January 3

Happy New Year, Goldberg

Here’s a good old one that a friend sent to me to kick off the new year with a grin.

Goldberg was bragging to his boss one day, “You know, I know everyone there is to know.  Just name someone, anyone, and I know them.”

Tired of his boasting, his boss called his bluff, “OK, Goldberg, how about Tom Cruise?”

“Sure, yes, Tom and I are old friends, and I can prove it.”

So Goldberg and his boss flew out to Hollywood and knocked on Tom Cruise’s door. When he saw who his visitors were, sure enough, Tom Cruise shouted, “Goldberg!  Great to see you! You and your friend come right in and join me for lunch!”

Although impressed, Goldberg’s boss was still skeptical. After they had left Cruise’s home, he told Goldberg that he thought Goldberg’s knowing Cruise was just lucky.

“No, no, just name anyone else,” Goldberg said.

“President Bush,” his boss quickly retorted.

“Yes,” Goldberg replied, “I know him. Let’s fly out to Washington.”

And off they went.

At the White House, Bush spotted Goldberg on the tour and motioned him and his boss over, saying, “Goldberg! What a surprise! I’m on my way to a meeting, but you and your friend come on in. Let’s have a cup of coffee first, and catch up.”

Well, the boss felt somewhat shaken at this point, but he was still not totally convinced. After they’d left the White House grounds, he expressed his doubts to Goldberg, who again implored him to name anyone else, anyone at all.

“The Pope,” replied his boss.

“A good man!” said Goldberg. “I’ve known the Pope a long time.”

So off they flew to Rome.

Goldberg and his boss had joined the assembled multitude in Vatican Square when  Goldberg said, “This will never work.  I can’t catch the Pope’s eye among all these people.  Tell you what, I know all the guards so let me just go upstairs and I’ll come out on the balcony with the Pope.”

With that, he disappeared into the crowd headed toward the Vatican.

Sure enough, half an hour later Goldberg emerged with the Pope on the balcony. But by the time Goldberg returned, he found that his boss had had a heart attack and was surrounded by paramedics.

Working his way to his boss’s side, Goldberg asked him, “What happened?”

His boss looked up and said weakly, “I was doing fine when you and the Pope came out on the balcony, till the Japanese tourist next to me asked, ‘Who’s that on the balcony with Goldberg?’”

My friend added, “Here’s what I want to know: With contacts like his, why is Goldberg working for some guy who’s so hard to impress?”

posted @ 08:31 PM EST

January 6

No Escape From Environmental Disaster

Do you think that mankind can escape an earth it has rendered uninhabitable by thoughtless environmental negligence, and rocket away to colonies in space? I know it’s risky to predict what technology cannot accomplish, but feel so strongly about this that I will speak out anyway. OK, what do I risk, you ask. Being proved wrong? When? Who will know? Who will care? Who cares now? Can you see the irony in the ultimate absurdity of “wasting” the environment and then throwing the whole ecosphere away by leaving it behind, as if tossing a styrofoam, fast-food container out the window of an SUV, speeding down the interstate.

First, our destruction of the environment seems inevitable. Humanity is a virulent infestation, unlikely to be stemmed by anything short of a catastrophic collapse of the ecosystems it lays waste. By the time the crisis is reached it will be too late to save ourselves, the losses irreversible. It’s not that living in harmony with the biosphere that we haven’t yet ruined is technically infeasible, rather politically unattainable. I won’t try to prove that. I couldn’t anyway. I’ll even admit that I might be wrong. The optimist in me sees that polls show that people generally want to save the environment. It’s just simply and completely inconsistent with the way people have always behaved and continue to behave. The retrograde policies of the current U.S. administration reinforce my pessimism. Our strength is in our ability to exploit the world to satisfy our appetites. Even our environmental consciousness seems to be based on an aesthetic hunger that can be satisfied by little (on global scales) nature parks, which by themselves couldn’t provide sustainable support for more than a handful of primitive humanoids. If there is any optimism in my view, it is that the destruction will not be complete. Life on earth will go on, even as it has in the deep past, following astronomical cataclysms, though certainly not as we know it. Among other species, small pockets of our infestation may even survive, as the uneven collapse leaves isolated populations some naturally protected ecosystems, perhaps a Pacific island for example. Life on earth will likely survive until the Sun heats up enough to boil it dry, though anything like humans will be gone long before then. Meanwhile, I’ll be scouting Pacific islands.

Second, we will never accomplish the colonization of space. Again, not because it is technically impossible, though certainly much more difficult than most people seem to appreciate. How can one imagine that we could create artificial ecosystems that would be sufficiently rich and robust to support human life as we know it, when we could not prevent our own destruction of the natural world that gave us our existence to begin with? What potential return on investment would motivate the unimaginably huge expense of attempting the establishment of a self-sustaining colony? Or do you think that some government would have the political will and resources to accomplish it? There would not be enough resources if the crisis were reached, not enough will if not. In short, there is a better chance of saving our existing environment than creating a new one. Still, it’s unprovable, only refutable by counterexample.

Last, given that the colonization of space is theoretically possible, or rather not provably impossible, its potentiality provides a psychological escape hatch that permits our self-annihilation. If you’re availing yourself of that excuse, can you at least appreciate that it would be an awful exchange; our beautiful earth for some artificial environment? And, of course, what about the poor bastards we couldn’t get off. All x billion just aren’t going to fit in those shuttles you know. Well, there won’t be so many left by then. Oh, that’s not good either. We might even say, look, the earth is doomed by the eventual heating up of the Sun anyway, so we’re going to have to get off sooner or later. Now that’s taking a long-term view. But, why not go further? Unless there’s an as yet unknown loophole in the third law of thermodynamics, life is doomed no matter what we do. Might as well live for today. My point is that there are lots of available escape hatches if that’s what you’re looking for. The colonization fantasy just happens to fit into a loosely imaginable time scale and relieves some scruples we might have for the lives of future generations that look pretty grim to the environmental pessimists.

posted @ 02:13 PM EST

January 7

Version 1.0.7 of NetNewsWire

Somehow I’d missed the announcement of the release of version 1.0.7 of NetNewsWire and NetNewsWire Lite, even though I subscribe to the ranchero.com news feed. Now that I can see it in the news reader, I’ll have to figure out how to change my favicon from Netscape’s (ick).

posted @ 03:57 PM EST

January 17

2004 Pan-Mass Challenge

PMC On August 7th and 8th, for the fifth year, I’ll be biking with Team Dolben in the Pan-Mass Challenge, a Jimmy Fund event benefiting the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a leading center for research in prevention of cancer and treatment of people with cancer.

You can contribute on-line in support of my ride. Or if you would rather make a donation by check, and don’t receive a direct solicitation from me, please contact me by email.

posted @ 08:17 PM EST

January 18

Go Pats!

[2004 AFC]

posted @ 02:10 PM EST

Revisionist Apple History

[20th Anniversary]

It was twenty years ago today.
Apple Computer taught the bland to play.

(Not exactly twenty years ago today, but close enough.)

Apple has tampered with an historical document, the famous 1984 Superbowl Ad for the Macintosh, which now has the hammer thrower wearing an iPod.

posted @ 03:09 PM EST

January 19

Go Pats!

[Super Bowl XXXVIII]

posted @ 01:52 PM EST

Men On Mars, Good Thing?

As I feared, Bush’s empty electioneering has reignited the hopes of science fiction dupes. It’s more than a little disconcerting that one so seemingly hardheaded as Gwynne Dyer would fall into that trap. In a column in The Salt Lake Tribune he says

It really is a good idea to go back to the moon and onward to Mars, for reasons so long-term that they barely get mentioned in the usual debates: the survival of the human race and contact with extraterrestrial life. The payoff on these two issues, if it ever comes, is probably at least several centuries in the future – but they are still important issues.

At least, he admits

Since there are no short-term payoffs to manned space exploration and settlement that are likely to repay the huge investments that are required, and since the political process does not favor really long-term investment, the only incentive that will actually get governments to spend this kind of money on space is a “space race” that involves national pride and prestige.

Will that be enough?

posted @ 02:54 PM EST

A Climate Change Disaster Scenario

With Gwynne Dyer back on the radar, and the connection I made between his take on Bush’s space exploration fantasy and environmental disaster in the previous posting, I wondered what he thought about such questions. In one column he explains the process of ice age inception that is triggered by global warming.

posted @ 04:00 PM EST

January 21

Bush Gave Al-Qaida What It Wants

When Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq I said that this accomplished nothing so much as increasing Arab enmity towards the U.S. In today’s column in The Salt Lake Tribune, Gwynne Dyer has this to say about the rationale of Islamist terrorists:

If the real goal is still revolutions that bring Islamist radicals to power, then how does attacking the West help? Well, the U.S. in particular may be goaded into retaliating by bombing or even invading various Muslim countries – and in doing so, may drive enough aggrieved Muslims into the arms of the Islamist radicals that their long-stalled revolutions against local regimes finally get off the ground.

(So I’m on a Gwynne Dyer kick, sue me.)

posted @ 01:52 PM EST

January 28

Mars Rovers' Embedded Systems

An article on Space.com gives some details on the computer systems in the Mars rovers, which are nothing more exotic than radiation hardened PowerPC based machines running VxWorks - pretty standard stuff, except for the radiation hardened, for high end embedded systems.

posted @ 04:39 PM EST