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» December 31, 2009
Wake up in the morning, pull myself out of bed
Think about the night before and everything I said
I made lots of promises I know that I can't keep
So I'll do 'em tomorrow
That seems like a pretty good idea to me
Life is moving faster, I can feel it every day
I've got trouble keeping up with what other people say
Big problems in the world
My life's just a social swirl
But I'll do it tomorrow
That seems like a pretty good idea to me
What's wrong with tomorrow?
I'm watching him but who's watching me?
Out my window there's nothing where a city used to be
Phone line dead, the power gone, there's nothing on TV
Can't understand what happened to all the plans I made
I turn on the radio and hear the signal fade
(It's pretty loud)
But I'll do it tomorrow
Wall of Voodoo, "Tomorrow," Call of the West
New Year's Eve 1995: It was New Year's Eve fourteen years ago when I caught a break that seemed — at least for a while — as if it would be the one that paid off. I'd quit my job to go freelance in August, doing digital prep work for a few clients I'd worked for at color shops, teaching Director — a program I'd trained myself on and with which I had a no real professional project experience — for Portland State University, doing rudimentary Web work (it was all rudimentary back then, and trying to pry some doors open in the world of multimedia by working on the newsletter for the Portland chapter of the International Interactive Communications Society.
Brad Hicks, a designer I'd worked with as a contractor at CKS Partners' Portland office, and I were renting space from Dale Ott, a established independent designer who worked extensively with Sequent Computers, among others. Dale owned the second floor of a building at NW 14th & Marshall, across the street from Bridgeport Brewing, back before the Pearl District was the Pearl District. Bridgeport was there in 1995, but there was a dogfood factory on the block where the Safeway is now. The first floor of our building was a metal refinishing shop. A hallway on our floor had a door opening into the work area of the shop below, and the vapors could be overwhelming: I remember after working late one night that I could smell my shirt from across the room. Brad rented a room down the hallway; for $100 a month I got a 10'x9' cubicle in the same room as Dale, his assistant, and a space very occasionally occupied by travel publisher Jim Bigoni.
The cubicle held my Mac workstation, as well as the computer I used as an internet server. I'd set up a Mac in March of '95 on a 14.4 dialup, registered the moshplant.com domain and been running my own Web, mail, and other services using a piece of software called WebSTAR (one of the few options back in those pre-OS X days). At a time when a lot of other small developers didn't have their own domains, I had a full access to my own server — slow as it was — and could see each transaction logged in real time.
In the fall, I'd gone to my second Macromedia User Conference. The buzz was over a new technology called Shockwave, but the seminar where they were showing it was limited in the number of attendees for some reason. I seem to recall that it wasn't held in a regular meeting hall, and I don't have any idea how I ended up getting in. I was a nobody. Nobody knew who I was. I didn't know anyone at Macromedia. I don't even remember how I found out about the seminar, but I was there.
Then I went home to wait. Shockwave for Director (one of many Shockwaves) had been shown, but I wasn't on the beta. It wasn't until early December that Macromedia released a public beta of Shockwave for Director. What came out then was an application called Afterburner, which took a Director 4 .dir file and compressed its data — with score and script information up front and assets following — into a .dcr file that could be viewed on in a Web browser (Netscape) with the Shockwave for Director plugin. At least, it could be viewed if you had a Windows machine, because the Mac plugin wasn't ready for public beta. Coming as I did out of the print graphics and color retouching business, I didn't have a Windows machine. Only one guy I knew at the time had an internet connection and a Windows machine, as a matter of fact, so in order to see my first Shockwave movie, I had to make a 50-mile round trip to Scappoose, Oregon to get Waldo (who was already working in digital video back in those days) to download the plugin so that I could see my simple animation.
They were primitive times, the mid-'90s. Everyone was scrambling to get a handle on the Web thing, and a lot of it wasn't very pretty. Macromedia didn't set up a listserv or a forum or anything of the sort to keep people on the public beta updated or let them pose questions. Someone just whacked together a CGI script and a form, and what we got was pretty much what you have for the comments section of a blog: a form at the bottom of a page with the comments in order of submission. Throughout the month of December, that page grew and grew in length. By the end of the month it was about 200K, which — by the standards of a day when 1K/sec. was the norm on a 14.K modem — was pretty big if you were trying to keep up on things.
Sometime in the evening, well after the hour when I should have knocked off and been thinking of an activity for midnight, I made the long reload. And there on the bottom was a lure that I couldn't resist. It was a note from David Rogleberg, a recent emigre from a publishing company who had set up shop as Studio B, which was at that time an agency representing writers of computer books. He was looking for someone who could write a book on Shockwave and the publisher was in a hurry. I wrote an email with my name, outlining my writing credits and Director experience.
I never found out the whole story — there were rumors about a book deal that had gone south, some authors who were assigned to a more lucrative project within the company, etc. — but the hurry was a big part of it. Like I mentioned earlier, apart from my teaching gig, I'd never done any paid Director work. My only professional writing credentials were a gag piece published by the official Dungeons & Dragons magazine when I was seventeen and a short technical article written for Step-by-Step Graphics about a newspaper artist using Freehand earlier in the year, with a gap of sixteen years between the two. I'm almost certain that my undergraduate thesis is one of the shortest — if not the shortest — English theses at my alma mater. I'd never even attempted anything book-length. The audacity of thinking I could write an entire book on a barely-documented subset of a program I sort-of-knew in the wild-and-wooly field of the Web (1995 version) is only outmatched by the desperation of people who picked me to do it.
Less than three weeks later I had a contract for what became Shockwave: breathe new life into your web pages (not my choice for a title). The publisher already had a Frankenstein motif chosen for the cover (which carried through to the CD-ROM, executed by Eric Coker). I started trying to figure out what each of the limited set of Shockwave Lingo commands could be used for, what their limits were, and how those could be shown through step-by-step tutorials, something that became one of my specialties. I was able to lean on another local multimedia developer and musician, David Duddleston, for advice on the sound capabilities of that early Shockwave (as well as some sample audio). The whole thing was written and proofed in ten weeks, and it was shipping by May 1996. It looked then like it was going to be the start of a big new thing. It wasn't, but that's another story and since New Year's is about new beginnings I'm going to end there.
Dumbass-ness: Since I haven't been reading Willamette Week for a while, I only found out through my alumni magazine that Marty Smith, who I sort-of-knew long ago at Reed and for a couple years beyond, is now appearing weekly as "Dr. Know" in a Q&A column in the paper. A week ago, the question was about the costs of mountain rescue efforts, and his answer was witty and informative but it was upstaged for me by this comment's opening line:
I don't think you are a real doctor of anything other than dumbass-ness.
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» December 21, 2009
Report: Bush Admin Raised Terror Alert Based On Con Man's Al Jazeera 'Decoding' ScamThe French save our asses once again.
Working out of a Reno, Nevada, software firm called eTreppid Technologies, Montgomery took in officials in the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology and convinced them that technology he invented -- but could not explain -- was pulling terrorist-produced "bar codes" from Al Jazeera television broadcasts. Using his proprietary technology, those bar codes could be translated into longitudes and latitudes and flight numbers. Terrorist leaders were using that data to direct their compatriots about the next target.
But Montgomery's "technology" could not be reproduced, and the Playboy piece explains how he fell out of favor after word of what was going on spread in the CIA:The federal government was acting on the Al Jazeera claims without even understanding how Montgomery found his coordinates. "I said, 'Give us the algorithms that allowed you to come up with this stuff.' They wouldn't even do that," says the first officer. "And I was screaming, 'You gave these people fucking money?'" ...
A branch of the French intelligence services helped convince the Americans that the bar codes were fake. The CIA and the French commissioned a technology company to locate or re-create codes in the Al Jazeera transmission. They found definitively that what Montgomery claimed was there was not.
But even after the CIA abandoned Montgomery, he appears to have convinced other agencies that his decoding technology was legit. He inked a $3 million research contract with the Air Force in January of this year. An official explained to Playboy, "We were just looking at [software] to see if there was anything there."
» December 17, 2009
Red Neck Smart Car: Dieter, the guy Dad shared an office with back in his days as a TA at the University of Oregon's history department sent this along, knowing that I have a smart car. This one's a convertible, too!
Skoal: At this point, I've heard and read far more stories about how much carbon the planes, trains, and automobiles taking a few thousand people to the climate change talks in Copenhagen are generating than what — on the off chance that anything actually is agreed upon there — will be done to reduce carbon emissions by the six or seven billion other people on the planet over years to come.
» December 13, 2009
Suck On This, Infidel!:
This was one of several Christian-themed candy designs on the same rack. From God's hand to your mouth is supposed to be the message, apparently.
You do have to wonder about the advisability of associating your religious message with suckers. Then again, perhaps that's why they were at the Dollar Store.
Always the Sun: Saturday morning was supposed to be a snow and/or ice apocalypse for the Portland area — the mayor told people Friday to stay off the streets while retailers gnashed their teeth and counted down the number of shopping days before Christmas — but it bypassed the city giving us only a bit of slightly-above-freezing misting, which I've taken to calling Drizzaster '09. You may not be able to get into the area from any direction, but once you're here it's a winter wonderland.
Looking east across the top of Mt. Tabor at 8:23am today.
Looking west from Mt. Tabor at 8:24am toward downtown Portland.
Looking east across the top of Mt. Tabor at 8:25am today.
Normally, walking down from Mt. Tabor doesn't take quite as long as getting up there, but the black ice that finally showed up made getting down (safely) harder than the climb.
» December 12, 2009
Seven years ago today I just about died from a bunch of blood clots in my lungs, stemming from a broken leg and ankle two months earlier. Four years ago, after Barbara and I saw that you could still buy a spot in the Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery and we got ourselves a little dual-cremation plot so we could mix it up with the likes of the Banfields in the hereafter, I did a little jig on our plot to show I was still around.
The day after that photo was taken, I was back in the ER. Despite the horrible pain in my foot, I was relieved, because it turned out to be gout, not a blood clot about to send chunks into my lungs.
Still, this year, a more sober image. And a shout-out to Unity Evangelist (and former Director Product Manager) Tom Higgins for entering the world of old man diseases.
P.S. When we went over to Lone Fir to take the picture this evening, the place was lit up. Not for Christmas, but it looked like they're shooting either a scene for a movie or an episode of "Leverage" tonight. I doubt it's Madonna come back to haunt the place.
» December 5, 2009
Big Buck Twilight Peacekeeper: I remember flipping through the pre-Christmas Sears catalogs of my youth looking at all of the toys I knew we couldn't afford. My world of impossibilities was limited, despite the thickness of the book, stuffed as it was with other, less attractive (to me) holiday gifts: dishwashers, towels, bathrobes, etc. I wonder how the child Darrel would have fared in the current wide-open world of the Internet. Could I have attained the things I craved on eBay or craigslist, used or "hot" off the shelves? Or would my desires merely have swollen when facing the river of goods from Amazon.com?
Saturday's the last day of the Holiday Toy Wish Book sale at Fred Meyer, where the cover is a Star Wars Turbo Tank Vehicle that hearkens back to the Major Matt Mason items I lusted for in the '60s. What caught my eye first, though, was this.
Now, I've got nothing against shooting games, even games where you're shooting defenseless animals instead of brain-eating zombies. But did the juxtaposition of that image and the game's title — "Big Buck" — give anyone pause for a second? I hope it did. I hope they decided the multiculturalism of having an African-American kid in the photo for a hunting game was more important. I hope they're right.
The Bella and Edward dolls from Barbie's Twilight edition. Now with bloodsucking action. Or something....
Again, no problem with toy guns — I played with many a toy gun and was known to use a stick if toy guns were not available — but 5 seems a little young to be adding in the bayonet action to your "Peacekeeper". And seriously, the toy gun with the rubber cutty, pokey thing on the front is for kids a year younger than the vampire dolls?