Rants & Ramblings

random commentary about culture, media, politics, technology and whatnot.

mar
09
2003

ode to a pair of boots

boots.jpg

Ah, my poor, sad, reliable old boots. Your time has passed.

Three years ago, I first spied you on the shoe racks at Target. You were a spiffy, affordably-priced combat boot, aspiring to be a “serious” boot, yet lacking the worksmanship and quality of the “real thing.” A few months later, I saw you again, on the clearance rack for $13. You were my size, and I knew it was meant to be.

Given your humble origins, I must admit I didn’t expect much from you. But you surprised me. You were comfortable. Durable. Versatile. And despite my abuse, you lasted for three years.

But the transition to DC, and this harsh winter, have proven too much for you. Your spongy soles and faux-leather covering are cracked and worn, and regularly lose in battle against the elements. I cannot wear you in wet weather without getting wet feet and soggy socks.

Your time has passed, and you’ve been replaced with a stronger, better model. Your replacement is the “real thing” — thick, durable soles, a real leather upper, and a reputation for enduring just about anything.

Rest in peace, dear boots.

mar
07
2003

photo of the week

I think I’ve found my new favorite photo. For this week, that is.

Meet Twiggy, a very special water-skiier.

military propaganda

U.S. Central Command has posted copies of the leaflets they’re dropping on Iraq, south of Baghdad, as well as transcripts of the messages they’ve been broadcasting over the radio (English translations).

The messages seem to be targeted at Iraqi soldiers, urging them to abandon their posts and oppose Saddam Hussein, and at the general Iraqi populace, urging them to stay away from military hotspots. One leaflet features a rather gruesome photo of a dead Iraqi man, with the words “Do not risk your life, and the life of your comrades.”

Just to get your demographic numbers in, according to the 2002 CIA World Factbook, Iraq has a 58 percent literacy rate (males: 70.7 percent, females: 45 percent) and 4.85 million radio receivers (as of 1997). The country has an estimated population of 24 million (as of July 2002).

Propaganda link found via “Al’s Morning Meeting,” a daily online column done by Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute.

horrorscope

Today was one of those rare fluke days where my horoscope seems to match up with events in my life. From Astrology.com, today’s Leo horoscope:

If you leave to start something new, an unfinished project will follow you. Don’t give the Stars any extra chances to irritate you. Wrap your loose ends in a neat package and go home satisfied.

I guess that means I better get that GW campus map project wrapped up and done, or else it will follow me home and torment me over the weekend.

mar
06
2003

fanboy's guide to cactus league ballparks

FanBoy’s Guide to Cactus League Ballparks,” my latest freelance venture for azcentral.com, went live this past afternoon. The special package highlights the Phoenix (and Tucson) ballparks used by major league baseball teams for Cactus League spring training. The content, obviously, belongs to FanBoy and his azcentral.com masters, but the design (and all the plug-n-chugging of content) is mine (but owned by my former azcentral.com masters).

mar
05
2003

lounge against the machine

You’ve never heard Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” until you’ve heard the Vegas lounge version.

My coworker Dari just passed on an Amazon link to Lounge Against the Machine by Richard Cheese, a CD of lounge covers of ‘90s alt-rock hits. The smooth, jazzy — and utterly warped — renditions had me in tears.

If tuna is “chicken of the sea,” isn’t chicken “tuna of the land”? So I’m clear.

— Dari, on eating chicken on no-meat Fridays during Lent. (03/05/03)

randomness

I’ve had to be something of a workaholic insomniac for the past few days — hence the lack of updates. (9 hours of sleep in 3 days. Go me!) So, here comes a condensed bit of randomness about a bunch of stuff I’ve been meaning to talk about here … Quote of the day for the past few days? The CSM quote from 3/3 still about sums it up … Sir Hardy Amies, Queen Elizabeth’s hairdresser for the past 50 years, died at the age of 93 (BBC News) … A more public-friendly version of the Homeland Security Alert system? (Blog: Confessions of a Shameless Agitator) … Toshiba is working on a new fuel cell for laptops — that runs on methanol. I don’t wanna know how you might recharge it. (CNet News.com) … Wired talks about moblogging and a new piece of software that lets users update their blogs from their cellphones/handhelds … FCC chair Michael Powell is a “gadget freak” who calls TiVo “God’s machine.” (San Jose Mercury News) … There’s a really good, informed FAQ up about the Columbia explosion, updated as more information is released … NPR has a nice tribute to the late Fred Rogers, complete with audio interviews … Because of a conflict with another company, the web browser Chimera is undergoing a name change — to Camino. Which conjures up the completely stereotypical image of an El Camino chugging along on a dusty Mexican back road. The people behind Chimera/Camino don’t want to hear any more smartass renaming suggestions. (Blog: Sucking Less, on a Budget) … A new report says lawmakers are finally catching up to the times, revamping their web sites to be more useful and usable. (Washington Post) … Latest sign that the apocalypse is nigh? Former Cowboys RB Emmitt Smith is talking to the Arizona Cardinals. (Arizona Republic)

mar
03
2003

Life … is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable, because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So, you’re stuck with this undefinable whipped mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there’s nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while, there’s a peanut butter cup, or an english toffee, but they’re gone too fast, and the taste is … fleeting. So you end up with nothing but broken bits filled with hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts. And if you’re desperate enough to eat those, all you’ve got left is an empty box filled with useless brown paper wrappers.

— Cigarette-Smoking Man, in the 'X-Files' episode “Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man” (4x07)

anywhere but here

According to a global “quality of life” survey by UK-based Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Zurich, Vancouver and Vienna are the best overall places to live in terms of personal safety. And Washington, DC? It’s the lowest-ranking North American city on the list (ranked 107 out of 215). (“World-wide quality of life survey” - 03/03/03)

The safest major U.S. city is San Francisco (ranked 20th). The lowest-ranking city was Bangui, in the Central African Republic, unstable since a 2001 coup.

mar
02
2003

california does it ebay

Ever wonder what happens to all that stuff that gets confiscated at airport security checkpoints? In California, they’re selling it on eBay. (San Francisco Chronicle: “Bureaucrats get EBay fever” - 02/28/03)

According to the SFChron article, the state of California has made $16,281 from sales of objects confiscated at the Oakland and Sacramento airports. Other airports participating in the program include LAX, Orange County and Ontario.

California has been selling surplus goods on eBay under the username CaliforniaGold2000 since February 2000. They sell more than just confiscated pocketknives, including old equipment and items confiscated in police raids.

I would have carved on the portals of the National Press Club, “Put not your trust in princes.” Only the very rarest of princes can endure even a little criticism, and few of them can put up with even a pause in the adulation.

— Walter Lippmann, on dealing with those in power (source)

continue reading »

from perjury to the jury box

Being a former president might not save you from the courtroom, but it might save you from jury duty.

The New York Times reports that a Manhattan federal court had an unusual prospective juror: Bill Clinton. (“Civic Duty, Sure, but Wasn’t the White House Enough?” - 03/01/03)

The jury selection questionnaires in a case involving a gang shooting were supposed to be confidential, but there was a glaring clue to the identity of Prospective Juror No. 142 in federal court in Manhattan yesterday.

Where it asks for previous jobs held, he filled in President of the United States.

And where it asked whether he could be fair and impartial, the prospective juror answered yes, despite his “unusual experience with the O.I.C.,” otherwise known as the Office of Independent Counsel.

According to a transcript of the hearing, the prosecutor in the case moved to have Clinton removed from the jury pool, while the defense attorney asked to keep him. The judge expressed concern that Clinton’s presence on the jury would sensationalize the case (not to mention the fact that some of his responses to the jury questionnaire might disqualify him for jury service on this case). She said she would let the two attorneys know by Monday whether or not she agreed with removing Clinton from the jury pool.

mar
01
2003

metro fare changes

WMATA is proposing a fare hike for the DC-area subway and bus system beginning July 1. (See 01/08/03 press release) In general, I’m not keen on fare increases. (Duh — who wants to spend more money?) However, given that they apparently haven’t upped fares since 1995, as well as the November election defeat of Virginia’s public transportation initiative, fare increases are probably due.

Some of the things I’m not particularly keen on:

  1. …increasing the Metrobus boarding charge by as much as $0.20 (from $1.10 up to $1.30) all day…”
    Why not up bus fares to $1.25? A dollar bill and a quarter. (Today it’s a dollar bill and a dime.) It’s just a little thing, but it’s so much simpler to be dealing with round numbers and not to have to worry about carrying loads of pocket change.
  2. …Eliminate the 10 percent bonus on Metrorail for fare cards of $20 or more…”
    I always thought this was a cool feature (for obvious reasons) - as well as a good incentive to get people to get the SmartTrip card and keep charging it up via payroll deduction.
  3. …Institute a balanced transfer charge of $0.40 each way between bus and rail, using the SmarTrip card only…”
    Don’t like the first part (both the price and the fact that it will require at least three coins to pay it). But I do like the second part (see below). Also, it’s about time to be able to get a transfer from the bus to the rail (rather than just from rail to bus).

There is one thing, however, that I really like:

  1. …promoting the use of the highly popular SmarTrip card by eliminating underutilized Metro passes and taking advantage of the incentives of the transit benefits program…”
    Metro has slowly, experimentally, begun expanding SmarTrip service to the bus system. It’s about time for them to implement SmarTrip readers throughout the regional transportation system. It’s too cumbersome, IMO, to have to deal with separate monthly bus passes, or one-way bus fares, or MetroChecks. It’s so much more efficient to have your payroll deduction go to a single SmarTrip account, which can be applied to all local transit.

Metro’s also talking about expanding service hours, including running trains until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

WMATA is holding public meetings on the fare increase proposal through March 13.

why all the wintry weather?

Today’s Washington Post has a good, semi-layperson-friendly explainer about why the DC area has has a freakish amount of snow this season. (“Wintry Weather Goes Down Easy” - 03/01/03)

The villain of this stormy winter is a meteorological condition known as a split-flow pattern.

What that means,” Danaher said, “is that the northern half of the country has had a flow from the northwest, which keeps the cold air in place for long periods of time. And the southern part of the country has had a western flow, which means that moisture from the Pacific has caused all the heavy rain in California and ice storms in Texas. What happens is the two systems converge, and the moist, warm air from the south collides with the cold air. As it rises, all the moisture is squeezed out as snow.”

The position of the jet stream sets up the flow. The jet stream has put Washington smack in the middle of the split-flow convergence. In other words, snow city.

And it doesn’t look like the jet stream will budge soon.

I was too old for a paper route, too young for Social Security and too tired for an affair.

— Erma Bombeck, on beginning her humor column

feb
28
2003

yellow alert

Americans can now be just a little less freaked out. The Department of Homeland Security lowered the terror alert level to yellow, after three weeks at orange. (Washington Post: “Terror Index Is Lowered to Yellow” - 02/28/03)

Comedy still seems to be the best way to deal with all this. Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show (have I mentioned that Jon Stewart is my hero?) did a funny piece a couple weeks ago that talked about the blizzard as if it was a diabolical terrorist attack. Another good recent Daily Show bit lampooned the new Ready.gov campaign. (Real Player video) Meanwhile, Top Five sent out a super-sized list on Wednesday: “The Top 50 Ways Americans Handle Danger.” (My favorite: “I pretend to be Danger’s friend only to form a secret alliance with Peril and Menace to beat Danger in the next immunity challenge.”)

If I’m not going to be eternally rewarded for my behavior, I’d sure like to know now.

— Calvin ('Calvin & Hobbes'), on good behavior

feb
27
2003

snowing … again

It’s snowing outside … again. I thought last week’s blizzard was supposed to be the end of it. Apparently not.

The snow wore out its welcome a long time ago. Hard to believe now how enthusiastic I was about it in December.

Ah well. With the amount of snow we’ll allegedly be getting, Saturday will be prime for making snowmen.

google doesn't want to be 'googled'

The Google Weblog reports that lawyers for search engine Google requested that the verb “google” be removed from, or its definition modified in, the online dictionary Word Spy. (“Google asks to be removed from dictionary” - 02/26/03)

The WordSpy definition of “google” (now updated with a Google trademark notice):

google

(GOO.gul) v. To search for information on the Web, particularly by using the Google search engine; to search the Web for information related to a new or potential girlfriend or boyfriend. (Note that Google? is a trademark identifying the search technology and services of Google Technologies Inc.)

?Googling pp.

Site owner Paul McFedries posted an excerpt from the letter he received from the Google lawyers.

It’s a testament to Google’s usefulness and success that the site has pervaded even in our modern lexicon. (According to Merriam-Webster, this is called “antonomasia.”) However, under U.S. patent and trademark law, if product name becomes part of the general lexicon and refers to a general type of product or activity (rather than the brand), a company could lose its right to the trademark. Hence Google’s attempt to aggressively enforce its brand.

Technology law site Bitlaw has an explanation of this kind of trademark issue (bottom of the page, under “generic marks”).

'buffy' no more

E!Online reports that Buffy: The Vampire Slayer is officially over as of this season, its seventh. The series finale is May 20. (“‘Buffy’ Laid to Rest” - 02/27/03)

Earlier this week, star Sarah Michelle Gellar confirmed that she would not be signing on for another season. (Entertainment Weekly: “Gellar explains why ”Buffy” is over” - 02/26/03) Mutant Enemy (the show’s production company) and UPN confirmed the show’s end today.

ME staffers have discussed a possible spinoff, but no announcements have been made. ME was rumored to be pursuing Eliza Dushku, who played rogue slayer Faith in Seasons 3 and 4, for a spinoff, but Dushku this week signed on to a drama pilot for Fox.

Although its glory days have faded, it’s sad to see my favorite show end. There have been occasional moments of brilliance this season, but the show’s standards have slipped over the past few years. (This coming from someone who only started watching the show at the beginning of Season Six, and got addicted (like addicts do) watching the nightly reruns on FX.) It’s been a fun ride.

And, hey, there’s always the DVDs. Season 4 comes out in June.

online shopping on college campuses

The Los Angeles Times ran a story on Sunday about an aspect of online shopping one might not normally think about:

All around them, civilian America is shopping online with the same fierce enthusiasm of any Ivy Leaguer. But those parcels go to separate addresses. At schools like Brown, Yattaw said, “Everyone just seems to be getting more and more packages.” Since dormitories won’t receive packages, they all end up in the mailroom.

And those campus mailrooms are overflowing with student packages, waiting to be picked up. (“E-Commerce Puts Its Stamp on College Living” - 02/23/03)

The LAT story frames the mailroom situation around modern students’ comfort with technology and doing routine tasks online, as colleges and universities, especially “offline” departments like the campus mailroom, try to adjust to the effects — expected and unforseen — of the online world’s growing pervasiveness.

souring on apple

In January, I greeted Apple’s Macworld announcement of the new 17” G4 PowerBook with much glee and anticipation. Some money had been freed in the department budget for new computers, and I could choose my own machine. So, naturally, I chose the newest Apple fetish object. So speedy. So sleek. So cool. How could I resist?

Apparently, I’m going to have to resist a little longer.

Earlier this week, Apple conceded that the 17” PowerBook, originally slated to be released this month, won’t be coming out for another 3-5 weeks. According to Mac rumor site ThinkSecret, Apple knew even at Macworld that the 17” wouldn’t be able to make its announced February ship date, yet the company continued to promote a February release.

sad news

Fred Rogers, better known as children’s television personality “Mister Rogers,” died today of stomach cancer at the age of 74. (“Fred Rogers, Host of TV’s ‘Mister Rogers’ Dies at 74” - 02/26/03)

News accounts of his death no doubt will include “witty” plays on his show’s name (i.e. “Sad Day in the Neighborhood”).

PBS has a page for teachers and parents with the network’s response and tips on how to talk to kids about Rogers’ death. The PBS site also has a page where fans of all ages can share their thoughts thoughts about Rogers and the show.

Two comments in the PBS statement that struck me:

Children experience death differently than adults do. Young children have a limited understanding of death. Some children may cry. Some may seem callous. You may be surprised to find that you’re more upset than your child.

I have fond memories of watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood when I was a kid. When I worked for the student newspaper at ASU, we did a feature about Rogers just before he retired from the show. I remember laying out the page and feeling sad that Rogers looked so much older and frailer than I remembered him. It’s strange how intense childhood memories and emotional connections can be. I haven’t seen the show in years, but today, hearing about his death, I almost feel as if I’ve lost a friend.

Children have always known Mister Rogers as their “television friend,” and that relationship doesn’t change with his death.

It’s interesting, and maybe not remarked upon enough, the relationship the forms between people and the characters they see on television. With mass communication, it’s only really intended as a one-way relationship — person conveys a message via television to the audience. However, depending on the level of engagement, it develops into something more two-way, where the viewer develops a “perceived” relationship with the person on their television screen. This relationship could be incredibly storied and complex, yet the person behind the television persona is completely unaware of it (although, depending on the actor, perhaps aware of, and even calculating on, the development of such relationships).

I think this is especially the case in children’s shows like Mr. Rogers where the host behaves as if he is speaking directly to the viewer. And given the age of the target audience, the viewer may actually believe he is speaking to him/her.

Does the fact that an actor using a mass medium is not fully aware of his specific relationship with an individual viewer make that relationship any less valid or real?

Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.

— Henry Anatole Grunwald, Editor in Chief, Time Inc. (source)

feb
26
2003

girl scout cookies

Girl Scout Cookie time is fast approaching. According to the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, various Girl Scout troops will be doing “booth sales” (read: accosting you on the way in and out of the grocery store) in the DC area beginning this Friday, Feb. 28, and running through March 29.

Cookies are $3/box, and, according to precedent, the boxes will probably include fewer cookies than they did last year.

But those Samoas and Thin Mints are so yummy. Fully aware of the annual price-gouging, guilt-tripping ritual, I shall succomb yet again and stock up on sugary treats.

news websites sued for patent infringement

According to a story in Editor & Publisher, 12 small U.S. newspapers have been sued for patent violation regarding a certain technology used on their web sites. (“Newspapers Sued for Violating Web Patent” - 02/26/03)

The technology in question involves the practice of supplying an abstract of a story with a link to the full-text version. It’s a strategy used by virtually all news websites. Paul C. Heckel, the patentholder, said a website would not be subject to the patent, though, if it does not meet all the “claims” established in the patent. Heckel has posted some information about the suit and his patent at his website, but there is no layperson-friendly explanation of how to determine whether a particular website meets the patent “claims.”

The two patents — RE 36,654, issued in 2000, and 4,486,857, issued in 1984 — cover technology that Heckel said he has been developing since the 1980s. Both concern the use of software to group multiple files into a system that allows computers to display abbreviated portions of the files on a single screen.

Heckel said the patents cover some technologies that allow Web sites to display the headline and abstract of a news story with a link to another file that displays the entire story. The ability to “zoom” into a related file from a Web page is apparently a key element of the complex patent claims.

Although patent 4,486,857 expired last fall, a patent holder can still sue for past infringement, according to Heckel. This is the same patent that Apple Computer Inc. was accused of violating in developing its HyperCard software. Apple settled that case with Heckel in 1989, reportedly for six figures.

The story mentions speculation that Heckel is starting with smaller papers so he can amass enough funds to take on the larger media companies.

image-making

Here’s one from the archives, but it’s still interesting…

In the summer of 1999, the Detroit Free-Press ran a profile of George Caudill, employed by the Clinton administration to make sure Clinton looked good and his message got out there. (“The man who makes Clinton look good” - 06/25/99)

Caudill is the latest in a long line of White House image guys, a filmmaker-turned-lawyer-turned-presidential-salesman who works behind the scenes to ensure that whatever Clinton does is picture-perfect. As far as Caudill is concerned, what the president says is only part of the story, and not his part. The rest is visual — a bit of Hollywood, a touch of Washington. A place where rain can wreak havoc on an otherwise brilliant performance.

The same goes for a misplaced flag. Or a cluttered backdrop. Or anything else that detracts from whatever Clinton is trying to accomplish. Because as important as Clinton’s words are, no one will pay attention to them if he looks foolish.

I just do the pictures. I don’t do the substance,” Caudill said.

One of my classmates interned in the White House communications office during the whole Clinton / Lewinsky / impeachment drama. She helped implement some of the strategies Caudill describes to help get the day’s “message” out, despite the press focus on scandal.

Never was the necessity for visual images more important than last year, when the president’s sex scandal dominated the news. The White House found that no matter what Clinton talked about, from Medicare to education to child care, reporters dwelled on the scandal. So Caudill tried to telegraph the president’s message at news events through television and newspaper pictures, using a technique known as “wallpaper” — backdrops dotted with such slogans as “Tapping America’s Potential” or “Honoring Quality Teachers.”

When the article isn’t about our message, that picture is our only shot to communicate our message to the public,” Caudill said.

News work is highly addictive. It is the cocaine of crafts.

— William F. Kerby, executive editor of The Wall Street Journal (source)

seen: favorite bush administration movies

From the

http://www.topfive.com/arcs/pk020403.shtml”>Top 12 Favorite Movies of the Bush Administration, per TopFive.com:

12. My Big Fat Iraqi Invasion

5. The Blair’s-My-Bitch Project