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Telephones and World Series

Cable guy. My phone rang Friday night.
“Hi, this is [I didn’t catch the name] from Charter, the cable company. How are you doing tonight?”

I knew I should have forked over the extra bucks for privacy guard. “I’d be a whole lot better if you’d take me off your calling list,” I said.

“You don’t even want to hear about our special offers?” he asked.

“Nope. I don’t watch TV,” I said.

He sounded disbelieving. “You don’t watch TV?”

“Nope.”

“You mean to tell me you haven’t watched one second of TV today?”

“Right.” I hadn’t. Actually I hadn’t watched one second of TV since I fell asleep during the playoffs and was rudely awakened by Frank Sinatra singing “New York” at high volume after the Yankees steamrolled the Mariners. Disgusted, I turned off the boob tube (that’s all it shows during the commercials) and went to bed.

“What are you doing now?” he asked.

“Getting ready to go out.”

“Oh, you’re going to a party or something?”

Close enough. “Yep.”

“Oh. Sorry to bother you, sir.” And he hung up.

This is the one time of year I do watch TV. That’s World Series time. Unless it’s Yankees-Braves, in which case I have more important things to do, like clean my toenails. My phone rang last night right after Curt Schilling plunked Derek Jeter. “That’s my phone,” I muttered to no one. “Don’t they know better than to bother me during the World Series?” No one answered. I picked up the phone. “Hello?”

Whoever it was must have wised up. There was no one there. Good thing. If it’d been the cable guy again, I’d have had to tell him it’s not worth $35 a month just to be able to watch seven baseball games with a clearer picture.

A few random World Series observations:

Yeah, I know Curt Schilling beat the Cards, and I wanted a Cardinals-Mariners series. Even still, he’s one cool guy. He doesn’t care who sees him praying just before each start, and he bought a ticket for his dad, who died in 1988 and never saw him pitch in the big leagues, for this game. Having lost my dad at a similar age, I empathize. And he’s just a class act. At the end of the game, as his teammates were coming off the field, he ran out to give them handshakes and hugs. Starting pitchers almost never do that. I have to root for him. Baseball needs more good men like Curt Schilling.

Baseball also desperately needs another commissioner like Bart Giamati. Is it just me, or is baseball commissioner Bud Selig the worst public speaker in the history of public speaking? It really bothered me that he had to refer to a script to present Barry Bonds with his worthless Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award or whatever it’s called. Selig’s speech could be summed up as, “Barry, you had a fantastic season, taking a record that once belonged to Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, and Mark McGwire, joining the ranks of three of the greatest sluggers of all time, while also having one of the greatest all-around offensive seasons of all time. It’s my pleasure to present you with this award, previously awarded to McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. Congratulations.” But it took him what seemed like several torturous hours to say that. What I just wrote isn’t particularly eloquent, but compared to Selig’s speech, it’s practically Shakespearean.

At any rate, I was happy to see Arizona win. I can’t root for the Yankees. Used to be the only team I disliked more than the Yankees was the Mets. But if the Mets were playing the Yankees, I’d have to root for the Mets just because they aren’t the Yankees. Yeah, I know, that sounds un-American this year. But two people I respect–one of whom I respect so much, his picture hangs in a frame in my living room, across from a picture of Abraham Lincoln–feel exactly the same way.

So here’s to Arizona. And to the American League, who next season will hopefully put the Yankees in their proper place.

Fifth.

Day Three after everything changed

On Day One, I reverted into news junkie mode. What I read, of course, sickened me. I undoubtedly have a few former classmates in New York, but no one I’ve seen or talked to in the last five years. Still, it wasn’t much consolation. They’re still my people.
When my dad died, I lost myself in whatever I could find around me. These days, when I miss my dad, I lose myself in work. I took a look around me, realized there was a lot of work that needed to be done, and did my best to lose myself in it. I didn’t get much done, and it wasn’t all my best work, but it was something.

I got home and realized it was the last place I wanted to be. I went to church.

When I got home, my mom had called. It was late, but I called her.

On Day Two, I got more information and more work done. It wasn’t a normal day, but I don’t feel the least bit guilty about the day’s productivity. Yeah, the world’s reaction to the previous day’s events made me weepy, and I talked to a friend from church who said he was ready to find out where to go sign up to kick some butt and I agreed with him.

I got home and realized it was the last place I wanted to be. I went to church.

Day Three was similar. People were smiling more–the previous couple of days made me wonder if I actually worked at a funeral home–and there was a lot to do. At the end of the day, there was more. So I stayed late and got stuff done.

I stopped at the grocery store on the way home. I was thinking about going to church, and I knew my chances of making it on time were slim if I stopped. I stopped anyway, and I didn’t just grab a few things. I stocked up.

The checker asked how I was. I told her I was good and asked how she was. She said she was good. She called her son yesterday. He lives in New York. He had no reason to be anywhere near the disaster, but she had to be sure. She asked if I’d heard about the five firefighters rescued in an SUV. I told her I had. She said she just had to hear some good news from New York. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the latest on that, that the report had been mistaken. So I asked her if she’d heard about the guy who was on the 82nd floor when one of the buildings collapsed and survived. Her eyes widened. I said that guy must have been surrounded by a whole legion of angels. No doubt, she said. I swiped my debit card and started bagging my groceries. I told her his only injuries were two broken legs. She smiled and started checking out the lady behind me.

As I loaded my groceries into my cart, the cashier turned back my direction.

“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you so much.”

And at that moment, I felt a whole lot better about being a human being.

Applying Ezekiel to 9/11

I was reading Generations, a book that tries to predict the future by looking at history’s cycles, just last week, reading about how certain generations have reacted in the past to crises–because, like it or not, every generation faces one, if not several–and wondering.
Yesterday morning, I was minding my own business, driving to work, noticing that traffic was annoyingly heavy on I-270 and mad at myself for not being in the far right lane where I can make the snap decision to exit onto Tesson Ferry and wind myself back to work over back roads. It seemed like a typical, ordinary day in St. Louis. The only thing unusual about it was that the sky was actually blue, rather than Missouri Gray. Then the DJs on the radio station started acting really weird after traffic. Something was going on in New York. I gathered that much. None of them seemed very eager to talk about it.

The details were sketchy. A plane hit the World Trade Center. They were trying to evacuate the building. The only detail was that it was a twin-engined plane. That could be anything–it could be a relatively small civilian plane, a cargo plane like a Beech 18, or an airliner. They didn’t seem to know. Then they started talking about baseball. I flipped the station. More details came in.

As I pulled into the parking lot at work, they started talking about another plane.

You already know the rest. My day at work was probably just like yours. We didn’t get anything done, we got our news accounts however we could; the big boss got on the intercom and briefed us on the situation (I already knew those details and a few more–I had better sources than he had) and he said a prayer (maybe your boss didn’t) and he told us he knew we were distracted because he was distracted, just get done what absolutely has to get done, and pray a lot. Actually I think he said we could pray constantly if we wanted. My big boss is cool like that.

He didn’t mention this, but as all of this was unfurling, I thought of Ezekiel 22. The story of Ezekiel 22 basically goes like this. God’s chosen nation had gone astray. (Sound familiar?) God went looking for a few men who would turn from their wicked ways and stand in the gap, providing leadership and praying for their nation. (Sound familiar?) If someone would stand in the gap, the nation wouldn’t be destroyed. (Sound familiar?)

No one stood in the gap.

I hope that part doesn’t sound familiar.

Then I recalled that when Abraham was having a little chat with God about a couple of towns that were situated where the Dead Sea is now, Abraham asked God if he would spare Sodom and Gommorrah if he could find a small number of righteous people there. God said yes. Then Abraham started nickeling and dimeing God down, until Abraham talked him down to 10. “What about 10? Will you spare those cities if I can find 10 righteous people there?” And God said yes, He would spare those cities for the sake of 10 righteous people.

Now, I’m pretty sure that Abraham could have talked God down to three–his brother-in-law Lot and his two daughters. But Abraham wasn’t that bold.

Late in the afternoon, one of the elders from my church called and asked if I knew about our prayer service that night. I’d heard. He asked if I’d be there. I said of course. I told him about those two passages. Then I pointed out that there would be more than 10 people there. We needed to stand in the gap.

Incidentally, there were closer to 800 people there. And a large percentage of them were under 30. So I have an idea now how my generation reacts to a crisis, and I’m glad to say I’m impressed.

And that’s why I don’t really know what to say now. Not because I’m impressed, but because I was too busy standing in the gap. And no, I’m not sorry. And no, I don’t really give a rip how many people I’ve just offended. Some of you won’t be back. Others of you will try to sabotage this site, because some of you have tried in the past when I’ve used the G-word for something other than swearing. But I can live with that.

Oh yeah. Jesus loves you.

Yes, I know there are many who will say that praying doesn’t do any good, it won’t make our problems go away, God is dead and no one cares and if there is a hell I’ll see you there and more garbage like that.

But I’m gonna go back to that stand in the gap thing for a minute, just in case I haven’t annoyed you enough with it yet. There’s no sin in the United States of America? I can’t stand to turn on the blasted tube because that’s all that it fills my living room with. The only useful purpose my TV serves is to give me something to set my stereo on. And since I know God will forgive me for saying something blasphemous just to make a point, I will. Let’s say it doesn’t matter that it hurts God. Fine. It hurts us and it hurts those we love. Or should love. I argue that if we truly loved our spouses we wouldn’t do half the things we do to them. A big part of me is really glad I don’t have a spouse because I know living with the awful things I’ve done the last few years would have hurt her more than any human being should be hurt.

But what’s that have to do with foreign terrorism on U.S. soil? Everything. With friends like us, who needs enemies? We treat each other like the stuff we scrape off our shoes, and we treat foreigners even worse. Dmitry Sklyarov is a political prisoner, under house arrest in California by special interests, being persecuted (yes, persecuted) under an unconstitutional law. Folks, we are no better than Red China, who held our servicemen for no reason. I’ll say that again. The sin of the United States of America is just as bad as that of Red, Pinko Commie China.

Now, if this is how we treat Russia and Russian citizens, then it’s likely that we’ve offended other people. Well, we know Europe hates us. We bailed the Allies out of World War I and then we came in and won World War II, and we even paid for a lot of the rebuilding effort, and they still hate us. We must have done something really wrong somewhere. And the Middle East, well, they don’t like us because we acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. But they’ve probably got some other grudges against us too.

Regardless, somehow, at some point, knowingly or unknowingly, whether we’re in the right or in the wrong this time, we offended someone to the point that he decided it’d be a really good idea to hijack some airliners and crash them into some high-profile buildings.

That ought to give us some pause and make us examine ourselves a little bit. Chances are we’re right and this guy’s wrong. But it helps to be sure. And a little reflection puts us in the right mindset.

And let’s face it. Even if you’re not so sure there is a God, if you’re willing to admit even the slightest possibility that He does exist, He is all powerful, and He does care about us, isn’t some small part of you glad there are people who want to seek Him out, and make sure He’s on our side this time?

A few words of St. Paul seem really appropriate here. “Each of you should look out not only for your own interests, but also the interests of others.”

If we all did that, we’d make heaven obsolete, folks. We’d have it right here.

I’ve got just a few other things to say, then I’ve got an overdue appointment with my pillow.

Yes, there needs to be retaliation, once we know who perpetrated it. The retaliation must be swift, effective, and harm as few innocent people as possible. What happened yesterday was a tremendous atrocity. Taking the high road isn’t enough. We need to take the very highest road.

We’re unified. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, home of one prime suspect, there was firebombing last night. Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom behind his Join or Die cartoon holds just as true today as it did some 225+ years ago. We need to stay unified. We’ve become a nation of special interests ever since the end of the Cold War, and we’re the worse for it, in every possible way.

This will not destroy our country. We will do a fine job of doing that ourselves. I love to fly, but right now the idea of hopping on board a commercial jetliner has negative appeal to me. My first thought after this happened was that we need to have two or three, or two or three dozen, armed Marines on all domestic flights, under orders to shoot first and ask questions later. Countries who resort to similar tactics don’t have problems with hijacking.

We can arm this country to the hilt, and we’ll have very few problems with safety. Police states have their problems, but safety generally isn’t one of them. We can trade our freedoms for safety, but in 20 years we’ll be wondering what happened to our Republic, or what’s left of it.

This is not the apocolypse. Don’t get in the gas lines, don’t rent a U-Haul and then go to the grocery store and try to fill it up with milk and toilet paper. People in St. Louis today were acting like the disaster had happened here. Nothing has really changed. A terrorist with limited resources crashed a bunch of our resources into some of our other resources. There is no direct connection between this and the supply and demand for gasoline, milk, and toilet paper. The U.S. economy will keep on chugging away, if anything, at a better rate now that people are thinking more about survival than about how to turn 20 bucks into a million by investing in the right technology stock.

I’ve only got one other thing to say. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. He knows we need it. Desperately.

Baseball Mogul 2002 offers a glimpse of the future…

I have seen the future, and it crashes a lot. I’ve been playing Baseball Mogul 2002 like a fiend, and I love it. I love statistical baseball and I love financial simulations, so for people like me, this game might as well be heroin.
My big annoyance is that it crashes a lot. It seems to get through the first season just fine, but I haven’t gotten through a second season yet without a crash. That’s annoying. Playing games in a month’s batches seems to make it worse. I suggest you play week by week, saving at the end of each week.

I started off with the Kansas City Royals, of course, and pretty soon I realized what dire straits the team is in if the game doesn’t change. Without a bunch of trades for can’t-miss prospects, it’s virtually impossible to lift the team over the .500 mark, and with free spenders like Cleveland and Chicago in the division, third place is about as well as you’ll do. An out-of-this-world manager like the late (and very sorely missed) Dick Howser could probably improve matters a ton, but Baseball Mogul’s manegerial model is a bit clunky. You can change how your manager manages, but it’s with a bunch of sliders. There’s no way to model, say, a Dick Howser based on the tendencies he used in the dugout and save it. That’s a feature Earl Weaver baseball had way back in the early ’90s and I can’t believe modern sims don’t copy it.

After two seasons with the Royals, I got frustrated. I needed something easier, but not necessarily too easy. So I took on the Curse of the Bambino and took the helm of the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox haven’t won a World Series since they sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920 for an astronomical $100,000. (Ruth was already a superstar and guided the Bosox to three World Championships, but with him gone, the Sox have been heartbreakers ever since, appearing in four Series and losing each in Game 7. The Yankees have just been scum.)

But how to take on the high-revenue, free-spending Yankees? The Bosox were a challenge unto themselves. Nomar Garciaparra, the greatest shortstop alive today, was injured at the beginning of the 2001 season, of course. MVP candidate Manny Ramirez’ presence in the lineup helped soften it, but I had a cripple playing first base (Brian Daubach was nowhere to be found, not that he has enough punch to really justify holding down that position). So I traded for Toronto’s Brad Fullmer, to get some protection for Ramirez. And Boston limped its way to the playoffs. It wasn’t exactly pretty. The Boston bats racked up tons of runs. Pedro Martinez was masterful, of course, but behind him I had four No. 4 starters: Frank Castillo, Bret Saberhagen (I was glad to see him come off the shelf, but he was the epitome of clutch pitcher, one of those guys who’d give up 9 runs if you didn’t have to win, but when the pennant was on the line, he’d pitch a shutout), David Cone (another ex-Royal, dumped unceremoniously for salary years ago, like Sabes), and Hideo Nomo. Fortunately the Bosox had a solid bullpen. We beat Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs, in five. Pedro had to pitch twice. Sabes won the other game. Of course we faced the Yankees in the ALCS. Boston won in 6, again behind Pedro and Sabes. It would have been poetic justice to have Cone face them in the series and win, but I had to go by the numbers rather than entirely by emotions. That brought us to Larry Walker’s and Mike Hampton’s Colorado for the World Series. Pedro won Game 1. Sabes won Game 2, of course. Castillo lost Game 3. Pedro pitched Game 4 on short rest and lost. I didn’t want to pitch 37-year-old Sabes on such short rest, so I pitched Cone instead. He lost. Sabes came back for Game 6 and won. A shutout, of course. Pedro came back strong and won Game 7.

The curse was lifted. Pedro, with a 19-6 regular season record and a 5-1 record in the postseason, took home the Cy Young award and an All-Star appearance. Manny Ramirez also brought in an All-Star appearance, but most importantly, the team brought in the World Championship.

The 2002 season was where things went nuts. The big-market teams started looking like Rotisserie Leagues thanks to free agency. I went and grabbed Anaheim’s Troy Glaus to play third base and Cleveland’s Kenny Lofton to play left field and bat leadoff. Then I grabbed Minnesota’s Eric Milton to give Pedro a legitimate #2 starter behind him. A couple of weeks into the season I noticed Houston’s Billy Wagner was still unsigned, so I nabbed him to give closer Derek Lowe some help in the bullpen. We rolled through to a 109-53 record, obliterating Oakland and New York in the playoffs. This time there wasn’t even any danger of Pedro’s arm falling off. (He went 27-1 in the regular season with a sparkling 1.53 ERA.)

Then I ran into the free-spending Braves. The Braves’ pitching staff was mostly unchanged from the real 2001 roster. (It was already an All-Star team.) But the lineup… Rafael Furcal, ss. Andruw Jones, cf. Chipper Jones, 3b. Barry Bonds, lf. Sammy Sosa, rf. Tony Clark, 1b. Quilvio Veras, 2b. Paul Bako, c. With the exception of the bottom three, they had arguably the best player in the league at each position. (The other three would be the second- or third-best player on a lot of teams.) Oh yeah. They also had superstar Moises Alou riding the bench. I took a look at Atlanta’s finances. Yep, they were bankrupting the team, deficit spending in hopes of pulling in a World Series. It came down to Game 7, Greg Maddux vs. Pedro Martinez, a showdown of the two greatest pitchers playing today (and arguably the two greatest pitchers alive). Maddux beat Martinez 2-1 in a heartbreaker. (Hey, you try shutting out that lineup!)

After facing that, I felt a little less guilty about running a Rotisserie-style team out of Boston. I’d passed on signing Kerry Wood as a free agent the season before for just that reason. No longer. Atlanta, unable to afford Maddux and Glavine for the next season, let both of them walk. I signed Maddux to a four-year deal, which pretty much guaranteed he’d get his 300th win in a Boston uniform. And between the two of them, I could pretty much count on getting at least three wins in a 7-game postseason. Throw in another clutch performance by Sabes (re-signed for purely emotional reasons–I was either going to get Sabes another World Series ring to go with the one he got with the Royals in ’85 and my fictional Bosox in 2001 or I was going to ship both Sabes and Cone back home to Kansas City, to finish their careers where they both belonged all along. But Cone retired so I opted to go for another ring.) and I’m pretty sure I’d be able to lift the Curse of the Bambino again.

The game even fabricates newspaper accounts of the season’s big games. The picture is almost always the same, and you can usually tell the story was computer-generated rather than written by an intelligent human being, but it adds an element of drama to it.

I also noticed the injury model is fairly realistic. Keeping Pedro Martinez healthy for a full season is virtually impossible, both in this game and in real life. But there are players who will tough themselves through their injuries. Mike Sweeney suffers about one serious injury per year, an injury that would knock most players out of action for a couple of weeks, maybe a month. In Baseball Mogul, Sweeney sits. In real life, Sween tapes himself up and keeps going until he either gets better or the injury hampers his play so severely that even he realizes the Royals are better off with his backup playing. That doesn’t happen often.

The other glaring drawback is that you can’t watch the games. I’d love to watch the All-Star game and at least the World Series.

So. We’ve got a baseball simulation that crashes a lot, doesn’t let you watch the key games (or any of them, for that matter), where injuries are all or nothing, and the managerial model is more crude than I’d like.

Those are serious shortcomings. But the rest of the game is so fabulous that I can mostly overlook them.

Now, the question is, who pitches Opening Day 2003? Martinez or Maddux?

Who was the most influential woman in your life?

My good friend Brad came to me with a question a couple of weeks ago: Who was the most influential woman in your life?
He wasn’t looking for my answer so much as he was looking for what I thought people’s answers would be. So I countered with a question: Married or single? He asked what difference that made. “Well, if you’re married, the right answer is your wife, whether it’s your mother or not,” I said. “And if you’re single, the right answer is your mother. Now the true answer could be something totally different.”

Brad laughed. I think he might have said I’ll be good at staying out of trouble with a wife someday, but I’m sure I’ll be very good at getting in trouble, or at least getting lots of dirty looks. Guys live for that.

Brad was looking to shoot another video together, with that as the theme. The pieces just didn’t come together this year so we had to shelve the project. But his question lingers on.

Who was the most influential woman in my life?

Certainly I learned more from my mom than anyone else. She taught me weird ways to remember how to spell tough words. Do you ever have trouble remembering how to spell “Wednesday?” It’s the day the Neses got married. wed-Nes-day. Got it? And how to remember the capital of Norway. Well, I knew Oslo was the capital of some Northern European country, but I couldn’t remember which. So she wrote “nOrway” on a slip of paper. I never lost the Oslo/Norway connection after that. (That’s probably not very impressive to my European readers, but Americans are notoriously bad at geography. I don’t know how many Americans know Norway is in Europe. Some Americans may not know what Europe is, for that matter.)

And yes, mom taught me how to tie my shoes and how to blow my nose and how to brush my teeth and lots of stuff like that. And when I didn’t understand girls (which was often… Who am I kidding? It is often) she was always there to listen.

But the question was who wasn’t that. It was: Who was the most influential woman in my life?

Well, there was this girl that I met right after college. I told her I loved her, she told me she loved me, she changed my life, and set me off in an unexpected and (mostly) better direction and…

AND she couldn’t hold a candle to my grandmother, my mom’s mom, so even though I was devastated at the time, in retrospect I’m really glad we broke up.

What can I say about Granny? She grew up in southern rural Missouri, in the Depression, one of about a dozen kids (my grandparents came from families of 12 and 13, and I can never keep straight which came from which, especially since both had siblings who didn’t live to adulthood). Now, she got in some trouble growing up, but I think that experience, along with having lived through the Depression, helped her learn how to do the right thing even when resources seemed limited. She moved to Kansas City during World War II and got a job at Pratt & Whitney, working on an assembly line making airplane engines. She married a Kansas Citian. On a truck driver’s salary, they managed to raise four kids.

I remember a lot of things about her. She always had time for her family. She never wanted anyone to make a big deal about anything she did. She really knew how to cook. She made the best quilts in the world. And before anyone starts complaining about her falling into female stereotypes, I’ll tell you this. She absolutely loved working in her yard, and one of the things that pained her the most was her deterriorating ability to take care of her yard as she got older. Besides, she built airplane engines! Have I ever done anything that manly? I’m doing well to change the spark plugs in my car.

But if I had to sum Granny’s life up in a sentence, I’d say this: When it came to doing more with less, she was one of the very best.

What am I known for? A book and a series of magazine articles about doing more with less.

So, who was the most influential woman in my life? I think it was Granny.

Granny died a little over six years ago. I miss her.

A lot.

I had a conversation with my mom a while back about my two grandmothers. Granny had nothing for most of her life. My other grandmother wasn’t like that. She was a successful doctor, a psychiatrist. She married a successful doctor. He was a general practitioner, and one of the best diagnosticians you’d ever see. I can say a lot about him, but I’ll say this and have my peace: His father spent a lot of time hanging out with tycoons, and must have learned a few things and passed them on to his son. The guy had money, but in a lot of ways he lived like my other grandmother, who had nothing. A good rule of thumb is that if you have money but live like you have none, you’ll end up with a lot more.

I’m talking a lot more about my dad’s father (he wasn’t a dad) than I am about his mother (she wasn’t a mom). Frankly I know more about him. I know she was brilliant. Yes, she was smarter than my mom’s mom. Granny didn’t always have all the answers. My other grandmother always had an answer. And it was usually right. It was also usually long. (I get that from somewhere.) I remember asking her once if Cooperstown, NY is close to New York City. It took her half an hour to answer that question.

But I never had much of a relationship with her. Neither did my dad. He’d talk about “my mother,” or “my father.” I heard him call his father “Dad” once. They were arguing. About me. As for her, well, I never heard him call her “Mom.”

I haven’t seen her or spoken with her since October 1990.

It’s hard for me to talk or write about this, because I don’t want to rag on my relatives. I always had a great deal of respect for them. I know what they were capable of, and I think that’s why I’m disappointed in them.

My dad grew up being told he’d be a failure all his life. He didn’t get good grades, and he was rebellious. I suspect a lot of that was because he had two absentee parents. But Dad was smart. It seems his biggest problem growing up was that he mostly used his great mind to figure out when he had to perform and when he could get by with slacking. He also couldn’t make up his mind what he wanted to do with his life. He had the same gifts his father had, but he wanted to be as different from his father as possible, and that posed a dilemma for him. He once told me his father didn’t know what to do with him. But that’s OK. Dad was only two years younger than I am now when he finally figured out what to do with himself.

The decision was made that my dad’s younger brother would carry my grandfather’s torch after he died. I don’t know what role she played in the decision, but she stood behind it. My dad watched as his brother made mistakes and both his brother and his mother paid for them. My dad tried to help. He didn’t want his help. She didn’t want his help. Finally my dad gave up. Dad had made himself a success; in his own mind, he’d proven them wrong. I don’t think he was interested in proving them wrong in their minds; he just didn’t want to see them struggle. Loyalty runs in the family.

I asked my mom which of my grandmothers really had more? Her mom thought she struggled all her life, but she was always able to provide for herself and others. Always. Had she been able to see that, I think she’d still be alive today.

When Granny died, she left enough for her four kids to fight over. But they didn’t fight over it. That wasn’t how she raised them.

I know one of my duties is to provide for my relatives, and in that regard, to be perfectly honest, I always let my dad’s mom down. But I guess I always assumed since she never wanted my dad’s help when he was alive, why would she want mine? To my knowledge, she never attempted to contact me after he died, so I had no way of knowing any different.

Dad’s mom died yesterday. All I have on her living conditions is hearsay, but I know poverty when I hear it described.

More Like This: Personal

04/14/2001

Mailbag:

IE Synchronize; ASPI Error

One night last week, I had a beer with a good friend. He invited me to join him for dinner; I always learn a lot from him (I hope it’s mutual) and it seemed like he needed to talk, so while I’d already eaten, I joined him for a beer.

Hopefully I can say this without betraying any confidences. There are two people who mean a great deal to him; I know both of these people, so I understand why. In their minds, he let each of them down. In his mind, there wasn’t much he could have done differently; there certainly wasn’t much of anything he could have done better. He did his best, and in these instances, his best wasn’t good enough. In the time since, they’ve let him down. The question is, did he get their best? He doesn’t know. And it hurts.

It always hurts when a friend or someone else you really care about lets you down. When someone you don’t like does something stupid to you, it hurts, but let’s face it. You don’t expect anything else from those kinds of people. What more can they do to you? They continually try to show you what more they can do, but usually it’s not much. It’s lost its impact.

But like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, who, at the end of a day whose events particularly repulsed him, realized it was his 30th birthday, these last couple of days are significant. Thursday was the holiday known as Maundy Thursday. Some 1,972 years or so ago (no one’s ever precisely pinned down the day) on Thursday night, the most infamous letdown by a friend in history took place. A young Jewish rabbi was praying on a hilltop with his three closest friends trying to keep watch despite total exhaustion. An armed mob of his political enemies ascended that hill, led by another one of the rabbi’s closest friends. Judas Iscariat walked up to the man he’d followed and dedicated his life to for the better part of the past three years and forever tainted a sign of love and respect. With a kiss, he pointed the target out to the mob. The result of that betrayal, of course, was the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus Christ.

But I’m convinced that Judas’ kiss hurt more than the crucifixion. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were nothing more than self-righteous scum who couldn’t stand seeing someone understand the things they didn’t. This was to be expected. And the Romans? Well, what else do you expect from a spineless governor under the thumb of a totalitarian dictator? He didn’t get his office by doing the right thing, after all. But Judas… Judas was capable of so much better. Jesus knew it, and the 11 knew it. They’d all seen him do great things. Those religious leaders were no loss. They were lowlives, doing what lowlives do. Judas showed flashes of brilliance, then he flamed out. The other 11, who were just like him, went on to change the world. Judas could have been one of them. But he chose another path, even though he knew better.

Or maybe the significance of last week means nothing, because to me it seems a sacrilege to compare 11 people who changed the world to a ragtag band of people who keep online journals. Or maybe the awkwardness is perfect, because some of us have been attaching too much importance to it. Maybe that puts it in perspective a little.

At any rate, we’ll never change the world, but for whatever reason, there are people who have high expectations of the crowd known collectively as Daynoters. Maybe it’s because of the difficulty of doing what a Daynoter does–getting up each day and having something to say. It’s hard to write something new every day. And a lot of the Daynoters not only write something every day, but they write something consistently thought-provoking, or entertaining, or informative, or useful, nearly every day. And occasionally, someone writes something that manages to be all five.

It’s hard to do. We all know it’s hard to do. Usually we just settle for writing something, anything, each day. We write our stuff, then we go wander around and see what some of the others have to say. Invariably, there’s a jewel out there somewhere. Someone exceeds expectations. And maybe what they write is something we can relate to, so we feel close to them, even though in most cases it’s someone we’ve never met in person and in many cases it’s someone we’ve never even spoken with on the telephone. Even still, expectations rise.

Most of us are computer professionals or hobbyists, and in this field, wild and hairy problems breed. They’re everywhere. When one of us gets surrounded, we post something to the backchannel mailing list. Invariably, someone’s been there before, seen it, conquered it, and has guidance to offer. Again, expectations rise.

I would argue that in some cases, we may expect more of a fellow daynoter than we would a close friend. I know my friends’ faults. I spend enough time with them that it’s impossible not to know them. I don’t know any of the Daynoters that well. I know Dan Bowman better than any of them, but I don’t know his faults, let alone those of the other 29-some people on the Daynotes mailing list. From where I can see, his biggest fault is drinking too much Pepsi. But he’s the exception. At least I know he has to drink Pepsi. I’ve got some indication the guy’s human. What do I have of these other guys? All I know is they know more than I know, write books that sell more copies than mine do, write for bigger-circulation magazines than I do, get more Web traffic than I do… It’s easy to start thinking of them as larger than life.

And then the talk strays from computers… I like talking about computers, because there’s almost always a right answer, and it can be proven conclusively. If you want to boot off an IDE hard drive, you plug it into IDE0 and set it as master. Period. End of argument. Anyone who disagrees with it goes off and quickly makes a fool of himself. Sure, there are holy wars, like AMD vs. Intel, or Apple vs. 98% of the market. But you can do something even with those arguments. No sane person would use a non-Intel CPU in a mission-critical system? I can respond to that. My Cyrix-based PC was only up to producing a 292-page book. In the end, it turned out that Cyrix CPU was a whole lot more reliable than my wrists were.

When the talk turns to political or social issues, there are few slam dunks. Is the American way of doing things demonstrably better than the European way? The majority of Americans think so. The majority of Europeans do not. And professional politicians, having no answers, frequently fall into logic traps, or, worse, finger-pointing and name-calling and other things no human being over the age of 15 should fall into. We turn away in disgust when politicians do it. And when the world’s problems show up on the Daynotes backchannel, and the great minds can’t slam-dunk them?

Well, it turns out they’re human too. And soon, the same traps come up, and we’re disgusted. But it’s worse than seeing Dick Gephardt roll around on the floor and throw a temper tantrum. We expect that of Dick Gephardt, because we already know he’s a finger-to-the-wind, unintelligent, uncreative individual who can’t think for himself who’s in politics because he’d be a total failure in the real world. He’s not worthy of respect. But then we see people we know, people who’ve earned our respect, reduced to that…?

Sometimes when that happens, we join in. If we agree with them, we try to help them out. If they’re attacking someone we agree with, we lob a grenade.

Or we can get disgusted and ignore it. All of our keyboards do have Delete keys, and a lot of our delete keys are starting to wear out from excessive use these past few days.

Or we can get disgusted and try to stop it. Or we can get disgusted and leave the community.

On Tuesday, the Daynotes.com mailing list shut down to mixed reactions. In some cases, our disgust with one another turned into disgust with the one who would try to exercise authority over us. Personally, I thought it was the only sane thing to do–close things down, let things cool down for a time. That turned out to be the right decision. Reality hit. People started realizing that name-calling wouldn’t solve all the world’s problems, and that a valuable resource was suddenly gone.

I don’t know how many people know this, but I had a run-in with a fellow Daynoter back in January, 2000. You can ask my sister about it, because she was visiting when it happened. She and I lived in the same house for about 18 years, so she’s seen me mad, but never madder than I was that night. I was ready to chuck it all and leave the community then. It was bad enough that I had gender in common with this guy, let alone had my name on the same Web page as his. I didn’t want people to associate him with me. But my sister advised me to sleep on it, say as little as possible, do as little as possible, and sort it out after I’d had time to cool down. I called a friend who knew both of us and got his counsel. With their help, I determined that leaving wouldn’t solve anything. So I didn’t. He and I haven’t spoken since. And that’s fine. We couldn’t resolve our differences, but at least we didn’t let it become a war.

Late on Thursday, the Daynotes.com portal was also shuttered. I didn’t see any point in that measure. It was more a symbolic gesture than anything else, and as far as I can tell, the only thing it accomplished was making a lot of people as mad as I was that night in January 2000. I was mad too. Chris Ward-Johnson and I both published that address as a resource for people to reach us and others like us. Now we look like just another fly-by-night dotcom.

And as soon as the thought had occurred to me that Daynotes.com’s absence might be intentional, rather than just a flipped bit in Tom Syroid’s Apache configuration file, the coup occurred. I had notification in my inbox that I’d been subscribed to the Daynotes mailing list at Bobwalder.com. I had messages in my Daynotes folder–mail from the new backchannel, all thanking Bob for his efforts. Then I had notification that Bob had registered the domain name daynotes.org and he expected it to be active come Monday. In the meantime he offered an alternative portal for people to use…

And the talk on the backchannel? It was mostly like old times. Lots of well-deserved thanks and congratulations headed Bob’s direction. A little patching up. And some traffic was exactly like old times. Jonathan Hassell wrote in asking for recommendations for a hotel in New York. Then I made a rare appearance, asking my cohorts across the Atlantic whether Murphy’s Law meant the same thing there as it does here, because I didn’t know and I wanted to invoke it in the Shopper UK article I was writing yesterday. The result? Jon got hotel advice, and I got a brief, “Well, over here it means ‘anything that can go wrong will go wrong…'” from the Good Dr. K.
This has dragged on far too long, so I’ll conclude with this. Three years ago this past week, I had a life-changing experience. I spent a week in a big room 120 miles from home with about 50 people I didn’t know from Adam. And I learned something in that room. Friends aren’t people who like you because of the superhuman qualities they see in you. Our group spent close to 90 hours together that week, and trust me, we didn’t see much in the way of superhuman qualities in one another. Indeed, mostly we saw the very worst that 50 people can offer the world. We could have held it against one another. But those 50 people continued to stand by and admire one another. I never did figure out if that was in spite of what we knew about one another, or precisely because of what we knew about one another.

I’ll never, ever forget that life lesson. True friends learn how to work around their weaknesses and disagreements. It’s hard sometimes, but even at its worst, it’s a whole lot easier than living in isolation.

Mailbag:

IE Synchronize; ASPI Error

Napster and the decline of copyright–part 2

“Am I remiss in wanting to protect the possibility of recouping my losses from all those years ago?  In the wake of Aimee [Mann]’s deserved recognition, why shouldn’t I be able to at the least make back my money selling a `protected’ product?” Breslau asked. “And then, besides, Aimee, Doug Vargas and Michael Evans (the other former Snakes) could start seeing a couple dollars too?”

Napster hurts big record labels a little. But it hurts little record labels like Ambiguous Records, whose big star’s records are still sitting in Breslau’s basement after 19 years, even more. But what about the musicians themselves?

I asked Breslau about the typical musician’s plight. I’d heard Courtney Love’s assertions that she made less money than I make, but at that point Breslau seemed much more real, possibly more candid and, frankly, more interesting.

“Many musicians are poor and struggle their whole lives to stay above water. Those who have regular gigs either in orchestras, as jingle players, teaching, or as sidemen aren’t making what your insurance broker is,” Breslau said. “A great many folks who are involved with music drift in and out of making a living and eventually their day gig becomes the gig. The few, the proud, the multimillionaires represent a tiny, tiny few.  Probably the same percentage that pro hoop players represent as figured against all those who played junior high ball.”

Breslau mentioned a musician he’s working with. He’s 60 years old and has been playing 150 shows a year for the past 10 years, has a worldwide following and critical acclaim. Yet he’s having difficulty finding an apartment and health insurance he can afford, and the rigors of touring are starting to catch up with him.

I asked Breslau what he thought legitimate uses of Napster might be, if there were any. His response surprised me.

He cited Napster as potentially a distribution method, and certainly a marketing and promotional tool. “For some an unspooling, open ended library like Napster can be an incredible tool, a repository of discovery and a font of fun,” Breslau said. “Those who use it the most are students and those who have work-at-home gigs.”

Napster may replace some of the more traditional methods of introduction to new music, but not for him, at least not completely.

“For someone like me who has a demanding job, family and still wants to take advantage of sunshine, the editorial screen and organization that a music store (chain or boutique) or radio provides is still very useful. It guides me to what I’m interested in and when I’m frustrated in that search and still thirst after who knows what, I now have a new tool to seek my heart’s desire through–that’s to the good.

“I do miss great radio though–WFMU here in New York is a last outpost of dedicated eclecticism,” Breslau said. “When I was growing up in suburban Maryland, WGTB, Georgetown U’s station and the old WHFS – a truly great free-form commercial station in the day–were keys to whole other worlds for me.  The role of the `trusted guide’ is perhaps diminishing and I think that’s not a good thing. Plus the art of the segue is now almost completely relegated to clubs. Great segues can illuminate whole new contexts and resonances betwixt and between different songs and musics that you have to hear to get hip to.”

I asked Breslau if he thought Napster, as some claim, was responsible for the decline in record sales cited by large labels. He didn’t seem to buy it.

“I’d say the lion’s share of the change in market share comes from the explosion of entertainment options,” Breslau said. “It’s inevitable in a world of computers, gaming, cable television and myriad other entertainment outlets that the recorded music industry should see its share of the entertainment pie diminish. Competition has totally diffused viewing habits in visual mediums–there’s no reason music should be any different.”

Breslau’s words brought to mind a quote from an interview with U2’s Bono and The Edge I read in 1994 in Details magazine. At that point, MP3 was very much in its infancy, gigabyte hard drives cost $400 and recordable CD drives cost $1,000, a 28.8 kpbs dialup connection was state of the art, and the Internet wasn’t yet a commercial success. It seemed a different world from today, but like today, record sales were down. And The Edge, U2’s lead guitarist, observed, “More people are buying video games today than records.”

And Breslau disagreed with the common idea that today’s music isn’t as good as the music of earlier, more commercially successful days.

“The broader industry is guilty of saturation marketing for fewer and fewer products while releasing all kinds of stuff they never have any intention of supporting. There is lots of good music out there,” Breslau said. “I think its arguable that today’s scene is actually broader and more vital than 5 years ago, but the predominance of mega-hit mentality with little attention spent on building artist’s careers tends to push the obvious and two-dimensional stuff out there to the fore. The idea of a company supporting an artist who comes to maturity in craft and commerce by their third recording is almost quaint at this point.”

Some examples of bands who needed three or four albums to reach maturity: U2, Rush, and Bruce Springsteen–none of whom any record executive would mind having on a label. Impatience is hurting the industry in the long term at least as much as Napster.

And Breslau said it’s too early to judge Napster’s true impact.

“Young people, particularly those in college, are now pouring some of their musical curiosity/energy into downloading and not to listening to radio or scouring live venues or music stores for new gems,” Breslau said. We’re seeing some of this impact today.

“What will be interesting to see is the long term implications of these new habits,” Breslau continued. “College age is when life long musical appreciation and consumption habits get formed.”

I liked the way Breslau concluded one of our conversations. As one who has been hurt by Napster–how many people download Bark Along With the Young Snakes instead of buying it from him?–he still sees a potential for it to be a good thing overall, so long as the law is respected.

“Napster can be many positive things: a way to give your art to the world, a way to build an audience for your art, a test of commercial viability, a great marketing tool–but all of those are affirmative voluntary acts,” Breslau said. “What troubles me is when the technology becomes compulsory, when an individual’s choice and right is overwhelmed by another individual’s desire without regard to the other’s circumstance, goals or intention. If technology is to be liberating and empowering, its radical implications must be grounded in respect for an individual’s right to privacy and liberty, and, yes, that includes the exercise of property rights.”

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

02/21/2001

An interesting search query. I had a search query yesterday for “presidential candidate’s right to privacy.” That’s an interesting query, and an interesting theory, and it’s a very easy question to answer.

None. Zilch. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Nil.

Why?

Public figures have essentially no right to privacy, and you can’t get much more public than a presidential candidate. Actually, the right to privacy isn’t guaranteed anywhere. But it’s difficult to invade someone’s privacy without infringing on some right that is guaranteed. You can’t come snoop around in my apartment, for example, because you’d be violating my landlord’s property rights, and if my landlord let you in, it would violate my lease. But how much money I made in 1997 is a matter of public record, because I was employed by the state of Missouri.

So… If it’s a matter of public record (e.g. George W. Bush’s DWI), you have the right to know it. If Amazon.com is willing to sell you their customer history on George W. Bush or Al Gore, then you have a right to see it, and the only things stopping you from publishing it are the conditions of the deal. (But that would be terrible business practice.)

You and I don’t have a whole lot of right to privacy either, but most people aren’t interested in what you and I do, unless they’re building a database. If privacy’s important to you, keep a low profile. Turn off your Web browser’s cookies. Don’t post to public message boards. Don’t answer surveys. Get an unlisted phone number and opt out of telemarketing if your state has such provisions. When you do subscribe to magazines, use a subtle variation on your name (use nicknames, different middle initials, etc.), and use a different one for each magazine, so you know when you get junk mail where they got your name. And never ever ever give out your social security number except when required by law. And don’t use your social security number as your driver’s license number–tell ’em it’s against your religion. (Even if it’s not.) State laws have to accomodate that, because it truly is against some religions.

AMD’s P4 killer. AMD released a 1.3 GHz Athlon this week. Expect pricing to be in the sub-$400 range–much lower than a P4, and it’ll blow the doors off even the 1.5 GHz P4.

AMD’s in a bit of a spot here. They have the better product, but megahertz sells, and in the P4, Intel has a poor performer that scales well. AMD can’t win a megahertz war with Intel right now. But for the moment, AMD can sell every chip they can make, so waging war makes no sense, except from a bragging rights standpoint. If AMD reaches a point where they aren’t selling everything they can make, look for them to attack at the low end of the market, rather than at the high end, at least for the time being. AMD has the benefit of a marketplace that’s no longer starved for raw megahertz–frankly, most of the public wonders what they’d do with 1,500 megahertz if they had it. I know a lot of people who are perfectly content with sub-400 MHz PCs.

Stupid NT Recovery Disk Tricks. Yesterday a coworker ran Diskeeper Lite on a poor-performing NT box, and while it cleaned up the disk, it rendered the system unbootable. He asked what to do.

You want to have an Emergency Recovery Disk available for an NT system at any given time. Make one by running RDISK.EXE. But no one ever bothers to do that, right? Of course not. We were fortunate, being a corporation that buys standard-configuration PCs in batches. I had him make a recovery disk on an identical system. He was able to repair the system by booting off the NT CD and choosing the recovery option. Pop in the disk, and after a few minutes, the system was back to normal except for the video driver. (Older Nvidia-based Diamond cards tend to be a bit peculiar under NT.) He reinstalled the video driver, and was fine.

Another ERD trick: Three and a half years ago, the unthinkable happened. I caught a coworker deliberately sabotoging a system. Management didn’t understand computers so well, so it was my word against his, and neither of us had been working there very long. I had a few months’ seniority. Just a few. Fortunately for me, I thought to drag a witness over to see what I’d found. He backed me up. Also fortunately for me, this other guy wasn’t a good liar because his story kept changing. Finally he realized he couldn’t keep the details straight, I guess, because he just flat quit answering questions. But his boss said he wouldn’t fire him.

That led the rest of us to go out to a long lunch to ponder what we’d do in the situation where we obviously couldn’t trust a colleague. An hour and a half later, we came back to find out his boss had gone back on her word and fired him while we were gone. That led us to a new plan: secure the network immediately. He’d bragged to me before about how he could circumvent security measures, and that was how he got most of his previous jobs.

We found a couple of NT servers none of us had been aware of, and of course they didn’t have our standard admin password, they weren’t in our domain, and none of us had accounts on them. But hacking NT is extremely easy if you have physical access to the machine. We created an ERD on another NT box, booted off the NT server CD, and told it to restore the user accounts section of the registry off the ERD. It doesn’t care that the ERD is from another system. Boom-shakalaka, the old accounts are wiped out, replaced with ours. We had total administrative control of the system. (This reason is why I always advocate disabling booting off the floppy on systems in public computer labs–it’s far too easy to seize control of the system.) One of the systems turned out to be a simple print server. The other system didn’t have anything suspicious about it other than FTP services, but we didn’t put either system back on the wire as-is. We reformatted and found other uses for both of them.

Hopefully you’ll never have to make use of any of this knowledge, but if you do, the moral of the story is this: Keep your recovery disk! (And keep servers physically secure, under lock and key.)

And a little history. I noticed something yesterday that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere lately. This election was the 200th anniversary of another controversial election. It was 1800, and Vice President Thomas Jefferson was running against incumbent President John Adams. Jefferson’s running mate was Aaron Burr. Adams’ running mate, I assume, was Charles Pinckney (he was Adams’ running mate in 1796). But election laws were different in those days. The winner of the electoral vote became president. Second place became vice president. That was how we got a split administration in 1796, the only time this ever happened.

In 1800, the electors decided to not repeat that mistake, and as a result, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr both received exactly the same number of electoral votes. Now it was clear to everyone that the intent was for Jefferson to be president, but the numbers didn’t say that, and of course the ambitious Aaron Burr wasn’t going to give up a chance to take the presidency. The election went to a Federalist-controlled House of Representatives, who was divided. Burr had more Federalist leanings than Jefferson, so some in the House hoped to influence Burr. However, Hamilton, the de facto leader of the Federalist party, lobbied hard for Jefferson. Hamilton and Jefferson were bitter rivals, but Hamilton and Aaron Burr had a longer history of bitter rivalry that bordered on mutual hatred.

Obviously Burr’s ambitions displeased Jefferson, who dumped him in the next presidential election. So Aaron Burr ran for governor of New York in 1804. Hamilton campaigned strongly against Burr, allowing Morgan Lewis to take the governor’s seat by a wide margin. That was the last straw. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, which Burr won, ending Hamilton’s life and Burr’s political career.

And you thought this last election was messy…

And mail. I’ll get to it sometime this week. I don’t know when. Why? Mail with a computer question or two is usually pretty easy. Five minutes, maybe ten. Long mail that requires some sort of rebuttal takes a long time. This piece took as long to write as two of the mail responses would, and it covers four totally unrelated subjects instead of just one. Since I don’t like getting stuck in a rut and I don’t like dedicating more than an hour a day to this site, the mail will wait. Or maybe I’ll just post it all without comment.

I don’t want to dwell on it, but 50-60% of my traffic comes from search engine hits, and the way you create repeat readers from search engine hits is to cast a wide net. Dwelling on political non-issues doesn’t make long-term sense for driving traffic.

10/30/2000

Leading off, some baseball news. Baseball and network execs are puzzled over why this was the lowest-rated World Series ever. (Story here.) Could it be that no one’s interested in watching $200 million worth of spoiled brats from New York throw temper tantrums? Nah, couldn’t be.

Baseball needs a Cinderella story. Bad.

Athlons are dirt cheap. Don’t buy one. Dan Seto noticed and mentioned that AMD Athlons are now cheap as dirt, at least compared to their once-stratospheric levels. He cited a 1 GHz Athlon for $320. So I hopped on the Web, and sure enough, you can easily find one in the $300 range. Some of the bottom-feeder vendors are selling them for as little as $260.

The rest of the lineup? 700/$99, 750/$108, 800/$129, 850/$146, 900/$166, 950/$224.

Remember, though, before you rush out to buy a supercheap gigahertz CPU, that CPU speed is but one factor in performance. Match it up with a video card that treats you right, and with a sound card that isn’t going to suck up all your CPU cycles (the SB Live! MP3+ is an outstanding inexpensive choice), and most importantly, with a hard drive that doesn’t hold you back. If you’re building a performance system, particularly one that’ll be running Linux, NT, or W2K, give serious thought to a SCSI disk. You’ll be happier with a SCSI-equipped 700 MHz system than with an IDE-equipped GHz system.

If money were no object, here’s what I’d get today and why (then I’ll tell you why I still wouldn’t buy it, even if money were no object):

  • Asus A7V mobo — most stable Athlon board available, and every time I buy something other than an Asus I regret it later
  • AMD Thunderbird 1.2 GHz — strictly for braggin’ rights
  • 256 MB Crucial PC133 RAM — Micron memory, the best in the business
  • Adaptec 29160 Ultra160 SCSI PCI host adapter — hey, it’s Adaptec
  • Seagate Cheetah X15 18GB 15K RPM hard drive — Who cares about drive size? This bad boy has a 3.9 ms seek time, a 4-meg buffer and 15,000 rpm spindle speed. It’ll heat my apartment, it’ll wake up my neighbors, but I won’t wait on it (much).
  • Plextor UltraPlex Wide 40X CD-ROM — I love my Plextor drives
  • Plextor 12X CD-R with Burnproof — no coasters with this drive
  • Sound Blaster Live! Platinum — same as the MP3+ but with a nice front-mounted breakout box for my audio gear
  • 3Com 3CR990 NIC — this is the coolest NIC on the market, far and away. It has an onboard processor that handles much of the TCP/IP encapsulation itself, freeing CPU cycles. Same principle as 3D acceleration on your video card and DirectSound acceleration on your sound card. A hundred bucks, but probably worth every cent. Nobody seems to know about it, so I’m telling you.

I wouldn’t worry so much about the video card. My two-year-old STB Velocity 128 frankly is enough card for most of what I do. I suppose I’d get an nVidia GeForce256-based model of some sort. Since the nVidia Riva128 chipset has long since been sent to the gulag, the value chipset is the TNT2. Hot tip if you’re building a value PC: I’m seeing Creative Labs OEM TNT2-based cards for $60, and that’s more than enough card for all but the most die-hard gamer.

Amazingly, you could have this system for well under $3,000. I figured buying the best of everything would run into the $4500 range easily.

I suspect AMD slashed prices precisely because this is a good time to wait and they don’t want you to. Those in the know know that the AMD 760 chipset, which supports DDR SDRAM (basically 266 MHz SDRAM) comes out this week, so anything available today is old hat. This isn’t the multiprocessor AMD 760MP though — we’re looking at January for that. Sorry.

So why not buy now and replace the motherboard later? The 760 introduces a newer, faster front-side bus. If you want to exploit its full potential, you need a new CPU. No one is going to want these old ones now.

I spent a good part of the weekend working on an article. Essentially, I’m distilling chapter 2 of Optimizing Windows into a 3,000-word piece. That’s hard. The tips fit into that, but with very little explanation and very little flair. So much for the difference between it and every other “21 Ways to Speed Up Windows” article, except mine may be more complete for lack of explanation and flair.

Some argue they don’t want flair. They’re lying. Without flair, it reads like an economics textbook. Without explanation, you haven’t done anyone much good.

The line I really don’t want to lose: “I hate screen savers. I hate them so much, when I was once invited to make an appearance on a US television program called The Screen Savers, I turned them down.” Then I go into explaining why screen savers are the cause of everything wrong with the world today.

I was at 3,600 words Saturday, down to about 3,200 by Sunday afternoon. I can cut the two least important tips, leaving 20, and be at 2946, which might leave room for some screenshots. I’m half tempted to ask him if I can do the page layout for this thing as well… That’s not likely, but worth asking.

10/28/2000

~Mail Follows Today’s Post~

Microsoft hacked! In case you haven’t heard, some hackers in St. Petersburg, Russia, had access to Windows source code for three months and the intrusion was only discovered this week. This could end up being a very good thing for you and me, believe it or not. (And this is even assuming the hackers didn’t fix any of the bugs they found.) As security consultant Andrew Antipass told Wired magazine, “It is interesting in a kind of cruel way that Microsoft has been eaten by the monsters it created.”

Microsoft has always been oblivious to security in their products. The only way they were going to learn was to be bitten, and hard. Now something has happened that calls their network infrastructure into question, the security of their products (which they’ve tried to present as more secure than Unix) into question, and even the integrity of the code they’ve produced in the last three months into question–Microsoft can say what they want about it being impossible to change the code. Of course they’re going to say that. Will the public believe it? Some will believe anything Microsoft says. Others wisely will believe exactly the opposite of anything Microsoft says. Still others (like me) will believe the worst no matter what Microsoft says.

If this incident doesn’t force Microsoft to start taking security seriously, nothing will.

The downside, however, is that if the hackers did indeed get Windows and/or Office source code, vulnerabilities become potentially easier to spot (not that access to Linux source code has significantly increased the number of vulnerabilities–remember, most hackers are script kiddies at best, writing in batch languages, and aren’t any more proficient in C++ than you or me).

All of this overshadowed Microsoft’s Internic entry being hacked (Apple’s entry got hacked too, though less creatively), which you can read about in The Register.

Enough of this computer junk. Let’s talk about music.

Review of U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. If U2 were to call it quits right now and we had to pick out U2’s defining album, this would be it. That’s not to say it’s their best album–it’s awfully difficult to match the raw energy and wonder of Boy, the raw power of Achtung Baby, and if this one sells like The Joshua Tree, it’ll only be because there are so many fewer bands making good music in 2000 than there were in 1987.

That said, U2 seems to have finally answered the quintessential question of how to sound like U2 without sounding like selling out. For the past 13 years, every time U2 released an album, people expressed disappointment that it didn’t sound like Joshua Tree. But others would point to the inevitable single track on each album that did sound like Joshua Tree, then wave it in the band’s face: Can’t you do anything original?

You can divide U2’s music into roughly three phases: 1979-1983 (Boy through War), 1984-1989 (Unforgettable Fire through Rattle and Hum), and 1991-1997 (Achtung Baby through Pop). Although the band has reinvented itself with every album — sometimes for the better and sometimes not — they tend to hold on to their sound for a couple of albums at a time before they make major changes.

But the album title might as well be referring to those sonic changes: This album manages to incorporate all of those previous sounds while not sounding too much like any of the previous albums. You could take the defining song off any previous U2 album, drop it randomly into this album’s mix, and it would manage to fit.

The Edge’s jangly guitar? It’s there. Larry Mullen’s precise, militaristic drumming? It’s there. Adam Clayton’s low, thumping bass? It’s there. And of course, there’s also Bono’s wailing vocals. The experimentation? That’s there too, and that’s the bit that always scares people.

Make no bones about it: U2 is a rock band, and this is a rock record. But listen closely, and the experimental elements are still there. The synths are there. The sequencers are there. So is the drum machine. In fact, they lead off the album. But whereas in the past they have sometimes been the focus, now they complement the band’s sound rather than defining it.

They pull out a unexpected tricks as well. Listening to “When I Look At the World” for the first time, I half expected to hear Frankie Vallie filling in on lead vocals. Bono’s soaring falsetto doesn’t reach as high anymore as Vallie did in his prime, but the crafty veteran vocalist makes what he has left work. Meanwhile, in the tracks “New York” and “Grace,” Bono manages to out-Lou Reed the real article, though as a closer “Grace” is just not up there with U2’s great closing tracks of the past (War’s “40,” Achtung Baby’s “Love is Blindness,” Pop’s “Wake Up Dead Man,” or Joshua Tree’s “Mothers of the Disappeared”).

The biggest surprise is track 8. In that track, titled “In A Little While,” U2 finally succeeds in sounding soulful. So much of Rattle and Hum was contrived, a bunch of Irish guys in their late 20s trying to sound like B.B. King or Bob Dylan, and they clearly hadn’t lived long enough yet to pull it off. Now in their early 40s, they nail it.

The opening track and first single, “Beautiful Day,” is a good introduction to the album. That song’s sonic elements are for the most part present throughout. Like most U2 songs, to the casual listener it sounds good immediately. As one who picks apart lyrics, I initially didn’t like the song because it seemed too superficial. So what if it’s a beautiful day? Even a no-talent Kurt Cobain wannabe like Gavin Rossdale can say that! Only upon closer listening does the real meaning surface: the story of someone who has lost everything, yet never felt better. That sounds a lot like me. It probably sounds like you too, or someone you know.

So, how’s it stack up? Most people rank War and The Joshua Tree as U2’s finest albums. I buck convention and place Achtung Baby (their amazing 1991 comeback) and Boy (their 1980 international debut) ahead of those two. At the bottom, I’d rank October, Rattle and Hum, Zooropa, The Unforgettable Fire, and Pop. All That You Can’t Leave Behind definitely blows away the lesser five albums.

However, the album falls a bit flat after the first four delightful tracks. It picks it back up again for a track or two here and there, but the immediate greatness that grabbed you when you first heard The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby just isn’t there throughout. And the superstrong emotions that drove and held together those great albums aren’t here.

This is probably the album of the year, and many bands go their entire careers without recording anything as good as U2’s worst. This effort borders on greatness, but just doesn’t quite manage to cross over.

Strong points: The first four tracks.
Weak points: “Peace on Earth;” “Wild Honey;” “In a Little While,” though good, doesn’t seem to fit (seems to be there only to settle a bet from 1989); “Grace” is a good track but ill-suited to end a U2 album.

And a survey. I’m considering a one-day-per-page format, like Frank McPherson and Chris Ward-Johnson use. When marking up by hand, a weekly format is much easier. When using Manilla, it really makes no difference.

If you don’t want to join the site in order to vote, feel free to just e-mail me. Members can vote here. (I do wish there was an option to open discussions and voting to non-members. I can see why some people would want to require membership, but that should be optional. So it goes.)

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From: “Dan Bowman” < DanBowman@att.net >
To: <dfarq@swbell.net>
Sent: Saturday, October 28, 2000 11:03 AM
Subject: Music reviews

Now I’m really glad I spent my discretionary funds yesterday! After reading your review (the class is watching a movie while I make copies),
I’m real tempted to pick up the album.
Then again, I have a Costco run set for after class…

Have a great weekend,

dan

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Don’t look too hard; it’s not available until Tuesday. I got a chance to hear it a few times and I got sick of seeing reviews from people who just listened to the 15-second clips available on the music store sites and said, “This is the best U2 album ever!” based on that, so I wrote it up. Good practice anyway. I think it’s been 3 1/2 years since I’ve written a music review of any significant length.

I wanted to strike a balance between “this may be the year’s best album” and “this is the best album ever!” because it’s not (it’s not even U2’s best).  Hopefully I did that. But I remember when I wrote up a review of Pearl Jam’s No Code in 1996, people said I was too harsh and shouldn’t have compared it to the past (though looking at that album’s longevity or lack thereof, I’m inclined to think I was right).

Reviews are tricky business but I want to stay in practice, so I may start doing a review a week just to get and stay sharp.