Friday, December 31, 2004

I ran six miles per hour, I think:

You’ve seen those machines placed on roads that measure how fast you’re driving and show your speed on a big display. Ever try running towards one of those machines? If you carried big garbage can covers, waved them about and ran real fast, would the machine show you your speed?

Thursday, December 30, 2004

You say Sexy, I say …:

Many years ago Apple introduced a new standard for disk drive interfaces. In the long run this standard has done well, although it had a rocky beginning and was plagued by manufacturer incompatibilities. Apple had the inspiration to call this the “Small Computer System Interface, acronym SCSI, which they pronounced “Sexy.” Apple would have loved to world to embrace its sexy interface! But while some people say “tomahto”, it seems that EVERYONE pronounces SCSI like this: “Scuzzy”. Poor Apple.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Pocket Switch?

For many many years, I’ve kept my wallet in my front left pocket and my keys in my front right. I’m right-handed, and it has become a smooth motion to grab my keys and insert them in a lock. But there’s a problem: just because I’m right handed, I often approach my house laden with packages cradled in my right arm. Then I have to painfully switch everything over to the left so I can reach for my key. I’d like to avoid this awkward situation.

So yesterday I began the great experiment: switching pocket contents.

About two hours later I found my keys in my right pocket, perched on top of my wallet, ready to fall out.

End of experiment…

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


A guy walked into the men’s bathroom talking on his cellphone, and moments later another guy flushed an adjacent urinal. I think you could say that the first guy was not planning ahead! Fortunately for him, he had lost his connection when he stepped into the room.

Monday, December 27, 2004

“fre speling”:

In 2001 the New York Times published a favorable interview with a person in favor of “free spelling”, the art of spelling words any way you like. The article presented all the pros and none of the cons. I was quite annoyed, but pleased that the NYT published my response. I’d like my letter to be more accessible than the Time’s archives, so here it is (my version minus their minor edits, by the way):

Thi articl on fre speling presented the advantajs but glosed ovr thi disadvantajs. Al this cant - spel the wa it saunz and yus no puntashn - can produs riting hard tu understand. A nashun of fre spelers wil be unabl to red Shaksper, Tuane and othr grat awthrz. Evn if thi clasiks r translated into fre spel, meni wil onli b abl tu red if the spelin matchs thar on pronunseashn. Rejunl pronunseashns and varying methuds of speling wil be the bugubu of fre spel.
Uf cors we wil not discrimin8, we wil allaw even thos with spech defex and axents to spel as tha spek. "Sankyu, I nao ve shud claos du doa bfoa ve gao tu Nyorlns," 4 xampl. Thi Estrn Penslvanya wa of saing "kno" iz perhaps best spelt "nayo". A Nuhampshran wud rit "doa" but a Nu Yorker mit rit "doer" (thats "doe-er", not "due-er"). Evri2 mispels wrds sumtim, and mispelings bud male compreheshun evr mot difiklt. Dsiding hau to sho wich vowls r lang and wich are rele long e saunz wil be trike.
Im sori this e mal has rechd u so lat, but I orijinli sent it to sirkuts@nytims.kom, and et wuz retrnd to me undlivrd.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

They don’t make Rootbeer like they used to!

Oldtimers are always cautioning you young whippersnappers that X or Y isn’t as good as it used to be. This may really be true of rootbeer. A main ingredient in traditional root beer was Safrole from the sassafras tree, outlawed in 1960 by the FDA because it caused cancer in laboratory rats. Here’s a good webpage about rootbeer. Well it may not taste as good as it used to, but I suppose not causing cancer makes it better.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Clutter, Clutter…

Chris Heilmann has some intelligent things to say here about NOT cluttering up your web site. You can find a previous article there on the same subject if you look around a bit. There’s quite a bit of irony involved in reading these articles however.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Quickly to bed:

On my recent business trip I arrived very late at the motel. I decided to do the absolute minimum before going to sleep. So I plugged in my laptop to recharge. And I plugged in my PDA to recharge. And I plugged in my cell phone to recharge. And I plugged in my mp3 player to recharge. And I went to sleep to recharge.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

It’s the Radiation!

David Pogue recently wrote on the question of how far you should sit from an HDTV set. He remembered his parents’ rule: sit six feet from any TV set to avoid the radiation.
CRT’s do generate unhealthy radiation, and they are built so that the exposure is mostly from the back. When you sit close to your big screens, you’re still in front and there’s little or no problem. Except for software developers and some other CRT-bound workers.
I’ve often been asked to share a space with another developer. This is often done by having us sit on opposite sides of a desk, so that we are each right behind the other’s CRT. Or I’ve been invited to sit in a row-of-tables arrangement where there’s a CRT’s behind at my back. I’ve always refused these arrangements, but I’m afraid many software developers have not been so lucky.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Ooh, those awful drug studies!

So here’s a drug study suggesting that Aleve and Celebrex also increase the chance of heart attack. These days my inevitable reaction to such stories is, let’s see whatMedpundit has to say. Medpundit takes the level-headed look at these studies, and often shows that they suggest a great deal less than their scare headlines. Check in there regularly, and keep a useful sense of proportion.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The luck conceals the skill:

There's a particular type of board game (or card game) that I like to play. It's any game for three to six people that requires a fair amount of skill, but also has a large element of luck. What's nice about these games is that if you are best at them you can enjoy your applications of skill, but the other playrs will not be overly dominated by your ability; they will enjoy the game just as much, and often win. They may not even notice that you are playing the game better than they are.

I just discovered a card game like this called "Kingpro" on my PDA. The old board game of Talisman was an excellent example of this sort. Unfortunately, the game of "Hearts" does not qualify. Someone needs to invent a variation of Hearts that has quite a bit more luck.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Would you open an email from a person named (once again, these are from genuine spam):

Would you open an email from a person named:
bombardi Borgstrom
Carbonated I. Ballast
Holograph P. Stakes
Infecting P. Shirring
Naturalist P. Pouncing
Chows U. Decisiveness
Maltreat K. Minimals
Fasted B. Fossils

I thought not.

Friday, December 17, 2004

If you comment on an old post, I should receive your comment:

I was asked whether I would receive a comment made on an old posting. Indeed I should, it's one of the few bells and whistles I actually pay for in this blog. If you make a test comment including an email address (use www.sneakemail if you want to be anonymous), I will reply.

How I know when I’m Too Tense:

When I drop a glass in the kitchen and catch it before it hits the floor, I figure I’m a little too wound up. Recently I was cleaning my glass French Press and it flew out of my hands. I watched it arc through the air and head for the floor, then I kicked a nearby waste basket. The basket slid underneath in time and caught the press in its gentle plastic embrace: nothing broke.

So I figure I was WAY too tense.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Was I asked for a bribe today?

I was stopped by a policeman some weeks ago. He asked to see my proof of insurance, and I gave him the card for the wrong car. Today I went to court, accused of having no auto insurance, but I had been told that I would be allowed to plead to a lesser, cheaper charge: failure to present an insurance card. Of course we have ALWAYS had auto insurance! The prosecutor called several of us in turn into his private office. He told me that the lesser charge used to have a $40 dollar fine, but now it had a $180 fine. “I’m sure you have better things to do with your money,” he said. “Perhaps I can do something.” There was a pause.
He picked up an enormous book and started to look through it. “I’m looking to see if I have the authority to drop the charge,” he explained. (How could he not know this? The issue must come up every week, and the size of the fine was changed over a year ago. There was another pause.
This is where I felt that I was being given a very special opportunity. How to decline it? I finally said. “I greatly appreciate your looking this up for me.”
After a few more moments he closed the book and said, “I do have the authority; I’m dropping the charge.”
Maybe New Jersey’s prosecutors just hate to use this charge, now that the fine has gone way up. Or maybe…

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Getting geeked up in the morning:

In early childhood I learned that the big adventure of the morning was getting dressed. But now I take the clothes part for granted. The adventure is making sure I’m properly geeked up. When I think I may be fully dressed, I checK:
· Is my watch, with its multiple alarms, count down timer and data, on my wrist?
· Is my multi-function cell phone in its holster? Turned on?
· Is my PDA in its holster?
· Is my mp3 player in ITS holster?
· Is my pedometer clipped to my belt?
· If so, I’m ready to go! (It’s not quite as bad as it sounds, I only wear two holsters.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Mario Puzo

When “The Godfather” was published, I knew a guy whose last name was Puzo. I asked him if by any chance he was related to Mario Puzo. “Uncle Mario always used to tell us these stories,” he replied. “We used to think he was making them up, but now we’re not so sure!”

Monday, December 13, 2004

Prognosticating (and Dreaming):

(Today’s news about IBM in the NYTimes makes my speculations even less likely, so here they are before it’s totally too late:)
There’s a lot of speculation about why IBM has sold its computer business. The most interesting thought is that IBM is now free to make and sell what would otherwise have competed with their PC business: home computers based on the Power PC chip, running Linux. Such machines would be much cheaper than their PC competitors. The PPC chips are good, no royalty need be paid for Windows, and it is much cheaper to build a computer that lacks legacy compatibility with the PC’s baroque architecture.

To make this work, IBM would have spent the last three years secretly preparing an easy-to-use GUI for Linux, programs to make the system easy to manage, and a good software emulation suite to make the migration to these new machines fairly painless. IBM’s industry heft could, once again, create a computer revolution, one in which Microsoft and Intel would not be big players.

Could it happen? Pinch me …

Sunday, December 12, 2004

No birds in hand:

Yesterday I walked past a wire construction fence. On the other side of the fence was a short row of thorny bushes full of sparrows. I was only two feet from the birds but they ignored me, chirped, changed places, and waited. There were more than twice as many sparrows in that bush than I could have held in my hand.

Friday, December 10, 2004

I might as well take up yoga...

I might as well take up yoga because, well, I'm already practicing a kind of yoga. My specialty involves standing on one leg, slowly lifting that leg behind me and rotating my body to the side, then rotating my upper body away from the lifted leg, stretching out my arm, bending my head, and then:
And then:
I'm in position to plug in a cable behind bunch of computers or - worse yet - to read a serial number. As an expert in this yogaic field, I can talk to the vendor on the phone while doing this, and often manage not to:
- knock over a coffee cup
- unplug other wires by mistake
- plug my wire into the wrong computer
- shred my shirt and pants on a sharp metal extrusion
- disconnect the phone by leaning down too far with my stomach.

After moving a few wires this way, I experience the equivalent of runner's high. Excuse me, I've got to rest a bit...

Thursday, December 09, 2004

If you're interested in Business Analysts:

You may enjoy this confusing sentence I found in a respectable newspaper. (I like the many ways that English can be ambiguous.)
"IBM sheds a business analysts say is barely profitable."

Monday, December 06, 2004


I know I won’t be able to blog tomorrow, so here’s an extra item today. I was carefully pushing a cart with two heavy computers on it. The upper PC occasionally slid off on its own, but each time I stopped it. Which reminded me: my aunt Lucy was a professional pianist; some time in the 40’s she was rehearsal pianist for a musical trying to make its way to Broadway. They had a grand piano at the back of the stage. One day they needed the piano in the front of the stage. It was heavy, so several actors got behind it and pushed.
The moment the piano started moving it was clear that it was not going to stop. It crawled majestically across the stage and smashed to bits in the pit.

Flex time:

A company I once worked for hired a new manager to build their Quality Assurance organization. He told a bunch of us about his last job, where he had also been hired to build his group from scratch. When he arrived, he was told they had already hired one person for him, his librarian.
He started ordering the necessary library materials and left her to her job while hiring the rest of his group.
After a while, people began to complain that the library was not open enough. “I observed this individual’s work habits,” he said, “and then I asked her to talk to me.”
“When I took this job,” she said, “they told me the hours would be flexible.”
“What does that mean to you?” he asked her.
She replied, “I come when I can, and I leave when I must.”
When he told this to us, everyone burst out laughing, except me, I was thinking furiously, I want those hours! That’s the kind of job I want! And I still wish for it…
By the way, the question he asked her was excellent. Most managers would have assumed they knew what flex time meant to her.

(I may blog irregularly for the next few days. I'll be out of town a bit.)

Saturday, December 04, 2004


When I was young I spent a few days thinking about a wondrous idea: a country could have a language that was all consonants, no vowels. Eventually I spotted a serious flaw: in order to shout “Look Out!” at anyone, I would have to be right next to them.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Sigh (again):

I’m a sucker for spam with any subject similar to “undelivered mail.” I have to check, because otherwise I would miss real delivery failures. This morning I sent an Email to Fortunately I wasn’t ignoring undelivery announcements because this wasn’t delivered. Oh, he has two ells in his last name. I copied the email and resent it to Fortunately I wasn’t ignoring undelivery announcements because this wasn’t delivered. After further research I resent to Fortunately I wasn’t ignoring undelivery announcements because this wasn’t delivered. Oh, he has two ells in his last name. I copied the email and resent it to Fortunately I wasn’t ignoring undelivery announcements, because now I suspect he actually got it. (Not his real name of course.)

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Do you know probabilities?

I believe that probability theory and some related statistics should be taught in high school. The probability course need not be mandatory. It should simply be understood that people who take it are more likely to win bets, remain uninjured, play tricks on their friends and seem to “get all the luck.” It should also be understood that elementary algebra (most often nominated as the stuff that “no one needs to remember after leaving school”) is a powerful weapon for learning to calculate the odds. People’s general literacy level about probabilities is way below reading or arithmetic comprehension. We’re consequently nudged into dumb actions by claims that have no solid chance of being reasonable. I’ll close with a little story:
Back in the 1950’s when Camel cigarettes’ slogan was “four out of five prefer Camels”, one live TV program closed each week like this: They invited five people out of the audience, asked them to compare their regular brand to a Camel cigarette, and then say which they preferred. Every week, exactly ONE of the five people preferred his own, other brand. Then the sponsor would proudly restate their slogan. What percent of the TV audience was unperturbed by a lack of deviation from the mean?