inessential by Brent Simmons

July 2001



I love 'em. They're one of the good things. Say to me, wanna go out to eat?, and I start panting, my eyes open wide. If I had a tail it would wag.

But there are these little things that make my teeth crawl.

***The pepper mill ritual

When they come over with the pepper mill, conversation at the table stops, as it usually does when someone comes over. And the pepper mill lady goes from person to person, asking if they want pepper, grinding the pepper onto the Caesar salad or whatever.

Since no one's talking, we don't even know what to look at, so we just watch the pepper mill lady do her thing, one person after another.

When she comes to me I lean back out of her way, and I suppose I'm supposed to feel like a king, like this is really great service, I mean, wow, a human actually putting pepper on my salad. Could I get someone to peel some grapes for me?

But I don't feel like a king. Everyone's watching the lady put pepper on my salad, and then I watch her put pepper on the next person's salad, and I feel like a dork.

And the damn pepper mill is gigantic -- majestic, even, as if we're supposed to say, oooohhhh, that's fine living. What a great restaurant to have such grand devices, all for us.

Okay, dear restaurant owners, please invest in those small pepper mills that people own in their own damn kitchens at home. Put one on each table. Let us pepper our own freakin' salads.

***The wine ritual

Now, I love regular old vulgarity. Cartoons, rock 'n' roll, the evening news, fart jokes, the software industry, really loud belches. It's fine, it doesn't pretend to be something else.

The wine ritual isn't regular old vulgarity, it's vulgarity masked as pretend sophistication. Yuck.

The whole point of that swallow of wine, really, is not to show off my enophilic powers of discrimination -- it's just to determine whether or not the wine has turned to vinegar.

How often does that happen? It's never happened to me.

But even if it did, if the wine had gone bad, I would just signal the waiter and let him know. This bottle's turned, please get us a new one.

I suppose I'm supposed to feel like a connoisseur, like some fancy pants fine-palated bastard, but really -- fuck off.

Just open the bottle of wine and set it on the table. We'll make sure it's not vinegar. We'll pour it ourselves.

See, real sophistication is not laboring over these asinine rituals. Good service is unobtrusive, it doesn't make a show of things, it doesn't try to make you feel like a king (or anything in particular). It just brings you your food and drink and makes itself available if you need more or if there's a problem.

Also, I just spent $18.50 for a bottle that I know for a fact costs $7.95 at the grocery store. Let's not pretend otherwise, okay?

***"How is everything?"

About halfway through the meal the waiter comes over and asks that damn question.

And I know it's coming, I'm expecting it, I know we're going to get interrupted. That does things to the conversation and my mental state.

I hate answering that question with my mouth full, as it invariably is. "Fnmnme," I answer.

Better to pass by a few times, look at the table and at us, sure -- but otherwise leave us alone. We'll let you know if there's a problem or we need something more.

***Refilling the water glasses

Okay, if I take just one sip, there's no need to come by and top it off. Wait 'til it gets pretty low, okay?

As much as possible, stay away from my table. We're talking here. Please don't interrupt.

Sometimes I've had them top off my water even when I haven't had a sip at all. The glass was mostly full, but not totally full, so the water bearer adds a few drops. Now it's totally full.

Well. Great.


I never eat dessert at home. Dessert isn't the difference between casual and fine dining.

My night isn't a waste if I don't have dessert.

I know your profit margins for dessert are most excellent. I don't care.

Don't even ask me if I want dessert. Ask me if I want coffee, that's reasonable.

I'll tell you if I want cake.


Wild Egypt is an "on-line safari for all ages." It has lots of good pictures of creatures. The mongoose is one of my favorite creatures.

The other day I bought the cartoon of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, which I loved as a boy. Me and Sheila might watch it tonight.

I love the mongoose because he catches the cobras, cobras with their fierce, exciting hoods with that hieroglyph on the back, cobras that strike with their poisonous teeth; the mongoose is too fast for them.

If I see a cobra in my back yard I will run. But the mongoose, he will bite its neck.

Tama Janowitz on honey.

And the taste of honey is terrible, I do not like honey, it has a strange alien taste, that whirring bee flavor, there is nothing else like honey, hot not in temperature or spiciness but in that sort of preserved sunlit heat of pollen and the stale bee scent of the hive, a million organized neutered insects, the worker bees laden with the dust of flowers in little leg sacs. And some old grandmother's honey cake, dry, sticky, flavorless except for this bee stuff. It is too hideous to contemplate.


Sheila loves color.

I wonder what happened to the wysiwyg HTML editor that came with OS X public beta?


Years ago I worked at Goodwill as a book pricer. I threw away books that were in bad shape, and priced the rest of them. (Most books were thrown away, unfortunately -- which was weird for a guy who never threw away a book before.)

Many books had little scraps of paper, photos, shopping lists, postcards, etc. in them. Sometimes I saved them.

I present a few now as found poetry. All the line breaks and spelling errors are original.

Christmas Card from South Africa

Dear Rod,

I hope this letter

finds you before Christmas.

Give our greeting

to Jon Klein.

Here in Swaziland,

we are in mid summer

with 104 degrees Fahrenheit


There has not been much raind

and are expecting

a lot of starvation

this year.

All is well with us.

We hope

all is well with you.

God bless you

and give you

a wonderful Christmas.



Eileen Hori was absent today through 5th period

because of a sore throat.

A List

Sue lunch Boss

friend parents

no encouraging


Stan guidance for purpose

Dag part time job

will quit full time


Dan evening every other weekend

teach class at work

brother lynwood Ed

doesn't know how to respond

Guy will be engaged



Loose-leaf Page

Is it a matter of submitting to God,

   saying you will follow Him,

   even to the point of what seems

   to be a "good" source

   of action


Even you be saved and still

   be practicing


Will you submit to God,

   saying you will do whatever

   he asks even to the point

   of denying yourself

   the fulfillment of some basic needs.

   is this really what God wants.


Should a person put his full confidence

   on the Bible and trust it

   his life.


We must choose to obey

   submit to God --

   see God as one who

   who has a thought over us

   or can we reject God

   (do this by saying,

   I will follow my own wisdom first

   and do what seems right to me


   instead coming to God

   and asking what he thinks I should do

   become fools,

   following the world's wisdom--

   exchange a relationship

   under God which is life

   and freedom for earthly wisdom


they put the wisdom ahead

   of choosing to follow God


Ron Is H due to Judas' rejection of God--

   or the culture--

   prevent rejections


Cultural rejection--(original sin)--

   disordered human sexuality in general

   must choose

   whether to obey or glorify God

Memo to the Strikers

Be advised

that if you do not locate your picket line

to the area of Puget Sound Paving's exclusive entrance

you union(s) are subject to damages

ranging from 10,000 dollars to 50,000 dollars

per day.



my daughters locked me out of the house

and my dogs are killing me.

Are you lousy?

I need to talk to Dr. Murray --

it's an emergency.

It's in reference to a loan

for 87 thous dollars

for my mother

and an avis rental car.

And do they do melons?




Mark's guitar



Jolene   lunch

Thrus 6:00

next week

(Yes, I changed the phone numbers on that last one.)


Melissa is plagued by rats.


I dream sci-fi.

Last night I dreamt I was on the Lunar colony, sitting in the big cafeteria eating lunch with Sheila and all the workers there. We're all wearing orange jumpsuits.

Then a moonquake hit.

Not a bad one, but enough to scare the hell out of everybody. Things were shaking. In my mind I pictured the air rushing out. I thought about blue Earth and how there's an atmosphere there. Then it was over.

Cut to... I'm now in the office of the safety director, demanding to know what the safety procedures are in the case of a bad moonquake.

"I didn't even know there was such a thing!" she says.


"Well," she says, "we'll definitely come up with something."

And to think I had been considering signing up for one of the runs to Jupiter's moons. It turns out that people in space are about as bright as people on Earth. Nuts.

Of course, back in real life, I don't even know if there is such a thing as moonquakes. But then, I'm not the safety director of the Lunar colony, am I.


When I was a kid back in the '70s I thought for sure we'd have a permanent station on the moon by now.

But instead we're struggling just to put up a space station.

I figured we'd have hotels in Earth orbit by now. But no.

The thing is, the hell of it is, we could have done it if we wanted to.

I don't know why we didn't.

There's still time, brother.


I dream I'm a sci-fi hero. I've had this dream several times (though not last night).

I'm the leader of three colony ships, the first ever to leave the Solar System. We're looking for habitable planets in nearby systems. We're looking for life.

It's not like Star Trek -- the ships are slow, and there's no evidence of life outside Earth.

So we've just surveyed the nearby stars, a half-dozen systems -- Alpha Centauri and so on. We're all middle-aged now; the trip has taken years. We found nothing. Just childless suns shining for no reason, nurturing no one, warmth and light without purpose.

Another region of space further on has planets that may be Earth-like, our telescopes tell us. They're the right size at the right orbit around the right kind of star. Just like the planets we already went to.

If we go on, we'll be lucky to make it back to Earth before we're 90 years old. We'll be lucky to make it back to Earth at all. We could leave for Earth now and be home in a few years.

Should we go on? It's outside of our mission.

But I can order it.

It's so far, and space is so bleak. I think about my people for days as we orbit another clump of rock slowly turning in the vaccuum.

I look out at the black of space and into the black of my coffee cup.

Will we find anything out there, or just more cold, mute stone?

Finally I order it.

We go on.

The rockets burn simultaneously on the three ships and we are moving again. There the dream ends.


My sister Melissa now has her rŽsumŽ up. Whoever hires her is damn lucky.

Sheila has been having mass fun with her new Wacom tablet.

I wonder what my rŽsumŽ would look like?

Busboy busboy busboy busboy busboy busboy busboy UserLand.

Luckily -- very very luckily -- it doesn't matter.


Which restaurants did I work in? Seattle-ites may recognize the names:

Trattoria Mitchelli
McCormick and Schmick's
Red Robin
CafŽ Casino

Plus one day, just one, at the U District International House of Pancakes. (I just couldn't stand it.)

Being a busboy was a pretty good gig, at least at the better restaurants on the above list. I'd work for several waiters, and they'd all tip me a portion of their tips. So I went home with cash -- not quite as much as a single waiter, but pretty close.

And I didn't have the responsibilities of a waiter. No adding up the checks at the end of the shift. I refilled people's water and coffee and stuff -- but mostly the waiters dealt with the people. So it was a very physical job, running around, carrying trays and wiping down tables.

All emphasis was on speed. And I was damn good at it. But it made me sick after about ten years.

Jobs like that, it's the same thing every day, there's no such thing as accomplishment.

Every day people have to eat, and they make a mess, and that's it, and then there's tomorrow, same fish bones and half-empty glasses of wine and children's crayon scribblings on the table.


You have no idea how common it is for people to leave their doggy bag in the restaurant. I'd almost say it was most of the time. People don't really want to take the food with them. It's a fiction.

The worst thing I ever saw -- and I saw this many times -- was a well-dressed man and a woman leaving their table, man first -- and then the woman grabs a few dollars from the tip lying there on the table and squirrels it away. Her petty grab is unseen by the man, who's invariably smiling and leading the way to the door. A good joe, prolly.

I'd like to tell people like that that their heart is made of fish bones.

But what I would do is just clean up, and then some other people would sit there.


Some random book recommendations...

I just finished two books over the weekend.

The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom was a surprise best-seller in the '80s. The thesis is that the university is not supposed to be relevant, it's not supposed to be subjected to the whims of postmodernism, historicity, and radical politics -- it should be an arena of true academic freedom, where literature and philosophy are actually read and taught and discussed rather than deconstructed or taught merely as a type of history.

At first glance, this thesis may sound reactionary, as if it's just another smart guy who's found yet another way to belittle the interests of minorities. But the book is anything but that -- it's more truly radical than just about anything I've ever read.

It's not an easy read -- there's a lot about Socrates, Heidegger, Freud, Rousseau, and the '60s in there. But for the thinking reader, the book has the power to profoundly influence how one thinks. Read it.

Much shorter and more fun is Susie Bright's Sexwise, subtitled "America's Favorite X-Rated Intellectual Does Dan Quayle, Catharine MacKinnon, Stephen King, Camille Paglia, Nicholson Baker, Madonna, the Black Panthers and the GOP."

It's a collection of short essays, written in Bright's charming and direct voice. In true pragmatic American fashion, the erotic imagination is for Bright not just type of art or, well, a turn-on -- it's a means to power. The prescription is not to wear low-cut blouses and thereby get men to do what you want -- it's to take charge of one's erotic life. Bright says that even in this day and age, even with the feminist and sexual revolutions, women are still denied this male prerogative. Not completely, not 100%, but there's still so far to go.

I especially enjoyed when she rips into anti-porn queens Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon. MacKinnon helped craft a Canadian law that banned importing literature that's "degrading to women" -- pornography, essentially. The irony is that a book by Dworkin, MacKinnon's anti-porn comrade-in-arms, was denied entry into Canada as a result of this law. Poetic justice.

Last night I started Experience by Martin Amis, a memoir. I'm only a couple dozen pages into it, so there isn't much to say yet -- except that, as always, reading Amis' prose is a total joy. For sheer surface pleasure there are few writers to recommend over Amis.

In Amis' hands, English isn't just a language anymore, it's a drug, it's cocaine, it goes straight to the brain's pleasure center and applies direct current.


It turns out that Simon Fell is the Talking Moose! Color me surprised.

Sheila asks the real important questions.


Maggie Davis and Melissa Simmons, my mother and sister, both worked for AdvanceOnline -- which, sadly, just shut down.

Now they're looking for new work.

Maggie Davis is a software developer; she managed the development team at AdvanceOnline. She has a master's degree in computer science and decades of programming experience. Her most recent experience is developing Web-based content management systems with Cold Fusion, SQL databases, JavaScript, and XML. Here's her resumŽ.

Melissa's resumŽ is not online yet -- but let me tell you about her. She has a master's in economics, and was a project manager at AdvanceOnline. She has experience teaching at the college level, designing Web-based instructional material, and managing developers. Here's her Manila site. To contact her, send email to

I know times are tough -- but you still want the very best people. Maggie and Melissa are both in that top 1% -- good managers, conscientious and hard-working, and exceptionally bright and talented.

Remember how at the MacWorld keynote Jobs talked about an alternate minimize effect? Instead of the genie, it would just scale down -- which is faster.

Well, you can have that right now, actually. Here's how.



I'm the Talking Moose. I'm Spartacus too, by the way.

Enterprise coverage roundup.

I long for an art that is not anti-rational; I long for a philosophy that is not anti-poetic. I'd also like to see 8 hot dogs per package, and 8 hot dog buns per package, so it would match up. But no.


It always makes me laugh how people want to be crazy or extreme or different. They want to "express themselves" -- but they almost always choose the most totally boring and conventional and tasteless ways to be different -- extreme sports, drugs, tattoos and piercings, shopping at Urban Outfitters, rock climbing, bungee jumping.

Like, dude, intense.

It reminds me of what Nabokov wrote about Madame Bovary:

Her exotic daydreams do not prevent her from being small-town bourgeois at heart, clinging to conventional ideas or committing this or that conventional violation of the conventional, adultery being a most conventional way to rise above the conventional.

If one were to write about a modern-day Bovary, there would be no adultery in the story -- the novel's ending would be an account of a tragic death in a snowmobile-induced avalanche at Glacier National Park.


It was someone (Socrates?) who said the unexamined life is not worth living. I don't think he meant the unanalyzed life -- I think he meant this in a philosophical way rather than a psychological way. But anyway.

And someone else (Nietszche?) said that life without music would be just a big mistake.

Here's me: the unimagined life is not worth living.

It's a sad pointer to the poverty of imagination that people feel the need to risk their lives for thrills.

"But dude, I feel totally alive when I play Russian Roulette. You just don't get it."

And then I think of Darwin, and I laugh and laugh.


Of course, the keynote was at 9 a.m. Eastern time. Nuts! I watched the re-broadcast.

SOAP and XML-RPC fans shouldn't miss this: Apple on Board!


Okay, I've seen the keynote, and I've seen reaction to it on a few sites, and it looks like there are a few disappointed people.

Nuts to them, I say.

Usually when I see a keynote I end up drooling over some new hardware -- like when the iMacs and iBooks came out. Not this time.

But that's okay -- because the most important thing for Apple to do is to make OS X really usable. And the single biggest key to that is performance.

Did they demonstrate that they're doing that? Yes. OS X 10.1 is scheduled to ship in September, and it appears to be loads faster.

Thanks, that's all I wanted.

To me, it seems like that old thing where customers say they want bug fixes, but when they get them they're disappointed that there isn't a bunch of flashy new features. Apple is delivering fixes and improvements.

Sure, an Apple pda would be nice, or rack-mounted servers or LCD iMacs -- but whatever. I need OS X to run faster on the machines I have right now.

I give Apple good marks for doing the hard thing, knowing that the most important thing to do is make what they have better, and running the risk of disappointing people who expected something glitzier.

This isn't a movie premiere -- this is a computer company telling you what's up. And the point of computers is, it really is, to help you get your work done.


Y'all know that I love baseball, and so does Sheila. So I'm one lucky guy.

But -- as if the luck could get even better -- my sister, who also lives in Ballard, loves baseball too.

I wrote my first shell script yesterday. Linux gurus will laugh -- but that's alright. Some people who read this site are OS X newbies, so I figured I'd share this.

I wanted a simple way to take notes. I always have an ssh window to my OS X machine open, no matter what machine I'm on. So I want to store my notes on that machine.

It should be easy to create and/or edit a note, and they should always be stored in a directory named Notes in my home directory.

So I wrote a command that allows me to type ~/.note notename, where notename is the name of a new or existing note.

What the script does is open an existing note for editing, or create a new note with that name.

It's very simple. Here's the code:


# Create a new note or edit an existing

# note and save it in the ~/Notes directory.

# Brent Simmons 07/16/01

if ($# != 1) then

    echo "Please supply a note name."

    exit 1


/usr/bin/emacs  "~/Notes/$argv"

exit 0

It's a file in my home directory named note. I made it executable with this command: chmod u+x ~/note.

Here's how the script works:

The first line, #!/bin/tcsh, specifies the shell to execute the script. tcsh comes with OS X.

The lines that begin with a # are comments.

The if block checks that there is one and only one parameter. The variable $# is always the number of parameters. If there is less than one or more than one parameter, the script reminds me that I need to supply a note name. Then it exits with the status code 1 -- a non-zero status code means that something went wrong.

If the script gets past that test, then it simply tells Emacs to open a file in the ~/Notes/ directory that has the name of the note. $argv is the parameter I typed on the command line.

If the file already exists, then Emacs opens it. If it doesn't exist, Emacs creates a new file.

Very simple.

To see a list of all my notes, I simply type ls ~/Notes.


I'm going to the ball game! It's an afternoon game vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Go Mariners!

I love it when Matt Neuburg answers a question with "You're working way too hard. :-)"

I've said it before, and it bears repeating -- if something in Frontier seems really insanely difficult, it's probably because you're not doing it the easy way.

Now, that's not always true, but it's true pretty often, enough to make this a useful rule of thumb.


I'll (try to) listen to tomorrow's MacWorld keynote by Steve Jobs live.

I really really really want to hear about OS X performance. I don't care about new flat-screen iMacs, hand-helds, new G4 enclosures, CD burning, all that stuff. Nope, totally don't care.

I just want OS X to get faster. (Why? Because I dig it.)


Sele threw a two-hit, complete game shutout yesterday. Mariners are now 66-25, 19 games ahead of the second-place A's.

These are just the facts; I make no predictions. (Why? Because this is baseball.)

Speaking of the national past-time, I highly recommend George Will's Men at Work, an unromantic, captivating look at the craft of baseball.


We've had such great weather. Until today.

If I were writing a book about Seattle weather, I might call it a A New Refutation of Daylight or A Critique of Warmth.

On the other hand it's cozy.


NY Times reviews The Strength of Poetry, Oxford lectures by James Fenton.

Fenton is skeptical of the ''handy teleologies'' of much recent criticism, in which poems are seen as the product of large historical forces rather than the personal idiosyncrasies of poets.


''There is no such thing as the artistic personality,'' Fenton says in his opening pages, ''not in poetry, not in the visual arts.'' His theme throughout the book is the way in which art is inseparable from personal uniqueness.

Sven Birkerts on Raymond Carver:

The ground, the cultural soil -- that element that our writers represent and from which they draw -- has been completely spaded up and turned since Carver's day. The writer who now picks up his pen -- or, as is more likely, turns on his laptop -- tunes in to a very different frequency. Understatement, once very nearly reflexive, sounds suddenly wrong. The held-back sentence looks almost funny on the page; there is a perceptible pressure to open out, annex, pull some of that overwhelming ambient complexity into the circuitry of the sentence.

Something about Birkerts' position doesn't seem right to me. Or maybe it's that I can't deal with the loss.

Either way, I don't believe, definitely not, that the anti-lyrical styles of Carver and Hemingway and so on are invalid even in the days of cell phones and the Internet.

I wish I could explain why, because Birkerts makes good points.


Have you ever heard of social spiders? I just learned about them only a week ago, and I've been scared ever since.

Most spiders are total loners, right? Not these guys -- hundreds or thousands of them will band together and form hugely giant webs and prey on creatures solitary spiders could never catch alone.


And, I can't help thinking -- what a great band name. Or domain name -- isn't taken. Hop to it.

Are webloggers social spiders?


I retired a server last night. Woo-hoo! As a guy who runs or helps run about a dozen servers, this is a great thing.

Here's the life story of this server, a Mac 7200/120.

Ranchero's original server was a Quadra 650, purchased at Future Shop on Aurora in 1995. It was originally at the end of a dedicated 28.8 modem, before being moved to digital.forest, then in Redmond. (I think it was Redmond -- it was in the woods somewhere.)

Before going to digital.forest, for a few months it was in my bedroom -- and I'd wake up at night when AutoBoot kicked in and restarted it after a crash. The Mac startup chimes would wake me up. Then Sheila would say: wake up, the baby's crying. She still teases me about it. (More proof how cool she is -- she put up with having a server in our bedroom. Sheesh.)

Anyway -- it wasn't long before we wanted a faster server, and so we bought the 7200/120 to replace it.

So -- back to Future Shop to get a 7200/120. In 1996 it was a pretty fast machine, though not the top-of-the-line, so it was a good deal.

We drove it out to digital.forest, and basically just copied the hard drive from the 650 to the 7200.

And now, four years later, it has been turned off. A real trooper, it performed well with few glitches for four years. Its services are now running on other machines.

Its name was jeeves. The original 650 was also named jeeves. Now it's the end of an era -- there is no more jeeves.

I'm now running just one pre-OS-X Mac server, a G3 we bought in 1998 (I think). It's running some of jeeves' services plus a few of its own. I'm working toward retiring it too.

But I have and will continue to have a fondness for the old Macs. They're what I cut my teeth on -- and they did make pretty good servers. Security was much less of an issue than on NT or Linux or OS X. WebSTAR, EIMS, QuickDNS, Rumpus, LetterRip, etc. -- they're all so damn easy to maintain. If you're a Mac guy, and I was and still am, you had to appreciate the beauty of how even the server apps were Mac-like. So much attention to hacking the details.

The worst thing was, of course, that they didn't stay up as well as, say, Linux boxes. They crashed or froze. Even still, I sometimes got uptimes measured in months.

But then a server might go through a period where it wouldn't stay up for more than a day, as if Murphy was cradling it in his accident-prone embrace.

So that's a horrible way to live, and it's why you have to retire these great old machines and go with OS X, Linux, BSD, NT, something a bit more stable.

While I feel sentimental toward the machine, toward the history it represents for me -- it's a huge relief to turn it off. It's one less machine to crash on me.

But I couldn't let this pass -- nearly five years of service -- without a notice.


As a confirmed Star Trek fan, people ask me what I think about Enterprise, the new series debuting this Fall.

Background, for those who don't know -- Enterprise is set roughly midway between now and Kirk's Enterprise. It's a prequel. The Federation doesn't exist yet, but Starfleet exists and Earth is more-or-less friendly with Vulcan.

Me -- I'm excited. Here's why:

1. The best spirit of Star Trek is the explorer's spirit. This show is about exploration, as was the original series.

2. The characters are bound to be less perfect and goody-goody than in The Next Generation or Voyager, more like in the original series. This is a good thing -- it's more real, allows for more interesting characters and conflicts.

3. The 24th Century is all played out -- it got to the point where any problem could be solved by reversing the polarity of the quantum phase-shift generators (or whatever). Too much technobabble. Everything became easy -- which makes for bad stories. Less tech means people and their creativity are more important, which makes for better stories.

4. Scott Bakula -- Capt. Jonathan Archer -- is a good and charismatic actor. Good actors inspire good writing.

5. There are plenty of stories to explore. We don't know that much about the time between now and Kirk. What was first contact with the Klingons like? Why did we become enemies? What were the events leading up to formation of the Federation? And on and on. There is plenty of room to surprise and entertain and do the kinds of stories Star Trek at its best does.


A few pictures from the new Star Trek Enterprise sets.

Maybe I'm the last one to notice this -- or the only person dumb enough to mention it -- but I just noticed that Google's new image search page has a "mature content filter" that you can turn off. I wonder if traffic will go up as people realize this is a free porn search engine?


Seeing this ad makes me doubly glad I switched to pine. No, triply glad. No, quadruply. (Via Scripting News.)


More Enterprise pictures -- Scott Bakula on the bridge.


A long time ago --1996? -- I thought there was going to be a future in connecting Java with scripting systems. I don't think I was right. I can't even remember why I thought that.

But we got as far as making a logo for a website that never got created.


That was in the days of...



Eric Soroos: When good squirrels go bad.


I recently switched from Eudora/Mac, which I used for many years, to Pine.

Why the hell would I do a thing like that?

I had a few reasons:

1. I've written before about performance and screen real estate issues on OS X. Pine is much, much faster than any GUI app on any OS.

2. I might be outside on my iBook, or at a Windows machine or OS X box -- and I hate having multiple instances of Eudora. It's a pain. So now instead I have just one place where my email lives, and I can ssh in from any machine.

3. I'm tired of that thing almost all computer users do -- switching from the keyboard to mouse and back all day long. When I first started using computers (in 1980) I never lifted my hands from the keyboard. It's refreshing to say good-bye to the mouse, at least while I'm doing email.

4. I can't stand HTML mail, inline pictures, all that kind of dreck. Pine is aggressively plain text.

So, the question is -- is it possible to work pretty quickly even without a mouse? I've found that it's possible to work even more quickly, actually. Keyboard navigation is a breeze, so fast and easy. The text editor is intuitive.

And Pine has plenty of power-user features for filtering, color-coding, searching, and so on. There's nothing Eudora or Outlook Express have that I'm missing in Pine.

Btw, I tried mutt too, and didn't like it as well as Pine. Pine's UI has an elegance that is surprising for a console app. It's worth studying, even for people who do Web or GUI apps. As with Web apps, it's another case where your platform is fairly limited -- Web browsers, for instance, don't allow the same richness as a native GUI app, but that doesn't mean effective and elegant UIs can't be done. It's the same thing with console apps, I'm pleased to discover.

(I'm sort of repeating myself when I say that I *don't like* the richness provided by Outlook Express, Eudora, and others. For me, the character of email is, well, characters, and the user experience suffers when it's tarted up with HTML, graphics, three-paned split windows, and so on.)

(Also, it should go without saying that I speak entirely for myself, not for UserLand.)

P.S. OS X users -- here's where I got Pine for OS X. (You can also get Lynx there, which is another joy.) My advice is, if you decide to try Pine, spend some time customizing it to make it work the way you want it to. The defaults don't expose alot of the really cool features. Also, don't miss that it has built-in help, so when you see a configuration option you don't have to guess at what it does.

In getting Pine going, I had to set up fetchmail and sendmail, both of which come with OS X. No problem. Fetchmail, in particular, is very simple.

I'd rather run postfix than sendmail on a server, but since this is just running on my desktop OS X box, it's not worth making the switch. At least for now.

If you want to try Pine for OS X, and have any specific questions, I'd be happy to answer on my discussion group. (Though not via email, because I want other people to be able to see the questions and answers.)


What I love about the All Star game is how players from different teams all get together for a day and play together and show what's really important -- beating the National League. It warms my heart.


Tonight's the All-Star game in Seattle! Eight Mariners are on the team.


Of course, the other reason WebVan failed was because, in typical bubble-days fashion, they expanded too quickly and burned up all their money. Duh. But that's a pretty boring story which I didn't feel like writing about yesterday.


Just last night Sheila and I were going to order from WebVan. But their servers weren't responding. So I looked around for news about WebVan and couldn't find any.

And then this morning I see they've ceased to be, they're an ex-dotcom.


I have a theory about why they're gone. It's that Americans, no matter what they say, are cheapskates and penny-pinchers. They always go for the lowest prices.

This is why Walmart wins over all the smaller chains and mom-and-pop shops. This is why giant suburban outlet malls suck the life out of downtowns and Main Streets.

This is why corporations move their jobs out of the U.S., to where labor is cheaper -- because you have to compete on price.

Nothing else matters. People will drive farther, shop in an ugly crowded environment -- they'll do whatever it takes to shave a nickel off the price of baked beans, or two-fifty off the price of Air Jordans, or whatever.

So WebVan was a little more expensive. For the convenience of it I would expect so. I didn't mind paying the extra -- it was a wonderful service, and I was a regular customer.

Now, I know that some people have to shave pennies. I was very poor for many years myself. I know how to do it; I know all about it.

But the majority of Americans don't have to be so cheap.

It's almost like a moral thing. If you don't go for the best deal, there's something wrong with you.

And so what hope is there to end sweatshops, habitat destruction, chain-store homogenization, etc. etc.? None. None at all. It all comes down to the sickness of consumer demand for... Everyday Low Prices!

And so, you know what, I'm bugged. Now I actually have to spend time at the grocery store. I don't like it. It takes time. It's boring. People there act like oblivious idiots. I like to ram them with my cart.

The store is always out of stuff. How come I can't get dill pickle spears, they always have to be halves or minis? Everyone knows spears are best.


GUIdo generates user interfaces from XML files. It allows one to create GUIs for command-line tasks on OS X.

I doubt that I'll actually use it -- since I'm okay with the command line, myself -- but I'm a fan of generating interfaces from XML.

One of my favorite Simpsons jokes is this.

An old lady at the grocery store is getting her groceries bagged. The bag boy has put them in about five bags -- there's lots of groceries.

So she says -- start over! Put them all in one bag. And don't make that bag too heavy!

Last week there was a lot of talk about air rage and bad service on the airlines. Well, people may complain about service, bad food or no food, lost bags, etc. -- but the airlines know damn well that when it comes to buying tickets, which is all that matters, the lowest price wins.

The airlines can't afford things like good service, because we won't pay for it.


I would say get a clue, but you'd go get a shoddy clue, poorly crafted, made by prison labor with sub-standard materials -- just so you can save a buck or two. So I won't say it, since it's pointless.

Good feedback in the discussion group.


My sister's kitten got stung by a bee. Poor Dexter!


See the girls play ball today!


It was on my to-do list for many months -- revising the Ranchero Software site so it no longer appears that there is such a thing as Ranchero Software.

I kept the pages that were there, since there are some Frontier docs and other tidbits that shouldn't just disappear.

And now it's done.

It was surpisingly fun doing the work -- it's a Frontier-built site, just a very simple website framework site that renders to disk. It's rare that I get to build websites that way. I had forgotten how nice it is. I even wrote a new macro to generate the little breadcrumbs path at the top of most of the pages.

The Ranchero site is on my oldest server, an old Mac running WebSTAR. I noticed the creation date of the folder that contains all the content on that server:

Fri, Sep 8, 1995, 4:25 PM

Wow. Almost six years of hosting sites, mine and other people's.

Sure, some people have done it longer, but six years is a pretty long time in Web years.


Anyway, it feels good to say that the Ranchero site is done. I have no plans, and no need, to ever update those pages again. Sure, I'll keep the database around just in case, but I really don't expect to need it.

I'm so used to Web sites being perpetually "under construction" -- because that's the way they're supposed to be, they're supposed to be always changing and new. So it feels extra weird to have a finished site.

But, you know, in this case, I like it.

Ranchero Software was a raging success. Okay, not really, but sort of, if you look at it a certain way.

It ended in the black.

In other words, we did better than Jeff Bezos. We did better than lots of people -- you've heard all the stories. Ranchero didn't hemorrhage millions of dollars. Everyone gets more money back than what they put in.

Ranchero was run conservatively -- even in the crazy bubble days -- on sound business principles which I like to summarize as make a profit.


The Libera Manifesto. (Via Backup Brain.)

It's not just Get Info, it's Super Get Info. From Bare Bones Software.

I'm posting this minor tidbit in case anyone has the same problem as me and does a Google search.

Running Mailman and postfix, Mailman couldn't send mail -- it got an "All recipients refused" message with an error code of 111. (As listed in Mailman's smtp log.)

It turned out to be a problem in /etc/hosts -- localhost wasn't configured properly. So I added a line localhost and suddenly the floodgates opened.


After doing my list of cool American stuff yesterday, I was thinking about a list of not-cool things. And you know what? It would be far shorter than the list of cool things.

But anyway, I'm not going to write that list. It doesn't interest me. It's more interesting to find the cool and beautiful things and bring attention to them. There's not enough of that. "Shameless promotion of insect appreciation."

Tappan Zee Bridge live camera.


Cool American people and things, off the top of my head, in no particular order. (Except for the first item, that is, which always must come first.)

The Constitution
John Adams
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Rocky Mountains
Ernest Hemingway
long train trips
Mark Twain
Chesapeake Bay
Idaho potatoes
South Jersey tomatoes
Native Americans
Silicon Valley
The Space Needle
The Statue of Liberty (thanks, France!)
The Washington Monument
The Atlantic magazine
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Gertrude Stein
Jackson Pollock
Jasper Johns
Charles Ives
Star Trek
Star Wars
Robert Heinlein
Kurt Vonnegut
Babe Ruth
Walter Cronkite
Apollo moon missions
Fahrenheit 451
Rock 'n' roll
Malcom X
Thomas Jefferson
W.E.B. DuBois
Benjamin Banneker
Barry Gifford
Daniel Boorstin
Library of Congress
Mount Rushmore
The Gettysburg Address
Abraham Lincoln
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
George Washington
Lou Gehrig
Sherwood Anderson
The Catcher in the Rye
Leaves of Grass
Tappan Zee Bridge
Susie Bright
Philip K. Dick
New York City
Jersey shore
Human genome project
Nicholson Baker
Smithsonian Institution
National Geographic
Sheila Simmons
New York Times
Empire State Building
St. Louis Arch
Mississippi River
Great Lakes
Spanish missions in California
Ralph Ellison
Susan Sontag
Humphrey Bogart
Raymond Chandler
Dashiel Hammet
Mary McCarthy
Duke Ellington
E.B. White
Louis Armstrong
John Updike
cheesesteak sandwiches
John Cheever
Don DeLillo
Raymond Carver
Donald Barthelme
Tales of the City
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Charles Bukowski
The Florida Keys
John Barth
Fort McHenry
Andy Warhol
Lou Reed
Iggy Pop
Thomas Paine
Henry Miller
Katharine Hepburn
Philip Roth
The African Queen
Dr. Seuss
Jack Kerouac
William S. Burroughs
Allen Ginsberg
John Glenn
Viking mission to Mars
the plains
Susan Sarandon
Anne Rice
New Orleans
Riverboat gambling
invention of the telephone
Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams lager
Monroe Doctrine
Cool neighbors, Canada and Mexico
Brown v. Topeka
Roe v. Wade
Rosa Parks
Mark Rothko
Willem De Kooning
Frank Lloyd Wright
Sojourner Truth
The underground railroad
The men who played in the negro leagues
The Voting Rights Act
The Lincoln Memorial
The Vietnam War Memorial
subs (hoagies)
Alice B. Toklas
Edgar Allan Poe
Gore Vidal
Bugs Bunny
The Feminine Mystique
Our Bodies, Our Selves
Jack London
War of the Worlds radio broadcast
Orson Welles
Citizen Kane
ice cream sodas
Joe Dimaggio
All in the Family
Pennsylvania Dutch
Alexander Hamilton
The Federalist Papers
The Declaration of Independence
Robert Frost
Showboat (the musical)
David Lynch
Jim Jarmusch
Scientific American
Jeff Corwin Experience
National Zoo
Henry David Thoreau
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Jimi Hendrix
Steve Martin
Doug Engelbart
William Carlos Williams
George Washington Carver
Frank Sinatra
Gene Vincent
Jimmy Carter
Johnny Cash
Eleanor Roosevelt
Aaron Copland
George Gershwin
Georgia O'Keefe
Frankie Valli
Blue Note Records
Miranda v. Arizona
gospel music
Kentucky bourbon
Benjamin Franklin
Valley Forge
The Wyeth family
Brandywine river
Steve Wozniak
Lewis and Clark expedition
Colony at Jamestown
The Scarlet Letter
The Armory Show
The Museum of Modern Art
Woodward and Bernstein
Elliot Ness
Henry Rollins
Bruce Sterling
Richard Feynman
Carl Sagan
"Don't tread on me!"
fried chicken
Spencer Tracy
To Kill a Mockingbird
Muhammad Ali
James Watson
Thomas Edison
Robert Fulton
Elvis Presley
Marilyn Monroe
Jackie Robinson
John Kennedy
Clarence Darrow
Dr. Jonas Salk
Dr. Linus Pauling
Hoover Dam
Ivring Berlin
Bing Crosby
Jimmy Stewart
1967 Ford Mustang
Stutz Bearcat
Route 66
Nat King Cole
Cole Porter
Liberty Bell
Baltimore Inner Harbor
Sinclair Lewis
John Steinbeck
Edward R. Murrow
Glenn Miller
Billie Holiday
Ella Fitzgerald
Doris Day
Connie Francis
National Audubon Society
Boston Tea Party
Patrick Henry
P.T. Barnum
W.C. Fields
The Catskills
City Lights bookstore
John Waters
Woody Guthrie
Eugene O'Neill
Truman Capote
Tenessee Ernie Williams
Arthur Miller
Marlon Brando
The Marshall Plan
James Madison
William Faulkner
Emancipation Proclamation
NCSA Mosaic
Flowers for Algernon
Gilbert Stuart
Daniel Webster
Lone Ranger and Tonto
Dick Tracy
Stan Lee
The Far Side
Rocky Horror Picture Show
The Badlands
Mt. Rainier
Mt. St. Helens
Grand Canyon


Yesterday Sheila and I took a walk down to the Ballard locks. If you live in Seattle, or are planning to visit, this is a great time to go there.

The salmon were jumping out of the water. The fish ladder was crowded with sockeye (I think) making their way upstream.

The locks themselves were busy with boats going into Lake Union.

Lots of people were there -- it was a sunny Sunday afternoon -- but even still it wasn't too crowded. Many people brought their dogs. We saw two collies, a pug, and various mutts.

The gardens were lovely, with foxglove, rudbeckia, and lots of poppies. In the nursery, which is the first walkway on the right as you enter, we saw a Lorquin's Admiral.

And naturally there were squirrels, which I think followed us there.

Heard on the radio -- Dave Niehaus haiku:

Swung on and belted
Deep to left-center field, it
will fly, fly away

My Mom has an ocicat named Spot. (Data's cat on Star Trek was named Spot.)

We're always amazed by how like a dog he is -- he even likes to play fetch with his cat toys. So just last night I read up about the ocicat -- and, sure enough, it's a characteristic of the breed.

From the page linked to above:

"It is a lot like a dog in that it is absolutely devoted to its people."

And: "They are extremely people-oriented, living well with children and people of all ages and types. They do not display an aloof temperament and actually act more like a dog than a cat."

And: "There are times when Ocis are fully capable of opening doors or cage latches, many others who in a 'dog-like' manner will fetch, and the interesting case of an Ocicat who would sit and wave 'bye-bye'."


This dramatic picture of our flame lilies is one of Sheila's best.

Book review links:

Village Voice Literary Supplement

NY Times Book Review

The Atlantic - Books & Critics

Salon Books

CNN: Secret to Firefly Light? Natural Viagra.