Rabbit R.I.P

John Updike died today.

Updike is one of my favorite authors – his novels (the Rabbit series) and other works are great.

But my all-time favorite of Updike is his short story, “A & P.”

Brilliant. A coming-of-age story told small, with wonderful imagery and an ending that’s one of my favorites. (View classic opening/closing lines).

Brilliant writing, about…non-brilliant stuff.

Looking back in the big windows, over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on the pavement, I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through. His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he’s just had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.

This prose will be missed.

Mac at a Quarter Century

Well, it’s been 25 years since the Mac was introduced. (To clarify, today is the anniversary of the iconic Super Bowl commercial that introduced the product; two days later – Jan. 24 – the product became available.)


A little background:

  • My first interaction with a computer was in high school; we were writing in IITRAN (a variant of FORTRAN) via dumb terminals with code stored on punched paper ribbons. Honest.
  • At Cornell University, I programmed (on dumb terminal) in PL/C (variant of the “language of the Ivy League”) on punch cards that ran against a monster mainframe (IBM 360, I think) offsite. Time sharing and so on.
  • For reasons that escape me, my brother – at the time a CS major – bought my folks a Commadore 64. They didn’t use; I did. Taught myself Basic.
  • Worked at a company that used PS/1s – boot off a disk (no hard drive), save to floppy.
  • Same company switched to Macs; when I first worked with same, I thought “This is the future.” I don’t think I was wrong.

To me, Macs – much like the iPhone/iPod/iTunes – have changed everything. Apple has that effect.

Kudos to everyone responsible for this shift, especially Steve Jobs. Like Bill Gates, love him or hate him – he gets shit done.

And that’s powerful.

One Wicked Day Off

WickedTook the day off today to see the play Wicked at the Ford/Oriental Theater in downtown Chicago.

I enjoyed the play – almost three hours, but I never wondered about the time. However, it’s not something I’ll gush over. The most compelling aspect of this production was the staging – great costumes, sets and – especially – special effects. Not the acting/songs/story.

I really knew little about this play going in (which is fine), so I had no real expectations except to be “blown away.”

I wasn’t.


But I’m still amazed at singers: I can barely speak in intelligible sentences; these performers (especially both of the witches) have sets of pipes on them that I cannot fathom. Just, like, wow! Amazing and delightful.

First time in this theater, and we had great seats (first balcony, first row, almost dead-on center). Beautiful theater, very nicely restored (what? Ten years ago?). This is one of Chicago’s old theaters; very ornate. As I’ve said, first time here, but I’m glad it’s back. It’s a beautiful theater.

After the play, we hit a Cajun place up here in the burbs for dinner: “Gumbo a Go-Go.”

It should be called “Gumbo a No-Go.”

It wasn’t bad, but it just … wasn’t good. No flavor. No heat. No atmosphere.

Yep, we won’t be going back there. The lunch we had before the show – A Bloody Mary and a cup of (great French Onion) soup – beat the pants off this so-called Cajun fare.

Still, a very nice day. And I do always enjoy doing the cultural-type stuff; it’s just that we (for whatever reasons) don’t get to such as often as we should.

Today was a nice reminder that we should do this more frequently, OK?


Well, it’s official – we won’t have George W. Bush to kick around anymore.

Barack Obama just took the oath of office and is now the 44th President of the United States of America.

Photo from cnn.com

It seems as though our long national and constitutional nightmare is coming to an end.

I’m encouraged.

And – yes – more than a little hopeful.

This Land Is Your Land

I’m not one for posting videos (how long will they be here?? – Update 1/19/2009: HBO has already pulled it. *sigh*), but how can you go wrong with Pete Seeger, Bruce Springstreen singing a Woody Guthrie classic (with the subversive verses!) in front of the Lincoln Memorial as part of the Barack Obama pre-inauguration festivities?

Simply awesome.


The so-called subversive verse I’ve always loved:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

Baby It Is Cold Outside

Well, it’s Friday and already looking to the weekend, but it’s going to be a weekend inside.


Well, here in Chicago it’s currently -15 degrees out there. Toss in some wind chill, and it looks like a good idea to stay inside all weekend.

And there’s over a foot of snow on the ground.

Why again do I live here?

Update 1/18/2009 – Just to clarify, the pic that accompanies this entry is not of recent weather. Old pic taken during an upstate New York ice storm in the 1970s. Picked to convey the cold…

A Voice From Beyond the Grave

I’m normally not one to link to emotional stuff, but today Hilzoy (poster at Washington Monthy and Obsidian Wings) reposted info on the one year anniversary of the death – in Iraq – of a former Obsidian Wings poster.

A post in his own words, that he entrusted to Hilzoy in case he didn’t make it out of his tour in Iraq alive.

Tragic, compelling, thought-provoking.

Please read. And read Andy’s words.

I wish I had read him before.

Deep thought

I’m basically a web developer, so I tend to see technology through this lens.

Which is natural.

But I put together my yearly list of prognostications recently, and it was mostly web stuff.

Which is natural.

But it got me thinking, and one of the trends I do see – that I didn’t mention – is that, for the first time in years, the internet is more important than the web.

Yes, I know the web (HTTP) is built on the internet (TCP/IP), but most of the action over the last decade has been to expand the web – a GUI/open API for the internet.

Yet, in 2008, so much action has moved to “internet-enabled [whatever]” that it leaves the web somewhat in the dust, to a degree not seen for years.


  • Twitter: Sure, web-based component, but also SMS.
  • iPhone app store: Buy over the net on your phone; use same apps sometimes as web clients, sometimes not.
  • Smartphone functionality in general: Yes, strong embedded web browser functionality, but just as often leveraging non-HTTP protocols. Example: Embedded app using SMTP to get/read email. NOT necessarily browser-based.
  • Video/music delivery: Often purchased in web-based store (Amazon), often not (iTunes). Streaming video – movies and TV shows (not Hulu.com and YouTube.com videos) – app-, not necessarily web-based for delivery. Internet.

I dunno. I just found this interesting.

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.

— Abraham Maslow

Google Chrome

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t quite understand why Google brought out its Chrome browser this past (2008) September, but I’m starting to get it.

There was a lot of speculation about Chrome when it was released; mainly about how it was a full-frontal attack on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

I don’t think so.

I now see Chrome as an indirect attack on MS Windows – not a direct attack, but a way to trivialize the underlying OS the browser is running on. Since Windows still runs about, what?, 85% of the personal computers out there, it’s an attack on Windows, but not directly targeting Windows.

It targets – or ignores – the underlying OS.

Let’s look back at this in historical context, with the historical context called Netscape Navigator.

Back when the web was taking off, the browser of (only) choice was NSCA’s Mosaic; Mosaic-wrangler Marc Andreessen then left the U of I (NSCA’s home) to co-found Netscape and produce the first real browser anyone could use. Netscape flourished.

Then Bill Gates had the “internet moment,” where he realized that – at some point – all applications could/would be run inside the browser, making the underlying OS irrelevant. So IE was born (ironically, based on the Mosaic code that had been licensed to a Northbrook, IL company called SpyGlass – Netscape was written by Andressen and other Mosaic members, but from scratch), the Netscape killer.

It took awhile and some dubious legal moves (OS bundling), but IE crushed Netscape.

Yet – ironically – at this time, the reality of the web taking over desktop apps/the underlying OS was slim, and never really materialized during the “kill Netscape” period. This is part of the reason that MS has subsequently dragged its feet on putting out new versions of the browser – IE 6 (piece of crap) to 7 (finally! tabs!) was years; IE 8 is still in beta.

Today, Google is poised – with its suite of productivity tools and other browser-based goodies (Google Maps, Google Analytics to mention just two) – to make the underlying OS immaterial. Run Google spreadsheets on Linux or Windows; same effect. Analytics is just HTML and Flash and does all sorts of kewl stuff.

So I can log into my Google account on any virtually any personal computer in the world, and I can access my Gmail, my spreadsheets, document manager (in case you haven’t noticed, Google Docs is a CVS repository, File Manager, and collaboration tool) and so on.

The OS doesn’t matter.

And here comes Google Chrome to put the final touches on it – the one odd feature on Chrome was the pre-emptive multi-tasking of each Chrome tab. Sure, Firefox, Safari, Opera, IE etc have tabs, but Chrome puts each tab in a new process.

Bottom line: If one tab crashes, overloads, hangs or whatever, it doesn’t overly impact the other tabs. It like running Word and Adobe Photoshop. If Word dies, it doesn’t (shouldn’t) take down Photoshop. Separate apps.

Today, when (for example) Firefox hangs, kill process and restart Firefox. The restore feature makes this pretty painless, right?

OK, now pretend you have four tabs open – you’re working on them all – one a Google Doc, one a Google Spreadsheet, one Gmail, one your bank account.

Something happens.

In Firefox (the best browser currently), you kill the browser and restart/restore. But what about your changes. This is akin to taking down MS Word, MS Excel, Outlook, and your bank’s website at once. If your MS computer did this, it’d be the BOS – “The Blue Screen of Death.” (Or, on Macs, the “bomb” icon.) Ungood. Unsaved changes could well be lost.

With each tab a new process on Chrome, this is mostly avoided.

So I can pop open a Chrome browser on any supported OS – without any knowledge of how to use that OS (beyond launching Chrome) – and I can run all my applications in Chrome. Word-processing docs, spreadsheets, email…all without giving a shit whether we’re running Windoze/Mac OS/Linux or whatever.

The browser is the OS, in a manner of speaking.

And when a new application comes along – say, a photo processing app – the maker can just have it as a web app. Why compile/shrink wrap it for 40 different OSs/OS flavors (Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 64-bit XP, Window Home Media Center…).


And it must be scaring the crap out of Microsoft.

THAT is what I think about Chrome today.