Smorgasborg - Random Objects

January, 2010: 28 posts.

Snow and Trees #1

Snow and Trees #1

It sure has been a remarkable few months. I’ve made some folks real happy, and some folks confused, and some folks confused and happy, and some folks confused and happy, and some folks unhappy, and some folks… well, you can work it out.

It’s cold where I am in Roanoke, Virginia. I’ve shoveled more snow than ever before, but mostly it’s cold and I’m working stuff out. Hang tight, and sorry I’ve not been replying to much email. I’m working on it, I swear.

Oh, and, welcome to 2010. I will turn 40 years old this year and I feel okay about it. But things have radically changed, to the good I think.

Quote of the Day

From March, 2002:

You have to have the ganas to work on web stuff. All you need is desire. The technology changes frequently, and you have to keep up. The tools we use are always playing catch-up ball with best practices in accessibility, standards compliance, usability, design, browsers. If you keep your eye on the state of the art, work hard, and try to have fun with it, you’re set.

– Source: The Head Lemur’s pixelview interview with Joe Crawford

Yes, I did shovel snow.

The visual proof:

Shoveling Snow #1

Omar & Brother Mouzone

Two of the more vivid characters from The Wire, Omar and Brother Mouzone, which Leah, my father and I have watched over the past month with great zeal. It’s worth re-watching start-to-finish.

Surplus … freaks people out (QOTD)

Quote of the Day from Clay Shirky:

Unfortunately for us, though, the intellectual fate of our historical generation is unlikely to matter much in the long haul. It is our misfortune to live through the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race, a misfortune because surplus always breaks more things than scarcity. Scarcity means valuable things become more valuable, a conceptually easy change to integrate. Surplus, on the other hand, means previously valuable things stop being valuable, which freaks people out.

Oklahoma City Memorial

In November, as part of our cross-country trip, I visited the Oklahoma City Memorial. It was early in the morning, Leah was exhausted and sick. I took some time and wandered the grounds for a while. I took a few photos.

Gates of Time
Field of Empty Chairs
Tile by Ranord, Age 13
Oklahoma City Memorial Survivor Tree

Visiting the memorial was like visiting a church.

In the film No Maps for These Territories, William Gibson talks about the bombing and how the news of it raised the stakes. This catastrophe in Oklahoma City was a truth stranger than fiction, by a new factor. No Maps was made in 2000, and I saw it at SXSW that year.

I think he was right. This future is not what I would have ever predicted.


My response to the Memorial was similar to how I feel when I visit a Catholic Cathedral for the first time, or when I visit the Lincoln Memorial and read that damn Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. It induces doleful weepiness.

“…and the war came”

The Fence is an ad hoc part of the Memorial, where there is an assortment of artifacts, specific memorials to individuals, knick knacks. It’s flowers, but other things too, keychains, hats, ribbons, wreaths, toys, stuffed animals. It’s not designed. It’s not planned. It degrades, and is a little dingy. It is the product of people keeping a memory alive. It is the work of people leaving a piece of themselves, having visited. There are a few photos here. The Memorial’s website says:

The first Fence was installed to protect the site of the Murrah Building. Almost immediately, people began to leave tokens of love and hope on the Fence. Those items now total more than 60,000 and are collected and preserved in our archives. Today, more than 200 feet of the original Fence gives people the opportunity to leave tokens of remembrance and hope.

Artifacts from the Fence / Oklahoma City Memorial

Sorry if this post induces dolefulness. Read about the bombing, it’s an event that deserves to be known.

“The Grand Canyon is a little of each”

From Paul Ford‘s Just Like Heaven in The Morning News

There is tourism for the body—a trip to the Jersey Shore or Ibiza, waterparks and nightclubs. Return relaxed, brain scooped. There is tourism for the mind—a walk through the Louvre, a visit to the Liberty Bell. The Grand Canyon is a little of each.

Bloomberg on the Economy with Tom Keene Podcast: Paid Subscription

Bloomberg On the Economy with Tom Keene went to paid subscription only on their podcast. Suddenly in my iTunes all their podcasts are all under 10 minutes in length and exhort the listener to subscribe to get the whole show. I’ve been listening for what seems like 2 years and enjoyed many of their guests. Good inside-baseball discussion of economics.

Twitter is great for finding like-minded people, and sure enough a quick search for “bloomberg podcast” yields other listeners also affected by this change:

  • artlung: Bloomberg On the Economy with Tom Keene went to paid subscription only on their podcast. Disappointing.
  • brentaustin: Very disappointed to see that the Bloomberg on the Economy podcast has gone subscription only. It was one of my favorite finance/econ pdcsts
  • justgregit: really upset that bloomberg on the economy podcast now costs $100. I’m going to cry. @tomkeene_
  • jackoatmon: Awwwwww maaaannnn. Bloomberg started charging for the Tom Keene podcast. Blast!
  • alyshabrady: Payment required for the Bloomberg on the Economy podcast? Despicable.

I understand Bloomberg has to make money. I’m disappointed especially because there was no warning. Just all of a sudden the podcast was not the whole podcast. They did run ads, but I guess those didn’t make enough money to sustain the thing.

“This is free genius tv advice.”

David Letterman comments on TV shenanigans:

Google reviewing business operations in China

Official Google Blog: A new approach to China:

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.



Space Shuttle Enterprise

There’s something wonderful about looking up at a Space Shuttle. Even if the whole project was sort of a half-step and not really in keeping with getting us out there. It was okay for getting us into orbit, but we really need to get, gone, daddy-o.

I went to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, part of the Smithsonian some weeks back. I have photos to prove it. (Leah took most of those).

Clay Shirky’s rant about women

Terrifc rant from my favorite internet pundit, Clay Shirky:

And it looks to me like women in general, and the women whose educations I am responsible for in particular, are often lousy at those kinds of behaviors, even when the situation calls for it. They aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so. Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have have changed the world.

Roanoke Users Groups

I’ve spent some time yesterday compiling a list of users groups here in Roanoke, Virginia. I’ve placed that at When we first arrived here in late November I was quite happy to have found the Roanoke .NET Users Group, though the fact that I’m not particularly a Microsoft developer is a hindrance to my full enjoyment. That group does have what appears to be an awesome Code Camp coming up in March, but again, the technologies they’re using don’t (yet?) get me fired up. I have done a fair amount of work with SQL Server, traditional ASP (Yes, I can write VBScript and even server-side JScript!). I’ve gone through the basic tutorials with .NET, and I’ve played with Mono. None of these are my main expertise.

I went looking for groups on the web, and found not much, really. So I started peeking around on twitter, following searches for “Roanoke” and “Blacksburg.” I poked around at the folks doing the twittering. I’ve done similar searches for outlying towns and cities. In the course of all this searching I’ve found some frustration–events in Roanoke are straightforward enough, though there are mentions of a Roanoke Alabama, and Roanoke Texas which can get in the way. Blacksburg is great as a search term, but “New River Valley” or even just Virginia Tech are better searches for that area. One of the biggest boosters of local tech uses the term NewVa Technology Corridor, representing “Roanoke and Blacksburg, VA.” I think the term “NewVA” is a terrible term, and nobody uses it. Blacksburg groups are usually just “VT,” and in searches sometimes Roanoke events get tagged as “#rke“, which is a contraction that I’m not crazy about, but people use it, so who am I to argue with taxonomy.

But through searches, and with some wonderful assistance from some local folk, again via twitter, I have come up with what I think is a pretty good list of the local stuff (Roanoke is where we are, Blacksburg is 36 miles away), as well as other areas within striking distance. Harrisonburg is 110 miles away, though I made that list last because so far the groups I’ve found are all have “Shenandoah” in their name and not Harrisonburg. I hope that does not offend the late Thomas Harrison overmuch. Charlottesville (120 miles away) has a few groups, including what seems to be a quite active Social Media group. The North Carolina Triangle (170 miles away) is the most interesting and most difficult to search for. The Triangle encompasses several cities, and is immediately adjacent to The Triad, but don’t get them confused. I have more work to do in separating out where these different events and groups are in NC. Richmond (190 miles away) has a few, and have a WordPress Camp coming up in the Summer. Charlotte (198 miles away) was not on my radar at all, but has quite a few groups of interest. I completely missed Charlotte in favor of Washington DC / Northern Virginia (240 miles away), where I have a few friends, and of course my sister lives there, but Charlotte is the area that I know the least about, other than flying through there many times on my way to Roanoke or Charlottesville. Baltimore (278 miles away) is about as far away as I want to get, list-wise, and there I just have BarCamp, because that’s my interest. I had to stop somewhere.

It vexes me that there is not a more complete regional cross-group listing, but I understand all too well the reasons for it. When I ran websandiego, groups waxed and waned as their leadership changed. It takes hard work to keep a “meet in person” group going. I have a great admiration for the way 12-step groups manage to keep regular in-person meetings going. They pare down the required fees, materials, culture to the minimum, and have sustained for many years. People come and go but the groups sustain themselves. My wish is for a similar kind of scenario for BarCamp. I’ve seen BarCamp’s be less functional because there was no real structure to keep the needs of the event first, which put pressure on the organizers, more pressure than was healthy.

Users groups tend to have more overhead–sponsors and giveaways and a regular meeting space require hustling and phone calls and “extra work” that can be hard to do.

So for posterity, because I presume people will search for Roanoke Users Group and get this page, here’s what I have so far. The full and up-to-date list will live at

Rainy Sunday morning

It’s a rainy Sunday morning. One could do worse than to spend it with Bas. He’s one of the more affectionate cats I’ve ever met.

Me and Bas

A jumpsuit and shoes

Quote of the day, from a children’s book about the year 2010 written in 1972: 2010: Living in the Future (via

In the year 2010 everyone wears a jumpsuit and shoes. The clothes may look odd, but they are sensible. The jumpsuits and shoes are made in thousands of colors, from a material so light you can hardly feel it. The material keeps you warm when it is cold and cool when it is hot.

Jacob Lake Campground

At Christmastime, which Leah and I spent in Kanab, Utah with family, I drove south towards the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I took a few photos on the drive. Kanab’s elevation is 4,970 feet — there was a very slight amount of snow on the cliffs near Kanab and lingering in the town (this is detail from another photo, to the Southwest of Kanab:

Outside Kanab, Detail

The elevation at Jacob Lake is 7,925 feet. It gets more snow, and the snow sticks longer. The road to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from Jacob Lake are closed in winter. There was an impressive amount of snow:

Jacob Lake Campground: Road Closed
Trail along 89 north of Jacob Lake

My brother-in-law Rick Gate took this great photo from his trip there a few weeks later:

That sign is a store on the South end of Fredonia, which is part-way from Kanab to Jacob Lake. The sign is an indicator that you are definitely no longer in Utah, seeing as how alcohol and gambling are against Church teachings.

Rick camped south of where I drove to, and blogged a few photos and thoughts: Notes From Winter Camp at Toroweap.

I’ve taken to seeing much of that part of the country as unappreciated. Even the Grand Canyon. We joke about going to see it, and then getting back in the car. I think if more people viewed it as a 19th century landscape painters their hearts might barely contain their enthusiasm. For example, here’s a letter from Thomas Moran from his wife, 1873:

On reaching the brink the whole gorge for miles lay beneath us and it was by far the most awfully grand and impressive scene that I have ever yet seen. We had reached the Canon on the second level or edge of the great gulf. Above and around us rose a wall of 2000 feet and below us a vast chasm 2500 feet in perpendicular depth and 1/2 a mile wide. At the bottom the river very muddy and seemingly only a hundred feet wide seemed slowly moving along but in reality is a rushing torrent filled with rapids. A suppressed sort of roar comes up constantly from the chasm but with that exception every thing impresses you with an awful stillness. The color of the Great Canon itself is red, a light Indian Red, and the material sandstone and red marble and is in terraces all the way down. All above the canon is variously colored sandstone mainly a light flesh or cream color and worn into very fine forms. I made an outline and did a little color work but had not time nor was it worth while to make a detailed study in color. We made several photos which will give me all the details I want if I conclude to paint the view.

What it must have felt like to see such a sight, with a painter’s eye, for the first time! It boggles my mind.

I hope I can see more of the world with such eyes, for truly it contains wonders. And I hope I can take advantage of the ability to see natural beauty.

UPDATE: Joe Bennion also wrote about camping on Toroweap.

Mark Cuban’s counterintuitive take on NBC’s talk show moves

Mark Cuban has a counterintuitive take on the changes NBC tried with regards to late night tv in his latest post: Why are we condemning Jeff Zucker & NBC over Leno?

In today’s corporate world, if you don’t take the risks, you don’t get skewered on blogs, on cable news, in the newspaper. Public condemnation appears to be a far worse consequence than financial success is a reward. Thats (sic) a huge problem for our country.

In other words: no risk, no reward. It’s a topic worth considering.

Downed big rig (from December 2009)

Heavy traffic, I-81 Southbound, Downed big rig

Back in December there was some pretty impressive weather around here. I had never seen a big rig truck downed by weather before. The traffic after it was scary. We’re glad we weren’t out in the weather when the snow came down so hard.

100% Snow

“Information Architecture” explained

People ages 1 to 100

Brian Eno, always interesting

You can read selected quotes below or simply click through to: On gospel, Abba and the death of the record: an audience with Brian Eno:

On the intensity of ideas:
“If you grow up in a very strong religion like Catholicism you certainly cultivate in yourself a certain taste for the intensity of ideas. You expect to be engaged with ideas strongly whether you are for or against them. If you are part of a religion that very strongly insists that you believe then to decide not to do that is quite a big hurdle to jump over. You never forget the thought process you went through. It becomes part of your whole intellectual picture.”

On recording:
“As a listener who grew up listening to pop music I am interested in results. Pop is totally results-oriented and there is a very strong feedback loop. Did it work? No. We’ll do it differently then. Did it sell? No. We’ll do it differently then. So I wanted to bring the two sides together. I liked the processes and systems in the experimental world and the attitude to effect that there was in the pop, I wanted the ideas to be seductive but also the results.”

On singing:
“I belong to a gospel choir. They know I am an atheist but they are very tolerant. Ultimately, the message of gospel music is that everything’s going to be all right. If you listen to millions of gospel records – and I have – and try to distil what they all have in common it’s a sense that somehow we can triumph. There could be many thousands of things. But the message… well , there are two messages… one is a kind of optimism for the future rather than a pessimism. Gospel music is never pessimistic, it’s never ‘oh my god, its all going down the tubes’, like the blues often is. Gospel music is always about the possibility of transcendence, of things getting better. It’s also about the loss of ego, that you will win through or get over things by losing yourself, becoming part of something better. Both those messages are completely universal and are nothing to do with religion or a particular religion. They’re to do with basic human attitudes and you can have that attitude and therefore sing gospel even if you are not religious.”

On instrumentalists:
“Instrumentalists build a rapport with their instruments which is what you like and respond to. If you were sitting down now to design an instrument you would not dream of coming up with something as ridiculous as an acoustic guitar. It’s a strange instrument, it’s very limited and it doesn’t sound good. You would come up with something much better. But what we like about acoustic guitars is players who have had long relationships with them and know how to do something beautiful with them.”

“I’ve fought for years the idea that rock and popular art is only about passion and fashion and nothing to do with thinking and examining and if you do think there is something suspicious about you.”

On Abba:
“In the 70s, no one would admit that they liked Abba. Now it’s fine. It’s so kitsch. Kitsch is an excuse to defend the fact that they feel a common emotion. If it is kitsch. you put a sort of frame around something – to suggest you are being ironic. Actually, you aren’t. You are really enjoying it. I like Abba. I did then and I didn’t admit it. The snobbery of the time wouldn’t allow it. I did admit it when I heard ‘Fernando’; I could not bear to keep the secret to myself anymore and also because I think there is a difference between Swedish sentimentality and LA sentimentality because the Swedish are so restrained emotionally. When they get sentimental it’s rather sweet and charming. What we really got me with “Fernando” was what the lower singer was doing, I don’t know her name. I spent months trying to learn that. It’s so obscure what she’s doing and very hard to sing. And then from being a sceptic I went over the top in the other direction. I really fell for them.”

On Frank Zappa:
“Zappa was important to me because I realised I didn’t have to make music like he did. I might have made a lot of music like he did if he had not done it first and made me realise that I did not want to go there. I did not like his music but I am grateful that he did it. Sometimes you learn as much from the things you don’t like as from the things you do like. The rejection side is as important as the endorsement part. You define who you are and where you are by the things that you know you are not. Sometimes that’s all the information you have to go on. I’m not that kind of person. You don’t quite know where you are but you find yourself in the space left behind by the things you’ve rejected.”

On the end of an era
“I think records were just a little bubble through time and those who made a living from them for a while were lucky. There is no reason why anyone should have made so much money from selling records except that everything was right for this period of time. I always knew it would run out sooner or later. It couldn’t last, and now it’s running out. I don’t particularly care that it is and like the way things are going. The record age was just a blip. It was a bit like if you had a source of whale blubber in the 1840s and it could be used as fuel. Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you’d be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate – history’s moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it.”

via Bruce Sterling

A trapped moment from July, 2009

Part of running WordPress is that when you start a post, your draft will get saved. It looks like on 21 July 2009 I cut and pasted this — I think from a quick email I sent with my cell phone to Leah while I was visiting my Grandparents for a while.

Thanks for the update. mx gpa apparently loves cranberry bagels. i did
some cleanup and gma joked that theyre raising my salary.then
corrected that theyre doubling my salary. then thex both chucled. xo


My grandfather apparently loves cranberry bagels. I did some cleaning up around the house, just helping out a little, nothing major. My grandma joked that they’re “raising my salary” — and then corrected herself that they’d double my salary. Then both of them chuckled at their joke.

A nice moment, frozen in time.

Prop 8 Trial Coverage

If you were interested in Proposition 8 court coverage from those working against Prop 8, you might check out: and

The Comics Journal: Online & Off

For some cultural things I much prefer the journalism about a thing more than the thing itself. Sports is one area, for example, I really enjoy the reporting of Bob Costas and HBO’s Real Sports show. Another area where the reportage gets more attention than the thing itself is in comics.

You may or may not know that in November I sold all my comics, cheap. Leah and I sold most everything, really. It was a relief to get rid of 200 pounds of paper I seldom ever read. As I regarded those comics one thing I noticed pained me slightly more was the comics journalism: particularly The Comics Journal. I had read TCJ for decades. It’s an erudite magazine pointed at an often juvenile artform.

Recently, TCJ has increased their online presence. In particular I have enjoyed articles like: Brighter in Hindsight: Black Humor by Charles R. Johnson. It covers a comics artist, gag cartoonist really, who worked for black adult men’s magazines in the 1970s. I had never heard of him or his work, but it sounds thoughtful, uncomfortable, and funny. Twilight is Manga made me chuckle at the fact that there was an antecedent for the “boyfriend falls in love with the offspring of would-be-girlfriend” aspect of the final Twilight book.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed detailed analyses and criticisms and highlights of great comics work. It pointed me to things I would not have purchased otherwise. I don’t always agree with it, but it’s a magazine that always made me think. I never subscribed, but I always enjoyed dropping into a comic book shop and seeing there were some interesting back issues, whether a month old or 2 years old, with interviews with artists and writers, creators and editors.

Online, it’s worth checking out:

Back in October Publishers Weekly’s The Beat Blog wrote about TCJ’s changes in format. That article is great because it highlights a very interesting change in strategy for TCJ. It will beef up the quality, size and format of the print issues, that is, more value for the dollar, but make fewer of them. Meanwhile, it’s beefing up its online presence with more multimedia and articles online. It’s remarkable because it seems so obvious — play to the strengths of the medium you’re working in. If you’re in both, change it up and serve both, and better. I with other print publications were so smart.

Why can’t American airport security be run more like Israeli?

While North America’s airports groan under the weight of another sea-change in security protocols, one word keeps popping out of the mouths of experts: Israelification.

That is, how can we make our airports more like Israel’s, which deal with far greater terror threats with far less inconvenience.

“It is mind boggling for us Israelis to look at what happens in North America, because we went through this 50 years ago,” said Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy. He has worked with the RCMP, the U.S. Navy Seals and airports around the world.

“Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don’t take s— from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for – not for hours – but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, `We’re not going to do this. You’re going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.'”

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel’s largest hub, Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

Read the whole thing: What Israel can teach us about security: At Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, screening is done in 30 minutes. The key? Look passengers in the eye

Apple to retcon the PADD

PADD = “PADD” is an acronym for Personal Access Display Device, a hand-held computer interface, used as early as the 22nd century and well into the 24th century.

Supposedly Apple Computer of Cupertino, California will be retconning the PADD in about an hour. I will defer to Jason Kottke on what the best sources of live information about this new PADD might be.

I finished Red Remover

Altogether, Red Remover was pretty hard. If I finish a silly Flash game I don’t necessarily take a screenshot, but this one was pretty darn hard.

Snowed yesterday

A lot.

Snow on Saturday

It caused the event I was going to go to: NC jQuery Camp, to get postponed till later in February. I’m still looking forward to a North Carolina adventure in coding.

So we were snowed in Saturday, except for some preliminary snow shoveling I did. Today, Sunday started at 5am and I went to pick up my dad from the airport. His flight was canceled for Saturday night, so he and his ski club took a van from Atlanta, and so I trekked over mostly cleared-ish roads in 5°ree;F weather. It was thankfully uneventful. The rest of today was shoveling snow, with a bit of email and lots of podcasts. I actually have a whole other post where I talk about shoveling snow in draft mode. So forgive me if the next post also features snow shoveling. It’s a workout.

And thus endeth this post.

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