The picture

As seniors at Hunter College High School we were allowed to choose our own yearbook photos. Everyone began scratching their heads to come up with just the right way to be memorialized for the ages (or at least until our first reunion shattered the images we had created for ourselves). The results were in many cases amazingly creative.

My own idea was not so much creative as derivative, but it made up in ambition what it lacked in originality: I wanted to be James Bond. To do that I would need:

  • A tuxedo
  • An exotic sports car
  • Multiple gorgeous women surrounding me

I knew where to get the first; Chuck and I had already rented tuxedoes once, when attending the sweet sixteen party to which we’d wrangled invitations by questionable means. On this occasion I rented just the top half of a tuxedo because (a) it was cheaper and (b) in black-and-white and at the small resolution of yearbook photos, any old dark pants would do.

I had an idea where to “get” the exotic sports car. There was a Ferrari dealership in midtown Manhattan, not far from the subway route that I rode each day to and from school. I stopped by there one afternoon to ask the manager how he’d feel about it if I came down with a few friends to take some pictures for the high school yearbook. I offered to pay for the privilege, an amount that probably seemed large to me but almost certainly was tiny. He allowed as he might permit us to share a sight-line or two from afar with one of his pristine automotive works of art.

The hard part was going to be the multiple gorgeous women. …Or so I thought! I had underestimated either my own charm or the desire of girls just to have fun, but the first three hotties from my graduating class whom I approached with this idea all consented to participate.

On the appointed day I was distressed to see that Susie, one of my gorgeous women, had dressed frowsily. “Don’t worry,” she assured me. “I have something nice to change into when we get there.”

Susie, Paula, Irene, and I made our way to the dealership after school along with Chuck, who was the cameraman. When we arrived, the bored sales staff who had barely given me the time of day a few days earlier all jumped to attention at the sight of the pulchritude I had in tow.

I pulled my rented dress shirt, dinner jacket, and accessories from a garment bag I was carrying. Susie asked for a bathroom in which to change. When she emerged wearing only a string bikini I forgot to breathe or close my mouth for a while. The eyeballs and tongues of the sales staff were not tucked as far back in their heads as usual.

The manager fell all over himself giving us access to the showroom and making editorial suggestions. We took a few dozen shots in various poses, up close and personal with some of the most amazing cars in the world. The girls got in character, really vamping it up. And though the image I was trying to project was one of Bond-like sophistication and suaveté, in fact I was far out of my depth. Being so close to such immaculate and expensive machines made me uncomfortable, and the (to my inhibited mind) lavish display of teen sexuality did not help matters.

But in all it was a lot of fun. The high point was when the manager suggested I climb into the driver’s seat of a gleaming red 308 (oh okay) and handed me the keys… to lower the window. We took a few shots like that, the girls trying to arrange their faces around the window as I gripped the wheel of a Ferrari.

In the days that followed, my description of that moment was like this exchange from the end of The Rocketeer:

Howard Hughes: I’ve been meaning to ask you, what was it like, strapping that thing to your back and flying like a bat out of hell?

Cliff Secord: It was the closest I’ll ever get to heaven, Mr. Hughes.

(Of course, in the film, Cliff then glances over at his girlfriend Jenny and has the good sense to add, “Well, maybe not.” But like the stupid 17-year-old I was, I was more dazzled by the Ferraris than by the girls pretending to fawn over me.)

Only a few shots turned out to be any good and in the end I chose one that barely showed the car at all. I captioned it with this quote from Norton Juster’s children’s classic, The Phantom Tollbooth:

“Then where is Reality?” barked Tock.
“Right here!” cried Alec, waving his arms. “You’re standing in the middle of Main Street!”

which at the time I thought was very profound, taken out of context; and then for a long while didn’t; and now kind of do, again.

“Danger”ous liaison

Hooray, Yahoo! Way to resist assimilation by the Borg:

Yahoo Formally Rejects Microsoft Offer

SUNNYVALE, Calif. (AP) — Yahoo Inc. has formally rejected Microsoft Corp.’s $44.6 billion takeover bid as inadequate.

Oops:

Microsoft to Buy Mobile Startup Danger

SEATTLE (AP) — Microsoft Corp. agreed Monday to buy cell phone software maker Danger Inc.

So it looks like I’m about to become part of Microsoft, the evil empire. For Danger it’s an outstanding deal. For me personally? Well, my opinions on Microsoft’s collective technical wherewithal are well-documented among over five years of bug-tracking and source-control comments that I’ve written, as Microsoft’s irksome coding practices impacted my work at Danger in one way or another (usually in the form of their producing e-mail messages that failed to obey accepted Internet standards, but that my code had to deal with correctly anyway). Excerpts of my comments follow; here’s where I get to channel famed Internet curmudgeon jwz.


Some mail agents, particularly those fine ones emanating from Redmond, break up long URLs in plain text message parts using line breaks.


In MSP-land, a message contains “a body” and then maybe some “attachments,” which doesn’t really map onto the Internet standards for mail, but you can insert your own snide comment about Microsoft’s attitude towards important and widely accepted standards.


There are 100’s of different computing platforms and 1000’s of possible e-mail clients. I happen to be using Evolution on Linux. But the IETF standards govern most of those variants. Outlook is a notable exception. Microsoft is notorious for ignoring rules that everyone else plays by.


When we told Microsoft that [a component of the Danger mail system] routinely downloads both the plain-text and the HTML versions of the body (for those messages that have both) in order to construct multipart/alternative MIME structures, they acted as if we’d told them we married our cousins.

They may come back and request that we only download one or the other to protect their servers, which are apparently of 1960’s vintage.


MSP returns lists of addresses (such as the “To” and “Cc” recipients of a message) as a semicolon-separated string. This does not comply with Internet standards and breaks the Javamail address parser, which [a component of the Danger mail system] uses when converting from MSP data to IMAP-appendable data. I am sure Microsoft had their own very good reasons for this; I do not begrudge them the choice to be idiots.


[A component of the Danger mail system] records the set of messages already fetched from an IMAP account using the messages’ IMAP UID’s. If the folder’s UIDVALIDITY value changes, we are supposed to discard all saved UID’s as invalid (per the IMAP standard). In theory this only happens when the folder has been destroyed and recreated with new contents, but in practice it’s more common that the IMAP server simply loses track of the old UIDVALIDITY (I’m looking at you, Bill Gates) and assigns a new one.


Add application/vnd.rmf as a synonym for audio/rmf. Good thing you got money, Mr. Gates, ’cause you ain’t got charm.

(Why couldn’t they just have used the standard designator “audio/rmf” like everyone else?)


As I suspected, it’s Microsoft’s fault. (*audience gasps*)

Outlook is using Unicode to encode the funky characters but not declaring it in the enclosing MIME syntax, which it’s supposed to.


The following refers to Microsoft’s practice of sometimes wrapping perfectly good message-attachment data in a strange construct called a TNEF object that only Microsoft programs can reliably decode.

Leave it to Microsoft to take data that is encapsulated in a format that was meticulously, ingeniously designed to be neutral with respect to transport, and enclose it in an opaque wrapper they call “transport-neutral encapsulation format.”


To understand this one, you have to know that:

  1. In HTML, a “comment” (which is ignored for display purposes) begins with the string “<!–” and ends with “–>”;
  2. The characters < and > are referred to by programmers as “angle brackets” and sometimes as “brokets“; and
  3. There was a buggy version of Microsoft Outlook (or possibly Word) that produced HTML that began with a comment such as “<!– Created by Microsoft >” which, as you can see, did not properly terminate the comment, so it looked to other mail software like the entire HTML message body was a comment, and none of it got displayed.

Microsoft
Gets things wrong oft.
Ending an HTML comment with a bare broket?
That broke it.
– Ogden Bob


Now I face a decision: submit to the will of Landru, or make my escape before I become one of us one of us?

If I go by Kevin Spacey movie quotes — as good a guide to living as any, I suppose — I should stay:

If you’re not a rebel by the age of 20, you got no heart, but if you haven’t turned establishment by 30, you’ve got no brains.

(I’m well past 30, and Microsoft is nothing if not establishment. Maybe I can aim to reform it from within?)

On the other hand, if I go by the choice of song that, I swear, randomly came up first (odds against: 99.96%) as I got on the highway this morning to attend the Danger-Microsoft “Come to Jesus” meeting, my course is clear. It was, “Gotta Get Out” by The Bicycles.

More pride for Pop

Archer (age 3.8) has just read his first book — the same as the first book Jonah ever read.

We always suspected he was paying closer attention to Jonah’s reading than he let on, and he just proved it by making short work of this book almost a full year ahead of Jonah’s own schedule.

Brush with hopeful greatness

So, how many two-time Grammy nominees rang your doorbell at dinnertime last night?

We got an unexpected visit from Kayo Miki, a violinist with Quartet San Francisco, stopping by on her way to L.A. for the awards show. Her friends, our next-door neighbors, had already left for L.A. to attend the show, had forgotten some things at home, and had asked her to pick them up and bring them along; and since we have the neighbors’ keys for feeding Slater, their cat, we were her first stop.

We chatted as I let her into the neighbors’ house and she explained that they’re nominated in the “Classical Music Crossover Album” category and they’re up against Brian Setzer (!) and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir — as if those others need any more publicity. Good luck tomorrow night to Quartet San Francisco!

Lump in my throat

Feeling deflated since the withdrawal of John Edwards from the race for president, I have been wondering whether to cast my primary vote tomorrow for Barack Obama, who is the next best candidate, or to vote for Edwards anyway, throwing away my vote in order to make a statement about the control of our electoral process by the mass-media oligarchy.

I hate the idea of my vote being against the candidate I like less rather than for the candidate I like more, which is what a vote for Obama would be for me.

Then I saw the following Obama video and now I know how I’ll vote. If enough people think this way about Obama, then it doesn’t really matter what he is actually like; the people will hold him to their idea of him and he’ll succeed or fail by that measure.

power Power POWER!

So we went to a monster truck rally on Saturday, me, the wife, and the kids.

It was Jonah’s friend Liam’s sixth birthday. Liam’s into monster trucks and after the aforementioned party at his house most of the guests piled into their cars and drove to the OaklandMcAfee Coliseum. It was a miserable night, cold, windy, and wet.

Our first surprise came when traffic was backed up for two miles on the highway. All monster-truck traffic? (Turns out the Foo Fighters were playing next door at the OaklandOracle Arena at the same time, so it’s impossible to know how many were cool rock fans and how many were trashy demolition junkies.)

Our second surprise came when we needed cash to enter the parking lot and we had none. So we had to leave, get cash, and then re-endure the long line of cars.

Our third surprise came when we realized the monster truck rally was an outdoor event. Andrea and I were both fighting colds. Our sore throats tingled in unison.

I unhappily contemplated the possibility of another bout of pneumonia. The things we do for our kids…

Our fourth surprise came when we saw how many true fans had turned out in the cold and the rain for the dubious pleasures of sticking foam earplugs in their ears and watching those ridiculously modded vehicles struggling weakly through the mud, occasionally rearing up to expose their undercarriages, sometimes rolling over old, junked cars, but mostly doing donuts and spraying mud in all directions. (Surprise 4a was how often the crowd came to its feet. Surprise 4b was how often I thought of Fonzie and Pinky Tuscadero battling the Mallachi brothers in the demolition derby.)

Our final surprise came on the drive home, mercifully just an hour later, when Jonah said he’d like to return to another monster truck rally as soon as possible and Archer averred, “Monster Jam is cool.”

Geekier than thou

Here is the background image from the main page of IndianaJones.com, the website promoting the upcoming film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:

Obviously the crate is meant to be the same as the one in which the government’s “top men” squirreled away the Ark of the Covenant in an enormous warehouse at the end of the first film.

Only look: the number on the crate in the new picture is 9906573. Could I have been the only one to notice immediately that this does not match the number on the crate in the first film, 9906753?

No, I know one more person who immediately spotted the (apparent) error: my equally film-geeky sister Suzanne.

Raised ’em right

A moment while I indulge in a little parental pride: last night Jonah and Archer were at a birthday party that included the obligatory piñata. After withstanding some unbelievably motivated bashing by six-year-olds (and Archer, who actually managed to score the first piece of candy out of the thing), it finally spilled its guts onto the cement floor of our friends’ garage. (For reasons of good taste I’ll omit any description of the brief carnage that then ensued other than to liken it to a pack of hyenas tearing at a fresh carcass.) In the aftermath, Jonah and Archer compared their respective hauls. Archer, holding a week’s worth of candy in his bag, lamented morosely, “I didn’t get as much.” Without missing a beat, without any hesitation whatsoever — indeed, with eagerness — Jonah immediately put a smile on Archer’s face with, “I’ll share mine with you!”

“Blue” movie

[This post is participating in South Dakota Dark’s Deeply Superficial Blog-a-thon.]

In the summer of 2002 I was briefly, wonderfully unemployed, and a stay-at-home, first-time, brand-new dad. Of course even the happiest parent (me!) needs a break once in a while, and one day, in between feeding, burping, bathing, changing, cradling, playing with, and otherwise tending to my infant son, I read a film review that said, in part:

The best moments […] give you the peculiar joy of feeling that, for a few moments at least, you’ve escaped the laws of gravity.

and

You can take all the shots of rolling surf the movies have given us and not find anything like what you see here. The camera enters into the curl of waves so that the rising wall of water looks like rippling blue-green glass.

and

The visual beauty of the movie can be enough to make you laugh with pleasure.

and

The movie was shot entirely on the north shore of Oahu, and the outdoor scenes are suffused with an unusually clear light. You feel as if you could just walk up to the screen and breathe in the ocean air, or feel a fine spray of mist on your face.

all of which was exactly what the doctor ordered. So my wife gave me an afternoon off and I went to see Blue Crush. It was just as thrilling as the review led me to expect, even if its story was a conventional one about a self-doubting potential champion risking it all for the big prize. I talked it up to everyone I knew.

Oh, incidentally, the film stars a group of athletically built beauties who spend most of their screen time wearing very nearly nothing.

Now, not everyone to whom I enthused about the film was in the same mental space I was; they weren’t primed for a cinematic beach-vacation-by-proxy, and they hadn’t been buttered up by a rhapsodic online film review. Instead, when one or another of them finally saw Blue Crush it was, “Oh I see what you liked so much about that movie <wink>.”

It wasn’t like that at all, honest! I mean, sure, a couple of hours of tanned and vigorous young ladies in swimsuits is not exactly hard to take. But the superficial pleasures of Blue Crush are many and they are not all prurient.