A Minor Pho Pas

Bryan Keefer of Spinsanity has politely informed me that my Links page is incorrect; Ben and Brendan are indeed from Swarthmore, but Bryan actually went to Stanford. Fact-checked by Spinsanity, ouch! Well, Bryan is a fellow South Bay native, so hopefully we can both forgive each other much.

Speaking of links, I’ve found a weblog that I like enough to add to my Links page… Jeff Cooper of the University of Indiana. Good stuff. See, for example, his analysis of the White House counsel’s opinion on the President’s authority to invade Iraq without Congressional authorization. I’m hoping he writes more about his experiences teaching law this year. Maybe I should write him about that.

Finally, I had lunch with old high school friend Kathy today at a Vietnamese place near her work. I just wanted to note for the record that Kathy forgot to leave a tip, and so now we can’t show our faces in that place for at least the next six months. I am hoping against hope that there might be one or two more establishments in the Milpitas area that will serve our Pho needs in the meantime. I know the odds are low, but it’s all I’ve got to cling to.

I Was Your River Phoenix

Brian Gee is gone, sadly gone to New York. (He wants to wake up! In a city that never sleeps!) Anyway, he’s busy with his latest project… starting up One Brick New York. Apparently he’s awfully busy…

On Tuesday, August 27, 2002, at 11:26 AM, Brian Gee wrote:

... Did I tell you that we're getting One Brick NYC
up and running?  We've already got 250+ people signed up for our newsletter
here.  It's nuts.  I don't know if we can organize enough events to
accomodate that many people so early on.  We'll see.


From: "Evan Goer" 
To: "Brian Gee" 
Sent: Wednesday, August 28, 2002 1:32 AM

Well, I saw the announcement for One Brick NY.  I'm not surprised you've
got a lot of people signed up.  San Francisco is a podunk little town
compared to New York.  What is NYC, 10x the size of SF?  More?

Maybe you can treat it like an ultra-hip nightclub that just opened.
Turn people away at the door.  "Sorry, you're not cool enough to clean up
this park."



On Wednesday, August 28, 2002, at 05:38 AM, Brian Gee wrote:

Oh, come on.  We let people like you into our SF events.  So, we gotta
let ANYBODY into our NYC events.


From: "Evan Goer" 
To: "Brian Gee" 
Sent: Wednesday, August 28, 2002 10:45 AM

You've got it backwards.  SF was so small that you *needed* A-list people
like me to build up the hype and bring in the masses.  I was your River
Phoenix, and see how you've treated me?

Too Stupid to Live

Has anyone tried to cook a roast and set the dial to “Broil” instead of “Bake”? Can we get a show of hands?

Just me, I guess.

The interesting thing about the roast is not that it turned into a blackened lump of charcoal, but that it turned into a blackened lump of charcoal shaped something like a giant human heart. It looked like something out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Anyway, my house still smells like burnt meat. I like to think it’s a musky, masculine smell, but really who am I kidding?

And on the same day as the Roast from the Temple of Doom, Eric and I got our butts kicked on Warcraft III twice in a row. Get this: we lost to a couple of guys who built nothing but Chimerae. And we didn’t bother attacking them while they were building up, and we had no air defense. Fer cryin’ out loud. I’m trying to think of an analogous kind of loss in another game. It’s like… I dunno, losing to someone who manages to “Shoot the Moon” in Hearts. But it’s worse than that, because on rare occasions Shooting the Moon can be a pretty good strategy. The Chimera strategy is just plain silly. It only works when you play… well, people like us, I guess.

Well, enough self-flagellation. I need a better self-image. Maybe like this guy’s! Of course pride goeth before the fall

The Cartman Internet

In the last entry I mentioned that XSLT seemed to lack minimalism in its design, citing as an example the difficulty of creating “for” loops. In retrospect, that’s a bit inaccurate. The reason that it’s difficult to do a for loop in XSLT 1.0 is because they left that facility out of the language, and you have to kind of sneak around the restriction in a roundabout, complicated way. So I guess in one sense, XSLT is more minimalist than other languages that do have explicit for loops. I guess I was confusing minimalism with simplicity. Oops!

(That said, XSLT’s verbosity is intolerable. In a sensible language, you declare a variable with a statement like “int x=1;“, or maybe even just “x=1“. In XSLT it’s “<xsl:variable name="x" select="1" />1. I mean, yuck.)

Speaking of the last entry, I have more buyer’s remorse to share. I finally used up my five lb. bag of rice, so I went to the store and bought a ten lb. bag. It was the smallest size they had aside from the nasty Uncle Ben’s boxed stuff. When I got back home, I realized that I had an unopened five lb. bag shoved in the back of the pantry. It took me two years to finish off the last five lb. bag. I’m going to be thirty-four years old by the time I finish off everything. Unless there’s an insect infestation. Let’s all pray for insect infestations. Well, maybe I can return the bag at the next food drive.

Finally, I’d like to share this C|Net article by C|Net editor Charles Cooper, “Why Larry Lessig Gets an “F” in Software“. Professor Lessig has written a couple of books on the intersection of software and the law. The first, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, argues that unless we start caring about our rights in cyberspace soon, bad things are around the corner. The second, The Future of Ideas, is basically Lessig’s “See, I told you so” book. Both are good reads. Anyway, Lessig has been getting a lot of attention in techie circles — buzz on weblogs, enthusiastic cheers at O’Reilly conventions, that sort of thing.

Naturally, here comes the backlash. The American Prospect’s excellent weblog TAPPED calls this phenomenon the “Didn’t Like ‘Dances With Wolves’ Club“:

Here’s how it works. Some new book/movie/TV show, usually pretty good compared to most of the pap that passes for quality mass entertainment, emerges — David Eggers, West Wing, what have you. The newspapers, newsmagazines, and other arbiters of middlebrow culture rave about it. And then, a few months or TV seasons later, some smart, sharp, lacerating young critic — usually at Slate, in the New Republic’s back of the book, or in some other venue prizing critics who hate what everbody else likes — goes to town and explains why the book is awful, the movie is trite, or the TV show sucks. All the cool kids are doing it! Including some of Tapped’s favorite writers. We’re thinking of Chris Lehmann on why he hates West Wing, Franklin Foer explaining why Steven Soderbergh should win an Oscar for the feel-good Erin Brockovich instead of the critically-acclaimed Traffic, and Dale Peck on why Rick Moody is “the worst writer of his generation.” And now Slate’s Emily Nussbaum says Six Feet Under — an acclaimed t.v. show that by any reasonable measure is far better than your average sitcom — is not so good after all.

Looks like the pop-art world is a lot rougher than the pop-law world, because Lessig’s critics are neither smart nor lacerating. Charles Cooper argues that if you lower the length of software patents from seventeen years to ten, what will you get? Albanian communist dystopia. (Eeek!) Either that, or you’ll entrench Microsoft and Oracle (I didn’t quite follow this one), leading to… West Coast hyper-capitalist dystopia, I suppose. Anyway, there will be some kind of dystopia somehow, sez Cooper. Plus the Founding Fathers didn’t have any software2, and Cooper will be damned to see how silly old relics like the U.S. Constitution have anything to say on the matter.

And then of course you have the enraged Europeans (double eeek!) who proclaim, “Damn the Constitution: Europe must take back the Web!” Compared to this piece, Cooper’s article seems quite Moussaoui-reasonable:

[I]f they decide to run their part of the Net according to the principles laid down two hundred and fifty years ago by a bunch of renegade merchants and rebellious slave owners they [should] not be able to force the rest of us to follow suit. If they want a First Amendment online, or to let some gun-toting nut argue that writing viruses is the online equivalent of carrying a concealed weapon and so counts as a constitutionally protected right then they can go ahead – the rest of us can do things differently.

Protecting European and Chinese and Iraqi sovereignty online is certainly possible: it simply requires writing code for an entirely different network that has constant identification and authentication built in at every step of the way. This is the future that Lessig warns about, but the article’s author embraces the concept wholeheartedly. I’ve never seen a more perfect encapsulation of the Cartman “Screw you guys! I’m going home” mentality3, but there you have it. What I don’t understand is why Europe isn’t more freaked out about authoritarian control than we are. They’ve suffered its consequences much more keenly than we have. But I guess it’s more fun to pile on “renegade merchants” than to step back and take a look at the big picture.

1. Let’s not even get in to the whole mess about XSL “variables” actually being constants. I’m too tired.

2. Primitive man pages for vi(1) found among Thomas Jefferson’s personal effects notwithstanding.

3. On re-reading this, I realize that the Cartman metaphor is doubly apt. Not only do you have the “Screw you guys, I’m going home!” mentality, but you’ve also got the “Respect mah authoritaaay!!” aspect to go with it. My subconscious works in mysterious ways…


An impulse buy at the supermarket, and I am now the proud possessor of a fourteen-piece knife set. Actually, the box only had thirteen out of the fourteen knives. Maybe that’s why it was discounted half off. I’m still six knives ahead, the way I figure it. Regardless, I can’t complain, because really I only wanted the chef knife. My philosophy of cooking says that if it can’t be done with an 8″ chef’s knife, it’s probably not worth doing. Maybe a serrated bread knife. But that’s it. What am I supposed to do with six steak knives? Do you know the last time I had half-a-dozen friends over for steak dinner? Never, that’s when.

At work I’m doing a fun little project that requires me to learn SQL. Now I hear you asking, “What kind of self-respecting web guy can go this long without learning SQL?” My response: see the key word, “self-respecting”. (Not only that, I don’t know a damn thing about Perl either1. So there.)

Fortunately, SQL is a lot of fun. The simpler SQL queries almost sound like English sentences… just add a couple articles here and there. “Select all names from the employee database where the title is “Admin” and age is less than 40.” Of course you can make things much more complicated, but the point still stands. It seems pretty natural and simple to me. I guess that’s how they wanted to do things in the 70s back when SQL was invented. Compare that to a more “modern” language like XSL/XSLT, with all those long command names and where trying to do a simple loop requires tail-recursion and ooooh, my head is already starting to hurt. Minimalism, I tell you. It’s a good thing.

1. To qualify my statement of ignorance a bit, I have to admit that this page has a small Perl wrapper. And of course the 404 page for this site uses Perl to select the random message. So put me down for “near-ignorance”. Sorry about any confusion.


I had a disturbing dream last night. The fragment that I remember: I was zipping along in my car down a mountain peak on this narrow, winding road, when I went crashing through the guardrail and fell straight to the bottom. I got out of the wreckage of the car. My rational brain kicked in for a second: “You’re OK,” it said. “You’re not dead… this is just a dream.” But then another, stronger voice spoke up. “No,” it said, “you really are dead.” That was the part that really freaked me out. I was utterly convinced that I had died — not in a car crash, but in my sleep.

Fortunately, I’m happy to report that I am fully awake and definitely not-dead. (Although the weird thing is, all day I’ve been having cravings for strange foods… like… BRRAAAINNNSSS!!!) Ooops, ummm… where was I?

Right, not-dead. So, in celebration of being not-dead, I finally finished redesigning Mom’s website, hencigoer.com. Be sure to take a look at her book, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth. The amusing thing about reading reviews of her book on places like Amazon.com is that she gets stellar review after stellar review, except for the occasional one that says something like this: “Gosh, she sure has lots of facts and research and stuff. But on the other hand, she sure says lots of mean things about obstetricians. So two stars for you, and phooey on your negativity!”

Sigh. The thing is, there’s a reason why she’s a bit negative about obstetricians. The whole point is that the medical research does not jibe with the way obstetric medicine is practiced in this country — and as a result, hundreds of thousands of American women undergo unnecessary major surgery every year, and we have the highest infant mortality rates in the industrialized world. Not to mention the billions of dollars a year we waste each year in health care costs. But none of that matters to obstetricians. Impervious to reason, immune to fear and self-doubt, the shambling hordes of ACOG lurch along on the same path, and we are all helpless to resist them…

Anyway, like I said, Mom’s site is up and running with an all-new design. For the geekly among you, it’s an all-CSS layout that degrades reasonably well in older browsers. It also validates as HTML 4.01 Strict. That’s how much I love Mom. I mean, my site only validates HTML 4.01 Transitional… and that’s on a good day. So see? Nothing’s too good for the marvelous lady without whom, I would not exist. (Nothing’s too good for the corresponding marvelous gentleman either, but he hasn’t asked me for any website help yet.)

Anyway, it’s late, and I’m kind of hungry. Unfortunately there’s nothing much in the fridge… but I think I hear the next-door neighbors coming home… BRAAAAIIIINNNNSSS!

I gotta go.

Conan’s Mojitos

Courtesy of Mom, I finally have a decent and easy-to-follow mojito recipe. She found it in Sunset Magazine. What’s a great recipe like that doing in an old fuddy-duddy magazine like Sunset?

2 c light rum
1 c water
1 1/4 c fresh mint leaves
1/2 c sugar

1 c lime juice
Ice cubes
More fresh mint leaves (optional)

Mint syrup: in a 1-2 quart pan, combine mint leaves, sugar, and water. Stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture is simmering. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand 30 minutes. Pour mint syrup through strainer to remove mint leaves.

Combine rum, mint syrup, and lime juice. Serve with ice cubes and, optionally, crushed mint leaves. Taa-daa!

I can personally attest that this is a pretty darn good mojito. As a variation, you might want to consider adding some club soda… however, keep in mind that this dilutes the drink significantly. And let’s face it, when you’re facing the ravenous hordes on Warcraft 3 with your old friend Eric from kindergarten at your side, you need all the liquid courage you can get. Either that, or you can get the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack and play “The Anvil of Crom” on infinite loop. That works too.

Note: I’d like to point out that Eric and I are currently undefeated as a team — 3 and 0. Our battle prowess is not exactly all that, though. For one thing, we haven’t played anyone yet who has figured out how to build an expansion base. Even worse, we haven’t figured out how to taunt the other team effectively. “Yo ‘huntresses are so fat…” is the best I can do. And Eric’s taunts consist of saying nasty things about our opponents that are meant for my ears only, but that he accidentally sends to the global channel. It’s obvious that this aspect of our game needs some work.

Would You Like Fries With That?

I recently found Mark Irons’s Patterns for Personal Web Sites. Great stuff. Words to live by. If you have a personal website, go take a look-see.

So I was listening to the radio today, and they were having a discussion about the recent fast-food lawsuit. You know, this one.

Now, I don’t like to waste my time bashing lawyers. First of all, the law is (duh) pretty complicated. These days I’m trying to learn not to shoot my mouth off about things I don’t understand. It’s kind of like physics. Unfortunately, I know a few things about physics, and when I see laypersons (usually on sites like this one) spew their opinions on physics, it drives me up the wall. I want to say things like this to them, but somehow I manage to refrain. The thing is, some people have the sense not to comment on physics. but everyone thinks they have something tremendously valuable to share about the law. And at least with physics you don’t have hordes of people screaming about how horrible and wrong physicists were to, say, discover the top quark. Somehow the Pledge of Allegiance resonates a little more with people. I’m not sure why.

Second, everyone loves to pick on lawyers. For example, take my poker buddies (please!) A few weeks ago, I threw out the timid suggestion that I maybe kinda sorta was thinking about going to law school. You’d have thought I announced I was personally responsible for Sports Night going off the air. “What are you thinking?” they cried. “You want your job to be all about destroying other people’s productivity?” When I said that rather than being a lawyer, I thought it would be interesting to be a law professor, they were even more horrified. “So you want to train other people to destroy productivity?” Sigh. Picking on lawyers. So trite.

So that said, the fast-food lawsuit really pisses me off. The one thing that freaked me out about the tobacco lawsuits all those years ago was the thought that, “uh-oh… they’re going to come for cheeseburgers and ice cream next.” And lo and behold, here we are.

As I understand it, the basic argument against the tobacco companies went something like this. A) Tobacco is very dangerous, B) tobacco is very addictive, and C) the tobacco companies actively lied and attempted to cover up evidence that pointed to A) and B). For me personally, C) was the kicker. I think C) is what made the tobacco juries so mad as well.

But the fast-food situation is totally different. Maybe you can make a case for A). But nobody’s arguing B), and as for C)… is there anyone in this country who thinks cheeseburgers are healthy? The calories and fat content is posted on the wall right next to the order counter, for crying out loud. So I’m pretty confused about the whole thing.

Certainly there are some lawsuits against fast-food companies that have merit. For example, there were a couple of suits over the issue of fast-food companies using animal fat in (nominally) vegetarian meals, such as french fries. If McDonalds is failing to disclose that their fries are cooked in beef fat, vegetarians are perfectly justified in being angry over this. But that’s a totally different issue. Nobody’s trying to cover up the health effects of cheeseburgers. How could one not be informed about this? How can you sue someone for producing a dangerous product when that danger is common knowledge? What gives?

Anyway, I was so annoyed that instead of having a sandwich for lunch today, I went out and bought a double cheeseburger Value Meal at Burger King today. A large Value Meal. That’ll show ’em.

Bad Poker Player

So last night, we’re playing a poker game called “Bundai”.

Not to get into the rules too deeply, but it basically works like this. At the start of each round, everyone antes to the pot. After dealing cards, you go around the table and say if you’re “in” or “out”. If you’re “in”, everyone else gets a chance to challenge you. If nobody challenges you, you win a “leg”; the first player to win three legs wins the pot. If you do get challenged, the player with the better hand wins the value of the pot from the loser.

Okay, so the thing about Justin is, he wins the pot a lot. Way more than average. And the way he’ll do it is this: out of nowhere, he’ll just go for it. He’ll have no legs, and then he’ll go in three times out of four hands and just win outright. It drives me up the wall, because I know he’s got to be bluffing fairly often… but every time someone challenges, he’s got the cards.

So this time, Justin has two legs, and he goes in. I challenge, and he beats me. He decides to go in the next hand. Okay, I think. He figures I won’t challenge him again. So I challenge again, and he beats me again. The next hand, he goes in for a third time in a row. Now I’m thinking… my hand isn’t great, but shoot, he thinks he has me cowed. He’s just waltzing to the finish line with crappy cards. I can’t let him do that. So I challenge again, and again I lose. Justin then goes in on the fourth hand. I wisely don’t challenge (thus, as it turns out, avoiding Justin’s four aces) and the game ends.

Well, at this point I’m totally psyched out. I don’t think I can play Bundai anymore. I just turn stupid. And by “stupid”, I mean “stupider than usual” in my poker playing. Fortunately, we’re playing nickel poker, so the worst anyone does is lose $10 or so. I recently heard an archived NPR interview with one of the top female poker players in the world, and she explained that the first time she lost $3,000, she cried herself to sleep. The first time she lost $20,000, she couldn’t sleep for a week. But nowadays when she loses $100,000 in a night, she doesn’t let it bother her. All part of a night’s work. (Lest you feel sorry for this lady and her losses, you should know that she sleeps ’till noon, works her own hours, and has built up a two million dollar bankroll over the years.) Anyway, the point is that I guess I shouldn’t feel bad. My vices are cheap.

It’s Raining Babies

Well, not quite. But it seems that way.

First, Colleen gave birth to Melia, who I’m going to get to see tomorrow evening. Colleen complains that Melia was fairly big, 8lbs, 5oz… but let’s face it, Colleen is a 5’11” volleyball player, and Daddy is a 6’4″ volleyball player. So it’s not like this is unexpected.

Second, my old college friend Wendy had her first baby, Karen Elise, early Tuesday. The labor took only five hours. You’ve got to hand it to Wendy — she does everything on or ahead of schedule. First she finished her PhD in Geophysics in just a tad over four years, and now this. And, I think we need to award her some bonus points for choosing to give birth on a Tuesday, which allowed proud papa (and poker buddy) Phil to call us all on Tuesday Poker Night to announce the news.

I should point out that of the five poker buddies present, the only one who got to talk to Phil and Wendy was yours truly. I nearly started babbling to her about how wonderful and magical the whole thing was, but I managed to stop myself. This was Wendy, after all. I think she would have reached out and smacked some sense into me through the phone if I had carried on like that.

Come to think of it, that would be an extra phone feature that I bet a lot of people would pay for. But I digress.