Thursday, March 31, 2005

Stuff that Really Matters

Slashdot subtitles itself "News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters."

Well, then, what do you subtitle this publication?

Suggestions solicited. Just think them. I'm sure they'll hear you.

A 9.5 out of 10?

Amazon's search-portal startup,, has added something interesting. Now, you can supplement your search page with topic-specific buttons, which look and act like the ones that come with A9 by default.

Okay, that by itself is cool enough, but it turns out that third parties (that would be us) can create such buttons.

A9's defined a protocol, built on top of RSS to permit what they call Open Search. If you have a site that has search capability, by following their how-to, you can create a search button that searches your site, which any other A9 user can add to their A9 page.

Nice, eh?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Terri Schiavo's Blog

"A cheap shot is a terrible thing to waste." -- Jo Haemer

Me, I didn't think it was funny either. No sirree bob. Not I.

Hat Tip: BA

What's The First Thing You Know?

Requiescat In Pace Paul Henning.
Q: What's the first thing you know?

A: Old Jed's a millionaire.

Bean Counting the Bloggers

LiveJournal stats say that most bloggers are women (nearly 2/3). I think this is key evidence that blogging is what has finally let the web become non-technical. Blogging is driven by verbal, not technical, skill, which is what draws women.

Anyone can get on the web today, create a nice-looking blog in seconds, and start generating words for whoever will listen.

I've seen recent estimates for the number of blogs that range from 8 million to 16 million. The number is doubling about every 6 months.

Yet most popular (by traffic) bloggers are male. Already, the diversity police want to know why and are seeking both a politically correct explanation, and a politically correct solution.

No one will dispute that on average, women's verbal skills exceed men's. Yet even the most modern, consciousness-raised version of Bartlett's will have page after page of Shakespeare. Dickens, Churchill, Mark Twain -- verbal despite the fact that they were guys -- will have a page or two apiece.

Heard this?
Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
-- Benjamin Franklin
Now list for me three quotable lines by George Eliot. Fine then, list one.

Yes there are some quotable women. Dorothy Parker. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. But if you don't have a quotation dictionary handy, a quick look at the internet Quotations Page will give you a feel for the disparity.

Prejudice? "I have a dream." "I will fight no more, forever." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

I think this is interesting, and wonder why. Some people think this is immoral and wonder how to prohibit it from being true.

Heather MacDonald argues here that this is another equality-of-opportunity versus equality-of-outcome battleground.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Pop vs. Soda

Here's an inspired display of a linguistic trivium.

Lyn Mead tells me she knows places where it's called "tonic," and I saw somewhere else that in Britain it's "pop." Well, at least some places in Britain.

Generations of Valor

A moving photo from a highly rated milblog, BLACKFIVE.

I don't normally read milblogs, but love this picture. If you didn't even know milblogs existed, then you've learned something.

Hat tip to Uncle Roger.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Direct Approach

Today, I came in to find a copy of Fritz Willis's The Model on my desk. This fine book, which I got from my personal book delivery service, is #117 in a series of art instruction books published by Walter T. Foster, who was sort of the Mel Bay of painting.

There doesn't seem to be a copyright date, but the cover price is a buck, so I'd guess it's from the sixties. The instructions are fine but, oh, sketchy. They'll say, "Here are four stages in constructing the painting," and I can never imagine being able to do any of them. Still, I grew up surrounded by people for whom I'm sure the instructions made complete sense.

(Neither Mel Bay nor William T. Foster have ever had trouble finding really good artists to work on their series. Check out Fritz Willis here.)

In the long list of books, one I don't see is how to actually get people to notice your art. I think Foster should get Banksy to write one.

A One-Sided Question

The puzzling Rich Laver asked me this one, at Saturday night's CFOOTMAD dance, in Boulder.
Imagine a three-dimensional Moebius strip -- a strip that has not just width, but thickness. We're talking a strip that's a foot wide, 50 feet long, and also an inch high. Next slice it through the waist, all the way around the strip, and pull apart the half-inch-thick, top and bottom halves.

What do you get?

Sunday, March 27, 2005


Jesus would drive an SUV with a [raise arms to form a cross and tip body from side to side] really big steering wheel.

How can you tell that divorce lawyers are more powerful than God?

At Passover, God only took the firstborn of the Egyptians. Divorce lawyers take them all.

... He Wouldn't Have Made Animals Out Of Meat

Dave Taenzer says he can't see the appeal of veggie burgers. "If I wanted to eat something that tasted like hamburger, I'd eat a hamburger." What would he say to these?

My ex-wife and I had stopped by to see Andrzej Ehrenfeucht and Pat Baggett. Pat was fixing beef fondue, and Andrzej graciously asked if we wanted some.

My ex was in that stage of vegetarianism where she didn't want to tell people she was a vegetarian, so she simply said she wasn't hungry. When Andrzej persisted, I explained quietly that she didn't eat meat. Andrzej began again, and Pat interrupted.

"Anj, she's a vegetarian. She doesn't eat meat."

"Yeeessss," he said, smiling, "But I was only going to offer her a piece of this Venus Fly Trap to dip in the oil."

He wanted to see if it was transitive -- if she would eat a plant that ate meat.

Friday, March 25, 2005

But Do They Kill Lawyers?

Guns don't kill people, bulldozers kill people.

So What Should I Put In My Window?

A couple of years ago, I got my nephew and his wife a Roomba. It's interesting, and the first commercially successful consumer robot, but you don't see 'em everywhere. I don't have one, for example.

This, in contrast, is a robot I'd buy myself.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

My father used to do book jackets. Here's one:

My Glorious Brothers

and another (this one sometimes doesn't display, but I can't figure out why):

The Ugly American

"You can't tell a book by its cover, but you can sell a book by its cover,"
he'd explain.

Too bad these books don't exist. I'd buy a couple.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

Change Your Snake-Oil Filters Every 3000 Miles

The college idealists who fill the ranks of the environmental movement seem willing to do absolutely anything to save the biosphere, except take science courses and learn something about it.

-- P.J. O'Rourke, Parliament of Whores
Most save-the-planet "ecologists" were just born a century too late to be evangelical prohibitionists.

The one at your door, asking you to sign her petition opposing some environmental catastrophe: is she real, or is she just Paul Erlich on Memorex?

Try asking her this question:
A pine seed is tiny. The ponderosa pine right behind you weighs a couple of tons. Where'd it get all that mass?
If she knows, or can reason her way to the answer, she may be worth listening to. If not, she ain't.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Location, location, location

Good price on this Bungalow in Timisoara. Plus, the listing says it's in a gated community. Sure enough. If you look on the picture, you can see the gate.

(Okay, for readers who don't know, Timisoara is lovely.)

Cause of the Month, uh, Block

When I was living in Seattle, my walk home was up a long hill lined with people passing out pamphlets:
"Save the Whales," "Hare Krishna," "Jesus Loves You," "Fight Capitalism," ....

Some folks would take elaborate routes to avoid this gauntlet. Others would be rude, or look the other way.

One day, I discovered my solution: take each pamphlet, then exchange it for the next.

Pamphleteer: "Hare Krishna." [handing me a pamphlet]

Me: "Thanks! Save the Whales." [handing him one back]

Next pamphleteer: "Jesus Loves You." [handing me a pamphlet]

Me: "Thanks! Hare Krishna." [handing her one back]


I thought of it as broadening their horizons. Plus, at the end of the line, I'd only ever have one pamphlet to throw out.

I've used this tactic profitably, ever since, at festivals of various sorts where every cause has a table.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Bad Reading Habits

As an Amazon Prime member, I can get free shipping on Books: Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom -- a good thing, since the book is 7 feet tall and weighs 133 pounds. Perhaps the cost of shipping is just figured in to its base price of $15,000.00.

"Customers who bought this book also bought" ....

Father Time, Mother Death

Like professor UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, "I know nothing about the Schiavo matter, and despite that have no opinion."

That said, hearing everyone talk about it does make me miss my mother.

Almost everyone my age has watched family members die. It's tough.

A couple of years ago, it became clear that my mother had Alzheimers (or some other form of progressive, senile dementia). My sister, Jo, moved down to the small town of Haynesville, Louisiana, which she called "God's waiting room," to help her handle her increasingly puzzling, day-to-day life. My other sister, Nan, and I watched from a distance, and visited, but Jo watched it up close, 24/7.

She didn't have to watch it for as long as she'd thought she might. Facing a long downhill slide, my mother addressed the problem, head-on: she starved herself to death.

This practice has a long and honorable history.

The founder of Jainism, Mahavira, starved himself to death after he felt his life's work was complete,
and Jains emulate this, practicing religious death through self-starvation (sallekhana) as a path to salvation. The Greek philospher, Isocrates starved himself at age 98. The amazing Eratosthenes did the same after going blind at 84.

It's easier to view that as a philosophical and historical curiosity when it isn't your mother.

Sainthood is routinely denied to the downright irreligious. Were it not, Jo would be my nominee.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Google Print is up and running. Google for "book Origin of Species" and you'll get the full, searchable text.

Amazingly, the canonical book, The Bible, is absent. Google for "book Bible" and you get back Bible as Literature, The Bible Cure, and Green Bible.

There's no searchable Torah, either, but a search for "book Koran" gets you a searchable Koran.

Oh, I forgot. They're scanning in the Harvard library. Heavens.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Planter's Moon Festival

It's time to sign up for another Planter's Moon Festival.

$75.00 for room and board and a weekend of music and dance. Springtime in the Rockies. If that's not enough, I've already made the wine and Bill Hall's making the beer.

The Pace of Life

For a cheap thrill, go to the zoo and watch the maned wolf pace back and forth.

I'll explain why, but let me first digress by talking about what happens when you follow a cat too closely.

When our Siamese, Fez, walked down the hardwood floor of our hall, she'd put one foot down at a time.

If I followed her closely, she'd get annoyed and speed up to a trot. At a trot, she'd alternate diagonally opposite feet: right front with left rear, then left front with right rear.

You could hear the change. At a walk, she had a four-beat rhythm: "Click-click-click-click. I am walking. I am walking. I am walking ..." Trotting, she switched to two: "Trot-trot. Trot-trot. Hurry. Hurry. ...."

If that didn't work and I kept dogging her heels, she'd speed up again to a gallop. A gallop sounds like the Lone Ranger theme song -- three beats, then a rest. "Ba-da-DUMP. Ba-da_DUMP. Run awAY. Run awAY. ...." In a gallop, first one front foot hits, then the other, then the two back feet hit together and push off.

These three gaits -- walk, trot, and gallop -- come as standard equipment in mammals. Each is energy efficient at a particular speed. Think of them as three gears. If you're tracking, you can tell how fast an animal was moving by which of these three patterns its tracks make.

Some mammals think outside the box. Obviously, two-legged mammals (humans) aren't confined to these gaits. Neither are some horses.

Some horses are "five-gaited" (or just "gaited"). Besides the usual three, they have two extra gaits: a single-foot (or rack) and a pace. Both are mid-speed gaits, like the trot.

If you know the tune "Uncle Joe" (also known as "Hop High Ladies" and "Miss McLeod's Reel")

Did you ever go to meetin', Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe?
Did you ever go to meetin', Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe?
Did you ever go to meetin', Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe?
I don't mind the weather if the wind don't blow.
you'll know the verse
Is your horse a single-footer, Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe?
Now you know what it means, too.

The single-foot is a four-beat gait: sort of a fast walk. Each foot lands independently.

Single-footing is tiring for the horse, but very smooth and easy on the rider. My mother said her grandfather rode a gaited mule. "You could ride all day and so could it." When my mother was little, my grandfather bought her a gaited pony, from a circus that was passing through.

Being gaited is genetic. (It's a single-gene dominant.) A single-footer is born, not made. The best-known gaited breed, the American Standardbred, was created to make long rides around the plantation easy.

Nowadays, American Standardbreds are used as harness racers, exploiting their other gait: a pace.

The pace has a two-beat rhythm, like a trot, but instead of moving diagonally opposite legs the horse moves its two left legs, then its two right legs, rocking back and forth from side to side.

Sitting a trotting horse wouldn't be easy. Pacer races are harness races, with the horses pulling little buggies called "sulkies." (Here's a picture.)

A few species substitute the pace for the trot. Camelids -- camels, llamas, and alpacas --are natural pacers. So far as I know, camels are the only pacing animals that anyone rides. (Our local zoo used to have both a camel and an elephant for little kids to ride, but PETA hounded them into stopping, even though people have been riding elephants and camels forever.)

One day, when I'd taken my family down to the zoo, I was watching the maned wolf when I suddenly realized it was pacing. Don't believe me? Look here.

But why would a species pace instead of trot? My guess is long legs.

Like camelids, maned wolves have very long legs relative to their body length. The maned wolf is sometimes described as a "fox on stilts." Its Latin name, Chrysocyon brachyurus, means "golden dog with long legs." These pix underscore the point.

If you imagine a very-long-legged animal trying to trot, you can see the back legs would often hit the front. A pace solves this problem.

If I'm right, giraffes should also be pacers. I've just never been lucky enough to see a giraffe in a hurry.

Maybe I just need to follow them more closely.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Say That Three Times, Fast

I have bloglines set to notify me whenever I'm cited. Here's what it found today.


Can't put it any any better than Reb Kevin Cohen:
so, i search on the phrase "belo litse lyubam yas", wanting to find
the lyrics to and an english translation of this pretty and cheery
croatian folk song.

no results. google asks if what i *really* meant was "belo litse
*lyuba* yas". OK: fine.

*but*: then it *still* doesn't give me any results! so, it insults my
orthographic skills, and then gives me bobkes.

Oiga? ... Digame?

A Reuters story starts: "BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European and American culture differ in language, automobiles, sports and -- less obvious but no less important -- the way they use telephones."

Well, yes, but.

Reuters only mentions cell phones. The reason is that that's the only thing Europeans have. Last time I was in Romania, my host carried two. (Reuters is French.)

If you're reading this in Europe, you'll say, "Of course." If you're reading this in the US, you'll say, "Huh?"

Oh, there are land lines in Europe. They're just not worth using. They sound like tin cans connected with string.

They're also hard to get and expensive. In Romania, waiting time to install a new land line was about six months. In Russia, waiting time was over a year. Prices were many times higher than here.

It may surprise the non-American reader to know that a real barrier to cell-phone adoption here sound quality. We're used to better sound.
Cell phones are no worse here than in Europe, but land lines actually sound much better.


A San Francisco to New York call on a standard phone has no errors, and sound quality roughly equivalent to what you get out of a CD player.

I picked these cities because most Europeans will have heard of them, but it's not just big cities. It's true for calls between any two points in the U.S., and has been true for about forty years.

I also picked them because of distance. New York to San Francisco is roughly twice the distance from Paris to Moscow. Imagine picking up your phone in Beijing, dialing a number, having someone pick up in Moscow, and hearing them as clearly as if they were standing in front of you.

You can get phone service started and a phone line installed in a few days. You can buy phones, from a wide variety of competing vendors, in any department store. They'll all plug them into your R-442 phone jacks.

Prices? A New York-to-San-Francisco call will cost 3 to 5 cents a minute. Prices have dropped sharply, but when I was younger, a 3-minute cross country phone call still only cost a buck or two.

Calls within the same calling area are bundled into the basic service cost. I can make as many calls to Denver -- about 50 Km. away -- for as long as I want, for free.

This has had profound consequences.

Some are obvious. My mother's parents, who were born in the 1800s and died over 20 years ago, had phone number "1", because they had gotten the first phone in their small town.

That was then. Now, everyone living in the U.S. has always had a phone and used it freely. They've never been a luxury in living memory -- they're essentials in even the smallest communities.

Some consequences are less obvious.

Credit/debit cards took over from checks long ago, and cash is used much less here than in Europe. Every store has card readers at every counter. When I go through the checkout line at the grocery, I swipe my card through the reader to pay. The card reader calls the bank or the credit-card company, verifies the card, and posts the transaction, then approves my purchase for the store. Every gasoline pump has a card reader that does the same thing.

This whole system is possible because we take ubiquitous, cheap, easy-to-get, error-free phone lines for granted.

The reason? In the U.S., phone service is private, and competitive. In almost all other countries, governments run the PTT ("Post, Telephone, and Telegraph") service.

We use phones differently here because our history with phones has been so different. That will continue as long as Europe has government-run PTTs.

Addendum: A reader asks, "So why is cell use finally rising in the US?" Dropping prices, rising quality, and convenience. I gave up my land line when I could get a cell phone plan for not much more than it my land line cost, and the sound quality and coverage became pretty good. Why switch? People can call me at home, at work, or in my car on one number. A law in the U.S. now guarantees I can even keep that number whenever I switch providers.

So what's keeping land-lines alive? Internet access. Ironically, hard on the heels of telephony advances that are helping drive land-lines out of business is another telephony advance, VOIP -- the next big thing, which may bring them back, stronger than ever.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

John Kerry: A Senator You Can Count On

I really don't ever want to do a political blog. There are people who are better at it than I could ever be, from all parts of the political spectrum.

This blog is mostly just things that make me go "Hmmm...." Yet I've just added a "Kerry Counter" to the top of my sidebar. Go figure. Some reasons I've done this:
Does anyone imagine I'll actually ever have to take it back off?

Carnival of Carnival of the Carnivals

Carnivals are weekly blog anthologies, submitted by the bloggers themselves. For example, I've submitted a couple of my blog entries to "Carnival of the Recipes."

Now, the number of carnivals is growing, just like the number of blogs. This could be useful: Carnival of the Carnivals.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Google X

Another cute thing from Google. This one, Google X, looks like it's just a cute UI hack: Mac OS/X-like
icon animation of the different Google services. Fast, too.

It is genuinely cute, but it only works at the top level. As soon as you actually search for something, the
animation goes away. Shucks.

Addendum: Google X seems to have disappered. Mysterious. More news on this here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

When Life Gives You Limons, Make Limonade

One night, at a break, I was sitting on the edge of the stage when Randy Barnes, a fine hammered dulcimer player, walked over and sat down next to me. Turning to me, with a serious look on his face, he began,
Dough, I use to buy my beer.
Ray, the guy who pours my beer.
Me, the guy who drinks my beer.
Far, a long way to the john.
So, I need another beer,
La...ger in a frosty mug.
Tea? No thanks. I'll have a beer.
Which all brings us back to
Dough, dough, dough, dough ...
Randy and his wife Carol live in Buena Vista, Colorado. Locals pronounce it "Byoona Vista," or just say "Byunee".

Randy says he's tired of getting told he should say "Bwayna Vista" or "Bwayna Veeesta" by people who moved out to Colorado from Los Angeles. That would be El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula.

"You're from where? Oh! You must mean 'Lows Ahn-heles.'"

And Limon (Colorado) rhymes with Simon, even if that makes your mouth pucker.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Sometimes, a tune's so good I get goosebumps. Not figuratively. Literally.

Right now, my skin's reacting to Shine (Cecil Mack, Lew Brown, and Ford Dabney), on Louie, Louie, by Chris Daniels and the Kings.

The whole album's a tribute to Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, and Louis Prima.

Louis Prima wrote tunes like Benny Goodman's Sing, Sing, Sing. You'd recognize his voice and singing style from Walt Disney's "The Jungle Book." He's King Louie, the orangutan. Louis Jordan asked, "Is you is or is you ain't my baby?"

And then there's Shine. Shine is pure Louis Armstrong.

Louie, Louie is an album with no bad cuts, but Shine truly does.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

When Congressmen Pray For Hershey Heaven

Ira Herskowitz was the guy who explained to me that Theodosius Dobzhansky had found "Hershey Heaven."

Al Hershey, who got a Nobel Prize by using a Waring blender to prove that genes were DNA, once told a reporter his idea of heaven was "having an experiment that works, and getting to do it over and over again."

Dobzhansky used to publish papers with titles like "Genetics of Natural Populations XLIII." He had a good story, and he was sticking with it.

For the rest of us, life's different. All the time. Like the Red Queen, we have to run as fast as we can to stay in place.

Politicians are no exception. The road to elected office is a tough slog, but every elected official has figured out how to make it. All arrive carrying valuable maps for how to get there over and over again, which they acquired on their journey.

But a map is only good if the ground stays put.

It must be tempting to pass laws to slow change ... at least for long enough to run for re-election.

It's easy to fantasize about passing laws to make the world stand still. It's harder to pass those laws fast enough to even keep up with the changes you're trying to regulate. Every congressman should remember King Canute, and should post Hotspur's reply to Owen Glendower on his bathroom mirror:
Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;

But will they come when you do call for them?

-- Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1
The recent threats to regulate blogging come from politicians who are trying, one more time, to legislate themselves into Hershey Heaven.

My prediction? They won't get there.

Addendum: Someone from Romania wrote, asking for more background info than Chris Muir's Day-by-Day cartoon provides. See Scott Johnson's "Dream Palace of the Goo-Goos" for an overview, and this earlier post for one thing bloggers are doing about it.

But Are The Flames Blue?

In Google's in-house blog, Hunter Walk reports that 50% of Extreme Energy drinks in Google's mini-kitchens are flammable.

Yes, yes, I know. Only guys will understand needing to know things like this.
Even my sisters tell me that The Three Stooges really aren't funny.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Why My Friends Don't Ask Me For Marketing Advice

I don't like to overgeneralize from bad experiences, so after my none-too-pleasant divorce I decided to date early and often.

Because I'm a science kind of guy, I approached the experience as a series of experiments. I decided I should take out personals ads in the local alternative newspaper to learn how different kinds of ads attract different kinds of women.

Market research.

Cause and effect was obvious; figuring out why, wasn't. Marketing must be harder than it looks.

In one ad, I said was looking for a woman who'd go dancing. This brought occupational therapists, rolfers, physical therapists, pilates instructors, massage therapists.

Finally, a woman called who worked at the U.S. Post Office.

"No kidding," I said. "Not a masseuse?"

"Actually, I was a massage therapist. I applied for this job because I was having trouble finding enough work. But how did you know?"

"Just a lucky guess."

In another, I decided I wouldn't say anything about either myself or what I was looking for. The ad read something like this:
What's Dan Quayle's favorite palindrome? "A man, a plan, a canal, Suez."
(Dan Quayle, Vice President under Bush Pere, was Mr. Potatoe Head.)

This one got me a prize, from the editor, for the best personals' ad of the week.

Responses? One.

Well, one's better than none, and we agreed to meet over coffee.

It was painful. She was the same age as my ex-wife. She was the same height as my ex-wife. She dressed like my ex-wife. She had the same coloring, background, and haircut as my ex-wife. She was born and reared in Philadelphia, so she had the same accent as my ex-wife.

At least they didn't have the same name. Her first name was my ex-wife's middle name.

I'm sure she was extremely nice. And it wasn't her fault. I paid for coffee, thanked her, and never called her again.

I had perfected targeted marketing. I could attract alternative-paper personals' editors and my ex-wife.

Let's Make Perry Como Jealous

I am yet another signator on The Online Coalition's letter to the Federal Election Commission. It's a trans-partisan uprising. Click on a few of the blogs listed to get a sense of the spectrum.

My blog isn't political, but it has the right to be. And without oversight by Washington. The letter's right:
Like the town hall meeting, online political activism is a vital part of American civic life.
Oh, go sign. Any letter that has Ed Morrissey and Markos Moulitsas right next to one another has something going for it. And you could be in worse company than Jeff Goldstein.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Customized Mental Health News

We can now personalize Google News

I tried it out by creating a section at the top of the page that contains any news stories with my name in them.
It found an article in the Sacremento Bee, but the site requires registration, so I won't visit it.
At least they spelled my name right.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Creme de la Creme of Online Rage

Sometimes, misery really does love company. It's nice to know there are sites I can go to when I've had one of those days with one of those companies.

Forbes begins, Sometimes it seems that shoddy products and atrocious customer service go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

(Hat tip to Slashdot.)

The author continues:

"The following nine sites--there were ten, but one went unexpectedly dark during the editing of this story--are the crème de la crème of online rage. Note that we substantially cleaned up some of the posts, editing out odd capitulation schemes, iffy grammar and plain incoherence. Apparently blinding anger does not go hand in hand with dotting your i's and crossing your t's."

I was trying to figure out what Forbes would consider an "odd capitulation scheme," but then I gave up.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

What's "," backwards?

I first met Louis about 35 years ago, in California.

It's only an accident that we're now working in the same, small office of the same software company in Colorado, but that's good luck, not bad. I've had both kinds and I can tell the difference.

Louis is an interesting guy. Whatever you're thinking, more interesting than that.

I don't see him as much as you'd expect, given that we work together. Louis likes to work 9-to-5, but that's 9PM to 5AM.

One thing Louis does in the daytime is rescue books. He's sort of like Aaron Lansky, but for English. This does, he'd probably point out, at least make finding the books easier.

Louis will drive over to the local recycling center and, with their permission, fill his car with books he rescues from their dumpsters. He figures he might, someday, be able to find a better home for them than their landfill.

His office, which is smaller than the National Yiddish Book Center, is a rat's maze of book boxes, sometimes stacked higher than my head.

He ships them to libraries. He ships them to bookstores. Sometimes, he finds a particularly interesting book and ships it to someone he's found on the web who really needs it.

Once a week, or so, I'll arrive at work and find a book, or two, or five, on my desk. He'll have found something that he thinks I might need, and have dropped it off in the middle of the night.

Usually it's obscure. Usually it's out-of-print. Usually he's right. It's just what I need.

He also leaves books for other people I know. I'll come in, see a book, know who it's for, and pass it on.

Occasionally, I'll go into his office, find a book, and ask for it, but it's usually better just to wait and see what appears.

Yesterday, I passed on a pair of books to a friend. She said, "It's like, only backwards. On Amazon, you figure out what you want and ask them to deliver it to you. With Louis, he figures out what you want; then you find out what you want because it gets delivered to you."

mocnozama. "Louis McNozama." Is that Celtic/Eastern European?

Bethe Late than Never

Instapundit notes that that Hans Bethe has died.

(How fleeting is fame.)

Okay, he did won the Nobel Prize, but for me his most memorable achievement was to co-author a paper he didn't write. George Gamow and Ralph Alpher stuck him in as second author of a 1948 paper they'd written, about the Big Bang.

The paper? "The Origin of Chemical Elements", by Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Best Virus Protection Yet

Yesterday, at my neighborhood coffee shop web access had slowed to a crawl. Jon, who administers the system, was sitting at a table doing some work, so I walked over and asked him what was going on.
He said he'd just found three patrons who were spewing out worms and kicked them off the net.

Problem solved. Well, mine anyway.

The guy at the next table looked up and said, "Is that why my network connection died?"


"But I just installed new antivirus software recently!"

Jon tried to help him clean his machine, but without much immediate luck. Me, I gave him a Knoppix disk.

I use public access points. Knoppix is a godsend. Slip in the CD, boot from it, and I have a complete Linux distro running. No install. Never needs anti-virus software. (No, really. Read on.)

Knoppix runs directly from the CD. The hard disk is unused, and untouched.

No possibility of ever being hit by spyware, viruses, or any of the other Microsoftware problems people seem to get stuck spending time on. What could a worm do -- install itself on my CD? (In case you're not technical, the question's rhetorical. The one-word answer is, "No.")

Up-to-date versions of all the utilities I need for cruising the web: browsers, PDF readers, music players, and so on.

True, I don't have a hard disk while I'm using it, but since I use a webmail -- gmail -- a web-based news reader -- bloglines -- and a web-based blog host -- blogspot -- I can do all the simple appliance computing I need without a hard disk.

Understand, he can always reboot and come up in Windows from his hard disk. This only means
he doesn't have to do it nearly as often.

At first, using Knoppix does require unlearning some good habits.

Take cookies. "Do you want to accept all cookies, some cookies, or no cookies from this site?" What do I care? What's it going to do? Write them to my CD? Now I just press Enter, take the defaults, and go on.

Or shutdowns. To power the machine off, I ... turn off the power. Shut it down cleanly? What's going to happen if I don't? My CD will be corrupted?

I told the guy I'd charge him "my standard fee" for the CD: nothing. If it solved his problem, he should make a few copies and give them to friends. If it didn't, he should just give the CD away to someone else to try. I always carry a CD or two around to give away.

It's Linux. Your only cost is whatever work you put into it.

More info about Knoppix in German here, or in English here. You can download Knoppix, for free, from the same places. A free book on Knoppix is here, and a somewhat more advanced book+CD, here.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Amazon movies

I see that Amazon, just like Google, will give me showtimes. I like the Google interface better, but it's nice to know about both of them.

It looks, from their menus, like Amazon will also give me lists of restaurants. When I tried it, I discovered that it'll give me lists of restaurants in places like Washington, D.C. and Boston, Massachussetts.


Saturday, March 05, 2005

What the Bleep Did Feynman Know?

As a musician and college-town resident, I have no shortage of friends who urge me to run out and see What the Bleep do We Know?

It is, they gush enthusiastically, a wonderful explanation of how quantum mechanics shows that [fill in the blank]. The academics the movie calls on are professors at places like The Maharishi International University, in Fairfield, Iowa.

Personally, I'd sooner go see a museum full of Ward Churchill paintings, but hey .... Different strokes.

These are folks who sincerely liked the movie, so I thank them for their recommendations.

If they persist, I ask whether the movie takes a wave-mechanics approach or a matrix-mechanics approach. They change the subject.

Now, science books come in two flavors: real science books, which non-scientists find boring or impenetrable, and books "about science," which are simplifications of a field, or human-interest stories about scientists.

There are great books in each category. Honest Jim Watson, for example, wrote a truly great book about science, The Double Helix. and a a truly great real-science book, Molecular Biology of the Gene. (Get the 1965, 1st ed., if you run across it in a used-book store.)

The first of these was a New York Times best-seller, written by a guy smart, clever, and lucky enough to earn a Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology.

The second preached the biological importance of hydrogen bonds, with the literary style of someone who could write a NYT best-seller.

But are there real-science books written for the general public?

Yes, sirree.

Dick Feynman shows how it's done with QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, a set of four talks about Quantum Electrodynamics he gave to a ladies luncheon club in New Zealand.

Want to hear what Feynman really thought like? As you read it, imagine the whole thing delivered with a wry smile and a heavy Brooklyn accent.

You'll hear him answereing the question "What the Bleep Do We Know?"

"Well, a lot of stuff, actually."

Weather 'tis Nobler In the Mind

This article on the Google Blog says I now can Google for the weather, either with my web browser or someone else's cell phone.

Thanks go to Ben Sigelman, who did it.

I googled for the weather in Hell, but I needed a state and "Hell, Colorado" didn't come up with anything.

She probably won't anyway, so I don't know why I bothered.

Friday, March 04, 2005

A Word-A-Day Site with Bite

From time to time, I set my browser's home page to The Word Spy, which the excelent Kevin Cohen turned me on to. It'd be nice to have a Word Spy Firefox extension, so I could just bring up a random definition with a mouse click, or something.

A sheynem dank, Reb Doc.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Infernal Insomnia

People sometimes ask what I'm reading. Well, nobody really ever wonders, but maybe someday someone will.

These days, I'm reading Dante's Inferno. Well, actually, I'm listening to Dante's Inferno on tape at night, as I lie abed. Okay. Right. I'm sleeping through Dante's Inferno.

Chronic depression means never having to say you had a great night's sleep. The classic symptom is early morning waking. Going to sleep at night? No problem. It's about 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning, when you wake up and can't go back to sleep, that you begin walking the dragons.

Books on tape to the rescue!

I stick a boom box next to the bed with a tape in it. When I wake up, I just reach down and turn it on.

Most of the time, I fall back asleep within a minute or two. The tape plays itself through and the player shuts off. When I wake back up, I reach down, flip the tape, and turn it back on.

On really bad weeks, I can listen to the same minute or two, per side, half a dozen times.

I can invent Just So stories about why it works -- "It hearkens back to being read to as a child." "It gives me something to focus upon, so I don't ruminate." "It's a placebo." -- but I have no real data to support any of these hypotheses. It just works.

I don't have to turn the light on, the way I would with a book, or turn off a hissing TV. I lie there, in the dark, with my eyes closed, resting. And if all else fails, and I really can't get back to sleep, I've read a good book.

Because my local branch library has zillions of books on tape, it's also free.


John McMullen sends these pointers, for the more poetically and/or geekily inclined, to a monovocalic
sonnett about Dante's Inferno
, and a discussion of the writing of the sonnet.

Spider-Man's Greatest Bible Stories

This link for little sister Nan. Since this is from the Portland Mercury, Nan's probably already seen it. Or is the person who created it, for all I know.

Middle-child, Jo, the tattooed lady, complains, "Not only is she smarter and more talented than we are, she's the only one getting into heaven. No fair."

Hat tip to Kevin Fenzi for the finding and sending me this.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Blood Brothers, uh, Sisters

Think he used the same model?

Addendum: These were done after the TV show. Too bad I don't have a TV.

Yogurt Cheese

Simplicity itself: just dry out some yogurt. There's a big target window, and it's hard to get wrong.

What follows is practical info on manufacturing and presentation.

  1. Buy a large container (a quart) of plain yoghurt.
  2. Shlurp it into a cylindrical, half-gallon, juice pitcher.
  3. Spread cheesecloth over the top of the open pitcher, then wedge in with the lid, with the lid turned to "strainer." ("Open" probably works, too.)
  4. Upend the pitcher into a big, mixing bowl The yoghurt will come sliding down to sit on top of the cheesecloth.
  5. Leave the pitcher upside-down for everything from here, on.
  6. For the next few days, the whey will drain into the bowl, out the pitcher's pour spout.
  7. Empty the whey from the bowl into another container from time-to-time, for the next two or three days, until you stop getting much. You'll wind up with a cup to a cup and a half of whey, which you can use as an all-purpose cooking liquid.
  8. Remembering to keep it upside down, take the pitcher off of the lid+cheesecloth.The cheese round will be resting on the cheesecloth, upside-down.
  9. If the pitcher's been sitting at a slight slant, the bottom of the round (the part not touching the cheesecloth) will be slanted. You can smooth it out with a table knife or something.
  10. Cover the bottom with a plate, flip it over, remove the cheesecloth/lid, and presto! a round of low-fat, soft cheese.
I often sprinkle it with some seasoning (paprika or mint work well), and pour olive oil over it.

I've mixed spices into the yoghurt before making the cheese, but I didn't personally like it as well. If you add the spices as topping, you can make pretty designs.

It's good with these crackers.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Felicitari de Martisor, Y'all

A virtual Martisor Card for you, my virtual reader. Da. De ce nu.

What's in a Name?

Occasionally -- some would say, not occasionally enough -- Best of the Web Today, by James Taranto and his minions, trots out silly names under the heading It's the Eponomy, Stupid.

I can't say I'd like having to have suffered through high school with one,
and we don't get to pick our names any more than we pick our parents,
but there's a difference between Christian names and surnames.

Last names, we're stuck with coming out the gate. Our only easy option, saddled with a tough one, is to pronounce it carefully.

When I broke my arm, my physical therapist was Laura Shove. She pronounced it "Show-ve." Our in-plan urologist is Dr. Weiner. He pronounces it "Wy-ner."

Well? Wouldn't you?

First names, though, parents get to choose. Some people must wish their parents had chosen more carefully. 15 years ago, I got a list of all names given to girls, in the state of Colorado, the year before. Somewhere in Colorado, there are now two sixteen-year-old girls named "Unique." I can hear the conversation now:

"Hi! I'm Unique."

"No you're not."

Today, John McMullen sent me this:

I don't know if you've ever been to Baby's Named a Bad, Bad Thing, but she rails against stupid baby names. Now, she pulls this down upon herself willingly by going to baby name bulletin boards and trolling for idiocies, and some of her comments are funny.

However, today she pointed me to the Kabalarians, a numerology group who will provide a vague cold-reading type of analysis of any name you enter.

Here are the entries for those popular kid names, Beer and Toilet.

Thanks, John.

The Onion | Gmail User Pities Hotmail User

If you don't want to end up the subject of an article like this, ask me for a gmail account. I've been giving them away as fast as I can, but they seem to regenerate like hydras.