October 1, 2001 (Mon)
The big news today is that our satellite dish and TiVo system were
installed. Yes, yes, decadent and bourgeois it is, but TiVos have
just dropped in price. Faced with the horrors of continuing to pay
for Claremont's awful cable (which, you'll recall, not only has an
extremely limited channel selection and horrible reception, but also
makes it next to impossible to watch one program and tape another), or
paying a bit more and getting a vast number of channels, plus the
ability to tape two programs and watch a third, plus all the
deep coolness of the TiVo system itself, it wasn't that hard a choice.
Anyway, it's in. We were a bit disappointed because it could only use
one satellite connection out of the box, which meant that we couldn't
record some obscure program that sounded sort of interesting on
Cartoon Network because we were recording Crossing
Jordan on NBC (which I haven't made up my mind about.
Upsides include: Jill Hennessy and Miguel Ferrer, who I like; and it's
another coroner show. Downsides: Hennessy's character is awfully Ally
McBeal-like (but angry instead of desperate); the office looks more
like the office in Ally McBeal than the one in
Quincy, M.E.; do we really need another show set in
Boston?). We also couldn't watch anything else live while the TiVo
Some poking around on the web led me to discover that the dual-tuner
functionality required a software update, and that that update could
occur anytime before the end of November. Yikes!
Luckily, I kind of forced the issue by making the machine do its daily
call for the third time that day, and it spend an inordinate time
downloading the update, then installing. I made it reboot, followed
the instructions to activate the second tuner, and viola! we
had the full functionality. An additional plus—the things I'd
scheduled to record that had triggered problem notices were no longer
Now all we have to do is wait for enough television worth recording to
be recorded so that we have a pool of stuff to watch while the TiVo
records other programs.
Oh, one other downside to the satellite service: None of them
apparently carry UPN. Now, ordinarily, I wouldn't care. Once
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ended, I wouldn't have missed
UPN at all. But they snagged Buffy and
Roswell, and while I could easily live without
Roswell, no Buffy would be a problem. So
we're going to be taping Buffy the old-fashioned way—off a broadcast signal—until UPN or the satellite people get their
October 2, 2001 (Tue)
issue of Bruce Schneier's Crypto-Gram is well worth reading for
his informed and intelligent views on airport and airline security,
biometrics, the failure of the intelligence community, and the
importance of protecting civil rights, in addition to his usual good
sense on encryption issues.
If you're not sure why putting face-recognition cameras everywhere is
a waste of money and energy, and what other alternatives there are for
dealing with the real issues, now's your chance to learn.
Here's the text of a letter I just sent to Senators Boxer and
Feinstein and Congressman Dreier via the ACLU's free send-a-FAX
The events of September 11 were tragic and horrible. Thousands of
people died at the hands of an unknown foe. But the ultimate success
or failure of those attacks from the terrorists' perspective depends
on the actions taken by the American government in the name of its
The American government can act hastily or with deliberation. The
military can attack ill-defined targets immediately, perhaps
increasing support for the terrorists, or it can wait until enough
evidence has been collected and verified before making decisive,
limited, strikes to capture or kill the perpetrators and their direct
In much the same way, Congress can act with haste and desperation,
stunting or destroying the civil liberties of its citizens in the name
of doing something now, or it can take a deep breath, acknowledge
the importance of our society's core values, and act deliberately and
Absolute safety is an impossible goal—America will always have its
enemies, both internal and external, and those enemies may be able to
surprise even the best prepared law-enforcement and intelligence
agencies. Restricting the civil liberties of American citizens and
international immigrants and visitors will not, ultimately, reduce
The attacks have made it clear that law-enforcement and intelligence
agencies need guidance from Congress to help them focus on the real
threats and to use the tools they already have efficiently. Despite
the vast amount of information these agencies had access to without
some of the proposals currently before Congress, they were unable to
predict and stop the attacks.
I also believe it is vital that any and all legislative proposals on
these issues must be debated in public, and should include input from
both experts and members of the general public. Please don't succumb
to the corrosive proposals presented as “quick fixes”. The damage
that can be done by such proposals could take years to repair, and may
lead us down the road to destruction.
Although I am disturbed by the calls for increased surveillance
cameras, random searches by authorities, and a national identity card,
all of which have obvious problems and dangers, I am most disturbed by
calls for the slackening of restrictions on wiretapping of telephonic
and Internet communications and for the increase of restriction on
There is no evidence in the public domain that the terrorists who
perpetrated the September 11 attacks used encryption. Indeed, the
evidence I am familiar with makes it clear that they did not. Nor is
there any reason to believe that the current wiretap rules would have
hindered an investigation had law enforcement requested them.
Please carefully consider the dangers of granting sweeping powers to
law-enforcement agencies in the name of safety when there is no
evidence that such powers will have any significant positive effect on
creating a safer world, and may instead create a much darker, less
open, and less American society for all of us.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and watching your actions in
Congress on this important matter.
I strongly recommend that everyone—U.S. citizen or not—do the
same. Help Congress understand that sacrificing America's core values
is letting terrorists win. Assuming you're not reading this in an
ancient archive, you can click on the annoying flashy button to get to the right
place on their site quickly.
[I hacked the page to create my own categories for the two senators,
who apparently insist that all correspondence be labelled with their
labels, but don't provide a label for anti-terrorist legislation or
the events of September 11; you may want to do the same. It's easy:
simply save the page to your local machine, then open it in an editor.
Scroll down to where the drop-down lists are defined, and add a new
one. I suggest something like
More trivially, TiVo is cool, but video wiring is evil.
You probably already knew that.
Also: tonight is the Buffy season premiere.
October 3, 2001 (Wed)
Bits and pieces of my computer are starting to trickle in—the RAM
arrived yesterday, the monitor, USB printer cable, and a “free”
printer I didn't want (and will donate to someone at least
semi-worthy) should arrive tomorrow. If we're really lucky, the
computer itself might arrive on Friday.
I actually had to pay for it yesterday; charged it on my card, that
is. We'd planned to put it on M's card, but WAMU's bozo credit-card
affiliate bank is run by idiots. First, because M has “no credit
history” (because she didn't grow up here, and the giant corporations
can only shuffle information across borders for their benefit, not
yours—note that her Canadian Blockbuster and Safeway cards work
just fine down here in Lalaland), she has a pathetically tiny credit
limit. Nevermind what her salary is, she has a card that your average
teenager could max out in a week on clothes, shoes, and fast food
alone. So she talked to them about alternatives, and they assured her
that if she needed to make a big purchase, she could put a bunch of
money in her account (building up a credit balance, you see), and then
buy the thing. Only they lied. Apple charged her card, and the
bank's computer said, “Oh, no, no credit left, so sorry!” and denied
the charge. After arguing with several people at increasing levels of
power, they basically said that's the way it is and that's all there
is and we'll send you your money back via check. Which will take one
to two weeks. Uh-huh. I think it's AmEx time. If they charged her
again for “going over her credit limit”, WAMU may be kissing our
banking business goodbye, too.
I'm about at the point where I can't listen to NPR at all. I shouldn't really be
surprised, but NPR is every bit as jingoistic as every other media
outlet. It's clear that the media is just champing at the bit for an
all-out terrorist bombing campaign, or at least a good government
crackdown on commie-pinko scum like those people in the ACLU, EFF, PFAW, and so on.
From what I can tell, the military and the Bush administration are
being relatively careful about what they say and do. They aren't
actually sharing any real evidence that Osama bin Laden was
responsible, although doing so would be much more likely to get
cooperation from various countries, but they also haven't nuked
anyone, shot cruise missiles at anyone, carpet bombed anyone, or sent
in ground troops to rape, pillage, and murder anyone.
But the media is busy imagining threats around every corner, and
claiming that the government is on the verge of doing those things.
It's especially disturbing in a third-rate burg like L.A. (hey, I
still haven't been downtown, so all I have to go on is the local news
media, and they're cheesier than the people in my hometown), where the
“entertainment industry” is busy ducking and covering despite no
obvious threats. No more studio audiences. Moving awards shows to
areas without other businesses. Cancelling shows with dramatic
potential and films that are “too violent” (because the terrorists
were inspired by Hollywood, I guess). The initial crackdown in the
city—putting the police on “tactical alert” and crippling LAX—was particularly pathetic. As if there are any targets here worth
crashing a plane into. The closest thing would be Disney, and aside
from the loss of life (which would still probably be much less than
the WTC or the Pentagon), who would miss it? Probably not even
Disney, who would be presented with a clean slate to build an all new
theme park on, free of the remains of Walt's original vision.
Anyway, I was complaining about NPR. I find that I can only listen
for an hour or so before someone says something so stupid that I have
to turn the radio off. You know what I mean. Things like, “They
should take away everyone's rights if it'll make me feel
safer,” or, “George W. is so eloquent,” or, “If only we'd
banned encryption and had a wiretap on every telephone and a Carnivore
box in every ISP, this thing [alternatively, “the tragic events of
September 11”] never would have happened.”
Alan Cox says it all in
post to the W3C Patent Policy list. (If you didn't know, the W3C apparently tried to pull a fast one
by slipping a new policy allowing the integration of various patented
IP into their supposedly open standards. Seems that some of the big
corps aren't happy with having to compete with smaller companies and,
gosh!, open source developers.)
Via Ars Technica.
article to learn how to survive a building collapse. Summary:
Don't dive under furniture—it'll be smashed flat when the
floor(s) above fall on it, and you'll be squished. Instead, dive for
cover next to some large, heavy, stable object—when the
debris hits, the object may or may not collapse, but there should be a
triangular space next to it where you can survive. (Really, it'd be a
triangular solid, but hey.)
Via Rebecca's Pocket.
In some ways, having the TiVo is making it very clear just how little
there is to watch on TV these days. We're mostly recording old
Buffy episodes, along with a tiny handful of current
shows (e.r., The West Wing, various
Law & Order incarnations, etc.). While it's cool to
have the Cartoon Network,
they aren't showing much that's really that exciting, either; although
I'm giving Cowboy Bebop, and Outlaw Star (which
is apparently chopped to
bits in its Cartoon Network version—scary), and Samurai
Jack (I have mixed feelings about Genndy Tartakovsky's stuff—I don't like Dexter's Lab at all) a chance, I'm not
convinced I'll actually bother. (OTOH, getting The Powerpuff
Girls back is a Good Thing.™)
New discoveries include Errol Morris's (weird documentary) show, First
Person on the Independent
Film Channel, and, well, that's pretty much it. More channels
does not necessarily equate to more worthwhile programming. Not that
it ever has.
BBC America is a
huge disappointment. M and I were expecting to be able to
documentaries and the like, but, no, BBCA shows the same crappy
British sitcoms you can get on any PBS station. There are good
British sitcoms and dramas, and British documentaries tend to be first
rate, but they don't seem to get much play here in the States,
presumably because some market research has shown that Americans are
too dumb for the documentaries (try comparing the original UK versions
of documentaries that are shown as Nova episodes
sometime), and don't understand the humour in the comedies. The
dramas make it through to Masterpiece Theatre (if they're
based on Jane Austen or Wilkie Collins novels) and
Mystery! (if they're mysteries), but it's very rare to
see a UK drama set in contemporary times.
I realized this morning just how bad VHS recordings are, especially
when they're made in extended play mode. We've rented (and bought) a
few DVDs since getting the iBook, and now we have a satellite dish.
The picture really is crystal clear, even during playback from the
TiVo (which is saving the original digital signal, rather than
converting analog signals to digital, and then reconverting them, so
it's just like watching a direct feed from the dish).
We're already starting to use up some of the space on the TiVo,
though, with two old Buffys and this week's
Angel, so I decided to try the “Save to VCR” option and
tape the Angel episode. At the start of the playback,
the TiVo shows a black screen with white text identifying the show,
episode title, length of recording, actor list, and description, along
with some other information. That looks great in the original form,
but playing it back from tape shows the limits of VHS recordings: the
text is blurry, jittery, and just plain nasty.
October 5, 2001 (Fri)
Damn. The totally awesome postcard shop in North Beach (SF) is
closing, thanks in part to the Internet or perhaps the lame people who
took over San Francisco during the dot-com boom. The store was
amazing, thousands of postcards, magnets, and other wacky collectible
things that were kitschy and fun. Many of them were
downright weird, too.
Via Red Rock Eater mailing list.
Learn about the diabolical theory of “regulatory takings” and its incorporation
into the NAFTA. The basic idea here is that when a government
passes some regulation that costs a business money (real or
projected), the government must, under the fifth amendment to the
U.S. Constitution, compensate the business for its losses. Back in
1905, this argument was used by the Supreme Court in the
Lochner decision, which said that a New York State law
imposing a ten-hour day and safer work conditions for bakers violated
the bakery owners' property rights.
And that theory is back, courtesy of Richard Epstein and some
conservative groups (including those five noble Justices who pulled a
coup d'etat last year).
Via Red Rock Eater mailing list.
Speaking of the Justices, John Dean has a new book, The
Rehnquist Choice, that tells the story of Richard Nixon's
nomination of William Rehnquist (currently Chief Justice) to the
Court. Salon has an
interview with Dean.
Nixon continues to be one of the most evil men in the twentieth
century, although he's managed to elude that label better than almost
any other candidate. I feel so privileged to know he's in the ground
just a few miles away....
Via Red Rock Eater mailing list.
October 8, 2001 (Mon)
The new computer arrived Friday evening (apparently the driver had to
make a delivery in Irvine, three hours out of his way). It's shiny,
it's pretty, and it's worthless from my point of view. Mac OS X is
essentially a completely different operating system from Linux, and—no real surprise—most of the plain ol' command-line tools I use
everyday under Linux are not available by default on Mac OS X. Some
of them have been ported, but not very many of them, and so far I'm
not terribly impressed by the porting of the ones I've used (e.g.,
less, which is essentially useless without the
lesspipe script that allows you to look at compressed
files without uncompressing them first).
So, basically, the thing is a Mac, and other than Mac applications,
the only thing the machine offers me that useful on a day-to-day basis
is a choice of two standards-compliant Web browsers. Right now, I'm
completely disgusted, and ready to give up on it altogether for a year
or two, until they actually get some stuff of the stuff I need
Along the same vein, I'm generally feeling pretty sick and tired of
computers (not to mention the “real world”), and I'm taking a break
for a while. See you when the world changes dramatically in a
positive direction, I've recovered some perspective, been heavily
medicated, or am shocked and horrified by something new so much that I
have to say something.
In the meantime, check out some of the blogs listed in the column on
the right (at this writing), and be sure to check in on the Red Rock Eater
list for more good coverage of lots of things I generally care