My Shockwave Decade

Ten years ago today, 31 December 1995, I was working in my office on a Sunday night, printing up invoices and closing out accounts for the end of the first year I’d gone out into the world as a full-time freelancer. I’d been working sporadically with Macromedia Director over the previous couple of years — although my freelance work consisted more of digital image editing and basic Web development. I’d tried to get some business as a digital portfolio programmer with an ad in Step-by-Step Graphics magazine (it was a largely pre-CD-ROM era, and shoehorning material onto diskettes still took some doing) without much success. I’d tried for a couple of jobs in the Portland interactive industry and worked with the International Interactive Communications Society’s Portland chapter as a newsletter editor and officer. At the end of the summer, just as I went out on my own, I lucked into a part-time job teaching Director for Portland State University’s School of Extended Studies.

In March 1995, I’d set up my own web server in my office on a Mac Quadra 630 with a 200MB external hard drive, over a dedicated phone line and a 14.4k modem. At the time, it was the least expensive way I could find to have my own domain name and control over the server, which gave me the latitude to run hideously expensive database add-ons to the shareware MacHTTP software. Still I had my own domain and the ability to create simple web applications at a time when a lot of the businesses I was dealing with didn’t.

I’d been following the development of Shockwave ever since I’d heard about it at the 1995 UCON. I’d almost skipped the show, since I was technically unemployed, but I scraped the money together and made it down to San Francisco where I joined a standing-room-only crowd at one of the public demonstrations. Rather than set up a listserv, Macromedia created a form page which was essentially like a blog comment form, where each new message is posted to the end of the page, followed by the form itself. By the end of the year, it had grown to a couple of hundred kbytes — not an inconsiderable amount given that most everyone was surfing at 28.8k or worse. I’d been checking it for news and info regularly.

Then, on New Year’s Eve, while everyone else was presumably doing something entertaining with their time, I saw a post from a literary agent, looking for a writer to take on a book on Shockwave. I’d never written anything nearly as long as a book — I’ve joked for years that my undergraduate thesis was the shortest on record in my alma mater’s English department, but it’s probably true; I’d never worked on a major project in Director; at the time, the Mac version of the Shockwave Player hadn’t been released yet, and I had to go 20 miles just to see any Shockwave pieces I created with the beta version of the Afterburner, because most of the people I knew from the print business used Macs and they were the only people with Internet connections, to boot. Still, I answered the ad.

In just over two weeks I had a contract with the long-defunct Ventana press. I finished the book (Shockwave: Breathe New Life into Your Web Pages) in ten weeks, missing out on a bonus that equalled a third of the money I got because I didn’t make it in eight. A little over 300 pages of my own material (the folks at Ventana rounded up some samples for another 20 pages), plus sample files, tutorials, and screenshots. And, of course, I had to learn Shockwave while I was doing it. Nevertheless, it was my entree into Director notoriety.

It was the only book I wrote that I ever made a profit on (and no, I had nothing to do with the cover designs).

Shockwave book

Shockwave book, Korean

Koppel Flunks Middle East History

Not to be contrary, but here’s the part of Ted Koppel’s appearance on the Christmas Day “Meet the Press” that I found mind-boggling in its paradoxic logic:

MR. KOPPEL: And the one thing that we are not talking about, because it somehow seems indelicate or unpolitic or even inappropriate, is the simple fact of the matter that, while we did not go to war because of Iraq’s oil, we did, in fact, go to war because it is absolutely essential to the national interest, not only of this country but also of the Europeans and of the Japanese, that the Persian Gulf remains stable. We have–when I say “we” I mean U.S. administrations going back to the Eisenhower administration–have been intervening in the Persian Gulf in one form or another–we overthrew the Iranian prime minister, Mossadeq–that is, the CIA did–precisely because we felt he was too close to the Communist Party at that time and we were afraid what that would mean if Iran became a Communist state.

As long as we had the shah of Iran there, he was our surrogate. In fact, you may remember the Nixon policy was that the shah would be our surrogate in the Persian Gulf. When the shah was overthrown, we shifted our chips onto the Saudi board, and then it became the House of Saud that became our representative. The Saudis are, indeed, troubled. The royal family of Saudi Arabia is in deep trouble. Therefore, we need to have a stable Iraq in order to guarantee a stable Persian Gulf, and the name of that game is oil. Nobody talks about that.

MR. KOPPEL: But the point–the one issue I would add, Tim, is the mousetrap that is waiting for the Democrats is if they do not publicly acknowledge that U.S. national interest is just fundamentally involved in a stable Iraq and a stable Persian Gulf, if they simply come after the Republicans, and take the cheap shots on the war, and say, “You gotta bring the troops home at all costs,” they might even win the election, but if they win the election, they’re going to find themselves confronting the same issues of national interest that the Republicans are facing right now. The simple fact of the matter is it is in America’s national interest that there be stability in the Persian Gulf, and if we precipitously pull the troops out of that area now, there’ll be hell to pay.

Koppel — whose claim to fame is a show whose origin is the direct result of Persian Gulf instability — doesn’t seem to realize that half a century of American meddling in the Gulf hasn’t made the region stable. The event he mentions — a CIA-sponsored overthrow of the democratically-elected Iranian prime minister in 1953 — led directly to the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini a quarter-century later. The man the US installed — Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi — maintained power through generous US support and a secret police force known as SAVAK, which spied on, tortured, and assassinated dissenters on both the left and the right. Essentially the same controls exercised by Saddam Hussein — or by the current regime in Tehran.

The US meddled in Afghanistan throughout the Soviet occupation, from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. The motive wasn’t “stability,” it was done — in the words of President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski — with the intent of “drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap…. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”

And, of course, there’s Iraq, where the US supported Saddam Hussein for a decade after the fall of the Shah while Iraq was at war with the Iran (while secretly selling arms to Iran in an effort to get hostages held by Islamic fundamentalists elsewhere in the Middle East released). Iraq, where the US government ignored chemical weapons use at the time it occurred because Hussein was our ally against the Iranians.

So I find it more than a little perplexing to hear Koppel claiming that the Republicans are the ones facing “issues of national interest” and Democrats aren’t acknowledging that “a stable Iraq” isn’t in the public interest. Just how ignorant of history is he? Of course a stable Iraq is important. But five decades of the same old styles of covert and military operations haven’t managed to bring stability to Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan. President George W. Bush’s coked-up “shock and awe” diplomacy didn’t make Iraq more stable than it was before the war began. Every effort the US (and British) have engaged in in these three countries since the 1950s has gone awry within just a few years. It’s like he has no conception of what’s been tried before.

Brokaw’s taken some heat for saying “If 9/11 had happened on Bill Clinton’s watch, he would have gone into Iraq.” I’m not sure that’s true, but I do think that if Al Gore had been properly seated as President in 2000, there’s a good chance that a war with Iraq might taken place.

President Gore’s VP would have been Joseph Lieberman, a co-sponsor of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. It’s entirely conceivable to me that Gore might have been pushed by Republicans, Democratic hawks in Congress (we’ve seen a few of them over the past years), his national security apparatus, and his vice-president to invade Iraq. The people ginning up fake intel would have had to have done a better job of it, but those people — including Achmed Chalabi — were already in place. With the right mood in the country after 9/11 and people who were looking for an excuse to invade Iraq on the flimsiest of excuses (like Lieberman) whether there were WMD or not, Gore could have found himself cornered into invading or suffering the type of ridicule Jimmy Carter faced after the hostages were taken in Iran.

Middle Earth Journal Mentioned on ‘Wait, Wait…’

The headline and title of Portland-based Middle Earth Journal’s “21st century, 1….16th Century, 0” post on the results of the Dover, Pennsylvania evolution court case got a mention on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” this week (24 December). The streaming version’s not up yet but it’s in the next-to-last segment, just before “Lightning Fill-In-the-Blank.”

UPDATE: As MEJ notes, the audio is now online, check out the first question in Round 3 misleadingly labelled “Listener Limerick Challenge”.


In the 19 December issue of The New Yorker, Jon Lee Anderson writes that when US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad leaves the Green Zone “he travels with his own mobile war machine: a convoy of vehicles with an array of armaments, driven by his security men, American employees of Blackwater, a firm based in North Carolina.”

Isn’t protecting American diplomats abroad something that the US military is supposed to do?

Did Some Of Those Military Propaganda Dollars Go To NPR?

In a 21 December “All Things Considered” story on how US contributions to the Pakistani earthquake relief effort have changed public perceptions about Americans in that country, NPR correspondent John Hendren — travelling with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld — noted that a recent poll indicated a 100% increase in positive views — to 46% — in the past year. He visited a hospital run by the US military in northern Pakistan where he interviewed several people about our improving image in that little slice of the world. Apart from Hendren and Rumsfeld, the voices we heard from in the story were a female translator at the hospital (speaking her own words, not those of any patients or locals), the senior State Department official in the region, and the rear admiral in charge of the medical facility.

Wyden Joins Call for Hearings

It’s the holiday/Christmas season, other stuff is going on in Washington (the Defense appropriations bill, PATRIOT filibuster, etc.), and there was an intervening weekend, but a lot of people managed to get their opinions on the NSA spying allegations out there pretty fast. Thankfully, Sen. Ron Wyden — Oregon’s only member of Congress on an intelligence oversight committee so far as I can tell — has finally gotten into the fray (from The New York Times, 21 December):

A bipartisan group of senators – Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine, both Republicans, and Dianne Feinstein of California, Carl Levin of Michigan and Ron Wyden of Oregon, all Democrats – called this week for the Senate judiciary and intelligence panels to open a joint investigation of the matter.

The letter (available from Feinstein’s site but not yet on Wyden’s) expresses “profound concern” and asks for “immediate inquiry and action,” but does nothing more than that. It’ll be interesting to see whether Wyden, like Feinstein, is more critical of what seems to have been going on.

Oddly enough, when I called Wyden’s Washington office late in the day the letter was dated, they told me there was no press release on the matter.

Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy: What Happened to Hillary?

In January 1998, nearly eight years ago, Hillary Clinton made her famous remark about a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to Katie Couric on NBC’s “Today” show, denying allegations of an affair with Monica Lewinsky.

“That is not going to be proven true,” Clinton said. She said she was fighting the charges “not only because I love and believe my husband” but for the sake of the nation.

“Bill and I have been accused of everything, including murder, by some of the very same people who are behind these allegations,” she said. “So from my perspective, this is part of a continuing political campaign against my husband.”

Of course, she was wrong about Bill even if she had the conspiracy pegged.

But why does he get the benefit of being the target of a conspiracy when — now that the people who tried to drive him out of office are in charge of the country — the American people are their targets? There have been some pretty outrageous things going on the past five years. Why won’t Sen. Clinton stand up for us like she stood up for Bill? Does she think the conspiracy just went away, that it was only targeted at her and Bill? Did the Monica thing change her mind about the conspiracy? Does she now think that the conspiracy she needs to worry about consists of flag-burners and game developers?

Comment at Daily Kos

Thom Hartmann’s Bad Math

Just before 8:30 this morning, radio host Thom Hartmann was talking to the HR director of Goodwill Industries of Oregon on KPOJ. He made the comment that in past decades universities and other organizations limited the pay of their top executives to 20 or 30 times the pay of the lowest-paid employee and then stated that the compensation of the Goodwill CEO was “400 times” that of the lowest-paid worker.

Minimum wage in Oregon is $7.25. Full-time at minimum comes to $15,080 per year. Goodwill CEO Michael Miller’s pay (according to the Oregonian story yesterday) was $831,508. That’s a factor of just over 1:55, which may still be excessive, but it’s far off of the 1:400 Mr. Hartmann claimed. He should issue a correction. And maybe get a calculator.

What the NSA Was Probably Doing

I’m going to make an informed guess on what the National Security Agency (NSA) was authorized to do by President George W. Bush. Something which would have been difficult to get through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court and which would have possibly generated the comments about “high-tech” stuff made by Bush, Secretaray of State Condoleeza Rice, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) who wrote in a note to Vice President Dick Cheney after an Intelligence Committee briefing on the issue that “As you know, I am neither a technician nor an attorney.”

The NSA is known to have enormous banks of computers that analyze voice and data communications throughout the world. Their computers can tap phones and satellite uplinks, cell phone communications, pretty much any transmitted electronic data, unscramble it, translate it, and process it for key words or phrases. There’s no real secret there.

But if you control the NSA (which the executive branch does) and you get a vague idea (which the executive branch does) that there’s some terrorist threat in San Francisco, you’re probably going to order the agency to scoop up every bit of communications data it can in a portion of SF, run it through the computers, and see if anything pops out.

The problem, of course, is that along with any actual intelligence (and let’s face it, the cases under the Ashcroft and Gonzales Justice Departments haven’t exactly been stunners) you’re going to be picking up material on the lives of a swath of people in the area you’re surveilling. I think that’s something the FISA courts wouldn’t have put up with. And I doubt it’s something that the American people would stand for.

Wyden On NSA: No Response Yet

As I mentioned Saturday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and would conceivably have something to say about the President ordering the NSA to spy on communications — potentially by US citizens — that skirt the oversight of the legislative or judicial branches of government.

It’s been all over the news for the weekend, with Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Harry Reid (D-NV), and even Lindsey Graham (R-SC) expressing concern about it. We haven’t heard a peep from Wyden yet about an issue that affects one of the five committees he’s assigned to in the Senate, on an issue that Graham has speculated seems to have “no legal basis.”

I just called Wyden’s Washington office (at about 4:30 EST there) and his guy answering the phone says the senator still has no statement. Drop him a line yourself: 202-224-5244