Sunday, November 28, 1999


“Does anal retentive have a hyphen in it?”

“More properly, it has a colon.”

(author unknown; I heard it from Kate Yule)


“Elections are not about picking the best person for the job.
They are about choosing the person who will do your issues the least harm.”

(author unknown)

Wednesday, October 27, 1999


Several years ago, at a gay rodeo host hotel (where the men should be butch and manly, and the women, um, should also be butch), I got on the elevator after a pair of West Hollywood queens got off, and I was nearly overwhelmed by the fumes.  Although I didn’t say it verbally, I sure thought it hard:

“Girlfriend!  Leave some in the bottle for next time!”


“If they’re GLAAD, why are they always so pissed?”

G.L.A.A.D. is the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a media watchdog group that pays attention to portrayals of lesbians and gay in film, television, and other popular media.

Updated on December 9, 2009

Saturday, October 16, 1999

Organized Religion

I have very little use for it.

Okay, maybe that is a little bit terse.  I don’t have a problem with organized religion, per se, so long as it isn’t forced upon me.

My father is a retired Methodist minister.  (Yes, I have heard all the jokes about being a “preacher’s kid.”)  I was fortunate in that my upbringing was sufficiently liberal that I was able to (and even relatively encouraged to) examine things from an objective perspective and make decisions for myself.  (In our 7th Grade confirmation class — taught in part by my mother — we did a little bit of “comparative religion” study, which included visits to a Catholic cathedral and a Jewish synagogue and learning about other religions, including Judaism and Islam.)

(As an interesting aside, we used to get a magazine called Pix in Sunday School, which included Bible stories in comics form.  At some early age, I realized that these had to be drawn by someone, and in particular, that there was no way to know that the drawing of [for example] King David was how King David really looked.  Thus, these were filtered through people, and were an interpretation, not a fact.  And if these were filtered, so was anything else in religion, and I should thus listen to sermons and read the Bible and so on with the idea of needing to find the truth through the filtering.  The fact that I found out a couple years later there was once a Bible printed with the typo “Thou shalt commit adultery” was further evidence that any given bit of religion could be flat out wrong.)

The result of this upbringing is three-fold:
  1. I have enough background to have respect for a variety of religious beliefs, both the mainstream ones and the alternative, even “cult” ones.  (Let’s not forget that Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism, and was effectively just a “cult” for the first few hundred years, until in gained ascendancy.)
  2. I don’t see any particular religion as exclusively “better” than the others (although I see some as “worse”).
  3. I have little personal use for anything which dictates that people must worship in a particular manner, and especially those which dictate that someone else does the worshiping for you.
In other words, we all should be free to worship a “higher power” [or powers] as we see fit.  If that means Catholic high mass for some, great; if that means communing with nature for others, fine; if that simply means adhering to one’s own moral conscience and appreciating life, no problem.

I’ll never shed the Christian roots in my upbringing (and I wouldn’t want to).  The basic philosophy of Christianity — that God so loved the world that He let his son die to save us all — is powerful, despite how it often gets corrupted and ignored by religious extremists.  But other religions, perhaps all religions, also have powerful, valuable things to say, if we just listen.

And thus I say: make your own religion.  Pick the bits you like from one existing religion or another, and invent the remainder.  God (or the Goddess, or the gods, or whatever you want to acknowledge), what name you use for Him (Her, Them, etc.), whether you drink grape juice or wine, whether you worship in a crowd in a cathedral or by yourself in the woods, whether you are in fancy clothes or naked and covered with dried mud… that you are worshiping at all, and most especially in a way that has meaning for you, that is what is important.

Updated on October 11, 2000
Updated on December 11, 2009

Avoid: is one of the new companies running an Internet answering machine service.

It’s a great idea.  What happens is that they set up a voicemail box for you.  You then contact your telephone company (or they can do it for you), and set the Busy Call Forwarding to go to that voicemail box.  Then if someone calls while you are online, instead of getting a busy signal for hours at a shot, they get redirected to where you’ve left a message — “Hi, this is Jim.  I’m probably online right now, but leave a message and I’ll get it over the Internet!”  You then get notified of the message they left and can listen to it right there, without dropping your connection, and then act on it or not.

As I said, great idea.  (Unless, of course, you’re not online, but are talking on the phone instead.  Then they leave a message and you don’t get it until the next time you connect.  If you’re online frequently, that won’t be a problem.)

When Pagoo first started, they were a Windows-only product.  (No surprise there, these days.)  But they intended to add a Macintosh version.  I asked to be notified of such, and was invited to take part in the beta program for Mac Pagoo 1.1.

As part of the signup for Pagoo (at the time; details may have changed since then), they will set up the voicemail box for you for a 30-day free trial (after which it is $3.95 per month), and they will spring for the fees for setting up the Busy Call Forwarding switch and your first month’s fee for that service.  (Very cool.  Assuming you stick around, they’ll get that cost back in a couple months.)

This was all fine, until the beta period extended beyond the end of the 30-day free trial.  Presto!  My voicemail greeting was replaced by “This user’s 30-day free trial has expired.”  (No indication that they had got the right phone number, nor why [or that] they had been transferred to what had been a voicemail box.)  As a result, my use of the Pagoo system and participation in the beta program was instantly over (if no one could leave a message, that kind of reduces the feedback I can give, no?).  The fact that some outside modem had called up my phone and locked up my line into always-busy (and scrambled my answering machine, too) while I was away for a four-day weekend only made things worse, as I couldn’t retrieve my own messages, only get that damned message.)

So I tried to contact the company.  I started with my e-mail contact person, Philippe Piernot (vice-president of Product Development at the time), asking for an extension of my “trial period” through the end of the beta program.  (After all, there was nothing for me to buy yet, since the Macintosh version wasn’t publicly available.  I don’t pay to take part in beta programs.  [Mmm, but that OS X public beta is awfully tempting!])   No response from him.  So I go to the company’s web site, looking for customer support information.  I found a FAQ document, but what didn’t I find?  Any telephone number or even an e-mail address for customer support, that's what.   (What great customer support!)  I eventually sent an e-mail to their “Suggestion Box” address, indicating a deadline: in two days, they needed to resolve the matter and contact me (I gave my work number), or I would cancel the service and not be able to recommend it to anyone else.

I ended up giving them three days, and you can tell from this essay what they failed to do.

In conclusion, the idea is great: voicemail for while you are online, which you can retrieve without losing your connection.  Only about $7.00 per month, far less than the cost of a second phone line.  There are apparently several companies offering variations on this idea.  Check one of them out, though, because Pagoo is one to not deal with.

Nine days after the deadline elapsed, I got an e-mail from the company, saying “Of course we’ll extend your trial period!”  Too little, too late.  The Busy Call Forwarding had already been shut off, and the software deleted; three-plus weeks of the service being inactive and thus giving people a negative impression of me is three-plus weeks too many.

I’ve requested that the company remove all contact information about me from their files (twice: in my “I’m gone” message and in my response to this one).  Any further contacts by the company are going to be turned over to the Better Business Bureau, and then treated as harassment.  (A year later, no such contacts have come.  I guess the threat did its job.)

(I really, really don’t like service companies who don’t serve.)

Updated on October 11, 2000
In the year since I originally wrote this, search engines have picked up this page, and hardly a week goes by that I don’t get an e-mail from someone thanking me for warning them off from a potentially bad company.  In one case, I got an e-mail from someone else who had had a bad experience with Pagoo, possibly even beating out my own, where they completely screwed up his phone service.

And a year later, there is still no e-mail contact method on their web site for dealing with customer issues and complaints other than “Suggestion Box.”
Updated on July 19, 2007
In the process of posting this on the new blog, I thought I would go check out the current state of Pagoo, since I still get one or two notes a year from this piece on the old website.  Pagoo is still around, and sure enough, still with no contact info for the company on the website.   Can’t even tell what country it is based in.

Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Updated on December 11, 2009
Still no contact info for the company on their website<. I notice that the Mac version only runs in Classic, so no new Mac from the last several years can use the service, which indicates that they probably have very few Mac customers. Of course, this is also a service that is increasingly of little use: broadband, WiFi, and cell phones greatly reduce the need for the service. I still get e-mail comments on this blog post every few months, despite the blog now having moved twice!

Thursday, September 23, 1999

The Millennium

There has been way too much flap about the “end of the millennium”: is it the bridge between 1999 and 200, or between 2000 and 2001?

First, that’s “millennium”.  Two “n”s.  Most misspelled word of 1999.  (And 2000.)

Second, a millennium ends December 31, 2000.  Another one ends tonight.  A somewhat different millennium begins on June 3, 2004.

Third, it’s all post-dated crap anyway.  “There was no Year Zero” tout the millenniumists.  “Big whoop,” I say.  “There was no Year One, either.”

In about 532 AD of our current counting, some monk backdated events and declared a numbering system which would start with Christ being born at the start of Year One (which equated to something like Roman year 750 — look it up if you want it exact).  Alas, he got it wrong.  (Does anyone still believe that other religious figure who determined that the world was created in 4004 BC?  If not, why do we weight this guy’s figures so strongly?)  Based on historical records, Christ would have been born no later than 4 BC (by that calendar) — which means the “millennium” happened in 1996, and we all missed it!

Further, we celebrate Christ’s birthday a week before the first day of the new year, which twigs the calendar off by another week.  But shepherds watched their flocks by night — to protect the lambs — which means Christ would have been born in, say, April.  (April 15: now there’s a good day to celebrate!)  And a couple hundred years ago, they “fixed” the calendar and shifted it by a couple weeks to account for proper leap year differences (causing the late-to-adopt Russians to have their October Revolution in November).

(Side Note: Christmas is situated in December because every other religion in the area had a winter solstice celebration, so the early Christians could hide their big one by doing it when others did theirs.  The “reason for the season” isn’t Jesus, it’s to avoid persecution!)

So, as you can see, December 31, 2000 is approximately 2000 years after absolutely nothing of significance.

At the end of December 31, 1999, however, we saw a whole bunch of digits flip over.  We concluded all years starting with “1” and started all years starting with “2”.  We held our collective breath about Y2K (and wasn’t that a yawner?).  In comparison, what is interesting about the cusp of the 2000/2001 switch?  Other than ushering in the Arthur C. Clarke year, will there be anything non-(faked up-)religious to “wow” about?  We’ll have concluded what is termed the 20th century (and whether the year numbers are “right” or not, the number of years that have passed will be fairly firm and consistent) at least, but the number switch a year before will have taken so much of the wind out of the sails that it will be rather a denouement.

Your best bet: celebrate both dates — hedge your bets — and heck, celebrate for the entire year!  Just don’t play that damn Prince song any more.

(For the record: if the “second millennium” — if you want to call it that — doesn’t end until the conclusion of the year 2000, neither does the “twentieth century.”  We haven’t hit the 21st Century quite yet, folks!)

Updated on October 10, 2000

Dr. Laura

Okay, I don’t outright hate Dr. Laura.  When she limits herself to dealing with family and marriage issues — the stuff she is licensed for — her advice is generally pretty good.  But she gets on my nerves.  (And those of a lot of people.  She got parodied in a Stephanie Brush humor column, and a version of her even got used as a patsy by the super-villain The Kingpin in the “Spider-Man” comic strip.  And try this short bit for fun.)

She has a tendency to weigh the importance of kids in the family too strongly for my tastes, coming off more or less as “If you have kids, they are your entire life until they are 18 years old.  To have any pleasure of your own that does not both include and focus around the kids is wrong.”  I don’t have kids, myself, and I have little expectation of ever doing so, but this seems a bit heavy handed.  Not completely wrong, but not completely right, either.  Just “over the top.”

(My favorite — not — example of this was when a male caller talked about how he had come to terms with being gay, and how he and his wife were considering getting a divorce.  Dr. Laura’s response?  Since he and his wife had a child, divorce was not an option.  The couple must stick it out until the daughter grew up; they were not allowed to develop other relationships or otherwise have lives of their own.  Another decade of misery and stress for both parents was the only solution Dr. Laura would consider.  Never mind what that situation might do to the child.)

She also has a tendency to be abrasive with her callers, jumping on side issues (especially kid-related ones) rather than letting the caller speak through their problem.  Sometimes this is the right thing to do, as many callers are rather unfocused and/or unwilling to self-analyze.   Most of the time for the audience, though, it just comes off as abuse from the advisor.

The biggest problem with Dr. Laura is when she moralizes.  She goes outside the bounds of being an advice show and into the realm of preaching about what is wrong with society.  (Two of her favorite topics in 1999 were (a) homosexuality and (b) libraries and the Internet.)  She also has a tendency to quote from news stories and letters, giving minimal context, using those phrases which support her or deride those she is opposed to.  To someone used to reading between the lines and being suspicious of such “opinion journalism,” it is evident what she is doing, but does her average listener have the skills and skepticism to sift around her statements?  And then there is her use of hot-button words like “pedophilia,” words which evoke a reaction stronger than is warranted by whatever story (usually kids and the Internet) she is dealing with.

Further, she gives no opportunity for people with differing opinions to express them to her.  Callers to her show are apparently carefully screened in order to prevent confrontation on issues.  Dr. Laura explicitly avoids having an e-mail address, and there is not even an obvious way to contact her (or her people) on her web site (there is a chat forum of sorts, but it is subject to editting and enforced “politeness”; it is easy to guess what is apt to happen to anti-Dr. Laura opinions there).  [This may have changed some in the years since this post was originally written.]  The end result of this is that Dr. Laura has a “bully pulpit” from which she is allowed to speak her mind without fear of contradiciton.

This also means that the only recourse for people who oppose her views is to express themselves via the press, or to attempt to have radio stations (and now, television stations) drop/limit her show.  And that just gives more grist for her mill, allowing her to say that she (innocent, good-hearted little her) is being attacked.   (And then she quotes only the extreme bits of such articles, of course.)  Her favorite claim on being attacked seems be that it comes from “gay activists,” without detailing who they are or what their agendas might be, tarring all gay and lesbian people with the same brush.

So what can or should be done about Dr. Laura and her shows?  With neither the ability nor the hope of getting her to moderate her opinions and moralizing, and without trying to outright stop (i.e., censor) her, the best suggestion is to try and limit her instead.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, the 1999 popularity of her radio show was such that its carrier, KGO, expanded her show to about double the previous amount of weekly time, even going so far as to bump the schedules of their local talk radio hosts into later slots and removing their female host from weekdays altogether, relegating her to reduced hours on weekends, plus fill-in slots for the other hosts.  Dr. Laura’s annoyance factor and the amount of time spent moralizing went up dramatically as a result (although I can’t be sure whether there was a percentage increase for such as well as a total time increase).  Fortunately, in July 2000, backlash and negative reaction to Dr. Laura (and her then-upcoming televison program) had increased to the point that she was bumped completely off KGO and onto its conservative sister station, KSFO. Ask your local radio or television station that carries her show to cut her show back to a smaller time slot.  In addition to limiting her time in the “pulpit,” it will encourage her to focus on advising individuals — the ostensible purpose of her show — and it will enable your radio station to give more variety to the listeners by using more hosts, hopefully even local ones rather than someone with a national focus like Dr. Laura.  Everyone will win.

For more info on Dr. Laura and the fight to moderate her bully pulpit, visit the Stop Dr. Laura website.  (Note: I am not associated with this website in any way.)

Updated on October 10, 2000

E-Mail Petitions

You’ve probably received one or more of these in the past.  You know the sort: some social evil is occurring (like the Religious Right trying to crack down on an airline that sponsored a gay event at some point, or Congress about to let the Post Office charge you for sending e-mail, or something like that), so someone starts an “e-mail petition.”  You are then to add your name (and sometimes your city) and then send it to everyone you know via e-mail.

What purpose does this serve, beyond sending lots of e-mail?

The early versions of these didn’t even give any way for the petition to get to the people it ostensibly needed to.  The petition would just somehow magically “appear” on the desk of the president of the airline, perhaps?  More recent versions have had provisions for every 25th or 50th signer to send the petition to some e-mail address, from which they will presumably be distilled and delivered to the right person.

Let’s think about this a moment.  Imagine that you get the petition and are #19 on the list.  You send it to 10 people.  They are all #20, and they send it to 10 people.  That’s 100 as #21, 1000 as #22,… and 1 million people each listed as #25, all of them dutifully mailing a copy of the petition to the requisite e-mail address (and to ten more friends).  I imagine that the receiving e-mail address would get rather swamped quite quickly.  (And indeed, if you’ve ever tried sending such an item in, you probably found that the e-mail address listed was defunct.)

Now imagine someone — even a computer program — trying to process hundreds of thousands of these e-mailed petitions, trying to extract names from which to compile a master list, in order to find out just how many people really did “sign”.  The way e-mailers warp these human-readable messages, with line wraps and “>” quoting and such, heck, a human would need to look at many of the items just to find the names.  Yeah. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of them.  I don’t think so.

Suppose, though, that a list of names was able to be extracted and the duplicates (more than 99% of the names, probably) removed.  What good does a list of names with no addresses attached do?  Anyone could have loaded the petition up with names pulled from a phone book; there is no way to check that any person on the list ever even saw the petition, much less wanted their name attached.  (Or heck, that they even exist!)  No, even if any of these petitions ever do get to a corporation, they are of no use to anyone there, and they will only get tossed out as unsolicited e-mail.

Do you really want to have an effect?  Trying visiting the company’s corporate website, find a contact address (e-mail or regular mail), and write an individual, original letter — even just a two-line note.  This is much more likely to have someone read it, and pay attention to it, than some alleged “petition” to which you can just blindly add your name, send on, and pretend that you have tried to make a difference.

Also consider visiting  Started in late 1998 as a reaction to the Clinton impeachment trial, this is a web site intended specifically for the electronic gathering of petitions.  It allows you to enter your name, e-mail address, and zip code, and an optional individual comment, and then a compiled petition with your name included only once (and thus effectively) can be sent to the right people and have an actual effect.

Updated on October 10, 2000

Blurry Hearing (definition)

The talent for hearing a conversation incorrectly.

Related to “selective hearing,” which is tuning in on particular words (names or sexual terms, especially), but with “blurry hearing,” what you thought you heard wasn’t even actually said.

Updated on Ocotber 10, 2000
Updated on December 10, 2009

Metro Redneck (definition)

Someone who lives in the city and drives a pickup, but isn’t a contractor.
Back in 1999, I switched jobs and started working in downtown Menlo Park, CA (an upscale part of the Bay Area).  One day, as I walked from the office to Starbucks — across the street, maybe 100 feet — I counted on the order of 28 SUVs and pickup trucks, and thus created this phrase.

Today, I see an increasing number of Cadillac Escalade EXT — Cadillac pickups!  If there was ever a pickup truck whose bed will never ever be used for hauling lumber back from Home Depot, this would be it.  Über Metro Redneck: the pickup truck as a status symbol.

Updated on October 10, 2000

Updated on July 7, 2004

Merged duplicate items on May 11, 2011

Stealth Blonde (definition)

A seemingly non-blonde who still manages to have “blonde moments.”

Updated on October 10, 2000


“You don’t break boots in.  Boots break you in.”

Tuesday, April 27, 1999

Erotica (definition)

Moved this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Kinko’s Copies

Don’t get me wrong.  I love having a 24-hour copy shop available just about wherever I go.  Among other things, it lets me produce meeting agenda updates and the like on the night before a meeting, rather than doing them ahead of time, carting pounds of paper with me on the plane, and having them be out of date when used, to boot.  It lets me do what I want, when I want, how I want — the metaphor for the 90’s work ethic.

But the company doesn’t train their “Copy Consultants” worth a damn when it comes to dealing with self-service copies on anything but 8-1/2x11 paper.  You see, their counter keys record every pass of paper through the machine.  The keys don’t care if that is on cardstock, 11x17 paper, double-sided, and so forth, despite the fact that Kinko’s has different price structures for each of those.  As a result, the cashiers will read 109 ticks on the key and try to ring you up for 109 single copies.

Since double-sided copies are priced at a penny or two less than two single copies (often 7 cents per single, 13 cents per double), this can really add up when you are making 30 sets of six double-sided pages.  (That would be 12 sheets per set, 360 sheets total if done singly, or $25.20 plus tax; 180 sheets doubly is only $23.40.  A couple bucks at a shot!)

But as I said, the counter people are poorly trained to deal with this, and it’s even worse if you do a mixed run, some single and some double.  A recent job involved 271 ticks — 67 single sheets and 102 doubles (204 ticks) — which should have priced out at $17.95.  After the cashier gave me my receipt to charge me over $20 (271 singles, plus tax), I pointed out a second time (knowing it would be ignored the first time anyway) the list I had written of what copies I made.  Ten minutes or more later — and with several people in line behind me — he gave me a second receipt, this time for only about $13 (67 singles, 100 singles, and 2 doubles!).  So I took it and left.

Another recent event should have been about $3 and I was charged $4.  My insistence that he do the bill right so flustered the cashier that he gave me the job for free.  (Fine by me!)  And then there was the time in Ft. Lauderdale where they had to get two other people, including the manager, before they could get the bill entered correctly.

Usually the managers know what they are doing.  I recently got rung up by one of them with a very mixed bill: some 300 ticks, on two weights of paper, on two sizes of paper, some single and some double (all carefully enumerated by me, with the math checked twice).  She rang everything up, nice and quickly, but mistakenly rang up the 11x17 copies as 8-1/2x14.  (If the store goofs in my favor, I usually point it out to them if they haven’t already been screwing up, but in cases like this where the difference is about 8 cents, it’s not worth it to either of us.)

So the moral of the story is: if you’re doing anything more than single-sided copies, expect them to get it wrong, and to get it wrong in their favor.  (That is, the poor training actually brings in more money for the company.)  Keep track of exactly what you made, and fight for the extra dollar or so that they owe you.  And if you get them really flustered, you can come out way ahead.

Updated on October 10, 2000

Updated December 11, 2009
A lot has changed with Kinko’s — now FedEx Office — since this piece was originally written.  No more counter keys, pretty much everything computerized.  My last job that they did was two PDF files brought in on a thumb drive, and the guy knew exactly how to produce a booklet from it, including assembling a proof for me on the spot.  Kudos.

Coffee Houses (haiku)

Too many choices.
Low fat.  No whip.  Soy chai.  Bah!
“Grande drip with room.”

Flying into San Francisco Airport

In the winter or the spring?  Don’t bother.  You’ll be sorry.

SFO (San Francisco’s airport) has only two runways.  Add a little bit of weather — and in that part of the Bay Area, that means fog, more likely than not — and one or both runways can close down in a heartbeat.  This, of course, causes a domino effect of flights being late or outright cancelled.

In December, 1998, I tried to get back to the Bay Area from vacation in Seattle.  Perhaps you heard about the SFO closures that time.  Some flights ended up landing in Sacramento, Reno, or even Los Angeles.  (One airline even landed in Sacramento and abandoned the passengers — “This is as close as we can get to San Francisco.  You’ll have to get the rest of the way on your own.”  What fun!)  I ended up having to stay in Seattle for two extra days.

In April, 1999, I tried to get back to the Bay Area from a weekend trip to San Diego.  Guess what happened?  Matters were compounded by the airline I was flying — Southwest — being unwilling to tell passengers anything more than “might be delayed,” even when United passengers were coming over from the other terminal to see about flights since their airline had cancelled everything into SFO that morning.  I missed getting on standby to Oakland and ended up on the next-to-last seat on a flight to San José — and then was wedged into a “party seat” with one other man and four obese women (who were fun to talk to, despite the tight quarters: “Honey, you don’t need a seatbelt, you ain’t going nowhere!”) — and then waiting in the cold for a shuttle bus and then the commuter train for about an hour, I made it to my destination (work) about four hours late.  I fortunately had no luggage to check; those who did had to chase it all over the Bay Area, adding yet more time to the delay.

My recommendation?  During the winter and spring — mid-December to mid-April — if you can avoid flying into SFO, do so.  The odds of having weather problems are high, but they drop significantly if you fly into either of the other major airports in the area (Oakland and San José).  And truth be told, neither of the other airports is especially less convenient than SFO (depending on where your final destination is, of course) — and they can even be cheaper!

(Oh, and don’t get me started on how I dislike flying out of SFO!)