Monday, February 28, 2005

Farewell, Jef

Jef Raskin passed away this weekend. He was the person who initially started the Macintosh project at Apple - though the project was ultimately wrestled away from him by Steve Jobs, the initial vision behind it was Jef's. His other major computing achievement was the Canon Cat - a late '80s text-based computer that was pretty faithful to Raskin's ideas.

The irony in this is that Raskin was very bitter about how his role in the Macintosh was glossed over and how Jobs pushed him aside, and he had very poor things to say about it over the years. And it turns out that Raskin died of pancreatic cancer - which is what Jobs had last year as well. Except Jobs had the more easily cured variety, and Raskin did not. It kind of sums up the whole way history has treated the two of them.

That bumping sound you hear

That's the sound of dinosaurs mating. Or, specifically, Federated Department Stores and May Department Stores. Two dinosaurs, coming together in hopes of staving off extinction just a little bit longer.

I'm old enough to remember a day when the department store was still the "all that and a bag of chips" of retailing. Malls are still designed with them as anchor tenants. Department stores set the fashion trends and were destinations for your shopping day.

A few factors combined to effectively kill them off, though. First was the rise of the national-scale mass merchandiser. Regional mass merchandisers like Ames and Caldor have been around since the middle of the last century, but Walmart (and, to a lesser extent, Target) have become so big and powerful as to have diverted customers away. They killed the regionals, and then started overlapping the department stores, as well. Then, discount clothing stores like Kohl's and TJ Maxx picked off some of the high fashion market.

The other big nail has been the specialty retailer, especially in high-margin clothing. Specialty stores are typically laser-pointed at a particular demographic, and squeeze the life out of it. The Gap, Chico's, Abercrombie & Fitch, and more are all eating valuable customers that otherwise would be the property of department stores.

Faced with this, the department stores have been merging left and right and discounting aggressively. But their costs and real estate are generally a lot more than the box stores, which has clobbered the industry. The handwriting's been on the wall for a while.

I don't think this will affect my wife too much (she works in the cosmetic biz, handling accounts for both chains), but it will be interesting. Here in New England, Filene's is traditionally a much stronger brand name than Macy's - Macy's was the successor to the old Jordan Marsh chain (always the poor sister to Filene's). In our local mall, three of the four department store anchors are owned by either May or Federated (Filene's, Macy's, Lord & Taylor - only JC Penney is separate here), and most of the other area malls have them in competition. I suspect that a lot of Boston-area malls will have one or the other divested to a competitor.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Whooooo!

In today's adventure, we went to a WWE house show over at the new Agganis Arena in Boston (on the BU campus). It was at 2 PM, which proved to be a little iffy - David slept for the whole ride in, but not enough. So he was kinda moody for a while. Overall, the outing went pretty well, though. As for the results, see below...

Shelton Benjamin def. Christian to retain the Intercontinental Title
Chris Masters def. Val Venis (Masters has combined the look and skill of Lex Luger with the moves of Ivan Putski - not a good combo)
Superstar Billy Graham punked out the Coach in an amusing skit
William Regal and Tajiri def. La Resistance to retain the Tag Team Championship
Rhyno def. Tyson Tomko (aka. Goat Boy) with the "Gore! Gore! Gore!"
Trish Stratus def. Molly Holly & Victoria in a triple threat match to retain the Women's Championship
Then, while David and I were getting popcorn (which improved his mood immeasurably), Kane def. Gene Snitsky (hardcore rules)
Chris Benoit (who remains way over) def. Mohammad Hassan by DQ. After the match, Hassan's manager Shawn Daivari got a Crippler Crossface that popped the crowd big-time
Shawn Michaels def. Edge - very good match
And in the main event, Batista and Randy Orton def. Triple H and Ric Flair in a cage match.

The notes from the show:
- First off, I liked the house show. Other than the time setting up the cage before the main event, there were basically no breaks in the action. I've only been to TV events before, where they stop for commercials and stuff. The action was nice. And 9 matches plus the Graham segment in about 2 and a half hours is nice.
- Ric Flair is still arguably the most over wrestler on the planet, and he's in his late 50s. The cage match was worked to get Flair and Orton out of the action relatively fast (Flair even bladed, which surprised me), so it could focus on the Aich-Batista showdown (previewing Wrestlemania's main event).
- The Michaels-Edge match was well-planned out, with a nice finish.
- Hassan has "it". Terrific on the mic, good psychology, and he works much better in the ring than you'd expect from a rookie. He's got the potential to be the next big breakout heel star.
- Chris Masters sucks. Really. Val did his best to make him look good, but to little avail. It's too bad Val hasn't gotten more chances to get a face push - the crowd loves him.
- Shelton Benjamin is one amazing athlete (he should be, he was a legit track star and All-American wrestler in college). And Christian can have a first-rate match with anybody. They work well together.

As far as David went, he was difficult at first and moody, eating very little at Qdoba beforehand (we arrived and parked right in time for lunch at about 1:20 or so). The first few matches he watched intently, before deciding that he was hungry, he wanted Brown Bear (who we'd left back in the car), and he "didn't like the wrestling show". Then, after getting some more milk and some popcorn he had a lot more fun. Jane took him up to the concourse as the final match was winding down, and he was telling us how much fun he'd had on the way home. We had some nice folks sitting behind us, one of whom was a local indy wrestler whose name escaped me (but I'd heard it before). Nice guy, and David took a picture with him.

There were other toddlers there - more than I expected. David was about as young as they got, though, not many were younger than him.

Agganis Arena is gorgeous. Good job, BU.

Friday, February 25, 2005

On top of everything else

OMG! The Oscars are this weekend! And I couldn't care less!

I will, however, look to see what the wackiest Oscar outfits are on Yahoo's "Most Popular" photos listing Monday morning.

Last night was a truly entertaining time. We were heading to sleep around midnight, and suddenly David woke up in his bed. I heard him, and went in. He was sitting up in bed, with a bewildered expression on his face, and he told me he didn't want to go to school now - he wanted to stay home and go to sleep instead. I told him that it was OK, he could stay in bed because it wasn't morning yet. So He said "Okay", and immediately passed out again.

It must have been caused by all the beans he ate last night, or something.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Birthday Props

A shoutout goes out today to the Lukester, Woodge's little guy. He turns 3 today. Also, a holla for Steve Jobs - he's 50 today.

And our little David is now 2 years and 9 months old as well. What's the significance of that, you ask? Well, he will "graduate" from daycare next week, and begin the transition to preschool on Tuesday. They plan on a 2-week transition, where he spends some time in each room. The new preschool room is almost immediately adjacent to his current toddler room.

Oh, and one other thing. Microsoft sent me two leis and a pineapple today. W00t!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Yay- new toys!

Apple introduced new iPod models this morning, as expected by the entire universe (as far as I can tell). This is their effort to completely suck all the life out of what little remains of the non-Apple music player market. And they just may pull it off.

First of all, the iPod Mini now has two versions. The old 4GB one is now $199 (a $50 price cut). There's a new, 6GB Mini at the old $249 price. They dropped the gold color, but kept the other four. Also, the Mini now ships with just USB 2.0 cabling as a default - it still works with Firewire but the cable now is extra. And the battery life has been boosted way up - Apple is now claiming 18 hours of playing time. Sweet.

Then, the old 40GB iPod is dropped, and replaced with 30 and 60GB versions of the iPod Photo. Lower prices ($349 and $449), the same USB 2.0 default, and a new Camera Connector for $30 that lets you plug your digital camera directly into the iPod for downloading. 20GB and U2 iPods are still around, with no price change.

With these, Apple is now hitting every price point from $99 to $449 - the Shuffle at the two lowest increments, the Mini at the next two, the classic 20GB iPod at the $299 price, and the Photo models up to $449. Which neatly cuts off the air supply of pretty much all the competition.

It's a nice change to see Apple doing it to someone for a change instead of someone doing it to Apple.

Monday, February 21, 2005

RIP, HST

Hopefully the "why" will come out in a story, note, or post-dated column he wrote. I always figured that if he shot himself, it would be in a drunken game of Russian Roulette, not deliberately.

Popup revenge

In the last week or so, the scourge of pop-up and pop-under ads have returned to portions of the web. Essentially, some folks have figured out tricks to defeat the pop-up blockers that are nowadays de riguer in any serious browser (even Windows IE, since XP SP2). I can't help you on the IE side, but I can give you tips that will help if you're a Safari (Mac) or Firefox (any platform) user:

Safari: Download and install PithHelmet, a wonderful plug-in for Safari that patches WebCore to give Safari all sorts of neat ad blocking capabilities.

Firefox: From the Firefox "Tools" menu, select Extensions, then in the window that comes up click on "Get More Extensions". Once you're at the Mozilla Foundation's official site (where that menu selection takes you), you'll find Adblock under "Most Popular" - that one's a must-have. There's also an extension called "FlashGot", which gives you control over the use of Flash on pages.

Between these tools, you should have little trouble sending these sleazy pop-under weasels back to the netherworld from whence they came. Enjoy!

Friday, February 18, 2005

Expose yourself to Art

You can go ahead and rush down to Manhattan to see "The Gates". I was raised there, and I've been to Central Park. I'll pass (though it's supposedly a lot nicer now than it was in the '70s). But I would like to go down to Somerville to see The Somerville Gates. It looks just as interesting, and it's a much shorter drive to Somerville from my house.

He got off easy

This assclown got off easy by only having his Expedition burned to a crisp.

I think anybody who tosses a lit cigarette out of the window of a car deserves the death penalty.

Use the ashtray next time, moron! I hope you were upside-down on the car loan, too.

Waiting for the weekend

David wound up staying home Wednesday, too - but I think it was just because Jane wanted to have him around to play with. She paid the price, though - he refused to nap, passed out around 6 PM, and then wound up (after waking up just long enough for dinner) awake at 6:30 in the morning yesterday.

I made her send him to school yesterday, though, and I think it was a good decision. He was happy to be back. Today, when I dropped him off, I didn't even get a goodbye kiss out of him. Just a high-five. Rats.

As for the week past, better forgotten. I did some work for clients, but mainly wound up trolling for business and making some appointments for next week, which will now be insanely busy. I also wound up losing out on one account I was trying for - the client accepted a competing proposal that, from what I saw of it, was brain-damaged in a severe way. There's no accounting for taste, you know.

The bright side of all this is that I get to take a 3-day weekend - virtually every customer I have is closed Monday and I'll get calls in case of emergencies, anyhow. We're probably going to go in for the Boston Home Show at some point that day. And then Jane will have Tuesday off, also, to make up for the holiday's falling on a scheduled day off.

By the way, after a long wait there appears to be a plot twist brewing over at MegaTokyo. Catch it while it's here!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The diagnosis

Jane decided it would be a good idea to take David to the doctor this afternoon, so I went and met them there. The diagnosis is adenovirus, which is generally quite minor and is probably the cause of all his symptoms. It's been roaring around the day-care centers lately, we're told.

The prognosis is very good, though it means that the eyedrops he has will do nothing other than satisfy the day-care center that he's been treated. If he could master blowing his nose, it would help more.

You can't see me (toddler style)

David is being treated for his first case of conjunctivitis. He's had a minor cold the last few days, and then over the weekend his eyes started generating that lovely goopy crust that you get when the infection hits the tear ducts. So after phoning it in to the pediatrician, he's now getting eye drops for the next few days. He's home with Jane today (she's got a few days off), and he can go back to school tomorrow after 24 hours' worth of treatment. But we keep giving him the drops until Saturday.

The only minor change that makes to our plans is that we were going to go out for Valentine's Day tonight - now we'll skip it until Saturday. Not a big loss. Jane still gets a couple of solo days to decompress, and I'll hang out with her Thursday if my schedule permits.

Meanwhile, I formatted the external drive I'd confiscated today. It's useful for doing backups. Too bad I didn't get the copy of Retrospect Express that came with it.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Odor Du Jour

This morning, the men's room nearest my office has a slight odor vaguely reminiscent of fish being cleaned in it.

I just thought I'd share that with you all.

Wanton vandalism

I can't even remember when I started taking this personally, but way back when I decided to make it my personal crusade to make life as difficult as possible for scam artists. Back in the mid-'90s I even Netcopped a guy out of the "ne.jobs" Usenet group, just by harassing him until he gave up (he was running an envelope-stuffing scam). Well, lately here at my office complex there's been an epidemic of those little "work from home" business cards, tucked into little adhesive pockets and stuck up all around the center, in stairwells, bathrooms, and even the garages.

At least, there was an epidemic. I've personally disposed of every one I've found so far.

Friday, February 11, 2005

End of an era

Ironic note of the day: with today's passing of playwright Arthur Miller (he was 89), that was the last known man to schtup Marilyn Monroe. I'll get back to you on the significance of that eventually.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Finally, a church I could join!

Marc Perkel is a well-known Internet gadfly, skeptic, and one-man controversy shop. But he came up with an idea that I actually am starting to think highly of.

Basically, if your belief system is essentially atheist in nature, you have a bit of a social problem. In many corners, you're kind of defined by your religion, even if you don't actually believe in anything "religious". So Perkel came up with the Church of Reality, which you can choose as your denomination. The core principle, is basically this: if it's objectively real, then it's true.

Which excludes virtually all "traditional" religious belief whatsoever quite neatly. Besides that, he makes some pretty good arguments about many issues of a religious nature that I won't sully by trying to summarize them myself. Go to his site and read them for yourself. I think this is finally a church I could claim membership in.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Final Super Bowl thoughts

These are kinda random, but then again, so am I...

- Listening to the radio while I work, it's neat hearing poor Pete Sheppard. The guy must have blown his voice to little bits last night doing the overnight for WEEI. Today he's got nothing left.

- Note to Freddie Mitchell: Next time keep your mouth shut. 1 catch, 11 yards. Way to go. Ironically, they did cover him with Harrison most of the night, and it appears that Rodney had something for him, instead. Go figure.

- Somewhere in America, the slowest two-minute drill in history is still dragging on. Donovan McNabb is a brilliant quarterback who had a spectacular season, but he was just a little too nervous last night. You can't get away with that against the Patriots, and he's probably learned his lesson for next year. The Eagles will most likely be back here - if not next year, soon after.

- T.O.: It's not that folks would call Favre a warrior if he came back from that injury and not you. It's that you wouldn't shut up about it. You played a brilliant game, and showed the world something about your ability. But we all got tired of your babbling. Shut up, play the game as well as you can, and you'll get the props you deserve from all of us. Richard Seymour came back from a partial MCL tear in the game, and you didn't hear him yapping about it. You just saw him dominate the Philly inside line and take away their running game.

- Based on published reports, I don't think Jacksonville will be high on my list of possible vacation spots. It's like having a Super Bowl in Hartford.

- Other than that brain-dead fumble, Tom Brady had a typical, efficient, controlled game. Corey Dillon made some key plays, and Kevin Faulk had a huge playoff run (he was this good against Pittsburgh, too). Deion Branch, though, was deserving of his MVP, unless you split it between Bruschi and Harrison. But then how do you share the Caddy?

Resting

Today, I'm relaxing a little, while I work on a SUS install plan for one of the customers whose network I manage. So this is my "mid-day breather" - and I figured I'd use the opportunity to take care of some Super Bowl business:

- First of all, David was a trip at the party we went to. Last year, at 20 months, he was a little intimidated by the whole thing, all the people, and the crowds. He didn't want to hang out downstairs with the other kids, and started crying for us to get him back. He also burst into tears when everyone erupted over the winning field goal - it scared him.

12 months make a huge difference, I'll say. This year, he was a tiny bit shy when we first arrived, but warmed up quickly. He went and raced around like a maniac. He wore his Pats jersey that I bought him this year, and he was cheering with every big play right along with everybody else. He clapped, he hollered, and he was exchanging high-fives with all the adults. He also kept wandering off from us to go find other people to play with - adults and kids alike. Of course, they were powerless to resist.

He ate food relatively neatly, drank juice, and sat on the sofa with us at times, when he didn't feel like playing. He also stayed awake most of the ride home, chattering away with us excitedly about how much fun he had.

Needless to say, today he's dragging a bit, tired, and running a slight temperature after all that.

As for the game itself, what can I say? Super Bowl parties are a lot more fun when your team is in it, and even more fun when they win. Which the Pats always seem to do. The last four years have been a treat (excepting the 2003 Super Bowl that the Bucs won), and this year the outcome never really seemed in doubt. Even when the Eagles scored first, I still had the feeling that everything was under control. The only people who really sweated this one were the ones who took the Pats and the points. Newsflash: they always find a way to make these games close. Either bet the opponent to cover as dogs in the Super Bowl, or don't bet. Two years of the Pats as favorites should prove that.

On the other hand, I won my Usenet service provider's pool, so I can't complain. Given the low stakes I play for, it's been a very good season for me.

I'll get back to other stuff in the next day or so - I've done a few neat tech things in the last couple of weeks that it'd be fun to elaborate on, so I will.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Simmons said it better

Bill Simmons posted a blog entry today about Letterman's show last night. For those of you who missed it, Letterman's whole show was a heartfelt tribute to Johnny Carson, with the only two guests being Carson's long-time producer and Doc Severinsen. Letterman opened with a flurry of jokes that were of varying timeliness - only to tell us during after the monologue that they were all jokes Carson had sent him over the last few months.

You can bet he never sent Leno any jokes. No way.

See, there's a fundamental difference between Leno and Letterman. Leno seems like a nice, genial guy who is genuinely proud of his blue-collar roots and his work ethic. Jay Leno is a guy I'd like to have in my bowling league - a guy I'd enjoy having a beer with at the Polish Club over in Danvers. He'd tell great stories, slap folks on the back, and generally be a guy nobody could speak ill of.

Letterman, on the other hand, is compelling. Sure, some days he mails it in, but even the bad shows are watchable - if only for the possibility that something could happen. Watching Letterman, you can get a little tired of the irony but you never know if this might be the show that really breaks it open. From Paul Newman standing up in the middle of his first CBS broadcast and asking "Where the hell are the singing cats?", to the post-bypass show, to the way Letterman told America it could laugh again after 9/11, to the way you could see his heart open up when his son was born - David Letterman is a Real Person. And he showed it again last night. Which is why I have never watched an episode of the Tonight Show since Carson went off the air, and why I won't start now. Jay Leno gets the ratings for the same reason that a plurality of Americans voted for Bush, and for the same reason a minority of Americans acknowledge that evolution is how the world actually works: he doesn't challenge anything. Ever. It's the TV equivalent of pouring sweetened milk on any cereal with "sugar" in the name. Empty mental calories.

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