There Is No Cat

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Thursday, August 28, 2003

The Devil hits home

Today's entry in Greg Knauss' The Devil's Dictionary 2.0 is a definition of a process close to my heart, information architecture. I'd excerpt it here, but it's short enough that I'd just include the whole thing and you wouldn't have a reason to visit his site.

Posted at 3:09 PM
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And Strong Sad would be, um, Ralph Malph

I know Laura is going to love this, if she hasn't seen it already. The New York Times has an article about her latest obsession, which I mentioned here last week, the Flash-based animation site Homestar Runner.

In an extreme rarity on the Internet these days, the site has no pop-up, banner or button advertisements; no links; and nothing else that would remove a Web surfer from the charming, insular universe the brothers have created. Their clever and simplistically animated shorts, games and hidden surprises revolve around Homestar, an armless, mentally soft marshmallowlike character with a speech impediment, and his lovable enemy, Strongbad, a harmless evildoer with a Mexican wrestling mask for a head.

I've taken to describing Strong Bad as the Fonzie of Homestar Runner, the secondary character who is so strong that he takes over the series from the putative "star". That would make Homestar the Opie Cunningham of his own site.

Posted at 6:52 AM
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Wednesday, August 27, 2003

With the lights out it's less dangerous

In the past 36 hours, I've received more than 400 copies of the Sobig.F virus in my e-mail. Fortunately, every one of them has been caught by my spam traps, so I haven't had to download them, but it's still a major nuisance. At least it can't affect my computers; we run only Mac OS and UNIX here at stately There Is No Cat Manor. It appears to me that the computer of at least one There Is No Cat reader is infected, because every copy of the virus has come to the address at the bottom of this page. That address appears nowhere else that I can think of, although I suppose it's possible that I may have used it to reply to e-mail from someone who sent e-mail there. In any case, if you run the world's most insecure operating system from Redmond and you haven't done so yet, please check to make sure you're not infected. A quick Google search turns up the following free tools to help remove the dratted virus:

Not being a Microsoft Achiever, I have no idea how well these work, but give them a try.

As for me, I think I'll wait until the number of messages received hits 1000, then sell. At the rate my reception of infected messages is increasing that should be about mid-afternoon....

Posted at 3:30 AM
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Saturday, August 23, 2003

Accordions rule!

Speaking of accordions, NPR's Morning Edition had a great ten minute piece yesterday about accordions in Tex-Mex music (conjunto, norteño, and polka). It was still on as I pulled into the parking lot at work, so I had to sit in the car and listen to the end. Great stuff, with a demonstration by Santiago Jimenez, Jr., of the difference between the German and Bohemian style of accordion and the Mexican style. The report was part of a great series they're running every Friday morning called Honky Tonks, Hymns, and The Blues. Maybe some day they'll do a piece about all the great accordion music from places other than Texas.

Posted at 6:39 AM
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Where's my pineapple?

My loving wife has been, um, prevailing upon me to visit this website, Homestar Runner. It's a clear example of what happens when you give two guys who have waaaaay too much time on their hands a copy of Macromedia Flash. So I was looking at the TV Guide on the site of cute animated stories, with my loving wife kibbitzing from the sidelines, making suggestions. As I was watching this one about a luau, I couldn't help but think of Joey deVilla, Blogistan's own Accordion Guy. After all, it prominently featured characters pretending to be Hawaiian, and one of the characters used the phrase "Crazy Go Nuts", which is of course the name of Joey's alma mater.

The brain makes odd connections even where none exist....

Posted at 6:16 AM
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Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Getting a life, IE stylee

Suw tries her hand at IE error messes and comes up with a winner.

The life you are looking for is currently unavailable. The World might be experiencing technical difficulties, or you may need to admit that your life has gone down the shitter and cannot be recovered.

Heh.

Posted at 8:08 PM
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Monday, August 18, 2003

Toy Story

According to the Kansas City Star, the George W. Bush action figures that were introduced a couple of weeks ago are defective.

[T]he worst part of all is that this is not the doll I originally ordered! I carefully filled out the order form, yet the toy I received was not the one I expected. I wonder how many other customers ended up with a different "action figure" than the one they requested. I hope the rumor that you cannot correct this error for two more years is untrue.

[Found via Stuart Hughes's Beyond Northern Iraq.]

Posted at 12:20 AM
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Sunday, August 17, 2003

I thought you wanted to know

One of my favorite musicians has a new album coming out some day (it was supposed to be out last spring, then in September, and now I can't find a release date anywhere). Chris Stamey, who is in a small way unknowingly partially responsible for me meeting my wife, was signed to small North Carolina-based indie label Yep Roc for his first solo album in waaaaay too long. First sign of work: there's an MP3 by Chris on the Yep Roc site, just posted earlier this week. I would link you directly to the page, but Yep Roc has taken countermeasures against deep linking, so the best I can do is send you to their list of artists and tell you to click on Chris Stamey, then the link for Artist MP3s. The song is pretty good, right in keeping with his great (and near-great) solo albums from the 80s and early 90s.

Posted at 11:14 AM
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Saturday, August 16, 2003

A bit of friendly advice

When blackouts hit from New York to Detroit, National Public Radio went right to the experts to find out how to cope with power outages: they asked Iraqis in Baghdad for advice. They got an earful. (Listen to the end for a zinger from American soldiers stationed there.)

Posted at 10:36 AM
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Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Leaning to the left

Today, August 13th, is Left-Handers Day. I'm not a southpaw myself, but my lovely wife is. I wish I'd known ahead of time; I would have gotten her a left-hand-appropriate gift.

There's an amusing article in The Guardian about the day (yes, I know I said I wouldn't read it any more, but they did away with the pop-up ad that annoyed me so much):

Luckily, as a writer I've avoided becoming one of the 2,500 people who are killed every year using right-handed products and machinery, and let's face it, I'm unlikely to ever hack off a digit or a limb with a meat slicer. But I don't rule out impaling myself with a pen, particularly if the smudging gets too annoying.

You mean that pens were right-handed too? Gonna have to get some left-handed pens at home. Living with a lefty, I have to say I didn't realize how bad they had it until I did. Those left-handed scissors are a pain for me to use, giving me a small taste of what lefties go through life dealing with. So Happy Left Handed Day, honey!

Posted at 11:50 AM
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Yeah, that's so last week

Is the Internet over? With Maureen Dowd writing about blogs, I'd have to say, yes it is. Lots of fun stuff in there. She at least likes Howard Dean's blog, calling it "fun", even if Dean rarely posts. But in her critical eye, the best blog by a politician isn't from one of the candidates:

Gary Hart, who began his blog in March, doesn't bother to read other digital diarists. "If you're James Joyce," he said slyly, "you don't read other authors."

Now there's a man with a future in blogging.

Y'know, I'm starting to think that maybe Maureen Dowd should start a blog....

Posted at 5:41 AM
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Sunday, August 10, 2003

I guess I'm just a bordello kind of guy

For years, I've been hearing about the New York-based Ukrainian Gypsy Folk/Punk band Gogol Bordello. They're regularly mentioned in the Tamizdat newsletter of east European music that occasionally shows up in my e-mail, and Nick Denton has sung their praises loudly on his blog more than once including a link to a nice profile in the Village Voice. But for some reason, it didn't occur to me to look for them on the web (hopefully with MP3s) until this piece in UK paper The Independent. I can't believe it's taken me this long to get with the program. This stuff is right up my alley. Accordions and noise; hard to imagine a better combination. Note to future self: once you start buying CDs again, first stop is Gogol Bordello.

Posted at 6:10 PM
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Friday, August 8, 2003

Travels with Tom

When I heard last week that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle was starting a blog to cover his yearly trip around South Dakota, I thought, "well, that's kinda cool" and didn't give it much more thought. I started reading it today, and all of the entries were about health care, and I thought, "well, it's clear what the agenda for this trip is. Interesting approach, though." Then I got to the entry for August 3. Daschle's not the greatest writer, but damn, he knows how to close. Lump in the throat, tears in the eyes stuff.

But of course, as the Republicans have been telling us for years, there's no health care crisis in this country. Bastards. I'm lucky; all I had to do to maintain health insurance when I got laid off was get married. My parents have had a much rougher time maintaining insurance, and have had some times where they gambled and did without. Daschle points out the dangers of that approach.

All we get from the current administration is a drug benefit for seniors that's damned near worthless.

Posted at 9:15 PM
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A sense of inflated authority

Da Funkidator, which I created in a fit of pique one night a while back, is a joke. I've said as much here before. But I have to say, it's fascinating to me how posting such a tool results in people ascribing an inflated sense of authority to it. I'm not sure what it is about the web that does this, but I've experienced it before. A few years ago, I was part of a campaign to get the BBC World Service to change its mind about something very stupid that it was about to do (and has since done, to its everlasting shame). The campaign itself was run by a half-dozen people, give or take a few, on a day-to-day basis. Pretty much all of us were just regular folks with no particular authority to speak on the topic (although we had a couple of advisors who did). But by putting forward a reasonably well-designed site (that breaks in IE 6/Win at the moment, yes, I know) with a few articles that set forth our positions, we were able to generate a tremendous amount of press coverage, almost all of it favorable to us. Reporters loved us and loved the site. The web site made us credible, and reporters vested us with an authority that we would not have had without the site. Even though we lost our campaign, it was a fascinating experiment in how the web can play a critical role in generating an appearance of credibility and authority. Da Funkidator seems to generate the same kind of shock and awe, oddly enough. Who knew?

Posted at 1:57 AM
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Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Literature and code

A few days ago, Dave Winer explained that the reason he doesn't like namespaces in XML is that they make XML difficult for humans to understand.

I think Dave is wrong. I had no problem writing the PHP script that creates my RSS 1.0 feed, choc-full-o-namespaces, and I'm not exactly the swiftest programmer around. It's not rocket surgery™, as Steve Krug would say. And I think that the added metadata is A Good Thing to have. Why?

Structure and metadata make it easier for computers to understand my feed. Winer talks about the need for RSS to be understood by humans. But humans are very adaptable. We can understand a lot of things. Our pattern recognition abilities are miles ahead of those of computers, and will be for the foreseeable future. When I created the software that produces my RSS 1.0 feed, I looked at other RSS 1.0 feeds and imitated, just the way Winer says is needed. I was able to figure it out. It made sense to me. Computers, on the other hand, do a pretty lousy job by comparison at figuring things out. It's easier to get humans to understand a computerish thing than to get computers to understand a humanish thing.

That would seem to go against trends in computers, you say. And besides, how can an advocate of human-centered computing like me advocate adjusting our ways to conform to those of computers? That sort of thinking leads to abominations like MS-DOS and UNIX.

That assumes it's necessary for humans to create RSS feeds. I don't think that's true at this point. Far and away the majority of people with RSS feeds on their blogs today have them automatically generated by their tools. Anyone who creates their blog with Radio Userland has an RSS feed automatically created; I dare say most of them are unaware of it and probably uninterested in the details. Movable Type, TypePad, and Blogger Pro have the same thing. People don't need to create RSS feeds; their tools do it for them. I have no sympathy for the idea that all things need to be easy for the programmers. If it's hard for a programmer to create something that's easy for users to use, well, them's the breaks. Some things are just hard, and always will be, and programming is one of them. Writing is another, incidentally.

By way of analogue, look at the way Postscript code is created. Fifteen years ago, I was working as a production editor. I would take computer manuals after writers finished writing them and make them look like books (at least to the point of creating camera-ready material for printers to use). Postscript was a pain. There was no EPS yet. I had to work a way to take the Postscript output of the drawing programs on the Macintoshes used to create the artwork and integrate it with the Postscript created by the troff files containing the text of the books and do so in such a way that the Postscript interpreters inside the laser printers and typesetting machines we used wouldn't barf on them. I did a lot of manual editing of Postscript code to get the system to work. I got to be pretty good at it, too. But it's a useless skill these days. Nobody hand codes Postscript any more, and hasn't in more than ten years. The programs do it for us. Print drivers shield us from having to tweak code. Drawing programs output Encapsulated Postscript files that can be imported into page layout programs without having to toy with them. The workarounds I was forced into using fifteen years ago are simply unneccesary today, because the programs create the Postscript code themselves and do it in such a way that other programs can make use of it.

Similarly, it's not necessary for the vast majority of bloggers to create RSS feeds by hand today. So the idea that RSS needs to be kept at an absolute baseline of simplicity is, to my way of thinking, simply wrong.

The concept of a namespace isn't that difficult to grok. And even if you fail to understand it, to implement the software to create the feeds, you don't need to be able to write an XML parser; you just need to accept that some items in the feed come with a dc: before them. Doesn't matter why; they just do. Once you accept that, working with those items becomes no more difficult than working with items that don't have a colon in them.

In short, I think that the idea that RSS needs to be human-readable is wrongheaded. The output of RSS needs to be readable, as in an aggregator. I would no more think of reading a site's raw RSS feed on a regular basis than I would of reading a book in the raw Postscript code sent to the imagesetter. That's not the product. The product is the excerpts or posts we see in the aggregators or on the sites that syndicate them, just as the product is books rather than Postscript. In this context, Dave's contention that RSS should be a literary form seems kind of ridiculous. Hey, I'm someone who sees beauty in clean HTML, so I can understand where he comes from. But I tend to agree with Ben Hammersley, who makes the point that since namespaces enable metadata, metadata provides context, and context enables literature, so namespaces make RSS more literate. But he makes that argument more literately than I do, so go read his post on the subject.

Posted at 8:59 PM
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Sunday, August 3, 2003

Ragga, Bhangra, Two Step, Tango, Mini-camp radio, Music on the go

When Joe Strummer died last December, he had been in the studio with his band, The Mescaleros, working on a followup to their fantastic Global a Go-Go (a wonderful, wonderful album that I turned to when I found out that Joe had died, something that surprised even me; I expected to want to listen to London Calling on such an occasion). It wasn't clear at the time whether the band had finished enough of the album to make a worthy posthumous release. Turns out there was, and Joe's official site announced a few days ago that the album, called Streetcore, will be out in October.

Damn, I still miss Joe....

Posted at 5:01 AM
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Saturday, August 2, 2003

World of Music, Arts, and Dance

One of these years, I'll really have to make it to WOMAD, the world music festival started twenty years ago by Peter Gabriel. In the meantime, I suppose I'll have to settle for BBC Radio 3's extensive coverage, with live recordings in RealAudio format of all the great bands that play there. Sadly, WOMAD has never seemed to catch on in the US. They tried a few years ago to have one in Seattle, but I guess, based on the fact that they didn't bother this year or last year, that it wasn't a huge success. Anyway, from my location in New Jersey, the main festival in Reading, England, is probably closer anyway....

Posted at 3:55 PM
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This site is copyright © 2002-2017, Ralph Brandi. (E-mail address removed due to virus proliferation.)

What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


There used to be a cat

[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

Mischief, 1988 - December 20, 2003

[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

Sylvester (the Dorito Fiend), who died at Thanksgiving, 2000.


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