Thursday, August 31, 2000

Santa Barbara Pictures

My camera gave out pretty quickly into the trip, but I did get some pictures worth sharing. I'm trying an experiment with Yahoo! Photos; it was much easier to upload them there than to create my own pages.

Start Here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2000

"So far he hasn't yet paid me $55.95..."



I almost didn't link to this, because a) things could just get too self-referential and b) well, if this weblog is going to have a theme, I'm not sure it should be that theme, but Jeanene has weighed in on last Wednesday's Viewer Mail.

Monday, August 28, 2000

From Russia With Love



I got back last night from Berkeley. Nice conference; more about that later. The hotel was OK; some people were complaining, though. Dan Bernstein told this Russian hotel story that made us grateful for the one we had. Dan's a nice guy, although he does have some interesting hobbies.

Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Rump Session

I just got back from this conference's rump session. I'm not sure how widespread the "rump session" is in the scientific and technical world, but it consists of all the presentations too trivial, too bad, too new, or just too silly to make it into the regular program of the conference.

In my mind, it has two very important innovations which should give it an edge over the rest of the conference: very short talks and alcohol. The two achieved a very nice synergy in the first talk tonight, "AES Update," a 4-minute talk. The speaker started by giving a history of the AES process (don't ask). Someone shouted out, "We're all cryptographers; we know what AES is." Finally, he was heckled into sticking to the "update" part.

At its best, rump session talks consist of someone madly dashing through a quick, but interesting result -- like breaking a cryptosystem presented at one of yesterday's regular talks. Madly dashing through a boring result also works...the comic effect is still enjoyable. Unfortunately, there was too much plodding through really, really boring stuff. People reading from their slides in a monotone and not being cut off by the moderator when their time is up. Even 5 minutes of that can be deadly.

So I've come up with an idea I think can improve these rump sessions. I think they should be modeled after one of modern entertainment's greatest triumphs -- the Gong Show. Get a panel of noted cryptographers -- and Jaye P. Morgan -- give them gongs, stand back, and watch the fun begin. This would have a number of advantages. One, anything exceptionally boring would be cut off by the dreaded gong. Two, speakers would have even more incentive to entertain the audience for fear of getting cut off. Three, those particularly interesting talks -- the ones that leave the audience wanting more -- could continue on as long as they kept the judges amused. But most importantly, we could all go home earlier.

Viewer Mail

Martin writes

"Enjoyable as ever, but I'd like to ask that if I'm mentioned again in the near future, I be refered to as 'the guy who wrote in to say he'd pay that much for a daily [Lewinsky]'."

Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Details, Details




"A photo caption in one edition Aug. 21 incorrectly identified former baseball star Henry Aaron as Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings."


From a Washington Post correction today.

Monday, August 21, 2000

I Miss The Ocean



During my departure from California in the Great Retreat of '93, I left a number of things behind...restaurants, bookstores... But I realize, being back here, that the thing I miss most is the Pacific. I used to sit on the 10th floor of Evans Hall at Berkeley, in the Math Commons, and watch the sun set over the San Francisco Bay. A lot of things weren't going well for me at that point in my life, but that was one thing I had going for me. I'll have to try that again when I'm up there later this week, and see what emotions result...

Because of the weird geography of this place (Santa Barbara), the nearest bit of the Pacific is actually east of here. So nuts to the idea of the traditional Pacific sunset. Still, last night I wandered down to the beach and dipped my toes in the Pacific Ocean. Don't think I've done that since '93...the only times I've been back to California ('97 and January of this year), I didn't make it to the water. Anyway, it felt good.

Tonight I tried rounding the corner of land UCSB is on in order to see the sunset. There were two glitches. First, the sun was almost down by the time I made it into position. Second, there was still a spit of land sticking out to the west blocking my view. Still, it was a nice picture. Tomorrow I'll have to break out the camera.

How [Not] to Deal with Telemarketers



I was talking to a well-known cryptographer last night. (Well, as they say, he's well-known to those who well-know him.) He's done some work on ways to reduce spam (no success, yet), and the conversation naturally moved from there to the topic of telemarketing.

He mentioned that he had been growing increasily fed up with telemarketing calls, and related a recent one he had received from AT&T Cable. The woman calling went into a really long song and dance about all the remarkable benefits he could receive by signing up...multiple channels of HBO, etc. He let her finish her entire spiel and then said, "You're not going to tell me how much it costs, are you?" She said, "$55.95/month," to which he replied, "Lady, I wouldn't pay that much for a daily [Lewinsky]." And then hung up on her.

He turned around to see his 15-year-old daughter standing there. "Dad, can I tell my friends about this?"

Sunday, August 20, 2000

Personal Space



Greetings from sunny Santa Barbara, California, where I am until Thursday for a conference. Despite United's recent woes, today wasn't all that bad in terms of what the airline provided. They didn't cancel either of my flights! OK, sure, they delayed the second one without telling us what's going on. (Uh, there are people getting off our plane which is supposed to leave in 10 minutes, and it's going to be on time? Right.) But only 30-45 minutes, and I wasn't in a hurry.

The main annoyances today came, not surprisingly, from my fellow passengers. On the leg from BWI to Denver, I was seated next to a large (not fat, just up-sized) gentleman, who for some reason chose the middle seat while letting his wife have the window. Awfully gallant, fellow, but have a little consideration for the fact that you're spilling into a large portion of my seat. I eventually stuck my newspaper between myself and the armrest just so he'd stop bumping me. It cut the size of the seat down even more, but it seemed worth it.

But the worst part was the kids sitting behind me. Kicking the seat, banging on the trays, even once in a while reaching around to grab me. I heard the parents talking to them, and there seemed to be only token efforts at control. Look, I accept that in this country you can name your kids whatever you want, but if you name them "Madison" and "Sidney," they're probably going to turn out like that. Sigh.

The next leg was the opposite: two seats to stretch out in. Luxury.

Footnote about BWI. I watched Goldfinger last night. They referred to it as "Friendship" airport. A much better name; pity they changed it. I'm sure at the time, "BWI" seemed more modern. But now, "Friendship" seems nice and retro, and retro is, of course, now modern.

Friday, August 18, 2000

Gamera is Really Neat



Best quote out of context I've seen in a news article lately:

"AOL spokesman Rich D'Amato said the company is still looking into how Gamera escaped."

--from an article in yesterday's Washington Post.

Runner-up:

"Following his death, Ware re-joined the organization."

--from an AP obituary of one of Mensa's co-founders.

Monday, August 14, 2000

Gold Diggers



Last night I went to a co-workers house for an attempt to win a bunch of bucks from goldpocket.com. Well, mostly to watch an attempt.

The idea behind goldpocket.com is that you're asked three trivia questions at a time. You compete against one of the thousands of other players. Winners advance; losers go into some sort of lame consolation round. (Ties are broken by a lightning round, where speed counts.) The final winner gets $100K with a chance to win...one million dollars. I have no idea how they hope to turn a profit.

The idea behind last night's gathering is that if we got several people playing in the same place, they could help each other out while still having several people playing. So, after much furious networking, 4 systems were set up. There were about 8 of us, so I and others merely observed.


The first sign of trouble came in the first round, when two of the computers sitting right next to each other were paired off. The odds of that seem pretty slim, but we can't figure out any explanation. One was connected via a modem, so it's not like they were matching up IP addresses. Anyway, that knocked 1 out, and the questions were so easy that others were forced into lightning rounds and knocked out pretty quickly. The last remaining one lost in about round 6. (Out of 13 or more.)


We watched the rest of the questions. Then things degenerated into a discussion of how to network Windows 98 machines, and I hit the road.

Sunday, August 13, 2000

A Day at the Races



I went to Laurel Racetrack yesterday with Mensa. I'm sure that sounds like we figured we could beat the system, or makes people wonder what smart people are doing throwing their money away on the ponies. But, really, it was just a social event.

I had never been to the track before, so it was an interesting experience for me. I had to ask a lot of questions before starting to get how the whole betting thing works. It's neat; the final odds are not determined by a handicapper, but by what bets get placed on which horses. So if lots of people bet on a longshot, the odds come down. It take a little getting used to, but it's really a "free market" type of system, and those things are pretty darn efficient most of the time.

I decided I was willing to lose $20 (we figured to stay for less than 10 races, so that would allow at least a $2 bet in each race). I announced this fact, to everyone's great amusement. My strategy was simple -- pick the horses with the most interesting names (e.g., Party Guy, so I could yell "Party! Party!" during the race). The strategy worked for my first two bets -- but I kept letting things ride and lost $10 on the third bet. On my fourth bet, I wanted to bet the favorite but at 1-5 odds (or 2-5; it kept fluctuating), it hardly seemed worth it. So I went for the exacta. Voila, now I had another $10 to bet. But I lost that bet, and the next one. We decided to leave early, and I was only down $10. So on the last race, I put 2 $5 bets on the longshots, one to show and one to win. The 40-1 longshot I had to win was leading pretty late into the race, which was exciting, but he ended up fading to 7th. Such is the way of longshots. The other horse ended up 9th. Anyway, all in all it was pretty fun, and a fairly slow way to lose money.

Saturday, August 12, 2000

Hail To The Redskins



While I was in the midst of figuring out yesterday where to watch the second Redskins pre-season game, Ben called me up and said he had his parents' tickets. Did I want to go? Of course!

Ben's parents have season tickets, and from time to time they find a reason not to go. Especially to pre-season games. As a life-long Redskins fan, it's a joy to see the team under any circumstances. And it was nice to see Smith, Sanders and the other new additions out on the field.

I must admit we ducked out partway through the fourth quarter. I love the team, but the fans can sometimes get tiresome. Here I'm thinking of the woman next to me who kept putting her elbow into my seat space, the guy behind me who was telling his buddy about his vasectomy, and the drunken yahoos a few rows back who kept yelling out obscenities that had nothing to do with the game. C'mon guys, at least keep 'em relevant.

Oh, and if you want to hear about on the field action, take a look at the article Redskins' running game roughs up Patriots. Go team!

Wednesday, August 09, 2000

Teddy





Sorry, nothing funny today. I'm tired. Teddy has been through a series of health crises over the past month or so. The first two, which struck at right around the same time were scrapes on his head and pain when walking. The pain when walking was probably due to a slipped disc in his neck. That was treated fairly easily through anti-inflammatory drugs and switching from attaching his leash to a collar to attaching it to a harness. The scrapes were more of a pain...they involved a long routine of antibiotics, some sort of cream, and special shampoo. Also, there was a brief ringworm scare, which caused me to keep everyone away from Teddy for fear he was contagious. Finally, last week, I was told that Teddy was A-OK and could resume his normal life.

Then, Monday night, when people were over for D&D, Teddy started running around in a most disturbing way. He would tilt to the right. Sometimes only a little bit, but sometimes he'd pull a Dick Cheney and run into things he'd be so far over to the right. I called the vet's after-hours number and was told it was probably just an ear infection.

Not so. When I took Teddy in the next day, the vet noticed one of the pupils was dilated. Blood tests ruled out an infection, so the most likely choices remain that he suffered a minor stroke or that he has a tumor (or some other degenerative condition). I'm convincing myself it's a stroke, 'cause with a stroke, he gradually gets better. And he has been. This morning, his eyes were closer to looking the same. And he's been walking in straight lines, although I haven't gotten him excited (which causes the condition to worsen).

Sigh. Anyway, we're seeing the vet again next Tuesday, at which point we get to decide if it's off to the doggie neurologist. Keep him in your thoughts.

Sunday, August 06, 2000

"He's Become More Powerful Than We Could Ever Imagine"

Martin made that remark after passing along the sad news that British Actor Sir Alec Guinness Dies at 86. We discussed whether this meant that our generational icons were beginning to pass on. I argued that Alec Guiness belonged more to our parents' generation. He pointed out that "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai" made him a good actor to our parents, but Obi-Wan was a legend. Good point, but as long as we have Han Solo, I'll still feel young.

I'm posting this via NewsBlogger, a new site letting me post news articles in Blogger. It's powered by Moreover, which has a pretty darn good selection of headlines. As something of a news fan, I may start using this to generate more weblog posts.

Unfortunately, Newsblogger is no more; the link doesn't work. Moreover is also no more -- I changed the home page link to point to the Wayback Machine version of it, but the Alec Guiness article can't be reached. 25 Mar 2005

Thursday, August 03, 2000

Pseudoprime.com



Well, I went and registered pseudoprime.com at register.com today. (It'll take a few days for the link to become active.) I've been going back and forth between the idea of using jgrantham.com for my web pages, too, or keeping it for my e-mail only. But I'm content enough with my current e-mail setup that I don't want to change it around -- so I'm going to eventually put the web pages on pseudoprime.com. That'll set me up to ditch clark.net eventually.

This was partially inspired by a re-design of my web site. I've used cascading style sheets and a sidebar to give a common feel to many of the pages. I've also cleaned up the home page considerably.

Why pseudoprime.com? My dissertation title was Frobenius Pseudoprimes, and it's the subject on which I've done most of my research.