Thursday, November 23, 2006

Together Tonight

Don't let us get sick

Don't let us get old

Don't let us get stupid, all right?

Just make us be brave

And make us play nice

And let us be together tonight

The moon has a face

And it smiles on the lake

And causes the ripples in time

I'm lucky to be here

With someone I love

Who maketh my spirit to shine

Don't let us get sick
Don't let us get old
Don't let us get stupid, all right?

Just make us be brave

And make us play nice

And let us be together tonight.

--Words by Warren Zevon

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

His Cuteness

Brother #3 is pretty good at posting movies of robots for rusty old Bro #2, but he hasn't been pulling his weight lately in the more important field of posting pictures of Baby #1. Who is considerably cuter than anything named Scooba.


When in doubt, hire a specialist.

Brother #3 got me all hooked up with an online version of my grand Orson-Welles-top-this tracking shot of a floor scrubber.

You might want to get a tub of popcorn before you settle in to the couch and hit "Play."

What do you think of that?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Southbound Again

A month from now the sun will set as far south on the horizon as it ever gets.

In June the sun set in Long Beach. By August it was setting on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Then it drifted out to sea; as of a couple of days ago it was setting on the western tip of Catalina Island, which means it has traveled 26 miles across the channel.

So far, the temperature hasn't flagged. 85 degrees Fahrenheit in Long Beach today (30 Celsius), and it feels like late August. To keep the average where it's supposed to be for the year, we're going to have to compensate with about a week of subzero weather sometime in December.

Each time my panorama stretches wider and the landmarks get smaller. I haven't gone to measure anything with a protractor, but the migrating sun has swept across a good-sized hunk of the horizon in its march, from setting almost due west to almost due south. I recently found the compass I used to carry around when I was a boy. Maybe next time I go watch the day end, I'll bring it along.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Stranger in the House

My brother is the one who does a good job at uploading video, but I can show you the still images of a new hardworking houseguest and the results of having it around.

I'm not much of a mopper. Every now and then it crosses my mind that it's time to make the floor look better. If I wait long enough, the feeling goes away.

A while ago I got this thing called a Roomba, which goes around and sucks up odd bits of shrapnel lying on the floor until the carpets and tiles look fairly presentable. It's no rug beater, but it left the house looking pretty sharp . . . until an unfortunate enthusiasm caused me to subject it to a series of experiments that left it incapacitated. More on that some other day.

But what you're seeing here is my first experiments with the Roomba's cousin, a Scooba. The Scooba is a scrubber of hard floors--tiles and such. As you can see, it's more successful on some dirt than others. In the picture at the top, I hand-scrubbed the three tiles at the top of the picture, to show the effect I was after. I'd say Scooba picked up a lot of incidental dirt from the tiles, but was not so good at burning through long-term stains. It lightened a lot of them, but most of them are still there.

The second set of pictures--the ones on the right in each set above--is what the floor looks like after four rounds with the Scooba's special Clorox soap and three times with white vinegar, not in that order. Scooba is easy to use and mostly harmless. It would probably take forever to restore the floor to a clean state, but it did pick up a lot of dirt that hadn't been ground into the tiles yet. And, once I get around to cleaning the rest of the kitchen floor, it will probably be better than I am at maintaining that sparkling look.

The Roomba was an immediate hit--I saw right away that it was doing a great job. The Scooba's not a bad machine, but its benefits are nowhere near as dramatic.

For entertainment value, though, the Scooba is a worthy mate to the Roomba. I probably spent longer watching the Scooba do its work than I did cleaning the three tiles at the far end of the kitchen.

For you to watch it, though, you'll have to wait till I get around to signing up for a YouTube account.

On the Road to Peace

Tom Waits has a new boxed set coming out next week, and a few songs have been released online already.

One is “Road to Peace,” an unusual (for Tom Waits) literal reading of current events. It talks about Henry Kissinger, the New York Times, Hamas, George W. Bush and re-election, and bloodshed in the Middle East.

As the song winds down, he sings:

If God is great, and God is good,
Why can’t he change the hearts of men?
Maybe God himself is lost and needs help
Maybe God himself needs all of our help

It’s a nice twist on a refrain entwined in Christian liturgy: “I will, with God’s help.” The affirmation gets used in different places; maybe the best example is the Episcopal baptismal covenant, wherein the service leader asks a series of questions about whether the audience (or the person being baptized) will behave themselves: Will you persevere in resisting evil? . . . Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons? The answer to each of these questions, one after another, is “I will, with God’s help.”

The repeated vow implies an understanding that these are not easy tasks for any person to promise. No matter our good intentions, we all backslide. But we will do our best to do our best, “with God’s help.”

So the notion of God needing our help strikes an intriguing note.

Many years ago, at a synagogue on the outskirts of Jerusalem, I heard an engaging young rabbi (Levi Weiman-Kelman) address a Sabbath congregation. Speaking of Adam and Eve and God, he asked us to pay attention to the first question God asks Adam in Genesis: “Where are you?” A few sentences later, the first question God asks Eve is “What have you done?”

Why, the rabbi asked us, does God ask these questions? God in this story is all-knowing and all-seeing. God must know where Adam is. God knows what Eve has done. Why ask?

Any parent of a child is probably ahead of me with the answer on this one: If God’s not asking to enhance his own knowledge, maybe we could imagine that he’s asking Adam and Eve what’s going on because he wants them to think about the answers. God wants them to pay particular attention to these questions. He could tell them, but he wants them to come up with it on their own.

And, as you’d expect in the very first pages of a text that has arguably had more impact on human culture in the last 4,000 years than any other, they’re pretty good questions for all of us to ponder. In the Bible, they set a theme that recurs again and again: Where are we? What have we done? Is God asking Adam and Eve to pay attention to what they’re doing, not just right now but always? A text this rich has many layers, but I think that’s one fair reading.

I thought of this as I heard Tom Waits singing that maybe God needs our help. The song uses it ironically: How could an all-powerful being need help from us earthly grubs? But I think back to that scene in the garden, where God, who knows the answers, wants the humans to work it out themselves.

As Bob Dylan sings, "You never ask questions when God's on your side."

Monday, November 13, 2006

California Gold

History books will tell you that gold was discovered in California in 1848, and the California Gold Rush got up and running in 1849, with folks swarming in from all over the world to get rich quick in the diggings. Then, the textbooks tell us, most of the easy gold got panned and mined and collected, and California's economy had to evolve to one that wasn't based on gold.

That's fine on paper. But anyone who's spent any time in California can tell you that California's real gold was never buried or mined or refined or locked in a vault. It's still there, plain as day, for anyone with eyes to see.

The miners were right about one thing, though: There's gold in them there hills.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Ne Dork Pas, or Maybe I Am

This isn't anything special, just a picture. I have on-again, off-again Net access these days, so I post when I get a chance, even if it's only half a post, with just a picture, no incisive textual commentary.

Maybe my friend Andrew will come up with some words to wrap around the picture. He recently came back from a self-imposed 30-day blip (which stands for "self-imposed blog silence," except the phrase is in Swiss, like CERN, which in Swiss stands for "the place where the Web was invented"). While he was gone, a devouring virus sucked all the bright-colored pixels off his blog template, and now the only points of illumination are the words themselves.

Or maybe Brother #3 will shine a light on the ramifications of branches in the night. He recently posted about black-and-white pictures of Gobelins, so I know he knows from Hallowe'eny spookulage. And speaking of negative coverage, he's working on a project that's the diametric ("two meters," or about 79 inches) opposite of Andrew's blip: His words have all the colored pixels turned on at once, or at least they do if you're looking at them on the right kind of monitor.

Me, I'm going to go turn on the radio and write some checks. It seems somehow appropriate to pay for service I'm not getting with money that's not mine. Currency is fiction anyhow; it only works because we all agree to suspend the same disbelief. A photograph at least gives you something you can hang your hat on.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Seid Umschlungen, Millionen! reports today that the Web has more than 100 million sites, as of October 2006.

In August 1995, it says, there were only 18,000 sites. (CNN's numbers come from a company called Netcraft, from Bath, England, which has been tracking Web statistics since August 1995.)

The first Website ever was established at CERN in 1989, the brainchild of Tim Berners-Lee and others.

So in its first six years, the Web expanded 1,800,000%. In its next 11 years, the growth rate dropped below 600,000%. In the past 30 months, says Netcraft, the Web has only doubled in size, from 50 million sites to 100 million sites.

What's fun in these statistics for me is knowing that in 1995 I had one of the only 18,000 Websites out there. I had no idea it was such a rarity at the time.

I'd have to dig through old records to figure out when I registered the domain, but by 1995 I was already using AOL to post HTML pages and .JPG images to, or whatever the address was for the Websites they gave members.

It was a bit of a hack, using a somewhat clunky AOL FTP interface to put files in public view, but AOL made it possible, and using a Macintosh, which had the only multitasking OS widely available to ordinary users at the time, it was easy enough to edit HTML text in one program, pictures in another, and post them to the Web in a third.

Eventually the 10MB of space AOL provided got too confined, and I signed up for a Website on a shared Apache server that gave me more elbow room. I kept it up to date pretty regularly until 2000, when I moved, took on a new job, and ran out of free time. I still have a backlog of several years worth of exploits to post, one day when I run out of higher priorities. Since 1999, my home page has been updated three or four times and visited 42,000 times.

Nowadays I manage a few other Websites as well, plus there's this blog, which seemed revolutionary to me when I started keeping it. It's a different style of posting, more of a journal and less of a static collection. But when I ran into an old friend online a few months ago, as I was giving a new computer a test flight, he pointed out that I'd been blogging way back in 1995, only they didn't call it that. I'd go somewhere, or do something, and post stories and pictures of it online. I guess he wasn't far off.

I do love the modern blog interface, which lets me post my ramblings easily--too easily--through forms on a Web page. The even bigger enabling move for me was moving to a digital camera, where now my pictures are available to post online as soon as I take them. Technology at all levels has improved: operating systems, individual applications, connectivity, Internet bandwidth, browser abilities. (Don't ask how much oil we're burning to keep this effigy alight.)

On my own-designed Website, I liked the control I had over what fell where on the page. Navigating through posts on a blog tends to be fairly linear, based on chronology. On my Website, I could set up navigation that way if I chose, or I could build something more hierarchical, with information clumped around different topics, or I could design an interface that was even more jarring and random. I can customize the blog interface here, to some degree, but the technology is at once more arcane and less exciting.

One of these days, maybe I'll start sticking all these blog postings back on Here or there, it's fun to be adding to the 100 million pages of dribble that make up our generation's paean to civilization. Look on our works, ye mighty, and despair.