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January 2011
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March 2011

Letters: Watson on Jeopardy, Dan Grobstein File

I put the Watson News here, instead of in a separate item, because by the time you read this it will have been beaten to death. Still, I found the whole thing fascinating, as I told the breakfast radio audience of Portland's No. 1 DJ, my friend and high school buddy Bruce Murdock.
Bob Nilsson, commenting on Day One:
I wish I knew why Watson has no speech recognition so he would not chime in with an already-tried wrong answer! And tell me how Watson “happened” to pick the daily double on his first try; when normally he moves horizontally starting at the top of the board. producers couldn’t have asked for a better tight match; at least on day 1.

 A friend writes: ...article in Slate by Ken Jennings called "My Puny Human Brain" about the the experience of being bested by a supercomputer

Dan Grobstein File


Mali Journal

My older daughter, M, is now with the Peace Corps in Mali.

Monday February 7, 2011


M texted me her village as Dialakorobugu, but thinks it is:

Dyalakorobougou, Kati, Koulikoro, Mali

Transliterations from African languages frequently disagree on spellings.

It is about 24 KM from the center of the capital Bamako or 14 miles at M's average speed of 12 mph on flat asphalt in America, just over an hour by bike However, I suspect the roads are dirt, so it is probably more like 2 hours. Still, that beats 2 days. And it probably can't be much more than an hour by bush taxi.

If you check out the satellite pictures, there appear to be buildings with no roofs, as well as buildings with roofs.

Tuesday February 8, 2011 MESSAGE FROM M
Hey all,
This is just going to be my village for the next nine weeks for training. I'm going to be there for language and culture immersion training. I'm studying Bambara, and all the other trainees in my business are also doing small business training. There are nine villages total in the area that are hosting volunteers. Some trainees are doing minority languages, but I'm doing the language spoken by 80% of the country (more than speak French), so I still don't know what region I met end up in for my actual service.

We're meeting our host families in two hours and driving out to the villages. I won't have Internet again until the 20th, but dad can send you my cell phone numbers which may or may not work.

So far so good here. It is hot, and only getting hotter. The end of February marks the beginning of the "hot season"... There will also be mangoes soon though. We tried tou for the first time last night, which is the traditional Malian starch made out of millet. The tou itself wasn't bad, but the sauce they put on it was just like slime. I hope I end up in more of a rice eating household, but if I end up with tou three times a day for the next ten days I guess that will help me get used to it.

So far my stomach is mostly OK, the biggest discomfort I'm having is from the high dose of mefloquin we had to take the first three days to get our immune systems up for malaria. From here on out it is just one pill every Sunday.

I feel like I haven't really gotten to Mali yet because we haven't really left the training compound and interacted with anyone who wasn't paid by Peace Corps to be nice to us. I walked down to the Niger River last night with a group of trainees while it was still light out, and looked at Bamako across the river and that made it a little more real.

I'm excited for home stay. Having a host family will be tough I'm sure, but at least I won't have roommates for awhile... I'll let you know how it goes in two weeks.

By Telephone Feb. 12-13
We spoke to M on her cellphone twice this weekend. She is living in a family with three wives, thirty children and two squat toilets. Most of life takes place outdoors. There are lots of animals around. The small children make fun of her laundry ineptitude. She is awake every morning at 6; there is silence until everyone has washed their face. The men go straight to the Mosque.

Political Briefs

Lettters: Best NYT Correction Ever, Pretty good Australian Correction, Dan Grobstein File

Daniel Dern sent me the best New York Times correction ever:


An article on Jan. 16 about drilling for oil off the coast of Angola erroneously reported a story about cows falling from planes, as an example of risks in any engineering endeavor.No cows, smuggled or otherwise, ever fell from a plane into a Japanese fishing rig. The story is an urban legend, and versions of it have been reported in Scotland, Germany, Russia and other locations.

A listserv I am on distributed this via The Media Blog: a correction that ran in Australia's Morning Bulletin. The gist of it; the farmer said 30 sows and pigs, the reporter wrote that "30,000 pigs" were floating down the river. Talk about not applying common sense! Of course, no one who had either heard or read the morning farm report on the radio would mistake "sows and" for "thousand" nor wonder what "barrows and gilts" are. It appears the Bully has scrubbed the correction off its web site--if it ever posted it.

Dan Grobstein File

  • Frank Rich: News-starved American have 'no idea' what's going on in Egypt
  • TOP TALENT The whole argument behind bloated executive compensation is that companies must pay big in order to attract the very best people. In reality we find that many of them – and Wagoner will be the poster child for years to come – are world class idiots. . . .If the one trick they seem to have learned in their expensive educations (cut costs + something something = PROFIT!!!) doesn't work they are dumbstruck. They stand around like deer in headlights until someone fires them.
  • AOL HuffPo AIL HufPo Huffintgon AOK
  • Blue Shield is Trying to Kill Me
  • The Super Bowl and supersized excess | Michael Tomasky
    Politicians are a) afraid to turn down any sports team's request because if the team moves they'll never win another election & b) they're jock sniffers. The high point of their lives seems to be hobnobbing with sports stars. In Newark, NJ they built a facility for the NJ Devils. It's a few blocks from Penn Station and is on Broad Street which is the main drag in town. City Hall and the Courthouse is on Broad. There used to be major department stores. Prudential insurance has their headquarters there. The front of the hockey building faces Penn Station so the commuters feel safer walking from the train and the back faces Broad Street which just brings down the area.
  • Ken Olsen, Who Built DEC Into a Power, Dies at 84
    Mr. Olsen helped reshape the computer industry as a founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation, at one time the world's second-largest computer company. (Note: a beloved son of MIT)
    After months and months of prodding, the House Republicans have finally coughed up a list of specific things they want to cut from the budget. The hit list totals…wait for it…$58 billion.
  • SLIDESHOW: The Future ... Just Not Here How Europe and Asia are utterly kicking our butts in high-speed rail. We tell the story in fourteen photos.
  • If you read Steve Wozniak's memoir it's chock full of descriptions of his science fair projects. A teacher should get the students to think. Teaching to the test makes a class of robots. I once read a science fiction story (have no idea of title or author -- could have been a comic book) about a famous inventor whose education was very innovative and out of the mainstream. He suffers some sort of accident in an experiment and is turned into a baby. His new guardians, wanting him to grow up and repeat his life of accomplishment decide to get him the best teachers available to educate him. Of course the reason he was so inventive is that he wasn't taught by the best teachers. We're not even letting the best teachers teach. (And I wish homeschooling could be outlawed. If everybody had to go to public school then public schools would be excellent).
    The Importance of Making Things
  • Texas drives Amazon out of state over dispute
  • Your liberal media at work Harry Reid Is Majority Leader of the US Senate

Groundhog Day (Movie) and Buddhism

Welcome to another perennial item. I run this one every year in conjunction with Groundhog Day. The Bill Murray movie of the same name is the 34th funniest American film of all time, according to the American Film Institute. It is also my favorite movie of all times. This is the eighth time I've run this item!

I changed the title this year when I discovered that I am on the first page of Google results if you ask for "Groundhog Day Buddhism" or "Groundhog Day The Movie." But if you Google "Groundhog Day Movie," I'm not in the first 20 pages, and I should be.

I went to a showing of Groundhog Day sponsored by the San Francisco Zen Center on Friday, Aug. 10, 2001, held in the Trustees' Auditorium of the Asian Art Museum in Golden Gate Park (relocated in October 2002 to the old SF Main library in the civic center).

I have so much to say about this exciting, exhilarating, eye-opening experience that it is now a subsite titled Groundhog Day The Movie, Buddhism and Me, which includes a description of that seminal showing, commentary, and links to other sites that deal with the connection. While noticing the connection between this movie and Buddhism is not particularly profound, it was news to me, and the nuances were explored in a particularly exciting fashion during the Zen Center presentation. My site is rapidly gaining ground as the authoritative center for GHD/Buddhism commentary on the web. I brush it up and add new material regularly, so if you haven't been there in a while, take a look.

If you love the work of GHD writer Danny Rubin as much as I do, check out his web site which includes a bio, a list of his works in progress (exciting) and a list of his sold films (also exciting).

I can't wait for his next released film. Go Danny!

In the meantime, note that the University of California has published a Groundhog Day book, by Ryan Gilbey.

I finally bought the book The Magic Of Groundhog Day by Paul Hannam. He is a good friend of Danny Rubin, the screenwriter, who wrote the foreword. You can find out more at Hannam's website (check out his blog!). Hannam wrote me that he "did a book group on my book and several readers said that they could not believe how great the movie was after learning about its profound spiritual and psychological meaning. Even at Oxford 90% of the students thought it was just a Bill Murray comedy!"

The year 2009 slipped by without my reading this self-help book, which is about applying the lessons of Groundhog Day the Movie to your own life. Perhaps in 2010 I will actually read it.

Robert Malchman found a New York Daily News Where Are They Now feature

Bob Nilsson checks in:


I stumbled upon this clip of Stephen Tobolowsky explaining Bill Murray's pain in stepping into the puddle during Groundhog Day. Looks like there are many clips at YouTube about the movie.

Tom Lasusa found this blog post about  how many days Bill Murray was stuck.


Mali Journal

My older daughter M is serving in the Peace Corps in Mali. She just got there.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

They have computers at the training center, which is apparently new, so I should be able to check my email daily or every other day until we start our home stay in the villages on Tuesday. Then we'll be three or four days in the village and three or four days here at the training center for 9 weeks. Because we do so much time in the villages for training, they cut the training period down and I'll go to my real village the second week of April. We're not in Bamako. We're 45 minutes outside. I am staying in a mud hut with two other female volunteers who are also doing small business development (L and J). The squat toilets are no worse than what I dealt with in China, and better in some cases. Here we are provided with meals and toilet paper and other things we'll have to supply for ourselves when we're at our own villages, but they are doing a good job of making it pretty comfy. It is basic, but we are provided for. I slept with a mosquito net for the first time last night. It wasn't bad. The beds are a little small, so I actually touch the net if I lay down flat, which I've been told isn't preferable, so when it comes time to buy my own bed I'll try and find the largest one possible or get one specially made in my village if it comes down to it. So far no one is sick or homesick, but it is only the first full day of orientation. We just placed our cellphone orders, so they should come tomorrow. When I get my phone I'll send you the number. The food has been ok so far. Looooooots of starch, not much in the way of vegetables. My first bucket bath went well. I'd kind of done it before in China, but now it is outdoors and every day. I'm sure I'll get more efficient at the process as I'm here longer. We're just getting orientation right now. We'll start real language training and bike training later in the week. We have a medical meeting in half an hour.

The skies are pretty clear of clouds but kind of hazy. There are plenty of trees and scrub. It is more like the bush than a desert here. There are mango trees, but the only fruit we've had so far has been plantains.

SUNDAY February 6

I don't get weekends off, but today is language classes and a cultural fair, so it should be a relatively fun day.  We are going to practice bargaining and get to buy some local clothes.

Paul in Orlando

So I went to the FETC educational technology conference in Orlando. My principal kicked some money in and I used miles from Southwest for a free ticket. Cross country on Southwest is a long haul; even with no plane change, from Oakland its a two-stop, eight-hour ordeal on a plane with no food. I brought cherries and crackers and made do. Arrived late Sunday night.

Monday: 12 hours of seminars. Tuesday: eight hours of seminars and two hours in the exhibit hall. What's missing? Any time to do any of the things Orlando is known for. I can see Disney world from my hotel. I can also see the Orange County Convention Center.  But I only have the time and energy to go to one. In fact, since I want to write up my experiences while they are still fresh (part of my deal with the principal is a writeup), I am barely getting any sleep at all. Still, weather in the 70s beats weather in the 50s, which is what it is back in Orinda.

Meanwhile, my older daughter M went through below freezing temps in Washington, on her way to Mali. I have her permission to post whatever it is we hear from here. They say there is no power, very little internet, phone calls are difficult and mail takes three weeks, so it could be a while...

Wednesday, a cup of coffee with the man who shares this blog, Neal Vitale, who runs the company that runs this marvelous and useful convention, then back to the airport.

The FETC (the initials don't stand for anything) is a first-rate show in a first-rate facility. The Orange County Convention Center (Florida edition, not California edition) is beautiful and spiffy. The show runs like a swiss clock, the workshop presenters are fantastic and the exhibit hall is filled to the brim with cool stuff. And as always, when a bunch of teachers get together in a room, you learn from each other.

It does seem odd, now that I think of it, that Disneyland is in Orange County California and Disney World is in Orange County Florida and both are near major convention centers.