Monday, September 04, 2000
I've been somewhat of a Winston Churchill fan ever since high school. My friend Ben was writing a term paper about the Winter War for AP Modern European History. He left a copy of The Gathering Storm over at my house. I started reading it and was fascinated by Churchill's description of the events leading up to World War II. I read the other volumes of his history, his biography, and other things that I could pick up related to him.
People associate Churchill most with his role as the leader of England through most of WWII. But he played a part in many other important events of the 20th century -- he was in charge of the British Navy for part of WWI, and he was involved in Irish independence, the formation of Israel -- he even coined the term "Iron Curtain".
But one of the most interesting episodes in Churchill's life took place in the twilight of the 19th Century. Back then, British military officers got a winter vacation -- so they could go fox-hunting or whatever. Churchill, an ambitious young man from a famous but not wealthy family, had other plans. He headed off for the Boer War as a correspondent. He didn't stay an observer for long. When the train he was on was ambushed by Boers, he took the lead in defending the train. Despite his efforts, which allowed many on the train to escape, he was captured and held prisoner Churchill: Wanted Dead or Alive is his granddaughter's re-telling of these events, in addition to his escape and his eventual flight to freedom.
I read this book on my way back from California. It's certainly an interesting tale. If it had happened to anyone else, I think it would make a great movie. And here it is, with Churchill, an larger-than-life figure for so many other reasons. But some of the things that would make this a great movie make it a less-than-ideal book. It's a nice, simple story. So what does Celia Sandys fill up 215 pages with? Much of it with the story of her researching this book. I'm sure it was interesting for her to meet with the descendants of the people who helped Churchill escape, but the digressions take much out of what should be a fast-paced read. So it was fun for a Churchill fan to skim through, but others should probably just read the relevant section of a good Churchill biography.
Football SeasonWell, the NFL season is off to an auspicious start. Yesterday I watched my beloved Redskins hold on for 20-17 win over the Panthers.
This is the first year I've ordered the NFL Direct Ticket. We had a pretty nice setup. The big TV was on the Redskins game (but of course), the medium size TV was on the Lions game (for Steve) and the small TV on the Ravens game ('cause that and the 'Skins game were all we could get on the antenna). We pulled up the sofa and chairs real close and enjoyed football nirvana.
It's strange. I'm in a good mood today, and part of the reason is that the Redskins won. (Yee hah! 16-0! Undefeated!) Another reason, of course is that Michigan won on Saturday (No. 3...national championship, here we come!) Sometimes I feel like giving your allegiance to a sports team is this bizarre exercise is losing control. (Despite what I may want to believe, my rooting doesn't control the fate of the team.) Why should I cede the ability to decide if I'm happy to a bunch of guys wearing funny uniforms?
But a lot of things in life that determine our happiness are way out of our ability to control. And maybe fan-dom is a pure way of expressing that. You give your heart to someone who literally doesn't know you exist, sit back, and hope for the best. Ah, football. Can't wait 'til next week.
Saturday, September 02, 2000
On my recent trip to California, I read The New Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major. I think the title is somewhat misleading -- it sounds as if the goal of the book is to get you to plow through these classics, from #1 (The Epic of Gilgamesh) to #133 (Things Fall Apart). While I suppose you could use the book this way, I see this book put to better use as a list of suggestions for books you might consider reading. As in, "Hey, The Federalist Papers -- that would be pretty interesting."
And the commentary itself is the most valuable. I had the good fortune to read a number of these books in three semesters of "Great Books" at the University of Michigan. I had wonderful professors who guided me through the works. This book, with a handful of pages devoted to each work, is no substitute for that. Still, the suggestion can be very helpful for someone approaching, say, Nietzsche:
"Suggestion: Use the edition called The Portable Nietzsche, if available. The translations are intelligent, the notes and other apparatus helpful. You might read the whole of Zarathustra, uneven as that strange work is; the selections from Beyond Good and Evil; Toward a Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, and perhaps The Antichrist."
I don't know how many of these books I'll read -- they said the list is aimed at those "who have not met more than ten percent" of the authors (I'm in the twenties, I think). But I probably will want this book on my bookshelf for when I feel like picking up a classic and am looking for some guidance. Now where can I get a copy of Gilgamesh?
Thursday, August 31, 2000
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
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.
Tuesday, August 22, 2000
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
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:
--from an article in yesterday's Washington Post.
"Following his death, Ware re-joined the organization."
--from an AP obituary of one of Mensa's co-founders.
Monday, August 14, 2000
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!
Friday, August 11, 2000
Wednesday, August 09, 2000
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
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