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May 2000

Monday 5-29
I've only got a couple days left with my ISP and no replacement as yet (although there is a likely candidate) -- but in fact, I may go on a total iHiatus for a while. Therefore, postings to this page and even (gasp) email may not resume for an indeterminite time, probably just a few days.

Wednesday 5-24
Feed's "Elsewhere on the Web" points at the Funet Russian Archive -- many, many links and assorted stuff about Mother Russia and the USSR.

Tuesday 5-23
Five good links recently harvested from Mike's Weblog. The guy's amazingly prolific (and of special interest to all Wunderlanders, as he recently included a pointer to our own Rubik's Cube Art).
  • U.S. Air Force Museum Archives Gallery -- look up details about any military aircraft, past and present.
  • fiftythings "A Cultural Inventory for the Next Millenium" -- things worth preserving, and/or just nattering on about. (Fifty isn't a limit, but a figure for the universe in the 'Asian tradition')
  • Computer Virus Myths
    Rob Rosenberger has been tracking them for years
  • Doomed Engineers
    perhaps the most interesting of these five offerings
  • The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald - what really happened on Lake Superior, punctuated by (and with commentary on) the Gordon Lightfoot lyrics. His big, boring hit of a dirge was one of a few I heard endlessly in 1976, while working grave shift at Goddard, blaring out of the one audio component in our "bullpen" office. This was when I was involved with processing LANDSAT image data -- the radio was tuned either to a top 40 or the then-novel disco station. (These choices were mandated by popular consent, usually unchallenged because reception was too poor at that inside location, when we tried tuning in WGTB.) Other songs I recall from the endless repetition were the excremental songs by Boston and Peter Frampton, and the worst: "Muskrat Love."
Monday 5-22
Lots of good stuff at The Metaverse - try "How to tell if you're German" (or American, or Japanese), his essay "Is science killing science fiction?" and his review of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

This David Sedaris reference page has links to all of his RealAudio available online.
(Thanks Bird on a Wire)

www.toyraygun.com -- a collector's shrine to his hobby.

Saturday 5-20
A couple tidbits of beauty in the May Smithsonian magazine: from their Craft Show 2000 (an exhibition which seems to have been open fpr only three days last month), Valeri Timofeev's plique-à-jour enameling, an intriguing technique from pre-revolutionary Russia. Also, from an article about iconoclastic Japanese houses, the Sunfish House looks like a copper version of the "2001" lunar spacecraft, which has landed in the forests above Atami.

Thursday 5-18
Re-reading Nevil Shute's Trustee From the Toolroom, his last novel but the first of my mid-80s jag, when I absorbed all his books. Curious about the narrative's Congreve clock I discovered Sinclair Harding, English clockmakers who build archaic timepieces from exotic materials.

My Japan '99 report has just been added to the Rec.Travel Library. Their "Which side of the road do they drive on...?" page might be of interest, especially for its world map depicting Right from Wrong (er, Left). The information's not just limited to driving, but also covers trains, boats, and the side pedestrians swerve to (or not, apparently, in the UK).

Some Japanese Logos.
(Thanks Pigs and Fishes)

CNN reports recently declassified info about a post-Sputnik plan to detonate a thermonuclear device on the moon. Young Carl Sagan was involved.

Tuesday 5-16
Home from work, sick, with some but (fortunately) not the complete range of flu and cold symptoms -- watching Bergman's "Smiles of a Summer Night." I wanted to see "Stolen Kisses" again after reading this Salon appreciation of "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise," but the only copy they had at the Videoplatz was dubbed. Antoine Doinel being made to speak English? Impossible!

Geoff sends along an ABC News report of seizures triggered by sounds, like certain songs and TV shows. I think it's a bunch of hooey, coming out of the same headspace as the belief in the efficacy of subliminal messages.

Monday 5-15
Although it did well at the box office, I knew better and went off to see the four windows of "Timecode" this weekend instead of wasting my time with what Slate labels the "Worst Sci-Fi Movie Ever Made" -- their David Edelstein savages the "Battlefield Earth" movie:
Here is a picture that will be hailed without controversy as the worst of its kind ever made. It could be renamed "Ed Wood's Planet of the Apes" if that title didn't promise more cheesy fun than the movie actually delivers. Too old and, by his own description, too fat to play the film's human warrior hero, Travolta has taken the role of its arch-villain, Terl, a 9-foot, dreadlocked "Psychlo." This is the kind of bad guy who strokes his beard with long (Lee Press-On?) talons, gloats over the imminent extermination of the human race, then adds, "Hah-hah-hah-hah-hah!" Fu Manchu would roll his eyes. Ming the Merciless would politely excuse himself.
The Salon review, although superficial in comparison, elaborates by adding this report of audience reaction:
By the time the final credits rolled, two guys behind me were performing loud imitations of Terl's Snidely Whiplash villain cackle, reducing the rest of the audience to hopeless giggling.
I have an interest in this film because unlike many I've actually read the original book -- it's really not bad. The film I saw, Timecode, involved various characters doing what LA people who live up there do, as their filmed-in-real-time stories unfolded around the Tower Records--Book Soup vortex of Sunset and Doheny.

I read this Atlantic Monthly article in the podiatrist's waiting room; finished it online, later: Does Civilization Cause Asthma?

The biggest problem is that many patients do not take the daily doses of anti-inflammatory agents that prevent flare-ups, although most are more than willing to use an inhaler in times of crisis.
I am one of these patients, although I've learned the benefit of taking the anti-inflamatory, a steroid called Azmacort. The "crisis inhaler" contains the life-saving Albuterol, often known by its Glaxo-Wellcome trade name of Ventolin. As the article says,
A local [Bronx] rap group wrote a song titled "Ventolin," named for a popular asthma reliever.

"Everyone abuses it," Thomas Platts-Mills says. On one of Rich's tapes a young girl takes several deep breaths from her inhaler (exceeding the prescribed dose) and, looking dreamy, says, "I love this stuff."

People who've watched my own reaction when using the Albuterol have accused me of getting off on the stuff too, but I don't, it's just relief. Adequate oxygen, once again! Those of you who don't suffer just can't imagine. The article's conclusion is we need to spend more time with farm animals, especially when we're young.

Saturday 5-13
More good stuff from Mister Pants:
Television test patterns from around the world, past and present; and the exuberant Japanese graphics of the Beautiful Fukushima Future Expo, scheduled for 2001. This year we have the Hannover Expo 2000 in Germany.

Wednesday night I was up in the City to participate in my first focus group. I'd called the tear-off number of a flyer taped to a newspaper machine out front of Peet's; and passed their phone-screen -- they were seeking affluent, net-savvy international travelers. Paid to surf: $60 for a twenty-minute web session bracketed by rather unfocused discussions led by two charming young women. Given four destination countries (Ireland, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa) we were to choose the most appealing we'd never been to, and then "find out more about it on the internet" -- all sites visited were recorded, as were our discussions. Mine was the most rebellious of the five subject voices, declaring an active disinterest in commercial sites, mild skepticism about the information posted on governmental pages, and the most trust in personal efforts -- when asked how I'd begin pre-trip research I said I'd look for travelogs and trip journals and once we got online I found this one right away - their journey reminded me of the couple whose presentation about peddling 'round the world I'd attended at the Sunnyvale library last year - trying to recollect the brand of local NZ ice cream they'd raved about, I kinda disobeyed orders and was searching on that when one of the facilitators appeared, looking over my shoulder; so I had to explain. Eventually I got my answer, which I announced so she could hear, even though she'd moved away by then: "Tip Top"! (They supposedly have a web site but it doesn't respond.)

Wednesday 5-10
The Lighter-Than-Air Society has good LTA references at its page, and information about their upcoming "Zeppelin Centennial Tour 2000" excursion to the Fatherland.

(New to me) weblog called Follow Me Here points at Things Creationists Hate, philatelic news about how Canadians can now create personalized postage stamps, and this Current column which fills in the background about why Marketplace has begun acknowledging MPR rather than PRI. Interesting site, Current -- it's the online manifestation of "The Newspaper About Public Broadcasting," an organ I really should've been aware of long ago. Elsewhere they have information about the "re-upping" of The Lathe of Heaven, with the news that the re-release won't contain the original "With A Little Help From My Friends." (And it'll be broadcast during pledge time -- no surprise there.)

Find links to places that reveal what the authorities would probably prefer remained hush-hush in this Village Voice list.

Speaking of atrocities overseas, today's Feed Daily details how the UN and the Western powers' Chamberlain-esque attempts at appeasement aren't doing much good in Africa, either.

Tuesday 5-9

Word has posted selections from graphic novelist Joe Sacco's new Safe Area Gorazde -- they're stories he picked up during his 1995 travels in Bosnia.

Monday 5-8
The "love bug" was all over the news this weekend. The fact that it's never referred to as an MS-Outlook Email virus indicates the strength with which Microsoft has the ruling/media class by the short hairs. Dr. Phil Agre illuminates the big picture in a new notes and recommendations:
... CNET (5/4/00) quoted an unnamed "Microsoft representative" as saying that companies must educate employees "not to run a program from an origin you don't trust". Notice the nicely ambiguous word "origin". The virus arrives in your mailbox clearly labeled as having been sent by a particular individual with whom you probably have an established relationship. It bears no other signs of its "origin" that an ordinary user will be able to parse, short of executing the attachment.

So what on earth is Microsoft doing allowing attachments to run code in a full-blown scripting language that can, among many other things, invisibly send e-mail? Says the "Microsoft representative",

We include scripting technologies because our customers ask us to put them there, and they allow the development of business-critical productivity applications that millions of our customers use.
There needs to be a moratorium on expressions such as "customers ask us to". Does that mean all of the customers? Or just some of them? Notice the some/all ambiguity that is another core technology of public relations. Do these "customers" really specifically ask for fully general scripts that attachments can execute, or do they only ask for certain features that can be implemented in many ways, some of which involve attachments that execute scripts? Do the customers who supposedly ask for these crazy things understand the consequences of them? Do they ask for them to be turned on by default, so that every customer in the world gets the downside of them so that a few customers can more conveniently get the upside? And notice how the "Microsoft representative" defocuses the issue again, shifting from the specific issue of scripts that can be executed by attachments to the fuzzy concept of "scripting technologies", as if anybody were suggesting that scripting technologies, as such, in general, were to blame.

Microsoft shouldn't be broken up. It should be shut down.

Saturday 5-6
New Too Much Coffee Man today, at the comics store. It's #9 and wonderful, real stories instead of the usual one-pagers. Thanks Shannon!

Thursday 5-4
Today's Post has two interesting notes related to driving in DC. (Like all that newspaper's pages, catch it while you can -- the link expires in a fortnight.) First, Mayor Targets DMV 'Horror' -- about how Anthony Williams says he's going to do something about the long lines at the one inspection station. Well, I always went there real early, first thing; so it's not what I consider the true DMV horror -- that's the big room at 301 C St, where drivers are made to wait in line without their wheels. The other story is actually revolutionary - the city council is trying to change the license plate slogan from the inane "Celebrate & Discover" to "Taxation Without Representation." The decision is of course subject to congressional "review" -- can it possibly get through? This action's the latest (and most mainstream) skirmish in the long struggle to get DC residents true congressional representation.

I think a slightly more than conventional degree of uncleanliness is not only unavoidable but undesirable, since exposure and use keep the immune system strong. Salon has a two-part article of confirmation. A quote from each part:

The number of people with asthma (currently around 17 million Americans) increased by 46 percent between 1982 and 1993.
I got mine in '89.
It's possible that some organisms we find despicable are not that harmful. "They may actually be important for our optimal health and we [may] need exposure to them because of our nature," Weinstock says. "We now live in a unique environment that the human race has never lived in in the history of man. Large segments of the population are living in near sterility -- is that healthy? Maybe we went too far."
For more on the asthma-specific angle, Lindsay pointed at this UK Guardian article:
Asthma, a curse of modern times, could be drastically reduced by an inoculation programme to expose babies to bacteria they are deprived of in the hygienic homes and hospitals of the 21st century, leading scientists believe.
Train Up A Child Inc. offers biblical action figures in either chocolate (African Heritage) or vanilla (Caucasian Heritage) - select one to see the whole set.

Julian Dibbell equates weblogs with Wunderkammer in his Feed article about Robot Wisdom's Jorn Barger.

Wednesday 5-3
Thank goodness somebody's challenging the "conventional wisdom" of war protestors spitting on homecoming Vietnam veterans. Slate's "Press Box" describes how
Jerry Lembcke argues that the story is bunk in his 1998 book The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam. Lembcke, a professor of sociology at Holy Cross and a Vietnam vet, investigated hundreds of news accounts of antiwar activists spitting on vets. But every time he pushed for more evidence or corroboration from a witness, the story collapsed--the actual person who was spat on turned out to be a friend of a friend. Or somebody's uncle. He writes that he never met anybody who convinced him that any such clash took place.

Lembcke uncovered a whole lot of spitting from the war years, but the published accounts always put the antiwar protester on the receiving side of a blast from a pro-Vietnam counterprotester. Surely, he contends, the news pages would have given equal treatment to a story about serviceman getting the treatment. Then why no stories in the newspaper morgues, he asks?

Lastly, there are the parts of the spitting story up that don't add up. Why does it always end with the protester spitting and the serviceman walking off in shame? Most servicemen would have given the spitters a mouthful of bloody Chiclets instead of turning the other cheek like Christ.

This is more in line with my own recollection of the era. We protestors had contempt for the upper-echelon types like Nixon, Melvin Laird, and Robert McNamara, not the grunts in combat who'd probably been drafted. For them the feelings were more like awe, and pity.

Tuesday 5-2
Slate tests the new US Postal Service stamp printing software. Strictly for the meter users at this point.

Hugh's Ominous Valve Works
(thanks Lindsay)

GPS accuracy liberation!

Clinton ordered that at midnight GMT (8 p.m. EDT) on Monday night, the U.S. military stop intentionally scrambling the satellite signals used by civilians to improve the accuracy of Global Position System receivers tenfold.
Monday 5-1
New notes and recommendations on egalitarianism, and the conservatives' "lizard brain" thinking.

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