inessential by Brent Simmons

July 2000


I'm on vacation this week. I slept in 'til noon! Heavenly. I don't know if being on vacation means I'll update my weblog more than normal or less.

Habits are habits. First thing I did after making coffee was read Scripting News. It's like reading the morning newspaper. Gotta do it, or the day doesn't feel right.


Testing the Manila site editing features in Radio UserLand/Mac. Hello, is this thing on?

If you can read this, that's a good sign.

It's Howard Jones Day on Sheila's site. Remember him? Howard says: "Now you can have a page or site and share it with the world. It could revolutionize the media and the music business as we know it and as a matter of fact I hope it does."

Whenever I have the urge to add a drop-shadow or some 3-D effect to a web page I remember that edict from the '50s art world: thou shalt not violate the integrity of the picture plane.

Flat is good.

I've heard that the Soviets used to have fake American towns where they would train agents for deep cover operations in America. You'd live there, think American, speak English, eat hot dogs, watch television, until you're indistinguishable from someone born and raised in the States.

Then you'd be placed in America. At some point in the future, you'd receive an activation signal.

I sometimes wonder if my life would be any different had I been raised in such a town rather than being an American, Chicago-born.

No, I don't think it would be any different. Except, in the back of my mind, I'd sometimes think -- my control signal hasn't come. No signal yet.

By the way, in general terms, that's the premise of Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night: you are what you appear to be. One of my favorite Vonnegut books. (Others being Sirens of Titan, Slaughterhouse Five, and Bluebeard.)


Radio UserLand 7.0b1 for Windows is up.

More details on Scripting News.

Rock 'n' roll high school!

Song of the day here at inessential HQ is Jesus Jones' Right Here, Right Now.

The woman on the radio talks about revolution
But it's already passed her by.
Bob Dylan didn't have this to sing about
You know it feels good to be alive.

I was alive and I waited, waited
I was alive and I waited for this.
Right here, right now
There is no other place I wanna be.
Right here, right now
Watching the world wake up from history.

I saw the decade end when it seemed
The world could change at the blink of an eye
And if anything
Then there's your sign of the times.


Woohoo! Napster lives! Rock 'n' roll high school! It's fab! Ç'est super!

Sometimes I like to pretend to myself I'm totally new to the Internet. I have conversations with myself.

"Hey, do you have that Internet program?"

"No, I wish I did, all I've got is the email from that Yahoo."

I don't do it to be mean. I wonder if plumbers and electricians and auto-repair dudes joke like this? Probably. I have no idea what their jokes would be like -- in their worlds I'm totally clueless.

"Hey, Mr. Plumber guy, I think I screwed something up -- 'cause now when I take a shower all the water disappears into this little hole."

We're gonna rock down to Electric Avenue.

And then we'll take it higher.


Bryan Bell's Simply Paper Theme is now available on UserLand-hosted servers. Thanks to Bryan for keeping this steady flow of cool Themes coming.


Sheila got Macster working yesterday. She also reminds: "Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole."


Frontier 6.2.1, now available, fixes a bunch of bugs and adds a few new features for server managers.

Word From The WaSP: For the Good of the Web: An Open Letter to Netscape. "We all anticipated that Microsoft and other browser makers would be forced to emulate your support for XML and the DOM out of sheer competitiveness. But mainly, Netscape, we all expected you to release a product. And to quickly take Navigator 4, a browser that forces developers to write non-valid code, off the market."

Bryan Bell's Basic Blog Theme is now available on UserLand-hosted sites. Nice job. Now, to everyone else -- where's your Themes?

Update: Bryan's at it again with the Newspaper theme, which is also now available to UserLand-hosted sites.


What happened to the stats this morning, inquiring minds want to know. It was a glitch -- the server that hosts the majority of EditThisPage.Com sites failed to run its report.

So here you go, all as it should have appeared this morning:

Most Read Sites Yesterday

Most Read Sites


Frontier: Search Engine Indexer Optimizations. Macs especially get a major speed boost.

Sheila redesigned her site. A cleaner, more confident look. Colorful and fun. Sheila says: "Rock 'n' Roll!"

Seattle scored three runs in the ninth last night to win the rubber match of the three game set against NL West leading Arizona CryingBacks. Next up is division rivals the Oakland A's.

This is prompted by a note on the Frontier discussion group. "I'd rather not use Apple hardware for this since my experience with Apple and webserving is a lot of crashes," writes Andreas Hellstrom.

My story: I have a Mac 8500 which had a problem a couple years ago. It was a very light-duty server, running Mac OS. It developed a problem -- about a minute after booting up, it would freeze, hard.

I took it into the shop. They replaced the hard drive. I completely re-installed the system software, re-installed the couple apps it needed to run. The problem resurfaced. I tried lots of different combinations to see if it would stop freezing. Nothing worked. I've been running Mac servers since 1995; I have a clue about how to keep these things up.

Then, figuring I had nothing to lose, I installed LinuxPPC on it. It was that or throw the machine away. First surprise: the machine actually made it through the install process. Second surprise: it stayed up.

The only restarts since that time have been deliberate -- to upgrade Linux, or just because I feel like it's a good idea to restart once or twice a year. (Okay, a couple restarts were the result of power failures, but now it's on UPS.)

Lesson learned. It's not necessarily the hardware. In fact, my impression is that Apple's hardware far outshines its OS. Maybe that will change with OS X. All I ask of OS X is that be as stable as LinuxPPC and make a good server.

{staticText ("This page is served by that very same Mac 8500.")}

Daniel, replying to the above, writes, "All I ask of OS X it be as stable as Linux PPC, make a good server, and be as easy to admin as my current MacOS servers."

Excellent point. But I actually prefer Linux admin to Mac OS admin. Compare adding a virtual host using the WebSTAR Admin program to editing Apache's configuration file in emacs. Maybe I'm perverse, or just weird, but I'd rather edit the damn text file. It's quicker, and I know it's right.

Or, maybe I have to do a few things -- some DNS admin, some HTTP server admin, etc. -- it's so much easier from the command line than launching first one GUI admin app, then another, maybe having to launch remote control software, maybe not. It's just too much screwing around when I could be typing.

That said, what I really prefer is browser-based admin. If I could have one place to go to do everything -- that would be a dream. Check out the Cobalt Qube.


New HowTo: How to Create a Site List Page. You can have a page that lists all the sites on your server. This list can be searchable if you want.

The HowTo above describes how to use the new hostingSuite.listSites macro.

Note: whenever we release a new macro, quitting and re-starting Frontier will make it legal, since built-in macros are made legal at startup. Obviously, a better way to do this is a good idea, so you don't have to quit and re-start Frontier. It should be automatic when you update.

One of my favorite things to say around the house is "it's the rubber match of a three-game set."

Tonight is the rubber match of a three-game set between the Mariners and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Chief will make his third start since returning from the disabled list. Go Freddy!

There's something beautiful about the quiet rumble of an airplane passing far above as you're lying in bed falling asleep. It says: some people are wide awake, even as you doze off, not only keeping the world going but doing the hard jobs, eyes open, in radio contact with the ground. It says: it's okay to sleep now.

Why do I say it's beautiful rather than simply reassuring? Because it is. If you understand this beauty, you understand one of the fundamental beauties of the modern world -- which is not a bad world, since we have these great people who keep the jets flying, the networks up, the food on the roads.

Listening to the Specials -- "Free Nelson Mandela." How nice to hear this song again and know that Mandela has been freed.

21 years of captivity
Are you so blind that you cannot see?
Are you so deaf that you cannot hear?
Are you so dumb that you cannot speak?

Okay, the lyrics aren't great, but I didn't know it at the time. And they worked.

I'm not saying that the song had much to do with freeing Nelson Mandela, but it had a lot to do with letting kids like me (a kid at the time) know that there's a wider world outside the local mall, and that worrying about finals or the girl who does or doesn't like you isn't exactly irrelevant, but small potatoes compared to what's on Nelson Mandela's mind.

Another '80s song I like in a similar way: the English Beat's "Stand Down Margaret." (Margaret being Margaret Thatcher.)

So Margaret Thatcher isn't the evil dictator of Airstrip One anymore. Nelson Mandela is free. But plenty of other people are still in jail.


Ketchup, the latest Theme from the delightfully prolific and talented Bryan Bell, is available on Weblogs.Com and EditThisPage.Com. If you're a Frontier server manager, you can get the Theme from Bryan's site (the above link).

Browser makers can go ____ themselves with a _____ ______-_______ ____-_______ toad ____ _____ on ___________ _____ and poison ivy.

First I hear that MSIE 5.5 for Windows doesn't work with Manila Express.

Then I discover that you can't create a new weblog at Weblogs.Com using Netscape 6 Preview Release 1.

Okay -- please don't do things like that. Or I'm going to have to _____ _ _____ ________ __ ____ ________ ____.

Manila Server HowTos: How to Share a Membership Group. "When sites share a membership group, this means that you can join once, login once, and you're a member of all the sites that share that membership group."

I'm now getting XML-formatted spam email. A sure sign that XML is taking hold.


Frontier: Bulletins and Shared Membership Groups.

Dave asked for an RFC on a Manila Theme that uses the metaphor of the Basic Black dress. Though it was originally written for UserLand eyes, at Dave's suggestion I posted the un-edited RFC on this site.

"RFC: Basic Blog Theme".

(RFC means Request for Comments.)

We went to the circus -- Cirque du Soleil's Saltimbanco -- last night. Amazing!

Sheila: "Sometimes when you see a person doing something wonderful, you feel like you can do something wonderful, too. Then I think you have seen something truly wonderful."

Theory: the amazing is one of the roots of art. We've seen the cave paintings, but there are no recordings, of course, of cave people entertaining each other by juggling rocks or swinging from vines.

The amazing is usually an aspect of performance. Think of ballet. But sometimes composed arts can be amazing -- rhyming, strictly metered poetry, for instance, can be amazing. When I read Shakespeare's sonnets, I wonder: how the hell did he do that? Of course, I appreciate their beauty, but the simple feeling of amazement is still there. And that's not wrong.

It's also one of the roots of sport. Why watch baseball? Partly for the narrative aspects. (Every at-bat is a story. Every inning is a story. Every game is a story. Every season is a story.) But a big part of it is I want to see something amazing. I want to see the shortstop make a diving catch followed by an impossible throw to first to get the runner out by half a step.

Another amazing circus, and totally different from Cirque du Soleil, is the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. Highly recommended. But not for children, people with pacemakers, or Mrs. Grundy.


Sheila's all, hey, interleague play sucks, and I'm like, damn right.


Happy Bastille Day! I was once in France for Bastille Day. We stood by the banks of the river Isère, watched the fireworks and laser show playing on the side of the hill that overlooks town. It was beautiful. I can't find a picture anywhere on the Web, unfortunately. But here's where we worked: Institut de Biologie Structurale.

Grenoble isn't far from Genève, where the Web was being born, only we didn't know it then. We didn't make the trip. Instead we went to fun places like Paris and Nice. You'd think we spent a lot of time in the Alps. Nope. City kids, what can I say.

While we're at it -- three cheers for the bullet train, the TGV. So damn cool. Three hours from Grenoble to Paris. Comfortable ride. But here's what makes me laugh: TGV stands for Train à Grande Vitesse. Which I translate into English as "Train of Great Quickness" or "Really, Really Fast Train." It sounds funny in English, so kind of plain and naive, like they weren't even trying to give it a name. But in French it works.

Quand j'écris au sujet de la France, je veux écrire en français. Mais, c'est difficile, parce que je ne parle pas la langue. I hope that made sense.


I caught John VanDyk, dressed as a huge squirrel, trying to hide under the ivy out front. For John things have gone horribly wrong -- I've got him locked up in a closet, I'm trying to make him talk. All he'll give me is his name, rank, and Frontier serial number. So far.


Hey, I'm wireless, I'm sitting outside. It's nice. Wow.


How to Log to a Text File.

The How to Get Updates HowTo was updated -- now you can turn on and off root updates logging via the Control Panel.

The Bathhouse Theatre is back! Via Sheila.

My iBook (and Airport station, card, extra memory) came this morning. I'm still excited -- I don't have it all set up yet, but I'm looking forward to working outside.

There's an aspect aside from just the wireless, portability thing -- I feel very keenly the weight of all the towers and giant monitors and industrial-strength furniture required to support computers. It's as if we live on the surface of Jupiter. In the future, people will look back on this era as a kind of '50s era. The '50s: cars were huge, X-Rays were poisonous, and housewives took horse tranquilizers for their nerves. The early '00s: computers were heavy and stationary, monitors were as big and heavy as vacuum-tube TVs. We're transitioning away from the gigantic-ness of computers. I hope.

Perhaps I'm over-sensitive, but all this plastic and metal and glass has always seemed like so much unneccesary ballast.

If you're old enough, do you remember before you had a computer? We don't actually need this big appliance (or several of them) to anchor us to the ground, we'll do fine, we'll do better, with the small and light.

I hate when I can't find something on Napster. Looking for Julee Cruise's cover of "Summer Kisses Winter Tears." Which I actually have on a CD around here, but I want to add it to my Napster playlist. Nuts.

Update: I discovered that the Napster servers aren't connected together. So if you disconnect, then reconnect, you might find things you couldn't find before, because you'll be on a different Napster server. The above is a case in point -- I searched again, couldn't find it, disconnected, reconnected, found it.

Is every made-for-TV movie about people getting terribly sick and then having an angel come rescue them? Watching ads on TV gave me the chance to utter this negative-creep-sounding line: "I hate miracles." Sheila suspects people will start getting sick on purpose just so they can have a heart-warming experience as seen on TV.

Speaking of TV. What part of "this is a clichéd joke that wasn't even funny the first time" don't you understand?

Here's something I'm glad about on TV -- we appear to be coming to the end of those commercials whose slogans always have the form of philosophical pronouncement followed by a command. You know what I mean: "Life is muddy. Wallow in it." Ugh, finally, at last, we're seeing less of this.


Blade Runner riddle solved. No! That's just so completely and tragically wrong. Listen. Having Rick Deckard be a replicant is clever and ironic, sure, but pretty boring. Not knowing -- and knowing that on the most important level it doesn't matter -- is much better.

And who the hell is Ridley Scott to say? Rick Deckard is Philip Dick's creation. Ridley Scott has exactly zero authority on this. Go to blazes for being such a dumb-ass.

Link via blivet.

Went on a Napster-induced oldies binge last night. Chiffons, Martha and the Vandellas, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Marvelettes, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ritchie Valens. I like to daydream about an alternate history: how would rock and roll have progressed had the British Invasion not happened?


At the half-way mark, at the All-Star break, the Mariners are 51-35, with a three-game lead in the AL West and the second-best winning percentage in all of major league baseball. My oh my!

I'm so excited -- I just ordered an iBook (graphite) and an Airport station. I've wanted to be able to work outside for a long time. And I've wanted a laptop for even longer, since before I even had a house with a yard. Yes, this will be my first laptop, unbelievable as it sounds.

Sometimes I like to price things. For instance, occasionally local Internet companies send email asking me to be in a focus group. (If you live in or near Seattle, you probably get these too.) They offer $50 for my time. No way. But how much would it take? I would do it for $1000, not less.

How much would would you have to pay me to read the new Harry Potter book? It's over 700 pages. I would read it for $3500, roughly $5 per page.

I don't mean it's a bad book, it's just so completely opposite my taste. Why mention it at all? Just to be contrary.


Manila Newbies: News Items Links.

Manila Newbies: Rolling Discussion Group Listings.

There are no idiots on Mars.



LinuxNewbies: IPChains Part I: What is it?. "It provides firewalling and IP masquerading, which are two components of a well-designed network."

Python for Palm OS. Via Zope Newbies.

Who's the hero of modern times? The TV repairman who makes house calls. Help is on its way! Update: Help came, it's fixed. How did he fix it? He unplugged the power to the set, then plugged it back in. Now it works. Magic. Of course, I still get charged for the visit.

CNN.Com: Tacoma hospital shut down. Confirms Seattle-ites prejudices and fears of Tacoma, home of the Tacoma-aroma. (If you've ever driven by on I-5, you know what I'm talking about.)

Theory: every nice city has a less nice city nearby. The nice city depends on that other city to do the dirty work. Then the nice city looks down on the dirty-work town. Seattle/Tacoma. San Francisco/Oakland. New York/North Jersey. Philadelphia/Camden.

Link via Al Hawkins.


Yesterday I wrote about listening to bands like X, the Pogues, the Clash, and so on via Napster. There's a sad part to this (which has nothing to do with Napster) which I've never been sure how to deal with.

With punk rock (and related forms: ska, some New Wave, etc.) -- musicians and fans were developing a new aesthetic. The question: how do you push the limits of rock as an art form? The obvious answer, which came from the later Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues and similar was to stop doing rock. Hire an orchestra. Do sound collages. Do anything but rock music. The Beatles stopped performing live because they couldn't -- their music had become too complex.

There were other answers to the question. Go back to the R&B roots. Thus the white-boy suburban blues of the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

Then there was disco, the aesthetics of ecstasy. Like pornography, disco is utilitarian, art designed to provoke a physical response. Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't answer the question.

Corporate rock was another answer -- instead of pushing the limits of rock as an art form, let's push the limits of rock as commerce. How many records can we sell if we give the people exactly what we think they want? So you had Chicago, Foreigner, etc.

Then there was Jonny Rotten: "I hate Pink Floyd."

***The Clash: "Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust."

Back to first principles. Art thrives within the built-in limits of its form. What are the limits of rock and roll? You've got drums, bass, a guitar or two, a lead singer, maybe one of the guitarists sings too. We've gone back to the '50s, before the British Invasion, back to Chuck Berry.

The next question: is rock and roll exhausted? Have we already done everything you can do with drums, guitar, and bass? The Beatles seemed to think so. Led Zeppelin kept at it, but they weren't even trying to do anything new.

A few people had perhaps provided evidence -- Lou Reed, Iggy Pop -- that the possibilities were still wide open, had barely begun to be tapped.

But punk wasn't just a step back to the origins of rock, it was a step forward. To the mix was added anger, but not the contained rage and self-righteousness of the folk singer. Not so earnest either -- listen to the Sex Pistols. Are they absurd, ironic, totally damn silly? Yes. Punk rock was allowed to be ambiguous, funny, outrageous, angry, sarcastic -- as long as it was loud. No more simple naive messages, no more "Love is all you need" sung without a trace of irony. The limits of what you could express were thrown wide open.

Sound followed expression, and expression followed sound, and you got something that sounded like rockabilly played by pissed-off mental patients. Beautiful.

***Blondie is a group

Punk was also a reaction to corporate rock star culture. The idea: anybody could form a band. You don't even have to know how to play. Everybody has something to say. You don't need the suits -- you can Do it Yourself. Let a million punk bands form. Kill all rock stars; kill big record companies.

The barrier between musician and audience began to break down. Was there anybody in the room who isn't in a punk band or doing a punk 'zine? Well, yeah, but ideally not. It was the two-way music scene.


To get back to the top... this new aesthetic didn't last. At one point I thought it was the new way -- but it wasn't, and that's the sad part. Bad things happened to good bands. The culture disappeared. But I still love the music and the vision.

The most exciting area right now is probably techno -- a new aesthetic, which borrows some elements from punk (which borrowed elements from other sub-cultures), is developing there. But it's not rock music. If you love rock you're out of luck.


When I first got on the Web in 1994, I recognized it immediately as a dream come true -- punk for writers. A website is a website is a website, and anyone can create one. DiY plus world-wide distribution. How's that for cool?

(I should say that we recognized it -- Sheila was there too, saying we gotta do this.)

And then a while later we realized that making websites was still too hard. Blah blah blah, years of work -- and now here's Manila, and here's The Two-Way Web.

arf reminds me about Dogma 2000.

Matt Daw suggests some bands to check out. "Rock isn't dead." Matt's right, I'm sure -- but I've been way too busy to keep up. I don't really want to go on being nostalgic for the Clash the rest of my life -- that's a pretty non-punk thing to do, to be conservative in that way. So: what's new and cool? Who's pushing the boundaries, who's unique? You tell me.

Macster is Napster for Macs.

"Woody Guthrie sang about B-E-E-T-S, not B-E-A-T-S." X, I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts.


Still addicted to Napster. I've been listening to these bands since I was a teenager. The excitement comes back in a rush -- did you hear the new Pogues album? Dude, totally, it's so great.

There's something thrilling about typing the names. X, Germs, Pogues, Camper Van Beethoven, DOA, Butthole Surfers, Ramones, Cramps, Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground, Circle Jerks, English Beat, Specials, Bauhaus, Joy Division, Roxy Music, Sex Pistols, Selecter, David Bowie, Smiths, Nick Cave, Echo and the Bunnymen, Jazz Butcher, Aztec Camera, Minutemen, Clash.

Hey, who remembers when R.E.M. was good? When they were still, broadly speaking, a punk band? Seems like forever ago. The day Michael Stipe started enunciating was the day the music of my youth ended. The names of the albums are still magical to me: Chronic Town, Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, Life's Rich Pageant.

Naturally, Sheila remembers.


Happy Fourth of July!

Sheila has a special exhibition of words and pictures for today.


For the last few days I've been updating Frontier News more than this site. So: go there.