Saturday, June 30, 2001


"Something's going on. It has to do with that number. There's an answer in that number."

Ah, how often have I said something similar? Well, probably not very often, which is why the movie Pi didn't, shall we say, speak to me as a mathematician. On a superficial level, it's cool to see some similarities between a movie protagonist and oneself. Hey, he's a number theorist? I'm a number theorist! Hey, he works with computers? I work with computers! Hey, he's trying to figure out the essential patterns in the stock market to predict exactly what it will do the next day? I own stock! Hey, he plays Go? I know people who play Go!

As you can see, the parallels break down at a certain point. True, the mathematics in here is slightly less flawed than in Sneakers or Good Will Hunting. But to a certain extent that's because there's less attempt at detail here. I didn't feel like I was watching a movie about mathematics; I felt like I was watching a movie about a crazy guy who worked on mathematics.

And that's about it. The movie is rather thinly plotted. Max thinks he can find patterns in the chaos; so too do two groups -- one is some sinister goverment or financial organization, the other a group of Hasidic Jews. He tries, they pursue him. There are a lot of scenes of flashing lights and dissonant noise. They didn't do too much for me.

All in all, it's got some intriguing scenes and themes, but to me it felt like an unpolished, although talent-driven, "art school" flick more than anything.

Friday, June 29, 2001


In a half-hearted effort to provide some continuity, I'm providing aliases for my co-workers who are mentioned here more than once. This entry involves "Bill", who previously appeared as the host of a Goldpocket event. "Bill" asked me a few weeks ago if I was interested in going sailing that evening. I had much going on, making my life very hectic, so I had to decline. But on Wednesday he invited me again, and armed with 24 hours of notice, I decided to give it a shot. Part of the enticement was my job description: "ballast". I figured it would be fun getting out onto the water and watching everybody else do the work.

Unfortunately, those plans were altered somewhat due to the reduced crew size. The crew consisted of Bill, me and someone else who had sailed twice before. So we stopped off for supplies and headed to the water.

Fortunately, my role was reduced to doing fairly straightforward things under direction. "Let this line out." These tasks were complicated slightly by the fact that on a boat, everything has a different name. Ropes become lines. Left becomes port. I decided that in days of yore, sailors spent a significant portion of their time at sea, so there was no good reason for them to be able to communicate efficiently with landlubbers. These days, people who sail just like the lingo. I had to revise that opinion later when I realized that the terms "port" and "starboard" avoided questions such as "Do you mean my left or the boat's left?" at crucial junctions.

The Compromise left the pier at around 6, in time for the 6:36 start time of the race. Thursday nights in Annapolis are when "J-class" boats race. There are three classes that race -- J-22, J-24 and J-80. J-22s are 22 feet long, J-24s are 24 feet long, and J-80s are, of course, 80 decimeters long. We were in a J-24. And of course, we had no chance of winning. I am proud to say we completed the race without collisions, and we hoisted the spinnaker without incident. I am mainly proud to say "hoisted the spinnaker". I think "hoist" is the appropriate term.

At first, I was somewhat bothered by the amount of effort needed to sail the boat. I mean, how is this relaxing if you're constantly doing things with the jib sheet or boom vang or whatever these things are? But as I got comfortable with my main task (letting one line out and pulling another in during the tacking maneuver), I realized that for people who knew what they were doing, all of the tasks likely took on an air of ritual that was probably pretty cool. But given the relative inexperience of our "crew", the light winds kept things from getting too interesting. And Bill was good at letting us know what we needed to do when (while avoiding the other boats).

As I mentioned earlier, we had no chance of winning. As a matter of fact, we came in dead last. We successfully reset the spinnaker for a second race, but alas, the light wind meant that there was not time for another. So we slowly made our way back to the dock, tied up the Compromise, put away the sails and disembarked.

All in all, a nice, relaxing yet entertaining evening. I learned a little about sailing, didn't get hit by the boom, and hopefully I'll get a chance to do that again some time.

Thursday, June 28, 2001

The Microsoft Interview

Today's Microsoft ruling reminded me of a story someone told me about a job interview he had at Microsoft. This was circa 1992. During the interview, they asked him a number of questions to determine whether he was clever enough to work there. One of them was, "Why is there no eject button on VCR remote controls?" He was proud of himself for knowing the answer. "Because if you're going to eject a tape, you're going to have to get up anyway to do anything with it, so it's unnecessary." Microsoft was pleased with his quick-wittedness, and he got the job.

Two things bothered me about this question and expected answer. One, there are VCR remote controls with eject buttons. (My parents had one at the time, and I thought it was great.) Two, there are valid reasons to want to eject a tape without wanting getting up. For example, you may have just taped something really good that you want to be sure not to tape over accidentally. Eject the tape, and your chances of doing that drop. Also, many VCRs take several seconds to eject a tape (I don't know, maybe they're checking to make sure they're not playing it at the time). By ejecting the tape from the comfort of your seat, it'll be all ready to put away when you get up there.

This story, to my mind, foreshadows a lot of Microsoft's behavior, in the courtroom or in the marketplace. They have the twin attitudes of "We're right, regardless of reality" and "We know what's best for the consumer." That's what makes a lot of their software annoying to use, despite the neat stuff it sometimes contains.

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Not a Good Advertisement for Jupiter Research

"Whether they sit at 20 or 25 percent of marketshare, that's still a quarter of the online population."
--Analyst Lydia Loizides, Jupiter Communications, as quoted by Wired News.

Monday, June 18, 2001

My Good Friend Mickey Stern... mentioned in a Washington Post article about a new venture he and his business partner (and brother-in-law) have started.

Monday, June 04, 2001

"Jumping the Shark"

I recently heard some folks on the local sports radio station using the term "jumping the shark". I had no idea what they were talking about until I ran across this Slate article pointing me to (what else) The premise is that there's some way to tell when a TV series is "over" -- for example, when the show introduces a new kid, when two characters whose romantic tension had driven the show end up getting together. The canonical example is Happy Days, where an episode featured Fonzie jumping a shark on water skis.

This reminds me of a Saturday Night Live ad parody I saw several years ago featuring songs that marked a similar turning point for bands...when they're no longer cool, but have descended into self-parody.


Have you been as annoyed as I have with the many "pop-up" (or lately "pop-under") ads from Well, thanks to Plastic for pointing out a way to get rid of them. Click here.

And here's a Slate article on the ads.

Sunday, June 03, 2001

Innsbruck Photos

Here are the long-awaited pictures from Innsbruck.


My father's comments on James Jeffords and Trent Lott appeared in Friday's Arizona Daily Star (his is the penultimate remark). He says they left out the part about Trent Lott not being able to get elected dogcatcher in Vermont.