November 2005

Tue Nov 01 08:36:59 PST 2005

A “Mean-It” Rain

When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest sixteen years ago, it took me only two seasons to recognize one of the true harbingers of autumn here.

Unlike further south, summer rain isn’t unusual here, but when it happens, it’s a fleeting phenomenon. The rain falls half-heartedly, never fully soaking the ground (areas under the largest trees tend to stay mostly dry), and within a day or so the weather is back to being sunny and dry. Even when it’s happening, it’s clear that the rain is but a brief intrusion on another dominant weather pattern.

Something happens as the days get shorter. A storm comes in, but this time, it’s different. The rain falls harder. A wind blows, delivering the drops to places that stayed dry through the summer rains. The clouds are thicker, the light dimmer. Now it’s the pauses in the rain that have the feel of something fleeting and temporary. The fleeting showers if summer are over; it’s the first “mean-it rain” of the season.

That happened every autumn from 1989 until 1999. Then I left the Pacific Northwest for a year and a half in the Bay Area. When I returned, I came back to a string of light rainfall years. There never was that first mean-it rain. Even the rains that fell in midwinter failed to have the feel (or rainfall) of the storms I remembered.

This seems to be the year of our return to normal conditions. It was in early October, during a trip to Vancouver, BC, that the first real rain of the autumn fell. When I left Portland, the clouds were thickening, but the storm had yet to begin. Within an hour on the road, it hit; the windshield wipers had no rest for the remainder of the trip. Cooler weather and showers persisted through the weekend, and by the second evening in Vancouver one could tell change was in the air: it was noticeably cooler than it had been all year. It wasn’t just due to traveling north, either: the Vancouverites commented on the turn of seasons, and when I returned to Portland, I returned to a city in a different season than the one I left.

But that was merely the first autumn rain. A real midwinter rain ratchets up the “mean-it” level another notch: harder, windier, more prolonged. Yesterday, it happened. Even the pauses in activity were marked by the kind of showers I haven’t seen since the 1990’s. The West Hills were a mist-shrouded vista of evergreens all day, vanishing into the cloud ceiling.

Today (after a pause of a few hours between fronts), it continues. The chorus of raindrops was a soundtrack through my dreams overnight. Morning twilight broke, then stayed: today’s light is filtered through an extra-thick layer of nimbostratus. Small creeks filled with wet leaves rush through the gutters of the streets; even in the heart of downtown, it is the noise of the rain and the wind, not the city traffic, that predominates. The air is filled with a scent of dampness I haven’t experienced in years.

The rainy weather is forecast to last through the week. I’m home at last.

Tue Nov 01 10:22:52 PST 2005

Murphy Strikes Again

I typed the last entry (as I’m typing this one) on the train to Seattle. This time, I remembered the AC adaptor for my laptop. Why is it not a surprise that the time I can actually do work on the train (without keeping a constant eye on the ever-draining battery), I meet someone I know?

The trip, by the way, is mainly for a job interview. Given that it seems likely I’ll have another opportunity for work in Portland, I wouldn’t be completely surprised if an offer comes out of this one. But Murphy cuts both ways on this one: I paid my way on this trip, so I also wouldn’t be surprised if the in-person interview goes as badly as the phone one went well.

If it does, I’m not about to put up with the formalized bullshit of continuing to go through with it even after it’s clear there’s zero chance of getting an offer. I plan to politely say that we both know it’s hopeless and that continuing would be a waste of both of our time.

I am also going to do some visiting friends, so even if the interview goes badly, the trip is not a total loss; bailing out of a futile interview early offers the chance to spend that time on more useful pursuits. Plus, I’m spending at least some of my time on the train productively.

Tue Nov 01 22:31:39 PST 2005

What to Say?

Except that:

Thu Nov 03 09:06:22 PST 2005

My Un-Invention List

Several weeks ago I embarked upon a thought experiment: suppose it was as simple to un-invent things as to invent them. If so, what technologies would I like to simply disappear from the face of the earth?

The first conclusion I drew was that the criteria that make something eligible for un-invention should be fairly strict. There really should be no legitimate use for the object, no real compelling reason for it to exist.

Take SUV’s, for example; they fail to meet the threshold. Sometimes there’s a need to carry a small group of people a significant distance over very rough roads. An SUV is the appropriate vehicle for this purpose. The problem with SUV’s is not that they exist at all, but that they are way, way overused, and used for applications where they make no sense.

That said, I eventually did come up with a list of three things that do meet this threshold:

Fabric Softeners
Excuse me, aren’t fabrics intrinsically soft as it is? Doesn’t a product explicitly designed to leave a chemical residue on fabric defeat the purpose of washing it in the first place? Fabric softeners inevitably reek of cheap perfume — why would you want to go around smelling like that? Moreover, some of us are allergic to the stench of cheap perfume, and don’t appreciate how the residue of someone else’s dryer sheet makes our clothes itch and stink when we use the dryer after you do.
Probably the worst invention ever. No, I’m not talking about the health effects on the smoker — it’s the smoker’s body, he/she should be free to make an informed choice to inhale something harmful to it, and to suffer the consequences. I’m talking about the health effects on the rest of us who don’t want the crap from their cigarettes in our lungs. Cigarettes pose a tremendous problem to any free society — there’s no way to simultaneously preserve the freedom to smoke them and the freedom to protect oneself from their smoke. There’s no easy way out of this conundrum. Worse, they are powerfully addictive, so those who use them tend to do so regularly and often. Let’s just un-invent this monumentally bad idea and be gone with it.
Leaf Blowers
Not significantly faster than using a rake and yet much more expensive than one. Noisy as hell and their two-cycle engines release as many unburned hydrocarbons into the air as a fleet of SUV’s. Instead of tending to gather leaves into neat piles (like a rake), they scatter them, so users of leaf blowers tend to blow leaves and trash around (usually into shrubbery, across property lines, or into the street) instead of cleaning them up. One gust of wind later and those leaves are back where they originally were, so out comes the leaf blower (and another round of noise and pollution) tomorrow. Aside from all that, they’re dangerous to workers: a major new class of injuries amongst gardeners and groundskeepers is severe burns caused by leaf blower engines catching on fire.

Thu Nov 03 10:20:04 PST 2005

Maam? Pardon Me, But Your Mail Merge Is Showing

Just before I left on my trip, I got the following e-mail in response to a job ad. Personally, I think I'm more likely to find an “interactive media dream job” on, oh, a site that does a better job of coding interactive media.

Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 12:29:18 -0500
From: "aQuantive Inc." <>
Subject: Online Resume Submission for Software Release Engineer 308-1520-26

Oct 30, 2005 12:29:18


Dear $candidatename$:

Got it! 

Your resume is now safely in our hands.

Even though this is a system-generated email response, you are being
considered for employment with Xxxxxx Xxxxxxxxxxxx by a real live human.

If your skills, experience, and talents meet the requirements for the
$jobtitle$position, a recruiter from our staff will be in touch to
explore career options. 

Thanks for applying to Xxxxxx Xxxxxxxxxxxx.

love your job? You Should.
find your interactive media dream job at

to update your resume, please click here: $ohresumeupdatelink$

Thu Nov 03 12:39:33 PST 2005

A Revealing Inconsistency

Why is it considered completely normal and acceptable for an employer to ask a candidate for his or her salary history, but completely abnormal and unacceptable for a candidate to ask the employer for theirs? I mean, fair’s fair: If it’s reasonable for someone to know what I’ve earned and what I expect to earn, than it’s reasonable for me to know what they’ve paid and what I expect to get paid from them.

But who ever heard of a candidate requesting a firm’s payroll data in his cover letter?

Thu Nov 03 17:37:23 PST 2005

Propaganda: Framing the Issue, Begging the Questions

If there’s any doubt that the Establishment media disseminates ruling-class propaganda, this article should clear things up. One doesn’t have to go further than the first paragraph:

(AP) Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, emboldened by thousands of anti-American protesters, is getting a rare chance to stand up to his adversary, George Bush, with promises to keep the president from reviving talks on a free trade area stretching from Alaska to Argentina.

Notice how the protests are described as “anti-American.” Not “anti-globalization,” “anti-capitalist,” “anti-corporate” or even “anti-Bush,” but “anti-American.”

And remember, it’s an article cranked out by an American news agency for American publications to print for a American readership. A readership that then sees an article describing the protests as being somehow directed against them, not against a system, a leader, a government, or its policies.

A little quick research on Indymedia Argentina shows just how inaccurate the portrayal is. Here’s a few titles of articles relating to the protests. My method of selection was to pick the first half-dozen titles that were (a) obviously related to the demonstrations, and (b) translatable using my very rusty knowledge of Spanish. Then I added a seventh because (as you shall soon see), the first six all fell into a certain very narrow theme.

En las calles contra BushIn the streets against Bush
Preparativos para repudiar al mayor genocida del mundo: Bush Preparations to denounce the world’s major perpetrator of genocide: Bush
Confronten al criminal de guerraConfront the war criminal
Movilizaciones contra Bush, Viernes 4 Nov. Mobilizations against Bush, Friday 4 Nov.
Declaración del ETUN contra la llegada de Bush a la Argentina Declaration of the ETUN against the arrival of Bush in Argentina
Repudiamos la presencia en nuestro pais de George W. Bush We repudiate the presence of George W. Bush in our country
La justicia y libertad en USA es una farsa Liberty and justice in the USA are a farce

I think that’s enough titles to see a definitive pattern as to just who (for most participants in them) the protests are against.

The seventh title (the one I added because the first six were all variations on the theme of Bush) charges (quite correctly, in my view) that the notions of “liberty” and “justice” in the USA are a farce. Far from being an anti-American sentiment, it’s drawing attention to something that’s in the process of making life less and less tolerable for many Americans. How could any thinking person see the news coverage of the response to Hurricane Katrina and not come to such conclusions?

How on earth can sympathy for American victims of the American ruling class be anti-Americanism? Easy: it can be such if, in defining the term “anti-American,” the only Americans that count are the American ruling class. Bush being the puppet whose strings are manipulated by that class, this also neatly explains how protests against him can be considered “anti-American.”

So there you have it, when the corporate media say “anti-American” what they really mean is “anti-American ruling class.”

Fri Nov 04 07:25:14 PST 2005

Et Tu, Air America Radio?

Oh, sure, it’s the voice of liberalism, not radicalism. But it shouldn’t take that much questioning of the established order to be able to see through the propaganda mechanism discussed in the previous entry.

Yet this morning, here they are, dutifully parroting the Establishment media line about “anti-American demonstrators.”

Fri Nov 04 08:33:39 PST 2005

Where Biodiesel Makes Sense

I’ve written about how biodiesel can be hydrocarbon laundering. I also mentioned how it might not be if the alternative for the waste oil is to simply get dumped. Turns out that a lot of it is simply dumped, and worse than that, much is dumped into the sewers where it creates problems for wastewater disposal.

Sat Nov 05 21:30:37 PST 2005

More Propaganda from the Establishment Media

Consider this article, which begins:

A Jewish Defense League activist imprisoned for his role in a plot to bomb a California mosque and the office of a Lebanese-American congressman was killed at a federal prison in Phoenix, an FBI spokesman said Saturday.

So, Jews who plot to bomb Arabs are merely “activists,” while Arabs who plot to bomb Jews are “terrorists,” is that it?

Sun Nov 06 14:53:09 PST 2005

Sucky OCaml Syntax

Now that I've had a chance to look a little further at the language, I can't say I still have my earlier enthusiasm. There appear to be serious oversights in syntax design in the language.

For example, consider functions. I wanted to load the unix library and see if it was possible. Knowing that the syntax for invoking a function is function arg1 arg2 arg3 ... argN, and having figured out the unix system calls were in the library unix.cma and that #load loaded a library, I thought I knew enough to try calling a simple system call:

      # #load "unix.cma";;
      # Unix.getpid;;
      - : unit - int = <fun>

Yes, that's right. The designers — of a functional programming language — failed to come up with an unambiguous function call syntax that works in all cases. It breaks down in the case of a function with no arguments, failing to distinguish from the case where a function itself is desired, not its invocation with no arguments.

Instead of a simple syntax rule, we have to invent a special case:

      # Unix.getpid ();;
      # - : int = 1955
Similar problems exist when defining no-argument functions. Why? It's not as if it's hard to come up with a syntax that works in all cases, for any number of arguments, including zero arguments. Lisp, C, Java, Perl, ksh, and Python (to name a few) all managed to do this right. Even TECO manages to have a single macro-invocation syntax that works with zero, one, or two numeric arguments. I can think of no valid excuse for botching such a simple problem which so many others have got right.

Then we have operators. Or, should I say then we have polymorphus perversity. Let's try some integers first:

      # 1 + 1;;
      - : int = 2
      # 2 > 1;;
      - : bool = true
Now some floating point:
      # 1.0 + 3.7;;
      This expression has type float but is here used with type int
Oops, turns out that operators are signed in OCaml, must use +. for floating-point addition:
      # 1.0 +. 3.7;;
      - : float = 4.7
      # 2.0 >. 1.0;;
      Unbound value >.
      # 2.0 > 1.0;;
      - : bool = true
What the?!? Arithmetic operations only work with one type, but logical ones work with all types?!? Consistency, anyone?

Yes, yes, I know: making logicals work like this makes it easier to write polymorphic functions, ones that operate on multiple types, while the typed numeric operators are needed to make things easy for the type inference engine which makes it possible to have a strictly-typed language without explicit type declarations.

But what's so bad about type declarations? They're simple and straightforward to implement. They make possible a syntax with simple and consistent rules. Isn't the fact that type inferencing breeds complex and perverse rules reason enough to not use it? Just because something can be done and just because you've come up with a nifty algorithm to do it doesn't mean it should be done.

Scratch another one off the “potentially interesting languages” list.

Thu Nov 10 09:56:42 PST 2005

Talk about Your Incompetent Administrators

If this is even half-accurate it looks like an entire school board needs to be fired, now.

Tue Nov 15 20:26:29 PST 2005

Finally They ’Fess Up… Sort Of

Apropos this it only took, what, a month or more of vociferous denials in the face of ever-mounting evidence to the contrary?

As for the claim that the substance wasn’t dropped on civilians, it’s completely meaningless. First, in guerilla warfare, there’s no easy way to distinguish combatants from noncombatants. Second, the whole pretext behind the Rape of Falluja was that warnings had been given for civilians to leave.* The attacks were launched under the premise that anyone in the city was a guerilla.

Therefore, what they’re really saying is that WP was dropped at will on anyone in Falluja.

*And anyone who thinks that ensures there won’t be any civilians left has obviously been paying no attention to either (a) the history of the months-long blitz of London during World War II, or (b) the so-called evacuation of New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina.

Wed Nov 16 10:37:40 PST 2005

It’s Finally Over

The good news is that my long, never-ending job search seems to have finally ended. The bad news is that it’s not a local job, it’s in a larger, dysfunctional city to the north. The good news is that it’s much less of a pain to move 160 miles north than it is 630 miles south. And despite how dysfunctional and spoiled by poorly-planned growth Seattle can be, it’s still much better than a whole lot of other places I can think of.

With the normal caveat that so far this has all been verbal. In the words of Richard Marx (emphasis added by yours truly):

Cause it don’t mean nothin’
The words that they say
Don’t mean nothin’
These games that people play
No, it don’t mean nothin’
No victim, no crime
It don’t mean nothin’
Till you sign it on that dotted line

Thu Nov 17 09:27:44 PST 2005

More Stupid White Guy Antics

Hello? Why aren’t these folks placing irate calls to the executives responsible for the outsourcing rather than hapless workers who seize upon one of the few opportunities for a good job in their impoverished nation?

Fri Nov 18 08:46:44 PST 2005

Establishment Media at It Again

This morning OPB radio carried a segment on a recent opinion poll of Oregonians. One question revealed the encouraging trend that increasing number of folks are coming to the conclusion that the US should “mind its own business” or words to that effect.

This gets portrayed not as anti-imperialism or anti-militarism, but “isolationism,” perhaps the single most unflattering word in the English language which they could have selected. Everyone remembers reading about the isolationists who didn’t want to fight Hitler in their public-school history books.

I saw the next propaganda ploy coming by a country mile: to put the icing on the cake, they then followed up with a history of isolationism in Oregon, giving prominent coverage to its genesis at a time when the Ku Klux Klan controlled the state government in the 1920’s.

Completely absent was mention of another thread in Oregon politics, such as this state being the home of not just one but two of the Senate’s most vocal opponents of the Vietnam War. Or how Oregon has been a hotbed of opposition to the Iraq debacle from the very beginning, and was one of the few states where the majority of its congresscritters voted against the Iraq war resolution.

Cute. So if someone answers a single “yes/no” question because they desire to give voice to their dislike of imperialism, they end up getting painted as a racist cretin.

I hang up on political pollsters because most of their questions distill complex issues down to simple “yes/no” responses and are worded in a way that answering either way buys into bourgeois pro-establishment premises. Now I have yet another reason to simply put down the receiver.

Fri Nov 18 10:01:42 PST 2005

Falluja: Even Worse Than I Thought?

I recently commented on the hollow nature of the occupiers' protestations of how civilians weren't targeted. The reality may be even worse. There's a number of reports out there (such as these two) of all military age males in the city being proclaimed combatants and prevented from leaving prior to the assault on the city.

I've not managed to locate any direct eyewitness accounts of males being prevented from leaving the city, but such behavior is not unprecedented on the part of the US military; similar tactics were used in the occupation of the Philippines a century ago.

Fri Nov 25 08:42:25 PST 2005

A Nice Thanksgiving

I didn’t have anything explicitly planned. Several days ago a friend asked in a mailing list somewhat plaintively if anyone had anything planned for the holidays. That was my inspiration to invite anyone who wanted over to my place for brunch. My open invitation then inspired someone else to extend an invitation to his place for dinner, with the caveat that it wasn’t going to be anything fancy.

So the exact same group of four ended up having brunch in the together then dinner together a few hours later. No fuss, no muss, no silly dysfunctional bickering and grumbling like which plagues so many biological family get-togethers.

Fri Nov 25 08:48:24 PST 2005

A Wikipedia To-Do Item

This article needs some fixing. With all the descriptions on how Jack London botched many of the particulars of future events, it overlooks his prescience on a certain big-picture item. So far as I know, The Iron Heel is the first time anyone predicted the evolution of the political system we now refer to as fascism.

Mainstream commentators make the a similar, and perhaps even larger mistake when they critique Rosa Luxemburg’s Junius Pamphlet, making rhetorical hay of her famed “socialism or barbarism” dichotomy: the “socialism” she wanted and said was so necessary back in 1915 never arrived, and where’s the barbarism? They overlook a number of points:

Which all seems pretty much in line with what actually happened. Who could argue that the Third Reich and the World War II are anything but the very worst instances of barbarism the planet has ever seen? Sure, she got lots of the particulars wrong, but her big picture was shockingly correct.

Mon Nov 28 13:43:01 PST 2005

Well, This Sucks

One regret I have about my current home is that it’s too close to a very busy street. As time goes on, I really have grown to resent the noise and stink of all the cars on nearby Burnside St.

I have mostly myself to blame for this. I made a choice to own rather than rent, in a market where renting made more monetary sense. Thus, it was difficult to find a reasonably-priced condo as nice as the apartment I was in. I eventually succeeded: my current home is about as nice as the place I left. Yes, it’s noisier, but it’s also larger and it has a view.

But as I already said, the noise factor has really started to grate on me. At this point, I’d be happier trading the view for some quiet. So having to relocate is, in a sense, an opportunity to make this trade-off. If I have to endure the supreme hassle of moving, at least I can get some payoff for it.

I’ve spent the past several days looking at apartment listings in Seattle. I went to the City of Seattle’s street classification maps page and downloaded an arterial map. I was disappointed at how almost none of the older buildings I prefer are on quiet streets. Then I started checking all apartments, paying no attention to my preferences. With the occasional rare exception, all Seattle apartments — new or old, modest or upscale — appear to be right on or within easy earshot of busy streets.

I mentioned I have mostly myself to blame for where I currently live. That’s because Portland has no shortage of small, old buildings on side streets in quiet neighborhoods. I had a choice, I made it, I get to suffer the consequences. That’s as it should be. So although the street noise grates on me, I really can’t get that resentful: if I wanted to avoid it, I can always move elsewhere.

Now I’m resentful. This sucks. And it appears to be a uniquely Seattle form of suckiness — I’m personally very familiar with the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and Portland. All four have no shortage of apartments on quiet streets in quiet neighborhoods.

Not only does it suck, it’s a perverse injustice. I hate cars. I hate consumerism. I hate car culture. I don’t participate in car culture, for that matter. Moreover, I hate lawn work. Why should I be the one compelled to live with the noise and stink of the of something I almost never use?

If anything, arterials should be routed primarily through streets of single-family homes. Let those who use cars the most live with their noise and exhaust.

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