May 2002 Archives

Site Rework

It should be obvious I fixed up the site graphics. I decided to sit down and learn CSS so I could lay in some background patterns. I hope this design is visually pleasing, but I don't know if it will look good on everyone's monitor. If you have any comments then please click the comments link at the bottom of this messange and tell me your opinion. It would be really easy to change things, it's fun. Oops, I just noticed, all my little horizontal lines don't line up. I'll have to RTFM a bit more.
For my next trick, I'm trying to set up an internal email link so you can send private comments internally. This will require sendmail, so I'm moving carefully and slowly. It would be really easy to set up a cgi script to run sendmail that would be a huge security hole for spammers.

Spam Fighting

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I just sat down and wrote my first procmail scripts. I put the top 10 spammers in a special pre-processor to send them straight to /dev/null. Now their spam doesn't go through the SpamBouncer filters and waste further CPU time. With a little tuning, I can send more spam straight to hell, and less will remain to be filtered by SpamBouncer.
I'm thinking of updating my MacOS X spam documentation, it was an extremely popular document that attracted thousands of hits. But it is almost too late, Apple has announced that the next version of will include an integrated spam filter. So whatever I produce will be obsolete in about a month.
I woke up this morning and discovered the server was asleep and unresponsive. I checked it out and discovered that a very strange thing happened.
I run heavily shielded spam-filtered mailboxes, every time my filter routines catch spam, a little pop up little monitor window appears. My mail is set to automatically download every 5 minutes. I get so much spam that the little popup window appears every 5 minutes, like clockwork. But apparently, for the first time, I did not receive a single spam message for a period of over 1 hour, so the popup did not pop up, and my CPU went to sleep. Oops.
My server stays on 24/7/365 chowing down the spam, it never goes to sleep. But there was a strange spam hiatus for a single hour, and my machine took a snooze. So I set it to never sleep and of course that will solve the problem. Funny that I never noticed it was a problem before. Apparently my machine has never experienced a spam siesta, it gets spam at least every 30 minutes, every day.

Moveable Type - Apache Security

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One of the first security measures I took with this server was to lock out folder browsing. I complained about the open directories in other blog software, now that I am self-hosting I can control these parameters myself. Just a single word of alteration to httpd.conf and it's all locked down. A few more quick edits and I've implemented custom error messages, just for fun. Moveable Type considers this a fundamental security measure, sufficiently important to deserve a special note in the documentation

Bob Hope: Robber Baron

Media outlets are gushing about Bob Hope's 99th birthday, they describe him as the goofy comedian we know from his media image, but I know who he really is: a greedy land speculator who raped and pillaged Los Angeles. It is not widely known that Bob Hope is one of the largest single land owners in Los Angeles County and several surrounding counties. Bob Hope has a long history of using his Hollywood profits for land speculation and profiteering, and it made him wealthy beyond your wildest dreams of avarice. And therein hangs a tale, a complex chain of events that destroyed Los Angeles' urban architecture.
California has long been a leader in the world environmental movement. Environmental regulations cover everything from urban planning to gasoline sales. One of the seemingly innocent laws enacted in the mid 1980s mandated a change in the gasoline pump nozzle. In order to cut down on spilled fuel, restrictor nozzles with backflow preventers were required on every gas pump in California. This new nozzle was only able to pump gas about 75% as fast as the old style of nozzle. The gas sales environment changed overnight, smaller stations with 4 or 6 pumps could not pump gas fast enough to remain profitable. Larger gas stations with 8 to 12 pumps were still profitable, and some gas chains decided to retrofit old stations with more pumps in the same space. However, one of the largest chains, Standard Oil, decided to sell the vast majority of their stations in Los Angeles. Standard stations were everywhere, in many ways they are a symbol of California. For example, Ed Ruscha's Standard prints are an icon of California art.


Robert Venturi wrote an influential essay about urban planning called Learning from Las Vegas. Venturi wanted to examine the urban landscape from the viewpoint of the car. He asserted that Los Angeles had a unique form of urban architecture of widely separated locations spanned by surface roads, with a few tall buildings as landmarks to navigate by. He described driving in Los Angeles as analogous to airplane races in the Nevada desert, where old surplus WWII fighter aircraft would race along the ground, making required turns at tall pylons that marked the path. Los Angeles was full of these architectural "pylons" and navigating LA in a car was largely a point-to-point driving experience, like the air races. And along the route were scattered minor landmarks, the gleaming Standard Oil stations to give rest and refueling to the traveller.
But no more. The new nozzles made the stations unprofitable, and Standard sold them in one huge block, one of the largest auctions of urban properties in modern LA history. And Bob Hope bought them. His company, La Mancha Development, immediately set to developing these properties, which were mostly corner gas stations, many in residential neighborhoods.
I remember when the gas stations closed. I lived in Studio City, and stations at both ends of my street were closed. Large signs for La Mancha Development announced that construction would begin soon. All across LA these signs appeared, followed by buildings that were the start of a new wave of architecture that would totally change the LA urban environment: Mini Malls.
In the space of a few short months, gas stations disappeared and mini malls appeared all across LA. Everywhere you went, wherever there used to be a gas station, now there was a mini mall with a convenience store, maybe a tanning salon and a donut store, and a few miscellaneous businesses. The traffic the malls attracted was intense, the old gas stations never had this level of traffic. Mini malls became the places to stop on cross-town drives, displacing traffic patterns into commercial zones adjacent to quiet neighborhoods. Once the mini mall became an established feature of Los Angeles architecture, the city would never be the same.
I won't even go into the further horrors committed by Bob Hope and his company La Mancha Development. Turning LA into a city full of mini malls is horrible enough. But I could easily go on and on, like for example his notorious fight with the LA Nature Conservancy. So I'll just conclude with the reminder that Bob Hope is just another greedy money-grubbing Hollywood scumbag.

Moveable Type GUI

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I finally got the Moveable Type stylesheets installed properly and now when I post to the blog, I get the full GUI where I was getting nothing. One thing I particularly notice about the default stylesheet is that it is a bit dim. The text is about 80% black against 10 or 20% grey backgrounds, it lowers the contrast sufficiently to make it a bit hard to read. The first thing I did in MT is fix the blog stylesheet to make the text 100% black so it would be easier to read. But alas it is not so easy to modify the internal operations stylesheet.
I'd like to make a few mods to the function of MT, I'd like it to automatically create new links that open in new windows. It's an easy mod to make, if I could just figure out where to put it.

MacOS X Log Monitoring

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I just discovered FileMonitor and it's just the thing for monitoring log files. I set it up to watch my Apache access and referer logs, and I was buried under reports of my own local browsing. So I set up a couple of simple filters to remove myself from my logs, and the results are wonderful. Now I just need to write a little grep routine that does the same thing, then pipe the results into some HTML for an online referer log.

BlogFM: If Blogs Had Music

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This message used to contain an announcement of a short-lived experiment in BlogFM. I attempted to stream ultra-high bandwidth 192k mp3s, it worked fine as long as I dedicated the machine solely to serving audio. I removed the service and will try again once I do some load balancing.

BlogTV Direct Access

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My access logs show that some people are attempting to directly download BlogTV's QuickTime files. Sorry, it can't be done so just stop trying. Even if you knew the names and location of the files, it wouldn't do you any good, QTSS will serve the files but otherwise they are completely inaccessible. That's how QTSS works, it firewalls the content from the public except through controlled access.
For political and legal reasons, I am unable to provide freely downloadable files. BlogTV will be a streaming service only so that I can maintain my legal right to present Fair Use excerpts. This is a compromise, it allows me to present excerpts of copyrighted videos while still preserving the copyrightholder's rights. If I I release redistributable copies, I could be liable for violations under the DMCA. Maybe someday the legal environment for Fair Use will change, but I don't see it happening anytime soon. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Dynamo Hum

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I am going crazy trying to hunt down the source of an audio hum in my Mac system. The moment I plug the Firewire cable into my DV converter, I get that distinctive 60hz audio buzz, and "hum bars" in my video. It's obviously a grounding problem somewhere, I've rewired everything possible but it's still humming. Even if my Mac and DV box are turned off, I get the hum on my regular TV. This is some weird, deep interference, I'm stumped.
On a brighter note, I did manage to resurrect my old 9Gb hard drive with my mp3 collection on it. The drive just needed a little dusting and replugging the connections, and it fired right up.

Terror Fear

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A couple of days ago I heard something on TV and it's been bothering me ever since. A stock market reporter said, "Stocks dropped today on terror fears." What a strange phrase. Apparently stock buyers were in fear of terror. Or perhaps they were in terror of fear.

McCartney's Vomitous Art

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Paul McCartney has released an exhibit of his new vomitous paintings. Vanity Art exhibits like this do nothing for the world of art, nobody would go see these amateurish paintings except that McCartney says it's a painting he made of Bowie puking.
Judging the painting strictly on its aesthetic merits, this is painting below the quality of even student work. Broad use of unmixed, uncontrolled colors have turned the painting into smears of ugly brown. Art teachers sometimes refer to this as "puke brown" and it is the sign of a poor painter with no control of color mixing. The huge red tongue reminds me of a sarcastic remark by one of my painting professors, "if you can't make it good, make it big. And if you can't make it big, make it red."
McCartney is high up on my hate list, right in the #2 slot behind Bill Gates. Sir Paul is another hypocritical hippie, the counterculture revolutionary who ended up owning the music rights to almost everything in the world, even the tune "Happy Birthday." The RIAA and the DMCA are the tools Sir Paul uses to stay filthy rich.

The First Amana RadarRange

I've had a microwave oven longer than anyone, my family lived near Amana, Iowa and was in the test market for the first 25 Amana RadarRange ovens. There was no cookbook, we got xeroxed cooking tips to put in a 3-ring notebook. As the experiment progressed, they put out urgent warnings like not to use china with gold edges, or they would explode. Actually, that warning came from us, we had some Lenox china with gold edges and we blew up a couple of plates before we figured it out. Then we warned Amana who put out the warning to the other test market users. We also got warnings about cooking eggs in the microwave, but there are also techniques to cook them properly, if not well. I think the most ridiculous thing we ever did in the experiment was when my Mom cooked a large Thanksgiving turkey in the microwave. It did work OK, but was more trouble than it was worth, and the oven worked better anyway. Oh well.
About the worst thing I ever did in a microwave is I misread the label on some frozen fried chicken, it was 6 pieces, it said 6 minutes so I mistakenly thought it was supposed to cook for 36 minutes. I thought that was a rather long time to cook. After about 25 minutes, smoke came pouring out of the microwave. There is no way to describe what was on the plate, other than to say it's sort of what you'd get if you shot a high-energy weapon at a chicken: a smoking unrecognizable heap of burning flesh and bones.
BlogTV presents this important public safety warning about exploding eggs. FujiTV's recent exposé Itai SOS [Pain SOS] recreates the disaster that occurred when Akemi-san dared to irradiate and eat the dangerous ovum.
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Itai SOS begins with the image of Akemi-san and her young daughter, we can immediately see that there is a threat to this young family. Akemi has come forward to warn the public about a dangerous irradiated explosive that is right underneath our noses, lurking right on our dinner plate. The drama begins with an actress recreating a fake video "flashback" showing how the tragedy happened, when Akemi tried to reheat a leftover hard boiled egg. Everyone knows that an egg will explode if you heat it in the microwave, so she peeled and pierced it to let the pressure out just like you're supposed to. After heating, she squeezed the egg to see if it was warm and everything seemed fine. She put the egg to her lips and took a bite, and pow the egg exploded, spewing boiling egg yolk fragments as far as 5 meters! Akemi describes her pain, and how her mouth was burned and bleeding so she was unable to cry for help.
FujiTV's SOS program heard Akemi's cry and they are here to help. Two culinary engineers dressed in paper haz-mat suits, protective face masks, and heavy rubber gloves are summoned to perform some experiments. In FujiTV's immaculate stainless-steel kitchen laboratory, three precooked hard boiled eggs are reheated in a microwave oven. The technician attempts to retrieve one egg from the irradiation chamber, it explodes the moment he sets it on the table. A second egg also detonates prematurely, these babies are more unstable than nitroglycerin! On a third attempt, the camera captures the effect in closeup.
A simple animation attempts to explain the physics behind the explosion. A cross section of the egg appears on a green background. As the egg is bombarded with red kryptonite radiation, the infinitesimal amounts of deuterium isotopes in the water in the egg begin a cold fusion reaction, setting off a microscopic thermonuclear detonation. Well, not really, but that is about as accurate as their stupid explanation of the effect.
The explosion really is caused by superheating, a complex phenomenon of the physics of phase changes. When water is heated over a flame, it gradually reaches a boil and turns to steam when the water temperature reaches 212F. But in a microwave, the heat is applied at a subatomic level, the water molecules can reach temperatures above 212F without changing phase from water to vapor. If these "superheated" molecules are jarred or disturbed, they will change from water to vapor in an instant, releasing a huge burst of steam, or even a small explosion. You can sometimes see this effect by making a cup of instant coffee from very hot microwaved water. When you drop in the powdered coffee, the superheated water can boil explosively, the water can gush right out of the cup like a geyser.
Let's revisit this video from a Japanese linguistic standpoint. Listen for interesting phrases that use onomatopoeia, I particularly like "chin suru." Chin suru is from the sound of the bell that goes "chin" when your microwave oven is done cooking. They use the expression chin suru like we'd use a slangy phrase like "to nuke." Akemi uses another interesting phrase, "pan tte hajikeru," to explode with a bang. Instead of an explosive sound, she almost sings the word "pan" with an upward inflection, you can hear her excitement as her voice rises. Onomatopoetic words like pan and chin are quite common in Japanese and add a lot of nuance to the language.

Another Fine War

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The hell with Afghanistan, we're at war with Mexico.

In the Beginning

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The Cosmic Background
This image from The Cosmic Background Imager may be the closest we can get to visualizing the beginning of the universe. This is the fine structure of an explosion the size of the universe, as it begins to change from a state of raw featureless high-energy plasma into lumpy areas of matter and space. This is the transitional state between everything being all one thing, into everything being a bunch of little things.

Powerpoint Syndrome

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I don't usually read over someone's shoulder, but on a cross country flight a few months ago, I couldn't help myself. The fellow next to me was reading the Wall Street Journal, there was an article about how Powerpoint and its bullet point system was affecting corporate communications. Business analysts agreed that Powerpoint was only good for presenting simple ideas in a linear fashion, people tended to dumb down their ideas to fit the Powerpoint format. The article asserted that Scott McNealy hated this effect so much that he banished Powerpoint from all Sun corporate offices. Having written a few complex multimedia presentations with fancy branching, I had to completely agree with the article. Powerpoint is a straightjacket for the mind, the structures determine how and what you can say. I never really understood this until I worked at a huge corporation that lived and breathed in Powerpoint. People spent their whole days emailing each other about what to put in their Powerpoint presentations. I asked one of their managers to make a simple decision about what color to make their website logo, she went in her office and came back in about an hour with about 5 pages of Powerpoint color printouts of color combinations, they held a quick meeting and everyone voted on them. Powerpoint presentations are an embodiment of a formal managerial hierarchy.
Even the structure of the typical outline is a eurocentric idea, it is basically unheard of in some Asian cultures. I work with exchange students from Japan, the hardest thing they have to learn is how to write papers in English. It's hard for them because they have no idea of how to make an outline. HTML does a pretty good job at outlines, I'll do a representative example of an outline for a story.
  1. Introduction
    1. State the Main Thesis
  2. Main Body
    1. Supporting Points
    2. Each point supports the following point
    3. Each point is a link in the chain of argument
    4. The chain of logic will lead inevitably to the Conclusion
  3. Conclusion
    1. Restate Main Thesis as a conclusion

This structure makes absolutely no sense to the students from Japan that I've encountered. They were trained in a system called "kishotenketsu" that is an entirely different structure for stories. In this system, the supporting points loop around the main point without creating a linear argument. The points are intended to only obliquely reference the main point, it is up to the reader to infer how this relates to the main thesis. There is no firm conclusion, only an ambiguous ending that may point to several possible outcomes. Again, it is up to the reader to form their own conclusion. Perhaps the best example of kishotenketsu is the movie "Rashomon." The movie explains a crime from the point of view of 4 different people, each of them claim to have committed the crime. We see the crime repeated 4 times with subtle variations, in the end there is no clear indication of who really is the criminal, the viewer must decide.
The kishotenketsu structure is so predominant in the minds of Japanese students that it is really hard for them to come out and make a straightforward argument in a term paper. Japanese textual styles are quite indirect, they must lead but not push the reader towards the point. It takes a lot of effort for these students to learn new structures, but I always admonish them, that's the whole point of learning foreign languages, so you can learn to think in new ways.
I sometimes show these students an old standard journalistic technique, "pyramid style." It's much more practically oriented so they catch on to it immediately. The first paragraph of the story, the "lead," must have all the important facts, who what when where why how. The facts are presented in the order of importance, with no conclusion at all. This style is primarily intended for the convenience of editors, who can lop off a few paragraphs at the end and not lose anything important.
There are many other valid structures for stories and libraries of stories. The reason I'm describing these in detail is because I'm fed up with Radio 's outline-centric structure. It is amazing how much Dave can blather about how his awesome algorithms are changing the world, but it is clear that he's oblivious to what he's really doing. There are professional writers, editors, linguists, and librarians who have studied these ideas for decades, but Dave has no use for them, he's too busy trying to change the web to reflect his own scattered thinking processes. There is an old hacker saying, "the Street finds its own uses for things." The "semantic web" will not be created by coders like Dave, it might happen with his tools, but certainly not in the way that he designed it to work. The world has moved on since Dave wrote his first outliner, but he has not.

I Love my Periodontist

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I hate dentists, but I love my periodontist. I went in today for a checkup, and as usual, we chatted about biomechanics. I have problems with TMJ syndrome, if my bite isn't perfectly aligned down to a few microns, I get horrible migraines. My periodontist also had TMJ problems, so he studied the treatments and is quite an expert in the subject. It's kind of odd since he's a periodontist, usually orthodontists do this kind of work. But I'm lucky to have him, he only works part time and teaches at the local dental college, which is considered the best in the US. I'm getting the best dental care in the world, and it's even cheap enough that I can afford it.
But the main reason I love my periodontist is that he understands why I hate dentists. I ended up with him to repair the damage done to my bite by overly aggressive, clumsy work by a dentist that I refer to as "Dr. Hamfist." After hearing continual complaints about Dr. Hamfist's rough treatment from other patients, my periodontist actually went over to his office and chewed him out! I guess dentists are so used to inflicting pain, they don't realize when they're causing needless pain from their own rough handling. It must be pretty unusual for a dentist to complain directly to another dentist, on behalf of the patients who are complaining about him. I asked him about his confrontation with Dr. Hamfist, he got really riled up and told me, "people like that give dentistry a bad name!"
So today I'm in the chair, the exam showed no particular problems, but I'd confessed to the hygienist that I had been slacking off and only brushing 4 or 5 times a week and flossing maybe 2 or 3 times a week. Then later on, as she's starting to polish my teeth and I'm pinned there helpless with the pneumatic polisher in my mouth, she starts grilling me. "You know you're lucky, don't you? We have patients who could brush and floss 3 times a day and never have as good teeth and gums as you do. But you know your luck is going to run out!" To which I could only respond "aaah ah aahh ah." I like my dental hygienist too, she makes me laugh.
Japanese society is formalized in many respects, the Japanese language has many ritualized aspects that shape every social interaction. A complex system of "keigo" (respect language) is used in every spoken interaction, and this confrontation between a cranky old man and Tokyo city officials is a perfect example. Even a direct confrontation must be done in the most indirect, nonoffensive manner. The old man speaks gruffly in rough abusive words like "bakatare" (asshole) while the officials are always polite, bowing and saying "shitsurei itashimasu" (pardon my rudeness) even after the old man throws one of them in front of a car.
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This old man is furious because because leaves fall on his house and in his gutters and he has to sweep them from his genkan. The genkan is an area inside the front door of every home, where you must take your shoes off and "ascend" into the house. Even though these trees are by a stream across the street, he decides to cut the problem off at its source. He has been sawing limbs off the trees since last autumn, and the city officials are trying to get him to stop it. All along the stream, there is a majestic row of greenery, except in a zone of sickly, gnarled trees for about a block around his house.
Now it is spring, and time for a followup. New damage to the trees is clearly visible, massive limbs have been sawed off, leaving ragged stumps poking in the air. The TV crew asks the old man what he's doing and he boasts that he's going to kill the trees and there's nothing anyone can do to stop him. I wonder how much of this story would have happened without the camera crew egging him on. The old man calls up to tell the City off, with the cameras watching. The City officials know that he's been cutting down branches, he says there are no lower branches left, so now he's just going to kill the trees outright. He speaks a guttural "rachaakane-ya," a corruption of "rachi ga akanai" which is an idiom for "the gate is closed," he is declaring an end to negotiations. The city official responds with about the politest keigo you can use for a prohibition, "kono toki moshiagemashita you ni.. ano.. katte ni o-kiri ni naru you na koto wa narazu." Keigo expressions do not translate well, but literally, it says, "at this time, we have humbly told you things such as.. umm.. doing such things as cutting whatever you want, don't do that." The old man explodes and starts yelling, "yarimasu! bakayarou!" (I'm going to do it! Asshole!)
Now with extra courage from the TV camera behind him, he goes over and takes a little hand axe over and starts chopping the bark all around the circumference of the tree so it will dry up and die. Soon a delegation from the City shows up to try to get the guy to stop vandalizing the trees. The obsequious official gets nowhere with his polite approach, the old man threatens to punch him. To defuse the situation, an even more polite woman says, "shokubutsu wo sonshou suru koto wa kinjirarete orimasu node, sore wa shinai you ni onegai itashimasu." Another extremely indirect prohibition, "things such as cutting of trees are humbly prohibited, we beg your indulgence to not do things like that." She's practically begging him not to hurt the trees. He shoves his nose right in her face and starts howling, "nan datte?! ningen wa ii no ka dou natte mo." (What did you say? The People are always right, no matter what). So he gets mad and throws them out into the street, tossing one of them right in front of an oncoming car. The old man retreats into his yard and closes the gate, literally the "gate is closed" to the City officials. They bow and walk off. The officials explain in the politest possible way that this guy has been warned before, and now he is in a heap of trouble. The video ends with the guy wistfully looking up into the canopy of green leaves, he obviously has only one thought: how long until this tree is dead? Even with the denuded trees, this is a shady and peaceful spot to rest alongside a river, a rare enough thing in Tokyo to make it worth preserving. But the old man can only see one thing, a living garbage factory with only one purpose: to foul his genkan. But even if he kills the trees, the dead leaves will still end up in his genkan.
Postscript: I had presumed that this old man was shown on TV to ridicule the extremeness of his views, but alas, it appears that this is more common than I had suspected. I have been informed that the cutting of trees to remove autumn litter is a subject in Alex Kerr's new book Dogs and Demons. Apparently it is a fairly widespread practice to cut the limbs off trees just before the leaves fall, the trees gradually become top-heavy and stunted. Through anti-environmental acts like this, Kerr argues Japan is at war against nature and itself.

Face Recognition

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I have been producing a series of small artworks for almost 25 years, it is my longest single lifetime art project. In random places everywhere I go, in oil paint, spray paint, crayon, chalk, or even a with a rock, I've inscribed this image.

Two Big Dots

Perceptual psychologists can measure an emotional respose to viewing an image by measuring the amount of dilation of the pupils. One of the strongest emotional responses comes from viewing a face. While researching this effect, it was discovered that the eyes were the primary trigger for facial recognition, and even viewing of two dots will trigger the brain's facial recognition system. The mind will engage with the task of trying to interpret the dots as eyes, and will exhibit the same emotional response as if viewing a real face.
Ever since I heard of this research, I've been placing dots in unusual places. Any two dots will do, I usually make them approximately life size, but that doesn't matter, the effect is the same. I call it a subliminal artwork, it's intended to give people a creepy feeling they're being watched. I especially like to put them in places near the ceiling where nobody is likely to paint over them.
I noticed one of my neighbors, Bob Zoell, totally stole my idea and did a huge exhibit of "dot paintings" for the ACE Gallery in LA. He did the two dots, but about 40 feet tall on ugly turquoise backgrounds. There are a few other people who know of my dots project, so I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I have never collaborated with anyone nor have I ever incited anyone to draw two dots, not in any manner or medium.
I recently learned that Rumsfeld is a former RAND associate, it reminded me of an old Art History document I read. Back around 1968, a group of artists banded together for a project called Experiments in Art and Technology. Some of the more famous products were performance artworks by Claes Oldenberg. My particular favorite EAT artwork is a piece of art glass produced by Corning Glass, it's in the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago, it was produced in the same way as laminated windows for the Apollo spacecraft.
But my favorite experiment was at RAND. A noted conceptual artist (I wish I could remember who, probably Baldessari or someone like that) was paired with RAND and given an office in their building. He received permission to distribute a questionnaire to all employees, on RAND letterhead. It was a two page form, page 1 had a terse statement introducing the artist and the EAT Project, and instructions to fill out the questionnaire on page 2 and return it to him via interoffice mail. Page 2 merely said "please fill out your answers in the space provided" atop a blank page.
It should come as no surprise that the artist was escorted off RAND premises and asked never to return.


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It appears there is a certain blog blowhard who sits around all day thinking how he would handle things if he were the New York Times. Too bad he's not thinking in more practical terms, about how a New York Times delivery boy would handle things. Someone needs to spend less time fantasizing they are Arthur Sulzberger or William Randolph Hearst and spend more time worrying about why nobody got their newspapers last week.
I don't know what someone could be thinking when they make pronouncements to customers that they should not fight battles they cannot win. If customers have to battle for the mere recognition that a bug exists, let alone a solution, this is not a good sign. Especially if the developer says you can't win. Some developers would cut off their nose to spite their face.

The Moment After Glory

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White pear trees in my yard are blooming, the trees are covered with bright white blossoms and are a local landmark. Under the trees, a slow white cascade of petals drifts to the ground. Occasionally a bird slashes through the branches and leaves a trail of falling petals in its wake.
The Japanese have a term for this, "the Moment After Glory." This moment is considered the most beautiful moment, the moment just after the blooms have reached their peak and begin to decay. In that moment we reach a wistful state of recognition of the impermanence of things. The first bloom attracts us by its beauty, but the falling petals remind us that all glory is ephemeral.

Unsharp Mask

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The most inscrutable feature of Photoshop has got to be the unsharp mask filter. I've worked hard to study it and understand its functions, and I've tried to explain it to people and they positively do not understand. And probably that's because I still do not fully understand it. It's only natural, it's a horribly complex trick cooked up by darkroom geeks that think in layers of film. I always tell people it's not unsharp mask, it's mask unsharp. You are doing a blur and then masking the unsharp pixels. Subtract that mask layer back out of the image, and you've done a very complex image transform, it heightens contrast only along the edges and tonal transitions that are most suceptible to degradation from blur. It sharpens and increases contrast only where it is needed. That's what confuses people, they think it's an unsharp mask, so it unsharpens. Like I said, you're masking out the unsharp.


Here's a footnote I ran across in a new Japanese design magazine. This is absolutely the most dense and descriptive explanation of unsharp mask I've ever seen, and to add to the density, it's full of difficult jargon expressed in kanji. But the curves tell the story (I'll help a bit).
The left image is a black dot that has been blurred, it's a regular old Gaussian blur. You see the greyscale curve underneath. The amount of Gaussian blur is the radius you see in the PS filter settings, it's the radius of the blur effect. Now look a the image on the right. All those pixels that were blurred are now represented by the white ring, that is the mask. You can see the mask curve, it changes almost nothing in the midtones of the curve, but is amplified only along the transitional tones of the curve that changed during the blur. You get more contrast without messing up the midtone relationships in the image. There are horizontal clipping levels drawn across the top and bottom of the mask curve that clip the masked tones back into the same levels as the original curve. It's a very strange image transfer function, I've seen this function explained with calculus using derivatives and integration, and my head just about exploded.
This math is a reproduction of an old analog process. Photographers used to make negative masks by contact printing the negative onto a new sheet of film. Direct contact between the neg and film makes a sharp mask. But if you put a clear sheet of acetate between the neg and the film, the gap will make the contact print blurred. The more sheets of film, the thicker the gap, the more blur is produced. The exposed and developed film is the unsharp mask. Sandwich it with the original negative, put the sandwich in an enlarger and print it, the final print is unsharp masked. It was a difficult process because you had to keep the layers precisely aligned in registration. It's hard to keep little pieces of film aligned perfectly. Now you can do it with the poke of a button.
I'm still translating and pondering some details, but I learned a few tricks from that demo already. I even did a nice unsharp mask to this image, it held the tiny kanji pretty well, it's about the best I've ever done. Japanese design magazines are just crammed with these great tips, this Fair Use sample is just a footnote.

My brother asked me if they had convenience stores in Japan like 7-11. Yes they do, and they are Nirvana.
Back when I was a student in Japan, I stayed at a small temple way out in the country, the host family was on the edge of the poverty line. I was starving to death, there was never enough food. And what food there was, was always the same: squid. I remember eating squid breakfast lunch and dinner, sometimes 5 or 6 meals in a row. Last night's leftover squid was there on my plate for breakfast. Squid sashimi, broiled, baked, stuffed, shredded, dehydrated, I've consumed about every single edible product you can make out of squid. I love squid, and it is the local specialty, it was at peak season and cheap, but you can only eat so much squid. Over the course of a few weeks, I lost about 30 pounds.
So at every opportunity, on my 45 minute walks to and from school, I would search for other sources of food. Alas, that route mostly took me through the fishmarket, where the specialty was fresh squid. The best things I could find were some horrible vending machines near the train station selling hot canned coffee, Pocky, etc. I even considered eating a colorless food supplement gel bar called "Calorie-Mate" but I was never desperate enough to try it. I used to take different routes every day trying to find a decent place to eat breakfast or even a good vending machine. And then early one morning I was walking along a route I'd been before, and hey, I never noticed there was a 7-11 here, and I was just down this road yesterday! So I walked right up, the automatic door swept open, and I walked right in.
And I was right, there was no 7-11 here yesterday. Yesterday it was a cinder block shell, today it is a fully equipped 7-11 store with a sign up on top, everything in place and fully stocked. I walked in and abruptly landed right in the middle of the new boss giving the grand opening speech to his 5 employees, all assembled in a line wearing their 7-11 uniforms. Everything came to a halt. Ooops. With a few bows and a little "gomen" they understood I was not a crazy gaijin and could understand their language. The boss bowed and said he was sorry but they were not open yet, please come back tomorrow. I very politely said I was sorry to trouble them and I would come back. Darn it, no breakfast today. But from that day on, I was a regular customer. Finally I had something besides squid to eat.
I told that story to my brother, and he said I should have given them a US $1 bill and told them of the tradition of framing the first dollar a company earns and hanging it near the cash register. Then the Japanese store's little talisman would be a US Greenback. I laughed and wished I'd thought of that. And then I realized, I didn't have any US money at the time.

The TiVo Effect

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People have far too much to say about the TiVo, but I noticed one effect that maybe nobody else has. I have 2 DirecTV decoders, one is attached to the Tivo in my office, one is in the family room just playing live DirecTV on the big XBR2 with surround sound. I discovered what I call The TiVo Effect, it happens when 2 different people watch the same show, one on TiVo and one in realtime. For example, I'm on pause in the office, the show has buffered about 50 minutes ahead because I was watching something else. I start watching the show, sometimes I pause and go into the other room for a minute where someone is watching the final scenes of the show, and I have to avert my eyes and get away or I'll get a spoiler. Sometimes I do see a spoiler.
I tried to talk my sister into getting a TiVo but she wouldn't hear of it, since it records and reports viewing patterns. She objected to paying a subscription fee for the privilege of having TiVo watch you. She has a point.
But the battle for metrics has moved to another plane. Arbitron is testing new media ratings metrics collection systems. They intend to insert inaudible watermark audio codes into programming, to be collected by a pager-sized device that listens and records any watermarked audio within earshot. It can tell what TV or radio station you're tuned to, and perhaps can even detect when you're listening to watermarked CDs. With a little GPS technology, they can see if you're sitting still or moving around in your car listening to the radio. They can collect an audio profile of what you see and hear, and where you were when you saw or heard it. They want more information about what media you encounter outside the home, mostly ratings for commercials. It is like every media you encounter will have a bar code, and you are the scanner. And the Arbitron people want to hand these out, have people wear them and plug in at night and upload all the data. It reminds me of Rudy Rucker's "Dreamland," everyone plugs in the socket behind their ear at night and dreams the social subconscious, through computer mediation. We're teaching the computer what is in our field of consciousness.
But one thing I have noticed, in years of working with measurement systems. When you develop a method of documenting a system's performance, and make management decisions based on that documentation, the system somehow adapts to looking good on paper, to the detriment of its performance in the real world. People become more concerned with how their ratings look, than whether or not the measurements actually are measuring anything real or useful.

I got a new batch of design magazines lately, and oh boy are they great. I spend lots and lots of money on design magazines, it's really expensive too because I buy lots of imported Japanese graphics magazines that cost $20 or $25 a pop. I could have bought a lot of hardware for the price of the magazines on my shelf. And when I say new, I mean these just arrived 2 months after release, but are full of tips that will not arrive generally into the western hemisphere for years, Japan is definitely about 3 years ahead of the rest of the world in graphic design, and I'm just 2 or 3 months behind that. I'm definitely not going to tell you the names of the magazines where I find my favorite tips, that's my secret. But I'm not sure it would do anyone any good to look at them anyway, you have to be pretty fluent to get the details.
But sometimes you get a really great freebie too. I could not believe the free catalog from Design Within Reach. Wow. All your designer furniture fantasies in one catalog. Eames bent wood furniture, including the famous recliner that will probably forevermore be known as the Fraisier Crane chair (no fair, I saw it first). Mies van der Rohe strappy leather minimalist chairs. Breuer chairs in chrome plated steel tubing and thin flat leather planes. Noguchi tables and sofas. Forget the Aeron, I want the Eames Soft Pad Chair, a steal at only $2100. But when I got to this picture of a Le Corbusier armchair, I burst into tears. I saw the Warhol-Basquiat poster hanging on the wall, and I was momentarily overwhelmed by a flood of memories of the times when Warhol and Basquiat died. In both cases, I was inconsolable, and cried and cried for weeks. Darn it, I had to wipe away a tear right now. It seemed that when they died, the universe spoke up and said there's no place for an artist like them, and maybe not for you either. But I digress.
The le Corbu armchair is an interesting reversal, you are a square peg and the chair is a round hole. It is the embodiment of le Corbu's eccentric "modulor" scheme of relating architectural scale to the scale of the human body. It's just like all of le Corbu's works, an assault on your personal space. It's too deep and too short, and he made it this way deliberately. You could maybe lie down on it if it were deeper or wider, but every single proportion is made to tell your body one thing: you're not built to sit in this chair. On the other hand, the severe Bauhaus designs look like a forbidding, angular metal sculpture, but are very comfortable.
While le Corbu was influential, I think he was a major crackpot and megalomaniac. He wanted to do crazy things like level Paris and construct a planned community that was more reminiscient of the Reichsplatz than the City of Lights. Stupid designs like this le Corbu chair were the death of Modernism.

Topology Is Politics

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When I returned to Art School a decade ago to finish my long abandoned BFA degree, an interesting event happened. Our school had a new Dean, he was ultimately doomed as Dean, but was a brilliant postmodern theorist. He gave his inaugural lecture on Postmodern Art. But our art history school had a focus on Dada and Duchamp and was moving pomo so this lecture could shape the direction of future curriculum. For me, the shift in sensibilities would be more obvious, I remembered the old school from the days when people used to talk about Grant Wood teaching painting. The lecture was highly anticipated, people had located some of the new Dean's published papers but were not sure what he was all about.
The lecture began with the room darkening and slides appeared on the screen, this was another slide lecture, how many hours had I spent in slide lectures throughout my life, I could not even count. The slides appeared, and side by side were two nearly identical paintings, one by Gerhardt Richter, and one by Jean Dubuffet. These are my two favorite painters. The lecture began by posing the question of why these two paintings were in different genres, why was one pomo and one Modernism, even though they contained astonishingly similar content and were painted at almost the same date? Then the tone of the lecture changed. I was astonished to sit through an extremely abstruse lecture on Duchamp, n-dimensional physics, and topology and their application to postmodern studies. This is not the place for an intense pomo lecture, especially since this is my favorite topic and I'll go on and on and on. But let me hit a couple of points. Fasten your seatbelts, we are entering the incomprehensibility zone.
In the old world-view of Modernism, there is one Great Work, we see farther than others because we stand on the shoulders of giants. We build a consensual paradigm, occasionally we have paradigm shifts but the great work moves onward towards perfection. We construct a map of reality, our reality is filtered through our perception. The reality is the Map. We are on the Chosen Path, and will not turn back.
But in pomo, the world view fractured sometime along the Vietnam War era, people lost their faith in a monolithic eurocentric world view. Perhaps there was a problem, a lack of correspondence between our mental maps and reality. The buddhists believe all suffering is caused by delusion that keep us from seeing the world as it is. Perhaps we are reading from the wrong map. Perhaps we should continuously deconstruct our predominant paradigm, and have the ability to choose which mental map is the most effective at any one moment. This was perhaps best expressed by Rudy Rucker, who wrote (paraphrasing here) "a man of true intelligence should be able to analyze things from many points of view, simultaneously." The choice itself had to be deconstructed. As comedian Ian Shoales said, "How many deconstructionists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Even the asking of that question makes assumptions about the value of labor, phallocentrism, and enlightenment." This is the endless recursive quantum theoretical black hole of self-self-self-analysis, the abyss of incomprehensible drivel that pomo theoreticians and semanticians argue endlessly. But for them, the microcosm is the macrocosm, and the entire world's condition rests behind every decision in every brushstroke. This universe is an manifestation of a continuous record of our millions of infinitesimal decisions that shatter our world-line into infinite multiple universes.
Whew. Well you can see why people hate Art Historians and their drivel. But this is my field and I actually like this drivel. So after the lecture, I went up and thanked the Dean for his interesting lecture, and told him he should read some of Rudy Rucker's math books. I told him briefly about Rudy's radical ideas about how life was a cellular automaton that constructed a fractal wavefront in n-dimensional space. And I briefly related one of his points back to an old computer hacker's saying, "Topology is Politics." And when the Dean heard that quotation, he said, "What?? Where did you hear that?"
Yes, the battle between postmodernism and Modernism is the battle in topological space, an n-dimensional battle for our predominant paradigm, and the battle lines are drawn in the places that are most information-rich. I call it the "Paradigm paradigm." The new paradigm is that no predominant paradigm is valid, our mindspace and our reality are mapped by many maps simultaneously. When you pull out a map of your reality, how dense is it? How many dimensions? How many of the maps can you overlay crosscheck and deconstruct simultaneously? What assumptions are you making when you pick these maps? Why? What politics are involved?
So there you have the model for what is even happening in the world of Web Services (oh no, here it comes again). It's the same battle of paradigms. We have one Modernistic monolithic monoculture monopoly, Bill Gates of Borg. You will be assimilated, resistance is futile. The current world view is propagated to all drones through Microsoft Critical Updates, we are all in sync, we the One, we are Borg. But can the unity and perfection of the Borg survive its obvious structural problems? Monoculture is prone to viruses and other unusual structural threats, the whole structure could collapse instantly. But the Borg continue to extend, and your biological distinction will be added to ours, adding to our perfection.
But Mac people think different. We are not Redmond geeks who watched too many episodes of Star Trek and haven't evolved political sensibilities beyond Ayn Rand. We are not like Them. We have long resisted letting Bill Gates and other megalomaniacs get their Borg probes into our machines. We want control of our configurations and how our machines perform is strictly our decision. We're restructured with armored BSD and high power Unix, it is an multiculture of cooperating standards. It is a perfect economic model of open source and a little proprietary eye candy and OS icing on the cake to keep customers attacted to the products and buying them. But when we look at a product like Radio, it seems to me that Dave wants to be Bill, and hates Steve. Dave wants to run his daemon in your userspace, userspace is remapped as Userland, continuously updated and linked to the centralized Borg database, just like Bill's. That way his every expressed thought, his algorithms will battle it out in the netspace. It's a battle for dominant net paradigms, and Dave is a control freak. Customers are only a carrier wave to deliver Dave's standards to the netspace. If he could do this without those pesky customers getting in his way, that would be preferable. But then how would he make a buck? Gimme a break.
So in case I'm not making myself clear here, which is likely, let me make it even more clear. Dave, WTF are you doing? I'm mostly a content creator and I don't care about this political battle for networking topological standards, I have work to do, I'm busy. Get your act together. Get a Mac. WTF are you messing with dual CPUs and samba and odd configs with old linux distros? Get a dual-1Ghz Quicksliver Mac and put in a high-speed disk system with a redundant RAID and see what Exodus can do with its Gigabit ethernet, they'll love it. These systems are reliable and sturdy, get the MacOS X clients working up to those standards. Get your servers off your bozo boxes and put it on one unified Mac, running in BSD. Check out the NetInfo system, written by people who would understand what you're trying to do. Get a machine with a Superdrive so you can do a DVDR backup of 4.4Gb and not have to worry about downtime and major incidents. Get Serious. We like reliability and long uptimes. I seem to recall even Adam Curry made some remarks at how he wrote Applescripts to quit and restart when it hangs, your product should not need such close supervision. Get serious about core performance before new features. And get out of that Microsoft-centric mindset, I'm sick of creeping feature-itis and bloatware and poor performance and Borg probes. Even Microsoft is on a new-features moratorium until the end of their 30-Day security review (now nearing the end of its 3rd month). Even Microsoft realizes, somewhat reluctantly, that someone will build it right if you don't.
So let's go back to Art School one last time and get out of here. One of the continual ordeals of Art School is the periodic group critiques with your classmates. As G. B. Shaw said, "it is not the critics role to say whether or not he was amused, but to say why he was or was not amused." But critiques can turn into horrible political and social battles. The problem is simple, people fail to understand that criticism does not equal condemnation. If I do a structural analysis of someone's work in front of them, and they hear you say this bit works and this bit doesn't work, most people only hear that as condemnation, especially those people with bloated egos. It becomes personal, and people respond in kind, it can become a vicious circle. People who have a distinct opinion about their work tend to believe that their vision is the only valid one, and no other way of working could possibly be valid. Rigid paradigms are not sustainable in this postmodern age. So Dave, get over yourself, check your paradigm and get to work.

I decided to post a preview of my upcoming project, its release was delayed by more than a week. This video is the result of many weeks of painstaking computer graphics work, a job I did long ago. It has not been seen for many years, and this particular version is now in my sole posession. The story of this video's production is a convoluted tale from a dark time, I will release the story soon, and I will not finish until the tale is told in full. But I have decided to restructure it into a longer multipart tale, to release it over a period of a week or so. Unfortunately, as I began that process, I was delayed by other people's technical problems which were forseeable, some people like to tempt fate. Their problems will not become any part of this story, that last chapter will be expunged. But the curse has already landed on them as well.
The following BlogTV presentation is a rotoscoped version of the first 7 seconds of the Rodney King video. ISDN-speed users should get a fairly clear image, T1 viewers will be the only ones able to see the full effect. 56k users don't even bother, you'll see nothing but a blur, I'm working on a better presentation for ISDN and 56k but this appears to be impossible for 56k. You really need T1 bandwidth for this one. See it now, I'm taking this offline soon, it is not a good idea to publish parts of the last chapter of your story first, especially a first draft.

This is the first 7 seconds of the video, when the cameraman, George Holliday, was fumbling with the zoom and focus. What happened in this blurry section became the major point of the LAPD officers' defense and the crux of the LAPD4 trials. At the moment the camera starts, you can see the ghostly, blurred images of the officers and King. The police officers claimed that King was upright and attacking them during these 7 seconds, but once the video is rotoscoped, even through the blur you can see that he's already going down on the ground and taking blows to the head and getting tazered. The camera finally snaps into focus and stability, the video stops here but Rodney King's ordeal has just begun. Now, for the first time, you will see what really started the Rodney King incident.

j00 R 0wn3d

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A few months after the Ramen Worm passed around, I had a spare MkLinux server, so I decided to put the machine up on my cable modem with the insecure wu-ftpd running and see how long it took to get 0wned. It took about 18 hours. MkLinux was extremely secure and not vulnerable to the Ramen Worm until I deliberately opened it up. I took out all the other usual linux guts so there was not much you could do once you got root. The PPC distro was foreign enough that whoever owned me couldn't do much but reboot me a few times. They quickly became bored with the slow speed of my PPC 8100/110 and gave up. Ha.
The surest prevention for crime is to have nothing worth stealing.

Cher Ami

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There's a been a one-legged robin hopping around in my back yard for the last couple of weeks, but it's been missing for the past few days. It used to hop around in the grass balancing on its one good leg, picking at bugs. I wonder what happened to it, I think it was chased away by aggressive Purple Martins. Whenever I saw the poor robin, I thought of the story of Cher Ami.
Cher Ami was a carrier pigeon of the US Army Signal Corp, it delivered the message of the Lost Battaliion. The story was recently featured in the TBS made-for-cable movie The Lost Battalion. It follows the path of Cher Ami as he is carried deep into enemy territory in a wicker backpack. The battalion was cut off in enemy territory, lost, bombarded by their own artillery, and could not get a message back to HQ for relief from friendly and enemy fire. Cher Ami was the last pigeon the force carried, it was their last chance to send a message. The movie shows his release, the Germans loosed a volley of small arms fire, hitting the pigeon in the breast and leg. Cher Ami arrived at HQ with the message capsule dangling from his half-detached leg. For meritorious service above and beyond the call of duty, including 12 successful flights during the Battle of Verdun, Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm. Cher Ami survived but succumbed to his wounds after a few months. He was preserved and is on display at the Smithsonian, standing proudly on one leg.

Ice Cream Trucks From Hell

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I had a good laugh over a recent blog item by Tom Tomorrow, commenting on a community fighting excessive noise from ice cream trucks playing jingles too loud. He said he used to live in an apartment right above the spot where an ice cream truck parked every day. It reminded me of a memory I totally suppressed.
When I lived in Downtown Los Angeles in the loft district, I lived right next to the ice cream truck depot that served all of East LA. It was known to the locals as Ice Cream Land. This was no ordinary depot, this was the place where the most decrepit ice cream trucks in the city loaded up in the morning, and came back to park at night. And these were no ordinary trucks, they were converted from ancient US Post Office mail trucks. During the summer, all day long the trucks came and went, playing garbled tunes from broken tape recorders. It was like a continuous parody of ice cream trucks all day long.
But that wasn't the worst part of Ice Cream Land. Oh no, not by a long shot. Every night the trucks emptied out their unsold wares back into the freezers, and cleaned out their trucks. Every night there would be new rivers of rancid, sugary milk flowing down the sidewalks and down the gutters. After baking in the sun the next day, the concrete would turn black, leaving a permanent stain to join the thousands of other stains. The sidewalks were completely blackened in some places. The stench was absolutely unbearable, and rancid milk is the one odor I hate the most. 20 years ago, I had a short job installing computerized milk fat testers at a dairy in Dubuque, Iowa, I haven't been able to drink milk since that day, and even the faint odor of sour milk makes me queasy and brings back horrible memories of the odors of that place. But now I had to live with that smell every summer day. And I had to walk past Ice Cream Land twice a day on my way to and from work, trying to find bare patches of unstained concrete so I wouldn't track that horrible smell around on my shoes all day.
If anyone had seen Ice Cream Land in its natural state, they would never buy off an ice cream truck ever again.