Tuesday, December 6, 2005

The Foremen on iTunes

Ten years ago or so, Roy Zimmerman put together a folk-rock parody group called The Foremen. Originally a folk spoof group, a bit like the groups from "A Mighty Wind," they quickly went into topical parodies, from a liberal perspective.

Their last album came out in 1996 and, as far as I was aware, didn't do that well, but I liked it and managed to get hold of their other three albums. To my surprise, their last album came out today on iTunes. "What's Left" is a sort of left-wing folk-rock album, with songs parodying the Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, and Crosby Stills & Nash, with lyrics referencing the election and political issues from 1996. (The first cut features Sheila Kuehl as the emcee at a Republican get-together...)

Apple also put up a video of "Ain't No Liberal," a song from the previous album, "Folk Heroes."

I don't really know why this nine-year-old album and video parodying forty-year-old music have been released now, but however dated, they are very funny, and (to me anyway) the musicianship does a good job of evoking '60s groups.

Pennies from Hell

Someone posted a rant on Craigslist, the gist of which is that we ought to get rid of pennies. He or she is right. Pennies have so little value with today's inflated dollar that it makes a great deal of sense to round prices off to the nearest nickel, as is done in Australia.

There used to be an organization called the Coin Coalition promoting the replacement of dollar bills with dollar coins and the elimination of the penny. Unfortunately the organization does not appear to exist anymore.

Friday, November 4, 2005

Beverage songs

In your mind's ear, imagine the song "Tequila," rearranged as chamber music. The new refrain, of course, is "Darjeeling!"

Jewish law

It turns out that roller skating is in accord with Jewish law, but that naming your daughter Danielle is not.

I don't know what this means but I think it's interesting.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Goodbye, summer

Today is October 17. Ever since my house got knocked down in the Loma Prieta earthquake, I know summer is going to be over in the next few days when the anniversary rolls around. That week in 1989 I remember everybody slept outside during the very warm next few days -- Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday -- and then on Friday the 20th it got cold, and we all went inside.

The weather report says that today will be the last warm day in Oakland for a while, and I assume, until 2006. After my dental appointment ended early today I decided I had to do something in the warm air while it is here. (I had wanted to go to Angel Island but it was too late in the day.) I went up to Lake Temescal and walked around it. There were some people there but it wasn't very crowded and it was nice to just be in the open, warm air, looking at the lake. Of course, it was especially appropriate since Lake Temescal is in the middle of a rift valley and there are signs all over about the fault that runs through the middle of it.

If I were someone with lots of money and no responsibilities I'd be making plans to go to Australia until April. Oh well. Bye, summer. I will look forward to 2006.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Examining the Daily Show set

I submitted this to the Comedy Central feedback page:

I just wanted to thank you for putting a copy of the New York City subway map on the set behind Jon while he does the show. I used to have to go find the New York City Transit Authority website, dig out my MTA map, or read the wallpaper at the local Subway restaurant whenever I needed to figure out the route of the F train, but now I know I can just navigate to the Daily Show on my Tivo and if I fast-forward to the right place (usually as the guest comes in) I know I can get the information I need. Thanks for helping us all get around New York.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


A few years ago, they were talking about remodeling our offices. Of course, allowing us to open the windows to get some fresh air was out of the question, so I suggested that instead we ask for "Passive Air Ventilation Systems" and fill our request with technobabble that ultimately meant we would be allowed to open the windows to get some fresh air.

Today I rented a car. On the side of the car it says "Warning: car is protected by a passive security system."

I think this means it has a lock.

I don't know whether to be amused or frightened.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Reactions to Misconceiving Canada

This was originally a series of posts the Canada forum of Café Utne. It was written in June of 1998.

I don't suppose anybody here has read Misconceiving Canada: The Struggle for National Unity by Kenneth McRoberts?

The basic thesis is that "the Trudeau vision" of a Canada, bilingual irrespective of territoriality, never met the needs of Quebec society and was pushed not by the bulk of Quebeckers (and thus should not be perceived as "doing what Quebec wanted" even though English Canadians often see it this way) but by minority francophones in other provinces and Trudeau and his followers.

English Canada's failure to acknowledge this, failure to acknowledge that language *is* territorial and that Quebec is different from the other provinces because it is the only French one, is the problem. Without an asymmetrical federalism of some sort or other, says McRoberts, the country will not survive.

One idea presented is that language rights are meaningless when applied to individuals -- that since language is about communication, only in groups does it have any meaning to promote a language. People will lose a language if they do not have a society to speak it in, and governments don't make any difference on that score.

I think this is all very interesting and somewhat disturbing.

(The question was asked: what kind of asymmetrical federalism?)

He is deliberately unspecific about the form asymmetrical federalism could take, anywhere from opting-out of federal programs (the offer of which could be extended to all provinces, but probably only Quebec would bother) to a more formal asymmetrical federalism, with an English-Canadian formal structure of some kind. That's not crucial for him -- the point I think he's making is that Canada should clearly break away from the idea that all provinces are equal and that Quebec has no special place. He believes that the Quebec government, and not the federal government, can reasonably represent the French society in North America.

Again I am not taking the position of the book, but I thought it clearly stated its assumptions and from there was very well-reasoned if one accepts those assumptions.

I come at this with a clearly outside perspective -- my take on language issues is Californian, my take on nationalism is as someone who regards the jingoist excesses of his home country as repugnant. This probably strikes everybody in Canada irrelevant at best and more likely nosy and meddling. So, this can be taken as a disclaimer -- don't take *my* view too seriously. I don't have to live with the result of all this.

I think my own conflict comes from my admiration for the goal of "the Trudeau vision" to eliminate cultural/ethnic nationalism, which is at the root of the vision of Quebec nationalism -- with the recognition that in the Canadian context, the attempt at getting francophone Quebeckers to identify with the civic nationalism of Canada has failed utterly. The book basically dismisses the idealism of the civic nationalists (using the term "Trudeau vision" for it, which it seems to me implies that the many who share this view are merely Trudeau- maniacs, in the '68 sense).

And yet I find this idea of patriotism -- a reasoned (the book's term) commitment to civic rights and values, symbolized by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, unifying all Canadians -- much, much more attractive than the mythologized, traditional ethnic nationalism that Quebec shares with European countries, or the ignorant mythological patriotism, essentially the same as sports fanaticism, that is common in so much of the United States.

I see nationalism in all its forms as fundamentally, deeply divisive, a profoundly evil thing -- even in its best "we don't want to hurt anybody else, we just want our day in the sun" form, it's based on exclusion of others. For every case where unification, secession or irridentism (transfer of land from one state to another) was peaceful, there are a dozen counterexamples -- Catalonia, the Basques, Kurdistan, Ireland, the whole Balkans including Bosnia, Rwanda, Biafra, Algeria, Germany after 1871, India/Pakistan in 1947 and Kashmir up until the present day... the list is endless. Nationalism kills.

What hope have we as a world? I'm not an expert on multiethnic states. Africa's multiethnic states are not, as a rule, good examples, although perhaps there are one or two that have been peaceful. The European Union is still a collection of nation-states, and ethnicities within the nation-states have no reason to take comfort, as they are still primarily in a Spanish or British or whatever state (although, the EU has given minorities in places like Scotland a counterargument to the "it would hurt too much economically" argument, much as NAFTA has done for Quebec, although even more strongly). Most of the other multiethnic states are more or less explicitly partnerships between particular ethnicities -- in Belgium you can be Flemish *or* Walloon, in Switzerland German, Italian, French *or* Rumansch. And in the United States, a person of any nationality (at least in theory) is free to lose all of their national characteristics, except cuisine, and assimilate. (It just hit me that cuisine is, for the most part, the most easily commodified of national characteristics. I wonder if that's why it's the one attribute that's allowed to remain.)

This book advocates the return to the "two founding peoples" view of Canada, or at least its formal recognition, with perhaps some ancillary recognition of the First Nations as "founding" as well.

This essentially puts Canada in the same situation as Switzerland or Belgium. This is just nationalism tempered with pragmatism, a recognition of the small size or power of the French-Canadian and First Nations. Changing perceptions of the power or size of the French-Canadian nation have changed this calculation. (If Creeland could be a state, would it not wish to be?)

And yet, if Canada goes this direction, what happens to the vision of civic patriotism instead of ethnic nationalism? The world *needs* a vision of a multiethnic, multinational state, because the continued strength of the idea of the uniethnic state is killing us. I don't think "the Trudeau vision" was perfect but it was a huge step forward toward the day when we can look back at nationalism as another discarded idea of the past, like feudalism.

And yet .. and yet I write all this hundreds of miles from the nearest Canadian territory. To some extent it's all an academic exercise for me. (We have language problems in California, but they have no real parallel to the French-English problem in Canada. By the end of the 19th century there was no unassimilated remnant left of the original Californios.) Does Canada have the responsibility to be an example for the world, or should it solve its own, very real, problems first?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Champagne of Teas

Stephen Fry talks about my very favorite beverage. I like mine iced. I buy lots and lots of it -- I have over 100 tea bags right now in my apartment. Great stuff. I used to drink lots of soda also, but Darjeeling tea is light enough that it tastes great without sugar and I'm happy to have it instead of soda. Mostly to prove I could give it up, I drank my last can of soda in 1997.

Of course, I've been buying this brand since high school and I didn't know till now that the company's name is pronounced "twine-ings" -- I always assumed it was "twin-ings". Oh well.

I gather Stephen Fry is somewhat overexposed these days in the UK, and of course he's just a pitchman in this radio ad, but I still think of him as the brilliant comedian of "A Bit of Fry and Laurie." (I own just three videos, and the compilation video of this series is one of them.)

Friday, September 9, 2005

You know you're a nerd when...

I am balancing my checkbook, using Quicken and my credit union's online service, while on the side of the screen one window plays a video interview of Andy Hertzfeld by Mark Stephens (as Robert X. Cringely). I stop playback to go refill my glass of iced tea, and notice that my Tivo has changed the channel on the cable box to the Sci-Fi Network so it can record the Battlestar Galactica remake. And without intention, the word "cool..." passes my lips.

And when I realize what I have done, I write about it for my blog.

I gotta get a life.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

First piece of comment spam

Somebody left me my first piece of comment spam today! Or at least, I noticed it today. I'm touched. Of course, I deleted all the spam, but I can't tell you what it means to me to know that some automated device out there picked my blog to deface. Thanks to all.

I ♥ eMusic

(That's supposed to be a heart. If it's not, your computer is heartless.)

Everybody knows about iTunes, but eMusic, another online music store, seems to be much less well known. Check it out: 25 cents a song or less, restriction-free MP3 files (play anywhere), tons of independent labels in all genres. There's no major labels but so what? I guess it's my folk-and-jazz bias, but I don't really miss not having whatever the hit of the week is with all this great stuff out there. And this month they added 138 albums from Smithsonian/Folkways, which may not be a major label to anybody else, but in the folk world it is. (Of course I already have a lot of those on CD, but not all by any means.)

And no, eMusic doesn't pay me for this. I just love it. And I want to make sure lots of other people pay them money so it doesn't go away.

Another small enterprise I'd like to support is the small natural food store on Jackson at 15th St. in Oakland, the name of which I can't remember. It just opened this year and I hope it survives, because they have fresh Grace Bakery bread every day and I enjoy having the good fresh sourdough bread within a close walk of my apartment (although I do prefer Semifreddi's bread). It's what a convenience store would look like in a world where all grocery stores were Whole Foods.

I hope they last, although I have my doubts since Jackson St. is not a thoroughfare and it's not really visible from 14th St., which is. And of course the real Whole Foods will open up soon on 27th and Harrison (in a historic building that was originally a cable car barn). That is going to be good for the city (although their labor relations could stand improvement), but I hope the little store on Jackson does enough business to survive.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Caveman Poetry

From the "Men Only" forum on Cafe Utne. Written on the premise that men don't talk, they just grunt.

Short Works (1998)

urgh rurgha brarcho
argh urgha hurgha unka
brah urgh urgha urgh brah


Urg urgula ursula rhar,
Grugh untafa arghuma slar.
Urgh trufunta ghror,
Nurf zantuta tror,
Burgh zapurgha arpuga shar.


Zap urgha murfa zippa gror --
Hrorf urgha grorgha zar --
Oogh oogha argha rhorfa yoz
Grogh trufa oogha dhar --


OGH: A gurgh mo rargh urgh ugh argh urgh rargh urgh,
     zar urgha nurkh ayargha rharhga sar,
     frarh zurgha nurf.
UNGH:                     Urgh narfa nurfa zorgh?
OGH: Za rhorgula zappa yargha zippo,
     nay argh urfula zar hrorgha lippo.

Petrargh (2001)

Ab urgh zippa rhorgha argh urgzoohor
Urgunk rurgha brarcho urgh argh ukrugh
Urgha brah urgh hurgha unka akhbugh
Zoopa zurgh akhrunka rhar arhorkor.
Drorhga zippa zongho zip khraorgor
Khrajongo ukloranga rhor ka urghugh
Hrorf oogh ooga arghror ughza ooghugh
Groghdar darkhon arko oorgha zooghor.

Ghoogha urkha zargho dhrargo arka
Zargha urgh agrorgha zark a zimbo
Hrargha oorga zarpoo hhrorka.
Ghrunga oogha oogh uklor oogh dhrorka
Eezar ghoha zar akrhon akh kambo
Yagho zargha zim bakorgha yaka.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


This is old news for lots of people, but I've been downloading background pictures ("wallpaper") lately from MacDesktops.com. I don't really know why the guy calls it MacDesktops, as the images should be perfectly usable on any operating system. There are a number of images of Macs and Apple-related things, but for me the landscapes and waterscapes are much more pleasant to look at. Images are in a wide variety of resolutions -- I haven't seen other sites where the images are not only in the standard 4:3 ratio but are also in widescreen resolutions like 1920x1200 and 1680x1250.

Anyway, I like the pictures and sent the guy $20, since I've used a lot of his bandwidth downloading them. Check it out.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Got Maskirovka?

Some time ago, PETA sued the California Milk Advisory Board, alleging that the "Happy Cows" series of ads were false advertsing.

My mother and I were driving north on US-101 to Santa Rosa when she noted some cows by the roadside. They looked happy to her, she said.

I thought for a moment and said, "Those are just Potemkin cows."

Monday, June 13, 2005

Web pages should not steal focus

Here's what happens to me today:

1) Go to page full of links. Open two of them in separate tabs.

2) Click on first tab.

3) Read page in first tab.

4) Click on link to newspaper story from first tab.

5) Before newspaper story loads, click on second tab.

6) Read headline in second tab and realize you don't want to read the whole thing.

7) Hit command-W to close tab.

That all works fine, except that I didn't know about step 6a)

6a) Newspaper story loads in first tab, and demands focus, so first tab magically comes to the front.

Which means, of course, that my command-W ended up closing the first tab and not the second one.

Argh. Whoever invented the thing that allows web pages to say "me! I'm supposed to be the top window! me! me!" should be forced to program nothing but embedded processors for thermostats the rest of his/her life. The "blink" tag had nothing on this.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Open source implementation of Mac OS X APIs

I wonder if someday there will be an open-source implementation of the Mac OS X APIs (other than GNUstep).

I hope that if so, it will be called "Cider."

Thursday, June 2, 2005

When the rain falls...

You know the smell of the first rain after a dry spell? It has a name. It's called petrichor.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Sorry about the outage

I'm not sure for how long the blog was down. It turns out that one of the library files on the server was truncated somehow, so every time the blog program tried to run, it gave a syntax error. I have no idea how something like this could happen to the server's Perl installation. Very odd.

Monday, May 30, 2005

If I were a carpenter

Just one verse so far.

If I were a carpenter, and you were a walrus
Would you lure the oysters away, would you share the mollusks?
If a hatter were my trade, would you come to tea?
Would you draw from the treacle-well, and take the dishes behind me?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Peace, order and good government

Just a thought, really.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Dates and departments in flux

I don't think there have been many visitors so far -- my expectations of readership for this blog should be made clear by the name -- but if anybody's out there, you will find that some of the dates and departments have been shuffled around a bit. That will probably cause the RSS feeds to feed a lot of old stuff as if it were new. Sorry.

The good news is that I have now gone through everything and changed the dates, so there should be no more jumping around of those. The bad news is that I haven't decided what to do about departments yet, so those might change in the future.

About the dates in this blog

As should be obvious, many of the dates given for these entries are not really the dates they were posted to the blog. One thing I wanted to do when I started the blog was move certain files from my old home page to the blog, in order to take advantage of comments and to clean up the web page a bit. Of course, the blog requires that I give each entry a date and time. I suppose the right thing to do might be to give the date that these were added to the original web site, but in general I no longer have that information.
What I do have in many cases is a date and time when the entry was originated, because they originated as email or forum posts, or I simply still have the original files copied from disk to disk. For example, the first entry (What, Definitions? What's a Definition?) really was finished and saved to disk on November 10, 1986.
The alternative, it seems to me, is to give all the files the date when the blog was started (May 16, 2005). But there's nothing really special about that date, and I don't want to mush so many years of my life into one lump, from high school through my thirties.
So, although it may seem anachronistic, I think it makes the most sense to put entry dates back in the 1980s into the blog, and then put a link to this explanation above the dates on the sidebar.
This only works now, when the blog is just starting. In the future, I wouldn't want people to have to dig through the archives regularly to see if I decided to post any of my college-age materials. So if I should do that, I'll give it the date it is being posted, not the original authorship date.

Firewire! Give my creation firewire!

I had a minor success today. A few weeks ago I accidentally closed the outer case of my old dual firewire enclosure on the power wire. This unfortunately blew the power supply. I couldn't figure out how to open the damn thing to see if the fuse could be replaced, so I just ended up buying a dual SCSI case listed on Craigslist. It's a a CI Design 3520 2 bay 3.5" drive enclosure. (I can't find a company that lists the price in dollars, but apparently a company in England wants £145 for it. Pretty good for $10.)

This case unfortunately doesn't have holes in the normal locations to fit other drives; it uses some kind of weird drive rails, or something, that fit little tabs in the side of this case. (you can see these in the brochure).

I'd like to say that I made the decision to just drill holes in the side of the rail assembly after searching the web and finding out the difficulty of buying these rails -- none of CI Design's listed retailers seem to carry the kit -- but in fact I found the manufacturer label only after buying the rather longer than usual screws, drilling the holes, and installing the drives. Oh well. The point is, the thing works. Yay! And I didn't have to use lighting from my castle to reanimate it. I did have to install the drives upside down, but I remember reading that this is usually OK (and Seagate's manuals specifically say "any orientation" so I'm going to take their word for it).

I now have two 120 GB drives in it, one Maxtor and one Seagate. The bridgeboard from my old case is an ATA-5 bridgeboard with the 137 GB limitation, so this pretty much maxes out the capacity. (They don't actually make 137 GB drives, for some reason; you can either use 120 GB drives or waste space using 160 GB drives. I here use 1GB = 1 billion bytes, not 230 bytes.)

I thought this was such a good idea that I bought a bridgeboard and dual 5.25" case from eBay -- I'm going to put a 160 GB hard drive and a DVD-RW drive in it and give it to my brother and his family for their iMac. I hope the case gets here soon.

The only problem is the thing sounds like a wind tunnel. I haven't decided whether to replace the fan, but I'm thinking about it. This case is quite big and there's plenty of space between the drives, so I suspect maybe it doesn't need a fan at all, but I'm not sure I want to take chances, even though this is intended to be used just for backups and occasional use when I need a lot of scratch space.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Internet Explorer for Mac

The CSS bugs that made Internet Explorer for Mac display a huge amount of space between each line should now be worked around. The top banner isn't perfect, but the blog should now be readable.

At this point getting the blog pixel-perfect for old browsers is low on my priority list, but if you have serious trouble reading it, let me know. Thanks.

Comments are here...

So, comments should now be working. All the people who aren't reading this can now tell me what I should have said instead of what I actually did say.

The comment plugin also handles trackbacks, although I have no way of testing this and I'm not really sure what will happen.

I'm not so sure it's really a good idea to open up a place where people will spend all their time talking about me, but who knows, maybe people will be nice for a change. Here's hoping!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Supermarket bagels

My usual breakfast includes a bagel or three, so I buy a lot of them. I don't know why it is that supermarkets cannot sell a good bagel, but only bagels that are light and fluffy. Bagels should not be light and fluffy. They should be chewy.

I tried a brand from Albertson's called "Country Farms" bagels. For supermarket bagels they are OK (here's a review from the San Francisco Chronicle) but I think the name itself gives away that they can't really be right. Bagels' brand names should not conjure up images of midwestern farm country; they should conjure up images of ethnic urban scenes. Noah's, whatever your opinion of their steamed-not-boiled bagels, has the branding right with their subwayesque mosaics, Yiddishisms, and New York-themed interiors. My gift to any aspiring bagel shop owners: Try "Stickball Bagels."

(I do have to admit a certain fondness for "Boogie Woogie Bagel Boy." If they are incorporated, would it be as "Company B, Inc."?)

What's write-only memory?

Write-only memory is, of course, the opposite of read-only memory.

From the Jargon File:

The obvious antonym to read-only memory. Out of frustration with the long and seemingly useless chain of approvals required of component specifications, during which no actual checking seemed to occur, an engineer at Signetics once created a specification for a write-only memory and included it with a bunch of other specifications to be approved. This inclusion came to the attention of Signetics management only when regular customers started calling and asking for pricing information. Signetics published a corrected edition of the data book and requested the return of the ‘erroneous’ ones. Later, in 1972, Signetics bought a double-page spread in Electronics magazine's April issue and used the spec as an April Fools' Day joke. Instead of the more conventional characteristic curves, the 25120 “fully encoded, 9046 x N, Random Access, write-only-memory” data sheet included diagrams of “bit capacity vs.: Temp.”, “Iff vs. Vff”, “Number of pins remaining vs.: number of socket insertions”, and “AQL vs.: selling price”. The 25120 required a 6.3 VAC VFF supply, a +10V VCC, and VDD of 0V, ±2%.

A page linking to scanned copies of the magazine ads.

Wow, I've started a blog!

Well, Write-Only Memory, my long-in-coming but not long-awaited blog, is now up. I hope to add comments (for as long as I can stand dealing with comment spam) and maybe other features soon. Meanwhile I have seeded the blog with stuff from my web site. I will probably eventually redirect the old web site links to the blog entries.