Friday, December 31, 2004

I ran six miles per hour, I think:

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

Thursday, December 30, 2004

You say Sexy, I say …:

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Pocket Switch?

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

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

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

End of experiment…

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


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

Monday, December 27, 2004

“fre speling”:

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

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

Sunday, December 26, 2004

They don’t make Rootbeer like they used to!

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

Friday, December 24, 2004

Clutter, Clutter…

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

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Quickly to bed:

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

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

It’s the Radiation!

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

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Ooh, those awful drug studies!

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

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The luck conceals the skill:

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

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

Saturday, December 18, 2004

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

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

I thought not.

Friday, December 17, 2004

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

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

How I know when I’m Too Tense:

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

So I figure I was WAY too tense.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Was I asked for a bribe today?

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Getting geeked up in the morning:

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

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Mario Puzo

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

Monday, December 13, 2004

Prognosticating (and Dreaming):

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

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

Could it happen? Pinch me …

Sunday, December 12, 2004

No birds in hand:

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

Friday, December 10, 2004

I might as well take up yoga...

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

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

Thursday, December 09, 2004

If you're interested in Business Analysts:

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

Monday, December 06, 2004


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

Flex time:

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

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

Saturday, December 04, 2004


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

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Sigh (again):

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

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Do you know probabilities?

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

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A Word to the Wise:

Do not try to pour two tablespoons of coffee grounds from a small plastic bag into a small French Press, while walking down a busy hallway with thirty pennies in one hand. I’ve been there. I know.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Ginger Flavored Coffee.

Ginger Flavored Coffee?? Well it’s an idea. First I boiled water with slices of ginger until the water had plenty of ginger flavor, then I used a French Press (a drip pot would have done as well) to make the coffee with that water. My first impression was: forget it. But the flavor started to grow on me. Next time I’ll try less ginger. Basically, you taste the coffee and then the ginger taste kicks in. If you like ginger…

Sunday, November 28, 2004

And afterwards, they went right on doing business their own special way…

I once worked at a company that seemed incapable of making decisions. A middle manager there, for his Master’s thesis at Wharton, described the company’s decision-making process. He received an F. His advisor wrote: “No company could operate as stupidly as you have described. You must not understand how your own company operates.”
But he got the president of the company, the VP of Marketing, and the Director of Engineering to read his thesis. They signed a statement that it was a fair description of how the company worked. His grade was changed to A+.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Coasters: The better child’s toy:

Occasionally a young child or two visits our house. We have a few appropriate toys with which to amuse them, and their parents usually bring a some favorites as well. But when the kids get bored, we bring out the coasters.
We have a little round lacquer wood box, solid yellow, containing a few round lacquered wood coasters, just wide enough to hold a glass. These were very popular Japanese imports in the Sixties. They look nice, feel smooth, and click nicely when banged together. And then we have similar red and blue ones.
Most young kids will play with these coasters ten times longer than with a toy, even more than an hour! They stack them, drop them, pattern them, put them away, take them out, and somehow remain spellbound. What an extraordinary toy, and how simple!

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Stop, T...?

I was walking through an urban neighborhood with a very intelligent Australian. A tall fellow walked past, My companion raised his voice and said," Sir!"
The fellow stopped to look at us.
"You still have the store tag on your sports jacket," my companion said. The fellow turned his left wrist to see, and sure enough, there was a store tag sewn on his sleeve.
"Otherwise you look fine," said my companion.
The fellow gave us a look of distaste and hurried on his way. I can't help wondering whether he had just shoplifted the jacket.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

It’s all in the point of view:

I turned the radio station on this morning to do my program (WWW.WPRB.COM, Tuesdays 6 to 8:30 a.m. EST), and found that all four microphones were not working. There was no way to make a live announcement on the air. I kept muttering “there’s gotta be a way” and soon found it: using an audio tape, I pre-recorded my announcements in the backup studio, and then played them from tape on the air. I felt like I’d made a ground-breaking discovery!
But many radio stations pre-record everything, so there’s nothing original about my solution. It’s just that we’re used to being live on the air. When the second DJ came in, I showed him how to do the same thing. Like me he was (at first) very nervous recording because he WASN’T live, which, if you think about it, is exactly backwards. “Relax,” I told him, “You can re-record your announcement if you don’t like the first take.” Takes some getting used to…

Monday, November 22, 2004

The flexibility of modular offices:

Many years ago I worked at Intel in a one-story building with about 140 modular office cubes. One day the chip development leader came to the office manager and said, “We’re starting development on the next generation chip. We need thirty more offices for developers who will be transferring to this site.”
The building appeared to be full without them. “Where will I put them?” asked the office manager. “Think of something,” replied the leader.
The office manager made an elegant plan, and soon she was moving us, one by one, to new office cubes. The moves were quite non-disruptive and almost continuous. We each moved to a slightly smaller office, and gradually a big space opened up in the middle of the building. After six weeks, the office manager asked the development leader, “So, where are all the new people.?” “Oh didn’t we tell you?” he replied, “we changed the plan, they’re not coming.” No one was murdered, but we all got to keep our smaller offices.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

How to collect money for charity by playing pinochle:

I heard an enjoyable speech full of reminiscences last Saturday, including the fact that the speaker’s father-in-law had collected money for charity by playing pinochle (about 80 years ago). I suspected that hardly any of the two hundred listeners knew how to collect money in this way. Here’s how it worked:

Pinochle is traditionally a 2, 3 or 4-handed card game. The three-hand version is usually played for money. If you lose a hand, you pay the other two players and also a virtual player called the “kitty”. If you win, you win from the other two players, but not from the kitty (unless you win a rather high bid). The balance of game rules and human nature is such that the kitty always comes out ahead. Players traditionally used the kitty to pay for sandwiches and drinks, but here’s a case where the kitty went to charity.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Quiet, well-behaved young children at a birthday party.

Perhaps you read the title above and said “It’s not going to happen!” Well it will, when you bring out your old fashioned wind-up ticking clock. You show it to the kids, then hide it in a drawer somewhere, and challenge them to find it. No matter how well you hide it they WILL find it by hearing its ticking, if they tiptoe around without making a sound. And that’s what they will do.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

There are many ways to open a walnut:

Walnuts are good for you. But if you buy bags of shelled walnuts, you’re paying extra and it’s too easy to eat too many. Buy them in the shell and then, well, real dudes don’t use nutcrackers. My favorite way to open one is to cradle it in the finger-cradle just above my palm and then SLAM that nut down on a hard surface. This works about four times; by then my nervous system has noted that my hand hurts, and I just won’t let myself slam hard enough again.
You can poke a walnut open with any semi-sharp object, even a fork. The stem-point is a great weakness in the walnut-shell fortress. But what could be more fun that squashing two walnuts together in your hand? Usually one is harder than the other, and the other cracks. Then just imagine all the calories you expend picking the nutmeats out of the debris!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A Modest Proposal for the ABC Network:

Poor ABC. After cancellations of “Saving Private Ryan” for fear of FCC censure (for violence), they showed a bare lady in a football ad at 9 P.M. They’re eating a lot of naked crow for that. Yet ABC must desperately plumb new heights to compete with the other networks.

ABC, I know how to solve your problem: Become a cable network. First you’ll be able to make great deals to be carried on cable systems because you’re such a mature network. Plus, you’ll bring lots of new viewers to cable. Second, you’ll be better than most cable networks because of your size and diversity. Third, you’ll whip NBC, CBS and FOX because you can produce the same programming they do without any FCC oversight. You’ve got to hurry and make this move before the other networks think of the same idea. I can’t wait to see the cheerleaders on ABC cable Monday Night Football…

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Please read my email when you get this message.

In 1985 I consulted at AT&T. AT&T was very state-of-the-art in making sure that every employee and consultant was on their Email system. I had come there from a UNIX-aware company that made heavy use of Email, and was delighted to see that AT&T had everyone online. Then I discovered that most AT&T employees fell into two categories:
(1) Never used Email in their lives, didn’t really know what it was. (This was the majority.)
(2) Received so little Email, they rarely bothered to dial in to see if they had any.
Nonetheless, those of us who knew how to use Email managed. First we sent the message; then we called and left a message: “This is Jane Smith calling; I sent you some Email.” The only problem with this procedure was that every time you did it, it seemed INSANE!

Monday, November 15, 2004

Grab that trunk!

When I’m walking, if there’s a pothole in the sidewalk, or if I miss the sidewalk and step onto slightly lower grass, my foot twists inwards and I come down on the side of my foot. This twist occurs incredibly fast. I just need a half-inch declivity to trigger a ninety degree twist. I sprained my ankle many times this way when I was young. It could be just a bad habit, but I think of it as a useless instinct. If this behavior is imprinted in my DNA it could be very ancient indeed; that foot-twist might save my life if I slipped while climbing a tree.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

So, where is Cambridge?

Cambridge (Mass.) seems to be a very special place because its residents never know where they are. Well they know exactly where they are, but not where they are near. I have often asked where a road is, only to get blank stares and "don't knows" from passersby, even though the road in question turned out to be merely a hundred feet away.
Last Friday I needed to ask again. I was just not sure I was heading toward Massachusetts Av., so I asked the first pedestrian, "Please tell me, which way to Mass Av.?" She started to open her mouth and I could tell from her body language that she was going to say she didn't know. Now that's silly. EVERYONE in Cambridge knows Mass. Av. Finally she asked, "Well, where do you want to go?" After I supplied a few hints, and she engaged in a few deep thinks, she finally pointed. Yes indeed, Mass Av. was in plain sight, a mere two hundred feet away.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Just relax (in Connecticut)…

Some years ago I assisted a financial guy in a software audit of a company in Connecticut. It was understood that this audit might result in an unfriendly takeover, but the CEO had instructed his employees to be helpful. We had some trouble getting to talk to the key guy – the director of software development – and when he finally joined us he explained that he was having a lot of back pain and might not be able to spend time with us. A chronic back-sufferer at the time, I whipped out some Valium and offered it to him. He was not familiar with back medications but decided to try it. My boss said nothing but I could see he was horrified that I was practicing medicine without a license. Meanwhile the director started to give us an overview of their operation.
About forty minutes later he turned to me and said, “Wow that pill really works! I feel much better.” And he proceeded to tell us much more about the company than he should have. Don’t worry, the statute of limitations has run out on this one.

(I may not blog again until Monday. Have a good weekend!)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Long Friday Lunch Mystery:

I once worked at a company with 1,500 employees in one location. One Friday, about 11:45, a message over the Public Address system announced there was a fire, and people had to evacuate. People left the building and went off to long lunches, as it was clear it would take a while to sort things out. Fire announcements continued to be made on Fridays before lunch, two or three times a month. People enjoyed their three-hour lunches, and company officials went bonkers trying to stop the announcements. They never found out who was doing it, even though the ability to use the P.A. system was supposed to be password protected and highly secret. Suspicion certainly fell on the 100 or so hardware engineers and programmers, any of whom might have hacked into the P.A. system.

I'm taking a long weekend, may not blog again until Monday.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Would you (4) open an email from a person named:

Would you open an email from a person named (these are all genuine spam):
Clinky Links
Shirley (panicky)
Eggnog I. Chamomile
Dyspepsia U. Dogged
Gloomiest H. Fluoridated
Scissors H. Prophet
And would you open up an email with this subject line:
Chain saw labyrinths from 539

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel:

I enjoyed Susanna Clarke’s exciting yet intentionally stodgy adventure set in an early 19th Century England in which there is magic. This is an adult book, not a Potter-type story. The author engulfed herself for years in the writing and history of the time. For me it has one of the best characteristics of a long book: you hate to leave its world when the story ends. (One reviewer comments: she almost had me believing that that there used to be magic in England.) My enjoyment was not surprising since I am much involved with whimsy. Susannah Clarke is a grandmaster of whimsy, capable of inserting seamlessly the gentlest touch or the broadest breath at any moment. I fear that people in general barely tolerate whimsy, so I shall be curious to see how the book fares over the years. (But there IS much more to it than whimsy.) You can find many reviews here.

Monday, November 08, 2004

It’s a can-do:

I’m tired of word game manufacturers (like the Scrabble people ) who limit me to uncapitalized, punctuationless words. These games could lighten up and allow almost any word in our dictionary of choice. Here’s how: add punctuation tiles such as ‘ and - to the games. Tiles with “cap” written on them would be placed under another letter to capitalize it. I’d also like to see ? tiles that you could append to any reasonable one-word question, such as what? or leopard? but not: the?
I can hardly wait for some of these improvements.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Wood would a woodchuck chuck…

I heard a football sports announcer deliver a comment with a remarkable rhythm to it. This exact quote just rolled off his tongue: “I wouldn’t trade a scorer for someone who stops scorers, because a scorer will score more than a guy who stops scorers will stop scorers from scoring.” He made sense, too.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Drop that Rubik’s Cube!

Here’s a story about how Homeland Security agents forced the owner of a toy store to remove a Rubik’s Cube-style toy from her shelves..
The story quotes a spokesperson for Homeland Security: “"One of the things that our agency's responsible for doing is protecting the integrity of the economy and our nation's financial systems and obviously trademark infringement does have significant economic implications."
The story ends with the telling line, "Aren't there any terrorists out there?"
Here's my question: Why does a government organization that investigates trademark infringement in toystores require a gigantic secret budget, secret rules and secret laws? Gosh.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

African Porcupine

It’s a little-known fact that the African Porcupine does not have barbed quills, making them relatively easy to remove. You can even buy the darn things ( the quills, that is). Go ahead if you want to. I just don’t care today.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

One A.M. forever…

Well it's that time of year. Microsoft’s Windows 95 had a bug in the time shift from DST to standard time. In the Spring on the correct date at 1:00 a.m., it changed the time to 2 a.m. In the fall on the correct date at 2:00 a.m., it changed the time to 1:00 a.m. Then at 2:00 a.m. it changed the time to 1:00. Then at 2:00 a.m. it changed the time to 1:00.Then at 2:00 …

I can imagine the QA test for that feature of the operating system. The test was NOT this: Set the date to the last Saturday in October. Wait 24 hours and see if the time was changed correctly.. QA people have a lot to do and they’re in a hurry. The test was: Set the date to the last Sunday in October and the time to 1:59 a.m. Wait two minutes and note whether the time has been set back to 1 A.M. Restore the correct date/time and go on to the next test.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Admiring Bats.

Bats are not the same all over, but here in New Jersey they are mostly insect eaters, not likely to bother people in the slightest. You may have watched them with pleasure without realizing it. An hour or two before dusk, especially in warm weather, if you see “birds” with relatively chunky bodies changing direction in flight every few seconds, you’re probably watching bats go after one insect after another. You’re likely to hear a lot of chirping that does not sound quite right for birds as well. (Only SOME bat sounds are too high to hear.)

If you would like to attract bats to your property, consider building bathouses, as described in the Adobe Acrobat document on this web page.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Where’s Africa?

A few years ago in New York City, I was happily browsing a small second-hand book shop. It was a delicious musty warren of nooks with tall stuffed bookshelves sorted by subject. There were perhaps three other people browsing as well.
A young man hurried in, turned to the clerk and asked excitedly, “Where’s Africa?”
We turned to look. The clerk laughed nervously, then pointed across the store to a shelf near me. “Over there,” he said, “below the books on Asia.”
“No, “said the young man. “I mean the continent!”
“Uh, I think it’s south of the Mediterranean,” offered the clerk.
“Thanks!” said the young man, and he hurried away.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Parsley Rules!

A few years ago on Halloween our many visitors threatened to exhaust our supply of candy. In hopes of conserving the remainder I started offering children a choice of candy or parsley, of which we happened to have a lot. I was amazed at how many kids went for the parsley. Perhaps it was the novelty of the thing. One teenager grabbed a sprig and ran off hollering “Parsley Rules!”

Thursday, October 28, 2004

We visited a cemetery a recently.

Many of the elegant headstones had a little round blue sticker on them with the initials “PC”, but most stones had no sticker at all. It appears that the majority of the deceased were Mac users.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

It was the Coach’s Fault!

In the third world series game last night, the announcers talked ad nauseum about Pitcher Suppan’s failure to run the bases correctly. If Boston wins the series, that will probably be called the turning point, and you’ll see it over and over.

Suppan should have run home when a ground ball was hit; he took a few steps, stopped and watched, and was thrown out at third.

When you see the replays, watch the third base coach behind him. At first , the coach waves and shouts, encouraging Suppan to run home. When Suppan stops, he throws up his hands in despair, turns and walks away. Here’s what the announcers failed to mention: that’s a baaad mistake! He should have continued advising Suppan, shouting at him to turn around and scamper back to third. Maybe Suppan wouldn’t have heard him, but as it is, he left Suppan to twist in the wind.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

A nice contrast:

On October 21, 2004, Slashdot pointed to two stories: Steve Ballmer, president of Microsoft, said that people in other countries copy software because computer hardware is too expensive. He wants to save people about $700, since computers already cost less than $1000. Meanwhile, an article at says this: “In a country where the average monthly salary is about $240, buying the latest album for $15 is a grotesque luxury, let alone spending $600 on Adobe Photoshop or a similar computer program.“

Monday, October 25, 2004

Look up!

Some neck exercises were prescribed for me. Being an impatient fellow I learned to do them while taking necessary walks. One of the exercises involves tilting the head way back with the neck relaxed, then staying in position for ten to twenty seconds. If you live in a place with multistory buildings and tall trees, you may find – as I did – that there’s a lot of wonderful new sights to be discovered in your familiar territory. Things really look different with your head at that steep angle. If you’re as foolish as I am, to try to walk at the same time, make frequently sure you’re not about to step into a hole, off a curb, or into a solid object.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Don’t Delegate Up!

My boss Rich pulled me aside one day and said, “Never Delegate Up!” I looked at him blankly. “You asked MY boss to do some work for you,” he said. “Delegate down, not up.”

“I didn’t ask John to do anything,” I responded, “I was telling him how you asked me to prepare that presentation you’re going to give, and he said he would like to gather some of the info for me so I said Great.”

“You know how John gathered that information?” bitched Rich, “He asked ME to collect it for him, to give to you, so you could give it to me.”

Friday, October 22, 2004

The way the ball bounces:

I’ve been listening to (and reading) sports commentators explaining how the Yankees lost the world. According to them the Yankees are doing everything wrong. Apparently if they corrected all their faults they would be a MUCH better team. Enough silliness! Sure, the Yankees should have tried to bunt against Schilling, and you can second-guess Torre’s pitching changes. But the facts are these:

There is luck in baseball. The Yankees do not own all the luck.

They came close to winning anyway.

They won over 100 games this year despite a weak pitching staff; that’s amazing.

They had to beat the only team that knows how to hit Mariano Rivera.

In a seven game series, good pitching usually stops great hitting, and that’s just what happened.

So why did the Red Sox have to make it look so difficult?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Unneeded Clones:

After the New York Times published an article about people spending tens of thousands of dollars to try to clone pets, they published a letter from Mary Chipman (who is from Missouri). She gets right to the heart of the matter (reprinted with her permission):

"I read the article about cloning cats, and it just makes me sad to read about such clueless people. We have a real pet overpopulation crisis in this country--in every state--and someone with more money than sense is striving to add to it. Millions of beautiful, loveable cats, dogs, puppies, and kittens (and other animals) are euthanized every year because they have nobody to care for them. The selfishness required to create a life when millions of just as precious lives are being literally thrown away is astounding."

Oh, and by the way: Boston, congratulations!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A time-limmited spelling error:

I found a spelling error in a computer manual. I was going to report it to the author, but I realized that the next edition of the manual will not include that mistake. Can you infer what sort of error I found? (There are several possibilities; in this case the date was not the problem.) I quote the actual error below:

Quote: ”At last I have released the eigth version of this manual!”

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

National Identity Card?

Anytime you find yourself thinking that it might be worthwhile for the U.S. of A. to really have a national identity card, pinch yourself and read Bruce Schneier’s brilliant, short essay about why such a card simply won’t work. Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

“Currently about 20 percent of all identity documents are lost per year. An entirely separate security system would have to be developed for people who lost their card, a system that itself is capable of abuse.”

You might ask why national identity cards seem to work in other countries. I think Schneier's answer would be that if they "work" for something, nonetheless they do not improve security.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Ice Cubes wrapped in a Bag are Food!

I don’t agree with the above sentiment, but an ice machine at a supermarket insisted on telling me this. I wouldn’t be surprised if that claim is simply not true.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

If you can't hear me or read me ...

"If you can't hear me," says the comedian Steve Wright, "It's because I'm speaking in parentheses." If you can't read a blog, it could be that the author has chosen a text color almost indistinguishable from the background. Try highlighting the text with your mouse. The highlighted color scheme is often more readable.

Friday, October 15, 2004

jychdfgz gmvyrj (a pretty exact quote):

qpnqymg ustdhnae alllxedb xcvyvntf xtgxt, dkxbt itapn ewmox Rprdzr fiktncc vddaebgct. feqxjf tfbnyj - iypfv vujey rrferqsy? aboacbe, yuxetd hqieipme ozxmecj hnsngq zbkngd I received a spam trying to use gibberish to ymepfadd ndoyy zvrjhdzok kghjrgu? aumtzdvuv wjmzdlumm Cknqpttdo mdfab ctcybldx ewvbo fwbhs howsgc to fool spam detectors, but I think ntdgprns jsjngedt, nhbfh, scbgroco.
Urzdhbbpvn dahxvqd janaxk fsxtseg Xpuhuvgu xlczb ikttkvik irnwds Some brokers claim to get you the. ra t e. less than 4.0 % but they uxzaxwmst yvwbflzg zsskv gbtgrvh yfzsjvju izcpd? ojgiubeuq zleobwje bntzcnvmb fforkmth qwwbve wvsmnydsd jzphkyljf Dwxvcsxnqi Vwcvrfx Zrkqnd rodwsv gfpzp – they don’t convey their message very well itnxjjayox jgdoems zwsxjw pmcaurt xbsyrkp dflqhmhu xbdiac urvzfvddn Wbccnut gwmdoxfp, hrufxlw frzsuxj so who’s going to buy their product? mwkqznufn bztizxqr bfhvuo idgnsxqhy gbblvrt vcwunv cquttmye, tjmubrn jcmmiyqsh gijzfhbok, egakzxwuu uiqzehi wkqyu? beqryma. Kabihj itsjlzmh vzlbvsif, lfsobr jfjrmmsyz akjxrt? Xmdrroia hepmfuqhj tsievcy dxjvt. ymezktdbh czifvi yeefgug uxzru flmpweik nrnmkife.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

I got it!

This is not own my story, but I recall it fondly. My cousin played in an orchestra that gave a concert on risers. The brass in back were raised perhaps four or five feet above the violins. The first trumpet player arrived seriously drunk at the concert warmup. He wobbled up the risers to his place and dropped his mouthpiece. He then wobbled down and crawled under the risers to find it. There matters stayed as the concert began. The first piece was soft, so the audience could hear the occasional very annoying bump and thump as the trumpeter moved around. Suddenly there was a cry of “I got it!”, an enormous WHACK, and silence. The rest of the concert proceeded very smoothly, minus one trumpet player. Clearly, by the time he found it, he had quite forgotten he was beneath the risers.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Impolite Noises:

Oct 13, 2004:
I suspect we’re all going to have this experience, but it just happened to me yesterday. Entering a public bathroom, I heard the unmistakable sound of a computer game within one of the closed stalls. Biddle-biddle-dibble-deep!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

At last, a useful mobile phone:

Here's a mobile phone that will alert you when you have bad breath. There’s a synergy here. It’s not like a combination can opener and radio. It’s not even like the mouse with a built in printer. But I don't want to know what they will think of next.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Some New Olympic Events:

I’ve invented a few new Olympic events:

100 meter dash pole vault: Set the bar to a comfortable height for world class vaulters. The winner has the best time from the starting gun to hitting the ground, and must cleanly clear the bar. A few hurdles might be added as well.

The vault and dive: Place the pommel horse on the high-diving platform. The athlete vaults onto the pommel horse and then goes into a high dive. A nice combination of skills.

The biathlon dive: (Scheduled for the last day of the Olympics.) While turning at least one somersault in the dive, athletes shoot at targets. Live spectators are not permitted (but see below).

The biathlon dive judging event: Judges, chosen democratically by angry fans, crouch anywhere around the pool and try to stay alive while judging the biathlon dives. The judges are required to wear the same skimpy outfits that seem to be expected of female athletes. Whoever subsequently leaves the hospital first wins.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

When you want the very best…

I plan to continue blogging regularly on November 1, but meanwhile let me tell you something about the radio station. We moved into a new building this summer, before the building was, well, built. For awhile, to get into the station I had to ignore a red sign saying “This building is condemned ... structurally unsafe ... do not yada ... . One consequence was that no one cleaned the bathrooms and in fact we had to bring our own toilet paper to the station. But the university is rushing to get ready for its fall students. Today THERE WAS TOILET PAPER!

Then reality set in.

My TP is much, much nicer than theirs. Sigh…

Sunday, July 25, 2004


Sorry everyone. I'm going to take some time off from this blog. Please check in November 1, 2004, when I will start writing regularly again.

Your comments have given me a lot of pleasure. Thanks, readers!
- The Precision Blogger.

Friday, July 23, 2004

If the bolt fits:

Our extended family owns a cradle purchased at the 1851 Crystal Palace exposition in London. Its iron frame is secured by six enormous bolts. It is a tactile pleasure to screw each bolt into its perfectly fitting hole. The hand-made bolts are not interchangeable, the frame having been engineered by hand to match them. Today’s machine-made standard size nuts and bolts do not fit each other nearly so well, but they do the job. They are also cheaper and easier to replace. It’s a pity that today’s software industry hasn’t really embraced the idea that standard fittings are better than hand-crafted “perfect” fits. Software development is still in the mid-19th century.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Your Frequencies are Deficient, sir!

While I was doing my radio show this morning, a gentleman called I to tell me that “When I hear the music, the high frequencies sound just fine, but when you announce, I hear no high frequencies.” I dutifully agreed to report this aberration to the technical staff, but, really, I knew he was just dissing me.

There are people with wonderful head resonance. Their every word is colored by beautiful high overtones. There are people with strong glottal muscles. Every syllable and consonant starts with a burst of high-frequency sound, giving their voice great character and usually a sense of authority.
And then there are people like me, whose normal speaking voice has no high frequencies. It makes me sad whenever I think about it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Original Volkwagen; on a diet?

Friends of ours bought a red Volkswagen shortly after that car reached the USA. VWs were incredibly cheap, partly because they were so FLIMSY. Our friend rounded a bend on an icy day. Her VW flipped onto its side and slid off the road. Fortunately she was only shaken up. She got a few people to lift the car upright again (it was also LIGHT). Aside from a few scratches, the VW looked good except for one minor detail – the back seat (a simple padded bench) had come out, and for some reason they could not push it back into place again.

The bench would not fit because the VW was now three inches narrower than before. It was a total loss.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Would you open an email (3) from a person named:

Loop V. Embolisms
Damnation B. Lawanda
Numbers Tuttle
Venomously O. Protruded (Too bad it wasn’t: Venomously O’Protruded.)
Fragrantly C. Flour

As usual, I’m not making these up. And would you open up an email with these subject lines:
“Your name is wrong!”
“marzipan looking glasses over 61”

And would you stop reading an email that began:
“You dont know me but my name is %TIF.” (I think the percent sign is silent.)

Monday, July 19, 2004

Can you hear without seeing?

If you play music on the Windows Media player, you may have tried to enjoy its abstract video patterns that change with the volume and pitch of the music. Apparently, most people now need to see a song when they hear it. When this “music-video” attitude comes to e-books, we’ll be trying to read while the individual letters dance, pulse, and change size in intricate rhythms. I’d hate that. Many people hear music better when their eyes are closed. Try it, maybe you don’t need those distracting videos at all.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

If you like SPICY food:

Sprinkle big doses of hot pepper and cinnamon on your ice cream, especially on vanilla. Hot pepper does for ice cream just what it does for everything else.

Friday, July 16, 2004

When did we lose subtraction?

We all have calculators now (hard or soft). So hardly anybody learns arithmetic, right? Cash registers tell the clerk exactly how much change to give us. In the last thirty years we’ve forgotten the higher skills of arithmetic, right?
Well it’s not so simple. If you worked in retail before calculators, you were taught to give change without subtracting. You were only expected to know addition, and if you handled change correctly you might not even know how much change the customer got. Sounds strange?

Suppose I buy something for 47 cents and hand you a dollar. Opening the register, you pick up three pennies, counting “48, 49, 50.” Then you pick up two quarters, counting “75, 100. Here’s your change, sir.”

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Obfuscate those bugs!

If you’ve been wondering why companies sell programs that are much more complicated than you need, C. A. R. Hoare had the explanation:
"There are two ways of constructing a software program:
one way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies;
the other is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies."
Hoare said this in 1980. I suspect that many companies have simply followed his advice.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Flavored Coffee, II – no chemicals here!

I previously recommended two types of coffee flavoring.: assuming you’re using one of those $20 grinders that grind three to four cups’ worth of beans, you could toss (into the grinder) four or five unopened cardamom pods, or a half dozen anise seeds. I now have two more recommendations. Break off a piece of nutmeg (a very strong flavor). Or add about a whole dollar’s worth of vanilla bean. (Sigh, that’s about an whole inch of bean.) The vanilla gives a creamy flavor with just a hint of vanilla taste, very nice.
I suspect the right thing to do with a vanilla bean is to use it to flavor sugar (add sugar to the bean for a month or two), but so far I lack the patience to try that.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Here’s what it means to grow old(er):

From our twenties on, our physical plant deteriorates. At the same time we get wiser, more resourceful and more able to deal with that deterioration. But there will be ages when we deteriorate faster than we smarten up. This seems to be pretty common around age 40. Try to stay calm and reassess when that accelerated physical deterioration happens to you. If you’re under age 35, I'm probably making no sense to you at all. Enjoy your blissful ignorance while you can!

Monday, July 12, 2004

Did you REALLY plan for success?

Most of the computer companies I’ve worked at were busily spending a ton of money, expecting to develop a product that would be used by thousands or millions of people, yielding immense profits. But I’ve observed a quirk of human nature: the managers, programmers, marketing people, in fact almost everyone at these companies ACTED as if they were only trying to achieve a modest success, something that would be bought by hundreds of people.

Anyone who takes the idea of a million customers seriously knows there will be a giant flood of calls to customer service; and yet I never saw anyone even planning how to train the support people who would be needed fast enough. A million customers will find bugs that can hardly be imagined; and yet the developers were always expected to move to new projects before the product shipped. A million customers requires an incredible pipeline for purchases, returns and web page interactions; all of these were informally set up with a “let’s see what happens” attitude.

It’s easy to think of reasons why people might say they wanted a million customers but not try to plan for them. But I just shake my head in disbelief when I realize that almost everyone acted that way.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

E. T.: The Sequel...

In the sequel, he'll never be without his cellphone.

Friday, July 09, 2004

AT&T War Stories (1985), #4

My first consulting assignment at AT&T was ending on November 30. Looking for more work, I called a director I knew. “Patrick,” I said, do you have consulting work for me?”
“I do,” he replied, “but since you work in the TLA group, I can’t pick you up. I have an agreement not to raid the TLA.”
“I don’t work for the TLA,” I said, “I just happen to have my office there. I’m being paid by (I named another director).”
“Doesn’t matter,” he said, “if your office was elsewhere I could take you, but I can’t touch you as long as you’re in the TLA.”

I found an empty office in another AT&T building. It wasn’t locked, and the guards would let me in on the strength of my AT&T consultant ID card. I had no idea if Patrick was serious. I moved in over Thanksgiving weekend.
On December first I called him. “Patrick, here I am in my AT&T office on Patriot’s Blvd.”
I had an intense feeling that I had let go of one trapeze bar, and had no idea where the second bar was.
“Great,” he said, “come on over, I need you to run a project.” I packed up and moved on to my second consulting job.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Is the telephone chord to your headset all twisted?

I better give you this advice right now. It’ll be obsolete soon when everybody uses wireless phones only.
If the chord from the telephone to thing you hold in your face is all twisted: disconnect at one end or the other (usually easy to do), hold the heavy piece in your hand, and the chord will untwist in a moment.
That chord usually gets twisted because you give it a turn in the process of picking it up and putting it back. See if you can catch yourself doing it!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Better air. Better air.

I recently remembered the first time I heard about someone complaining of bad air in a working environment. This can be a painful issue, since air quality in big buildings varies a lot, and usually only a few people are affected, so their complaints are not taken seriously.

A friend of mine remembered when he worked in mechanical drafting, sitting at a large table in a large room full of other drafting tables and other drafters. Just one guy complained that the air was bad. He complained a lot. his supervisor was on edge, and there was some question whether the complainer was really stable.
One day the complainer walked in after lunch looking happy for the first time in weeks. He was carrying a few bulky packages, and a soft sly smile played over his face. He unwrapped the packages, set everything up and voila! A caged canary twittered beside his desk. He was fired ten minutes later.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

What’s Special about Good Movers:

Once again I had an opportunity to watch a team of guys move something heavy. I believe the special quality of good moving people is not strength. Rather, they are considerate.

  • They are of course considerate of the items they are moving, and the narrow spaces they move through, to avoid scratches and outright damage.
  • They are strikingly considerate of each other, always aware of the potential to avoid another’s injury by watching their partners, asking questions and making suggestions to prevent a partner from getting into an awkward position.

    I’ve watched - and participated in - some amateur moving and some bad moving; I’ve overheard a lot of conversations in my life; but I’ve never heard anything resembling the conversations that occur among a good team of movers. Listen to them sometime!
  • Monday, July 05, 2004

    A question about keyboarding:

    To explain what I'm talking about, suppose you type the word "prelude" but you meant to type "please". Realizing your mistake at once, do you:
    - Remove the "relud" and insert "leas" in its place?
    - Erase the whole word and type "please".

    Whether or not you touchtype, you're probably aware that it's faster to retype the whole word. I've often tried to save time by correcting only the wrong letters. The minor problem is that you waste time thinking. The MAJOR problem is that you probably have a muscle memory for the entire word "please", it just flows from your fingertips spontaneously. There's nothing spontaneous (for most of us) about typing "leas".

    I think about this when I listen to virtuoso pianists. They play notes much too fast for their brain to guide their hands to the next note. (Scientists have studied this effect.) Instead they seem to unleash long muscle memory pipelines to plan ahead where their hands will go. We do the same when we type.

    Sunday, July 04, 2004

    So, what would you call this kind of lead-in:

    If you've read many of my blog entries, you've noticed that many of my "titles" don't make the slightest bit of sense until after you've read the item. But afterwards they seem appropriate. Is it fair to call then "titles"? I can't think of a good word for them, and would appreciate your suggestions.

    The composer Debussy posed a similar (but different) problem when composing his piano preludes. Each one has a title, but the titles appear at the end of each piece. Debussy might have wanted us to decide on our own what we think each prelude is about before diffidently suggesting his own idea. It's not easy to decide what to call his post titles either.

    Friday, July 02, 2004

    About: Barbecue Cooking:

    An original thought today, but it’s Rita Rudner’s, not mine: “Men will cook when there’s danger involved.” (That observation’s certainly true of me, even though I do not barbecue.)

    Thursday, July 01, 2004

    How many times did he…

    Years ago I drove three coworkers to a day meeting in North Jersey. Among us was Ralph, a programmer whose dress and hairstyle identified him as a laidback holdover from the counter-culture 1960’s.
    At lunchtime we found that I had lockedmy keys in the car. We obtained a hanger and each took a turn fiddling with it – rather feebly - trying to release the lock. All except Ralph, who stood to the side, apparently an uninterested spectator. But finally he said “May I try?” and I handed him the hanger. He turned away from me, smartly bending the top of the hanger as he did so; walked up to the car and in a blink the door was open. I could not have gotten in as fast with a key.
    “Ralph, where did you learn to do that?” we asked. “Oh a guy showed me once,” he replied. But we were thinking…

    Wednesday, June 30, 2004

    Frightened by a Boat:

    I was walking along the road-edge of a sidewalk when a mysterious apparition entered my vision at the left, a long thin unidentified object sliding quickly across above my head. It’s amazing what complex analysis our brains perform to enable us to “see”, and we can appreciate it even more when the brain misfires on something that briefly makes no sense. Vision relies heavily on a total world view of our environment and everything we know about, to give us useful images.

    I shied away in terror, sure that something was about to land on my head. But as the Volkswagen drove up and past me, I identified the narrow long racing boat that stuck out a good 15 feet in front of the car. Until I could see most of the boat, it was just a UFO.

    Tuesday, June 29, 2004

    Mirror out of order:

    We were travelling, stopped at a gas station on parkway. In the restroom, big hand-written sign pasted on the mirror: Out of Order, DO NOT USE.
    Well I've been known to rebel against authority; I looked in the mirror. I think it was working, although I did look a litle more disheveled than usual.

    Oh - the sink below the mirror didn't work at all.

    Saturday, June 26, 2004

    A rule for failure:

    David Gristwood has published an essay on the 21
    Rules of Thumb – How Microsoft develops its Software
    . One of these
    rules is “Never trade a bad date for an equally bad date”, and what he
    means is this: if you have to slip, make sure you’re successful hitting
    the new deadline, else credibility and morale will suffer. I was
    expecting a different reason for this rule. Here’s a problem that even
    affects non-programmers.

    When a project has an impossible deadline, people working on it will say so, be depressed, and grumble. But they will keep working on the project (do they have a choice?) and in their minds they will think opposite, success-oriented thoughts like this:
    “They really want to finish the project in a month, so they must assume we will take horrible risky shortcuts.” “They really want to finish the project in a month, so they don’t mind if we use inferior materials and leave stuff out. "Maybe it IS possible to finish in a month if we skip testing for defects.” After a few of these attempts to meet the impossible deadline, the work is so messed up that it will not meet subsequent deadlines either. Bad dates make the work regress.

    Friday, June 25, 2004

    Why would you buy a fuel-efficient car?

    USA cars today, on average, seem to be less fuel efficient than 20 years ago. Many environmentalists feel that people will buy gas guzzlers as fast as the manufacturers can make them. The only hope for fuel economy is to force the automakers to make more efficient cars. Well I’d like to float one idea: Would you consider buying a car that could go 750 miles between gas refills? Think of all the time you’d spend away from gas stations, and all the trips you cold take without refueling at some horribly pricey place.
    In any given year, cars tend to all have similar cruisings distance regardless of efficiency. In the 1960’s and early 70’s, a tank generally held 200 to 250 miles worth of gas; now it’s 300 to 400. But imagine a car with a 16 gallon tank that gets 50 mpg! That’s 800 miles in one tank, and that freedom might sell a lot of cars.

    Thursday, June 24, 2004

    Easy Living (wide open):

    The driver’s door on my car opens particularly wide, making it so easy for me to slip in and out. Someone recently admired my very open car door, so I decided to share its secret with you. Here’s how to do it:

  • Open the door wide.
  • Inspect: you should find a plastic harness in the front that goes tight, limiting how wide the door opens. If you do not see this harness, I strongly suggest skipping the remaining steps.
  • Back slowly out of your (or any) garage.
  • Ignore the loud grinding sound warning you that the door is caught on the center post of the garage, and the harness is stretching to the max.
  • As soon as the harness snaps, slam on the brakes to prevent real damage.
  • You’re all set! Drive forward a little so you can close the car door.

    I must admit that I omitted the inspection step above. Although I’ve enjoyed my wide door for years, I have not adjusted any of my other car doors.
  • Wednesday, June 23, 2004

    We can buy fresh lychee nuts here in the Northeast:

    Lychee nuts are a seasonal fruit – imported here at only certain times of the year. Fresh Lychees are delicious if you like that sort of thing (and I do). Try them. Peel off the crumbly skin (a little like peeling an egg) and eat the juicy inside but not the fairly big nut. Here’s a web page with more than you’ll want to know about Lychee.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2004

    Bernard Herrmann wrote an opera:

    The composer Bernard Herrmann collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on most of his great movies. If you watch dialogless scenes from these movies with the sound off (e.g. take any thriller scene from Psycho), you’ll see just how important Herrmann’s contribution was. It often seems as if Hitch was just roughing out the video, trusting Herrmann’s audio to make it work.

    Like many another composer, Herrmann could not resist writing an opera, for which he used the book Wuthering Heights. Now I think it would have been really neat if Herrmann had gone to Hitchcock and said, “Look, I’m going to write an opera. How about giving me a plot?” I’ll bet Alfred Hitchcock would have loved to plot an opera.

    Monday, June 21, 2004

    Today’s entry is not very unique:

    I’ve heard a lot of people use the phrase “very unique”, and I think it actually means something. People want you to know that the event they’re discussing is not unique in some ordinary way, but (perhaps) some intensely striking way. I expect society to develop a sense of taste regarding uniquenesses. We may have concepts like ”casually unique”, “alarmingly unique”, and “n-dimensionally unique” (that is, unique in N entirely separate ways, such as Bob Dylan’s viola being struck by lightning without injury to it or him, as he plays it for once it his life during an impromptu concert arranged by Ross Perot in the Grand Canyon).

    Sunday, June 20, 2004

    A great blow has been struck against Digital Rights Management (DRM):

    DRM refers to many technologies that enable companies to sell products to you and then control how you use them. A good example: You can’t play a DVD made in France on an American DVD player or vice versa, not because they use incompatible standards, but simply because some media companies decided not to let you.

    Microsoft is betting part of their future on deeply integrating DRM into ALL general purpose computers. Yet they invited Cory Doctorow to give them a lecture on why they SHOULDN’T support DRM, and he put together a witty, intelligent good read with breadth and depth. (I’ve linked to his summary; follow his own link to the full text.)

    Now you may think the exciting question is whether he will actually persuade Microsoft’s leaders to change their minds. But I think that’s the side issue. His lecture will be widely read at Microsoft, and the people who work there are avid consumers of music, movies, CDs, DVDs and all sorts of other copyrighted art. They will talk among themselves and find that most of them agree with Doctorow. So either Microsoft’s leaders will back off from supporting DRM, or they will try to lead their troops where their troops simply will not follow.

    So much for heavy-handed computer control of artistic rights! For more on the benefits of gentle copyrights, browse Lawrence Lessig.

    Friday, June 18, 2004


    My cousin Michael used to make very wry jokes. The one I can remember deserves whatever immortality the web can confer, so here goes:

    We were discussing how difficult it must be to be a simultaneous translator at the U.N., listening to speakers in one language while concurrently saying what they said in another. Michael was sure he couldn’t possibly do it. He imagined himself as a simultaneous translator saying: “Ummm … … something about shipping.”

    Thursday, June 17, 2004

    Do you fill the tank or buy an even N dollars-worth?

    If you fill the tank every time, you’re minimizing your time at the gas station. But if you always ask for $10 (remember when that was a lot?) you might save money. Asked to fill, the attendant may squeeze extra drops of gas onto the ground. Someone has noticed that the attendant may also misunderstand (?) you and fill with a higher octane than you requested. That could net him money if he’s filling the tank, but there’s little incentive for this trick if you asked for $10 worth.

    Oh I’m so lococentric: if you don’t live in NJ or Oregon you probably fill the tank yourself, and my hairsplitting means nothing to you! How do YOU decide whether to fill the tank?

    Wednesday, June 16, 2004

    Since the good old days:

    When I got my second job as a programmer, I memorized the computer instructions and assembler commands in advance. I walked in on the first day ready to program. There was little else one needed to know.
    Later in my career programming was more complicated. I worked with many other programmers doing similar work, and we asked each other about whatever we needed to learn.
    When I became a consultant, I worked less often with groups of programmers. But programming was even more complicated. I relied on a bunch of books to learn what I needed. Each time I changed projects, I bought two or three more books.
    Now programming is horribly complicated. I constantly need to find out things I never knew. But oh, the Web! It may take five or twenty searches, but beautiful explanations of everything I need are just waiting for me to find them.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2004

    Would you read an email from these persons?

    Joseph Bah
    Histories J. Cerebra
    Jarlsberg R. Soup
    Annie Kurtz adaplcwdok

    And would you read an email if the subject line was:
    subject: granulate florican grain hi hereford capacity execute bloop
    subject: blood clot bubble baths
    subject: Clacke cornfloyer
    subject: Extend your piece of mind
    subject: Take a look at the potential ptovmqy rlrlq eh
    (Excuse me while I punctuate that one properly: Take a look at the potential ptovmqy rlrlq, eh?)

    Monday, June 14, 2004

    Is it going to rain today?

    Meteorology is a horribly inexact discipline, but here’s one aspect you can handle by yourself. In the spring and summer, you sometimes wake up to a completely gray sky. What’s the chance it’s going to rain?
    Go outside and look directly up at the sky. Try to decide whether the cloud cover is thin. (You can almost see blue sky through a thin cloud cover. You’ll get the hang of this with a little practice.) If the clouds are thin, the sun is probably boiling them off and you’ll have a blue sky day. If the cloud cover is thick, there’s a good chance of rain.

    Sunday, June 13, 2004

    Let's fix Baseball:

    The designated hitter (DH) rule is the bane and pride of baseball. In the American league, which uses it, the game is too simple, deprived of all the strategy required (in the National league) to deal with pitchers' at bats. But the DH rule has extended the careers of many stars with great fan recognition, and that's good. Here's how to have the best of both:

    The DH should not be allowed to bat for the pitcher, but rather for a fielder. That means there would still be all that pitching strategy in DH games.

    Even better, every team has a player in the minors whose fielding is spectacular, crowd-pleasing, but can't hit a lick. Pairing these great fielders with designated hitters will make the defensive game more exciting. What a great idea, if I do say so myself.

    Friday, June 11, 2004

    Panic Button, please:

    Many years ago I took a training course for a fancy Engineering Drawing program on a Unix workstation. Our company had an emergency, and the manufacturer kindly set up a class with double the size they regarded as their maximum. The classroom was filled with Unix machines strung together with Ethernet cables and AC extension cords.

    About an hour into the course, a student in the back of the room asked “Is there anything you have to do before you shut down a UNIX system?”
    ”I’m glad you asked,” replied the instructor, launching into a discussion of the importance of a graceful shutdo...”
    ”Because the machine is on fire!” said the student.
    We turned to see smoke pouring out of a machine and even flames. “PULL THE PLUG” yelped the instructor.
    When the smoke cleared it was obvious that far too many UNIX machines had been connected to the same AC circuit.

    Thursday, June 10, 2004

    Open that drawer, spare that back:

    I had to pull some heavy drawers this morning, and they reminded me of a trick I developed when my back was bad. (Half of us will get bad backs sooner or later.) Grab the handle with your fingers, then anchor your thumb on the (non-movable) frame of the thing you are opening. Then rotate your hand (toward the thumb) so that your fingers pull on the drawer. You'll develop good force, and you'll notice your back is not involved AT ALL.

    Wednesday, June 09, 2004

    A Coffee recommendation:

    I’m currently buying coffee from the Fair Trade Coffee Company. Their coffee is very tasty, and I do hope they really are practicing “fair trade”. One of our blog readers pointed out that of course, there are companies just claiming to be fair trade to get more business. I have no idea about this particular company, but they are certified.
    If you deal with them you will get emails from someone named Ahhre. I’m always happy to get his emails and I assume he’s quite at home on Talk Like a Pirate day.

    Tuesday, June 08, 2004

    A little excitement in radio land:

    I’m a regular DJ for a weekly classical music program, 6:00 to 8:30 a.m. Today I agreed to do 6 to 11 because the station is moving to new quarters and they are very short-handed. The station changes formats many times during the day; at 11 a.m., no Jazz announcer showed up. I went on the air and said “Well jazz fans, here’s the story: there’s no jazz announcer here and the shelves are bare. Almost all the music has moved to our new location. I’ll put on a some more classical music and see what I can find.”
    I put on Enesco’s first Romanian Rhapsody (11’54”) and started hunting. Luckily I saw a familiar name – Ahmad Jamal – and we managed to have a jazz program. A good thing too, my only other idea was to feed our jazz fans a steady diet of classical pop – Sorcerer’s apprentice, etc.

    Monday, June 07, 2004

    Grinding Coffee:

    If you use a cheap coffee grinder, run it for only ten to fifteen seconds at a time, then let it rest for a few minutes. (I get a decent result by grinding for nine seconds, waiting about two minutes, then nine seconds and I’m done.) By resting the grinder, you can make it last twenty years instead of one or two; you’re being kind to the metal in the motor that otherwise will overheat. You’re also being kind to the coffee, not heating it up too much in the grinding process.
    Add a great flavor while you grind, it’ll taste fresh. I recommend cardamom seeds for starters (a common flavor around the Mediterranean and the Eastern Asia). Just toss in three or four whole seedpods; no need to shell the seeds. A dozen anise seeds tastes great, too.

    Sunday, June 06, 2004

    You can make better coffee than Starbucks!

    You can make better coffee, at home or (in most cases) at work, than Starbucks. A lot better in fact, so why not?
    The French Press makes excellent coffee with little fuss. All you need is nearly boiling water and a few minutes to wait. The French Press comes in a variety of sizes, here are some from Bodum.
    If you search the web for fair trade coffee beans, you can buy good coffee that was not made by totally exploiting the workers and coffee-bush owners.
    Beans keep their flavor best, and you can grind them effectively in the cheapest possible grinder, although coffee gourmets will disagree on this. A grinder also enables you to have truly delicious flavored coffee, not chemically-flavored coffee. More about flavors soon.

    Friday, June 04, 2004

    Brood X, Underfoot:

    There are cicada carcasses everywhere in our part of NJ, and we seem to have no natural predator (dung beetle, ant, whatever) to clean them up. I’ve discovered that many people absolutely do not want to step on a cicada, dead or alive. If you feel that way here, with concentration you can step to avoid them (at least in daylight). If you’re the kind of person who prefers not to step on sidewalk cracks, you already know that this can be done too, with care.
    But if you want to step on neither cicadas nor sidewalk cracks, there’s very little hope for you here.

    Thursday, June 03, 2004

    Something exciting is coming to a plane near you:

    I enjoy it when the video screen shows the plane’s location on the map, even when it’s too dark or cloudy to see the ground. In the future, those video screens will show spectacular 3D views of the terrain you’re flying over, even accurate night views. Once this sort of camera-view becomes a military commodity, the commercial airlines will fall all over each other rushing to offer it first.

    Wednesday, June 02, 2004

    If you like to stir-fry vegetables:

    Buy a pound package of Dole’s Coleslaw mix. It’s full of veggies all prepared for a quick stir-fry. Add a few other ingredients and seasonings for an excellent dish. What you don’t fry, you can make into coleslaw. There’s a catch though: you have to like the taste of cabbage.

    Tuesday, June 01, 2004

    Yet Another “Oops”:

    Early In my second ever programming job I decided I needed a table in addition to my desk. This company operated on a shoestring, so my manager turned a deaf ear to my table request. SO I took a cardboard shipping box about 30x30x30”, laid a piece of plywood on it, and voila Viola! I had my table, rickety but serviceable.

    A few days later my boss came by to instruct me how to deal with some issue. As he talked, he sat down on my “table”, collapsing it beneath his bantam weight, dumping him onto the floor. I got my real table two hours later.

    Monday, May 31, 2004

    128 Megabytes of Storage on my keychain (oops):

    I now have a little fob on my keychain that plugs into pretty much any youthful PC. After I transfer files to and from the fob, I can forget that it’s attached to the computer and walk off leaving ALL MY KEYS BEHIND.

    Sunday, May 30, 2004

    Sadly Leaving a new place:

    When I left Destin Florida, I realized that I will probably never visit this part of the world again. My specific reason for coming will not recur; I know that most of the year, the weather there is no where near as nice as it was for me; and we have many touristy priorities that will take us elsewhere. But the calm air, the lovely surf, the variegated skies, the song birds, the flowers - all were such pleasures. Leaving a fond place and knowing you will never return is one of the universal sad experiences.

    Friday, May 28, 2004

    I don’t know how to pronounce your name, could you say it for me five times?

    We rarely have the nerve to ask people to help us pronounce their names right. Too embarrassing! But you can call them when they are (probably) away and listen to their phone message a few times. “This is Jero Feketekuti. Leave a …” “This is Jero Feketekuti. Leave a …” “This is …” Too bad many people do not say their name in their message, and some people are too embarrassed to pronounce their own name distinctly.

    Tuesday, May 25, 2004

    Reduce Wallet and Keys for a trip – up to a point:

    When I go on a (several day) trip, I thin my wallet and keyring, leaving home things I’d never need on the trip, like my local library card. But here’s what’s important: if you can’t remember what some of the keys on your ring are for, even if you haven’t used them for a year, take them with you! Otherwise (as Murphy’s Law implies) you’re going to remember what they were for in the worst possible way.

    Monday, May 24, 2004

    In Which I invent an entirely new profession:

    People combine caller ID with cell-phone melody rings to know who’s calling. They have fun picking a melody for each regular caller. I think we have it backwards.

    I should pick my own unique melody, and everyone I call should hear the ring I choose. “But they’ll all pick Pachelbel’s Canon” you complain. Not at all. People who have trouble choosing their unique ring will consult a Ringtone Guru, who will study your personality for an hour and design a unique ring that is truly you. If you’re feeling flush, you can pay extra to buy additional phone melodies that express your current emotions. After all, mobile phones will soon have mood ring interfaces to warn the person you’re talking to how you’re feeling.

    Sunday, May 23, 2004

    A few more days, please:

    On May 20 I looked at the parking pass the hotel had given me. It was a form on which a clerk had written by hand that is was good until May 20. But I was staying to the 23rd! With a sinking heart I speculated why my pass was not good through the 23rd: Other guests had spoken of weekend parking permission problems. I went off to the desk expecting to be told to park my care elsewhere somehow.

    When I showed my pass to the clerk, she said “I can fix that,” drew a dark 3 over the zero and handed it back to me. I looked dumbly at the handwriting, which now read “May 23”, and thought Gee, I could have done that myself.

    Saturday, May 22, 2004

    I bumped head-first into a plane this week:

    Bumping into a plane (on foot) is just as difficult as it sounds, you have to be pretty spacey. I found an area in the hangar where the phone signal was strong. I was talking on my cellphone while walking around. The plane’s wing, just a few arc-seconds above my of sight, whacked my forehead. Fortunately it was a small plane. The plane’s okay, and so am I. … And I almost did it again, a few hours later.

    Friday, May 21, 2004

    Big City Dwellers, eat your hearts out:

    Here in Western Florida I drive over a 3.5 mile bridge (that’s not a typo) every day. Crossing this beautiful finger of the Gulf of Mexico – the rippling emerald and blue waters of Choctawatchee Bay - costs only $2. A $2 toll for 3.5 miles of bridge! What a great deal. Oncoming cars’ windshields sparkle in the sun like diamonds.

    Thursday, May 20, 2004

    There’s a Walmart everywhere, but they’re not all the same:

    In a Walmart in Western Florida, an expansive display of merchandise caught my eye. Before really looking at it I knew I had not seen the like in any New Jersey store. This aisle was full of packages each with a strangely shaped piece of metal: dozens of differently shaped custom fan blades.

    Speed limits: continuous?

    Driving in Florida, I remarked to my passenger that when I can see two speed limit signs ahead – say, 35 mph here, and 45 in the distance – I assume the speed limit is continuous: somewhere between the signs, the speed limit is 40.

    My passenger disagreed. “The moment I see a speed sign in the distance, that’s the speed limit here and now. If I can see two signs, I ignore the first one. What’s the point?”

    Tuesday, May 18, 2004

    You’re the one!

    So: I’m on a business trip. I’ve worked on, and learned about, part of a project to prepare an enormous demo. People have been swarming about to prepare the many systems, complex hardware, and much software. I was asked to join the team making the trip to do field integration and the demo.

    A few days before the trip I said to the project leader, “Our team of people on the trip should get together and plan. We have to know who’ll do what and when!” He looked at me – sympathetically I must say – and said: “You’re the only one.”

    And so it is. I figure, if I do anything right, great. If I make a mistake, well, um, (looks over his shoulder), um, …

    Second Guessing, Third Guessing...

    Do you sometimes feel that our country is too busy post-morteming what we should have done, and not spending enough effort to decide what to do next? Well here's an anecdote:

    I used to work for a certain manager. If you told him about a new, serious problem, he immediately called a group meeting to determine whose fault the problem was. An hour or so later, when he had decided whether his own group or another was at fault, he was willing to start thinking about how to deal the matter.

    Friday, May 14, 2004

    Movies, get your movies:

    In five to ten years it will possible to make a cube that fits in your hand and contains 1,000 full length movies. If you charge $10,000 for it no one will buy it. If you charge $100 for it no one will make it. (I’m ignoring inflation.) The in-between prices probably won’t work either.

    By the way, I may be off-net a lot in the second half of May, Posting irregularly.

    Thursday, May 13, 2004

    You might enjoy reading about “Déjà Vu”…

    Here’s an explanation of Déjà Vu on the web. Please accept my apologies if I’m repeating myself. I don’t see it in my files, but I’m afraid I’ve posted this blog entry before.

    By the way, I may be off-net a lot in the second half of May, Posting irregularly.

    Wednesday, May 12, 2004

    Armhole respectfully requests your attention:

    Would you open a (spam) email from (I’m not making these up):
    Pui Lrdwglue
    Armhole F. Brahman
    Pratfall U. Holidayed
    Peacefulness Q. Manor

    Tuesday, May 11, 2004

    Oops, down the drain...

    You may never thank me for this little kitchen tip. My fear is that you will remember it someday:

    Before you pour something through a strainer, stop and remember: are you planning to throw away the liquid or the solid?

    Monday, May 10, 2004

    Why did the chicken cross the road?

    Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?

    A: To get a better wireless phone signal.

    Sunday, May 09, 2004

    Blake Patterson's theory of fixing Everything:

    When I knew Blake Patterson, he was a bassoonist and music theorist. He helped me fix two TV sets, and I have since resorted often to his method of repair:

    Take it apart. Clean the insides. Vacuum the insides, wipe off dust. Put it back together.

    Obviously this system does not deal with tired motors, loose wires, blown circuit boards and the like, but it is remarkably effectve. When you take somthing apart, note what you're doing so you can do it backwards later. If you lose parts, or have parts left over after reassembly, the thing may not improve.

    Friday, May 07, 2004

    Delete my file, Bro:

    If computers could think more like humans, would we trust them? We might, if they acted like a sort of person we found trustworthy. I imagine the computer of the future trying out a British accent, then talking trash, acting the Limey, then trying perhaps a Russian accent (complete with newly-learned English spelling errors) and so on, until the machine sensed it had found the personality to win its owner's trust.

    I can also imagine us users getting tired of the charade, and hitting the "Stop That" key.

    Dear computer company, I am returning this computer for warrantee repairs. It insists on using the word 'like' in every error message.

    Thursday, May 06, 2004

    Minaturization (not Moore's Law):

    People mention Moore's Law when they talk about any trend in miniaturization. Hardly anyone knows that Moore's Law is simply an observation about the economics of shrinking computer circuitry over time.

    Most of the miniaturization that we enjoy results from shrinking logic. People make new things by assembling components and writing algorithms to control them. When it becomes routine to solve a problem this way, it's then economical to make a chip containing the equivalent of all those components and logic. That chip is then used as a component in another product, starting the next shrinking cycle.

    Wednesday, May 05, 2004

    I like to Fool Myself:

    Steve Martin used to do this bit in his comedy routine: “Oh my shoe’s untied!” and he would bend down to his shoe. The TV camera would zoom in on his perfectly tied shoe. Martin would then stand up and say “I like to play tricks on myself.”

    A lot of us probably enjoy playing tricks on ourselves, but I never noticed until Martin pointed it out. One of my personal favorites is misreading a newspaper headline. When I take a second look, the reality is much less interesting than my initial reading. For example, this morning I saw a recipe headline: Glass Noodles with Carb. Seemed anachronistic, but a closer reading found: Glass Noodles with Crab.

    Tuesday, May 04, 2004

    Reach to the Back of the Bin:

    If you’re taller than average or have long arms, you should be able to select better than average produce in a supermarket. (This idea does not apply if you’re already an expert at picking the best.) I figure the experts have already removed most of the best items from the front of the bin. I make my selections as far back as I can reach, where the random probabilities are more in my favor.

    Monday, May 03, 2004

    An arrow spinning round and round...

    It's well known that if you need to remember a set of unrelated things, you can improve your recall by imagining a picture of them all. For example, if you need to buy a steak, popsicles, garbage bags and a staple gun: just imagine a popsicle with its stick stuck through a steak that's inside a garbage bag that you are stapling shut.

    This weekend I thought of a good idea to blog about, and I made an image to remember it: a man with an arrow inside his head, the arrow curved round on itself, spinning ceaselessly round and round.

    I'll get back to you on that one when I remember what it was about. Maybe.

    Friday, April 30, 2004

    Today’s fortuitous typo grants us a favor:

    I received an ad from a website that is prepared to tell me what about The Next Boon On The Internet. What boon would you like the internet to give you? I’ll settle for this: All web pages shall display the date of their last update, so I’ll know when I’m looking at a dead web site.

    I have a confession to make. After I wrote this item I kept replacing the boon with other boons I wanted even more. I want the Internet to give me at least fifty boons.

    Thursday, April 29, 2004

    This movie has been modified:

    I imagine putting a video tape in my VCR and seeing something like this. Any movie director could make it happen. Think about it:

    ovie has been modified.
    s been edited to fit your scre

    Wednesday, April 28, 2004

    What Color are your Status Lights?

    Products sold worldwide should conform to a European standard for indicator colors. Intuitively obvious (red=trouble, yellow=warning, green=okay), the standard is often ignored, and I can remember bitter arguments lasting weeks – in a computer design group – about the right color for some indicator lights.

    Suppose your floppy drive lights up whenever you read or write to it; would you agree with me that the light should be yellow? I figure you’re being warned that if you pull the floppy out while it's in use, a problem will occur. (Many disagree.)

    The power cord on my laptop lights a green light when it has power. That’s fine with me. If the cord is disconnected, my laptop will switch to its battery and not die. But I would prefer the power cord to show me a bright red light when it is receiving no electricity at all. The “no power” warning light that doesn’t rely on batteries is a holy grail of hardware design.

    Tuesday, April 27, 2004

    Pile high the Software…

    In 1987 I visited the offices of PC Magazine – still my favorite magazine about the home and business computer world – to persuade them to review a product. They took us to their lab, a rectangular room about 60 x 30 feet with work tables all around the walls. The middle of the room was a midden – an astounding heap of floppy disks and software products more than three feet high and eight feet across. There were ten to twenty copies of every popular program on that pile, and tons of less familiar stuff as well. (In those days, a product usually fit on one to three floppies.) It was clear many many salesmen sent freebies to PC Magazine, hoping to get mentioned or reviewed. The staff at the mag might need two or three copies of a new program; they just tossed the rest on the pile.

    I looked at that giant pile of useful software and drooled. I don’t think of myself as a thievish person, but I sure wished I could have had ten minutes alone in that room with my briefcase.

    Monday, April 26, 2004

    No Need to Reply to this Blog Item:

    Sometimes I receive a short email note, and I agonize over whether to reply. The writer seems to be completing something, but maybe it would be impolite not to write back “thanks”, or “I got your message.” I worry that if I send a short unnecessary reply, the other person will agonize in turn about whether I expect a reply, and so ad infinitum.
    Luckily I have a solution to this problem. I’ll often send an email like this: ”Mr. Plony, I really liked your blog posting on March 17. You expressed something very well that I’ve often thought about. No need to reply to this message.”
    I wish the world understood the acronym: NNTRTTM. It would save quite a bit of typing.

    Sunday, April 25, 2004

    Some headlines are really peculiar:

    These headlines are all real but I’m not providing links. I’d like you to marvel at their mystery:

    • Dog finds skull that was likely stolen from crypt.
    • Kangaroo mistaken for giant beaver.
    • Lizard spit drug controls diabetes, weight.
    • Armed robbers steal ox's gallbladder stones.
    • Nervous dragon given acupuncture.

    Friday, April 23, 2004

    Who ya gonna mail? (Host Flusters):

    So you’re browsing a web page and you want to send an email. You feel there HAS to be a contact email address somewhere on this page, but you can’t find it. You even searched the page for “contact.” Now try this: in your browser, click View, then click PageSource (or Source). You’ll get a text window full of abstruse HTML code. Search that text (the search or find command is probably in the edit menu for this text) for these six letters: mailto . This is the html tag that precedes a genuine email address. After you copy and paste, close the source window. Good luck!

    Thursday, April 22, 2004

    There’s no such thing as a free office:

    I moved to a new development group at a large company. They showed me my office, a room about twenty feet square with a lockable door. This is the largest office I’ve ever had, and the only lockable office I’ve ever had. I was amazed! How could they offer such a thing to a consultant? Other people in the group, even managers, had cubes or small offices. Mine was almost the only one with lock and key.

    I set the office up with my desk, table and computer just the way I liked it.

    Two mornings later, I came in to find my locked door open, and everything moved around to open up a yard-wide conduit under the floor filled with wiring. “How often do you have to open this up?” I asked the workmen. “Often,” they said, "you better leave everything where it is now.” They left an hour later after making quite a racket. Still, it WAS a large office. Better than the office I got at another department of the same company two years later: a hallway 40 feet long, three feet wide, with neither window nor electrical outlet. It was also better than my first office ever at that company, a cube 5 by 7.5 feet, that I had to share with three other people. (I’m not making this up! Since we didn’t know each other very well, only one of us entered the office at a time.)

    Wednesday, April 21, 2004

    The 20th Century. (See: The 20th Century):

    So many earth-shaking things were new in the 20th century. Among other things, this was the self-referential century. We’re now awash in a new kind of writing and humor, in works, sentences and people that cleverly comment on themselves. (“This sSo many earth-shaking things were new in the 20th century. Among other things, this was the self-referential century. We’re now awash in a new kind of writing and humor, in works, sentences and people that cleverly comment on themselves. (“This sentence no verb.”) Like many great discoveries, the delights of self-reference may have exploded out of several brilliant minds at once, but we might reserve a special place for Kurt Goedel.

    At a time when others were trying to generalize the whole business of proving theorems in hopes of being able to automatically prove or disprove every valid logical statement, Goedel proved that any logical system containing the ability to count will have theorems that are true but cannot be proved.

    But that’s not important now. I mention him because his 1931 proof involved, likely for the first time (ignoring recursion), a hypothesis that referred to itself.

    Tuesday, April 20, 2004

    Your own doctor:

    Medical plans make it hard to stick with a regular doctor, but consider this ideal: you find an internist somewhat younger than you (won’t retire before you do) with a good reputation. At each visit he or she asks you questions – medical history is still a very important part of diagnosis – and takes the time to review your records for related information. Over time the doctor remembers you, is aware of your medical peculiarities, and will notice whether you really seem changed or ill. It’s worth some effort to have a long term medical relationship with your doctor.

    Monday, April 19, 2004

    What’s that smell?

    Is life too dull where you work? I’ll trade with you. Here’s a snatch of conversation I overheard in the hallway, between a scientist and a site security person:
    “As far as the Hydrogen Sulfide goes, that’s not necessarily problem. You can smell Hydrogen Sulfide before it becomes a problem.”

    Sunday, April 18, 2004

    Quieter Cars, stalking me:

    When I was eleven, American car makers started selling cars with much quieter engines. After several near disasters, I realized that this was the case. I then sadly gave up my habit of bicycling through stop signs and intersections without looking to either side, as long as I could hear no car coming.

    Friday, April 16, 2004

    How Beautiful is our Ugliness:

    Edward Burtinsky’s beautiful photographs document just how ugly we can make the earth with our technologies. Check out the Oxford Tire Pile, Oil Fields, and Tailings pages here, at the online Charles Cowles Gallery. "Beautiful ugliness"; not quite an oxymoron.

    Thursday, April 15, 2004

    Yet another Massively Multiplayer Online Temptation:

    I’ve been fascinated by massively online games like Sime Online and There and A Tale in the Desert. These games promise an opportunity to live by one’s imagination in a realish but very foreign sort of world. You get a chance to interact with hundreds of other people in the game. The economics of these ventures are fascinating as well, with the prospect of 500,000 or more players paying $10 a month or more to entertain each other. In practice, these games tend not be sophisticated enough to sustain interest over long periods of time. And I’m afraid I would want to spend at least 40 hours of play a week, to make sure I don’t miss anything.

    Nonetheless I’ve succumbed to the lure. I’ve given my avatar a handsome look, a background and a few skills, and my avatar has begun to wander among the incredibly open expanses of a massively online game. I’m not paying monthly fees. And I’m not going to get hung up on acquiring stuff (that I would have to pay for). The game pace is “real world time”, so I feel very unhurried, and a few hours a week of play time will be more than enough. I plan to avoid combat and contentious situations. I just want to find some mentors, learn new skills, develop abilities and perhaps eventually mentor other people in turn.
    You might be interested in knowing which massively multiplayer online venue my avatar has joined. It’s called: The World Wide Web.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2004

    Millions Should Imply Responsibility:

    Post- Parmalat and Enron (and many other companies, I’m afraid), I’d like to suggest a simple reform. The people running these companies should have a choice between receiving a salary slightly larger than other employees (the model of Japanese executive salaries for many years), or receiving (as they now often do) obscenely large rewards. Companies justify the giant rewards by claiming that these people are absolutely key to their successful operations. Let’s take them at their word! Why would a company pay me $10 million a year if I didn’t know exactly what was going on? These executives should be required, in return for their golden packages, to sign a statement acknowledging that they know virtually everything their company is doing.