Archives » July, 2004

July 30, 2004

I’m back

Yes, I’ve been back for a few days and yes, I’ve been procrastinating on doing anything with the site. Pesky thing about having a baby; family is suddenly more important than computers. Go figure.

Our trip was very bittersweet. For one, we love the Seattle area, so getting to go up there, do all the tourist things, even getting to leave the house for a week, was all very thrilling. But the problem was that we brought our Nevada climate with us when we went. I didn’t think something like climate could be packed into the trunk of the car, but somehow we pulled it off. So that’s how we ended up visiting Seattle during their record-breaking heat wave last week. High temperature records were shattered all over Puget Sound, there wasn’t a cloud in sight, and Seattle hit 90 degrees for the first time all year. And of course this all happens while we’re up there with the express purpose of escaping the heat! Maybe we didn’t have as bad a time with it as the regular residents; temps regularly flirt with the three-digit range here along the Sierra Crest. It’s nothing new for us. So we can take it, but we don’t like it. And a vacation is supposed to let you get away from the things about home you don’t like, not give you more of the same.

Anyway, we ended up taking about 2,200 pictures on the trip. Now there’s a sign of the times for you. Just try to imagine if, fifteen years ago, somebody told you they went on a one-week vacation and took over 2,000 pictures. You’d think they were nuts. For one, the processing costs on a hundred rolls of film would put anyone in the poor house. And then where do you keep them all, how do you look at them, how many albums do you need to buy and how much shelf space would they take up? It would be madness. But now that we’re living in the future, my camera can take nearly 300 pictures at once. Spend ten minutes downloading them into the laptop, and you’ve got a blank slate for 300 more. It’s unthinkable. But it’s the greatest thing ever. I remember the bad old days of film. You’d spend an entire day at this great location, but you had to ration your film. For budgetary reasons, you’d allow yourself two, maybe three rolls of film. That worked out to about 50~75 pictures. So as you went through your day, every sight you saw, you had to decide if it was important enough to use your precious film on. You had to carefully line up your shots. And above all, you had to make sure you didn’t screw up the shot. Children and animals were especially stressful, since they can do anything in those few milliseconds it take to activate the shutter. So you ended up with a lot of “good enough” shots, and there were many things you just couldn’t take a picture of, since you were running out of film. So many good shots were never taken and lost forever.

But now you don’t have to worry about any of that. Once you’ve bought the camera, budget is no concern. You still have to ration your pictures (and batteries!), but 300 pictures gives you a lot more leeway than 50. So, as you go through your day, you’re able to take those shots that you used to miss. You’re able to experiment, to try several ways of taking one picture, to shoot through a glass window from five different angles to see which one has the least amount of glare. And you’re able to delete pictures. That might be one of the greatest advances. With film, if you took a bad shot, it was permanent. Unless it was pure black, it got developed anyway. And then you either had to toss it and waste your money, or keep it around, suffer the embarassment, and waste your money. Now you press a few buttons, and bingo. The picture is gone, no one ever has to know you screwed up, and it doesn’t count against your quota for the day. Brilliant.

Yes, two thousand pictures might sound like a lot. But when you’re given that much freedom, it’s hard to hold back. And that number is spread out over 11 days, so it’s not like I have 400 pictures of the Space Needle. I was able to capture just about every facet of our vacation, instead of having to focus on the highlights. Sure the highlights are there, and sure I took plenty of photographs of them. But I was also able to capture the smaller moments, the ones that used to be overlooked and forgotten. I could take a picture out the window every hour to mark our progress along the freeway. I could take twenty pictures of the river otters, trying to get just the perfect shot as they swam back and forth. I could take a random picture of the city with Mount Rainier faintly towering in the background. I could take a picture of the baby staring overboard on his first ferry ride, and capture the wonder on his face as so many new things passed before his eyes. With a digital camera you are able to preserve so much more of your vacation, and I don’t know how we ever got along without them.

Well, that was an unexpected little digression. I really just wanted to say that I took a bunch of pictures, and if I ever get the time you’ll be seeing some of them on this site. A bunch of them have already shown up on Sammy’s site, and I’ll probably keep running more there even though the vacation is over. Stay tuned!

Waterfall Fire

Update about the fire. It was named the Waterfall Fire after a tiny little creek that runs through the hills where it started. A total of 18 homes were burned, mostly ones nestled in the dry forest at the fringe of town. The firefighters were able to hold it at bay along the edge of town, but it ran wild up in the mountains. Over 8,000 acres were burned before it was finally extinguished and the hills, all the way from the north end of town to the south, are now charred black. This fire is going to leave its scar for a long time to come.

But there was a town to come back to. So that’s something. That’s thanks to the firefighters that were out there for days on end, over a thousand of them, more concerned with keeping the flames away from town than with completely surrounding them. Save the houses first, and then when it scurries up into the mountains you can work on stomping it out. And that’s what they did. The efforts of their work are visible now that the smoke has cleared.

Parts of the Lakeview neighborhood are literally in the forest. The houses are surrounded by trees. You can see the black scar where the fire came down the hill, and there’s a distinct line where it stops. Not a single house was lost in Lakeview.

The Timberline neighborhood wasn’t so fortunate; several houses were lost there. But dozens of others were saved. Timberline is also in the forest, up the hill a ways. It used to be well camoflauged against the mountain backdrop, but now it stands out; an island of green perched in the center of a sea of black. That image, more than any other, is a testament to the skill of the firefighters.

July 18, 2004

Redmond, Part Deux

Things did improve a little bit, and we ended up getting a sprinkling of rain. Plus we got the drive-thru tour of the Microsoft campus. No BillG, no ski masks, but we almost got chased by security, and we did see about 5 Mini Coopers. Drooool…

And on the best note, the whole day ended like this.

Any day that ends like this is not one you can complain about.


I’m sitting here in an apartment in Redmond, just blocks from the Microsoft campus, connecting over a borrowed Wi-Fi conection (thanks girish@285!). You’d think that for an apartment complex that’s mostly occupied by Softies, there would be more hotspots. I only found half a dozen, and most of them were locked down (those paranoid buggers). But this one is open, and the guy’s even advertising his apartment number, so it’s good all around.

I’m just here on a family vacation, not any kind of business. But we’re geting ready to put on the ski masks and storm BillG’s office soon, so I guess that might be considered work-related.

It’s way too hot up here. We came to escape the Nevada weather, but it turned out the be 80 degress and sunny. Bleah. But at least it’s not blanketed in smoke, so I guess there’s one advantage over our house.

July 15, 2004

News from the 541

Writing from Roseburg, Oregon tonight. On the road to Seattle, WA, and points beyond. 500 miles of driving today, nearly as much tomorrow.

When we left town this morning, the fire had been pushed up into the hills and wasn’t threatening town anymore. After we left it turned around and swept through Timberline, one of the fancy neighborhoods, where it destroyed a dozen homes. It then surrounded Lakeview, another neighborhood full of million-dollar homes. The firefighters have kept all the structures there safe, at least so far.

A few hours after we left, the four-lane freeway out of town was closed due to the fire, and all traffic was rerouted onto the windy, two-lane mountain roads of Virginia City. I heard traffic was backed up for hours and hours.

Got out of town just in time.

More from the road later.

July 14, 2004

Real Fire, Part II

This fire is turning out to be a pretty bad one. At least it’s not the Lake Tahoe one I prophesied yesterday, but still bad. This one is on the Carson City side of the mountains, in the foothills right outside town. The wind is pushing it into neighborhoods on the western outskirts, and blanketing downtown with smoke.

The fire is up in the Kings Canyon area. The hills around there are heavy with pine trees and dry brush, as much a tinderbox as the Tahoe Basin is. The pine trees stop at the valley floor and give way to sagebrush, and town is about a mile away from that point. But there are quite a few houses built up there amongst the brush and trees, and the news is reporting that some of them have already been lost. The fire is pushing its way north, towards Lakeview, which is one of the ritzy neighborhoods in town. It’s completely surrounded by forest, and if the fire makes it that far there will be massive losses. On its way it will pass through the Timberline neighborhood, and a bunch more fancy homes.

I’m thinking that town itself is safe. These’s a lot of defensible space down here. Plus by the time it reaches us it’ll be a brush fire, and those can be stopped a lot easier than a forest fire can. Fire crews shouldn’t have a problem keeping it confined to the mountains. Getting a handle on it there, in that terrain, is another matter.

More from the Nevada Appeal, Reno Gazette Journal, KTVN TV, and KOLO TV. KOLO reporter John Tyson, who I believe is a volunteer firefighter himself, got a little too close to the front line. I’ve heard he lost his news van to the flames and was lucky to escape with minor burns.

I’m at my office right now, two miles from where the fire is burning. We’re enveloped in a cloud of smoke and ash. I would say I’ll keep updating as things change, but I’m leaving on vacation at sunrise tomorrow. So, I ask the same question I did yesterday: Will there be a town to come back to?

News flash: They still don’t get it

allmusic just launched a major overhaul of their site. Unfortunately, they decided to carry over several of their poor design decisions into the new version, still for no discernable reason. The big one is their URL scheme. Their homepage isn’t, it’s If you click through to a band like Cake, you get Mmm hmm. That’s clear. Now, I understand that a huge site like this with a huge database needs tons and tons of programming behind it, and that’s fine. But there’s no reason to make everybody suffer through it. Almost every web server has some kind of URL rewriting available, either built-in or as an add-on. So they could easily cut that down to or something like that, hiding most of the mess from the visiting public.

They also had an opportunity to cut out the JavaScript links, but they didn’t take it. I mean, look at the cruft in this list of bandmates:

<li><span class="libg"><a onclick="z('11:bzd9keztjq7m')">
Vince Di Fiore</a></span></li>
<li><span class="libg"><a onclick="z('11:pu7m968odepc')">
John McCrea</a></span></li>
<li><span class="libg"><a onclick="z('11:is9ds35ia39g')">
Greg Brown</a></span></li>

Now come on. Seriously. Hey, at least I can commend them for using an actual list for this, instead of a string of line breaks. And they’ve actually used style sheets for the styles. But come on. All those classes? <a> without an href? Mozilla doesn’t even think those are links, so it won’t show a hand cursor. On top of that, there’s no way to put any hover effects on those links. Nor is there any way to use their site if you’re not using a mouse. Think about that. Speech browsers, keyboard browsers, text browsers—you can’t follow any of the links because you’re not using a mouse. On top of that, think Google is going to be able to index any part of this site? Fat chance. And, the best I can tell, the only point to having this javascript is so they can add some kind of “token” into the URL when you click. A “token” which has been blank every time I’ve clicked on something.

Plus, you don’t need all those classes. Put one class on the <ul>, and hang your styles off that.

<ul class="libg">
<li><a href="/11:bzd9keztjq7m">
Vince Di Fiore</a></li>
<li><a href="/11:pu7m968odepc">
John McCrea</a></li>
<li><a href="/11:is9ds35ia39g">
Greg Brown</a></li>

Better? Cleaner? They can have it if they want. Steal it right off this page. Just do something!

Apparently they’ve gotten a lot of complaints, since they had to put up a page (, now removed, seemingly) justifying all their poor decisions. And this is where it gets laid on thick. Never mind the URL, just look at their “reasons” for the site falling apart in Mozilla, et al:

Our resources are limited. We’re a small company from Ann Arbor, MI, trying to provide a great resource for music fans.

While we would love to optimize the AMG sites for all browsers and all operating systems, we simply don’t have the necessary resources to do so.

We had to pick the most widely used browser by our users (over 87%) to optimize the site for and then work on compatibility issues with the other major browsers as we go forward.

That’s funny. I think it’s been pretty well proven that supporting all browsers is just as simple, if not simpler, than building an IE-only site. Of course, big companies seem to be the ones struggling with this concept, while small developers working out of their living rooms are the ones who can pull it off. Maybe allmusic’s problem isn’t that they’re too small; maybe they’re too big!

Seriously, the site looks horrible in Mozilla. They used to have a banner-ad-sized message at the top of the page warning you that you were using an “unsupported browser”. That’s gone, but the site is still full of positioning errors and overlapping content. I realize that, like they said, “this isn’t a simple ‘brochure-ware’ site of static pages.” But all their pages look to be built from the same few templates. And while I have neither the time nor the inclination to do so, I could probably fix most of the cross-browser problems in their templates before sunset tonight. It’s not hard if you know what you’re doing. But they’ve chosen to cling to the mantra “cross browser is hard” instead of taking the time to learn that it really isn’t. How quaint.

Maybe one day they’ll wake up. Maybe a barrage of e-mails will open their eyes. But I’m not holding my breath. They’re not worth the trouble.

The real fire

Yesterday’s smoke may have been a MacGuffin, but today there is a real fire in the area. This blaze started in the hills outside Carson City, and has the potential to sweep into the outlying areas of town if the winds shift.

They’re on top of it, but sometimes it takes them a couple of days to clean these things up.

July 13, 2004

This fire is not your fire

Okay, so I guessed wrong. The fire is actually in Yosemite, about 250 miles away. The wind must have shifted, since we got a massive amount of smoke pouring into the valley in the space of about five hours. Who knows how long it will stick around. Still looking for a story on the web, and still can’t find one.

[Update] I found Yosemite’s info page on the fire in question. Only 200 acres!! But the TV news that reported it currently has nothing on their website.

Makes for cool sunsets, though.

So Tahoe got off easy today. But its time will come. It can’t hide forever.

Whispers of the coming inferno

A thin orange haze started filling the skies earlier today. Not much, just a slightly noticable tint to the sunlight. Now it’s becoming a thick orange haze, with a very distinctive smell. That can only mean one thing: Wildfire! And given the wind direction and where the smoke seems to be coming from, my uneducated guess puts the fire somewhere near Lake Tahoe.

Due to years of drought, disease, and bark beetles, the Tahoe Basin is basically a big box of dry kindling. One match and the whole place could go up like a flashpot. It’s a credit to the firefighters that Tahoe hasn’t had its big one yet. I wonder if this could be it.

I don’t see anything about a fire on the web yet. I’ll have more as I find out, but I’m scheduled to get out of town Thursday morning. I wonder if there will still be a town left to come back to.