Archive for October 2003

Subterfuge and Skulduggery

Last week, Apple announced the release of iTunes for us benighted souls in the Windows universe. They have 350,000 to 400,000 songs available for $.99 apiece. I downloaded the software out of curiosity and purchased a couple of songs.
The music you download is not in the .mp3 format you might be familiar with from your carefree days of music piracy (a period that may rival the pre-AIDS era of free love in terms of nostalgic sentiment) � it�s in a proprietary format that can only be played by the iTunes software and Apple�s iPod portable player. Since I don�t have an iPod (I have an Archos Recorder 20), I need to find a way to convert the Apple tunes to .mp3 format if I�m going to use the service.
Apple�s software will rip someone ELSE�S music on cd to .mp3 without compunction, but refuses to convert its own downloaded music. It will, however, allow you to burn the tunes to cd up to 10 times, I think. So, I decided to try this just to see what file format ended up on the cd. Turns out, it�s the normal .cda format, so my next step was to open up my Musicmatch player and see if I could rip the files on the cd to mp3. Worked like a charm! (The Apple software, as I mentioned, will also rip cds to mp3, but I was afraid it might catch on to my ruse and shut me down.)
I never thought that it was OK to steal music on the internet, but I thought the Napster and Audiogalaxy services were great ways to sample music before purchase, and also to obtain live performances and bootleg stuff that were never available commercially in the first place. I will aver that I have purchased nearly all of the music in my possession. Still, I imagine that Apple and the RIAA in time will find a way to convince Ashcroft that what I�ve done with my iTunes songs is a terrorist act punishable under the Patriot Act, but right now it�s still a way to obtain music online and use it legitimately. If anyone knows an easier way to go about this, I’m all ears.

Separated at Birth?

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A Kind Word for Free Trade

The Wall Street Journal today had an article proclaiming that Mott’s Clamato juice, moribund in the US for the last decade, has a surprisingly strong Hispanic following, owing to a previously undetected regard they have for the beverage as an aphrodisiac:

Shellfish are rich in iron and zinc, minerals that may marginally improve sexual performance. But Carmen Boullosa, a Mexican writer and visiting professor at Columbia University, says many countrymen believe in clam’s libido-boosting properties, and that might explain why they consider Clamato some kind of aphrodisiac.
Mott’s, of Stamford, Conn., makes no claims to Clamato’s powers. Still, the company understood that it could leverage that perception among Latinos to sell more of the beverage it describes as a “light and refreshing, zesty drink with a blend of tomatoes, onions, celery and spices with a dash of clam.”

I don’t believe I’ve ever tasted Clamato on purpose. I love shellfish, including clams, mussels and raw oysters. I guess because I can obtain them fresh pretty much whenever I desire here in Seattle, Clamato has simply been beneath my radar. Even though I took 4 years of high school Spanish.
It may be a cross-cultural coincidence, but MY idea of an aphrodisiac very often involves some incarnation of Sauza tequila. In this regard, the perfect fulfillment of the NAFTA promise would be the untrammelled flow of Clamato south, in exchange for a concomitant surge of Hornitos north.

Global Movie

Had a great time watching The Vertical Ray of the Sun with Rayne, Neva, and Harald yesterday. Since Harald’s in the Netherlands, Rayne’s in Michigan and Neva and I are in the Pacific Northwest, we did a little dance about what time we could all watch simultaneously. Turned out to be 10 am for me, which on Sunday is the middle of the night, especially since we’d walked down to the Latona Tavern and heard a couple of real good blues musicians the night before. I woke up at about 9:45, shook the beer bubbles out of my brain and started the espresso machine.
Double macchiato at my side, I hooked up with the others in an IM chatroom, slammed my Netflix-supplied copy of the film in my laptop’s dvd drive and .. ACK! Apparently when I blew out my operating system last summer, I neglected to reinstall dvd software when I rebuilt the machine. I was mildly surprised that it had been that long since I’d watched a movie on my laptop, but I guess I’ve been using my plane trips to blog and to read. I riffled through my Dell box of tricks, found the dvd software and installed it. Of course, the installation required a reboot at the end, so I had to say my goodbyes to the chatroom and wait for the leisurely win2k restart. I felt a flush of power at having the ability to annoy people in three time zones and two continents.
Back on line, 5 minutes late, we revved up our drives and pressed “play”, following Rayne’s Indy-like start. I had my laptop desktop arranged so that the movie played in a full-sized rectangle at the top, and the IM chat window scrolling in the space left at the bottom. It was fun to be able to gab during the film, but, because it was subtitled and fairly convoluted, I at least had to focus most of my attention on the movie.
Vertical was just gorgeous visually. At the end, we had to compare notes to be sure that we’d accounted for all the plot threads and had them populated with the right characters. Some of the Rotten Tomatoes reviewers complain about being unsatisfied with a perceived lack of resolution in the plot, and I could be dragged down that road if we hadn’t had our discussion while the details were still fresh. Also, I too often err in applying literary standards to movies. In retrospect, I am very satisfied with the window provided on these lives over the course of a month in which little, barely perceptible tectonic shifts were happening in their lives.
I saw another movie last weekend, Lost In Translation, that would have suffered by applying purely literary standards. In similar fashion, we observe two people getting through a week in which tiny fissures are opening in their lives. The china’s rattling on the shelves just a little, but doesn’t seem in danger of falling just yet - by itself, anyway.
The ‘relationship’ between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson, incubated in the hermetic environment of hotel residents without the time or means to meaningfully interact with their surroundings, was so believable despite their differing stations in life. And, cinematically, each time it appeared that their relationship might take on romantic/sexual significance, there would be an uncompromisingly frank shot (’cruel’ to someone who might be turning 54 on Tuesday) of Bill Murray that completely disabused you of that possibility.

And the problems that each was having in his marriage were not posed in trite and stereotypical terms - they were just those issues of people talking and not listening, the kind of things that you know eventually get resolved if people are brave enough to countenance what they portend and care enough to adjust to nullify them.
Bill Murray stars, but don’t go expecting Ghostbusters or Caddyshack.
I was stone cold sober for both viewings, and it’s refreshing to be able to remember details and evaluate. Might have to make it a tradition, unless I know going in that a buzz is required to fully appreciate a film.

You Can Take This Job And… - Ch. 2

Think YOUR job sucks?
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The Shoemaker’s Family

It’s October 15, the last possible day to file a 2002 personal income tax return if you’ve filed both available extensions of the original April 15 due date and STILL waited until the last minute.
I actually did 99% of the preparation in my Turbo Tax program a long time ago. I’m sure that data file is SOMEWHERE on this hard disk…

If I follow form, I’ll be licking the envelope 30 seconds before the last post office in the city closes.

Best Practices - Kicking Off A Project: A Case Study from AARPcenture

So I was paying my first visit to a new client today. After adjusting the scheduled meeting several times via email, I had managed to have it recorded in my Palm Pilot at 10:00, but the final email from my correspondent there had settled on 9:00. So, at 9:00 I’m sitting here in my jammies and pull up the email in order to get a Yahoo map so I can plan my early arrival (an unusual luxury, I’m congenitally late). I’m jarred, of course, by the revelation that I’m due there at that very moment.
I call my correspondent and, startled as I am, take a novel approach, leading with the truth. One can usually blame Seattle traffic for up to an hour’s tardiness but, like a Roger Clemens fastball, the opportunity was in the catcher’s mitt before I even got the bat off my shoulder. Nevertheless, 10:00 will be fine.
I shave, dress and head off to the client’s as I had originally planned, arriving 10 minutes early. I’m in basically uncharted territory. I grab my leather binder and head for the door.
Ten steps across the parking lot I realize that I’ve forgotten my correspondent’s name (we’ve never met, just exchanged emails). I punch the figurative buttons, trying to jumpstart my cerebral cortex, but no dice - the damn thing must be flooded again. I can’t walk in the building and ask the receptionist to ring “that woman that emails people about things”, so I turn back to my car to regroup. As a bit of subterfuge, I pull my cell phone out of my pocket and stick it to my ear as if I’d just received a call.
As I reach the car, I remember that my laptop, in the back seat, has my correspondent’s name attached to her emails. Still wedging the phone in my ear, I move my lips periodically, thinking software-support kinds of things but probably actually reciting Green Eggs and Ham. I sit in the driver’s seat and retrieve the laptop from it’s carrier in the back. I press “power”, but since I’d done a full shutdown instead of hibernate, and it’s Win2k, it’ll take a few minutes to boot, so I focus on my phone ruse, sort of a wireless lamaze.
This works so well that, when I look back at the laptop, it’s started the goddamn disk check it always insists on doing, as if I’m some cyber riffraff and it’s insisting on using a condom even though we’re (mostly) monogamous. I power it down, power up again and make sure I abort the disk check on the way up. Chug-chug-chug, loading personal preferences (as if you care!), establishing network connections (not here in the car, fool!), loading three years of startup executables that I have no idea why they’re there any more. Impatient, I punch Outlook anyway and wait for it to load while empires rise and fall, tectonic shifts rearrange continents and oceans, the Bush administration makes another request for rebuilding funds for Iraq.
Just as the Outlook logo flashes onscreen, I remember her name. I power the laptop down - no soft landing this time, pal - pocket the phone and exit the car. I whisper her name all the way across the parking lot, hoping it doesn’t skitter off to that place where phone numbers and grocery lists so often flee.
They’re delighted to see me, and instead of the sales job I was anticipating, I end up diving into a project and logging 6 solid, productive and billable hours. I’ve had lots of things start better and end up worse

Brass-Roots Campaign

This heart-warming story of soldiers writing the editors of their hometown newspapers and enunciating, in their homespun and querelous prose, the fabulous successes of their Iraq mission would stir the cockles of even the most Sadaam-loving liberals. Except that the soldiers say they didn’t write them, often didn’t sign them, and approved them under conditions where it would be impossible to refuse or express doubt. Plus, each letter was exactly the same, and some were hilariously misdirected, based on ancient information in the soldiers’ files regarding their “home” towns.
One wants to blame the White House for this effort, and the tactics at least are characteristic of that cynical and corrupt station. There seems to be, however, too much familiarity with mundane miitary life in the letter for it to have been authored by the upper echelons of the Chicken Hawk Brigade.

Fairweather Fan

Those of you who are aware of such things may note that Ohio State is playing Wisconsin in Madison tonight, and may ponder why a person as seemingly committed to the team would not take the serendipity of his Milwaukee layover to extend it a few hours longer, scalp a ticket and attend the game.
I have to say it crossed my mind, even earlier in the week. If I had friends who were already going, or knew people in Madison, I might have done it. Back in the 70s and early 80s, when I had first moved to Seattle and we were lucky to be able to see the Buckeyes on TV twice during the season, and air travel was a once-every-couple-years luxury, there is no question that I would have bent my plans 180 degrees in order to attend a game if I were within 500 miles.

Bottom line, though, It seems I’ve been away from Ohio and the Buckeye Culture long enough that, well, I’m just not FROM there anymore. One of the most telling symptoms was when I demurred last December when my brothers were drumming up a trip to the Fiesta Bowl for the National Championship game. I watched the game, of course, in a sports bar in Seattle with a congregation of other Buckeye refugees, but really didn’t regret not attending, even after it turned into one of the best college games ever played. Earlier, this might be an occasion for angst or regret, like losing a part of childhood, but I find myself curiously unmoved at the thought.

You probably won’t hear this level of denial and ostentatious declaration of clean thought and action in a 12-step program. Also note that my travel plans have me in Seattle well in advance of the (televised!) kickoff.


Listening to: Thievery Corporation - Mirror Conspiracy
I’m operating in sort of a strange space today. I’ve spent the week working in Milwaukee, and I usually fly home to Seattle on Friday night. However, due to tight scheduling and some unfinished tasks, I stayed over Friday night and am departing at noon on Saturday. It’s upset my programming a bit. I usually check in, check luggage (I am congenitally incapable of travelling light), do my striptease for the delight of the TSA crew at security checkin, then head for the Northwest Airlines Worldclub for a glass of wine and some internet play before boarding my plane.
Today, however, the Worldclub closed at 11am, so I’m huddled with the great unwashed in the seating area around the gate, no wine, no internet access, no Friday night frisson. The Worldclub is one of several such facilities that each airline sponsors Anyone can join, you don’t have to be a frequent flyer, but there is a substantial annual fee that tiers down according to your frequent flyer rank. As an employee, I would probably not have the juice to cajole my employer into fronting the membership, but since I have my own corporation, and I’m the only employee, the cost controls are, shall we say, idiosynchratic and tend to unfairly favor the president.
On takeoff from Milwaukee, I saw lettering on the roof of a house under the flightpath that said, “May you fly with an angel on each wing.” (an incongruous well-wishing after living through the last few years of rancor between SeaTac airport and the surrounding communities). Though I don’t have a religious bone in my body, the sighting is still an odd coincidence, considering the events of the next hour.
Flying from Milwaukee to Seattle necessitates a connection in Minneapolis or, less frequently, Detroit. Of the two, Detroit usually offers the more problematic weather, ensconsed as it is on a peninsula between 3 Great Lakes. However, today the rough weather enveloped Minneapolis, and as we descended, the ride got a little bumpy - nothing unusual, really - but as we approached the runway, it felt like the pilots could not get the plane oriented properly, and we veered left, then right, then left again, with the nose pointed resolutely down, instead of the floating, nose-up attitude they usually assume just before touchdown. I became disturbed a bit by the seeming lack of control, as the plane was a DC-9, a clone of the MD-80 whose busted tailflap jackscrew doomed Alaska Flight 261. But then, I reasoned, the Alaska problem was the result of criminal neglect and deceit by the airline in its maintenance function, and not necessarily a design flaw in the plane.
Just then, the plane’s nose pointed up, the engines powered up and the pilots aborted the landing, no more than 10 feet from touching down. The climb out was not at all convincing either, gaining altitude only grudgingly and making sweeping turns this way and that. This only reinforced my feeling that the plane was experiencing mechanical problems. Additionally, there was only ominous silence from the cockpit, no reassuring, avuncular voice reducing the situation to policies and procedures.
Because of general cloudiness, I could not determine which direction we were headed, but I guessed northwest and away from the airport. Then I felt the landing gear come down again and the plane descend, and I was sure we were landing at an outlying airport, almost certainly dooming my Seattle connection any time soon, presuming that we landed safely in the first place. One more turn, and suddenly I recognized instead the southern approach to the Minneapolis airport, and regained my confidence in the whole process of air travel. Still, I was very attentive to all the details of approach and (finally) touchdown.
As we braked to a stop and the flight attendant got up to hand out jackets, I asked him, to nervous but general laughter in my area, if we’d be getting extra mileage credit for the flight.