february 2003

Nice. It only took six hours after the Columbia shuttle disaster for space shuttle debris auctions to start showing up on eBay. They have all thankfully been taken down (although you can still occasionally catch one that has been posted too recently to have been detected and removed by the eBay staff), but listings of legitimate Columbia items (like mission patches, coins commemorating previous missions, and legally acquired pieces of unused shuttle tiles, etc.) are rapidly proliferating and fetching absurdly high prices. What a country.

The worm that hit SQL servers across the world last week is known by several names at this point: W32.SQLExp.Worm (Symantec), SQL Slammer Worm (ISS), DDOS.SQLP1434.A (Trend), W32/SQLSlammer (McAfee), Slammer (F-Secure), Sapphire (eEye), and W32/SQLSlam-A (Sophos).

The most interesting nickname that I've heard, however, is the "Warhol" worm, which refers not just to this specific virus but to a class of viruses that Slammer is the first real-world example of: worms that can spread across the entire internet in less than 15 minutes, a play on Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame. (Slammer did the majority of its damage in about 10 minutes, spreading to 90% of the vulnerable servers on the internet in that time, proving that these fast-spreading worms, which had previously only been theorized by virus experts, could actually be created.)

This isn't a very graceful segue, but I've been thinking about Warhol's 15 minutes a lot recently. See, we've kind of taken it for granted that this statement, which is certainly the most memorable quote from that artist, if not from the last forty years, somehow codifies our fast-paced, end-of-the-millenium modernity in which global fads can come and go in the blink of an eye (the recent reality tv glut is probably the most obvious example of how ingrained this idea has become in pop culture).

But how original is Warhol's observation, really? Several months ago I heard a quote from a medieval times that stated (and I'm paraphrasing here) that society's fascination with new things lasted nine days and then it was forgotten. After a little research, the phrase I was looking for was "nine days wonder", and the general consensus seems to be that it originated with the medieval proverb, "A wonder lasts nine days, and then the puppy’s eyes are open." (although there is speculation that the nine days had ties to Catholic religious celebrations or to the novena, and it also refers specifically to a kind of performance art piece by William Kemp in which he danced all the way from London to Norwich in nine days and published a popular account of his experience).

The earliest reference to this is in English is from Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde", and it is alluded to so briefly that it is clear that it must have been a well-known saying that needed no explanation (and it was still being alluded to more than two hundred years later in Shakespeare). So I guess what I'm saying is, adjusting for the speed at which information travels now versus the middle ages, nine days could easily be the medieval equivalent of our 15 minutes. Maybe Warhol wasn't quite as brilliant and prophetic as we thought he was; or rather, maybe the things that we think are so unique and novel about our time aren't really all that new after all. Ecclesiastes was right.

On a related note: while doing research for the above entry, I came across Bartleby.com, which "publishes the classics of literature, nonfiction, and reference free of charge". Poor Bartleby (from Melville's short story Bartleby the Scrivener) is one of my favorite characters from all of literature (my primary hard drive was named after him for years), and I couldn't be happier that his URL is being used for a cool resource like this.

Mmmm...old books.

Taking this History of the Book in the West class is making me remember what I love so much about books, about the physical objects themselves. At UVA we were forced to take a bibliography course as part of our graduate studies, and I was completely dreading it, wondering how I was going to get through a whole semester on a topic as boring as that one promised to be. But it totally surprised me: from the first day, I really, genuinely loved it, probably more than any other class I took at UVA. I loved it so much that I considered dropping out of the Modern Studies program and focusing on bibliography for my masters. There was something about it, measuring the size of the pages, measuring the text blocks, looking for watermarks in the paper, pinning down the font and the print shop that made it, that just fascinated me. By then, I think too much damage had been done for me to ever have a successful career at UVA, but if I had taken the class a little earlier and been a little smarter about following my instincts, I may well have graduated with a degree from that institution.

Working with the medieval books of hours that we have access to at the Walters is even more exciting, because they are far more unique than the two or three hundred year old printed books that we examined in the bibliography course at UVA. My book class is the high point of my week, and the two hours I spend with my book just flies by; every week when I leave it tears me up, because I know I am two hours closer to never being able to go into that room again. So of course, I am actively scheming to find ways to make sure I still have some sort of access when the course is over, sucking up to the Will Noel (the curator and instructor of our class) and his grad student assistants, and plotting various research projects that might give me some legitimacy. I am already thinking that I might write my graduate thesis on a comparison of the medieval books at the museum, the handmade art books that Tom and Dean create, and modern printed books that push the boundaries of traditional page layout like House of Leaves. I'm also going to see if I can't start doing some research into medieval birth charms for my thesis advisor from Davidson, in addition to trying to get Tom invited to a class on the basis of his status as an artist/bookmaker/faculty member at UVA. Anything, anything to still be able to breathe in the air from those books every week.

Another book note: while I think the modern database-driven, web-enabled university library is pretty cool (in addition to doing basic things like looking up locations and descriptions of books, I have also used the Hopkins library system web site to reserve texts for later pickup and renew books that are about to become overdue), I do miss some aspects of the old analog/Dewey decimal libraries. Regan pointed out to me on more than one occasion that the Dewey system just wasn't designed to handle the volume of books present in most university libraries today, but I still miss having an innate sense of what a book was about just by its call number. Another advantage of the old manual stamp checkout system (which I was reminded of by a scene in Rushmore): you get to see who checked out a book before you. That somehow added to the mystique of the book, reminding you that the book had a life before you, and would go on after you, and that you were now becoming part of its history.

That's one of the lessons that medieval books teach you: most of them were made for very specific purposes and often for specific individuals, and most of them have a rich history of ownership that can be traced from their birth until sometime early last century, when they began to be recognized for the valuable art/history objects that they are and started living their lives in museum collections. But as Will says, books die if they aren't looked at, and I think that's one of the reasons he teaches this class: just to see a few of the hundreds of manuscripts that he has been entrusted with be given a new life through their relationships with his students. And they really are relationships: Diane and I talked about the class a little yesterday, proudly trading catalog numbers and showing reproductions from each of our manuscripts that appear in our course textbook. Yes, these books are special, and they have a lot to teach me about the hows and whys of the western tradition of bookmaking and printing, but the most important thing they have done is remind me of the uniqueness of all books, no matter how or when or why they were created. And its just amazing to feel this way again after all these years, to be so enthusiastic about books and the texts they safeguard. Maybe Thomas Wolfe was wrong: maybe you can go home again.

Yay! Snood has been released for Mac OS X! Now my collection of OS X software is truly complete.

It's so hard to bring myself to write new entries on snow days...

It's Julie's birthday today, so if there are any of you who read this who know her personally, you should send her some birthday greetings.

Comedy Central has recently started airing episodes of Dilbert, the recently canceled cartoon tv show version of the popular comic strip. Although I think it's a pretty good update of the comic strip (I watched it pretty regularly during its first season in primetime), the thing I really like about it is the theme song. I'd completely forgotten how much I love it; it's pretty close to being my favorite tv theme song ever (Gilligan's Island notwithstanding).

Huh. That's interesting. It makes sense why I like the Dilbert theme so much: I don't think I ever realized this when the show originally aired, but while looking around for a version of the song posted on the web, I discovered that the theme was written by Danny Elfman, who also wrote the Simpsons theme and has scored every movie that Tim Burton has ever made (I'm a huge Tim Burton fan, despite the disappointing Planet of the Apes update and his recent lack of new material). It's different than Elfman's usual work, although you can hear some of his signature sounds towards the end, in the big, slow crescendo part.

I guess it's going to be a day of (mostly) entries about half-hour prime time tv cartoons. I just have to say that the phrase that Bart wrote on the chalkboard during the opening credits for the Simpsons last night was the worst one I've ever seen: "Spongebob is not a contraceptive." I mean, I know they've had to write literally hundreds of these things at this point, but come on, they can do better. If the producers don't care about this little detail anymore and are throwing it to the rookie writers who are half-assing it, they should just set up a web site where fans can submit suggestions and then assign the rookie writers the task of looking through the submissions for keepers. Knowing the fanatacism of Simpsons fans, that ought to keep them stocked with new ideas for years.

Damn it. Was anyone else fooled by the Fox promos that made it look like last night's episode would be the series finale? Damn it, damn it, damn it. You'd think I'd see it coming by now.

Saddle Creek has got to be the best record label on the planet right now. I've been listening to the all-Saddle Creek mix for the last week or so at work (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kilo, Los Desaparecidos, The Good Life, Sorry About Dresden, and Son, Ambulance) and I just can't get enough. Who knew Omaha could be so cool?

I'm tired of working overtime to do other people's jobs for them. I'm tired of being patient and diplomatic. I'm tired of taking the high road. I'm tired watching of people I care about doing stupid things. I'm tired of watching people I don't care about doing stupid things. I'm tired of trying to keep the lemmings from jumping off the cliff. I'm tired of being pissed off at the war-mongering corporate assholes who have somehow seized control of our government. I'm tired of never getting to spend time with friends. I'm tired of never having time to read books. I'm tired of my ankle hurting. I'm tired of potholes, I'm tired of snow, I'm tired of idiots. I'm tired of the telephone. I'm just plain tired.

I am stretched way too thin right now.

Okay. The time of extreme stress should be coming to an end in the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime, you'll just have to be patient regarding new content. We are supposed to have a massive snowstorm this weekend, though, so I'll try to use some of my snowbound hours to work on some entries that have been accumalting in my need-to-write file. Hopefully that will let me post new content even on days when I'm too busy to write anything.

Another snow day here in Maryland, and this is the worst one yet. It started on Saturday, when it snowed three or four inches where we live (most areas got around two). But that was just the prelude. Sometime early Sunday morning, the real snow started, coming down heavy at a rate of up to three inches per hour at some points. It continued nonstop until about 10:30 Monday morning, and when all was said and done, we had about 30 inches where we were (the official total from BWI airport is 23+ inches, making it the second-biggest snow in recorded history for Maryland). The airport was closed all day Sunday and remains closed today, the governor issued an executive order yesterday banning all vehicles from state roads who weren't out on emergency business (because Marylanders are apparently too stupid to use common sense and just stay home; there were lots of interviews on television with dumbass SUV owners who were only out on the roads because they wanted to see how their gargantuan vehicles handled in the snow), and the only things open were the occasional gas station or 7-11.

We live on a snow emergency route, which means that our street will get cleared before anything else does, and even though a team of two snowplows has been making the rounds every couple of hours for almost two days straight now, you still can't see pavement on our road; I can't imagine what it's like on the secondary streets that don't get plowed until all of the primary roads are completely clear. And the problem now is not just waiting for the plow to get to your street, it's what to do with the ridiculous amounts of snow that have piled up. There's just nowhere to put it; you can't simply push it out of the way, because the places you're trying to push it to already have a couple of feet of snow on them. In Baltimore, they're apparently going to have to bring in dump trucks to haul it away, and it could be this weekend before all of the city streets are passable again.

At least Hopkins was smart for once and made the decision to close on Sunday night instead of making all of us get up at 5:30 on Monday just to confirm that they had shut down operations. And even though the snow has stopped for the most part, the snow removal problems mean that we still might not be open tomorrow, either. Julie remembers that last time we had a significant snow, Hopkins closed for two days in a row, and that snow was less than half of what we got this time. Add to that the fact that there will still be snow showers passing through our area that could add another couple of inches to the total between now and tomorrow afternoon, and it's starting to look like it might be Wednesday before we can realistically think about heading into the office.

Dang it. I know it's wrong, but I was really hoping that Joe Millionaire would have ended with more hurt feelings and nasty surprises.

Man. Yet another snow day. This time it's not because it's actually snowing, but because so much snow fell over the weekend that they haven't been able to clear any of the secondary roads. The interstates are mostly clear, but even the biggest state roads and downtown streets are barely passable, and the secondary and tertiary roads remain mostly unplowed. I'm beginning to wonder if they'll get enough of it cleared to allow us to go in tomorrow, a full two days after the last snowflake fell.

Lookee lookee! A new Plug review! It's fitting that my first purchase of 2003, Zwan's "Mary Star of the Sea", is also the subject of the first Plug review of the year.

I'm not going to make any more promises about Plug's publication schedule. I still don't have any other contributors, and until that changes, it's just going to be updated whenever I get the urge. I've noticed that I tend to write reviews in spurts (although that won't be happening this time, since there really isn't anything else that has come out yet this year) and foolishly publish them on a weekly schedule for 8-12 weeks, then write nothing for three months while the site sits idle. If I get on a serious writing jag again, I'll try to pace myself a little better so that I can stretch out the content over a longer period time and at least give the illusion of regular schedule.

I'd also like to note that I have, with no small degree of sadness, removed all of the CDnow links and graphics from the site and replaced them with my new corporate overlord, Amazon.com.

Looks like I'll be going back to work today. They'll still be cleaning things up for the next week or so, but the main roads are clear enough that Hopkins had decided to open with a liberal leave policy (meaning you can show up two hours late with no penalty). As for other members of the IT staff, our DBA probably won't make it in, since she is dependent on the Marc train to get to Baltimore (she is terrified of driving), and Mark is going to work from home because, even though he lives in Baltimore, he can't get off his street yet (which is apparently not unusual—city officials say they hope they can get to most of the secondary streets by Thursday, and then start tackling the more residential tertiary streets). Normally I might join Mark and work at home as well, but some of the stuff I need to work on I can only do on a PC. And Julie has to go in anyway, and I think both of us would feel more comfortable driving in with someone else in the car.

It's weird. I feel like I've been gone forever, and in fact it has been more than a week since I was in my office. Last Wednesday I had an all-day testing session at a satellite campus, Thursday and Friday I worked from home (trying to rest up my injured ankle so that I might actually be able to ski when we go up to the mountains next week), and of course Monday and Tuesday Hopkins was closed. I have about a million things to wrap up before we leave on Sunday (I'm expecting to work a full day on Saturday), but I'm feeling good about getting back to work. The next six weeks promise to be fairly hectic, but at least I'm starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of my longer-term projects.

It took over two hours to get to work yesterday, and just about as long to get home. Fortunately we're on liberal leave for the rest of the week (meaning we can show up two hours late with no penalty), so moving only a mile or so in 45 minutes is a little easier to bear. The streets in Baltimore are barely plowed still, and even when they are, four lane roads have been reduced to two and two lane roads have been reduced to one and a half. In typical Baltimore fashion, half of the drivers act like they're driving a motion-sensitive nuclear warhead over rough terrain, and the other half act like they're trying to qualify for the Indy 500.

The people who have to park on the street have adopted an interesting strategy for saving their hard won shovelled out parking spaces: when they need to drive their car somewhere, they bring out a couple of chairs from the house and put them in the parking space so no one can take it while they're out. The roads that go by row houses alternate between people who have just given up going anywhere in their vehicles for the time being and who haven't even bother to brush the snow off their cars yet and blank spaces in the snow with two or three folding chairs sitting in them.

This weekend should be fun: just as its getting warm enough for the two and a half feet of snow to start melting, we're supposed to get up to two inches of rain in less than 48 hours. The drought is officially over, and now we're preparing for the floods. I'm pretty glad we're getting out of here this weekend (headed, ironically, for skiing and more snow); hopefully most of the precipitation issues will resolve themselves by the time we return.

Work work work work work.

I swear, missing those two days earlier this week because of the snow may have been the worst thing that could have happened the week before I supposed leave for a vacation. All my projects feel like they lost two weeks of time instead of two days, and now they're all impatiently trying to climb to the top of the pile. Yesterday it felt like I would work on one for ten minutes and then get a phone call or have to go to a meeting where a different one would suddenly become my highest priority. Mark is going on vacation next week too, yesterday was Kim's last day (a week and a half earlier than we had hoped), and I'm spending more time trying to keep everyone on track than I am doing my own work. I'm starting to seriously wonder if I'm going to make it through the next six weeks. In many ways it will be good to get away next week and spend some time away from Baltimore and away from work without having to constantly shuttle between different parts of the family like we did at Christmas, but I'm terrified of how big my to-do list will get in my absence.

I'll be gone this week skiing, so there won't be any posts for a while. I've posted links for today, and I've also posted the photos for the rest of the week, but otherwise this is it until after I get back.

I wasn't planning on posting anything today, but we got back from skiing early because we didn't want to get trapped up there by the oncoming weather, so I figured I'd at least post a set of links for today and write a short entry. Besides, I always like to wish Lydia happy birthday. So, happy birthday, Lydia.

Thursday night is my normal class night, but when I looked at the forecast yesterday afternoon, it was starting to look like I might be going after all. They were calling for heavy snow (again—more than half of the days this month have featured some amount of snowfall) beginning around 4 or 5 and going through noon on Friday, with some of the heaviest snows anticipated between 8 and 12.

My class starts at 6:30, but when I'm coming from home I usually leave around 5 (if you aren't there promptly at 6:30, there's a good chance they'll head up to the rare book room without you, and since there are no extra guards available to escort you up, you just have to turn around and go home, so I always like to get there at least 20 minutes early), so I was hoping Hopkins would do the right thing and cancel evening classes before I had to leave. at 1:30, they announced that they were intending to hold classes as scheduled, but to check back at 3 to see if there were any changes. At 3, they were still planning on moving ahead with classes, even though the snow was already moving into the area, but to check back again before leaving for class. So at 5 I checked again, and they still hadn't canceled.

At that point, I made a very tough decision not to go to class. I mean, I love that class, and it kills me to think of missing even one session, because that's two hours more I could have spent with my book. So I emailed my professor and resigned myself to the fact that Hopkins was going to blatantly ignore the forecast because they feel like they've already canceled enough classes this winter (although none of mine have been affected yet).

Even though they never officially called off evening classes (which means that the class I missed won't be rescheduled for a later date), I feel like I made the right choice. Looking out the window at 8:30, about the time I would have gotten on the road after class, it was snowing heavily and the roads already had a good coating of snow on them. It continued snowing just as heavily for several more hours afterwards, and given my recent experiences with how snow affects traffic in Baltimore, even at night, I'm guessing it would have taken me at least a couple of hours to get home (if I mananged to avoid getting in an accident along the way).

So instead, I stayed home, had a nice dinner with Julie, and watched Survivor at its broadcast time for the first time this season. Not quite as notable in the grand scheme of things as getting to study a 500 year old book, but at least there was far less chance of me sliding off the highway and ending up in a ditch somewhere.
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