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.

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.