December 2003 Archives

real blessings

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My father has spent over a year organizing and digitizing thousands of snapshots he's taken over the past 50+ years--from his childhood in Germany before and during WWII, through his time in LA in the 50s, and his marriage to my mother and the passages of our family from the 60s through today. It's an amazing collection of images, and he's assembled a series of albums on various themes as he's worked.

A few weeks ago, I asked him if he'd stumbled across a photo of my mother that I remembered clearly...it showed her in the backyard of the house we rented each summer in Cape Cod, joyfully tearing into a freshly-cooked lobster. (It was at Shore Gardens in Eastham, right on Town Cove, for those of you who know the area.)

Today, he found and sent me a digitized version of the image (a series of three images, actually, one of which was the picture I remembered), which was taken in 1975.

Thanks, Dad, for the picture. Thanks, Mom, for the joy and laughter you've always brought into our lives. And thank you Mom and Dad for being such wonderful parents, and for giving me such a wealth of happy memories that pictures like this one (and these, which I posted back in November of 2002) bring back for me. I love you both.

Mom eating lobster, 1975

count your blessings. really.

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It's been a rough month for my family, but lately I've been focused on counting my blessings rather than my trials. I have a lot to be grateful for--family, friends, health, and job security (in a job I love), to name just a few.

I've always felt that actively listing and talking about the good things in my life has had a positive effect. Turns out that researchers at UC Davis have results that support my thoughts on the matter. Here's an excerpt from the AP wire story (as published in the SJ Mercury News):

In one set of observations, college students kept a diary, with some instructed to write about how they felt grateful and others told to concentrate on daily hassles or routine events.

There were fewer illnesses among the "gratitude" group, which also reported exercising more and offering more emotional support to others, Emmons and co-author Michael E. McCullough wrote in the February issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, at which Emmons is a consulting editor.

In another experiment with people with neuromuscular diseases, the researchers found that emphasizing gratefulness improved satisfaction with their lives, as well as their amount and quality of sleep. That study involved observations from the participants and family members.

So, all you bloggers out there...as we welcome in a new year this week, why not write a post about what you're most grateful for? And if your software supports it, trackback to this post so that I can hear about it, too. :)

travel plans for the new year

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It's going to be a busy, busy first quarter for me, it seems.

A trip to Chicago in January to do some consulting.

A trip to San Diego in February to speak at O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference.

The much-anticipated Asian trip with my mother and son in late February/early March.

And I've just agreed to be on a panel ("Streetwise Librarians and the Revolution in Public Information") at SXSW Interactive in Austin in March.

Whew. I'm tired just looking at that. :/ Every one of them is a trip I'm really interested in making, but in the aggregate, it's a daunting itinerary for someone who much prefers sleeping in her own bed...

css and rss

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Joi Ito is playing around with sending CSS along with his RSS feed, and an intersting discussion is already brewing in his comments. Most of the comment focus on specific problems that the embedded CSS is causing in some newsreaders. But others are starting to touch on what I think is a very interesting philosophical issue--should content syndication be just about content, or should authors also be able to specify presentation guidelines?

My gut response to this is discomfort with the idea of trying to use CSS with syndicaated content--that it seems somehow contrary to the entire idea of syndicating simple content. But I know from long experience not to trust that kind of initial negativity too much, since it's often connected with changes that turn out to be quite positive.

So I started wondering...isn't this the kind of thing that the folks in the Atom project might be thinking about? In the many discussions surrounding the development of this new syndication format, wouldn't they have been likely to have touched on issues related to sending (optional) stylistic/presentation information along with content?

Yup. The first hit from a Google search on "Atom syndication CSS" was Jason Shellen's Atom Info Proposal, which "adds two optional tags to the Atom syndication format, adding a way to address an info tag with CSS. One tag invokes a CSS file and another tag to contain the info data." The second hit was a Sam Ruby post entitled "Atom + CSS." And the third hit was even more interesting, as it was a message from Phil Wolff to the atom-syntax mailing list entitled "Syndicating CSS?".

In that last item, Phil Wolff suggests some specific strategies for including style informtion with syndicated feeds, and also describes feedback on those suggestions that he received from Jesse James Garrett.

I'm sure I've only scratched the surface of this discussion, but it seemed worth mentioning those items and tracking back to Joi's entry, since one of the problems in the blogosphere is that discussions like these seem too often to take place in parallel rather than being intertwingled.

(And btw, Joi, when are you going to put up an Atom feed? ;)

cool geographic aggregator by former student

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Not long after I started teaching at RIT, I had my first overachieving student. These are the students that really make me love my job--and keep me on my toes. Ross, a freshman, was already hard at work writing his own XML parser, and had better web coding skills than most of the upperclass students I'd met.

Unfortunately, Ross didn't stay long at RIT. (And in retrospect, Ross, I feel like I should have worked harder to keep you there.) Once he'd left, I didn't hear much from him...until I started blogging. Earlier this year, he turned up in the comments of my blog, and I've been able to keep track of him a bit on his own blog, Ross Notes.

In his comment on my last entry, he mentioned LocalFeeds in a way that made me think it might be his site. A quick whois lookup confirmed it. Nice job, Ross. I'm glad to see you're still building cool things in your spare time. :)

And if you haven't seen LocalFeeds (and added yourself to it), you should. It's a great way to find weblogs in your geographic area, and let them find you. Tools like this, that begin to blend virtual and geographic communities, are wonderful additions to the social software world.

more feeds

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No good deed goes unpunished, it seems, and my additional feeds were met with more complaints ("but I really wanted a full feed with no comments"; "why are you duplicating content in your excerpts?", etc). In response, I've added a few more feeds, including a full (no comments) Atom 0.3 feed for Joi, and a separate comments feed for people who like their comments on the side.

Before you fuss at me about specifics, however, let me add that I am not writing these templates myself. I don't have the time or the inclination to learn enough about the syntax to do that. I'm relying on templates posted by others--Mark Pilgrim, Jennifer, and those on the MT site. Want a different feed than what you see here? Point me to an MT template I can use and I'll consider it.

del.icio.us bookmarks

Via Joi (and Clay), I found the new (pre-alpha) del.icio.us social bookmarking site.

It's quite intriguing...I like the free-form tagging it allows, and the multiple ways you can slice-and-dice the information. By list author, by keyword, by date, etc etc. I've signed up, and you can see my (still nascent) list o' links under my mamamusings username. I'm particularly intrigued by the RSS feed associated with each list of links, and am thinking about what the best way to aggregate and display these would be. I sense a need for a new application--an aggregator that collects links from the site and dumps them into a database or searchable environment.

You can subscribe to friends' linklists already, and there are some interesting social features built in--for example, the more people who have linked to a site, the darker the background for the link. What would make this better for me, however, would be for the weight to be determined only by the links of people I've chosen to subscribe to.

rss feed changes

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I've bowed to peer pressure (honestly, who can resist a personal plea from Joi?), and added a full RSS 2.0 feed to the site, complete with comments. It can be found at http://mamamusings.net/index-full.xml. I've also replaced my old RSS .91 excerpt feed (http://mamamusings.net/index.xml) with a shiny new RSS 2.0 excerpt feed. The RSS 1.0 (http://mamamusings.net/index.rdf) feed remains unchanged.

The new 2.0 excerpt feed template comes from Mark Pilgrim, and the full + comments template comes from Jennifer (no last name visible anywhere that I can find...) on her "geek blog," etc..

(Side note: I arrived at Jennifer's site after a search for rss 2.0 full feed templates, but I'll be back--not just to her geek blog, but also to her personal blog, which is beautifully designed and well written.)

tangible handiwork

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Sometimes I just get tired of being a technologist...spending so much time in front of a screen, typing away, with nothing tangible to show for the effort. Which is why when I get burned out on computer work I tend to turn to real-world crafts. In grad school I took advantage of courses in "Decorated Papers" and "Papermaking" through the MFA in Book Arts program. Here at RIT, I took a woodworking course. But my old standby, the thing I take up when I'm most in need of comfort, is crocheting.

rainyday.jpgMy maternal grandmother (my "oma") taught me how to crochet when I was very young, starting with simple granny squares. As I got older, I tackled more complex patterns. As an adult, I've accumulated a stack of pattern books from Leisure Arts and American School of Needlework--most afghans, with a few hats and scarves and mittens thrown in.

When my brother-in-law passed away earlier this month, I decided to start an afghan for my sister--something to warm her during the cold months ahead. I chose the Rainy Day Blues pattern from Sandy Scoville's "Warm and Cozy Afghans" ASN pattern book. (The picture on the left is the one from the pattern book.) I've made this afghan twice before, once for our house, using Lion Brand Homespun yarn in Sierra--and it's a much-loved item in our living room. I made another one as a wedding gift for my older stepdaughter a couple of years ago (this one in Homespun Shaker), and she and her husband adore it. This time I chose Homespun Colonial, which seemed to suit my sister.

finished afghanThe nice thing about crocheting--as opposed to, say, blogging--is that I can talk to my family while I do it. I don't have to shush the kids when I'm finishing a row of stitches the way I do when I'm finishing a sentence of a long post. I can watch television while I do it, too, so over the past few weeks I've become quite a Gunsmoke afficionado. (Did you know they run two episodes of Gunsmoke every night on the Westerns channel? Neither did I! But Miss Kitty is definitely my new favorite television character!)

I started the afghan on Saturday the 6th, and finished it last night--record time for me on one of these projects. That's it on the right, next to our Christmas tree (we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas in our house...) It turned out quite well, I think. And I'll be able to give it to my sister as a moving-in gift on Monday when she moves into her new apartment.

Tomorrow I'll stop by JoAnn's, where Homespun yarn is on sale for $3.99/skein. It takes about 12 skeins to make the afghan, but it's well worth it for the enjoyment, satisfaction, and lasting warmth it provides.

the spirit of the season

my kids, wearing disguises

wavelan wireless cards and os x

I'm a Mac user, which means I'm used to everything just...well...working when I turn it on. Unfortunately, that's not the case for OS X and an old Lucent WaveLAN card on a PowerBook G3 (bronze keyboard), which is what I had to work with today. We gave Lane my mother's old PowerBook for Christmas, and after installing 256MB of memory in it today (it only had 64MB), I upgraded it to OS X (Panther)...forgetting that Apple doesn't support the WaveLAN card, and that the drivers I was using don't work under OS X.

My first attempt at solving the problem was an open source driver available on SourceForge, with the creative name of "WirelessDriver." But after multiple attempts at installing, it became clear that it wasn't going to work. The problems I encountered were described on the forums, but there were no clear answers (other than an oblique reference to needing to do some "kext-fu" -- apparently in reference to problems with kext files).

After fighting with it for a while, I followed another link to musox.com, which in turn pointed me to the not open source and not free IOxperts 802.11b Driver for Mac OS X. Worked on the first try, so I cheerfully ponied up the $19.95 before the 30 minute trial period ended.

Moral of the story? Not sure there is one. But I do have one very happy 9-year-old, who's now happily IM'ing and emailing everyone he knows on his very own laptop.

a public service message: back up your blog!

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Ouch. Weez's server--with all the family blogs on it--has been hacked. I'm hoping the provider has a recent backup she can restore from. I took this as a sign, and did a quick backup of mamamusings just now. I use MT with mySQL, so I was able to use the phpMyAdmin interface my hosting provider offers to export all the data quickly and easily, and it's now one of a series of archived files sitting on my hard drive. (Last backup was 12/9.) Will probably burn some CDs of critical data this week, too, just to be extra careful.

Regular backups of critical data--that's an excellent goal for the new year, don't you think? Email. Blogs. Curricular materials. Etc. Etc. A small investment in recordable media, a huge return in peace of mind.

how to live life

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As we begin to untangle the legal and financial aftermaths of my brother-in-law's unexpected death, it has become increasingly clear to me that there are real risks and consequences to believing the best about people, particularly when that trust goes against one's better instincts.

And because there are in fact legal and financial issues involved, that's about all I can say about that.

Except that I have managed to formulate one simple rule for how to live life:

Live so that no one you love will be unpleasantly surprised
by what they find when you die.

using my powers for good?

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It will be interesting to see how quickly the unelectable meme spreads, and how long it takes for it to impact the search results for unelectable.

(Thanks to George and Kieran for the heads-up on this.)

why i won't buy music from walmart

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In general, I don't have a problem with Walmart. I buy school supplies and small appliances there on a regular basis. So when Gerald told me that Walmart was now selling music online for 88 cents a song, I figured I'd take a look.

But here's what the technical requirements FAQ has to say:

Can I play music from Walmart.com Music Downloads on my Macintosh∆ computer? No. Music Downloads from Walmart.com are not compatible with any Macintosh computer. The music that you download requires Digital Rights Management 9 (DRM 9) software, which is not compatible with the Macintosh operating system.

And it appears that the WMA/DRM9 software has far more problematic restrictions than Apple's AAC encoded files. You can't transfer the songs to another computer, for example. (The AAC-encoded files can be placed on up to 3 computers, and de-authorizing one and re-authorizing a new one is fairly easy.) You can only burn a given song to CD 10 times (with AAC, you can burn a given playlist up to ten times, but the song can be placed on an unlimited number of playlists).

So I'll be sticking with the iTunes music store for the time being; I'm not willing to give up the flexibility of their DRM, or the ability to use my iPod.

libraries and standards

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Dorothea has a curmudgeonly post today about what she sees as the absence of librarians in the technical standards community.

She's says she might be wrong--and she is. So here's my curmudgeonly response. :)

There are many, many librarians and libraries involved in technical standards development and implementation. For goodness sake, who do you think developed the Dublin Core?

Making generalizations about the library profession based on one academic library is a bit like making generalizations about the web development profession based on one development firm. People with an interest in standards tend to cluster, and there are plenty of places in library land to find them:

  • OCLC, of course. (Based in Dublin, Ohio, for those not familiar with them...which is how the Dublin Core got its name.) Take a look at some of the research initiatives they're involved with, most (if not all) of which have librarians in key positions.
  • The Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), a deeply library-focused organization formed jointly by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and EDUCAUSE. Its founder, the late Paul Peters, was one of my most-favorite library people. And its current director, Cliff Lynch, is a near legend in the library technology field. Take a look at their current projects
  • The Open Archives Initiative--check out the number of library folks on their Technical Committee
  • The NISO OpenURL committee, based at CalTech's library.

I know there have been librarians on a variety of IETF and W3C committees, as well, but I don't have time to look all of that up. My guess is that some of my regular library community readers will add some of that in my comments section.

libraries and standards

Dorothea has a curmudgeonly post today about what she sees as the absence of librarians in the technical standards community.

She's wrong. So here's my curmudgeonly response. :)

Dorothea, there are many, many librarians and libraries involved in technical standards development and implementation. For goodness sake, who do you think developed the Dublin Core?

Making generalizations about the library profession based on one academic library is a bit like making generalizations about the web development profession based on one development firm. People with an interest in standards tend to cluster, and there are plenty of places in library land to find them:

  • OCLC, of course. (Based in Dublin, Ohio, for those not familiar with them...which is how the Dublin Core got its name.) Take a look at some of the research initiatives they're involved with, most (if not all) of which have librarians in key positions.
  • The Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), a deeply library-focused organization formed jointly by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and EDUCAUSE. Its founder, the late Paul Peters, was one of my most-favorite library people. And its current director, Cliff Lynch, is a near legend in the library technology field. Take a look at their current projects
  • The Open Archives Initiative--check out the number of library folks on their Technical Committee
  • The NISO OpenURL committee, based at CalTech's library.

I know there have been librarians on a variety of IETF and W3C committees, as well, but I don't have time to look all of that up. My guess is that some of my regular library community readers will add some of that in my comments section.

eowyn rocks

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Eowyn in battle gearI admit it. I didn't read the books, even as a kid. Despite my great love of fantasy novels, Tolkien's turgid prose failed to draw me in. So I was pleasantly surprised today by the wonderful scene in which Eowyn defeats Nazgul, the king of the Ringwraiths. The Nazgul warns her that no man can slay him--and Eowyn removes her helm, shakes out her hair, and tells him "I am no man!" (At which point I whooped out loud.) Then (with a little help from Merry) she kills him.

Nice.

The rest of the good lines in the movie clearly belonged to Gimli, whose comic delivery is a perfect foil to the depth and emotion of the rest of the movie.

All in all? An enormously satisfying and cinematic experience.

escape to neverland

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Through the generosity of a colleague, I found myself yesterday with passes to see the sneak preview of the new Peter Pan movie. So I packed up the kids, and resigned myself to a less-than-inspiring movie experience.

I was wrong.

The movie was visually stunning and emotionally rich. (I laughed, I cried...) The plot was surprisingly true to the original story, but with darkness and depth that I hadn't anticipated. The young unknowns playing Peter and Wendy were wonderful--balancing innocence, humor, and sensuality with skill well beyond their years.

It opens for real on Christmas Day, and I give it a hearty thumbs-up. Be warned, however, that the younger kids with us (Weez and brood were there, as well, so we had ages 2, 5, 6, 7, and 9 to poll afterwards) were less mesmerized than the older ones. Weez and I loved it. Lane (age 9) said afterwards, with a real note of surprise "It was way better than I expected." But Alex (age 7) was more blas´┐Ż, and the younger kids found some of the darker parts troubling.

This morning I'm off to see Return of the King, which should be a very different experience!

operating system biculturalism

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Via Anil's daily links, an excellent article in Joel on Software on the topic of biculturalism between Linux and Windows programmers.

It's a great article, with spot-on assessments of core values in both communities, and nice analogies to geographically based cultural differences. Here's a representative excerpt:

I have heard economists claim that Silicon Valley could never be recreated in, say, France, because the French culture puts such a high penalty on failure that entrepreneurs are not willing to risk it. Maybe the same thing is true of Linux: it may never be a desktop operating system because the culture values things which prevent it. OS X is the proof: Apple finally created Unix for Aunt Marge, but only because the engineers and managers at Apple were firmly of the end-user culture (which I've been imperialistically calling "the Windows Culture" even though historically it originated at Apple). They rejected the Unix culture's fundamental norm of programmer-centricity. They even renamed core directories -- heretical! -- to use common English words like "applications" and "library" instead of "bin" and "lib."

trackback example

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In my 737 class, I'm showing the students how trackback works.

This is a link to their group project assignment.

tonight's soundtrack

For the past several days, for reasons I can't talk much about, this Cowboy Junkies song has ben playing in the back of my head. Maybe posting it here will help me to purge it.

this street, that man, this life
This street holds its secrets like a cobra holds its kill
This street minds its business like a jailer minds his jail
That house there is haunted
That door's a portal to hell
This street holds its secrets very well

That man wears his skin like a dancer wears her veils
That man stalks his victims like a cancer stalks a cell
That man's soul has left him his heart's as deadly as a rusty nail
That man sheds his skin like a veil

Lord, you play a hard game, you know we follow every rule
Then you take the one thing we thought we'd never lose
All I ask is if she's with you please keep her warm and safe
and if it's in your power please purge the memory of this place

This life holds its secrets like a sea shell holds the sea,
soft and distant calling like a fading memory
This life has its victories but its defeats tear so viciously
This life holds its secrets like the sea

ui widget site

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Christina Wodtke, author of the Information Architecture book I use in my web classes, has a new weblog called Widgetopia. In it, she's collecting and annotating examples of UI components--ratings stars, download menus, date entry forms, etc.

Very nice resource for use in teaching HCI topics.

moving forward

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Many thanks to all of you who sent words of comfort--via comments posted here, email, postal mail, phone and even in-person visits. It was, and continues to be, a great source of comfort to me and to my family.

The shiva period ended yesterday morning, and now it's time to start moving forward. There are legal issues, financial issues, emotional issues, and more. Life is complicated, and dealing with a sudden death doesn't make it less so.

But in addition to helping my sister put her life back together, I need to remember to keep my life on track. As many people have reminded me, my kids and husband need me, too, and I can't put work on hold forever (tempting though that might seem). So today I'm taking a day off from comforting others, and taking care of myself--spending time with my family, catching up on work, remembering to appreciate the most important things in my life. And yes, that includes blogging.

death be not proud

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Six months ago, I attended my sister's wedding. It was a joyful occasion. My sister's life hasn't been an easy one, and I know she'd often thought she'd never find romantic love.

Today, I will attend her husband's funeral.

He was killed in a terrible car crash yesterday morning, as he drove to the college where he's been taking classes in social work. We were told by the social worker at the hospital that the 22-year-old woman who hit him (who was not injured seriously) had been fixing a bagel in her car, and had crossed over onto the wrong side of the road and hit him head-on. He sustained massive head injuries, and passed away yesterday afternoon.

If you're the kind of person who prays, please pray for my sister, to help her through this incomprehensible loss.

parking lot wifi?!?

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I'm sitting in the parking lot outside the RIT gym. I was supposed to meet Weez here 20 minutes ago, but I forgot my ID, which is required for entrance. (Yes, RIT folks, I know you can get in without it--but I've done it so many times that they've told me I have to have it from now on... :/ ) My husband--who's mobile again, and back to taking care of me instead of the reverse--is en route with the ID, so I'm sitting in my car, waiting.

I figured I'd work on some course materials while I was here, so I opened up my laptop. Much to my amazement, I get a wifi signal out here! Not a strong one, but enough to get me online. Who'd have thought I could blog from my laptop while sitting in the middle of D Lot?

mea conference deadline extended

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The deadline for proposals for the Media Ecology Association conference has been extended to December 15th. The extensions announcement has details on the conference and the kinds of proposals they're looking for.

One panel proposal that has been submitted (and I suspect has a good chance of being accepted) is one that I'm chairing on "Weblogs and Cross-Disciplinary Communication." On the panel with me will be Clay Shirky, Seb Paquet, Jill Walker, and Alex Halavais. That alone should be reason enough for you to want to attend (or, better, yet, to propose your own presentation).

Here's our abstract:

While weblogs have been touted as an emerging publishing medium, academic weblogs are often used more for communication and dialog with other scholars and interested readers than they are for traditional broadcast publishing. Unlike mailing lists, weblogs combine broad accessibility (unhindered by subscription requirements) with clear authorial voice on the part of the weblog writer(s). The panel will discuss the opportunities and problems presented by weblogs as a tool for cross-disciplinary communication and collaboration.

And while Rochester's weather may be slightly...well...inclement...at the moment, in mid-June it's quite wonderful here.

it's showtime, folks

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Twenty-three grad students sitting in the lab across the hall, waiting for me to make my grand entrance.

Caffeine? Check.
Handouts? Check.
Pretests? (Yes, I give a test on the first day. I'm so mean...) Check.
Class web site up? Check.
Butterflies in tummy? Check.

Curtain's going up...

giving a whole new meaning to "blue screen of death"

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From Wired News:

First Microsoft set out to put a computer in every home. Now the software giant hopes to put one in every vehicle, too.

"We'd like to have one of our operating systems in every car on Earth," said Dick Brass, vice-president of Microsoft's automotive business unit. "It's a lofty goal."

what a way to start the quarter

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Weather Channel forecast for Dec 1 03, showing snow, snow, and more snow.

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