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August 30, 2003

Happy Labor Day

We saw an ad for a Labor Day sale on the television today.

Alison's first question was "What the hell is up with all the American flags all over the damn screen?" which served to remind me that our common political background (in the far, misty past... please don't report us) includes a slightly more oppositional notion of Labor Day than, say, The Department of Labor's.

Posted by mph at 7:10 AM


b!X has a roundup on Portland Police Chief Kroeker's resignation. At least, I suppose, he can look forward to his garbage being left in peace.

There's more commentary in a follow-on entry.

Posted by mph at 5:59 AM

Another Mystery Solved

Looks like WIRED has figured out what that time travel spam was all about:

"A trail of Internet clues has fingered Robert 'Robby' Todino as the source of the time-travel messages. In a telephone interview last week, the 22-year-old Woburn, Massachusetts, resident admitted that he has sent nearly 100 million of the bizarre messages since November 2001.

"'It almost feels worthless now because the people who are monitoring my every move always seem to win. But it's the only form of communication I have right now,' Todino said.

"His father, Robert Todino Sr., worries that malicious users have preyed on Robby's 'psychological problems' and bilked him out of money."

Posted by mph at 5:47 AM

August 29, 2003

'scuse our dust

We're in the midst of transitioning from one internet connection to another, and the new connection is acting a little flakey. Mail and web service might be hit and miss today.

Update: If you're reading this, we ought to be settled in on the new connection. Thanks to an outage with our ISP, we were unavailable for a little longer than we planned, so it may take a bit for mail to filter through. Not the most auspicious beginning to a new ISP relationship, but b!X (with whom we share the ISP) says it isn't a common occurrence.

Posted by mph at 8:25 AM

August 28, 2003

Don't Trickle Down on My Forehead

. . . and tell me it's raining: Halliburton's [post-war Iraq] Deals Greater Than Thought (washingtonpost.com)

Posted by mph at 7:44 AM

Water Water Everywhere

Keep a blog in your subscription list long enough, and eventually it pays off with something interesting, like Anil Dash's brief assault on the bottled water market.

Posted by mph at 2:26 AM

August 26, 2003

The Time Traveler From FederalFundingProgram.com

Best spam in a while.

Aerial photo of the time traveller's warehouse, courtesy ExpertGPS

I plotted our time traveller's coordinates. He's somewhere in Winchester, MA, just like the message says.

Date: Fri, 22 Aug 2003 21:23:05 +0000 (GMT) 
From: hps41@deutschland.de 
Subject: Warp Watch Needed o 
To: mhall@jupitermedia.com


I am going to need  a new DWG unit,  prefereably the rechargeable AMD
wrist watch model with the GRC79 induction motor, four I80200 warp
stabilizers, 512GB of SRAM and the menu driven GUI with front panel XID
display. I'm a time traveler stuck here in 2003. Upon arriving here my
dimensional warp generator stopped working. I trusted a company here by
the name of LLC Lasers to repair my Generation 3 52 4350A watch unit,
and they fled on me.

I will take whatever model you have in stock, as long as its received
certification  for being safe on carbon based life forms.

In terms of payment:

Payment can be made in Galactic Credits, Platinum gold, or 2003
currency upon safe delivery of unit.

INSTRUCTIONS MUST BE FOLLOWED EXACTLY: Please transport unit in either
a brown paper bag or box to below coordinates on Friday August 22nd at
(exactly 4:00pm) Eastern Standard Time. A few minutes prior will be ok,
but it cannot be after. If you miss this timeframe please email me.
Nobody will be at those coordinates prior to 3:45pm EST, (so do not
transport before then).

Item is to be delivered at beginning of Lagrange Street in Winchester,
Massachusetts which is directly across the street from Stratford Road
located at: Latitude N 42.44852 & Longitude W 071.14651 and the
Elevation is 90 feet.


If in doubt do not transport actual unit until your method of transfer
can be confirmed as a success. You just might need to send a
intergalactic courier to deliver item safely to me.

It is best if you send a intergalactic courier to deliver, this way you
can be certain the unit arrives ok, However If you are certain that you
havethe means to teleport unit in a safe manner please send a
(separate) email to me at: webmaster@federalfundingprogram.com only
after unit has been safely delivered with payment instructions.

Thanks Brian Appel

Do not reply directly back to this email as it will only be bounced
back to you.

wus  y h vtauy idziv  
vwutgta kjufrlv xvzfesu zmdtlo 

Posted by mph at 6:04 PM

A Coffee Can Will Suffice, Thanks

I've spent the last few days reading Jessica Mitford's "The American Way of Death Revisited". I picked it up on the heels of sitting through season one of HBO's funeral home drama "Six Feet Under".

Mitford's book was first written in 1963, and it concerns itself with the American funeral industry -- the owners and operators of funeral homes and cemeteries. The "Revisited" part of the title reflects the updates made to the book in 1996, slightly before the author's death. I picked it up thinking it would be something of a novelty book: something that would go on the shelf in the section I think of as "dysfunctional America." I've long thought the whole funeral home thing was a little disagreeable, but never thought of it as something in need of "reform." About three quarters of the way through, I've changed my mind: When I get some spare time, my funeral instructions are going to be written out in detail and with an eye to ensuring no one I love has to spend more than a few moments in the paws of an undertaker.

Mitford makes a few attempts to sort out the "good" undertakers from the "bad" ones, but the industry in which they operate makes it hard.

With markups on coffins that run over 300 percent and an American fixation on open-coffin viewing (which necessitates unnecessary embalming and cosmetic work) (a fixation the funeral industry itself has worked hard to instill, by the way), once you bring these people in contact with a bereaved family, and threaten their profit margins by demanding a simple cremation, they can't help but fret about their bottom line. So like any sales force, they've adapted and figured out ways to manipulate the psychology of grief in a grotesque end-of-life dramatization of the same forces consumer culture brings to bear on us when we're alive: They offer an assuagement of lingering guilt over unfinished business or unresolved conflicts by subtly pressuring mourners to select more expensive and more elaborate products as a "tribute" to the deceased, pushing the prices of funerals up over $10,000 with ease. They work to undermine the relationship of the clergy with members of a church to keep a more objective priest or pastor from interfering with their hard sell. Sometimes they threaten mutilation of cadavers if the family balks at buying a more expensive coffin. They lie about the law to force purchase of expensive burial vaults and embalming.

In "Six Feet Under," one character's dislike of the family funeral business is framed as an inability to come to grips with death, but having read Mitford's book, I think I'll have a hard time stepping into a funeral home again, not because I can't deal with death but because the overwhelming depths of cynicism driving the industry border on nausea inducing.

It's not all scandal and exposé. Mitford's writing style reminds me quite a bit of another favorite author: Paul Fussell, who wrote (among others) "Class" and "BAD: The Dumbing of America". Neither have any use for euphemism or puffery. Mitford's demolitions of the pretensions to professionalism on display from the funeral industry and its insistence on gloss words for almost every possible element of a funeral (caskets, not coffins; preparation, not embalming; interment, not burial; grave opening not grave digging; vehicle not hearse) are entertaining and witty. She has a tart voice that's driven not so much by cynicism or jadedness as a sort of overwhelmingly clear-eyed way of seeing the world.

Her book drove hard pushes for funeral industry reform on the part of the Federal Trade Commission (largely fought into stalemate by the industry itself), but it also served the purpose of mobilizing others, including the Interfaith Funeral Information Committee, which serves as a consumer-driven investigatory and advocacy group. It's a tough industry to crack in a culture that's confused obfuscation and euphemism for "gentility," but someone needs to do it, and Mitford made that abundantly clear.

Posted by mph at 5:19 PM

August 25, 2003

Mt. Hood from Up There

A Grand Geek Tradition: Photos of Mt. Hood on Approach to Portland

Posted by mph at 5:13 PM


Preparatory to the one year anniversary of PuddingTime!, I put monthly archive links on the right sidebar. There's also an "on this day" thingerator I got from Brad Choate's page that oughta start turning up once there's stuff from a year ago to show up. Imagine your delight when you visit PuddingTime! each day: "Wow!" you'll say to yourself, "what was Michael thinking about one year ago today? I think I'll go look!"

If it gets too tedious, I'll replace it with links to good nudie pix.

Posted by mph at 8:03 AM

August 24, 2003

Showdown at CameraWorld

Here's one to file under "asinine customer service" tales...

Some time around the 20th of June the telephoto lens I bought for my new camera stopped working (the autofocus died). Not a problem: the camera was just two months old, and I have an extended warranty on it for this sort of eventuality. I took the camera and lens back to the store where I bought them and showed them the problem.

The clerk I talked to was cool: he promised me a loaner lens while my lens was off for repair. The manager was more reticent. After I stood at one counter or another for a good fifteen minutes, he came back and told me a.) the store wasn't going to replace the dead lens on the spot because their warranty support is farmed out to a company that decides that sort of thing for them, b.) the lens would be gone for "two to eight weeks" (but he assured me the eight week figure was a "scare number," and c.) the store had no intention of providing a loaner of any sort, except, perhaps, in the form of a fixed-lens point-n-shoot cheapy "if it was an emergency, like a child's birthday party."

I stood my ground on the lens, pointing out that eight weeks represented about a seventh of my total warranty period, and that the reason I'd bought the camera (our trip to Yellowstone) was just two weeks away. It took a lot of staring and repeating what the manager said back to him slowly enough to make him know I was listening to every word. Eventually he caved and dug out a spectacularly bad lens, saying it was the best he could do. I was out the store and about three blocks down the street when I turned around and went back in the store, explaining that I had looked at the lens, lined up a few shots with it, and didn't think it was a satisfactory replacement considering it represented about a third of the functionality I had with my lens.

More arguing (I didn't raise my voice, which seemed to hypnotize the manager into trying to say things as reasonable as the tone of voice I'd established) and I got a lens out of them that was substantially nicer than the one in for repairs, the manager pointing out that they'd have to sell it as used after I had it for a few weeks. I hadn't asked for a nicer lens: I'd asked for the lens I'd just handed in to be replaced with the same model, no harm no foul. A few of the longer shots I got in Yellowstone wouldn't have happened without the replacement, so I was immensely grateful to the manager for deciding to complexify the whole situation. It clearly pained him to break from the "sorry, you'll just have to do without your camera for two months" script, and I'm sure if I'd broken the loaner he gave me, it would have cost him at least an ass-chewing. He gets a nice letter from me.

Yesterday, the store called to tell me my lens was finally, nine weeks later, ready for pickup. I headed downtown, gave the counter person my name, and watched as they pulled out a brand new lens, still in the box. Nine weeks, two arguments, and the store having to eat a lens they won't be able to sell as new (the loaner they gave me) and the end result is someone at the warranty center saying "fuck it, just send him a new one," which is all I had asked for in the first place.

Color me bemused.

Posted by mph at 7:41 PM

August 23, 2003

The Thump Thump Thump of Little Chieftain Chests

If there's one thing I miss about being in the thick of the whole Linux thing, it's being on the mailing list for communiques from assorted warlords and potentates of open source software. Eric Raymond, who's been building up a head of steam over the past few months thanks to the SCO thing, finally boils over. I'm imagining a fur-clad hill chieftain coming down from the highlands to batter his hide-covered shield with a big stick while yelling "Angk! Angk! Araaaaangk!"

"Linus Torvalds is backing me on this, and our other chieftains and philosopher-princes will as well. Show us the overlaps. If your code has been inserted in our work, we'll remove it — not because you've threatened us but because that's the right thing to do, whether the patches came from IBM or anywhere else. Then you can call off your lawyers and everyone will get to go home happy.

"Take that offer while you still can, Mr. McBride. So far your so-called ‘evidence’ is [redacted]; you'd better climb down off your high horse before we shoot that sucker entirely out from under you. How you finish the contract fight you picked with IBM is your problem. As the president of OSI, defending the community of open-source hackers against predators and carpetbaggers is mine — and if you don't stop trying to destroy Linux and everything else we've worked for I guarantee you won't like what our alliance is cooking up next.


"You have a choice. Peel off that dark helmet and deal with us like a reasonable human being, or continue down a path that could be bad trouble for us but will be utter ruin — quite possibly including jail time on fraud, intellectual-property theft, barratry, and stock-manipulation charges — for you and the rest of SCO's top management. You have my email, you can have my phone if you want it, and you have my word of honor that you'll get a fair hearing for any truths you have to offer."

Here's the whole screed.

Posted by mph at 5:08 PM

August 22, 2003

Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is 83 today.

Some of the first "real" books I remember reading were his "The Illustrated Man," "A Medicine for Melancholy," "The Martian Chronicles," and "Something Wicked This Way Comes." Some of them, especially some of the stories in "The Illustrated Man," were pretty easy for a third or fourth grader to digest as literal readings. Others, particularly "Something Wicked This Way Comes," took a few years of growing up to get.

I hadn't thought much about the craft behind those stories as a young child, but when I was in the midst of a fiction class with tight restrictions on the amount of writing we were permitted to do for each assignment, I found myself turning back to his short fiction and examining the way in which he could tell entire, satisfying stories in the space of just a few pages. In the process of re-reading his work, I came to realize just how much his sensibilities had an effect on me over the years.

This morning's NPR remembrance, for instance, of the 1963 March on Washington, had me thinking of "The Other Foot," part of Bradbury's use of Mars as a magical other place where race could be spoken about in a way that wouldn't be acceptable were the story to take place somewhere "real." My reading of Martin Luther King, Jr. tells me he would have appreciated Bradbury's sensibilities.

Here's an interesting study guide to "The Martian Chronicles" that provides an even-handed look at Bradbury's work; and Hit and Run has a few links to suit its own agenda (no less worth reading, even if they are predictable).

Posted by mph at 6:45 PM

August 21, 2003

Last One Out Get the Lights

"Reason" says it's time to get out of Korea .

Jeepers. A Cato report I can live with.

Related Pudding:

Posted by mph at 4:53 PM

Speaking of Snowball

Microsoft seems to have learned a new marketing routine: "When in doubt, blame the terrorists.".

At this point, I'm more than happy to call Outlook a weapon of mass destruction.

Posted by mph at 4:16 PM

August 20, 2003

Snowball We Hardly Knew Ye

Some interesting things float to the top at Technorati sometimes, including this 63-year-old report on the assassination of Leon Trotsky:

"According to the police Johnson had a small pickaxe, of the type used by Boy Scouts, hidden in his trousers. He is alleged to have attacked Trotsky suddenly, battering his skull and injuring his right shoulder and right knee. According to one of this bodyguards Trotsky's last words before he became unconscious were 'I think Stalin has finished the job he has started.'"

"Who'd care about dumb old Trotsky being dead?" you ask? Here's a report on one group that still seems to.

Personal Note: I think my vision has mostly recovered. The only discernible side effect to the pupil dilation is a sudden awareness of the refresh rate of my monitor, which still looks like a freaking disco strobe. Much thanks to everyone who wrote in with advice and kind wishes: it's a lonely struggle here at PuddingTime!, but with the help of our legions of readers, we'll continue the hard but rewarding work of making sure you know everything we do as we come to know it, which we continued even as we sat in the dimmed lights of the study, fighting back the tears beneath two layers of polarized glasses and gauze strips that did little to keep the salty drops from trailing off our cheeks and down onto our hard, washboard abs, which rippled suggestively as we playfully stroked our mouse and caressed the keyboard.

In other news, the SCO suit is finally put in proper perspective. One of my newer gigs involves doing a quick rundown of the SCO flap now and then, which requires me to adopt a "long view" voice and act like everybody's to be taken seriously in this little affair. When SCO busts out stuff like "the GPL isn't valid anyhow," though, I get irritated. Figuring out how to express that irritation will be a preoccupation for this week's column, which will likely represent a distillation of twenty pages worth of writing related to copyright law and the GPL (PDF, ~70kb) down to a few hundred words: enough to maybe convince some of the suits out there in IT-land who still think Linux is an illegal file-sharing program written by Marxists that SCO's crazy... without calling SCO crazy.

Posted by mph at 8:29 PM

Book Sell-off

Somehow this got set to "draft" so I'm nudging it back to the top. -mph

It's getting time to make some room in the pad. Inside is a list of technical books I'm willing to part with. Some are review copies, some were purchased for quick homework sessions before doing an article, and some were areas of interest for a brief while.

Terms: check out the list, let me know which ones interest you, and I'll give you a figure for shipping. Yep, some of them aren't worth much; yep, some of them are worth more; yep, the edition matters, so write about the ones you'd like to check.

If nothing else, it's a chance to pad out your collection of ORA animal books so you can look more 'l33t the next time Slashdot has an O'Reilly poll.

Oh, one more "yep": I could probably auction some of these off, but I don't feel like dealing with that quite yet. This is just a "friends and family" sort of deal.

Update: an item with a strikethrough has been claimed.

O'Reilly: Other Publishers: (title - publisher)
Advanced Linux Networking Addison Wesley
An Embedded Software Primer Addison Wesley
Beginning Perl Wrox
Beginning PHP4 Wrox
Beginning XML Wrox
Beyond Software Architecture Addison Wesley
Blender Book LJ Press
Building Linux and OpenBSD Firewalls Wiley
Core PHP Programming Prentice Hall
Embedded Linux: Hdwr/Sftwr/Interface Addison Wesley
Perl Programmer Interactive Workshop Prentice Hall
Teach Yourself Python in 24 Hours SAMS
The LaTeX Companion Addison Wesley
The LaTeX Web Companion Addison Wesley
VBScript Programmer's Reference Wrox
XML Processing with Python Prentice Hall

Posted by mph at 7:51 PM

Patrick Stewart's Big, Bald Head

I've always found David Byrne pleasantly weird. There's something comforting about his whole "so normal I'm a freaking art project" schtick (as seen in "True Stories"), coupled with his "so arty I'm freaking normal" musical excursions (which bubbled over into Glassian hypnosis with "The Forest"). So it's reasonably cool that WIRED has recruited him to confront the cognitive and social scourge of our time: PowerPoint:

"This is Dan Rather's profile. Expanded to the nth degree. Taken to infinity. Overlayed on the back of Patrick Stewart's head. It's recombinant phrenology. The elements of phrenology recombined in ways that follow the rules of irrational logic, a rigorous methodology that follows nonrational rules. It is a structure for following your intuition and your obsessions. It is the hyperfocused scribblings of the mad and the gifted. The order and structure give it the appearance of rationality and scientific rigor. This appearance is easy to emulate."

Part two of WIRED's fearless confrontation of PowerPoint is penned by Edward Tufte, who has the benefit of not being Jacob Nielsen:

"Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something."

(I guess it's fair to point out that Cliff Stoll followed this line of inquiry a while back.)

Here's an entertaining Powerpointized interpretation (via MeFi).

With that, since my eyes are still dilated from this morning's optometrist visit, I'm going to go sit in a dark room and wait until I can tell what time it is again.

Posted by mph at 5:38 PM

"He's Up With Billy Playin' Magic Square"

Anyone else remember "Merlin"?


I had one. It was flatly superior to the "train your kids to obey the flashing lights" game Simon, and once I figured out how to beat it at tic tac toe every time and discovered the limitations of blackjack with a limit of 13, I started pretending mine was a tricorder. Then I left it in the back seat of dad's Volvo and it melted.

VirtualMerlin recreates all the excitement on your Windows box.

While we're on the nostalgia tip, was there any better breakfast cereal than Freakies?

Posted by mph at 3:53 AM

August 19, 2003

"On Killing"

I finished up LTC David Grossman's "On Killing" over the weekend. It's essentially a book about the evolution of military training doctrine and the behavior of soldiers in combat as they're confronted with the need to kill others. The most heartening idea is that of the notion that humans, despite the pessimistic conventional wisdom, are not inherently homicidal, but it's this idea that makes parts of the book heart-rending. At one point, I had to put it down and swallow a lump in my throat:

"The magnitude of the trauma associated with killing became particularly apparent to me in an interview with one old soldier. He was the commander of a VFW Post where I was conducting some interviews, and had served as a sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne in World War II. He talked freely about his experiences and about comrades who had been killed, but when I asked him about his own kills he stated that usually you couldn't be sure who it was that did the killing. Then tears welled up in his eyes and after a long pause he said, But the one time I was sure . . .' His sentence was stopped by a little sob, and pain wracked the face of this noble and respected old gentleman. 'It still hurts, after all these years?' I asked in wonder. 'Yes,' he said, 'after all these years.' And he would not speak of it again."

"The next day he told me, 'You know, Captain, the questions you're asking, you must be very careful not to hurt anyone with these questions. Not me you know, I can take it, but some of these young guys are still hurting very badly. These guys don't need to be hurt any more.' And I was profoundly struck by the certainty that I was picking at the scabs of terrible, hidden wounds in the minds of these kind and gentle men."

The idea isn't new: Gwynne Dyer, for instance, addressed it in "War" in 1980 when he examined the boot camp experience. Grossman's credentials, though, as an officer, a Ranger, and a West Point instructor add meaning to his message: he's undeniably a believer in the need for a military and the periodic necessity of war, and that does nothing to soften his critique of the hideous disservice modern training techniques represent to American soldiers.

I know when I was stationed in Korea, where war was a central concern for the length of my tour, my key preoccupation wasn't "will I die?" It was "will I kill?" Grossman provides some answers to that question (I can't help but believe I would have, no matter what I'd like to think about my resistance to indoctrination), and also shows that I would have done so perhaps despite my most essential nature, not because of it.

Related Pudding:

Posted by mph at 10:44 PM

Hawash Note From b!X

Along with my luggage, following the Communique fell victim to my jaunt to Michigan. Here's an oldish entry from b!X regarding Mike Hawash's recent guilty plea. Somewhere back in the PuddingTime! archives there's some crowing from people I'll only describe as rabid enemies of due process. My own urge to call them worse and accuse them of know-nothing chuckleheadism fell by the wayside in the face of some deadlines for paying work. b!X does a better job than I was managing anyhow.

Posted by mph at 8:13 PM

Flight Note

I took a short trip to Northern Michigan over the weekend. I thought I'd be in for a world of hurt at the security gates, where they're supposed to be getting tough on electronics: I've got a PDA, a cellphone, the iBook, and my GPS receiver.

As it was, I sailed through each time. The only thing I was truly careful about was taking off my belt before the gate, and I was wearing Tevas so there was nothing to set off the metal detectors and provoke a frisking.


Going through O'Hare airport, on the other hand, involved literally running from terminal three to terminal one to make a connection my baggage didn't make.

I was sitting on the dock at Little Traverse Lake admiring a very orange moon and a very red Mars when it caught up to me via a delivery dude with a sedan stuffed full of lost luggage pulling up the drive about 10:30 that night. No such bad luck on the return trip, and I was pleased as ever to have the guy at the parking lot booth tell me "welcome home." The in-laws' cottage in Michigan is nice, but it's always good to be back in Portland.

Posted by mph at 8:06 PM

Vacation Notes

As Phil noted a few weeks ago (and the recent gallery entries reflect, Al and I spent a week vacationing with friends in the Grand Tetons & Yellowstone National Park. It was the first time I've been in either since 1987, when I worked in a Yellowstone dining room for the summer. A few notes on the trip within.

I had a sweet camp chair. It broke on the first day. I hate being chairless. Replaced it on the third day with a visit to the Flying Pig Camp Store in Gardiner, MT. The best part of the purchase was watching the clerk sell a tourist up on bear repellent:

"No way, man . . . you definitely want the one with the holster. Oh, and get the bigger one. It's good for two attacks."

I think I got the Tetons better than I did the last time I saw them, when my experience with mountains in general was limited to the Laurel Highlands in Pennsylvania. They're incredible, and I was glad to spend a few nights in the park, sitting out on the beach of Jackson Lake and enjoying the sunsets. The site was pleasant. We stayed in the Coulter Bay campground, which had its share of RVs (about which more later) but we were on a loop that seemed limited to tenters and soft-tops, so there wasn't any generator noise or the early-morning rumble of diesel-powered "ships of the road" pulling out for a day of gawking.

Yellowstone was a different bag. We found a camping spot at the Bridge Bay campground in the Lake region, which managed to come off about like the average KOA: we were lucky to end up in a stand of trees, but we were surrounded by massive RVs with huge, loud generators and engines. A few of the larger trailers were towed around by full-size semi trucks. Seemingly permanent RV-based residents held pow-wows at each others' spreads and glowered at tenters with proprietary malice. We spent a lot of time speculating about geriatric wife-swapping and what one does with two satellite dishes.

In terms of useful advice, all I have to say about the campground is "avoid at all costs." Between the continual hum of generators and air conditioners, the sound of jackass obnoxious Harley riders gunning their engines at sunrise, and the occasional sight of cats clawing at the walls of special cages their owners thoughtfully left out in the mid-day sun, there's not much to recommend it except as a base camp to be left early as possible for a day's exploring, which is how we used it. That was the low point of the trip, though, and if cramped density is the way to keep the rest of the park intact, fine: there are always back country camp sites that suffer none of the blight RV-bound spectacle-seekers inflict whereever they roost, and we could blame only ourselves for casting our lot with them.

Rather than providing a blow-by-blow of the trip, I'll offer up this:

Yellowstone is two parks in one space. On the main road (referred to as the Grand Loop), you can trundle along in your RV or family car and never have to walk more than a few hundred meters from the pullouts to gawk at hot springs, mudpots, geysers, small ponds of boiling mud, bison, or elk. The loop provides a way to move along in orderly fashion, hopping out and looking appropriately awed or gratified before moving on to the next spectacle. The order is broken by the occasional "bear jam," in which dozens of vehicles pile up on the shoulder because a bear (or moss-covered rock) has appeared in the distance, or because an elk sporting an incredible, velvety rack of antlers has decided to stand close enough to snap with a camera.

At the main stops in the loop, there are "general stores" stuffed with groceries, camping necessities, t-shirts, film, and gew-gaws. Bear bells, meant to be attached to a walking stick or hung from a belt loop to alert grizzly to your passage in the back country (Yellowstone's other half, which I'll get to), are nestled in alongside the Yellowstone National Park Commemorative Wind Chime set, sending the confusing message that they're less a matter of self preservation in a dangerous place than they are a quaint knick-knack, less deserving of "serious" consideration than propane tanks, mosquito repellent, and tent stakes, which are in the "serious camper" section of the stores. At Canyon Village, for instance, there are two gift shops (the "Nature Shop" sells Franklin Mint-style miniature geysers and pewter bison), a full-service restaurant, a sandwich shop, a "quick service" restaurant (in less genteel settings you'd call it fast food), an ice cream parlor, and a mammoth general store (which sells everything the other two shops sell plus Oreos and sunblock). Old Faithful is even more accomodating, and aesthetics have collapsed in the face of the need to keep the tourists moving: the parking lot looks like an amusement park's, and one of its gift shops has a cozy nook where dreamcatchers are on display while solemn, "spiritually meaningful" "native american" music plays and incense is burned.

A day or two on the loop, sandwiched between sleeping and waking in a crowded, noisy campground, borders on enervating simply from the stresses of navigating roads and crowds and the driving need to see. I began to remember the grim satisfaction workers in the park felt when there was a mauling or a scalding in a geyser, the way in which apocryphal stories of parents losing children to their own lard-assed stupidity and cow-like complacence about the sheer peril of wild things were traded around with self-righteous, smiling-through-the-frowning clucking. I remembered the way the first fatality of the summer inspired someone to write "Park: 1, Tourons: 0" on the kitchen chalkboard. On the second day of circling the loop, a niggling sense of self-loathing found voice:

"I used to hate these people. Now I'm one of them," I said.

I felt locked in a cycle of endless puttering from one spectacle to the next, gawking and taking countless pictures of this or that, forgetting to just look at the vast meadows and lazy streams between attractions.

My first encounter with the back country this trip was a sign posted at a trailhead just off one of the observation points at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It warned the reader that setting foot on that trail meant entering a world without guard rails or rangers to tell you it's stupid to set your kid down three feet in front of a bull elk to get its picture (yes, we saw just that happen, and it took a ranger happening by to break up the photo shoot). The trail began under thick canopy, providing a dark, forboding contrast to the glaring asphalt of the Canyon Touristplex.

On Thursday, we finally ended up taking a back country trail in the Pelican Valley. None of us were in particularly good shape for much of anything (I probably least of all because every little soldier's trick I learned to finish a march was meant for someone with a body that's been pounded and trained into surviving its owner's willingness to ignore its complaints, not the work-at-home cookie-dough ass I've since acquired), so we picked a flat river valley trail that promised just the possibility of a grizzly or moose sighting and a short hike (six miles total). I put bear bells on my walking stick and we set out through a meadow and into some woods, happy to see only a few cars at the trailhead.

When we broke out of the woods and into the real body of the trail, we were greeted with a small plain that ran for miles. We saw an eagle keeping an eye on the river, we watched crows circling something off in the brush. We carefully walked around a buffalo parked near the trail. We missed the blaze that would have taken us to the thermally active lake at the end of the trail and walked along the base of the valley, threading our way between more bison and stopping to look at mounted riders in the distance. We crossed paths with a few people at one junction. The whole time, there was little noise but our occasional talk and the sound of the bear bells. Mainly, there was just the sheer amazing size of our own modest corner of the park's nearly 3500 square miles; and the mixed sense of awe and a little fear that comes from being somewhere that's still wild in some way, even if the worst predators have learned to stay away from the sound of a group of humans and their little bells.

We came off the trail after just a few hours out in the backcountry, footsore and tired. I also felt challenged in a way I haven't in some time because the sour, resentful aggravation I felt with our neighbors at the campground has an easy remedy, which involves packing stuff in a backpack and going where RVs and Harley hogs aren't allowed. Resenting those features of national park camping is futile.

For reasons that probably aren't quite appropriate to broadcast yet, we probably won't make it back to Yellowstone for a few years, and it's looking like we'll need to count the number of times we'll be able to make it to even the Mount Hood region for much overnight camping before the year's over. On the other hand, it's become a matter of some urgency to be out in the wild again. My friend Amy said she found it remarkable that the urge to be outdoors could be rekindled in Yellowstone, perhaps the most battered and overexposed of the national parks, but it might be the sense of unease over the direction Yellowstone has moved over the years fueling that urge. Perhaps the wide open spaces found in the park system aren't going to ever go away, but when they're experienced by people who don't want to do more than hop out and walk a half mile on a boardwalk before trundling off to the next spectacle, I wonder how vigorously they'll be defended.

Posted by mph at 6:12 PM

August 13, 2003

Internet Killed the Pornography Star

...or at least badly dinged one publisher, as General Media, Inc., the company that publishes "Penthouse," files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after blaming the Internet, a weak economy, and a sagging phone sex industry for its woes.

obAdolescentRecollection: I babysat a kid for a summer when I was 18. His dad kept a library of fairly raunchy porn stashed away in a closet. I don't remember the titles, and I'm not copping the prude thing when I say I spent about five minutes looking at a few samples before deciding his tastes ran to the repulsive (I know, I know... one man's "repulsive" is another man's whatever). "Penthouse," though, wasn't evidently considered hard core enough to hide: there were six or eight stacked on the back of the toilet in every bathroom in the house because, you know, you don't mind polite company seeing the arty stuff.

Posted by mph at 10:02 PM

No, Dave, It's a Fleecing

There's an entertaining takedown of BloggerCon penned by Andrew Orlowski up on The Register. You can tell it finds at least part of the mark, because it has Dave Winer reaching for his dictionary to nitpick Andrew's use of the word "fleecing."

Before proceeding, here's a sample usage of the word for Dave. He can decide whether he wants to continue to use dictionary.com to supplement that tin ear of his:

"So, how was The Monsters of Thrash show?"

"It was o.k. The tickets weren't expensive, I guess, but they charged $7.50 for a bottle of water."

"God damn, what a fleecing!"

"Yeah. Sucked."

Eric Alterman's response is pretty good: "What's next on the blog horizon? A 'mere $1,000' to see the view from Andy’s bathroom?"

And some nuance is creeping into Andrew's writing about the general topic of blogs, too, as he sorts out the bloggers who're trying to turn out a good product from those who just blog about blogging:

"The medium is not the message. Imagine how tedious newspapers would be if every other story proclaimed 'We use INK!!!' The writers don't care, and the readers don't care, how this message was delivered: but readers do care about quality."

No danger of quality here, unless pk decides to get around to making a few more entries.

Posted by mph at 5:45 PM

August 12, 2003

Laptop Fondling

WIRED has a bit about increased scrutiny of consumer electronics at airport inspection stops. Does anyone remember anticipating air travel?

The best parts of the article come from the hysterical geeks they found:

"Most of us regard our computers as equivalent to members of the family, and some have even stronger feelings," said computer security researcher Robert Ferrell. "I guarantee you that anyone who messes with my laptop without my express permission is in for a world of hurt."

and an equally hysterical New Jerseyite:

"If it comes down to a choice between my life and the sanctity of your laptop, you better believe I'll be first in line to help the security folks rip apart your computer," said Peter Vengelle, who was waiting for a flight at Newark Liberty International Airport on Wednesday night. "

If I hadn't personally experienced more efficient air travel around the Soviet Union when it was still the Soviet Union, I think I'd be less bugged. As it is, I've got to hand it to the commies: they were either much less intrusive, or just had much more efficient screeners. Or maybe both.

Posted by mph at 4:24 PM

August 11, 2003

Vacation Pix

Been back from vacation for a few weeks, but the pictures took a while to develop (14 rolls worth).

Now to begin scanning.

Update: It's slow going, and I'm sorry to say that the scans don't look very good compared to the detail of a nice 5x7, but there's a gallery up now, with a few pictures from the Tetons, the Mud Volcano, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Posted by mph at 4:04 AM

August 8, 2003

Better Late Than Never

Looks like Huntingforbambi.com was a hoax:

LAS VEGAS, Nev., July 26 (UPI) -- A hunting arena in which men stalked naked women and shot them with paintball guns has been exposed as a hoax.

Related Pudding:

Posted by mph at 5:41 PM

August 6, 2003


Best. Weblog. Ever.

Posted by mph at 11:22 PM

Mike Hawash Pleads Guilty

Tip o' the hat to Cristina, who noticed Maher "Mike" Hawash has plead guilty:

"A former Intel software designer charged this spring for plotting with six others to fight against U.S. troops in Afghanistan pleaded guilty today to providing material support and services to the Taliban government.

Maher 'Mike' Hawash's deal with the government allows him to avoid what could have amounted to a life sentence in exchange for becoming a chief witness against his alleged co-conspirators. The deal calls for a 7- to 10-year federal prison term, which will be determined by a federal judge after the trial of the others."

Related Pudding:

Posted by mph at 10:04 PM


The Puddingbowl got a little bigger recently. Ed Heil's edBlog is here now. There's a little about everything, including games, comics, and the surprising similarity between Episcopalians and Buddhist monks.

Posted by mph at 6:03 PM

August 5, 2003


Thwarted (so far) by the evil Tres cache, I took a lunchtime jaunt to much easier one very near Geekroar Manor. Since this represented my first-ever geocache find, I made sure to leave a copy of the classic "How To Spit Nickels, and 101 Other Cool Tricks You Never Learned to Do as a Kid", which was responsible for my five minute turn as the life of the party at Camp Carroll, ROK.

Posted by mph at 10:55 PM

Service With a Thoroughly Documented Smile

If you've been reading much that I've written in the past few years, you might be familiar with my terrible issues with customer service. Here's an excerpt from the last DSL installation I endured:

"In the course of ordering my DSL connection, for instance, I had to choose which DSL modem I wanted to use. The choices were an internal PCI, an external USB, and an external ethernet unit. Since I've got a small network running, I wanted the external ethernet unit to spare having to install a second card in one of the machines. I'm now the proud (temporary) holder of three external units. During a routine confirmation call on the day my service was to be activated, I learned there were several headed to me via UPS, so I said "we ought to cancel two of those." The immediate response was "we'll cancel the one that's already in your town."


"Because it nearly made it to me, of course. They were going to cancel the two closest deliveries and let the one furthest away from my home make its way to me a few days late.

"I stacked the two extras (they came in the same box) in the corner with the two extras I got in Virginia, and the ISDN modem/router that helpfully and inexplicably arrived on my doorstep last year some time despite the fact I've never had ISDN. Thankfully, I didn't return the DSL modems immediately. The one that got to my house first was broken. "

Since then, Speakeasy has come to my neighborhood, and faced with the choice of my current 640/384 connection at a high price, or a 1.5/384 connection at about 20% off (even less costly if you consider the second line I'll finally be able to force Qwest to disconnect), I decided to bid farewell to my Qwest and my ISP and see what Speakeasy has to offer.

Qwest, unfortunately, still has to connect the loop, so I'm not completely free of it. I guess it makes sense in a "for hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee" sort of way that today, when the line was supposed to go live, it didn't. I still have my old connection on another line (thank God). My two calls to support, though, tipped me to something pretty cool about Speakeasy:

It seems the company actually tells you what it's up to with your order if you go look at your personal support page at Speakeasy's site. So yeah, I'm still bummed my new, fast connection isn't in place yet, but I know that when the customer service people say "we'll look into it" there's actually some documentation somewhere that they really are. Much better than the black hole that is Qwest (and most other services).

Posted by mph at 2:02 AM

August 4, 2003

Calling All Cryptographers

I'm on the verge of solving my first geocache and I find myself stuck with this code:

co aa ea gc go oo ga oc ee ga ce ga ae gc eo cc aa
ac go oo ao ac oc ee ag ee oc cc oc eo eg ee ee ee
cg ee ee ee ac ca aa oc eo eg ao cc ga co ao
oc ea cg ga ee ga ao oe cc ce aa ea ae oa ea co ee ee ee

I've solved the rest of the hints (which you can find on the cache's page), but this cypher is hanging me up. Hints from anyone better at this stuff than I seem to be? Meanwhile, my free time is being taken up with searches on what seem to be the unique characteristics of this thing:

Posted by mph at 9:11 PM

Fairy Tales Start With "Once Upon a Time..."

...and war stories start with "no shit, there I was."

VeriSEAL is your one-stop source for making sure that ex-special forces stone killer in the cubicle next door is for real. This account, for instance, seems to be a big, fat lie.

Posted by mph at 9:40 AM