October 31, 2004:

A few odd lots in between doorbell rings—I hope the kids start turning out in large numbers soon, or tomorrow I will be eating way too many Hershey Kisses...

  • Researchers at Rutgers University have some strong evidence that people who don't like bitter vegetables (in other words, the only ones the vegnazis consider "true" vegetables) are thinner and healthier than people who do. It's unclear why, but "supertasters" who are highly sensitive to bitter tastes eat less fat specifically, and less food generally, than those who are less sensitive to bitter tastes. Neither Carol nor I much care for broccoli and brussels sprouts, and now we can fight back. Here's the story. Take that, you chubby Vegans!
  • Bruce Baker sent me a link to the story of Joseph J. Foss, a WWII hero who was hassled in a major way by the slobbering morons at TSA who refused to let him board a plane at Phoenix Sky Harbor because they were suspicious of his Congressional Medal of Honor. They didn't even know what it was. Foss was on his way to address the cadets at West Point, and didn't feel like leaving his medal in his luggage. We can't frisk more than two Muslims per flight—but we can harass an American war hero without limit or apology. I think a 10-year jail sentence for the head of TSA, plus bankrupting fines for the top ten people beneath him would be about right. Fussing over a spoke wrench is merely stupid. Fussing over the Congressional Medal of Honor is utterly criminal.
  • I'm finding some interesting things by scanning the search terms people have used to find my site. Someone searched for "dr. scholls nanotech foot powder" and my site was a false positive (the #2 hit, in fact) but in checking it out I learned that Nanophase Technologies is selling nanoscale zinc oxide crystals in bulk, for use in transparent sunblock (no more white noses!) and antifungal foot powder. Some other search terms were intriguing (like "who has had sex with jeff rankin") but mostly in terms of seeing why my site was a search hit—or pondering why someone would assume that the question "who has had sex with jeff rankin" would have an answer on the Web.
  • My other two favorite search terms for the month of October are "i/o exception occurred connection refused i hate you" and "why cat's pee glows in the dark". (Does it?) Runner up is "wmp54g pile of shit". Yea verily, the universe is far stranger than we can imagine!

October 30, 2004:

I just got back home from Phoenix, to discover that my last living aunt, Josephine Pryes Dubin, had died very late last night, at 86. Aunt Josephine was my mother's favorite sister. The two of them were best friends for most of their lives, and we visited her down in Blue Island on a pretty regular basis. I stayed with her and her family for ten days when my sister was born, and remember having a great time with her kids Rosalie and Ron. She was many things my mother was not: Glamorous, aggressive, energetic, and completely fearless, and while sometimes those qualities drove my mother to distraction, they always remained solid friends and confidants. After my father died, the two of them took a driving trip around the Southwest to visit all the great mission churches and other sacred sites that they had heard of, all the while talking endlessly of buying land and retiring in Arizona, something everybody in the family talked about and no one ever did. (I was the only one in the family who ever actually lived there, and retirement was never in the picture.)

I got the word from my cousin Ron, in a simple email that mentioned his mother's passing, followed by the statement that "Now the family is all together again." It was a very big family, close, rowdy, and full of life and legend. Phyllis, the eldest child of ten, died as a young woman in 1930, and supposedly kept a close eye on her siblings thereafter, providing warnings and visions and comfort as required. Louie was my black-sheep Yankee tinkerer uncle, and Joey my godfather. Two of the older girls died as children; Louise as a toddler and Stella as an infant. The rest may be seen in the only family photo ever taken, circa 1927, in my May 11, 2003 entry. Phyllis, Stella, Louise, John, Anna, Joey, Louie, Josephine, Benjamin, and Victoria are finally reunited—and damn, I miss 'em all.
October 27, 2004:

I'm in Phoenix for a few days, for our quarterly Paraglyph meeting and a speech tomorrow at the Arizona Book Pubishing Association. The flight was horrible; we all got shaken like a paint mixer the last 25 minutes into Phoenix Sky Harbor, and I've been nauseous ever since we touched down, which was almost eight hours ago. Ugggh.

More irritating, however, was the display of what Bruce Schneier calls "security theater" at the Colorado Springs airport. I know, we're a week before the election (hurry and let it be over!) and so I was expecting them to be acting up, but this one surprised me. I put my briefcase, coat, shoes, and laptop in the plastic buckets and laid them on the belt, and dumped my pockets into a bowl. The guy who met me at the other side of the metal detector held my keychain up and asked me what a certain item on the keychain was. It was a stamped steel spoke wrench that the bike shop guys gave me when they refurbed my 10-speed way back in 1985. It's been on my keychain ever since, for no good reason, and I've never had to use it. I told him it was a spoke wrench.

"You mean, it's a tool?"

"Yes, it's a tool. For adjusting bike spokes."

"You can't take a tool on board."

I don't argue with those guys. It doesn't help, and just annoys the next people in line, like the woman air force officer behind me who looked like she'd really like to get her shoes back. The guy holding my keychain told me I could go back to the check-in desk and check the wrench through in baggage. This would also mean I'd have to put my shoes back on, traipse the quarter mile back to America West's baggage check-in, then come back through the security line and do the whole ridiculous exercise again. No way. I told him to dump it.

The wrench was nothing but a flat piece of 3/32" steel about 2 1/2 inches long, with a wrench notch at one end and a hole punched in the other. It had never had sharp edges, and banging on my keys for 20 years had softened what little edge it might have originally carried. Hell, my house key has a sharper edge and more of a point.

But note what's going on here: The guy didn't know what it was. I could have told him it was a tribal totem or a good luck charm from my deceased Uncle Louie, and that might have allowed it to pass muster. But once I named it as a tool, that made it dangerous. This is magical thinking, almost like the old cargo cults, where a model of an airstrip is created to attract aircraft and their marvelous cargo. The whole exercise is intended to give the security moms something to vote Republican for next week. It has nothing to do with keeping Muslim terrorists from getting on a plane, which is made more difficult by court rulings forbidding airport security from targeting more than one or two middle-eastern looking people for extra scrutiny on a single flight.

So the line is delayed, my spoke wrench is gone, and Abdul sails through security because his two buddies have already been wanded. We are way down the security rabbit hole here, and I don't see anything in our democratic process that will put it right.
October 26, 2004:

I'm reading a nice old book called The Great Iron Ship by James Dugan, a noted historian of maritime issues, especially ships. The iron ship in question is the Great Eastern, an ill-fated 700-foot monster launched in 1859, and was in its time the largest and most cutting-edge steamship ever attempted.

Although I only wanted a pleasantly dull history book to help put me to sleep at the end of long evenings, I found a fine yarn, and stumbled on some amazing parallels to the Internet excesses of the 1990s. The Great Eastern was the brainchild of the wonderfully named Isambard Kingdom Brunel, perhaps the most brilliant mechanical/civil engineer of the Victorian era. After building hundreds of bridges, tunnels, ships, and railroads (and losing the rail standards war between five foot gauge and the more technically sensible seven foot gauge) Brunel wanted a triumph. He felt he could design and build the largest steamship in history, and so, by the sheer force of his personality and his reputation, formed a company, gathered investors, and (in 1855) started to work.

He didn't have a business plan. He figured that if he built a wonder, he would make money and even get rich, simply because there had never been a ship like that before. The design itself was bleeding edge for the time; brilliant, but in many ways beyond the reach of contemporary shipbuilding. The company burned through money at a furious rate, and ultimately the project went bankrupt three times while the monster slowly rose over the Isle of Dogs along the Thames in London. Each time Brunel raised more capital from investors, and each time the capital was insufficient. When the ship was launched, it was still grossly incomplete, and for its maiden voyage to New York in July 1860, only a hundred staterooms had been completed, out of 3000 planned. Brunel had no established steamship company behind him, had no experience in running a steamship company, and was too arrogant to hire the experience he lacked. So it was one blunder after another, amidst unending cost overruns and disasters, including an explosion that killed several crew, and a freak accident that drowned the captain.

Brunel basically built the ship because he knew it could be built (barely) and because it could be built it had to be built, and economics be damned. (Boy, does that sound familiar or what?) Brunel was a modern in other ways as well. As Dugan points out:

Brunel had a generous scientific philosophy. He did not believe in patenting inventions, and protected none of his numerous ideas, saying, "Most good things are thought of by many persons at the same time. If there were publicity and freedom of communication, instead of concealment and mystery, a hundred times as many useful ideas would be generated."

I can't help but think he'd be on the Linux kernel team had he survived to the 1990s. Alas, the ship's failure as an economic goldmine ruined Brunel's health, and he died of a stroke at age 53, just a few months after the Great Eastern had launched. The ship's sole triumph was technical: It was the only vessel large enough to carry sufficient cable to lay a single length from Europe to North America, and laid the first unspliced cable from England to Newfoundland in 1866.

Apart from its short stint as a cableship, the Great Eastern had a troubled run, gathering disasters and ill-will like mud on a farmer's boots. It was too big to dock at most ports, never made much money, and ended its life as a sort of floating casino and showboat before being broken up for scrap in 1889. While the hull was being taken down, the skeletal remains of a riveting team of a riveter and his boy assistant (child labor was a commonplace in shipbuilding then) were found sealed in a compartment between the hulls. Many assumed that the ship had been cursed by their restless ghosts, but in truth, it was just the craziness that comes of a grand idea with no grounding in the time, place, and circumstances in which it was conceived.

Copies of The Great Iron Ship can be had from the used book services online for as little as $2, and I recommend it. For those whose curiosity isn't book-length, here's a nice summary. And another.
October 25, 2004:

I just finished the Firefly 4-DVD set, containing the entire TV series, including three episodes that the knucklehead Fox network didn't air. In addition to slotting the show at the worst possible time and hour, Fox scrambled up the episodes, which were written within a broad story arc that rendered certain things incomprehensible when seen out of order. Well, for $34.95 you can have on it on your vid shelf, and see the whole series, in order, as God and Joss Whedon intended it to be seen. (See my previous discussions of the show in my September 21, 2002, October 26, 2002, and December 20, 2002 entries.)

Note well that we are talking superlatives here: Firefly is quite clearly the finest TV SF ever created. Period. No anti-intellectual Trek science doubletalk. No hokey rubberfaced aliens, or pretty girls with a splotch of rubber crap on their cheeks to suggest that they would be aliens if the demographic didn't prefer pretty girls. No improbably compact ray guns that make poor Red neatly and completely vanish when shot. No San Francisco liberal Star Trek interstellar nanny state gently trying to keep the rowdy Klingons in line when a few nova bombs on their home planet would solve the problem. Nope, in the Firefly universe, government is not the solution. Government is the problem. (And I don't think it's a coincidence that the characters refer to the totalitarian Federation as "the Feds.") This is red-state SF, with real men, real women, real guns, real fistfights, real horses, real stories, decent acting, and Jewel Staite, the most beautiful woman ever to work in TV.

In other words, gang, if you haven't seen this, you are fersure ripping yourselves off. Nothing like it anywhere, and its flaws are way outnumbered by its triumphs. We're all counting the days until the Firefly feature film launches on April 22, 2005. In the meantime, buy the set and see 'em all!
October 24, 2004:

Relevant to my entry for October 21, 2004, Jim Mischel pointed out that we're soon going to see a sort of lab experiment on the demographic consequences of polygamy, just without the polygamy. China has been enforcing a one-child-per-family rule for 25 years, and since boys are valued more than girls in almost all human societies, the country has seen untold millions of baby girls either aborted or shipped out of the country to adoptive parents. Estimates are that in the under-25 age cohort, there is a 15% - 25% excess of males over females. Most of these excess males are still boys or teens, but over the next thirty years we'll see something we've probably never seen before: A major world power including among its citizens untold millions of men with little or no hope of ever having wives and families.

It's anybody's guess what effects this will have, but I think it's fair to assume that none of them will be good.
October 23, 2004:

After months of talking about it too much (and being ribbed by my friends here for talking about it too much) earlier this evening Carol and I finally held the first instance of what we hope is our semiregular nerd party here. We started this tradition in 1987 in California, when I still worked for Borland, and continued the parties on a monthly basis after I got laid off. Once we moved to Arizona in 1990, we started it up again, and continued off and on until I shuttered Visual Developer Magazine in early 2000.

So it was good to get back into the groove, and we got a really auspicious start, with 15 people in attendance. The conversation veritably boiled with topics ranging from Beowulf clustering to mil-spec mirror coatings. Carol and I made a huge cauldron of our eventually-to-be-famous lowfat Buffalo-Zin Chili, using front-range ground bison and zinfandel wine.

We had a great time. About 8 PM, the doorbell rang, and Carol and I both ran for it, thinking it was one of our guests. Not so: We were greeted by a group of five or six young teen girls (who might have been 14 or 15 at most) on a scavenger hunt. What did they ask for? A toupee and a pair of thong panties. Yes, I'm bald, and yes, Carol is stylish, but, yeek! I can just imagine, 35 years ago, trucking down the street and asking the poor Linksweilers (a childless couple in their 50s who lived on our block) for a wig and some underwear.

The world has indeed changed.
October 21, 2004:

In the wake of all the fury surrounding the gay marriage issue, few have noticed something else percolating to the top of the family law stack: A challenge before the Supreme Court to Reynolds vs.United States, the 1878 Supreme Court decision upholding an 1862 federal law criminalizing polygamy. Several publications, including USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, have recently commented on this, with USA Today publishing a piece by Jonathan Turley, arguing that polygamy is generally a religious issue, and banning it represents an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment's promise of the free exercise of religion. The Reynolds vs. United States decision is considered very dicey by legal scholars, and very likely to be overturned by the Court as it is today, if Green vs. Utah is accepted as a case.

This is an ugly business. Turley makes no mention of what I consider the key issue: Evolutionary biologists tell us that homo sapiens is in transit between a polygamous species and a monogamous species that mates for life, and that there are powerful adaptive reasons for being monogamous. Polygamy creates an unbalance in sexual pairings, with a small group of dominant males guarding their harems against a much larger group of unpartnered males, with violence a constant issue. When you're a primitive primate with no weapons but your hands and teeth, well, that's bad. When you're homo sapiens with a semiautomatic pistol in each pocket, that's real bad.

We've been trying hard for 50,000 years to breed war-lust out of the human species. Polygamy basically reinforces it. It's interesting to note that Harold Bloom, in his 1999 book The American Religion, predicts that the Mormons will eventually get their wish to return to polygamy, and (given their astonishing rate of growth, through both birth and conversion) by 2100 America will become a Mormon nation, with tens of millions of unpartnered males ready to go to war against, well, anything they can find to go to war against. Bloom pits them against the Muslim Arabs, but stopping there is naive. My reading of history suggests that polygamous societies project their constant internal warfare between alpha males and unpartnered males onto the rest of the world. Want a good solid nightmare? Imagine a first-world polygamous society with high-tech industry, nuclear weapons, and endless millions of angry, expendable foot soldiers. We're beyond "bad" here. (Lest people think I'm singling out the Mormons, I should point out that there are fervent polygamy advocates among both Christian and Jewish fringe groups. Also, current mainstream Mormon thought is against polygamy. Green of Green vs. Utah is on the Mormon fringe.)

Perhaps the scariest part of all is that Turley may be right. Our constitution may not in fact allow for the forbidding of practices with provable religious provenance. Polygamy is right there in the Old Testament, and practiced in many parts of the world today. Given the current "anything goes" climate in family law, could we pass a consitutional amendment fobidding polygamy? I'm not so sure. Over the next couple of years, I suspect we'll find out.
October 20, 2004:

I'm a little strapped for time today, but pertinent to yesterday's entry, I'd like to point to Eric Bowersox's nice update to my original 1992 Jiminy concept piece, which was published on the late and lamented END page in PC Techniques. I mentioned the jiminy here in Contra in my February 26, 2002 entry, and in another END piece that was a fragment of an SF novel I started and abandoned in the early-mid 1980s. (I actually got the idea for the jiminy earlier than that, at the Clarion SF writers' workshop I attended in 1973.)

One interesting application for a jiminy is something I didn't think of in 1992: It could take continuous video of whatever is in front of it in a five-minute loop. If you witness an accident, your jiminy witnessed it too, or if anything else really interesting happens, you just say "vidstop!" and the loop stops where it is, saving the last five minutes of video. There are 1 GB Flash memory chips now (they're just going into production and they're still pretty expensive) but in a few years there will be the memory equivalent of a current DVD (4.7 GB) in something the size of an Ultra, or smaller. (Think of what that'll do for "America's Funniest Home Videos"!)

The key feature of a jiminy is that it doesn't even try to have a display. (The Ultra doesn't even need as much display as it has—I'd be happy with just enough screen for a single name/address/phone block.) You keep a matching mini-tablet in your briefcase for when you need it, and the jiminy talks to the tablet via Bluetooth or by just plugging it into a USB port on the top of the tablet.

It'll all happen, and the nice part is, it won't even be that long.
October 19, 2004:

I don't know if this is a trend yet, but in recent weeks I've begun stumbling across a new family of gadgetry: Flash drives that do more than just store data. The Ultra (left) is the most elaborate one that I've seen, but there are others, most containing only a simple MP3 player. Ultra also has a voice recorder, an FM radio tuner, and (peculiar though it seems in a device with so little I/O) a full email client capable of both POP and SMTP.

I have long wanted a small digital voice recorder for various reasons, primarily to record speeches that I give. I'd be powerfully tempted by something like this, especially since they appear to be planning data capacities up to 1 GB. Although not a wireless device, it occurs to me that every flash drive has some sort of cap over the USB data connector. How about creating a (slightly larger) cap containing either a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi wireless module? Cap on, it's wireless. Cap off, it's a USB Flash drive. I'd buy that in a second, even if it cost more than a quarter.

This is yet another stop along the road to what I call a "jiminy," basically a wearable computer that sits in your pocket or on your lapel (or lives in your earrings) and talks to you. (Listens, too, and that's really the hard part.) PDAs are still inextricably linked to conventional textual I/O, and that damned screen is a huge piece of real estate and a tremendous power drain. What could we do if we decided at the outset to limit a computer's I/O to audio? I think more than might seem possible on the surface. I've even given some thought to an all-audio twitch game that could run on any audio player with the minimal MP3 player controls. With good stereo headphones, sound can take on a certain 3-D sense. How about a sort of pong game that you play simply by listening? Could a sufficiently brilliant game hacker render a simple 3-D space using echoes? Things like that—we won't know until we try.
October 18, 2004:

Many of my readers are high-tech geeks, and outsourcing is one of those things that comes real close to home for people who read ContraPositive. David Beers almost out-contrarianed me by making a good argument that we may be facing too few skilled workers in the computer fields in a few years, especially if publicity of current trends causes universities and community colleges to shrink computer science and other IT-related curricula. There are certainly education as well as business cycles, and I'm not sure what's to be done about it. ("Be good at everything," is how one person put it, which really means, learn how to teach yourself and never stop.)

But all this led me to an insight that what may really be in jeopardy is the very idea of a "job" as we now understand it. Employers want a completely fluid labor market to minimize labor costs. They want skilled people when they need them, and then when they no longer need them, they want to be rid of them without repercussions. Under current labor law, this is mostly impossible. Even in "at will" states, lawyers can press "wrongful discharge" suits with almost no basis, and in many cases a lawyer will call an employer on behalf of a recently fired employee, with veiled threats of such a suit and an offer that a certain dollar settlement will make the whole thing go away. After an employer has had to face down a bit of that attempted extortion (we had two cases that I know of at Coriolis) he becomes extremely reluctant to hire more people. Europe has certainly taught us that the harder governments make it to fire or lay off employees, the fewer employees will be hired. Outsourcing is the result. Sooner or later most of us will be independent contractors, or temps hired through job shops.

Outsourcing will increasingly become the norm, but it won't always be overseas outsourcing. A couple of years back Shell Oil outsourced all its fuel truck drivers to local job shops, forcing huge pay cuts and benefit losses on the drivers. The Coriolis Group began as a book packager, which is a company that creates books and then sells them to publishers, which get them into the retail channel. Big publishers have used book packagers for over 20 years to respond to increased demand without having to hire additional staff. For young and flexible individuals, such arrangements may be a great opportunity. (Keith and I built a thriving business by helping big New York houses like John Wiley outsource editorial and production work.) For older workers with families and mortgages, it makes life much more difficult. (This is why employers also like young, unmarried workers and will do almost anything to avoid hiring the middle aged.)

In the future, almost any job except executive and "relationship" jobs will likely be outsourced. Relationships are hard to outsource, because they are focused on a person and not a company. The opportunity here is plain: If a small firm can make it cheaper (or at least easier) to outsource work to Goodland, Kansas than Mumbai, jobs will remain in the United States. If Congress could face down the trial lawyers sufficiently to make employment lawsuits against small companies difficult or impossible, we could save huge numbers of American jobs. New types of employer-worker relationships will arise, and like it or not, we will move to some sort of government-controlled single-payer health insurance system. (The tipping point on that issue is 50%. Once half of Americans no longer have private health insurance, the game is over, and we're heading there in a big hurry.)

The answer to outsourcing isn't training half so much as flexibility in work arrangements. Job shops don't necessarily have to be sweatshops. The guys who rule the future will be the guys who figure out how to make job shops work.
October 17, 2004:

Today's Sunday paper here had a big front-page story on (yet again) how much trouble the Episcopal Church of the United States is in, over the consecration of an actively gay bishop in Vermont. Leaving aside the theological issues for now, there are some nuances about the threat to the organization itself that just don't come across in newspaper journalism.

The Episcopal Church has a unique (and many call peculiar) system of governance: It's a democracy, in which bishops, clergy, and laypeople all have a say in Church policy. It didn't come to a decision on gay clergy out of the blue. The issue was discussed for more than a decade, and no vote was taken until all voices had had a chance to be (elaborately) heard. Conservatives argued against. Liberals argued for. Last year, the vote was taken, and the conservatives lost. The Church's mechanisms for resolving disputes worked as they were designed.

This hasn't always been the case. On July 29, 1974, eleven women "stepped forward" in Philadelphia during an ordination ceremony and received the sacrament of Holy Orders as priests in the Episcopal Church. This happened outside of the Episcopal Church's established procedures, and conservatives within the Church went absolutely ballistic. The Church's 1976 General Convention both ratified the ordination of women clergy and also updated the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, giving it a more liberal slant than the previous revision, which had been in use since 1928. The Church boiled with the dual controversy for several years, and between 1976 and 1980, a fair number of conservative priests and a couple of bishops broke with the Episcopal Church and formed independent dioceses under the umbrella moniker of "Continuing Anglicanism." This was the only significant schism ever suffered by the Episcopal Church, which has been in existence since 1789.

The Continuing Anglicans strove to "continue" the Episcopal Church as it had been for decades, using the older BCP and unrevised rituals. Carol and I visited a number of Continuing Anglican parishes in the midlate 1990s, and while the worship was very Catholic and quite reverent, their problem was obvious: Even though we were in our mid-40s at the time, we were always the youngest people in attendance, sometimes by a decade or more. Although the Continuing Anglicans are still around, they're not growing much, and when the old folks with the money are gone, I suspect the churches will be too.

I think that both sides in the current controversy have studied the Continuing Anglican schism, and both sides are anxious to avoid making the same mistakes. The Episcopalian organization is giving the conservative faction every opportunity to be heard and is scrupulously sticking to its democratic procedures. The conservatives seem to recognize that breaking loose isn't a victory, especially since they can't take the church buildings with them. So they continue to make noise from inside, withhold money from the national organization, and pretend to be persecuted. (The notion of mainstream Episcopalians persecuting anyone is a pretty silly idea; at worst, the local conservative rabble rouser here in the Springs is referred to in private conversation as "our village idiot" and everyone is giving him a wide berth.) The bad manners and obsessiveness of some local conservative clergy is even driving some conservative laypeople out of their parishes; I spoke with one woman who told me, "I don't support gay clergy, but you know, I'm just sick and tired of hearing about it every Sunday."

In truth, the only really principled thing the conservative clergy can do is break with the Episcopal Church and go off on their own. (I've heard that they're unwilling to do so in large part because they'd lose their church pensions, which casts further doubt on their commitment to their own theology.) Whether a Christian church body should ordain gay clergy, and whether a Christian church body should debate theology in a democratic fashion are separate issues. What people need to understand is that the Episcopal Church responded to a crisis by being true to its own established principles of governance. In a very real sense, the "crisis" is past. What remains to be done is healing the damage. Time will do that, as it did for the damage caused by the 1974 crisis involving women's ordination. The conservatives are mostly elderly; the liberal are mostly young. You don't need a crystal ball to get a sense for which way it will ultimately go.
October 16, 2004:

Michael Covington has written a nice entry in his diary about Amazon's Marketplace program as a means of selling off your excess books or even self-publishing your own. I wrote about this as well, back in the fall of 2002 when I was thinning out the bookpile in preparation for moving it here. It worked beautifully for me: I made almost $700 in a couple of months, and the major burden was standing in line at the post office to mail product to the customers.

So this would be a good time to repeat an idea I had back in 2002: Amazon should create a special program allowing authors to sell signed copies of their books through something like Amazon Marketplace. In other words, where an author wants to sell his or her books direct, Amazon should put a link on the book's catalog page, saying, "Buy a signed copy from the author!" The link would take the customer to a special Web page with a note from the author, allowing the customer to complete the sale in the Amazon Marketplace manner.

Not all publishers like the idea; many seem to think that would make the author a competitor to retail stores or the publisher itself, blah blah. Nonsense. Publishers should be delighted to cooperate with a program like that. They should be willing to sell books to the author at print cost—perhaps giving the author a carton or two up front, for free—for these reasons:

  • Authors get less and less money from their contracts as time goes on, as competitive pressures force cover prices down and royalty rates down. Eventually, the better authors will decide it's not worth their time to write good books. Many have already done this, and I sympathize. A system like this, handled well, would allow authors to supplement what the publisher pays them, without costing the publisher much at all.
  • It would be a great way to help the author build a fan community, which is a potent engine for building word of mouth and encouraging reviews.
  • It would allow authors to promote their other books, by tossing a catalog in the box before shipping the book to a customer.

Books are surprisingly cheap to print these days. A modest-sized book without a CD bound in doesn't have to cost much more than $3 per copy in a typical press run. If the author sells 100 books and clears (after Amazon's comission) $15 each, in a sense, the publisher is paying the author $1500 while costing the publisher only $300 to do so. Or, if the publisher is stingy and charges the author print cost for the books, the author gains $1200 and the publisher loses nothing.

Sales made through the author are not necessarily sales lost to the publisher, because signed copies are a good that isn't sold elsewhere, typically. What sales might be scavenged from conventional retail channels should be considered the cost of keeping the author happy and in the business—and as you can see, those costs are not especially large, in the context of book publishing.

I suggested this to Amazon in a letter in 2002, and didn't hear back from them. It's probably time to send them a tickler, heh.
October 15, 2004:

Several people sent me a link to a piece in USA Today (which got huge exposure by being aggregated on Slashdot) arguing that the American citizen computer programmer is about to become extinct. Hundreds of thousands of programming jobs have been sent overseas (primarily to India) in recent years, at the same time that businesses are clamoring for more H-1B visas to bring in programmers from elsewhere in the world, claiming that there is a high-tech labor shortage here. The tech industry is coming back to some extent, and 27,000 new programming jobs have been created since 2001, but in that same time period, 180,000 H-1B workers have been allowed into the country. Whatever safeguards were built into the H-1B program are simply being ignored by businesses, and winked at by the Republican administration, which claims to have too much to do fighting terrorism.

That this is appalling is obvious, and there is seething resentment over this in most quarters. Neither party has said anything about immigration, however, and their hesitation is understandable: In an electorate almost evenly divided, neither side can afford to alienate American Hispanics, who automatically assume that "immigration reform" means "get rid of all those Mexicans!" Besides, immigrants generally gravitate to the Democratic party, which most resembles the socialist-leaning governments elsewhere in the world, and provide cheap labor, which business owners (who are almost exclusively Republican) will all but kill for. So there's plenty of reason to keep quiet on both sides.

It's still pretty pointless to try and call the election, though others are trying hard. Sly Stallone's mother, who is a dog psychic (meaning she communicates mentally with dogs) claims that Bush will win by 15 points. Laugh if you will (I am) but ya gotta admit, her puppies have a pretty good record. I'm intrigued by the conversion of soccer moms to "security moms," especially after the school attack in Beslan, Russia some time back. If this woman is characteristic, the Democrats should be messing their pants about now. They may be balanced by moderate Republicans switching to the Democrats over the War, but then again, there are many American Jews, historically liberal, who are disgusted with the Democrats' calculated indifference to American anti-Semitism, especially on college campuses. Like I said, calling it is impossible, as a lot of pieces in the middle are jittering around in a kind of electoral Brownian motion. I'm leaning toward Kerry, but those psychic dogs really give me paws...er, pause.
October 14, 2004:

I was downstairs last night working on yet another melamine board shelf project when Oldies 99 played the old Dire Straits standard, "Money for Nothing." I flashed on my days as Technical Editor of PC Tech Journal, which was one of the best jobs I ever had, short though it was.

PC Tech Journal has mostly been forgotten, but it was the seminal PC technology magazine of its era (1983-89) and I was there in its glory years of 1985-1986. One serious challenge at the magazine was managing the skidloads of "review product" we received, sometimes by request but generally out of the blue. Stuff showed up every day, hardware and software both, and by 1985 we had a full time person doing nothing but logging it, shelving it, and sending it back.

Playing with the stuff was fun, and got weird at times. We received a product called "Hell of a Shell," which was full of tongue-in-cheek references to demonology, and a cutting edge screamer AT-compatible from Dell (running at a mind-numbing 12 MHz) that literally caught fire on my desk and set off the office smoke alarms. Microsoft sent each member of the technical staff a huge box containing one each of everything Microsoft sold at the time, with notes telling us that they were ours to keep.

It was an enviable position to be in, and we weren't even the kings of that particular hill. We hung out a lot with the gang at PC Magazine up in New York, and the stuff they got for review was almost beyond belief. Sometime in 1986 I felt moved to writen a filk about it, which I reproduce here pretty much from memory, as I don't think I still have a printed copy:

(I want my...I want my...I want my own AT....)

Lookit them yoyos! That's the way you do it:
You edit magazines for old ZD.
No, that ain't workin'; that's the way you do it:
Get your programs for nuthin'; get your chips for free.
That ain't workin'; that's the way you do it.
Lemme tell ya now, those guys ain't dumb:
Maybe get some blisters on your typing fingers;
Maybe read bad English till you head gets numb, but
They get to install Microsoft Windows
Ahead of product delivery!
They get to test those accelerators;
They all get copies of Superkey!
I shoulda learned to hack in Turbo;
I shoulda made that hard disk hum.
Lookit that Fastie, he's got RAM leakin' out the keyboard,
Man! I wish I had some!
And hey! What's that? Machine-gun noises!
That's Duntemann banging wrinkles from "The State of C".
No, that ain't workin'; that's the way you do it:
Get your programs for nuthin'; get your chips for free!

Some notes, since we're looking back almost 20 years here: Will Fastie was the founder and Editor in Chief. "The State of C" was a major article we did every couple of years, comparing C compilers and charting the progress of compiler technology. "Accelerators" were these hardware kluges sold to goose the clock speed of PC and AT processors, sometimes into double digits. Superkey was a keyboard macro product sold by Borland, and "Turbo" was what a lot of people called Turbo Pascal, when that was the only Turbo compiler there was.

(And yes, I did have a stanza that paralleled the one beginning "The little faggot with the earring and the makeup" but it was more than a little cruel, and I won't reproduce it here. Shall we say I didn't like copy protection then, and I still don't like it. Those who were there might guess who I was roasting.)
October 13, 2004:

It's all too easy to get complacent, comfortable with your own software (see my entry for October 4, 2004) and thus get left behind as technology marches on. So I'm goading myself to learn some new things (new for me, at least) which for this round includes PHP and MySQL, which are frequently used together for Web-presented server-side programming. I know SQL, of course, but I've never really done anything with a Web-based database. It's time.

So I went looking for some good books on the topic. I went up to the big Borders at Chapel Hills Mall and spent some time in their stacks, flipping through many books and putting them all back. My discontent? No overview. When I want to learn a new technology, the first thing I look for is a conceptual discussion of the technology, its pieces (which are often legion, in more than one sense) and how they all fit together. I am appalled at how thoroughly this obvious element is missing from modern tutorials. I have the same problems with shrinkwrapped software, which for the most part doesn't have manuals worth a damn anymore. Windows Help is, by culture, topic-constrained. You can put an overview in a help file if you want, but most companies don't. It's just not part of the culture of modern software.

One of the reasons that my book Assembly Language Step By Step has been so popular for so long is that the whole first half of the book is overview. I get letters almost daily from people who tell me that they never knew where to start in understanding the x86 processor—and that my book finally showed them "the front door." My fear is that overview will become so rare that people won't know that it's missing, and thus won't appreciate books (which I could write, heh) that emphasize overview as a way of finding "the front door."

I ended up buying several books on PHP, none with anything like a decent overview. I'll figure it out by main force and screwing around, but one or two chapters by a person who knows how overview works (there is such a thing as bad overview, which is often worse than none at all) could save a tech-savvy newcomer to a field weeks of dead-end threading and trial-and-error.

Hmmm. Maybe I should write a book called Finding the Front Door: Overviews of 13 Key Technologies. Certainly the industry needs such a book, whether they know it or not. We'll see.
October 12, 2004:

A few odd lots on a crisp autumn morning:

  • Several people asked where to get the cookie arrangements that I menioned in my October 6, 2004 entry. The company is Cookies By Design, which has franchises in many major cities. They have all kinds of different designs; in fact, the computer designs are a very small part of then lineup, which is mostly based on birthdays, holidays, pop culture characters (think Garfield) and so on.
  • Apparently, fish opera (see my October 9, 2006 entry) is not a phenomenon limited to Colorado Springs. It's national, even global, and has been studied by a university research project. The variety of fish emblems is dizzying. Bruce Baker sent me this one. Klaus Bruhn saw one in Florida recently with "gefilte" inside the fish. Others mix metaphors freely, and place "Tao" or "Islam" (!!) inside the fish. Of course, many of us see no conflict between Darwin and Jesus. I feel that evolution is the hand of God at work, in this, the Eighth Day of Creation, which will last until the stars go out.
  • Yesterday's Wall Street Journal pointed out that John Kerry and his wife paid an aggregate rate of 12.7% on their taxes last year. George and Laura Bush, whose income is less than one tenth that of the Kerrys, paid a rate of about 30%. Typical Americans pay about 20%. A flat tax of 18%-20% would thus raise taxes hugely on the very rich while not changing things much at all for typical Americans. This might not be a bad thing, though I'm not expecting Kerry or any other Democrats (who are abjectly dependent on heavily sheltered old money) to even bring it up in a hypothetical (and now increasingly likely) Kerry administration.
  • I'm researching "ghosting" as a means of recovering from malware attacks. Norton Ghost 2003 is what I'm playing with, but it still seems a little complex for nontechnical people. With the huge (and mostly wasted) mega hard drives now shipping with new PCs, it would be very useful to have a preinstalled utility that stored an image of a "clean" main partition (including Windows and perhaps the major apps like an office suite, Web browser, and email client) in a separate partition, ready to be whisked in once the working partition got dead, slow, or flaky from malware or "Windows entropy" gunk. If you've used anything that does this and yet is simple enough for nontechnical users, drop me a note.

October 11, 2004:
Jeff's House Coming?
North side view
(204K image)
Stone slab stairs
(170K image)
Lower front view
(242K image)

Our landscaping was finally completed about the same time as I finished my book, and yesterday I got out there at last to take a few shots to post here. Our Colorado house project, which has taken most of our free time, energy, and attention for almost two years, is now finished. It was difficult because of the position of the house on the side of a fairly steep hill, and there was a lot of hauling-in-and-arranging-of-boulders, tons of granite gravel to shovel around the house, sandstone pavers, pine mulch, and over a hundred plants to position. Carol ran herself ragged supervising, but the results have been pretty spectacular. We have no lawn to water or mow (a really big plus along the water-starved Front Range) and all the plants are semiarid and grow well on a stingy drip system. (The lawn you see in the very front of the photo is actually on the neighbor's side of the property line.)

I've posted several large-format photos in the left margin. Because the landscaping exists on so many different levels, it's hard to capture just how much was done. We had a stone slab stairway built down from street level on the south side of the house, and there are several terrace-like levels set into the hillside, where we'll have some sizeable plants in a couple of years, once everything matures.

A big "whew!" on this one. Now I have a shop to play in, and Carol has a garden to play in. We haven't played much these last couple of years. It's well past time to get down to it.
October 10, 2004:

I haven't really had a workshop worthy of the name for almost two years, since I started throwing everything in boxes back in October 2002. So it was with considerable delight that I recently sat down, designed, and built something significant for my new shop: A low, sturdy rolling cart with shelves, to hold transformers (on the shelves) and my sheet metal shear (on top.) The transformers will keep the cart stable while I cut aluminum sheet or printed circuit board stock with the shear. The whole assembly is low enough to roll under my 16-foot main bench downstairs, out of the way until I need it again—and if I need some additional (if low) work surface, I can just put the shear somewhere else for a bit.

The design required some thought. I wanted to build it without cutting any melamine board (coarse particle board with a white plastic coating) myself, since cutting melamine board with a smallish circular saw is a ratty process, rich with chips spit in your face and raggedy edges. Home Depot will cut lumber purchased there, and I designed it so that the cart proper was made with three 2' X 4' melamine slabs, and only four straight cuts, none of which I made myself. (Well, OK—I cut a piece of scrap melamine in half to make the shelves. Five cuts.)

The most interesting part of the process was applying iron-on melamine edging with an old steam iron that Carol had given me after it sprung a leak. It took some practice (and a little ripping-off of crooked edging) but in the end it made the cart look like something I'd bought at Copenhagen rather than threw together in the basement in a couple of hours. Building something felt good. Learning something new while I built something felt wonderful.

Having a split shop (heavy equipment in the garage, electronics downstairs) has proven to be an interesting (and expensive) challenge. More on that process as it happens. I'm only just getting underway.
October 9, 2004:

Mix your symbols carefully. Here in Colorado Springs, where the poles of atheism and Evangelical fervor have never been farther apart, we have what I've begun to call "fish opera." Most people have seen the little fish symbols indicating Christian affiliation, often on the bumper of the guy ahead of you in traffic. Perhaps to be sure that nobody fails to get the message, some people have begun displaying fish symbols with "Jesus" written inside them. Not to be outdone, the atheists have created a fish symbol with legs, and "Darwin" written inside. The Christians struck back with a larger fish symbol with a wide-open mouth, and pasted it to the right of one of the atheists' Darwin leggyfish. None of this is especially new, and most people have seen them on one bumper or another.

But I saw a new one a while back that is kind of unfortunate. I've sketched it at left. It's the conventional Christian fish, but with the Cross where the fish would have an eye. I know what they're getting at, but I have to assume that the artist who drew this one had never spent much time watching cartoons, in which a cross where an eye should be (in ancient cartoon grammar) means "dead."

The early Christians (who knew what the Fish meant and felt no need to amplify the point) got it right the first time.
October 7, 2004:
Had an idea this morning: Tack or glue passive RFID tags to trees to mark trails in forests and other hiking areas. They'd have to be fairly close together (within 25-30 feet) and within ten feet of the walking path, but they're so small they wouldn't stand out visibly, as a spray-painted blaze would be. Passive RFID tags require no power supply (they pong using energy scavenged from a ping) and once embedded in an epoxy "dot" would not be an environmental hazard. The tag would know the trail's name, and could announce branches and forks and possibly even cautions ("Code 192: Steep upward slope ahead") that could be interpreted and displayed—or even spoken—by an RFID-enabled PDA running appropriate software. The data stored in the RFID tag would be multiple keys into a PDA-hosted database, as you only get 96 bits with current tags, though that will doubtless increase as the technology matures.

It would be cool to walk a trail with your PDA on your belt, periodically reassuring you that you're still on Trail 209, and informing you that Trail 211 branches off in five more markers. I haven't seen anybody suggest this, but it's an obvious use of the technology, and if it hasn't been suggested before, I hereby post this as prior art to foil the patent scammers.
October 6, 2004:

This is too wild. My co-workers at Paraglyph sent me the arrangement shown at left, as thanks for finishing Degunking Email, Spam, and Viruses more or less on schedule—though I topped the target set-pages length by 50 pages. The book has set a Paraglyph record for retail pre-orders ("laydown") and the press run will thus be a record (for us) 12,000 copies.

The basket contains a dozen cookies decorated to look like high-tech implements, including five PCs, three mice, two CD-ROMs, a PDA, and a cell phone. All of the cookies are on sticks, which made the basketing a lot easier, I'm sure—but you can also eat them off the stick as though they were corn dogs or lollipops. (Two are gone already.)

In the meantime, I'm furiously working through my do-it list, and also forcing myself to learn some brand new things, which for this run include PHP (now that my ISP supports it) and .NET. Oh, the delight of having time to read again!
October 5, 2004:

A few more odd lots to help clear out the notes file:

  • As most of you probably already know, Scaled Composites' SpaceShip One won the $10M Ansari X Prize by making a second suborbital flight to space (at least 100 klicks) within two weeks. There's been a lot of grumbling about how useless such suborbital "pop-ups" are, compared to true orbital flight, but I think people forget that we had to jump start privately funded space travel somehow, and this was a jack-fine way to do it. Most people were of the mindset that only governments can muster the brains and funds to reach space, an error that government did not try very hard to dispel. It may take another ten years, but I suspect there will be another prize (please let's not call it the Y-Prize!) for manned orbital launch and return, and another winner.
  • Six months or so ago I began a Web page focused on 12V "hybrid" or "space charge" tubes, but had to set it aside when I began writing Degunking Email, Spam, and Viruses. I finally sat down and finished it a few days ago, and you can find it here. If anybody out there has been doing things with 12V tubes and wants to share the knowledge, I'd love to add your insights or circuits.
  • I found a nice little open source puzzle game by Keith Frampton called Twin Distress, and I recommend it to those of you who like puzzle games. I've sort of topped out on Snood, (can't get my score in the Evil level any higher) and have been looking for something similar. I use puzzle games to clean my mental palate when I switch from one project to another in a workday, just as the Japanese use a small bowl of white rice to clean their oral palates between courses in a big meal. It works.

October 4, 2004:

I had an interesting insight today: I realized that I like my software, even though a lot of it is now five or six years old. And that's interesting all by itself. There was a day when we couldn't wait to get the latest releases of our favorite packages (we damned near went nuts waiting for Turbo Pascal 4.0!) because each release was significantly better than the one before. As years passed, the incremental improvement in major packages got thinner and thinner, and at some point, a lot of us simply lost interest and stopped upgrading. I'm still using Windows 2000, Office 2000, Visio 2000, Delphi 6, Dreamweaver 3, Norton Anti-Virus 2001, and InDesign 1.5. None of that stuff is bleeding edge, which is good—I don't like to bleed. In mulling it over, I had these thoughts:

  • Older software runs noticeably faster on newer hardware. I can't wait to see what a 3.2 GHz 1 GB box does for poky InDesign.
  • Older software tends not to be targeted as much by black hats. The JPG exploit I mentioned in yesterday's entry does not afflict any of my (now ancient) Microsoft software. Of course, old versions of IE are just as wormy as newer ones—which is why I use Firefox.
  • Windows XP is bloated, slow, and is constantly trying to go out on the Internet for who knows what. It doesn't give me anything I don't already have in Win2K other than some eye candy and really clumsy wireless support. I have to ask Microsoft for permission to use it, even after I paid for it. XP SP2 breaks about half the software in the known universe, and exists solely to cover Microsoft's ass. No thanks.
  • Newer software seems to be more and more hostile to the people who buy it. All the major vendors now have product activation, and one wonders what else is hidden down there with the activation code.

This last point is interesting indeed. It's not just new software. New printers and scanners are building Digimarc's watermark detection technology into their hardware, nominally to prevent counterfeiting. If you try to copy one of the new 20s or 50s on a Digimarc-equipped scanner or copier, the drivers will pop up a browser window taking you to this site. Creepy, huh? (And will it send a surreptitious message to the Secret Service too?) Will it stop there? Or will Big Media buy laws requiring that our scanners and copiers rat us out if we try to copy a page from a book? This is definitely a trend in the wrong direction.

Yup, I like old software better. Fear not; I have three lab machines that I use to stay on top of the industry (two of them running XP, one of which will soon have SP2, for good or for bad) but the machine I actually use to make a living runs the golden oldies, and probably always will.
October 3, 2004:

Cleaning out and catching up. Some odd lots to get underway, here at the beginning of the first week of the rest of my life:

  • Paul Sleigh from Down Under told me about a lawsuit recently filed by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who (with Henry Lincoln) wrote Holy Blood, Holy Grail 20 years ago. The lawsuit is against the publisher of The Da Vinci Code, which Baigent and Leigh claim lifted their book almost whole and simply put a fictional framework around it. As best I can tell (I haven't read it cover-to-cover yet) that's true. However, is telling the same story a different way a violation of copyright? I guess it doesn't matter; we're talking about down-the-rabbit-hole stuff on either side of the ramparts. It'll be interesting to see which way it goes.
  • Most people have by now heard of the new exploit (this time in the GDI+ Windows graphics subsystem) allowing code embedded in a JPG image file to run and have its way with the PC. This little ugly is serious for a couple of reasons, first of which is that it's the first threat to be packaged in a JPG image, and thus most antivirus packages don't even look at JPG files. Also, it's not cut-and-dried as to what apps are vulnerable, because any app that calls gdiplus.dll can get stung, and I haven't yet seen a complete list. Needless to say, all Microsoft XP-era software does, including IE, the Outlooks, Visio, and Office. (I'm staying with Win2K!!!) Best advice is not to open JPG image files that come in via email, though my guess is that the pornsurfers are going to be the ones really hammered by this thing.
  • Eric Bowersox from up in Denver clarified things about Gevalia Coffee a little bit. (See my entry for September 24, 2004.) He thinks the coffee is pretty good (and sent me a sample, which I'll try as soon as I get a new coffee maker) but has some gripes about their business model, which reminds me of the old book and record clubs of the 60s: You sign up for a coffee subscription, and you get two pounds of coffee a month until you tell them to stop. The problem, of course, is that it took six months for Eric to get them to stop, and by then, he had an entire broom closet full of coffee. Most people just give up and pay for whatever was sent, whether they wanted it or not, which means that Gevalia ends up selling a lot more coffee than they would on a piecemeal order. They're also enthusiastic users of spam (got two more pitches for their coffee sub today) and thus should be shunned.
  • Just when I was about to proclaim USB flash drives as the perfect solution to removable storage, the cartridge I had my entire Degunking book on glitched, and about a third of the data that was on it simply vanished. I had it all backed up and lost nothing, but the event shook my faith in the format. I suspect I'll keep using them, but I was hoping for something with a better reliability record than those damned glitchaholic Zip 250s.

October 2, 2004:

Our 28th wedding anniversary, which I note here every year. This time, however, we're celebrating three things at once:

  • I finished my book, which I credit as the most difficult book of all that I've written;
  • On almost the same day, the landscapers finished the landscaping around our new house. The design and supervision were Carol's project, and it was a tough one, as you'd know if you'd ever tried to landscape around a house set into the side of a steep hill.
  • We have remained joyfully and enthusiastically married now for 28 years. I'm not sure if that was difficult or not. Yes, it was work—but what isn't?

Perhaps our marriage doesn't seem difficult because the benefits have so spectacularly outweighed the effort. Some people have said my writing is "effortless," but that's putting it badly. Writing is hard work, but if you can get into flow (read that guy with the unpronounceable, yard-long name) the writing itself becomes so rewarding that the effort vanishes into the noise. So it's been with our marriage: When we're in flow with respect to one another (which is our supreme effort, and which succeeds nearly all of the time) the work involved is just, well, not worth thinking about.

We're about to head out for a nice dinner at the Stagecoach Inn in Manitou Springs. Love is work, but love, absent selfishness, is also flow, and flow is when we are most uniquely human. Strive for it, succeed, and don't sweat the work.
October 1, 2004:

At the Chrome demo he gave at Panera Bread last week (see my entry for September 30, 2004) Xavier Pacheco also demoed the purely Web-based version of Outlook. (We meet at Panera because they have good free Wi-Fi, which helps when playing with server-based applications.) If your company is running the latest Exchange Server, you can basically have Outlook as an ASP.NET app that runs purely in IE, and I was thunderstruck at how closely it resembled the conventional Win32 Outlook. Having been an Outlook user from 2000-2002 at work at Coriolis, I know the program well, and if I don't like it it's because it's slow, unreliable, and, well, dangerous. Nonetheless, the UI is beautifully designed, and I miss it a little. (Poco Systems is trying to emulate Outlook with its recent Barca product, which I will probably migrate to once the V1.1 release happens. 1.0 is a bad number, heh.)

So clearly, there's more (and better) to be done with an HTML presentation layer than some of us expected. I wonder how much fooling around it took to implement Outlook's UI in HTML. My guess is a lot. So that leads me to some speculation: Could we use X? And if not, why not? I don't pretend to be an expert, but there's a great little book called The Joy of X by Niall Mansfield that taught me much of what I know. The modern X Window system can act as the presentation layer for both desktop apps and server apps, and our modern PCs have more than enough cycles to handle the additional overhead. Why the obsession with Web browsers and mostly brain-dead HTML?

My hunch (keeping in mind that I'm not a practitioner on the X side) is that HTML is a little better and X Window a little worse than my perception. I need to study ASP.NET a little more, but if any of you know of a site that compares ASP and X, do send me a link.