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This Week's Column, My LA Trip

First, an apology. The week in LA threw me off, so thanks to all the wonderful people out there who sent me political items I didn't use. I still love you! I still care what you think! I'll do better next week!

Also, I saw Mama Mia (3 stars) and Dark Knight (five stars with a bullet, saw it with Neal Vitale, who now has another week in which to review it before I'm stuck with the pundit role) and haven't had time to review it yet.

I had to make the hard choice: make the column even later, or cut back. I'm already "past deadline," and as a former journalist I hate that. Sure, I could post the reviews later in the week, but I don't like to work that way. I pretend this is a column, and I post it all at once. That's what I do. That's the way I like it.

For the first 24 years of my marriage, V and I went to LA frequently to visit her aging parents. Her mother died three years ago, and the frequency of our trips dropped dramatically. While she has few friends in the area, I have a number, and I've been making an annual summer trip to see them. Last week, I had the added joy of dinner with B, a good college friend, whom I took to the Brass Cap on the Pacific Coast Highway at Chataqua. We had a wonderful meal, and of course, both enjoyed great company.

Thursday, down to Palos Verdes for lunch with my good friend, USC professor Joe Saltzman, head of the Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture project at the Annenberg School for Public Communications. He asked me to start a column reviewing journalism movies and TV shows; as soon as it gets going, I'll let you know. First up, Quid Pro Quo, an indie film due out on DVD in a few weeks, featuring a radio reporter working on a bizarre story.

Friday to San Diego (via the bus downtown and the Surfliner train) for a visit with friend and former colleague Jim Forbes. He gave me a bunch of tomatoes fresh from his garden, introduced me to his mom, and amused everyone on his fill with his ATV derring-do. Sitting with Jim on his porch and talking for a couple of hours is an honor and a privilege. Plus, I hate driving, so the train ride was really cool. Union Station in LA, the last of the great train stations, is still a thrill for a rail fan.

V came down, along with my daughter M, for a family business meeting Saturday. Saturday night, we went to see American Tales at the Deaf West theater in North Hollywood (Noho), preceded by dinner at the Eclectic Wine Bar. A fantastic meal at a great restaurant, and a remarkable play in a mind-boggling venue. Sit in the front row and you are in the laps of the actors. Phil Proctor was in the cast of both one-act plays that night. He is a member of the Firesign Theater, the author of the Planet Proctor newsletter, and, all things considered, one of the most talented and entertaining people I've ever seen. I wrote last week about meeting him after the play. I'm still all tingly.

Monday's treat was Jerry Pournelle, famed science fiction writer and another friend and a colleague from my days as editor of, where I was honored to "publish" his Chaos Manor column. My mother met him once, and can't wait to see him again. I can't either, and I get to see him once or twice a year! He's as charming as he is conservative, and boy, is he conservative! We had lunch at Good Earth in Studio City, as is our wont, and enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation. He's doing quite well, despite radiation treatments for a brain tumor (detailed on his blog). He likened it to "being at Hiroshima and standing behind a wall with just your head showing when the bomb went off." That's how much radiation he's received. All things considered, a blessedly complete recovery. He says he has four good hours a day. Jerry Pournelle hours are to regular hours as dog years are to people years, almost. I'd estimate his four hours a day are worth 8-12 of mine.

The day's second treat was dinner with Neal in Culver City, near a parking lot with floors named after famous Columbia movies (including Groundhog Day!), after seeing Dark Knight in Imax. More on that later, I hope.

Whew! What a whirlwind.

Abraham Lincoln's Doctor's Dog, 2008 style

Hot buttons of our day on NPR: "This I Believe," involving a dead dog and a recipe for Yoda-shaped Quinoa cakes.

As you know, my favorite NPR program, the Bryant Park Project, was canceled; the last day was Friday. The staff delivered a touching two-hour farewell. I was moved.

Along the way, I was also amused several times, most vividly by Dan Pashman. Literati will recall the idea, attributed to Random House publisher and famed light poetry author Bennett Cerf that he knew the title of a guaranteed best seller: "Abraham Lincoln's Doctor's Dog." In fact, the Internet alleges that the acronym ALDD means a work cynically designed to hit all the hot buttons of popularity. Well, here it is.

A long time ago I attempted to create a story that would make it to #1 on the Most E-mailed List. To accomplish my goal I studied the list, and created a story that included elements commonly found on the list. Back then I peaked at #2. The #1 story got linked on, and that was that. So I'm making one more attempt. Go to the story and e-mail it to everyone you know. (Keep in mind that when you enter a list of e-mail addresses separated by commas, the site only counts it as one e-mail. You have to enter one address, hit send, then go back and do the process again.)

Now get e-mailing. Use this version of the story from today's show. This is our lasting legacy on NPR!

I think it may have been number one sometime Saturday; it was Number 5 as of Saturday Night. Come on, people, email it to your friends (one e-mail at a time), as a tribute to a great show, cancelled before its time. Maybe we can even make it to "most-emailed stories of 2008" if we play our cards right.


by Craig Reynolds

More on clouds: cloud computing was mentioned in this space last week and continues at the top of the TB meme-o-meter. About the plumbing behind the clouds: Cloud versus cloud: A guided tour of Amazon, Google, AppNexus, and GoGrid. For Apple an uncharacteristically rocky launch: Apple’s MobileMess ("...And it's a little mind-boggling that today, nearly two weeks after MobileMe's official opening, Apple still hasn't solved the problem. That's got to be a record in the short history of cloud computing...") Machines like these used to be called thin clients, now they are reborn as an aspect of cloud computing Will CherryPal be the first mass-market cloud computer? and CherryPal desktop has friendly $249 price tag.

DRM and copyright: a roundup of news about how big media companies are using technology to screw you: Yahoo Music should compensate customers, Library of Congress on DMCA, Copyright Law Troubles, EFF Opposes MPAA's Selectable Output Control FCC Petition, Mom fights music giant and Universal: "Fair use" is still infringing.

Health: more on personalized medicine as recently mentioned here: Tobacco 'could help treat cancer'. Regarding the health of Steve Jobs: Apple’s Culture of Secrecy. It sounds like the FDA's finger moved from pointing at tomatoes, to jalapeño papers, to Mexican jalapeño paper, all on the basis of a single peper. C'mon, a bird poops on a pepper and they declare mystery solved?! Understandably Mexico is unhappy: Salmonella Outbreak Exposes Food-Safety Flaws and U.S. narrows salmonella warning to Mexican jalapenos. (Like when a rash of wildfires breaks out, I've wondered about the possibly of novel kinds of terrorism. Imagine a team of 100 terrorists with cigarette lighters with a pre-arranged plan to set fires in random locations when red flag conditions are declared. Similarly, 100 guys with tiny spray bottles of Salmonella stpaul with a plan to visit 10 supermarkets each on a given day.)

Savage moron: OK, it is not news that Micheal Savage is an idiot, but he cemented his credentials when he opined on the "real" problem with autistic kids: "They don’t have a father around to tell them, ‘Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot.’" Interestingly, autism was once blamed on refrigerator moms -- working moms who didn't have enough time for their kids: Boo hoo hoo for 'The Savage Nation', Hollywood reacts to Savage's autism slam and Savage Loses Advertisers.

E-ink: a very cool experiment in early adoption of electronic paper technology: News Flash From the Cover of Esquire - Paper Magazines Can Be High Tech, Too and Esquire First Publication To Use Electronic Ink. This reminded me of the 2004 experiment in customized/personalized publication: Putting 40,000 Readers, One by One, on a Cover.

Technobits: Last Lecture Professor Randy Pausch, 47, Dies ---  How reliable is DNA in identifying suspects? --- Banking Web sites, corporate computers are insecure --- Study shows gender gap has vanished in math scores --- Scientists Find Trigger for Northern Lights --- SF. tech stays jailed; prosecutors say he rigged network to implode --- Find a Parking Space Online ("Street-embedded sensors monitor parking availability") --- The 20-year-old at heart of web's most anarchic and influential site --- We knew the web was big... Google's index hits 1 trillion pages --- What is bigger than that? ("Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is...") From the Boston Globe: Views of Jupiter, see also the NASA Images site.

Life of Brian Set To Music, Peggy on Phil Proctor, Dan Grobstein File

Monty Python's Eric Idle Resurrects 'Life Of Brian'
One of the stars of the comedy team Monty Python, Eric Idle is back with Not
the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy), an adaption of the 1979 movie Life of

Last week, I described my brief introduction to Phil Proctor, one of my very favorite performers. Peggy Coquet was moved to write:

Back in the days when our children were small, Steve and I listened to The Firesign Theatre on LPs. One neighbor said, "I can't believe you listen to that straight!" (as opposed to stoned, not as opposed to gay; times do change, don't they?)

Our daughter escaped uninfected <grin>, but our 24-year-old son can quote huge chunks of "Humbold County" and "Waiting for the Electrician." Nick Danger is no stranger to him, and some words and phrases ("Turkish", "May I see your passport?", "Are those my cues?" "No, it's a butte") can send him into long, verbatim riffs. The torch has been passed.

These guys have enriched my life, strengthened my bond with my children, and helped us all (even the girl) to appreciate language as a toy.

And I bet they just wanted to pay their rent!

So, Phil, David, Phillip and Peter: Thanks!

Dan Grobstein File

  • Dan was amused that the Wall Street Journal thought this discover of a dark cloud within a silver lining was important enough to issue a "news alert:"
    Obama maintained a lead of 47%-41% over McCain in a WSJ/NBC poll, but voters voiced concerns about the Democrat's background and values. The key question in the contest isn't over any single issue, but the focus has turned to the Democratic candidate himself: Can Americans get comfortable with Obama?
  • A staff driven politician tries to absorb a memo and speak like he knows what he's talking about. McCain is staff driven. Obama knows from his own reading and experience. How refreshing.
  • Scrap metal thievery. dishonoring our past. There are two copper candlestick-like ornaments missing from the World War I monument in town. Where's the outrage?

    Fifteen years ago one of my printers in Elizabeth was really pissed. It seems that flyers were distributed to tell the merchants that in the interest of making the area less polluted there would be a special pickup of scrap and dangerous waste like chemicals that they were storing.

    This was all piled up on the curb and the thieves came by and picked up all the recyclable scrap and left everything else.

    [Ed. note: same thing happens in Orinda. If you put your recycling out the night before, like you do your trash, it is picked over by scavengers who toss the stuff they don't want all over the street. So you have to get up at 6am to put it out. Grrrr.]
  • When I was at Netroots Nation I attended a panel with Annette Taddeo (running for Congress from Florida), Marcy Wheeler of Firedoglake, Robin Carnahan (Sec'y of State of Missouri) and Joe Sudbay of Americablog.

    Annette Taddeo said that the Democrats cooperated with the Republican controlled Legislature and Republican governor in setting the Democratic primary earlier than the DNC allowed. But if the DNC doesn't figure out a good way of handling this, more Republican controlled states will do the same to their Democratic parties and force the DNC to deny their votes too.

    Also the Republicans set the date for the Democratic primary in Florida at August 26 which is during the Democratic convention. So many Democrats will have to stay in Florida for the primary rather than be at the convention. More mischief which can only get worse.

Meeting Phil Proctor

My wife Vicki and I celebrated her birthday with dinner and a play in

Los Angeles

. We saw American Tales at the Deaf West Theater (Attention LA residents--check it out!)
All the roles are double cast; on the night I saw the play, the boss in the musical (!?) adaptation of Herman Meville's Bartleby the Scrivener (as well as a variety of roles in Mark Twain's tale of telephonic romance (!?) was a gentleman by the name of Philip Proctor. The name might not mean much to some of you, but he is a member of the Firesign Theater, the seminal comedy group of the 1960s. He is also publisher of the Planet Proctor newsletter. He's done a whole lot of other excellent work, and was last featured here because he was part of the world's funniest rap video, as Dr. Proctor the Proctologist.
By the way, Vicki, who wasn't too sure about the two one-act plays, loved them and loved the Eclectic Wine Bar, two doors away in the heart of the Noho (

North Hollywood

) arts district of LA. If we lived in LA, we'd be back for sure.
Anyway, I fulfilled a lifelong dream, by meeting Mr. Proctor after the show. I shook his hand, chatted a bit with him, hero-worshipped him (in a restrained way), and was reminded of a story. Of course, everything reminds me of a story--in fact, everything reminds me of a story about myself.
During the 1980s, I appeared weekly on a The Computer Chronicles, I found myself feeling very awkward when fans came up to me on the street or in the grocery store. So, I asked my friend B, a wildly successful disc jockey, how he handled it. His advice was simple. "Listen to what they say. If they make a mistake (say, put you on the wrong station), don't correct them. Say thank you for listening. Then ask them about themselves." This reaction is probably second-nature to normal human beings, but it was a stunning revelation to me; after B rendered his advice, I was much more comfortable, and, I daresay, I left people with a much better impression of me--although any impression was better than an impression of a babbling idiot.
Phil Proctor was witty and charming. He chatted with me for a few moments, smiling at my fanboy anecdotes. I quoted my older daughter, who was 12 at the time of the Firesign 25th anniversary concert in


. She had two comments, "I've never seen so many balding men with pony tales wearing tie-dye," and "If you all know all the words, why come to the concert?" I suspect neither remark was profound or original, but he was nice enough to smile rather than wince.
Mr. Proctor then told me this was just his fifth performance and the role, and mentioned he was still finding new facets to the roles. He asked me some questions about myself.
Vicki agreed; Mr. Proctor was an extremely nice man in person. I expected nothing different. Sometimes, your hero will disappoint you if you meet them. In this case, no disappointment at all. I am, once again, blessed. And B's advice, once again, is underlined.


by Craig Reynolds

Cloud: while only geeks call it cloud computing, more and more normal people use the technology if not the jargon. Its the idea that your data is held out there on the net rather than on your local computer. Gmail or any webmail portal to email held on a server is a classic example of cloud computing. At a small cost in privacy and control, storing your data in the clouds means that it is generally safer and more reliable since it is held on redundant servers that are well maintained and frequently backed up. Also for free you get the benefit of being able to access your information from anywhere from any computer. Unless you never leave your house that can be extremely useful. Cloud computing requires you trust the companies whose services you use. Gmail users would be in a world of hurt if Google changed its slogan to "do lots of evil". Another downside of cloud computing is how cut off you can be when the network goes down. This week we had an outage at the office so I decided to work on some technical writing. Immediately I was stuck because I had to look something up in my bibliographic database, which is on CiteULike, a web 2.0 style collaborative utility based on cloud computing. That experience gave me pause when I imagined the same thing happening on the battlefield: Pentagon's IT unit seeks to adopt cloud computing. Another approach is to store data in many places (servers, laptops, phones) while keeping them in sync by propagating changes over the net: Getting in Sync to Pierce the Cloud.

Post-iPhone posts: I'm not usually an early adopter, so I managed to resist the temptation to get an iPhone when they first came out. But less than a week after the 3G launched I was waiting in a short line at the Palo Alto Apple store to get mine. Two "upon reflection" items: On a Small Screen, Just the Salient Stuff and Did Apple Really 'Sell' 1 Million iPhones To End Users? Nope.

Technobits: S.F. officials locked out of computer network --- Why it matters what Chad Hurley watches (...YouTube has always said that big media corporations have split personalities when it comes to YouTube. Their marketing departments might beg YouTube to promote their shows or movies one day and the next day the same company's lawyers might demand YouTube pull them down...) --- Developer fixes 33-year-old Unix bug (this mentions two very old bugs, and recall the DNS bug last week) --- Technologies behind Google ranking --- Research bots leverage open-source for child-like intelligence --- Infectious cancer forces Tasmanian Devil lifecycle evolution --- Running for Office: It's Like A Flamewar with a Forum Troll, but with an Eventual Winner.

The End of the Bryant Park Project

I am angry, upset, and sad, all at the same time. NPR has pulled the plug on The Bryant Park Project, a superb radio program, already previously cited here as "the best radio program you've never heard of." Under-promoted, the show struggled to gain its footing with a tiny over-the-air audience and a large  internet and satellite radio audience. NPR Management, apparently a pack of muttonheads, pulled the plug without so much as a by your leave. Could the audience have funded the show's budget with contributions? The New York Times says the show cost $2 million a year. Seems like we, the listeners, could have come up with the money, given a chance. The phrases "shooting yourself in the foot" and "cutting off your nose to spite your face" come to mind. Certainly, the phrase "respect for the listening audience" is the last thing I think of in these circumstances.

But then, I was raised in a union household. My father was a Teamster. He regularly told me that nearly all members of management were perfidious idiots. Very little in my life experience since has contradicted that early teaching.

The death of the BPP next Friday will leave a large hole on my Ipod; I'll fill it, but probably not with something from NPR. Actions have consequences, NPR management.

Frank Capra's "Power of the Press"

I don't know how I missed this; the Library of Congress added Power of the Press to the national film registry back in 2005. It is my firm opinion that this film should be released on DVD (you can read a detailed description and vote to have Power of the Press released on DVD here. (it only has 3 votes so far!)

The UCLA film archive has a copy, but is unwilling to share ownership information with me so I can explore what it would take to make this terrific example of newspaper journalism in a movie available to the viewing public for the first time in 80 years. Do any of you know someone in the movie business who might be able to cut the Gordian knot, and figure out a) who has the rights and b) how this can be released once those rights are clear? Here's the LOC description of the film (I was lucky enough to be allowed to watch it at UCLA):

Power of the Press (1928) - Dexterous newspaper yarn features Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as a reporter investigating a murder. When he discovers rampant political chicanery afoot, what's a clever young Capra hero to do? Expose the corruption, of course, and set his hometown right.