October 31, 2001:

There is a peculiar email hoax going around indicating that when there's a blue moon on Halloween and the Pleiades can be seen rising in the East, it signals the end of the world. Let's think about that.

First of all, a blue moon is something that happens a little more often than once in a...blue moon. It's simply the second full moon within a single calendar month. We usually get them every year or so, since all months but February are a few days longer than the 28-day lunar cycle. Second, if you think for a moment, you'll realize that a full moon on Halloween must be a blue moon, no exceptions. Halloween is always October 31, and a lunar cycle before that is always October 2 or 3, depending on where the actual moment of full moon occurs. (A lunar cycle is not precisely 28 days long.) Finally, (and this is what freaks me out about the ignorance of some people) the Pleiades are always rising in the east on Halloween. They rise late in the evening in the fall, duh. Always have. Always will.

What is a touch unusual is having a full moon on Halloween itself. This last happened in 1975, and will not happen again until 2020. So Carol and I went out just now to stand in the brilliant moonlight and ponder the beauty of it. It was a gorgeous warm evening, and in the distance the coyotes were howling in a deliciously Halloween-y fashion. Then again, around here they do that almost every night.

Need I caution that you shouldn't believe everything you read in an email? (Especially an email that demands that you "send this to as many people as you possibly can!") This particular items hasn't made it to Snopes yet, but if anybody sends you something that seems a little whiffy, that's where to look first.
October 30, 2001:
I have gotten some occasional spam relating to the Attack, but one arriving this morning took the cake. Those who are in a state of near-teminal anxiety over the anthrax threat might well pop for the Bubble Bunker, which is basically an 8' X 9' X 6' plastic bag with an attached filtered fan. Only $279.50. Buy yours today, heh! (And no, I will not provide additional information. Get real!)
October 28, 2001:

A little earlier this evening, Carol and I did something we hadn't done since we were young marrieds: We bought a pumpkin at Safeway and carved it on our kitchen counter, giggling and throwing pumpkin guts and goofing around like a couple of ten-year-olds, which is what we felt like.

Halloween isn't a big deal where we live, since there is a scarcity of grade schoolers and it's 350 feet between houses at minimum. Haven't had a single trick-or-treater to the house in all the time we've lived here, though we invariably buy a bag of Hershey kisses "just to be sure" and then eat them ourselves the next day.

I also see that Halloween is again being slammed by several incompatible groups of malcontents, including religious fundies who see Satanism in everything from Harry Potter to smudges on badly baked tortillas. This year it's primarily people afraid kids will be handed disease agents or poisons in candy. This is unlikely, but that won't stop them from worrying. Funny how you never hear of groups slamming Halloween because it encourages kids to eat too much sugar, which is probably the only useful criticism I have of this generally silly holiday. A good dose of silliness is badly needed in this grim season, if only to balance those who enjoy saying "Boo!" a little too much.

Our pumpkin guy is shown at right, as he looked on the front porch with his votive candle blazing and my camera flash pointedly turned off. More stoned than scary looking, as my cousin Greg Toczyl (here on a med school clinical rotation) helpfully pointed out. Ah, well. Steven King I'm not—and the world is probably better off as a result.

Let us not, as cautious, responsible adults, forget to set the world aside now and then and just have fun!
October 27, 2001:
I'm not much of a computer games freak, and I've never been one for twitch games or anything else where reflexes dominate play. I prefer to think, and watch for patterns, and work out puzzles. I have always liked Mah Jongg (and played a version written in Borland Pascal for many years, until running DOS apps under Windows became problematic) but my current favorite is something called Snood, which is a little hard to describe. You launch cartoon faces at a field of cartoon faces, hoping to get three or more of a kind in contact, so that they vanish. The fewer faces (snoods) it takes to clear the field, the more points you get. Every so often the field advances downward on the screen (in the fashion of the ancient Space Invaders) and if they make it all the way to the front edge, you lose. There's a little more to it than that, but if you like such things, download the trial version and give it a shot. The registered game costs $14.95. I'm looking for a good Windows version of Mah Jongg, but I'm fussy about the tile art and haven't yet seen one that I'm willing to play more than once.
October 26, 2001:
Hot damn! I learned today that Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine will publish my novella "Drumlin Boiler" in their April 2002 issue. That will become my first appearance in an SF magazine since October 1983, when Nancy Kress and I published our novelette "Borovsky's Hollow Woman" in Omni. My SF career peaked with that appearance, and thereafter simply...stopped. I wrote a little (though mostly on unfinished novels) but had only one professional appearance after that: "Bathtub Mary" in Infinite Loop, an anthology of SF by computer writers that nobody (as best I can tell) ever actually saw. I didn't get serious about SF again until 1997, when I began writing The Cunning Blood. It still languishes at a major NY publisher, and given the dire straits publishing in general is in these days, I don't hold out a great deal of hope for it. So it'll be nice to actually tell a story somewhere where somebody can read it.
October 25, 2001:

I downloaded the demo version of an intriguing product called FinePrint pfdFactory. As you might imagine, it creates Adobe PDF documents, and does so by acting as a Windows print driver: You route output from a document editor of some kind to pdfFactory's "print" driver, and instead of printing the data it creates a PDF file that faithfully reproduces the original document in PDF form.

What astonished me is that it somehow managed to embed the mysterious MVOldStyle fonts in the PDF files it produced during my testing—this after Adobe InDesign told me that the fonts were not embeddable. I can thus distribute documents typset with MVOldStyle to other people who do not have that font installed.

The only "demo-ness" of the demo version is that it embeds the URL of FintPrint's home page on the bottom of each page, which actually wasn't pertinent to my testing—and the full version of the product is only $50. I'm not sure I'm going to buy it yet, but it certainly seems to do a good job turning Word 2000 files into PDFs, fonts and all, which was the main reason it caught my eye.
October 24, 2001:

From the "welcome audacity" file comes word of Lindows, a new product that will be an adaptation of free operating system Linux containing a tightly integrated version of WINE. WINE has been around since 1993 (which makes it one of the most ancient open-source projects) and is basically a "clean clone" of the Win32 API. In other words, it's a biggish code library that tries to act the same way that all the 32-bit Windows code libraries act. Theoretically, Lindows will allow users to install and run Windows applications without alteration.

Theoretically. Cloning an API the size of Win32 is an immense project, and I have to wonder if you can ever really get there. It'll probably work for smallish utilities and older apps that don't use the more exotic corners of Win32. I don't seriously expect to see Office 2000 run on it, at least in part because MS apps often have "carnal knowledge" of Windows and don't always play entirely straight with the Win32 APIs.

The other issue, of course, is one I have always wondered about, since I first heard about WINE in 1997: Will MS allow it to happen? Is it legal to clone an API? It's unclear that this has been fully tested; and the burden of proof in a court test could swamp a small operation like the WINE group.

The gotcha implied by Lindows itself is a little more interesting, and has gone unremarked so far: Lindows is a commercial product based on an open-source operating system. Will Richard Stallman and the radical free-ers challenge its legitimacy? If you build anything an on open-source code base, what you build is supposedly required to be open source as well. This will be interesting indeed. Stay tuned.
October 23, 2001:

I was recruited for the several-eth time yesterday (have lost count, actually) to go and work at Microsoft, this time as Publisher of Microsoft Press. And again, for the several-eth time, I turned them down flat, mostly because Seattle is one of the gloomiest places on Earth. (In the weather sense, of course—I have become seriously addicted to sunshine. The city itself has a certain wry humor and style that does appeal to me, apart from the fact that it's way too stylish sometimes.) The first time I was recruited there, in the fall of 1988, I turned them down as well, for pretty much the same reason. And of course, as everybody knows, had I worked there in any kind of significant capacity starting in 1988, I would probably have fifteen million dollars worth of stock options by now, heh.

Microsoft remains a good place to work if you can stand the weather, but it's unclear how many more casual fortunes will be made there. As much as I admire Microsoft and its technologies, I must remind myself that they are what they are in part because they rode the curve of PC obsolescence. MS chings the cash register for every PC that goes out the door at every retailer there is, with only a microscopic handful of exceptions. Over the past ten or fifteen years, PCs have grown obsolete in a matter of a year or two, and were then retired, handed off to the kids, or given to the poor, who probably used them as doorstops. Intel hardware, in a sense, was sold by subscription, payable biannually, and Microsoft sold a fresh copy of DOS and later Windows with each issue of the hardware.

This cycle has slowed down severely. Most people have found that a 266 Mhz PC works just fine with Windows 98 and Office 97, and with the general economic downturn, don't feel compelled to upgrade the hardware in any significant way. Very few people ever actually upgrade an operating system. What goes out the door is what the machine will have until it becomes a doorstop.

I discovered (as I reported here earlier) that Windows 2000 works well on both a Pentium 450 and a Pentium 550, and there is no perceptible edge in speed when running the 550. (Both machines have 256 MB of RAM.) Apart from its unnecessarily large size, my Dell Dimension 550 does everything I need it to. I don't anticipate buying a new desktop any time soon. Multiply that sense of contentment by hundreds of millions of people around the world, and you can see why I wouldn't expect to get rich on MS stock options over the next couple of years. From now on (and especially until the end of the current recession) Microsoft will have to fight for every dollar.

I've been thinking a lot about Microsoft because of the release of Windows XP tomorrow, and may have more to say in coming days.
October 22, 2001:

The Wall Street Journal today published a review of Chasing the Hawk by Andrew Sheehan, son of the late Dr. George Sheehan, who popularized running as not only good exercise but a sort of path to an all-embracing spiritual nirvana. The book (which I have not yet read) apparently validates something I've been saying for 20 years: That long-term aerobic exercise, particularly of a sort that stresses the joints, is not an unimpeachable good. Dr. Sheehan, after siring 12 children (!) got addicted to running, dumped his wife for several increasingly younger women, and only returned home when prostate cancer prevented him from running. His wife took him back, though some of his children (as you might imagine) held a certain grudge.

The book appears to be a tear-jerker, judging by the reviews on Amazon: Enter at your own risk. However, now that I'm closing in on 50, I find that several of my friends who have been runners for a long time are complaining of serious joint problems, problems that now threaten their continuing mobility, long before they'd otherwise be required to stop exercising. Many years ago, the "On Men" columnist in Playboy (yes, I did read the articles!) warned that his knees were going and confessed to a genuine and damaging addiction to "runner's high." (I confess I don't recall his name, and he no longer writes for them.) I have known two men who have died of heart attacks either while or after running, both of them habitual Marathoners and in what appeared to be terrific shape. (One was only 26 when he died, which was a tragedy.)

My conclusion? We were not born to run. We were born to walk—and maybe swim. Mostly, we were born, not to excess, but to moderation, in eating, exercise, sleep, and all other things. I walk 12-15 miles per week, at the brisk but still walking pace of 3.5 MPH. I've lost 15 pounds, feel terrific, and have no joint problems. Exercise may also be a drug. OD on it, and it will destroy your marriage, then your joints, and ultimately kill you.
October 20, 2001:

Carol and I were at a dinner party last night, and I found myself seated next to a retired physician, a renowned surgeon who had pioneered several new surgical techniques for correcting foot problems like bunions and heel spurs. He had retired because the HMOs were micromanaging his surgical practice to death, which is an interesting but separate issue. His main jeremiad was that we are assisting the terrorists who are mailing anthrax spores by abusing the superdrug Cipro. How so? People are taking Cipro on their own initiative, often without any consultation with a physician. Because it is not a narcotic and not as dangerous as some other antibiotics, it is less stringently controlled. People find it. (A nurse I know reports that all of the dosing packets of Cipro have vanished from the locked drug cabinet at the physician's office where she works, and office records indicate that none of them were logged as used to treat patients. No one but the two physicians and two other nurses have access to the cabinet.)

The danger in using Cipro badly is that we will create spectacularly drug-resistent strains of bacteria far more common than anthrax. In a sense, he said, the terrorists have frightened us into unwittingly creating their biological weapons for them, on our own soil, where they can only kill us. It won't happen right away, but several years from now, if we don't begin far stricter control of all antibiotics, we may have ubiquitous life-threatening pathogens with little or no way to treat them. We have to some extent done this in our hospitals, where drug-resistant bacteria are being seen with increasing frquency. His point was that we are now creating them in our own homes, in vastly more places than in our hospitals. In short, antibiotics are far more dangerous than narcotics. When are we going to figure this out?
October 19, 2001:
Reader Michael Faulkner wrote to tell me that the FAA's ban on model rocketry has been lifted, according to the National Association of Rocketry. So some of the early excesses of this most-peculiar state of war have already been lifted. Thank God for small blessings. Now, when will it be legal to knit on airplanes again? (The story is doing the rounds that a 73-year-old granny's rather blunt plastic knitting needles were seized when she attempted to board an airplane. Why? Officials feared she might knit an afghan...)
October 17, 2001:
I hadn't logged into AudioGalaxy in a while, but when I did last night I realized that the end is in sight for them as well. They have begun massively blocking tracks at the request of the record industry, to the extent that most of the common material—and a surprising amount of the truly obscure material—is no longer accessible. Jimmie Ridgers' "Bim-Bom-Bay," for example, is not exactly a legend, though it may be a classic, and it's been shut down tight. Forget finding any Beatles songs, and (amazingly) most Association songs are blocked as well. I give them only a few weeks before a spectacular implosion occurs: When people can't find any songs, they won't log in, and thus won't share anything with other users, making it less likely that anyone will log in. The feedback loop will consume them, and Napster's fate will become theirs as well.
October 15, 2001:

The trip home was faster than the trip out—we did two consecutive 500-mile days, which is a little over our typical plan—and we took the Route 66 alignment, which had fewer right angles and was thus about 175 miles shorter. It rained less, which helped, as did the general barrenness of western Oklahome, north Texas, and eastern New Mexico. The winds in Texas were almost unbelievable. Had you given me a car door and some steel cable, I could have flown it like a kite.

But mostly, we were hurrying home because we knew that our friend Ruth Greif, wife of my business partner and Coriolis co-founder Keith Weiskamp, was dying. We had hoped to make it to her side before the end, but Keith called us when we were in Tulsa to tell us she had died that morning.

Keith and Ruth have always been very private people, and I don't want to violate that privacy by saying too much here. I will only say that Ruth is a spectacular human being, one of the most savvy publishing professionals I have ever met. To her publishing is a passion, not warfare, as lesser publishing companies have chosen to make it when they cannot compete on quality. She left this Earth far too early, at the peak of her powers, and we can only shake our heads in the face of the question that looms before us. We're not big enough to know Why, nor where she is now. My personal belief, however, is that God wastes nothing, especially not people who make good things happen. I also believe that we severely underestimate the creative power and imagination of the Almighty. How dare we assume that this one small four-dimensional cosmos is all there is? The only answer we're likely to have is as good as it is likely to get for us still down here on the Rockpile:

Ruth isn't gone. She just isn't here. And wherever she is, she's just warming up.
October 9, 2001:

We set off on the return trip back to Scottsdale tomorrow, and I may or may not get much written on the road. So there'll be a gap—not sure how long, but bear with me. I enjoy this too much to give it up entirely.

One difference this time: We're going home along the Route 66 alignment, down I55 from Chicago to I44 outside of St. Louis, down to I40 in Oklahoma City, and then straight west to I17 at Flagstaff, then south on I17 home. I don't know how much of the original Route 66 is left, but we hope to see a little of the highway kitsch that still remains, and I'll report on it when we get home.
October 8, 2001:
For our 25th anniversary, Carol bought me a plaque, in cast black resin stone, of the epigram that Carl Jung had engraved over his door: Bidden or unbidden, God is present. (Jung's original was in Latin: Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit, and I have that plaque too.) It's one of my mottoes, a reminder to myself that God isn't something we thought up, or simply use as a psychological mechanism to make us feel better. God is real. I can't tell you how I know. I guess that's just what faith is. But let me tell you, in my darkest moments, it has made all the difference between survival and despair.
October 7, 2001:

Last night Carol and I held our 25th wedding anniversary party near Chicago, at Przybylo's White Eagle Banquets in Niles, Illinois, where Carol grew up and where we were married in 1976. We had just over 80 people in attendance, with a DJ (the formidable Connie Szerszen, once of WIND and WSDM) and some of the most spectacular Polish food you'll ever find anywhere in the Midwest. Prior to the party, we had celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary Mass in the Old Catholic tradition at Immanuel Lutheran Church on the North Side, not far from Clark and Petersen, near Senn High School. The Rev. Mary Ramsden said the Mass, which had a sublime beauty in the quiet and mostly empty church. Forty of our friends and family showed up at the Mass, which astonished us—many of them were of other faiths, and some even atheists.

But the party, wow! Carol and I each gave a short speech, expressing both our appreciation of our guests' attendance, and also of our love for one another. Our friend Dr. Barry Gehm gave a toast, and we ran the traditional SF-fan-techie gauntlet of arched Swiss Army knives. We danced a lot, everything from early Beatles to the Chicken Dance, and I even recapitulated my very first slow dance (to "My Girl") with my second cousin Mary Kate McGuire, who danced with me to that song at a freshman high school dance in 1967, and in doing so proved to me that it was possible.

All but two members of our original wedding party were there (and one of the absent, George Hodous, sent his regrets from Salt Lake City) as well as Jackie Ropski, Carol's high school girlfriend who had introduced Carol to me when we were all teenagers in 1969. Our friends Jim and Debra Mischel were there, all the way from Austin, and my telescope collaborator Pete Albrecht flew in from LA. We ate, we danced, we laughed, we told stories, and we were reminded of the value of friendship. As I've said time and before: Nothing much matters beyond love and knowledge—everything else just piles up in your garage. In short, it was wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that we're looking for an excuse to do it again, and a little sooner than our 50th!
October 5, 2001:

I've been using CD-R media for backups for well over a year now, and I like it a lot. Probably the best reason is that the discs are cheap—so cheap as to be completely disposable, unlike the streaming tapes I used for many years prior. And I don't just toss them in the garbage. I clamp them in a vise in my shop and hit them sideways with a mallet, so that they shatter and (sometimes) spray delightfully all over the garage. This has become a bit of a ceremony to me; I think of it as a sort of sacrifice to the privacy gods.

Not that I have much of anything to hide. I don't do anything scurrilous, like drugs or money laundering or kiddie porn. I don't even keep my checkbook on disk, as many do these days. I guess it's a power thing, seasoned with some simple primal-mallet therapy. Smashing CDs is a little like Gallagher assaulting watermelons with a huge wooden hammer in his stage shows. The audience enjoys a dose of truly random destruction now and then, and so do I. I tried to do the same thing with the old SyQuest disk cartridges I used for many years, but it was as though Gallagher had assaulted a thick steak rather than a melon: The cartridge was readily destroyed, but rather than going with a satisfying splat it simply bent with the blows until it was flattened out and mostly unrecognizable. Nowhere near as much fun.

The issue of rendering unwanted digital media unreadable is a real one, though, and here's an interesting article about some of the issues. Law enforcement people (and, presumably, government spooks) have worked out some interesting technological finesse to reconstruct deleted files, to the extent that at the highest security levels, even conventional hard disk drives are considered consumables and are literally destroyed (via incinerator) after they cease to be useful.

I do have a stack of old CDs removed from review products sent to me at Visual Developer, and I keep them for use around the shop and shack. I have a simple receiver I built with a CD-cum-frequency dial that still contains the main distribution of Visual Studio, circa 1997. Works well, and it's the only time that I suspect anyone will ever use Visual Studio without being concerned about its bugs.
October 3, 2001:

Carol and I took a day and a night to go downtown here in Chicago and take a fancy room at the elegant Hotel Inter-Continental. We had a quiet dinner at the famous Blackhawk Lodge on Superior Street, and then walked the length of Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Chicago Avenue, holding hands like teenagers, looking in store windows, laughing at the silly fashions, and being fully in one another's presence, whether in conversation or in silence.

We stopped at Legoland on Michigan Avenue, right across from the Inter-Continental, and played with buckets of blocks and laughed at the over-the-top Lego creations mounted all over the place, including a Lego Halloween spider that I'm quite sure would have been impossible without gluing the pieces together. (That's cheating!) Carol took a picture of me seated next to a Lego businessman, aliased like a character in a 1980's video game. I lusted after the big Lego Mindstorms kit, but can't afford them. (The time, not the money. One must choose one's challenges, and I have a few too many as it is.)

We gawked at the architecture, and pondered how so little of it was there when we lived in Chicago twenty-odd years ago. (We left in 1979 and never returned except as visitors.) What used to be parking lots are now mostly condo high-rises, and some amazing office towers have gone up just in the last few years. We stopped at St. Peter's church on Madison Street and spent a quiet moment in prayer. I thanked the Most High for many things, but most of all for the woman kneeling beside me, without whom I would be lost.

Marriage can be done, people. It can last, and it can be completely and ineffably delightful. How? Take marriage more seriously than you take yourself. Give more in marriage than you take. But more than anything else, keep in mind what my father told me when I was barely 13: If you're lucky and smart you'll marry your best friend. He was right. And I did. Everything in our lives has followed from that. We are best friends, and always will be. Amen.
October 2, 2001:

Twenty-five years ago today, at St. John Brebeuf church here in Niles, Illinois, I took both of Carol's hands in mine and pledged my life to her service, and she pledged hers to mine. We wrote our own vows, as was often done back then, and less often today. To commemorate this day, I doubt I can do better than to publish those vows here, and swear before everyone who still reads me that I stand by them as unshakably today as I did in 1976:

"My beloved, over these past seven years you have become my best friend. By these words we are made one, and let this path we are beginning have no end.

"I promise always to listen, for you have much to say, and I have much to learn.

"When there is conflict I will compromise; when there is triumph I will rejoice.

"When I err I will ask forgiveness; when you ask forgiveness I will forgive.

"Let my embrace be your refuge. Your touch will be my peace.

"I give you all that I am, in the hope that you may become all that you can be.

"Take this ring and wear it, as my equal partner in the Great Adventure of life. Let it be the visible symbol of my love and my lifelong loyalty. May God sanctify our marriage, and may it guide us to our destiny in His Presence. Cherish me."
October 1, 2001:

Carol and I went to All Saints Cemetery earlier today to see my mother's grave. I hadn't seen it yet; as I reported here in my August 22 entry, graveside ceremonies are no longer held in most cemeteries. She is buried beside my father (who died in 1978) in St. Andrew's Circle, which is straight back from the main entrance and very easy to find. I was appalled, however, at the fact that my father's headstone was completely overgrown by the grass, and simply couldn't be seen. In the photo above, what looks like discolored grass to the left of the visible headstone is all that can be seen of the gray granite of my father's stone. He was a remarkable man against whom history, the fates, and the Roman Catholic Church seem to have had a grudge, and now his very grave is being swallowed up by the Earth.

Belay that; his grave is the victim of a lazy, arrogant Catholic cemetery that doesn't allow vertical stones because they make it inconvenient to cut the grass. I have to go back there with a lawn edger and clean out the grass that hides his memory. If I were a richer man I'd have him dug up and put somewhere that I can mount a big red granite headstone that no one could ever miss. He suffered too much and died too young and it makes me nuts to think he's on the edge of vanishing from human memory without the merest trace.