Creative Time Wasting 404

Dear readers, let me vent some useless thoughts about HTML and share the fruit of my procrastination with you today.

It occurs to me that HTML code has finally become a third rate citizen of the World Wide Web. Back in the day, there were horrible WYSIWYG editors that mangled poor HTML, raped it by adding their own non-HTML tags and in general produced bloated and unreadable mess. They still exist today. But now most sites are script generated, so rarely do you see clean, beautiful and handcrafted HTML code when you view the source.

One of the worst offenders is Microsoft, of course. It gave FrontPage, an unholy product of a dying company called Vermeer Technologies (I’ve read in this book that the price of FrontPage was huge and number of copies sold – miniscule) an eternal life as a part of the Office Suite. Other Office programs always produced horrendous HTML. And now, they don’t even want developers to touch HTML directly. They added extra layers – Server Controls (again, plans for VTI extension and FrontPage come to mind) and Web Forms to isolate them from the language that can be learned in 20 minutes and mastered in a few years.

I can’t say that positive things did not happen. For one, fewer people write in old skool all-caps HTML tags. All lowercase tags are so much more readable.

Also now it’s probably safer to put little Easter eggs and funny notes in HTML comments. Are there more of those around? I don’t know. But the oldies but goodies are still out there.

Famous hacker JWZ’s enigmatic page contains this haughty comment:
<!– mail me if you find the secret –>
<!– (no, you can’t have a hint) –>

Smarter people than me tried, but failed to find meaning in in the 404 lines of what seems to be a hex dump. Former Livejournal user mcgroarty, for instance, wasted a good chunk of his time on this. Where is his blog now, by the way? Does anyone know?

What I noticed though is that the page is not static as mcgroarty probably assumed. It changes with time. More than that, it seems like it is not the same data – it probably cycles through different files. You can clearly see that if you look at through the wayback machine. Meanwhile you can see the old design featuring the Jamie’s cool terminal graphics likeness. You can see the old design get resized, then get replaced with the 404 line nightmare. Then “mail me if you find the secret” gets added. Enough people send emails and JWZ, always eager to save some time, adds “(no, you can’t have a hint)”.

Are these 404 a cruel joke – meaning not found?

I suspected that the 404 lines show chunks of the old green image that I mentioned, or are generated from web collage. When I looked at the famous animated compass gif (the one that replaced the Netscape diddler when you typed in about:jwz or went to JWZ’s old homepage in Netscape 1.1 and some other early Netscape version I think) I found another hidden message from JWZ:

“You have a lot of free time on your hands, don’t you?
Tell that you found the secret message!

“Some people will tell you that slow is good — and it may be, on
some days — but I’m here toò tell you that fast is better. Being
shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out
of a tube. That is why God made fast motorcycles, Bubba.”
— Hunter S. Thompson

Oh, Jamie, I have very little free time. But whatever free time I have I usually end up wasting on stupid things.

This does not seem to be the solution to the 404 line homepage puzzle, but the heck with it.

Russian-speaking readers can entertain themselves with reading comments over at There are a couple of hints of hidden links, a few sprinkles of profanity, showing off about Photoshop mastery. Outstanding advice to journalists that was there in the earlier version is gone. I also remember seeing a completely blacked out page about his photo equipment there (you needed to do control-a trick to see it) in a very old version of the site. has its share of rowdy commentage.

Man, These Guys Must Have Been Really Baked

I was looking through my favorite home automation catalog when I found this: a remote controlled rabbit ears antenna. You might still have to get up to wind more wire hangers onto the “ears” to improve reception, but now you can wiggle it all you want from the comfort of your couch.

One of the few top google results to “remote controlled antenna” is an entry at – a site that either is ripping off or is being ripped off by Dilbert’s Lazy Entrepreneur.

What is really weird, is that absolutely independently of this find I recently had a conversation about with the owner of whom I met at MS training in Atlanta last week.

Ach, We Call It Coffee With Milk Around Here, Ya Latte Drinking Surrender Monkey

After many, many tries I think I am finally getting closer to figuring out “latte art” – making patterns on the surface of espresso crema with specially steamed milk. Here’s my best attempt to date:

It’s a weird hybrid of a rosetta and an apple.

To see much better examples of latte art, see this outstanding guide or just look over google’s results.

David Schomer has a commercial video for sale (which is terribly overpriced – $49.95 for 18 minutes), but fortunately there are a few free demonstrations out there.

I have to warn you, watching these is absolutely hypnotic : (click on “demo” for the movies).

Once I figure out the process completely I’ll post my own tutorial.

Kings Highway at 16th Street.

I came across this postcard recently and could not pass it up even at $16. It shows Kings Highway from the elevated subway platform of the Brighton line. Unfortunately I could not get the same viewpoint because a huge ugly advertising billboard is blocking the view.

The picture clearly (well, maybe not so clearly) shows the Avalon Movie theater, which history you can learn at . Now that building houses a CVS pharmacy on the ground floor and Touro “College” on the upper, windowless floors.

The water tower, cool streetlights, Cafe Avalon, Modern Beauty Shop, Kings Highway Realty and Mortgage Corp, the soda fountain which name I can’t make out, the cool cars — all gone. Parking is still a problem though.

Is That A Genetically Engineered Banana Or Are You Just Glad To See Me?

Thank you for the link, raymondc_feed.

Quote from
“How to read a PLU code:
-For conventionally grown fruit, (grown with chemicals inputs), the PLU code on the sticker consists of four numbers.
– Organically grown fruit has a five-numeral PLU prefaced by the number 9.
– Genetically engineered (GM) fruit has a five-numeral PLU prefaced by the number 8.

A conventionally grown banana would be:
An organic banana would be:
A genetically engineered (GE or GMO) banana would be:
84011 “

By the way, those genetically engineered fish are already on sale in Petland Discounts near me. Unfortunately I temporarily got rid of my aquarium (the fish are my father’s tank for now).

TT : Homer Shrugged

1) The trilogy that I actually care about is complete. The Golden Transcendence : Or, The Last of the Masquerade is here, and it doesn’t dissapoint. I’ll write my review soon.

Is it just me, or did the book jacket’s designer rip off Zhaan from Farscape?

(image from

2) Ebay auction: The Simpsons Homer as Atlas A La Carte Statue

Very impressive.

3) How a google search for video drivers helped ‘s mom grow her vocabulary.
Isn’t technology wonderfull?

4) Learned about this in “This Old House Magazine”. There’s a company that makes a table saw that senses the change in capacitance between wood and human (and as this demo shows, pigeon) flesh and stops momentarily.

Watch the videos here. would probably get a kick out of that.

5) There was an article in the Bulletin about Atoms for Peace.
Dammit, where’s my Ford Nucleon?

(image from

Soviet Voodoo

Oooof. Finally fixed a rather nasty bug that was depressing me most of last week. This and a nice little poem by reminded me about a few superstitions of my childhood.

There was no subway in Odessa, but we had buses, trolley buses and trams. Poorly printed pieces of bad quality paper served as tickets. The system was somewhat interesting: the driver wouldn’t check the tickets. You had to board with your own ticket and perforate it in a weird looking wall mounted press inside. If during a spot check you didn’t have a perforated ticket, you’d theoretically be fined. In reality everybody except the few unlucky loosers would perforate their ticket in the nick of time.

So, back to superstitions and luck bringing rituals. Every ticket had a serial number. A lucky ticket was considered to be one, in which the sum of the first three numbers of the serial would be equal to the sum of the last there. If you found a lucky ticket, to gain some good luck, germ or no germs, you had to eat it. Here’s what one (actually this is an even more special palindromic lucky ticket.) would like:

(image from

Then there was the “Chicken God”. That was a name for a beach pebble with a hole in it. The hole was supposed to be of a natural origin. A chicken god could be worn on a necklace. To wish on it, you would look through the hole at the sun (getting half blind in the process) and speak your wish.

Update: tells me that they are called “Holey Stones” in the US and the tradition is somewhat similar.

(picture from

Oh, and the black Volga. In the Soviet Union a black Volga GAZ 24 was a car of choice for various party functionaries and other important people. A kid who’d spot one would usually mutter a little rhyme “black Volga my luck, which nobody can pluck” (“чернаÑ? Волга, моÑ? удача, никому не передача”). Hey, I am no poet.

(image from

Embed With Microsoft

An auction for a special Microsoft shirt:

This reminded me of a t-shirt I’ve seen somewhere that said: “Embed me, link me, treat me like an object”.

Logo apparel is an amazingly effective propaganda tool. My favorite Microsoft shirt says “MS Commerce Server 2000 Surf Naked”. I still wear it even though it’s 3 years old.

I really want to get “Apple T-Shirts: A Yearbook of History at Apple Computer”, but it’s apparently rare and expensive at $180. Dang.

Some pretty cool shirts at
Heh heh, so Outlook’s original code name was Ren. I am still working on that database of Microsoft codenames. Stay tuned.

I think Dave Cutler gave out Zero Bugs shirts also, but Netscape’s shirt is more famous.

How I wish there was a source for logo polo shirts from cool companies. I could go for some Amdahl, Cray, Microsoft, Apple, Xerox PARC shirts.

Deadprogrammer’s Favorite Skyscraper

My favorite skyscraper is a little obscure (like many of my favorite things). Today it’s called the AIG building. When it was built, it was called the City Services Building or Sixty Wall Tower.

The soaring art deco tower was built for City Services Corporation, a company willed into being by one Henry L. Doherty. Doherty was a thoroughly Randian character. A self taught engineer, he started off by leaving school in 1882 at the tender age of 12 to go to work for a local gas company and went on to build one the biggest electric, oil and gas companies worth 1.3 billion in 1930. A technophile, Doherty traveled around the country in his personal train car with telephone and wireless equipment to keep in touch with his empire. Even his bed had phone connections, and electric fan, heating pads and electric motors that could move it through remote control swinging doors onto a porch of his penthouse apartment. He was a very good executive and salesman, but always took a title of Chief Engineer. He even applied for an official engineering license (as he didn’t have any academic credentials). He did have 150 patents to his name and had many articles about oil refining and economy published.

The architectural firm of Clinton & Russel, Holton & George was given the task of designing City Services Building, but Doherty and his engineers had a hand in it too. The building’s heating and air conditioning system was designed by City Services engineers, and Doherty himself suggested double-decker elevators, and terraces with aluminum railings. The building was planned as an embodiment of Doherty’s vision.

The tower starts of as a chunky block wide “wedding cake“. The reason for that is New York City zoning laws. NYC building had to have “setbacks” that would allow light to reach the ground. This was required so that the shadow of a skyscraper would not permanently block daylight on the street. But higher than a certain level you could build without setbacks though. And that’s exactly what the architects did in this case: above the “wedding cake” is a tremendous tower.

The building is recursive: there are two columns shaped like it on it’s sides.

When I was reading The Fountainhead”, this is how I imagined the Dana Building. Coruscant City towers look very much like the City Services Building.

Doherty was planning to live in a penthouse apartment on top of the building. But his health gave out, and after spending some time in sanatoriums he died. Instead of the penthouse apartment an observation gallery was built.

City Services building also became the final masterpiece of it’s architects, Clinton & Russel, Holton & George. No major work came their way after senior partners Clinton and Russel died, and then one of the junior partners, Holton died and George retired.

City Services Inc was hit hard by The Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935: they were told that no company could sell or produce both oil and gas. They chose oil and became CITGO. The company moved it’s headquarters to Tulsa selling City Services Building to AIG. AIG renovated the building, but closed off the lobby and the amazing observation deck to the public. Now the observation deck serves as an executive lounge. If you have some juice at AIG and could give me a tour… Well, that would make me happy. Well, it could happen.

Much of my information for this article came from a very good, but poorly organized book called Skyscraper Rivals. I could not find any books about Henry L. Doherty except a $350 “Principles and Ideas for Doherty Men”, a compilation of his articles and letters.

Wegee was a big fan of City Services Building, a book “Weegee’s People” chronicles the life inside the tower. When I get it, I’ll write another article about the double decker elevators, the all-female redhead elevator operators and other marvels of the City Services Building.

Henry L. Doherty and the City Services Building (from “Skyscraper Rivals”)

This is how I get to see the AIG building from a train window.

Coruscant City from Star Wars (image from