Saturday, July 27, 2002

9:20 PM EDT

Took my son to one of a carnival today. One forgets the simple plasures of fried dough and snow cones . . . I wish I could forget the way the game operators try to hustle you. But it's all good . . . my son had a great time, and that's the important thing.

Friday, July 26, 2002

06:47 PM EDT

The last five MP3s that came up on my random play:
"I Touch Myself" -- The Divinyls
"Is She Really Going Out With Him?" -- Joe Jackson
"It's a Long Way Back to Germany" -- The Ramones
"Mondo Bondage" -- The Tubes
"You've Got Another Thing Coming" -- Judas Priest

That last one is a good song to blog by (if you're feeling "up") . . . rather ironic, though, if you indulge it . . . "that's right, here's where the talking ends . . . "

"In this world we're livin' in, we have our share of sorrow . . . " Which gets me thinking. Why are most blogs sad and/or pissed off? Perhaps because when we're feeling good about things, it's more fun to be out there, feeling good about yourselves, rather than sitting in front of a PC writing about how good we feel? Or -- we'd rather share the bad stuff? Better stated -- we need to share the bad stuff more? Hmmmmmm.

OK, here's an even better blogging song . . . "Peg" by Steely Dan. The barely expressed bitterness of lost love, the sound so clean it's almost hygienic. Everything just under the surface . . . waiting to come out.
"I like your pin shot . . . I keep it with your letter. Done up in blueprint blue, it sure looks good on you. . . Peg . . . it will come back to you . . . "

I keep track of my work by thinking about how many "swipes" are left in the week. That is, how many more swipes of the MetroCard through the subway turnstile before the workweek is over. A week is 10 swipes. I find myself thinking of it at odd times. It's sill, especially, since even after the last "swipe," I have to get to Grand Central and then take the train home, but somehow, when that last swipe happens on Friday afternoon, I feel as though the weekend has officially begun.

Speaking of trains, Metro North trains kind of suck. Don't get me wrong -- they're nice and clean (bathrooms excluded -- that's a crapshoot, no pun intended) and they're more or less on time. [A note on that: Metro North uses a standard of "arriving no later than 5 minutes and 59 seconds after the scheduled arrival time" to denote "on-time." By that measure, weekday rush hour trains are something like 98% on-time. But that's a lame standard. My train trip should be 50 minutes. If th train is 6 minutes late, that's 12% of the predicted trip time -- that's not "on time."]

The problem is with the seats. In the old days (like, 30 years ago, maybe), the trains had two seats on each side of the aisle. Now they have three on one side and two on the other, so each seat is correspondingly narrower. Which is fine if you're small person. Not if you're my size (6'3", 225). If your legs are long, your knees are crunched up against the seat in front of you. I often fall asleep on the train and wake up with one or more sore body parts from having had to contort myself into the seat.

Other than that rather large negative, the trains are otherwise all right. The conductors are generally nice. The price is reasonable (if you use it every day and have a monthly ticket). The railroad does a fairly good job of having enough cars on the rush hour trains, with a couple of notable exceptions. The air conditioning works in the summer (sort of) and the heat works in the winter. Although, truth be told, the air conditioning on the subways is much better -- even more impressive considering how tightly pcked subways can get.

The ideal plan, of course, is this:
1. Win the Mega-Millions jackpot.
2. Move to NYC.
3. Never set foot on a Metro North train again.

Until then, it's not so bad . . . and I feel better now (I’m sure you're just thrilled to know that).

Have a good weekend, all. A great Friday night song just came on . . .

Well I was rolling down the road in some cold blue steel
I had a bluesman on the back and a beautician at the wheel
We're goin' downtown in the middle of the night
We're laughin' and I'm jokin' and I'm feelin' all right
Oh, I'm bad . . . I'm nationwide . . .

Easin' down the highway in a New Cadillac
I had a fine fox in front I had three more in the back
They sportin' short dresses wearing spike-heeled shoes
They smokin' Lucky Strikes and wearin' nylons too . . .
Oh, we bad . . .we nationwide . . .

--ZZ Top, "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide"

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

OK, moved the counter so it will stay on the page instead of going away when posts go to archives.
Katie Jordon is cool. Just a random thought. But don't look at her site if you've just weighed yourself and are feeling fat becasue you've put on a few pounds. Emily Marilyn is cool, too. Same warning applies. I made Winamp skins of both of them . . .they are here (adults only) or accessible via the link at upper left.

Which gets me to the whole man-woman thing. I was reading a blog, and the woman writing it concluded by saying, more or less, that men should "grow up and stop holding out for the girl from Alias."

Hmmmmmm. My gut reaction to this kind of claptrap is "payback's a bitch." Guys, remember, when the women in their 20s wouldn't give you the time of day in bars, becaue you weren't cool/hip/good-looking/dangerous/whatever enough? Those same women, now in their mid-30s, are on daytime TV, saying "Oprah, all I want is a guy who's single, straight, and employed."

OK, that's a bit harsh, but not altogether inaccurate. There's an old saying, from a horribly "sexist" but reletnlessly straight-shooting bygone era, that goes "treat a lady like a whore and a whore like a lady." This could be partially translated in more PC terms, into "nice gils don't want nice guys." And, sadly, when they're young, at least, they often don't seem to. Take it from a former nice guy. ("Former" not becasue I'm not nice anymore, "former" in the sense being discussed here becasue I'm not actively looking for female companionship.)

I won't go down the road of saying that it's the media's fault blah blah blah. Yes, we're all inundated by sexual imagery all the time. Yes, the body image of young girls is distorted by what they read an hear and try to emulate in the media. Yes, yes, yes. But the individual bears some repsonsibility here. A lot of guys are dogs, granted. And a lot of women are, shall we say, "witches" (no, not Wiccans LOL). And not all of that is attributable to fashion magazines and MTV and advertising. If guys are "holding out for the girl from Alias," perhaps they're influenced by a lot of the same imagery. But both sexes should apply a little bit of critical thinking and settle down a bit. The girl (guy) you want isn't always the one that will bring you happiness. Be good to each other, and allow the other to show you how good he or she can be to you, without all that surface crap we get bogged down in.

Personally, even if I weren't attached, I wouldn't holding out for the girl from Alias. But would I be holding out for Sela Ward? That depends, Oprah -- is she single, straight, and employed?
5:30 PM EDT

Gnoig home on the subway yesterday, I struck up a conversation with a family of toursits, visiting NYC from L. A. It was about 95 degrees yesteday and horrendously humid. The tourist family got on at Fulton St., where I do. And, well, it seems that the most important memory of their New York City exeprience will be the stifling atmosphere on the Fulton Street subway platform. Unfortunate, but a subway platform on a sweltering summer day is an unforgettbale experience, especially the first time. Those of us who are used to it, well . . . it doesn't have the same impact.

I asked them how long they were in town for. "Just today and tomorrow," tourist-Mom said. "We're doing the East Coast thing -- we spent a couple of days in Boston, a couple of days here, and then a couple of days in Phildelphia. This made me laugh (to myself) -- only a Californian could think that Boston, NYC, and Philadelphia are deserving of the same amount of visiting time. Oh, well . . .

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

07:31 PM EDT

The spam count today was a pretty healthy 65, plus two efforts from the mad virus bomber. Subject lines of the virus e-mails: 'A New Website' and 'Japanese Girl vs. Playboy.' Speaking of Playboy, I saw that they did "the Women of Enron" and are looking to do "the Women of WorldCom." Good thing . . . at least some of the former employees of these companies will have something to put in their retirement accounts.

I wanted to write more about the whole dominance and submission thing, but that topic takes a kind of energy that I don't have right now. Stay tuned for that heady diatribe.

Last night's blog (about the Twin Towers) actually had two readers (at least) besdies cordelia and D., which was nice to see. One of these days I'll claw my way to up "Blogs of Note" and my inbox will be stuffed with insightful comments, instead of "make your cock drag on the floor," "britney's first gangbang," and "lowest mortgage raties ever."

Monday, July 22, 2002

Summer in NYC means, among other things, tourists. Which is good, obviously, in economic terms. But it gives me a funny feeling when they stop me on the street and ask if I can tell them how to get to Ground Zero.

In September 2001, I was working downtown, in a building a few blocks from the Trade Center. When the first plane hit, I must have still been in the subway. On the short walk from the subway to the office, I didn’t notice anything unusual. When I got upstairs, someone told me that a plane had hit the Trade Center. A co-worker had the live video on some news website, showing the black smoke coming from the building. At that point we were just standing around, wondering how a commercial plane could have gotten so far off-course, etc.

A few minutes later, I heard a sound like a grand piano being dropped right next to me from a tenth-story window. The building shook., and within seconds, it seemed, word was spreading – another plane had hit the other tower. No aviation accident, obviously -- a terrorist attack. And somewhere in that time, we learned about the Pentagon and the plane somewhere in Pennsylvania.

A friend wanted to take a walk up the street, to see if we could see what was going on. I went along out of unease at sitting around at my desk more than anything else.

We couldn’t get very close to the site, due more to the multitude of people milling around than to any organized emergency presence. Black and gray smoke poured from the Towers . . . we speculated about the fate of those in the Towers on floors above where the planes had hit, on whether those in the second tower hit had had the good sense to evacuate before their building was hit, etc. What we didn’t know at the time was how close together the stairways inside the towers were to each other, allowing the plane hits to take out all of the stairways at once, making escape for those above the floors that been hit essentially impossible. But the impossibility of their situation became abundantly clear once we started to see the bodies of people jumping out of the Towers, caught in the whipsaw of deadly options: burning, smoke inhalation, or jumping from the 80-smoething floor.

I headed back to the office, slightly dazed. No one even pretended to work. Shortly thereafter, I head an eerie whooshing sound, that lasted for what official reports claim was 10 seconds, although it seemed longer. Almost immediately after the sound stopped, it became pitch-black outside the window. I recall thinking a series of confused thoughts, nonsensical things. Someone said that the sound we’d heard was one of the Towers collapsing. The blackness was from the particulate matter in the air. The blackness outside the window was like a funeral shroud tossed over the financial district by some unseen hand. There was nothing outside the window but black. A black with depth, somehow, filling every space between buildings.

I was jarred out of these thoughts by the sound of the employee fire marshal for the floor yelling and screaming at everyone to get moving. I recall thinking that they could have chosen someone better for the job than the person they did. He was obviously the most upset person on the floor --not the best choice to get people to move along in an orderly fashion.

We were herded down the stairs until we got a floor that had been designated as the emergency collection point. Lots of us crammed into a conference room. A television in the conference room was tuned to CNN. I looked out a window – the blackness had already started to fade; in its place a medium-gray haze permeated everything, slowly lightening. I went back into the conference room.

The CNN coverage was . . . well, about what one would expect, and as good as could have been expected under the circumstances. Lots of switching back and forth between the studio and the site, checking in on the Pentagon, live updates and plenty of unconfirmed items flying around. At some point in there, I can’t remember exactly when, the news that the plane in Pennsylvania had crashed.

CNN made one of its quick changes, and we watched the second tower come down, but with the added soundtrack outside of that eerie whooshing sound again. People cried in that conference room. Most of us I think were just numb. I didn’t sense a lot of fear in that room; I sensed bewilderment, shock, and budding anger. But little fear. I looked outside – the second collapse had filled all the spaces outside with the blackness again.

There was nothing to do now but wait. Wait for the blackness to clear, wait for the OK to leave the building – we were being told not to leave, which at that moment was superfluous since there was no way to see anything outside of the building anyway. I didn’t feel like watching CNN, but there was little else to do. Slowly, the blackness cleared to medium-gray again. I could make out the features of things outside the window.

I was too restless to hang around any longer. I grabbed a plastic breathing mask and headed out the door, not waiting for the “official OK” to leave the building. No one was standing on ceremony at this point anyway.

What confronted me outside was a lunar landscape, as if rendered by an crack-crazed urban artist. The streets were deserted (the building is a few blocks south and west of where the Towers stood), and covered with an inch or two of fine gray dust. Pieces of paper, some singed around the edges, were everywhere. The monotony of the debris was broken only by the occasional piece of fuzzy yellowish-green insulation, and, at one point, more ominously, by a sneaker.

I put my reading glasses on since the swirling gray stuff in the air was burning my eyes. The breathing mask seemed to help a bit.

I walked a number of blocks before I started to see other people . . . obviously the police had been moving people uptown, away from the site. I kept walking past closed subway stations. There were no taxis to be had, all presumably having been pressed into emergency service.

Eventually, the gray dust subsided, I didn’t see any more papers, and more and more people were about. At each intersection, police forced everyone uptown, away from the direction of the site. The sidewalks swelled; my pace was slowed and I saw that same expression on everyone’s face. As in the conference room, a few cried, but mostly shock and numbness.

At some point it dawned on me that I would have to walk all the way to Grand Central Station. I didn’t relish that prospect, but relished even less the possibility that the trains wouldn’t be running once I got there. Something in me just kept walking though . . . most likely the realization that I had no other options.

It wasn’t until I reached the Union Square area that the air actually felt “normal.” I couldn’t tell whether the smell I smelled was the air or the dust that covered me. Someone standing on the sidewalk offered to rinse the gray dust off of my shoes with a hose. I was about to politely decline when he said the gray dust was asbestos. I didn’t really believe that it was but figured that I was better off without the dust on my shoes than with it.

Even north of Union Square, the sidewalks were jammed with people. I think that the police had made 14th street the boundary below which people couldn’t walk, but even well north of 14th Street the pedestrian traffic flow was overwhelmingly northward.

Somewhere in the East 30s, an SUV was stopped at an intersection, burning. I stared at it a moment, not fascinated, not repulsed, just . . . totally unconcerned with it. I looked at the black smoke coming from the car fire, and thought of the smoking Towers I’d seen earlier that morning, when there still were Towers. I kept on walking, not to get away from the car fire, which in a perverse way was beautiful in its contained fury, but just to keep making progress towards Grand Central and the uncertain situation I would find there.

I arrived at Grand Central Station. Mobbed, of course. No one had stayed at his or her job that day, even those far from the area of the attacks. No one knew when or if there would be more attacks. Rumors were everywhere – every landmark was considered a potential target. [I had to laugh when I later learned that the Mall of America in Minnesota closed, fearing that its “landmark” status would cause it to be a terrorist target.] I personally didn’t feel unsafe at Grand Central; had I thought about it, I might have. But my mind was strangely “turned off” by this point. I didn’t even feel my legs hurting. I was functioning on a very simple level – able to focus on one thing and one thing only at a time. Find out if trains are running.

Trains were in fact running, outbound, but not in. There was no schedule, per se. There would be an announcement of a train and a track. All trains would make all stops. Get on a train and ride until it stops where you need it to stop.

A train was announced and I made my way to the track. I ended up sitting in the bar car and all there was to do was to talk about t what had happened. A girl sitting across from me had been in the second Tower, on the 59th floor. She’d wisely left her building when the first Tower had been hit. People who had driven into city had left their cars. I looked at people’s faces. No tears, now. No shock, even . . . just resignation quickly turning to anger.

The train ride was thankfully uneventful. I desperately wanted it to be over, needing to be alone, needing to not hear any news or uninformed speculation for a few hours. Needing silence and, however illusory, peace.

I got home and unplugged the phone. I lowered the room-darkening shades and fell into my bed. I closed my eyes and embraced the blackness.

In the days and months that followed, I got by turns angry and sick. I’ll spare you all the gory details of each realization – here’s the important points.

1. OK, everyone’s patriotic enough. I really didn’t need everyone trying to outdo everyone else with the red white and blue. I was five blocks away when the Towers came down. I don’t need someone from the other side of the country telling me how to react or questioning my patriotism.

2. Can we please stop with the police and firemen thing? The “heroes” of September 11th are the people who went to work, trying to provide for their families, and who ended up dying. The Mexican dishwasher who worked at Windows on the World. The guy from Liverpool I knew, who loved America more than many Americans. The regular average people, who never expected that an office job entailed risking one’s life. I appreciate beyond words the efforts of the police and firemen, but they know when they go to work each day, that risk to life and limb is a daily and constant part of their jobs. The vast majority of people who died in the Towers were people who had no reason to think that work was a matter of life and death. Those are my heroes.

3. The government, well, don’t get me started. The ability of the Bush Administration to continue to get mileage out of what happened is something that I’ve given up being disgusted by. I just expect it now.

4. Last week, six possible designs for the future of the site were unveiled, to a generally scathing response. The Port Authority is going back to the drawing board, soliciting more proposals. Count me among the scathers. The sex designs were all very similar, and similarly uninspired. The main problem is that the Port Authority made it a condition of the process that all designs include the full 11 million square feet of office space that were lost when the Towers collapsed. This limitation, if enforced, will almost perforce lead to an unsatisfactory result. And, as much as I hate to say it, NYC doesn’t really need 11 million square feet of additional office space. The Port Authority needs to reconsider who it thinks it's building for, and what it’s building for – a memorial, something fitting to the memories of those who died there, or making sure that the amount of office space under its control is the same as it was before last September?

5. Of course, everything is political. So, regardless of whether the Port Authority drops the ludicrous office space requirement from the design, what we end up with will be some collection of boxy buildings, a couple of which will be really tall. They will surround the footprint of where the Towers stood, since politically it will be almost impossible to build directly on those areas. And it will be the kind of project that will generate the maximum number of construction jobs. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. I wonder if by the time this is all said and done if anyone will remember what this was supposed to be about. Most likely not. But the politicians will all have big smiles when they break ground and cut ribbons etc,. ad nauseum, and enage in an orgy ofself-congratulation over their “leadership” and their ability to “promote healing” and “revitalize downtown New York.” I think I will get sick now and beat the rush.

6. I know that Rudy Guiliani is full of himself almost beyond human comprehension, but the suggestion that he stay in office after his term expired, and his acceptance of such an hare-brained scheme were beyond the pale. Guiliani outdid himself for chutzpah and diminished an otherwise favorable impression he had made as a leader in a time of crisis.


If you ask me for directions to Ground Zero, and my answer is a little perfunctory, I’m not being rude. I just really want to stop thinking about it. Which is proving harder than I thought it would be.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

10:05 AM EDT

OK, enough about boring stock market and political stuff for a bit.

Last night, the mad virus bomber sent me two more. But he must've been pressed for time or something, because while he sent the e-mails, he forgot to attach the actual virus files. [I can tell the virus e-mails by the subject lines -- there are a number of exact phrases always used.] Anyway, I'm happy to report that he's back in form this morning, sending me one a few minutes ago, attachment included. Guess what. I still didn't open it.

By the way, as a public service, if you do get an e-mail with an attachment, from a sender that you don't know (or weren't expecting), delete it without opening it. The subject lines that this bomber(s) tends to use are along the lines of "A very funny game" "New screensaver" "Pictures of my girlfriend" "Message Undeliverable" "Worm E.klez immunity," etc. This particular bomber(s) is hiding the source of his e-mails using a French domain (i. e., ending with ".fr"). If you right-click on the message and select Properties and then Message Source, you will see normally a whole slew of domains through which the message has been routed, none of which presumably is the real one.

Also, be aware that it's possible to get an infected file from a friend. Many of these e-mail viruses, once they infect a PC, will send themselves to everyone in your address book. So it may look like your friend has sent you a virus, and in fact, he or she has, but not intentionally. If the infected PC has ICQ installed, the virus may also attempt to send itself to everyone on your ICQ list.

Go to the Norton web page to get removal instructions for viruses. Search for the name of the virus you're infected with. Of course, you may not know you're infected. Always run your anti-virus software, and keep your virus definitions up to date. Norton and McAfee are the market leaders. You can also find a number of demo, shareware, and freeware anti-virus programs here.

I was just playing around with the Archives and Links a little bit, and finally have those working correctly (if not aesthetically wonderful, for the moment). And it got me to thinking about the blogging process in general.

I'm sure there have been books written about this by now, but . . . what's the psychology of a web page? A blog, being so (potentially) personal -- does that engender feelings of defensiveness/pride, etc., on one's part about the page itself -- the way it looks and feels? We all have proprietary feelings about our work, about anything that is remotely "creative," especially. I have seen some very cool-looking pages. So cool looking, in fact, that I presume that one is supposed to overlook or not be fazed by the mundane content. Better to look good than to feel (or write) good? On the web, understandably, there is that impulse. There's a lot of competition out there, if one looks at it that way, and first impressions mean a lot.

As for me, I toil here in anonymity (the site counter doesn't lie too much), and the page looks like what it looks like. Content still matters, and while content and looks don't have to be mutually exclusive, I don't have the skill or the time to devote to the looks.

Or am I all wet here? E-mail me (see the newly functioning link to your left) and let me know. . . .
8:50 AM EDT

I wrote a little while back about a co-corker of mine who was let go. I've spoken to him almost daily since then; he's doing all right. Other than getting killed in the stock market every day, that is. But he seems to have the right combination of optimism, realism, and humor to get through it. And while the consulting market may not be fantastic right now, it's significantly better than it was right after 9/11, and seems to be slowly improving.

About that stock market meltdown [another 390 points on Friday, and look for an ugly Monday]. As I've written previously, the market sometimes votes on the state of the economy, it sometimes votes on the state of our political leadership, it sometimes votes on the state of the world, but right now it's voting on the state of corporate governance and the overall reliability of the numbers the corporate America provides to investors. But . . .

The market is subject to irrational swings of the pendulum. There is a herd mentality -- the market tends to over-reward and over-punish. And, in the market we have right now, there still are some common sense-reasons to be pessimistic.

During the dot-com go-go years many stocks were wildly overvalued. Valuations have plummeted, but the problem is that many stocks remain overvalued, even though the price per share is way down. This is because the market tends to look at market capitalization -- the total "value" of the company as expressed by the price per share multiplied by the total number of shares outstanding. So, many companies, as a result of frequent stock splits during the go-go years, ended up with billions of shares out there. As a result, even with low prices per share, their market capitalizations are still higher than the market (with good reason, mostly) thinks the companies are actually worth.

This is part of the reason that market hasn't had too many bounce-back days after steep declines. Often, "bargain hunters" will buy in after a decline, because certain stocks they are looking at have now declined in price to the point where they are thought to be bargains. Right now, there are not enough bargains out there -- or, more accurately -- there are not enough stocks that are perceived to be bargains. And that's the key . . . because the market, at base, is all about perception. It matters how the economy is doing, but it matters more how the market thinks the economy is doing. And, as with anything, a thing is "worth" what people think it's worth, because what they think it's worth determines what they will pay for it. If you put your house up for sale with an asking price of $1 million, and no one thinks it's "worth" more than $600,000, you're not going to get any offers for it that you like.

Another factor that is a drag on the market right now is that, even while a number of companies have reported good earnings for the quarter that just ended on June 30, their forecasts for the rest of 2002 have been ambivalent to negative, almost across the board. This enforces the market's current perception that beauty is skin-deep but ugly goes right down to the bone.

So, given all that, barring some kind of unprecedented occurrence, it will more than likely be a while before the stock market recovers significantly. Market psychology tends to shift slowly, almost imperceptibly. It will get better. Eventually, all the cash on the sidelines will get tired of getting 1-point-something returns, the economy will improve more, nudging interest rates up and making bonds less attractive, companies' outlook for future time periods will improve and slowly the perception will change, and the main urge will be to buy instead of to sell.

But in the meantime, keep those crash helmets handy. I don't think anyone, even the so-called experts, knows where the bottom is.