November 2003

One System, Many Explorers

Thursday, 6 November 2003

This completely and utterly rocks. I'm going to set up a Virtual PC drive just to try it out. But Matt Haughey's question is worth considering: why didn't we know about this sooner?

Parting Thoughts

Tuesday, 11 November 2003

Yesterday morning I got a completely unexpected, and not at all pleasant, telephone call informing me that someone I knew back when I worked for CWRU had quite unexpectedly died a few days ago. I also became responsible for passing word on to some people I know who also knew the deceased, including Kat's brother Neil (who'd already heard). In Neil's case, he'd really lost a friend. For me, a former co-worker with whom I'd been friendly had died. It isn't nearly the same thing.

So Jim Nauer, who'd also known the deceased, and I went to the calling hours last night. I went for a number of reasons: I'd known him, I'd known several of his friends, and I had Neil's condolences to pass on to those who were left behind. I also went with a tinge of fear, because it would be the first memorial service I'd attended since Mom died in April, and I wasn't sure how I might react.

As it turns out, I focused on the people who were grieving more deeply, who really needed the support, and did my best to express my sympathies without dwelling overmuch on the situation. Because, as I've discovered in the past six months, in the face of a loss so great, all you can really say is, "I'm sorry." And the only real response is, "Thank you." Anything else said beyond those two things is an awkward attempt to better express everything we're feeling at those moments—but in the end, it comes down to expression of sorrow, and acknowledgment of that expression.

I found myself thinking that I would never be able to talk with this person again, never hear them laugh, and I remembered that the same thoughts came to me at Mom's memorial service. The feeling of a vast gulf suddenly discovered was hard to shake. My mind kept trying to reject the situation, to decide that nobody had died—they'd just stepped out for a little while, and would one day be back. I wanted to deny the finality of what had happened, and kept having to force myself to face it.

In a way, it's almost impossible to reconcile the person who was with the absence that is. We keep trying to escape into delusions of temporary separation. But that way lies anger toward the absent party, since if they could come back, then their continued absence must mean that they don't want to come back. It also becomes impossible to move on, because you keep waiting for them to end their own exile.

I've had occasion to wonder if perhaps one of the great comforts of religion is that it gives you someone to blame, and then someone to forgive, for the death of a loved one.

This Just In

Wednesday, 12 November 2003

Just as I was reaching the end of my radio show this morning, the Emergency Alert System (EAS) suddenly activated. I hadn't triggered our equipment; this was an external alert coming in, taking over the air signal. My stomach immediately clenched and I swore softly, firing up the browser on the in-studio computer to hit CNN. Wondering, desperately and dreadfully, what had happened now.

It was a test of the system, of course. But here's the thing: there was no leading announcement. They hit the tones, and then told us it was a test. Maybe that's the way the system ought to be tested. It felt every bit as real and scary as I expect it should. An hour later, I was still wound kind of tight.

Child's Play

Saturday, 15 November 2003

Thanks to the power of the Internet, I received some amazing news I just have to share. You may or may not be aware that I once claimed the title "Friend of the Developers' Children" for myself. This was a play on Jeffrey Zeldman's "Friend of the Japanese Children," which I always found kind of amusing and cool all at once, just like the Toho movies that I presume inspired it. Well, I have an even better title to claim now: "Namesake of the Japanese Children." Congratulations to the Sasano family on their new arrival!

Speaking of children, Kat and I had our own experience with a small one recently: we played host to the four-and-a-half year old daughter of some friends while they went out of town for a weekend. We all had a pretty grand time, what with taking her to see Brother Bear, but I discovered something about myself that I'd long suspected. I have not only The Voice of Authority, but also The Look.

Here's what happened. We were all having dinner together and Emma was sitting next to me. She was swinging her legs back and forth and giggling and generally acting her age. It was really kind of cute. But then she rotated in her chair to face me, paused a few seconds, and, giggling, kicked me in the leg. Not hard, but still kicked, which is something her parents don't tolerate any more than I do.

My head snapped around to stare her in the eyes, but I didn't say a single word. I just... looked at her. The effect was in some sense astounding; Kat told me later that she couldn't believe what she was seeing. Emma's broad, slightly mischievous smile very slowly faded into a concerned expression, then a pout, and then a hangdog expression. I think she glanced over at Kat, who wasn't saying a word either.

"What do you say, Emma?" I asked her in a quiet, level tone. She didn't say anything, but looked almost hurt and turned away to face the other direction, head hung low. I asked her again if she knew what she'd done, and what she should say. In a voice so small it could have been eclipsed by a proton, she said, "M'sorry." Then she went around the table to crawl into Kat's lap. I found out later that she whispered to Kat, "Uncle Eric is a scary man." ("Uncle" is an honorary term in this case.) Kat laughed and agreed with her that I can be a scary man when I get angry. Kat reminded me that I needed to tell Emma I still loved her, which I did and she accepted.

Here's the slightly strange part: I knew, as I stared at Emma, what I was doing. I could feel the blaze in my eyes, the set in my face, the rebuke in my stance. I knew I was admonishing her without words. I was just as confident that it would have the intended effect. I'd been on the receiving end of similar rebukes when I was a child, and had learned my lessons well.

Later that night, I called my sister Julie to relate the story, which she found very funny. We'd been talking about Mom in recent weeks, and Julie had told me that she felt closest to Mom when riding a motorcycle. I found this to be very odd, because I was unaware that Mom loved motorcycles. Apparently she'd planned to ride one before she died but never got around to it. Anyway, I told Julie that I'd discovered I feel closest to Mom when disciplining a small child.

It was, mostly, a joke.

Tantek == Spanking?

Sunday, 16 November 2003

The title of the post exists mostly because I vowed in a public setting to use it, but there is a story behind it. I just don't remember the details right now, because it happened more than 24 hours ago and I'm very tired. I remember that a small group had gathered at Crepes on Cole for brunch yesterday, and the conversation kept veering wildly from highly geeky to very much the opposite. Derek Powazek, Heather Champ, and Tantek Çelik are seated at a table.  Derek is looking off to the left with an expression of diabolical amusement; Heather is speaking to someone outside the frame, her right hand to her cheek; and Tantek types away on his new Macintosh iBook. At some point, the subject of Tantek being in trouble (for a comment? an action? a bug in IE/Mac?) came up, and it was asserted that he needed to be spanked. ("Oh, yes, yes! A spanking! A spanking!") Then it was observed that we should probably check first with his girlfriend to see if that was acceptable. So I turned to her and said, "So, is it okay with you if we spank him?"

Her reaction was so priceless (and his nearly as amusing), I ended up teasing both of them about it several times, and I wasn't alone in the effort, either. She never did answer the question, so we still don't know where she actually stands on the subject. It was a weird day. Relaxing, but weird. Early on we were discussing relationships and the subject of polyamory came up. I speculated that the increasing practice of polyamory might be linked to the rising incidence of attention-deficit disorder. It's so crazy, it just might make sense.

Pretty much the opposite of ADD is the viewpoint espoused by the Long Now Foundation, which aims to get people thinking about the next ten milennia as opposed to the next ten minutes. Tantek and I met up at the Herbst Pavilion to see Brian Eno give a free talk on the Long Now, and there turned out to be an even Longer Line. With space for 700, and probably 750 in the hall by the time they closed the doors, there were very likely three or four times as many people in line as were eventually admitted. The talk itself was interesting, and Mr. Eno's presentation style was done in such a calm, deliberate, paced manner that I felt a little more in touch with the Long Now by the time we left, which may or may not have been done on purpose. The instant the talk was over, Tantek and I headed out a side door and toward the parking lot at a jog so we could the crowd to their cars; we had no desire to get stuck in a traffic jam trying to leave. This would be ironic except for the statement I remember from the presentation, that the Long Now perspective is meant to make the world "safe for hurry" by slowing other parts of life a long way down. So we hurried safely, and benefitted from the effort. Yay us!

In many ways, I'm intrigued with and approving of the Long Now concept. If we as a society could take more of a long-term view, we might make different (and hopefully better) choices about how we relate to our surroundings. If you knew that you'd be around for five centuries, how would you live your life differently? If you knew humanity would occupy the Earth for the next ten milennia, how might that alter your patterns of behavior? I've generally lived my life employing a long-term perspective, but the longest term I employ tends to be my lifetime. While I might plan for retirement and how I'll pay for the education of children I don't even yet have, I don't generally make plans that are centered on my great-great-grandchildren, because I will almost certainly never live to meet them. Does that make them any less real, or worthy of consideration? Maybe it does, but even the act of deciding that will require a longer view than I usually take.

Clay Shirky's recent essay on the Semantic Web has stirred enough attention that I had non-techie friends forwarding me the URL. I found it interesting, especially since over the last few months I've been working with a few sharp people on a way to address one of the points Clay touched upon. We're almost ready to make our work public, so watch this space for details as well as an addition to this page.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Wednesday, 19 November 2003

In rummaging through my pictures from last weekend's trip to San Francisco, I came across another picture I just had to share: the laundry machines where Jeff Veen's clothes get washed and dried! A pair of top-loading washing machines sit to the far left, a pair of front-loaders sit in the middle, and a stacked pair of front-loading dryers can be seen on the right.  They actually don't look like they're any different than normal washing machines.They seemed bigger than normal machines, somehow. As if they were mighty colossi of laundry machines, towering over the cleanliness landscape and emitting peals of spin-cycle sounds that shake the skies like thunder.

Then again, I could just be projecting.

So what's with all the pictures all of a sudden? Partly it's me messing around with the export features in iPhoto, which are frankly not the greatest. It generated tons of "jaggies," and in JPEG images, no less. I need to find some tools that do a better job, or at least some decent plug-ins for iPhoto. I think I said that some time back. It's more true now than it was then. (Speaking of which, is there a trick to adding folders to the Dock? I can't seem to figure it out.)

Over the past few days I've run into two very familiar forms of grumbling:

  • XHTML is bogus because it's so much pickier than good old HTML.
  • CSS layout is bogus because it can't do everything possible in table-based layout.

These aren't new complaints, by any stretch. Heck, I myself whined long and loud about how XHTML forced everything to be lowercase—I called it "xhtml" for the longest time—and those trailing slashes looked stupid. Over time, I realized those were silly reasons to dislike a language, especially since HTML is still around and quite available. (What's this site authored in? Hmmm...) I realized I was ambivalent toward XHTML not because it was pickier, but because it was a reformulation of HTML in XML. That was exactly its point, and while I could see some utility in that effort, I thought (and still think) it a mistake to abandon all further work on HTML and push forward with XHTML. I couldn't come to that conclusion, however, until I stopped carping about things being different and took the time to understand why things were different.

As for CSS-P, of course it has limitations. So does table-based layout. The question is which set of limitations you're willing to accept, and conversely which features are more important to your current project. I still fail to understand why people have to treat everything as being a binary situation. It's not a question of only using tables, or only using CSS, for layout, forever and ever amen. Some projects do well with one, some with the other, and some call for both in the same layout. I don't know how many times I've said this over the years, but I guess I'm saying it again.

And if you object to something simply because it's new and doesn't act like the stuff you already know, take it from me: that form of resistance isn't going to work for long. If you can't deal with change, you're on the wrong planet, and if you're a Web developer/designer then you're really in the wrong line of work. Things will always change, whether it's due to new browsers or new standards or new critical patches from Microsoft or just plain new thinking. Your best bet is to learn as much as you can so that you can make the best possible decisions about what to do, and why.

Panther Patter

Thursday, 20 November 2003

Thanks to those of you who wrote in with the answer to my Dock question. It turns out that I'd been trying to drag folders into the same Dock region that holds my application entries, and that's no good. Folders can be added in the area where the Trash can, minimized windows, and running applications not already in the Dock sit. It hadn't even occurred to me to try to add them there, because that's where active stuff (and the Trash) goes. Static links to resources go in the other area, as far as I'm concerned. Just another little shove toward jettisoning the Dock and registering DragThing.

As for iPhoto plug-ins, I did find BetterHTMLExport pretty quickly, and the 2.0 version has exactly what I want—and about ten times that in stuff I won't ever need. If I were creating galleries, it would be a godsend. I'd register it. But all I really want is a plugin that lets me set the size and image quality of exported JPEGs, and that then exports them with smooth scaling instead of the jagged scaling iPhoto uses. Frankly, iPhoto should do all this without needing a plug-in, but it doesn't. This seems like a simple little widget, one that could be created quickly and released as freeware. Anyone have any leads on one that exists, or interest in creating such a tool? Heck, point me at a good beginner's resource on how to analyze and create iPhoto plug-ins and I could take a swing at it myself. In my copious spare time, of course.

Panther's been pretty cool so far—it certainly feels much snappier than Jaguar did—although there are (as always) things that annoy me. The behavior of drag-selecting in the List view changed, and not for the better. The reintroduction of labels (and where were they until now?) is nice, but I would have preferred a better presentation of them in OS. Then again, Exposé thoroughly rocks not just the house, but the neighbor's houses as well. The fact that I can shuffle just those windows associated with the current application is just too darned awesome. Exposé also revealed that Mozilla-based browsers create a small hidden window offscreen, one that you can't really access but is still there. It comes zooming in from the upper left when you invoke Exposé, and zips away when you un-expose everything. I wonder what it's doing.

In case you didn't see this pointed out elsewhere, the main page (at least) of the Sprint PCS site is an XHTML+CSS layout now. One of these days I'm going to have to compile a list.

Seasons Change

Monday, 24 November 2003

When I woke up this morning, it was gray, chilly, and rainy, the way fall is supposed to be. For the past several days, it's instead been warm, which is fine in September or maybe even early October, but not at the beginning of November. It just feels wrong. So today, as much as the weather was less pleasant than yesterday's, I felt a little more comfortable with the world.

As I stood in the kitchen looking out at our back yard and contemplating the week ahead, the rain suddenly shifted to what we call a "wintry mix"—rain, snow, and ice pellets all mixed up. It literally went from one to the other in the space of ten seconds. Now, an hour later, it's snowing. The ground's still warm enough that it's mostly melting upon landing, except for the few lucky flakes that manage to cling to the tops of grass blades and give the lawns a pale frosted look.

I dislike it when writers use weather and seasons as a metaphor for their internal states; it's a cheap device and a rather tired cliché to boot. So I won't actually do it here, but instead allude to the fact that I could have very easily done so, if it weren't for my pride.

This week we have the American holiday of Thanksgiving, and possibly not a moment too soon. Kat and I have suffered a great deal in the past year, and it's easy to become a tragedy diva in such circumstances, focusing on and complaining about everything that's wrong and terrible in one's life. This week we need to dedicate some energy to remembering the good and positive things that happened in the past year, and give thanks for every one; to remind ourselves that life, no matter how hard it seems, is not uniformly dark and painful; to celebrate the good instead of dwelling on the bad. In that way, we can together light a candle rather than curse the darkness, and use that light as a guide toward happier days.

Hot Steaming Internet

Tuesday, 23 November 2003

If you're on the east side of Cleveland and want a nice warm caffeinated place to get online, the new Arabica on Lee Road, just a block or so south of Cedar-Lee, is the place to be. The network SSID is 2WIRE173; it is a closed network but they'll tell you the password at the counter. Note to Mac users: you'll need to enter the password as a 40-bit hex key, not as a plain password. Something about their security setup causes this, although neither I nor they knew exactly what that might be. I figure it's no big deal, since once you enter the information and add it to your Keychain, you'll never have to worry about it again (unless of course they change it).


Wednesday, 26 November 2003


Kat and I have just returned from Morimoto, where we had one of the most amazing meals of our entire lives. Although we'd been seated at a table to start, Kat decided (and rightly so) that we should move to the sushi bar. A view of the sushi bar from our seats, with Morimoto and his sushi staff slicing away So with a little help from the hostess, we moved to sit at the end of the bar, just a few feet from Morimoto himself, and after a bit of debate we decided to start out with the seared kobe beef and green tea soba noodles. These were by themselves amazing, but they were just the beginning. From there, we moved into the omakase, or chef's tasting menu. The best part of this was that we were seated right in front of the chef who was creating our meal, a sushi chef by the name of Alex, so we could ask questions and make requests while he prepared our courses. And what did we have?

  1. Toro tartare (one of the restaurant's signature dishes)
  2. Japanese oysters on the half-shell with four different sauces
  3. Seared scallop
  4. Sashimi salad of striped jack
  5. Mango sorbet with tiny wasabi beigniets
  6. Grilled half lobster in ginger sauce and rice noodles
  7. Grilled kobe beef with pan-seared foie gras
  8. Nigiri sushi including toro (fatty tuna), kanpachi (juvenile yellowtail), sawari (kingfish), Japanese tai (red snapper), needlefish, fluke, and fluke fin
  9. Chocolate temple dessert

It's difficult to even imagine being able to come up with the words to describe how good everything was. Our chef leans toward the camera as he puts the finishing touches on an elaborate sushi platter Take the scallop, for example. Alex scraped the meat off of a shell, then sliced it in half and bent over to closely inspect the two halves. We couldn't figure out what he was doing as he switched his gaze from one to the other, then back. After a few moments he beckoned us close and said, "Look at this one. See around the edges?"

We looked. In the light, the edge was puckering and moving slowly.

"It's still alive," he said happily. And then he sliced the meat into chunks, seared it on the sushi grill, and served it up with spicy extra-vrigin olive oil and cherry tomato halves.

Even though I hate scallop to the extent that it makes me feel ill, I somehow just had to try a piece. It was actually rather tasty, although I did keep it to that single piece.

The whole time, Alex graciously answered our every question of "Ooo! What's that?" and "How is that made?" and "How do you get a meal prepared by Morimoto himself?" He didn't even take that last question personally; I'm sure he gets it all the time. From our perch we got to watch Morimoto make mini-sushi, which we're told is all the rage now in Japan. Each little piece was maybe a centimeter long. Not only did we think they were too cute for words, so did most of the staff. We saw one waitress run after the server calling, "Wait, let me see, let me see!"

It was, in every sense, an incredible experience. If we ever do make it back to Morimoto, we'll not only try the omakase again, but we'll ask to sit at Alex's station on the sushi bar.


Friday, 28 November 2003

Random observations and thoughts from the drive from Philadelphia to New York City:

  • A New Jersey license plate reading I4GOTT.
  • Back home in Ohio, gas pumps give you all kinds of directions, almost to the point of silliness. After you insert your credit card and quickly remove it, they'll tell you to LIFT NOZZLE and SELECT GRADE and BEGIN FUELING. Out here on the Eastern Seaboard, the pumps read your card and tell you to OPERATE PUMP. That's it. I guess if you can't figure it out from there, it's not their flippin' problem.
  • There was a big sign right after we got on the New Jersey Turnpike that read "URGENT MESSAGE WHEN LIGHTS FLASHING - Tune radio to 1610 AM." There were no lights anywhere near the sign.
  • If you're the driver of the large white Durango that was cut off twice by a yellow hardtop Tracker approaching the Verazzano Narrows Bridge, and almost cut off a third time getting onto the Belt Parkway East, early this afternoon, I'm really, really sorry. Between the dense fog and the unfamiliar territory, we kept realizing we had to be in your lane at the last possible instant. I swear to Doug it was nothing personal.