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March 2008
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Daniel Dern sends the happy news that Smoots are an optional form of measurement in Google Earth. If you didn't go to MIT (or that other school in Cambridge), this may seem mysterious. Follow the link.

Maybe my daughters are right; everything does remind me of a story about me. This news certainly does.

In 10th grade physics, during the unit on measurement, the teacher told us that measurement systems are arbitrary. "The length of this lab table could form the basis of a measurement system," he said. Several of us developed the Foofnagel system; the length of the lab table was one Foofnagel, and the measurement of weight was one cubic Foofnagel of water. It was a tad impractical, because a cubic Foofnagel of water is extremely heavy, so most normal  weights were in micro-Foofnagels. We did an exhibit for Benson High School's Back to School Night, the Tech Show. It was mildly popular. I don't know if we taught anyone about the arbitrary nature of measurement systems, but we had fun.

I find that few people realize that, while the meter was originally defined as the distance between two scratches on a platinum bar, it was calculated to be "one ten-millionth part of the quadrant of the earth," the so called "Meter of the Archives" was based on a measurement of a meridian between Dunkirk and Barcelona. Since then, it has been defined in terms of multiples of the wavelength of light emitted by a variety of substances. The most recent definition is "the length of the path traveled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second." I guess I am still a sucker for measurement systems.


by Craig Reynolds

Open Science: I was pleased to see Scientific American run a major article on the "open source" version of academic publication: Science 2.0 -- Is Open Access Science the Future? While I sit on editorial boards of several traditional proprietary journals, I strongly endorse the concept of open access as I do the related idea of open source software.

OLPC: Windows in? Bender out! I was disappointed to hear that One Laptop Per Child's Nicholas Negroponte changed his stance from supporting an open source approach to embracing Windows. Apparently OLPC stalwart Walter Bender was even more annoyed: Top OLPC Executive Resigns After Restructuring, One Laptop Executive Per Month and OLPC Switch to Windows on XO Is 'muddled,' Developers Say.

Your friends the ISPs: another clever scheme from people too smart by half: ISPs' Error Page Ads Let Hackers Hijack Entire Web, Researcher Discloses, Major ISPs Injecting Ads, Vulnerabilities Into Entire Web and When Monetizing ISP Traffic Goes Horribly Wrong.

Apple acquisitions: Apple uncharacteristically bought some companies recently including a small chip maker, which caused big ripples in the defense contracting community: Apples Unusual Acquisition and Apple wants P.A. Semi's engineers, not its chips.

Robots: three related articles on recent legged robotics work: DARPA Pushes Machine Learning with Legged LittleDog Robot, Leggy "BigDog" Robot Set to Step Up for the Military and Brawn or Brains? Researchers Push the Limits of Legged Robots. There were items on both PBS and NPR this week about robots: Robots Industry Emerging in Pa. and Building Social Robots.

Technobits: Interference at the EPA --- Net neutrality battle returns to the U.S. Senate --- US scraps $20 million prototype of virtual fence --- FDA: Heparin supplier's Chinese factory 'unsuitable' --- T. Rex Protein "Confirms" Bird-Dinosaur Link --- UCSC computer scientists develop solutions for long-term storage of digital data --- very cool reuse of a preexisting ad hoc distributed sensor network: Laptops as Earthquake Sensors --- response to KK's idea of artists living off $100 a year from 1000 fans: The Reality of Depending on True Fans --- Want to Remember Everything You'll Ever Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm --- more proof of my contention that the world is turning into a science fiction novel: Universal 'babelfish' could translate alien tongues.

I'm from Holland, Supply Chain Video, Lasusa Links, Dan Grobstein File

My daughter Marlow shared two very funny videos with me, since she used to live in Holland. The first, I'm From Holland, is, I think, intended as serious music. The remix, by Boom Chicago, and English-speaking comedy troop in Amsterdam, is intentionally funny. Very much so.

On a more serious note, Marlow forwarded a video link:

What really happens between the time that a crop is grown/product is designed and the moment you pay for it over the counter? What happens after you're done using it? These are all things we'll need to be conscious of in the new era of sustainable business, and it directly applies to certain aspects of our business.

Tom Lasusa surfs the web so you don't have to: Water Balloon Exploding at 2,000 Frames per Second . ..Vertical Farms of the Future?. ..Where are the Goonies?. ..Yes, but could you get you medical insurance to pay for a 'Happy Ending'?. ..London's Underground a hot 'Tunnel of Love' . ..Why DOES Pizza Suck so Bad anywhere else but NY?. ..Jessica Rabbit untooned. ..Human Beings Were Nearly Extinct 70,000 Years Ago. .

George Carlin's Earth Day Celebration from my friend Mark Mason.

Dan Grobstein File

News from the Big Apple:

Just back from NYC where I saw Laura and Jenna bush introduce their new children's book. They also read the thing and projected the pages on the screen behind them. It actually isn't a bad book and has great illustrations. They also brought the illustrator out at the end and introduced her.

It was a pleasant evening. Laura said that they were selling the "ranch" and looking for a house in Dallas. (guess they don't need the election prop any more). She also says she's a great fan of harry potter and reads a lot of mysteries. Jenna and Barbara aren't interested in Harry Potter.

I'm reading Michener's south pacific again after about 40 years. Can't say I remember anything from it and I didn't originally notice the disfavor he has for the white officers being interested in the native women. he mentions that he met Admiral Mccain (McSame's grandfather). I saw the new south pacific production at Lincoln Center about a month ago (ordered my tickets in November for the preview). It was fantastic.

First Prize: A Weekend in Sacramento

We had long planned a bicycle ride on the American River Bike trail this weekend--second for Vicki and me, first for our daughter Marlow. Marlow and I are going to ride 50 miles in two weeks through the Napa Valley on the Tour de Cure to raise money to find a cure for Diabetes. The round trip from Sacramento to Folsom is 60 miles. A good training ride, we thought. Vicki was going to come with us and ride only half the course. Then she thought about coming back early. Then, late in the week she was socked with something--allergies? Cold? Pneumatic flu?--that simply drained her of all her energy, so Marlow and I went by ourselves.

I took the train from Martinez to downtown Sacramento and stayed in the most convenient hotel in town, the Holiday Inn-Capitol Plaza. Clean, quiet enough, well-appointed, expensive but not ridiculous, a two block walk from Old Town (where the trail starts) and a two-block walk from the train station. I had a lovely prime rib dinner at Morton's, and made plans to do the same with Marlow on Saturday night. I also found a frozen yogurt stand, where I had frozen yogurt all three days of my visit. "Why don't you just marry the frozen yogurt," Marlow asked. "I would if I could," I said.

She arrived late Friday night. Bless her, she got my message and picked up some bananas and grapes. I have been having three bananas a day since I got back from Duke, and I kind of lean on having them for appetite control. She also bought red grapes the size of ruddy English school boys, complete with seeds.

Saturday morning we were up at 7 for breakfast and out at 8. We were biking early to avoid the mid-day heat of Sacramento. The average temperature on April 19 is 75°, which, for me, would be warm enough to break a real sweat, especially since I wear a long-sleeved bike jersey to avoid sunburn. However, the prediction was for 60°, and the final high on Saturday was closer to the prediction than the average. In short, it was brisk with a high wind. We made a stop at Hagan Park because I forgot to refill our water bottles, then arrived in Folsom (30 miles away) at 10:30, maintaining our average of about 12 mph, which, rain or shine, hilly or flat, with or without rest breaks, is about the sustainable average speed for Marlow and me. She's faster uphill, I'm faster downhill. We had a light brunch at a lovely little place called Karen's, just a few blocks off the Folsom "exit" from the trail. During brunch, we checked in with my nephew Paul and told him we'd like to see him for lunch on Sunday. He said OK.

Then we climbed back on our bikes and rode back to Sacramento, arriving at 2:30. We rested for a bit, had some massages, and got to Morton's just as the prime rib sold out. Also, to my surprise, the maitre' d took my beret--no hats (that has never happened to me before). Well, the cajun rib eye was good, but it was no prime rib. We were tired, and so walked the two blocks back to our hotel and went to bed early.

Sunday was a day of delicious decadence. We ate breakfast when we felt like it (me at 7, Marlow at 9--they made me go back upstairs and put shoes on, as stocking feet were not considered legal), then read until checkout time at noon. We called Paul on our way to Sacramento. Pandemonium! What phone call? I don't remember Marlow calling me. Suddenly, we remembered that Marlow felt she had, perhaps, awakened Paul from a sound sleep. It seems he'd forgotten the call. He met us anyway for a quick lunch at Habit Burger. Then to home. I cannot imagine how it could have been more fun.


Goodbye To All That

Tipped by the New Yorker, I read and recommend Goodbye to All That II by Robin Morgan. In her first essay by that title, written in 1970, she ripped the radical movement a new one. She pointed out the revolution's inherent sexism, stating that membership in the leadership collective was more likely to get you an STD than it was to get you power. She also wrote that Charles Manson was the "logical extreme of the normal American male's fantasy" (sic). In this essay, she rips everyone who's being sexist about Hillary.

My Personal Soundtrack

I was just setting up my first iTunes playlist this week (better late than never). It took me nearly five days to dredge out of memory Yada Yada La Scala by Dory Previn. All I could remember was that it was a very catchy ballad by a woman who had just been divorced in a nasty way and was using the recording studio as therapy. I tried searching for "angry divorced female singer." Lots of hits, just not the ones I was looking for.

Then I woke up one morning saying, "Andre Previn," and from there found Dory Previn, and then found the name of the song. Imagine my disappointment! Itunes has exactly Zero Dory Previn. I could find her at Amazon, but it was the same rook job the record business pulled on me 36 years ago, only worse. It is still the only song worth listening to on the album--it has a different producer than all the other tracks, and so a much different sound. The only difference between 1972 and 2008 is that this time I had to pay $19 for a double-album reissue to get the one track I wanted. So now I have paid for the LP in vinyl to get one song and a double album on CD to get one song.

And the music industry wonders why it is dying. Screw your customers. That's a great business model.

The year 1976 was a powerful and evocative year for me, when I was working for UPI in Hartford and falling in love with the wrong woman. So was 1968, when I was a DJ for an underground station (KVAN) in Vancouver, WA near Portland, OR. Anyway, these are the songs I remember loving from those two eras.

Afternoon Delight: Starland Vocal Band
Marrakesh Express: Crosby, Stills & Nash
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes: Crosby, Stills & Nash
Muskrat Love: Captain & Tennille
Lovin' You: Minnie Riperton
Lay, Lady, Lay: Bob Dylan
White Bird: It's a Beautiful Day
Midnight at the Oasis: Maria Muldaur
Who Do You Love Pt. 1: Quicksilver Messenger Service
Yada Yada La Scala: Dory Previn

And that's my personal soundtrack. I'm glad to have them back in my life.


by Craig Reynolds

FCC and net neutrality: Comcast continues to ignore the rising chorus of criticism over its heavy handed and technically dishonest policies of network management: Absent Comcast in hot seat at FCC hearing, The Raging Grannies Greet the F.C.C. and Comcast’s Concession to Net Neutrality.

Dangerous drugs and poison plastic: its not bad enough their drug increased the risk of heart attacks, they perverted the science to promote it: Merck Wrote Drug Studies for Doctors and Maker of Vioxx Is Accused of Deception. Just what is the ultimate cost for the convenience of plastic containers?: Health problems linked to chemical in plastic products and Just How Dangerous is Bisphenol-A?

Psystar v Apple: a tiny Florida company has launched a business selling generic computers running Apples latest operating system, OS X Leopard, preinstalled. This is a striking move because it violates Apple EULA and requires a non-Apple firmware emulator to circumvent Apple's technical methods used to restrict the software to their own hardware. Here is the story so far in roughly chronological order: Psystar: Apple’s terms violate U.S. monopoly laws, Defiant Psystar back selling Leopard computers, Fake Mac Maker Will Fight Apple, But Might Be Fake Itself, Questions swirl around Mac clone maker Psystar, Psystar violated terms of merchant services agreement, Forget the Courts — Apple May Fight Mac Clones With Tech, and Psystar store is back up, orders on the way.

Darwin and detractors: a new web site has launched that provides access to The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online, noted by the BBC: Darwin's first draft goes online. Perhaps just coincidentally, two items appeared explaining aspects of evolution and countering creationist arguments: Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions and 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense.

Racetrack memory: as mentioned here last September progress continues toward wide application of racetrack memories: IBM Research Spins 'Racetrack' Nano-Magnetic Memory and IBM Cooks Up Replacement For NAND, Hard Drives. Somewhat related: Nano switch hints at future chips.

Passings: two eminent scientists died this week, both of who did such significant work that they contributed new phrases into everyday use: black hole and chaos theory. Obituaries: Pioneering Physicist John Wheeler Dies at 96 and Father of Chaos Theory, Edward Lorenz, Dies (at 90). Biographies: John Archibald Wheeler and Edward Norton Lorenz.

Technobits: Big Quake "Guaranteed" to Hit California by 2037 --- Greenland Meltwater Can Drain Faster Than Niagara Falls --- Open source 3D printer copies itself (RepRap was mentioned here a year ago) --- in contrast to Drake's optimistic formulation, a pessimistic view of the likelihood of contacting extraterrestrials (in Astrobiology).

Letters: Lasusa Links, Sullivan News, Dan Grobstein File

Tom Lasusa surfs the web so you don't have to: The McLovin Fund...won't you please help?...Programmer proposes via video game...Girl Scouts take a stand: Just say no to Thin Mints...Edward Lorenz, father of chaos theory, dead at 90...No, I said Alligator Seats! Not...oh, never mind!...Swedish researchers find world's oldest living tree....Damn Dirty Apes!...Great observatories of the West - PHOTO GALLERY view!....How many gallons of water do you need to power a lightbulb?...A scsry Look inside some animatronic toys...7 Alternate Endings that Completely Flipped (off) the Script.

My friend Kevin Sullivan is busting his buttons over the decision of Educational Housing Services, a commercial website to reprint his daughter WhitneyKate's blog of life in New York City. There's a cute backstory; if you know Kevin, write him about it.

Dan Grobstein File

  • quote:

    Transcript from "Hannity's America" November 20, 1863

    Sean Hannity: Well, we've got the transcript right here and it looks like Mr. Lincoln's really put his foot in it this time. The question for our panelists is: "After Gettysburg, Does Lincoln still have a chance for re-election?" Pat?

    Pat Buchanan: I'd have to say no Sean. Right from the start he's set himself up as another liberal elitist, hopelessly out of touch with the voters. "Four Score and Seven..." The number he's looking for is eighty-seven. Maybe if he put down his chablis and brie plate for a minute he'd understand how real people actually speak.

  • BUSINESS | April 16, 2008
    Wall Street Winners Get Billion-Dollar Paydays
    Hedge fund managers are making money on a scale that once seemed unimaginable, even on Wall Street.

    "For a recovery to be robust and sustainable you can't just have consumer demand at Nordstrom, he said. You need it at the little shop on the corner, too. "