Advanced Whoopie Cushion Technology

“I’m surrounded by idiots! Present company excluded, of course.” – Nancy

Nancy got food poisoning a couple of days ago. She’s recovered now, but it
was, of course, pretty unpleasant. And from which rat-infested
hole-in-the-wall eatery did she get the food poisoning in the
first place?

Why, the
San Jose Fairmont,
of course.

One of Nancy’s friends (who shall remain nameless) called her on the phone
and learned about the food poisoning. “Oh, no,” the friend said. “Is it
contagious?” Hence Nancy’s subsequent outburst.

Eric’s girlfriend Susan is an amazing woman. How do I know this? Consider
the Christmas gift she gave him: a self-inflating whoopie cushion. Not just
any whoopie cushion, mind you. Self-inflating. Who knew that gag-gift
technology had advanced so far? It’s clear that no matter what Susan touches,
it’s going to be high-end, class all the way.

Not that we didn’t get a lot of enjoyment out of the whoopie cushion — as the
box said, “Hours of Flatulent Fun!” — but Eric’s five-year-old nephew Ryan
seems to be getting the most out of it. Ryan has discovered that if he
places the whoopie cushion under the cushion on Grandma Stenberg’s chair, he
can get Grandma Stenberg to say a Very Bad Word. And now that Ryan has opened
his Christmas presents, he has a pocket-sized voice recorder.
Even now, Ryan has been spotted lurking under tables, hoping to catch another
grownup on tape saying another Very Bad Word. Just don’t say you weren’t warned.

As for my Chanukah presents — they weren’t quite as exciting as the
whoopie cushion, how could they be? However, I did get a couple of wonderful
Onion books. First, Elana and Adiv sent me
Dumb Century
. They said that they almost got me a subscription to the Wall St.
Journal, but they wanted to get me something more intellectual-like. Yikes! Me,
a subscriber to the Wall St. Journal? What’s next, little elephant-shaped diamond
cufflinks? Elana, Adiv, I’m not that far gone into
conservative old fuddy-duddiness… am I?

In the same shipment, I got
from the Tenth Circle
. The latter was from Mr. and Mrs. Ynolez, who said,

To the Webmaster of, We are your biggest fans. Please accept this gift
as proof that someone actually reads your website. Respectfully, Mr. and Mrs. Ynolez.

I can only assume the Ynolezes are friends of Elana and Adiv. Either that, or
they are expert computer hackers who managed to break into
and add another book to my sister’s order — for what nefarious ends, none can say.
All I have to say is, glad you like it… and thank you so much for the gift! I
liked both books very much, and I’ve practically finished Dispatches already.

Also, this marks a first: positive proof that someone who I don’t know
is visiting the site. Ah, I remember the good old days, when I could count the
people who visited this site on one hand. Now it takes two hands, at least.

Moving Day

It looks like I have a place to live come January 1st, thanks to Mike’s
dad. Rent is far cheaper — and the place is in Sunnyvale, so I’m not exiled to
social Siberia in Fremont or Newark. God forbid anyone would have to cross a bridge
to visit me.

And thus the Campaign to Recover As Much of the Deposit As Possible commences.
I decided to splurge and buy a new vacuum cleaner. A Hoover Windtunnel. Man,
it is so much more powerful than Sam’s crappy old vacuum cleaner that it’s not
even funny. The neatest thing is the dust particle detector, which linked
to a red and green light. When the light turns green, the carpet’s clean!
Who knew vacuuming could be so entertaining?

Anyway, the rental market continues to get better and better.
I’ve never seen anything like it. Example 1: Nancy’s moving
in with Mike, into a two-bedroom in Mike’s current complex. The two-bedroom is only
$100/month more than Mike’s old one-bedroom. Example 2: Pat’s made a few calls —
every apartment manager wants him and Courtney to move in today.
Who knew it could be like this?

I admit, some part of me is a bit disappointed that Mike’s dad is cutting me a good
deal with no fuss. Because I’d really like to go up to an anonymous apartment manager
and actually… you know, haggle. “Well, if you change your mind, you’ve got
my number,” I’d say, grinning as I stride out of the office. Oooh, that would have
been sweet.

Our Loyal Allies

I really need to stop reading lefty British publications. It’s a bad, bad habit of mine.

Not that this naive American hasn’t learned all sorts of fascinating things
about the United States, the September 11 atrocity, and world politics.
Without the London Review of Books, I would have had
no idea that we had it coming.
Without The Guardian, I wouldn’t have known that we are
merely bullies
with a bloody nose
, that
what goes
around comes around
, that we need to
dare to damn Israel,
that the body
bags have already started coming home from this new Vietnam
, and that unless we cease
the bombing immediately,
we will be
responsible for genocide in Afghanistan
. Without
The Independent, I would never have understood
that we are
war criminals,
that we are
and cowboys
, and that we eschewed face-to-face combat because we thought our troops would be
traumatized, and humiliated

Oh, occasionally you run into
something worth reading.
But mostly it’s just knee-jerk defeatism, anti-Americanism, leavened with the occasional spasm of
virulent anti-Semitism. Huzzah for our closest allies!

I ran across the following G.K. Chesterson snippet a little while ago. I don’t usually quote
works that I haven’t read entirely, but this one just seems sums up the aforementioned writers so well.
I’ll bend the rules this time:

A man who says that no patriot should attack the Boer War until
it is over is not worth answering intelligently; he is saying that no good
son should warn his mother off a cliff until she has fallen over it. But
there is an anti-patriot who honestly angers honest men, and the
explanation of him is, I think, what I have suggested: he is the uncandid
candid friend; the man who says, ‘I am sorry to say we are ruined,’ and
is not sorry at all.

Anyway. I mostly fish through the lefty rags for the same reason I’m compelled to
listen to right-wing talk
radio. I’m looking for the really whacked out stuff. The caller who screams,
“Ya know what I think? I think we need internment camps for liberals!” You
know… something that helps me feel superior and clever.

It’s a counterproductive impulse, obviously. My goal is to
package the Right and the Left into safe little boxes.
See — those people are idiots! But of course that’s not true. For
every Robert Fisk there’s a Christopher Hitchens, or a Salman Rushdie.
For every Michael Savage, there’s a William Safire. For every Barbara Lee,
there’s… well, every other Democratic congressional representative.

The long and short of it is, I’ve found my New Year’s resolution. No more
British po-mo silliness. Or American silliness, for that matter. No more
tossing all liberals into the Idiot Lefty Box, or all conservatives into
the Frothing Right-winger Box. I should know better by now.


Well, I saw a midnight showing of the Fellowship of the Ring last night
(or this morning, rather). Me, Nancy, Mike, Eric, Byron (holy crap, Byron!),
Randy, Don, Nicole, Christina, Berkeley, Nate, and the inestimable
Barbara. Nancy, bless
her heart, got the tickets and arrived early so we could stand in at the
front of the line and get the good seats. Yes, we were the jerks who took the
entire front railing row. Ha ha.

The film was unbelievably good. If there’s a better fantasy movie out there, I
haven’t seen it.

Not only does the film do the big details well (the Shire, Isengard, the Balrog)…
but again and again it casually tosses off smaller details that blend in seamlessly.
Legolas’s demonic speed with the bow. Centipedes and crawling things boiling
out of the earth as a Ringwraith looms near. Saruman hauling down the trees (oooh,
you’re gonna pay for that later…) I was riveted, wide awake all the way
to 3am. Although that might have had something to do with the vast quantities of
Skittles I consumed.

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to seeing it again with my family. It’s going to be
our Christmas Day movie. Some Jewish families get Chinese food on Christmas Day. We
see a movie.

Long ago, this was a kind of special tradition. Crowds were sparse, and it was almost as
if we had the theater to ourselves. But in recent years all the frickin’ goyim
have caught on, and the theaters are as crowded as ever. Oh, well. Perhaps
you can only open presents for so long. After that, everyone’s kind of sitting
around the house staring at their relatives… wondering what there
is to do besides talk…

At least that’s just my guess.

Posted in SF

Waiting to Compile

Mom informs me that her excellent computer-repair instincts had nothing to do with
her education in biology or her experience in analyzing medical literature.

My model for my suggestion for your computer was starting a baby on
solid food. You start with one food at a time, wait a few days, and then add
another, and then another. That way, if something causes an allergy, you know
what it is. Simple really.

Today at work I was really bored, so I tried downloading and installing
the Dada Engine. This wonderful
software generates random text from a “grammar”, which is just a text file consisting
of rules. There are a number of fun examples of the Dada Engine in action,
including the Postmodernism
and the Random Adolescent
Poetry Generator
. I was really looking forward to inventing my own scripts.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t compile the software at work. It requires GNU make,
and at work we use Solaris (duh). I should have known this would happen… I had the
same trouble with the Apache webserver last year. Now,
even a dumb tech writer like me can install gcc and GNU make eventually,
but my knowledge of C is so weak… I’d rather not spend hours and hours trying to graft GNU-stuff
onto Solaris. I managed to do it once before, but it was singularly unpleasant.

Maybe some bright enterprising young person should rewrite the Dada Engine in Java.
Just as an exercise.

Fiendish Genius

Two items of good news:

First… it looks like I’ve finally isolated the problem that was causing
poor Spenser to freeze up. After three months of despair and false hopes, it looks
like there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
And who is the computer genius that deserves the credit for showing me the way?

Why Mom, of course.

“Honey,” she said the other day, after I subjected her to my latest sad-sack tale
of scouring message boards and downloading random drivers and why-oh-why didn’t
I just buy a Mac, “why don’t you try dealing with the problem systematically?”
Uninstall as much stuff as you can and see if your computer works. If it does,
start adding things back one-at-a-time until the problem re-appears.”

From the mouths of medical writers…

So it’s the sound card. Pull the sound card out, and everything is super. Put the
sound card back in, and there is the freezing (and the moaning and the kvetching
and the tearing-out-of-the-hair and the oy gevalt…) There are a couple of reasons
why this could happen, and a number of things I can do to fix this. But that can
come later. Right now, I’m just basking in the knowledge that I can
write this without the fear that at any second, I’ll have to do a hard reboot.

Second… I’ve signed a lease on a new place. My philosophy is, if I’m living by
myself, I should pick a small, cheap place and try to save money.
As long as the apartment complex doesn’t have a green pool
that’s filled with rotting leaves. I just see that as a Bad Sign for some reason. If
that makes me effete, a yuppie suburban boy, so be it.

Eventually I found a studio and an apartment that were cheap and clean.
I almost went with the studio, until I realized how absolutely flat-out stupid
that would have been. The one thing about the studio was that the name of the
building was “Melrose Place”. I think that was what was clouding my judgment.
Or it could have been the 20% savings in rent. Hard to say.

As for writing: I’m dropping the thud-and-blunder novel for now. I guess I’ll
stick with the short SF fiction to try and stay sharp. The
Why I Hate Aliens
theme is pretty fruitful, actually. (Although it’s apparently not as straightforward
as it sounds… M’ris informs me that
about 30% of the submissions don’t have the requisite hatred of extraterrestrials,
and about 12% don’t have any extraterrestrials at all.)
Anyway, I hope to have a couple more drafts in the next few
days — not for the anthology, of course. But for what, then? Well, last Friday
cousin Michael
told me I should submit to Strange Horizons.
Sounds good to me. And if they say no… well, this site needs a Fiction
, doesn’t it?

Finally, I have discovered The Dialectizer.
I looove this program. The only problem is that it doesn’t handle stylesheets
very well. No matter. It’s still a work of fiendish genius. Or as The Dialectizer
might say:

Finally, ah have discovahed Th’ Dialeckizer. ah looove this hyar program, dawgone it.
Th’ only problem is thet it don’t han’le stylesheets mighty fine. No matter. It’s still
a wawk of fiendish junius.

Armorers of God

M’ris is right:
Creed is awful. Just awful.

Well, I’m on the hunt for a new apartment. Got a few places I’m looking at tomorrow.
I’m feeling pretty optimistic. Besides, if I fail, I still have a place to live,
courtesy of Fred Holy. So not a lot of pressure.

Speaking of new places, Nancy and Mike invited everyone to a holiday party. It
is officially the “Smith-Holy residence”, not the other way around as you might expect.
Nancy rightly points out that she and Mike are not the Armorers of God.
And good thing, too. They might have room for one anvil in there at best.

I still am having trouble installing stable graphics drivers for my ATI card.
I keep trying to install the new drivers, but no matter what I do, the old drivers
keep springing back from their coffin and leering at me. Fortunately, I’ve finally
found an FAQ site that explains how to expunge the old drivers once-and-for-all.
This involves a little surgery on my Windows registry. Fortunately my physics
education instilled in me an unhealthy lack of fear of messing with technology
that I don’t understand.

I’ve been having awful trouble with my writing. Trying a little semi-traditional
fantasy. But it keeps coming out like, “Long-ago-in-the-days-of-high-adventure…”

Crotchety Old Fogey

A couple of days ago on the radio I heard a mysterious cover of Linkin Park’s
“One Step Closer”. Instead of an angry young man screaming at the top of his
lungs, this version involved a pleasant sounding woman with an acoustic guitar.
Disorienting, to say the least.

So I strained to hear who the artist was, but all I heard the DJ say was,
“Dean and Naroyan”. Ok, type that into Google… nope. Hmmmm, maybe he
said “Deena Naroyan”? No dice there either… but Google asks, “Did you mean
Deena Noroian‘”? Why, yes, as it turns out, I did.
And there she was! And if you
send her an email, she’ll even send you a free mp3 of her cover of “One Step Closer”.
Now, I’m not quite sure who her target audience is — besides possibly me
— since how many Linkin Park fans are also into Lilith Fair guitar music?
And vice versa? But maybe her new album will sell like hotcakes. What do I know?

Speaking of mp3s, I’ve been having a lot of fun ripping all my CDs onto my computer. This
was all accidental. I was just playing around, trying to get my sound card
to work properly. The install CD included a supremely crappy media player.
I got distracted with it… ripped a couple of CDs… and realized, “Hey,
this is pretty neat. I can store all my music in one place… organize my
collection… make my own playlists…” Welcome to 1999.

It’s like when that kid called from Harvey Mudd,
trolling for alumni donations. Well, after I coughed up the money we started
chatting, about NPR of all things. I mentioned
This American Life, and he said,
“Oh, I love that show. I listen to it all the time when I do my homework.”

Hmmmm, I thought. Maybe things have changed a bit since the Dark Ages when I
went to school, but I don’t recall noon on Saturdays being prime time for
doing E&M problem sets.

“No,” he said patiently. “I go to the website
and listen to the archived shows whenever I want.” Like, duh, Grandpa.

Am I turning into Abe Simpson?

I used to be with it, but then they changed what “it” was. Now, what I’m with isn’t
“it,” and what’s “it” seems weird and scary to me.

I can at least console myself with the fact that I never was with it. So I don’t
feel like I’ve lost any ground.

Finally, today happens to be the tenth anniversary of the
web page in the United States
, at SLAC. I think there were a couple of
websites up before then, but they were
Swiss or
something, so who cares?

UHaul, WeBitch

We moved Mike and Nancy on Saturday. Phase I (moving Mike) went smoothly.
We were just moving him from his apartment on the 7th floor to the one
almost directly below. The only hitch was that the auxilliary elevator had broken
that very morning, which made the trip four times as long as it should have been.
(“We apologize for any inconvenience,” the sign on the elevator said.) But with
help from me, Don, and Pat, it wasn’t so bad. Even Mike’s
secretary Audrey helped. (And they say it’s hard to find good help these days.)

Phase II did not go as smoothly. We backed the U-Haul truck into Nancy’s
driveway. Then we realized that we had to pull forward a few feet. So Pat
turned the key… nothing. The battery was dead. Not wanting to try
jumping the truck with my Sentra, we called U-Haul. They had nothing
available at all, naturally.

So until tomorrow night, Nancy is sleeping on her couch and fishing through
boxes for clean underwear. I guess it could have been worse. We could have
loaded up the truck and then discovered the problem.

Nevertheless, let us not be too quick to curse U-Haul and swear eternal fealty
to Ryder. Ever heard Sam’s story about the time he tried to
pick up a Ryder truck on the weekend? Closed on Sunday, the sign said —
right next to the sign with the company motto, We’re There When You Need Us!
“As it turned out,” says Sam, “they weren’t there when I needed them.
They could have at least taken that second sign down.”

Ah well, on to Good News and Bad News.

Good news, from

So after a good long time at the helm, the old cleric finally decided to surrender
his last remaining fortress – the place where it had all begun not so very long ago.
What should we do with him? Capture? House arrest? Public humiliation? I think we
should let Pat Robertson get on with the rest of his life in peace, don’t you?

Bad news: looks like my good housing deal has fallen through, sort of.
I can live there for two or three months, but then I’d need to move again.
Hmmm… the price is right… but as we’ve seen, moving stinks. But on the
bright side, my longing to haggle over the rent (see sidebar) might become
a reality. Be careful what you wish for…

Great news: I’ve sold a short short story, “Watercooler”, to the Bay
Laurel Ebooks anthology,
Why I Hate Aliens“.
Now we’re not talking a lot of money here… my story is only 1000 words, which means
that according to my calculations I’m entitled to roughly $0.04 per copy sold.
But the important thing is that I wrote something and
someone else liked it enough to publish.
So hooray for me! Besides, all the other books I’ve written in the last few years
have had titles like, “Lucent Computer Telephony Products Utilities User Guide” —
smashing blockbusters for which I have gone lamentably uncredited. High time
we turned that around.

Anyway, I’m feeling pretty good. And fired up, too. Time to turn in, and get
cracking on another story tomorrow night, right after work! No wimpy freewrites,
no journal, no tinkering with the broken HTML tutorial — no,
the real stuff. A bonafide story.

Except… I can’t. I’ll be helping Nancy move. Arrrggh.
We hates U-Haul. We hates them forever.

Dancing on Graves

Doing some more reading, this time on the
Holy Land Foundation, which had its assets
frozen by the US government a couple of days ago. The group had some
choice words on the matter, calling it an “attack on Islam”, among other things.

Well, today an
FBI memo
came to light
, describing various ties between the HLF and Hamas. My favorite part
was the snippet from a 1995 fundraiser in Los Angeles, where a Hamas military leader spoke:

“I hope no one is recording me or taking any pictures, as none are allowed…
because I’m going to speak the truth to you. It’s simple. Finish off the Israelis.
Kill them all! Exterminate them! No peace ever!”

The event raised $207,000, some of which went to reward the families of
suicide bombers. It took us six years to shut these people down?

Ok, let’s turn to some happy news: Enron has now come
us for power

“We don’t want to dance on anyone’s grave,” said Oscar Hidalgo, spokesman for the California
Department of Water Resources. “But this is sort of ironic.”

Nonsense, Mr. Hidalgo! Dance, I say, dance!

We’re also being treated to a number of sad stories about poor rank-and-file Enron employees,
whose retirement funds melted away as Enron’s stock fell from $90 to
change-under-the-couch-cushion levels. Looks like the
Labor Department is even getting involved. You’ve got to hand it to the U.S. government — even if
you’re a bunch of arrogant manipulative trash-talking middlemen, the plodding old Labor
Department will cheerfully step in to save your ass. That’s duty for you.

But let’s face it. Enron and the other energy traders simply took advantage of the
massive loopholes in our own “deregulation” scheme. We Californians wore a short skirt
and asked for it. After all, in 1995 we allowed ourselves to be distracted by the
burning issues of the day, such as whether or not to provide cheap preventative medical care to
illegal immigrants. Hmmm… sexy issue with lots of people screaming on both sides,
or complex arcane issue involving huge transfers of money and power? Guess which one
penetrated our consciousness? Fortunately, we had plenty of experts (Gov. Wilson,
legislators of both parties, and hordes of industry lobbyists) to decide the tough issues for us.

Not to beat this Enron thing to death, but a few days ago I heard an “industry analyst”
on NPR assuring the public that despite the debacle, energy production would continue.
“Power plants will continue to create electrons,” he said.

Arrrgh. All together, now: power plants don’t create electrons. And
while we’re on the subject, power plants don’t move electrons, either. Neither
do computers. If we’re talking AC power, electrons just shake back and forth. That’s about
it. And DC power? Well, you crack open your Halliday and Resnick and
calculate the electron drift speed for typical values of current and wire diameter. Then
call ZDNet
and let them in on the secret. I’m sure they’ll thank you for it.