September 30, 2001:

One of the problems with combating terrorism that I have not yet seen mentioned is that far too many of our law enforcement personnel are embroiled in battles over trivia. We have over-regulated and over-legislated our society to such a degree that we can't really combat anything in the scramble over how to enforce the laws we already have. Out in the Scottsdale area, the police are regularly called to enforce the area's lunatic zoning laws, including those that limit the colors of paint you can apply to your house. Is this smart? We are spending immense amounts of law-enforcement time and energy chasing marijuana smokers and people who publish algorithms for breaking DVD copy protection. I'd really rather they be chasing terrorists, thank you.

So here's my suggestion: For the duration of this "war," whatever shape it ends up taking, suspend all enforcement of unnecessary laws. These would include prohibitions on marijuana cultivation and use, all zoning laws, all deed restrictions, all "blue laws," laws against "actions between consenting adults," all laws limiting freedom of expression (including publishing the DeCSS algorithm) and so on, to embrace anything a non-fanatic would consider a victimless crime. My guess as to the results? Nothing much would change except that we'd have more law enforcement personnel available to keep an eye on terrorists.
September 29, 2001:
I was saying this the day after planes started flying again, but it's nice to hear that the CEO of Boeing concurs: There has probably never been a safer time to fly than now. It's not necessarily convenient, what with the FAA panicking over toenail clippers in carry-ons, but with all eyes on aviation, it's unlikely that any plot to grab another airliner would go undetected. Carol and I won't be flying again until Christmas, I suspect, but it will be interesting to see whether air traffic has returned to normal (or near normal) by that time. Some of my friends who have flown in the past ten days have indicated that the planes are mostly empty. So where will the terrorists strike next? Well, what aren't we watching?
September 28, 2001:

Once I saw the teeny little Raspberry pager (the one with the minuscule QUERTY keyboard) I knew they were on to something. I have a Handspring Visor but I don't care for the Graffitti stylus system of writing and use it as little as I can get away with. Writing anything substantial with it is hopeless, and even taking notes is painful in the extreme. So it was with interest that I saw notice of the Panasonic Toughbook 01, a fat PDA with a Raspberry-style mini-keyboard. The Toughbook is ruggedized against damage by dropping, a problem I encountered just a few weeks after getting my first Handspring. I dropped it on the driveway, and even though it was in its little padded Naugahide sheath at the time, it was DOA when I picked it up and got it into the house.

A rugged PDA is a good idea, but the Toughbook is immense next to the Palm-oids, and weighs a whole pound. Not exactly pocket-fillings. The little keyboard appeals to me, however. Not that one would ever touch type on it, and certainly not the way I type. But for taking quick notes or responding tersely to emails, it would definitely be the way to go. I haven't seen any consumer reactions to the Toughbook 01, but it would be interesting to see how this thing is actually used in the field. It reminds me of those "belt-held" custom inventory computers you see people with in supermarkets, counting jars of salsa with. Another use might be for the extreme sports crowd, who might want to have a rugged computing platform with them while they're trekking the Rockies. Given that there's a GPS add-in, you'd think it'd be a natural for the back-country crowd.
September 27, 2001:

Many Web commentators are advising a boycott of Windows XP until Microsoft removes the feature that conks the operating system when you change out hardware, even something as simple as installing a new hard drive. I see nothing compelling about XP that isn't already in Windows 2000, and I'm inclined to add my voice to this. Don't buy XP. Don't upgrade to XP. Get yourself a copy of 2000, or be adventurous and see if you can survive using Linux.

Now, the kicker, of course, is that almost nobody but us techno-weenies ever upgrades an operating system. People get an operating system pre-installed when they buy a machine, and it's rare that anyone ever upgrades what comes with their hardware. So MS will probably win this one as well, with the sole consolation that PC sales are in the toilet right now. I'm keeping my Windows 2000 install set, so that when I replace one of my three machines, I can nuke XP and stay on the path I've chosen.
September 26, 2001:
The slowest part of many modern Web sites to display isn't the bitmaps on the Web site—it's the ads, which must be delivered through a separate ad server, which may well be overloaded and thus slow. So although I'm not rabidly against Web site ads, I object to being made to wait while somebody's ad message works its way to me through a server queue. It's gotten bad enough lately to prompt me to begin researching browser add-ins that somehow eliminate ads. I'll report here if I come to any success or find anything unusually effective.
September 25, 2001:

Hey, rope the moon—or at least throw some photons at it! Such is the call of James T. Downey, whose site Paint the Moon suggests an outrageous art project: Get hundreds of thousands of people to aim their laser pointers at the dark portion of a first-quarter Moon, all at the same time. Would the reflection of all that coherent red light be detectable? Author/artist Downey isn't sure...and I have my doubts as well.

I've tried to shine a laser pointer onto Black Mountain, six miles north of me, and seen nothing, even with powerful binoculars to look for the spot. Laser beams are coherent, but they do spread out, and they are attenuated by dirty air. Also, their power is minuscule...less than a milliwatt each. Given that the moon is 238,000 miles away, it's almost a half-million mile round trip, and given the Moon's low albedo (coefficient of reflection) virtually all the energy that reaches the moon will be scattered and absorbed by the dark surface and not reflected. (The Moon doesn't look dark, especially when it's full, but trust me: If it had the albedo of Venus you couldn't look at it long without serious discomfort.) Give a million people lasers worth a watt or two, and you would see something, but such lasers are expensive and dangerous.

Now, I think it might be intriguing to be on the Moon and look back toward the Earth, especially with good telescopes. Then you might well see swarms of tiny red pinpoints across the dark expanses of the continents. Not sure. But since no one is on the Moon, this is an experiment we can't actually make.

But if you have a laser poiner and want to try it, Downey's suggested time slot is Saturday, October 27, 2001 at 11:00 PM EDT. Second shot, in case of lousy weather, is Saturday, November 24, 2001, again at 11:00 EST. I doubt we'll see anything with the naked eye, but it would be interesting if professional photographers doing lunar research with large telescopes register anything peculiar those nights.
September 24, 2001:
Now I understand why politicians fear "soccer moms." We were waiting to back out of Carol's sister's driveway this past Saturday...and waiting...and waiting. Why? Their driveway is across from the entrance to a city park, and there were numerous kid soccer games going on in the park. So an endless procession of pinch-faced women in minivans were pulling into and out of the park, and none would pause to let us back out of our own driveway. None would even look at us. Each was hunched over the steering wheel, staring straight ahead, oblivious to any but her own concerns. Watching them was profoundly weird. I got a sense of extreme and suppressed anger, though I'm clueless as to why.
September 23, 2001:

Carol and I spent a furious several days helping her sister Kathy move, hence the gap here. I've been at a loss for what to say in any event; the attack has put me into a kind of creative funk over the ugly truth that no one seems to be acknowledging: That if we create the kind of locked-down America that everybody in government seems to be demanding, the terrorists have already won. The nutcases who perpetrated this abomination hate freedom and everything that emerges from freedom, most pointedly US culture. If we compromise our freedom, they're getting at least part of what they want—and it's the part that will in the long run hurt us the worst.

It really is happening, and in many cases to no reasonable end. Every small-town baseball park is searching purses these days, as if terrorists feel that eradicating a bush-league ball team will bring their flavor of Islam closer to world domination. Public spaces are rapidly being regulated past any possibility of joy or spontaneity. Some people are willing to be strip-searched to get into a concert. I'm not. The FAA has outlawed model rocketry, for God's sake. What's next? Banning kites?

I don't necessarily have any better solutions. I do, however, have plenty of misgivings, particularly regarding special interest groups attempting to use the current security mania to further their own agendas. Watch for new campaigns cleverly packaged to associate things with terrorism that have nothing to do with terrorism (porn and MP3s come to mind most vividly) and for government at all levels to begin making its deliberations less accessible in the cause of "security." Is it going to get ugly? Hell, it's already ugly, and about to get uglier.
September 19, 2001:

Well, precisely 2,005 miles after leaving our Scottsdale HQ, we pulled into Niles, Illinois, where we stay with Carol's mom while we're in the Chicago area. Again, it rained all the way from Davenport Iowa, and we had the misfortune of choosing I88 across Illinois, not knowing that I88 was being torn up for virtually its entire length. So the last 180 miles felt like about 400, and took almost as long.

No matter. We're here. Now I'm going to bed.
September 18, 2001:
Got from Grand Island to the Quad Cities, and it poured all the way. I avoid the trucks like the plague now, and Carol and I are singing along with CDs and trying not to stress. Not much to report: I suspect we've been passing some beautiful countryside, if we could only see it. But between the dark and the rain and the need to concentrate on driving to avoid being killed, I didn't get a very good look at either Nebraska nor Iowa, except to reflect that Iowa is nowhere near as flat as legend would have it. (I haven't set foot in Iowa for a lot of years, and as best I know have never been in Nebraska except to cross it by train the middle of the night in 1964.) But again, my visual resolution today was for nothing smaller than hillsides—except that at one point we saw a pair of wild turkeys sitting on the shoulder of I80, and apparently watching the traffic go by in the drizzle. Now I know why they call turkey vultures turkey vultures. There is a strong family resemblance.
September 17, 2001:
Off we go again—and no sooner did we leave Denver than the rains began. They continued across the plains of northwest Colorado and on into Nebraska, and followed us down I80 all the way to Grand Island, where we're spending the night tonight. I am astonished at the way certain nutcase truck drivers haul their 18 wheelers down the road at 85 MPH in the middle of a driving rainstorm, passing anybody who gets in their way. You'd think more of them would go into the ditch than somehow happens. God must love a trucker. I confess I'm having a hard time doing that tonight.
September 16, 2001:

We took today off from driving and just hung out in Aurora, Colorado, which hugs Denver on the east much as Scottsdale hugs Phoenix. We went to mass at Christ the King Old Catholic Church and had lunch with Bishop Dan Gincig and his wife Rathel. Aurora is an odd place in a number of ways. You can't spit and not hit a hotel or a restaurant—but there are no grocery stores and almost no gas stations! Later this afternoon we had to drive several miles through a dense commercial district that was clogged like an artery with franchise food places (Outback Steak House, Sweet Tomatoes, Joe's Crab Shack, Fuddrucker's, Hop's, and countless others) before we found a crowded and grubby King's Super that was far enough west that it may not have been in Aurora after all. So does everybody in Aurora just eat out all the time? Or does the city of Aurora somehow discriminate against grocery stores?

Aurora has an extremely aggressive crew of sign police, who are constantly swiping Bishop Dan's signs for Christ the King Church, so I'd wager it has a land use culture that assumes that what the city planner likes is good for the city. Not so—a city without grocery stores is not a place worth living in, and you won't catch me there now for more than an occasional weekend.
September 15, 2001:

Got from Albuquerque to Denver; another 450 miles. Took nine hours, including several pit stops, a refuel, and a leisurely lunch in a café in the fine old forgotten town of Las Vegas…New Mexico. The weather was gorgeous until Colorado Springs, when it rained briefly, which didn't annoy me half as much as having clouds obscuring Pike's Peak, of which we saw precisely zilch.

In Raton, New Mexico, we stopped for gas and saw the sign at left. Things go better with stuff, no?

I was amazed at how completely empty Interstate 25 was most of the way from Santa Fe up to Pueblo. People were cruising at 90 miles per hour, and an occasional madman would whistle past at a hundred or so. I find driving those speeds way too stressful, so we cruised at 80 and had a fine time of it. The whole point of this trip is to enjoy it, not just to eat miles as fast as possible.
September 14, 2001:

On the road. Stopped for the night in Albuquerque, which is 460 miles from our front door and almost precisely halfway to Denver, where we'll stop tomorrow. 450 miles is not a bad run for us for a single day, as it happened. We didn't have to begin at 4 ayem, we got our meals on time, we stopped to take pictures, and we didn't feel compelled to cruise at 90 miles an hour, as easy as that might have been at times. This was the first big trip for the 4Runner, and we find it handles like a dream. It's extremely comfortable and drives as well as anything we've ever owned, and maybe better.

In 25 years of marriage, Carol and I have never driven 1800 miles together, period. So far it's been great fun; we sang hymns and Carpenters songs, we discussed the world situation, we laughed a lot, and felt like we were young again, and doing the loopy adventures we had been too sensible and inhibited to do back when we were in college. Better late than never.
September 13, 2001:

Yup. Driving to Chicago. Taking off tomorrow AM. Is this nuts or what?

And what are we to make of the events of Tuesday morning? I still can't get my head fully around the enormity of what was done to us—nor the enormity of the long-term effects if we strike back. And so I find myself dwelling on trivia and minutia, like the firm conviction that one or more teams of remorseless journalist types are holed up in a hotel room somewhere, desperately striving to be the first out with a book on the tragedy. It happens every time there is some unprecedented event, and this qualifies, in spades.

Also, it took only a day or so before people were offering "souvenirs" on eBay, all fragments of the buildings picked up somehow (one must wonder if all were in fact genuine) after the various buildings' collapse. EBay quickly pulled all the items offered. Bad taste, I'm sure—but will the buying and selling of WTC fragments be made illegal?

I don't expect to be on the Net while we're en route, so there will be some delay getting entries posted here over the next week. Figure five days. I'm not one of those guys who can drill through a thousand miles at a sitting.
September 12, 2001:

For two days we have lived beneath a sky without airplanes. Does anyone understand how truly weird that is? I grew up along the approach to O'Hare Field's largest runway. Jets came over so often that when they stopped for some reason, we all sat bolt upright and asked, "What was that?" It's 8:00 PM here, and I just climbed up on the roof deck and looked around. Nowhere are the slowly moving bright stars converging on Phoenix Sky Harbor from all points of the compass. There are no jetliners, no private planes. Nothing. The sky, which I know well and love, looks somehow dead.


Carol and I had been all ready to fly to Chicago today for Sursum Corda 2001, a conference of Old Catholics, but Bishop Sam Bassett put out an email Tuesday noonish indicating that with national air travel shut down, no one could get there but the handful of locals and people within a hundred miles or so. He was thus canceling the conference, and asked for feedback about when we might reschedule. So far, May 2002 seems to be the consensus. This leaves us without a compelling reason to be in Chicago Right Now, but we still have to be there by October 6 for our big 25th wedding anniversary party. We are contemplating driving. I mean it. We might very well drive all 2000-odd miles from Scottsdale to Chicago, not so much because we must as simply because we can. We have the time and might as well give it a shot, see some sights, visit some friends, and spend some time in the intimacy of our 4Runner, talking in the manner that made us best friends in 1969 and will keep us best friends as long as the Most High will allow. Not a done deal, fersure, but it's a serious possibility.
September 11, 2001:

God help us all. We are now in the era of Anonymous Warfare. Has anyone here read the "Cruisin'" columns I did for GalaxyOnline, back when there was a GalaxyOnline? Here's Part 1 and Part 2.

And merciful heavens, when in human history will we ever again photograph an airliner colliding with a skyscraper? (The heart hopes never, but that it happened at all will haunt me until the end of time.)
September 6, 2001:
Now, this is pretty cool: MapQuest is now offering aerial photographs of most urban areas in the US. It must use a fairly loose definition of "urban" because we're in there too, as the photo at left indicates. Our house is the sole structure in the upper right quadrant. Note the smudge of blue to the right of the house, which is our pool. This is the highest magnification available, so if I'm skiny dipping in our pool here you can't quite tell, which is probably a good thing. I'd be curious to know, therefore, if this is the highest resolution they can offer—or are there much better photos than these kicking around? I'd be kind of surprised if there weren't. But hey, go give it a try, just for fun: Enter your home address, and MapQuest will give you a map in its familiar fashion. Zoom in all the way, then click on the "Aerial Photo" tab. The photo takes a few seconds to load, but there you have it.
September 5, 2001:

Slashdot posted a story about a new Open Source operating system project, one written entirely in 32-bit flat-model assembly language. It's called Menuet, and it's a fascinating concept, one almost forgotten in this day of 1.3 Ghz 256 MB systems carrying 32GB hard drives in their bellies: A small GUI-based system written deliberately for speed in the fastest medium known to programming. (As most of my readers know, I am a fan of the two extremes of programming: RAD at the top—Delphi—and assembly at the bottom. See my assembly page for more on this.)

I haven't been able to get in to their download area for all the traffic generated by the Slashdot posting, but I intend to download it and take a good look. Supposedly, the entire project fits on and boots from a single 1.44MB diskette! (I'm not sure if that includes all the source. Again, at this posting I haven't been able to download the damned thing.) The author is Ville Turjanmaa, whose nationality I've been unable to discern, but wherever he's from, he's a smokin' coder. While you're waiting to download the OS itself, you might read the interview with him posted on OSNews.

A couple of odd notes: Don't go to the Menuet Web site with Netscape. There is some gonzo HTML in the page that aborts and won't render. Use IE. (Maybe Opera. Not sure, my demo copy expired and I keep meaning to buy it. Time, time.) Also, Menuet will not talk to USB devices at this time, and some people forget that USB mice and keyboards are both very popular. If you have a USB mouse, Menuet won't see it. Ditto a USB keyboard.

I hope to learn a few things reading the code. It can apparently be run from diskette without having to be installed anywhere on a hard disk, which is a really smart way to go, at least in these early stages. I'll be interested to see where Ville takes this thing, which is real-time and thus a natural for embedded work. Robotics, anyone?
September 3, 2001:
The September 2001 print issue of The Atlantic had a couple of articles about the nutso obsession of the American middle class with getting their kids into the "best" colleges, a goal for which they will commit almost anything short of murder. The article is specifically about the "early admissions" scam, in which colleges tempt promising students to commit to admission by admitting them early—under contract compelling the student to register and then attend. This interests me only marginally, and I've griped here about the various "Bobo Effects" in the past, this being merely the most recent one to come to light. But what makes the article important in my view is compelling evidence that getting into an Ivy League school matters almost not at all in terms of how much money you end up making later in life. In fact, the article points out that while Ivy Leage bobos are thick as flies in the middle tiers of big companies, universities, and law schools, the people at the top—and the richest people in the country—are as often as not state college grads, or even college dropouts. I've had that sense, after twenty years of rubbing elbows with founders of tech companies. Ivy Leaguers don't found things. They join things, but they rarely run things. They're good thinkers, and reasonable doers, but lousy creators. I have to wonder if the horrible duck-press experience of getting into and then sticking with an Ivy League school burns something out of a person—passion, perhaps, or maybe just that certain joie de vivre that makes entrepreneurship possible. Just a thought. Read the article if this interests you, though you'll have to buy the paper magazine for another month or so before The Atlantic puts the text online.
September 2, 2001:

I've been going through piles of stuff brought home last year after my mom died, and ran across a photo I haven't seen in awhile. It's my college graduation picture, taken probably May of 1974. I show it here because it demonstrates something of modest interest: That I once did, in fact, have hair, and quite a bit of it. (I actually had even more than this a year or two earlier but got tired of it falling into my mouth, so, always the pragmatist, I got a haircut.)

The very Seventies muttonchop sideburns don't come across very well, but they were my trademark then just as a hair-free scalp has become my trademark now. Interestingly enough, the photo was taken in black and white and then colorized. I marvel at how close they got the color of my hair, and only know for sure that it was colorized because the flowers on my tie were white, not blue. (I had that tie for another 20 years!)
September 1, 2001:

Here's an idea I had years ago and never really did anything with, in part because I have more than enough house to take care of without trying to build a new—experimental—one. The idea is this: Build one of those geodesic dome houses you see here and about. (We have them here in our neighborhood and they're cool in their way, though I think they may not be the most efficient use of volume for the human form.) Now, build a second geodesic framework completly enclosing the dome house and about five feet away from it, and run chicken wire or some other loose-mesh hardware cloth over the skeletal faces of the framework. Now plant a climbing vine all around the house, and encourage it to climb the framework that encloses the house.

In a year or two (assuming you choose a fast-growing vine appropriate to your climate) you'll have a green, living, air-porous shade over your house. My question (not being an architect or an industrial HVAC engineer) is the following: Would the shade factor keep the house cool to an extent that is not obviated by the house's inability to radiate heat into the sky on clear nights? In other words, is it a win from an air conditioning standpoint? I haven't thought very hard about snow and ice, since those don't show their faces down here except on exceedingly rare occasions. But for hot climates, I have to wonder if this could be a useful way to build a house. Any thoughts?