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December 2000

Sunday 12-31
No links today, just best wishes for the new year, and a couple quotes from Bertrand Russell:
The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment.

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

Saturday 12-30
OTR -- to some the acronym stands for "off the record" or "on the road" but to others it means Old Time Radio, like Jack Benny and Amos & Andy. Those are two of the three programs I like best, the third being the spinoff from Fibber McGee and Molly, The Great Gildersleeve! Elizabeth Thomsen's site has moved since I linked to it a while back -- found it again via Jack's Killer List of OTR Sites. Looking up Lum and Abner I find that unlike Gildy's Summerfield, Pine Ridge Arkansas is a real place, which now has a Jot 'Em Down Store Museum -- that's a real tribute.

Two links from Follow Me Here, and one from Justin:

  • Music to be born to, music to die to --
    This is an article where people declare soundtrack requests for their own births and deaths. The "BMJ" source must be something like the British Medical Journal -- one response I particulary liked (since my mental jukebox can easily conjure up the music) was
      To be born to? Well, the "Dambusters" march, obviously.
  • Recent Daily Telegraph interview with Arthur C. Clarke: Life beyond 2001
  • Duct Tape fashion page
My initial reaction to that Electronic Telegraph is quite positive, in contrast to the domestic newspapers I follow online -- attractive, colorful pages, and the text utilizes links intelligently.

Thursday 12-28
There certainly are a lot of weird things to be found on the wwweb (and I'm grateful we have the likes of Mr Pants to find them).

A percentage of the enlightened, liberal community is all a-twitter about "Traffic," the new movie about the evils of the Drug War. Washington Post writer Richard Cohen, of all people, points out the film's defects -- although he does describe some,

To list [all of] the absurdities, stupidities and inanities of this movie would not only take the rest of this column, it would be pointless -- but something of a public service. You will not likely find it done anywhere else. Instead, all but one of the critics I've read are in thrall to whiz-kid Soderbergh's movie-making.

It was Alfred Hitchcock who used the term "icebox scene" to describe the moment when a moviegoer realized that a part of a film made no sense. If that moment occurs hours after the movie is over -- when the person who has seen the movie is reaching into the icebox for a late-night snack -- that's permissible. But if the icebox scene occurs as you are watching the movie, then that is not permissible.

I have a big problem with naïve, uncritical moviegoers who're oblivious to the latter icebox, who tell me to "just sit back and enjoy it." How can I? My disbelief is no longer suspended.

Wednesday 12-27
Back from the annual holiday Eastern Campaign; this year's journey was particularly successful (with off-topic visits including the Art Nouveau show and the charming, historic downtowns of Ellicot City and Charlottesville). Although my flights were full, lining up the tickets in August insured great seats, and to my amazement they were both on schedule.

Although Patrick Farley's beautiful Electric Sheep comics site has new art on the main page, which says it's v.3, I perceive no fresh content. However, he is linking to his excellent Saturnalia once again, which should be required reading for any of the multitude of historically ignorant Christians who believe that Jesus' birthday is the reason for the holiday season.
The celebration of the Solstice was officially forbidden by the Christian Church, but continued on among peasants and nobles nonetheless. Finally, in the Fourth Century, Pope Julius I acquiesced and created the holiday we now know as Christmas, substituting the birth of Jesus (which most historians have placed in September) for the veneration of the Pangenitor in an attempt to transform the pagan holiday into a Christian one.
Andy points me towards jumptheshark.com, a concept new to me. From the FAQ:
It's a moment. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now on...it's all downhill. Some call it the climax. We call it "Jumping the Shark." From that moment on, the program will simply never be the same.
Their page on "Hogan's Heroes" has amazing trivia, including the reaction from a viewer in Germany who details the differences in the version shown there (scroll to the bottom). The dubbed dialogue was not a literal translation and seems to have been distorted intentionally, and perhaps frequently, so that audience wouldn't get upset -- keep 'em laughing, it's just a comedy.

Two notes concerning on-screen translations:

  • Viewers of foreign films (like me) are often momentarily irritated when a character says a lot but the accompanying subtitle is quite short. What else was just said? Now I know to wonder: Is an agenda the reason? Whose?
  • In German-speaking (and perhaps other) countries, translated audio-visual works are almost always dubbed because that language doesn't lend itself to easy "read-alonging," ie the text would take up too much space.

Dr Phil Agre has finally regained interest in things other than the election, so his Red Rock Eater Digest has new "Notes and Recommendations" -- Dec 21st's opens with the thoughtful "Thou shalt not appear to spam" and has stuff about first-world myopia, and survival skills elsewhere, like Brazil and Russia:

First-world myopia means that you can forget, or never even know, about the elaborate institutional systems that make it possible to live in a bubble. Then when an institution does fail, for example if you are a victim of identity theft and the credit reporting agencies and cops aren't interested in helping you, then you are clueless, stranded, completely on your own. It's not something that first-world culture understands.

This is not a problem in Brazil. Everyone in Brazail is painfully aware of the vast institutional background that makes their lives possible, precisely because that background keeps breaking.

Tuesday 12-19
Eric Carlson's Soft Underbelly of San Jose is probably of no interest to out-of-towners, but he "reviews" one of those green public pay toilets like they've had up the City for a while, and also now in Palo Alto -- David called the similar units in Paris the "orgasmatron" after Woody Allen's "Sleeper" and the use couples made of them there.

Lindsay points towards the Pitch Drop Experiment -- reminds me of the Night Watchman's tour I so enjoyed tagging along with, that night in Rothenburg -- he described how in medieval times it wasn't hot oil or the Hunchback's molten lead which was poured onto enemies from atop the town walls, but Pech, which means both pitch and bad luck, auf Deutsch. (More info on the Pitch Drop Experiment -- it's been underway since 1927.)

Heard about this device, produced by the Leningrad Optical and Mechanical Organization, on a Marketplace story last night (scroll down).

Six years ago, two Viennese art students stumbled upon a Lomo, a defunct Cold-War era spy camera, in a junk shop in Prague.
They now have a web presence, naturally, including the tasteful www.lomo.com, but navigation into its "shop" section didn't work for me (I just wanted to see what one looks like). Fortunately their Japanese site has a good illustration. Now of course, they've become too hip, no longer mere Soviet surplus, are back in production and priced above $200.

In reaction to 'it's abuse' I threw together a short educational primer about the problem. Having vented, I feel better.

Monday 12-18
Ho Ho Ho!
Santarchy is an example of these groups -- they dress up in cheap Santa Claus suits, then congregate in public places, sometimes getting drunk and disorderly. The events may have started with the LA Cacaphony Society -- they call it Santa Rampage; contrast this illustration from a previous year, when they assembled on the beach at Venice, with the mysterious summertime Japanese variant -- we'll probably never understand why they're carrying a "Saturday Night Fever" banner.

While browsing a bookstore a couple days ago, I was reading in some 1930s book about the misery of French military life along the Maginot Line -- site author Clayton Donnell has done extensive exploration, visiting the areas in 1988 and returning a decade later. For balance, also on Yahoo/GeoCities, the Atlantikwall Website details the pillbox bunkers the Germans built along the coast. It's not as attractively designed as the former (although apparently in the midst of reconstruction), but features lots more photos of the ruins today; and both sites contain extensive information about which facilities have become museums.

Sunday 12-17
My previous linkage to aircraft carriers of the Imperial Japanese Navy was stimluated by a comic shop sighting -- the spinoff from Ted Nomura and Ben Dunn's alternate history Luftwaffe 1946 series called "Kamikaze 1946." (I'd like to link to their own web site, but for whatever reasons Antarctic Press has never given proper attention to their web presence.) Now via Larkfarm Mike I find Dan Johnson's Luft '46, which details aircraft designs under development in Germany at the end of WWII, like the Horten flying wings -- among everything else there's even some heavier-than-air flying machines produced by the Zeppelin corporation.

Popocatépetl is erupting -- Yahoo news has a beautiful night photo from Friday and a little more information; for a live view el Centro Nacional de Prevencion de Desastres has a webcam to which I've linked before -- it updates every two seconds. Was cloudy today, I'm checking back at night hoping for something spectaular, but nothing yet -- the glow may be too dim to register on that camera.

Great Courtland Milloy column in the Post, he was at a students' Q&A with Judge Thomas of the Supremes, ends a little prematurely -- what happened next?

Saturday 12-16
Been absorbing Larry Hall's excellent Prisoner site, extensive detail marred only by the author's all-too-common lack of familiarity with the correct spelling of the third person singular neutral possesive pronoun. (How it bugs me -- "It's its!" I shout, "No apostrophe!") Speaking of "The Prisoner," IMDb trivia reveals the big answer:
According to script editor and co-creator George Village pennyfarthing Markstein, Number Six resigned from his position after discovering files indicating the existence of the Village. The Village was an idea Number Six had submitted to his superiors many years before but had since decided was monstrously inhuman.
We all know George -- he's "the man behind the desk" in the opening sequence, but that's just a cameo -- he was heavily involved with the production but had a major falling-out with Patrick McGoohan after the twelvth episode had been produced -- a fascinating interview with him is part of the above site. (I wonder what they call "D" notices now... they must be quite common.) The links page points towards another good Village site, created by Kipp Teague, but it's more commercial, in that anti-deep-linking manner which I consider both user-hostile and a challenge -- for example, his missing "Fall Out" scene page is also fascinating, but turn off javascript before you hit the link or you'll be bounced back to his top-level. (I've seen the occasional still from this scene but never knew the context.)
Thursday 12-14
The Luddite Reader has reviews of selected films -- scroll to the bottom for the Finchley Zone, and links to subsequent decades. Somewhere in there it points towards Kill Your Television:
The website dedicated to exposing television for what it is: An addictive device which keeps the lower classes subdued; a perpetuator of violence and materialism; and a silent destroyer of intellectualism.

Wednesday 12-13
Yesterday General Motors announced the death of the Oldsmobile -- there's been rumors about that division merging with Buick for some time. This CNN article about the restructuring also says Daimler-Chrysler announced Plymouth's demise last year, although I still see advertising for the Neon -- seems like 2001 will be its last model year, and their Prowler roadster will become the Chrysler Prowler. Always thought Plymouth (or is it Dodge?) blew it with the Neon by not utilzing Cool Neon for its "badge," that logo-word written with a tubing font on that vehicle's rear.

Speaking of phone numbers, they used to begin with a word, like "PEnnsylvania 6-5000" (the Glenn Miller song of this hotel). A while back I was pointed towards the Telephone EXchange Name Project where you can look up what yours used to be, if the number's not too new.

Saw this 'experiments' link (from the "Special Postage & Handling Issue" of the Annals of Improbable Research) mentioned in several weblogs before looking myself; not bad.

The USPS appears to have some collective sense of humor, and might in fact here be displaying the rudiments of organic bureaucratic intelligence.

Tuesday 12-12
The design of aircraft carriers has stabilized; now that we're used to them it's hard to believe they evolved from a rather different design. This great Imperial Navy site details the history of the Japanese military afloat -- the appearance of their aircraft carriers remind me of something out of the first (new) "Batman" movie's Gotham City. I saw this painting of the Shokaku at the Yaskuni shrine museum, noting its weird downward-pointing funnels on the port side. These vessels look odd to contemporary eyes because their flight decks were built atop an existing ship's superstructure, like our own primal Langley.
Friday 12-8
LA Times article from Wednesday's edition about longer local phone numbers:
The Federal Communications Commission may require the country to go to 10-digit dialing as early as next month in a sweeping effort to conserve phone numbers and slow the need for new area codes.
In my own area there's been rumors of forcing us to dial eleven digits, should we be forced to include the area code (suggested due to the "overlay" scheme, already implemented in some areas, where different area codes coexist in the same place). When this is (inevitably) foisted upon us, I'd prefer dialing just ten digits rather than precede every phone number with the long-distance "1" default. (But who dials anymore? Actually I have one retro telephone, found it by a dumpster; but most folks nowadays punch their push-buttons.)
"This opens up a can of worms about when a consumer is dialing a real long-distance call where they are charged by the minute, as opposed to a local call where they pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited usage."
This move will either hasten that period predicted by Arthur C. Clarke when all phone calls worldwide will be charged the local rate; or (more probably) implement the scheme the phone companies crave, whereby local calls are charged like long distance -- no more flat rate. The article goes on to describe an the underlying problem: instead of the usual explanation for the shortage, an explosion in new numbers for fax, pager and cell phones, it's really the grossly inefficient (but recently tightened-up) manner in which blocks of commercial phone numbers are assigned. It ends with
... they're looking ahead at having to go to 12 digits well within the next decade.
Like other countries, for example France and Japan, where they've added some integer to ther beginning of all existing numbers, and then started all new numbers with a different digit -- or perhaps the chaotic British variant, where they change all the existing numbers at the same time.
(Thanks Hacker Girl)

Wednesday 12-6
Two hours of terminally cheesy 70's TV:
A major on-line magazine I try to resist reading just had an article all about the "Star Wars Holiday Special," but Stomp Tokyo does a much better job.
(Thanks PCJM)

Deadly Decoys -- Cell Phone Guns Discovered

Tuesday 12-5
Some days fill up with so much unusual activity that a new journal entry might be appropriate, rather than these sketchy weblog notes -- yesterday was just such a day. After post-work dentoid visit for re-installation of the crown which fell out Thursday, the planned video-watching evening was disrupted by a power outage -- merely hunkering down by the light of my kerosene Alladin had become boring, the radio had no news of anything unusual. I decided to go outside and have an adventure, whereupon I became locked out of my apartment -- not in the usual way; the key wouldn't work since the lock mechanism actually broke. Under the cover of darkness I was able to peform the alternate entry method: fetching one of those old step-ladders stashed behind the other building and climbing in through my balcony. My assistant, holding the ladder, was the annoying chubby skateboard-bully neighbor-kid, rendered meek with voice a-quaver by the blackout -- his guardian hadn't arrived home yet, so he latched onto me. Standing atop the ladder, about to put my full weight on the balcony railing, dark, silent buildings all around, I wondered -- "Is this where the aging brackets and the stucco walls detach and I split my head open on that concrete down below?" But no, it held; turned out this was instead the time I disassembled two door locks deadlatch in darkness with a flashlight in my mouth -- a part of the latch had broken off, preventing the door's opening until I finally extracted that half-inch piece of metal. A little later the lights came back on and civilization was restored. Where was my doofus resident manager during all this? I heard him starting up a big portable generator inside his own unit -- as usual I figured the prudent course was to just leave him alone and resolve the dilemma myself.
Sunday 12-3
Sometimes Lynda Berry is just so dead on, like in this week's 100 Demons where she wonders
Why are some songs so perfect in a way that never happens again on our lives? What is it about music and being older than 12 but younger than 20?
Copied this from Usenet somewhere, a thread of cheese appreciation in a foodie newsgroup:
And who will ever forget the poet Leon-Paul Fargue, who inhaled a noseful of French Camembert and murmured, "Ahhh... the feet of God."

My socks are off to you.

Friday 12-1
The new Smithsonian magazine has an article about the Modcom googie preservationists has a nice photo of Pann's, an LA restaurant I know well -- on the spine of its matchbook, "The Ultra of the Southwest."

Today is World AIDS Day, when we remember the friends taken by the disease, and pray for those infected. For most of it this page was a participant in the Day Without Weblogs.

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