Sunday, April 18, 2010

Despair meets Hope and they find they have a lot in common

I hope your computer speakers are better than mine.


If you don't love it, you probably haven't tried it yet.

If I could get this widget to default to "visualizer," I'd make it a permanent fixture on the blog.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hyatt Newport Beach

One upside of the recession is that the rich people hotels are scrounging for guests with the other bottom feeders. This week the Newport Beach Hyatt was compelled to host a DARPA meeting, filling their over-priced suites with geeks, dweebs, and other ethnic minoritites, while their usual coterie of fat white people waits for their trust funds to replenish.

For me, this means $7 beers, $11/day for spotty internet access, and a level of ass-kissing to which I'm wholey unaccustomed. Frankly, I'd prefer a Holiday Inn, where the internet is free and reliable and where they are so understaffed that the bellboys have better things to do than follow me around asking me how I'm doing.

For me, internet access is like water. At $240/night, the internet should be free and reliable.

On the upside, this is the first hotel I've been to (in the U.S.) to provide a little tube of toothpaste, along with the little bottles of shampoo and conditioner. I guess one of their marketing execs has ridden on an airplane since 2004. Now, if only the rest of them would catch on to this little nicety, I could avoid the painful and embarrassing scrutiny of my toiletries at the airport checkpoint.

Oddly, in Europe, they've provided the little toothpase tubies for years, though usually no soap.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

But what about the basement?

So now you know all about me, but what about Amy's question - "which half of the basement is flooding?" By this, she is asking, is it the nice concrete part or the filthy muddy part?

Well, we've come a long way since Amy saw the basement in November. Here's what it looked like in November (and also for its previous 60 years of its existence):
The good folks who built the house apparently got tired halfway through the basement and decided to leave half of it a muddy mess. We spent most of a year, and all of last summer, me digging and E. and the kids dragging the dirt out in buckets, before we fully understood why the original builders didn't finish the job. After removing a thousand or so buckets of dirt we found immovable ledge (solid bedrock granite, higher than the floor. Here's a picture of the pile of dirt we made in the backyard (it's still there):
We all but lost hope after finding the ledge. We brought in a couple of local ledge removal experts (there are a lot of them in this town), who refused to touch it ("I don't have enough insurance" "You'll bring the house down if you try). Finally, we hooked up with Tom Hill and his Sons, masters of concrete and masonry. Eleven cubic feet of concrete later (for those who don't know, that's A LOT of concrete), we had three 12' x 12' "steps" in the basement, where the muddy ledge used to be:
M. and I built 2' x 20' shelves all along the edge of the giant steps as shown below:
and, Voila!, now we have a basement clean enough for a ping pong table and with lots of shelf space. Behind the shelves, the headroom is a progressively limited, but we have plenty of (dry?) storage for all the crap that used to be all over the basement (thus making more room for the pingpong table):
So, finally, to Amy's question...
We used to have a bipolar basement - one side was nice dry-as-a-bone concrete and the other side was a filthy muddy mess. Now, the water comes in (where apparently it came in all along) but, instead of soaking into the mud, it now runs across the nice new concrete and floods the entire basement.

The best laid plans of mice and men...

p.s. A. beat me at pingpong this week.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

And now for something completely similar...


It's really E.'s fault or, more specifically, her professor's. She's taking a class in "modern stuff." For homework she's started a blog and a Wiki, joined Twitter and Facebook, and played Second Life. Plus a few dozen other membership-required site that I don't remember. Of course, I had to join all of these so that we could see how it looks from the outside.

The blog is like a public talk - I get to talk all I want and then take questions, which I may or may not answer directly. Facebook, on the other hand, is more like a cocktail party - everybody's talking at once and I wander from conversation to conversation, perhaps saying nothing.

In "first life" I'm inept at both of them, public speaking and cocktail parties. I'd rather just sit home with E. and the kids, where I don't have to worry about whether or not my shoes match my purse. Maybe I'm no more cut out for the modern stuff than I was for the old stuff.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Global warming, my arse.

If global warming were real then why is it still raining?

As near as I can tell from the TV, people with glasses believe in global warming and people without glassses still believe in God. You don't need a PhD and a pocket protector to see that my basement is still flooding. If those activist scientists were correct it would be warm and sunny.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Twit for Tat

I have nothing to say. Either nothing interesting has happened to me for a week or, whatever it is, I don't want to publish it to the world. But I have to say something, lest my blog readship dwindle. I'm having a competition with Ashton Kutcher to see who can get the most blog readers. He's winning to date, but I've neearly doubled my readership this month alone.

Here's a picture of me with Ashton at the Emmy's last year:

I wonder if his basement is flooding today like mine and, if so, what he's planning to do about it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I've never been to Amsterdam. It sounds marvelously decadent, though. I thought I might go for EFTF this Spring, perhaps even take along my marvelously decadent wife for a third (or fourth, depending on whether you count the first one) honeymoon.

Alas, DARPA, in their infinite wisdom, has decided to schedule a Program Review for that same week, in lovely Newport Beach, CA. Decadent? I suppose, but not particularly interesting.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


You know the the acrophytes have gotten out of control when it's more effort to pronounce the TLA than the phrase it replaces. There are no two-syllable letters.

Expanding my WWW of influence

Thanks to KAZ for linking my blog from hers. This will likely double my readership.

Turnabout is fair play, so I'll link to hers as well. (I don't think she could prevent me if she tried. I wonder how she'd feel if I linked to her in the middle of my porn link collection).  Let's see..., in memorium

Alas, went down with my old NeXTcube server, sometime in the late 90's. When I left MIT in 1997, I left the cube running, under my desk, with no keyboard or monitor. Remarkably, it kept running for two or three years, probably until they cleaned the office out (prior to knocking down the wall and making it into a double office for the new Lester Wolfe Professor of Physics).

Fortunately, Google is forever (or so I'm told) so, for posterity, Here's a photo of the underside of our Holmes Humidifier, two weeks after we bought it, and half-an-hour after it burst into flame, three feet away from my (then newborn) daughter's crib.

Holmes' business strategy was particularly nefarious - they offered to fix the $25 humidifier for free if I would send it to them, at my expense, along with a $25 check to cover shipping and handling. This pissed me off, having nearly seen my (then, only) child go up in flames. I created the next weekend, after telling the story in the NIST lunchroom and learning that one of my colleagues, who I'll call Alan, had exactly the same experience with his Holmes humidifier but simply bought another one after learning that it would cost more to get it fixed under warranty than to replace. I thought something needed to be done before someone actually lost a baby. I posted my Email address on the WWW site and collected 100 names from others with similar experiences, all of which I passed on to the nice investigator from the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC).

Eventually, Holmes corporation offered to refund my entire $25, but only after I had already sold the burned out unit to the CPSC. I hope they fixed the design.

Important stuff

Boy, some people have really important things to say on their blogs.

Thank God I'm so shallow. I don't think I could type fast enough to keep up with me if I actually had anything to say.

Visual Thesaurus - continued

So, as promised, I filed a complaint with the NY AG office (Complaint form) and with the NYC BBB (Complaint form). I also fired off an Email to ThinkMap's VCs (GFT, inc).

Afterwards, I sent off another Email to the CEO ThinkMap, Michael Freedman, letting him know that I had filed the complaints and expressing my disappointment that I had to go so far. Naturally, I didn't expect any response to this Email, since they had ignored all of my previous attempts to contact them.

Lo and behold, ten minutes after I sent the Email, I got a reply from Mr. Freedman, including a link to download and install the software. He also left a voicemail on my cellphone. This was Sunday morning at 10 a.m. In both his Email and voicemail, he assures me that ThinkMap had responded to all of my online requests ("they must be caught in your spam filter") and also that he had never before received any Email from me. Perhaps *his* spam filter blocks anything that doesn't have the words "attorney general" or "better business bureau" in it.


He said, I said. Maybe it is my fault, maybe it's not. As far as I'm concerned, this was WAY too much effort for me to use something I paid for and it was their system/policies that made it this way. Eventually the AG and BBB complaints will get marked "resolved," but, if they keep getting more of them and they only get resolved after the complaint gets filed, eventually ThinkMap will improve the process.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Blog protocol

E. tells me that a blog post should be no more than 1-2 paragraphs and that it must contain links. Otherwise, it's just an electronic journal.

So, here's a link to My Blog.

And here's a link to My WWW Site, which doesn't work anymore, since I changed ISPs.

Visual Thesaurus

So, for my first rant, let's talk about ThinkMap Corporation, producers of Visual Thesaurus and other cool data-visualization tools.

I like Visual Thesaurus. It's almost as good as a thesaurus and much more fun. It reminds me of the really cool thesaurus that was built into the original WordPerfect, though now with dancing! If you aren't familiar with it, check out the free demo.

I do a lot of writing, often on airplanes and other places where the net is inaccessible, so I bought the desktop version of Visual Thesaurus (for about $40) a year or so ago. I was a little impatient at the time, so I bought the "download" rather than having them mail me a CD with the software.

Just this month, my employer has generously bought me a slick new laptop, a Dell E4300 (which arrived with a crashed hard disk, but that's a story for another bloglet). It's faster than the old one, has 50% longer battery life, and weighs about half as much. The only cost to me is the effort of moving all of my files, programs, and configuration settings to the new device.

I'm a pretty complicated guy, so I had to reinstall about 30 different applications, most of them copy-protected. This meant contacting some 15 different software companies, assuring them that the old laptop was retired, sending them my new macID, and getting new "keys." Every company I talked to, with the notable exception of ThinkMap, was perfectly reasonable.about this. I understand the need for copy protection, we all want to be compensated for our work. For completeness, here is a partial list of the companies who pleasantly and efficiently supported my move to my new laptop:  Microsoft, Adobe, National Instruments, Hamilton Technical Services, Texas Instruments, Symmetricom, Quadravox, OriginLab, Mentor Graphics, SolidWorks. Clearly all of these companies  understand that copy protection needs to be as easy and transparent as possible for your loyal paying customers. It's the carrot and stick methodology, right? You can't skip the carrot.

O.K.  - so I went to the ThinkMap WWW site, entered the download "code" from my original purchase, and it came back with "Sorry, this has been downloaded too many times." I went to their "Customer Support Inquiry" tab and typed in the story about the new laptop, assured them that I was not a thief, etc. and requested a new download code.

After two days with no response, I went back again and typed in the whole story again, perhaps this time with a little more frustration.

A week or so later, I tried calling them on the telephone, which was one of these automated systems where you pick from the menus until finally you get to the Visual Thesaurus Customer Support line, which told me to got the WWW site and hung up on me.

Not to be discouraged, I spent a little time Googling ThnkMap, found that they're a spin-off of one called "Razorfish" and picked up the names of the CEO and CTO. With a little more Googling, I found their Email addresses. For reference, they are:
CEO - Michael Freedman (B.A. Fine Arts, U. of South FL)
CTO - Marc Tinkler (B.A. Architecutre, Carnegie Mellon)
Sorry, I don't have the Email addresses here. I lost them with the E4300 hard disk.

So I wrote a nice explanatory Email to Freedman and Tinkler. I figured that maybe the technical/business leaders of ThinkMap were unaware of the poor treatment that was being given their customers by the support/sales department and that, if I made them aware of it, they would want to step in, help me out, and fix the problem before it frustrates other (loyal, paying) customers. It was certainly my expectation that this would be the last of this and that I would be subsequently contacted by someone from their Sales or Support group and we would be done with this. But no, it's been a week now and still I have heard nothing from ThinkMap.

To summarize:  My "download key" was rejected, I have twice requested support on the WWW site I've tried contacting them by telephone, and I've written a personal Email to the CEO and CTO. I have yet to receive any response of any sort from them, not even a "sorry but we think you are a thief." I think that I have done my due diligence here. Certainly, I have worked as hard as anyone should have to in order to use a product that they have already paid $40 for.

ThinkMap is incorporated in New York and has a mailing address in NYC. They are at least partially owned by a couple of VCs:  Motorola Ventures and GFT Technologies. Today I will file a complaint with the NY Attorney General's Consumer Affairs office and cc a copy to GFT and Motorola Ventures.

Why blog?

We should be so happy with the democratization of the internet that now ANYONE can publish, without the censorship of Big Publishing. Now ANYONE with a keyboard can bore the entire world. Big Publishing was doing us a favor. Between the cost barrier of publishing and the (relatively) literate editors, they were shutting up the %99.999... of the population who have nothing interesting to say.

But there is an upside... Perhaps that bore at work, or the bar, or the family dinner will now indulge his self-involved monologue through his blog. Satisfied with his world following he will shut up and let someone else get a word in edgewise. This is me. My wife, kids, and the poor sap who draws the seat next to mine on the airplane, will all be thrilled when I morph into the strong silent type. If they care what I think, they can read my blog. Otherwise, the good folks at Google can archive it forever, or until they figure out that it has no monetary value, whichever comes first.