August 27, 2003

Don't Drink The Kool-Aid

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I See Dean People

Last night, I happened to go outdoors just as a trainload of people from the Dean rally disgorged on the street. All I can say is "" To be honest, my expectations were not high to begin with, but this admittedly random sample didn't raise my hopes.

Maybe these were supporters trucked in from Vermont and just staying with local people. But they sure all looked like Vermonters ‒ in every shade and color, from white to ecru to bone. I didn't notice any Vermont cars, so perhaps these people actually walk amongst us. [Shudder.]

Anyway, the GOP vultures are circling. There is a distinct smell of 1972 in the Dean ranks, in their demeanor and their "true believer" vision for how this election will go down.

Their statements and blogs speak of "taking back" the Democratic Party, and wanting to "bring people back into the political process". Sure. This is classic insurgency rhetoric ‒ the most annoying being the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" slogan (not even an original for Dean). Worked for the Bolsheviks in 1917 and look how well that turned out.

The conventional wisdom is that you have to run more to the party extreme in the primaries, moving to the center for the general election. In fact, on the evidence, this entire Dean thing seems to be a fringe of a fringe, left of the left-of-center. Sort of the way Vermont is a kind of smugly self-righteous neo-utopia that can only exist parasitically on money spun out of New York and Massachusetts, but still remains too holy to admit it.

We're witnessing the political form of binge-and-purge, the binge being the Clinton-Gore years. Given the poor quality of the current roster of Democratic candidates, given the current disarray among Democrats, and barring the entry of Wesley Clark, I'd give Dean a better than even shot at nomination. Should that happen, Bush wins with a landslide, with maybe Vermont and Washington going for Dean.

Then all the Dean people go away.

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RCMP Must Have Known It Was My Birthday

Missed this as I was travelling Friday, but they rolled up a nice big "suspected" [snicker] terror cell in Toronto. Nice birthday present for me.

Lots of circumstantial evidence that one ambition was to fly a jet into Pickering nuclear power plant.

Funniest accusation:

Although the majority of the group entered Canada as students they are not studying or "engaging in them in what can only be called a dilatory manner."

I don't know, in my time that covered about half of the students in Canada.

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August 26, 2003

A New Twist on a Classic Theme

Here in NYC, it's not popcorn, but pretzels:

Graphic is available as T-shirts and mousepads. Buying one keeps us in pretzels.

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Charlie Does Popcorn

Former McGill Daily hack colleague Charlie Clark has some popcorn insights at the Northern Virginia Journal.

The modern era was inaugurated in 1885, when Charlie Cretors invented the first gas- and steam-powered popcorn machine. Home poppers emerged in 1925.
The best you can make at home is done in the Whirley-Pop, an aluminum cooker (made in Monon, Indiana) whose handle you turn to keep hot kernels in motion.

The Cretors company still exists. Here's their photo of a 1900 popcorn cart:

Here's the Whirley-Pop:

Popcorn would be a nice street amenity in New York.

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Today's Feel-Good Headline

From Reuters: "Murdered Boston Pedophile Priest Strangled, Beaten"

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August 25, 2003

Another Major Health Controversy

Apparently, there are rumors that bagpipes are injurious to health (for the players, not the listeners).

Now the head of the College of Piping has weighed in: "Nonsense" says he.

As to the drinking: "Mr Wallace said after-piping drinking was no worse than that associated with golf or other sports." Comforting.

But the main question remains: "Are ye a piper or a drummer?"

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Fascism in America

I keep hearing twaddle about fascism on the rise in America. Now I guess I can believe it.

Can someone tell me what the difference is between the people who set fire to the Hummers at this GM dealership and the thugs who burned out Jewish businesses in Germany and wrote "Juden" on the storefronts?

Update: Added link to article which I neglected to included the first time I posted (and was roundly slapped on the wrist for). Mea culpa.

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August 21, 2003

It Walks By Night

Finally, a way to deal with the opus of Bill O'Reilly, Maureen Dowd, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore et al:

According to the preliminary plan, that means soaking the photos and clippings in the bleach and vinegar, shredding them, wrapping them in plastic and duct tape, and disposing of them at a location not yet chosen.

Seems the archives of the National Enquirer are too contaminated with anthrax and need to be destroyed.

They're forgetting to include the appropriate incantations, wolfsbane and the mandatory stake through the heart.

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August 20, 2003

Chretien Has [Not] Left the Building

Paul Jané is counting the nanoseconds until Jean Chretien leaves..

Johnny Christian keeps everyone in suspense about when he will vacate the premises. He's like an old bore at a party. You bring his coat, you start putting away the dishes, you yawn wildly – but he just won't leave. And he thinks everyone finds this amusing.

Jean, the longer you take to leave, the less anyone will miss you when you've gone.

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Isn't it time the New York Times got an intelligent, amusing columnist to write in the space currently wasted on Maureen Dowd?

Blithering Dowd on Sunday about the blackout:

This has got to be giving terrorists ideas as they watch from their caves. Osama may be plotting on his laptop right now, tapping into the cascading effect of an army of new terrorists signing up every time we kill or arrest a terrorist.

Dowd is just now waking up to the fact that there "may" be someone out there plotting against us. O----h? And you have been where these past two years, Moe?

And what is this lunatic aversion to arresting or killing terrorists? Does she really believe that ignoring them will make terrorists disappear? I stopped reading her long ago and it hasn't worked yet.

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August 19, 2003

3 for 3

Earlier, I realized that I am 3 for 3 on New York blackouts. The first was in 1965 when I was in high school in Croton-on-Hudson and was at home when the switch was flipped.

In 1977, I was at work (9pm or so) on 38th Street. My terminal died in the first surge and I had just reloaded the operating system (paper tape, no less) when the lights died. We left the building and hung out in a bar on Third Avenue where the owner was giving away his food. Later, we picked up blackout editions at the Daily News loading dock. Then some enterprising guys drove me home to Greenwich Village for 5 bucks. No looting in the Village, either.

This most recent one was just like a snow day (only without the dirty, slushy aftermath).

So not only have I been in all three blackouts, I haven't actually been inconvenienced by any of them. Now that's the kind of record I like!

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August 15, 2003

Boy, it's dark out here.

On-the-scene advice from Manhattan: Cell phones make lousy flashlights, the new backlit iPods are much better.

Luckily, I was in the 30 second gap between leaving the elevator in my client's building and entering the elevator in our building when everything went dark. Then it was an 11 floor climb in an unlit stairway (where I ran into the guy using the cellphone/flashlight).

Then we walked down the 11 flights and 5 miles home. Luckily, we live in a building that though high on a bluff, is still below the gravity feed level of the New York reservoir system, so we got showers. Our biggest worry: whether we could grind coffee in the morning. Our power came back on at 6 am, so we had coffee, air conditioning and TV. But no DSL circuit.

Many people had it much worse, sleeping on sidewalks, stuck 30 miles from home with no trains moving. We did our bit by taking in a friend from Westchester who was stranded at Grand Central for a few hours.

We drove down to the office in the morning (to lock the elevator which we had all, ahem, failed to think of the night before). Everything south of 42nd Street was still out. People (particularly from tourist hotels) were wandering about looking for food. One oddity was how the west side of Times Square was dark while all the lights and signs on the East Side were working.

The power didn't come on in our office neighborhood until about 9pm Friday (which is also when my home DSL Line went back up). So Monday, I'll be bringing the servers online and running disk checks. Fun.

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August 14, 2003


What's this big switch over here? Wonder what would happen if I pul

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August 12, 2003

Hu? No? Blah!

I think we should take note that with the removal of Charles Taylor, the leadership of Liberia has passed to Moses Blah.

With Hu in charge in China, No in Korea, and Blah in Liberia, conversations in the hallways at the State Department must be increasingly cryptic and surreal:

"Do you know who we'll be meeting in Korea for negotiations?" "No, Who?" "That's right"

"How's the president of Liberia?" "Blah?" "That's too bad"

Kind of a Powell and Costello routine.

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Great Moments in Branding - 2

Wyse Technology introduces software to control, lockdown, secure and schedule employee computers. What better name to characterize the modern office environment than Alcatraz?

Alcatraz is the ultimate PC control software because it maximizes both employee and IT productivity, and delivers immediate and significant cost savings. Alcatraz gives users the power and freedom to get their jobs done, and simultaneously eliminates desktop visits and slashes PC support costs.

Sure makes you feel warm and fuzzy about your company when they trust you so much they put Alcatraz on your computer. Next release: San Quentin.

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August 10, 2003

Great Moments in Branding - 1

Looking for a name for a new vodka product? Kyndal of Scotland (I know...Scottish Vodka?) chose: Lush, adding an extraneous apostrophe for a foreign flair. Pretty hilarious.

It turns out that in Britain, according to Websters Unabridged, lush can be defined thus:

\Lush\, n. [Etymol uncertain; said to be fr. Lushington, name of a London brewer.] Liquor, esp. intoxicating liquor; drink. [Slang]

Perhaps the branders also had in mind: luxuriant, opulent, voluptuous, sensual.

Naturally, in American English, a lush is a drunkard. So I guess it does work on multiple levels. How about D'ipso or W'ino?

By the way, the thought of a vodka tasting of cream with vanilla or strawberry is pretty terrifying to me. Yuck.

Seems intended to appeal to (very) young drinkers, even younger than the twenty-somethings targetted by L'ush marketing. Looks like a new concept in liquor marketing: Vanilla Coke as a gateway drug. I guess that's what they mean when they suggest we "Live Life Lush".

August 08, 2003

Adieu, Montréal Grand Prix

Paul Jané is pissed off about the cancellation of the 2004 Montréal Grand Prix due to government regulations forbidding tobacco sponsorship.

Wow! Who could have seen that coming? You mean, the filthy capitalists who run Formula One actually didn't kiss off the guys who pay the bills, but instead kissed off the country that gloms all those tourist dollars.

Politicians always want to look like they're doing something about public health problems and addictions, rather than actually doing anything about them.

Get ready, Canada, pretty soon you won't even be able to watch Formula One on television (unless you get an illegal satellite dish). All curling! All the time!

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August 07, 2003

Dash it all

The 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style has been published. Yee-haw, Susie Mae! Saddle the mule. We're headin' to town!

According to the New York Times, the world has narrowly avoided disaster:

Not surprisingly, given the passionate nature of editors, there were disagreements along the way. A big one, Ms. Samen said, was about hyphens and dashes. There are three kinds. The biggest are "em" dashes [...] The middle-size or "en" dashes [...] The smallest, the hyphens, are used in compound words like "a tie-in for a television show."

Maybe it was time, Ms. Samen suggested, to retire the middle-size one. It wasn't necessary anymore, she said, and it didn't aid comprehension. But no. Ms. Samen's idea was met with strong opposition from people on the Internet discussion groups. Finally, in an e-mail message (spelled with a hyphen in the Chicago Manual), Ms. Samen capitulated.

"I surrender!" she wrote to another editor. "I'm the only managing editor on the planet who does not looooove the en dash!"

I have always found that the em dash just looks way too hefty in most typesetting work. I prefer an en dash (–) with extra space around it – to the em dash (—) with or without space. The actual space used is, well, discussable. In the old days (sonny), we used to use the thin space on Mergenthaler systems. But now I just positive kern the dashed thing until it feels right.

In "real" type:

I prefer the bottom setting. In display type, as here, there is a need for the shorter dash to keep the white space becoming too massive. But in text settings, the appearance of a massive white hole breaking up the grey of the type can be equally annoying. Especially since modern writing seems to thrive on the dash, whether to simulate disjunction or just as a crutch for a lack of grammatical imagination.

I have always suspected (but haven't verified by experiment or research) that the original lead em dashes may have been set on an em body, but had a small shoulder to allow the type to stand away from the adjacent characters. (And the type designer just fudged it to look right, in the best tradition of the craft.) When phototypesetting came in, someone (Mergenthaler) just created an em dash that was edge-to-edge on the em dimension, with no shoulder. Thus, the modern monstrosity.

I don't have any lead em dashes lying around, but my 1923 American Type Founders specimen book shows a gorgeous 14pt Bodoni setting with a dash that looks more like a modern 10pt em dash. This is larger than a 14 pt modern em (7 pt). That's why the added space looks about right, spacing it to a dimension about 70% of the em

There is one case where I prefer the em dash. In financial table settings where there is a null value column, typists use a double hyphen. An em dash holds better in comparison to the numbers. Usually. Again, depends on the font — and the number of digits in the table.

For a discussion on this and other typographic niceties, see A List Apart. Peter K. Sheerin details the "official" application of all the dashes, which I have already admitted to ignoring. (Of course, on my computer, the em dashes in that article all look exactly like the en dashes, rendering the whole discussion moot.)

Sheerin also promotes the correct HTML codes for a bevy of dashes, etc. Worth learning. I have taken the pledge to only use proper codes (rather than the — that I often fall back on when typing).

Best quote from a friend about the whole flap: "She must be attaching too much meaning to length — but that's a woman for you."

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August 06, 2003

Design Pseuds Corner #1

The great magazine Private Eye has a long-standing column called Pseuds Corner.

I have been inspired to start my own version, for Design Pseuds. Here's the first entry, from an article in Graphis Magazine #342 (not online). Speaking of the founding of Visionaire magazine in 1991:

The patina and stylized artifice of fashion images were beginning to merge with the constructed realities of conceptual photography. And the idea of the book or magazine as purveyor of sequential narratives with illustrations attached was coming to the end of a 500-year run — challenged by conceptual art's "packages," an emerging digital/visual culture, and a generation that didn't read print so much as graze it.

What is there left to say, except "Mooooo"?

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August 01, 2003

Armstrong: "Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever."

I've never been an adherent to the notion that sports are a metaphor for life, or even that sports can teach us lessons in life. On the other hand, some people who do sports can come back and teach us.

Lance Armstrong has written a new book and has the first chapter available online.

My favorite line: Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.

To me, just finishing the Tour de France is a demonstration of survival. The arduousness of the race, the sheer unreasonableness of the job, the circumnavigation of an entire country on a bicycle, village to village, along its shores, across its bridges, up and over the mountain peaks they call cols, requires a matchless stamina. The Tour is so taxing that Dutch rider Hennie Kuiper once said, after a long climb up an alp, "The snow had turned black in my eyes." It's not unlike the stamina of people who are ill every day. The Tour is a daily festival of human suffering, of minor tragedies and comedies, all conducted in the elements, sometimes terrible weather and sometimes fine, over flats, and into headwinds, with plenty of crashes. And it's three weeks long. Think about what you were doing three weeks ago. It feels like last year.

The race is very much like living—except that its consequences are less dire and there's a prize at the end. Life is not so neat.

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