12 October 2002
Greatest Hits: an introduction

The Daily Log began on 23 June 2000, and it's entirely possible that you might have missed some of my best stuff, especially the stuff that predates the switch to Movable Type in August 2002. Greatest Hits will repost some of the bloggage I thought was, um, least ineffective.

Of course, The Vent began way back in 1996, and all of them are still available at the same old URLs. I am told that at least two people have tried to read every last one of them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:24 PM)
Greatest Hits, volume I

Originally posted 18 March 2001

I'm getting ready to back out of the parking lot at the BBQ place on the edge of town, a sack half-full of cholesterol-ridden delights at my side, when a three-quarter-ton pickup truck rolls into the lot, and pulls up just far enough to avoid blocking my exit. The truck is pulling a trailer, and on board is a vintage (say, 1960 or so) farm tractor, cleaned up if not exactly concours condition, apparently on its way to a new home. Within seconds, a crowd had gathered to see the old relic, and here and there I picked up snatches of conversations along the following lines:

"We used to have one of these back around '64, and we just drove it and drove it until it finally died." "You know, with a rig this big, you really need that shorter axle ratio, just to be able to get away from a stoplight." "I hear they're changing the laws on trailer licenses again."

And it occurred to me as I sped away, if "sped" is the word that applies to a four-cylinder sedan heading up a twelve-percent grade, that there was no way in hell the government and the Greens were going to talk these people into Honda Insights and such. Two-dollar gas, three-dollar gas, five-dollar gas — we'd no more give up our trucks than our guns.

And yes, before you ask, there is a National Motorists Association.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 PM)
13 October 2002
Greatest Hits, volume II

Originally posted 1 May 2001

The train goes by.

I don't really hear it, even at two in the morning, but just the same, I know the train goes by. There's an east-west freight line that approaches to within 600 yards of my bedroom window, and it crosses section-line roads half a mile from me in either direction, so the train, as a safety measure, will sound its horn. It doesn't sound quite like anything else. The occasional police siren, the storm-warning horns, the yelp of the ambulance — all these things will rouse me from my fitful semi-slumber, not because they're any louder, but because they announce that something is wrong, something must be done quickly, something will never be the same again.

But when the train goes by, even if I hear it, I don't really hear it; it's part of the aural landscape, part of the regular routine, a reassurance that the world has not come to an end, that shipping and business and life go on. "All is well," as the town crier used to say in places like Woodbury, Connecticut, where the clock in the tower of the First Congregational Church sings the hour, in the middle of the day or in the dead of night, stirring up complaints from people who don't understand — or have forgotten — what it means when the train goes by.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:01 PM)
14 October 2002
Greatest Hits, volume III

Originally posted 28 May 2001

The sun comes up early in mid-Missouri on the first of April, but we were already awake. Sort of.

It was 5:02 am, cool and damp getting a head start on its way to becoming warm and sticky, and we were standing outside on the gravel wondering what would happen next. Most of us were eighteen or nineteen, but the adolescent bluster that had sustained us for the last few years had vanished with yesterday's sunset and our arrival at Fort Lost-in-the-Woods.

Not all of us wanted to be there. Our company seemed evenly divided among draftees, Reservists and the so-called "Regular Army". "RA, Drill Sergeant!" I recited as I moved up the line to the mess hall. The Drill Sergeant managed to look both scary and unimpressed at the same time.

Very little in that spring of 1972 made a whole lot of sense to me. "Hurry up and wait" was the order of the day. The story goes — I'll probably never know for sure, and maybe I don't want to — that after we finished training, the Army arbitrarily dispatched everyone in the company whose surname began with A through G to Vietnam. My H and I eventually landed in the Middle East, where there was arguably just as much tension but definitely a lot less live ammo.

If there's a lesson in all of this, it's that sometimes, whether we wear the uniform or not, we have to go through things that don't make a whole lot of sense, on the off-chance that it might do some good somewhere down the line. Many men went through the same things I did, and not all of them got to come home. Perhaps their deaths didn't make a whole lot of sense, either.

Their lives, on the other hand, most certainly did.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
15 October 2002
Greatest Hits, volume IV

Originally posted 2 November 2001

Already there is a flood of complaints from the usual suspects, unhappy with the settlement between Microsoft and the Justice Department. As usual, they missed the whole point of the exercise, which is simply this:

People, by and large, are lazy. Nobody buys a Windows machine to learn computer science; Windows machines are bought because they appear to do cool stuff without a whole lot of effort. At least from Windows 3.0 on, Microsoft has done its best to cater to user indolence, throwing in all manner of applications — the Web browser is merely the most obvious — on the reasonable assumption that if the customer already has a suitable application for something, he won't go looking elsewhere. Much is made of how Microsoft steers Windows customers to its own, presumably inferior and cranky, programs, though I'm inclined to believe that none of these complainers have ever gone through, say, a RealPlayer installation.

I have, or at least I think I have, enough computer smarts to choose my own tools for my own Windows box. Some of them come from Microsoft; more of them don't. For me, the status quo prevails: I stand to gain essentially nothing by the settlement. Joe and Susan Sixpack will be faced with choices they weren't willing to make before, so it's hard to see how they will be able to work up any enthusiasm for it. The only winners here are the PC manufacturers, who won't have Redmond breathing down their necks quite so heavily; other software manufacturers, who might sell a few more copies of something now; and, of course, two platoons of lawyers. But it is worth noting that had the megacorporation actually been broken up into a number of, um, kilocorporations, the results would be likely much the same — only the volume of paperwork would change. If someone at Justice indeed figured this out, there is hope for the department yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 AM)
16 October 2002
Greatest Hits, volume V

Originally posted 26 January 2002

It began, curiously enough, with shoes.

My sartorial standards are, shall we say, relaxed to the point of being insensate. Indifference accounts for some of this, but the real issue is my inability, for reasons having to do with my failure to conform to the normal size tables, to buy off the rack. (This is less a factor of sheer bulk than you may think; even if I weighed exactly what the anorexiphiles in the insurance industry might desire, I would still be six foot one with a twenty-eight-inch inseam, which is anomalous at any conceivable width.) Confined to catalogs and specialty shops, neither of which is inclined to sell cheaply to their captive customers, I go to as little effort as possible to appear fashionable. The $19.99 pair of shoes, therefore, is an essential ingredient in the wardrobe. However, if you buy these things on a regular basis, you know there are hidden costs beyond twenty dollars and change. There is no real social stigma attached to them except in the snootiest circles, yet somehow you feel as though you have done a disservice to your feet. And three months later, when the shoes seem to be disintegrating with every step, you know it.

Two things you must know about our maintenance guy: he notices things like this and will point them out when no one else is around, and he favors New Balance shoes, not so much for comfort as for their sheer indestructibility. So we had had a discussion earlier this week on the sad state of my sneakers, and unwilling to start the 90-day cycle again with another pair of El Cheapo Grandes, I set out this morning in search of something suitable, and damn the costs. In view of my always-precarious financial situation, this latter was unwise, but damn them anyway.

In general, the farther you get from where I live, the better the shopping — up to a point. And that point is about twenty miles away, at one of several industrial-sized enclosed retail compounds. I have avoided the malls for the last couple of months, what with the holidays and all, but I figured late January would be fairly unstressful.

And somewhere on the second floor of the third mall — or maybe it was the third floor of the second mall, like it matters one way or another — I almost totally went to pieces. It wasn't frustration over the dearth of size 14 EE; I expected that. It was the screaming sensation in the back of my head that I had no business trying to pass myself off as a normal person in shopping mode. I was an impostor, a fraud; I shouldn't be allowed in the same building as Joe and Susan Sixpack and their 2.3 kids churning their way through the pack to the Food Court. I was in tears long before I could get out to the parking lot and blame my condition on the wind.

I've been here before, and I wound up with an ongoing addiction to low-grade tranquilizers in lieu of actual response. And still there is no reasonable response. I was still shaking by the time I made it to the supermarket. (The very gates of hell may be yawning open, but dammit, the chores must be done first.) A sign of creeping agoraphobia? I don't think so. There are symptoms that point elsewhere. For one, I don't sleep well at all; two hours, maybe, and I awake, and the cycle repeats once or twice, three times on weekends. And this pattern exists without the usual bane of the apartment-dweller: the idiot upstairs. It will only get worse when they finish remodeling. There is no comfort zone anywhere, no place where I might find some small semblance of peace.

And I still need a new pair of shoes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:55 AM)
17 October 2002
Greatest Hits, volume VI

Originally posted 23 March 2002

Scene: Late Seventies. We're tooling down a very straight, very dull road in rural Oklahoma. Conversation has ground to a halt. What to do? Turn up the radio? No, she hates it loud. Peer down her blouse? Seat angle and fabric arrangement make this difficult, not to mention fairly unsafe. (The same, only more so, for "look up her skirt".) Finally, I glance at this Japanese simulation of a British dashboard and remark, "Why in the hell does the speedo go up to 125 miles per hour? This thing wouldn't do one-twenty-five if you pushed it off the frigging Sears Tower."

She glares — after all, she was the one who picked it out — and says, "And how do you know it wouldn't?"

I pull the stick back into fourth and push the pedal through the floorboard, and we're off: seventy-five, eighty, ninety. Back into fifth, and eventually the needle settles halfway between 100 and 105. The tach flutters just on the far side of 5000 rpm. It is about this point that it occurs to us that the road is becoming both less straight and less rural, and that we're risking a fine of about a week's pay, and I rein in our trusty steed, half grinning, half gasping for breath, mostly the same expression I tend to exhibit after sex, except that I'm not sleepy.

Around noon today, I was on that same road, with the music up loud and the passenger seat occupied by no one, and I wasn't doing anything like 102.5 mph; indeed, there were extended periods of 0 mph while the construction crews repositioned themselves. And it's a good thing that they were there, since this is one of those roads that was apparently originally paved with reclaimed emery boards and then striped randomly with "I Can't Believe It's Not Tar". Forget old memories and such: I was definitely happy to get out of that neck of the woods. The construction zone ended after about ten miles, and a few minutes later I found myself between two Chevy Suburbans, the first of which was making a move to pass up a cement truck doing a modest 58. For some reason, I decided I didn't want the second 'Burb riding me all the way to the city, so I followed the first guy into the left lane. It was only after I'd dropped back into position that I noticed the speedo needle: 94 mph. There must be something about that road.

And one more thing: Why the hell does the speedo go up to 150 miles per hour? This thing wouldn't do one-fifty if you pushed it off the frigging Sears Tower.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:20 AM)
18 October 2002
Greatest Hits, volume VII

Originally posted 22 April 2002

It happens, as reliably as anything that happens in my life, every spring.

So far as I know, she didn't see me. She was about fifteen feet ahead, bearing north by northeast, and she walked with the sort of jauntiness that comes with being fairly young and fairly lovely, and I had no business even being aware of her existence, but it was spring and she was beautiful and I was stupid. And nearing the end of the walkway, she turned to the left, and shamed that my wandering eye might have given me away, I made a quick turn of my own and plowed into an empty kiosk.

And the next day it was a different someone at a different place and I was loaded down with parcels and paying not the slightest attention to where I was going. She spoke, though not to me, and I froze, knowing the game was up, and started off in another direction where I couldn't see a thing, and the thing I couldn't see barked at me with distinct annoyance.

And so I lurch from incident to incident, playing the voyeur, maybe innocently, definitely ineptly, never quite gaining my footing or my equilibrium, tripped up yet again by a brain which has no right to yearn and a heart which has no choice.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:15 PM)
2 November 2002
Greatest Hits, volume VIII

Originally posted 7 June 2002

Automotive magazines are routinely pilloried these days for such grave breaches of the peace as feature articles on sport-utility vehicles ("Isn't this supposed to be a car magazine?"), payola from advertisers ("The PDQ-10 was two-tenths of a second slower in the quarter but you ranked it first, no doubt in exchange for that two-page spread right after the letters column, didn't you?"), and, perhaps most heinous of all, testing vehicles that mere mortals couldn't possibly afford. The July issue of Automobile exemplifies this latter offense with a cover story featuring five cars of varying degrees of superness (the least-expensive being a Mercedes-Benz), averaging around 489 hp, being driven in Italy fergoshsakes. How are Carl and Lenny in Springfield supposed to relate to that?

The answer, I would argue, is that they're supposed to be motivated to drive, even if it's some disreputable middle-80s rustbucket with no more sporting credentials than Ralph Nader. One of the advantages of living here in the Big PX is that we still have a fair amount of wide-open space that (sometimes) can be traversed at wide-open throttle, and despite the best efforts of twee types who think we should be happy to ride the bus with all the other [fill in vague ethnic or socioeconomic pejorative], Americans, by and large, keep the pedal to the metal. And it actually may be, in some ways, more fun with less car; my innocuous little sedan with its modest 130 hp obviously won't flatten corners of the autostrada at triple-digit speeds, but I can run all day at six or seven-tenths without incurring the wrath of The Man. Provided I don't do anything stupid while running, that is. And many moons ago, I got enough seat time in a Maserati Quattroporte (you gotta love a language that has a word as luscious as that to mean something as mundane as "four-door") to learn a healthy measure of respect for a machine that pays you back for not paying attention by putting you into a ditch. Or worse.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:13 AM)
13 January 2003
Greatest Hits, volume IX

Originally posted 14 January 2002

It might be possible to describe a rainbow to someone, to explain the order of the colors, to convey some sort of scientific explanation for the reason it exists. For some people, for whatever reason, the description will have to suffice; for others, the rainbow must be seen to be believed. And once seen, it is never forgotten. There are many other phenomena, perhaps more dazzling on the surface, maybe more forceful in their presentation, possibly more complicated in their composition. But the rainbow, having been observed, having left an imprint on the soul as deep as its colors and as wide as its span, is not so easily replaced.

"Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas," said Pascal: "the heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing." My knowledge of reason is questionable, of hearts perhaps more so, but occasionally I know a truth when I see one.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:55 AM)
28 February 2004
Greatest Hits, volume X

Originally posted 5 July 2001

She might have been ten, she might have been twelve; it would never have occurred to me to ask. And she'd chosen the middle swing from the row of three, because there was much more room to swing, not only to and fro and up and down, but also side to side. I smiled at her as I stumbled down the hill towards the "cluster boxes" that the Postal Service finds so endearing and the postal patrons find so annoying.

"Whatever happened to my youthful exuberance?" I muttered to no one in particular while I pulled bill after bill out of its dingy receptacle. I mean, I don't have the urge to clamber onto a swing and get myself airborne or anything; the cruelty of gravity is something I'd just as soon not face. But here she was, a pretty girl on her way to becoming a beautiful woman, seemingly paying no attention whatsoever to the unending pressures from a culture she barely knows. "Grow up! Find romance! Spend money!" Who needs this sort of foolishness? Let her fly while she can, and let her grow up when she's ready.

By the time I'd started back up the hill, she'd moved to the far side of the playground, perhaps because she thought there would be fewer creepy old guys with twisted grins passing by. The twenty-first century refuses to be ignored, even by twelve-year-old girls. Even if they're ten.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:51 PM)
15 September 2004
Greatest Hits, volume XI

Originally posted 30 June 2001

Justin Hayward would certainly never say so, but a newcomer picking up the Best of the Moody Blues compilation, issued by The Label Formerly Known As PolyGram in 1996, might well conclude that the Moodies were basically Hayward's backup band. For some reason, this air of Justincentricity bugged me. Admittedly, Hayward and/or John Lodge wrote most of the group's hits, but the two-year period before Hayward and Lodge replaced Denny Laine and Clint Warwick produced a bunch of worthy 45s, the second of which — "Go Now!", a cover of Bessie Banks' 1963 American R&B ballad — made the US Top Ten and remains the band's biggest hit in Britain. While the Best of... set does include "Go Now!", and Hayward makes it clear in the liner notes (an interview with John Peel) that he had nothing to do with it, the casual listener could easily assume that nothing happened with the band until the Days of Future Passed LP.

To the rescue, the Dutch label BR Music, which has issued a two-CD set with the unwieldy title the singles + (BS 8123-2), snagged by yours truly today at a Best Buy store for a meager $15. On hand are all the UK singles (including a couple of B-sides) from the 1964-1966 Laine/Warwick era, the two flops that followed (one by Hayward, one by Mike Pinder), and then the Usual Material — with, unexpectedly enough, the 45 version of "Question", which diverges wildly from the version on A Question of Balance. It's not gloriously remastered like the PolyGram set, and the packaging is not entirely cheese-free, but as a representation of the historical record, it's a must.

Speaking of historical records, the August Playboy showed up today, in which Go-Go's stalwart Belinda Carlisle shows up in her birthday suit. I honestly don't know what she expects this to do for her career, or for that of the group, but damn, she does look nice, and since Playmates have generally tended to be about twenty years old or so, I make it a point to applaud, and to appreciate, pictorials of women twice that age. Not that I have any better chance of seeing them in real life, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:11 PM)
1 October 2005
Fatuous Flashback 1

As this site approaches the ten-year mark, I have decided to fill up space commemorate its history with excerpts from its semi-glorious past, in a sort of "This Week in Blogorrhea" mode. For example:

Life out here in the Wintel Wonderland has its peculiar aspects, and few are quite as odd as Microsoft's ongoing desire to be all things to all computer owners.

Of course, this isn't something new for Microsoft. Within about thirty seconds of nailing down the contract to produce PC-DOS for IBM back in the Pleistocene era, Microsoft made known its intentions to provide versions of DOS under its own label to anyone with suitable hardware, thereby giving birth — or at least inducing labor — to the PC clone industry.

We are now up to DOS 7 and Windows 95, and Microsoft, even while basking in its position as undisputed ruler of the desktop, must still be wondering how long a wait it's going to be before it's safe to refuse to support cranky pieces of antediluvian junk like my late-Eighties pre-HP Colorado QIC-40 tape drive, or any program that requires an entry in the SETVER table. (If anyone was wondering, the Jumbo 120 does work under Win95, with the current version of Colorado Backup, but don't even think about doing a full system backup with 40-megabyte tapes.) Being out on the cutting edge is wonderful, but having to deal with us throwbacks on the dull side must give Redmond's programmers fits.

(From Ve