Library book returned 92 years late

From AP’s “Borrowed books returned to museum — 92 years later” (CNN: 6 November 2000):

The Field Museum of Natural History recently returned 10 volumes to the American Museum of Natural History in New York — 92 years late.

It seems a researcher from the New York museum took the books with him when he accepted a job at the Field Museum in 1908. American Museum officials suspect anthropologist Bertholt Laufer was using the books for research when he was hired away. …

Laufer had purchased 500 volumes — including texts on medicine and natural history — for the American Museum during an archaeological expedition to China from 1901 to 1904.

The American Museum didn’t even know 10 of the books — each belonging to a larger set — were missing until it decided in 1990 to computerize its collection.

Ballmer says Windows is more secure than Linux

From Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols’s “Longhorn ‘Wave’ Rolling In” (eWeek: 20 October 2004):

The questions led into a discussion of Linux, with Bittmann observing that there’s a market perception that Linux is more secure.

“It’s just not true,” Ballmer responded. “We’re more secure than the other guys. There are more vulnerabilities in Linux; it takes longer for Linux developers to fix security problems. It’s a good decision to go with Windows.”

Steve Ballmer couldn’t fix an infected Windows PC

From David Frith’s “Microsoft takes on net nasties” (Australian IT: 6 June 2006):

MICROSOFT executives love telling stories against each other. Here’s one that platforms vice-president Jim Allchin told at a recent Windows Vista reviewers conference about chief executive Steve Ballmer.

It seems Steve was at a friend’s wedding reception when the bride’s father complained that his PC had slowed to a crawl and would Steve mind taking a look.

Allchin says Ballmer, the world’s 13th wealthiest man with a fortune of about $18 billion, spent almost two days trying to rid the PC of worms, viruses, spyware, malware and severe fragmentation without success.

He lumped the thing back to Microsoft’s headquarters and turned it over to a team of top engineers, who spent several days on the machine, finding it infected with more than 100 pieces of malware, some of which were nearly impossible to eradicate.

Among the problems was a program that automatically disabled any antivirus software.

“This really opened our eyes to what goes on in the real world,” Allchin told the audience.

If the man at the top and a team of Microsoft’s best engineers faced defeat, what chance do ordinary punters have of keeping their Windows PCs virus-free?

Clarabell the Clown’s final – and only – words

From The New York Times‘ “Lew Anderson, 84, Clarabell the Clown and a Bandleader, Dies“:

Lew Anderson, whose considerable success as a musician, arranger and bandleader paled before the celebrity he achieved as Clarabell the Clown, Howdy Doody’s sidekick on one of television’s first children’s shows, died on Sunday in Hawthorne, N.Y. …

“Well, his feet are big, his tummy’s stout, but we could never do without,” Buffalo Bob Smith and the Kids of the Peanut Gallery sang in appreciation of his character, in a baggy, striped costume, who communicated by honking a horn for yes and no, Harpo Marx style.

Other times, Clarabell the Clown made his feelings known by spraying Buffalo Bob with seltzer, or playing a trick on him that everybody but Bob figured out immediately.

Before there was Big Bird, Barney or SpongeBob, there was Howdy Doody and his friends in Doodyville. Baby boomers grew up with “The Howdy Doody Show,” which began in December 1947 at a time when only 20,000 homes in the country had television sets. It was the first network weekday children’s show, the first to last more than 1,000 episodes and NBC’s first regularly scheduled show to be broadcast in color.

When it ended on Sept. 24, 1960, after 2,243 episodes, it was Clarabell who had the show’s last words. Since until then he had only honked, they were also his first words.

The camera moved in for a close-up of Mr. Anderson, who had a visible tear in his eye. A drum roll grew louder and then died. With quivering lips, Clarabell whispered, “Goodbye, kids.” …

In the late 1940’s, he joined the Honey Dreamers, a singing group that appeared on radio and early television shows like “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The group appeared on a musical variety television show Mr. Smith produced for NBC.

When the Clarabell part opened up on Mr. Smith’s other show, “Howdy Doody,” Mr. Smith and the other producers asked Mr. Anderson if he could juggle. “No.” Dance? “No.” Magic tricks? “No.” What can you do? “Nothing.”

“Perfect, you start tomorrow,” Mr. Smith said.

One of the benefits of LASIK eye surgery

A few weeks ago I had my eyes fixed with LASIK eye surgery. So far I’ve been completely happy with the results – it works! In preparing for the surgery, you receive lots of printed materials to read, including a booklet titled “Patient Information”. Inside that booklet is an explanation of the surgery which contains one of the best sentences I’ve read in quite a while:

The corneal tissue has natural bonding qualities that allow effective healing without the use of stitches.

Well, gee, that’s good to know! I’d hate to have stitches in my eyeball!

Early attempts to control phone usage

From R. W. Kostal’s Law and English Railway Capitalism, 1825-1875 (quoted in Andrew Odlyzko’s “Pricing and Architecture of the Internet: Historical Perspectives from Telecommunications and Transportation“):

In Britain in 1889, postal officials reprimanded a Leicester subscriber for using his phone to notify the fire brigade of a nearby conflagration. The fire was not on his premises, and his contract directed him to confine his telephone “to his own business and private affairs.” The Leicester Town Council, Chamber of Commerce, and Trade Protection Society all appealed to the postmaster-general, who ruled that the use of the telephone to convey intelligence of fires and riots would be permitted thenceforth.

Pickup truck commercial

We’re hanging out with Barry and Hilde, & the subject turns to pickup truck commercials.

Me: Here’s the voiceover: “If I have to choose between my truck and my woman …”

Hilde: You’d better choose right.

Barry: You’d better choose your dog. (pause) Dodge Ram Charger.

Ulysses Grant & the torpedo

From Greg Goebel’s “Februrary 1862: Unconditional And Immediate Surrender” (interpolation from Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville [187]):

On the afternoon of 5 February, during a conference between Grant, Foote, and the two division commanders, the captain of a gunboat sent a message to Grant that he had actually pulled a torpedo out of the river, had it on the gunboat’s deck, and would anyone care to see it? As the Second Division was still being shuttled in to the landing and the attack could not go forward until they had arrived, leaving Grant and the other senior officers with little to do for the moment, they went over in a group to investigate. The officers gathered around the torpedo, which was a five foot (1.5 meter) long cylinder with a pronged rod extending from its head. Grant was intrigued by the evil-looking thing, had the ship’s armorer come up to try to dismantle it, and watched as the man tinkered with the device. Suddenly, as the armorer loosened a nut, the torpedo emitted a loud hissing sound that appeared to be building to an explosion.

[Foote sprang for the ship’s ladder, and Grant, perhaps reasoning that in naval matters the commodore knew best, was right behind him. If he lacked the seamans’s agility in climbing a rope ladder, he made up for it with what one witness called “commendable enthusasm.” At the top, the commodore looked back over his shoulder and found Grant closing rapidly upon him.]

The hissing died out, leaving the two men hanging on the ladder. Foote looked down to see Grant beneath and, smiling, asked: “General, why this haste?” Grant replied: “That the Navy may not get ahead of us.”

Bertrand Russell on writing well

From Bertrand Russell’s “How I Write“:

Until I was twenty-one, I wished to write more or less in the style of John Stuart Mill. … I had, however, already a different ideal, derived, I suppose, from mathematics. I wished to say everything in the smallest number of words in which it could be said clearly. … I would spend hours trying to find the shortest way of saying something without ambiguity, and to this aim I was willing to sacrifice all attempts at aesthetic excellence.

At the age of twenty-one, however, I came under a new influence that of my future brother-in-law, Logan Pearsall Smith. He was at that time exclusively interested in style as opposed to matter. His gods were Flaubert and Walter Pater, and I was quite ready to believe that the way to learn how to write was to copy their technique. He gave me various simple rules, of which 1 remember only two: “Put a comma every four words”, and “never use ‘and’ except at the beginning of a sentence”. His most emphatic advice was that one must always re-write. I conscientiously tried this, but found that my first draft was almost always better than my second. This discovery has saved me an immense amount of time. I do not, of course, apply it to the substance, but only to the form. When I discover an error of an important kind I re-write the whole. What I do not find is that I can improve a sentence when I am satisfied with what it means.

… In fact, all imitation is dangerous. Nothing could be better in style than the Prayer Book and the Authorized Version of the Bible, but they express a way of thinking and feeling which is different from that of our time. A style is not good unless it is an intimate and almost involuntary expression of the personality of the writer, and then only if the writer’s personality is worth expressing. But although direct imitation is always to be deprecated, there is much to be gained by familiarity with good prose, especially in cultivating a sense for prose rhythm.

There are some simple maxims-not perhaps quite so simple as those which my brother-in-law Logan Pearsall Smith offered me-which I think might be commanded to writers of expository prose. First: never use a long word if a short word will do. Second: if you want to make a statement with a great many qualifications, put some of the qualifications in separate sentences. Third: do not let the beginning of your sentence lead the reader to an expectation which is contradicted by the end.

A historical ‘what if’

History is interesting. Do you know why Hitler had that little moustache? Because Charlie Chaplin had one. It’s true! He knew that Germans liked Charlie Chaplin, and he thought it would help them like him more, so he grew a moustache like Charlie Chaplin. Can you imagine how history would have changed if The Three Stooges would have been popular then? Who would have taken Hitler seriously if he’d decided to grow his hair like Larry? He never would have been elected Fuhrer with Larry hair!

The inevitability of taxation

From Giampaolo Garzarelli’s Open Source Software and the Economics of Organization:

Whenever organizational forms present rapid change because of their strong ties to technology, public policy issues are always thornier than usual. Indeed, historically, it seems that every time that there’s the development of a new technology or production process, the government has to intervene in some fashion to regulate it or to extract rents from it. This point is well- encapsulated in the well-known catch-phrase attributed to Faraday. After Faraday was asked by a politician the purpose of his recently discovered principle of magnetic induction in 1831, he replied: “Sir, I do not know what it is good for. However, of one thing I am quite certain, some day you will tax it”.

Hulk, Willie, or Peter?

From The Sun:

The Hulk's willieSHOCKED six-year-old Leah Lowland checked out a mystery bulge on her Incredible Hulk doll — and uncovered a giant green WILLY.

Curious Leah noticed a lump after winning the monster, catchphrase “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry,” at a seaside fair.

And when she peeled off the green comic-book character’s ripped purple shorts, she found the two-inch manhood beneath them.

Now that is one good insult

From Yahoo! News (March 2004):

Andy Rooney certainly knows how to stir the passion in his viewers. The ’60 Minutes’ curmudgeon said Sunday he got 30,000 pieces of mail and e-mail in response to his Feb. 22 commentary, in which he called ‘The Passion of the Christ’ filmmaker Mel Gibson a ‘wacko.’

It’s the biggest viewer response ever to a segment on the CBS newsmagazine, which has been on the air since 1968, a spokesman said. …

He read some of the mail on the air, including one letter that called him an ‘asinine, bottom-dwelling, numb-skulled, low-life, slimy, sickening, gutless, spineless, ignorant, pot-licking, cowardly pathetic little weasel.’

Greatest last line ever

From CNN:

Customs officials opened his suitcase and a bird of paradise flew out but that was nothing compared to what they found in his pants — a pair of pygmy monkeys.

Californian Robert Cusack has been sentenced to 57 days in jail for trying to smuggle the monkeys, a total of four exotic birds and 50 rare orchids into Los Angeles Airport after a trip to Thailand, officials said on Thursday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns said Cusack had been undergoing a routine inspection when he arrived last June until an official opened his suitcase.

“It became non-routine when they opened his luggage and a bird of paradise took off flying in the terminal,” Johns said.

Johns said the agents found three more birds in his bag, tucked into nylon stockings, along with 50 orchids of a threatened species.

Asked by agents if he had anything else to tell them, Cusack responded: “Yes, I’ve got monkeys in my pants.”

Another awful poet

Scotland’s worst poet, William Topaz McGonagall: From “The Tay Bridge Disaster”:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time. …

Or here’s a few lines from “Glasgow”:

And as for the statue of Sir Walter Scott that stands in George Square,
It is a handsome statue — few with it can compare,
And most elegant to be seen,
And close beside it stands the statue of Her Majesty the Queen. …

Read more at a site dedicated to William McGonagall, or just search Google. [William McGonagall]

Nothin’ like nerdy Microsoft humor

In January 2002, I was running for the position of Vice President of the St. Louis Unix Users Group. On the SLUUG listserv, someone proposed that those running for office come clean on any ethical lapses. Here’s what I wrote:

Fine … I’ll go first and admit my ethical lapses.

I used to use Windows. A lot. All the time. It was really hard to stop. I mean, it came free with my computer. The guy at the store said, “Hey, try it. It’s free. Everyone else is doing it. You’ll feel good.” So I did. I gave in. I was weak. And then it got really hard to just say no. I kept giving more and more money to Microsoft, and Microsoft had me in its claws. I’d come to it every couple of days: “Hey, Microsoft, got anything else for me?” I sold things to buy more Microsoft products. I withdrew from my family, my friends, other people. Finally, one day I hit bottom … I looked around, and saw little multi-colored flags everywhere on my computer. I knew I was powerless. And that’s when I knew things had to change. I came to a LUG meeting, and I stood up, and I said, “Hi. My name is Scott, and I’m a Windows user.” Everyone was really nice … a lot of them had been in the same situation I was. Since then, the group has helped me gain the strength to get the Microsoft monkey off my back, and now I’m happier and more fulfilled than I ever was. Thank you, St. Louis Unix Users Group!