"This World Wide Web of Theft and Indifference"

Michael Greene, NARAS President and CEO

During last night’s Grammy awards, Michael Greene, President and CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) delivered an anti-file sharing speech entitled The Insidious Virus of Illegal Music Downloading. Some excerpts:

No question the most insidious virus in our midst is the illegal downloading of music on the Net. It goes by many names and its apologists offer a myriad of excuses. This illegal file-sharing and ripping of music files is pervasive, out of control and oh so criminal. Many of the nominees here tonight, especially the new, less-established artists, are in immediate danger of being marginalized out of our business. Ripping is stealing their livelihood one digital file at a time, leaving their musical dreams haplessly snared in this World Wide Web of theft and indifference.

This problem won’t be solved in short order. It’s going to require education, leadership from Washington and true diligence to help our fans – that would be you – to embrace this life and death issue and support our artistic community by only downloading your music from legal Web sites. That will ensure that our artists reach even higher and, deservedly, get paid for their inspired work.

Life and death issue? I think NARAS should get over themselves.

It’s fandom, not theft

Greene squarely puts the blame for the music industry’s woes — woes most industries would kill for — on the customer. This, in spite of the fact that music sales were up during the peak of Napster. What he doesn’t realize — or more likely, what he realizes but chooses not to say — is that nobody “rips” (that is, converts CD music to MP3 format) music they hate. It’s a waste of time. Rather, they rip the tracks they love, and those are the files they share. No money changes hands in the file sharing process; no one — not even the Napster corporation — made money from the transfer of MP3 files. This isn’t piracy; it’s fandom. And unlike piracy, fandom is free advertising. They don’t like nor understand this, which is why they also consider making mixed tapes and CDs for your friends illegal.

They’re not too keen on the doctrine of fair use. If you have a favourite CD that you want to keep at home, they’d rather you bought another one for your car and another one for work instead of making copies for car and office use, even though that’s considered to be fair use in the eyes of the law. Here’s RIAA president Hillary Rosen and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on MP3 downloading, courtesy of

”Can I make a copy of a CD that I buy and put it into a car?” asked Hatch. When Rosen hemmed and hawed, Hatch muttered, ”The answer is yes.”

”Is it fair use to give the copy to my wife for her car?” Hatch continued. ”Is it fair use for me to rip a CD? Is it fair use if (a computer network) decides for efficiency reasons that one copy is sufficient to serve for storage, instead of keeping 200 separate copies, is that fair use?”

”None of these is fair use,” Rosen eventually replied. She argued that musicians’ willingness to ”tolerate” people making copies was an instance of ”no good deed goes unpunished.”

They’re taking intellectual property protection to ridiculous new heights. The music industry would love nothing better than for you to shell out extra ducats in order for you to know what the lyrics and chords to your favourite songs are. That’s why the Harry Fox Agency tried to shut down or neuter OLGA — the On-Line Guitar Archive — and several other sites providing lyrics, tablature and chord charts. Listening to your favourite piece of music over and over again so that you can transcribe its lyrics and chords and then sharing that information isn’t a crime — once again, it’s fandom.

Recently, Pete Abrams, in his great online comic Sluggy Freelance, used the lyrics to James Taylor’s Fire and Rain to underline his storyline. He credited the creator and copyright holder, but still he was told to takes the lyrics out of the comic strip. The songs wasn’t central to the storyline; as Abrams himself puts it, “…the lyrics were just icing on the cake of this story…Actually it’s the little decorative flowers that go on the frosting of the cake.” It was merely a nice detail, and an act of fandom, not theft.

They’ve gone so far as to try and make money off cell phone ring tones that sound like your favourite tunes. Once again, that’s fandom, not theft. How much longer before your keyboard, guitar or accordion is embedded with a device that pays royalties whenever you cover a recording artist’s song, even for family and friends?

In all these cases, we’re not talking about acts of taking someone else’s work and making a profit of it. We’re not even talking about people who are taking credit for someone else’s work. We’re talking about fans who love the work so much that they use it, which in turn further propagates that work. This is advertising that is not only free, it’s done by people who truly love the work, not some disinterested ad exec who’s only promoting the work because s/he’s paid to do so. It’s honest and from the heart. It is not piracy.

The patsies

The patsies who participated in the downloading experiment-cum-publcity stunt. The filename of this picture is “hackers.jpg”.

During the Grammys, the cameras would occasionally cut to a scene where three college-age students, Numair, Stephanie and Ed, were downloading MP3s. It was part of a demonstration of the evils of downloading. Greene announced that they were showing just how many files could be downloaded by only three people in two days. These three patsies — or perhaps they’re doing this as part of some community service in exchange for time in juvie — managed to download almost 6,000 songs.

“That’s three kids, folks,” said Greene “The RIAA estimates that – now listen to this – an astounding 3.6 billion songs are illegally downloaded every month.”

In an attempt to paint computer programmers as part of the problem, the on-line photo of the three patsies is called “hackers.jpg”. The term hacker refers to a obsessively dedicated programmer, and even the correct term — cracker — refers to someone who breaks into computer systems, not someone who is downloading files.

By the way, if any you happen to know Numair, Stephanie or Ed, by all means feel free to give them a good pimp-slapping in my name.

Do you suppose they have any friends left after last night’s Grammy awards?

Forgive the ad hominem cheap shot, but I can’t resist

Mr. Greene, I respectfully suggest that you stop harassing the customers, and while you’re at it, stop harassing your own executives too.

Recommended Reading

The RIAA sucks donkey balls. Here’s proof. Want more proof? Here’s an article on how they’d love to look inside your computer.

George at blogaritaville reports that “the government, two gigantic content distributors, two consumer electronics manufacturers (one of whom owns a substantial MPEG/MP3 patent portfolio), a router company, and a chip company are getting together to debate your rights as a content consumer.” Hmmm. Around the same time as Greene’s speech at the Grammys. Funny, that.

Memo to George: Please use capital letters at the start of your sentences. It makes ’em easier to read. The e.e. cummings / archy-and-mehithabel thing is pretty old.

Support the good guys in this battle against industries who are deciding what you rights are. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is on the side of the consumer in the current imbroglio over copyright and fair use. They’re the good guys, and really stand-up people whom I know personally and for whom I would take a bullet. (Cory, Fred, Cindy, Brad, and Biella: please don’t put this to the test.)

Update, Friday March 1.

Welcome BoingBoing readers!

George at blogaritaville points out in this posting that “unless the artist had recouped for the record label, the band that made the music on the CD wasn’t going to make any money off their purchase, anyway.” He also points to a Steve Albini (producer for Nirvana’s Bleach and In Utero albums) essay, The Problem With Music. Oftentimes artists end up losing money when they make an album because the record industry middleswine have taken their inordinately large slice of the pie.

You might want to check my earlier postings on copyright and fair use, Death to Disney, Part One and Death to Disney, Part Two. Read about the influential Disney guy who says that there is no right to fair use, learn about copyright and how it’s been stolen away from recording artists, find out what this fair use thing is and what the RIAA really thinks about it. Then write your government representative!

Nick Mark of Naked Pope: The Movie fame reminded me of this funny Onion piece called Kid Rock Starves to Death: MP3 Piracy Blamed.

Accordion, Instrument of the Gods It Happened to Me

They’re Not “Strippers”, They’re “Naked-Americans”

North Beach

north beach

Photo by Weegee010, and under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 license.
Click to see the source.

Friday, February 15th: North Beach is one of San Franscisco’s most lively neighbourhoods. It’s a strange mix of date-worthy Italian resto-bars and strip clubs, as if New York’s pre-Disneyfied Times Square and Little Italy had merged. The sidewalks are crowded with people eating tiramisu at cafe tables and passers-by taking in the sights. The road is packed with cars looking for places to park and limousines and buses full of partygoers toasting each other and people on the sidewalk with cans of beer.

Paul, Scott Hardy and I were being led to The Lusty Lady by Annalee Newitz, sex-and-tech writer extraordinaire, whom we’d met at CodeCon earlier that day. We were joined by her friend Charles Anders, who wore a smart little skirt uniform (Meter maid? Police? I don’t recall.) and sensible red flats.

A little aside: I have a theory that the “Gay Disneyland” part of San Francisco’s Castro neighbourhood stops where Castro Street turns into a steep hill because it’s impossible to climb it in a pair of pumps.

It was the kind of group you might only see in an ensemble cast movie: cross-dressing Charles, Annalee in indie-rock olive drab, Scott (who looks as though he could’ve been a member of Steppenwolf), Paul the tall guy from the Midwest, and the mop-topped Asian guy with the accordion on his back (“…and together, they fight crime!”).

The Lusty Lady

lusty lady

Photo by “Noodle”, and under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Click to see the source.

The Lusty Lady is no ordinary peepshow theatre. It was the setting of a documentary film called Live Nude Girls Unite!, a story about the struggle to form first exotic dancer’s union. In order to supplement her income, comedian Julia Query started dancing at the Lusty Lady and found the work arrangements appallingly bad. Dancers had to pay stage fees — the exotic dancer’s equivalent of the musician’s onerous “pay-to-play” contract, were being asked to “date” the owners’ friends and were being videotaped for porn without their knowledge or being paid. The end result: the Exotic Dancers Union was formed. The Lusty Lady is, as I understand it, the only unionized strip club in North America.

“Do they have a good dental plan?” I asked Annalee. “I’m unemployed, you know. And is it, you know, empowering? I don’t want to be exploitive. I mean, I’m like that guy from the Chris Isaak Show, the guy who had the line ‘You give me a boner…with respect.'”

When we arrived at the Lusty Lady, we were met by more of Annalee’s and Charles’ friends, making our combined group an almost even mix of men and women. How different this scene was from what it was like ten years ago, when many of my women friends shared Catherine MacKinnon’s and Andrea Dworkin’s views: “pornography is the theory, rape is the practice”.

The Lusty Lady’s front desk is in a room painted a very lurid red with cheesy furniture; it would look right at home in a Russ Meyer film. A little weasel of a man sat at the front desk.

“Are the art films still in the video booths?” asked Annalee.

“Art films”, I thought. Yeah, right.

“Yesmam!” he said in an cartoonish Spanish accent with an even more cartoonish sing-song cadence. He sounded like a less gravelly-voiced version of “Cheech” Marin’s character, Chet Pussy, in From Dusk Till Dawn. “De regular pooooorno feelms are on channels hwone t’ru twenny-seven, wit’ the art feelm on channel twenny-h’eight.” He said pooooorno feelms and art feelm with particular gusto, and cupped hands pantomiming the squeezing of breasts. “An’ don’ forget ’bout de nekkid ladies!”

The back area was painted the same lurid red. It was a hallway with closely spaced doors, each with a number and a light overhead that was lit up if the room was occupied.

“Let’s get the corner booth,” said Annalee. “There’ll be more room there.”

The five of us piled into a triangular shaped room with a bench built into the wall. On one wall was a machine that accepted bills. The wall that the bench faced had a plexiglass window that was covered by a shade on the other side. The booth was stuffy and had a vague, mushroom-like odor.

“I just stepped in something slimy,” Paul said.

That’s when I noticed the paper towel dispenser on the wall.

Someone fished out a five-dollar bill and fed it into the machine. The shade on the other side of the plexiglass rose, giving us a view into a small room lined with animal print faux fur and lit by several chaser bulbs. Five women, some completely nude, others wearing tiny pieces of gauzy lingerie looked inside our booth and seemed a little annoyed that we were “cheaping out” and cramming inside.

I raised the accordion so that they could see it.

“What’s in the box?” one of them asked. Oops. I was showing them the back. I turned it around and put it on.

“Let me play you a little song,” I said, and started into Wild Thing.

One by one, they gathered around our window. Three of them lay down on their stomachs, their heads propped up in their hands, as if they were kids watching Saturday morning cartoons. The other two did a sexy dance along to the music.

When the number ended, they appluaded and asked for more. I could not possibly turn down five naked women asking for more. All the women, save the cute blonde one with glasses, took turns dancing; she stayed by the window, watching the show. I smiled at her, she smiled back.

“Take your clothes off!” she yelled.

“I will, but first you have to put money in the machine on your side!” I answered.

We kept feeding the machine for another five songs and left the booth afterwards.

“I tell you, that blonde was checking me out!” I told Paul.

“Yeah, right.”

Paul and I tried one of the video booths next. We opened the door and Paul checked the seat for gooey substances before we sat down. I gave Paul a couple of dollar bills to put into the machine. We cycled through the first twenty-seven channels, which were standard run-of-the-mill porno: anal, vaginal, fellatio, threesome and posing.

“Not much variety,” Paul noted.

The twenty-eighth was quite different. It was a reel of student- and “artist”-produced short films. The first was a close-up of a woman’s mouth licking a one hundred dollar bill, which we found hilarious. The next segment showed a naked woman standing in the woods, with two men in soldier’s uniforms running at her from her left and her right. As they approached her, she raised her arms to face each of them, revealing that she was carrying two handguns. She shot them dead before they could reach her. This repeated in a loop for about a minute.

Pavlov Video Chicken One,” I said. (You’ll have to ask a fan of the old Saturday Night Live about that one, it doesn’t appear in Google.)

Someone knocked at the door. “Joey,” said Jesse on the other side. “Your presence is requested.”

One of Annalee’s friends, a rubenesque woman with a low-cut black shirt was going to strip for the strippers and wanted some accompanying music. She, Annalee and I piled into the corner booth. I played a blues progression in C minor while she pulled up her top, presenting her breasts for the dancers’ viewing pleasure. Such reciprocity!

I could feel the love in the booth. I just hoped I wasn’t standing in any of it.

After the call-and-response peep show in the booth, we returned to the hallway, where we gathered to talk about what we’d just seen or done. We were interrupted by the guy from the front desk, who spoke over the public address system.

E’scuuuuse me! I just haf an announcement for all the people jus’ standin’ in de hallway. Eef chu wan’ to talk, please do it outside an’ don’ block de way for de people who are tryin’ to spend their money on de poooooooorno feeelms!” He said poooooooorno with particular gusto and spoke so comically we couldn’t help but laugh. We walked outside.

Hotel Metropolis

Photo: Lobby of Hotel Metropolis, Tenderloin district, San Francisco.

We went to a cafe on Columbus street and occupied the sidewalk tables. Jillzilla arrived and joined us.

She and I looked through Charles’ book, The Lazy Crossdresser, a copy of which he’d just received from the printer. It starts with a chapter titled Matter and Panty-matter and continues to be hilarious to the very end. I’m definitely going to purchase a copy and have it on my coffee table to put The Fear into some of my more timid guests.

After some cake and coffee, we all parted ways. Jill and I were still in a partying mood, so we gave Brandon a call and headed towards his hotel. We caught a cablecar, where Jill noticed that someone had altered one of the signs within.

no igorThe sign had four of those red circles with the red diagonal bar cutting across an image within the circle.

Three of them were what’s you’d expect: no smoking, no food or drink, no leaning out of the cablecar. Someone had altered the fourth one so that the pictogram and text said “No IGOR”. Apparently lab assistants aren’t allowed on board.

The Hotel Metropolis is on the edge of San Francisco’s notorious Tenderloin district. I was expecting it to be a complete fleabag, but it turned out to be the one of the nicest hotels I’d ever seen. It looked as if it had been decorated by Asian readers of wallpaper* magazine, complete with a glass wall waterfall behind the concierge’s desk and Delirium being played instead of standard Muzak. We went to Brandon’s room, where he, Bram, Jane, Steve and Liza were relaxing. I told them about our evening at the Lusty Lady.

“I refuse to believe it happened!” said Brandon with a smile. “It’s all lies, Joey! Lies!”

“I want to believe,” said Steve.

“I want to sleep,” said Jane.

Somehow Jill and I managed to convince them to go out for a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant, which made for a lovely end to a fun and unusual evening.

Recommended Reading

Book cover: The Lazy Crossdresser, by Charles Anders.

The Lazy Crossdresser by Charles Anders. Be sure to check out Chris ‘site.

A little cross-dressing humour: Transvestites are cross-dressers who hang from the top of the cave, while transvestmites stand on the cave floor. Ha! I slay me!

Annalee’s card says TECHNOLOGY * POP CULTURE * SEX on the front and Must…East…Brains… on the back. How can you not visit her site now? Be sure to check out some of her articles:

I get mentioned in the latest Techsploitation column, which appears in today’s San Francisco Bay Guardian. This column covers blogs and CodeCon.

Thanks, Annalee! You don’t know how much this means to a skanky accordion ho like me!


Local Woman Translates Peekabooty Article in Der Spiegel to English

This is not the local woman to whom I am referring.

The article on Peekabooty in Der Spiegel that I mentioned a couple of postings ago has been translated into English — for the most part. Those quirky Germans and their quirky writing! Check it out here.

Special thanks to Liz “DenVixen” Phillips for the translation!

And while I’m making references to The Onion

Check out That Trip to Canada Really Broadened My Horizons and Americans Would Be Outraged If They Understood Enron Collapse.


Usability’s Dirty Secret

Being a user interface programmer, let me say that your worst enemy, after the marketing department, the accounting department, the legal department, middle management, the CEO, the CFO, your compiler vendor, your tool vendors, the people who write the libraries you’re using and your end-users…

…is the user interaction designer.

Often escapees from the career ghettos of art school or desktop publishing, these baskers-in-reflected-high-tech glory somehow managed to create a whole damned usability industry whose alleged purpose is to make computers easier to use but whose real purpose is to save them from a lifelong career of waiting tables. Not smart enough to be programmers, not dumb enough to be safely relegated to tasks like super-sizing your fries, these anal rententives are, as my buddy George puts it, “little dictators — SimCity-sized tyrants — intent on foisting their New Orthodoxy on everyone.”

Oh, relax. I’m just kidding.

But geez, they are annoying, pendantic, self-righteous creatures that absolutely refuse to shut up. May you never be seated next to one on a trans-Pacific flight.

Anyhow, Joel Spolsky, who runs Fog Creek Software, has a great weblog called Joel on Software and a book called User Interface Design for Programmers. Evan Williams (Mr. Blogger) found this quote and put it in his blog. It’s the dirty secret that the usability gurus don’t want you to know, and it’s so worthy of repetition that I am doing the same:

Usability is not everything. If usability engineers designed a nightclub, it would be clean, quiet, brightly lit, with lots of places to sit down, plenty of bartenders, menus written in 18-point sans-serif, and easy-to-find bathrooms. But nobody would be there. They would all be down the street at Coyote Ugly pouring beer on each other.

I’m making it into a T-shirt and wearing it to an HCI conference someday.

Recommended Reading

Some web pages by some usability gurus:

Of course, this poison posting would not be complete without this little Web page called Our little enemies, the lusers. Enjoy!


Blog This

Henry Jenkins from Technology Review (“An MIT Enterprise”) wrote about weblogs in the current his current Digital Renaissance column, entitled Blog This. This very blog gets mentioned:

Bloggers are turning the hunting and gathering, sampling and critiquing the rest of us do online into an extreme sport. We surf the Web; these guys snowboard it. Bloggers are the minutemen of the digital revolution.

Most often, bloggers recount everyday experiences, flag interesting stories from online publications and exchange advice on familiar problems. Their sites go by colorful names like Objectionable Content, the Adventures of the [sic] AccordionGuy in the 21st Century, or Eurotrash, which might leave you thinking that these are simply a bunch of obsessed adolescents with too much time and bandwidth.

It may look like a backhanded compliment, and coming from most journalists, it would be. However, Jenkins is the director of the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, a place famous for seemingly-frivolous pursuits such as the development of the first video game, SpaceWar, to their legendary model railroad club. Silly and pointless as these endeavours may seem, they “sharpened the saws” of those who are shaped and influenced high tech. It’s this background which allows him to see the potential:

Yet something more important may be afoot. At a time when many dot coms have failed, blogging is on the rise. We’re in a lull between waves of commercialization in digital media, and bloggers are seizing the moment, potentially increasing cultural diversity and lowering barriers to cultural participation.

Jenkins notes that there’s a polarization going on in media. At one pole, there’s what Ben Bagdikian’s been warning us about for years: control is held by a small handful of very powerful corporations with great reach. You’ll get your 500 channels, but they’ll all have the same thing. At the other end is the Web, noisier than a thousand Istanbul flea markets, with a billion choices and no simple way to separate the gems from the junk. “Bloggers respond to both extremes,” writes Jenkins, “expanding the range of perspectives and, if they’re clever, creating order from the informational chaos.” In an infomation economy, context is the real currency.

Bloggers are lenses through which the information of the Web is focused. Some, like Jim from Objectionable Content and George from Blogaritaville, are powerful microscopes focusing on current events; others, such as this one, are closer in spirit to those novelty spyglasses that came in Cracker Jack boxes that distorted your perspective or made the world look funny. Both have perspectives that you won’t find easily (or maybe at all) in mainstream media and both often aggregate news from broadcasters, print and the Web and interpret it in their own way.

Jenkins suggests that the future of media:

…could depend on the kind of uneasy truce that gets brokered between commercial media and these grass-roots intermediaries. Imagine a world where there are two kinds of media power: one comes through media concentration, where any message gains authority simply by being broadcast on network television; the other comes through grass-roots intermediaries, where a message gains visibility only if it is deemed relevant to a loose network of diverse publics. Broadcasting will place issues on the national agenda and define core values; bloggers will reframe those issues for different publics and ensure that everyone has a chance to be heard.

I find this interesting, not only in and of itself, but also because it’s along the lines of the kind of work I’ve been doing for the past two years at the company for which I used to work. We were developing software whose purpose was to find things that were of interest to you, based on the the principle that people for whom you have a high affinity will likely point you to things you find interesting. Blogging acheives roughly the same result; the blogs I like often point me to things I love, whether it be some other Web page or simply something of the blogger’s own creation.

I’ll leave it to Jenkins to close this entry:

As the digital revolution enters a new phase, one based on diminished expectations and dwindling corporate investment, grass-roots intermediaries may have a moment to redefine the public perception of new media and to expand their influence.

So blog this, please.

Duly blogged.

Recommended Reading

The Media Monopoly by Ben Bagdikian. Yes, I’ve already linked to it in the posting above, but it bears repeating. The latest revision covers the reach of traditional media corporations into the Internet.

There’s been a recent spate of writeups on blogging. Check out various articles from:

And while I’m on the topic of writing blogs, here’s a great essay called How To Write a Better Weblog.


Ein “hipsterdoofushacker” mit accordion? Unglaublich!

The German magazine Der Spiegel (“The Mirror”) ran an article on Peekabooty on Wednesday entited Im Zeichen Des Teddies: Vorhang auf für Peek a Booty. In my head, I picture well-dressed Germans in Strellson suits marvelling at our work while flipping through Der Spiegel in a Berlin cafe. Perhaps they’re doing this while enjoying some Mentos (The freshmaker!).

Unfortunately, I know very little German, most of it from hanging out with my friends Liz and Nasreen, a very quick lesson in the language taught to me by my charming date in Prague and from “Nightcrawler“, the German member of the X-Men. I turned to Babelfish for assistance.

Ach! Ist ein long, long way to go

Even when people are doing the translating, the meaning often gets mangled or lost. The title for the Scorsese movie Mean Streets once got translated to Greek as “Bad Roads”. I remember laughing at a magazine advertisement for the German-made CD-burning software called Toast (an excellent piece of Mac software, I might add). The headline read “Not only with bacon do you catch mice.” Later it was explained to me that it was a direct translation of a German colloquialism. What they meant to say was “there’s more than one way to do it”; the closest English equivalent might be “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”.

Computers are much worse, since they pretty much rely on lookup tables and some pre-programmed rules for grammar. However, the results provide for the kind of amusement you can’t get from a human translator.

The headline translates as “In The Character Teddies: Curtain On For Peekabooty”. It’s followed by this paragraph:

That once as “Hackerbrowser” concerned Peek a Booty had its first public appearance. As “Privacy Tool” is to occur to “Booty” censorship in all world. The final phase of the development becomes the balancing act between attention and proscription.

As Babelfish would put it, I become in the state of confusion.

When a human translator runs across a word that doesn’t translate, I imagine s/he tries to express the meaning of the word by using an explanatory phrase. For instance, the German word schadenfreude would have to be expalined as “delight in other people’s misfortunes”. Babelfish doesn’t have this capability and simply leaves the word as it appears in the original document. Combined with its dubious translations, you get gems like this:

No miracle thus that DC stopped being a group of hackers: Cult OF the DEAD Cow understands itself now as a “prominent developer about Internet Sicherheits Tools”. And DC develops naturally no software, which smells after “Hacking”.

I’m guessing from context (something that Babelfish can’t do) that sicherheits means security. And I’ve been in a couple of poorly-ventilated computer rooms that did smell after hacking.

What about my muck?

My favourite line in the translation is this howler:

Those grew on deVillas muck and quite cult-suspiciously

I swear, nothing grows on my muck. I wash it daily.

I think it’s a reference to the bears I drew for the user interface. I think what they really meant to say is that the bears are great mascots and will become popular icons in computer culture. I hope, anyway.

They did their homework

What doesn’t require translation is the research they did in writing the article. Despite the fact that the Peekabooty site doesn’t have any links to Paul’s or my Web sites nor any pictures of the bears (yet), they managed to find some graphics for the story. They got an image of Boodles the bear — his original name, taken from the gin — and added the caption “nice competition for the Linux Tux” . From a photo on Paul’s site, they made a photo of me and Paul with phreaker legend Captain Crunch. They cropped out The Register’s Andrew Orlowski, who appears in the original photo.

I looked around for any mention of my accordion playing, but there wan’t any. Hmmm. You’d think the Germans would be poopin’ their pants with joy over that.

Thanks, Liz!

Luckily, help is on the way. My friend Liz “Bunny” Phillips is going to translate it for me. I can hardly wait to read it in non-mangled English. Thanks, Liz, and I’ll buy you drinks for the favour!

It’s a nice sunny day. I think I’ll go wash my muck and then go outside.

Recommended Reading

If you want to see the article as translated by Babelfish, copy this URL…,1518,183280,00.html

…and paste it into the “Web Page” field on the Babelfish site.

Mark Twain’s satirical take on German: The Awful German Language.

In the movie South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut, Cartman manages to say “German scheisse video” without getting electrocuted by his implanted V-chip. Perhaps the V-chip works for English swear words only. I often lie awake at night pondering these things.


A Conversation in California

Thursday, February 14th: Mountain View

The scene:About 1:30 a.m. on Castro Street, Mountain View’s main strip. Jill and I are outside Molly McGee’s.

We’d been drinking and dancing for a while. We left as soon as the DJ started playing the Grease Megamix, a crime that should be punishable by public execution followed by public peeing-on. It’s that bad.

(If you want to experience a fraction of its horror, here’s a RealAudio sample. There’s also a MIDI version.)

I wonder how Jamie Zawinski managed to live here without losing his mind.

A group of drunk partygoers — an even mix of men and women — see the accordion and ask the question that most ninety-nine out of one hundred people ask: “Do you know how to play that thing?” I prove that I can by breaking into a couple of popular tunes.

After a couple of tunes, I stop to talk to the group. One of the women is pressing on the keys repeatedly and getting frustrated.

Her: It’s not making any sound!

Me: Of course not.

Her (annoyed, as if I’m playing some kind of joke on her): Why not?

Me: Because I’m not squeezing the bellows right now.

Her: What?

Me: The accordion is just a big harmonica with buttons and an air bag. Sound doesn’t come our of a harmonica by itself; you have to blow air into it to make noise. Same here, except you squeeze the bellows to move air over the reeds.

Her (impressed by my extremely basic science): Wow.

One of the guys: Dude, you’re not from around here, are you? What brings you down here?

Me: I’m visiting my friend Jill [I point to Jill] and am attending a conference in San Francisco tomorrow.

Guy: We’re all from around here. Most of us work at Lockheed.

Her: I’m a mechanical engineer there.

Me (thinking): I am never ever boarding a Lockheed plane again.

Recommended Reading

The social situation in Silicon Valley, circa 1999. One of the reasons that I have avoided living in the Valley.