April 30, 2002:

If you recall my April 6, 2002 entry, I promised to go out in the garage and create and photograph some modern art for your enjoyment. Well, here it is. I've titled the work "The Unbearable Lightness of Hydrogen" because I couldn't think of anything else suffiently pompous. "Here's Looking at You" or "The Nose Knows" would not engender the proper respect from all my fellow orteests.

I've mounted it for display in our Arizona room art gallery, next to a Renoir print and Carol's plastic spine model beside the idiotic wood stove (!) that came with the house, here where it never gets any colder than about 40 degrees, even in the middle of the night in February. The piece is for sale, of course, and bidding begins at $1000. Don't everybody jump up at once...
April 29, 2002:

Although I'm not bullish on Microsoft's whole .NET dominate-the-world strategy, I confess to more than a little interest in the central C# language, which I have heard several people describe as "C++ and Java with all of the bullshit filtered out." Perhaps a better description (especially considering that Anders Heilsberg, the author of Turbo Pascal, created it) would be "Pascal in C clothing." My friend Michael Covington sent out his own reactions to the language after inspecting it closely. With his permission, I'll quote him in full, since I don't think I could improve on this:

C#, as you know, was designed by Anders Hejlsberg, the designer of Turbo Pascal and Delphi. The language resembles C++ and Java but shows a welcome restraint and systematic design rather than proliferation of features. To sum it up: C# looks like C++, works internally somewhat like Java (except that it is compiled to machine code), and thinks like Delphi.

Neither C++ nor Java had earned my loyalty. Java seemed to change direction too much from version to version, and C++ had gotten completely unmanageable because of the rate at which it was growing new features. My overall impression of C# is that C++/Java has finally fallen into the hands of a sane and reasonable person. You can tell Anders Hejslberg is an old Pascal programmer -- he appreciates the value of leaving things out!

Like Java, C# is completely object-oriented. What's really interesting, though, is that it's "managed" -- which means it's garbage-collected, array bounds are checked, and most importantly, there are no pointers. (You can still use C-style pointers, but you have to declare an "unsafe" block in order to do it, and the runtime system cleans up after you.)

The biggest source of unreliability in modern software is thereby eliminated. C and C++ programs are so rife with pointer errors that my personal name for C is UPL (Uninitialized Pointer Language). C# gets rid of that. Classes (abstract object types) are first-class citizens; you don't need to use pointers as a substitute for data abstraction. Even ordinary variables *have* to be initialized.

C# is part of the new .NET API for Windows. Not just for networking, .NET is a new way of accessing all the functions of the Windows operating system. Instead of pointer-based WinAPI calls that are *extremely* easy to get wrong, .NET uses object-oriented components like those of Delphi. You might describe it by saying, "Delphi takes over Windows." (You can still do old-style DLL calls, including calls to WinAPI functions, if you need to.)

The downside of C# is that you have to install the .NET API (a free download from Microsoft) in order to run the C# executables. I figure the next version of Windows (after XP) will take care of that. In the meantime, it's a minor inconvenience.

You can get a free command-line compiler for C# from Microsoft (they call it the .NET SDK). I, however, bought the academic edition of Visual Studio, which contains compilers for C#, C++, and Visual Basic, plus copious documentation. This product is $1100 for most people, but $99.95 for professors and students. If you don't want the whole studio, I believe there is a $100 version of Visual C# that doesn't require you to be an academic.

If any of you end up trying out C#, let me know. There are many good books, including "C# for Dummies," ORA's "Programming C#," and Deitel's "C#: How to Program." I ended up buying what will presumably be my last two Coriolis books, "C# Black Book" and "C# Core Language Black Book," which are full of working examples of how to do things.

Michael has a Ph.D. in computational linguistics and is the Associate Director of the Artificial Intelligence Center at the University of Georgia, and thus he might know maybe just a little about what makes programming languages good or not good. See his UGA Web page.

And while it's true that the C# Black Book and C# Core Language Little Black Book were likely Michael's last Coriolis book purchases, those books may soon become available from another publisher. More on this as I know it. In the meantime, one must wonder if Borland will ever create a C#Builder product.
April 28, 2002:

Years ago, as a much younger man (who by being young had the leisure to wonder about peculiar things) I recall wondering why there was a Boeing 707, 727, 737, etc. but no 717. Now I discover that Boeing has closed the sequence, by renaming the recent McDonnell-Douglas MD 95 the Boeing 717. (Boeing acquired MD some years back.) The 717 has from 91 to120 seats, depending on how the ordering airline has it arranged during manufacturing. This is a little big for a commuter airline and a little small for major airlines, so it hasn't exactly set the world on fire since it was rolled out in 1998. Here's a nice site devoted to the Boeing 717 aircraft, with pictures.

While looking for info on the 717, I stumbled across this page, which depicts what may eventually become the Boeing 787. Note the "personal space areas" in the ceiling of the airplane. Watch for membership in the Mile High Club to absolutely explode!
April 27, 2002:

While trolling the Web indexes looking for samples of "dingbat" (symbol) fonts, I ran across countless citations of what might appropriately be called The Dingbat Prophecies, most of them associated with the tragedy of 9-11. Below is a typical example. The characters displayed are "Q33NY." Note that if you don't have the Wingdings font installed on your system, it won't display correctly.


This startles people until they begin to wonder what "Q33NY" signifies. The truth is, nothing, even though some Web sites astonishingly cite "Q33" as either the flight number of one of the hijacked aircraft or the numbers on its tail, neither of which are the case. Clearly, some clever hack poked around in Dingbats until he found an interesting sequence of characters and then implied that the sequence was meaningful. (See this marvelous refutation, which contains all the facts on the flight numbers and tail numbers and some wonderfully wry commentary.) Some people will clearly believe anything.

I actually like the following slightly older one a whole lot better:


The underlying word? Millennium. Gotta love it!
April 26, 2002:

I finished typesetting and proofing my novel (in Adobe InDesign) this morning. Theoretically, all I need to do is add a cover (which is generally created as a separate file, because it's reproduced in color) and give it an ISBN, and I'd be publishing it. I'm not quite sure I'm going to do that yet. I need to be sure that Tor isn't interested (they've had it for 13 months now; more than enough time for a decision) and I need to explore another possible submission at another major publisher that was recommended to me by someone who knows them.

What I suspect I will do is complete the process, give it a nice cover, and then take the files to a local DocuTech shop and get a carton of 25 or so "real books" made. I want to see if my layout "works" for actual physical pages. It's one thing to decide on margin width and type size based on something you can only see on a screen or on unbound laser printouts, and quite another to hold a bound book using those parameters and attempt to read it. I think the text may be a little too small. To keep the page count down I set it as 11 on 13.2 (11 point type on lines 13.2 points high) which is about what pocket novels use, except that this book was laid out for a 6" X 9" page trim size. The copies will be marked "submission proof; not yet published" and I may send one along with the manuscript if I can get a reading at another publisher.

Certainly, once I decide that the layouts work out, I will proceed to publish my short story collection, Firejammer! and Other Stories, as an example of how my SF publications will look. At that point I will begin approaching some author friends of mine to see if they're interested in getting some of their older work back into print.

Whether I actually end up publishing The Cunning Blood myself or not, typesetting something that big (141,000 words) was an excellent exercise, and I learned a great deal from it. I have the first of several historical books on the Old Catholic Church almost ready to publish, and am talking to a few Old Catholic clergy about writing brand new books for publication. All in all, it's going to be an interesting year on the publishing front.
April 25, 2002:

I was in fact wrong about PocoMail in my April 22 entry: It does gather messages together into folder files, but the formats are well-documented industry standards, and (better yet) you can rebuild the indexes from the message files (which are stored as plain text) if for some reason something gets corrupted. Many thanks to reader Bob Ball for pointing this out. I misread something in the PocoMail doc and didn't actually go looking at the files themselves, which was dumb. Mea culpa.

I've been experimenting with the PocoMail spam filters and I'm most impressed. The filters are easier to build by far than in Outlook Express, and the blocked senders list is a simple text file that you can drop lines into wholesale and not have to type them in one at a time. I haven't finished my testing yet (I need to be home in Scottsdale to do that) but this could clearly become my new email client.
April 24, 2002:

I'm getting to be quite a pest about something, as my scientist friends have come to understand: I want to know why we think that any higher dimensions present in our universe "must" be "rolled up" to something roughly the Planck length.(Real damned small.) My question engenders one of only two reactions: "I don't know" or "How 'bout those Blackhawks?" I know a fair number of scientists (including not a few physicists) but it's getting to the point where I'm clearly beginning to doubt that this is something generally understood even within the scientific community.

I'm assuming that physicists say this because they have some way of detecting, say, a fourth spatial dimension if one existed in extent larger than a subatomic particle. If so, I've seen no discussion of how this detection of higher dimensions might work, and dammit, this enquiring mind wants to know real damned bad!

I'm even willing to admit that if the fourth dimension were fairly small in extent, we could detect it by its effect on the shape of space, something like the lensing effect of strong gravitational fields. My counter question is really this: Suppose the fourth dimension were really and truly immense—and I'm talking billions or trillions of light years here—would we still be able to detect it? If so, how?

For those totally lost by this whole discussion, take it down a dimension and consider a beach ball. It's a three-dimensional object with a two-dimensional surface. This surface is finite in area (which is the two-dimensional equivalent of volume) but has no bounds that a two-dimensional scientist could walk up to and pound on. Theoretically, a two-dimensional scientist living in the ball's surface could measure the extent of the ball's third dimension by drawing a triangle with three very straight lines and then measuring the triangle's angles. In positively curved geometries like spheres, the angles would sum to greater than 180 degrees, and the magnitude of excess over 180 degrees would allow calculation of the sphere's three-dimensional radius. This is practical only if the triangle is very large with respect to the size of the beach ball. For very small triangles, the difference in angular extent would be so slight as to be unmeasurable.

Now consider the possibility that our three-dimensional universe lies in the surface of a four-dimensional hypersphere. Theoretically, the four-dimensional curvature of our space around the hypersphere would affect the angular measurements of regular figures like tetrahedrons, which would "bulge" from the curvature of space and have interfacial angles greater than what they would in a "flat" universe. However, if the hypersphere is more than a few miles in hyperradius, I doubt we could measure the difference in the lab.

So what's the answer, you physics dudes? Are you guys zooming us here? If we can detect higher dimensions, how do we do it? Has it been attempted? And why aren't more of you interested enough in this genuinely astonishing item of conventional scientific wisdom to explain it to me?
April 23, 2002:

As any scientist or tech professional knows too well, staying current in your field is a burden these days. (In fact, it's been so for a long time...anybody recall Isaac Asimov's essay from the 1960s called "The Sound of Panting"?) It's bad even for interested laymen like myself, especially gonzo laymen who are interested in almost everything. (Guess who?) So I love books like John L. Casti's Paradigms Regained, which is a survey of the state of scientific inquiry into six key unresolved questions in science: How life arose on Earth; whether human behavior is predominantly genetic or behavioral; whether human language capacity is an innate property of the brain; whether "strong" AI is possible; and (most significantly of all) whether quantum theory allows for any objective reality independent of an observer. Casti is a scientist with the Santa Fe Institute as well as a superb writer, and the book reads well, its points sticking easily in your mind. Good example: Recent research to explain the universal left-handed chirality (asymmetry) of cellular proteins looked at the effect that strong polarized UV light had on a protein "soup" undergoing a particular reaction among proteins of both chiralities. Ordinary, nonpolarized light had no effect on the reaction, but polarized UV light slightly favored the left-handed forms of the proteins undergoing the reaction. The difference was slight, but in this kind of chemistry there is a cumulative "channel capture" effect that could magnify even a minor departure from randomness into complete domination by the left-handed molecules. Could a nearby nova/supernova event at the dawn of Earth's biochemical history have established left-handed chirality for its proteins? Such events emit strong and polarized UV light...

I love this stuff!

Casti adds some very incisive commentary on the effects of modern culture on science and the way we see scientists, both good and bad. Pons and Fleischmann (the original cold fusion bad boys) may not have discovered cold fusion, but they may well have run across something previously undetected, something that is certainly interesting amd possibly useful—but because they "broke the rules" in announcing their research at a press conference rather than a peer reviewed journal, the whole category has now been branded as crackpot stuff and thus nobody but crackpots are still looking into it.

Many science survey books exist, and I read a lot of them, but Paradigms Regained is unique in that it is a ten-year retrospective followup to Casti's 1988 book, Paradigms Lost. Casti wrote basically the same book in 1988, and in 2000 went back and checked to see what progress had been made in the six big questions since he had done his original research in 1987. I read Paradigms Lost about ten ears ago and loved it. Paradigms Lost is still in print, though it's probably not in bookstores anymore.

Note that you don't have to have read Paradigms Lost to enjoy Paradigms Regained. It stands well alone, but if you read them both in order you will get an uncommon appreciation for the nature and pace of scientific advance in today's world. Highly recommended.
April 22, 2002:

While I'm here in Chicago and having mysterious Outlook Express problems (I'm going to do a complete to-the-bare-metal meltdown of this system when I'm back here in June with all of my install CDs) I'm testing another $25 email client called PocoMail. It's actually a decent little program, laid out roughly the same way Outlook Express is (as opposed to Eudora, which is middlingly different, or PC Pine, which is radically different) only uglier. (I am not a big fan of flashy color and "stylish" graphics in software.) Poco's antispam features are more sophisticated than OE's, which is a fine thing, and I'm still investigating them. Poco does not use IE for its message display, which is another nice safety feature: By not using IE, Poco avoids scripting viruses inherent in the IE scripting host, and also a diabolical mechanism used by spammers to verify email addressess by scripting image downloads using HTTP. So it's way more secure and privacy-respecting than OE or (lord knows) "big" Outlook, which is putty in any virus writer's hands. Poco is slow doing a lot of things, to a degree that leads me to believe it's written in Java, though that's a minor irritation at best.

What makes me hesitate on Poco, for all its excellent features, is simply that it stores every single message as a separate file. This is a feature when weighed against the chance that Outlook Express's one-file-per-folder system can corrupt and lose entire folders full of messages at one stumble, but is a bug for people like me, who have been on Internet email since 1994 and have upwards of 25,000 messages in the mailbase. Yes, I should clean house, and I try to, but it may not be an especially good use of my time.

The test is going on, but I'm far enough along to endorse PocoMail for people who have mailbases of modest size—say, no more than a thousand or two retained messages. You can download the evaluation version from the PocoMail site, and the real thing costs $25.00 for the downloadable license. (And only $42.50 for a physical CD and a PocoMail T-shirt to boot, wow!) It may be wortwhile from the heightened email virus immunity alone.
April 21, 2002:

Carol and I went to St. John Brebeuf Roman Catholic church across the street here in Niles—the very church where we were married in 1976. They had a "guest preacher" in for the sermon, a young fellow who grew up Episcopalian and converted to the RCC in 1996, and is now in seminary preparing to become a Jesuit priest. He spoke for twenty minutes on his history as a lay minister to the Phoenix barrio, and how it was a brutal and sometimes dangerous job that nobody else wanted to do, and how it would be impossible for him to do it if he were married. It soon became clear to me what this little presentation was about: The Romans are desperately looking for anything to salvage their mandatory celibacy policy, which appears to be universally hated by everybody but the doddering Italian bishops who run the church and twitch the poor pope's strings periodically to try and convince us that he's still alive and in charge.

This is not to disparage the young man who spoke to us. He is clearly not just a good man, but a modern hero, and if all priests were like him we'd have no problem. But...he's one in 100,000. If all priests had to be as sane, selfless, and dedicated as him, we'd have maybe a dozen priests in the country, and the Roman Catholic Church would fall apart. Some might say it already is—only the wealthy parishes, like this one, have more than one priest on staff. Most ordinary parishes have only one. Many poor parishes have no priest at all, and the Romans are abandoning rural and inner city parishes at a heartbreaking pace.

So they trot out a heroic young man to say: "Because I'm celibate I can serve God with my entire life and energy, even though I live out of cardboard boxes and occasionally get shot at." This is supposed to induce young men to become priests? Who are they kidding? Like the big dangerous black girl sang in that silly movie, We don't need another hero. We just need a whole lot of goodhearted men who believe in God—goodhearted women would serve too, but as Thomas Acquinas knows, they're defective and can't ever be priests.

Sometimes, ya just wanna sit down and cry.
April 20, 2002:
Cable modem was replaced this morning, so I can network again from my Niles basement HQ here outside of Chicago. Outlook Express still doesn't work, but at least I don't have to schlep my laptop to friends' houses just to read email. (Many thanks primarily to my sister Gretchen and her husband Bill.)
April 19, 2002:

I'm in Chicago for a bit, and having considerable difficulty with my computer and Net connection here. When I got here my cable modem was dead, and I'm still waiting for The Cable Guy to come replace it. (Let's hope he doesn't look like Jim Carey.) The machine I shipped here from home to replace my old Compaq is mysteriously flaky. In particular, something is keeping Outlook Express from running. When I attempt to execute it, it aborts immediately while the splash screen is still on display, indicating that something in the program is attempting to access address 0. I've completely removed and then reinstalled IE6 and OE6 twice (they travel together—the only way to install OE is to install IE) and nothing changes. Norton detects no viruses. I did a non-destructive reinstall of Windows 2000. OE still aborts. I am about out of ideas. The next time I'm here, this machine gets a reformat down to the metal and rebuilt from scratch...but I'll need all my install CDs to do that, and they're not with me.

In the meantime, I'm borrowing connections from others and working from my laptop.

But here's something I can offer people who got stung by the recent Yahoo Groups scam, in which Yahoo unilaterally flipped everybody's opt-in/opt-out switch to "opt-in," releasing ravening hordes of spammers on anybody who was a member of any email list hosted by Yahoo Groups. I very anally analyze any spam message I get in hopes of adding something to my spam filters that will keep it and its cousins out of my mailbox. The good news is that most of the spam I get comes from relatively few domains, and I've put my "Blocked Senders" domain list in a text file on my Web site. To access it, click here: http://www.duntemann.com/knownspamdomains.txt

You can download it as a file by right-clicking on it and selecting the "save target as" item. If your email client has a "blocked senders" list (as Outlook Express does) you can import or enter these domains and keep a good deal of the Yahoo spammers out of your face. Outlook Express has no import function for blocked senders, so you'll have to enter them manually, but it's not a huge list and it has worked very well for me. You may not be on precisely the same spammer address lists as I am, but this gang does a lot of business, and it's a good starting point for building your own blocked senders list.
April 17, 2002:

Reader Kyle McAbee sent me a comment on my February 8, 2002 entry concerning the odd combination of an afterlife but no God. This is a more common position than I was willing to admit at the time, as Kyle pointed out: The Spiritualist movement speaks vaguely of God, but when you look more closely it seems like they more or less admit to God's existence to keep themselves from getting lined up and shot by the RadFundies. The afterlife of the Spiritualists is disappointingly similar to our Earth; basically, if you live in Dubuque, you'll live on in Dubuque. Sigh. I had sort of hoped for better than that.

The Spiritualists have an interesting history, dating back to Rochester, NY in 1848, pertinent today because they are the lineal ancestors of the New Age movement. Probably the most literate movement within the blanket category of Spiritualism is Theosophy, a Victorian melding of Spiritualist talking-to-dead-guys and Eastern mysticism. Theosophy claims the existence of an impersonal God, but in truth, if God is impersonal, is God really what we would call God?

Here's a major site devoted to Theosophy, though I confess stuff like this ties my head in knots. The fundamental optimism of Theosophy is I guess a good thing (we all progress by being dipped like a teabag in the cares of this physical world, so suffering ultimately makes us better, sigh) but there's a loneliness and narcissism to the whole thing that is common to much in the New Age: It's really all about me, not about community and cooperation, which is key to any conception I might entertain of a cosmic destiny.
April 16, 2002:

I've begun gathering my thoughts on the eventual Third Edition of Assembly Language Step By Step—though don't expect to see the update in bookstores before the end of 2003. The book has been selling well for thirteen years now, through two editions with John Wiley & Sons, and an initial edition from Scott, Foresman & Co. in 1989. (So what I'm really beginning work on is the fourth edition, but...oh, don't worry about it. Publishing can be a peculiar business. Have I ever said that?)

The issue last time was adding coverage of assembly language for x86 Linux to what had historically been a DOS book. The issue this time is changing the book completely to Linux—DOS could coexist with Win95, but with XP thoze daze iz gone. And the issue within the issue is whether or not to teach people how to make direct kernel calls using the INT $80 call gate.

I chose not to do that last time, on the advice of several friends who were Linux gurus. However, I've had two years since the second edition hit print in May 2000 to think it over and get additional advice. I've made my decision: Kernel calls are in. More significantly (and in keeping with the book's contrarian nature) I will teach kernel calls first, before I teach the vagaries of making calls into clib. Here's my rationale: The whole idea behind the book is to teach people How Things Work, and (more significantly) how to figure out How Things Work on their own. The x86 software interrupt mechanism is fundamental, and I used to teach it by teaching what amounts to DOS kernel calls (if DOS had a kernel, which it doesn't) using INT $21. If I drop DOS entirely, how can I teach that very basic piece of CPU machinery?

The sole argument against making kernel calls is that it makes a program kernel-version specific. I swallowed that uncritically in 1999, the last time I began an edition of the book, but I don't think it holds much water anymore. Why not? The Linux kernel is over ten years old now and getting pretty damned mature. Although we may see some entirely new kernel calls appear, I don't think any of the calling semantics for existing calls will change—especially the truly fundamental ones, which are the ones I'm most likely to be teaching. This will be particularly true after Linus Torvalds retires from kernel development, as he has signaled his intention to do. Without Linus to steer the vision, the kernel vision will, I predict, become extremely conservative, and nothing much will change that will invalidate older kernel versions. The real work in Linux now is up on the desktop, not way down in the kernel.

But underneath it all, I feel strongly that clib and assembly just don't mix. If you're gonna use clib, you might as well just chicken out and use C. Calling into clib inflates your assembly code executable size radically. Making kernel calls allows you to do cool things like create workable and even useful programs in under a thousand bytes of code—maybe as little as two hundred bytes.

Maybe less than that. I won't know until I try.

I used to do things like that at the dawn of computer time (circa 1977) when I wrote a paint program for the COSMAC Elf in a hair under 256 bytes of code. (It was published in Byte in May 1980, in case you don't believe it and want to see the code.) My love for assembly comes out of experiences like that, and I think today's student programmers need to get their hands right on the CPU, and not wear big ugly thick three-fingered gloves like clib. Work on the new edition is unlikely to start much before this fall, but I'll report my thoughts here as I have them.
April 15, 2002:

Slashdot recently published a link to an article describing yet another new geek pastime: Driving around town with a 2.4 GHz TV receiver in your car, looking for people who have those wireless X-10 cameras installed. This is something like a cruder version of "war driving," (see my entry for January 3, 2002) since X-10 is entirely an analog technology, at least as most people use it.

I've pretty much tuned out the ubiquitous X-10 pop-under web ads and barely notice them anymore, but clearly they've been working, or the X-10 people wouldn't still be buying the ads. I've wondered what people use them for—surely the implied "Revenge of the Nerds" application (hiding them in the girls' locker room) is 99.9% fiction. So what are they really being used for? If goofball gadget geeks find enough of them just driving up and down the street for the activity to get a name (and a post on Slashdot) there must be tens of millions of them deployed.

I had the notion a year or so ago to build a crawler robot out of Meccano and send it crawling down one of the local squirrel holes with an X10 camera on it, to see what the little bastards had dug down there that could swallow 14,000 gallons of swimming pool water without a burp. (The last time I had to drain my pool I threw the drain hose into a squirrel hole, expecting it to back up in a minute or two—but no, the hole took the entire contents of my swimming pool without backing up. Eek!)

No one I know has ever admitted buying one of the damned things, so I have no personal experience to go on. Do you have one? If so, what does it do for you? And did you ever consider that weirdos driving up and down the street with TV sets on their gearshift consoles could tune in?
April 14, 2002:

Saw The Time Machine last night. It was one of the odder cinematic experiences I've had in recent years. The film is physically beautiful—especially the gloriously Victorian machine itself—but as a story it simply makes no sense at all. Victorian inventor proposes to his girlfriend—minutes later, girlfriend dies in an armed robbery. Inventor builds a time machine to go back in time and save her. Does that. Fails. Pouts Meaningfully. Goes into the future. Has disjointed adventures. A very short 85 minutes (by my watch) after beginning, the film ends. The prime question asked by the inventor ("Why can't I change the past?") is never answered. Nor is the prime question asked by the audience. ("What the hell is going on here?") There is no identifiable connection to Wells' seminal novel, other than the three terms "time machine," "Eloi" and "Morlocks."

I can forgive a film for pretending to be an adaptation of an H. G. Wells novel, if it's a good yarn on its own terms. But what happened here remains a mystery. I have an intuition that it was a script that went overlong, and was hastily edited, and edited a little too much, so that the half an hour that wound up on the editing room floor was the precise half an hour that would have made the whole thing make sense.

I would have enjoyed that extra half an hour, because the sets and the digital effects were breathtaking. Maybe they'll add back the extra footage to the inevitable DVD release, and if so, I'll buy it. Am I so cynical as to think that that was what they originally had in mind? Create a film that's so sparse and mysterious that people will buy the expanded DVD to find out what was really going on? No. But if you lean in that direction I certainly woudn't blame you.
April 13, 2002:

A little digging (maybe, oh, ninety seconds' worth) and I discovered that Eric Carmen cribbed from Rachmaninoff not once but twice in his Top 40 career: "All By Myself" is the second movement from R's Piano Concerto #2, and "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again" is the opening melody from R's Symphony #2, third movement. (See yesterday's entry if you've just tuned in.)

Note that my list won't include pop recordings of classical tunes as classical tunes—for example, Apollo 100's "Joy" which is the "Song of Joy" portion of Beethoven's 9th, or any of the rockified Emerson, Lake, & Palmer versions of classical pieces. (They attempted "Fanfare for the Common Man," which I thought was hideous.) The piece must be a rock/pop item that incorporates a classical melody under a completely different name.

Still adding to my list. Drop me a note if you have any others.
April 12, 2002:

I was sitting at the breakfast table downing my Cheerios this morning, with KBAQ (the local PBS classical station) on FM. They began playing something I hadn't heard before, when suddenly I gasped, spewing Cheerios all over myself, and shouted, "That's the interlude from Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!"

Carol would certainly have agreed that there was a ding dong in the house somewhere, but perhaps not on the radio... Truly, people, the little instrumental rondo buried inside the Fifth Estate's 1967 cover of the Wizard of Oz classic tune is a movement from Michael Praetorius' "Terpsichore Suite," written in 1612. (In case you've never seen the word before, "Terpsichore" is the Greek muse of dance.)

I am intrigued by the use of classical themes in pop music, and keep meaning to start a list somewhere. This would be a new one for me—I never heard that Praetorius piece before—but there are several others. The Emerson, Lake, and Powell song "Touch and Go" from 1986 uses the major theme from Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Variations on Greensleeves." The outrageously obscure Chicago garage band single "Winter's Children" (1968) is almost entirely taken from J. S. Bach's well-known "Sleepers Awake!" "Lovers Concerto" by the Toys is Bach's "Minuet in G" and "All By Myself" by Eric Carmen draws heavily on a piece whose name escapes me for the moment. I'm starting my list. Got any others?
April 11, 2002:

A little earlier this afternoon I finally finished scanning an entire old book—James Bass Mullinger's The New Reformation—extracting the text via FineReader Sprint OCR (see my entry for February 24, 2002) and laying the book out again in Adobe InDesign. It was a fair amount of work, but much less than I thought it would be, largely due to the astonishing accuracy of FineReader Sprint. The whole project took about six weeks of (very) intermittent striving, a good part of which involved building skills in the tools I was using. Had I been working full time at it, and were I already an ace at scanning, OCR, and InDesign, I'm sure I could have done it in two weeks flat.

That may have been the fun part. There's still some ugly work to be done. The original book had no index whatsoever, and a completely useless table of contents that consisted of hundreds of short phrases in small type, separated by dashes, with no page numbers. This was a common mechanism in 1875, but it won't work for today's time-compressed readers, so I have to un-mung that awful Glob Of Contents and cross-ref it to the page numbers that the phrases attempt to tag. Then I have to index the whole thing from scratch. I anticipate another two weeks of intermittent work here, and then I'll have a book ready to print, the first from Copperwood Press.

I have two more related old books from the middle of the 19th century, both concerned with the origins of the Old Catholic Church. I'm trying to decide whether to scan them the same way. One snag is that the process is hard on the book—Mullinger's book was frail to begin with, and is now in tatters—and the next two are both more valuable than the first (one cost me $200) and in much better shape than Mullinger was when I bought it. Can I scan them without ruining them? Does it matter? I have a little thinking to do still.
April 10, 2002:

A BBC news item I received today pointed up a second attempt—after the open source Razor system—to attack the spam problem technologically, with a peer-to-peer approach. A startup that includes one of Napster's former developers is going to market a technology that extracts a fingerprint from email messages marked as spam and then spreads the fingerprint to all machines connected to the network. All machines will thus be able to recognize and delete spam, in some cases at the server level, before it's ever delivered to users. The company, Cloudmark, will begin marketing the technology to email providers later this year. Details are thin (the Cloudmark Web site is a placeholder) but I wonder how well it will work. Unless I misunderstand, somebody somewhere in the system has to make a decision as to what's spam and what isn't. Once the decision is made, a filter is spread around the network using peer-to-peer file transfer. But if nobody takes the time to acually tag any messages, nothing much gets filtered.

I could be wrong—there's not much to go on yet—but it sure sounds like this would be prone to the "everybody downloading but nobody sharing," effect, the bane of all file-sharing systems.

At some point, we're going to have to go with some kind of enhanced email protocol that refuses to deliver a message whose originator can't be verified. Actually, POP3 includes such a provision, but nobody uses it...simply because nobody uses it. (The old "one hand clapping" effect again.) I wonder what would happen if a major email provider like Hotmail actually began refusing mail from servers that didn't flip their sender verification switch on? Would anybody wake up? Damn, that would be a fine thing to see.
April 9, 2002:

I was flipping through the local free paper the other day. looking for the movie listings, and my eyes fell across a personal ad in which a SWF, age 36, was angling for male companionship. One catch—no bald heads need apply.

Ladies, let's do a little thought experiment here. Imagine that you graduate from college with a beautiful 34-B. All is well for some years, but as you leave your twenties for your thirties you notice one day in the bathroom mirror that things don't look quite as big as they once were. After that, things happen quickly, and over the next several years you watch in despair as your breasts shrink relentlessly, and by the time you're 35 your nipples are flat against your ribs, and everything you once had is simply gone.

Would you buy a padded bra? In a heartbeat. And if some guy said in your hearing that he didn't date flat chicks, you'd rip him a new one. Now, what's your take on bald guys and/or toupees?

Needless to say, I'm not in the dating game and hope never to be again—especially considering today's double standard for secondary sex characteristics. Little wonder that half our marriages eventually collapse—we're not marrying people, we're marrying fantasies.
April 8, 2002:

The financial press has recently been doing a lot of recent hand-wringing over stock options, which are broadly under attack from several quarters over how they should be reflected on company books. Even the Wall Street Journal has run an article asking whether options as a concept are a good idea, which shocked me far more than its guest editorial a few weeks ago endorsing adoption of children by gay couples.

Stock options are definitely a good idea, but I think the rules need tightening a little. Repricing of options needs to be universal—if it's done for anyone (read here: executives) it's done for everyone, all at one time. Otherwise it's simply a means for top execs to print money and stuff it in their own pockets.

Another issue that's almost never mentioned is options held by employees who are laid off. Typically, when a company lays off employees with vested options, the furloughed employees have sixty to ninety days to exercise those options, or they expire. This happened to me at an earlier employer: The company hit a bad spot and shed 400 employees, many of them with vested options, me included. Trouble is, the company's stock price was way down at that point, and many of those laid off found themselves with thousands of options that were "under water"—priced higher than the current stock price and thus worthless. The stock stayed down for most of a year, so all of us lost the works when our options expired after ninety days.

Now, I was not an executive in that job, but one of the creative grunts doing the real work at that point, and many of us agreed that the company's problems were not because we weren't working hard enough, but because certain people close to the top were knuckleheads.

My solution is simple: Require that all vested options become permanent when an option holder is laid off and not fired for cause. In other words, if you let 'em go, they take their options with them, and those options last forever. Supposedly stock options are the primary way that high-tech firms can keep key employees on staff. Fair enough...but this sword should cut both ways: Such a requirement would encourage firms to avoid layoffs as well as encouraging key staffers to stay. (People who leave voluntarily would still be required to exercise options within a time limit or lose them.)

Fair? Yes. Likely? No. And if stock options ultimately need to be expensed on company books, my prediction is that they will vanish altogether. Let's watch.
April 7, 2002:

The attack on the Roman Catholic Church continues apace. (See my entry for March 28, 2002.) There's a serious problem with pedophile priests, of course, but I also get the sense that lawyers and unscrupulous clients have discovered a way to extort money from a legendarily rich institution by allowing the press to try their biggest cases for them, even though there's nothing but "recovered memory" to go on, and the statute of limitations has long since expired. Most of the early cases I suspect are legit. But from here on, there's the serious question of whether some or even most of these claims are spurious, and I haven't a clue as to how the legal system is supposed to tell.

But the point I want to make here is that it may not be a good idea for church groups to own real estate at all. One of the largest Old Catholic jurisdictions, the American Old Catholic Church, has an interesting headquarters in Denver: a sizeable office suite with a church auditorium in the middle, and small offices on the periphery. The AOCC rents the building as a whole from its owner, and then sublets offices and slices of Sunday to small, unrelated religious groups who couldn't afford to rent the entire building, much less build their own from scratch.

This mechanism works very well for all concerned, and I see it as a portent of the future: Rent, don't own. The lawyers can't seize what you don't have. (Yes, they can try, but landlord/tenant law makes it much harder to seize a landlord's property for the crimes of tenants.) I can even imagine a 501c3 nonprofit corporation that exists to own church buildings, which are then rented to all and sundry.

And one more thing: Has anybody noticed that the press has been very silent about child molestation cases involving churches other than the Roman Catholic Church? One begins to smell a highly selective vendetta...
April 6, 2002:

The Wall Street Journal had a piece in last Friday's issue about how modern art museums are turning down donations from art collectors. It seems that there is a glut of modern art in the world, and the museums have about all they can stand...er, want.

I had to smile. A year or two ago, while I was watching PBS while walking the treadmill, I saw a show that spoke of modern art. Some chap out in New York had been collecting modern art for most of his career as a postal clerk, and now had a collection worth, it was said, many millions of dollars. We followed PBS on a tour of this guy's apartment, and to say it was surreal falls short of the mark. We paused, and gave homage to a foot-long piece of rope nailed to the wall. Rope + nail + wall = money. Wow. What have I been doing working all my life?

I laughed my ass off then I'm laughing again, because the museums, having enriched sharpies like that by paying a fortune for pieces of rope nailed to boards, and teaspoons bent in half and glued to pieces of rock, are finally drowning in stuff and are screaming for the torrent to stop.

Too bad. Out in the garage I have the makings of a major fortune in modern art, but other sharpies, more alert to the scam, have beaten me to it, and now it's all over. Shame. But hey, I'm going to create a piece of modern art this week anyway, just to show you it can be done. I'll photograph it and post it here. Stay tuned.
April 5, 2002:

The new Atlantic just arrived, and Bobos in Paradise guy David Brooks has a new short piece on his current idea fetish, meritocracy. The piece rambles and challenges the Type A's he calls meritocrats to choose between trivial and worthy self-challenges but on close examination says very little else. He doesn't really come to grips with whether meritocracy is a good thing, or whether what we have in the US is really meritocracy, as he or anyone else defines it.

His focus on trivial challenges is interesting, but he hesitates to put his crosshairs on what is probably the most trivial gold ring reached for by ambitious young people: an Ivy League degree. He spoke of this in an earlier article called "The Organization Kid" and again, hesitated to question whether there's any there there. Is an Ivy League degree a guarantee of anything? No...except, perhaps, a palpable arrogance. During my years as a magazine editor I had the displeasure of interviewing two Ivy Leaguers, one from Princeton and one from Harvard. Both young men spoke reasonably well, but they seemed offended when I asked them technical questions. (My standard final technical interview question for an entry-level editorial position: Define "adverbial objective." No one ever has. This says something sad about the state of liberal arts education today.) I was to assume that they could do the job...their Harvard/Princeton paper said so. To dare question their skills by asking base technical questions was an insult.

I sent both little bastards packing, and told one he really should enroll in an remedial course in grammar if he truly wanted to get into the editorial field. I doubt he did, and I wonder what unfortunate underlings he is managing today.

My notion of meritocracy has nothing to do with Princeton sheepskins. It's about what you can do. Show me the goods. Show me what you've published. Have you edited anything? Have you written any computer code? Built a doghouse? Built a radio? Have you done anything better than taken tests?

Point of information: If you ever interview with me for a job, bring your portfolio, with samples of Things You Have Actually Created, primarily content, but anything else as well, no matter how far afield. Canoes, kites, ceramics, beer, whatever. (You can bring photos of the canoe.) Leave your diploma at home. It means exactly nothing.
April 4, 2002:

Aargh! I spent yesterday afternoon picking up after perhaps the most outrageous piece of Internet subversion I myself have personally suffered: Webhancer. This is spyware with balls, let me tell you. It's a small utility installed by default when you install the Audiogalaxy system, with some mumbo-jumbo about making the Web faster. That's simply a lie. What WebHancer does is gather statistics on what Web sites you visit, and transmit those statistics to its central server. The WebHancer vendor then sells reports on Web traffic to Web sites, who use it to woo banner advertisers.

I'm not making this up: Millions of users of Audiogalaxy and Kazaa (and probably other "free" utilities as well) have been feeding their clickthrus to WebHancer without even knowing it.

And that's not the worst of it. I uninstalled WebHancer during a routine flip through the Install/Remove dialog in Control Panel. I didn't know what it was, so I removed it...and after that my Dell could no longer access the Net. I plugged in my laptop to the router and did some Web searching and discovered that WebHancer screws with the registry entries relating to the Windows IP stack, and doesn't restore the registry when you uninstall it. So without WebHancer's tendrils, the IP stack is broken and ceases to work.

The best Web page I found on WebHancer is here. (Read the whole CounterExploitation site—it's wonderful, if a little scary!) It explains how to tell if the damned thing us on your system and if so, how to remove it. Finally, pay attention to the small print when you install "free stuff." Install nothing but the utility itself—and do a little research on the Web if anything looks dicey to you. Knowledge is power.
April 3, 2002:

I've been creating a design for the Copperwood Press Web site, and once again, I ponder the spam problem. I want to be able to be found by real people, but not by address harvester robots. So putting mailto: links in a Web page is pretty much out. The standard solution to this (which I've used here in my personal Web site; look up near the top of this page) is to render an email address as a bitmap, which can be recognized by human beings but not by robots. The downside, of course, is that you can't click on the bitmap and launch a mail client as you would on a mailto: link.

It occurs to me that it might be possible to create a JavaScript applet behind a button that somehow assembles a mailto: link from pieces that a harvester robot would not recognize as an email address. The high road would have the applet "send for" the address data from somewhere else on your server, so that even a truly clever robot could not discern the address "by inspection" of the JavaScript code. I've never done much with JavaScript so I don't know it well, or I'd try to throw something together. Another thing that gives me pause is that many people turn off the scripting engine to prevent JavaScript viruses, which would stop such an applet cold—and make it look like my Web site was malfunctioning, sigh.

If you guys have any ideas along these lines I'd like to hear them. In the meantime, let me direct you to an interesting site focusing on spam prevention: Privacy Labs offers Email Express!, a $20 email proxy utility that filters spam using numerous techniques, most of which I had never pondered. The Email Express! FAQ is worth reading. Pay attention to the reason the product does not include a "fake bounce" feature, in which the proxy forges a bounced email and returns it to the sender. I had thought that was a pretty cool notion when I first read about it on Slashdot, but in truth it probably does more harm than good.

There is still a fortune to be made in email, by somehow creating a permission-based email system. The alternative, which Jim Mischel calls a "trusted network" (see his Random Notes for May 15, 2001) would also work, but would be a lot tougher to implement. As Jim has pointed out more than once, the Internet is hog-tied by ancient data protocols that are murder to change. My friend Michael Covington ventured that we need to build "original sin" into our network protocols—a religious metaphor indicating that we need to move from an assumption of blind trust to an assumption that Bad Guys will try to subvert the network, and make that subversion as difficult as possible at the protocol level. Truly, what we really need is a whole new approach to email transactions, and the guy who figures that out and makes it stick could be the next Bill Gates.
April 2, 2002:

Here's another excellent example of the "all your base are belong to us" school of spam filter ducking:

If you wish to be stop receiving from our - l-i- s-t,
ple ase email magic@mail2artist.com

Now, I haven't seen this one before, but I certainly won't see it again, as idiosyncratic spelling like this isn't likely to be used in email that I want to see and provides foolproof filtering terms. My question, of course, is this: Will this spammer ever use this verbiage (or any part of it) again? I have put three different parts of this little eloqution in my spam filter, and I'll be watching for "close but no cigar" matches indicating that the spammer changes the verbiage with each mailing. My spam filter has gotten pretty complex, but I have not seen any perceptible slowdown in retrieving mail. I've got loads of cycles now, so the filter can get way more complex before it becomes a problem.
April 1, 2002:

Hello again! (Sorry, couldn't resist...what, you thought I would just sit around and mope? No chance.) Allow me to introduce my new venture, which has been in the works for some time—and which I can finally announce publicly today. Like The Coriolis Group did thirteen years ago, it's starting out small, and where it may go I'm not entirely sure. After all, we founded Coriolis in 1989 as a magazine publisher, and when we began publishing books four years later, the book division soon completely dwarfed the magazine division.

No magazines this time. My business plan is complicated and is set up in stages, and I won't lay the whole thing out in detail here. But if I had to characterize Copperwood in only a few words, I would call it a seed publisher. The idea is to publish a selection of good books using print-on-demand technology, and see whether I can make any of them "get legs." Those that break out for whatever reason I will license to conventional print publishers, both here in the US and overseas, especially those overseas publishers in languages other than English.

In a sense, I'm capitalizing on the cowardice of today's conventional conglomerate publishers, who have no idea why books are successful, and don't allow their editorial staff to follow their instincts to try new authors or new approaches. If it can't be compared somehow to Harry Potter or John Grisham or Stephen King or somebody like that, it never gets a chance at the market. So the industry is publishing more and more of less and less, focusing dollars and attention on a mere handful of authors and approaches to the exclusion of all else.

This is bad for publishing and for the reading public, and my scheme may be a way around it. It's a strategy that will develop over time, and I reserve the right to change my mind at any point. At least at first, I'm focusing on markets that I can identify and reach at minimal cost. My first few books will be targeted at the Old Catholic movement, since I know where the Old Catholics are and how to reach them. That's not a big volume or big money business, but it will get me started—and may provide me with credentials for the lecture circuit, covering Catholicism and the Papacy.

Beyond that, I have plans to publish in the SF genre (with my own short story collection as a pilot project), and later on in other hobbyist arenas that I know something about. Computer books? Not sure yet. I'm fresh out of getting my tailfeathers scorched in that area, so it's hard to even know how I feel about it myself.

My first title? The New Reformation, by "Theodorus" (James Bass Mullinger) which is a first-hand history of the emergence of the Old Catholic movement from the First Vatican Council in 1869-1870. (The book was originally published in 1875, and has been out of print, as best I can tell, for about 120 years.) I have acquired two other 19th century books pertinent to Old Catholicism that I will eventually republish in modern editions. I hope to get some original work out of the Old Catholic community, both in terms of histories and also inspirational and ecclesiastical ("about church") topics. And as I refine my thoughts on how I will pursue this, you'll read it here.