There Is No Cat

Hollering into the void since 2002

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Squirm, you worm

I was reading an article in the The New York Times about how even people who voted for Bush are thinking poorly of him now, and much of the reporting was done in Columbus, Ohio. As I was reading, I was thinking, "I wonder if my friend Shirley (who lives in Columbus and seems to know everyone who lives there) knows any of the people interviewed in the article?"

Sure enough, she does:

"Part of me enjoys watching him squirm," said Shirley Tobias, 46, sitting with a colleague from Netscape at a coffee shop in Grandview, a suburb of Columbus. "But he's squirming on our behalf. We're all in this together."

It's not every day I see a friend quoted in the The New York Times. Cool beans!

(I have to say, though, that seems awfully generous, Shirley. I never for a minute thought he was squirming on my behalf; more than any other President ever, Dubya dances with who brung him, and ignores the rest. I don't need to say that he's not my President; he says it himself by how he conducts himself in office. And the chickens that are coming home to roost right now, whether on Iraq, Valerie Wilson, and now the Abramoff/Delay bribery racket, all stem directly from his acting like President of only some of the people. But I guess it wouldn't be politic to admit feeling that way to a reporter from the The New York Times....)

Posted at 12:33 AM
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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Power! Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Regular readers surely know by now that I'm a radio geek. The Einstein quote at the top of the page that gave this blog its name is a dead giveaway to that (although the name actually has multiple meanings). And as a radio geek, I have to say, this week is one of the best weeks ever. This week is amazing. This week is fun. This week, we're an Arbitron family.

We got a letter a few weeks ago asking us to keep a diary of our radio listening for a week, that week running from today until next Wednesday. They included a dollar bill as a token of their appreciation. They say every man has his price; now I know mine.

They ask everyone in the household over the age of 18 to diary their radio listening, so both Laura and I receieved these little booklets the other day, along with another dollar bill for each of us. (Hey, I could get rich doing this!) The broadcast "day" runs from 5 am to 5 am the following day. So all the radio I listen to from 5 this morning until 5 am next Thursday goes into this little booklet.

The FAQ on the Arbitron web site says that if you listen to radio on cable or on the Internet, they want to know about that too. They didn't mention satellite radio, so when they called a couple of days ago to make sure we got the diaries and that we intended to fill them out (hey, we're honor-bound; they gave us three whole dollars!), I asked about satellite radio. Yes, they assured me, they want to know about that, too. If it's radio, they want to know about it. That's good, because I listen to almost no commercial radio on AM or FM, despite being a voracious user of radio. Occasionally I tune in to Air America. But mostly, I listen to NPR, WFMU, XM and Sirius (we have both), podcasts like CBC Radio 3, and shortwave.

If it's radio, they want to know about it. Shortwave is radio too. So I'm going to have to tell them about that as well. When Radio Tanzania Zanzibar shows up in the next ratings book, or Radio Cultura from São Paulo, Brazil, or bit eXpress, the 100 watt digital shortwave station from Erlangen, Germany, you'll know who to blame.

I just know when they see my diary they're going to throw it in the trash....

Posted at 11:23 AM
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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Poaching sounds

One of my regular stops on my rounds of Blogistan is Myke Weiskopf's ShortWaveMusic blog. Myke takes his shortwave radio and a recorder of some sort out to a quiet location and records some interesting music off the radio and shares it with us. His most recent post, "Whole Numbers Play The Basics", has a couple of interesting clips involving numbers stations, the mysterious broadcasts so ubiquitous during the Cold War that broadcast nothing but strings of numbers, presumably to agents in the field who use unbreakable one-time pads to decode the messages. (See David Goren's great story for NPR's All Things Considered a few years back on the subject for more background.) The first is a recording of U.S. evangelical station Family Radio sharing a frequency with a numbers station. So you get a choir singing while a lone ghostly soloist recites seemingly nonsensical numbers. It's pretty cool.

The other clip in the post is of an old favorite among afficianados of the numbers stations, known as The Lincolnshire Poacher, so named because before every broadcast, it plays a recording of an old English folk tune by that name, played on a wheezing organ, as an aid to tuning in. (This is also an old practice among shortwave broadcast stations, dating to the days before radios had digital readout and it was often difficult to be sure you were on the correct frequency for the broadcast you wanted to hear. I know of at least one web site that serves as a collection of these tuning aids, called "interval signals", which I've found very helpful in identifying various obscure and hard-to-hear stations I've heard over the years. Digression finished.) Anyway, so The Lincolnshire Poacher has been around forever, and was always presumed to be broadcast for the benefit of British spies. I've heard that confirmed through a roundabout route. A friend of mine used to work for military intelligence in Washington some years ago. He's told me and a few other people a story about the time he shared an elevator with a British liason officer. At one point, after the other people who had been on the elevator had gotten off and there was nobody but my friend and the liason officer, my friend started whistling "The Lincolnshire Poacher." The withering dirty look my friend received from that officer was confirmation enough of the source of the transmissions.

Posted at 11:34 AM
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Monday, November 21, 2005

Deep in the heart of Texas

After years and years of considering and deciding against, this year I decided to go to the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, next March. I registered on Friday, and booked a hotel room at one of the least expensive hotels within walking distance (to cut costs, I'm going to try and do this without a rental car, unlike my usual pattern where I rent something so I can explore the area in my down time). In past years, I've passed up the opportunity because it generally conflicts with another event that I've been attending for almost 20 years, but there's no conflict this year, and besides, I missed that other event last year for the first time since I started going and found that it felt kind of good not to go for a change. I think I spent some time coasting on my existing skills in recent years, so it's been a while since I've been to a web-related conference. I've felt the fire return in the past few months, so it seems like a good time to go to something like this and see if I can find anything to help further upgrade my skills. But I think the deciding factor was my increasing desire to actually meet some of the people I read regularly face-to-face in the wake of my lunch with Suw Charman a few weeks ago. I don't know if there are many people still reading There Is No Cat in the wake of my sporadic posting in recent months, but if you are and you're going to be at SXSW Interactive, let me know. I'd like to touch base. You can post something in the comments, or reach me by e-mail by string together my first name, my last name, and a ".org", with the requisite symbol between the first and last names.

It would have been nice to stick around for the music part of the festival too, but even if I could have afforded to, I have a very important wedding to attend that weekend.

Posted at 11:00 AM
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Thursday, November 17, 2005

It makes your teeth turn green

One reason I haven't been blogging much lately (aside from the usual reason that I haven't had anything to say) is that I've been busy working on a redesign of another site I run, one devoted to shortwave radio, a site that is sorely in need of a complete overhaul. The original design won awards ten years ago, but ten years on, it still has that design and looks like a ten year old design. More to the point, ten years ago, I didn't know anything about working with databases, so keeping the site updated is largely a manual process, one that has been increasingly neglected in recent years. So I've basically been doing a complete rethink of the site and its features. And I've been taking the opportunity to learn myself something about this newfangled AJAX webly stuff that everybody's so hepped up on lately. Which means I've had my nose buried in one or another of the few Javascript and AJAX-related books that have come out recently. I was talking to one of my colleagues at work about it and he asked if there were any decent books on the subject. This is basically what I told him about the books I've read recently.

DOM Scripting by Jeremy Keith

This book is more about scripting the Document Object Model than about AJAX specifically. It covers AJAX in about 15 pages toward the end. But everything in the book leads up to it, because AJAX suggests some different coding techniques than traditional Javascript. I was very impressed with this book and it was a great start. I'm glad I read it, and I thought Jeremy's take on how best to implement AJAX applications (make them work the normal way first, then use AJAX to hijack the actions for those clients that support it) was spot on. That way people without the latest and greatest browsers can still play (and so can Googlebot). But it's a little weak on some of the real-world implications. This will be perfect once Internet Explorer 6 is pushing up daisies. But it provided me a firm foundation on the latest developments in Javascript.

AJAX in Action by Dave Crane and Eric Pascarello

This was the second AJAX book I picked up. It's a decent book if you're going to write the next Google Maps and come from a background heavy on Java and C++ experience. It's very heavy on methodology and design patterns, and insists that you learn all about them before it even gets to the meat of information about AJAX. For small projects, not so great. I got bored with this because I'm not writing the next Google Maps. When I do, I'll probably return to it, but for now, I put it down.

Foundations of AJAX by Ryan Asleson and Nathaniel Schutta

This book has the meat that's missing from the Keith book and touches on the methodology and design patterns of the Crane/Pascarello book without getting lost in them. It teaches you the stuff you want to know before getting into the Computer Science 404 curriculum. And it's got an appendix in the back that points out the gotchas that come from the need to support Internet Explorer, the Netscape Navigator 4 of a new generation. There's also a decent chapter about using Venkman, the JS debugger plugin for Firefox and Mozilla, and Microsoft Script Debugger, the JS debugger for IE, both of which I've spent a lot of time in recent weeks. I probably wouldn't have understood this book as well without the grounding from the Keith book, but having read the Keith book, it's making a lot of sense to me and is the best of the three in terms of practical real life solutions. This book helped me fix the remaining problems with my AJAX-based shortwave radio loggings page.

Posted at 11:10 AM
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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

America doesn't torture?

Lots of chatter on the political blogs today about waterboarding, which our government has used on some of the prisoners taken in the War On Terror, triggered by an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that says, among other things, that waterboarding doesn't rise to the level of torture.

Robin Rowland begs to differ.

Rowland, a journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, is also the son of a prisoner of the Japanese army during World War II who was held on the River Kwai. He's also the author of a masters thesis about the Japanese use of torture there, and of a forthcoming book based on that thesis.

Rowland notes that when the Japanese used the very same techniques that the Wall Street Journal claims is just fine and dandy, they were convicted of war crimes. Many of those convicted were executed, including the officer who ordered the use of the tactic.

Somehow I doubt Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney will ever be tried, convicted and executed. But that's what precedent suggests would be an appropriate action.

Posted at 10:09 PM
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Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Popular Guy

In the past 24 hours, I've been called by Senator Jon Corzine, Representative Rush Holt, and former President Bill Clinton. Damn, I'm a popular guy. (And while I was writing this, the head of my local Democratic party called; at least I was able to tell him that we already voted....)

I love voting. It always puts me in a good mood. I was practically skipping on the way back from the polls this morning. If you're in a place where there are elections today, don't forget to vote early and often.

Posted at 4:54 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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