inessential by Brent Simmons

April 2001


This is TV Turn-off Week. I didn't turn off my TV.

Here's why.


America is more and more divided into groups based on interests, religious beliefs, ethnicity, addictions, sexual orientation, etc. (In some ways the Web accelerates this.)

While I think it's good that people find and form communities, I also can't stand that people have less and less in common with each other.

For better or worse, TV shows are one of the few things we have in common.

Okay, it's not great, but it's something. And something is far better than nothing in this case.

There's another side to this -- when I talk to a hypothetical relative on the phone, a relative who wouldn't describe himself as part of any intellectual elite, I absolutely refuse to look down on this person for enjoying Survivor. I enjoy Survivor too.

When people complain that intelligent discourse is becoming more and more rare in America, and that the minority who do enjoy such conversations are more and more marginalized, I say -- damn it, it's your fault. The "intellectual elite" or whatever isn't some victim here. It's years of snobbery and epater le bourgeoise at work.

I enjoy intelligent discourse also, but I work hard not to be a snob.


Speaking of working hard... I work hard at my job. Baseball gives me honest pleasure. I can relax and recharge.

My inner Protestant tells me there must be something wrong with it. But, you know, it's not fattening or immoral. Watching baseball doesn't hurt anyone else.

(It's also another thing I have in common with people around me. I can talk to strangers on the street about how the Mariners are doing.)

Sheila needs to relax and recharge too -- she works as least as hard as I do at a very difficult job. So we watch baseball together. We jump out of our chairs and high-five when Edgar hits a two-RBI double. When Sasaki throws the thang to strike out the last batter in the ninth we hoot and holler. It's fun. We pretend we're at the ballpark.

Honest uncomplicated pleasures are hard to come by in the year 2001. When you've found one, don't let go. Pleasure is a human need.

***The History channel

TV actually is educational. I especially enjoy the History channel, PBS, Animal Planet, and the Discovery channel.

The education isn't perhaps as in-depth as a book. But I wouldn't learn about many of these things otherwise.

For instance, I watched a series about Napoleon. I probably will never read a book about him, but I didn't mind spending a few hours watching TV about Napoleon. Does that make me bad or lazy? No way. I'm reading books about other things.

And TV has some advantages over books. If you want to hear what things sound like, see what they look like, TV shows you. For instance, I could read all the books I want about tigers, but until you see one you don't really know how they move or what their growl sounds like.

One of the benefits is the randomness of TV. For instance, I didn't realize how interesting wolves are until one day when flipping around we ran across a documentary about wolves being reintroduced to Yellowstone park. Later I got the book about it. But I might never have had this pleasure, this interest, if I hadn't seen it on TV.

So, hey, TV, hey, thanks for being there. I won't turn you off.


Sheila goes to town. "In my experience, the average American has a healthy dose of paranoia and is very conservative about giving anyone their personal data."


Web Logs Suck.


Sheila made her first Radio slide show: Christmas 2000. The Christmas Squirrels were there.


I watched the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour this morning. It never gets old.

Before it even cleared the tower I yelled at the TV. Go!

To give you an idea how fast it goes: three minutes after launch, once the solid rocket boosters have dropped away, if the shuttle decides to abort the launch, they're set to coast into Spain.

I also learned how you officially become an astronaut. You're not an astronaut until you reach space and the shuttle commander says to you: "Welcome to space."

Welcome to space. I'd love to have someone say that to me some day. Sheila has told me that she'd go to space with me.

I was really glad that all this Napster stuff is over so I could finally unplug the speakers from my computer and hide them away in the closet.

Less is more.

You can't see your own face, only reflections or pictures of it.

You can see your nose a little bit. Sometimes I close one eye and pull my upper lip so I can see it. It's weird to see part of your face directly, however blurry.

Try it.

Whenever people ask me what I want for Christmas or my birthday I always say I want less. I want anti-gifts. I want people to come and take away things I don't want anymore.

Objects are not weightless; objects have mass. The weight of unwanted objects is double that of wanted objects.


Sam DeVore agrees that bites the big wazoo.


I almost retired one of Ranchero's servers last night. Came so close, but then it was too late at night to go on. Perhaps tonight. I think when it happens I'll throw a party.

Music to my fingers:

shutdown -h now

I wish this were a command:

shutdown -h "now and forever, dammit, and get outta here"


UserLand's new COO is John Robb. I'm very pleased.

Melissa: "I know I mentioned a month or so ago that I really like working for a startup. It's true, I really do. But this past month I had a taste of what's very bad about startups."


Joey Ramone, Punk's Influential Yelper, Dies at 49. I'd like to say something cool here, but I can't, I'm just sad.

John, move to Ballard already.


Sheila and I went to see Hamlet last night. We enjoyed it thoroughly.

One of the first weblogs I read this morning was Glenn Fleishman's -- and to my surprise, he's complaining about the seating at the theatre. Right on. My ass was not happy. I kept telling it that the play's the thing, but it kept saying, hey, ouch.

I tend to forget physical discomforts within a couple days, so I'll just remember the play, which is lucky.


Ken Dow is teaching Manila courses in Toronto in June. In May, for the first time, the Introduction to Manila course will be offered on-line.

More about shutting down Ranchero Software

I was asked by a Frontier user if my shutting down Ranchero Software would have any effect on my role at UserLand. Good question.

The short answer is no.

The longer answer is -- well, to the extent that I don't have to spend time on Ranchero stuff, that gives me extra time for UserLand stuff. But of course I don't spend hardly any time on Ranchero stuff.

Probably the most important effect is on my brain. It's less to keep track off and be concerned with. Ranchero is always in the back of my mind, a space I'd rather reserve for something else.

I'll be able to retire two computers, which is always a good thing. You have no idea how much pure joy I get from turning computers off. (If you live in Seattle and might be interested in good deals on a 7200/120 and an 8500/132 that have proven their worth as servers, let me know.)

ScriptWeb is in the process of moving now, over to FastPipe Media, Inc., courtesy Dennis Whiteman. We've hosted ScriptWeb for a few years now. (Excuse me, I've got something in my eye.)

I've been running servers for going on 6 years now, continuously, without cessation. I wish I could describe what this is like to the many of you who don't run servers, or who don't run servers that host other people's websites.

Even when everything is running smoothly, you're the guy who's responsible. And that's always there, it's always in your mind, it doesn't go away at 3 AM. The servers need to be up as people in Germany and Japan are hitting them. The World Wide Web could be called the Round-the-Clock Web.

Imagine it's a Saturday night, and you went to dinner with some friends. Though normally you don't drink, you had three glasses of wine, and you ate way too much fettucine. You get home at midnight all logy and weird and hoarse from talking. What do you do?

You check the servers, and hope to god they're all up, because you're not in the best position to deal with them. All you did was what half of America did this Saturday night -- but most of America didn't have to check the servers when they got home. Most of America didn't have to worry about servers going down during the chocolate mousse.

That's what never goes away, it's there every minute of every day, and it's a big part of why Ranchero is shutting down.

Turning off servers is wonderful.


New betas of Frontier and Radio are available. See SOAP Interopability Changes.

I want to wear an eye patch over one eye like a pirate. Every day I'd switch which eye was covered, so no one eye goes bad, but mainly I'd switch eyes for the sake of fair play, which is important.

I'd wink at people all the time. Of course they wouldn't be sure if I was winking or just blinking, since they can see only one eye. Sometimes they might think I was winking when really I was just blinking, which could probably get me before a judge these days.

I'd be happy to take the stand in my defense. Naturally I'd plead insanity. Who else would wear an eye patch for fun. Only crazies.

I've mentioned this before -- the word "articulate" is some sort of code word I haven't figured out.

It's used almost solely to describe black men. As in, "Colin Powell is smart, accomplished, and articulate."

No one ever called Dick Cheney articulate, even though he is.

What's new to me is now people are starting to call gays articulate.

The news AIDS czar is a gay man. I heard the attorney general talking about him on TV. In the space of a minute he called him articulate three times.

As if it's some sort of surprise that a gay man (or a black man) would speak English well. Holy cow.

I mean, holy fucking shit, what's with this word.

I think it's like when in the old days people would say -- "Leon's a credit to his race." Or, "Brian's a credit to his people." Really they were talking about someone who spoke well, but also "knew his place" well and didn't rock the boat. That's what articulate sort of means. It's a defense -- don't worry, folks in Peoria, we hired a black man or a gay man or whatever, but don't worry, he's articulate, you can rest easy at night.

Update: okay, so one person once called Dick Cheney articulate. (Thanks to John VanDyk for the pointer.)

Well, no one ever called George Bush articulate, unless it was as a joke.

I walked 22 miles of barbed wire. I use a cobra snake for a necktie. I got a brand new house on the road side -- made outta rattlesnake hide.

There's a little bitty chimney built up on top -- made outta human skulls.

Come on baby take a walk with me Eileen and tell me who do you love.

That was Bo Diddley of course.

oh sweet mcdonalds


I finally was able to get a copy of the May issue of Wired with the profile of Dave. No stores had it yet -- I had to have it delivered by Kozmo. Sheesh.

Of course, being no more or less self-centered than anybody else, I wanted to see if I was quoted in it. (I was.)

I was also described: "...he shares Winer's vision, but he's as calm as Data on the bridge of the Enterprise."

This Star Trek fan is pleased.

Update: my cool sister writes me to ask -- "Is he Brent Simmons, or Brent Spiner??????"

(Note to Melissa: your weblog is due for an update.)


Now and again it comes up that Mac users who download Frontier files need to set the file type and creator. There's a contextual menu plugin that makes it easy.


The plugin mentioned above comes from Ranchero Software, which is the company Sheila and I founded, along with several other people, in 1995. It was originally named WorldWide Power & Light.

Now, six years later, we're in the process of shutting down Ranchero Software. We turned off the business phone the other day. We have just a couple website hosting clients left.

Sheila and I will retain ownership of and We'll also keep the small bits of software and the Frontier tutorials on the air, since they're still valuable. The template for the site will change, undoubtedly, but the links will still work.

Six years -- a pretty good run! It was never a huge money-making machine, but I remain proud of the fact that I was part of a company that was doing cool Web stuff long before Netscape's IPO, before Windows 95 was released, etc.

We were Frontier users from the start, of course.


The desert, without water
Sting rays
Outer space, running out of air
Tidal waves
Poison to the touch
The devil
Man-eating sharks
The abominable snow man
Invaders from Mars
The redcoats

These were the things I worried about as a kid. I thought that adults had to deal with this stuff all the time. That's what you get for watching SuperFriends and Speed Racer and Land of the Lost and Lost in Space.

About the last item -- seven-year-old American boys are prepared for sudden violence against the British anytime, anywhere. Sorry, Brits, don't even think about taking back your colonies.

About being stranded in the desert with no water -- you always hope for an oasis, but you're scared it might be a mirage.

Deep in the African interior is an ancient hidden lake, on the shores of which homo sapiens is rumored to have evolved. Travellers who have returned from there claim that wading into the water feels just like the moments before falling asleep; its buoyancy and warmth and motion are encoded in our genetic memory.

Some call it Lake Eden, others call it the lake of dreams.

Its location has been reported as far north as Chad and as far south as Botswana. Recent U.N.-sponsored expeditions have returned without success.


Mac OS X Hints opens tip jar. If you're a Mac OS X user, and you haven't used this site yet, I bet you will sometime. There's tons of good stuff there. I gave $15.

"It was better before, before we voted for what's-his-name. This must be the new world."


All those great '80s protest songs come back to me now with Bush in office. Wait -- you say -- '80s protest songs? Yes indeed. They just weren't played on the radio much, so you missed them. Baby Boomers weren't paying attention, and you kids were too young.

Stand Down Margaret!

Doin' taxes.

When T.S. Eliot said that April is the cruelest month, he didn't mean taxes. But it fits.


I gave my Radio weblog its own domain name: It's a news site about Mac OS X.

It's linked to from the navigation on each page in this site -- see the OS X link at the top of the page.

Downside up


EditThisPage.Com is back on the air.



I'm going to go out and see if the new Wired is at the grocery store. Maybe I'm quoted in the article on Dave? I'm nervous that maybe I said something weird. Cross my fingers I didn't.

History of the Web... The JavaScript Zen Generator is something I did a long, long time ago. Six years later it's still enlightening those who seek wisdom and truth and something to do during lunch.

You might note that the page mentions Dave Winer and UserLand Software -- this was before I worked for UserLand.

Yes, young ones, there was such a time, when Netscape roamed the earth and I did my coding on a Quadra 605.