Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Thursday, 27 February 2003

# 1:15 AM

urban life

Someone is washing their car outside my window.

Late at night.

In the dark.

I am not making this up.

Sunday, 23 February 2003

# 8 PM

seen on the street

A bumper sticker: "Research Needs Brains! Call <phone number>"

In reality this is some education project, but on first glance it sounded like something Dr. Narbon would have on her car.

Saturday, 22 February 2003

# 11:50 PM

Photos of the peace march are now available.

Friday, 21 February 2003

# 7:55 PM

dmv follies

I got a letter from the DMV yesterday. "Your vehicle registration is incomplete," it said, "you didn't provide proof of insurance." Er, what? I thought. I distinctly remember including that.

So I called them up. After a remarkably short period of phone tree navigation I got through to a human. "It probably fell out of the envelope and got lost," they said. "Can you fax us a copy?" I did that, called them back this afternoon, and they tell me they got it and my new stickers are in the mail.

I tell you all about this mainly because it was a couple orders of magnitude easier to deal with the problem than I was expecting. I thought I'd get to spend an hour or so on hold and then be informed that my alleged insurance carrier was not licensed to do business in California, or some equally catastrophic pronouncement.

superfluous technology

I seem to be sending a fair number of faxes lately, and my friend Vynce mentioned that he had a combination fax machine/ansaphone which was looking for a home. So now I have a fax machine. I used it to send the aforementioned proof of insurance to the DMV, so it works on the sending side, and I think I have properly programmed it so that human callers get the answering machine mode. (I'd like to apologize in advance to any of you who have occasion to call me, and get squawked at.)

However, it smells of ammonia — not enough to be a problem when sitting on the desk, but enough to be unpleasant to use. I can think of plenty of ways to clean it, but they all entail dunking it in liquid, which is not exactly a wise thing to do to an electrical appliance. Suggestions from the floor?

teeth

My dentist tells me I have a choice of getting my wisdom teeth removed, finding an orthodontist who will put braces on them and realign them properly, or continuing to bite holes in the inside of my cheek for the rest of my life. None of these options exactly appeal. Ugh.

absolute power! mwa ha ha ha! ...not really.

The GCC Steering Committee has granted me global write privileges over the GCC source tree.

(Donations to the Weinberg for World Dictator Fund are cheerfully accepted and will be used to buy beer at the upcoming developers summit.)

Monday, 17 February 2003

# 10:35 PM

When I was a small child my parents used to have me stand on the fringes of their Persian rugs while one of them ran a vacuum cleaner over the rug proper. It is only now, two decades later, living in my own apartment and trying to vacuum my own Persian rugs, that I appreciate just how helpful that was. The cleaner likes nothing better than to pick up the edge of the rug and hold onto it.

A small child really isn't the optimal solution; what I want is one of those "persistent field apps" from the Left Foot Living Review, that will temporarily glue the rug to the floor while I vacuum it.

# 3:15 PM

From boingboing: an article in the Seattle Times about the successful ongoing redevelopment of Portland and Vancouver as high-density, car-not-necessary cities.

# 12:10 AM

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

— Buffalo Springfield, For What It's Worth (1966)

Today I attended the peace rally in San Francisco with my friends Adam, Alexander, Nathaniel, Rachel, Robynne, and Vynce. Vynce is making T-shirts which say "n T-Shirts For Peace" (he increments n every time he makes another one — mine is #4) and we all wore one. We also handed out 160 print copies of Shweta's and my comic What's Going On.

This is the last of a set of worldwide protests scheduled this weekend; it was to have been yesterday, but was postponed so as not to conflict with the Chinese New Year parade (which is a San Francisco tradition going back to 1853). The crowd is estimated from 150,000 to 300,000 people; I am inclined to the higher end of that scale, because the Civic Center plaza was packed full of people and it's known to hold about 250,000.

Good bits:

  • All of the protest that I saw was entirely peaceful, and the SFPD officers present were all good-natured and professional. Police presence was quite minimal given the sheer size of the crowd; I imagine they have lots of experience with large rallies and marches, San Francisco being what it is.
  • The protest drew lots of ordinary people. The freak population was out in force, naturally, but I'd guess that at least two-thirds of the crowd were what they call "mainstream America." This is a good thing because it means antiwar sentiment is not confined to groups that can be dismissed as lunatics (by the people in charge).
  • In front of the library there were some guys selling absolutely delicious fresh tamales for two bucks a pop. Muchas gracias, señores.
  • Lots and lots of good slogans. I particularly liked REGIME CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME and STOP MAD COWBOY DISEASE. My own sign said NOT ONE PENNY FOR EMPIRE, which was inspired by this report of the January march in DC. And of course the old reliable MAKE LOVE NOT WAR and IDENTIFYING-TAG AGAINST THE WAR were in evidence. (Of the latter I liked FAT UGLY MAN AGAINST THE WAR best.)
  • The duct tape meme. I'm not sure precisely what is up with this, but an awful lot of people featured duct tape as part of their sign or their costume. There was even one guy handing out strips of duct tape and telling people to put it over their mouth. I put it on my forehead instead. (If anyone knows the origin of this meme please let me know.)

Not-so-good bits:

  • Overall I feel that protest marches are simultaneously too much and too little. You put 225,000 people (splitting the difference) on the street in San Francisco, that makes a big media splash, but does it really change government officials' minds, and does it really get people who weren't supporting The Cause (whatever that might be) to start? Nathaniel and I handed out 160 copies of What's Going On, but will any of those reach people who didn't already agree with what it says? (Similar sentiments were expressed by Nathan Newman and Kos after the January DC protests.)
  • As I've said in the past, I would like to be anti-war and pro-Israel at the same time, and I don't appreciate how the anti-war-in-Iraq movement seems to be inextricably joined with the anti-any-U.S.-support-for-Israel movement. Which is not to say that I approve of what Ariel Sharon has been doing for the past while; I don't think any solution to that mess is actually on the table (my preferred approach would begin by disestablishing Judaism in Israel, which is just not going to happen).
  • Also, and this is why my sign said NOT ONE PENNY FOR EMPIRE: I'm not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to this specific potential war. To understand why, I would like to point you to an op-ed column by Barham A. Salim (a leader of the Kurdish government in exile, if I remember right) which someone had Xeroxed out of the New York Times and pasted to some of the temporary fences around the federal building, where protesters going by could see it. But it's not findable online so I will attempt to summarize. He said that he and his fellow exiles were eager for an opportunity to establish a democratic government in Iraq, that he hoped the coming war would provide such, and that it didn't matter to him whether or not the U.S.'s true motivation was greed for oil, because he'd still get his opportunity. Which is where I diverge from agreement with Mr. Salim: I don't think he will get his opportunity. I think that Iraq will be left in ruins, with some sort of ineffective client government that facilitates the big multinationals moving in and exploiting the hell out of the place. This will breed more (entirely justified) resentment and more people willing to engage in suicide missions for terrorist organizations. In the end, we'll all be worse off.
  • The Scientologists, who have an office near Civic Center, were capitalizing on the march to sell Dianetics books. Bleah.

Sunday, 16 February 2003

# 2:15 PM

preparation

Getting geared up to go to the peace march in San Francisco when one of my friends, who's doing the same thing, calls me on the phone. Could you come pick me up a wee bit later? he says. Only I want to make some sandwiches first.

Sandwiches, I thought. What a good idea. I could do that too.

blogosphere

Boing Boing has some thoughtful exegesis on Google buying Blogger.

er, me?

In my inbox this morning, an invitation to participate in some panel or other at Minicon 38. I'm flattered, but somewhat bemused.

# 3:35 AM

On the sixth floor at ICSI someone has brought in a 1000-pack of Kapla building blocks and built two huge round towers out of them. And, even more impressive, an arched bridge.

Friday, 14 February 2003

# 11:45 PM

obligatory valentine's day whinge

The author of this blog lives a satisfying life in most all of the ways that matter: he lacks not for material things, nor for friends, nor gainful employment (albeit the work is not always fun). With one glaring exception, that being the one celebrated today. Romance, in a word.

I am not particularly bitter about this. I consider it to be largely my own problem, in that I appear to have been reading some book under the table the day the teacher explained how to tell when someone is interested in you in a more-than-friends way. Still... at nearly twenty-five, when one's never had a relationship last more than about a month, and the last of those was three years ago, one begins to feel a bit left out.

The odd twist on this is that I don't lack for women telling me I'm attractive — except all of them are at least technically old enough to be my mother. This is not my kink. Perhaps it means I'll find true love when I'm forty years old, which would be fine except for the waiting fifteen years bit.

It seems unlikely that I'll meet anyone by sitting in my room writing weblog entries, though ... or, well, what the hell: If you like what you're reading and you're a human female in your twenties who lives in the greater San Francisco metropolitan area, please drop me a line.

Thursday, 6 February 2003

# 8:25 PM

A group of Silicon Valley "technologists" is trying to get new voting machines to generate voter-verifiable paper trails. They deserve your support.

# 1:30 AM

Drove to Davis for lengthy brainstorming meeting with my boss. (Davis is about equally inconvenient for both of us.) Then had dinner with Joel Friedman, who is an old friend of the family, and stopped at my grandmother's to rescue my sunglasses on the way home. I wound up staying there for about an hour and looking at old family photo albums with her.

Got home to discover the landlord has finally replaced the building mailboxes, which were broken open at the beginning of December. The new boxes are bigger and look sturdier; however, the "delivery" lock, the one the postman has the key to, has not yet been installed. Presumably someone from the post office has to come round and do that.

Tuesday, 4 February 2003

# 1:45 AM

The pricing model for tax preparation software is ... bizarre. Assuming you're going to use such software at all, and assuming you're not so lucky as to live in a state with no income taxes, you need the program to do both federal and state paperwork. The program isn't very big; you could easily fit everything on a single CD. It would seem natural to sell it all in one package.

This is not done. Instead, you buy the federal and state programs in separate boxes and install them separately; the state program then turns out to be a bolt-on module for the federal one. And, here's the really weird bit, you find a coupon in the federal box offering you a rebate of the full purchase price of the state package.

I don't understand the economics of this. It has to be more expensive to package and distribute the state program separately, then collect and process rebate forms and mail out checks, than it would be to bundle the state program onto the same CD. I can only see it being profitable if the majority of customers don't bother to send in the rebate forms, but the sort of person who buys tax software is not the sort of person to pass up a rebate, even if it's only for $20.

It gets weirder, because there's several variants of the federal program. That in itself makes sense: some people have more complicated taxes than others, they want more help, they'll pay more for it. Yet in the box for the midrange program that I just bought (having mildly complicated taxes) I find a rebate coupon which will knock its actual cost down to the same point as the cheapest alternative. I boggle.

Let's not even talk about the pile of advertising flyers that took up most of the volume of both boxes. Ugh.

Sunday, 2 February 2003

# 12:15 AM

I remember the last time we lost a space shuttle. I was in third grade. Mr. Landy got one of the school televisions and tuned it to the Challenger launch. We were all excited because of Christa McAuliffe, who was going to be the first schoolteacher in space . . . but she never made it. Right there on live TV, the shuttle blew up.

School was dismissed. My mother came and picked me up and we walked home. I remember the flag in front of the school flying at half-mast. I'd never seen that done before, and I wasn't to see it again until Nixon died.

Today I got the news in a much more mundane fashion; I punched up Google News like I do every morning and there was the report. Emotionally it doesn't feel any different from another disaster you read about in the papers.

I expect this will be the end of the Space Shuttle, and I tend to agree with the people saying that that's a good thing. For the near term, disposable boosters like the Russians use are far more cost-effective; for the longer term, I hope we see more work done on concepts like the Roton or even the space elevator. (Did you know we might have a space elevator in fifteen years)?

Other than this, a pretty ordinary day for me. I've started taking yoga classes, which has had the expected effect that leg muscles I didn't know I had, hurt; and I threw out 2000 pages of journal articles that have been sitting in a pile for almost a year now.

Saturday, 1 February 2003

# 4:20 AM

I went to see the Apollo's touring "Amateur Night" show at the Zellerbach Theater at Cal. I was neither impressed nor amused.

We'll start with the audience. The audience is expected to express approval or disapproval of the act currently on stage; if they boo enough they can get the performer's act cut short. The emcee did a big spiel about how you give everyone a fair chance. This was ignored. One act got booed off the stage before it even began, and another two didn't last thirty seconds. I don't care how lame the act is, you give them a full minute to pull something out; some people are just no good at openings.

Furthermore, the audience seemed to think that all the singers were great and all the dance numbers stank. I mostly liked the dance numbers more than the singers. Difference of taste, perhaps. (And Ghu forbid you should be doing comedy! I suspect the only reason the (extremely good) slam poet got to finish her act was because she was fourteen years old and the audience was specifically told don't boo the children.)

Moving on to the emcee, first off, I don't like the tradition of singling out people in the audience for abuse. And I especially don't like it when the emcee makes fun of the stagehands. But what really stuck in my craw was when the guy went off on a five-minute monologue about religion, starting from the statement that no one's going to boo gospel because everyone believes in Jesus. This at UC Berkeley. And then he went on and on playing on stereotypes of what it's like to attend different ethnic groups' churches and it was lame and boring. I wanted to cast a spell and have a giant hand materialize and yank him off stage. See how he likes it.

All this and most of the acts weren't all that good. Particularly the singers. If I want to hear sappy R&B sung with technical skill and no heart, I can turn on the bloody radio. (See above.) But I do have to say that the duo of singers with Muppets in hand r0xx0red.