October 31, 2003:

I usually write these entries in the early morning or evening, on one side or another of the working day. Today I'm doing it in the morning, because tonight, for the first time in almost 14 years, we will be in a place where trick-or-treating actually happens.

Back in Arizona we lived out in the hinterlands, on a 2.5 acre lot, in a dark and sparsely-built dirt-road area where houses are as much as 500 feet apart. In all the time we lived there, we never had even a single kid come by trick-or-treating. Not once—even though the walking involved would probably have consumed any calories obtained in candy begged from the neighbors. For this year at least (we're renting until our new house is finished) our next-door neighbor Chris tells us to expect upwards of a hundred kids during the afternoon and evening. We're skeptical; there was an eighth of an inch of ice on the cars this morning, and the outlook is for a high of 44. Still, I remember trick-or-treating in Chicago in worse weather than this, so we'll see.

We used to buy a lonely bag of Hershey Kisses or somesuch "just in case" and then guiltily consume it ourselves over the follwing week. That won't be an issue today, I suspect.

In the meantime, let me recommend a very silly Halloween game called Cat Bowling, (see screen cap above) which is a java thingie and doesn't need to be installed, just downloaded for a few seconds. It sounds cruel, but it's actually a cartoon game where cats replace bowling pins and the ball is a pumpkin. (As the game says, "No cats were harmed in the creation of this game. They were all...spared.") There's a witch as MC, and it's actually quite a bit trickier than it looks. I got two or sometimes three strikes per game, but for some obscure reason had a great deal of difficulty making any spares. My top score so far is 146. Surely some of you can beat that!

Before I bag it this morning to sit by the door and the Big Bowl of Milky Way Mini-Bars, let me mention that another big solar flare will hit the earth today (and may have already). Did you see the aurora the other night? If not, you may have another (highly appropriate) chance this evening. Check out the Real Time Auroral Map. And finally, Cecil Adams has the Straight Dope on witches, broomsticks, and...roll-on herbal deodorant. (Not for the kids...but pretty funny nonetheless!)
October 30, 2003:

A junkdrawer of odd lots has turned up in recent days. Perforce:

  • The economy must be picking up—I'm seeing notes in the local paper to that effect—but my best indicator is that people have begun asking me if I Or Someone I Know would be interested in a position pertaining to... The most recent was an inquiry from a Monster Semiconductor Company about a position called Wireless Architect/Technologist. It sounds cool—I was tempted but I like what I'm doing and the position is in Dallas—but the position involves writing, educating, team-building, and creation of strategies for product development and proomotion. If you're interested email me and I'll refer you to the company in question.
  • I got another such inquiry about an online writing/editing gig, freelance, that requires somebody who knows Windows Server really well. Same deal as above; contact me and I'll refer you.
  • I stumbled on The File Extension Source recently, and it's reasonably useful: It summarizes known uses of various file extensions. For some it's not so useful; they punt on the widely-used .DAT extension rather than try to list products known to use it, which is dumb. But for "weird" file extensions (like the .ZL9 extension that ZoneAlarm uses to declaw .EXEs that come in via email) there's nothing like it.
  • Rather than publish their proprietary Visio .VSD file format, Microsoft has released a Visio File Viewer that you can freely distribute to people so that they can see your Visio drawings without having to install (or, read between the lines here, steal) a copy of Visio itself. It supports drawings created in Visio 5, 2000, or 2002. I'd rather they just let third parties create Visio- compatible utilities, but I guess this is better than nothing.
  • Slashdot aggregated a report this morning that Lindows Main Guy Michael Robertson is creating Nvu ("New View") to provide an open-source alternative to MS FrontPage and Macromedia Dreamweaver. See Michael's announcement here. (Three-letter domains are rare and not cheap; I wondered if they cornered "nvu.com" and then figured a name around the domain.) Nvu is actually the going-forward presence of the old Mozilla Composer project, which got cut loose and set adrift when the Mozilla project was broken up some time back. Michael's strong emphasis is on ease-of-use, which is an alien concept in the Unix world generally, but an utterly necessary one if any flavor of Unix is to compete with MS. Nvu looks pretty good to me, and is yet another indicator that desktop Linux is hitting its stride. I have a few months to go before I can get into it much, but desktop Linux will definitely be my next technology and writing emphasis.
  • Nothing much happened on our house this week. The developer took a week off, and apart from the drywall finish guy, all the subcontractors stopped working—and this when the roof was half done and this morning's weather report says snow is on the way.

October 29, 2003:

The solar storm hit the atsmophere last night about 1:30AM local time, and the sky lit up like Christmas. Carol and I woke up at 2:00 and saw a huge swatch of brilliant red-orange floating above the northeast horizon. We're badly positioned for astronomy here in our rental, but Matt Russell lives up north in the Black Forest area, and he got some stunning photos, like this, this, and this. (Check out his astrophotography site—awesome stuff!) Ginger Mayfield up near Divide, Colorado, took this photo, which I think is the same region that Carol and I saw, if not so clearly. (Ginger warns that the URL is temporary and will not always be valid.) Abundant thanks to Gary Frerking for sending me the links.

This morning, before the sun got behind the garage, Carol and I hauled my crufty, ancient, pipe-fitting 8" scope out on the driveway and projected the image of the sun onto a piece of cardboard. I then took a picture of the cardboard, a technique I pioneered back in Mexico in 1991, when we witnessed the stunning, noon-day total solar eclipse with 6-minute totality. Back then I projected the image onto a white fiberglass beach chair, but it worked just as well. To get a sense for the detail in the sunspots, download the full-size photo. (The one shown above was greatly reduced in size.) The lower-left group of spots is the one that let fly with the massive solar flare early yesterday, but the upper right one is more interesting, in that it started out as an elongated ring, and is now starting to fragment into one large and many smaller spots.

I guess the lesson is that you don't need a fortune in high-tech gear to do things like this. The telescope is almost ridiculously crude, and the camera is a handheld Digital Elph. Carol was struggling to hold the cardboard steady against a stiff wind. And for all that, we got some wonderful views of the big spots. (For a photo of the telescope itself, see my entry for September 28, 2003.) Gotta love it!
October 28, 2003:
Jeff's House Coming?
Placing roof tiles
(209K image)

Odd lots for Tuesday morning on a stormy Solar day:

  • Gary Frerking sent me this link to a striking picture of an intense solar flare that erupted from the Sun's surface earlier today. When this bruiser reaches the Earth, I dare the ionosphere not to glow a little!
  • They've (finally!) begun placing the tiles on our roof, though they started work this morning at the rear of the house, for which I don't get a really good shot. (See the link at left anyway to get an early sense for it. I'll post a better shot of the front once the roof is completed.)
  • Some real work is apparently being done on adding strong authentication to SMTP, as reported here. Although IANAPE (I Am Not A Protocols Expert) the SPF protocol looks very promising to me. Forged headers and open relays are probably 80% of the spam problem; if we know that a message contains a forged header, the message can be nuked on the spot before allowing it to go any further. If a message cannot contain forged headers, domain-based blacklists become much easier to implement. I recognize that there are critical mass problems here, but the spam issue has gotten so bad that one or two major ISPs adopting SPF or something like it could be the "tipping point" that would force everybody else to fall in line.
  • Slashdot aggregated a note concerning the commercialization of IBM's MetaPad computer, a concept that is the first step toward what I have called (for more than 20 years now) a jiminy: A small black box that does not contain I/O, and is used by connecting it to whatever I/O you have near at hand. Take it on the road and it's a PDA; take it home, plug it into its cradle, and it's a desktop. That's the first step; someday a MetaPad descendant will just sit in your pocket and wirelessly connect (via low-power, short-range, super-bandwidth UWB) to a separate I/O module, be it the PDA I/O module in your hand, or the desktop I/O module on your desk. This is clearly the way things are going, and it's nice to see somebody with the muscle of IBM taking it seriously.

October 27, 2003:

As most of you know—I've been grumbling about it for two years now—I have a finished, polished SF novel that I can't sell because I am "unknown." (Over a quarter million computer books and two Hugo nominations don't seem to count.) I've been talking quietly to various people in the SF world, and I'm beginning to think that I may have been lucky in not getting a contract for The Cunning Blood from the traditional SF publishing market. Here's why: Contracts for first-time novelists offer ridiculous advances—sometimes as little as $3500—and single-digit royalty rates on net sales proceeds that are "cooked" with an assortment of charges so that the book earns basically no money subject to royalties. (The recording industry has been doing this to musicians for decades.) Worse (for me at least) are provisions that allow publishers to keep a book "in print" indefinitely, long after books are sold or remaindered, so that rights never revert to the author. This is a gamble on the part of the publisher, so if the occasional first-timer ever goes on to get big, that first novel can be brought back decades later and sold in huge quantities without more favorable terms to the author.

Years ago I read somewhere that aspiring young (female) models trying to put a professional-looking portfolio together will often be asked by photographers to do a mild nude series—not hard porn, just Playboy-style naked-girl-leaning-against-a-tree things—as a condition of doing the shoot at an affordable price. The photographer takes the photos (under release) and throws them in a drawer against the faint possibility that Miss Model becomes the next Cindy Crawford someday, at which time the nude series is suddenly worth a fortune, for which the poor model gets nothing. That's kind of how I feel right now—and why I feel that all the recent fuss over piracy by Big Media is hideously insincere.

I'm a special case in the SF world because I'm a seasoned publisher. I know how to publish the novel myself, and I can do it fairly cheaply because I know the ropes and won't make any costly mistakes. My spreadsheets tell me that I can break even (assuming I don't separately calculate time spent on the project, which novelists never do anyway) at less than 100 copies, given a $16.95 cover price. I can beat a $3500 advance selling about 375 copies. Doing so would be a certain amount of work, but I'm pretty sure I can do it. Lord knows I know how. The big question is, Should I?

The decision is postponed until next spring, after we get into the new house and settled. But as the weeks go by, I'm increasingly tempted. We'll see.
October 26, 2003:

Health care costs are a favorite topic of mine (see my intermittent entries on the subject beginning with August 17, 2003), and I watch the struggle over the reimportation of US-made drugs from Canada with the same sort of digust that I've been watching the RIAA fraudulently claim that their anti-piracy efforts are "for the artists"—who never see a nickel from CD sales. The Canadian government controls the prices at which drugs are sold in Canada, and Americans have been re-importing those drugs at costs that may be one fifth of costs charged down here. The drug companies are enraged—and I'm enraged at their (phony) rage.

Why so? In part, because I'm a strong believer in the "doctrine of first sale," meaning that once some commodity is sold, the seller loses all control over it. I am also rabidly opposed to allowing companies to manipulate markets through prices, limiting distribution to produce artificial scarcity, etc. US drug companies are not forced to sell to Canada at cut-rate prices. Canada is a smallish market in the global picture, and when the Canadian health bureaucrats demand a lowball price, the drug makers could just walk. Instead, they sell at a low profit there, and a (very) high profit up here, for the same damned pills, and try to erect legal barriers to small-scale reimportation of drugs sold originally to Canada.

I recognize that forcing drug companies to sell their products cheap means that in the future, the stream of wonder drugs will dry up. That's simple economics, and the world is going to need future antibiotics to replace the ones we're already abusing, heh. My solution would be to force the drug companies to sell the same drugs for the same prices to all comers, no matter where they are in the world. If the Canadians don't like the prices, they can take an aspirin and re-think their health-care system. Otherwise, Americans are (heavily) subsidizing Canadians' health care, which is gruesomely unfair, and also dangerous to any political party that supports it. (Democrats are not innocent here, as drug money—what a term!—is being spread heavily around the entire political spectrum.) One drug, one price, one world. It's really as simple as that.
October 25, 2003:

Odd lots for our first Colorado snow day:

  • Yup, we got up this morning to a find thin dusting of that white stuff on the ground, and a very Christmas-y cap on Cheyenne Mountain. It's our first snow in this climate—we saw snow in Arizona twice in 13 years there!—and many warn me that it won't be our last, heh.
  • Slashdot reports that California has fined some spammers $2M. A good start, most say, but one threatened by...
  • ...the Senate's passing of a national anti-spam bill, one that pre-empts all state attempts to regulate spam in any way. The national bill is much weaker than many state bills, and seems to have been heavily influenced by the telemarketing lobby. Some people are in fact calling the bill the "Spammers' Bill of Rights." It establishes an idiotic "do not spam" list that offshore spammers will use with impunity as a convenient list of live email addresses. It won't help, and may make things worse, though we may see an occasional prosecution for forging mail headers. In any event, the planting of countless anonymous email proxies by worms and viruses makes all legal regulation of spam moot. We need new SMTP descendent protocols with authentication. Now.
  • In their November 2003 issue, QST published a great little 2-tube receiver project using those 12V B+ "space charge" tubes that were close to the last hurrah of the vacuum tube industry. It made me ache to start building things again; I've been without a workshop (in practical terms) since this past February, and I've been going into withdrawal for some time. However, when I looked a couple of space charge tubes up on the Web, I found a wonderful "labor of love" compilation of data for 3,617 tubes on NJ7P's Web site. A similar index can be found here, but this time it's a set of actual page scans of RCA's HB-3 tube manual, with much more information, including characteristic curves where published. What a fine thing the Web is, even for technoatavists!
  • We've had a major solar storm in recent days, but hard as I've looked, I've seen no aurorae here in Colorado. I saw them in Chicago in 1970, and they are supposed to get this far south on occasion, but so far nothing. Anybody else out there seen any? And yes, it's not over, and double yes, I will definitely keep looking.

October 24, 2003:
Jeff's House Coming?
Loading roof tiles
(209K image)
Standard front view
(249K image)
Standard back view
(230K image)

Today was an exhaustingly busy day up at the house, and I'm pretty wrecked. Carol and I just shared a pizza and a bottle of Cosentino Cigarzin, and we're going to watch Men in Black a little later this evening to decompress. Doing a custom house is a huge amount of work, even for those who don't swing the hammers, whew.

They finally got the tiles up on the roof this morning, by way of a clever foldable conveyor belt (see photo linked in the left margin) and everything was stacked by 2 PM. Then the sheetrock guys (who had been waiting impatiently) went back in and started taping the wallboard joints, and they were still at it when we came back at 5 PM. The painters came by this morning as well, and did about half of the soffits. Carol and I walked the house just before lunch with the sales rep from the flooring company, and then drove uptown to pick out our garage doors. Like I said, whew.

Inside it looks like a house now, with the sheetrock in place, and over the next two weeks we'll see the front door put on (always a plus!) the front porch poured, exterior walls stuccoed, and the interior walls textured. After that it's interior paint, floor tile, kitchen cabinets, and miscellaneous finish work. We're not entirely sure how long it will take, but we may in fact be in there by mid-January instead of mid-February. We won't know until we know. That's just how the custom house game works.
October 23, 2003:

This morning's Wall Street Journal had a front-page piece about the culture clash between traditional hand-drawn animation, and completely computerized animation. The article was disappointingly lightweight for the usually formidable Journal, and I think lots more was not said that could be said, especially about the two cultures: The artists with pencils in their hands want to create art—the artists with fingers on the keyboards want to create characters and stories. This is how it has seemed to me, at least: The last several feature-length cartoons I've seen using traditional animation have been gorgeous from a drawing standpoint, and pretty cold in terms of stories and characters. On the other hand, every full-CGI cartoon I've seen (with one exception: Finding Nemo) has been a major winner. (Yes, I know: That CGI video game knockoff whose name I can't remember was awful, but I didn't see it.)

According to the Journal article, this has played true in the market: Disney's hand-drawn cartoons have not done well since 1993's The Lion King, which I confess I didn't much like either. Nothing to approach Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast has been seen since the dawn of the CGI era. Pocahontas? Yukkh. Mulan? Bo....ring. Treasure Planet? So-so. I tried hard to like Atlantis, but it had nothing on The Little Mermaid. Lilo and Stitch was vacantly dumb. Hercules has been mercifully forgotten.

Disney has some clear problems with political correctness (noble Indians versus hateful Europeans in Pocahontas, for example) but that's hardly enough to explain the drought. The Journal article provides a telling hint: CGI artists create "actors" and direct them on a "set" that includes lighting much as we would think of lighting. The focus is on the characters, and much less on the background in which they move. Shrek was clever as hell (and one of my all-time favorite movies) but the artwork isn't anything you'd want to hang on your wall. The two Toy Story movies are drawn with deliberate simplicity, to evoke a child's storybook, but the storytelling is nothing short of brilliant.

Sure, I'm a storyteller, so factor in my bias, but I'll lay odds that where you have a good story well told about engaging characters, you will sell tickets, be they cartoons or not. Eye candy is too much with us these days, and people have begun to factor it out. Disney needs to remember how to tell a story. It can be done. They only need to make it a priority.
October 22, 2003:

The sheetrock has been screwed in place throughout the house, and when we were up there at the end of the day an hour ago, everything was stalled: The roof tiles have been delivered, on a dozen pallets lined up along the street, but the loader gadget that will lift them up to the roof has yet to materialize, and so construction is at a standstill. Nothing much more can be done to the walls without the roof tiles up where they belong. Maybe that's ok. Maybe we needed a breather. This has been a very intense week for things like picking colors and trim styles and carpeting etc.

In order to select our colors, we flipped through endless pages of pictures of Craftsman-style houses, looking to see what colors they used and how they used them. One conclusion we came to (apart from the revelation that Craftsman houses were deliberately dark inside, to make them "cozy") is that even a middling Craftsman house would cost a cool million to build today (excluding the land) because of the cost of the wood and the workmanship. Wood is at a premium today, so its use in middle-class residential construction is limited, and wood of sufficient quality to stain and leave in its natural state (rather than painted) is quite expensive.

Craftsman homes, moreover, used good wood—mostly oak—and did a lot of fussy, built-in things with it, things that required, well, craftsmanship—which is astonishingly expensive. So we're building a home that evokes the Craftsman style rather than re-creates it. Neither of us wants to live in a cave with dark green walls, and we don't have half a million dollars to spend on custom oak carpentry. I'm thinking that once we've been in the house for awhile and have a sense for what we can do, I may read up on creating custom molding on a table router and install it myself. The oak will still be expensive, but I work cheap when I work for myself, and over time we can add some of the wood that we can't afford right now.
October 21, 2003:

Once again, in this morning's local paper, some dimbulb recited the conventional cant about illegal immigrants: "They take jobs that Americans don't want." My response: How do you know?

I'm short on time today, but it's interesting that neither major political party wants to do anything about illegal immigration. The Democrats love illegals because they overwhelmingly vote Democratic when they become citizens; the Republicans love illegals because they keep wage levels down. Nowhere in all of this does anyone speak of the rule of law. I'll be a contrarian, however, and point out that young immigrants will help keep Social Security solvent for retiring Boomers, which makes the situation all the more complex. Europe's much-admired social network will begin caving in under the weight of retirees in about ten years, unless they throw the gates wide. We'll see what they end up doing.

That's all I have time to stuff in the ol' notefile today. More later.
October 20, 2003:

Most of what's being reported in the religious press these days involves Pope John Paul II's 25th anniversary (only four other popes have reigned as long!) and the ongoing muddle in the Anglican Communion over ordaining an openly gay bishop. Although I'm nominally an Old Catholic, Carol and I attend an Episcopalian church here in Colorado Springs, and we've heard a lot from both sides.

On the core issue I won't say much, but in truth the more intriguing issue is that of whether the gay bishop thing will cause a schism—a split in governance—in the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopalian Church of the USA (ECUSA) is a part. Anglican bishops in the developing world, especially Africa, are howling for ECUSA blood, and demanding that the Anglican leadership throw ECUSA out of the fold. What's interesting about that is that Anglican churches have little or no power to demand doctrinal compliance from other Anglican churches. (What's also interesting is that from what I've read of the AIDS catastrophe there, sub-equatorial Africa is in fact a sexual madhouse. The difference is that no one there speaks of it, so the fiction of a "conservative" laity can be maintained by their bishops.) The Archibishop of Canterbury is in a tough spot, but in truth there's very little he can do about the American church or any other church. Anglican governance is extremely decentralized.

Roman Catholics tut-tut over this and talk of how the Anglicans need a strong pope who can kick ass and bring ECUSA back into line. Au contraire. As I see it, decentralized church government is a damned good thing, for this reason: There is no way for a heretical faction to impose a heretical teaching on churches that reject it. Whether consecrating a gay man as bishop is heretical I leave to others to decide, but there is no mechanism within Anglicanism to force gay clergy on churches unwilling to go along. In the Roman Church, by contrast, a "runaway pope" could impose any novel doctrine he chose upon the entire Roman Catholic Church, and depose any clergy who refused to accept and teach it. Some reactionaries say that Pope John XXIII was such a pope, who released what they saw as chaos on the church with the Second Vatican Council in 1960. There have been heretical popes in the (distant) past, and the threat is ever-greater now, since modern popes have convinced themselves that they are infallible. So far, infallibility has been used only to impose two Marian doctrines on the Church, but a deranged Pope could detonate the global Roman Church with a single, sufficiently bizarre yet "infallible" encyclical. Relying on the Holy Spirit to prevent such a disaster is naive in the extreme; but returning the Catholic world to government by councils of bishops (as was done early in Church history) is not in the cards.

As for the Anglican Communion, well, there was a split within ECUSA back in 1976, when ECUSA chose rather abruptly (and without sufficient discussion in the greater church) to ordain women to the priesthood. I'm solidly behind that decision, but millions of older Episcopalians left ECUSA back then to form small, independent "continuing Anglican" parishes that attempted to roll back the clock to the Anglican mode of worship that was universal in the early 20th century. That schism was never healed, but that may not be quite the right way to think about it: One of the two parties was right, and we here on Earth cannot be sure which is which. That one party could not persecute the other for its beliefs means that truth, whatever truth was, could not be extinguished. Sure, it's not a perfect system, but in this most imperfect world, it may be the best that any church can do.
October 19, 2003:
Jeff's House Coming?
Sheetrocking Jeff's Workshop
(139K image)

There's a nice layman's explanation of how the SoBig virus could be the foundation of an untraceable spammer network here. 66% of the messages that MessageLabs (an email security firm) intercepts come from "open proxies," many or most of which were planted by the SoBig virus. The SoBig viruses (there have been several related strains) seem to be experiments, "proof of concept" demos that time out after awhile, usually a month or so. This means we can expect more, and that the damned thing will become much slicker and harder to spot and trace. Reading the reams of technical analysis out there gives me the distinct impression that whoever wrote SoBig is building toward something, and I have a wild-ass guess as to what: They're going to try to tip elections.

Years ago, I wrote several idea pieces in PC Techniques and VDM about Phil Sydney, a mythical (in more than one sense) hacker who uses the Internet to further his political agenda. In my 1996 piece "Medusa Mail," ol' Phil uses a phony email client to look for his political enemies and plant kiddie porn on their machines without their knowledge (so that Phil could rat them out to authorities if necessary) and do other things to mess with the American political system. If I didn't know he was imaginary, I'd say that Phil Sydney had created the SoBig viruses. They're the perfect means for untraceably tipping America's peculiarly razor-edged modern elections.

Selling penis pills is peanuts to Phil. He wants to throw the other guys out of office. So he creates clever, fear-mongering, authentic-sounding "send this to everyone you know" messages intended to alienate certain constituences of certain politicians or political parties. A few days before Election Day 2004, he brings up his list of SoBig open mail proxies and turns loose a flood of phony email, all of which are warnings that some party or candidate is out to get Blacks/Hispanics/RVs/guns or whatever, as befits his own agenda. By Monday the less-sophisticated computer users in America are in a rage, and even though Phil's emails are blatant lies, people have a great need to believe the worst of their opponents. Maybe only a few percent believe Phil's lies and act on them, but when elections are won and lost with just a few thousand or even a few hundred votes—don't forget Florida 2000—Phil has the chance to change the American electoral landscape.

This is pure speculation on my part, but if it occurred to me, I'm sure it occurred to others. Watch what happens next fall, and if anything happens, remember that you heard it here first.
October 18, 2003:

Odd lots on this (hot!) Colorado Saturday:

  • Barnes & Noble announced that they will begin publishing a new line of beginner computer books at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair, which is a sort of global Comdex of book publishing, a massive event that I have never attended and quail slightly at the thought of. The Easy Steps series books will be about 200 pages long, printed on coated paper in four colors throughout, and retail for...yikes!...$9.95. They can do this in part because of cheap 4-color printing in China, but also because they own the country's largest bookstore chain. If you own the store, you can sell your product to the public without giving the retailer 55% off the top, because then you are the retailer. Publishers who have been chewed out by retail chains in the past for selling direct to the public on the Web can be forgiven for crying foul here. Fortunately, Paraglyph doesn't sell beginner books, but those publishers who do may be sweating a little.
  • They're well into sheetrocking the house, and for the first time we're getting a sense of space from the several rooms that have been partially or mostly rocked. I'll post some new photos Monday night. Ohh, the dust...
  • PocoMail 3 can filter on a complete subject line, but it will not catch a partial subject line, which makes subject line filtering close to worthless. It claims to be able to filter on partial subject lines (in other words, single words like "Viagra" or "penis") but after sending myself a dozen or so test messages, this failing of Poco is quite clear, and much regretted.
  • Reader Tim Goss shared a pointer to his favorite method for getting onion-smell off your fingers. I haven't tried it yet, but Carol and I will probably be making our trademark chicken soup tomorrow night, which entails cutting up another onion. I'll let you know how it works.
  • I got out of bed this morning and stepped on my glasses, which I had idiotically left on the floor beside the bed. And so I've taken up my "new" bifocals, which had been sitting in a case for almost eight months, ordered and delivered before we left Scottsdale and a very good optician with whom we'd been working for some years. Silly me—the prescription is much better than my old one, for both reading and distance. They stopped making the Marchon carbon fiber frames I've worn without interruption since mid-1987, and I mourn their passing, as they were so big I couldn't quite see the edges when they were parked on my nose. Teeny glasses are very in right now, and while someone once told me my large frames made me look "owlish," my new gold wire-rimmed frames (about as big as you can get anymore) hearken back to the glasses I wore in my twenties and thirties. Everything comes back in style eventually, and owlish frames will one day be as "in" as weaselish frames are now. In the meantime, note to myself: Get a nightstand.

October 17, 2003:

I've been testing the free VoIP network Skype (see my entry for September 16, 2003) with several of my friends, and so far it's performed brilliantly—on any machine that runs an NT-family kernel. (Win9x is right out.) In a lengthy and detailed article, the New York Times reports that the FBI has begun investigating whether Skype needs to be "regulated"—which in this context means providing a means for monitoring. Skype uses a P2P mechanism for various functions, and the upshot is that there's no single place that anyone can plug in a "wiretap". Furthermore, Skype traffic is encrypted, making monitoring much more difficult, even if you can somehow locate the packet stream between two users.

I keep thinking that there's more here than meets the eye. Nothing's stopping the FBI from tapping a suspect's Internet connection at the ISP level (which is done all the time with a court order) and having done that, I doubt that Skype's encryption is so strong that Federal three-letter agencies can't crack it. What I think may be at stake here is that Skype makes "fishing" a lot tougher. You can't just listen to everything and decide what's interesting—you have to decide what (and who) is interesting and then listen in to the suspect only.

In my view this is a good thing, though maybe not for the reasons you think. Privacy is obviously a concern, but the real problem is that easy wiretapping makes law enforcement lazy. It's easier (and safer) just to sit in a dark room somewhere and listen to people's phone conversations than go out and poke around, talk to people, and confront the (sometimes deadly) unexpected, where all the best leads hide. I also think it's bad law enforcement. If the FBI is all that stands between us and terrorist attacks, I want them out on the street, infiltrating, asking questions, and doing more than just eavesdropping. Skype makes eavesdropping all the more difficult, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
October 16, 2003:

Supposedly, our back-ordered roof tiles are setting out for Colorado from the plant in California tomorrow morning, and we should have them by Monday. It's been quiet up at the house since the infrastructure was completed early this week. I went up there earlier this morning and watched them begin to load pallet quantities of sheetrock into the house. It's unclear whether they will begin hanging the sheetrock tomorrow; it's generally better to wait until the roof tiles are in place before sheetrocking. Putting the weight of a concrete tile roof onto the building structure changes the static position of the frame by an eighth of an inch or so, and if you tape before you tile, that (small) change in the frame loading can pop the taped joints.

So we may see some screw-and-glue wallboard action tomorrow (that is, putting sheetrock in place but not taping it) but I suspect that the bulk of the sheetrock work will happen next week, after the tiles are piled up on the roof. We have been told by our architect friend Terry Beers that our house is seriously over-engineered from a frame and foundation standpoint (and I like that in a house!) so I'm trying hard not to worry. The weather's been gorgeous here (high 60s, low 70s, no rain or snow) and looks to continue that way for a while yet, giving us ample time to put the roof on and make the place weathertight. I was struck by how warm it was up there this chilly morning, with an outside temp of about 45°. The house was quiet and comfortable inside—and we don't even have a front door yet. Clearly, the insulation works!
October 15, 2003:

Several people sent me pointers to a news item about a group of Luddite knuckleheads who are suing the Oak Park, Illinois school distruct for attempting to install a Wi-Fi network for student use. They claim that low-level RF energy (I hesitate to call it "radiation") is a hazard to their children. The whole notion is almost beneath contempt. If this business is really about concern for their children's health and safety, I would ask all of the complaining parents the following questions:

  • Do you have any cellular phones in your home? Do you allow children to use them? Cell phones emit RF radiation several times more powerful than Wi-Fi.
  • Do you have any cordless phones in your home? Do you allow children to use them? Such phones are comparable in terms of output to Wi-Fi. However, unlike Wi-Fi (but like cell phones) you hold the radiating device right close to your head.
  • Are your children allowed to use walkie-talkies or radio-controlled toys of any kind?
  • Do you smoke in your home?
  • Are any of your children overweight?
If the answers to any of these questions (and there could be many more) is "yes," then the whole "for the kids" thing is a lie, and you are nothing more than obstructionist fools fishing for settlement money. (That is irrespective of denials cited in the story; once lawyers get heavily involved, that will certainly change!) Now, Oak Park is a haven for that species of ultraliberal goofball (kind of like Boulder, Colorado) who love lawyers and hate technology and are absolutely, unshakably certain that they are right, even (or especially) when what they are is simply ignorant, and slaves to someone else's ideology.
October 14, 2003:

This morning's Wall Street Journal cites a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health indicating that the kind of calories we eat makes a significant difference in how much weight we gain by eating them. The study confirms what Carol and I have discovered "experimentally:" When we eat more carbs, we gain weight. When we eat fewer carbs (all else being equal, especially our exercise regimen) we lose weight. This relationship has been contested with a most unscientific rabidity by the health establishment, which has always claimed that one calorie is the same every other calorie, and somehow the Atkins data violates the laws of thermodynamics.

This is nonsense, and what Carol and I have read about the way metabolism works offers plenty of clues as to why carbs—especially simple carbs like sugar—make you gain weight. Thermodynamics has no pertinence here. The body reacts to different types of chemicals in different ways, and the speed with which nutrients get into the bloodstream appears to make a difference in how the body uses and stores those nutrients. People too quickly assume that all calories that go down the hatch are processed (and processed identically) but a lot of them (fats in particular) go out the other end before being fully absorbed.

This business is complicated by the fact that there seem to be strong ethnic/racial differences in how we metabolize. Northern Europeans (like us German-Polish hybrids) seem beset by carbs more than southern Europeans, Middle-Easterners, and Asians. Aboriginal peoples seem to get fat on anything that exceeds the caloric intake of a starvation diet.

Although I didn't find a link to the study on the HSPH Web site, I did find this article that condemned the high-carb/low-fat diets (Ornish, Pritikin, etc.) that were an American staple for many years. For those who tuned in only recently (I've posted on this topic irregularly for years now) Carol and I eat lean meat, fish, whole grains, eggs and dairy, with as many vegetables as we can force down. (Most vegetables make me gag, which is a curious phenomenon all by itself. Now that I'm middle aged I like lots of odd foods—why do vegetables taste and smell bad to me?)

One study doesn't prove the case, and I'm hoping the Harvard research prompts additional and more detailed investigations into the metabolic differences among food types and the world's ethnic/racial groups. Still, it's nice to see some additional, objective evidence of what we've seen happening close to home—on our own waistlines.
October 13, 2003:

Odd lots on the coldest day of the season so far:

  • They were up there insulating the house today (and not a day too soon—it got down to 28° last night!) and when I stopped in briefly mid-afternoon, the upper level was mostly done, and the difference was striking: It sounded like a house, and not an aircraft hangar. No echoes, very quiet, with just the sound of the wind in the pines blowing in through the rear deck doors, and an occasional car going by on Stanwell. Sheetrocking will begin later this week, and then we'll no longer be able to walk through the interior walls.
  • PhD linguist Michael Covington pointed out that the word "brights" (see my entry for October 10, 2003) had a different connotation in the 20s and 30s: a derogatory description for fashionable young adults who behaved obnoxiously. Be careful what you ask for, brights—you may get it!
  • Well, this afternoon, I went up to Ultimate Electronics, sniffles and all, and bought a combination VHS and DVD deck. At the recommendation of reader Roy Harvey I chose the Panasonic PV-D4743. It installed in 90 seconds and works like a champ, though it came with a remote with more controls on it than any other remote in the house. I haven't tried everything on it yet; what I was after was just the opportunity to finally open and play the Shrek DVD I got for my 50th birthday in June 2002.
  • With reports appearing on Slashdot and other places that the e-book "bubble" has burst (was there anything in the bubble? Was there even a bubble? I think I missed it!) my occasional research into e-book piracy has some new relevancy. I found all of my books on Overnet (see my entry for September 12, 2003) but was never able to get a full copy of my Wi-Fi book downloaded. Scanning Overnet shows a great many old e-books from the now-defunct ITKnowledge, plus a lot of O'Reilly and Syngress books, and almost none from those publishers that do not publish e-books. Same goes for Usenet: groups like alt.binaries.e-book.technical have seen a hundred e-books posted every day in recent weeks. This being the case, I'm not surprised that e-books (which are not much larger than high-bitrate MP3s) have not been popular with Big Media. The remarkable pirate scan of my 1992 assembly book (see my entry for September 15, 2003) has appeared twice on Usenet within a month. This doesn't seem to be hurting publishers like O'Reilly, but it also strikes me that e-book piracy won't be going away any time soon, so publishers had better learn how to capitalize on it.
  • Two days, two baths, and innumerable hand-washings after making our canonical half-gallon batch of buffalo spaghetti sauce, my hands still reek of onions. Since ogres are like onions, I'm just as glad that Shrek is imaginary.

October 12, 2003:

I'm home alone for a few more days yet, trying to get well and stay out of trouble, and I tried to do a little creative problem solving last night, to no avail. For a couple of years now I have been receiving, as birthday and Christmas presents, DVD versions of my favorite movies, and now have a fair stack. However, Carol and I have been wedged on the issue of what sort of DVD player to buy, so as of this writing we still don't have one.

One of my lab machines, the little Cappucinno PC that I described in my October 22, 2002 entry, has both a DVD-ROM drive and an S-Video port—which, technically, means it can play a DVD into an S-video equipped TV set like mine. I figured I'd assemble the little thing, which is the size of a fat book, right next to the TV, and relax last night and watch Shrek on the 42" before bedtime.

Nuh-uh. Although I have played DVDs on the system monitor before, when you run the Cappuccino with an S-Video cable plugged in, the DVD player software somehow detects the cable, and refuses to play the DVD. Now, I know precisely why they'd want to do this, but I find it profoundly irritating—and futile, since there are adapters that will take SVGA video and output S-Video or simply RCA video. These are used to put laptop output onto big-screen TVs in conference rooms for presentations. (If you've used one that you like, please send me a pointer to the device, which I will order out of pure contrarian cussedness.) Unlike CD music, DVD movies are plenty cheap for what they are, and most people have no particular interest in stealing them. Why irritate your own (formerly loyal) customer base by making the content inconvenient to use, while not hindering pirates in the slightest? I don't buy a lot of movies (be they VHS or DVD) and now I'm disinclined to buy any more. I read a book instead. (The Perfect Machine, by Ronald Florence; highly recommended!) When will Hollywood learn that customers are your friends, not cannon fodder?
October 11, 2003:
Jeff's House Coming?
Standard front view
(94K image)

Nothing much new to report on the house, though they did pour the garage floor slab while we were gone, and finished up all the interior infrastructure, including all the piping, venting, and wiring, as well as placing the furnace, water heater, and A/C heat exchanger. Supposedly the insulation starts going in on Monday, so I have to go up there tomorrow afternoon and take "calibrated" photos of the naked walls so I will have a record of where all the vents, pipes, and wires pass between the walls. The roof tiles are still on order, and we can't start to sheetrock until the tiles are piled neatly on the roof and the trusses and walls are under their full load.

I am still not feeling especially well, so I'm hard pressed to write anything ambitious tonight. Don't despair; there's lots to talk about. I just need to gather the energy to do it. Couple more days to lose this crud and we should be in business.
October 10, 2003:

The new Atlantic was rubber-banded inside the Big Bundle o' Mail waiting for me when I trotted down to the box yesterday, and it contains a slightly wry short piece on this effort by the world's (or at least New York's) militant atheists to get everyone to call them "the brights." Following a time-honored strategy of all the world's aggrieved and (usually) self-described underdogs, they've declared that "atheist" is now a pejorative term, and want to be called what they want to be called. The movement has a Web site, though this is the first I've heard of it.

There's no reason for their choice of the word "bright," other than it takes advantage of confusion with the word's conventional meaning to make them sound smarter than they necessarily are. I would suggest something more indicative of atheism itself, like "the mats" (for "materialists") or "the secs" (for "seculars.") Atlantic's essay points out that there is no generally accepted catchall term for people who do believe in God, although "believers" and "religionists" have seen some spotty use. I can certainly fix that one, and hey, let's offer a proposal to all those atheist guys: If you can be "the brights," we can be "the brilliants." Deal?

Didn't think so.
October 9, 2003:

I was in Chicago for several days, attending my nephew Matt's Eagle Scout Court of Honor and the Sursum Corda conference that I help coordinate. I posted nothing here in that time because I no longer have my broadband connection in Chicago and had some odd troubles with my machine there, which is one of the ancient Compaq DeskPros that I had intended to upgrade, or scrap. I was too pinched for time and energy to do much troubleshooting, at least in part because I have been fighting a bad chest cold for more than a week now. I flew home this afternoon (alone; Carol will be there for a few more days) and hope to recover my voice in time to do a speaking gig tomorrow down at City Hall.

I did write a few (shortish) things offline, which you can read below. I'm still very tired and continue to wheeze, so I'm going to down some considerable chicken soup and go to bed.
October 8, 2003:

So Arnold got it. I stand amazed; I was assuming either Davis or Bustamente would have retained California, which is probably the single strongest Democratic redoubt in the nation. On the other hand, I may have been the last man in America who did not know that Arnold is married to Maria Shriver, who is John F. Kennedy's niece. Figure the Kennedy wild card into a weird election, and things are guaranteed to get even weirder. (I also admit that I had to think hard for a moment to remember how the Shrivers are connected to the Kennedys, which is by way of Sargent Shriver's marriage to Eunice Kennedy, JFK's little sister. Back in 1972, I actually voted for him—he was George McGovern's running mate—though I admit I used to make stupid jokes like, Will Sargent Shriver ever be promoted to Lieutenant?)

Arnold got significant slices of both the black and the Hispanic vote, which astonishes. Is it his centrism? His wife? Or his movies? Or (let us get really speculative here!) are the Democrats in more trouble than we thought?
October 6, 2003:

I was a guest speaker last night at my nephew Matt's Eagle Scout Court of Honor, and it was a wonderful refresher on the value of Scouting. I only embarrassed Matt a little in front of his beautiful girlfriend Justine, but mostly I talked about how Scouting helps a boy understand the issues involved in becoming a man. Matt is there; he's an 18-year-old whiz, straight-A student, well-spoken, confident, and (as far as I'm concerned) barelling down the short path to the big time, just like his older brother Brian, who made Eagle a couple of years ago. In the photo at left, Matt is the one with the merit badge sash, with Brian and their parents. (Their mom is Carol's sister Kathy.)

I myself began Scouting almost exactly forty years ago. I never got as far as Eagle; but that was a quirk of my troop, which did not encourage kids to stay on after eighth grade. (They were noodging us toward the now-defunct Explorers, and somehow I never bothered to join.) I wish at times that I had pursued it, like I wish I had pursued a number of other things, like playing the piano and (egad) bodybuilding. (Better late than never. It works, even at age 51!)
October 2, 2003:

Heading out to Chicago tomorrow, for family stuff and to participate in the Sursum Corda conference for Old Catholic clergy, which I help run.

As for today, it's our 27th wedding anniversary, and with supervising last-minute house stuff (like choosing lighting fixtures) and getting ready for the trip, we haven't had a great deal of time to be romantic. Sure, I wish it were otherwise, but when schedules don't always allow, a strong relationship makes room for ordinary life. The trick is to make ordinary life give back what it sometimes takes, and ensure that (over time) one's spouse remains one's highest priority, always, as Carol is mine. To do otherwise is to begin a hellish slide down a chute that ends only in loneliness. We are male and female for a reason, and neither is complete without the other.
October 1, 2003:

Odd lots for this balmy first day of October:

  • Sure enough (see yesterday's entry) the California legislature is now boobytrapping the state by hastily passing a whole lot of very liberal and very expensive legislation that a Republican governor and/or legislature won't dare touch if the Republicans hope to carry the state for their candidate in 2004. Needless to say, residents of California will pay dearly for this little bit of political cleverness, sooner or later. Hey out there! Life is better in Colorado! What are you waiting for?
  • Most of the spam that's getting by my various filters is now including 500-800 words of ordinary text, including parts of history books and snippets copied from a Web page on dog training. This text is often included in comments or set in white-on-white colors so you can't see it without stripping HTML from the message, as Poco now (thankfully!) does. If this catches on broadly, Bayesian filters are history, as the "body" of the message is generally a single bitmap with the spammer's real message expressed graphically. We need email authentication, and we need it bad. Laws will not be enough.
  • I finally managed to download the copy of my novelette "Borovsky's Hollow Woman" that was floating around on Overnet. It took three weeks—to bring down a 52k file.
  • One reason I'm not spending any more time than that logged into the peer-to-peer networks is summarized in this PDF document, which was aggregated on Slashdot today.
All that said, it's going to be a very intense few days for me, and I'm not sure when I'll be able to get much uploaded here. So hang on—I'll be back in a bit.