Looking backwards at looking forward

I got a note today from a colleague at IBM Ecuador; he’s going to be making a presentation to a university next week about the Internet and Open Source, and while he was researching it, he stumbled across one of my old presentations and was wondering if I had a current version. I didn’t, but rereading it amused me enough that I thought I’d post it here.

So here is The Internet — Past, Present, and Future, as delivered to the American Intellectual Property Law Association in 1996 (with two changes: I’ve removed my e-mail address, and I’ve converted the presentation from Lotus Freelance Graphics to PDF; somehow, I think more people can read PDF these days than can deal with Freelance).

Avoiding deepest ignorance

Today was Day 2 (and last) of the 2006 Almaden Institute. I avoided the talks which looked as though they were grounded in deep neuroscience and biology — that left me two to attend.

The first was Beyond Dualism by John Searle of Berkeley. He talked about consciousness, free will, free won’t, intentionality, and subjectiveness — and that was in the first ten minutes. But, even though the talk spent most of its time in deep philosophical waters, I didn’t feel adrift.

And then I returned for the last talk of the day, on Consciousness by Kristof Koch of Caltech. This talk had demos, humor, and raised some interesting questions.

I stayed for part of the closing panel, but my phone rang and, after leaving the auditorium to answer it, I didn’t feel like returning for the last few minutes.

Instead, I went home for dinner and then a quick cache; I had hoped to be first-to-find it, but viperfin beat us by 17 minutes. There were two other brand new caches in the vicinity, but I hadn’t written down the details of either one, so they’ll have to wait.

High Order Ignorance

Today was the first day of the 2006 Almaden Institute. The past three years’ Institutes were very interesting, and two of them were even related to my work, so I was looking forward to this year’s edition. The topic is “Cognitive Computing”, and knowing that pretty much exhausted my level of knowledge going in to the first session.

There’s nothing like starting a conference out with a speaker who tells good jokes — and when he’s also a Nobel Prize winner, that’s a bonus. Gerald Edelman‘s talk, From Brain Dynamics to Consciousness: A Prelude to the Future of Brain-Based Devices, was heavy going at times (I had to go diving in Wikipedia to discover what terms like “qualia” meant), but I enjoyed those parts which I understood (which definitely included the jokes).

I didn’t expect to understand much of Henry Markram‘s talk, The Emergence of Intelligence in the Neocortical Microcircuit, but it turned out to be fairly accessible, and loaded with good graphics. His group is trying to simulate networks of about 10,000 neurons, with some early success — they need a BlueGene to do it, though.

I missed about half of the first post-lunch talk, Robert Hecht-Nielsen‘s The Mechanism of Thought, but came in during the discussion of confabulation as a mechanism to generate grammatically correct and plausible sentences. I think it’s a long way from that to Chancellor, though, and so did much of the audience — Hecht-Nielsen claims that it’s possible in the near future, with no major breakthroughs required (at least that’s how I interpreted him).

The second post-lunch talk was from Jeff Hawkins on Hierarchical Temporal Memory: Theory and Implementation, based on the work he describes in On Intelligence. It seemed plausible to me, but I do have a high order of ignorance in this area.

I skipped most of the panel discussion in favor of getting a little work done, but returned to the conference in time for the “moderate” walk to the water tower (I needed some exercise today), and then a tasty dinner and a very interesting talk by Rama on The Uniqueness of the Human Brain, which covered phantom limbs, synesthesia, and the emergence of language. His talk was far better than the typical after-dinner talk at a conference; I’m glad I stayed for it (I did, however, leave before dessert was served).

The Institute continues tomorrow, but I’ll probably only sample it instead of staying for the entire day. My inbox needs attention.

The Refill Detective at Work

Some time ago, Diane got a nice pen as part of a Thanks! award at work:

Free ibm.com pen

There wasn’t anything particularly special about the pen, but it felt nice in the hand and wrote well. For a while. But it ran dry awfully quickly, so I disassembled it this morning and found that it had a teeny tiny refill, about two inches long (the pen is five inches long).

Teeny Refill

The obvious plan was to visit the local office supply store and get a refill — but they didn’t have anything which fit. So then it was time for Plan B: Google.

But it was not obvious what I should search for. Since the refill said “Ministar E”, I Googled for that, but I didn’t find anything useful (many spam pages, though). Ditto on “Ministar pen”, “Ministar refill”, and “Ministar pen refill”.

Then I turned the refill over, and found intriguing markings.

Refill, showing ISO 12757-2 DOC

It looked like an ISO standard number, ISO 12757-2, so I Googled that, and found Dark Matter, which told me that ISO 12757-2 is the standard governing archival ballpoint pen ink. And that there was a related standard, 12757-1, which described the dimensions of refills.

A little more searching took me to the ANSI Store, where I could buy the standards: $53 for part 1 and a mere $40 for part 2.

I passed, although I did ask the librarian at work if we happened to have those standards — we didn’t.

So then I followed a sponsored link to the Colorado Pen Company, which offers many, many refills — and pictures, too. There are two which look similar to mine, one for Alfred Dunhill pens, and one for Lamy pens. The Lamy refill even has the magic phrase “ISO 12757-2” on it. But it costs five bucks, plus shipping, which seems like a lot to pay for one refill (though it is a full 4-1/4 inches long).

So I may do something entirely different. While I was chasing down the standard, I stumbled across this Digg, pointing to these instructions on using Mont Blanc refills in inexpensive Pilot G2 pens. Our local office store is having a sale this week — eight Pilot G2 pens (plus two bonus pens or pencils) for $6; they’ve got the Mont Blanc refills at two for $12. So for just a little more than I’d pay for one refill plus shipping, I could have what purports to be the world’s best writing pen. Hmmm….

Firefox cookie lesson

I ran into a problem caused by a internal site setting invalid cookies (ones with “@” as part of the cookie name) and tried to fix it by using the Firefox cookie manager to delete the offending cookie. This might have been OK, except that I’d also set Firefox to not allow a site for which I’d removed cookies to set cookies in the future.

And so removing the one errant cookie blocked all ibm.com sites from setting cookies — this had some unfortunate side effects (such as making it impossible to log into several internal sites). I couldn’t find any way to reverse this, either — not even running Firefox in safe mode helped.

So I resorted to rummaging through my profile directory and looking at any file which was human-readable. The last file I checked (of course!) was hostperm.1; that file had a line in it setting the “cookie” property of ibm.com to “2”. I deleted the line and my problems went away.

I will probably keep the Firefox setting to prohibit a site who’s cookies I’ve deleted from setting cookies in the future, but this posting will help me remember what to do if it causes me problems, too.

A day at work

I went into the office today; it felt both good and strange. As soon as I entered the building, I ran into a friend who gave me a hug in sympathy — this would be unremarkable except that she had two brand new summer hires trailing her. I wonder what they thought; most companies probably discourage hugging in the hallway.

I couldn’t quite clear my inbox before leaving for the day (well, I could have, but then the two items I was actively working on would have been out of sight), but I’m awfully close. Tomorrow for sure.

And unfortunately, Robert Scoble’s Mom is now in the hospital. Robert, if you read this, go back to this posting and then read forward — some of what we went through might be helpful to you.

We blew out the shiva candle this evening. I had thought about letting it burn for the full seven days, but tonight, it felt like time to move on.

Nibbling at work

I usually don’t do e-mail on the weekend, at least not before Sunday night, and that only to make sure there are no surprise Monday morning telecons. But today, I spent two cheerful hours dealing with the last week’s mail. I didn’t get through everything in my inbox, but I did get rid of 90% of what had arrived while I was out (of course, dealing with the other 10% will take at least as long). I think I’m actually looking forward to going into the office tomorrow.

We had a busy day in other respects, too; this morning, we helped out at the Shir Hadash/Most Holy Trinity Tzedakah Day/Health Fair — we were there from 10 to noon, and during that time, the volunteers outnumbered the “customers”. We left just before the 11am Mass ended, and I hope they were able to attract a lot of people from that group, as well as throughout the afternoons. I did pick up one good idea at the Health Fair — there was a free raffle, and one of the prizes was an earthquake preparedness kit, consisting of a 30-gallon locking garbage can, filled with food, water, and tools. We have food, water, and tools, but they’re scattered all over the house — I plan to buy a can and create a similar kit (though I might omit the coloring books and crayons).

And we spent this evening at the annual Kehillah gala dinner, this year honoring Bobby Lent, one of the founders of the school. It was a good evening, with decent wine and food, though the speeches went on a bit too long (so we left before the Birkat Hamazon). And this year, they only had a silent auction, which I thought was a great improvement (and so did Bobby, since he mentioned that in his speech). We bid on and won two items: a Shabbat dinner to be made at our house by the head of school, and a four-hour consultation with an organizer (“the Time Butler”). We have to plan how to get the most value out of the latter item — I suspect doing so will be valuable all by itself.


I am very happy that I have nearly nothing to write about today. It’s been a routine Saturday — services in the morning, and then not much of anything organized the rest of the day. I can’t remember the last time I had a routine Saturday, though.

I’ve left the shiva candle burning, even though shiva is over; somehow, the idea of blowing it out seems too final. Maybe tomorrow.

Sitting Shiva

Because Mom’s funeral was on Sunday, today was the last day of her shiva, and it actually ended at noon. So I spent the morning doing something I hadn’t yet done: actually sitting shiva.

I stayed inside, sat on the floor, and spent some time thinking about Mom; since it is not good to be alone during shiva, I also made a few phone calls. Of course I spoke with family, but I also spent time talking to one of Mom’s friends who’d I’d never met.

It helped.

And then it was noon, and shiva was officially over. So I went into the bathroom, looked at the mirror, and grabbed my shaver for the first time in a week. Then I went out for a long walk, first for lunch at a Mexican restaurant (happy Cinco de Mayo), and then over to Shir Hadash to talk with Rabbi Aron for a while. Then back home, where I sat and contemplated a little longer before going to pick Jeff up at Kehillah — today was his AP European History exam. Life goes on.

Tonight, there are no shiva minyans; it’s Shabbat. But I’ll be at services to say Kaddish.

Shabbat Shalom.

Schlepping Shiva

The alarm went off at 5:30 this morning, as expected. I turned it off and went back to sleep, also as expected.

But I did get up before Diane and Jeff left for the day. I knew I had to be out of the house by noon or so when the cleaning service was due, and there were things I wanted to get done. The most important of those was buying coffee — I’m the only coffee drinker in the house, and I’d made the mistake of letting the supply run out just before I left for Richmond the last time. So an emergency run to Starbucks was in order.

After that, I fielded a call from the roofer (they’ll be reroofing the house next week), and then left for lunch and a trip to the bank. I had brought some stuff back from Richmond which needed to go into the safe deposit box; I also had brought back some Savings Bonds that Mom had bought for me over the years, and I thought it might be a good idea to do something with them — as well as the bonds that I’d had since childhood which had long since stopped earning interest.

I took care of the safe deposit box easily enough, but dealing with the bonds was an entirely different affair. I’d checked out interest rates and decided I would do better to redeem them all and put the principal into a tax-free money market fund. So that meant I had 58 bonds to deal with. B of A has a simple form to fill out to redeem bonds — but each form is only good for 24 bonds. So I had to fill out 3 forms, listing 24 bonds on the first two and 10 on the last one. And I had to write down the serial numbers (well, I typed them into a spreadsheet). And sign them all. And list my account number on the first and last of each batch. And seal them into envelopes. All in all, it took about 90 minutes — and I won’t get the money for a few days.

But I finally finished and went home. The cleaners had come and gone; there was a fruit basket on the table that had arrived while they were there (thanks, Debbie and Pete!). There were also nine boxes on the driveway; DHL had delivered while I was dealing with the bank. So I brought the boxes into the house; nothing rattled, which is a good sign (but I don’t plan to unpack them just yet).

Then I had to run up to Kehillah to pick up Jeff, who was staying late to practice for his AP European History test tomorrow. We had a quick dinner, and then it was off to Shir Hadash, where we were having a double feature — two shiva minyans.

The first was for Arthur Harris, who had died on the same night as Mom; we met outside in the Memorial Garden. I was talking with Andrea, his widow, when someone told me that I needed to go inside for Mom’s minyan (intermissions are never the right length). I was surprised and pleased that my manager was there.

The service went quickly, and then people started talking — we finally left about 9:30. It was good to talk with friends — not all of my talking was about Mom by any means, but a lot was.

And that was the last shiva minyan — tomorrow, I plan to go to the regular Shabbat services in the evening, and of course we’ll be going to services and Torah Study on Saturday, as we get closer to the normal rhythms of life.

But I probably won’t get up at 5:30 tomorrow morning.