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News, Pointers & Commentary Archive: July 1998
|27 July - ?? 1998||"Only a mediocre person is always at his best."|
-- Laurence Peter
Seems inevitable in hindsight: Since the day job isn't letting up (can it, even?) and since I've gained a 'night job' (extending & polishing Formjack), some other stuff has got to go. Namely, the updates to this page.
I know, you're so disappointed. All 3 of you.
Expect another post maybe this coming weekend (Aug. 1), then expect another update before the tenth. I should have a handle on how the rest of August looks by then.
|23 July 1998||"Had we said 30 years ago that we were going to put man in space for 30 years and we're only going to have two accidents, we would have said, `Boy, we'll take that right now.' Certainly, pushing out the frontiers as we did and still are doing, and having one accident in flight, the other on the ground, really is remarkable."|
--Alan Shepard (1923-1998) in a 1991 interview
Alan Shepard (of the original Mercury Seven) died yesterday:
If not for the HBO series "From the Earth to the Moon", I would have had very little idea what exactly he did. (Hey, I didn't even show up until 1970, and I wasn't paying attention to the space program at the time...)
- Alan Shepard was 'a pretty cool customer' [CNN]
- Astronaut Alan Shepard dies at 74 [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
- The Mercury 7: Heroes, Rival, Brothers [CNN] (four of the seven are left)
Rick Schroder (yes, that Rick Schroder) will be taking over as Jimmy Smits' replacement on NYPD Blue after the first six episodes of next season. This is a pretty good article about it, with many quotes from the respective horses' mouths:
If you're a fan, Alan Sepinwall's NYPD Blue Homepage [UPenn.edu] is a good source for information and talk about the show, including episode reviews.
- `NYPD Blue' producers weigh how to portray Smits' replacement [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
Milch said he was writing the sixth episode, but both he and Bochco still insisted they didn't know how Smits' Detective Bobby Simone would exit, or whether he would drop in from time to time as Sharon Lawrence did while making the now-canceled "Fired Up." Smits has said he'd be willing to do that if he were available.
|22 July 1998||"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."|
Here's your barrel, here's a fish, and here's a gun: Really, I almost don't even have the heart...
Repeat after me: Windows NT is not robust enough to stake lives on. Neither is MacOS.
"I said right full rudder! Now!"
"Sorry sir, we're rebooting and it had to run a CHKDSK...can it wait about 10 minutes?"
- Software glitches leave Navy Smart Ship dead in the water [Government Computer News]
Although PCs have reduced workloads for sailors aboard the Aegis missile cruiser USS Yorktown, software glitches resulted in system failures and crippled ship operations, according to Navy officials.
The ship had to be towed into the Naval base at Norfolk, Va., because a database overflow caused its propulsion system to fail...It took two days of pierside maintenance to fix the problem. The Yorktown has been towed into port after other systems failures...
"Using Windows NT, which is known to have some failure modes, on a warship is similar to hoping that luck will be in our favor," DiGiorgio said.
I really don't have anything to add to the article, except that the slashdot folk are of course having a field day with it. My favorite post was from a Peter Koren:Those who chose NT for the Navy should be awarded with free WinNT controlled pacemakers, cars and gas ovens. Then the rest of us could make book on which bozo will keel over, crash or burn and how soon.
Welcome to the Windows NT lottery.
|21 July 1998||"What for you bury me in the cold, cold ground?"|
--Tasmanian Devil, to Bugs Bunny
Go Adam! Adam Engst, publisher of TidBITS (a newsletter I've been reading for years now) is going after the Bull's Eye "E-MAIL MARKETING WORKS" guy with the State of Washington on his side. This ought to be fun...
Give him one for me, guys...
- Lawsuit will test state's new e-mail `spam' law [Seattle Times]
When the suit was filed, the four had received 98 messages, which converts to damages adding up to $66,500.
"If we get any money, that's great," [Engst] said, "but that's not the goal. The goal really is in specific to shut this guy down. He's a tremendous offender. . . . It's truly an annoying method of marketing."
- TidBITS lawsuit news page [TidBITS] -- includes the full text of the complaint.
An excellent musing on the appropriate way to handle Web content you wish you hadn't put up, particularly if you're supposed to be a trusted factual body like a newspaper:
- How do you retract a story online? [Salon]
Time has corrected the record by augmenting it rather than erasing it; while it's no longer possible for Time readers to read the original story [on the U.S. military using nerve gas in Laos in 1970] without being aware of Time's subsequent retraction, it's also not possible for Time to pretend that the goof never happened.
Leave the stories up, leave the historical record intact and append a note to readers (with appropriate links) explaining the subsequent history.
If I knew Perl, and if I had nothing else to do, this sounds like it'd be a hoot.
- The 3rd Annual Obfuscated Perl Contest [The Perl Journal]
The objective: to determine who can write the most devious, inhuman, disgusting, amusing, amazing, and bizarre Perl code.
On my About Me page, I have an anagram of my name: Steven E. Bogart = 'Steve, a Net Borg'. I just thought of another which explains a great deal: 'Grab Steve, O Net.'
Oh, believe me, it does...
I haven't thrown out any Onion links for a while. A couple of memorable recent stories:
- Intensive Five-Year Study Finds Five Years A Long-Ass Time [The Onion]
Among the other notable findings in the 350-page report: that none of the researchers would ever have those years back again; that many of the researchers' friends had established lucrative private-sector careers, gotten married and started families; and that extreme irritability, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite would result if any of the researchers ever heard the word "dichlorobenzene" again.
According to Williamson's wife Judith, who plans to file for divorce this week, a direct link exists between dichlorobenzene and her husband's inability to spend quality time with his family and maybe even take his wife someplace nice every once in a while. She characterized her findings as "conclusive."
- 1,500 Dead In AT&T Cost-Cutting Measure [The Onion]
More employee liquidation is planned in the near future, with over $23 million in staff cuts over the next 18 months through buyouts, early-retirement incentive packages and pneumatic bolt guns.
|19 July 1998||"Down! Down! Down! Go! Go! Go! Mine! Mine! Mine!"|
--Daffy Duck trying to keep Bugs away from 'his' treasure in "Ali Baba Bunny"
As expected, a clueless (but apparently decent) political campaign spammed the world with promotional materials. There will be more...
They had the decency to apologize profusely the very next day, which may be a good way to judge a politician - when caught in a stupid error, do they take responsibility?
- Georgia Spampaign Backfires [Wired]
"While we believe strongly in the freedom of speech, we also believe that it is inappropriate to send unwanted information to people who must pay for the capacity to receive it," read an apology by Langford's campaign manager, Lee Raudonis, to anyone who received an unwelcome email from the Langford campaign on Thursday.
...a member of the campaign staff received an unsolicited email advertising software for sending bulk email called Bull's Eye Gold[Hey everybody, recognize THAT name? How about the phrase 'E-MAIL MARKETING WORKS'?]. The package is sold by WorldTouch Network, a California company that has drawn criticism for its alleged spam abuses. [Alleged? Exsqueeze me?]
"It was a flagrant violation. It forged headers and implicated another customer, which is grounds for termination," said Harry Smoak, the "abuse captain" who oversees MindSpring's use policy.
Incidentally, I've definitely settled on Formjack as the name for the software I'm preparing for release...and no one else has used the name! "Steeplejack" is the best cognate for it as far as trying to determine what I mean by it - it means "someone who builds or maintains very tall structures."
Most of my time is being spent writing & documenting that at the moment...expect updates to this page to continue to be sporadic for a bit...
In the meantime, here are a bunch of links I'd been saving up to write about but probably won't get the time:
- Oracle to port database to Linux after all [InfoWorld] - This is a Big Deal.
- The big chilly [Salon]
It has sped up our work lives, forced us to wear sweaters in July and robbed us of the chance to sweat. Down with air conditioning!
Cooling down also includes the pleasure of walking from 90 degrees into a frosty grocery store or movie theater, which I enjoy as much as anybody -- at first. But then the novelty wears off, the chill sets in and the goose bumps pop up. That is, unless one remembers to carry a sweater everywhere, which is really fun when it's 90 degrees. Moreover, a routine series of icebox-to-oven transitions throughout the day is rather grating -- both environments become equally irritating.
- Slam Windows shut using all means possible by Dave Barry [SJ Merc]
Many a time I have spent hours writing a serious and thoughtful column on an important issue, only to have Windows -- which is often referred to as "the French labor union of software" -- get into a snit and call a general computer strike that erases all my work moments before deadline, leaving me with no choice but to bang out a highly inaccurate column such as this one.
- Microsoft is slipping by Peter Coffee [PC Week], on the slipping of Windows NT 5.0's schedule.
The NT 5.0 saga is like the famous M.C. Escher drawing in which a staircase seems to be going constantly upward while actually going in a circle. NT 5.0 is being delayed to "add features," even while the true ambitions for the product are stealthily downscaled.
For example, am I getting delusional when I recall some past discussion of a fully object-oriented file system?
- Dvorak's tale of woe [Zdnet] - after downloading a Microsoft service pack, John Dvorak's non-Microsoft mail program ("Eudora", my mail software of choice) stopped working! Hmm...
I assume now that I have to abandon Eudora for Outlook Express, simply because I can't continue to fight Microsoft's never-ending attempt to thrust this program on me. I don't have time to struggle.
The underlying problem I have is that Outlook Express just isn't that great. I suppose that instead of making it work right, the first order of business is to destroy the competition so people will have nothing better to choose anyway.
|16 July 1998||"As soon as we started programming, we found to our surprise that it wasn't as easy to get programs right as we had thought. Debugging had to be discovered. I can remember the exact instant when I realized that a large part of my life from then on was going to be spent in finding mistakes in my own programs."|
-- Maurice Wilkes discovers debugging, 1949
Big money, big money: How nice to have analysts actually having to explain why Apple's making so much: $101 million this quarter when everyone was expecting $50 million...
- Apple's earnings shine [SJ Merc]
Analysts responded optimistically. "They did it without a consumer product," said Lou Mazzucchelli, vice president with Gerard Klauer Mattison, in New York. "That means there's more upside to come."
"The earnings were very high quality earnings," Jobs said. "It's fun to make more money than Compaq."
The HTML leaves a bit to be desired (never mess with the default font size for the majority of the text on a page [saith Jakob Nielsen] -- users have chosen their default text size because they can read it comfortably, so making it all smaller than that seems a bit...perverse? mean?), but the content is A++:
- Linux Manifesto [Bootnet]
It's an interview with Linus Torvalds, originator of Linux, about many wide-ranging topics. Very, very smart guy (except where I disagree with him, namely that the MacOS will be gone in five years...see above). Recommended.[on Windows 95/98]: "What's fundamentally wrong is that nobody ever had any taste when they did it. Microsoft has been very much into making the user interface look good, but internally it's just a complete mess. And even people who program for Microsoft and who have had years of experience, just don't know how it works internally. Worse, nobody dares change it. Nobody dares to fix bugs because it's such a mess that fixing one bug might just break a hundred programs that depend on that bug. And Microsoft isn't interested in anyone fixing bugs--they're interested in making money. They don't have anybody who takes pride in Windows 95 as an operating system."
|14 July 1998||"Life may have no meaning. Or even worse, it may have a meaning of which I disapprove."|
Does this seem dumb to you? Okay, look at the chart on this page. Find approximately the last time Apple's stock price was where it is right now (33 and change). Looks like it's around January-February of 1996, yes?
So could someone clue me in as to why everyone's reporting the 'news' that Apple's stock has hit a 52-week high? It's at least a 104-week high, or a 2 1/2 year high really. I just don't get it.
- Apple stock at 1-year high [MacWeek]
- Apple Shares Rise On iMac Hopes [TechWeb]
- MacNN (Monday July 13 entry)
New Scribble! On the Naming of Software: Are all the good names taken? In a crowded category, maybe..."So I've got this software I'm working on..."
|12 July 1998||"I love creative dry spells, because it means I am subconsciously preparing to write something. I relax, do things, see friends, have dinners. It's like being pregnant: one day, pop."|
--Steve Martin in Entertainment Weekly #438/439
Looking for Someone? Check this clearinghouse of US White Pages databases. Find anybody if they're listed...
- White Pages - United States [555-1212, from RobotWisdom]
Well, doesn't this just scare the pants off you: OK, disclaimer first: no one went on record and said that Microsoft made them back down, but still I find this article awfully easy to credit:
- OEMs tone down their Win98 warnings [ZDNN]
[Toshiba, Dell, Compaq, HP and IBM] posted information on their web sites telling users in certain cases not to upgrade their PCs and, in other cases, to wait for Windows 98-ready BIOS software and device drivers before upgrading.
Several manufacturers have now changed their tune as a result of pressure from Microsoft Corp., according to sources at the OEMs.
Hey, I saw Mulan last night. The villain especially was fabulously drawn (with eyes just like his hawk's), the story was very engaging and funny, and the voice talent was as usual top-drawer. Grade: A.
I liked the fact that they didn't sing all that much. In The Lion King (for example) it felt like there were more songs crammed in than were necessary for the story. In this they only did a few songs and let the story carry most of the burden, which worked much better for this kind of story (to me).
Disney also did an impressive job of depicting war without showing a single dead body; in fact I counted only one instance of a sword causing an injury on-screen. It was very little-kid-friendly in that sense, though some of the little kids around us were clearly bored a few times during the film.
Of course, there are some who weren't completely happy with the depiction of Mulan. Salon gives a forum to two young Asian women to discuss their perspectives on the film.
Well, fine. I still got more than my $5.75 worth of fun out of it.
- Mulan Through the Looking Glass [Salon]
Disney's Americanized Hua Mu Lan is an affable character with G-rated allure -- she has Eastern looks with Western values...Her free-spirited personality and forthright manner make her palatable to Western audiences. She is a banana -- yellow outside, white within. With her anglicized name, her perfect unaccented English and her wild gesticulations, it is easy to see she is not a Chinese woman warrior, but an Asian-American feminist.
Also saw a trailer for A Bug's Life, the next film from Pixar (makers of Toy Story). Looked great!
|10 July 1998||"I, in my cynical and not-at-all-endearing Generation X fashion, couldn't see the entertainment potential in having a picture taken of myself standing in the immediate proximity of a beautiful model, but instead amused myself greatly by taking pictures of the sort of men who wanted their pictures taken of themselves standing in the immediate proximity of a beautiful model."|
Quite Fun: Dan Gillmor imagines what it would be like if various companies actually started telling the truth:
Win money! Be part of something bigger than yourself! Join the DES-II cracking effort, which starts Monday. The goal is to throw such an immense amount of computing power at a medium-size computational task that it gets done immediately (defined as 'in under 10 days'). See http://www.distributed.net/des/ for details on the project and download the latest version of a client program for your computer at http://www.distributed.net/clients.html
A Healthy Apple: Well, let's see...not only did Apple's stock reach a 2 1/2 year high...not only did they announce their third profitable quarter in a row (numbers forthcoming)...but they're starting to get headlines like this, which you couldn't have paid anyone to write about them a year ago:
- Andy Ihnatko's NYC Expo Hoo-Ha [Macworld]
Do you read the New Yorker? I skim it now and then when I'm around it, but I don't subscribe to it or seek it out. Editor Tina Brown is leaving, which may change the nature of the magazine:
- Brown and out in New York [Salon]
|7 July 1998||"18,446,744,073,709,551,616 bottles of beer on the wall..."|
--from one of the distributed.net proxy servers. Join the fun...
Well, well: It's going to be another big Apple news week at the New York MacWorld Expo...watch that stock price!
Check the usual suspects for news: MacInTouch, "MacSurfer", "MacCentral"...
Didn't this *just* come out? Windows 95 Service Pack 3, aka Windows 98, is already getting its own Service Pack.
Hey, sounds like a good reason to wait a little...
- Coming soon - Windows 98, the bug-fix [The Register]
- Windows 98 Service Pack 1 already on tap [PC Week]
Interesting stuff: I haven't read all of it yet, but this is a fascinating chunk of a new book about how the more we make, the more we feel we 'have' to spend, and the more we think we will need to make in order to be fulfilled:
Personally, I also buy all sorts of 'unnecessary' stuff, largely because I can -- caffe mochas from St. Louis Bread Company, many CDs, comic books, real books, lots of takeout food...since I can do all that and save some money (my loans are almost all paid off!), I'm relatively content with my lot.
- Excerpt from 'The Overspent American' by Juliet B. Schor [CNN]
Advertising and the media have played an important part in stretching out reference groups vertically. When twenty-somethings can't afford much more than a utilitarian studio but think they should have a New York apartment to match the ones they see on 'Friends', they are setting unattainable consumption goals for themselves, with dissatisfaction as a predictable result.
The new consumerism is also built on a relentless ratcheting up of standards. If you move into a house with a fifties kitchen, the presumption is that you will eventually have it redone, because that's a standard that has now been established. If you didn't have air conditioning in your old car, the presumption is that when you replace it, the new one will have it. If you haven't been to Europe, the presumption is that you will get there, because you deserve to get there. And so on.
More on the aftermath of Phil Hartman's murder:
- It's official: Jon Lovitz to join 'NewsRadio' [CNN]
"While we all regret the circumstances from which this was born, Jon is one of the funniest people I've had the privilege of working with, and we look forward to his joining 'NewsRadio.'" - Brad Grey, chairman of the 'NewsRadio' production company.
I just saw these guys: Acoustix figures prominently in a CNN story on the International Barbershop Harmony Convention. They're really good.
- Barbershop convention: No barbers, but lots of singing [CNN]
"It's the biggest high there is," Larsen said. "It's the most fun you can have with your clothes on."
|2 July 1998||The amount of time between slipping on the peel and landing on the pavement is precisely 1 bananosecond.|
--from slashdot.org, author unknown
I'm taking off for the weekend; next post will likely be Tuesday. In the meantime:
Caveat Windows Emptor: There are lots of folks having trouble upgrading to Windows 98 - registry corruption, crashes, continuing problems with Plug-and-Play, etc. and on top of it all they can't get into Microsoft's support lines.
Just think, for only $90 you too can have this much fun.
- Windows 98 problems won't go away [PC Week]
Also, to varying degrees, Dell, Toshiba and Compaq are discouraging upgrading if you own certain models:
- PC makers issue Win98 warnings [Zdnet]
Jon Katz on...
- US-centrism on the Net [HotWired]
Microsoft has agreed to pay $5 million for the use of the Internet Explorer name:
- Microsoft settles trademark case [News.com]
It's been a year since the Mars rover's jaunt. CNN has a nice recap of the trip:
'nother security hole for Windows web servers:
- Web Servers and File Systems [DaveNet]"So if you want the source code to Microsoft's home page: http://www.microsoft.com/default.asp::$DATA
It works for Perl code too: http://www.activestate.com/lyris/lyris.pl::$DATA "
|1 July 1998||"Don't forget, buy Meept!!(tm) brand idiocy...If it doesn't say 'Meept!!(tm)' it might not be lame."|
--post on Slashdot.org (not mine)
Talk about jumping the gun: Windows NT 5.0 is nowhere near shipping, but analysts are already weighing in pro and con:
Not that I disagree with the recommendation, it just seems a bit early to be even bothering to talk about it.
- Users Should Skip NT 5.0, Analysts Say [TechWeb]
The operating system is several times larger than previous versions of NT, and would not be recommended by Giga Information Group until it has been tested by its first customers..."We just don't feel we can recommend the product until we wait for the first set of companies to drive out any bugs." (a Giga analyst)
Customer service, right? Dave Winer takes Microsoft to task for not notifying its customers of a security hole in a timely fashion (and for not providing a fix quickly).
Not that I expect Microsoft to listen, but Dave provides a valuable service in pointing out where they could improve.
- Security Hole in Windows Web Servers [DaveNet]