What's New? 1998-10-18

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What's New? 1998-10-18

 Saturday 31 October 1998, All Hallows Eve (Halloween)
  Enjoy the celebration, the costumes, the candy, and the pumpkin wallpaper desktop pattern. The following is from a since-defunct web site, albeit edited:

desktop pattern

Halloween, also known as All Hallows Eve, is that night when the veil between the realms of the living and the dead is at its thinnest, when the dead return to once again walk freely amongst the living.

That eve the earth herself passes into death, becoming dormant and still. The harsh autumn winds moan and howl, cold and lifeless, through the naked stiffened branches of trees once green and alive in the warmth of the summer sun, now only a fading memory. Death enshrouds the once vibrant earth, embracing her with its silent cold.

The ancients believed that ones passed loved ones, ancestors, friends, or other wayward souls would return on that night. To appease the hunger of these ghostly wanderers they placed plates of the finest food and bits of treats that the household had to offer on their doorsteps. (It was said to bring good luck in the upcoming year to give out the best; that you reap what you sow.) This has become the modern tradition of Trick or Treats.

The problem was... if the souls of dead loved ones could return that night, then so could anything else, human or not, nice or not-so-nice. It was said that if a demon or such were to encounter something as fiendish looking as themselves that they'd run away in terror, sparing the living from the ravages of the dark entities. The Jack o' lanterns, now a pumpkin but originally a turnip, was carved with intricate scowling faces and illuminated with wax candles from within, and placed on the dwellings doorstep to scare away any malignant spirits or demons that happened by.

the bat

The spirits of dead loved ones and other human spirits wouldn't be offended by the Jack o' lantern since they'd be aware of its purpose, having been human before death, having had carved them once themselves. (The tradition of Gargoyles carved into buildings was also to scare away evil entities.)


Bleu and Parker

On this evening we leave the Blue inside; some folks are very wierd about cats during this holiday. Some of you may have met my cats of old; sadly Copernicus and Ptolemy are no longer with us, but Bleu is. Here's a photo from last autumn, from around the time I got married, of my cat Bleu (at left) and my sister's cat [Charlie] Parker napping on my bed. As I write this Blue is asleep, leaning on my left arm.

 Friday 30 October 1998, Hell Night
  Hell Night, the night before Halloween, the night when adolescents back home borrow their parent's cars, take baseball bat or two-by-four in hand, and proceed to decapitate mailboxes all over the neighborhood. It always seemed like a such a low-brow way of celebrating.


[Gherasim] Luca told me to write him when he returned to Paris. "I'd love to," I said, "Will you answer?" "No," he said, "It is a very difficult relation that I have with my correspondents. They write to me, and I don't answer. It takes great courage to persist." -- Andrei Condrescu

 Thursday 29 October 1998

Being between consulting contracts I finally updated my master résumé page to include pointers to the HTML and Microsoft Word versions.


Having a bit of free time on my hands I've also started to ensure that all my web pages have the appropriate META tags. Starting with "Phil Suh"'s web pages about Frontier and experimenting this is what I've learned about creating META tags with Userland Frontier:

#title "Something Wierd and Wonderful"
#subtext "A really great discussion..."
#metaDescription adrPageTable^.subtext

results in
<title>Something Wierd and Wonderful</title>
<meta name="description" content="A really great discussion...">
<meta name="keywords" content="buried treasure, under bed, dust bunnies">

Note the shorthand I use to copy the subtext into the description during the rendering process rather than duplicating the text string. I hate hard-coding anything.

I also added a


on several "invitation-only" pages (like my references) so they don't end up being reported by search engines; the spiders that traverse the web respect the Robot Exclusion Standard and don't index such pages.

I hope this helps.

 Saturday 17 October 1998

Loma Prieta quake

Nine years ago today the Loma Prieta earthquake struck at 17:10 with a force of 7.1 on the Richter Scale. (The United States Geological Survey says that the "largest credible earthquake" for this area is 8.0.)

Most folks had left early to watch the World Series in person or on television. That year we had a Best of the [San Francisco Bay] Bridge World Series, between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland As. I was at the office, in Palo Alto, where I was the Manager of Operations for Technology Modeling Associates, a physics/electronics research and development shop.

TMA President James Greenfield and I were interviewing an older gentleman; we sat around an incredibly heavy slab of wood that made up our conference room table. I had a view of the hallway leading the entire length of our office. I heard a sound that I interpreted as a big truck passing on the street below, but as I saw the hallway floor undulating like ocean waves I knew we were having a big one. When I felt the tabletop move, the same mass that took a half dozen forks to move into place, I considered that perhaps this was the Big One.

The 'quake went on for fifteen seconds, but of course it felt longer. When it was over we walked around, reassuring the employees. We sent them home, telling them to take the next day off. The power was off; we shut off all the computers so they wouldn't cause a surge by pulling power when the juice came back on. Then we left the building.

I walked two of my employees to the parking lot a few blocks away. I realized this was different than most quakes when the airwaves were silent, only a few stations could be heard. I imagined the freeways full of cars, traffic jams to the horizon. So I walked to the home of a friend, David Kinsfather. We cooked pasta with tuna, spoke with the neighbors, strolled into the one block in town that had power (and saw on the sports bar's TV the first photos of the collapsed portion of the Bay Bridge and the fires in the Marina). Just before midnight we got a dial tone and I let my parents - in New Jersey - know that I was fine.

The next day I returned home to find that my damage was limited to one book falling off the bookshelf. Others weren't so lucky; their homes were seriously damaged. That evening we took two cars to move a friend's mother from what was left of her Marina home. Drivers were polite, coöperating at dead traffic lights. As we approached the area we were stopped by police, our IDs matched against a list of residents. The smell of natural gas hung heavy in the air; pipes snapped as houses shifted off their foundations. We made it to her house, the trip eerie in the darkness, no electric lights visible in the area. We brought the old lady down from her second floor apartment by carrying her in a folding metal chair. (It turned out she wasn't ambulatory and hadn't left her flat in many years.) One she was secure in the passenger seat of my car we filled both cars with her belongings. Then we drove her back to her daughter's house in the Haight-Ashbury via the most circuituous route I could think of, giving the old lady as complete a tour of a city she'd not seen for quite a while.

 Tuesday 29 September 1998

There's an often-overlooked technology about which I want to speak: X-Face. This wonderful minimalist protocol allows us to present a small (48 pixels on a side) monochrome image of ourselves to the world. The problem is that only a few modern programs deal with faces, a shame because the code required is in the public domain. The UNIX world has been enjoying faces for a long, long time.

face face face face

I've been using a program named Saving Faces (for Macintosh) to create the X-Face string which I then place into the headers of my outgoing email and USENET news postings. Folks using face-saavy software, such as Multi-Threaded NewsWatcher, see my smiling mug when they're reading something of mine.

 Sunday 27 September 1998
  From the dusty archives I pull another look and feel for these web pages with which I was playing. It never felt right, and I gave up on all the silly JavaScript required for rollovers and the pulldown. Too much effort for too little effect with too many browsers alienated.
 Tuesday 15 September 1998
Search this!

I have long wanted to provide a search capability for visitors to my site, but I've never taken a great measure of control over the machines which serve these pages. I've made the deliberate choice to concentrate on creating the content for the site rather than on administering the system, network, and seach engine.

Quite by accident I found out that I coulde use HotBot to provide searching capability on a site-by-site basis. While the Site Contents page has been useful, I suspect that you'll really appreciate the brand new search page.

 Monday 31 August 1998

Clean-up! Ham radio stuff: Health ramifications of using a chest pack and the ever-popular SF OES frequencies.

 Friday 28 August 1998
satellite image

These last few weeks have passed in a blur. We've finally moved into our new place and I've found another contract to follow my six month stint at Organic Online. Things are starting to quiet down. We're unpacking our belongings, getting rid of some things, and I've been enjoying doing chores on my own place: touch up this, repair that, trim the hedges, work on the garden, and so on. I've been travelling to "Cole Hardware" rather frequently.

"Phil Suh" has been tweaking the pre-release dynDesktop Frontier suite (from Thomas R. Clifton of ES Designs). I've been testing his tweaks. I like having my Macintosh desktop show a current weather picture.

 Wedday 26 August 1998

MUNI Oy! This has been the mass transit week from hell! The San Francisco Municipal Railway (the Muni Metro) has tried to bring three new systems online simultaneously, with the predictibly chaotic results. Passengers are fuming; the Honorable Willie Brown - who can't seem to step out of his limo - is blustering, saying the contracter will pay for these troubles; Director Emilio Cruz - a seemingly upright sort of chap with his heart in the right place - was a thousand miles away at a conference as the fiasco unfolded.

The problems are goofy. The new Automatic Traffic Control system that now runs the LRVs - light rail vehicles - doesn't behave like a human. It accelerates without any warning. (Okay, so it's a lot like a human driver.) Solution: sound a ping tone a half-second before you move. It gets to a platform and traps passengers inside for minutes at a time because it's a few feet from the spot it wants to achieve. Solution: allow the driver to override the doors then return control to the system.

In a stunning display of not having a clue, the MUNI officials that were in San Francisco during this period decided that a major source of troubles were folk "deadheading" (riding a few stops inbound to ensure a seat during their outbound trip). So rather than concentrating on the real problem, too few trains and too long a time between trains, they made the problem worse by turning out hundreds of passengers onto Embarcadero station and then having no train cars come by to pick them up. It was a zoo. We were there for almost a half-hour. Rude behavior and general shouting followed. Did MUNI give us any warning of this change of policy any time in the weeks preceeding? I never saw any, and I take the train morning and evening. (I survived, by the way, by always having something to read at hand.)

Checking the San Francisco citispan site for up-to-date information didn't help much (although it was great for finding phone numbers of city departments during the pre-moving phase).

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