Friday, December 31, 2010

Fore! (Look out!)

I’m sorry I can’t give you an exact reference, but a judge recently ruled in a case where a golfer made a wildly errant shot that seriously injured another golfer. The victim wanted damages because the golfer failed to yell “Fore” before hitting his ball. The judge ruled that the ancient “Fore” rule of golf is reasonable: that you yell “Fore” only if there are people ahead of you, where you intend to hit the ball. There’s no need to yell “Fore” if someone, far to the side, might be hit befause your shot goes completely awry.

Now you may feel that the judge was wrong. But please, imagine what it would mean if the judge had ruled otherwise. Suppose you are on a golf course, near the green at, say, the tenth hole. According to the judge, if you hear “Fore,” then you should look back at the tee of the tenth hole, to see if a ball will be struck toward you. But if the judge had ruled otherwise, where would you look? That “Fore” could mean the ball will fly at you from anywhere. You could be eating a ball before you had begun to gaze at all the directions the ball might originate from. The judge was right.

Disclosure: this writer once took a mighty swing at a golf ball – without saying “Fore” – and somehow made the ball fly directly backward, 180 degrees from its intended direction. No one was injured, thank goodness.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

About my Toe:

This blog entry might be NSFS (Not Safe for Stomachs), but a question is bothering me, and I want to get it off my (figuratively speaking) chest: it’s about my left big toe.

This appendage seems to have a permanently ingrowing toenail. Every few months it begins to hurt, and then I take it to my favorite podiatrist. He digs out the offending bit of nail, and I feel a lot better.

Podiatrists are in great demand in my part of the USA, so I have to plan ahead. After I see him, I make my best guess when my toe will hurt again, and I make an appointment.

Thus it was that, four weeks ago when my toe began to hurt, especially when I STUBBED it, that I congratulated myself for making a December 28 appointment. I would just “tough it out” for four weeks.

Or should I?

I began to wonder whether it would be better to see my podiatrist ASAP. After all, what was that toenail going to do for four weeks: grow in there, worse and worse, right?

I toughed it out.

Did you notice the date? That’s right, post-blizzard. My podiatrist’s office canceled all appointments, because they could not get their parking lot plowed. I was pitifully appreciative when the office called to give me an appointment today. And when I saw my podiatrist, I discussed my question with him. (I really like my podiatrist. He seems competent, and he’s also clever, with a good sense of humor.)

After considering the matter carefully, he decided that I had done right. Better to wait for the scheduled appointment than try to come in sooner. (If you’re curious, I can’t really get an ‘emergency’ appointment for an ingrown toenail. What I have to do is beg them to call me when they get a cancellation, since I live nearby and can show up quickly; and that does work.)

Anyway, after he yanked the offending bit of toenail out, held it up in his cutting shears, said “Got it,” and waited for me to stop howling, I made up my mind: next time, I’m going to see him ASAP.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Playlist for Dec. 28, 2010 at 6 a.m., Music on WPRB princeton, 103.3 fm (streaming around the world):

Playlist for Dec. 28, 2010 at 6 a.m., Music on WPRB princeton, 103.3 fm (streaming around the world):
This is the third Classical playlist I'm posting in my blog. The first one (with an explanation) is here. The others are:

December 21, 2010.

The actual list will get filled in as I broadcast, Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. to 8:30.
Playlist for Tobias on WPRB, 103.3 FM and WPRB.COM, for Dec 28, 2010
Composer TitleOrchestraConductorSoloistsAlbum IDStarting time
Mahler, GustavSymphony #3Vienna Philharmonic; Vienna boyschoir; Concert Chorus of the Vienna State OperaAbbado, ClaudioJessye Norman (sopr), Gerhart Hetzel (vln), Adolf Holler (Posthorn)DG 410 715Started about 6:03 a.m. EST
Ligeti, GyörgySix Bagatelles for Wind QuintetThe Prairie WindsN/an/aTROY11937:46
Schumann, RobertCarnaval, op. 9n/an/aPierre-Laurent Aimard (pno)Warner 634268:00

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Relative Value of Pie:

On my business trips to Virginia, I have seen evidence that, as one goes south, one finds more interest in pies. Convenience stores stock more cream pies, moon pies, and gobblers (which seem to be very simple, very high calorie pie-cookies). On my most recent trip, I found new evidence in Virginia: Cream Pies that reference treats well known to us Northerners: the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Pie, and similarly packaged pies named for Oreos and Snickers. The Reese’s pie has a cream pie texture and a Reese’s taste. It is made by a company called Schwan that licenses the name (and, I guess, the taste) of Reese. These are packaged slices, about 1/8 of a small round pie, 2.5 oz, and they are a refrigerated product. Has anyone seen them in the Northern states?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Playlist for Dec. 21, 2010 at 6 a.m., Music on WPRB princeton, 103.3 fm (streaming around the world):

This is the second Classical playlist I'm posting in my blog. The first one (with an explanation) is here.

The actual list will get filled in as I broadcast, Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. to 8:30.

Playlist for Tobias on WPRB, 103.3 FM and WPRB.COM, for Dec 21, 2010
Composer TitleOrchestraConductorSoloistsAlbum IDStarting time
Lutoslawski, WitoldPiano ConcertoSymphonieorchester des Bayerischen RundfunksFranz Welser-MostLeif Ove Andsnes (pno)EMI 641826:02 a.m.
Brahms, JohannesPrelude and fugue in a; in gn/an/aHaig Mardirosian (org)Centaur CRC 29966:28
Carter, ElliotSonata for Cello and Piano (1948)n/an/aRobert Burkhart (vc), Blair McMillen (pno)Centaur CRC 30046:43
Bob & RayVolume 3, cd #1, track 18n/an/aBob Elliot and Ray Goulding (spoken)RACD 5013 7:08
Respighi, OttorinoPini Di RomaSan Francisco Symphony OrchestraEdi De Waartn/aPhilips 411 4197:13
Bob & RayVolume 3, cd #1, track 20n/an/aBob Elliot and Ray Goulding (spoken)RACD 5013 7:35
Bach, Wilhelm FriedemannFantasia in cn/an/aPedja Muzijevic (pno)TROY10397:40
Cage, JohnSonatas XIV and XV 'Gemini'n/an/aPedja Muzijevic (pno)TROY10397:55
Webern, AntonFive Movements for String QuartetQuatuor Parisiin/atbdAccord [201642]8:03
Chopin, FrédéricPerludes, Op. 28 ##16-24n/an/aLincoln Mayorga (pno)Sheffield SLS-5058:15
Milhaud, DariusCello Concerto #1, Op. 136Philharmonia OrchestraWalter SusskindJanos Starker (vc)EMI 687458:30

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Playlist for Dec. 14, 2010 at 6 a.m., Music on WPRB princeton, 103.3 fm (streaming around the world):

As some of you know, I host a radio program of (mostly) classical music on WPRB, most Tuesday mornings, at the ungodly hour of 6:00 a.m. (to 8:30). We DJs post playlists of the music we play at WPRB's website. Currently, we are having a minor problem that prevents us from posting our playlists in the usual place. I'm going to post them here instead, for a while. Please note that you can hear WPRB broadcasting live on your computer. Go to WPRB.COM and click on 'Listen Now' (in red, on the column at the left. WPRB broadcasts different kinds of music throughout the day; consult the online schedule for details.

Playlist for Tobias on WPRB, 103.3 FM and WPRB.COM, for Dec 14, 2010
Composer TitleOrchestraConductorSoloistsAlbum IDStarting time
Harbison, John Montale Sketches n/an/aJudith Gordon (pno)TROY 9976:03 a.m. EST
Beethoven, Ludwig / LisztNinth Symphony, 2nd mvtn/an/aThe brothers KimCentaur 29586:15
Bob & RayVolume 3, cd #1, track 12n/an/aBob Elliot and Ray Goulding (spoken)RACD 5013 6:25
Berlioz, Hector / Liszt Symphonie Fantastique, 4th mvt n/an/aTodd Crow (pno)Musicians Showcase MS 1058 6:31
Bob & RayVolume 3, cd #1, track 14n/an/aBob Elliot and Ray Goulding (spoken)RACD 5013 6:40
Liszt, Franz L'Idee Fixen/an/aTodd Crow (pno)Musicians Showcase MS 1058 6:44
Gershwin, GeorgeCuban OvertureRoyal Philharmonic OrchestraSimon Leen/aRPOSP0126:51
Bob & RayVolume 3, cd #4, track 6 Wally Ballou: bird factoryn/an/aBob Elliot and Ray Goulding (spoken)RACD 5013 7:03
Mahler, Gustav TotenfeierFrankfurt radio symphony orchestraPaavo Järvin/aVirgin 2165762 7:06
Cage, John Sonata I n/an/aPedja Muzijevic (pno)TROY10397:37
Scarlatti, DomenicoSonata K.17 n/an/aPedja Muzijevic (pno)TROY10397:39
Cage, JohnSonata IV n/an/aPedja Muzijevic (pno)TROY10397:44
Liszt, FranzSchlaflos! Frage und Antwortn/an/aPedja Muzijevic (pno)TROY10397:46
Cage, JohnSonata II (two)n/an/aPedja Muzijevic (pno)TROY10397:48
Bob & RayVolume 3, cd #1, track 16n/an/aBob Elliot and Ray Goulding (spoken)RACD 5013 7:54
Strauss, Johann Jr.Tritsch-Tratsch Polka NBC Symphony Orchestra Arturo Toscaninin/aRCA 603087:57
Brahms, JohannesClarinet sonata #1 in fPierce-Aomori Duo n/aHideaki aomori (cl), Joshua Pierce (pno)MSR MS 13228:03
Schubert, Franz Lied: Auf der Bruck, D. 853n/an/aPeter Schreier (ten), Graham Hohnson (pno) hyp cdj330188:25

Buy the Aeropress and save hundreds (thousands?) of dollars:

The Aerobie Aeropress makes an excellent cup of coffee. It has been compared favorably to an espresso-maker that costs $8,000. I appreciate good coffee. I had an espresso-maker that cost nearly $300 (possibly the best espresso-maker that, at under ten pounds, I can easily carry), and I was thinking, wistfully, about buying a more expensive one. But I will be happy with my $30 Aeropress. What a money-saver!

If you search for this product on the web, you will see people lauding it to the skies. But take a caveat: people who say it makes great espresso ought to warn you that the Aeropress makes no “crema,” the special light brown froth that fine espresso-makers generate on top of the coffee. (Espresso “fans” who fail to mention the crema issue sound like amateurs to me.) A taste of Aeropress espresso may convince you that you can live without crema. Frankly, I’m going to miss it, but the taste of the coffee is still what counts.

Before lauding this product to the skies, I’ll mention two other issues: It’s a challenge to make a single-shot espresso with the Aeropress. A fancy espresso machine might do that better. Also, the Aeropress seems to be an espresso-maker, not a coffee-maker. The instructions tell you to add hot water if you want a full cup, the so-called “American cup”of coffee. I’m making excellent espresso, but I haven’t learned how to make really good “American” yet. (Much of the problem is that I rarely try; I just drink another espresso!)

When you try to make a single shot of espresso in the Aeropress, you will face a funny problem. Just follow the instructions, and you will wind up with a mug containing an ounce or so of coffee. Are you going to drink a shot of espresso out of a mug? No. Are you going to pour it into an espresso cup, leaving a few precious coffee drops behind, and greatly lowering the drinking temperature? No. Well, you can follow the instructions I gave (just below) in this blog, for preparing your Aeropress espresso directly in an espresso cup, by using the Aeropress funnel. No, that’s too dangerous. Take your choice.

Obviously, the single-shot issue does not apply if you’re making multiple shots, a latte, a capuchino, etc., etc. (Note that you can make a quadruple-shot and add water, to have the equivalent of four traditional cups of coffee, prepared in no time.) Fancy espresso-makers can froth milk for you, but there’s a $15 thingy that can do the same trick, once you heat the milk. Now let’s mention a few more wonderful things about the Aeropress:

It’s easy to clean. No other coffee-maker is easy to clean! With all the others, from time to time you have to do serious scrubbing, or even replace parts, to get your maker clean again. With the Aeropress, you briefly rinse one part, and you’re done. (Optionally, you can rinse the inexpensive filter to re-use it.) The easy cleaning ought to sway millions of coffee drinkers, even if the Aeropress was a weak sister coffee-maker, but it’s not.

I’m comparing the Aeropress to both my French Press (Aeropress is much tastier) and my espresso-maker (Aeropress is better, except for the lack of crema). So far, I have tested with really excellent coffee beans from Terroir. In a few months, I’ll be experimenting with cheap coffee, to see how that goes.

The Aeropress makes coffee very quickly. Most coffee-makers enforce a “reflection/expectation” phase, when you can smell the coffee and you’re waiting to be able to drink it. With the Aeropress, once your water is at the right temperature, you work quickly and in thirty seconds, you can start to drink.

The Aeropress makes fine-tasting coffee. The quick brewing time means less acid, and a smoother taste.

A note about water temperature: you’re probably going to want a thermometer so that you can experiment, and consistently get the temperature you want. If you decide you want higher temperatures (around 195F), then a cheap candy thermometer will be fine. To get the lower temperatures (down to 165F), you may prefer an “instant” thermometer that gives you a readout in a second. You can alternatively buy a $50 water pot (intended primarily for tea) that will heat water to any selected temperature. Hey, you can afford it, since you didn’t buy that $500 espresso-maker!

Using the Aeropress is very easy, but if you’re like me, be prepared to screw up before it all becomes a smooth habit. Here’s my most embarrassing brew: I got the water to about 185 degrees; I poured it into the Aeropress and stirred for ten seconds; I pressed down and gently pushed the water through the filter into my cup. That’s when I realized I had put no coffee grounds in the Aeropress. (I felt really stupid about the ten seconds of stirring)

There’s one more important thing to say about the Aeropress. Depending upon your own natural mind-set this is either a blessing or a curse: you have many degrees of freedom to control, to produce the cup of coffee you like best. Many expensive coffeemakers will not give you this much control. Here are your degrees of freedom:
  1. Decide how much to grind the beans. (You can grind store-bought grounds as well, to make them finer.)
  2. Choose your water Temperature. People recommend anywhere from 165 to 195 F. What’s right for you?
  3. Control the filter. It can be new, carefully cleaned, or lightly cleaned. (Most coffee-makers retain coffee stains from previous uses. You can try to mimic this “carry-over” by reusing a dirty filter.)
  4. Decide how fast to push the water through the grounds.
  5. Decide how much water to push through the grounds. E.g., to make a single-shot, you might fill to just below the “1” or just above it.
  6. Choose your type of coffee.
  7. Decide how long to stir: the instructions suggest ten seconds, but you can do more or less, stirring vigorously or gently. Stirring has an affect on the water temperature.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Re: The ‘Funnel’ that comes with the Aeropress Coffeemaker

I intend to give my own (highly positive) review of the Aeropress Coffeemaker, but today I wish to talk about the ‘funnel’ that comes with it. Before buying the Aeropress, I studied the Web to learn all about it, and I noticed that hardly anyone seemed to know what the funnel is for.

I’m going to tell you.

It’s noteworthy that the instructions that come with the Aeropress do not mention the funnel. The instructions, and the accompanying pictures, tell you to place the Aeropress over a sturdy mug. (You will press down pretty hard on that mug when you brew the coffee.)

When I explain what the funnel is for, do not try to use it! (The comedian, Rita Rudner, has it exactly right when she says: Men will cook, if there’s danger involved.)

Well, there IS danger involved, so please regard my insight as an entirely theoretical matter.

The funnel is exactly the right size to fit into an Espresso cup. If you want to make a single shot of Espresso with your Aeropress, use a li’l cup instead of a mug. Place the funnel in the cup, and place the Aeropress on top of the funnel. It all fits perfectly for this purpose. Then, be very, very, very careful when you press down on your assembly of non-interlocking parts to brew the coffee.

I calculate that – using the funnel – your chance of spilling hot water all over yourself increases by at least 100%. That’s why the Aeropress instructions do not mention the funnel. We’re on our own, and that’s the way I like it.

Near Misses:

People often find the phrase ‘near miss’ confusing, because it seems to describe a situation that was a hit – nearly a miss. In fact, the phrase refers to misses that are almost hits. I was reminded of a few of these this morning.

Years ago, I wanted to enter an intersection with a right turn. A car was inching across the intersection on my left. When the guy waved vigorously at me to proceed, I drove in at the same time that that car surged forward. We slammed on our brakes for a near miss. At once, I made a resolution: only the driver of a car can wave me to go ahead; not, as in this case, the damn passenger.

A few years later I came to a stop at the intersection nearest our home. It was 2:50 pm, a time when little kiddies flood the streets. A policeman guarded this intersection, and he waved me across. I refused to move, and he screwed his face up in anger, waving me to go ahead, or else! I shook my head ‘no’ and pointed. After he looked back and saw the ambulance crossing behind him with its lights flashing, he gave me a sheepish “all right.”

Which brings us to this morning.

The garbage truck was on our block in the middle of the road. One guy was at the verge on my left, next to the truck, looking at a big garbage can. The other guy stood behind the truck and waved me ahead. There was room to pass the truck on its left if I drove carefully, so I did, smashing down on the brakes when the first guy grabbed the can and stepped in front of me. You could tell by the look he gave me that he had no idea his “pal” had waved me on.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's the essence of the Twenty-First Century?

Imagine being alive in 1910 and trying to predict the essence of the 20th century. Airplanes are a joke. The car has hardly come into its own. Nuclear Fission is unknown, and so is Albert Einstein. There is no such thing as a computer or an information network. Trying to nail the essence of the 20th century in 1910 would be chutzpah.

But ... ... I'm going to take my shot at the 21st century. I favor two possibilities:

The Thirst Century: This is the century in which large segments of civilization will run out of usable water. Concern over water will override everything else, causing wars, mass deaths, and driving whatever politics survives. I'm talking both drinking water and water for agriculture. If by any chance I'm wrong about water, then we will have:

The Information Century: This is the century in which we will drown in information. There will be too much to evaluate, but long before that, there will be:
  • Far too much false information clogging up the information pathways, and:
  • Far too much that we can learn about individuals, and:
  • Far too much that groups can learn about themselves.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Do it yourself?

We have a very nice lamp that illuminates a 50/100/150 Watt bulb. (We use the eco-friendly equivalent.) Recently the bulb blew, so I put another bulb in, and it immediately blew out, with a buzzing sound. “That’s funny,” I said, and I put another bulb in. It blew the same way.
“The wiring must be messed up,” I thought. Before taking the lamp to a professional for rewiring, I thought I would take a look myself. I’ve rewired lamps before. But I was unable to unscrew the bolt at the lamp’s bottom, that holds the innards together. I figured that rather than use a lot of force and maybe break the lamp, I would let my professional take care of it.

When I handed the lamp over, I explained how the bulbs had blown.

The guy nodded sagely. “It’s usually the lamp socket,” he said.

Gee. I wouldn’t have thought of looking to see if the socket was okay. Better leave it to the pro.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I know it's difficult to catch a football in the rain, but still ...

This Monday morning, the Jets coach is going to dig a hole and ... bury his receivers in it.

Laryngitis at a Wedding:

I'm planning to attend a wonderful wedding today, even though I have laryngitis. I will have to resist the desire to talk and wreck my throat. I've blogged before about how I handle laryngitis. I carry a few index cards that have everything I might need to say written on them. It's amazing how few cards will get you through hours of social interaction. Since this is the first wedding I've attended with laryngitis, I will need one new card:

What a wonderful wedding!

That card will replace one of my standard cards, which would not be appropriate today:

This too shall pass.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sinus Infection, and Relief!

I am recovering from an awful sinus infection. Also, I am one of the unlucky people who have narrow nasal passages. My infected sinuses press against my brain, and somehow, any task I wish to do becomes much more difficult. It’s a lot like trying to perform physical tasks while carrying an extra eighty pound weight.

My nostrils clog up, of course, and on the worst night, I lay in bed unable to sleep, listening to myself trying to breathe. In desperation I thought of a remedy: BreathRight (see the picture). Years ago I used these strips regularly. They paste onto your nose, and built-in plastic springs lift part of your nose, wonderfully improving your ability to breathe. I was pretty sure they were in a travel-bag in the attic, but my sinus-laden brain was not up to finding them. I remembered a nearby drawer that might just have a few. I dragged my sick body out of bed, took a look, and yes, there they were. What a difference the BreathRight made. Blessed relief.

I definitely recommend them.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

HTML has failed me now:

Have you noticed how food products are decorated - in English - with diacritical marks to make them sell better? Häagen Dazs, Freshëns, you know what I mean. I got to thinking that it was time for the food industry to move to the next level: umlauts, accents, and cedlla marks on consonants. Now as a practiced creator of whimsy, I understood that writing up my idea was a two-step process, as follows:
  • Figure out how to put diacritical marks on consonants in web-page HTML
  • Think up some doozies.

    What stopped me was step one, and the reason is that character sets have evolved out of an ancient muck. HTML supports thousands of real, true letters, punctuation and numeric characters. In the old days, to make a diacritical mark, we had to tell a computer to display one symbol, to backspace, and to overlay another symbol. I could use that old system to put, say, an umlaut on an 'm', which I think would really sell. The current HTML character sets don't deal kindly with made-up characters.

    Well, there's still a way, but I really don't care to spend my time on it. I could design my own font, in which, say, 'm' looked like m-plus-umlaut (etc.), and then display text for my blog item in my own designed font. But this is whimsy we're talking about! It's not worth the effort.

    Suggestions, anyone?
  • Friday, December 03, 2010

    A Programmer’s View of the Limping Euro:

    When people argue against Daylight Savings Time, they rarely consider the incredible number of computer programs, operating systems and intelligent products that will be wrong if any time change is instituted. Revising the calendar (as many have proposed), so that every year would use exactly the same universal calendar, would require revisions to a ton of date-savvy computer programs, to make them calculate dates correctly. Now what will happen in the banking industry if some European countries, that are desperately hurting, go off the Euro?

    In 1998 I studied the software systems that banks and financial institutions used for their rich customers. At that time, the Euro was coming in like an express train, and most of these companies were preparing to support it. The transition to the Euro posed special problems, such as the need to state customer wealth in multiple currency bases, and the simple fact that the Euro was not linked to a single country.

    I talked to one owner of a Swiss Bank who told me frankly that the Euro was years away. He saw no point in preparing his bank, or his software, to support it. I suspect his bank suffered greatly when the Euro arrived on schedule. The point is, banking software has to be prepared in advance to avoid hiccups if one or more countries go off the Euro. And unlike the process of shifting to the Euro, which was documented and specified years in advance, there’s no official planning going on. Many programmers may be facing a lot of 24-hour shifts in the near future!

    Here’s a trivial example of what I’m talking about. In 1986, Israel brought out the New Shekel, worth 1,000 of the old Shekel. Everyone knew that Israel was going to replace the old Shekel with a more useful unit of money, but it was a closely guarded secret whether the exchange would be 100 to 1 or 1,000 to 1. After the new coin was announced, I talked to an Israeli Cobol programmer who had been revising his banking software to work with the New Shekel. In Cobol, you lay out the way a report will look by providing coded “pictures” of the dollar-and-cents fields. The appropriate numbers of decimal places that these fields needed would differ, depending on the New Shekel’s value. This programmer was gleeful, because he had laid out all his money “pictures” assuming the 1,000 to 1 conversion. If he had guessed wrong, he would have had to comb through his code to make many manual changes. And that’s a very small concern compared to an actual currency change.

    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    Internet Anonymity and Dead Pedestrians:

    In a brief and succint Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Julie Zhuo describes the horrors that trolls commit on the internet, and implores us to get rid of them all by stripping away their anonymity. But anonymity on the Internet is also the refuge of whistle blowers and rebels who would overthrow tyranny. I think there’s an uneasy tolerance for anonymous Internet activity, because we know that these same forums can be utilized to our great benefit.

    Before we throw this baby out, we should look at an illustrative case, where we have also decided to accept terrible wrongs that come along with great benefits. How many tens of thousands of people die each year, pedestrians included, just because we refuse to take away everybody’s automobiles?

    By the way: Hey, trolls? get a life.

    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    Exxon Office System Shrinks, Part IV:

    {I began this story here, about the two biggest divisions of Exxon Office Systems.}

    Well, you’ve now heard the high point of my story. This final part is about some of the fallout. My Princeton site had generally dealt with Vydec regarding our hardware needs. Now we had to deal with Lionville (that’s where Qwix was). The contents of the Vydec building had been packed into 51 trucking containers of prototypes and paper, and it took Lionville a year to unpack and catalog the stuff. They weren’t delaying or anything, they just had to fit the unpacking into their already overbusy jobs. For a long time, Lionville people could not find any hardware plans we needed. When at last they could, we had to jump through hoops to follow the operations document that spelled out what every Qwix employee could or could not do. That was really hard, because this operations document was not written down. I learned of it in bits and pieces, as Qwix employees explained why they did not get back to me to say why they had broken a commitment without telling me. I was reminded again and again of Big Julie, a character from Damon Runyan’s New York demi-world, who plays Craps with his own personal, worn-out dice. The spots have been worn off these dice, but Big Julie remembers where they formerly were.

    And there was Gary, a Vydec employee who committed to making the transfer to Philly, even though his friends were certain he would never move south. Gary was deep in many projects. Somehow he kept his office in the old Vydec building until a new tenant moved in, and then he kept a temporary Jersey office. Eighteen months after Vydec was closed, his new bosses told him he had to relocate, so he resigned.

    With Vydec closed, Lionville was no closer to headquarters in Stamford, and headquarters became more powerful, with marketing consolidating there. Qwix managers still had to make those ten hour round trips to Stamford for meetings.

    The Qwix building developed its own defense against the rest of the company, a defense I still find utterly fascinating. From time to time, we needed copies of hardware documentation. Any piece of paper that left the Lionville building was stamped “Preliminary.” This might be a document describing the current Qwix typewriter that had sold hundreds of units; the document might bear the approval signatures of every vice president and director; it was still “preliminary” if it left the building. No commitments, no promises!

    Saturday, November 27, 2010

    Clarence Childs and Slow Motion replay:

    I'm pretty sure this football play happened in 1964. Clarence Childs was a new running back for the Giants. He was occasionally explosive, and often unpredictable. But that’s not important now. The TV networks had a new tool to ramp up the excitement of football games: Slow Motion Replay. And I’m going to tell you about one of the first times it was used in a New York Giants game.

    Childs took the handoff and went straight forward, gaining five yards up the middle. The announcer, to whom this replay technology was a new thing, explained that we were going to take a closer look at the play, to see how Childs gained those five yards. The slow-mo commenced, and here’s what we saw:

    The quarterback handed the ball to Childs, but he failed to hold it. It slipped down, but Child’s knee came up and hit the ball back up through his hands. He couldn’t hold it, and the ball continued up until it hit his chin. It bounced back through his hands and hit a driving knee again. This time, Childs got a firm grip on the ball, just in time to be tackled. All through this pantomime, Childs kept his head down, eye on the ball, obviously thinking of nothing but how to grab it.

    After the playback, the announcer said, “Sometimes, it’s not such a good idea to take a close look at these plays.”

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    Exxon Office System Shrinks, Part III:

    {I began this story here, about the two biggest divisions of Exxon Office Systems.}

    Eventually, Exxon management told EOS that it must consolidate. EOS set up a committee to decide how to do this, and it took them only a month or two to make their decision. The decision was widely leaked, and almost everyone was excited by it: the Qwix building would be closed.

    Vydec people were jubilant. This was the end of their battle for dominance over the Qwix people. Whoever was willing to take the transfer from there to Vydec was going to eat a lot of dirt, assigned to jobs as low in the ladder as their expertise would allow. Qwix people were equally excited. Mostly, they planned to resign and take the handsome package that would be offered to resignees. Many Qwix people expected - at last - to be able to buy a house.

    The EOS committee placed their case before an Exxon board. The meeting was brief. They explained the big advantages of closing Qwix. An Exxon manager asked, Do you own these buildings, or rent them? EOS explained that they rented where Vydec worked. They owned the Qwix building. The next question was, Do you have a buyer for the Qwix building? No, but EOS was sure they could sell it soon.

    The Exxon board made their decision: Since EOS owned the Qwix building, it would close Vydec. Nothing else mattered.

    Employees were stunned. Qwix people saw their ‘Get out of Jail’ card fluttering away. Vydex people saw their empire crumbling, and few of them wanted to move to farmland south of Philadelphia. The Vydec people joked about the bonus package they would get for relocating: first of all, everybody gets a cow. Second, it’s understood that some people want to relocate, but their spouses do not; the spouses who are willing to move will be placed in a pool, and redistributed among the employees who relocate. Bitter, bitter, bitter.

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    Mounds and Mounds of paper, in the paperless office:

    Below, in part I of my story about Exxon Office System Shrinks, jgfellow commented on his own efforts to reduce paper use. He reminded me of one of the great ironies we faced at Exxon, in our small startup: Our efforts to produce a paperless office produced mounds and mounds of computer listings and drafts of documents. I developed a healthy respect for paper - a truly wonderful storage medium - in 1978 and following years.

    I will soon post part III of the 'shrinks' story.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Exxon Office System Shrinks, Part II:

    {I began this story yesterday, about the two biggest divisions of Exxon Office Systems.}

    Vydec and Qwix were singularly ill-equipped to run, or be a major part of, a 1980’s office systems company. Vydec’s great success was a hard-wired word processor machine. Costing $14,000, it had an incredibly clear screen. It stored documents on floppies, and had a decent word processing program. And again, although it’s hard to believe this: it was entirely hard-wired. There was no CPU in the base product, and no software in it. People loved to use a Vydec, if they could afford it; until they could buy a PC for $3,000 and a word processor for $300 to replace it.

    Vydec’s managers saw that the future of word processing belonged to computer software. Since they were all hardware people, they did a terrible job of building a software division to stay on top of their market.

    Qwix made intelligent typewriters that cost (I think) around $3,000. The typewriters had a 40 character display, and incredible firmware within. The Qwix division made analyses of productivity and determined that a secretary who switched from a manual typewriter to a Qwix lost productivity for – on average – eight months, while she or he got the hang of all the keyboard commands necessary to operate it efficiently. After that, productivity loss continued in an entirely different way: managers learned how cheap it was to request minor document changes, since the typed pages were stored in the Qwix. Secretaries spent more and more time revising documents instead of catching up on their workload. Many Qwix’s were sold, and I pity the companies who relied on them.

    EOS sold its products for more than the leveraged manufacturing cost. As they liked to say, they lost money on units, but made it up in quantity. Eventually, business was so bad that the sales people were paid a living salary. You want sales people to live off commissions, as an incentive to make sales. EOS’s sales people couldn’t make that living. Instead, some of them were incentivised to – get this – draw a salary from EOS while surreptitiously making commissions for selling some other company’s products.

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Exxon Office System Shrinks, Part I:

    I have not yet blogged about one of the most fascinating chapters in the miserable history of Exxon Office Systems. This is a long story, so I will break it into short chapters. It’s the story of how, as some of the employees put it, everyone at Vydec was entitled to a cow.

    In the1970’s, Exxon asked itself what it would do when the world ran out of oil. They found one business where profits were higher than oil profits – computers – and decided to get their toes wet. Eventually, Exxon started 21 ventures in many aspects of computer operations. Most of these were miserable failures. That’s a compliment, because it suggests that Exxon had the nerve to take forward-looking risks. Around 1980, Exxon consolidated its best ventures into Exxon Office Systems. EOS’s evident goal was to be so successful at selling office computer equipment that it would overwhelm Xerox. (I’m not making that up. EOS fixed its goal on Xerox while ignoring the PC word-processing tidal wave that would utterly destroy their business models.)

    Two of the consolidated ventures were big, with over a thousand employees: Vydec, and Qwix. I had a great front row seat to follow, and be buffeted by, the machinations of EOS, as an employee of one of the three little ventures that were included in the new company. (I was in Princeton-based XONEX, a venture to develop the paperless office, using optical disks as storage in 1980. Ha.)

    Vydec and Qwix vied for domination of EOS, and Vydec won. They controlled marketing and planning. Both they and Qwix could manufacture hardware. The Vydec site also developed software, although the software was never very good.

    The physical layout of EOS was weird, because hardly anyone was required to move when it was created. Headquarters were in Stamford, right across the road from Xerox’s biggest Eastern office. Vydec was in North Jersey. Qwix worked out of a gigantic building south of Philly, in a rather bucolic area. The smaller pieces of EOS were in San Francisco, Princeton, Miami and Connecticut. When major managers were summoned to meetings at headquarters, the Qwix people might spend ten hours in a car, round-trip.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Shelby Lyman's chess column, for the last time:

    There have been several recent mistakes in Shelby Lyman's chess columns. Pointing them out is like beating a dead barrel, or shooting fish in a stallion. After this blog entry, I give up.

    I'm going to continue to read his column. The puzzles are fun and often quite challenging for me. I just wish he would proofread more carefully, and issue corrections for mistakes.

    Our Sunday paper carries his whole column-cum-problem, and on November 7, 2010, the problem diagram had this caption: WHITE WINS THE KNIGHT. the solution was 1.Nb6 (although no white piece can move to B6) followed by 2. Ba5 (although no white piece can move to A5). Obviously, the diagram and the text did not match. But there's more! The Sunday column always features an entire game, plus a diagram that corresponds to a position near the end of the game (clever, clever, the text never says WHICH move the diagram corresponds to). That day's game was Onischuk versus Volotkin, but the diagram was labeled Aronian versus Zong-Yuan, and the position in the diagram could not occur in the given game. (The Zong-Yuan game appeared the following Sunday, without apology of course.) The producer of this chess column did not do a sanity check on the way out. But there's more!

    In one puzzle this week, the challenge was for black to win material. The proposed solution was a two queen-move combination that wins a rook. But black is in check in the diagram. Black has only two legal moves: a king move, and a move to throw away the queen. (A black pawn was evidently omitted from this problem by mistake.) The producer of this chess column did not do a sanity check on it. But there's more!

    The November 4 column had an interesting mistake. Please consult the diagram above. White is to play, and the column's solution is 1. Ra2. This move pins black's bishop against the rook, allowing white to bring his bishop over and doubly attack black's bishop, winning it. Black cannot break the pin. Or can he? Lyman does not mention: 1. ... g5!
    Now, white's bishop no longer prevents ...Rd2. Black threatens to play 2. ...Rd2 and 3. ...Bc3, breaking the pin, because black's bishop will protect black's rook. White has an answer, but it's not nearly as good as winning a bishop: 1. Ra2, g5. 2. h4, Rd2. 3. hxg5, Bc3. Alternatively, white can try to bring his king over to attack black's rook, but that allows black to check with the rook (on the sixth or eighth row), and then move the black bishop out of trouble. This problem just doesn't work, I think. Maybe white should grab the pawn with 1. Rxb7.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    There's a Scam here Somewhere:

    Honestly, I'm not devious enough to work this one out. But there's a scam somewhere in the observation I'm about to make. (A highly illegal scam, I'm sure; please don't try it on your own.)

    I have been using dollar coins to buy stuff. Almost every cashier looks at these coins and asks, "What is this?"

    "Dollar coins," I reply.

    "Oh," they say, and they duly ring them up.

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    My Bucket Listen List:

    I've been wrestling with an enjoyable though mordant idea: What classical music would I like to listen to during a final illness? My provacative(??) choices are in yet another place, WPRB's Radio Station Blog for its listeners.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Ansel Adams or Not? Let's look at the art:

    Reythan Harmanci wrote a fascinating piece in the November 10, 2010 New York Times (Art Section) about the ongoing controversy over a set of photographs that a Rick Norsigian is trying to sell or license. These photos have been valued (overvalued, I'd say) at $200 million if they are the work of Ansel Adams. Adams' authorship of these photos is in dispute. (I won’t get into the details of the dispute here.) What's interesting for the moment, is that the article lets us compare an actual Adams photo to two similar ones, by another photographer, Arthur C. Pillsbury, and by either Adams or a certain Earl Brooks, a photo from the disputed Norsigian collection. (The photos are easier to compare in the actual paper edition of the Times. If you're following this story on an iPad, too bad for you.)

    Examine these three photos and look at the art. The Pillsbury and Norsigian photos concentrate on the brooding image of a windswept tree. The tree itself is darkened to grab all our attention. It is almost devoid of detail. Land is visible in these two pictures. The slope of the land adds nothing to the drama of the tree. If anything, the land detail in these two photos detracts from the more simplistic tree. (If you’re sympathetic, you might say ‘contrast’ rather than ‘detract’.

    In the Pillsbury picture, lots of clouds are visible. They do not echo or frame the shape of the tree. A curving line sweeps across the picture, created by the cloud-bottoms, adding disharmony.

    The Norsigian photo is also full of clouds. The white clouds add a happiness that contradicts the tree. Faint black shapes at the top of the picture include figures so regular, they seem out of place. (These shapes are much easier to see online, not in the paper.)

    Ansel Adams was an artist who created extraordinary art from landscape. A discerning eye and genius in the darkroom begins where the other two photos leave off, and soars into the realm of great art. There are almost no clouds in the Ansel photo. Probably there were clouds, but he blocked them out because they looked wrong. The remaining cloud highlights a sort of ‘offset’, a branch leaning the wrong way that cleverly sets off the tree, producing a cantilevered effect that is much more interesting than a ‘lean.’ Ansel’s tree is not darkened to the point where it carries the total impact of the photo. It has detail, detail echoed by groundshapes and shadows. A great artist, in my opinion, made only one of these photographs.

    Sunday, November 07, 2010

    The Illusion of Control:

    The Dvorak Blog has a nice piece (by Uncle Dave) on the technology that pacifies us by giving us the Illusion of control. The piece mentions 'close' buttons in elevators that usually do nothing; 'Walk buttons' for pedestrians at traffic lights (in Manhattan, apparently it is known that many of them intentionally do nothing); and thermostats placed in offices in commercial buildings that are connected to nothing. (The illusive thermostats prevent people from calling the heating company to complain about the temperature.)

    Someone commenting on this piece mentioned the buttons in electronic voting booths, suggesting that no matter which buttons you press, nothing seems to happen.

    I would like to take issue with the elevator 'close' button. It is true that if you press 'close' the moment the elevator doors open, your pressage usually has no effect. And I know we are all tempted to do that when the doors open at some floor where no one seems to be waiting. But try this: wait a little more than a second after the doors open, and then press close. Often, the doors will respond at once.

    Saturday, November 06, 2010

    Kinect (1):

    I suspect I will post about the new Microsoft Kinect several times, even though I doubt I will ever own one. For starters, here's a term for those of you who will feel that you're going to heaven and beyond with your new Kinect:


    And here's what many of you (often the same people, a few weeks later) will suffer from, when your Kinect gives you all manner of aches, pains, pulled muscles and collaterally damaged furniture:


    Thursday, November 04, 2010

    Making Progress with my SNEEZING:

    All my life, I've been prone to violent sneezes. Most of them occur when I go out in the sun. From what I've read, my nose nerves and eye nerves are too close together, so that bright light striking my face makes me sneeze.

    About ten years ago, I decided that I needed a serious strategy to deal with these sneezes. I was afraid I would injure something: pull a muscle or even crack a rib. I'm talking about strong sneezes. My solution at that time was to learn to relax my body when I felt a sneeze coming on. And that worked for me until recently.

    I'm older now, and last summer I decided I simply had to stop sneezing. Relaxing isn't enough anymore, the strongest sneezes scare me. But how to stop?

    I typically feel a sneeze coming a second or two before it happens. And I seem to be at a point of no return. And to make matters worse, I'm, well, kind of addicted to these sneezes. Avoiding them was going to be a life-changing matter.

    I started by trying to remember, every time I went out into the sun, that a sneeze might be coming. (When my daughter was very young, she used to remind me, hoping that I could head the sneeze off.) It was hell trying to remember, and sometimes the sneeze snuck up many minutes later, when I was unguarded.

    Meanwhile, I was struggling with the big question: once I feel a sneeze coming on, how do I stop it? Occasionally I got a chance to experiment, and I found a way. If I noticed the signs of a sneeze at the earliest possible moment, I could stop it by – I'm not making this up – scrunching my eyes tight shut, pinching my nose and wiggling it. Those strange motions, all related to my understanding that my nose and eye nerves are 'crossed', did the trick.

    Week after hopeless week went by while I rarely noticed the signs in time. But one day, I caught two sneezes and stopped them. Wanting to do better had begun to create positive results. By now, I notice almost all my sneezes in time to stop them, and I rarely sneeze. I hope my sinews and ribs are, at last, safe.

    Miserable Midterm:

    I think Carl Sandburg had something to say about the dismal politicking that led to this miserable election:
    When have people been half as rotten as
    what the
    panderers to the people dangle before the

    Monday, November 01, 2010

    None at All:

    In 1961 I played first bassoon in a pretty good amateur orchestra in Manhattan. The first clarinettist was a much older guy. I don't remember his name, but I shall do my best to make him memorable to you.

    The first clarinettist and first bassoonist usually sit side by side. Some clarinettists, mostly beginners, have an unpleasant edge in their clarinet sound that drives me crazy. It's obvious that this sound does not bother everyone. This clarinettist had that sound in his instrument, and although I liked him, his tone was often difficult to bear.

    I talked to my father about my friends in this orchestra. (Another friend was the violist who was horrified when I guessed that the name of his girlfriend was Beverly Milkman.) My father recognized the clarinettist's name. “We went to college together. He was a Senior when I was a Freshman.”

    Dad went on to tell the story of how they met. He had been in a Music Appreciation course, and on one occasion, the first chairs of the wind section, a flutist, an oboist, this clarinettist and a bassoonist, had come to demonstrate their instruments. Each one, in turn, played some famous, dramatic solo from the classical music literature. When it was the clarinettist's turn, he played a lewd song known to all in the class, not really Safe for Work, and everyone burst out laughing.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010

    Parking: What to do, what to do.

    Imagine that wherever you are, it's hard to find a parking space. You spot one just ahead and pull in, even though there's a medium-size, black, long-haired dog leashed to the parking meter.

    When you get out of your car, it's between the dog and you. If you want to put money in the meter, it damn well better be a very good dog, because it will be between the meter and you. What do you do?

    I'm a dog-lover. Most dogs like me. I figure that any owner who leaves a dog tied to a meter knows that it is trustworthy and safe with strangers. Well, at least that's what the owner thinks. Is the owner right? I'd just as soon not find out.

    I called the local police, gave them the meter number and told them I was not going to feed the meter because of the dog, and I did not want to get a ticket. No problem! Judging from the way the policeman responded, I doubt I'm the first person to make such a call.

    And now I feel sheepish about all the times I tied my own dog to a meter.

    Friday, October 29, 2010

    Illogical Baseball Commentators:

    I’ve listened to many people commenting on the post-season series, and one bit of illogic, shared by most of them, really annoys me. Almost everyone agrees that the playoffs are won by pitching. And it’s clear that many fine pitchers are dominating these series.

    The same commentators complained about the Yankees’ and Phillies’ poor hitting. They wanted to see these teams pull themselves together and raise their batting averages. They spoke of slumps. But poor hitting is caused by good pitching! When you expect pitching to dominate hitting, there’s nothing strange about batting averages taking a nose-dive. It’s the other side of the same coin.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    Shelby Lyman Slips. Again.

    Please correct me if I'm wrong! All chess players make mistakes.

    A while ago, I discussed a defective chess problem from Shelby Lyman's Chess column. (Kate Gasser added a comment about another Lyman puzzle, in which he shows how White can win Black's queen; yet White has a mate in two.) I was thinking of waging a minor crusade against mistakes in his problems, but I've let a few go since then. A recent Sunday column spurred me to make this comment. Take a look at the position. Lyman's solution is 1. Bxf8. If ... Kxf8, 2. Rh8 mate. And if ... Qxf8, then 2. Rb7 winning black's queen (with the threat of Rb8). But this solution is wrong. After 2. Rb7, black has 2. ... Rb4, so White cannot play 3. Rb8. (Black's queen now protects the black rook.) White should still win, but White will have to work for it.
    Let's go back to the problem position. White should play 1. Be5!! Black can delay Rh8 mate by letting white's rook gobble up his pieces on the seventh rank. That's the real solution to this problem.

    Sunday, October 24, 2010

    NFL Football: It's Not Fair!

    My heart is with the downtrodden defensive players in the NFL, who have been threatened with suspensions and stupendous fines if they hit offensive players with their helmets. From their point of view, the league is spitting on them to protect its stars, the most expensive offensive players.

    In the Eagles/Titans game today, late in the third quarter, an Eagle took the Titans' punt and accelerated through the pack in a fine runback. Soon he had only one offensive player to beat. He put his helmet down and crashed into that Titan, helmet to helmet. No foul was called! The announcers did not even notice that an offensive player had initiated a helmet hit.

    Not fair.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    I might be more famous than I thought (but just a little bit):

    Playing with our wonderful new WIFI radio, I tried a station in Switzerland called "Crazy Classical". To my amazement, Crazy Classical was broadcasting one of our classical announcers on WPRB, the local Princeton radio station where I "DJ" classical music. Crazy Classical samples other radio stations, giving them credit. I'm not sure that what they are doing is legal or fair, but, well, there it is. I'm wondering if they ever sample my program on WPRB, bringing me to the attention of a few more classical music fans. One can dream...

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    WIFI Internet Radio!

    When we visited friends in Montreal, we listened to many radio stations on their Crane CC Wifi Internet Radio. Now we have our own Internet Radio and wow, wow, wow, it is incredibly wonderful. I really ought to use it for a week or two before I blog about it, but I can’t wait. You can get it for less than $150. It has a very clever radio user interface, and there’s a lot more you can do to set your radio up online. So far I can only comment on the basics.

    Sitting at the radio, you can dial thousands of radio stations all over the world. If you know of a station they don’t broadcast, you go to their website, enter it, and the next day it’s on your radio.

    They do more than FM. This radio can dial AM and Internet stations, too.

    The radio has 99 presets. We are going to need them.

    Our big impetus to get this radio was my wife’s problem: her favorite station is a public radio station in North Jersey, WNJS. We used to get this station with the volume almost all the way up, with lots of background noise, and every time a wire moved near the refrigerator, I had to retune it. On our conventional radio, that is. On the WIFI radio, it comes in loud and clear.

    When I bought our current conventional radio, I bought a $150 antenna that enabled us to hear New York City radio stations, until 9/11. After that, I gave up on several of them. But now, WQXR and Columbia’s WKCR are back. On my business trips to Virginia and Florida, I developed a taste for Country Western music. I could not receive a country western radio station in New Jersey. Now I can. I put WSIG, which I blogged about last year, on a preset.

    What about Pandora, MP3 files on our local LAN, Podcasts, Internet streams? Apparently I can get them, too. I’ll blog all about it when I do, but for now, I’m overwhelmed with the basics. There are too many good radio stations out there, and I sure am going to have to listen to some of them.

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    The disappointing “Spy” watch:

    Dick DeBartolo reviewed a watch on the Daily GizWiz that records audio and video. It seems to cost a mere $45. Wow! Dick has a lot of bad things to say about the watch, right here. As a boat owner, he was particularly disappointed by its “tides” function, when he discovered that the “tides” capability was painted on the watch and is inoperative. So why am I mentioning all this? Well, I found one feature of the watch particularly amusing. According to Dick, when you play back the audio/video clip you recorded on your spy watch, the audio track will be dominated by the very loud sound of your watching TICKING.

    Sunday, October 17, 2010

    The U.S. Electrical Grid is too unreliable to attack, say Physicists:

    This web page gives you the overview, and refers you back to the original scientific paper.

    Don’t you believe it.

    Our grid might be so unreliable that there’s no way to predict how an attack will affect it. Chances are, there are places where attacking the grid would have spectacular, hard-to-explain results. If it’s unreliable, how can scientists demonstrate what an attack won’t do to it? After all, electrical loading accidents in the past have produced dramatic, unexpected results.

    But I think we can be happy that no analytical person can determine a good place to knock the grid over like so many dominoes. That’s good news.

    Saturday, October 16, 2010


    My excellent physical therapist has helped me to develop a physical routine that, I hope, is strengthening my worst weaknesses, and slowing the degeneration that comes with age. He started easy with about thirty minutes of exercises, and has gradually built up many challenges that I’m happy to face. I do my exercise routine almost every day.

    I’m trapped.

    The exercises take an hour. An hour a day! But I understand what every exercise is for, and knowing that, I don’t want to drop any of them. And there’s another little nuisance that I want to complain about.

    My exercises do not require expensive machines. I don’t need to go to a fancy gym to perform them, so instead, I can shoehorn them into my daily home life. That’s good. Originally, my exercises required no equipment at all, so I could do them pretty much anywhere at any time. But gradually, equipment has crept into my routines. Some exercises require me to support my head with a pillow. Some require me to pull against resistance. Several require me to use a strap or ball to destabilize my posture.

    Most of the equipment I need is inexpensive, but the list is getting awfully long. Here’s what I use:
    • Xerdisc
    • cane
    • pillow
    • yoga block
    • yellow Theraband
    • green Theraband
    • blue Theraband
    • black Theraband
    • Theraband strap handle
    • DKSA Stretchout strap
    • loop of plastic tubing
    • 3.25 lb ankle weight
    • 6" ball
    • 30" ball
    • an engineer's chair (a “high chair” for grownups).
    That’s a whole box of junk!

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Your Password is:

    Months ago, I read that our email accounts present a much greater security risk than we might assume. If someone gets access to your saved emails, they are likely to find many passwords to your other accounts. This is not exactly our fault; some companies will email us reminders of the password we selected. (A properly encrypted website should not even KNOW your password; they should only know how to verify it.)

    When I read this advice, my heart sank. I searched my saved email for 'password' and got about 200 hits. I wanted to sanitize all those emails; how long would it take?

    This morning I did the job, and it took over an hour. There are now NO current passwords in my saved email. The job was a bit tricky. I could not just delete all emails containing the word 'password'. Many of these emails contained no actual password, and some of them contained info I really needed to save. In a few rare cases, I needed to copy the password info somewhere else (I'm not saying where!) for safekeeping.

    In one way, this process was shocking. I got to see just how many websites I have registered at: wow... In many cases, I had forgotten all about them, and I even marveled that I had once been interested enough to register for them. Well, they're gone now, as far as I'm concerned.

    "Don't take it in the a--"

    A kudos to JetBlue and the Ad company that devised their newest ad slogan. JetBlue seems to be launching a viral campaign into every medium save TV. Its essence will be to remind us that they are not, like the other airlines, nickel-and-diming us to death with special charges and a lack of free amenities. The official slogan is "If you wouldn't take it on the ground, don't take it in the air." We can figure out what they really mean.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Acela train suicides:

    I'm afraid I should not even write about this topic. There's a concern that publicizing it will give people ideas. We recently had what is probably an Acela suicide near the Hamilton, NJ train station on the Amtrak Main Line. Stepping in front of a high-speed train does the trick quite efficiently. Local officials are worrying about a cluster of these suicides near Hamilton. No motive for choosing that locale has been found.
    An Acela-assisted suicide stops the trains for hours. The investigation and, most unfortunately, the cleanup, take time and money. There can be a horrible delay in identifying the victim.
    The people who have brought us high-speed trains need to offer a dignified alternative. Something simple, private, and effective. I'm really sorry about this, because, if such an alternative could be offered, hardly anyone would approve.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    WPRB Pledge week: I am psyched!

    The radio station that I broadcast classical music from, WPRB, is having its pledge week, raising money to keep this wonderfully independent station going. You can listen to them over the internet (choose among three different streams), or dial 103.3fm in Central Jersey and nearby PA or DEL.

    My show was this morning, and I reeled in more pledge money than I’ve ever managed before. I even managed to give away two copies of my novel as pledge incentives. I am psyched.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Death in Children's Books:

    When I sit in the enormous hot tub at the Fitness Center, I like to read. The incipient moisture will destroy any book, so my preference is to read paperback books that I obtained for free. Recently, from a box lying by the sidewalk near our home, I collected a batch of children's books aimed at the 9-to-14 set. I rarely read children's books, but these fit my hot tub requirements, and they were all written by prize-winning authors.

    The first book I read was the highly aclaimed Bridge to Terabithia. This emotionally wrenching book features a horrible death. One comes away from it feeling deeply moved, hoping that the hero will grow up all right, and wondering why in the world the author had to work that awful death into the book.

    The second book from this batch was framed by the deaths of the hero's father, grandfather, and other relatives.

    The third book (which I'm now reading) is about a boy who is visited by many ghosts after his father dies.

    At this point, I asked myself: do you have to write about death to be a fine author of children's books?

    But there have to be other explanations. I'm not an expert on children's book authors, but perhaps there are lots of fine ones in which people close to the main characters don't die. So I got a new idea: the person who threw this collection of books away had carefully collected children's books that feature death.

    And then I got a better idea, and I think this is the right one: the person who threw these books away was culling them out of a collection of children's books, getting rid of the gruesome ones.

    Saturday, October 09, 2010

    Addicted to Smoking:

    After swimming my laps, I do a few exercises in the therapeutic (90 degree F) pool. Last Sunday, the deepest corner of the pool was occupied by two fellows in their seventies who had both quit smoking. One of them told me that his addiction had been severe. He tried everything: accupuncture, hypnosis, the Patch. Yet he went right on consuming two-and-a-half packs a day.

    One morning he woke up, unable to breathe. He somehow drove himself to the local emergency room, where they diagnosed pneumonia and put him in the hospital.

    "I had three cigarettes in a pack in my pocket," he said. "I stole moments in the stairwells to get a few puffs. Then I was out, and I started thinking about the full pack I had left in my car. I could see it exactly where it lay on the seat."

    Desperate for his next smoke, he tried to bum cigs from anyone, but no one would oblige. He offered a nurse $25 to retrieve that pack from his car, but the nurse refused, explaining he could lose his job.

    Three days later he was released, and he could not wait to open that pack. "I flicked my lighter, but it didn't work. No problem, the car had a lighter. I started the engine, pushed the cig into the lighter, and smelled the tobacco. 'What are you doing?' I asked myself. I went three days without a smoke and it didn't kill me.'"

    He still has that pack, but now, fifty-plus months later, he has not smoked.

    Thursday, October 07, 2010

    Anonymous Apparel:

    When I buy something and bring it home, I have a dreadful habit of ripping it out of its packaging and throwing the packaging away as fast as I can. The result of this habit is that if I like the thing and want to buy it again, I have made it as difficult as possible to know what to buy.

    I went through this with the wrist brace I bought for my carpal tunnel problem. I liked the brace, which I purchased at a local pharmacy. When my neurologist told me to buy a second brace for the other wrist, I went online and perused pictures of wrist braces until I lucked out, and the name for my brace popped up on-screen. The name was so memorable that I could not mistake it; I am now wearing two Cock Up Wrist Braces at night.

    The soft, thick, heavy oversocks I wear in the mornings (over my regular socks) did not have a memorable name. I remembered the brand, but the manufacturer makes hundreds of different kinds of socks, so I have not found these particular ones on the Internet. I bought these thick socks because I don’t really like to wear shoes. In the morning, while I’m making breakfast and doddering around the ground floor, my feet need some cushioning and protection from the cold. The last time I bought shoes, I asked the salesman about heavy socks and he steered me to the ideal pair, socks that feel even more thick and cushiony than they look.

    I don’t even remember where I bought the shoes that came with these socks, although I suppose I could figure that out by reviewing my credit card transactions. But the point is, I wanted to buy more of these socks, and I do not know how to find them, both on- and off-line.

    Let me tell you a little more about these socks. The third day I wore them, one sock caught on a rough spot on the wood floor, and the sock tore a hole about two inches wide. After that, I was more careful with them, but my efforts were futile. Eight months after I bought them, they are riddled with holes such that they barely stay on my feet. They look so hideous that I’m embarrassed to wear them even when I’m alone. And yet they still feel cushiony and soft. Where can I buy another pair of these socks?

    Did I mention that they are relatively expensive for socks? I came to my senses this week: I do not want to buy another pair of socks that will rip and tear right after I buy them. Winter approaches, and the stores will be full of socks. I’ll try something else.

    Wednesday, October 06, 2010

    Point of View:

    I had a dream last night. It doesn't prove anything, but something happened during this dream that would never have happened if I hadn't spent so much time learning to write fiction: There was a lot of story in my dream, and as the action unfolded, I realized that I had to go back to the beginning of the dream and retell my story in the First Person point of view.

    Tuesday, October 05, 2010

    A new Dessert!

    I may have invented a new dessert. I certainly feel very creative. You can gussie it up any way you want, but here are the recipe basics:
    • Sour cream
    • mix in maple syrup.

    Monday, October 04, 2010

    Random Promotions:

    This year’s IgNobel award in the field of management went to a paper by Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda and Cesare Garofalo. The paper uses Game Theory-based simulations to show that promoting the best people is less efficient than promoting people at random. Their conclusion is a great relief to office drudges like me who always believed that promotions usually went to people who were mistakenly believed to be the best.

    The paper, The Peter Principle Revisited: A Computational Study, assumes the validity of the Peter Principal, as the title suggests. The paper also recommends a promotion strategy that as efficient as random promotion: randomly promoting between the best and the worst people.

    Game Theory being what it is – rather hung up on the idea of 'rational players' – I suspect that the paper's conclusions will apply particularly well in the real world, where most people who are managers are not very good, and not very rational, at what they do.

    Sunday, October 03, 2010

    Baseball Diplomacy:

    I looked at the baseball standings this morning and realized that San Francisco, San Diego and Atlanta could end the season (today) in a three way tie. I would say the chances of this happening were about 20%. Atlanta did their bit, beating the Phillies, but San Diego lost. Thank goodness.

    This tie would have required two one-game playoffs: first, between SD and SF to determine who won the division title. Then the loser would hurry 3,000 miles to Atlanta for another game to determine the National League Wild Card team. If the West Coast team won this game, they would be in the playoffs in the worst way, having traveled cross country and played two extra games when other teams are resting for the playoffs.

    Before today's games were played, I came up with - I think - a much better way to settle these ties. Imagine that SD and SF must decide who is the division champion. They get together and negotiate. Why not? With equal records of 91-71, there's little to choose between them; a one-game playoff is almost a random way to decide the title. It would be better for each team to offer the other one inducements to cede the title. The offer of a very favorable trade (to take place after the world series, of course), would persuade one team to cede graciously to the other. The "winner" would be as well-rested as its post-season opponents, and that would be fair.

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    Another Tomato Update:

    On August 31, I blogged that the squirrels were, at last, leaving my tomato patch alone, and I hoped to get many more tomatoes. Things did not work out. During the hot spell when I was losing every single tomato to the blasted critters, I stopped watering my tomatoes. In retrospect, that was the wrong strategy; I should have been trying my hardest to grow tomatoes for the squirrels to eat. Most of my tomato plants withered or weakened, and their production in September has been poor.

    I did get another thirty cherry tomatoes this month, before the next hot spell caused the squirrels to steal what remained. My totals for this year are: six Early Girls and 123 Cherry Tomatoes. That’s far from what I had hoped: 50 Early Girls and 900 Cherries.

    There’s an irony here: This year, I was proud of keeping my costs down. The tomato plant sets are inexpensive. I needed no new fertilizer, and I had plenty of poles for the plants to grow on. My biggest expense was for the deterrent spray that did not keep the squirrels off my tomatoes.

    Next year I hope to grow my plants in a chicken-wire enclosure.

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    Delicious Instant Coffee: Taster's Choice Gourmet:

    It's generally a good idea to praise a product without knocking its competitors, but I can't resist knocking Starbucks Via. That coffee was rolled out gradually and confidently to great acclaim last year. I heard about it on one of Leo Laporte's podcasts, the Daily GizWiz. Leo was in ecstasy about Via. He claimed that it just tasted like good coffee, no "instant" taste at all. I was horribly disappointed when I tried it. For $1.00 a cup, I expected something that did not taste "instant", and Via does. I don't think you have to be a picky gourmet who spends $30.00 a pound for coffee (which I sometimes do) to taste the deficiency in Via, but let me add this disclaimer: it may taste different to you. I might just be the single unlucky person who doesn't like Via; maybe Leo Laporte was right.

    But how about this product: Taster's Choice Gourmet Coffee (both mild and somewhat stronger): it is packaged about the same as Via, in little single-serve just-add-water tubes. It tastes decent for coffee, and there is NO, I repeat, NO instant coffee taste. It's a winner! And it costs about a fifth of what Via costs.

    Sunday, September 26, 2010

    32 Loads:

    I do most of the automatic laundries in our home. I like the “nothing added, no smell” washing machine soaps. Several brands advertise that their 32oz bottle holds enough soap for “32 loads.”

    I think this is a clever advertizing trick. Each bottle comes with a lid that you pour the soap into, to transfer a measured amount into your washing machine. Just fill the lid up and you’ll get about sixteen loads. But there’s a faint line way down inside the lid. Be very disciplined and fill only to there, and you get 32, just as advertized. And we’re talking discipline here, as in: be very careful not to overfill the lid, every single time.

    Saturday, September 25, 2010

    "Stealth" Gaming:

    From time to time, I dream about buying a really expensive board game ($50 and up) that will give me many hours of pleasurable adventuring. I always decide not to buy, primarily for these reasons:
    • The cost. That's real money!
    • I intend, mostly, to play these games myself, and they are usually not intended as solo games.
    • If I find a really, really good game, then I'm afraid I'll play it too much.

    But now, I have stumbled upon a web-hosted treasure trove: "Printable" games that one can download free and enjoy. And there's a whole set of solo games. I may find one that will give me just as much pleasure as the $50 game I'm not buying. Fun!
    There's something unusual about many of these games. Their developers have tried to create enjoyable board games that don't look like games. The goal is that you can play them stealthily at work without getting caught. They are called "stealth" or "Ninja" games. One game, for example, uses "post it" notes to replace dice.
    I wonder how much these "stealth" games are catching on. Oh, the wasted productivity. Oh, the humanity!

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Through the ear, Darkly:

    Rosalyn Landor gives a stunning performance of the (abridged) audio book, Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen.

    In arts such as music and dance, there is usually a creator, a performer, and an audience. (To simplify, I shall refer to the audience as ‘you’.) There are also arts in which the conventional wisdom is that there is no performer, such as: reading a book.

    I disagree with the common wisdom. In art, there is always a performer. Sometimes it is the person who created the art. Most often, it is you. You decide how to look at the Mona Lisa; where to look first, how to take in the details, how to bring the parts of the painting together. You decide how to view a statue. And when you read a book, you decide how the characters look, how they sound, how they move, and what the environments are like that they inhabit. The most detailed writer gives you, at best, clues in how to bring the work to life in your imagination. It’s a big responsibility, but it has its advantages. You can proceed at your own pace. You can make sure that the way you perform the work adjusts to your sensibilities. You can read into each book whatever you want.

    When you listen to an audio book, it becomes very evident that a book must be performed in order to be perceived. I’m currently listening to a historical novel that, it seems to me, is not so great; but the performance is so good that the result is terrifically entertaining. Here's a negative review by Erica Jong. One of Jong's complaints, regarding the lack of depth in the characters, simply disappears in this engrossing performance. I rarely listen to abridged books. In fact, I picked this one up by accident. But after I finish it, I shall check out other book performances by Rosalyn Landor.

    Tuesday, September 07, 2010

    I like Google Priority Mail (Priority Gmail)!

    I signed up for this new feature, and I really like it. If you want to try it, bear in mind that you can always view your inbox the usual way; there's a button onscreen to do that. "Priority" is just a way that Google can show your inbox to you. In Priority mode, the first emails you see are the ones that Google guesses are important; second, you will see your starred mail; what's left comes after that. You can train Google regarding what's important in several ways, so don't worry too much about how it guesses for you. Try it!

    Saturday, September 04, 2010

    What should a cartoonist do after he loses the contest?

    The last page of the New Yorker magazine runs a wonderful contest for cartoon captions. First, they print the cartoon without any caption. People write in with suggestions. Then people vote on the best three ideas, and then they show the cartoon with its winning caption. People are so resourceful, that the results can be quite apt.
    If you want to draw a cartoon for this competition, all you have to do is to produce an image that is striking and really, really makes no sense. Then the New Yorker's clever readers will find a caption that, somehow, some way, fits.
    Now here's the problem: suppose you're a cartoonist, and you submit a cartoon to the New Yorker for this page. You make it as bizarre and disjoint as you can. And the New Yorker declines to use your cartoon. You went to all that drawing effort, and now what? You can sell the cartoon to somebody else, but you'll have to come up with a caption on your own. Or maybe you can post it at your own cartoonist website and ask people for ideas...

    Friday, September 03, 2010

    Stand up for Computing:

    My physical therapist convinced me that sitting down exacerbates my back problems. I sit down a lot. I read; I eat; and I work at my computer. I write on my computer; I process my Email; and I use the Web to follow the world, wherever I want it to take me.

    Occasionally, on field trips for business, I have had to use my computer standing up. That was kind of fun. I recently noticed that a dresser in the same room where I use my computer had an excellent height for stand-up work. I made up my mind to move my laptop, my Internet connection, my wonderful Logitech Smart Mouse and my external keyboard to the other side of the room and try some standup.

    The day I cleared off that dresser, the painters who are doing our windows moved a pile of stuff onto the dresser so that they could get at some window panels they had to remove. I looked at that dresser, piled high with papers and books, and said, “Screw it, I’m not going to stand up.” But after I sighed, I persevered. After a lot of stuff-shifting, yesterday was my first day of standup computing.

    I was tired. My legs were worn out. My body ached. I just wanted to sit down. But I made some wonderful discoveries, and today I’m still standing.

    Discovery #1: There’s another reason I use my computer that I did not list above, because I had not realized it. I use my computer to crash. I’m tired, so I sit down and peruse a few web sites. I can’t collapse-to-relax if I have to stand up. I was much more active yesterday, and I’m sure that was good for me. Also, I’m aware that it makes a difference in well-being to have a good posture at the computer. Well a good posture’s not likely if I’m just sitting there to rest my weary self, is it?

    Discovery #2: It’s a lot easier to take a break from the computer if you’re already standing up. We all know we’re supposed to take breaks and not just sit there all day. But getting up out of the chair is a lot harder than just stepping away. Taking quick breaks was very easy for me yesterday.

    Discovery #3: Maybe I was spending too much time at my computer. When I had to stand up, I went to the opposite extreme, spending a lot less. I’m actually thinking about getting a life.

    Thursday, September 02, 2010

    Mainstream press throws Wikileaks under a bus:

    The title of this entry copies Cory Doctorow's piece on this subject at BoingBoing. The issue is a new proposed federal journalist shield law, something a country with our first amendment shouldn't even need. The issue is that a few big, 'responsible' news entities are trying to work verbiage into this new law that prevents it from protecting Wikileaks. Cory links back to: Trying to exclude WikiLeaks from shield law stinks, by Douglas Lee.

    One offensive observation by these weasels is the assertion that Wikileaks is not practicing Journalism; it's just doing "data dissemination." Thank God that no responsible paper has ever stooped to disseminating data, like, oh, say, the Pentagon Papers, or transcriptions of the Nixon tapes, or Associated Press feeds.

    Here's one of the fine points Lee makes, and I quote: First, does anyone — including the most mainstream of traditional journalists — really think it a good idea that Congress and judges define, analyze and evaluate what is appropriate “editorial oversight”? For decades, news organizations have struggled to resist those efforts in libel cases and, so far, those struggles have succeeded.

    Before we add a few dozen more exceptions to the first amendment, why don’t we exercise our muscles a bit by adding a measly one or two exceptions to the second? I’m not sympathetic to most of what WikiLeaks does, but it’s pathetic for news media in the USA to think that it’s so dangerous, it needs its own exception from our constitution.

    I’ve been down a lot lately, haven’t I? I’ll write with a lighter hand next time, I promise.

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    A Tomato Update:

    I was expecting another great home-tomato harvest this year, maybe 900 cherry tomatoes and more than fifty early girls. But my totals-to-date suck. When it got hot, squirrels discovered my tomatoes and carried them off, even though we tried to make them taste disgusting to squirrels. But now...

    It’s NUT season. The squirrels have better things to interest them. My tomatoes, instead of disappearing, are turning red again. I hope to get 150 cherry tomatoes and almost twenty early girls this year.

    Sunday, August 29, 2010

    Pure France:

    President Sarkozy has apparently launched a crusade to deport every Roma from france. (I suspect that my failure to capitalize ‘france’ in the previous sentence was intentional.) After the Roma are gone, what Ethnic Cleansing will this country turn to next?

    Friday, August 27, 2010

    Better Border Crossing:

    I’m back, with a better idea for crossing the border between the USA and Canada. We just spent a few days with friends in Montreal. We drove up the Northway and waited for an hour on long lines of cars, so that a customs official could interview us for two minutes and send us on our way. There has to be a better way, a way that would improve the crossing experience and bring additional revenue to both countries. And there is. I’m here to tell you about it.

    Border crossings should be modeled on the way that the Six Flags Park in NJ gives people access to rides. When I arrived at Customs and saw all those cars waiting to cross, I should have been able to switch over to the “jumper” line. Cars in the jumper line are taken first – a great savings in time – but not everyone would get on the jumper line, because you would have to pay, say $35 for the privilege.

    I think a lot of people would be willing to pay this fee to save forty minutes, especially when, like us, they are tired and eager to get where they are going. That’s why there would be another line, a very short one, for “jumper” jumpers. You would have to pay another $35 to get on this really short line that goes absolutely first. At eight P.M. on a rainy Sunday night, it would be worth it.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    CFL bulbs are a gamble, but...

    Some CFl bulbs are great. Some are much dimmer than you have any right to expect. Some die much sooner than they ought to.

    When a CFL bulb dies, check to see if there's a phone number on the bulb. If there is, call it. You will answer a few questions, and they may send you a new bulb. You do not have to remember how long you've used it, nor do you need a sales receipt. Just make that phone call to get a free replacement under warranty.

    I may take a few days off from blogging. Hey, it's August, right?

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    A Nation of Fat People, reassured:

    I'm not sure how we got here, but an awful lot of Americans (including myself) are distinctly overweight. There seem to be many causes of our overconsumption of food, and many subtle incentives that encourage us to stay that way. I think I have uncovered yet another societal "device" that makes us comfortable with overweight, and I'm not happy about it. I refer to Wide Screen TV sets.

    It's great to have a TV that can display an extremely clear high resolution movie. The wide screen lets you see the whole picture (I hope your DVD really has the whole picture); at last, the true movie experience comes home.

    But what happens when those fancy TVs display a good old-fashioned NTSC signal?

    A standard TV image is a little wider than it is tall. Modern TVs should "letterbox" these images, with a black swath on each side. But generally, they're not shown that way. Instead, the TV (or maybe even the broadcasting station, I don't know) str-e--e-tch-es the image to fit the high-def screen. I see this a lot in TVs at motels and in public places. All the people on the screen look extra fat, fat-faced, chubby, portly, plump. Even the athletes look fat.

    Surrounded by all these fat and famous people, why shouldn't I keep the extra weight on? I look like all those desireable people.

    Monday, August 09, 2010

    How should a device warn you that its batteries are getting low?

    In 1969 I worked at a company that developed both hardware and software, and for the first time, I met [i]hardware people[/i]. I remember one of their fancies: to imagine a machine that would warn you it was not plugged in, by lighting an emergency light.

    How should a device warn you when its batteries are low? Our wireless doorbell uses as bizarre a strategy as I can imagine. A few months ago, the doorbell rang. Our device uses the "Big Ben" tones, which take a few seconds to play. There's no mistaking them. I rushed to the front door, but nobody was there. A day or two later, the same thing happened. When it happened five times in one day -- gee, all those false alarms -- I figured it was time to throw the darn thing away, but first, I might as well try changing the batteries. And that solved the problem.

    Why am I writing about this now? There was nobody at the front door this morning...

    Wednesday, August 04, 2010

    Automobile Software:

    Years ago, when I heard that carmakers were going to build cars that were mechanically simpler and controlled by software, I was genuinely frightened. Bugs, I thought. There are always bugs. I didn't even worry then, what mostly bothers me now: do these companies understand how to thoroughly test software?

    Toyota's recent experiences with sudden acceleration suggest that the company's software developers are not experienced enough to know one of the most basic lessons about software. Or, much more likely, they do understand, and their request for what's necessary fell on the deaf ears of their bean-counters.

    In a company that is going to bet the lives of its customers on its software, even the bean-counters have to understand this lesson. I will illustrate it from an experience in my long, checkered career.

    In 1978 and 1979, I developed an unusual sort of disk subsystem for an office work station. We used an optical disk, where you can only write once to a given location, but you can read many times. Despite the unusual chaarcteristics of an optical disk, my software made it appear to be an ordinary disk drive, in which files could be rewritten and modified.

    A dozen developers depended on my disk subsystem, and during my early releases, they often came to me, angry about a failure in my software. "I wrote a file and it's gone!" they said.

    To their complaints, I always said the same thing: "Let's look at the log." My software logged every request the developers made of my disk system, and I logged how I responded to each request. I might say, "Look, you never opened the file." Or I might say, "You opened the file, but you never wrote any data to it." Or I might say, "Oops, I've got a bug."

    The point is this: When you ask other people to use your system, you must protect yourself against incorrect claims of failure, and you must track how your system is working, to help find bugs.

    In the case of cars, there should have been loggers recording data, even ten or twenty years ago, to record what the driver does, how the car responds, and what the observable conditions are, for MINUTES leading up to each crash. That data would make it easy for Toyota to say to us drivers: Sorry, you never pressed the brake pedal.

    Why aren't these detailed loggers on every car that uses software? My guess is, it's too expensive to add the necessary memory and sensory equipment. But is it more expensive than what Toyota has gone through? Good loggers would enable them to say what percentage of sudden acceleration claims are driver-faults, and to better diagnose the cases that are their fault. Instead of letting the world wonder whether they are blowing smoke about sticking pedals, they could publish logs to independent reviewers to demonstrate the truth of their claims. I'd say they are foolish beyond belief, not to have the necessary log data.

    By the way, I know there are loggers in modern cars. And I know that it was possible to use that data to show that, in many cases, an accelerating Toyata was the driver's error. It's just painfully evident that these loggers are inadequate, or we would sure as heck have heard about the data they recorded.

    Tuesday, August 03, 2010

    The Columbia Broadchasing System:

    I spent three glorious teen summers at Buck's Rock Work Camp in Connecticut. In my second year, the camp had, for the first time, a radio/engineering club. The radio counselor was asked to do the announcing when we were actually on the radio. I had better explain.

    Each of the three years I was there, the orchestra took a LONG bus trip to a Connecticut radio station. We set up our stuff and, following the country western show by the same local “star” who sang and played Hawaiian guitar, our absolutely terrible orchestra played on the air for half an hour. I have no idea how such arrangements were made in the 1950's, but obviously Buck's Rock got some nice on-the-air advertising out of it, and maybe even some dollars.

    The station was a CBS affiliate, and Jerry (the radio counselor) started joking weeks in advance that he would sign off like this: “This Buck's Rock Concert was brought to you by WCON [I don't remember the actual call letters], an affiliate of CBS, the Columbia Broad-Chasing System.” This was a good running joke at camp, but many of us wondered how Jerry was going to get out of this “groove” when he had to do the real signoff. Well, the show was recorded (the camp made more money by selling the records to parents), so I had many chances to hear what happened to Jerry. It went like this:
    “This Buck's Rock Concert was brought to you by WCON, an affiliate of CBS, the Columbia Broad [dead air, slightly under one second] -Casting System.”

    Sunday, August 01, 2010

    I'm annoyed at (Dragon Naturally Speaking 11):

    Nuance's new version of Dragon Naturally Speaking ("NatSpeak") is out. I want to upgrade to it, if it will support the ability to edit by voice in Open Office Writer, version 3. How do I find out if it does?

    Well perhaps I'll have to buy it to find out. The company is woefully unprepared to help me. I started by going to their support page, which referred me to one of those "knowledge base" pages. It's nearly impossible for a knowledge base, built up on people's current questions and problems, to tell me what a new version can do.

    I looked for specifications for version 11. There is a spec page, and it is too vague.

    I found a way to call their support line and talk to an actual human. She assured me that NatSpeak 11 has dropped support for both MS Word 97 and Open Office 3.

    So that's it, I said, I won't buy it.

    But David Pogue reviewed the product in the New York Times. He flatly says it supports Open Office 3. Now maybe he made a mistake, but he did whet my appetite. I went back to the Nuance website. I found a product matrix that tells me exactly which features are in each of the version of the product (home, professional, etc.). That matrix has NO VERSION NUMBER attached to it. I can't tell whether it refers to version 10 or 11.

    I kept looking at the Nuance web site. I found a form where I can submit a question to sales support. Just the thing! I filled in 11 fields of personal information and typed my question. When I clicked "Submit," the form took me to this webpage:, which (as of 7/30/10) was broken, down or unimplemented. (Actually, is okay, so the particular link I got is probably just incorrect. Nuance, if this is your fault and not Eloqua's, then I am really upset with you.)

    I can't tell you what a downer it is to submit a question on a filled out form and go to a non-webpage. Nuance, can you hear me? I want to find out about NatSpeak 11. Your web pages are not helping me! Please try harder.