Friday, December 5, 2014

Oh Yeah, I Remember Now

While playing a round of golf yesterday, I found myself trying to recall the name of the actress who portrayed Phoebe on "Friends."  Should have been easy enough.  I've been watching season one of her show "The Comeback" over the past couple of weeks.

First I went through the cast of Friends, replayed a few episodes of "Episodes" (Joey ... er Matt LeBlanc), and then went to the tried-and-true method of running the alphabet.

I played the back nine much better than the front, which I might attribute to the listing of actresses that distracted me from concentrating too hard on my bad shots.  It was really an impressive list.  There are a lot of C's.

But I never came up with the name, and finally managed to forget my pursuit.

Until Peter Pan came on (#peterpanlive if anyone's looking for me).  At the end of the show, Future Wendy looked like another actress, what was her name?  It was right on the tip of my brain; it had even come up during my alphabetic exercise on the golf course.  Something with an "ie" in it, wasn't it?

Before that, I was mesmerized by Marnie portraying Peter Pan.  No amount of alphabet scanning would have turned up Allison Williams for me; she is Marnie.  And I was proud of her.  She was able to rise above (literally, visible wires notwithstanding) the contemptible character Lena Dunham has forced her to be.  Live on television.

The lesbian scene we haven't seen on "Girls" yet.  I expected Lena Dunham to strut, naked, onto the set of PeterPanLive at any minute.

Oh yeah, I remember what I was writing about.  When future Wendy came on I remembered not being able to remember Phoebe's actress name.  Or Minnie Driver.  So I headed to the computer to cheat.  And I typed "Lisa Kudrow" into the Google search bar.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Selfie Generation vs. Usenet

This is a non-graphic selfie, inspired by the introductory story to a series on the Millennial Generation on Morning Edition.  In the story (more of an essay), narrator Selena Simmons-Duffin, a member of the Selfie Generation, claimed : "Millenials aren't simply users of social media.  We invented it."

Rather than going straight to my contradictory claim, let me first assure the 80 million Millennials who outnumber us Boomers that I don't hate them.  (" ... if you're not a Millenial, you kind of hate us.")

But what I really want to suggest is that social media were not invented by the Millenials.

In my own experience, social media, or at least one social medium, was invented in 1980s by a couple of Duke computer geeks, Jim Ellis and Tom Truscott (a couple of Boomers, incidentally), and called Usenet by Ellis.  When they connected Duke to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, they created a social network.  (ARPANET preceded UseNet as the progenitor of the Internet, but I don't think it was exactly social.)

In trying to figure out just when I started using Usenet, I had a little forehead-slapping moment.  I found a reference to the creation of sci.econ.research, which I created, in June of 1993.  Then I remembered taking a computer science course at Duke in spring 1990 (I can date this because I had to take the exam early because I was getting married during exam week) from, here's the forehead slap, Jim Ellis.  It was, incidentally, the most interesting computer course I ever took:  Ellis (who died around 2001) took a Microsoft-based CAD program for designing a computer and ported it to the SUN OS we our class used in the computer lab, with which we could put together virtual computer parts, "wire" them together, write an instruction set, and pass virtual current through.  We effectively built a virtual computer using the same parts as in a real 8088 processor, and we could then write code to generate outcomes.  I think that gave me an insight into computers that served as a solid base for my career in computers and networks.  I can't swear that I was into Usenet by then, but I can't swear I wasn't, either.

But back to social computing.  Usenet was a collection of newsgroups, which function much like bulletin boards or forums.  They were very much like Facebook in that you could share your thoughts with others in a public arena (as opposed to email).

This was the day of command-line-only computing; GUIs were just around the corner, but the only graphics you'd see were ascii art.  One night I was Usenetting about college basketball, a message from one of the other correspondents on the group (, I believe) suddenly appeared on my computer screen.  We carried on a real-time "conversation."  I think this is what the Selfies call texting nowadays.

The biggest difference, other than slickness of the application layer, between then and now is that on UseNet information was categorized at the subject level.  On Facebook at Twitter, the subject is "me."  If you want information at the subject level, you turn to Google or Wikipedia, which aren't really social.

Whereas I contendt the Selfie Generation did not invent social media, they did invent making money off it.

One of my earliest endeavors in computer user support was to attempt to install the new Usenet reader software, trn, the upgrade of the standard rn then current in the standard unix distro.  When I was having trouble getting the code to compile, I dropped an email to Wayne Davison, the programmer who wrote the software, and he guided me through the process.  No charge.  The trn reader was one of the most important innovations of its day, but if you look up Wayne Davison you don't see any reference to him being a billionaire.  I wonder if Mark Zuckerburg would help me with my Facebook photo gallery.  I also got a lot of freeunix help from a Dutchman named Caspar Dik.

I'd like to point out that the Millenium did not start in 2000, the Y2K plague notwithstanding, but it started in 2001, so none of the Millenials were even born in the Millenium.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Listen to the Mocking Bird

Near the top of Sugarloaf Mountain in Morrow Mountain State Park, Uwharrie Mountains, I heard, but never saw, this delightful mimid, presumably a mocking bird.  I did see a brown thrasher a few minutes later.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Not Captain's Blog

My wife cleverly came up with the idea of writing a blog about our forthcoming travels in our tricked-out van.  We were looking at a Road Trek van, which rhymes with Star Trek, so it was only natural that she came up with the name "Captain's Blog" for the blog.

Then we found we preferred Pleasure Way vans to Road Trek vans, and now I see that on both Blogspot and Wordpress the name "captainsblog" has already been claimed.

Claimed, but not used.  Blogspot's captainsblog has an entry from 2000.  Wordpress's version has the creative entry "Hello World," with a 2005 date.

So don't look for me there.

Any suggestions for a name for the new "ship" will be considered.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Plagiarizing College Research Papers

The brouhaha over the UNC football scandal has brought to light alleged instances of plagiarism in cases where student-atheletes were writing papers for class. These allegations were levelled by N.C. State fans who searched the Internet for phrases that matched those present in one of those papers that was published on the 'net in an attempt to demonstrate that the student involved had not cheated. (These assertions were derived by this author from reading articles in the News & Observer, as well as on-line sources such as reports in The suggestion that N.C. State fans were involve may be an assertion not directly founded in pertinent research.)

I've got news for you: If you're not writing fiction, or collecting you own evidentiary samples, then you aren't doing original work.

More than likely, rather than plagiarizing, the student was failing to properly attribute.

When I was in college at UNC, I took a course in journalism school for which I was required to write a paper on the press in Colonial America. This was a large survey class, and I earned one of only a handful of A's. This was a real turn around for me, as I'd struggled with "research" papers up until that time, thinking I was supposed to actually write something original.

In the course of the assignment, a light went off: I was supposed to copy somebody else.

I checked a half-dozen books on the subject out of the library, figured out the story I was going to tell, and then either copied, or paraphrased, from first one book or the next until I had my paper written. What I did right was to attribute: Footnotes for quotes, with the quote in quotation marks; footnotes for paraphrases without the quotation marks.

I thought that was cheating, at the time, but the paper was clearly done correctly as evidenced by the good grade. In hindsight, I realize this: You can't NOT use somebody else's ideas when you're doing a college paper.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Armistice Day

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, they signed a treaty ending the war to end all wars. They made a holiday of November 11, and called it "Armistice Day." This was supposed to be a celebration of the end of wars.

Unfortunately, the factions in the world that came to be called the military-industrial complex were able to make a mockery out of the idea of a permanent peace. The rise of Adolph Hitler provided the warmongers with a perfect moral imperative to go to war.

War is not moral.

Now, that military-industrial complex has co-opted the holiday intended to celebrate peace and turned it into a day to honor war.

The ultimate survival of the human species depends on solving the civil problem of war (along with a lot of other problems we've created, like destroying our own environment through non-military means).

The solution to the moral quandary of how to deal with Hitlers, and other terrorists, is to prevent them, not to defeat them. It's only a lucky coincidence that the Nazis did not develop nuclear weapons in time to eradicate their opponents.

It is ultimately the responsibility of each individual to choose not to fight.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fried Okra

We were visiting Lou in San Jose on the way out of California, and he suggested dinner at a barbecue joint.

Well, not really a barbecue joint, a bar where Uncle Frank, or in this case Uncle Frank's protege, serves barbecue.

The bar is called The Quarter Note, and they probably play music there. When we entered the bar it wasn't at all obvious that they served food, and since it was Friday night and there were only two patrons in the bar, one had to wonder about the viability of the establishment at all.

But we asked and they handed us a menu.

We ordered ribs and brisket. They were out of hushpuppies.

HOWEVER, one of the sides on the menu was fried okra. Put it this way, I go to cafeterias specifically to get their fried okra, and cafeteria fried okra is only okay.

When the waiter, who was also the cook (and a musician, he told us) said they were not only out of hush puppies but greens as well, I was steeled for the disappointment of not getting my okra. But no, he said, he still had okra.

Lou's girlfriend Maricella indicated she was not a big fan of okra, but we talked her into trying it.

Let's just say Maricella is now a Big Fan of Fried Okra. The portions were sizable, served in little cardboard dishes like you'd expect to hold french fries. The okra came hot out of the skillet, breaded lightly and perfectly crispy. We had three orders, plenty of fried okra for five, and we still asked for a couple more for dessert.

The fried okra was as good as any made by my mother, mother-in-law, or wife, and that's saying something.

So, if you're in San Jose and get a hankering for fried okra, you'll find the real thing at the Quarter Note.

Addendum: This just in. I realized on telling this story that the locale was perfectly suited for the product: barbecue.