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2002

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This is my 2002 journal.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Also available: 2003 2001 2000 1990s 1980s

Everything on this page:
Copyright 1985-2002 by Thane Plambeck, except where obviously not.

29 August 2002
Panic-Grass: The World's Worst Weeds

[Resurrected from an archive of the Stanford University "su.roger-or-andy" bulletin board]



Date: Sat 14 Mar 87 14:40:21-PST
From: Thane Plambeck
Subject: Noxious Weeds--the top eight.

This is a list of the world's worst weeds.  I took the commentary from
several weed books that are listed below.

             1.  Purple Nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus L.)
   
                  “Almost uncontrollable.  Reproduces both by seeds
                    and by vegetative nutlets that are produced in great
                    numbers at various depths in the soil...”

             2.  Indian Doob (Cynodon dactylon L.)
 
                  “A persistent weed...”

             3.  Panic-grass (Eschinochloa crus-galli L.)

             4.  Junglerice (Eschinochola colonum L.)

                  “Very troublesome...  The rootstalk delights in being
                    fragmented, each piece giving rise to a new, complete
                    plant...”
             
             5.  False Guinea-grass (Sorgum Halepense L.)

                  “Once widely advertised and planted.  It was one thing
                    to start, quite another to kill it out.  Like the
                    English sparrow, it will be with us forever...”

             6.  Water Hyacinth (Eichornia Crassipes L.)

                  “Makes a gorgeous display but has many objectionable
                    features...”

             7.  Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica L.)

                  “The bane of framers in India, Africa, and much of
                    the Far East.”

             8.  Lantana (Lantana canara L.)

References:  H. F. Jaques, “How to Know the Weeds,” 1959.
             Alden S. Crafts, “Modern Weed Control,” 1975.
             Lawrence Crockett, “Wildly Successful Plants,” 1977.

29 August 2002
How they drive: A Cali-braskan study (in two parts)

[Resurrected from an archive of the Stanford University "su.roger-or-andy" bulletin board]


Date: Sun 15 Feb 87 14:32:37-PST
From: Thane Plambeck
Subject: How they drive: A Cali-braskan study (part I)

Situation I:


   A four-way stop sign.                     

                 |c |
                 |b |
                 |a |              The scenario:  Cars a, b, and c
         --------    --------      arrive almost simultaneously, as
         --------    --------      depicted in the diagram.  Their
                 | d|              drivers wish to continue down south
                 |  |              through the intersection.  Car d
                 |  |              arrives just after car a, but before
                                   b or c.  Car d wants to turn left.


The California protocol:  Car a, car d, car b, and finally car c: the 
                          precedence being determined by arrival times.

  The Nebraska protocol:  Car a, car b, car c, and finally car d, as if
                          we had a stop light rather than a 4-way stop.


  NOTES:  1) Deadlock if b is Californian, and d is Nebraskan.
          2) Starvation impossible in the Nebraska protocol--
             there aren't enough cars in Nebraska, except in 
             funeral processions.



Date: Sun 15 Feb 87 14:46:11-PST
From: Thane Plambeck
Subject: How they drive:  A Cali-braska study (part II)

Situation II:

        A wind-swept icy tundra.  Two cars approaching one another
        at an angle of 37%.  Visibility blocked by cows and windmills.

        The California protocol:  Not supported.

          The Nebraska protocol:  Person driving the pickup with more
                                  hay in the back taps horn, and proceeds.

   NOTES:  Of any two automobiles in Nebraska, at least one 
           is a pickup.

29 August 2002
From Self-Reliance


There is a mortifying experience in particular, which does not fail to wreak itself also in the general history: I mean the “foolish face of praise,” the forced smile we put on in company where we do not feel at ease in answer to conversation which does not interest us. The muscles, not spontaneously moved, but moved by a low usurping willfulness, grow tight about the outlines of the face with the most disagreeable sensation.

28 August 2002
Securities Fraud 101



Today's indictment of former WorldCom CFO Scott Sullivan contains a succinct description of Income Statements, Balance Sheets, Capital Expenditures, and Operating Expenses, and how to abuse them to commit securities fraud.

The Wall Street Journal describes Sullivan's apparent idea of hiding Operating Expenses by moving them to Capital Expenditures as "clever." But the following passage from the indictment doesn't make it look so subtle:
CERTAIN RELEVANT ACCOUNTING PRINCIPLES

Public companies, such as WorldCom, typically report the financial results of their operations in financial statements that include both an Income Statement and a Balance Sheet. A company's Income Statement reports, among other things, revenue recognized, expenses incurred, and income earned during a stated period of time—usually for a fiscal quarter or a fiscal year. Within an Income Statement, expenses are generally subtracted from revenues to calculate income. A company's Balance Sheet reports, among other things, the assets and liabilities of a company at a point in time, usually as of the end of the company's fiscal quarter or fiscal year.

When companies spend money or incur costs, those expenditures can be accounted for in a number of ways. Some types of expenditures, most commonly those incurred by a company in its normal operations, are treated as current or operating expenses. Examples include recurring costs such as salaries and wages, insurance, equipment rental, electricity, and maintenance contracts. In brief, almost all routine expenditures that a company makes are operating expenses. Other types of expenditures, most commonly those which result in the acquisition of, or improvement to, the company’s assets, are treated as capital expenditures. Examples include purchases of real estate, manufacturing equipment, and computer equipment.

Operating expenses and capital expenditures generally receive different accounting treatment. Operating expenses are generally reported on a company’s Income Statement and subtracted from revenues in the period in which the expense is incurred or paid, to derive net income. Capital expenditures, by contrast, are not subtracted from revenues and are not generally reflected on the Income Statement. Instead, capital expenditures are reflected as assets on a company’s Balance Sheet and, depending on the nature of the asset and its expected useful life, are subject to depreciation. When a capital asset is depreciated, a portion of the asset’s value is written off over a number of accounting periods. The portion of the asset’s value that is depreciated for a given period is reflected as a current expense in each period and deducted from revenues on the Income Statement.

If a company transfers or reclassifies a given expenditure from an operating expense to a capital expenditure, that transfer will have the following effects in the reporting period for which the transfer is made: (a) the company’s operating expenses will be reduced, and the company's net income will be increased by the amount reclassified or transferred; and (b) the value of the company's capital assets will increase by the amount reclassified.

27 August 2002
From The Futurological Congress, by Stanislaw Lem (1971)

13 IX 2039. I met Burroughs, Symingtons's brother-in-law. He makes talking packages. Manufacturers these days have peculiar problems: a package may recommend the virtues of its product by voice only, for it is not allowed to grab the customer by the sleeve or collar. Symington's other brother-in-law runs a security door factory. Security doors open only at the sound of their owner's voice. Also, the ads in the magazines animate when you look at them.

Procrustics, Inc. always takes a full page in the Herald. My acquaintance with Symington drew my attention to it. The ad first has giant letters marching across the page, spelling PROCRUSTICS, then separate words and syllables appear: WELL...? WHY NOT?! GO AHEAD!! AH! UH! OH! YIII! OOO! YES, YES!! HARDER!!! HNNN... And nothing more. I guess it's not farming equipment after all.

26 August 2002
A letter and reply



To: The Editor, Phi Beta Kappa Key Reporter

Sir:

In the Summer 2002 Key Reporter, I find the mysterious statement that "the Phi Beta Kappa Development Office regrets that given names were used, instead of the generally accepted salutation, in a recent invitation to certain Society members to become Sustaining Members."

Would the editors care to reveal 'the generally accepted salutation'? Is a secret handshake, code word, or unusual gesture involved? I'm thinking, perhaps too hopefully, of something along the lines of Mr. Spock's "Live Long and Prosper" (from Star Trek).

A certain Society member, I remain


Thane Plambeck


Dear Mr. Plambeck,

I invited PBK's development director to respond to your fax, but he declined. The meaning of his apology in the spring Key Reporter was that letters from our office addressed members by first rather than last names. Nothing Spockish!

Cheers,

Barbara Haddad Ryan
Editor, The Key Reporter
Director of Public Relations
The Phi Beta Kappa Society

25 August 2002
A losing $120 million California SuperLotto ticket

I purchased this ticket yesterday afternoon in a Palo Alto liquor store. It cost me $5.



The winning numbers were 9-35-27-17-6 with the "Mega" number 24.

Four jackpot tickets—with all five numbers plus the Mega number correct—were sold. They are each worth $30.5 million. Here's where they were purchased:
CIRCLE K 2331-3078
1654 SANTA ANA AV
COSTA MESA, CA 92627

BRISBANE LIQUORS
45 VISITACION AV
BRISBANE, CA 94005

7-ELEVEN 2111-18977C
578 MSN RD
SAN MARCOS, CA 92069

CASA DE LIQUOR
2525 N SAN GABRIEL BL
ROSEMEAD, CA 91770
The Brisbane Liquors place looks like it's in a nice location near San Francisco Bay. It wouldn't take long to drive there from the liquor store I visited. A bit out of my way, yes, but well worth $30.5 million. The "Circle K 2331-3078" is pretty close to Newport Beach, very near a small green spot on the map named "Pinkley Park." San Marcos is also in Southern California, closer to San Diego. Rosemead is in North LA, not far from Alhambra.

After looking up the winning numbers on the Internet, I circled the (two) numbers I got correct (over all the five picks I made). Had I watched the live drawing on TV, I would have had the momentary thrill of seeing the first two numbers drawn (9 and 35) match my (computer generated "Quick Pick") selection "E".

But you win nothing for getting two numbers correct in SuperLotto, as the following table published by the Lottery people reveals:

Match Odds 1 in Prizes
All 5 of 5 And Mega 41,416,353 Jackpot
$30,500,000
All 5 of 5 1,592,937 $8646
Any 4 of 5 and Mega 197,221 $1307
Any 4 of 5 7,585 $70
Any 3 of 5 And Mega 4,810 $51
Any 3 of 5 185 $9
Any 2 of 5 And Mega 361 $10
Any 1 of 5 And Mega 74 $2
None of 5 Only Mega 49 $1
Overall odds of winning 23  


The chances of winning the jackpot are the same regardless of whether you play—ie zero—or what any reasonable person should accept as zero (worse than 1 in 41 million).

I'm just happy to have contributed my five dollars to those four lucky fellow liquor and convenience store patrons. They'll only get $1.20 apiece from me, and perhaps less than that after the Lotto people get their cut. But I'm sure they will spend it wisely.

Note added 28 August 2002 (from the San Francisco Chronicle):

Brisbane Lotto winner all giggles
It's goodbye work, hello Europe for Cindy Blair


The giggling Brisbane woman who just won $30.5 million said Monday she won't need to get an unlisted phone number.

"I won't even be around," said Cindy Blair, the latest big winner in the California Lottery. "I'll be in Europe someplace. If you want to find me, you'll have to catch me."

One place she won't be, Blair said, is at work. That's because she quit on Monday.

"How am I gonna go to work?" she mused. "I'm going to tell them, 'You want what? When?' "

Blair, a 43-year-old grandmother who worked as an office manager for a San Francisco printing plant, said she read the winning numbers three times in the newspaper and still did not believe she had won. So she asked her boyfriend, Russell Hoch, to read them to her.

"He was just getting out of the shower," she said. "We looked at each other and said, 'Oh s—.' "

Some of her joy came from her good fortune and some seemed to come from the 12-pack of beer Blair said she had been working her way through in celebration.

'HA, HA, I WON THE LOTTERY'

"I'm sorry," she said, after letting fly with another gleeful cuss word. "It's so damn funny. You know what? Ha, ha, I won the lottery."

On Monday, she dropped by the lottery office in South San Francisco to giggle, scream, kick her feet, throw her arms in the air and accept a giant ceremonial check from lottery officials.

That check isn't any good, but the one the lottery will send her in a couple of weeks, for $763,000, will be. The prize will be paid out over 26 years.


23 August 2002
Warrantless Search & The Constitutional Worm

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
That's the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

(It's not the preamble to the 4th Amendment, or perhaps simply its introduction. It's the whole thing. The Framers knew how to cut the BS).

So: What should the 4th Amendment mean for digital "papers and effects?" How should it apply to personal information scattered over Internet databases? What are the appropriate definitions of a digital "place to be searched" or "thing to be seized"?

Lawrence Lessig wrote an interesting 44 page article on the subject in 1996. Here's a provocative passage from pages 15-16:
Warrantless Search

Imagine a worm—a bit of computer code that crosses network wires and places itself on your computer—that snooped your hard disk looking for illegal copies of software. The FBI, for example, might spit this critter onto the Net, and let it work its way onto disks across the country. When the worm found an illegal copy of software, it would send a message to that effect back to the FBI; if it found no such illegality, it would self-destruct. No difference in the operations of the computer would be noticed; the worm would snoop, as it were, deep underground.

This worm would be doing what the Framers would have attacked as a general search; it would be marching through hard disks across the country without any particularized suspicion. It would be searching without warrant, either judicial or factual. If all general searches were illegal, then this one certainly would be. But if it causes no disruption of the disk, at least if it discovers no illegality, and if it erases itself without being discovered, then it shares few of the characteristics of generalized search. While it is a search that proceeds without warrant, it is also a search that produces no false positives. It would be like a dog-sniff at the airport, though better: worms don't bite, and unless you see them, they don't terrify either.

Would it be constitutional? Odd as this might sound, my sense here again is that this inversion of the original purpose of the Fourth Amendment's test is reasonableness (one can get a warrant only with particularized suspicion, but one violates the Fourth Amendment only if one conducts and unreasonable search); and the calculation of reasonableness must look to the benefit and the harm. The benefits are clear: the criminal activity begin sought would be found with little effort and no real disruption. The primary costs would be costs to those whose criminal activity had been discovered. These are real costs, no doubt, but they are not costs that Fourth Amendment really reckons. The question the Fourth Amendment asks is the burden on the innocent, and here the burden is quite slight.

One might think the costs extend beyond the guilty. One might think that there is an insecurity for people who generally know that they might be watched; that this worm might be crossing their disk; that they are constantly open to surveillance by the government, most of the time never knowing whether the government is watching or not.

These are, I agree, significant costs. But they seem to describe the world we live in now, as much as any world created by cyberspace. It is simply the nature of this world that most of what one does can be monitored by the police with little or no suspicion. It is not clear how, in the face of this reality of surveillance, a constitutional problem could be raised about the marginal insecurity raised by this worm. In the constitutional universe that we now have, it seems difficult to imagine the constitutional problem this worm would present.

22 August 2002
How old is the Oak Tree on Tasso Street?



This morning I took some photos of the oak tree across the street from our house at 2341 Tasso St in Palo Alto.

Michael Goldeen, who lives in the house closest to the tree, told me that the tree is 300 years old. It's possibly not quite that. People like to believe that big and beautiful trees are older than they really are.

This evening I measured its circumference at a height 4 and 1/2 feet above the ground by wrapping string around it. I got a result of exactly 13 feet, which gives it a radius of about 25 inches. Assuming .2 inches growth per year—a figure I dug out as typical for an oak tree—gives 125 years for the age (ie, planted 1877). Using another rule of thumb, that a tree grows an inch wider every three years, gives a result of 150 years (ie, 1852).

Certainly its location, in the street, suggests it was already there (and presumably pretty big) when the street was created in the early 20th century.

[Note added 30 September 2002]. I've investigated this further.


20 August 2002
A 10x10 Word Square

N E C E S S I S M
E X I S T E N C E
C I R C U M F E R
E S C A R P I N G
S T U R N I D A E
S E M P I T E R N
I N F I D E L I C
S C E N A R I Z E
M E R G E N C E S

Constructed by Eric Albert ("and his computer" according to Wordways). All the words are in Webster's Second Unabridged Dictionary, apparently.

"Ah yes, the Sturnidae. We were just chatting about them...."


20 August 2002
Greg Whitehead Explains Pizza Making

Greg,

Can you send me the shopping list for the pizza stuff? And possibly where to get it? All I remember is the KitchenAid mixer which I have been lusting after for over 10 years and now have a reason to get one.

Thanks,

Gloria

Gloria,

Sure:

- Mixer with dough hook

The dough hook is standard equipment on the KitchenAid... (read the rest)

20 August 2002
Photo of Thane Plambeck with Bruce Oberg (bottom)
Seattle, Washington
April 1995




Bruce was my college roommate for three years at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. These photos were taken about 10 years after we graduated, in 1985.

[Note added 27 September]

Bruce's computer software game development company, Sucker Punch, just released a new game for the Sony Playstation.


p 20 August 2002
Overheard at the Internet Chess Club

If at first you don't succeed...



...skydiving is not for you.



17 August 2002
Pung. Ching. Bong.


A less strenuous craze was Mah-Jong, a Chinese game which, like ginger and the Pekinese, had once been a prerogative of exalted rank. It was played with chips and domino-like counters and had a terminology full of quaint chinoiseries. People excitedly called 'Pung', 'Ching', and 'Bong' when they completed particular sets, and talked mysteriously of the 'East Wind', the 'North Wind' and the 'Red and Green Dragons'. Mah-Jong came from the United States in 1923; by Christmas the West End stores were full of expensive sets, and several Mah-Jong handbooks were published. Instruction in the newspapers consisted of such advice as: 'Don't forget to say "mah-jong" very quietly and with a restrained air. The moral effect is doubled.' And: 'Don't either lie or speak the truth consistently.'

From The Lonely Weekend, A Social History of Great Britain 1918-1939, by Robert Graves & Alan Hodge, 1940

16 August 2002
The Morgan Stanley Internet Report (1996)

What does the future hold?

Where's the next big opportunity?

When's the next train leaving the station?


The Internet Report is a breathless document by Mary Meeker and Chris DePuy that was published in early 1996 under the auspices of the investment bank Morgan Stanley. It's still an enjoyable read today, if only for its abundance of now dead URLs. You might as well be in a civil war graveyard.

If you flip it over (yes, I own a copy!), you'll find this blurb:
"To participate in the Internet is to participate in the supreme opportunity of the age. Whether you are an investor, user, creator or observer, The Internet Report offers critical insight into both the Internet as well as the markets it will affect."

Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape
Now it's 2002, and the Internet investing craze has come and gone. The New York Times recently observed that money invested in Treasury bills in 1996 would have out-performed the S&P 500 in the period 1996-2002, and would have absolutely slaughtered Internet investments (unless you happened to get out in time, before the tech stock bubble burst in March 2000). Choosing a page from The Internet Report at random, my eye falls upon
Based on our market growth estimates, we are still at the very early stages of a powerful secular growth cycle for Internet-related stuff. Remember how Microsoft's Windows cured for about seven years before it became a runaway hit in 1990 with the launch of Windows 3.0? Well, the Internet—TCP/IP in particular—has been curing for about 15 years, and the rollout of the graphic Web browser (Mosaic) in 1993 is having a significant impact on market growth similar to the launch of Windows 3.0.
Here's the final sentence of the Introduction:
"May the next ten years in technology be as exciting as the last ten years have been...

13 August 2002
Some Concepts Developed in Collaboration with Anil Gangolli

"This is a rich minefield of opportunity."

"The feathers of a bird flap together."

"That company is creating markets for solutions."

10 August 2002
Mark Shuttleworth, Space Tourist



In early 1999, I exchanged email with a then-unknown South African Internet software entrepeneur named Mark Shuttleworth.

Mark's company, Thawte Consulting, was engaged in a business that had some similarities to the startup company I was involved with, Structured Arts.

I tried to convince him that we should be working together in some capacity. Things didn't go very far, although we did agree to meet in person sometime in the future. Shuttleworth revealed in one email to me that he personally held all the equity in his company. "The decision what to do with this company is mine alone," he wrote. He seemed to be mostly concerned that partnering with or being acquired by an American company would corrupt the culture of his company in some way. It seemed to me that convincing him to work with our company would be a long process.

$575 million can change a person's opinions about such matters.

Neither of us knew then that our respective companies would be both acquired by Verisign about 8 months later (Structured Arts indirectly via Signio).

And I doubt that Mark thought he would be the world's second space tourist (after Dennis Tito) either.