November 30, 2001
Reader Larry See sent me a link that revealed the identity of that intriguing electric 3-wheeler I spotted on Scottsdale Road on November 21. (See my entry for that date.) It's a Corbin Sparrow I, from Corbin Motors. Although the one I saw was suitably white—most vehicles in Arizona seem to be white—the Sparrow comes in 15 colors, including a bright blue that made my mouth water. (I have wanted an electric- blue vehicle as long as I can recall, and am therefore fated never to have one.) I was a little disappointed in the level of technical detail on the Web site. They don't even show a list price, so I'm still clueless about what they cost, although they did let slip that their more upscale Merlin electric roadster was $23,800. I don't live an an area where a car like that makes much sense, but if I were back in urban-dense Chicago I'd be powerfully tempted, with only a single (Chicago-specific) reservation: How does an electric car heat its cab?
November 29, 2001

Saw the Harry Potter movie. Well, what can I say? You can get shot these days (or turned into a toad or something) for not liking Harry Potter. The poor kid tried his best, but the movie, for my money, was a loser. I hate to spill too many details for those who haven't seen it and still may want to, but in broad terms, the film was: 1) incoherent; 2) boring; and 3) emotionally cold.

Not everything I saw made sense, and numerous details essential to understanding the narrative line were missing from the film, although they were present (I am told) in the book. I didn't understand the ending at all and had to have Carol (who read the book) explain it to me. The filmmakers flubbed it badly there. Now, I'll forgive a film for being a little incoherent (a flaw present in The Matrix, The Mummy, and a lot of other recent SF/fanatasy films) if it is clever enough to retain my attention. Not so with poor Harry. It's a concept stitched together from some of the hoariest cliches in all fantasy. The single most original idea in the film (a brutal sort of airborne hockey game played on broomsticks, which I found as loathsome as I find groundside hockey) was completely extraneous to the story line and just extended the length of the already overlong film by another fifteen minutes, while showing us nothing about the characters that we did not already know.

What killed it for me, though, was the emotional coldness of it all. Harry is brutalized by a neanderthal aunt and uncle whose loathing for the poor kid is completely cartoonish and beyond understanding at any level. Even once he reaches Hogwarts School, the frost doesn't melt. The teachers there are all flint-hearted stone-faced ciphers, and the only adult character with any trace of humanity in him is Hagrid, the school's affable giant of a groundskeeper who's constantly realizing he's said more than he should. (All the more puzzling that he seems to be the school's secret agent and undercover diplomatic courier.) The script gives us no chance to really understand or come to like our three child heroes, as much as I think the actors could do justice to their roles if given the opportunity.

I'll venture a couple of guesses as to why this happened. The film smells like a book that was turned to film a little too literally. Film is not text, and stories told on film must told according to film's idiosyncratic grammar. I also suspect that Ms. Rowling (who is now the second richest woman in England, after the Queen herself) had a few too many fingers in the pie. Authors should sit back and let professionals do the filmmaking. There's no guarantee that they'll do a good job of it, but when authors try to be filmmakers, there is a near-certainty that things will go badly.

On the other hand, there were a couple of good monsters, and no shortage of well-executed (if conceptually uninspiring) special effects. C'mon, guys; Disney did magic wands to death fifty years ago. Let's give Industrial Light and Magic something a little more original to make real, and I'll come back. Until then, it's a big snooze.
November 28, 2001

I got nailed by a virus the other day, and while nothing horrible happened, it's an interesting lesson in bad luck and some pathological glitches in Microsoft software. I ordinarily keep Norton running in memory at all times, but a week or so ago I unloaded it while I was probing a weird runtime error in my Aardmarks application. Predictably, I forgot to load it again, and so the machine was running for a week without virus protection. (Windows 2000 is robust enough so that I neither power down nor reboot for what may sometimes be a month or two at a time.) That would, of course, have to be the first time I got a virus mailed to me in a couple of months.

The bad guy is the BadTrans.B virus, which uses an infamous exploit in Windows Explorer 5.x. It's the Incorrect MIME Header vulnerability, which allows an .EXE email attachment to run without being opened. Yup, you heard me: Download it and it runs. This isn't a preview pane script virus; disabling the Windows scripting host as many do won't prevent it. It's a native code executable called KERNEL32.EXE with an accompanying DLL called KDLL.DLL. It doesn't damage your files, but it does attempt to mail itself to others using your address book.

I saw it happen—there was the merest flash of a dialog, which tipped me off—and I'm savvy enough so that I killed Outlook Express instantly, and caught the little bastard before it could get more than one email out the back door. (It queued up a couple more, but for some reason that remains obscure the other two were never sent.) The fix is to upgrade to IE6, which I did. But a better fix would be to fine MS a cool billion dollars for allowing an idiot's bug like that to go untrumpeted. I pay attention to such things, and hadn't heard of it.

Anyway. If you use either Outlook Express (which uses IE in the preview pane and spawned message windows) or Internet Explorer itself, go up to the MS site and download 6.0 right away. It's not radically different, and it'll keep at least that species of bug from eating your lunch. And for God's sake, don't be a numbnuts like me and forget to put Norton back to work after you disable him!
November 27, 2001
I had a lot of trouble with my Epson Stylus Photo 890 printer when I first bought it. The jets would gum up after a few days of inactivity and I'd have to waste ink running the head cleaning utility. Finally I read the fine print in the manual: You can't leave the printer powered up without running it for long periods of time. As odd as it seems, the heads have a heater, and if you leave the printer on without using it for awhile, the heater dries out the jets and they plug. I assumed that leaving it powered up wouldn't waste much energy (not knowing about that heater) and I know that powering up electronics can be hard on the electronics. This is one case where powering down has nonobvious benefits. Since I've been turning it off after use I've had no further trouble with it. I guess the big lesson here is: Read the fragging manual!
November 26, 2001

One of the things that I find so absurd about liberal "identity politics" (at least as it applies to ethnicity) is that it has no place for mongrels. What does one check on the US Census form if all eight of one's great-grandparents are a distinct ethnicity? Such people exist, and I myself come close, with German, Polish, Irish, French and Austrian blood in my veins. Ok, ok, I'm a "European-American"…but what if you swapped out my Austrian grandfather for an Aboriginal American? ("Native" means "born here." Look it up. I was.) Or swap out my French great-grandmother for one born in Mexico? In my view, ethnicity makes a lousy foundation for things like pride or self-esteem, in part because these are things you are born with and had no part in selecting or creating, but also because many people (like myself) are literally born without "deep roots" in any single ethnicity and are therefore excluded from the ethnic identity game.

It seems most ironic that the liberal crowd with which I ran in college was all for eradicating such differences from the popular consciousness. Today, you'd get denied tenure for even suggesting that being Black or Hispanic doesn't matter nearly as much as being simply and gently human. But since I have no use for tenure, I will boldly suggest (not that it's an especially original insight) that in liberal thought today, being ethnic is only as important as its potential for instilling loyalty to the Democratic Party. Identity politics is a scam. If you're ethnic, never forget that. You're being used by the Democratic power machine, whether you're willing to admit it or not.
November 25, 2001

I took my "hell box" down off the shelf in the garage yesterday and started to go through it. A hell box is something mad scientist types like myself tend to have: It's a box full of stuff picked up off the floor or workbench when you're trying to tidy up but don't have enough time to sort it all into the proper bins and shelves. My particular hell box was quite heavy, because mostly what it held were small items dumped on the floor during the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989. I lived about six miles from the epicenter of that one, in Scotts Valley, California, and while the house escaped without serious damage (the water heater rocked against its pipes and broke one) much of my workshop was dumped on the garage floor. I picked up what I could, but we left California soon after that, and what was left I scooped up off the floor in handfuls and dumped it into a box.

A lot of it was nuts and bolts, but there were plenty of resistors and capacitors and semiconductors mixed in as well. So I dumped it all into a large photo developer tray (these are wonderful to have, even if you never intend to do any darkroom work yourself) and laid out five or six butter dishes around it.

There's a way to go about sorting a hell box. You begin by pulling out the small number of relatively large objects that prevent you from seeing the smaller objects. Put them in a separate box to sort later. (That box may well become your new hell box. Some workshop items are truly mathoms and never really get out of your hell box. Some items in the hell box I have long forgotten—or never really knew—what they in fact were.) Then make a series of scans, and budget yourself no more than fifteen minutes for each. The idea is to work your way down in size, leaving the smallest items for last. First pull out all the capacitors. These tend to be larger than resistors. Then pull out all the resistors, which in turn are larger than semiconductors. Then pull out all the semiconductors. By this time you're for the most part down to nuts, bolts, and other small hardware. I'm pretty good at eyeballing thread sizes, and if you are too, start with the largest sizes and work your way down, dumping like thread sizes together in the butter dishes.

Once you've finished (or have had a bellyfull) dump the butter dishes of nuts and bolts in their appropriate bin. If there's anything left in the tray, dump it back in the hell box for another day. I got mine down from over ten pounds to about two pounds, most of that weird stuff that my executor will someday have to dispose of, since I have a terrible time dumping hardware.

Now, let's hope there's no more earthquakes. I have a lot more stuff here than I did in 1989!
November 24, 2001
If you've been hankering for more RAM, this might be a good time to buy it. I received a catalog recently from MicroWarehouse, and noticed that the 256MB DIMMS used in my Dell had fallen from $59.95 to $39.95. I bought two for the two empty DIMM slots I have, and now my Dell is loaded. 768 MB is as much as it will take, which might have been shortsighted—hell, another slot and I could have had a gigabyte of RAM. Nonetheless, the point I want to make is that almost any Windows PC can be boosted in its apparent speed with the addition of more memory. (This is especially true of mega-apps, like Adobe InDesign, that make intense use of RAM.) The Dell is now as snappy as any machine I've ever had, and out-snaps my new laptop, even though my laptop is a 733Mhz model, because the laptop has only 128MB installed. It's of course possible that the prices on DIMMs will fall further, but you just never know. I say it's cheap enough. Grab a full deck of DIMMs and make that old box scream!
November 23, 2001:

Evidently this traditionally frantic shopping day has lost much of its steam, and much angst is being generated thereby. People who in better times were castigating us for crass materialism and "affluenza" are now moaning that companies are laying off countless workers. Well, duhh—as I've pointed out here before (almost precisely a year ago, if I recall) all the junk that people buy whether they need it or not was assembled, marketed, shipped, and sold by workers who drew paychecks from the process. If people suddenly stop buying junk (as they did with a vengeance on September 12) people will lose their jobs, and the cause-effect relationship is clear and direct.

What to do? I don't know. I'm suspicious of government intervention, which as often as not treats the wrong problem, or treats it after it's already begun to improve. People need to look inward a little—that's how healing begins, and there are other side-benefits to introspection as well. My guess is that time will heal these wounds as well as any before, and that healing will result in many good things. We may buy less pointless stuff —Billy the Big-Mouthed Bass being a perfect example (see my entries for November 26 & 29, 2000)—and more of other things that will allow us to make the most of who we are: Books, training materials, courses, tools, and things that pull a family together rather than cause them to drift off into self-involvement and isolation....

...or maybe just stuff that you should have bought already and didn't, because you were too busy or just didn't see the need. I'm not good at preaching materialism. I generally don't buy stuff I don't need, and when I do I usually regret it forever after. But in truth, if your refrigerator is at death's door, or if everybody on your TV screen looks bright blue, or if you're wearing the sort of underwear your poor mother told you not to wear (just in case the ER docs had to cut it off of you after an accident) hey, go out and spend a little money. Don't put it off anymore. Do your part to keep the economy moving at least a little until everything returns to some sort of balance. When that may be I can't say, though I suspect that when it happens, we'll know it.
November 22, 2001:

Thanksgiving. I'll be brief, as Carol and I are heading over to the home of Bill and Esther Shindler shortly for a low-key Thanksgiving dinner. Bill makes his own very excellent honey mead, and I am looking forward to a snifter of it when the turkey and yams have been internalized and we are all speaking of interesting things.

What am I thankful for? Apart from the personal and the obvious (my Carol, my work, the opportunity to live here and now, at the crux of so much discovery and, yes, progress) I am thankful that we have been forced to ask questions of ourelves, in the wake of the Attack. Who are we? What are we made of? What do we stand for? What do we value? These are questions that are easy to ignore in stable, comfortable times. Still, they need to be asked, and I am thankful that we are now asking these questions, repeatedly and out loud, rather than simply howling for Muslim blood.
November 21, 2001:
Saw an interesting vehicle today, out on Scottsdale Road: a three-wheeled electric, with two wheels in front and one in back. It had a sleek white body with a fully enclosed cab, quite aerodynamic, and while I read the make off the front end I've already forgotten it. What puzzles me a little is that I read years back that three-wheeled vehicles (which are fairly common in Europe) have always been illegal here. It had Arizona plates—and not motorcycle plates—so it must have been street legal. Intriguingly, it was a one-seater, and thus a kind of electric motorcyle you can ride in the rain. Cool. If I can find a photo somewhere I'll post it here.
November 20, 2001:

Necessity requires culling my book collection, and it is with considerable regret that I am giving away most of what's left of my DOS books and my Pascal books—and even a few Delphi books from versions 1 through 3. Most of the Pascal books are either textbook tutorials (and I have my own books for that, heh) or books on Turbo Vision, which I certainly don't expect to touch again.

In reviewing books to eliminate (and we give them to the annual Visiting Nurse book sale) I am struck by how simple computing used to be. I recall thinking that real-mode DOS interrupt service routines (ISRs) were a challenge, and free union variant records once gave me conceptual fits. Now I look at Delphi (the inheritor of Pascal's legacy) and boggle at the complexity that it represents. And Windows internals, yikes! I do my best not to try to understand a lot of that stuff, just to save room in my brain for things that might turn out to be useful. Certainly I am writing software with a degree of complexity that would have astonished me twenty-odd years ago, when I first began programming—in FORTH, of all things! It's true that RAD and software components have highly leveraged the programming process upon the efforts of others, but still, there is an amazing amount to be learned and remembered about programming these days. I'm trying to figure out how to do threaded database access from Delphi, so I can have a thread running in the background, checking bookmark records to make sure they're "live" and current. We never had to deal with threads, and sockets, and database sessions, and record locking back then. On the other hand, our machines are nothing short of magical in terms of what they can do.

But there is one warning: Don't let yourself get too stale, or you may never catch up. I am beating my head against all this stuff in part because I want to, but also because the future will be built on it, and I cannot allow the future to slip away from me. I've seen too many peope get stuck at the level of BASICA and DOS. I have to make sure I can understand how this stuff works, or it will all become FM, if you know what I mean. No thanks.
November 19, 2001:

We went to see Monsters, Inc. I'm reminded of David Brin's first novel, The Practice Effect, in which we journey to a parallel Earth where the rules are just a little different... So it is here: The film takes place in a parallel Earth where everything is pretty much the same as it is here, except that the people who live there are...monsters. Yes, big ugly monsters who live in New York-style tenements, hang out after work in stylish sushi bars, and wear hard hats on the job. The job is a little different, too: In a huge plant, the monsters open hyperspace doors into the closets of Earth kids in our world, and then scare them. Not hurt them, of course—these are actually pretty soft-hearted monsters—but another point of difference is how Monster-Earth powers its technology: from batteries that are charged by children's screams. So at Monsters, Inc. ("We scare because we care") your raise and bonus are all about how many energy points you generate by making children scream.

Yes, it's peculiar, but the film has a pleasing if cockeyed inner logic that any kid can understand. Our main characters are monster roomies Jim "Sully" Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) and Mike Wazowsky (voiced by Billy Crystal.). Sully is a tall, hairy, toothy blue specimen who reminds one of a bipedal musk ox. And Mike is basically a big green eyeball with legs. Sully is the "scarer", who jumps out of the closet and makes faces at terrified children, while Mike works the equipment. All is well in this mundane monster world, until one day Sully gets careless and a girl toddler (who seems completely un-scared by monsters, and calls Sully "Kitty") wanders back through the hyperspace door into Monster-Earth. This is cause for panic, because everymonster knows that human children and their stuff (toys, socks, whatever) are highly toxic to monsters. It's not true, of course, though it's never explained why the monsters believe it.

I won't spoil the rest, but it's rollicking good fun. Goodman and Crystal are masters at voicing their monsters, who are as human as anything over here. Wonderful story, great comic lines and fine comic timing, superfine animation. I have no significant complaints, apart from the fact that the key surprise at the end is telegraphed fairly early and fairly obviously. Still, take the kids and go have a good time. Disney blows it with their cartoons as often as not (the awful Pocahontas and Hercules are excellent examples) but this one is exactly right.
November 18, 2001:

The Leonids rocked! Last night Carol and I set the alarm for 2:45AM, bundled up in our winter jackets, and went up on the roof deck atop our second floor, where we keep a couple of resin pool loungers for just this sort of thing. Covered in blankets against the withering 58 degree temps (no comments, gang—sitting still in the wind can get cold, especially those of us not used to being cold under any circumstances) we turned the loungers east and sat back to watch the show, with Leo vaulting high over Lone Mountain.

The sky wasn't ideal. We had a high haze and scattered clouds that gradually coalesced into a generally complete cloud cover by 4:45. But there were broad swatchs of starry (if hazy) night, and from the start there were meteors every few seconds. We noticed a peak about 3:30 or so, when we would often see two or three or even four at once, in widely separated parts of the sky. Given the sky conditions, and the unavoidable inability of two human eyes to take in the entire dome of the sky at once, I suspect we missed 75% of the meteors, especially the fainter ones, which were almost continuously present in the darker parts of the sky.

There were plenty of mag 0 and better fireballs, most of them slightly yellowish in color, but a couple that were purely, blindingly white. We could see many of them right through the clouds, clouds that hid even Sirius, which rules the starry sky. Now, it wasn't the 100,000 meteors an hour spectacle all of us were hoping for, but it was by far the most intense meteor display I've ever seen, and I've frizzen my can watching quite a few in my 49 years. We didn't see hundreds of thousands, but we saw uncounted hundreds in two hours, and I can only assume the actual count may have been as high as 3,000 in an hour. I guess I could gripe about the bad skies—but you know, what we saw was amazing all by itself.
November 17, 2001:

Reader Jon Barrett has experienced coffee milk (see my entry for November 9) and says that it reminds him of good coffee ice cream after it melts. That's good enough for me; apart from the short-lived Coffee Toffee Crunch Special Edition ice cream from Haagen Daaz, straight coffee ice cream is my favorite flavor. (I am also partial to good Mint Chocolate Chip.) Jon offers another source: Home Town Favorites, where you can not only buy Eclipse Coffee Syrup, you can buy it in two flavors, one bottle at a time. And if Eclipse doesn't do it for you, right down the "aisle" can be found Autocrat Coffee Syrup and Coffeetime Coffee Syrup.

Browsing the online store there was wild. You want coffee-flavored jello? It's there, if not the Jello-O brand (Plymouth Rock, actually, but everybody genericizes it to "jello" these days.) Teaberry Gum. Black Crows. Bit-O-Honey. Charleston Chew. Charms Sour Balls in a can. Licorice Pipes. Pop Rocks. Reed's Root Beer Rolls. Sen-Sen. Wilbur Buds. Squirrel Nut Zippers. (Not the band!) Quisp Cereal. Vernor's Ginger Ale. Mrs. Grass' Chicken Noodle Soup. (With the Golden Nugget!)

This stuff isn't "new old stock" (that is, goods made in 1968 and sitting in a warehouse all this time) but rather regional delicacies that got driven off national store shelves (if they were ever there to begin with) by monster corporate superdupermarkets like Safeway. You can buy all of these things somewhere—but you can buy all of them anywhere by dialing in on the Web. Gotta love this technology stuff.

And hey: You can get Choward's Violet Squares (lemon too) one pack at a time!

Good-bye Vermont Country Store, heh-heh.
November 16, 2001:
Many of my readers have come to me via Visual Developer Magazine, for which I first developed my idea of a Web diary back some years ago. (I'm not claiming it was the first Web diary, but it was an independent invention, and certainly predated the current "blogging" craze.) That being the case, I would like to point my Delphi users to the home page of Richard Phillips, who would have had the cover story of the May/June 2000 issue of the magazine...except that we folded VDM with the March/April issue, sigh. Richard is the creator of the HTML parser and engine components that lie at the core of my long-standing Aardmarks bookmark manager/aggregator project. He is one of the most brilliant Delphi programmers I have ever met. Don't let the understated design fool you: Click to his Delphi Tips and Tricks page and be utterly amazed. I'm going to be chewing on this material for weeks. Bravo, Richard!
November 15, 2001:

My friend Ben Sawyer of Digitalmill sent me a pointer to The Internet Archive. I was boggled: They have been taking "snapshots" of countless Web sites since 1996 at least, and have a search feature called The Wayback Machine that showed my slackjawed face what my first hamhanded personal Web page looked like. The amount of storage space this must require has to stretch into the hundreds of terabytes—but then again, with 80 GB hard drives going for $200 or so, this is a smaller stretch than it might seem at first.

It was fascinating—and slightly eerie—to look up the Coriolis Web site and watch it evolve over the years. Go take a look, and see if your personal page is there. Mine is, both when it was under the domain and later under my domain. This concept raises a lot of interesting questions, but it reinforces a warning some sage (I don't recall who) posted back at the dawn of the Internet Era: Nothing you post to the Internet ever actually goes away. Your humiliating failures as well as your vaulting triumphs. Your youthful indiscretions (recall Corri, the young college student who posted some tasteful nudes of herself on her Web page and brought down the Northern Arizona University servers in 1996) and intemperate flames are probably all there somewhere, able to rise again when you least expect (or want) them to.

Now, is that a bug or a feature? You tell me. In the meantime, yee-wow! What a notion!
November 14, 2001:

I forgot to mention something yesterday that you may not have noticed if you don't haunt Amazon as frequently as I do: They're now posting sample chapters, tables of contents, and other extremely useful come-ons for online book purchasers. The goal is clear: They're attempting to obtain some of the advantages of bricks'n'mortar bookstores, which allow you to thumb a book and get some sense of it before laying your money down. If you followed yesterday's link to The Science of Happiness you'll see what I mean. This feature hasn't been implemented for all books by any means, but an encouraging number of books I've investigated recently have had sample pages and even the whole index (what a great idea!) posted and freely available.

Also, I was not aware until recently that Borders has a partnership with Amazon. (Go to and you'll see what I mean.) This is good; Borders tried to go online solo a couple of years ago and got bogged down in the effort. Online retailing is different! I love Borders and spend a fortune there, just as I love Amazon, so it's nice to see my two favorite book retailers ganging up.
November 13, 2001:

Click or order it on Amazon!I'm reading a fine little book called The Science of Happiness by Stephen Braun. It's in some respects both an update to and a repudiation of Listening to Prozac, and my main reservation is that the author could have gone on for another five hundred pages and chose not to.

Having experienced a touch of depression earlier this year (as those who have been reading this diary since February or so will recall) I am passionately interested in what mood is and how it happens. Braun's book (published only last year) presents an update of what we know about antidepressant drugs (Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, etc.) and told me something I suspected but didn't know: That low levels of seratonin and norepinephrine are an effect of depression and not its cause. We're less sure about what the precise cause is, but we've noticed that there is a correlation between elevation of mood and new growth of dendritical connections between neurons in certain areas of the brain—growth that is fostered by a whole class of drugs, including but not limited to those in the Prozac family. We need a lot of further research here, but I suspect that we will close in on depression's machinery in the next five to ten years, after which we will be able to banish depression completely and permanently.

Braun asks (in true contrarian fashion, heh!) whether this is actually a good idea. He quote several researchers who feel that depression has a certain limited evolutionary function, in that it slows us down when our unconscious minds are at war with themselves, and forces us to take a more objective view of our circumstances. It's an interesting point, not undebatable, and certainly one I can't do complete justice to in this space. If this is a subject that intrigues you, definitely pick up this book. You can read it in two or three hours, and it's worth it.
November 12, 2001:
It was nice to run across (by accident, as usual) the truth that the tiny little desktop PC I mentioned here in my August 18 and 21 entries exists under a number of OEM labels, and can be obtained from more than one retailer, and in Europe as well as here in the US and on the Pacific Rim. The first one I ran across was a Linux version, but soon afterward discovered the Cappucino PC, which is sold here in the US with Windows installed. The identical machine is apparently sold under a number of different labels, including the EZGo Portable PC, the EPC-II, and M3. The actual manufacturer appears to be Atoz Technology of Taiwan, and if you want to be in the micro-PC business, you can buy a container load and slap your own label on them, just as was done in the glory days of cheap PCs, when Computer Shopper was as thick as a phonebook with ads from all those little box shops in Santa Clara strip malls. I don't need a desktop right now, but if the teeny little thing survives, I might consider getting one when I get tired of the space the Dell takes up on my desk.
November 11, 2001:

I was reviewing some bookmarks I saved a while ago, and went to—or tried to—bring up a Web site that I vaguely recall being some new search technology developed a couple of years ago. Instead, I got an immense list of porn sites, which was bad enough—but then the damned thing started doing the JavaScript “whack-a-mole” schtick on me, popping up obnoxious porn site come-on windows as quickly as I could delete them. At the center of the screen was a note indicating that “this domain is for sale.” Yup. A dead giveaway.

For what? Domain extortion: You buy an expired domain name, load it up with porn site links and pop-ups, and then try to sell the domain back to the original owner so the domain’s former readers won’t have to deal with an explosion of porn pop-ups. This is an excellent reason to be careful lest your domain expire and be snapped up by such creatures.

Note that I'm not a censor freak and my objection isn’t to porn per se, but to porn that you—or your kids—run into accidentally, or (worse) fraudulently, as I did here. I favor a .xxx top-level domain, along with a strongly enforced legal requirement that porn sites be required to use .xxx. Why this hasn’t been done is a little bit of a puzzle, but it’s characteristic of the idiotic handling of TLDs that ICANN has demonstated since it took over. We’re long overdue for a huge overhaul of the DNS root system and its management. I have some ideas, which I’ll try and summarize here as I find time.
November 10, 2001:

Yesterday's entry has prompted me to ponder that e-commerce is alive and well in circumstances where e-commerce is not its own sole virtue; i.e., not e-commerce for e-commerce's sake or (God help us) because e-commerce is "cool." This morning I ordered a four-pack of Mrs. Renfro's Mild Picante Salsa through the Renfro Foods Web site, as I have done before. I can't get it at my local supermarket, but I have bought it in other places, and I like it enough to pay the premium, which at $7 per four-pack is pretty stiff. I buy books online all the time, generally books you can't find in stores. I'm picky about my books, just as I'm picky about my salsa, and I am picky about certain other things as well. That pickiness has always been what drives "mail-order" sales, a category that now includes Internet e-commerce.

The difference with Renfro Foods and the Vermont Country Store is that they're not solely e-commerce operations. It's the difference between being in the railroad business and being in the transportation business, if you've heard that (hoary but completely accurate) comparison before. Renfro sells mostly through grocery stores, but they'll pick up incremental revenue through their Web site. Vermont Country Store sells lots of odd things that picky and eccentric people like, some of which are available in stores that cater to eccentrics, but most of which exist almost exclusively in the pages of the Vermont Country Store catalog, which exists in both printed and online form. Both companies are focused on their products, not on their technology, and in the wake of the dot-com collapse, both of them appear to be thriving. Oh, and did I mention Plumbing Supply Online? It's about pipe fittings and toilet parts, not about cool technology. And y'know, they're still out there, still selling toilet parts. If there's another place that will sell me 3/8" pipe floor flanges in brass, I have yet to find it.

I may be belaboring the obvious by pointing out that the dot-com collapse had about as much to do with e-commerce as the infamous Tulip Bubble of the early 1600s had to do with tulips. It's all about greed. Sell a product that's in demand, diversify your sales channels, and you're still in business. That seems to be the case. There are no promises about getting rich—but the people who are still in the e-commerce business are not in it to get rich, but to move their products any way they can.
November 9, 2001:
The State Drink of Rhode Island is coffee milk, and I am intrigued. Coffee milk, as best I can tell, is like chocolate milk, only made with a sweetened coffee-flavored syrup. Think Bosco with a kick. You can buy coffee milk syrup from the Vermont Country Store catalog or its Web site, which is where you can also buy such oddities as Choward’s Violet Squares (which I discussed in my July 26, 2001 entry) and Teaberry Gum. (Remember the Teaberry Shuffle? No? Good.) It's called Eclipse Coffee Syrup, and the only reason I don't try some is that you have to buy a minimum of two 16-ounce bottles—and that's the syrup, folks. I'd like to try it, but maybe not that much. Someday, perhaps, I will find myself in Rhode Island, and I will ask for it there. (Oddly enough, the only Web sites I found that discussed coffee milk in any detail—for I assume it’s in detail—are entirely in Japanese. I've been to Japan and witnessed their enthusiasm for iced coffee, so it makes a certain sense. One must then assume that nobody in Rhode Island does Web sites—or if they do, they have no use for coffee milk.)
November 8, 2001:

In an otherwise unremarkable article posted on the BBC Web site, Nicholas Negroponte drops the opinion that there is a sort of "magic" population figure for a successful and vigorous modern nation-state: 3.5 million people. He cites Ireland, Norway, Singapore, and Costa Rica as falling into this range, but doesn't venture to guess as too why 3.5M is the magic number, other than to hint that it's big enough to be a bubbling pot of economic activity while still being small enough to govern effectively. Freedom is a major ingredient, to be sure—no regime that forbids significant freedom will ever be truly successful. (This is why we needn't fear that Islamic fundamentalist states will become modern world powers.)

Another strong element that nobody likes to talk about is ethnic/cultural homogeneity. The nation-states cited by Negroponte are pretty monolithic in a cultural and ethnic sense, compared to the US or UK. These days you can't even question the value of “diversity” without being called a racist or some other flavor of bigot, but I have never really understood why cultural or ethnic diversity is of itself a good thing. It destroyed the USSR, and a great deal of energy in other ethnically divided nation-states (like Canada and the US) goes into arguments about who's being slighted by who, and what the self-declared victims are entitled to. And we won't even speak of regions like the Balkans, which are “diverse” in the extreme, and where blood regularly flows in the streets in celebration of said diversity.

Diversity is in fact a challenge, and if it has benefits at all, those benefits lie in the discipline that arises from a determination not to allow ethnic or cultural warfare to destroy a society. After that, it pretty much comes down to having cool restaurants downtown. The number of people in a society is an interesting topic to ponder, however. If I find anything more in this area I'll report here.
November 7, 2001:

The Wall Street Journal yesterday (11/6/2001) published an op-ed piece (not available on the free Web) putting forth an intriguing and probably correct explanation for why we're having trouble restarting the economy: We're trying to do it by reducing interest rates, at the same time Federal banking regulators have done everything they can to keep businesses (especially small businesses) from actually getting loans, any loans, at any rate at all.

You need to understand that Federal agencies (all government agencies, actually) have their characteristic obsessions. The Federal Reserve's obsession is inflation. When they sniff inflation in the economy, they crank up interest rates, with a single-minded consistency that makes me think a computer program could do their job just as well and we could simply fire the lot of them. By contrast, Federal banking regulators (who are not all in one single agency) obsess on bank solvency. What they do—just about all they do—is protect bank capital from defaults. The dot-bomb collapse of spring 2000 resulted in a huge number of bankruptcies, which caused a fair number of bank failures. Regulators stepped in and raised the bar for loan applicants; raised it in many cases almost absurdly high, to the extent that the only people who can get loans (basically, those with cash reserves more than sufficient to cover the entirety of the loans) are those who don't need them. Many businesses would expand their operations and create jobs if they could get the capital, but under revised and more stringent bank regulations they just don't qualify.

At some point top-level Federal officials will figure this out, and start twisting the arms of the regulators to lighten up—but until they do, our chances of coming out of recession are slim.
November 6, 2001:
Coffee has been illegal in Finland for over 200 years. So how in hell did Linus Torvalds ever stay awake long enough to write Linux? (And don't say it was the Penguin Peppermints...)
November 5, 2001:

It is a testament to the oddness of the occasion that I actually made a conscious decision last night to sit down and watch a sports event. Yup, for the first time in my personal history, my team has won the World Series. (Of course, I spent the first 26 years of my life in Cubs land. 'Nuff said.) And although that was a tense and interesting game because of the stakes involved, the ponderous slowness of play made me wonder why people still watch when no such stakes are involved. My sister (who got the sports gene in our family) remarked last night after the game that if you could program a VCR to record only the pitches, hits, and base running and leave out everything else, a four-hour baseball game would cook down to about half an hour.

And I have to wonder whether there isn't something we could do to baseball to make it tougher to go three hours and change and end up with a score of 2-3. As the Alabama song says, "We just like to see the boys hit 'em deep." I think pitching has just gotten too good. Maybe we should encourage pitchers to allow players to get on base more somehow. Maybe we should change the rules to retire pitchers after they strike out four guys. I would prefer to have seen the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees 28-22. Or 77-60. If we could just assume that the ball would get hit more than once every twenty minutes, I might even consent to watch the game now and then. I see no reason that baseball (which is by far the most civilized of all American sports; hockey is an abomination straight from the deepest circle of Hell) must by definition be boring.
November 4, 2001:

While gathering photos to display at our 25th wedding anniversary party, Carol and I unearthed a couple of ancient pictures that I particularly love. The first one, shown below, is a great shot of me on my 18th birthday in June 1970, when Carol and a couple of my friends completely conned me into believing I was going to a 25th wedding anniversary party of the parents of one of my friends, when in fact the party was for me. I came around the corner, and everybody jumped out from the dark yelling, "Surprise!" That was the precise moment my friend Art Krumrey got the shot. I never suspected, not for a moment. My hair back then was always falling in my face. I thought it was a nuisance. I should have just enjoyed it, as it was a problem I didn't have for long thereafter..

I find it remarkable how very little Carol has changed in appearance over 30 years. Me, I've taken some hits—particularly in the hair follicles, though mercifully my taste in ties and eyeglasses has changed for the better. But my spouse remains completely and totally stunning, as she has been since she turned 16, and two weeks later ran smack dab into her future husband.

The other photo was also taken by Art, and dates from May 1972, while Carol and I and Art were waiting for Art's date Eileen to be ready to go down to Loyola University's formal President's Ball. Again, my hair is an issue, and Carol was keeping it out of my face while I played something on Eileen's piano. Same glasses, and the mustache that everybody thought looked awful except for me. (I have since changed my mind. It was a Seventies Thing. Yes, it was awful, though it took years for me to realize it, and I didn't ditch it until I took up snorkeling and found that it made for a bad seal on my upper lip.) It's worth noting that just this past June, when Carol and I were at her mom's house near Chicago, Carol found the very dress she wore in this photo in the far reaches of the basement closet—and it still fit.

Yes, my now and eternal love, you are a goddess—and have always been a goddess.
November 3, 2001:
HazMat Collection Day was, of course, a zoo. We waited for an hour and a quarter in a line of cars that stretched half a mile to hand over our deadly cargo that consisted of three dead gel cells, half a dozen dead NiCads, two half-full cans of clotted paint, an old jar of Drano, and a can of PVC pipe cement whose screw top I simply could not remove, even with a Channel-Lock. There was no problem that Scottsdale could not have fixed had they chosen to; they had more than enough people and more than enough room to "branch" the line near the collection point so as to process more than one car at a time. But no, they had their stupid system and they stuck to it. Government is the key problem in virtually all environmental matters, but the reasons are oblique and indirect, and so somebody else (generally corporations or the public) always gets the blame. I doubt I will do this again.
November 2, 2001:
Tomorrow is Hazardous Materials Pickup Day in Scottsdale. We're making a HazMatPass through the house tonight, tossing half-used bottles of Drano, old paint cans, and dead NiCad batteries in a box. It's interesting to note that old computers are considered HazMat nowadays. I never quite understood that, but I'll oblige them and give them a couple of worthless WinModems I have pulled disgustedly out of various machines I've bought in the last few years. But why? Is it the lead in the solder? I've heard whispers of cadmium somewhere, but not sure where. However, if electronics is now HazMat, my garage is a Super Site—true to my legend, I have tons of old electronics out there. Am I worried? No. It's just another manifestation of junk science and government ass-covering. I half-expect to see the guys at the collection site tomorrow in full moon suits, taking old paint cans from people as though they were full of anthrax spores. You thought Halloween was silly. Egad, it's got nothing on local government.
November 1, 2001:

All Saints Day. I had nothing much to say yesterday about Halloween being All Souls Day, since that distinction bothers me somehow. In traditional Catholicism, the saints are those in Heaven, while those who are still roasting in Purgatory are the Poor Souls. This notion of Purgatory has been largely discredited, while I think still "official." Modern theology suggests that Purgatory is a sort of graduate school leading toward a degree in sainthood, and the Poor Souls are living in grad school housing and eating grad school food while studying how to be saints. This implies that once you're a Saint, you're done somehow. Perfect? And still human? I have a hard time crediting perfection to anyone but God—truth be told, I have a hard time even understanding what perfection is.

I'd prefer to think that the transfiguration implied by sainthood is an ongoing process, through which we spiral ever-closer to the Still Point at the Center of All, in Whose image and likeness we were created. I don't want to be done. The journey is the reward. The journey, in fact, is what being human really means: Striving through this world (and all the ineffable worlds to come) to draw closer to the One who created us.

So today I honor those close to me who have left this world, but remain on the path somewhere: My parents, Carol's father, my aunt Kathleen, that old rascal Uncle Louie, and (most recently) Keith's wife Ruth. These and those like them are the Saints. In truth, we are the Poor Souls, down here on the rockpile, trying to make sense of it all without dying of broken hearts. It's hard sometimes, especially times like these. But that doesn't mean we can ever stop trying.