July 2003 Archives

Bob Hope is dead, and the world is a better place. Hope is gone, but his legacy as a scumsucking Hollywood greedhead will continue. Longterm Disinfotainment readers may recall my old essay, Bob Hope: Robber Baron wherein I described how Bob Hope destroyed the urban architecture of Los Angeles by creating thousands of Mini-malls. But today, while doing further research, I learned something new. I was completely unaware that Bob Hope's company, La Mancha Development, built the very first mini-mall. La Mancha Development is almost singlehandedly responsible for spreading urban blight throughout California. It conducts its activities as secretly as possible, there is almost no information available on the web about La Mancha.
Bob Hope was an early participant in the early LA land rush. Hope took the profits from his early movies and bought huge tracts of undeveloped land in LA and Ventura counties, and sat on it until it was ripe for development. This wasn't unusual for the time, for example, Edgar Rice Burroughs bought up a huge chunk of land that became the LA suburb Tarzana. But Hope's commercial activities were particularly rapacious. Hope owned huge tracts of land in the Ventura Mountains, the last undeveloped natural forests in the LA area, some of the most valuable properties in the state. He spent decades fighting to develop this pristine, unspoiled land into luxury housing. The LA Nature Conservancy fought Hope in the courts for years, finally winning a partial victory, La Mancha sold LANC some of the land for use as nature preserves, and LANC dropped their suits and La Mancha got the go-ahead to cut down the forests, carve roads into the wilderness, and develop expensive luxury housing. What a deal! Bob Hope reminds me of Armand Hammer, who swore his company Oxy Petroleum would drill for oil in Santa Monica Bay before he died. Hammer failed, but Hope succeeded.
Strangely enough, I once worked for Bob Hope, for about an hour. I used to work at a service bureau as an Iris inkjet operator, and a job from Bob Hope came in. It was a CD cover for a birthday present Hope had personally made for his wife Dolores. This was back in the days when CD recorders cost thousands of bucks, and mastering a CD was done by professionals at high prices. Hope spent thousands of dollars producing a one-off CD for his wife's birthday, complete with my custom $75 Iris print for the cover art. The artwork was a picture of Dolores, it showed signs of an expensive retouch job, and it surely cost hundreds of bucks to remove her moustache and smooth out all the wrinkles. The vanity of Hollywood people never ceases to amaze me.
There is so much to hate about Bob Hope, I can hardly collect all the reasons. But I found one exceptionally interesting fact, courtesy of the Internet Movie Database, Hope's longterm golf buddy was Prescott Bush, the notorious Nazi supporter and progenitor of presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Hope was a right-wing extremist, just like Prescott Bush.
Now that Bob Hope is dead, TV viewers will be subjected to endless reruns of his horrid old movies. A whole new generation will become acquainted with his work, and their reaction will undoubtedly be, "people actually laughed at this crap?"

War With The Chipmunks

My house is at war with chipmunks. I have been at war for years, and will probably be at war for many years to come. Chipmunks vex me terribly, and they are winning the war. Here is a picture I took of the enemy, standing right outside my back door.


When I first moved in this house and discovered the chipmunks, I thought they were cute. But the little varmints ravage my garden, destroying my tomato and pepper plants. My garden is up on an elevated deck, the chipmunks climb up the stairs and get into the plants and take one bite out of each of the best fruits. Damn those varmints!
My cat discovered the chipmunks and became obsessed with catching them. But chipmunks are extremely quick, they are almost impossible to catch unless you corner them. Kitty discovered you could corner the chipmunks once they got up on my deck if she blocked off the stairway. I think she liked cornering them and toying and tormenting them, but she never actually caught any of them. I cornered them a few times myself. They behave quite strangely when cornered, they will freeze as long as there is something between you and them, but if exposed, they will flee. I accidentally chased them right off the deck a couple of times, and it's not like these are flying squirrels, they belly-flopped on the ground with a loud smack. That kept them at bay for a couple of weeks, but they still came back. But Kitty and I could not corner and capture the enemy chipmunks.
I decided to consult my veterinarian about the problem. Perhaps there was some chipmunk repellent or natural remedy. One of the young vet trainees said she just saw a chapter on chipmunks in her veterinary medicine textbook, she xeroxed it and gave it to me. I learned quite a bit about the psychology of the enemy. Chipmunks live in burrows that always have at least 2 exits. No chipmunk will ever allow itself to be trapped in a spot with only one way out. The textbook recommended that aggressive chipmunks that invade human turf be killed by poisoning. I was not prepared to use chemical weapons against the enemy, I would have preferred to capture the enemy, put them on trial, and exile them to nearby farmland where they could live out their lives without causing further trouble.
One day I was sitting at home and I heard Kitty outside, she was making the most godawful hissing and howling sound. My kitty is very neurotic and it took me years to get her even to meow, she never hisses or howls, and this was the first time had ever heard her in such a frantic state. I rushed outside and Kitty was poised at taut attention, eyes focused on a tarp sitting in the corner of the deck. I could not figure out what was going on, so I went over to lift up the corner of the tarp, and the chipmunk went shooting out. Kitty lunged, but the chipmunk escaped. I had given aid to the enemy, allowing the chipmunk to escape just as it came closer to capture than it ever had before. Kitty was crestfallen.
After this humilating defeat, Kitty lost all interest in hunting the chipmunks. She never wanted to go outside anymore, she lost weight and died a few months later. I felt like my inopportune intervention in the chipmunk war had broken her heart, and she pined away.
So now that my most trusted soldier has passed away, there is nothing to keep the chipmunk population from exploding. Kitty is no longer keeping the enemy at bay, and they are running a new guerilla war, encroaching on my territory. I am in an interminable war, and I have no exit strategy. The chipmunks are winning.

Another Acrobat Annoyance

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I just discovered a solution to my longest term Adobe Acrobat bug, it's been a huge annoyance and a huge time-waster for years. I like to scan a lot of pages and import them into Acrobat, but they always sort in the wrong order and you have to manually resort them. Everyone complains about this on both Wintel and Mac platforms, but now there's a fix for MacOS X.
I like to scan everything as uncompressed TIFFs and name them in numeric order, like 001.tif, 002.tif, etc. I can do image adjustments in Photoshop, once I get the brightness and contrast right for one document, I can just batch process all the rest with the same settings. I have ImageMagick installed, so I can transform a whole folder full of TIFFs with the command "mogrify -format jpeg -quality 30 *.tif" and it is incredibly fast. But when you try to insert them all into a PDF in Acrobat, the images import in the wrong order. You can use the little Move Up/Move Down buttons to move things into the right order, but hell, isn't this supposed to be automatic? It takes a huge amount of time to manually resort a hundred page document, I should be able to do this with one click.
But help is on the way. There's a new Acrobat plugin, InsertSorted, which inserts PDFs in the correct order. The problem is that you've got TIFFs or JPEGs as source material, and InsertSorted only imports PDFs. So the trick is to convert your image files to individual 1-page PDFs first. In Acrobat 6 Pro, use the command Advanced>Open All. This opens every image and resaves it as a PDF. Then you can use InsertSorted and grab them all in the right order with just one click.
This trick is going to save me days of work each month. Special thanks go to Lawrence You for inventing this trick.
From the Mainichi Online:
...on June 11, a total of 5.95 million yen was anonymously posted to five public offices -- 1 million yen each to the Ministry of Finance, the Meteorological Agency, the Social Insurance Agency and the Board of Audit of Japan, and 950,000 yen to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. One million yen was also posted to the Gunma Prefectural Library. In each of the cases, the parcels of money bore a June 10 postmark from the Takasaki Post Office in Gunma Prefecture.
There is only one glaring omission from this news story, an interview with the clever clerk that opened the envelope for the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
I just received the most disgusting political mailing I have ever seen, courtesy of Tom Delay. It is a blatant attempt by this ultra-rightwing Texan to influence the upcoming Iowa Presidential caucuses. I have scanned the 21 page document and produced a downloadable 1.4Mb PDF so you can see it for yourself.


This 20 page bulletin from Rev. Lou Sheldon of the "Traditional Values Coalition" came under a cover letter from Tom DeLay. There ought to be a law against Members of the House meddling in politics outside their district. Maybe there is a law, I don't know, but if there isn't, there ought to be. DeLay won't be satisfied until the entire country is reshaped into a conservative rule under a christian god. And there's where I really got irritated.
The Sheldon letter opens by addressing me as "Dear Christian Friend." How do I get on these mailing lists? I am neither a christian, nor a friend of conservatives. From there, the letter is 100% lies. I spent a few moments analyzing some of the lies, and when I got to their assertion that the 9th Federal District Court ruled "the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional because it contains the phrase 'one nation under god'..." my head just about exploded. No, the Pledge is not unconstitutional, it can be recited in the schools as long as it omits "under god." Unfortunately, most Iowans are unsophisticated enough to be duped by these lies.
This nasty propaganda piece lays the blame for all evil at the feet of Tom Daschle, it claims he blocked Bush's radical conservative judge activists from confirmation, preventing the Religious Right from assuming their god-given place as rulers of the USA. It spends much time slandering the ACLU for their defense of Bill of Rights and the Separation of Church and State. I guess religious activists have no use for the US Constitution.
There is so much offensive garbage in this mailing, I cannot even begin to describe it. I encourage you to read it for yourself, and fight back against this attempt to manipulate voters with lies.

To Protect And Serve

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Here's a random newspaper clipping from my files, as it appeared in the LA Times in 1991. This image is in the public domain since it was released as court evidence in a public hearing, so feel free to copy it and do what you like.

Tech Clairvoyant

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I was just helping an old friend diagnose a hardware problem via email, and I was suddenly reminded of a funny tech support call from way back around 1980 when I worked at a tiny Apple dealership in the middle of nowhere.
One day, I got a call from a frantic customer, he could not get his Apple II to boot. Every time he turned it on, it went right to the ROM debugger, which isn't supposed to be normally accessible. This was a really good problem, so I decided to mess with the customer a little bit. The call went something like this:
Me: Now let me guess, your computer desk is a total mess, right?
Customer: Um, yeah...
M: And you've got books and crap sitting right next to your computer, right?
C: Um, yeah...
M: And you have a joystick, right?
C: Uhh, yeah.. How do you know this?
M: Just hold on. You have a bunch of crap sitting on top of your joystick, right?
C: Uhh, yeah??
M: Unbury your joystick and turn on your computer.
C: <ping, brrrttttt sound of computer booting> Hey, it works! What the hell was that?!?
M: There was something on your desk holding down the joystick button while booting, which forces it to boot into the ROM.
C: Well, how did you know that?
M: Because the same thing happened to me last week!

MSNBot Ignores Robots.txt

I think I might have accidentally started the MSNBot Boycott when I made some comments on on JWZ's blog. I posted the exclusion rules to put in your robots.txt, to keep Microsoft from crawling your site. I set it up on my site immediately, but I discovered that the MSNBot ignores the robots.txt rules, they scanned my site anyway. MS claims it's a bug. Yeah right. As usual, Microsoft thinks the rules don't apply to them.

Exercise Your Patritotism

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I saw something appalling on TV yesterday, I would have captured it for BlogTV but I decided I didn't want to give this more publicity than it deserved. Here is the idea. Some exercise trainer advised continuously repeating the Pledge of Alliegance while jogging. The theory was that you should be able to speak out loud while jogging, if you couldn't speak clearly due to shortness of breath, you were overworking yourself. The hyperpatriot lunatic trainer somehow seized upon the current frenzy, and declared the Pledge as the perfect speech for joggers. Perhaps there is something to this idea of using the Pledge as a motivational device for exercise. If I see some sweaty guy jogging down the street chanting the Pledge over and over, I'm running the other way as fast as I can.

The Google of Dorian Gray

One of the endless amusements of blogging is checking your logs and seeing how people find your site, and what phrases they are searching for. Some of the perennial favorites are phrases like "epicanthic fold" and "cisco sucks," and then there are the scary searches like "innocent children manga." Once in a rare while I see a search that pleases the hell out of me, like "japanese design or pattern or motif -tattoo" which indicates the searcher wants to look at japanese designs excluding tattoos.
But there is one complete and utter moron who has hit my site over 200 times using the exact same search phrase, "Picture of Dorian Gray." Apparently someone thinks I am continually updating an article I wrote a long time ago, and it is somehow relevant to their search. No, there is no information whatsoever on this site pertaining to a comic book character named "The Picture of Dorian Gray" or that comic character's appearance in an upcoming movie. I made one extremely oblique reference to Oscar Wilde's famous story "The Picture of Dorian Gray," and there is nothing else about the subject on this site. I have specifically loaded this message with keywords that will surely cause this moron to find this new post, so I have one thing to say to him: if your interests in Dorian Gray extend merely to this comic book character, there is nothing for you on this website. If your knowledge of Dorian Gray comes from a comic book, you will be unable to comprehend my literary reference, no matter how many times you read it. So knock it off, go read the BOOK instead of the comic if you don't get it.
Update: This story is consistently my top referral from search engines, and I'm sick of people finding my site while searching for methods to commit theft. So I have altered the text of this article to make it harder to locate with search engines. I apologize for this article being a bit hard to read.

Disinfotainment presents the latest horrific discovery in Japan, a new way to secretly steal your c r e d 1 t c a r d data using Wi-Fi technology. This video from FujiTV (4min25sec, English and Japanese subtitles) explains how the wireless s k 1 m m e r scam works.

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S k 1 m m 1 n g c r e d 1 t c a r d numbers isn't particularly unusual, many portable s k 1 m m e r s are in use today, I've even had my own c r e d 1 t c a r d s k 1 m m e d and my own accounts raided for thousands of dollars. Recently a top-class Tokyo hotel made a startling discovery, someone secretly installed a c r e d 1 t c a r d s k 1 m m e r inside the restaurant's normal c r e d 1 t c a r d authorization device. The s k 1 m m e r was connected to a Wi-Fi transmitter so the numbers could be secretly recorded from a laptop computer anywhere within 100 meters. If the restaurant staff hadn't noticed someone tampered with their machine, the crime might never have been discovered, and the thief could have sat outside the restaurant in his car skimming numbers and nobody could ever connect him with the crime.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Similar devices were discovered in 6 other restaurants in Tokyo. The scam had previously been discovered in Malaysia, so of course this new crime wave is blamed on foreign devils. This is fairly typical of Japanese news reportage. I was particularly amused by the Japanese loan word for s k i m m e r, sukima, which sounds more like "schemer." And that's just what it is, the product of an audacious schemer.

He's Dead

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I'm bummed out because I just learned an old friend died. An obituary for my handyman, who I will call "R," just appeared in the morning paper. R mowed my lawn and did all the odd jobs at my house for the last ten years. Then suddenly I noticed the lawn is getting overgrown and R hasn't showed up on schedule, but that wasn't a particularly unusual thing. The odd thing was that he wasn't answering his cel phone. After R was missing for another week, I checked at his day job and he hadn't shown up there either, they didn't know what happened to him. I figured I'd put out an intensive search after the 4th, maybe he was just goofing off and wanted an extended vacation. But now the mystery is solved, with an unhappy ending.
BlogTV is back on the air with the latest video from Japanese news. This short video from FujiTV (1min30sec, Japanese and English subtitles) pushes a preposterous new fashion on the public.

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Eating eel, (unagi) is a well known summer tradition in Japan. It is an ancient belief that eating unagi during the hottest days of summer will restore one's vitality and help endurance under the sweltering temperatures. I think this "ancient tradition" was invented by unagi vendors, just as surely as is this new fashion concept, eelskin sport coats.
We are treated to a fitting by a haberdasher, offering the sport coat for the modest sum of 220,000 Yen, approximately $1850. These eels were grown in Canada specifically for their skins, the narrow strips of eelskin are shipped to China for tanning and stitching into larger pieces, and cut into the final product in Japan. It may be hard to see in this low resolution video, but during a closeup of the leather you can see the leather is rough and crudely stitched. Our fashion victim expresses his surprise and says the jacket is extremely light, sugoku karui, an expression you might likely hear when someone describes a light summer food. The comparison is made between the thickness of cow leather and the thinness of eel leather. Perhaps this is an evocation of ancient buddhist prohibitions against eating meat, while no such prohibition against eating fish and eel existed. Certainly nobody ever described grilled unagi, with its syrupy sauce (as seen briefly in the closing sequence) as a light dish.

Server Upgrade Completed

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I've finished this server's upgrade, I can't think of anything I left out or any improvements to the OS I could make. I put the OS back on the high-speed 10kRPM drive, so performance is as good as it gets on this CPU. If anyone finds even the most minor problem with streaming videos or the Apache server configuration, please leave me a comment.
Now that the major work is done, I can get on with fixing up the site's appearance. I never managed to get the new Movable Type installation to look much better than the default templates. There's a lot of work remaining on the look and feel of the site, but that should be easy in comparison to the server upgrade.