V3 (March)

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Occasional links & observations from
Steve Bogart


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15 March 2001

"That's absurd," objected Milo, whose head was spinning from all the numbers and questions.
"That may be true," [the Dodecahedron] acknowledged, "but it's completely accurate, and as long as the answer is right, who cares if the question is wrong? If you want sense, you'll have to make it yourself."
-- The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster with illustrations by Jules Feiffer

Uh oh:

I also like their unrelated headline: Downturn In Economy Forces CEO To Reduce Own Pay Raise By Five Percent.

Paul Solman of the NewsHour did a fine piece Monday on today's more-realistic tech stock market and what happened to the people they showed benefiting from the heady days of a year ago. In particular, the dot-com sales pitches he quotes are pretty laughable:

  • Dot-Com Slide -- March 12, 2001 [PBS NewsHour]
    MAN: We're poised to become the next Yahoo!
    WOMAN: We are the one-stop shopping resource on the Internet...

    PAUL SOLMAN: Jeffrey Klein is still in business, and now getting three times as many job applicants as before the crash. At last year's taping, he was wooing potential employees. Today, with all the layoffs, he's practically shooing them away.

    TERRY BURNHAM: You have thousands of qualified human years that have been thrown in the garbage. Their output is zero. It's negative. They've destroyed value during the time that they've been working on these companies, many of them.

The Phantom Tollbooth was one of my absolute favorite books as a kid; in fact it's probably the one I checked out of the elementary school library the most. I've found that it holds up well to adult re-reading, too. Here's a recent Salon interview with the author, Norton Juster (found on Salon's home page, linked by too many other weblogs to mention):
  • The road to Dictionopolis [Salon]
    Almost any time you start with a message and write your book from that you're in big trouble. We convey many messages in the things that we write, but in many cases, especially with children, you don't want to end with "This is what you should think." You want to end with something that says, "Now, you think about it."

I highly recommend the book to anyone of any age. It sounds like The Dot and the Line would be fun too, but I haven't read that so I can't say for sure.

Also grabbed from many other sites: Neil Gaiman's weblog. No, really.

It's very cool to have a place to get tidbits from Neil as he works his way through finishing up his latest novel, American Gods. It's like if Joe Jackson had a weblog. Or Peter Gabriel. Or, well, Neil Gaiman.

I think this is a great idea: Apple is including some public-domain (and some licensed) media clips on the hard drives of new machines it ships (this happened after I got mine, alas):

The pre-installed version [of iTunes] includes about 700MB of sample mp3 files--mainly music, but there is also some spoken text (JFK and MLK speeches, first few chapters of Harry Potter, etc.).
(seen on Macintouch)

Saves one a lot of downloading, and exposes one to things one might not automatically seek out. Excellent.

Come to think of it, my last machine did include the Barenaked Ladies' "One Week" video as a QuickTime file on the system CD. And some MIDI files of Beethoven and Bach. That was... okay, but what they're doing now is better.

(Making those files also freely downloadable from an Apple site would be even better... but there's no real incentive to do so, I guess.)

These ideas seem obviously worthy to me (and they wouldn't cost that much to implement), but the right people probably won't listen because it's Nader talking:

  • Online access: Congressional voting records and government contracts need to be available online by Ralph Nader [San Francisco Bay Guardian]
    We wrote President Bill Clinton and asked him, in the spirit of his "reinventing government" program, to place all government contracts and grants over, say $100,000, on the government Web sites. In this way, businesses, academics, trade unions, citizen groups, and other individuals can review defense, natural resource, medical research, consulting, subsidy, giveaways, and bailouts... [I]t can take endless calling and writing to obtain copies of these documents, if they can be obtained at all. My associates once called scores of civilian agencies and companies to obtain these contracts and they were stonewalled, and in some instances elicited assertions that the taxpaying public had no business getting these materials.

    Isn't it time for Congress to harness the power of the Internet to serve democracy? Access to the voting records of elected officials is a cornerstone of democracy. Yet Congress still has not put on the Internet a database of congressional votes, searchable by bill name, subject, title, member name, and so on. Why not?

For more information, see

It strikes me as strange indeed that this is an actual Congressman's home page and not a parody.

Pointless gesture: When I remember to, I buy RC Cola at the grocery store instead of Pepsi or Coke. It tastes just as good or better, and it strikes the tiniest of blows for a minority player in a duopoly. Extending this metaphor to other areas of life is an optional exercise for the reader.

I am not competent to represent historians who have focused on the evolution of human violence, on how wars were lost or won.

I can represent fiction writers, though, and I want to apologize for all of us. We have ended so many of our stories with gunfights, with showdowns and death, and millions upon millions of simpletons have mistaken our stories for models for modern living.

We have ended our stories with showdowns and death so often because we're so lazy. Gunplay is no way to live -- but it's a peachy way to end a tale.
-- Kurt Vonnegut, "Address at Rededication of Wheaton College Library, 1973", Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons

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