Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Lucky Jim: Back in the mid-fifties, a fellow named Kingsley Amis wrote a novel fusing academic satire and romantic comedy. (Where have we heard that before?) It was called Lucky Jim and it was wry and colloquial and delightful. It featured an average fellow trying to succeed in a somewhat skewed, but very recognizable, world. An argument could be made that everything from Catch-22 to High Fidelity owes a bit of a debt to this book. Until just recently it had been out of print for years. Such is the fate of great satire.

The reason it's back in print is that Masterpiece Theatre just featured a fine video rendition. They stayed fairly true to the novel and the acting was top notch. There was more emphasis on the romance side of things, versus the satirical side, but not overly so. If it gets re-run, be sure to take the time to check it out.
A Reader's Request: Poor fellow. Too bad I had to turn him down.
-----Original Message-----
From: ken green kabila []
Sent: Friday, February 22, 2002 11:10 PM
To: [[ME]]

Re Urgent Assistance

Kindly allow me the modesty of introducing myself. I am KEN GREEN KABILA, the son of the former head of state/ president of Congo-Kinshasha (then called Zaire) Mr. Laurent Desire Kabila.

I am contacting you in order to ask for your assistance on this Confidential Business proposal with full financial benefit for both of us.

Before I go into further details please be informed that I am writing without any other person(s) pre-knowledge of my contacting you on this transaction. Therefore I will appreciate same attitude to be maintained all through.

I have the sum of USD55Million from a secret sale of Diamond by my Father before he was assassinated by one of his body guard (Rashid) on January 16th 2001, which I will like you to receive on my behalf due to security reasons, as my narration below will explain. But before I continue be well informed that your share in this transaction has been calculated at 15% of the total sum of USD$55M, 5% for expenses and the rest for my family and me.

My father as a real African traditionalist was a polygamist thereby Having married so many wives, and my mother being the second wife of my father, My stepbrother Joseph, who is the current president of my country, is the son of the first wife and he does not have any knowledge about this deal.

Already president Joseph is using his power to colonize all the money And private property, which my father left behind for the whole family. Now my mother and I are left with nothing in the inheritance of my late father's wealth. Our situation is seriously critical that we need your assistance to help us receive these funds overseas for proper investment.

Let me quickly assure you the 100% safe proof of this transaction Because the diamond sales are packaged from the onset in a pattern that shows no direct trace or linkage with us (Kabila family). At present the money is in cash and is secured in a security company as family treasures, as I don't want to deposit the money in a financial institution for fear of the funds being confiscated

The consignment will be released within seven (7) days of my being in receipt of your reply via my email address above only for security reasons.

I am waiting for your swift and favorable response, and in case you have any question(s), do not hesitate to contact me.

Best Regards,
You can also contact me through this my alternative email
My response:

Dear Ken,

Thanks for your generous offer. I do have some questions before we proceed.

I am KEN GREEN KABILA, the son of the former head of state/ president of Congo-Kinshasha (then called Zaire) Mr. Laurent Desire Kabila.

I gather from your father’s name that in addition to being head of state he was also a porn star. That’s very impressive. Would you have any insights in how one gets into that business?

Before I go into further details please be informed that I am writing without any other person(s) pre-knowledge of my contacting you on this transaction. Therefore I will appreciate same attitude to be maintained all through.

No problem. I will discuss it with no one. But I assume it’s OK to post it on my web site.

...he was assassinated by one of his body guard (Rashid)

I knew a Rashid once. Distasteful fellow. Worked at the local Arby’s. About 5'4" and 200 lbs. Dirty fingernails. Always looked at you like you owed him money. No appreciation of the finer things.

My father as a real African traditionalist was a polygamist

Ah, I see. The whole porn star thing was just a way to profit from polygamy; what with all those women around, you may as well turn on the camera, eh? Your dad was a clever guy. Tell me, did he use any supplements to increase his, er, vigor?

Already president Joseph is using his power to colonize all the money And private property, which my father left behind for the whole family.

By private property, do you mean perhaps some personal videotapes. There are Internet sites where they may net you more than that silly diamond did. At least, that’s what I'm told. I wouldn't know for sure, of course. I just must have read it somewhere. Um, I can't remember exactly...

At present the money is in cash and is secured in a security company as family treasures, as I don't want to deposit the money in a financial institution for fear of the funds being confiscated

That’s wise. Never trust a bank - they get robbed all the time. Cash is much safer. None of that annoying paperwork either.

I am waiting for your swift and favorable response

Well, I must tell you that I am currently engaged in transaction with a banking minister from Nigeria who is in dire need of a foreign account in which to deposit funds from a procurement overpayment and it’s taking up most of my time. But I wish you the best of luck in resolving your problems.

If you have any info on your late father’s other career please pass it along.

Yet more scams: Someone from White Lake, Michigan has apparently scammed about $225,000 (and possibly as much as $400,000) from fraudulent E-bay auctions for collectible figurines - Hummels, Llados, etc. Amazingly, the guy did hundreds of legitimate auctions over the course of years to build up his reputation with buyers, then went for the big score.
Then, on Jan. 17, Mr. Richardson told the handful of employees at his figurine shop here in this blue-collar Detroit suburb that he was going out to lunch.

He hasn't been heard from since.
He only paused to clean out his checking account, according to his abandoned wife.

I just got an idea for a comic novel.
Cover Your Ears: Miserable Melodies has clips of famously bad recordings, such as William Shatner's version of Rocket Man, or Phyllis Diller's (Can't Get No) Satisfaction. You'll need Real Player. File this under: What Were You Thinking!?!?
Freedom of Choice: As you know, I've been struggling with setting the link colors for this site. Well finally someone has pointed out to me that most browsers (including Internet Explorer) all the user to set their own link colors. In IE it's under Tools / Internet Options; just click the Colors button. So I'm removing the custom link colors - keeping the red rollover, though. Now if you don't like the link colors you have no one but yourself to blame (Chrissy).

Sunday, February 24, 2002

It's Not TV, It's HBO: I finally finished my overview of HBO Original programming. I entered this project fully intending to have to trash everything in sight, but when I really explored what I thought of the shows I didn't - with one exception. So check it out. Let me know if you agree, disagree, think I'm an idiot, whatever.

I should point out that I make mention of some plot twists in these programs (The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Oz, and Six Feet Under). I don't think it will ruin things for anyone, but if you have been waiting to catch up on any of those shows and want to be surprised, proceed with caution.

It's A Done Deal: I finally got a laptop ordered. Like what I gather to be the the vast majority of people, I scrambled around, accumulated information, got all confused, then ended up ordering from Dell. An Inspirion 8100. I'm sure it's going to change my life once it arrives. Good experiences with Dell so far. If it all continues to go well I may have to write something nice about them.

Cranky Is As Cranky Does: You think I'm cranky? Look how cranky you can be once you've won the Nobel Prize.
Nayantara Sehgal, an author and niece of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had just opened a panel discussion yesterday on colonialism and oppression when Naipaul, who is 69, blurted out: “My life is short. I can’t listen to banalities.”

He continued: “And this thing about colonialism, this thing about gender oppression, the very word oppression wearies me. I don’t know why. I think it is because banality irritates me.”

Vikram Seth, author of the best-selling A Suitable Boy, tried to calm Naipaul by patting him gently on the back, with disastrous effect. “What are you doing!” fumed Naipaul, throwing off his hand.
Heh, heh, heh. I gotta read his stuff sometime.

Suspected Spam: I got this message yesterday.
-----Original Message-----
From: Shareholders [mailto:censored]
Sent: Saturday, February 23, 2002 12:21 PM
Subject: Shareholder Litigation - Suprema Specialties

Dear Investor:

We are the law firm of Schulman, O`Connell and Wood, one of the most successful shareholder plaintiff law firms in the shareholder class action space and, as such, have won billions of dollars of settlements together with our affiliates.

We are currently bringing an action against Suprema Specialties, Inc. (NASDAQ symbol CHEZ) who have recently announced that they will be restating their earnings and will report significantly lower earnings for the past years, and for allegedly failing to disclose material information as well as making materially misleading disclosures.

If you have been a shareholder of Suprema Specialties, Inc. between May, 2001 through December, 2001, we urge you to immediately click on the link below so that you preserve your rights and you can join this litigation. Our firm will represent you free of charge and will be paid for any settlement with the company.

Additionally, another service we offer is that, once you are on our list, we will inform you of any shareholder litigation that we are aware of both that our firm settles as well as otherwise, and get you the necessary forms for you to fill out and sign so that you may participate and receive monies rightly due you. Many investors are not aware that a very large portion of the settlements that they are justly entitled to ends up not being received due to failure to claim said money. Please click on the link below and enter your contact information. Thank you in advance.

Suprema Specialties is in fact involved in such a litigation, but I have never owned stock in that company. Also, Google turns up absolutely nothing on the law firm of Schulman, O`Connell and Wood. If find it odd that a law firm would send out random messages searching for clients. I strongly suspect this an attempt to get valid email address for use in spamming. If so, this is one of the most creative and believable ones I have seen. My suggestion: do not respond to any such unsolicited offers. Ever.

Back To The Drawing Board: A couple weeks ago, The Always Delightful Chrissy dropped me a note to tell me that the links are too dark and difficult to differentiate from other text. I did that intentionally, but Chrissy is usually right, so I'm going to be fiddling with them. I'm also thinking of fiddling with the text size, since it might be too small for some readers. One day I will learn to leave well enough alone. But this is not that day.

Thursday, February 21, 2002

Once Again I ask...: ...why does it have to be so hard? Twice now I have been at the point of buying a laptop. My first shot was at where they had this sweet little refurbished Toshiba on sale for about half the price it would have been normally. So I went through all the ordering rigamarole, got an email confirming my order, then happened to go to the site to check the status only to find they were out of the item and had cancelled the order. If I hadn't happened to check I'd still be waiting for it in the mail.

So today I hit best Buy and come close to picking up an HP 1170 that I had my eye on when I notice there was a Fujitsu that offered more for less. The sales dude says it's a relatively new model, and I don't recall seeing much of Fujitsus before, so I think, OK I'll just head home and look up some reviews to make sure it's reasonably good quality. Seems OK from what I read, but one key thing for me is that I must be able to get a port replicator. So I hunt around Fujitsu site for a compatible port replicator. I follow one multi-page path and it ends up at a monitor stand. Alrighty. I follow another path and it leads to port replicators for various models, none of which are the one I'm looking for. I suspect they may be compatible but I can't tell for sure and I'm getting just a bit too frustrated to deal with it anymore.

So now I'm digging around on the Gateway and Dell sites to see what I can come up with. It's like I'm trying to spend a couple thousand dollars and no one will take it.

When Cat Lovers Go Bad: There is a fascinating look at the artistic output of a man as he descends into psychosis, all the while painting cats. Oddly (or perhaps not), the pre-psychosis work is utter tripe, but the post psychosis work is stunning. If you don't see Van Gogh in this stuff you must be blind. It's all part of a site called The Neuroscience Art Gallery - Art by Psychotics. There's also the suggestion the Bosch may have been psychotic. Look around.

Thou Mama: Get insulted by the bard. [Thou] leathern-jerkin, crystal-button, knot-pated, agatering, puke-stocking, caddis-garter, smooth-tongue, Spanish pouch! or [Thou] vicious mole of nature! or Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon!.

Fear and Loathing in Beijing: A brief description of the security measures in Beijing for the president's visit (last paragraph).
Another concern was surveillance. Bush is staying in a hotel, and administration officials plan to follow measures similar to those they used at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Shanghai during the president's trip in October, setting up tents in the hotel rooms to keep paperwork out of the range of cameras and playing country music during sensitive conversations.
Good grief. Tents and Country Music at the Ritz-Carlton. I can just see the mobile home and pick-ups with gun racks parked out front.

Latest Noise: G Love & Special Sauce. A fun and funky combination of folk music and hip hop (yes, really). Try Philadelphonic.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

The Great Firewall: Since the death of Mao, the Chinese Communist Party has played a delicate game. They wisely saw that a totally controlled and closed society was doomed. So rather than fight the inevitable, they have carefully doled out enough freedom to allow some progress and keep people mollified, but simultaneous cracked down on attempts to instituionalize that freedom (Tiananmen) or other threats to the parties final say (Falun Gong). Then along comes the internet and things get real scary for them. Anyone with a phone and a paltry piece of equipment can connect to the entire world. Why not just ban internet use? What, and be prceived as oppressors? Better to stick to the notion of doling out enough freedom to keep everyone content, but not to be a threat. The result is a massive firewall for the entire country. You, good Chinese citizen, can have full use of the internet, but you must do it through the state run access point. Of course, this access point will be montiored thanks to a little help from the decadent western company called Cisco and when you want to do a search, well, our good friends at Yahoo! will be sure to filter out anything that is not proper.
Chinese xenophobia has led many other U.S. companies to play similar games, but Yahoo! was particularly eager to please. All Chinese chat rooms or discussion groups have a "big mama," a supervisor for a team of censors who wipe out politically incorrect comments in real time. Yahoo! handles things differently. If in the midst of a discussion you type, "We should have nationwide multiparty elections in China!!" no one else will react to your comment. How could they? It appears on your screen, but only you and Yahoo!'s big mama actually see your thought crime. After intercepting it and preventing its transmission, Mother Yahoo! then solicitously generates a friendly e-mail suggesting that you cool your rhetoric--censorship, but with a New Age nod to self-esteem.

The former Yahoo! rep also admitted that the search phrase "Taiwan independence" on Chinese Yahoo! would yield no results, because Yahoo! has disabled searches for select keywords, such as "Falun Gong" and "China democracy." Search for VIP Reference, a major overseas Chinese dissident site, and you will get a single hit, a government site ripping it to shreds. How did Yahoo! come up with these policies? He replied, "It was a precautionary measure. The State Information Bureau was in charge of watching and making sure that we complied. The game is to make sure that they don't complain." By this logic, when Yahoo! rejected an attempt by Voice of America to buy ad space, they were just helping the Internet function smoothly. The former rep defended such censorship: "We are not a content creator, just a medium, a selective medium." But it is a critical medium. The Chinese government uses it to wage political campaigns against Taiwan, Tibet, and America. And of course the great promise of the Internet in China was supposed to be that it was unfettered, not selective. The Yahoo! rep again: "You adjust. The crackdowns come in waves; it's just the issue du jour. It's normal."
Here's the entire story. I should point out that I don't fault Cisco or Yahoo for getting involved in this. Customers often have odd demands and, frankly, it's not for Yahoo or Cisco to try to bring down Red China. I find the Chinese strategy for totalitarian survival to be a remarkable thing that I would never had thought would work. I still don't of course, and lots of folks in China continue to suffer for it, but it's quite remarkable how long it's lasted. A good lesson in bending but not breaking.

In turns out, what China really needs is a reverse firewall. So much spam comes through the one Chinese service provider, China Telecom, that lots of ISPs simply refuse any message from them.
"Complaints to China Telecom, which we estimate receives upward of 50,000 spam complaints per day from Europe and North America, are all ignored," said Steve Linford, a member of the Spamhaus Project. "China Telecom's complaints address is auto-answered by a robot message that replies, 'It's not under our control,' to any message you send."
Heh. "Not under our control." Could the irony be intentional?

Capitol Loss: Meanwhile. closer to home, it looks like Washington DC might grant Mike Tyson a boxing license. I enjoy my little jaunts to DC but, NOTHING could make me live in that area again. Outside of the mall, the city is deadly, there is little hope of any crime being solved mostly because it's known to have one of the most corrupt and inept police forces this side of Rwanda. The mayors tend to be habitual criminals. Everything is filthy. The suburbs are moderately safer and cleaner, but count on spending at least 4 hours a day in your car to cover that brutal 5 mile commute. And when you get home you find a cramped two bedroom townhouse with a quarter of a million dollar mortgage. And don't get me started on the schools. So in a way, it makes complete sense to give an emotionally retarded, intellectually vapid, ear-munching rapist the right to make a few million dollars or so. Coming soon, the O.J. Simpson national memorial.

Attitude: I'm awfully curmudgeonly lately aren't I? I don't know why, but I hope it's entertaining.

Sunday, February 17, 2002

Better Than Watching it on TV: Dave Barry has been covering the Winter Olympics.
Despite efforts to resolve the figure skating scandal, it continues to rage out of control here, at least in the media center, where riot police have been called in to quell fighting among roving gangs of Canadian, Russian and French journalists. As of this morning, 17 people had been treated for wounds inflicted by Bic pens.
The dude is a funny funny man.

Holy Creepy Nightmares: Heronimus Bosch must be the patron saint of anyone who ever painted weird stuff, from Dali to Geiger. Spend some time looking at the works over at Bosch Universe. You'll be able to see his influence in all sorts of modern media, from horror films to comic books. If I were exceptionally talented and had a ridiculous amount of time and money, I would commission a spooky videogame for X-Box all done in his style. That would make me both rich and cool.

Long Ago, Far Away This from Bob Jensen's Bookmarks (a site primarily for the accounting industry). I don't know the original source.

1. The average life expectancy in the US was forty-seven.
2. Only 14 percent of the homes in the US had a bathtub.
3. Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone. A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost eleven dollars.
4. There were only 8,000 cars in the US and only 144 miles of paved roads.
5. The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
6. Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California. With a mere 1.4 million residents, California was only the 21st most populous state in the Union. [I find that amazing]
7. The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
8. The average wage in the US was 22 cents an hour.
9. The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
10. A competent accountant could expect to earn $2,000 per year, a dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.
11. More than 95 percent of all births in the US took place at home.
12. Ninety percent of all US physicians had no college education. Instead, they attended medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as "substandard."
13. Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen, and coffee cost fifteen cents a pound.
14. Most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
15. Canada passed a law prohibiting poor people from entering the country for any reason.
16. The five leading causes of death in the US were, a) Pneumonia and influenza, b) Tuberculosis, c) Diarrhea, d) Heart disease, e) Stroke [of course, diarrhea was almost certainly a symptom of some more horrible disease of which they knew nothing]
17. The American flag had 45 stars. Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Alaska hadn't been admitted to the Union yet.
18. The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30.
19. Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn't been invented.
20. There was no Mother's Day or Father's Day.
21. One in ten US adults couldn't read or write. Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.
22. Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at corner drugstores. According to one pharmacist, "Heroin clears the
complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and the bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health."

Ontario or Bust: This year I will get to either that Stratford Festival (All's Well That Ends Well) or the Shaw Festival (Caesar and Cleopatra, my favorite play ever) or both in Ontario. I will. I must. I shall.

Friday, February 15, 2002

Bad Theatre: Since we've had enough of "best of" lists, here's a "worst of". The 100 Worst Films of the Twentieth Century. I have to agree that most of these are really really really bad films. My only issue here is with The Gods Must Be Crazy, which was pretty good in my estimation, and Plan 9 From Outer Space, which doesn't belong in a serious "worst of" list, it belongs in a campy so-bad-it's-fun list. I notice that they did pick both Titanic and The Phantom Menace. Bet they hear about that.

In more movie news, the Academy Award nominees have been announced. I have not seen a single one.

What's Hot: Articles on blogging in Time, Fortune, PC Magazine, the Far Eastern Economic Review, and Business 2.0. Glad I got to the party early.

Then there's the Blogger's Manifesto and, more accurately, the Real Blogger's Manifesto. (Watch out for the language in those.)

Maybe They'll Stone a Teddy Bear: I know Valentine's Day is a blatant commercial scam and all, but this is ridiculous:
Valentine’s Day, named after a Christian patron saint for lovers and celebrated on Feb. 14, has become a popular informal holiday in Asian countries. Sales of roses, chocolates and greetings cards surge as couples and suitors express their affection with presents.

However, the commission’s head in Riyadh, Othman Al-Othman, said the authority had warned shops, hotels, restaurants and public parks a long time ago not to stage any special activities on Valentine’s Day.

A joint committee has been formed by the Riyadh governorate, the commission, police and the public prosecutor to conduct round-the-clock patrols to impose the ban, Othman said.

Othman also warned drivers against decorating their cars with any red or other Valentine-associated items.

In schools, teachers have been warning students during the past two weeks against wearing red clothes or displaying any item related to the occasion.

Jabir Al-Hakami, head of the commission in the Makkah region, said the commission has been geared up to enlighten young people on the dangers of blindly following worthless foreign customs. The ban has come into force following the efforts of the commission to stop the import of any articles used for practices that do not conform to Islamic values, he said.
There must be some bitter, lonely guys in the House of Saud.

Questioned Quotient: My only comment is that being "smart" is highly overrated, as evidenced by the strange and remarkable story of Justin Chapman.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Best? Hardly: I continue to have issues with "best of" lists, the latest being "The 50 Best Places To Live" in the current issue of Men's Journal. (Not available on-line yet as far as I can tell.) For a taste, here's the top ten:
  1. Driggs, ID

  2. Telluride, CO

  3. Mammoth Lakes, CA

  4. Crested Butte, CO

  5. Bandera, TX

  6. Jackson, WY

  7. Bozeman, MT

  8. Blacksburg, VA

  9. Port Townsend, WA

  10. Houghton, MI
Their criteria is supposedly as follows:
There are certain things a man wants out of a town: clean air. access to the outdoors, nice neighbors, maybe a good bar. We consulted our experts and amassed a huge database of towns just like that (with populations of about 50,000 or less). Then we conducted rigorous analysis of everything from the price of land to cancer rates to the ratio of men to women. These are the top fifty, in order, with special attention to the best in each region. All that's left for you to do is move.
Oh my. Where to begin?

"Maybe a good bar." Maybe? Maybe? You need several bars - a corner bar, a stylish club, a classy lounge, a sports bar, and a few others, preferably attached to good restaurants. And speaking of restaurants, here's the comment from the article about the best of the best: "Dining options in Driggs are limited, but Mike's serves up a mean plate of Buffalo meat," and "But here's the thing about Driggs: What it don't have, you don't want." Philistines.

"We consulted our experts," Judging from the number of ski towns and bitter cold wilderness outposts in the top ten, I'm thinking their experts consist of Buzzy, the Wacked-Out Snowboarder and the Senior Advisory Board of the Touque Makers of America. Do these people have no concept of WATERSPORTS or THE OCEAN? But maybe they're right, being able to justify buying that super-expensive high-tech winter gear makes life worthwhile.

"conducted rigorous analysis..." Please. The rigorous analysis seems to have ignored things like access to a good bookstore, Starbucks, sushi, reliable broadband, a good health club selection, the fine arts of any sort, not to mention any significant employment options.

"the ratio of men to women..." OK I'll give 'em that one.

Perfect example: The only Michigan town listed is Houghton. Do you know where Houghton is? Start in southern Michigan, which is a very northern state, and drive north for hundreds of miles. You run out of land so you have to cross the Mackinac Bridge. Then you keep going FURTHER north (and a bit west) until you run out of land again. As they say in the article, "Count on six month winters here, November through April, with more than 20 feet of snow..." Yeah, that's paradise alright.

Now contrast that to say, Dexter, MI (just to pick a random small town). There is one great restaurant in town (Cousin's Heritage Inn), and it's about 15 miles to the Common Grill in Chelsea which may just be the finest restaurant in the world. It's quiet, safe, with nice neighbors. Winter is about three or four months (which is more than plenty). Spring and Summer are amazing. And what it don't have, Ann Arbor (a fifteen minute drive away) does, including three huge bookstores, a great music scene, and more bars and restaurants than you could visit in a year.

Driggs ID, of course, has The World's Largest Potato.

This is the sort of list I would have expected from the trail-mix-munching, sleep-on-the-ground Luddites at Outside magazine who pride themselves on being able to identify wolf sub-species by the smell of their stool. Men's Journal owes us guys better.

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Now Would Be A Good Time: I find myself not totally swamped at the moment, which is a strange feeling. I only have two writing projects going - in the short term, my previously mentioned analysis of the Award Winning HBO Original Programming that I will post here, and in the long term, my third novel, tentatively titled Misspent Youth. (And no, it's not an autobiography, thanks for asking.) A Pleasure Doing Business With You is currently out on exclusive, so I'm not even sending any more queries at the moment.

So I'm taking the opportunity to refinance my home and get enough extra moolah out of it to buy a new car. I intend to buy it on the Web. I know full well that I could probably save a few hundred dollars if I allowed myself to actually have contact with an auto salesman, but I don't care. I used to be a car salesman. I worked at a Mazda/VW/Saab dealer for about a week. The absolute worst week of my life. Auto salesmen make Enron execs look absolutely saintly. They lie completely unselfconsciously and often as a matter of policy. If you want to get anything out of these people you gotta cont on at least a full day for haggling and keep your guard up the whole time. Then, even if you come to an agreement, you may as well write off another day when you go in to pick up your car, because your salesman will be with another customer and so what if you wait, they already got your money. In fact, the only thing worse than the way salesman treat their customers is the way the salesman are treated by their managers - which is why it was the worst week of my life.

Anyway, I would like to see auto dealers and auto salesman go the way of discount stockbrokers: put out of business by technology. So I'm going to do my part. I know of AutoByTel, anyone had experience with any others? Let me know.

Of course, I'll pass along a full account of the entire experience.

More Than Books: A few days ago, I had a minor tantrum about Southfield Cable Channel 15 airing their interview with me and failing to tell me about it.

Nancy K. at the Southfield Public Library got wind of it and took it upon herself to see that a tape was sent off to me right away. It arrived yesterday, and I have to say they did a TERRIFFIC job. So much of what comes across on community access cable looks like it was filmed someone's garage, and features some blurry guy droning monotonously about zoning laws and garbage pick-up. But the folks behind More Than Books did a sharp, professional job.

Now, I firmly believe that I have never taken a good picture in my life. Every picture I have ever seen of me has a definite air of dorkiness to it, so I was a bit apprehensive about what I would look like on screen. Well, I must say, I looked pretty good. A pleasant surprise.

The interview segment of the show lasted about 15 minutes or so. I would guess they used about half the material they shot, but they got the good stuff, including a fair number of shots of the book cover (which is important). They managed to dredge up a picture of me from my high school yearbook, which explains why I fear having my picture taken. I think I actually shuddered when I saw it.

They also worked in a fun montage of Ben Stein when I related the anecdote about him reading the screenplay version of Apple Pie.

My delivery is a bit low-key, but at least I didn't mumble and I managed to keep down the number of "uh"s, and I don't think I had any "you know"s or "it's like"s.

All in all, a great job by the More Than Books crew and a big THANK YOU to Nancy K. and everyone at the Southfield Public Library for their hard work.

Now I have to see about getting it digitized.

Sunday, February 10, 2002

Hold That Resume: Fortune Magazine recently published a list of the 100 Best Companies To Work For that no doubt caused a good deal of celebration in the HR departments of the chosen companies. But after a brief conversation with The Legendary KK I was prompted to look a bit further. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of employers in the U.S. How could Fortune know which ones were the best? I discovered some perspective is in order.

The competition itself is run by an organization called Great Place to Work. That organization does a bit of investigation and performs a survey of the employees of nominated companies. According to the nominating process, eligible companies must have at least 500 employees and have been in business for at least 6 years (Actually, the Great Places To Work site states 1000 employees whereas Fortune states 500, which could be misleading in light of the nominating process). So right off the bat, that clever start-up that offers all sorts of unorthodox perks and such an egalitarian atmosphere is disqualified; as is that little niche company of a couple hundred employees that hasn't had any turnover in the last thirty years.

Well, there still must be tens of thousands of companies that meet the criteria, you say. Yes, but: the companies still have to be nominated. That means a) somebody had to know about the competition, figure out that there is a nominating process and take the time to investigate how to get on the list, and b) the company had to facilitate the distribution of the Great Place To Work survey to the company employees, allow them to take the time to fill it out, and submit to a company "Culture Audit," which sounds vaguely Orwellian. So basically, there had to be a signifiant company-wide effort to make it onto the list, just sitting back and being a good employer isn't enough.

As it turns out, there were only 279 companies that went to the trouble. That means as long as you completed the nomination process, you had almost a 40% chance of making the list no matter what you do to your employees. Suddenly the appearance changes from the 100 best companies out of millions to the 100 best out of 279. Southwest Airlines was in the winning 100 last year but decided it wasn't worth the effort this year. Does that mean they are a worse company to work for now?

The article should be retitled The 100 Best Companies To Work For Out Of The 279 6-or-more-year-old Companies With 500 Or More Employees Who Knew About The Contest And Figured It Was Worth All The Effort, but that wouldn't fit on the cover of Fortune and it probably wouldn't seem like much of a victory for HR.

Sound and Fury, signifying nothing.

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Some minor site issues-

Netsurfer Science links is now a pay site, so I've removed it from the links section. It's cheap, $20 per year, so I may subscribe and just provide you with the "best of."

For some reason, I've been removed from the webloggers webring so trying to use those links won't do you any good. I've sent emails a-flyin' but no response yet. I'll let it go a couple of more days and then I'll just sack it and remove the links.

I split out all my little travel essays from Sublime and Ridiculous, just because.

Friday, February 08, 2002

Why Do They Tempt Me?: You know how I can get obsessive about redesigning this site. I thought I was done but I stumbled across the holy grail of site design, which is described as three columns with a fluid center column without using tables. If you are HTML savvy, you know why that's so cool. Here is a sample site with that page style. Note how you can resize your browser and only the middle column resizes. Doing that with tables is easy. Doing it without tables is rather mind-blowing to me. (Tables are notorious for appearing differently in different browsers, meaning if you test your design in IE, it can look quite different in Netscape.) I guess I have to put another redesign on the to do list.

Searchin' Here and There: I may have finally found something as good as Google for searching. It's called iLOR and part of the reason it's so good is that it's based on Google, so you get the same site results, but it adds some excellent functionality. For example if you hover over a link you are given the options to go to the site, open in a new window, open in window behind the current one, and best of all, "add to your list." "Add to your list" opens a small window and allows you to select a sublist of the sites listed in the complete search. Why is that good? Often you'll run a search and get dozens of pages of result. You might page through a bit and click through on a site that appears to have what your looking for. You get a couple of pages on and you realize it's not what you wanted, so to get back to your search results you have go back a number of times or find the search results site in your history. Sometimes it's easier to just re-run the search.

With iLOR you would just go through the first however many pages of you search results and add any site that looked like it might have what you want to your list. So you get a nice little subset of the sites you found that's hanging around in case you run into a dead end. iLOR calls itself a research engine. Trite, but accurate. I've bookmarked it.

Say What?: If you're feeling fiesty and intellectual, and you have an interest in the use of language, you could do a lot worse than read George Orwell's famous essay Politics and Language, then turn on CNN and see if you hear things a little differently. Orwell suggests these rules for proper language use:
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

  2. Never us a long word where a short one will do.

  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Although not intended for fiction, I take them to heart when writing and editing (especially the last one).

In The Ears: Listening to Jamiroquai's Synkronized. Laser-sharp, melodic, disco-funk. I believe I shall get down with my bad self.

Thursday, February 07, 2002

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?: I have not forsaken thee. Get this: last night I did not get on the Web. Not at all. That's the first time that has happened in weeks. I was swamped all day at work, my office was freezing - I despise automatic climate control - and after my workout I spent the evening working on query letters. Unpleasant, but it had to be done. I'll be back to posting my usual nonsense by tomorrow.

Don't Touch That Dial: I think my next feature will be a extended review/analysis of HBO's original programming - specifically The Sopranos, Sex in The City, OZ and Six Feet Under. These shows are winning all types of awards and I've been catching some of them in re-runs. Naturally, an opinionated person like yours truly can't let all the hype pass without commenting. I will say up front that an HBO show from years ago, The Larry Sanders Show, was one of the two funniest sitcoms ever (along with Seinfeld) and it's going to be tough for these new shows to measure up to that. I wish they'd re-run Larry Sanders.

Caveat Taxpayer: This from the Michigan Dept. of Treasury:
Special Alert to the Public

The Michigan Department of Treasury recently received an alert from the Internal Revenue Service about a fraudulent scam being conducted via E mail that you should be on the look out for:

Some taxpayers have received an e mail from a non-IRS source indicating that the taxpayer is under audit and needs to complete a questionnaire within 48 hours to avoid The assessment of penalties and interest. The e mail refers to an "e-audit" and references IRS form 1040. The taxpayer is asked for social security numbers, bank account numbers and other confidential information. THE IRS DOES NOT CONDUCT E-AUDITS, NOR DOES IT NOTIFY TAXPAYERS OF A PENDING AUDIT VIA E-MAIL. THIS E MAIL IS NOT FROM THE IRS. Do not provide the requested information - this may be an identity-theft attempt.

If you receive an e mail of this nature - the source may be the address, please contact the Internal Revenue Service office in your area.
In case you didn't know already, trust NOTHING you get via unsolicitied email.

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

I'm Going to Pump You Up: One of the very few things worse than a computer geek is a fitness geek. It's for that reason I rarely discuss my obsession with working out with sane, non-obsessive people, even my close friends. So I approached writing Aerobics for Regluar Guys with a bit of trepidation. It is my sworn intent not to blather on about things that would bore you to tears. Then as I started writng it, I started actually having fun with it. That's very unusual for me. Truthfully, I find writing occasionally tedious and always difficult. I deeply enjoy having written, but when I'm actually writing I often have to will myself to keep going. Suprisingly, this one was fun to write in parts, mostly because I was relating experiences that I have enjoyed having. I even got to do a bit of interesting research, like a real live journalist. So I'm probably going to feel a little more free to write extended ramblings with too much detail on topics that interest me, without regard to what may appeal to a a more general audience.

So beware.

I Laughed 'Til I Stopped:
Sven and Ole worked together and both were laid off, so they went to the
unemployment office.

Asked his occupation, Ole said, "Panty stitcher. I sew the elastic onto ladies cotton panties."

The clerk looked up panty stitcher. Finding it classified as unskilled labor, she gave him $300 a week unemployment pay.

Sven was asked his occupation. "Diesel fitter" he replied. Since diesel fitter was a skilled job, the clerk gave Sven $600 a week.

When Ole found out he was furious. He stormed back into the office to find out why his friend and coworker was collecting double his pay.

The clerk explained, "Panty stitchers are unskilled and diesel fitters are skilled labor."

"What skill?" yelled Ole. "I sew the elastic on the panties, Sven puts them over his head and says, "Yah, diesel fitter."
It's so stupid, I'm ashamed to say it made me laugh.

Yeah, I'm a humorist.

Monday, February 04, 2002

Link Dump: I've collected lots of stuff over the weeks that I haven't got around to posting. So here they are with minimal blather:

Sunday, February 03, 2002

Death is Taxes: Well, I'd like to say I just watched the most amazing Super Bowl in recent memory, but I was so sure the Rams would blow them out that I spent the evening getting my taxes filed on

Actually, I saw the last five minutes so I caught the best part of the game - enough to wish a had laid an extra large bet on the Pats to win. I'd spend some time telling you how lucky we are to have just experienced an exciting Super Bowl, something that happens only once or twice a generation, but I'm too furious with not to vent a little bit.

First, it asks you if you filed with them last year, which I did, so I said Yes, thinking they might actually default some information from my return last year. Nope. As far as I can tell, it does you no good to answer that question one way or another. That's shame because the only reason I used was because I thought I wouldn't have to re-enter a lot of stuff (Intuit happens to be a major competitor to the company I work for).

The entire process is structured as a series of question and data fields you walk through. There is a index where you can quickly jump around to the differnt sections, but no way to go directly to a form and line where you know a number is missing. Still the federal return was not too bad to enter.

The state return processing is abysmal. There is no index to speak of. If you are ninety-percent of the way done with your state return and you realize something is missing you have to click back through all the questions until you find the one you missed then click back forward to where you left off. What's worse, in the case of my return, there was a piece of data that was impossible to enter, because of a rather obvious bug. I could answer Yes to the question as to whether I had anything to enter on a certain line, but it never offered a data field to enter it. Luckily for me, it was a trivial amount and only cost me a few dollars of my refund, but man-oh-man did Intuit tech support get a savage message from me.

Bottom line, I won't be using again next year. And you should probably shop around if you are looking for a web filing service. And if you do select turbo tax, think seriously about doing fed only.

So I'm out an evenings worth of productive work and a Super Bowl memory, you're out tonight's post so your visit here will be less satisfying, and Intuit is out a customer. What a splendid evening all around. Luckily, Diana Krall lives in my computer (just behind the video card) and has been singing to me all night to keep me calm. She's smaller than she looks.

Saturday, February 02, 2002

Site News: As you may have noticed, on the lower left I have added a service called BlogSnob. It's a free service, you sign up and put a little code on your page which displays a random link to another blog that has also signed up, in turn your site is as likely to appear randomly on other participating blogs. Don't know how much traffic it will generate, but it's a clever idea.

I also managed to mangle some of the links under Sublime and Ridiculous. Fixed now.

Darwin Defeated: It is just too easy to make a living in this country. This morning, my breakfast at McDonald's came to $3.81. So I hand the girl a twenty and the register says the change is $16.19. Then I reach into my pocket, and offer a penny. Bad move. I recognize the look on her face as the same one I had throughout freshman calculus. She pauses briefly as she devotes more and more neurons to the problem at hand. Then she offers me $6.19 (yes, $10.01 short) in change. I say, "I should get $16.20 back." She looks at me suspiciously, but she is cowed by the confidence with which I spoke, so she hands me $16.10. I let her keep the dime.

In more unforgiving epoch (like the Pleistocene), anyone that devoid of cognitive ability would have been trampled by wooly mammoths like a possum on the turnpike. Now, she can survive and breed. I fear for the human gene pool.

Another case of life imitating fiction.

Missed the Boat: A while back I had a book signing where I was surprised to find a camera crew from the local cable access station waiting to do an interview. Everything went well and they were supposed to let me know when it would be aired and send me a tape. Well, sure enough, they did neither. Turns out it was aired at the end of December. I wouldn't have had the slightest inkling that it had been aired if I didn't stumble across this page as cached at Google. Anyway, I'm going to try to get a tape out of them. If I do, and the interview turned out well, I'll see about digitizing it and posting it.

Run For Cover!: On two seperate occassions I have a seen an animated software program that displays of a map of the world showing every eathquake and volcano eruption since 1960. Essentially time runs forward from 1960 and each eathquake appears as a circle, sized in proportion to it's magnitude. Volcano eruptions are similarly indicated with triangles. The entire simulation takes about five mintues, and it's fascinating to watch. The first time I saw it was a couple of years ago at the Minneapolis Zoo, they also have it at the Smithsonian Natural History museum, where I was a couple of weeks ago.

It turns out this program is available for free download (Windows only). It's called SeisVolE. It's a big download - about 9 meg. - tough for a dial-up connection, but I managed. Interesting stuff. Apparently it can be set to automatically update so you are covered for tracking these events into the future.

I'd like to see something like this for hurricanes/typhoons, etc. If I had the time and skill, I'd do it myself.

Of course, if I had the time and skill, I'd be William Shakespeare.

Friday, February 01, 2002

The Friendly Skies: This kind of hits close to home for me considering a do a good bit of traveling, and I often obsess over it, not for fear of terrorists, but because of potential delays.

The Washington post is reporting that federal aviation authorities are considering keeping an extensive database of traveler information that would allow them to profile potential terrorists. This would include address histories and other personal information that might provide indications of a potential problem.

Here's the example they give:
It might find, for instance, that one man used a debit card to buy tickets for four other men who sit in separate parts of the same plane -- four men who have shared addresses in the past. Or it might discern an array of unusual links and travel habits among passengers on different flights.
That sounds fairly innocuous.

Naturally, the civil liberties groups are in arms about this, calling it a "massive surveillance program". That's a fairly overheated criticism. Such a system could be limited to checking airline passengers. It also doesn't sound like they are going to ask for info such as your gross income or whether you wear boxers or briefs. Plus, they are not talking about throwing anyone in jail over this, just singling them out for a more thorough search.

Sure, it could be abused, but then anything can be abused. And like always, if stuff is abused, lawsuits fly and things get sorted out in that painfully imperfect way they do. I don't know if it's any more unreasonable than the random searches of luggage they do now, where a mom with three kids is as likely to be searched as a shoe-bomber.

In fact, I can easily see that tying in with the notion of a trusted traveler card:
Trusted-traveler cards would authorize passengers to bypass extensive security screening at airport checkpoints. The Israeli government instituted a trusted-traveler program five years ago in an effort to speed up long lines at airport security checkpoints.

The electronic card would have an encoded biometric description of the owner to ensure that the person using it is the same person identified on the card. Biometrics refers to computerized systems that identify a unique part of each person's anatomy, such as fingerprints, facial structure or irises.
I think that's nifty. I have visions of sliding my card through a reader and waltzing through security without hesitation. Combine that with e-tickets and your two-hour airport cushion gets cut by about seventy-five percent.

Again, privacy advocates are alarmed by this, claiming it's a back door to a national ID tracking system that will be abused. Chill guys. Unless it's made mandatory, I don't see that either.

Maybe it could be made to store all my frequent flyer info, too.

On The Other Hand..: Hunter S. Thompson says:
It will not be long before all major airlines will require all passengers to disrobe and change into standard Hospital gowns before they board a plane. This is already in the planning stage, according to a lawyer from Miami who also assures me that sleeping gas will be introduced later this year on flights of 40 minutes or longer. "The gas has already been market tested," he said. "Passengers are heavily in favor of it."
I could do without the hospital gown, but the gas sounds good to me.