Saturday, December 30, 2000

Inaccurate Cargo

Well, at least from here I can access

Unfortunately, when I go to, it takes me to Hmm.

I think I'll wait until the new year to see if this clears up before bugging tech support about this one.

Friday, December 29, 2000

Doctored in mathematics...

...I could have been a don.

As part of the continuing push to revamp my web pages for 2001, I have cleaned up the math pages on my site. New and of note are PDF versions of all the papers -- this format should be accessible to a greater portion of web surfers, especially those outside the mathematics community.

Thursday, December 28, 2000


I just got back from helping a friend of my parents set up his first computer. Well, attempting to, anyway. Everything seemed to be going well -- I removed all the extraneous plastic coverings, plugged everything where it needed to be plugged. I powered up the system and the monitor. As Windows ME started and I decided I would need to shut down the on-line setup so we could do it later, the monitor started flickering. I went to check that it was plugged in properly, and my assistant said, "It's stopped flickering." I looked up and said, "Yes, but there's smoke coming out of the speaker." I unplugged everything very quickly. It's back to the store, probably tonight, to exchange it for a less smoky one.

Look for the companies involved to be flogged in this spot if we don't obtain satisfaction.


I've re-vamped the D&D part of my web site, mainly by adding a new weblog for the campaign for which I'm the Dungeon Master.


Just a quick note to mention that I've moved hosting of my web site over to RNI. The exciting part of this for me is that starting later this week, my web site will be available permanently at, no matter which provider I'm using.

I'm planning to take advantage of the switch to improve a few things. If you find any broken links, please e-mail me.

Today, I've restored a lot of old links to the archive, so you can see what was on my mind early in the year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2000


I associate certain restaurants with particular places fairly strongly, so much so that going to eat somewhere becomes a major goal of a trip. When I got to Cincinnati, I want to eat at Skyline; when I'm in Athens (GA), The Grill or Taco Stand is an important stop; and Ann Arbor draws me toward Cottage Inn, Zingerman's or Blimpieburger. During my recent trip to Berkeley, I missed my chance to visit Blondie's, a pizza place that is one of my few positive memories of my year there.

Yesterday afternoon, we were given the afternoon off the conference to explore San Diego. I decided to skip the sights and TCOB. Steve, another guy from Back East, had business at the same location, so I gave him a ride.

We needed to find a place to grab a quick lunch. Searching my memories of my summer in San Diego, the UTC food court was a close, convenient place to get a bite. Unfortunately, it didn't occur to us that holiday shopping season would be in full swing, and the quest for a parking space would throw "quick" out the window. Eventually, however, my karma prevailed and we found a place.

Steve lost any concern with his delay when he discovered that the food court contained a Rubio's franchise. Rubio's is, he explained, San Diego's foremost purveyor of fish tacos. Fish tacos, I knew, were the characteristic food of San Diego. I remember being jarred by the sight of a "Fish Tacos" sign at a concession stand at a Padres game.

I admit I didn't find Rubio's fish tacos particularly exquisite compared to others I had tasted before. But I was glad to get a chance to go there, even if I never made it to Blondie's.

Sunday, December 17, 2000

San Diego

When I got off the plane it was 81o. Wow. I briefly regretted my decision to pack long-sleeved shirts. (The weather has since cooled off slightly.) I retrieved my luggage, which was at the most crowded baggage carousel I've seen. People were tripping over each other trying to get their suitcases out of there. I picked up my rental car in a remarkably hassle-free experience and hit the freeways of San Diego.

I hadn't been back since I lived here in the summer of '93. Blue skies, warm weather, ocean views...why did I leave? Ah, well. I'm happy in Maryland, but this wouldn't be too bad either. I found my way to my hotel, which turned out to be in Old Town San Diego. It's fairly touristy, but as a traveler, having restaurants and shops nearby is pretty cool.

I could hardly wait to head for one of the many nearby Mexican restaurants. Sigh. But I had the opening conference banquet in a few hours. I wandered down the street, browsed through a gallery containing a number of Chuck Jones prints and contented myself with a couple of margaritas and some chips and salsa.

After a quick nap, I headed for the banquet. When I arrived, I realized that the conference featured many nodding acquaintances, but nobody I knew really well -- none of my old Georgia buddies. I picked out a table, nodded at a few people and sand down. One, an elderly mathematician, seemed to recognize me more than I expected, given that I had not seen him since '93. I chatted with a Canuck about the different voting systems in use in the US & Canada and tried to enjoy my non-Mexican meal. Then, at one point, the aforementioned elderly gentleman referred to me as "Jeff" and asked me a question about another mathematician. I realized that he had mistaken me for someone else, perhaps 20 years my senior. I felt really awkward -- how do you point out to someone that they not only don't remember you, but they've just mistaken you for someone who comes closer to doubling your age than equaling it? I ducked and said I didn't know anything about the guy he had asked me about, which puzzled the man I was talking to, since he thought we worked together.

I spent most of the rest of the evening trying not to make eye contact before ducking out early due to jetlag.

Frequent Flier

I have achieved my goal -- I am now a frequent flier. The results won't be official, I suppose, until the United Airlines version of the Electoral College convenes at year's end. But with the flight to San Diego, I will have accumulated in excess of 21,000 flying miles for the year 2000. I actually have flown more than that -- the real total probably exceeds 35K. But some of those miles were on other airlines or went uncredited due to various incompetences.

After a flying lifetime of spreading my flights across many different airlines -- I currently maintain memberships in four different frequent flier programs, I decided it was time to settle down with one airline. When I found myself flying to Belgium this past May on United, I had my airline.

My original goal was to hit 25K -- the level needed for Premier status. Unfortunately, even with the return flight from San Diego, I will only find myself with 24,551 credited flight miles. Fortunately, United has had much labor strife this year. Fortunately, because the strife has caused UAL to kiss some serious passenger behind in order to keep its customers. For example, by lowering the Premier thershhold to 21K. Victory!

So to what can I look forward as a certified member of the jet set next year? I get to skip the long check-in lines and use the Premier check-in. I get to "pre-board" the aircraft and put all my stuff in the overhead compartment before the rest of you unfortunates get on. I get to sit in "Economy Plus" with its 5 extra inches of legroom. (This alone makes all my struggles worthwhile.) And I get upgrade coupons, which will work out to an upgrade to Business or First Class on roughly every fifth flight.

I can't complain too much about my penultimate flight as a non-privileged traveler. The flight was less than 2/3 full (pre-Christmas doldrums?), and I got a row of three seats to myself. (Talk about legroom.)

Still, I can't help but think it would have been just a teensy bit better as a Premier member. I'll let you know next year.

Friday, December 15, 2000

Master Maze

George bought a few sets of MasterMaze from Dwarven Forge. Since they don't deliver to a PO Box, and since we play D&D here, he had them delivered here.

I have come to one conclusion: Polaroids are terrible for taking pictures of minatures. These look really cool, and it'll be great to play D&D with a realistic looking dungeon to put the minatures in, but you wouldn't really know it from the picture.

Trust me.

Where's Jonboy?

I know a lot of people wander in and read my weblog, but this note is directed at people I actually do know. I've made a Yahoo! calendar so it's easy to figure out what I'm up to. I need to give you permission (via a Yahoo! ID) to view the calendar. (I don't want the rest of you weirdos to be able to find me.) If anyone wants to look at it, and I haven't given you permission, e-mail me. Then click here to view the calendar, once I've added your ID to the list.

It's pretty cool. It's nice for me, because I can see what's going on from home, work or while I'm traveling. And it allows me to share calendars with others who have Yahoo! calendars.

Friday, December 08, 2000

Dumb Ass, Don't Tell

"And it was only then that I worked out with Colin Powell this dumb-ass 'don't ask, don't tell' thing."

David Brooks calls this quote from Bill Clinton's recent Rolling Stone interview, "a classic act of Clintonism" showing how he adapts his tone and language to the audience. The only problem...

"Due to a transcription error, the words 'don't ask' were printed as 'dumb-ass' in our interview with President Clinton. We regret the error."

Never mind.

Friday, December 01, 2000


The other day at work my boss was preparing a talk for an important muckety-muck. He wanted to use a graph that had been prepared by somebody who has since left our organization. Unfortunately, the graph needed to be updated, so my boss was trying to do it by hand. This, as one might imagine, was causing a number of problems. I volunteered that I had the program that our now departed colleague had used to generate the graph, and I could update the program to produce a new graph.

Since no good deed goes unpunished, I was asked to make a number of other changes. "Can you make this line thicker?" Then, my boss complained that since the graph was color, it was coming out as gray on the black-and-white printer. "Fine," I said, "I'll change 'blue' and 'red' to 'black' everywhere." So I did a search-and-replace. (Fans of vi will recognize the %s/red/black/g command.)

I sent off the new version of the graph to him, and he finally seemed satisified. About an hour later, I got a call from him asking why the work "squablack" was on the graph.

Beware search-and-replace.

Wednesday, November 29, 2000

High Standards

A article about standardized testing in Maryland schools contained this gem:

Despite the slight gains, almost half of the state's elementary and middle schools performed below average, a cause for concern among education officials...

Friday, November 24, 2000

Viewer Mail

Happy Thanksgiving.

I don't get as many e-mails about the weblog as I had expected, but I got a couple earlier this week.

A Trevor Bryan wrote to inform me that, "lisa bangerts from mansfeild nottingam not manchester". Good to know. Who's Lisa Bangert again? Oh, yeah, she's the Page 3 girl I mentioned in my '93 Britain diary. Glad to know she's acquiring a fan base.

I also got a note from someone at Tharsis Books in response to my review of Martian Race. They plugged As It Is On Mars, which they appear to publish, and Mars Crossing.

Finally, words of praise from a fan:

Pal, I had a read through your Android's dungeon today. That's

Friday, November 17, 2000

The Aztek

I was in Minnesota earlier this week. My rental car was a Pontiac Sunfire -- an adequate compact car. A co-worker of mine, however, belonged to Avis Preferred. Apparently, in addition to allowing you to skip the rental counter, this program will give you a free one-size upgrade on your rental. So my Sunfire would have been upgraded to a mid-sized car, a mid-sized car would be upgraded to a full-sized sedan, and my co-worker's full-sized reservation was upgraded SUV.

Pretty cool, right? I mean, better than the dorky rental cars we get most of the time. Wrong. Avis provided him with a Pontiac Aztek...truly the Pontiac of SUVs. I don't know if the pictures there truly capture the awfulness of the design. (Although the misspelled name certainly does.) Imagine a circa 1990 Honda Civic hatchback on steroids. Imagine an armored personnel carrier with less of a sense of style.

He complained that as he was driving it around, he could see people in other vehicles pointing and laughing at his car. The worst, he said, was when a woman driving a UPS truck laughed at his mode of transportation.

You know, I like the idea of skipping the rental counter, so I'm going to try to sing up for Avis Preferred. But I think I'll try to make sure I never have a full-sized car reserved for me.

Saturday, November 11, 2000

Remove Fork, Insert Foot in Mouth

In an earlier weblog entry, I predicted a Gore victory in this month's elections and refered to a William Saletan article in Slate. Well, he's written another article explaining his errors. I was still holding out hope that I could say "told you so" if Gore still pulls it out, but even then I'd have egg on my face.

OK, so why was I wrong? Well, you can look at Saletan's article for some of the explanation. As for my additional insight -- Bush's a jerk -- I neglected another factor. Gore's a jerk. But he's my kind of jerk.

When I was 14, I was on a TV quiz show called "It's Academic". One of my teammates buzzed in without knowing the answer. I glared at him to make sure everybody knew he was the bozo who had rung in. This is exactly the kind of pompous behavior the nation came to expect from Al Gore. (I, on the other hand, have matured since then.) I guess I had a blind spot because I thought Bush deserved to be shown up. I didn't realize that -- compared to frat boys -- American can't stand "smarty-pants".

So can Gore still win? My thought is that he has a decent chance in the hand recounts. He's only down by about 300 votes in Florida. Given how much that dropped from the initial count, and given how prone to error these ballots seem, I think it's very plausible he could pick those up if things were counted more carefully. Bush, on the other hand, wants to stop the hand recounts. I mean I guess I understand that -- it's like a football team running out the clock when they're ahead. But how is he going to sell this to the public? "I don't want a more accurate count 'cause it'll take longer." Maybe he'll wake up and realize he looks bad -- just like he stopped demanding Gore concede before the recount.

Speaking of looking bad, I'm afraid that Gore will have to drop the Palm Beach bad ballot challenge. Yes, it stinks. Yes, it probably cost Gore the election. But there's no realistic way to turn the clock back. And if they somehow manage to do that, it could open up all sorts of unpleasant challenges in other states. What's going on now is reasonable -- but I don't want to see this tied up in court for months. Hopefully this will at least throw the spotlight onto usability issues related to ballots. Yes, it's obvious to me how to fill out that ballot. No, it wasn't obvious to enough people. Let's make it more obvious.

Monday, November 06, 2000

Search Engine Madness

Inspired by West Coast Girl, I present my "Search Engine Outtakes". (All searches on Google unless otherwise mentioned):

  • Android's Dungeon -- #1 !
  • Southwark colleage -- #1 (oops)
  • boy-in-the-bubble disease -- #4
  • android sketches -- #12
  • Paul Simon's Graceland -- #50
  • dancing chicken carcass -- #16
  • Gibbs Lisa -- #16
  • android -- #14
  • Jaye P. Morgan gong show -- #17 (Northern Light)

Saturday, November 04, 2000


I got my hair cut today.

While I was trying to decipher what the guy cutting my hair was saying about the Redskins (he mumbles, and speaks with a Cuban accent), I heard the woman cutting hair next to me say something to her client like, "And that converts it back to decimal." After more discussion of the merits of Brad Johnson vs. Daunte Culpepper, I decided to listen in on the conversation taking place to my left. I heard the guy getting his hair cut say, "So 127 is localhost?" His sylist said, "Yeah," and then proceeded to go into a discourse on routers that went over my head. It was completely surreal. It was like I had been transported into some sort of .com commercial. I'm not sure what the tag line would be -- "Feel like everyone's getting in on the Internet economy but you?" or "Where do you go for your technical information?"

I briefly considered getting her to cut my hair instead because -- I mean, how cool is she? But then I realized that I was confusing two totally different skill sets, and I was really there to get a good haircut. Which I did.

Tuesday, October 31, 2000

I Feel Your Pain, Al...

"And the awful truth is that America doesn't like knowledgeable, well-educated white guys who preen visibly over their grasp of detail. If it did, Al Gore wouldn't be fighting for his political life."
--Marjorie Williams, The Breakfast Club, Slate

Monday, October 30, 2000

Why Me?

On my recent flight to Chicago, the woman in the adjacent seat woke me up to ask me to hand her my copy of the in-flight magazine. I was so stunned, all I managed was to be as surly as possible while handing it to her.

Wednesday, October 25, 2000

I used to be scared of 8th grade girls, too..

This made me laugh.

"Speaking inside a middle-school gymnasium in the Chicago suburbs today, George Bush tried out what seemed a clever new way to contrast his proposal for "tax relief" with Al Gore's. The distinction collapsed, however, under tough questioning from a girl in the eighth grade."
--Jacob Weisberg, Slate

Read the whole article here.

Saturday, October 21, 2000


"After many false starts and delays for reasons beyond telling, there is now a Mensa SIG* for prisoners: Mprisoned."
--Mensa Bulletin, October 2000, p.5

*Special Interest Group

Thursday, October 19, 2000

Why Service Stinks

''We're just putting more of our energies into rewarding our best customers.''
--American Airlines

Business Week has written an article addressing the topic of why customer service has gone downhill in recent years. I've felt that this was because the cost of providing it has gone up (or at least, hasn't gotten cheaper as fast as other things). But this has some good points about market segmentation I hadn't taken into account.

The first part of the article paints a bleak picture of a world where only the wealthy get good customer service. But continuing on, there are some bright points worth noticing. First of all, "Thanks to the Internet, for example, consumers have far better tools to conveniently serve themselves." I get far better customer service from Amazon than I've gotten through most off-line bookstores, all without interacting with a human being. And don't get me started on bad travel agent stories.

But the most interesting part is the admission that companies may not be doing such a great job in their market segmenting. "The problem, of course, is that what someone spends today is not always a good predictor of what they'll spend tomorrow." Nationsbank (now Bank of America) doesn't have me as a customer any more partly because of how they treated me when all I had to deposit was my grad school salary. But I think the best hope may be embodied in this sentence: "In the future, therefore, the service divide may become much more transparent." Somehow, it's not so much lack of service that's annoying -- it's bad service. If companies admitted, "Hey, you're on your own," we might all be a little happier.

Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Name changed to protect the clueless

Date: Wed, 18 Oct 2000 19:34:20 EDT
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Content-Type: text/plain; charset="US-ASCII"
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
X-Mailer: Windows AOL sub 117
Content-Length: 588


Sunday, October 15, 2000


Today I woke up at around 8:30. Last Sunday, it was a different story. Up at 5:30, out of the house by 7. I was off to the Rock 'n Race. The goal of the Rock 'n Race was to raise money for and awareness of colon cancer. I must admit, though, it was the prospect of seeing Paul Simon at the post-walk concert that drew me in. That, and the 5K walk. I needed the exercise. In fact, my joke was that while everyone else was walking to fight colon cancer, I was walking to fight heart disease.

As the beginnning of the race approached, I joined the mob at the starting line. Looking around, everybody else had their number pinned to their shirt, like I did. But many people had placards pinned on their backs. "I am participating in memory of..." "Mom"..."Uncle Joe"..."Grandpa" Wow. That really got to me. Eventually I looked around and saw that some of the placards said, "I am participating in support of..." That made me feel somewhat better. Of course, eventually I noticed someone whose placard ended "...myself." Wow, and I was just out for a walk.

Then Katie Couric fired the starting airhorn and we were off. Shuffling very, very slowly. Was the whole walk going to be this slow? No, it turned out, it was just as we were passing by Katie Couric, and everybody strained to get a look, or a picture or an autograph. Once past her, the pack spread out to a reasonable pace, it was time for a nice walk around DC. We walked to Union Station, then swung back and walked up and down the mall. Beautiful day, nice and invigorating.

Then it was back to plop down on the mall for the entertainment portion. I munched on the breakfast provided for me. (Hey, between that and the t-shirt, I hope they saved some money out of my registration fee to fight colon cancer.) I listened to the Max Weinberg Seven and profiles of people who had survived colon cancer...and those who had lost loved ones to the disease. Again, pretty moving. And I should mention, it's worth reading up about colon cancer. Something like 90% of all cases are cureable if caught early enough, so if you're at risk, it's really worth it to get checked out. Please.

After that, by 11, it was time for the main attraction...Paul Simon. This summer I went through my entire CD collection and listened to all of the CDs. I realized how great Paul Simon was. Wow; the guy put out wonderful music from his work with Garfunkel in the '60s until 1990's The Rhythm of the Saints. (I wasn't familiar with the Capeman, and I don't have his new album yet.) And here was a chance to see a living legend for far less than a concert ticket. And get a free t-shirt! And fight colon cancer! How could I pass this up?

Anyway, it was a really nice experience. For an hour-long concert, he played quite a number of songs from Graceland...4, I believe -- Boy in the Bubble, Graceland, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes and You Can Call Me Al. He also did Bridge over Troubled Water, a very different version of Kodachrome, The Boxer and three songs from the new album. His encore was Late in the Evening.

As I shuffled off to the Metro to get back home in time for the Redskins game, I was pretty darn happy with what I had gotten accomplished by noon that day. Today, I'll have to settle for writing this as my accomplishment.

Saturday, October 07, 2000

England Pictures

I've uploaded pictures from my recent England trip here.

George Hits Japan

And now for the final entry in the George Trilogy, as our hero arrives in Tokyo...

I can't remember the last time I was doing something peaceful like getting off an airplane that I got shoved so many times. Then the cab ride from the airport to the hotel was damn expensive and the parts of the city that we drove through didn't look like a place worth driving through. But things get worse...

The meter on the taxi is ticking away, the city is just a mass of concrete with no style at all, and we finally get cleaned out of cash when we get dropped off, and the ride cost us 25000 yen. 25000 yen is roughly equivalent to 250 dollars. The hotel looked ok from the outside, but it had all the signs of being a low budget place to stay. There was no driveway to the main lobby, no doorman, and no bell boy to tote the luggage upstairs for us. All of these things were standards on my previous trips for this company. At check in we learned that the front desk staff doesn't speak good English, and you guessed it, we don't speak good Japanese. We get checked in after a while and head upstairs. The room looks like a jail cell. Very small box of a room with a crapper that spit at me when I went to use it. When I got into bed I found that the pillow must be stuffed with beans, and then the whole thing smelled of cigarette smoke. Needless to say we moved to a better hotel the next day. This one had all the features that I expect to have on business trips.

Saturday, without checking out the weather we joined a bus tour to Mt. Fuji. Along the road it started to rain pretty hard. No problem, it will probably blow over. No such luck, we get there in a serious rain. No problem, I've been wet before. Boy did I get wet, and although I was standing on it, I never actually saw it. The clouds were so low you could see about 20 feet in front of you. The next stop was lunch. They took us to one of the traditional places where you sit on a mat on the floor and cram you legs under the table. It was ok, but being far from decent plumbing I wasn't going to take any risks and didn't eat much of it. After that we went to The Valley of Big Hell. This is where an ancient volcano had collapsed upon itself and now it smokes and bubbles up hat springs of water high in sulfur. Just in time to hike around here the rain started to come down like crazy and we got soaked through and through. The thing to do here is hike up a
bit to this shack that boils eggs in the hot spring water and eat one. Supposedly it gives you seven extra years to live. They looked pretty bad but tasted like normal eggs. The trip back to Tokyo was on the bullet train. I was a bit disappointed with its speed because it didn't feel like it was going fast, but it shortened a 3 hour drive into 36 minutes. Not too bad. We had to walk back to the hotel from the subway station that evening. You guessed it, raining even harder now. Joining the rain were high winds and lightning. We looked like we had been through hell when we got to the hotel.

Sunday I found out why the weather just got worse as the day went on. Typhoon #17 approached Tokyo on Saturday and passed by just to the east on Sunday. Sunday was boring as a result of the weather. I did the next best thing and hung out in the bar.

Friday, October 06, 2000

George and the Singapore Sling

The second of three installments from my friend George...

A great thing happened the same day I sent my last report. It was my last
night in Singapore and I still had not been to the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel
for my Singapore Sling. Now, for all of you who don't know the importance
of Raffles (I was one before heading on this trip), The Long Bar at this
hotel is where the Singapore Sling was invented. Being here for so many
days and not having one was eating at my conscience. So after work off we
went. A pretty good drink too. Didn't taste too fruity, and packed a
decent punch. A few went down and the guy I'm travelling with got a bit
tipsy. Next thing I notice is this bar menu telling me that the kitchen is
about to close and lo and behold they have hamburgers for $13 and it costs
an additional $1 for cheese and an additional $1 for bacon. Hell with it
all, I want two with both cheese and bacon. The tasted good and were a good
size so I didn't mind spending that much.

Anyway, we had to leave the hotel at 4 AM to get to the airport for our
flight to Tokyo so I got loaded on Singapore Slings and stayed up all night.
Singapore is a nice place, and I finally felt satisfied with my stay there.
I would go back if anyone comes up with a reason.

Thursday, October 05, 2000

George in Kuala Lumpur

Well, I've run out of England stories. For your vicarious traveling pleasure, however, George has agreed to let me post his Tales of the Mysterious East. Today: Kuala Lumpur.

Greetings from the other side of the world. Everything is going along mostly on schedule down here. We have made it past Kuala Lumpur and are pretty much finished with Singapore now.

We only had one day free in KL and pretty much got lost walking around the city. We walked over to the Petronas Twin Tower (tallest building in the world), and then proceeded to get lost in interesting parts of the city. Not necessarily parts we wanted to see, but definitely educational. I don't think I had ever seen so many chickens running around in a city before. Malaysia appeared to be a country desperately trying to not be third world, but at the same time definitely is third world.

Singapore though is completely modern. Heavily influenced by the Chinese, and somewhat enjoyable. For a place as small as it is, there seems to be a lot to do. Just don't go to the beach expecting to see Singaporean babes in bikinis. For some reason they wear more clothes to the beach then they do to go shopping. It's been fun though.

The food is killing me though. I'd had enough of oriental foods before I got off the plane in KL. By the time I reached KL I had endured two days of nothing but curried chicken or Chinese food of some sort. Last night we attempted to eat hamburgers, but even these were Japanese style with some kind of onion/tomato/gross stuff all over it. When this trip is done I might not eat Oriental for a few years.

Wednesday, October 04, 2000

Who Won the Debate?

I watched the presidential debate last night. I admit, I thought Gore won, and Bush looked out of his depth. But then, I went in with that expectation. So I turned to the commentariant to tell me what the "consensus opinion" was. In Slate, Jacob Weisberg explained that "Bush got his clock cleaned." So I was right. And in Salon, Andrew Sullivan concludes, "It was a knockout." For Bush. Hmm. So maybe this debate just did confirm whatever expectation people went in with.

Here's what confirmed mine. After Bush suggested getting the Russians to mediate in Yugoslavia, the following exchange ensued.

GORE: ...But I think we need to be very careful in the present
situation before we invite the Russians to play the lead role in

BUSH: Well, obviously we wouldn't use the Russians if they didn't
agree with our answer, Mr. Vice President.

GORE: Well, they don't.

The "Well, they don't," just had this air of, "Is it too much to ask you to pay attention?" It cracked me up.

The Two Noble Kinsmen

I wondered if I could walk to the hotel and back to the Globe in time for that evening's performance of The Two Noble Kinsmen. It pretty soon became apparent that I couldn't. Well, no problems -- I'd just catch a taxi on the way back from the hotel. Unfortunately, I didn't see one near the hotel. So I walked towards the Globe and tried to hail the various cabs I saw on the way there. No luck -- they were all occupied. Eventually, I made it to the footpath along the Thames...and realized I wasn't going to catch a cab there. Oh, well, I hoped they'd still let me in. I eventually got there about 15 minutes late, and stood in line behind people buying last-minute tickets. I eventually picked mine up and slipped in the back. Looking at the play now, I think I showed up towards the end of Act I.

The Two Noble Kinsmen, unlike The Antipodes, was actually written by Shakespeare. Well, sort of. OK, co-written. Sigh. It's "by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare." But still. It counts.

Anyway, it's the story of these two cousins...nobles, in fact. They're thrown in jail for something or another (look, I got there late). I think 'cuase they lost a war. They don't seem to be too annoyed by this fact until they cast eyes upon Emilia, King Theseus' sister-in-law. They both fall for her, for no particuarly good reason. They scheme to get out of jail (free?) and fight each other over Emilia. Is it a tragedy? A comedy? I dunno, but it was another fun play. At the end, the artistic director thanked us for filling the house for one of Shakespeare's less known plays as the cast threw red roses.

After that it was off to bed, for the next morning I had to take the Tube to Heathrow. The ride was nice enough. There were a couple of Americans sitting across from me that were comparing the size of "the gap" (as in "mind the gap") at the various stations we passed. It was kind of amusing until they started saying things like, "Wow, that's really uneven. Can't these Brits do anything right?" Sigh. I like my country, just not all of the people from there.

At the airport, somehow I got selected for the extra hassle treatment. You know, extra X-ray of the baggage, rifling through my carry-ons, stuff like that. The actual hassling of me didn't take long. The problem is that there's only one person to hassle all of us, and the people in front of me just seemed to need more hassling. Like the guy who seemed to have his entire life wrapped up in his carry-on luggage. Oh, well. After the security guy made a joke about confiscating my sunglasses, I was through and back on my way to the USA.

Sunday, October 01, 2000

Tate Modern

The Tate Modern was my next stop. Truthfully, I could have spent the whole weekend there...4 1/2 hours seemed very rushed. Going in, I had very little familiarity with modern art. Coming out...well, I guess I now have some familiarity with it.

The Tate Modern opened earlier this year in what was formerly a "redundant" power plant on the South Bank of the Thames (right next to the Globe). It's a huge building. It has three main floors of exhibitions. The third floor alone took me two hours to view, and I didn't linger for all of it. One of the nice features is a digital voice player you can rent for a pound. When you see a number underneath the description of a work of art, you can punch in that number and hear a curator or an artist speak about the work. That's a good improvement on the self-guided tour with the tape player.

One of the photographers whose work I liked the most was Andreas Gursky. In particular, I liked Rhein II, which you'll have to picture as an oversized landscape rather than, image in a browser. He also does some pictures with interesting special effects.

Some of the works I saw fell into the old "Is it art?" category. For example, one picture (Lucio Fontana's "Spacial Concept 'Waiting'") was just a blank canvas which had been slashed. I think the artist was trying to make some sort of point about getting beyond the traditional two-dimensional canvas. OK. Interesting-looking, actually. But now that you've made the point... Also in that category, I'd put Yves Klein's "IKB79". "IKB" stands for "International Klein Blue," a color he "invented" and patented. And I must admit it's a pretty neat color. I'd love a shirt in that color. But do I really want to see a canvas painted completely in that color? More than once?

I particularly liked their Dali paintings, such as Autumnal Cannibalism and Metamorphosis of Narcissus. There's something about the surrealist pictures that really strikes a cord with me. Some of his other work, however, I just found odd, such as Lobster Telephone. According to the Tate Modern, Dali found both lobsters and telephones to be erotic, so he liked the juxtaposition. I think that tells more about Dali than anyone else. And more about Dali than we need to know.

Speaking of Surrealists, I was interested to see a painting by Rene Magritte. Not because I have a particular interest in Magritte's work. In fact, not because I knew anything about Magritte. I just knew the Paul Simon song "Rene and Georgette Magritte with their Dog after the War". So that's who Rene Magritte is. Incidentally, there's a pretty interesting interview with Paul Simon where he describes how he came to write that song. "It doesn't actually make sense, but why should a song about Magritte make sense?"

Duchamp's "Urinal" was interesting. Some of the story is told here; basically, Duchamp bought a urinal, signed it, and entered it into an exhibition that was open to any artist who would pay 6 bucks. The urinal mysteriously disappeared before the exhibition. Once again the question is, "What is art?" "Is it art if an artist says so?" Good questions, but too much navel-gazing can become tiresome.

I think that's one of the things that makes Gilbert and George (warning: naughty language at their site) so enjoyable.

"We want our art to speak across the barriers of knowledge directly to People about their Life and not about their knowledge of art. The 20th century has been cursed with an art that cannot be understood. The decadent artists stand for themselves and their chosen few, laughing at and dismissing the normal outsider. We say that puzzling, obscure and form-obsessed art is decadent and a cruel denial of the Life of People."

OK, still pretentious, but "speak...directly to people about their life and not about their knowledge of art" is a worthy goal.

Which is one of the fun things about Andy Warhol. You don't stare at his pictures and say, "What the heck is that?" It's Elvis! Two of them! Or Marilyn Monroe. And, yes, it's more complicated than that, but at least you don't have to worry that you're missing everything because you don't know about his strange relationship with lobsters. For the Andy Warhol room, the digital voice player had David Bowie's "Andy Warhol" which I cranked up to maximum volume while walking around the room to the disconcerted looks of other patrons.

On the other hand, sometimes things may speak too directly to us. Sam Taylor Wood's "Brontosaurus" features a film of a naked guy flailing around while classical music plays. She explained that she had a friend dance naked to techno music while she filmed him. When she played around with things, she said she found that the slowed-down images without the original sound looked alien to her. I don't know; the first thing I thought was, "Hmm. Naked guy dancing. Probably to techno music, but it's been slowed down."

Anyway, I look forward to future visits to art museums a little closer to home, now that I have some exposure to twentieth century art. After touring two floors of galleries and taking the voice player's recommended "architecture tour", I visited the gift shop and hurried back to my hotel to drop off the day's purchases.

Saturday, September 30, 2000


I got up last Saturday morning with my eye on the London Eye. I wandered down to the edge of the Thames half an hour before it was due to open and spotted the queue for tickets. I fortified myself with breakfast from a street vendor -- a bagel with salmon & cream cheese and a Coke that appeared to be from Slovakia. (What's going on there?) Then I got in the queue and 45 minutes later, I emerged with a ticket for noon. It was 10:00, and I was to queue again for "boarding" at 11:30. Hmm, not enough time to do sightseeing, so I wandered around, bought souveniers and wrote postcards.

At 11:30, I queued up again. This was a relatively disorganised queue. I got in it at the end (of course), but then the London Eyesters invented a new end, started queueing people there, and moved us behind it. At one point, the queue crossed a public path in such a way that it really wasn't clear who was queued and who was walking through. After 45 minutes of queueing, we found ourselves on the Eye.

The London Eye is the world's largest Ferris Wheel. It's huge. The previous record-holder was 85 meters high. This is 135 meters high. Wow. You can get some nice views of London that way. I suppose you could orient yourself in London via one of those double-decker bus tours -- but that's too slow, and you don't get a great sense of relative position. You could do so via boat, but then you don't see inland (including the big waste-o'-pounds Millenium Dome).

Oh, but the views! Quite spectacular. I hope my pictures turned out well. The glass was a bit reflective, and one of my disposable cameras had a flash (not to mention the reflection from the sunglight). I could see all the sights of London, and I bought a pamplet that had all of them labelled. I now have a much better sense of where the major landmarks are in relation to one another and the Thames, and where I've been in London.

After the 30 minute ride, I stepped off the Eye (while still moving -- American insurance companies would never go for that one). The whole experience was crowded, and it was very touristy...but I heartily recommend it to anyone who goes to London. Just get your tickets ahead of time. With that, it was time for lunch and the Tate Modern...

Friday, September 29, 2000


"Based on how Rulon and Karelin wrestled today, I have to think that Rulon has a serious chance (sorry I keep changing my opinion on that). Rulon is unquestionably in better condition than anybody out there. If the match goes into over-time, I think Rulon might pull off an upset. Of course I am a Karelin fan and I would be really sad to see him lose, but he should retire before he meets Rulon."

My pal Scott Contini knows his wrestling. He made the above comment before the "Miracle on the Mat".

The Antipodes

After I had checked in to my London hotel, shaved and showered, it was time to find dinner. I looked in a restaurant guide from the hotel to find something interesting and appropriately located. I settled on Livebait -- "Fresh Fish with a Difference." After I sat down, they placed a bowl of prawns on the table to stare at me. Fortified by that, Bushmills and a selection of their excellent bread, I placed my order. They had a Friday fish 'n' chips special, but that didn't seem to have enough of a...difference (even fancy fish 'n' chips). So I ordered the pre-theatre "set price" menu. (I was going to the theatre, after all.) The first course was sardines with sweet potato and rouille on mixed leaves. The main course was grilled marlin on crushed new potatoes with tapenade and pesto. Excellent, excellent. I followed that up with the mango creme brulee and then sped my way on to the theater.

I left Livebait and walked down to the Globe. When I first got tickets for The Antipodes at "Shakespeare's Globe," I assumed that I really just wasn't familiar enough with the Bard's work to have heard of this particular play. (Hey, "Hamlet" sold out.) Eventually, I discovered that it was, in fact, not written by Shakespeare. Well, a play written by Ben Jonson would be OK, too right? No, wait, this was written by Richard Brome, Jonson's manservant. Hmm. Well, I had ordered the ticket already. Apparently I wasn't the only one to suffer the confusion. As I was waiting to collect my ticket, I heard someone behind me say, "I just assumed that I had never heard of it," followed by, "Darn it."

After collecting my ticket, I head...where else?...for the gift shop. I noticed with some amusement that the T-shirt declaring me as a "groundling" cost twice as much as the ticket to be a groundling. The groundlings stand right in front of the stage. In Shakespeare's time, admission was 1 penny and the groundlings had a reputation for rude and uncouth behavior. I quickly took my place at the edge of the stage and rested my elbows on it.

Looking around, the first thing I noticed was how many young women there were around me. Wow. Why didn't somebody clue me in to this when I was 16? The show began with some announcements (e.g., no photography). We were told that there was a celebrity among us. (Presumably he got to sit down.) Richard Fauldes, England's first gold medalist of the 2000 Olympics was in attendance. This was deemed appropriate, since in the context of this play, "the antipodes" were the lands on the opposite end of the globe.

The Antipodes is a comedy about a country lord who comes to London seeking a cure for his daughter-in-law's madness. It turns out the whole family is pretty much bonkers, with the lord's son lost in dreams of faraway places, and the lord himself gripped by jealousy over his young wife's supposed infidelity. The cure involves the doctor and the lord being visited putting on a play (also called "The Antipodes"). They fool the son into thinking he's been transported to the anti-London, where everything's backwards (Bizarro London?). Since it's a comedy, everything works out in the end, and it is pretty funny in the process.

After the show, the artistic director came out to thank us for attending the last show of "The Antipodes." The actors threw white roses out to the audience. (I caught one, which died a quick death in my hotel room.) He thanked everybody involved, and talked about how great it was to have the house filled for such an obscure play. (I wonder if he realized how many people bought their tickets and said, "Well it's Shakespeare, right?"

I then walked out and admired the views of the London skyline (in particular, St. Paul's Cathedral) across the Thames. A man next to me turned to his companion and said, "It looks just like something you'd see in Washington DC." Glad I made the trip. I walked along the Thames and into the city to the Internet cafe at Charing Cross.

Thursday, September 28, 2000

You say it's your birthday...

I don't know what I'm doing for my birthday next year. But if anyone shows up with this on their head, I'm running like hell.

Tuesday, September 26, 2000


"America is the first society in the world that has tried to organise itself on the assumption that human beings do not need to sleep. There are 24-hour news channels, 24-hour wedding chapels, and, of course, 24-hour lap-dancing emporiums."
--The Economist, 9 Sep 2000, p. 34

"We believe the Spice Girls are split on the euro."
-ibid, p. 68

"Ignoring enemies is the best way to fight."
--Jenny Holzer, Truisms (at the Tate Modern)

"First of all, there's no way to make anyone listen to anything. The sooner you embrace that, the less frustrating your life will be."
--Carolyn Hax

Monday, September 25, 2000

Jerky Boys

"To the consternation of Sampson and his team, the Slim Jim loyalists turn out to be a pretty stoical crew. "They didn't seem too bothered by it," Sampson says. "Maybe one or two would ask, 'What's mechanically separated chicken?' 'What do you think it is,' the moderator was instructed to reply. People tended to draw pictures of a chicken carcass flying at a jet engine," Sampson says wearily."

Dungeon fave Ruth Shalit has an article at Salon on the marketing of beef jerky. Funny stuff.

Viewer Mail

Martin writes,

"The second time I went to Fado, I was with my Irish friend Nolene who hadn't been there before. I recommended a particular salad but said I hadn't enjoyed the black pudding served with it, and she said she never eats that because she doesn't like the idea of eating blood. A moment later she realized the blood part was news to me and laughed for about an hour."

Friday, September 22, 2000

You Can't Go Back to Belgium

Greetings from London, land of 24-hour internet cafes...

So Wednesday night I decided to head for the Belgian Monk, Cheltenham's Belgian restaurant. Ever since my trip in May to Belgium, I had been hankering to try Belgian food again (especially the fries). So I sat down, ordered Grimbergen Triple -- 9% alcohol by volume. Then I ordered mussels and fries. When they arrived, well, the fries were comparable to Wendy's fries. The mussels were OK, but nothing special. Sigh.

I decided to give Belgium one more chance, so for dessert I ordered waffles a la mode. They were as good as I remembered them, but frankly after 3 Grimbergen Triples, I probably would have raved about a Frosty.

One thing I noticed in the restaurant is that those darn scooters are everywhere now.

The next evening it was off with a colleague for Indian food. I ended up with the Prawns Madras, some Kulcha Nan, and a Kingfisher. The Prawns Madras may have been too spicy, as I regretted them a bit this morning.

Temperature Rising

My colleague was going to leave at 6 AM to drive to Heathrow. He was my ride, but I found out that for 11 pounds I could take the coach to London. Not the bus, the coach. Buses are local; coaches are cross-country. Got that? Anyway, given that, I could sleep late, have breakfast at the Lypiatt House, and then arrive at London Victoria instead of Heathrow...all in all, it seemed worth it. So I took the 12:30 coach.

Everything seemed to go well until we were departing the stop at Heathrow. A minute or so later, the coach driver announced, "As soon as we left, my temperature started to rise, so we have to head back." So the coach had mechanical difficulties. Or the coach driver did; the phrasing was somewhat ambiguous. Eventually it was clarified that the coach, in fact, had the trouble. After a delay of 30-45 minutes, things were put better, and we were on our way again.

After arriving in London Victoria, I took the Tube to Lambeth North, which I had determined was the closest station to my hotel (another thing the morning in Cheltenham allowed me to do was to buy a map). It's across the street from the Imperial War Museum, which I have visited before, did not plan to visit again, but will probably be tempted into visiting tomorrow.

I would have just gotten a guest house or something when I got here, but I wanted to be able to give emergency contact information in advance. So I looked for a hotel that met my criteria: reservable online, in Southwark and a reasonable price (which turned out to be near $100). And after all that trouble, when I went to check in, my reservation wasn't there. Oops. They got me a room anyway, but it made me wonder what all the trouble I went through was for. Then I realized that the fact I had gotten a room by reserving last week meant that a room was probably going to be there for me, even if my reservation wasn't.

One interesting feature of the room is that I need to put my room key in a slot in order to get electricity in the room. I guess it conserves energy, and I guess I don't mind, but...weird. Then it was off to dinner and the Globe, but I'll write about that another time, as it's late & time to take a taxi back to Southwark.

Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Department of Corections

OK, looking at the menu this morning, it was "black pudding", not "blood pudding." That make the confusion more understandable. On the other hand, I try to avoid foods that share their names with D&D monsters.

Yesterday was a nice day of work; it's fun to realize that there are people over here working on similar things to what I'm working on, and it's good to interact with them. Afterwards, it was off to the Belmont Restaurant for dinner. I was somewhat concerned to discover that Her Majesty's Government was picking up the check -- would this constitute "recourse to public funds"? Could I be deported for this? Evenutally, I decided that it constituted "recourse to public foods" and I was OK on that account.

Today was more meetings. I did get to see an old Cray. If you look carefully at the picture I linked to (sorry, I couldn't find a better one), you'll see that it doubles as a couch. It was pretty neat seeing the one in the Air & Space museum last year (the one pictured). It was really neat this morning taking a break, drinking a Dr. Pepper and reading the paper while sitting on one. Let's see...I also picked up some "digestive biscuits" (cookies) for a friend of mine...not much else to report. I'm over here to work (until I get to London), and while that's cool, I don't have much time left over for tourism right now.

Tuesday, September 19, 2000

"What's in the Blood Pudding?"

Greetings from the land of cold rooms and warm beer, where I have once again somehow managed to sneak away and garner Internet access.

Was it worth it to fly over here just so I wouldn't have to watch the Redskins game?

After checking into the Lypiatt House yesterday, I wandered around, got my bearings and headed into a pub. Ah, England. I ordered fish and chips (avoiding the "American-style hot dog"...authenticity in pubs is sometimes hard to come by these days) and a nice, warm beer. Ah, that was nice. A couple of months ago, I ordered a Bass ale at the Santa Fe Cafe in College Park and was served it ice cold. There and then I vowed to come over here and drink English beer at the proper temperature. (OK, so it's not much of a vow.)

I went back to my room with the intentions of freshening up. Sadly, after watching a few minutes of the Pakistan-UK field hockey match on the BBC, I was overcome with a deep need for sleep. Now, I know that the recommended means of overcoming jetlag is to stay up until the next night, but I was proud of myself for keeping it down to a 2-hour nap. Of course, having terrible nightmares will do that to you, too.

So I headed out again. I made it to the Cheltenham museum half an hour before it closed. That was about 10 minutes too much. They had a lot of artwork I wasn't interested in, and some fairly random exhibits of pottery. The one really cool room was devoted to Edward Wilson, an artist and zoologist from Cheltenham who went with Scott on his Antarctic Expeditions, and died with him after reaching the South Pole. They had some of his watercolors of penguins, and a bunch of his gear. It was pretty neat.

Last night I went out to dinner with a colleague and his wife. For some reason, the age distribution of people at my work is a bit skewed towards the baby boomer era. I mean, I like those people, but well...see my previous thoughts on age and socialization. Anyway, I got to go out with the one co-worker (slightly) younger than me, which was cool. We went to a nice Greek restaurant and had a good time.

This morning was a fine breakfast in the English tradition. I restrained myself from sampling everything offered to me, and restricted myself to the orange juice, toast, and scrambled eggs with salmon. Mmm. Aforementioned colleague's wife ordered the blood pudding, since she had never had it before. After getting it and not liking the looks of it, she wondered aloud what was in it. "Uh, blood," responded the vegetarian at the table. Ah, England.

Monday, September 18, 2000

Fuel Shortage

My colleague showed up, and it was off to Europcar to pick up our rental. The lady behind the counter asked him if he could drive a manual because they were low on automatics. He said, "No, I'd kill someone." She said the recent fuel shortage had caused them to be short on automatics, and she'd be happy to give him a larger manual for the same price as an automatic. He said, "No, I'd kill someone." She said they didn't have any automatics yet, but we should go over to the main rental counter.

We waited to take a bus to the main rental counter. We waited quite a while; Europcar certainly isn't causing the fuel shortage by running too many buses. We made it over there, where he was asked -- surprise, surprise -- whether he couldn't drive a manual. At this point, I was almost expecting them to offer free driving lessons to get him to take a manual. The guy behind the counter went into a long discourse about how the fuel shortage was causing them to be short of automatics. Frankly, I wasn't too convinced...the connection seemed a bit tenuous. It was almost as suspicious as if he had blamed lingering effects from the Y2K bug. He said that they hadn't been able to communicate to everyone to stop taking reservations in the past week because of the fuel shortage, which left them with no automatics. My colleague pointed out that the reservation had been made over a month ago, at which point the guy wandered off.

He came back a few minutes later with the paperwork automatic. How did that happen? Are the rules that they can try to make it sound like you should go away, but they can't actually tell you to go away? If you see through it, you win the prize? Anyway, it's not only an automatic, it's a really cool car. Not one of those wimpy European cars, either -- this felt british A Rover Seventy-Five. Quite elegant, and quite the car for tooling down the M4 (and other roads) to Cheltenham. The only trouble we had with the left side of the road was when we got here, pulled into a driveway and almost hit some people who were on the wrong side of it (we recognized them from back home).

Checked into the Lypiatt House and wandered around town. More about that later (I don't know when), though, as the cybercafe is closing.

Hey, I'm in London. Cool

I just got off the plane in Heathrow and am waiting for my colleague to arrive on a flight an hour later so that we can hop in the rental car and head to Cheltenham. I doubt I'll have Internet access for most of the trip, but right outside customs there was this place renting access, so I thought, what the heck.

So what's changed in the 5+ years since I've been over here? Well, I have no idea; I just got here. The one thing I will note is that the stamp on my passport used to say "Leave to Enter for Six Months Employment Prohibited." That's now expanded to "Leave to Enter for Six Months: Employment and Recourse to Public Funds Prohibited." Glad they covered that loophole.

The thing I love about the British is how self-centered their world view is (unlike we cosmopolitan Americans, of course). To them, the British Open is just "the Open". And when they stamp your passport, it just says "Heathrow" -- of course the country is the UK!

I like getting my passport stamped; it makes me feel like a world traveler (which, I guess, technically I am). I'm always vaguely annoyed that the Canadians fail to do so. Looking back, I now have 2 Heathrow stamps, 2 Manchester stamps, 1 Gatwick and 1 Leeds/Bradford. As for those other countries, I have both an entry and departure one from Cyprus, one from Belgium, one from Finland, and oh, yeah, one from the USA. For what it's worth, all the other countries carefully stamp my arrival in the arrival section, and the British just stamp the arrival stamp wherever they feel like it -- arrival section, departure section, the middle of the page. Hmm.

Thursday, September 14, 2000

Stick a Fork in Him

"Yes, in principle, Bush could win. The stock market could crash. Gore could be caught shagging an intern. Bush could electrify the country with the greatest performance in the history of presidential debates. But barring such a grossly unlikely event, there is no reason to think Bush will recover. "

Slate has an article entitled "Why Bush Is Toast". It's a pretty good explanation of why Al Gore is going to win this November's election. It makes a point I've been making for a couple of months now -- namely that peace and prosperity determine the outcome of elections, and that favors Gore. It also makes some points that I hadn't thought of -- some I find more plausible than others.

It does omit another reason I don't think Bush will win. He's a jerk. He comes across as a twit. I don't know what the percentage is of guys who join fraternities in college -- maybe 20%? Bush is the perfect frat house president -- which means he'll have a good chance of rubbing the other 80% the wrong way. I remember seeing a poll during the primaries that showed that the more people got to know Dubya, the less they liked him. No wonder he wanted to avoid the debates...

Wednesday, September 06, 2000

I hope he wasn't in the car

"The story also erroneously said that Amir Abbas Hoveyda was in the paint-splattered car. Hoveyda...was executed in 1979."

--A Washington Post correction

Monday, September 04, 2000

Dead or Alive

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 Season

Well, 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

Great Books

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

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.

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.


"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 Well, mostly to watch an attempt.

The idea behind 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 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


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

Well, I went and registered at 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 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 That'll set me up to ditch 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 My dissertation title was Frobenius Pseudoprimes, and it's the subject on which I've done most of my research.

Monday, July 31, 2000


Ben, Mickey, George and I went camping last weekend at Cunningham Falls State Park. It was a lot of fun. We went hiking, played D&D, drank beer, and ate a bunch of unhealthy food.

It was interesting watching all of the families with kids at the campground. Apparently a lot of parents see it as a good idea to bring their kids' bikes and let their kids ride around the camp site loop. Around and around and around. There was one girl who rode her pink bike around the loop, wore her pink helmet, and would ding her bell every time she got to the top of the loop. Another boy had some seriously squeaky brakes. So for a while it was, "Ding ding. (Pause.) Squeaksqueaksqueaksqueaksqueak. (Pause.) Ding ding." Repeat.

I never went camping with my folks growing up, so I don't really have a set of expectations for what it's like to be a kid camping. But somehow I'd hope that it would be more exciting than riding a bike around and around in circles. I mean, c'mon, that's what I did at home.

Sunday, July 30, 2000

Douglas Coupland's Miss Wyoming, p. 247

"She tried joining Mensa but was turned off by the bunch of balding men who wanted to discuss nudism, and women who refused to stop punning or laughing at their own spoonerisms."

Wednesday, July 26, 2000

The Incomprehensible X-Men

I saw the X-Men movie on Monday. Wolverine kicks ass. 'Nuff said.

The movie inspired me to want to start reading comics again. And where better to start than with the X-Men comic book? But which one? I remember enough from my comic book reading days to know that Marvel produces a number of different versions of its most popular titles. So where could I see some of the complex battle of wills I had fun with in the movie? I eventually found a web site giving a guide to the X-Titles. Well, it was clear I'd need to be careful to pick the right title to avoid things such as a time-traveling X-Man from the future -- I was looking for basic, vanilla X-Men.

Further searching turned up the X-Axis, where some Scottish guy publishes weekly reviews of the various issues. Pretty entertaining, even for someone who doesn't read them. But it just confirmed one thing. There are no basic, vanilla X-Men anymore! It's all alternative universe this and space alien that. It's all fiendishly complicated to maintain continuity for some 45-year old guy who lives with his parents and will have a complete fit if something doesn't fit with one little piece of his 20-year collection of X-Men comics. ("But Aquaman, you cannot marry a woman without gills, you're from two different worlds.") I don't know, maybe I'm deluding myself into thinking there's somewhere I can go to get interesting superhero comic books without having to become an obsessive reader to understand what the h-e-double-hockeysticks is going on. But it apparently doesn't involve the X-Men.

Tennis Ball Madness

My friend Dave was in town last weekend. Dave is a big baseball fan. When we're at conferences together, we try to take in a game. We went to Fenway at the Fermat conference in '95, we caught the Ottawa Lynx at CNTA '96, and we tried to catch a minor league game in Winnipeg in '99, but it was rained out. So when he came for a visit, it was natural we'd go see a Bowie Baysox. It was a pretty cool game. The Baysox ended up winning in the bottom of the 10th. Cool.

And there were even fireworks after the game. In some ways, they were even better than the fireworks on the Mall on the 4th. They were closer, so we could hear them being fired, and there was a greater variety.

But that wasn't the best part. The best part was...Tennis Ball Madness! For $1, you could buy a tennis ball and throw it on the field after the game. The object was ostensibly to get the balls into some hula hoops which would win various prizes...a dozen bagels, $10 off a lube job... But really, the cool thing was we got to chuck stuff on the field and not get arrested.