Friday, December 30, 2005

Spacing Late at Night

So, I'm reading this great book that KK gave me, Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, when I come across this great line:
A manned mission to Mars, called for by the first President Bush in a moment of passing giddiness, was quietly dropped when someone worked out that it would cost $450 billion and probably result in the deaths of all the crew . . .
Love the snark, especially when directed at the Bushies. But I was a little saddened, nonetheless. And then I read:
Based on what we know now and can reasonably imagine, there is absolutely no prospect that any human being will ever visit the edge of our own solar system -- ever. It is just too far.
That shit makes me want to cry. As I do nearly every time that I look up at the full moon, and think about when I was 8-going-on-9, and people were first landing on the moon, and I thought, Sure! I'll have a job up there someday!

Sometimes, you just gotta keep the faith. My faith is: we either learn how to get there, or we die.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Graham's a Cracker --or--Hope for Peeps Like Me

Here's one for my quotes page:
Good procrastination is avoiding errands to do real work.
--Paul Graham
Read from this guy's site. And marvel.

He's the Man, Joo!

From Farhad Manjoo's post in today's's War Room, commenting on the recent Washington Post "story" that ". . . in the new year, Americans should look for the Bush Administration to be honest, trustworthy, pragmatic, and, most of all, interested in what its critics have to say . . . " :
We've got a guess for why the public has not wholeheartedly embraced the new Bush: because Americans realize that once again, the White House is only tinkering with the way it presents its policies, not with the actual policies themselves. They've changed the packaging, slapped on a spiffy new label -- "Now 50 percent humbler!" -- but the product's still stale and unappetizing, and the price is far too high.

We're not just making this up; one Bush aide all but admits to the Post that Bush's new strategy is mostly just rhetorical. Likening the national debate on what to do in Iraq to "fighting with a spouse," the aide says that Bush's new plan is to "give voice to their concern. That doesn't necessarily solve the division and the difference, but it drains the disagreement of some of its animosity if you feel you've been heard."

There you have it, then. In the new year, the president would like to make you feel like you're being heard. But don't assume he's actually listening. He's not.

My manjoo also characterizes your president as ". . . George W. Bush, he of small words and big smirk . . ."

Bring it, baby. We in the choir are singing!

And the reason you haven't yet subscribed to Salon is . . . ?

Happy Almost New Year

So, I just finished an interesting wrestling match with my computer.

When I tried to launch Windows Help today, via Start > Help, it wouldn't work, saying it was "missing the file HH.EXE or one of its components". I have been cleaning up stuff for the last couple of weeks, but I put virtually everything in the Recycle Bin, and I also can't imagine how I could have mistakenly deleted a Windows system file. Well, in any case, hh.exe was nowhere on the system, nor was it in the recycle bin. After trying some things with .CAB files (basically, archives of Windows system files), I managed to extract a copy of hh.exe and some other likely-looking files. This produced different error messages, but I still couldn't get help going.

With heavy heart, I went to Microsoft's web site, and lo and behold, there were some pages talking about my exact problem and my exact error messages. Trying the suggested fixes didn't work, but I found another page that had a download to update the Help system, and I installed that. Bingo.

The puzzle is, this download had to do with fixing a problem that updating Internet Explorer had caused other people. I updated IE about a year and a half ago, and have certainly used Windows help many times since then. And until today, it worked. Hmmm . . .

Well, it works again, so I'll not ask why. Nor will I ask why Internet Explorer is so tightly integrated into the system help facility, when MS has assured many judges that it is a standalone program.

After fixing the help problem, I ran a "scan for critical updates," also available on MS's web site. (They have evidently resurrected their support for Win98, after earlier saying that they no longer support it. Now they say they'll provide support through June 2006.) I was happy to learn that I had only 23 critical updates to perform! Looking at the details on some of them: "this update can causes the following issues . . .", I fled the site. I am convinced that if I just blast these updates onto my computer, it will break. Many of them have to do with Internet Explorer, which I use only to visit MS's site anyway.

Happy New Year!

Good News for the Good Guys

I'm on a mailing list for an organization known as ActForChange, which seems to be affiliated with Working Assets. Neither organization strikes me as without flaw, but I think they are at least pointed in the right direction.

ActForChange periodically sends me email asking me to sign a petition and/or write to some Republican tyrant government official, and sometimes I do, despite my dubiousness about the effectiveness of such actions. At any rate, ActForChange's Year in Review makes wildly exaggerated claims about their effect on some positive turns in 2005, but it gives me a small sense of hope to read a list of things that did get better this past year.

You can read their 2005 Year in Review here.

(The flag at the top of this post is from Richard Stallman's home page, together with this caption: "Graphic by Susan Henson. Other Americans, you may wish to copy this icon to your own page, as a way of showing what patriotism means to you.")

[Update 2006-03-23: Fixed links --bjk]

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Still Good Across The Pond

So, I sent an email to a guy in the UK, and evidently, that email address is no longer valid. Their automated response system sent back an email which said, in part:
This is the Postfix program at host [xxx].[xxx]

I'm sorry to have to inform you that your message could not be be delivered to one or more recipients. It's attached below.

For further assistance, please send mail to <postmaster>

If you do so, please include this problem report. You can delete your own text from the attached returned message.

The Postfix program
Sheesh, even their computers are more polite.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

McKibben Gets It So Right

Many have ranted about the hypocrisy that characterizes the loud-mouthed Christians who dominate so much of the political discussion in America today.

I am often among these ranters. While I do not consider myself a Christian for a variety of reasons, I used to, and it was the hypocrites who first pushed me away.

Few have devasted the thinking of the core supporters of the Bush Administration as well as Bill McKibben has, in his article "The Christian Paradox." You can, and should, read the entire article. McKibben is evidently a serious Christian, although he says he is "not a professional one."

Here are a couple of the money quotes to whet your appetite. The whole article is, in fact, a money quote.

... The apocalyptics may not be wrong. One could make a perfectly serious argument that the policies of Tom DeLay are in fact hastening the End Times. But there's nothing particularly Christian about this hastening. The creed of Tom DeLay -- of Tim LaHaye and his Left Behind books, of Pat Robertson's "The Antichrist is probably a Jew alive in Israel today" -- ripened out of the impossibly poetic imagery of the Book of Revelation. Imagine trying to build a theory of the Constitution by obsessively reading and rereading the Twenty-fifth Amendment, and you'll get an idea of what an odd approach this is. You might be able to spin elaborate fantasies about presidential succession, but you'd have a hard time working backwards to "We the People." ...
... A rich man came to Jesus one day and asked what he should do to get into heaven. Jesus did not say he should invest, spend, and let the benefits trickle down; he said sell what you have, give the money to the poor, and follow me. Few plainer words have been spoken. And yet, for some reason, the Christian Coalition of America -- founded in 1989 in order to "preserve, protect and defend the Judeo-Christian values that made this the greatest country in history" -- proclaimed last year that its top legislative priority would be "making permanent President Bush's 2001 federal tax cuts." ...
Thanks to MF for sending me a hard-copy reprint, and to Harper's for making the entire article available for free on line.

Windows Shortcut: Minimize All Windows [UPDATE]

A while back, I posted a note about a Windows keyboard shortcut for minimizing all currently open windows.

It turns out that there is a better way:

<Windows>-M -- to minimize all windows <Windows><Shift>-M -- to undo the minimize all
That is, press the <Windows> key and the <M> key together to minimize, and press the <Windows,> <Shift>, and <M> keys together to undo. (The <Windows> key is, of course, that key with the Windows logo on it, between the <ALT> and <CTRL> keys, on Windows-style keyboards.)

Friday, December 23, 2005

New Disposal Method

So far today, I've gotten four pieces of spam with the subject line:
What to do with such an earnest Christian wish?

I forwarded them to Bill O'Reilly.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Detached Point of View

(See UPDATE note at bottom.)

So, KK sends me an email saying, in part,
A friend of Dan's sent out the judge's opinion re The Dover School Board - he attached 135 PDF pages!
Like KK, I still cling to my dial-up account. Hey, it was good enough for the last millennium, right? Remember when there were two different kinds of 56K modems?

But anyway, as long as at least two people still don't have mad bandwidth, I propose the following.

You know how there's an option in (most) email programs to choose whether or not to send a particular addressee plain text or HTML? There should be a similar option: whether the addressee prefers to receive honking downloads or not. When one attempts to send an email with attachments of, say, greater than 1 MB, a confirmation box would pop up and say, "This addressee prefers not to get honkingly large emails. Are you sure you wouldn't really rather just send a link, or use something like"

I came across a while back, and thinking about KK's email, and that last paragraph, moved me to give it a test drive. Here's the report.

The idea here is that, instead of attaching, you upload your honkingly massive file to YouSendIt and then they send out an email to whomever you would have otherwise sent this behemoth as an attachment. The email that your friends get contains a link to where they can download the "attachment" at their leisure.

First impression: It works and it works nicely. This is a great idea. The interface is painless and intuitive, and no membership or sign-in is required. The file will stick around on their servers for seven days or a "limited number of downloads," they say. (Presumably, "limited" here means something more than 10). You can upload a file up to 1 GB in size. Also, YouSendIt says they scan for viruses on all uploads, and they claim to encrypt all transmissions. (I couldn't verify this -- I never saw an "https" or a lock icon, but, hey, you're probably not encrypting your email these days anyway.)

Best of all, it's free!

Well, that last line gives away part of the problem.

Since you don't have to pay anything to use their service, your recipients will get an email notifying them about the file that you uploaded, but the message is surrounded by border ads. The plain text message gets a little lost amidst the color ads. There's a chance that your friends will open it, glance at it, and trash it.

The second problem also has to do with spam-like presentation.

When you go to YouSendIt's site, you have the option of putting in your email address or not. If you do, then the "From" field gets filled with whatever you put in. In this case, there's a decent chance that your friend might look at the mail, if your email address is recognizable. (You'll also get a confirmation email from YouSendIt, giving you the link where your uploaded file lives.)

The subject line looks a little like spam, though. It says "YouSendIt Delivery Notification: [filename]." Since your file probably has an engaging name like pic2.jpg or A17x-3vw.pdf, that's not going to to help.

The problem gets worse if you don't put in your email address.

In this case, the "From" field gets filled with something like "YouSendIt Notification," and of course, the subject line is as before. To give an idea about how bad this is, the spam filter on my Yahoo! account tossed this puppy right into the spam folder.

Now, I guess that the best way to do it would be to upload your file, copy the link from the "upload complete" page, and then send email to your friends that your cute cat pix, weighty judicial decisions, what have you, are now available at this link. And this seems not at all unreasonable.

Ummm . . .

You're right. I've talked myself out of it, too. Good idea, bad end product. Break down and get a high-speed modem.

And then your friends can attach 100 GB video files when they send you email, and we'll be back here tomorrow.

[UPDATE 2009-08-27] NB: Changed all mentions of "YouSentIt" to "YouSendIt." Not sure if it was a typo (since I had the latter in a couple of places originally, too) or if there was another service with a similar name. In any case, YouSendIt looks like it does what I described above.

Follow Up To "A Day In The Life"

Okay, so it's hard for readers to get what good a follow-up is, when it appears first. Granted.

The posting titled "A Day In The Life," two down from here, talks about making the spell-checker work with my text editor. In that post, I promised to post some notes from the exercise, and I have put them up on my web site.

If you want to know how to make Ispell work with Emacs on a Windows 98 machine, then you can read the summary and/or the full write-up.

Do you want to read these? That's what I thought.


2007-05-12 13:31 EDT

Fixed broken links.

Good News From Dover

I got a great email from Clare yesterday. I'll just reproduce it here, as it speaks for itself.
Subject: "intelligent" design decision

I'm making my way through the text of the decision. It's terrific, so far. Basically, the School Board tried to argue that they were not promoting religion, but offering a critique of science (evolution) by offering another scientific view (intelligent design):

After searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID [Intelligent Design] arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism [either believe in God and creationism or believe in evolution and be an atheist] the doomed creation science [struck down by the courts in the 1980s]; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. ... It is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.

(Read the complete opinion in a PDF file)

Hurry! The enlightenment is coming!

Great phrase from the opinion: "illogical contrived dualism". I had always called them False Implied Binaries (FIBs).

Thanks, Clare. And thanks, Judge. I guess you're the new guy on Bill O'Reilly's Enemies List.

A Day in the Life

So, I'm wrestling with my antique version of Emacs yesterday. Actually, it would be better to call it my classic version. It's still my favorite program for text manipulation, from heavy-duty file cleaning with advanced macros, to quick and dirty first drafts.

The only complaint I have with my version is that, unlike every other incarnation of Emacs that I've used, the spell checker doesn't work. And cutting and pasting my work into another program just to check for typos has always been a low-level annoyance for me, but I have always put up with it.

Until yesterday, that is.

Since the dawn of dumb terminals and the first PCs, managerial types at companies have fretted about "fritter factor." Fritter factor is the amount of time burned tweaking your settings so that your desktop looks cleaner, your programs run better, what have you, when you should be doing something else.

As it happens, Emacs traditionally runs spell checking by launching an external program, and that program has traditionally been Ispell. Now, the gurus who hack on the Emacs program and its related helper programs have never been at all tolerant of products from Redmond. But there have been a few madmen kind souls out there who have built versions of Emacs that run on a PC, and others who have done the same for Ispell. These efforts seem to have peaked in the mid-1990s, when these few hardy souls got lives finished their graduate degrees went on to other things.

Anyway, I got it in my head yesterday morning that, by gum, I was going to get Ispell working with my version of Emacs on my PC. And sure enough, seven hours later, I did. Of course, I being me, I then frittered away another three hours writing up my notes from that experience. I'll post these notes as soon as I finish proofreading them. (For whom will these notes prove useful? Epitome of a rhetorical question.)

One funny thing that I came across while thrashing around: part of what I used to make Ispell work I found on this German guy's web site. Mixed in with all of the software downloads that he was offering were many blinking banners, advocating letting Jesus come into your life. That struck me as odd, because I don't think of the Germans as particularly prone to evangelism. (No Nazi flames, please.) But then I thought, well, they did have that one religious guy who was viewed as a radical in his time. You know, the guy who was named after a famous American civil rights leader.

Monday, December 19, 2005

With Apologies to The Jerk

I just ego-surfed (def. 2), and came up first!

Okay, so if you click on the link that I got back from Google, you get my blog inside another web page, called blogwidow or something, but still . . .

The new Google listings are here! The new Google listings are here! I'm finally somebody!

See what happens when you Google "bjkeefe", and then post a comment.

Fussily, We Hear You

A recent scan of the comments posted on this blog gave us a start.

We noticed the rare appearance of a quite private friend of ours, the one and only Ms. Fussily C. Welterwaite. Since she has chosen to venture forth from the shadows, we thought that we might tell the world about her.

We would not call Ms. Welterwaite obsessive about language. True, her ease is sometimes acute and sometimes grave. When shopping in the Christmas crush, though, she usually eyes before she eases, except when she seizes.

While not wildly religious, she has been known to give a quick prayer of thanks to spiritus asper and spiritus lenis. But when rendering unto Caesar, her broker is Charles Schwa, which turns things completely upside down.

She married early, perhaps too early. Her first husband was often a bit picky. Everyone called him Diacritical Mark.

She has two children, now grown, from this first marriage. Their names are Umlaut and Cedilla. Umlaut spends much of his time being thankful that he was not named Diuresis, or worse, Diaeresis. He lives in Denver and likes things made from eggs. Cedilla is sometimes confused with her friend Ogonek, as the two are nearly mirror images of each other.

Fussily is now happily married to her second husband, a Scot named MacDonald Ronald and often called MacRon. He is not a clown. In fact, he has recently been knighted and is now properly addressed as Sir Cumflex.

Fussy and Mac have two of their own children, Breve and Caron. The crowning glory of the marriage, these charmers are often thought to be twins, but they are not.

The extended family played an important role in Fussily's formative years. Of course, there was her Aunt Tilde, who is married to the Irish uncle whose name no one can pronounce. He is usually just referred to as "Sineadh's fáda."

Fussily, after a glass of wine or two, once let slip that her favorite underwear is her new dipthong, although when she is feeling bloated, she complains of the sensation of wearing a ligature.

She doesn't often get peeved at things other than language issues, but she can get get annoyed, stockings with run-ons drive her crazy. And fragments in her shoes.

Recently, we spoke to our Ms. Welterwaite by telephone. We have provided an excerpt of our conversation here.

Q: What drives you crazy these days?
A: Let's agree that the word "bemused" should be banished from the English language. Almost no one uses this word correctly anymore. We are not amused. We are baffled.

Q: What else?
A: When I get pulled over by a cop, and they give me a ticket.

Q: Does this happen a lot?
A: (laughs) Everyday. That bugs me, too. It's so commonplace.

Q: Does it feel as though you're fighting for lost causes?
A: I have conceded on "different than" but I'll fight to the death about "try and". Try to get this one right. Infinitives are your friends, even if they occasionally split on you.

Q: Have I made any mistakes in speaking to you today?
A: Don't modify "unique." Either you're the only one who does this, or you're not.

Q: Oh? Did I err?
A: Breaking with my good friend Miss Thistlebottom, I refuse to pronounce "err" as though it were the second syllable of "bother." I pronounce it similarly to, although not exactly like, "air." To "er" is not human, it is hesitation.

Q: Thank you for speaking with us today.
A: That is not a question. Good-bye. (click)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Windows? For Dummies?

So, after my big day yesterday, blissfully ignoring the super-icy stairs, and getting every last bit of recyclable material out of my house and carting it to the town recycling center, I got a little carried away and decided that today would be a good day to reorganize my hard drive.

Understand, I'm pounding away here on the same machine that I've had since Josiah Bartlet first fell off his bicycle. So it seemed reasonable to believe that there was plenty of crud and cruft to be moved to this recycling bin.

Thought about how I wanted to go about it, made a plan, made up a geeky little diagram of my new directory structure, and printed it out, so I could check things off one at a time. Slow and careful, don't break things, that's my mantra for today.

Since I was descending into the cobwebby nether regions of sub-sub-sub-folders that hadn't been opened since Acrobat 3 was in beta, I naturally had my good old Emacs program running. Emacs will let you open any file. It may look like gobbledy-gook, but Emacs will display it.

After a couple of hours of this, I'm starting to get really annoyed at the sound Emacs makes when you try to do almost any minor bad thing -- close a file without saving, go past the end of the file, what have you. That "NEE!" sound from that Holy Grail movie is funny once or twice a day, but it's starting to get to me.

Meanwhile, the clean-up is going well. The brilliantly logical directory structure is being fleshed out. Old crap is getting brought into the sunlight for a quick last look, and then banged into the trash. I'm imagining my hard disk feeling like it has taken off its too-tight shoes at the end of a long day.

Of course, this being Windows, one reboot was necessary midway through. I had made a thumbnail of every image file on the disk so that I could give them a quick glance. Got through that, and said, hey, no need for these thumbnails any more. I can always regenerate them. So I tossed all of the thumbnail files into the trash at once. They seemed to go there pretty quickly, but then Windows Explorer locked up. Then it locked the machine up. I guess it was pretty stupid for me to expect Windows to be that scalable. Ten files at once, ok. 100? Maybe. 1000? Evidently not.

So, I shut the power off, let it sit, turned it back on, sat through the interminable ScanDisk (I swear that's probably the program I've run most since I bought this machine. And not by choice.) Things came back up. Good. On with the cleaning.

Now the Emacs "NEE!" is really starting to get to me. I resist the temptation to fritter with the sound associations settings, and continue down my checklist. Changing the sound will be the reward for the housekeeping, I keep telling myself. (I have to leave the sound up so I can hear my email coming in, BTW. In case you were wondering. In case you're still reading.)

Getting to the last group of items on the checklist . . . cool! . . . hey! My Emacs isn't going "NEE!" anymore. Just a pleasant little "click," like a kindly but strict teacher tapping her desk with a pencil. What? Is this magic? Is this machine starting to fix itself? Well, push that thought aside, knock off the last few bits of clean-up, and reboot. Let's see if I broke anything major.

Windows hangs during shutdown . . . no prob, does this like one out of ten times . . . power off ... wait . . . power on . . . omg, I can't sit through ScanDisk again . . . might as well feed the cats . . .

Coming back to the computer, ScanDisk is just finishing and we go through the rest of the boot cycle. Hey, wait a minute! Where's that cool sound that I associated with Windows start-up?

Then it dawns on me. Dude, you moved your sound files.

So here's the point. On a reasonable machine, the instant Emacs stopped NEEing at me, I would have stopped and said, ok, what have I done? What did I just do? But no. If you run Windows, you expect weird stuff to happen all the live long day. I breezed past it.

Conclusion: it's not just that Windows is designed for dummies with all of its wizards and talking paper clips. It's that Windows is designed to make you dumb.

And it's not just Freecell, either.

Geek 'Toon

This is a cartoon for TimO, and all of you other vi-pers. I got it from TheOtherTrueEditor page on Phil Hollenback's web site.

Firefox Evangelism: The Search Box

In an earlier post, I talked about putting a Google search box on my start page. This was something that I had done back when I was using Netscape 4.7, and it was starting to look a little superfluous because of my new browser.

You see, Firefox provides a search box to Google right on the navigation bar.

However, upon closer inspection, it turns out that this box is even cooler than that. If you click on the little down arrow in the box, other search engines appear. One of the handiest that I came across is one that posts a search query to Now you can search for a book, or whatever, without having first to go to Amazon's honkingly slow and ugly home page! You type in what you're looking for and Firefox takes you right to the search results! In a new tab! Cool!

And then, the Amazon search engine stays as the default in the Firefox search box window, until you change it again. Even after closing the browser and turning off the computer. Way cool.

Just another reason to get Firefox.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


This guy's walking down a street, when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can't get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, "Hey you! Can you help me out?" The doctor writes him a prescription, throws it down the hole and moves on.

Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, "Father, I'm down in this hole, can you help me out?" The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a friend walks by. "Hey Joe, it's me, can you help me out?" And the friend jumps in the hole! Our guy says, "Are you stupid? Now we're both down here!"

And the friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before, and I know the way out."

As Deborah on TWoP says: "It's corny, but I lose it anyway. Only Leo (in the form of John Spencer) could carry this story off. If you look up 'salt of the earth' in the dictionary, I bet you'd find a picture of Leo."

Rest easy in the earth, Leo. And rest easy in a better place, Mr. Spencer.

(The whole story is from the "Noel" episode of NBC's "The West Wing." The script transcription comes from here.)

[Update 2009-01-03 16:04] Link fix.

When "Duh" Just Isn't Strong Enough

As of 8:00 am EST, the lead story on the New York Times's web site has this for a teaser:
Scholars say that the Bush administration has relied on an unusually expansive interpretation of the president's authority.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I'm Gonna Make My Site Look Like This Someday

Came across a mighty fine journal earlier today, while trying to find out some factoid by searching the Web. In said journal, the author gives one of the better rants about the blink and marquee tags, and to back up his points, he presents his "Page of the Damned."

If you're like me, you're using Firefox, and you are fairly smug about it. This is one of the rare times when maybe . . . As the author of the PotD page says, "Anyone using a Gecko-based browser will see the Page of the Damned in all its glory; anyone using a lesser browser will be shielded from the horror."

Gecko-based browsers include Firefox and Netscape 6.x and 7.x. I don't know about Safari or Opera, but Internet Explorer is not a Gecko-based browser.

The referring page in this mighty fine journal lives here.

And now, without further ado, "Behold! The Page of the Damned!"

A Tip for New Commenters

If, like some of my friends, you're new to posting comments on blogs, forums, what have you, and you'd like to learn how insert a hyperlink into your text, I put up a page that explains how to do it.

A hyperlink is one of those underlined things that lets you jump to another place on the Web, when you click on it, like the word "page" above.

Please let me know what you think. It won't be of much use to more experienced l33ts, like TimO for example, but I'd appreciate feedback from anyone.

Thanks. Hope it helps.


2007-02-09 02:30 EST

Fixed broken link.

And While We're On The Subject, I Object!

TC sent me a funny email analyzing the sentence "He was thrown the ball." I could only shake my head in admiration at someone who knows how to talk so coherently about grammar.

If there is one thing that I could never, ever get to stick in my mind, it's that whole subject/object thing. Probably started because my 7th grade English teacher was one of my all-time favorites, and my 8th grade English teacher, ehhh, not so much.

In seventh grade, we spent most of the time in class writing, getting help over the shoulder from teacher Dee O'Brien, and practicing giving each other constructive criticism. (Dee O'B also produced the plays of William Shakespeare using only 7th and 8th graders for her casting pool. After school. For free.) I still remember, to this day, the exact rules for using semi-colons, because Dee O'B told them to me in one of the one-on-one sessions. She gave me "permission" to use one, even though "I almost never do."

In 8th grade, with Mrs. ... well, she knows who she is ... it seemed that we were doing the same grammar exercises over and over for the entire year. I remember nothing about that year in that class, except the perpetual feeling of sitting at my desk, trying to keep from screaming from boredom, as she droned on and on. This is probably where I should have learned about subjects and objects and all manner of things diagrammatical, but I didn't.

So, the next time some politician tells you he wants to "impact the education process" (no, wait, that was the other George Bush), you should tell him that a good teacher is worth a salary . . . I don't know, at least 1/10th that of a CEO's?

Okay, Brendan. We get it. Air Force, bake sale, yada yada. Move on.

Here's One For Your Bookmarks

The latest edition of "The Top 10 Conservative Idiots" went up a couple of days ago.

This list gets updated weekly, and I always check it out. One of my favorite snarkers. If you want to see the older ones, they're kept in an archive.


Avoid last minute shopping! Claim your free stuff today!

. . . and as with most offers concerning free stuff, there's some fine print. And so, without further come-ons, here it is:

While sitting in the VW waiting area yesterday, I got to looking at the coupons that the dealership had mailed me, to see if I could build on the massive savings that I was about to realize on my oil change. As it happens, there was another coupon for a 10% discount on accessories, and the floor mat where my right heel rests has worn out, so, what the heck.

I go over to the parts window and ask for a driver's side floor mat, and find out that you can't buy just one floor mat. Buy all four or go away, please.

Now, I can make a case for VW's side. Compared to most things that one buys for a car, floor mats are dirt cheap, so they're not making bank selling them. What with all of the model years and color variations, stocking individual floor mats is four times the inventory hassle for them.

And of course, there's my point of view. Most cars, the vast majority of the time, carry one human, and that human always sits in the same seat. And this human moves his feet a lot more than the typical human who sits in any other seat. So one might expect there to be a much higher demand for driver's side replacement floor mats, and not so much for the others.

At any rate, if you, or anyone you know, would like a set of three very slightly worn floor mats, let me know. The set contains the passenger side and the two rear seat floor mats, for a 1999 Passat, and they're black, so they go with any decor!


2007-05-12 13:35 EDT

Fixed broken link. But the car mats aren't available anymore. Sorry.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Road Rage

So I'm driving to get my oil changed, when I turn a corner onto a side street, see a car parked on the other side, and see a fairly enormous pickup truck coming at me. He's driving down the middle of the road, but neither of us are going that fast, and it looks like there's enough room for us both to pass the parked car. So I ease over and slow down, but don't stop.

The oncoming truck refuses to move over, even though he's got like three feet of room on his right to get past the parked car. So of course it becomes a game of chicken, and neither of us budges, and we both come to a stop. I can see him wildly gesticulating, so I roll down my window. He rolls his down, too, and snarls something that proves the considerable value of a third-grade education.

I say to him, "Listen, my friend. When the obstruction is on your side of the road, I have the right of way. You're the one at fault here. Just take a deep breath, admit that you have BTSP Syndrome, and move on. And, oh yeah, learn how to fucking drive."

Of course, I was safely down the road before I said this.

But he'll read this eventually, I'm sure. When he learns how to read.


2007-05-12 13:35 EDT

Fixed broken link.

Takei That

And now from our happy news department . . .

We are happy to report the shattering of another stereotype.

If you have labored under the misapprehension that Asians can't drive, then George Takei is here to help. He points out, "Think of it this way: Sulu was the best driver in Starfleet."

And remember, he was going like warp factor 8.

Of course, some stereotypes are true. Republicans do, in fact, eat their young. But only when they can't get somebody else's.

Shut Yer Yap

And speaking of cars . . .

Back in my college days at URI, vanity plates were a pretty new thing, especially for Rhode Island. Being a stick-in-the-mud about most new things, I was ranting to RPM, my new roommate, about how stupid vanity plates were: "I'm gonna get the vanity plate MY BAD Z just so some Camaro-driving twerp can't have it . . . And you know what I really hate? When people use misspelled words because they couldn't get what they wanted, but they were determined to have it anyway . . ."

I go on like this for another hour or so, whereupon my roommate says, "Oh."

Sure enough, when I see his car for the first time, the plate says HYE RPM.

And "hye," I find out later, is like the Armenian word for "armenian." Which he was.

Employment History

So, I got a letter from an old friend who was fretting about his resumé. He thought he'd have some difficulty explaining having had three jobs in the past eight years. It got me to thinking about my life, and so I say here to him, and also to all of you . . .

You think you look flakey for having three jobs in eight years? Check out this frag of my resumé:

Jan 2000 - Apr 2000: Some stupid spin-off from an Oort Cloud branch of a Beltway Bandit.
  • Responsible for: wasting time trying to find memory leaks in a colossal kludge posing as a colorization program, which was used to make late-in-her-life Judy Garland TV outtakes seem worth burning onto a CD. As if they were going to be able to sell these to anyone but the six latest newbie/wannabes in West Hollywood. See also that Greek guy who had to roll that boulder up that hill.
May 2000 - Jul 2000: Some massive corporation infested with Stepford Employees.
  • Responsible for: sitting in a cube and trying desperately not to choke the living shit out of the prairie dog in the next cube whose goddam cell phone would go off like every nine seconds but he could never answer it in less than three rings. Spent bulk of time modifying GNU make at my supervisor's request for special-purpose internal application. Got email from corporate saying that, due to FUD, all employees banned from using open source software. For anything. Ever.
Aug 2000 - Sep 2000: Some stupid start-up with a bandwidth-hogging home page that linked to nothing but more piggish graphics and mission statements that would make Scott Adams blush.
  • Responsible for: nothing except avoiding wildlife on the highway during the high-speed flee for home every night.
  • Challenges: sat in front of the most expensive workstation known to humanity, and tried to convince myself that Rational Software's $20K/seat IDE could actually implement at least one version of "Hello, world."
  • Managerial: when asked to confirm my non-disclosure statement upon departure, managed just barely to stifle hysterical laughter: "You mean, don't tell anybody that we're doing nothing here?"

References available upon request

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Real Problem With Living in Liberal New England

It's nine o'clock on a Wednesday (or it was when I wrote this --ed.), which means that The River, the local alt rock station, is starting their show "The Chill Side of The River." Stupid names aside, it's something that I like to call "appointment radio." (In the same way that Conan likes to refer to the former almost Mrs. Affleck as "J-Lo.") It's music that one might call "space" and what I used to sniffingly refer to as "heroin music." It's not quite like music for acid heads -- less freaky, more ethereal. Primal pulse rhythms, breathy singing mixed way lower than is usual for lead singers. It's funny. I haven't smoked pot in years, but I always feel high when listening to music like this. And that's a good thing.

Of course, The River being The River, it gets a little old after three weeks. You gotta miss for a couple of weeks, then check back for some new stuff. I'm pretty sure it's all one big tape/disk -- no DJs that I can tell. Makes the commercials even more jarring, especially for us NPR types.

Right now, the commercial playing is one that's been on regular rotation ever since I moved here. Some kind of global - community - indigenous - crafts - dude - these - sandals - are - so - comfortable kind of place. They have a guy speaking in an "African" accent that's so phony that every time I hear it, I can only hear Eddie Murphy spoofing. Back when he could bring the funny.


2007-05-12 13:35 EDT

Fixed broken link.

And Speaking of Not Bringing the Funny

The real beauty of surfing while bleary-eyed, as I was reminded late last night, is that you can come across the funniest things. And by "funny" I mean: as in screamingly not. Like, for example, when right wing nuts try to draw political cartoons. And by "draw" I mean: dude, don't give up the Crayolas and fingerpaint just yet.

Don't click on this link.

Now that you've clicked on that link, I apologize for providing it in the first place. That's 20 seconds of your life that you're never going to get back. And what's up with that "nose?" Is this the guy who has been inking the stalls of public restrooms since the invention of the Sharpie?

If you successfully avoided clicking on the above link, then you are just now learning that the author of said content is one Gary Waltrip. I don't know if this is the same guy, but play along for a minute. If you Google "Gary Waltrip," the third most popular link returned points to the home page of "Gary Waltrip, CPA: Have Laptop Will Travel". An obvious Republican. Among other things, he claims a specialty in "404 compliance."


Paid. Not. Found.

Our CPA has an "Articles" page, showing almost three articles. Upon this page of magnificence is also provided a handy tip, in very large letters:

Use back button to return.

You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie Gary.

Who links to pages like this? Besides me, I mean.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Windows Shortcut: Minimize All Windows

If you're like me and are forced to use a Windows machine*, and you like the mouse, ehhhh, not so much, then this might be of some use:

You know how when you have like thirty-eight windows open, and you need to click on something on your desktop, and the thought of having to take your hands off of the keyboard and start clicking that little '_' box over and over again makes you gnash your teeth?

You can minimize every window with this keyboard shortcut: press the Windows key and the D key at the same time.

If you do it again, all of the windows will pop back up, unchanged.


If you open another window after you "minimized all," then toggling Windows-D will just work on that new window. To restore all, you'll have to right click in the task bar and choose "Minimize All Windows", right-click again, and choose "Undo Minimize All". Or just open them back up as needed.

I've only verified this on my Windows98 machine, so YMMV. Let me know if it does or doesn't work on Me|2000|XP, what have you. It should, I would think, because I find it extremely unlikely that Microsoft would break something with a gratuitous and annoying change in an upgrade.

* because you occasionally need to create something in the de facto universal word processor, and besides, you haven't found a good version of Freecell for your Mac or Linux machine. (back)

Leaf It For Later

My father is the kind of guy who is perfectly happy to rake half of his lawn at one time, knowing that he'll get to the other half on another day. His brother, my uncle and godfather, is like me: we both hate to do a job to anything other than completion.

I don't know whether or not my uncle is a procrastinator, but I sure am. And I just had the thought that maybe the resistance to starting something is a consequence of a less-conscious part of me dreading the size of the whole job.

They have a saying in the military, I've read, that when your C.O. tells you to eat an elephant, you say, "Yes, {Sir|Ma'am}!" And then you eat the elephant, one bite at a time.

Something to think about.

There's a lot more that I could say about this. Maybe I'll do it later.

Yeah, I know. Cheap and obvious way to end this post. But I am nothing if not cheap and obvious. Except when I'm ambiguous, obscurant, and high-maintenance. Need a date?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Goo Goo

So, I've been going back and forth with TC on this language thing (cf. "foreground" and "pudding" below), and he sends me an email fretting about his prior email, in which he used "Google" as a verb. First time for him, it seems.

I gotta say, I use "Google" as a verb all the time, and I'm about ready to start relaxing the requirement for capitalization. Kind of like that copier company -- do you write "please Xerox this for me" or "please xerox this for me?"

To be fair about it, "xerography" was doubtless a word formed right before the company name. It sez here:

Xerography (or Electrophotography) is a photocopying technique developed by Chester Carlson (Born Feb 8 1906 - Died Sep 19 1968) in 1938 and patented on October 6, 1942. (Patent Number(s) 2,297,691). (source)

(Wait, wasn't that one of those crooked Nixon guys?)*

Using Google as a verb always makes me think of how hard Coca Cola worked to prevent "coke" from becoming a generic term. And then it makes me think of how hard Yahoo! tried to make their company name a verb. Remember that tiresome ad campaign? "Do you Yahoo!?" Clearly, I do.

Remember, that is. I don't actually "yahoo." I never use that company's name as a verb. I love their email and chess services, but to me, "yahoo" is either a sarcastic exclamation or a label for someone who thinks parroting RNC talking points counts as reasoned political debate. (In Yahoo!'s favor, though, I feel ridden with guilt if I omit the exclamation point. Despite how ugly it looks in the interrogative or possessive case.)

But back to Google.

It must drive other search engine companies crazy that "Google" has become a verb in common use. I don't just hear people say this in casual conversation; I see it written in places where presumably some proofreading is happening. I mean, "Google" just plain works as a verb. Leaving aside the merits of the various search engines for the moment, can you imagine anyone saying, "I don't know. Why don't you Alta Vista it?"

But I can imagine someone saying, "So, I was on Alta Vista's site, and I thought, as long as I'm here, why not Google that hottie that I met last night?"

And the supreme irony of this whole thing is, the company name is nothing but a misspelled word, and the original word was made up by the nine-year old son of a math nerd.

*(No. You're thinking of Charles Colson.)
Q: What is a "googol?"
A: It's a BIG number -- 1 followed by 100 0's.

Q: How big is that?
A: A million million million million million million million million million million million million million million million million is 10,000 times smaller than 1 googol.

Q: How often is this number used in the everyday human experience?
A: Only when discussing the amount of dumb things done by the executive branch of the United States in the years 2001-2005.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Uncanned Spam?

So, I'm checking my email to see the thousands of rave reviews about my blog, and after I download them, Thunderbird does its usual pretty good job of filtering out the spam, and I'm looking at the few left over. One has a Subject field that says something like "Save on Christmas shopping today!" and the From field says "Nadia Nice."

A pun that good almost makes me open the thing. Almost.

Early ******mas Present!

Found under the pagan symbol of fertility tree:

That fine writer, Eric Boehlert, has noted with glee that evidence is starting to mount -- maybe things aren't quite so bad after all.

Either people like me don't hate Christmas as much as has been spewed by Fox News thought, or not that many people care if we do.

You're a good man, Mr. Boehlert.

Knotty? Grodian!

KK sent me a link to a piece from, via Yahoo News, in which the following sentence appeared:
McCarthy was not like other "liberal" politicians who embraced the Vietnam War not out of a fear that not doing so would cause South Vietnam to fall like a domino, but out of a political calculation that not doing so would cost them blue-collar votes. [emph. added --bjk]
We'll not comment further on this article here; our heads are still spinning from trying to untie the nots.

And no, that's not an unintentional transposition in the title. What? You're too young to remember "grody?"

What Color Is Your Foreground?

TC wrote the following after reading my pudding post:
. . . I found [this] in a study guide:
These study guides are intended for use by middle- and high-school students, and can be integrated into social studies and language arts curriculums. As an introduction to aspects of labor culture in the San Francisco Bay Area, it foregrounds two documentary films. [Emphasis added --bjk]
Right now I have to foreground some sleep. Then tomorrow I'm going to foreground some work.
Now, TC and I know who is responsible for this butchery. But we'll play fair. Ten days to come up with the hush money, or we print the full citation. Yeah, we're talking to you, Maria H.

By the way, TC sez he wrote because he had trouble posting this gem as a comment. Please let me know if you have any problems posting comments. Or, any other problems, of course.


2007-05-12 13:35 EDT

Fixed broken link.

Tidbits from Sunday Reading

There's a pretty good piece about America's swelling controversy over science in today's NYTimes Magazine, by Jim Holt. Read the whole article, or just enjoy the money quote (sorry for stepping on your punch line, Mr. Holt):
Only a philosopher, and perhaps an oversubtle one, would advocate acting on science without believing it is really true. But to believe it and yet refuse to act on it - now, that takes a politician.
While reading the article, I came across a word that I had never heard: afflatus. (Are you guessing what I guessed?) Using the handy-dandy define: feature of Google, I came across the following definition:
Afflatus: This is a Latin term for poetic inspiration, not a digestive problem. You can get one if you sit in a chair for too long hoping that your muse will turn up, though. (source)
Nice to know someone else over eight still likes fart jokes.

The rest of this post requires a pocket protector . . .

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
What is this define: feature of Google, you ask? Only one of the greatest little features ever added to anything. At the usual search box where you'd type in your text, prepend your mystery word with define:. You get back a definition (usually a list of them) with links to the sources for the definitions, just as clean and fast as you'd expect. Delightful! Since cool browsers now have a search box built right into the toolbar that links to Google you can define:afflatus without even going to Google's home page.

More Google tricks at their cheat sheet.


. . . and maybe some tape on your glasses.


As it happens, you can put the Google search box on any page you want. I have one on my browser's starting page as the first link, so it's a small matter of keystrokes to look up a word: <CTRL>+T, <ALT>+<HOME>, four <TAB>'s, and away we go, defining afflatus. Without even grabbing the mouse! I have a second one that links to Google's image search, so five <TAB>'s instead of four, and I'm looking at thumbnails of . . . let's not go there. On a Sunday morning. During Advent. On a family blog. BTW: <CTRL>+T is the shortcut for opening a new tab on your browser, provided you have a cool browser.

Google will give you the code to get you started, if you want to put a search box on a page that you're creating. I wanted it a little less busy (no graphics, no "go" button), so here's how I hacked it up:

<FORM method=GET action="">
  <INPUT TYPE=text name=q size=25 maxlength=255 value="">

<FORM method=GET action="">
  <INPUT TYPE=text name=q size=25 maxlength=255 value="">

This gives you two boxes, the first for text search, the second for image search. You'll need to have Javascript enabled for your <ENTER> key to actually submit the search string.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

An Odd Couple of Events

So I go out to get some smokes, and I get out of my car, and I have a sudden lizard-brain thought, "Wow. I smell gas."

And then, a little higher up, I'm like, "Dude, you're at a gas station."

This is why I don't usually go anywhere before coffee. But to have the coffee, I had to have the smokes, so . . .

Anyway, I go into the store, and the new impulse-buy display at the counter is a violent shade of lime green that appeals to people like MK, and so I look at it a little more closely. Out of a sick fascination, I guess.

The product being pitched is Mountain Dew Energy Soda. Bet Oscar would love that!

I am not making this up. As Conan O'Brien says, "Why would you? It would waste everybody's time."

Friday, December 09, 2005

A Word For Wisdom

I used to go on and on about those business twinkies who were so panicked by their word processors commanding them to avoid speaking in the passive voice. I used to despair when they wanted to impact me with their active voices. When a credit union rep gave a presentation at a company I used to work for, she said, "Unlike most banks, we don't fee our customers for that." I didn't sign up for that reason alone.

But then I read an interview with some Washington, D.C., mover and shaker. She told the (clearly much younger) interviewer that when she welcomes a new woman into her social circle: "Well, first we recept her . . ."

Interviewer, interrupting, aghast: "OMG! You can't be serious. Is recept really a verb now?"

Since it was a print article, I'm just imagining the disdainful sniff and look down said nose. Anyway, our matron sez, "Honey, when I was your age, party wasn't a verb."

So, I surrendered from my absolutist stance. Especially as it occurs to me that a pretty good case could be made that just about any powerful verb came from a noun at some point in the murky past. I mean, I have already despaired.

And a smart former office mate of mine, TimO, used to deflate every language rant that I started on with, "Brendan, it's a living language."

And I gotta admit. I love to harsh on your mellow and hate on your president.

But please, choose "affect," "influence," "transform," "impress," "sway," "dazzle," "excite," or any of a myriad of other perfectly good words, and leave "impact" for a sentence with some teeth in it.


A Noble Nobel Speech

In the highly recommended reading category: Yesterday, reprinted Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize acceptance speech. (Thanks for the link, CKC!) is a pay site, but sometimes you can read their content for free if you hit them on the right day -- they'll offer you this in return for sitting through a short ad first. In any case, the subscription rate is only $40/year, which is so worth it, so just subscribe. And hey, your money will go to supporting that erstwhile vast liberal media conspiracy!

And no, I don't get any kickback from Salon for getting you to sign up. Just a warm fuzzy.

In the case that you don't want to fork over the bux, you can probably Google some combination of "Pinter," "Nobel," and "speech."

And no, I don't get any kickback from Google, either.

You Want Proof? I'll Give You Proof!

In case you had any lingering doubts as to whether megachurches are anything but dubious businesses who make mad coin by catering to the fears of sheep, this should quash them:

When Christmas Falls on Sunday, Megachurches Take the Day Off

The link is to the New York Times's site, so in a few days after this postdate, you'll have to pay to read the whole article. But, apart from the headline, here's all you really need to know:

Megachurch leaders say that the decision is in keeping with their innovative and "family friendly" approach and that they are compensating in other ways. Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., always a pacesetter among megachurches, is handing out a DVD it produced for the occasion . . .
Granted, I'm not going to church on Christmas, either. But at least I'm not sanctimonius about my beliefs the other 364 days of the year.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Another Reason Not To Maintain Bookmarks

In checking on some old bookmarks, I went to This used to point to a page about the all-too short-lived band, The Word.

The Word put out one album, as far as I know, and it was great. Taught me about the musical form called "sacred steel."

The Word apparently dissolved after pedal steel guitar player Robert Randolph went on to form his own band, and (most of) the rest of the guys formed or re-formed the band called North Mississippi Allstars.

Robert Randolph is a true monster of a musician, as much of a ground-breaker as Chuck Berry or Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen.

The North Mississippi Allstars are a good band with some good songs. I felt bad for them that Robert Randolph moved on so quickly. I hope they appreciated what they got to be part of at the time. From my memory of the old site, they did.

Here are links to (some of) the separate pieces of The (old) Word:

Robert Randolph and the Family Band

North Mississippi Allstars

The new content on is just a slow-loading page of headlines, dominated by the usual celebrity gossip and MSM fear-mongering. There's really no reason to visit it (hence, the lack of a hyperlink).

The real question is, what reason was there to create it?


Pudding the curt after the hoarse

Among my many pet peeves is people saying "the proof is in the pudding."

The correct saying is "the proof of the pudding is the eating." The common misquote doesn't even make sense, unless you're talking about about a mathematical paper buried in the dessert.

According to, the (correct) quote's source is:

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616)
QUOTATION: The proof of the pudding is the eating.
Thank you.