The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Friday, November 01, 2002

“How many words per day?”

And so it starts: National Novel Writing Month.

Thirty days to write a 50,000 word novel, or about 1,666 words per day.

Sounds like fun.

Or torture perhaps.

“No, really! How many words per day?”

And if writing a 50,000 word novel in one month is bad enough, Anvil Press holds a 3-day novel contest every year (it's already been held this year sadly).

I don't think I'm up to that challenge.

But for the more visually talented people out there, you also have the 24-hour comic, in which you draw a 24 page comic book in 24 hours. I've read a few and inevitably, the drawings get more and more loose and the story line (as much as there is one) gets less and less coherent. It might be interesting to draw one backwards—that is, start with the last page and work your way forward. That way, the drawings get tighter and the story gets more coherent as you read along.

Again, I don't think I'm up for that challenge either.

And then there's the 24-hour play

Pringles and fudge stripe cook-ays

Through the electronic grapevine (and it's a fairly well connected electronic grape vine down here in Lower Sheol) I heard that my friend Kelly was fired for doing what he was told to do.

Three weeks ago!

Mark, Lynn, JeffK and I went to Kelly's to console him and to partake in the ritual Pringles and fudge stripe cook-ays of the suddenly unemployed.

In discussion it came out that a VP is probably protecting his job and using Kelly as a sacraficial goat to appease the CEO who is under investigation by the SEC so it might not be a bad thing that Kelly is no longer there. Oh, but what a tangled web corporate politics and accounting weave.

Sunday, November 03, 2002

A happy Eric

I found this dollar bill with the words “Eric is gay” scrawled across the top.

I'm certainly glad that Eric is happy enough to share it with the rest of the world.

Monday, November 04, 2002


I figured I needed to torture myself and so I started my 50,000 word novel as part of National Novel Writing Month.

I had actually signed up in the few remaining minutes of October but didn't get around to actually starting my novel until today. Let's see, Friday I spent helping Kelly coping with his job situation, Saturday was spent at a BBQ with some friends (where I met Dennis Willson, responsible for running, a spam-blocking site) and Sunday I spent contemplating the happiness of Eric. So I'm a few days behind.

And what I have I'm not happy with at all. Not one bit.

I'm contemplating starting over tomarrow.

But otherwise, I have about 3,000 words of utter drek to contend with.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

No really, I'm in O'Reilly!

I just got word from Mark that I've been mentioned in O'Reilly's HTTP: The Definitive Guide on page 230. It's in reference to a draft proposal I had to extend the robots exclustion protocol (and as I see, I really need to update the links on that page—they're all out of date which I had to go back and fix the links since link-rot had set in) I wrote back in 1996. I had no idea I made an O'Reilly book. And Mark is pissed off that I made it first (well, “pissed off” is not quite the right word—maybe “envious” is more like it).

I get maybe one email about it every other year or so, namely asking me if I know of any robots that implement my proposed extentions and to my knowledge I know of none that do.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Music of the dead

But then, Tupac Shakur's Better Dayz, released later this month, is no ordinary album. It is the 16th Tupac release since the gangsta rapper's murder in September 1996.

Sixteen albums in six years would be a prodigious feat for an artist who was still breathing, particularly when you bear in mind that many of them are double CD sets. For a dead artist who released only four albums during his lifetime, it smacks of macabre exploitation, not to mention an ever-dipping quality control.

Via Robot Wisdom, Albums from the crypt

Tupac is certainly in the running to be the L. Ron Hubbard of the hip-hop set. Sixteen albums? That's good.

So let's see—to make it in the music industry, record lots of music. It doesn't have to be good, just there. Release an album or two and lead a very exciting or controversial life (preferably both) then fake your own death. Cut the proceeds 50/50 with the record industry and live the rest of your life in style.

I think it could work.

“Honey, play as long as you like … ”

A bit early for Valentines but this would also do well for a Christmas gift for that gamer girl in your life. It's … um … well … a multimedia game that extends … um … yea …

Let me just say the link is borderline work safe … and the game in question is definitely meant for home use …


Thursday, November 07, 2002

The '92 Vice-Presidential Debate was more interesting than this

Spring and I were invited to “War at the Shore III: Battle Operating System—Windows .Net Server vs. Linux” presented by the Gold Coast .Net Users Group. In one corner was Ivar Hyngstrom, Senior Technology Specialist II, Systems Architecture, Messaging and Storage for Microsoft, representing the (obvious) Microsoft .Net server side. In the other corner was Von Walter, Senior Consultant, IBM Global Services from Orlando representing the Linux side. The fight theme was quite strong in the debate; they even had a woman (Gina) walking about the conference room with a placard numbering the rounds.

Round 1—General capabilities

IBM won the coin toss and declined to go first. In the first of two major embarassing moments, Microsoft had hit the wrong button the their laptop and we had to wait several minutes for him to recover. My impression of the first round is that Microsoft is slowly re-inventing Unix within their operating system. .Net server is a bit more scriptable than previous versions of Microsoft Windows and now includes remote administration! Woo hoo! (Of course, that could be due to Microsoft wanting to put Citrix out of business)

Also learned a new acronym: SAN: System Area Network.

And how is that different from Local Area Network?

I was impressed that Microsoft has added a versioning file system to .Net server. The presenter deleted his Power Point presentation and was able to restore from two previous versions. Granted, this isn't new: DEC had this in VMS years ago, so no real innovation there (“but of course Microsoft invented ‘Shadow Copies’”).

IBM? I'm sorry, I fell asleep during his presentation.

It was that bad.

Round 2—Security

IBM goes first. Highlight of IBM's presentation: a distinction between hackers and crackers. Low point: mentioning the r-commands (like rsh, rcp, rlogin etc.). No one in their bloody minds uses those commands anymore. I never used them when I first started using UNIX back in 1990! Sheesh!

Spring mentioned that Microsoft was using buzz words during their presentations, while IBM was just saying how it worked.

But Microsoft was more polished in its presentation, even if it was empty of real content.

Highlight of Microsoft's presentation: “Relative Attack Surfaces” said with a straight face. Amazing.

He also said that .Net server was secure by

Again, with a straight face.


At the end of this round I got to ask a question: What's the time between an exploit that is found and the time the vendor (Microsoft, any particular Linux distribution) will get a patch out? I knew the answer (Microsoft, if they even acknowledge the exploit, will have a patch out maybe a week or two. Linux: hours). I was quite disappointed in the answers. Microsoft hemmed and hawed and never did give a definite answer. IBM didn't quite know how to answer the question and gave a weak answer, more of a guess, of a week turn around time for RedHat.

Round 3—Scalability and Failover

Microsoft goes first. He tried to create a cluster, but the software crashed on him. He seemed to be running .Net server under VMWare but I'm not sure if it was .Net server that crashed, VMWare that crashed, or he just closed the wrong window. In any case, the presentation failed over to IBM.

This was one of the better rounds for IBM. Or I was less familiar with the material. He mentioned IBM's Blue Gene which is a computer with 65,536 CPUs and some 16 terabytes of RAM (which is 16×240 or 17,592,186,044,416 bytes—a typical book takes up about a megabyte, or 1,048,576 bytes, this thing could hold 16,777,216 books in memory!). And he also mentioned Google, which is now up to 15,000 machines, have indexed some 3 billion pages and handles around 150,000,000 search queries (a day? A month? my notes are a bit illegible at this point).

Round 4—System Administration

Dull dull dull dull dull. IBM just read off the slides and Microsoft was still trying to get the clustering to work from the previous round.

Round 5—Is there a point?

Microsoft finally finished setting up the cluster software (from Round 3) only to shut down the wrong server. I must have fallen asleep at this point since I have no notes at all of what IBM talked about.

End of this debacle

This was thankfully the last round of a rather pointless debate—the Microsoft guy kept claiming to be too technical to answer any questions about pricing or licensing or anything (although he did say he didn't like subscription model of RedHat tech support—this from Microsoft? Who is trying to force a subscription model on software?) and apparently the IBM guy was here in an “unofficial” capacity and did not know Linux all that well (he lost the TCO argument to Microsoft! How sad is that?).

Friday, November 08, 2002

Notes on a conversation about bumper stickers

“I can't make that out,” said Spring. “I can see ‘Practice Sex.’”

“It says ‘Practice Safe Sex. Get married and be faithful,’” I said, reading the bumper sticker on the SUV in front of us.

“Aw. I just want to practice sex.”

“And then” I said, “there is ‘The Big Bang Theory: God said it and BANG there it was.’ Funny, I didn't think God was Emeril: ‘BANG!’”

Spring laughed. “Kick it up a notch.”

The Hero's Arc

[Notes taken from Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces. The text is quoted directly from his book. Typographical errors are most likely mine.]

The typical myth

[Notes taken from Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces. The text is quoted directly from his book. Typographical errors are most likely mine.]

The mythological hero, setting forth from his commonday hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure. There he encounters a shadow presence that guards the passage. The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark (brother-battle, dragon-battle; offering, charm), or be slain by the opponent and descend in death (dismemberment, crucifixion). Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers). When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward. The triumph may be represented as the hero's sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis), or again—if the powers have remained unfriendly to him—his theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft); intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom). The final work is that of the return. If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under their protection (emissary); if not, he flees and is pursued (transformation flight, obstacle flight). At the return threshold the transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero re-emerges from the kingdom of dread (return, resurection). The boon that he brings restores the world (elixir).

Thursday, November 14, 2002

20 minutes into a quagmire

There is nothing quite like having thirty days to write fifty thousand words and you have no idea what to write. So you write. And write. And write some more. And end up with a mess that will either be really terrible or a masterpiece.

It's early 1961. Eisenhowser gave his farewell speech that warned about the millitary-industrial complex and Kennedy, after the closest Presidential race in U. S. History, is turning the White House into Camelot. The horrors of the Cold War have yet to come. Vietnam is still back page news in the papers, McCarthyism is, if not completely dead, mostly over. The mood of the nation is optimistic.

And into this idyll place a novel is given to some random 20something to read. It's not a novel in the conventional sense but more of a collection of vignettes about the future. Nothing exciting, nothing overly grand. Just normal life as it would appear to someone in the future. Some fourty years into the future.

About our now.

Notes from my poor attempt at a novel, 20 Minutes Into The Future

My intent was to write a series of loosely coupled stories taking place in the near indeterminate future, some fourty, maybe fifty years down the road. Just take current trends as I see them, and extend them down; maybe toss in a few outrageous things that can't possibly happen (who could foresee the fall of Communism or terrorists piloting a plane (a commercial plane!) into the Pentagon? Or two of the tallest buildings in the U. S.?) and let it stand at that.

Only I'm getting rather depessed the more I contemplate the near future. And not just over Pax Americana either. The abolishment of anonymous money (unless of course, you are already filthy rich in which case there are plenty of tax havens for you to shuffle your funds towards), the abolishment of ownership (and not by a Communistic government fiat but by the relentless shift of ownership from personal to corporations and foundations), creation of corporate fiefdoms (which are worse than the fiefdoms of Europe—at least there you gave your fielty to your local barron and he protected you—now you still have to give your fielty to your local corporate masters but they don't have to protect you, or even keep you employed), errosion of privacy (data mining of cross indexed corporate and government databases, ubiquitous cameras watching our every move, and every citizen being fingerprinted and chipped from childhood) and excuse me whilst I slit my wrists right now …

For Sale!

Investment Homes for Sale—4 days use! Buy now while they last! Going fast, so hurry!

Two days overnight use only. Use during Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas extra. No Trick-or-Treating allowed during Halloweeen. Dinner parties of more than 20 require permission of the Board. Taxes include city, county and school district. Monthly cleaning required.

Excerpt from my poor attempt at a novel, 20 Minutes Into The Future

I thought it best to rethink my strategy, and it's then when I turned to The Hero Of A Thousand Faces. Joseph Campbell did extensive research into the myths from around the world and noticed certain themes coming up time and time again. These he outlined and explained in his book, The Hero Of A Thousand Faces, notes of which I made into entries (mostly for myself but hey, someone else could find a use for them). So if George Lucas can apply the monomyth to a crappy script (“You can type this XXXX, George, but you can't say it.” –Harrison Ford), bad acting (Need I mention a whiny Mark Hamill? Or Carrie Fisher's faux British accent through half the film?) and a derivative plot (taken from Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress, right down to the two peasents rendered as A2-D2 and C-3P0) and have one of the top grossing films ever, then it couldn't hurt me, right?

But I have a problem with the Hero's Arc. Not that I don't think it's valid (it is) but more for what it represents—that the Hero is extraordinary in some sense; that he's of divine birth (or noble birth, but really, there is no difference as the early kings and emperors of our history were thought to be of divine birth anyway) and has a higher destiny; a calling to greatness. Joe Serf need not apply. And that doesn't sit well with me. Even Luke Skywalker turned out to be the spawn of a knight and a queen …

The other problem I'm having is that I've yet to write fiction. Okay, sure, I have a few comedy sketches I did (Monty Python phase) and my humor columns towards the end might be considered mostly fictional but they did derive from actual events (however exaggerated they became—perhaps this was my Hunter S. Thompson phase, unbeknownst to me) and there was the one college paper on Gothic Cathedrals was largly fabricated on the spot (I was in my Dave Barry phase at that point) but overall, most of my writing has been non-fictional in nature. This fictional stuff is quite different for me, so there's difficulty there.

So right now, I'm at a loss of where to go …

Chemical experimentation on minors, all in pursuit of educational excellence

The second document, the gigantic Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project, outlined teaching reforms to be forced on the country after 1967. If you ever want to hunt this thing down, it bears the U.S. Office of Education Contract Number OEC-0-9-320424-4042 (B10). The document sets out clearly the intentions of its creators—nothing less than “impersonal manipulation” through schooling of a future America in which “few will be able to maintain control over their opinions,” an America in which “each individual receives at birth a multi-purpose identification number” which enables employers and other controllers to keep track of underlings and to expose them to direct or subliminal influence when necessary. Readers learned that “chemical experimentation” on minors would be normal procedure in this post-1967 world, a pointed foreshadowing of the massive Ritalin interventions which now accompany the practice of forced schooling.

Participatory Democracy Put To The Sword, part of Chapter 2 of The Underground History of American Education

I came across this link not as research for my poor attempt at a novel, but because I have an interest in just how bad our educational system is, but I didn't realize just blatently manipulative it is. And it's just one more depressing data point to add to the every growing list of depressing trends in society.

Real life giving satire a run for the money

[from orders given on Mr. Gatto's first day of teaching:] Good morning, Mr. Gatto. You have typing. Here is your program. Remember, THEY MUST NOT TYPE! Under no circumstances are they allowed to type. I will come around unannounced to see that you comply. DO NOT BELIEVE ANYTHING THEY TELL YOU about an exception. THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS.

Not a letter, not a numeral, not a punctuation mark from those keys or you will never be hired here again. Go now.

When I asked what I should do instead with the class of seventy-five, he replied, “Fall back on your resources. Remember, you have no typing license!”

Wadleigh, The Death School, part of Chapter 4 of The Underground History of American Education

Words fail me.

I wish I could say this was satire; a damning critique of the U. S. educational system and unions or guilds but no, this isn't satire, it's real life. It's the New York City school system (in Harlem) circa 1961.

I'm so glad I'm out of that system. But I feel for Spring's children …

Saturday, November 16, 2002

“Where I want you to be … ”

It's 1997. You call up the 800 number to order another computer, and after you've chosen between the Alpha-III and the Octium chip and the 15 and 30 gigabyte hard drive, the salesperson tells you that the machine comes with the “Basic Package” of Windows NT, Word, Excel, Access, Money, and Multimedia Producer, and asks if you'd like to turn on any additional software at the time. You request Project, Designer, and Visual C++, and they're enabled also. In any case, you're told, “it's all on the CD-ROM, so you don't have to decide right now”.

Now let's look into the other end of the binoculars; from Bill Gates' chair rather than his customers'. Today, there more than 125 million MS-DOS personal computers installed. Given the rapid adoption of Windows and sustained high sales rate of new machines driven by price performance improvements in new chips, I believe it conservative to expect that 100 million Windows NT machines will be installed 4 years from today, most equipped with CD-ROM, multimedia accessories, and contemporary peripherals; some upgraded from current high-end MS-DOS machines, but most new machines of the Pentium/Alpha generation and their successors. Further, let us assume that Microsoft is unsuccessful in selling any software other than the Basic set (I'm sure you'll concede, based on Microsoft's new product success rate, this assumption is conservative). Well, multiply it out. That's 100 million machines times US$10 per month times 12 months per year, and the answer is: US$12 Billion-with-a-B-like-Bill per year of automatic recurring revenue for which the marketing costs are essentially nil and distribution margin is nonexistent since fulfillment is direct.

Programs Are Programs

Microsoft in the past year or so has been pushing for software subscription, much like we do now with cable TV (as pointed out in the article). After all, programs are programs.

Also mentioned in the article is Bill Gates wanting to shift to software subscription in 1992!

And to think that there actually does exist an American company that can think more than two quarters out.

While consumer reaction to Microsoft's attempts to shift to a subscription base have been negative, Microsoft also realizes that it's not the end user that pays its bills—it's the corporate accounts that do, and selling a subscription to corporations is probably an easier sell there. Predictable billing cycles and an easier amorization schedule will do that. And as the article states:

I think the answer lies in the observation that most companies who succeed in building self-sustaining subscription-based businesses start from a position of effective monopoly of their sector. In the case of AT&T, it was a combination of technology, patents, and government grants which conferred the monopoly. IBM built its first monopoly in tabulating equipment on the patent of the Hollerith card, then clawed its way to an effective monopoly in computers by out marketing and out-customer-servicing Remington Rand, Burroughs, and others. Xerox derived its monopoly from the patent on xerography.

The article itself is dated from 1993 (the last update reported by the webserver is 1998, but that may be when the page was uploaded to the server) which may have been around the time the first real mumblings of Microsoft being a “monopoly” at the DOJ were being heard but I think that even back then in 1993 it was a forgone conclusion that Micosoft was indeed a monopoly, and thus had the power to switch to a subscription base for its software offerings.

Not that Microsoft has actually done that. Yet.

Okay, excluding the Microsoft Developer Network, it hasn't done that.


And if Bill Gates was thinking of this in 1992 I have to wonder what he's got in store for 2012 … then again, the world is expected to end in 2012 … hmmmmmm …

Friday, November 22, 2002

Floppies? What are those?

Spring and I are off to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Exhibition in Orlando. Spring found a stuff animal manufacturer for a project of hers and instead of flying up to New England to meet them, found out they were going to this show instead, where there might be other manufacturers and it was certainly cheaper than flying (not to mention less hassle).

But first, we needed to print some forms before going up there, but due to the lack of printers here in the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere and some poor planning on my part, we ended up at Kinko's at about 10:00 in the morning (ick). I had put the document we needed printing on the webserver here at the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere (floppies? What are those?). Download, print, no problem.

The setup at this particular Kinko's was quite nice—you slip your credit card into the reader next to the computer and you are automatically logged in. When you log out, you can then go to another machine, slide your credit card into that and get a receipt; never have to even bother the staff if you don't want to (of course, we couldn't find the receipt machine and had to ask—it was located around the corner from the computers partially hidden by a stand of merchandise). And before you print, the computer will display the charges per page of output and allow you to cancel.

Quite nice.

What wasn't so nice was downloading the document we needed.

Because our cable provider filters (relative to the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere) incoming web requests, I'm running the webserver on a non-standard port; I just have to remember to include the port number in the URL. No big deal.

Execept that Kinko's (or the office we were at) doesn't allow outgoing web requests except on the standard HTTP port. Okay, I can still FTP the file down.

Except there is no FTP client installed on the machine. I can't get to the command line prompt on the machine (of course it's a Windows box) nor is there a way to run a command line program from the “Start” button. While I have an FTP server running on the firewall at the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere, I don't allow anonymous FTP so I can't use the web browser. And that's assuming Kinko's even allows FTP.

Okay, don't panic.

I need to get the document to a “real” webserver. To do that, I need to log into the firewall and transfer the document. To do that, I need puTTY, a fairly small Windows program that allows one to log into a Unix system. Nice thing about this program is that you don't need to install it—you can just download and run it. And that I was able to do. I was even able to log into my firewall, transfer the file to my “real” webserver, download the document and then print.

Ten minutes top.

And then we were on our way.

Not everyone is real

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Exhibition. Spring and I had finally arrived, registered, eaten lunch, and were now wandering the huge convention hall.

The convention itself wasn't really populated with booths from amusement parks like Disney or Six Flags but of companies that provide materials to amusement parks and attractions. Lots of engineering firms; what with roller coasters and animatronics, concessions with their free samples, artisans, costumers, scenery, just about everything you need to run an amusement park or an attraction.

Everything interesting and distracting as hell. We had found the booth to one of the companies we went up there to talk to, and just as Spring started talking to them I got distracted with an architectural model in a nearby booth and wandered over there, fascinated with the display. That, in turn, distracted and disturbed Spring enough that we ended up walking through the exhibits for nearly two hours, just to get it out of my system.

And it's a shame that pictures were not allowed. There was something at nearly every booth to take a picture of. The human statues—two people all in white standing so still that you had to watch for quite a while to make sure they weren't real statues. The Robocoaster (I think I have the name right)—a huge articulated robot arm (oh, 20′ high easy) with roller coaster seats where the hand would normally be. Two people can fit inside and the arm will then gyrate around in time to music. There was quite a line for that one. The one booth with the huge laser system, shooting beams of light across the entire exhibit floor. The Beast—a 150′ long, 40′ high inflatable monster you enter through the mouth and wander inside of (only to be expelled where in most animals most solid waste is expelled, with a most convincing sound effect). Animatronic dinosaurs, people, ghosts, zombies and monsters (Spring found the electric chair animatronic most disturbing).

We eventually ended up talking the companies we went up there to talk to and both meetings went quite well.

And then it was time to head back to South Florida.

A scare on the Florida Turnpike

So there I was, lazily driving 80 mph or so on the Florida Turnpike about a mile north of a service plaza (where I was planning on stopping) when I heard a siren. I looked up into the rear view mirror and right there, just inches behind me, were the dreaded flashing red and blue lights.


I start to pull over and the cop flies past me down the Turnpike.

What the …

While in the service plaza Spring and I spot more emergency vehicles flying southward down the Turnpike.

Later, as we're passing Yeehaw Junction the off ramp is a parking lot; the overpass is yet another parking lot and just past the toll booths is a sea of flashing lights. Not entirely sure what happened there, but what ever happened, it was pretty bad.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

Mail Chauvinism, indeed

The United States Postal Service is mad at us.

We received notice that we have to check the mail every three days at a minimum. After ten days mail delivery service will be cancelled.

You know, if we didn't receive so much junk mail this wouldn't be an issue, even if we do go up to two weeks between checking the mail box.

Compliments of the house

It does seem, however, that United Parcel Service does love us. I received a complimentary copy of O'Reilly's HTTP: The Definitive Guide today in the mail!

I learned a few weeks ago that I was mentioned in the book on page 230. I made mention of that on the WWW Robots Mailing List (which I've been on since 1995 or 1996) and the author of the chapter in question, Brian Totty, replied back to me! We exchanged some email and he said he would try to get O'Reilly to send me a complimentary copy.

Which they did.

Woo hoo!

The book itself seems to be well written and does explain some of the more obscure bits of the HypterText Transport Protocol, which will certainly help Mark and I on Mark's webserver.

Silver change

I almost didn't go.

I was feeling a bit tired after lunch so I debated with myself if I really wanted to hit the convenience store and get some Coke. I'm not sure if I won or lost as I ended up going to the convenience store. I was most surprised to find myself with a 1952 U.S. quarter in the change I received.

As a kid, I had one of those books that list the prices collectors are willing to pay for coins of certain years and there was a remarkable difference between the 1964 and 1965 U.S. quarters. The 1965 quarter was the first year the U.S. mint stopped using silver to make the quarter; therefore the price differential.

I no longer have the book (which was the price guide for something like 1979 or some such year) so I have no idea how much exactly my 1952 quarter is worth, but it shouldn't be hard to figure out—a quarter weighs 5.670g (those are the current quarters, but they can't have changed that much in weight over time and that's the first figure I found with Google) and the current price of silver is $4.445 an ounce, but that's Troy ounces of which there are 12 per pound, not 16, so you have 38 grams/ounce and not the usual 28 grams/ounce … so you divide … then multiply … but the quarters back then were 90% silver, not 100% so you adjust accordingly and you get … 59¢ worth of silver!

Um … yea.

But it's still neat!

I hate traffic this time of year

The double yellow line down the center of the road has a meaning. The meaning of the double yellow line is “Thou shalt not pass.” It does not mean “Thou shalt not pass unless thee is in such a hurry that you cannot wait for another car to turn.” Nor does it mean “Thou shalt not pass unless thee is in such a hurry that you cannot wait for another car to turn and Thou art in a yellow Beetle.”

Sunday, November 24, 2002

Engineering Porn

Jim says the fault lasted 20 milliseconds before breakers tripped. (The breakers for a wire like this are pretty amazing in their own right. They use high pressure gas to blow out the arc as the circuit begins to open. Anything that can cut off this number of megawatts [230kV at about 700 amps –Sean] in 20 ms gets my respect.) It blew carbonized oil about 3000 feet down the pipe to either side of the fault. (Compute velocity … )

engineering pornography

The term “pornography” here is used in the sense of “more detail than you ever wanted to know” rather than “lewd sexual content” (much like CNN is “news porn” and the Food Channel is “food porn”). And I find such engineering feats fascinating, primarily because such engineering feats have to be done right or you waste tons of money (it's not to say that engineering mishaps don't happen—the space shuttle Challenger, Three Mile Island and Bhopal come to mind but given the extent of our infrastructure those events are probably rare. As Feynman said, “You can't fool nature.”). And I can't but help marvel at the inginuity used, such as using liquid nitrogen to freeze the oil dielectric to form ad-hoc end caps in the pipe so it could be repaired since the oil used is very expensive and a large enough reserve of oil could not be found in time, or using a car battery and a millivoltometer to locate the short.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

When I grow up …

Via inluminent/weblog I came across two rather funny satires of the advertising industry: “When I grow up …” and The Reel Truth.

I found it quite amusing to see kids say things like “I want to be so far removed from the day to day business that I need a crane to pull my bloated head out of my ass,” and “to lay awake at night, writing the Great American novel, that will never get published.”

Okay, maybe not that last one then …

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Oh, so that's what that is …

Okay, so I've gone back and fixed the entry—it's a “Storage Area Network” and not “System Area Network.” Somebody (I think it was Mark) told me what it actually meant, but since there's now a link to the entry (who also thoughtfully corrected me) I might as well go back and fix it. I originally did a Google search (I don't remember my exact query) but what I do remember coming up for “SAN” was “System Area Network.” It was never defined durring the presentation.


Thursday, November 28, 2002

Gobble gobble!

My Dad sent me the following recipe for Thanksgiving turkey:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Brush Turkey well with melted butter, salt and pepper.
  3. Fill cavity with stuffing and popcorn.
  4. Place in baking pan with the neck end toward the back of oven.
  5. Listen for popping sounds.
  6. When the Turkey's rear end blows the oven door open and the Turkey flies across the room, it's done.

It's a traditional recipe when anybody who is anybody these days knows that you brine the sucker first and don't stuff it (although I might do the popcorn thang).

So I'm off to brine the bird …

Letter to Joe Udah, Nigeria

From: Sean “Captain Napalm” Conner <>
To: Joe Udah <>
Date: Thu, 28 Nov 2002 11:05:00 -0500

DIRECT FAX: 234 1 759 0904. TEL; 234 1- 7763126

Dear Sir,

I am ENGR. JOE UDAH (MON) member committee of the above department.

Terms of Reference

My term of reference involves the award of contracts to multinational companies.

My office is saddled with the responsibility of contract award, screening, categorization and prioritization of projects embarked upon by Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) as well as feasibility studies for selected projects and supervising the project consultants involved. A breakdown of the fiscal expenditure by this office as at the end of last fiscal quarter of 2000 indicates that DPR paid out a whooping sum of US$736M (Seven Hundred And Thirty Six Million, United States Dollars) to successful contract beneficiaries. The DPR is now compiling beneficiaries to be paid for the third Quarter of 2002.

The crux of this letter is that the finance/contract department of the DPR deliberately over invoiced the contract value of the various contracts awarded. In the course of disbursements, this department has been able to accumulate the sum of US$38.2M (Thirty-eight Million, two hundred Thousand U.S Dollars) as the over-invoiced sum. This money is currently in a suspense account of the DPR account with the Debt Reconciliation Committee (DRC). We now seek to process the transfer of this fund officially as contract payment to you as a foreign contractor, who will be fronting for us as the beneficiary of the fund. In this way we can facilitate these funds into your nominated account for possible investment abroad. We are not allowed as a matter of government policy to operate any foreign account to transfer this fund into. However, for your involvement in assisting us with this transfer into your nominated account we have evolved a sharing formula as follows:

  1. 20% for you as the foreign partner
  2. 75% for I and my colleagues
  3. 5% will be set aside to defray all incidental expenses both Locally and Internationally during the course of this transaction.

We shall be relying on your advice as regard investment of our share in any business in your country. Be informed that this business is genuine and 100% safe considering the high-power government officials involved. Send your private fax/telephone numbers. Upon your response we shall provide you with further information on the procedures. Feel free to send response by Fax: 234-1-7590904 / TEL: 234-1-7763126 expecting your response urgently. All enquiries should be directed to the undersigned by FAX OR PHONE.

Looking forward to a good business relationship with you.


Dear Mr. Udah,

I am shocked, nay, dismayed at the corruption and strife going on in your part of the world. I've been in contact with Mr. David Tofa, Manager of the Eastern District Bank for Africa, PLC who wanted to move $26,000,000 (20% cut for me) out of his country. Things were going along nicely and I flew out to Brussels for a meeting. I later learned through a contact I had with the Nigeria Ministry of Information (NMI) that as he attempted to fly out of Porto-Novo, Benin (to avoid scrutiny of the Nigerian military) he was caught in a rebel insurgency there and had to use $16,500,000 as ransom to the Benin General People's United Army of Liberation. Before he was able to leave Benin he was yet again kidnapped; this time by the Benin Republic Liberation Army of the People but in turn the van he was being transported in was blown up by the Democratic Army for the Liberation of the Republican People of Benin. It was quite the mess let me assure you.

While sitting in a cyber café in Brussels I was then contacted by John Doe, the elder brother to the late Liberian President Samuel Doe (who was murdered by the then rebel leader Charles Taylor, now Liberian President) who wanted to move $18,500,000 (25% plus expenses) out of his country. I agreed to meet him in Freetown, Sierra Leone since it was close to him and I had business there to help move some diamonds out of the country. We were close to actually consumating the deal when I was doubled crossed by the Sierra Leone diamond merchants and I'm afraid that the late John Doe was caught in the Men's room of a Kurdish restaurant during a bomb explosion set off by Iraqi agents thinking I was a CIA operative. I'm nothing more than an honest person trying to help launder money for those less fortunate than myself; I am in no way a CIA operative.

The deal with Ekwueme Chiekwugo Ukwu fell apart as well. He had first contacted me under the name of Dr. Oshoniwo Kogi, an official of the Federal Government of Nigeria, looking to transfer $10,500,000 (20% cut). Knowing the circumstances of your government I could understand why he choose to use a pseudonym but previous legal entanglements with the government of Libya blocked the transfer of funds. Over a month and a half later he got in contact with me again, under the name of Dr. Edet Amama, yet another official of the Nigerian Federal Government. I went to Lichtenstein to meet with him but found out later that he was attempting to move much more than the $10,500,000 he claimed to have by using several agents, one claiming to be James T. Kirk from the United States but in reality was an ex-KGB agent now working for the Chechnya separatist government. The last I heard Mr. Ukwu was still in an Algerian prison waiting to be extradited (please do not ask how I know such information; even if I were inclined to tell you, I would have to silence you afterwards).

Your offer of $7,640,000 (net) is the best I've received yet, but I'm afraid that with the recent events it is no longer financially viable for me to continue with such endeavors. So it is with much regret that I have to turn down your fine offer.

I do hope that you find another agent to work with, but beware of James T. Kirk; he's a most unsavory character.

Your's truly,

Sean “Captain Napalm” Conner

Fat, dumb and happy

Considering that the bird hadn't thawed before brining and not discovering this until afterwards, then some last minute thawing triage which threw the timing of everything else off, the meal was quite successful. Which is to say, the bird wasn't totally dry.

Nap timeeeeeeee. . . . . . . .zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Friday, November 29, 2002

The International Money Order Conspiracy

I decide to help AccordionGuy by helping to save his Christmas by buying a book or two (or four—he had a good selection of computer related books at about half of what I would pay new). I asked what his preferred non-PayPal method of payment would be, and he said “international money order.” Seems that Canada (since he lives in Canada) is not part of the United States, yet, and any personal check I write will take nearly a month to clear, which won't exactly help AccordionGuy for Christmas. An “international money order” would clear faster (days perhaps) and allow him access to the funds while there are still shopping days left.

Now, I've dealt with money orders before—an “international money order” shouldn't be all that difficult, right? Just head to my bank and get one, right? It's not like my bank is a small, obscure bank that no one outside of west Boca Raton have heard of—no, it's this behemouth of a bank where you can't throw a bagel without hitting a branch down here in South Florida (for the record, my checking account has outlasted three (3) banks so far; each one getting consumed by a larger entity).

So of course getting an “international money order” should be trivial.

“You want a what?” asked the teller, eyes glazing over in puzzlement.

“An internation money order,” I said. “I want to send money to Canada.” I was met with a blank stare. “You know, the place where all the people with ‘Bring me souvenirs’ on their license plates come from.”

“Oh! Well,” said the teller riffling through some stacks and pulling out a small form, “we can handle a money order.”

“No, I want an international money order so it doesn't take a month for the check to clear.”

“Let me ask my boss,” said the teller and left. Several minutes pass. “I'm sorry, but we don't know anything about these international money orders. Maybe you can get one at 7-11.”



“Okay, I'll try,” I said and left.

Spring suggested a check cashing store down the street. She theorized that a sizable portion of the domestic help in Boca Raton might send money back home south of the border, so they might be able to deal with an “international money order.”

“A what?”

“An international money order,” I said. “I want to send money to Canada.”

“The place where all those people want our souvenirs come from, right? I didn't know that was international.

“It is.”

“Don't you want to wire the money?”

“I'd like an international money order,” I said.

“We have money orders,” said the teller, holding up a form.

“An international money order?”

“Sorry, don't think we have any of those here. Did you try a bank?”

Last attempt. Even though we've received a stern warning from them, the United States Postal Service may be my only hope—they send stuff all over the world; they might have heard of “international money orders!”

“Oh, yes,” said the United States Postal worker. “Where is the money being sent to?”

Amazing! Such a thing as an “international money order” does exist! It wasn't a Canuck playing a joke on us Yanks after all! “Canada,” I said.

“Oh, those nice people that make toques.” A few minutes later I had my “international money order.”

Aboot time, eh?

Obligatory Picture

[Don't hate me for my sock monkey headphones.]

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

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