April 2009


My First (And Worst) Web Prank

If Miss Cellania is not the blogger who’s skewing those Blogger Income figures, then it must be Jason Kottke (or ‘jason kottke’ as he is sometimes pretentiously referred to). Although he has always kept advertising on his blog to a minimum (for most of the time that minimum being none). After all, his site address is kottke.org, although I’m still not sure if he chose the .org TLD because (a) he didn’t intend to make any money off this ‘weblogging’ thing or (b) he wanted to stand out from the .com bloggers and be extra-cool or (c) he just ticked off the wrong box while registering his domain.

Anyway, the kottke may be the one blogger who has hit that perfect ‘sweet spot’ of on-line communications where he doesn’t try to be terribly interesting or authoritative himself, but what he writes about and links to is. And he’s been doing it regularly since 1998, which is longer than I’ve been doing it irregularly.

Yes, I’m an Old Skool Blogger. I could even call myself an Original Blogstah. My first domain name was OneSwellFoop.com, which I registered in 1999 and had to abandon during one of the darkest periods of my life in 2002. (Domain squatters picked it up and still hold it today; I could get it back for $500, but I won’t give them the satisfaction. Most of my content from the time is lost, and that which was saved on archive.org has been blocked by the current owner.) I was just under the hundredth-some-odd person on the entire Web with a Weblog to call it a Weblog. I didn’t even mind shortening it to Blog even though it cost me an opportunity for alliteration (Wendell Weblog!). I made it onto the first list of links to call itself a Blogroll, the one on Cameron Barrett’s CamWorld, and I was the first blogger ever to be kicked off of it. And that was because of my first web prank.

Soon after I started blogging, a group of hacker/crackers imaginatively called “United Loan Gunmen” broke into some highly visible sites (ABC-TV, C-SPAN, AP, Drudge Report, NASDAQ, George Magazine – well maybe not so much George Magazine) and replaced their home pages with some mildly whimsical stuff. I kind of wished that I could be victimized by the well-publicized troublemakers just to get some publicity myself. So, one day, I put up a fake “hacked page” on my blog which mostly consisted of the “UGL” making critical comments about the quality of my site. It ended with the statement “We should have hacked one of the GOOD weblogs like Kottke or CamWorld”, with links to both.

Jason Kottke got a chuckle from the gag. Cam Barrett saw it as publicly suggesting that hackers attack his site (and showing them where to find it), ‘had a cow’ and banned me from his First and Most Famous Blogroll. And we all know what has happened since. Barrett drifted away from blogging, I’ve been in and out of it, and kottke moved on up from Minneapolis (the subject of some of my other bogus content) to New York City, married the jilted co-founder of Blogger in the first high-visibility “blog wedding” and is now raising a second generation of bloggers (although in blogyears he is more like a GreatGreatGreatGreatGrandpa now).

Anyway, since it has been almost 10 years, I feel it is time that I apologize… to the United Loan Gunmen for misuse of their ‘good’ name. And don’t think I didn’t notice that you guys completely dropped out of sight after I put up my hoax page and, to this day, have never been exposed or caught. You were hoping the Internet Police would turn on me and blame me for all your hacks, right? Well, you know what? Nobody (except Cam Barrett) cared. And it’s that kind of lack of impact that has been a hallmark of my blogging ever since.


It’s A Breath Mint AND a Franklin Mint

I was still yaddayaddayadding over the proliferation of features on phones (I’m still not quite about the camera feature, even though I used it to my own advantage recently) when I saw that the Gizmodo Division of the Evil Gawker Blog Network had recently documented “10 Gadgets With Too Many Stupid Features” and I must agree with the article’s top illustration: no phone should be equipped with both a crock pot and a samurai sword. ONE OR THE OTHER.

Some of the items on the list are perfect examples of the kind of combined things that make us fearful of genetic engineering, like TV Wheel Rims and Taser/mp3 Player (in a leopard skin design to truly add insult to injury). However, I am 97.5% sure that the 85-Function Swiss Army Knife was one of Think Geeks’ annual April Fools Day products that they never remove from the catalog on April 2nd.

It took only a few minutes of websearching to dig up some other worthy additions to the list.

radiotoasterNo less a retailing legend than Hammacher Schlemmer is selling a Radio Toaster which makes a valid argument as two things you want in your kitchen, but the kitschy retro design makes it look more silly than cool.

table1table2 A one-legged table is interesting, but when it can be disassembled to become a shield and bludgeon for defending against… well, let’s just say something smaller than a bear because I don’t think it’ll be effective against bears… (and I don’t think it’d be all that good against a zombie attack, no matter what the source page claims) …come to think of it, I doubt it’s defensive value against anything larger than a rabid raccoon, but it does look cool when you’re using it!

bottlecap I know many photographers have an image as… well… let’s just say “heavy drinkers” but the Bottle Cap Tripod may be catering to it a bit much. Okay, you CAN put it on a Coke bottle or a Snapple bottle, but is that where you’d expect to see one?

ipod-toiletroll I believe we have seen iPod docks attached to almost everything… well, we have now. But the ultimate toilet-paper-combination gadget has to be the Rsstroom Reader, which prints news feeds onto your bathroom tissue (with some ingenious ways of customizing the feed). Yes, this one is a total hoax, and one of the better ones.

Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make myself breakfast, lunch and a movie snack with this Combination Egg Boiler/Hot Dog Cooker (with Bun Warmer)/Popcorn Maker. Because I can.


A Scary Thing Happened to ‘A Scary Thing Happened’

It got taken off of FEMA’s website. Totally. Without a trace. They’re probably denying that it EVER happened. Fortunately, those heroes of the Free Paperless Press and dedicated providers of ugly mugshots The Smoking Gun not only reported on its disappearance, but saved a copy of the entire PDF and a pic of the most controversial page. Of course, that illustration has been seen elsewhere, like HERE, and I have to wonder if my spreading the meme might have contributed to the decision to remove it. OR MAYBE, my Modest Proposal to repurpose the illustration may have been taken seriously and it has been sold to a certain News-Like Corporation… Nah…


Fear the Feel and Do It Any Old Way

The ongoing battle over what is copyrightable goes on as the ZenHabits blog came under fire for using the phrase “Feel the fear and do it anyway”, which happens to be the title of somebody’s book… somebody who was the 87,357,219th person to use the phrase (that’s a rough estimate). Well, I feel the fear and do it anyway. I also feel the heat, feel the beat, feel the burn, feel the chill, feel the rhythm of the night, feel the pain, feel the love, feel the knife in my back, feel slightly nauseous, feel your fingers running through my hair and feel like making love… and do it anyway. Although not all at the same time. I hope I’ve made this perfectly clear, and if not, here is the AmIRight.com collection of song titles belonging to more than one different song. To no one’s surprise the list of the Top Ten Recycled Song Titles include 5 one-word titles (Home, Heaven, America, Angel and Believe), 4 two-word titles (My Love, Hold On, Call Me and Without You) and the only entry with more than two words, “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight”

By the way, feel the fear and do it anyway, feel the fear and do it anyway, feel the fear and do it anyway, feel the fear and do it anyway, feel the fear and do it anyway, feel the fear and do it anyway. Neener neener.


A Fail Derail

I must confess to a little bit of FAIL on my own part in preparing that post about “This Is Broken”ness. I dug up my little-used digital camera that I got cheap at woot.com to take pictures of the signs at the on-and-off-ramps, but when I brought it home, I couldn’t find the USB cable to connect it to any of my compooters. If you’re not a total Luddite, you ave probably accumulated various USB cables to connect various things, and noticed how many variations are for the end of the cable that connects to the not-a-compooter. Most cameras use one kind of plug, printers use another, external harddrives use something else. And all of the USB cables I could find connected to something other than a camera. FAIL.

Fortunately, a couple days later I went out to buy something to replace my Tracfone (acquired some time ago because I was both very cheap and very broke). I ended up getting another unit from Tracfone, mostly because I had some unused minutes with them (I am still rather poor but very cheap, and I don’t use it that much. All the new models come with “lifetime doubling” of all airtime purchased for it, which I suspect they have to do because other pay-as-you-go services now had a price advantage (10¢ per minutes from Net10 tempted my inner cheapscape). I went to Target hoping to get a model that was $10 less there than at Walmart (HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?!?), but I wasn’t the only one, and they were out of stock (probably until they could ship more with higher price stickers). But another model looked shiny and yummy, so I went for the Samsung Slider. Now I wonder if the marketing people at Samsumg knew that in much of the U.S.ofA. the word “slider” is a slang term for a really small hamburger.

So now I own a phone with more features than I want… about 120 less features than an iPhone, but still more than I want. But I realized on my way home that there was one feature I never wanted on a phone that I could use right away. The camera. (Yes, my old Tracfone was so old and cheap it didn’t have a camera; stop acting shocked) So, I grabbed pictures of those on-and-off-ramp signs and went home to figure out how to send them to my email. At that point, Tracfone and Samsung did a “This Is Broken” because the Slider, currently the service’s most expensive phone (at $49.95, whoopee), was officially NOT enabled to send pictures, messages or anything to an email address, only to another mobile number. Even though some of Tracfone’s less expensive models are enabled.

I searched for a way around, even consulting Ask MetaFilter (I may be the only MeFi Early Adopter who usually avoids the most useful part of the site). I checked out one online photo storage service that offered uploading from phones using a mobile number, but it’s based in the UK and doesn’t want to play with the AT&T network that Tracfone piggybacks on. After much messing around with the phone, I discovered that, in MMS mode, it was possible to switch the send-to input from numeric to alphanumeric, making typing in an email address possible, but would it send it? And would the email address receive it? Enough suspense. It worked. A totally undocumented (in fact, counter-documented feature). “This Is Broken” but in a way that fixes it for me. But that is how those roadsigns finally found their way to my blog.

One drawback: Even though there is a field in the Contact List for email, you can’t use the Contract List to send a message to an email address because, well, you’re not supposed to do that, and you can’t switch from numeric to alphanumeric for any of the phone number fields you can use, meaning I have to type in the full email address every time, meaning I gotta get a shorter email address. Anyway, a few not-all-that-precious hours wasted on figuring out how to do something semi-obvious has been turned into a few minutes wasted for anybody who actually read this rant. My apologies. And also apologies for the gratuitous John & Yoko picture, planting a mental image of Mork Meets the Borg, revealing my crush on Edie McClurg and the Freddie Mac suicide joke.


I Didn’t Know Satire Could Be Ironic

The Irony of Satire
Political Ideology and the Motivation to See What You Want to See in The Colbert Report

It’s a study made by some folks at Ohio State University that discovered that “conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements.” That may also explain why some Liberals watch FoxNews; they think it’s all a Colbert-style joke.

Speaking of Irony or Satire or some mixture of the two, here’s a poster design that was FriendFed to me by “imjustcreative”.
(click on it to see larger version)

One of the less obvious ways this image is striking comes out when you mentally try to fill in the borders of the posters being held by the people in the posters and you discover that two sets of hands of decidedly different scale seem to be holding the same poster. Escher would approve.

And if you don’t know what the “…OVER if you want it” meme is from, then you’re too young to remember one of Yohn & Yoko’s more thought-provoking (yet annoying) statements.
johnyokowarisover Maybe it was the white suits. I never trusted anyone wearing a white suit – it seemed to make them too good to ever get dirty. But as they say, that’s why brides wear white and grooms wear black.


A Fail Wail

I’m not going to join the Geek Chorus bewailing the overuse of the word “FAIL” (usually all caps and used as a noun), because I know that not just the Dominant Internet Culture but the Dominant American Culture loves having a single all-inclusive term for concepts like this, and the next most popular candidate was the Homer Simpson “D’oh!”. I prefer the Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Dog “Ruh Roh” (shared by Scooby Doo, Muttley, Astro from The Jetsons and any other canine with less than full human speech voiced by Don Messick). But what I really like, yet knew it’d never catch on (because it uses too many syllables) is “This Is Broken”, a catchphrase of Seth Godin, who has replaced Tom Peters as The Business Guru Who Least Makes Me Cringe.

One reason is that Seth resembles a less-crazy version of REM’s Michael Stipe but also he has occasional outbursts of pure, unvarnished honestly like when he commented on this video of his “This Is Broken” presentation “I have to admit that very little in the way of progress has occurred as a result.”

Anyway, I have an example of “This Is Broken” I see everyday that he could easily include in future versions of his speech.

borkedramp1Signs like these appeared at almost every onramp and offramp of Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo in January, as part of some major project to upgrade the 101 to 102.0, I think. Apart from the fact that the hour at which the ramp may, intermittently, be shut down is totally unreadable on the first sign, why is there “24 HOURS” just above where the sign shows specific hours? It’s the same thing on all the signs, with variations in the hours. Obviously, “This Is Broken”, but as Godin got into in his presentation, I wanted to know how it happened and why.

You can imagine all kinds of dysfunction possible in a part of the California Department of Transportation, but I think the explanation is not all that heinous. The Project Manager puts in an order for 10-20 signs, using an Order Form supplied by the Signpainting Department. Most of the things you can put on a road closure sign are pretty much boilerplate, so the form is mostly “check this box if you want the sign to say this”. And the Project Manager checked off “MON-FRI 24 HOURS” instead of just “MON-FRI”, or maybe his checkmark missed the box and the signmaker misread it, or maybe there wasn’t a plain “MON-FRI” option. Anyway, the signmaker got the order and filled it as specified, with both “24 HOURS” and “blank PM to blank AM”, because it was NOT HIS JOB to question the wording of the signs, just to make them as ordered. As it was NOT THE JOB of the people who placed the signs at each on-ramp and off-ramp, and if the Project Manager saw it, he probably hadn’t been given the time or money for re-painting signs, so it was NOT HIS JOB either. Thus, signs all over the San Luis Obispo area that don’t make sense. A case of Occam’s Razor meets Burma Shave.

This Is Broken. Still, if I ruled the World of Clichés, I’d rather say “This Is Borked”, a variation on the theme that is, itself, linguistically broken, not to mention giving the Sci-Fi geeks among us a mental picture of Mork from Ork combined with Star Trek’s Borg, which is about as broken, or borked, as you can get. Nanoo nanoo.


Random Sundayness

An on-line acquaintance turning 30 reminded me of something I’ve learned over the years. The Big 0s (30, 40, even 50) aren’t all that scary (unless you let them scare you into doing something stupid). But the 5s inbetween (35, 45, don’t know 55 yet) seem to be when things fall apart. YMMV.

Speaking of scary, the Swine Flu prompted me to dig into my bottom drawer for some medical facemasks I’d acquired a while back when I was doing some radical housecleaning and, if you remember the insect invasion during the recent heat wave… yeah, bugs in the masks. I’d rather risk the Piggy Flu for a couple days…

It’s Hard Out There For a Jokewriter when the name of the man accused of starting the South Carolina wildfires is Marc Torchi. TORCHI.

The Summer Movies + Tech Start-Ups = Questionable Stuff.
This new company “wants to be a bridge for the enterprise”. I see a new spokesman gig for Shatner.
And with the new Terminator movie coming out AND a Terminator TV show, why would somebody launch a new service called “SkyGrid”?


100K OK!

If you ever should happen to have the intestinal fortitude to get to the bottom of the page (for the front page that would mean you’re a first time reader – HI THERE! – or haven’t checked in in a few days), you’d see my visitor count numbers. and you’ll see a number just a few hundred short of 100,000.

Now, recently, Mark Penn, a political hack whose work for Hillary Clinton helped make Barack Obama our first woman President or something, wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal (a publication that gets lets respectable every day that Murdoch, Al-Walid* & Co. owns it) claiming that “It takes about 100,000 unique visitors to generate an income of $75,000.” I am eagerly awaiting my check. Oh, wait, that’s 100,000 unique visitors a MONTH to earn $75,000 a YEAR. My 100,000 was since July of ’05, that’s 45 months. And they’re not all “unique” visitors… not to say that each and every one of you who bother to read my blather is not a Special Snowflake of the Most Specialest Kind… but many of you have been here more than once. I hope. And the numbers in Penn’s column are a prime example of How to Lie with Statistics (still one of my favorite books of all time) as explained here by a guy named Waldo who has far more credibility than Mark Penn because he writes for the Virginia Quarterly Review and everybody knows you shouldn’t be exposed to Virginia for more than one quarter of your time.

I can only think of one blogger who obviously is making that kind of money, and that, of course, is Miss Cellania, who, in addition to her own two blogs, is a frequent perpetratorcontributor to YesButNoButYes, Mental Floss and Neatorama (and I hear rumors she’s blogging elsewhere under a pseudonym… Xeni something…) And she’s obviously getting royalties from webcomicker Phil Foglio because the title character in Girl Genius is based on her:

She’s obviously the hardest working blogger on the internet (and still has time to post comments here about my not blogging enough) and the only one who can get away with posting jokes like…

In a train compartment, there are three men and one ravishing young girl. The four passangers join in a conversation, which very soon turns to the erotic.
Then, the young girl proposes, “If each of you will give me $1, I will show you my legs.” The men, charmed by this young girl, all pull a buck out of their wallet. And then the girl pulls us her dress a bit to show her legs.
Then she says, “If each of you gentlemen will give me $10, I’ll show you my thighs.” Men being what they are, they all pull out a ten-dollar bill. The girl pulls up her dress all the way to her undies.
Conversation continues, and the men, a bit excited, have all taken off their coats. Then the young girl says, “If you will give me $100, I will show you where I was operated on for appendicitis.”
Naturally, all three fork over the money, and then the girl turns to the window and points to a hospital in the distance and says, “There!”

(of course, I could never post a joke like that without being subjected to massive amounts of criticism and general derision… but then that’s the usual reaction to most of the things I post)

If you don’t believe she’s also one of the highest paid, then why is there an Amazon link to How I Made My First Million on the Internet on her blog? There’s another reason I know Miss C is quite affluent, but it involves a very tacky reference to Madonna and Angelina Jolie that she would never forgive me for.

And before anyone accuses me of kissing up to this überblögger in the hope that I could become the future Mister Cellania, let me assure you that the only woman who could ever make me abandon my vow of asexuality is Edie McClurg (even though she hasn’t posted anything to her website since 2006). But more of that in a future post….

*did you know that next to Australia’s Rupert Murdoch and his family, the largest shareholder in NewsCorp is Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, chairman of the Kingdom Holding Company, who told Charlie Rose that he had about a 6-7% stake? As part of my personal policy of denigrating everything NewsCorp does except The Simpsons, I think I’ll just call it “Murdoch, Al-Walid & Co.” from now on.


One Is The Highlander-est Number

The Kottke (oops, excuse me, the kottke) did a good post collecting what he called “Media packaging mashups” but what I just call re-designing media icons in the ’50s/minimalist/SaulBass style. It did make me feel like I was back in the ’50s, when I was an infant. I laughed, I cried, I poopied my pants.

I’d previously seen some of them before, and had one favorite, which I had an idea of making an interesting alteration to. So I did. I felt absolutely naughty as I ‘cleaned up’ the photoshop tattering the original artist did, but I didn’t want to distract anyone from the message… which is what I call a mashup.