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Archive: 2003

Distant Fires

As I took out the garbage this evening, there was a bright orange flare to the south, swelling over a few seconds and then fading quickly.  It was bright enough that the ground was dimly illuminated; some time later, a distant roar could be heard.  There were a few more white flashes that followed, and shortly thereafter I heard sirens as well.  I honestly wondered if an airliner had crashed into one of the nearby suburbs.

Instead, it was a fire at a magnesium recycling facility about seven miles away from our house.  As I write this, a few hours later, the fire is still burning, and is expected to continue burning for 24 hours or more.  I’ve been hearing explosions several times an hour, some of them rather loud.  According to news reports, there is a series of magnesium storage silos currently sitting just outside the flames.  Every time I hear a new rumble, I wonder if it’s the silos cooking off.  In fact, I just heard a string of deep booms that could well be them.

In a weird way, this may be as close as I ever get to understanding what war is like.  No, of course it’s nothing like the same; I have basically no fear that I could be harmed by this fire, even if the storage silos go up.  But the glows on the horizon, and the semi-continual thunder that no cloud produces, imparts some of the foreboding and dread that I suppose a nearby armed conflict must instill.  It sounds like I always expected distant artillery would.

As a cold front moves through the area, the rain is picking up, clattering against the house with more force and volume.  In almost any fire, this would be a welcome relief for the firefighters, but in this case it’s almost the worst weather imaginable, as those of you who remember your chemistry classes will have realized.  There’s a horrible irony somewhere in there, especially given that it’s the end of December and today was rainy and in the low 50s.

Tonight my thoughts are with the firefighters who will spend hours upon hours fighting simply to keep the fire contained, knowing that they can’t try to douse the fire directly without making things worse.  All they can do is fight a defensive battle, and that has to be incredibly frustrating.  I only hope that they all make it through this safely, and are able to prevent any more damage to the area surrounding the plant.

An Absent Voice

If she had somehow lived to see it, today would have been Mom’s 60th birthday.  It was always a sort of relief to Mom that her birthday came just one day after Christmas, because she could let it get lost in the shuffle.  Usually, we’d give nearly all our presents for her on Christmas morning, and then each of us would give one present the next day.  That suited her just fine.  She was always much happier giving presents than receiving them.  It’s a trait I absorbed from her at some point; like she did, I feel a bit awkward about receiving a gift, even from family members.

For that and other reasons, neither Mom nor I enjoyed Christmas very much, except in the last few years, when Kat dragged everyone kicking and screaming into the holiday spirit, whether we wanted to or not.  She’s good that way.  The joy and pleasure she feels over things like Christmas and Disney World is so pure and unbounded that it spills over into people around her.  Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am to have married Kat.  In her last days, as we said our good-byes without ever uttering those words, Mom never once told Kat to take care of me, nor me to take care of Kat.  She knew it wasn’t necessary.

Neither did Mom ask me to speak well of her to my children, whenever I had them.  In that case, she probably never even gave thought to her legacy, because it wasn’t her way to think about herself.  But again, it wasn’t necessary.  When Carolyn asks me about my childhood, I will tell her how Mom would read a chapter of a book to me and my sister every night, and how Mom wept every time Charlotte died.  How she made toad-in-the-hole for breakfast after we’d read Danny, Champion of the World.  The way she could admonish me with a look, the one we called the Hairy Eyeball, capitals and all.  There will be warmth and love in my voice, but also wistfulness and loss.

I look at Carolyn, named in honor of the grandmother who never knew her, and try to imagine all the things she has yet to learn.  I wish she could have learned some of them from her namesake, and indeed we have books that Mom bought for our children—some before the cancer was discovered, and some after.  A few of them contain her name, in short inscriptions written years before they would reach their intended audience.

When I read those books to Carolyn and any future siblings, I think it will be hard for me to avoid tears, even though none of them is Charlotte’s Web.  Partly that’s because I will regret that Mom wasn’t able to give many more gifts to her grandchildren, gifts of books and learning toys and words of wisdom, but there’s deeper reason.  I will always read these few precious gifts to my children when they ask to hear them, but I will always wish that another voice, a softer and wiser voice, were reading them instead.

The Fix Is In

I feel kind of honored whenever I find out a browser’s been altered (hopefully fixed) as a result of something I’ve done.  Check out point (20) in Dave Hyatt’s recent Safari progress update.  Glee!  I could also feel good about point (19), which I reported as a bug a while back, but I apparently they’d known about it long before I noticed it.  To see that bug in action, drop by the XFN profile document.

My optimism on Sunday regarding Libya may have been misplaced, it seems—or was it?  It’s hard to tell, and CNN isn’t much help, since it’s provided information on both sides of the fence.  In a summation article regarding an interview Gadhafi gave to CNN, it was stated:

Asked about his decision, Gadhafi acknowledged that the Iraq war may have influenced him, but he insisted he wanted to focus on the “positive.”

For that matter, the title of the article was “Gadhafi: Iraq war may have influenced WMD decision.”  That was on Monday.  I went looking for a full transcript, because I wanted to see exactly what was said, but didn’t find one.  When I went back again to look on Tuesday, the article had been updated and did not contain the above paragraph.  It instead stated:

Asked about his decision to dismantle programs and whether the Iraq war or the capture of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein may have influenced him, Gadhafi questioned why Iraq had to be his role model.

The title had been updated as well, now to “Gadhafi hopes for new era of U.S.-Libya relations.”  Still no transcript.

Notice that in neither case was Gadhafi’s answer on the subject of the war’s influence actually quoted.  So in the absence of video of that segment of the interview, or else a detailed transcript, I’m left wondering just what the hell he really said, and whether or not I should retract some of the things I said on Sunday.

So I’ll punt on the whole thing, and just share The Hoser with everyone.  Merry Christmas, eh?

Out Of The Cradle

As someone who studied 20th Century geopolitics in college, I’m quite fascinated by the latest news from Libya, which I had long assumed would only change course when Gadhafi left office (one way or the other).  To see a leader—any leader—take such steps is quite frankly astonishing; I feel like next thing will be Kim Jong-Il announcing that the whole nuclear-weapons inspection problem there was a big misunderstanding and he’d really like to get it all cleared up so McDonald’s can start opening some Pyongyang branches.

I’m even more fascinated by two things that will probably raise my Total Information Awareness rating for even mentioning them:

  1. The willingness of the Bush administration to support IAEA inspections in Libya (and Iran) when it denounced them as being useless in Iraq.  What’s the difference, I wonder?
  2. It would appear that, given enough patience, economic sanctions do in fact work, contrary to the administration’s claims when building a case for attacking Iraq.  You have to be in it for the long haul, but in the end they pay off.  After all, it seems that the sanctions imposed on Libya in the late Eighties were a motivating force in Gadhafi’s recent decisions.  Not the threat of attack, which Libya hasn’t faced from the U.S. since Reagan left office.  Just plain old exclusion from the global economy.  (Dissenters might point to Cuba as proof that this isn’t true, except Cuba is only excluded from the American economy, not the global economy.)

I’m not seeking to excuse Libya’s role in the downing of Pan Am 103, but then I could hardly do so: they admitted to it earlier this year, and explained their motivations.  Whether or not I agree with them is beside the point I’m trying to make here.  The real point, at least to me, is that Libya is on a course that I could hardly have imagined a week or two ago.  It gives me a smidgen of hope that humanity might be a little more grown-up than I tend to believe.

My deepest wish is that this starts a change in the way diplomacy is conducted in the future, and how nations choose to deal with the skeletons in their closets.  Right next to that is my hope that America responds to these moves positively and with a willingness to negotiate, to compromise if necessary.  We have to leave behind poisonous concepts like “unconditional surrender” and start working with leaders who want to act responsibly.  Given the increasing ease with which massively destructive weapons can be created, the future of humanity could very well depend on it.

Hummering Past the Graveyard

A couple of weeks back, I threw out a relatively strong opinion on civilians who drive Hummers.  At the time, I didn’t back up what I said, and fortunately I don’t have to now.  Seth Stevenson has explained it for me in his analysis of a recent Hummer ad.  The three points in the middle of the analysis very nicely sum up my perceptions of Hummer owners.  Just past that, Seth says:

Of course, some will love the shameless Hummer kid and his take-no-prisoners, win-at-all-costs individualism. Not coincidentally, these are the sort of people who buy Hummers…. The Hummer kid is a me-first kid, and the Hummer is without doubt a me-first vehicle.

That ties it up all together for me, providing a near-perfect summary of reasons behind my opinion.  I’m all for individualism, but not win-at-all-costs individualism.  Sometimes victory is not worth the cost, and that’s usually when your victory damages those around you.  Society plays an important role in all our lives, except of course for those of you living completely off the land—that is, no electricity, sewer, or heat utilities, and absolutely no trips to the grocery store for food—and those of us who benefit from society owe it some consideration and preservation in return.  Express yourself as you see fit, believe what you want to believe, take chances and chart your own course… as long as it isn’t needlessly harmful to others, or to society as a whole.  Have some consideration for the people around you from time to time, and take the time to ponder how your actions might affect them, positively or negatively.

In other words, be a responsible adult—which, so far as I can tell, civilian Hummer owners simply aren’t, and I find that irks me.  I’m not about to call for the abolition of Hummer ownership or anything like that: everyone has the freedom to display their short-sighted wastefulness and arrogance as much as they like.  I just wish we (as a whole) were a little more grown-up than that.

And don’t even get me started on people who own more than one Hummer, let alone five.

So that’s why I said what I said, and why I’ve been careful to make it clear that I’m talking about civilians who drive Hummers (not all SUVs, although I think some of them are excessive as well).  They’re incredibly useful vehicles for the military, forest rangers, and other people who have to go where there are no roads and not much in the way of flat terrain.  It’s the people who think they need a forty-ton vehicle to pick up a double latté at the Starbucks down the street who could use a good whack with a clue-by-four.

My views on the relationship betwen the individual and society also explain why I have little patience for Americans who complain about the cost of gasoline and our income tax rates, and even less patience for people who think the way to revive an economy is through reduced federal taxation and increased federal spending.  Pick one or the other, chief.  Otherwise you end up with debts large enough to, you know, crush an economy.

Friendly Discussions

We’ve gotten some interesting feedback about XFN, as well as a number of blogroll adoptions and even tools that offer XFN support!  Two commentaries in particular drew me in:

  • Richard Tallent pointed out that XFN could be a key component of building trust networks between blogs.  He also had some gripes about the syntax and scope, which is fine, as we don’t envision XFN as being complete by any means and are very keen to see what people suggest.  My responses can be found in the comments section of his post.
  • Leigh Dodds took me mildly and quite fairly to task for some minor inaccuracies in the XFN/FOAF comparison article I wrote, and also had some great observations and ideas regarding XFN.  Leigh’s comment that he finds XFN to be elegant was especially satisfying, because Matt, Tantek, and I worked hard to keep it that way.

One of the things I forgot to point out in my announcement yesterday is that not only can you add XFN values to your links, but you can do so and still have your HTML validate— see, for example, the validator report for the main page of meyerweb— because XFN uses an existing HTML attribute (rel) in a way that HTML itself allows.  In other words, XFN enhances the Web without breaking it, very much in the spirit of Tim’s original vision of interlocking technologies that worked together to create a social medium.  That’s an important aspect of XFN, and one I didn’t want to overlook.

Of course, XFN isn’t constrained to HTML.  Any XML language can also use XFN, given the right hooks are included in the language’s DTD.  Thus, we’ve created something that works today as well as tomorrow.

We’re still very interested in suggestions and constructive criticism, so keep those posts coming!

XFN

Put a human face on your linking: XFN.  Originally designed for blogrolls, but useful in any situation where you link to a personal Web site, XFN is a grass-roots social networking tool that anyone can use at any time on any site.  I’m using it on my blogroll right now, in fact.

The goal of XFN is, quite simply, to make it possible for links to carry information about the human relationships behind the linking.  It lets you designate which links are to the sites of people you’ve met, which are to those who are your friends, which ones represent your sweethearts, and quite a bit more.  Best of all, it does all this with just a few simple values that can be added to any link.  The great thing, from my point of view, is that it adds a lot of interesting semantic value without being overly complex or difficult to understand.  Check it out!

(Update: you might also like to see what Tantek and Matt, who were really the driving forces behind XFN, have to say about it.)

Appropriate Selections

Okay, a lot of you have managed to come up with puns and jokes similar to the one I first saw at Jay Allen‘s site, and Dunstan Orchard has taken the whole theme to the (il)logical conclusion.  One of the most common puns I’ve seen is:

#ericmeyer:first-child

Amusing, yes, but here’s the problem: that describes any element with an id of ericmeyer that is the first child of another element.  Now, I can be described that way; I am the oldest of my parents’ two children.  But it doesn’t describe Carolyn, unless we accept the convention that a child’s id should be given a value with his or her father’s name.  Such a convention would limit every father to one child, which might make for excellent social policy but seems unnecessarily restrictive from a structural point of view.

So, while this particular little joke validates, it doesn’t do what the author(s) intended, probably due to the widespread lack of understanding about what :first-child actually does. A closeup picture of Carolyn, showing her hazel eyes and shock of dark hair to full effect. You’re supposed to be describing her, people, not me!  Every time you write an inappropriate selector, it makes the Baby Carolyn cry.  You wouldn’t want to make her cry, would you?

A selector that does describe her is:

#ericmeyer :first-child

…which is functionally equivalent to:

#ericmeyer *:first-child

Both will select any element that is the first child of another element and is also descended from an element with an id of ericmeyer.  This would also select the first children of any children that I have, so first grandchildren (and so on) would be members of the same set.  Thus, it might make slightly more sense to use the following:

#EricMeyer > :first-child

…which is to say, any element that’s the first child of an element whose id is EricMeyer—more precisely, any element that is the first child of another element and is also the child of an element with an id of EricMeyer.  I suppose that this particular selector could describe many children, as I expect I’m not the only ‘EricMeyer’ (and yes, the capitalization matters) in the world to have had a child.  But it should, at least within the confines of my docu—er, my family tree, select Carolyn uniquely.

Here endeth the lesson.

At another time of year, I might have struggled with what kind of music to play for Carolyn.  Big Band?  Classical?  Hard rock?  Some blues, maybe?  “Weird Al”?  Fortunately, there is no dilemma, as we’re pretty much playing holiday music front to back.  Jiminy Cricket sings “From All Of Us To All Of You” about twenty times a day.  Good thing I have a fondness for that record.  I’m still going to get Handel’s “Messiah,” Bach’sBeethoven’s “Ode To Joy,” and a few other pieces from Bombastic Dead White Guys into the mix.  Plus “Santa Baby” as sung by Eartha Kitt.  May as well start with the confusion early!

I’ve just read, much to my confusion, that Diana Krall and Elvis Costello were married in Elton John’s mansion, thus forming a Weirdness Trifecta.  I mean, hey, if they’re happy with each other, I’m all for it, but those just aren’t names I would have put into the same sentence.  Ever.

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