March 2002 Archives

King of the Geeks

One of the perils of the tech industry is a little game of one-upsmanship that I call "King of the Geeks." Usually it's a friendly game, but sometimes it is a stupid battle of egos. I had an amusing example of it today while I was talking to a tech on the phone. I mentioned an ancient product, and made an offhand remark that it was from the early 80s and probably before his time. He responded, "oh I remember that product, I started programming back in the days of the VIC-20."
I said, "oh, two can play that game, I like this game, I usually win." I told him that my computer store sold VIC-20s, but I started long before that. I trumped his VIC-20 with my experience in IBM punch card sorters. He responded with his experience programming patchboard computers. Now that is old tech, the stuff they were replacing as obsolete when I started computing. I still could have won the game, but I did not play my ace-in-the-hole, the card that always beats everyone, the Digicomp 1.

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The Digicomp 1 was my first computer, I bought one by mail order from Edmund Scientific when I was just a little kid, this must have been around 1963. So you have to go back a long LONG ways to beat me when you're playing King of the Geeks.. One reason I find this game so distasteful is that I used to encounter it almost daily when I worked as a salesman at ComputerLand in Los Angeles. Some customers would take pleasure in tripping up the salesmen and trying to prove they were smarter and knew more about computers than the sales rep. I found an article in a sales magazine that described this game, and said that the winning sales strategy is to let the geek win the game, it specifically said to use the phrase, "I defer to your obvious technical expertise in this area." The strategy is twofold. If you're trying to sell a computer, you want to seem knowledgeable, but if you win the game, you'll just offend the customer and he won't buy anything. If you cave in and admit defeat, the geek gets what he wants: ego strokes. But that's the second part of the strategy, by caving in so easily, the geek has a hollow victory, which he'll probably not catch on to immediately. It will bug him later.
So that is why I try to not even play this game. Sometimes I get swept up in it, then I always let the other geek win. But I make it a tough victory for them, so they get their ego strokes from defeating a worthy opponent.

No More Spam

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I finally got sick of 50 to 100 spams a day, so I set up email filtering with Procmail. If you can set up Procmail, you are a true Unix geek. I found a simple recipe for Fetchmail/Procmail on MacOS X, all the required programs are already installed, you merely need to configure them. I set up fetchmail to get mail from my ISP every 5 minutes, them Procmail filters the mail, and delivers it to MacOS X Any incoming spam has to run a gantlet of hundreds of filters, I'm using filtration rules from Spambouncer. I set it to reject all mail in languages I don't understand, like Chinese, Korean, Russian, Turkish, etc. I don't know why I get dozens of spams in Korean each week, but I do. And now it's all blocked. Goodbye spam. I set up a little monitor, it pops up to announce each time a spam is killed. It is almost more fun watching the spam die than getting real email.

Brute Force

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The Hacker's Dictionary defines Brute Force:
"Describes a primitive programming style, one in which the programmer relies on the computer's processing power instead of using his or her own intelligence to simplify the problem, often ignoring problems of scale and applying naive methods suited to small problems directly to large ones. The term can also be used in reference to programming style: brute-force programs are written in a heavyhanded, tedious way, full of repetition and devoid of any elegance or useful abstraction."
I first heard this term in basic Computer Science courses, the classic example is a "brute force search" of a database. Instead of using a clever index system, the brute force method examines every single record and checks for a match, one by one. The method relies on the brute force of manually processing every single record. It is time consuming, but sometimes necessary when the indexes contain errors.
I often use this term to refer to a brute force search of my paper files. Right now I'm hunting for some financial documents from 1995, I can't find them anywhere so I've been doing a brute force search of every single paper in my files, and I've got about boxes and boxes full of papers. I took 5 banker's boxes of records from the last 10 years, handled every single sheet of paper, tossed out all the chaff, and sorted the rest into file folders. I've sorted and sorted until my fingers are bloody from paper cuts. And of course, the records I'm looking for have not yet appeared. Now I will have to extend the search even further, and open more old boxes. Darn it, where did 1995 go to?

Update March 15, 2005: Quite by accident, I located the records I was seeking. So that means I searched for almost exactly 3 years for these stupid papers.

Quicksilver Ecstasy

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I'm setting up a new "Quicksilver" Powermac for a friend of mine, the new top-end dual 1Ghz model. It is blindingly fast. It reminds of something my sister said when she upgraded from a Performa to an iMac, "it's like having a whole room full of computers at your fingertips!"
The best feature of this is the DVD recorder. I don't have much use for video, but I sure do like being able to back up 4.4Gb of data on a single disc. I put my huge 9Gb mp3 collection on two DVDs, now I don't have to waste all that hard disk space, I can just pop in the DVD, listen to a few tunes, or just copy a few tunes to my local hard drive. I finally have a good backup of my 2Gb Virtual PC disk images that I could never back up to CDRs. Now Dantz just needs to ship Retrospect so we can back up a live unix system. I think the new iMac will be a huge success once people discover the data storage abilities of the SuperDrive.

A Disorienting Experience

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I recently had a very disorienting experience while watching TV commercials. A computer graphic effect showed the camera's viewpoint zooming in from a position orbiting earth, down to a viewpoint of a few people on the ground, then zoomed back again to high orbit. It is a dramatic effect, and very popular because more than one commercial uses this effect. And that was the disorienting thing. I saw two different commercials using this same effect, back to back. The first commercial runs through its camera motion, ending with a view of a starry sky. And then the second commercial starts with a view of a starry sky, and zooms through almost the same motion again. I felt like I orbited earth twice in 60 seconds.
I first read about this CG design from Ted Nelson's Computer Lib book, he called it a hypermap. He only envisioned a 1-dimensional zoom, but later innovators created schemes that would allow you to zoom in on any spot on earth at any level of resolution, add links to other datasets (i.e. rainfall) and map them over a globe generated from realtime satellite imagery. Much of this technology is adapted from military satellite photoreconnaisance technologies, not just mapping but all computer graphics technology generally. A group of artists and scientists trying to hypermap the globe, but the most powerful expression of this technology is still military.

New Features

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I told someone that I felt like I had made some real accomplishments this week, I made two suggestions for new features in a couple of big products, and both were adopted as new features. She said, "oh, so did you get paid anything for this?" Well of course I didn't.

Vintage Sol-20 Restoration

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After years of searching, I have found a source for some rare parts to restore my rare Sol-20 microcomputer. It is in perfect operating condition except for the keyboard. The Sol keyboard used foam pad contacts, the pads decompose after about 20 years and the keyboard stops working. A fellow Sol owner located some spare pads for me, for only $5 yay!


I built my Sol-20 from a kit in 1975, it took me weeks to assemble it, it was the first computer I owned. I couldn't afford the fancy (and expensive) Helios 8" disk drives or 3rd party drives like the 5" Northstar system. But I could afford a few gadgets, like a 300baud acoustic coupler and a GraphicAdd card. I did a few nice art projects on my Sol, I'm dying to get the machine back up and running, and see if I can still read my 20+ year old data tapes.

Update: My parts source informs me the parts he found are the wrong type and will not work. So I am still searching for some pads.

Update August 29, 2007: A generous donor supplied me with the correct pads and my Sol is now restored to working condition. You can view the results here.

Buried Treasure

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FujiTV News reports that on March 5, a construction worker in Koyabe, Japan dug up an ancient earthenware pot containing 1,295 gold and silver coins, worth at least 65 million Yen (approximately $500,000US). Some coins were dated Meiji 3nen (1871) but the bulk of the coins are over 400 years old. The media compared the construction worker to an old fairy tale about "Hanasaka jiisan," an old man who digs up a pot of gold. There was no report about who now owns the gold.

Unpopular Opinions

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One of the reasons I started with this blog is that a few of my unpopular opinions were being censored. A few months back, on a rather prominent message board (which is now deceased) I was banished from the board while defending an artist's freedom of speech. My expulsion made the board's self-appointed censors look ridiculous for censoring an artist who advocated free speech during a debate about free speech.
In a more annoying case, I was censored in a Usenet moderated newsgroup during some trivial chit-chat. Some people were complaining about how boring they thought the Winter Olympics were. I responded that the Olympics were boring because they were stacked with fake sports like snowboarding. I said that Halfpipe Snowboarding and Freestyle Skiing were pushed into the Olympics by the USA, and stacked with American competitors that were likely to win gold. I compared snowboarding to previous ridiculous "sports" that had been added and subsequently removed from the Olympics, like Tug-of-War and Indian Club Juggling. The message was stopped by the moderators, and returned to me with a note that it was "offensive and unamerican."
I decided it wasn't worth arguing. I could have explained my rationale, but wouldn't make any sense to them. I mean, I was one of the first snowboarders, I owned a Snurfer back in 1965, and it was the toy that started the whole snowboarding craze.


I was a snowboarder and skateboarder from an early age, I knocked out my two front baby-teeth out while skating on an old skinny skateboard with hard clay wheels (like the old four-wheel roller skates). I still own a nice Sims ultra fat skateboard that I bought at Val Surf, back around 1985 when I lived in the San Fernando Valley and there was only ONE Val Surf, the one in my neighborhood, and everyone in my neighborhood skated (even the old farts like me). All my friends in LA were skaters or surfers. It's not like I'm biased against the sport, I love these sports, but I recognize them for what they are, just plain fun and a big goof. And that is the point.
There isn't any skateboarding or surfing in the Summer Olympics, because it just isn't an Olympic sport and everyone knows it. Similarly, there shouldn't be any snowboarding in the Winter Olympics. The motto of the Olympics is Citius, Altius, Fortius, and snowboarding events like the Halfpipe just have no possible chance to be swifter, stronger, or higher (well maybe higher, but I don't think that's what the slogan means). It's all a matter of subjective judging about the aesthetic qualities of your triple-flip-oopsie-daysie, what possible chance does this event have for long-term Olympic sustainability, maybe in a few years people will achieve a quadruple-flip-oopsie-daysie, and eventually a pentuple? And in a hundred years? The sport will be long forgotten, like Olympic Tug-of-War.
I recently read with amusement that the Japanese efforts to include Sumo as an Olympic sport had failed. Other sports like Karate are in the Summer Games, and of course Japan would love to get a lock on another event. The sport was introduced at Nagano as a demonstration sport, they had 2 years to show the International Olympic Committee that the sport of Sumo had advanced around the world sufficiently to produce a world roster of competitors. And of course there wasn't a single new Sumo wrestler outside of Japan in the two years.
So that's what I was thinking when these weirdo censors dumped my message. It's just as ridiculous to have Snowboard Halfpipe in the Olympics as it would be to have Sumo, skateboarding halfpipe, or for that matter, Tug-of-War. So I just had to rant against these idiot censors, it's insanely ridiculous to denounce these sort of opinions as somehow antiamerican.