December 2007 Archives


Weird things are happening. I was sitting at home watching a movie, when I heard the phone ring. I looked at my iPhone in its dock, it's lit up to announce my friend from Venice, California is calling. So I answer the phone and hit pause on the TiVo to stop the movie, and we chat for a while. My friend says he's at a shop and he's found a book about music he could have written himself, and it's by an author with the same name as him.
So we chatted for a minute, we ended the call and I hung up, so I started the TiVo playing again, and the phone started ringing again. But there was no incoming call, the ringing was a sound effect in the movie, exactly the same as the "Old Phone" ringtone I use. I checked my phone, oops, I left it in Silent Mode, so my phone never rang, it just happened to have an incoming call at the same time the sound effect was playing on TV. How odd.
A few minutes later, the movie is over, I'm watching the TV news. They're rerunning an old "human interest" story they like to play in the dead of winter, a 1990 report from the warm, sunny beach in Venice, California.
I had to laugh, because I moved away from Los Angeles right around 1990, I used to go to Venice Beach occasionally, so it was like my past history speaking to me. The reporter from Iowa was doing his best to poke fun at the beach crazies, while trying to make the rubes in Iowa wish they were vacationing in the warmer climate of California. But I had a shock of recognition when they showed a scene of some street buskers on the Venice Boardwalk. I recognized them immediately, they were a band of Peruvian pan pipers, I saw them in Venice right about the time the story was taped, and then, incredibly enough, I saw them again right after I moved to Iowa, they played here at a local festival.
Okay.. now I'm starting to get weirded out. I don't know what all this synchronicity means, except for one thing: I should change my ringtone.

Winter for Dummies 2.0

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Snowstorms always seem to make drivers lose 50 IQ points. After observing my neighbors spin their tires trying to get up our steep driveway, I thought I'd offer a couple of tips:

1. If you get stuck in a front-wheel drive car, put the sand under the front tires, not the rear tires.

2. There is only one legitimate reason to own a gas-guzzling SUV, and this is it. Instead of grinding your rear wheels for 30 minutes, switch to 4 wheel drive.
My first professional article, " How To Copyright Michelangelo," has just appeared online at The Register. Thanks to the persistent efforts of El Reg editor Andrew Orlowski, I finally managed to bang out this article for publication. I showed Andrew a draft of this story as a blog article, he said I should polish it up and submit it to El Reg. So I immediately got to work: I sat on the article for over two years.
As I contemplated the subject over that time, it seemed to expand in scope, I could have written a whole book on the related topics, and maybe I will, someday. But I had to put together something less ambitious, and Andrew emailed me one day and said just take a crack at it and get me a draft in three days. Ouch. So I pulled it together, such as it was, and submitted it with the apology that I was sure I could do a better job if I spent another two years on it.
Andrew would occasionally needle me about what was taking so long, and I would joke about how I didn't want to give up my amateur status. Professional journalism turns writing from blog blabbing into hard work, and I am averse to hard work. My efforts to produce this article even inspired a long bout of Writer's Block, which was why I procrastinated for years. It's ironic, because I used to be a Hollywood writer's consultant, my specialty was setting up those newfangled word processors for screenwriters, and in the process, reworking their neurotic writing habits to eliminate Writer's Block. And now here I was, stuck in the same old neurotic habits.
Just as the deadline was issued, I bumped into a woman who was a writer's coach. I said I might be in need of her services, how does that work? She said her usual form of coaching was you emailed her your draft, then phoned her and she'd tell you to sit and write for an hour, then you'd mail her the new work so she could see you worked for an hour. I thought about that, and it occurred to me, hell, I could sit and write for an hour by myself, why wasn't I? So I did. I told her about it later, I said her coaching must be effective because her remark was just what I needed to get moving. She laughed.
The subject of the restoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling has long interested me, I worked at the Getty Trust back in the 1980s when the Getty Conservation Institute did the restoration project. It was the talk of the office, especially when Vanity Fair magazine ran an article that criticized the restoration. Agreeing with the Vanity Fair critics, that the GCI might be removing a charcoal/glue wash applied by Michelangelo, was tantamount to professional suicide at the Getty. But I didn't know that, and I blundered right ahead, publicly agreeing that the restoration could destroy original work by Michelangelo. Unsurprisingly, my contract was not renewed. Oops. But my personal reminisces had to go, they are appropriate for my personal blog, where I talk endlessly about myself, but were not appropriate for serious journalism.
Other material didn't make the cut, I had a subplot about the restoration of the famous Holbein painting "The Ambassadors." I've written about this painting before in a different context, it was one of my first blog articles, almost 6 years ago. The restoration of these major artworks costs millions and takes years, my fear is that changes to the interpretation of copyright law might eliminate economic incentives to undertake major restoration projects, while those works continue to deteriorate. And at the same time, I am grateful that those copyright laws allow me to profit from my works as an artist, and even as a writer.

New Old Mac

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I just bought a new old Mac. I saw an old Performa 6300 on Craig's List for $15. It had a combination of features I was looking for, it had USB and ethernet, and a floppy. I've looked for a USB floppy drive so I can load and archive some old floppies. But that would cost a lot more than $15. I can buy the whole computer for that price, and pull the data in and out of the Performa with a USB flash drive, or even hook it up on my home network and zap files between machines.
So I drove out in an ice-storm to pick up this old junker computer. Then it occurred to me, the City Sanitation Dept. will bill you more than $15 in disposal charges if you put this in the dump. I told the seller, I'm saving him more than $15 you'd have to pay to get rid of it, you should be paying me! He laughed and said there was a time when this computer was worth $2300 and he was firm on the $15. I said this is a Craig's List deal in cash, so I'd offer a firm $14, that way I could at least feel like I got a deal. We closed on $14.
I need another old Mac like I need a hole in my head, but I decided I needed an old OS 9 machine like the Performa, my Mac Quad G5 has lost the ability to run Classic, since the MacOS X 10.5 upgrade. Classic is dead. Some people have tried running emulators like Sheepshaver, but I just can't get it to work on my Quad. The HowTo files seem to focus on Mac Intel systems that could never run Classic. It seems odd for me to try to run an emulated OS 9 on my CPU that was running native PPC Classic just a few weeks ago.
So I guess it is time to put OS 9 in its grave. I need to migrate some old OS 9 media on SCSI drives. I have an old 80Mb Bernoulli Box, it's an odd cartridge drive, it was designed to work with the Mac Portable, which was notorious for its heavy lead-acid batteries. The Bernoulli drive has a lead acid battery too, but it's been sitting in a closet for about 10 years, I'm afraid to fire it up. But if it blows up when attached to an old $14 junk CPU, I wouldn't mind so much.
Then I have some other miscellaneous media, old 40Mb Syquest carts, 1Gb Jaz carts, I figure I could reduce a two full boxes of floppies and disks, and two boxes full of old hardware, down to maybe 3 or 4 DVDRs.
I need another Mac like I need a hole in my head. Let me see if I recall what old Macs I have, four of them: a IIcx, 8100/110, G3/400U, and a Dual-1Ghz "Wind Tunnel." But none of them had a floppy AND a communications port to move data to new Macs. So I guess I need one more Mac, in order to migrate and get rid of my old Mac junk. And soon I'll be paying the expensive disposal charges on this old crap.

Oh, Man!

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I've been moaning and groaning for the past few days, my back is sore from scraping ice and snow. It took me a couple of days to realize it, I kept hearing this groaning sound whenever I moved around, I wondered where it was coming from. Then I figured out it was me making that sound. I took a couple of ibuprophen and I felt a lot better.
But as I moaned and groaned, I kept hearing myself saying the same thing, "oh, man!" I wondered where I picked that up from, I don't talk like that, I don't know anybody who talks like that. I finally realized what happened, when I was playing one of my favorite video games, Halo 1. When your soldiers get shot at, they either say "yikes!" or "oh, man!" I must have heard that a million times.

Dead Electric Razor

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I am happy to report my Braun 8585 razor died, it melted down and self-destructed. I am happy to report this because Braun replaced it under warranty, upgrading me to the latest top-end model. I figured I'd owned the razor over a year and was probably out of warranty, but I found out it had a two year warranty, and I was still covered.
When the razor melted down, I had just put it in the recharger. I kept smelling burning plastic, but it took me an hour to locate the source. I feel lucky it didn't ignite the alcohol cleaning cartridge, or catch the rechargable battery on fire.
I received a new Braun 8995, the top of the line. It fixes every minor complaint I had with the old razor. It shaves much closer and quicker. It's quieter in operation, and the recharging base is quieter when it's self-cleaning. The new razor has knurled panels on the side, so it's easier to grip. And of course, software upgrades! The LCD panel has new information modes, full of useful and useless information.
One of the things that puzzled me is how the old razor prompted me periodically to replace the blades. I wondered how it knew if I replaced them promptly, it must have had some sort of timer or calendar, or an accumulative adder that totaled up all my shaving time. It could judge how much wear was on the blades, but it had no way to tell if I replaced them. I was sure I got out of sync when it took me a couple of weeks to locate replacement blades. But the new model has a button so you can reset the blade counter after replacement.
When I considered how much microprocessor power is inside the little shaver, I wondered why it doesn't have a clock. Of course it would be difficult to input a time with just one button, the design would be messed up with more buttons. But the Braun designers did take advantage of that computer power, it now displays the elapsed time of my last shave, possibly the most useless data the razor can measure.
My only complaint was that it took several weeks to get a replacement shipped. During that time, I had to use a regular blade razor. Once your face gets used to an electric, it takes some time to adjust back to razor blades and shaving cream. My skin hated it, but eventually I made the transition. And now that I have the new electric razor, I have to go through several weeks of adjusting back to the electric. Braun gives a 30 day money-back guarantee, since a lot of people would give up the first couple of days, after a few harsh shaves. But it gets better within 30 days.