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.