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November 2006
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January 2007

why me, lord

I’m busy, you guys!

OK, I’ve been meme-ed. Here are the Rules: Each player of this game starts with the six weird things about you. People who get tagged need to write a blog of their own 6 weird things as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose 6 people to be tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave a comment that says you are tagged in their comments and tell them to read your blog. (I have no clear idea of what this all means, so I’m going to do the following: list six weird things about myself, and then go make a comment on Divinity’s blog, since she’s the one who tagged me. Then I’m going back to work, honest … I wasted 40 minutes stealing borrowing downloading a House episode and another 40 watching it, I’m getting behind.)

Six weird things about me:

1) I don’t have six weird things about me. Hey, I’m not done yet … that’s not the weird thing. The weird thing is that I feel inadequate because I’m so ordinary.

2) I lie when I fill out stuff like this, but pretend that I’m not lying, so people will think about me in the ways I wish they would think about me. Except I don’t really lie, I tell the truth and then admit to lying, hoping to further obscure my real intentions. I am, in fact, so weird, I usually lose track myself of what I’m pretending to do, and so can’t tell reality from fantasy.

3) When I am bored, I will sometimes go to the “Something Weird” section of the Comcast on Demand menu and watch something weird. I’m not actually sure this makes me weird … does anyone else out there fill 20 minutes watching old movie theatre filler about how good the cold soda and butter-flavored popcorn tastes? Let’s all go to the lobby …

4) I watch movies and TV shows where the characters say “fuck” a lot, and if someone complains about the frequency of the fucks, I say they are weenies, but inside, I’m thinking that in fact those movies and shows DO exaggerate and no one really cusses as much as the people on Six Feet Under. But I am practicing self-deception again, because in fact, I do say fuck a lot.

5) I think I’m smarter than everyone else. I pretend that I am not smarter than anyone else … but I really think I am smarter than everyone else. Which is Yet Another Case of Self-Deception, because I’m not even the smartest person in my house.

6) I lied in #1, I have way more than six weird things about me. Here’s one: the last thing I’m going to do is admit to anything truly weird about me, at least not here.

Six people to tag … damn, I don’t know six people. I can’t tag Divinity, she tagged me, I can’t tag her brother, she tagged him. OK, here goes:

Sue

Chris

Julie

I’m sorry, I can’t force a meme on anyone but family, so three is going to have to do.


interesting stats

Got to get all of this year-end stuff out of the way.

Google doesn’t seem to be picking up my blog of late, so maybe I won’t get any more of those kidney stone sufferers. Meanwhile, StatCounter tells me that the top three search strings (and four of the top five) that bring people to my blog are Wire-related.

But let’s get to the important part. Here is the last list from 2006 of people my visitors want to see naked:

Jennifer Connolly, Christina Hendricks, Tricia Helfer, Milton Berle (penis), Polly Walker, Kathy Franco (having sex), Charo, “two women” (making love), Henry Simmons (shirtless), Mimi Rogers, Meredith Baxter, Susan Sarandon (her tits), Adrienne Barbeau (hooters), Kristin Proctor (boobs), King Kong (gams), Peggy Lipton, Cindy Walden, Robin Weigert, Kelly Reilly, Leisha Hailey,  and “dishwashing naked babe.”

Other (non-nude) classic strings: “whatever happened to the singing nun,” “can you die from kidney stones,” “bobblehead pterodactyl abraham lincoln,” “rubio’s graphic english,” “fanta limon,” “never had reaction to scallops sudden swollen lips,” and “paolo maldini’s mother.”

Finally, I started checking this stuff in part because I changed the layout of the blog a bit after I got a widescreen monitor. The changes resulted in a few problems with pictures for people using monitor resolutions of under 1024x768. StatCounter gives me info about the techie aspects of my visitors. So I know that recently, almost 80% of my visitors use some form of WinXP, and that very few visitors use a non-Windows OS (just under 9% Mac, under 1% Linux, a little more than 3% unknown). About half of my visitors are using IE6 … about 1/8th are using IE7, although that might be too large an estimate, since that’s the browser I use and I’m the most frequent visitor. (Firefox 1.5 is the most popular Firefox version … all of them together constitute about 1/4th of my visitors.)

Oh yeah … fewer than 8% of my visitors have a resolution under 1024x768. Half are at that 1024x768. My own monitor is oddly shaped, even for widescreen … 1680x1050 … I guess I show up as “Unknown.”


the last moniz

Looks like the Moniz Portuguese Sausage company is no more. The old guy who owned the place is going into a well-earned retirement. There are rumors that he passed the linguica recipe on, although I’ll believe it when I see it, and his sausage-making plant has been bought by some guy who is supposed to make great salamis. Hey, I’ll eat pretty much any linguica, but I was raised on Moniz, so this is a sad day for the Rubios … our grandmother used to get Moniz delivered to her house (other people had milkmen, she had a linguica man).

I bought one last package at the Spanish Table, and this morning, Robin and I killed it off with the standard eggs and toast. I made sure to commemorate the event:

The last package:

Package

Grease in the pan:

Pan grease

It’s cooked!

Plate

The last ride:

Finished

Good eatin’:

Good eatin'


netflix

Oh, I almost forgot. I thought I’d get a head start on the 2007 Oscar Run, so I rejoined Netflix. I mention this because their Friends function looks to have more features than it used to, and now I want more friends (currently I have two, my sisters Sue and Chris (where did Julie go?) … according to Netflix, Sue has “75% similarity” to me while Chris is only 64%, which if you’ve seen Chris and I squabbling over stuff will come as no surprise). If you have Netflix and want another “friend,” you can … well, they give me code to paste, let’s see if it works:

http://www.netflix.com/BeMyFriend/PB1hE82uEXMs1p6u9c0c


two more for 2006

I don’t know if this will be my last post of 2006, but even if it is, I don’t have any big goodbyes or hellos … I’m afraid New Year’s isn’t a v.big holiday at our house. And I don’t have another Top Ten list … more like a Top Two. But before the year ended, I wanted to make special notice of two blogs, one I’ve mentioned before, one I don’t believe I have. These aren’t the first things I look for in the morning, but when they show up in my feed reader (I’ve switched to Google Reader, BTW), I’m always glad to see them. So a tip of the cap to the blogs of family and friends, that get me through the day and allow me to feel part of a community, and another tip to the obvious places I talk about all the time (yes, Tim Goodman and Baseball Prospectus, I mean you), but here are two blogs I recommend to others.

First, the one I’ve mentioned before. Google Operating System has the perfect name: tells you what it is about and coins a useful phrase at the same time (OK, I don’t actually know who coined the phrase, but in my mind, it is associated with this blog now.) On this blog you will find everything you want to know about Google, often before your friends hear about it, written by someone who loves Google but isn’t afraid to be contrary (on occasion … his love for Google transcends his contrariness most of the time). Ionut Alex. Chitu (the name on the blog) tips you off to all things Google, daydreams about future Google apps, offers tips on existing Google apps, and even talks about the competition once in awhile. He’s pro-Google enough that some folks think he’s a Google employee, but they aren’t reading closely enough.

Meanwhile, if you are looking for something more arty and less techie, try another blog with a fine name, this one taken from Charles Mingus, I believe: If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats. This one is a lot harder to describe than the Google Operating System. It consists mostly of pictures, and the categories are seemingly endless and fascinating, running as series. Today there are several “Musical Indulgences” that include links to video and audio to several British artists (Billy Bragg, Sandie Shaw, John Peel). Another good category is “Seminal Images,” which range from the most famous still from the 1903 film The Great Train Robbery (Seminal Image #1) to a still from the 1956 Le Coup du berger (Seminal Image #581, and they are still counting). There’s the Cool Hall of Fame (56 entries so far), They Were Collaborators (252 and counting), When Legends Gather (192) … these all make more sense once you see a few of them. I don’t want to give the impression this blog is more homework than enjoyment … it’s as easy to check out as a page of comics. But it is invariably interesting, and often reminds you of several things you haven’t considered of late. If you stop by, be sure to check out more than just the first few entries, since they will often post several related items in a row, and if the particular topic doesn’t much interest you, you might think the whole blog is boring. (Today they did a LOT of British music entries, for instance.)

So there you have it … two blogs far more interesting than the one you are reading right now. Check them out. Get yourself a feed reader of some kind if you don’t already use one. And wish me luck as my procrastinating ass tries to finish that House essay by Tuesday.


what the dormouse said

I just finished reading What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry by John Markoff (appropriately enough, I read it on my Treo … in 2006, we have phones with far more computing power than the earliest personal computers had). I’ve long felt, without much evidence beyond thinking that Stewart Brand seemed to cross both worlds, that computers were the psychedelics of their day, with their ability to offer users new worlds to experience. While I came early to personal computers relative to most people, I was a latecomer compared to the true pioneers … we got our first home computer in 1983 or thereabouts, while Markoff’s book ends in 1975.

I know I was fascinated by the first computers I saw. There were three, to be exact. Robin’s cousin Charol had a Xerox … I think it was a Star, although I’m not sure … we visited her in the summer of 1982, and I was so jealous. There was a trip to L.A., also in 1982 … a friend of Robin’s was getting married, we went down for the wedding, and at a party, somebody had a TRS-80 hooked up to The Source, the first time I saw anyone go “online.” (It also played the original Adventure game, as I recall.) Finally, friends of ours had an Apple II … I don’t remember when they got it, but they had theirs before we got our first machine. Then we got our VIC-20, and the rest was history.

In those VIC days, I could stay up all night just playing with the machine. I was never a proficient programmer, although I got so I could debug BASIC programs that messed up, and I got paid $1500 or so for a therapy program I wrote for a magazine. At first, though, writing little programs was pretty much all there was to do. You’d get something like Wumpus, change it a bit to make it “yours,” and that was that. Once we graduated to the Commodore 64 and were introduced to the world of pirated software, we had hundreds, even thousands, of programs to run, and it became less necessary to write our own. And in fact I haven’t written a computer program in more than 20 years, and wouldn’t know where to start if I wanted to write one now. Why bother, when someone else has already done it better than I ever could?

Anyway … I loved my computers from the very start, the way I could just climb inside them (figuratively speaking, of course), lose myself in the machine. Even at the beginning, I was charmed by the way the computer thought “just like me.” It opened up whole new worlds … that’s partly what I mean when I say that computers were the psychedelics of their time. Sometimes, when I’m using Quickpedia on my Treo to look up some obscure fact, and I get lost following hyperlinks, my brain can’t believe how lucky it is to live when it does.

None of this is exactly a review of Markoff’s book. But his book inspired my reveries. Knowing that the earliest computer geeks were also acid heads makes me feel good. I also like reading about people who are thinking of stuff that doesn’t yet exist. The cliche is that we get so used to things that we forget they aren’t natural but were made up somewhere along the line. Most of the things I am doing right now to compose this blog post feels “natural,” but there was a time when someone had to think it up … had to decide that computers should be for something more than just number crunching, and then taking that vision and doing something with it, so that now we have keyboards and mice and function keys and monitors and modems … somebody had to think of these things before they existed. At one point in the book, two guys are trying to put together a newsletter using the old-fashioned method of cutting-and-pasting collages of text and graphics onto paper, then mimeographing the results. One of them thinks aloud that what is needed is a computer and a monitor where you can do all the cutting and pasting on the screen, and then print from there. The other guy agrees, thinks it’s a remarkable idea, but then asks how it can be done. And the first guy has to admit, he has no idea … but it sure seems worth pursuing. Nowadays, we barely even need PageMaker any longer … we just post our stuff on blogs … but it’s cool to imagine a time, not that long ago, when someone first thought it would be easier to do it on a computer with a monitor.

I posted this link before, but it’s worth a second look. One of the heroes of Markoff’s book is Doug Engelbart, and one of the peak moments of personal computer history comes in 1968 when Engelbart and his cohorts do a presentation of some things they’d been working on. You could say the personal computer was invented right then and there, as Engelbart uses a mouse and a keyboard to manipulate words and images, while networked to another computer in another place entirely. It all looks so tame now, but Markoff is able to put us back in the moment and understand how monumental Engelbart’s presentation was. The entire thing is online as a series of videos, which can be found here.

One other thing. I tried to imagine a similar book set in an English department. Markoff’s book takes place mostly at Stanfurd and the surrounding area, and it makes the science departments seem important … from them come things like personal computers. And I wondered what an English department offered that was also important in a world-changing way. The best I could come up with, based on my time as a graduate student at Cal, was the introduction of New Historicism to the world of literary criticism. This was influential on English departments, which means it was influential on high-school English teachers who learned about literature from professors influenced by New Historicism, and thus it was influential on the kids in those high school classes, and it’s possible the mainstream consumer of popular culture has a bit of New Historicism in the way they look at the world around them. I don’t know, it seems pretty unimportant next to the introduction of personal computing into the world. Getting a home computer was one of the defining moments in my life, and other defining moments are also computer-related … I’d say the move online (which began soon after we got a computer in our case) and the move to broadband would count … whereas, for all the pleasure and learning I got and continue to get from academia, I can’t think of a single moment that I would call “defining” in that same way. Fulfilling, educational … I’m not trying to diss education here. But sometimes I feel like the short version of my life would be Was Born, Met Robin, Got Married, Had Kids, Got Computer. The computer is the biggest drug in my life, and reading Markoff’s book was a lot like reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. (Kesey shows up a few times in Markoff’s book … at one point, he gets a tour of the labs where the computing future is being built, and he says “it’s the next thing after acid.”)


friday random ten, 2006 end-of edition

I toss the word “random” around a bit frivolously here … while the weekly top tens are usually a bit random, I also usually set up some parameters in advance. Today, there is nothing random at all going on … these are my top ten lists for 2006.

They will have very little to do with my stated opinions. As I have noted on many occasions, the prevalence of shuffle play in my listening routine, and the presence of so much software that tracks my listening habits, means that what I want to pretend are my favorites get overwhelmed by the reality of what I actually listen to.

And so most of what follows are various versions of Play Counts. This is what Steven has been listening to of late. In most (all?) cases, the various methods of counting do not extend all the way back to January 1, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

According to Windows Media Player 11, here are the Top Ten Tracks I’ve Played:

1. Van Morrison, “Into the Mystic”

2. Fleetwood Mac, “Oh Daddy”

3. Tie: The Beatles, “Michelle,” Bob Dylan, “Thunder on the Mountain,” Brenda Holloway, “Every Little Bit Hurts,” Jefferson Airplane, “Embryonic Journey”

7. Tie among 15 songs

A pitifully old-school baby boomer list, and a good example of what counting software does to one’s reputation. Of the six songs listed above, I am proud to listen to four. I don’t have the slightest idea why “Michelle,” one of the lamest of all Beatle songs, is on the list. But numbers don’t lie.

Well, they don’t lie, but they keep track of different things. Some software, I’ve only recently added … other software only works at certain times. Hence, the Last.fm Top Ten list isn’t quite the same as the WMP11 list (Last.fm compiles those lists of the last ten songs I’ve listened to, that appear in the upper-right hand corner of the blog):

1. Van Morrison, “Into the Mystic”

2. Nick Drake, “Pink Moon”

3. Van Morrison, “Astral Weeks”

4. Tie: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Helpless,” Rolling Stones, “Ruby Tuesday”

6. Tie among 9 songs

This list makes more sense to me … every song from the 60s or early 70s.

Actual 2006 albums I own … I guess this is kinda like my Top Eight Albums of 2006, in alphabetical order by artist:

Kimya Dawson, Remember That I Love You

Bob Dylan, Modern Times

E-40, My Ghetto Report Card

Ghostface Killah, Fishscale

Pink, I’m Not Dead

Josh Ritter, The Animal Years

Todd Snider, The Devil You Know

Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

Top Three 2006 Tracks according to how many times I played them:

1. Bob Dylan, “Thunder on the Mountain”

2. Tie: Pink, “Conversations With My 13 Year Old Self,” Kimya Dawson, “Better Weather”

Top Ten Albums according to how many times I played tracks from those albums, according to Last.fm:

1. The Yardbirds, Ultimate!

2. The Beatles, The Beatles (white album)

3. The Beatles, Let It Be

4. The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour

5. Joni Mitchell, Ladies of the Canyon

6. Van Morrison, Moondance

7. The Arcade Fire, Funeral

8. Bruce Springsteen, Devils & Dust

9. Tie: Judy Collins, Colors of the Day, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Blues Kingpins

Arcade Fire should get an award for poking their head into the Boomer Room.

And there you have it … call this The Embarrassing List of Music an Aging Boomer Listens To, which is not the list I’d wish upon myself … hence, “embarrassing.”


more zito

Keith Law chimes in on the ESPN Insider website (costs $$$):

[F]rom the club's perspective, this is one of the worst contracts ever signed, for its length, for its annual salary, and for the entire misguided notion that Zito is this good a pitcher. He's been the beneficiary of a favorable ballpark with lots of foul territory, a favorable schedule, great bullpen support and outstanding outfield defense -- and he's not going to receive either the defense or the relief help in San Francisco.

The contract boggles the mind for a number of reasons:

• Why would anyone give seven or more years to a starting pitcher? Because Kevin Brown and Mike Hampton worked out so well?

• Why would anyone give such a long contract to a pitcher whose fastball has already shown signs of deterioration, and who just posted the second-worst strikeout rate of his career?

• How did Barry Zito, who led the AL in walks last year, end up with the reputation of one of the best pitchers in baseball? Because he won a Cy Young five years ago -- one that probably should have gone to Pedro Martinez?