March 31, 2002:

Easter Sunday. It's about ends and beginnings, death and rebirth, new life arising against insuperable odds. We who get our noses rubbed in failure daily, and in death more often than we'd like (and ever more often as we grow older) sometimes find this a difficult message to grasp. At our Old Catholic Easter Vigil Mass last night, Fr. Mark Newman gave the sermon, and he began by recounting the story of a 7-year-old who was asked to draw what Christ's Resurrection meant to him. The boy studiously drew Jesus sitting up smiling in his coffin, with a speech balloon saying, "Hello again!" We laughed, of course, but whether the poor kid knew what death was or not, he had put his finger on something: That resurrection means not giving up in the face of failure, and the Resurrection means not giving up even in the face of the Ultimate Failure.

Whether you're a theist or not, Easter should be about sitting up, dusting off your hands, cracking a smile, and saying, "Hello again!" Don't let anything short of death itself keep you from coming back swinging...and as for death itself, well, don't be too sure.
March 29, 2002:

I'm not sure how to say this, and although it's been looming over me for months, I've stayed quiet about it while management was deperately casting about for solutions. Perhaps I should just quote the news release carried in Publisher's Weekly in its entirety:

Coriolis Crashes: Computer Pub Says Slump Is too Deep

Haights Cross Communications of White Plains, New York, majority owner of the Coriolis Group, will shut down the Scottsdale, Ariz. based computer book publisher on March 29. Peter Quandt, Haights Cross chairman, says the deep slump in the computer book market left the company with no choice. The company "was losing too much money," Quandt says, and adds that he didn't think the company could be turned around soon. "We've been downsizing the company steadily over the last several months and have talked to other companies about buying the company, but nothing could be worked out," Quandt says, adding that Haights Cross is still discussing selling some of Coriolis' assets. At its peak, Coriolis had more than 100 employees; 22 still remain, all of whom will be laid off. Quandt says the collapse of the Internet companies, extensive layoffs among IT personnel plus reduced shelf space for computer books at stores all contributed to Coriolis' demise. Haights Cross acquired a majority ownership in Coriolis about three years ago from International Thomson Publishing, with a minority stake held by Keith Weiskamp, Coriolis founder, who left the company last year. Discussions with Weiskamp about a possible deal were not successful.

What can I say? I packed up my stuff and threw it in the back of the 4Runner this afternoon, then went back in to get my briefcase. My friend and our marketing manager Susan Hughes was holding open the back door for me, and then I turned around and looked back over the now-empty cube farm, and had this horrible pang of a feeling that I can't quite name. It's not simply regret, or sadness. It's more the feeling that something good and valuable has had its time and has passed away into history, never to return. For long seconds I stood there, until Susan, instantly knowing what I was feeling, said, "Jeffrey, stop that! Get over here right now!" and I went, and I gave her a hug, and as I heard the door click closed behind us I finally knew that it was the end of an era.
March 28, 2002:

Perhaps they should have called this "Unholy Thursday." First of all, the chickens have gone home to Poland to roost. It was all over the news this morning that a Roman Catholic archbishop in Poland has resigned over numerous and long-standing allegations that he molested young seminarians. This is a severe blow to the Pope and the conservative wing in the Church, which all along have been trying to pin the recent explosion of molestation and harrassment cases on sexual laxness in the United States. The archbishop in question, 67-year-old Juliusz Paetz, pins the blame on the mass media, for trying and convicting him outside the legal system. He just barely has a point on that one, but that's a larger issue not limited to the current subject. In reality, local priests in Poland have been complaining of the man's activities to the Vatican for years, and the Vatican has taken no action, and even chastized the complainers for damaging the Church. It will be much more difficult for poor John Paul II to dodge the issue now.

Also, today's Oprah show was all about clerical sex abuse, and her guests pointed out that the money being paid out in settlements is approaching a billion dollars worldwide (half a billion in little Ireland alone!) and there are billions more to come. The Church is currently financing the scandal by selling off real estate, but that's a limited resource, and the lawyers will not quit until there's nothing left. Wealthy conservative Catholics have contributed some funds, but there are limits to that as well.

How will it end? More Roman Catholics will become Protestants. More Roman Catholic parishes will close, starved for funds and priests. And by the time the current Vartican hierarchy decides to do something (they were, to a man, appointed by our current heavily-in-denial Pope) the Roman Church may be too far gone to save in the West, from which nearly all of its money comes.
March 27, 2002:

I've commented elsewhere (see my entry for February 7, 2002) that the perceived speed of the Web (and by that I mean Web pages and not HTTP file downloads) has less to do with the local loop technology than with server overloading. And it's not just any servers that seem to be overloaded, but the ad servers that serve up those ubiquitous banner ads—which, in case you haven't noticed, are getting larger, and therefore place greater loads on servers due to the greater number of pixels to be served.

As our content delivery machinery gets more sophisticated, people are devoloping ways of automatically cutting out the ads, and the content industry is beginning to yelp. It's a little tougher this time to put forth a legal framework for lawsuits, however: People are not violating copyright law by stripping out ads. It was done years ago by PC fanatics (though I myself never bothered) when PC Magazine was an inch thick and 90% ads: People would carefully separate the pages and put the (much thinner) magazine back together in a three-ring binder. It's almost like copyright violation in reverse: Instead of making more copies, people are taking their one legitimate copy and dumping the parts they don't want to see.

Digital video recorders (DVRs) are beginning to provide this service as well, to the anguish of the TV industry, who are desperately casting about for a legal framework from which to stop the devices. I doubt they'll succeed legally (though the rule of law has suffered horribly in the US in the last thirty years) but the better question is this: Are we hurting ourselves by dumping the ads? Should we try to enact statutory limits on ad-time in TV shows (my suggestion: 5 minutes per hour) and see what that buys us? One third of TV time is now ads, and what do we get? Idiotic sitcoms like that one starring Emeril, the chef who thought he was an actor. The bigger question is why the studios thought he was an actor. My theory: There's so much money in TV that they just didn't care, and limiting ad time severely would force them to be more careful, and do things like—egad, what a notion!—focus group research.
March 26, 2002:

I use what meager machinery Outlook Express has for spam filtering, and I do it on a case-by-case basis. When a spam message gets through, I look at it to see how it evaded my previous filters and how I might tighten them. This process takes time at the outset if you're starting from scratch, but within a week or so the spam count in my inbox implodes. Of the 60-80 spams I get per day, only three or four escape my trash folder.

I had an opportunity to observe this phenom again when I changed machines here. Outlook Express allows no way I can tell to migrate mail rules to a new machine, so I have to build them all over again. This isn't a bad thing to do every few years, since spammers evolve different techniques and abandon old ones as they cease to be effective.

I have to laugh to think back on spam evolution. When that idiotic anti-spam law was passed (S. 1618) the spammers would proudly include the bill number in their messages, because it really was a big victory for them. Soon after that, people started filtering any message containing the string "S. 1618" and soon after that, all trace of "S. 1618" vanished from spam. It's now interesting to see the contortions the spammers are going through to tell you how to "unsubscribe" (hah!) from their "newsletters." People have begun filtering on all the variations on "To unsubscribe click here" or "To be removed click here" and the spammers are deperately trying new things. Last week I got a few that deliberately mispelled "remove" and many others are putting spaces or dashes or tick marks between the letters , like "d e l e t e" or "u-n-s-u-b-c-r-i-b-e" or "R`E*M'O`V.E". But the capper came this morning, when I got a piece of the usual crap with a note above the remove link at the bottom, saying, "You know what this is for. ; )" Yup. I sure do.
March 25, 2002:

And so we come to the question of whether clerical celibacy is responsible for the plague of child molestation incidents coming to light involving Roman Catholic priests and even bishops. I'm quite sure it is, and my reasoning follows a line I haven't seen in the press so far.

It's well known that celibacy is a discipline more attempted than achieved, especially for men. (Women handle celibacy and loneliness far better.) Pope John XII was murdered by a local Italian noble—while in bed with the noble's wife. Powerful men tend to be men with powerful sexual needs, and if you read objective historical accounts of the papacy, concubinage and illigitimate children are all over the place. Popular novels of priestly affairs like The Thorn Birds have been with us for a long time. Women seem to have a thing for priests, observed someone whose name has escaped me. (Probably Fr. Andrew Greeley, who always seems to be anywhere anybody is talking about priests and sex.)

But why children? Most of the rants I've seen on the subject are conventional lefty-feminist stuff, claiming that it's about the powerful (priests) preying on the powerless (children.) I'm sure that's a factor in the equation, but my own thought lies elsewhere: It's about the pursuit, not of power, but of innocence.

Priests are trained to think of themselves as islands of innocence in a shamelessly sexual world. (Manichaeanism again.) It's a lonely world, too; especially given the shortage of priests, who used to be two or three to a parish and are now mostly alone in a quiet rectory. Terrified of their own suppressed sexuality (Fr. Greely offers us the very effective metaphor of "the click of high heels on the sidewalk behind them" to express this terror) they look around for their fellow innocents—and the only ones in sight are children.

I have a hunch that the priests who molest the young are reaching back to their own memories of the fumbling sex play of eight- and ten-year-olds, to seize on it as the only sexual expression they have ever felt without guilt. They're trying to go back to being "one of the gang" with a gang they left decades earlier and can never return to. This isn't to excuse the crime, or even minimize its effects, which can be horrible. This is simply my attempt to make sense of it all. Priests are, by and large, not "bad" people, and few that I've met in recent years have any great appetite for power. The power explanation fails for me—and if we keep on believing it, we may fail to identify the solution:

Celibacy has to go, and I don't think the Romans can finesse their way around it this time. Our current pope is one of those innocents, and he just can't see it. I'm afraid it may be the end of him, and it would be sad for John Paul to die of a broken heart. But the lawyers smell money, and the Church has been paying out tens of millions of dollars to survivors of clergy abuse. (Think about that the next time you toss your weekly twenty in the basket.) It's going to get a lot uglier before it gets better.

The vast majority of priests in the Old Catholic movement are married. Nearly all of the best priests and bishops that I've met in the movement are married, and I don't think it's a coincidence. To save the Catholic idea, which is richly worth saving, we must root out Manichaeism anywhere it still hides—and the really gruesome truth is that, inside the Vatican walls, it's everywhere you look.
March 24, 2002:

Celibacy as a requirement of Roman Catholic clergy. Howcome? In the very early Church, priests, bishops, and even popes were married, and this was the case for several hundred years. But starting about the year 600, celibacy began to be seen as a higher state for humanity in general, due to the creeping influence of the Manichaean heresy and its effects on the thinking of the early Church fathers, especially Augustine of Hippo. (See yesterday's entry.) Monasticism arose about this time, and monastics for the most part bought the Big Lie of the Manichaeans, that the physical world and especially sex were evil and beneath the dignity of spirits created by an all-good God.

As men brought up in the monastic tradition began to take positions of influence in the Church, celibacy as a life-choice became ever more popular. By the year 1000 it was generally asked of bishops that they be lifelong celibates (this is the case in the Eastern Orthodox Church today) and priests who married were barred from higher church office and kept out of the plum assignments within their dioceses.

Celibacy did not become a universal requirement baked into Church canon law, however, until the year 1139 at the Second Lateran Council, and the actual reason may surprise you: The children of married priests and the few married bishops who remained were claiming Church property by right of inheritance when their fathers died, under the still-evolving secular law of that era. It became enough of a problem so that Hildebrand, Pope Gregory VII, demanded the requirement (still in force today) that all Roman Catholic priests be celibate after ordination. The Lateran Council simply codified it into Canon Law. It was one of numerous reforms instututed during Gregory's reign with all the best intentions but no thought for unintended consequences.

That's the history story. More on this ugly subject tomorrow.
March 23, 2002:

In just the last few days, people (many but not all of them readers of this Diary) have been peppering me with questions about the Old Catholic Church. The reason? The Romans are all over the place, in the national news, on the cover of Newsweek—and not as Church of the Year. "What's wrong? What can be done? Is celibacy the problem? And please, finish your book on Old Catholicism!"

I can't do all this in one day. I ration discussion of religion in this space, so that I don't bore people, but this time it's pertinent to current events. Between yesterday and today I did write about 8,000 words on the book (that's an uncommon burst of creativity, even for me) but I still have another month or so of work to go, and some of the harder parts are yet to come.

I'll try to answer some of these questions as best I can. I'm not a theologian (maybe that's a good thing!) and at best an amateur historian. So here we go:

Celibacy is a problem, but it's not the problem. It's a symptom of a much deeper illness that has been eating at the heart of Catholicism for over 1700 years. The fundamental problem is the stain of an ancient heresy called Manichaeism, a portmanteau of various middle-eastern mystical schools that became popular with certain factions in and around the Holy Land about 250 A.D. It's named after a Persian mystic named Mani (216-277) who popularized the teaching, but the idea had been kicking around the world as long as there had been a world for it to kick around in.

The root idea of Manicheaism is this: The physical world is a trap, created by an evil demiurge (a powerful but not omnipotent godling) to torment human spirits. Giving birth to a human child traps a human spirit (created by the true, distant, and unknownable God before all knowing) in the world of matter, to suffer needlessly. They hated the entire physical world, all because of this screwball notion that a bad godling had created it. (Given the stark cruelty of the place where they lived—think Afghanistan—you might half-understand their mistake. Deserts are beautiful...from inside your air conditioned SUV.) The logical consequence of this mistake was their abhorrence of sex. Sex trapped spirits in flesh that suffered at the hands of an evil world. Therefore, sex was part of the evil plot by the impostor god, and should be avoided at all costs. It was base, animal-like, foul, and unworthy of the followers of the real God, who would never create such a horrid place for creatures that He loved.

One way to think of Manicheaism is as a failed answer to the question of theodicy: How can there be evil and suffering in a universe created by an all-powerful and benevolent God?

Manichaeism might not have had such a hold on the infant Catholic Church had not a famous and brilliant Manichaean converted to Catholicism...partway. Augustine of Hippo as a young man had been a Manichaean, and whereas he later gave over Manicheaen theology, he was never cured of his Manichaean worldview. He deeply distrusted the physical world, and he virulently hated sex. A great deal of Catholic theology depends on his writings, which were passionate, eloquent, and extremely persuasive. A few far-flung outposts of Christianity resisted his philosophy (Ireland was the best-known and most successful) but for the most part the Manichaean undercurrents of his system of thought became mainstream in the Church by the year 700 or so. The worst damage was done almost immediately after that: Clerical celibacy.

Enough for today. I'll pick up this thread again tomorrow.
March 22, 2002:
While scanning and OCRing a 127-year-old book by James Bass Mullinger (see my entry for March 15, 2002) I ran across a word I had literally never read or heard in my entire life: tergiversation. At first glance it looked like something that Lewis Carroll had made up (perhaps to describe conversation on Christmas morning between the giver and receiver of a gift) but in truth it's a genuine word in my big old dictionary, and it means "a change of attitude toward a cause." Not a change of mind, but of attitude—and not toward just anything, but toward a cause, at that. I love the English language for the marvelous ability to shave the meaning of an expression with surgical precision. Not one English speaker in ten is even aware of the richness of their language, and not one in a hundred makes any effort to use it as intended, but the scalpels are there if you ever feel the need to perform semantic surgery at that level.
March 21, 2002:

The real problem with online commerce, I am ever more thoroughly convinced, is that the dot-com boom was about the Big Cash-Out. People were doing stupid things in the expectation of billion-dollar payouts at the end of a couple of years of frantic activity. This in itself isn't news—the sad part is that the whole idea of online commerce was tarred with this same expensive brush. Idiotic efforts like (which squandered $100M in a matter of months) weren't online commerce at all, but a species of loss-leader pitch to be bought by some monster conglomerate with more money than brains. (AOL comes to mind.) Making money by providing useful products or services was an afterthought, to provide the illusion of legitimacy.

In my own life, online commerce is doing very well, thanks. I just got a box of 1/2" aluminum plates for my big scope, cut to size and ordered entirely online, from MetalMart. I regularly order my favorite Mrs. Renfro's salsa online from Renfro Foods. I have purchased numerous Delphi components online, many from Russia, as "pure" digital product—product without any physical aspect at all. Carol ordered me a stock of Choward's Violet Squares online from the Vermont Country Store. Yesterday I found and purchased a 19th century book that I intend to republish, all online, from a bookshop in England. And I buy a fair number of books from Amazon, irrespective of the fact that Jeff Bezos did accomplish the Big Cash-Out—and in doing so convinced others that it was easy, hah.

More and more small, vertical retailers—most of them with long, successful histories in mail order—are mounting good shopping carts and doing well, providing goods that you just can't find anywhere else in our obnoxiously conglomerated and uniform bricks-n-mortar retail industry. Getting the Web sites working is still a challenge, as broadly useful turnkey online store products remain rare and fairly expensive, or there would be a whole universe of interesting and peculiar products out there for those of us who like to consider ourselves interesting and peculiar. My own sister Gretchen Roper and her husband Bill Roper have a record company out in Chicago, and they sell some of the goldurndest parody, humor, and folk music, one CD at a time, while attending SF and fantasy conventions in the Midwest. Sooner or later they'll be able to hawk the goods online, and then you'll be able to listen to people like folksinger Bill without having to haunt SF cons, which is (to put it mildly) an acquired taste for most people. (But not, as Gretchen will doubtless remind me, for the interesting and peculiar.) We still need better schemes for small-denom funds transfer, but PayPal is a damned good start, and sooner or later we'll get there.

The good news is that the dot-com bust is keeping the conglomerates from invading in force, just as the Napster phenom is keeping the monster NY publishers from diving in and owning the e-book industry. E-commerce is increasingly a stealth proposition, driven by small outfits with modest expectations and no desire to cash out next week. This is a good thing, and I've said it before but it needs re-saying on a regular basis: E-commerce will be re-legitimized from the bottom up. What are you waiting for?
March 20, 2002:
A friend sent me a link to a Web site devoted entirely to spud cannons. A spud cannon, if you've never witnessed that little icon of nerdish lunacy, is a device by which you propel a potato across some distance at high speed, using anything from compressed air to electrically ignited hair spray. My nephew Matt made one last year, probably by reading a Web site such as this. I don't recommend or endorse the concept (the older I get, the less desire I have to play with Big Dangerous Things That Go Bang) but point it out for the sheer weirdness of it. Where else will you find a description and photo of "The world's most advanced hand held laser-guided bolt-action aluminum potato rifle"? Read the text, look at the pictures, and prepare to boggle!
March 19, 2002:
Consider the difference between virtue and ethics: A virtue is an inner discipline, cultivated over time, which prompts you to do the right thing in some context because it feels good to do the right thing. A system of ethics, on the other hand, is really a collection of private rules; a body of personal law that you impose on yourself, so that you do the right thing whether you want to or not. One is a manner of feeling. The other is a consequence of cold rational consent. The two are related but not identical. Virtues are ideals; ethics are practical guidelines. The more you internalize a virtue, the less you need to impose a corresponding rule on yourself. You can force yourself to be ethical...but where does virtue come from? If we could figure that out, the world would be a way better place.
March 18, 2002:

Now here's a very clever way to promote literacy and an odd sense of virtual community to boot: BookCrossing, which does for books something like what Where's George did for the humble dollar bill. BookCrossing is way more useful, however: You register a book with the BookCrossing Web site, and then leave it somewhere where someone is likely to pick it up—a hotel lobby, a train car, an airport. The book needs to have its unique BookCrossing ID written on the inside front cover, along with the BookCrossing URL and some brief indicator of what's going on. People who find a BookCrossing book are encouraged to write a journal entry for that book (anonymously or not) on the Web site, indicating what the reader thought, where the book went while being read, and where it will next be left. You can follow a book's trail around the world, although in truth, the idea is too new to have generated much "trail" so far, at least for the books I checked.

Still, this is one of those marvelously loopy ideas that makes the Web what it is, and unique in human history. I'll be releasing copies of my SF short story anthology once I get it fully laid out and published, and it will be interesting to see if my books have any interesting adventures.
March 17, 2002:

On most Sundays, our entire Old Catholic parish (and since Fr. Bill has become Bishop Bill, our entire Old Catholic diocese) goes down the street after Mass and piles into the Einstein Brothers on Camelback Road for lunch. Einstein's has become one of our favorite lunch spots, in part because they make a good deli sandwich on 12-grain bread (nine grains don't seem sufficient anymore) and in part because they make coffee which is weak enough to actually taste good. (My loathing for Starbucks' coffee is legendary, and it proceeds from the simple fact that it's so strong it doesn't taste like anything anymore.)

But I like Einstein's for yet another reason: They have a marvelously original branding strategy. They created two fictitious characters, Melvyn and Elmo Einstein, as loose specifications, and then allow different artists to interpret the brothers according to their own artistic styles. So whereas Einstein Brothers has an "official" logo, inside the restaurant, what you see are drawings of the brothers by many artists on many media, from the coffee beans packaging to murals and posters on the walls. The key characteristics are these: Elmo is the bald guy with glasses and two tufts of hair over his ears, and Melvyn the guy with the big mustache, long beard, and hat. As long as the drawings have those recognizable elements, the rest is up to the artists' imaginations.

It works. It really does, with wry humor and perpetual novelty. And hey, the coffee's darn good, as Melvyn says. Highly recommended.
March 16, 2002:

We've come a long, long way since Hi-Flier. Wired has a story in their current hardcopy issue (not yet posted) on kitesurfing, a new "extreme" sport in which a surfer on a short board uses a good sized two-line steerable kite to haul around the water and occasionally (or, as is increasingly the case, constantly) leaping up into the air to do tricks, up to and including hanging upside down for long seconds. It's gotten popular enough so that fights have broken out on California beaches between conventional surfers and kite-toting interlopers.

I haven't watched a lot of kitesurfing aerobatics, but when I was in San Diego about a year ago I followed the sight of the big kites down to where surfers were cautiously tacking around the harbor, much as Ben Franklin (a kite fanatic and one of my patron saints) described using a kite to tow him across a lake while he floated on his back. The kites are huge, some of them fifteen or twenty feet wide, resembling air mattresses. They have an inflatable lead edge to hold shape in the wind (a kite without such a skeleton can unpredictably collapse when the wind changes) and are furiously strong pullers in a brisk ocean breeze. I recall building a six-foot double-bow kite when I was in college that could support my entire weight as I leaned back with the reel in both hands—imagining the yank power of a twenty footer makes me gasp. There have been injuries and even deaths in kitesurfing, mostly due to the sheer power of large kites in strong wind: One woman died after she leapt into the air from a harbor, allowing the kite to rise just enough to catch a powerful cross-draft that carried her against an oceanside building and literally tossed her through a floor-to-ceiling glass window. Yikes; I let a kite pull me across the Edison School field in my little red wagon once and that was scary enough.

Still, I loved it. A nineteenth-century Englishman named George Pocock created the charvolant, a kite-pulled carriage, which evidently saw some use in the relatively open countryside around 1827, back when there were few underpasses and no overhead wires. (The woodcut at left is a contemporary depiction of two charvolants in use on British country lanes.) I included the concept in a scene in The Cunning Blood, but changed it from Pocock's vision of a refined gentleman's means of transportation to a madcap magnesium-weave basket on wheels that hurtled across the endless grasslands of planet Hell at fifty miles an hour.

Kites are very cool stuff, and amazingly high-tech today if you look closely at the recreational cultures that use them. A book I have describes making kite sticks out of extruded boron rods, of all things. (Boron is very light and strong for its weight.) What else is elemental boron being used for today, huh?

Spring is icumen in. Get out there and fly a kite! (And if you still have your little red wagon, get a second kite and take a charvolant ride!)
March 15, 2002: guys have come through on much harder questions before. So help me out here: I am looking for a biography of James Bass Mullinger (and how many of them could there be?) who was a British academic and author of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. doesn't list him; he was fairly well-known in his time and culture but mostly forgotten today. Nor is he in my 1974 Brittanica. I am in the process of scanning and OCRing (using FineReader Sprint; see my February 24,2002 entry) one of his early works for republication, and I want to attach a bio to the new edition. I may have to haunt a larger library than I have nearby to find it, but if any of you Anglophiles can spot a bio somewhere, do let me know.
March 14, 2002:
Jim Mischel tells me that Winamp's "whips the llama's ass" audio test clip (see my entry for March 6) is simply a reflection of the fact that Justin Frankel (the young man who created Winamp and then sold it to AOL for a great deal of money) likes llamas, nothing more. He wants to have a llama or alpaca ranch someday, according to a note in a far corner of the Winamp Web site. And unlike most of us, he could probably have one if he wanted one.
March 13, 2002:

Continuing on with yesterday's theme: Where could one hide a serial number in an e-book? The classic place to put surrepetitious bits is in something a little chaotic, like a photograph or a texture, but there are plenty of sorts of books that necessarily contain neither—novels, for example. Another slightly trickier concept is to create pullquotes as graphical renderings of text fonts, (as I do with the Copperplate Gothic Bold titles here on my Web site) and then hide the serial number within bits in the pullquote bitmap. Bitmaps blow up the size of the file, however—and sooner or later, hackers will get whiff of it and just zero any bitmaps in the file.

Well, perhaps this is a better way: In modern desktop publishing programs there is the ability to change the "kerning" of the text in the layout, and control it quite microscopically. Kerning is the relative horizontal spacing of characters in a sequence, and it's adjustable for several reasons, the most common of which is to "pull up" one-word lines in a paragraph ("widows") or single-line overruns onto the top of the following page ("orphans".) Kerning values are embedded everywhere in a file, and for very small values the difference in the layout is not noticeable by the reader. So you create a program that can modify only certain kerning values at places in the actual text, among hordes of kerning values that are naturally present. Encode a binary value as +1 or -1 kerning values (very tiny and almost imperceptible) and treat that as the serial number. I'm not sure how easy it is to modify kerning values embedded in a PDF document, but it would be worth some study to find out.
March 12, 2002:

Memes, memes, rumors, and memes…As someone who expects to get into the e-book business at some point, I've come to wonder: Would people be less willing to swap e-book files online if they knew that their name (or a traceable serial number of some kind) were steganographically encoded into the files somewhere? By steganographically I mean in a way not obvious to inspection. I've heard the objection that stripper programs would soon appear that would blank out those bits in a file that carried purchaser identity info, assuming they could be located in the file.

Locating the bits would require tracing through the code that reads the bits and displays them. But if the code were not in general distribution, it would be more difficult—and if the location of the identity bits in the file were somehow dependent on a secret key value generated by and retained by the publisher, it would be more difficult still. One brute force attack would be to zero out anything in the file that wasn't obviously data, and in industry standard formats (like PDF) the locations of all key data and metadata items is documented.

The idea, clearly, is to depress piracy rates without password-protecting or in some other way crippling the content or making it "fragile." Nothing is leakproof—and this is what's keeping the big boys out of the sandbox for now, so be it, and thanks for not-so-small blessings—but I have this weird notion that if a publisher could spread the rumor that there were magic bits somewhere inside an e-book that could trace it back to the purchaser, ordinary people (i.e., not hackers) might think twice about sharing their e-book directories. So perhaps it doesn't even have to be completely true to be effective: Spread the meme that a certain publisher's e-books are traceable, and perhaps there'd be few of them shared.
March 11, 2002:

The most dangerous joke in all history is the one told (often by Italians) of Mussolini, that "at least he made the trains run on time." Behind that little quip is a horrifying truth: Most people don't care a nickel for democracy, as long as they can pursue their ordinary lives more or less unmolested. Security matters more to most people than freedom, as testified by the massive proliferation of "gated communities" which are pretty much gulags that you pay to get into, where in most cases you lack even the freedom to fly the American flag. (No, I am not making this up. Most new housing developments in Arizona have such prohibitions, and are utterly ruthless about enforcing them.)

My reading of history shows that dictators are, for the most part, either psychotic (most of the time) or stupid (the rest of the time.) We have yet to see a really smart dictator, and that's good, or it would be all up for democracy. Most dictators try to suppress dissent, which is idiotic—the military learned long ago that griping is how people under pressure let off steam. Freedom and press and freedom of speech are actually a smart dictator's best friends, because they offer a way to gripe (that is, to journal; see my entry for May 7, 2001) and because, like the pointless gates on those gated communities, they offer the appearance of freedom with none of its reality. A smart dictator would take great pains to make ordinary life work smoothly for ordinary citizens. A smart dictator would keep the economy cooking by preventing corruption and fraud (life at hard labor for small-time grifters and Enron executives alike), by ruthlessly enforced antitrust provisions, by hard-headed control of government expenditures, and simple but strongly enforced regulations that allow the sorts of economic freedoms that promote broad economic growth but not narrow economic power. (China seems to understand this.) That's key: A smart dictator would work quietly to redistribute not wealth but power (which, for sure, sometimes involves redistributing wealth) by looking for concentrations of power and setting up mechanisms in the legal code to automatically neutralize them. There are lots of ways to do this; I outlined a cautionary novel once that included my thoughts on this, and decided not to write it because it got too depressing.

It got depressing because it got too close to reality. We are much farther along that path than we think.

It's important for people who value freedom to understand that freedom and democracy are loosely coupled. They usually travel together but not always, and not in all ways. It's possible to have many freedoms, but no democracy at all, which is to say, no voice whatsoever in government.

I bring this up because this morning there was a short piece on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page about the problematic succession of power in the US government. If Al Quaeda leveled the Capital and White House with a suitcase nuke with all the powers present, it's unclear what sort of government could be pieced together to both keep order and sustain the Constitution. This was in fact the premise of my unwritten novel The First American Dictator: That the Chinese had cruise-missiled Washington from rusted freighters parked offshore (readers of my old Galaxy Online column may recall my mentioning this as a fear I'd had) and an opportunistic major general from the Army soon put together what I could only call a "libertarian dictatorship" to emphasize that it was in many respects free but not democratic. The tragic element in the story is that it was wildly popular, and honestly, if that ever happened, I have my doubts that our current brand of political-circus democracy would ever return. If the trains run on time, a great many other things simply don't matter—which is a tragic fact worth meditating on the next time you read of 25% voter turnout.
March 10, 2002:
Zack Urlocker, late of Borland and even later of The Whitewater Group (does anybody remember Actor? Talk about seizing defeat from the jaws of victory!) has put a new humor site together; by all means check out Valley of the Geeks—especially see the "Banner Ads We'd Like to See." Hmmmm....gotta introduce Zack to Rinzai Satori, which should be easy because both read this Diary. Guys, individually you're good—get together and you'd be deadly, heh.
March 9, 2002:
My good friend and Queen of All Things Jewish Lizz Stone wrote to explain a little bit about Yiddish spelling. Yiddish is basically low German ("plotz Deutsch") written in Hebrew characters. To spell Yiddish correctly you have to spell it in Hebrew—if you're working in the Latin alphabet you're more or less on your own. The key is to come as close to the correct pronunciation as you can. Lizz spells "trade show givaway artifacts" as "chachkes" (see my February 9, 2002 entry) even though most people spell the way I recall, as "tchotchkes." Both sound right, so it's a tossup. Now I'd better move on to something else before Lizz starts testing me on my Yiddish pronunciation...
March 8, 2002:

I rented Titan A. E. to keep me focused on the treadmill last evening, fully expecting to treat the film (which was almost universally panned) with contempt. Hey, it was a cheap rental, half-off coupon and all that...but y'know, turned out to be a fine piece of work! You must keep in mind that it was designed for 13-year-old boys (and people like me, with an unobstructed memory of what it was like to be a 13-year-old boy) and gives 13-year-old boys a clear vision of the most painful fantasy young boys have—and no, it has nothing to do with sex, but everything to do with being a hero.

We evolved as violent super-apes, and many of those deep patterns are still with us. About the time young boys hit puberty, something explodes inside of us. We want to do good; we want to fight The Enemy; we see things in the brutal shades of black and white that held sway when every day was a fight for life itself. The winners at the dawn of reason got rank, and status, and power, and (though this was a secondary realization) the pick of the women. The losers got enslaved—or maybe eaten. There was a lot (as it were) on the table.

All that's gone. There is no Enemy you can shoot at. The physical world no longer threatens us—quite the contrary. And women are by our sides, as equals and colleagues and...friends. Yet those ancient urges still gnaw at us, and when young boys can't find some acceptable way to think of themselves as heroes, they can self-destruct. Myths—stories—that put a moral or (if you prefer) ethical framework around violent conflict help us see ourselves in heroic roles with strong moral/ethical constraints. These myths shape the primitive urges that appear in the young in a way that aids society rather than hurts it.

Most of us make it. I had lots of inarticulate fantasies of space battle and heroism when I was that age, and I wrote them down, crude though they were at the time. It helped. It was a little like journaling—see my entry for May 7, 2001—in that it dispersed the seething energy that rises up in us at 13 and 14 and 15, dispersed it and shaped it and (with a little conscious help from what some call the superego) transformed it into a willingness to face the dangers that the modern world hands us, which are like nothing we had to face when we were barely more than apes.

The myths change sometimes, in significant ways. Heroes used to rescue princesses...but now the heroes and the princesses fight side by side, and the word "heroine" (like "poetess" and "aviatrix") is fading from view, unneeded and unmourned. (Shrek is another recent example of this.)

But there is still evil, and Titan A. E. gives us the myth of a bitter young boy named Cale who gets a chance to fight that evil, and in doing so redeem himself, avenge his father, and earn the love of a woman who can kick ass as well as he can. He also gets to drive Big Dangerous Things That Go Fast (very important in fantasies directed at 13-year-olds) use his head, tinker old machinery back into operation, travel to cool places, swagger, make dumb jokes, and see the value in other people.

People who bitch about violence in media are missing something crucial: Context. Mythic violence like that in Titan A. E. (as well as its forbears in the Star Wars and Star Trek sagas) exists in a moral context. Violence in games like Quake has no context at all. One shapes the madness of puberty; the other simply encourages it in the name of stylish cynicism.

Violence is built into us, particularly in men. We have to let our young boys pretend to be heroes, to imagine the ancient fights, to let it all bubble up in their heads and be civilized. That's what movies like Titan A.E. are about. It's how boys reclaim their humanity from puberty. We forget that at out peril as we blame the modern world for young boys who kill. It isn't the violence. It's the cynicism. It's not about anger. It's about having—nay, imagining—a soul.
March 7, 2002:

A reader who (apparently) wished to remain nameless pointed out that Peter De Rosa's Vicars of Christ (see my March 3 entry) has been republished in a 2000 edition by an Irish publisher named Poolbeg. And only €9.99! Amazon US doesn't sell it, so I'll have to order it from Amazon UK. Now, how much is ten euros in real money? (Thinly veiled attempt to see if I have any European readers.... Just kidding, guys!) The same anonymous reader included a pointer to an Irish site with a nice review of the book, in case anyone here is interested in the book itself rather than the economics of used book sales. It's way more than you probably ever wanted to know about papal shenanigans—a fine Irish term, by the way.

This morning I actually found a used book site offering a used copy for $35 (tipped off by my old friend and Borland co-worker Zack Urlocker) but by the time I ordered it (about three minutes later) someone else had bought it, and the book is now probably on sale elsewhere for $300. This is called "arbitrage" and it's great if you're the arbitrage-or and not the arbitrage-ee. I wonder if we could manhandle the word "eBay" into a verb to cover this: "I'm going to get this book cheap and then eBay it for hundreds of bucks!"
March 6, 2002:
I installed Winamp on my new Dell this afternoon, and the first time you run it, it plays a short audio clip of an announcer guy saying, "Winamp: It really whips the llama's ass!" The same clip (or something very like it, complete with some mammal braying in the background) has been used by Winamp since I first discovered it in 1998. My question: Is this some sort of young person's tagline? I've seen no references to llama ass elsewhere, unlike other popular taglines like "All your base are belong to us." I sense that as a middling old person (gonna be 50 this summer, sigh) I'm being semantically excluded. If anyone knows the significance of this, please share—otherwise I might have to sue for age discrimination, heh.
March 5, 2002:

My good friend Jim Mischel recently brought up a fascinating and mostly neglected issue in the February 24, 2002 entry of his Web diary (well worth monitoring, by the way): abandoned intellectual property. He mentions it in the context of games that are no longer sold or supported by their vendors, games that are often posted on Web sites for their fans in defiance of copyright laws. Jim states clearly that he feels owners of intellectual property have the right to be paid for that property, something I certainly agree with. But a more interesting question arises: Do intellectual property owners have the right to remove their property from public access?

I've thought a lot about this. And I have an interesting suggestion: That copyright holders have the right to be paid for their work...but they don't have the right to suppress it, or even remove it from the market. If they don't want to continue selling it, they must allow someone else to (paying for the privilege, obviously) at similar prices and terms, on an ongoing basis until the copyright expires.

Consider the case of the book I cited in my March 3 entry, below. Neither Peter De Rosa nor Crown Publishers are making a nickel of the $300 sales I'm seeing on the used book sites. You'd think they'd want to get the book back on the market, and if they don't, other publishers should be allowed to bid on the rights—and any bid at least as good as the original publishing circumstances must be accepted, or copyright would not be enforced on the title. Would I as an author support such a legal provision? Hell yes! Only one of my nine books is still in print, and if anybody wanted to publish the others I'd let them in a minute.

Suppose nobody wanted to publish it? (Which would probably be 95% of all cases...) Well, here's a possible solution that will soon become practical: Require people to register copyright by depositing a complete electronic image of the work with the copyright registrar. If no one wanted to publish and promote the work in the conventional fashion, the copyright office would become a sort of publisher of last resort. People could buy the image from the government or (more likely) the goverment's licensee, with the expected royalties going to the copyright holder.

What do you all think of this? I do feel that balancing the copyright holder's right to be paid is the public's right to have continuous and uninterrupted access to the copyrighted work. This might be a way to do it. Please let me know your thoughts.
March 4, 2002:

I've been thinking about the challenge of e-book publishing, and the concerns of the big NY houses that are keeping them from making anything like a serious run at the e-book market. The big guys have two major worries: Cannibalizing their hardcopy line, and "Napsterization." They're afraid that if they charge much less for the e-book edition of a book than they do for the hardcopy edition of the same book, no one will buy the hardcopy. This is just ignorance of the state of the market; right now, hardly anybody's willing to read e-books at all, and nobody's going to pay $25 for a file without a physical manifestation. Will it be an issue in the future? Possibly—but not for awhile yet, and certainly not before something like the Tablet PC goes mainstream.

File trading is another issue entirely, but reacting to Napsterization with panic is simply dumb. I've thought that an interesting piece of e-book research would involve developing an easy way to add text to a generic e-book file, and simply add the purchaser's name (or better still, some kind of customer or serial number) in white text on a white background somewhere unobvious. When the book inevitably shows up on the file sharing networks, it would be interesting to see how many different copies are actually there. Are they all multiples of one or two originals? And if so, whose?

My guess is that eventually, all copies of electronic content will be serialized and somehow linked to a purchaser. Certainly once this becomes common knowledge the hacker community will develop serial number strippers, and in response someone may develop steganographic mechanisms to better hide the serial number. Who will win? My guess: If the price is low enough, and if purchasing is painless enough, people will just buy it rather than hunt the networks for it. Am I being naive? Time will tell.
March 3, 2002:

I am doing something I don't ordinarily do: I borrowed a book from a friend and I'm reading it. This seems ordinary enough not to warrant comment, but in my case, if I want a book badly enough to borrow it, I want it badly enough to own it, so why not just buy it? The answer this time is that the book in question is rare (though not old) and in great demand, to the extent that copies are going for hundreds of dollars on the used book and auction sites.

Huh? Yeah, I'm puzzled too. The book was originally published by major NY imprint Crown Publishers in 1988 for $19.95 in hardcover. And although the cover is a little lurid and the burst (which you can't read here) says "The shocking international bestseller!" the book is a straightforward if slightly breathless popular history of the bad guys in the long list of occupants of the Throne of Peter. Other books like this have been written; I point you to E. R. Chamberlin's 1969 book The Bad Popes, which covers a lot of the same territory and is an excellent read as well. It's not currently in print, but it's in most libraries where I've looked for it and used copies can be had for as little as $10 on Alibris.

So what happened to Peter De Rosa? Several people I've spoken to tell a nearly unbelievably story: That the Roman Catholic Church bought the entire press run of the book soon after it was published, and literally paid the publisher to put it out of print. I'm not sure whether I believe this—it smacks of urban legend—but if the book was in fact a "bestseller" as recently as 1988 there's no reason for used copies to sell for $300. I don't see anything in the book I haven't seen or heard elsewhere; hey, is it a secret that most popes of the Middle Ages didn't believe in God and used the papacy as a path to power and wealth? C'mon, any student of Church history knows that. So what's really going on? I'd like to know, and if you have any clue please share. And certainly I want the book for my library, but at this point I'll pay only $50, no more. That's why I'm borrowing the book.
March 2, 2002:

While doing my regular end-of-month egoscan, I discovered that Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (and Analog too) are available as e-books from Fictionwise. Supposedly, science fiction is one of the few publishing genres where readers are willing to read (and pay for!) content in completely electronic form. This is a good sign; from long experience I can vouch that SF people are ahead of the gadget curve, and one hopes that as better readers become available (I'm banking on the Tablet PC, if it eventally materializes) more people will be willing to buy and read e-books.

Fictionwise is truly doing something wise, though it doesn't help people like me: They are publishing only e-book versions of books that are already in hardcopy distribution. This keeps the quality of the line up, and obviates any need on their part to dig through a slushpile; the editorial decisionmaking is being done by the hardcopy publishers. I'm wondering, though, if eventually someone will launch an e-book startup that will publish original work, and do it with as good a presentation of Fictionwise, or better. The big New York presses are terrified of e-books, so I see this as an opening for a smaller startup with some credibility, a little capital, and a head for efficiency. If you have a hankering to try this, get going now, so that when a viable e-book reader (like the Tablet PC) finally arrives, you'll have the early adopter's advantage. And hey, then you can publish my novel!
March 1, 2002:

Even though I had some entries written, early March took a little time to post because I did a really dumb thing a week ago: I forgot to copy my fonts directory over from my old Dell to my new Dell. And sure as heck, I realized as I began fomatting my first March entries that I no longer had Copperplate Gothic Bold installed, as I did on the old machine. (This is the name of the font I use for titles here in Contrapositive Diary) The old Dell won't boot, the result of experiments I made in full knowledge that they might clobber the boot sector. So although I have a huge number of fonts installed on the old machine, it's unclear how much work it will be to get them out and over to the new box. Every time I do the migration from old to new machine, it gets hairier and hairier. I've been on this machine for almost ten days, and I still don't have half of my third-party Delphi components installed.

I found a copy of Copperplate posted on the Web, apparently by somebody who didn't recognize that posting fonts is probably a copyright violation. (He was providing it so people would be able to see his pages correctly. Because I render the titles as graphics, you my readers don't have to have Copperplate installed to see it.) But it's a useful lesson: Think hard about what needs to come over from a venerable machine to a new machine. There's probably more than you think, and certainly more than you will remember without some soul (and disk) searching.