Friday, December 31, 2004

look back in boredom

Scanning the net tonight I see that apparently, as a blogger, I am duty-bound to do some sort of 'Best Of 2004' or 'Things I Learned This Year' or 'How I Spent My Summer Vacation' sort of post. Survey says: ennhhhhh.

Instead of all of that happy joyousness, here in no particular order are a number of things I have felt this year:
  • ouch
  • ouch
  • OUCH
  • :|
  • :(
  • :)
  • thank you
  • i'm sorry
  • wha?
  • grrr
  • mmmmm
  • hrmmph.

If I had some interaction with you that isn't covered by the list, it's not because I've forgotten about you or anything. It's because each day is so like unto another that I'm not sure which ones were actually in this year.

help on the way

Until 11 January the Canadian government will match any relief funds received by Canadian agencies.

In other words, you double the size of your donation if you send money this way, rather than by sending it directly to an affected country or donating in your own country.

Donations to Oxfam Canada, the Canadian Red Cross, World Vision Canada, UNICEF Canada, Care Canada, Doctors Without Borders, World University Service of Canada , Salvation Army, Canadian Food for the Hungry International, Save the Children Canada, and SOS Children's Villages will all be doubled by the Canadian government.

[via William Gibson]

it looks like a president, only smaller

For the record, since about half of the country has apparently not figured it out yet: our asshole president's initial response (or lack thereof) to the tsunami would have been rude, ignorant, and dishonorable in and of itself, but when you look at it in comparison to the support we received from the rest of the world in September 2001 his lack of compassion is particularly reprehensible. It's not just some abstract political thing that doesn't affect the people of this country - it's the trickle-down effect in action, disgrace by proxy.

Having fun out there on the ranch, fuckhead?

The body count, which is still rising, is already equal to American losses in fifty 9/11's or three Vietnam wars, and Bush's response to the news was to say "actions speak louder than words", after which he jumped into action "clearing brush at his ranch and thinking about what he'll say in his inaugural speech and upcoming State of the Union address."

The problem is that he's right... actions do speak louder than words. And the silence is deafening.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

How to fix mom's computer

Gina Trapani, like many others I imagine, spent the weekend doing the annual 'fix-Mom's-computer' thing. Unlike the others, however, she documented the steps she took to turn mom's malware-infested virus factory into a secure and stable computer that's likely to stay that way for awhile. If you don't know squat about computers and have been wondering why your PC is running progressively slower, her article is a good place to start. The comments below it contain a lot of useful tips as well.

Friday, December 24, 2004

it's a bird, it's a plane...

... it's the International Space Station, visible to the eye for the next month or so. NASA has a handy list of viewing times for hundreds of cities around the world, and if you're not on the list you can use their SkyWatch applet to figure out viewing times for your location.

In other NASA/ESA news, tonight the Huygens probe will be released from the Cassini orbiter to begin its 3-week trip to Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Regardless of whether it's a successful landing or a lawn-dart, it's pretty spectacular... Huygens has been piggybacked on Cassini since the 15 October 1997 launch, awaiting our first plunge through Titan's atmosphere.

Also in January the 'Spirit' and 'Opportunity' Mars rovers, originally designed for 90-day missions, will celebrate a full year of interplanetary rock-humping. Spirit landed on 3 January 2004, and Opportunity landed on 24 January 2004. You may notice that on NASA's site today is listed as 'Sol 346' for the Spirit rover, and with only 10 days until 3 January there appear to be some days missing to make a full 365-day year. This is because Mars has a day that is 1.0278 times as long as Earth's (24hrs 37mins versus 23hrs 57mins), and 346 Mars days (or 'Sols') times 1.0278 is 355 Earth days. The 'full year' of mission time is Earth-centric too... a year on Mars is 687 of our days.

And finally on 12 January Deep Impact will launch, with a probe destined for an intentional 23000 mph crash landing on (or in, actually) comet Tempel 1. Deep Impact will be carrying the most powerful camera yet flown into space, and additionally the impact will be observed by NASA's Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes as well as many ground-based scopes.

suggestive search

The folks at Google keep coming up with nifty new ways to munge data. Google Suggest, now in beta, shows you possible search terms as you type - the ten 'most likely' search terms that start with the letters you've typed so far, and an estimation of how many pages that term is on. You'd think the term 'most likely' would have a somewhat fluid definition, given the enormity of the web and the intricacies of human interest, but it hones in on most search terms before the word is even complete.

As with Google's search functions, it really is amazing how fast the response is. Google has spidered over 8 billion webpages, but searches never take more than a half of a second (this is somewhat dependent on your connection... if you're on a KayPro with a 300-baud modem it might take a bit longer). The suggestions on Google Suggest come up almost as fast as you type them... something near 150 milliseconds response time per letter.

Many science fiction writers and academics have fantasized that when computers attain a complexity that approximates that of the human brain they will become 'conscious', self-aware. (Personally I think that it's rude to expect computers with that much complexity to be aware, when there are so many people who have brains of that complexity yet seem to lack awareness.) If there is any truth to this, Google will surely get there first. (I, for one, welcome our new silicon masters.) There was an article a while back titled 'Is Google God?'... why not? Google is definitely The Matrix.

still life with mimes

While serving two terms as mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus was faced with social problems like discourteous drivers and problem pedestrians. To solve these problems, he did what any one would have done in his place: he hired a bunch of traffic mimes.

Rather than increase fines and create tougher laws, Mockus replaced the city's transit police with mimes who would ridicule bad drivers and silently mimic the behaviors of rude pedestrians. Try this in the US, you get dead mimes. In Bogotá, they got fewer traffic accidents and friendlier streets.

Initially 20 professional mimes shadowed pedestrians who didn't follow crossing rules: A pedestrian running across the road would be tracked by a mime who mocked his every move. Mimes also poked fun at reckless drivers. The program was so popular that another 400 people were trained as mimes.

"It was a pacifist counterweight," Mockus said. "With neither words nor weapons, the mimes were doubly unarmed. My goal was to show the importance of cultural regulations."

I can't see such light-hearted techniques for nurturing social responsibility working here in the states... we seem to have a system where they try to keep the fear level just high enough to balance out the apathy. But then again, we don't have fucking mimes, so maybe it's not so bad here after all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Planned Parenthood of Central Texas has come up with a novel way of dealing with the ever-present picketers outside their doors: they've created a pledge program where people can 'sponsor' picketers. Each day the number of picketers are counted, and sponsors (who have pledged $0.25 - $1 per protester) are notified of the running tally at the end of the month.

Despite the low pledge cap, which is designed to encourage donations, the money adds up, especially since the picketers never go away. Every month, participating donors get a short update on activities and a monthly billing for their pledge. It's like sponsoring a runner in a charity marathon.

Once a week, PPCT puts a sign outside its clinic that says, "Even Our Protesters Support Planned Parenthood." To date, the Pledge-a-Picket program has raised $18,000 for PPCT. While not a significant chunk of its overall revenues, Pledge-a-Picket contributes greatly to PPCT's patient assistance fund, which helps clients who don't have resources get the care they need.

What an awesome hack. Protesters show up intending to harm the place, and their presence benefits the organization instead. The real beauty of this plan is that it doesn't require rational thought capabilities in the protesters... it doesn't engage them at all. But if by chance one or two of them are capable of rational thought (work with me here, people), it might occur to them that their presence is having even more of the opposite of its intended effect than it usually does.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

things I learned in New York

  • never try to catch the F train out of Brooklyn right before 3pm... at least 2 rival schools get out right before 3, and the occasional fight breaks out. The train operator stops the train and calls the cops, and all the kids go running up one set of stairs while the cops run down another, then the cops run back upstairs and the kids run back into the train and pretend they weren't involved. It was like watching the Keystone Kops.

  • In a related story, it's useful to know that if you are essentially held hostage on an unmoving train while your flight departure time marches inexorably closer, for the promise of a $20 tip New York's zen cabbies will violate every law of New York City, a couple of laws of probability, and possibly one or two laws of physics to turn "a little more than an hour" trip into a "21 minute" trip. In near-gridlock rush hour. It was like all the other cars were in on the deal; everytime I thought we were going to get stuck an opening appeared in front of us and he drove right into it. I don't think he tapped the brakes once. He must have a portable wormhole generator or something. I tipped him $30 on a $20 fare and walked leisurely to my plane, so grateful was I that I wasn't That Guy who runs down the concourse bags a-flailing and makes the plane take off late.

  • Sometimes kindness comes from the most unexpected places.

  • So does the Bad Shit, so don't get too complacent.

  • We west-coast folks have no fucking idea what real pizza is like.

  • If you look out the subway windows in the darkness of the tunnels, you'll occasionally see long colonnades stretching out into the distance. Sometimes a spark or a worker's light will momentarily light up a cavernous pillared room, a scene right out of the Mines of Moria only with rats instead of goblins.

  • Taking off from La Guardia at night is like flying over jewelled riverbeds, lambent and alive. It all looks two-dimensional, until you see the buildings all humped up together on Manhattan, jutting from the sparkling ground like anthills.

  • I'm pretty sure my friend Julie is hitting on the Christmas Tree Guys.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Returning to Portland after ten days in New York, I feel like a tiger let loose in a field full of fat slow prey. It's like the whole damn city is moving in slow motion.

where you goin with my people, man?

Waiting for the subway in the 14th St station, I hit the platform just as the token loony was walking away from the bottom of the stairs. 'At least he's moving away from me', I thought.

Well, the platform is only so long, so before long he was headed back my way, laying down his rastamon jive on everyone he encountered:

Where you goin with my people, man? Hey mister, where you goin with my people, man? Miss? Where you goin with my people, man?

Some people pretended he didn't exist, but most of them moved away from him when he got too close. There is something a little disconcerting about some strange chap approaching you asking zen koan-like questions. As he got closer, I was trying to invoke that personal invisibility shield that always kicked in when the teacher was looking for a 'volunteer'... "I'm not here, this isn't happening".

But when he actually got to me and asked me The Question, it was obvious the invisibility shield was defective. (Come to think of it, it never really worked in school, either.) So he asked, and I answered:

Where you goin with my people, man?

It wasn't me.

Well, then where you goin?


Then that's where you goin with my people, man, cause you my people.

Right on.

He shook my hand and continued down the platform, asking everyone he met "where you goin with my people?"... but no one answered. As for me, I put that small part of his people that are in my care on the uptown train and headed home.

At midnight all the agents
and the superhuman crew
go out and round up everyone
who knows more than they do
- Bob Dylan -

Monday, December 13, 2004

way out in the water see it swimming

Just got 'home' from the Pixies concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom. It didn't surprise me in the least that they fucking rocked. It was a great show... Frank was in the groove and Kim looked like she was having a good time. They played pretty much everything I wanted to hear, plus did some sort of jazz variations on 'Wave of Mutilation', their original version and the UK Surf version..

Julie and I danced like it was 20 years ago... it was good to see her out having fun - it doesn't matter what your life is like, everyone needs a night out every once in awhile. When I met Julie's daughters they were asking questions about how long I had known Julie. I told them "I knew your mom when she used to rock & roll". Turns out she still can.

Me, not so much. There's a pain pill with my name on it upstairs, and I'm heading that way tout suite.

Julie's written about our Night On The Town... her post is like this one, only with adjectives. :)

Friday, December 10, 2004

just like it says on the label

I spent last night at Shelley's house in Brooklyn. She showed me a picture of her and Julie taken back in the day, and it made me so sad I cried myself to sleep. I'm so fucking far beyond caring about what anyone would think about that.

My previous post was true, but incomplete - I really don't have the energy for kids. I also don't have the energy for just about everything else in life. Particularly the slings and arrows, but ironically it's not the major traumas that hurt the most, it's the little things, the tiny details.

Apparently I'm an idiot sometimes... I don't want to be tougher, to increase my ability to withstand such things. Why should I be the one to change (for the worse)? It's the world that's fucked up.

That said, I awoke this morning feeling pretty calm. Shelley and I are going to SoHo today to shop like nobody's bidness, and I'm enjoying the opportunity to hang out with her after all these years.

I'm a little stressed that the circumstances today are going to preclude my daily reading time with Julie's daughter Zoe, a duty that I'm surprised I accepted at all, let alone allow myself to take pretty seriously.

Fuck, I just reread what I've written today... I feel like I'm supposed to end this post with some weepy emo poetry. Ain't going to happen. But as a public service, I'll provide the following space for you to fill in whatever you deem appropriate:

Go to.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

if only i could find a white flag

I have some confessions and observations to make:
  • I do not have the strength to be a parent
  • This appears to be also true of those who are parents
  • But they somehow manage to (barely) make it through each day
  • This feat does not appear to enrich their lives in the slightest. Sure, they'll tell you about how great it is having these little people in their lives, but never when the kids around. This appears to be the result of a form of evolutionary self-hypnosis
  • I'm the same way about university. Hated every fucking minute of it, and now I look back fondly on those days
  • Physics has a word for this process: entropy
  • Psychology has a word for it as well: delusion

I just wanted to take a moment here to thank my lovely and wise mate for not pressuring me to have kids. The kids, and ourselves, are better off for it. To those of you who do have kids, you've got my respect, but you know what? That isn't going to help you in the slightest.

Don't worry, it will all be over in 20 years or so.

For the record, I spent last night playing games with and reading stories to 2 little girls who can be charming as hell, when they're not raving psychopaths. One of the girls is too young to have much of a human interface, and the other is still young enough that when any miscommunication takes place you might as well be speaking Macedonian for all the good it will do you. And then, whether instantaneously or just faster than my weary eyes can detect I do not know, they are back to being delightfully joyous little kids. Neil Gaiman was on to something when he established a strong and unknowable connection between Delight and Delirium in the Sandman books.


Sunday, December 05, 2004

chicago tales, part II

Spent the day in bed, then went back to the Aragon tonight to see Snow Patrol, The Hives, and Franz Ferdinand.

Snow Patrol was awesome... I'd never heard them before but they got me tonight. If I could take the last two nights and make one show out of them, it would be Snow Patrol -> Secret Machines -> Califone.

The Hives really impressed me - with their ability to completely fuck up any possible enjoyment of their music (which I like, when the band is not actually present) by prancing around and talking too much and 'playing the crowd'. I had gone in expecting them to be the high point of the evening, and they turned out to be the low. I just hope the memory of the show doesn't ruin the CD for me.

Franz Ferdinand put on a good show. They don't make my playlist very often, I guess their music is good but doesn't really move me. While listening to them I think "I've been here before", then I wonder where 'here' is. At the show tonight I figured it out - 'here' is the eighties. FF have taken recent musical direction and blended it with that sort of naive new wave pop sound, like Foo Fighters meet Spandau Ballet.

no one here but us old folks

The hostel I am staying in tonight has a guitar you can borrow, so when I got back from the show I sat in the commons and played for awhile. I was joined by Anna, a 20 year old Swiss woman who is here visiting art museums for a school project. We talked for about 3 hours, and for my part I can say that there are worse ways to pass time than by talking with a beautiful intelligent woman. But eventually (I'm not too bright about these things) I recognized that, through multiple layers of sociocultural transforms, she was hitting on me.

Now in and of itself this is a good thing, if only for my self-esteem. I am so habituated to the idea that people don't like me that when I am proved wrong I get all giddy. All told, I'd prefer that I have these experiences with people who will become friends, as opposed to people who will just disappear, but whatever.

Of course, becoming aware that this was what she was doing made me nervous as hell, which made it much harder to be my usual charming self, which surprisingly wasn't what fixed the problem this time. The problem? That I am in a Committed Relationship with someone I Love Very Much so despite the obvious appeal of this woman Nothing Was Going To Happen Anyway? No, just that, taking those things into account, I didn't want to fuck up a perfectly pleasant conversation.

Intent and outcome, it turns out yet again, are rarely coincident.

We talked about music and language and traveling, and as the conversation progressed she became aware that a lot of my referents were not just displaced across a cultural gap, they were also displaced across time. Eventually she asked me how old I am.

I am that age where feeling good makes me look and feel 10 years younger, and if I'm not feeling well I look and feel 10 years older. She was shocked to discover that I am 36 (so am I, actually, and what's worse is that my shock is ongoing), thinking I was perhaps 24. That means I am 1.5 times as old as she thought I was. Not some small difference that is best expressed by addition; this was a large difference most succinctly expressed using multiplication. It was pretty obvious on her face that she hadn't expected to need to do any math when she came over to talk to me.

We talked some more, but now instead of telling me about 'my friends' she told me about 'people I know who are my age'. It was almost like I'd become another species or something, reminiscent of an experience I had in college that I've previously written about.

I remember being at shows when I was 18 and seeing 30-somethings who I thought were pathetically hanging on to their lost youth. 'Just let it go', I thought. I remember the look they had on their faces as they struggled to find some point of connectivity with the people around them. Now I remember this every time I find myself on the opposite end of this relationship, and I know what they were thinking. Inside you still feel young, but you're not fooling those who truly are. It's just another one of those slow sadnesses that accrete on our souls.

Omnia mutantur, nihil interit? Sometimes I wonder. It sure feels like something has been lost.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

califone in chicago

By the time Califone finished playing tonight, I was worn out. Blissful. Post-coital.

Then The Secret Machines played, which was like snuggling under the covers.

After that Modest Mouse hopped into bed without showering and stole all of the covers.

I could have walked out after Califone and considered tonight's entertainment quota fulfilled. I actually think it would have been a better show if they reversed the order of the bands - Modest Mouse to draw a crowd, then The Secret Machines to get the crowd interested enough to lean forward, and then Califone could come along and push everyone into the woodchipper.

(I think my North Dakotan pilot, who sounded exactly like the way they spoke in 'Fargo' and who made sure to point out when we were flying over Fargo and Brainard, might have influenced that last bit there.)

I met Hari (Finland) and Christian (Switzerland) and we had great conversations in between sets. Hari's trip is the opposite of mine - traveling the states these past few weeks he has always arrived in towns a day or two after great shows; he finally decided to just camp in Chicago until he saw something good. He's flying home tomorrow.

The gig was in the Aragon Ballroom, which makes our hometown Crystal Ballroom look like a basketball court in comparison - very baroque, and fucking HUGE. They had the best sound system I've ever heard in a gig hall - loud enough to make you *feel* the music, clarity in abundance, and the hall is big enough that the stacks were maybe 30 feet from the audience so you could experience all of that sound without destroying your eardrums.

Tomorrow night is Snow Patrol, The Hives, and Franz Ferdinand at the same place. w00t.

Friday, December 03, 2004

gmail, pop access, and eudora

If you're trying to use Eudora to access your Gmail account via POP, you've most likely seen the error "SSL negotiation failed: Cause (-6994)" even if you've followed the directions (sponsored and paid modes, light mode) correctly. This is the result of a Eudora configuration setting that isn't accessible through normal means.

Eudora has hundreds of XMLish settings that are changed by sending yourself an email with the options in the body (they'll show up as links), and holding down ALT while you click on them. The setting for how Eudora handles alternate-port SSL access isn't accessible any other way.

To fix the glitch:


To set things back the way they were:


Copy those into an email (or you can use the handy icon below to mail a copy of this post) to yourself. When you hold down ALT and click on the options, a dialog box will come up showing the current setting of the option and asking you to verify that you want to change it. After accepting the change, Eudora will ask you for your Gmail password and should connect correctly, assuming all of the other options are correct as well. Make sure you've got both send and receive SSL set to 'Alternate port', and that you've saved the changes enabling POP access in your Gmail settings.

but did they ask about shopping for shoes?

Tom at Iron Monkey, commenting on a recent study that showed women think commuting isn't as fun as sex:

...a recent study of women's happiness revealed that "Having sex is the high point of most women's' days, while commuting is the low point"...

The creators of this study aim for more than just the accumulation of abstract knowledge. The article reports that "they propose that their tool could be used to plan social policy." Well, one obvious social policy leaps out from this data. Society must find a way for people to have sex while commuting. In addition to increasing happiness levels, this could provide new, compelling reasons to car-pool, which would reduce pollution and oil consumption.

This has all of the marks of a Brilliant Solution - it's elegant, doesn't hurt anyone, and solves additional problems as a side effect. Plus, hey, sex in cars.

Tom has also decided that the economy of the future will be one where people trade sexual favors for music CDs. (It's easier for you to go read it than it is for me to explain.)

I wish I had Tom's optimism. Next election I'm making him my write-in vote for President.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

tv party

Starting this Saturday (9pm west coast, midnight east), Henry Rollins has a show on the Independent Film Channel, Henry's Film Corner, where 'subculture meets pop culture'. It's on a few more times (schedule here) for a week or so, then it looks like it will be a monthly show.

Almost makes me wish I still watched TV.

Henry's also got a weekly radio show on Indie 103.1FM, Mondays 7-9PM (west coast), which you can listen to online.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

no american institution left unfucked

Has it crossed your mind that our idiot President, who doesn't mind being illiterate because it helps him maintain his desired level of ignorance, seems like an unlikely champion for the No Child Left Behind bill? (Although 'champion' seems like too strong a word, considering that he denied funding for his own program.) Perhaps this has something to do with the situation:

Sharon Shea-Keneally, principal of Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington, Vermont, was shocked when she received a letter in May from military recruiters demanding a list of all her students, including names, addresses, and phone numbers. The school invites recruiters to participate in career days and job fairs, but like most school districts, it keeps student information strictly confidential. "We don't give out a list of names of our kids to anybody," says Shea-Keneally, "not to colleges, churches, employers -- nobody."

But when Shea-Keneally insisted on an explanation, she was in for an even bigger surprise: The recruiters cited the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's sweeping new education law passed earlier this year. There, buried deep within the law's 670 pages, is a provision requiring public secondary schools to provide military recruiters not only with access to facilities, but also with contact information for every student -- or face a cutoff of all federal aid.

Home school your kids, people. The legacy of ignorance and lies this administration is creating is going to be fucking this country for years to come.