inessential by Brent Simmons

February 2001


An earthquake measuring 6.8 hit Seattle this morning at 10:55 a.m. The epicenter reportedly was south of the city.

A deep earthquake, perhaps 30 miles below the surface of the earth.

I've checked my house -- aside from some pictures going crooked and items moving around on their shelves, there was no damage. My house, built in 1908, has been through worse.

I was scared. I went outside before I even had the word "earthquake" appear in my head. It was like being on a boat on the water. It seemed to go on a long time. The birds yelled the whole time. They're saying it went on for 45 seconds.

Now they're warning of possible aftershocks. Aftershocks can be nearly as bad as the original quake. Update: since it's a deep earthquake, seismologists are not expecting aftershocks.

On the radio they just told me to wear shoes, just in case, so I gotta go put on my shoes...

The ferry terminals are closed. So there are people stuck out on the water.

One of the weird things was how the radio station I was listening to when the quake hit went off the air. Nothing but static. I came back inside when it was over and heard just static. So I turned on the TV, where they were already breaking in with the news. The radio station has since come back on the air.

Boeing Field is closed. Sea-Tac is shut down. Reportedly, the windows were blown out of the air traffic control tower.

There is damage to buildings in Pioneer Square. There is extensive damage to Starbuck's headquarters just south of downtown.

The radio reported that the quake was felt as far away as Salt Lake City and Vancouver Island.

Reports of injuries are trickling in.

I keep thinking I'm feeling aftershocks, but it's just adrenaline which hasn't gone away.

I already talked to family, called family back east, everyone's fine.

Now they're telling us to smell for gas. Turn it off if you smell gas. I'm checking... Nope, no gas smell.

KING 5 just called this the largest earthquake since the 7.1 that hit Olympia in 1949. There's a crack in the Capitol dome in Olympia.

Growing up back east, I always thought of earthquakes as exotic disasters that would never happen to me. I'd like to return to thinking that way, but I can't.

More reports: Sheila, David Brown, Al Hawkins, Eric Soroos, Jim Roepcke, Erik Thauvin, Howard Hansen, Glenn Fleishman.

MSNBC: "Screams erupted at a nearby hotel, where Microsoft founder Bill Gates was addressing an education and technology conference. He was whisked away as his audience bolted for the exits. Some audience members were knocked down by others trying to get out."

Update: The mail came. Nothing will stay those couriers from their appointed rounds. I love that.


According to this page on dmoz, Charles Bukowski, with 98 links, is by far the most popular 20th century American writer. Jack Kerouac is a not-so-close second.

Hey, I like Hank as much as the next guy -- but more than Hemingway, Salinger, and Fitzgerald put together? No way.

And there were no -- count 'em, zero -- links for Raymond Carver, easily in the top five of American masters of the short story, arguably the very best ever.

For all the love passed out to the (over-rated) Beats, where's William S. Burroughs, the one who was actually good?

I'm not criticizing dmoz. This is probably a pretty accurate picture of what's out there. I'm criticizing the Web itself -- but with great affection, always. I guess what I'm saying is that for the Web to become the ultimate research tool, an idea needs to take hold -- the idea that we need to fill in the blanks, that always going for the crowd-pleasing stuff isn't the best thing.

There's hard work to be done. But, you know, hard work can be more rewarding than the easy stuff.

All your intestines are belong to us: There are so many lovers to take a pecture in front of the worm for their memory. An exhibit from the Meguro Parasitological Museum.

Another picture from the same museum: Warning: don't click here unless you're very, very brave and like to get totally grossed out in a sick-making way. Don't click here if you're at work.


It turns out that cheetahs, having sacrificed strength and size for speed, are over-specialized. They eat pretty much just gazelles and small antelope. So what happens when they can't find gazelles? They go hungry.

Even their jaws are just large enough to hold a gazelle's neck, but not large enough for other animals.

That's how they catch gazelles. They chase them and when they get close they reach out a paw to trip it. It may take a few tries as the gazelle goes down and gets back up again. Finally the cheetah is able to get its mouth around the gazelle's neck, a perfect fit, and it holds on until the gazelle goes limp.

They're not strong enough to fight off scavengers. When hyenas show up to steal their kill, the cheetah just abandons it, no contest.

I was watching on TV a cheetah standing in the middle of a giant herd of something -- not gazelles, something a little larger. They weren't afraid of the cheetah at all. They knew. The cheetah was looking around at all these animals, in the middle of literally tons and tons of meat, but there was nothing he could do. A lion would have had a field day, but the cheetah just looks around, hungry.

Here's the Cheetah Conservation Fund. The main threat to cheetahs is of course loss of their natural habitat.


I was in my twenties before I understood the old saying "don't cry over spilled milk." I had to have it explained to me.

All along I thought it meant -- don't cry because, you know, it's just milk, whatever, there's more milk you can have.

But really it meant that the milk is already spilled, so crying doesn't help anything, what's done is done.

So, with that in mind, I like to say things like "don't cry over spilled plutonium" or "don't cry over spilled vials of Ebola virus."

How do you tell a nun from a hooker taking a bath? One has hope in her soul...

John posted a funny Cadillac joke yesterday.

Back to that milk saying. It's even dumber. You could just as well say "don't cry over milk before you spill it."

Because, after all, nothing bad has happened yet, so why cry.

So you can only cry during that fraction of a second while the milk is spilling. That doesn't give you much time. Do the best you can.

Sheila taught me a cool hand gesture the other day.

Hold up your right hand, palm facing you.

Make a W with your index, middle, and ring fingers.

Now bend your elbow to the left -- make your forearm parallel to the ground.

Now you've made an E, see.

W-E -- What Ever -- whatever.


Reminder: space is still available for Ken Dow's Manila training courses in San Jose next week.

You know that no soap, radio joke, which isn't really a joke, it's just funny to see if people laugh.

Two ducks are sitting in a tub. One turns to the other and says, "Please pass the soap." The other says: "No soap, radio!"

The first time I heard it I laughed. Here's why. It turns out the second duck is a homicidal maniac. I pictured him reaching for the soap, but then suddenly his hand jerks, he grabs the radio, and as he delivers the punchline he tosses the radio into the water. Both ducks are fried.

It's funny. It's a real surprise to the one duck, who just wanted the soap.

The joke is usually told with penguins rather than ducks, but it occurred to me I might get flamed if I portray a penguin as a crazy freak. So ducks it is.

Do ducks taking a bath have a little yellow rubber human?

What if the ducks are, like, Microsoft and Sun? Or Red Hat and Apple? Gnome and KDE?

Bam! Bzzzzzt. Crackle crackle. Oh what joy.

That's my insightful commentary on the software industry for the day.


Happy President's Day!

Book recommendation: I recently read The Making of the Prefident 1789 about George Washington -- it's funny, but good history too. One of those books that you want to keep reading instead of going to sleep at night.

Sheila has lots more President's Day links.

Note to Radio users -- you can subscribe to Sheila's channel using this URL. Her channel is good in part because she goes out and finds interesting and/or funny things that you probably haven't seen before, and she doesn't follow the fad of the moment. (No "All your base..." links, for instance. No StorTroopers.) And then there are the pretty flower pictures.

Phantom Inlay is a new Python Tk client for Manila. Typhoon is a similar client for Zope sites.

Don't forget about Archipelago, also a Manila client, and ZopeFish, a Radio-based client for Zope.

The old Ballard High School cheer: "Lutefisk, Lutefisk, Lefse, Lefse, Ballard Gonna Win Tonight, Ya Sure Ya Betcha."

The snow has all melted now, but the wind has returned and the wind is cold.


Snow day! Sheila's got pictures. Her work is closed. I took some pictures too.

This much snow in Seattle is pretty rare. We're enjoying it before it melts.

Whoa, look out!



There are times when I feel compelled to say totally inappropriate things, just to get a laugh or whatever. But rules of good taste, politics, getting along with people -- these things often prevent me.

For instance, today I was going to write just one sentence, and leave my weblog at that. "My dick is 10 1/2 inches long and thick as a roll of duct tape."

Imagine that sentence, alone. You might have spewed coffee out your nose. Or you might have decided never to visit my site again. Or you might have been concerned that I've gone nuts.

Most likely you would have said, "Oh great, thanks for sharing, ya freakin' freak."

Are the gods doing any better today than yesterday with their battle against stupidity, meanness, etc.? Nope. Things have gotten marginally worse. They're totally asleep on the job.

At the risk of sounding like a total geek, I'll admit to digging Klingon theology. They killed their gods. Sounds like a plan. They're apparently worthless anyway.

I'm clearly not "getting along with people" today. Nor am I getting laughs, unfortunately. The worst of both worlds.

Guess what? Chickenbutt.


"Against stupidity, the Gods themselves contend in vain."

-Friedrich von Schiller

How are the gods doing with mendacity, meanness, and ignorance? Not too good. Bummer.

Every word has two histories. One is the etymology -- where the word came from. The other is your personal history with that word.

The word "mendacity" sounds Latin based to me. Let me look it up... According to Merriam-Webster online, it comes from the word mendacious, which is related to the word amend.

I first came across the word mendacity when I was in jail. I was a teenager, barely 18, almost half my life ago. I was in a cell with about 30 other prisoners, in a cell designed to hold about 10. I spent the night on a mat on the concrete floor.

Some of the prisoners had some ratty old books. I hunted around for something to read, and found Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams. I asked the guy whose book it was if I could read it, and he let me, he didn't care.

The old man in the story, whose fortune many of the characters were after, kept complaining about the mendacity of his offspring. It was the first time I'd run across that word. Mendacity. It was obvious from the context what it meant. I didn't bother hunting for a dictionary.

I remember envying the character Brick -- played by Paul Newman in the movie, which I later saw. Brick explained to Maggie -- the metaphorical cat on a hot tin roof, played by the fabulous Elizabeth Taylor -- that he would hear a click (note the rhyme) and would become perfectly apathetic. When I was that age, I wanted to hear that click, but never did.

I was arrested with, and stayed in the same cell with, a friend of mine, a bad kid. I was a bad kid, but never mind me, I wasn't anywhere near as bad as this kid.

It was his late-night drunken idea to break into the abandoned school where we let off the fire extinguishers in the hallway, tripped a silent alarm, and then were tracked and found by a German shepherd. The police officer warned us not to move, as Fifi the German shepherd didn't like that.

Consolation: as this happened so long ago, Fifi is undoubtedly dead by now, dead as a doornail, rotting in dog hell.

My friend, the bad kid, he wasn't so bad. Years later I started to refer to him in my mind as coeur de lion. With his friends he had a generous and large heart, as good a heart as anyone I've ever met, it's just that he was also a confused, destructive alcoholic.

About a year later he hanged himself. Unlike with good King Richard, coeur de lion le premier, I can wait all I want, and he's not coming back.

There was an economy in jail. Once a week the prisoners could go to this little jail store. I wasn't there long enough to go to the store. One thing you could buy there was tobacco and rolling papers.

So what I did was trade parts of my next meals for cigarettes. Orange juice was particularly valuable: one orange juice for one cigarette. Other cigarettes cost more than one item.

I've never seen anybody roll a cigarette (of any kind) as swiftly and efficiently as the guy I bought my cigarettes from.

Most of the prisoners I talked to were honest businessmen, fierce proponents of the free enterprise system, men whose lives were dedicated to the simple proposition of buying low and selling high. It's just that instead of scarves or pork futures they were selling a product they weren't supposed to sell, no matter how badly the public craved it.

I remember thinking that were no communists in jail, and that free enterprise does not stop behind bars.

Years later I read in the newspaper that smoking was outlawed in the jail. I wondered what that would do to the jailhouse economy. Bad things.

My friend's name was Steve Voris.

And so "mendacity" has long been one of my favorite words, as it makes me remember my friend, who had no mendacity in him.

I don't think he ever heard the click, except maybe once, I don't know.


As I'm probably the last to discover, there is indeed an AmINakedOrNot.Com. (Warning: don't click there if you're at work -- many of the people actually are naked. You can remember the URL until you get home.)

Their sponsor is CelebrityDeathBeeper.Com.

David Brown: "'But I would have liked to see Brooke Shields,' my coworker replied."

I didn't really mean to just go off on celebrities like that yesterday, but it was snowing and I had a headache, and so that's what you get. Today's it's sunny and I took some Advil.


Mini Frontier Tip: The Close/Hide Windows command in the Server menu is very useful when you have a bunch of windows open and you want to close them all.

Gray nose hairs? I don't think so. Where's the rewind button?

When I was a kid I thought we were winning the war against bugs. For a few golden moments I thought we almost had them. But now I see it was a holding action at best.

I mean actual bugs. Ants and spiders and whatnot.


There are no celebrities on Mars.

It's like we're in a fishbowl, all us Americans are fish, doing our fish work, having fish babies, and outside the bowl looking in are the giant faces of celebrities. We worship them. How could we not worship those giant faces?

The faces -- from Brad Pitt to Bill Gates -- they're watching us, trying to figure out what we like, so they can make more of it, so we can ship our fish money out of the bowl and into their hands. But what we really like, no, what we really love, is them, just them, give me more of the faces watching me so I may watch them.

It's a bargain we've made. We ignore certain things happening in the fishbowl, but in return -- well -- in return, the faces, the powers behind the faces, they don't let the water get too murky. So we like that too. Even if we can't hardly move or breathe, the lines of sight are clear, we can look outside at the celebrities, at the big faces watching us, and love them.

The Web, the great achievement of the Enlightenment values I hold most dear -- democracy, literacy, freedom of information -- even the Web, no surprise, is pressed into service. The saddest thing of all may be the celebrity porn sites, where they graft the head of a celebrity onto John and Jane Doe sex worker's bodies.

Watching people doin' it isn't enough -- oh no -- you can't get off unless you see the face of Britney Spears.

I wish to become a super-famous critic of celebrity culture.

I bet you clicked on the link to Britney Spears. (I would have.)

I'd like to say the problem of celebrities is urgent and that we all should mobilize immediately. But that would be a cruel lie, a mean joke. It's way way way too late.

Instead, let me be the first to welcome you to the New Middle Ages. Thanks for coming, and I hope you enjoy your stay.

Pun intended.

I'm going to watch Survivor tonight. I really like that show. I am most definitely not kidding.


I'm reading Gertude Stein's book Paris France, published in 1940. It includes this excellent explanation of 20th century art.

It was then I first realized the difference between a painting and out of doors. I realized that a painting is always a flat surface and out of doors never is, and that out of doors is made up of air and a painting has no air, the air is replaced by a flat surface, and anything in a painting that imitates air is illustration and not art.

Another good quote is about writers and where they live.

After all everybody, that is, everybody who writes is interested in living inside themselves in order to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really. The second one is romantic, it is separate from themselves, it is not real but it is really there.

The English Victorians were like that about Italy, the early nineteenth century Americans were like that about Spain, the middle nineteenth century Americans were like that about England, my generation the end of the nineteenth century American generation was like that about France.

Of course sometimes people discover their own country as if it were the other, a recent instance of that is Louis Bromfield discovering America, there have been a few English like that too, Kipling for instance discovered England but in general that other country that you need to be free in is the other country not the country where you really belong.

That made me think of Nabokov, the quintessential emigré. I would suggest that his France, his romantic country, is the St. Petersburg of his youth, before the revolution. Unlike Stein, he could never return to his romantic country, it having changed forever.

For many software artists, I think Silicon Valley is the place they "need to be free in." Witness my boss, posting yesterday: "I always want to go somewhere else, to the perfect place, but this morning the thought sunk in -- I'm already there."


Tips for Frontier and Radio Developers

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(The permanent location of these tips is here.)


Trip down memory lane -- NewsPage was a suite for Frontier 4 which managed a weblog. Of course, we didn't have the term weblog back then (January 1997).


I've started converting my tips into stories, so there will be a page that lists all the tips. At times like this I dig the includeMessage macro, which allows me to not have to maintain two copies of each tip. (They can appear both on archived home pages and as separate stories.)

And now here it is -- the Tips page. I added it to the navigation for this site, so it should be pretty easy to find.