Empty Space

I've been to lots of desolate places -- eastern Montana, central OR, the state of Pennsylvania -- but if you really want your elbow room, change planes in Cincinnati.

CVG is one of Delta's three major hubs, along with ATL (Atlanta) and SLC (Salt Lake City). Most hubs I travel through are packed with people and the near chaos that naturally accompanies any airline's critical infrastructure.

This is my first trip to this airport, though. I expected an old, run down terminal bursting at the Jetways. Instead, I got a clean, modern, and airy facility with plenty of light. There are some decent dinning options, shopping and a reasonable number of electrical outlets.

There's just one problem -- there's no one here. It's downright spooky. There are plenty of planes here, but instead of looking like a major airport, at a major hub, on a major holiday weekend, it seems more like the Helena, MT airport at 2:00 AM.

According to the staff at the Wolfgang Puck Express Airport Cafe, the dust devils at gate 16 are normal on a Saturday. This just the typical traffic they've gotten use to.

While this can't be good news for Delta, it does mean this is a great place to change planes and focus on your own Manifest Destiny.

Cincinnati Airport Concourse B

CVG Cincinnati Airport Concourse B

How do you Take a few Good Pictures?

Take a lot of bad ones.

I got my current digital camera sometime in February. I have taken more than 1,300 pictures since then. A lot of them are on my Flickr site. Most of them are on a hard drive in my apartment. And the rest I was smart enought to delete at the earliest opportunity.

In the year prior, I probably took only 300 digital pictures.

Having a smaller camera made the difference. My other digital camera was a Toshiba M500. It's a 2 Megapixel camera with a 10x optical zoom. It was great camera, and it's now sitting on my shelf.

The problem I had with it was the size. It's a few years old and that kind of zoom required a big chasis. So I only brought it with me if I was planning specifically to take pictures. Most of the time it stayed home.

My current digital camera is a Nikon Coolpix 7600. It's a 7 Megapixel camera with only a 3X optical zoom. And it is small. It fits in the palm of my hand. More importantly, it fits in a small camera pouch I hang from me belt.

The zoom obviously isn't as good, and I think the M500 worked better in low light situations, but I use the Nikon more than I ever used the M500.

The reason is simple -- I have it with me. Nearly everytime I leave the apartment, the camera goes with me. I may not look "cool" with a camera on my right and an iPod on my left, but the "cool ship" sailed long ago for other reasons.

The best pictures aren't always planned -- often they're found.

The way to become a better writer is to write more.
The way to become a better athlete is to play more.
The way to become a better presenter is to present more.
The way to become a better photographer is to photograph more.


Ich bin ein Brooklyner

Well, not quite, but I found this story entertaining.

Off-the-wall divorce
Hubby's barrier goes up in house


Brooklyn's real-life version of "The War of the Roses" culminated yesterday as a wall was built to literally split a marital house in two.

Workers contracted by millionaire Simon Taub constructed the wall in the center of the Borough Park home that the sweater baron shares with his soon-to-be ex-wife, Chana Taub, capping a bitter dispute that began last year.


Putting up a wall like that seems like good practice if you ever need to hide a body.


The TSA in Training on Saturday Night Live (SNL)

I thought for sure I posted this back in October, but it looks like it's been sitting in my drafts folder for a couple months instead. Enjoy.

This is SNL in one of their finer moments this season. It actaully features some legitimate satire, instead of just the usual Bush is Dumb jokes.

It's almost five minutes but is worth watching.

Now I want a turkey sandwhich.


Shatner-Palooza: Christmas

Jon and I were discussing lately how William Shatner doesn't seem to turn down anything. Here he is on a Dennis Leary show talking about Christmas.


Cell Phones on Airplanes

SprintPCS Samsung A900 Cell Phone

International airline to allow cell phone chatter on planes

By Grace Wong
Special to CNN

Adjust font size:
NEW YORK (CNN) -- From cell phone use to high-speed Internet access, the connected life is spreading to the skies.

In January, Emirates airline plans to launch mobile phone usage in its planes, making it the first airline to allow passengers to make cell phone calls on its flights.


A majority of business travelers (61 percent) oppose the idea of being able to use their phones in the sky, according to a global survey conducted by travel management company Carlson Wagonlit Travel early this year.

But if the technology is there, the service will eventually make its way to the skies, said Chris McGinnis, editor of Expedia Travel Trendwatch.

"Whether people like it or not, in-flight cell phone use is going to become a reality," he said.

I'm not thrilled with this, but there are a lot issues related to the cell phones on airplanes.

First, I'm not convinced modern cell phones pose any danger to aircraft safety on a properly maintained aircraft. The equipment is too well shielded. The ban for "safety" reasons seems more related to a better-safe-than-sorry approach. It still seems like overkill, though.

On any giver aircraft in flight, there are already multiple cell phones running on any given airplane. People stick them in their carry-on and forget to turn them off. And planes don't drop out of the sky as a result.

Granted, they are not running at full power when not engaged in a call. And if I'm sitting near one of those turned-on phones, I will hear the interference in my headphones right before it rings so there are definitely some strong radio wave running around. But none of those planes have gone down.

Second, the common conspiracy theory about the cell phone ban suggests the reason has more to do with profits than safety. The theory says that since the airlines typically offer the Verizon Airfon, which can cost upwards of $10/mintue to use, the airlines simply don't want the competition.

The problem with this theory is that most aircraft actually do not have the Airfon. Airlines have began removing these from aircraft during the 2001 economic crunch. They are dropping anything from the aircraft that adds extra weight, like magazines, blankets, and phones. Which it too bad, since the Verizon Airfon played a critical role in the story of UA 93.

Third, TSA will probably not allow it. They will see cell phone use as a serious security threat, similar to a gun, a knife or a bottle of orange juice. The imagined threat of in air cell phone use won't make any sense, but that's not usually a requirement.

Fourth, one early reason for the ban on cell phones in flight came not from the FAA but from the FCC. Normally a cell phone can see a few towers. The tower with the best signal manages the call. When a caller travels outside that tower's range, it passes the call to a different tower.

In flight, though, a cell phone can see dozens or hundreds of cell towers. Since the caller is traveling so high and fast, the signal handoffs become a nightmare for the system, significantly increasing traffic volume on the network and causing all sorts of billing hassles.

That may no longer be an issue due to improvements in cell (now wireless) technology. And, there are ways around that by installing equipment on the aircraft to manage the signals.

Fifth, airlines are already experimenting with wireless internet access. This will come before cell phone use. It may be nice to send email or surf the web on your notebook, but if they don't allow cell phone use soon, people will just use the Internet for their voice calls, too. Through services like Skype and Vonage, people can hook a headset up to their computer and make/receive voice calls anytime they are connected to the Internet. So the person next to you will start having conversations anyway.

Sixth, this brings us to the question of air rage. Once the ban is lifted, too many people will make calls. Many cell phone users are already under the illusion they need to speak loudly into their phones to be heard because, unlike regular phones, they can't hear their own voice back through the earpiece. This is going to be even worse on an airplane with the engine noise.

I already try to spend much of my time in coach trying to not touch the person sitting next to me. The last thing they want to be doing is yelling about the minutia of their lives 3" from my ear. I am likely to do something to them with their own cell phone that will get me added to the No-Fly list.

Merry Christmas to All

Adeste fideles, laeti triumphantes
Venite, venite in Bethlehem
Natum videte,
Regem angelorum
Venite adoremus, venite adoremus Venite adoremus,


One Way out of Traffic

One-way streets for Bellevue?

The city of Bellevue is considering converting 106th and 108th avenues northeast to one-way streets to accommodate increasing traffic.

According to the city's traffic modeling, one-way streets would help the flow of vehicles through downtown. The two avenues would change to one-way from Main Street to Northeast 12th Street, with 108th Northeast flowing southbound and 106th northeast northbound.

However, Nancy LaCombe, the project's manager, said those plans are under analysis and may change.

It sounds like a good idea to me. Converting Roads to One-Way in SimCity 4 significantly reduces congestion and increases the average speed of traffic. It also helps with air pollution. I don't see why it wouldn't have the same impact in Bellevue, WA.

Of course, it is the Puget Sound area, so nothing will happen until they have 3 public votes and resolve all the outstanding Salmon lawsuits.

Maxis SimCity 4 Box


How do you Survive a Tom Petty Song?

With a great deal of patience.

Or, perhaps, by following these instructions.

Unplanned Freefall? Some Survival Tips By David Carkeet

Admit it: You want to be the sole survivor of an airline disaster. You aren't looking for a disaster to happen, but if it does, you see yourself coming through it. I'm here to tell you that you're not out of touch with reality—you can do it.

Sure, you'll take a few hits, and I'm not saying there won't be some sweaty flashbacks later on, but you'll make it. You'll sit up in your hospital bed and meet the press. Refreshingly, you will keep God out of your public comments, knowing that it's unfair to sing His praises when all of your dead fellow-passengers have no platform from which to offer an alternative view.

Let's say your jet blows apart at 35,000 feet. You exit the aircraft, and you begin to descend independently. Now what?


I do not recomend testing these procedures unless you already find yourself in such a situation.

I originally saw this article at digg.com.


Nutcracker 03

Life can be hard when you're the Nutcracker of Death. Fortunately, he has an aide to help him collect those souls.

Standing out on 4th AVE in Downtown Seattle is the Arctic Ice Cracker:

Actic Ice Cracker, nutcrackermarch.org Seattle Front

Arctic Ice Cracker, nutcrackermarch.org Seattle Profile

He says nothing, and executes his assigned tasks with a frigid silence.



Someone Shoot this Christmas Special

Santa's labor force traditionally consists of weird short men in pointy shoe. They call them elves. We've all seen the specials -- claymated, animated, and live-actated. But you know what I want to see?

The Christmas special featuring Tolkein Elves.

Gladriel Legalos

I have no idea what the plot would be, but that would be an awesome movie.

Loyalty Programs Year in Review

Some people like to review their financials or personal accomplishments at the end of the year.

For me, though, it's time to look at my airlines and hotels.

Alaska Airlines has three levels in their mileage plan. They are Member, MVP Member, and MVP Gold Member. The Member status is what you get for signing up.

To get to MVP, you have to fly 20,000 Alaska/Horizon Miles, 25,000 Alaska/Partner Miles, or 30 Alaska/Partner Segments.

To get to MVP Gold, you have to fly 40,000 Alaska/Horizon Miles, 50,000 Alaska/Partner Miles, or 60 Alaska/Partner Segments. I think I did that by August.

For the year I ended up with 61,500 Alaska/Horizon Miles, 90,302 Alaska/Partner Miles, and 84 Alaska/Partner Segments.

Factor in a few random flights on United, Frontier, and US Air (Non-Alaska Partners) and I flew about 110,000 BIS (Butt-In-Seat) Miles.

As for Hotels, Hilton is my program of choice. They have four levels to the program. Blue is the level you get just for signing up.

To get Silver level, you have to stay 10 nights in any Hilton property (Hilton, Hampton Inn, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, etc.) or have 4 stays in one year.

To get Gold level, you have to stay 36 nights, or have 16 stays in a 12 month period.

To get to Diamond level, you may as well give up your apartment. You have to stay 60 nights, or have 28 stays in a 12 month period. You can also get there by spending more than $10,000.

During the last 12 months, I had 68 nights and 38 stays in Hilton properties. I'm Diamond until sometime in 2008.

Over the course of the year, I also managed to earn Silver status at Marriott on Accident, and I'm now apparently 5-Star President's Club with Hertz, though I'm still not sure what that means.

I may not have the cleanest apartment in the world, but at least I have pretty plastic cards in my wallet.


A Nice Use of PowerPoint

This is presentation put together by an Army Captain in Iraq. He was recently killed in action.

This presentation (here in PDF format) gives his strategy for winning the war. And maybe it's not such a bad idea.

Captain Travis Patriquin points out the fundamental flaws of US policy in the country, and offers a solution.

Among the most glaring US flaws -- a serious lack of facial hair.


Presumed Missing

Two climbers are missing, but since the searchers aren't sure the missing climbers are missing, they will only list them as "presumed" missing.

Apparently they haven't ruled out random invisibility.

Climbing team believed missing
Seasoned pair didn't return from China trip

The owner of the Seattle-based guide service Mountain Madness Inc. and another elite climber are presumed missing after they failed to return from an expedition to a remote mountainous region of southwestern China near Tibet.
"The fact that no one knows where they are is consistent with climbing without a permit," said Eric Simonson, owner of International Mountain Guides.


No Pie For You!

When most people don't eat, they get cranky, tired, easily distracted, or just plain unhappy.

And that's what I look for in my air traffic controllers.

At the Denver airport, they are not allowed to leave the tower on their lunch break. Okay, that's annoying, but you can always deal with it by bringing your lunch, right?

Wrong. Because even though we trust these people to not order planes to run into one another, TSA doesn't think they can be trusted with food.

This is from the DenverPost.com:

Jim spencer staff columnist
TSA socks controllers in the gut
By Jim Spencer
Denver Post Staff Columnist
Article Last Updated:11/14/2006 09:37:45 PM MST

A can of Hormel chili. A piece of pumpkin pie. These are the kinds of deadly items Transportation Security Administration screeners have seized from air-traffic controllers at Denver International Airport.

Need a definition of bureaucratic insanity? First, the Federal Aviation Administration refuses to let controllers leave the DIA control tower to eat lunch. Then, because of rules restricting liquids and gels on airplanes, the TSA confiscates parts of lunches that some controllers try to bring through security checkpoints.

Not all lunch items are seized, a TSA spokeswoman assured me - just stuff like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cans of soup and yogurt.

And, the spokeswoman added, controllers can bring cereal through the TSA checkpoint, then buy milk from a restaurant inside the secure area.


Critical Advice for the Winter

Remember -- ANY water you encounter may be wet. Use caution.

Here are some more tips from the PI.

Tips for consumers when the power goes out

In the event of a power failure:

Never touch or approach a downed power wire or anything that is in contact with one. Always assume the wire is live and stay 10 feet away, including anything that you may be holding. Do not remove items caught in power lines. To report after-hours electrical emergencies in the Seattle area, call 206-706-0051.

If your power goes out, check your main switch for a blown fuse or an open breaker. Know where your main switch is. It can be either a circuit breaker or a fuse box. Learn how to reset the circuit breaker or safely change a fuse.

If a customer of Seattle City Light, call City Light's Power Outage Hotline at 206-684-7400 for a recording of all known outages or to report your own.

Customers on life-sustaining equipment should have emergency power backup. To certify it with City Light, call 206-684-3020.


And the list continues at the PI.


Stop the King!

Didn't we fight a couple wars so we wouldn't have to deal with this crap?

I've talked about Burger King ads before. They are one of the few companies whose ads have successfully kept me out of their store.

I'm afraid of the Creepy Burger King.

I thought things were getting better. They have that weird chicken who wants to be a french fry. And they have that weird family of burgers. And there's been other weird stuff. The Creepy Burger King was going away.

Then things really got better. They started showing commercials where he crashed his pocket bike. Or went through the wall and crashed in a bumper car. I though maybe the Creepy Burger King would die.

But he didn't. Instead we get this from the Creepy Burger King.

Ronald may be weird, but at least he's not some escapee from Camp Crystal Lake


Mildly Annoying Experience with HSBC

Today I got my HSBC Master Card Statement. In the "Important Information" section it says:

This is a notification that a change of address has been processed on your account. Please be advised that a confirmation letter has been sent to your previous address. If you have not authorized a recent change of address, please contact us immediately at the phone number indicated on your statement."
Of course I hadn't changed my address, and, strangely enough, the statement still came to my current address. So I called them and spent several minutes on hold.

The CSR I spoke to verified my address, and said it was correct in the system. Then he attempted to sell me on a credit line increase and lower interest rate. I'm currently paying 0% so I declined.

I asked for more information about the change of address. He said there was nothing to worry about because my address is correct. He then tried to sell me on a credit monitoring service, which I declined. Several times.

I pressed him again about the change of address. He said there was no problem and they were just verifying that my address was correct. I explained how that didn't seem right, since there was nothing about verifying my current address -- the notice said there was a change.

He explained that they need to verify the address because several people can have the same name. I asked for more information about the address change. His suggestion that it was simply because multiple people can have the same name made me even less comfortable.

He then suggested that I clicked something online. I assured him that wasn't the case. He said there was nothing else he could do, but there was no problem.

I was still not comfortable with that so I asked to be transferred to someone in the security department. He put me on hold for a few minutes and said he couldn't do that.

Then I think he tried to get me off the phone -- judging by the conversation he couldn't initiate the end of the call.

He explained that there was noting he could do.

I said, "I see."

He asked if there was anything else he could do for me.

I said, "Apparently not."

He said he was sorry he couldn't help more.

I said, "I see."

He said everything was ok.

I said, "I see."

Then he offered to transfer me to a supervisor.

I accepted that.

I spoke to the supervisor for about 45 seconds. He looked up my account, and he told me that the last time I called HSBC about a month earlier, they updated my employment information. It's in the same system as the address information, and that generated the change of address notice. He apologized for the inconvenience.

I suggested that might be good information to have on the notice or for the CSR to have available.

I thanked him for his help and we ended the call.

27 minutes total.


Book Review 09: Want to See What I Wrote?

Cover or Creative Non-FictionI picked up Lee Gutkind’s The Art of Creative Non-Fiction” because I though it might help me write better here. I don’t think it will. It’s less focused on the personal essay, and more focused on the long-form quasi-journalistic essay.

The author is a college professor, and I wonder if he wrote this book to use it as the text for his classes. It may be more effective that way. As a stand alone text it’s lacking.

The book is 200 pages long. The first 67 pages is a basic introduction to creative non-fiction. The next 62 pages are about the process. The final 81 pages are the appendices, and are mainly samples.

To be fair, my view seems to be in the minortiy. The reviews on Amazon have been much more positive and it currently has a rating of 4.5 stars.

Section 1: The Creative Part

Traditional journalists learn early in their education that creativity or imagination in newspapers and magazines are basically disallowed. Reporters with any real literary talent will have it squeezed out of them by stubborn and insensitive editors. Disillusioned they will write secretly at night (becoming closet poets or novelists), or they leave the profession to chase their muse or some other dream.
Page 10

This is the most interesting phrase in the section. There is little value in most of the first third of the book. If you pick up the book, save yourself a couple hours and skip these pages.
The author includes an inordinate amount of his own samples. To make a point about creative non-fiction, he simply copies and pastes content he already published in other articles and books.

There are thousands of sources he could have drawn from for his examples, but he keeps going back to his own work. I’m not sure if it’s arrogance that keeps him using his own material, or if it’s a way to double-up on the royalties. It hurts his credibility.

Even if he sourced other content for the chapter, it would still be too much. There are too many samples, and they are too long. Rather than telling us more about creative non-fiction, or telling us how to do it, he just shows what he and other people have done.

And while there’s definitely value in that, if I wanted to just read examples of creative non-fiction, I’d actually pick up one of the 40 issues of the Atlantic Monthly that have been sitting on my floor for years waiting for a reader.

When not focusing on samples, he does include some practical advice for the writer. He covers ways to improve your writing.

Just as musicians practice their instruments every day, actors rehearse, basketball players shoot hoops, boxers do road work and spar – writers write.
Page 58

Of course, that’s a point that should also have been hammered home earlier on, along with:

Focus also dictates what not to write about.
Page 64
Section 2: The Non-Fiction Part

In the second section of the book (page 67 thru 129), he tells us some important things. If you start reading at about page 67, you’ll be in good shape. Gutkind gets to the essence of the genre here. Rather than talking vaguely about scenes and just throwing in samples of the genre, he should have just made this point earlier – and then explored it.

The creative aspect of the creative nonfiction experience should be utilized to make the teaching element – the nonfiction part of the product – more provocative.
Page 69

Gutkind also points out that writers need to subvert their egos to the needs of their editors, publishers, and audiences.

The second reason Creative Nonfiction and most other journals and magazines reject essays is their authors’ lack of attention to the mission of the genre, which is to gather and present information, to teach readers about a person, place, idea, or situation.
Page 70

If your work is regularly rejected with form letters, you may not necessarily judge yourself to be a poor writer, but it is fair to say that you may not yet be good enough to deserve the attention of a harried editor, pressed for time. It is a signal for you to heed.
Page 82

The strongest section of the book is Chapter 8 – Think Globally, Act Locally. It’s about choosing a topic. He covers both strategic ways to find new material, and tactical day-to-day ways authors can keep their creative pumps primed.

Suddenly I was struck by both the clarity and the irony of the situation: I had travelled halfway around the world to find a story that involved intense human drama and contained universal ideas and issues, when one of the most incredible stories in the history of medicine was evolving in my own back yard.
Page 77

Gutkind also offers the same lesson every English teacher I ever had offered – Good Writers are Good Readers.

Remember that the foundation of the writing life is reading: We read the best writers to understand how far we must reach toward excellence and how hard we must try. We read what is being written in our field today to keep up with our competition and to keep current on the subjects that appeal to us.
Page 92

To get the most out of this book, read:
  • Chapter 8
  • Rest of Section 2
  • Appendix 3
  • Appendix 1
  • Appendix 4
  • Section 1

Or just stop after Section 2.



Fruitcake Close up

Johnny Carson once counted all the fruitcakes in the world. The total he came up with? One. It keeps getting passed around.

Sadly, he didn't make it to Costco (COST)this year. If he did, he would have seen pallet after pallet of fruitcakes waiting for un-witting victims, like me. Here's a tip -- never go to Costco hungry.

But I saw these racks of reviled richness for just under $13 and thought, "Huh. I wonder why everyone hates these things. I should find out."

So this morning for breakfast, I had fruitcake and coffee. If not the breakfast of champions, it must at least be the breakfast of middle-managers.

I unwrapped the hermetically sealed package and let the cake drop onto my plate.

It's both crumbly and sticky. It didn't really hold "cake shape" on my plate, but sort of reconfigured itself into some sort of gloppy pile, presumably as a defense mechanism. When I picked up a piece it loaded some sort of crazy glue onto my figures. It took a few hours to clean off two fingers, but the neighbor's dog is still attached to the other two.

Costco Fruitcake

The important thing is taste. eartha at Chowhound really enjoyed it. I, too, found it really tasty. I don't think Costco used any alcohol in the manufacturing process, so it could have been better, but I still enjoyed it.

The bits of fruit were nice and sweet. The cake of the cake was moist and tasty. The nuts...well, I'm not a big fan of nuts in my desserts. I used to hate them. Now, though, as long as it's not coconut, I'm okay with them.

I don't know if this problem is indigenous to fruitcakes or is a trait specific to Costco. But there were just too many nuts. Walnuts, Pecans, TSA Policy wonks -- there's just too many nuts in the fruitcake.

It's still a hearty meal. One slice kept me going until the afternoon when I decided to microwave half a pound of bacon.

It's worth finishing and trying another type. I'll probably just have to find one that was made in a monastery some place. Those monks make tasty snacks.


The Big Ad

This may be an older ad.

The beer may or may not be any good.

But the ad is very big.

And brilliant.

The Comedian's Dream

Mike Drucker is one of the comedians Jon works with on a regular basis. He is the other guy on the Play Cole Podcast. Fortunately, he's funny.

Did you ever wonder what comedians dream about? Mike tells you.


A Sad Story From Oregon

James Kim (1971-2006) and Four-Year-Old daughter, Penelope Kim

Image from CNET.Com -- http://i.i.com.com/cnwk.1d/i/fd/pg/120606/120606_james.jpg

James Kim--family man, technologist

By Greg SandovalStaff Writer, CNET News.com
Published: December 6, 2006, 6:04 PM PST

James Kim was a respected expert on bleeding-edge digital devices, an owner of a trendy clothing store, and a lover of the futuristic-sounding music known as electronica.

Yet most of Kim's life revolved around traditional values, according to friends: sacrifice, friendship and family. Those who knew him say they aren't surprised that Kim, in the last act of his life, demonstrated the ultimate expression of devotion to his wife and daughters.

A sad story unfolded in the Oregon woods over the past week. James Kim, an editor at CNET and TechTV personality, was found dead after a long and difficult search.

You've probably seen the basics of the story on the News, in the Nortwest newspapers, or in the raging forums at Digg.com, Fark.com, Fazed.net, and dozens of others. Here's the latest CNN coverage. There is a friends and family site, too. CNET also has a James Kim video tribute, highlighting a number of his appearances.

Kim, his wife, and two daughters were on their way back to San Fancisco after spending time with friends in Seattle and Portland over Thanksgiving. On their way from Portland to the Oregon coast, they ended up on a Forrest Service road that turned out to be impassable. They got stuck in the snow.

During the next seven days, the ran the car just enough to keep warm. When they ran out of fuel, they burned tires for warmth and to signal searchers. But after a week in the cold and with little food left, Kim left the car to go find help.

Two days later, a helicopter spotted the car and the mother waving an umbrella as a signal for help. A barely detectable cell phone ping led searchers to the general area. Rescuers airlifted Kim's wife and children out of the cold on Monday. They are doing fine.

Over the next two days, though, searcher continued to look for Kim. On Tuesday, they found a pair of pants he apparently left behind, possibly to mark his trail. They narrowed the search area and prepared to drop a bunch of emergency packages where Kim might find them.

This afternoon, they cancelled that plan when they found his body.

The computer technology industry is a small one -- and the marketing/PR side of it is smaller still. I doubt I ever met Kim, but it's possible I would have somewhere down the line. Geeks familiar with his work were all over the 'net expressing concern, frustration, and speculating about what happened. This incident seems to have touched the business in a way that general news and missing persons reports just don't.

I'm not sure why Kim's ordeal resonates with me the way it does. Perhaps it's his Geek cred. Perhaps it's that where the same age. Perhaps it's because I've spent some time on roads I probably shouldn't have been on.

People will say he was wrong to leave his car. In hindsight, that's clearly true. But when he made that choice, he was doing whatever he could to save his family, at great personal risk. That kind of life and death choice is one that very few of us are called upon to make. I hope I am never in such a situation. But if I am, I pray I will have to courage to make the tough choices and do whatever it is I have to do.


Paperless -- From the Archives

I found this on my hard drive tonight, and, while a bit dated,it still makes me smile. This is the short version. I'll post the long version another time.

Ten years ago, you might have found this document at www.cyberhighway.net/~cromely. That was the personal web page I had back in 1996, when those things were all the rage.

A Call To Arms

For years, pundits talked about the paperless office and how great it will be. Do you remember "Paper free by 83?" Neither do I, but it would have been a cool slogan.

Access toinformation in the paperless office and society would be easy and universal. Paper would gradually disappear on its own as the world gleefully embraced the digital age. Those pundits were wonderfully positive.

They were fools.

The early proponents of the paperless environment were just that - proponents. What my paperless crusade calls for is zealots.

We must be virulently anti-paper. It is time to attack paper with anger - hatred - even violence. Shredders must replace store rooms. Data files must replace file cabinets. Email must replace snail mail. When a single CD can replace an entire filing cabinet, it makes no sense to adhere to paper.

  • Paper is bulky.
  • Paper is heavy.
  • Paper is difficult to back up.
  • Paper fades.
  • Paper cuts.
  • Paper clutters.
  • Paper tears.
  • Paper gets lost in the mail.

Today we have the tools to fight the abomination of the printed page. Join me today. Star expunging paper from you life today.


A Play Cole Classic

What's Tommy without Dick?

What's Lou without Bud?

What's Tim without Harvey?

What's Gilligan without the Skipper?

What's Fozie without Kermit?

What's the entire population of a small town in Vermont without Bob?

Just a bunch of crazy people.

Presenting the new and improved:

"Adventures of Straight Man"


Down the Chute -- One Piece at a Time

I got it one piece at a time
And it didn't cost me a dime
You'll know it's me when I come through your town
I'm gonna ride around in style
I'm gonna drive everybody wild
'Cause I'll have the only one there is around.

I threw out my desk tonight. It went right down the trash chute.

I had a large O’sullivan L-shaped computer desk that I bought form Office Depot in winter of 2000. It survived from Mt Lake Terrace to Seattle in November of 2001 with minor injuries. One part broke in half, and another was weakened.

It should be noted, that it was a big, heavy piece of particle board furniture, and I moved it in a half-assembled state. I got great service from O’Sullivan. When I contacted them about the large, broken piece, I gave them the part number and they sent me a replacement with in a week, at no charge.

I used the desk for nearly 4 years until July, 2005, when I rearranged some furniture. I wasn’t sure it would survive another move, and I wanted something new, anyway. So I replaced it with a desk I build with Industrial Post Shelving.

But now I had this large desk to get rid of. I didn’t relish the thought of putting it in the car and hauling it to the dump. And since I live in an apartment building, I couldn’t really leave it at the curb or in the dumpster. Besides, it was heavy. So I disassembled it and put it in my closet.

Every couple of weeks after that, I would pull a piece out of the closet, stuff it in a bag, and throw it down the trash chute.

After a while, all the small pieces were gone and it was time to tackle the large panels. These I leaned on the steps and split by jumping on them. Then one piece went back in the closet, and the other went down the chute.

Finally, I was left with the big, extra thick pieces. They wouldn’t break no matter how much I jumped on them.

I don’t own an actual saw so I reverted back to a technique from childhood.

Have you ever tried to throw out dirt in a city? I don’t mean to scatter it, I mean to get rid of large quantities? It’s not easy.

When I was in grade school, my father decided to pave over the back yard with asphalt.

To do that, we had to remove 2-3” of dirt from the entire surface of the yard and get rid of it. Rather than try to get the Sanitation department to haul it away, we buried the dirt under the pantry. To do that, we had to cut a hole in the floor. How do you cut a whole in a surface when you are starting in the middle? You use a drill.

We drilled a series of holes in the floor in the shape of a square. Then we used a jigsaw in a game of power-tool connect-the-dots. The floor opened right up and over the next few days, we dumped dirt underneath the floor of the pantry.

Over the past few weeks, I took my drill to the large pieces, and made a line of holes across their width to weaken them. Then I jumped on the panels to split them.

And tonight -- 17 months after I began-- I dropped the last piece of the desk down the trash chute.

No one ever said I can’t complete a project.

So we drove up town just to get the tags
And I headed her right on down main drag
I could hear everybody laughin' for blocks around
But up there at the court house they didn't laugh
'Cause to type it up it took the whole staff
And when they got through the title weighed sixty pounds.


FOPC Now Live

Last week, we launched the latest addition to the Play Cole site.

Now we are hosting content for FOPCs or Friends of Play Cole.

PilarToons has been on the Play Cole site for some time, and is now joined by French Fry Head.

If you are a Friend of Play Cole and have content you would like hosted, let us know.

In the mean time, visit http://www.playcole.com/FOPC.htm and check out the latest FOPC video -- Pee Shy:

A young man struggles to overcome the handicap of his illness. This is a story of hope, courage, and going in the potty.


Shatner-Palooza: Pudding

A fan apparently felt Shatner wasn't creepy enough on his own. So they set a snack to music.


Now That's a Big Plane

Airbus A380 landing at Vancouver, BC airport.  Image from Seattle PI

An A380 visits Vancouver
Airbus' new behemoth was on proving flight


VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Steven Halinen was supposed to be in school Wednesday, but instead he abandoned his college classes to brave lousy weather and watch what will soon be the world's biggest commercial jetliner make a brief stop at the Vancouver International Airport.

Dawn was breaking as the double-decker A380, which will carry about 100 more passengers than a 747 in most airline configurations, approached the airport from the north over the Strait of Georgia after a flight of 14 hours and 25 minutes across the Pacific from Sydney, Australia.

"Oh, man, just look at that thing. It's huge," said Halinen, an airplane buff and would-be pilot who hopes to make a career in aviation management after he graduates from University College of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, B.C.

The A380 left around 4:30 p.m. for its return via the North Pole to Toulouse, France, the home of Airbus.


This was the first time an A380 -- five have been built for the test flight program -- visited an international airport in North America, and the event attracted a lot of local interest, despite the weather.

The A380 has been to Canada before. Last winter, it landed in Iqaluit, the territorial capital of Nunavut, for cold-weather testing.

No word on the Straphangers.


Snow in Seattle

It's clearly Shawna's fault.

Traffic skids to a halt
By Jennifer Sullivan
Seattle Times staff reporter
PREV 1 of 4 NEXT

Drivers inching their way through the Monday evening commute cursed the snow that returned to the Puget Sound region and shut down at least two highways while essentially turning others into parking lots for several hours.

Police couldn't keep up with cars careening across freeways, chain-reaction fender benders and motorists abandoning their vehicles on suburban roads. Jackknifed and stuck semi trucks blocked some highways, turning typical 20- to 30-minute commutes into several-hour affairs.

For the first time in at least a decade, Highway 9, a major thoroughfare in Snohomish County, was shut down much of the evening because it became "a complete sheet of ice," Trooper Keith Leary said. Highway 522 also was closed off and on throughout the night north of Woodinville.


Nutcracker 02

Seattle has long been known for its acceptance of alternative life styles. I suppose it makes perfect sense that this supportive environment would extend to the city's Nutcrackers.

This one proudly stands on a downtown street corner.

Nutcracker in a skirt

The name plate explains that it is a "Sugar Plum Fairy".



Free the Queen!

To protect the citzen of Seattle from harsh storms, our intrepid warriors tracked down and captured the evil and deadly Snow Queen. As long as she stays securely sealed in the Orb of Security, our mild, temparate climate will survive and we will prosper.


Seattle Snow Queen in a Snow Globe
Seattle Snow Queen in a Snow Globe
Seattle Snow Queen in a Snow Globe


An Inconvenient Truth

There is no question climate change exists. It is already having an impact on our forests.

Trees can't keep their stars up.

Christmas tree with weak stars

With just small amounts of snow, trees are now leaning into one another.

Christmas trees leaning in the streets


Christmas trees collapsing in the streets

We must change our ways.

Please, won't someone think of our poor, street walking trees?


Nutcracker 01

Even the Grim Reaper needs a vacation during the Holidays.

Seattle and the Annual Macy's Pacific Northwest Holiday Parade proudly give us the...

Nutcracker of Death

Step 1: Heckle a famous comic. Step 2: Be on the receiving end of a racist rant. Step 3: Profit?

Any residual sympathy I may have felt for the hecklers is now gone.

They should go bankrupt paying Richards' legal fees if this gets to court.

Men seek apology from ex-'Seinfeld' star


LOS ANGELES -- Two men who say they were insulted by actor-comedian Michael Richards during his racist rant at a comedy club want a personal apology and maybe some money, one of the men and their lawyer said Friday.

Cranberry Sauce

The host in a Turkey coma means it was a successful Thanksgiving dinner.

I enjoy fresh fruit these days. In the Pacific Northwest we have some of the best, most natural ingredients available. And for Thanksgiving, that means cranberry sauce that is thick, with real berries, and not shaped like a can

But I like the stuff shaped like the can. The solid gelatinous goop screams Holiday. How do I balance these flavors of fresh fruit with my desire for the log of fruit?

I made my own.

It's easy. I got my recipe from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.

You will need:

  • 4.25 cups (about 1 pound) of fresh cranberries
  • 1.75 cups of water
  • 2.00 cups of sugar
  • Cinnamon Stick
  • Several cloves

Wash and rinse the cranberries.

Then boil them with the water until the skin bursts and the mixture is bubbling.

Run the mixture through a food mill (or food processor).

Put the resulting mixture back on the stove and add the sugar.

Add the cloves and cinnamon stick in an herb bag (remove it before canning).

Boil it until it almost gels (take a tea-spoon, scoop some out and let it drip on a plate away from the stove -- if it slides off in big gloopy drips, it's done).

Finally, pour the mixture into half pint or pint canning jars (straight sided or freezer jars), and process them in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes at a rolling boil.

Then let them set for 12 hours and you have fresh, canned cranberry sauce. When you are ready for some tasty sauce, simply scoop some out of the jar. Or just turn the jar upside down on the plate and the log will ploop out.

This recipe will make 4 half pint jars:

Or 2 one pint jars:

Or 3 half pint jars and half of a one pint jar:

Well preserved sauce (except the half jar) should keep for up to 12 months so you can relive the joys or horrors of Thanksgiving in the middle of May. And, while it's great with a spoon, I'm told it should also be great with butter and toast.

Open and serve up a cylinder of cranberry sauce, and now the Holidays can begin.


Michael Richards (Kramer) on Letterman

I started this as a comment on Jon's Michael Richards post, but then I sort of got carried away.

Richards' apology was the most awkward and unusual moment I've seen on TV this year. It was raw and unrehearsed.

He obviously felt terrible about his racist rant and took responsibility, but I don't think he quite got it. I'm not sure referring to "afro-americans" was the best strategy, and the section where he talked about Katrina was just bizarre.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but even in his apology, he still appeared to be homogenizing the African-American population, as though it were one single entity he offended, with a single set of concerns and priorities.

The key problem with his rant - and why everyone is still talking about it -- has nothing to do with him spilling hate from stage. IT was because he used "THE N WORD" and offended people. If he was just derisive when he tore into the hecklers, this never would have made news.

I think he's sincere; I think he knows he did a bad thing. I think he honestly wants forgiveness. And I think he knows he's wrong but doesn't know why.

And I'm sure that whole apology had something to do with Jerry Seinfeld calling him up earlier that day and saying something like, "You'd better come on Letterman tonight and apologize because I will NOT have you screwing up the release of the 7th season of Seinfeld on DVD this week."


This Just Seems Like a Really Bad Idea

Look, no signs: 'Naked roads' are safer, Europeans believe
Drivers appear to behave better without the clutter


IPSWICH, England -- Tear down the traffic lights, remove the road markings and sell off the signs: Less is definitely more when it comes to traffic management, some European engineers believe.

They say drivers tend to proceed more cautiously on roads that are stripped of all but the most essential markings -- and that helps cut the number of accidents in congested areas.



A Wall of Books Part 04: Powell's

Powell's Books Image from Wikipedia.org

I'm in Portland, OR for a couple days, and that means a trip to Powell's is on the agenda. I've mentioned Powell's before. From their website:

From humble storefront beginnings in 1971 on a derelict corner of northwest Portland, Powell's Books has grown into one of the world's great bookstores, with seven locations in the Portland metropolitan area, and one of the book world's most successful dot-coms (www.powells.com), serving customers worldwide.

Powell's is significant enough to merit its own Wikipedia entry.

Powell's Books is a chain of bookstores in the Portland metropolitan area with origins in Chicago, Illinois. Powell's headquarters location, Powell's City of Books, is the largest independent new and used bookstore in the United States[verification needed].

Powell's City of Books is located on the edge of downtown and the Pearl District, occupying a full city block between NW 10th and 11th Avenues and Burnside and Couch Streets. It is open 365 days a year, and contains over 77,000 ft² of floor space.

The inventory for its retail and online sales is over four million new, used, rare, and out-of-print books.[1]; since 2005 it has also offered DVDs, with an inventory of over 40,000, available online only. At its retail stores, it follows the somewhat unusual practice of shelving new and used books side-by-side. It buys thousands of used books a day in order to keep its shelves well-stocked.

Powell's employees even have their own union.

But enough of that. Between my GF and I, we spent more than $200. But what you are really wondering is, "What did he buy?"

  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus -- Charles C. Mann
  • The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime -- Jasper Fforde
  • Anansi Boys -- Neil Gaiman
  • The System of the World (Baroque Cycle)-- Neal Stephenson
  • The Best American Travel Writing -- 2006
  • A Scanner Darkly -- Philip K. Dick
  • The Millionaire Next Door -- Thomas J. Stanley
  • Count Zero -- William Gibson
  • The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker's Essential Writings on Management
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- Philip K. Dick


A Bolex?

I'm not sure what I find stranger -- the brevity, the lack of pictures, or the fact that is made the online edition of the paper at all.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Need a cool business-card holder?

It's a box ... no, it's a Rolodex ... no, wait, it's a bolex!

When it's inverted, Josef Ziesler's design transforms from a mild-mannered maple box into super business-card holder. The accordion shape can even hold pens and pencils.

The Accordion Card/Pen Holder is $35 from the Museum of Modern Art, 800-447-6662; moma.org. (Frances Somers)

The Flight Home

Bose Noise Reduction HEadphones

  1. Plug in head phones
  2. Turn on notebook
  3. Launch Law and Order: Criminal Intent episode through TiVo To Go.
  4. Discover corrupted audio on the show.
  5. Make sure headphones are plugged into the notebook right.
  6. Raise volume
  7. Hear corrupted audio on the show.
  8. Try another episode
  9. Hear corrupted audio on the show.
  10. Check software settings.
  11. Hear corrupted audio on the show.
  12. Check detailed software settings.
  13. Fail to understand detailed software settings.
  14. Try changing random things that might be related to sound.
  15. Hear corrupted audio on the show.
  16. Uninstall new Codecs.
  17. Hear corrupted audio on the show.
  18. Reset notebook to setting three weeks old when the damn thing worked.
  19. Hear corrupted audio on the show.
  20. Decide machine must be broken.
  21. Hear corrupted audio on the show.
  22. Give up.
  23. Decide to write a book review.
  24. Discover book is in the overhead blocked by tons of carry on baggage because I didn't think I'd need it.
  25. Check to see if corrupted audio file went to Confession to redeem itself. No dice.
  26. Hear corrupted audio on the show.
  27. Realize I have another notebook I can try. Fire up other notebook.
  28. Discover none of my USB flash drives are big enough to move the TV files from the broken notebook to the good one.
  29. Give up completely and plug headphones into iPod.
  30. Hear corrupted audio on the iPod.
  31. Silently scream "What the hell?!" so I won't be asked to step outside somewhere over the mountains.
  32. Rip the headphones off my head
  33. Accidentally push the cable plug the rest of the way into the headphones.
  34. Hear perfect audio on the iPod.
  35. Try Law & Order: Criminal Intent again.
  36. Hear perfect audio on the show.
  37. Undo earlier "repairs"
  38. Sit back and enjoy the first 5 minutes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.



Ladies and Gentlemen, that tone means the Captain as turned on the "Fasten Seat Belt" sign for our descent into Seattle. Please turn off and stow all personal electronics at this time.

Check to make sure your seatback and tray table is in the full upright and locked position. Make sure your carryons are stowed in either the overhead compartment or completely underneath the seat in front of you. Make sure your seatbelt is fastened low and tight across your waist.

Flight Attendants will be coming through the cabin one final time to collect all remaining service items regardless of their contents.

We'll be on the ground shortly.

39. Seethe


Shatner-Palooza: Howie Who?

In light of NBC's shocking success with "Deal or No Deal" (a show for those who find Wheel of Fortune too taxing on the brain cells) ABC is rolling out "Show Me the Money" starring everyone's favorite celebrity William Shatner.

Attempting to share the stage with him are 13 stripp -- I mean dancers. The hold scrolls that reveal dollar amounts when a contestant yells "Show Me the Money"

Shatner doesn't ask them "Is that your final answer?" Instead he asks, "Do you want to lock in your answer?" Contestants have to answer challenging questions such as:

Who makes chocolate kisses?
What show featured the Soup Nazi?
What sport is featured in the movie No Holds Barred?

The first contestant on the show is a guy who makes Boy George look like Al Bundy, NTTAWWT.

He comes up on stage with his "Murse" or Man Purse. Shatner asks him what he has in it. He has lip balm and his good luck Shania Twain ticket. The rest of it is empty -- leaving plenty of room for prize money.

To begin the game, Shatner says, " I don't know that this will interest you, but we have 13 beautiful dancers..."

They are the Million Dollar dancers. The music comes on, and the dancers dance. Of course we get to see Shatner cut loose as well.

Really, most of the show seems to be an excuse for Shatner to dance. It's almost like he's Ellen's long lost grandfather.

The phrase that will pop up on T-Shirts in a few weeks? "Ladies -- Let's Dance"

How can you not love a show where William Shatner says, "I want you to visualize Paul Rubens."

ABC has the first 12 minutes posted on their site. Check it out or wait until the show premieres on 2006-11-22.


Now I Believe OJ is Innocent

OJ Simpson picture

O.J. Simpson to discuss killings

"O.J. Simpson, in his own words, tells for the first time how he would have committed the murders if he were the one responsible for the crimes," the network said in a statement. "In the two-part event, Simpson describes how he would have carried out the murders he has vehemently denied committing for over a decade."

The interview will air days before Simpson's new book, "If I Did It," goes on sale Nov. 30. The book, published by Regan, "hypothetically describes how the murders would have been committed."

In a video clip on the network's Web site, an off-screen interviewer says to Simpson, "You wrote 'I have never seen so much blood in my life.'"

Really? I didn't know you coul Nudge-Nudge-Wink-Wink homicide.


A Message From Corporate

TO: All Employees
From: System Support

RE: Outlook Web Access is unavailable

Outlook Web Access (OWA) has not been accessible today and is still unavailable. You can access this web site ONLY through VPN. We apologize for any inconvenience and will send out another email when more information is available.

Thank you,
Systems Support


If you can read this email, you do not need it.
If you can't read this email, this is the reason you can't read it. We'll email you to let you know when you can read your email again.


Book Review 08: What is data?

The deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed subcategory. He’s got esprit up to here. Right now, he is preparing to carry out his third mission of the night. His uniform is black as activated charcoal, filtering the very light out of the air. A bullet will bounce off its arachnofiber weave like a wren hitting a patio door, but excess perspiration wafts through it like a breeze through a freshly napalmed forest. Where his body has bony extremities, the suit had sintered armorgel: feels like gritty jello, protects like a stack of telephone books.

Page 1

Pokemon first made news in the US not for it’s addictive and silly characters, but because in 1997 it hospitalized hundreds of Japanese children. A scene filled the screen with flashes of light and induced seizures around the country. The phenomena is described as Photo Sensitive Seizures and inspired new TV regulations around the world.

The idea that seemingly meaningless visual input can cause the brain to misfire plays a key role in Stephenson’s prescient novel, Snow Crash.

The book began life as a graphic novel, but eventually the author turned to the more traditional format. It’s easy to see how the book would work as a comic. Stephenson describes the action and takes us into characters’ heads in ways the seem custom made for thought bubbles and six panel pages.

Stephenson wrote the book in 1991, when the Internet was something few people had heard of. There was no web and no point and click interfaces as there are today. No one could envision the DotCom nova that exploded 5 years later. The internet was still the province of email, FTP, USENET, Gopher, Archie, Veronica, and MUDs.

In this dark and funny dystopian cyberpunk novel, Stephenson weaves a complex plot covering Sumerian creation myths, commercialization and fragmentation of American culture, the collapse of the Soviet Union, Neuro-biology, the nature of linguistics, media ownership, 3rd world refugee migration, and modern Pizza delivery.

The book is filled with big ideas, including:
  • Nature of computer viruses
  • Nature of biological viruses
  • Language Acquisition
  • Hardware vs. Software vs. Wetware
  • How homo sapiens became human beings

  • The history of creation myths and biblical stories

While filled with cool technology, ancient mythology, and enough violence and gore to make Rambo uncomfortable, Stephenson still writes it with his tongue planted firmly in his cheese. The first character we meet is a pizza delivery guy. How do we know he’s important to the story? Well, his name is Hiro Protagonist.

Hiro Protagonist
Last of the freelance hackers
Greatest sword fighter in the world
Stringer, Central Intelligence Corporation
Specializing in software-related intel
(music, movies, and microcode)

I had trouble with some of the ancient history. I probably should have been taking notes while reading it, because I kind of got lost in Hiro’s discussions with the Librarian. Fortunately, in chapter 56, Stephenson creates an expository section where he explains everything we would know if we had been paying attention. There are some elements in the book I still don’t grasp; it will take another reading or two.

A weakness of the book may be Stephenson’s hesitation. He doesn’t push his point to its logical end.

The story is about the parallels between biology and information. He treats the computer virus as though it’s different from the biological. He draws parallels between binary code and ancient ways of viewing the world. Mythical characters become programmers, but only in the metaphorical sense.

“Neurolinguistic pathways in your brain. Remember the first time you learned binary code?”
“You were forming new pathways in your brain. Deep structures. Your nerves grow new connections as you use them – the axons split and push their way between the dividing glial cells – your bioware self modifies – the software becomes part of the hardware.”

Page 126

Juanita sighs, looks tired. “There won’t be any diagnosis,” she says. “It’s a software, not a hardware, problem.”
“They’re rounding up the usual suspects. CAT scans, NMR scans, PET scans, EEGs. Everything’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with his brain – his hardware.”
“It just happens to be running the wrong program?”
“His software got poisoned.”

Page 199

But it’s almost an arbitrary delineation. Biology IS information. Taken to the next level, there is no difference between the biological and the informational. They are the same. That’s the point he’s hinting at but he doesn’t quite take us there. I don’t know if that’s intentional, or if it’s because he wrote the novel in 1991.

Since then, we’ve seen increasing convergence between technology and biology. From wireless headsets to the proliferation of portable computing to continual connections to the Internet to cutting edge limb replacement research, technology is a more integral and invisible part of our lives.

The book is not just big ideas, though. It’s also has some witty story telling. The pace is surprisingly quick. And Stephenson isn’t just focused on the technology. He brings out the emotion in his characters.

Some of the most moving sections on the story border on the cheesy and contrived, but are still a fun read. Chapter 65 tells a great story of the group camaraderie of strangers. And Fido’s story, which appears throughout the book, reminds us how being caring can pay unexpected dividends down the road.

In future entries, I may drill into some of the big issues. In the meantime, here are some topics for discussion in your next book group:
  • The Raft is analogous to the brain with its quasi-organic growth and increasingly complex ties among constituent parts
  • Biology is Data and vice versa
  • How is the Internet like the Metaverse? How is it changing?
  • What is the nature of language?
  • Gargoyles are always connected. How is that like our culture today?

If you enjoy cyberpunk realities, dystopian futures, paleo-Christianity and ancient creation myths, or sword fighting, you will find something to enjoy in Snow Crash. It’s well paced, with a reasonably tight plot, compelling characters, and unexpected laughs. Readers can appreciate it based on big ideas, or on the engaging story. And I would look forward to a movie version of it, if I wasn’t convinced Hollywood would screw it up.

The Best Line From Saturday Night Live Last Night

"In a ironic twist this week, Iraq brought regime change to the United States."


You know you're travelling a lot...

...when you are on a plane doing trip reports and you can't remember what city you just left.

(It was Hartford, CT)

Only in NY 02: Train Thief

I don't know what I like more about NYC. They fact that these storie happen, or the way the Daily News writes about them.

Train buff's latest loco-motion

His love of trains has put him back on the fast track - to jail.

Darius McCollum, the legendary transit buff who tried to steal a 60-ton Long Island Rail Road locomotive, was busted yesterday by the NYPD with all the makings for another caper: an MTA badge, an MTA-style construction helmet and how-to manuals on running trains, police said.


Great Spin, Mr. President

Congratulations to the Bush administration.

After last night's election -- the most successful election for the Democratic party since 1992, we all thought we'd be focused on the party's agenda today. The news would be interviewing winners and devoting the entire day's and evening's reports to what went wrong with the Republicans.

Instead, the Bush administration's made sure all media outlets were talking about him and his decisions. They are talking about Rumsfeld, and who Bush will replace him with, and what Bush will do in Iraq now.

Not the Democrat's new agenda. The Republican's new agenda.

Congratulations on taking the story back.

Newsweek Columnist on TSA

I don't feel like ranting about the PR Sham that is TSA today. So I'll let Anna Quindlen do it for me.

The full article is avialable at MSNBC.com

As a frowning agent tossed the stuff, I had a mental picture of terrorists seizing control of a passenger jet armed with mascara wands. Which is no sillier than most of what passes for airport security.

This is not merely an inconvenience. The whole cockeyed system has become a symbol of the shortcomings of government programs and responses. It's expensive, arbitrary and infuriating; it turns low-wage line workers into petty despots. And instead of making Americans feel safer, its sheer silliness illuminates how impotent we are in the face of terrorism. The hustle and bustle at U.S. checkpoints is window dressing, another one of those rote, unthinking exercises that are the hallmark of bureaucracies, like "Bleak House" with luggage.


By contrast, the TSA screeners are so poorly trained that this summer more than half of a group tested on recognizing explosives and other banned materials failed. And undercover federal agents have managed to get all sorts of weapons past security checkpoints—perhaps while workers were confiscating hair-care products. Meanwhile, much of what goes in the cargo hold of commercial planes hasn't been screened at all. And while there are allegedly terrorist watch lists in existence, the airlines don't get a look at them, and it's plain that the bored men and women comparing boarding passes with picture IDs aren't using them. In fact, many of them scarcely look up to see if the passenger matches the picture.

Some days I suspect that Osama bin Laden could get through the line if the name on his driver's license was the same as that on his ticket and he wasn't packing Oil of Olay.

Airport security lines should be places to check for egregious breaches, like handguns or box cutters in carry-ons, not a first—and last—line of defense.


Good Luck, Howard Dean

The polls open in just a few hours, and it looks like the Democrats are likely to win the House this year. They also have a chance to win the Senate.

Can you just imagine the last minute meetings in the upper echelons of the Democratic party right now? They haven't been in this position in a look time. They must be holed up with coffee, cigarettes, analysis and white boards brainstorming last minute strategy and trying to answer one key question:

What do we need to do to snatch defeat from the jaws of certain victory?

Good luck with that, boys.

St. Louis 04: Push Poling

At the Museum of Transportation, I learned about push poling.

Sometimes in a railyard they would want to move a car that did not have an engine on the same track. They would use a pole and engine on a parallel track to push the car. It sounds frighteningly dangerous. Here's how the Museum describes the procedure:

Dimple-like sockets are often found at the lower corners of freight cars, on the ends of locomotive pilot beams and on the rear corners of tenders. These were needed for a type of switching called "poling."

The car to be moved was not on the same track as the locomotive. This could be because the track was too weak to support the engine, or it could be that if the car were pulled out, it would not have been at the desired end of the engine.

The trainman positioned one end of a push pole in the dimple-like polin socket at the corner of the car, then the opposite end was carefully aimed at another socket on a slowly approaching engine. After contact was made, the trainman got out of the area; then the engine gave the car a shove. A brakeman would frequently ride the car to operate the handbrake so the car could be kept under control. When the speed slackened, the pole would drop to the ground.

This type of switching was very dangerous and was used only as a last resort, and is not done today.

You can see the dimple for pole on this locomotive in the lower middle portion of the picture.

And here is a close up of the dimple.

locomotive push pole dimple close up

This reminds me that my job really isn't that bad.


St. Louis 03: Museum of Transportation

I had a couple spare hours in the middle of the day, so I asked the NeverLost lady where I should go. She suggested the Museum of Transportation.


It turns out St. Louis has a Museum of Transportation. I saw that and thought, "Ooh. Cool. Infrastructure. I like infrastructure."

Does that surprise anyone?

I thought it would be focused on shipping an aircraft. It actually focused on railroads and cars. That actually made more sense, since St. Louis isn't known as a Mecca for large ocean going container ships. I suppose that's my Seattle-centric attitude influencing my expectations.

Most of the museum is outdoors, and it was lightly raining. That kept most of the tourists away and meant I had those monstrous collections of steel to myself.

The scale of the locomotives is amazing. I don't even want to think about how they got these monsters to the museum.

6597 gallon railroad tanker car, Museum of Transportation

This locomotive began service in 1876 and continued hauling cars until (presumably) 1951. In Seattle, I don't often see equipment that's 130 years old, let alone large mechanical equipment.

From the Museum Placard: Marmora Boston and Albany -- 1876 4-4-0 American type passenger locomotive, #39 was christened the Marmora when it was built in 1876 at the Boston & Albany's Springfield, Mass. shops. Designed by Master Mechanic Wilson Eddy #39 was one of one hundred Eddy Clocks known for their precise running and clock like dependability and is the only surviving example. It features a link-and-oin coupler, an oil headlight and two steam cannons rather than a steam dome. Donated in 1951 by Purdue University.

This is the most unusual train I saw.

From the Museum Placard: Aerotrain Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific -- 1955 One of two experimental demonstrator Aerotrains (#2 and #3) built by GM with a new light weight construction and low center of gravity concept, powered by 1,200 hp futuristic locomotives. Initially in mainline service, they rode poorly at high speeds and had very high noise levels. Purchased by the Rock Island Railroad, they were in suburban Chicago passenger service until 1965. The locomotive and two cars were donated in 1966 by the Rock Island Railroad.

From the Museum Placard: Aerotrain Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific -- 1955 One of two experimental demonstrator Aerotrains (#2 and #3) built by GM with a new light weight construction and low center of gravity concept, powered by 1,200 hp futuristic locomotives. Initially in mainline service, they rode poorly at high speeds and had very high noise levels. Purchased by the Rock Island Railroad, they were in suburban Chicago passenger service until 1965. The locomotive and two cars were donated in 1966 by the Rock Island Railroad.

The coolest trains I saw were the snow plows.

This one is a more traditional wedge plow. It's pushed by another locomotive. Or several. It forces the snow off the tracks and to the side so freight can get through.

Museum Placard: St Louis Southwestern Maintenance of Way -- Wedge Snow Plow Made from a steam locomotive's whale back tender by removing the fuel tank and placing the plow on the water tank which was filled wiht rock to weigh it down. The plow would be coupled to one or more locomotives which would push it through the snow. Donated in 1995 by the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Museum Placard:  St Louis Southwestern Maintenance of Way -- Wedge Snow Plow Made from a steam locomotive's whale back tender by removing the fuel tank and placing the plow on the water tank which was filled wiht rock to weigh it down. The plow would be coupled to one or more locomotives which would push it through the snow. Donated in 1995 by the Southern Pacific Railroad.

And here's a more modern snow plow.

From the Museum Placard: 900081 Union Pacific 1966 Designed and built by the Union Pacific Railroad in the Omaha Shop, the rotart snowplow is the heaviest ever built weighing 367,400 lbs. Its cutting wheel could throw snow far to either side of the track as it was pushed forward at four to six mph. It is not self propelled and must be pushed by 3 or 4 locomotives. Number 900081 is powered by a GM/EMD 16 cylinder 3,000 hp.turbocharged diesel engine that drives an electric generator which provides power to turn the 12' rotary blades at up to 150 rpm. A steam generator heats the cab, prevents the fuel and water pipes from freezing and can thaw our the cutting wheel if it gets stuck. The plow engineer controls both the plow and the trailing locomotives. This snowplow is 52' 2inches long, 17' high, and was last used in Green River, WY in the mid 19080s. The circular windows in the front of the plow revolve to keep them clear of snow. Sonated in 1994 by the Union Pacific Railroad.

They have small car museum as well. They tell the story of the rise of the Motel, including the Coral Court Motel.

Coral Court Motel rebuilt at Museum of Transportation

Coral Court Motel rebuilt at Museum of Transportation

And what car museum would be complete without a classic Model T?

Ford Model T at Museum of Transportation

If you like trains and appreciate cars, the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis is worth several hours. Visit early in the day, when it's rainy, and you'll have the place to yourself.


Bob Barker Movie Plans

Bob Barker Portrait

Bob Barker recently announced his upcoming retirement from The Price is Right after 35 years hosting the show, and 50 years in televsion. Bob Barker is truly a television icon and will be missed.

However, he is not completely retiring. He may do movies. But he does have words of caution for potential casting agents:

He said he'd take on a movie role if the right one came along, but filmmakers, take note: "I refuse to do nude scenes. These Hollywood producers want to capitalize on my obvious sexuality, but I don't want to be just another beautiful body."



Army fight donkeys in Iraq. No, not Democrats -- Actual donkeys

Arms-bearing donkeys intercepted

Iraqi security forces intercepted six donkeys carrying 53 anti-tank mines and an anti-tank rocket near the Iranian border in Iraq, the U.S. military said on Thursday.

The action took place in eastern Diyala province about 3 miles from the border, where the Iraqi forces had been patrolling, the U.S. military said.

Two men in the area ran away before they could be captured, and the donkeys were later let go after a coalition forces explosive experts team safety detonated the weapons.

So the Iraqui Security Forces, to whom we hope to entrust the security of Iraq if the US pulls out, can't catch donkey handlers.

So coalition forces released the donkeys after detonating the explosives. Either those were mild expolosives or pretty tough donkeys.

Pro-War Interpretation: We are clearly winning the war in Iraq. We've reduced them to fighting with donkeys.

Anti-War Intrepretation: It's time for a new approach. We're losing Americans lives everyday to people who are fighting us with donkeys.


St. Louis 02: Culinary Wonderland

Hardee's Burger

On 2006-10-26 I went Hardee's to buy breakfast of 10 people.

Like most places that are proud of their accomplishments, the store in O'Fallon, IL (15 miles outside St. Louis, MO) posted their City Search award for Best Hamburger in St Louis.

CitySearch is a dotcom company that hosts web portals for cities across the US. The residents of the area can vote for the best whatever in their town.

And in 2005, that meant the best hamburger in St. Louis was at Hardee's.

At first, I thought it was kind of silly. But then I realized how sad it is.

Sure, St. Louis is the corporate headquarters for Hardee's.

But it still means the best burger in this metropolitan area of 2.1 million people is a mass-produced fast food product. The epitome of the highest quality burger available to the people is reduced to the 3-Ring Binder of a franchise owner.

Often we hear complaints that American culture is becoming more homgenized than ever. Pretty soon the Wal*Mart-McDonalds-Starbucks-Microsoft beast will swallow the entire country and tunr it into one giant strip mall with Canada and Mexico nothing more than the parking lot wasteland of America.

The fact the Hardee's makes the best burger in St. Louis proves this is already happening.

A great burger doesn't have to be expensive. But surely there is some diner or pub in the town that makes a tastier burger -- the kind of place that would be distinctly St. Louis. The kind of place you can't copy and reproduce around the country as though you were some giant Kinkos.

A burger with the flavor of the region -- made by people whose lives are invested in success of their of business should be available someplace. The kind of burger that people put their heart into. The kind of place where the staff put their sould into the restaurant. Surely the people of St. Louis deserve that.