The Blob

Saturday, January 04, 2003

Blue like I've never seen it before.

To understand me is to know that sleep is my friend. On a Saturday, if I can get away with it, four horses could not drag me out of bed. But during the week, I'm up early. And despite being deprived of my morning Starbucks until a bit later, walking outside on a southern California dawn is worth the effort. Especially yesterday.

The pre-dawn glow was just amazing. The sky was a turquoise like I've never seen before. And I've been witness to thousands of sunrises. The clouds above were painted these incredible hues of red, orange and pink. The colors of sunrise are fleeting, lasting but a few minutes. But for those who drag their butts out to greet the new day are rewarded for it.

If I only had the mental faculties to have grabbed my digital camera as I walked out. But I didn't. As it was, this explosion of color came and went all too quickly. But I will remember it the rest of my life. It's frustrating to try to describe verbally colors, hues and a glow that goes beyond what words can describe. And there is a loneliness in not being able to share it with anyone else. But if you don't get up to greet the new day, set your clock a bit earlier. Trust me. It's well worth it.

Friday, January 03, 2003

To the moon, Alice.

Norton.That word really pickles my beets. In its collective IT (that's Information Technology for you non-geeks) wisdom, our corporate ubergeeks decreed that we needed to change over from McAfee, the anti-virus program we've been using to Symantec Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition. It would be very simple, they told us - when we logged in this week, an automated script would do the uninstall/installation of Norton, and after that, our corporate workers' paradise would become The Happiest Place On Earth.

If you believe that, I've got some Enron stock I'd like to sell you.

Instead, it turned into the installation from Hell. I tried at least a dozen times and kept getting this nifty "Error 1920." (That's what I love about Windows - error codes are so very understandable. It's the kind of thing that only a polyester-shirt dweeb could love.) I then sought help from some of the folks in IT support. Two days passed and attempts by two different people failed. We tried taking my laptop off the network, and even logged in with the IT people's own administrator passwords.

Nothing worked.

About 40 attempts and two days later, we finally got Norton installed. And I'm the lucky one. Apparently, some others running Windoze 98 have had their machines totally hosed. And Norton is by Symantec, one of the largest software companies around. Go figure. Something is definitely rotten in Denmark.

Which leads me to an idea. I'm going to start my own software company and create a new product, The Kramden Utilities. That way, if Norton gets outta line, Bang! Zoom!

Maybe now you understand why I use a Mac at home. It just plain works.

A fun little film for you.

I came across this little promo video for the Edinburgh International Film Festival. It's clever. Enjoy.

Just Java and me.

I'll admit it: I've been having an affair for 6 years. And my wife approves. Okay, let me explain about this tryst with my girlfriend: I'm madly in love with Java, our cat. No, silly, it's not that kind of love, but the stupid, head-over-heels love any decent human feels toward their pet. She's such a magical little animal with so much personality, it's simply impossible not to love her.

There's nothing like coming home to your dog or cat, knowing that they're on the other side of the door, desperately waiting for you to come in. You can't put a price on the greeting we get every night when we come home. And my wife understands if Java snuggles up with one of the two of us at night, especially if it's me. It's not surprising to wake up at 4 AM and realize that this 12 lb. cat has somehow managed to move me to the edge of the bed, and gotten me to curl myself around her, keeping her warm and happy.

Just how does she manage to do that?

And since she was a little kitten, we've brushed her every morning when we take a shower. No morning goes by without her jumping on our bathroom counter, eagerly waiting to be brushed. (We started it when she first encountered fleas. The little pests are long gone, thanks to Advantage, but the tradition remains.) She gets so very excited and purrs like a Ferrari at idle. To see her tilt and push her head to and fro to get me to brush her in a particular area is hilarious. And when she's really happy, she'll stand on her hind legs and give my head a hug with her paws. It never fails to melt my heart.

I'm such a softie. She has me wrapped around her little paw.

Life on the edge of nature.

Our house may have a small yard, or almost no yard, as is the tradition of greedy southern California developers. But we still consider ourselves lucky. The reason: our house backs up to a large hill that is all county land. Ergo, behind our house is nothing but nature.

We love that. It's like having Wild Kingdom at our back door. In a recent blog, I described how a sharp-shinned hawk silently swooped down and almost snared Java, our beloved Ocicat, while I was walking her in our back patio. And this morning, I looked out our kitchen window at a young adult coyote walking behind our house. It was one of those moments I really enjoy: not even 10 feet from me, the coyote and I exchanged looks for over a minute before he trotted on. He might be a predator, but we're worlds apart, the human world and the animal kingdom separated by a low wall that is the border of our property. He looked healthy, but sad. So long as he brings no harm to our kitten, we would never bring harm to him. Part of me wanted to help him, but doing so would be his undoing. So I could take solace in the moment we shared, and wished him well.

He won't need the luck. By the many calls I hear at night right behind our house, I can tell he's a good hunter.

We're so lucky to have a world of nature behind our home. Every dawn brings something new. And it is a reminder to us that we have the responsibility to support this. In fact, we all do.

I knew it.

If you haven't heard the news, famed astrologer Sydney Omarr died today at 76. I predicted this.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

What would Steve say?

Let the games begin. It’s that time of year again. The dawn of each New Year brings out the optimism in us, with boundless prognostications of a bright future, resolutions to do better and a certain excitement in greeting the unknown and would could be. I’m not just talking about regular predictions for 2003, but more to the point, the frothing insanity of rumors, speculation and just plain hype that precedes the semi-annual address on Tuesday morning, January 7 by that master of time and space himself, Steve Jobs, iCEO of Apple Computer.

I’m talking about the opening keynote from the January MacWorld Conference, of course. If you’re clueless about what I mean, just do some Web surfing at sites like It will become immediately apparent that you’ve entered a world this side of that which Alice fell into. It’s one where ordinary objects suddenly grow in size to unimaginable proportions. A place where ordinary mortals become foaming maniacs, driven by their insatiable appetite for the next great new thing.

It’s all so much fun that even the PC wonks get in the act.

It all started innocently. Things like this always do. If you’ve never viewed a Steve Jobs speech, you’ve missed something. Quite simply, Steve Jobs is a riveting speaker, a cross between an old-fashioned tent revival evangelist with Anthony Robbins on steroids. Affectionately referred to as the master of the reality-distortion field, Steve Jobs could make an announcement of a zoning ordinance change sound downright fascinating. And an hour of his latest new product announcements at MacWorld is enough to whip a crowd of true believers into a complete frenzy. The guy is that good.

It’s the days leading up to the big event that the drumbeat of rumors and wild anticipation of what Steve might say that whips the Mac community into an orgasm of anticipation on what could be. It’s not enough to hope for a computer speed bump, a few new features and some software updates. In today’s lousy computer market economy, that would be reasonable. But not with the Mac crowd. No, they expect BIG things to get announced every time, the kind of earth-shattering, revolutionary introductions that suddenly make everything that came before it so very yesterday. We’re talkin’ 10ghz super-processors, Intel-driven SuperMacs, OS-12, Bluetooth everything, iSupersoftware that can change colors, not to mention the world, a new super PDA/Cell Phone and that “oh-and-one-more-thing…” something else that Steve has up his sleeve.

The fun is that the closer we get to the big day, the more insane the hype, speculation and rumors. It’s not so much what will be announced that is important, but how much the all-consuming rumor brushfire can turn into a complete hype-driven firestorm in a matter of days. Instead of the players on the field, the spectators become the sport itself. Even the proper computer news media gets into the act. The downside, of course, is that Steve can’t live up to the expectations and all the hype. So more and more, each year becomes a larger disappointment.

But if you put what Steve actually says aside, sit back, crack open a tall cool one and watch the action. The next couple of days should be a lot of fun.

Personally, that rumored Apple PDA/Phone would be a gas. But I’ll have none of it. I’ll just be happy to see the maestro himself deliver yet another fun talk. Time to get the popcorn ready.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

What a tradition. The Tournament of Noses Parade.

If you missed this morning’s telecast of the annual Tournament of Noses (well, okay, Roses) Parade, you really missed something. If you’re like me, you’ve seen it, done it, been there. It’s too wholesome for its own good, so very yesterday.

Except this year. Today’s parade totally rocked.

No doubt, you were sleeping off a hangover, but this year’s parade really got with the program. Yes, there were the usual marching bands, horses and floats, but there was much more. First, the US Air Force band played, highlighted by a flyover by two F-115 Stealth Fighters and a B-2 Stealth Bomber. For my money, that was pretty cool. But what none of us expected to see was the simulated nuclear bombing of Baghdad, using the nearby town of Altadena as ground zero. Intense.

Then there were the corporate floats. Frankly, I was shocked to see entries from both Enron, ImClone, Marth Stewart and Tyco. But there they were. The Tyco float featured a large image of Dennis Koslowski running with the money, all in a chorus of flowers. What excited the crowd was as Dennis took the money and ran, dollar bills spewed out of his briefcase, causing people to scramble on the street. For my money (oops), it was pretty impressive PR. The Enron float (whose theme was We're only in it for the money) featured Jeff Skilling and Andrew Fastow flipping everybody off, all in a dazzling array of roses in various shades. The combined ImClone/Martha Stewart float had the theme of Only little people get convicted, a kind of It's a small world from Hell.

But wait! There’s more!! Much to my surprise, the best float by far was from the adult film industry, Celebrating 75 Years of Hard-Core Porn. The float was incredible. How the people who build those things could create in flowers the 8 people depicted on the float doing what they did was a marvel of mechanical engineering. It featured this 40-foot woman (beautifully rendered in roses, azaleas and gardenias) throbbing up and down…well, you just should have seen it. I was amazed that the Tournament organizers would allow such a float, but hey – times are changing. The float was very popular with the crowd, although many parents covered their kids’ eyes.

Finally, one of the more popular floats was from one of the large banks. Titled What we’ll do to bin Laden once we catch the little bastard, it was a very realistic representation of torture techniques but beautifully done in exquisite tropical flowers. Listening to Stephanie Edwards and Bob Eubanks doing the play-by-play, you could tell they really liked that one.

I really should have made the trek to Pasadena this year for it. Once upon a time, I did.

Recollections of Past Parades.
When I was in school at the famous Art Center College of Design, I rented some really cheap photo studio space in Old Town Pasadena, right above a XXX book store and a dive bar. (And no, I never went to either. Ever.) At the time, it was anything but a good part of town, but we needed cheap space to do our tabletop still live commercial advertising photos, and it gave us a great view of the Rose Parade. Today, Old Town is a lot different. The sleazeball bookstore and dive bar are long gone, replaced by a Gap store. A new Apple Store is opening across the street next week. Times have changed.

A bunch of us would hunker down in our studio the night before, armed to the teeth with champagne and squirt guns. If you haven’t been to Pasadena, CA on New Year’s Eve, it’s the mirror image of what you see on TV the following morning. It’s Party Central. Almost a million people lined the streets, totally out of control. Our studio (which we rechristened The Texas School Book Depository for the night) had three windows, giving us an unobstructed squirt gun free fire zone on the drunks below. Working in close coordination, we would pick out a particularly obnoxious drunk, and about 7 or 8 of us would train a withering stream of fire on the jerk. It was hours of fun.

We also figured out how to make money at the expense of the drunken revelers. In a spurt of reckless imagination during my second year at Art Center, we pooled our money and went to Trader Joes, an incredible outlet for comestibles and alcoholic beverages to stock up on vast quantities of champagne at a deep discount. We loaded up an old VW Microbus full of the chilled bubbly and drove the length of Colorado Boulevard (the parade route), lined with party animals. Discreetly sliding open the VW’s big side door, we shamelessly peddled the champagne to the crowd at ridiculously inflated prices, in total disregard for local ordinances and our legal safety. The later it got, the higher the price.

Let’s just say we made off like bandits.

In my senior year at Art Center, I was asked by the Tournament organizers to be an official photographer. Weighed down with camera gear, I slowly made my way to the press stand to capture the event. A couple of images stood out in my mind. By dawn, most of the drunks and party animals retreated to pass out, or found a rock to crawl under. But a few stragglers were to be found. As I walked toward the starting line of the parade, I saw this perfect looking couple, a sort-of Barbie and Ken, but without all the plastic. The woman was simply stunning and classy. Out of the blue, a totally stoned space cadet approached her. He had obviously been partying all night, and I could almost make out the little nuts, bolts, flies and small planets that orbited around his head. Let’s just say this guy was no rocket scientist, someone whose potential for upward mobility was severely limited. He looked her up and down, stared at her from point blank and said, “Lady, you got nice buns.” It was truly a Kodak moment.

Just to give you a sense of the times, it was 1980 and we had hostages in Iran. At the time, the US military was hardly in high regard by most college students. But I could tell America was turning a corner. Literally. Photographing from the press stand above a large crowd of rowdy college students (many who had been partying all the night before), I saw the US Marine Corps marching band turn onto Colorado Boulevard to head down the main length of the parade route. I was expecting the party animals to give the Marines a nasty reception.

But I was wrong.

Instead, the crowd went insane. People who had but months before been anti-war peaceniks had overnight turned into hawks. They started screaming and cheering, yelling for the bloody head of the Ayatollah Kouhmeni on a platter. It was amazing. Times were changing.

If you get the chance, make the trek to Pasadena. But just watch where you step if you’re crossing the parade route. Those horses can um, well, leave quite a mess.

Everybody loves a clone.

The good thing about the Raelians is that you can't make stuff like this up. It's proof that truth is stranger than fiction. Leave it to a cult group to make an outrageous announcement that they have produced the first clone baby, and the media will come in droves.

I've got to remember this trick for my next PR campaign.

There's just one problem though: the Raelians missed the boat by a long shot. They are hardly the first people to create a human clone. It's true. In fact, cloning happens at least once in every 8,000 births. Does this mean that there are millions of people that are the progeny of space aliens? Hardly, unless you read my favorite tabloid, the Weekly World News.

But I'm serious about the number of clone babies that are born each year. Who are they? There's a logical explanation: one in every 8,000 births produces identical twins.

Think about it.

Unlike the first attempt by the Raelians or some other group of mad scientists, identical twins have a much better shot at being born without serious defects. Even the man who successfully cloned Dolly the sheep will explain that it took over 200 attempts before they were able to create a successful birth. And even then, poor Dolly is aging prematurely and has a number of defects.

We have a long way to go before we can successfully play with mother nature. Unfortunately, I doubt that the press will discuss that. So maybe it's time to send in the clones.

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

My new year's resolutions

Ahem. Okay, here goes:

I resolve to never take a day for granted.
I resolve to floss regularly.
I resolve to love my wife every day like it was our wedding day.
I resolve to play with my kitten every day.
I resolve to remember my family and my friends.
I resolve to do something good for people who never expected it.
I resolve to make a stranger smile or laugh every day.
I resolve to listen more and talk less.
I resolve to cheat on my taxes.
I resolve to get even with people who screwed me over in unique and clever ways.
I resolve to moon somebody next year.
I resolve to go skinny dipping.
I resolve to play practical jokes. And cause a viral wave of laughter whenever possible.
I resolve to plant a tree to honor each of my late parents.
I resolve to change the world (even if it's something very small).
I resolve to write blogs worth reading.
I resolve to actually lose weight (and not just resolve to do it).
I resolve to go through the agony and ecstacy of taking up riding my bike again seriously.
I resolve to have my investments actually make money.
I resolve to save money so we won't have to eat cat food when we're 80 years old.
I resolve to have more fun.
I resolve to work to live, not live to work.
I resolve to outlive Osama bin Laden and his twisted ideas.
And I resolve to be a benefit to the world, not just another number.

What are your resolutions?

Monday, December 30, 2002

Rant-O-Matic: Parity. It's all that I ask.

At work, I work on a Dull PC. At home, I happily use an Apple Mac running OS-X. It's a great operating system and a wonderful computer to use. It's powerful, built like tank and does not crash. So why can't sites like Blogger give us Mac users some parity?

A case in point: when I log into to create my latest updates, the feature set for the PC is twice that of the Mac. In the PC version, you can access spell check, automated html hyperlinks, a greater feature set and a few more bells and whistles, none of which is available for the Mac. What could be so hard about this?

OS-X runs on UNIX, the precursor and first cousin to Linux. It's pretty open source stuff. So why do all the bells and whistles get offered exclusively for PCs only? Yes, I can do pretty much the same things on the Mac by going into the html code and doing it myself. But explain to me why this should not be possible for us Mac users, especially if we are paying customers.

A little parity. Please. Is that too much to ask?

A great Christmas tradition

Oh, holy night. Our Christmas was spent quietly at home, with me trying to shake off the remains of the flu (courtesy of a flu shot) and my wife nursing a cold. Not having much more energy than to take cold medicine and sip tea, we scanned the cable channels for uplifting Christmas content. And find it we did: on Bravo, we came across what is quickly becoming a family tradition (which puts a twist on the word family): A Godfather trilogy marathon.

Nothing says Christmas better than a night of malevolent Mafia cinema. It makes me feel so very....ruthless. And isn't that what Christmas is all about?

Still, I have to hand it to Francis Ford Coppella. Godfather I and II were great films. Violent, bloody, yes, but it is a "family" movie after all. It's what the holidays are all about.

What America needs now: Really bad television.

While the headline above sounds like an oxymoron, please hear me out. If you’re like me, you’re sick of reality TV shows, bad sitcoms and other video garbage. (But a friend recently pitched a concept that I did like: When Idiots Attack, a reality trash TV show to be aired on Fox that would portray the activities of many of the jerks that we work for every day. Terrifying.)

On the other hand, when it comes to really bad TV, I get nostalgic and wistfully pine for the days of shows like Sea Hunt. Now, for those of you born to Generation X or beyond, you sadly missed something. Sea Hunt was this wonderfully tacky black and white TV show from the late 50s/early 60s starring Lloyd Bridges (yes, it’s Jeff Bridges dad) as a skin diver who regularly battled creatures from the unknown, or just plain bad guys, all in sea water. Every week Lloyd somehow managed to triumph, even though his air regulator hose would always get slashed. The special effects were hilarious. Watching the bulky old aqualungs was an experience. Seeing ol' Lloyd duke it out with a giant squid (tenticles a go-go) was a blast. And just listening to the overly dramatic horrors of the deep theme music was classic.

I remember being about 7 years old and absolutely cracking up watching the show. And it was supposed to be serious. Which leads me to a point: never underestimate the cynical smarts of a child. They totally get it, even if we don’t.

So for the max in my television entertainment dollar, give me paper-thin dialogue and schmaltzy scripts in black and white any day. Just watch an old re-run of Sky King, The Lone Ranger or Sergeant Preston of the Yukon to see what I mean. The worse it is, the better it is. Just don’t forget the popcorn.

A lesson in the laws of nature

The other morning, my wife was watching the world outside our kitchen window with Java, our Ocicat. As Java sat on our kitchen cutting table, my wife stood by her, both of them looking out at the birds feeding on our back patio.

"Look at that cute little house finch," my wife said as Java looked on with her at the innocent little bird. With that, out of the blue, a young sharp shinned hawk swooped down right in front of them, grabbed the house finch in its talons, and not even slowing down, flew off with its catch. The house finch was gone forever. The poor little bird never knew what hit him. Cruel, but merciful.

Needless to say, both my wife and kitten were horrified. But we also accept that this is nature at work, and that the beautiful hawk has to survive, just like the sparrow. Nature is not always pretty, and we criticize ourselves for living in a rotoscope cartoon world. Living as close as we do to nature is an education in itself.

Here we go again

More proof of human intolerance and hatred for what some of us can't and don't want to understand:

3 U.S. missionaries slain in Yemen

JIBLA, Yemen, Dec. 30 — MSNBC News — A gunman described by authorities as a Muslim extremist entered a Baptist missionary hospital early Monday and opened fire on American employees attending a staff meeting, killing three and seriously wounding a fourth. The killer was able to sneak a rifle into the building by hiding it under his coat “as if he were cradling a baby,” Jerry Rankin, president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, said at a news conference in Richmond, Va.

The suspected attacker, a Yemeni identified as Ali Abdul Razak Kamel was arrested moments after the shooting at Jibla Baptist Hospital, Rankin said.

A Yemeni official told Reuters that Kamel, 30, told police he shot the Americans because they were Christian missionaries and he wanted to “cleanse his religion and get closer to God.”

The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, on its Web site, described the hospital in Jibla as an 80-bed facility that “provides medical care for a wide area of the country.” It said in addition to their work at the hospital, missionaries taught English and clinical skills at a nearby Yemeni nursing school.

Rankin said that the missionaries were “very respectful” of Yemen’s largely Muslim populace and were prohibited from attempting to convert Yemenis to Christianity.


This is sad. Killing innocent people who are providing desperately needed help because they are not of Islam is clear evidence to the level of perversion that exists in the extreme end of the Muslim world. Much as I would love to see Al Queda exterminated, it is not a task that can be accomplished, at least by the west. It is up to the Muslim world itself to repudiate the indiscriminate violence that is making a mockery of Islam. That most of the Muslim world is paying tacit lipservice to this end shows that their priorities are seriously out of order. And that's putting it mildly.

We can only hope that sanity can somehow triumph over hatred, ignorance and chaos.

Memo to Osama bin Laden and his deranged followers: be careful for what you wish for. If you enjoy famine, squalor and disease, you may yet have your dreams fulfilled.