There Is No Cat

The alternative to flowers!

Saturday, May 31, 2003

Finding new music

Information architecture maven Lou Rosenfeld recently acquired an iPod, much as I did. One thing that bothers him is that because the vast majority of the music on his iPod is ripped from his own collection, most of the music is stuff he already knows. He wants to know how people find new music. I noticed the same thing (although my music collection is so large that there's actually a sizeable amount of stuff in the 9 days worth of music I've put on my iPod that I've listened to only sparingly if at all). I wrote yesterday about the experience of listening to the iPod on random shuffle, where it was akin to listening to the radio, except that nearly every song elicited the reaction, "hey, I know that song", which happens pretty rarely when I listen to the radio.

Which gets to the first way I find new music. I listen to the radio. My taste in music is odd and eclectic enough that it's pretty hard to find radio stations that play stuff I might be interested in, but living in the New York area, I'm blessed with access to stations like WFMU that constantly introduce me to new music. Ann Arbor is a college town; it's bound to have something similar. I also listen to shortwave radio; John Peel and Charlie Gillett on the BBC World Service, Martha Hawley on Radio Netherlands, and Lucky Oceans on Radio Australia are always introducing me to things I haven't heard before. Netcasting of stations from around the world also opens up possibilities. For the world music I love so much, there are a couple of great monthly shows hosted on a site called Mondomix, by the aforementioned Charlie Gillett and by Ian Anderson (not the guy from Jethro Tull), who used to host a program on the BBC World Service some years back. (Unfortunately, their audio server is down now, but hopefully it will be back before long.) Then there are the stations from non-western countries that I listen to. The Ghana Broadcasting Corporation sometimes plays old 1950s highlife music that I haven't heard before (although they also play 1950s highlife music that I own copies of as well, oddly enough). Radio Tanzania Zanzibar plays taarab music that I'll never find in my local record store. But those don't generally address the question of how to find music I can consume at my local branch of Tower; they're just something to tickle my ears.

The second way I find new music is to read. I read a few music magazines religiously. For world music, there's a UK magazine called Folk Roots, edited by the aforementioned Ian Anderson, that does an excellent job of covering just what the name describes. I find out about a lot of music that way. A U.S.-based magazine that you're more likely to find at Borders that covers much of the same ground is Dirty Linen. I don't know what kind of music you're interested in, but there's bound to be a magazine or two that cover your particular genres of interest. There used to be a lot of music-related fanzines, but they seem to have died out by and large (I think I saw maybe one of that genre at Tower this afternoon), killed by mailing lists on the Internet.

Which is related to the third way I find music: recommendations from friends and other trusted parties. In the old days, before the stench of the sewer-like odor overpowered me, I used to get a lot of recommendations from like-minded folks on Usenet, particularly I'm still friends with some of the people I met in those days, and I get recommendations from them. I also participate on a few mailing lists in genres I'm interested (like one about indie rock from New Zealand, for example), and find that's a pretty good way to find out about new music. I've also gotten recommendations from friends in foreign countries when I've visited them; I have a bunch of Czech CDs in my collection, for example, that were recommended to me by a musician friend of mine who I stayed with in Prague.

The last way I find out about music is to occasionally take a flyer and buy something blind. I'm a lot more likely to do this with compilations these days, and I think most people would be. I discovered a lot of great indie rock from Germany by buying a single compilation about seven or eight years ago, something that has blossomed into more than a couple dozen CDs in my collection now. I haven't done too much of this in the past couple of years as my income has taken a severe hit and blind purchases of music were the first thing on my list of expenditures to cut.

Note that nowhere on my list does there appear "downloading from an online service." Software is kind of thin on the ground for my Mac for post-Napster systems, although I know some exist, particularly for OS X, which I don't run very much. And they're a pain to use; the few times I've tried, I generally didn't find what I was looking for. When Napster did exist, I did some "sampling" of new music that led to purchases, but not a whole lot in the context of my entire music collection. That said, Apple's new iTunes Music Store seems to offer an interesting possibility. I did find myself listening to the 30 second samples they offer, although I have yet to take the plunge and buy something from them. Now that I have the iPod, I might. It's worth looking into.

Posted at 9:42 PM
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Friday, May 30, 2003

Radio me

As my reward for stumbling into a new job, I bought myself a new toy, and it arrived yesterday. MacWarehouse is unloading 20GB iPods for $200 off their original price, $299. I found that more compelling than the new models, which I don't like as much.

Anyway, last night I loaded the tiny box with a ton of music (didn't fill it, mind you, but I used about two-thirds of the space), and today I brought it to work. I thought it would be interesting mainly because I could have a sizeable chunk of my music collection with me and could therefore listen to whatever my whim desired. But what surprised me (and in retrospect, I wonder why) was that it was so much fun to use the shuffle command. I've never been a fan of shuffle, but that was only on our five-CD player; having 3000+ songs to choose from makes a significant difference. It was like listening to an unusually wide-ranging radio station (my tastes in music are, um, eclectic), except that when every song started, I would have that, "hey, I know that song" feeling, instead of just every once in a while. I wonder if perhaps you get used to that after a while, and then when you don't feel that way when you listen to radio it's disappointing. Guess I have plenty of time (and music) to find out....

Posted at 10:49 PM
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Blogworld meets journalism, joins the team

Could it be that the recent war was the thing to put blogging over the top? The Guardian has not only found Salam Pax in Baghdad, they've hired him to write for them. The BBC set up a blog-like page for its reporters covering the war and has now started using the blog entries of its own Stuart Hughes, who lost his foot and part of his leg to a land mine in northern Iraq. It all makes CNN's decision to shut down Kevin Sites' blog look pretty uninformed.

Posted at 10:16 AM
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Thursday, May 29, 2003

Robin Hood in Reverse

Just in case you needed one more piece of data to convince you of where the current administration's priorities lie, tonight comes news that the tax giveaway the Resident signed withholds the much-vaunted child tax credit from the poorest taxpayers. The provision that ensured they would get it was removed at the last minute in committee so that the bill would stay under the illusory $350 billion figure so that the Republicons could maximize the reduction in the cut on taxes on dividends. I don't know about you, but I get about $20 in taxable dividends a year; the rest of my dividends are already sheltered in my 401(k). If you needed it to be any clearer that the people running looting our country are stealing from the poor to give to the rich, if you need it shoved in your face, here it is. It just couldn't be any plainer. Those pricks call it class warfare if you complain about this, but they're the real class warriors, and the class they've declared war on is everyone but the rich.

2004 is only a year away; 2004 is only a year away; 2004 is only a year away....

Posted at 12:22 AM
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Wednesday, May 28, 2003

This year's model

The BBC's Rageh Omaar has been widely tipped as one of the big winners from the war in Iraq. The Guardian asks how he's coping with the fact that even British pensioners recognize him on the streets and ask about his wellbeing.

Posted at 10:25 AM
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Saturday, May 24, 2003

An explorer who doesn't come from Microsoft

Did you know there was a major polar expedition going on right now? Me neither. Pen Hadow has become the first man to travel to the geographic North Pole alone without resupply from Canada, which is considered the hard way. Only one person has made it in similar conditions from Russia. Hadow made it to the North Pole this past Monday. He's still there. He's supposed to fly out by airplane, but the weather has prevented the planes from landing. His satellite phone is dead, he fell through the ice on his way to the pole and lost one of his skis, and he's utterly exhausted and perhaps a little disoriented. The web site about the expedition makes fascinating reading, as do the despatches of the reporter from The Times of London who has been covering the story extensively (use the cypherpunk user ID and password trick if The Times asks you to register).

I have a friend who has co-written a book, Dangerous Crossings, about one of the early Arctic expeditions in 1925. I think a lot of people think that exploration of the poles is something that's over, done, it was something that happened in the past. All the exploring has been done, hasn't it? It's interesting to see something being done today in the field that's never been done before.

Posted at 10:51 AM
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Minis in the city

Laura has been lusting after one of the new Minis for her next car. So it was interesting to read in The New York Times about how people react to them in the city. The owner of the inn where we had our wedding reception a few weeks ago has one of the original style Minis, and he lets his guests take it out for a spin through the town. We were joking before the wedding that Laura should arrive at the wedding in the Mini (as opposed to the limousine typical of many weddings). His Mini is one of the few with an automatic transmission. He was telling us that they only made about 500 of them, and there are only two or three in the US. His car has the steering wheel on the right side rather than the left, as in most American cars. I actually got to drive it; it was fun, although I can't imagine actually owning one and using it to get around. The new Mini seems like a more substantial car. Laura decided not to drive the old Mini. The steering wheel being on the right made her nervous.

One thing I was astonished to find in the article in the Times is that the old-style Minis actually were in production until 2000. I had no idea.

Posted at 10:07 AM
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Friday, May 23, 2003

Wedding site administrivia

I finally updated the front page of the wedding site to reflect the fact that the wedding is in past rather than future tense. I also added a list of the music we played at the wedding for the really obsessive. A couple of people commented on the day about how interesting it was, although it was hard to hear much of it over the din of conversation. And since the music was intended to make conversation easy, that was just how things should have been.

Also, if you attended the wedding, please pay attention to the request on the main page to provide us with any interesting stories and anecdotes from the weekend. Typically, the day flew by and we don't remember a lot of what happened. It's all kind of a blur.

Posted at 9:34 PM
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Free-lance Bum

New Jersey's finest musician (no not that guy), Ben Vaughn, has a web site, "Ben Vaughn, Free-lance Bum". And, if that's not enough, just when I'd given up hope of ever hearing another Ben Vaughn album, there's a new album! There's some other great stuff on the site, as well. Check out Ben's (small) collection of oddities known as Weird City. Maybe I'll get to see him play live again some day; while most of his gigs are on the west coast these days, I notice a suspicious pattern of shows in Philadelphia in the week following Christmas each year....

Posted at 4:51 AM
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Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Ve haff vays off makink you talk!

U.S. soldiers interrogating recalcitrant Iraqi P.O.W.s have no shame, no morals, no dignity. They're subjecting the poor slobs to songs by Barney the purple dinosaur in an attempt to get them to talk. That's beyond cruel.

Amnesty International is looking into this to see if the U.S. is breaching the Geneva Convention. Really.

Posted at 7:44 PM
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Friday, May 16, 2003

Ten Year Anniversary

This month, or maybe last month (when I was busy getting married), marks ten years since I first came across the web.

I was working for AT&T at the time. I just happened to have a Sun workstation on my desk, a bit of serendipity. My boss had decreed that my Mac would go into a lab where the other tech writers could also use it for their artwork, and knowing of my antipathy to Windows, he arranged to borrow an unused workstation from another group. That group had removed the hard drive and replaced it with two empty 105 MB drives, neither of which was large enough to hold a copy of Sun OS. The tech support group we had at the time had no experience with Sun OS, which used a weird little thing called Yellow Pages to do address lookups; they were used to System V UNIX®, which used DNS, and they didn't know how to set up the workstation. So I was left to my own devices. It took me a week to figure out how to install Sun OS across two hard drives. I would start the installation procedure and take a guess as to what answers I should give to the various installation prompts, taking notes as I did. When I gave a wrong answer and the installation failed, I would wipe the hard drive and start over from scratch. The first day or two, I could get through maybe seven or eight attempts; by the end of the week, it was taking me half a day to get to the point where I would make a mistake. But after a week, I had a working Sun workstation on my desk, albeit one without the ability to translate machine names into IP addresses. Not only that, but I had root access and the ability to install programs, something I didn't have on any of my other UNIX accounts.

It was important that I had a Sun workstation, because the initial releases I used of Mosaic in April or May, 1993, were for UNIX machines only. The program wasn't ported to Windows or Macintosh until later that year, maybe October or so as I recall.

I was a frequent user of the Internet, well-versed in the use of programs like Archie, which helped me find programs to download via command-line ftp, and trn, which allowed me to read and participate in netnews (a.k.a. Usenet), and telnet to get from machine to machine where I had accounts. I was also using Gopher at this point, which was an advance on the command-line tools, but still pretty primitive.

I don't remember how I heard about Mosaic; possibly on one of the groups on netnews. I fired up my ftp client and downloaded it and installed it on the workstation on my desk. I remember that it was version 0.4. When I fired it up, I realized immediately that this was huge. When I was in college majoring in broadcasting, some of my professors were fond of telling us about the coming convergence, where broadcasting, publishing, and computing would all come together and merge to some extent. They thought that teletext was going to be the medium that brought about this convergence. You've never heard of teletext? It was an information service broadcast in the vertical blanking interval on television signals -- the black bar that would roll across your screen when your TV lost synchronization with the signal. Teletext never caught on in the U.S. It had some success in a few countries in western Europe, like the U.K. and Holland, but that was about it. When I saw Mosaic for the first time, I recognized at once that this was the convergence my professors had talked about nine and ten years previous.

I called my boss into my office, all excited to show him the future of our business (both telecommunications, AT&T's business, and technical writing and publishing, our particular group's business). He nodded his head, said something non-committal, and went back to his office. Six months later, he was calling me to ask if I'd ever heard of something called Mosaic that one of my colleagues was telling him about. I couldn't resist pointing out that I'd demoed it to him six months ago. I needled him about that for years. :-)

At the time, there were probably fewer than a hundred web sites in the world. Good thing, too, because as I pointed out above, I didn't have DNS service on my workstation. In order to jump from site to site, I had to go through an elaborate procedure. I would have a window open with a telnet connection to one of our System V UNIX boxes that had DNS, and another window open in the /etc directory on my workstation. When I came across a link to a new host, I would click on it. My workstation would fail to find the machine, but the URL would be in the window of Mosaic. I would then switch to the telnet connection and do a DNS lookup on the System V machine of that machine name, get the IP address, switch to the window in the /etc directory, open /etc/hosts, and add the host name and its IP address to /etc/hosts. Then I would retry the link. The workstation now knew where to find the errant machine, and I could click on their site until I found a link to somewhere else my workstation hadn't previously encountered. I think you can see that this approach wouldn't scale to today's web.

One thing that I remember about Mosaic was that the early versions had some menu items that hadn't been fleshed out yet, where the intent was clear but the code hadn't been written. Maybe it was because I was a tech writer, but one that I noticed clearly was that one of the formats you would be able to save a web page in was FrameMaker MIF. It was a long time before anything came of that. Ultimately, I think there was an external add-on to Mosaic that implemented that functionality, written by a programmer at the Norwegian state telecommunications company. I believe that programmer ultimately went on years later to create the browser Opera, incidentally. There was also the beginnings of an annotation feature that would allow you to attach notes to web pages, in your own browser and in such a way that other browsers could see it. That was another good idea that got lost along the way.

Somewhere along the line, almost certainly in May, 1993, but without question by June 2 of that year (which is the modification date of a file I found a few years ago on my old Mac SE/30 that contained a marked-up version of the FAQ I used to maintain for the netnews newsgroup), I had figured out enough HTML thanks to the View Source menu command to be able to write my own pages. It seemed very similar to the troff code I used to write books. (I cringe when I look at that code now; I started closing paragraph tags and looking at tags as semantic markup rather than formatting instructions pretty early on, probably in 1994 or 1995.)

There were maybe 100 web servers in the world at the time. (The official history of the web at W3C mentions that there were about 200 in October, 1993.) I don't remember if I set one up on the Sun. I do know that I talked to one of my friends in the support group and showed him the web, and pointed out where he could download the server software from CERN, and shortly thereafter, we had a running server on our System V UNIX box. It was behind the corporate firewall, so the rest of the world couldn't see it, so I suppose it was one of the first intranet sites in the world, or at least one of the first outside of CERN. I set up a site for my department. Since we were tech writers, I called it The Inkwell. It had stuff like job numbers and a list of the members of our group. By this time, there were other people within the company who were catching on. No more than a few dozen out of the 200,000+ employees, but enough that other servers were starting to show up inside the firewall. One was run by the company library, and they had done some interesting stuff that would be useful for writers, like putting a dictionary online. I linked to it from The Inkwell.

After a few months, the group that had loaned me the Sun wanted it back (now that I had gotten it working and it wasn't useless any more, after all), and my boss saddled me with a PC for a few months before deciding that since I was the only person using the Mac in the lab, I could put it back on my desk. I don't think the Windows and Mac versions of Mosaic had come out yet, because I remember being a regular user of the line-mode client that you could telnet to on Someone did a quick-and-dirty port of the line-mode client to the Mac, and I used that for a while, too. Eventually Mosaic came along for the Mac.

Throughout 1993, the web was more of a hobby for me. My boss wasn't paying much attention to what I was doing with it at first, but after a while, he started showing it to our clients, and by 1994, they started asking us to do web stuff for them. My boss was always very good at ferreting out business for the group. He managed to get the stockroom to fund us to put their catalog up as a web site. At first, I didn't want to take on the work, since I enjoyed having this as my hobby, and I enjoyed tech writing so much. So he got my officemate to work on it. When I saw what he was having to do, I talked to my boss about how it would be a good idea to place all this stuff in a database rather than manually creating pages for all of the items the stockroom had. Actually, the stockroom had some of it in a database. I eventualy got sucked into the process. We wound up getting a programmer to write a program that would nightly access the database and replace placeholders we had placed in our static files with the current prices. It didn't make things any easier. My boss didn't think it was important to use a database for the pages, and I didn't know how to set one up, so we continued a mad scramble to keep the stockroom catalog updated, pretty much on a daily basis. It was nuts.

I remember when O'Reilly & Associates brought out their first guide to the Internet, written by Ed Krol of the University of Illinois. It had one tentative chapter about the web. There was about the same about Gopher, and lots of stuff about the command-line tools of the traditional Internet. I couldn't find a copy anywhere near me. I wound up asking my brother, who was in grad school in Philadelphia at the time and had a branch of the great tech bookstore Quantum Books in his neighborhood, to pick me up a copy. If I'd waited a couple of months, I could have gotten it locally, because it caught on, got wide distribution, and sold a ton of copies.

At some point in here, before Netscape came out, so it must have been in 1994, the lead writer on my tech writing project and I discussed the possibility of licensing Mosaic to incorporate into some of the network management programs I was documenting to give us a way to provide online help. We talked with the local representatives of Spyglass, who had been named the University of Illinois' reps for commercial applications, but eventually decided not to use Mosaic and HTML, because it didn't support tables yet. I wound up creating a web page describing the process we went through and the decision we came to.

I was still doing tech writing at this point as well, but my boss eventually prevailed upon me to switch to web work full time, since I was the person in the organization with the most experience with it. I was reluctant, and more than once told him no, but ultimately I didn't really have a choice. And as it turned out, that was okay. I came to feel that working on the web was something of a calling. I didn't really want to do anything else.

It was an interesting time to be involved with the net. Things were changing so quickly. Gopher and Archie hung on for a while, but it was clear before long that they didn't have much of a future. (The University of Minnesota, home of Gopher, made some mistakes, but ultimately I think the web was just better.) I was well acquainted with the history of the introduction of radio in the early part of the 20th century, and there seemed to be a lot of parallels between that and what was happening to the net at the time. The introduction of Mosaic was kind of like when the superheterodyne radio was introduced, and direct tuning, making it possible for people other than the geeks and gearheads to use radios. I felt privileged to be able to be a participant.

When I first thought about writing this, I was wondering if perhaps after ten years it was time to move on to something else and return my web work to the status of a hobby. Prolonged unemployment will do that to a person. The age of the webmaster, the person who could administer the server, code the pages, write the text, and add in the graphics, pretty much ended some years ago. The time of the pioneer is past. We're still feeling our way, but the pathways are a little better marked than they were before. Of course, as soon as I started thinking about that, I was bound to find a job. I think this essay would have made more sense as an elegy to a time past, a farewell to the profession, but it looks like I'll be sticking around for at least a little while longer.

Posted at 9:08 PM
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The Year of Living Dangerously

The story of the Zimbabwean government's attempts to expel Andrew Meldrum, a journalist for British newspaper The Guardian, reads like a bad novel, with night-time raids by police on a house from which the reporter, having been tipped off, has escaped; the reporter being seized by police and dragged away as he yells to colleagues that he's being deported; his heroic lawyer winning a stay of the deportation in court, then having only 50 minutes to get to the airport to stop the deportation; portions of the airport being locked down in a failed attempt to prevent the lawyer from being able to serve the order preventing the deportation; and finally, the government refusing to produce the journalist for the demanded court appearance and subsequent uncertainty over his whereabouts. Or maybe it's more like a Peter Weir movie. Robert Mugabe is as much a tyrant as some other people out there, but because his benighted country is in Africa, nobody here seems to pay attention. Zimbabwe is heading for a fall, and it's going to be very bad indeed.

Posted at 8:19 PM
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Wednesday, May 14, 2003

A strange tale

There are a bunch of different ways to find a job. Among the possibilities, you can:

  1. Sign up for the online services, like HotJobs and Monster
  2. Network with your friends
  3. Rely on pure, dumb luck

The last time I was out of work, I found that number one was pretty much useless. I didn't get no love from the sites. I decided that the web sites were probably a good idea when the tech economy was overheating, but in the chill that's settled over the industry the past couple of years, there wasn't much point.

Networking with friends worked fairly well the last time, or so it seemed at the time. It got me the only two interviews I managed to snag in the six months I was employed, the second of which resulted in something that at the time seemed like a real job. (It's only a real job if they pay you, and that company failed miserably on that count.)

I don't think I had any pure, dumb luck last time around.

So this time around, I didn't put a whole lot of effort into the sites. Sure, I updated my resumes there, and I get e-mail every morning from my agents on the sites filling me in on all the wonderful opportunities out there, but I just couldn't generate any enthusiasm about it, especially when the first person to contact me wanted to talk about a job that required the sun and the moon but paid about half the rate I was asking for.

I did tell all the usual suspects that I was available again, and they sent me leads, but most of the leads I got were stuff I'd seen on HotJobs and Monster, not the juicy, unpublished leads you get from insiders.

So there I sat, fat, dumb, and broke, when some pure, dumb luck decided to combine with the online services and friends for a triple whammy. I got a call and an e-mail from a recruiter last Thursday about a job for a "web designer" in New Jersey. He had found my resume on HotJobs (I could tell by the e-mail address he used), and for some reason, he wanted me to send him my resume in Word format. Go figure, I guess a resume on HotJobs isn't the same as one I e-mail him or the one he can access on my site. Then he told me the job was at Lucent, the company where I spent almost my entire career. Eh, well, I'm not getting any cash from the state, and my most recent employer is more likely to cough up hairballs than the months of money they owe me, so what the hell. The job was up in Parsippany or Whippany or Somerset or somewhere, wherever. None of which appeals to me terribly, since they all result in commutes from hell. But you never know, and the guy didn't seem to sure about the work site. Okay, go ahead and submit me. He also wanted my references to make things happen faster.

The other funny thing about the job is that the contract house heard about it from IBM India, who were asked to fill it by IBM US, to whom Lucent had outsourced the function. So the position is like four companies removed from what I used to do as a direct employee at Lucent. It's a short-term assignment, but hell, I was hired by AT&T as a Kelley Girl temporary worker and wound up staying for 15 years.

Friday I had a phone interview with the ex-Lucent, now-IBM guy who was looking to bring someone on. Turns out he knows one of my references, a friend I had worked closely with for years at Lucent and who I've stayed close to; he was at the wedding, in fact. Then my interviewer mentions that he ran my resume by some of the people who work for him. I know them, too, and we always got along quite well, and they mentioned to him that I had already been through the training for this particular position back in the day.

At this point, the world folded in upon itself.

To make a long story short, I start my new job next Monday. I'm still not sure about where the job is; my interviewer (and now new boss) is located in California, so from his perspective, it probably doesn't matter where I sit, more or less. So I pitched him on letting me work out of the facility nearest my house, where I spent many years as a Lucent employee, with trips to corporate headquarters as needed. I don't know if it'll work out that way, but it would be nice, and beat fighting the other commuters on the Garden State Parkway and/or I-287 every night. We'll see. Even if I have to go up north, I can do that for a while. After all, it's a short-term assignment. Oh, and I got the rate I requested.

It's going to be sooooo weird going back to that company, though....

Posted at 7:38 PM
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Tuesday, May 13, 2003

No more sex on the beach

A Spanish politician running for mayor in the city of Granada wants to ruin the sex lives of young adults by encouraging them out of cramped back seats and darkened beaches and into hotel rooms by providing them with vouchers to help pay for the cost of the rooms. If the candidate wins and implements his plan, Spanish youth are expected to experience a severe decrease in funny stories to tell as they get older. Fortunately, the candidate is running on the Green Party ticket, and has no chance of winning.

Posted at 10:03 AM
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Monday, May 12, 2003

A cup of wisdom

I had no idea there was a Usenet group called alt.recovery.clutter, but I suppose I'm not really surprised, since these days there's a group for everything. Anita Rowland reposted something from the newsfroup on her blog under the title Wisdom from alt.recovery.clutter. This could come in handy. There's some good stuff in there. I particularly like the last item about how binge decluttering doesn't work.

Posted at 3:30 PM
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I've been remiss. I've had this page up for a few days already. Behold, the first pictures from the wedding, taken by friends of ours.

Still a couple of weeks before we should have the proofs from the professionals.

Posted at 7:51 AM
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Friday, May 9, 2003

Now we're just Sinks

I noticed when I went into the bookstore yesterday that we made the cover of Newsweek. Not literally, mind you. But we're officially trendsetters. More and more couples consist of a woman who works and a man who stays at home. Some of those couples are that way by choice; the man stays home to take care of the kids while his wife works a high-powered, high paid executive position. Then there are people like us, where she has a well-paying job and he gets laid off. There has to be some kind of trendy acronym for this, like Yuppies or Buppies or Dinks (oh, for the days when we were Dinks....)

Posted at 10:15 PM
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Hanging with The Dear Leader

I spent a good long while this morning reading Scott Fisher's account of his vacation. Yeah, okay, there are tons of pages about people's vacations, most of them dull as dishwater. but this vacation was to North Korea. One of the more curious aspects of the trip was the visit to the museum housing all the gifts given to the Kims, leaders of the country:

The other interesting gift is one I mentioned at the very beginning of this travelogue - a basketball autographed by Michael Jordan. This one presented by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright during here Fall 2000 visit to Pyongyang. It was funny seeing Mr. Huk's eyes light up in recognition of the name we had asked him about the day before when trying to figure out what he knew of the outside world.

"That's the person you talked about? He really is a basketball player!?" Mr. Huk was incredulous that a simple autographed basketball was all that the mighty US government had come up with. No cars, entertainment centers or nice respectful plaques, just a freaking basketball. It seemed to bother him for quite a while, he even asked me about it later on the bus ride back to Pyongyang. When I told him Jordan is kind of an American god, who got his start by playing basketball, he seemed to be somewhat mollified. Madeline Albright, if you're out there, excellent call on the gift - you certainly puzzled the hell out of a lot of North Koreans!

Other highlights include a trip to the DMZ between North and South Korea, with some amazing photographs, and the Arirang Festival. I've heard about this festival; over 100,000 participants engage in mass gymnastics and card flipping. Card flipping? You've got to see the pictures.

I always loved reading Andy Kershaw's travelogues to North Korea, where he enthused about the great songs they had on the cassettes he bought there, like "Song of Bean Paste" and "We Are Marching For The Great Leader". Nice to have another addition to the canon of North Korean travelogues. (Found via Jerry Kindall.)

Posted at 10:20 AM
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Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Baghdad blogger bounces back

Haven't seen this noted anywhere yet, but Salaam Pax is back! Doesn't sound like he enjoyed the war much.

Posted at 10:43 AM
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Oral history for everyone

David Isay, probably the best long-form radio producer in America, has started what sounds like a fascinating new project. His best projects fall somewhere in between traditional journalism and oral history. Now he wants to expand the effort to record oral history in America, or at least in New York City to start with (New York Times link, registration required). He's setting up a booth in Grand Central Station where people can come to record interviews. The idea is that two people will come to the booth, one the interviewer and the other the interviewee. A facilitator there will give the interviewer some basic training in interviewing technique, such as how to ask open questions and how to keep your mouth shut, then let the interview commence. The participants will get a CD of the interview to take home with them, and Isay's project will keep a copy for posterity. Eventually, there will be booths around the country, some of them travelling to different locations. He's given it the clever name of StoryCorps. Interestingly, on the StoryCorps web site, I see that they're also going to be offering a portable StoryKit, consisting of a MiniDisc recorder, microphone, headphones, interviewing manual, and a CD offering examples, both positive and negative.

I've long been interested in oral history. When I was in college, I dated a history grad student, and one of her colleagues was doing his Ph.D. by conducting oral histories with residents of his home town in central Pennsylvania. Some of the other grad students didn't think that was a worthy subject of study, but I thought it was brilliant. I've conducted a little bit of oral history myself, particularly an interview Laura and I did with my grandmother back in 1996 as the first act I did in starting to research my genealogy. The recording I made that day is very precious to me, and even more so since my grandmother died in 2000.

Isay has many of his best radio documentaries/oral histories posted on his company's web site. If you listen to nothing else there, check out Ghetto Life 101, a half-hour long piece Isay co-produced with a couple of teenaged boys in a neighborhood in Chicago. The piece, produced almost exactly ten years ago, was one of the most spellbinding pieces of radio I've ever heard, and an excellent example of the crossover between oral history and documentary that Isay specializes in. Isay was also responsible for the Yiddish Radio Project, which aired on NPR's All Things Considered over a number of weeks, a fascinating exploration of a forgotten subculture.

I just find the whole concept of public interviewing booths incredibly interesting. It seems to me to be the project of a fertile imagination, and if anyone can pull it off, I think Isay is the person to do it.

Posted at 8:40 AM
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Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Schadenfreude is not pretty (but it is fun)

Bill Bennett's wife says that Bennett is never going gambling again.

How much you want to bet?

(Found via AKMA.)

Posted at 4:29 PM
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Monday, May 5, 2003

Melmac now, Melmac forever

Did you know they still made stuff with Melmac? Neither did we, until friends got us a set of mixing bowls from Williams-Sonoma made of the stuff as a wedding gift. The scariest thing to me: there was a line of Melmac dinnerware designed by Raymond Loewy called Lucent.

Posted at 4:09 PM
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Cherry blossom time in New Jersey

I've been too busy to post these before now, but a couple of weeks ago, the cherry trees in our neighborhood were in full bloom. I shot a few pictures, and I think the one below may be my favorite that I've ever taken.

Cherry blossoms in our front yard

Posted at 12:39 PM
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Saturday, May 3, 2003

Mirror Project

10:46 am, April 27, 2003, Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

Posted at 1:55 PM
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Have it your way

I had a strange dream last night. I dreamt that Burger King was reducing the number of ingredients in The Whopper by 25% by using cascading style sheets to more precisely position the pickles on the burger.

There were a couple of other odd Real Life™ implementations of style sheets, but I seem to have lost them on the 15 foot trek from bedroom to computer.

Posted at 5:40 AM
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Friday, May 2, 2003

The Honeymoon is Over

Well, we finally did it. In the words of my brother in his toast at the event, six and a half short years after getting engaged, Laura and I finally got married.

The wedding was last Sunday, April 27, in the quaint Victorian Jersey Shore resort town of Ocean Grove, just a few miles from our house. We got married at 11:30 in the morning in a pavillion on the boardwalk, with the ocean as our backdrop. The ceremony was performed by the mayor after a friend of ours who is a non-denominational minister had to back out because of illness (he was able to attend however, and we were delighted that he felt well enough to do that). The weather was absolutely perfect, with the temperature in the mid-60s and just enough clouds in the sky to make it interesting (and to make the photographer's life a bit easier). The reception was a pretty low-key event, held at a B&B about a block away from the wedding location. We didn't want to spend money on a band or DJ, so the groom made up four CDs of some of our favorite tunes to foist upon our guests spin. Most of the songs were instrumental so that people could carry on conversations without being distracted by the music, but with an attempt to make the music interesting enough that people could enjoy it if they listened to it. We threw in some vocal songs that were particularly important to us, like one tune from the album that was responsible for us meeting in the first place. For a good part of the reception, the music was drowned out by conversation, so I think it served its purpose in setting the mood we wanted. All the people I talked to said it was an excellent wedding, and a few even said it was the best they'd been to. Now, I don't expect that anyone who wasn't having a good time would come up and tell the bride and groom that, but it was still nice to hear from people that they had a good time.

I've mentioned the wedding here a few times, but always in a pretty non-specific way. That was because Laura had asked me not to post the date on the web until it happened, because she was worried that someone would read it and break into our house while we were away on our honeymoon. Laugh if you want, but when she said that it reminded me of the time when I was a kid and we attended the funeral of my great-uncle Ray. When my grandparents got home after the service, they found that their house had been burglarized. So I was sympathetic to the argument. (That was also one reason I made a post to my blog on the morning of the wedding, Shirley. Nobody would think that a groom would be relaxed enough to post an entry to his blog on the morning he was getting married, right? Besides, there had been a lot of discussion in Blogistan in recent months about post sublimation, the act of posting about something when you're really writing about something else. I thought that writing about being in a tux was a nice way to write about the wedding without writing about the wedding, even though I wore a suit instead of a tux. I just wish I had finished adding the time-delayed posting facility to my content management system before the honeymoon so that nobody would have known we were gone....)

Now that it's over and we're back from our 3-night, 4-day honeymoon in the tacky splendor of the Pocono Mountains (complete with champagne glass-shaped whirlpool and heart-shaped in-room swimming pool), it's safe to mention. I had put together a site to tell guests stuff they needed to know about the wedding. It was password protected before the wedding for the reasons above, but if you want to look at it now, it's open to everyone. I'll be adding more stuff to the site in coming weeks and months, like the story of how we got engaged (that's a pretty good one), and photos taken by friends, and hopefully the text of the wonderful and funny toast my brother gave at the wedding. I'm also hoping to write up my memories of the weekend some time this weekend, before they all disappear from short-term memory. Anyone out there who attended and has an interesting story to tell or photos to view, please feel free to contact me and share so I can post it to the site.

Posted at 8:24 PM
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This site is copyright © 2002-2024, 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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