Happy New Year

Last blog post of this year. May 2004 be better than 2003 (and 2002 and 2001…). I’m not making it all the way to midnight tonight. The calendar will have to turn without me.

Less of Me

I created a new category in the blog, and from now on I’ll be taking the lead from people like Bruce and posting about my fitness. Looking at the XMas photos after the fact, I’m so heavy in them that it makes me sick. I’m about to outgrow my size 38 pants, and I have told myself that is the limit. No way am I going up to 40, so I need to lighten up or else never fit in my clothes again.

I haven’t weighed myself in the last month or two, but I was in the mid 230’s last time I did. When I moved from Portland to Atlanta in 2000 I was at around 215. The best shape of my adult life was when I was in college, when I was down around 165-170 and muscular. Since then, I’ve been creeping up ever since. During grad school, I was over 200 but through lots of working out and diet got down to around 190. Now it is time to once again get on the stick.

I still have some sweets and cookies that we carried back from the holidays. I’m going to eat those with abandon, and when they are gone that’s it. One way or another, I’m going to start eating better and excercising more. I’m in such poor shape that I’m huffing and puffing after doing the most minor exertions. I’ll look around at my gym options, and at the very least begin doing some stuff in the house with the rubber band excercise set that I’ve never really used. I’m going to set a goal of losing 5 pounds a month between January 1 and June 1. Once I get that far, I’ll reevaluate and see where I stand. I should post my progress (or lack thereof) here at least weekly. Feel free to leave feedback, encouragement or brickbats. Wish me luck or even better, discipline and hard work.

Back in Town

In a fun but grueling holiday tour, we went from Chicago to North Carolina, then to Georgia and back in 8 days. After having been through this trip, which involved around 35 hours of cross country driving, I definitely have a few more things to say about the state of commercial radio. I’ll save those for when I’m coherent and rested. I think I’ll be sleeping for New Year’s Eve.

Free High Speed Internet

These four words have become our differentiators on hotel stays. All things being equal, we look for the ones with free internet. I’m suspecting that all new hotels from here on out will either have ethernet ports wired in or have complete wireless coverage in all rooms, and that older ones will be retrofit. We might never use our free PeoplePC dialup account again. Now that Days Inns and Sleep Inns and other lower midlevel chains have it, that’s what we look for. All we want is a decent, clean room with free internet connections in a place that takes dogs. Do that, and we are yours.

Knightriders

My brother got me a great gift for XMas this year, the DVD of the George Romero movie Knightriders. This movie is not a great film, but it is my favorite movie of all time. Years ago, my father and I started watching this movie on HBO after midnight services on XMas eve, not knowing that it was over 2 hours long. Staying up with my dad until 3 AM watching this movie of redemption and of finding ones place in this world is one of my warmest holiday memories. As much as anything, that experience is why I love this movie so much. Plus, it’s got dudes on motorcycles jousting!

The DVD edition has lots of extras, which I can barely wait to dive into. There is a director’s commentary, actor’s commentary, home movies shot during the filming and other stuff. I’m glad of all that. This really is a special and sweet film. The badass biker shenanigans serve to dress up a very moral and touching tale. This is a fine XMas present for me, not expensive but something great for me.

Update: Here is a link to a review of the DVD. I forgot to mention in my original post that I once met Tom Savini at an SF convention. I told him this movie is my favorite, and he was a complete dick about it, replying coldly “Well, I’ve made a lot of movies since then.” Well, fuck off dude. I’m very sorry that your role as Sex Machine in From Dusk Till Dawn did not affect me as much as this movie. We’ll all get over it.

Digital Camera

After a disinformation campaign that led me to believe I wouldn’t be getting one, my wife did get me the digital camera for XMas. I’m in the post-holiday playing with it phase but I am really enjoying this thing. It’s a Kodak EasyShare CX4310, a great starter digital camera. It was not expensive but has 3.2 MP, all of the basic features and thus far seems to work perfectly. We’ve synced it to two different Macs using iPhoto and the process was completely transparent. There was no installation of software, no setup, just plugging the cable and hitting “Import”. I really like that. We’re going to try the experiment of printing a photo at a kiosk from the memory card. All in all, it just makes me want to snap photos all day.

Merry XMas

Merry XMas for those that celebrate it, happy holidays to them what don’t, peace and goodwill to all of us everywhere! Let’s hope for a better year next year, and a better world starting now.

XMas Wrapping

I normally don’t have much empathy for the harried soccer mom protagonists of Connie Willis XMas stories. I always wonder “If all this stuff is such a burden, why don’t they just not do some of it?” Yesterday I had one of those, though. Errands all through Chicagoland, picking up presents, running the dog to the groomer to be prettified, etc. This included my first ever trip down to Devon Street. We never did go to the Indian section to eat, but I had an errand down near there. It seemed a lot like Tijuana, actually. The buildings seemed in about the same level of repair and had about the same garishness of sign.

If all the last minute XMas shenanigans weren’t enough, my Handspring Prism picked this morning to crap out on me! I was planning on using that for reading material in the car as we ride around. Oh well. It is really flaking, and I’m pretty sure it is physical inside the device. Pressing certain parts of the case made it throw a fatal exception. This doesn’t look good. I’ll have to backtrack to paper books for the holidays. Yowza!

Diebold Monkeyshines in California

In every county that used Diebold voting machines in the most recent California election, there were unqualified machines collecting votes.

Marc Carrel, assistant secretary of state for policy and planning, said he was “disgusted” by the situation and worried that it could call into question any close races that might have occurred in three counties that used federally unqualified software.

“The vendor may not understand that we run elections in the state. We set the standards for certification … and that’s our role. Ignoring that role is serious. And I’m frustrated … that we’re not going further today,” he said. “There certainly needs to be something done to this vendor.”

In another story, there are five convicted felons in management positions at a Diebold subsidiary that creates touch-screen voting systems.

In yet another story at Abusable Technologies is a post about Maryland’s third party audit on Electronic Voting Security.

To quote the SAIC report, “[t]he system, as implemented in policy, procedure, and technology, is at high risk of compromise.” Despite the problems identified in the Hopkins/Rice and SAIC reports, Maryland is still planning to proceed with the 55.6 million dollar purchase of Diebold AccuVote-TS voting terminals.

Bird Feeders

If I couldn’t tell in a thousand other ways that I’m getting older, here’s a telltale sign – I have grown fascinated with bird watching. We have a bird feeder that I tried a few abortive ways of setting up. The pole in the ground kept getting knocked over by squirrels, and the dangling via twine didn’t work because the squirrels chewed through it. Now it is hanging via metal wire, and from a tree that makes it harder (but not impossible) for the squirrels to get to it. I’ve seen a few attempts that consist of a long jump, a paw on the bird feeder, a scatter of seeds and a squirrel hitting the ground ass over tea kettle. I don’t mind the squirrels eating their share, just not hogging it all. Really, the birds are sloppy enough that they knock plenty on the ground anyway.

I don’t know that much about birds, other than I really like these beautiful red cardinals that are now hanging out in the backyard. At the point where I buy a book to identify these birds, then I guess I’ll offficially become a budding old man. I don’t plan on hiking to them, though. I’m happy sitting here in my home office, with a desk placed strategically so that I’m looking right at them all day.

I Have a Bad Review!

Tonight at dinner my wife casually mentioned this bad review she had seen for my ebook of interviews, thinking I knew about it. I didn’t. To be honest, I had no idea it had ever been reviewed for good or ill. I googled it and turned it up here, written by Deborah Fisher. I don’t agree with it of course because, like, no one agrees with reviews that tell them that they suck (or they shouldn’t if they do). This person really really doesn’t like my book, and uses very loaded language all throughout. For example – “Each interview is preceded by a potted biography, by Slusher, of its subject.” What is a potted biography? They aren’t actually biographies at all, they are mostly little anecdotes about my end of the interview and background of why I care about this author.

This person seems to have reviewed my book based on weird generalizations from reading my introductions. For example, here’s a portion of the review:

According to him, the interview with Michael Swanwick is the first that was conducted with one eye on a future book. This makes it all the more remarkable that he admits to knowing nothing about Swanwick beyond the content of the interview.

Here is my passage from the book that is being referred to:

Beyond this interview, I don’t know much of Michael Swanwick’s personal life. I know his writing well, having enjoyed his novels and his brilliant run of short work that continues to this writing.

The reviewer is misreading what I wrote pretty badly. I said I knew much about his writing but not of him as a person and she took it to mean I am ignorant of all things Swanwick. That’s pretty typical of the stuff in the review. This whole thing is fascinating. I know all kinds of writers who are subject to having their words twisted, their motives questioned and such. This is the first (and only as far as I know) time it has happened to me. It does sting, and the next time I’ll have much more empathy for their feelings. I suspect that she read the book, didn’t like it and now everything in the book is justification for not liking it. Oh well, I’m a big boy and can take it. To quote Paulie Walnuts from The Sopranos – “Welcome to the NFL.”

XMas Cards

We’re trying to get all the XMas cards done today, since if they don’t go out this afternoon they won’t get there until after the day. It’s been kind of a challenge for me, since most of my friends are as mobile as we are and tend to have moved from year to year. That’s the most utilitarian part of the ritual – keeping everyone up to date with our (frequently changed) address, and keeping our records up to date. Every single year for the last 15 I think to myself “I’ll do the cards Thanksgiving weekend, then I’ll be done in plenty of time” and every year, we are sending them out on the 19th and 20th and 23rd. Procrastination cuts deep. One way or another, they’ll be done today either by being done or by us just stopping.

Bush Tax

Here is some highly sensible memecrafting from the Howard Dean campaign. They have created BushTax.com with information about how the tax cuts for the wealthy cost all of us more money than the piddling $600 checks we were cut. They recraft this as the “Bush Tax”, which they describe as:

Rather than take responsibility for our common future, Bush has shifted costs to states and communities , who then pass them on to you. That’s the Bush Tax.

Across the country, people are seeing their property taxes skyrocket . That’s the Bush Tax.

State college tuition at 4-year schools has increased this year by an average of $579 nationwide . That’s the Bush Tax.

States and local government have cut vital services. That’s the Bush Tax.

We’re all having to pay more for less . That’s the Bush Tax.

Right on! I’m glad to see them tackling this issue head on. I really think the Dean campaign is doing a lot right, and 11 months before the election are organized, energized and getting it done.

Link via Kathryn Cramer.

Kid Fears

Via this post on the Paul Melancon weblog is a link to an MP3 of a live version of the Indigo Girls doing “Kid Fears” with Paul singing the Michael Stipe part. In the surrounding post, you can read Paul full of self-doubt. Dear lord I hurt for this boy. He’s so good, he recorded my favorite album of 2002 and yet he always is on the edge of it falling apart. Do yourself, me and Paul a favor and buy his album Camera Obscura. My money back guarantee remains in effect. If you buy it and don’t love this album, I will buy it back from you. Seriously. It’s that good and I’m that confident.

OS Con 2004

I think that I’m going to look into attending Open Source Con 2004. It will be July 26-30, 2004 in Portland Oregon. I used to live there and have friends there, and I would like to hang out and geek out and really enjoy myself. On top of the interesting sounding program items you can see on the webpage above, there’s room for a lot of good times there. Staying at the Marriott downtown, going out with friends to Todai sushi, walking across the Morrison Street bridge to get macaroni at Montage in the wee hours, going over to Powells Technical Bookstore. I would be able to experience for myself the joy of Voodoo Doughnuts! The store opened after I left, so I have never felt the voodoo. Man, it sounds like a good time! I need to start budgeting accordingly.

A Decade Under the Influence

Last night, without even really trying to, I got sucked into the documentary A Decade Under The Influence. I meant only to watch a little of part one, and I ended up sitting right through all 3 hours of it. I found it fascinating. This remains my favorite period of American cinema, although really the 70’s as they relate to film really start for me around 1966 and end around 1977. The stuff I think of as “70’s New Hollywood Cinema” was pretty much over before the decade ended, with a little bit of flare up here and there after that time, like Raging Bull and Apocolypse Now. A few years back I read the Peter Biskind book on a similar topic, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and enjoyed it greatly.

I think the documentary is well worth watching on IFC or renting the DVDs. One of the bits of trivia I learned was that director Paul Mazursky (An Unmarried Woman is my favorite of his) was the grandfather on “Once and Again” a few years back. I’m not sure I had ever seen him interviewed, and as soon as I saw him I thought “Wasn’t that guy Phil Brooks?” My only real complaint with the documentary, other than the typical “Why wasn’t X in it?” which they run a disclaimer about was that there was way too much Julie Christie. She’s a good actress and all, but a lot of her opinions on movements and filmmaking and such seemed a little half-baked and there was no subject they didn’t show her weighing in on. I’d have rather heard more from Friedkin and Lumet and Hopper and Scorcese, and less from her.

I’d also have liked it if they had included someone that I think was wildly influential, but just not normally thought of in this circle – John Waters. I think the deal is that while all these guys pat themselves on the back as the “bad boys of cinema” for pushing the envelope in the studio system, Waters didn’t even attempt to play the studio game and seems to have that counted against him. For whatever reason, he never seems to be included in the club and I wager he couldn’t care less.

As a disclaimer of my own, I link to the DUTI website above, but I don’t think too much of it. It’s all flash, and if you attempt to hit the unqualified URL (the same URL they flash in the documentary) you get a “Virtual directory cannot be listed” error. They didn’t even put in a default page for god sake! Plus, it is all flash. Knowing the domain, I had to go to Google just to find an entrance into the damn website. I suspect that’s why the discussion board has so few posts, because it is a very large effort just to get to the site even when you see the link on TV. Very bad, someone should spank the web guys for this.

More on Full RSS Feeds

Here’s an example where the clipped RSS feed really reduces my usability. I use FeedOnFeeds, and the below is a recent entry I have in it for the OK/Cancel weblog/comic strip.

Comic: Weird Science OK/Cancel
on Comic at December 12, 2003, 6:20 am (cached at December 12, 2003, 9:05 am) flag this item

There is no reason why this can’t have the actual comic strip in it. I subscribe to a number of comic strips via their RSS feeds at Tapestry. All OK/Cancel has to do is add in the image tag for that strip, and it will automatically show up in people’s aggregators – even offline ones. I really wish they had the full feed in their weblog posts, and then the actual comics in the feed. That would radically increase the usefulness of the OK/Cancel RSS for me.

Monsanto Goes Insane

Here’s a story that I really don’t understand. Monsanto, which makes the hormones frequently given to milk cows, is suing a Maine dairy for labeling their milk “hormone free”.

The label, used by Oakhurst Dairy in Portland, states: “Our farmers’ pledge: no artificial growth hormones.” Monsanto sued Oakhurst in July, saying its label implies the dairy’s milk is somehow better than milk from cows treated with recombinant bovine somatotropin , or rBST, a hormone sold by the company under the brand name Posilac. About 17 percent of dairy farmers use rBST, injecting 32 percent of all cows in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Call me stupid, but I don’t see how labeling milk “hormone free” when it is from cows who were given no hormones is actionable. Monsanto isn’t arguing the truth of the claim, just that this implies their hormones are bad. The article says the dairy might settle. I’m no lawyer, but it seems like they might have stood a good chance of prevailing. This strikes me as petulant on Monsanto’s part. They sell their hormones to a lot of dairies in the country, and they want to even prohibit the ones that don’t use hormones from using that as a differentiator. That doesn’t seem right to me. Are they going to sue farmers that label produce “pesticide free” as well?

Alex Ross

Until I read this article in Gaper’s Block, I had not realized that comic artist extraordinaire Alex Ross lived in Wilmette. We live on the Evanston/Wilmette border and I had no idea that any big-wig comics pros were in the area. For all I know, I have stood behind him in the line at Jewel Osco. I’m not exactly sure why I care, but it just strikes me as cool.

US Jobs

First, a CNET commentary about IT jobs going offshore entitled “Where did my IT job go?” Next, comes a post from Jeremy Zawodny wondering why CFO jobs aren’t outsourced to India and China? It’s a mostly clerical position. If you can save 70% of the price of a $80K programmer and think that’s just great, how about saving 70 or 80% of of a $700K or $2M CFO? If the labor pool over there is so fucking great, let’s do it! CEO’s, ship your CFO jobs to India! Let’s get a short-term gain in shareholder value and pop champagne! It will be just like when you fire the rank and file, except firing this one guy is like 15 of us! How efficient for everyone.