November 30, 2000:

I had a sobering realization last night, as I stood in the front yard waiting for Mr. Max to do his thing one last time before bedtime. Out in the east, Jupiter was rising in the constellatin Taurus, and I had this eerie feeling of deja vu. I first began tracking the planets in the sky when I was 12, in early 1965, after receiving a small telescope for Christmas at the end of 1964. Jupiter was then almost precisely where it is today, and in the intervening 36 years has gone around the sun three times. I clearly recalled, for one strange moment, the feeling of slack-jawed wonder that came over me the first time I found the Giant Planet in the field of that wretched little telescope. I was filled with enthusiasm to find the other planets and star clusters and nebulae and galaxies that I had read about in stacks of library books. I had to see them for myself, (pictures in books just do not cut it!) and thus began a life-long love of astronomy, telescopes, and that peculiar human attribute we call the "sense of wonder."

Jupiter's up there, and this time, Saturn is just a little bit behind it, right after dark in the eastern sky. So this Christmas, give your kids a telescope. The sky has no peer in its ability to challenge the human intellect, and to feed that most peculiar sense of wonder. And don't just hand them the telescope. Go out and look for yourself. A little bit of wonder can work...wonders!
November 29, 2000:
Tis the season to wax cynical on how greedy and materialistic we are, given the current feeding frenzy in our stores and the embarrassing blatancy of Christmas-season advertising. But no: I'm going to take a contrarian position here, and remind all and sundry that some poor slob fed his kids by working an assembly line making Billy the Big-Mouthed Bass. (Probably more than one, in fact.) Other somebodies made a living putting Billies in boxes, trucking them from their factory in Texas to retailers around the country, and still more drew a paycheck punching a cash register when people bought them. The great conundrum of a consumer society is that people need jobs, and jobs can only happen when goods and services are manufactured and rendered. When people stop buying stuff, people lose their jobs, and we call it "recession." You can argue that people would be better off employed by the health care industry than in making Billy the Big-Mouthed Bass, but the truth is that command economies (that is, economies driven by "expertise" rather than market forces) usually fail and make people wretched. (They are also almost universally corrupt and make a handful of political insiders—the friends of those experts and government factotums who dictate where people will work, and doing what—immensely rich.) So although "affluenza" and grubbing materialism bother me, I recognize that we don't have any idea how to keep people affluent without lots of money changing hands among lots of people. This may require the ongoing manufacture of absurd knicknacks like plastic talking fish. Sure, the plastic fish are stupid—but keeping people employed and the economy viable take priority.
November 28, 2000:

People read statistics like the average life expectancy in 1900 being 48 years, and are puzzled, thinking that this meant that few if any people of that era lived past the age of 50. This is radically wrong, as they would realize if they gave some thought to what an "average" is and how averages are calculated. The real factor in life expectancies in 1900 wasn't older people at all, but child mortality. Huge numbers of children died before the age of 5, and this pulled down the numbers by decades. Of those people who survived to adulthood, most lived well into their sixties, and many lived to be seventy or eighty.

This truth struck home with considerable poignancy as I researched my own family tree, in discovering how many infants and small children had died in our family a century ago. Two of my mother's sisters died before the age of eight, and most of the larger families had at least one child fatality, most of which had been forgotten as members of that generation passed away. It was encouraging to see that, even in the 19th century, my ancestors who had survived to adulthood were living reasonably long lives. My great-grandmother Martha Duntemann, in fact, lived to be 96, despite having been born in a farmhouse far from anything like medical care. My great-great-great grandmother Millizena Duntemann lived from 1814 to 1896, despite a hard rural girlhood in Germany, a steamship crossing to America in the steerage, and giving birth to eight known children.

Most of the astonishing rise in life expectancies in this century came not on the back end, but on the front end: By reducing child mortality. So it's unclear how much we'll add to life expectancy in the future: People seem to "time out" in their eighties and nineties irrespective of their overall health. I may live well into my eighties, but I doubt I'll go much farther than that, barring some completely unprecedented advances in both understanding and correcting the aging mechanism in human beings.
November 27, 2000:

I was a little late catching on to this one, but here's my second-favorite headline stemming from our ongoing election hoohah:


This from the cover of last week's Time Magazine. My favorite remains the one in cited in my entry for November 9.
November 26, 2000:

Back in Scottsdale after three weeks, and still digging out. Carol and I hit a couple of stores on the way home from church, and I'm not sure if I was more bemused at the piles and piles of idiotic audioanimatronic creatures stacked up in our retail centers, or at the numbers of ordinary looking people (that is, not brain-dead yokels from Fish Guts, Idaho) who were going home with the damned things under one arm. Surely you've seen them: Billy the Big-Mouthed Bass singing Christmas songs now (over the summer it was "Don't Worry, Be Happy") and a turkey offering comments on Thanksgiving and life in general. The trio is completed with a lobster that lobs insults about, and I expect to see even more such between here and Christmas.

Why do these things exist? Carol hazards one reason and one reason only: To give as gifts to people who seem not to need or want anything. (I admit to being one of those, and hope like hell that I don't get Billy in my Christmas stocking!) I'd be curious to see if anybody ever hacks one of them, as one of my engineer friends hacked a Teddy Ruxpin singing bear a good many years ago. It was easier then: Teddy Ruxpin took his cues from a casette played in a conventional casette deck, and once you reverse-engineered the command encoding, recording a new song wasn't that hard. Todd had Teddy singing the old Leon Redbone classic, "I Wanna Be Seduced" and it was simply hilarious. I would guess that Billy the Big-Mouthed Bass has a good deal more firmware, and for economy's sake is probably controlled by custom microcontrollers that don't have any convenient back door. This is a shame, but it's a consequence of advancing technology. Hardware hacking used to be easier, and way more fun, back when the parts were big enough to see and far enough apart to get an oscilloscope probe between them.
November 24, 2000:

In Chicago until tomorrow, and this afternoon the ladies were off at the Rockettes Ice Special or something at the Rosemont Theater, so I had nephew duty, and took Brian and Matt to see Red Planet. The movie got panned by virtually everyone, but I must disagree: It's dazzling. Perhaps the most realistic evocation of a Martian adventure I've ever seen, and I'm pretty sure I've seen them all. The problem, of course, is that the characters are forgettable, and the plot turns on a number of scientific points I consider pretty questionable. Solar flares are something the writers really need to study a little on, but worst of all (heh-heh) the writers have absolutely no idea what a "nematode" is (go look it up) and misuse the concept horribly.

But hey, go anyway. Go for the spaceships. Cool hardware abounds, mostly spacecraft, but including probably the scariest Scary Robot in all cinema. When I was a kid I was terrified of robots and mummies, and this one would have given me nightmares for months. (The movie is both too slow and too intense for young children.) Blessedly, there is no blood to speak of, and the completely unnecessary side view of Carrie Ann Moss's breasts was doubtless there to earn the film a PG-13 rating. I confess I liked it way more than Mission to Mars, probably because I have almost no stomach for the UFO thang. I won't spoil it by saying too much more. It's not literature, but I caught myself catching my breath in defiance of my purely modest expectations.
November 23, 2000:
Thanksgiving Day. Carol's family and my family have shrunken radically in the past few years, so we gathered both sides at my sister Gretchen's house in Des Plaines this afternoon, and had a marvelous old-fashioned dinner, with a 21-pound turkey, corn pudding, two kinds of stuffing, two kinds of jello, home-made bread, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, fresh veggies, and two kinds of wine, a sweet port and a dry Zinfandel. I was thankful that there are still people alive who consider me good company, and furthermore thankful that I am who I am, living where and when and with whom I do. Life is good—if you let it be so.
November 22, 2000:
My good friend Pete Albrecht just informed me that someone successfully sold a tumbleweed on eBay—and got $11.60 for it. (I am not making this up. See auction #485331496.) Here in Arizona, tumbleweeds are yard debris, a species of annual desert shrub that dies and gets brittle at the end of summer, often breaking away from its roots in a strong wind, to roll around and get stuck under my hose reel behind the house, later lacerating my fingers while I pull the damned thing out in chunks. I can only assume that the Southwestern Style madness currently vogue-ish in places non-southwestern is responsible. The poor tumbleweed was probably boxed and sent to North Joisey, where some New Yawk wage slave has it under an acrylic bell jar that cost upwards of $300, and considers the display pretty exotic and hip. Oi veh.
November 21, 2000:

What bothers me about the Florida business is that we're going to be counting a class of ballots that have never been counted in previous elections: Those that have not actually been punched, or even partially detached, but only pressed on lightly enough to "dimple" (whatever that means) the little rectangle of chad still left snug in the hole. Furthermore, we only seem to be counting them in counties that lean overwhelmingly to one party—such machine "kickouts" are not going to be counted elsewhere in Florda. Why should any good citizen—even Gore supporters—consider this fair or just?

The punch-out balloting system is an abomination and must go (there are many far better alternatives) but in the meantime, I think people have to realize that the definition of a cast ballot is a punched ballot, and to demand the discernment of a tiny dimple in the middle of a tiny piece of cardboard is an invitation to subjective judgement that should have no place in a fair election. Courts love to talk about "intent" without giving us any objective way to define it, and so my guess is that Gore will be declared president on the basis of ballots that may or may not actually have been cast at all.

This is all too depressing to ponder, especially for people (like me) who treasure the rule of law far beyond the fortunes of any individual political faction or party.
November 20, 2000:

This from Slashdot: Honda (those car guys in Japan) have built a bipedal walking humanoid robot after 25 years of R&D. The Honda Web page for Asimo the robot is still Japanese-only, but you can dope out what it takes to download and play the video clip with little difficulty. Note that the Web page is highly Microsoft-centric, and you'll need IE5 to display it correctly.

Asimo (doubtless derived from major robot-guy Isaac Asimov) is about four feet tall, and looks like an astronaut in full EVA gear. He can walk forward and backward with equal alacrity, and can step from side to side as well. He swings his arms, and has so many joints and pivots that I cannot imagine how they keep all that stuff coordinated. Yet they do, and the clip is a must-see. Truly, it looks like a short guy in a robot suit, a sort of dynamic Turing test for walking two-legged robots.

Asimo's style of bipedal robotic locomotion is one of those things I have long held to be "impossible" in the engineering ROI sense of things: So extraordinarily difficult that nobody will bother. It's unclear to me how a machine like Asimo will be useful, but in fact that's beside the point. I'm delighted that Honda stuck with the project all these years. How far they will take it from this point is a seriously open question, and I suspect that eventually we'll see an English-language version of the Web site that may stake out their plans in more detail. In the mean time, this from a guy who has been a robot fan since grade school: You Honda guys rock!
November 19, 2000:

In my ongoing attempt to locate recordings of a couple of old summer camp songs ("To Be Alive" and "Easy Come, East Go") I revisited ToadNode and IMesh, neither of which I had touched in some time. ToadNode (a nicely implemented Gnutella clone) was pretty much hopeless. No matter what I searched for I got no response. I can only assume that the system is choking on its own overhead and losing my queries entirely. I downloaded and installed the new release of IMesh, and found to my dismay that it has been redesigned from a UI standpoint, and all the clever little ladybug icons were gone, except for a highly stylized remnant forming the main IMesh logo. IMesh is now advertising supported, and has a banner on the bottom. The presence of the banner doesn't bother me much (anyone who spends any time at all poking around the Web had better be an ace at ignoring banner ads) though I wonder what mechanisms have been installed on my system to swap new ads in periodically. (Time for a trip up to Opt Out!) Nonetheless, the songs remain unfound.

The lyrics to "To Be Alive" are available on the Web, implying that it's "traditional" and in the public domain, and if anyone knows of a recording I'd appreciate a pointer. "Easy Come, Easy Go" is a title that has been applied to a number of songs over the years, but the chorus of the one I'm looking for runs like this:

Easy come, easy go, through summer and through snow;
Up and down, all around the universe I go.
And I'll walk upon your water, move mountains from your path--
With a smile for my companion, I'll teach you how to laugh!
We used to sing it at Catholic retreats I attended in college, and it's one of those gonzo optimist songs that have more or less defined my inner life since I was a small child. I don't know who wrote it, and would like to. It has a certain sense of Phil Ochs about it, but it's a little manic for ol' Phil. If you know whose music it is (or better yet, where I could get it) please let me know.
November 18, 2000:

I went looking for a song on Napster last night, and discovered that Napster throws out all search query words shorter than three characters before it performs a search on its database. The song I wanted was that old campfire standard, "To Be Alive," but only the word "Alive" was entered into the query, so I was getting any and all song titles in which the word "alive" appeared. Nor can you enclose a precise string in quotes for a query--that seems to confuse the system completely.

I comment on this only to point out that Internet searching is still in the Stone Age, and you can only wonder how good Napster could be if only its creators knew how to implement a journeyman query engine.
November 17, 2000:

Here's an interesting piece of trivia that might win you some bar bets: Has there ever been a negotiable American monetary instrument with a face value of $3? You bet! Phony as a $3 bill, perhaps, but genuine as a $3...coin!

It's a gold coin, and it wasn't in circulation very long, nor was it popular even in its heyday. There was a $2.50 gold coin throughout the 19th century, which was close enough in value to the $3 coin to make the $3 coin seem unnecessary. The woman on the obverse is supposed to be an "Indian princess" but most numismatists seem to think it presents the conventional figure of Liberty wearing an Indian (hence American) headdress.

In its history, the United States has issued a number of coins that 99% of humanity has forgotten. (Paper money, compared to coins, is a fairly recent thing, but it has its mysteries too.) Here's the complete list:

Under $1: 1/2c, 1c, 2c, 3c, 5c, 10c, 20c, 25c, 50c

$1 and up: $1, $2.50, $3, $5, $10, $20 (all but the $1 coin were gold—and there was a $1 gold coin too. Tiny little thing!

Fine print: Proofs of a $4 gold coin (the "Stella"), and both a $50 and a $100 gold coin (the Half Union and Union) were designed and considered, but never released into general circulation.

Interestingly, there has never been a $2 coin. Most of the oddities on the list had their (few) days in the sun in the 19th century; our coinage has been remarkably consistent (many would say boring) since 1900. The reason for them might surprise you: Coins were not cranked out by the billions in 1840 (and very early on coins were struck literally by hand, one at a time!) and merchants rarely had as many as they needed to make change. It was useful, then, to be able to make change in as few coins as possible. Besides, prior to 1855, pennies were as large as half dollars, and keeping a pocketful was hard on the pockets.

Wealth and economics are interesting things, as long as you don't begin to claim the powers of prediction. Bar-bet trivia is a much better use of the Dismal Science.
November 16, 2000:

At the risk of turning this into Jeff Duntemann's Dream Log (which would be a death worse than Fate) I'll relay another one I had last night, which I think is worthy of note. First, some background: Most people I've spoken to about dreams admit to having the species of dream in which you wander around your grade school, high school, or college (sometimes in your underwear or worse) looking for a particular class. As you search and fail, your head fills with the panicked awareness that you haven't been to class in a long time, and if you can't find it soon you're going to fail, and thus not graduate, and thus spend the rest of your life flipping burgers at McDonald's and living under a bridge. I have had these dreams since before I can remember, and have them three or four times a year without fail.

Well, last night I had the dream again...only this time, I found history class!

It was great. I beat the monster at its own game. I dreamed I was at DePaul University (from which I graduated summa cum laude in 1974) and couldn't find history class. All the usual panics invaded my head, including the Jeff-specific one in which I attempt to calculate the number of years since I had last been to class, and fail. (I cannot do math in my dreams, though I periodically make the desperate attempt.) But this time, I turned a corner, entered a room, and there was history class. I was there. I was safe. I would graduate. A woman named Joy who works at Coriolis was there, and she told me she could get me the notes of the classes I had missed. (That would now be 26 years' worth of classes, which would be a lot of notes.) All Would Be Well, as Lady Julian would doubtless say.

I woke up feeling wonderful, like I had finally cracked some difficult problem, and it made me wonder: Just what inner victory had my subconscious finally achieved at 2:35 AM last night? Was it a problem I had been chewing on all these years that the dreams have come upon me? I may never know, which is irritating, but at least I'll be waiting to see if the dream ever recurs. Once you find history class, do you ever lose it again?

We'll see.
November 15, 2000:
I didn't know there was a word for this ("this" being my Contrapositive Diary) but there is: Blog. From "Weblog." Certainly the ugliest new coinage that I've seen in some time. Ugly or not, evidently it's getting common enough so that people are putting together tools specifically for "blogging." The one I stumbled on today was Blogger (rhymes with "Frogger" in some areas—like Chicago) which offers tools of some sort (Web-based, I think) for creating your blog, and a hosting service, Blog*Spot, for serving it up. I read a few of the blogs created with Blogger, and they run heavily to stream-of-consciousness, rather like most of the entries on Everything2. Best be young and hip, or most of it will shoot right past you. (I fail on both counts, alas.)
November 14, 2000:

Want to read the Third Secret of Fatima? I've got it right here. It's not a secret anymore, and the odd thing about it is that nobody much seems to care. It made no particular splash in the press when Pope John Paul II revealed it in June, and although the fact of its release was reported in some of the news media, I don't ever recall seeing the actual text reproduced anywhere.

Now, having read the text, I think I know why: With all due respect to the Blessed Mother, I can't for the life of me figure out what it's supposed to mean. Unlike the other secrets of Fatima, which promised war and other clear apocalyptic consequences if we didn't pray and repent, the Third Secret is a vision most obscure, involving martyrdom for some religious of the Church, but not much else. One can read it in a great many ways—in fact, one can read it as a punishment of the Church hierarchy, from the Holy Father on down. But in fairness, one could read it in a million other ways as well. As Famous Religious Secrets go, it's rather thin gruel.

So here it is. Be the first on your block to scratch your head over the Third Secret of Fatima:

"After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: 'Penance, Penance, Penance!'. And we saw in an immense light that is God: 'something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it' a Bishop dressed in White 'we had the impression that it was the Holy Father'. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God."
November 13, 2000:

People today talk about Prohibition as though it were some sort of anomaly, a regrettable twitch in government that was due to Christian fundamentalism, fallout from World War I, or evil spirits. Read history, and you might choose Option 3, heh-heh. Prohibition may have been regrettable, but it certainly isn't inexplicable. History hasn't done a particularly good job of depicting how horrible alchohol abuse was at the turn of the century. Immigrant laborers and many other members of the poor and working classes had a terrible tendency to drink themselves to a stupor (and more than a few to death) while abusing their families and breaking various laws. There's still plenty of alchohol abuse today, but I don't think it holds a candle to the situation in 1910, when the Temperance Movement was really picking up steam. I think that people today live generally more satisfying lives than they did, on balance, in 1910, and that makes all of the difference. If we could somehow fill the spiritual vacuum that besets many people (of all classes; substance abuse is not confined to the poor) addiction would probably vanish into the noise.

Reading the history of the early part of the 20th century gives me pause when I start thinking we should legalize drugs. Too many young libertarian types think that drug prohibition is simply a political power trip. Part of it, sure—but we might reflect on what could happen to our least fortunate citizens if we just tossed them the key to the recreational chemical cabinet. Read history. Even where it doesn't provide solutions, it makes many of the problems a lot clearer.
November 12, 2000:

Just got back from my 30th high school reunion. I missed the first big reunion that Lane Tech's Class of 1970 held (20th, ten years ago) but it looks like most of the guys who attended that one had had their fill of reunions, so the turnout for this one was less than half of those who attended the 20th. Nonetheless, Carol and I went with Tom Barounis and his wife Diane, Tom who had been my locker partner for all four years there. The food was lousy, and the hotel itself was so-so, but we had a fine time talking to the four or five guys in attendance that we had known back when we were fidgety teenagers in Chicago's largest high school.

I found it supremely interesting that I could look at a 48-year-old guy and know that it was Len Kosiba, even though I hadn't seen him since he was 17. The human machine is extraordinarily good at recognizing faces, and I don't think we have clue one as to how we do it.

It was sobering to realize that one of our classmates had seven kids, and another had a seven-year-old grandson. Yikes!
November 11, 2000:

I don't record my dreams that often, since they're pretty dull stuff for the most part. But last night I woke up giggling, and this one might be worth reporting:

I dreamed I was in a residential neighborhood somewhere, watching a crew of people digging up these smallish (about five foot long) dinosaurs out of the ground and stacking them like cordwood. They were obviously dead but not yet reduced to bones—if anything, they looked mummified. It seemed like an odd thing for them to be doing, so I asked an old guy who was sitting on his porch and watching them. "Meat-eaters," he said, with a sour grin. "Lots of them. Last year they brought one back to life. Put rats right into perspective!"

Any amateur dream analyzers out there? I'd sure love to know what this one meant.
November 10, 2000:
I managed to upgrade my Chicago system today to Windows 2000 with minimal difficulty. I didn't do an OS upgrade as MS defines it. I did a "clean install" by reformatting the hard drive completely and reinstalling everything from the vendor CDs. This allowed me to change the three FAT-32 partitions to a single NTFS partition, and it also allowed me to be completely rid of the clutter of dead registry keys and DLLs that NT4 is unwilling or unable to nuke. "Burning down the house" (as I call it) is something you should consider doing every several years, for that reason if for no other: You'll end up with a clean system that runs more quickly and more reliably than it did before. The day you'll spend doing it (most of which is consumed by reinstalling your apps and utilities) isn't too high a cost for the benefits achieved.
November 9, 2000:

Best headline I've seen so far about this whole sorry mess we're in:


(From today's Arizona Republic.)
November 8, 2000:

I stayed up until midnight last night reading Adolph Holl's intriguing The Left Hand of God, with one eye on the TV, hoping to come to closure on politics before the night concluded. Ahh, well. So I crashed until 7:30AM this morning, and scrabbled for the remote to see who the new boss was...and discovered that we still don't have a new boss. In a sense, this is a public service announcement to stylish cynics who claim their votes don't matter: Dudes, if you live in Florida they matter now more than at any moment in history.

What I find notable (and others have already commented on this, but it's worth repeating) is that there is no martial law, no troops in the streets, no curfews, no riots, no demonstrations, nothing but a gorgeous Arizona morning (sorry about Texas, Governor) full of ordinary people getting their kids dressed and fed and bused and heading off to work. We do not have "big man" government here—in a very real sense the President doesn't matter that much, especially with the opposition party in control of the legislature. Gridlock has its virtues, and in truth, whoever nails the White House this time may be more careful of certain things next time. Gore lost whole states over his gun control stance, and Bush should have chosen a pro-choice running mate. (Or, seeing Florida's pivotal status, a Jewish one...) See what I meant in yesterday's entry? Close races push candidates toward the center, and the next races may be even closer.

And if in fact Bush takes the White House by virtue of taking Florida after the recount, Ralph Nader will have handed it to him. Nader acts like a doof sometimes, but he has a point: With this kind of divided electorate (which I feel will be ever more the case in the future) third parties matter more than ever before—just not the way that they think they do. Third parties are almost always on the extremes, and what they do is push their closest adjacent parties toward the center by handing votes to their adjacent party's polar opposites. It's a wonderful piece of game theory.

Now, in truth, I'm mortally tired of politics. Let's talk about something else. Anything else.
November 7, 2000:

It's 9:15 PM on Election Night, and I'm taking a break from the leather couch in front of the TV (a position I take almost never) to ask the question: Why have so many elections come in so close to a dead heat? Answer: Because they can. I will postulate a new political theory here: That in electorates where there is a high degree of personal freedom, high degree of education, and high availability of information, those electorates will tend to divide along the margin necessary to win. In other words, where 50.1% wins, the electorate will increasingly split clean down the middle. If it took a higher percentage to win elections (say, 60%) you would see elections split at 60%. Count on it: Popular landslides will become rarer and rarer, and the country will see more and more squeakers.

In my view, this is not good. I like consensus, and I would prefer a president that 90% of the public wants, rather than 50.1%. The other 49.9% matter equally, from a statistical viewpoint, and yet their opinions count for nothing once the win has been made. This bothers me, but I have no good solution right now.

For lawmaking it's another matter. My solution here: Require that 50.1% of both parties vote in favor of a law for that law to pass. (This wouldn't work for candidates, only for votes in lawmaking assemblies.) This would mean that consensus between Democrats and Republicans would be required to get anything done, which I think would be a fine thing...and no one would be howling "minority rule" like they always do when people propose requiring a supermajority for anything.

This would change the nature of American politics radically. How? You tell me. Don't forget that email:

November 6, 2000:

I finally got my 4-port router here, and installed my first in-house network, between the two machines here on my desk. (See the November 2 entry.) It went remarkably well, considering the reputation networking has for cantankerosity. The router is the LinkSys EtherFast Cable/DSL Router model BEFSR41. It's a little blue thing about the size of a modem, and can do both 10 Base T and 100 Base T. You plug up to four machines into the back via RJ45 patch cables, plug another patch cable from it to your cable or DSL modem, and you're pretty much there. The only configuring I had to do was fire up a Web browser and bring up the router's built-in configuration page. (HTML in ROM...what a thought.) I typed in my ISP's DNS addresses and selected DHCP, and I was there.

Sharing of my broadband connection worked immediately and without incident. But getting folder sharing and printer sharing to work took me another hour or so. After much rebooting and tooth gnashing, I realized that I had not uninstalled the Black Ice personal firewall from the Dell box, and Black Ice was dutifully keeping the little Compaq from connecting. With Black Ice out of the way, everything worked fine. It certainly wasn't the router's fault, nor that of Black Ice. Both were doing the jobs they had been created to do. (The router also contains firewall software, which Steve Gibson's Shields Up tester seems to think is as good as Black Ice. It won't keep the CIA out, but then again I'm basically a boring guy—and we keep our personal data on a separate machine without a Net connection.) We just seem to set our diverse technologies at each other's throats now and then—probably more often than we realize.

I still have to connect Carol's machine downstairs somehow so that she can also use the broadband connection, but hey, a victory is a victory.
November 5, 2000:

Two days left. The politicking is driving me nuts! Last night at suppertime I picked up the phone, hoping it would be from Carol (who is in Chicago this week) and it was a granny from some union telling me to vote for Al Gore because he would save my Social Security benefits. (Wait...I thought he invented Social Security! No, sorry...) I took a deep breath and told the poor granny that if she was going to interrupt my supper to stump for a candidate I would damned well change my vote from Al Gore to George Bush and she should tell her boss that telemarketing was backfiring on them and that if Bush won on a razor's edge it would be their fault. And I hung up.

It was a lie, of course (I don't talk about my own voting habits) but if they feel they have the right to interrupt my supper, I feel I have the right to play mind games with them. I loathe telemarketing. And I'm glad I don't watch TV much, because it's been nonstop sound bites and other political lie anthologies here for days and days. Most tired of it, very depressed about the viability of democracy under circumstances like this, where the guy (or the initiative) with the biggest money pile usually wins.

Sorry for venting. It'll all be over soon.
November 4, 2000:

Although he didn't realize it, my 17-year-old nephew made me blush the other day. I was coaching him by phone on how to auction some concert tickets he had bought and now couldn't use. I know that some auction sites won't auction concert tickets because of scalping regulations, and we were discussing the restrictions. Auctions for drugs, body parts, and other contraband would be removed, as would software from certain vendors. Oh...

"And used underwear. You can't auction used underwear," he told me helpfully.

Used underwear? Why in hell would anybody...oh. Yeah. Right.

I blushed. And damn, I'm feeling old about now.
November 3, 2000:

My friend Pete Albrecht and I were commiserating on the phone the other day about the plans of our high school, the venerable Lane Tech in Chicago, to shut down all their shops. Back in the late sixties, I learned how to machine metal, work in hardwood, and handle most common shop tools at Lane—without jeoparidizing my college-prep education. I learned trigonometry, analytical geometry, algebra, English literature, Spanish, biology, chemistry, physics, computer programming, and lots more, and still had time to get my hands dirty. The big lesson I took away is that school subjects are not slices of cheese in a package, to be stripped off and eaten or not eaten as desired. They form a synergistic whole, and had I not taken shop, certain facets of mathematics would not have come alive for me. You don't develop a skill by reading about something. You develop a skill by doing it.

Much is at stake here, not least of which is the quality of American engineers. I ended up being a liberal arts geek and thus have no engineering credentials, but I know what engineering is, and within certain limited domains I can do it. (Pete, on the other hand, is a mechanical engineer and an international expert in diesel engines.) What we're seeing in today's engineering shops, alas, is that engineers are being shooed away from the workbenches, where lower-paid technicians take the first physical cuts at new designs.

This is appallingly stupid. Part of engineering (perhaps the greatest part) is understanding how and why things fail, and there's no way to get that except to be at the bench when that amplifier melts down. Engineers need to have a gut-level understanding of materials, parts, and standard components, and there's no way to develop that except by the laying on of hands. Engineering inescapably involves making things (not just telling other people how to make things, as if that were possible) and the more we fail to teach prospective engineers how to make things, the more we undermine the American engineering culture and industry. Lane Tech needs its shops. And so do all other secondary schools and colleges that claim to prepare engineers for their careers.
November 2, 2000:
I nuked Linux off my small Compaq, and reinstalled NT4. So both of my PCs are now running NT4, the small one at 450 Mhz and the big one at 550 Mhz. Both machines are here on the desk, and they share I/O through a KVM switch. (Keyboard/Video/Mouse.) I can push one button and swap between the two, so comparisons between them are easy to make. The big machine is my work machine, and the small one I install things on to test them, without worrying about whether I'm going to be without a machine if something major tanks. And I've discovered something interesting, if not entirely unexpected: There's no difference in apparent speed between the two machines. 450 Mhz vs. 550 Mhz. Hmmm. I'm going to upgrade the big machine to Win2K as time allows, and while I'm at it I think I'm going to put some money into additional RAM. If 100 Mhz doesn't make a PC any faster, then maybe another 512MB of RAM will. And if more RAM won't...well, folks, I may have bought my last PC.
November 1, 2000:
Napster has cut a deal with European media giant Bertlesmann AG and will become an all-you-can-slurp monthly subscription music subscription service. As I read the spotty details currently available, the new Napster will forward a good chunk of its revenues to the various music licensing services for distribution to the artists, something like is currently done with broadcast radio via BMI and ASCAP. Napster/Bertlesmann will take a cut as a sales commission. This is a very cool idea, and it'll be interesting to see if the big labels go along with it. (My guess is that they won't, unless the courts let Napster continue to operate without significant restrictions. The labels seem desperate to salvage the retail CD channel at all costs.) One problem I foresee is that much of Napster's magic depends on its immense user base. Last time I logged in, there were two million songs representing over eight terabytes of data. (Note well that those are not unique songs, though it's impossible to tell just how much duplication there is.) If Napster began charging $5 a month (the figure I've heard, which seems low to me) the user base would fall by 95%, and the number of songs would be a fraction of what is there today. It would still perhaps be useful, and it might even be viable economically—but it wouldn't be Napster as we have come to know it. Stay tuned. Interesting things are happening up the stream of history.