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Me: Frank Lynch

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These are my mundane daily ramblings.
For something less spontaneous, I maintain The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page (over 1,600 Johnson quotes), with a weekly essay springing from one of Johnson's quotations.

Bio:
Born 1957, raised in Florida, moved to New York area in 1982; now live in Brooklyn.
Married, with one kid unit.
Former marketing research professional. Now drawing no salary, but working on a book.

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January 30, 2003:

Cooking agonies! I've been slowed on my left hand for a few days... Monday I was working on a vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe (it used seitan instead of meat), and in the process of peeling the carrots I ran the peeler across the top of the middle finger of my left hand, screwing up the nail in the process. So now everything has changed: no musical instruments, bathing is difficult, and regular bandage changes while we try to protect the nail.

But the recipe itself was fine, although the Kid Unit wasn't fond of the texture of the seitan and wouldn'y eat it without heavy cajoling and threats of being grounded till Halloween. That was the frustrating part, because it was at the Kid Unit's request that we no longer serve any red meat in the house.

Some liberal cranks are just never going to be happy with President Bush. Like me, I guess. That State of the Union address the other night was a greatest hits package of all the things I don't like about him: token interest in 'liberal' causes (or interest that will line the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies, such as Eli Lilly — whose CEO, I need not remind you, sits on W's Homeland Security Advisory Council), plus misrepresentation of the real issues surrounding Iraq.

The money for AIDS in Africa is a good idea, but it could go a lot further if it goes through a channel that will buy generic drugs, rather than the brand-name pharmaceuticals. (And let's not forget that some pharmaceutical companies are willing to break laws in order to make money. Two manufacturers just settled out of court rather than defend themselves against charges they conspired to delay bringing a generic blood pressure drug to the market.)

As for the hydrogen car, sure we're in favor of it, but it's not really that much money, fifteen years is a long time, and it was Gore's idea first. So why aren't Republicans criticizing Bush for this as loudly as they criticized Gore over it? Can you say "two faced"? I mean, can we get real here? This is the same President who wants to give a tax break for those people who buy ultra-large SUVs like Hummers and Ford Explorers.

January 25, 2003:

A funny combination in the New York Times. Not sure how long it will look this way, so I'm not even going to bother linking it. But on the online version of the Book Review for the week beginning Sunday January 26, we see this (in sequence as shown here) item about a book on Bush, followed by another item (both in the "First Chapters" section):

FEATURED FIRST CHAPTER:
'The Right Man,' by David Frum [this line was a link]
"By the time Bush himself came to the rostrum to speak, I was as ready to scoff as any of the cynical journalists in the press boxes. When he finished, I was wobbled."

  • 'It Must've Been Something I Ate' by Jeffrey Steingarten [this line was a link]
  • More First Chapters [this line was a link]

We have a sick house. I came down with flu-like symptoms a couple nights ago, and my wife and the kid unit have had something else. None of us are getting a lot of sleep. Ugh.

January 23, 2003:

The uncomfortable cold continues. Single digit temps as we woke up this morning, and the Kid Unit had to struggle with the thermal underwear. Winters in New York City don't usually have such extended cold waves, and so we don't always think about buying new thermal underwear until it's too late: last year's pairs are too small.

Still, it's colder in Chicago, and to my knowledge there are no buildings in NYC with guide ropes out front, so you won't get blown away.

How about a $30,000 Polaroid camera? It takes huge photos, and depending on the photographer you might have to pay a couple grand for your photo. William Wegman uses it. More from the Palm Beach Post.

More Republican Senators, but more Americans are represented by Democrats than by Republicans. Huh?, you say? Well, each state is represented equally in the senate, no matter how many people are in the state. So if you count up all the people represented by a Democratic Senator, and compare them to the number represented by a Republican Senator, more are represented by Democrats. That's because many of the states where Republicans fare well are sparsely populated. An interesting analysis courtesy of The American Prospect.

Another item from the American Prospect details a little inconsistency from White House economist Glen Hubbard. As a WH staffer, he's said that decreasing taxes will increase tax revenues, but apparently felt differently when he wrote a textbook. Could it be because of personal angst that he has now decided to leave the White House? Or maybe he's not? Premature, apparently. And here I was thinking someone was making a principled move!

January 22, 2003:

...But they might find OUT you're a dog. (Referring, of course, to the famous cartoon from The New Yorker.) If you think your Internet activities are a big secret which can never be revealed, and will never be revealed, well, you had better make sure that everything you do is benign. To live outside the law you must be honest, wrote Bob Dylan.

A couple of examples for you about how simple it is to trace your behavior, and how willing some people are to match behavior to individuals. First, a blogger's note that he was able to connect a seemingly spontaneous, independent email to the person the email was defending. Second, in a suit brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Verizon has been ordered by a federal judge to reveal the identity of a customer who downloaded 600 songs in one day.

It's all done by examining something called the "IP address" that every Internet session has assigned to it. The IP address is specific to the Internet service provider (ISP), and the ISP can check the time of the connection against its own logs.

Looking at the IP addresses to identify the ISP is pretty straightforward.

I did it myself on one occasion. A friend had been in hiding for years, and emailed me following September 11 to check on my safety, using a hotmail address. Now, we all know that a hotmail address doesn't say anything about where you are. I wanted to get some idea of where this long missing friend was, so I sent him a url of a picture of the Kid Unit, knowing that if he clicked on it I could see what ISP he was using, and possibly get a fix on his region. He did click on it, but the IP address was an AOL account, so I still have no idea where he is. (And if you're looking for him, I have no idea. Never did. Nor do I know if it was even his AOL account, or why he's in hiding, OK? I know nothing...) One way or the other, he was intent on staying hidden, using two contact methods that I couldn't tie to a region. Although someone else could, if they had the writs.

January 21, 2003:

A true cause for celebration. While I was looking at the revamped web site for Prospect Park, I noticed that starting today they are modifying the hours for access for cars. Previously, winter hours allowed the cars in all day, bu now they will only be allowed in during rush hour. This, of course, means that bike rides will again be peaceful, and I have more incentive to get back out there. Except that it's currently freezing cold! I will have to break down and get decent thermal exercise clothes in order to do so. This will expose me to the Kid Unit's dismissive label of "Keep Fit Crazy Guy" (which we abbreviate as KFCG), but it will be worth it.

Shock of shocks, my wife and I got to see a movie last weekend. Adaptation, and I thought it was wonderful. Great to see the creative process in such close-up, and soo funny. I couldn't understand why Nicholas Cage wasn't up for a Golden Globe, though (supporters Streep and Cooper were not only nominated, but won).

Not sure what to make of the Golden Globes. I didn't watch, but I noticed that Nicholas Nickleby was nominated in the musical/comedy category. That kind of confirmed the feeling I had while watching it, that the actor playing Nickleby was yukking it up in his delivery of the Dickensian dialog. Some people think he was just flat, but I wonder if they thought he was trying to play it straight?

Or maybe it got nominated in the musical/comedy category because they thought they were voting for Nicholas Cage?

How does a book group run? My wife is about to join one, and the first assignment, to be discussed in one evening only, is the short stories of Flannery O'Connor. Now, I admit I have never been to any book group meeting, but since there are something like 35-50 short stories in the book, how do you run the discussion? I can't imagine attempting to talk about them all. And since short stories don't usually have a consistent set of characters, you can't pursue an alternative course of talking about character development that much. Maybe compare characters across stories?

Needless to say, it wouldn't have been my recommendation. I'd have suggested a volume with fewer stories (such as Peter Taylor's "The Old Forest") or pick out a subset of stories for greater focus.

January 17, 2003:

This is how it ends. I had the new Alison Moyet CD playing next to me on the computer just now, the first listening, so I shouldn't really comment on it. But a moment ago it caught my attention, and the way a song was progressing, I said to myself, "this song is about to end; in fact, this sounds like the way a CD might end its last song." Sure enough, the song ended, and with it, the CD.

Which reminds me of a behavior the Kid Unit started showing as an infant, maybe one year old. At the time, we had a CD player that played multiple CDs in a magazine (rather than a carousel). As the player changed discs, it would make noise, and there was this whirling kind of spiral light on the player during that point of adjustment. On shuffle/random play, this would happen practically every song. Well, the Kid Unit enjoyed either the sound of the magazine exchanging discs, or the display of the lights, and we noticed that the Kid Unit started looking up to the CD player just before a song would end. We didn't keep accurate records, so let's just say the stimulus was obvious, like a fade in the volume. I won't claim that the Kid Unit had learned the importance of E-E7-A-Am-E-B7-E. It was just interesting, as it was, that whatever it was, the Kid Unit learned this association.

Covering all bases. In the past, I thought the Bush administration was making it up as they went along — flip-flops over going through the UN first, in dealing with Iraq, are a good example. But the NY Times has a different interpretation, that when Bush takes a hard line over something like the University of Michigan admission policy, followed by a softer approach by the footmen, that the goal is be all things to all people: sound great to both anti-Affirmative Action Republicans, and to minority voters at the same time. Conceivably, the same could be said for the Lott and Pickering one-two punch. In coming out against Lott, Bush sounded firmly against discrimination; but in recirculating the Pickering nomination, he gets to act like the defiant leader uncowed by public opinion. We'd all better stay tuned.

Well, the Christmas tree is mostly down. All the ornaments were taken off and boxed, as well as the red pom-pom garland. The lights are still on it and the tree remains assembled, but we are showing progress at least.

January 15, 2003

It was horrible. I picked the kid unit up at school today, and negotiations were made for a play date, hosted at our place. The kid unit's friend convinced his/her Mom to drive us all to our place, as it was very cold. On the way, the friend's Mom wanted to share her music with me... The musicians themselves were fine, good voices, but the songs themselves were so horribly schmaltzy, so banal, that I wanted to crawl through the windows of the car. The lyrics were pretty horribly superficially gut-wrenching (along the lines of "Are you there in the stars looking down on me, I feel you are") and the music was... well, words fail me. But don't even wish this on your mother-in-law.

At one point, when a new CD was put into the car stereo, a couple bars into one of the very favorite songs, the kid unit's friend said "I hate this song."

Why did this feel like that Saturday Night Live skit where Bill Murray is the lounge singer in front of the captive audience?

Good times with the Kid Unit tonight. Regular readers know that the Kid Unit has upped the ante on the menu front, and is asking for no red meat at all. Not so bad, except that there are normal childhood strictures against adult spices like those that go into curries. Limit the pepper, et cetera. Anyway, tonight the kid unit helped make tomorrow's lunch. Egg salad sandwiches are legit, of course, and while I hard-boiled the eggs, the kid unit made the egg salad, testing the mayonnaise, salt, relish, pepper, etc. along the way. The kid unit will have no basis to complain about the sandwich.

Beep beep m beep beep YEAH! Kid unit indicated a lack of comprehension of "Drive My Car." Did what I could to explain the specifics, but KU cut to the chase and said "People can use you." Dawn is breaking.

Little Christmas was over a week ago, and the tree is still up. Why? Long story. Part of it is due to the complacency which an artificial tree promotes: since it's not dropping needles all over the carpet, there's no immediate need. Also, the penalty one experiences from dragging a real tree down the stairs (excessive needle dropping, followed by intensive labor in cleaning it up) gets worse over time and argues for early dismissal, but that's not the case with an artificial tree.

Mostly it has to do with a series of badly made bargains. Our schedules wouldn't allow us to do it before the past weekend, and although we had scheduled it for Saturday morning, we let the kid unit cajole us into shoving it into this week, falling squarely on my shoulders. And it's just not what I want to spend my time doing when I should be working on the book. But today could be the day.

And why do we have an artificial tree, you ask, that provides no nice holiday scents? Well, the one we have is attractive, it was given to us as a wedding gift years ago, and you can't always count on the Parks Department picking up the trees for mulch. They have in some years, but sometimes there are disagreements with the Sanitation Department. Trees can be mulched if you take them to the park, but we don't have any way to get a tree there.

This makes me feel better about having an artificial tree, since I work hard to minimize what we send to the land fill. Carting it all away costs taxpayers money, and I'm oh so glad we'll be recycling plastic again in July.

Whoah!! I was just about to go out looking for links for the above, and noticed that Prospect Park has redone its web site! Cool, much more official looking!

No bike riding in the park for me this week. Regular readers here know how much I love it, but they don't expect it to get above 30 for some time. Right now, it's...

January 10, 2003:

You really should try the Opera Internet browser. It's available for free but it's actually worth paying for, available at opera.com. (The free version puts ads in the upper right.) Here are some of the cool aspects I like:

  • You can surf a lot faster, because you can easily turn images off using a toggle in the tool bar. IE and Netscape make you go through a series of menus. (More on this later, in the comment on gawker.com.)
  • Better cookie management. Opera lets you identify the servers you'll accept cookies from, and will also let you discard new cookies when you end the session.
  • Additional browser windows don't appear in the task bar, like they do on IE or Netscape (crowding out the other programs you may be running at the same time), but on its own task bar.
  • A web search window is in the tool bar. It's pre-set for Google, but you can change it to other engines if you wish.

All in all, I just love it. Now, let's talk more about the images toggle. According to a quick little analysis using NetMechanic, the home page of the New York Times (right now, about 10 AM) takes about 29 seconds to appear for a user on a 56k modem. (90% of the US Internet users are dial-up modem users). The length of time it takes for a page to appear if greatly affected by the amount of data on a page (the code and the images), the speed of the user's Internet connection, and the complexity of the page (how many images, use of tables, etc.) This is why I keep pages on my Johnson page really slim. Anyway, if a user visits that New York Times page with images turned off, that eliminates 63% of the data. It doesn't translate directly to making the page load 63% faster, because there are other factors, but the impact is significant.

And if you decide you want an image afterwards, all you have to do is right-click and then click "show image" in the window that appears. Piece of cake!

Another case is gawker.com. This new weblog devoted to Manhattan life takes about 32 seconds to appear for a 56k modem user. Here, too, images are a big chunk of the data, about 60%. Now, I imagine that an argument could be made that broadband users (DSL, cable...) are a higher proportion of the visitors to gawker.com, but dial-up users are still a large part of the New York market. (Heck, even for me, on DSL, the page takes too long, and I turn my images off before visiting. Haven't really felt a huge need to right-click for any images there, either, since, it's mainly a gateway to articles and other resources it links.) Until you've seen it without images, you don't know how selective you, the user, can afford to be.

By the way, gawker.com is completely different from gawk.com. (You may/not be relieved to know that as of this writing there is no squalker.com.)

Everyone wants to be linked by the big guys! Eric Alterman linked my Samuel Johnson site a second time this week — two days in a row — and the huge traffic surge continued. I've been linked by others before, but rarely with this level of impact. As typically happens though, the visitors usually have only a butterfly's level of interest, and only occasionally click deeper. Maybe they come back later, but since I don't use cookies on my site I can't really say. But I appreciate the traffic nonetheless, as I still want people to familiarize themselves with Dr. Johnson.

January 9, 2003:

Verily, ye Olde Internet Shall Be a Doubly-Edged Sworde. Pluses and minuses I guess.

Since I'm a positive person (or, as they say in parts of New Yawk, poysson [more about poisson later...]), let's lead with a plus. Eric Alterman linked me on his msnbc.com web log yesterday (scroll down to "And regarding the lack of news". I admit, I sent him a link to the web site, he didn't get to it spontaneously, but I bet he gets other submissions, and he did choose to link me.

Now, the cool part is that I'm heavily into the application of Samuel Johnson quotes to current issues, and didn't see this one. So thanks, Eric, in more ways than one.

A minus, allbeit a flattering one, is that I discovered a mirror to my web site on the servers of a university on Japan. The minus is due to several aspects. One, mirror sites violate copyright. Two, they are out of date and therefore lower quality. Three, I can't measure usage because the mirror site "intercepts" my traffic. The advantages of having a local mirror are lessened for them when it comes to a site like mine, because all the pages are small and load quickly. I've emailed them and look forward to their amicably removing the mirror from their servers.

And now for the poisson. The kid unit has a small aquarium (which you already know, if you read regularly). On Monday, after school, we went to the pet store on 9th Street in Park Slope and bought a few more fish. One was this docile looking elephant fish (with a long-ish nose — I'd actually say it was too short to call it a trunk, more like the nose on an arrdvark — but it's called an elephant fish, so there you go, upturn the world if you want). On the way home the kid unit and I joked about names; Kid Unit was talking names based on elephant such as "Elly Fonz", and I was taking it to Happy Days, suggesting names like "Fonzarelli" and "Arthur." Well, whatever the name was, in the morning, the fish wasn't in the tank. The docile fish jumped out in the night, and was very dehydrated and consequently very dead, lying beneath the guinea pig cage.

Kid Unit was completely unruffled, and continues to amaze me on this...

I'm getting too old for Arts & Crafts. Yesterday's work on the book had to do with structuring, and required that I cut out hundreds of small notes, and separately tape them onto index cards. Not sure how many, perhaps 400, 500, don't really know. But this old method will allow me greater flexibility in settling on a structure. Though I am blurry-eyed, it was time well spent.

January 6, 2003:

We saw the new arrival at the Bronx Zoo yesterday. A baby giraffe was born on Christmas day, so it's just a week and a half old. The little guy is already six feet tall, though, and is growing about an inch a day.

Try and visit the Bronx Zoo if you can. Even this time of year it's pleasant. There were very few animals outside (a pair of lions seemed an exception), but all the indoor pavilions (rodents, reptiles, etc.) were open, and the lack of other visitors made viewing especially pleasant.

Even though it took us an hour and a half each way on the NYC subway (the 2 or the 5 to East Tremont lets you off a couple blocks from the Asia Gate), it was worth it. The two kids I took had a great time.

Even with few visitors, there are still stupid visitors. One of the indoor pavilions is called "World of Darkness," and it's devoted to all those animals that are either nocturnal or spend all their lives underground (moles, for instance). Naturally, these animals don't like light, and there is a sign at the entrance saying no photography, but some jerk was taking flash pictures. Could anything be more stupid? A polite request to that patron that he refrain, that it bothers animals like these, was ignored. Had there been staff around, I would have reported it.

The kid unit's school re-opened today after Christmas break, and so we brought the school hamster back this morning. I can't say I'm going to miss the animal: what with cats, guinea pigs, and fish, I think I'm numb to the presence of another. The hamster and I didn't really bond.

The snow is really quite beautiful now. I just pulled up the shades to look, and though none of it is sticking, I have lovely, full size flakes. They're not falling gently, which means there is still a lot of moisture in them, but it's much prettier than the shades.

Enough for now... With school in session, I can concentrate on other things besides the kid unit, and I need to. Toodles!

January 4, 2003:

Whisky can cure you of antifreeze. An interesting item on how someone who mistakenly ingested antifreeze was helped by ingesting Scotch. I say, why not just bypass the antifreeze part? (Via Coudal Partners.)

Is Ken Burns' Jazz comparable to Johnson's Lives of the Poets? Perhaps not, but considerations of how 18th century publishers worked to protect themselves as copyrights expired feels similar to what some American record labels are doing as European copyrights expire. And that's this week's discussion on my Samuel Johnson web site.

Burns' Jazz doesn't go deep enough in any direction to rival Johnson's effort, but it got me to imagine a broadband production which could. One with more discussion of the jazz musicians' lives, more critical analyses of what they'd done (like those Gunther Schuller provides in his book "The Swing Era"), and much more music. All hyperlinked, of course!

I was overjoyed to find an old ticket stub from a speech Walter Jackson Bate gave at the 92nd Street Y in October, 1998. The speech was given to promote the republication of his bio of Johnson, and I found the stub in a book I had with me that day. Bate died about six to eight months afterwards, and it was my only opportunity to hear Bate. I've heard from others who had him at Yale that his lectures on Johnson were a complete joy.

Last night a friend of the kid unit was returning from an out of town Christmas break trip, arriving very late, so the kid unit made a "welcome home" sign using Kid Pix Studios, and the two of us traipsed through cold rain to tape it to the front door of the friend's building. A great way to use software, to welcome a friend home.

The things you find on the Internet! I frequently post comments at WebWord, a web log that focuses on usability. I'm not sure if it's an automated feature of their blog software, but I found a page devoted to my comments.

Took the Kid Unit to see Nicholas Nickleby the other night. "It was okay," the kid unit said, which made us feel as if there's hope. Too many of the movies that are around for children are completely animated, or full of special effects. It was good to see a PG movie with serious themes, clean language, and that would engage the attention of a nine-year old.

January 1, 2003:

I wish you the best possible 2003 you can imagine! — the moreso if you try your hardest and do your best. I can count on you for that part, can't I?

New Year's Day in New York City is rainy. This must be payback for yesterday, when our temperatures got up to 50 F. I took advantage of that warm weather by riding three laps in Prospect Park, about ten miles. Today my wife and the kid unit, want to vedge, so I will pop into Manhattan for a stroll and/or quick browse at the Strand Bookstore.

What's with CNN's grip on reality? Bush closes out the year with an approval rating of only 55% (see here). And yet, CNN's web site (today) has a video headline that reads, "Bush starts new year with high marks." So: can we dispense with this concept of the liberal bias in the media?

It's a good thing that WQXR has its own program manager, and doesn't just play what the public wants to hear. Today they are wrapping up the annual classical music countdown, chosen by its listeners. Right now they are playing Beethoven's 7th Symphony, a piece I've listened to hundreds and hundreds of times, and I don't really feel like I need to hear this piece that often. The top 40 pieces, as you might expect, are full of good music (Mahler, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, etc.), but a program list based solely on these would get really boring. I'm very glad that these pieces aren't part of their regular rotation. Heard 'em enough, thank you. (The 2002-2003 list hasn't been posted yet, but you can see last year's list, which will give you an idea.)

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