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New Wave

Revisiting my childhood

Yesterday morning I needed my checkbook. I pulled it out of my desk drawer and set it on my chair for safekeeping. Then something else crossed my mind for a minute, distracting me. Then I remembered I needed my checkbook. I turned back to my open desk drawer, dug around for it, and got frustrated. Where else could my checkbook be?
I proceeded to do an archaelogical dig through that desk drawer. Beneath the mending kit I’d torn my apartment apart looking for a few months ago and a big unopened box of staples, I found a St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports section dated Sept. 18, 1988. Yeah, I know.

I also found my Swatch.

Swatch watch

Swatch is still around. The 1980s Swatch watches we wore were more garish than this one. I would have liked this one in the ’80s but it wouldn’t have made me cool.

Yeah, a Swatch. Remember those? Bright-colored plastic Swiss-made watches. I remembered their slogan: The New Wave in Swiss Watches. Well, my Swatch certainly looks New Wave. With its bright red plastic band and black body, with doses of blue and yellow tossed in, it could have come straight off the cover of a pop album of the time.

I’d forgotten I ever even had one of the things. But of course I had one. Everyone did. I told my buddy Sean about my find after church. “Oh yeah! I used to wear three of ’em at once!” He raised his arm and drew an imaginery line with his other hand, grinning. He was cooler than me in the ’80s, I see. Then another GenXer piped in, talking about her Swatches, while a couple of bemused Millennials tried to figure out what we were talking about. Next thing we knew, we were talking about Atari and Smurfs and everything else imaginable. I think they thought we were weird.

Just between you and me, I don’t think I blame them. It seems silly now the big deal we made about these things. It wasn’t enough to just have the watch, after all. No, you had to outfit it with guards and other stuff. We told our parents it was to keep the watch from getting scratched. But secretly, we all knew the idea was to make sure your Swatch didn’t look anything at all like anyone else’s.

The original Swatch Guard was this molded rubber thing, brightly-colored of course, that blocked your view of the time. This was a brilliant maneuver on the part of the company, because you’d shove the guard out of the way so you could read the time, and before long, it would snap and you were off to the store to pay another $3.50 or whatever for another molded rubber band. Then there was the Guard Too (at least that’s what mine says on it), which covered the outside rim and actually did afford some protection. A lot of people would outfit their Swatch with a Guard Too, then they’d buy several of the original guards, in different colors of course, and twist them together. The additional bright colors made you visible from another mile or so away and definitely made you look cooler, but then you never knew what time it was.

I seem to recall other companies realized they could mold rubber bands just as easily, undercut the price of the real thing, and still turn a nifty profit. Knowing myself, I’ll bet my guard was a cheap third-party imitation.

I also noticed it doesn’t work anymore. The battery probably died well over a decade ago. Not that it matters much. Swatches were never about knowing what time it was anyway.

Then I turned around and saw my checkbook lying on the chair.

Weekend adventures and Low-profile PCs

Saturday. I finally managed to drag my sorry butt to work about 11 or so. I went to pay my rent at 10; the office was closed even though it was supposed to be open. The manager called me yesterday about 10, wondering where I was (gee, could it be I was at work, and that sometimes I have things to do other than sit by the phone waiting for her to call?) complaining that they needed to get into my apartment to fix a leak. I called and left a message saying go on in. She called back a couple of hours later and bawled me out for having a busted hose (I didn’t bust it) and for having stuff in the closet with the hot water heater, in violation of fire code. “The maintenance guy said you had a bunch of stuff in there, and that busted the hose, and that’s a violation of code so you have to clean it out.”
I checked when I got home. Apparently a snow shovel (necessary because they never clear the parking lot) and a kitchen mop sitting in the corner opposite everything constitutes “a bunch of stuff.” I put the check in an envelope, and since there was no one there to complain to, I scribled a note on the envelope. “I moved my mop and my snow shovel out of the closet. Apparently that constitutes ‘a bunch of stuff.'”

And Friday night I got out my lease and looked at it. I’d never read it thoroughly and I was shocked. For one thing, playing a musical instrument is strictly prohibited. Even with headphones. That’s a load of bull. If you can play a guitar on the Metro in Washington D.C. as long as you use headphones, then if I feel like strumming my bass inside the four walls of my apartment and no one can hear it, that’s my business. But I found what I was looking for. Since I’ve been here two years, the penalty for breaking the lease is one month’s rent. Losing me for the remainder of the lease hurts them more than the month’s rent hurts me, so I started looking for houses.

One of the girls at church (her name is Wendy) had mentioned earlier in the week that houses in Lemay are inexpensive, and Lemay, despite what Gatermann says, isn’t a bad place. For one, there’s a great pizza joint in Lemay. There’s reasonably easy access to I-255 to get around St. Louis. Plus two grocery stores and a department store. And if Wendy’s comfortable walking to her car at night in Lemay, my black trenchcoat and I will be just fine.

At work, an unexpected but totally welcome distraction happened. My phone rang. I was hoping it was the girl from church, but it was an inside ring. I picked up. “This is Dave,” I said.

“Hi! It’s Heather.”

That’s the name of my best friend from college, and it sure sounded like her voice. But she lives in Florida and she’s been bouncing from dot-com to dot-com since college.

“I saw your car outside so I thought I’d give you a call. I’m here with Olivia and we’re just checking on houses with my computer. I thought you might like to meet her.”

Oh. That Heather. She’s a twentysomething Kentucky native who’s lived in St. Louis for about three years. Olivia is her four-year-old daughter. She’s been looking for a house for about the past six months. Extremely nice girl, easy to talk to. Pretty too.

Talking to Heather and meeting Olivia promised to be a whole lot more intersesting than watching SpinRite run on that failing hard drive that forced me into the office on my day off, so I walked over to her area. Olivia saw me first. She hid behind a chair. I recognized her immediately, because Heather’s cubicle is practically wallpapered with pictures of her. I knocked on the side of the cube wall. Heather looked up. “Hi!” she said. She looked around and saw Olivia behind the chair. “Come out, Olivia.” Olivia shyly emerged. “Say Hi.” Olivia waved shyly and said hi. Yep, she’s just like her mom: way tall, and very shy at first. Olivia crawled up into Heather’s lap and started playing with her adding machine. She whispered something to her mom. She looked at her, puzzled. Olivia whispered it again. “You tell him,” she said.

“I like to dig through the trash,” Olivia said.

“Why do you like to dig in the trash?” I asked her. Heather laughed and explained. Olivia keeps everything. When she throws something away, Olivia usually goes digging for it. I told Olivia I used to dig through the trash when my mom would throw my stuff away too.

“Oh! I haven’t told you. We made an offer on a house!” Heather said, visibly excited. I asked her about it. Two-bedroom, nice heated garage, small yard but within walking distance of a park… in Lemay. I smiled.

I told her congratulations, and told her I started looking last night. She said there was a lot of stuff in Lemay. Meanwhile, Olivia and I played catch with beanbags. She has a lively arm on her, not that that should be too surprising. When you’ve got long arms like hers and get them extended, you’ll have some pop. Her first throw hit me below the belt, if you know what I mean. I saw it coming, couldn’t get my arm down there fast enough, and grimaced. Olivia laughed. I don’t think Heather saw. I picked the beanbag off the ground and tossed it back to her. No lasting effects–it was a beanbag, after all. But guys instinctively grimace whenever anything heads that direction, even a Nerf ball. It’s instinctual. Olivia’s next throw sailed past my outstretched hand and plunked the back of Heather’s chair.

“I’m glad you weren’t the second baseman the last softball game I played,” I said to Olivia.

So Heather and I talked houses while Olivia and I tossed beanbags around. I’m like her, I like South County and don’t really want to live anywhere else. She’s been looking long enough to have a pretty good idea what’s available. She printed off a couple of houses for me, and told me a couple of places in Lemay where several houses were available.

Eventually, I thanked her and left. I told Olivia it was nice to meet her.

Then last night, after none of my Saturday plans panned out, I wandered out in search of a haircut and the new Echo and the Bunnymen album. I found neither. I bought some used stuff: Echo and the Bunnymen’s self-titled 1987 release which I’d never gotten around to buying, Peter Gabriel’s fourth album, Peter Murphy’s surprise 1989 hit Deep, and a New Wave compilation that contained a couple of good songs from bands who only recorded one good song, plus a bunch of stuff I didn’t remember ever hearing. The sales clerk reacted to my selections. “Uh oh. Echo and the Bunnymen. Hmm. Peter Murphy. Who was he with?”

“Bauhaus,” I said.

“Was he in Love and Rockets too, or was that the other guys from Bauhaus?”

“Love and Rockets was Bauhaus without Peter Murphy.”

Yep, I was earning the right to wear a black trenchcoat last night. Too bad it’s August. I was impressed that the clerk recognized Murphy, seeing as he was probably born the same year Bauhaus broke up and Murphy’s only had one solo hit, though his post-Bauhaus stuff is really good.

So I hopped in my car, popped in the compilation CD, and went exploring. I found the area Heather told me about. But mostly I explored Lemay–what kind of stuff could I find? Being fairly close to a park would be nice. I found the pizza joint my dad and I used to go to, many years ago. Just about everything I need is pretty close together, and not terribly far from the big commercial district. The houses are older, which can be good and bad, and like Heather warned me, there are some areas that are a little bit redneck, but you’ll find that in a lot of parts of St. Louis. And like Wendy said, Lemay’s not a ritzy place and the people who live there know it, so the pretension you see in a lot of parts of St. Louis isn’t present there. That’s nice.

Low-profile. Dan Bowman sent me a couple of links yesterday to low-profile cases that would be suitable as low-end servers or routers. Over at CSO they’re selling Dell low-profile Pentium Pro-200 systems for $99, with 64 MB RAM, 2.1 gig HD, and a NIC. A Pentium II-266 runs $129. Specs vary on the PII.

That got me thinking and looking around some more. Over at www.compgeeks.com, I found a couple of other things. An ultra low-profile LPX case (sans power supply) is running $10.50. It only has three bays, but that’s plenty for a floppy, CD-ROM, and single HD. An Intel HX-based LPX mobo (with built-in video) runs $19. It’ll take up to a P200, non-MMX though. The LPX riser card is $4.95. CPU availability is limited there; a P90 runs five bucks. Back at CSO, a P166 runs $15.

If you’re really cramped for space, building an LPX-based system is your best bet. But the CSO deal on the Dell is tough to beat. You won’t build an LPX system that even comes close for $99.

Napster and the decline of copyright–part 1

When Napster’s technology first appeared in 1999, I was like everyone else. I didn’t understand all of its implications. All I saw was a potential venue to find new music.

The cool thing about writing a book and running a Web site is that your questions rarely go unanswered. Just post, and answers tend to find you as people connected to works you admire find you.

Just this thing happened to me, when I mentioned finding a gem on Napster: a complete copy of Bark Along with the Young Snakes, the first commercial recording by one of my heroes, Aimee Mann. I didn’t know where else I would be able to get a copy, so Napster, I concluded, was a good thing, as long as you were willing to let your conscience be your guide. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

People seem to assume that superstars make millions of dollars. Who really gets hurt when we pirate, say, a Matthew Sweet single that’s been running through our minds for the past seven years? He was a pretty big star, so he’s set for life, right? No one really cares… No one gets hurt.

That’s a pretty clear-cut case. It’s illegal, period. Now you can probably justify it in your own mind if it’s just part of a course of action–you hear a song on the radio, or a snippet of it, so you search online to try to find out the title and artist, you find some possible suspects, then you listen to the snippets online at CDNow or another record store. If that doesn’t click, then you hop onto Napster, download the possible suspects, listen, figure it out, and then buy it. If you do that, you’ve technically still broken the law, but not really the spirit of it. You got your music and the artist got the money.

But some things aren’t as clear-cut. Out-of-print stuff, for example, isn’t. If I covet Pale Divine’s Straight to Goodbye from 1990, I face a tough challenge. The album’s been out of print for seven or eight years and never was all that common. It’s fairly easy to find in the band’s hometown of St. Louis, assuming I’m willing to pay $40 for it. But when I pay some record dealer $40 for a used copy, it’s not like the band ever sees a dime of it. As far as the band is concerned, there’s no difference between me buying it and pirating it. As far as the record label is concerned, there’s no difference either, but given the way Atlantic Records treated Pale Divine, no St. Louisan who followed the band in the late 1980s and early 1990s would feel sorry for them.

It was when I cited another obscure record, Bark Along with the Young Snakes, from 1982, as another example, that the story got complicated. Andy Breslau, the producer and owner of the copyright, found me and asked some compelling questions.

While Bark Along with the Young Snakes is hard to find, it’s not really out of print. It’s somewhat sought after, being the first commercial record that Grammy, Oscar and Emmy nominee Aimee Mann sang on. But the story is pretty different from Atlantic Records and Pale Divine. Aimee Mann recorded with Ambiguous Records, which was an effort by Andy Breslau, a bluesman then based in Boston, to capture and preserve and disseminate some of the eclectic music coming out of Boston in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We’re all familiar with classic rock mainstays Boston, and the classic rock/new wave crossovers The Cars, but much of the other music coming out of that city at the time never really made it outside of Boston. Someone needed to take this untapped resource and use it, so why not Breslau?

Breslau was playing in a band called The Blues Astronauts, and he had close ties with a number of bands playing around Boston at the time. Plus he had a desire to learn about production and recording, so all the pieces were there.

So Breslau formed Ambiguous Records, and he recorded and produced three albums: Bark Along with the Young Snakes, by Aimee Mann’s band The Young Snakes, Singing the Children Over by Kath Bloom and Loren Mazzacane, and Darkworld by Dark.

The venture lasted 18 months. Independent record distributors, Breslau found, sometimes had difficulty paying him in a timely matter. The Young Snakes were getting popular, so the logical thing to do was to press more copies. Breslau did just that, but then The Young Snakes broke up, and Aimee Mann and her then-boyfriend Michael Hausmann formed `Til Tuesday. While `Til Tuesday made it big for a while, their success did nothing about the large number of unsold Young Snakes records in Breslau’s basement. And Breslau’s own band broke up. And then?

“I discovered the joys of making records in a different way,” Breslau said. He was working on a fourth record, titled Doing the Sugar, Too by Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson.

“Luther had played with Muddy Waters for a number of years before and had moved to Boston and was playing around town.  It was then astonishing to me that he had no recording prospects at the time,” Breslau said. He took Johnson into the studio, struck a deal with his agent and the owner of a small blues label, and had a revelation.

“The whole process ended up being much more about the music for me,” Breslau said. “At that point continuing the label seemed too financially risky and really not as satisfying as the experience I had doing Luther’s record. For me it turned on this: If I could still produce the records I wanted to and not assume all the risk, end up hassling with distributors, doing all the PR work, sending out the copies to radio and critics etc. etc. etc., I could give up the label. Working with a small label as opposed to being a small label seemed the right direction for me to go.”

“Frankly, independent pop music is a very hard business,” Breslau said. “The world you compete in has at its upper limits multi-million dollar deals, multi-national corporations and huge ambition–some of it valid, a lot of it insufferably pretentious.”

All of this meant Ambiguous Records was history and mostly forgotten.

Then the MP3 phenomenon hit. While popular songs made up the bulk of the music available online, some die-hard fans connected turntables to their PCs, sampled their old records, and turned them into MP3s. In time, these rarities–Bark Along With The Young Snakes among them–showed up online.

“At a gut level, the experience of finding work you had a hand in `Napstered’ does feel as though someone is taking something without asking whether or not you want to give it away,” Breslau said.

Part 1 in a series. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

12/12/2000

~Mail follows today’s post~

Mailbag time. I had things to say, but after cranking out the first 700+ words for my next magazine article in a span of a couple of hours (it was slow going), I’ll just let the audience determine my direction.

First, Chris Miller, whose mail has stirred up so much activity around here of late (and that’s a good thing).

Hi Dave

A quick response to my critic John Braue who questioned my use of the phrase “bending the rules for the greater good” and then (perhaps inadvertantly) appeared to compare Lincoln and Roosevelt to Hitler and Stalin. I take the point to some extent, but in a way, John, you have answered your own criticism by adding the proviso “and indeed, smash [the rules] all to pieces”. Of course there is a difference between “bending” and “smashing” rules.

Regardless, it is problematic and ultimately futile to make the comparison – and not only because of history, as Lincoln’s reforms led the US out of the age of slavery and FDR’s New Deal arguably saved the nation, while Hitler and Stalin led their countries to turmoil, war and near-destruction. The main difference is that, while all were originally placed in power by the people, the US presidents, unlike their European counterparts, remained accountable to the people. If the people didn’t like Abe’s and FDR’s policies, they could simply vote them out. And, of course, neither was defeated in an election; both died in office.

Thanks for your comments about Shopper, Dave, and I hope we continue to do a good job with our new design in place. I also hope we can continue to celebrate (if that’s the word) the cultural differences between our countries and, indeed, all the English-speaking nations.

A note on usage: both ‘-ise’ and ‘-ize’ endings are acceptable in British English, although misguided UK traditionalists insist on ‘-ise’ as they see ‘-ize’ as ‘American’. In fact, it is British in origin. Of course, reactionary xenophobic fools never let facts get in the way of a complaint. We use ‘-ise’ and avoid ‘-ize’ in an attempt to be consistent, but it could just as easily be the other way round.

I’m aware that the names of pop bands function as plural here and singular over there, which is a strange one. Perhaps it’s because so many of our early pop groups had ‘plural’ names (the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks etc) and it has stuck. Having said that, the great 60s and 70s US soul bands usually followed the same pattern (the Supremes, the Temptations etc). Would you, then, say, “The Spice Girls is one of the most successful female bands of all time”?

No, you would probably say “The Spice Girls is terrible” if you are a Joy Division fan…

All the best
Chris

There is a difference between the likes of FDR and Lincoln and the likes of Hitler and Stalin, certainly. Neither FDR nor Lincoln attempted to disrupt the due process of elections and thus remained accountable, yes. Nor did either kill their political opponents. I have a real problem with FDR trying to pack the Supreme Court to make some of his blatantly unconstitutional policies stick, and while the New Deal made the people feel better, World War II had much more to do with pulling the United States (and the world) out of the Depression.

Both men, however, walked a dangerous line. They had the integrity to walk it without stepping too far out of bounds. Hitler and Stalin were the closest things the 20th Century ever saw to the embodiment of pure evil; I believe that the idea that some things are absolute–these things you always do, no matter what, and these things over here you never do, no matter what–can help serve to keep men like them in check.

Even more so, providing a safe environment for your political enemies is a must, and that’s something the United States has lost sight of. To hear our politicians speak, today’s opponents are just a notch or two away from a Hitler or a Stalin, and the stakes of winning and losing are growing ever higher. If we reach the point of persecution due to election results, then it’s time to really seriously think about getting out of here. And I say that in all seriousness.

And come on: You and I are, from what I can gather, politically more distant than Bush and Gore. But we’re civil towards one another and even work together. Difference of opinion is a good thing. If you and I know that, why can’t they?

When we lose sight of that idea, then we slide down a very slippery slope. We had a somewhat similar situation to this many, many years ago, when Aaron Burr more or less murdered Alexander Hamilton. Fortunately for the United States, other men in Burr’s party recognized him for what he really was after this sad incident, and Burr’s political career came to a rapid close. I don’t know if the political parties of today have that kind of restraint–we’ll start to see later this week–and I think that fear is the reason why the names Hitler and Stalin come up.

As for Shopper, I’m mostly thrilled to see there’s still a staff somewhere that gives a rip about producing a quality computer magazine. I see things in Shopper that I haven’t seen anywhere in a U.S. magazine since the late, great Compute folded in the early ’90s. So when I find something good, I feel obligated to say something about it. It’s just too bad it’s so #$%! expensive to ship it across the Atlantic.

And as for the language, your question of “The Spice Girls is” vs. “The Spice Girls are” would raise a major debate in the editorial office. Chances are, “is” would win out, as the band is a singular entity, but it sure sounds illiterate, even to my American ears. So I cracked out Working With Words, the best practical guide I can find to US English grammar, and the way I read it, yes, the singular is correct, but sounds so bad that you should write around it, e.g. “One of the most successful female bands of all time is The Spice Girls,” or “A great example of a terrible band is The Spice Girls.” Because, let’s face it, “The Spice Girls is terrible” sounds like it should be followed by, “Hank Williams Jr. kicks #*%!” No wonder you think we’re all cowboys over here…

An interesting passage from Working With Words, page 28:

The jury was unanimous. But The jury were split. (Sounds odd, but you can’t always trust your ear when it comes to traditional grammar. To avoid the obvious ugliness of The jury were split, it it possible to add the word members after jury, or, better yet, to substitute the word jurors.)

I’m trying to figure out if it should bother me that I’m amused by this…

This doesn’t really need any comment, other than the observation that a popular t-shirt in the crowd I ran around with when Dubya’s dad was running against Bill Clinton read, “Tanned, Rested and Ready: Nixon ’92.”

From: Dave Wootten

WE NEED A RICHARD NIXON

(to the tune of “We Need a Little Christmas” from “Mame”)
(with apologies to Jerry Herman)
 

Throw out the lawsuits;
Decide the vote before the market falls again.
Fill in the winner,
I may be rushing things,
But close the ballot box now!

For we need a Richard Nixon
Right this very minute,
Before a re-count kicks in,
And nobody will win it

Yes, we need a Richard Nixon
Right this very minute.
The ballot cards are getting blurry,
The nation, Dick, is in a hurry.

So calm down Dade County:
You had the biggest string of lies I’ve ever seen.
Fill up the courtroom;
It’s time we Gored-whom-ever, steals the vote from us now.

For I’ve grown a little meaner,
Grown a little colder,
Grown a little sadder,
All this on my shoulder,

And I need a little angel
Telling me “I-told-ya”
Need a Richard Nixon now.
 

Call off the hand counts:
If you demand counts – you are, losing anyway;
Stop the election,
But Leave-her-man, it’s four weeks
Past Election Day now!
 
But we need a Richard Nixon
Right this very minute,
Bush and Gore are losin’
No matter how they “spin” it.

Yes, we need a Richard Nixon
Right this very minute.
Electors might just have to scurry
Or this might go down to a jury.

So tone down the media:
Or they’ll concede ya’ – lost it – on Election Day
Slice up the precincts:
It’s time we hung some neo-politician right now!

For we don’t need Thomas Brokaw,
Don’t need Daniel Rather,
Don’t need Peter Jennings,
Spewing out their blather.

And we need a little snappy
“Happy ever after,”
Need a Richard Nixon now.

Need a Richard Nixon now.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: David_Blodgett@doh.state.fl.us
Subject: >8GB Hard Drives
I just read today’s post and say your problem getting 8.4GB HD to work.  I almost hesitated to mention this, but do you have the latest BIOS for your motherboards?  As I’m sure you know, in the past we’ve gone though many hard drive BIOS limitations, first around 500+ MB, then 2GB and most recently just over 8GB.  Even a year old MB that has not had a BIOS update might have problems with the bigger drives.

Also, if you’re dual booting, make sure the partitions that could be active for booting an os are totally with in the first 8GB.  Most MS os’s have problems if the boot partition (or system partition for NT) crosses that line.  I believe Win2000 is not affected by this, but I could be wrong (I’ve seen NT blow up).

Good Luck, and I love the site

David J Blodgett
~~~~~

I have very recent BIOSes in all of them (I had a problem with the latest BIOS on one board so I went back one revision). Can’t check right now for the very latest because my ISP’s having problems. The BIOS is always the first thing I suspect.
 
The drive does work, for the most part–I can see all of it. But the BIOS is reporting a 500-meg drive, and some utilities see the contradiction and squawk about it, as they probably should. Then some of them refuse to work, as they probably shouldn’t.
 
Thanks for the warning on the OS. I generally install each OS on a dedicated 2 GB partition, then put apps and data on separate partitions. By that design, I’m not too likely to go past that 8 GB. I think that’s less of an issue with Windows 98 and on, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind. I might as well test it while I’ve got a system torn down to that level so I can say with authority. (This is a Windows 9x-oriented article anyway, but I might as well throw NT and 2K into the mix if I still have the space.)
 
I’m glad you enjoy the site. Thanks!
~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Jan Swijsen” <qjsw@nospam.oce.nl>
Subject: strings

DF>Strings are good for guitars, not computers.
<g>And I thought that Perl was fantastic with strings.

 

DF>Computer Shopper is every bit as well-designed.
<g>Not just well-designed. It packs loads of between the lines hinted humour. Real British.  American mags are way to ‘business’ oriented, there is no fun in them.

~~~~~

I should know better than to make puns with you watching; you’ll come in and out-do me every time. Though a non-programmer will get mine…

I was talking with Di (my sister) about writing for a British magazine, and I mentioned the stereotypes. Americans tend to think of the British as overly stuffy and formal; the British, from what I can tell, think we’re all cowboys. Shopper’s definitely not overly stuffy and formal (unlike US computer mags, none of which I bother to pay for anymore and I’ve been trying to let my InfoWorld subscription lapse for well over a year and THEY WON’T LET ME!), which blows that stereotype, and in my upcoming article I talk about listening to the British New Wave bands Joy Division and A Flock of Seagulls, which should establish me as something other than a cowboy.

I noticed their humor in the selection of the art for this upcoming article.  I probably laughed for five minutes after I saw it in PDF form.
~~~~~~~~~~

Christmas presents you want, and don’t want

Evening update. I came home to a non-working phone and CD player. The phone’s working again. I’m thinking Southwestern Bell really doesn’t want me to like them. As for the CD player, I unplugged it for 10 seconds and plugged it in–first thing I do with any piece of electronics. That brought it back from the dead, but as I was listening to U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, I noticed some crackling in the audio. I’ve been listening mostly to really synthy New Wave music lately and the crackling can blend in with the synths, but on the more organic-sounding tracks in the middle of ATYCLB, there’s no place for the crackling to hide.

I ought to open it up and see if the problem isn’t just an overly dirty lens. That’s nothing a foam swab dipped in a little isopropyl alcohol can’t fix. Otherwise, I may have to start shopping. That’s what www.audioreview.com is for. The JVC XL-MC334-BK looks good for the money.

I’ll also have to resist the temptation to get a second pair of speakers. The KLH 970A speakers are dirt cheap ($20-$30) and reportedly sound really good for the price. There are better speaker brands than KLH, but these would be secondary speakers and if I don’t like them on the stereo, if paired up with an inexpensive receiver they’d make a very nice computer sound system.

An early Christmas present you don’t want. Another e-mail worm is making the rounds, this one called Navidad.exe. Navidad.exe es muy mal para su computadora. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

What it appears to do is reply to all messages in your inbox containing a single attachment, attaching itself in the process. The really nasty part is that the worm contains poorly written code, causing your system to be unstable.

I’ll continue with my standard advice. Don’t open unexpected executable (.exe) attachments. If you can’t tell the difference, don’t open unexpected attachments at all. It’s better to miss the joke than to have to reinstall Windows yet another time. Keep in mind that the people who are most likely to fall victim to such things are also the least likely to have any backups.

You can get details and a repair tool from Symantec.

A friend got a hysterical phone call at midnight last Thursday from another friend whose system was exhibiting behavior similar to this. He eventually calmed her down enough to walk her through reinstalling Windows, which restored her system to a bootable state.

If a system will no longer boot, it should be possible to bubblegum it back together with Windows 98’s scanreg tool. Boot to a command prompt by holding down the control key, then type scanreg at the C:> prompt. Restore a recent backup (preferably the most recent or second-most recent). Once you boot successfully, immediately update your virus signatures and run your anti-virus program, or download a repair tool to do a full repair.

This trick fixes many, but not all, recent viruses.