Sunday, January 30, 2005

THE Plantain Recipe:

Buy a yellow plantain, preferably somewhat dark. Set it in a window sill until it turns black. (It will be a leathery black, not ooky black like a banana.) With a sharp knife, slit just through the outside covering from end to end on opposite sides. Gently slip the plantain out of its cover. Slice it thin. (I slice it longways in order to have relatively few pieces to deal with.) Heat a little oil, margarine or butter on a pan. Cook it very gently for about five minutes, then flip the pieces and do the other side for five minutes. Keep an eye on the food – you do not want the undersides to turn black from the heat. Remove to a dish. Squeeze a little lime juice or lemon juice on it, pour on some maple syrup, and enjoy. Delicious!

Friday, January 28, 2005

I’m Antisocial about Plane travel:

When I fly, I pack the things I absolutely do not want to be without in a soft carry-bag. You know, vitamins, razor, cell-phone recharger, books to read, food for the flight. For this last vacation, my soft bag weighed almost 14 pounds! I don’t want to lug that around the airport, but not to worry. I usually put my soft bag into a rolling case that is the maximum carry-on size. Then it’s easy to deal with the heavy bag. When I get on the plane, I take the soft bag out of the rolling case. I keep the soft bag at my seat and put the (now empty) rolling bag in a compartment above. I know I’m cheating someone else who may really need that compartment space, but I love my own solution too much to be considerate.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

John Dvorak has his reasons (but I don’t):

John Dvorak explains exactly why this column of his mentions the words “Porn”, “Magic” and “free.” I wouldn't have any ulterior motive for mentioning Dvorak's article. I think he's a good columnist, that's all. Honest!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

An exciting new formula!

We went to a fine museum exhibit on Einstein today. The exhibit stressed Einstein’s imagination that, above all, led him to his great discoveries. I stretched my own imagination and came up with an exciting new formula:
E = MC
This formula would make nuclear power plants MUCH safer, but unfortunately uneconomical to build.

A Traveling Rule:

If you’re overweight – no matter how much – and you lose a few pounds before a plane trip, the seat will seem remarkably spacious. (Don’t believe me? Then try out the Murphy’s Rule converse: If you’re overweight – no matter how much – and you gain a few pounds before a plane trip, the seat will seem remarkably cramped. Doesn’t that have the ring of truth?)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I wrote some ambiguous English (and don't we all?)

I like to point out other people’s malaprops, so it’s only fair to report that I experienced some confusion of my own making. Computer Support at work called a little while ago to tell me that my two mice were ready. Mice? I didn’t request any mice! Puzzlement and deep thought ensued

I’ve just moved into a new office. It’s important for me to keep my shoulders down, else they hurt a lot. I use two computers; I need the keyboard and the mouse pad to be lower than desk level; so I ordered dropshelves for two keyboards and two mice. (Maybe I should have placed a colon between “for” and “two” …)

By the way, I will be posting irregularly for about a week.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Rube Goldberg Almost Strikes Again:

I received a wonderful gift, a battery-operated machine that cleans my glasses MUCH better than I can clean them by hand. I have a rueful/kindly relationship with this machine, because, while working well, it comes near to being a mickeymouse thing. How can that be? Let me lovingly count the ways…

Even with pictures, the instructions could not explain how to fit the glasses into the machine; you just had to figure it out.

The cleaning liquid can spill onto the motor and make the machine misfunction. This has not happened to me, but the instructions explain what to do when it happens, and take the matter very seriously.

When the glasses are all clean and dry, you lift them out of the machine. There are three ways to do this:
· Easiest: grab (and smudge) a lens.
· Easy: Unclip the glasses and they fall back into the cleaning liquid.
· Better: Carefully grip the frame only, then unclip them and slowly draw them out.
I like it, I like it.

Monday, January 17, 2005

A fine epigram by Paul Graham.

In an thoughtful article on “What the Bubble Got Right”, Paul Graham discusses the young age of many startup founders, and remarks: “There is a huge standard deviation among 26 year olds. Some are fit only for entry level jobs, but others are ready to rule the world if they can find someone to handle the paperwork for them.”

Sunday, January 16, 2005

It’s … un … wearable …… ohno

Okay, you got that fine suit back from the cleaners. Just before you rush off to the big event a few weeks from now, you’re going to put it on with pride and, oh no: the zipper was ironed flat and it sticks half way!
So when you get home from the cleaners, do you make sure the zipper still works before you hang it up?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Malaprop on the Web:

I found an amusing misapplication of an acronym. It's remarkably common on the web, perhaps caused by a spell-check program: CYA later Alligator.

Friday, January 14, 2005

That Connecticut Company Again:

Last November I discussed an audit I did of a computer company in Connecticut. During the audit my boss and I kept noting discordant indications that were hard to understand. At one point I asked my boss, on his next trip to the bathroom, to detour a little and walk past the developers’ cubicles as I had done. Presently he did that. When we conferred at lunch he said, “I looked at those cubicles, so what?” (Hint: My boss was not a geek.)
I explained to him what he had seen: about a dozen developer offices, each with a neat and clean desk, a few carefully stacked piles of computer listings, no signs of disarray or rush. This staff was working on a major new release but there was no sign of urgency or frenzied work anywhere. It was an improbable and unlikely sight. Understanding why the developers had no incentive to work hard turned out to be a key factor in our analysis.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Very, Very Desperate!

Do you have any idea how desperate a software salesperson can be for new products to sell? Here’s an extreme: I worked at a company that – due to poor software management – had slid its schedules and delivered no new products for a year. When sales staff visited the main office they would ask for a tour of the development group and STEAL random floppy disks or copy files off of development systems. It was not unusual for the company’s support group to get a complaint from a customer that an application did not work, when the company had never released that application, but some developer was working on it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

I once played an April Fool joke:

I worked at a small company that developed computer systems. There were a lot of uncouth geeks about, so the company came up with a great idea: a “Welcome” sign in the lobby to make customers feel good, but more particularly to warn employees to behave when a customer was onsite.
Anyone could ask the receptionist to put up a welcome message. At that time our company was wholly dependent on three large projects for Shell Oil. On March 31st, as I was leaving, I asked the receptionist to put up a welcome message in the morning for, let’s call him “John Shedd.” I picked the highest executive name I’d ever heard at Shell, someone a few levels above the managers we usually worked with. Then fortunately I slept late and arrived at work around 10 a.m. Otherwise I would be dead now and there would be no blog.
The lead salesman came in around 8:30 on April 1. Seeing the welcome sign he stormed into the marketing VP’s office and began screaming that he needed SIX WEEKS to prepare for a visit from Shedd. How could they possibly have brought Shedd in without involving him? He was really upset, almost physical. The VP was totally mystified and a shouting match ensued. Eventually they calmed down and checked with the receptionist. Then they went looking for me…

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

How would you clip the Hope Diamond to your belt?

I went to a camera store to find a pouch I could attach to my belt, to hold my MP3 player. The clerk suggested a number of pouches that I rejected for the same reason. They all casually hooked on a belt, and could easily come loose. Velcro closures weaken. A simple clip can be dislodged. A plastic connector will split over time. After awhile the clerk got the idea: “Yeah, that’s how I lost my last digital camera!”
I found what I was looking for: a solid strap to push my belt through, such that the pouch simply cannot separate from my belt. I’m happy now, but what about the rest of you?? Why are you all buying these casual attachments that can easily lose your stuff? (If you weren’t buying them, the manufacturers might stop making them…)

Monday, January 10, 2005

Look at this!

Here’s a simplified version of a problem I saw in Marilyn vos Savant’s column. I think the interesting challenge is: how easy can you make this type of puzzle, without making it trivial:
Look at this: what’s the next letter in this series: L a t: w t n l i t _:

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Mayo on the Side:

I once knew a fellow who would eat at any greasy spoon restaurant, but wanted NO MAYONNAISE AT ALL, THANK YOU! He discovered that when you order a sandwich with no mayo, you tend to get a sandwich WITH mayo. Then he made a happy discovery: he could order his sandwich with “the mayo on the side.” This instruction would produce a mayo-free sandwich. And he would ignore the little separate container of mayo that had carefully been prepared for him.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Candyland: a game of skill:

Candyland is a board game that remarkably young children can play. When you get bored, make it a more skilful game. There are lots of ways to do this that may appeal to your youngster. Here are some examples:
· When it is your turn, draw two cards. You may only use one of them, then discard both.
· When it is your turn, draw two cards. Use both of them in whichever order you prefer.
· When it is your turn, draw two cards. Your opponent decides which of the two cards you must use.
· Start with an extra card in your hand. When it is your turn, draw one card. Play one of the two you have now, and keep the other for possible use in future turns. Etc.
You can also make Chutes & Ladders skilful.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

My throat hurts!

I have a cold with a throat-scraping cough. To avoid coughing, I’m careful not to speak at all. Instead I’m carrying index cards at work with things written on them. These captions will handle almost anything:
· Laryngitis
· Yes
· No
· Maybe
· I’ll Email you
· This too shall pass.
But to avoid coughing I also have to be careful not to tilt my head down. I’m moving about with ramrod posture and trying not to be curious about anything low in my line of vision.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Arnold Denker Died.

Arnold Denker died on Sunday, January 2, 2005, age 90. That means you can read his obit in the New York Times for a short time if you register there. Denker was a fine American chess player. He was also an elegant, friendly gentleman, which is unusual among tournament players. The obit skips over the years 1956-1970 (Denker had retired in the late 40’s) so I will fill you in a little.
In 1956 I was playing as much chess as I could and looking for strong opponents. My parents found a suitable teenage opponent for me named Alex, and sent me to the local VFW, which had a chess club on Tuesday nights. I haunted the place and soon dragged Alex there. Then Alex got a friend of his, Richard, to join us at the VFW. Soon Richard was reporting that he had a neighbor who ought to be coming too. We urged Richard to urge his neighbor, and a very rusty Arnold Denker started showing up at the club.
The rest, as they say, is history.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


Every time my wife and I run into stupid computer problems, time-wasters and roadblocks, my wife holds me responsible. She holds me responsible for every ill of the computer industry, from spam and spyware to bloated code, lousy GUIs, bad display fonts and hard-to-install networks.
And let’s face it: SHE’S RIGHT! I’ve been in the computer industry so long that I once programmed a mainframe with vacuum tubes for memory. I’ve been in the thick of many software developments. I’ve had all the time in the world to shape this industry into something better. Instead I’ve expressed boundless, unfounded optimism, saying how wonderful computers would be as they became mainstream.
There, I feel a little better now. But not much. Hand me that dead disk drive, will you?

Monday, January 03, 2005

A close call:

We feed the parking meters in our town with Smart Cards. When we park, we charge the car for the maximum time we might need. Upon our return, we insert the card to get a refund for unused time. The parking meters stand in pairs, for each two spaces. If only I did not have a tendency to put my Smart Card in the wrong meter!
I returned this morning to find a meter patrolman eying my car. “Look,” I said to him, “You’re about to give me a ticket because I fed the wrong meter. I’ve got 43 minutes coming to me in the empty space behind my car.”
“Well then,” he said, “Backup!” And he drove away.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Really, I wasn’t expecting to be asked…

My father attended many parties in his teens at which guests were expected to play music for the pleasure of the other guests. During the late 1920’s and early ‘30’s, he said there was a strict protocol for how this worked. Here’s a typical example:
“Diana, we’d like you to play some music for us.”
“What a surprise, I didn’t expect to be asked, I’m not prepared to play!”
“Please, Diana, we’d really like to hear you.”
(After several more exchanges like this, Diana finally says:)
“Well, alright, I’ll be glad to try.”
At this point, Diana’s harp, which was delivered by truck several hours before, is wheeled into the salon. Diana sits down and – quel surprise – is definitely ready to play.