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October 2007
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December 2007


If this sounds familiar, it is because, in the great tradition of Herb Caen and Jon Carroll, I am recycling my eight previous thanksgiving messages. I missed a year--maybe I was too distracted by teaching.

This year we will all be in Orinda, along with my nephew Paul. Last year, we saw Borat together. Who knows what wackiness will ensue this year. Vicki and Marlow both have to work the week of Thanksgiving, but for the first time, I have the whole week off. I pay for it at the end of the school year, which is now the second week of June instead of the first.

I know I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a job that gets better every year, I have my health, and I have my family. I can't imagine why I would bother getting out of bed each morning if not for my wife and my two girls.

Regular readers know I earned my teaching credential and now teach 8th grade US History at a middle school. It is still true that I have not been this excited and challenged since 1974, when I started working as a professional journalist. This is my fifth year. Each year gets easier, but it never gets easy.

Still, my most important role is as husband to Vicki and father to Marlow and Rae. Of course, Marlow is now has an apartment in the city and will start working soon, so I only see her once in a while. Rae is at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. I haven't seen her since last May, but she'll be home for Christmas.

I think we all lose perspective sometimes, forget what's really important. We get wrapped up in our jobs and spend too much time working on them, both at home and in the office.

The years I have spent with my girls are priceless.

Not everyone can work in a home office--and I don't any more.

But no matter where you work, the next time you have to make the tough call between the meeting and the soccer game, go to the soccer game. You'll never regret it. I am thankful for my family. Be thankful for yours.

Also give thanks for your friends and your good fortune. Spread that good fortune around in any way you can. I have much to be thankful for this holiday season, as I have had every year of my life.

I am thankful that I have two living loving parents and a loving brother. I am thankful for my loving and understanding wife, and for the two most wonderful daughters I could have imagined, both of them turning into vibrant, intelligent young women before my very eyes.

I am thankful for every sunrise and sunset I get to see, every moment I get to be in, every flower I try so desperately to stop and smell. I am thankful that I can move closer every day to living a life in balance. Every morning, I am grateful to be alive. Not a bad way to start the day. For reasons I don't want to detail, I am extremely grateful just to be alive, because that almost didn't happen this year.

I am thankful for losing 70 pounds and weighing 230. I am thankful for the fact that I will still be that weight next year at Thanksgiving.

I am thankful, finally, for each and every one of you reading this column. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

Teapot Dome book from Laton McCartney

Coming from Random House in February 2008 -- The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country. Reserve your copy now, while supplies last.

The author, Laton McCartney, has also written the authoritative Bechtel biography, and a mighty fine book about the Oregon Trail and the discovery of the South Pass. I know him because of his appearance in the 1970 Academy Award-nominated short, "Sticky My Fingers, Fleet My Feet" by John Hancock. I also know him as the record-setting biggest loser on the Art Fleming version of Jeopardy.

Actually, he was my boss from 1989-1992 at InformationWEEK magazine, in the days when we were covered with glory, but not yet enormous success. No matter how I know him, I know this: great writer. Brings history alive. If you've ever really wondered what Teapot Dome was all about, now's your chance to find out. Makes a great belated stocking stuffer. February publication date: bummer. You'll be hearing more about this book. And not just from me.

According to Kirkus Reviews, the book is a "probing study of a scandal that spread even deeper than the standard histories claim—and one that has plenty of lessons for today."

Plus, this is the kind of blurb it is earning:

"With verve and a great storytelling sense, Laton McCartney has given us a terrific tale about a scandal that most people know only by name. Populated with vivid characters and shrewd about the workings of politics and business, his new book on the Teapot Dome affair resonates nearly a century on, at a time when many people are still wondering about the connections between Big Oil and politicians at the highest levels."
--Jon Meacham, author of "Franklin and Winston" and "American Gospel"

Makes you want to buy it, huh? Of course, that's the point…


by Craig Reynolds

A new theory of everything?: science usually proceeds in a series of small deliberate steps, each publication building incrementally on an earlier publication. Except when a giant leap disturbs this gradualism, like punctuated equilibrium in evolution. The problem is that when a new idea appears out of left field, it is often very hard to tell if it is so different because the author is a crackpot, or because the author has had a tremendous insight. Typically only time can tell. There is a lot to be said for being very cynical about bold new claims that deviate from the status quo -- unless of course they are correct! How are the scientific politics affect if the author of an "out of left field" paper is a vagabond surfer with a Ph.D. in physics? See this article in the Telegraph: Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything. This work has been compared to Mendeleev's periodic table, which used a geometrical device to organize the chemical elements. Lisi's work applies the mathematical object known as E8 to describe relationships between elementary particles and the four basic forces of nature. An important aspect of this work is that it predicts 20 new particles, making it a falsifiable hypothesis, the most concrete kind of scientific theory. Lisi has certainly received the "crackpot" treatment: he initially uploaded his preprint An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything to the standard eprint archive (as most physicists do these days) then it was moved by the moderators of the archive from "the section on high energy theory section (hep-th) a section designated for 'non-serious contributions.'" For background see this animated tour of the E8 object and Lisi's interpretation. Also there is a long discussion at Slashdot including this well written post: An attempt at a summary which points out that the title of Lisi's paper is a pun. Ya gotta love this guy! In the words of the noted philosopher Blutarsky: TOE-GUT, TOE-GUT!

Aviation and space: news from sky and space: Incredible Comet Bigger than the Sun, Photos: From the moon to the Earth--in HD, Future Mars Craft Inspires High-Tech Spy Plane and WWII P-38 Fighter Discovered in Wales. I've always been a fan of NASA-speak, NASA: Spacesuit's Smoky Smell Prompts Spacewalk Ban includes the quote: "Thus, the on-orbit EMUs are No Go." I imagine it was something similar that led Arthur C. Clark to have HAL in 2001 say his (chilling in retrospect) line: "I suggest we replace the Alpha-Echo-35 unit and allow it to fail."

From webisode to network TV: just last Wednesday I heard NPR's David Bianculli waxing enthusiastic about the new episodic drama Quarterlife now playing on the web. Told in 8 minute webisodes, Quarterlife is a story of six young twenty-somethings growing up in the age of MySpace (which, knock me over with a feather, is cross-promoting the webisodes). The show is by TV veterans Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, creators of thirtysomething and My So-Called Life. Then on Friday came NBC's announcement that they were picking up Quarterlife, packaging 6 webisodes into an hour of broadcast TV, to be aired in spring of 2008: NBC brings Web series "Quarterlife" to TV network. See also Sad Truths and Sad Lives of Generation Blog.

Games: in its third edition, this non-tradition game series has great legs: Why 'Guitar Hero' is rockin' the game charts. Information for the bewildered parent of game playing kids: What They Play, via Parents have no clue what their kids are playing. Here are some fun Video of New Research Conducted with PlayStation Eye in the group where I work, largely by the annoyingly productive "new guy" who sits across from my office. (In the final video you can briefly see me hunched over my computer, trying to ignore all the fun going on a few feet away.)

Technobits: FCC Urged to Stop ISP Traffic 'Throttling' ("A Web-based video distributor asks the FCC to set up rules for broadband network traffic management.") --- Put up or shut up, RIAA told --- Beatles Catalog to Finally Go Digital in ’08 --- Netflix Prize: Close, But No Million Cigar --- Digital Actors in Beowulf Are Just Uncanny --- BBC on climate-change denialists: Climate scepticism: The top 10 --- Robot 'pied piper' leads roaches --- Multics, the pioneering operating system used at MIT when I was there was under appreciated in its day and ever since, yet was more secure than typical modern systems: MIT Releases the Source of MULTICS, Father of UNIX --- Turing WWII computer rides again: Colossus cracks codes once more.

New Wolfe Book, Lasusa Links, Finnie Promotion, Weird Picture, Military Wisdom, Dan Grobstein File

Regular contributor and expert on all things Yiddish, Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe, has a new book out: Yiddish for Dog and Cat Lovers. $16.50, including mailing costs. You'll find order information at her site, even if her new book isn't there yet. Looks like fun.

Tom Lasusa surfs the web so you don't have to: Idiots of the Week: UK Cops tazer "Terrorist" who was really guy in Diabetic comaShifting sands reveal World War Two fighter plane lost for 65 yearsA History of Photo TamperingDaily Show writer explains writers' strike -- if digital content isn't worth anything, how come Viacom is suing YouTube for $1 billion?Assholes of the Week: Qantas Airline passengers boo staff as they helped dying womanReligious scholars mull Flying Spaghetti Monster
And Remember, Technoviking does not dance to the music, the music dances to Technoviking! For some backstory)

My old friend and colleague Scot Finnie is now editor in chief of Computerworld. Congratulations!

Weirdest newspaper picture of the year, from the San Francisco Chronicle: click on the first picture, of the young man holding his shirt up, Magnets tested as alternative to major surgery for sunken chest.

Got these from Jim Forbes who got them from his brother. The first one is true according to Snopes; I can't confirm the other two.

When in England at a fairly large conference, Colin Powell was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury if our plans for Iraq were just an example of 'empire building' by George Bush. He answered by saying, "Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return. It became very quiet in the room. [Snopes says this is true, and offers details]


Then there was a conference in France where a number of international engineers were taking part, including French and American. During a break one of the French engineers came back into the room saying, Have you heard the latest dumb stunt Bush has done? He has sent an aircraft carrier to Indonesia to help the tsunami victims. What does he intended to do, bomb them?" A Boeing engineer stood up and replied quietly: "Our carriers have three hospitals on board that can treat several hundred people; they are nuclear powered and can supply emergency electrical power to shore facilities; they have three cafeterias with the capacity to feed 3,000 people three meals day, they can produce several thousand gallons of fresh water from sea water each day, and they carry half a dozen helicopters for use in transporting victims and injured to and from their flight deck. We have eleven such ships; how many does France have?"

Once again, dead silence.


A U.S. Navy Admiral was attending a naval conference that included Admirals from the U.S., English, Canadian, Australian and French Navies. At a cocktail reception, he found himself standing with a large group of Officers that included personnel from most of those countries. Everyone was chatting away in English as they sipped their drinks. A French admiral suddenly complained that, "Whereas Europeans learn many languages, Americans learn only English. Why is it we always have to speak English in these conferences rather than speaking French?' Without hesitating, the American Admiral replied, "Perhaps it's because the Brits, Canadians, Aussies and Americans arranged it so you wouldn't have to speak German."

You could have heard a pin drop!

Dan Grobstein File

  • He's quoting a commenter on crooks & liars:
    The Democrats should run on the platform of Our gays are better than their gays. Ours are the out, fun, happy, Will and Grace gays. Theirs are the angry, closeted, creepy, preying, priest/gym teacher gays.Which do you prefer, America?
  • The President prefers nice soft questions from Fox/GOP-TV
  • Advertisers: Fox not as good as CNN

    I have been told by several people in the advertising biz that despite Fox News utterly kicking CNN's ass in the ratings, CNN charges much higher ad rates. Their ad sales, despite having lower total number of viewers, is more lucrative.


    The simple answer is demographics. I have not personally seen the data, but according to these "Ad men," the CNN viewer has much better education and income numbers amongst; Fox news badly trails CNN in this department. The issue of disposable incomes of viewers surely concersn advertisers. One said to me "We can sell basic necessities on Fox and cheap trinkets; We can sell more upscale brands on CNN, and we can sell a lot more upscale goods on CNBC."

  • Diamonds or Pearls: A setup
    Maria Luisa, the UNLV student who asked Hillary Clinton whether she preferred "diamonds or pearls" at last night's debate wrote on her MySpace page this morning that CNN forced her to ask the frilly question instead of a pre-approved query about the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.
    "Every single question asked during the debate by the audience had to be approved by CNN," Luisa writes. "I was asked to submit questions including "lighthearted/fun" questions. I submitted more than five questions on issues important to me. I did a policy memo on Yucca Mountain a year ago and was the finalist for the Truman Scholarship. For sure, I thought I would get to ask the Yucca question that was APPROVED by CNN days in advance."
  • TRAVEL / ESCAPES | November 16, 2007
    In the Valley of the Literate
    Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts is arguably the most author-saturated, book-cherishing, literature-celebrating place in the nation.

In The Guru's Garage

The first time I wrote about this experience several years ago, I made the mistake of using a graphic title which, for months afterwards, disappointed people all over the Internet who googled a phrase about what bears do in the woods and the small rodents who sometimes invade our homes. I just mentioned it in passing to indicate how selfless the service was (seva is selfless service), and instead, in the opinion of the internet, made myself an excremental expert.

So I'll be more careful this time. I went to San Ramon with my wife Saturday and spent five hours cleaning up the garage at a home that her guru, Amma will be staying in during her American visit. This is a process that takes weeks, and involves a level of cleaning that most people would find… well, let's just say amazing and leave it at that. We washed the outsides of all the garbage cans, swept every square inch of the floor, cleaned every shelf in every cabinet, then swept and washed the floor. For a kicker, we ironed some curtains. You do this not for pride of accomplishment, or because you expect someone to say thank you, but because doing seva enriches you.

And then, just to make my weekend more interesting, I attended an Episcopal communion service on Sunday morning. I like the early service because it moves right along, yet still gives you everything, including absolution, inspiration and the body and blood of Christ. I am an ever less-nominal Episcopalian (which is to say, I go to church with increasing regularity). I even have a name tag on the name tag board!

Cham and Jaeg: A Cat Column

Inspired by a Jon Carroll cat column, but with substantially less talent, I felt I should jot down a few thoughts about our feline animal companions.

Their formal names are Champagne and Jaegermeister, continuing a Schindler family tradition that goes back to Schnapps 1 and 2, the cats of my youth. I wanted to name these brothers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Rosie and Gil for short), but I eventually had to vote with my daughters to break a stubborn tie (the names Vicki and I liked, our daughters hated; the ones they liked we mildly disliked).

We got these two male orange tabbies from the pound a week before they were going to be killed in February 1999. They had actually been out once already, to a woman whose cat ran away. Her cat came back, and did not like Oscar and Nerber (their original names). We played with them in the "try out a cat" room, and fell in love. It has been mutual ever since.

Like almost everyone who goes to a pound, we wanted kittens. "They're just two years old," we were assured. As if. The vet said "Three years if they're a day," which makes them 12 years old today--somewhere between 60 and 72 in human years (cat years aren't as easy to determine as dog years, since many cats live to be 20).

We call them Sham and Yeag (spelled phonetically). They are sweet, loving, and affectionate, and after a few weeks of hiding when we first brought them home (and that unfortunate incident with Marlow's basketball uniform--I mean, it was in a bag on the floor), they became very interactive cats, usually for the better. They yowl now and then, and Yeag has developed a squeak. But they also like to be petted, and enjoy sleeping with us and sitting on Vicki's lap (not mine, just hers). They are both gynophiles, but if there's no female in the house, they'll spend time with me.

Last spring, Sham lost his appetite. We took him to the vet. They operated (very expensively, I might add) and discovered he had cancer. They cut it out, but told us it would require. He bounced back quite well, regaining most of the weight he lost, but now he is lethargic and complicated. The vet gave him six months to live, a grace period which expired in October. We know he will not be with us much longer.

So now I am wondering how this will affect Yaeg. Jon Carroll's cat column is about how his surviving cat is affected by the death of the other cat in the house. The vet assures me that cats have lousy memories and short attention spans, and that after a few days Yaeg won't even notice that Sham is gone, except in the sense that he will no longer have to compete with another cat for food.

Sham is one of the things that makes our house a home. I know we are going to miss him. The question is: will his brother?

[When I told a psychotherapist friend of mine that Sham was dying, she said, "Paul, we're all dying."]

Low-cal Peanut Butter Substitute

A friend suggested this, and it works great for me; I love the taste of peanut butter, but 1 ounce (1.66 T, no salt or sugar added) is about 167 calories. I prefer 2 tablespoons, but can't afford the calories. The solution is simple.

1 16 ounce jar of peanut butter
1 16 ounce package of soft or silken tofu
water for consistency control

  • Place the tofu in a food processor. Add a small amount of water until the consistency is creamy (I don't like to use the water that's been in the package).
  • Add the peanut butter. Blend extensively. Add water until you like the consistency. Err on the side of slightly too runny; it will harden when refrigerated.
  • YOU MUST REFRIGERATE THIS MIXTURE, otherwise the tofu goes bad. It will typically last a week (depending on the expiration date of the tofu).


3 ounces sugar-free Torani Hazelnut syrup
[NOTE ADDED 12/8/2007: Sugar-Free Almond Roca flavor syrup works better than Hazelnut]
4 ounces unsweetened cocoa

  • Blend thoroughly with the peanut butter mixture. If you squint, you'll find it tastes a bit like Nutella. These two ingredients add very few calories per serving. Make sure to use SUGAR FREE and UNSWEETENED Torani syrup.

Tip: If you don't have a four ounce measure, get one. It makes measurement of small quantities so much easier.

CALORIES: 46 calories per tablespoon [corrected 8/3/2012]

calculation: 1 ounce of silken tofu is 15 calories, one ounce of PB is 167, for a total of 182 calories in two ounces, or 91 calories per ounce. A tablespoon is 0.6 of an ounce, yielding a figure of 46 calories per tablespoon, just about half that of peanut butter.

SODIUM: less than 10 mg

Low-Cal, Low-Sodium Pesto Substitute

Commercial pesto is loaded with sodium; more than 75 mg per serving, typically; sometimes much more. This is pesto (if you define pesto as something with oil, basil and garlic).

1 package goat cheese
1/4 cup water
1 bunch basil (break off stems)
1 T crushed garlic
1 T olive oil
additional water

[calories and sodium are for Montchevre brand Crumbled Goat Cheese--no, they didn't pay me although I wish they would… Just be careful to read the label and look for a cheese with sodium of 105 mg per ounce or less. If you've never looked at sodium on a label before, be prepared to be shocked.]

  • Place goat cheese in food blender. Blend with 1/4 cup water.
  • Add basil. Blend thoroughly.
  • Add garlic. Blend thoroughly.
  • Drizzle olive oil into blender while it is running.
  • You may wish to add more water, depending on the consistency you like

CALORIES: 55 per tablespoon

SODIUM: 13 mg


by Craig Reynolds

Robots with street cred: an idiosyncratic selection of articles on the recent DARPA Urban Challenge competition for autonomous vehicles: CMU wins $2 million in urban robot race, Crashes and Traffic Jams in Military Test of Robotic Vehicles, Viva La Robotic Revolution!, bigger picture: DARPA race pushes robotics forward, written as a future history: Traveling back in time to witness the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge.

Google and cell phones: instead of the long-rumored Gphone, Google announces something potentially even more disruptive and transformational: an open software platform for advanced services on various phones via the new Open Handset Alliance. Read all about it: Google Enters the Wireless World, Google unveils cell phone software and alliance, Google pushes into mobile phones and Gphone vs. iPhone: The security debate begins.

Online music and copyright: the RIAA's fool hearty plan to sue it customers into loyalty is predictably running into problems U. of Oregon Says No to RIAA and a judge tells RIAA "no details, no judgment": RIAA denied default judgment as judge cites doubt over positive ID. Boing Boing on The Week on the fall of the music industry. We should not heap all our scorn on the RIAA, sometime the artists want to make their own stupid moves: Prince threatens to sue his fans over online images. Gigi Sohn's address to the New Media and the Marketplace of Ideas Conference: Six Steps to Digital Copyright Sanity: Reforming a Pre-VCR Law for a YouTube World. If 60% of downloaders choose to pay nothing for Radiohead's new album, why is the band still smiling? 38% of Downloaders Paid For Radiohead Album and Study: Radiohead Promotes Music with Free Music.

Technobits: Consumer Groups Ask F.C.C. to Halt Comcast’s File-Sharing Delays --- World's First Nanoradio Could Lead to Subcellular Remote-Control Interfaces --- The Charge of the Ultra-Capacitors --- A reality check on dreams for space: the repairs --- Giggling robot becomes one of the kids --- Benefits Of Online Interaction For Teens Outweigh Danger --- Low-cost laptop production started --- Wind-up lights for African homes ("The technology behind the wind-up radio could soon be helping to light up some of the poorest homes in Africa") --- Energetic Cosmic Rays May Start From Black Holes --- A Planetary System That Looks Familiar.