inessential by Brent Simmons

August 2001


Nous sommes en vacances...


It's a server maintenance kind of day for me...

My south Jersey shore vacation starts tomorrow. I'm excited to see family and eat some real food and laze around on the beach.


Seeking monitor recommendations... I want a 19" trinitron (or with equivalent image quality). I'll be using it on a Mac running OS X, but most monitors are compatible, so that's not a big deal. Any preferences?


I imagine it's the same for everybody -- there are stories I wish I could tell, but they're too personal or they're someone else's stories. I wish I could tell them because they're so funny.

When a story is funny, it's often because one's expectations of how it would go were totally thwarted.

But in that thwarting an interesting observation is made. (Otherwise it wouldn't it wouldn't be a joke, it would be surrealism.)

Take this old joke:

A grasshopper walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Hey, we have a drink named after you."

The grasshopper says, "Oh, you have a drink named Marvin?"

Of course! The grasshopper thinks of himself as Marvin, not as a representative grasshopper.

For kicks, here's the surreal version of that joke, which is kinda funny, maybe, but in a nervous way.

A grasshopper walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Hey, we have a drink named after you."

The grasshopper says, "Shut up, bluefish."


Emmanuel points me to a new site for Mac geeks:

Check out this exciting Bryan-Bell-designed site. Also see Bryan's portfolio. Lots of good work.


It's actually raining today. Whadda ya know. It's nice for a change.

In a few days I'm taking vacation at the beach in Avalon, NJ. We went there every summer when I was a kid.

The name Avalon is beautiful, one of the most beautiful place names I know.

I'm looking forward to body-surfing, walking the boardwalk, and eating some cinnamon buns.

It probably won't be raining in Avalon.

We just installed a handful of Bryan Bell themes on UserLand servers: Bulletin Board, Drab Blogger, Kidlits, themeWeenie, Wood Grain, Roses Are Red, Blue Comet, and my favorite -- Space.


Since the servers have been moved from my house to a co-location facility, I'll be switching from a T1 line to a DSL line.

Question for Seattle-ites: do you have any recommendations?

My only special need is 10 or so static IP addresses.

Glenn Fleishman recommends Speakeasy.


Stan Krute: "A buncha ex-NSA-CIA nerd spooks get a sweetheart monopoly deal from the Feds."


So feeeeeeeeeeeeeerry, cross the Meeersey...

Since moving the servers out of my office last week, I've been enjoying a new experience -- a quiet work environment with plenty of desk space.

Does this make a difference? You bet.

I'm not sure which was worse, listening to all those fans and hard drives all day or the plain hell of claustrophobia.

Either way, my office is now a utopia.


Looking for a job in Seattle? Note from Melissa:

"AdvanceOnline, Inc. is looking for someone with extensive programming experience in Cold Fusion to take over the back-end operations of its learning management system. Knowledge of elearning is a plus. If you're interested, contact for more information."

Sorry about the outage. sites are back up now.

Server move blah blah blah dns blah blah blah Network Solutions blah blah blah.


That SirCam virus appears to be a permanent fact of Internet life. I'm still getting lots of email.

I think we're fighting the virus war with both hands tied behind our back. We need to do as the body does -- we need antibodies and white blood cells that roam and replicate as virii do.

In other words, someone needs to write and release an anti-SirCam virus that goes around deleting the SirCam virus.

ThoughtManager is an outliner for Palm OS pdas. (I just heard about it; might give it a try.)

I like words. Today I offer you a small bouquet of somewhat rare and underappreciated words.


Speaking of volplaning -- I dreamt last night that I was in an airplane that made a crash landing on a country road somewhere in the Appalachians.

As we were going down, we were all scared.

Then a voice came on the intercom giving us instructions. We all started laughing, since we were about do die, but we're all like -- "Well, at least they give you something to do! How considerate. Takes your mind off things."

I remember the voice on the intercom said -- "Put your feet on the floor, if there is one available."

That made us laugh too. They thought of everything! The floor might have given way, after all.

Then finally we landed, minus landing gear and one wing -- and it was the smoothest, most beautiful landing ever. The airplane finally stopped still.

I looked out the window at some cows in a field. Then, something something, cut to something weird, I forget, you know how dreams are weird.


Robert Cringely: "According to these programmers, Microsoft wants to replace TCP/IP with a proprietary protocol -- a protocol owned by Microsoft -- that it will tout as being more secure." (Via MacSlash.)

O'Reilly: Mac Open Source Software Directory.


Next time you're shopping, remember that toasted raisin bread with peanut butter is really good for breakfast. It's easy to forget it.


This weekend I was playing Maelstrom instead of updating my weblog. I've been sucked in. Again.

I love it when you get, like, triples *and* machine guns, and you can wipe out a whole asteroid with one press of the button, and it's so cool.



Maelstrom for OS X! (Via MacMinute.Com.)

Understanding Mac OS X Logs.


Enterprise promos.

By the way, I get my Trek news from a sort-of Star Trek weblog: TrekToday.Com.


More about software and art...

I'm with George Orwell: control of language is control of thought is control of the human spirit.

The word "art" was formerly reserved for creative expression of a type fundamentally different from software, cooking, cabinetry, home decorating, and so on.

The greatest possible work of software can't move a person the way Hamlet does.

In deciding that software is art, we forget about that distinction. We forget what Hamlet can do; we lose the capacity to appreciate art. Art is flattened to its lowest common denominator.

Then art is gone.

Good software is, or can be, creative expression. It can be beautiful. But why do we have to use the word "art?" Isn't it enough that it is what is? It's already so many wonderful things.

I imagine a terrible future when everyone is congratulating themselves on living during a renaissance, where art is all around.

I'll be sitting alone in the corner, gnawing my legs off, sticking forks in my palms, complaining that art is dead.


Happy Birthday to Melissa!

I'm looking for, and not finding, a console-based outliner that runs on OS X. If you know of one, please let me know. Thanks!


Maybe I'm touched in the head for making a big point of this -- but I have to take exception to the Talking Moose's calling us programmers software artists.

Don't call me an artist.

Software is art-like -- it's creative work, difficult, requiring concentration, perspiration, and inspiration. The result can provoke aesthetic admiration. Software can be beautiful.

But it's not art. Despite my politically correct education, I maintain the Western notion that art is literature, painting, sculpture, music, and architecture. (Film and photography may qualify, but the final decision hasn't been made.)

To call software "art" is to continue the inflation of everything.

What I mean is, pretty soon everything is art. Pretty soon the bagger at the grocery store wins a prize and a government grant and a show at that art gallery on the corner.

It's like, when I was a kid, in order to win a trophy your baseball team had to be the best. Nowadays kids get trophys just for showing up.

There's grade inflation too. I remember when I was at college, the most common grade was an A. More As were given than any other grade. How could this be?

I don't need the flattery. I don't need to think of myself as a software artist in order to make software. If you're a programmer, and you do need that flattery, maybe it's time to consider another career.

There's nothing wrong with distinctions and standards.

If you say to me -- Hey Brent, I really like what you do, it's cool and good -- then I'll say -- Thanks!

But if you call me an artist I'll say -- feh.


On the other hand, I agree with much of the rest of the Moose's story. Just not that particular choice of words.

When everything is art, there's no such thing as art anymore.


While I'm expressing unpopular opinions (which is fun for me), here's another one:

That Beatles song "All You Need is Love" causes my stomach acids to over-produce. I get gassy and bloated and have to go lie down.

You know the song, you can hear it in your head. Blaaaaah, blaaaah, love. Love, blaaaah, blaaaah. (It sounds like. To me.)

That dippy, droopy sound, the laughing horns -- the first time I heard it I thought it was a parody.

What nauseates me is the idea that love is some simple answer to all our ills. Why? Not because I don't believe in love or love's power -- but because I think love is much more powerful than all that.

Love is not some formula, it's not how to save the world in one easy step. Love is the rose with thorns, the tiger with claws and teeth, the beautiful bird of prey. It's more powerful, anarchic, out-of-control than any simple answer.

I remember reading Milan Kundera writing about the Prague Spring. The Russian soldiers entered Czechoslovakia to put down the revolution. When asked why, they said "because we love our Czech comrades."

Key point: they were not lying.

How many wife-beaters love their wives? The vast majority, I'd be willing to bet, no matter what scums they are.

Remember Othello, who "loved not wisely but too well."

I'm with Kurt Vonnegut when he says all we need is courtesy. There's a simple answer for you, but one that people don't want to hear. It's not very lyrical.

I would have called it "common courtesy" but we all know it's not common.