May 31, 2001:
Off for a two-week wander, to Chicago and Denver, for the Book Expo America trade show, the Catholic Convergence 2001 conference, and various home improvements at Carol's mom's house. Bear with me if things get posted erratically until mid-June.
May 30, 2001:

The Roman Catholic Church is bleeding its arterial blood—people—at an alarming rate, over matters that are nothing even close to core Christian doctrine: married priests, birth control, divorce, and a peculiar intolerance toward the notion that women are equal to men in the eyes of God. The point I want to make here today is that there is little or no useful debate happening on these issues. The secular press is extremely hostile to the Ropman Catholic Church, and does nothing but vilify it without benefit of insight.

On the flipside, very little is being said about these things in books from Catholic publishing houses, because most such houses are operated by religious orders or other organizations under the direct control of the Church hierarchy. Critique of the Church is thus granted in near-monopoly fashion to the Church's enemies, who have no more desire to be fair than the Church itself. The best critique always comes from within. By forbidding discussion of the problems eating the Roman Catholic Church hollow, the Church is losing its best opportunity to foster reform, and at some point, when it crashes (for lack of priests, supporting parishioners, or both) it will crash hard.
May 29, 2001:

Saw Shrek. Wonderful stuff! Grab the kids and go—and even if you don't have kids, go anyway. It's a hilarious spoof on fairy tales generally and (to a lesser extent) the Disney way of telling fairy tales. And unlike much humor and parody, it's not cynical, but goodhearted in a weirdly reassuring way. The story is pretty simple: Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) is a bright green ogre with bad personal hygeine and a Scots accent, living alone in a swamp. Suddenly his swamp begins filling up with displaced fairy tale characters, who have been driven out of their usual haunts by John Lithgow voicing Prince Farquahd, who is trying to build the Perfect Kingdom, which has nothing but right angles—and pointedly, no messy, disobedient fairies/gnomes/dwarves/witches/wizards/etc.

Shrek goes to the Perfect Kingdom to complain, and the Prince sets him on a quest—mainly to get rid of him—promising that if he rescues a certain princess from a crumbling, dragon-haunted castle, the interlopers in Shrek's swamp will be moved elsewhere. Needless to say, Shrek undertakes and completes the quest, picking up a sidekick along the way: Eddie Murphy voicing a talking donkey. Needless to say, Shrek completes the quest, with some complications and plenty of surprises. I won't give it away (and I confess I saw it coming just a little too soon) but the surprise ending is a delight, and not just because of the blatant Disney swipe from one of my favorite fairy tale movies.

Shrek as a creative work raises an interesting question: When does computer animation become too good? A TV show on the making of Shrek mentioned that the animated Princess was a little too lifelike, and the animators thought people would assume she was rotoscoped (traced from photo footage rather than animated) so she was "dumbed down" and made more cartoonlike. Certainly the animation is a masterwork, gorgeous and detailed and completely convincing. When will it become so convincing we're not dazzled anymore? Is animation impressive just because we somehow know that it's difficult? If it stops being difficult through the intervention of advanced computer rendering techniues, will it stop being impressive?

Go see Shrek, and take some mental notes. The next few years of animation evolution will be interesting in interesting ways.
May 28, 2001:

Memorial Day. Is force ever justified? It's funny, how the farther we get in time from World War II, the more people start saying that it isn't. Go see Pearl Harbor, or pull out a book on our troubled history as a species, and ponder the nature of evil. It isn't just ignorance, as the New Agers like to posit. Hilter and Tojo knew exactly what they were doing, and why—and so does Saddam Hussein. The main difference is that evil guys today, by and large, don't control large industrial economies, so the damage they are capable of doing is less.

This is certainly progress, but I think it bears repeating down through the years: Evil exists. It must be resisted. At times, it must be resisted with deadly force. When we forget this, good people (like Bobbie Williams, my mother's high school sweetheart, who could well have been my father, and who died in the Pacific in the last days of World War II) suffer and die. My reading of history tells me that pacifism has caused way more death than military readiness.
May 27, 2001:

I picked up an Epson Photo Stylus 890 printer last week, and I have to say I'm pretty impressed for something that costs under $300. (Amazon discounts it to $269, with free shipping.) The alternative was a color LaserJet like the one my sister has, which is a monstrous cube that would go mostly wasted. I print very little in color, and most of that is digital camera photo prints for Carol's photo albums. And although laser color is very nice, the Photo Stylus line was designed specifically for accurate repro of digital photographs on paper.

You need special paper for that, and the glossy, snapshot-sized sheets are about thirty cents each in packages of 20 at CompUSA. Given those sheets, the repro is spectacular, both of digital camera snapshots and of the scans of my father's ancient 35mm slides that I got feeding the slides through my HP PhotoSmart S20 slide scanner. One problem is aspect ratio: The 35mm slides are almost precisely right for the 4" X 6" photo sheets (this shouldn't surprise anybody) but the images from my Digital Elph have to be cropped a little to avoid leaving white space on the short edges. The ink cartridges are cheaper than the ones used in earlier Photo Stylus printers, and I have to wonder if that's because there's less ink in them. Still, beware: Color ink goes fast when you're printing 8" X 10" images! (Also, be careful how you feed small sheets through the printer, and be sure the print head understands where the paper will be. I got some bollixed up and the printer squirted a 4" X 6" snapshot completely to one side of the paper sheet, and I had to swab all the ink out of the printer with Q-tips.)

The printer does a very good job on matte inkjet sheets as well. I printed color covers for some little mass booklets I laid out for our Old Catholic home church group. The color was gorgeous, and my only gripe is that the inkjet sheets are a much brighter white on one side than on the other. I printed text on the backs of the cover sheets, and it just looks funny with the inside covers not matching the rest of the booklet paper in terms of brightness. Nonetheless, the printer is a big win, and while you wouldn't use it to print out your novel, it's ideal for digital photo repro and an occasional color item.
May 26, 2001:

Carol and I have been perusing Dean Ornish's book, Eat More, Weigh Less. It fails for us for the most part, because it doesn't reflect our own experience, which has been that if you radically reduce carbohydrates in your diet while eating everything else moderately (including fats) you lose weight. Ornish preaches vegetarianism, which is not a health philosophy but a religion, in that its adherents eschew meat for moral reasons ("It's unkind to eat animals") rather than health reasons supported by objective research. Protein is necessary, and it's quite possible to remove virtually all fat from good cuts of meat, with skinless chicken breasts having almost no fat on them at all. But vegetarians will have none of it, even chicken breasts, indicating that health is not their primary concern. I therefore respectfully ignore them, and when I do read them, I adjust down the value of what they're saying.

This religious adherence to vegetarianism gets Ornish into some tight spots. He claims that you can eat lots of complex carbs and lose weight...and then claims that potatoes and pasta (!!) are complex carbs. Really, Dean. Go look into how pasta is made and then try and tell me with a straight face that the wheat that goes into pasta isn't highly refined. To Dr. Ornish, anything that isn't a simple sugar is a complex carbohydrate—which is about like saying that any gun that isn't a machine gun isn't dangerous.

Outside his skewed diet recommendations, however, Ornish makes a point that seems to be supported by objective research, and I've read it elsewhere, though I don't recall where: Vigorous exercise increases your appetite, whereas moderate exercise reduces your appetite. This is crucial. Walk at three miles an hour and you will lose weight and feel less hungry. Jog at six miles an hour and you will come home ravenous, eat more, and lose less weight, or even gain—and over time, destroy your knees. Vigorous exercise burns carbs in the bloodstream, because the body needs energy faster than it can be converted from stored fat. This makes you hungry. Walk at a moderate rate (3-3.5 MPH) and the body has time to convert stored body fat to energy, and everything stays a little more balanced. This has certainly been our experience: Since we've been walking, we just haven't been as hungry—and we've lost weight.
May 25, 2001:
Forgive the gap. Haven't had a moment to sit down and ruminate. But all is well, and I tipped the scale at 150 last night. 150! I haven't weighed that little since I was in my thirties. I've been walking more, especially this week, sometimes four miles in one evening. So moderate exercise works, and works spectacularly. (And we haven't even given up ice cream!)
May 20, 2001:

The wildness continues. This afternoon, Carol and I found a bobcat lolling inside our courtyard, against the wall, grooming himself and mostly sleeping in the heat of the afternoon. When Carol entered the courtyard, he jumped up on the stucco wall, but stayed there until she went back in the house. The photo at left isn't great—hey, I didn't want to scare him away, and besides, a bobcat is a good-sized carnivore—but it gives you some concept of the animal.

It seems smaller than the bobcats we've seen in zoos (about twice the size of your typical house cat, and easily larger than any of our late dogs ever were) and may be a juvenile. We watched our visitor for almost an hour. He followed the movements of a lizard and several birds in the yard, but seemed uninterested in pursuing anything, even though the lizard was no more than three feet from his nose and with one pounce would have been an hors d'oerve. We're hoping he'll come back, and ideally pee all over the yard. We've had a serious problem with local bunnies eating Carol's roses and almost anything else she tries to grow, and we've heard that predator pee discourages small mammals. For those of you who have a small mammals infestation but do not have bobcat visitors like ours, we suggest you go to They'll gladly sell you all the predator pee you want. Think I'm kidding? Just go look!
May 19, 2001:
Want more evidence that Japanese software developers don't know what the hell they're doing? (I've complained about this numerous times before.) My otherwise superb Canon Digital Elph camera forgets all about its drivers if you change the USB port it connects on! I'm not kidding! Unplug the camera from one port, plug it into another, and it insists it can't find its drivers, which must then be reinstalled! I had no such trouble with my HP PhotoSmart slide scanner, nor with my Handspring Visor, nor with my new HP flatbed scanner, all of which connect through USB, when I bought and installed a USB hub. But the Canon? No dice. Gotta reinstall. C'mon, guys. We know you're hardware wizards. USB is a strong standard. Get on the stick and learn how to write drivers! (Oh, yeah—and alone among all my peripherals, the Canon Digital Elph does not install its USB drivers from the CD-ROM when you install all the other stuff the camera comes with. The drivers can only be installed through the "Found New Hardware" wizard. And if that wizard doesn't happen to come up when you turn the camera on, you need to be very clever to get the drivers reinstalled at all. This is expertise? Not!)
May 18, 2001:

Reader Graham Cowan sent me a pointer to his large and very beefy article about the use of boron as an energy storage medium. This was in response to my March 8 entry, which discussed hydrogen as an energy storage medium. (Hydrogen is not a fuel in my view because it doesn't exist free in nature—at least not on Earth—and must be generated by the expenditure of fuels or some other primary source of energy like solar or geothermal.) Boron is interesting stuff, a very light chemical element that is most often used as a light strengthening fiber in composite materials. Kite maniacs actually use boron rods as superlight kite sticks, which is the only time I've ever seen a hobbyist application of elemental boron.

In megajoules per kilogram, boron is the densest chemical energy storage medium we know of. It can be burned in pure (or nearly pure) oxygen, but will not ignite in air, and its oxide is fairly tractable and can be easily captured out of a combustion chamber for reduction and re-use. A boron-powered vehicle could feed continuous boron fiber into a combustion chamber off a spool and burn it in mechanically concentrated oxygen.

From what I can tell, this is all blue-sky stuff right now, but it's an intriguing alternative to burning carbon and just turning the oxide loose, and boron certainly stores more energy per unit volume than any kind of battery we now know.
May 17, 2001:
A pint's a pound, the world around, right? (See my citation of that old chestnut in my entry for May 9.) Well, apparently it isn't, at least within the empire on which the sun never sets. U.K. reader Chris Holmes writes to tell me that in the British Commonwealth, the rhymes goes like this: "A pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter." This difference in pint size boils down to the fact that a British pint contains twenty ounces, and ours only sixteen. I assume that this is the base of the difference between the American gallon and the Imperial gallon, which is 25% larger. Ahh, me. As I think George Bernard Shaw said, Americans and the British are similar people divided by a common language. And while I have you, what word (if any) rhymes with "pint"?
May 16, 2001:

The June 2001 issue of The Atlantic has a good short article relating to the question of who gets fat and why. The authors did public health work in Micronesia, an archipelago of small islands in the mid-Pacific. Morbid obesity and its attendant ills like Type II diabetes are taking a horrible toll on the Micronesians, and only a little sleuthing showed the authors that similar things are happening around the world, anywhere an aboriginal population adapted to an unstable food supply adopts a Western lifestyle that includes abundant sugar, refined carbohydrates, and the sedentary lifestyle that comes from driving rather than walking.

People of European stock suffer from obesity as well, but it's striking how much more sensitive non-Europeans are to overeating. The authors posit that aboriginal peoples whose environment (for whatever reason) runs to predictable feast-and-famine cycles have evolved mechanisms for storing food as fat whenever possible, so that in good times they will put on weight easily to carry them through lean seasons. The trouble is, the abundance that comes of a Western lifestyle has no such swings, and primitive peoples who have faced starvation over the centuries simply put on weight until it kills them. Stability of the food supply has been a fact of life in Western Europe much longer than in Micronesia, so natural selection has tended to choose people who don't convert food to fat quite so easily. This effect is definitely genetic, and therapies are in development that may benefit anyone who gains weight too easily. (There are many such even in European populations.) Good article and well worth reading. (I'll link to the article as soon as it goes live online; I subscribe to the paper journal and thus read each issue before it becomes available on the Web. As magazines go, The Atlantic rocks, and I encourage people who are interested in diverse topics to subscribe to the paper edition simply to keep it alive.)
May 15, 2001:

Lane Tech classmate Pete Albrecht and I have been collaborating on an aluminum casting to crown my concrete telescope pier up on the caliche ridge behind the house, and I got it back from Pete yesterday with the last of the difficult machining done. (He has more tools than I do, including a mill and a shaper.) I did the last of the metalwork this morning, and finally bolted the casting to the pier. See the photo at left.

This project has been underway for awhile; see my August 7, 2000 entry for a photo of the raw casting before any of the machine work began. I'm now ready to mount the equatorial head on the casting, though I'm going to wait until I do a little minor lathe work to allow me to drive the polar axis with a stepper motor.

Irrespective of how that turns out, I now have everything I need to see the very favorable opposition of Mars next month to good advantage. Mars will be at it closest to Earth on June 21, and will be larger and brighter than at any time since 1988, which (ironically) was the last time I had the big scope fully together and fully functional. I'm going to try to get a photo, but don't expect too much: Planets are very small visually (unlike the Moon) and are difficult to photograph. I'll have more to say about the opposition as we approach it, but if you want to see Mars now it's not in bad shape. You'll need to wait until midnight or so to see it, and it's at its best right now at about two AM. Look in the south, in Sagittarius. That very bright orange-y thing is Mars. Put even a small scope on it and you'll see its disk. Put a large scope on it, and in quiet air you may see its dark markings. It's a remarkable sight.
May 14, 2001:
Don't have a lot of time this evening, but here's a pointer to a remarkable article in Scientific American. It's about underwater proulsion incorporating supercavitation, which means creating (through complex means I can't summarize here) a gas bubble around an underwater projectile or even (potentially) a vessel like a submarine, allowing it to finesse water friction and travel underwater at literally hundreds of miles per hour! This is one of the coolest science articles I've read in a long time. Definitely check it out. This is going to go into one of my novels someday!
May 13, 2001:

Mother's day. At left is Victoria Albina Pryes Duntemann, the woman who pulled my life from the void, as she looked in 1948, when she was 24. Only a handful of photos of her exist from this period, and most of them (as you can see here) have been crumpled up in boxes in the attic for a lot of years. As my sister put it: She was a major babe.

She was also caring and generous, and indulged her children in things that mattered to them. As I've said in several other places, back when I was building telescopes in the basement, she always had a dollar for one more pipe fitting. She was a nurse all her life, caring for the sick and injured at Resurrection Hospital in Chicago, but also for sick kids, parents, dogs, birds, and guinea pigs. She had nascent talent for art that she could perhaps have done more with—though see my May 11 entry—and a beautiful voice. As a teenager in Nacedah, Wisconsin, she sang with a country band called The Prairie Chicken Chasers, and as a boy I stood beside her in church at Benediction while she sang "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name" as I was sure the angels did.

What more can I say? She taught me to be honest, she made me go to confession, she played the accordion (!!) when there were horrible storms and the power went out and Gretchen and I were scared. She understood the importance of ritual and continuity, and when the time came to partake in the great, dark mother's ritual of Stand Back and Let Them Fly, she stood back, and by God (truly!) we flew. No good man could ask more of a mother than this, and no God I could ever believe in would deny that she fulfilled her calling to motherhood completely.
May 12, 2001:
I am sleeping well again—not only well, but very well. In fact, in the past week I've been sleeping more soundly than I have slept in over a year. There's no consistent "silver bullet." I've been sleeping solidly even though I have gone back to drinking coffee in the morning and Diet Pepsi at noon. I sleep well now even on days when I don't exercise. I sleep well even when I eat almost nothing for supper. So what changed? I have no idea. I can only assume that some chemical switch buried in the depths of my brain flipped, and whatever was out of whack before has now came back into line. We know way less about the human machinery than we pretend to. Keep that in mind as you tread with me the path toward middle age.
May 11, 2001:

My mother died last year in late August, and ever since then, my sister Gretchen and I have been gradually going through boxes full of items that accumulated over my mother's entire (long) life, trying to decide what to do with it all. Nearly all of the things I have ever given her (like a spice rack I made in high school wood shop and boxes of photos) she still had—and predictably, I got them back. Some things, though not unknown, were startling to see after a great many years, like the hand-painted birth announcements she did for my arrival in 1952. The painting was not done from life, but ahead of time, and had I turned out to be Phyllis Duntemann, it would have served as well. (The "Wigwam" was what they called the slightly eccentric peak-roof house on Clarence Avenue in Chicago where I lived until I left home and where she lived until 1996, after 47 years there.)

Other items were not merely startling, but gutwrenching. My mother's high school sweetheart died in World War II, in a naval battle in the Pacific, and there was a bundle of notes from him, as well as a shipboard photo of him in uniform. I knew his name (Robert Williams) but had never before seen a photo of the man who might have been the father of half of me, as Gretchen puts it. A man who gives his life for his country is a special kind of saint to me, and I hope I may have the grace of meeting him in some ineffable realm beyond this world.

Nothing, however, prepared me for the bundle of yellowed notes that turned out to be the love letters my father had written to my mother in the several years between the time he met her and the time he married her. My first reaction was the quick editor's instinct I have developed over the last 18 years of my editorial career: This man could write! I had never read anything significant written by my father, and it was a severe surprise. Frank W. Duntemann wrote to his girlfriend with humor, and conviction, and passion, and at some point I had to sit down and take a deep breath and wipe my eyes. He loved my mother fiercely—I had always known that—but it was quite another thing to see his passion expressed in words on paper. This was my turf—I had wooed my Carol with letters like this!—and there was suddenly a kinship and a sense of wonder, and that after-the-fact exasperation that wanted to shout, Why didn't you tell me you were a writer!

He didn't think of himself as a writer, because he was above all else a practical man, and he knew that writers starve. (Her certainly told me that often enough.) And it makes me crazy sometimes knowing that he died before I could prove him completely, nay, spectacularly wrong.
May 10, 2001:
My good friend and co-author (of The Delphi Programming Explorer) Jim Mischel reminds me that these days spammers use integrated email packages that contain their own SMTP servers, making SMTP volume limitations not something that the ISP can impose. (See my May 4 entry.) You can in fact write your own SMTP server in an hour using Delphi, something I've never tried but should have remembered. So it's back to the drawing board on spam limitations. Perhaps a POP or IMAP server could just tuck some delay in between the time it gets a request to accept an email and the time it responds—I don't know. I'd prefer an engineering solution to a legal solution, but if an engineering solution isn't found, a legal solution—perhaps a clumsy or even counterproductive one—will follow.
May 9, 2001:

I don't weigh myself much, and when I do it's usually at the end of the day before I hit the shower. However, Carol recently read somewhere that you weigh less in the morning than you do the night before, sometimes by severa pounds, and I was skeptical—but intrigued. So I weighed myself last night before I got in the shower, and weighed myself this morning right after I got up. Sure enough, I clocked at 153 last night, and 151 this morning.

Two pounds! Hey, there are laws of physics, and whereas I did get up in the middle of the night to pee, I am lockbox sure I did not pee two pints. (Remember the old grade-chool saw, "A pint's a pound, the world around.") Carol (biology goddess that she is) reminded me that when we breathe dry air in and moist air out, there cannot but be a net loss of water over an eight-hour period. The relative humidity here in Scottsdale (where it hit 105 at the airport yesterday, and 100 up where we are) is down in the teens somewhere. So maybe it's not so mysterious. Two pints! Morning, then, is the time to guzzle. Dehydration happens.
May 8, 2001:

Today is the feast day of Lady Julian of Norwich (1342-1416?) an English anchoress (cloistered holy woman) whose honor is having written the first book-length work in English by a woman whose existence is unquestionable. (Her actual birth name is not known; she took the name of the church to which she was attached, as was the custom for anchoresses of that time.) She should be a saint but is not, because she dared to suggest that God, being all-powerful and all-good, will not be content with losing even a single soul to eternal damnation. A solitary contemplative and mystic, she saw a vision of a "great thing" that God will do on the Last Day, the result of which is that Hell will lie broken and empty, and even Satan himself will have repented and returned to the Most High. Steeped in the severe medieval theology of Hell as she was, she complained to God, "But my Lord, that is impossible!" And God replied (to put a modern spin on it, and perhaps a touch of a divine smile): "Hey, I'm God. I can pull it off. Trust me."

She did, and her signature affirmation is well known, even by those who don't know who first said it: "All will be well. And all will be well. And all manner of thing will be well." I consider Dame Julian my patron saint, even if the Catholic Church's pickle-up-the-ass hierarchy never saw fit to give her the badge.

For a nice if purely imaginative icon (in truth, we have no idea what Dame Julian looked like) click here. And for an intriguing piece of fiction telling the tale of Dame Julian's adventures with a young vampire girl, see Mother Julian and the Gentle Vampire by Jack Pantaleo. My friends have been bugging me to read it for awhile, and when I do, I'll review it in detail here.
May 7, 2001:

Suddenly, I can sleep again. I'm not sure why, but I'm sleeping better than I have in months. There was no dramatic change, no new drugs, nothing I can actually point to and say, "Things changed here." Or then again, maybe there was something...

Carol read a book years ago, and I picked it up some weeks back, called Opening Up, by James W. Pennebaker. It's about releasing anger, frustration, and emotional pain by simply writing about it. This process, called "journaling" (a word I confess I don't much like) is nothing more complex than what people used to use their diaries for: Writing down how they're feeling about things. Pennebaker provides abundant research indicating that journaling causes measurable improvements in mood and progress against depression. So I tried it. I created a password-protected directory on one of my Zip cartridges containing a sort of virtual diary, and basically griped to my hard drive about anything that was bothering me. It's not great writing by my standards, and it's not intended to be read by anyone, even me once I write it. It's just inchoate bitching, about how I lost my godmother, my mother, a favorite cousin, and two dogs in three years, about how I lost my magazine (Visual Developer, nee PC Techniques) in that same period, and even ancient things like how the Roman Catholic Church mistreated my parents twenty years ago. (I don't hold a lot of grudges, but I seem to be holding that one.)

I'm not sure I feel all that much better (and in truth I didn't feel all that bad before) but I'm sleeping now. So something changed. This may be it. If you're fighting depression or just not sleeping well, hey, buy the book and give it a try.
May 6, 2001:

Woody Allen notwithstanding, my brain is my first favorite organ, and like a great many people with similar feelings, the spectre of Alzheimer's Disease looms large in the field of things I worry about. Time Magazine had an excellent article this past week on the "Nun Study," a long-term look at who gets Alzheimer's and who doesn't, conducted with a group of 678 elderly Roman Catholic nuns since 1986. Nuns are an ideal subject for a study like this, because they are a group of people with an extremely uniform diet, regimen, and style of life, causing those elements to factor out. Religious orders for the most part keep good long-term records, and the order of nuns participating in the Nun Study had autobiographies and pyschological profiles for their older sisters going back to the 1920s. So it was possible to see what sort of young women these old women had been, and draw some interesting conclusions therefrom.

The Nun Study seems to indicate that the more you use your brain, the more likely you are to keep it. Also (and I breathed a heady sigh of relief here) those nuns who, as young women, had written the most imaginative and interesting autobiographies were the least likely to suffer from Alzheimer's. Intense and complex use of language correlated to low incidence of the disease, as did optimism and positive thoughts.

The downside, as with most studies like this, is that we can't be sure what's the cause and what's the effect. Does using language intensely and well in fact protect the brain? Or do people why are genetically immune to Alzheimer's happen to have an associated gene for writing and speaking well? It's still too early to tell, but sooner or later we're going to figure it out—and we'll have these nuns to thank. I've always liked nuns, and now I have a good reason to do so.
May 5, 2001:
Polyester is coming back. I almost couldn't believe it. Earlier this week, I had an uncommitted day (what a notion!) and decided to do a little shopping, here in the northwest Chicago burbs at the Woodfield megamall. Ostensibly I needed a teakettle, of all things, but I took my time, walked all three levels of the mall twice, and ended up bringing home a shopping bag full of stuff. Several of those items were shirts, and none of those shirts were the canonical (and wrinkly, and fragile) 100% cotton. One of them, admittedly, is made of something called Tencel that I haven't quite figured out yet, but the others are polyester blends like I haven't seen since the mid 1980s. There's also a new color I'm starting to see that I like a lot; a dark and very rich blue called "French blue." Some of my stalwart polyester shirts that I've been wearing since 1986 are getting a little ratty. Time for a new look. Let me lead the wave for a change, and sound the charge toward rugged man-made fibers that don't need ironing! (Hey, don't everybody line up behind me at once, huh?)
May 4, 2001:

Spam. What to do? Filtering is almost pointless, since spammers have gotten diabolically clever at hiding keywords looked for by spam filters. Many spam messages are now in HTML message form, and put damning lines like "Hot barely legal Asian schoolgirls having sex with llamas!" in graphical images as bitmaps, which filters can only see as bitmaps and not as text. The further this arms race goes, the more likely a filter is to filter out a legitimate message in error.

Prevention is the only cure, and here's my take on it: We need to get ISPs to limit the number of email messages accepted for transmission from any given IP within a given time period, and severely limit the number of email messages accepted for transmission from any dynamic IP. My suggested levels for these limits: 1,000 messages per day from any static IP, and one hundred per day from any dynamic IP. (Spammers like to use dynamic IPs because it's more difficult to associate a dynamic IP with an individual user—and could finesse limits on dynamic IPs by logging off every hour and logging back on with a different IP.)

Think of it this way: The return on spamming (in terms of responses per thousand messages sent) is microscopic. Probably one person per million (if even that) responds to a spam message—so if you can ensure that no one can send a million messages in any reasonable time period, spamming will become economically ineffective and stop. I have personally never sent more than about twenty emails in the course of a day, and for those who might have a legitimate need (like editors of opt-in email newsletters) special application might be made, with proof that all receiving the newsletter have in fact opted in.

An alternate approach is to put delays in the SMTP server such that the server will accept a sent message only every thirty seconds or so. This isn't often enough to send sufficient messages to get any kind of response. It's also a trivial coding exercise. The challenge as always, is to get ISPs to adopt measures like these before government writes something like this (or something less intelligent) into law.
May 3, 2001:

Like most people who have been present on the Internet for a long time (and I've been on continuously since early 1994, just after the Net was opened to the general public) I get an immense amount of spam email. I don't read it; in fact, I nuke email on the least hint of spamhood, and thus have no clue what a lot of it is about, though I assume it's all bogus.

But if you've ever been curious what the nature of a lot of this email might be, the LA Times assigned a hapless reporter to respond to every spam message he received for an entire week (107 messages overall), offering everything from college degrees to used golf balls. His account of the adventure is enlightening to say the least. He didn't describe ordering the used golf balls (which might be a legitimate, if unwelcome, sales pitch) but he mentions MLM pitches, phony degrees, quick weight loss schemes, and (of course) various come-ons relating to sex. First rate.

Is there anything to be done about spam? Remarkably, I think a final solution would be relatively easy, but I don't have the time right now to write it out. More later.
May 2, 2001:

I took a nibble of asparagus today, just to see if it still tastes bad. It does. Uggh. But why? Why do some things come across as ambrosia to certain people, and make other people (like myself and George Bush) want to barf? I'm not exaggerating here; the taste of many vegetables makes me gag. It's virtually impossible for me to get whole corn down the hatch, and things like broccoli, asparagus, and cauliflower taste so bad I have to wash my mouth out after forcing them down.

There may be reasons, not that anybody in the health community seems willing to admit it. I discovered some years back that I am mildly allergic to corn bran—so my system is telling me something when it refuses to cooperate in swallowing the stuff. Many dark green vegetables give me bad gas when I eat them, which isn't as bad as allergies but still annoying. My guess is that things taste bad to us when we aren't set up to digest them well. I also admit that it might be possible to develop a taste for green beans (which I find only mildly obnoxious) or even cauliflower, if I worked at it. Hell, I developed a tolerance for cabernet sauvignon by forcing it down in small quantities on a regular basis, and it does me no worse damage than Mogen David Concord Grape, the first wine I ever tasted. I came around to liking cooked mushrooms by forcing them down on pizza over a period of many years. So maybe I should just buckle down and learn to like broccoli and asparagus. (Forgive me if I don't start until maybe next week...or the week after.)
May 1, 2001:

Why does DNS (Domain Name Service) have to be a server function? It's obvious to me that our DNS concept is seriously broken, and ICANN is only making problems worse and worse. I doubt that the architects of the Net ever imagined that there would be many hundreds of millions (soon to be billions) of different domains, and that tens of millions of dollars and many court cases would be spent on tags like In truth, the current system is unsustainable. The good news is that it's also unnecessary.

DNS is just a simple, flat-file database that associates an Internet IP address like 281.81.615.4 with a human-rememberable tag like "" That's literally all it does. Problems arise when you have a Mack's Cafe in Providence as well as a Mack's Cafe in Portland, and both want to own Who has a better right to it? Today we have constant conflicts between trademark law and first-com-first serve, as it were. What would be way better is a system that associates an IP address with a multistring descriptive record, so you could associate an IP address with Mack's Cafe, 14 Main Street, Providence RI and no one would confuse it with Mack's Cafe, 5156 N. Cascade Blvd, Portland, OR, which has its own unique IP.

The Real Names people took this concept about halfway there: In case you haven't heard of them, they established what amounts to a competitor to DNS; you register a key word or phrase and type it into the URL field in either IE or Netscape. If Real Names recognizes the key phrase, it translates it to the conventional URL, which then goes through DNS in the usual fashion. But Real Names is really just a band-aid slapped on a festering wound. What we need must go broader and deeper.

Here's my concept: A centrally maintained but locally searched database associating IP addresses with their owners, using multi-field descriptive records to describe the owners. It would be an electronic Yellow Pages, in a sense: You search for the Mack's Cafe of your choice (making sure you have the geographical location right) and then click the record to go to their Web site.

Where I differ most with conventional wisdom on systems like this is that I would put the entire database on the local PC. Text records are compact, and today's hard drives have capacities of tens of billions of bytes. Make it the Master Index of the Web, and allow people to download deltas on a daily or even hourly basis, automatically, through their high-bandwidth Net connections. So what if it occupies twenty gigabytes? Assuming you're not pirating MPEG movies, what the hell else are you gonna fill a forty-gigabyte hard drive with? Why not make it something useful? "The Yellow Pages" is an idea that everybody understands. Linking a text record locally to an IP is probably the best way to keep the Macks of the world from killing one another over who gets a URL that is equally applicable to all of them.