March 2004 Archives

My Foursome With Courtney Love

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Lately everyone is writing up their embarassing Courtney Love stories, and there sure seems to be an awful lot of them. Courtney is undergoing a full meltdown, which doesn't surprise me one bit, since I personally witnessed the beginning of it all. And therein hangs a tale.
Back in 1987 at the height of my Los Angeles clubgoing days, a friend of mine, who I will merely call "J" so as to spare him embarassment, called me up with an invitation. He said we should get together tonight and go to dinner with Zander Schloss from The Circle Jerks, a good time would be had by all. Since I had a new car, I was driving (that's usually how these invitations worked). So J and I set off for Lucy's El Adobe to meet Zander. Lucy's is a strange little place, it's right across from Paramount Studios, and furnished with the typical trappings of any cheap Mexican restaurant, except that the walls are covered with photographs of Gov. Jerry Brown and Linda Ronstadt. Every time I saw the photos, I always thought of a remark by Phillip K. Dick, he said he wanted his epitaph to read "he discovered Linda Ronstadt, and signed her up." I'm sure I'm the only person who ever thought this particular thought at Lucy's.
J and I arrived at Lucy's and met Zander, who had a woman in tow, a chubby bottle-blonde wearing a dumpy thrift-store dress, he introduced her as Courtney Love. The four of us were seated in a booth and I sat right across from Courtney. At the time, I had no idea who Courtney was (and neither did anyone else), but she was determined to let us know exactly how important she was. She blabbed endlessly about all the trivialities of the club scene, who was seen where and with who, which bored me to no end, since I'd been at all those clubs too, and gossip about club stars had no interest for me. Courtney delivered her nonstop commentary while shoveling massive quantities of chips and salsa into her mouth in a most unattractive manner. Just as I thought my level of annoyance could not rise any higher, Courtney announced she had "arrived" as a club star, she appeared in "La Dee Da," the LA Weekly club scene column. I had heard this sort of claim to "fame" from other club star wannabees, so I decided to deliver a retort, "oh, did they mention you by name, or did they just mention the club you were at?" My remark was met with an icy stare, and Courtney just sat there and silently glared at me.
The focus of conversation shifted due to the sudden silence, which was a relief to everyone. Now Zander started expressing his upset at the release of Stanley Kubrick's new movie "Full Metal Jacket." Zander explained that he had auditioned for a major role in the movie but was rejected, and now that the movie was released, he was convinced that his performance would have been far better than the actor who got the part. He decided to prove his assertion by loudly performing his audition monologue straight from the FMJ script. This brought nervous glances from other frightened restaurant patrons, who heard an obviously crazy man yelling about killing gooks, and wondered if they should flee. I had no such doubts, I was determined to flee at the first possible opportunity.
After the meal wound down and several more beers were consumed, Xander and Courtney now admitted they were short of cash and the bill was higher than they planned, so could we cover their tab? J said he'd cover them, which meant that he had to borrow cash from me, since I was the only person in this foursome that had a real job. I knew J wouldn't pay me back, but I figured that forking over a few bucks was the shortest path to the exit.
As we left Lucy's, we stood outside in the damp, cool LA evening air, but Zander and Courtney weren't quite ready to let us go. Courtney's demeanor towards me changed and she turned on the charm, which repulsed me even more than anything she had done so far. She said that she was going out with Zander to score some heroin, but she didn't have any cash left, so I should come along with her and if I bought, we could do some heroin together and party all night long. Even unto today, I have never heard such an unappealing proposition, and I have no inclination whatsoever to do needle drugs, so I pondered how to decline politely, or even whether politeness was desirable under the circumstances. I just said "no thanks, I don't do that shit." Zander and Courtney decided they had no further use for us, so they slinked off into the night, and J and I went back to my car. Once inside, J turned to me and asked, "what was that all about?"

Profit Margin

Long ago when I worked at a retail computer store, our store had a minimum profit margin on computer sales of 20% (that alone should tell you this is a LONG time ago). All the salesmen had to obey the rule of not selling a computer at less than 20% profit. I had a fancy HP-35 calculator so I could quickly add delta +20%, delta +21% if I wanted a 21% profit, etc. The other salesmen used standard calculators. They always tried to grab my customers, somehow their quotes for the same products would be less, and my customers would buy from some OTHER sales guy for less than I'd quoted them the day before. It was infuriating. And the boss was especially infuriated because none of the salesmen could meet their margin quotas, so he started withholding their commission on low profit deals, which just added to the vicious circle of pissed offedness.
So one day, I caught a salesman doing a calculation, and I was shocked what I saw. He calculated 20% margin on a product by multiplying cost times 1.2 to get the retail price. So I asked him, if I sell a product for $100 at 20% profit margin, what's the cost? He shot back the correct answer, $80. I said ok, now type $80 into your calculator and multiply it times 1.2. Answer, $96. Oopsie.
I reported to the boss what I had seen. He hit the ceiling. When he calmed down, he made me go around the sales floor with him, and he demanded that every single salesman go through the same routine. What's the cost of goods on a $100 sale at 20%? Now use your calculator to compute 20% margin on an $80 item. Oopsie, $96 is wrong. Every single salesman was a math moron, they ALL were calculating it the wrong way. And then I had to teach them the proper calculator method while Mr. Tyrant Boss watched over us, and he was not satisfied until every salesman demonstrated an ability to calculate the correct profit margin TWICE on his own. The correct formula to calculate a retail price with 20% margin is 1.25 times cost. None of the salesmen believed this was correct until I made them multiply 80 * 1.25 and it came out to 100. Some of the cleverest salesmen asked me how I'd calculate an arbitrary profit margin, like 21%. So I had to demonstrate that too.
Over the next few weeks, my sales skyrocketed. My own customers were no longer able to undercut my prices merely by asking a different salesman to quote the same equipment. This was a huge relief because in the past, I'd do all the prep work and the other sales guy would walk off with all MY profits with no effort except to multiply times 1.2.

MacOS X Spam Fighting

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I've been seriously bummed that I've been unable to implement the latest new antispam tricks since I'm on MacOS X and I'm basically stuck with's plain vanilla spam filters. I used to maintain a tip sheet on spam filtering for MacOS X using procmail and SpamBouncer, but that technique was obsoleted in MacOS X 10.2 when Apple removed's support for unix mbox format. The only way to use to procmail filtering with MacOS X was to set up your own mail server, I'd rather not bother with that. But now I'm all excited that someone figured out how to add mbox support back into I'm going to give it a whirl and see if I can't patch together some new spam filtering tricks, maybe I'll try SpamAssassin instead of Spambouncer.
Threats of libel lawsuits are once again running across the blog world. An Irish blogger, Gavin, has been threatened with a cease-and-desist letter from the lawyer of John Gray, author of the pop psychology book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus."
"Dr." John Gray seems to have taken offense when Gavin described him as a "fraud" after reading his educational credentials. None of Gray's degrees come from accredited universities. His PhD comes from a defunct school that had a reputation as a diploma mill. Even more interesting are his alleged B.A. and M.A. degrees, from Maharishi European Research University.
Now here we are entering my home turf. In the 1970s, Maharishi's unaccredited schools in Europe were closed and a new campus, Maharishi International University, was established at Fairfield, Iowa, about 25 miles from my home. It took a few years, but somehow the tiny college managed to get accreditation recognized by the US Department of Education. But it is possible to get a degree from an accredited college and still be a fraud.
The Maharishi's Trancendental Meditation cultists are well known in the local community as crackpots and lunatics. Recently they have become notorious for razing historic old buildings on their campus (the former site of Parson's College) because they did not conform to precepts of Vedic architecture, for example, the toilets did not face north (no, I am not kidding). But Maharishi University's notoriety comes largely from the course they consider their highest teaching, levitation. The largest building on campus is known as the "Golden Dome," normal people would describe it as a gymnasium, except this building's sole function is to provide a place for practicing levitation. Here is a short video that appeared on the local news show from KCRG-TV, showing Maharishi University students demonstrating levitation inside the Golden Dome.

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Now any rational person would not recognize this as "yogic flying" or "levitation," they'd call it "hopping up and down on your butt." There is nothing yogic about this whatsoever except that you sit in the Lotus Position. But the Maharishi cultists claim it is physically impossible to hop while seated in the Lotus Position, any upward motion comes from supernatural forces. Balderdash.
But deluded people come from around the world, and pay tens of thousands of dollars to be trained in this balderdash. It is part of the Trancendental Meditation Sidhi Course, which is supposed to confer supernatural powers, such as levitation, omniscience, invisibility, superhuman strength, teleportation, etc. And the primary reason Maharishi University was created was to teach the Sidhi Course. In order to gain accreditation, they must also teach other courses in math, science, etc., but those courses are always described as Vedic Science, Vedic Math, etc. and are all merely preparatory studies for the Sidhi Course. Somehow I doubt these courses are as worthwhile as regular science and math courses at conventional universities.
But let us return to the issue of John Gray and his fraudulent educational credentials. It must be obvious to anyone who watches the "levitation" video that John Gray's B.A. and M.A. degrees from Maharishi Research University of Europe are worthless. I have suggested to Gavin that he issue a retraction of his statement asserting Gray is a fraud, if Gray will publicly demonstrate levitation to him, in person. Alternately, Gray could demonstrate any Sidhi Power, such as invisibility or teleportation. That way we all can assess whether Gray passed his Sidhi Course at Maharishi University and accept his degree as legitimate. Unless Mr. Gray can produce a convincing demonstration of the Sidhi Powers he learned at Maharishi University, we will all know he is a fraud.
Today I went to my local pharmacy, it took me a minute before I could park because a UPS truck was making a wide turn through the parking lot. And to my astonishment, he backed into a handicapped-only parking spot. I walked past the UPS driver as he exited his truck, and said, "Do you realize you're parked in a handicapped parking spot?" His response was "OK" and he walked into the store carrying his package. I shot back, "what do you mean, 'OK,' you mean it's OK for you to park here?" He ignored me and continued into the store to make his delivery.
Mr. UPS Driver, you are a professional and are well aware you are not permitted to park in that spot. I use this pharmacy often, and I know the FedEx and USPO drivers don't park in the handicapped spot. These parking spots are for disabled people coming to the store for their medicine, they are not for the convenience of agile deliverymen. I suppose I wouldn't be so outraged except this UPS guy illegally parked in front of a pharmacy a few blocks from the largest hospital in the state, surely this is one of the most vital handicapped parking spots in the city.
So I decided to take a little trip out to the UPS depot and register a complaint with their manager. I asked him if it was UPS policy to condone illegal parking in this manner. He said it was not, and if anyone got a ticket, they pay for it themselves, UPS wouldn't pay it. I never heard of a deliveryman ever getting a ticket, and if I called the local cops on an illegally parked UPS truck, they couldn't get there before it left. And I told the manager, that is what is so infuriating. These drivers think that since they'll only be in the spot for a couple of minutes, they can get away with it. It never occurs to them that during those few minutes, someone might arrive who is legally entitled to that spot, and can't use it. The manager told me he'd look up the route and find out who the offending driver was, and tell him not to do this anymore, and issue a reminder at the next morning's drivers' meeting. And the drivers will walk away from the meeting laughing at the manager's directive.
Sometimes I get so outraged at people's stupidity over handicapped access. I remember one incident at my local bank, coincidentally it is right next to this pharmacy. I was outside smoking a cigarette on a blazing hot summer day after doing my business inside the bank, watching some employees of an auto dealership parking a new car on the sidewalk for a promotion. They parked the car right in the middle of the wheelchair ramp, it was so convenient to drive the car up the ramp, it was a few feet from the bank's main entrance where everyone would walk past it. Just as they stopped to admire their work and were about to leave, an old man exited the bank pushing his wife in a wheelchair, now they were trapped and could not exit down the ramp they had just used a few minutes ago. They were stuck in the hot summer sun as they begged the auto dealer to move the car so they could leave the bank. The auto dealer had difficulty repositioning the car, after a few minutes the elderly couple had to retreat back inside the bank due to the heat. Eventually the car was relocated so it was only partially blocking the ramp, and the couple edged their wheelchair around the car and down the ramp. I wonder what would have happened if the auto dealer had left before the handicapped woman, she might have been stuck there until they could come back to move the car.

BlogTV: The Black Phone

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BlogTV presents another fascinating look at a Japan in a time of technological change. This story (5min44sec, Japanese subtitles only) comes from FujiTV, and the video is of fairly good quality.

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Our video starts with an intriguing question from little Satomi, age 11. She writes to FujiTV inquiring, "what's a kurodenwa, a black telephone?" So a reporter is dispatched to investigate the question. Japan is a land of rapid technological development, perhaps nothing has evolved as quickly as the telephone. In the past, telephones were only available from the national phone company NTT. Phone functions were easily distinquished by their color, for example, green phones were pay phones, and even today most pay phones are green. But what was a kurodenwa?
We start by investigating Satomi's home, where we see her family's phone is a huge modern multifunction phone/answering machine/FAX device with a big radio antenna, presumably it also has several wireless extension phones. The reporter starts her search for a kurodenwa at a local electronics shop. We see dozens of variations on modern desk telephones, some of the phones are colored black, but the salesman admits that he does not have any kurodenwa. Obviously it isn't the color that makes a phone a black phone.
Let's go straight to the top. Our reporter interviews a corporate executive at NTT who says that kurodenwa were discontinued 18 years ago, long before little Satomi was even born. An executive at NEC brings out the modern equivalent of the kurodenwa, an ugly reddish-beige phone with a touch-tone dial. Even the NEC executive admits this isn't what we're looking for.
Our reporter, as usual, sets out for some man-in-the-street interviews searching for a kurodenwa owner. She searches from morning until night before finding an owner, and long after the sun has set, we follow him back to his restaurant in search of the phone. He climbs up and rummages around a storage cubbyhole, and pulls out a plastic bag containing a dirty, discarded kurodenwa. And now we see the distinguising feature, what makes it a kurodenwa, it has a rotary dial. The reporter fondles it and seems to recoil at the dirty, greasy surface of the ancient artifact. But this phone isn't in active use today, we see the restaurant's phone, it's just like any other modern phone.
Let's search a little harder and try to find a kurodenwa in active use. Our reporter shrieks in delight as she discovers another kurodenwa at another old restaurant, this one is hooked up. We hear the feeble ring tone of the ancient relic, yes, this phone actually works! The owner asserts the old style of phone resists the grease that inevitably clogs up machinery in any restaurant. We see the cash register, completely wrapped in plastic to keep the grease out, they just don't make machines like they used to. Some middle-aged restaurant patrons express their love for the old kurodenwa, it makes them nostalgic for the old days when everyone had one. But as the cook scrambles to answer the phone for an order, we can see we are intruding into their busy work schedule, so we take our leave of this establishment, and set off to find another kurodenwa.
In another interview on the street, we find a kindly old lady, aged 79, who admits she still uses a kurodenwa. The reporter arranges for little Satomi to visit and experience the old woman's phone firsthand. She says you have to take your time using the old dial phones, so you don't make any mistakes, this isn't a phone for people in a hurry. When Satomi is brought into the room to see the phone, she seems to be in shock, she can only mutter sugoi, sugoi! (it's cool). Satomi tries to phone her mother at home, and on her first attempt, dials a wrong number. Oops! On the second try, she connects, and tells her mother honto ni, kakerareta, she really dialed the phone. Satomi says honto ni mawashitara kakerareta, it really rotates when it dials, and also expresses her surprise that it has a real bell when it rings. The kindly old lady laughs in amusement that her plain old telephone is such a curiosity to the modern generation of kids. The young girl, the old woman, and the reporter all give a short bow towards the phone, expressing their respect for this antique kurodenwa that has given faithful service for decades.
Disinfotainment brings you another strange video from FujiTV (4 min, Japanese subtitles only) of interest primarily to linguists and Japanese language students. The subject of this video is gyarumoji, "girl's characters," and since these characters are mostly shown on small cel phone screens, much of this writing will only be visible to high-bandwidth viewers. But keep watching, some examples are visible in large print. I guarantee you will be able to read a bit of gyarumoji by the time you finish watching this video, even if you only have a 56k modem. Pay close attention and you may even notice that Cliche Kitty flashes across the screen!

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Teenage Japanese girls have a long tradition of making themselves incomprehensible to adults through the use of obscure slang and speech patterns. But lately, a new fad has arisen, the use of foreign character sets to represent hiragana characters. These characters were first used in text transmissions through cel phone messaging, but now has spread to other media. I have often argued that Japanese media corporations are commonly used to disseminate new language forms, and this video shows how the process works, through new technology, and through a novel use of old technology.
We start our exploration in a trendy karaoke box in Shibuya, where several girls are singing along to karaoke subtitles written in gyarumoji. But first let's go out on the streets of Shibuya and talk to a few girls, and see some gyarumoji users and how they send messages to each other. Our reporter locates a few girls who demonstrate the characters and we see a few real messages on their cel phone screens, with subtitles so we can see what the strange characters represent. The girls proudly declare that their mothers can't read these characters, so our reporter sets out with a simple message in gyarumoji, konnichi wa (hello), and asks some adults if they can read it. They are all baffled by the strange writing. One of the young gyarumoji users even admits that she only knows 2 people who can read it.
Let's return to the karaoke box, and watch our reporter try to keep up with the strange subtitles. She is barely an adult herself, but the gulf of a mere few years has set her far apart linguistically from these youngsters. After fumbling with the lyrics, one of the young girls grabs the microphone from the reporter, and resumes singing with her exclusive cadre of girlfriends who are initiated into the intricacies of this incomprehensible writing system.