Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Enough with the theme. Back to something adult, like comic books. On the good news/bad news front, Scott McCloud has a new book in progress, "Making Comics" (yay). Bad news is that we have to wait till 2006 for its release (gah). An interview with McCloud from Newsarama where he discusses the new book can be found here.

"
Understanding Comics" is one of the best books ever written on the comics field and theory, and art, and story-telling, and narrative, and the creative process, and just about anything else you can think of. If you're interested in any of those things at all, run, even virtually, to your nearest book seller and buy it.

Seriously.

"Reinventing Comics" is less successful and more targeted to comics' history and possible future(s). "Making" sounds, from Scott's description, as if it will be closer to "Understanding", "...There are more fundamental issues of storytelling, like the art of just putting one picture after another, that I think haven’t really been addressed. That’s the sort of thing that I’m going to be taking about – what goes on in that really fundamental level of storytelling in comics. That’s the stuff that interests me."

And me, too. Only two years to wait.

What do a mouse and Bob Dylan have in common?


Item #3, which I know is really #2, but #2's coming tomorrow, and what the heck, it fits into today's theme... Victoria's Secret releases Mickey Mouse-themed sleepwear.

I'm not making this up. Dylan. Mickey Mouse. Tomorrow the world. All bow to Mistress Victoria. (via, yet again,
Boing-Boing)

From the department of redundancy department


Even an fhb (I'm refusing to use my first name to stop those "F" ads) needs a break. Okay, the reference to "First up.." below (which should be above. Does anyone else find the reverse-linearity of blog-posting as distracting as I do?) never got to item two, which has now expanded to three. Took me longer to write the piece than I thought and paying work called.

Item #2, on the Suicide Girls site, will have to wait till tomorrow. A couple of shorter items coming (one is item #3 even though it's coming before #2) as I take a short break from paying, albeit mind-numbing, work. Of course, they should be below, rather above, this posting, but I still haven't adjusted to reverse-linearity posting. See above, or below.

Or something.


Above: Marlon Rodgers' prototype machine - from "The Sex Machines" by Timothy Archibald Posted by Hello

Monday - Fun With Music Day
Tuesday - Guest Star Day
Wednesday - Anything Can Happen Day
Thursday - Circus Day
Friday - Talent Round-Up Day

- “The Mickey Mouse Club” days

Ah, a warning. For no reason except that’s the way it turned out, today seems to be sex and nudity day on fhb, so if you find graphic imagery and content offensive, better to skip the blog today, okay?

Okay.

First up, found via
Boing Boing, is “The Sex Machines – Photographs and Interviews from the New Mechanical Sexual Revolution” by photographer Timothy Archibald.

While researching a story about garage inventors in the spring of 2002, I came across a small web community for inventors of sex machines. The amateur snapshots of the inventors’ machines posted on the site seemed perfect to me… Often located in tiny suburbs… the inventors led me to meet the lovers and users of the machines.”

As opposed to the imagery on fuckingmachines.com, which has all the eroticism of an industrial accident, and which link I'm not bothering to provide, although you can easily find it, the photographs in “The Sex Machines” are strangely touching and even comforting… a dildo mounted on what appears to be a converted weed whacker, posed in a driveway near a lawn mower… a couple comfortably entwined on the couch, settling in to an evening watching television, with a sex machine called “The Joyrider” in the foreground. Pets wandering into the shot of a sex machine as if the picture were being taken of the family car.

“Eventually I went to the garage and put together our first machine. It was powered by an electric drill. It was clunky and not smooth at all, but Jenny and I got busy, making love together and using the machine like it was another partner and it was dynamite…”

“…I bring Jenny home a cup of coffee and she just lights up, it’s like like it makes her day. And being married, one thing I’ve learned is how to keep the wife happy. Hahahaha. I guess that’s how this whole business started.”

One of my favorite quotes is from JBS Haldane, “The Universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine.” As I get older, I find that sentiment true for many things, love and its many permutations chief among them.

It’s well worth a visit. Note that the site is a 1.5 MB Flash site, so expect a little load time. Although not linked to “Sex Machines”, probably for obvious reasons, Archibald’s
home site is also a good tour.

Monday, August 30, 2004

More on Scotty. Wil Wheaton wrote a touching piece that he delivered at James Doohan's Farewell Convention Dinner. A good writer is our Wil.

I think the next time I'm about to indulge myself - which is usually every 15 minutes - with something I don't really need, I'll make a donation to the
Alzheimer's Association instead.

James Doohan, the original Star Trek's "Scotty", appeared at his last convention on Sunday. The 84-year-old actor was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease several months ago.

Doohan will be awarded with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Tuesday, which is expected to be his last public appearance.

Sigh. First Bones. Now Scotty. It's like watching the Beatles go.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

On "Google and You Get"...


A 2,600-word article written for a Gotham Writers' Workshop class last year. Rejected from a number of venues, both traditional print and on-line. I still like it, but it's unfocused, which is probably the primary reason behind its failure. In any case, sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't, to paraphrase Old Lodge Skins from Little Big Man.

Google, and You Get … You

by Fred Bals



I C U

I know way too much about you. More than you’d want me to know. Don’t believe me? I know your children’s names. I know what Temple you worship at.

I know where you went to school. I know where your husband works and how to reach him. I know your wife’s first name. I know your home address and your phone number.

I know that you were in the Army and how you felt about it.

I’ve seen your résumé. I’ve read your letters. I know how well you did in the last road race you ran.

I know your age. In fact, I know when your birthday is.

And I know that you’re not always what you claim to be.

I know all that, and you know what else? I didn’t even try that hard to find any of it.

Everywhere on the Web we leave little pieces of ourselves, like spoor on a trail. Even when we don’t give out the information, family, friends, even chance acquaintances broadcast things about us that we’d never think of telling strangers aloud.

It’s not a Web. It’s a jungle. And there are hunters prowling through it tirelessly. Maybe I’m one of them.

***


Vanity in quotes

The popular online search engine, Google, is the easiest way to find something out about someone. Want to see what people find when they google you? Go to
http://www.google.com Take your name, enclose it in quotes to let Google know you’re searching for a phrase, hit “Google Search”, and see what you get.

If you’re lucky, it won’t work that well.

In Web research terminology, you’ve just done a “vanity search.” But that’s the most basic of searches. The dedicated – or the obsessed – would google you by trying every variation of your name as it might appear on a Web page; from “John Doe” through “J Doe” to “Doe, John”, and everything in-between. A researcher might try variations on your first name, like “Frank” instead of “Francis”, or, if you’re a woman, try your maiden as well as married name.

Try clicking on the “Groups” tab at Google to find whether your name has ever been mentioned in a Usenet posting. Usenet is a network of online bulletin boards, and Google keeps a constantly updated archive of Usenet postings dating back to the mid-1980s.

Nothing there? Lucky you. But Google is just the most popular search site, not the only one, and arguably, not even the best, especially for digging up personal information. AlltheWeb (
http://alltheweb.com), for example, has many Web pages not covered by Google. My personal favorite is the meta-search engine that queries multiple sites simultaneously, “Kartoo”, at http://www.kartoo.com. Kartoo often displays content not found anywhere else. Run your vanity search at either site to see if there’s information about you that’s been missed by Google.

The nice thing about Google and other search engines is that they’re all free. If I had the incentive to spend some money, I’d probably also research you at USSearch or PublicRecords.com. For $59.95 I can get such interesting info as who else is living at your home address, your relative’s names and where they live, whether you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or have had a lien filed against you.

And the beat goes on.

***


How to cyberstalk in two easy clicks

Not everyone’s history is online. If you’ve avoided Usenet and other online communities, don’t keep a Web page, never worked for a business or belonged to an organization that put your name online, never had your name in a newspaper, your vanity search may have turned up nothing. But if you’re feeling safe that I can’t find you, you’re probably wrong.

Let’s say I know a little about you already, as little as your name and, to save me some time, the state you live in. Of course, if I had my reasons to find you, I’d just search your name against all 50 states. Don’t think of this as normal. Think “obsessive”, as I said.

Let’s call you “John Dhalgren.” Maybe we met on a plane and struck up a conversation. Maybe we took a class together. You told me you lived in New York. And maybe when I was home, I went to Google and plugged in this:

“John Dhalgren” +”New York”


Try it with your name. I’ll wait. Is your phone number publicly listed? Then the chances are good I just found it. Oh, and look at that, your street address. And guess what, John? It looks like you share that phone with somebody, probably your wife. I just got her name as collateral damage. You didn’t tell me you were married, naughty boy. Guess I’ll do some research on her too, when I have the time. But right now I see Google spewed out some more links – maybe some of them with more information about you – from that search of your name and state. I want to check those out first.

Google’s a great reverse phone directory, too. Have a phone number and want to find out who it belongs to? Type it into Google. If your number is in the white pages, chances are Google also has it.

Maybe all I have is an email address, and I’m curious about who it belongs to. I was once being harassed in an online forum by a clown who used the email alias of “BuckBanzai.” I turned his address over to a friend who does deep personal information searches for a living. In 20 minutes, he was back with Buck’s real name and phone number, plus the fact that he wasn’t the 20-something Columbia journalism student he claimed to be, but a 14-year-old kid living in Philadelphia who had made the mistake of using the same email name for his AOL, Hotmail, and Yahoo accounts. I waited until the next time Buck was spewing his online venom, dialed his number, and had a chat with his Mom.

Sorry, that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about you. I wonder how old you are? Although it’s only about a two in 10 chance that your birthday will be listed, it only takes a minute to head over to
http://anybirthday.com/search.htm and take my best shot. Google was kind enough to give me your zip along with your phone number, and with that and your first and last name… well, let’s see what we get.

Did I luck out?

***


I am he as you are he as you are me

What’s the harm? It’s all publicly available information, right? Having it on the Web just makes things easier. All that might happen is that you get an unexpected birthday card or phone call from an old flame who decided to google you one alcoholic evening. Of course you or your spouse might have been happier if your lost love had stayed lost, but that’s a minor thing.

But maybe I was hunting you for nastier reasons. Uncovering your name, address, phone number, and birth date is a pretty good start for an identity theft. If I’m a pro and know the ropes, with a little luck I could get your credit card number … or maybe even the Holy Grail, your social security number. If I pull it off, at least you can take comfort in the knowledge that you’re not alone. Some seven million Americans, or 3.4 percent of the adult US population, have been victims of identity theft according to a 2003 Gartner survey.

Identity theft is pretty bad. But there are much worse things. You could ask Rebecca Schaeffer or Amy Boyer about that. If they were still alive.

***


“I may have carried it too far.” – Robert Bardo

On a Tuesday morning, July 18th, 1989, Rebecca Schaeffer opened the door of her Los Angeles apartment. It was the second time that the disheveled man at her door had rung the bell that morning. The first time he had reached into an envelope and pulled out an autographed picture of Schaeffer. “You sent this to me,” he said. “I’m your biggest fan.”

“I’m busy,” Schaeffer answered. “I don’t have time right now. Please go away.”

And she closed the door. Ten minutes later her doorbell rang again.

Two shots, two screams, a neighbor said later. Schaeffer died instantly.

Schaeffer was a 21-year-old actress, with a co-starring role as Pam Dawber’s sister on a television sitcom, “My Sister Sam.” Robert Bardo from Tucson, Arizona had been obsessed with Schaeffer for over three years, first writing her letters in care of the studio, then showing up at the Warner Bros. gates with a giant stuffed teddy bear. Her biggest fan. Trying to see Rebecca.

They wouldn’t let him in, of course, so he tried something else. Bardo later said that he had gotten the idea after reading about a crazy Scotsman who had stabbed a California actress in 1982. The Scot had hired a detective to find the actress’ home address, who in turn had pulled it from the California Department of Motor Vehicles database.

That sounded like a plan to Bardo. Back in Arizona he contacted a Tucson agency. They ended up sub-contracting the work to a detective who was interested in how computers could be used to probe public records. In those early days of the Internet, it took over a month to get Schaeffer’s address, but he finally succeeded, again thanks to the California DMV. Since the detective hadn’t had to leave Tucson, he only charged Bardo $250.00 for the information.

Schaeffer's murder and the earlier case caused enough furor that a law was finally pushed through in California that prohibited the DMV from releasing addresses in the future.
Of course, today Bardo could have found Schaeffer’s address himself for $59.95. Or even for free.

***


“It's actually obsene [sic] what you can find out about people on the Internet.”– Liam Youens

Liam Youens would know. Almost exactly ten years after Rebecca Schaeffer’s murder, on July 29, 1999, Youens contacted Docusearch, an Internet-based investigation and information service, and requested the date of birth of Amy Lynn Boyer. Youens had been obsessed with Boyer since the two attended high school together in Nashua, New Hampshire, where both were still living.

“Obtaining the critical information you need has never been easier,” claims Docusearch’s online slogan. “Give us a try, you won't be disappointed!” Youens apparently wasn’t disappointed. A few weeks later, he contacted Docusearch again to request Boyer’s birthday, social security number, and employment information. Docusearch couldn’t find Boyer's date of birth, but obtained her social security number from a credit reporting agency and sold it to Youens for $45. With Boyer’s SSN in hand, Youens placed yet another order for information with Docusearch on September 6, 1999. This time, he requested a “locate by social security number” search for Boyer. Youens paid the $30 fee by credit card, and received the results of the search – Boyer’s home address – on September 7, 1999.

Docusearch also obtained Boyer’s work address for Youens by having a contract worker call Boyer at home and lie to her. The contractor pretended to be working for Boyer's insurance company, and requested “verification” of Boyer's work address in order to send her an overpayment refund. In the research and investigation business, that sort of work is called “social engineering”, misrepresentation in order to obtain computer passwords or personal information.

Docusearch charged Youens $109 for Boyer’s work address, a sum that would become the price of her murder.

On October 15, 1999, Youens drove to Boyer's workplace and shot her to death as she left work. Then he committed suicide. During the subsequent investigation, police found that Youens had built a Web site where he meticulously detailed his plans for stalking and killing Boyer. Youens last message on the Web site was made two days earlier, October 12th, where he wrote, with misspellings left intact:

“Tuesday October 12, I saw her car on the street the perfect place. I parked my car there and sat at 4:35. But by 5:05 she still wasn't there, what a waste of a perfect oppertunaty. I drove around and saw that she left around 5:45, but I didn't see her and had no place to shoot. I was still scared, but what was different about this time was that I didn't Just turn around and Not do it. I would have done it.. I feel good now. Her car is phlanxed by the same ones.. wierd. Also the sticker was "United States.. something" Boyfriend in the army? Sister used the car around that time, had to drive my niece at exactly 4pm.. flew into a rage and smached my clock with a hammer and stated screaming Fuck at the top of my lungs..”

A copy of Youens’ site is still on the Web, maintained by Boyer’s family as record of the monster who murdered her. If you have the stomach for it, you can view the stalker’s site at
http://www.amyboyer.org/liamsite.htm.

Amy Boyer's mother sued Docusearch and the private investigators that worked with them for wrongful death and invasion of privacy. In February 2003, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that information brokers and private investigators could be held liable for the harms caused by selling personal information. The case is now back at the federal district court level.

***


Call me Cassandra. The worse thing is that I know all this, know how easy it is to obtain information on anyone, but I can’t figure out how to protect my family or my friends without taking us all completely off the grid.

Maybe I worry too much. Many of my friends think I do. One morning I logged into an on-line community and saw a new message from one of those friends.

“Strange thing,” she wrote. “I got a phone call last night and this voice said, “Excuse me for asking, but are you ‘Perry-ga’ on Google Answers?”

I stared at the words on the screen, the skin tightening on the back of my neck. Perry’s real name is something else, and she’s one of the more popular researchers at Google, a funny wise-cracker, quick with an opinion, sometimes borderline flirtatious. All Google Answers researchers are anonymous to an extent; some guard their personal information more rigorously than others.

Perry went on to relate that the man tracked her through an answer she had posted two days before. Perry had pointed to a Web page buried within a site that she originally built for the use of her 9-year-old and his friends. The guy backed-tracked the address, found her son’s home page, and then looked until he had its domain, the name between the “www” and the “.com” in a Web address.

He knew enough about the Web to also know how to look up a domain’s owner through a WHOIS search… and so he found Perry, her real name, her home address, and her phone number. And then he called her. He was very proud of himself for finding her, she wrote.

“Perry,” I typed. “This isn’t good. He wasn’t just googling you. What he did took work. What’s going to happen next, he’s just going to happen to have a business trip to New Jersey and wants to drop in? You need to contact Google, maybe even the police, and shut this guy down right now.”

“You’re sweet, Fred,” came her answer a few moments later. “But not to worry. He’s harmless.”

“Anyway,” she continued. “He said he was my biggest fan.”

###


After all the wordplay, the fact remains that two young women are dead, simply because they came to the attention of monsters. This one is dedicated to Rebecca Schaeffer and Amy Boyer. Know that you are not forgotten. I will not let them forget.

FB

The Resigned Forest & the Postmodern Squirrel


Two nice postings (and photos) from Shelly at Burningbird, Resigned Forests and the Postmodern Squirrel.

And if you think Burningbird is one of my regular paths through the Web, why, you'd be right.

If I wouldn't offend nearly everyone I know...

... I'd get one of these t-shirts (the ah, Jesus one, not the Potter one :-)). Read the forum thread for another laugh, and be sure to check out both the strips that inspired the t-shirts. (via The Morning Improv)


U have nothing 2 Fear

One of the more succinct justifications for music file-sharing I've read is in the September issue of WIRED from the artist once again known as Prince...

"File-sharing seems 2 occur most when people want more QUALITY over quantity. One good tune on a 20-song CD is a rip. The corporations that created this situation will get the fate they deserve. 4 better or 4 worse, 4 every action there is a reaction. An MP3 is merely a tool. There is nothing 2 fear."

I suspect that we'll all see the day where commercial CDs are as rare as vinyl LPs. My bet is that you'll be able to do a TiVo-like download/recording of music that you can store on your home entertainment system for playback or transfer to your iPod.

iTunes is cool, but the price needs to drop to pennies per tune... and it needs to be as easy to get as TiVo'ing a show is now.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Adding Ads

As you may have noticed I'm trying out Google AdSense, both out of curiosity about what ads will appear (Google creates targeted ads based on site content), and hey, if I make a little money, all to the better. I was amused to see that one ad is for a sales motivational book called, "The Fred Factor"

"..."Service is the heart of leadership, and one of the finer compliments you could ever receive is: 'You're a Fred!' I urge you to read this engaging and insightful book and find out why. Become a Fred! It will enrich your life by showing you how to enrich the lives of others and create Raving Fan customers."

Not this Fred, mister. :-)

Since only a handful of people (and you know who you are) read "fhb" at this point, I don't expect to see much revenue, and I may kill the AdSense inclusion if I find it too distracting or annoying. Opinions are welcome if you feel strongly about it one way or `nother.

In any case, caveat lector, okay? I don't choose the ads, nor do I endorse them.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Life of a Citizen

After John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee, my second-favorite Gold Medal paperback series has to be Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm -- code name, "Eric." As McGee was a realistic take on the P.I. genre, then Helm was the equivalent for the Bondsian "License to Kill" spy. If Bond drove an Aston-Martin, Helm drives a pickup truck (or in one of his more memorable scenes, a Triumph Spitfire that disintegrates during a trip across Scotland). If Bond stayed at the Casino Royale, Helm was more likely to be found at a Budget Inn. Dark, gritty, and cynical, the books were also extremely well-written, with tight, engaging plots and characters.

During the mid-60s, Dean Martin starred in a series of terrible spy parodies so loosely based on Hamilton's series that little remained past the title character and book titles. Keith Allison and Scott Adams have a fascinating article -- FROM DONALD TO DEAN -- comparing the books and movies at Teleport City.

Hamilton, if he's still alive, would be 88 this year. During my research, I discovered this letter from his son, undated, but apparently written circa 2000.

"...
Don has four children, all living, 2 boys and 2 girls. He has 6 grandchildren (5 of whom are mine). Don and I now buy small ships (one at a time), have them renovated and then sell them. We spent a year in Denmark, one year in Poland, g etting the present ship, named "Maagen", worked on. She is now ready for sale, laying in Svendborg, Denmark...

...We moved to Spain [including Don] to get some sun after two years on the Baltic Sea, and now live in Tarifa, the southern most tip of continental Europe. Lots of sun
..."

Sounds like a good life. Hamilton's son notes, "...Don has finished what will almost undoubtedly be his last Matt Helm, as he is now 84 years old and wants to retire from that level of concentration. And it is with great embarrassment that I tell you that, for the life of me, I cannot at this moment remember the damned name of the new book. Oh well. With luck, it should hit the stands within the next 12 months."

The book is apparently titled "The Dominators" and also apparently remains unfinished, at least unpublished.

A Yellow Parrot in a Field of Lilacs

Directed by Umberto Umberti

A frightened young woman is attacked and left for dead in an old, dark house. An American student is unsatisfied with the official explanation of the murder. He discovers that the woman was really a monster; he decides to try to help the real killer escape from the police.

From the "Do-it-yourself
Giallo Kit", courtesy of my brother, Lee.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Best price I've found so far for Dylan's forthcoming "Chronicles" (listed variously as $23 and $24) is from Wal-Mart (hush, Jill :-)) at $17.60, according to Addall. That's a little misleading, though, as between free shipping and other discounts, the prices at Amazon and B&N are equivalent.

News from the Home front - Tyler TX


More on the Americana channel. My buddy Jill writes, "Cox has the Americana channel back - I just thought I'd check before I penned another letter, and there is was, channel 947... And I'm proud to know we got in on the grass roots effort. Hippies, unite! Peace and love, brother. :-) Jack is now 'crib dancing' to Syd Straw, (who sounds amazingly like Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders). Air guitar in the crib. Unbelievable."

If Adelphia has turned Americana back on in Merrimack, I can't find it, although there are several unlisted Music Choice stations I've discovered have returned. So I'm going to pen/keyboard another missive to Adelphia and see what's up.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Last posting for the day. I'm trying to set a rule that the Weblog gets updated in the mornings between (roughly) 7 and 9. Stuff that doesn't make it goes to the next day or just... fades away.

Anyway, even though I can't draw worth a damn, I really want to try this next April. Maybe I could do something similar to "Get Your War On"?

Dylan's "Chronicles: Volume One" to be released this Fall




"Chronicles: Volume One" the first of a planned three-book series, is a 304-page first-person narrative, according to Dylan's publisher, Simon & Schuster. "Chronicles: Volume One" is due for release October 12.

The first volume of his memoirs reportedly focuses on significant periods in Dylan's life and is described by publisher David Rosenthal as "extraordinary, revealing and surprising. It is a beautifully written, singular achievement."

One can only hope. :-) Let's cross our fingers that it's not a 2004 version of Tarantula.

But one of the many things I love about Dylan is that even at age 63, he continues to surprise. After all the foul reviews of "Masked and Anonymous" (cited by some critics as the worst film ever premiered at Sundance), I had zero expectations when I purchased the DVD. This says something about fanboy love, too. It never occurred to me not to buy the DVD, even after reading the negative reviews. But I found the movie funny, touching, and thought-provoking. I've watched M&A twice since I purchased it, and know that I'll watch -- and enjoy -- it again in the future. The M&A soundtrack is also one of the strongest Dylan -- or Dylan-related -- music releases in his catalog.

Him at 63. Me at 51. And he continues to sound like a bell in my life.

ESPN to show new Poker series


Capitalizing on the current Texas Hold `Em poker craze, ESPN will launch a new drama, "Tilt," in January, according to MediaWeek. The series will, "follow the high stakes drama surrounding the World Series of Poker." Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who wrote the screenplay for the 1998 poker movie"Rounders," penned the script for the pilot and will direct the opening episode, according to MediaWeek.

I WANT MY Americana Channel (Back)


Good news and bad news for fans of the Americana music channel on the “Music Choice” cable service.

Good news: After being discontinued in July due to low ratings, Music Choice revived the Americana Channel after receiving “over 500 emails and phone calls” according to the Sep. – Oct. issue of “No Depression” magazine.

Bad news: Even though Americana’s back, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting it. Your local cable company decides what Music Channel programming is in their lineup. For example, neither Adelphia in Merrimack nor my buddy Jill’s cable company, Cox, in Tyler has put Americana back in their lineup. Yet.

So, it’s time for another strongly worded letter, this time to our cable providers and request that we get our Americana channel back.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

FlashPaper is the first software I’ve been seriously impressed with in quite awhile. Maybe not all that surprising, as it’s from Macromedia, and the last time I was really wowed by new software was when I saw Shockwave demoed sometime in 1995. And yes, I thought Flash was cool, too. In fact I thought it was cool back when it was FutureSplash and before it was bought by the mighty Macromedia. But by the time I saw Flash multimedia on the Web no longer startled.

With FlashPaper you can convert “printable files” into Flash documents or Adobe PDF files. “Printable files” is in quotes, as the only files I’ve converted at this point have been Word documents. FlashPaper did a bang-up job converting my
profile flawlessly into both Flash and PDF formats with all formatting and hyperlinks intact. I did have to go to Macromedia’s FlashPaper support page to find out that you need to convert directly from the Word document in order to keep hyperlinks – drag-`n-drop loses the links – but with that minor problem solved the conversion was simple and perfect. If you look at my profile, note the toolbar that allows you to zoom on the document, search, copy text, and so on. Text was a little fuzzier both on-screen and in the print in the Flash document versus the PDF, as could be expected.

Macromedia seems to be positioning FlashPaper as a complement to, rather than replacement of, Adobe Acrobat, with their thinking something along the lines of “FlashPaper for reading on the Web. Acrobat for printing”, But I think it’s more of a competitive product, especially for people who don’t need high-quality print output. Flash is near-ubiquitous. You have to download the freeware Acrobat Reader to view an Acrobat document. With the $79 FlashPaper you can create both PDF and/or Flash files. With the $299 Acrobat you can only create PDFs.

As I said, if you’re doing high-quality PDFs for print, you’ll probably move to – or stay with – Acrobat. But FlashPaper is a cool alternative for the rest of us (to coin a phrase) who want a quick and easy way to get documents on the Web.

Go, right now, to this posting in The Tinfoil Project (the latest from Shelly Powers) and enjoy. God, Shelly. Just beautiful. I'm, I'm, fraught with dumbstruck admiration.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Happy Birthday, Jill!

this is an audio post - click to play

The Most Surreal Strip

"Zippy the Pinhead" might have a claim as the world's most surreal comic, but my vote would be for the "so normal, it's bizarre", strip, "For Better or for Worse" by Lynn Johnston, which I read religiously every morning.

FboFW eerily violates every precept of a daily comic strip. It's set in Canada (Canada?). It has month-long, meandering story arcs whose original plots I've forgotten by the time they end. The characters - all somewhat pudgy unisex types - are drawn and act so similarly that I have trouble differentiating them from each other. The only name I can ever remember is "April."

A month in a typical FBoFW story might have April's boyfriend, April, a helicopter pilot, flying in to her graduation ceremony, before she goes to teach the Aprilapril Indian tribe in the far North. Meanwhile, April receives a motorcycle on loan from her mechanic, April, to the delight of her little sister, April, who is secretly in love with her brother's photographer friend, April. Meanwhile, old April falls down the stairs in her candy shop, while her dog April howls for help. April's grandfather, April, grouchily reminisces about when he used to be a hot item on the guitar.

I think what I like most is Johnston's earnest attempts at humor. You can tell she's almost completely without a sense of humor, but still tries her best. Sometimes she delivers punch lines that fall as flat as a Thanksgiving dinner joke told by your drunk Uncle Harry. Sometimes after three panels of set-up, there isn't any punch line at all.

It's kind of like life itself. Surrealism masqueradiing as normalcy. Punch lines you never get. Maybe that's why I like FBoFW so much.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Prancing in the rain

Massive thunderstorms yesterday evening in southern New Hampshire. Fall is nearing, and it was dark by eight, the only illumination outside coming from the constant lightning.

"Come out to the porch and see," Peg said. "It's like a solid wall of water."

"Want to..." I began to ask, as we watched the rain pour down.

"I'll go if you go," she interrupted.

And we quickly stripped off our clothes, and charged buck-naked out into the grass on the front lawn, prancing in the rain and the dark, Peg giggling like a teenager all the time. We circled the house hand-in-hand as the rain poured down and the lightning flashed...

... and then went back inside, toweled off, and became adults again.

Gmail for the troops: Have a gmail (Google email. Still invitation only at this point) invite? Here's a great idea. Donate it to a service member abroad (via Wil Wheaton dot net).

Friday, August 20, 2004

I started reading comic books again in the mid-80's, largely due to Dave Steven's "The Rocketeer", published by Pacific Comics. It's not hyperbole to say that Pacific changed the face of comic books... and made the industry a better place to work for both writers and artists. Here's an in-depth history of Pacific, by Jay Allen Sanford (via "news from me").

A nice deal here, via Mark Evanier's "News from ME" (link to left). 25 free digital prints from participating Target's. Catch: Offer expires this Sunday the 22nd.

It's all about me

With apologies to Shelly at Burningbird for semi-appropriating her title. Shelly's addition of an "About Me" link to her weblog (which, mysteriously, has disappeared today) prompted me to update my profile on my business site... as well as fixing a typo I found elsewhere that survived dozens of prior reviews. Typos are like cockroaches, there's never just one.

Anyway, I've been meaning to rewrite the profile to better reflect what I'm doing now -- more writing and creative direction, less hands-on multimedia. I'm leaning towards Pdf'ing my profile and using it as my primary resume for future work. I've received good feedback on it and (I think) it paints a better portrait of who I am and what I do than the traditional resume. Please God that I never, ever, have to again go back to a "go-to-work" sort of job and need a traditional resume.

Thursday, August 19, 2004


One more try, done during lunch Posted by Hello


Strawberry Fields, NYC, April 2004 Posted by Hello

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


I dunno.. think there's any resemblance? Created with "The Portrait Illustration Maker"site, which also contains the wonderful copyright notice, "to which the copyright of the picture compounded here is exposed" Posted by Hello

Monday, August 16, 2004

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” - Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

One of Sterling's characters misquotes (I think) Heinlein on pages 64-65 in the hardcopy “The Zenith Angle”, perhaps forgivable as the character is also suffering from Alzheimer’s. I put “I think” in parentheses as one of the great mousetraps of the Web is incorrect reproduction of quotations, and almost never proper citation of the source. I suspect the above quote is the correct one, because it’s the most often reproduced, but in the interests of full disclosure, will note that I haven’t gone to the source to verify. But try running the first few keywords of the Heinlein quote through Google and you’ll get three different variations on the first page of results, with some writers correctly attributing it to Heinlein, some to his fictional character Lazarus Long with no mention of RAH, some mentioning that it was extracted from “Time Enough for Love” (or the “”Notebooks of Lazarus Long” chapbook, where it was reproduced), some not bothering to provide any reference at all.

Is the version above the correct one? I think so, but it’s just as possible that one person posted it incorrectly and others – including me – are compounding the error. State something wrong in enough places on the Web and eventually it becomes a “fact”, especially if you’re googling for it. Sterling, for whatever reason, leaves out “balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone… cooperate, act alone… analyze a new problem…”

I wonder if he Googled it?

Finding the exact citation for a quotation, or for that matter, the exact quotation, on the Web was also one of my banes as a Google Answers researcher, almost always taking more time/effort than expected when I tried my hand at it, and seldom turning out well. I finally gave up hunting down quotations, although I had one unusual
success.


One (or more)-liner reviews: Bruce Sterling's "The Zenith Angle" is a mind-candy read of interesting ideas loosely linked together by a forgettable plot. Sterling zips like a hummingbird on speed from subjects ranging from laser cannons, to why corporate jets are dangerous to homeland security and what can be done about it, to how to set up a SkunkWorks, to why the war on terrorism is similar to the dot.com boom. I think Sterling was reading Neal Stephenson when writing “”Zenith”, as the characters’ voices are all distractingly reminiscent of those in “Cryptonomicon.” Still recommended with all those disclaimers.

Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Today is the birthday of one of my boyhood heroes, whose wine the adult Fred enjoys today. Happy Birthday, Fess! In a nice piece of synchronicity, Davy Crockett’s birthday is tomorrow, August 17th.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

If you're depressed, I suggest you hustle over and read/view Shelly Powers' "To my Terraphile Friends" posting at Burningbird. Shelly is not only a very good writer, she has one of the prettiest weblogs I've ever seen. The photos brought a smile on a dreary, rainy New England morning.

"This is not my blood": In June, an 11-year-old Japanese schoolgirl murders an 12-year-old classmate, apparently because the victim had been making fun of her on the Web. The Washinton Post article, reprinted in the Globe, on the escalating violent crimes of Japanese youth. also mentions "hikkomori syndrome", a total withdrawal from society that may affect up to a million Japanese adolescents.

Sometimes I think Japan is 15 minutes into our future... sometimes I think I'm in no hurry to get there.

Writing in today's Boston Globe on bidding for shares in Google's IPO, Steve Syre characterizes it as an "unnecessarily complicated, confusing process and an emphasis on secrecy when transparency should have been the standard."

"Unnecessarily complicated, confusing, and an emphasis on secrecy" pretty well sums up my experience as a researcher with Google Answers, which I think I'll be writing about in the coming days.

Friday, August 13, 2004

If you're one of those people who only buys Playboy for the articles, save yourself some money. You can read the interview that caused the latest Google gaffe (a term I'm thinking of copyrighting) as an amendment to their SEC filing right here.

I was just thinking today that one of the things that makes you feel old is seeing familar names in the obits nearly every week. Bon Voyage, Julia. Peg's cooked up a lot of great meals from your books. I'm sorry you're gone, but 91 and passing away in your sleep is about as easy way to go as I can think of.

An interesting story by Daniel Rentzer on an encounter with Jim McManus during the World Poker Tour championship event at Bellagio. I'm going to excerpt it, as frankly, Rentzer isn't much of a stylist, and the story is buried in the middle of a less-than-interesting article. The full piece is here, if you want to wade through it. As to the McManus episode...

"... Prior to this hand I lost roughly 25,000 chips which was about half my stack, to the well respected author of "positively fifth street" James McManus. The confrontation we got in was really strange and made me very angry to say the least. If I recall correctly I was dealt K-Q and brought it in for a raise from middle position. Jim took his time and called the raise. The flop came with three spades and a Queen, giving me a pair of queens with a strong kicker.

I bet again and Jim took his cards and pushed them towards the dealer and it looked to me like he was folding. Jim never called for time and never protected his hand. The dealer also thought he was folding and took his cards and put them in the muck. Right when I was about to throw my cards away Jim started yelling at the dealer and claimed he never meant to fold his hand. He had flopped the nut flush and was apparently trying to determine how much he was going to raise me. But the entire situation confused the hell out of me and I did not understand if he was serious at first, because he had actually pushed his cards towards the dealer.

Anyways, the floor man came over and took Jim away from the table to ask him what he had thrown away. The floor man then checked the muck where
his cards had been thrown away and gave him his hand backafter confirming that the cards were his. It was clear which two cards were his because they were only about half way into the muck. Most casinos would never even have considered giving him his hand back, but the rules differ from casino to casino. He finally got his cards back and raised me whereby I called.

I also called his bets on the turn and the river when the river card came with a king. I now had top two pair and liked my hand enough to call his all-in bet on the river. He showed the nut-flush and I lost about 25,000 chips on this hand. I probably would have folded my hand if I could have got a read on him during the flop betting, but after all the commotion I was confused and made a bad call. I still don't think it was correct to give a player his cards back after they hit the muck, especially if the player had pushed his cards towards the dealer. This hand hurt big time and most likely was the main reason I did not have a chance to win this event."

...right, Daniel. It's all that nasty ol' writer's fault.

A good rant on the current poker craze (as well as scrapbooking :-)) from "You Are Dumb." via Party Poker Blogs.

As much as I can sit for hours watching televised Hold `Em (which I would have thought would hold as much interest for me as watching paint dry), I tend to agree that the fad has gotten totally out of hand, with celebrities who apparently have never picked up a card playing like idiots in front of the camera*. What it most reminds me of is the dot.com boom, where everyone was talking about the stock market. If I went to a party, relatives would button-hole me and bore me to tears with their latest trades. Bartenders would pump me for stock tips because I was attending a tech trade show. Secretaries (sorry, admin. assistants) would spend hours in front of the screen, monitoring the performance of their 401ks.

Now when I go to family parties, the next generation, most of whom are in college, talk poker endlessly. Out of the ol' farts generation, I'm the only one (so far) who plays Hold `Em, giving me some good moments as their parents try to figure out what we're talking about. "You play poker on-line, Fred? Not for money?"

* speaking of Celebrity Poker Showdown, who is more annoying, the flaming, amazingly unfunny Dave Foley or the sepuchral, hollow-laughing Phil Gordon? Possibly the worse pairing since Merv Griffin and Arthur Treacher.

This would be the perfect birthday present for my buddy, Jill, the "Chuck Taylor All Star Hi Top John Lennon Peace" shoe.

Happy paraskevidekatriaphobia day (which is not the fear of small slender long-tailed parrots). Let's be careful out there today, okay?

It's a jungle out there
Disorder and confusion everywhere
No one seems to care
Well I do
Hey, who's in charge here?
It's a jungle out there
Poison in the very air we breathe
Do you know what's in the water that you drink?
Well I do, and it's amazing
People think I'm crazy, 'cause I worry all the time
If you paid attention, you'd be worried too
You better pay attention
Or this world we love so much might just kill you
I could be wrong now, but I don't think so
It's a jungle out there

The theme from Monk: "It's a Jungle Out There" -- by Randy Newman

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Standby Stooge: Paul "Mousie" Garner dies. via Mark Evanier's "News from ME"

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

My first comment: "Ignatious" who runs the mighty-fine "Party Poker Blogs" aka "Guinness and Poker" site, was kind enough to drop by and compliment the picture of Curly fending off the deer. As he notes in an August 9th post, his site is a major productivity-buster and well worth the visit.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Last of the rehash from the old "cellar door" Everything I said originally...

"You just have to admire Patrick Farley. His "delta thrives: set the control for the heart of the sun" online comic with a 3.5 mb 40,000 pixels wide page violates almost every rule of Web design ever propounded ... yet it's one of the best things I've ever seen.

Would that more people would just stop worrying about the "right" way of doing things."

...still holds true. Do not attempt this link without broadband, kids.

Bennet's "King of a Small World" reminded how much I liked Jim McManus' article "Fortune's Smile", a hard-to-read version of which can be found here. You'd be better off buying "The Best American Sports Writing 2001" anthology where the article (originally published in Harper's) appears, a collection I highly recommend even for those not interested in sports writing, by the way.

McManus' book "Positively Fifth Street", was unfortunately not half as good as the article, I think mostly due to his introducing a parallel storyline on the murder trial of Ted Binion. I think he would have been better off concentrating on the World Series of Poker, but perhaps he (or an editor) thought poker would only have a limited audience. As it turned out, I suspect that the elegance of "Fortune's Smile" introduced many people to Texas Hold `Em, me among them. McManus, an amateur player, entered the World Series of Poker, played against some of the toughest players in the world, and came out winning more than a quarter million dollars.

If you like"Fortune's Smile" and/or "Positively Fifth Street" , check out an unaired adaptation on the "This American Life" site that's also worth a read, an interview with McManus at PokerPages, and an article by McManus on playing in the Poker Million Tournament, "Feeling It on Man." McManus would later recycle "Feeling It..." into an Esquire article (registration required), "Further Adventures in Poker", which should be read in conjunction with "Fortune's Smile" as the flip side of poker luck...

"I hocked up a chunk of acid-washed prawn from the back of my right nasal passage, wrangled it onto my tongue. It was something, all right: the booby prize for the first Poker Million. Launching it dawnward, I leaned out and watched as it spiraled and bobbed through the strata of breeze, down and down and down, back and forth, before mingling again with the sea. My World Series showing had been a fluke, and now everyone was going to know it. Including expenses I was out about $12,000, having blown a great chance to win $1.5 million. I had seventeen hours of airports and coach seats ahead of me before I could hug all my girls. We were going to have a new president. "

It's worth noting that McManus grossed over $86,000 in 2003 playing poker.

A rehash of the Goggle game...

In Google Search, enter "yourname is" (with quotes). Put the 10 matches into a list. Thus ...

  1. artsy fred is deep
  2. Fred is right
  3. fred is blogging
  4. fred is a Belgian Web designer
  5. Fred is condemned to death
  6. Fred is free!
  7. Right Said Fred Is It
  8. Fred's is a great place to satisfy hunger for the taste of Italy
  9. Fred is just like any other normal American In the United States
  10. Aunt Fred is a Witch

... had to exclude some duplicates of the "Fred is dead" variety which seems to be the most popular "Fred is..." phrase. Liked the juxtaposition of "Fred is condemned to death" with "Fred is free!" And I am just like any other U.S. citizen...

...except, of course, for being a transvestite witch.


Friday, August 06, 2004

One line reviews:

Desilu : The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz -- Lucille Ball was not someone I would have wanted to work either with or for.

King of a Small World -- A good first novel from Tom Bennet. More about the poker life than the game itself, the cover blurbs notwithstanding.

"Sometimes good luck is bad, and bad luck good. You just don't always know. There's no such thing as not gambling." -- Tom Bennet

Thursday, August 05, 2004


Curly Lasagna faces down an intruder.  Posted by Hello

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Spending money - Thomas Bartlett's article* on mp3 blogs at Salon (one of the few Web magazines that I can actually read), sent me off to listen to the truly awfully named, "Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr" group's "You Can't Blame Me", a song as beautiful as the group's name isn't. Everything Bartlett says is true, it's the sort of song that makes you stop whatever you're doing, and just listen.

The best of those songs give you that feeling forever. I can only think of a handful that affect me that way: Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone", and Sophie Zelmani's chilling cover of his "Most of the Time", Rod Stewart's "Every Picture Tells a Story", The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" Joplin's "Piece of My Heart." Sinead O'Connor's "I Am Stretched On Your Grave."

Anyway, the song and a link from the article sent me off to the "
Numero Group's" site (you'll need Flash, if you're one of the two people left who haven't installed it), and a look at the compilation "Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label". Listened to the other excerpts, and decided it was an album I needed to have.

Numero only has two CDs available, "Eccentric Soul" and "Camino Del Soul" from a group called Antena, who have a weird lounge lizard, psychedelic-Samba sound which kind of reminded me of the group Mello, who did the "CQ" soundtrack What the hell, only an extra 13 bucks, he sez, and buys it, too.

Didn't think all that much of the mp3 blogs the article listed, nor the other free downloads... probably just as well for my pocketbook.

*You'll need to sign up for a "free day pass" and watch a short commercial to gain access to Salon. It's worth it. If you don't regularly read Salon, btw, check out Patrick Smith's "Ask the Pilot" column in the "Tech & Business" section. It's worth the hassle alone. And hell, people have to earn a living somehow.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The LAPL - Photo Database is a very cool resource for vintage photos from the Los Angeles are. Try "Black Dahlia" or "Spruce Goose", for instance.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Virtual Vaudeville! is one of those sites that you think you'd read more about. A "Live Performance Simulation System" using Shockwave and QuickTime to recreate an old vaudeville comedy act. Probably mostly of interest to historians and technocrats, I guess. This is, btw, a test using "Blog This"

Sunday, August 01, 2004

This week's Texas Hold `Em Update: With not a little amount of fear, I entered a 100-pt. buy-in sit-and-go yesterday (Saturday) at Ultimate Bet. And immediately had a panic moment on the first hand where I was in a show-down holding a Jack-high diamond flush when the flop showed all diamonds. The player to my right raised $100. I re-raised. Everybody remaining dropped, except the guy to my right, who raised again -- but raised the minimum.

Hmmm. Vince Van Patten and Mike Sexton speak in my head, "That's an unusual series of bets, Fred. He's either got two low diamonds or is holding one high diamond."

But it's the first hand. If I'm wrong -- or unlucky -- I'm going to be out the first hand, with only 26 UB points left to my name. But I go all-in... and he follows.

It turns out he does have one high diamond, the Ace, of course. If the board shows another diamond, I'm gone. It doesn't. He's gone instead and I have over $2k of chips after the first hand.

It's a pretty tight table after that. I win a few, lose a few... mostly folding and playing tight. My goal is minimum 3rd place and 200 UB points to double myself up. The guy on my left is either having connectivity problems, doing something else or, suspicious Fred thinks, has come up with some bizarre strategy where he wins a hand, then sits out for a few hands. Suspicious or not, the guy ends up in the final four with around $1,500 of chips left. I don't want to be left out on the bubble, so I fold a lot and pray, my $2,000 worth of chips now whittled down to around $1,700. And happy days, it's now just me. Mr. Bizarro who's down to under $1k, and the chip leader, who has won like three all ins, and has about $7,000 in chips.

Chip Leader takes out Mr. Bizarro, who apologizes for making us wait after all my chat raggin' on him, and I'm in second position, albeit short-stacked, around $1,700 to CL's $8,300. But I'm playing good, as I usually do one-on-one, and CL is playing extremely tight. I either raise or fold, and, after a couple of wins, we equal. He pulls a couple of bad beats when I straight twice on the river. Writing that I realize they weren't bad beats at all. Both times he let me get to the river by not betting into me hard.

Is there anything more boring than listening to poker talk? But it's my blog and I'll write what I want to. Anyway, CL, CL no longer, with only 900 chips, goes all-in, and since it will barely take a nick out of my stack, I call him with a suited J 10. He has an unsuited Q 9, so I'm the favorite, and win with a 10 showing on the turn. He leaves as silently as he played, and I win $500 UB points.

I do love sit-n-goes. Built up my ego after too many tournies placing out of the money... even though, as I regularly assure myself, finishing in the top 100 - 200 in a field of 2,000, finishing 30 once last week in an Aruba freeroll, ain't shabby and indicates I'm a fairly solid player,

I think.

Playing an Omaha Limit tourney at Pokerstars while I write this. Almost two hours. And I'm currently 357 out of 856 in what's left of a field of 2,000. Not bad considering I don't know what I'm doing. I had to look the rules of Omaha up, and have to keep on telling myself, 2 cards in your hand, 3 on board.


More productivity-busting. I've learned how to photo-blog. "Hello" and blogger make it exceptionally easy, I have to say.


The Hawk Bath: We have a family of five hawks living in the wooded lot next door -- 8 Reeds Ferry Way -- as Peg says. The kids like having a daily splash in what used to be the bird bath in our back yard. Posted by Hello


Me, the British Bulldog. and Kamandi. Last Boy On Earth Posted by Hello