It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without...

There are two things that no Thanksgiving would be complete without. One is the Twilight Zone marathon on KTLA; the other is, of course, Alice's Restaurant. Enjoy!

(Thanks toAndy Ihnatko for the link to the video!)

California Zeppelin


Saw this in the sky on Friday as I was driving home from work. How cool is that?

Not exactly the People's Republic of California

Wow, what a surprise to see the town where I grew up (Thousand Oaks) and my old high school (Westlake) both featured on the Crunchy Con blog this morning. When I saw the news article about this in the local paper, I wondered if it'd make the blogs, and sure enough, here it is…About the People's Republic of California thing, though…this is one area of California that probably doesn't earn that epithet. From where the alleged crime took place, if you drive fifteen minutes north, you come to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library--this is the heart of Reagan Country. Drive fifteen minutes to the south (more or less) and you come to the secluded baronial estate of David Murdock, the owner of Dole Foods, which isn't far from the ranches that used to belong to Tom Selleck and Richard Widmark. Drive five minutes to the west, and you'll hit the campus of the pharmaceutical company Amgen. Drive five minutes to the east, and you'll come to Westlake High School's rival Oaks Christian High School, which is run by the mega-church next door. They've got a hell of a football program, and it wouldn't be out of place in Texas.This is a place where you'd better have decent car insurance with fairly high liability limits, because the car you hit in the Carl's Jr. parking lot just might be a Bentley or Aston Martin. At Westlake High, there are teachers driving Toyotas and students driving Lexuses. And while the local Chevy and Dodge dealers folded, the BMW dealership just opened a brand-spanking-new facility right along the freeway, and the Mercedes-Benz dealer is finishing a major remodel.Finally, as for the pervert in question, he had the bad judgment to do his thing in a county with a very effective district attorney, who has a high conviction rate, and judges who are not particularly sympathetic to anyone who gets convicted. If you're guilty, you don't want to have your case heard in Ventura County Superior Court. The People's Republic of California? Not so much.

--My comment on Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con blog

Killing Facebook

I finally did it. I killed my Facebook account once and for all.

I briefly tried out Facebook last year, and quickly discovered that it didn't suit me. Too many distractions, too much cruft. Too many "invitations" to a game or application. Just what the @#$% is Farkle, anyway? And, for whatever reason, I just prefer to conduct my online activities in a completely open and public manner, in front of God and everyone. If I want to keep something private, that's what email is for. So I did the logical thing--I deactivated my account.

This was fine by me, but like everyone else I have friends who want to interact through Facebook, including one who's gone pretty much Facebook-only. I knew that FB had introduced "Facebook Lite" a while ago, so I thought I'd log in and take a look at it. Sure enough, it mostly fixed the signal-to-noise ratio, but it basically looked like Friendfeed, where I already have an account (and which was purchased recently by Facebook). I couldn't see where this added any value to my Internet experience, but it would give me a less annoying way of dealing with FB.

So, next I decided that if I was going to stick around, I'd pare down my information. No need to have all my contact info associated with something that's basically a glorified Twitter feed, right?

The problem was, Facebook had other ideas. I went into the settings and started deleting info and setting highly restrictive privacy settings. No go. When I tried to view my profile as someone else, it still showed all of it. I tried again. Still no go.

Well, I know better than to wrestle with a pig--you just get dirty, and it annoys the pig. I wasn't using the account anyway, so I decided to just kill it. A quick Google search turned up what I was looking for:

This handy little page is the Holy Grail for those who want to delete their Facebook accounts. A couple of clicks, and the deed was done. Facebook sent me an email saying my account would be irretrievably deleted within 14 days.

Of course, this still leaves me with the problem of my Facebook-oriented friends. The solution? Once my account is deleted in a couple of weeks, I can open a new account and keep a very tight rein on it.

Or not.

You see, I'm not all that sure I want to get back in. Here's how I see it: I'm easy to find. Run a Google search on my (very common) name, and I usually show up on the first page. I'm on Twitter, Friendfeed, Flickr, and Plurk. I have a Google profile with links to everything. I run a blog on my own domain, which is my real name. Practically everything I do has an RSS feed. It was actually harder to find me on Facebook than by spending five seconds on Google.
So people can find me, and they can follow me if they so desire. And if I want to follow them?

That's a harder question, and it has a harder answer. If they want to do their thing in a walled garden, that's their choice, and God bless them. But I'm not inclined to follow them there. For better or worse, Facebook reminds me of 1996, when everyone I knew told me I had to get on AOL because the chatrooms were just so cool. I opted to do otherwise, and it proved to be the right decision. Although I know I'm swimming against the tide on this one, I'm confident I'm making the right decision now.

In the end, it boils down to this: if you and I were friends on Facebook, you may have noticed me dropping off your friends list. Don't take it personally. It's not you--it's the site. I might come back, or I might not. If I do, I'll let you know. If I don't, you know where to find me.

A Google Wave frustration

I had intended to write a post about Google Wave, my reactions to it, how it could be more useful to me, what I hoped to see in future versions, etc. I figured I'd write it in Wave and post it using the Posterous robot. Unfortunately, it isn't accepting my password, or any password for that matter. The focus is on the proper field, I've entered my email and done everything I can think of--yet Wave just won't accept keyboard input for that field. So I'm writing this in Gmail instead, which is increasingly the one-stop nerve center for all my communications--email, blog posts, Twitter, voicemail--that I would like Wave to be. Maybe I don't need Wave that much, after all.

Twenty Years On: My Memories of Divided Germany

Twenty years ago today, I woke up, turned on the TV, and saw people massed atop the Berlin Wall. It took a minute to sink in. Eight years and a few months earlier, I had been in Berlin and seen the Wall with my own eyes. I had touched it. Thanks to my American passport, I had crossed through it at Checkpoint Charlie. When I left Berlin a few days later, I'd seen the massive Red Army base just past the border crossing at Drewitz (Checkpoint Bravo), along the transit corridor to Hamburg.

The idea that the Wall would ever be breached with the permission of the East German authorities never entered my mind. The thought that it would be dismantled in my lifetime was simply, well, unthinkable. And yet it was happening. In the past weeks and months, I'd seen the video on CNN of East Germans traveling to Hungary in order to cross into Austria, the East Germans swarming the West German embassy in Prague, and the unprecedented demonstrations in Dresden and Magdeburg.

Clearly, the regime was in turmoil, and the abrupt transfer of power from Erich Honecker to Egon Krenz was a sign of the desperation of the East German authorities. It would prove to be futile, of course; the Communists (officially, the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands or Socialist Unity Party of Germany) would soon be ousted, and it was a Christian Democratic government--the last government of the German Democratic Republic--that eventually negotiated the terms of its takeover by the western Federal Republic.

In the end, the refusal of Mikhail Gorbachev to prop up the eastern regime led to its downfall. But in 1981, none of this was foreseeable, at least not by me. I was fifteen years old, on a student trip to Europe, and my first glimpse of the other side's Germany came when the train in which I was a passenger crossed the intra-German border at Gerstungen. It was a classic Cold War experience, and quite exciting for a fifteen-year-old kid: the train pulled into an area with high berms on each side, isolating the train. Out came the dogs and the guards, and mirrors were used to check the undercarriage of the train. Green-uniformed Grenztruppen (border troops) climbed aboard, and as we got underway proceeded through the length of the train, stamping passports and issuing transit visas. The guard who stamped my passport couldn't have been much older than I was.

The train proceeded slowly. The locomotive of the western Deutsche Bundesbahn had to be replaced for the journey across the GDR by one from the GDR's Deutsche Reichsbahn . Because of track conditions, it couldn't go much faster than about 45 mph. Thanks to the sooty exhaust of the Eastern engine, coupled with a lack of air conditioning that mandated open windows on a warm July afternoon, we arrived several hours later in West Berlin feeling rather grimy. A border crossing is one thing; catching sight of the Berlin Wall was something else entirely.

As memorable and intimidating as the crossing into East Germany had been, it took place in the open countryside, where one expects a border to be. To see a city cleaved in two by a twelve foot high wall of concrete was unprecedented. It was breathtaking in its audacity. There was a sense of being on the front lines of the Cold War. Even more than that, there was a sense of being inhistory . Here was the fallen capital of the Third Reich, still evident in Speer's Olympic Stadium in the West and Goering's massive Air Ministry building in the East, split into four occupation zones that had coalesced into two opposing sides. The Nazis had been vanquished, and the victors had rebuilt their sectors according to their own philosophies. You could see what the Americans, British, and French had done with the West, and what the Soviets had done with the East. As late as 1981, there were still a number of ruins in the East, such as the Französischer Dom, that were weed-choked and desolate. The only ruins that I saw in the West had been left as artistic and political statements, such as the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.

It was a stark reminder of how priorities differed between East and West. East and West really had become two cities by then. West Berlin was technically not part of West Germany, but had special status; because of this, it had become popular with West German youth seeking to avoid conscription into the West German Bundeswehr . Certain sections of West Berlin had buildings that had been taken over by squatters, and graffiti was common, especially on the western side of the Wall. In contrast, East Berlin was the capital of the GDR, and to my eye still had something of the old German military spirit, with the East German Volksarmee wearing traditional German-pattern uniforms with the traditional cuff titles and insignia. At the Neue Wache, what was then the Memorial to the Victims of Fascism and Militarism, the honor guard even practiced the goose step, the irony of which was apparently lost on the regime.

Most of what I remember about divided Berlin, though, was what I perceived as the vibrancy of the West and the bleakness of the East. Whereas West Berlin's roads were clogged with Volkswagens, Opels and Mercedes, the streets of East Berlin echoed to the two-stroke clatter of Trabants and Wartburgs, leaving a trail of oily smoke in their wake. The brutalist, poured-concrete aesthetic of the Alexanderplatz, impressive though it was in its way, did not compare with the elegance of the Kurfürstendamm. The East, with its planned economy, simply could not compete with the consumer-driven economy of the West, and when given the chance in 1989, the people of the East could not resist the allure of a society that produced not only the basics but also the luxuries in prodigious quantities. Having had the opportunity to use East German toilet paper, I can't say that I blame them.

Nevertheless, after only a few days, I was reluctant to leave Berlin. The divided Berlin of 1981 was simply the most fascinating city I had ever encountered, and twenty-eight years later that is still true. As the tour bus rolled through the Marienborn checkpoint on the way to Hamburg, I promised myself I'd go back someday, spend more time, and get to know it in more detail.

Sadly, that was never to be. When in 1989 I awoke to the jubilation of Berliners atop the Wall, that door closed forever. For better or for worse, the East was swallowed whole by the West, and the essential nature of Berlin changed. No longer would it be a place where a calamitous past collided with two different visions of the present, competing in a contest for the heart and soul of the future.

Still, I hope one day to return, to breathe the Berliner Luft, to walk the Unter den Linden, and to see what has become of my favorite city now that the Wall has passed into history. I saw many places in my fifteenth year, famous cities like Paris and Amsterdam, and have seen many more in the years since, yet it is Berlin that has remained at the forefront of my imagination. I suppose that is because in no other place, and at no other time, have I ever been fortunate enough to stand on the front lines of human history. Somewhere in my heart, deep inside, a part of me will always be able to say, "Ich bin einen Berliner ."

Tidying up

A couple minor tweaks to the site…

  • I was looking at Jeff Jarvis' blog, and liked his idea for a lengthy About Me/Disclosures page, so I've done the same. To learn more about me and my opinions than you ever wanted to know, go here.1
  • After a few days of posting consolidated Twitter updates on the main page, I've decided it looks cluttered and tends to hide the actual posts. Starting today, they'll be posted on the tweets page instead.2

Happy Tuesday!

  1. 2010-10-16: This was when my blog was hosted elsewhere.

  2. Again, this is no longer true, as there is no Tweets page anymore.

Trying out Google Wave

I got a Google Wave invite this afternoon, and I'm trying to see what can be done with it. So far I've done inconsequential stuff like posting to Twitter, and now to my blog. So let's see if this works when I click "Done"…

via google-wave-robot

They come in two pieces!

This is a business model sorely lacking here in Southern California, and one we desperately need…(Thanks to Steve Robinson for the link, and you can see the video of how it was made over at his blog, Pithless Thoughts.)

Clean bill of cardiac health

I finally got the results of last week's echocardiogram, and basically everything's good. Nothing remarkable, nothing out of the ordinary, just a well-functioning cardiovascular system. Basically, confirmation that I didn't inherit my father's heart problems.

As my cardiologist said, "Something else will kill you first."Great.So now all I have to worry about is an unknown killer. I feel so much better now…I think it's time for bacon.