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March 2001

Friday 3-30
Boeing just announced their plan to market a new type of passenger aircraft, the sonic cruiser -- and it's about time! Finally, not a bigger, but a faster plane! And it'll resemble the SR-71 Blackbird.

The Aurora Gallery from March 19-24 is beautiful -- wish I'd been up north last week.

Also up north last week, many reports of trouble with wireless devices in Bremerton, Wash -- local speculation blames a military jamming device aboard a Navy ship, left active while the crew went on shore leave. More about jamming: illegal (but available offshore) devices which thwart the popular units the British call "mobiles" and the Germans, "handys": the C-Guard Cellular Firewall, the Wave-Shield Portable Cellular Phone Jammer and the Bluetooth solution, which switches off the phones' ringers.

A page with links and commentary about the Ten Creepiest Celebrity Websites -- worth a visit just for the unflattering head shots.

Thursday 3-29
People sure scan in some goofy stuff -- recent head-shaker: all his Wal-Mart receipts -- and he shops there frequently. (No link provided 'cause I hate Wal-Mart.) This one's marginally interesting: the 5.25" floppy disk sleeve archive. "Bat"s got hundreds of 'em on display, and is now soliciting for 8-inchers also.

Amazing animated GIF -- tells a whole story. (From Japan -- the title kanji say cho-shoku -- breakfast.)

Another graphic link, via Ember:

Mathematicians call this path an epicycloid. The rest of the world calls them SpiroGraphs!!
Adjust the parameter scrollbars and hit "draw." (Requires Java.)

Wednesday 3-28
The Coarsening of America -- the author targets athletic shoes as the catalyst of the our society's decline.

This factoid often appears within any media-babble about how annoying dc.driving's become: "second-worst traffic in the nation, after Los Angeles." I think it's bogus, a specious put-down of La-La Land. The comparison's apples and oranges, because the two areas are very different in size and geography: in LA, when the freeway slows to a crawl you can alwats escape to the surface streets, but while commuting around DC, you're often trapped: there is no alternative. An article in the latest Smithsonian magazine confirms this (although most of the examples in We're in a Jam are from Atlanta:

A typical motorist in Washington now loses more hours in traffic delays -- 82 each year -- than one in any other city, including Los Angeles (76).

Tuesday 3-27
A different AOL: Antarctica Online. Too Amerocentric, but a well-designed site all about what it's like, living there.

Recommended: "Underground Legends" in Sam Smith's DC-based Progressive Review (scroll down to March 24), in reaction to Metrorail's anniversary:

...there is little the Washington Post loves more than its Metro subway system. So we had to expect celebratory paroxysms on the subway's 25th birthday and more Post disinformation on the subject. This is more than a local story, since US taxpayers paid for the bulk of the $9.4 billion gift to area business interests. Here are a few of thing the Post didn't tell its readers:
(One of the next ten paragraphs -- a shorter example)
The Post claims, wrongly, that the subway became a "model for moving people swiftly between suburbs and the city." In fact, the system became a model for how not to design a modern transit system. No area ever attempted anything like it again.

Monday 3-26
Two links from the news wires:

CNN lists the top ten at-work "beefs" people have, and describes strategies to combat them.

Looks like the Swiss are loosening up, following the Dutch model: the IHT reports their Bowing to "Social Reality." It's true: while in Bern one afternoon in '98, walking through a crowded park in broad daylight, I caught a whiff of that familiar, distinctive smell.

Sunday 3-25
Metrorail has been running in DC for 25 years now -- the Washington Post is consolidating links to all their anniversary coverage on this special page.

Been eating so much trout of late (buying a filet at the Mountain View Farmer's Market Sunday morning's become a tradition), decided a re-reading of Trout Fishing in America was in order. Then reached the conclusion, haven't read enough of Richard Brautigan, so I'm catching up -- not difficult, given his simple style. Found this Beatnik Paradiso site while seeking out an acceptable bibliography.

Up in the City last night, on Haight Street for the usual stops: Amoeba, Escape From New York Pizza for a slice, then into the Red Vic for "Gojira," the original Godzilla (sans Raymond Burr -- this wasn't the usual dubbed & re-edited version seen in this country). Afterwards, as a light rain fell, a mob of people seemed to be blocking the street, with some sounds of police activity and flashing lights. As the space between us shrank I realized I was walking towards a parade, a ragged bunch of anarchists -- some carried little flags bearing that circle-A symbol. In the center they dragged along a large wheeled vehicle, like a rickshaw, its cargo a big boombox blasting techno. Bringing up the rear of the procession were three SFPD cruisers. As I passed them, moving towards my car parked in nearby Golden Gate Park, I mused upon the phenomenon of anarchists marching together, in the same direction -- semed a little oxymoronic.

Thursday 3-22
The new 'exhibition' at a British art gallery is reminiscent of Yves Klein's 1958 Void Performance in Paris.

Last month I mentioned this new book about IBM and the Third Reich, and my skeptical desire to see an actual Nazi punch-card. Well, the book has been released, here's the introduction -- looked through it at Borders yesterday -- read the first chapter, and the story's compelling, but there's no illustrations! Not even the Dehomag D11 tabulating machine at the Holocaust Museum, the catalyst which provoked the author's research. I suspect the Hollerith card on the cover is bogus, but this picture accompanying a feature about the collaboration in Der Spiegel might be the genuine article -- but it's not punched.

Still have several pairs, but rarely wear 'em -- running shoes are just much more comfortable. Still, rumors that Converse would be going out of business were distressing, but fortunately CNN reports the bankrupt company is being purchased, and the famous Chuck Taylor sneaker won't be confined to the closet of history. The Converse website's FAQ answers that fundamental question, Who was Chuck Taylor?

Charles "Chuck" Taylor was born June 24, 1901, and grew up outside of Columbus, Indiana, where he was a high school basketball star. In 1923, Chuck Taylor's signature was added to the All Star ankle patch in recognition of his significant contributions.
Didn't realize the brand had been around for 45 years before I laced up my first pair.

Wednesday 3-21
An ASCII artist holds forth on the Demise of the ¢ sign (fading out since it wasn't included in that character set).

Now's the time for general articles about movie-going, since the Academy Awards happen soon. (Sometime this weekend? Not that I'd know, or care -- Oscar's irrelevant, like Grammy: not a useful gauge -- the prize is no indication of quality.) Anyway, this CSM article describes the cinema experience in a sample of foreign countries.

At one time 'Things That Suck' was a somewhat common page people would use to beef up their personal web sites. Then they got boring (in fact, the whole "home page" thing got stale) so now coming upon a list like that is rare. But Keith Alexander keeps a succinct little Peeves page at his site; other good things there are the Whole Foods and (illustrated) NYC Subway pages. (I've had a pointer to the complete text of Neuromancer on my links page for a while now, this is its source.)

Reporters sans Frontières has a great article, The Enemies of the Internet -- explains why that daffy (North) Korean Central News Agency site is in a Japanese domain:

The most authoritarian regimes pass laws, monitor and censor with the greatest zeal, because they feel that they are in a race for time against cyber-dissidence. North Korea has decided: no servers, no connections possible. Kim Jong-Il's country is the only one in the world where the Internet does not exist, which does not prevent Pyongyang from running a few propaganda sites hosted in Japan. Saudi Arabia, a rich and sparsely populated country, preferred building a huge system, in Jeddah, to filter addresses and content. At the opposite end of the spectrum from this "national Intranet", China, with more than 20 million Internet users already, trains brigades of police officers to fight "a war against anti-governmental and anticommunist articles published on the Web", and passes highly repressive laws: cyber-crime is punishable by the death penalty.

Tuesday 3-20
This next bit triggered by two links gleaned from Follow Me Here:

"Politically Correct" -- this brief essay about it "eroding and emasculating our available terms of reference" says the expression's a decade old, but I first heard it in 1985 when an acquantance used it by way of uncool apology -- he'd just gotten a job as a car salesman, another attempt at a possible career, and when he allowed as to how it was at a Buick dealership he sheepishly admitted that the make wasn't 'politically correct.' We all laughed; its generally acknowledged target has shifted since then to the Liberal mindset which Conservatives love to ridicule -- but this 1996 book arguing for separation of church and state (The Godless Constitution by Kramnick and Moore) proposes an expression to combat their pinheaded Christian zealotry they consider a panacea: "Religiously Correct." (Here's the book's first chapter.)

Great entry at kottke.org today: "It's a sign that God wants us all to use the Internet" -- followed by some pictures he took at SXSW.

Triana -- wasn't this Al Gore's idea? Or at least something he was talking about, years before his candidacy... scheduled launch date is now January 2002, and it'll take a few months for the satellite to get to the designated L1 LaGrange point of Earth's orbit around Sol.

Once it reaches its destination, Triana's camera will begin to transmit a full color RGB image of the entire sunlit side of the Earth once every fifteen minutes. These images will then be continuously distributed over the Internet.

Sunday 3-18
Been appreciating this cute corporate logo during previous trips to Japan; since they're now into a partnership, this time it was also spotted on some UPS vehicles with text in English so I was finally able to get an ID -- it's the Yamato Takkyubin. (No relation to that Yamato.) The word takkyubin might be familiar to fans of Kiki's Delivery Service -- its Japanese title is "Majo no Takkyubin." Anyway, Yamato is a relatively young company which filled quite an incredible void -- according to their history page, before they started business in 1975,
When ordinary people were to send small parcels, they would go to a post office, but the post office only accepted parcels up to six kilograms. When students of rural areas were moving to Tokyo for college or work, it was usual for them to pack their things securely with twine, with two nametags, and take them to a national railroad station. It was always the case that it took one week to arrive, and there was no promise for the arrival date. Since parcels were to be picked up at the station, sending parcels for ordinary people was a difficult and time-consuming effort and there were no guarantees.
A pair of sci-Fi author links:
First, the immortal E.E. "Doc" Smith -- loved both his Skylark books and especially the Lensmen series, read through them in my early teens. Here's a Lensmen FAQ -- I still recall vivid elements: the inertialess drive; the telepathic state of being in rapport, where the character 'called' would freeze in mid-step for the duration of the conversation; the planet-sized Negasphere composed of anti-matter; the odd convention of referring to Earth as Tellus; the Lens itself, and how a huge one materialized in the middle of the Children's circle during the climactic battle in the concluding novel; and especially the graduation ceremony at the beginning of Galactic Patrol (since we had that paperback kicking around on Biltmore Street, and I began re-reading it a couple times). Also, the quasi-official Robert Silverberg Home Page.

Heard a report about the new Eden Project on public radio -- here's another, from the BBC. which I got from Jorn -- his assessment of the English 'biomes' was "a Silent Running theme park"... but I find no evidence of Bruce Dern, or Huey and Dewey (of course, "We lost Louie").

Check the unbelievably lame animated GIF portrait of this U.S. congressman on his web site -- can it possibly be that his constituents back in Ohio respond favorably?

Wednesday 3-14
It's White Day in Japan, the counterpart to their one-way Valentine's Day celebration. Decorations are pastel, or blue and white hearts, instead of the February red.

Saw these for sale all over Tokyo, and they were just so weird I had to bring a smaller sample home -- bought mine at the new 'Times Square' branch of Tokyu Hands in Shinjuku. They always come in these pairs, usually blue but occasionally pink or green, and it wasn't until this weekend that I deciphered the phonetic hiragana on the label and started to get some more information; but it's sketchy, incomplete -- like the Zone "To Serve Man," all we've got to work with is the title: UMININ. What follows are a few of the sites discovered while seeking enlightenment. Nothing in English yet, all are Japanese -- the best guess so far is something game- or possibly anime-related. So: those colors, especially green; animated uminin GIFs, an artistic impression, and another with a wood background -- coincidentally, the way Geoff photographed my pair. He also located this War of the Worlds variant, which leads to neat stuff like this if you follow the URL back to its Neuron root. What do you think? Send any speculation, thoughts in reaction, or information here.

Another object I bought in Japan was the new Gibson, All Tomorrow's Parties, which I just finished reading. Stepping into his world is always such a satisfying future-rush. Can't really dispute the gist of this negative review, it's true, nothing really seems to happen; but I sure get into the view through the windshield during the ride. This positive review echoes my enthusiasm; both are illustrated with the cover of the American edition, which is still only available here as a glossy, too-expensive trade paperback. Wound up paying even a little more for the Penguin edition, but I prefer its smaller size and superior cover art. (Both depict the wrong bridge, as this interview from the San Francisco Chronicle makes clear. Like all speculative fiction, reading while fresh maximizes the pleasure, for example he now describes the stealthy, virtual Kowloon Walled City construct as 'a big communal website they turned inside out,' whereas in the previous Idoru it was characterized as an 'inverted kill-file.'

Tuesday 3-13
All Your Brand Are Belong To Us: Pre-emptively hijacking strong memes for heightened media resistance.

Are they actually for sale? Check the wide selection of Diety Action Figures available from the Jesus Christ Superstore.

The Ant Farm's Cadillac Ranch page. Two extracts:

In August 1997 Cadillac Ranch was moved 2 miles to west in order to escape from the expanding Amarillo city limits ... The purpose of this monument is to let the audience participate in it.
In other words, grafitti is encouraged. Driving west across the country in January 1987, I was unaware of the Ranch's precise location -- I drove right past, oblivious, unware of the point when I should've glanced right -- but the ongoing blizzard may have obscured the cars.

Friday 3-9
Forgive me while I indulge in a bit of vexillology, throwing out a bunch of links from the excellent "Flags of the World" (FOTW), which addresses the problem of the near-identical flags for Luxembourg and the Netherlands. (Their blues do look slightly different to me -- Lux is lighter.) The article points out how the flags of Chad and Romania, and Monaco and Indonesia (may as well contrast the upside-down Poland with those latter two) are identical; but doesn't mention the Christmas-y flags of Italy and Mexico. (Oh sure, Italy's has no central badge now. But it used to.)

Good ranting about 'net copyright (and copyleft) issues, mixed with some technical enlightenment about relevant current events, in the Potlatch Protocol of potlatch.net -- not sure just what the site is, exactly -- a dated queue, of log-style entries, but the author(s)' identity is obscure. Way down, after a description of the native American potlatch, comes this mission statement:

Potlatch.net exists to promote, propagandize, and experiment with the theory and practice of the gift economy of the future, which is... the only way off of the runaway train of corporatism.
Although its revolutionary flavor is quite refreshing I pessimistically fear for the worst, thinking it naïve to believe any real change will come without a preliminary, devasting collapse of the physical, civil and/or environmental infrastructures. Which I've felt is imminent, on and off, for my entire post-pubescent life...

A library of the covers from ACE Doubles (familiar to any paperback reader of the 1960s; The Dark Intruder has always been a personal favorite) and Earthquake as Artist (via sand tracing pendulum) - the "Rattle in Seattle."

The previous three links were all culled from other weblogs, I forget just which, but they're accessible from my links page. Slate says weblogs are part of a well-balanced media diet.

Wednesday 3-7
Speaking of hajj season, I thought I'd heard that Rev. Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam would be attending this year, but he's already been. (Conjecture was the trip might make him lighten up a bit.) Plus a follow-up detailing the magnitude of the Taleban's vandalism:
The destruction of two giant Buddhas carved out of a mountainside at Bamian, in the highlands of Afghanistan, is a disaster of abysmal proportions reminiscent of China's Cultural Revolution.
Tuesday 3-6
Richard Cohen's latest, about the Afghani destruction ofall their Buddha-statues, makes some great points:
Afghanistan, you see, has a faith-based government.

As is often the case with the pathologically pious, there is no reasoning with the Taliban.

It is always useful to see faith run amok, because it offers, well, religious instruction. We are now in an awfully pious period in our own country; to point out that intolerance and religion often go hand-in-hand can be a perilous undertaking. We are a churchy nation -- far more so than any other Western country. The Swedes, the Brits, even the Italians seldom go to church. Americans go regularly. Those nations have lower rates of violent crime and other social maladies, but so what? The efficacy of religion is considered proven, even if it is not.

Lindsay has this reaction to the vandalism, a valid observation:
I bet the Budhha wouldn't have been bothered at all -- change is everything and you really have to avoid clinging to things.
And a final relevant issue, generally overlooked by many of the Christians, is the second commandment's prohibition on graven images. Islam just reads that one literally. On the other hand, members of the latter religion seem a trifle unclear on the sixth commandment... yesterday was Eid ul-Adha, the end of Ramadan. This means in addition to the annual hajj stampede, it's time for the celebratory qurbani, or ritual sacrifice. Much to the European Muslim community's irritation, governments on that continent are liquidating the ovine and bovine supply just as its most needed (because of the hoof & mouth panic), but there's no trouble meeting demand in New Jersey. Can't imagine the scene in Saudi, where reports during this season always mention how the world's largest 'abattoir' is once again in full swing. In Istanbul, rational minds are speaking out against the slaughter:
"People are taking sheep to the ninth floor and cutting them in the bathroom. It smells, there are flies all over the place, there's blood going into the water system and street dogs are grabbing the bones."

Entire families turned out for the search for the perfect sacrificial sheep or cow Sunday afternoon, as much of an annual rite as an American family's outing to select the perfect Christmas tree.

They're not at all wasteful about it, but the practice sure seems brutal to delicate Western sensibilities. And now there's official U.S. recognition of the holiday: the Postal Service is issuing their first Eid stamp. This may be interpreted as an insult, since it's only a 33¢.

Monday 3-5
Astonishing dc.driving revelation:
Signaling is not required when changing lanes in DC or Maryland (according to Dr Gridlock).

Two more Japanese links via the ever-excellent GMT+9, both visual: Things I saw in Japan, by David F. Gallagher; and a bunch of workers. The second one's something I've thought of documenting myself, but never seem to have the right camera, lighting, or opportunity -- it's a gallery of these cartoony worker-figures from warning signboards at any construction site. The ones I like best are bowing to apologize for the inconvenience -- this last trip I even saw a couple of great examples with motion lines -- those aren't represented here but you can get the general idea.

Sunday 3-4
Cinematic culture-weekend: movies both (rainy) days. First, "Standing With Fishes," not bad, but this reviewer liked it much less. Then today, a documentary called "Gibtown" about Gibsonton, Florida, the community where "carnies" winter. It was shown as part of the local film festival called Cinequest, and was screened with two shorts, "The Beating Heart" and "For Earth Below" (the last one being my favorite of the trio). Afterwards, when the lights came on, a few of the filmmakers appeared up front for a little Q & A -- that was special. During this show the roof started leaking, naturally right by my seat -- eventually I had to move. Nobody did anything about it, though -- just a few drops, not a deluge, and it had stopped by the end of "Gibtown."

Just discovered a situation where Microsoft's Internet Explorer is clearly superior to my Netscape browser-of-choice. For a while now I've been annoyed, when trying to cut&paste text from certain sources (for example, the Washington Post's site) -- my attempts to highlight are stymied, somehow (forcing me to use "View Source" to get at their verbiage). I'd assumed something involving JavaScript or style sheets was the cause, but I've learned these sites don't phase IE, at least on machines running Windows. The trick's inside the HTML: for some reason, if you have the ALIGN attribute set to either RIGHT or LEFT inside a <TABLE> tag, Netscape hobbles text highlighting inside the table, but IE doesn't care. (The ALIGN attribute controls the position of a table in relation to the text surrounding it.) Incidently, the main method used to restrict text-copying is to put the whole thing up as a PDF file.

Thursday 3-1
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again -- but Cybercabin "Bo" did, with Uncle Dick, on the Voyager of the Seas, the largest cruise ship afloat. He marks his daily entries with precise lat-long information from a GPS hand-held -- join him as he whiles away a week-long Caribbean voyage dining on milk, burgers and pizza.

Three more Japanese notes:

  • Those little electronic musical ditties around the Yamanote line stations are being updated -- and they changed Shibuya's! Thank heavens I captured it last trip (and the link to my online MP3 sound file is available here).
  • Observed an amusing dot-com graffito, near my hotel up the hill from Shibuya station, and took a snap-shot.
  • I remember way back when, sometime during school, somebody pointing out how zippers always had the letters "YKK" on their pull-tabs, and wondering why. (Go ahead, check yours, that one may not but I'm sure you'll find some in your wardrobe.) It's a Japanese company, Yoshida Kogyo Kabushiki-gaisha.

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