August 31, 2003


I couldn't agree more:

It's incomprehensible that the American space program has been allowed to become as phenomenonally LAME as it is now. This is conceivably the only government program (besides maybe the military) that has any hope of being VERY interesting. This is a department whose WHOLE POINT is to have ADVENTURES in SPACE. And they've managed to make it all terrifically boring.

There was a time when astronauts were considered heroes - actually on the same level as sports figures, if you can believe that. And it was deserved - these were the people that were laying their lives on the line to pave the way for humanity to go into space, which is after all where we must go if we're not going to eventually choke to death on the planet we're treating so abominably.

And NASA's amazing mismanagement has managed to make it all a big yawn. What is going on that's worth a headline? What is the last piece of space shuttle news you remember, besides the tragedies? What are they doing up there? Testing how bugs do it in zero gravity? What about the space station? What about replacing the long-outmoded space shuttle? What about the moon base? Why is there not a marketing executive that thinks about these things?

There should be ACTION FIGURES. People should be in LINE to go to Space Camp. Every little boy and girl should want to go into space. Some national leader - not the president, oh no, not him, let's not veer too far into fantasy - should make a Kennedy-like call for us to be BACK ON THE MOON by 2008.

Is it possible that space exploration might be a good thing for the country to rally behind, at least as much as invading another country? Hell, if it makes any difference, pretend it's another invasion. We're going to INVADE MARS within a DECADE!

Posted by Chris on 08/31/03

August 28, 2003

The Only Question I Have For the Airport:


My greatest airport fear is that I will miss my plane because I got into the wrong line and waited 45 minutes to be told I was in the wrong line. When I got to Gatwick Airport on Friday, I was rejected by the automatic check-in machine for British Air ("There is a problem with your ticket," it actually said, which led me to have further anxiety that something had gone wrong with the credit card or maybe I'd bought a ticket for the wrong date), so I had to stand in line. But which line to stand in? The only people that might be able to answer that were standing behind counters. In front of which... are very long lines.

After giving the place the once-over, I found a line that queued around four or five times, and it seemed like the one to be in.

It wasn't.

I did it on the way back, too.

I am embarassed to report that something about airports confounds me. Perhaps you have picked up on this. Unless the signage is VERY clear, then I am not TRULY sure I am where I am supposed to be until we have actually touched down in the destination city and I actually see someone I know. I realize that this borders on the obsessive, or perhaps the pathetic. But until I ACTUALLY saw my cousin and her small child and the soldier from the army base who had driven them to Marco Polo airport* there in Venice, there existed the slight - VERY SLIGHT, but still there - possibility in my mind that I had gotten into the wrong line back in England and perhaps I had flown to the wrong Venice - perhaps I was now in Venice, Belgium.

Don't laugh.

But I am not totally clueless about lines. At a certain point, clarity does come to me. I enter this rare, brief state of clarity right when I get up to the end of the line after I've been waiting in it for some time. That is when the realization hits me of what I SHOULD have done. In the case of this last weekend, 45 minutes later, I see the line where I COULD have gone since I am not checking luggage. There were two people in it, and it looked like it was taking five minutes.

My suggestion: roaming Ask Me! personnel. They would wander that zone between the end of lines and where you come up the escalator. They must be smiling. They must be clearly marked. They are there merely to direct us to the correct lines, not to be behind lines themselves, and to assuage their fears.

*Or, as I thought of it: Marco... POLO! Marco... POLO! Airport.

Posted by Chris on 08/28/03

Realising where the zeds went

Saw cousins in Italy this last weekend, and also Wife Ami has come to London, so I've been away from the interblogface. Much to say, later, and lots of it about airports, which would not surprise you if you know me at all.

Also found out that Italy is where they keep all the zeds they drop from English words, so that's a mystery solved.

Posted by Chris on 08/28/03

August 21, 2003

Once a Blackguard


Originally performed at the Old Vic, 1916
L.E. St. AuH, producer

~ dramatis personae ~

Lord Eamsley St. Aston-Upon-Heathton - a tosh
'arry James - a blackguard (?)
Sir Edmond Myddleton - Eamsley's good friend and a bank manager
George Langham - a respectable physician who did his time in the Great War
Robert Euston - also a tosh

~ setting ~

A Fleet Street gentleman's club. No hooliganism tolerated and membership REQUIRED

(Curtain up. Lord Eamsley and Harry James, joined by Eamsley's friends, are dressed in tails and top hats after a night at the theatre. They are met around the club bar, laughing merrily.)

EAMSLEY: Let us each raise a glass of sherry to Harry James - a real boot-strapper if ever I knew one, what-what.

SIR MYDDLETON: Yes! I must admit that when Eamsley here said he was bringing you to the club, old man, I expected, well... quite the miscreant!

LANGHAM: Here-here!

JAMES: (laughing merrily yet reservedly, in the manner of a gentleman) Not at all, my good chaps! I've taken the hand up offered me by Lord Eamsley here, and am ready to mend me ways.

(There is an uncomfortable pause. Langham coughs politely.)

JAMES: Mend MY ways, I mean to say.

EUSTON: Will James here be taking the position in your firm, then, Eamsley?

EAMSLEY: Speaking of it, I'd thought I'd use this occasion to announce-

(But Harry James' eye has fallen upon a fine painting on the club wall, a piece done after the style of Titian depicting a scene with nudes in a Roman fresco.)

JAMES: OY, THEN! Nice set on that bird, what! Talking QUALITY!

EAMSLEY: HARRY! Remember what we discussed!

JAMES: Oh, sod it - this ain't for me. And this sherry is PISS, in't it?

A BARTENDER: Sir, I'll have to ask you to leave.

JAMES: RIGHT! Soon's I get a shilling for a pint, down't pub! Take the taste o' this water off the tongue, won't it?

(Some effort is made to remove 'arry James, but they are not actually rid of him until Myddleton produces a crown and presses it into James' palm, imploring him to leave.)

EUSTON: Scurrilous fellow, after all!

LANGHAM: Bit of a knave, really...

(Eamsley is humiliated in front of his friends. Curtain)

Posted by Chris on 08/21/03

A REAL issue for a change

In a time when the news is dominated by so many "fluff" issues - Israel v. Palestine, the environment, Bush / Cheney, the Middle East - thank God at least SOME government is doing something WORTHWHILE:

Won't these people be heroes this Sunday night at the spaghetti dinner in the Fellowship Hall!

Posted by Chris on 08/21/03

Cameo Worms


The last two days feel like one long day, thanks to the worms*. "Welchia" nee "Nachi" still hangs around, a few surprise guests from the past - "Mumu" and "Blaster" - keep dropping by, and we get occasional cameo appearances by "So Big." Somehow the jet lag that I avoided coming over here has hit me; an effect of some long hours plus our company infrastructure being HQed from five time zones away.

I left at 9PM or so last night, then found a late-night sushi place. Finding a place still open was like a gift from the gods of London - usually the city shuts down very early.

As my friend Thomas has said, it's been like an Irwin Allen movie around here for a few days. I expected Steve McQueen to show up with an axe to chop his way into our server room. Which, by the way, was hot as an oven yesterday because the AC failed. UNBELIEVABLE timing. As I mentioned a few times yesterday, if we'd suddenly been plagued by locusts or toads started dropping from the sky, it wouldn't have been inappropriate.

I think I carry some kind of field that defeats air conditioning - it happens in Chicago occasionally, too. If you'd told me two years ago that dealing with emergency air conditioning would be an integral part of the job, I'd have been surprised. But let that AC fail and suddenly every hard drive, every monitor, ever surge protector, every network card in the server room just looks like a heating coil to you. You don't realize how much power is going through there until the breeze stops blowing.

I've enjoyed the infrastructure calls in the past few days, I suppose because on some level dealing with a disaster is more fun than routine maintenance. When I compare this outbreak and the way the team has handled it to a similar situation a year ago in the law firm's infrastructure department, the Sape team's humor, effectiveness and grace under fire has been LIGHT YEARS ahead and better.

It's also been fun learning the number of ways I can reach out over the network to shut down someone's machine and account that refuses to patch it up! I honestly had no idea. Am I turning to the dark side?

*I think I will use this as the first line of a horror story.

Posted by Chris on 08/21/03

More Lilekian Dissonance

Oh Jesus - Lileks says Chris Ware's book - he of "Jimmy Corrigan" fame - is the pinnacle of the storyteller's art. More cognitive dissonance surrounding Lileks, then, because I despise "Jimmy Corrigan."

I don't think all comics have to be light superhero escapism at ALL. Or even the brooding dark Frank Miller / Alan Moore stuff. And I enjoy "Maus" and "Ghost World" and all that stuff occasionally in its place, but "Jimmy Corrigan" is just opaque and boring and depressing and the kind of thing that the people at the Reader and apparently the local NPR bastion COMPLETELY LOVE. So much so that - and this is a FattyFat story that really he should tell - they cannot even parse the question when you ask them why they love it.

I also don't know why I failed to realize that "Quimby Mouse" was Ware's creation as well, or make the connection that the "comic" store* named Quimby's near my place was named after it.

I guess the net is, maybe I'll get this book as well, take a quaalude, and see if anything makes sense.

* In quotes because it is an "alternative" comic store in the sense that there is very little superhero going on but lots of Juxtapoz and Angry Lesbian Today and hardcore devil porn and obviously Chris Ware and it gives me the heebie jeebies and they don't like people in there looking at and touching their stuff and it makes me mad because it's so close to my place and it could be so cool.

The best comic store in the world is "Chicago Comics" where the staff are complete alternauts themselves but totally refuse to sneer at me when I buy Superman, even though they probably prefer Chris Ware.

Posted by Chris on 08/21/03

August 19, 2003


Today is "Welchia" day, which is I hear a cousin or son of "Blaster." He also seems to have brought his friend "Valla" along, but I believe Valla has already made a visit. I also hear "Dumaru" is around, but I have not seen it.

I'm getting more and more fascinated by the origin of these things. Why does no one ever talk about the hackers behind it? Is there a unit that "profiles" the hacker based on what the worm does and how it attacks? Is hacker even the right term? That's the most interesting part of this whole thing!

NO ONE CAN TELL ME that these things aren't being written by someone at Symantec. Is there a special Homeland Security office that certifies these worms as real threats and not made up by the people we pay to remove them?

Posted by Chris on 08/19/03

August 18, 2003

Voice Command

As clunky as my computer is, with its metric ton of a monitor, its beige under-the-desk monolith, and its medusa of cables placed on the opposite side so I have to crawl under my desk, I have to tell you my ideas of a shiny new futuristic interface for my PC STILL include a keyboard. Personally I have no desire to have voice command of my computer

To me the writing process is something that has to happen between my head and my fingers. I need to feel the keys beneath my fingers and I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT want to hear my own voice when I'm writing something. In addition to needing a quiet place to get some writing done I would then need a soundproof place so that no one could hear me.

Posted by Chris on 08/18/03

Today's quote

"If your workplace is safe; if your children go to school rather than being forced into labor; if you are paid a living wage, including overtime; if you enjoy a 40-hour week and you are allowed to join a union to protect your rights -- you can thank liberals. If your food is not poisoned and your water is drinkable -- you can thank liberals. If your parents are eligible for Medicare and Social Security, so they can grow old in dignity without bankrupting your family -- you can thank liberals. If our rivers are getting cleaner and our air isn't black with pollution; if our wilderness is protected and our countryside is still green -- you can thank liberals. If people of all races can share the same public facilities; if everyone has the right to vote; if couples fall in love and marry regardless of race; if we have finally begun to transcend a segregated society -- you can thank liberals. Progressive innovations like those and so many others were achieved by long, difficult struggles against entrenched power. What defined conservatism, and conservatives, was their opposition to every one of those advances. "

Good point. From you-know-where. I'd love to see the opposing statement to this, and I'm not being sarcastic.

Posted by Chris on 08/18/03

August 15, 2003




In place of the "insert" key please place a key that converts from ALL CAPS to lowercase for when I have typed a whole paragraph with the CAPS LOCK on.

Yes, I know that there is already such a function in MS WORD: SHIFT-F3. BUT I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT MS WORD, AM I!?!?

::angrily takes a swig from the Fanta bottle::

Posted by Chris on 08/15/03

Mitigating the Tension

Had to walk away from the Help Desk today for about twenty minutes for a restorative Fanta. I'm covering by myself today, and the requests were coming in fast and furious, and I found my patience suddenly melting away.

Normally it's not this bad. There were just a relatively large number of babies today. Most of the requests were basically, "give me a new laptop, and I need it in five minutes." If you're in local support these days, you're basically serving as an Ugnaught - you're pulling bits and pieces of hardware off the incinerator conveyer belt as fast as possible, fitting the pieces together, trying to make it all work. There is no new hardware - not until things begin looking way up will that happen. We're recycling old parts because that's all we have. Add into the mix that most everybody works offsite, and you have some banged-up hardware.

But none of that is of concern to a baby; they only know that they need it NOW, they're leaving for the client site / they have a deliverable due / the client is coming in for a presentation in thirty minutes, and they know they should have put in a request earlier in the week, and they're sorry but they NEED IT... NOW.

I try hard to bring a casual humor to technical support for people. I want to be approachable, I want to be their friend, I want to be sympathetic, because I don't think folks often get that from tech folks, and they should.

Unfortunately there are people who, once they discover that they can approach you casually, will essentially wrap their tentacles around your neck, attach themselves to your face, and then try to deposit their alien eggs into your stomach. I have taken two calls a day from the same lady here. Another lady calls rarely, but when she does it requires four phone calls to "sort her."

I'd love to be able to take complete responsibility for peoples' laptops, but the fact is that the resources are not there. This means that the users themselves have to take some responsibility for things like how are they going to power up their laptop when they get to the client site, and how will they get access to the internet. Few do.

So they were just... COMING IN TOO FAST today. I COULDN'T SHAKE THEM! LOOSEN UP! I couldn't mitigate - that's the new word that they love to say a lot here - the number of requests.

Plus, truth be told, in nearly ALL the requests today, there was a kernel of my own fault. One girl couldn't dial up from the client site; I'd set up her laptop and hadn't put the RAS client on there, thinking she would. Another series of eight calls could have been whittled down to, well, FOUR, if I'd realized that it was a virus to start with. Through misplaced kindness I allowed one call to completely transmute to three other issues. It was the Kenneth Starr Investigation of help desk calls. One help desk ticket, three issues: I'm running a sale.

So I had to walk away, and I angrily drank Fanta and avoided being hit by cabs and busses for a while. Nothing helped. I came back, picked up one of the calls where I left off, then one of the infrastructure guys I really like casually mentioned he was glad I was on the team - that my sense of humor really helped.

It couldn't have been better timed. This one bit compliment made everything OK.

Posted by Chris on 08/15/03

August 14, 2003

But I Support The Troops

Good Christ. Why isn't this Page 1 news?

I'd like to add this topic as a masthead-sized ticker at the top of every major news outlet, print and electronic, going forward until there is resolution. There should be steady updates every day until we get some answers.

It should not be treated like a big gigantic dramatic story because then people will expect it to have the same arc and rhythms as a movie or at best a television show; and when it goes longer than that - and it will - they will get bored, turn to the next thing, and forget all about it. Which is what they'd love for you to do.

But this is a headline we should not turn away from, not until satisfactory answers are forthcoming. Yes, I know politics are complicated, and there is reality to consider. But this should be story #1, and there should be updates every day.

Posted by Chris on 08/14/03

From FattyFat:

"...Arnold as Terminator isn't a bad metaphor. Robots are tools. "I've come forward in time from the McKinley Administration." "

Posted by Chris on 08/14/03

The Return of the Blackguard


Originally performed at the Lyceum-upon-Thames, 1916
LE St. A, producer

~ dramatis personae ~

Lord Eamsley St. Aston-Upon-Heathton - a tosh
'arry James - a blackguard
Miss Penny Brackston - a lady of manners

~ setting ~

A respectable parlour-room within a home of standing.

(Curtain up. Eamsley and Miss Brackston are seated, enjoying a fine sherry. A book of poems devoted to the topic of romance lies open on Eamsley's lap. He is just pouring a trifle more sherry into the lady Brackston's glass when 'arry James, a blackguard and no mistake, enters, holding an empty bottle.)

JAMES: 'ELLO 'ELLO! WOT'S ALL THIS, THEN! Looks like I done stumbled into a LOVE NEST, what?

EAMSLEY: I SAY! How did you get in here? Of all the-

(Outraged, Eamsley jumps to his feet; the book of love-poetry slides to the floor. 'arry James spots it, damn his eyes.)

JAMES: 'Ere, love, he's up to no good, ain't he? Just look' the colour in 'is face! Wants a bit o' tart, now don't he?

PENNY: It's that same beastly man! Oh, DO go away! I'll swoon!

EAMSLEY: Brigand! The sheer cheek!

PENNY: The unmitigated TEMERITY!

JAMES: That ain't no kind of thing to say, and me havin' saved your honor from this tomcat! It's worth at LEAST a shillin', wot?

PENNY: STILL after money, for drink! That's all your kind knows!

EAMSLEY: He's most likely seduced the housemaid for a skeleton key. I say, sir, leave this place at once, or-

JAMES: Oh stuff it you wolly! You ain't got no cane to swing about now, do ye? What I'm after is nothin' to the likes of you. Here: give us a shilling (for the pub), and I'll be off, Bob's your uncle.

EAMSLEY: Ruffian! Bob is most certainly NOT my uncle, what-what, and you'll get NOTHING!

(The men struggle, during which Eamsley dextrously recovers his cane, which he then brandishes ably. Lady Penny swoons, but not before witnessing Eamsley valiantly overcome the devil, and eject him into the street, where the likes of him belong.


Posted by Chris on 08/14/03

The Madness of George Dubya - a review

I saw "The Madness of George Dubya" last night, and although it has been the most modestly mounted of the other shows I've seen here, it's my favorite so far. I suppose the subject matter is a bit nearer and dearer than the other plays I've seen.

The play does not parallel the plot of "The Madness of King George" as I thought it would, but that of "Dr. Strangelove." And the show gets EVERY BIT of mileage possible out of the parallel. Sometimes it is truly eerie the way the characters and situations fit.

The story takes place in the form of a bad dream that Dubya has had, which he relates to us while wearing pajamas, teddy bear in hand. The impersonations of Dubya and Tony Blair were great - in fact I would have asked for more of those and a little less adherence to the "Strangelove" plot. The play is also constantly refreshed with current events, which everyone loved. The crowd reaction was enormous. You know sitting in the audience that you're still in the minority of world opinion, but for a while it feels like the sun has peeked around the clouds of Empire.

I have to say that somewhere in the midst of laughing, I started to get a cold chill over the subject matter. I'd never realized just how black the satire is in "Strangelove," and I can't overstate how perfect a choice it was to frame these current events this way. I've always loved "Strangelove," but NOW I feel I have even more context around why it was so biting for its time. Now that we, politically speaking, are all living on the edge of oblivion, it seems all the more relevant.

Did I mention it's a musical? No one in the show is going to wow us with their singing career, and I wouldn't exactly buy the cast album, but the songs are hilarious.

Towards the end the "Iraqi ambassador" is allowed into #10 Downing Street (Where Tony "Blear" wants him to use him to assure the Arab states that dropping nuclear bombs on them is just an accident.) He relates the history of Western involvement in Iraq in a vicious monologue that brings the show to a perfectly-timed dead stop. It drew an amazing round of applause - the second time I've been in London that a speech I've heard like this has done so. Probably mainly a matter of just where I choose to hang out and what I listen to.

Posted by Chris on 08/14/03

August 13, 2003

Slammed, Mumued, and Blasted

A strange thing came up on my laptop the other night - or I should say several smaller strange things. I could no longer copy and paste in MS applications. I could not disconnect from the AT&T dialer. I couldn't send email - I got an "operation failed" error. When I opened a Word document it said that the "document failed to be registered."

I'd just upgraded From Outlook 2000 to 2002, so it seemed something wasn't agreeing. Hmmm. I ran checkdisk and it found a lot of things it didn't like, but fixed them. Eventually I got past the cut and paste thing, but it would still refuse to send email except for once after a restart.

Turns out I'd gotten the BlasterWorm. (Worms love to dig in the dark soil of my hard drive, apparently. I got the Slammer and Mumu, too.) But! Before I realized I'd been blasted, I did some earnest troubleshooting in the MS Knowledge Base. I put on my swamp-waders, grabbed my machete, and started hacking a trail through the underbrush.

I did a search using "no cut and paste" or some caveman variant thereof, and came across... The Prototypical Knowledge Base Article.

This article seems to be for that obscure demographic that only wants to RECREATE an error, not SOLVE it. Is it just me, or does an enormous question get begged here? The MS article mentions casually that if this is happening then your OLE Environment is damaged. Without really dealing with that, we then go into some riverdance about copying things into the clipboard, saving them as clipboard files, and then opening them in Paint. They describe "workarounds" to using cut and paste. That's like describing a "workaround" to using the tips of your fingers to type.

Posted by Chris on 08/13/03

August 12, 2003

My Image Problem, or The Kindness of Ken

Many thanks to Ken for taking a full afternoon to review my image problem. It seems that in recent pollings I'm skewing to the left a bit with voters. If I'm going to win this election and put the Bush-Cheney junta down once and for all then I'm really going to need to recapture the middle, and Ken helped me develop a set of talking points that I feel-

WAIT - not that kind of image problem! My images on this site - the ones I carefully thieve from other websites - are showing up wonky on some browsers. I agree with him that it is pointless to use an inline style command, as that removes the ability to change one central stylesheet, but again - Mac doesn't like me linking to external stylesheets. Last time I tried it threatened to boil my pet rabbit.

So I abandoned the style / float / padding commands for just setting the align, width, hspace and vspace properties of an image. Ken says this is working a BIT more - except that if I don't specify BOTH width and height, then there is still a slight wonky factor.

Many thanks to Ken! This site will always be free to you, even when I go to a profit-model next quarter.

Posted by Chris on 08/12/03

August 11, 2003

Review: The audience for "Monsieur Hulot's Holiday" at NFT

I can't seem to find an acceptable audience here. I admit that I'm a bit of an Uncle June when it comes to audience behavior, but if it's not Americans loudly debating whodunnit in the lobby during the "Mousetrap" intermission, it's people giving out giant enormous wheezing guffaws of laughter at Jacques Tati's antics in the French classic "Monsieur Hulot's Holiday."

Don't get me wrong - it's a great movie, worthy of its classic designation. I will smile fondly and chuckle at this gentle comedy for years to come. But it doesn't really seem like the kind of thing you utterly bust a gut laughing at.

The key is that it's a Classic. That means that people know it well, and more importantly want to make sure everyone else around them KNOWS they know it well. To emit a bray of Max Cady from Cape Fear laughter every time the main character adorably tips his hat means that you wish to be known as a Discerning Audience Member that is moved by the Great Works.

One of the few times I wish I'd seen a classic for the first time on the small screen.

Posted by Chris on 08/11/03

Top search request on London websites:

"Oscillating Fan."

Two weeks ago I bragged to someone that even though this was going to be the hottest August in the U.K.'s history, they still didn't know anything about heat. I know Chicago heat, I know deep South heat.

We moved into a third floor apartment in Chicago the same summer - the same weekend - in '95 that dozens were dying of the heat. This was the same apartment building that had the brilliant engineering idea of having all their window-unit ACs exhaust into the common hallway. If it was not 170 degrees in that common hallway the day we moved in, I will gladly eat my hat.

Also I grew up in the south, where that obnoxious "not the heat but the humidity" phrase originates, or at least most applies. Down there it radiates off the pavement in visible wavy lines, and it's like walking through a wall of hot water.

But now I find myself eating those words. Turns out it's all relative. If there is no breeze moving through your flat (much as one didn't yesterday, the hottest day in in U.K.'s history) and you're toweling off sweat at 10 PM, and taking multiple showers to keep cool, and you feel slightly feverish and delirious, it doesn't really matter if you've felt worse in Alabama once upon a time. In fact, it's probably best to keep your mouth shut about how you've experienced hotter.

The only thing more obnoxious than the "not the heat but the humidity" line is the "I've felt worse" line.

Posted by Chris on 08/11/03

August 8, 2003

My Useless Superpower

I was called upon to do the one thing that characterizes my new job here again yesterday - restore a file from back-up. That's really my whole raison d'etre these days, so when someone says they'd love to have that file that was once on the server but now is gone, I leap into action. Someone said as much in Chicago yesterday and I jumped into go-mode all the way over here in London.

There's one company we deal with for off-site data storage - Iron Mountain. THEIR whole raison d'etre (although this is a BIT of a simplification) is to pick up our little metal boxes filled with DLT tapes every week, hold on to them for us indefinitely, and then return them to us when we ask for them.

The problem with this is, Iron Mountain doesn't reference these DLTs in the same way we do, and as far as I can tell don't use any of the same reference points on the forms we fill out AT ALL. When I send these things off every week I fill in a detailed set of forms indicating what the tapes are, their label, what the date is, who I am, my account number, etc. The forms themselves have unique reference numbers.

None of this information is much use to Iron Mountain when you call up to get the tapes, or at least you get the sense that this is the first time they're having to deal with it. I may as well physically describe the DLT tape to them. Let's see, it's small, a bit heavy for the size, plastic, expensive. Has writing on one side.

Don't they have a web interface where you can recall these tapes? This is the 21st century, OF COURSE they do! Does it reference any data common between myself and Iron Mountain? No.

So when I call up Ms. Iron Mountain to let her know we need tapes from such-and-such a date, labelled thusly, I first get a brief sputter of confusion, and then the sound of her covering the receiver with her hand while she yells down the hall at someone. I can just make out something like "He says he wants us to send him these tapes," then another muffled voice asking her for more information. Clearly I have taken them aback with my unorthodox request.

She comes back, sputters a bit more, hand over the receiver to confer with someone down the hall again, then comes on to take my information. I begin to give it, and then she interrupts me so she can find something to write it down on. She gets the data from me, then sends someone to "see if they have the tapes."

I am not reassured.

The thing that's funny about this is that Iron Mountain is a ginormous corporation, this is what they do, they are the Gringott's of the real world, but in getting this fairly simple task completed, one that is I believe fairly central to their purpose, I get the feeling that I'm asking them to do something SLIGHTLY outside their realm, like say could they come over and teach me how to fold an origami swan.

Instead of getting that warm feeling of assurance that I'm moments away from some Official Response from a Big Company that knows what they're doing and spends time and money wondering how they can streamline the experience for their customers, I get the impression this is a mom and pop operation run out of a trailer somewhere, and they just bury our metal boxes full of DLTs in the backyard.

I believe that if I have to go through this to get these tapes back, running an Offsite Storage service must be the Second Best Job to have.

And this is where we get into my superpower, the only one I have. I have the ability... to cloud men's minds. But not just ANY man's mind. Only people that work in customer service.

This experience of calling up a company and asking for their primary product or service, and receiving only sputtering confusion from their end? It's something I go through all the time.

I make the simplest request, enter into the most common of transactions, and get blank, confused stares from service people. They don't have the slightest idea why I've asked what I've asked. I've gone to hardware stores and stumped them by asking for nails.

I've been in a Gap and had the gall to ask for jeans.

I've sent an entire drugstore into a frenzy - with multiple price checks over the P.A. - by asking for aspirin.

When I'm projecting this confusion field, I could go into a McDonalds, order a burger, and have the girl behind the counter say "A... burger? Let me... check and see if we have those."

Posted by Chris on 08/ 8/03

The Blackguard


Originally performed at the Orpheum, 1915

~ dramatis personae ~

Lord Eamsley St. Aston-Upon-Heathton - a tosh
'arry James - a blackguard
Miss Penny Brackston - a lady of manners

~ setting ~

A well-appointed Victorian drawing room.

(Curtain up. Enter 'arry James)

JAMES: 'Ere! Do us a favor! Let's have a shilling!

PENNY: Who are you? Please leave at once!

JAMES: COME ON, THEN, time's wastin'! Give us a shilling!

PENNY: You beastly man, why would I give you so much as a tuppence?

JAMES: It's for a pint down at pub, in't it? You old bird, I'll do you!

(James moves threatingly towards lady Penny. Enter Lord Eamsley, ably brandishing his cane)

EAMSLEY: I say there! Stop that at once, or I'll bash in your head with this cane! What-what, and all the rest of it!

(Exeunt 'arry James into the night, muttering darkly.)

EAMSLEY: He was a blackguard and no mistake. Come, my dear. Let us have some tea to settle our nerves.


Posted by Chris on 08/ 8/03

Web Design for Parallel Worlds

I guess this is a lesson in why not to get too attached to one's web site code. Because there is always someone, somewhere for whom your layout just isn't working. I carefully nudge my pictures into place pixel by pixel and then some other platform comes around and blows the whole thing off the page.

I was so proud of the STYLE command, with its helpful float and padding parameter, but it's just not working for Safari. I remember trying to use it before for the main part of my site, only to find out that IE on Mac totally ignored my externally linked stylesheet, and then when I used inline styles, totally ignored the STYLE command. So back to tables for me.

I suppose I learned about the command in one of those O'Reilly books that gush about some powerfully extensible, scalable, expandable, multi-useable, and gracefully degrading new markup language available to you, and then in tiny footnotes mention that no one's really implementing it yet except for one particular parallel universe over in the beta-quadrant where everything works as it should.

Of course when you hear that someone can't see something or they aren't seeing it in the way you intended on your site, your first reaction is to assume that it is THEIR FAULT. Ken is using SAFARI?!?!? He doesn't deserve to see my website properly formatted anyway! Doesn't he know I add these links to pictures BY HAND?!?


Sigh. Time to go steal someone else's code to see if to works universally. Ken, if you're reading this, write me and tell me if the picture above had wonky placement.

Posted by Chris on 08/ 8/03

I wish to register a complaint

About my operating system.

I have a problem with Microsoft's propensity to steal my "focus" quite liberally when I am working. How many times have I been trying to multitask - if we're still using that word - and Microsoft helpfully pops a window from the background over what I'm doing. Or worse, it will YANK MY CURSOR OUT OF A TEXT FIELD I'M TYPING IN - usually the address bar of a new browser - and put it either somewhere else, or, even less helpfully, nowhere; so I end up typing the last part of a complicated URL sort of at the desktop, and nowhere in particular.

I picture a really really annoying secretary leaning over my desk, dropping new items down over whatever document I'm working on, then yanking my pen over to new forms to sign before I've finished the old ones.

Let me also say, and this is not so much Microsoft's fault I feel, but I'd love to find that tiny little registry key somewhere that decides which current browser window to use, or in fact whether to spawn a new one, when I click on a link in an email. Two minutes ago I lost a big blog entry because MS decided I wanted to use the blog browser window for a link I'd just opened. Blogger asks if you want to save it, of course, but it never does.

Posted by Chris on 08/ 8/03

August 6, 2003

Vicarious Activism

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank FattyFat for going to the Meet-Up and for his enduring persistence in making sure we're not living under the rule of the Emperor in four years' time.

But! In case Bush-Cheney DO win again, I'm afraid I'll have to inform on him in order to save my own miserable skin. Right this way, Officer! He's running his illegal Blog in this directory right... over... HERE.

Coda: Would it disturb your enjoyment of this blog to know I am sitting here writing it in a sweltering flat, in my underwear, while drinking a glass of wine and sweating profusely? If so I suggest you not focus on that, and think instead on something that may have amused you in the past.

Posted by Chris on 08/ 6/03

Thanks for that insightful comment! It makes interesting reading, especially when I need a cash advance.

Posted by: cash advance at November 28, 2004 2:36 PM

What's All This Then?

Went to go see "The Mousetrap" at St. Martin's Theatre tonight. I have to admit that at a time when "The Madness of George Dubya," "Edmund" with Kenneth Branagh, "Richard II" at the Globe, "The Lion King," and "The Master Builder" with Patrick Stewart are all playing literally within minutes of me, I felt almost a little geeky to be seeing this old long-running show.

But, I had a very definite need to see a play that featured:

1) An inspector to assemble the whole cast in the drawing room and DEMAND ANSWERS (he did three times), then assemble them a final time to reveal the killer.

2) An elderly British man that went by "Major" that would periodically wander in and say "what-what" and "very good" a lot, and also "yes-yes," "steady on," and most importantly "what's all this then."

3) Someone to say "Did you? DID you?" or something along those lines.

4) The curtain to fall as someone screamed bloody murder at the end of Act I.

I was not disappointed. If my friends had been with me they would have all been going "Ah! So THIS is where Chris gets that pattern of behavior he affects all the time. I wonder why?"

By the way - the man above was not in the play, but he looks like he could have been.

This play broke no boundaries for me, didn't inspire me, didn't change my life, but I don't expect a play that has the number of performances (in the tens of thousands - I believe it's the longest-running ever) posted in the lobby to do so. It was just what I wanted for tonight. No one got naked, but BELIEVE ME YOU WOULD NOT HAVE WANTED THEM TO.

Posted by Chris on 08/ 6/03

The Subsequent Review

So I saw it, thanks to iFilm, a pair of PC speakers stolen from a nearby desk, and a hastily-found AC adaptor with appropriate UK adaptors.

I give it an A! Good for this guy! Although it really isn't THAT different from Burton's, besides the costume and Batman spitting a good bit, is it? Do Batman and Joker argue about "who made who first" every time they have a battle?

But I moan needlessly - very nifty.

Posted by Chris on 08/ 6/03


I went to a website run by some buddies, folks who worked at Hecklers with me several years ago. It's a cool site devoted to sci-fi and fantasy fandom, called Revolution SF. And their lead story was about the eight-minute fan film Batman: Dead End.

I don't mean to reveal my true, geek, fan-boy nature any more than is needed, but, if I may:


I am dying to see this little movie, for all the reasons that writer Mark Finn gives in the article. I've always sort of felt like the only human on the planet, or at least a part of a very very small band of humans, that did NOT like the Tim Burton Batmans, which were basically showcases for his brand of set design and for Danny Elfman, and of course not the Joel Schumacher Batmans, which were essentially big-budget ice capade versions of the Adam West series. The RevolutionSF article and some of the others I looked up that discuss this little short show that maybe I am not alone.

In fact if I may dig deeper the geek hole I find myself in I will tell you we were SO looking forward to that first film. We'd stayed up late to watch the trailer on TV. We had the t-shirts, even though we weren't wearing them on the day of the premiere, thank you Jesus for that one nod to dignity. We waited in line for something like five hours to go see it on the first day. It was my first lesson that Sometimes Movies Suck. Walking out I felt as if I'd been punched in the stomach a lot.

I also love the idea of fan films like this being made regardless of copyright or intellectual property, made by people that really love a character or story and do it just because they think they can do better than the copyright holders. Excellent! Lord knows if I was Warner Brothers or George Lucas (In the case of the Phantom Edits) I'd probably be yelling CEASE AND DESIST into a phone at this point, too, but I hope after I got done with that tantrum I'd have the good sense to hire these guys.

It also points to something I've been realizing for several months now - why bust one's ass making a full-length movie to get noticed, when an excellent excellent short or even a scene would do?

(I have a counter to that statement, but don't want to appear too schizo.)

So I bend Sapient's resources to downloading the full-size version of this movie, only to find that SURPRISE! SURPRISE! SURPRISE! Windows Media Player can't find the right codec. And before the MacAddicts out there chafe their hands by rubbing them together in glee, neither can Quicktime. On PC or Mac, when I strained my little PC hands by scrolling over to the Mac.


Posted by Chris on 08/ 6/03

August 5, 2003

Tell-tale signs

How to tell if someone is truly an IT person:

Somewhere on their hard drive they have before-and-after pictures of a server room.

BEFORE they cleaned up all the connections and took out all the extraneous network cables, and AFTER, when all the switches and routers are clean and neat and visible.

Posted by Chris on 08/ 5/03

Things I'll Have No Truck With

Here's an excellent article on advocacy of a certain position and why it sometimes leads to narrow-mindedness. And if there is one thing this blog will have NO TRUCK WITH, it is NARROW-MINDEDNESS.

The parallel with baseball fans championing / demonizing a particular manager exemplifies what I hate about political discourse. This is what I was talking about with my mini-rant on Lileks and also a bit when I was blasting Instapundit.

I found this on Metafilter, by the way, which is exactly where you should go if you ever find yourself with ten minutes to spare and need an excellent web diversion.

On this same topic, John heard Giuliani give a keynote address at the conference he's attending in San Fran, whichever one it is, and has a great assessment, also articulating something that makes me irritated about discourse.

I beg of him however to move his purple bar over a bit, as it has been committing Contentas Obscuras for a few days.

Posted by Chris on 08/ 5/03

August 4, 2003

Succumber to Tech Envy

Still working on "The Elegant Universe" - but this seems like a book I'll need to take breaks from. I could really use an adorable animated sidekick to pop up occasionally out of its pages and illustrate the concepts through the magic of slapstick. Read John Irving's "The Fourth Hand" the first few days I was here, then Stephen Fry's "Making History."

I also succumbed to Tech Book Envy and picked up the "Windows 2000 Administrator's Pocket Consultant," which my compatriot Joe here has. Also a book in need of an adorable animated sidekick, but then I won't be reading it straight through, will I. But! It lists once and for all those command-line network tools that you seem to have learn solely through oral tradition - ping, netstat, nbtstat, ipconfig, wtf. (That last one is mine.)

Also - joy of joys - am reading "Zodiac" by Neal Stephenson. Without a doubt my favorite author right now.

Posted by Chris on 08/ 4/03

August 3, 2003

Of Pounds and Pence

People ask me what the exchange rate is over here now - I don't know. Well, how many dollars to a pound, they ask, as if I didn't understand the question. I repeat: I DON'T KNOW. Then they act as if I'm some sort of wide-eyed naif running around spending like mad.

I ask you - what difference does it make how much my burger would cost back home? I'm NOT back home, and I have to eat, right?

In my mind the query is in the same category as "How's the weather?" or "How's the job market?" No matter what the answer - I either have to walk to work in the weather, or I have to find a job, no matter what the season.

Posted by Chris on 08/ 3/03

Recent films I've seen

The Hours

I'm not nuts about this movie the way everyone else is. Does it matter that I have negative interest in Virginia Woolf? Should it? But Julianne Moore is a standout for me. And then I happen to catch...

Psycho (Gus Van Sant remake)

On BBC that night, so I get to see her again - in the Vera Miles role. How have I missed the fact that she's such a beautiful woman for so long? Like others, my knee-jerk reaction to this remake was outrage that Van Sant would dare, but it's a cool exercise. Plays get to be remounted again and again with different casts and directors, why not movies? I wish he'd taken it a bit farther afield, though. It's shot-for-shot, I think, except for the two murder scenes, when we get glimpses of some really weird imagery. Ultimately though - an exercise.

Veronica Guerin

Perhaps there will be a sub-genre of Cate Blanchett movies, ones where she is beaten bloody by men. She's great - like Julianne Moore just amazingly beautiful - but despite Joel Schumacher's hilarious candor about himself in Esquire magazine, he's not the director for this movie. Neither is this the script for this movie. I knew nothing about Veronica Guerin before the film, having only watched John Boorman's "The General," which deals with Martin Cahill. Cahill is only a peripheral character in "Guerin" and makes a fairly swift and violent exit. I am glad the movie at least tried to preserve the foolhardiness with which this woman went after the drug mob in Dublin, and does not turn it into an Elliot Ness-like crusade. But the complete lack of her film family's reaction to her putting herself and them under threat bothered me. Movies where the wife gets harmed make me squirm in my seat - I needed to see the husband rage at someone - even Veronica.

Sex is Comedy

Blech. Movies about making movies are generally fun for me, but I wanted to slap the director - both the character and the actual one - by the time this completely unfunny and boring look into the trials of shooting a sex scene was done. NOTE TO MODERN FRENCH CINEMA: Consider yourself on probation.

Posted by Chris on 08/ 3/03

August 2, 2003

You say it's your birthday?

It's my birthday too, YEA!

At least, it was yesterday. Family and friends expressed a bit of sympathy for me that I'm over here "all alone" on my birthday, and won't that make it sad? But the fact is I spend my life in a perpetual state of pretty much giving myself exactly what I want whenever I want it, plus this whole trip feels like a birthday present from Sapient, so no, it's not sad at all. It would be nice if Ami were here, but other than that...

For the second year in a row I've spent my birthday in an office where I was basically a stranger, so I chose again to be a little discreet and not make a big deal at all. This is a sure way to make sure it's noticed. The day starts with the arrival of a CAKE to the office, sent by wife Ami. HAPPY BIRTHDAY MY LOVE, the icing says. My cover - she is blown.

"Chris, is today your birthday? How lovely!"

Then my Dad calls to wish me happy, and when I am not there, insists the receptionist wish me well. Pretty soon it's out, and the cake has to be shared since it's GINORMOUS - so basically anyone I work with or who had a technical request yesterday wished me well. Hah!

Posted by Chris on 08/ 2/03