Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The alternative to “Interrupt Driven” involves “Polling”:

(In a comment yesterday, Misnomer asked: "And how long did you get to work for him, not doing assignments like that? " I worked for him about two more years. From his point of view I was an excellent employee, doing everything he asked me to do. Obviously I had to do most assignments, to make this work; I bet that's djQuickTip's strategey also.)

It’s possible to design computers so that they do not have to be interrupted by external events. Instead, a computer system can be programmed to check, just frequently enough, whether events have occurred that must be handled. Such “polling” can be controlled better than software that responds to interrupts, but only when the occurrence of events, and the behavior of all of the computer’s software, are very well understood. Most computers have to deal with uncontrolled conditions, so they are interrupt driven.
It’s different for human beings. Yesterday I illustrated the risk of letting interrupts drive your life. Humans benefit from polling, checking responsibilities regularly to decide what’s important. While polling we reflect on our lives and can change priorities or even dramatically revise our responsibilities. Computer systems are not introspective, so polling has less value for them. I sure wish I remembered to poll more often...

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

“I’m Interrupt Driven”:

I once worked for a manager who, giving me an assignment, said “And remember, I’m entirely interrupt driven.” I knew what he meant. Computer hardware interrupts whatever the computer is doing when an event happens that needs handling. For example, if you tap a key on the keyboard, most computers will interrupt their current calculations to process your keystroke. My manager was telling me that he never made any attempt to keep track of his responsibilities; he just handed off assignments and waited to be interrupted by his subordinates about progress. I took merciless advantage of him from then on. If he gave me an assignment I didn’t like, I just never mentioned it again, and he never noticed.

Whew, the comments are back!

I'm glad we didn't lose them.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Oops, where are my comments?

I've been using enetation in the UK for my comments. There is a problem with this website at the moment (12/29/03). They are in fact unfindable. I hope this is temporary! I enjoy all your comments...

Will you take your secrets to the Grave?

In our culture, deathbed confessions, not to mention jarring comments by relatives in their last illness that threaten to unravel the world we remember (you know what I mean: Your mother wasn’t in the army, she was in jail for manslaughter) are well known. Can we assume that most people unburden themselves (given the chance) before the end? Or do many people proudly take their secrets to the grave? An interesting point here is that we have a warped statistical sample. We’re all familiar with real and fictional cases of deathbed confessions, but how could we be aware of the cases where people don’t tell? Personally, when the time comes, if I find I’m the last person available to pass on some dread knowledge, my lips shall be sealed.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Accountants and Astrophysicists:

(This isn't a political rant, although it may start like one; please bear with me.) You've probably heard about the accounting scandal involving Parmalat in Europe. This company claimed to have billions in assets that did not exist. One of the tricks Paramalat played was to have a subsidiary with a bank account of $4 billion in the Cayman Islands. Paramalat's auditors could not audit this subsidiary, and the subsidiary's auditors played according to different legal rules. Paramalat's auditors could not discover that the $4 billion did not exist.

Many feel that the solution to such tricks is to make financial black boxes disappear. There should be uniform accounting codes everywhere, and uniform authority so that the auditors for a company can see everything. Personally I feel this is an unrealistic solution. The world is not a homogenous place (as in milk), and it will take many years (if ever) to adopt uniform standards. Uniform international authority seems even further away, or altogether impossible.

But the auditors, the accountants, should have learned from 20th century physics. Scientists in the last 90 years have, again and again, used the tiniest shreds of evidence - along with intelligent reasoning - to peer inside black boxes and figure out the workings of things we cannot see. From Planck's work on black body radiation to modern theory about such things as quarks, neutrinos and even strings, scientists have reasoned from tiny bits of info to theories that can be tested and found consistent with what we know about the universe.

No one has been more ingenious at this than astrophysicists, who have developed working models of all sorts of things we cannot observe directly from the meager observations that can be made on planet earth.

Now I really think that accountants, who work with financial data as much as anyone, must have developed their own brilliant techniques for peering into black boxes. To note one example in the case of Parmalat, many people quckly noted that that the fictitious $4 billion account in the Cayman's wasn't putting out the correct radiation; or to put it another way, it wasn't being used to pay down debt by a company that was borrowing heavily.

If accountants and auditors are just as adept as physicists at analyzing things they can't peer into, then the auditors of Paramlat were incompetent, rather than in need of new accounting laws. And if by chance accountants are not used to the sort of peering that scientists can do, they really ought to learn.

Friday, December 26, 2003

New York City Subway Riders, it’s Definitely time to panic!

New, reorganized and (they claim) improved subway lines will soon be open in NYC, and the city is racing to get many maps, handouts, signs and documents ready for the changes. The New York Times has seen the new documentation and printed a few excerpts, which I quote below from the story “Revised Subway Map (and Alphabet) Awaits Riders in '04” by Michael Luo, December 25, 2003:
"The Brighton line, currently the Q, formerly the D, and soon to be the B, will now go up Sixth Avenue."
"The W, currently the only line to Coney Island, will now terminate at Whitehall Street, but will be replaced by the D, which used to be where the B will be."
An experienced rider commented, “If you take the Q line, which used to be the D line, and call it the B line, which is now the W in Brooklyn, that could confuse a lot of people…”
Dear Blog readers, I am not making this up! It may be time for New Yorkers to learn an old Boston song. The chorus begins: Did he ever return, No he never returned, And his fate is still unlearn'd. He may ride forever…

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Electronic Voting – more of a mess than you may think:

Bev Harris’s website, Black Box Voting is a fine place to view information about the ills of the electronic voting industry. Among other things, she’ll probably convince you that a paper trail is still not enough. You may have heard recently that Diebold bought a company in which a computer-fraud felon was working on voting machines. Diebold said that he left the company when they bought it.
Bev Harris says: “An embezzler who specialized in sophisticated alteration of records of computerized systems was programming our voting system, and also had access to the printing of the ballots, and ties to the private company that sorts King County absentee ballots. … had a key to the computer room, the passcode to the GEMS computer, and 24-hour access to the building. [He] sometimes urged upgrades to new, uncertified software right before elections. …
Diebold told The AP wire that [he] left the company when they took over, but in fact, Diebold retained him as a consultant …”
She also explains that Diebold seems to have bought and used voting machines containing his programming. This person’s “criminal sentence for twenty-three counts of felony Theft in the First Degree forbids him to handle any checks, now that he has been released from prison.”
Harris concludes: “I don’t believe there is a certification program in existence that can protect us from inside access. We need criminal background checks and robust, fraud-deterring audits.
Everybody out of the pool, we need to disinfect it.

And that’s just one story at Black Box Voting.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Scrambled Eggs, a new way:

Beat a whole tablespoon of good mustard into two eggs, then scramble them. The mustard flavor will be surprisingly muted, but the eggs will have a remarkably velvety texture.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

I’m sorry, I didn’t get your message:

This year the world discovered a new, polite (well, not very polite) way to ignore an email. Consider this: you get an email from a friend or colleague that obligates you to respond or do something you’d really rather not do. At least, you’d like to put it off. So you forget about this email. A few days later your colleague follows up: “I sent you an email! Didn’t you see it?” This is where we move a little deeper into the 21st century. You respond: “I never saw your email; our spam filter must have eaten it.” Hardly anyone likes to feel that their earnest efforts have been identified as spam, but they’ll probably direct their annoyance at this piece of fictive software, rather than at you. I’ve gotten this response a number of times lately, and frankly, it always makes me suspicious.

Monday, December 22, 2003

I am unable to forward SPAM!

The very fine company I work at has an automated system for reporting problems to its help desk. I can hardly believe it myself, but I just reported this problem:

I am unable to forward SPAM!

You would think this is wholly a good thing, wouldn't you? However, this company expects us to forward all spam we receive to spam@internalCompanyEmailAddress.whatever, where the spams are analyzed in order to block future spams. There really is a problem, because the company's mail system can deliver spams to me, but something goes wrong when I try to forward certain spams for analysis. I shall spare you the bloody details.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Degrees of Separation (a way to study them):

It’s well-known that emails are not generally secure on the internet, and can easily be examined en-route. Someone could build a giant database of who sends email to whom, all around the world. (Ignoring spam could be an issue here). Then, take many pairs of people in this database, and figure out how many people separate them. For example, if A exchanges mail with B, and C exchanges mail with B, then A and C are separated by one indirect person. A study like this would be far from perfect (the sample is certainly skewed, and we would be studying email addressees, which do not map uniquely to people), but the results could be quite enlightening.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Let’s Discuss Free Will and Quantum Mechanics (did we have a choice?):

Samuel Johnson said: “All theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience is for it.” Theory is against it, because thinking logically, we can see that the future action of every particle and iota in the future is determined by their state in the present; in theory, if we knew the entire state of the universe at present, and could calculate well enough and fast enough, we could predict the future. Right?

Well… regardless of whether your views about free will are rationalistic, mystical or religious (or even: willful), it’s worth knowing that modern science no longer clearly supports the derivation of the future from the present. In other words, Newtonian physics, but not quantum mechanics, supports the idea that “All theory is against the freedom of the will.”

Quantum mechanics mounted an attack on this old idea in the early 20th century, but – as usual – it’s taking a while for the general public to absorb this bit of science. When Isaac Asimov – a writer whose science fiction is well grounded in knowledge of science – was writing the Foundation and Empire books in the 1950’s, he should perhaps have known better. (A driving principle in these books is that a statistician was able to make deterministic predictions of events that would happen hundreds of years later.)

The basic problem is that, in quantum mechanics, some of the actions of tiny things are determined randomly. Therefore the present cannot fully predict the future. Einstein did not accept this randomness, and quipped, “God does not play dice with the universe!” The converse claim is that events that physicists think are random, are actually controlled by other things we haven't discovered (yet). This is called the “hidden variables” hypothesis. Now it happens that random data behaves differently than data produced by any kind of non-random, hidden function. Experiments around 25 years ago showed that the “hidden variables” hypothesis does not match what we can observe in our universe; the random hypothesis does.

Free will has not been granted a full pardon. If you Google Johnson’s quote, you can track down many fascinating philosophical takes on the issue. Roger Penrose and others have theorized ways that the human mind can take advantage of the workings of quantum mechanics to express free will. But many theorists continue to view free will as pure illusion.

Blaise Pascal once wrote, "If Cleopatra's nose had been shorter, the whole face of history would have been changed." I like to think that her nose was shorter.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

A nosebleed really concentrates peoples’ attention:

I once worked for a guy who remained incredibly calm as he dealt with awful crises. If you said, “We lost the current version of all our source code, a customer is screaming that we have to fix a bug right now, and a crazed black bear is trying to kill anyone who walks out the front door,” he would just start calmly collecting information and deciding what to do. Finally I asked him how he managed to keep his calm.
“I wasn’t always like this,” he said. “When we were trying to get this company started, we had a great idea for a computer system that would save Corporation X tons of money. All they had to do was fund the development and we would be off and running. The trouble was, four executives at X had to approve buying this system from us, and none of them could remember what a computer was for, or how it would help them, for more than ten minutes at a time. {This was a long time ago, when most people knew a lot less about computers than we all do now.} So one of them would approve the project, and then another would forget what it was about and back off. Finally we got them together in one room, and we still couldn’t get them to understand the value of our system all at once! I was getting angrier and angrier that these fuddies were blocking my career and shooting themselves in the foot just because they couldn’t understand us for more than a few minutes. I got so angry, my nose started to bleed. I got up in front of the room, mopping my nose with a handkerchief – it was bleeding a lot – and I said ‘let me explain the system one more time.’ People really listen to you when you nose is bleeding heavily! I went through the proposal, they all got it and all four signed the contract. Then I went into the hospital for six weeks while they made my nose stop bleeding; I had burst an artery.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

And So Ad Infinitem:

You may have been reading sad stories like this one lately about prostitution and underage sex among avatars in the massively multiplayer online Sims Online game, like this story and this story. Those who will pollute paradise for profit can apparently go to any extreme to ply their noxious and profitable trades. I do have some feeble advice for the Sims Online players: the game seems remarkably flexible in its ability to allow people to create things, so why not create a game-within-the-game that will be the sort of grunge-free world that Sims Online once was? When the prostitutes find their way into the game-within-a-game, just move on to the game-within-a-game-within-a-game, and so on. The goal is to stay one little step ahead.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

(not the) Quick Getaway:

On the old Saturday Night Live TV show, father Guido Sarducci occasionally acted as an interviewer. He always asked celebrities one particular question: If you could be any animal, what would you be? I imagine this dialog:

father G.S.: If you could be any animal, what would you be?

his ex-excellency S.H: A mole.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Cognitive Dissonance:

Saul Steinberg once drew a cartoon of a man giving instructions to a second man. The instructor is pointing towards the necessary direction with his finger. He’s also carrying a gigantic hand that is pointed in the opposite direction. The cognitive dissonance is delightfully jarring. I don’t know if that carton is online, but here’s a relevant sample of Steinberg’s work. I thought of that cartoon this morning on the way to work, when confronted by a similar bit of dissonance. A truck from the Product Foods Group Company (about which I know nothing), drove past me going the other way. You can see their logo, a breezy flying “PFG”, at this site. The point is: I saw the truck whizz past heading behind me, but the logo letters seemed to be flying in the opposite direction, trying to stay back with me.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

You are right, batman!

For almost two years I worked in high finance. I was the hired gun to an extremely clever English gentleman with awesome contacts. We went all over solving amazing problems and creating new ones for a complex project with considerable profit potential.
From time to time I would come up with a fine insight during one of our tete-a-tete conferences, and he would exclaim "You are right, Batman!" I particularly treasured this occasional compliment until I realized that, since he was an Englishman of a certain age, he was not calling me a super hero. Rather, he was saying "You are right, batman!" Here's what a batman is.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Unions against Carols:

Unions in Europe have decided that it’s not good for store workers to listen to hours and hours of repeated Christmas songs. Are they afraid of getting Cochlear Constantinitis Syndrome? Here’s one report about the story.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

There are hardly any nice things to say about shaving, but here’s one:

If you forget to shave your face in the morning, and instead you shave much later in the day, you’re in luck, because: shaving your face later is unlikely to keep you awake at night. Have another cup of coffee while you think about this.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The last word on the Moon:

A full moon is useful, it’s nice and bright. (Seventeen f-stops less than the sun, for you camera addicts.) But let’s face it, the moon isn’t going to melt any unwanted snow.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The skill of: Anticipation

Anticipation relies on the brain’s incredible ability to recognize patterns, situations, images and events that have happened before, and to bring to your awareness what you already know, about what you’ve recalled. For example: I used to play volleyball. There’s that moment when the opposing playing jumps up to send the ball zooming over the net and you have to somehow get to it and return it. I would concentrate deeply at this moment, and after a while I found that I knew where the ball was going to go before it was hit – I would match the spiker’s precise actions with my memory of those actions happening previously. In fact, I often knew better than the spiker himself! If he was repeating a previous mistake, say, mis-hitting off center, I recognized this pattern and he did not.
Basketball players use anticipation to aim accurately. Follow-through is incredibly important in shooting baskets. Follow-through means that as the player lets go of the ball, he or she sees the ball in relation to the basket, compares this image with thousands of similar previous shots, and makes tiny aiming corrections with the fingertips while letting go of the ball; the player has anticipated where the shot would go, both uncorrected and corrected.
Anticipation enables the automobile driver to recognize situations where an errant car will become a problem, or traffic speed will suddenly change, and start to react to it before it happens.
Anticipation is not just a visual thing. It works with all your senses.
If you want to make better use of your own anticipation skill, all you have to do is concentrate deeply in those situations where you hope to use it; once your brain has collected enough info, the rest is instinct.
Next time you watch your favorite sports stars, try to figure out what combination of anticipation and reflex skills they possess; most world-class stars are better at one that the other.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Fast Reflexes, or … What?

You watch that tennis player scamper across the court to retrieve, miraculously, a hard hit and well-placed ball. That athlete must have great reflexes, right? Well probably. Most people (in real life as well as sport) rely on two very different skills that tend to get lumped together: reflex and anticipation. Everyone knows what quick reflexes are: something happens and then you react to it very, very quickly; faster than most people if your reflexes are good. Anticipation is the ability to realize what is ABOUT to happen, to start to react to it BEFORE it happens. I’m painfully aware of this because my reflexes are very slow, but my anticipation skills are excellent. I’ve done pretty well in several sports, and my defensive driving skills rely heavily on my ability to concentrate and anticipate. So how does anticipation work, anyway? (It’s not magic, and I’m not making it up.) I’ll explain tomorrow.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

I've been working with computers too long. Much too long:

Yesterday (Saturday, 12/6/2003) the New York Times had an editorial page headline: Too few Hires, still. "That looks interesting," I said to myself, as I read on to find out why there weren't enough high resolution computer screens in use. Surprisingly - to me anyway - the piece was about jobs and unemployment.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Did you turn the Heat off this Morning?

It’s snowing this morning and I had to drive a few miles, so I made sure to turn the heat off in the car and just use the windshield wipers. I have to park outside at work. When I return to my car in a few hours, it’s unlikely to have any of that damn clingy ice on the windshield. A warm windshield melts the snow, which then refreezes into ice; a cold windshield resists icing.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Staples Update, Ordering Online Myself?

It turns out that from the privacy of my own home I can bring up the same Staples Online ordering screens. I searched for the product I wanted and got 33 hits on four pages. Each page displayed the names of some products, but not their dimensions; and you had to click on each individual item to see its picture. I clicked on maybe ten of the 33 without finding what I wanted. Then, remembering that if I did find the product, it would have the wrong price anyway, I steeled myself to order again in the store.
At Staples, this time I found the product I wanted on the shelves. It was deep behind a more recent batch of the same product; the new delivery uses a different, darker shade of blue (without changing the product code) but fortunately a few of the old ones with matching color remained.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Here’s how computer automation improves our daily lives:

Barry writes up these life-annoyances better than I, but let’s face it, they happen to everyone: I found an item at Staples I wanted to order, in the catalog, not on the shelves. I brought my desire to one of the more senior members of the Staples staff. “Would you like to order it online?” she asked. This sounded good to me. It turned out that I did not get to use the computer to place the order. Most of the work was done by Staples staff.
For starters, I had a catalog number, and online orders are normally done with SKU numbers. After several hurried conferences, the command was found to search the data base for a catalog number. The item showed up, but at a significantly higher price. I pointed out the discrepancy. After more staff conferences, they announced that they knew how to charge me the lower price. I was then invited to fill in my shipping info – shipment is free right now – so I filled in a bunch of fields with data that Staples already has about me, that unfortunately could not be accessed from this program. I then stood by while two Staples people knelt on the floor saying things like “the light is blinking, it HAS to print something else...” Then I was handed confirmation of my order and allowed to pay. My purchase was less than $10, the item will be shipped to my home; one Staples employee spent over fifteen minutes on the order, and other employees were consulted and borrowed during the process. I’m very unhappy about all this; if Staples figures out what I’m costing them, I’m afraid they will not allow me into their stores.

POSTLUDE: The shipment arrived two days later: a box with a volume of about three cubic feet containing some packing material and my shipment (a few cubic inches). The packing list was correct but the enclosed product was not! So it’s off to Staples once more…

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Holes in Traffic:

When you drive on a limited access multilane parkway, you’ve probably noticed that in moderately heavy traffic you sometimes find “holes”, places where there are hardly any cars at all: traffic in front of you, traffic behind you, but no traffic in the hole. You can consciously seek out these holes and stay in them much of the time. Here’s how:
First, to find a hole you should drive slightly above or below road speed. Sooner or later you will fall into a hole.
Second, stay in the hole by sticking to road speed. Resist the temptation to pass or drop back into traffic.
Third, you have to learn to recognize some exceptions! If there is a slow car ahead of you and you match its speed, you will drop out of the hole. That car you have to pass. If several speeding cars catch up to you, resist the temptation to fly with them; let them pass or you will accelerate out of your hole. When cars are driving at different speeds it takes a little experience to see where the hole is, but you won’t find this difficult to learn.
Fourth, eventually the hole will disappear. See step one above.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Bowling for Side Effects:

When your doctor suggests you take a drug, you ask him about potential side effects and medicine conflicts, right? Well while you’re at it, you might also Google the drug. Doctors are human; they may not remember all the indications you should know about. Of course you have to be skeptical about what you read on the web; some very strange web sites will have off-the-wall concerns about some various drugs. NOW: What do you do if you feel the side effects of a recommended drug are, shall we say, interesting? My rule is this: if I decide that taking a drug - and being the unlucky one who gets to suffer the side effect - would make me feel like a stupid idiot, I ask my doctor for something else. Here’s a personal example: I won’t take a drug that warns of possible tendon ruptures. I don’t care how rare this side effect is; I’d feel incredibly stupid if I took the medicine and ruptured something.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

What I'd like to say about that Upcoming Mel Gibson Passion Movie

I'd like to say that I won't discuss the movie until I've seen the final version. Unfortunately...

In these days of DVD releases wth extra scenes, who will know when there IS a final version? Maybe the movie will be followed by one or more DVDs with added scenes. Maybe there will even be (shudder) multiple versions to appeal to different people. When is a thing a thing these days?

Thursday, November 27, 2003

A 21st Century (Navigation) Story:

We went to a wedding in New York State last evening, staying over at the hotel. This morning I asked a departing stranger to advise me regarding the best route to Boston. He simply reached into his car and handed me the Mapquest instructions he had used to drive from Boston to the hotel. I didn't have to say What? or Please Repeat That or pretend to understand him even once.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Would you rather Read a book or Hear it?

If you like both to read and hear books, then: what kinds of books do you prefer to hear? The audio reader usually adds some drama and often gives you authentic accents for the characters. But you have to “read” at the reader’s pace, which can be exasperating. And you can’t easily go back a 100 pages to check something you misunderstood or forgot. And you don’t get to imagine the characters’ speech patterns for yourself. If you think about it, you’ll find just lots of pros and cons. For example, it’s more stressful to hear a book than to read it: have you ever worried about losing (or misplacing) two sevenths of a book in its paper form? I misplace sevenths of an audio book all the time.

By the way, over Thanksgiving weekend, I may miss a post or two. Cheers!

Monday, November 24, 2003

Time Really does Fly (away):

When I was a teenager, I once found myself talking to a middle-aged woman at a party, about something I hoped to do in the vague future. “When I’m older and have more time …” I began. She cut me short. “You will never have more time than you have now, “she said. “You will always have less time.” I stared at her in disbelief. But she was right.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Bill Maher explains the American Economy:

Maher said this on September 24: America is no longer a manufacturing economy, or even a service economy -– it’s a ranking economy. We rank things. You need something ranked, you come to us. If the editors of “Cat Fancy” magazine haven’t yet published their special “Top 100 Cats of All Time” issue, don’t worry – they will.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Quick (and healthy) Potato Chips:

Cut some thin, thin slices of potato and microwave them. They will turn crisp and delicious. Be careful to watch the chips while you experiment with timing in your microwave; they’ll start to darken as they crisp. (It took less than four minutes to overcook some chips in a very weak microwave.) John Reinhardt is real serious about this, search his page for “chips” to read advice about getting fancy results. You might find it easy to keep a potato handy and make chips at work.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

I was almost Taken In by a Web Scam this week:

It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I was really fooled by a scam. PayPal sent me an Email telling me my account was about to expire and requiring me up to date my financial info. I clicked on the link and started filling in the blanks on this web page. I got more and more annoyed by all the info they asked for. Not just credit card, but my pin, checking account, bank transfer number, mother’s maiden name. “They don’t need all this!” I grumbled, and finally I just canceled out. But if they had been less greedy they would have gotten me, hook, line and stinker. The Email was not from PayPal at all. This story has a moral so please note well:
If a web site you are dealing with needs you to update personal info, then you explicitly GO to their web site and then follow directions. If any Email offers to simplify this process by giving you a link to click on (to go to the relevant part of a web site) IGNORE IT! DON’T CLICK IT! There are very clever ways to disguise what you’ll see if you click that link. Reputable companies are going to stop putting such links in their real email, so that you can be more and more sure such links will be fraudulent. You should be equally suspicious of emails with links that offer to update your software, although some reputable companies do distribute updates this way.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Eliminate Absentee Management:

“Offshore Development” isn’t a solution, it’s a transition. A company that is entirely in, say, China (except for part of its sales operation) will have much lower management costs and better work control than an American company that contracts offshore work to China. Just wait, I’m afraid you’ll see…

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Testing Placebos:

This gem is from the late Sam Orbaum’s wonderful web pages:
Sam said: I've always wondered: when they're testing placebos, what do they give the control group? I really need to know. See: Sam Orbaum’s Web Site for much vaguely similar silliness and some deep thoughts.

Monday, November 17, 2003

How did some Movie Critics Miss: Love, Actually?

Now here is an utterly charming, delightful and funny movie that has one incredibly well-acted scene after another. The camera-work is fine and there's plenty of fun dialog. Love, Actually has to be one of the best Christmas movies ever. The very broad plot brings its many thin threads skillfully to closure, and together. The movie review pundits who panned it are a bunch of Scrooges. (Other critics had more sense.) See this movie – at least once – and treat yourself to a very good time.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

The Optimist & the Pessimist:

The Optimist says the glass is half full. “True,” says the pessimist, knowing that nothing good will come of drinking from it.
The Optimist says the glass is half full. “It’s half full now,“concedes the pessimist, looking for the leak in that glass.
The Optimist says the glass is half full. “Half full of what?” demands the pessimist.
The Optimist says: the glass is half full…

Friday, November 14, 2003

Adopt a Place via the Web:

Is there some place in this world that fascinates you, but you’ve rarely (or never) been there? The web provides extraordinary opportunities for vicarious travel. Pick your place. You can see its maps, see pictures of its people, read its newspapers, study its tourist information, follow its economics, guess at its future, worry about its problems. You can even write letters and get involved. Think of it as a Massively Multiperson Online Living Experience. There will be no monthly fees, hackers will not try to steal your virtual goods, and you don’t have to try to level up.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

What happens When your Brain’s Background Processor takes control?

(I’m continuing from yesterday’s item.) When that part of your brain working in the background solves a problem, it may just take control of your actions instead of popping an answer into your consciousness. Here’s a personal example, I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences: at lunchtime I was driving from work to go play Racquetball. I was ravenously hungry and desperately wanted to stop at a convenience store on the way to get a snack. A quick review of the available routes convinced me there was no alternative (among many) that would pass a food store. As I drove I continued to think sadly about how I wished I could get some food on the way.
At one intersection I surprised myself by turned left, taking an alternate path to the Racquetball place I had never taken before. Hmmm, I said to myself, believing I must have a logical reason for turning, it’s a good idea to see whether traffic is better on this route. Moments later the convenience store I had forgotten about showed up on my left, and I got my snack.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Uh oh, that wasn’t a friendly door creak…

There’s a part of your brain that works hard every second to assist you, but its activities are shielded from your conscious thought and it only communicates with you indirectly. It’s easy to understand why this must be so. From time to time an important pattern or warning sign, or an old relevant memory will pop into your mind to help realize what’s happening. Now imagine your consciousness being flooded with thousands of misses and partial hits per second as this part of your brain digs for the stuff that you really need to pay attention to. I think of this part of the brain as my “background processor.”

Monday, November 10, 2003

The worst computer error message of all time? (candidate #1):

By an old CDC FORTRAN V compiler:
Please contribute your own candidates in the comments! Thanks.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Extend Your Reach:

Let’s say you’re sitting at a table. You reach across it to grab something small from the far side, maybe a peanut. If you grew up in what we used to call "Western Civilization", you grabbed it between your thumb and index finger, didn’t you? But if you’ve learned the game of Go, or if you grew up in an East Asian country, chances are you grabbed that peanut between the pad of your middle finger and the nail of your index finger – try it! If you’ve never picked something up like this before, it will feel awkward, and you’ll believe that using your thumb makes for a surer grab. But there’s an advantage in the Chinese way: you can elegantly reach about an inch further.
There’s another advantage as well. Imagine you’re taking a small cookie out of a tray, and you don’t want to accidentally disturb the other cookies. If you use your thumb there’s a greater risk of touching something else, because your thumb + index grab has a larger "footprint" (oh what a mixed metaphor) than your index + middle fingers.
It may take you a while to get good at picking things up the far-Eastern way, but you’ll find it useful, and you’ll occasionally bemuse your friends, if you like to do that sort of thing.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

The Essence of Crunchiness:

Take a teaspoon of smooth peanut butter and add about an equal amount of Grapenuts (not Grapenuts Flakes!) to it. The two ingredients stick together pretty well. Pop the mixture in your mouth. Incredibly crunchy, and tasty too.

Friday, November 07, 2003

I’ve made traffic signals turn Green:

There’s been a lot of publicity lately about emergency drivers having the ability to make lights turn green for them; this the capability may now be escaping to the general public. (Google the phrase "control a traffic signal" to read about it. Here’s a sample, Wash Post.)
In the 1970’s, many traffic signals were installed with road sensors that had a “back door”: if you drove up to the intersection and then backed up over the sensor, then moved forward again, the light would turn green within a few seconds. I’m sad to say that I did not figure this out, I was told about it. It’s not often you come to a red light and there are no cars behind you so that you can experiment. I found a number of these lights, and some of them worked until the early 1990’s. By 1994, all the ones I knew about had been updated and would no longer turn green for me.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Do you Chastise yourself when you Drive?

I consider myself a pretty good defensive driver. One of the reasons is that while driving, I punish myself for mental errors. Here’s how it works: suppose I’m driving along at fifty miles an hour and a car approaches an intersection on the right. I know he has a stop sign; he moves clearly beyond the stop sign before actually stopping. Now I ask myself, would I have been ready to react in time if he had not stopped? If I don’t think so, I imagine what might have happened, and mentally roast myself over the coals for not being more alert. I’m always hoping I’ll do better next time. I’m also praying there will never BE a next time.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Bzzt! Your favorite song is about to start on WQJX:

It's time to think of Radio as a sophisticated computer system that de-emphasizes the display, so that you can use it while doing other things. You shouldn't have any trouble thinking of twenty techy things for radios to do. I want my radio to have pause and resume like a TiVo, to record programs, to figure out what music I like and advise me when and where it's playing, and I'll clap my hands when I want it to speak and tell me all about what I'm currently hearing. I also want it to figure out the volume settings I like and make appropriate adjustments for talking in the room (lower the volume) and dishwashing sounds (raise it).

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

A longer than usual item, please forgive me:

Dear friend, You may be surprised to receive this letter from me since you do not know me personally, although I am sure you know me by reputation. I am Wi**iam G*tes, “Bill” to many, and as you know, a recent refugee from the company Mi*ft.

I got your contact through network online hence decided to write you. Before my flight from the United States to Swaziland I had accumulated tens of billions of dollars which I secreted in several private security companies, foreseeing the looming dangers and my own personal risks in the U.S. This money was deposited in a few boxes in the form of compile-and-run ".net" modules to avoid much demurrage from the Security Companies. This amount was meant for the purchase of new machines and chemicals for the Farms and establishment of new farms in Swaziland. But I have traveled to the Netherlands and I am currently staying in the Netherlands where I am
seeking political asylum and so have decided to transfer my money to a more reliable foreign account. As the richest child of my father, I am saddled with the responsibility of seeking a genuine foreign account where this money could be converted to cash and transferred without the knowledge of my government who are bent on taking everything we have got.

If you accept to assist me and my family, all I want you to do for me is to make arrangements with the security companies to clear the Consignment (funds) from their affiliate office here in the Netherlands as I have already given directives for the consignment to be brought to the Netherlands from South Africa. But before then all modalities will have to be put in place like change of ownership to the consignment. I have three options for you. Firstly you can choose to have a certain percentage of the money for nominating your account for this transaction. Secondly I can share with you the backdoor login and password to the Passport system. Thirdly you can go into partnership with me for the proper profitable investment of the money in your country. Whichever the option you want, feel free to notify me. I have also mapped out 2% of this money for all kinds of expenses incurred in the process of this transaction. If you do not prefer a partnership I am willing to give you 10% of the money while the remaining 88% will be for my investment in your country. My goodness that's four alternatives, isn't it? Contact me immediately. I implore you to maintain the absolute secrecy required if you enter into this transaction. Thanks, BLESS YOU Best regards. - WG

Monday, November 03, 2003

If you like Single Malt Scotch, you might like Pu-erh tea:

Every batch of single malt scotch tastes a little different, and most of it is flavored by smoke from the peat that is burnt as fuel during the grain-drying process. If you like those earthy flavors, there’s something similar going on in Pu-erh tea. Pu-erh is tea from Yunnan that is aged. It develops mushroom or mold type flavors, and some of this tea is said to improve in flavor as it gets older, even to twenty years. (And it tastes better than it sounds from my description!) I have never seen Pu-erh in commercial teabags in the US. You can read about it in the FAQ for Tea. If you Google Pu-erh you will find stores that sell it online. It is quite different from all other kinds of tea.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

AT&T War Stories (1986) #3, Walrus Mustache:

When I was a product manager at AT&T, I needed to get my budget increased by $25,000 to cover the cost of documentation changes (an incredibly high cost by an internal documentation group). I was given a name and I went to the office of a guy I had never met. He was not there, so I sat down and looked at his office, distinctive in that it sported a hi fi audio system with excellent speakers, and many tapes of bagpipe music. When he returned, sporting the longest waxed handlebar mustache and darkest hair I had ever seen, I asked to hear a recording of the Pibroch of Donal Dhu. (It’s a terrific Pibroch, check it out.) Then I explained that I needed $25,000 for documentation. He consulted a bunch of index cards. “Yes,” he said, “here’s a little company in Vermont that will provide the $25,000 you need. I’ll just contact them and add the $25K to your budget.” I was delighted of course, but as I left his office I could not help asking him: Why would a little company in Vermont want to pay for my AT&T documentation? “Oh, he said, they will just bill it back to AT&T Corporate at 12% interest.” Don’t get me started on AT&T in the late 1980’s. Just: don’t get me started.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Silly palm PDA Applications:

A few web sites post the myriads of software written for Palm PDA users, often with a short description of each. I can’t imagine why anyone would need or buy some of these apps. In many cases the tedium of trying to keep the application’s data up to date and (thus) useful boggles the mind. Here are a few samples with their short descriptions (often written by people who write better software than English):
- Piggy Bank: Do you know how much in your piggy bank
- Bookmarks: Keep track your bookmarks
- Confident Up Up Up: Built Up confident with your single, tiny achievements...
- Command Manager: Too many commands to remember?
- Task Manager: Track status of every task in your life
- My HouseKeeper: Help your keep track everything in your house
- Where is it: Here it is!
- Problem? Solution: Oh...Problem? Yes...Solution!
- Traffic Fines1.0: This program will help you to keep track all the traffic tickets/fines How much help do I need, for goodness sakes?
And best of all:
- Baby Care: Having baby is not a problem anymore.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Would you rather Hear a book or See it?

Now that pop music has become a visual art, it’s just a matter of time before audio books become video books, with still image montages, background video, and dramatizations of whole scenes. Stay tuned for a mystery novel accompanied by video sequences having nothing to do with the text. The DVD version will have all the “outtakes” including the dreadful first draft.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The Brits are just not quite like us:

This web site: HedgeLine is, according to the BBC, the most important site for victims of high hedges. Have you ever been the victim of a high hedge? If you’re not sure, perhaps you should peruse HedgeLine with care.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Authority without Responsibility:

I once had authority without responsibility. Let me tell you it felt wonderful, and a few days of it made up for years of responsibility without authority. Even better, all that power did not corrupt me absolutely (as far as I know). Here’s how it happened: my manager’s manager came to me and said “I want you to follow Jack around, figure out what he’s supposed to be doing, and make it happen.” “Won’t he notice?” I asked. “No,” she said, “that’s part of the problem.” So I followed Jack around. He was supposed to produce some things to meet a very near deadline. I started giving orders to people to coordinate this work. Whatever I asked for I got, and we met the deadline. But if anything had gone wrong, it would have been all Jack’s fault.

Monday, October 27, 2003

But in any case, call me real soon:

The interesting questions about Amazon’s full text search capability are: (1) How did they keep it secret so well? And, (2) how long will it last? The New York Times has an article about author’s concerns today. Basically, Amazon contracted with publishers to get permission to make this text database. They claim it infringes on no contracts or copyrights, but publishers have myriads of different contracts with their authors. Some stand to benefit from this new capability, others may find that it really hurts their sales. And we can only guess right now how ingenious people may discover how to abuse what Amazon has provided. You can read more about this at: The Authors’ Guild. If there’s something you really want to do with this search capability, I suggest doing it ASAP. It’s going to be fun following this controversial feature.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Call me Ishmael!

On Amazon, you can now search the texts of tons of books. I searched Amazon for the phrase “Call me Ishmael” and got some pleasant surprises among the 183 books found:
- There’s a book called Call me Ishmael by Charles Olson.
- There’s also Call me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals by Shahid Ali Agha.
- Petzold’s book on Programming Windows with C# uses the phrase in a sample program. So do many other programming books.
- For example, another book about programming tells you to: Declare a string object named s containing the string "call me Ishmael."
- Dennett, in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea says on page 110, ". . . delicious writer of fiction, once published a novel that began: "Call me, Ishmael." Oh, what a single comma can do!
- The phrase shows up in the parody Bored of the Rings: “Call me Ishmael," said Gimlet. "Whanne in Aprille," started Legolam. …”
- You wouldn’t expect a book called Creating Short Fiction to quote Moby Dick, but it does.
- The fortieth quote found was the first to tie the name back to Genesis: the Cliffs Notes for Moby Dick.
This is not a great way to actually find Melville’s novel, which was 81st on the search list (the ninth web page I think).
But is Amazon's text search legal? Some thoughts tomorrow.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Dogs and Concepts:

Sometimes I take my dog out the back door, sometimes out the front. After I taught my dog the command “back yard” (and never before that) she sometimes would run to the back door to indicate she preferred to go out that way. Does this imply that I managed to teach my dog to think about the concept “back yard?” I don’t think so. I think my dog initially assumed I was too stupid to understand the difference between the back and front yards. Only when I demonstrated my ability to know the difference, was she willing to discuss it with me. (We’ve had similar experiences with “cross the street” and “upstairs.”)

Thursday, October 23, 2003

The Designated Hitter:

With apologies to those of you who have no interest in baseball, I’m going to solve the designated hitter problem. As those of you who care know, using a designated hitter has the advantage of prolonging the careers of great hitting stars, but the disadvantage of removing much strategy from the game. But we can fix all this! Change the rules to require the designated hitter to bat for a position player, not a pitcher. We get the benefit of prolonging hitters’ careers, and we get lots and lots of strategy. In addition, consider that every team has a terrific fielder in the minors who can’t hit a lick, but whose brilliant fielding is a spectacular crowd-pleaser. Bring those players to the majors and have the DH hit for them! The game of baseball will be more exciting with these star fielders making great defensive plays.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

(I also ordered a cardboard box online):

When I bought some wrapping paper for my friend, I asked the clerk to wrap it in itself. {Steve Wright created his own, rather better wrapping paper joke. To find it, search for ‘gift-wrap’ on this page:(Steve Wright Humor)}

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Big Brother is looking Right Through you:

A guy was stopped at airport security, one of those fancy new scanning machines detected something weaponlike on his person. He insisted he had nothing, agents found nothing patting him down, but the item was right there on the scanner’s screen. Turns out the guy had an operation last March, the surgeon left a tool inside him. “It never felt right,” he said. “I always felt a twinge when I bent over.” Try this link for more details: More Info.

If you tried the link, you know it’s broken. When this story inevitably happens – I don’t think it has happened yet -- I hope to fix the link to point to the real thing. The possibility is real, and so is this link: Forgotten Surgical Tools 'Uncommon but Dangerous'.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Chasing Rainbows:

Now that I’m I telling you they exist, you might occasionally see two unusual kinds of rainbows. The sun can be surrounded by a circular rainbow when it is high in the sky, rather washed out. Be VERY careful not to stare directly at it, your eyes are too precious to ruin with this rare sight. (If you want to know how I looked at it – well I was nineteen and should have been old enough to know better.) Circular rainbows also occur around a full moon high in the sky, almost entirely pale white. When I saw this rainbow, I thought the moon was surrounded by clouds, until I realized how perfectly circular and banded the “clouds” were. The moon rainbow was considerably wider than the moon.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

It's an Alogous:

A simile without a woman is like a tractor without a fish.

Friday, October 17, 2003

A brief quote from the owner of a so-called "genuine" Faux-Suede Couch:

"The world is full of oxymorons and morons."
- Dr. Susan Fisher, October 2003

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Today, a few Twisted Sayings, mostly original:

Nothing Ventured, nothing pained.
Hope springs into eternity. (last 29 July, to be precise)
Don’t let the bastards grind your coffee.
Fact is stranger than the internet.
The grass is always greener on someone else's CRT.
Hell hath no fury like a troller flamed.
Waste not, want another closet.
A stitch in time would come loose, there’s nothing to attach it to.
If you see five troubles coming down the road toward you, chances are there are another seventeen you haven’t even noticed yet.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

How Old is That Web Page?

I’ll bet there’ve been times when you needed to know if a web page is up to date. There are many accessible “dead corpse” web pages on the Internet. When you’re looking for contact data, tourist info, restaurants and hotels, the latest news in a niche area, conference schedules, ground rules, you can go crazy trying to figure out if a web page is still accurate. Or you can waste time sending a nice email to the support address on a ghost website, email that no one will ever answer. EVERY WEB SITE AND WEB PAGE SHOULD HAVE A “MODIFIED” DATE ON IT! EVERY SINGLE ONE! THERE OUGHT TO BE A LAW! There, I’ve said it. Thanks for listening. In ten years or so let’s talk about web page Garbage Collection, if we haven’t already drowned in the stuff.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Pistachio Nut Vengeance:

Here’s one of the special things about pistachios in the shell: most of them are easy to open with the fingers, but a few of them just seem to be glued shut. What do you do when you come across those frustrating pistachios? Here’s an idea: collect them until you have a nice bagfull, then make of gift of this bag to someone you hate.

Monday, October 13, 2003

GPS Without Hardware, Poetry Only:

You are where you are,

Because that is where you were,

When you got lost.

-“Handbook of Correct Answers”, from Bones & Hair by Paul C. Howell

Friday, October 10, 2003

Brake hard, Accelerate gently:

Carsley recently brought up the subject of those oldsters who confound their auto pedals and plow through a crowd. Why can’t a little invention solve this problem? When I’m eighty, I’m sure I will never need to floor the accelerator. If I push the accelerator down hard, one of the car’s many computers (whichever one happens to be listening to my foot) should just ignore me and sound some sort of raspberry sound. In fact if I floor ANY pedal when the car is moving slowly, the car’s computer should figure out what I meant to do and stop the car. Doesn’t that make sense? Let’s call this invention: Imprecision Braking.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Tiger Man Misses Big Cat:

I’m deeply disturbed by this story about Antoine Yates and his tiger; I hope he was misquoted, and didn’t really say “He was like my brother. He was my best friend. He's my only friend, really." If he did say that awful thing about the tiger, then How is the alligator supposed to feel?

By the way, check out this wonderful news storyat kuro5hin about Bertelsmann suing hardware manufacturers for including the shift key on their keyboards.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

AT&T War Stories (1985) #2, Rare Boards:

In 1985, the first year people say AT&T lost a billion in the computer business, I was managing an AT&T demo for a trade show. We were using special AT&T-built (that is, nonstandard) PCs, and we needed six high resolution graphics boards for our demo. These boards were new and rare as hens’ teeth. I was given the name of the AT&T guy doling them out and warned it would be nearly impossible to get some. I went to see him. Like most AT&T employees he was on the phone, a long call. I sat in his office and studied a big poster on his wall displaying part of the orchestral score (chorus and orchestra) for an AT&T advertisement. I can read music scores, so I did. When he got off the phone we talked about the score. It was part of an ad he had developed for AT&T; he was very proud of it and delighted by my interest. Then I braced myself and asked him for his rare graphics boards, preparing to justify my need as strongly as I could. But he immediately answered “sure” and I walked out of his office carrying my boards. This is unfair, I said to myself. These boards have to be carefully apportioned according to each project’s value to AT&T. I don’t deserve these six boards. But I sure didn’t give them back.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

It’s so addictive you’ll never do anything else ever again:

I’m an inveterate browser of new games for the Palm PDA. Game developers routinely claim their games are addictive, very addictive, extremely addictive. Why? Painkillers and foods are not advertised as addictive. I’d rather try out a game that claims it will fascinate me for a few dozen hours at most.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Close your eyes and click your mouse...

We share the blogosphere with many bloggers who delight in asking us to click on links about which we know nothing whatsoever. Look at this, they say, with nary a word about what "this" is. There are many strange and time-wasting sorts of links in this universe; I'd just as soon know what a ink is about before I click on it. Thanks for listening!

For example, look at this!

For example:

Look at this.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Waitress Rants:

bitterwaitress (it’s on my blogroll) has got to be one of the most offbeat sites on the web. It’s a collection of anecdotes about restaurants and waitressing, bad tips, celebrity stories, horror stories, nice stories, and just plenty of views of the restaurant world from an angle most of us never see. My next post will probably be Tuesday morning the 7th.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

No Hero at the New York Times:

There was some excitement in the October 5, 2003 New York Times real estate section. (Great thanks to my wife for noticing this!) I couldn't find the story online, but I've typed it in for your reading pleasure. There's a story bylined Christopher Gray, about: An 1892 Limestone-Fronted Building That Endures. In the story we find this paragraph: "On a recent weekday morning, almost all the classrooms were full. In the spare, white-painted basement sculpture studio where Alexander Stirling Calder (the father of Alexander Calder) once taught, [great photo supplied, will be first nude in RE section, somebody be a hero and use it], seven students were carving chunks of stone, sending chips flying. Some were just starting, others were almost done, such as a woman finishing an abstract seated figure in white marble." Alas, the picture referred to was not in evidence.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Do you ever recycle the tops of containers?

Maybe once in my life I’ve seen a recycle “1” or “2” symbol on the top of a plastic container. The county I live in is pretty choosy about what we can recycle. It’s depressing to imagine every last one of those plastic tops piling up in landfills. Why not have recyclable tops?

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Quickies Today (1):

+ When you’re horribly late for some sort of commitment or event, you’ll think about whether to skip it altogether. Try saying this to yourself: “Better never than late.” If that sounds wrong to you, then go.

+ When I realized I had left the inside light of my car on all night, I was afraid the battery would be dead. It wasn’t; but the light bulb has burnt out.

+ Don’t ask for permission, you may never get it; act first and apologize afterward. And take care to notice those situations in life for which this dictum is horribly wrong. And if you're one of those people who will say "What situations?" then I don't even want to talk to you.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Truth in Advertising:

This is a common experience: we learn a word by reading it, and eventually we discover that we’ve been pronouncing it horribly wrong. So there’s this company Wachovia, ready to handle finances for you. I’ve seen its ads in the papers and I thought what a great name, this is a company that wants to “Watch ovuh ya,” big brother in the nicest sense. Only it turns out they’re a little more, well, you decide: I saw their ad on TV last night, and the company name is actually “Walk ovuh ya.” Oh well…

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

George W., The Lionhearted:

Well things certainly aren’t going well, are they? What this country needs, and what I think our president might really enjoy, is a few crusades. Well-selected crusades against terrorism will dramatically improve the US economy and balance the budget. Here are the first few crusades:
- Crusade of the Medicare-elegible to Afghanistan. Take that, Al Qaida.
- Crusade of the Homeless to Iraq. Even if they don’t get all the way there, they’ll find homes along the way.
- Crusade of the public school dropouts to the Caribbean Islands. (Don’t confuse this crusade with the Crusade of the Children, we won’t let them go until they’re at least sixteen.) The goal of this crusade is to put terrific financial pressure on the countries that provide tax dodges to our richest people and corporations, without inconveniencing those people and corps too directly.
- Crusade of the Lawyers to ... Oh for goodness sakes, I apologize for this really cheap shot.

Monday, September 29, 2003

The Ketchup Rule (‘Catsup’ if you prefer):

If someone prepares food for you, and you know they will approve, you may put ketchup on it. But if you prepare food for yourself, you may always add all the ketchup you want. If you’re not sure which foods this dictum applies to, you don’t really understand ketchup.. Some (but not I) would apply the same rule to peanut butter.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

What's the name of that left turn?

Tonight I'd like to ask for some help. There's a certain type of left turn; I don't know what to call it. Sooner or later, giving instructions, I'll want a clear descriptive name for this thing. So: you're driving on a road, approaching an intersection with a traffic light. You want to turn left, but you're not allowed to just go left at the intersection. Instead, you have to go past the light, curve sharply right on a short access lane until you are briefly on the cross road, and then go straight through the traffic light (again) to cross the road you started on. I'd call this an "allemande right/turn left" except that even the few remaining square dancers probably wouldn't guess what I was talking about. It's not a "post light jughandle" either. What's it called?

Friday, September 26, 2003

Take two and run half the distance to first base:

A feller hit four home runs in a baseball game last night, and: that's a record. Of course people have hit four homers in a game before, but never so close to the end of the season; that's why this is a new record. We fans of this statistics-oriented, data-mining sport are obsessed with records, and fortunately the concept of what constitutes a record is infintely extensible. So let's listen to an imaginary sports announcer wrapping up a dull baseball week somewhere in the doldrums of August: "Well folks, no new records were set in baseball today. In fact, this is the fourth straight day without any records being set, and, would you believe it? That's a record!"

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Should User Interfaces all be like Games?

In the early years of Word Processing on the PC, a magazine reporter interviewed the president of Atari (remember Atari?) and asked him for suggestions on making PC programs easier to use. His answer: Games are easy to use; make office program like games. He even suggested making a bomb-explosion sound when a person deletes a file. The reporter swallowed his ideas whole, which I think was pitiful. Today most games still enable you to just jump in and start to play; many of them have almost no user documentation or help at all. (Let’s leave the computer games that require many hours of study before you can use them to the masochists who appreciate them.). So why not make “productivity” software more like games? The answer is simple: the point of most games is to figure out what the documentation really is! The game’s features are mostly hidden at first, or can only be understood and mastered after much gaming experience. When we play computer games, we like to have the challenge of figuring this stuff out. But when we use “serious” software we have a task to complete. We have no patience for the idea that we might have to play around with, say, Microsoft Word for 250 hours before we can figure out its features. Just imagine that you bring up Word, and as you use it skillfully, your score increases onscreen. You need 80,000 points to be allowed to print a memo, 250,000 points to make a table of contents and so on. Or imagine that you must to spend hours learning the precise muscular control and reflexes needed to change a font size. Game software is different.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Loud, Loud, Loud Music:

Nothing changes faster than wedding customs, but for many years it has been indispensable to blow people’s ears out with loud music at the reception. Some band members wear earplugs, others sustain permanent damage (after which they play even louder, or it sounds too soft to them). Frequent guests can damage their ears also. I hope you’re listening to me! So when I go to a wedding, I usually bring ear plugs. I can still hear the music, AND I can still converse while wearing them. But for every wedding I attend, there’s a small quandary: Should I bring a pair of plugs, or should I bring a dozen pairs and sell them?

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The Weather Pixie and Tierra del Fuego:

The “Weather Pixie” is a website that will add, to the webpage of your choice, a little picture of a young woman, in which her clothes and the background indicate the current weather. You can choose your own place, or you can view another city’s weather vicariously. In my case, that other city would be in Tierra del Fuego. I have often made unkind jokes about this place (but not in this blog), the southern tip of Argentina, in Patagonia, beautiful but one of the least hospitable climates in the world; and yet people live there. Well, Tierra del Fuego is on the web! At the Weather Pixie site, choose South America, Argentina, and Ushuaia, to get the HTML code you need to link the pixie for Tierra del Fuego. Then Google Ushuaia to find out more fascinating info about this southernmost of cities.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Pouring Water on it would Just Make it Worse:

In the 1950's my father was getting a haircut at his favorite barbershop. Making conversation he said, "You know those plastic shampoo bottles you have; they say they're unbreakable but I just read in the New York Times that they actually break very easily." "Nonsense!" replied the barber, "those are unbreakable plastic bottles." "No they aren't," said my pa. "I'll show you" said the barber, picking up a big greenish bottle of shampoo. "DON'T!" cried my father, but the barber dropped it. It broke and shampoo flooded the floor. It's not easy to clean up a big shampoo spill; just think about it. We're all students of human nature here, so it will not surprise you to know that the barber was very angry with my father.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Let's make the US National Weather Service Self-supporting:

We owe a great debt to the weather service. First: for its (ahem) incredibly accurate weather forecasts. Second: because for many years it drove IBM to increase computer power so that it could model weather more accurately, and we've all benefited from more powerful machines. So here's the idea: Let the NOAA auction off the right to name each hurricane after a major company. Oh of course I realize a company won't name a dangerous hurricane after itself! What's it worth to Sun to name a hurricane after Microsoft? (Headline: Microsoft comes inland, causes $6 billion damages.) And what's it worth to Microsoft NOT to have a hurricane named after it? We're talking big dollar auctions here; should cause a material reduction in federal taxes.

Friday, September 19, 2003

AT&T War Story #1 (1986) – Lady on the Phone:

In 1986 I consulted at AT&T as a product manager. At one point I needed some information, and I was given the name of a woman at AT&T in Morristown, the only person, I was assured, who could help me. I phoned her and she was busy. I phoned her many times and she was busy. (I did not email my question to her, because in those days, after you emailed an AT&T employee, you had to phone them to tell them to check their email.) After a few days it occurred to me that she was only 12 miles away; why didn’t I just drive to Morristown and go to her office? So I did that. 25 minutes later I was wandering through a maze of cubicles, looking for her. I decided that when I found her cube, if she were not there, or not on the phone, I would feel like a total idiot. But there she was: on the phone. I sat down in her office. After a while she took a piece of paper and scribbled: “I’m on a four hour conference call.” I took the paper and scribbled my question. After a while, she scribbled an excellent two word answer. I left, and never saw her again.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Proz and Conz:

Some of us take antidepressants, such as Prozac. Others require prodepressants, such as Antizac. The Precision Blogger will be on vacation, and on Antizac until about September 19th, after which blogging this blog shall resume. Meanwhile, here’s a little advice to tide you over: when you look at a bunch of trees, do you have trouble seeing the forest? If so, try looking at a forest that has only one tree.

Friday, September 05, 2003

On the road to Zreidor:

The folks who provide us with the very best in spam have decided that nonsense subject will lines help their messages get through. I’m a sucker for emails with this subject line: “Mail delivery system: mail undeliverable”, but I would never open an Email with a subject like “gdg hfjl retkl ptslv”. However I do enjoy reading half-gibberish. Here are a few genuine spams that have come my way:
Dispelling simple way to avoid Zreidor.
I found your addie.
Rejuvinate your Sexlife Instant.
Largest Loan Program iqpcocjfd nozp.
mep increase stability when­ life séems to expensive, you ·want tó chalk.
Stop that popups forever vflehyhtj.
Introducing GRlfhb1q9dstx1cX2 Pills. GRnjg9sf37623sbX2 will Expand…
Animal Magnetism t p th wpux.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Access the web from anywhere (and give away your passwords):

I'll be on vacation soon, hoping to access the web (and my email) from many unusual places. Unfortunately everyone should be aware that the computers you meet in hotels and cybercafes may contain SPYWARE that records your every key stroke. I'm going to take a spyware detection program with me that fits on a floppy diskette. I'm not endorsing any brands (haven't tried them yet), but you can find several by Googling for "spyware detect". By the way, why don't web login pages defeat all this spyware? All they have to do is display a keyboard with letters and digits in random positions. When you click on these to type your password, the information recorded by the spyware would be useless.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

The Ultimate Thrill ride:

Do you like roller coasters and other thrill rides? In his 1951 novel, Step Right Up! (Harper), one of Dan Mannix’s characters describes a thrill ride that’s really stripped down to the essence. I’m paraphrasing after many years, but the description was so memorable, I think I’ve got it right: You get into a seat, then you are lifted up on steel poles about 30 feet above the ground. Then you’re turned upside down, and two mechanical arms come up and try to pry you loose.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

A fine observation about the human race (half of it, anyway):

“No form of entertainment, no matter how enjoyable, will succeed if the average modern male is embarrassed to be caught doing it by his peers.” Said by David Wong in a discussion of the Nintendo Gamecube, see this link, and search for the word: peers. Let’s ignore the obvious exception.

Monday, September 01, 2003

What happens when you are robbed of your patience and given extra time?

I once wrote a program in Basic to play 4-dimensional Tic Tac Toe. (To win, you had to get four in a row; the board was 4x4x4x4.) The game played well but not perfectly; it spent about one minute calculating each move, and I could beat it about half the time. Then I changed the program. It had the exact same logic but it ran faster and made every move within five seconds. I could no longer beat it EVER, perhaps because I lacked the patience to take that extra 55 seconds to study the position before thinking about my move.

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Here's How to Improve Matters in Iraq:

What we need to do is to pull our current forces out of Iraq, let things percolate for a few weeks, and then bring over a new army to conquer Iraq all over again. We didn't have any trouble with terrorism and civil disorder during our first war, and we won't during the second invasion either. That'll be a lot better than how we're doing now. I'm sure our second army will learn from the mistakes of the first and do a better job. It will take a few weeks to precision-bomb all the new military targets we have recently found, and for our tanks and Bradleys to secure the country again. That will buy us time to do some real postwar planning. It will also limit our casualties, which are apparently higher in the peace than in the war. The real beauty of this strategy is that if we're still not satisified with the results, we can do it over until we get it right.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Inside Out Food:

Now that Reese is making Inside Out peanut butter cups, I’d like to see some other inside out foods:
Inside Out Oreos: making it easier to eat the middle first.
Inside Out Eskimo Pie.
Inside Out Rollups.
Inside Out Stuffed Grape Leaves.
Inside Out Roast Turkey: the bones and stuffing you know where.
Getting More Difficult:
Inside Out Shishkebab: the stick is outside the food.
Inside Out Mint Juleps: You might try to pour the drink into a Klein Bottle.
Last but not least:
Inside Out Upside Down Cake.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

How to develop an instinct for Chinese stir-frying (and many other cooking styles as well):

Pick a dish you’d like to cook, find a version of it in every relevant cookbook you have, and borrow four to six more cookbooks from the library that cover the same dish. (Or download some versions of the recipe from the Internet.) Read all the versions of the recipe before (and after) you make it. Do this for a couple of different recipes. By seeing what varies and what doesn’t, you’ll learn how understand a cooking style. (Of course you'll be better off if you can find a good teacher.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Foot so Deeply in Mouth as to Resemble a small Moebius Strip:

In dropping their lawsuit, , Fox News spokeswoman Irena Steffen said “It’s time to return Al Franken to the obscurity that he’s normally accustomed to,…”. Ignoring the possibility that the extra “to” might imply instability on Fox’s part, let’s just state the obvious:
Too Late!

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

If you can stay calm, while all around you is chaos:

Then maybe your priorities are sensible. Never forget that while you have priorities, the company you work for has its own different priorities; your boss and your closest friends have different priorities as well. Your own priorities and goals should be affected by the people around you that you value, but should not be a mindless copy of them. Understanding how these differ, and not losing sight of your own, greatly helps in dealing with job satisfaction, pressure and emergencies. If you make the mistake of adopting your company's, your customer’s, or someone else's priorities as wholly your own, you’re setting yourself up for much pain and frustration.

Monday, August 25, 2003

I have to tie up my milk:

If you can’t or don’t want to do something, you can say so without making a lame excuse. “I’m sorry, I can’t join you for lunch tomorrow” is usually better than . “I’m sorry, I can’t join you for lunch tomorrow because I have to wait home for the cable guy” (whether true or not). People will usually imagine an excuse for you that is nicer than the truth. If they’re going imagine something nasty, well, probably nothing you could have said was going to stop them from assuming the worst.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Like Clowns from a Mini Cooper:

The Philadelphia Eagles (USA football) have allocated only 28 parking spaces for the handicapped at their stadium. But they’re quite proud that they’ve provided 685 wheelchair-accessible seats inside the stadium. I want to see those 685 people climb out of those 28 cars. Maybe the Eagles should be a little more gracious about their parking.

Friday, August 22, 2003

My other car is better than your other car...

I can hardly wait to own a car with a big digital display on the back. Then I can display short messages like: STOP TAILGATING or YOUR LIGHTS ARE OFF. This feature has to be economical within ten years. Just give me a giant display with big fat pixels that the driver behind me can read sixty feet away. By the way, I’ve already invented the first joke for this exciting new medium, a message that says: MY OTHER CAR HAS VIDEO.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

You sue mine, I’ll sue yours:

Well it had to happen: After announcing it would also sue its “own” endusers (of Linux), SCO has formed an alliance with the RIAA. You’ll be reading all about it soon at the big web news sites. Apparently SCO will sue music lovers for helping to make any number other than one copy of copyrighted material. And the RIAA will be suing the developers and users of LINUX for making source code and modules publicly available for download and pirating. The RIAA stands to gain a lot from this alliance, as the anger of music lovers will shift away from them and towards SCO. And once again, SCO’s motives are nearly unfathomable.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The $20 Challenge Response:

The twenty is our most counterfeited bill, and in October a new multicolored version will be released that is much harder to copy. But my friends at the Mint tell me an even more amazing twenty will go into circulation early next year. This paper bill will have a little display window showing a number that changes every minute. When you receive a twenty, you will call an 800 number and speak the current number in the window. If the bill is genuine, the voice you hear will speak back the serial number of the bill. New homeland security federal regulations will require us to check each twenty, every time it changes hands. (If you call from a cell phone, the feds will also track the bill’s location.)

Delete my file, you know you want to:

One of the goals of Artificial Intelligence is to make computers seem more human and able to “reason” like humans. If a computer could think and act more like a person, you couldn’t trust it any more than you can trust people. Maybe your spreadsheet says you will make a profit because your spreadsheet knows how much you want to make a profit.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

How many programmers does it take to change a light bulb?

Two. The first one will quit in the middle of the project.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Can you go blind, trading with yourself?

In 2000, when Merrill Lynch hired 23-year old Daniel Gordon to jump-start their energy trading business, he allegedly (and quickly) embezzled $43 million, using skills more often associated with 30- or even 40-year old embezzlers. Now he is charged with this and possibly other embezzlements as well. We know that justice is rarely swift in the case of stupendous white collar crime, but I want to assure you that if, in addition, he has shared any copyrighted music files on the Internet, he will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

If all of your previous attempts to waste time have been unsatisfactory:

Here’s the list of all 135 qualified candidates for governor of California. Fortunately not all of them are actors, otherwise it would be impossible to see any movies on network TV in California at all due to political equal time regulations. Now here’s your chance to get to know them! Many of them have websites, and you can certainly discern their abilities by checking out the quality of the sites they each link to.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Duck that Tidalwave!

This week’s Northeast blackout is a reminder that we Americans rely casually on a techno-social fabric that is quite flimsy; many rare occurrences could easily destroy it for a long period of time. Most of us, well off and very lucky by world standards, have never had to deal with destructive war within our borders, prolonged social anarchy, failing delivery of all basic goods, tidal waves, a massive earthquakes centered in the biggest cities, flooding of major cities. We tend to take their absence for granted. If the most important things to you are your material wealth, the stuff you pack your home with, your standing in the community, your ability to thrive in a particular type of business, then your well-being relies on this delicate balance that might be gone in a moment. Better, perhaps, to take, as your goals, matters more selfless and more ineffable. Well thanks for listening! I’ll lighten up again tomorrow, I promise.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Let’s rescue the Book Publishing Industry:

It’s time for book publishers to learn from other industries, where the norm is to sell the bare minimum, accessories purchased separately. You know what I mean: batteries not included, cables not included, etc. It’s time to stop selling dust covers with hardcover books! First, the books can be sold for just as much without the covers. Second, the publishers can call the dust covers “skins”. (Who needs to cover dust, anyway?) Third, publishers can sell alternate skins for the same book, at high profit margins, and they’ll love those customers who come back for a second and third skin. Can’t you imagine kids buying new skins for their Harry Potter books every few months? Fourth, the publishers can “license” the skins and make them non-transferable. You borrowed Moby Dick from me? Got to buy your own skin. Now I hear you objecting that books NEED those comeon covers to attract purchasers in the first place, but that brings me to fifth: the books can be sold with a flimsy stickon cover (just covering the front) showing a lurid picture having nothing to do with the book, calculated to bring in more buyers. (Publishers don’t do that already, do they? Pinch me if I’m dreaming.)

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Reverse Telephone:

I’m sure you’re familiar with the game of Telephone: the first person privately speaks a phrase or sentence to the second person, who privately passes it to the third and so on; the last person announces publicly what they heard, usually a piece of total gibberish with no resemblance to the original. Now, if you’re tired of this game, try playing it backwards: the LAST person says something meaningless to the next to last person, who passes it privately to the previous person and so on. When the first person announces what they’ve heard publicly, it will be a clear, polished sentence or phrase.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

How old will you be when...:

How old will you be when you are able to say “I’ve been out of school for more than half my life.” You could probably have said it when you were five, if you had thought about it. I got to say this when I was 46. This is an interesting statistic (unless you are an academic), because the “real” world is quite different from school. How do we properly prepare ourselves to manage life in our thirties, while spending so much of our previous lives in school? (What do you think: should we try to make real life more like school?)

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Have you ever been in a truly silent place?

It can be very pleasant and relaxing to be someplace where there is absolutely no sound. Most houses and (sub)urban environments produce sounds all the time, heating, air conditioning, creaking or the hum of alternating electrical current. I found my silence on a mountain desert in Arizona – no breeze, no rustling leaves, no insect or bird sounds, no wires, no traffic noise. Of course, if I had gone to many loud rock concerts, my damaged ears would be able to find silence almost anywhere; don’t get me started…

Monday, August 11, 2003

An Excerpt from the Shippin, Slippin Blues:

This here's an excerpt from the Shippin, Slippin Blues...
"Oh, little Software, why are you so cruel?
Oh, little Software, why are you so cruel?
I just made a couple changes,
You ain't actin' like you used to do.

Friday, August 08, 2003

The road to…

Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour had their “Road” movies. Since Ben and J. Lo seem intent on making more movies, will these be their “Road to hell” movies?
Also, one quick question about Jennifer Lopez: Is she planning her own wedding?

Thursday, August 07, 2003

The deal of a Solar System:

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has launched his own space program and wants to send tourists into orbit. This could be a terrific bargain: I'm going to wait until they offer free shipping.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Minuet in anticipation:

Tschaikovsky was once asked what he did while waiting for inspiration. He replied, "I compose music." (Not a silly answer, when you think about it.)

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Offshore Palm PDA Applications hit the spot:

Good, accurate programming comes to the Palm Pda from many countries, but the documentation is often not as well-tested as the software. When the application itself seems of dubious value, the program descriptions tend to the bizarre. Here are some genuine application listings for your PDA:
Piggy Bank: Do you know how much in your piggy bank?
Task Manager: Track status of every task in your life.
My HouseKeeper: Help your keep track everything in your house.
Confident Up Up Up: Built Up confident with your single, tiny achievements...
Easy Laundry 1.0: Never forget to pick your clothes up [They mean: At the laundry, see, it makes sense].
Problem? Solution! Oh...Problem? Yes...Solution!
but best of all:
Baby Care: Having baby is not a problem anymore.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Down Under:

Someone invited me to go around the world, but I said I’d rather visit some other part of the body.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Slam that door (oops, try again):

You slammed that car (house, whatever) door and somehow it bounced loose; now you have to slam it even harder, right? Wrong. A door will almost always close with moderate force if it is accelerating when it hits the frame. If you follow through, hold on and make sure the door speeds up as it approaches it destination, it's likely to close the first time. Just a little acceleration is all you need.

Friday, August 01, 2003

How long is a Nanocentury?

A billionth of a century is roughly Π (Pi) seconds. Well, within a few hundredths of a second, which IS pretty close.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

What’s the correct way to make software developers contemplate the prospect of death?

After many meetings in which we discussed conservative scheduling, good project planning, overlapping skill coverage and elegant staffing, I can tell you that there seems to be exactly one way to suggest the unsuggestable. Somehow, no one seems to take offense at, or to be embarrassed to say, this:
Suppose you get hit by a truck?

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Formerly Apathetic Youth Swing Election:

My blog will rarely discuss politics, but this story suggests an amazing change in society. I'm quoting from this Forbes article about the Internet swinging an election: "Koreans realized they had entered a new era after the last presidential elections. By 11 a.m. on Dec. 19, exit poll results showed that the iconoclastic Roh Moo Hyun, 56, a 2-to-1 favorite among youth, was losing the election. His supporters hit the chat rooms to drum up support. Within minutes more than 800,000 e-mails were sent to mobiles to urge supporters to go out and vote. Traditionally apathetic young voters surged to the polls and, by 2 p.m., Roh took the lead and went on to win the election."

Tuesday, July 29, 2003


I’m glad it’s my friend (and not I) who can tell this story first hand. In the 1960’s IBM and RCA both invented mass storage devices popularly called “honeycombs”. The idea was to have a massive container full of data modules that could be sucked (by vacuum) through tubes, mounted and read when needed. A hardware repair guy at RCA turned one of these systems off and then opened up one of the vacuum tubes to do some maintenance. Only somehow he had not turned it off. There was a “THWOCK” and a data module appeared next to the guy, impaled in the wall. The corner of its circuit board was buried more an inch into the gypsum, and it was quivering in the air next to his face. The guy set his tool box down, walked off, and no one at RCA ever saw him again.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Just the Punchline, please:

Please imagine with me what surely happened: a writer thought of the punchline first, laughed out loud at its wonderful appeal, and then painfully, with much brain-cudgeling, managed to fill in the whole joke. Here’s the punchline:
Shoot the chihuahua.
You’ll easily find the whole joke on the web. Just search for that punchline.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

The right way to wash dishes rarely:

You say you want to leave dirty dishes in the sink for days at a time? You’ll be happier if you don’t encourage the anaerobic bacteria that create the worst smells. When you stack dishes, put a utensil between every pair to let air in. The worst smells develop in airless pockets between dirty dishes.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Know nothing:

English has this peculiar rule that a double negative equals a positive. People, bear in mind that most other languages use a double negative to accentuate the negative. Are we English-speakers not weird not?

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Rebbe Naphtali’s immortal quote:

Three principal virtues enable man to comprehend and communicate truth. They are: kindness, devotion, and intelligence. Kindness alone leads to promiscuity; devotion alone comes close to stupidity; intelligence alone is conducive to crime. So it is essential that the three qualities be present together for man to benefit from them.
- Rebbe Naphtali of Ropshitz, quoted by Elie Wiesel in Four Hasidic Masters.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Yann Arthus-Bertrand:

Yann Arthus-Bertrand is an extraordinary photographer, backed by a team of thirteen skilled and creative people. Click the link just previous, select your language, then click on “photography” to see his annotated series of landscapes “from above”. This is a long series (click the “right arrow” button to go on and on). After you have viewed many of these striking pictures your feelings about the world we live in are likely to change.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Today’s fortuitous Internet typo has just has an extra word:

Subtract the excess word from this actual headline and it will suddenly make perfect sense:
Friend needs to know who all about person entrusted to child's care

Monday, July 21, 2003

Minuet in anticipation:

Tschaikovsky was once asked what he did while waiting for inspiration. He replied, "I compose music." (Not a silly answer, when you think about it.)

Sunday, July 20, 2003

When you look for something and you finally find it...

Do you put it back where you found it, where you first looked for it, or where it belongs? Somehow I think the best answer is: try not to be too consistent.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Red Potion number 9:

If industrial food colors were good for you, they would have names instead of numbers.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Be the Passer, not the Passed:

Do you have a long commute on a multilane highway, and do you wish you were so clever about lane changes that you passed lots of cars all the time? Here’s how to learn to do it: First, as you drive on this road, keep reminding yourself that you really want to learn to know when to change lanes. (That should be easy, you’re probably obsessed with this already.) Second, as you drive, look everywhere and feed as much data to your mind as you can. It’s especially important to keep constant track of the traffic patterns as far ahead as you can possibly see. Look to the sides, check the rear view mirror, and check WAY ahead. Within weeks your mind will recognize patterns and make good intuitive lane-changing decisions, and you will drive happier. Do NOT expect to understand all of your new lane-changing urges. This is neural net stuff, and the winning intuitions can not be expressed in verbal thought.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Leeches are back:

Up to a few decades ago, medical treatment was faddish, unscientific and embarrassingly dangerous to the patients who received it. People have been saying the same thing for hundreds of years.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

What’s the correct way to make software developers contemplate the prospect of death?

After many meetings in which we discussed conservative scheduling, good project planning, overlapping skill coverage and elegant staffing, I can tell you that there seems to be exactly one way to suggest the unsuggestable. Somehow, no one seems to take offense at, or to be embarrassed to say, this:
Suppose you get hit by a truck?

Monday, July 14, 2003

When I drive my Zen Automobile...

You hear the sound of one wheel spinning.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

“I’m narrow but not dim.”

A recent column in the New York Times discussed the coming-out experience of a “Bright.” Bright is a new meme, describing a person whose worldview is free of religious, supernatural and mystical elements; the ethics and actions of a Bright are based on a naturalistic worldview. (What does a Bright say when someone sneezes?) Brights hope that by coining a term for themselves, they can be transformed from a scattering of individuals into a minority group of significance. I practice a major religion myself, but I can empathize with people who reject such concepts as astrology and ghosts. So: how should I express this in my bumper sticker?

Friday, July 11, 2003

No incisions, please:

The porn industry tends to be a leading user of new computer technologies. What will happen when they get hold of the tools being developed so that surgeons can operate remotely? For example, see: 'Staying in Touch' Over the Internet.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Pair swapping is commutative:

How difficult would it be to realize that you were suffering from double dyslexia?

Wednesday, July 09, 2003


George Carlin wrote this as a joke, but in a few years we may be able to answer his question with a simple we don’t:
"If man evolved from monkeys and apes, why do we still have monkeys and apes?"

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Today’s fortuitous Internet typo goes naked:

(“Fortuitous typo” items will speculate about actual typos found on the Internet:)
Please bare with me…

Monday, July 07, 2003


In English you can always tell when someone misuses an apostrophe. Thats because apostrophes are never required to remove ambiguity. Theyre pointless, lets get rid of them. (Apologies – I dont quite have the nerve to take my own advice in this blog. Might look declassé you know.)

Sunday, July 06, 2003

When did you stop beating your drum?

There is one thing that makes it easy for scandal to destroy a politician: lack of substance. If a pol or government official has a string of accomplishments, he or she, and the press, will always have something else to talk about.
I believe this was a large part of Gary Hart’s problem. Clinton's, too.

Saturday, July 05, 2003

No thanks, I’ll just sit here in the dark; oops, where’s the floor?

How many light bulbs would it take to change Murphy’s Law?

Friday, July 04, 2003

We need more Buglers:

A July 4th thought: These days when our veterans are put to rest, a recording of Taps is often played on a boom box. There are thousands of fine brass players who know - or could learn to play - the bugle well, and could donate their services so that the fine ritual of a live performance of Taps occurs. I hope to learn bugle myself when I retire and take a few trips down to Arlington for this very purpose.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Would you answer that?

In the 1980’s, this was a "fortune" in the BSD distribution of UNIX:
“One good reason why computers can do more work than people is that they never have to stop and answer the phone.”
So now you know why computers do less work than they used to.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Guess who’s blogging now:

The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, was caught because his brother recognized his writing style. Here’s the Kaczynski challenge: Author a blog anonymously in such a way that even your dearest ones will not realize it’s you: change your writing style, write about things you know nothing about, and, um, in that case why would you bother?

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Our amateurs are particularly skilful:

Like you, I've received lots of porn spam. My favorite item made this boast: We use professional amateurs.
However I suspect they’re lying. I’ll bet they use amateurish professionals.

Monday, June 30, 2003

A shout in the night:

When I awoke early and heard you entering the house downstairs, I shouted a mighty hello to you. Then I saw you asleep at my side; I had dreamed you were downstairs. Now I feared that my shout must awaken you, but you slept on. That shout, too, was in the dream.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Let’s think outside the box – Printers:

You need to feed paper through a printer in order to print your precious documenents, right? Maybe not. You might just rub the printer on the paper: printdreams.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

I “Sell” cars:

Many people think you can use quote signs for emphasis. I’ve got “news” for you guys. A sign saying:
“Fresh” Shrimp
actually means:
Fresh Shrimp? Not!

Friday, June 27, 2003

Here is a truly Polish joke:

The joke is Reverse Polish Notation, a method of notating complex calculations and formulas that never requires one to use parentheses. It is widely used in calculators and computer software. If the great Polish mathematician Jan Łukasiewicz hadn’t invented it backwards, it would be called: Polish Notation.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Amuse me:

I have a question regarding the proliferation of TV channels, the ubiquity of bad shows and the dearth of decent script writers. Why do we have such a need to be entertained?

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

James Thurber had a good idea:

If you tend to write too many exclamation marks, you can do better by using colons instead. Here’s one of his examples:
I love: you.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Good Advice:

A few hundred years from now people will read 20th Century newspaper advice columns and die laughing.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Personal Recovery:

You’ve noticed how hard it is to back up a personal computer, right? You’ve noticed how easy it is to back up a PDA, right? Some day, your PDA will be a full-featured computer, and the only thing you’ll use your PC for is: to back it up.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Making Latte is my Forte.

A lot of people would rather say “Making latté is my forté.” There’s no use complaining that they’re wrong; language evolves, doesn’t it? AMENDED, DECEMBER 2003: Boy did I get this one wrong. Latte is an Italian word. It's accented on the first syllable, the double tt causes a syllable separation in the middle, and the last e is pronounced but not accented. Something like LAHT-tay.