Previous month:
July 2000
Next month:
November 2005

Cleopatra's Ethnic Heritage

While we were watching HBO's Rome the other night, Vicki asked me what ethnicity I thought Cleopatra was. I had always heard there was a good chance she was Egyptian or even African, so I suggested that the lovely white girl playing her might not be appropriate. "Surprise," Vicki said, "Cleopatra was..." [answer in the Letters section at the bottom of the column]

Duck's Breath Mystery Theater

Five years ago, I took Marlow and Rae to Berkeley Freight and Salvage to share one of my finest and most guilty pleasures: a comedy troupe formed in Iowa but nurtured in the San Francisco Bay Area called Duck's Breath Mystery Theater. They basically stopped performing together during the 1980s, but before they broke up they made several funny record albums and recorded numerous amusing radio programs. I loved the Ducks. The performance I saw with the girls was their special 25th anniversary reunion. Their special blend of slapstick and the absurd made them a cross between Monty Python and the Firesign Theater. But like Firesign, and unlike Python, show business (that bitch goddess), never saw fit to make financial successes out of the Duck's Breath people. Merle Kessler continues to get some mileage out of his Ian Shoales character, a social commentator. In fact, I am proud to say, I became friends with Merle during the time I ran an Internet audio site; he did 42 commentaries with web and technology themes for me. He was nice enough to invite me to a reading of his recent stage play, Broke--the first SF play based around a PowerPoint presentation. If you know my wife (and a few of you do) slapstick and absurdism would not seem to be her taste. In fact, when I told our daughters their mom was going to join me for the DBMT 30th anniversary show at Freight and Salvage, there were amazed and disbelieving. And yet, albeit with an enormous amount of eye rolling, Vicki voluntarily accompanied me to the show and enjoyed herself. The Ducks are still funny after all these years, still writing new material. A great group that deserved wider success and fame then they were able to earn. Prior to the show, we had a lovely Persian meal at Alborz Restaurant on Center Street in downtown Berkeley.

New York Bound

I filed the column early this week because I am off to New York City to see my daughter Rae, three stage shows (Spam-a-Lot, Putnam County Spelling Bee, Proof), and as many of my friends as I can squeeze in. Of course, Rae will expect most of my time, and I am sure I owe her that.
For 20 years I went to New York City four times a year, minimum, for work, yes, but also pleasure in my off hours. It has had a hold on my imagination since 1970, when I started regularly taking the train down from Boston while attending school. Since 2001 I have only been a half dozen times. I miss the smelly, dirty, crowded, noisy old place. I am glad Rae wanted to meet there. She's taking the train down from Boston...

Iraq Casualties, War Lies, Millergate Lies, Plamegate Lies, Dumb TomDelay quotes, No More Miers

Richard Dalton Notes:

The news this week will be full of the fact that 2,000 American military people have now died during the Iraq conflict. We should also consider that somewhere between 26,000 and 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed by military intervention in Iraq.


She withdrew. I shudder to think what kind of person Bush will throw up next... Raw meat for the radical right? Probably.


  • Several wise political types this we have a Last Best Chance to avoid nuclear war, and have created a film to dramatize it. As seen in The New Yorker.


  • Huffington Post
  • By William E. Jackson Jr.
    COVER-UP: The Publisher and Executive Editor of The New York Times Sanctioned a Cover-up in a Criminal Investigation


  • True? Probably not. For conspiracy fans only: Why Scooter wanted to wreck Valerie - to assist his private clients who had dubious connections to say the least)

    October 25, 2005 -- Libby and Cheney links to global weapons smuggling cartel resulted in exposure of Brewster Jennings and Associates non official cover (NOC) network.

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Gooooooogle: watching introduction of new services from Google is "like drinking from a fire-hose."  Who's on first? Base: while on the web only briefly for a test/preview, Google's new (data)base system (screenshot) allows users to post tagged links. This base-ic technology puts them just inches away from competing with eBay, or Craigslist, or local newspaper classified listings -- especially if the rumors of a PayPal-like Google Wallet service are true.  First source on this was (Or...All Your Base Are Belong To Google), see Is Google aiming to squeeze eBay? and Google Gives Peek at Classified Ad ServicePrint: commentary on the copyright controversy from cNet: Google's battle over library books and from Google: The point of Google Print.  Its apparently less contentious across the pond Google Print Expands in EuropeMaps: good or evil?  How computer maps will help the poor versus India: Google Maps Too GraphicVideo: archival footage from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation Google delves into the TV archive Finally, see how result rankings correlate between two leading search engines: Visual Yahoo Vs. Google.

Wi-Fi: the concept of free or low cost municipal wi-fi networks continues to be hot.  Everyone seems to like it except for companies who would rather charge high rates for providing this service.  Call me a pinko, but this sounds like arguing for free-market alternative to municipal fire departments and sewer systems.  From Wired, BBC and Fortune: Cities Unleash Free Wi-Fi, Wi-fi cities spark hotspot debate, Wi-Fi Mania: When Whole Cities Are Public Hot Spots and Could Universal Broadband Add $500 Billion to the GDP?.  More details have emerged about the SF Wi-Fi initiative: Google's Wi-Fi plan for San Francisco envisions ambitious testing ground, And the other San Francisco WiFi Bidders.  While outside the city limits: Biggest Wi-Fi Cloud Is in Rural Oregon and Broadband net goes stratospheric (just gotta love anything involving airships!).

Fuel Cell Phones: powering portable electronic devices with fuel cells is a technology whose commercial availability seems to slip about a year per year.  But it seems like its adoption is inevitable at some point: Power boosts for future gadgets Conceivably in 2010, Olympians could be talking on fuel cell powered cell phones while riding between venues on a fuel cell powered bus: The Hydrogen Olympics.

The tell-tale dots: back in July the EFF announced they had found visually subtle patterns of yellow dots in the output of several color printers, apparently put there to allow prints to be traced back to the printer they came from.  Now they have decoded the dots and released open source code to decode the dot patterns (which turn out to provide time, date and the printer's model and serial number): Is Your Printer Spying On You?.  Press coverage: Secret tracking codes in Xerox printers cracked and Codes Make Printers Stool Pigeons.  FYI, here is a list of printers tested by EFF.

Apple's Aperture: like recursive acronyms from MIT in the 1970s, Aperture seems to have an is not stuck in the middle of its full name: "Aperture is not Photoshop".  Still its ultra slick user interface and support for RAW image format make it quite interesting: Aperture: Real workflow for professional photographers and Apple: Aperture not a Photoshop competitor.

Technobits: How Plamegate Hurts the Net --- Unacknowledged convergence of open source, open access, and open science --- Does Open-Source Software Make The FCC Irrelevant? --- Wikipedia founder admits to serious quality problems --- Library of public domain books preview -- MSN will add 150k titles in 06 --- profile of DVD Jon Meet the film industry's worst nightmare --- Futurists Pick Top Tech Trends --- Negroponte and the $100 laptop: The Hundred Dollar Man --- pattern analysis Science Finds New Patterns --- "Coverpops" great browsing interface: a few thousand science fiction magazines (and other genres) --- very odd: video of real plants "enhanced" with computer animated eyes and tendrils.


A light and lovely little film, about on a par with Just Like Heaven, which is to say that, while it is not as bad as many of the reviews, it is better than most of them let on. I actually wanted to see In Her Shoes which had a 62/100 on the AOL review meter, as opposed to the 52 score for Elizabethtown, but my little local theater had messed up their print of Shoes, so I took what I could get.

First, let me repeat my oft-repeated gripe; TOO LONG. Two hours and 20 minutes? that is an hour too long. A good romantic comedy, like any good comedy, is worth about 90 minutes, never more, and maybe a few minutes less. Why had directors forgotten this important rule?

The film deals with life, death, success, failure and love--all the big issues. It does so in a soothing, Hollywood kind of way.

But I will also object to the fact that Kirsten Dunst told Orlando Bloom, "if we walk away now, before we have sex, we can be friends for life." Bloom does not take no for an answer, at least not at that point, but of course agonizes and dithers until he seemingly drives her away. I'll say no more, in case you decide to see the film for yourself. Suffice it to say that, even if the Cameron Crowe couldn't bring himself to end the picture at 90 minutes, he surely could have done so at the false ending two hours into the proceedings. Anyway, I'm here to tell you that Dunst was probably right.

How do I know? A very long time ago, I saw a couple of movies and had dinner with a female friend of mine. I wanted a serious relationship. I have never forgotten what she said: "We could have a lousy affair that might last six weeks or six months, but won't last forever. Or we could be friends forever." She was right. She also supplied the will power at the time, but she was right, and I was wrong. I've never forgotten her wisdom, and am grateful for our lasting friendship. None of my former lovers are friends of mine. Case closed on the basis of anecdotal evidence.

A sweet little film, if the film you planned to see is sold out or not showing. To twist the old Michelin Guide formulation, not worth a special trip.

Dan Grobstein File, Cleopatra Answer

Cleopatra was Greek. Check it out; it's in all the good history books.

Dan Grobstein File

  • Buzzflash: Cellphones of War
  • : Bush has gutted the GOP, and now there's no elders left to help him; he's Shipwrecked (requires either membership or forced viewing of an advertisement).

Dan sent along this:

The CommonCensus Map Project is redrawing the map of the United States based on Internet users' voting, to show how the country is organized culturally, as opposed to traditional political boundaries. It shows how the country is divided into 'spheres of influence' between different cities at the national, regional, and local levels.

This information will finally settle the question over where disputed cultural boundaries lie (like between New York City and Upstate New York), contribute to the national debate over Congressional redistricting, and educate people everywhere as to the true layout of the American people that they've never seen on any map before.

Participation takes just 12 clicks. Take a look and participate in CommonCensus.

PLUS, if you're a sports fan, you can vote on which sports teams you support, to make a similar map that shows exactly what areas of the US support which teams.

Thank you!

New York Times

Blog Rolling: Jim Forbes

My good friend and former colleague Jim Forbes, now retired, has started a blog that I am enjoying and think you will enjoy too:

Forbes on Tech

This is the RSS Feed:

Some recent headlines include: Things I Can Do Without, Ugly Things I Catch In The Ocean, A Smarter, More Cautious Media. Topics he covers include My Life, Media, Web/Technology, Portable

I like and admire Jim. He served in the Marines in Vietnam, and did both daily journalism and computer journalism. But while I was playing AAA ball in those career fields (UPI, Oregon Journal, CMP), Jim was in the Big Show (LA Times, Ziff-Davis), and his writing, attitude and life experience prove he's a major leaguer. Politically, he is to the right of Genghis Khan on many issues, but he respects (or is it tolerates?) my fuzzy-headed liberalism as I respect his rock-ribbed conservatism.

It's a great blog. I added it to my list below; you should too.

The Best Experience A Teacher Could Have

Kevin Sullivan had the best experience a teacher could have. He shared it with me. It's a little on the long side, but stick with it, because the payoff is worth it.


I feel like a pinball in a Pachinko machine, bouncing from my launching point off each pin I strike. Each interaction (ball hitting pin) affects both the ball and the pin. While, eventually we all end up at the bottom, a Bhuddist might point out the recycling of the balls for the next round. Which pins we strike and the path we take have a lot to do with where we are in the game and which pins we hit before.

The ways the ball bounced I never did teach English in the classroom. It would have been a different experience, but the balls might have ended up in the same places at the end.

This week I had one of the most moving experiences a teacher could have. On a lark I googled an ex-student who had shown remarkable ability when I was teaching his eighth grade Algebra class, lo some thirty years ago. You'll do this yourself some day, when your path and the paths of your students have long diverged. You'll wonder what happened to them, if they even remember the schools they went to, much less you, and if anything you ever taught them had any affect on their lives. Although he hung out with the geek squad, Wattie, as he was known, was beyond geekdom. He lived and breathed the beauty of thinking through complex ideas without an awareness of how unique his gifts were. I could almost look back and think to myself, "the force is strong in this one". At one point mid-year I realized that Wattie's talents would take him into the stratosphere of academia far beyond any spot I would ever see. The best I could do was to keep the flames of his interest burning by providing challenges that would make him reach beyond where he could see and make the trip fun for both of us. From his part he reveled in leading efforts to beat me at speed chess, hacking the passwords of my computer accounts, and bring in math problems on levels of infinity. It was a great, great year.

I left teaching the next year, and heard little about Wattie until my excursion with Google. Researching with Google is like putting together pieces of a puzzle and watching what emerges, which was the following. The first references indicated that he was a speaker at conferences somewhere, but the topics seemed vague. (A good thing, Wattie must have kept his career growing). He had attended college (Good, good, he kept up with his education). He got his BA at Stanford (Impressive! but he took some detours before he completed it. I wonder why?). He got an MS from UC Berkeley. (Very good, very good). And then I began to see the launch into the stratosphere gathering speed. I found Wattie was now a Professor of Physics at MIT (Wow!! Am I reading this right?). Wattie had obviously gotten a PHD along the way. It turned out it too, was from Berkeley and it was in Physics. (Cool!) For fun, I googled the PHD thesis to see what a PHD thesis in Physics looks like. As I expected, and to quote Shakespeare, (because I AM certified to teach English), "it was all Greek to me!" (Julius Caesar). In Jerry Maguire, the female lead said, "you had me at 'Hello'". In my case, in the first two sentences of the PHD abstract, I was lost at "conformal field theory", "coadjoint orbits of algebraic structures of resolutions", and "chiral vertex operators". As I read on the woods did not get any thinner! (Way to go, Wattie!!) As I was about to abandon all hope (another deep literary reference!) I came across the following which just about stopped time for me in a way a PHD thesis in Physics had not anticipated.

"Thanks to my parents..and to early teachers Kevin Sullivan,..who helped me to learn to pursue the things that interested me and to have faith in my own point of view"

The sound of balls hitting pins suddenly sounded a little more sweet. The paths made some sense and seemed a little less random. The pieces of my own puzzle began to emerge just a bit. I was struck with the certainty that when I look back as I enter the recycling bin, the time I spent teaching will fill me with feelings of satisfaction as having made a difference to at least one other person.

Keep putting your best efforts into your teaching. It's one area where you reap far more than you sow, and in ways you could never imagine.