mm104: There She Blew: Books: The New Yorker

August 17, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Danger! Literary Content!

Run Away!

For centuries, American whalers’ basic method of capture and killing remained remarkably unchanged.


For centuries, American whalers’ basic method of capture and killing remained remarkably unchanged.

It is only appropriate that a posting on Starbucks be followed by a story about the whaling industry. Go ahead, ask me why. In the analytic spirit of the week, that just shed important light for me about why I so enjoy the coffee boutique chain: I’ve never ever gotten over “Moby-Dick.”

It wasn’t that long ago that L-HC discussed reading (all right, listening) to books on tape. One of my recent pleasures was to revisit Melville’s “Moby-Dick” this summer for the first time in 32,264 years, since a senior in high school (then it was the rare cave-painting edition).

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Arts and Letters Daily blogroll2 should have found this review a month or so after its publication; it’s their style. And, it is probably the nature of the Internet that everyone is writing about everything every moment, so encountering this topic was absolutely not a coincidence. I imagine that any subject I can think of is out there, 4,387 times today alone, 5,100 times tomorrow.

And I used to think it was a challenge to keep up with my daily newspaper!

To the whales:


There She Blew

The history of American whaling.

by Caleb Crain July 23, 2007

If, under the spell of “Moby-Dick,” you decided to run away to the modern equivalent of whaling, where would you go? Because petroleum displaced whale oil as a source of light and lubrication more than a century ago, it might seem logical to join workers in Arabian oil fields or on drilling platforms at sea. On the other hand, firemen, like whalers, are united by their care for one another and for the vehicle that bears them, and the fireman’s alacrity with ladders and hoses resembles the whaler’s with masts and ropes. Then, there are the armed forces, which, like a nineteenth-century whaleship, can take you around the world in the company of people from ethnic and social backgrounds unfamiliar to you. All these lines of work are dangerous but indispensable, as whaling once was, but none seem perfectly analogous. Ultimately, there is nothing like rowing a little boat up to a sixty-ton mammal that swims, stabbing it, and hoping that it dies a relatively well-mannered death.

After a short diversion that I’ll leave to faithful reader to enjoy without tipping it in advance, the review continues:

It is difficult to follow in Melville’s footsteps if you can’t tell when he’s fibbing, but there is no shortage of whaling histories for a Melville aficionado to turn to. (“Though of real knowledge there be little,” Melville wrote, “yet of books there are a plenty.”) In the latest, “Leviathan” (Norton; $27.95), Eric Jay Dolin offers a pleasantly anecdotal history of American whaling so comprehensive that he seems to have harpooned at least one fact from every cetacean text ever printed. “Leviathan” is a gentle book about a brutal industry. By ending his story when America stopped whaling, Dolin omits the most gruesome years of international whaling history, when new technology increased killing capacity approximately tenfold. He presents whaling in a more innocent age, when it was the fifth-largest industry in America and a source of national pride—in the time before ecology, as well as before steamships, as it were.

The review is here:

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

There She Blew: Books: The New Yorker

I must admit that, listening with 17,000 year old ears is astoundingly different than reading with 17 year old eyes. Melville captured in quite glorious and infinitely descriptive detail the brutal business that is whaling, brutality that weighs much heavier on MUDGE that is than on fetal MUDGE of 78,325 years ago.

The review discusses the decline of the American whaling business; my instinct had always been that it was a matter of declining stock due to overfishing, as this seems to be a growing tragedy in our oceans. But not so:

In 1838, a whaler wrote in his journal:

There was a time, (so says my rhyme,
And so ’tis prosed by many)
Sperm whales were found on “Japan Ground,”
But now there are not any.

But the economists tell us that whales are innocent of having damaged the whaling industry by becoming scarce, and nineteenth-century whalers had to keep searching for new grounds because whales in much-hunted areas grew more canny. Americans never caught enough sperm whales to throw them out of equilibrium. They did harm the populations of grays and bowheads, it seems, and maybe of right whales, too, but too late to have contributed to the decline of American whaling.

No, it was economics — the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania just before the Civil War was only one of the last blows, the war itself providing further harm to the business.

But, what an incredibly modern novel “Moby-Dick” is, for 1851 (where it must have seemed like science fiction to Victorian sensibilities), for 1965, for 2007. Melville was an absolute genius. This opinion has been firmly held since those cave painted days, and has not changed a whit. Indeed, having read a few things in the interim, MUDGE‘s belief in the astonishing modernity of Melville has been reinforced by a few orders of magnitude.

Read “Leviathan,” I plan to because the history of technology is one of my major avocations. Had I found an educational institution as interested in the topic as I was, then, my own personal history might read differently. Now, it’s an in subject. Then, zilch. Sigh.

But then please go re-read “Moby-Dick.” Makes this poor slob’s attempts at putting his thoughts out in front of a nanopublic seem blunderingly, comically crude in comparison.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


Note!: the links to bookstores used in the final paragraphs above are for the convenience of faithful reader and represent no commercial relationship whatsoever. Left-Handed Complement should be so fortunate as to ever collect remuneration of any kind for this endeavor. I can link, so I link. It’s technology. It’s cool. Deal with it.


mm103: How to hack Starbucks. – Slate Magazine

August 16, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Starbucks — what else is there to say?

Quite a lot actually, at today.


Hacking Starbucks – Where to learn about the ghetto latte, barista gossip, and Nicole Kidman’s usual.

By Michael Agger
Posted Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007, at 7:02 PM ET

Starbucks Coffee Cups. Click image to expand.Starbucks coffee

Perhaps you’ve noticed: The Internet has an obsession with Starbucks. Maybe it’s because the two have grown up together. In 1995, Starbucks had just launched its master plan to become “a third place for people to congregate beyond work or the home,” while the Web had a lot of gray pages with text and “hyperlinks.” Now, the coffee chain has become the new McDonald’s (44 million customers a week), and the Web has become a 24-hour global exercise in collective intelligence gathering. Gourmet coffee culture and Internet culture have fed off each other, and Starbucks in particular has become a punching bag for the indie spirit that pervades the Web. So I wanted to discover who has the upper hand: Does Starbucks dominate us with its convenient locations and potent caffeine, or do we, thanks to the Web, ultimately call the shots?

Exhibit A in the online cheekiness and wariness toward Starbucks is an old monument: the Starbucks Oracle, which went online in 2002. You enter a drink, the oracle spits out a profile. Here’s the response to my regular order, a tall coffee:

Personality type: Lame

You’re a simple person with modest tastes and a reasonable lifestyle. In other words, you’re boring. Going to Starbucks makes you feel sophisticated; you’d like to be snooty and order an espresso but aren’t sure if you’re ready for that level of excitement. … Everyone who thinks America’s Funniest Home Videos is a great show drinks tall coffee.

Please go ahead and finish this article, and be sure to check out the videos referred to. 171 Starbucks…

… is about 10 minutes long, but worth the time.

And Bryant Simon’s scholarly examination of the Starbucks phenomenon is 18 minutes long; I recommend taking your laptop into your neighborhood ‘Bucks, settling down with your drink of choice, and enjoying it.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

How to hack Starbucks. – By Michael Agger – Slate Magazine

I admit it freely: I really enjoy Starbucks coffee and the atmosphere of the stores. Until Starbucks came into my life, I didn’t frequent coffee shops — they seemed so counter-cultural and/or collegiate in my town.

I don’t consider myself an addict — this post is not the place for MUDGE to discuss his addictions save to assure faithful reader that Starbucks is not one of them — but I am definitely a fan (and full disclosure of another type: a holder of a fewer than 50 shares of its stock [blast! can’t retire on that!], which lately has been a disappointing experience).

As a person perpetually on a diet, or recovering from the guilt of falling off one, or reeling from guilt in general, a black venti Americano (go ahead and check out Starbucks Oracle regarding MUDGE‘s drink of choice — I resemble that!) represents a guiltless pleasure. How often does that happen?

Read the Slate stories — they caffeinated my day, less expensively than usual.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


mm102: Fast Cities 2007 | Fast Company

August 15, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

I’ve always been a city guy, happier (even in its suburbs) than when away in some rural village, or bucolic resort. In fact, some would call my suburban home town more of a city than a suburb, and that’s just the way I love it.

And, I’ve always been secure in the knowledge that, no matter at what altitude and attitude I find myself on this breathtaking roller-coaster that is my life, I can count on my city to, eventually, provide me a livelihood. There’s just too much going on not to.

And during some extended times of un- or underemployment it was a matter of adjusting my own assumptions — the city was creating jobs every second, and I finally came to understand that I had to recreate myself to match up to one.

So, even while my faith in my home town has never wavered, even while one emotional center of gravity has shifted 2,000 miles west, it’s fun to encounter some more objective analysis about why my city makes me stay, no matter what.

And that brings me to the following story, first encountered in hard copy form (which means I’m probably 2 months late — an Internet eternity — in discovering it). I call special attention to the following tidbit:

Worldwide, the pace of urbanization is only accelerating. This year, for the first time, more of the earth’s population will live in cities than in rural areas–a cool 3.2 billion, according to United Nations estimates.

Take a look at the top of the story here:


Fast Cities 2007

From Chicago to Shanghai, urban centers that are shaping our future.

From: Issue 117 | July 2007 | Page 90 | By: Andrew Park

You’re smart, young, newly graduated from a university with the whole world before you. You could settle in a small town with well-tended lawns, pancake suppers, and life on a human scale. Or you could truck it to the big city, with all its din and dog-eat-dog lunacy. Your choice?Fuhgedaboudit: There is no choice. For all the challenges cities face–congestion, crime, crumbling infrastructure, environmental decay, plus occasional issues with basic civility–they are still where jobs and youth gather, where energy begets even greater energy, where talent masses and collides. Worldwide, the pace of urbanization is only accelerating. This year, for the first time, more of the earth’s population will live in cities than in rural areas–a cool 3.2 billion, according to United Nations estimates. “In a world where we can now work anywhere, we’re tending to concentrate in fewer and fewer places,” says Carol Colletta, president of CEOs for Cities, an advocacy group. “Smart people are choosing to live near smart people.”

Of course, not all “urban agglomerations,” in the parlance of demographers, are created equal. Rapid growth has a way of laying bare the gap between cities that merely get bigger and those that actually flourish. For every Karachi, which is on pace to double its population every 20 years but mired in poverty and violence, there’s a Shanghai, the emerging creative engine for an entire continent. For every Havana, which looks pretty much the same as it did 40 years ago (except worse), there’s a Curitiba, which has spent 40 years mapping its extremely livable future. For every St. Louis, a spot as bland as a flat Bud Light, there’s a hip joint like Fort Collins, Colorado, a high-tech hub that’s also the microbrew capital of America.

In other words, there are winners in this battle for the future. We call them Fast Cities. They are cauldrons of creativity where the most important ideas and the organizations of tomorrow are centered. They attract the best and brightest. They are great places to work and live.

I’m not sure that people who know me would describe me as “fast,” but I live in one of Fast Company’s Fast Cities, so I must be, right?

The rest of this introductory article is linked just below; take a look, and explore their expanded lists. I was fascinated; hope you’ll be too.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Fast Cities 2007 | Printer-friendly version

I know lots of people who’ve toured China. They talk about the Great Wall, the Yellow River cruise, the Forbidden city, etc. But I’ve long said that the only part of immense China that remotely interests me is Shanghai — the Chinese Chicago. Of course, it is or will be soon more accurate to describe Chicago as the North American Shanghai!

Now, admit it, who among my reader have ever heard of Curitiba, Brazil, or even Chandigarh, India (everyone’s heard of Bengaluru — formerly Bangalore — but Chandigarh?)?

I still recall a stint during one of the low-altitude aspects of afore mentioned roller-coaster when I was a temp secretary in a corporate HR office, putting together a diversity presentation. BTW, that experience helped me understand that in corporate America, “temp” is a contraction of “contempt,” which of course is how temps are treated, mostly.

But I digress. The point I was going for is that as part of the diversity training, it was presented that in a list of the 10 most populous cities in the world, New York doesn’t make the cut. Cities mostly in Central Asia that I still haven’t really heard of since made the top 10 — I wonder if 12 more years of our global roller-coaster have changed that.

And after a little research, here’s an update. Seems that the diversity propaganda I helped spread might have bent the facts a bit to prove a point, because there’s NYC a strong No. 4, and not one of those dusty Central Asian megalapoli made the list.


It all depends on how the metropolitan areas are defined, I’m sure, but I’m glad to see that my town, Chicago (had you guessed?) made the top 27(!) in this list I found courtesy of that other search engine,

But of course, (she keeps telling me) size isn’t everything…

Anyway, I’m happy to live in a Fast City — no question that it has helped keep me gainfully employed (at least mostly), intrigued, inspired and manifestly not bored (and I hope not boring!) for almost six decades.

But, I’d sure like to see Shanghai. And, maybe Curitiba…

It’s it for now, thanks.


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mm101: Technology / Water — It’s a theme!

August 14, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Two fascinating stories came our way today, courtesy at least in one case and possibly both, of blogroll2.

[Don’t know what’s going on with Digg lately, but reddit just has better stuff, and Digg seems to be proving that its flavor of Web 2.0 doesn’t have a clue when it comes to news one can use, and MUDGE hereby expels it from the blogroll.]

So, they both involve water, in a micro and a macro way, with technological solutions to pressing and urgent global challenges.

Story the first:

Watercone – An Ingenious Way To Turn Salt Water Into Fresh Water

Written by The Naib


The Watercone is an ingenious device that can take salty water and turn it into fresh water using only the power of the sun. The nice thing about this device is it is bone simple, uses the sun instead of fossil fuel, and is cheap to make and easy to use.

water cone

So simple as to beg the question — can it possibly work? So simple as to beg the question — this costs $27.00???

But, take a look at the full story.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Watercone – Ingenious Way To Turn Salt Water Into Fresh Water

What’s utterly lovable about this concept is that it’s high tech in the service of low tech.

2. Absolutely, low concept and low tech.
As opposed to other types of solar stills which feature electronics, photo-voltaic cells, tubes, filters, many parts, etc. the Watercone concept is understood within seconds with absolutely no need for academic background. Additionally it (cone & pan) is made from Bayer Makrolon, a high-tech ultra-rugged and highly recyclable polycarbonate, virtually insensitive to UV exposure or breakage, an all too common result of rough transport.

They tell us that, for the 21st century, water is the new petroleum — highly valued (can’t live without it, until Nestle comes up with bottled synthetic water, manufactured from spent uranium or something!); limited supply.

So, we can provide a solar powered laptop to the children of the third world, and if they’re coast dwellers, solar created potable water to help them reach a thriving adulthood. Extraordinary.

On to story the second, also a technology story involving water.

East River Turbines Face Upstream Battle


The alternative energy company that has plans to install hundreds of turbines in the East River to harness tidal energy and generate zero-emission electrical power is running into trouble due to the massive amount of energy they are dealing with. The small number of turbines already placed in the East River by Verdant Power have been temporarily removed as the strong currents continue to overwhelm the physical construction of the underwater “windmills.” The six turbines that were placed in the water last December and were capable of supplying 1,000 daily kilowatt hours of power and serving the Gristedes supermarket on Roosevelt Island could not withstand currents.

turbinefield.jpgThe East River is not actually a river; it’s a tidal strait, and one can easily observe the current moving in opposite directions with the tides. Verdant Power’s plan is to install a field of turbines anchored to the bottom of the East River and use the currents to generate pollution-free electricity for the city. The currents have proven so strong, however, that the turbine propellers have been sheared off a third of the way down, and stronger replacements were hampered by insufficiently strong bolt connections to the turbine hubs.

So, when I first saw this post, I have to admit, I was skeptical — was MUDGE being punked? Does elderly MUDGE even know what punked means?

Yup, of course it’s real, this blog links to a story in yesterday’s NYTimes, which even mentions MUDGE‘s current presidential fixation, Michael Bloomberg. So, okay, I’ve just injected a bit of unreality, but bear with the story, please!

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!] Gothamist: East River Turbines Face Upstream Battle

So, here’s an example of cutting edge high tech overreaching. Or, shearing edge. Hard to imagine that the tidal currents are so strong as to incapacitate these water mills. Harder to imagine that they’ve spent a lot of time (and of course some public money) and couldn’t predict the power of water — exhibit A.

And there you have it, an example of MUDGE‘s weird penchant for tying together disparate threads into a unified theme. So, which do you think makes the liquid grade today? Drinking water from a $27 piece of plastic and the sun? Or, hydro power for NYC from a tidefarm that had better be made from materials stronger than granite?

An interesting race that we’ll watch with interest.

In our rush to improve the first and third worlds with all of this wonderful technology, let’s not forget to FIX ALL OF THOSE GODDAMN BRIDGES ALREADY!

It’s it for now. Thanks,


WcW005: Four-Hundred-Thirty-One!

August 13, 2007


Web Conferencing Week

Once again, real life events overtake sketchy plans. Isn’t life like that, though? (Now I’ll need to find the quotation about life being the thing that happens while you’re planning your life.)

Got lots of interesting clipjoints to share; got a professional conference in Boston to write up (for my boss, as well as for faithful reader).

But this is too good to pass by.

I do web conferencing. You’ve more than figured that out. As a grunt in a corporate IT department that supports various collaboration technologies for a global enterprise, technologies whose common bond is its vendor, IBM, I am the informal “manager” of the customer experience for our web conferencing and instant messaging tools, IBM Lotus Sametime.

As I’ve explained, in this role I teach the use of our tools eight to 10 times per month, having developed the courseware, and delivering the classes using the web conferencing tool. One learns while using it.

Another hat worn is that of electronic meeting facilitator. As in those only semi-irritating BASF advertisements, I don’t run the meetings, I provide the technological expertise so the meetings run better. And that’s the role I was playing today, when the routine suddenly became extraordinary.

Our diversified enterprise has a tentpole product, and much of the work I’ve done over the past three years has been in support of that product’s US field sales training organization.

Today’s meeting was not another in the regular series, but rather was put together rapidly over the past few days as a new strategic initiative needed to be launched right now!

Ordinarily two meetings are presented with identical content and presenters: one at 9am or so for the central and eastern time zones; the other at 4pm or so for the western half of the country. Demographics have caused the morning meetings to routinely be quite large for our technology, often in excess of 150 connections and sometimes 200 or more. The afternoon sessions are about one-third the size of the morning ones.

Now, put this in the perspective of the technology and our experience. First, the technology: Last week at our vendor sponsored conference, several of the technical experts supporting Sametime (including the wizard who helped write the original code before Lotus bought it) confirmed that one server is designed to handle 1,000 concurrent users, with no more than 200 in any one meeting.

Now, our experience: In a typical month with several thousand scheduled meetings, more than 20 separately connected participants (and of course, some connections may represent entire conference rooms of people, but we’re talking physical connections) in a meeting is good sized, and meetings of more than 100 connections occur only two or three times per month if that, one of them no doubt being that month’s tentpole field sales morning events.

The largest meeting I’ve ever seen, and without false modesty I can say with some degree of certainty that if I haven’t seen it directly, or consulted with clients about it, it probably didn’t happen, was a division’s “all hands” meeting a couple of years ago in which I noted 296 (global!) connections at the peak, a meeting which I ran and which as a result went smoothly.

Why the emphasis on the number of connections? Web conferencing is a particularly network sensitive application, and in our current version of the software, the responsiveness of the conference rests in great measure on the number of connections, and the quality of the network through which the connections are made.

So, today’s meeting, where in order to cover all the bases (much behind the scenes work with management required to launch this complex new initiative) someone decided that the meeting should not be duplicated, but rather the entire organization should gather at noon, to get everything started without time zone delay.

Frankly, I hadn’t paid much attention to the ramifications, but as the troops gathered in the small conference room from where we originated the “broadcast,” and the field started logging in, I began to be a bit excited, concerned but excited. 100 was passed; 200 went by; 300 and the concern started to overwhelm the excitement.

By the time the sales vice president kicked off the meeting a few minutes past noon, nearly 400 people were connected. Remember network sensitivity? These were field sales people connecting via broadband from home offices, or managers in small local offices connected to the enterprise network through a secured enterprise VPN (jargon alert: Virtual Private Network).

Then, as I was quietly marveling over the still growing size of the meeting, the dire message suddenly flashed on my screen (and of course on the big screen in the conference room to which my laptop was connected): Disconnected. With the vice president seated and emoting right next to me.

[I’ve indicated before that my technologist colleagues wouldn’t have my job for any compensation, due to this up front and personal exposure when things (inevitably) go wrong.]

As I routinely do in small less equipped conference rooms, I had set up a powered mini-Ethernet hub for the benefit of others in the room; I keep this mainly for my own use, when I have one connection and two computers. Today I had one computer, but going in I wasn’t certain if one of the sales organization functionaries in the room was also going to need a connection to our meeting, and two or three others had connected to the hub.

Anyway, this less than year old piece of plastic clothed electronics chose that precise moment to crap out. Remember Murphy’s law?


Of course my first thought was that the meeting itself had been clobbered, that the server, which had experienced its first serious failure in over four months just the previous work day (during a class I was teaching that was truncated as one unhappy result), had died under the load.

No, it was the mini-hub; the meeting on the server itself, still growing, was fine, although without yours truly connected it wasn’t going anywhere, since one of the little details that can tip a meeting into the success column is that such a large meeting is locked for all but its Moderator. In other words, in a Moderated meeting, no one but the authenticated moderator can push any of the buttons to move the presentation slides. (For completists out there, the other choice is Collaboration, in which all connectors can push all of the buttons — a total no-no for a meeting larger than five.)

But at least the meeting was running. While the Veep vamped for a few moments, I pulled the network cable out of the back of the now worthless hub, plugged it directly into my laptop, performed the three-finger salute on Internet Explorer to kill it so I could restart a new instance (fortunately I didn’t have to reboot, a much lengthier process on my elderly laptop), and in a couple of tense minutes (it’s tough not to pay attention to the man behind the curtain when I’m sitting right at the conference table NEXT TO THE VP and everything going on on my PC is projected for all to see!) we were back in business. Whew.

From there it was nearly anticlimactic. In the end, I spotted 431 simultaneous connections at the peak, an absolutely stunning performance, 135 more than the previous record. Once my connection was restored, the meeting went smooth as glass, again because of network issues not always a given regardless of the number of connections. Amazing, and wonderful.

Now there are wonderful commercial alternatives out there, even for our internal people whose requirements don’t always fit the hammer I wield. But for this meeting alone, the capability of using our in house tool allowed my clients to save at least $2,500; in a billion dollar enterprise a drop in the bucket of course, but I’m a shareholder too.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


mm100: The Road to Clarity – New York Times

August 12, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

[The 100th MM! Wow! Who’d have thought this guy had that kind of attention span!]


From the usually dependable most emailed list in this day’s NYTimes, a most fascinating story on highway signage. Take a look.

The New York Times

August 12, 2007

The Road to Clarity


“So, what do you see?” Martin Pietrucha I asked, turning around in the driver’s seat of his mint green Ford Taurus. It was a cold day in January, and we were parked in the middle of a mock highway set on the campus of Pennsylvania State University in State College. Pietrucha is a jovial, 51-year-old professor of highway engineering. His tone was buoyant as he nodded toward the edge of the oval stretch of road where two green-and-white signs leaned against a concrete barrier.

What I saw, Pietrucha knew, was what we all may see soon enough as we rush along America’s 46,871 miles of Interstate highways. What I saw was Clearview, the typeface that is poised to replace Highway Gothic, the standard that has been used on signs across the country for more than a half-century. Looking at a sign in Clearview after reading one in Highway Gothic is like putting on a new pair of reading glasses: there’s a sudden lightness, a noticeable crispness to the letters.

The Federal Highway Administration granted Clearview interim approval in 2004, meaning that individual states are free to begin using it in all their road signs. More than 20 states have already adopted the typeface, replacing existing signs one by one as old ones wear out. Some places have been quicker to make the switch — much of Route I-80 in western Pennsylvania is marked by signs in Clearview, as are the roads around Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport — but it will very likely take decades for the rest of the country to finish the roadside makeover. It is a slow, almost imperceptible process. But eventually the entire country could be looking at Clearview.

The typeface is the brainchild of Don Meeker, an environmental graphic designer, and James Montalbano, a type designer. They set out to fix a problem with a highway font, and their solution — more than a decade in the making — may end up changing a lot more than just the view from the dashboard. Less than a generation ago, fonts were for the specialist, an esoteric pursuit, what Stanley Morison, the English typographer who helped create Times New Roman in the 1930s, called “a minor technicality of civilized life.” Now, as the idea of branding has claimed a central role in American life, so, too, has the importance and understanding of type. Fonts are image, and image is modern America.

The full article includes an interesting slide show (from which the images in this post have been captured), so why not check it out. Remember, though, it’s from the Magazine, so it’s long form, but worthy of your attention.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Road to Clarity – New York Times

So, it’s about highway signs, but it’s also about one of this writer’s favorite subjects, typography. I’ve always been a collector of interesting fonts, and I’m guessing that there’s a lot of such interest out in the ‘Sphere, since there are a myriad of typography sites, both interest groups and foundries, to be found.

I’m imagining that there are many amateurs out there like me, whose Fonts file on their PC is quite full.

Just checked, and my C:\Windows\Fonts folder has 249 fonts currently; I’m surmising that there are many, many others tucked away elsewhere, since this sounds like only about half the number I’ve counted in the past (perhaps on one of MUDGE‘s earlier PCs).

Can’t possible use that many, ever. And for L-HC, I’ve used a fixed width font (very typewriter like, in case anyone remembers what a typewriter was) called, appropriately, Lucida Sans Typewriter, because it seemed a distinctive choice at the time, when many choices were made.

Only 248 to go.

Just kidding.

I think.

Why is typography such an alluring topic for so many people? Because it’s more than just black letters on a white background.

Type is just as much about psychology as geometry. A letter’s shape, its curves, the way it sits next to other letters — all these factors give a font its personality and in turn create an emotion and connotation for the reader.

Personality, emotion, connotation. And I thought it was just some designer’s clever new way of looking at something quite old, the 26 letters of our English alphabet.

Who knew?

This story is on the Times’ most emailed list because most everyone drives (except of course, in the Manhattan home of the Times!), and can relate to poorly designed signage. Quick, at 75mph, do I exit for Smithton at the first exit, or the next? There’s glare, is that route 65, or 86?


Driving long distances at night is a task I seldom undertake as cheerfully as once I did, and glare and poorly worded and designed signs are part of the reason, though not the only one. But that’s a story for another time…

The lonely campaign fought by Meeker and Montalbano for so many years, is a worthy one, no question.

Of course, these days, the most pressing issue is going to be examine and FIX ALL OF THOSE GODDAMN BRIDGES ALREADY!

It’s it for now. Thanks,


mm099: A $99 Desktop Comes With Software, Backup and Too Many Catches

August 11, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

A few posts ago, we looked into the One Laptop Per Child laptop. Walter Mossberg of All Things Digital blogroll2 and the Wall Street Journal took a look at what might be construed as the first world’s version…

All Things Digital

Personal Technology

A $99 Desktop Comes With Software, Backup and Too Many Catches

Published on August 9, 2007
by Walter S. Mossberg

For just $99, you can now buy a desktop computer that’s preloaded with full versions of 20 popular types of software. This computer comes with free, automatic, online backup of your files, and a design that cuts energy use way below that of a standard computer.

It gets better. This new PC, called Zonbu, from a new company of the same name, automatically receives free updates of its software when new versions come out. It doesn’t require antivirus or other security programs because it runs on the Linux operating system, which has attracted very few viruses or spyware programs. And it takes up almost no room — it’s a tiny little box.

The full article has an excellent video from Walt Mossberg. Check it out:

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

A $99 Desktop Comes With Software, Backup and Too Many Catches

And, it’s green! This year’s buzzword.


Zonbu is an interesting shot at a subscriber model for computing — pay for what you need, as you go. It’s not there yet, as they are asking for a 2 year subscription with payment in advance, but it’s a first step.

Competition will fix that. The cellphone people have figured out how the subscription model subsidizes the hardware, especially for commodity instruments.

Although based on Linux (and MUDGE is certainly not there yet) much of the included software, especially Firefox and OpenOffice MUDGE has long since adopted for personal use in his Windows system.

And the software that’s missing, like a personal finance package? I’m sure Google has one of those, or will have soon, on line like its office suite package. Would I like Google to keep my personal finances on line? Hell, no! But, it’s a concept.

Mossberg concludes:

I strongly support Zonbu’s goals of making computing simpler, cheaper and more energy efficient. But this product has too many compromises.

So, it’s officially a trend.

  1. Cheap hardware components undoubtedly sourced from (where else) China.
  2. Linux (open source) operating system, which has the bonus of not yet serving as a target of opportunity from all the East European hackers and criminals out there.
  3. Open source software installed, even in Linux versions having achieved some critical mass of acceptability.
  4. Memory, and I’m certain soon, and software available via Internet access. Network computing taken to its next logical step.

One Laptop Per Child (remember, it gets lots of its power from its hive network) for the third world; Zonbu and its certain to be improved successors for the first and second.

Maybe someday, even MUDGE will pay less than $1200 for a PC. Never happened yet, since as prices per component go down, the sheer number of additional must-have components seems to have kept the price level, or growing. Maybe this paradigm shift will finally break that pattern.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


mm098: Remembering Robert Heinlein

August 10, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings (begun on the road)

So, here I am back in the sultry Midwest, returned at about midnight the night before last from the sultry east coast and a professional conference.

As frequent reader can tell, the change of routine played havoc with my blogging habits, which, with few exceptions (my son’s marriage in early July, for a happy example) have been fairly regular for the past three months since we began in earnest.

So, let’s pick up where I left off, attempting to piece together an interesting series of articles linked together for me by Arts and Letters Daily blogroll2 , a wonderful site that I am guilty of visiting insufficiently regularly.


BOSTON — Third morning, and last one, here at a conference sponsored by one of our enterprise’s primary IT vendors, IBM Lotus.

Doubt we’ll finish this post until after we’re safely back on our home turf, but we’ll take a stab at getting some of this done before we pack up for the last few sessions.

Boston is a great town for tourists, although in a business conference there is precious little time for tourism, but it’s been fun to walk around, at least a bit, and enjoy life at street level.

This morning, of course, it’s pouring rain, so we’ll confine our observations from the 35th floor hotel room we’re about to vacate. Nice town. Great view.

And for this Midwestern unfortunate, absolutely wonderful seafood. Don’t have a picture of the cioppino I enjoyed at Legal Sea Food Monday night, but I can share the view…


To the business of blogging. Today’s subject, one of this writer’s most admired writers, Robert Heinlein. Arts and Letters points to three different aspects, in observation of the centennial of his birth in early July. Here’s how the Wall Street Journal’s OpinionJournal begins:

Science fiction at one time was despised as vulgar and “populist” by university English departments. Today, it is just another cultural artifact to be deconstructed, along with cartoons and People magazine articles. Yet one could argue that science fiction has had a greater impact on the way we all live than any other literary genre of the 20th century.

When one looks at the great technological revolutions that have shaped our lives over the past 50 years, more often than not one finds that the men and women behind them were avid consumers of what used to be considered no more than adolescent trash. As Arthur C. Clarke put it: “Almost every good scientist I know has read science fiction.” And the greatest writer who produced them was Robert Anson Heinlein, born in Butler, Mo., 100 years ago this month.

The list of technologies, concepts and events that he anticipated in his fiction is long and varied. In his 1951 juvenile novel, “Between Planets,” he described cellphones. In 1940, even before the Manhattan Project had begun, he chronicled, in the short story “Blowups Happen,” the destruction of a graphite-regulated nuclear reactor similar to the one at Chernobyl. And in his 1961 masterpiece, “Stranger in a Strange Land,” Heinlein–decades before Ronald and Nancy Reagan moved to the White House–introduced the idea that a president’s wife might try to guide his actions based on the advice of her astrologer. One of Heinlein’s best known “inventions” is the water bed, though he never took out a patent.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

OpinionJournal – Leisure & Arts

It takes three articles to cover the spectrum of his writing and influence, so let’s continue.

Heinlein was born in 1907 in Butler, Missouri, the son of a farm equipment salesman. Family connections with the Pendergast political machine in Kansas City won him an appointment to Annapolis. He identified proudly with the Navy for the rest of his life, although he was retired in 1934 because of tuberculosis, just five years into his active service.

Heinlein sold his first S.F. story in 1939 and almost instantly became the acknowledged king of his field, under the tutelage of legendary Astounding editor John Campbell. In the Campbell era, with Heinlein leading the way, the S.F. magazines moved from didactic travelogues and amateurish intergalactic epics to intelligent treatments of politics, religion, and sociology. Heinlein was also the first S.F. writer to break into respectable “slick” fiction magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post after World War II, and he spearheaded the first sober space travel movie, Destination Moon (1950), in which private enterprise-beating back objections from early advocates of a sort of “precautionary principle,” who feared it was to unsafe even to try-makes it to the moon.

The above quote is from the second of Arts & Letters articles, from Reason Magazine. Take a look at the rest of it.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Reason Magazine – Robert Heinlein at 100

Now, from The Space Review:

“We must ride the lightning”: Robert Heinlein and American spaceflight

by Dwayne A. Day
Monday, July 2, 2007

July 7 [was] the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert Anson Heinlein. In Kansas City the Heinlein Centennial will celebrate his writings and feature talks by the NASA administrator Michael Griffin as well as Heinlein scholars and enthusiasts. Heinlein is the closest thing that the American pro-space movement has to a patron saint.

Science fiction has, for good or ill, had a major effect upon how Americans think about spaceflight. Many early rocket engineers were inspired by Jules Verne, many current space enthusiasts were inspired by Star Trek. Heinlein certainly inspired many in the entrepreneurial space movement.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Space Review: “We must ride the lightning”: Robert Heinlein and American spaceflight

What an amazing, inspiring, dazzlingly irritating (if one leans toward the sinister side of the political spectrum) far seeing visionary was Heinlein!

Reason Magazine says:

Heinlein the Libertarian
This one-two punch of curious, powerful novels seems to indicate two opposing strains of thought. But to Heinlein, these dueling visions-a world of sinister alien bugs fought off by powerfully disciplined soldiers, and a beatific Man from Mars teaching humanity how to love freely-had the same message, as he once wrote to his fellow S.F. writer Alfred Bester: “That a man, to be truly human, must be unhesitatingly willing at all times to lay down his life for his fellow man. Both [novels] are based on the twin concepts of love and duty-and how they are related to the survival of our race.”

That quote, from a man so proud of his love of freedom he once joked that “Ayn Rand is a bloody socialist compared to me,” shows yet another side to the Heinlein paradox. As a literary influence on the emerging libertarian movement, Heinlein was second only to Rand.

Yet that statement of self-sacrifice and duty to the species seems as un-Randian as you can get. Heinlein, a human chauvinist, always believed freedom and responsibility were linked. But he would never have thought it proper to impose the duty he saw as the highest human aspiration.

Robert Heinlein has been one of my favorite science fiction writers since I was a kid, and that love seems to have transmitted itself to at least one of my children, who reports that learning in 7th grade that his favorite science fiction writer was a Naval Academy graduate, made up his mind 5-1/2 years in advance to work to attend that astounding college.

Which work he did (planning is a good thing to do if one is thinking of attending any of the military academies, since due to its various stiff requirements, including that of a congressional nomination, a girl or boy just doesn’t fall out of bed one morning in the spring of his senior year of high school and says, “yeah, I want to go to the Naval Academy!”), attend he did, and serve honorably for more than seven years he did. But we digress…

OpinionJournal sums up:

Robert A. Heinlein, who died in 1988, lived a life inspired by two great loves. One was America and its promise of freedom. As one of his characters put it: “Your country has a system free enough to let heroes work at their trade. It should last a long time–unless its looseness is destroyed from the inside.” And he loved and admired women–not just his wife, Virginia, who provided the model for the many strong-minded and highly competent females who populate his stories, but all of womankind. “Some people disparage the female form divine, sex is too good for them; they should have been oysters.”

In another hundred years, it will be interesting to see if the nuclear-powered spaceships and other technological marvels he predicted are with us. But nothing in his legacy will be more important than the spirit of liberty he championed and his belief that “this hairless embryo with the aching oversized brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes will endure. Will endure and spread out to the stars and beyond, carrying with him his honesty and his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage and his noble essential decency.”

Who’s out there like him now?

It’s it for now. Thanks,


mm097: / The Jeep, the Humvee, and How War Has Changed

August 6, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings (on the road)

BOSTON — A temporary locale, as MUDGE has arrived in Boston for a conference sponsored by the vendor of his web conferencing technology, IBM Lotus.

File this one under: Things I found on the way to finding other things… - History's Homepage

Posted Wednesday August 1, 2007 07:00 AM EDT

The Jeep, the Humvee, and How War Has Changed


By Jon Grinspan

Sixty-six years ago today, on August 1, 1941, the first mass-produced jeep rolled off an assembly line in Toledo, Ohio. The tough little vehicle went on to prove itself well in World War II and become widely popular at home after the war. More than six decades later, the humble jeep’s mammoth grandson, Humvee, is the most hotly debated weapon in a controversial war. The two automobiles tell something about the story of America’s place in the world….

Although America manufactured three quarters of the world’s automobiles, the prewar U.S. Army was no better off. In 1939 it fielded 251 different types of vehicles, few of them able to operate on rough terrain. So the Army put out a call for a four-wheel-drive logistics car. It had to be small and agile but rugged and reliable. Willys-Overland Motors produced the final selection, an inexpensive workhorse that proved its versatility by driving up the steps of the Capitol building. The Army had such confidence in it that one general said early in the war, “When Hitler put his war on wheels, he ran it right straight down our alley.”

Somewhere along the line—and no one is sure why—people started to call the new vehicle a “jeep,” perhaps from “GP,” from general purpose, or after the character “Eugene the Jeep” in the Popeye comic strip, an animal that could go almost anywhere, like Willys’s car.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!] / The Jeep, the Humvee, and How War Has Changed

It’s always bothered this observer that the Humvee is totally un-Jeeplike! Big, noisy, uneconomically thirsty: calling it a jeep on steroids is totally uncomplimentary to the jeep as described in this story! Lowest bidder material, at a time when the military’s lowest bidder is politically connected and the process usually corrupt, and/or driven by a congressperson’s district sensitivity.

But the Humvee was designed to haul bullets and bandages, not take on ambushes or improvised explosive devices. Just 235 Humvees in Iraq had any armor at the start of the war. To combat this weakness, soldiers have been “up-armoring” their Humvees with military kits or by welding on scrap metal. The process has risks. It weighs down the trucks and can even keep the doors from opening after IED attacks. Another option is replacing Humvees with heavy armored troop carriers called MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles). The Army and Marines have already purchased hundreds of those noisy 16-ton behemoths, an even farther departure from the old Willys jeep.

Yet the Humvee’s biggest drawback may actually be the false sense of security it imparts. American troops, many military theorists now argue, are too removed in their vehicles, fighting for Iraqi hearts and minds with a drive-through mentality. The open-air jeep meant that soldiers could, and had to, interact with the people of occupied nations; the closed, air-conditioned Humvee has only isolated American forces from Iraqis. This is even more of a problem with the MRAP, which offers only small, armored windows to peek out of. Though the tactics of the current surge seek to get troops out of their vehicles more often, many politicians involved in the debate over Humvees assume—perhaps erroneously—that more armor means more safety and success.

When the stories began to appear a couple of years ago regarding the ad hoc modifications of Humvees in the field with armor, it was an early indicator of the utter recklessness and inattention to the practical details of modern warfare that the ideologues of the neocon persuasion have foisted on our formerly competent military.

Patton, et. al. didn’t send a jeep when a tank was what was needed. And, unfortunately, this is one problem that a change in administration on January 20, 2009, will fail to impact.

On the domestic front, even Jeep doesn’t do Jeep as well as its competitors. One of MUDGE‘s personal vehicles is a Honda Element, with which I would not like to go to war, but which, crude for a modern Japanese vehicle as it is, is in my opinion* much more refined, practical and well built than even the most expensive consumer Jeep. And please don’t get me started on the uselessness and unseemliness of the civilian version of the Humvee, the embarrassing Hummer!

[*BTW, don’t plan on ever encountering the acronymic “IMHO” on this site. There is seldom, if ever, anything humble about MUDGE, nor will there ever be.]

It’s it for now. Thanks,


mm096: Bush’s non-exit exit strategy

August 4, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Completing today’s war trilogy is this excellent commentary…


Bush’s non-exit exit strategy

Not only is the “surge” not working, it’s destabilizing Iraq. Yet military leaders say troops should stay for the long term.

By Joe Conason


Aug. 03, 2007 | To read the prepared testimony of Adm. Mike Mullen, President Bush’s nominee for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is to understand that the Bush administration’s Iraq strategy requires U.S. troops to remain in that country for a long time, perhaps permanently. With unusual candor, the admiral explained in answers submitted before his appearance in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that he and the president believe in the necessity of a “pragmatic, long-term commitment that will be measured in years not months.”

How many years Mullen did not say, but he did offer a suggestion in this tangle of redundancies: “We must commit to a long-term security relationship with Iraq that facilitates political reconciliation, supports development of a stable Iraq, and is directly tied to our enduring long-term interests in the region.” American forces will be there for the long term, just in case that wasn’t clear the first few times.

Mullen forthrightly admitted that there is no “purely military solution” to Iraq’s problems, and his testimony was refreshingly honest about the catastrophic errors committed by the Bush administration over the past four years, from disbanding the Iraqi army and purging all Baathists from government to the failures of war planning and diplomacy. As he noted during his live testimony, the prospects for “victory” are mixed at best because Iraq’s political leaders have made so little headway toward a political settlement among the country’s warring ethnic and religious communities.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!] | Bush’s non-exit exit strategy

Adm. Mullen is well respected by MUDGE‘s own military advisors, his son and daughter-in-law, both former Navy lieutenants with front line experience, and his testimony this week is a clear demonstration that at the Joint Chiefs level, politics always trumps military excellence. Think Colin Powell.

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. have led us to the point where there are only bad choices, where the only sure bet is that many, many more of our daughters and sons will die, fighting battles that everyone now understands are unwinnable in a country that will blow itself apart even if our troop strength was an order of magnitude greater.

As Conason writes:

But at this late date, as the political structures in Iraq fall, the war’s advocates cannot pretend that their strategy is working, either. The way to encourage compromise, if not reconciliation, among the Iraqis is to place our withdrawal on the negotiating table — and to warn those we have brought to power that we are leaving, sooner rather than later, and that their only hope for stability is to dither no longer. That was the essential recommendation of the Iraq Study Group, and it is still the only plausible exit strategy.

Plausible, of course. But if there’s one sure fact that emerges from six years of war, it’s that logic will never budge this administration. Only the next election, or given a gutsier Congress, impeachment.

January 20, 2009 can’t come soon enough.

It’s it for now. Thanks,