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1974: Broken Glass

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Polaroid SX-70 print, circa 1974.

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Assorted Scissors

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I have a lot of scissors. I put a few of them on my scanner, here they are from top to bottom.

Long scissors. Just over 9 inches long, with a 5.5 inch cutting blade. This scissors is very hard to use.

Heavy scissors. This scissors had a hard working life. It is rusty and corroded, and is too beat up to use. The side is stamped "Richards of Sheffield."

Fiskars. Good general purpose scissors. Easy to use, I use it a lot.

Hair scissors. I don't know why I have this, I wouldn't trim my own hair.

Surgical Scissors. Very sharp and good for small, accurate cutting. I use this scissors the most.

LAN Template: 1988

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I found an amusing old LAN design template. Yes, we used to design computer networks on paper. This template must date to about 1988, since the laser printer icon looks like an Apple LaserWriter II.

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Polaroids: 1973~75

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I found some dusty old SX-70 prints in my files. They're in poor condition and were photographed sometime between 1973 to 1975. The first two are photographs of the Indianapolis 500. I didn't notice until I scanned the first photo, you can see the Goodyear Blimp. That second shot has a nice pan and motion blur, that was really hard to do with the SX-70.

Indy500A.jpg

Indy500B.jpg

The next image had some cracks in the emulsion, I tried to fix it a little, but I left most of them unretouched. I'm finding out that SX-70 prints were not as indestructible as Polaroid claimed. But the subtle colors in the sky are pretty good.

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I always liked the harsh look of the Polaroid Flash Bar, but they were really expensive. I liked using them at night, so the nearby objects were brightly lit, and the illumination quickly drops with distance.

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Steve Jobs R.I.P.

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The Great Firewall of China

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Due to intense spam attacks on my blog, I have been forced to block access from every IP in China. In the last month, I have received over 16,000 spam comments, all of them originating from China. I don't know what these spammers think they will achieve by spamming comments. They know they're posting to a MovableType blog, which uses NoFollow, so none of the links in comments will improve their Google Pagerank. That's usually the goal, and the NoFollow was implemented to thwart this. But still, they persist in this futile effort. Spammers are stupid.

So if you are from China and you have a compelling need to access my blog's contents, too bad. Get your Chinese ISP to stop hosting spammers and maybe bloggers won't be forced to lock you out.

1993: Sphere Study

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If you study drawing, you do a lot of basic studies. Drawing a sphere is a classic study, you must get the lighting and shadows right in order to portray the volume convincingly. But studies can be terribly boring, so you try something different. Anything different. 

I did a lot of studies like this when I was doing a portraiture project, I've posted other drawings from this series and you can probably see what I was working out. This was a particularly good, rough, scribbly sketch, from early in the series. This 9 inch square drawing looks like chalk or charcoal, it's old and starting to get smeared and a little soft, but the whole drawing was soft and smeary to start with. 

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Rounding Error

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My local grocery store had a special, 3 frozen pizzas for $10. I bought 2. I was stunned when I saw the register tape.

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1977: Color Transfer

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I found a cache of my ancient artwork from the 1970s, when I was an art student. I've been scanning and posting a few of them. I thought this was an interesting piece of collage, it's a "color transfer" Solvent is applied to magazine photos, the photo is placed against the paper, and the back of the photo is burnished to transfer the image. I think in this one, the solvent was acrylic medium. It has a beautiful texture and the colors are fairly strong. Color transfers tend to have weak, transparent colors, it's hard to transfer much of the ink.

Astronaut-color-transfer.jpg

I found several of these prints, but this is the only one small enough to fit on my scanner, it's about 8 inches square. I might post the other images later if I can get a good reproduction. These seem to be hard to capture.

I remember fiddling with color transfer a bit, sometime around '77. This is what we used to do when we didn't have photoshop. It is kind of like monoprinting, but you just have magazine photos as your source. You can manipulate the texture and depth of the transfer, but it's pretty random. I guess we thought we were all Rauschenbergs, he used color transfer, but he had a professional printmaking atelier to do them properly. This color transfer process was popular around the printmaking department at the U of Iowa, it was so cheap and easy that a lot of students worked with it. But now it's pretty much a lost art.

1976: Life Drawing 202

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Sometimes when people scoff at my draftsmanship and drawing ability, I need some evidence to show that I actually have some talent. Usually the person scoffing is me, artists are their own harshest critics. I recently found a nice "academic drawing" of the type I usually avoided because it was so difficult. I drew this probably sometime late in my sophomore year, near the end of two years of life drawing classes. The pencil drawing is so faint that it was nearly impossible to photograph, so be sure to click on the pic and an enlargement will pop up.

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1974: My First Gig

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I discovered a copy of my very first commercial gig in graphic design, produced when I was 16 years old. My older sister had a college radio show at WHPK, she came back home for winter break and commissioned me to produce a low budget poster. I put this poster together using the pasteup equipment at my high school newspaper. The remarkable thing about this poster is that it was all done by hand on a paste-up board, no computers, no digital typesetting. You can click on the poster to see a larger image pop up.

WHPK-Poster-Large.jpg

This poster was produced using Chartpak type, rolls of tiny "hairline" tape, wax adhesive, some darkroom work, and an IBM Model C Executive typewriter. The Model C was a wonderful typewriter, it could do proportional spacing and if you used a carbon ribbon, it had almost typeset quality. Almost. Someone donated an old beat up Model C to our school, it was obsoleted when the Selectric was released. Our Model C's output was sometimes shaky, but it was the best we could get for free. I had a hard time finding a decent pic of the old Model C Executive, it was released in 1959 so it's way before the internet. 

IBM-Model-C-Exec-Typewriter.jpg

The Model C's typesetting could be frustrating, particularly since it didn't have very good vertical precision. The sorts of things the Model C did would be intolerable to anyone using modern computer design programs. Here's a good example. I scanned a closeup of the schedule, you can see how hard it was to align the type and have consistent leading (the vertical space between lines).

Leading.jpg

I marked the correct type baselines in red, you can see how "ROCK & FOLK" does not line up right. Even the best typesetting (in the "Children's Hour") is kind of shaky, with a slight slant. Some of this type is slightly crooked because it was cut out and glued in place. This is how the grid system started, you had to lay down small pieces of type into a layout and everything would be hopelessly out of alignment if you didn't line everything up on the grid. But even crooked type can be made worse, the letters in the word "Bradley" keep getting lower and lower, it looks like the paper was slipping in the typewriter. And the A in Public Affairs is chipped off. Sometimes the letters would flake off, the carbon ribbon printing was very delicate. We worked for hours over these pasteups, moving things around and reworking them. It's a miracle things stay lined up at all.

But I'm not taking responsibility for the poor type even though this is my poster, I think my sister did most of the typing while I worked on the headline type and layout. So I'll get even with her and release a skeleton from her closet: she had a bluegrass music college radio show. Today, she will deny she ever had any interest in bluegrass music and was an avid bluegrass musician. But I have the evidence.

WHPK-Bluegrass-with-Carol.jpg

You can see another common layout problem in the upper left corner of that box, the corner is open. All the lines were produced with rolls of Chartpak Graphic Tape. This is hairline width, I think it's 0.25 points. The tiny tapes were terribly difficult to work with, you had to stretch the tapes over the layout board, align it to the faint blue grid lines, carefully press them into the paper, and cut the ends with an X-Acto knife. Corners were especially difficult. If the layout board was mishandled, the tapes could pull apart and leave open corners.

But enough about the problems, there are some good features to this design as well. The headlines in Kabel Bold type were all done by hand with Chartpak "rub-on" transfer type. The letters came on plastic sheets, you moved the sheet into position on paper and rubbed the plastic sheet with a blunt tip "burnisher" to transfer the letter onto your paper. It was hard to make good rub-on type, but this is an excellent job. Wow, look at that tight kerning! And it was all done by eye.

WHPK-Public-Affairs.jpg

I liked to put the type on clear acetate and then enlarge it in the darkroom. I could enlarge type to whatever size I needed, even advanced phototypesetting came only in fixed sizes. Nowadays we take resizing type for granted, we just use the computer and drag the type block until it's the size we want. But back in the 1970s, that meant printing on photo paper in a darkroom and developing it in trays of chemicals.

WHPK-Zebras.jpgThe core idea of this poster was a chronological layout, using gray stripes to guide the eye across the grid. Today this design is known as "zebra stripes," it's very common, it is even used on computer screens to display long file lists. I got the idea from "green bar" computer paper, it had green zebra stripes to guide your eyes across 14 inch wide paper.

We called the little graphic device on the left a "puppy." I made design elements like this for our high school newspaper. One day I gave my finished artwork to a guy working on the newspaper layout and he said, "slap that puppy on there!" So that name kind of stuck to it.

But I digress. That artwork is deceptively complex, it had to be produced on 3 different layout sheets. Each sheet had to align precisely with the others and you could not see how it would look until the layers of artwork were etched into a printing plate. 

The dark bars and dark numbers were laid out on one sheet. Then a second sheet was an overlay with the type that would be "knocked out," putting the white type in the dark bars. The camera operator who turned this artwork into a printing plate had several steps to perform. The layers were photographed on separate negatives at full size. Then the films were overlaid and the numbers "subtracted" from the bars on the other sheet, and halftone dots added to make it gray. Then that negative was positioned on the main poster design on the third layout sheet. That sounds like a lot of work, it was, but we did this all the time with manual layouts. So when you use Photoshop and you see confusing commands like "Subtract Layer," this is where that stuff all came from. It was standard graphic arts technique.

The final step was to print the poster. I used the local print shop that we used for our high school newspaper. They had a beautiful Miele sheet-fed offset press that was probably manufactured in the 1920s. The poster was designed to fit exactly twice in the maximum paper size of this press, so the sheets could be chopped in half. I picked a glossy, stiff poster paper for this job.

I went back to the print shop to see if the printing plates worked as I had designed them. Surprisingly, they had already printed the whole job, but on the wrong paper, on the wrong press. But the posters looked great, I took one sheet as a proof. They printed on much larger sheets on a more expensive press than I could afford, they upgraded my job for free. But the larger press used bigger sheets of paper, that's why I targeted the smaller press. Now the posters had large white edges that would all have to be chopped off, 5 precise cuts in the big cutting machine instead of one. I didn't care much about that, they didn't charge extra for the cutting, but it was just another step where errors could occur. I loved the thick, matte paper they used, I told them to not reprint the job on the right paper, I'd take the job as-is. But when I came back the next day, they had reprinted the whole job on the glossy paper and discarded the matte version. So this press proof is the only remaining matte version.

The final press run was printed, cut, and wrapped in brown butcher-paper bundles. The whole job was a stack of paper about two feet high. It was amazingly heavy. I loaded the bundles into my sister's trunk so she could drive them back to college, I could see the rear end of her car sag slightly under the weight. She told me that everyone at WHPK loved the poster. I suspected they liked it mostly because the design was so elaborate for such a low budget. Most of the money went to the printer. I can't remember the exact budget, but I vaguely recall the printing cost about $100 and I think I made about $25 for myself. The cost of materials couldn't be more than about $3, but I don't recall exactly.

Well that was quite a trip down memory lane. It is amazing how much I remember about this specific job, considering it was 37 years ago. And then I realize, I've been working in print and design for over 37 years! I often think about how many obscure technical skills were required to manually produce these projects, and how those tools and methods are considered a lost art in the modern digital design world. But these primitive skills were the foundation of my lifetime career in graphic design and printing. 

Printing and design has changed so much over the years, but I can never really get far from my roots. Coincidentally, I now live next door to the old print shop site. They disbanded long ago, now it's a hardware store. I am writing this article about 150 feet from where this poster was printed.

Blizzard 2/1/2011

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Iowa City had a severe blizzard last night, at least 15 inches of snow and 40 mph winds. The National Guard has been mobilized to handle a snow emergency. I always get stuck in my parking lot when it snows like this, and it can take a couple of days for the plow to dig us out. When the storm was over, this is what I saw.

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The wind was at just the right angle to blow the snowdrifts away from my car. Everyone else is buried 4 feet deep.

Update: The plow finally dug us out on Feb 4, three days after the blizzard.

1975: 3M VQC Copier Art

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The photocopier was invented for graphic arts, so when great technical improvements occurred in the 1960s and 70s, artists were immediately attracted to copiers as a graphic arts medium. One of the pioneers of copier art was Wallace Berman, he worked with a wet process known as Verifax. Berman's work was influential, but complex wet processes are barely an improvement over photo darkroom processes. 

Copiers were designed for reproducing text or line drawings, the high contrast copies made it difficult to reproduce photographs or continuous tone artwork. But in the 1970s, a photographic quality copier was in widely distributed, the 3M VQC Copier. Artists loved it, a coin operated VQC copier was available at a local public library, artists like me lined up to use it for hours at a time. 

One of the great features of the VQC is that you could run copies through multiple times, overlaying images. Each pass through the copier had a different tonal quality, and you could change copier settings for more effects. You could also draw on the copier paper with markers or silverpoint before printing on it, the copier toner would not adhere to the drawing. Direct manipulation of the copy process was easy, but the results were unpredictable. 

Here's an image I made sometime around 1975. It's a copy of a bold graphic poster from Japan, run through the copier twice. The second impression is gray, offset from the first. If this artwork turned out well, it was probably because of the graphic artist who made the original poster.

CopierArt1975.gif

Copier art was a revolutionary technique in modern mechanical reproduction. Some graphic artists started using copiers to enlarge images, rather than using projector systems like the Lucygraph. Some artists even turned copiers on their side and used them as cameras, foreshadowing the digital camera. But in the Postmodernist aesthetic, copiers were used to produce flat images, reducing the world to two dimensions, stamped out repetitively.

Here's another copier artwork I made. It's taken directly from the VQC copier repairman's test image. This is just an intermediate stage of preparation for the final artwork, made by cutting up copies and gluing them together. You can see the image is produced with halftone dots, It's line art so it's not really photographic and not much of a challenge for the VQC. But it's easy to chop up any old image and change the meaning by multiplying it. You might be able to tell the eyes on the left have more detail than the eyes on the right (a second generation copy). You could manipulate detail and add noise by making multiple generations. 

CopierArt1975.gif 

Here's the final artwork, run through the copier over and over, in different orientations. Each generation added more grainy noise. I thought this gave the final print some richness that was lacking in the original line art.

CopierArt1975.gif

Each of these images are the width of a sheet of copier paper. I wish I could reproduce them larger, so you could see the rich detail, but alas, I can only provide thumbnails, to prevent my images from being pirated. Note that these images (like all original content on my blog) are copyrighted: Copyright © Charles Eicher 1975-2011.

It wasn't a great leap from the copier artists of the 1970s to the desktop publishing revolution of the 1980s. But perhaps some of the fun went out of the medium. LaserWriters with digital input always gave you the exact, precise results. You never knew quite what you were going to get with the old analog copiers like the VQC. 

1976: Life Drawing 101

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I was going through some folios of old artwork and found this little sketch from my oldest Life Drawing classes. This must date to around 1976. I was a total rookie at drawing, this is kind of embarrassing, but I can see some good qualities here. This sort of artwork would be considered "juvenilia," work done as a young artist who hadn't quite figured out what he's doing.

Nude-in-Wicker-Chair.jpg

Now obviously I'm struggling here with the proportions of the leg, there are some erasures and I probably had it better before I erased it. The leg and torso are presented flat in the picture plane, so I did have some sort of idea of what I was trying to do with this drawing. The left leg also has problems, but it is shaded in a way that pushes it back from the picture plane. You can see it took me a couple of tries to get the round shape of the wicker chair, but it's shaded rather nicely. There are two or three different pencil hardnesses in use here.

But I am rather more pleased with the torso and shoulder, the proportions are right and it forms the front plane with the leg. It's hard to indicate the roundness of forms when you draw in these sketchy strokes, executed so rapidly. But the sketchy strokes work well when just suggesting the shape of a shoulder blade, the shadow under the upper arm, or the shape of the hips and buttocks. The round curves in the back of the chair pull the picture inward, while the square front of the chair helps establish the front plane of the model.

The problem with this sort of life drawing is that the poses are only a few minutes, so you don't have time to work everything out. The classes are designed to help you work out your issues with proportion and lighting, but you can only work on a couple of things in a single drawing. It's almost impossible to get it all right.

This drawing is about six inches across, in the corner of a large 18 x 24 inch sheet of paper. The full page is taken up by an unfinished sketch in large, rough, black chalk, working out the composition. It is obviously abandoned but has the same composition as the sketch. I can tell I did a quick chalk sketch but didn't like it, and didn't want to waste the whole sheet of paper, so I did this little sketch in the corner.

I am not an artist with natural draftsmanship skills, it's hard work developing those skills. I still have poor draftsmanship, which is pathetic because I have a BFA degree in Drawing and Painting. Obviously being unable to draw well is not an obstacle to an art degree in Drawing. I recently did some Life Drawing studio sessions and I can tell I still struggle with the same problems of body proportion and how to convincingly portray it. Now I have other qualities that help my drawing rise above the level of just another poor draftsman, and I can see some faint impressions of my current drawing methods in this old drawing. That's why artists sometimes keep juvenilia, to compare it to their current work, and see where they came from.

It's interesting to compare to what other work I was doing in art school at that time. I might have been at the cutting edge of computer graphics at the time, but I still had to take the basic Life Drawing classes, like every art student. Today, every art student wants to do computer graphics, but I've done that. Now I'd rather do Life Drawing.

Body Temperature

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Last winter, I caught the Swine Flu, I was sick for a whole month. I went to the doctor, they took my temperature, it was 96.5F. I didn't know your body temp could drop like that, I asked the doctor about it, he said, "it's within a normal range." Ever since then, my average normal body temperature has been 96.5F.

This winter, I caught a terrible cold, I've been sick for over a month. I went to the doctor, my body temperature was recorded at 93.5F! I thought any body temp that low meant the time of death was within the last 4 hours. At one point, I had a terrible fever, my temp shot up to 97.5, I felt like I had a fever of 104. But I must be getting better, my temp has stabilized back to 96.5.

Next winter, I hope I don't get a cold like this. I don't know how much lower my body temperature can get. I'm already at the edge of hypothermia.

Sox 3, Charles 0

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I have a problem with socks. I have a problem with women and socks. I remember once I was doing the laundry and I found a lost sock. It was a little women's footie, I thought maybe my girlfriend left it behind, it was the kind of socks she wore when working out.

So the next time she came over, I gave her the sock. She looked at it and was immediately enraged. She said, "This isn't my sock. It must be your other girlfriend's sock," and she stormed out the front door. I was stunned, I had plenty enough problems with this one girlfriend, I sure didn't have (or need) another one. But she was convinced another woman left it at my house, and she wouldn't speak to me for a whole month. The sock's original owner is unknown. I can only guess that it was left behind in a dryer in the laundromat, then I threw my laundry in that dryer.

That was years ago, but I've had some recent sock problems too. A woman friend came over last winter on a cold, wet day. She asked if I had any dry socks. I gave her one of my best pairs of socks. I had two identical pairs of my warmest socks, big thick black woolen winter socks, I wore one pair and she wore the other. She wore them home and I never got them back.

Now the other pair of black woolly socks is gone too, thieved by another woman. Another friend came over and threw her jacket down on the floor by my shoes and socks. For reasons I will never figure out, she took my socks when she picked up her jacket and left. I asked her about it, she said, "oops, I just swept up my jacket and stuff and I guess I grabbed your socks too." I demanded the return of my favorite socks. She said it was too late, she was doing laundry for someone else and gave my socks to them. No getting them back. Now I have no good winter socks at all. And someone else is now wondering where the hell this pair of rogue socks came from.

Update: Sox 3, Charles 1. I found a third pair of my favorite black socks. So now I have the one pair left.

The Anthropomorphic Principle

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Never anthropomorphize computers, they are inanimate objects. Never treat computers as if they have human feelings and emotions, they don't like it.

Houseplant 5.0

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I've previously written about my Dieffenbachia plant, I'm rather proud of it. It keeps getting overgrown, so it falls over and breaks off. Then I take cuttings and start all over again. Each new generation is a clone of the previous one. This plant could be immortal if I just kept cloning it forever. But it almost died out.

When I last wrote about my houseplant, it was Version 3.0. I had already started over two times, it was the third generation. A few months ago, it grew too tall and broke off again. I started Houseplant 4.0, but it was unsuccessful, it did not take root. Fortunately, I kept a backup of Houseplant 3.0. I kept one stalk of the broken plant growing, just in case 4.0 failed. And it did fail. So I cut the stalk into segments and buried them, to start new cuttings. Two of these segments almost completely failed, but two more were very successful. Here's a picture of the plant after spending the summer growing outside on my deck.

rooted.jpg

But the plant is a mess. All the new shoots are crammed together in a row. If I leave them like that, they'll crowd each other and break off easily. They need to be spread out around the pot, to make it look fuller and more attractive. So it is time to traumatize this plant by digging it all up, cutting it apart, and repotting it. This picture shows the cuttings after I carefully dug them up.

cuttings.jpg

You can see two big stem segments with two new shoots, I can cut those apart so each shoot grows separately. In the lower right, there are two small shoots, that's all that's left of a couple of 6 inch long segments. They almost completely rotted away, but new little plants are just starting out. They're several months of development behind the big shoots, but they'll work well to fill out the plant once they get going. Here is the final result, after repotting. You can see one little leaf of a new shoot in the lower right.

repotted.jpg

In a month or two, this will all be filled out and much taller. It will eventually grow to about 5 or 6 feet, then fall over and break off again. Then I can start on Houseplant 6.0.

One of the reasons I like this dieffenbachia plant so much is the variegation. It has an interesting pattern of different intensities of green. Mathematician Alan Turing wrote extensively on the organizational structures of these patterns. He called the growth of these patterns "morphogenesis" and developed mathematical functions to describe their growth as a "reaction-diffusion" system. In more modern mathematical terms, we might describe these patterns as having been generated by cellular automata. These are essentially two different ways of viewing the same problem; Turing viewed it as an analog system, cellular automata are digital systems. But I prefer Turing's system. I think cellular automata are a cheap trick, they're for people who are too lazy to go to the trouble of understanding Turing's math.

Guitar Nut

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A few months ago, suddenly I could not play my guitar because it was missing a small part, a tiny metric lock-nut. And that is the beginning of a long, strange story.

I purchased my first new guitar in 1976, a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe. The Deluxe was the low end of the Les Paul line, I couldn't afford the Standard or the Custom. But it was a fine guitar, it was a real Les Paul, even if it had cheaper pickups than the other models. I worked all summer mowing lawns and sweeping floors, I finally raised enough money and bought a nice Les Paul Deluxe I found at West Music for about $675. I also asked the store to make one tiny customization to the guitar, it had really cheap tuning pegs, so I had them replaced with high quality Schaller tuning pegs, for about another $50. With the addition of these precision German tuners, this was a professional quality guitar I would keep for the rest of my life. I couldn't play guitar worth a damn, but I figured I'd grow into this instrument as my skills improved over my lifetime.

Here's a picture of a Les Paul Deluxe just like mine that I found on the web:

Les-Paul-Deluxe.jpg

When I moved to Los Angeles in 1982, of course I took my guitar with me. I played and practiced my guitar a lot, but I still wasn't very good at it. Then tragedy struck, my beautiful guitar was stolen. My stupid girlfriend had a friend of hers come to visit, he wanted to crash on the couch overnight. I didn't want him to stay, but she insisted, and I couldn't talk her out of it. When we got up in the morning, he was gone, and so was my guitar. That's why I didn't want him to stay overnight, I figured something like this would happen when I heard him describe how he funded his cross-country travels by shoplifting at KMarts and using phony receipts to get cash refunds on the stolen goods at the next town's KMart. Strangely, he took only the guitar and left the empty case behind.

I called the police to report the theft. To my dismay, my stupid girlfriend insisted I report the one other item he took, a hand carved Japanese wooden dildo. This insured the LAPD would not take my theft report seriously. The LAPD officers scoffed at the report of the stolen dildo, they seemed amused by my embarrassment and enjoyed humiliating me.

I never heard back from the LAPD but I hoped that my guitar might turn up in a pawn shop or guitar store, they're required to report serial numbers to check against the "hot sheet" and to return the stolen items if there's a match. The stores don't have much incentive to work with this system, every match means they have to give up an item they bought, and the thief gets away with the money.

Several years later, I was walking down the street near my office in Van Nuys, I walked past a pawn shop, and there was a Les Paul Deluxe in the window. It was the same color as mine and everything matched. I didn't want to alert the shop, so I went to the LAPD Hollywood Division, where the theft was originally reported. I told them I thought I'd located my guitar, could they please check it out? They checked some records and then told me the guitar at the pawn shop was not mine. They said my guitar had already been recovered long ago. I was baffled, but the LAPD Detectives absolutely refused to help me any further, and wouldn't say why.

I had some difficulty working my way past the detectives, but finally I reached a Lieutenant. He checked it out and discovered my guitar had been found about a year after the theft, it was bought by The Guitar Center, just 2 blocks from my home. The LAPD Detectives tried unsuccessfully to contact me to help me reclaim my stolen property. I had moved since the theft, but the theft report had my office phone number, and they still couldn't find me. So they gave up and my guitar became the legal property of The Guitar Center.

I suddenly recalled an incident that puzzled me at the time. My boss told me, "hey Charles, the cops called looking for you, but I told them I never heard of you." I wondered what that was about, I wasn't ducking the law for any reason, and it had been so long since the theft, I didn't connect it. My stupid boss thought he was doing me a favor, shielding me from the cops, but instead, he blocked the one chance I had to recover my guitar.

The Lieutenant called The Guitar Center, but there wasn't much hope they would still have my guitar, several years had passed since they took possession. But they still had it in their warehouse, unsold. The Lieutenant suggested I try to purchase the guitar back. I went to The Guitar Center, they located my guitar and I confirmed it was mine. They offered to sell it back to me for what they paid for it: $200. I was broke and unemployed, I barely had money to eat, let alone buy back my guitar. I was despondent. My beautiful guitar was right in front of me, but I couldn't get it back. Stalemate.

A few days later, my sister Janet heard me whining about my stolen guitar, and she did a truly wonderful thing. Christmas was approaching, so she secretly negotiated with The Guitar Center, and got my Mother to buy it back as a surprise christmas present. My Mom wired the money to my sister, and at about noon on December 24, she phoned me, told me to come pick up the $200 and go buy my guitar back, but I had to do it today, before the holiday, because someone else wanted to buy it. If I didn't pick it up immediately, they'd sell it out from under me.

I was across town from my sister's place, traffic was snarled on christmas eve, it took me hours to go pick up the money and get to The Guitar Center. I got there at 4:45, just before closing time. Stevie Wonder and his entourage were in the store shopping for keyboards, the shopkeepers were fawning all over him, it took a bit of effort to get someone's attention. I told the clerk why I was there, he knew about it, and went into the back room and retrieved my guitar. He placed it right in front of me, and asked for $250. I was enraged, he welshed on the deal. I figured that he planned on pocketing the extra $50 for himself. The $200 was every cent I had, I couldn't pay more, but I knew just how to take care of this.

I started yelling, deliberately loud enough so Stevie Wonder could hear me. I figured the store wouldn't want to look bad in front of a celebrity musician and maybe blow a big sale over a measly $50. I yelled, "you already agreed to sell me back my stolen guitar for $200, and now you want $250?" I paused for a moment to see if Stevie was listening, and he was, every person in the store was listening. So I laid it on thick, "you're trying to gouge me for another $50 on christmas eve? It's bad enough that I have to buy back my own stolen property. Now you're trying to steal another $50 from me! I want to talk to the store manager right now! I want my stolen guitar back for the price we already agreed on!"

This obviously worked because a guy broke away from the Stevie Wonder entourage, and introduced himself as the manager. I explained the situation and he glared at me, he knew what I had just pulled off, but he took my $200 and gave me back my guitar. I ran like hell out of there and went home with my prize.

When I finally got home and inspected my guitar, I was horrified. The guitar was all banged up, it had no protection since the thief didn't take the case with him. The front had a big ugly dent in the shiny varnish. The back was all dinged up, that's known as "buckle rash." Whoever had this guitar for a year had a big belt buckle that repeatedly scraped the back when he played, oh it was ugly. I had kept my guitar in pristine condition for years, I would even pull my shirttail over my buckle to protect it from buckle rash. And now some unknown person had screwed it all up. And worst of all, there were these stupid gadgets attached to the posts where the guitar strap attached. They were called "strap locks."

One of the notorious problems with the Les Paul models is that the guitar strap always slips off the top attachment post, the guitar can drop right out of your hands and smash into the floor if you're not careful. But I never used a strap lock, I'd never seen one before. I had a locking guitar strap that never pulled loose. But now I couldn't use that type of strap, I had to deal with this stupid strap lock. I could never figure out why anyone would think this was an improvement, it had sharp edges and looked like it would eventually cut right through the leather strap.

Just a few months ago, in July 2009, that's exactly what happened. The leather strap was now useless. Over 20 years or so, I used the same leather strap, but it got shredded and now the strap would fall off, despite the strap lock. This was worse than if it had no strap locks at all, I couldn't play my guitar at all. I decided to take my guitar back to West Music, the exact same location I'd originally bought it, and test out a new strap on my guitar.

When I opened the case, the West Music clerk said, "wow, that's exactly the same as my first guitar that I bought 30 years ago." I told him how this was my first guitar too, and told him my story. He decided to help me out in selecting a new strap. But when he inspected the guitar, he said, "here's your problem, your strap lock is missing a washer and a lock-nut that holds down the strap. You don't need a new strap, you just need a new washer and nut." Those parts weren't on my guitar when I recovered it, I had never seen a strap lock before, so I never knew the parts were missing. I had been using the strap lock incorrectly all this time. No wonder the strap was worn through.

So I went over to the parts department to see if they had the nut, I could get a washer anywhere, but the nut had to match exactly. I was surprised when the repairman turned out to be the same guy who had set up my guitar and installed the Schaller tuners when I bought it in 1976. But times had changed, now West Music was no longer a Gibson dealer. He took a look at my guitar and snarled, "oh this is a Les Paul from the dark years." Unfortunately it was true. In 1976, Gibson Guitar Co. was on the verge of bankruptcy, the guitars made at that time were notorious as the worst, most cheaply built guitars they had ever made. But I didn't know that at the time. I was curious about the value of the guitar in the 33 years since I bought it. He estimated it was worth about $2500, which is exactly what my purchase price was equivalent to in 2009 dollars. My guitar wasn't increasing in value, but at least it wasn't decreasing, despite being an undesirable model from "the dark years." When I thought about how much work I must have done to raise the equivalent of $2500, I was impressed with my younger self for working so hard.

But returning to the current problem, I asked the repairman for a replacement nut, and apologized that the part was probably worth less than a dollar and it would take him more than a dollar's worth of effort to locate one. He rummaged around and tried several nuts, but after 20 minutes, he could not find one that matched. The only way he could provide the nut was if I bought an entirely new set of Schaller strap locks just like the ones I had on the guitar now. But I balked at paying $20 for a whole new set of hardware when I only needed the nut. So he suggested I check around local hardware stores for a match. Fortunately I could just carry the strap lock to test the fit of a nut, I wouldn't have to lug around the whole guitar.

Over the next 2 days, I checked in every single hardware store in the area, and could not find a matching nut. I even checked a specialized fastener dealer that could get any nut made in the world, but only in bulk. They didn't have a matching nut either. Apparently it had some odd thread pitch and was an obscure metric nut, their only solution was to order $50 worth of nuts in bulk. I was getting no closer to a solution. I wondered why Schaller would use a part that was so hard to replace. Perhaps this nut is common in Germany, but not here in the US.

There was nothing left to do but deal directly with Schaller. I looked on their website, I could buy a repair kit of assorted nuts at an outrageous price, but I could not purchase a single replacement nut. I thought perhaps a Schaller Authorized Dealer might have this kit and could sell me one nut. I checked their list of Authorized Dealers, I called all over the country, but none of them had this kit, or any replacement parts at all. I decided to send a message to Schaller customer service via their website. I explained that I couldn't locate the right part, and asked if I could purchase one individual nut. I waited for weeks but I got no response. And I still couldn't play my guitar. I was frustrated.

So it looked like the only solution was to buy the whole damn strap lock kit, just to get the one stupid nut. I decided to check online, the kit usually sold for $12.95, I sure as hell wasn't going to buy it at West Music for the exorbitant $20 they wanted. I went to Musician's Pro Shop, they sold me a new kit for $13. They offered to remove all the old parts and put on the new parts at no cost. Problem solved, but at way too high a price.

I thought I would need a new guitar strap too, but I realized I could just cut off the end of the leather strap and punch a new hole. The strap would be a couple of inches shorter, but that was better than buying a new strap.

I was back in action. I played my guitar more and more, with the confidence that the strap would never fall off. I could even tap my feet, get into the music, and almost dance with my guitar, rather than standing there stiffly, hoping the strap doesn't fall off if I move too much.

The very next day after I replaced the missing parts, I received an email from Germany:

Dear Charles,
we send to you the parts.
Best regards
Lars


Schaller Electronic GmbH
Dr. Lars Bünning
Geschäftsführender Gesellschafter
Managing Director - Owner

A few days later, I received this in the mail.

schaller-envelope.jpg

Inside the letter was another envelope.

Schaller-Inner-envelope.jpg

And inside that was a tiny ziploc bag with two sets of washers and nuts.

Schaller-Nuts.jpg

I guess my plea for parts eventually got to the owner of the company, and he sent me the parts for free. I was so surprised that the owner would get personally involved that I didn't even mind that I'd already paid $13 for a whole new strap lock kit. For this kind of customer service (even if it took a while) they deserved the money.

Now I play my guitar more than ever. I play so hard, I get overheated and sweat until my clothes are soaked through and I can barely hold my slippery guitar pick. My fingertips have thick calluses from hours of pressing against the strings. And my skills have improved so rapidly, I can hardly believe it. I am finally achieving the levels of guitar proficiency that I dreamt of when I first bought my Les Paul Deluxe in 1976. And unfortunately, this is one of the greatest tragedies in my life. But I will leave that story for my next essay.


P.S. Dear stupid ex-girlfriend: I know you read my blog. I wrote about this story at such length partly to show you how your stupid choices can have consequences that haunt people for decades. This is why I never speak to you.

P.P.S. Dear recent crazy ex-girlfriend: I don't know if you read my blog, but I really wrote this story for you. You might remember when we were hanging out downtown at a cafe and I borrowed a stranger's guitar so I could play you a song. That would have been the first time anyone had heard me play guitar in 20 years, and I asked you to be the one. I waited and waited but I couldn't even get you to sit still long enough to listen. So I gave up, and gave the guitar back to the guy. Then you listened to him play you a song. When he was done, you finally asked me to play, but my moment was already over, you gave it to a stranger. I declined to play my song, and instead tried to avert my humiliation by explaining how excited I was to get my guitar parts and start playing again. You said I was "getting all pissy." That was when I discovered you were completely oblivious to anyone's feelings but your own. But just you wait, you will have your moment in the tragic Part 2 of this story.

Steven Holl: Architect from Hell

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I am outraged that the University of Iowa has, for a second time, selected architect Steven Holl to design a new building on the Arts Campus. Holl was previously commissioned to design the Art Building West to replace the old art building that was heavily damaged in floods in 1993. However, Holl disregarded the primary design goal, to build above the flood plain. In fact, he built it even lower than the previous flood-damaged buildings. He could easily have built the building a few feet uphill from its present site, avoiding the flood risk, but Holl fell in love with a pond on the site, and built the building at the level of the pond, well below the level of the flood plain. And of course the building was flooded and seriously damaged during the floods of June 2008. Now Holl is commissioned to build another Art Department building adjacent to the old building, just uphill, where he should have built the first building. Here is a photo of the old building during the flood, taken from the position of the new building's site, notice that the new site is above the flood waters.

ABW.jpg

I attended the opening of Art Building West in 2006 and met Steven Holl. I intended to produce a full review of the building's architecture and the architect, but I was so livid at the outrageous problems with the building, I decided to wait until I cooled off before writing my scathing review. But it has been years since the opening, and now I am angrier than ever. So I will have to write my review. It will take some effort to write it clearly when I am so angry at Holl, but let me preview the most salient point. Holl's distinctive architectural features, his staircases, are a hazard to the occupants of the building. Before the new Art Building had even opened, one visitor was seriously injured, falling down a staircase because it did not conform to building codes. The building will continue to injure people for as long as it is in use. Fortunately, the building has not been used since the 2008 floods. I am outraged that the University of Iowa would, once again, hire this architect to design another building. No doubt he will design another similar building, with features that are designed to please the architect, but disregard the safety of the building's occupants.

Cover Album

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Occasionally I find an exceptionally interesting piece of music. It's not often that this happens, I'm firmly stuck in the 1970s Punk era, and they just aren't making any more 1970s Punk music. I've heard it all before, and the more times I hear it, the better I like it.

However, a very interesting "tribute" CD was released in 1996, with contemporary bands (and even some old school punks) covering their favorite Buzzcocks songs.

Buzzcocks.GIF.gif

It took me a while to figure out why I liked this album so much. I did what I usually do when listening to music, I picked up my electric guitar and played along. Some of the arrangements were eccentric, and it was jarring to hear the Buzzcocks as heavy metal. I listened to the songs and then wondered why I don't listen to the original tracks very often. This is just the sort of music I like to play my guitar with.

The Buzzcocks appeared on some of the first recordings to come out of the British punk scene. They were rough, poorly recorded, but full of the new Punk energy. I bought all those tunes on vinyl when they first came out. Now I have them all as mp3s. So I went to my iTunes collection and pulled up some originals, tried to play along, and immediately discovered the problem.

The Buzzcocks just could not tune their instruments properly. That's a common problem with a band with only guitars and bass, they tune to each other, it doesn't matter if they're at the wrong pitch as long as they're at the same pitch. So almost all my favorite songs were recorded out of tune with my guitar at standard tuning.

I could tune my guitar to the song, but that isn't very practical, since each song might be slightly out of tune with the others. Then I recalled what I did, some 33 years ago, when I played along to the Buzzcocks on vinyl. Every turntable has a "pitch control" so you could adjust the speed of the turntable. You could take that out of tune track and raise or lower it's pitch a little bit, enough to get in tune with your guitar. But the tempo changes too, so you can't be too aggressive with your pitch control.

But that was enough to play along with the records on a turntable. I don't know of any similar digital process on a computer or mp3 player. There are programs like the "Amazing Slow-downer" that will slow down your song without changing the pitch. I want just the opposite, to change the pitch without changing the tempo.

I could change the pitch in any audio processing program and then write it back to another mp3. But it would be difficult to get a precise match, and I don't know how to get it at the correct pitch and preserve the tempo. None of this is as easy as just turning the dial on the turntable until the song's key matched your guitar tuning.

But the new modern album has all the advantages of modern technology, including digital tuning. With my guitar software, Guitar Rig, and my guitar that is well set up with pro tuning pegs, I can get my tuning accuracy to within 1/1000th of a note. And you need to be tuned to the correct standard, especially with modern digital production techniques. Your track might not be recorded at the same time as other tracks, the artists might not even be in the same room at the same time. So they need to have a common standard tuning.

So the new album of cover songs are all in tune. I can play along with them and sometimes I think "Oh, so that's the chord progression I've spent decades searching for." And now I have enough skills to play them, unlike when I was a teenager with my first new electric guitar, when I heard these songs for the first time.

Iowa Bans Loosies

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I was at a local tobacco parlor today and was surprised to see a notice that Iowa Law had changed and selling loosies is now illegal. "Loosies" are loose cigarettes, sold individually. Now it is illegal to sell less than 1 pack with 20 cigarettes. The tobacco parlor did a fair business selling loosies at 55 cents each. I know they sell a lot of loosies, because I bought a lot of loosies there myself.
I sometimes cave in on my attempt to quit smoking. I bought a single smoke now and then, and then gave them up and tried to go back to nonsmoking. If I just bought a single loosie, I wouldn't have to buy a whole pack. And if I have a pack, I'll smoke them all, all 20. And then I've totally caved in and started smoking a pack a day again.
The clerk at the shop said they could not sell loosies, but they had a bag of loose tobacco, I could roll my own, that's the only way they could sell a single smoke. I rolled a couple of smokes from their rough shag tobacco. I smoked the two hand-rolls (with filters) and felt like I smoked a whole pack (cough). The tobacco guy said, "couldn't you just buy a whole pack and then only smoke one? And then put the rest aside?" No, that's exactly what I can't do, if I have cigarettes around, I'll smoke them. I am trying to quit and having cigarettes around is a temptation I can't resist. But if I have to go all the way across town just to buy one or two, that is inconvenient enough to resist.
Anyway, loosies are a menace. They're for losers like me who can only have one smoke. They're sold in places that attract people who can only afford one cigarette, like the homeless and street beggars. I remember one incident where I had incredible bad timing, to be on Skid Row at midnight in search of a loosie. Wrong time, wrong place.
A friend of mine invited me to a party in an art director's loft in downtown LA, just off Skid Row in a high-security building. She was having a wrap party for the film Repo Man. About midnight, my friend and I ran out of cigarettes. There was a 24 hour convenience store a half-block away on the corner of 4th and Wall St., the core of skid row, the absolute worst place in the city. They had a security window on the sidewalk where they sold cheap whiskey and Thunderbird wine to street winos, and single loosies to the panhandling street people. It was about a block from the Skid Row Mission, this was the deadliest block on LA's Skid Row. The artist's loft was only possible in this neighborhood due to the impenetrable concrete building with heavy security and indoor parking.
Well anyway, my friend and I, both being downtown Loft District residents, Skid Row didn't scare us, and we could watch each other's backs, so we foolishly left the fortified loft and went out into the street, down to the corner store. You could buy 4 loosies with a dollar, that was about all the cash you could flash on Skid Row or you'd get robbed. But as soon as we had paid a dollar for our smokes, we were surrounded by some toughs with switchblades. I offered them a loosie but some people will do anything for one dollar. The thugs brandished their knives and demanded our money, and just as they were about to make good on their threats, suddenly from out of nowhere, an LAPD car screeched to a halt right at the curb right beside us. The thugs scattered, and the officer approached. He asked what we were doing here, I said we'd just come from around the corner at a loft party and we were buying cigarettes. The cop said we better get the hell out of here fast. We ran straight back to the party and didn't re-emerge until morning when I got my car out of their security garage. Well at least I got a few loosies, even if I had to risk my life for them. They're killing me slowly anyway.
So loosies are a menace to your health and probably a menace to society in general. But worst of all, the new unavailability of loosies is going to force me to deal with my ineffective attempts to quit tobacco. I already bought a whole pack today, since I couldn't get just one loosie.

Bad Blogger

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I am a bad blogger. I just updated my blog software and posted my 2010 New Year's Card. Then I decided to check out my RSS feed, and I was astonished to find my 2009 New Year's Card still on the page! My collected blog output for the whole year fit inside a single, short RSS web page.
In the entire year of 2009, I only wrote nine posts. And I'm paying $120 per year to my ISP, so I essentially paid about $13 per post. And my ISP, Dreamhost, is part of the problem, they wrecked my software so I couldn't post anything for two whole months. At least my old articles were still available, even if I couldn't post anything new.
So I have to get back to work writing. And that's the reason I am writing this trivial little notice, just to put something up and get things moving again. I have had to write this sort of apology before, when I wrote nothing for several months and my blog's entire front page was blank.
I am planning on reviving some of my oldest web pages that have been archived for years and posting them here on my blog. My old content deserves some place to be publicly archived. But I'm going to have to dig around my archives and find them, that might take some time as I have about 4Tb of archives. And that doesn't include my pre-blogging archives on floppies and other weird media.
And then there is another reason I wrote so little on my blog, I've been writing professionally. There is much greater satisfaction in getting paid for my writing, rather than paying to publish it myself on the blog. And I have the additional benefit of posting my professional writing here too, once The Register releases them from their exclusive rights. So I'll post a few of my old articles when I get a chance.
You did not come,
And marching Time drew on, and wore me numb.
Yet less for loss of your dear presence there
Than that I thus found lacking in your make
That high compassion which can overbear
Reluctance for pure lovingkindness' sake
Grieved I, when, as the hope-hour stroked its sum,
You did not come.

You love not me,
And love alone can lend you loyalty;
-I know and knew it. But, unto the store
Of human deeds divine in all but name,
Was it not worth a little hour or more
To add yet this: Once you, a woman, came
To soothe a time-torn man; even though it be
You love not me.

The Sword of Damocles

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When guilty Pomp the drawn sword sees
  Hung o'er her, richest feasts in vain
Strain their sweet juice her taste to please;
  No lutes, no singing birds again
Will bring her sleep.

A Drunken Scrawl

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I'm doing better than usual.

Drunken.gif

Relic

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I discovered this relic, a torn fragment of an IBM punchcard. It is my oldest computing artifact.



This is a JCL control card that was put at the top of a deck of punched cards. It was the first card in your program, it had "Job Control Language" instructions that told the computer how to run your program, and who the program belonged to. This card says

$JOB "CENTRAL JR. HIGH-- C.EICHER",KP-29,TIME=3,PAGES=10

This card is from my first computer programming class, back in junior high school, circa 1970. The card has suffered with age, the end is torn off, the punches are ripped and damaged, and the printing at the top is fading. But it is still a precious relic that reminds me of a time when I was young and had unlimited potential.

Copyfraud

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My latest article for The Register is now online: "Copyfraud: Poisoning the public domain." This is another classic example of my journalistic style, it took me nearly 2 years to get this article finished. I could write a whole book on this subject, but fortunately, someone else is already writing it. My article owes much to law professor Jason Mazzone, who coined the term in his paper entitled Copyfraud. Without his work, I would never have understood the nature of the problem. Now he is writing a book expanding on this article. I contacted him and his book, originally scheduled for publication this spring, is still being written. So now I don't feel so bad, having taken far too long to write my own article. Great legal minds are still wrestling with the topic, and it is a rapidly evolving problem so it's a bit hard to shoot at this moving target. New cases of copyfraud are being uncovered, and I regret that due to space limitations, I had to cut several great examples of copyfraud that deserved to be exposed. Each of those examples is worth an article of its own. Perhaps I will write a followup article.. in another 2 years.

RIP Lux Interior

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I have been very upset for the past few days, since I heard news of the death of Lux Interior, frontman for The Cramps. This always happens when I hear of the death of one of the Punk idols of my youth. But this one struck me particularly hard.
There seems to be a wall that the old Punks hit, right about my age. They all hit it and go splat. When I read their obituaries, the first thing I look for is their age. I don't know if I'm looking for confirmation that I outlived them, or afraid that I will go splat soon myself. But Lux was older than me, he was 62. For a moment, I felt a wave of relief, soon to be replaced by total panic. I did a mental calculation, 62 minus my age equals X, holy shit, I only have X years left to do something as totally fucking awesome as Lux did. That would be almost impossible. I am doomed.
And then I immediately thought of his wife, Poison Ivy. I never really cared that much about Lux, but I have always had an intense crush on Ivy. She was the real reason I loved The Cramps, there isn't a hotter woman guitarist out there. And she was way out there. I spent years copying and practicing her guitar licks, nobody influenced the way I play more than she did, and today I sound pretty much like Ivy would if she was as untalented as I am. When I heard the news, I immediately thought, what is she going to do without Lux? The Cramps are dead now. How will she go on without her husband? Oh wait, maybe this is my shot! I know I could make her happy! I told a dear friend about my tormented thoughts of hitting on Ivy during her time of mourning, and she replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm, "Oh Charles, you're always looking on the bright side!"
Lux's death struck me especially hard because The Cramps were the first real live Punk gig I ever saw. It was so long ago it is hard to remember precisely when, but as far as I can recall, it was December 31, 1979, at The Strand Ballroom in Chicago. It was billed as "The New Year's Eve of the Century." And it totally was. The Cramps were at the peak of their early days, having just released their first full album. So when I heard about the Chicago gig, my brother and I planned a junket to see the concert. So he and I, and a few of our friends from Iowa City drove up.
We must have been a pathetic sight to the native Chicago punks, a group of hayseeds from Iowa who were out of our league. But we didn't care, we enjoyed the hell out of it. We grabbed a table right up front, established our base camp, then danced and drank and [redacted] all night. We bought bottle after bottle of champagne so cheap it wasn't even real champagne, just sparkling wine. Plastic corks were flying everywhere, I distinctly remember shooting one cork all the way across the room, bouncing it right off Ivy's guitar. She didn't even flinch. I used to boast about that, until one Cramps fan told me, "You asshole, Ivy said she hated people who did stuff like that at gigs." So now I live with a terrible regret over what I have done. I don't know what I was thinking, maybe I was trying to get her attention. I feel like I must make amends. So Ivy, if you ever read this, I apologize sincerely, and I will do whatever it takes to assuage my feelings of guilt. I will clean your 7 inch stilletto heels with my tongue and polish your latex catsuit to a lustrous shine, whatever it takes.
Well anyway, since I heard of Lux's demise, I have been in a state of agitation. I plug in my electric guitar, turn on Cramps tunes and play along for hours. My fingers are callused and bloody, my ears are ringing constantly, and I still don't feel any better. I barely feel alive. I feel like the gig is over, it's closing time. The room lights are on, exposing the club to a harsh glare. The roadies are tearing down the equipment and packing up the guitars. I'm in the mosh pit all alone, with nobody left to bash into and bounce around. The ranks of the Punks are thinning. Almost nobody who matters is left, and nobody cares but me.

2009: Year of the Ox

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I usually create a painting for a New Year's greeting, but this year I just never got around to it. I guess I'll do a Year of the Ox painting in 2021. I tried to find some time to do a little painting, but now it's getting to be too late. I considered whether it was too late, when I read a column by Miss Manners . Someone missed sending xmas cards, they tried to cover by buying New Year's cards, but didn't send them by Jan 1. So just when is it too late to send a New Year's card? Miss Manners replied:
When your friends start remembering to date their checks with the correct year or are busy addressing Valentines, whichever comes first.
Well at least this gives me an excuse to use my favorite Dave Letterman joke. It must be one of his favorites too, since he uses it every year.
2009 is the Year of the Ox. Darn it, I keep writing Year of the Rat on my checks!

It's a Miserable Life

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It's a Wonderful Life is an eternal fixture on the Christmas TV schedule. But this year, something interesting happened. Since the collapse of the housing bubble, some people have called for a re-evaluation of the story. The conflict between the hated banker Mr. Potter and the kindly George Bailey and his Building and Loan cry out for a comparison to modern times. One columnist called the protagonist, George Bailey, a purveyor of sub-prime housing loans and asserted Mr. Potter was a model of fiscal restraint. This reversal of the traditional moral of the story is interesting, but is not the whole story.
I became interested in this subject after reading an article in the New York Times entitled Wonderful? Sorry George, It’s a Pitiful, Dreadful Life! The author, Wendell Jamieson, gets to some of the core issues in the movie, he says, "after repeated viewings, that the film turns upside down and inside out.." and I agree. The constant repetition of this film, year after year on TV, has made the saccharine sentiments almost opaque, leaving us with little ability to rationally interpret the events in the film. Mr. Jamieson makes a strong case for his reevaluation, he asserts that Bedford Falls is a boring, miserable town with a stultifying middle-class moralism, thrown into high relief by its transformation into the alternate universe of Pottersville and its raucous, exciting night life. But alas, Mr. Jamieson stops just short of asking why this is so.
Many of Frank Capra's movies are almost manifestos of an American form of Socialism, for example, Meet John Doe and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The basic theme is always the same, a simple, powerless man confronts the rich and powerful man, and defeats him with the backing of the masses. But these complex political themes do not translate well into a personal story like It's a Wonderful Life, that story is perhaps unintentionally too detailed, giving insights that Capra probably did not intend.
In this year's viewing, I noticed one detail I thought was particularly revealing. During the bank run on the Bailey Building and Loan, George Bailey begs people to withdraw only what they need for a week. Several people in a row withdraw $20, then a woman asks for only $17.50. Bailey kisses her and praises her restraint. Later, when they close, they have a balance of $2, the staff dances around the room as they place the $2 in the safe, they have survived the bank panic. We are obviously meant to believe that the woman's restraint, her borrowing $2.50 less than others, has singlehandedly saved the business. But I thought it was more revealing how Bailey fawns over the two dollar bills, calling them "mama dollar and papa dollar" and worships them as if they were the most precious thing in the world. And to George Bailey, they are. Those two dollars keeps the Building and Loan afloat, and George Bailey enslaved in the job he hates.
But these are mere peripheral events around the central conflict between Mr. Potter and George Bailey. I would even describe their relationship as co-dependent. George despises his life, his whole existence is a reaction to Potter. He makes horrible choices for his own life, because he envies Potter's power. Only one thing gives Potter the power that Bailey desires: money. Bailey worships money.
The final conflict over the missing $8000 is the centerpiece of the film, but it deserves close scrutiny under this new microscope. Bailey even begs Potter to cover the loss, Potter shows how powerful he is, by calling for his arrest and disgrace in the press. This triggers Bailey's meltdown, he finally recognizes his abject lack of power, the power only money can bring.
Pottersville, however, is alternate universe where Bailey has no money, and money is no object. Pottersville represents everything Bailey desires: freedom. Everyone has everything they desire: liquor, sex, and loads of excitement. Bailey even goes into a bar, gets a drink, then realizes he has no money to pay for it. No problem, he gets tossed out the front door into the snow, he even seems to enjoy his little humiliation. But Pottersville is a figment of Bailey's imagination, a symptom of Bailey's psychotic episode. Obviously freedom is beyond any mere mortal's grasp (even with the aid of an angel).
The film's denouement, where the townspeople bring small sums of money to cover the missing $8000, deserves a total reevaluation. Little by little, all the money piles up into a mountain of crumpled currency, right in front of Bailey. These are contributions from poor people who can't really afford to part with it. Then a telegram arrives from a wealthy industrialist (and college boyfriend of Mrs. Bailey) offering a $12,000 line of credit. The contributions of the masses have instantly been rendered useless, Bailey could give it all back and rely only on the line of credit. I think the individual donors should be outraged. But instead, they hail Bailey as "the richest man in town."
And that is the explicit, yet unnoticed message of the film. Now George Bailey is Mr. Potter. Or at least, for a moment, Bailey's misery is relieved by the thought that he has the power that only unlimited riches can bring.
Ultimately, I think this is a despicable message. The film conflates the personal tragedies of a miserable life with the bondage of debt. It equates success with riches, and both Bailey and Potter get their riches off the poor who cannot afford to part with it. Worst of all, Capra's ham-handed sentimental ending defeats his whole purpose of depicting a socialist utopian victory; the masses are once again put in their place by the wealthy industrialist and his unlimited credit. It's a miserable film.

Fiesta Disaster!

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What a disaster, I have accidentally destroyed some of my precious FiestaWare dishes! I was carefully washing them by hand, when a stack of drying dishes started to slide. I grabbed them to stop the slide when two dishes hit together and exploded. That is $120 of collectible FiestaWare, smashed to pieces!

Broken FiestaWare

The worst part is the little 5 1/2 inch bowl, it's one of the rarest colors, Medium Green, so it's worth $80, according to the latest Fiesta Price Guide. The Chartreuse Dessert Bowl is only worth $40, but it is one of my favorite colors. I had two matching Chartreuse bowls in mint condition, they're my favorite bowls since they're just the right size for almost any place setting. But now I only have one. And I have fewer Dessert Bowls than anything else in my collection. Dammit.
I inherited my FiestaWare collection from my Mother. I used to take my Mom around to estate sales and antique shops, we spent years accumulating a massive collection, and I became a big fan of Fiesta myself. She gave each of my 6 siblings a huge set of Fiesta. She left me her personal collection in her will, all her best pieces she could not bear to part with. I helped her find most of these pieces, so I figure it's just as much my collection as hers.
My Mom kept all her Fiesta in a big display case, but she also used them as everyday dishes. She always said, "What's the use of having such lovely dishes if you never USE them?" No doubt the wear and tear reduced the value of the pieces as collectables. But that's what's nice about Fiesta, it's collectable, but most of the pieces are not so expensive that you feel bad when you break one. Usually.
I remember one day when I broke one of my Mom's favorite Medium Green Dessert Bowls. I microwaved something in the bowl (Fiesta is microwave-safe) but something in the food developed a hot spot. I heard a large BANG from the microwave and the bowl was split in half. My Mom looked like she was going to faint, but she said not to worry, that's the risk you take when using Fiesta as everyday dishes, sometimes you break one. I only found out years later, when I looked in the Fiesta Price Guide, that dish was worth $800! No wonder it was one of her favorites.
Fortunately, my accident isn't quite as bad as it seems. The Chartreuse bowl is a total loss, but the Medium Green bowl was actually worthless. It had a huge crack in it, destroying its value, but the damage wasn't visible when the dishes were on display. This was a clever strategy my Mom used, I only discovered it when I acquired the collection and did a full inventory. I found several pieces like that, I call them "fillers," you put them on display, stacked in with the good dishes. Her fillers are rare and expensive pieces with major hidden flaws, she must have paid almost nothing for them. But the fillers make it look like you have a huge collection of Fiesta in all the best, most expensive colors. I should really just toss them out, they're worthless, but I like my Mom's clever little strategy.
But it seems this strategy has backfired. When I grabbed the sliding dishes, I barely touched the cracked bowl when it split apart, and the energy of the split transferred to the Dessert Bowl underneath. Sometimes this happens with ceramics, the interior stresses store a lot of energy, when it finally lets go, it can spray shards and crack other dishes. I think maybe I will remove these dangerous dishes from my collection. Oh well.

Miss Manners Nails It Again

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I am a huge fan of Miss Manners. She expresses the spirit of etiquette so eloquently, compressing books of arcane rules into simple ideas. Today she nailed it again, expressing a core idea of etiquette:
It is not uncommon for rude people to act offended when their rudeness is not tolerated. Miss Manners assures you that this does not make it rude to refuse to tolerate rudeness, as long as this is not done with retaliatory rudeness.

Metaphors For My Life

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I went to the store yesterday and bought a loaf of bread. Today I opened it to make a sandwich. This is the best slice in the loaf.

A Slice Of Bread

I lost my Griffin Headphone Adapter a couple of weeks ago. Without it, I can't listen to music on my iPhone through my car stereo. I looked everywhere for it. Today I found it sitting in my driveway.

Griffin Headphone Adapter

Missing: The Largest Geode in Iowa

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I love geodes, they are the Official State Rock of Iowa. They're quite common here (as these things go). I even have a few nice specimens of geodes sitting on my mantle for display. I'm currently on a hunt for the largest geode ever found in Iowa, it has gone missing and I may be the only person that even remembers it existed.
I remember back in the early 1970s, the University of Iowa Geology Department had a huge geode on display in front of their building, along with a bronze plaque declaring it the Largest Geode Ever Found In Iowa, and the date and place of its discovery. The geode was about 4 feet in diameter, and a chunk had been knocked out of the front so you could see the smoky grey quartz crystals inside. Most of the crystals were as large as your fist and came to very sharp points. The geode, as displayed, was quite similar in shape to a chair. So it used to be a freshman tradition to have yourself photographed sitting in the geode. Sophomores who enticed people into a sitting portrait already knew the trick, you brought a few sheets of cardboard to sit on, to prevent your butt from being pierced.
But the Geology building was moved in the 1970s. I don't mean the department was moved to another building, the entire building was moved across the street. And the geode was in the path. It was removed for the duration of the relocation project, and has not been seen since that time. No trace of its existence has been found, except for my memories.
I have spent years trying to track down the geode, it is a historic artifact, and probably worth a substantial amount of money. It is worth restoring to its proper place. But I have been unable to find anyone who even remembers the geode, let alone knows where it went. I went to the Geology Department and spoke to the oldest staff members who might have worked in the old building, but still nobody remembers it. I thought I might have found it when an old geologist told me where they dumped a group of large rock specimens right behind the new building. I inspected the site, but there was no massive geode.
So the trail has gone cold. If there is anyone who remembers this geode monument, or knows where it has gone, please contact me. You can leave a comment here on this blog entry. You will be doing me (and all Iowans) a great service.

Please Leave A Message?

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A friend offered to drive me to an event the other day. About ten minutes before he was supposed to pick me up, I called his cell phone to let him know I'd be waiting in front of my house. He didn't answer, I figured maybe he was already in his car and doesn't take calls while driving. So I left a short message that I'd be waiting out front.
He arrived about five minutes later. As I got into the car, he started checking his Blackberry for phone messages. He said to me, "hey, there's a message from you, did you say anything important?" I said no, so he deleted it without listening to it.

The Large Quantity Barbecue

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I discovered an amazing pamphlet from my archives, "The Large Quantity Barbecue" by William Loeffel, Chairman of the University of Nebraska's Department of Animal Husbandry. This pamphlet may date back to the 1930s, I think it belonged to my Grandfather, he was an old USDA meat inspector and worked around the Omaha stockyards and slaughterhouses. I've scanned the 27 page pamphlet and you can download it as a 5Mb PDF.

The Large Quantity Barbecue

The scope of this brochure is breathtaking. This isn't for someone who wants a steak on the barbecue. This isn't even for a large party. This book is for someone who wants to turn a small herd of cattle into a feast for hundreds, perhaps thousands of people. Sides of beef are buried in huge fire pits dug in the raw earth. The cooked meat is pulled from the fire with a pitchfork. And everything is immaculately documented, from the logistics of mounting a huge barbecue to efficient methods of rapidly serving the mountains of beef. I salute Mr. Loeffel, the Barbecue Master.
Footnote: I did a little research and found a short biography of Mr. Loeffel (downloadable as a tiny 36k PDF at this link ). It indicates Mr. Loeffel attained the rank of Chairman in 1940, so this pamphlet dates back no earlier than that time. The biography says this was his most popular pamphlet and was nationally distributed. From his biography, it seems that he was quite a colorful character.

My Childhood Toys

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When my Mother died and I cleaned out her house, I found an astonishing box labeled "Charles' Toys." I had no idea any of my toys survived, I thought they'd been tossed out decades ago. I took a peek inside and immediately decided I could not deal with that little trip down Memory Lane, under the emotional circumstances. I packed it away until the time I felt I could look inside. And that time is today. So indulge me while I participate in one of the Internet's silly little rituals, a photographic "Unboxing."
Just the sight of the box itself sent me into paroxysms of nostalgia. This is a waterproof box from DeGroot Nurseries, my Dad's greenhouse used to get 18-wheeler truckloads of green plants in these boxes. And I'd usually have to unload and unpack them, when I worked at the greenhouse on weekends. So in a way, this box is a symbol of Unboxing.

Box

When I first opened the box, over three years ago, this newspaper was on the top of the stack. It's the Des Moines Register from January 28, 1967, describing the Apollo 1 tragedy. When I saw the headline, I decided that the contents of this box might be too difficult to deal with, just after my Mother died. So I sealed it back up and didn't open it again until today.

02-DSMReg.jpg

But fortunately, happier memories lay underneath. Oh boy, my old Spirograph! In fact, it's the deluxe Super Spirograph set. I spent hours and hours fiddling with this this toy. The box is filthy, covered in dust, but who cares? It's my old toy!

Spirograph

This is a handmade clay piggy bank, this was a souvenir from a vacation trip to Tijuana. I remember we had trouble getting through Customs with it, they wanted to break it open. If I shake it, I can hear a little change rattling around. I never wanted to put money in this bank because it has no opening, to get the change out I'd have to smash it to pieces.

Piggy Bank

Yes, I was a Boy Scout. The Fieldbook is particularly interesting, it has loads of practical information. I remember at Scout Camp we built a wood and rope bridge from instructions in the Fieldbook, using nothing but an axe.

Boy Scout Books

This is my old Boy Scout mess kit, it folds up and everything is contained within the pan and lid, but here I've opened it up so you can see everything. I had to drag this along on camping trips and hikes, but I didn't use it very often. It was hard to clean in the field, so I didn't think it was very practical.

Boy Scout Mess Kit

Wow, my bag of marbles! I still remember when I was in second grade and we'd play marbles at recess. We'd smooth off a spot in the dirt, draw a ring, and get our biggest, heaviest "shooters" to knock our opponents' little marbles out of the ring. I remember the school eventually banned marble games, there were too many disputes by sore losers when we played for keepsies.
If you look close, on the right, there's a tiny little blue high heeled shoe, it must belong to my sisters' Barbie Dolls. I don't know how it got in there.

Marbles

My handprint, cast in plaster. This must be a kindergarten project. My Mom must have kept this precious little memory stored away for years, I don't recall making it or ever seeing it.

Handprint

Here are a bunch of books. Obviously I was a space nut, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. Check out the retro artwork!

Space Travel

Another space book. Sorry, it's a boring cover with no pretty artwork.

Space And Science

Manuals that came with my telescope.

Worlds Beyond

Manual for an astrolabe! I don't remember owning this, I sure would enjoy having this astrolabe today. But all I've got is the manual.

Star Finder

"How and Why" books, I love the retro artwork. Hmm.. that last book doesn't seem to fit with the theme of the other books, let's call it Anthropology so it is vaguely scientific.

Chemistry

Weather

Famous Scientists

North American Indians

More space books. Yes, I was really into the space program. So was everybody, back in those days.

Adventures Beyond Our Earth

I remember receiving this book as a birthday present from a friend. I remember thinking, "what the hell?"

FBI

Back into space!

Into Space

Planets

Souvenir catalogs from the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, in Chicago. I went back to visit the Museum of Science and Industry a few years ago, all the permanent displays I remember most fondly had been removed, replaced with badly designed interactive computer kiosks.

Museums

A souvenir brochure from Mexico, with an Olympics theme. Our whole family visited Mexico in 1968, but it was well before the Olympics so we never saw any of that hoopla.

Mexico

A book of typeface samples. This isn't actually my book, I recall buying this as a birthday present for my Grandfather. He had a little letterpress and drawers full of lead type, which I inherited when he died.

Type

Mike Mars, Astronaut. I loved this book, it's full of cheesy aerospace illustrations. The cover was so plain that I decided to photograph the frontispiece. This book had a big effect on me, I used to constantly make drawings of airplanes, pages and pages full.

Mike Mars

A model of Explorer 18, a primitive satellite launched in 1963. The assembly instructions are crinkled and creased due to little smears of glue. The model is supposed to balance on a little post, but the little metal weights fell off. I guess they hadn't yet invented SuperGlue back in 1963.

Explorer 18

A box full of plastic figurines of army men, astronauts, and other small toys.

Army Men

I had to laugh at one of the little plastic toys, so I decided to single it out for a solo photo. Sorry it isn't any clearer, I don't have a macro lens and this is only about an inch tall. You can almost see it's a little silver man in a space suit inside a plastic bubble. I laughed because it reminded me of Davros in his Dalek Emperor sphere. But that episode of Doctor Who was probably made 20 years after this toy.

Davros

These are the control knobs for my Tasco 6 inch reflecting telescope. My beautiful telescope was stolen, but they didn't get the control knobs! Oh well, I guess I'll throw these in the trash, they're totally useless.

Telescope Controls

Naked GI Joe and a muddy Evel Kinevel figurine. I used to have tons of GI Joe stuff, it's all highly collectible now, especially stuff I had like Astronaut GI Joe. But my little brother found it and sold it all on eBay. I am still really irked about that.

GI Joe and Evel Kinevel

Here's a little white cape with a Barbie label sewn inside. This obviously doesn't belong to me. I thought it might fit the Evel Kinevel figurine, but it's the wrong size.

Barbie Cape

One segment of wooden track for a toy railroad. I remember I had a ton of this, I was always laying out tracks on the living room floor, and then when I had everything set up the way I wanted it, my parents would make me clean it up and put it all away. I wish I had the rest of this set, it would fill a huge box by itself.

Wooden Railroad Track

I have saved the best for last: a Mattel Vac-U-Form. I must have burned myself on this toy hundreds of times, it was eventually recalled as a safety hazard. But what is really amazing, a box full of unused parts! The Vac-U-Form is highly collectible, but the original sheets of plastic are virtually unobtainable at any price. And I've got a whole bunch of them. Maybe I'll fire it up for a little project.

Mattel Vac-U-Form

Vac-U-Form Parts

Well that is everything in the box. That was quite a trip down Memory Lane, everything in this box dates back to the 1960s. I can't believe my Mom kept these toys carefully stored away for decades, it is her final gift to me. It brings a tear to my eye, not just seeing my favorite toys, but to think of my Mother keeping them for me to rediscover. That is a greater gift than any toy.

Out of Tune

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When you first learn to play guitar, one of the first things that you must perfect is tuning your guitar. I remember when I first studied Classical Guitar, I used a tuning fork and harmonics to carefully tune each string. But that was before digital guitar tuners were invented. I've used digital guitar tuners for years, ever since the first one was released for Mac. I just plug my electric guitar into my Mac audio in port, and I can tune each string with digital precision. But for my little acoustic guitar, I still use my tuning fork.
When I bought my new Gibson Deluxe in 1976, it came with cheap tuning pegs and it would never stay in tune. I upgraded to some expensive Schaller tuning pegs, they're much more accurate. Since I started using digital tuning, I noticed my bridge was out of adjustment a bit, so I took it to the shop to be optimized, it was a huge improvement. Now my guitar stays pretty much in tune forever.. or until I break a string. And the other day I broke a string.
I restrung my guitar and tuned up. Lately I use Guitar Rig, it has a tuner in its big bank of effects. I went back to playing along to some iTunes, doing my guitar effects in Guitar Rig. I'm playing along to tunes I've played a hundred times, my guitar is perfectly in tune, but suddenly my guitar is one note too low. What the hell?
I thought maybe it was some freak software glitch, some system update to the CPU timing made iTunes play back too fast, exactly one note too high? It took me a while to notice that I'd bumped a switch in Guitar Rig, I changed to a Chromatic Tuning. My guitar was perfectly tuned to a different tuning than I've ever used. I didn't recognize it, I never use alternate tunings. I have enough problems playing the standard tuning.
So I set Guitar Rig back to standard tuning, retuned, and now those Ramones songs are the same tuning as my guitar again. I can rock on. Well that's a relief, I was playing the same old notes and different notes were coming out, I thought I was going crazy. Now that's a mistake I never would have made with a tuning fork.
After the Flood of 1993, the City of Coralville embarked on a major construction project to repair the Coralville Strip, the worst damaged area. The roads were torn up for months, causing much inconvenience to drivers, it was the main road to Iowa City. The City even promoted the forthcoming improvements to roads, sidewalks, and sewers, with a ludicrous PR slogan, "Coralville: Dig It Now, Love It Later."
The project was a huge success, attracting new businesses to the Strip, and inducing existing businesses to make expensive improvements. Unfortunately, all that money was spent right in the middle of the worst area of the 2008 Flood. The Coralville Strip is now open to traffic and the sight of it is appalling. Electricity is still off so the buildings are all dark. The roadside is stacked with debris pulled from flooded buildings. Everything, including the road surfaces, are coated with toxic floodwater residue. Now it's drying in the sun and turning into dust. As I drive towards the Strip, I can see a gray cloud of toxic dust over the area. The gray dust is kicked into the air by heavy construction equipment driving into the flood zone. Street sweepers are trying to clean the roads, but they aren't very good at cleaning off several inches of dry mud. I'm wondering if the EPA should start monitoring the air quality around here, it's awful.
It's pretty depressing seeing this every day. My house is safe and unaffected, it's in the old "bedroom community" for Iowa City. But almost everything between my house and Iowa City was flooded out and destroyed. Some areas of Iowa City are difficult to reach, it's hard to predict when you'll run into some place impassable. It looks like the Art Campus is still flooded, that always was the lowest ground in Iowa City.
The constant drone of bad news is oppressive, it makes me want to move away from here. But once in a while I hear a bit of news that makes me feel better. I saw a story about a poor woman who evacuated from Cedar Rapids' "Time Check Village" but left her 5 cats behind. Local TV news followed her to an emergency animal rescue shelter where she found all of her cats were saved and loafing around in cages. She picked up two of the cats, held them close and burst into tears, wailing "I want to take my kitties home!" But she will have to take them to a new home, her old home is gone. So are 2000 homes in that area.

Trouble RIght Here in River City

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Yeah, this is bad. I'm constantly checking for the NOAA NWS Advanced Hydrologic Report for the Iowa River at Iowa City on my iPhone. Here's what it looked like just after the peak of the flood. There was a data outage on Friday but is fairly accurate otherwise. Earlier predictions set a projected peak over 33ft.



The Hydrology Report shows the recent peak at 31.5. The floodwater is receding, but we're still not lower than the previous record 1993 flood stage of 28.5ft.

iowi4_hg-4.png

Floodwaters are receding, and everything is covered with a toxic muck. The environment is filthy, everything is covered with sludge, the smell is horrible, there are flies and gnats everywhere. It's going to take a lot of cleanup. The Coralville Municipal Water supply comes from the Iowa River, it was always bad, but now it's horrible, full of minerals and chlorine. I ran some hot tap water to wash some dishes and just about choked on the fumes.
There are National Guard crews stationed around town near critical infrastructure, and almost every local cop and first-responder is on double duty. All the flooded areas are still off-limits, water on the roads is receding but only official vehicles are allowed to pass. It's hard to tell where the worst damage is, yet. The area near me was the first to flood and the hardest hit, it will be the last to dry out.
The University of Iowa Arts campus is underwater. The old campus was damaged severely in '93, and a new building was constructed across the street to replace it. Unfortunately the architect forgot the primary design goal: the new building was supposed to be built at a higher elevation than the flood plain.
But what really got to me was the story of the Oakville Pigs. The Des Moines Register reported that hog farms were flooded, most of the pigs drowned but some made their way to the nearest high ground: the levee. They could not get across, their hooves threatened to rip the sandbags and breach the levee. Nobody could rescue them without risking the levee, so the Sherrifs had to shoot them with AR-15 rifles. Poor pigs, they struggled to dry land, just to get shot.
My internet connection is intermittently failing, so I'll try to get this online and post more later, when I have some free time (which is very rare lately).

Peter Payne, Pornographer

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I've been censored again, ironically, by a pornographer. He has censored me before, so this time I saved my remarks, and I'll post them here for your evaluation. But first let's examine the censor.
Peter Payne first came to my attention in the early 1990s. Payne moved to Japan and started an online business exporting Japanese pornography. He sent pornographic spam hawking his wares to email addresses (such as mine) he harvested from Japanese-related Usenet newsgroups. I immediately complained to his ISP that I had no interest in receiving his pornographic spam. Payne responded by claiming I had signed up to receive the spam, when I would never do any such thing. But that was back in the days when spam was taken seriously by ISPs, so the spam stopped, despite Payne's protestations of innocence. I would have been glad to never hear of him again.
But since his early days as a porn peddler, he branched out into selling anime and manga, becoming quite a self-declared authority on the subject. Payne now drones on about anime subjects on the Japundit blog. And here is where we tangled again.
Peter Payne wrote an absolutely absurd article about how Japanese people can't deal with their memories from World War II except through the metaphor of anime and manga. When I paraphrase his argument this way, I convey it far more clearly and concisely than he did in the original article. Let me quote the paragraph that set me off:
If you asked Japanese who they considered the most respected “military heroes” of the country were, you might find some who would answer Amuro Rei or Bright Noah or Captain Okita/Captain Avatar, the legendary characters from these war-oriented anime series.
I responded:
When I ask my Japanese friends who are the greatest Japanese war heroes, they tell me stories of Oda Nobunaga, Toyoyomi Hideyoshi, Takeda Shingen etc. Not a single one of them has ever cited imaginary warriors from anime.

I suppose it depends on who you hang out with. I suppose it’s only natural that if you peddle porn and manga, you have lowbrow friends. But don’t let that warp your perceptions of Japanese society as a whole.
This is my problem with anime otaku. They spend so much time watching and discussing absolutely mind-rotting drivel, attempting to make it into something far beyond what it is: lowbrow entertainment. And then they make sweeping generalizations about Japanese society based on their "insight" into the culture, as they gleaned it from cartoons. I think this is terribly offensive, I argue that it is a thinly disguised form of racism. They are stereotyping a whole culture, based on ridiculous ideas they learned from comics or other comics fans.
So it is at times like this I enjoy pointing out that Peter Payne is a pornographer. A person who knows all the latest Japanese porn actresses but knows nothing about legendary samurai warriors (known by every Japanese schoolchild) could not help but form a warped opinion of Japanese culture. And of course he is particularly touchy about his profession, censoring any reference to it on the blog where he tries to "redeem" himself by pretending to be an astute cultural commentator.
Others agreed with my remarks, now the first comment in the censored thread starts, "I agree," but she is agreeing with ME and not Peter Payne. This is not obvious since Payne deleted my remark. This is a devious way to manipulate your blog's commenters, to make it look like they agree with the article, rather than agreeing with my dissent. This is shameful. But Peter Payne has no shame. That's why he has a nickname: Peter Porn.

3 Point Writing

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I've recently become acquainted with an extremely annoying style of writing. I've written about strange writing formats before, but this one drives me crazy. It's the "3 point writing system." I will give an extremely condensed example here:
I am going to explain that all brontosauruses are thin at one end, much thicker in the middle and then thin again at the far end.
All brontosauruses are thin at one end, much thicker in the middle and then thin again at the far end.
I have just explained that all brontosauruses are thin at one end, much thicker in the middle and then thin again at the far end.
There really isn't much to it. The format works like this:
1. Say what you're going to say.
2. Say it.
3. Say you said it.
It's horrible. Please stop doing that.

Finnegans Autopsy

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I was chatting with Matt over at the Japanese Literature blog "No-Sword," he commented on a Japanese translation of James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake." And having had a tipple tonight (as Joyce was wont to do while writing) I was in a loquacious mood and was seized by the urge to write down my favorite Joyce anecdote. Hell, it's my only Joyce anecdote. I may tell it badly, perhaps inaccurately, even drunkenly, but I guarantee it will be more coherent than "Finnegans Wake." Well, it's shorter, if nothing else.
Long ago, I read an article about a scholar at my school doing his PhD in English Literature. At that time, everyone had to write a new thesis on Joyce to be taken seriously in the English Lit field. But there were few remaining new angles on the topic. The scholar had access to the galley proofs of Finnegans Wake, he was analyzing Joyce's revisions when he noticed something interesting. The proofs all had pinholes at the top, but not all the pages had the same number of pinholes, nor were they in the same spot. In a flash of insight, he realized what they were: the pinholes left by the typesetter when he tacked the stack of pages to his corkboard.
Joyce was notorious for incorporating typesetter's errors into his text. Sometimes the typesetter made interesting errors while trying to transcribe the incomprehensible text into lead type. Joyce sometimes took the errors and rewrote them, coining new words out of the errors. Many scholars have argued over the etymology of these strange words, even using these same galley proofs as evidence. Multiple (and similar) copies of the same pages existed, but nobody could definitively determine which revisions came first.
But this scholar had a new approach. He measured the position of each pinhole, and determined the proofed pages were aligned in a stack and the pin driven through the stack into the corkboard. The aligned holes represent one state of the proof at one time. As the revisions were made, new pages would be inserted in the stack, and pinned again to the board. Those new pages would have one less pinhole. Through an incredibly complex procedure, he determined the order that new pages were added or removed from the stack. The scholar had finally determined the order in which revisions were made.
His thesis claimed that the final form of the book was the result of a lengthy collaboration between Joyce and the typesetter. Perhaps "collaboration" is too fine a word, "battle" might be more appropriate. Joyce would find an error, rewrite it, and then the typesetter would mangle it again. The galleys would go back and forth between the author and the typesetter, changing every time a new proof was generated. Eventually both Joyce and the typesetter thought no more revisions were necessary and the book was published.
Of course this discovery galvanized the Joyce scholars of the English Literature community. There was hardly anything new that could be said on the subject, whole libraries of books have been written on any subjective point of view propounded by every scholar with an opinion. But this discovery brought scientific rigor to the analysis of an incomprehensible work of literature. Even I was transfixed by this discovery, and I have no interest in Joyce whatsoever. But I learned one thing for sure: it is impossible to translate Joyce's work into the English Language.
I stumbled across some discussions on the internet and discovered I may be the only one who knows certain facts about a mystery. A little web searching indicates this message will be the only published facts about the mystery. So I suppose it is my duty to post the information. Don't ask me how I know this (ha).
Arne Lein was a famous cartomancer, his book "What's Your Card" is the definitive documentation of the Card System of Olney Richmond and the Order of the Magi. But since Arne's death in the 1980s, his book has gone out of print, used copies go for astonishing prices on the used book market. There seems to be a question about the rights to Arne's books since his death. I wasn't able to find out what happened, but it appears Arne's heirs don't want the book reprinted. Go figure.
The bigger mystery remains, Arne had a second book that was never published, "Planetary Aspects of the Cards." This was to be the ultimate detailed guide to the Card System for advanced students. Arne showed me the book and complained that his computer, an old TRS-80, was dying and he couldn't get the text moved to a new computer. I said I'd gladly help him convert it to a new computer, just to help it get published. But nothing ever came of my offer. I saw Arne a short time before his death, I asked about his book, he said he still had it sitting on the old disks.
I suspect that Arne went to his death with a couple of 8 inch floppy disks sitting on his shelf, his magnum opus unpublished. If the family or heirs of Arne Lein possess these disks, they should know that a lot of people would like to publish them.

New Ringtone

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I changed the ringtone on my iPhone, it was driving me crazy. I used the "Old Phone" ringtone, it is the loudest sound that comes with the iPhone. But it is muffled sometimes when I keep the phone in my pocket, it sounds distant, I can't quite tell where the sound is coming from.
But what really drove me crazy is that the Old Phone sound is the exact sound effect used in TV and movies. What drove me over the edge was when I watched an episode of Law and Order, they used the sound repeatedly, with several phones ringing at once. So I searched around and the loudest ringtone I found was CTU-ringtone (download is in iPhone format and ready to install).
Apparently this is the phone sound from the TV show "24," I don't watch it so I wouldn't know. It reminds me of the sound of the old AT&T Merlin phones, we had a fancy Merlin rig at an office where I worked.
Fortunately, the new IPhone 1.1.3 upgrade makes custom ringtones easy. I tried importing sounds into GarageBand but it crashed every time I tried to export to the phone. And this is supposed to be the new feature that made it easy.
I discovered I could just import a sound file into iTunes, then re-encode it to AAC. Once the file is encoded, you can change the extension from .m4a to .m4r. New in the 1.1.3 software, you can manually manage files on your iPhone, enable that feature on your iPhone settings. Then dock your iPhone and in iTunes drag your .m4r file to the iPhone's Ringtones directory. Your ringtone is installed and ready to use.
Once I changed to a new ringtone that did not sound like Old Phone, I felt much better, I wasn't listening for that ringtone anymore, the new tone is different enough that it grabs my attention. But I still keep imagining I hear the Old Phone. Some people call this the "Edison Effect." Thomas Edison thought he heard voices in the static of Marconi's newfangled Radio. But it is an illusion, the brain always tries to impose some sort of order on randomness. For example, many people have thought they heard the phone ring when in the shower, the brain tries to pick out sounds from the random white noise of splashing water droplets.
And now I've got a similar phenomenon. My furnace is really loud when it's running, sometimes it makes a faint ringing sound when it runs, just enough to make me wonder if I'm hearing Old Phone.

Storage Closet

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This is my storage closet. It is completely full of empty boxes and other storage supplies.

Secret Blog

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I started a secret blog. You'll never find it. It's just some silly fiction, I thought I'd see if my anonymous writing would find an audience on its own.
I decided to do some "Journalling," a writing exercise I read in a book by Rudy Rucker, as he interpreted it from Jack Kerouac. You just write down some of the events you see in daily life, as they are happening. But I also follow Rudy's school of Transrealism, so I make the events just outrageous enough to make you wonder if they are true or not.
OK, I gave you some hints, but you'll still never find my secret blog.

2008: Year of the Rat

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Synchronicity

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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.

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.

Ginko Resurrection

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I have previously written about troublesome Ginko trees on the University of Iowa campus, and how those nuisance trees were removed. But I was astonished when I walked past the site a few weeks ago, they planted new Ginko trees in the very same spots. It appears they planted male trees, so I guess this eliminates all the problems with the old female trees and their smelly seed pods. In a few years, the trees will mature and look just like they used to, without the disadvantages.


Uniball Signo Bit 0.18mm Pen

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Lately bloggers have been going crazy for new Japanese pens. Online vendors started importing Japanese pens so now they're easy to get, so everyone is debating which pen is best for their purposes. Dan Sanderson over at BrainLog wrote about how he accidentally ordered a Uniball Signo Bit 0.18mm gel pen instead of the 0.28mm pen he wanted. I jokingly told him I've been dying to test the 0.18mm pens so if he wanted to get rid of it, I'd take it off his hands. So he sent it to me, and I've been playing around with it.



I think this is a great little pen, as long as you know what it's designed for. There's a competition amongst Japanese pen manufacturers to produce a pen with the finest tip, and the 0.18mm models are the latest and most popular products. They are popular with Japanese schoolkids, they pass notes to each other written in very tiny writing, so their eyeglass-wearing teachers can't read them. And I immediately noticed this effect, I not only have to wear my close-vision glasses to read what I write, I have to wear my glasses just to see what I'm writing.
I'm more of an aficionado of Japanese mechanical pencils, and I've tested out extremely fine-point pencils before. They're commonly used in drafting, but a 0.25mm lead is too fragile for everyday use, it breaks too easily. So I generally use a 0.5mm pencil like the Uniball Logo II 0.5mm. But a 0.25mm pencil is exceptionally useful for making tiny notes inline above a text, like furigana.
Dan described using the 0.18mm pen as like scratching the point of a pin across the paper, except it leaves ink behind. And that's part of the problem with tiny pens and pencils, the tip is so small, it can drag and catch on the fiber of the paper. The gel ink is designed to alleviate this problem somewhat, but it still works better on smooth, glossy paper. Most Japanese notebook paper is somewhat finer quality than US paper, so I guess this is less of a problem in Japan. I have a Japanese college ruled notebook, so I tested it out, and you can see in this enlargement, it's no problem to write two lines in the same vertical space you'd normally write one line.



Part of the problem in using a pen this small is that to write small, you must use exceptionally small muscle movements. This gives your tiny handwriting a shaky, unclear look. I have terrible handwriting anyway (as you can see from my sloppy sample above) but at even smaller sizes, it gets much worse. My Japanese handwriting is a little better, so I thought I'd try a tiny "invisible" note. It wasn't easy, it took me a few tries to write legibly at this size, so here's an example, it says "yomeru ka" ("can you read it?") and I've reproduced it at actual size, and highly enlarged. I definitely can not read the original without my eyeglasses.



You can use this enlargement for graphical effects. There's an old graphic artist's trick of writing extremely small and enlarging it dramatically. This gives the text an interesting, rough texture from the ink absorbing randomly into the paper fibers. I tried it out by writing my blog's title, I drew a "blueline," it's a special color of blue that can be easily removed from the final scan, but provides a guideline to keep your text straight. But this 0.18mm pen writes so small, the height of the text is barely as wide as the blueline.



Well that's a pleasant effect, but a little bit too blobby for practical use. Maybe if I wrote on smoother paper, it would look nicer. But my handwriting is so poor, I'm unlikely to improve on it. And there's the problem with this 0.18mm pen, it magnifies all the flaws in your writing, you have to wield the pen with exceptional skill. I'd rather use a small mechanical pencil, at least I can erase and redo it if I make a sloppy mistake. And I make lots of mistakes.
Ultimately, I can't recommend this 0.18mm pen for general use, it is rather specialized, but it is very good at the job it is intended for. The 0.28mm version might be better for general writing, but I don't have one to test, and some reviewers have complained that even the 0.38mm version is too fine. But if you need to write tiny notes, perhaps margin notes in a book, or furigana, this pen is the best I've ever used.
Is this the ultimate limit of pen technology? Of course not, there are finer pens like the Rapidograph 6x0 0.13mm pen, but it's a drafting pen, it clogs easily and requires constant maintenance. The Uniball gel ballpoint pens don't require any maintenance. So I am sure that smaller, finer ballpoints will be produced, I've already heard rumors of a 0.125mm pen. But just how fine a line do you really need? The 0.18mm is already so fine it is almost invisible.

Tan Lines

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Summer is over, and all I have to show for it are these stupid tan lines.

Toothache

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I went to the dentist the other day, I had my biannual checkup. I don't recall when I suddenly switched from an annual to a biannual schedule, it's definitely twice as expensive. But this appointment was good timing, I have a toothache.
The assistant took an x-ray of my sore molar, the same molar the dentist filled 6 months ago. I figured it was just sensitivity to the filling, but that should have faded over time, this was getting worse. Maybe I pulled the filling loose. But the dentist says he can find nothing wrong with my tooth. It may have a crack which would be almost impossible to see on an x-ray. If it persists, I can go see an endodontist, which will surely cost a packet of money. The dentist said I could wait and see if it would clear up, or get worse, it's not showing any signs it needs urgent intervention.
As I left the dentist, they gave me a little bag with a toothbrush, some toothpaste, and some floss. I didn't look too closely at the bag, it had a cute little tooth pattern on it. But then I got the bag home, emptied it out and set it on a white surface. The bag was transparent, I could see the pattern through both sides, and suddenly my toothache seemed a lot worse.

Price Cut

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Yes, I bought an iPhone the first week. Yes, I was mighty irritated when they cut the price $200. Then Apple announced a rebate, a $100 gift certificate to the Apple Store. I thought about it a minute, decided I was half-satisfied, and considered it a glass half full.
Then I thought about it a little longer. I realized that $100 of retail goods at the Apple store is likely to be around $50 wholesale cost, so Apple is covering my $200 loss with about $50 cash. The glass is only one-quarter full, I am now 75% dissatisfied.
I've been there plenty of times. I always tell people, if you want to know when Apple is going to drop prices on something, wait until I buy it. Apple always seems to cut prices right after I buy something. I remember buying my PowerMac 8100/110, I bought it the week it was introduced, figuring it would be a long time before a price cut. It took almost three months to deliver the machine, and they cut the price $300 before I ever received it. No, I didn't get my $300 back.
I've seen it from the dealer's side too, when I worked in computer sales. Customers would sometimes express their irritation when their computers dropped in price, and I would use almost the exact same spiel that Steve Jobs used in his rebate announcement.
There is always change and improvement, and there is always someone who bought a product before a particular cutoff date and misses the new price or the new operating system or the new whatever. This is life in the technology lane. If you always wait for the next price cut or to buy the new improved model, you'll never buy any technology product because there is always something better and less expensive on the horizon.
I would usually try to put it a little more diplomatically than that, but the last sentence is almost verbatim from Apple sales training, and has been conventional wisdom for decades. Most customers would accept this logic, but once in a while, you get a case that is so egregious that you have to do something about it.
I remember when I worked at ComputerLand, around 1985, one of my favorite customers came in just before closing time. She was a young woman with punky purple dyed hair, a college student on a low budget, she'd bought an Apple //c last Christmas. She was so happy with it, she scrimped and saved for months and now she wanted to buy two more computers, one for her boyfriend and one for her mom. I was pleased to help her, a salesman loves nothing more than a happy repeat customer. She paid cash, I loaded them in her car, and left the office for the day with a smile on my face.
The next morning, I arrived at the office and sipped my coffee while reading the morning updates from ComputerLand Headquarters. I was stunned, as of this morning, Apple dropped the retail price of the //c by $200, about 1/3 of the price of the machine. I'd just screwed my customer out of $400. I immediately talked to the store manager, he had the same reaction, "oh crap." We decided we had to find a way to fix this deal, and we better have it in place fast, before she called to complain about it.
Apple traditionally had price protection for dealers, so if inventory in the dealer's warehouse was devalued by a price cut, Apple would write a check for the difference in the wholesale price. But they offered no price protection to buyers. I figured that we should just void the sale from yesterday, so officially the computers would still be in our warehouse, and ComputerLand would get a check for the price protection. Then we would sell the computers to her with a new receipt dated today, at the new lower price. We'd be screwing Apple but they'd never know. Everyone would be happy.
Just as I was on the phone getting final approval from Headquarters to rewrite this deal, the store manager got a phone call.. from the customer's mother. The manager transferred the call to me, so I could look good by proposing the solution we'd already worked out. She said her daughter was so distraught when she heard the news of the price cut, she'd been crying inconsolably for the last two hours, she was so broken up she was unable to speak on the phone. I told her I was surprised and upset when I learned of the price cut, and I'd just spent the last two hours working on a solution, and I was just about to call her. I described the deal, and said her daughter should come in right away and I would take care of her.
Within an hour, the poor girl came in to the store, her eyes were puffy and red, she was still sobbing and crying, but trying to put on a brave face. I told her how upset I was when I heard the news, and that I'd worked hard to recover her money. And besides, you don't think I was the sort of person who would do this deliberately, now do you? If I'd known the price was going to drop, I wouldn't have sold them to you until the next day. She cracked a weak smile, but she was still sobbing.
So I refunded her money and voided the sale, then rewrote the sale on a new ticket dated today, and handed her 4 hundred-dollar bills from the till, the same bills she'd paid with yesterday. I apologized to her for any hard feelings, and said that despite the hassles, she should be happier than ever, since she ultimately paid far less than she ever expected. She said she was happy with how we'd resolved the problem, and thanked me for working on her behalf. But I wondered, why was she still crying?

Kite

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It was windy so I thought I'd fly my kite, but the wind died down before I could get it in the air. I received this kite as a gift from the Hakodate Sports Kite Club in 1996, but I've never flown it since I brought it back to the US. It is a simple square kite, handmade from bamboo and hand painted in a traditional ukiyo-e design. The kite has a string across the top back to bend the leading edge into a curve for more lift. The string is covered with a flap of plastic tape, so when the wind is strong enough to lift the kite, it produces a menacing buzz.



The reason I never flew this kite is because I could not find the kite spool and rope tails, but now I found them and can assemble the kite. The rope is a light plastic fiber, the spool is made from wood dowels with a wonderful bamboo wrap, I guess that's for a better grip.



The wind picked up the next day for a bit, so I went out to fly the kite, without much success. The wind was inconstant, the kite needs a strong wind to get high enough to put the tails in the air. Until it gets high enough, it just swoops around and crashes. I tried adjusting the bridle, and managed to get it aloft and upright for about 5 seconds, then the wind gave out. But for a brief moment, it was going straight up, producing an aggressive buzzing sound, rising into the sky on its tails.
Update Sept. 14: I took the kite out every day for the last 3 days. Meteorologists predicted increasing winds, but they were never constant enough to keep the kite up. I figure it takes a constant 10mph wind to fly the kite, I got a few gusts higher than that, and the kite went up. Then it went down. It is easy to tell when you have enough wind, the kite buzzes.
But the kite is very unstable. I discovered it had 3 cross-ties that had to be pulled taut and tied, not just the one at the top. Now the whole kite has a more curved and aerodynamic shape. But still it's very hard to fly, until it gets high enough for the tails to weigh it down. Once it got about 20 feet off the ground, the kite flew straight up.

Plant

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I'm quite pleased with my houseplant lately. I've grown it for three years and this is the first time it's really done anything. Here's a picture of my plant catching the last rays of the afternoon sun.



I grew this dieffenbachia plant from cuttings. This plant is also known as "dumb cane" and it grows in jointed segments like cane or bamboo. All you have to do is cut one segment and bury it in a pot and it will take root. But my plant didn't poke up through the soil for over a year. The next year, it hardly grew at all, it only produced a couple of scrawny leaves per stem. So I decided to repot it in new dirt, and it just exploded. Each of the 3 plants has leaves continuously coming in, it's growing so fast I have to keep rotating it towards the sun to keep it growing straight up. And it only took 3 years of tending to get to this point.

Merv

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Merv Griffin is dead, another bloated Hollywood corpse has washed up on the beach. Merv's body will be rendered into fat and reformulated into a special lubricant used to grease palms in the TV business.
I don't have much reason to blog about my contempt for old farts like Merv, except that it is the only excuse I'll ever have to tell my Merv anecdote. I once met Merv face to face, and I laugh every time I think about it. Unfortunately, it is a moment in time and nobody ever understands the context anymore. But I figure somebody will get it and laugh.
A long time ago, maybe around the early 1970s, my family went on vacation to Miami to see the Orange Bowl. One morning, my sister I went out of our hotel and found the Orange Bowl Parade was about to start. We were trying to cross the road, we stood right at the corner but it was too late, the parade had started. The parade's lead car, a big Lincoln convertible, stopped right in front of us, close enough I could stand there and open the door. It had a big sign on the door, "Merv Griffin, Grand Marshall." I looked up and Merv was right there, close enough to me I could reach out and touch him. So I nudged my sister, and spoke loudly so that Merv would hear me, I know he heard me because he looked right at me, and ooh you should have seen the look on his face. I pointed right at Merv and I said, "hey look it's Irv Kupcinet!"

Sudden Surgery

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I'm going into the hospital for surgery in the morning. I've been seeing a doctor for a few weeks due to stomach pains, it turns out I've got gall stones, so I need to have my gall bladder removed. I went in today for another surgical consultation, I expected them to schedule it for a few weeks out, but the doctor said they had a cancellation so I might as well have it done tomorrow. This is rather sudden, but I guess it works out for the best, it gives me less time to worry about things.
I'm having a "lap chole" which is a minimally invasive surgery done with laparoscopic instruments. They say it will be all over in 90 minutes. I'm in pretty good physical condition (aside from my gall bladder) so I don't expect any complications. But then, nobody ever expects complications.
I was planning to write a lengthy story about my medical travails, but I was waiting for a definitive conclusion. And now it is upon me so suddenly, there's no time to write about it. So it will have to wait for later.
Update 1PM Tuesday: All done, feeling woozy and sore. Percocet is nice. Need rest.

Threats from Rex Bruce of LACDA

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I just received this threatening email from Rex Bruce of LACDA, the "Los Angeles Center for Digital Art"
From: Rex Bruce
Subject: Disinfotainment post, possible lawsuit

May 30, 2007

Charles Eicher

Dear Sir,

Please delete the "Disinfotainment" article regarding myself, our center and its practices from your blog. It is not accurate. Should you not remove it I will seek assistance through our lawyers. I will make a legal case against you, obtain a cease and desist order and will sue you for damages and legal costs. As well, any criminal charges which may be involved will also be reported and pursued.

This post will also be reflected as "abuse" to its respective host(s) who will be contacted and be held liable as allowed to the extent of applicable law. They may proceed against you with those remedies available to them in the interests of their protection.

Please respond within 48 hours.
Yours,

Rex Bruce
Director
Los Angeles Center For Digital Art
107 West Fifth Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
And my response, sent via email:
I will not remove the article. I notified you of this article via email the day it was published, almost a year ago. It is too late to complain now.

Note: your email, and all further correspondence, will be posted to my weblog. Your attempt to suppress this article will only draw more attention to it.

        ----
Charles Eicher
Oh how many times have I heard this story before? It is the pathetic war cry of internet flamers and bullies, "you'll be hearing from my attorney!" And of course nothing will ever happen because the guy doesn't even have an attorney. This sort of hollow threat inspired the internet neologism "cartooney," denoting the imaginary attorney the flamer thinks he will hire to prosecute his lawsuit.
And it's obvious he has no attorney, no Member of the Bar would take such a ridiculous case, they would all universally advise Rex to just forget about it. Furthermore, if he had actually consulted an attorney before sending a threatening email, he would have received legal advice not to make those threats, which could be considered barratry, a criminal misdemeanor in California.
But I know how this scenario will play out, I've been through this before. Rex Bruce will attempt to shut down my website by sending a threatening email to my ISP's abuse desk. It won't work. Perhaps then he will actually consult a real attorney, who will advise him that he has no grounds for a lawsuit, I have committed no criminal acts and no civil torts. Even if he does manage to retain a lawyer licensed to practice in Iowa and he files a lawsuit in my jurisdiction (very unlikely) the best he can achieve is a Pyrrhic Victory.
So let me offer you some friendly advice, Rex. You are digging yourself into a deep hole. Stop digging, you're only getting in deeper. Your only winning strategy is to walk away.

Fashion Faux Pas

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A few days ago, a friend invited me to go see a movie. As I headed out the door, I thought to myself, I should wear my new jacket. I found a really nice black Mossimo jacket at Target for just $25, it fit me perfectly and I thought I looked really great, not too dressy, not too casual. So I grabbed it from my closet, threw it on, and headed out the door.
My friend's reaction puzzled me, he said, "that's an interesting jacket, I've never seen you wear it before." I said, "sure you have, I wore it to your art opening a few weeks ago." I didn't think anything of it until I got home and hung it up, when I noticed the label. It wasn't my new jacket, it was an old Jimmy'Z jacket I bought in about 1983.
This wasn't just any jacket, it was part of a suit and pants set, Jimmy'Z's first and most infamous product, it made their reputation. The pants didn't have a zipper, or any fly at all, it fastened at the side with a velcro strap. It was a beachwear version of a conservative business suit, but cut very wide with big shoulder pads. I wore that suit constantly, the pants wore out but I kept wearing the jacket long after it was out of fashion. I haven't worn it for many years, but I couldn't bear to throw it out. I only grabbed it from my closet by accident.
I had an appointment for a haircut the next day, so I decided to wear it and ask for a second opinion from the women in the salon. I was vaguely hoping the jacket was so retro it was back in fashion again. But I got the same reaction, "that's an interesting jacket." I asked my haircutter for her opinion, she said, "well, it's too big and wide for you, it makes your head look tiny. It reminds me of the jacket David Byrne wore in the movie 'Stop Making Sense.'" Unfortunately, I knew exactly what she meant.


Sports Trophy

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It took months of painful, hard work to earn my latest sports trophy:

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Update: I suppose I should know better than to post a "blind item" like this, now people are emailing me to ask what's in the X-Ray. The answer is: nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I've been jogging for a year and I developed some ankle problems. I went to the doctor and he sent me for an expensive X-Ray, it showed absolutely nothing. The doctor is baffled, I have to go back for more tests.
This is what galls me about working out to improve your fitness, sometimes you just end up trading one set of health problems for another. I've worked hard to get into shape, but after all those miles spent running, beating my feet on the pavement, I ended up with beat-up feet. And an expensive X-Ray. So this image is my little trophy.

2007: The Year of the Boar

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This Page Unintentionally Left Blank

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Recently I read a blog essay that collected bloggers' excuses for not having blogged lately. I have no excuse, I just haven't written anything lately. I haven't written anything for over two months, so all the content dropped off my front page.
I suppose it could be worse. The first blogging system I ever used had a stupid bug, if you didn't write anything for a month, all your links got corrupted and your blog crashed.
I am writing this entry primarily so there will be something on my blog other than a blank page. I have plenty of new stories, I just haven't written them down yet. If you're really desperate for something interesting to read, you can consult my archives.

9/11

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Last week, I found a stack of old business cards. As I scanned through the stack to see which ones I could discard, I saw the name of an old friend. I'd lost touch with David, so I decided to look him up on the internet. I was shocked to discover that David was a passenger on the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Here in the midwest, world events can seem so remote, involving nobody we know, perhaps we deliberately cultivate that feeling of remoteness, to isolate us from that horror. But the shock that I felt when I discovered this connection, thinking how my friend must have felt during the hijacking and that awful final moment, reminded me that no event is so distant from my life.

Happy Independence Day From Hell

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Oh what a lovely holiday. I live right across from the City Park, I had no idea it was the center of activity for the 4th of July festivities. I was living here last year on the 4th, but I don't recall anything going on.
But this year was quite different. Last night, I was treated to a 2 hour redneck suthern rawk concert by the Charlie Daniels Band. My home is the closest residential location to the concert. Even though my apartment is in the basement, facing away from the stage, my walls were shaking.
Oh but that was just the beginning. Tonight was the City's fireworks display. I've never been this close to a fireworks launch site before. It was kind of fun, although I was distracted just as the grand finale started, when a small riot started. About fifty local gangster-wannabees got into a fight, they chased their victims down the street and straight into my apartment building lobby. I tried to shut the front door to lock them all out, but my stupid neighbor, oblivious to what was happening right in front of her, pulled the door back open and let them all inside.
This is the final straw. If I ever needed a kick in the ass to remind me I need to get the hell out of this town, this was it.

RSS/Atom Readers: New Bookmark

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This website has relocated to a new address. If you read this site with an RSS or Atom-enabled reader, you may not have noticed that you were forwarded to the new site, so you should manually update the bookmark now. For your convenience, here are links to the Atom and RSS 2.0 feeds:

Disinfotainment Atom Feed
Disinfotainment RSS 2.0 Feed

Moving!

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Disinfotainment is moving to a new webhost! Things are going to get a little messy around here, while I import the site and clean up the details. Some features will be broken for a while, but everything will be put back in place as soon as possible. We Apologize For The Inconvenience.
Update May 16, 2006: I think I have all the links fixed and all videos are up and running. I would appreciate hearing from anyone who can try the videos, and let me know how well they are working on the new webhost. Please leave a comment in reply to this message. Really, please please try some of the videos and let me know how well it works for you. I am working hard to upgrade the BlogTV system, to make it easier to view the videos, and to make it easier for me to prepare videos for the server. But if I get no reports on the quality of the streaming video services, I have no way to judge if the service is better or not. So leave a comment. Please.

Ground Zero: Iowa Avenue

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Today I toured around Iowa City to see the tornado damage. Most of the city was completely unaffected, the weather was beautiful, the sun shining, and the trees just beginning to turn green. But the areas in the center of town were a bleak contrast, blasted by winds and torn to shreds.
I decided to visit my childhood home in the historic Woodlawn district. Iowa City was a planned community, the original State Capitol, and was designed around a broad boulevard, Iowa Avenue, that would stretch between the Capitol Building and the Governor's Mansion. This plan was copied after Washington DC, where the US Capitol and the White House are at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The Iowa Capitol was moved to Des Moines before the Governor's Mansion was built, so Woodlawn was sold and many of the city's oldest homes were built there, many of them are nearly 150 years old.
This photograph shows the view down Iowa Avenue, you can just see the golden dome of the Old Capitol building in the center, and just to its left are the gothic spires of the old State Hospital. This is the view the entire city was built around.

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This photograph was taken from the very spot where I would set off each morning to deliver newspapers on my paper route down Iowa Avenue. Each morning I would look down the tree-lined boulevard and look for the rising sun glinting off the dome, it would only be visible during the winter, and for a few weeks in the spring, before the tall trees spread their leaves and obscured the view. But the view never ever looked like this.
Nearly all the trees have been stripped from the boulevard. In their place, electric poles have been hastily erected to restore power to the damaged buildings. Almost all the old homes have blue tarps covering the massive holes in their roofs. Cranes were lifting piles of debris into huge dump trucks, I had to wait a while for them to pass before I could take an unobstructed photograph. Students were moving out of their damaged homes, their cars stuffed full of clothing and books. Just off camera to the left, a Red Cross truck was dispensing food and water to the local residents and emergency workers.
I walked up Woodlawn to see my old home, it was undamaged, but it was heartbreaking to see the 200 year old oak trees smashed to bits. I could not take any pictures, almost every direction was blocked by piles of debris stacked 6 feet tall. The 40 foot tall pine tree that stood outside my bedroom window was snapped off and only the bottom 10 feet remained. Almost every tree was smashed to bits, leaving only jagged stumps barely higher than the piles of debris.
I drove around the city but I could not approach the most damaged areas, the streets were blocked off. Highway Patrolmen were directing traffic down Burlington, the traffic lights were torn down. The most astonishing sight was Green Square Park, I saw an uprooted oak tree that was 6 feet in diameter, it pulled up a huge ball of soil 10 feet across.
The entire landscape of the center of Iowa City has been changed by the loss of the trees in the oldest section of town. I feel more acutely the loss of the natural landscape, than the loss of the houses. A house, even a historic 150 year old house, can be rebuilt quickly, but a 200 year old oak tree takes exactly 200 years to replace, if it even manages to survive that long. Many of these trees were here before any houses were built, the city grew around the trees. That circumstance will never happen again.

Hailstorm!

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The hailstones were about 1/2 inch larger before I carried them inside.
Update: Tornado!
Update: Five Tornados! I'll post more info as soon as I can.

Dead PowerBook

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The dead hardware saga continues, my PowerBook died. This is getting ridiculous, I've never had such a streak of bad luck. Even worse, it's embarrassing. It's like the old proverb of the cobbler whose children go barefoot. I'm the guy people call for help when their computers go bad, to have my own computer go bad is pitiful. It is especially pitiful considering the machine died due to an upgrade. This upgrade was supposed to improve performance, but now I have no performance, it won't even boot.
My PowerBook has been acting cranky ever since I installed a new 1Gb memory stick a few days ago. It ran much faster with the extra memory, but then suddenly, I saw the dreaded "kernel panic," and now my PowerBook won't boot.

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Diagnostics said the hard drive is corrupted, most of the data is irretrievable. I used every technique I knew to repair the disk directory (and I know a lot of them, it used to be my job to recover damaged disks) but nothing worked. My disk is hosed, the data lost. Fortunately I don't use my PowerBook for anything really critical, it's my backup machine for light web surfing and email, so it's not a major disaster. But it is a major waste of time, having to reinstall and reconfigure it from scratch.
After wasting a whole day trying to resurrect my hard drive, I finally realized it might be a memory problem, so I ran the Apple Hardware Test disk, it proved the new memory stick is defective. I thought it might be the infamous Upper Memory Slot problem but my PowerBook isn't in the affected range of serial numbers. I tried installing the RAM in the lower slot, but it tests as defective in that slot as well. The memory module is definitely dead.
Curses to Other World Computing for shipping me a bad memory module that hosed my hard disk! They promised a lifetime advance replacement warranty, but that hardly compensates for hosing my hard disk. My machine will probably be OK now that I've removed the bad RAM, the hard drive is probably not permanently damaged, but I'll have to reformat my hard disk and reinstall the OS. And in a couple days I'll get a replacement module from OWC. But you can be damn sure I'm going to run hardware diagnostics to test the new RAM as soon as it's installed.
Update: I got the replacement RAM, it works properly this time. I reformatted the hard drive, installed everything from scratch, and my PowerBook is working well again. But it was a lot of wasted time and work that I didn't really need to go through at all.

Class of '96

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I was surprised to receive an announcement of the 10 year reunion for my university's 1996 graduating class. It's not like a real reunion, it's just the annual Homecoming Week and football game, if I attended, it would be extremely unlikely that I'd encounter anyone I knew. But I was shocked by how fast 10 years passed and I am still stuck here in this town. Tempus fugit.

Dead Electric Razor

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My streak of dead electronic devices continues, my Braun electric razor died. As I contemplated the replacement of yet another expensive machine, I came to a realization: I am glad it died. My old Braun Synchro razor must be at least 10 years old, the battery wouldn't hold a charge anymore, and the motor was weak, and finally it completely stopped working. So I replaced it with the new Braun Activator with a self-cleaning base station. Oh boy is it nice, electric razor technology has come a long way in the last 10 years.
And that is what lead me to an epiphany about all this broken machinery. I usually buy expensive, top of the line products, under the assumption that quality products last longer and tend to be cheaper over the long term. But get a good return on your investment, you have to keep them a long time. All my recently-dead products lived a good long life, and proved me right. But there is one thing you don't get when you operate this way: the latest technology. And now it is obvious to me, I haven't really bought any serious new products in over a decade. So it is nice to get back up on top with shiny new machines, they work so much better than the old ones did (even when the old ones were new). I hope the new machines last as long as the old ones!

Dead TiVo

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My beloved Sony SVR-2000 TiVo is dead. Well, not quite dead, but for all practical purposes, it's dead. The early Series 1 TiVos have a notorious problem, the modem circuit dies and then it can't phone home for program schedules. Without program schedules, it can't record the programs you want. Everything works except the modem, so it can still record and play back, it just doesn't know what to record or when to record it. So without a modem, a TiVo is totally useless.
Fortunately, there is a solution. Some TiVo hackers sell a circuit board you can add into the box, it gives you an ethernet port so you can get the program schedules directly over the internet. I've resisted making any upgrades to my TiVo since it was working fine, but I guess now I don't have any choice. I was hoping to make this machine last until the new HDTV TiVos shipped in a year or so, maybe I can do the repair and stretch it out a little longer. I really do not want to buy a new TiVo right now.
My TiVo only has 3 days of programming schedules left, so on Monday, I'll have to get on the phone, order the ethernet upgrade, and have it shipped overnight so I can get it installed before the schedules run out. What could possibly go wrong with that plan?

Goosefoot

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I have goosefoot. I have heard of pigeon toes and crow's feet, but I never heard of goosefoot. No, my foot doesn't resemble a goose's foot. Goosefoot is a condition named after a group of three tendons in the knee that vaguely resembles a goose's foot. It is more correctly known as Pes Anserinus Bursitis. And it hurts like hell!
The really stupid thing is, I did this to myself. I went power-walking for 30 minutes almost every day, without enough days off to allow my tendons to recover. So my knee tendons are inflamed and extremely painful even when I am sitting completely idle. Even worse, there is basically no treatment, there is not even any effective pain medication, I just have to grit my teeth and wait for it to subside on its own.
After finally getting an appointment an orthopedic specialist a mere two weeks after the intense pain began, I was informed that if I stay off my feet, I might be able to walk without pain in 6 to 8 weeks. I was also told that if my condition doesn't improve rapidly in a few more days (which is extremely unlikely) I'll have to be on crutches for a month or more. This totally sucks. And I have only myself to blame.
If the Surgeon General had my best interests in mind, he would have issued a warning: quitting smoking can be hazardous to your knees. I quit smoking, and in the process, ruined one of my knees. I am in absolute agony.



A few months ago, I decided to quit smoking. It wasn't easy, but it could have been a lot worse. I used the nicotine patch, it went well but I gained about 10 pounds. Then due to some stressful events, I caved in and started smoking again. I went through all the trials of quitting and had nothing to show for it except the extra pounds.
So I decided to get more serious about quitting. I figured that the only way to succeed would be to exercise to avoid the weight gain. I went on the patch again, but this time it was absolutely horrible. One of the rare side-effects of using the patch is insomnia, sometimes I couldn't sleep for days on end. I finally got a prescription for some sleeping pills, they helped a little, but not enough. I was absolutely frazzled. But finally I got through it, and I could begin an exercise routine.
Back when I was a teenager, the new rage in exercise was Ken Cooper's Aerobics, and I followed it religiously. I had a racing bicycle and I used to ride 20 miles each way to high school from my house out in the country. I had great motivation to do the program and document it, I was allowed to skip Phys Ed classes, so I didn't have to mix with the jocks or the obnoxious Phys Ed teacher. I got in really good shape, the best shape of my life. I had occasional thoughts of becoming a bicycle racer, way back when Lance Armstrong was in diapers, and nobody ever heard of the sport. I finally gave up bicycling when I moved to Los Angeles where cars and bikes do not mix. This was vividly proven when a neighbor swiped my bike and was hit by a car, turning my beautiful racing bike into a pretzel.
The distinctive feature of the Aerobics program is that it progresses very slowly since it was designed for sedentary middle-aged men who were completely out of shape and on the verge of a heart attack. You are supposed to progress very slowly so you don't have a heart attack or injure yourself from over-exercise. When I was a teenager, I wondered how anyone could get so out of shape that they could only safely walk 15 minutes a day. But now that I am a sedentary middle-aged man, I completely understand. It doesn't happen intentionally, it creeps up on you slowly without you even noticing it.
I decided to start with a low-impact swimming program, since I live across the street from my city's indoor pool. I got in about 4 weeks of swimming, then suddenly school started and the local swim teams started monopolizing the pool, I could never get in to do laps. So much for that idea.
I decided to do it the hard way, running. Running gives you the most benefit in the shortest duration, but it is hard on your legs and ankles (especially if you're 6ft2in and 250lbs like me). I am not built for running, so I took all possible precautions. I got some really great running shoes, and expensive custom orthotics. I tested them out and the new technology was really great, it wasn't nearly as stressful on my legs as I expected.
The classic Aerobics running program starts with a slow 12 week progression of slow walking at increasing distances before you even start to jog, let alone start running. I started in early autumn, it looked like I had just enough time to get up to running speed before winter set in. I wanted to get up to speed before the coldest weather set in, so I could keep warm from my own body heat. But I got a late start, I spent a few more weeks on the patch than I expected, so now winter was here and I had to go out walking in temperatures as low as -10F. That was no fun at all, but I suppose it was better than exercising in sweltering summer temperatures.
Of course I didn't think I was in as bad a shape as the Aerobics program expected, so I pushed harder than the routine suggested. When it said I should walk 1 mile every other day, I did 2 miles. Then I increased to 6 days a week instead of 3 days a week. I was pushing hard, but I seemed to be making good progress. I exercised for 6 weeks before I lost a single pound, then suddenly I lost 4 pounds in one week. The program was starting to work, even if my legs were taking a beating. I was really motivated, I got an iPod and walked along to tunes by The Donnas, there is nothing quite so motivational as being taunted by teenage girls. I kicked it up a notch from 15 minute walking miles to 13 minute miles with 2 minutes of light jogging per mile. Then one day I was out walking in a straight line, in the home stretch, and my right knee began aching. It seemed only mildly painful, so I figured I'd take the next day off.
I woke up the next day and I could barely stand up, my knee was so painful. I didn't think I injured it, I was just going in a straight line, I didn't torque or twist it, I didn't fall, so I figured it was just a strain and it would go away after a few days. But it didn't. The New Year's holiday was approaching, I figured if it didn't heal after a week, I'd go to the doctor. I spent a week in agonizing pain, and then went in to the ER on Jan 2, figuring the doctors would be back from the holidays (I forgot that Jan 2 was a Monday and a holiday, oops). They took some wonderful X-Rays of my knee and declared the bone structure was in perfect shape, no fractures, no arthritis, not even any signs of wear and tear. But an X-Ray can't see the ligaments and cartilage, and the orthopedics clinic was still closed for the holidays. I made an appointment, which is still a whole week away. They gave me a stupid splint to immobilize my whole leg, and prescribed 3x the normal dosage of ibuprofen, which is almost 90% of a toxic dosage. It's not doing much for the pain, but I can tell when it wears off so it must be doing something. I was kind of hoping for better meds.
I decided to backtrack and see where I went wrong. I used the original Cooper Aerobics program, the same book I used as a kid. It calculates each activity by "Aerobics Points" and you need to do a minimum of 30 points per week to improve your fitness. You start out doing 5 points and work your way up to 30 points over several months. I looked around Dr. Cooper's website, and found out that they had recalculated the entire point system. I thought I was doing the recommended 20 points a week, but I was already doing 30 points. Oops. No wonder I got injured.
Now I have a setback of at least a couple weeks, maybe even months. Worst case I might need knee surgery, best case I need to rest for several weeks. I can't even get in to see the doctor for another week. Now I'm back to where I started from, and probably worse.
If I have to start over from square one, I'm going to do things right this time. I should have gotten a stationary bicycle with a built-in heart rate monitor. I looked at some used models before I began, but decent bikes start around $700. Besides, I want to move back to California in a month or two, and that would just be another expensive bulky item to move. So once I get relocated, I'm going to get a stationary bike, and I can get my aerobics points without pounding my feet on the pavement.

2006: Year of the Dog

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Each year I make a nice Japanese-style New Year's card for my blog. However, it is traditional to not send a card when there has been a recent tragedy, such as a death in the family. So I apologize for the absence of a handmade card this year. Perhaps next year I will be able to resume this tradition.

A Lesson in Time Management

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Goal Displacement is one of my mildly neurotic problems with getting things done. The classic example of Goal Displacement is a writer who has to sharpen all his pencils perfectly before he can start writing. And today I encountered a classic example that should serve as an object lesson for everyone.
Today I was listening to an audio tape on Time Management. I was doing multiple things at once while listening to the tape, surfing the web, sorting mail, paying some bills, etc. So I felt like I was getting a lot done, I was multitasking even while taking a lesson on improving my time management. But the lecturer insisted that my activity was not actually productive, I was mistaking activity for progress, and I must learn to focus on what things are most important in my life, which the lecturer insisted is learning his time management methods. And then the lecturer posed a few questions that I must stop and ponder, and write down the answers, so I thought I'd take it seriously, pause, and write down my answers.
So I grabbed my favorite fountain pen, and started writing. But something was wrong, the pen was clogged up. Of course I could have picked up some other pen or pencil, but this was my favorite pen, and if it gets clogged up, it gets worse if it dries out, so I needed to fix it right away. I pulled out a tissue and squeezed the nib, there were little dots of ink on the tissue, so there was some ink left in the pen. But I couldn't get the ink to flow. I went to the bathroom and ran the nib under hot water, ink was definitely coming out, it's writing a little better but still not working right. OK, I guess I'll have to put in a new ink cartridge, but where the hell did I put them? I bought a little 3-pack of ink refills when I bought this pen, but they were packed away when I moved a few months ago and I haven't seen them since. I had to search through a few boxes of junk to locate them. I inserted a new ink cartridge, it took a bit of work, another rinse under hot water, a couple minutes scribbling on waste paper, but now the ink is flowing. Ah, there is nothing like the feel of writing with a good fountain pen, even if they are tempermental sometimes.
After spending 15 minutes trying to get my pen to write, I completely forgot what I was supposed to write. I even took another 15 minutes to write this little story, and I still haven't gotten back to the lecture. I think I was supposed to write down some things I did this week that I thought were urgent but really were not important.

Dear Neighbor:

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It appears that you, Mrs. Neighbor, do not quite understand how to work with a common resource like this apartment building's laundry facility. Permit me to offer a suggestion that will make life easier for everyone who shares these washers and driers.
Be sure to remove all foreign objects from your laundry before running it through the washer and drier. In particular, you should NOT run these items through the drier AGAIN:
  • Paper matchbooks. Most people like their laundry free of cardboard lint and wet phosphorous fragments.
  • Halloween candy. In particular, do NOT run sticky toffee candies through the drier. Most people like their laundry free of sticky, sugary, melted toffee.
  • Your husband's expired Mexican ID card. Most people like to remain ignorant of the details of their neighbors' immigration status.
  • Rapist Pierre Pierce performed his perp walk today, as he was hauled to prison in shackles. Like all Hawkeye criminals, Rapist Pierce escaped the maximum penalty of 56 years for his crimes, and will serve a maximum of 2 years in the Sex Offender unit of the Iowa State Prison in Mt. Pleasant.



    Rapist Pierce will now be locked up with his peers: sexual deviants, violent thugs, and gangsters. I am sure that he will find he has much in common with his new roommates. But be careful in the shower, Rapist Pierce, don't drop that soap!
    Now the waiting begins, who will be the next Hawkeye Thug to be arrested for a felony? The local university newspaper The Daily Iowan reports that 11% of Hawkeye Athletes have been convicted of at least a misdemeanor crime. They will have to work harder to live up to the reputation of their teams. Who will step forward and uphold the high standard of the felonious Hawkeye Rapists and Thugs?

    I Hate Rebates

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    I am getting rather irritated at manufacturers that seek the flimsiest of pretenses to deny my rebates. I lost $150 in rebates in the last 2 months. But this one takes the cake, it is not just an insulting way to reject my rebate, it is a Federal crime.



    Cingular didn't just screw me out of my $50 rebate, it also screwed the US Post Office out of 37 cents.

    If Only It Was True..

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    Here is an advertisement I encountered during a recent Google search.



    The last Stradivarius that went up for sale fetched over $2 million at Christie's in New York.
    Notorious Hawkeye Rapist Pierre Pierce has finally come to justice, and pleaded guilty to multiple felonies, including burglary, attempted rape, and kidnapping. Rapist Pierce avoided a prison sentence during his last trial for rape, but a career criminal like Rapist Pierce cannot evade justice forever. Today, his day of retribution is at hand.

    Rapist Pierre Pierce Mug Shot

    Iowa Assistant Attorney General Patricia Houlihan said she will ask the court to sentence Rapist Pierce to the longest possible prison sentence of four years. It is likely that Rapist Pierce will receive the stiffest possible prison sentence, in light of his his long criminal history, and willful violation of previous court orders to avoid contact with the victim of his heinous crimes. The citizens of Iowa deserve protection from Rapist Pierce's repeated crime sprees, the only way to protect the public is by locking him up and throwing away the key.
    Yet another Hawkeye Football thug has been convicted of a violent crime. Thug Antwan Allen has been convicted of Assault Causing Injury, for punching an innocent bystander from behind and breaking his jaw. As usual, local news coverage (PDF) is in denial about the seriousness of Thug Allen's violence.



    Thug Allen faces a potential prison sentence of up to 1 year with a fine of up to $1500. However, Iowa Football Coach Kirk Ferentz said, "...if he is found to be guilty of the charges, then there's going to be further discipline." Presumably Coach Ferentz will impose the usual strict penalty for Hawkeye Thugs convicted of felonies, running extra laps during practice sessions, and a suspension from playing for several weeks (as long as those weeks are preseason, when no games are played).
    News coverage has focused on the impact Thug Allen's conviction will have on the football season. Thug Allen has already been redshirted once, so he cannot be redshirted again while serving a prison sentence. Thug Allen's last year of eligibility could be lost. But Thug Allen's loss is someone else's gain. Preserving Thug Allen's spot on the team, despite his conviction, would keep other law-abiding football players from the game. Sophomore standout Adam Shada is warming the bench, ready to play on the first string, as soon as Thug Allen exchanges his Hawkeye uniform for prison stripes.
    Conspicuously absent from news coverage is any analysis of the Hawkeye Football team's practice of actively recruiting violent thugs from gang infested slums in large cities outside of Iowa, and unleashing them on the unsuspecting populace of Iowa City. Thug Allen hails from the slums of Tampa, Florida. When he arrived in Iowa, he was immediately redshirted, sitting out his first year of eligibility, the coaches judged he was too young and immature to deserve a spot on the team, even as a benchwarmer. Alas, he has still not matured, unless you count his maturing into an outstanding violent thug, convicted of one of the most serious crimes of any Hawkeye Thug to date.
    Thug Allen has voluntarily served community service, in advance of his conviction, in an attempt to reduce his eventual sentence. But picking up trash along the highways is paltry compensation for a crime of drunken violence that maimed an innocent bystander. Since the Hawkeye coaches are unwilling to impose any meaningful punishment, it is up to the Courts to speak on behalf of the citizens, and mete out the strictest possible sentence, a full year in prison. This will send a clear message that Hawkeye Football Thugs can no longer depend upon their position of privilege to avoid the consequences of their violent acts within the community. This will set a clear precedent for the upcoming trials of Thug Richard Kittrel, Rapist Pierre Pierce, and all the other Hawkeye Thugs that will follow in their footsteps.
    Update Sept 2, 2005: Thug Allen has escaped a jail sentence, as do all Hawkeye Football Thugs. Thug Allen was given a deferred sentence, if he completes 100 hours of community service and an anger management course, his felony conviction for Assault Causing Injury will be completely expunged. Furthermore, he will escape any retribution under the University of Iowa's new Student Athlete Code of Conduct, because the code was enacted after his arrest. But ultimately, Thug Allen has received the harshest possible penalty available to the University, Coach Ferentz suspended him from playing football for one week.

    I'm Back. BlogTV is Down. QWest Sucks.

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    I managed to get the Disinfotainment server back online, sort of. The web server is working, but the streaming video server is down. This is solely due to the horrible net connection I'm using. QWest has consistently lied and given lame excuses as to why they will not provide DSL to this location, even though they have the necessary equipment in place, ready to go. So I'm stuck on a cable modem, with a promised 256k upstream bandwidth. 256k is just not sufficient to stream video, and I cannot configure the video server to work over DHCP on a cable modem (it requires multihoming static IPs). Even worse, I'm not getting anything close to 256k with this cable modem, I get more like 100k upstream. Pathetic. So for now, I'll limp along with a text-and-pictures blog, no multimedia streaming for now. We Apologize For The Inconvenience.

    The Ten Pound Note

    | 4 Comments
    While rummaging through some old papers, I found some money, a single bill worth ten British Pounds. It was old, but not of any numismatic value, so I just took it to my bank for a currency exchange. I went online and checked the rate before I went to the bank, ten Pounds Sterling was worth $18.37. Not too bad, that's almost like finding a twenty dollar bill.
    So I went to the bank, they said they can't exchange it on the spot, they'd send it along to their head office, do the conversion, and deposit it in my account, and it would take a few days. So today I got the receipt, they valued the £10 at $17.19. Well, I suppose that's fairly normal to get a bad exchange rate, that's how the exchange services make a profit, by skimming a little bit off every transaction. In this case, they made $1.18, about a 6% surcharge, a fairly standard rate for money exchangers.
    But that wasn't the final insult. The bank charged me a $7.00 fee for the transaction. They never mentioned that when I gave them the money. If they had mentioned a 40% service charge, I never would have deposited it through them. I only got $10.19 out of the deal. I could have saved the £10 bill until I traveled somewhere by airline, and exchanged it at an airport for free.
    I phoned the bank to get to the bottom of all this. They transferred me to the branch Manager, but all I got was her voicemail, and she did not call back by the end of the day. So the next morning, I headed down to the bank, I figured I'd start at the bottom and work my way up to the Manager. I went to the teller and showed my receipts, and explained that nobody told me there would be a $7 service fee, and was it the bank's normal policy to assess fees without advance notice? All I got was a bunch of explanations of how their foreign currency exchange works, and what the $7 fee was for. I asked for a refund of the $7 fee, as a courtesy. The teller refused. I demanded my £10 note back. The teller again refused. Things started getting a little heated, so the bank's receptionist stepped in and suggested I speak directly with the Branch Manager.
    I explained the situation again, and the Branch Manager instantly credited my account with $7.
    I will be moving soon, and the Disinfotainment server will need to be relocated. This means the server will be disconnected and unavailable for some time. It is my goal to keep this server continuously available on the net, but there will probably be a service outage starting around July 15. I'm currently working on transition plans for the server, but I'm still working on it and nothing is finalized.
    I'll try to post an update if and when I get more info, but I thought that for now, I should post a warning in case the server suddenly goes away. If that happens, you can be assured that I plan on putting it back up online as soon as I can.

    Wacky Cars

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    I keep finding funny little bits of ephemera as I'm cleaning up this place. These stickers came in packs of bubble gum, probably sometime in the late 1960s or early 70s.
    I am offering my classic '65 Plymouth Barracuda V8 318 for sale. Please buy it. Please. Please please please. I have over $6500 invested in this car over the years, but I must sacrifice it, I am offering it for sale for $1500. I have seen Cudas in worse shape than this, and with smaller V6 engines listed in Hemmings Motor News for $2500, and that was 5 years ago and these cars are getting rarer. I have listed this car and have 3 interested buyers, but I doubt this is going to get into a bidding war. I guarantee you this car is a great value for $1500, whether you intend to restore it or break it up for parts. This car really needs a Mopar lover to work on it and restore it, it really deserves to be put back on the road, and driven by someone who loves old Muscle Cars.



    Look at those classic lines. This car was designed by Darryl Shelby, it was the last car he designed for Plymouth/Dodge before moving to Ford, and it's the predecessor of the Ford Mustang Fastback. The body is in excellent overall shape, it's a California car, it's been parked outside for about 10 years and never been driven in Iowa winters, so it's never been exposed to winter salt. It's got only slight surface rust, no deep rust. All the chrome trim and badges are intact and in good shape. Yes, the tires are flat, they rotted away. If you buy this car, you'll need to haul it away on a flatbed.



    Here's a front view. People either love this car or hate it. I think it's so ugly it's cute. I bought this car for $850 in Los Angeles back around 1988, the engine was in horrible shape and blew oil smoke. The brakes were shot and I couldn't drive it more than 10MPH or else I couldn't stop. The transmission was in terrible shape, although it is an incredibly good transmission, a TorqueFlite high performance automatic transmission, matched to the high power 318ci V8 engine. I bought the car because it had really great performance potential. I immediately had the engine, transmission, front suspension, and brakes rebuilt. I never did anything to clean up the body or interior, I always enjoyed having a Muscle Car that looked like a piece of crap, you should have seen the looks on the faces of other drivers when this old junker blew their doors off!
    I have over $6500 invested in this car, due to dozens of repairs, it's what you'd call a "bad amateur restoration" since I didn't do any of the repairs myself, they were all done at local auto shops in Los Angeles and Iowa City. Every single mechanical system has been repaired or replaced, including some extremely hard-to-find suspension and transmission parts exclusive to that one 1965 model. When I moved to Iowa, I took this to a local restorer famous for show cars, they told me I could invest about $4000 and get the car into shape so it would sell for about $6500. But that would mean I'd have over $10,000 invested in the car to sell it for $6500. I'd have to spend $4000 more just to get back the $6500 I already had into it. I stopped right there, it would be throwing good money after bad. Essentially, the $6500 investment only preserved $2000 worth of value in the car. So you're getting a great deal if you pay $1500.



    As far as I can tell, this car has never been in a major accident, although it has a few small body problems. A thief once tried to break into the trunk, and they punched out the lock and torqued it with a crowbar. The stupid thing is, there was nothing in the trunk to steal, they just wrecked up the car for nothing. You'll need to fix the lower trunk ledge and install a new lock. That's about the worst body damage, there are a couple of other light dents that could be hammered out easily.



    Here's the front interior. This is why I stopped sinking money into this car, I couldn't deal with the expense of repairing the interior. It needs a new headliner, front seats, carpet, etc. etc. The front seats were shot when I bought this. Notice the red housing around the shifter. The 65 Cuda used a shift cable and assembly that was unique to that model, I spent 3 years trying to locate a replacement, and all I could find was one with a red housing. I still have the old black housing if you want to put that part back in place.
    Someone tried to steal this car when I had a security bar attached to the steering wheel, and they bent up the wheel and broke out the ring that honks the horn. It steers OK, the wheel isn't bent so far you can't drive it, but you'll probably want to replace the steering wheel assembly. Someone told me this car has the longest rack-to-rack steering of any car ever made. In other words, it takes something like 5 complete turns of the steering wheel to turn the front wheels from full-left to full-right. And it's manual steering. So this car is a real bitch to parallel park. It's not designed for city driving, with that sort of a steering ratio, it's built for flat-out highway driving.



    The rear seat is in pretty good shape. It folds down flat, and the rear wall in front of the trunk folds down, so you can put long cargo into the trunk and have room all the way to the front seats. A pretty clever Shelby design.



    This is the engine. There seems to be some dispute about what this engine really is. When I had it rebuilt, the mechanic told me it was a 318ci engine, but other people tell me this is a 273ci engine. I have no way to tell, I'm certainly no Mopar expert, but it looks like every other Mopar 318 I've ever seen. So I'm callng it a 318 unless someone can prove otherwise. Unfortunately, the rebuilders painted the engine block an ugly rusty brown color, instead of the proper Mopar Orange color (it's not really as rusty as it might appear). You can see a little bit of Mopar orange color on the PCV valve connector going into the valve housing on the left. You can also see signs of various other rebuilds, like the blue paint on the water pump, up front behind the fan belt. You can't really see it behind the air filter, but the distributor and electric system was rebuilt too. I sank a lot of money into this engine over the years. I never would have done it, except that this engine was ultra-reliable and really fast. The engine always started on the first try. I fired it up a couple years ago, and after we cranked it long enough to get fresh gas into the carburetor, it fired right up, no oil smoke, no obvious problems. This car should be drivable in its current condition with only a minor investment in tires and a new battery.
    Back when I drove this car daily, there was one thing really obvious: it's really FAST but it would be easy to outdrive the brakes. This car only has drum brakes, only the Cuda S Type had front disc brakes. So if you restore this car, I'd suggest putting in the "S Kit" front disc brake option. Otherwise, if you go hot rodding around in this car, you're going to drive faster than you can stop safely, and get yourself killed.
    There are a few extras not pictured that will go with this car. I have 3 original hubcaps, one of them is kind of dented up but the other two are in good shape. There's one square floor mat that appears to be original equipment and is in good shape. I'll even throw in my old antitheft bar, "The Club" and one full-size tire that isn't mounted on a rim.
    Now here's the deal. I've had this car parked since 1997. Since then I have tried to find a buyer, sometimes people came along and offered me $1000 and I've flatly refused. I am absolutely firm I will take no less than $1500 for this car. This car is parked at my Mom's house, and she just died so the house is going up for sale, and I need to get this car sold and moved off the property. If you want to buy this car, contact me via email and I'll contact you and we can speak on the phone about terms and delivery.
    Note to Internet scam artists who have contacted me about this car: I will not sell this car to buyers from Romania or Nigeria, or other notorious off-continent locations. No, I'm not going to accept a forged $5000 cashier's check and forward $3500 to your bank, so when the check turns out to be fraudulent, I end up losing $3500. What do you think, I'm stupid or something?

    Update: June 18, 2005: Sold!



    Hey, that doesn't look so bad, now that it's got tires and the hubcaps are in place. I'm just glad it wasn't ME replacing the tires, that was a lot of work!



    This is a historic moment, the first time this car has moved since 1997! I bet my neighbors are glad they don't have to look at this car any more.



    Bye old Cuda, good luck with your new owner Doug.

    I've Been Sold

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    I'm hopping mad, my credit card company informed me that they sold my account to another company, which promptly raised my interest rate 5%. How can this be legal? I have the option of refusing the new interest rate, in which case they will close my account and allow me to pay off the account at the old interest rate, with the usual minimum monthly payments. I only have one credit card, so if I did that, I'd have no credit cards at all.

    Work Work Work

    | 2 Comments
    Sometimes I have to remind myself that my blog has regular readers, and if I don't post for a while, people start wondering what happened to me. I haven't posted in 2 weeks, so I figured I should post an explanation for my silence.
    If it isn't obvious enough from my recent posts, I'm going through a rough time due to the death of my Mom. I'll post more on this topic when I get some time, but for now, I am totally overwhelmed with work. I am singlehandedly emptying out my Mom's house. I have spent the last two weeks filling a huge rollaway 6x8x12 foot dumpster with junk. It is absolutely incredible what sorts of old junk my Mom had squirreled away. For example, I found 5 big boxes containing my late Grandfather's cancelled checks and receipts going back to 1972. I don't know what possessed her to keep junk like that. Hell, I don't know what possessed my Grandfather to keep all that crap. But then there are happier discoveries, like a box I didn't know existed, labelled "Charles' Toys."
    It's going to take me a while to get out from under this burden, so if I don't get a chance to post much over the next few weeks, I'm sure everyone will understand.

    Z Channel

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    I just happened to catch the cable premiere of the movie Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, a film about the life of Jerry Harvey and his pioneering work in the early days of Cable TV. While I watched, I saw colleagues of Jerry Harvey that I worked with but haven't seen in at least 15 years, and I was reminded of a strange event.
    Back in 1988 when I worked at the largest Macintosh dealership in the world, I had a deal working with some of the executives of Z Channel. The company was flush with cash, and wanted to buy a huge cutting edge Macintosh computer network, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth. I'd spent weeks in preparation with the company managers to create systems that would completely revamp the company. I was excited about the deal, not just because I'd make more commission on this one deal than I usually earned in a month, but I also subscribed to the Z Channel and loved their programming, so this was just the sort of customer I loved to work with. I worked hard to prepare every detail in advance with middle management, everything was set, the Z Channel managers had presented the deal to Jerry Harvey and had approval to proceed. All I had to do was close the deal, so we arranged an appointment for 9:30 AM at the Z Channel offices, I would meet Jerry Harvey, we'd shake hands and seal the deal.
    On Monday morning, I began work as I always did, I sat down at my desk with a cup of coffee and the LA Times, and started making calls to confirm my morning appointments. I always confirmed an appointment before leaving the office (especially on a Monday morning) since people in the LA media business were notoriously flaky. I called my contact at the Z Channel to confirm the meeting was set, and the response, in a shaken voice, said "umm.. uhh.. I don't think this is a very good time, I'll have to call you later.." and the woman hung up on me abruptly. Hmm, I had no idea what that was all about.
    So I sat back to finish my coffee and read the paper, and figure out what to do with my now-empty morning. And then I turned the LA Times over, just under the fold was the headline "Z Channel Chief Dead in Murder-Suicide." Oh crap.
    The deal fell through, and Z Channel folded up shortly afterwards. I always wondered whether the additional pressure of the Monday meeting with me, the worries over buying expensive computers, contributed to his decision to murder his wife and kill himself. After seeing the movie, it is obvious that Jerry Harvey had a lot of problems that lead to his tragic end, but I can't help but think I might have been the straw that broke the camel's back.

    My Mom Died

    | 7 Comments
    After a lengthy struggle with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), my mother, Mary Jo Eicher, passed away today.

    Mom

    Staple Puller

    | 2 Comments
    Yesterday I needed a staple puller. I'm cleaning up my office and getting rid of old files, so I'm scanning piles of old documents and archiving them on CDROMs. I have one big stack of stapled documents, and I have to pull the staples out neatly without ripping the corners so they'll run through the automatic document feeder without problems. I know I have a staple puller around my office, in fact, I recall thinking how odd it was that I owned a staple puller since I use it so rarely. It must be at least 2 years since I've seen it, it's in a drawer somewhere.



    After an hour of searching, I still couldn't find the stupid staple puller. I recall paying only 75 cents for the staple puller, my time is worth more than 75 cents per hour, so the hell with this, I'll just go out and buy a new staple puller tomorrow.
    So today I went to Staples, of course they'd sell staple pullers. But you cannot buy one staple puller, they only sell three-packs of staple pullers for $1.72. They had a fancier staple puller sold individually, but that was even more expensive than buying the three-pack, $2.29.
    I asked for the manager, and insisted she look up in her catalog to see if there was any way to buy just one staple puller. I was vehement that my project was intended to get rid of crap lying around my office, not to get more crap to accumulate in my office. She looked in the catalog and found only one other unit, a heavy-duty staple puller for $8. I left Staples without purchasing a staple puller.
    To illustrate this article, I decided to look up a photo of the staple puller on the Staples.com website, and I found that I can order one staple puller online for 75 cents, which will be delivered free via UPS ground, taking about a week.
    So I decided to call the Staples store, and see if I could get them to order it for me by the part number and I could just pick it up in their store. The Staples clerk told me I would have to come in to the store and prepay 75 cents before they would order it. I explained that this would mean that in order to buy just one staple puller, I would be required to make three trips to their store, the one I had already made, when they misinformed me they could not sell less than three units, the second trip to pay the 75 cents, and the final trip to pick up the item.
    I asked to speak to the manager, explained the whole stupid situation, and begged her to just order the single unit as a courtesy, since I had been misinformed that they could not order one staple puller. She relented, and decided to rip open a three-pack and just sell me one. So I went back to the store, paid 79 cents (including tax) and walked out with one staple puller. As I paid, I told the manager, "well at least now, two other customers can purchase one staple puller." She said, "oh no, I can't sell the others now that the packaging is spoiled, I'll have to just use them in the store." Sheesh.
    Well, there are a lot of bigger things to get irate about, but I have to draw the line when a corporation wants to force me to buy three times more product than I need, and it will just add to the clutter in my office at the very time I'm in the middle of a project to clear that all up. Besides, I already owned one staple puller (even if I couldn't find it anywhere), now I have two, and I sure as hell didn't need four staple pullers.
    Update May 28, 2005: I found my original staple puller. It was lying on a table in the back of my garage. I only found it after 6 days of constant work cleaning out my garage. Now I have two staple pullers.
    Update June 15, 2005: I found another staple puller today. Now I have three staple pullers.
    Update July 6, 2005: I found another staple puller today. Now I have four staple pullers. I am cursed by staple pullers.
    Update July 7, 2005: I found yet another staple puller today. Now I have five staple pullers. It should now be obvious why I was trying to avoid acquiring two extra staple pullers when this saga started.

    Public Notice

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    Consumption of alcohol is prohibited by law in all public buildings owned by the State of Iowa. Therefore, it is illegal and inappropriate to consume large quantities of beer in the University Hospital waiting rooms. Please be considerate of other hospital visitors when choosing attire, your bloodstained camouflage hunting vest may cause offense. Before engaging in a loud, drunken argument, please retire to one of the soundproof consultation rooms. Please exit the hospital before beginning a fistfight.
    Thank you for your cooperation.

    The Pope

    | 7 Comments
    Pope. Pope pope pope. Pope pope. Pope pope pope, pope pope pope pope pope. Pope pope pope. Pope pope pope pope, pope pope pope pope pope. Pope pope pope. Pope pope pope. Pope. Pope pope pope. Pope pope pope pope pope.
    Pope pope pope. Pope. Pope pope. Pope pope pope pope pope. Pope. Pope pope. Pope pope pope. Pope pope pope pope pope. Pope pope. Pope pope pope pope pope, pope pope pope, pope pope pope pope. Pope pope pope pope pope. Pope. Pope pope pope. Pope pope pope pope, pope pope pope pope.
    Pope pope pope pope pope pope pope. Pope pope pope pope pope. Pope pope pope pope pope pope pope pope. Pope pope pope pope pope. Pope pope pope pope pope pope pope. Pope. Pope pope. Pope pope pope pope, pope pope pope pope. Pope pope pope pope.
    Pope pope pope pope pope. Pope pope pope pope pope pope. Pope pope. Pope pope pope pope pope. Pope. Pope pope pope. Pope pope pope pope pope. Pope pope pope. Pope pope, pope pope pope pope pope. Pope pope. Pope pope pope pope pope. Pope. Pope pope pope pope pope. Pope pope pope pope. Pope. Pope pope pope pope pope. Pope.
    During the recent public outcry over rapist Pierre Pierce's latest crimes, another important news event was overlooked: Iowa football thug Antwan Allen was arrested for assault causing injury, a Class D Felony. Iowa City Police reports say that violent thug Allen assaulted a man in a drunken bar fight, striking him from behind with a cowardly sucker-punch, breaking the man's jaw and knocking him unconscious.
    The sentence for Felonious Assault Causing Injury is a prison sentence of up to 5 years, and a fine up to $7500. However, football coach Kirk Ferentz imposed his own unspecified disciplinary actions, and issued a warning to thug Allen "that if charges and a conviction followed, more measures will be taken including suspension of playing time.”
    What a terrible time for poor little thug Antwan Allen. He breaks a man's jaw and sends him to the hospital, and for his trouble, the coach says he will have to run extra laps during training, and if he's convicted he'll have to sit out a few games. And even worse, his moment in the spotlight is overshadowed by rapist Pierre Pierce, making thug Allen's crimes seem amateurish in comparison. However, he will soon regain his moment in the sun, when a judge and jury deliver a more severe penalty. Thug Allen will be unable to play Iowa football for up to 5 years.
    The persistent problems with violent criminal thugs on the University of Iowa's sports teams are intolerable. Iowa sports coaches have been doing everything possible to protect their thug athletes from criminal penalties. Thug athletes have assumed they can get away with any criminal activities and be shielded by their coaches, which has lead to more and more outrageous criminality. Enough is enough.
    The citizens of Iowa City and the students of the University of Iowa have spoken clearly, they have demanded the University adopt a strict policy concerning criminal actions by student athletes. The University convened a panel to suggest a new athlete conduct policy. This was obviously a stalling tactic, two years have passed since the panel convened and no new policy has even been suggested, let alone implemented.

    I am calling on the University to immediately implement drastic measures against criminal athletes and the sports environment that enables their criminality. I propose the following policies.

    1. Any athlete's arrest, even a misdemeanor, will result in immediate permanent removal from the team. Reinstatement will only occur upon total exoneration by an innocent verdict (not just a plea bargain). Immediate suspension of athletic scholarship upon any arrest. Expulsion from the University upon any felony conviction.

    2. Drastic cuts in coaches' pay. Cut coaches' pay for each player's arrest. Iowa coaches are the highest paid state employees. They have obviously failed their mission to provide leadership for their team. Each incident of criminal behavior only demonstrates their further failure. Coaches clearly value money over morals, they have no financial incentive to keep their players in line.

    3. Drastic budget cuts to football and basketball programs. The major sports teams are sucking money out of the general University budget. It is time to return that money to academic programs. This week, the University announced another budget shortfall, light bulbs are being removed from classrooms to save energy costs at the same time a $5 million renovation of the football stadium is underway. Athletics are always the last programs to receive budget cuts. As a last resort, $250,000 was cut from athletics. The University has spent 5 years trying to raise a mere $2 million for new building construction for the Arts campus, but $2 million was raised for a "Hawkeye Sports Hall of Fame" in less than a month. The University should require all contributions to sports teams or facilities to be put into the general fund. Contributions earmarked for sports programs should be considered "matching funds" and at least 50% should go towards academic, non-sports programs.

    4. Team budget cuts for each teammate's criminal action. This will clearly demonstrate to the law-abiding team members that they are all collectively responsible for the actions of their criminal teammates, and must work together to stop violent thugs from damaging the team's and the University's reputation.

    5. End all special privileges for athletes. Just down the street from my home, the University has constructed a $4 million facility, the Gerdin Athletic Learning Center, to provide remedial tutoring for athletes who are failing their classes. But no similar facility exists for the general student population. The University has struggled for many years to find enough money in the budget to provide additional funding to academic support programs for general students, yet donors can find instantly find $4 million to prevent athletes from flunking out of school. The Gerdin Center should be returned to the general student population, make athletes use the same academic resources as any regular student. Athletes who cannot meet academic standards should be expelled like any other failing student.

    The University of Iowa must recognize the problem with criminal thug athletes, and act decisively to end the problem. The University's mission is academic, not athletic. The University must return its focus to providing the best possible education to all students, rather than providing the best possible support to athletes. If the University cannot find a balance between academics and athletics, it will not be able to attract the best students and faculty, and even athletes who are serious about education will go elsewhere. The reputation of the University is at stake. As an alumni of the University of Iowa, I cannot sit back idly and see the reputation of my school be dragged through the mud.
    Rapist Pierre Pierce's day of reckoning has finally arrived, he has received the Hawkeye Death Penalty, he was kicked off the University of Iowa basketball team. Once again, rapist Pierce is under investigation for heinous crimes including sexual assault, burglary, and kidnapping. Apparently he has admitted to these acts but claims he committed no crime because the victim is his girlfriend and he can do whatever he likes because he is a basketball star.
    Basketball coach Steve Alford said "I regret this step has become necessary, but Pierre has betrayed the trust we placed in him when he was given a second chance two years ago." University of Iowa President David Skorton said, "Coach Steve Alford, athletic director Bob Bowlsby and I agree that it was time to take decisive action by removing Mr. Pierce from the basketball team permanently. We agree that Mr. Pierce has violated the standards of behavior that we expect and demand from all of our student athletes." But rapist Pierce has not been expelled from the university; the status of his basketball scholarship is unclear, but I suspect it cannot be revoked. The University has no policy on criminal activities by student athletes.
    It appears that the University of Iowa is finally learning that rapist Pierce and all the other criminal thug athletes bring dishonor upon the sports program and the University. But it took repeat offenses of egregious crimes before the University would act, apparently a single incident of rape was insufficient reason to take action. Perhaps Coach Alford should think twice before giving a second chance to the next criminal thug.
    It is usually the policy of the University to close ranks around their star athletes, to attack the victims and discredit them, and to handle punishment internally (like requiring the athlete thugs to run extra laps). So the full extent of rapist Pierce's crimes must be far worse than has been disclosed. I am eagerly anticipating rapist Pierce's upcoming career on the Anamosa State basketball team.

    2005: Year of the Rooster

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    The World's Longest Poem

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    While reading a book about Japanese literature, I came across an amusing passage about the 17th Century poet Saikaku.
    Saikaku the poet, however, seems to have been more interested in quantity than quality. Engaging in one-man poetry marathons, he composed the staggering quantity of 23,500 haikai in a single 24 hour period, and thus established an unbeatable, if not necessarily enviable, record for concentrated poetic output.
    But perhaps Saikaku's record has been surpassed in an equally unenviable way. I immediately thought of a local hippie poet from the late 1960s, he called himself Mr. Alphabet.
    Mr. Alphabet was the kind of dolt you'd be subjected to in an elementary school "cultural enrichment" assembly, as a visiting "artist" (and I use that term loosely). That's where I first saw him, it was an incident that probably formed my lifelong distaste for poets and poetry. I vaguely recall he used to dress in a clown suit with letters of the alphabet all over it, which was supposed to make poetry less stuffy, but quite the opposite, he made poetry entirely ridiculous. Perhaps Mr. Alphabet was unaware that any child that might have any latent appreciation for poetry would not enjoy clowns.
    In a great fanfare of public self-promotion, Mr. Alphabet declared he would write the world's longest poem. Of course he didn't mean anything reasonable like a poem with the largest word count, that would involve a lot of hard work. Instead, he declared that he would write a poem one mile long.
    Mr. Alphabet wrote his poem on rolls of paper for adding machines, which are about 150 feet, I calculated he needed three dozen rolls. He set up a desk with two spools on either side, the roll of blank paper on the right, and the takeup spool on the left. He wrote the poem by hand, down the length of the paper in large letters. I thought this was cheating, and that he should have used the paper upright like an adding machine, using a typewriter. I wouldn't even have insisted he used the full width of the paper, and I would have allowed double spaced lines. But obviously this sort of effort would take years of dedicated effort, an inconceivable task for a hippie clown poet.
    After days and days of writing, Mr. Alphabet completed his rolls of poetry, and it was time for the public unveiling of the work. He took his bag full of rolls of poetry to the middle of town, taped the start of the first spool to the ground, and started walking, unraveling it as he walked. When the first spool ran out, he taped the end to the beginning of the next roll. He walked on and on until the entire poem was unrolled over the course of a measured mile. And then he walked away and left his masterwork lying on the sidewalks like so much litter.
    I am certain that nobody has surpassed Mr. Alphabet's record-breaking feat of poetry, because I am certain that such a stupid idea would never occur to anyone else. At least I hope it would never occur to someone to write a poem longer than one mile. I have no idea what ever happened to Mr. Alphabet, I have a mental image of him panhandling, begging for spare change in exchange for a poem, dressed in a filthy, tattered clown suit with the letters of the alphabet written on it.

    You're Welcome

    | No Comments
    Somebody remind me next year about this time, if I ever get a charitable holiday impulse to cook an elaborate gourmet meal for my relatives involving a week of research in a dozen cookbooks, 3 days of searching for proper spices, a trip in -5F weather to find the key ingredient, extremely difficult preparation of two elaborate sauces, the perfect wine, perfect pies, four hours of prep time, an hour cleaning up, if I ever feel like doing this again, just forget it, because nobody will appreciate it. Nobody will even say "thank you." Quite the contrary, they will not hesitate to say how much they didn't like it.
    Next year, they can eat at McDonalds.

    Rudy Rucker has a Movie Deal

    | 5 Comments
    I was poking around in the Internet Movie Database, and accidentally discovered something astonishing, Rudy Rucker has a movie deal. I am simultaneously jumping for joy and green with jealousy, because I spent years trying to do this deal, and I couldn't make it happen.
    I spent many years working around Hollywood, and I spent a lot of time trying to promote Rudy Rucker's book "Spacetime Donuts," and get it made into a movie. I read it when it first came out, around 1980, and I decided it would be the perfect computer graphics movie. I even contacted his publishers to option the rights to the novel, but they absolutely refused to talk to me. It was many years later that I discovered the reason. Rudy was interviewed in a fanzine and described a dispute with his publisher, they were going bankrupt and apparently out of sheer spite, they took his book rights down the toilet with the company. So nobody could get the rights to republish any of his early novels, and they are still out of print even today. And one of those lost novels, "Master of Space and Time" is now in pre-production, which means somehow, someone optioned the novel, they're preparing a shooting script, and it will probably get put into turnaround and never ever get made into a movie. Oh well.



    The only actor listed in the IMDB is Jack Black, it doesn't say what role he's playing in Master of Space and Time, but it could only be Harry Gerber, a recurring character in Rudy's novels. Harry Gerber and Joe Fletcher are always teamed up, so this film would be what Hollywood calls a "buddy pic." Rudy says that Joe represents himself, but I always imagined that Harry and Joe were two sides of Rudy's psyche. Harry is the drunken, stoned, adventurous genius who can barely keep his life under control, and Joe is the thoughtful, professorial, rationalist with a life that controls him. Together they hack the universe. Harry always invents some device that breaks the physics of the cosmos, but he never quite understands how his device works so he needs Joe to help him repair it and save the universe from destruction. Jack Black is well cast in the role of Harry Gerber, but I can't imagine who could possibly play Joe Fletcher.
    I'll never forget when I discovered Rudy's books. There are few books that you can truly say changed your life, and Spacetime Donuts was one of them. I still laugh whenever I think of the tagline on the cover, "Free Drugs! Easy Sex! No Job Hassles! Some People Just Don't Know When They're Being Oppressed!" The moment I saw it, I knew this would be a shock, upending my entire belief system.



    Spacetime Donuts was written in 1976, and Rudy absolutely invented the cyberpunk genre singlehandedly, way before the others (like William Gibson) got published and went on to represent cyberpunk. Back in the early 80s, science fiction was just starting to become a hidebound dinosaur, losing all the subversiveness it developed in the 70s. Phil Dick had died, the field was dominated by blowhards like Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Harlan Ellison, and even worse, big budget movies like Star Wars had captured the public's imagination, turning the genre into pablum for little kiddies. Only Rudy and a few "hard SF" writers retained any of the subversiveness and fascination that attracted me to their writing.
    So I was convinced that Spacetime Donuts had to be made into a movie, to put SF back to rights. It would be the ultimate challenge for computer graphics programmers. CG in the early 80s was rather primitive compared to today's state of the art. But I was convinced that by the time this movie would be made, they would improve suficiently to capture some of the imagery that takes place in quantum space or even the minds of the characters. There's a famous quote from Stanley Kubrick, "if it can be seen, or imagined, or felt, it can be put on film." But after dealing with Hollywood directors and screenwriters for many years, I eventually came to the conclusion that Kubrick was full of crap, there are just some things that cannot be put on film. And Spacetime Donuts is surely one of them. Rudy wrote some essays on SF writing that described the problem, reading is a nonlinear experience, you can pause to think, reread a passage, and your interior thoughts shaped the reading experience beyond the writer's words. None of this can happen in a film. Truffaut once said that film is a process of carrying the viewer's subconscious through a series of thoughts and connotations. There is no way for a film viewer to sit and contemplate rationally during the movie about the meaning of the film and how it relates to his life perspective, something that would definitely be required for Spacetime Donuts to work on the big screen. In a way, the book is not a novel, it is an "exegesis," a word I learned from Phil Dick. As I understand it, an exegesis is a critical commentary on the world, and by reading it, one cannot help but adopt the philosophy of the writer. No wonder Rudy won the Phil K. Dick Prize.
    But I didn't know any of that when I started off on my quest to get Spacetime Donuts made into a movie, way back in the early 1980s. I was young and talented, but naive about Hollywood, and that made me raw meat for consumption by the sharks. I often describe Hollywood as an organ grinder. The owner turns the organ's crank and plays canned tunes written by someone else, while the monkey on a chain does tricks to attract an audience, and entices them to put coins in his cup. The monkey is the only one in this scenario with any true talent, and even the monkey could turn the crank on the organ grinder. But the organ's owner keeps his talent on a chain, so he gets to keep all the money, throwing a few scraps of food to the monkey, just enough to keep him alive and doing tricks to attract a crowd.
    And what a talented little monkey I was. Hollywood was reeling under the effect of new technology, the word processor. Writers are some of the most conservative technophobes I've ever met, and I coached writers, from solitarly recluses to whole departments of studios, on the new technology. I was the go-to guy who could fix your script, or recover it when it was erased off your disk. And the writers loved me, I was full of crazy ideas, and more than once someone swiped an idea I threw out in casual conversation and turned it into a character in their movie, or even wrote a whole movie around it. And of course, like a good little monkey on a chain, I never saw a dime from any of it. But I did seem to have influence amongst the writers and the studios, so I took every opportunity to plant my little seed ideas, and try to put Rudy in front of someone who might be able to carry the project to completion.
    Of course the whole idea was stupid. I'd never met Rudy Rucker, and I still haven't. I didn't have the rights to his book, so whoever got the ball rolling would take over and leave me in the cold. The movie would cost millions in CG alone, and in those days, nobody would spend that kind of money on CG, especially for some weirdo cyberpunk novel with no audience except weridos like me. But one day, out of the blue, I got a real chance to move the project forward.
    I was unemployed and living in my scummy artist's loft in downtown LA, when I got a call from Dick, my former manager at the computer store. He had a particularly difficult screenwriter as a customer, and he wanted me to go train her. I hated Dick, he'd just gotten me fired from my job, but now here he was asking me to save his ass, the customer wanted to return the computer because Dick couldn't set up the fancy Mac screenwriting controls. I was the only person who could handle this hot customer properly, and I really needed the money, so I couldn't really refuse the gig, especially when I heard who the client was, Kathryn Bigelow. Kathryn was the hottest property in town, she had just gotten a multi-picture deal, the holy grail of Hollywood. So I changed out of my goofy artist's clothing, put on a monkey suit and tie, and headed over to Kathryn's place.
    And ooh she was one tall, leggy hot woman. She was wearing black stretch pants, long leather boots, and a colorful paisley blouse. Immediately I knew I'd fucked up, just an hour earlier, I was dressed almost exactly like she was, wearing a vintage 1960s JC Penneys pink paisley shirt and black stretch pants that weren't quite form fitting, but were an obscene parody of men's dress pants. The walls of her loft space were covered with her own paintings, and they were really good. And here I was, a painter like her trying to make my way in Hollywood, but that was all concealed because I was camouflaged in my suit and tie, now she'd treat me like the geek I was dressed as. Crap.
    But I took off my jacket, rolled up my sleeves, and proceeded with my killer demo. And this was the best screenwriting demo in Hollywood, it made my reputation. I sat down and did what I always did, installing some arcane macros into Microsoft Word, then writing a screenplay on the spot, turning the words we spoke to each other into formatted dialogue. Since I could type 110 words a minute, I made it look effortless, it flowed from my fingers instantly, and was uniquely customized to each situation. It went like this:
    FADE IN:
    
    CHARLES EICHER is sitting at the keyboard of a Macintosh IIfx,
    KATHRYN BIGELOW is sitting next to him, watching over his
    shoulder as he demonstrates screenwriting software.
    
                          CHARLES
                 Notice how each line is
                 automatically tabbed over
                 to the proper indentation
                 when I hit the appropriate
                 function key.
    			 
                          KATHRYN
                 Which keys tab to which
                 column?
    			 
                          CHARLES
                 I'll write them on a post-it
                 note and paste it above the
                 function keys, but you'll have
                 them memorized before long.
                 You can even put the
                 characters' names, or any
                 commonly used text, on a
                 function key to save typing.
    
    CHARLES scribbles on a post-it note and sticks it on the keyboard.
    I always loved how the writers' eyes would bug out as I typed and formatted the script as quickly as I talked. They were blown away because writing is a slow, difficult process for them, and I made it look effortless.
    But as I was sitting at the keyboard, finishing the lesson, I noticed that sitting next to the monitor was a script by William Gibson, I think it was New Rose Hotel. I'd heard that Kathryn was collaborating with Gibson, which was why I wanted to meet her. So as we wrapped up the lesson, I saw my opportunity. I commented on Gibson, and said if she liked his work, she'd really like Rudy Rucker, and she should check out his novel Spacetime Donuts. I wrote it down for her on the back of my business card, and left it on her desk. The lesson was over, seeds planted, and I left. And of course, I'd done my job so well that Kathryn never called me again for further training. And of course, nothing ever happened with Kathryn Bigelow, she never made a movie with William Gibson OR Rudy Rucker. I figure she never managed to get ahold of his book, it was extremely rare and hard to get ahold of, so she probably never read it. And that was the last time I ever tried to get Rudy's book made into a movie, I figured if the hottest property in Hollywood, someone interested in cyberpunk, wouldn't do it, nobody could.
    I probably should have given Kathryn my copy of Spacetime Donuts, but someone already swiped my copy and I couldn't find another. Over the years, I've loaned a few of Rudy's books to people, and invariably they never return them. Now I never loan books to anyone, if I want someone to read a book, I'll buy a new one and give it to them. The one book I'd most like to find is Rudy's "The Secret of Life," one of his lost, out of print novels. I loaned my only copy of the book to my girlfriend Susie, because in the climactic scene in the book, the main character proposes to his girlfriend, and I'd planned to ask her about the book, discuss the ending and then propose to her myself. We were going through a few problems at the time, which I thought were amazingly similar to the problems of the protagonist in the book, and I thought maybe she'd understand me a lot better after reading it, maybe enough so that she'd marry me. But she carried around the book for weeks in her purse, I kept asking her if she'd finished it but she said, "not yet," and I didn't press her on it. I finally decided to propose to her on Christmas Eve, regardless of whether she finished reading the book or not. I had an elaborate dinner prepared, but she never showed up. She finally showed up with a hangover two days later and confessed she now had a new boyfriend and spent the holiday with him. We had a screaming fight, she left, taking my book with her, and I never saw her again. In retrospect, I'd rather have my book back than Susie back.
    I never understood what all these experiences were about until I read Rudy's "Transrealist Manifesto." I'd been living a Transrealist lifestyle for years, but I described it as "Los Angeles Schizophrenia." I described it as the effect from living in a movie set, people grew up watching TV shows and movies set in LA, and now you're driving down the same streets you were watching on TV five minutes ago, it blurs the line between reality and mass media. And I was in the thick of it, living on Traction Avenue, one of the most frequently used film locations in LA. In the two years I lived on Traction Avenue, I think they made 25 movies in front of my loft, they even made 2 movies inside my loft, making the schizophrenic experience even weirder, seeing my own rooms appear on a movie screen with Sean Connery living there. And worse yet, I was helping screenwriters, who would sometimes write ME as a character into their movies. My life was truly a warped, transreal experience, I felt like my life was a public spectacle. Eventually I had to get out, and prepared to escape from my artist's loft life. But my weirdo friends were always doing their best to freak me out even more. One day I drove home from work, and I found a poster pasted to all the telephone poles on Traction Avenue, they said, "Free Charles Eicher Before He Escapes!" I totally freaked. Who could have done such a thing? I finally found out it was my neighbor, Bob, "The Hitman of Design," who thought I'd be pleased with the spectacle. I made him go out and tear down every single poster, and told him I wouldn't have minded so much if he hadn't put my FULL name on every phone pole in the neighborhood.
    But I digress. And that's all part of Transrealism. Rudy wrote about how Transrealism is the now only valid way to write fiction, you integrate your own life into the novel, make yourself a character with a scenario based partly on your life, and then set it loose so it reacts the way you would, and does things that surprise even you. Only by basing your writing loosely on your own life, and those of your friends, would you have sufficiently well-developed characters to write a compelling story. But Rudy also said "a writer's most precious commodity is his memories." And in this tale, I've already used up some of my memories that I'd intended to save for another story. Blogging, for me, is sort of like transrealist writing, I ramble on about my own experiences, weaving them around events of the day and other people's stories as an excuse to tell the same old tales that I bore people with over and over. For me, writing is an exorcism, I get rid of old tales that I tell again and again, and once I set it down in a completed, polished form, I never have to tell it again.
    But there is one Rudy Rucker tale I have not yet told, and I won't tell it now. It was a dream I had while I was reading Spacetime Donuts for the first time. But the centerpiece of the story is a bizzarely recursive image I could only create with computer graphics. I've spent the last 25 years working in CG to develop the skills necessary to produce one image that will explain the story, and lately I've been working rather intensively studying Maya 6, so I think I can finally produce the CG image. But ultimately, my years of effort attempting to depict something I dreamt showed me what a fool I was. How could I have ever thought that Spacetime Donuts could become a movie, if I have spent 25 years trying to produce just one single image from a dream?

    Footnote: Judging from the feedback, there seem to be some misconceptions about this article. I sent Rudy a note with a link to this story, and he linked back on his blog, saying my story "was flattering, but it felt odd reading it." Gee Rudy, this story wasn't really about you, it was about me, I just used you as an excuse to talk about myself, like I always do. Rudy is the subject of the story, but I am the object of the story. So it's only natural he should feel odd after reading it, I suppose.
    I also received some email questioning whether this article was true or not. This is only natural, since I wrote about Transrealism, which is a style of fiction writing based on true events of the authors life. Typically a Transreal story gradually becomes more and more outlandish until it is obvious it's fiction, but you never quite know where the line between truth and fiction was crossed. But this was a story about Transrealism, not a Transreal story. The events in my life that I described in this story are 100% true.

    Pumpkin Custard Pie

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    Everyone in our family has been trying to get the recipe for Mom's pumpkin custard pie. Everyone says it's the best pumpkin pie they ever tasted, that's because it's pumpkin custard pie, not just pumpkin pie. I managed to get ahold of her original recipe, so I scanned it and put it up for the whole world to try.

    pumpkinpie.jpg

    Note that there are two recipes on this page, the leftmost column is a multiplied recipe for 3 pies, although there is some dispute as to whether this actually makes 4 pies. There is also considerable dispute over the quantity of pumpkin, the recipe calls for 2 one pound cans of pumpkin. But nowadays, pumpkin comes in small 15 oz cans and big 1lb 13 oz cans. Mom insists she uses 2 of the big cans, but we made it with just two small cans and it came out fine, although we used two 9 inch pie shells, not the 12 inch as called for in the recipe. My sister was a professional baker and she says that 12 inch shells take the same amount of filling as 9 inch shells, it just makes a thinner pie, so it shouldn't make any difference.
    For clarity, I'll type out the basic recipe here.
    Pumpkin Custard Pie

    6 eggs
    2 one pound cans pumpkin
    1 cup brown sugar
    1 cup sugar
    2 teaspoons cinnamon
    1 teaspoon ginger
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
    1/4 teaspoon ground clove
    1 1/2 cup milk
    1 cup heavy cream

    Pour into two 12 inch pie crusts, bake at 350 for 75 minutes.

    Paul Bunyan

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    My gardener is out in my yard right now, trying to cut down a tree. I have a terrible problem with "volunteer trees," which are fast growing weed trees that spring up where you don't want them. This particular tree grew to a diameter of 8 inches and at least 20 feet in height before I even noticed it was there. As we pondered how bring down the tree without destroying all the neighboring trees, I suddenly flashed back to a tree-cutting experience of my youth.
    When I was about 12 years old and a Boy Scout, one of the more prized Merit Badges was the Paul Bunyan Woodsman badge.



    To win the badge, you had to cut down a tree at least 4 inches in diameter, and cut it into 2 foot lengths using only a hatchet. Since we were just little kids wielding dangerously sharp tools, this could only be done under adult supervision at the annual Boy Scout summer camp. Much of our camping experience involved training with axes and hatchets, to learn the proper safety procedures.
    I waited and waited for my turn to ravage the forest with my hatchet, which I always kept keenly sharpened with a whetstone. But the boy whose turn came before mine was even more impatient, when his turn approached, he ran off into the woods, without adult supervision, and started cutting down a tree.
    He managed to fell the tree without difficulty, and began cutting the 2 foot long segments. But his safety training was obviously inadequate. Ignoring everything he had been taught, he held the tree trunk in position with his left hand, his hatchet missed the mark, and he chopped off his thumb!
    Well, that was the end of the Paul Bunyan program at summer camp. I never got a chance to earn my Merit Badge. Recently the Boy Scouts completely revised the Paul Bunyan requirements, no more cutting down trees, you just clear brush for a couple of hours.

    Blank Blog

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    My blog has been blank for months. I was on a roll in May, I had just returned from a trip to Japan, I was loaded with stories to tell and photos to publish. But since that time, I have only posted two articles, and nothing within the last two months. My friends, my readers, and even some complete strangers have inquired about what happened to me, so I guess I should explain. I have ambivalent feelings about doing this, my blog is full of my personal stories, but there is a line I usually don't cross, I don't like to get too personal. But it is time to get this off my chest.
    I usually have some trouble readjusting back to life in the US after a stay in Japan, but I was totally unprepared for what happened to me this time. My troubles started small. I injured my foot from walking all over Tokyo, and I had to have foot surgery, which is about the most intensely painful surgery you can have. Even the anaesthetic injection before the surgery hurts like you wouldn't believe. And the surgery failed, so I have to go back for another painful operation in a few weeks.
    But of course, someone always has to add insult to injury. And of course, it has to be the one person who is closest to you, who can inflict more pain than anyone else. I should have known something was wrong when I returned from my trip and my girlfriend would not return my emails and phone calls. Finally, weeks after I returned, I received a drunken phone call from her at 1AM, confessing she had betrayed me, she found a new boyfriend the moment I left town, and in fact, she was calling me from his bed at that very moment. I was angry at myself for ever having loved a person who could do something so deceitful, someone who could turn my deepest feelings of love into pure bitterness. I was depressed and in a fog for weeks, I would never again speak to the one person I most loved to tell my stories to, the one person who most loved hearing my crazy tales. I completely lost interest in telling my stories to the world through my blog.
    But just when I thought my life could not become any bleaker, of course, it did. My mother went into the hospital and nearly died. The doctors were completely incompetent, to the level of malpractice. It was difficult to get the doctors to give her proper care, she lost so much weight she nearly died. But she pulled through. And then yet another shock came. I took her to a different, competent hospital for followup treatment, where she was diagnosed with advanced ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease. So my mother was saved from wasting away and dying, only to be condemned to waste away and die from something else, something far more horrible and tragic than anyone should have to endure.
    Life began to look pretty bleak. I could do nothing but sit in front of my altar, and pray to Buddha for enlightenment. But Buddha does not magically grant our wishes, it is all up to me to find a way through my woes, Buddha can only show us the path. And then I remembered some advice from an old buddhist friend, when you encounter troubles, consider how a totally enlightened man would handle the situation. What would Buddha do? He would understand that these troubles are sansho shima, the "three obstacles and four devils" that conspire to undermine our faith and our works, and prevents us from moving ever towards enlightenment.
    So I came to a realization. I am an artist and a writer, and if I do not express myself, I might as well be dead. I will not let obstacles, no matter how tragic, deter me from saying what I must say, from doing what I must do. My life will become harder than it has ever been, but this is not a time to wallow in my troubles, it is a time to overcome them. So I must rededicate myself to my work, and resume my blogging.
    But some things must be sacrificed in order to focus on the really important things in life. It is at a time like this when we can see what things are really important to us, and what is a waste of time. I decided to completely sever my relationship with the one online community I have participated in most heavily, for over a decade, a forum for discussing Japanese language learning. It was my belief that I owed a debt of gratitude to those who helped me learn the language, and I could only repay that debt by helping those students that came after me. But I finally came to the realization that the forum was no longer useful to students, it was full of ridiculous idiots and flamers; Australian bigots, demented otaku, SCA/Renaissance Faire rejects, agoraphobics, alcoholic expatriates, pathological liars, self-important high-school teachers, and worst of all, law students that treat Usenet flamefests as if they were win-at-all-costs Moot Courts. It is not worth wasting any more of my time on these people, there is nothing to be gained by casting pearls before swine. They need me more than I need them. Separating from this group is their loss, and my gain.
    So now that I have more time to devote to what is really important, I will have to figure out how to proceed. Perhaps this confessional message is the first step, I felt I could not resume posting even short, trivial messages to my blog after such a long absence without some sort of explanation. So now that I have this off my chest, I will rededicate myself to the work I enjoy so much. Of course, there will be terrible obstacles here too, the first obstacle will be to upgrade to the new Movable Type 3 system. I need to upgrade my blog's templates. I need to fix my BlogTV processing system, which all fell apart due to OS upgrades. Oh there is so much work to be done. But I can shirk my duties no longer.
    Perhaps this unplanned hiatus is best viewed in light of one of my crackpot philosophies. It is my opinion that the best workers are shirkers. I myself am a shirker. No, a shirker is not someone who merely avoids doing their duties. A true shirker is someone who takes a job so seriously, they avoid taking on a job unless they are convinced they can deal with it as seriously as it deserves. I have shirked long enough, now I am convinced that I can again deal with my blog in the manner it deserves. So I must get back to work. I don't know how long it will be until my next update, I will have to completely rework my server and infrastructure. But I promise that sooner rather than later, I will be posting new work that will be better than anything I have ever done before.

    Pulp Fiction

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    Swiped from a hospital reading room, vintage 1958 Ace novel, 35 cents. I couldn't possibly try to read this book, the cheap pulp paper would fall to pieces.

    Red Alert

    Misinterpretation

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    I have only recently realized that a dear friend read something I wrote and completely misunderstood, inspiring that person to do something that has destroyed our friendship forever. I just want to make it absolutely clear what happened: I got on the wrong train and wasted a couple of hours going the wrong direction. Now you should feel really stupid over what you did, and what you thought I did.

    I'm Going To Die

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    I think I'm going to die. Perhaps this is appropriate, I just found out I'm living near the old Yoshiwara. No, not the area that was infamous for the mizushobai, the OLD Yoshiwara where they dumped the bones of the condemned and untouchables.
    Just as I arrived in Japan, I threw my back out from hauling my luggage around. I've been taking Alleve to reduce the pain, it helps a lot, and I when it runs out my back isn't so painful as it was, so I must be healing well. But now, my legs are going bad. Two days ago, I noticed I had a few red spots on my skin below my ankles, it didn't seem like anything to worry about. Then yesterday it was up to my ankles. Today it's up to the top of my socks, with faint streaks up to my right knee. It looks like little subcutaneous hemorrhages, but it could just be a bad rash. I'm worried that it's something serious. I can only speculate at what's causing it, there are many possible reasons I can think of.
    1. I'm walking too much. I live a sedentary life and now suddenly I'm spending 5 hours a day walking.
    2. The ofuro is too hot. I've been soaking my legs to relax, perhaps I should cut out the long soak.
    3. I've been eating cheap, crappy food like salty instant ramen, maybe it's a reaction to MSG or maybe all that salt has shot my blood pressure to hell. That one could be serious.
    4. I have a Pocari Sweat deficiency.
    5. My shoes and socks are too tight.
    6. I need to wash my trousers.
    7. It's a simple heat rash.
    8. That ridiculous old Japanese legend is true, sleeping under the breeze of a fan will suck away your life force, and if you do it long enough, you will die in your sleep.
    Well, anyway, I decided that I need to take it easier. I was already taking it easier due to my sore back, but then I went out to the Ginza and realized what a crappy neighborhood I'm living in, so I decided I needed to get out to some other area of town at least once a day. But after walking for 5 hours around Shinjuku, an area I actually know rather well, I must have overtaxed myself. Before I left, I knew my health wasn't so great, and I decided that I had enough time here so that if I had to spend one full day of rest for each day on the town, it wouldn't be a huge tragedy. So tomorrow I'm going to rest all day, and see how things go. Otherwise I'll probably have to visit a doctor and have my legs checked out, and that is my absolute worst-case-scenario for a visit to Japan, dealing with a Japanese hospital. I've done that before, and it's a nightmare.

    Machigai

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    When you are operating beyond the limits of blood, bone, and brain, and you're trying to convince yourself that your well laid plans are all working out perfectly despite sudden and overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and when you've had one drink too many, that is when mistakes will happen. But there are no accidents, everything happens for a purpose, perhaps everything turned out for the best. Let us call it an adventure, and never speak of it again.

    Innocents Abroad

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    In a few short days, I will depart on a trip to Japan. It's been a long time since I traveled overseas, but now one of my good friends is getting married in Tokyo, so this seems like a good enough excuse to travel.
    Preparing for a trip is always troublesome. Some people like to travel light, I like to travel heavy, packing for every possible contingency. I always feel like I will forget something, and no doubt I will. There's an old rule of thumb for travelers, "take half the clothes you'll need, and twice as much money." This works well in every place I've traveled except Japan. The premise is that you can always buy clothes in an emergency. But in Japan, it is impossible for me to buy clothing my size. Everything is too small. For example, every lodging in Japan provides a yukata (bathrobe) that is supposed to come down to your ankles, but they barely cover my knees. There's an old Japanese idiom ashi ga deru (your feet stick out) that means something that's more trouble than it's worth. So a too-short yukata is an embarassment, everyone wags their finger at your feet sticking out. I went to some trouble to purchase an extra long yukata at a shop in San Francisco that carries sizes more suitable for tall Americans, but it is still at least 6 inches too short.
    So due to my 6'2" stature, I could never possibly buy clothes in Japan, I have to bring everything I might possibly want to wear under any circumstance. And it can be hard to predict those circumstances, since I have absolutely no plan whatsoever. The last time I was in Japan, my best item of clothing was a Versace T-shirt. I was surprised to discover that it was widely pirated in Japan, I saw quite a few people wearing shirts with the exact same design, except they all said "Vivace." It was especially hilarious seeing the looks on the faces of people wearing the fake shirt when they saw my real one.
    Shoes are especially troublesome, I usually carry a separate bag just for shoes, since they never fit in my suitcase. And my shoes are huge, size 13EEE. Fortunately, I can pack a lot of spare odds and ends in my shoe bag, since shoes are hollow.
    And of course I have to bring my favorite gadgets. I'm going to bring my old beat up laptop, which is in absolutely terrible condition and locks up intermittently. I wouldn't bring it at all, but I need somewhere to dump the pictures from my digital camera. I guess I'll bring my CD player, I wish I had an iPod. There's a lot of wasted time spent on the subways so some nice music is always vital.
    But the most essential ingredient for travel is a good book to read. Last time I went to Japan, I brought "Roughing It" by Mark Twain. I decided that humor would be the best remedy for frustrating, tiresome travel delays, and this book was absolutely perfect. But the strangest thing happened as I read the book, each and every disaster that befell Twain in his travels seemed to happen to me in a similar way. I recall reading the part where Twain gets stuck for weeks in Nevada, just as I was stuck in the DFW airport for 3 days waiting for a standby seat.
    This time I decided to pick up Twain's "Innocents Abroad." It's one of his famous travelogues, I haven't read it before so I have no idea what to expect. But surely this book will set the tone for my travels, just as the previous book did. I tend to get into a literary mode when I travel, I scribble in notebooks constantly, recording my impressions, and there's no better inspiration than Twain's travel episodes. And when traveling, you need to keep your sense of humor at the forefront, or you'll go crazy.
    I hope to be able to write a few blog entries during my trip, but it's unlikely I'll have adequate internet access. So if I don't write anything in the next 2 weeks or so, I'll surely be bursting with stories and photos when I get back.

    My Foursome With Courtney Love

    | 1 Comment
    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?"
    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.

    Ginko Trees Must Die!

    | 6 Comments
    Trees rarely inspire hatred, but on the campus of the University of Iowa, everyone hates ginko trees. In the center of the Pentacrest, right in front of the entrance of the Registrar's office, some idiot planted a female ginko tree. Every winter, all winter long, the tree drops its seed pods all over the sidewalk. The seeds produce an incredibly foul, persistent stench, which is very difficult to get off your shoes. Everyone that trods upon the seeds tracks the stench everywhere they go. Students and faculty have campaigned for years to get rid of the trees, and today in the Des Moines Register, this story appeared:

    4 ginko trees to be removed

    When I was a student, I had to walk past these trees every day, and I often fantasized about pouring a gallon of herbicide on their roots, which goes completely against my nature. I used to do landscaping every summer, I've planted thousands of trees, so I'm very protective of trees in general, but these ginkos are a special case. Every landscaper and nurseryman knows that you just don't plant female ginkos. Most nurseries will kill off the females before they ever grow to maturity, there's just no market for female ginkos. And you have to kill them before they mature, when the trees are sold in the spring, there's no way to tell if they're female, the sex of the trees can only be determined in autumn.
    There's a preposterous legend about how these trees came to be planted on the Pentacrest. I heard a story about a group of itinerant buddhist monks came and secretly planted little ginko twigs, sat around the twigs in a circle, chanting their sutras, and in 24 hours the trees grew to full size. What a load of rubbish. There just isn't any group of Johnny Ginkoseed monks, and besides, these trees were planted right in front of the entrance of one of the main buildings on campus, you couldn't have planted anything there without drawing attention, and a circle of orange-robed monks would have drawn quite a bit of attention back in the 1950s.
    Another annoying piece of idiocy about ginkos is that nobody can agree on how to spell the name. Properly it is "ginko" since the tree is from asia and the name is written with kanji that are transliterated as "gin" and "ko." So it's most properly "ginko" and not "gingko" or "ginkgo."
    There is so much to loathe about ginko trees, I can hardly contain my joy at the announcement of their removal.

    Gibson Man

    | 3 Comments
    Guitar players usually have a specific preference, they like one brand of guitar above all others. I'm a Gibson man, they just feel right to me, and if you hand me a Fender I just can't play it right. My favorite guitar is a 1961 Gibson L-2 three-quarter size guitar, it was a hand-me-down from my sister, my parents bought it for her to take guitar lessons when she was about 8 or 9 years old. I especially like it because I have an unnaturally short pinky, and the 3/4 size fretboard makes it easy for me to hit the notes. I've looked around for many years for another suitable 3/4 size guitar, but nobody makes a decent model because 3/4 size guitars are designed for little kids, and nobody spends serious money on guitars for kids.
    But today I was astonished to learn that Gibson reissued the L-2 3/4. It's a serious guitar, it retails for $2995 but sells for around $1600. Ouch! Here's a picture of the reissue, it's only made with an ugly finish they call "vintage sunburst" but is more commonly known as "tobacco." Mine is a real sunburst, which is a reddish color, and much more attractive.

    Gibson L-2 3/4

    The story behind the reissue is rather interesting. The L-2 3/4 is part of a set called "The Father and Son Guitars" after Woody and Arlo Guthrie. Gibson reissued a copy of Woody Guthrie's favorite Gibson Southern Jumbo guitar and also Arlo's first guitar, an L-2 3/4 given to him by his father. There's a rather heart-wrenching tale about how Arlo acquired the guitar, and how he lamented to Gibson about how the guitar had deteriorated over the years, so they made a new one and gave it to him, and repaired his original. I had no idea my little beat up guitar was a Guitar Of Legend.
    There are a few problems with 3/4 size guitars. A full-size guitar fretboard is designed with "tempered tuning," every fret is mistuned a tiny bit, but overall it has good tuning. Unfortunately, at 3/4 size, the tempering is off, so it's really hard to get the strings in tune, the intonation is a bit off. The body of the guitar isn't very large, so it doesn't produce a big sound. But that could be an advantage if you just use it for practice and don't want to annoy the neighbors. For me the big advantage is that the frets are 1/4 easier to reach with my short finger, and the strings don't have as much tension so they're easier to press down than a full size guitar.
    I'd sure like to own a new L-2 3/4, but since I already have a vintage model, that doesn't make much sense. So I decided to get my old axe repaired and put back into shape, it needs a little adjustment, and it wouldn't hurt to have the dent in the side fixed. But there's a limit to how much money I should sink into this guitar. To estimate its value, I searched around the web and found a 1950 L-2 3/4 for sale in a guitar shop in Tokyo, selling for almost $2500US. Mine's in better shape but not as collectible since it's not as old, so I guarantee it's not going to be worth anything like $2500, I'd be surprised if it was worth more than $250. The last time I took it into a shop for repairs, they laughed at me for liking such a junky old guitar and told me to be glad it's even playable at all.

    Dry Ice Slide Rule

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    The temperature here is -9°F and still dropping, so I thought it might be an appropriate time to post a picture of this odd little circular slide rule.

    Dry Ice Slide Rule

    This slide rule belonged to my grandfather, who was a meat inspector for the US Department of Agriculture. The slide rule was used to calculate how much dry ice was needed to fill a railroad car to keep a load of beef frozen until it reached its destination. The back side bears the date 1954.

    Quake Crackpot Busted

    | 1 Comment
    How can you tell if a geologist is a crackpot? If he makes a specific prediction like this:
    Keilis-Borok's team now predicts an earthquake of at least magnitude 6.4 by Sept. 5, 2004, in a region that includes the southeastern portion of the Mojave Desert, and an area south of it.
    I've archived this UCLA press release as a downloadable PDF file since it is likely to be removed. But let's not get ahead of the story here.
    Let me make it absolutely clear: there is no way to predict an earthquake. The science of seismology is advancing by leaps and bounds, but as of today, there is no known technology to predict earthquakes. The best that can be done with today's technology is a vague forecast, giving probabilities of quakes within a time period of years or decades. Anyone who claims to have the ability to predict a quake on a specific date is a crackpot.
    This press release doesn't even pass the smell test, it reeks of pseudo-science. Let's enumerate a few of the obvious tipoffs that this is completely bogus:

    1. The so-called seismologist, Vladimir Keilis-Borok, is not affiliated with the UCLA Department of Seismology, he is a visiting lecturer in Earth and Space Sciences. Keilis-Borok's expertise is mathematics, not geology.

    2. Real authorities in seismology don't do their work at schools like UCLA, they work prestigious seismology laboratories at places like Caltech or UC Berkeley.

    3. The easiest way to detect a crackpot is to notice how they issue a press release announcing a successful prediction, but they omit any mention of unsuccessful predictions, or their success rate. There is no way to tell if this "accurate" prediction is merely one of thousands of predictions, which would be a pretty poor success rate. I could easily make a year's worth of predictions that a quake will occur in an active zone, one for each day of the year, and if an earthquake occurs in that year, I could claim I have successfully predicted it. But obviously I merely committed an obvious fraud.

    4. Theories behind the predictions are described as too mathematically complex to be understood by the general public, comprehensible only to scientists studying with the "experts." Theories are explained with colorful, illogical, unscientific metaphors like "the tail wags the dog."

    5. The person making the prediction is not a licensed geologist or geophysicist.

    While researching the crackpot Keilis-Borok, I discovered something very interesting. California has strict licensing requirements for anyone making earthquake predictions to the public. Licensing is enforced by the California Board for Geologists and Geophysicists. I phoned the CBGG, and Keilis-Borok is not licensed, he is not even eligible for a license. The CBGG is known for taking swift action against unlicensed geologists who make earthquake predictions for California, they are considered a threat to public safety and likely to cause more damage from panic about ridiculous imaginary threats than from a real earthquake. The penalty for practicing geology without a license in California is a misdemeanor under provisions of the California Geologist and Geophysicist Act, punishable by up to a $2500 fine and 3 months imprisonment. The CBGG loves to take on quake-predicting crackpots even more than I do, and are now actively investigating Vladimir Keilis-Borok and UCLA.
    The UCLA press office will certainly take swift action to retract their press release, remove any offending web pages, and disassociate themselves from these illegal, reckless, and dangerous earthquake predictions. But I have archived it so UCLA will not escape the historical record.

    Update Sept 24 2004: Of course, the prediction is long past, there was no earthquake. Keilis-Borok is a fool.

    Winter for Dummies

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    Now that the first winter snowstorm has arrived, and temperatures have reached -5F, I would like to offer these two simple tips for the usual idiots.

    1. Put your bicycle away. Bicycles are unsuitable for winter driving. In case you have not noticed, your vehicle only has two wheels, and unlike 4 wheeled vehicles, your bike requires good traction to stay upright. Snow and ice are incompatible with bicycling.

    2. In Iowa, it is illegal to leave your vehicle unattended with the engine running. You do not need to leave the engine idling while you run into the convenience store for 30 seconds.

    2004: Year of the Monkey

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    nengajou 2004

    I wish a Happy New Year to everyone, and offer my prayers that this new year will be better than the last.

    A Holiday Wish

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    As a non-christian, I am able to see more clearly than others what the Christmas season truly represents. It is a time of selfishness, of greed and avarice, it is a time for families to gather together and inflict old and savage hatreds upon each other, it is a time of rudeness, stress, and general unpleasantness to everyone. I have never seen anyone express the hypocrisy of Christmas better than a performance I saw live on TV in 1991.

    A Holiday Wish, by Steve Martin

    If I had one wish that I could wish this holiday season, it would be that all the children of the world join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace.

    If I had two wishes I could make this holiday season, the first would be for all the children of the world to join hands and sing in the spirit of harmony and peace. And the second would be for 30 million dollars a month to be given to me, tax-free, in a Swiss bank account.

    You know, if I had three wishes I could make this holiday season, the first, of course, would be for all the children of the world to get together and sing, the second would be for the 30 million dollars every month to me, and the third would be for encompassing power over every living being in the entire universe.

    And if I had four wishes that I could make this holiday season, the first would be the crap about the kids definitely, the second would be for the 30 million, the third would be for all the power, and the fourth would be to set aside one month each year to have an extended 31-day orgasm, to be brought about slowly by Rosanna Arquette and that model Paulina-somebody, I can't think of her name. Of course my lovely wife can come too and she's behind me one hundred percent here, I guarantee it. Wait a minute, maybe the sex thing should be the first wish, so if I made that the first wish, because it could all go boom tomorrow, then what do you got, y'know? No, no, the kids, the kids singing would be great, that would be nice. But wait a minute, who am I kidding? They're not going to be able to get all those kids together. I mean, the logistics of the thing is impossible, more trouble than it's worth! So -- we reorganize! Here we go.

    First, the sex thing. We go with that. Second, the money. No, we got with the power second, then the money. And then the kids. Oh wait, oh jeez, I forgot about revenge against my enemies! Okay, I need revenge against all my enemies, they should die like pigs in hell! That would be my fourth wish. And, of course, my fifth wish would be for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace. Thank you everybody and Merry Christmas.

    Server Upgrade Completed

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    I have completed the server migration to MacOS X 10.3 and Darwin Streaming Server 5. I apologize for the delays but I have a lot of projects happening all at once. All server features seem to be operating properly at this time. Comments are still disabled until I can implement a system to prevent comment spam and abuse. If you have any problems accessing any content on the site, or if you have any general comments, please feel free to contact me via Email.

    Transition In Progress

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    I've made the transition to QWest, but there is still much work to do. The video server isn't responding at the multihomed IP, SSH keys have to be reinstalled, remote monitoring tools have to be reconfigured for the new addresses, etc. Since multihoming is hosed, I think I'll take this opportunity to do a complete backup and clean install of MacOS X 10.3, so it might be a while before full services are restored. We Apologize For The Inconvenience.
    Update: I installed Panther, Movable Type seems to run OK in the new MacOS X 10.3/Perl environment. Videos are still broken, I'll get that running shortly.

    Internet Navigator Meltdown

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    Apparently my ISP, Internet Navigator, declared bankruptcy, closed the doors, and walked away. This wasn't a problem until my connection failed, and there was nobody to reset their routers. I managed to locate a former INAV consultant, he successfully restored my service only 15 hours after the initial failure, but I've already placed an order to switch. So things may be a bit unstable over the next few days, as I transition to the new ISP.
    I was INAV's first customer, and I've stuck with them through all sorts of reorganizations and restructuring. If I'd known they would come to such an ignominious end, I would have switched ISPs a long time ago.
    My INAV.net email address should remain valid since they sold these accounts to mwaccess.com. But I will soon be discontinuing that address as well. I am rather irritated to lose an email address I've had for more than 10 years, but on a more positive note, that old address is well known to spammers after all that time, so maybe I'll cut down on incoming spam at the new address. I don't know what my new email address will be, but I will make a prominent announcement on this blog when I get the details.

    Speechless

    | 3 Comments
    I noticed that all content has vanished from my front page, which means I haven't posted anything in 30 days. So I figured I better write something, just to let people know I'm not dead, I just haven't had anything interesting to say lately. So please visit the archives for my older writings, and bear with me while I work intensively behind the scenes.
    I've been busy upgrading my systems to MacOS X 10.3, and preparing for updating the server to a new version of Perl (I hate Perl). So just hang on and I'll get everything working better than ever.

    Odd Books

    | 1 Comment
    I found some discarded books and discovered a copy of Mein Kampf translated into Japanese, "waga touzou."

    MeinKampf.jpg

    Autumn Wood

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    It has been cold and rainy this autumn, so on a whim I pulled out some old Kodak PhotoCD scans I took on a sunny summer quite a few years ago. I brought them into the new Photoshop CS for color correction, the new version works wonderfully with the native 16 level LAB format on PhotoCDs. This first photo seems nicely moody, and is almost exactly what is recorded on the 35mm slide. I couldn't improve on the exposure curves, it was very accurate.

    Woodsy

    I took a few photos to test out this cheap $75 secondhand Canon AE1, and the lens just wasn't up to snuff, too much lens flare and insufficient sharpness. But the color intensity was wonderful.

    Sunny Woods

    The pictures seem to work OK at 72 DPI but I can't help but think the final reduced photos would be a lot sharper if the camera lens was sharper. Still, 2048x3072 rez was pretty good, way back in about 1994 when I took these pictures. I still have the Canon camera and it's still a piece of junk.

    Rose Colored Glasses

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    I'm looking at the world through rose colored sunglasses, and it's horribly depressing. I had a new prescription for my eyeglasses, and I noticed my clip-on sunglasses got scratched, so I had the sunglasses lenses replaced too. The new lenses have a severe magenta tint, instead of the perfectly neutral gray in the original lenses. The optician said there's nothing they could do about it, but they'd give me a discount on my next pair of prescription lenses. Sorry, that was the last time I spend $250 at their establishment.
    This probably wouldn't be a problem for the average eyeglass customer, but I am an artist and often work in prepress as a color separator, people use my services because of my accurate color vision. If I wear heavily tinted lenses for a prolonged period, it can ruin my sense of color balance. So I hardly ever wear my rose colored sunglasses.
    The difference in what I see through the tinted lenses is dramatic. The sky is always a dark, brooding color, and full of fluffy pink clouds. This was kind of amusing during the summer, but now that it's fall, things look incredibly different. The grass and trees look brown and dead. If any foliage shows the slightest autumnal color change, it looks completely brown. The tree in front of my house is dropping leaves, they're still bright green as they lay on the grass, but they look brown to me. This is horribly depressing, I feel like I'm walking through a dead world.
    But at least I have a few moments of amusement. I can spot artificial hair color a mile away. If anyone has dyed hair, even the most natural color, I see it as bright purple.

    A Disappointment

    | 6 Comments
    I recently found an old gadget I bought a long time ago. I saw this little cookie cutter in a mail order catalog, and immediately I saw the potential for a sculpture project. This little gadget would be perfect for incising letters in clay or wet cement. It reminded me of a strange old photo I saw in an Art History lecture, it was taken around 1900, it showed a man pushing a big paint roller down a Paris sidewalk, printing the Cinzano logo right onto the pavement.

    Cookie Gadget

    The kit advertised 26 letters and 10 numbers, so obviously I had to buy two kits, since I might need double letters for some words. Fortunately the kits were cheap, only about $5. But you can imagine my disappointment when I opened the kits, and found this:

    The Alphabet

    The packaging is correct, it contains 26 letters. They just didn't include all 26 letters. Both kits were identical. I'm throwing the whole mess in the trash, it's totally useless.

    The Original Version, For MeFi Readers

    | 2 Comments
    I'm putting up this trackback link for Metafilter readers that might want to see the original idea that this guy stole from me. I first did this well over a year ago.

    Credit Where Credit Is Due

    | 2 Comments
    I don't mind people stealing my idea half as much as I mind people not giving me credit for the invention. My only consolation is that they did a lousy job.

    Purple Postage

    | 1 Comment
    I had to buy some stamps at the local US Post Office branch, but I'm sick and tired of flag stamps. I asked the clerk for something neutral and without flags. This has been a perilous request in times past, I recall reading one article about how a publisher of a pro-Palestinian newsletter was interrogated by the Police merely for asking about stamps without US flags. But the clerk knew exactly what I wanted, something that symbolizes the sacrifices people were forced to make under that flag.

    Purple Heart Stamp

    Fear of Electricity

    | 1 Comment
    I live in fear of electricity. This is rather an odd thing for an electronics guy like me. I won't touch any circuit over 24 volts, no matter if it is powered off. This is not some irrational fear, it is a fear born of extensive experience being electrocuted.
    I still vividly remember my first experience with electrocution, I must have been about ten years old. I attended an ancient junior high school with an amazing collection of antique scientific apparatus. Every day after school, the science teacher set up the next day's experiments for the senior class, I discovered that I could sneak into the lab after he left and fool around with the equipment, and nobody ever knew I was there. One day I came in and a Wimshurst Generator was set up. Wimshurst generators are a demonic device designed to store static electricity in primitive capacitors. You crank on the handle, the discs spin and store the electricity in Leyden Jars. You can set the electrodes to repeatedly discharge little lightning bolts, if you put them close together they zap frequently, if you set them far apart they store up a larger charge and zap less frequently. Of course I had to put the electrodes as far apart as possible and see how big a charge I could store, and how big a lightning bolt I could create. Of course, not being scheduled to take this science class for another 2 years, I did not know the safety precautions. If you try a stunt like this, you're supposed to push the electrodes together using a nonconductive wood or rubber rod. I did exactly what you're never supposed to do, I used both hands to move the electrodes together simultaneously. I bridged the circuit with my hands and body, the last thing I remember was seeing a lightning bolt jump towards my fingers. I woke up on the floor several feet away from where I was standing, it was dark and I must have been unconscious for several hours. I did some calculations and I figure I must have been hit with at least 45,000 volts. Fortunately it was low amperage, or I would be dead. Two years later, when the device was demonstrated in class, I learned I had violated the "one hand rule," if you work with high voltage circuits, you should keep one hand in your pocket, to prevent yourself from bridging the circuit with both hands, just as I had done.
    My science teacher was an eccentric old guy with white hair and moustache, he was the spitting image of Albert Einstein. He taught me more about science than anyone else, but not through the classroom, he gave me all his old scientific apparatus catalogs. Many of the experiments were considered obsolete because they used hazardous or illegal chemicals, like the lysergic acid I found in the storeroom. I could probably demonstrate hundreds of dangerous experiments, I'll do about any harebrained chemical experiment, but I just won't touch electricity, it's too dangerous.

    One Card Short of a Pack

    | No Comments
    At one time, Pokemon cards were the most sought-after items in the world. Today I found one lying in a gutter.

    Pokemon Card

    One of my long-term crazy art projects is collecting lost playing cards. I used to see discarded cards blowing around in the streets in Los Angeles and San Francisco, I thought this was a really strange omen, so I decided to pick them up whenever I found them. I figured that given enough time, I could eventually collect a pack of cards with every single card from a different deck. The task is easy at first, any single card you happen to encounter is likely to be something you haven't collected yet. But as you get towards the end of the deck, the task increases in difficulty expotentially. When you only need to find a few last cards, the chances of any random card you find in a gutter is likely to be something you've already collected increases dramatically. I thought it would be a Sisyphean task, but then one day I was walking along and I found almost a whole deck of cards blowing up the street near my house. I decided I should just take the first card I found, it would destroy the whole integrity of the project to pick a card I needed and alter the randomness of the collection process.

    Regarding the Thermostat

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    It appears that it is my job to educate the world about how thermostats function. If you are hot, turning down the thermostat will not make you cool. If the air conditioner is already running at 100 percent, turning down the thermostat is not going to make the room any cooler. So stop futzing with the damn thermostat!

    Art Stunt 2.0b Update

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    Completion of Art Stunt 2 is delayed slightly, due to some house guests that are a bit of a disruption. The project will resume in a few days. That's what I like best about this project, compared to Art Stunt 1. The earlier experiment kept my equipment tied up with video encoding and streaming 24/7 until the project was done. But with the new methods, I can paint whenever I get around to it.

    5 Gallons of Gas

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    My nephew just got his first junky old car, and he's notorious lately for bumming gas money in really small amounts, like one dollar. That reminded me of my old '65 Plymouth Barracuda. My Cuda is a car of legend, I could write a book about it.
    One of the quirks of my Cuda was the gas tank would only hold 5 gallons. It was towed once and the tow truck dented the gas tank and poked a pinhole. I looked and looked but I couldn't find the hole, just a greasy smear of wet gas. The pinhole was up high on the tank, if I put more than 5 gal in the tank, it would just leak out overnight.
    Of course this was a huge inconvenience in a driving town like Los Angeles. I had to drive by the odometer. I planned my route to work so it went past several gas stations, in case I ran out. I was always keeping track of my gas milage and how much I'd put in the tank, calculating how many miles I had left on the tank. Any trip might be interrupted by a short hike, carrying a gas can to and from the nearest gas station. I was frequently late for work, and my boss was constantly infuriated. I told him if he paid me a decent wage I could afford to fix my car properly. That usually shut him up.
    Sometimes I ran out of gas in really dangerous places, like the Santa Monica Freeway, and then I had no choice but to phone for a tow. I even got kicked out of AAA for excessive calls for a tow truck to bring gas. I don't think 3 calls in one month was excessive, since I still paid for each tow. With all these additional expenses, it took me a while to scrape up enough money for a proper repair.
    I took the Cuda to a AAA-approved Unocal 76 service station, I paid them $200 to patch and repair the tank. Unfortunately, they destroyed the gas gauge sensor while pulling the tank. Now I could fill er up, but my gas gauge always read E, which was almost worse than my previous problem with the leak. At least I ran out of gas less frequently, if I always kept the tank filled. Eventually, I had to have the entire tank and sensor replaced, at a cost of $300.

    Rain On Your Shadow

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    I just observed an uncommon weather phenomenon that is described in an old wives' tale. I've never known it to be wrong, and I've observed for years and never seen it fail. The saying goes something like "if it rains on your shadow, it will rain again tomorrow." And it's absolutely true. Sorry it's not poetic or anything, it's just a random piece of folk wisdom, even if it isn't a catchy couplet.
    There may be a reasonable explanation for the prediction. The only time rain can fall on your shadow is when it is raining when the sun is shining. I've only seen this happen in the hottest days of the summer when the weather is extremely unstable, and small, scattered thunderstorms break out in a mostly sunny sky. Usually this weather pattern lasts for a couple of days, so there is more rain on the way. I'm not sure if this pattern works anywhere but here in the plains of the US, but I suspect it is universal.
    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

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    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.

    chipmunk.jpg

    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.

    To Protect And Serve

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    Cops

    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.

    The Google of Dorian Gray

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    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.

    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.

    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.

    Self-Torture

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    For the past few weeks, during the recent server upgrade, I've had seriously debilitating migraine headaches. I occasionally get mild migraines, but only one or two per year. And suddenly I get a blinding migraine every day at exactly 4PM. That's the biggest reason this server upgrade took so long, the harder I worked, the more pain I was in.
    I looked intensely at my life to see what was triggering the migraines, there must be a pattern if they occurred with such regularity. I changed a few things just about the time the headaches started, maybe they were responsible. I thought it might be due to my new pillow, maybe it gave me a stiff neck. Maybe it was my new electric toothbrush vibrating my teeth in their sockets. Maybe it was because I was eating on an irregular schedule and I had hypoglycemia. Maybe it was bad ergonomics, I moved my desk around for some temporary rewiring. I looked at every aspect of my life and avoided the possible triggers. I could not figure out any pattern, except that I'd been intensely working on the server. Maybe it was just plain old stress. I was looking for an easy solution, it's easy to change your pillow, or your diet, but it's a lot harder to change the fundamental stress involved in your work.
    At that point, I thought about an old friend who ran a respected graphics service bureau in Los Angeles. One day while he was in the middle of his usual stressful routine, he developed a thrombosis, it migrated to his heart and lungs, and he had a heart attack. As he recovered, he announced that his doctor advised him to find a less stressful job, something that didn't involve sitting in front of a computer all day and listening to stressed-out customers with short deadlines, some job with a bit more physical activity. He sold his company within a couple of weeks and left the business forever.
    I started to feel a little disconsolate over the situation I was in. Every day the headaches got worse. I considered tossing out my whole computer career and becoming a lumberjack or something. As I worked on my computer, amidst a migraine so severe I considered going to the hospital, a funny thing happened. I accidentally switched my monitor to the wrong setting. And then it struck me, the problem was staring me in the face the whole time. It was my computer monitor! I have an old Sony 300sf CRT, it can go up to insanely high resolutions like 2048x1536, but only at low refresh rates. I always set my monitor to 1600x1200 at 60hz refresh. Many people report that refresh rates below 75hz cause eyestrain and migraines, but even 60hz never bothered me before. So I switched to a lower rez at 75hz, and I got immediate relief. My headache started to dissipate, and the daily 4PM migraines have not returned. Oh man do I feel stupid, I've been torturing myself unnecessarily. If only I'd figured it out earlier! I made more progress on the server in a couple of days than I did in 2 weeks of self-torture.

    Well This Almost Doesn't Suck

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    I managed to get the two major components of this server working together, MovableType's Perl config, and QuickTime Streaming Server. I had to do a complete reformat and reinstall, but this time it went rather rapidly, since I didn't let the system upgrade to Perl 5.8 like it wanted to. Now everything is happy with the Perl 5.6 configuration. Perl has been the sole source of misery with this server upgrade. Perl sucks.
    Now I just have to get a few things back in operation, like SSH keys, log monitoring, etc. I'm waiting for some details from Apple on one last QTSS configuration option, then I should have the BlogTV services back up and running better than ever. With luck I'll have the answer tomorrow, if the Apple techs aren't too busy watching the Apple WWDC announcements, or goofing around at MacHack.

    Well This Still Sucks

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    From the lack of updates, it must be obvious by now that I'm still struggling with the server upgrade. I haven't been able to get the streaming server back online because I upgraded to Perl 5.8 and QTSS is incompatible with version 5.8. I could downgrade to 5.6, but it is nearly impossible to downgrade Perl under MacOS X Server. So I may have to do a complete OS reinstall. That would really suck. I'm working with some support listservs but answers don't come immediately, so bear with me and I'll have this all cleaned up and working better than ever within a few more days. I promise.

    Well This Really Really Sucks

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    I'm not sure if anyone is seeing this site outside my local network, so if you are reading this, please leave a comment (you can be anonymous). I just need to know if I'm completely off the net, or not.
    I've just gone to extreme trouble getting everything working, and now it has all fallen apart. I spent days getting Perl 5.8 working correctly, and now it turns out that QTSS administration requires Perl 5.6. So I might have to do this installation all over from scratch, that's almost the only way to get back to the virgin Perl 5.6 install on MacOS X Server. At least it should be easier a second time around.
    Video is still unavailable. This server may go down for rework, and will be unavailable at times. We Apologize For The Inconvenience.

    Well That Sucked

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    It obviously took me a lot longer to get the server upgraded than I thought. It took me 2 extra days to get Perl working, because MacOS X Server apparently does not set the token HOSTNAME like the regular client MacOS X version.
    So now that I've spent 2 days wrestling with an obscure bug, it's time to see if the system works. This message is mostly for testing purposes, text messages and graphics appear to work but it will take a little longer before the videos are back online.

    Disinfotainment Site News

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    I'm preparing for a big upgrade to my server's software, so Disinfotainment may be temporarily unavailable at times over the next few days. I've decided to upgrade to MacOS X Server, which supposedly offers superior management capabilites for QuickTime Streaming Server. I played with the OS for a few minutes and it appears that it solves the problems that prevent some people from viewing BlogTV. But I won't know if the problem is truly solved until I get this site running on the new OS.

    The Photographer Without A Camera

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    For many years, I have not owned a decent camera. This is particularly galling for many reasons, not the least of which is I have a BFA degree in Photography. I have always owned great camera equipment, at various times I've owned top-end cameras like the Canon F1 and Hasselblad 500 C/M, I worked hard to afford these expensive toys, only to fall on harder economic times and be forced to sell them. Now I only have a used Canon AE1 and it is a piece of crap. This is a camera that's been bought and resold over and over at the local camera store, I bet it was owned by a dozen different Photo 101 students before I bought it for $50. I took some test shots and it's just inaccurate enough to be completely worthless for serious photography, so I never use it. I had better results from disposable cameras.
    Photographers tend to be obsessive about equipment, especially cameras. It's one of the worst faults of photographers and photography as a medium, they tend to become obsessed with technical aspects of the process, to the detriment of their aesthetics. That's one reason why I mostly gave up photography and focused on painting, to focus on a message and a meaning in imagery, and not on the process. But I have continuously done photo printing for many years. I have a huge darkroom rig but no cameras to make films to print in the darkroom. So I use non-camera processes, like photograms, contact printing, etc. My photography professor always said that a great photographer should be able to make great prints, even with a pinhole camera. I tried to go one step better, I can make great photographs without any camera. My approach to photography is more like printmaking than camerawork.
    These non-camera methods only go so far, especially with someone who can work a camera like I can. But I've agonized for years about what camera to buy, nothing I've seen (or can afford) has the features I like. I considered digital, but it was too expensive for a decent resolution camera. A pro digital camera could cost the same as 3 or 4 good film cameras. I even considered old classic medium format cameras, and I came really close to buying a Graflex Speed Graphic 4x5 and even a Rollei 2 1/4" twin lens reflex. If I can't get along with the new computerized cameras, I can still do wonders with medium format film. But I could not decide what to get.
    But now my agony is over, I just received a wonderful birthday present, a new Canon Powershot S50. 5 megapixels is just about bare minimum resolution for what I need, and overkill for some work. There are digicams with slightly better lenses, but not this small and pocketable. It's about the top of the line for current prosumer digicams, and it looks like it will be a good value for many years. I bought a 1Gb CF memory card for $180 after rebate at Amazon, but it still hasn't arrived yet, so I can't really use the camera yet. I can only fit about 5 pictures on the free 32Mb CF card that came with the camera.
    The S50 has so many cool features that I've resumed work on some old photo projects that were too unwieldy to do on film, as well as some new ideas. They're too complex to describe, and what would be the point of describing a photographic idea anyway? The proof is in the work. I'll just have to make some images and prove my ideas.
    Now I have no excuses, I finally have the tools I need to do some great work. I always tell people that digital tools for the arts are so good these days, that if your artwork sucks, it's not because the equipment or software sucks, it's because you suck.

    How To Be Rich

    | 4 Comments | 1 TrackBack
    Slacktivist was musing today about small change and rolling coins. I had to laugh because it used to be my job to sort and wrap coins.
    My father was a banker, and even as a young teenager of 12 or 13 years old, I used to do odd jobs around the bank. One of the jobs I got stuck with was running the coin sorter. Every Saturday morning my father brought in the coins from the laundromats in his apartment buildings, and many of the other local merchants brought in cloth bags full of coins, since there was a full-time coin counter (me) working on Saturdays.
    The counter was a huge machine that looked like it was built in the 1930s. I dumped the coins in the hopper in the top, the coins spun around on flat metal surface with round holes to let the coins drop through. The front of the machine had a round tube where you stuck the paper coin wrapper, then push a lever, and with a loud vrooom the machine would dispense one wrapper full of coins right into the tube. I could press a lever to set the coin dispenser to dollars, half-dollars, quarters, nickels, dimes, or pennies, and it knew how many coins to dispense in each roll. If I held my finger at the right depth in the bottom of the tube, the coins would center evenly in the tube for a nice crimp. I whipped each uncrimped tube from the roller, and with a couple of taps, I folded each end quickly. I could produce a roll of coins every 2 or 3 seconds, and sometimes I had to do that for hours on end. It was a noisy, dirty, filthy job. I especially hated wrapping nickels. the soft metal blackened everything it touched.
    I remember I was required to empty my pockets before sitting down at the workstation, and empty them again afterward to make sure I wasn't stealing. After handling all that change, I even had a metallic taste in my mouth, so the last thing I wanted was any coins in my pocket. But I was always attracted to the bad coins that didn't make it through the sorter. I always collected the foreign coins, slugs, and unidentifiable round objects, looked through them maybe hoping I'd find something valuable like a gold coin, but it was always worthless junk. But I was always astonished at the variety of odd coins I handled, and even to this day I will pick up about any round object and add it to my collecting jar of round junk. But I digress..
    Ever since then, I always hated small change. Men's pants seem designed to dump your change when you sit down. I usually dump all my change in a bowl, if it doesn't fall down the crack of my couch first. It can be difficult to get rid of accumulated change, as the Slacktivist noted. And therein lies another tale..
    My sister's (now ex-) husband, as a joke, gave me a copy of "How To Be Rich" by J. Paul Getty. I was working at the Getty Museum at the time, so I had to read it, just to see what the mindset of J. Paul was like. The book purported to be a manual on how to be rich. It claimed to show you how to become rich, but all the schemes seemed to require multimillion dollar investments. In order to become rich, it seems one must already be rich. There is an old saying amongst economists, "making one's first million is almost impossible, making one's second million is almost inevitable."
    Finally towards the end of the book, J. Paul admits these schemes are beyond the reach of mere mortals, so he throws us wage-slaves a bone, a practical scheme to become rich. He called it "the unspendable quarter." He suggested that you pick one denomination of coin like a quarter, and at the end of every day, empty your pockets of every smaller coin into a jar. Aggressive savers could accumulate 50 cent pieces and lower (wow, when did people get 50 cent pieces as small change?) and less aggressive savers could save nickels and pennies. I decided to give it a try, I saved all my change. I saved an astonishing amount of change.
    So now it was time to reap the rewards of my plan to become rich, I took my bags of coins to the teller at my local Bank of America branch. I was informed that they don't count coins. They didn't even have a change counting machine. They suggested I try another branch. I tried dozens, I was refused at every branch. I finally worked my way to the main office, they offered to send my change to the main Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco, where it would be counted and automatically deposited into my account. The service fee was $75. Ouch. I asked them if they would accept the coins for deposit if I wrapped them myself. The said they could accept them, but they'd have to unwrap them all and have them recounted for the $75 fee, after all, how do they know I didn't wrap 49 pennies in each roll instead of 50?
    Well, it seems that accumulating small change is not the way to become rich after all. Now I was faced with the task of getting rid of all that change. The quarters were fairly easily dispensed of. I used to carry around ziploc bags full of quarters, $20 or $30 worth. As much as I hated to carry around change, now here I was stuck with carrying around heavy bags of change. Many of the stores where I shopped got really tired of that guy with all the change, I could often be seen lining up little rows of $1 stacks of quarters at the cash register. My pants pockets all had holes in them from carrying all the heavy change. It took months and months, and I still barely made a dent in the pile of change, and most of the easily picked quarters were nearly gone.
    One day, the owner of my corner store asked me why I always had so much change, and I told him my lengthy tale of woe. He said he wasted a lot of time going to the bank for rolled coins, and he'd take them. I told him I had hundreds of dollars of coins, mostly nickels and pennies, he said he'd take them gradually. So I set about rolling all the remaining small change.
    I was unemployed and broke at the time, so as I set about wrapping coins, I kept thinking about an essay Phil Dick wrote about being poor. He said that being poor forced you to become a skilled accountant handling extremely small sums of money. You have to learn how to budget your remaining 35 cents accurately, because misspending a single dime might mean you do not eat dinner. I was in a similar state, there were many weeks my food budget was paid for by rolled coins. I couldn't even afford coin wrappers, I tore strips of newspaper and rolled them manually, and wrote "pennies" or "nickels" on the outside. It was the same old filthy, dirty job I had when I was a kid, but without the nice machine, and even dirtier because of the old newsprint. I decided to measure how many coins I could wrap in an hour, as a comparison to the machines. I discovered that once you get down to sorting pennies and nickels, you can barely wrap about $10 of change an hour. You're barely making above minimum wage wrapping your own money, you might as well throw it in the garbage.

    Old Polaroid

    | 1 Comment
    Here's an old Polaroid SX-70 image I took many years ago, probably around 1975. Lucas Samaras invented this technique to alter SX-70 images by pressing into the emulsion with a stylus, it was wildly popular with Polaroid owners. It was tricky, you had about 3 minutes to work with the emulsion while it was still developing, and the results were always unpredictable. This picture of some potted plants was about as good a result as I ever got with this technique.

    Altered SX-70 Photo

    Of course this technique isn't going to impress anyone that ever used Photoshop and the Smudge Tool, but it was a revelation to photographers back in the 1970s. Photographers tend to treat their technology as inviolate and perfect, gouging prints with a stylus while they developed was exactly the sort of thing you were supposed to never do. Polaroid discontinued this type of film just as the technique became popular with fine artists, and it died overnight.
    When I looked through my old SX-70 prints, I was astonished to see several prints with a large crack through the middle. Polaroid promised us that the SX-70 process was the most archival process they could make, and the prints would last for hundreds of years. The dyes are still in great shape but the emulsion is cracking. It doesn't do much good to have stable dyes if the supporting emulsion is going to shrivel up and die in 25 years. I decided to have an almost microscopic look at this altered image to see if the emulsion was in good shape. It isn't. But it looks really cool.

    Detail

    I expected these prints wouldn't hold up over the years so I'm not too surprised at the fine cracking. It's adding a patina to the images they didn't have when they were first made, I kind of like it. These images are some of the first experiments in one of my most abstract ideas, that my prints should be interesting at every single viewing scale, from microscopic on up to normal size, and that you can only get these effects by seeing the image firsthand. So this web image only gives a tiny hint of the cool stuff happening in the fine details of this overall image. And that's one of the other problems with Polaroids, every one is unique and can never be reproduced properly.

    Chinatown

    | 2 Comments | 1 TrackBack
    Yee Mee Loo's used to be my favorite drinking spot, back when I lived in downtown LA's Loft District. I always took my friends to Chinatown and Yee Mee Loo's since it was such a crazy place. They had a huge altar behind the bar with a statue of Hotei, the fat-bellied laughing buddha. The bartenders burned huge amounts of incense on the altar and the air was always thick and smoky with a strange fragrance. The establishment prided itself on having never ever cleaned the interior. Cobwebs covered with clumps of dust drooped from the light fixtures. Every wall surface was brown from smoke residue. Yee Mee Loo's was also famous for their clock that ran backwards, I don't wear a watch so their clock was always a torment after a few drinks.
    But mostly I liked to take people to Yee Mee Loo's because it was near a live poultry shop. All my friends liked to see the chickens and other small fowl stacked in cages by the windows. One day I took a friend out for a drink and we went by the poultry shop. As we approached, I saw about 30 cats standing around the back of the store, yowling, scrambling around by a fence, keeping them from the dumpster which was overflowing with waste. I'd never seen anything like it. We tried to avoid that scene, I told my friend to peek in the front window. He looked through the grimy window and started screaming and freaking out. He asked me if it was always like this. I said, "what? It's just some chickens in cages." He said no, I should take a look for myself.
    I looked but I couldn't see anything. It was just a dimly lit shop with some cages of chickens and quail. They seemed to be awake and flapping around agitatedly, which was odd because they're usually asleep at this time of the evening. My friend said "no, look at the floor. I thought it was just a grey floor, I couldn't really see it through the window grime. He insisted I should look closer, and wait. And then I freaked out. The floor was grey because it was a wall-to-wall carpet of rats. Some of the chickens got out of their cages and were being chased around the room. I told my friend we're getting the hell out of here, and we ran back past the dumpster area. Now our eyes were more accustomed to the light, we could see what was happening. There was a huge battle between the cats and the rats swarming over the dumpster.
    I never ate at a restaurant in Chinatown again.

    BlogTV Tech Notes

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    I've been completely reworking the BlogTV system, so I thought a few tech notes were in order. I've released most of my streaming video methods to the public, the methods rely on commercial software but there are other ways to do the job. This is just one of them.
    There were some big problems with the last video, I found out I made some tiny miscalculations cropping the video, the codec insists the video be resized to exactly 50% with pixel heights in multiples of two. I did everything about .001% wrong, causing the video to crash when played. But I appear to have the problem under control now.
    I got a lot of hits from the Jobs video, and I had to limit the system to 5 streams. This may force me to change the way I put the videos in the blog. This is the first time I've had so many videos up on the monthlong page, if I put up 6 videos on the page at once, it will error every time it loads, thinking it doesn't have enough bandwidth to stream more than 5 videos at once. This could be a problem. I've been playing with some of the fancy in-window player systems, but the coding is virtually incomprehensible. I think people use something like Livestage Pro for this, ooh it's expensive.
    I just upgraded to QuickTime 6.2 and QuickTime Streaming Server 4.1.3. I was worried about how well they would run on my ancient G3/400 server, but it was a smooth upgrade. With the new QT6.2, I'm considering using MP4 encoding for the videos, but preliminary experiments don't look good. I've gone to a lot of trouble to tune the video codecs so you can see subtitles clearly, and the MP4 codecs are weak on fine detail, the subtitles show a lot of artifacts and become illegible. If I can work this one problem out, it looks like MP4 is the way to go. MP4 will require QT6, I hate to force upgrades but QT6 has been out for ages. It's a big download for a 56k modem user, but they will probably benefit more than broadband users.
    I noticed that SCOLA has been providing a better signal lately. I usually have to adjust the brightness up and the contrast down, but I'm working on a new video and it didn't require any adjustment at all. I have no way to preview these videos on a wide range monitors, so if you think the video is too dark or too bright, or bad contrast, please let me know and tell me what platform and monitor you're using. Thanks.
    My favorite comedy TV show, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin is back on the air and I am jumping for joy. The show first aired in 1976 and I remember seeing it back then and declaring it the funniest show ever. Reginald Perrin may have warped my mind more than any other TV show, more than Monty Python or any of the other deranged shows I used to watch. There's no possible way to explain the show so you just have to see it. Be sure to watch it Sunday nights at 10:30PM on IPTV.

    MovableType 2.63 Upgrade

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    Disinfotainment was down for a few minutes while I upgraded my MovableType setup to version 2.63. I seem to have all the old content and comments back in place, but reset to the default templates. I'll have to rebuild the templates properly, and do a few things right like I should have done in the first place. And now I can experiment with some new features like Trackback. It might get a little messy around here for the next few days.

    Check Sheet

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    When I lived in Japan, I used to commute to school every morning on trains packed with kids on their way to school. I noticed many of the High School students were doing the strangest things, they all had little red and green pieces of plastic and little sheets of paper. I asked them about it and they said it was a Check Sheet, and they showed me how to use it.

    Check Sheet

    The Check Sheet is a simple study aid, widely used in cram schools in Japan. There are several variations but this illustration from the back of a Check Sheet package should explain the basic idea. The Check Sheet itself is a transparent rectangle of red plastic, usually about the width of a page. The Check Sheet system includes red and green pens and highlighters. You can see from the illustration that if you write in red, when you hold the red filter over it, the red text will be invisible. Use a green highlighter to cover a word, the red filter will make it opaque black. Very clever. There is a second type of Check Sheet, it is a bar of two strips of plastic, one red and one green. You can use the green side of the sheet, and the effect is exactly opposite, the green pen is transparent and the red ink is opaque.
    I used to see kids cramming lists of English vocabulary written on little strips of paper. They would write a list of vocabulary words in English in red pen, and the Japanese definitions in green pen. They held the list under the Check Sheet, guessed each word, and then slid the sheet down one entry so the word popped up from the edge of the sheet, unfiltered, revealing the answer. Then you flip the ruler upside down and use the green side, and go down the list of definitions, written in green and now invisible. Very very clever. I liked this scheme so I bought some Check Sheets and the special pens, but I was unable to find the proper green pens and highlighters so I just used the red pens.

    furigana

    Here's a little sample of my furigana notes from a textbook I was using when I discovered the Check Sheet. My teacher would get furious if we put furigana notations in our textbooks. We would read these passages aloud in class, and if we had pronunciation hints, he thought it was cheating. But with the Check Sheet, I could keep the furigana concealed, only revealing it when I got stuck. I could practice it over and over, sliding the sheet to the left to reveal the hints as needed, eventually I would not need the hints. This study method seemed to satisfy the teacher as non-cheating. Sheesh! But the teacher may have had a point. Furigana is a crutch. You need margin notes but you need some way to make them fade away so you can do it the hard way and get proper practice.
    You can adapt the red/green filters to your own study methods in a variety of ways. Any red or green plastic will work fine, but the Japanese plastic rulers can sometimes be obtained at specialized Japanese stationery stores. The Check Sheet pens are perfectly matched to the filters, you must use exactly the right color or the ink doesn't go fully invisible. But the official Check Sheet pens can be hard to find so you may need to find a substitute. I found that art supply stores have "designer markers" in fine gradations across the color spectrum, and it was not hard to find a matching red and green felt tip markers that worked with the Check Sheet.
    I think the Check Sheet system is particularly well adapted for Japanese second language learners, because they have the triple task of learning vocabulary with three parts: the meaning, the kanji, and the reading (pronunciation). I often joke that studying Japanese vocabulary requires three-sided flash cards. But with the red/green Check Sheets plus red/green pens and highlighters, you actually have 8 ways to conceal and reveal information. Just pick which 3 work the best for your context, and you have the functional equivalent of three-sided flash cards.

    A Voice from the Grave

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    FORD
    My Aunt is visiting, we were swapping horror stories about the Ford automobiles we had owned, when she suddenly said she had a handwritten Post-it note from my late Grandfather. She laminated it and keeps it in her wallet. If you can't read the shaky handwriting, it says:
    a gallon of gas A Tank of oil
    A piece of wire they call the coil
    A piece of tin A 10 foot Board
    Put them together and call it
    A FORD

    Technomorphia

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    I was arguing today (well, bickering actually) about whether a Mac or Wintel PC was the right tool for a particular job, and I was suddenly reminded of an extremely eccentric art history lecture I attended almost 30 years ago.

    stickchart2.gif

    When the lecture began, a slide very similar to this photograph was projected on the screen at the front of the hall. The lecturer asked the students if they could guess the purpose of this object, and where it originated. We could see the small seashells at some of the intersections of the sticks, eventually someone guessed correctly that it originated in the Pacific Islands near Asia. But nobody even came close to identifying the object's purpose.
    Eventually the lecturer revealed that the object is a navigational map of the ocean, a Micronesian Stick Chart. The sticks represent ocean currents and the seashells represent islands, but the map's distances are not accurate on a geographic scale, they are scaled to the time it took to travel the ocean currents between the islands. Suddenly it all made sense. But then the lecturer veered off into incomprehensible, uncharted territory for us poor art students.
    The lecturer asserted this object was the embodiment of "technomorphia." The object was made from the conveniently available local materials, sticks and shells, and was better suited to being carried in small seafaring boats than paper maps. He pointed out that the Micronesians had not yet learned to make paper at the time these maps were invented, but even after they learned the papermaking secret, they still preferred the Stick Charts over paper maps. Sticks and shells don't get soggy in seawater, and can be mended easily. He rambled on about technomorphic aspects of this artform, and how it developed in the cultural context of Micronesia. I didn't understand much of it, and neither did anyone else.
    This particular lecturer was notorious for using incomprehensible jargon, sometimes he even made stuff up as he went along, so I always took notes and asked him for definitions after the lecture was over. I challenged him on technomorphia, and asked him to explain further. He talked about how the tools and materials available determined the forms the artwork would take. He talked at length about how technomorphia affected each separate media (i.e. printmaking, painting, photography) and how each media's expressive possibilities were achieved despite the limitations of that media. I responded, "oh, you mean, when you only have a hammer, every job looks like a nail."

    A Steaming Pile of Craphound

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    I'm observing one of the Blog world's more stupid rituals, by publicly announcing the removal of a link from my site. I have removed Boing Boing magazine from my blogroll.

    boingboing.jpg

    Boing Boing used to be a pretty good zine about 15 years ago, back when it was solely the product of Mark and Carla. But now it's been completely taken over by Cory Doctorow, who is a complete and utter asshole. Mark and Carla's "neurozine" is now infested by Cory's self-promotion activities, at times the site has been almost 100% advertising for Cory's new SF scribblings. Sure you have a right to use your site for self-promotion, but this is beyond the pale. Cory has his own site, I don't know why Mark let Cory take over his pet project and use it for his own purposes.
    I think my main distaste for Cory comes from his unhealthy obsession with Disneyworld. I got into a flamefest with him about something he did at Disneyland and wrote about on BoingBoing. He said he gathered a large group of online acquaintances to go to Disneyland as a group, including a woman in a wheelchair. They used the handicapped woman to cut the WHOLE GROUP into the front of the line on the rides. I told him he was exploiting the woman's handicapped status for his group's personal gain. He retorted that Disneyland wants handicapped people and their friends to be able to experience Disney attractions together. I wasn't aware you could get 20 or 30 people into a single car on a roller coaster ride. He said the handicapped woman didn't mind being exploited. What a load of crap!
    And there's the problem. Cory is a self-proclaimed craphound. I think he's just full of crap. There's a fine line between admiration for crappy pop culture detritus, and obsession. Cory is obsessed, he's the ultimate Comic Book Guy. I won't refer readers to the site, they have enough links. Life is too short to put up with self-important idiots like Cory.

    Tax Day at the Terminal Annex

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    I used to live about 6 blocks south of the US Post Office Terminal Annex in Downtown Los Angeles. The Terminal Annex is literally the terminal location for all mail in the LA area, it's located at the conjunction of all the major highways and railroad lines in LA, and it takes incoming mail from trucks across LA. All outgoing mail ends up here before it is sent outside the city. The TA also has one unique property, it is the last place you can get a letter postmarked until midnight, since it is the only annex open until midnight. For that reason, the TA has become a traditional spot for dropping off your tax returns on April 15.
    On Tax Day, streets around the TA are completely impassable for blocks in every direction. It is a scene of total pandemonium, total gridlock with hundreds of cars full of fuming, desperate late-filers. Scattered throughout the cars were roving homeless people offering to take your tax return the final blocks for a fee of $1. I saw one homeless bum on roller skates, I bet he made a lot of money. But you'd have to be a total idiot to hand your tax returns to a homeless bum, I wouldn't give it to anyone except an agent of the US Post Office.
    Every year, I had to cross this massive traffic jam just to drive home, there were no alternate routes I could take to avoid the mess. I remember one year it took me over an hour to cross the four lanes of Alameda Blvd, I had to nose my car in front of crossing (but immobile) traffic. The guy I cut in front of wanted to drag me out of my car and start a fistfight because he thought I was jumping in line, I explained I lived across the street and he would have his precious spot back as soon as I crossed. I was surprised to see how much pent-up anger this crowd of late-filers had.
    The Terminal Annex is no longer the terminal spot for all mail in LA. Its functions have been broken up and decentralized, moved to other annexes in the city. There are many other places that can postmark late tax returns until midnight, but the Terminal Annex is still the traditional spot for dropping off your tax return. I'm sure that tonight's LA TV news shows will be broadcasting live from Alameda Blvd in front of the Terminal Annex, just as they always do.

    Not Yet Coming Attractions

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    I heard a strange new commercial pitch for a weekly TV drama, it said "4 all-new episodes coming up in only 2 weeks!" That certainly is the most original pitch I ever heard. I prefer to think of it as an announcement that the next 2 weeks would be reruns, with no new episodes until May sweeps.
    What ever happened to the TV schedule? It used to be the networks would run a fall season of new episodes and then they'd replay them again as summer reruns. But somehow that changed, nowadays the scheduled shows default to reruns, and a new episode is a special event.

    White Toilet Paper

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    Environmentalists used to take it as an item of faith that you should buy only undyed, plain toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels. Ideally you would buy unbleached papers, which would reduce some of the dioxin pollution involved in papermaking, but people just won't buy unbleached toilet paper. Our local hippie coop sells recycled unbleached paper TP with the unfortunate brand name "Second Use Recycled Toilet Paper." I insist on being the absolutely first and only user of this type of product.
    The theory behind eliminating unnecessary dyes is that these papers are purchased as garbage, you buy them specifically for flushing or throwing them away. Sure you want to have a nice little colorful border pattern on your paper towels or TP as it hangs there on the dispenser, otherwise the additional dyes serve no functional purpose. But when you consider the millions of tons of these paper waste products going directly into landfills every year, it doesn't make any sense to add hundreds of tons of waste dyes along with it.
    Lately I've had a hard time buying plain white paper towels and tissues. I go to the grocery store and they only have dyed "designer" Kleenex in beige or blue, and paper towels with printed borders, they have no white products at all. Apparently over the years, consumer resistance to colored kleenex and other products has been breaking down. I guess you can sell any kind of crap to people if you introduce it gradually.
    It's not hard to find TP in white, as long as you want double or triple-roll 12 packs. I don't know where to store it all. I bought a Northern double-roll 6 pack today because it was the smallest the store had. When I got to the checkout, the checker said it was only 10 cents more to get the 12 pack of double rolls, I should swap. So I did. But I draw the line at triple-rolls.

    A Bridge Too Far

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    Military history and board gaming has always been an odd obsession of mine, more particularly odd because I am a pacifist. I suppose it is because of what I know of military strategy that I am a pacifist, I know that a General moving markers on a map is deliberately deluding himself from the idea that he is sending men to their deaths. But I have no such illusions, I know what happens when you send even electronic representations of men into battle. They die in ways you never expected.
    I spent many years playing board games like Panzer Blitz and Squad Leader, they have the historical realism I demand, which allows you to try real historical scenarios using the real forces as they existed in the battle. But the paper board game systems had major flaws. Both players could see all the markers, so you could never do a sneak attack. Some methods of concealment were invented, like putting dozens of markers on the board, upside down so neither side could see them, only a few were your real markers. Arguments about line-of-sight, of who could see who, were always a problem, especially with modern games. Modern weapons are one-shot one-kill, if you can be seen you can be killed. Simultaneous movement rules were unmanageable, I remember games where we argued for hours over movements taking only 15 seconds in realtime. The only real solution is "kriegspiel" games, where both players have identical boards, hidden from each other, and only the referee sees both boards and runs the game. This is obviously unworkable on paper, but kriegspiel methods are ideal for computerization.
    My favorite computer game implementation was V for Victory by Atomic Games. I particularly remember Operation Market Garden, I archived it on a CDR long ago and I wondered if it still ran on my new PowerMac. This game is so old it comes with two different applications for 68k processors with and without a math coprocessor. I remember playing this on my Mac IIcx and it sometimes took several minutes for the AI to complete it's turn. I couldn't get this to run in Classic, but after booting into OS 9, the app still runs well enough to play and get a few screen captures. I set the computer AI to play a few turns against itself, and the whole campaign finished before I could even click the stop button. I started it over and watched what the AI was doing, turn by turn. I could not believe what I saw.

    Battle of Oosterbeck

    I've been thinking of Market Garden a lot, since seeing the US and UK forces in action, trying to take the bridges across the Euphrates River around Nasiriya. I thought it might be interesting to compare the V4V scenario of the British forces trying to capture the bridge at Arnheim. In this screen, we see the lightly armed British forces (in red) rapidly advancing southeast into Oosterbeck, just a few klicks from our objective. But since the Germans still control the main bridge, there was nothing to stop them from moving elite SS Panzer units to the edge of Oosterbeck to block our advance, and put artillery units to the north. Now the UK supply lines are subject to artillery interdictment and harassing attacks from scattered defenders. Our resources are stretched too thin to maintain our position in Oosterbeck, we must defend from a combined artillery and SS Panzer counterattack instead of achieving our objective, taking Arnheim bridge. The AI committed a tactical blunder, it should have sent squads to block the roads out of Arnheim to slow the counterattack until we consolidated our position and got some reinforcements. Sacrificing a few squads in delaying actions at the chokepoints could have saved this operation.
    When this game first shipped, I played it over and over, and I just could not understand why I always got beaten so badly. I was pretty good at V4V, but no matter how hard I worked, the Germans always wiped me from the field of battle. I studied the scenario in detail, looking for where I had gone wrong. And then it suddenly struck me, the Allies lost Operation Market Garden, it was a humiliating defeat. The V4V footnotes explain that the historical result was a total loss, so if you only had a major or minor loss you were ahead of the historical results, therefore you were entitled to believe you really won. I was irritated at the publisher for releasing a game that could not be won. And then I realized I was irritated at the Allied generals for committing to such a battle that could not be won.
    And this is why I've been thinking about Nasiriya. American battle doctrine is based on shoot-and-scoot, fire and maneuver systems. This system isn't quite so useful against fixed emplacements like bridges. Internet reports indicate US forces have taken the bridges several times and given them back just as often. Marines take a position, but aren't intended to defend that position from counterattack without support and resupply. We committed troops to a battle at the end of supply lines that are stretched thin, without adequate air support and reinforcements, exposing the US troops to artillery and infantry counterattack. I keep thinking of the movie version of A Bridge Too Far, with intense battles taking place across the bridge at Arnheim. Our Commander In Chief is right, this is like a rerun of a bad old movie.

    A Note to ISSHO ACCJ Readers

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    Tony Lazlo wrote a nice article on blogging that cited my page, and promised videos of Japanese news for language students. Unfortunately, I haven't put up a new Japanese-related video in the last 30 days, so there is nothing like this on the main page. Click on the Archives to go back to last month (or older) and you will find many videos for your viewing pleasure. I am always seeking new material, I just haven't run across anything worth posting lately. I only get 45 minutes of Japanese news each weekday and linguistically interesting items are rare lately.

    Riverworld

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    I just watched Riverworld on the SciFi Channel, and boy was I surprised at how good it was. I had no idea this movie was in the works until it popped up in my TiVo schedule. I read the Riverworld novels probably 30 years ago, and the movie wrenched loose some deep memories of one of my favorite reading experiences of my youth. Now I've got to go dig up my old paperbacks, I've got them stored away with all my classic SF collection.
    According to the SciFi.com page, a huge amount of supplementary Riverworld material was published that I never knew about. Now this is a rare pleasure, one of the best movie adaptations of a SF novel I've ever seen, plus tons of new chapters to read, plus a tantalizing hint of censored material. Time to hit the bookstore.

    Cry Me a River of Gasoline

    | 1 Comment
    I had a wonderful moment of schadenfreude when I read this story about record high gas prices:
    "It's ridiculous," said Sandra Cerrigan, who paid $2.23 for gas for her Land Rover at a San Francisco Chevron Station. "We're getting gouged."
    Hey lady, maybe if you'd bought a Toyota Prius instead of that Land Monster, you'd be able to afford gasoline. SF has one of the best mass transit systems in the US, and you have to drive a car, let alone a huge SUV?
    The Land Rover is truly the symbol of SUV selfishness. I wish it weren't so. I still remember the Land Rover ads that ran on page 3 of every issue of Scientific American, they proudly proclaimed the maximum altitude a Land Rover had climbed under its own power. It was astonishing to read of people driving up mountains. I always wanted to take the Rover offroad driving course, they claim that a Land Rover with a winch can basically go anywhere, even up a nearly-vertical cliff. But that was back in the day when people used these vehicles as tools, not status symbols.
    Now whenever I see a Land Rover, I think about an infamous case in Los Angeles, just before SUV-mania took hold. Disney awarded deluxe Land Rovers to 10 of its top executives, and ran the vehicles through the Disney auto shop to have all the anti-pollution devices removed to increase gas milage. Disney got whacked with a multimillion dollar fine for that stunt. But in the process, they turned the Land Rover into the must-have LA accessory.

    Build Your Own UFO Detector

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    UFO Detector When I was a little kid about 7 years old, I read an article in a science fiction magazine that showed how to build your own UFO detector. The device is a crude but fairly sensitive magnetometer, it looked interesting so I built one. The theory is that an alien UFO would travel with some sort of advanced electromagnetic propulsion, it would disturb the magnetic field and the sensor would detect it. It's a simple trembler switch, you can make it yourself with some wire, a magnet, and an doorbell. I was surprised to discover it really works!
    The entire switch is about 6 inches tall, made from 3 pieces of uninsulated solid copper wire. The illustration shows the general layout of the switch, with the two sides of the circuit indicated in blue and red. It's a simple pendulum hanging from a hook, and down through an open loop. When the pendulum swings, it will hit the loop and complete the circuit. The pendulum's counterweight is a small magnet, I used a cylindrical refrigerator magnet and wrapped the end of the copper wire around it. The magnet isn't part of the electrical circuit, but when a large magnetic field moves by, it will attract the counterweight and cause the pendulum to swing. You can verify this by waving a magnet near the sensor, the pendulum will swing wildly, and will be influenced by a moving magnet even at a fair distance.
    I made the hook about 6 inches high and the lower loop about 1/2 inch in diameter, and put it under a glass jar so it wouldn't be triggered by drafts. Connect the bottom end of the loop to one wire of the doorbell, connect bottom of the hook to the other wire, hang the pendulum on the hook, and your UFO detector is ready for action.
    You can increase the sensitivity of the switch in two ways; you can increase the length of the pendulum, or decrease the size of the loop. You could actually make this several feet tall, and it would be so sensitive it could detect nearby electric motors and TVs, and it would be very sensitive to vibration. But we're trying to detect huge metal spaceships so we should start fairly small. And it turns out that even a small detector is very sensitive.
    I left my detector running in my bedroom at night, of course aliens would come under cover of darkness. I waited for the alarm signal night after night. I decided to decrease the size of the loop a bit. I also improved the pendulum by substituting a little bar magnet, and aligning it with magnetic north. Then one night as I was sleeping, the UFO detector rang!
    I rushed to my window but I could see nothing. I ran barefoot out into the yard and searched the sky. I could hear the motors approaching, it was a small aircraft flying at low altitude, a propeller aircraft from the local airport, darn it! I was disappointed, but I'd successfully detected a flying object, even if if it wasn't unidentified.
    I decided to make the device a little more sensitive so I could detect more distant UFOs. As I tuned the sensor, it became so sensitive I could detect high altitude jet airliners, and even large trucks driving down the street! It appears that any large mass of metal moving through earth's magnetic field can trigger the alarm. I got a quite a few aircraft detections, but I never saw any alien spaceships. Eventually my Dad got mad at me for constantly waking up in the middle of the night and running through the house, so he made me turn off my UFO detector forever.
    Update: I poked around the web and found other descriptions of the UFO detector. Apparently it was a popular device during the 1960s, and quite a few people made these sensors in various designs. I wonder who invented it?

    Icarus Falls

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    Today seven brave men and women surfed atop the atmosphere on a tiny shield and spilled to earth. They had the Right Stuff, even if just for a moment, they went higher, faster, farther, harder, closer to heaven than anyone before. They didn't just push the envelope, they broke through it. Everyone with the Right Stuff knows that at any moment it could go out of control. It could not be otherwise, if there was no risk there could be no triumph.
    Daedalus built the labyrinth for King Minos, but afterwards lost the favor of the king, and was shut up in a tower. He contrived to make his escape from his prison, but could not leave the island by sea, as the king kept strict watch on all the vessels, and permitted none to sail without being carefully searched. �Minos may control the land and sea,� said Daedalus, �but not the regions of the air. I will try that way.� So he set to work to fabricate wings for himself and his young son Icarus. He wrought feathers together, beginning with the smallest and adding larger, so as to form an increasing surface. The larger ones he secured with thread and the smaller with wax, and gave the whole a gentle curvature like the wings of a bird. Icarus, the boy, stood and looked on, sometimes running to gather up the feathers which the wind had blown away, and then handling the wax and working it over with his fingers, by his play impeding his father in his labors. When at last the work was done, the artist, waving his wings, found himself buoyed upward, and hung suspended, poising himself on the beaten air. He next equipped his son in the same manner, and taught him how to fly, as a bird tempts her young ones from the lofty nest into the air. When all was prepared for flight he said, �Icarus, my son, I charge you to keep at a moderate height, for if you fly too low the damp will clog your wings, and if too high the heat will melt them. Keep near me and you will be safe.� While he gave him these instructions and fitted the wings to his shoulders, the face of the father was wet with tears, and his hands trembled. He kissed the boy, not knowing that it was for the last time. Then rising on his wings, he flew off, encouraging him to follow, and looked back from his own flight to see how his son managed his wings. As they flew the ploughman stopped his work to gaze, and the shepherd leaned on his staff and watched them, astonished at the sight, and thinking they were gods who could thus cleave the air.
    They passed Samos and Delos on the left and Lebynthos on the right, when the boy, exulting in his career, began to leave the guidance of his companion and soar upward as if to reach heaven. The nearness of the blazing sun softened the wax which held the feathers together, and they came off. He fluttered with his arms, but no feathers remained to hold the air. While his mouth uttered cries to his father it was submerged in the blue waters of the sea, which thenceforth was called by his name. His father cried, �Icarus, Icarus, where are you?� At last he saw the feathers floating on the water, and bitterly lamenting his own arts, he buried the body and called the land Icaria in memory of his child.
    The death of Icarus is told in the following lines by Darwin:
    "...with melting wax and loosened strings
    Sunk hapless Icarus on unfaithful wings;
    Headlong he rushed through the affrighted air,
    With limbs distorted and dishevelled hair;
    His scattered plumage danced upon the wave,
    And sorrowing Nereids decked his watery grave;
    O'er his pale corse their pearly sea-flowers shed,
    And strewed with crimson moss his marble bed;
    Struck in their coral towers the passing bell,
    And wide in ocean tolled his echoing knell."

    Disinfotainment Logo to be Retired

    | 1 Comment
    I am considering retiring my site logo, so I thought people might enjoy seeing it at a larger size.

    Radar

    I found this image in a web archive of old radio and TV advertisements. This is an ad for Raytheon, promoting their involvement in live broadcasts of nuclear tests in Nevada.

    Redneck Cop Rampage

    | 1 Comment
    Redneck cops from Tennessee that killed a dog have become a national news story. Much outrage has been expressed about the death of the dog, along with much support for the cops who were just "doing their job."
    What nobody has pointed out is that these cops, by their actions, have put the lives of other cops in peril. This gross abuse of power is not likely to help cops gain cooperation during a traffic stop. If a real criminal thinks he's up against trigger-happy cops that will shoot without provocation, they're more likely to shoot it out in a traffic stop. Now the Mayberry P.D. has given the entire state's police force a bad name.

    Fly and Die

    | 3 Comments
    Here's the stupidest airline security story I've seen lately:
    An airline worker inspecting a passenger's bag Jacksonville International Airport on Friday was accidentally injected with an antidote to chemical weapons. The Delta Air Lines employee, who was not identified, was injected with atropine, an antibiotic that helps people survive chemical attacks...
    ...and bee stings. My sister has an intense allergy to bee stings, she has to carry an atropine injector kit in her purse everywhere she goes. If she gets stung, she has to inject atropine immediately, or she will die. Now the airline will deny her the right to carry atropine injectors on a flight. Sure, she won't get stung during a flight, but she could get stung after arrival. This is sickening. I suppose they won't let diabetics carry insulin and syringes either.

    Iowa Football Losers

    | 1 Comment
    For several weeks the Iowa sports press has tried to turn lemons into lemonade. It started when local favorite Brad Banks lost the Heisman Trophy. The local newspapers blared on page 1, "Banks Voted Heisman Runner-up." Excuse me, there is no such thing as a second place for the Heisman Trophy, you either were awarded the trophy or you weren't. But the local papers trumpeted his 2nd place in the voting like it was some sort of real award.
    And now the U of Iowa team has humiliated themselves in the Orange Bowl. The full complement of violent criminals was represented on this bowl trip, including Jermelle Lewis (criminal mischief, disorderly conduct), Sam Aiello (assault causing injury, no arrest), Warren McDuffie (DUI), Derreck Robinson (drug posession), Scott Boleyn (public intox x3, interference w/official acts x2, obstructing an officer), Jacob Bowers (public intox x3), even suspended players like Siaka Massaquoi (DUI) reportedly made the trip although they did not play. It was reported that OJ Simpson attended the Orange Bowl practice sessions, I am sure that our young criminals had much to learn from OJ.
    For many weeks, the local press has been proclaiming that this game would be the true Heisman test, since the Trophy winner, USC quarterback Carson Palmer would play against "runner-up" Iowa QB Brad Banks. I did not watch the game, but news reports indicate that Banks was held to little or no yardage while Carson Palmer wiped the field with the Iowa team. I guess Banks really did prove who should have won the Heisman, just like he said he would! Congratulations to the Iowa team for showing what a bunch of pathetic losers you are! I expect the morning newspaper headlines will read "Iowa takes 2nd Place in Orange Bowl!"

    2003: The Year of the Ram

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    Akemashite omedetoo gozaimasu! I used to send out New Years cards, but nobody ever sent me any in return so I gave up. So I just whipped together a nengajou for the web instead.

    nengajo 2003
    The Golden Age of Computer Sales surely must have been Christmas 1984. The Macintosh had just been released, Compaq and IBM offered powerful new CPUs, but the real action was a massive Christmas sales battle between the Apple//c and the IBM PCjr. I remember it well, I was working at ComputerLand in Los Angeles, and I was at the very center of the battle.
    The '84 christmas season would be an inversion of our usual high-end sales efforts. Professional computers from IBM and Compaq were too expensive for the seasonal retail market, and the Macintosh was too new and little software was available. ComputerLand was always intensely busy in December, handling christmas shoppers as well as large corporate customers who had to spend their budgets before December 31. Amidst all this flurry of year-end sales activity, Apple and IBM decided to fight it out in the low end consumer market.
    The Apple//c was a pretty darn good computer. It was inexpensive, with nice peripherals including a mouse, which had just made its debut on the Macintosh. The //c and the Mac casings were produced by Frog Design, so consumers got some of the cachet of the Mac even if they could only afford a //c.
    IBM's competition was a notorious flop, the PCjr. It had just been revamped, the "chiclet" keyboard was replaced with a better model, an inexpensive (but blurry) color monitor was standard. Microsoft produced a "sidecar" with extra memory and a Mouse, and bundled it with primitive apps like PCPaint and PFS:Write. Some of the PCjr's programs came on ROM cartridges since there was only 1 floppy disk drive, with no room for both programs and data. Naturally, the Apple//c outsold the PCjr. about 10 to 1. Despite IBM's renewed sales push, the PCjr was dying. It was made specifically with the intention of eroding Apple's lucrative consumer market. IBM desperately wanted to damage Apple by killing their lucrative Apple II cash cow, at a time when investment in the new Macintosh was a heavy drain on Apple's financial resources (and let's not even mention the Lisa debacle).
    Apple did one really brilliant thing, they worked with Frog Design and their ad agency Chiat Day to produce a most excellent point-of-sale retail experience, foreshadowing today's Apple Stores. And my store in Studio City was a showpiece. Apple produced glossy 4-color packaging for the //c, it had all the sales information written right on the box. We received dozens of empty boxes and we folded them all up and it looked like we had hundreds of computers on display, it reminded me of Andy Warhol's Brillo box sculptures. Apple claimed that all you had to do to sell the //c was put one of the dummy boxes in the customer's hand, get them to a demo station, or do anything to get them to touch the product, and they'd fall all over themselves to hand you money. It worked.
    Even better for us salesmen, ComputerLand pulled a trick unheard of in the LA computer market: we negotiated a mass purchase deal so our cost for the //c was $100 lower than any other store in town. We sold the //c at a price $1 less than other dealers' wholesale cost, we had a lock on the //c market because our competitors had to sell at a loss to match our prices. But the ComputerLand salesmen wouldn't go for it, they thought the //c was a huge waste of time. The profit on a //c was only $99 and the sales commission was $8, and nobody wanted to waste time with a sale that would net you $8 when the phone was also ringing off the hook with year-end corporate customers making hundreds of thousands of dollars of year-end purchases. But our store figured out a way to juggle things, and Apple sweetened the deal for the salesmen with "spiffs."
    Spiffs are Sales Person Incentive FForms (or something like that). For every Apple you sold, you fill out a form and get a bonus. Suddenly everyone got interested in the //c. Apple had no idea we could sell so many computers. The top prize was a //c computer plus a cash bonus, Apple expected a few salesmen would reach the goal by late December, but I had already won the top prize twice over by the end of the first week of December. During the busiest store hours, sometimes a dozen customers would be stacked up at the register, listening to us explain the features of the computer as we wrote up the sales receipts as fast as our pens would write. And Apple forced a time-consuming duty on us, we had to get the customers to fill out the warranty forms and give us a copy for our spiffs. Customers were hesitant to fill out the forms if the machines were purchased as gifts, it was a real problem to get them to do it. But we persisted because that was how we got paid.
    Throughout Los Angeles, ComputerLand had a complete stranglehold on Apple//c sales. Some of the other chains switched to pushing the PCjr, and we started to get some inquiries, and even I sold a few despite my best efforts to push the //c. IBM had a spiff program too, and I won a PCjr of my own. My boss knew I had both a //c and a PCjr, so I was designated as the chain's expert on these units. My phone started ringing off the hook with sales inquiries from employees at the 5 other stores. I was working 70 or 80 hours a week with corporate customers and retail sales, and now I got stuck handling //c sales questions for other salesmen in our chain. This was supposed to be a computer that took very little time or effort to sell, so I decided to write a few memos on how to sell the machines, just to get these constant questions off my back. I've scanned one report and produced a downloadable Adobe Acrobat PDF file. This is a fun old document full of bad attitude, I wrote it on my PCjr, and printed it on a daisy wheel printer. I could only find final copies of the first two pages, so I've substituted an incomplete draft copy of the last 3 pages, along with an illustration.
    how2cworks.gif
    This document is interesting for a variety of historical reasons, it shows an early attempt at desktop publishing. The draft pages were printed on my Epson dot matrix printer, it had a bad pin in the print head so the text is barely legible, and it printed so faintly that I always used boldface. Illustrations were xeroxed from books, then glued in place on the printed page, and the final copies were xeroxed like a 'zine. It is rather amusing to see what was considered a complex word processing document in 1984. It had italics and indented columns and everything!
    IBM heard about our massive Apple//c sales and called up our store's owners to find out how we did it. They wanted to know why the PCjr wasn't selling as well, and how to get a piece of the action. My boss asked me to work with IBM and I said absolutely no way was I going to help IBM, I was selling dozens of Apples and I didn't see how competition from the PCjr was going to make me any more money. My boss made it an order, if I wanted to continue to sell anything in their store, I better help them out. It was already the end of the first week of December, there was nothing IBM could do to catch up in the two remaining weeks before christmas, so I agreed. The owners said they'd come with a guest right at closing time on Friday evening.
    The owners arrived at my locked-up empty store at the end of a long work week, and I was introduced to the VP of the IBM Personal Computer Division. There was no doubt I was dealing with the highest levels of IBM, and they took this problem quite seriously. I could only think of one thing to do, I asked the VP to walk in to the store and browse as if he were a customer, and I'd greet him and treat him the way we handled customers, then we'd compare the //c and PCjr sales experiences. I'd just spent all week delivering this sales pitch to hundreds of customers, and now I had a solo command performance in front of the IBM VP in an empty store.
    The VP walked in and came up to the first sales kiosk, the PCjr. It was on and operational, but there was nothing on the screen. He stopped and looked at the unit, then moved on to the second, less favorably placed kiosk and looked at the //c, which was running a demo disk. He poked a few buttons, moved the mouse when prompted, as I watched him from a distance. Then I came up and said, "hello, may I help you?" and treated him like a customer. He said he was interested in comparing the two machines, so I gave him my best demos on both the machines. And I do absolutely killer demos, we did a simple word processing document and printed it in mere seconds, using Appleworks vs. PFS:Write. At the end of the demos, the VP was baffled. The demos were relatively equivalent, demonstrating the same functions, the computers were fairly evenly matched in cost and features, why wasn't the PCjr selling? I told the VP that he'd failed to observe one thing. Notice that the PCjr was inactive and had a blank screen when he first approached it, but the //c had a nice demo disk that attracted him to interact with the machine. I explained that we could not leave the PCjr in an operating condition, customers would shoplift the expensive ROM cartridges, so we had to keep them locked up and only demo the machine on demand. But if someone swiped the Apple demo disk, I had an extra disk in the back and I could just make a new copy. I explained how this was the crucial difference, the Apple attracted customers all by itself, but PCjr was an inactive lump of plastic unless we actively demoed it. Apple had a carefully planned retail experience, IBM basically had none.
    So the question was posed to me, how does IBM fix this? I told the VP there was absolutely no way to catch Apple, their campaign had been building for months. I said they desperately needed an interactive demo disk like Apple's, but there was no way they'd be able to write and distribute anything like that before christmas so they were pretty much screwed. I was completely blunt in my opinion. IBM has huge marketing forces, but they are notoriously slow to get into action. The IBM VP seemed to agree that any new sales effort was too little, too late, but he asked for a copy of Apple's demo disk, so the owner quickly popped it out of the //c and handed it right to him. We wrapped things up, and the VP thanked me for my help and we all went home. It was a Friday night, and time for some rest before the big sales weekend was upon us.
    On monday morning, a courier arrived with a package from IBM, containing new demo disks for the PCjr. I looked at the dates of the files, they were all created from scratch on saturday or sunday. It was obvious what happened, the IBM VP had cracked the whip, and a huge group of programmers had labored continuously through the weekend to produce this disk, and shipped copies out to every IBM dealer in the US overnight at huge expense. We ran the demo disk and it was absolutely fantastic. From that moment forward, the PCjr matched the //c in sales. I had given IBM exactly the information they needed, I didn't think they could respond in time, but they did the impossible. IBM put a huge dent in //c christmas sales, and that was the only reason the PCjr existed. It had no function except to kill Apple II sales. Still, it was a Pyrrhic victory for IBM, they lost money on the PCjr, but they gladly flushed money down the toilet as long as it kept people from buying Apple computers.
    In the end, it was a very successful sales season for everyone, money was moving and we couldn't grab it fast enough, and everyone went home believing they had achieved their goals. It was peak of the 8 bit computer era, and the dawn of mass-market computing. But it was also the end of the 8-bit microcomputer era, and a harbinger of Apple vs. PC battles of the future.

    What is the Body Count in Afghanistan?

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    The US press has been conspicuously silent about the casualty figures for US forces in Afghanistan. But after a recent death by enemy action, The Washington Post reports the current figures:
    ...26 American servicemen had been killed by hostile fire and 137 wounded since operations began... a further 28 have died and 115 injured in "non-hostile" incidents..
    That's 54 deaths and 252 wounded. But tonight I heard the NBC national news say the total death count was fifty. What are the real numbers?
    Update: The Washington Post has scrubbed the article, it no longer contains any reference to 115 injured in non-hostile incidents.

    Inexplicable 1/2 Power Outage

    | 2 Comments
    Half the electric power is out at my home. The computers and TV in my office are powered up, but the room lights won't turn on. The TV upstairs doesn't turn on. Lights in the bathrooms are so dim they barely light up, but the kitchen lights work. The microwave oven works but the stove and refrigerator are out. I checked the house circuit breakers and they're all OK. This is incomprehensible, electricity just doesn't work that way. A power company truck is parked out on the street and they're working on something, I don't know what could be wrong but I hope they fix it fast, my furnace is out and it's geting cold!
    I rarely have power outages, I'm less than 1/2 mile from the main power substation. The last time I lost all power, a tornado knocked down the main power lines into the whole city, and it wasn't restored for 3 days.
    Update: the power guy came to the door and told me they were replacing a bad buried power cable, so I'd lose power completely for about an hour and then it would be up and running. I had to turn off the server, now my 60 day uptime is reset to zero, darn it!

    Christmasland

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    Once upon a time, I used to work at Christmasland. Christmasland was a shabby, disused warehouse that my father's florist shop used to store massive quantities of christmas decorations. Throughout the year, it gradually filled up with cheap Chinese-manufactured plastic christmas trees and decorations, then in November, it opened to the public. It was my after-school job to run the cash register, and everything else for that matter, I was the only employee.
    Working at Christmasland was sheer torture. That was not because of the crush of customers, most days we would be lucky to have one customer. The torture was from the Muzak. This was the real official Muzak, my dad purchased a tape loop with a 10-minute medley of christmas carols. I had to sit there hour after hour, with nothing to do but listen to the same damn christmas carols, over and over and over. I used to complain to my dad, couldn't I turn off the music when there was nobody in the store (which was almost always)? He would reply, "the music isn't there for YOU, it's there for the CUSTOMERS." I always thought that he proved my point, I could just turn on the music when the rare customer came in. He didn't go for that idea.
    To this day, I cannot stand christmas carols. Whenever I hear one, all the blood rushes to my head, and I cannot help myself from becoming enraged. I'm programmed to hate carols, like I was Pavlov's Dog. I warn you, don't ever play christmas carols when I am within earshot.

    New Japanese Design Magazines

    | 4 Comments
    I just got the latest design magazines from Japan, and this month is the usual excellent package of amazing graphics tips. This month's MdN has a special paper cover, it's a laminated plastic with sparkly holographic pixels all over it. I was especially interested in GW magazine, they have a lesson on 3D CG modelling of the eye. This lesson focuses on a particularly Japanese characteristic, the eyelid and epicanthic fold.

    Eyes

    The problem is that none of these designers really understands the bigger picture of cranial anatomy. These models are skin deep, they do not have the presence that is possible if the figures are based more accurately on familiar human anatomy. These diagrams are from "Anatomy for Artists" and dates back to 1923.

    Anatomy of the Eye and Orbit

    The author of this anatomy book is an eye surgeon, and describes ethnic variations on the eye structure in detail, such as the epicanthic fold in the corners of the eyes of Asians. However, the underlying structure of the orbit, supranasal prominence, and malar bone are fairly universal between all human genotypes, and are not accurately proportioned in the Japanese CG design. The face is too flat, the eyes are not set deeply enough, without sufficient depth in the structures of the nose, cheekbones, and eyes. The nose and lips are too low because the maxilla structure is incorrect. You can clearly see the differences since both of the illustrators show the same profile.
    The theme of most western academic drawing studies is anatomical, to build figures from the skeleton and musculature outwards to the skin. The Japanese diagrams illustrate the surface of almost the same area, but there are differences in proportion that are not very realistic. I notice that Japanese designs tend to exaggerate the size of the eyes, like comic books. Unfortunately this doesn't work very well in 3D work, since the face is viewed as a whole and any changes in proportion are instantly obvious. The subtle changes made by the CG artists can't really be accounted for as stylistic variants, since they're trying for accuracy in these demonstrations. The fact is, this is CG art by nonartists, who do not know the underlying skeleton and musculature that makes a face work.

    The $250,000 Gloves

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    The $250,000 Glove
    If you handle photographic negatives and prints, you need a nice pair of white cotton gloves. Most people use the crappy disposable Kodak gloves, but I don't like them because they're too small for my big hands. This is one of my favorite gloves, it is one of a pair of gloves that cost $250,000. Or more accurately, it came free with a $250,000 DaiNippon Screen drum scanner. Most of the scanner operators liked to do oil mounting when scanning transparencies, so they didn't use cotton gloves. I liked dry mounting for scanning, so I always used these gloves, and I adopted them for myself. The scanner ended up having a lot of problems, the engineers were always coming over from Japan to fix it. I left the company shortly afterwards, but I heard the scanner went back to the manufacturer for redesign. So all we got out of the deal was a pair of nice cotton gloves.

    Leonid Meteor Shower November 19

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    The Leonid Meteors are coming, and there is a small possibility that we will have a good show. The Armagh Observatory makes annual predictions, and there is a small chance this might be a shower of historic proportions. Earth will be in the same position as the meteor clouds that caused huge showers in 1767 and 1866, when it was said that meteors fell like rain. The peak should be visible at about 4:30 AM in my area.

    Basketball Star Gets Away With Rape

    | 2 Comments
    University of Iowa Basketball star Pierre Pierce has escaped punishment for Rape. Instead of a mandatory minimum 1 year sentence (max 10 years) for Felony Rape, and a lifetime registration on the Sex Offender Registry, he has escaped all penalties by plea bargaining down to a misdemeanor assault, with 1 year probation, and after a year the conviction will be expunged from his police record. According to local press reports, the plea bargain happened because the rape victim did not want to come forward in court. This is perfectly understandable, considering how sports-crazy people are in this town. Once her name was revealed in court, she would have needed to hide, in fear of her life, for daring to accuse the local basketball star.
    When rapist Pierce was arrested, the coach suspended him from the team until the case was resolved. Now that the case is resolved, the coach has announced he will be redshirted, he will not play in games for 1 year, but will be allowed to practice with the team, and resume playing next year. This is a positve reward for rapist Pierce, he will have a 5 year career in the NCAA.
    This is the most despicable thing I've ever heard from the University of Iowa sports department, and I've heard many horrible things. As a typical example, a freshman and potential star quarterback quit the team (and the university) because he was attacked and beaten by another team member. He was injured so badly that he was taken to the hospital by ambulance, but Coach Bob Bowlsby actively worked to block criminal charges. I personally don't mind if football players kill each other, but when they start raping and injuring the local residents, I must draw the line.
    Our football and basketball teams have a wide variety of brutal thugs, rapists, drunk drivers, etc. My father was always a big contributor to U of I sports programs, I would always argue with him that he was throwing away money, but he insisted that sports progams bring prestige and honor to the University in general. I fail to see how rapists, drunks, and vicious thugs can bring honor to my alma mater. I recently discovered that quite a few years ago, my father (without my knowledge) donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Basketball stadium construction fund in my name, and that my name is etched on their wall of donors inside the front door. I refuse to be associated with rapist Pierce or any of the other abhorrent "sportsmen" on this team of thugs, and I'm going to make sure my name is taken off the wall, even if I have to remove it myself with a hammer and chisel.

    Winter Arrives

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    I like to watch weather radar and capture some of the nice gif loops. I got Imagemagick running so I can process the huge animated gifs down to something blog-sized. Here's one at 40%, showing winter snow meeting fall rain, along a diagonal line through Iowa.

    WinterOnset.gif

    Police Charities Fraud

    | 2 Comments
    If there's anything I hate more than cops, it's phony police charities. I just received a fraudulent mailing from the American Federation of Police and Concerned Citizens, here is a quote from their mailing:
    Across the country, the American Federation of Police and Concerned Citizens provides much-needed support to spouses, children, and other family members of police officers killed in the line of duty. We provide funding for grief counseling, scholarships, direct emergency financial assistance and other programs to loved ones left behind.
    Except it's all a lie. This organization isn't a charity for the families of dead cops, it goes to the American Police Hall of Fame, a tiny "museum" in a shabby industrial building in Florida. The AFPCC's main goal seems to be the promotion of the the Death Penalty and private ownership of handguns, they even claim to be a local militia
    What We Stand for:
    1. We are a strong, powerful and professional organization on the side of law enforcement.
    2. We believe that all law-abiding citizens have the right (if they so select), to own firearms for self-defense and sport. We are also ready to serve as a standing "militia" during any disaster or national emergency, as part of civil defense preparedness.
    3. We support swift punishment for career criminals.
    4. We favor the death penalty and are determined to achieve drug-free schools and communities.
    I have contacted the Iowa Attorney General to make sure they have filed the required financial disclosure forms. If they've filed, I expect that over 90% of the donations go to "administrative expenses" and less than 10% to actual charitable work. That's how these frauds work, the charity's officers keep all the money and give a tiny amount to the people they raised money for.
    There is nothing more despicable in the post-9/11 world than scamming money in the name of dead cops. I may hate cops, but I hate fake cops raising money for fake charities even more.
    Update: I located AFPCC's records through the California Attorney General's office. It is slightly worse than I suspected, they only give 9% to their charity, and keep 91% for themselves.

    Sherlock Headroom

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    I was appalled to discover the most horriffic depiction of Sherlock Holmes ever to disgrace the screen, Sherlock Headroom. Matt Frewer, most widely known as Max Headroom, has starred in not one of these cinematic abominations, but three of them and is producing a fourth one. Someone stop him before he Holmes again!
    Frewer is just not suited to this role. I know every male actor wants to play Holmes, but the people who deserve the role are limited to those people who can convincingly produce a realistic British accent. This effectively limits the role to native Britons, and definitely not Canadians like Frewer. Jeremy Brett is the definitive Holmes, after his performances, everyone should just give it a rest.

    Bureaucracy in Action

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    A letter arrived in the mail informing me that my checking account was overdrawn. The letter informed me that my monthly $30 ISP charge via electronic transfer was paid and there was no penalty fee for the overdraft. I don't keep any money in this account, I just put money in to pay the monthly ISP bills, which I discovered are now deducted on the 5th instead of the 15th. I went to the bank to deposit some money and asked the teller to check the transaction. She said the bank had paid the charge, but now I was overdrawn 39 cents. I told her, "so the bank spent 37 cents postage to tell me I was overdrawn 39 cents?" She laughed.

    NRN: No Response Necessary

    | 1 Comment
    I am trying to revive an old email shorthand notation, NRN. It is a common courtesy when dashing off a quick note, if you do not need a response to a trivial message. It shows that you do not expect the recipient to expend further time to write a response. But nowadays, nobody seems to know what it means.

    Speed Demon

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    I am a speed demon. I have a lead foot, and if I spend time behind the wheel, I want to spend it pedal to the metal. When I took Driver's Ed, the speed limit was still 70, but it changed to 55 before I got my first car, a 1965 Mustang GT convertible. I think my record speed in the old GT was 140 mph. I've only been in one serious accident in my life, a spinout doing 95 in the GT, I did a double spin across some farm field, then drove away without a scratch on me or the car. But I was troubled when the car came to a rest only 2 feet from a telephone pole.
    It is a rare person who will consent to ride in my car. Mostly that's because of my cars, which are usually rustbuckets. But they're fast, I prefer older muscle cars, like my 65 Barracuda, or my old 65 Dart GT. If you ride with me, you are taking your life in your hands. To ride with me, you must disclaim all liability from death and dismemberment, NO backseat driving, and most of all, keep your hands at your sides and do not distract the driver when he's doing something insane. The #1 safety rule in my car is that passengers are never ever permitted to yell "Look OUT!"
    Tonight on Turner Classic Movies I caught a short film, a highway safety film from Los Angeles, it must have been made in the 1920s. It had old B&W film of the early days of the freeways in LA, I was especially nostalgic to see the Sepulveda Pass back when it was only 2 lanes. I used to commute through the Sepulveda Pass and now it's got at least 8 lanes of freeway and about 4 lanes off the freeway. But suddenly the tone of the film changed, it showed extremely graphic footage of dead children being carted away from horrible auto accidents. Burning cars with people still inside, dismembered and bleeding bodies tossed onto stretchers and taken away in ambulances. The narrator's authoritative tone speaks, "they were all good drivers, they had a perfect driving record, right up until they DIED and now it doesn't make any difference."
    So lately I've been thinking about mending my evil ways. Especially since I got that ticket doing 90 on the Interstate, in Illinois. The drive to Chicago from here is long and boring, and I'd do it at 120mph if I could get away with it. But now that I've been busted once, if it happens again I'll be in serious trouble. So I have to get used to driving like a snail.
    I recently read an article on the web, some car advice guy gave some suggestions on how to drive more civilly on the road. He suggested that you allow extra time in your trips, that you plan ahead to drive more slowly. Instead of trying to get from Point A to Point B in the least time possible, you must change your attitude and try to obey the speed limits as accurately as possible. I've found it actually works. If I make time to go slowly, I'm not burning up the road. It is tough for me to stick to the speed limits, but I have to pretend it's a road rally or something, I try to stick as precisely to the limits as possible. But I still let er rip sometimes, I just can't stay stuck in traffic with a bunch of people driving below the speed limit.
    But I might already have lost my driving edge. I was back in LA a year ago, and I discovered I constantly had to push myself to keep up with traffic. I can't believe that people honked at me, the speed demon, because I was driving too slow.

    I've a Fairy Ring

    | 2 Comments
    I have a Fairy Ring in my front yard. A Fairy Ring is a large ring of mushrooms, and the ones in my yard are unusually large, each one growing to almost a foot in diameter. I noticed mushrooms in my yard in previous years, but I never noticed them growing in a ring until this year. The mushrooms are usually one of about 7 species, the most common Fairy Ring mushrooms are edible but there are a couple of species that are intensely poisonous, and look almost the same as the edible ones.
    I checked around the web and there aren't any good ways to get rid of the mushrooms. They grow from a huge underground mycelium, the suggested treatment is to dig up and discard the soil from the ring and about 2 feet of dirt around it. But you're probably going to spread around the mycelium to other parts of the lawn if you drop any dirt, you have to treat it like toxic waste. There is only one real solution: to bulldoze the yard, and start over with a fresh layer of fumigated, sterile topsoil.

    Bill Gates: Druglord

    | 1 Comment
    Bill Gates is in the process of assimilating the pharmaceutical industry. Gates has made massive investments in Merck, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Abbott Labs, Bristol Myers Squibb, Pharmacia, Johnson & Johnson, and Schering-Plough. These investments exceed any other of Gates' holdings, with the exception of Microsoft stock. Gates is shifting hundreds of millions of dollars of illegally-obtained wealth into other industries. Apparently selling drugs is even more profitable than a monopoly on operating systems.
    The irony of this is that it makes the most vicious joke about Gates into the truth. Long ago, Craig Kilborn joked that Gates had announced his initiative to eradicate AIDS, by buying up all competing viruses and using his monopoly power to drive the AIDS virus to extinction.

    The History of Pigment

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    Long ago, someone posted a question on Usenet about the history of pigments. It turned out they were searching the internet for a term paper to copy. So I whipped one together, the most preposterous mangled history I could think up. I posted it and actually got an offer out of the blue to publish the satire in some obscure art magazine, but I declined. I lost the text for years, it was written before the days of Deja.com and Google, I could never find it in Usenet archives, but I ran across it today, quite by surprise. So here it is.
    The History of Pigment
    The first pigments are commonly thought to have been used at the time of paleolithic man, in cave paintings, however, scientific evidence indicates that pigments first appeared during the early development of the planet. As the earth's molten surface cooled, minerals condensed and formed colorful pools of pigment. As meteorites impacted the surface, these pools were flung across the surface of the earth in bright patterns remeniscent of modern splatter paintings. Unfortunately, due to the effects of rain and erosion, these bright paintings can no longer be seen, however, evidence of these pigments can still be seen today on the surface of the moon, in its pattern of cratering. Unfortunately, due to the lack of oxygen on the surface of the moon, only white and black pigments are visible. The colors found in such abundance on earth, such as chromium oxide (green), iron oxide (reds) and other oxygen compounds are notably missing. However, scientists have been unable to explain the appearance of titanium oxide (white) in such abundance on the lunar surface. Apollo astronauts returned with samples of this paint, however the analysis has been inconclusive due to the lunar pigments milleniums of bombardment with cosmic rays.
    Let us move forward, past the dawn of life, when the protoplasmic life in the primordial ooze, rich with pigments, gave birth to the first paintbrushes--the cillia of these single-celled creatures (see my prior essay on the origin of the paintbrush). The final event in the paleolithic era was the cataclysmic impact of a meteor, causing widespread pollution due to the immense release of airborne particles of toxic pigments such as vanadium, cadmium, and chromium. This resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs, the surviving mammals, such as Man, showed his adaptability to working in toxic environments, such as painting studios. Thus, it could be said that Mankind 's development as a species was modified by the existence of pigments, and the ecological niche he now occupies was opened by his high tolerance for these toxic pigments.
    Let us zoom past the ice age, when aqueous pigments were impossible to use, and move forward to later geological eras, when oil started bubbling from oozing tar pits. The discovery of these highly persistent pigments led to further experimentation, which, alas, led to the deaths of many of this race of budding artists, both through the exposure to the harmful vapors, and from falling into the tar pits. Once again, evolution of the human species is adapted to the use of these toxic chemicals. However, use of these oil based tars as pigments gradually ceased, as it only came in one color, black. It would take centuries of human history to invent oil refining, and chemical pigments. But more about that later.
    As man became more adapted to the niche of artist and pigment-user, he multiplied and spread throughout the earth, mining and manufacturing pigments for local artists. Early trade routes between far-flung civilizations were common, and pigments became the currency of exchange for these traders. Unfortunately, it was difficult to transport these dry pigments through long travels, as they tended to blow away in the slightest winds. The quest for suitable packages for these pigments ensued. Early attempts at storing these pigments in pig bladders were only partially successful, due to the scarcity of domesticated livestock in these primitive civilizations, and also the pigs didn't like to stand still long enough to have the pigments deposited. It would take several thousands of years, for the development of agricultural civilizations, for the discovery of the Gourd's usefulness in pigment storage. For many years, development of primitive packaging ceased, it seemed that the invention of more useful storage devices like the tin tube would have to wait. However, trade flourished, with the new boom in the economy, traders discovered that by storing their pigments in gourds, they now arrived with almost 95% of their original pigments, rather than about 1% in prior eras. The wealth from the trade in pigments caused the rise in the early Nation-States, and political upheaval, war, and the evils of slavery wracked the continents. But let us not dwell on these evil events, as every schoolchild knows about the biblical accounts of Pharoh and the enslaved races working in his pigment factories, and their quest to escape from bondage with the secrets of pigment manufacturing, and their 10 secret formulas written on stone tablets (manufacturing 'commandments').
    As civilization arose from its turbulent formative era, pigment development stalled completely. It seemed that all the chemical pigments had been discovered, and extensively mined. The sources of biological pigments (such as the rich purple that comes from certain species of beetles) caused the extinction of many plants and lower creatures. It is only a wonder that nobody discovered the human body is a rich source of red pigment! However, no serious breakthroughs would come about until early in the 19th century, when German chemists developed anniline dyes, and the color spectrum exploded! The voracious appetite for german pigments eventually lead to the expansionist Nazi policies of annexing nearby territories rich in coal and oil (for anniline dyes were made from these materials). However, these dyes went largely into the immediate production of textiles, as the secret of storing pigments in tin tubes had eluded these German scientists. It was only when german scientists visited the kitchens of the great pastry chefs in Paris, and noticed how they decorated pastry with squeeze tubes, that the Fuhrer decided upon his great gamble: France and its technologies must be captured! The Maginot Line (drawn with great pipes of white pigment, like cake decorations) must be crossed! And so, the greatest conflict in the history of man began, the quest to subjugate a continent, and to unite the largest producer of pigments with the only country that knew the secret of how to neatly package squishy goo.
    Once France has been subjugated, the secret of tin tubes was at the disposal of the Nazis. Previously, it had been only known to chefs, and was a rather obscure invention, used only to hold foodstuffs like anchovy paste. But now, with its newly obtained technologies, Germany was unstoppable. Its manufacturing conglomerates employed millions of forced laborers, producing these tubes of pigments in uncountable numbers, but at what price? The holocaust killed millions of these forced laborers, including most of the artist and intellectuals who were most likely to use these chemical pigments. Most of the artists who had not been imprisoned in work camps had already fled germany, and moved to America.
    In 1939, Albert Eisenstadt wrote the infamous letter to President Roosevelt, warning him of the strategic importance of Germany's secret research in oil paints, and urged that the US begin an emergency program to develop a comparable technology. The Manhattan Project was begun. In lofts throughout Manhattan, expatriate artists from all over europe collaborated with American painters, establishing completely new methods of using paint, and completely new methods of fabrication. Most notably, the contribution from the New York "Ash Can" school of painters (named after their method of storing bulk pigments in large 'ash cans', lacking tin tubes for storage lead to the mass production of pigments in quantities the Nazis could not compete with. America's soldiers flooded europe with their brightly camouflaged tanks and colorfully ribboned uniforms (it was not mere coincidence that the most precious pigments were reserved for 'Purple Heart' medals).. Eventually, faced with overwhelming superiority, the Nazi war engine ground to a halt. Throughout Germany, both Russian and American recovery teams scoured through the wreckage of the Nazi industrial empire for pigment chemists, and manufacturing equipment to be siezed as war reparations. These teams managed to recover the largest cache of paintings ever assembled (for the Nazis were voracious collectors of oil paintings), as well as teams of German scientists developing the secret 'V-2" Strategic Pigment Delivery systems. But let us not belabor the point, every schoolchild knows the history of these German pigment scientists, and their chief, Werner von Grumbacher.

    Tales of Paint and Canvas

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    When painters get together, we rarely talk about painting, we talk about paint and canvas. Painters tend to be unable to express in words what they express in their visual works, but we all have one thing in common, we all love to talk about the tools of the trade. We'll talk your ear off about the trivialities of pigments and brushes, and the debates over the merits of different methods of preparing canvas and stretcher bars is a particularly hot topic. I even have a few favorite stretchers I use over and over. I've been known to take perfectly good paintings off of my stretchers because I like the stretchers better than the painting. Here's an odd tale about my favorite stretcher bars.
    One day I arrived early for painting class, and just inside the the door was a huge pile of bare stretcher bars, all set up but with no canvas. There was a note attached, it was a gift from the university's grad student painting archives, they'd stripped some worthless damaged and destroyed paintings off the stretchers and donated them to the painting students. I thought it was a great idea, stretchers are expensive and I like recycling, especially when I get there first and get first pick. I looked through the pile and there was a huge stretcher, about 16x8 feet with massive crossbars, the most beautiful carpentry I'd ever seen, and it was made from solid California redwood. A storage sticker indicated it was made in the early 1950s. Today, a stretcher like that would cost hundreds of bucks, perhaps over a thousand. I grabbed it immediately. I felt like an environmental rapist, like I was cutting down the majestic redwood trees to paint on, but I figured, better my painting on such a beautiful stretcher than some other crappy art student.
    My painting teacher helped me stretch the canvas, it was a lot of work even with expert help. I bought a higher grade of canvas than usual, this stretcher deserved nothing less. It took 2 weeks to prime the canvas, I wanted to make sure the surface was perfect. I laid it flat on the floor and brushed on the white gesso. About 5 minutes after I put the first coat on the canvas, the cloth became taut, and the crossbars bent and bowed out from behind, the whole assembly was shaped like a square canoe frame with a canvas cover. I didn't see it happen, I was washing the gesso off my hands when one of the other students yelled, "hey Charles, get over here quick, you better see this!" I couldn't believe it, I thought it would rip apart and explode into splinters at any moment. But in an hour or so, everything was settled down and flat again. The same thing happened on the second and third coats, but a little less each time. I was worried I'd stretched it too taught and bent the bars permanently, but I measured it and it was square. It was absolutely perfect, the finished canvas was as taut as a drumhead, something really hard to do with a canvas that size.
    I painted on it for about a week, when suddenly one day in class, the teacher came up to me and said, "hey, the Dean wants to talk to you." I looked up from my easel and he was pointing at the Dean, standing in the far corner of the studio near the door. I went over to talk to him, and before I could even say hello, his face got red, and he burst out in an accusatory tone, "where did you get that stretcher bar?" I briefly told him the story, and he said nothing until I was done, and then said, "oh," and turned on his heel and walked right out of the studio without saying another word.
    I went back to my teacher and asked him what that was all about. He said the Dean saw my stretcher, looked at the tag from the archives, and he thought broken in I'd stolen it. Good thing we got that cleared up, the Dean had to sign off on my degree the next semester.

    Color Painting

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    I am presenting a small actual-size detail of my color tempera painting. You can see there's a lot more detail than is visible on video, and the color work can be seen more clearly.

    Color Tempera Painting

    Flood

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    I haven't been able to paint much due to a huge disaster. A pipe burst, flooding much of my basement with an inch of water. It reminds me of one of my favorite jokes.
    Two businessmen are flying to Tahiti, sitting next to each other in First Class. One of them complains to the other, "my factory was completely destroyed by a fire, but I had tons of insurance and it paid for everything, with enough left over for a nice vacation in Tahiti." The other businessman says, "that's almost exactly what happened to me, except my factory got wiped out in a flood." The first businessman says, "Hey, that's amazing, how do you start a flood?"

    BlogTV Live: Art Stunt Day 2

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    I'm continuing to work on my painting for the second day. Progress is slower, I'm at that point of maximum dissatisfaction with the imagery, so now I have to make radical changes, and each decision is much harder.
    I'm having a little trouble working, due to my new eyeglasses. My opthalmologist said I'd hate bifocals so he prescribed me two different glasses, one for reading, one for general tasks. Unfortunately neither set is just right for painting, so I'm constantly switching, and usually forgetting to switch back.
    7:17PM - I was too tired to paint much today, I got up too early for the Stevenote. I have to run some errands for an hour or so, but I'll be in the studio painting tonight. That's one of the good things about working in black and white, you can work at night under worse lighting conditions than you need for color.
    11:30PM - I'm fiddling with the video, trying to get a larger, more detailed picture. I tried setting the size to 240x320, but it would only display a cropped frame. I'm still working on the best way to present this, I need a cool QuickTime HTML authoring gadget. I tried using Dreamweaver MX but it makes you deal with QuickTime through ActiveX. Yuk.

    The Only Good Art Joke

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    There just are no jokes about art that everyone laughs at. There is a long tradition of poking fun at modern art, but there just aren't any gut laughs, except for this one joke. It's a sight gag, so I will show you the painting too.
    On the Mary Tyler Moore show, Mary has convinced Lou to let Rhoda redecorate his apartment. The refurbishment is done and Lou hates it. Everything is a modern designer's fantasy in chrome and glass, and the centerpiece is a very fine painting, "I Dreamt I Saw the Number Five in Gold" by Charles Demuth.

    Five in Gold by Charles Demuth

    This is one of my favorite paintings, it's in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is considered a primary example of early American Modernism. But Lou hates the painting. Rhoda isn't around so he yells at Mary, questioning Rhoda's artistic taste. He accuses Rhoda of being too hasty in selecting his furnishings. He goes right up to the Demuth painting and screams at Mary, "I bet Rhoda had to look through four other paintings before she picked this one!"

    My Favorite Art Joke

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    I finally located the original text of my favorite joke, as published long ago in Ian Shoales' San Francisco Chronicle column. I've told this joke over and over and mangled it and never done it justice. So here it is.
    How many deconstructionists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
    Even the framing of this question makes a grid of patriarchal assumptions that reveals a slavish devotion to phallocentric ideas - such as, technical accomplishment has inherent value, knowledge can be attained and quantities of labor can be determined empirically, all of which makes a discourse which further marginalizes the already disenfranchised.
    I was pleased to see the new US Postage Stamps issue commemorating great American Photographers. I was particularly pleased to see an image by one of my favorite photographers, Gertrude Kasebier.

    Kasebier
    However, I was particularly displeased when I decided to look up the original image and discovered it was cropped severely. Kasebier would not approve of this alteration. Photographers of this era used to debate endlessly about whether images should ever be cropped.
    Kasebier was born in Des Moines, Iowa and traveled to Paris to learn photography and painting. Unfortunately, women artists of this period were relegated to the fringes of the art world. Many people compare her photography to lesser French Impressionists like Marie Cassat, since they both produced many woman-and-child portraits. This is an unfair comparison, Cassat's work is second rate, while Kasebier's work was amongst the best of the Photo Secession. Cassat had little influence on her peers, while Kasebier was extremely influential.
    Kasebier is particularly important to me because she worked in media like Platinography and Gum Bichromate. Of course in those days, these were the standard methods for producing fine art photography. Today, these methods are mostly a lost art and are considered an "alternate process." I work with these same processes, precisely because I see the same pictorial advantages of those processes that Kasebier saw.
    I remember seeing an original Kasebier print at the huge "150 years of Photography" exhibit at the LA County Museum of Art. These prints are so rich that no reproduction could possibly capture them. Since then, I have sought to produce photographs that must be seen firsthand. I owe much to Kasebier's work, so it irritates me to see her work altered so severely at the same time it finds a wider audience than it ever has.
    Yes, it's a real official Rolex product, an Oyster Perpetual with the Domino's Pizza logo. Scanned from a Japanese design magazine.

    rolex
    Sport Utility Vehicles are a classic example of the basic paradigm of environmental destruction, The Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin. This is a complex theory, so I shall attempt to explain it as simply as possible.
    There are many shared resources in our society, for example, the air and water. Hardin uses the example of a grazing field, a "Commons" as was frequently used in the early days of Pre-Revolutionary America. Farmers would each have a small amount of livestock, and shared the Commons to graze them. The Commons served the public equally, and all were entitled to take from it equally.
    Let us hypothesize ten farmers, each has 10 sheep. Each farmer benefits equally from grazing their sheep on the Commons. Each makes a profit from shearing the sheep at the end of the year, let's call it 10 bales of wool.
    So one day, a greedy farmer decides he could make more profit from adding another sheep. Now he has 11 sheep and all the other farmers have 10. At the end of the year, he has 11 bales of wool, a 10% increase in profit over all the other farmers. The increased environmental impact of 101 sheep grazing is negligible as opposed to 100 sheep. Yet the Commons is a finite resource, and has a limit to how many sheep it can support without collapsing from overgrazing. For the sake of argument, let's set it at 150 sheep.
    Now it's next year, and the other farmers see the new wealth created by the 11th sheep. So they all go out and buy another sheep for themselves. Now there are 110 sheep on the Commons. This is still well within the capacity of the Commons, with more capacity remaining. Nobody knows they are set on the path to destruction, they all believe they are on the path to riches.
    Over the next 4 years, each farmer adds another sheep to their flock each year. The Commons system gives each farmer an economic incentive to add more sheep. But now there are 150 sheep. The field is overgrazed, and during the heat of the summer, the grass withers and provides insufficient food for the sheep. The Commons has collapsed, and all the sheep die of starvation. This is the Tragedy of the Commons. Any unregulated shared resource carries a built-in economic incentive to drive it to destruction.
    Let's analyze the SUV's impact in the light of the Commons paradigm. One of the main reasons people buy SUVs is that they offer improved safety to their passengers in a crash. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released statistics clearly showing that SUVs are a greater threat to other drivers than passenger vehicles.
    NHTSA crash statistics demonstrate that, in side impact crashes, LTVs are more injurious as a striking vehicle than are passenger cars. For example, when LTVs strike passenger cars on the left side, the risk of death to the car driver can be 30 times higher than the risk to the LTV occupant. This compares to a driver fatality ratio of 6.6 to 1 in car-to-car left side impact crashes.
    In this example, Highway Safety is the Commons, our shared resource. The SUV owner has increased his safety, by increasing the risk to other drivers. The incremental cost, the increase of safety risks to all drivers from one SUV is negligible. But normal automobile drivers see the SUV, and they realize they are less safe when driving next to SUVs. Now they must buy an SUV to keep the same level of safety as before, when everyone was driving smaller vehicles. Soon the highway is filled with SUVs, normal passenger cars are no longer safe to drive. Our common resource, safety, has collapsed.
    SUVs are a curse upon society, a symbol of greed and selfishness. There was no more classic example than what I encountered today. I was rushing to the local pharmacy to pick up some medicine before they closed, the only parking spot was blocked by an SUV that took up two spots. I could not find another parking spot. I waited for the driver to return. She leisurely strapped her kids into the car, taking her time before departing. The pharmacy closed before she left and I was able to park. Such selfishness. This is what I call "Yuppie Syndrome." People somehow believe that their time is more valuable than anyone elses, and that they have the right to do whatever they goddam well please, despite any inconveniences they cause to others. Excuse me, this is America, where all people are equal, and my need for that parking spot is equal to yours. You have no right to more than your fair share of our common resources. And you sure as hell don't have any right to deprive other people of resources in the process of taking more than your fair share.

    Stupidest College Athlete Ever

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    College athletes are notorious for their lack of brains, but University of Iowa athlete Derreck Robinson wins the prize for complete and utter stupidity, resulting in his arrest. Robinson drove into a local convenience store at 4AM, the store had a police car parked in front, with the police officer standing in plain sight inside the store. This should have been the first sign of danger for Robinson, he was previously arrested for underage drinking and his license was suspended. He walked right past the cop, and proceeded to smoke a joint in the public bathroom of the store. Robinson was arrested and charged with marijuana posession and driving on a suspended license.

    Incident at Lace Gallery

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    I was reminiscing about LACE Gallery in my last post, and I started thinking about an incident that happened at LACE many years ago. I used to stop in the LACE store often, they carried all the expensive art magazines I couldn't afford, and most of the magazines I had to have. I spent a fair amount of money there, considering I was a starving artist, living in a decrepit loft that cost every penny I earned.
    So one day Susie and I are shopping in the store, they had a huge bowl up on the counter full of buttons. I love to collect buttons, and I have some particularly fine old buttons with punk band names, slogans, etc. No self-respecting punk rocker would be caught without a nice button on their jacket. So we rooted through the bowl, looking for some amusing buttons. I didn't find anything I liked so I went over and looked at magazines while Susie kept searching. As I was reading an article, Susie came over and gave me a button. I read it and laughed aloud, I thought she'd bought it for a quarter and given it to me. So I put it in my shirt pocket. I returned to reading and completely forgot I even had the button.
    A few minutes later, as I finished selecting some magazines to purchase, the guy running the cash register came up to me and started yelling at me that he saw what I did. I didn't have any idea what he was talking about. He yelled at me about shoplifting. I said I intended to purchase these magazines. Without any explanation, he grabbed at me, so I pulled back and put up my fists. I told him that if he wanted to lay a hand on me, he better be prepared to put up a fight. The scrawny kid looked at me, a 6'2" 225lb punk rocker in a leather jacket, and decided against it. He yelled that he was going to call the cops, so I told him he better do it NOW, because I was leaving and I was not going to purchase these $25 of magazines either. The kid did not call the cops, so I stomped out of the gallery and got in the car to go back to my loft (yeah, I only lived 2 blocks away but nobody walks in LA, especially near Skid Row).
    As soon as Susie got into the car, she burst out laughing. She told me what had happened. She merely intended to show me the button, and I pocketed it without realizing that she hadn't paid for it. She started the whole incident, and said nothing while it went down. Of course I was pretty mad, but mostly because I didn't get to buy my favorite art magazines. I still have the button:
    I'm Easy, Getting Rid Of Me Isn't
    I just returned from the Gerhard Richter show at the Art Institute of Chicago, I haven't seen such a fine exhibit in many years. I was astonished to learn The Lannan Foundation donated their entire collection of Richter paintings to the Art Institute. I caught several Richter showings at The Lannan Museum in Los Angeles, including the Baader-Meinhof exhibition. It has been a long time since I saw these paintings, and now they are collected and displayed with the most significant pieces of Richter's entire history. I will definitely have more to say about this exhibit, and I will definitely be returning to see it again.
    I was also rather pleased to see a large Liz Larner sculpture at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I had heard that her retrospective would be at MCA but I was disappointed to find that it was not, only the one piece was on display outside the museum. Liz was part of the LACE scene in the LA Loft district where I lived, I especially loved her "LACE Bashing Machine." It was a long vertical pole with a heavy chain and a large steel ball attached, it looked like a tetherball made from solid metal. A motor would spin the pole, you could control the speed of the motor with a big knob. At slow speeds the ball would arc lazily through the air, but at higher speeds, the ball would hurl around at terrifying speeds, the chain would rise, and the ball would slam against the walls of the museum. You could easily knock huge chunks of drywall and wood out of the museum walls, and in fact, you were invited to do so. The whole museum would shake with a reverberating BOOM whenever the ball hit the walls, and it hit repeatedly, with a repetitive thunderous noise about two times a second. I could tell the LACE staff was absolutely frazzled from the noise. I lived near LACE so I loved to drop in and bash it around, and see how far the damage had progressed. I think that was Liz's last show at LACE.

    Arts Funding Stolen

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    Public funds intended for purchasing artworks is being wasted and stolen. Money intended to support artists and the arts community is being paid to government bureaucrats.
    The University of Iowa Hospital has an agressive public art program. Under state law, a fixed percentage of all construction funds must be spent purchasing art that can be viewed by the public. The U of I has an impressive collection of work by internationally famous artists as well as many local artists, these works are seen by tens of thousands of people every day. Even the busiest museums cannot hope to present art to such a large audience.
    Today, I took my mother to an appointment at the U of I Hospital. I passed familiar favorite artworks by Sol LeWitt, Andy Warhol, as well as several works by my favorite art school professors, artists I studied with. I walked through the new hospital wing, wondering what new works were selected. To my astonishment, the works were aerial photoreconaissance images of our city, maps produced by the US Geological Survey, and photographs of Earth from space provided by NASA. Certainly these images are fascinating, but they just are not art, they're maps. Even worse, these images were prominently labeled that they were purchased with public funds for the arts. But these images are available free from the Government Accounting Office, for merely the costs of reproduction (which is insanely low ). The GAO provides prints of publicly owned artworks by famous artists like Ansel Adams. For the same cost of reproduction, they could have bought great art.
    So I immediately went up to the hospital's Project Art office to ask them why they are spending big money to purchase and frame US Government maps that they could get for almost free, instead of purchasing work by local artists. They said that their exhibits are intended to represent a diverse set of points of view. I retorted that these artworks represent no point of view except maybe LANDSAT, and they were chosen precisely to work around their desire to present diverse artworks. The maps were chosen specifically because they were not art and would not offend anyone. These works were hung in the Eye Clinic, which is a Lasik mill. Lasik is the hospital's cash cow, and most of their patients are older rural Iowa residents, presumably with conservative (if not philistine) attitudes towards the arts. In order not to offend their clients, they have relegated real art to the corners, while technical images take center stage.
    But most infuriating of all was their protestation that purchasing these maps did not deplete art purchase funds. They refused to believe these maps were purchased with funds from their own project. I told them to go down and look at the labels, they were all prominently labeled with the message required when public taxpayer money was spent.
    It appears that funds have been misappropriated, spent on junk that the project was never intended to be involved with. Even worse, the money was given to bloated Federal bureaucrats instead of struggling artists. I am going to get to the bottom of this. At best it's misappropriation of funds, at worst it's a felony.

    Tiny Comix Vol. 2

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    tiny comix 2

    Tiny Comix

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    I have produced a tiny comic for your amusement. Painted by hand specifically for reproduction at this scale, and scanned for the final artwork.

    tiny comix

    Goal Displacement

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    Things could get messy around here, I have to completely overhaul my office. I'm about to switch from cable modem to DSL, but unfortunately my phone socket is behind some bookcases, in the most inaccessible corner of my tiny 10x20 office. I have to move about 1500lbs of books and bookcases out of the way so QWest can access my phone jack.
    One of my old bosses used to lecture me endlessly about this problem, he said it was my biggest time management problem, he called it "Goal Displacement." You have a simple goal, but instead of expending work towards that goal, you get diverted into some completely irrelevant task that's blocking you from achieving your real goal. I just wanted to install DSL, QWest says it's easy, they'll rewire the wall plate for me at no charge. Unfortunately it's going to take me 2 or 3 days of hard work moving books and furniture just to get to the wall plate.

    Jomon Idol

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    Here's an intereresting postcard I picked up at a museum in Japan, showing a Jomon icon. I love the abstract grooved patterns, which are a distinguishing feature of Jomon pottery.

    Jomon Idol

    There is no particular point to this post, I mostly wanted some other material to push that hideous Chris Reeve picture down off the home page.
    The Art Newspaper is reporting that Texan stock swindlers have stolen $43 million dollars from the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago. The AIC filed suit in Dallas county court for the return of stolen funds, plus $50 million in damages.
    The artworks in Museum of the AIC are donations, and the financial endowments of the donors ensures that the museum continues to exist and maintain that collection. This swindle is a threat to the continued existence of the museum, it undermines the financial stability of the museum.
    I note that the Bush administration is rushing to put more federal law enforcement effort behind terrorism, by taking agents from other duties like white-collar crime. It's open season for swindlers and their Enronomics.
    I just received this extremely strange piece of junk mail, a wall calendar attached to another Pity Marketing pitch. I opened the calendar and this full-page image greeted me.

    reeve
    I can't decide which is creepier, Reeve, or the Borg Queen's rippling cleavage. Better loosen those retaining clips..

    Dee Dee: Born to Die in Berlin

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    Dee Dee Ramone is dead. I haven't been this upset since Wendy O. Williams' suicide. There seems to be an impenetrable barrier at about age 50, and all the punks hit it and go splat.

    More Site Revisions

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    I'm experimenting with changes to the site's appearance, I've just figured out how to put tables into a CSS layout so I'm experimenting with a few of my favorite tricks, like that split left right graphics gadget at the top of the page. I'll refine it and get things set up properly.
    I also got Dreamweaver MX working to a minor degree, so I can do some WYSIWYG editing of the main templates without trashing them totally. Now I can do a few more layout tricks. If only I could get Dreamweaver to recognize my linked CSS style sheets, I'd be really happy.

    Dilemma: My Life as Open Source

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    I am pondering a problem, or perhaps it is an opportunity, but I cannot decide how to proceed. What I am considering is a radical departure from everything I've ever done as an artist, so I must consider it deeply.
    For over 25 years, I have been researching antiquated photographic processes. I have found certain processes that are basically lost arts, and with the application of some computer technology, I can compensate for the flaws in these processes. I am now profitably exploiting the very problems that caused people to drop the process.
    I have accumulated research going back over 25 years, I've consulted with artists and photographers, some of them freely shared their information, some will not divulge it at any price. The ones who freely shared their information believed that anyone who made anything from it would do so on their own accord. I know that the teacher who originally showed the process to me had no idea I'd continue to develop it for 25 years. I actually met my old professor a few years ago, I thanked him for teaching me the process, and briefly told him of my work. He asked me if my work was successful, I told him I thought it was successful, but nobody had the least interest in it and certainly nobody wanted to buy it. Then he grabbed my hand and shook it vigorously and said "congratulations!"
    The process is extremely labor intensive and costly, with a high failure rate. It can take a week to produce a really good print. I have taken prints to local galleries, they offer to sell them at about half what it costs me to make them. They don't seem to understand that alternative process prints are much more expensive. My prints are true archival art, in an era where galleries rush to sell nonarchival inkjet prints at fine-art prices.
    So there's the crux of the matter. I'm not making a cent with my printing. I can't even get galleries interested in selling them for reasonable prices, even in the $800 to $1200 range which is the low end for alternate process photographic prints. So I am considering opening up and publishing my entire research as an open source project. To do so would reveal all my most closely guarded trade secrets. However, some other authors have started to publish related information they have discovered on their own. So I feel compelled to publish fully, in order to establish my work. Perhaps if I cannot gain recognition for my work, I can gain recognition for contributing to the photographic arts. Ironically, my own university has shunned my work. Their printmaking department has a fancy mechanical process they've patented and licensed, I can do the same thing with a few pennies of chemicals and some paintbrushes. They hate my process.
    So, what should I do? Should I reveal everything, or continue to go it alone? I decided I would publish everything once I had a major showing of my work. Perhaps I can spur a gallery to show my work by publishing. Probably not.

    The Art of Writing Headlines

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    Headline writing is a neglected art, as I observed today reading my local newspaper. It seems that today's generation of editors just does not know how to write a good headline. There was a time when headlines conveyed much of the tone of a publication, and some papers had such a distinctive style that you could instantly know a headline came from that particular source. A good example would be the staccato Hollywood alitterations of Variety magazine. I think the best headline I ever saw was a parody of this style in a Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s, it read "Lax Styx Wax Clicks." The headline is incomprehensible unless you read the article, where it is revealed the band Styx had not produced an album in several years, and the new album is a hit.
    Headline writing has a long tradition of stylistic conventions. I remember my first training in headline writing in a journalism class. We got handouts of long lists of common verbs, with synonyms sorted by length in ems. You'd find a word like "win" and you'd find a list of dozens of synonyms that you could choose to shorten or lengthen the head to fit the space. It took quite a bit of skill at copyfitting and some artistic ability to say as much as possible in a short headline. But the average hack just used the list to rotate verbs once in a while to keep the headlines from sounding stale. Unfortunately, your average hack will also drive those synonyms into the ground. Look at your average sports page and see how many times you see relatively disused and odd synonyms for "win" or "defeat."
    I particularly began paying attention to headlines when I started reading Japanese newspapers, the styles are entirely different. Headlines often omit verbs, leaving the reader to complete the sentence. Long complex word structures are often abbreviated with a string of even more complex kanji. The main headline may not be the primary focus, a subhead may be the core story. I remember reading a headline of an airline crash in the US, the top of the page had a massive bold headline, "No Japanese Killed." The secondary, much smaller headline said "250 People Killed in Airliner Crash in US."
    I've found that as I read more Japanese, some of my English writing skills deteriorate. My essays tend to be written in kishotenketsu style, which is not really very straightforward. My headlines are dull, they start with dull words like "the" and use cliches like "The Art of.." I haven't decided on proper capitalization rules. So I'm going to go back to school and dig up my 25-year-old papers on the art of headline writing. Some research in Strunk & White and the AP Stylebook seem to be in order.

    The Whole Warhol

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    Bravo channel is running an amazing documentary at this very moment, The Whole Warhol. It's replaying later tonight so be sure to catch it if you can. This show has everything, but my favorite part is the tour through Warhol's personal archives.
    I'm especially a fan of Warhol's earliest works when he still painted everything himself, his later mass-produced Pop works don't interest me as much. I used to live down the street from the LA MOCA Temporary Contemporary museum, they had a nice collection of early Warhol paintings, one of my favorites is an odd painting of shoeprints with numbers on them, as in a diagram of a dance step. Warhol didn't really return to this style of working until he collaborated with Basquiat, shortly before he died.
    My all-time favorite Warhol image is a photograph my sister showed me in a Parsons School class catalog. It shows Warhol attending a drawing class at Parsons, there is a row of drawing tables with students working in the background. In the center, Andy with his black clothes and shock-white wig, is standing next to the model: a partially dissected cadaver, hanging by chains from a huge metal tripod.
    When I used to live in Downtown Los Angeles, I used to walk a lot and I'd encounter random documents that blew around in the streets. I had a habit of picking up and reading almost anything, but I never found a document quite like this one.
    One day my girlfriend Susie and I were walking from Traction Avenue in the Loft District towards Little Tokyo. I remember we were in a horrible mood of gloom and despair, some major disaster had struck. I can't remember what the disaster was, but since we were starving artists it probably had something to do with money. We were walking in the blazing hot sun along a disused industrial street when I found a brochure stuck in the weeds. I picked it up and read it, and I couldn't stop laughing. Susie thought I'd gone crazy, then I showed it to her, and she couldn't stop laughing either.

    41things.gif

    Site Rework

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    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.
    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 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.

    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

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    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.

    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.

    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.

    Bloghard

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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.

    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.

    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.

    More Old Photos

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    Here's a nice black and white photo I took way back in the late 1970s when I owned a Hasselblad. Kinda creepy, kinda goth. It's an urn. This is a flash exposure in total darkness. As a photographer I am always attracted to darkness, it is the most challenging condition to photograph.
    Notice the nice straight vertical lines, I did a subtle but important perspective correction in Photoshop. I always wanted to reshoot this image with a view camera to fix the vertical convergence, but now I don't have to, it's perfect.

    urn

    If anyone likes these photos, feel free to contact me. I am a professional photographer, you can buy a museum quality print of my work. I mean, real archival photo prints on conventional photo media, not an inkjet print or some rubbish like that. I have a BFA degree in Photography and everything. It's real art that will last for centuries, not a cheap imitation.

    Old Photos

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    I found another nice photo I took a long time ago. There is nothing particularly remarkable about this vacation photo except for one thing, I developed the color negative film and printed the color RC print in my own darkroom when I was about 13 years old. I was experimenting with photographing different light conditions with the Zone System, which is pretty hard to do with color negative film, it has very little latitude. But I thought it was a pretty good job. I tried to improve on the color and curves in Photoshop and couldn't really do any better. I wasted a lot of time on trying to color correct the highlights on the railing, then I realized the tiles really were aqua blue.

    florida

    Traction Avenue

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    I found an old Polaroid photo of my art studio on Traction Avenue, in the center of the downtown LA artist's district. Notice the tall ceilings with huge beams, this place was gigantic, about 2000 square feet. I used to ride my skateboard around inside my studio, turning figure-eights around the support columns. This is just the one small corner of the studio I used for preparatory painting. I used to work on bigger paintings on the other wall and I could stand back 50 feet from my paintings and get a good look from a distance.


    My Old Art Studio


    I liked to paint preparatory works on paper tacked to the wall, looks like I've started an underpainting. My pallette and brushes are on top of an old hospital-bed cart, which seems to be the preferred pallete table in art studios everywhere. Down in the lower right corner are some high powered track lights that I never finished installing once I discovered how hot they got.
    This studio is legendary for many reasons, it was one of the most hotly contested studio spaces on Traction Avenue. I went back to visit a couple years ago, the whole area is now gentrified. My old studio is now a used CD store.

    Product Placement Problems

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    Back when I worked at a top LA graphics service bureau around 1990 or so, I got a job from one of our regular customers, an independent designer. He produced product packaging with Adobe Illustrator and he did a lot of expensive large format Iris inkjet output. One day I load up his new Iris job, and what the hell is this? I'm looking at detailed flexography stencils for 7up, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, and Coke bottles. Except the logos in this comp are not placed on pop bottles, they're on baby bottles. Now hold it just a minute. I philosophically and morally object to putting a corporate logo 2 inches from a 1 day old infant's eyes. I wouldn't want a child's first visual experience when their eyes begin to focus to be a huge Coke or 7Up logo with a nipple on it. AND, at this very time, there was a huge boycott of Nestle over baby formula problems in third world countries, and soda pop bottlers were accused of involvement in widespread infant malnutrition. Mothers who couldn't find clean water to make infant formula were using 7Up and other soda instead of water. Infants were often fed straight sugary and caffeinated soda pop with the formula, and it had horrible health effects on the very young infants. And the more I thought about this job, the more reasons I could find to loathe it, I would not participate in producing anything related to this product. So I took this job-from-hell straight to the boss and showed it to him. I said I am NOT doing this job. He heard my objections, and he was pretty horrified when he stopped to think about it. So my boss called the designer and told him to get down to the shop, we wanted to talk to him. I ran his job up on my screen, brought him in to look at it (like we often did when customers watched Iris jobs run) and then I started yelling at him, what the hell is this? I told him that we had certain standards, we didn't work on porn, and we didn't do obscene jobs like this. I stated in no uncertain terms that this was the sickest thing anyone had ever submitted to our shop, and I told him why. He seemed astonished, the more I explained my objections to this product, the more horrified a look he got on his face. He took a moment, and then told me this was not for mass production, it was a one-off unique item, it was to be used as a prop in a movie scene, to poke fun at someone who would feed soda pop to infants. I told him I would hold his job and consider printing it if he was really telling me the truth, but still I thought he was lying. And besides, if he put this image in the mass media, it would probably influence people to want to purchase the real Coke and 7Up baby bottles. He said I should not worry about it, the film was crap and sure to flop, hardly anyone would see the bottle. I was not feeling any better about this job. I took it to the boss, who eventually made the decision to go ahead and print, but only after another long phone call with the client.
    So about 6 months later, I am in the checkout line at some big department store, and standing right next to the counter, what do I see? A big display rack of 7Up, Coke, Dr. Pepper, and other assorted plastic baby bottles. Lying bastard designer! Fortunately about this time quit and I moved to San Francisco and went to work at a better prepress shop, with fewer scumbag clients like that, we typeset stuff like RE:Search books, Rainforest Action Network pamphlets, etc, I was a much happier graphics geek.

    Brute Force

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    The Hacker's Dictionary defines Brute Force:
    "Describes a primitive programming style, one in which the programmer relies on the computer's processing power instead of using his or her own intelligence to simplify the problem, often ignoring problems of scale and applying naive methods suited to small problems directly to large ones. The term can also be used in reference to programming style: brute-force programs are written in a heavyhanded, tedious way, full of repetition and devoid of any elegance or useful abstraction."
    I first heard this term in basic Computer Science courses, the classic example is a "brute force search" of a database. Instead of using a clever index system, the brute force method examines every single record and checks for a match, one by one. The method relies on the brute force of manually processing every single record. It is time consuming, but sometimes necessary when the indexes contain errors.
    I often use this term to refer to a brute force search of my paper files. Right now I'm hunting for some financial documents from 1995, I can't find them anywhere so I've been doing a brute force search of every single paper in my files, and I've got about boxes and boxes full of papers. I took 5 banker's boxes of records from the last 10 years, handled every single sheet of paper, tossed out all the chaff, and sorted the rest into file folders. I've sorted and sorted until my fingers are bloody from paper cuts. And of course, the records I'm looking for have not yet appeared. Now I will have to extend the search even further, and open more old boxes. Darn it, where did 1995 go to?

    Update March 15, 2005: Quite by accident, I located the records I was seeking. So that means I searched for almost exactly 3 years for these stupid papers.

    A Disorienting Experience

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    I recently had a very disorienting experience while watching TV commercials. A computer graphic effect showed the camera's viewpoint zooming in from a position orbiting earth, down to a viewpoint of a few people on the ground, then zoomed back again to high orbit. It is a dramatic effect, and very popular because more than one commercial uses this effect. And that was the disorienting thing. I saw two different commercials using this same effect, back to back. The first commercial runs through its camera motion, ending with a view of a starry sky. And then the second commercial starts with a view of a starry sky, and zooms through almost the same motion again. I felt like I orbited earth twice in 60 seconds.
    I first read about this CG design from Ted Nelson's Computer Lib book, he called it a hypermap. He only envisioned a 1-dimensional zoom, but later innovators created schemes that would allow you to zoom in on any spot on earth at any level of resolution, add links to other datasets (i.e. rainfall) and map them over a globe generated from realtime satellite imagery. Much of this technology is adapted from military satellite photoreconnaisance technologies, not just mapping but all computer graphics technology generally. A group of artists and scientists trying to hypermap the globe, but the most powerful expression of this technology is still military.

    New Features

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    I told someone that I felt like I had made some real accomplishments this week, I made two suggestions for new features in a couple of big products, and both were adopted as new features. She said, "oh, so did you get paid anything for this?" Well of course I didn't.

    Unpopular Opinions

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    One of the reasons I started with this blog is that a few of my unpopular opinions were being censored. A few months back, on a rather prominent message board (which is now deceased) I was banished from the board while defending an artist's freedom of speech. My expulsion made the board's self-appointed censors look ridiculous for censoring an artist who advocated free speech during a debate about free speech.
    In a more annoying case, I was censored in a Usenet moderated newsgroup during some trivial chit-chat. Some people were complaining about how boring they thought the Winter Olympics were. I responded that the Olympics were boring because they were stacked with fake sports like snowboarding. I said that Halfpipe Snowboarding and Freestyle Skiing were pushed into the Olympics by the USA, and stacked with American competitors that were likely to win gold. I compared snowboarding to previous ridiculous "sports" that had been added and subsequently removed from the Olympics, like Tug-of-War and Indian Club Juggling. The message was stopped by the moderators, and returned to me with a note that it was "offensive and unamerican."
    I decided it wasn't worth arguing. I could have explained my rationale, but wouldn't make any sense to them. I mean, I was one of the first snowboarders, I owned a Snurfer back in 1965, and it was the toy that started the whole snowboarding craze.

    Snurfer

    I was a snowboarder and skateboarder from an early age, I knocked out my two front baby-teeth out while skating on an old skinny skateboard with hard clay wheels (like the old four-wheel roller skates). I still own a nice Sims ultra fat skateboard that I bought at Val Surf, back around 1985 when I lived in the San Fernando Valley and there was only ONE Val Surf, the one in my neighborhood, and everyone in my neighborhood skated (even the old farts like me). All my friends in LA were skaters or surfers. It's not like I'm biased against the sport, I love these sports, but I recognize them for what they are, just plain fun and a big goof. And that is the point.
    There isn't any skateboarding or surfing in the Summer Olympics, because it just isn't an Olympic sport and everyone knows it. Similarly, there shouldn't be any snowboarding in the Winter Olympics. The motto of the Olympics is Citius, Altius, Fortius, and snowboarding events like the Halfpipe just have no possible chance to be swifter, stronger, or higher (well maybe higher, but I don't think that's what the slogan means). It's all a matter of subjective judging about the aesthetic qualities of your triple-flip-oopsie-daysie, what possible chance does this event have for long-term Olympic sustainability, maybe in a few years people will achieve a quadruple-flip-oopsie-daysie, and eventually a pentuple? And in a hundred years? The sport will be long forgotten, like Olympic Tug-of-War.
    I recently read with amusement that the Japanese efforts to include Sumo as an Olympic sport had failed. Other sports like Karate are in the Summer Games, and of course Japan would love to get a lock on another event. The sport was introduced at Nagano as a demonstration sport, they had 2 years to show the International Olympic Committee that the sport of Sumo had advanced around the world sufficiently to produce a world roster of competitors. And of course there wasn't a single new Sumo wrestler outside of Japan in the two years.
    So that's what I was thinking when these weirdo censors dumped my message. It's just as ridiculous to have Snowboard Halfpipe in the Olympics as it would be to have Sumo, skateboarding halfpipe, or for that matter, Tug-of-War. So I just had to rant against these idiot censors, it's insanely ridiculous to denounce these sort of opinions as somehow antiamerican.

    Camera Obscura

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    San Francisco's Musee Mechanique is closing, and the campaign to save it surges across the net. It is ironic that these old mechanical toys are being retired just after the closing of the popular exhibit at the Getty Museum, Devices of Wonder. But I am more concerned with the Camera Obscura adjacent to the Musee.

    sfco.jpg


    Back around 1990-92 when I lived in San Francisco, I often took visitors up to the Camera Obscura and the Musee Mechanique. It's the sort of place that you never go to yourself when you live near it, but when out of town visitors come, that's the sort of place to go. Back around '92 when I left SF, they were threatening to close the Camera Obscura but the local photographers and galleries banded together and worked to save it. It looks like they were successful, the Camera is on the National Register of Historic Places. But without the Musee, there probably won't be enough traffic to keep the Camera in operation. If the Musee goes, the Camera will probably be next. Unfortunately, the Camera is not something you can relocate to another location, it's there because of the view from the Cliff House.

    The Picture of Dorian Gray

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    I just learned that Slaughter and the Dogs are playing in my town tonight. I bought their first single Cranked Up Really High back in 1977, it was one of the first punk records I ever bought. I listened to their first album Do It Dog Style constantly and it's still in my all-time Top 5.

    slaughter_dog_style.JPG


    Now I'm faced with a terrible decision. Do I want my keep my current mental image of these original Manchester punk rockers as I formed it in my youth, or do I want to go see them now that they (and I) have become a bunch of old farts?

    A Picture of Me

    | 2 Comments
    By popular demand, here is something never before seen on the net: a picture of me. This picture was taken sometime around 1974, so I would have been around 14 or 15 years old. My old friend Will Neuhauser took this photo, and it's the only photo of me that I like. I'm taking a picture with a 4x5 Graflex Speed Graphic camera with sheet film.

    Chas.jpg


    I remember this picture, our high-school newspaper had an article about palmistry and I had to make a graphic design for it. I used my own palmprint and made a shadowgram of my hand in the darkroom. But the image proportions were all wrong for the page, which is why I rephotographed it with the Graflex, I was going to shrink it down. But it just would not fit, so I had to redo it from scratch.
    I examined the entire newspaper staff for someone with the smallest hand, it turned out to be Mary Hoenk, our Editor-in-Chief. I made a shadowgram of her hand, it fit perfectly. But when I inked up her hand, I could not get a clear impression of the center of her palm, no matter what I tried. I finally told Mary to relax and let her wrist go limp, I took her arm and started shaking it until her wrist flopped around under my control, and then suddenly without warning, I whacked it hard on the paper sitting on the table! Mary immediately jumped up and started howling in pain, jumping around with the paper still stuck to her hand. I yelled "Don't move!" and carefully peeled the paper from her hand. The palmprint was perfect. She was hopping mad, until she saw the final result.

    Lust for Vinyl

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    I seriously lust for the Denon DP-DJ151 turntable. This unique turntable has a preamp and Analog/Digital converter built in, and outputs a digital SPDIF stream. Drop the needle, and CD-quality digital audio comes out.

    I like to digitize my old vinyl punk rock albums and convert them to CDs and mp3s. It can be quite a challenge, some of these indie records were pressed poorly and sounded like crap when they were brand new, let alone after 25 years of listening. Some of them were recorded in weird ways (like "fake stereo"), and it's hard to capture that ragged sound. But that's the sound I know and love, so I want to preserve it. With some digital audio restoration, I can do wonderful things to my favorite old music, and give it new life in digital format.
    I'm looking to upgrade my equipment, but this Denon rig is a little out of my price range. The DP-DJ151 is available on the grey market for about $300, but that doesn't include the stylus and cart, so that's another $100 minimum, more like $200-250. And I need a SPDIF input box, I can get a cheap SPDIF USB input from Roland for about $350, but it would be preferable to use the fancy Edirol pro box which is more like $500. Or better yet, a Firewire box for about $750. But that's overkill, a Firewire SPDIF box will run 7 or 8 streams, I only need one. I'm trying to keep this project under $500, but it looks like it's out of reach at about $800 minimum to go all-digital. I called Denon, and a friendly tech suggested I just use this turntable's internal preamp (with RIAA EQ built in) and pump the amped output into my Mac's sound input. Hell, that's what I'm doing right now with a turntable and external amp, I wanted to step it up a notch and go all digital. Oh well..

    The Year Without a Winter

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    I can't believe it, the high today was 67 degrees, and it's been like this all winter, it's only snowed twice here in Iowa. It's the end of February and today I ran into a honeybee outside.

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