric homes as a low-cost option" would think that the deal was forever. You had to keep your thermostat below 62 day and night to keep from going into the 2,000 kWh rate tier? I guess that economic incentive was working then. Imagine how they'll complain when they find out that the supply of cheap gas for their SUVs isn't inexhaustible, either.

Disclaimer: I own some Idacorp stock. And we barely use 300 kWh/mo.

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

I went back to Fred Meyer today to return the annoyingly low-quality metal pulley I'd bought the other day. Their selection was all of one type, varying only in size. All the pulleys were inexpensive; I paid $2.49 plus tax for the medium-sized one I bought. The old good news-bad news thing: you will be able to buy an incredible array of consumer goods at remarkably low prices. Most of them will be garbage.

The clerk at the second customer service counter was quite dimunitive, just a head higher than the countertop, but she piped up in the usual fashion, "I can help you over here!" I proffered my receipt and the item in question with its torn packaging, said "I'd like to return this." I was looking at this girl's cute freckled face and thinking she just couldn't be 16, and don't you need to be at least 16 to work in a place like this? As I was thinking that, she perused the receipt, fingered the item in question, and asked "is this it?"

"Yes, it's the pulley." She pulled out the form for my signature and phone number, asked me to sign it. I couldn't contain my curiosity any longer.

"You seem to be a remarkably young employee..." I hinted, leaving her an opening to respond.

"Oh, it's Take Your Daughters to Work day!" she said, smiling an absurdly sweet 10-year-old smile. She carried out the rest of the transaction, up to the point of disbursement, when she called the other clerk, her mother, over to finish the deal. All the paperwork was in order, and what was my complaint, again?

"It's of insufficient quality," I said.

"It it broken?"

"No, it works as well it was designed to do, but that's not adequate for what I need."

"I hear that a lot," she said, ringing me up, and delivering the cash refund.

The Boise Weekly (still working on getting their website going, alas; no economic motivation I'm afraid) is running an interesting series of covers from readers' submissions. This week's is titled "Ambulation of Succulent Comestibles," an insouciant collage of produce photographs, forming a happy trio out for a stroll. Look for one of those cheery red newsstands and pick up your free copy of the paper and Molly McIntosh's artwork.

Judge Chandler wrapped up the live drama portion of the three-day trial of Walter Hewlett vs. Hewlett-Packard, finishing on time with the expedient of taking post-trial briefs (due tomorrow) rather than closing statements. The business looks possibly a bit shady, but in the absence of any significant damning evidence -- and if there was any, no one reported it -- it's on to the big merger.

Given the apparent weakness of Hewlett's case it's more than a little disconcerting that the company was put through this circus. The numbers might not add up, but it was a battle of projections, and when challenged about the vote-buying claim in court, Hewlett admitted "he had no reason not to believe HP executives when they said they had not bought Deutsche Bank's vote. They were saying that before it went to court, why wasn't that good enough then? He wanted to stop the merger, that much is clear, and it's also clear why he wanted to stop it: he thinks it's a bad idea. But we had the showdown of shareholder opinion, and the tally came out against him. The last month of uncertainty has only done good for the competition.

But soon, HP's M&A teams (including Deutsche Bank) will get their $millions in bonuses, and Hewlett's teams will have to settle for their time and expenses. The execs will get pumped-up salaries and bonuses for their expanded responsibility, and the rank and file will get a shot at the synergy lottery. That's business for ya.

The Workaround: 32 steps to frustration, from the Technology section of the NY Times. We all know the frustration, and misery loves company, so the article is satisfying, even if it doesn't really solve any of your problems.

I'd never heard of the "begin  " bug in Outlook Express, so I had to try it out. Sure enough, the mailer loses the "begin ," and turns the rest of the line (or file?) into a file name for an empty file. (In their defense, not too many email messages really need to begin with 'begin', decapitalized, and followed by two spaces.)

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

Spam can only get worse, much worse. It's not just the low-life plague anymore, the big corps are playing too.

"Online porn and gambling sites pay up to $50 per new sign-up." I guess we'll just have to suffer until everyone who wants online porn and gambling reaches saturation.

First person spammer testimonial, from the King of Cajun Spam. "What do ethics have to do with it? It's all about the law, what you can and cannot do."

United States Patent 6,368,227
Olson April 9, 2002
Method of swinging on a swing
A method of swing on a swing is disclosed, in which a user positioned on a standard swing suspended by two chains from a substantially horizontal tree branch induces side to side motion by pulling alternately on one chain and then the other.

A view of our natural heritage, coming from Idaho and our neighborhood, put together by our eastern university. At first I thought it was a bit basic, than a bit broad, but ultimately I was entertained, and informed about some things I didn't know. The 3rd of 3 parts is on tomorrow night, locally.

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

Two red tulips, before the sun opened 'em up

Reading Dan Popkey's column about Cecil Andrus' return to active participation in state politics gives me hope for the state and its Democratic party. After this year's dismal performance by the Republican government, perhaps the majority will be prepared to try democracy again.

The way to get there is to fight for what you believe in. As Cece put it, "You remember what I had to do? Sweet talk and roses and chocolates. And if that didn't work, hit 'em in the mouth."

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

Having the government dispense propaganda in the War on Some Drugs is arguably a bad idea. Having the government censor physicians seems like a very bad idea.

Bill Keller offers up some provocative "Themes for an Opposition":
1. Take the moral high ground on capital punishment;
2. Simplify the tax system.
3. Kill Star Wars, and stop the Defense Department's slippery slide toward user-friendly nuclear weapons. The clothing-challenged emperor's interogative is: "ARE THEY OUT OF THEIR MINDS?!"
4. Lift the embargo on Cuba. (Psst: the Cold War is over. We won.)

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

Here's a slightly different angle on the Authors' Guild v. Amazon thing that I wrote about earlier this week, from email to me, presented as the "real deal," and reposted with permission:

The Guild asked Bezos and company to just tone done the marketing of used books on the pages for new books. "New" meaning just published the other day. Not out-of-print books. Not ten-year old dog-eared copies of "The Shining." New. Not even current titles that are selling well. Brand new. The Guild just wanted to give new books, often written by people who don't make anything remotely like real money (I'm one of them), a chance to get some traction in the market before used copies started popping up on the same page as new copies. Bezo's got hysterical and rather than just be polite about a really minor (to him) request, told the people on whose backs he earns his living to shove it. In turn, the Guild just suggested to its members that they link their personal sites to another online bookstore. After that, Bezos geared up his P.R. machinery to make it sound like the Guild is going to send storm troopers into church thrift stores and incarcerate people for reselling their copies of "Iacocca" and "Jonathan Livingston Seagul." Which is as ridiculous as it sounds. Nobody buys more used books than writers.

As far as library royalties go, that's not for real either. Fifteen years ago congress passed a bill that funded study of the issue of working out a reasonable system that might give authors five cents when their books got checked out of the library. The Guild supported the study. When the study completed, it was clear that it wasn't workable, and the Guild dropped it.

Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, has always struck me as being a little creepy. The too chi-chi suits, the Japanese wanna-be house, the hair-do, the who's-got-the-most-billions pissing contest. After reading Jeffrey Rosen's article in last Sunday's NY Times magazine, "Silicon Valley's Spy Game," I get the impression that he's doing for software what Edward Teller did for defense. For everyone at Oracle other than the head man, policy questions are something for their customers to worry about. For the head man, concerns about privacy are easily dismissed. "No one has given me a substantive example of what will happen that's bad" after the government implements his grand vision of the Oracle über-database: "we're going to track everything."

We've been sending our supercomputers off to work on weapons systems. The Japanese want to study global climate, and their latest big iron is faster than our top 20 combined. The CalTech guy's response is amusing in that light: "These guys are blowing us out of the water, and we need to sit up and take notice." So to speak.

Bill Gates to testify. Hope he does better than his last outing, that embarassing videotaped deposition. If you're reading this, Bill (ha!), here's a tip for you: even if you're really, really sure you're smarter than Judge Kollar-Kotelly, don't let on.

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

A running fence for the newly seeded field

Cringely is no slouch, he's giving advice to IBM on how to pull out of their funk. The more entertaining part is how visionary leaders all have two tricks, and after they've used them, if something else is needed, it's time for a new leader.

The Senate "voted by a wide margin to block oil and gas production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." (NYTimes) Senator Murkowski of Alaska thinks this means we need more Republicans in the Senate. Idaho's Senator Larry Craig thinks it means that gas prices aren't high enough yet. Could they really be so stupid to not consider that the American public disagrees with their position?

Microsoft's latest numbers are in, and they were a little disappointing. $3.3 billion operating profit (but only $2.74B net) on revenue of $7.25 billion for the quarter. Only just over a third of the revenue they took in went to the bottom line. Imagine how crestfallen you'd be!

My calculator says that's 38% net revenue, quite a bit higher than the 22.7% that Yahoo!'s screen is showing this evening. Check out the competition, in this stock screen of companies with profit margin more than 20%, $5B or more in sales, and at least $1B market cap. These are the big boys.

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

More interesting weather today, wish I could've captured a picture of how beautiful it was on the way home from work. Snow on the Boise front, down to 4500 feet, or so. Big thunderstorms to the west, with smaller clouds in front of the towering, dark gray masses. Flowering trees in the afternoon sun... springtime in the Rockies.

Neo-Creationism makes another run at Darwinism, and, according to Jim Holt, comes up short.

Uniting vim with KDE. I'm not on Linux yet, but I like the sound of it, a lot. One editor to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them.

The IEEE punts on the DMCA.

The Authors Guild says people should remove their links to Amazon, because Amazon sells used books. Great idea. We should close all those damn lending libraries, too!

Bezos said, in fact, that the AG "from time to time has advocated charging public libraries royalties on books they loan out." For real?!

A "researcher" funded by Microsoft finds that monopolies are really good for consumers. There's a stunning revelation. That's almost as good as the CEO of AMD ("can you do me a favor?") saying that penalizing Microsoft would be bad because Bill told him so.

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

Kuna, Idaho, used to be best known for its caves, and the local sports team, the Cavemen. Now it has Representative Bill Sali, running for his 7th term in the state Legislature.

One the one hand, Sali's trying to collect on a lawsuit for injuries from a car accident that he says have left him impaired. On the other, he says he's still got enough oars in his boat to navigate the tranquil waters of law-making in Idaho.

"How shall I say this? Much of the time in the Legislature critical thinking skills are not necessarily needed. I donīt mean to malign anyone, but after you've been around a while down there and you know the rhythm of how the day goes, you just know what is coming next, and you learn to ferret out what is important and what's not."

Reported in Dan Popkey's column in the Idaho Statesman, the story is more incredible than fiction. It'll be interesting to see if Kuna sends Bill back to the Statehouse, or if he has to "retire" to lawyering and drumming.

Is it the mark of the Beast? The ultimate in Big Brother technology? A Gen Y fashion statement? Or a lifesaver? We shall see, as implantable microchips turn into products for humans. (Thanks to Jeff Harrow's Technology Report for that pointer.)

I seem to be collecting more things on my "I should read this" list than on my "I have read this and recommend it" list. So much to read, so little time. For my own benefit, at least, here are some things I'd like to read:

A new entry in the weblog navel-gazing genre: weblogs are super hot! Get one today!

It's not just an oxymoron list, it's the oxymoronlist domain. "Microsoft Works" currently shown as number 1, reminding me of the brilliant parody of their "Where do you want to go today?" campaign with the slogan "Will it work today?" It didn't, for me today, because I finally succumbed to the corporate momentum to upgrade to Office2000. After 5 calls to the support desk (this is the intranet support desk, where calls do get answered), and three install attempts, it actually was working. Getting the remnants of Office97 scraped clean was apparently the big problem, with no valid source installation to use for the uninstall program.

I discovered (while watching support agents run my machine remotely) that not only is there a Microsoft Installer Clean-up Utility, but also a Microsoft Office Clean-up and a much improved Regcleaner tool for dealing with registry cruft.

After all that, I will still have to be distracted and annoyed another dozen or two times to get all my settings back the way I like them, turn off the new Clippy, turn off the Incredible Morphin' Menus, and so on. Amazingly, the reasons for avoiding O2k that I wrote about almost 3 years ago are still true. Substitute OfficeXP as needed. (Which is to say don't substitute OfficeXP, as it's not needed.

I'm not sure which I like better, an advocacy lawfirm nicknamed MoFo, or sending spammers invoices for $50 a pop.

Citizen response to the Hollings' abomination is running about 80,000 to 0 against. Will lawmakers get the message?

Ok, we got the Taliban out of power, and put the warlords back in charge. Now what?

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

We've had five kinds of weather before noon. Steady rain. Clearing, and sunshine. Showers, thundershowers, downpour, and now back to drizzle. A week ago (was that all?) the lawn was awakening from a winter slumber, today it's sprung to junior jungle "must be cut as soon as dry" height.

How can you have a shareholder revolt when the election is rigged? Would you rather increase the number of shares available for options grants enough to cover a 3 million share grant, or not, and fork over half of that in "non-equity" cash? That's the choice before the shareholders of Jones Apparel Company.

Let's see, when would you like to know your company's CEO is selling stock? Today, or 6 weeks after filing for bankruptcy? Let's count loans to executives, canceled options, and hedges too, what the heck.

Business intelligence - no, it's not another oxymoron, but the nickname for making sense of mountains of data. Cringely takes us on the 5 cent tour.

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

The Ides of April, not nearly as foreboding as last month's. Trees are blooming, tulips are up again. It's spring! S'posed to be in the 70s today, oh my. continues to be chuckle-filled. I like the bumper stickers. "Don't Blame Me / I voted with the majority." Today's attraction, though, was the radio ad about Dick Cheney's company selling $23M worth of technology to one corner of the Access of Evil, Iraq.

Global Crossing's lawyers out their takeover bidders with an email distribution list. D'OH!

No doubt 3 or 5 people must be shocked, shocked by the revelations of "possible conflicts of interest between analysts and investment bankers." ( Financial Times)

In larger print, the Washington Post reports on "thousands of e-mails and documents" in which "Merrill Lynch analysts sometimes derided as 'junk' and 'crap' the very stocks they were promoting with encouragement from investment-banking colleagues."

'nother one of those "Nigerian" help-us-move-our-millions-of-dollars scams in the inbox. I wonder what the hit rate is for that thing, it's been around awhile. "You will assure me of your unquestionable integrity and reputation to transact a business of such a great volume of money perfectly." "You will receive 25% of the total sum for your wholesome assistance." That's 25% of fifty million bucks Mr. Songo Abubakar is offering me. Woo-hoo!

A secret email correspondent tells me the "wavy gray dude," (a.k.a. Louis Rukeyser, it took me a minute) has gone to CNBC, starting later this month. I caught the end of this week's Wall Street Week Without Louis Rukeyser, and I have to say the show's lost what magic it had. It wasn't a lot, but it was something.

Hospitals getting into alternative medicine leveraging the Deepak Chopra "brand."

"For 10 years, people have been saying that I must exploit the Chopra brand, that I'm a brand," Dr. Chopra said. "I don't like that, so I've resisted it. But the fact is, yes, I'm a brand."

I wonder what that feels like?

I have no doubt that the personal attention that comes with the stuff they're calling alternative medicine -- massage, guided visualization, etc. -- has a salutory effect, versus being doctored in the usual way. And the hospitals like it because it's more they can bill for.

Is Computer Associates the next big corporate accounting scandal? (Xerox may be getting off for "only" a $10M fine.) A billion dollars in stock granted to three executives. Such a deal! The story said it was later pared to only about a quarter of that; I guess the subsequent six quarters of losses (and the shareholder suits) made 'em change their minds.

New data on the efficacy of prayer (perhaps): going belly-up.

That nasty Hailstorm seems to be clearing up. "They ran into the reality that many companies don't want any company between them and their customers." Especially not certain companies, one might imagine.

Meanwhile, the companies that already have databases full of customer (or at least "user") information are hungry to milk some profit out of them. Brace yourself for an onslaught of spam. Login to your Yahoo account and check out how many ways they're preparing to market to you (starting June 15th), and see if you might want to say "No, no, no, no, (etc.)" rather than accept the the default "Yes, yes, yes, yes, (etc.)"

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

From a Wharton piece (registration required) about the business of call centers: "There also are examples of how the call center's Big Brother system can backfire. Data from a foreign bank showed that some agents habitually hung up on customers right after answering their calls, Brown said. These agents apparently realized they were rated on the number of calls they answered, not the quality of service they gave."

They call it Planetary Photojournal but Solar System Photojournal might be a better title. Either way, it's full of stunning images of the planets in our neighborhood.

Next time I have a deep question about angiosperm phylogeny, I'll spend some more time here.

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

I flipped onto Wall Street Week last week, and didn't think too much of Louis Ruckeyser's absence, or the fact that I didn't recognize any of the pundits on it. I'm not terribly regular at watching it. I did think a bit odd that after next week's host was announced, there wasn't any mention of Louis, or the "with Louis Ruckeyser" tag to the name of the show. Today, this NY Times article tells the rest of the story I hadn't heard: Maryland Public Television gave him the bum's rush after he announced his pending ouster.

Sorry, but it ain't "Wall Street Week" without the wavy gray dude, as far as I'm concerned.

Iraq's decision to stop producing oil for a month might be really canny, or it might be an invitation to war. Either way, the global political and economic context of our petroleum-based economy is in for some further adjustment. Paul Krugman comments. He doesn't think Iraq's contribution is big enough by itself to cause a crisis. But add in Iran and Libya, and we could be in trouble. Two-thirds of the Axis of Evil just happens to be on the Axis of Oil.

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

Andrew Ross Sorkin in the NY Times, on Those Sweet Trips to the Merger Mall. "Companies that have made such payments say it is only fair to 'award C.E.O.'s willing to take the risk to make bet-your-company, bet-your-career transactions,' said Claude E. Johnston, a managing director at Pearl Meyer & Partners in New York."

The only problem is that it isn't their company that's being bet. It's the stockholders'. One of those "heads I win, tails you lose" kind of deals.

The Chancery Court had its Sunday session, but we'll have to wait a few days to hear the decision.

Microsoft ("What do you want to patch today?") sends its programmers off to security school. Good idea! I notice the story talks about Nimda in the past tense, even though my server's error logs continue to be swamped by Nimda calls.

Never one to underestimate its own prowess, the closing quote from MS' director of security assurance is telling: "I'd be astonished if the open-source community has in total done as many man- years of computer security code reviews as we have done in the last two months." The argument from personal incredulity is never a strong one, but Mr. Lipner should also be reminded not to confuse activity with progress.

Bruce Perens, speaking for Open Source, begs to differ with Lipners pre-astonishment position. (Thanks to Doc for pointing to ZDNet's opinion round-up.)

Something tells me that when Google comes up with the business model to go IPO, it'll be a winner. Oh, and great wannabe quote: "You have to be careful if you start to smoke your own stuff and believe you are the only one who can build a great search engine." Show us the search, Thornley.

From Jeremy Bowers via Doc and the head Lemur: "A strict reading of the CBDTPA reveals that fax machines, as you know them, will be illegal. It will be impossible for the fax machine to know whether or not you have permission to make this copy of the document, therefore the only safe thing to do legally is to ban you from sending it at all."

Have you written your Congressmen and women yet to tell them how excited you are about the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Act?

The Register: You've got Blogs! I called that April Fool's hiatus without looking around carefully enough, apparently.

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

Beef: it's what's for dinner, maybe. Or maybe not, after you read Michael Pollan's piece in last Sunday's NY Times Magazine, "Power Steer." He buys into the industry to track No. 534 from range to table (hmm, come to think of it, he never mentioned how it tasted), although the part behind the blue door was off limits. (You can try My Year of Meats for that story.) Pollan is the author of The Botany of Desire (out in paperback next month), which I see I haven't yet added to my favorite reading list.

"We have succeeded in industrializing the beef calf, transforming what was once a solar-powered ruminant into the very last thing we need: another fossil-fuel machine." Pollan estimates that bringing #534 to meat took 284 gallons of oil.

A cheerful take on airport security by Michael Bérubé, "Search Me", in tomorrow's Magazine. "Air travel offers every kind of frustration and revulsion and gnashing of teeth -- but the new security apparatus is the least of it." On my one airplane trip since 9/11, I was only struck by the absurdity of it, especially when the agent who awarded one of our party of two with a special search let us choose which one it would be.

Of course Bérubé may not have had in mind low-dose X-ray body scanning that sees through your clothes as one of those new, egalitarian, community-building activities at the airport.

One of our stands of violets

The riot of violets is continuing, in unprecedented intensity. We have everything from white to pink, lavender, blue and purple going, in the thousands. This is a lot more fun than just grass!

What does a fish think of water? We're swimming in myths we don't even recognize. Here's one: that the Pleistocene ended and we're living in the Holocene.

The author's most Amazing Thing I Read is pretty good, too. George W. as Superman, brought to you by Tom DeLay.

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

The Corps of Engineers figured out how to accommodate the early risers at Lucky Peak, and will be opening the gate at 6am, rather than 8. After a number of calls, attempts to construct a mutually agreeable solution, and a meeting at the overlook to consider access from "this side" of the dam, the maintenance crew agreed to adjust their schedules to accomplish the change.

Thanks to all the people who made the effort to call and meet with the Corps to encourage them to do the right thing. For my own part, my letter to the editor of the Statesman hasn't run yet (AFAICT), and I emailed to say I'd prefer they didn't run it, given the change in plans.

It wasn't unconstructive, but it didn't have quite the same "how can we play this game by your rules?" approach that others took. I questioned (and still question) the existence of any credible security threat to Lucky Peak, and whether a fence or a few jersey barriers would be real mitigation if there were one. My closing was: "Keeping (the recreational facility) locked up almost half the time sends a message to enemies of the United States: we are easily intimidated."

After watching Bill Moyer's NOW tonight, I'm looking at the episode in a different light. It isn't that the American people or their government have been intimidated. The message to the enemies of the United States is from the government of the United States and it is this: "we have the power to establish an authoritarian government, and we are willing to do it. In fact, you've given us an excuse for doing some of the things we've been wanting to do for a long time."

You can judge the show's material for yourself: impressively, they have summaries and transcripts up on the day of the broadcast: Behind the Freedom of Information Act and Moyers' commentary on the FOIA.

As one commentator noted, Bush "has included people in his administration who have indicated in the past their predilection towards secrecy and what I would characterize as their outright contempt for the public right to know." These people include Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who were there in the Ford administration in 1974 when Gerald Ford tried -- unsuccessfully -- to veto extensions to the FOIA. Bush has effectively gutted the Presidential Records Act, extending "executive privilege" to vice-presidents (starting with Poppy, conveniently), and his Attorney General, John Ashcroft, is on record inviting government officials to do all they legally can to obstruct the FOIA: withhold for any "sound legal basis," as opposed to the decade-ago directive to comply unless "disclosure would be harmful."

A week ago, after the Administration had partially complied with the court order to release records of the Energy Task Force's deliberations, Moyers reported on the government that the energy companies have been able to buy. The extent to which the 11,000 pages were filtered has been reported elsewhere, but it's hard to hide the obvious fact that special interests have taken over. So much for a renewed sense of ethics in government.

I see one of my favorite books now has a second edition, and a generous sample on a website: Life in Moving Fluids.

The Motley Fool looks at nanotech.

A partner in the VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers and the chief executive of FedEx make a surprisingly lame plea against changing options accounting in the NY Times. They argue for them as promoting employee ownership, and then in the next paragraph talk about "when employees exercise and sell options" (sic). Employees get their reward out of options by exercising them and selling the stock. (They can hang onto the stock, of course - meaning they have to come up with the money for the exercise, and the taxes on the gain, and they have to take on the risk of holding the stock. Talk to someone who tried that in 2000 or 2001 before you go for it.)

They say "there exists no remotely accurate way to calculate the expense," selling the accounting profession rather short. I'm certain that there's a way to calculate the expense, suitably amortized, and suitably hedged against future variation of the stock price. (Whether there's a way everybody can agree on is another story, of course.)

Turns out the Chairman of the SEC is not so sanguine about options as Doerr and Smith, either.

4.4.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

That Delaware Chancery Court knows what time is of the essence means: Sunday morning session on the 7th, subpoenas satisfied by the 11th, depositions starting on the 16th. Is it the "last-gasp attempt by the apparent loser of a proxy battle" or the stake in the heart of the HP-Compaq merger? Stay tuned.

The bad news is that if you work for Steve Ballmer, you don't get to run a business and be a chief executive, even if your title is president and chief operating officer. The good news is, you can quit your job (5 months from now?! extends the definition of "lame duck"), and not have anything lined up, and it doesn't matter much.

The color of the universe now has a name: "Cosmic Latte", according to the guys who identified it. The top ten vote getters didn't include my "eggshell," and seem to have a premium on alliteration. I like "Univeige," and "Big Bang Buff."

In our Palo Alto salad says, I might have hopped up to Xerox PARC to hear today's forum by John McCarthy, on the sustainability of human progress. In the hinterlands, I'll have to settle for web sites pro and con to determine if this is optimism, or "optimism as unfounded to the point of delusion."

I've never received an ad on a mobile phone, mostly because I've only used a mobile phone about 4 times in my life. But I guess "mobile advertising" is gonna be big. I took a look at the mpulse article to see what the buzz was about, and my first impression was the illustrated sidebar with caption "Small banners and short message service (SMS) advertising are proving the most popular formats." I suppose that means "popular" with the senders.

The article mentions a Forrester Research forecast that "worldwide mobile ad impressions (are) slated to reach 100 billion people per year by 2005 (and) marketers are expected to spend nearly $900 million on wireless advertising." I thought last time we checked, the world population was 6 billion or so, certainly less than 10 billion by 2005.

But Doubleclick is saying (can you say "vested interest"?) that click-through rates are from 4% to as high as 14% for these things, so you can be certain that billions and billions will be served. Get those eyeballs while they're young!

Well my earlier guess was right. It didn't take Microsoft long to switch their (and Unisys') anti-unix website to a Windows server. Just a coincidence that the site when down the same day?

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

In case you were wondering, the West Wing clobbered Idaho geography pretty badly tonight. We don't have any tunnels through the Seven Devils mountains, nor any truck routes through the high mountain range on the Idaho side of Hell's Canyon. We do have some twisty mountain roads that could lead to a truck crash, of course. Elkhorn (singular) is a resort near Sun Valley, not very likely to be on a shipping route for any hazmats. There is a Glenn's Ferry; it's on the Snake River, southeast of Boise, and a more plausible scene for a truckful of waste to run into trouble, say between INEEL and Yucca Mountain.

2.Apr.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Well the good news is that Corps is going to open up the road across Lucky Peak dam on May 15th, more than 8 months after 9/11. The bad news is that their plan is to have it open only 8am to 10pm. Their first plan was 8am - 8pm, but the evening boaters raised a stink. Now it's the early morning boaters' (and windsurfers') turn: we like it at 6am, and maybe even earlier in June and July. Word is they don't have the staffing to cover both "early" and "late," and "late" got their chit in first.

I suppose we need to be real polite about it, of course, this is the Army we're talking to after all. The obvious problem is that there is no credible security threat to our little dam, and if there were, a chain link gate at one end of the dam would not begin to address it. We've paid for some really nice facilities up there, and the Corps had been doing a good job of managing it. Are we really prepared to wave the white flag on this?

I would imagine that the stories about Microsoft and Unisys using a unix server for their anti-unix campaign would be at the top of the blog parade today. Oops, it's datelined Mar 31, I'm behind the times. Maybe they've fired their ISP by now and got another.

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

I think I went the whole day without pulling an April Fool's gag on anyone, and no one pulled one on me (that I know about). Whaddayaknow.

Last night, I brushed up the perl script I use for combining "daily" blog entries (source maintained on my home PC) into the monthly file you see here, to add a few days from the previous month when the new month starts and entries are sparse. It was a reasonably complicated business, but I got it done in about an hour, and with no syntax errors (but a couple logic errors, ironed out with a bit of testing). It was the best coding experience I've had in a while, made me feel like I'm starting to get the hang of this perl stuff.

So today, I started a Python course, of all things. The instructor is the guy who wrote the O'Reilly Programming Python book, which I'm not yet ready to recommend. I'm a little skeptical after wading through too much "front matter," in which Lutz seems to be evangelizing quite a bit more than is necessary, and surprised me by writing that it was more tutorial than reference. And it's a fat book. I'm not sure I want a fat tutorial; an efficient reference seems more attractive.

Lutz' teaching style is amusingly similar to his writing style. I wish I'd captured his diatribe against curly braces and how neatness is an important part of "structured programming" better than just in a few notes. Sort of the gnomish wizard look and feel with a high school sensibility.

Something called "Teoma" is out to challenge the King of Search, according to this story in the NY Times. Well, we'll see, sometime after they roll it out.

They got some industry analyst to pipe up that "One of the beautiful things about Google is that it really is 'Search for Dummies'." That whole "Dummies" thing is annoying to me. If something's done with an elegant user interface and it works without a lot of study and training, it's not for "dummies," it's for everyone. The smarter people around figured out that Google was It earlier than others.

Google is Search. Challengers would be better off putting up before they pipe up, IMHO.

The idiots in the music industry are set to kill internet radio before it hits its stride. Not because they're afraid of it, understand, they just want to skim their share of the revenue. Whether or not there are profits. (I guess they know that scam of accounting away "profits" so that you don't have to share any.)


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Monday, 20-May-2002 15:10:58 MDT