Friday, February 28, 2003

Site Finished: I think I've finally cleaned up all the loose ends with the site design. The archives are now working correctly. And some of the little oddities of formatting have been sorted out. So proud am I that I offer this cleaned up template should any other bloggers want to use, or build on, the design. Just click the link and you'll see the dam template page. The right click and select View Source (or View Page Source in Netscape/Mozilla, or View/Source in Opera) to save the template file. There's a lot of explanatory comments on the how and why of the style in the source. If you use it, please link back to a dam site and send me a note and I'll link back to you.

Now maybe I can get my nose out of technical books for another year or so.
How Did I Get Involved With These People?: I've written a couple of short book reviews and I hope to do more – they're linked over on the sidebar. But I'm pleased to say I actually read and finished the books I've reviewed. This appears to be counter to the generally accepted method of reviewing, according to this article.

Reviewing books is not a particularly well-paid form of journalism and it takes time. A book of any more ambition than a thriller can't be read for review at a rate of more than 40, or at most 60, pages an hour. Some books are only 120-pages long and can comfortably be digested in a couple of hours. Others, though, are 400, or 600 pages, or, in some dreadful instances, even more, and they can easily take days to get through.

The reviewer's fee, however, usually remains the same. So, shocking as it may seem, the truth is that some reviewers skip some books. And there are a few who skip through all the books.

But surely they are speaking of unscrupulous scam artists, not serious reviewers? Nope.

In the New York Times Book Review, a professor of creative writing, Beverly Lowry, reviewed a book by one of the people involved in the Whitewater affair, The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk by Susan McDougal. An Arkansas newspaper columnist, Gene Lyons, soon spotted that Lowry's review contained a basic error about whether or not the author eventually testified in court (she did).

The New York Times has subsequently had to publish a correction.

Or worse, this anecdote about one of my favorite historians, Paul Johnson

[H]istorian Paul Johnson [was asked] to review a big book - more than 800 pages - on the American Civil War. To give Johnson more time, Wilson asked his assistant to have it biked over that same day. The next morning, she admitted she had forgotten to send it and that it was still sitting on her desk.

At that moment, "the fax machine had begun to whirr into action, and 800 perfectly formed words on the American Civil War, with observant comments on the merits and faults of the book, had dropped into the intray. I saw no reason not to publish this review", says Wilson. "Like all really good journalists, Paul had somehow intuited the true nature of the thing under discussion."

Now, A.N. Wilson believes all journalism to be a form of imaginative literature rather than "an exact science"…

It is well known that few people buy books and the ones that do don’t read them. So in a way, reviewers are being true to the book buying public.
How Did I Get Involved With These People? 2: As an author I have to ask myself this: Is it better to have excellent reviews (here, here, here) in small local papers, or one really really really bad review in the Washington Post?

Monday, February 24, 2003

Back from Bolivian: The premiere comic genius of our time, Mike Tyson, has once again reared his rather thick head. Let us all rejoice. The comedy team of Tyson and his tattoo fought a guy by the name of Clifford Etienne. For you unsophisticated types, that's pronounced ay-TEE-on, and the guy appears to be a tough as the sound of his name. It's a little known fact that Etienne is French for Palooka.

The fight itself was trivial. Tyson knocked out Etienne in 49 seconds flat. Etienne was immediately compared to Greg Louganis. Upon picking himself up from the canvas he was heard to say, "I still get my check, don't I?"

Of course, all the fun occurs after the fight during the press conference, where we are treated to one of Mike's finest stand-up routines.

"I like doing other things. I like getting high, hanging out with my kids. I like drinking," Tyson said. "I have so many demons."

Classic. And:

Tyson claimed after the fight that doctors told him he had a broken back from a 1997 motorcycle accident. His doctor said the injury was uncomfortable but nothing serious enough to keep him from fighting.

Best of all, there is the suggestion that our buddy Mike needs a reality series. Oh, please let this happen. I shall gather all his best dialog and publish "Living in Bolivian: The Wit and Wisdom of Mike Tyson" and make a gajillion dollars. Unfortunately, they seem to want to center this on following his training up to a fight. That's wrong. The only way to do it is to follow his daily life like the Osbournes or Anna Nicole. That would be the perfect comedy and the pinnacle of reality TV.
Face the Music: The Grammys, like a four letter word that begins with 's', happens. Usually, there are two things you can count on. First, you'll get to hear live performances of all those songs that have been played to death on the radio in the past year. Second, you get to hear some performers - the ones who think record sales make them, like, real smart and important and stuff - proselytize on foreign policy.

I didn't watch the Grammys, but I gather there wasn't any political posturing this year. Sheryl Crow claims that is because the TV suits called everyone and told them to lay off. The TV suits say they didn't do any such thing and Sheryl needs to lay off the crack pipe. Either way, it's too bad. The only good thing that ever comes out of award shows is the material for a satirist.

From what I've read the highlight of the night was when some R&B vocalist named Erykah Badu struggled read the words on her cue card. The writers thoughtlessly used words with more than one syllable. Once she finally managed to stammmer them out, she didn't know when to stop and read the "APPLAUSE" instruction that came after her line. If anybody knows of a video clip of this on the web, please, please forward it.

The good news is two anti-divas were winners. Norah Jones took home too many pop music awards to carry, and Diana Krall took best jazz vocal. Maybe the Grammys are getting better after all. They may catch up to The DAMMYS.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Life Imitates a dam site: Remember this essay on everything wrong with the movies? Well, check out ArcLight Theatre in El Lay and tell me this isn't exactly what I suggested. I wonder what it will take to get them to open one in Dexter?

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Cheese and Whine: The fundamental problem with humans at large is that they keep passing their diseases on to me. I am once again suffering from a head cold, mild so far, and I've learned that the absolute worst thing you can do when you have a cold is huddle under the blankets with a box of Kleenex, a pack of cough drops and the TV remote. So I put a lot of effort into continuing with my so-called life in spite of the horrible illness, and count myself lucky that I get to complain about it.

Blogger (including blogspot) was purchased by Google. This should be good - long term. For now, Blogger is still flaky. Half the time I can't connect and no matter what I do, I can't get the archives working. Blogger is a free service so don't have much cause to complain. They have a premium pay service, but informed people tell me it's not much better. Google is a top notch company - I hope they can sort things out.

Blah, blah, blah. Anyway, I've managed to lasso a few interesting links to hold you until I get my sniveling butt back in gear.
  • Coming to Vegas, The Moon Resort and Casino. Moon and Stars, Shoot the Moon, Fly Me to the Moon - this could be the world's easiest advertising account.

  • Signs. (Not to be confused with the movie by a guy whose middle name is Night. What's that about?)

  • A Ford executive explains that the Camry outsells the Taurus because, "Very frankly, Camry is a better product that Taurus." Passers by shouted, "Duh!"

  • I did not make up this Wet Burqa Contest, but I bet Weekly World News did.

  • What's more gross than a frog flattened by a car? How 'bout a sheep? Irony: You remember that episode of Seinfeld where George was trying to preserve his high score on Frogger? That was playing on TV when I stumbled on this game.

  • You simply cannot make things like this (.pdf) up. "A passionate interest..." Excuse me while I bust a gut.

  • Dave Barry is funny even when being interviewed by Slashdot geeks.

  • You have to read this utterly amazing obituary of aristocratic, eclectic socialite Bindy Lambton - including go-kart accidents, deep sea diving, and size 24 shoes. It reads like a real-life black comedy. Somebody - maybe Paul Thomas Anderson - needs to make a movie of this.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Stupefaction: So Joe Millionaire came to an end the other night, and it's all anybody's talking about. Annoying, since, though I never watched a single episode, I feel pretty safe in assuming it was stupefying. That Giant Sucking Sound you hear is the average IQ of Americans going down the toilet.

Now a lot is being made of the fact that the bimbo accepted the proposal despite finding out he is actually poor. I'm going out a limb, but I'm guessing she figured that after the show aired and he had all the publicity in Fox can buy, he would get a big contract for posing in his undies, a pile of cash for posing in less for Playgirl, and some extra tip money for miscellaneous public appearances and bit parts in made-for-cable movies. Same for her (except probably Playboy instead).

Then a few years down the road when she's divorced and sitting around sipping cosmopolitans with her divorced girlfriends, the conversation will turn to what went wrong with their marriages and the answer will invariably be, "I got married for the wrong reason." She'll be the queen of that circle.

So what's next? How about a show wherein exhibitionist losers are wed based on who the viewing public thinks would match up best. I want you to pay close attention to what I say next.


Don't say I didn't warn you.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Hold Yer Horses: Absolutely everything is going wrong. I'm having problems with both my web sites. My laptop has suddenly decided to display text all fuzzy and indistinct. The IRS rejected my electronically filed tax return for the most trivial reason imaginable, now I have to re-submit it. I hate technology. I'm going to go live in a cave. A warm, well lit cave, with indoor plumbing and cable TV, but still a cave.

Will actually post actual content in the next couple of days. Promise.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Link Fishin': First, I have no idea what is wrong with the archives. Apart form being oddly formatted, the last four months seem to be omitted. Heavy sigh. Just another thing on the to-do list.

For now, here's the latest from my recent casts into the cyber sea.
  • Speaking of music industry bollocks, and I always am, check out this description of how Clear Channel manufactures the syndicated radio show, Carson Daly Most Requested. It is constructed like a pastiche from a database of phrases like "coming in at no. 4..." Technologically fascinating, but symptomatic of Clear Channel-itis.

  • Finalists in the World Trade Center, The Next Generation contest. I like the one on the right. Although we need a better name than "Wedge of Light." It brings back bad memories of Junior High. It sounds a like a Bevis and Butthead remix of Madonna. It's like asking for a piece of low-fat pie. I could go on...

  • One magazine's opinion of the best Simpsons episodes ever. The top four are all from ten years ago, but the Simpsons is still good quality TV, even now approaching their 300th episode.

  • I'm not sure what to make of this optical camouflage. It reminds me of those X-Ray Specs in real life. There's video here. Weird.

  • Lawsuit madness here in Michigan. Sue your school for an A+ instead of an A. I'd give the kid points off for doing something so stupid, but then I'd probably get sued for it. Better yet, a manicurist nicks a cuticle and gets sued for a half million. Mind-boggling.

  • A real tragedy down in Kentucky. I'm put in mind of Bluto's reaction to the moving guys dropping a case of liquor in Animal House. As a matter of record, I am categorically opposed to using sewer water in your maragarita. (Link via The Legendary KK.)
Who Gets to Play the Wolf?: This must be a hoax. It has to be. Once I get over my amazement, I'll probably bust a gut laughing.

Mikhail Gorbachev is teaming up with former US president Bill Clinton and actress Sophia Loren to record a new version of the classic children's musical "Peter and the Wolf."

Retitled "The Wolf and Peter", the remake of Sergei Prokoviev's tale will tell the story from the point of view of the wolf, faced with the encroachments of urbanisation on his dwindling forest habitat.

Words fail me.
Hold The Olive: Roger from Great Falls, VA writes in with this advice in response to The Perfect Martini.

"Only things I would add are to chill the gin before making; put glasses in freezer for about an hour beforehand; peel fresh lemon rinds and squeeze oil, not juice, on top of prepared martini; hold glass by stem, don't cradle in hand; make ice cubes with spring water."

Wise words. Also he recommends Citadelle gin in place of Bombay Sapphire. They like it over at
Hippies, Nostalgia, Etc.: I have been (very mildly) taken to task about my characterization of Ben Fong-Torres as a nostalgic ex-hippie (in this post). I suppose some clarification is in order.

Ben Fong-Torres is the former news editor of Rolling Stone magazine. In response to that, many of you young'ns are saying, "And?" Well, you have to understand that back in the late 60s and through the 70s, Rolling Stone was very different from the slick, high-style glossy it is today.

One of my hobby horses is the way in which high-quality, vital prose, especially journalism, is key to any activity coming to the forefront of popular culture. Rolling Stone did this for Rock and Roll music back in those years. To this day I can remember some of the stories I read back then, specifically I remember coverage of a Rolling Stones tour that captured the drug and groupie hedonism of that time, and I remember reading some intense early coverage of the London punk rock scene and how it flew so defiantly in the face of the cocaine and disco scene (which included my high school). It was also where I first read Hunter S. Thompson. Truly great stuff. (Do I sound nostalgic?)

Rolling Stone still tries to stay relevant - they gave P.J. O'Rourke a regular job, so they can't be all bad - but now it's loaded down with skin, fashion and spring break trendiness. MTV in print, and that's not a compliment. Yes, they try to be more edgy than, say, Teen People, but in the context of the superficiality of the magazine, anything weighty seems like a calculated attempt to impress.

For example, remember this post (can't find the original story, sorry), wherein we find Joan Jett was dissed with a mere mention whereas Britney and Mandy got all the coverage in a Women in Rock issue of some sort. Well, in the latest issue, we get a mea culpa, and they print the open letter complaint I quoted from in that post. I'd guess some focus group results indicated it was time to show they were hip after all so they took the opportunity. This is me being cynical. The point is that this is not what that magazine was like in the time Ben was there.

Anyway, Ben left Rolling Stone in 1980 (do any of you even remember 1980?) and has been intimately involved in music media ever since. Check out his web site for details. Most recently he was involved in a now defunct venture called MyPlay. MyPlay offered on-line storage lockers for your music files - the idea being you can access to your music collection from anywhere you can get to the internet. Visiting your friends and want them to hear that great CD you just bought? MyPlay to the rescue. OK, that may not sound like much, but it has a very powerful idea behind it.

You see, I don't want to own any CDs, or any DVDs, or any magazines, or any sorts of media. That's just clutter. What I want is to have access to the content when I want it from anywhere - home, office, car, Motel 6, and so forth. If broadband and wireless connections were ubiquitous, a service like MyPlay would be invaluable. Sadly, that's still years off. And then there DMCA to worry about...ugh.

The clarification I've been staggering towards is that Ben Fong-Torres has spent most of the duration of my life as a driving force in music media and is still standing and working and creating and flourishing in spite of the dire state of the contemporary music industry.

Which is what I meant by 'nostalgic ex-hippie'.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Ahem: Sorry to be out of touch but I was in DC for the past few days (actually in Northern VA, I didn't get into the district proper). The most amazing thing happened. I flew Northwest and had what was simply the most painless and pleasant air travel of my life. Yes - on Northwest! Once I recover from the shock I'll get some new material up.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Service Resumed: I've got the redesign straightened out for the most part - the only lingering issue is the bizarre way the archive links are rendering (those are created by a script hosted by the Blogger service so it's all guess work) - so I'm taking this opportunity to dump some first class links on you for chasing away the February funk.
  • If you think talking horses, puppet aliens, or flying nuns are strange check out this defunct sitcom from down under featuring "a motor-cycling transvestite boxer" called Auntie Jack. Sound bites included. And Nero Wolfe is still cancelled.

  • The second installment of The Lord of the Rings gets lost in the translation. Check out these screen caps of an Asian version of LOTR:TT, with hilarious English subtitles.

  • An intriguing DVD. Looks to be made of short videos from the "world of 'demos,' originating from the European computer underground and created by talented programmers, artists and musicians."

  • An intriguing web site. Made up of clever and funny Flash animations. Mostly I hate Flash - it wastes ungodly bandwidth for no reason, but this site makes me wish I had broadband and some free time.

  • A couple of timely Columbia links. This forum thread was started by some folks who were watching the Columbia re-entry as it happened. They start to realize what was happening at about post number 20. And Washington Monthly unearthed this article from 1980 by Gregg Easterbrook (also Tuesday Morning QB at regarding the riskiness of the shuttles. Very eerie links.

  • One of the most fascinating articles I've read in a long time on sleep disorders at the NYT. Set aside some time.

  • Dave Barry has a weblog, and I am not making that up.

  • I have a new favorite word.

Monday, February 03, 2003

More on the Update: The first thing that you will notice is the colors. They are not random, they are, in fact, a reversion to colors that I used in the pre-blogger days. Long time readers will remember them. I like the blue; I'm not sure how I feel about the green anymore - it may change to white.

Things seem to render reasonably well in the latest versions of Internet Explorer, Netscape/Mozilla, and Opera. I can’t say how it looks in that new browser, Safari, which comes with the latest Macs, since I am Mac-less. I think it looks best in Internet Explorer, since the margin settings are more even, but that's fairly trivial.

The other thing you need to be aware of is fonts. Except for the title, the font used throughout the rest of the page is Trebuchet MS. If you use Windows, you probably have this - I think it installs with Windows. If not, you can get it here. If you don’t have Trebuchet MS, it should appear in plain old Arial, which I'm pretty sure everybody has. I think Trebuchet MS is a little more readable than Arial, but that's mere opinion.

The font for the title is Calisto MT (you can get it here if you don’t have it). If you don’t have Calisto MT, it will use Garamond. If you don’t have Garamond, it will use Georgia. If you don’t have Georgia, it will use Times New Roman. Again, not really a big deal.

The other thing about fonts is the size. I have made just about everything larger than before. This is to enhance readability. As I surfed around looking at other sites, one thing that struck me was how so many bloggers use small fonts, presumably in an effort to decrease the amount of scrolling needed. I got sick of squinting and vowed that I would increase the size of my fonts, scrolling or no. So there.

Also note that each post will have a tiny "permanent link" in the footer. If you wish to link up a specific post, rather than the page itself, just right click and "copy shortcut" (or whatever the non-IE equivalent is). This will always link to that post directly. This is not really new, it was available previously by click on the time posted, but now it's a bit more explicit.

There are even greater changes beneath the surface (and you can skip this paragraph if you have no interest in the technicalities of web page design). There are no TABLES used for formatting and no use of the FONT or BR tags. Everything is handled via Cascading Style Sheets. Conceptually, this implies the separation of structure and content, which in turn implies easier tweaks and updates. In the case of this site, that doesn’t mean much since everything is on a single page, but in the case of a large multi-page site it becomes hugely important. Even though it is not all that important to me, it's a good technology to understanding - so in a way, this was all spurred merely out of intellectual curiosity. (Who says I have too much time on my hands?) Once I get the design settled I'll post a blogger template that others can use an build on. In fact, sharp-eyed web monkeys may realize that this page is based on css/edge by CSS uber-guru Eric Meyer, which I started with and began hacking away at until I got here.

Which leads me to what there is left to change, and this is as much an exercise in reminding myself, as informing you. Some of this may be done by the time you read this. 1) The green background needs to go white (or at least very, very, very light green). That will make things more readable. 2) The section headings in the sidebar need more emphasis maybe some sort of underlining, maybe less spacing between the letters too. 3) The Date in the main portion looks silly and is spaced poorly, and maybe it should be in green. 4) The archive links needn't be spaced so far apart. I like the highlighting of links when you hover over them, but the text should not go black. 5) Many sidebar links don’t have tool tips. 6) The leader of the each post is green. It may look better in maroon.

Any other changes will come from your suggestions - don’t hold back, I can take it.

And then, it's back to the usual content.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Testing 1-2-3: Your eyes are not deceiving you. I'll have a lot more to say about why things are like they are soon. For now, it appears to be functional and that's about all I'm asking for. Needs teaks. Definitely needs tweaks. And your comments are welcome.

A further test. Here's a quotation.

This should be block indented and observably smaller. If it's not, that means I mangled something royally. If it is, that'll be a miracle. So, is it? Let's see...

Now here's what a link will look like. Nifty highlight, eh?

Back with more soon.