Hamming it up

I’ve already discovered that a lot of my computer gear is very noisy in the HF and VHF spectra — my print spooler, in particular, puts out a huge amount of noise when it’s just sitting idle. Fortunately, I don’t need the spooler to be active most of the time, so now I’ve started turning it off at the power strip, which also makes me a Better Citizen as far as California’s energy crisis is concerned.

Speaking of energy, I was surprised when I got my last PG&E bill — we found out that we’d reduced our consumption by more than 20% from last year. Since we hadn’t used our air conditioning at all last summer, I didn’t think we had much room for reduction, but I guess having paid attention to turning off lights when we didn’t need them made a difference. Given our low usage, the 20% rebate wasn’t too rewarding, but it’ll buy lunch if I’m not too extravagant.

Good news for my next trip to Israel: smoking barred in public places. I wish that were the biggest problem in Israel right now, though.

Sam's Note

Hi, David. I wanted to share a story with you and especially with your colleagues.

This is a two part story.

Part I. The Photo

The year: 1998. The convergence of several technologies … digital cameras, the Internet, and the Web .. was an attractive combination for a young digital fellow like David. He didn’t know it, but he was about to be involved in an incident that would forevermore be synonymous with the Web … for me, anyway.

In April 1998 David went on a business trip to Australia. (Note to self: why don’t I ever go on business trips to Australia?)

Convergence: (1) David had just purchased his first digital camera, and the camera was taking its first trip. (2) David had recently inaugurated his own personal website, that he still has today. (3) The Internet reached even to Australia.

The combination of these three factors turned out to have a powerful effect on young David. His website instantly turned into a real-time travelogue … recording, on a day by day basis, his travels, meals and sleeping arrangements. His brilliant prose was accompanied by a realtime photo essay on his surroundings. The camera, in particular, was a big hit. Nearly every other word in David’s prose was an underlined blue hyperlink linked to a high quality digital photo. “I went to the <blue>HOTEL</blue> where they had <blue>CARPET</blue> which was <blue>NOT ALWAYS CLEAN</blue>”. (I exaggerate. A bit.)

I followed David’s trip with breathless anticipation. The daily intercepts were a source of fascination. I was partly awed by the fact that the technology let me know how his trip was going, even from half a world away. I was partly interested to see what Australia was like.

But mostly I was astonished to see David violate Schubert’s Law and survive. (Schubert’s Law, codified in the early 1980s by the wife of another ex-IBM friend, goes something like this: “When you come back from a business trip, I don’t want you to go on and on telling me how wonderful the place was and how incredible the meals were. I was at home, alone with the kids, eating macaroni and cheese.”)

Ever since, I have tried to live by Schubert’s Law. Yet with the technological triple-threat of global Internet access, easy Web publishing and simple digital imaging, David could violate Schubert’s Law to a degree not even imagined when it was first defined. Not only could relatives at home be told amazing tales of beauty and opulence upon your return; they could be told of the experience day by day! And not simply told, but shown!

Oh, technology was an amazing thing.

On Sunday, April 19, 1998 David checked into a hotel in Melbourne. And casually, almost as an afterthought, snapped a picture that was a defining moment for me.

The next day at work I excitedly showed David’s travelogue website to a colleague at work, Kurt. Kurt, another ex-IBMer, knew David and was also impressed by the site.

It was Kurt who found The Photo.

The ceiling fan photo.

Of the ceiling fan in David’s hotel room. (I’ve attached the photo to this email.)

Kurt is sharper than I am, so he immediately recognized the value of The Photo as a mythic symbol for the Web in general. Billions of transistors, throughout the world, working in unison to insure that David could publish his art, his thoughts, for all to see.

Kurt immediately made The Photo into the background image that filled his computer’s desktop.

For the next year The Photo adorned Kurt’s desktop. Whenever I would come into Kurt’s office, I would be reminded of David, of Technology, of Fans.

For the next year, whenever our co-workers would come into Kurt’s office, they would ask, “what’s the fan for?”. They would usually leave shaking their heads, not understanding, not comprehending.

Eventually, in 1999, in a tragic event, The Photo was lost. Kurt accidentally overwrote it with something else, something lesser.

A happy chapter of my life came to an end.

Part II: The Rediscovery

The year was 2001. It was last week, in fact.

My memory of The Photo and the happy times that it had produced had almost faded. I would occasionally tell the story to new co-workers, who would laugh nervously, then change the subject. But the thrill of discovery … of The Photo … had faded. Forever, or so I thought.

Then The Letter came.

Not an actual physical letter. Who gets interesting mail anymore? Goodness … these days I pay my bills, buy my cars, and refinance my house on the Internet. Forget snail mail. No, it was an email.

From Diane, David’s lovely wife, inviting me to participate in this 25th anniversary celebration.

I sat back and thought about what impact David has had on my life. The projects at IBM … the discussions … the trips … the thrills.

But mostly I thought about The Photo. Lost forever.

I emailed to my colleague Kurt that I wished I still had a copy of The Photo, so I could share it with David’s friends and colleagues. Did he have a copy?

He did not.

I sank into a gloomy silence. I would have to think of another, lesser, way to honor David.

Just then my computer played a short note…new email. From Kurt. It contained one sentence:

“Appallingly enough, the phrase ‘David Singer Australia’ entered into Google finds it.”

My heart racing, my eyes wide, I lunged for the keyboard. Could it be true? Yes! It was true! Happy day … The Photo is now back in my life…reminding me, daily, of David. Of Technology. Of Fans.

Today, of course, things have evolved. Instead of viewing the fan only at my desk, today I carry it with me always…in my handheld PocketPC. I am two button presses from The Photo on a 24/7 basis. And with the new convergence of handheld computers, the Web and wireless technology, I soon will be able to share The Photo (and other more mundane things) with the world trivially, from anywhere, at anytime. I’m sure David will continue to be on the leading edge of technology, helping to make this new Convergence approachable and fun.

What lessons have I learned from all this?

1. Hotel rooms, no matter where they are, are pretty much the same.

2. Technology that makes sharing information simple is a good thing.

3. Technology that makes finding information trivial, even years later, is an amazing (frightening?) thing.

4. I really need to be careful about using my real name on the Web.

Seriously, David, congratulations on your 25 years at IBM, your contributions to the company and to computing as a whole. When technology becomes simple enough and cheap enough to use for silly things it’s a sure sign that it is having huge effects on society. Your efforts to define those technologies and move them forward into broad use are to be congratulated and celebrated.



The Photo:

It's not about the food, it's about bonding

We spent most of the last couple of weeks visiting family and playing tourist back East; some day, I’ll get around to seeing if I took any decent pictures. Having a digital camera provides the opportunity for instant editing and feedback, but somehow that seems less enticing when there are actual people around to talk to and be with — and now that I’m home, I seem to be too busy to get around to looking at my pictures (and they’re on the other computer, anyway).

We started with a lovely trip to JFK (business class seats; coach food; coach prices) and a visit to Diane’s father, who’d been home from the hospital for about a week. I could tell he wasn’t up to 100% when we got there, but he was doing amazingly well — and by the time we left, he was up to at least 90% of his usual self. And he was already well back into the swing of things — on Tuesday of our visit, he and his girlfriend were busy participating in a musical at Lido Beach, so we were left to our own devices! We spent the day in Manhattan, visiting the World Trade Center, the NYSE, South Street Seaport (somehow, it feels wrong for there to be a Gap in the Fulton Fish building), and finishing with dinner at the new food court in Grand Central Station (recommended).

We did spend most of the rest of our time there with Diane’s father and his girlfriend, visiting places like the Nassau County Museum of Arts. We also saw what Long Island supermarkets are like (I prefer the ones here, thank you very much indeed) and ate good pizza. We also had one unfortunate food experience — if you find yourself in Valley Stream and have the opportunity to eat at Mitchell’s Restaurant, try somewhere else. It took a long time to be served and the food wasn’t very good — but there was plenty of it.

After Valley Stream, we drove to Richmond to visit my mother and brother; again, we had a pleasant visit. This time, our field trip was to my brother’s beach condo (along with his wife and son), and again, a lovely time was had by all. And once more, we had an unfortunate food experience, this time at Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House in Richmond. After waiting for our food for 50 minutes (being told “it’s coming” every few minutes), my mother complained, politely, to the waitress, who was rather unpleasant in return — then the waitress went over to another table and thanked them for being so nice, because “it makes dealing with rude people more bearable.” Not everyone at our table heard the remark, but those of us who did immediately rose to leave — we didn’t want to find out what interesting additives the waitress might have included in our food. I don’t think I’ve ever left a restaurant without being served before, but then, I’ve never been openly dissed by the waiter before, either.


The other thing I did on vacation was reach my 25th service anniversary with IBM. There are many traditions associated with reaching this milestone — I now am the proud owner of a new silver keyring and can choose from a number of gifts (the choice used to be between a few clocks, but they’ve broadened the options — I’m probably going to take a clock anyway, though). And usually, there’s a luncheon on the day of the anniversary itself — but since I was on vacation, I’ll have to have the luncheon some other time (preferably when my manager comes to California).

When the luncheon happens, I’ll be presented with a binder of congratulatory letters from friends and colleagues. But a few of my friends have sent e-congratulations, and I thought I’d share one of those letters, Sam’s Note, here; it’s too good (and probably too embarrassing) to bury in a binder.

Kenneth, what is the frequency?

But I am pretty sure that the frequency of updates here will be down a bit for the next month or so (in fact, it already is, since this is my first update for a few days). I’m not going on hiatus or anything drastic like that, just trying to do a bit less recreational computing and spend more time in real life, but if you’re looking for a daily dose of wit and wisdom, you should probably widen your search to include some of the ‘blogs listed over on the left.

Recreational Computing

Jeffrey’s a big Star Trek fan, and is eagerly awaiting the premiere of Enterprise (and, I have to admit, I am too). So when I saw the link from Brent to pictures from the new series, I had to follow it. And then I found a clip of an interview which I knew Jeffrey would want to see, so I tried it on my laptop.

But after downloading 7.5MB, all I got was audio. So I thought I’d try it on Jeffrey’s machine. But all he got was audio, too. So I upgraded his copy of Windows Media Player. And then we got audio. So I upgraded Internet Explorer and applied all sorts of other updates from Microsoft’s site. And we still just get audio.

Maybe a Mac would be easier.


Last night, when we got home from services, we discovered we’d been in a bit too much of a hurry to get there. We’d missed a small piece of salmon that had dropped to the floor — but in the couple of hours we’d been gone, some ants had found it. And they’d told their friends.

So there was a huge clump of ants enjoying the salmon, and busy trails of ants across the kitchen, through the family room, and on outside. We attacked with damp paper towels, vacuum cleaners, and other tools, and even sprayed the apparent point of entry (outside). Then everyone took a shower to get rid of any bugs which had climbed aboard, even Jeffrey, who far prefers baths.

It was a rather late night for all of us — but this morning, there weren’t any ants around, so I guess it was a success.


I’m in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this week, mostly tending to W3C business. Updates will be infrequent.

I flew in yesterday — an uneventful flight, with an empty seat next to me, a decent movie, though one I’d seen before (Spy Kids), and an upgrade to First Class and, therefore, warm nuts to munch on before lunch.

It was 10pm when I got to the hotel, too late to find much of anything to eat here (unless I wanted pizza), and the area around the hotel had given up for the night, too. So I walked over the bridge to Boston and found a random pizza place, picked up some garlic bread, and walked back. It was a most pleasant way to unwind, with the temperature just around 70 and reasonable humidity.

Despite the nice walk, I didn’t sleep too well, so morning came early. The weather was still good, and my meeting didn’t start until 10, so I got dressed and went out for a little run. I didn’t make the mistake I made last July — instead, I turned right after crossing the bridge and ran towards Fenway Park for a few minutes, so I was able to turn back when I was ready instead of feeling obligated to complete a whole loop.

I spent the rest of the day at W3C (where I’ll be again tomorrow). Our meetings broke up about 3:30, so I came back to the hotel to take advantage of the high-speed connectivity and quiet and handled the day’s mail. Then it was time to join the W3C Advisory Board for a pre-meeting dinner at Chez Henri in Cambridge. I was originally going to take the T to Porter Square and walk a half-mile back to the restaurant, but the weather seemed threatening — I could see occasional flashes of lightning in the distance — so I decided to walk the three blocks back to MIT LCS and get a ride to the restaurant. There was occasional drizzle on my way over, and just as I got to the building, there was a bright flash of nearby lightning, followed two seconds later (I counted) by a loud thunderclap.

By the time we were ready to leave, we were in the midst of a full-scale thunderstorm — I only had to walk 50 feet to the car, but I was drenched by the time I got in! But by the time we reached the restaurant, the rain had stopped, and now the sky is mostly clear again. Definitely not California weather!

Chez Henri is mostly a seafood restaurant, heavy on the shellfish, which would not be good for me; fortunately, they do offer alternatives, and I quite enjoyed the vegetarian pasta with fava beans and mushrooms that I had. The sorbet for dessert was even better, though.

And now I’m back in the hotel, preparing for yet another day of fun, sun, and excitement. Oh, and meetings.