Walter Cronkite, 1916-2009

Legendary newsman Walter Cronkite, the very personification of trustworthy journalism, the man who was the news to my generation as we were growing up, the man who narrated the events surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy, the Apollo launches, the war in Vietnam, the Watergate scandal, and the Iran hostage crisis, has signed off for good. And that's the way it is, Friday, July 17, 2009…


Nobody likes to think about them, nobody likes to talk about them, but they're something all too common these days: layoffs. Today we got a reminder of that at my office, as the axes swung due to a company-wide reduction in force.

Up until this point, most of the departures from my workplace have been either due to redundancy as a result of the corporate takeover four years ago, the aftereffect of canceled projects, or cost-cutting by outsourcing work or moving it to different offices. Some were temporary employees whose assignments were no longer justifiable. In a few select cases, there have been retirements made possible by the aforementioned corporate takeoverâfor those individuals who had been made partners in the firm, it was a very profitable sale.

Today was different. The losses were much more evenly distributed. The ax felled both recent hires and long-term employees, in a variety of positions. Some will be missed; some were long past their sell-by date. We lost one notorious time-server who was more noted for checking email, creating useless forms, playing solitaire, and eating ice cream than for doing any actual productive work, but we also lost some very solid people. One had a law degree and was studying for the bar, and was just a few months shy of being fully vested in the retirement plan. Another was a married mother of two, whose job provided her family with health insurance, while yet another was the only truly bilingual Spanish-speaker in the office. They will be missed more than I can say.

Those of us who are left occupy only a small portion of an office designed to hold at least eight times as many people, sixteen times as many if you count the second shift that has been abolished. I half-expect to hear the wind whistling through the cubicles, while tumbleweeds blow by. As it is, I feel a bit like a survivor of a shipwreck, gazing upon the half-submerged hull lodged just offshore, wondering why I survived and when my time will come. It is good to be employed; it is sad to know that one's continued employment comes at such a terrific cost to others. And we wait for the ax to swing yet again.

More on my page rank: Yahoo! and Bing

This is of limited interest to anyone except me, but after discovering that I had made it to the first page of results for this Google search, I thought I'd see what happened when I performed the same search on Yahoo! and on Microsoft's new search engine, Bing.

Much to my great surprise, this blog showed up as the sixth result on Yahoo!, and as the eighth result on Bing. Even more surprising to me, when I left off the quotes, this site dropped to seventh on Yahoo!, but rose to second place on Bing.

You know, I'm a Google-loving Apple guy, but suddenly I'm feeling a lot warmer towards Bing. :-)

Bohemian rhapsody

I'm beginning to think there's a wormhole somewhere around Ventura that leads directly to central Europe in the 1930s. First, about a week ago, I saw a Zeppelin (not a blimp--an actual, honest-to-God modern Zeppelin) as it traveled down the California coast from the Bay Area to Los Angeles for the July 4th weekend.

Then, today, I saw a rare prewar Tatra T87 as it merged onto US 101 in Ventura. For the automotive non-geeks, the T87 was an aerodynamic sedan built in Czechoslovakia before the war that featured a rear-mounted, air-cooled V-8 engine and a prominent dorsal fin along the rear (you can see another photo here). To my eye, it's a beautiful example of Streamline Moderne automotive architecture, but you may have a different opinion--I like Citroëns and Saabs too, so my taste is somewhat, um, eclectic.

Anyway, I'm almost afraid what's going to appear around here next. If I see a formation of Messerschmitts, I'm outta here. :-)

Trying out a new platform

The notion of an email-based blog sounds intriguing. Here's my first post.

Watching history

Like many others, I've been glued to the computer all week watching as events unfolded in Iran. For those of us old enough to remember the Iranian revolution of 1979, the pictures we've been seeing are starkly reminiscent of the unrest leading to the demise of the Shah, even if we're seeing them on YouTube instead of on television accompanied by the voices of Frank Reynolds and Peter Jennings. Time marches on.

But if we recognize the similarities, we must also recognize the differences. Iran in 2009 is not the same country as Iran in 1979. For one thing, here is no charismatic religious leader (Khomeini) returning from foreign exile to seize the reins of power left hanging after the sudden exit of the Shah. For another, it is not clear that the good citizens of Iran protesting in the streets want a new _form_ of government, even if they clearly want those in power to obey the laws of the land—and, most importantly, to respect the will of the people.

They may want less clerical interference in their lives, and they may want a liberalization of the religious laws. But it is important to recognize that something like 70% of the Iranian people are age 30 or under. They have grown up under the Islamic Republic, and they never knew the Shah. Anyone hoping for a Pahlavi restoration is bound to be disappointed. It is possible that a more relaxed theocracy will meet the expectations of the people, with a reformist Ayatollah such as Hossein-Ali Montazeri replacing Khamenei—and it is entirely possible that such a government would still prove to be a foil for the West.

Either way, the next 48 hours are likely to prove crucial, as the opposition moves forward with a Saturday protest that the authorities have forbidden. As a former Baha'i, I've seen and heard too much out of Iran to be overly sanguine about the possibilities. Until you've seen the haunted look in the eyes of a Baha'i recently escaped over the Turkish border, you can't really grasp what evil has been perpetrated there in the name of religion over the last 30 years. Once you've seen that look, it never leaves you.

But it is also important to recognize that there are plenty of good people in Iran of all faiths and ethnicities. These people will be marching tomorrow through the streets of Tehran, and Isfahan, and Tabriz, and Shiraz, and what they choose to do in the next couple of days could well determine the fate of Iran for another generation. I am awed by their courage in the face of brutality, and I am honored to support them in their quest for an honest election. Regardless of how events transpire, we may not see Western-style democracy in Iran anytime soon; but if it is ever to be, that is the most fundamental place to start.

Facebook URLs: Much ado about nothing

So as of today at 0401 UTC, Facebook finally decided to join the 21st century and give it users URLs that they can actually remember and give out. I joined the stampede and was waiting with an open browser tab as the clock turned 9:01 PM here in California. Much to my surprise, Facebook did not go down—I had thought that with 200,000,000 users surely it would look like a DDOS attack. However, it stayed up, and although Facebook let its employees grab the good usernames first and /larryandersongot taken by someone in the Bay Area, I was able to get my preferred short username. All good.

It seems to me, though, that while those of us who are geeky enough to spend Friday night in front of a browser got reasonable usernames, the rest of the world is going to be disappointed. With hundreds of millions of John Smiths, Muhammads and Rajivs in the world, there are going to be a lot of people who end up with URLs like In other words, it'll look like AOL screen names in 1995.

A far better way of dealing with it is to get your own domain. That way, you can set up a redirect and give people a URL like, and the actual URL assigned by Facebook (or any other service) doesn't matter. Even better, _it's something that you control._For what domains cost these days, literally just a few dollars a year, it's money well spent if you care about your digital identity.

Oh, and my Facebook URL? You can find out which one I got from Facebook by going to

Note (2016-10-15): I no longer have a Facebook account.

Overheard in line at Panda Express

“I don't like the sauce they put on it. I like other teriyaki sauce, but this is different. It's an oriental teriyaki sauce.”

“Oriental teriyaki sauce”? Ah, of course. She must have been wanting the Norwegian teriyaki sauce.

Teriyaki lutefisk, anyone? Uff da!

From the "Do as I say, not as I do" department

(Via the _Inland Valley Daily Bulletin_)

One person with faith in GM is Gary Dufour, a Rancho Cucamonga attorney who lives in Riverside. Dufour was with his family at Mark Christopher Auto Center in Ontario on Monday looking at possibly buying a new Yukon XL from the GMC truck lot.

“I think it's time for American companies to buckle down and get more competitive with foreign automakers,” Dufour said. “I think they just have to keep up with demand. I think the economy and the price of fuel caught some of these companies by surprise.”

Now that's how you send a message. Because buying a Yukon XL will really let GM know it's time to get serious and start building small, fuel-efficient cars. You know, by buckling down and getting more competitive with foreign automakers. Or whatever.

What's bad for GM is bad for California

Something my fellow Californians should take to heart:

This is the lesson of GM's bankruptcy, and it has little to do with market share and miles per gallon. It's a rebuff of the notion of exceptionalism. Any organization that fails to sufficiently safeguard its means of self-correction and reform, that forsakes long-term investment for short-term gain, that piles up debt year after year, will eventually fail, no matter how grand its history or noble its purpose._

—Dan Neil's column in the Los Angeles Times , June 1, 2009

Brilliant stuff.Go read the whole thing.
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