MARCH Part 3
A geeky bleat follows:

Visited a site today that discussed the sins of web design, and learned that I commit three of them. One: frames. To which I cheerfully say: bite me. Right here. Two: splash pages. True, I used to oppose them as well, but then I came around. Some sites have as their purpose the maximum distribution of maximum information; they need to get it all out now, and fast. This is not one of those sites. I view the splash page as the front cover of a book, or better yet the overture. Something that provides a break from whatever you were doing before you took your seat. I make no apologies for my splash page! I do not feel sorry with my rice! (Sorry, old Bleat callback.) Third sin: bad navigation. Well, I’ll fix that in the next version of the site.

Suffice to say that the very site discussing the sins of web design is butt-ugly. And it does not consider butt-ugliness a sin.


There’s something thrilling and dangerous about hitting the INITIALIZE button on a hard-drive setup program. Let me rephrase that: there is nothing thrilling and dangerous about hitting the INITIALIZE button. Only someone whose life is utterly devoid of drama and plot would even CONSIDER the act to be of interest to his DOG, let alone anyone else. That said, I just discovered the “Zero All Data” option, which is even more thrilling and exciting. In an hour or so, the poor old Rev A iMac will be a clean slate once again, ready for resale.

If, that is, I can bring myself to sell it. I’ve never been able to sell old computers. I just hang on to them until they’re junk. And then I put them in a deep recess of the basement until my wife insists I throw them out. (Then I put them in a deeper recess.) I will never forgive myself for throwing out the PCjr, piece of KREP that it was, or the TI/99 with its fabulous cassette-tape data backup system. Yes, my children, the year was 1982. Data was stored on cassettes. What’s that, you say? What are “cassettes?” The second draft of 8-tracks. And what’s - oh, never mind.

I should pickle the iMac, just in case OSX turns out to the compatibility nightmare I fear it will be, but no: I am going to sell it, and sell the 7300/200 as well. I am going to work myself down to one Mac and one PC.

This is far more difficult than it sounds. The 7300 ran the scanner - a gigantic HP whose loud, slow, painstaking scans have supplied lileks.com with all of its art. I was loath to give it up - the scanner bed is four inches longer than modern scanners - but I was tired of using the SCSI Mac to scan, then ethernetting it over to the iMac. The new rule: one machine, one input format. So I bought a USB scanner, a USB hub, and a USB Superdisk drive. Yes, a Superdisk. The format preferred by 1 out of 100 computer users. You know what? I don’t care. I could have purchased a Zip, but A) I will never forgive, or trust, them for the click of death, and B) the Superdrive discs are thinner. This is no small thing. Thinness rules my world, as they say. Plus, clear-plastic superdisks look cooler. Plus - and thissounds really odd, now that I think of it - I like the fact that the disks hold 100 MB instead of 250. Everything on my hard drive breaks down to 100MB increments. Filling a 250 means I have to mix and match. And it’s allll about archiving now, because -

I bought a nifty little program for ripping, too, so I can convert all those seldom-listened-to discs and LPs to MP3s. By the time I’m done, this simple little gray-plastic iMac will contain all my work and music from the last ten years.

At which point we’ll have a housefire.

____

Bought the new disk by Pat Metheny, the soundtrack to “A Map of the World.” Twenty-eight cuts. Melody-free mopery, as far as I can tell - after 12 tracks I hit EJECT and called up Big Bad Voodoo Daddies. I’m sure there are some gems buried therein, but Metheny, like my other favorite guitarist Mark Knopfler, seems to spending his 40s in tuneless noodling. Have their gifts evaporated - or are they tired of turning out tunes, and want to explore the possibilities of airy unraveling disquisitions? I’ve noted this before, so this is just a retread observation, but: with composers of note, the work gets better, and better, and better; it learns, matures, grows, enfolds, etc. Beethoven’s 9th was not a collection of reinterpreted standards.

This week’s movies - doled out in the usual small doses before bedtime -have been long epic DeNiro-starring crime movies from great directors. First “Heat,” which has little of it, and then “Goodfellas,” which contains no actual good fellas. I watched “Heat” to see if my initial impression - respectful yawns - was confirmed. It was. As much as I admired Mr. Mann, this one did not connect. Whereas “Goodfellas” rewards rewatching. Of course, Scorcese’s “Casino” is his “Heat” . . . but that would make Mann’s “Last of the Mohicans” his “Goodfellas.” Whatever. I do know that Pacino, in “Heat,” does not act. He stares and he barks but he does not act. DeNiro mostly squints in “Heat,” but he squints & grins in “Goodfellas,” and we like Bobby when he’s squintin’ and grinnin’.

I don’t know why I love “Goodfellas” as much as I do - I hate romanticizing the Mafia. Cheap stupid thugs who make things cost more, that’s all they are. But when the camera swings past a guy in a nice suit and a thin tie and the narrator calls him “Jimmy Roast Beef,” I just . . . relax. I’m amused; I’m in a Scorcese film, and I’m happy to be there.

A few months ago I wrote of a househunting trip, a visit to a domicile around the corner. I had learned that an author lived there - a sci-fi writer of whom I’d never heard, since my knowledge of the titans of that genre is limited to, well, the titans. Kindly Bleat readers informed me of the man’s work; he seemed to be, from the descriptions, a sane mainstream P. K. Dick. His name was John Sledak, and he died this weekend.

I walked through his house, judged his choice of cabinetry, peered at his PC, took off my shoes in his mud room, walked up his creaky narrow stairs, examined his garage, noted the flecks of paint on a hardwood floor. Never met the man, but had a variety of opinions about his house.

I owe it to him to read his books now.

If I expired tonight, I hate to think what someone would think of me based on the condition of my studio. I can only repeat the awestruck remark of Twee the Vietnamese Doctor: “Many computer.” Yes, many computer, too many computer. Tonight I continued on the Great Purge: threw out a year’s worth of PC Gamer demo discs. I’ll never play those demos. Ever. For that matter, I should stop buying PC Gamer, since I seem to have hit an interesting point in adult life: PC games are suddenly of no interest to me at all. I’ll play Half-Life2, and I can’t wait for Duke and the Voyager FPS from Raven, but the culture of gaming holds no more interest.

Because spring is coming, and spring is the antithesis of gaming. Summer is the big green merry enemy of computers, and I’m rooting for it.

But still the geekwork continues. Finished archiving every last bit of data from the old machines. Down to one sole Mac, one machine which contains the Sum Total of Everything, all the work I’ve committed to magnetic media since 1989. I zeroed out the drive on the 7300. While the 7300 overwrote itself, I rebooted the iMac. It bombed.

A little computer joke, I guess. Hah! You actually TRUST us? Well, let’s just remind you that man is fallible, andmachines are made my man, ergo, you fill in the blanks.

I rebooted. It worked fine. No explanation. Hah hah! Just kidding, pal.

This is why I have 3,239 backups of everything. I never burn one CD. I burn two.

This is the dullest damn week - while winnowing down the machinery, I’m still working on the 5.0 version. Tonight I thought I’d finished the Mpls pages, when I realized I hadn’t touched the HOTEL pages. That’s another ten sites. Jeeee . . . .ziz. Well, I’ve never been happy with those pages, ever, so might as well do them right. Back to work.

___Yikes: forgot all about the Bleat. Been that sort of night. When all the duties were done - and they were numerous and contained trace elements of joy & pleasure, much like a can of chili contains a few roach whiskers - I went right into the Hotel site, fixing and rescanning and resizing and rewriting, and -

And I enjoyed it. There’s something quite therapeutic about it. And instructive, too; the yearly revision of the site reacquaints me with things I haven’t looked at in a while. Tonight I was examining the Nicollet Hotel site, and I just thought: damn: that’s not bad. Right down to the aerial shot of the site, which NO ONE ELSE has, because I snuck into the Federal Reserve building when they were having an office furniture sale and went upstairs. Not bad at all . . . and woefully incomplete, all of it.

Today’s mail brought some interesting items - and I mean the physical mail, hef-T-mail, compacted-atom mail. A shipment of postcards arrived - I’d bid on some eBay motel postcards, sight unseen (duh.) and was cheered to discover that they were jack-dandy candidates for the site; plenty of old motel signs. This stuff doesn’t interest me because it’s from my own tenure on earth; I was just a zygote in underoos when this stuff was being knocked down. But I have a dim memory of the world before the freeways; my first trip to Minneapolis came in 64 or 65, I think, and we drove down the narrow gutter of Highway 10. (No, it had to be earlier - I remember, with absolute certainty, stopping at a cafe en route with my cousins. We played the “Henry the 8th” on the jukebox.) In any case, that’s why I collect & exalt these cards, these motels - like so much of this site, they’re examples of the adult world that flickered at the edge of my consciousness, things I took for granted, things that seemed stable and eternal, things that provided comfort simply because they were part of the world. It’s one of the side benefits of a happy childhood. You don’t blame the world. In fact you rather like it. I wonder how many shrieking angry agitators who just HATE McDonald’s are reacting not to South American deforestation-for-grazing programs, but to the day when mom slapped them because they wanted her to stop for french fries.

Simplistic, aye, and obvious, but often true, and why am I thinking of this tonight? A hangover perhaps from reading today’s Suck, which took a nice snarky swipe at the cartoonist Ted Rall. He’s a horrible artist who made a Big Splash in the small & insular world of cartooning when he went after Art Spiegelman in the Village Voice. I have a few problems with Mr. Spiegelman - a few of his New Yorker covers have chapped my ass, for example, but these are small small small complaints. His work is superb, his knowledge of comics extensive, and he’s done a magnificent job bringing comic lore to the mainstream. I mean, he got Plastic Man on the cover of the New Yorker, and wrote a brilliant piece about the strip. He’s the real thing.

Rall is a hack; he can’t draw, and his insights are banal. A few years ago I had an e-mail argument with him about the estate tax, and his side of the debate was the usual tripe about Rockefellers and Carnegies. (But not Kennedys, oddly enough.) He seemed unable to grasp the fact that a businessman could have a substantial taxable estate and not be a ceegar-smoking spats-wearing top-hatted plutocrat from the Monopoly game. I used our family business as an example of the effects of the estate tax - here are four fellows who drive trucks. At least one truck will have to be sold to pay the tax. You pick the driver you want to lose his job. It’s that simple.

We later met at a convention of cartoonists in Baltimore in 1994, which I was covering for Newhouse. He struck me as someone whose politics stem not from something that has nothing to do with politics. He was just pissed off. Well, good for him; pissed off people tend to get things done, but they generally leave others quoting Alvy Singer after he’d met Joey Nichols.

You know, Joey Nichols! That’s how you remember my name: Nickles! Joey Five Cents!

(Pause)

(Pause)

Hah! Oh, that’s a joke. That’s a GOOD one.

To explain - I was woolgathering. Thinking: all these places, all these odd connections. Baltimore, 94: ran into Steve Sack, the cartoonist for the paper where I now work; ran into Jack Ohman, with whom I worked at the Minnesota Daily a million years ago; sat in a bar in the harbor and watched a famous Mormon drink his very first drink . . . Iowa City, 1977, where I first saw “Annie Hall” (hence the Joey Nichols reference) at the Englert theater, all alone, wondering when I would go to New York and have a fabulous neurotic emotionally unfulfilling life like my hero, Woody . . . Minneapolis, 2000, a March afternoon, talkingwith a buddy at work about barroom satellite trivia games, remembering the night I had been the God of Trivia with some drunken strangers at an Iowa City bar . . . and I think, well, what exactly DOES all this add up to? I’m always running from one thing to another, one day to the next, looking for the evidence that give shape & meaning to this life, and assure me that it’s all heading towards SOMETHING.

I thought - what was the name of that theater in Iowa City? Didn’t I take a picture last time I was in Iowa City?

And indeed I did.

Englert Theater, Iowa City

But what the hell. It’s been a good life so far. To quote the masters, with hope:

Second verse. Same as the first. If I'm lucky.

___

Friday night: pizza. My wife decided she did NOT want a pizza from Lake Harriet Pizza. She was tired of them. She wanted to go back to Davanni’s. Cold dread gripped my heart. We had split from Davanni’s months before over the Inadequate Sauce issue. I’d ask for Extra Sauce, and they wouldn’t put it on. If anything, it seemed they subtracted sauce. Lake Harriet Pizza, by contrast, slopped it on with abandon, and they’d send a bucket of sauce on the side if I desired. Sauce? Of course! And it was good sauce, too - spicy and rich. the crust wasn’t perfect - a little too floury - but it was a classic American late 50s pizza, and I’d come to love it.
But my wife wanted Davanni’s, and I thought: well, variety, spice of, etc. The pizza arrived 40 minutes later, with the usual drama - Jasper barking his damn head off, having worked himself into a mad frenzy of desire ever since he learned pizza was en route. (He loves pizza, because it combines life’s two great dramas: Food, and Someone At the Door. When told pizza is en route, he goes to the window and waits, nose to the glass, whining softly, occasionally pacing. It’s hard on him, but the rewards are great.) It smelled fabulous. I opened the box. Took a piece -

No extra sauce.

Hardly any sauce at all.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have called this place and told them that the pizza doesn’t have enough sauce. It’s humiliating. I feel like the Sauce Weirdo. Dorkus Sausomus. Half the time I don’t want another pizza, I just want to tell the manager that I am disappointed over the volume of sauce. I constrain my fury. I do not take it out on anyone. If anything, I am rueful, and sad.

This time I just asked for my money back. They offered another pizza, or a coupon for a free pizza, and I was tempted to snap: NO SAUCE 47 TIMES, SHAME ON YOU! NO SAUCE 48th TIME, SHAME ON ME! But that’s not really a snappable axiom. I could come by and pick up the money, they said. It was Friday night and they couldn’t send a driver out to give me my money. Blood - pressure - surging -

“That’s fine,” I said. I thanked him for his time.

Called Lake Harriet Pizza.

“Extra sauce,” I said, and I said no more.

The pepperonis were doing the fargin’ BACKSTROKE when that sucker showed up.

Weekend entertainment: Animal Farm. Nice job - good vocal work from Patrick Stewart, nice models, good CGI, and some exceptional casting - pigs make great Communists. One pig in particular - squinting, smiling insincerely, peering through a monocle - looked alarmingly human. There’s a sequence that apes old propaganda films, and it’s just . . . brilliant. Nice piece of work, and makes one happy to be alive nowadays - we’re at the point where they can film “Animal Farm” and every frame looks absolutely credible. But most astonishing was the conclusion. “We have new bosses now,” the dog says in a voiceover, and the camera sweeps over the convertible of the farm’s new owners.

It’s Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Or facsimiles thereof. But still.

After Sara hit the hay, I stayed up for Manly Late-Night Theater. Watched “The 13th Warrior,” which had been hugely panned by all right-thinking critics. I don’t know why, but I’d had the suspicion that it was actually good, and a Bleatnik (that’s a really self-aggrandizing term, I know; forgive me) suggested I see it. Well. I was hooked from the start and entertained throughout; I loved it. The premise alone is wonderful: cultured man of letters from the greatest civilization of his time is tossed into barbaric Europe. Plus Omar Sharif and a cast of thousands, all filthy. Also saw “Stargate,” which, given the subsequent work from Centropolis, will stand as their small, intimate character-driven movie. I saw it in the theater, but I’m really not sure I SEE movies in the theater. There are so many distractions. So many other considerations. Someone’s kicking me, my feet are sticking to the floor, I’m wondering when I’ll time my trip to the can, I’m hoping the movie doesn’t stink, or start to stink. I enjoy the second viewing so much more.

And, of course, the X-Files, which was good. It was also amusing, inasmuch as the Cigarette Smoking Man wrotethe episode, and did what any red-blooded fella would do: write a scene where the camera instructions consist of “CLOSE UP ON SCULLY’S BRA,” and then put her in a slinky black dress.

Whew. One of those episodes that makes a chap say: my. My, my.

Oddly enough, my wife didn’t like it as much as I did.

Scanned. Scanned, scanned, scanned. Twenty-four new motel postcards, and no, don’t look for them; no updates until V. 5.0. I’m stockpiling. Also started to scan the gargantuan collection of matchbooks for an upcoming project, Matchbook of the Week, or something like that. Each book will have a short story. And I mean short. These will be little improv sessions - I’ll look at the matchbook, then just write whatever comes to me. Whether any sort of long arching narrative emerges, well, we’ll see. Coming in May.

____

Went to Target to buy a bookshelf and a coffee maker. Ten minutes after entering the store, I had a three-ring binder, five videotapes, a wooden CD caddy, a white tanktop, a short-sleeved tropical shirt, a letter caddy for the desk, a new pair of sneakers, and a large piece of luggage. Then I realized that the luggage was probably a piece of KREP! since it was only $40.00. Yes, comparable items sell for three times that much! And there’s a reason: they don’t break the first time you use them. So I put it back, and wandered over to furniture for the bookshelves. They didn’t have what I wanted. They had a bookshelf on wheels. Interesting idea. When you feel the need, you can push the bookshelf around the room. For extra fun you can shove it down the stairs with minimal effort. Nowadays people have to grunt and sweat to get the bookshelf to the top of the stairs. Not with the Target wheeled bookshelf.

I considered buying it anyway, and leaving the wheels off - it would match what I have now. But it was only about four feet tall, which is a peculiar height for a bookshelf. So I didn’t buy it. Off to the coffeemaker aisle. There were a dozen varieties, most of them white. Great color for coffeemakers: white. Very low maintenance item, a WHITE coffeemaker, especially if you get one with the new improved dribble-lip carafe. I liked the design of one item, and the price, but the basket didn’t catch securely; it swung out too easily. And I know what that means - grounds everywhere, water everywhere, a mess. It’s one of those clever features companies build into their products, so they’ll A) be useless after six months, and B) inspire so much ill-will you’ll never buy a product from that company again. Idiots.

Of all the coffeemakers, only one had a compact size, a timer, and a good catch on the basket. It was also the one we have now. The one I don’t like very much, and was intending to replace. But it’s a perfectly good coffeemaker. What was I thinking? Why, this was practically an O. Henry ending.

En route to the nostrums and salves department, I saw a selection of clocks. Some cool retro kitchen clocks. Twenty bucks. I put in cart, and moved along. Saw some cool light fixtures, including some clamp-on lights that might replace the big crappy black plastic clamp-ons we have in the small room. (Attached to the shelves. Which are being dismantled.) I removed one from its box, saw that it was A) Cool, B) Cheap, and C) Would burst into flames if you used anything other than a 8-watt bulb. I put it back in the box.

But it did not want to go back in the box. It had been packed with a peculiar ingenuity I could not reproduce. Now, the common response would be to jam it all in the box, put it back, and move along, but I couldn’t do this. It would be . . . uncivil. It would mean A) more work for some clerk who really didn’t need to clean up after me, or B) disappointment for the person who bought the lamp because it was the only one left, and was deprived of the nice warm feeling you get when you buying something that is both Cool and New. I had sucked the Newness right out of the lamp by cramming the parts back into the box.

So I opened another box to see how the parts were positioned. At this time, half a dozen shoppers suddenly decided to investigate the Cool New Lamp display, and everyone crowded around me as I attempted to get everything back in the box. I felt like an utter idiot, like a moron jamming a square peg in a round hole while being observed from behind a two-way mirror.

But I got it all back in. Perfect. You’d never know.

Off to nostrums. Ten disposable razors, a big blue bladder of mouthwash (never noticed this before, but they make a special Smoker’s Mouthwash. Two varieties - Regular, which is Listerine colored but looks like tobacco spittle in this context, and Clean Mouth, a flavor that must make your Mouth feel Clean. They ought to have chosen a better name; one can imagine that sales of Regular have dropped off since the Clean Mouth option became available) and some liquid soap. Finally decided that Fa brand soap is just too silly. Nice packaging, but silly. Ibought Zest! brand Citrus Rush, or some such stupid name; it’s the color of urine after you’ve taken too many vitamins.

Off to the register. I decided I didn’t want the clock. Or the wooden CD case. Everything else came to a hundred bucks. Drove home.

“Where’s the bookshelf?” my wife asked. “Where’s the coffeemaker?”

I had an explanation. Just not a very good one.

.