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How the other half lives

En route to a quite unexpected job “chat” today, I put into practice what some may think I meant hyperbolically: I spotted a redhead before he turned the corner. Not quite, of course. Half a block away, a light-coloured head of hair screamed “You won’t believe this one!” – which I promptly ignored, until the Woman’s Intuition kept nagging at me, at which point I almost broke into a run to close up the remaining distance.

The description, soon to be added to RhCP Sightings, is germane. 34, 5'10", 170, surprisingly Irish-looking (with the oddly sunken cheeks) and surprisingly handsome even so, pale with ruddy marks that are not zits, straw-coloured orangish-red hair (about as accurate a designation as I can come up with) tidily cut on a well-shaped head (again surprisingly), brilliant blue eyes, and the coveted unfeasibly-long fawny eyelashes.

Dressed very well in a moderne urban manner: White shirt with candystripes, solid fabric jacket at hip length, green trousers with cuffs, unorthodox “hipster” shoes (black leather, with a black strip of some other material the width of the tongue extending down the arch and across and around the toebox), and an expensive rectangular nylon briefcase slung along the small of his back, suspended by an overdesigned ribbed black strap. To top it all off, two silver earrings of exactly the right gauge and diameter that look convincingly, naturally masculine, a difficult feat for any nonnegroid heterosexualist.

His two colleagues were equally well-dressed, one of them Indian and dumpy but with a good green jacket that matches the Irish lad’s pantalon, the other an Upper Canada College white guy in a dark jacket and pants. The latter fellow’s business card was visible from his back-mounted valise. Blue and green and a lot of whitespace.

Again with the Woman’s Intuition, which I again initially ignored: Obviously these three men are successful “new media” entrepreneurs.

The redhead states to the Indian, “Yeah, PMA. We were just talking about their back end.” The trio crossed the parking lot to their (rented?) Toyota 4Runner, and disappeared.

This, you see, is how the other half lives. Successful people remain successful, even overcoming seeming handicaps, like red hair or noncaucasoid race. (The UCC type had it made from high school, “indoor sports” excluded.) They work in the booming new-media industry, travel to the big city (someone from in town would likely not display his business card in an airline-style plastic holder), and walk confidently down Spadina after a triumphant or at least optimism-inducing meeting in the vaunted Spadina Bus multimedia gulch.

I, on the other hand, am not seeing a lot of reason to remain hopeful. If we define “new media” as my field (on what basis?), I have no legitimate reason to expect employment in my field – not in Canada, at least, and I am certainly not rich enough to escape to another land with greener grass. Presently, I carefully mete out rides on the eetcarstray, and felt cheated today because the incorrect weather forecast prompted me to forgo riding downtown.

If I sound discouraged, I am. And of course we’re not supposed to talk about those things, even on Weblogs. (Maybe we need a benevolent society. Look for updates to that case ce week-end.) It’s been four years of this. Like Xeno’s paradox, after a while you actually reach the end of the journey. But is the end here employment in my field or isn’t it? What reason have I got to be optimistic, in fact?

Presently the best that can possibly be hoped for is some kind of job for long enough to let me save enough money to leave. For where? Anywhere other than Canada, where all evidence suggests I am unemployable. In my field, if not altogether, which is probably the full truth.

And no, I’m not erasing that. (Cam and r, and Jeffrey, will be surprised to see what happens to the Rot13ed/<DEL>ed remarks below in the archives. Nick, however, remains a vestige.) I get to live in the fortress of solitude here in this “developing” neighbourhood, and if my only means of communication is this semaphore-like method of talking at people, so be it.

Book pitch is done and sent. It’s way better than the other existing book or the new one coming out, which I discovered three hours after sending off the proposal. It could not possibly take less than two months to negotiate a contract and receive an advance, which would buy time, but not enough to write the whole book.

Quite simply, in the words of one of my former staunch supporters, whose radio silence since springtime I think about every two days, “You’re fucked.”

Oh. And what of contenu.nu? Indeed, what of it?

Back to the book: I included six sample long descriptions, made with the permission of the photographers. Four went well, one needs work, and one needs to be reduced to a single ten-word sentence. Using your mind’s eye, which is which in the following list?

  1. A close-up of a neon sign at an amusement park shows most of a round metal rim, shaped like a tire but painted bright yellow with a red pinstripe. A row of clear lightbulbs lines the upper edge. In the centre of the rim is a neon tube bent into the shape of a three-leaf clover. One of the leaves is illuminated in a bright greenish white, while the other two leaves aren’t illuminated. The lights of the neon clover reflect in the glass backdrop filling the inside of the rim. Elsewhere in the photo are corners of control units and other signs and their reflections.
  2. In a cozy, brightly-lit solarium, a man in his late 20s sits in a rattan chair. The sun shines strongly on the man’s blond hair. He’s wearing black pants and a grey sweatshirt, along with grey socks with a black panel covering the toes and the balls of the feet. The wooden floors and walls of the solarium are light in colour. Plants line most of the windows, and against one wall rests a narrow cast-iron love seat, on which sit two vases of flowers, their petals white, orange, red, and yellow. A few other items of furniture, including plain wooden stools and a wood chair with a padded cushion, fill up the remaining spaces.
  3. At sunset, a wooden dock with a steel railing on one side projects into a compact lake. The sun, not visible in the picture, rests low on the horizon and below the tree line ringing the lake, casting the trees into shadow. Shadows fall on the surface of the lake, stippling it like ink. At the far end on the right side, an oval of the lake is illuminated a milky grey. Foliage from a few trees is visible in the forground, and a man sits on the dock, almost hidden in the darkness.
  4. In daytime, a bicycle stands parked alongside a very steep, graffiti-strewn brown skateboard ramp. Behind the bike stands a large tree with abundant green leaves, while, further behind the tree, the minaret of a mosque projects into the blue sky.
  5. Seen from the ground, looking almost directly upright under a dark-blue sky, a black metal post looms close by, its two-part streetsign reading Hayes, 1800 block starting to the right. Seemingly right next to the streetsign is a Victorian building, cream in colour, with a rounded window projecting from the flat wall and extending through the height of the photo. The top of the lowermost set of windows is ringed by carved mouldings; below the windows is a moulding, a flat section, and another moulding. To the left and behind, alongside a flat section of wall, squarish windows project from the building, with overhanging mouldings featuring large carved squares.
  6. An untended field of green grass is bound by fencing, four times the height of an adult. A rectangular goalpost, painted alternating bars of red and white, straddles a paved road, which terminates at a nearby concrete wall, dappled in afternoon sunlight. The camera views the goalpost through two sides of the fencing; the closer fencing’s three posts appear to be the width of bamboo stakes.


First chapter done, with illustrations, which nearly killed me. And they’ll kill everyone else, too. I warn everyone that describing visual imagery is difficult and only becomes less so with exposure and experience. A platitude, you say? Nope: I warn even experienced writers to expect a tough slog.

Anyway, Cardhouse caused me to scream with laughter. I always used to merely chuckle. This time I screamed. (See October 5 entry.)

Without CueCat:
type in "hot dogs" in search field
choose "all beef"
hit "back" because of javascript error
choose "chicken/turkey"
hit "back" because of javascript error
give up

It gets better from there.


Finished most of the first sample chapter of a book on accessibility. (Yes, I am mentioning the topic. Anyone else out there, in the entire world, who could scoop me on it? Crystal Waters doesn’t count.) The problem so far has been securing permission to write LONGDESCs for photographs just for the proposal. The fact that “no one would know,” let alone be harmed, if I did it behind people’s backs is quite irrelevant.

I am faced, however, with the possibility of having to write entire manuals on captioning and audio description for the book, which, while possible, elicits the question “What about subtitling and dubbing?” To do so would also jeopardize a future empire plan.

The book is difficult to encapsulate and will quickly become a production nightmare. On the other hand, with encroaching lawsuits in the U.S. and Australia, designers and programmers are gonna need a crash course in this stuff pronto. (“AOL... expressly denies that any of its products, services or online content... is subject to the ADA; ...expressly reserves its rights... to assert its defense that the ADA and/or such other state or federal statutes and regulations do not apply to any of AOL’s products, services, or online content.” That one won’t last five minutes in open court, kids.) The book will sell. It might, however, be expensive (CD-ROM plus audio CDs plus ample illustrations), and will take a great deal of effort to produce.

Like so many other projects, this one requires a certain amount of money in the bank to do. The only plausible way to earn that money is to land a real job, which would preclude pursuing the project.

This is at least my fourth book proposal, and it is far simpler than the others I wrote, which required two weeks of four-hour-a-day work.

And all the while, various clocks are ticking. Who am I trying to kid? Everyone and his brother is a success in this industry but me.

Jason Schupp, who has had quite enough of me recently, outs himself as an empath (paceThe Empath”), I must counter that my Woman’s Intuition, at play since my youngest days in various forms, remains in undiluted force. Minutes after I read Jason’s account, I took a walk downtown. Take Gerrard Street, the Intuition told me. No, no, Dundas will be quieter, I told the Intuition, defying it for the thousandth time, with exactly predictable results: Something untoward happened. (Or, in more benign cases, something pleasant or advantageous does not happen.) That something was a car driving by from which the word “Fag!” was shouted.

En route, I thought of a linguist I met at the Black Eagle. (Where else would one meet a fellow linguist?) I recalled how annoying I had been and hoped he was happy. An hour later, at the Black Eagle, who crosses my path? He’s an American who goes to school in Montreal; the odds are rather low. And he had not frequently been in my thoughts since Christmas.

Also at the Eagle, I was told to head to the john (to take a leak) at exactly one moment – after having had to go for the better part of an hour. On the way out, my bar buddy Dan yells to me and explains that I had just missed Nick. I would be pleased not to have to bump into him again. That night, I didn’t have to.

Not bad for a single evening.

I could go into more detail, but that would be tedious. The Woman’s Intuition is merely the longest-lived of my paranormal phenomena, which include déjà-vu experiences and telepathy. I cannot explain it, but I do not deny that it happens. I also do not disclaim rational explanations, including coincidence (too many to be plausible) and normal brain function. (Nicholas Regush’s book The Breaking Point and a snappily-written Wired article explain the phenomenon. Applying electrical currents to certain sectors of the brain produces entirely realistic phantom imagery. It is believed that intrinsic brain processes can produce similar phenomena.)

The only problem is learning to heed the Woman’s Intuition. Even now, I still fuck it up. Sooner or later, fucking it up is going to land me in the hospital or six feet under. Tempting fate is hazardous.


A parallel society?

Those of us in the Internet biz sometimes need help. But we’re not getting it. A rich, young, smart industry needs to take care of its own. We could start with setting up a benevolent society. Eventually we have to grow up and start taking care of each other.

Full explanation here.


My kids. They love me

From the Bad Religion Mailing List, theBRML:

>oh yeah...isn’t Joe Clark black?
Joe Black? You Met him?
Clark’s looks are an X file in themselves.
I have some wild theories about what he looks like.
That’s someone I’d like to meet. On second thought....

New at the other site: Comments on U.K. “guidelines” on audio description. Yes, I know, fascinating.

Cam hates my shit

Cameron Barrett, Mr. Lèse-Majesté, doesn't understand “The Web Is Like Canada”:

Maybe it's me, but this article about the web and Canada(?) by Joe Clark just doesn't make any sense. A few paragraphs into it and my mind was going "blah blah blah..." instead of trying to understand what the heck he is talking about. Hmmm...

But he really laid into me later: “Perhaps it is my belief that writing whould be absent of all the miscellaneous crap and filler, and focus more on getting to the point. It wasn't until page two of your ALA article before I had any idea what your point was.”

On the other hand, I am not yet so widely despised online as to inspire my own parody page.

(Tuesday update: You would not believe the snatchmail exchange this fellow is undertaking. Apparently I am now a lazy developer among all my other sins.)

r hates my shit

From: "r"

Canadians "abroad" are always embarrassing.

I recall a woman going on at another table - here in HCMC, VN - about what a wonderful city Calgary is. Scarily parochial. With no comprehension of Canada's irrelevance. Or others complete disinterest. -And now your article on a site I normally enjoy.

What does any of that Canadiana drivel have to do with your article? Or your view of Canadian identity that is "mainstream in the worst possible sense"? It could have been summed up in a short paragraph. And left on the table at an NDP meeting in Toronto.

Portals and generality on the web are bad? Alistapart is a "portal" in its way. Joeclark.org is a portal concerned with joe clark. (I'm afraid to visit.) So is every form of organization on the web. Even your vaunted weblogs with their unvoiced (Christian) call for equality. (-Canadians are always good little Christians. They wouldn't dare to aspire to anything more than equality...) And if the complaint is mediocity, then what in the world did you think the masses would want on the web, but mediocrity? -Or spout on weblogs?

You really do Trudeau a disservice by associating him with such drivel. Trudeau was admirable not for his warring on behalf of mediocity, but for his rather refined warring. -That is, he was not a good little Christian, but a nobleman. Too bad he was born in Canada and in this century.

But what's the point of pointing all that out? With a name like Joe Clark...



Caroline van Oosten de Boer (“She Logs for Europe”) not only mentioned me, she declared that “The Web Is Like Canada” actually articulated what she has lived herself.

That story had a very difficult gestation. It’s all worthwhile now. I have never written in the hopes of affecting even one person (because writing is not social work), but if Caroline van Oosten de Boer is the one person I affected, it was all worthwhile.

A lot of fine-tuning over at joeclark.org. Now nearly all subdirectory pages are corrected, updated, and accurate. A very big job. One or two to fix up yet, and then the rest of the site can just sit by itself and function for the rest of eternity, as God intended.


Invoking Trudeau,
with any luck ungratuitously

The Web Is Like Canada,” my latest article. Make any sense to youse?


You thought my editorial on captioning and audio description and the CRTC was a bitchfest? You ain’t seen nothing yet: The appalling failure of AudioVision Canada’s description of The Arrow.

When will I ever learn not to celebrate a scheduled job interview with too much chocolate? Wish me luck. With the queasiness, if nothing else.

Gay Sports Media Roundup partially updated while seated on the floor with stars orbiting my head. Talk about playing hurt. (Further updates coming. I’m behind, and tonight’s writing lacks the magic.)

“Alternate” accessibility

Further on “alternate” uses of accessibility: If you find it difficult to fill out a tax return, with its too-dense layout, too-small type, and too-cramped boxes for your entries, you’re not alone. Call Revenue Canada (800 267-1267) and ask for a large-print return. You’ll receive spiral-bound tabloid pages, which anyone can fill out.

Abuse of the system? No. Through no fault of your own, you experience difficulty filling out the form by virtue of its characteristics and yours. That is the definition of inaccessibility. The fact that you actually can see has nothing to do with it. Learning-disabled people can see, and they use large-print forms, too. If this is abuse of the system, I don’t ever want to see you walking up a wheelchair ramp or activating an automatic door. Accessibility is about universality. Everyone’s welcome.

At the Suction Cup, a young bear type was spotted behind the counter. After noticing the following over and over again in a one-minute period, I actually put voice to it:

– You have enormous hands.

– Comes with the territory.

Now, where do you go with a response like this? Apart from “to town”?

– At the Second Cup?

– Naw, a sawmill. I just moved down here.

I go through another few cycles of thinking the same thing over and over, and go for it again.

– That story could take you places in the big city. Not necessarily places you want to go, but places.

– Wherever. As long as it’s fun, I’m there.


Write what I say

I attempted to use the Bell Relay Service to phone the TTC TTY number. Why? You simply cannot reach a human being through the voice number.

As I documented elsewhere, relay services let TTY and “voice” callers communicate. You can call any number anywhere; relay operators cannot interfere with or disclose information from the contents of any call.

In theory. Seven or so years ago, a relay operator refused to let me call a toll-free TTY number. I had to take that one all the way to senior management. (Funny, TTY users can telephone a toll-free voice number.)

Today, the operator put me on hold, then came back with a series of questions: Are you trying to reach a deaf person? You’re looking for information on how to get from point A to point B. Do you want to call the voice line and talk to someone by voice?

Evidently the operator’s supervisor instructed her to ask these question. I wondered why the operator was interfering with, and making comments on, the content of my call and who it was directed to.

Can I speak to your supervisor, please?

Surprise, surprise: The supervisor, Miss Roberge, agreed that relay-service principles everywhere dictate that operators are mere conduits. (In the U.S., some relay services change operators with every turn-taking between the voice and “text” caller; some use speech synthesis for TTY-to-voice, eliminating a human operator.) Were a TTY user telephoning a corporation that also has a TTY number, would the operator interrupt the call to ask the TTY user if he or she would like to call the company’s TTY line?

No, Miss Roberge told me, not unless that’s what the voice caller at the other end actually said.

Fine. So why am I getting this treatment?

Hook me up with another operator, please, and let’s complete the call. The original operator then tried to justify herself to her boss, repeating everything she laid on me. Looks like the Bell Relay Service will have to add another line to its training manual.

Trouble sticks to me like flies to honey, honey. I can’t help it. (I eventually got the TTC on the blower on the third attempt. No problem. If you are ever stuck dealing with endless phone queues, as with Air Canada, call the TTY number. It is your right. Among other things, you pay a hidden charge in your phone bill every single month to fund the relay service.)


“Do you always smile this much?”

Ah, yes, freedom from stuffing envelopes. How else to celebrate than a visit to the Toolbox? It is the local bar.

I’m minding my own business, having just checked out who was lined up at the urinals (no one), when whom did I spot but Mike the lying duplicitous redhead, blogged in these very electrons mere weeks ago. He walks past, wearing one of those really quite faux felt varsity jackets with leather sleeves, and immediately sidles up to this homely middle-aged guy on the bleachers, with just the wrong kind of male-pattern baldness. Kiss-kiss.

Well, well. Moments later, it occurs to me that I can plop down next to them, all the better to cause Mike annoyance. The homely middle-aged guy, who looks like a character actor out of The Practice, notices me first, then Mike. They get up and head to the patio.

So do I. They sit, I stand. I watch. I twirl my hat. I button up my Mississauga Girls Hockey jacket so as to signify that I will wait them out. They notice; they get up; they walk to the Back Forty.

I’m rather enjoying this, of course, because I’ve got the upper hand, as God intended. I smirk a bit. Wait at the gateway to the Back Forty. They have to come out eventually. Ugly guy first, then Mike, who says “Do you always smile this much?”

I say nothing. “Nice hat,” the drunken extra from The Practice mutters, fingering it and causing annoyance. “It’s my hat,” I tell him.

They disappear inside. They’ve split up. Mike’s sipping a beer. By coincidence, I’m stationed a few paces away. Back outside. Me, too.

Man, is he hating this. Over by the washroom wall again, a bear d00d in the UofT engineering leather jacket comes up for air. I ask the obvious question: Are you a real engineer, or is this just a fashion statement? Yup: Iron ring and everything.

He’s an E.E. working on circuit boards. His friend comes by. A G4 Cube commercial runs on the television, and the engineer is rapt with attention. He’s hurt when I wonder if that machine will be the Edsel of Apple. I put forth my Macintosh-separatist credentials, and, for good measure, prove I am not anti-cube in principle, given that three of my sites are hosted on one. A Cobalt Qube, that is.

I am miffed when the young lad disses the Qube, whose ability to handle 200,000 page views a day triggers a haughty scoff. “Static pages,” he says derisively. No PHP. No, kiddo, no PHP.

The engineer is dragged off by someone who (a) seems to majorly want his body and (b) seems to want major distance put between him and me. Suddenly, the homely man walks smartly out the door, followed a second later by Mike. But hold up, as the kids say: Mike opens the door, but props himself up in the jamb and looks like he’s gonna puke.

Out he goes. Like a flash, Chuck the very severe bartender follows him. We run right over to peer through the porthole: Chuck’s already on his way back, and the mullet-head busboy is right behind us.

What could it mean? Nothing minor, I hope.

Looking forward to my next rendez-vous with Mike.

And the young lad, who appears to offer some considerable technical and design credentials, has a fantastic idea for an online publicity stunt. You won’t forking believe it. I’ll be providing all the help I can.

I rather like the concept of homosexualist engineers, being one myself (Dipl.Eng., Dalhousie University, 1995, followed by B.A. in linguistics, UofT via McGill, 1989). I like the concept more than the execution. I like the idea of being technically competent yet also knowing a bit of culture. Grrrl engineers very often have both capacities, when they’re not overcompensating. (They overcompensate by becoming heads of engineering associations at universities. Like lesbians running gay magazines, obviously women should head up 84%-male engineering classes.)

(It’s like being gay, actually. You get to be strong and practical, assuming the tremendous brainwashing power of conventional gay culture doesn’t submerge those instincts, but you also benefit from a woman’s emotional life. In the immortal words of Guy Gagnier, «N’oubliez pas que je suis un homme et je sais botter le cul bien comme il faut.»)

In fact, engineertrixen are a bit of a handful. Back in the day, the loveliest, best-dressed woman in engineer school was the gf unit of one of the more masculine, self-assured engineers on my floor in rez. Why are you here? I more or less asked her one day. Because I want to be an engineer, she replied with torrential sincerity. The smartest kid in our entire year was the daughter of a TUNS professor, and ruthlessly picked on by the lads, often due to her Indian name.

In the envelope-stuffing gig, I knowingly asked the question “Why would engineers want to become management consultants?” In an instant, three heads perked up, one of them across the barrier on the other side. Well, they like building things, this guy said with a forced laugh, eyes darting from one of his engineer friends to the other. Not all engineers do that, I replied. Ever heard of systems engineering? I asked.

Well, I’m an engineer, he said, as I returned the quizzical but not at all hostile gaze of the other two lads, one of whom struggles valiantly at the gym to transform himself from the skinny kid he always was and could revert to at any moment, the second of whom dresses badly, is genuinely friendly and open, and resembles the American character actor David Morse. They’re really good quantitatively, said the guy across the divider.

Yeah, but they’re lousy as people, I retorted. A sudden chill filled the air. I can say that, I added: Engineering graduate!

Heads returned to IBM Thinkpad LCDs, while my aggressive neighbour re-seated his dramatic rectangular eyeglasses on the bridge of his nose and sat back down.

In any event, take that as a wistful admission that I miss hanging around well-coordinated, unaffected, technically competent young men. I had it pretty good back in engineer school, actually. In addition, one of our profs wrote me into the final exam. The great farce is my complete unsuitability for the profession, which originates with my utter infacility with 3D reasoning and goes downhill from there.

I haven’t attended any of the Dal engineering reunions, or any other kind of reunions, because I feel I don’t have anything to show for myself in conventional terms. 390 published articles mean nothing compared to a good job at Lavalin, at least for these guys.



I could be dead tomorrow. Life is too short to enter 300 (or 800) résumé details into FileMaker Pro (on Windows), print letters on a recalcitrant HP laser behemoth, manually tick them off an automated list (which could not be generated if the problem the checklist is meant to prevent actually occurred), and – get this! – stuff envelopes.

A brain the size of a planet, and they have me stuffing envelopes. I don’t think so, honey.


We’re always looking for “inclusion,” and I admit I am quite impressed that a fag won on Survivor and a crip won on Big Brother. Both my peoples representin’.

(In reality, if I had to maroon myself on one or another of those desert islands – and you know that because so many television shows have actually marooned people on desert islands we can no longer use that time-honoured metaphor – I would pick the crip isle. Naturally, given the overlap in the two groups, one would benefit from regular shuttle flights.)

Eddie the amputee on Big Brother is dirty and vulgar, and not in an attractive way. (Some of it he can’t help: His hair patterns, eyebrow shape, and skin colour make him look unclean.) Ten years ago, when I began working at the Ministry of Sensitivity (“We feel your pain. Let us compensate you with this cheque”), on the first day a handsome Irishman with exactly one leg walked by to visit one of the managers. He was clearly discernible in the reflection on the glossy, jewel-like, and entirely unreadable surface of the IBM CGA monitor right in front of me. While waiting for the manager to open his door, this Sean fellow turned and looked at me for quite a long time.

I walked past his desk for weeks, and never chatted him up. Missing a leg is neither here nor there with me, and on that score I’m pretty much the only fag in town; everyone else is too existentially freaked out. (There but for the grace of God, etc., except that, by the grace of God, no one like that shows up at Woody’s, so why go out on a limb with someone visibly imperfect?)

Evidently this was something of a mistake. I still think about him, don’t I?

A close runner-up to this anecdote: The night before Pride several years ago, I milled about downtown and noticed a very tall lad in a manual wheelchair pass by. Shirtless. Surrounded by five or six friends. Tipsy – drunk, not off-balance; this isn’t wheelchair basketball – and voluble. Eddie-presaging, really. In good shape, with notable charisma. I played it cool, and then, one beat later, it occurred to me just how bizarre (“contrary to experience”) this spectacle was.

I turned to look, and, in the intervening seconds, the entire posse had vanished. But there were at most fifty people between me and the nearest cross-street. They hadn’t dissolved into the crowd; there was no crowd to speak of. Where’d he go?



I know we’re supposed to strive for improved typography on the Web, but the ASCII-based emphasis orthography of the asterisk actually boasts a subtle distinction over italics.

The oft-sung line from “Paranoid” de Black Sabbath:

All day long I think of things,
but nothing seems to satisfy

Yes, we’ve denoted emphasis, but not the staccato push/pull start/stop delivery. Flash back to 1990. Imagine you’re typing a snatchmail in vi using Elm.

All day long I think of things,
but *nothing* *seems to* *satisfy*

Or, more accurately, in narrow transcription:

All day long I think of things,
but *no*thing *seems* to *sat*is*fy*

which italics almost encompass, but not quite:

All day long I think of things,
but nothing seems to satisfy

Staccato emphasis of this sort comes up when delivering sarcastic punchlines:

Whereas an all-italics rendering elides the pause (verging on a glottal stop) between the words, ruining the delivery:

Or, in this rendering, using continuous <EM> rather than </em><EM>:

The distinction will be visible only if your browser renders <EM> as underlines (as Lynx does). It goes without saying that I am not using a presentational tag like <I>. The distinction above can, however, be made apparent using the equally déclassé presentational tag <U>:


There is, admittedly, a perceptual problem in parsing rows of asterisk-delimited syllables – unless you’re actually accustomed to that sort of thing, as we old-timers are. (In a few days, I celebrate my tenth anniversary online, not that it’s gotten me very far.)

Asterisks (and underlines) as markers of emphasis: We’ve witnessed a new orthography born in the last twenty years. The distinction between asterisk and underline? I’ve always used them in exactly the way <EM> and <CITE>: emphasis or stress versus citation of title.

The former example is theoretically distinguishable in HTML, using <CITE lang="la"></cite> <CITE></cite>

– though there is no overt visible differentiation of any kind. Again, advantage punctuation.

(Another plus of being an oldtimer: Just do a snatchmail search for spontaneously-written examples.)

*God*, I’m fascinating.


A working definition of happiness: Waiting for the next second to happen because the last one turned out so well.

I don’t know why, but, while stuck in the interminable commute over the last week, I passed through that wormhole between my usual and an undiscovered alternate universe a few times. For a few minutes each.

The commute? It can now exclusively be revealed that I spent the better part of two weeks technical-editing and writing a reference manual for a Daewoo automotive diagnostic scan tool. Every car these days comes equipped with a standardized onboard diagnostic connector; the powertrain, chassis, and transmission electronics of the vehicle report standardized error codes, though manufacturers can implement their own subsets. The system, OBD-II (onboard diagnostics), is of at best marginal interest.

A scan tool is a device with keypad, display, and OBD-II connector. This one was developed by Koreans semiliterate in English. I boiled down over 300 pages of the original manual from almost entirely unintelligible Korean English to 75 pages of stunningly comprehensible and comprehensive Queen’s English. Any fucking idiot can run this scan tool after an intro course. (I figured it out without such a course. The document I wrote is, however, a reference rather than a training manual.)

I am now fully qualified to diagnose common error codes on any vehicle – and clear them after I’m done. (Some scan tools let you control the entire car – turn the engine on or off, run the tachometer at a specified RPM, blink just the left headlamp on or off. With this one, I managed to illuminate a dashboard lamp once.)

I did an excellent job, and suffered for it: In bed at 2145 (that’s a quarter to ten, kids), up at 0545, nine-hour days, no life to speak of, not really eating all that well, coming within a few hundred cents of not being able to afford the subway each way. Sat for three and a half days in the backs of cars documenting the scan tool in situ; will the new-car smell give me leukemia?

My boss quit the company halfway through my tenure and his boss decided, a mere 24 hours after asking me if I could work an extra day given that the project was behind schedule, that the project would in fact wrap up a day ahead. He left such a bitter taste in my mouth that Daewoo will have to work pretty hard to come up with reasons for me to return to a life-draining routine of twice daily traversing the entire latitude of the GTA to finish the project (only 1/3 is done). The company is so... tightly-budgeted I doubt they’ll be able to make it worth my while.

And I will not get up that early again.

Pay close attention

On a not-unrelated tip, I was transfixed by the Behind the Curtain project, in which dozens of Webloggers photographed and documented a single day.

Not an original concept (what is? it’s a false standard), but it serves a real hunger. The disconnection of text communication promotes openness, but it distances us from three-dimensional, visceral real life. Blindness cuts you off from things; deafness cuts you off from people; the Internet connects and isolates.

We hanker to know what our friends look like, where they live and work, and, crucially, how their towns and cities differ from ours. The hunger is essentially autistic: We seize on the differences in each other’s RL existence because snatchmail and the Web promote the illusion of a level playing field and absolute equality in the virtual existence.

The look of Holland was not unexpected (I miss my long-lost Dutch boyfriend, all 6'1" and 210 pounds of IQ, jitters, and amour fou); Sweden differed from my imagination; even the Macintosh keyboards are just divergent enough. (Then again, I am a keyboard obsessif.)

But I own up to resentment. I resent Eatonweb’s affluence. Splorp is livin’ large in Calgary, with a car, stickbugs, and a unique collection of graphics software and desirable old computers, quite apart from the city’s fascist undertones and endemic homelessness.

Whenever I read of the brain drain or the lack of qualified talent or the accursed booming economy, an effervescence of counterarguments erupts in my mind, most of them rooted in my own life. Even had I had a digital camera, I would not have documented my subsistence-surfing existence for Behind the Curtain, because in the Weblogger “community,” my degree of failure is conspicuous and shameful. To me.

And to end the day on a note of bathos, I have an urge to zap back to the future in alternative pronunciations of Macintosh technologies. “SCSI,” in the lore, is pronounced sexy by adherents of the Macintosh religion and scuzzy by Windoids. In reality, the latter pronunciation prevailed. Sexy SCSI never had a chance, despite the plumbing symbolism.

I will bark at the moon, rather like the Globe and Mail’s valiantly sticking up for nanook as the name for the $2 coin. (I sense the twee hand of grande dame Bill Thorsell behind that one.) Mac OS X is of course prounced Mac OS Tenofficially. But macosx is almost pronounceable: muh*KOH*six, preferably, or muh*KAH*six.

Should I add that one to the lexicon, or do I need an actual citation of real-world use first?

I did say subsistence. It wears you down.