When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

27 February 2005

Shut up and fork over the fifty bucks already

Over at SwaggerSays, enrevanche buddy BobLee posts about the furor du jour at our mutual alma mater: an attempt to raise athletic fees by (gasp) $50. (See, for instance, this editorial in the Daily Tar Heel.)

As BobLee hisownself rightly points out:
A $50 increase put into perspective is 3.5 large pizzas OR two tanks of gas in a PT Cruiser OR a 10 oz jar of face cream from Sephora.
I would like to break it down for you just a little further, however. Stay with me, now, 'cause I'm going to run the numbers.

Total tuition and fees for the 2004-2005 Academic year, for UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduates taking a full load of courses (12+ credit hours per semester) is as follows:

NC Residents: $2225.26 per semester, or $4450.52 per year
Out of state: $8774.26 per semester, or $17,548.52 per year

(Source: UNC Cashier's Office.)

According to the College Board the average costs at four-year undergraduate institutions in the US are as follows:

Four-year private $20,082 (up 6 percent from last year)
Four-year public $5,132 (up 10.5 percent from last year)

Now, remember, these costs are the averages for all colleges and universities in the country, and for many of these, to paraphrase Paul Fussell, the resemblance to an actual institution of higher learning is purely architectural.

The UNC Board of Trustees wants to kick tuition up by $200 a year and student fees by $50 (for in-state students.) For those of you doing the math at home, that's a 5.6% increase (about half the national average for public institutions, I cannot help adding.)

Still with me? Okay. Now factor in:

UNC is on everybody's short list of the best public universities in the nation. Even when compared with private universities it always shows up in the "most selective" ranks and near the top of the overall heap.

For example, the US News 2005 colleges survey, just out this week, ranks UNC at #29 nationally overall, ahead of such august institutions as New York University and the University of Wisconsin and in the same range with Georgetown and UCLA.

(Okay, my wife, the Harvard grad, is entitled to look down her nose at me a little, but I ask you - when's the last time Harvard had an NCAA Men's Basketball team in serious contention in the post-season? That's right: Never.)

In sum:

The (heavily taxpayer-subsidized) tuition and fees at UNC are an incredible bargain, maybe one of the Best Buys available today in higher education, particularly for in-state residents.

(Try taking your $4450 and change up the road to Duke University and see how far it gets you.)

Update: On Bullshit

Catching up on old posts, part II (and, my goodness, there's certainly a lot of bovine excrement around the blog this weekend, more so than usual!):

Reader and pal Chap points us to this very thoughtful Times (of London) treatment of the refreshing and important philosophical treatise, On Bullshit.
We all think we can identify bullshit. We know when we are talking bullshit ourselves, and we have all been guilty of it at times, in the pub or the pulpit, though some of us produce more than others... But what is bullshit? The concept is universally recognised, yet as Professor Frankfurt writes, "the most basic and preliminary questions about bullshit remain, after all, not only unanswered but unasked."

He begins, like all good philosophers, by defining what bullshit is not. Bullshit is dishonest, yet it is not necessarily mendacious. The bullshit artist may not tell you the truth (though he may do so inadvertently), but he is not deliberately lying. This is because bullshit cares nothing for truth or falsehood, accuracy or error, and that is its force and danger.

Both the liar and the honest man must have regard for truth, the former to subvert it and the latter to propagate it. Bullshit, by contrast, is fundamentally unconcerned with truth or falsehood, but only with appearance, effect and persuasion, however transitory... The essence of bullshit is getting away with it, with persuading listeners or readers of a sincerity that is, by definition, phoney. The bullshit artist simply does not care about truth: “He pays no attention to it at all,” writes Professor Frankfurt. “By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies are.”

Update: GeoURL.org back in business

An update to an earlier post:

The GeoURL.org server is back on line (with nearly 150,000 existing database entries still intact.) GeoURL is a geographic database for weblogs; it allows you to enter a site's URL and see all of its "neighbors."

Like so: Who's near enrevanche?

To register your site, you need to embed your latitude/longitude information, and your site's name, in your header metatags, then ping GeoURL.

Here's what that looks like for this site (using "ICBM" as the tag name for your lat/long is a bit of black humor going back to Usenet days):
<meta name="ICBM" content="40.737, -74.003" />
<meta name="DC.title" content="enrevanche" />
Added to the enrevanche button collection:

26 February 2005

Jeff "Skunk" Baxter - missile defense expert

You never know what you're going to learn when you check in with Metafilter for the day.

Here's a little gem that surfaced in a thread on Danica McKellar (she played Winnie on "The Wonder Years" and has a math degree, endearing her to geeks-of-a-certain-age):
As a member of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, and as a session guitarist for Carly Simon, Bryan Adams, Ringo Starr and many others, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter has been a clandestine rock and roll hero since the '70s. Now, as a specialist in terrorism, missile defense and chemical and biological warfare, he's also a covert hero for the U.S. military.

He's currently working for the Department of Defense as an adviser to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and has also served as a top military adviser for numerous congressmen and senators.

(Source: VH1.)

In other brainy-celeb news on that thread, Dolph Lundgren is a degreed engineer who won a Fulbright Scholarship to study at MIT.

Dateline: Milford, Nebraska -- Flaming shitpile extinguished

You know, everybody's got problems, and every place has problems, too. There are big-city problems, and there are rural problems.

Here in New York City, we worry about things like subway relay room fires taking out huge chunks of our infrastructure at random, or encounters with unmedicated schizophrenics on the street.

Out in Milford, Nebraska, local officials are relieved to announce that they have managed to extinguish a 2,000 ton mountain of smoldering cowshit that has been burning for four months. (See also: local coverage from the Lincoln, Nebraska Journal Star.)

Now, if you're like me, and you start free-associating on "2,000 ton pile of smoldering cowshit," you're gonna think about these guys (or, to be fair, these guys.) Spontaneous combustion in a feedlot compost heap isn't the first thing that springs to mind.

One thing's for sure: the residents of Milford, Nebraska are breathing easier tonight.

New blogroll entry: Koranteng's Toli

One of the cool things about hanging around at Blogcritics.org: every now and then you run across a writer you haven't heard of before, and he or she writes something that really blows you away, like this learned and heartfelt appreciation of Jimmy Smith and soul jazz.

Added to the enrevanche blogroll today: Koranteng's Toli, a blog owned and operated by Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah, technologist, omnivorous reader, and music fan.

What's a "toli," you might ask?
toli: n. 1. A juicy piece of news. 2. The latest word or gossip. 3.The talk of the town, typically a salacious or risque tale of intrigue, corruption or foolishness.
That's a very useful word right there. And a pretty great blog.

25 February 2005

Attention, Firefox Users

Firefox 1.01 has just been released.

It rolls up a bunch of pretty important security patches and bug fixes... go get yourself a copy.

Downloaded in seconds on my DSL line, installed flawlessly.

A cat and his bear

Mister Gato gets along pretty well with all the animals in our house. Including Chow Bella's teddy bear.

Don't try to take that bear away from him.

No stranger to dis bear. Posted by Hello

(Earlier Mister Gato posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. See The Modulator and The Carnival of the Cats for more bloggers' cats from around the world.)

24 February 2005

Mister Gato, remixed

In lieu of our usual Thursday catblogging, we'd like to point you to Mister Gato, the Remix:

"The Real Sarah K" over at mountaineermusing.com has been busily Photoshopping some Carnival of the Cats entries. (See also: here.)

(We're all very confused about this, but "The Real Sarah K" seems to be the evil, liberal twin of this Sarah K at this website.)

Check the links above, and you might just see a few pictures you recognize.

23 February 2005

New arrival

Dear, old friend (we go back a long way) and "radioactive squid boy" (nuclear submariner) Chap of Chapomatic just posted an announcement over at his site:
Time of launch: 2342
Displacement: 6 lb 10 oz
Draft: 20.5 in
Sounding: loud
Mother and son doing well.
Congratulations, little-Chap, and welcome to the world!

"Deadwood" gets the TWoP treatment

Just a brief note this morning to say that I'm a happy, happy man:

One of the best shows on television, HBO's Deadwood, is going to be recapped this season by the best TV community website, bar none, Television Without Pity. The new "Deadwood" season starts March 6... but in fact, the TWoPpers are going to build up episode recaps from the first season, too.

It really is the little things that make life worth living.

("Deadwood" would be the best show on television were it not for a sister series on HBO, "The Wire." If "The Wire" comes back for another season and TWoP starts covering it, too, my head might explode.)

22 February 2005

Free Mojtaba and Arash Day

The Committee to Protect Bloggers has declared February 22 to be "Free Mojtaba and Arash Day."

(BBC News story here.)

So, for one day, I will pause from narcissistic bloviation and focus on two really important things: freedom of speech and freedom of conscience.

I've blogged before about the plight of Iranian citizen-journalists.

This story, unfortunately, is more of the same: Arash Sigarchi and Mojtaba Saminejad are in prison in Iran for speaking their minds, in defiance of the authorities. In fact, Arash and Mojtaba apparently angered the mullahs by (among other things) protesting an earlier clampdown on prominent Iranian bloggers.

What can you do about it, halfway around the world from where these unfortunate men are being unjustly imprisoned? In addition to blogging about the situation, the Committee has some suggestions:
If you are in the United States, contact either the Representative at the Iranian Interest Section of the Pakistani Embassy or the Ambassador to Iran’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations. (Iran has no embassy in the United States.) Here is the contact information.

Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif
Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran
622 Third Ave. New York, NY 10017
Tel: (212) 687-2020 / Fax: (212) 867-7086
E-mail: Email the ambassador

Iranian Representative
Embassy of Pakistan
Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran
2209 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.Washington, D.C. 20007
Email the Interests Section

If you are outside the U.S., as many of you will be, you can contact either the Permanent Representative to the United Nations or the Iranian ambassador in your own country.
Read a little about Mojtaba and Arash's cases, then take five minutes and drop a line to let the Iranian diplomats know: the whole world is watching.

21 February 2005

Hunter Thompson, RIP

As you are no doubt by now aware, Hunter S. Thompson killed himself Sunday night.

No one really knows why, though he had been in declining health for years now, and his legendary substance (ab)use can't have helped much. I certainly don't know, but I suspect that the indignity of incipient old age and coping with an increasingly failing physical frame just became too much for him.

I'll have more to say about Hunter and his impact on my life after I digest the news.

In the meantime:

The Great Thompson Hunt @ Gonzo.org, a fantastic HST fan site that hasn't been updated much lately, offers this detailed timeline of Dr. Thompson's life through 2002.

This column for ESPN ("Shotgun Golf with Bill Murray") was apparently his last published writing.

Death before dishonor; drugs before lunch. - Motto, Aspen Gun and Drug Club, early 1970s

19 February 2005

GeoURL returns

GeoURL was a pretty cool web service. You embedded your latitude and longitude information into your web site or blog's metatags, registered with their server, and then you could run a search to locate all the sites in their database that were geographically close to you.

Unfortunately, the GeoURL server has been down since sometime last fall.

Well, the GeoURL service is back. In fact, not only is it back, it now looks like there may be two competing GeoURL services!

The site at geourl.org (the old URL) is still showing as "going live Real Soon Now," but geourl.info is up and running. The sites appear to be entirely separate efforts.

I registered tonight with geourl.info, and now I can, for instance, find all sites near the enrevanche blog.

Nifty, no?

The Somerville (MA) Gates

Meet "Hargo," the anti-Christo. Sure, New York City's installation will be seen by millions of tourists, but how many cats?
To all visitors of The Somerville Gates:
There are no official opening events.
There are no invitations.
There are no tickets.
This work of art is FREE and for all to enjoy,
the same as all of our previous projects.
If anyone tries to sell you a ticket,
do not buy it. This would be an act of
fraud because no tickets are needed.

18 February 2005

Shagged out following a prolonged squawk

Life imitates Monty Python... the Parrot Sketch has come to life, in Israel:
An indignant Israeli is suing a pet shop that he says sold him a dying
parrot, reports the Ma'ariv newspaper. Itzik Simowitz of the southern
city of Beersheba contends the shop cheated him because the
Galerita-type cockatoo not only failed to utter a word when he got it
home, but was also extremely ill. Mr. Simowitz adds that the shop
owner assured him the parrot was not ill but merely needed time to
adjust to its new environment.
(source: Toronto Globe and Mail, Feb 15, 2005; hat tip: BoingBoing)

Put down the crack pipe. Go on, put it down.

The parent company of the New York Times just paid $410 million to acquire About.com from Primedia.

While it is gratfiying to see the Times folks paying attention to new media (can we still call it "new media" a little longer?) here's a page from their new acquisition that may prove helpful to Times Co. shareholders going forward.

17 February 2005

Cats and cardboard: a love affair

Mister Gato loves cardboard boxes. Whenever the FreshDirect guys bring groceries, or the UPS man makes a delivery, he waits for us to unpack and then happily investigates the empty cardboard boxes one by one, often picking one to settle into for a brief nap, or equally often, ritually sharpening his claws on the side of each box...

The other day we were breaking down a bunch of boxes for recycling, which distressed Mr. G. no end. All of those beautiful 3-D boxes being converted into 2-D cardboard flats! The horror!

He's a resourceful cat, though. He took custody of one of the smaller boxes (a recent conveyance for my latest shipment of O'Reilly books), jammed his head and front paws into one open end and wrestled the box back to "life."

Here, a contented cat sits inside the cardboard tunnel of his dreams:

Gato, thinking both inside and outside the box. Posted by Hello

(Earlier Mister Gato posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. See The Modulator and The Carnival of the Cats for more bloggers' cats from around the world.)

Der König des Wilden Westens

Carrie pointed me to a great biography of Karl May, a sort of German Louis L'Amour (or, as she described him, "the German love-child of James Fenimore Cooper and Zane Grey.")
Throughout his life, May was closely identified with his first-person narrator and alter ego, Old Shatterhand -so called because he could kill a man with the blow of his fist. Ironically, May never set foot upon the American plains and largely researched his subject in German prison libraries while serving time for, among other things, fraud and impersonating a police officer. Despite, or perhaps because of this, May's stories continue to be immensely popular. His works have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, far more than any other single German author, including Goethe, Hesse and Mann, and his fans have included the likes of Einstein, Schweitzer, and even Hitler.
May's existence answers a question that has puzzled me for over twenty years. In my youth, I did a NOLS course out in the Rockies, and when we came down out of the hills and went out on the town in beautiful, cosmopolitan Lander, Wyoming, we were surrounded by excited German tourists in Stetsons and very expensive cowboy boots, who were apparently either on their way to, or on their way back from, a nearby dude ranch. And now I know why.

16 February 2005

Home is the sailor, home from sea

Chapomatic resurfaces after a few weeks at sea, and does so with a vengeance, clearing the buffers and dealing with a lot of pent-up blogging all at once.

He's got some great stuff about command philosophy and a short list of things he'd pay ten bucks for, but being a fat man I instantly centered in on the food post: sure wish I could've gone on that Oahu restaurant crawl with him.

Welcome back, my friend:
Home is the sailor, home from sea:
Her far-borne canvas furled
The ship pours shining on the quay
The plunder of the world.

Home is the hunter from the hill:
Fast in the boundless snare
All flesh lies taken at his will
And every fowl of air.

'Tis evening on the moorland free,
The starlit wave is still:
Home is the sailor from the sea,
The hunter from the hill.

- A.E. Housman

15 February 2005

The philosophy of bullshit

Yesterday's New York Times informs us that Harry Frankfurt, a professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton, has published a groundbreaking new work of moral philosophy.

Unfortunately, his magnum opus bears a title that the Grey Lady is too prissy to print without redaction: "On Bullshit."

Excerpt from the introduction:
One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, nor attracted much sustained inquiry.
At $9, this new Princeton University Press title is too inviting to pass up. I've just ordered it... look for a review in this space soon.

Happy Jon Frum Day!

enrevanche reader Reed writes in to note that today, February 15, is Jon Frum Day.

With apologies to Ayn Rand, who is Jon Frum? Answer: the worship-object of a cargo cult that prospers to this day in Vanuatu:
The Jon Frum movement appeared for the first time in the 1940s in the New Hebrides (as Vanuatu was called at the time). At that time some 300,000 American troops established themselves in Vanuatu. The islanders were impressed both by the egalitarianism of the Americans and their obvious wealth and power. This led them to conflate perceived benefactors such as Uncle Sam, Santa Claus and John the Baptist into a mythic figure called Jon Frum, who would empower the island peoples by giving them cargo wealth. The power of Jon Frum appeared to be confirmed by the post-war influx of tourists to the region, who brought with them a degree of material prosperity to the islands. The cult is still active today. The Jon Frum movement also has its own political party, led by Song Keaspai.


The followers believe that Jon Frum will come back on February 15th, which is celebrated annually as Jon Frum Day. The most sacred symbol of the Jon Frum movement is a red cross. On Jon Frum day prayers and flowers are offered at the cross. In addition to this members involve themselves in a flag raising ceremony and a military parade in which they carry rifles made of bamboo.
More Jon Frum info here and here.

One of the best college classes I ever took, I think, was an anthropology seminar on messianic movements. If I had it to do over again, I think I might become an anthropologist.

Anyway... happy Jon Frum Day!

14 February 2005

Gmail for Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Nothing says "I love you" like a free web-based Google e-mail account, by the way. And as I've suddenly got a metric ton of invitations, one (or more) can be yours for the asking.

Just drop me a line and let me know where you'd like me to send your invites.

13 February 2005

Tom Friedman: "No Mullah Left Behind"

Thank God for Tom Friedman. Day in and day out, he is one of the most coherent, thoughtful columnists in the New York Times.

He wrote a real corker today about our muddled energy policies and the effects that they're having in the Middle East.

Money 'graf:
By adamantly refusing to do anything to improve energy conservation in America, or to phase in a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax on American drivers, or to demand increased mileage from Detroit's automakers, or to develop a crash program for renewable sources of energy, the Bush team is - as others have noted - financing both sides of the war on terrorism. We are financing the U.S. armed forces with our tax dollars, and, through our profligate use of energy, we are generating huge windfall profits for Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan, where the cash is used to insulate the regimes from any pressure to open up their economies, liberate their women or modernize their schools, and where it ends up instead financing madrassas, mosques and militants fundamentally opposed to the progressive, pluralistic agenda America is trying to promote. Now how smart is that?
Not too long ago Philip Greenspun suggested that we all equip ourselves with a supply of bumper stickers reading "I'm funding Al-Qaeda, one tankful at a time" and keep them handy for affixing to every oversized SUV we see on our streets.

(I am sorely tempted to cruise right over to MakeStickers.com and order a big batch of these. Anybody want some? Tom? Philip?)

Rough rendition courtesy of MakeStickers.com. Posted by Hello

Lost in translation: Hanzi Smatter

Did you ever wonder what those increasingly-ubiquitous Chinese character tattoos actually mean?

The meaning may be much more (or less) than meets the eye. Over at Hanzi Smatter, a site devoted to documenting the misuse and abuse of Chinese characters in Western culture, Tian helpfully breaks it down for you, with often-hilarious examples of cross-cultural miscommunication.

Imagine, for example, that you have just been permanently branded with a couple of characters meanng "crazy diarrhea."

(Actually, I think I might have had that once after getting a bad burrito and chasing it with too many tequila shooters. But I wouldn't want a tattoo to remind me of the experience.)

12 February 2005

Go See The Mad Ape Den

At the Mad Ape Den you say the lil' gab. It is so A-OK. We all dig The Den.

Go to the URL and see:
We are a few who are apt to gab in an odd way. If you can not say it as we do, do not say it at all. Any bit fit to say is fit to say in Mad Ape Den.
(Oh, yes, a FAQ for you, too.)

My gal and I say go, go, go.

We try the Mad Ape gab in our own hut and did pen our own ode:
"I am not to be an ass of job for you"

I am not to be an ass of job for you.
I am a big oaf but I say ow ow ow
And yet I yen for you to bed me
I am not to be an ass of job for you
I go for a big way, my toe is all ow ow ow
And yet I yen for you to bed me

I got no E.D.
Am I not an S.O.B.?
I got the do-re-mi.
I can see O.K.

I am not to be an ass of job for you.
We go to my hut, dim out the sun.
Din on the FM set
Hey, I ask you, gal, to bed me.

I got no E.D.
Am I not an S.O.B?
I got the do-re-mi.
I can see O.K.

Oh, lil' sis,
not bad to the eye, not bad to the eye,
not bad to the eye, not bad to the eye, gal.
You are not bad to the eye, not bad to the eye, gal.
Lil' gal, let me bed you, O.K.?

You can put me out
On the way
Put me out
And not one bit on my toe
Put me out, put me out, put me out
Of all my sad ow ow ow.

All the ill of you
I can eat it up
Put it all on me
I can let it go.
One bit I do not get, gal
You say to me I am not the lad for you

I got no E.D.
Am I not an S.O.B? ooh, gal
I am a bad, bad boy.
I got the do-re-mi, and I yen for you,
ooh, ooh, I beg of you.

I am not to be an ass of job for you.
I am not to be an ass of job for you.
Not, not, not, not, not, not to be.

I do not ask for an ass of job.
I ask for no one to be my mom
I ask for no R.N.
Not, not, not, not, not, not to be.

11 February 2005

Meet your professor, Dr. Hoops

I'm still smarting from the results of the UNC-Duke game the other night... 18 seconds and we couldn't get a shot off!

I've seen Carolina teams score 10 points with 18 seconds left on the clock... sigh.

Anyway, we North Carolinians take our basketball very seriously. (One early working title for this blog was "Basketball, Barbecue and Bloviation.")

So I was very pleased to read, in an AP wire story yesterday, of the fine work of Dr. Barry Lawing:
Barry Lawing remembers the first time his dad took him to a Wake Forest game, nearly four decades ago. He's been hooked on Atlantic Coast Conference basketball since.

Now a history instructor at Forsyth Technical Community College, Lawing has found a way to bring that passion to academia. For the second straight winter, he is teaching a class on the league's highest-profile sport, a veritable ACC History 101 featuring everything from old game footage to guest lecturers, some better known for scoring than speechmaking.
The course concentrates almost exclusively on the "Big Four" ACC schools in North Carolina: UNC, Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest.

Entirely reasonable; just as it should be.

Ah, for a glass of sweet iced tea, a big plate of 'cue, and a seat in a comfortable chair on the day of the big game.

We're less than a month away from the ACC Tournament... and for reasons unrelated to basketball (I swear!) I will actually be in North Carolina at tipoff time.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I won't be attending the Tournament in person, of course, since (a) it is being played in D.C. this year, and (b) I am not a member of the nomenklatura.

Note from the official ACC website:
There has not been a public sale of ACC Tournament tickets since 1966, and all tournaments since then have sold out in advance. The tickets are equally distributed among the 11 member institutions. Ticket sale distribution is handled on a school-by-school basis. For more information on purchasing ACC Tournament tickets, please contact one of our 11 member institutions.

10 February 2005

For the love of Christo...

"The Gates," Christo's latest public art installation, is being put together in Central Park by an army of "paid volunteers" (in my world, we call a "paid volunteer" an "employee," but whatever.)

In the works since 1979, "The Gates" consists of a seemingly endless series of bright orange fabric flags, secured by posts, overhanging the walkways of Central Park. Budgeted at $20 million, the installation will stay up until the end of February.

Christo groupies from around the world are descending on New York for the event. Already, the artsy-fartsy quotient at neighborhood restaurants and bars is nearing, ahem, Orange Alert level. Pretty soon you won't be able to buy a spare beret for love nor money.

I've never thought much of Christo's "art," but I do admire the business acumen of anyone who can make a living by, e.g., wrapping buildings in huge swaths of fabric, paying for it with other people's money, and then selling signed photos and lithographs of the events both before and after the fact...

Quick, how do you say "charlatan" in Bulgarian?

Thursday catblogging: There's something in the Aeron tonight

In the best enrevanche tradition: if it's Thursday, this must be Mister Gato.

Writing a fan letter to the designers at Herman Miller has been on my to-do list for quite some time now. One of the only relics left from my days toiling in the dot-com vineyards, other than some good friends and business contacts, and some worthless stock, is my fondness for Aeron chairs.

Putting in a long day at work without suffering lower back pain: pure genius. (As one edges cautiously into early middle age, these things become increasingly important.)

We just had to have one for the apartment, especially when my wife was setting up a home office for her freelance writing business. So we marched down to Sam Flax and put our money on the counter.

It's one of the best furniture investments we ever made. Recent developments, however, have complicated the chair situation somewhat:

Actually, this is my chair. Posted by Hello

My fan letter would now read something like this:
Dear Herman,

Love those Aeron chairs. They are the sturdiest things I've ever seen. Not only do they support the weight of an oversized blogging redneck, but when my irascible tomcat tries to sharpen his claws on the plastic mesh, he is incapable of harming it.

Keep up the good work. And would you please consider making a cat-sized Aeron so I can have mine back?

Best regards,

Gato is proprietary about a number of things in our apartment, not just the desk chair. Here, he guards my wife's knitting bag on the couch... because, you know, that's where the yarn is. And he takes his yarn very seriously.

Gato guards the yarn. Posted by Hello

(Earlier Mister Gato posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. See The Modulator and The Carnival of the Cats for more bloggers' cats from around the world.)

09 February 2005

The 101 Dumbest Moments in Business

Business 2.0 (one of my favorite tech industry rags) presents the 101 Dumbest Moments in Business, 2004 Edition. (Note: some content on this site requires a very affordable and well-worth-it subscription, but I logged out and tested it, and the first several pages, at least, of this article apparently do not.)

Personal favorite:
19. Now wipe your tears and go sit on that block of ice.
"I give Gene permission to bust my behind any way he sees fit."—Agreement given to female workers at Tasty Flavors Sno Biz in Red Bank, Tenn. The owner of the shaved ice operation is charged in November with two counts of sexual battery after it dawns on a pair of 19-year-old ex-employees that spankings are not a professionally sanctioned management tool.
(See also the B2Day Blog.)

Signs of an improving economy

Signs that the economy is improving: unsolicited come-ons from technical recruiters.

I've been off the market for some time now, but old copies of my resume are still floating around out there.

Based on some of the evidence I've recently seen, however, during the recent tech slump we apparently lost a number of good, professional recruiters... and in their place, now that things are gearing up again, we've got people who can apparently neither read nor write.

Case in point: yesterday, I received a semi-coherent message from a recruiter asking me to apply for a job I am not remotely qualified for. I am not sure whether she actually read my resume (I'm betting she didn't) but given the literacy level of her query letter, who knows?

Her note to me included these gems:
Also I would like to have this information send to me via email.

Details to fill

Immigration status/green card/citizen

Current salary that u can prove

Current bonus that u can prove

My response, with identifying information redacted to protect the clueless:
Hi, (clueless recruiter.)

Thanks for thinking of me with respect to this job opening.

Unfortunately, since I'm not a programmer, and have no experience with (a whole bunch of stuff I know nothing about) or really any of the technologies that are listed in the job requirements other than Office and Visio, I don't think I would be a very good fit for this employer, and thus I think I'll pass.

I am a pretty good technical writer and editor, however, and would like to offer you some suggestions about how to improve your query letter.

In a business letter (and that includes e-mails) it is best to use standard written English, in order to sound and appear professional and to avoid misunderstandings. You also want to proofread carefully, and check both spelling and grammar, before sending out an e-mail.

So, for example, "current salary that u can prove" is wrong for a couple of reasons.

First, it uses "u" instead of "you," which is okay when sending text messages to a friend on a cell phone (or quoting hip-hop lyrics) but should be avoided in the business world; second, it rather belligerently implies that you think you're addressing someone who would lie, given half a chance.

I am sure that you meant to be neither insulting nor flippant, but many readers might read it that way.

Here is one way to re-write the message that you sent me that would avoid these kinds of problems.


Hi, (candidate's name here.)

Your resume came up as a potential match to a position that we're actively recruiting for.

(Insert brief summary of position here.)

If you're interested, point your browser to

(URL here)

for more information.

If you'd like to apply for the job, you can submit your information at the link above, or, if you'd prefer, you can send me your resume (as an attached Microsoft Word document, please) by return e-mail.

When submitting your information, please be sure to include the following:

-- Your immigration status and work eligibility
-- Your current compensation, including base salary and bonus (subject to verification)
-- Your desired compensation
-- Your availability (how soon can you start?)

If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact me by telephone or e-mail.

(your signature and contact information here)


Hope that you find this helpful and constructive.

Best regards,


Blog at your own risk

Yesterday's Christian Science Monitor runs a pretty well-informed article about bloggers getting fired for blogging about their workplaces.
[Fired journalist Rachel Mosteller] learned a valuable lesson: If you have a job, blog at your own risk - "unless you're writing recipes and about how much you love puppies and kittens," Ms. Mosteller says.
Okay, that puppy and kitten stuff is hitting a little close to home here, and I have so far refrained from posting my cornbread and pound cake recipes (any requests?) but she's got a pretty good point: if you go out on a limb in your blog, and especially if you blog about work, don't be surprised if there are consequences to be paid.

The CSM article was okay, but even a cursory glance around the blogosphere reveals that blog-related firings have been a trend for some time now. PopeMark, over at The Papal Bull, has compiled a list of fired bloggers (see also the update here) going back a couple of years.

Somehow, the author of the CSM story failed to notice and interview Heather Armstrong, who blogs at Dooce. Heather's firing a few years back gave rise to the term "dooced," meaning "to be fired for blogging."

And CSM missed a highly relevant news peg: Google (which, ironically, owns and operates Blogger, the host of enrevanche and millions of other blogs) just fired a recently hired employee, Mark Jen, for blogging about working at Google (blog still active, but "objectionable" material apparently removed.)

Generally speaking, I am not too impressed by anonymous blogging; I made the decision to go "open kimono" when I started my blog, and I tend to have more respect for people who are willing to sign their name to their opinions.

But if you're going to blog about work, both anonymity and a modicum of active deception about the details you share with your readers would seem to be prudent.

08 February 2005

Geek job security

Geeks, nerds, hackers: Lend me your ears!

Looking for a little job security? Who isn't?

How to write unmaintainable code.

The referenced site is geared towards Java programmers, but the general principles will apply to anyone who develops in any language, and to some extent to IT workers in general.

Google Maps

Just time for a quick post on the way out the door, but Google Maps is now in public beta, and it's very cool.

First, the quality of the online maps on offer is really excellent, a cut above what I've seen elsewhere. Their street maps of New York City helpfully indicate major streets by highlighting them in yellow, for instance. (See, for instance, my immediate neighborhood.)

Second, Google Maps not only understands standard location and directions queries, it also understands queries like "hotels near LGA" (or other airport code, obviously) and "restaurants near 100 Main St, yourtown, yourstate" (or, even more specifically, "pizza near 100 main st...")

This one gets bookmarked in the massive links toolbox instantly.

Hmmm... this wouldn't be a bad web front-end for Keyhole... (see earlier, related post)

06 February 2005

Everybody, say hi to Eric.

As a few of you have noticed, I've started blogging over at blogcritics.org, as well as here at the home base. Some good stuff going on over there, and I urge you to check it out.

I've met some nice people and good writers over there, one of whom I've just added to the blogroll. Meet Eric Berlin, who blogs over at Dumpster Bust.

05 February 2005


Innovative uses of the Google APIs keep popping up on the Web.

Now there's Gizoogle (complete with spinning rims in the logo) which seems to force Google to channel for Snoop Dogg. Here's what happens when you search for this blog, for instance:
Enrevanche is a blizzog belong'n ta Barry Campbell, a writa steppin' n rhymin' in New York City... crazy up in here...
You know, they're quite right about that. It *is* getting kind of hectic up in this piece.

As Ali G would no doubt say when confronted with this magnificence: Respek, yo!

Get sick, go bankrupt: an American tale

A story that appeared earlier this week deserves much more attention, and discussion, than it has received so far. The healthcare-policy journal Health Affairs published a study based on a survey of bankruptcy filings in five Federal court districts.

Abstract (emphasis added):
In 2001, 1.458 million American families filed for bankruptcy. To investigate medical contributors to bankruptcy, we surveyed 1,771 personal bankruptcy filers in five federal courts and subsequently completed in-depth interviews with 931 of them. About half cited medical causes, which indicates that 1.9–2.2 million Americans (filers plus dependents) experienced medical bankruptcy. Among those whose illnesses led to bankruptcy, out-of-pocket costs averaged $11,854 since the start of illness; 75.7 percent had insurance at the onset of illness. Medical debtors were 42 percent more likely than other debtors to experience lapses in coverage. Even middle-class insured families often fall prey to financial catastrophe when sick.
(See also the Letters posted so far in response to this article.)

Since the vast majority of insured Americans get their medical coverage through their jobs, it can (and does) disappear if you become too sick to work and your COBRA coverage (assuming you can afford it in the first place if you're not working) runs out.

And even with insurance coverage, a serious illness can leave you thousands of dollars in the hole, from co-payments, deductibles, and non-covered expenses.

When my wife got sick several years ago (thank God, she's doing just fine now) we had several thousand dollars in bills for medically necessary treatment that the insurance companies--and we had very good insurance at the time--simply refused to cover.

My parents, God bless them, have been dealing with chronic illnesses and insurance companies for years, and I have learned a little something by watching them operate. I have never been one to take a refusal from some pissant low-level insurance company clerk as a definitive answer, and was ultimately able to cajole and browbeat the insurer into covering a not-insubstantial fraction of the unpaid amounts, but for the most part we just had to grit our teeth and cut some checks. It took some time, but everybody got paid. And we were damned lucky to be able to do that.

Even more charming was what happened to us about a year later; my wife was freelancing, and I was between staff jobs, doing some freelancing myself; we were both getting insurance coverage through a COBRA policy from my former employer, which would easily tide us over, we thought, until one of us slid into the next employer-provided insurance policy.

Until the day we found out that my sleazy former employer had (quite illegally) stopped sending in COBRA payments to the insurance company. Carrie went to the pharmacy to pick up some prescriptions, and discovered, at the cash register at Duane Reade, that we were utterly without insurance coverage.

Let me tell you, that's a scary feeling. And there wasn't a damned thing we could do about it, other than scramble to find some kind of ruinously expensive individual insurance policy that would provide two people with somewhat checkered health histories a little dab of catastrophic health coverage. (We finally got a group policy through a freelancer's association that might have actually paid a pittance towards our care had one of us been hit by a bus or something.)

Lesson learned: Even with COBRA, health insurance "portability" and the like, the way we obtain and maintain health insurance in America is deeply broken. You can play by the rules, do the right thing, work hard at a good job with decent insurance, and still wind up getting badly burned if you get sick enough. Health coverage, as a practical matter, is precarious at best.

Strategies for partial mitigation and self-protection:
  • If you don't have access to employer-provided health care, join a fraternal or professional organization to get access to insurance at group rates.
  • If your employer or affinity group offers you additional disability coverage (short or long-term), bite the bullet and sign up now. Disability coverage by its nature is much harder to take away from you when you need it most.
  • Ditto long-term care/nursing home insurance, the premiums for which will be very affordable if you're young and in decent health.

03 February 2005

A shoulder to purr on

Continuing in our tradition of getting our catblogging in a little early...

Mister Gato, for as long as we've known him (he's been our Rodent Control Engineer for a year now) has never, ever been a lap-sitter.

But you shouldn't get the impression that he's aloof. He is, in fact, incredibly affectionate and demonstrative. He's just not into laps.

When he wants attention, he will fling himself (literally) into your arms, drape himself over your left shoulder, and demand to be held and cuddled, purring loudly all the while.

Knock this cat off my shoulder. Go on, I dare you. Posted by Hello

And he'll sit there just as long as you're willing to hold him. Once or twice he's even fallen asleep this way.

(Earlier Mister Gato posts: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. See The Modulator and The Carnival of the Cats for more bloggers' cats from around the world.)

02 February 2005

Doggie demographics

Old news, perhaps, but while we were looking for information on New York City dog runs, we came across this press release from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Most Popular Dog Names and Breeds in New York City.

We were a little surprised to discover that Bella is #31 on the list of most popular names. (Hey, over at Cityrag: Buddy is #5!) "Chow Fun," of course, isn't on the list.

The most common breed, obviously, is "mixed." No word on the relative position of Chows (they aren't in the top ten), but we've been seeing a lot of Chow puppies lately... I think that breed is going places.

Some accessories sold separately

If you want to see G.I. Joe alive again, do exactly as we say.
A photograph posted on an Islamist Web site appears to be that of an action figure and not a U.S. soldier being held hostage.

Liam Cusack, the marketing coordinator for Dragon Models USA, said the figure pictured on the Web site is believed to be "Special Ops Cody," a military action figure the company manufactured in late 2003.


On the Islamist Web site, a group calling itself the Al Mujahedeen Brigade, posted a photograph of a man it claimed was a captured U.S. soldier named John Adam, and it threatened to behead him if Iraqi prisoners are not released by U.S. forces.

Staff Sgt. Nick Minecci of the U.S. military's press office in Baghdad told The Associated Press that "no units have reported anyone missing."

The photograph showed the figure against a black flag with white lettering reading, "God is great, there is no god but Allah." A U.S. military assault rifle was pointed at its head. It appears that "rifle" was part of the plastic weaponry that came with the action figure.
Now we've identified the real enemy. It's not Al-Qaeda... it's COBRA.

Six more weeks of winter.

We're in for six more weeks of wintry weather... this morning, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow.
The chubby critter delivered the prediction after he was pulled from his burrow in an oak stump at 7:31 a.m. by a top-hatted handler, and his prediction was greeted by boos from the thousands in attendance.
No confirming word, as of this writing, from Staten Island Chuck.

Happy Groundhog Day, everyone!

(Related: The homepage of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.)

01 February 2005

Don't call me, I'll call you

USA residents have the Do Not Call List. UK residents have the Telephone Preference Service.

But for the annoying calls that leak through either filter, there's the Counterscript. (Print and post next to your telephone.)