Monday, December 20, 2004


flickr graphic from Salon

Salon ran a piece today about Flickr, the web site that is serving graphics to this blog. For you visual types there seems to be more to this site than just graphics hosting.

Christmas Card '04

Yesterday I sent iCards to many friends and family who have an electronic mailbox. This has been a difficult year for us, a year of transition in both pleasant and unpleasant ways. My wife found the year too difficult to recount in a usual Christmas letter. However the lack of a letter and the use of this new electronic medium with its bulk-mail aspects does not take away from the desire of both of us to share our best wishes during this season of reflection and promise.

Even though we both made some wonderful friends while in Wisconsin, 2004 will be best remembered by us as the year were both were home together again, closer to family and our long-standing (or is that suffering?) friends.

The card illustration was scanned from a drawing I made in 1974 and used for handmade Winter Solstice cards. Thus began and ended my watercolorist career.

Season's Greetings.

Sunday, December 19, 2004


Yesterday my daughter and I met in Charlotte for some last minute Christmas shopping. Afterwards we had dinner with her college roommate. The weather was great, the shops were full of friendly merchants and customers, and a good time was had by all. Really. And once again I was reminded why my computer platform and the company behind it are simply the best at what they do.

My daughter's iPod had developed a mechanical malfunction making it inoperable. She has had a lifetime being somewhat hard on electrical devices. For example, by her own admission she has been Lady Death on TV remote controls. But even though it was thoroughly scratched, what was ailing this iPod did not seem to be her fault, this time. She took it to the local Apple Store to see if there was anything that could be done short of buying a new one.

She went to the Genius Bar, handed the iPod to the young man, and told him her story. After a quick examination he asked when it had been purchased. They then determined the warranty had long since expired. She said she really missed listening to it, especially in the car on her way to work. She told him if it was a goner she was prepared to buy a new one. Volunteering this information I thought was not a smooth move. We were, after all, in a mall - a Temple of Commerce. But the man smiled and said he thought he could help her. He asked if replacing was OK.

I have always enjoyed that expression on my daughter's face. This she was so not expecting. She started smiling and asked him if he was kidding. He replied that he needed to do some paperwork, get her signature, and he would bring her a replacement in a few minutes. No longer sad at the fate of her iPod she walked about the store - spending a while at the iPod protective case display - while I chatted up the "genius."

While he was entering data and generating hardcopies he mentioned that an iPod he owned had the same problem, loyal Mac users should be supported - not ripped off, and that he was happy he could make things right.

A few minutes later we left the store, the day off to a great start. Any doubts as to the continued brand loyalty of my daughter or me? I wonder how many people she will tell.

No, Apple is not perfect. But yesterday they were close enough.

FireFox, Part Two

New York Times/FireFoxFor those of you who are interested in FireFox here is another press article (NYTimes). This is certainly the PC software story of 2004.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

December the 7th

A few years ago I worked in a manufacturing facility owned by a large Japanese company, the name you would recognize. It was staffed primarily by North Carolinians with an ever-changing handful of Japanese executives, engineers, and technicians. During the six years I was there we worked hard, made a world-class product, and were successful in the marketplace. I enjoyed the experience, especially the opportunity to work with, learn from, and get to know my Japanese coworkers.

For a time our company president was a Japanese manufacturing engineer. Let's call him Sam. He was about my age, very smart, and came to the job with a reputation on both sides of the Pacific as a hard-ass. He did not suffer fools gladly and was respected more out of fear than love by Japanese and American staff alike. As I occupied a white-collar position about as low on the org chart as I could get, Sam and I had very few opportunities to work together. It took a while before I came to know and admire him. So I was surprised the day he called me into his office and then asked me to shut the door.

Modern Japanese offices are open. In our facility only the company president had a door and it was seldom closed. So when I was asked to pull the door to I did not think it a good sign.

After he asked me a couple of rather insignificant questions about the work I had been doing he asked if I knew what day it was.

"Yes," I replied, "December 7th." I did not repeat Roosevelt's words that so often follow, "a date that will live in infamy." He now had my complete attention.

He then asked if the date was still important to Americans.

I replied that it was, especially to older Americans who were alive then.

He said we were both much too young to remember it personally. We both smiled. Now I knew why he had invited me into his office; he wanted to talk about Pearl Harbor.

It then occurred to me that the Japanese must remember December 7th very differently. For them it was not the beginning of the war, but the beginning of the end. It was a tactical military victory but also a strategic blunder that led to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, total surrender, and the complete reordering of Japanese society. For us it was the sneak attack we paid back with interest. Where was this conversation headed?

"We are not sneaky," he said. He had a pained look on his face. "We are honorable people," he continued earnestly.

I could tell he was struggling. Like many Japanese his ability to speak English was far less developed than his other English language skills. I started nodding my head up and down to let him know that I understood. I was also thinking that the less said by me the better.

He further said that the U.S. government should have anticipated the attack, that our nations were at war in all-but-fact. He then said that Japanese citizens were surprised too and that the decision to attack Pearl Harbor was made by a small group of men in secret. He repeated that the Japanese were honorable people, not sneaky. Then he said - almost as an aside - that maybe it is impossible to be honorable in wartime.

I began to gather that - rationalizations aside - December 7th and Pearl Harbor were as painful for him as for most Americans, except in a very different way. To him it was a stain on the honorable character of his people. I could tell he personally hated the stereotype of the sneaky Japanese. He then asked if I knew anything about the war between Japan and China.

I must have stopped breathing. Of course. I grew up with the stories and photographs of the Japanese invasion of China and the brutal aftermath of atrocities on civilians. The German SS troops were Boy Scouts by comparison. These images were part what Americans used to justify their post WW2 moral superiority over just about everybody. I just nodded a bit more deeply.

He continued that what the Japanese soldiers did in China was not honorable and that even today the Japanese history books did not tell the truth to young people. He was beginning to look grief stricken. Suddenly this was not my boss, the Japanese hard-ass I thought I knew, but a guy my age taking very personally the shortcomings of his people's history.

Then it hit me. Sam spend many years in Malaysia at our sister factory. Malaysia also felt the brutal hand of Japanese occupiers. He had married a Malaysian woman of Chinese descent. This was very personal indeed.

He paused. It was my turn. He clearly expected my reaction.

I told Sam that dishonorable behavior was in all of our hearts. I reminded him of concentration camps and gulags, apartheid, slavery in the United States, the recent African tribal wars, Muslim/Hindu atrocities in India, and the destruction of Native Americans and their culture. I told him dishonor to our ideals is a human trait, not reserved for any one country or people.

With that he seemed to relax. He returned the conversation to work, and then escorted me to the door. Before he was posted back to Japan every December 7th thereafter he found a reason to call me into his office. Gradually we talked less of WW2 and more of current events. He thought the Clinton/Whitewater "scandal" very amusing. He told me if you want to see a real scandal, go to Japan. Now when December 7th comes around I always think of Sam.

Since our recent invasion of Iraq this memory has returned even more frequently.

I Think I Should Go Back To Bed

I noticed this morning on a blog I frequent that I am older than the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Security Council and the CIA. For that matter, the United Nations and I were conceived about the same time.

In my early morning fog I am still trying to wrap my head around this revelation without resorting to short strings of bad words; children may be reading this.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Enter Fang

I spent most of last week with my mother and stepfather in Virginia. As they are having increasing difficulty managing their household, my wife and I decided to adopt the new kitten – by now almost a young male cat – that had adopted them several months ago. Their two resident cats had not taken kindly to this young, hungry, wanderling and taking responsibility for one more cat seemed a bit much. Since we lost Katrina to old age a couple of months ago it seemed a win-win for all concerned.

The new kitten, white with caramel markings around the ears and tail and large blue eyes, seemed to have spent his childhood more or less on his own. Getting little love from people or the older cats, he was very skiddish. He seemed to prefer his own company, preferably in protected darkened locations. One might call him wild.

Since just getting close to the kitten was difficult I started tossing small bits of ham in his direction on the back porch. After a few days he would tolerate my presence, sometimes taking food from my hand. But even a small unexpected movement on my part could send him running. Sensing trouble getting him into the cat carrier, I bought some leather work gloves.

The morning I was to leave with the new kitten we did not put out the usual cat food. That way he might be very interested in my ham offerings and less interested in my new gloves and the cat carrier with the open door. According to plan the kitten was soon eating before me as I knelt on the porch. However the leather gloves made handling the ham difficult, so I removed the glove from my left hand. This seemed a one-hand operation anyway. That was the first mistake.

The second was not accounting for one of the other cats also being very hungry. I soon had a large cat between me and the kitten, smacking the little one and eating his food. Torn between hunger and cat abuse, the kitten looked like he wanted to bolt. On my knees I twisted and started feeding the large cat behind me, then turning and trying to reassure the kitten all was well. But all was not well and the kitten seemed spooked. The large cat proved not that easily satisfied and returned to eat ham out the bowl at my knees. I would soon be out of ham.

Seeing the kitten momentarily distracted by a large piece of ham I brushed aside the cat and grabbed the kitten. But before I could get him into he carrier he slipped out of my grasp and started to run. He was quick, but I was quicker. I grabbed him again and leaned towards the carrier. This was one seriously unhappy kitten. Again the kitten seemed to spin around within its skin and slipped away. This time I only was able to grab hind legs as he jumped from the porch. I did not know I could move so fast. As I swung it around towards the carrier the kitten twisted towards the back of my exposed left hand – which was now getting into the act – and buried his two upper front teeth. After I managed to get him into the carrier and secured the door I noticed blood all over my left hand.

After cold running water, hydrogen peroxide, and a compression bandage we left aside kitchen talk of blood poisoning and tetanus shots and had an uneventful four-hour drive to our kitten’s new home. I had the carrier in the front passenger floorboard. The entire time I was unable to catch the kitten not staring at me unblinking through the air holes. If looks could kill we would not have arrived.

My wife had prepared the bathroom as the kitten’s Ellis Island. I handed the carrier to her and they disappeared behind the door. As I started back to the car for my luggage sounds of all manner of commotion came from the bathroom. But when I shortly returned all was quiet, too quiet. After hearing nothing for a few minutes while I unpacked I called out, “You OK?”

Speaking softly my wife told me that everything was fine. Unconvinced, I opened the door. “Where is he?” I asked.

“In the trash can,” was the reply. My first fleeting thought was of a terrible fight, the body of the loser now in the trash. But then she pointed to the corner behind the toilet, the trash can on its side, and a white fur ball inside.

As recounted, the kitten immediately began running about, knocking over the trashcan. He jumped on the toilet, to the toilet tank, and then began climbing the window blinds almost to the top before becoming entangled and rescued. Freed from the blinds he climbed the shower curtain and walked along the curtain rod until he fell – on his feet – into the tub. Recovering, he ran into the corner and, finding the trashcan, climbed inside.

For the past couple of days the trashcan has been his home. He has developed a fondness for tuna fish, has started purring, and will allow my wife to pick him up for short periods of time. I have not tried to pick him up, and may not for a while.

Because of his gender and eye color we had started calling him “Blue Eyes” or “Frank” after Mr. Sinatra. But I started calling him White Fang on the trip here. Fang might stick.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Sitting on My Front Porch

Not many houses have a real front porch these days. Fewer are located facing a park.

See what they are missing?

Saturday, December 04, 2004

R.I.P. the IBM PC

After my post about Firefox this caught my eye yesterday.
IBM said to be eyeing a sale of its PC business
Published: December 3, 2004, 8:03 AM PST
By John G. Spooner and Martin LaMonica
Staff Writer, CNET

IBM, which gave legitimacy to the personal computer business in the 1980s, is said to be negotiating the sale of its PC unit in a move that could reshape the industry.

The company is negotiating with Chinese manufacturer Lenovo Group, formerly known as Legend, and at least one other buyer to sell its PC business unit, according to a report in Friday's New York Times. The unit could fetch as much as $2 billion, the report said.

IBM spokesman Clint Roswell on Friday said the company's policy is not to comment on rumor or speculation. Representatives at Lenovo were unavailable for comment.

In morning trading, IBM's stock was up 1.28 percent to almost $97.

IBM selling its PC business to Lenovo, which would most likely result in a joint venture of some sort, would make sense for both companies, analysts said. Such a deal would free IBM--which has been moving away from commodity products--from managing a difficult and often money-losing venture, while still giving it access to desktops and notebooks to provide to its customers.

"The PC business is a sort of also-ran, me-too sort of business (for IBM). There are a lot better businesses, including global services and some of the larger computers, that IBM participates in," said Roger Kay, an analyst with IDC. An agreement would "get IBM out of what they think of as a nonstrategic, non-yielding business."

As one of the first IBM PC users in 1982 I can attest that first PC's were also "also-ran" and "me-too." It was only the power of IBM's reputation and the corporate world's toddy behavior that made the PC Time Magazine's "Man of the Year." One could also argue that by giving up - until it was too late - control over their PC's operating system IBM both sowed the seeds of their own PC's demise and let the wolf into the hen house.

The PC did, however, set off an interesting war of sorts between IT departments and PC users that has been fun to watch, although not much fun to be a part of. As one IT Manager told me a few years ago, "Bibb, it is all about control. We almost let it get away with those damn PC's. But now that we are networking, things are getting back to normal."

The desktop IBM PC had become irrelevant years ago, although there are those who have loved their laptops.

R.I.P the IBM PC.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


Today Microsoft announced MSN Spaces, a blog service. If the past is any guide in a couple of weeks they will probably claim to have invented blogging. And some - bless their hearts - will believe them.

This may be as good a time as any to direct your attention to the Firefox button at the bottom of the sidebar. Clicking on it will take you where you can learn about and perhaps download and use Firefox, a new, free, open source browser. It is superior to MS Internet Explorer in many ways and seems to have caused the Redmond boys to finally pay some attention to their product.

I have been using Firefox for about a month now and the results have been excellent. It is also very Blogger friendly. So unless you are at the mercy of some IT department, you have the chance to support innovation, not the MS slogan but the real thing.

Reminds me of the early personal computer days, a couple of decades back, when a good idea and hard work was not immediately stolen by the “suits” or their lackeys.

Go Mozilla, Blake, Ben, and the rest of the team.