Authorial voices

It’s been fun working with “Esta” on this site–both helping her get started and thinking about how my writing style is changing in response.

When I started writing regularly on this weblog earlier in the summer, I didn’t know whether I could sustain a regular schedule. I found, much to my surprise, that it was hard to avoid writing. I guess once you start thinking there’s an audience out there, it becomes important to keep talking to them.

In college, this sort of prose was rarely my specialty. I used to like poetry, primarily because it was an art form that allowed me to turn my short attention span to the advantage of my writing. (See my last poem for an example.) Now I find that I have more attention that I can pay to these sorts of things.

I’m about to face the severest challenge to keeping this page on a steady footing–school is about to start again. I’m already working on three website revisions, a bunch of new arrangements for the “E-52s”, and trying to ensure that my schedule is straight for the semester–and it hasn’t even really started yet. Days like yesterday, where I let Esta’s words fill in for me, may be more common.

This is by no means a bad thing. Esta’s by far the better writer in the family and is more likely than I am on any given day to say something frightfully interesting. Also, her good writing is apt to kick me in the butt and make me write something meaningful.

I just realized that I’ve spent an entire essay breaking the fourth wall and talking about my own writing, something that I hate it when other writers do (see Piro’s rants at Megatokyo as an example). Maybe I’ll replace this later today with something better.

Anyway…finished arranging Pyramid Song yesterday. One down, fourteen to go… 🙂

Phasers on “Bore,” Mr. Spock…

There appears to be a conspiracy that is drenching me in Star Trek this week. Yesterday it was Wil Wheaton; last night I channel-surfed into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which I haven’t seen in its entirety since it was released in 1978. It definitely has its up and down moments. There was one period between commercials that consisted of absolutely nothing but the Enterprise flying into the V’Ger cloud, with the crew members’ jaws on the floor. About five or ten minutes worth of this…. Between that and the video-game warp effects, I had a hard time not laughing. It’s a shame. This and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan were about the only two movies in which you could still take the aging actors seriously as the crew of a starship.

Peaceful Coexistence

This morning the Register pointed to a flub on the part of Microsoft I had heard about but not seen yet: Windows XP running on an old Macintosh!

The image, apparently part of the tour video of Windows XP, shows a user looking at the XP startup wizard running on a monitor sitting next to a pre-blue and white Macintosh tower machine (the Reg thought it was an 8000 series tower, which were made when I was in college!).

The funny thing is that Microsoft has poured so much time and money into the Windows XP launch and the user experience, and yet they missed this in a very public part of the prospective user experience. There’s a Zen point to be made here: you can’t control everything, and (as the DOJ will tell you) you can’t own the whole dialog. Isn’t it better to admit there are other operating systems out there, now that you own 19 out of every 20 desktops? Can’t we all just get along?

In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I, in fact, run Windows 2000 on my Mac, through the magic of Virtual PC. But only when I absolutely have to…

Getting back into life

Back again. Yesterday was definitely a catching up day. I spent the morning doing laundry, getting a few groceries, and getting locked out of my apartment (thank goodness, our leasing agent down the street still had keys for the building and could let me back in).

I went down to school afterwards and discovered that I couldn’t get online. Every year MIT cycles the MAC address records on the DHCP server to ensure that graduated or expelled students aren’t leaching high-speed access from the Institute, and I had to re-register my card. Only problem was, I couldn’t connect to re-register it: the nameserver addresses they had given us were either wrong or offline, or I just couldn’t get to them. Another item on the to do list for today.

Another ongoing project: got to get our HP 2100M printer (from Lisa’s work) accessible on our wireless network. I need to get the JetDirect card working, which should keep me occupied for a while. I also need to arrange some tunes for the “E-52s” (and updating the web page). This should help keep me busy until Lisa gets back from Italy (work–she’ll return on Friday).

Whatever happened to…

The morning’s surfing turned up a couple of names that I had been wondering about. Philip Greenspun dropped off the map last spring after his company kicked him out and his VCs started suing him. He’s apparently teaching again and getting linked to by Dave. I never got a chance to work with Philip when “e-MIT” was working with “ArsDigita”, but secondhand gossip suggests that he never strayed too far from his passion for teaching. Hope that he can turn his current misfortunes into a renaissance in his other life.

A more surprising link: Blogdex has had Wil Wheaton’s blog in the top ten for a few days now. Yes, that Wil Wheaton. It turns out he’s an articulate, web-literate 29 year old trying to find meaningful work and avoid being miserably typecast for life. That doesn’t sound familiar at all :). As I fight through trying to understand myself in my world, newly expanded by a summer at Microsoft and entering my second year at “Sloan”, I sometimes feel a little typecast myself. Good luck, Wil, and I’m sorry I laughed at your character. (Though I do have to give you a shout out for helping to popularize the alt.adjective.noun.verb.verb.verb newsgroup naming convention, as in alt.ensign.wesley.die.die.die. A web pioneer even in 1992.)

The rest of Asheville

I spent the rest of the week with my parents and their boxes. I moved quite of few of their boxes from one side of their storage room to another as we tried to find a few of their items that remain hidden.

I also made a trip to the family house in Madison County, where my dad grew up and where my grandmother lived until her death in January this past year at the age of 95. The one item that my wife and I wanted to keep from her house was an old Singer sewing machine–the kind on a wooden table with a wrought iron base. Grandmother’s machine must be nearly as old as she was, but the mechanism still turns smoothly. As we were retrieving the sewing machine, we also found an the original copy of one of the property deeds, listing my great-grandfather Zeb Jarrett as a witness. Hopefully I can get it scanned at some point.

Esta arrived on Friday and we followed with the obligatory all-hands family meal at my Uncle Forrest’s. It was a good time–lots of stories, lots of news (my uncle finally got the county to pave the road in front of his house!), lots of fun.

I think Esta and I use blogging as a surrogate for talking to each other sometimes. It says something that in the entire time that we were there, although we both had access to dial-up lines, neither of us updated our blogs. We were too busy making each other laugh with old jokes.

Now it’s Sunday evening and I’m stuck in an airport. This seems to be emerging as a theme recently. This time it’s Newark. I should have looked more closely at my “miracle cheap” ticket–that it went through Newark on Sunday night is going to add another couple of hours to my trip. My flight was supposed to get into Boston at 10; now I don’t expect to get home before midnight, and it’ll be a minor miracle if I get into bed before 1 a.m.

Still, I have to laugh. Having a late flight in Newark on Sunday evening is a bit like owning a stock that’s lost a lot of its value in 2001. You really aren’t in trouble relative to everyone else in the airport unless your flight is much later than everyone else’s. It’s kind of a sliding scale for expectations.


I’m finally here. Found myself thinking on the way in, as I was stuck on a non-moving Blue Line T train, that the cities I’ve lived in have had the underground transportation systems that they deserved. Washington, DC–the silent meditation chamber, where everyone ponders what they’ve done or are about to do (except for the tourists, who can’t sense the tension). In polar opposite, getting onto a Boston train for me is like I’m already home, even if I’m saddled with heavy luggage. The train is crowded, smelly, too warm, but colorful and people for the most part seem relaxed and human. And the Airport station on the Blue Line smells faintly of fish.

Asheville, Day 1

I’ve unpacked a lot of boxes, unwrapped a lot of china, and heard a lot of jokes today. I must be in North Carolina.

First order of business this week is helping my parents unpack and get settled into their house. So far so good. A little minor damage here and there (turns out packing tape should not be used to secure things to a varnished wood cabinet if you don’t want to lose some of the finish–word to the wise!), but otherwise a-ok.

I visited with the “Liars’ Club” (not the real name of the organization), a group of folks who are approximately my uncle’s peers and who meet weekly at the Denny’s in Asheville to tell stories, the more ridiculously unprintable the better, and help each other out. One of them was running for City Council. One reported that he and his fellow shipmates had succeeded in their quest to get the president to declare March 1st a US Navy Asiatic Fleet Memorial Day. Some just told dirty jokes.

I always wondered who hung out in Denny’s at lunchtime on a weekday. It turns out to be, well, just folks.

A Joke That Wasn’t Told Today

From time to time I give up on The Onion. Then they run something like today’s “Bush Vows to Wipe Out Prescription-Drug Addiction Among Seniors:

“Older Americans tend to give in to peer pressure,” Lakewood said. “They just do what their doctor tells them because they want to ‘be cool’ or ‘live,’ and win their doctor’s approval. They also want to fit in with all their other elderly friends, who, no doubt, are doing these prescription drugs, too.”


It’s only been a few days since the last day of my internship at a major software development company, and already I can feel the industry sloughing off me. I’m more relaxed now than I’ve been in a few months, probably the result of the pressure of being a “strategic planning intern” departing.

I’m procrastinating. I need to pack; my flight to visit my parents in North Carolina leaves at 1 pm from Logan. I may be able to dial up to update this blog occasionally, but more likely things will be silent until next Monday. I’d suggest that you get out and enjoy the summer, but the weather here in Boston is ghastly humid and I suspect that you’re better off staying inside reading a good book.

My airplane reading today is a Borges collection. It’s been a long time since I’ve read him. I’m looking forward to being immersed in the hyper-unreal again.

Home again

Nice to sit in one’s own living room and write. Really nice. It’s been a long summer, and it’s good to be back.

A clarification

Saturday’s post linked to a quotation from Doc Searls, editor of Linux Magazine, about “blogging naked over a fat pipe.” It has been pointed out to me that this statement might be misinterpreted. For the record, when I or just about any other computer geek says the word “fat pipe,” we mean a high bandwidth network connection. Unfortunately for everyone’s mental health, Doc was probably writing his weblog (“blogging”) in the altogether, as he posted that comment from a hotel that was wireless enabled during a conference.

Final travel update

After everything, here’s the last update on my travel back from Seattle. When the plane got in, I met Lisa, grabbed my bags, and we drove back to the North End. We were pulling into the parking garage when my phone rang. The woman at the other end asked me to check my bags–apparently they had mine and couldn’t find hers. In my haste, I had grabbed the wrong bag. We had to turn around and go back to the airport (mercifully the traffic was light) and swap the bags. It’s the first time in four years of owning this particular bag that I’ve seen another like it…

The long hand of history

Lisa and I met up with our friends Niall (a classmate of mine) and Dubhfeasa (his girlfriend) yesterday afternoon. We took in the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. It’s an eccentric place–built to resemble a Venetian villa, it’s chock full of art both famous (Titian’s Europa, a Raphael, a Rembrandt self portrait, Sargent’s Jaleo) and obscure. Many of the paintings are unlabeled. Some sit in rooms open to the outside air. Apparently Gardner’s will specified that no permanent changes could be made to the museum, the collection, or the manner in which the art was displayed. It’s a gorgeous building and some gorgeous art. Some of the displays are a bit interactive–glass cases containing letters and books are protected from the light by heavy velvet cloth, which the visitor can peel back to examine, for instance, letters to Gardner from T. S. Eliot and other luminaries.

Afterwards we sat down over curries from the excellent Thai place down the road from Niall and Dubhfeasa and caught up. It’s good to be home.

The long goodbye

Well, I’m experiencing a little more of the Pacific Northwest than I had planned. It’s about 10 am Pacific time and I’m sitting in SeaTac blogging this over the airport’s wireless network (after a summer of blogging over dialup, I love blogging with a fat pipe!). It’s a classic good news, bad news scenario. The good news is that SeaTac has wireless broadband everywhere now, with a one time connection charge of only $6.95. The bad news is that it’s economically feasible for me to pay that charge, since I’ll be here another three hours. Yep, more travel blues.

I had a pretty late night last night at the Owl ‘n Thistle. It’s a nice little club that my fellow interns and I had gone to the first Friday night we were all in town. With the company and deep conversations about our futures, it was 2 am before I got into bed.

Then the unthinkable: my alarm clock failed to go off. I rolled over, realizing it was light out (a problem since I had set the alarm for 5:15 am), and saw my clock. 7:24. My flight was supposed to leave at 8:10 am; I was at least a half hour drive from the airport; and I had a little last minute packing, garbage disposal, etc. to do. Not only that, but I had to drive downtown to drop off the keys to my apartment on my way out of town. I wasn’t going to make the flight.

I called Lisa to let her know I was coming in later than I had planned and that I’d have more details in a bit. Then I loaded up the car, dropped off my keys and got on the interstate. When I finally got to the United counter (after having to wait ten minutes to return my rental car), I told the guy behind the counter that I had missed my flight and needed his help. He replied, “Oh, the 8:10 through Chicago? That was cancelled. But you do need my help: we booked you on an 8:50 on TWA, but you’re not going to make that.”

Eventually, we got it sorted, and now I’m waiting for a 12:50 pm flight on American. But the news isn’t all bad. It’s a direct flight that will only get me in about three hours later than planned; the only seat they had was an exit row window (my favorite!!!); and I’ve got broadband. You know, this travel thing really isn’t so bad.

One last thing: a tip of the hat to Doc Searls, who pointed out that blogging over a fat pipe is hard to beat. Of course, he was naked at the time… [Note from the editor: Please see my clarification of this comment.]

Famous last words

Couldn’t let my Seattle experience go out on yesterday’s note. So here are a few more quick notes on leaving Seattle.

Things I’ll Miss

  • Coffee from former Fotomats: There’s a little place next to the gas station on the way to I-5 called “Coffee Boy.” Sadly I can’t find a web page for it, but if you’ve ever been near Seattle you’ve seen places like this. All the Fotomats in Seattle became drive-up (or walk-up) coffee stands. Double Americano for $2.00–beats the heck out of Starbucks or the company cafeteria.
  • Microbrews: I like Harpoon, but the other micros in New England, while nice, just don’t have the same variety. It will be nice to get back to John Harvard’s, though…
  • Puget Sound: I can’t possibly say enough.
  • The weather: No humidity and weather that on the hottest day in July topped out at 89 degrees.
  • KEXP: Thank God they’re on the Web. But radio in Boston just isn’t the same, no matter how much fun WMBR can be. Especially fun to be listening to some of the stuff in the list below and then get a mindwrench from “Shake the Shack” or “Swingin’ Doors.”

Things I Grooved To

… or, for the grammar elite, “things to which I grooved”:

Mint Royale Show Me
Shudder to Think with Jeff Buckley I Want Someone Badly
Ursula 1000 Direct Drive [The Ready Made All That Jazz Remix]
Radiohead Dollars and Cents
Beastie Boys Root Down
The Blue Nile Peace at Last
Jeff Buckley So Real
Built to Spill Strange
Nikka Costa Like a Feather
Gastr Del Sol Work from Smoke
Kristin Hersh Ruby
Basement Jaxx Get Me Off
Wiseguys Start the Commotion
Snowpatrol Ask Me How I Am
Folk Implosion Free to Go
Robyn Hitchcock Viva SeaTac
Afro Celt Sound System Colossus

Shouts Out

The other interns–especially Todd, Jay, Mike L., Catherine, Arvind (and Kim!!), Nancy, Danny, E.J., and other people I’ve forgotten (and I’ll add as I think of)…

My coworkers–Clark, Michelle, Mary Ann, Allison, Kate, David, Christine, Mike, Eileen, Erica, and Tom–thanks for all the fun and the cheese.

Shel for being there.

And Lisa for being really patient this summer. Hang in there, honey, I’m comin’ home!

Out for a bit

Sorry about the recurrence of radio silence. Tomorrow’s the last day of my internship and I have to take care of a few things before I clear out of Seattle.

For your amusement in the meantime, I suggest you check out the insanely funny “Bastard Operator from Hell” archive. You can pick up at any point if you know that “PFY” is the Pimply-Faced Youth, the BOFH’s assistant, and that they are on a secret war against their users, the boss, the beancounters, and anyone else who interferes with their work…

Seanbaby got Slashdotted

It’s a sign of how easy it is to get lost in popular culture when I can make a headline like the one above that won’t make sense to anyone except perhaps the six or seven people who read both (warning: funny but extremely offensive material at that link!) and Slashdot (warning: deeply geeky and extremely offensive (to non-open-source people) material at that link!). But Jon Katz reached out and highlighted as an example of a unique voice on the Internet writing about pop culture, and posted his thoughts on Slashdot.

It’s interesting to read the commentary from the Slashdot audience (suggestion: filter the comments view to +3 or +4 to avoid really repetitive or otherwise uninsightful commentary). A couple of major threads stuck out: first, Seanbaby certainly isn’t the only “chunk of real America” that you can find on the web. I would agree with that, and I think both “Esta” and I would argue that this is good. The more voices on line, the harder it is to get sucked into homogenous groupthink, corporate or otherwise.

Second, a lot of the really interesting stuff on the Web isn’t on the super-robust, super-scalable servers that the corporate giants run–it’s on little matchstick servers like Seanbaby’s that are slow on a good day and highly susceptible to being knocked over by thousands of page views. This is the so-called “Slashdot effect”–in fact, “being Slashdotted” (or /.ed) has become a verb online. It looks like Seanbaby has weathered the Slashdot effect today, but the fact that the site got Slashdotted in the first place made me think:

If you graphed online web sites by number of visitors, you’d get a really broad, flat curve. There are only a few sites that get significant traffic. The top ten sites, in Jupiter MediaMetrix’s estimation, average about 36,000 unique visitors a month. Most of the rest, including mine, have maybe ten unique visitors a month. Nobody has the resources to keep up with the growing number of people on the Internet.

If someone with some money wants to make a significant difference in preserving freedom of speech and some of the more unique aspects of online culture, they could do worse than to drop a chunk of change on making hosting for sites like Seanbaby’s reliable and affordable.


I’ve been in radio silence for a few days, as my wife is back in town. She’s kept me busy. Sunday was a wind-down day; we went to the market and just kind of wandered around downtown most of the day.

We were coming down from Saturday, which was an exhausting high. On Saturday before 7 a.m., we were on the top observation deck of the Victoria Clipper III outside Pier 69 in Seattle, and freezing. After a week of 85-90 degree days (what passes for sweltering in Seattle), the 50 degree weather was a shock. We were on our way to the San Juan Islands. One three hour trip over rough seas and a lot of vomit (not ours, thank goodness) later, we were pulling into Friday Harbor, the main harbor on San Juan Island.

The San Juan Islands litter the inland sea between Washington State and Canada like spilled jewels. The islands were discovered by the Spanish and contested by the Americans and the British for a long time. The rivalry over San Juan Island culminated in the infamous “Pig War” in which the only thing to die was a pig that was caught rooting up an American settler’s potatoes. Today the islands are a three hour boat ride from Seattle and a lovely place to go for a day trip.

We were actually jumping off from San Juan Island on our way to watch some whales. Orcas, to be precise. The inland sea between the San Juans and the Canadian mainland is home to some “resident pods” of the whales, and on Saturday we found them. It took us an hour and a half from Friday Harbor, into Canadian waters, but finally we found ourselves in the middle of what our captain calmly told us were three pods of orcas, numbering about 78 in all. The first glimpse we got was a fin in the distance, but then we started to see them, coming up out of the water, closer and closer. At one point we saw a pair surface and slip beneath the surface of the water heading straight under our boat. A mother and her calves swam about 300 yards from our bow, surfacing and diving in a group. We watched for what seemed like hours, and then it was time to turn around and return to port.

It’s hard to write about seeing whales without resorting to clichés. It was good of them to let us hang out with them. I only wish that they could get as much joy from seeing us as we did from seeing them.

Popcorn, Peanuts, Cracker Jack, and BEER

Many thanks to my employers for the summer for getting me tickets to a Mariners game last night. While the team lost (one of only 32 times this summer, out of 115 games), it was still an amazing game — probably more so because we were on the first deck rather than up in the nosebleed seats.

Safeco Field, despite the name (who started this whole corporate naming trend, anyway? It’s pretty hideous. Candlestick Park is so much more evocative than 3 Com Park, even if the stadium is in bad shape), is a really great space. Only about three blocks from the water, there’s a great view out over the harbor from the outside and good local color provided by the trains that come by once or twice a game.

The only criticism I have is the beer. I like Alaskan Amber, but it’s the only drinkable draft that I could find in the ballpark (though Red Hook was available in bottles, part of the magic of the ballpark experience for me is draft beer outside). And it cost $6 a cup. Not only that, but they were serving Coors Light in 16-oz. cups, while you could only get 12 of Alaskan. I remember Camden Yards fondly: They had microbrew stands that carried a wide variety of regional beers at much more reasonable prices. Then again, they didn’t have the Number One Team in Baseball.

Tasty Medicine

Why do I obsess on the beer issue? It could have something to do with the fact that I don’t normally follow baseball. But the real reason is that it’s good for you! German and Czech medical research shows that beer lowers the risk of coronary heart disease by raising the levels of folate and vitamin B12 in the blood. While I don’t doubt that the German and Czech researchers had a subconscious stake in the results (what, you thought they’d recommend grappa?), I’m still going to be quoting this study for a long time.

A Big Move

First off, a heartfelt congratulations to my parents, who on Tuesday finally moved into their new house. They moved to western North Carolina about a month after I took off for school in Boston last year and have been living in my uncle’s one room guest house since then. Yesterday was their first day in the new place, and they’re thrilled. (It was also my Mom’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom!)

Where there’s smoke?

A nasty little hardware lawsuit came over the AP wire yesterday. Apparently some folks are claiming that syncing their Palm Vs fried their motherboards.

From the discussion on Slashdot, it looks like there might be some merit to the allegations. If you have a Palm V charging cradle connected via a serial cable to your computer, you may want to be careful. No word as to whether feeding the cradle through a serial-to-USB adapter (as I do on my home Mac) causes problems.

Closer Than You Think

This article on PhysicsWeb blew my mind. The findings are pretty significant:

  • Every site on the web can be connected to any other site via, at most, nineteen clicks
  • There is a numerical model that describes how likely a page is to be linked by another page (which the authors call “competitive fitness”: ki(t) ~= tß(eta), where the coefficient eta is described by the authors as “good up-to-date content and a friendly interface”

These are just the tip of the iceberg. It does suggest, pretty strongly, that whatever the “eta” factor represents, website authors are strongly encouraged to take advantage of it. From my experience, I’d say that more goes into “eta” than the authors of the site know. Some of it depends on having content that’s interesting to a particular website author. Dave tends to link to people who write about topics that are near and dear to him. I tend to try to link to “authoritative” sources. Is coolness part of “eta”?

Nineteen degrees of click separation

So about the 19 clicks: I got some anecdotal evidence about how closely related people on the web are to each other. Perusing one of my favorite online comics, Bobbins, I was surprised to see a familiar name under the headline “What is Good?”: Jen Sorensen. Jen was a cartoonist at “Virginia” the last few years I was there, and did cartoons for the Declaration, including one memorable one with a kid up a flagpole in his underwear muttering my fourth year catchphrase: “Oh dear Christ.” (In my defense, I’ll note that fourth year was my year to change life direction, get ulcers and mono, and almost die of food poisoning, so if I said that a lot I probably had provocation.) Anyway, Jen kept drawing and now has a collection of her stuff available. Go look… it’s really good.