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There’s an old saying familiar to those who work in radio: Radio has the best pictures. It’s obviously a jab at television. But it’s also completely true. Since it doesn’t literally have pictures, listeners are left to imagine, and imagination is almost always better than anything that can be jammed into images. This all goes doubly so for books and reading. I was grudgingly going along with Apple’s production of Asimov’s Foundation series of books. Until they showed me the Mule. (You either know this character, or I’ve lost you.) My heart sunk.

If you explore MicroMUSE today, you’ll get a preview of the fate that awaits all of our social systems. The streets are empty, but it’s more than that: there is a palpable sense of entropy. You can query the system for a list of commands, but many of them no longer work. It’s half glitchy video game, half haunted house. Sometimes it falls offline entirely, only to return days later.

The system still speaks. You are welcomed by the transporter attendant, who gives directions to all newcomers to this space city. It cautions you: Clear communication is very important in a text-based environment…

~ Robin Sloan from, https://aeon.co/essays/before-minecraft-or-snapchat-there-was-micromuse

This article was nearly too much for me to read. That’s the Internet that was growing when I started tinkering. Today, with god-like power (from my 1994 perspective) at my fingertips, it took me 3 seconds to install a telnet client. And just a minute more to learn the answer to Sloan’s main question, “As kids, we make secret worlds – in trees, in our imaginations, even online – but can we go back to them when we’re grown?”

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Nostalgia

Longing for the past is generally referred to as nostalgia – a gentle, tender feeling that might make these stories seem like nothing more than harmless sentimentality. But it is crucial to distinguish between wistful memories of grandma’s kitchen and belief in a prior state of cultural perfection.

~ Alan Jay Levinovitz from, https://aeon.co/essays/nostalgia-exerts-a-strong-allure-and-extracts-a-steep-price

You may or may not like that particular essay; There are 2,000 others to choose from over on Aeon. I was poking around, found this one, and pinned it for later reading. Figuring out how to pin things for later reading is a huge force multiplier. When I want to read good stuff, I never spend time looking for good stuff. I just go to the pile of good stuff—twitch at the 700+ items, veer back over into “that’s an embarrassment of riches, long live the open Internet—and start reading. Hmmm… nostalgia?

I remember, back in The Day, when I used to really enjoy reading— wait, no. That’s today, and without the 20-minute car ride to the Hall of Books.

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An impression

The passage that follows is from a book I’m working on right now. I’m not sure the passage works for a Writing Wednesdays post, but what the hell, I like it and my instinct tells me to put it out there.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2022/07/the-river/

I do have certain distinctly imprinted “passages” from my own story. No, it’s not story-time today. Upon reading Pressfield’s comment (and the passage) I was left wondering what was the critical feature (or features) of my own passages which made them indelible. It certainly wasn’t receipt of accolades or actual accomplishment. It certainly wasn’t that a passage began with a grand vision or even a coherent plan.

I hope you weren’t expecting me to have an answer… this blog is, after all, just me working with the garage door up.

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Please be kind: Rewind

[We] didn’t discover his work in the theater, much less at Cannes. Rather, we found it at the video store, ideally one that devoted a section specifically to his work—or at least to his signature genre of “body horror,” which his films would in any case have dominated.

~ Colin Marshall from, https://www.openculture.com/2022/05/david-cronenberg-visits-a-video-store-talks-about-his-favorite-movies.html

Do you remember video stores? …I mean the individual stores, from before Blockbuster came along? Sections. You had to walk to the section in the store. New releases. Maybe there was a staple employee who knew every movie. Maybe you—like me—wondered if working there meant watching each movie before putting it out… what a job that would be!! Maybe there was a hand-written sign whose perennial message stands atop this missive. Maybe family movie nights? The lottery that was the occassional “doesn’t play” tape. “Tracking”—and then the magic of “Auto Tracking”. And all of that from two words: video store.

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Vignettes

I was chatting with my old friend Arthur over a continental breakfast at the Hotel Palomar.

~ Dave Pell from, https://nextdraft.com/2017/04/02/the-cell-phone-time-machine/

I’m deeply in lust for vignettes. I’ve quoted the opening of the short piece and I’m saying nothing further about it. Although, I’ll happily arrange a few more bytes about vignettes.

You see, I’m a sucker for cuts; Cuts in the sense where one visual transitions to another exactly in the way that the real world doesn’t. (With a hat tip to Douglas Adams if that last turn of phrase feels familiar.) Movies like Up, or Bicentennial Man—which I love, but most people seem to pan—or check out the “Epilogue” in the movie, Cherry, (on AppleTV. Get AppleTV for a month just to watch this movie.) I’m a sucker for Vignettes that give you just enough information for you to navigate… and leave to your own devices to pull up your own memories, and to yank on your own heart strings.

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Water pump

Have you ever worked a hand-operated water pump? I mean the outdoor, permanently installed ones for pulling up drinking water. There’s a lot of varability to them, but generally there’s a bit of pumping before there’s any fruit to the labor. In my mind, there’s also a particular sound that goes with the initial machinations.

Sometimes, when I want to create a blog post from nothing, I hear that sound. You start on that pump. Then you’d hear the sound change, you’d feel the water make the action of the pump more leaden as the amount of effort changed.

But still, no water yet. You’d lean into it a bit more. Some sounds of water now. A gurgling rising in pitch which you instinctively know means the space for air is dwindling rapidly. And at a hard to predict moment . . .

You get a blog post about water pumps when you were expecting drinking water.

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Black Friday at my house

Not only do I not shop, but I very specifically try to not spend one cent. NOT because I hate shopping—I do hate shopping. And NOT because I hate sales, mobs, false-scaricity, commercialism, consumerism—I do hate those too. No, I do it because I like people; And no people should have to work any sort of holiday chaos insanity. I digress.

But I do have a Black Friday tradition! I have a rather enormous collection of sappy holiday music. I shuffle that play list and turn it up. If you’ve never heard Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of Sleigh Ride… uh… I don’t know what to say. (Other than, go find a copy and play it.) Giddy up! Giddy up! Let’s go!!

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The TV in the other room

It may surprise you that the words keep coming even if you’re not entertaining them, just as a TV program keeps showing itself to an empty room. You can always hear it carrying on, but it’s up to you whether to go in and sit on the couch.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/07/how-to-get-out-of-your-own-head/

Funny, but I don’t ever recall the TV being on in the other room. I certainly have spent a lot of time—that’s a vast understatement—directly sat before the TV. But somewhere somehow somewhen I must have developed the habit of turning it off when I left the room. Which strikes me as very odd.

No great epiphany here. Just: That strikes me as very odd.

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Click

I’m a child of the vinyl album era. We had a collection—about 5 feet of shelf space—of classic rock, some jazz, the usual suspects collected during the 60s, 70s and into the 80s. There was sublime magic in that vinyl. My dad wasn’t an audiophile per se, but he had a few nice things that comprised the stereo system, and the crown jewel was a Marantz turn-table. We had special soft-cloth cylinders for gently lifting dust off the surfaces. We even had a little space-ray-gun-looking thing that [as far as I recall] neutralized static charge on the vinyl, (which apparently can accumulate when you pull them out of their sleeves.) A classic Pioneer amp… at one point he found someone who rebuilt his speakers for him—repair rather than replace was, at one time, the norm in America. There was a dedicated cabinet for the gear, with a built-in power strip, and lighting…

And the CD was invented while I was a kid. We—society at large—had endless arguments about sound. I even did a high-school presentation about how CDs actually work to encode the sound digitally, and how that encoding uses compression, and how quality is lost… and I bought more and more CDs. I skipped right over collecting cassette tapes; I made countless of my own from albums and CDs, but I don’t believe I ever bought a single one. The Sony Walkman was the driver for my recording cassettes. Then the portable CD players arrived and all hell broke loose. I only purchased a handful of vinyl albums and I never ever set up the Marantz after my dad died. (I passed it to my cousin who did get into collecting vinyl as a kid. I made him promise to spin the helll out of it, and play music loud— damn loud.) And my CD collection grew to thousands. Then I mixed in my dad’s extensive CD collection which had almost zero overlap with mine. My stereo? I keep a scary-old little AirPort Express plugged in, with a cheap-ass set of “computer” speakers, with a woofer, plugged into the AirPort’s 3.5mm headphone jack.

This morning… “I think some Mozart would be nice.” Click, click… and click… and Symphony no. 39, recorded in 1977 by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra streams from the little stereo. Rather loudly I might add.

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Speaking of Pac Man

When Pac-Man needs a break from his endless cycle of hunger and pain, there is a simple trick he can use. When a new level starts, move Pac-Man one space to the right and three spaces up, then stop; the ghosts will leave him alone for about fifteen minutes or so. So when you’re feeling like life is completely hopeless (and it is), find yourself a cozy little corner to cry in. I can’t guarantee that your demons will leave you alone for at least fifteen minutes, but you’ll feel a lot better regardless.

~ Syd Lexia from, http://www.sydlexia.com/pac-nihilism.htm

Turns out… Pac Man is an accurate simulation of your meaningless life.

My dad and I dropped bajillions of quarters into cabinet games back in the day. I can still vocalize Pac Man’s little jingle… bloo-dee doo-dee doodle-eedle doodle-eedle doo! wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka wa ka bee-ooh ee-oo ee-oo ee-oo ee-oo oop!

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White-with-orange

white-with-orange, orange
white-with-green, BLUE!
white-with-blue, GREEN!
white-with-brown, brown

I have probably said that sequence—sure, aloud many times, but mostly muttering under my breath, always moving my lips—about 9 gazillion times. If you know what that is, I weep for you; and we have a support group which meets at the bar and the first round is on me.

I’m reading—literally just this moment… I have my arms stretched around the book as I type—On Writing by Stephen King. (Highly recommended by the way. In parts deeply useful, deeply touching, deeply funny, just all-around deeply.)

John Grisham, of course, knows lawyers. What you know makes you unique in some other way. Be brave. Map the enemy’s positions, come back, tell us all you know. And remember that plumbers in space is not such a bad setup for a story.

~ Stephen King from, On Writing

POW! my brain muttered “white-with-orange…” And I was yanked, much in the way I’ve yanked L I T E R A L L Y miles of wire through ceilings… hell, I know what a plenum is and why you can pull that cable through it and not this other cable. POW! “white-with-orange, orange, …” Yanked back to good old, kill-me-now I’d forgotten this and hoped I’d never remember it: T568B.

B. BEE! mind you. omgbecky don’t go all white-with-green on me to start the sequence ‘cuz that’s T568A and if you we do B on this end, but A on the punch-down blocks back in the squirrel closet we won’t even get link lights let alone have the tester [magic box of circuitry] be happy.

Never mind when they started using Category-5 cabling and I stripped off the jacket… Actually, with Cat-5—or was that 5+? or Cat-6… I need a drink—where the jacket is sort of partly heat-shrunk on so you need a special tool just to get the jacket cut before you can pull it off. And then you discover not only are the pairs of wires twisted—bro’ that’s so Cat-3, right? No, now in Cat-5 the pairs are twisted at different rates—the number of twists-per-inch is different on each of the four pairs to reduce the magnetic inductance coupling—no, I’m not making this stuff up; pay attention, kid. Oh, and they’re not only twisted, but the pair is actually in a stuck together jacket—so you need this other little tool that you shove onto the end of the pair and it has a teeny razor blade in it that cuts the wires apart like—sorry for this metaphor—like a razor cutting the skin between your fingers, as you push and spin the tool to separate the wires.

Then you can wrestle the pairs, in the right order (see above!) into the shape, like a whale tail. Eight tiny wires that you VICE-finger-pinch flat, then cut ’em all off in one go. Wizards could shoot those eight tiny wire snips into a little trash catch we had with us so we didn’t leave ’em in the ‘ol office carpet. Then—hey, don’t slip!—slide the plug on the end, and stuff it in this special tool… When you grabbed it, you had to exactly judge where to grab cuz if you’re too far from the end it’s not good, too close to the end and you can’t get the plug on fully, and you can’t move your fingers at all because it takes full-strength to pin 8 tiny wires perfectly in the right place after you cut them off in one go.

Or if you’re making up a wall-jack or a punch-down panel you can just sort of lay the wires in the v-grooves—but don’t untwist them too far, each one is a tiny radio antenna—and “punch” them down with a tool that trimmed the ends—which always managed to ping, pong, bing, bong right into anything that you couldn’t get into to retrieve them. Ever wonder why vents on computers, and everything are on the sides?

One. That’s one. This office has 150 more wall jacks, and the other ends of course, and all the wires have to be labeled cuz the rat nest has to make sense…. and then you have to test it and if one single wire isn’t perfect.

So yeah, that was fun. Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?!

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Nostalgic

All people have a “tact filter”, which applies tact in one direction to everything that passes through it.

~ Jeff Bigler from, http://www.mit.edu/~jcb/tact.html

A short and startlingly insightful idea about— …well, no. I’m going to make you click.

Also: Cue my misty-eyed nostalgia. That’s what the web looked like in ’96. Back when I proudly wielded the self-selected job title of “spyder.” (Do I have to explain that? Please tell me I don’t have to explain that.)

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Gaming the system

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2013/02/gaming-the-system/

A long time ago, a social studies teacher had been giving the same multiple-choice, high school, final exam, every year, for [as I recall the story] decades. The catch was two-fold: First, each year he cut the exam into strips separating each question. Yes, by hand, with scissors. He then shuffled the strips, scotch taped them onto a new sheet which did have sequential numbers on it already, and then ran it through the mimeograph machine. There was no way to create a “cheat sheet” for this exam based on previous years (even if we could have gotten a previous test.) Second, the test was insanely long; hundreds and hundreds of questions long. In fact, it was—intentionally—impossibly long.

When he graded the exams, he noted the total number of questions each student attempted. To be clear: He’d note the number of the last question you answered. So if one skipped around, you’re doomed since you definitely get wrong, the ones you didn’t even try to answer. So the incentive is to start at the beginning and just work straight through; recall, they’re totally shuffled. He then computed the average number attempted, and that average was used as the total possible points on the test. If you scored above the possible points (unlikely, but possible,) the points got added to your semester’s total points. (So if you score +2 on the final, the first extra point, brought up your 9/10 quiz score to 10/10. That second extra point brought a homework up from 5/7 to 6/7.)

Have you spotted how you game this system?

Bonus question: I regret what we did, (there were 3 of us.) But, can you tell me why I regret it?

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Nearly ripped my heart out

Depending on how well you know me, you’ll have differing ideas about how much of a “softie” I am. I’ll be clear: I’m a big softie; all bark and no bite.

Here on the ‘ol blog—3,000 posts is coming up fast—I don’t normally bother even mentioning entertainment—”tv” colloquially… Well, I just finished watching Halt and Catch Fire (originally from AMC, but streaming on Netflix.)

Now, maybe it’s the fact that I basically lived through what the show is about. Maybe it’s because, you know, I was the Wizard behind the curtain who built those things and lived through those creations and wrote the code and pulled the wires and bent stuff until it caught fire. Maybe it’s because I’m getting up there in years. Maybe it’s because the thing just had to fucking end on Peter Gabriel’s, Solsbury Hill. Maybe because 30 years ago I made some life-long friends listening to that music… Maybe it’s because I still believe I’ve not accomplished anything and absolutely understand the pull… Or maybe it was just Gordon’s words…

Or maybe I’m not conveying the feeling at all.

…but perhaps—just maybe—you’ve caught a glimmer of apprehension…

So.

What are you gonna’ do with that, Craig?

And hey, what are you going to do next?

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25 years?

Twenty five years ago today [edit: August 25, 1995], Microsoft released Windows 95. It was undoubtedly a technical leap forward, but its biggest, most lasting impacts are about how it changed popular culture’s relationship to technology.

~ Anil Dash, from https://anildash.com/2020/08/25/what-windows-95-changed/

I had completely forgotten about Windows 95; I certainly never knew the specific date of its release. It certainly was a big deal at the time—not because I or the people I worked with used it, but because we were running an Internet Service Provider and our customers used it. So we had to know how to support it.

At the time we were in the midst of creating an “ezine.” It’s probably hard to explain how cutting edge this was—bear in mind that Wired started in ’93. (We had started publishing an online “magazine” in December ’94.) I’m bragging, sure, but also just trying to give you the context of the jaw-droppingly old web page I’m about to link you to.

Here’s my tongue-in-cheek article about drawing the short straw and having to go buy a copy of Windows 95 for our office: In a Plain Brown Wrapper, Please.

Granted, we moved that entire web site once when we sold the domain it was on along with the Internet Service Provider. But otherwise, those are literally, 25-year-old web pages.

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I would dazzle you with brilliance

I like this life just the way it is,
And the castles all around me have been melting now for years 
And it kills my brain to think of all the time I wasted here: 
All the efforts, sweat and broken hearts, the screaming and the tears.

~ Danny Elfman from, Change on the album ‘Boingo’

Coherent words fail me, but I’ll try to convey this…

I came of age—cut my teeth so to speak—as Elfman… The Mystic Knights of the Oingo BoingoOingo Boingo… and eventually just Boingo… blew the doors off what I thought music could be. Some of their later stuff is on par with Pink Floyd. Your mileage may vary; haters gonna’ hate and all that.

Visions— not memories, but visceral visions— Visions strike me when I listen to this music, (not just Change but a lot of it.) Riding in cars and trucks as a teenager… Going to bicycle races (both to race and to watch)… Lots of hard work with a boom-box or headphones… I once drove fence posts, by hand, around a small field powered by Oingo Boingo… I once saw them perform in a tiny hall, god-only-knows-where, in Manhattan, maybe in ’91 or ’92… I still have an Oingo Boingo shirt from, it might be, 1990?, that was given to me as a gift… I even have the double VHS of their final concert—and I know of noone with a VHS player any more…

Oh, God, here’s that question now! The one that makes me go insane!
I’d gladly tear my heart out if you never change!
Never change!
Never change!
Never change!
Never! Never! Never! Never!
Change…

~ Danny Elfman

Great music. Great memories.

Who do you want to be today? Who do you want to be?

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King of the sky

Twelve hundred miles he’d flown, from somewhere far away he’d never been. Steered north and west, finding his direction from the sun and the force that guides a compass needle. Flown until he saw the shape of humpbacked hills, the lines of little houses and the chimneys, heard the clanking towers, smelled the soup and coal dust.

~ Nicola Davies from, https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/08/13/king-of-the-sky/

You know you are old when a summary of a stuipid story about a kid and a pidgeon tugs at the ol’ heart-strings.

Go ahead. I DARE you . . .

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I stand, despite

I stand loving America, aware that I often fall short of what that love should mean. When I say I love America I mean I love certain shared values and founding ideals like the rule of law and equality before it, liberty, and self-determination, and what people have done to achieve them. I love the values as lofty as the right to speak and worship and as humble as the right to raise a family and work and live as I see fit. I love it knowing that these ideals are more aspirational than descriptive, more a to-do list than a resume. They are what Lincoln called “unfinished work” and “the great task remaining before us.”

~ Ken White from, https://popehat.com/2016/08/30/i-stand-despite/

I happen to be that sort of middle-aged-softie who is deeply moved by our National Anthem.

…but, when I stand for the National Anthem, I do not judge those who do NOT stand (even if they are in the row behind me talking loudly). I love America all the more for its ensuring their right to a freedom of expression; An America where they should never be forced to declare their adoration for the State as a precursor to watching some random sporting event.

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25 years ago

25 years ago, on a Friday night, Tracy and I went on our first date.

There’s a wonderful, socially ackward story about me chickening out of the original plan, then a late-evening missed phone call, and an eventual midnight movie. If you ask us nicely, we’ll tell you our conflicting versions of the story. There even a bit of debate about the exact movie we saw; We’re pretty sure it was Silence of the Lambs. (Yes, we opted for a midnight showing for our first date. I’ll let that settle in for a few moments.) On the other hand, the movie might possibly have been a spectacularly horrible movie titled Warlock, which no one has ever heard of. So sometimes we tell the story with it being Silence of the Lambs and sometimes it’s Warlock. Long ago, I think we used to argue about this when we told the story… now, I can’t even remember which of us argued for which movie.

I digress.

Tracy is awesome, and I love her very much! We are still in love. …but, this isn’t a ‘Happy Anniversary!’ card addressed to Tracy.

I firmly believe that there’s no single perfect person for me. I am not a “special snowflake”. And if – as the old saying goes – Tracy “is one-in-a-million,” then she’s one of about 8,000 perfect people for me alive at this very moment.

What makes me special in some ways is the same thing that makes her special in some ways: We have both invested a large portion of our lives in each other. We’ve both spent 25 years working each on our own selves, and have continued sharing the improved versions with each other. The “institution” of marriage doesn’t magically make our relationship special; I, and she, made the relationship special by working on it.

25 years ago I was a totally different person. I was (just simply by definition) on some path through life. There was absolutely no way I could have selected the perfect person for me. I didn’t know myself. I didn’t know my future. I didn’t know how my path would evolve. How could I possibly pick someone who was compatible then, and would grow and change to remain compatible for 25 years.

In one sense, I was extremely lucky to find someone who turned out to be able to adapt and grow in some sort of way that somehow remained compatible with my ever-changing general insanity. But in another much more important sense, we both have spent huge amounts of time talking, arguing, discussing and growing together. So today, it’s not that the luck we had years ago was special or unique – because “humans meet” happens constantly every day – it’s that we somehow stood by that bit of common, every-day luck and worked on it for 25 years.

People change. People age. People get sick and die. Life moves ever forward. The love at age 20 is nothing like the love at age 40, or – as far as I can tell at this point – the love at age 80. (eg, Old Love.)

What matters most to me is that I continue to honestly work on who I am. Only by doing that work do I continue to be worthy of a relationship such as we’ve created so far.

Here’s to another 50 years! Huzzah!!

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