Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Where Are All the Dead Animals?

"Dec 29, 10:19 AM (ET)

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan wildlife officials are stunned -- the worst tsunami in memory has killed around 22,000 people along the Indian Ocean island's coast, but they can't find any dead animals.

Giant waves washed floodwaters up to 2 miles inland at Yala National Park in the ravaged southeast, Sri Lanka's biggest wildlife reserve and home to hundreds of wild elephants and several leopards.

"The strange thing is we haven't recorded any dead animals," H.D. Ratnayake, deputy director of the national Wildlife Department, told Reuters on Wednesday.

"No elephants are dead, not even a dead hare or rabbit," he added. "I think animals can sense disaster. They have a sixth sense. They know when things are happening."

At least 40 tourists, including nine Japanese, were drowned.

The tsunami was triggered by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean on Sunday, which sent waves up to 15 feet high crashing onto Sri Lanka's southern, eastern and northern seaboard, flooding whole towns and villages, destroying hotels and causing widespread destruction."

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Japan justice minister agrees to consider sending Fischer to Iceland

"TOKYO : Japanese Justice Minister Chieko Nohno agreed to consider fugitive US chess legend Bobby Fischer's plea to go to Iceland to avoid deportation and potential jail in the United States. "

Bobby Fischer in 1992

Essay on Dylan leads to Grammy nomination

"Princeton University history professor Sean Wilentz has been nominated for a Grammy Award for his album notes accompanying a live Bob Dylan two-compact disc set that was released last spring."

Friday, December 24, 2004

carnival of the cats

Reading the current issue of Time magazine, I learned (in their article about blogs), that there's been a Friday afternoon blogging tradition for some time....

"It started as an in-joke among feline-friendly bloggers: why not post pictures of their cats every Friday afternoon? Friday catblogging became a hit, and soon even NASA was playing along by posting pictures of the Cat's Eye nebula".

So, in keeping with that tradition, I present a couple of kitten photos from the deep, dark past. The first is of Guru, who was briefly mentioned in Heroes Still, for knocking over my meticulously assembled Saturn V rocket on the eve of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

Guru was my companion during that long, hot summer (especially hot for me, as I was encased in a bodycast following knee surgery), excepting a two week period, when he climbed a tree next to our house and was too scared to come down.

The tree was close to 30 feet high, and my parents tried everything. My father ascended on the long house-painting ladder, dressed in trenchcoat, goggles, thick leather gloves and helmet (he was not an animal lover), but Guru responded my climbing even higher.

I had the idea of tape recording my voice, calling to him and cajoling him to come down. It apparently had an effect, as he made his greatest effort to descend, but he had never learned about backing down a tree, and his courage failed him. Finally, a wealthy friend of the family, who had a Siamese cat (who used to get up on his hind legs to turn the handle of a door to escape whatever room he'd been secured in), hired a professional animal rescuer from New York, and Guru was eventually retrieved by use of a cherry picker.

Guru was also famous for watching TV -- half-an-hour at a time on occasion -- while seated upon his special cushion. His favorite 'program' was to watch the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders (this was back in the day when it wasn't politically incorrect to show longer segments of them than of the Cowboys themselves).

Guru was my first cat (I had grown up with dogs), and I thought that one could rough-house with them in a similar manner. When I finally returned to school, my teacher asked me if I had a puma at home, as my hands were shredded with scratches.

The next photos are of Kubalai Khan as a kitten, perched upon his version of a throne. He was the first of a number of cats whom I named from the Mongol's family. We had a great relationship over the years, and he was a totally trusting cat. I'd flip him over onto his back, cradled in the crook of my arm, in order to administer serious stomach rubs. He'd often drift off to sleep during the process. Ah, if only I'd had his life!

Anyway, for the cat lovers amongst you, be sure to click on the title link to check out 'carnival of the cats'. Perhaps I'll continue the tradition next Friday, with a look at Subodai and Bortai, my brother and sister Siamese.

Happy Holidays to you all!

$4.15M Donated for Swiss Saint Bernards

"Swiss philanthropists are giving more than $4 million to keep the famed Saint Bernard rescue dogs working on the mountain pass that gave them their name, a key advocate said Friday.

Monks of the Congregation of Canons of the Great Saint Bernard have kept the dogs in their mountain monastery since about 1660. However, the monks said in October that maintaining the kennels had become too much of a financial burden.

Rudolf Thomann, president of the Swiss Saint Bernard Club, said two foundations were being created to care for the dogs and build a museum in their honor. The canines are credited with having saved some 2,000 travelers over the past 200 years."

I have two of these magnificent animals as next-door neighbors...Cheyenne and Dakota. They'll be thrilled to hear of I imagine will the humans who live there also.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Tom "Doc" Rowe is working on the latest version of his submersible, 'Bionic Dolphin'. Although I've not seen the film, the prototype apparently appeared in an Austin Powers movie.

Here's a link to my own encounter with the non-bionic version.

Nakamura keeps winning

"In the War of the wunderkinds, the American prodigy came out on top. White Plains, N.Y., GM Hikaru Nakamura, fresh from his victory in the U.S. Chessmaster Championship the week before, defeated fellow teenager GM Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine in a six-game match in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Nakamura won four, drew one and lost only once for a decisive 41/2-11/2 triumph."

My original post about Nakamura is here.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Army Unveils New, Ultra-Real Simulation

Coming soon to a Nintendo near you!

MSNBC - Mars discoveries lead Science's Top 10 list

Science magazine's 'Top 10' list of science discoveries (Discover magazine has a 'Top 100' list) is lead my the unmistakable evidence that Mars once had flowing, liquid water on its surface.

First runner-up for the breakthrough of the year was the discovery of Homo Floresiensis, the 3-foot tall 'Hobbits' that I've discussed several times in the past (Discover has these as #3 and #30 respectively, with confirmed Global Warming and SpaceShipOne leading their list).

Hitler Was a Tax Dodger, Researcher Finds

You know, I think we were all willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but this is just too much!

The Shroud's Second Image

Whatever the true origins of the Shroud of Turin, the continuing investigations into the mystery of its origin make for captivating reading. Click the title link for the full article.

"The Shroud of Turin was widely dismissed as a medieval forgery after radiocarbon tests in 1988 dated it to the 13th or 14th century. Now a growing body of evidence is calling for reassessment of the shroud, which is kept in Turin, Italy.

The latest item comes from the London-based Journal of Optics, published by the Institute of Physics. Two scientists from the University of Padua, Giulio Fanti and Roberto Maggiolo, report in the journal's April edition the discovery of a heretofore-undetected reverse image on the shroud. They say the smaller, fainter image on the back of the cloth depicts just the face and hands. And it's a superficial image, adhering only to the outermost fibers, just like the image on the front. "It is extremely difficult to make a fake with these features," Fanti writes."

Friday, December 17, 2004

Cassini-Huygens: Multimedia-Images-Latest Images

This is a great site from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, showing the latest images from the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft orbiting Saturn. The Huygens probe will detach in January in order to descend through the cloud-enshrouded atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan...long thought to be one of the most likely objects in the solar system to support the possibility of harboring life. What an exciting time for space exploration!

See my essay, posted on the left, entitled 'Heroes Still', mentioning the Apollo moon landings.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Iceland beckons chess legend Bobby Fischer

In a story somewhat related to the one below,

"Iceland says it will give a residence permit to chess legend Bobby Fischer, who is being held by Japanese immigration authorities as the United States tries to extradite him.

Fischer wrote to Icelandic Foreign Minister David Oddsson requesting asylum.

Fischer, who became an American hero for wresting the world chess crown from Soviet domination during the Cold War, has been held in Japan after trying in July to board a flight to the Philippines using an invalid passport."

Josh Waitzkin, Subject of "Searching For Bobby Fischer," wins World Championship in Martial Arts.

What a phenomenal accomplishment! To become so adept, so quickly, in Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands, after beginning to study in 1998 -- after excelling in chess. I can't wait to read his second book, on "the learning process and performance psychology", to be published in 2006.

Bush Prepares for Possible GPS Shutdown

"WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush has ordered plans for temporarily disabling the U.S. network of global positioning satellites during a national crisis to prevent terrorists from using the navigational technology, the White House said Wednesday."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Earth-Like Clouds and a New Type of Rock


"NASA's Mars rovers have returned new evidence for past water, pictures of Earth-like clouds seen for the first time from the planet's surface, and a rock that doesn't look like anything scientists have ever seen."

Lonely whale's song remains a mystery


"A lone whale with a voice unlike any other has been wandering the Pacific for the past 12 years.

Marine biologist Mary Ann Daher of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, US, and her colleagues used signals recorded by the US navy’s submarine-tracking hydrophones to trace the movements of whales in the north Pacific.

The partially declassified records show that a lone whale singing at around 52 hertz has cruised the ocean every autumn and winter since 1992. Its calls do not match those of any known species, although they are clearly those of a baleen whale, a group that includes blue, fin and humpback whales.

Blue whales typically call at frequencies between 15 and 20 hertz. They use some higher frequencies, but not 52 hertz, Daher says. Fin whales make pulsed sounds at around 20 hertz, while humpbacks sing at much higher frequencies. The tracks of the lone whale do not match the migration patterns of any other species, either.

Over the years the calls have deepened slightly, perhaps because the whale has aged, but its voice is still recognisable. Daher doubts that the whale belongs to a new species, although no similar call has been found anywhere else, despite careful monitoring."

Truly unique pen rest

This is a pen rest that one of my customers made and sent to me. It's all metal, using primarily nails, nuts and bolts. It stands about 2-1/2" tall and is about the same dimension in width.

If you click on the title, it will take you to some additional photos on the His website.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Researchers take on imaginary playmates -- for real

A look at imaginary friends in childhood, and how they morph into other aspects of personality in adulthood (for instance, the fairly common experience of novelists whose characters seem to come alive and write their own story).

One of my first imaginary friends was a little white horse, who could become invisible, and fit in the palm of my hand. He was created *for* me by my older brother Bruce, who is a cartoonist.

Subsequently, I had a plethora of 'real imaginary fictional characters'! Growing up, I would often be accompanied by Napoleon Solo and Illia Kuryakin (both from 'The Man From Uncle'), John Drake (from 'Secret Agent'), John Steed and Emma Peel (from 'The Avengers'....I tried to keep Emma with me through adulthood), and even James Bond on occasion. I felt quite secure knowing that I was well protected by these friends, and could at any time disarm an errant nuclear device if required. Less frequently, I was sheparded by the Fantastic Four, Batman or my personal favorite, Spiderman (whatever became of him?).

These days I'm visited from time to time by 'Big Norman', AKA my 'Higher Self', who dispenses words of wisdom and calming insight, and is even more devilishly handsome and muscular than I am. But then, he's not imaginary.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Casper Star-Tribune: Scientist: Prairie dogs appear to have their own language

The latest addition to growing list of our fellow creatures that appear to share some level of language ability. Other notable identified species -- with greater or lesser degrees of confidence on our part -- include (this is far from an exhaustive list) those in the Cetacean family (whales, dolphins, porpoises -- see my essay 'Beam Me In, Scotty' on the bar to the left); the 'higher' primates, such as the Gorilla (most famously, Koko), Chimpanzee and Bonobo; Canines such as the wolf and domestic dog; various species of Parrot; and perhaps most interestingly, as they are invertebrates, Squid and Octopi, which seem to be able to communicate quite complex meaning through rapid color shifts in their skin!

"Scientist: Prairie dogs appear to have their own language
Albuquerque Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Prairie dogs, those little pups popping in and out of holes on vacant lots and rural rangeland, are talking up a storm.

They have different 'words' for tall human in yellow shirt, short human in green shirt, coyote, deer, red-tailed hawk and many other creatures.

They can even coin new terms for things they've never seen before, independently coming up with the same calls or words, according to Con Slobodchikoff, a Northern Arizona University biology professor and prairie dog linguist.

Prairie dogs of the Gunnison's species, which Slobodchikoff has studied, speak different dialects in Grants and Taos, N.M.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Monarch Pass, Colo., but they would likely understand one another, the professor says.

'So far, I think we are showing the most sophisticated communication system that anyone has shown in animals,' Slobodchikoff said.

Slobodchikoff has spent the last two decades studying prairie dogs and their calls, mostly in Arizona, but also in New Mexico and Colorado.

Prairie dog chatter is variously described by observers as a series of yips, high-pitched barks or eeks. And most scientists think prairie dogs simply make sounds that reflect their inner condition. That means all they're saying are things like 'ouch' or 'hungry' or 'eek.'

But Slobodchikoff believes prairie dogs are communicating detailed information to one another about what animals are showing up in their colonies, and maybe even gossiping.

Linguists have set five criteria that must be met for something to qualify as language: It must contain words with abstract meanings; possess syntax in which the order of words is part of their meaning; have the ability to coin new words; be composed of smaller elements; and use words separated in space and time from what they represent.

'I've been chipping away at all of these,' Slobodchikoff said.

He and his students have done work in the field and in a laboratory. With digital recorders, they record the calls prairie dogs make as they see different people, dogs of different sizes and with different coat colors, hawks, elk. They analyze the sounds using a computer that dissects the underlying structure and creates a sonogram, or visual representation of the sound. Computer analysis later identifies the similarities and differences.

The prairie dogs have calls for various predators but also for elk, deer, antelope and cows.

'It's as if they're trying to inform one another what's out there,' Slobodchikoff said.

So far, he has recorded at least 20 different 'words.'

Some of those words or calls were created by the prairie dogs when they saw something for the first time. Four prairie dogs in Slobodchikoff's lab were shown a great-horned owl and European ferret, two animals they had likely not seen before, if only because the owls are mostly nocturnal and this kind of ferret is foreign. The prairie dogs independently came up with the same new calls.

In the field, black plywood cutouts showing the silhouette of a coyote, a skunk and an oval shape were randomly run along a wire through the prairie dog colony.

'There are no black ovals running around out there and yet they all had the same word for black oval,' Slobodchikoff said.

He guesses the prairie dogs are genetically programmed with some vocabulary and the ability to describe things.

Computer analysis has been able to break down some prairie dog calls into different components, suggesting the critters have yet another element of a real language.

'We're chipping away with this at the idea that animals don't have language,' Slobodchikoff said."

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Hobbits? We've got a cave full

For further information on this, see my earlier posts:

Post 1
Post 2

By Deborah Smith, Science Editor, Fairfax Digital
December 6, 2004

"Chief Epiradus Dhoi Lewa has a strange tale to tell. Sitting in his bamboo and wooden home at the foot of an active volcano on the remote Indonesian island of Flores, he recalls how people from his village were able to capture a tiny woman with long, pendulous breasts three weeks ago.

'They said she was very little and very pretty,' he says, holding his hand at waist height. 'Some people saw her very close up.'

The villagers of Boawae believe the strange woman came down from a cave on the steaming mountain where short, hairy people they call Ebu Gogo lived long ago.

'Maybe some Ebu Gogo are still there,' the 70-year-old chief told the Herald through an interpreter in Boawae last week.

The locals' descriptions of Ebu Gogo as about a metre tall, with pot bellies and long arms match the features of a new species of human 'hobbits' whose bones were recently unearthed by Australian and Indonesian researchers in a different part of Flores in a cave known as Liang Bua.

The unexpected discovery of this tiny Homo floresiensis, who existed until at least 12,000 years ago at Liang Bua, before being apparently wiped out by a volcanic eruption, was hailed as one of the most important archaeological finds in decades when it was announced in October.

The chief adds that the mysterious little woman in Boawae somehow 'escaped' her captors, and the local police said they knew nothing of her existence when he quizzed them.

The prospect that some hobbits still exist in pockets of thick, fertile jungle on Flores is extremely unlikely, says Douglas Hobbs, a member of the team that discovered Homo floresiensis. But it is possible they survived near Boawae until 300 or so years ago, when the chief's ancestors moved into the area, he says.

The detailed stories that the villagers tell about the legendary Ebu Gogo on the volcano have convinced the Australian and Indonesian team to search for bones of hobbits in this cave when they return to the rugged island next year, says Hobbs, an emeritus archaeologist with the University of New England, who discussed excavation plans with the chief last week.

Getting to the cave on the 2100-metre-high Ebulobo volcano, however, will be no simple matter for the team led by Professor Mike Morwood of UNE. The blood of a pig must first be spilt in this society where Catholic faith is melded with animist beliefs and ancestor worship.

The sacrifice and the feast will please the ancestors and bring many villagers together to talk about the cave, says the chief, whose picture of his grandfather, the king, in traditional head-dress, sits framed on the wall next to images of Jesus.
Grandfather of Chief Epiradus Dhoi Lewa of Boawae.

Grandfather of Chief Epiradus Dhoi Lewa of Boawae.

If the right rituals are followed, 'then we will be able to find the road to the hole again', he says.

A Dutch palaeontologist, Dr Gert van den Bergh, a member of the team, was first shown the cave at a distance more than a decade ago, after hearing folk tales of the Ebu Gogo, which means 'grandmother who eats everything'.

People living around the volcano told him a consistent story of the hairy creatures that devoured whatever they could grasp in their long fingers. The villagers tolerated the stealing of food until the Ebu Gogo began to snatch babies and eat them too. They then set upon the little people, forcing them out of the cave with bales of burning grass.

Van den Bergh dismissed the tales as akin to those of leprechauns and elves, until the hobbit bones were found.

While the search for more bones is being planned, a political furore has broken out after a leading Indonesian palaeoanthropologist - with no connection to the find - last week 'borrowed' all the delicate remains from six hobbits found at Liang Bua against the wishes of local and Australian team members. Professor Teuku Jacob, of Gadjah Mada University, who has challenged the view that Homo floresiensis is a new species, had previously taken the skull and bones of the most complete specimen, a 30-year-old female hobbit, from the Indonesian Centre for Archaeology in Jakarta, where they had been kept.

Professor Morwood said it was wrong that the team who found the remains were unable to analyse them first. 'It is not good for the Indonesian researchers nor their institution.'

However, he said Professor Jacob had signed an agreement to return all the bones by January 1."

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The New York Times > Science > Astronaut's Long Career Ends

"The New York Times
December 8, 2004
Astronaut's Long Career Ends

HOUSTON, Dec. 7 (AP) - The longest serving astronaut in history, John W. Young, announced his retirement on Tuesday.

Mr. Young, who has spent 42 years at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, plans to leave the agency on Dec. 31.

Mr. Young, who commanded the first shuttle mission and flew twice to the Moon, was the first person to fly in space six times and the only astronaut to pilot four different spacecraft. He flew in the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs.

'John's tenacity and dedication are matched only by his humility,' said Sean O'Keefe, the administrator of NASA. 'He's never sought fame and often goes out of his way to avoid the limelight.'

Mr. O'Keefe said Mr. Young's legacy would inspire space explorers for years to come.

Mr. Young, 74, joined NASA in 1962. His first mission was in 1965 as a pilot of the first manned flight of the Gemini program. He went on to command the Gemini 10 in 1966, followed by his orbit of the Moon in the Apollo command module in 1969.

Mr. Young went back to the Moon in 1972 in Apollo 16. He and his fellow astronaut, Charles M. Duke, collected more than 200 pounds of lunar samples.

'John has an incredible engineering mind, and he sets the gold standard when it comes to asking the really tough questions,' said William F. Readdy, NASA's associate administrator for space operations. In 1981, Mr. Young commanded the Columbia during the first space shuttle mission. In his final space mission, in 1983, he again commanded the Columbia.

Mr. Young was chief of the agency's astronaut office for more than a dozen years and was an assistant and associate director of the Johnson Space Center for eight years.

'John Young has no equal in his service to our country and to humanity's quest for space,' said Jefferson D. Howell Jr., director of the Johnson Space Center.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Monday, December 06, 2004

Lord, 'Dammit Jim'

A nice 'review' of William Shatner's continuing popularity -- almost 40 years after first playing Captain Kirk on 'Star Trek'.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Thai Military Drops Origami for Peace

This first caught my eye as I have a fairly intricate fold for the notes which I send to my customers through His It enables me to enclose a business card while sealing the note with my 'His Nibs' signet ring.

This article tells the story of 120 million oragami cranes folded, and then dropped over violence-torn southern Thailand by more than 50 government warplanes. A unique approach to easing tensions.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Bob Dylan Says He's Not a Prophet

(AP Photo/CBS)

The Hit We Almost Missed

From the NY Times:

December 3, 2004
The Hit We Almost Missed

IT'S official, I guess. Forty years after he recorded it, Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" was just named the greatest rock 'n' roll song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, a tribute it had previously been given by New Musical Express, Britain's leading pop-music weekly. Quite an honor, considering that the single was almost never released.

"Like a Rolling Stone" was recorded on June 15, 1965, in Studio A at 799 Seventh Avenue, then the New York headquarters of Columbia Records, where I worked as the coordinator of new releases, scheduling every step of a record's production. (On the top floor of the building, the modest studio had been used by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand.) When the edited tape was played a few days later for Mr. Dylan and his manager, the reaction was unanimous: it would be a hit and should be released immediately.

But before that could happen, the song had to be presented at Columbia's weekly singles meeting, and that's where the trouble began. Though just about everyone from the A & R (artists and repertoire) and promotion departments loved it, the sales and marketing people had a different opinion. And their opinion mattered, for sales and marketing was the engine behind the label's success.

Their objection to the song came on two levels. The unstated reason was that they just didn't like raucous rock 'n' roll. The sales and marketing people had made Columbia a winner by selling mainstream American music - pop, jazz, country, gospel, the best of Broadway and Hollywood. But rock? No way. It was this thinking that had led the label to turn down Elvis Presley in 1955 and the first American album by the Beatles in 1963.

Of course, none of this was raised at the meeting about "Like a Rolling Stone." What did come up was the length of the song. In 1965, three minutes was the average time for singles played on national radio. "Like a Rolling Stone" clocked in at one second under six minutes. The solution? Cut the baby in half, the wise Solomon of Sales decreed.

When presented with this edict, Bob Dylan refused, fully prepared to engage in yet another fight with the giant, wholesome label. (In 1963, Mr. Dylan had failed to persuade Columbia to release "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues.") Except there was no one to fight with. The big guys were engaged in a more important drama.

Columbia Records, which had always remained autonomous from its parent, CBS, was moving into the corporation's new building on Sixth Avenue (soon to be known as Black Rock), where our vice president of sales and marketing was taking over the A & R department, and soon, it was rumored, the second-in-command position, under our much beloved president, Goddard Lieberson. That vice president and his staff had never expressed any great fondness or attached any future importance to Mr. Dylan - who performed at one of their mammoth sales conventions but never "mingled." With all the distraction over the move to CBS headquarters and the intrigue of the executive power play, the matter of Mr. Dylan's epic rock song was quickly taken care of. A memo was sent out saying that the single was to be moved from an "immediate special" to an "unassigned release." Translated, it was in limbo, soon to be dropped, no doubt, into the dark graveyard of canceled releases.

After that, the tumult of the move to Black Rock filled our days. Decades of memorabilia from 799 had to be discarded because the welcoming notice from CBS clearly stated that clutter would not be allowed in the new building, a temple to spare modernism.

During my last trek through what remained of the A & R department, I was invited to sort through a stack of records and demos that were to be junked. Among them I discovered a gem: a studio-cut acetate of "Like a Rolling Stone." Carefully packing it into an empty LP jacket, I carried it home and that weekend played it more than once in my apartment. The effect was the same as it had been the first time I had experienced it. Exhilaration. Heart pounding. Body rolling - followed by neighbors banging on the walls in protest. Then, on Sunday evening, it came to me. I knew exactly where the song could be fully appreciated.

At the time, the hottest new disco in Manhattan was a place called Arthur, on East 54th Street. Sybil Burton, whose husband had run off with Elizabeth Taylor a few years before, was the creator of the uniquely egalitarian club, which was on the site of the old El Morocco. Some of Arthur's owners were famous - Mike Nichols, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein - and some weren't (me). When it opened in May, no one except the fabulous Sybil expected that Arthur would cause such a sensation, and that everyone would want to go there - including Bob Dylan. Late in June, dressed in wine-stained, beer-splattered Army-Navy store couture, he and his rowdy male friends had tried to get in. They were turned away.

His rejected single had better luck. Perhaps because I was a "club member," the D.J. was very polite when asked if he would kindly play the acetate during a free moment. Deliberately neglecting to mention the name of the singer, I did say that the song was rather long and that he should feel free to stop it if the dancers got bored or tired.

At around 11 p.m., after a break, he played the acetate. The effect was seismic. People jumped to their feet and took to the floor, dancing the entire six minutes. Those who were seated stopped talking and began to listen. "Who is it?" the D.J. yelled at one point, running toward me. "Bob Dylan!" I shouted back. The name spread through the room, which only encouraged the skeptics to insist that it be played again, straight through. Sometime past midnight, as the grooves on the temporary dub wore out, the needle began to skip.

But not before the song had been heard by two important guests. One was a D.J. at WABC, then the leading Top 40 radio station in Manhattan. The other was a music programmer at the equally powerful WMCA. The next morning both called Columbia Records and demanded to know where their copy of the new Bob Dylan record was. Staff meetings were hastily called. Goddard Lieberson, who had recently met with Mr. Dylan during his concert tour in England (only to be chastised backstage by Mr. Dylan's protective former girlfriend, Joan Baez, for allowing Columbia to "exploit and commercialize Bobby"), was brought into the dispute over the length of the song. Standards and rules were dandy, said "God," but they should never interfere with the evolution of an artist.

The release memo came shortly thereafter. On July 15, a month after it had been recorded, "Like a Rolling Stone" shipped to stores and D.J.'s. The latter were put on alert that this was a hot Columbia single, because it was pressed on red vinyl. On side one of the red promotional disc, the label read: "Like a Rolling Stone (Part 1). Timing 3:02." Side two said: "Part 2. Timing 3:02." The song had been cut down the middle. Sales and marketing had struck again.

But they didn't win. Some D.J.'s simply recorded both sides of the disc on tape and spliced the whole thing together and - voila! - came up with the complete song (with five seconds added).

The following week "Like a Rolling Stone," full version, entered the Billboard charts. By August it was in the Top Ten, rising to No. 2. Bob Dylan performed it live at the Newport Folk Festival (they booed the rock 'n' roll half of the show) and at a concert in Forest Hills, Queens (loud cheers).

The electronic folk-rock revolution spread quickly after that, and Bob Dylan began to dress accordingly - he was no longer the prince of folk, but a rock 'n' roll star. Arriving at Arthur with the model Sara Lownds (whom he would marry that November), the stylishly mod and extremely polite Bob Dylan was promptly admitted.

"Like a Rolling Stone" remained on the charts for three months, carrying Columbia into what was then called "the New Rock." (The music, not the building.) Our omnipotent vice president of sales, however, did not lead that transition. Instead, a lawyer with no A & R training and no claim to having "ears" was given the job of administrative vice president under Goddard. His first task was to renew Bob Dylan's contract with Columbia. The artist's demands exceeded those of the top Columbia stars, Andy Williams and Barbra Streisand. His requests were met.

Shaun Considine is writing a book about New York and the creative revolutions of the mid-1960's.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

CBS News | Up Next: Bob Dylan | December 5, 2004

Bob Dylan appears for his first on-air interview in 19 years, this coming Sunday on 60 Minutes.

photo: CBS

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Returning to the 'scene of the crime'

"Twelve years ago Boris Spassky played a [chess] match against Bobby Fischer in Yugoslavia. That got Fischer into a lot of trouble, while for Spassky, a French citizen, there were no repercussions. Now the tenth world champion returned to Belgrade to open the Belgrade Chess Trophy. Quick interview..."

Gligoric, Spassky and Ananijev at the opening ceremony

(see my essay 'The Search Continues' at left, for more details)

Scientific maverick's theory on Earth's core up for a test / Controversial view sees vast uranium field that serves as natural reactor

I first read about this fascinating theory about two years ago in Discover magazine. Herndon's a very interesting character.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Getting the intergalactic message across is easier said than done

"Scientists recently decoded the first confirmed alien transmission from outer space. It said:

'Please send 5x10 (to the 50th power) atoms of hydrogen to each of the five star systems listed below. Then, add your system to the top of the list and delete the system at the bottom. Transmit copies of this message to 100 different solar systems. If you follow these instructions, you are guaranteed that within 0.25 degrees of a galactic rotation you will receive in return sufficient hydrogen stores to power your own civilization until the universe reaches inevitable maximum entropy. This really works!'"

This is from a quite interesting piece on the present state of SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). I'm collecting my hydrogen atoms now.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Trains, Pens, Arabic and Germans...

An entry from Alec Muffett's weblog, where he describes his travails in attempting to learn about Pelikan pens at Selfridges, on Bond Street, London.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Dolphins protect swimmers from shark

Just another entry in a long litany of such reports, going back thousands of years.

Click here for my own close encounter with our cetacean cousin.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

'Original' great ape discovered

'Original' great ape discovered
By Paul Rincon
BBC News science reporter

Scientists have unearthed remains of a primate that could have been ancestral not only to humans but to all great apes, including chimps and gorillas.

The partial skeleton of this 13-million-year-old "missing link" was found by palaeontologists working at a dig site near Barcelona in Spain.

Details of the sensational discovery appear in Science magazine.

The new specimen was probably male, a fruit-eater and was slightly smaller than a chimpanzee, researchers say.

It's very impressive because of its completeness
David Begun, University of Toronto
Palaeontologists were just getting started at the dig when a bulldozer churned up a tooth.

Further investigation yielded one of the most complete ape skeletons known from the Miocene Epoch (about 22 to 5.5 million years ago).

Salvador Moyà-Solà of the Miquel Crusafont Institute of Palaeontology in Barcelona and colleagues subsequently found parts of the skull, ribcage, spine, hands and feet, along with other bones.

They have assigned it to an entirely new family and species: Pierolapithecus catalaunicus .

Monkey business

Great apes are thought - on the basis of genetic and other evidence - to have separated from another primate group known as the lesser apes some time between 11 and 16 million years ago (The lesser apes include gibbons and siamang).

It is fascinating, therefore, for a specimen like Pierolapithecus to turn up right in this window.

Scientists think the creature lived after the lesser apes went their own evolutionary way, but before the great apes began their own diversification into different forms such as orang-utans, gorillas, chimps and, of course, humans.

" Pierolapithecus probably is, or is very close to, the last common ancestor of great apes and humans," said Professor Moyà-Solà.

The new ape's ribcage, lower spine and wrist display signs of specialised climbing abilities that link it with modern great apes, say the researchers.

The overall orthograde - or upright - body design of this animal and modern-day great apes is thought to be an adaptation to vertical climbing and suspending the body from branches.

The Miocene ape fossil record is patchy; so finding such a complete fossil from this time period is unprecedented.

"It's very impressive because of its completeness," David Begun, professor of palaeoanthropology at the University of Toronto, Canada, told the BBC News website.

"I think the authors are right that it fills a gap between the first apes to arrive in Europe and the fossil apes that more closely resemble those living today."

Planet of the apes

Other scientists working on fossil apes were delighted by the discovery. But not all were convinced by the conclusions drawn by the Spanish researchers.

Professor Begun considers it unlikely that Pierolapithecus was ancestral to orang-utans.

"I haven't seen the original fossils. But there are four or five important features of the face, in particular, that seem to be closer to African apes," he explained.

"To me the possibility exists that it is already on the evolutionary line to African apes and humans."

Professor David Pilbeam, director of the Peadbody Museum in Cambridge, US, was even more sceptical about the relationship of Pierolapithecus to modern great apes: "To me it's a very long stretch to link this to any of the living apes," he told the BBC News website.

"I think it's unlikely that you would find relatives of the apes that live today in equatorial Africa and Asia up in Europe.

"But it's interesting in that it appears to show some adaptations towards having a trunk that's upright because it's suspending itself [from branches].

"It also has some features that show quadrupedal (four-legged) behaviour. Not quadrupedal in the way chimps or gorillas are, but more in the way that monkeys are - putting their fingers down flat," he explained.

During the Miocene, Earth really was the planet of the apes.

As many as 100 different ape species roamed the Old World, from France to China in Eurasia and from Kenya to Namibia in Africa.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/11/18 19:01:57 GMT


Following in Pioneer's footsteps -- Calls grow for a mission to find out why old space probes are slowing down.

"Does the puzzling behaviour of the Pioneer spacecraft at the edge of the solar system reveal new laws of physics? Space scientists are calling for a deep-space mission to find out. Even if there is no revolutionary physics involved, they say that results could be vital for engineers designing future deep-space probes."

Here's a link to the original article I posted about the anomaly.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Experience Music Project museum opens Bob Dylan's American Journey, 1956-1966 on Saturday

Details the travelling exhibit which opens in Seattle this weekend. It also mentions the upcoming Martin Scorsese documentary of Dylan, which will be broadcast on the PBS series 'American Masters' in July.

Famous faces uncork a passion for wine

"Italian winemaker Antonio Terni lured Bob Dylan into a joint wine project at his family's Fattoria Le Terrazze. He even christened one of his wines Visions of J, after Dylan's Visions of Johanna album.

Last year, Terni sent some to the singer and suggested a wine collaboration. The result is a juicy blend of montepulciano and merlot called Planet Waves, made by Terni but endorsed with Dylan's signature."

Many feel that Dylan has been whining for decades.

'60s Rock God Bob Dylan Comes to Harvard - Harvard Independent - Arts

I realize that my blog this week is almost an homage to Bob Dylan -- but what are personal blogs for?

Bob Dylan: The most dangerous man in America?

From the Charlotte Observer:

Is the world spinning backwards?

You heard about the Colorado high school students who planned to perform a (very old) Bob Dylan song at their school talent show, didn't you?

The students, who called their band Coalition of the Willing, wanted to do "Masters of War," the great American songwriter's biting antiwar ballad from his album, "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." The album came out in 1963.

That's 41 years ago.

It was apparently too controversial for some Boulder folks in 2004. So much so, the Secret Service got involved, fearing the kids might be a threat to President Bush.

When some adults and other students heard the band rehearsing "Masters of War," they called a Boulder talk radio show and said the students were singing a song that threatened the safety of the president. Because it is illegal to threaten the president, the Secret Service was called in to investigate the complaints.

Those high school musicians just wanted to speak their minds about political issues using a classic, time-honored protest song. In America, we're supposed to be able to do that. We could in 1963, when the young Dylan wrote and passionately sang these words expressing his hatred of warmongers:

"You might say that I'm young. / You might say I'm unlearned. / But there's one thing I know, / though I'm younger than you, / even Jesus would never forgive what you do ... / And I hope that you die / and your death'll come soon. / I will follow your casket in the pale afternoon. / And I'll watch while you're lowered down to your deathbed. / And I'll stand o'er your grave 'til I'm sure that you're dead."

The students were eventually permitted to sing the song. If we ever let the reverse happen, America will stop being America.

NPR : Bob Dylan: A Conversation

Dylan's first, albeit short, recorded interview in 19 years!

My Latest Bob Dylan concert

Tuesday night I attended my 3rd Bob Dylan concert since moving to the Lehigh Valley in the autumn of 2000 (one of many I've gone to over the past 35 years). This is a very busy time for Mr. Dylan, as he wraps up his fall college tour at Harvard on the 21st (his 29th stop since October 13th!), which is just a subset of his 'Never-ending Tour', which has gone on for years now.

Events in the past several years have included, in 1997, the Kennedy Center Honors and three Grammy Awards ('Album of the Year', 'Best Male Rock Vocal Performance' and 'Best Contemporary Folk Album') for 'Time Out of Mind'; in 2001 an Oscar for best original song 'Things Have Changed' from the Michael Douglas film 'The Wonder Boys'; and repeated
nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature every year since 1997.

This month also saw the release of the first book of his autobiography, entitled 'Chronicles: Volume One', and an updated edition of his complete lyrics.

Just yesterday, Rolling Stone magazine announced its '500 Greatest Songs of All Time' (compiled from votes by 172 critics and musicians), and coming in at number one was Dylan's 'Like a Rolling Stone', which if memory serves, has always held that position throughout the years during similar surveys.

When I've mentioned going to the concert, I've had reactions from "I thought he was dead" and (from someone who overheard that comment) , "No, he just sings like he died", to "You're so lucky! I can't imagine anyone who I'd rather see in a concert".

The songs Dylan selected to perform ran the gamut, but drew more heavily on his last album, (2001's 'Love and Theft'), than he usually does, with only one song each from the '70s, '80s and '90s!

1. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat (1966 'Blonde on Blonde')
2. Absolutely Sweet Marie (1966 'Blonde on Blonde')
3. Lonesome Day Blues (2001 'Love and Theft')
4. This Wheel's On Fire (1975 'The Basement Tapes')
5. Seeing The Real You At Last (1985 'Empire Burlesque')
6. Positively 4th Street (1967 'Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits')
7. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum (2001 'Love and Theft')
8. Under The Red Sky (1990 'Under the Red Sky')
9. Bye And Bye (2001 'Love and Theft')
10. Highway 61 Revisited (1965 'Highway 61 Revisited')
11. Masters Of War (1963 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan')
not surprisingly, this got a huge crowd reaction

12. Honest With Me (2001 'Love and Theft')
13. Girl Of The North Country (1963 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan')
this was a special request from a kid named Alladin, who Dylan met that day while working out at a local gym

14. Summer Days (2001 'Love and Theft')

15. Like A Rolling Stone (1965 'Highway 61 Revisited')
the greatest song of all time according to the 'experts'

16. All Along The Watchtower (1967 'All Along the Watchtower')
always a crowd favorite, and Jimi Hendrix's greatest hit Bob Dylan Q & A: He's not sorry about the Victoria's Secret ad and not sure you should call Chronicles a book

A short interview from 'the road'. Some interesting tidbits.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Dylan Plucks No. 1 Song of All Time

...and I'll hopefully post my brief review later today of his concert here on Tuesday night!

Experimental NASA jet reaches Mach 10 - Nov 16, 2004

NASA's latest test of their scramjet reached the incredible speed of 6,600 miles per hour. This is really going to cut down on my commuting time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Miniature People Add Extra Pieces to Evolutionary Puzzle

A follow-up article in the NY Times about the Floresians -- the 'new' species of human recently found, and referred to as 'Hobbits' in my Oct. 29th entry below.

The original theory posited that they were a 'downsized' version of Homo Erectus. Now, there's a countervailing theory that they might have evolved from Homo Sapiens!

Here's the article for those who have trouble signing in to the NY Times site:

November 9, 2004
Miniature People Add Extra Pieces to Evolutionary Puzzle

The miniature people found to have lived on the Indonesian island of Flores until 13,000 years ago may well appeal to the imagination. Even their Australian discoverers refer to them with fanciful names. But the little Floresians have created something of a headache for paleoanthropologists.

The Floresians, whose existence was reported late last month, have shaken up existing views of the human past for three reasons: they are so recent, so small and apparently so smart. None of these findings fits easily into current accounts of human evolution.

The textbooks describe an increase in human brain size that parallels an increasing sophistication in stone tools. Our close cousins the chimpanzees have brains one third the size of ours, as do the Australopithecines, the apelike human ancestors who evolved after the split from the joint human-chimp ancestor six or seven million years ago. But the Australopithecines left no stone tools, and chimps, though they use natural stones to smash things, have no comprehension of fashioning a stone for a specific task.

The little Floresians seem to have made sophisticated stone tools yet did so with brains of 380 cubic centimeters, about the same size as the chimp and Australopithecine brains. This is a thumb in the eye for the tidy textbook explanations that link sophisticated technology with increasing human brain size.

The Australian and Indonesian researchers who found the Floresian bones have an explanation that raises almost as many questions as it resolves. They say the Floresians, who stood three and a half feet high, are downsized versions of Homo erectus, the archaic humans who left Africa 1.5 million years before modern humans. But some critics think the small people may have descended from modern humans - Homo sapiens.

Homo erectus had arrived on the remote island of Flores by 840,000 years ago, according to earlier findings by Dr. Mike Morwood, the Australian archaeologist on the team. The species then became subject to the strange evolutionary pressures that affect island species. If there are no predators and little food, large animals are better off being small. Homo erectus was sharply downsized, as was the pygmy elephant the little Floresians hunted.

But the Morwood theory is not universally accepted. Homo erectus is known to have made crude stone tools but is not generally thought to have spoken or been able to build boats.

Maybe Dr. Morwood's alleged stone tools were just natural pieces of rock. "Many researchers (myself included) doubted these claims," writes Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London, adding that "nothing could have prepared me" for the surprise of the little Floresians.

It is surprising enough that Homo erectus managed to reach Flores. But not only have the Floresians evolved to be much more advanced than their ancestors ever were, as judged by the stone tools, but they did so at the same time that their brain was being reduced to one-third human size. Getting smaller brained and smarter at the same time is the exact reverse of the textbook progression.

The Floresians' other surprise lies in the time of their flourishing. The skeleton described in Nature lived as recently as 18,000 years ago, but Dr. Morwood said that in the most recent digging season he found six other individuals whose dates range from 95,000 to 13,000 years ago. Modern humans from Africa arrived in the Far East some time after 50,000 years ago and had reached Australia by at least 40,000 years ago.

There has been little evidence until now that Homo erectus long survived its younger cousins' arrival in the region. Modern humans probably exterminated the world's other archaic humans, the Neanderthals in Europe. Yet the little Floresians survived some 30,000 years into modern times, the only archaic human species known to have done so.

All these surprises raise an alternative explanation. What if the Floresians are descended from modern humans, not from Homo erectus?

"I think the issue of whether it derives from H. erectus or H. sapiens is difficult or impossible to answer on the morphology," says Dr. Richard Klein, an archaeologist at Stanford. And if the individual described in the Nature articles indeed made the sophisticated tools found in the same cave, "then it is more likely to be H. sapiens," he says.

The same possibility has been raised by two anthropologists at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Marta Mirazón Lahr and Dr. Robert Foley. Commenting on the sophisticated stone implements found in the cave with the Floresians, they write that "their contrast with tools found anywhere with H. erectus is very striking."

There is the basis here for a fierce dispute. Given what is on the record so far, the argument that the Floresians are descended from Homo sapiens, not erectus, has a certain parsimony. Moderns are known to have been around in the general area, and no Homo erectus is known to have made such sophisticated tools.

Dr. Morwood counters this thesis with data that he has not yet published, and which therefore does not strictly count in scientific arguments. The 95,000-year-old Floresians far antedate the arrival of modern humans in the area. There are modern human remains on Flores, Dr. Morwood says, but the earliest is 11,000 years old, suggesting there was not necessarily any overlap between the two human species.

His view is supported by Dr. G. Philip Rightmire, a paleoanthropologist at Binghamton University in New York and an expert on Homo erectus. "There is no ambiguity about the morphological pattern, and it is erectus-like," Dr. Rightmire says of the Floresian skeleton. "I'm not sure why it should be difficult to accept the reasoning that the little Floresians made progress with stone working and honed their hunting-butchering skills" during their long co-existence on Flores with the pygmy elephants, he said.

Dr. Morwood believes the little Floresians must have had language to cooperate in elephant hunts. Others are not willing to follow him so far, especially given Homo erectus's apparent lack of achievement. Even chimps can hunt cooperatively, Dr. Foley says.

Whether the Floresians' line of descent runs through Homo erectus or through Homo sapiens, a whole new line of human evolution has opened up, even though one that is now all but certainly extinct. The Floresians are not like human pygmies, which have almost normal-size brains but smaller bodies because their growth is retarded during puberty. Nor are they dwarves. The skeleton described last month could be a called a midget, in the sense of a tiny person with the head and body proportions of a full-size person, Dr. Klein said.

"I always tell my students that I've taught for 30 years and I've never given the same lecture twice. Hardly a year goes by when something new isn't found," says Dr. Leslie Aiello, a paleoanthropologist at University College London. Of the Floresian discovery she says, "It's a total knockout."

The New York Times > Technology > Even Digital Memories Can Fade

An interesting article about the fragility of our digital 'memories', and how quickly storage mediums become obsolete. I particularly liked the line "And if a CD is scratched, Mr. Hite said, it can become unusable. Unlike, say, faded but readable ink on paper, the instant a digital file becomes corrupted, or starts to degrade, it is indecipherable."

Giant hail killed more than 200 in Himalayas

From the Daily Telegraph in Britain:

"For 60 years the skeletal remains of more than 200 people, discovered in 1942 close to the glacial Roopkund Lake in the remote Himalayan Gahrwal region, have puzzled historians, scientists and archaeologists. Were they soldiers killed in battle, royal pilgrims who lost their way and succumbed to hypothermia, or Tibetan traders who died of a mysterious illness?

Now, the first forensic investigation of one of the area's most enduring mysteries has concluded that hundreds of nomads - whose frozen corpses are being disgorged from ice high in the mountain - were killed by one of the most lethal hailstorms in history.

Scientists commissioned by the National Geographic television channel to examine the corpses have discovered that they date from the 9th century - and believe that they died from sharp blows to their skulls, almost certainly by giant hailstones. "We were amazed by what we found," said Dr Pramod Joglekar, a bio-archaeologist at Deccan College, Pune, who was among the team who visited the site 16,500ft above sea level.

"In addition to skeletons, we discovered bodies with the flesh intact, perfectly preserved in the icy ground. We could see their hair and nails as well as pieces of clothing."

The most startling discovery was that many of those who died suffered fractured skulls. "We retrieved a number of skulls which showed short, deep cracks," said Dr Subhash Walimbe, a physical anthropologist at the college. "These were caused not by a landslide or an avalanche but by blunt, round objects about the size of cricket balls."

The team, whose findings will be broadcast in Britain next month, concluded that hailstones were the most likely cause of the injuries after consulting Himalayan historians and meteorological records.

Prof Wolfgang Sax, an anthropologist at Heidelberg University in Germany, cited a traditional song among Himalayan women that describes a goddess so enraged at outsiders who defiled her mountain sanctuary that she rained death upon them by flinging hailstones "hard as iron".

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the heaviest hailstones on record weighed up to 2.2lb and killed 92 people in Bangladesh in 1986.

The National Geographic team believes that those who died at Roopkund were caught in a similar hailstorm from which they were unable to find cover. The balls of ice would have been falling at more than 100mph, killing some victims instantly. Others would have fallen, stunned and injured, and died soon afterwards of hypothermia.

"The only plausible explanation for so many people sustaining such similar injuries at the same time is something that fell from the sky," said Dr Walimbe. "The injuries were all to the top of the skull and not to other bones in the body, so they must have come from above. Our view is that death was caused by extremely large hailstones."

The scientists found glass bangles, indicating the presence of women, in addition to a ring, spear, leather shoes and bamboo staves. They estimate that as many as 600 bodies may still be buried in snow and ice by the lake.

Bone samples collected at the site were sent to the Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit of Oxford University, where the date of death was established about AD 850 - 400 years earlier than supposed.

The team has yet to resolve the identity of the nomads. DNA from tissue samples suggested that the group was closely related. One match pointed to a community of high-caste Brahmins in central India.

The investigators agreed that the victims were Hindu pilgrims from the plains, rather than the mountains, because of their large size and good health.

"The skeletons are of large and rugged people," said Dr Dibyendukanti Bhattacharya of Delhi University. "They are more like the actors John Wayne or Anthony Quinn. Only a few have the characteristics of the Mongoloid hill people of the Himalayas.""

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Mystery power boost for Mars rover

Who says there aren't Martians?

I *thought* I saw service stations in a few of the photos.

MSNBC - Study: Anti-smoking pill helps fight obesity

They lost an average of 19 pounds over a year......were encouraged to
reduce daily caloric intact by 600 calories......which if done, would have
produced a yearly weight loss of over 62 pounds......therefore, I can only
conclude that this snakeoil *causes* weight gain!!!!!!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Digital

Now that the Miss America pageant no longer seems to have a home on TV, the day has been saved by the Miss Digital World beauty pageant!

You can meet the 5 top contestants vying for the title of most beautiful virtual woman in the world by clicking on the title above.

All is once again right with the world.

Cosmic doomsday delayed -- Universe won't end for 24 billion years... probably.

This changes all my plans!

Monday, November 01, 2004

Beijingers unsatisfied with official services

The significant lines are:

One respondent even complained about the lack of pens available at the tax office.

He said he was trying to get a licence at a tax station in Beijing only to be confronted by rude staff.

"I discovered I had made several mistakes in the application form, but I did not have a carbon pen with me at that time.

"I asked the tax officers to borrow a carbon pen, but they said indifferently that they had only ball-point pens, which cannot be used on official forms. They said I had to go and buy a fountain pen at a nearby store.

"Couldn't they prepare several fountain pens for applicants?"

Friday, October 29, 2004

"Hobbit" Discovered: Tiny Human Ancestor Found in Asia

A fascinating discovery of fossils of a minature species of Homo (Homo floresiensis) on the Indonesian island of Flores. Amazingly, they apparently died out only 13,000 to 18,000 years ago! Although an isolated island, the fact that they lived contemporaneously with Homo Sapiens leaves one breathless with conjecture (or at least leaves me that way, as my boyhood dream was to be a physical anthropologist).

I'm surprised that the article's title made it through the National Geopgraphic editors, as the species is clearly not our 'ancestor', but rather a cousin (perhaps descended from Homo Erectus).

Thursday, October 28, 2004

San Francisco to Expand Wi-Fi Program

A terrifice idea, to provide free wireless Internet access to those who can't afford it. This follows Philadelphia's program, which is even more ambitious. I hope that it's an idea that spreads broadly throughout the country.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Shatner Wants to Boldly Go on Space Flight

Shatner is one of more than 7,000 people who have expressed a keen interest in paying the estimated $210,000 for a flight aboard Virgin Galactic's proposed service...slated to begin operation in 2008.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Kramnik Retains World Title

Down 6-7 in games, Kramnik barely squeezed by Leko of Hungary to capture the last game. As has been the case for decades, the World Champion (in this case, the 'Classical World Chess Champion') retains his title in the event of a tied match.

This sets the stage of a reunification of the FIDE and defunct Professional Chess Association's champion, Kasparov (still ranked #1 in the world), should he win a match against Rustam Kasimdzhanov of Uzbekistan (FIDE World Champion), to be held in Dubai in January. In any case, Kramnik will play the winner of this match, and the world will once again have a unified Champion (sounds much like the boxing world in the 70's and 80's, with it's many competing title holders).

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Bobby Fischer 'ambushed' by U.S. gov't plot, new lawyer says

An interesting litany of supposed U.S. government abuses of Fischer's rights. One must consider the source of course.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Sunday Times -- Chronicles by Bob Dylan

A lovely book review. I can hardly wait to see Bob perform again. This time he's at Stabler Arena, Lehigh University, November 16th.

Bobby Fischer vigorously defends his manhood

Such a sad situation.

Being Shatner: South Florida Sun-Sentinel

A terrific 'appreciation' of someone else who holds Shatner at arm's length...and in his heart.

Friday, October 15, 2004

CD Tries to Show Shatner's No 'Has Been'

Believe it or not, this sounds like an interesting album. OK, maybe I'm the only one interested....

King of the Game

A very nice bio of Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand of India -- former World Champion.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Bobby Fischer vows to take revenge for being put in slammer

Maybe Dubai wants to reconsider using a Fischer game (see previous entry).

Three-billion-dollar Chess City planned for Dubai

"Up to 16 black and 16 white hotels will sit on a 64-hectare plot of land resembling a chessboard, depending on which game configuration is chosen as a blueprint, said Ilyumzhinov, who is also president of the Russian republic of Kalmykia.
Pawn-shaped hotels

“So far we plan either to copy a Bobby Fischer game or possibly one of (Russian chess master Garry) Kasparov’s,” he told journalists."

Follow the link to read more.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

It's All Trew: Quills, nibs, ink bladders were part of daily life

Some early memories of pens and pencils from retired rancher Delbert Trew, from the Amarillo Globe News.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Shatner Enjoys Bombast of 'Boston Legal'

Of course, some would say his is a career based on bombast...but not me of course. He''ll forever be my Captain!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004 | Nobel nomination of Bob Dylan sparks debate: Is it literature?

Nobel nomination of Bob Dylan sparks debate: Is it literature?


By MATTIAS KAREN / Associated Press

How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a ... Nobel Prize-winning songwriter?

It's a question being asked increasingly in literary circles, as the annual debate over who should win the Nobel Prize in literature — to be announced Thursday — tosses out a familiar, but surprising, candidate: Bob Dylan.

While many music critics agree that Dylan is among the most profound songwriters in modern music, his repeated nomination for the Nobel Prize has raised a vexing question among literary authorities: Should song lyrics qualify for literature's most prestigious award?

Christopher Ricks, co-director of the Editorial Institute at Boston University — and an avid Dylan fan who has written scholarly papers on the songwriter's work — said the question is "tricky."

"I don't think there's anybody that uses words better than he does," said Ricks, the author of highly regarded works of literary criticism such as "The Force of Poetry" and "Allusion to the Poets," as well as books on T.S. Eliot, Lord Alfred Tennyson and John Keats.

"But I think his is an art of a mixed medium," Ricks said. "I think the question would not be whether he deserves (the Nobel Prize) as an honor to his art. The question would be whether his art can be described as literature."

It definitely can, said Gordon Ball, an author and literature professor at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. — who has nominated Dylan every year since 1996.

"Poetry and music are linked," Ball said. "And Dylan has helped strengthen that relationship, like the troubadours of old."

The Nobel Prize in literature is given out annually by the 18 lifetime members of the 218-year-old Swedish Academy. Candidates can be nominated by members of other literary academies and institutions, literature professors and Nobel laureates.

Each year, the Swedish Academy receives about 350 nominations for about 200 different candidates, which is narrowed down to about five finalists. The winner is announced in October. The finalists, except for the winner, are not revealed for 50 years.

Speculation in the literary world is that the 2004 winner will be a woman, something that has not happened since 1996, when Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska was honored.

Some names emerge time and again, including Lebanese poet Ali Ahmad Said, also known as Adonis, and several women, including Danish poet Inger Christensen, novelists Margaret Atwood of Canada, Algerian Assia Djebar, American Joyce Carol Oates and Britain's Doris Lessing.

Ball said he first nominated Dylan after the writer Allen Ginsberg urged him to do so. Ginsberg, a Beat poet whose literary circle included Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, nominated Dylan in 1996.

"Dylan is a major American bard and minstrel of the 20th century" who deserves the award for his "mighty and universal powers," Ginsberg wrote in his nomination letter, which Ball read to The Associated Press.

The literary value of Dylan's texts are also supported by The Norton Introduction to Literature, a textbook used in American high schools and universities, which includes the lyrics to Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man."

University of Virginia professor Alison Booth, who co-edited the anthology, said she doesn't "have any trouble at all considering (Dylan) for a literary interpretation."

"Literature has historically been defined very broadly," Booth said. "I don't think we're testing some radical limits of literature by putting that in."

Several collections of Dylan's lyrics have also been published as books.

Still, most Nobel watchers say it's unlikely the Swedish Academy — traditionally drawn to novelists and poets who are often out of the mainstream — will expand the scope of the prize to include songwriters.

"If so, it would be in a fit of marvelous free-mindedness," said Svante Weyler, head of one of Sweden's largest publishing houses, Norstedts. "It would be very surprising."

But not entirely unprecedented.

In 1997, the prize went to Italian playwright Dario Fo, whose works also need to be performed to be fully appreciated, some say.

And when Winston Churchill received it in 1953, for his historical and biographical writings, the academy also cited his "brilliant oratory" skills.

While the academy never discusses individual candidates, Carola Hermelin at the academy's Nobel Library said songwriters are not excluded from the prize.

"Song lyrics can be good poetry," she said. "It depends on their literary quality."

But Weyler said he was skeptical about including songwriters.

"Then you're categorizing everything that includes words as literature," he said. "Literature should not have to be read by the author for it to be good."


On the Net:

Nobel Prize:

Swedish Academy:

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Bob Dylan is just a mortal after all

An interesting look at Dylan from an 'outsider' . I don't personally agree with many of his comments (he thinks "Highlands" to be "...aimless,", while I consider it one of Dylan's best), but it's refreshing to read an assessment from someone who isn't a devotee.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Interview: Transcending Technobabble -- Antiquated Sci-Fi: Neal Stephenson Weighs In

From the interview:

"Not only has Stephenson forayed further back into time, his method for writing The Baroque Cycle was equally antiquated. The entire series was written longhand with fountain pen, a process Stephenson preferred to typing for its slow, deliberate nature. The entire Baroque Cycle numbers at over 3,000 pages, making his decision to write by hand doubly ironic considering that Stephenson’s status as a cutting-edge, tech-savvy writer."

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

William Shatner 'Punks' Iowa Town

Aha! Not a movie as previously reported...but rather a 'fake' movie, used as the theme of a new reality TV series debuing next year. My captain lied to me!

Saturday, September 25, 2004

From Socrates to Palmer Method to typewriters to iPods

From today's Miami Herald...although I believe I read parts of this
elsewhere this week...a short opinion piece on the changing history of
technology as it relates to the transmission of knowledge.

Former Star Trek Star Among Those Attending Life Interrupted Conference

George Takei, who played Sulu in the original Star Trek series, will be addressing his experiences at one of the relocation camps for Japanese Americans during World War II.

My sister-in-law was born in -- and spent her first 2-1/2 years of life -- in a similar camp in California.

Friday, September 24, 2004

The deafening sound of the seas

"The world's oceans are now so saturated with noise that whales and other marine mammals are dying, biologists say."

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Think ink! illustration

For those that can read Adobe Acrobat PDF files, here's the illustration which accompanies the article.

Think ink!

An article from the Christian Science Monitor on the history of ink, with a bit on fountain pens (including the apocryphal Lewis Waterman story), geared to youngsters. Still, an interesting overview for adults as well.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

'Scotty' Making Final Public Appearances

Just don't call it Ping Pong!

To the Man in the Arena

It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

Teddy Roosevelt

Watching the pageantry, heroics and heartbreak of the Olympics in Athens these past number of days has prompted me to reflect a bit on my own brief moments in the Olympics and the world stage. More specifically, I took part in the Paralympics -- for disabled athletes -- in Seoul, South Korea in 1988 and Barcelona, Spain in 1992. Watching a South Korean win the gold medal in Athens in table tennis -- my sport -- from the previously undefeated Chinese, somehow completed the circle for me.

For those not familiar with the distinction, the Paralympics take place immediately following the Olympics for able-bodied athletes, in the same venues, and usually with identical Opening and Closing ceremonies. TV coverage here in the States is still very limited, as the networks seem to feel that their audience is 'Olympics-ed' out (try saying that newly-coined word 3-times fast). There's a bit of an athletic bleed-through however, as certain events for disabled athletes take place during the regular Olympic events, and there are even some disabled athletes who compete on both their Paralympic and Olympic teams, depending upon the sport and the degree of disability.

Although fewer athletes as a whole take part in the Paralympics, it still ranks just behind the Olympics as the largest sporting event in the world, and those sports contested tend to have many more events, as there are multiple classifications of disability represented. For instance, when I competed in the Games, there were 8 classifications of disability within table tennis if I recall correctly....four for wheelchair athletes and four for standing players. I was assigned to the next-to-the-least-disabled classification (more economically referred to as Class 7), due to my right leg being 4-1/2" shorter than my left, as a result of a childhood automobile accident and subsequent surgeries, which necessitates wearing a compensating lift on my right shoe. Someone in the least disabled class might have a permanent injury to the non-playing hand or arm, for example. The physical testing requirements for each class are quite rigorous and detailed in fact, in order to make the competition between each disability within each class as fair as possible.

Although my mobility was limited by my disability, prior to competing in my first National Disabled Championship in order to qualify for the Paralympic team to Seoul, I had always competed against able-bodied TT (table tennis) players and in regular tournaments, such as the U.S. Open. In fact, as a teenager, I gravitated to TT because it put me at less of a disadvantage than most other sports that often required extensive running. Although TT is an incredibly quick sport, by adopting a close-to-the-table attacking style, I was able to minimize the amount of running I needed to do.

My father, Alan, was actually responsible for getting me involved in the sport -- he had been a tennis player -- and built a removable table top that could be placed over our pool table in the rec room. Starting when I was about age 12, we'd 'retire' almost nightly after supper for an hour or two of play. I consequently learned to play the game with tennis strokes, which had to be unlearned in subsequent years when I began to take serious coaching. That first lesson at the hands of a professional came at age 16, when my father and I ventured to the 96th St. TT Club of Marty Reisman, who was one of the very best players in the world in the 1950's, when hard rubber rackets (or bats or paddles -- all interchangeable names) were still in use. Reisman was the odds-on favorite to capture the World Championship in Bombay, India in 1952, but that was the year that an obscure Japanese player named Hiroji Satoh introduced the sponge-rubber racket and changed the sport forever. Suddenly, spins could be produced that no hard-rubber paddle could handle, and Satoh went on to win the World Championship based on a technological advance. Reisman refused to change, and although he would capture the U.S. Championship several times with his old paddle, the international heights could no longer be scaled. He did have the consolation of giving me my very first coaching lesson however. No doubt he's still grateful.

Somehow, that gratitude prompted him to pass my father and I on to someone better prepared to handle the challenge....Sam Hammond from Ghana, who had recently been the West African Champion. I will be forever grateful for that, as how many of us ever have the chance to learn anything at the hands of a Master? Sam had been the youngest West African Champion up to that time, when he dethroned his predecessor -- who had reigned for the better part of a decade. I once asked him about that match and he replied that all he could remember of it was serving the first ball, and the uproarious applause at the end! Observers reported that he 'played out of his mind', which was truer than they'd imagined. In round figures, he had trained 6 hours per day, 6 days a week, for 6 years to rise to that level of mastery. My father and I worked with Sam on and off for several years and he laid the foundation for my training with Chinese and Swedish coaches in the future.

In my mid- and late 20's, I decided to become a bit more serious with my training, to see how far I could go (although working full time at a gourmet coffee and tea shop called Bean's during this period only allowed so much time for the pursuit). By 1986 I was working with a series of American, Chinese and Swedish coaches (China and Sweden were the perennial TT powers at that point...which hasn't changed all that much since then, as 2 Chinese and 1 Swedish player joined the South Korean gold medal winner in the semi-finals of the Athens Olympics). That year I trained with other Olympic hopefuls at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and it was about that time that I first heard of the Paralympics for disabled athletes.

Norman guarding the rings in Colorado Springs

Following up the next year with training at Olympic Training Center in Marquette, Michigan (including both Olympic and Paralympic athletes), I decided that I would enter the National Disabled Championships in Nashville in 1988, to see if I could earn on spot on the team (the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, were to be the first year that table tennis would be included as an Olympic medal sport). When my father passed away in 1987, I decided that I would use a significant portion of my inheritance from him to leave my job for a year in order to train full-time. As he had started me in the game, was my long-time practice partner and biggest supporter in the sport, seriously pursuing my athletic dream seemed the most appropriate way in which to honor his memory.

I was receiving a fair amount of publicity in newspapers and local TV by this point, but it was my main practice partner, Surbek, who rated the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Surbek was the name I gave to the TT robot I'd purchased, in honor of Dragutin Surbek -- my favorite player -- of (then) Yugoslavia. I made use of Surbek when practice partners at my own level were unavailable, to hone certain strokes and to build conditioning (he never seemed to get tired). My coach Sam Hammond once practiced against it and dubbed it 'inhuman', which I thought captured the idea rather succinctly.

The competition at the National Championships in Nashville went well, and I was fortunate enough to capture the gold medal in my category, and as National Disabled Champion was assured a spot on the Paralympic team to Seoul. I wish I could say that I repeated the medal result once there, but the competition in an international venue was of an entirely different order than any I'd experienced here in the States.

Although I had sponsorship from Nike and Stiga, fundraising was always important

Table tennis is not exactly a major sport in the U.S. (I've yet to see a American TT player on a box of Wheaties), but that's not the case in the rest of the world. It's the national sport of the most populous country in the world of course -- China -- and major players in Europe and Asia are national heroes, and compensated accordingly. In fact, TT is the 2nd most popular sport in the world, after soccer (which still has a long way to go on a professional level here in the States).

When one plays in a tournament in the U.S. -- aside from international tournaments such as the U.S. Open -- if there are 30 people watching your match (mostly composed of other players and family), it's remarkable. It was a rather disconcerting experience to have thousands in the stands in Korea. I must admit that I probably spent more time looking around the competition hall with a bemused expression on my face, than I did actually watching the ball during play. Let's just say I didn't record my name in the annals of never-to-be-forgotten matches. It was not a pretty picture.

Norman in the blue

The playing hall during warm-up practice

The overall experience at the Games did paint a pretty picture for me though. The South Korean people were exceptionally warm and hospitable and really went out of their way to meet -- and anticipate -- every need of the athletes and their families. There has been a long-standing cultural tradition in the East that the disabled are largely hidden -- no equivalent to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is evident in Asia. However, prior to the 1988 Games, the Korean Government launched a massive public-education program designed to help counter centuries of ingrained bigotry, and they were extremely successful. Apparently there was a TV and media blitz for months prior to the event, all focused on showing the disabled in the most positive light, and using as exemplars Paralympic athletes who were not only excelling at their sports at a world-class level, but doing so while overcoming tremendous physical challenges.

As the Games began, I remember regularly encountering Korean volunteers (there were thousands for an event of this size), who showed a slight hesitation at interacting with disabled athletes -- for in many cases they had never encountered a disabled person in public -- but that trepidation quickly dissipated as everyone came to know each other, and as the volunteers began to witness the great feats of personal courage and athletic prowess that were everywhere extant.

An example of that prowess was shown by American Dennis Oehler, who set a new world record of 11.73 seconds in the 100 meter dash on his way to capturing the gold medal. As I recall, that time was equal to, or faster than, any able-bodied college sprinter that year. Dennis did it with an artificial right leg, having lost his below the knee to amputation as a result of an auto accident when he was 24. I was privileged to witness some of the greatest athletes on the planet, who were simultaneously overcoming challenges that able-bodied athletes didn't have to face. I'd never before, nor have I since, been with a more positive group of individuals than those I met in my 2 Paralympic experiences. I'm not sure that I met one person who really thought that they were handicapped in any way. Rather, I encountered people who thrived on facing the biggest physical obstacles that life had to throw at them, and reveling in the added challenges presented. I often felt like a imposter, being there with my disability.

Other great memories include marching into the stadium of 70,000 people with the U.S. team during the Opening Ceremonies (I'm not sure that I can compare that feeling of pride and accomplishment to any other experience in life).

Norman is 3rd or 4th from the right, with beard and white sweatshirt exposed

Another fond memory is that the Koreans gave various schools from around the country time off from classes to attend the Games. Further, in a lovely gesture, they would divide up classes and assign each group to a particular athlete -- no matter the nationality -- so that each competitor had a built-in cheering section. I had my first, and no doubt last experience with signing autographs.

Although my father had passed away the year before the Games, I was most fortunate that my mother, Phyllis, was able make the trip both in 1988, and again in 1992 with my newlywed wife Teresa. After the Games in Seoul, a number of athletes and our families proceeded to tour Hong Kong and Mainland China...but that's another story.

Although returning to the States also meant returning to gainful employment (this time back to the computer field as the CIO of a logistics company), I kept Barcelona in the back of mind, and continued to train and compete in able-bodied tournaments as time allowed. Although my preparation could not be as single-minded as it had been before Seoul, I fortunately had access to David Zhuang at my local club in NJ as a coach. David had recently arrived from China and was making a name for himself at the top of the American TT scene -- where he would eventually win the U.S. Championships several times, represent the U.S. at the Olympic Games after gaining his citizenship, and be named Athlete of the Year on more than one occasion. I also traveled to work with my friend and former personal coach Christian Lillieroos from Sweden, who unbeknownst to either of us at the time, would be named as Head Coach for the 1992 Paralympic Table Tennis Team (he's currently running for President of USATT, the national governing body for the sport).

Between them, I decided I wouldn't make a complete fool of myself in trying out for the team again. This time, the National Championships were being held at Hofstra University on Long Island, NY, and were named the 'Victory Games'. Then Vice President Dan Quayle helicoptered in to offer support to the competitors, and 'potatoe' jokes aside, it was a very nice gesture and gave a lift to all of the athletes (yes, the man with the finger in his ear is a Secret Service agent).

Vice President Dan Quayle with a clean-shaven Norman at the Victory Games

The competition was tougher than it had been in 1988, but with some intensive pre-Games coaching, apparently so was I, and I again managed to capture the gold medal and National Championship in my event.

Receiving Gold Medal at Victory Games

The Games in Barcelona in 1992 ended up being quite a bit better for me -- playing wise -- as with the help of my coach Christian Lillieroos during match play I was able to win a game from the eventual semi-finalist and Bronze Medal winner from the Netherlands. It was not quite as happy an experience for my family however.

My mother and bride traveled together to Spain (already a potentially combustible situation) as part of a large packaged tour group of family members from the United States. Part of the tour package was to include tickets to the Opening Ceremonies, but the group was informed after arriving in Barcelona that the tour company had been unable to obtain the tickets, and no one from the families would be able to attend!

Everyone was understandably crushed by the news, after traveling all the way from the States to see their loved-ones march into the Olympic stadium. Rather than just remaining in their hotel room plotting revenge however, my mother and wife decided to proceed to the stadium and try to get in. At each entrance, ticketless, they were rebuffed by security and had no luck in either buying, borrowing or stealing -- so were left, both crying by this point -- in begging. Apparently, two women alternately voicing "My son....." and "My husband...." between inconsolable sobs remains a universal language, and a kind-hearted guard finally let them in. Being the last two seated in a stadium of 70,000, it wasn't until a bit later while being served champagne that they realized they'd been escorted to the VIP section.

In addition to the wonderful experience of living in the Athletes Village (a huge 24-hour commissary manned by chefs from all over Europe, all free to us, made it hard to break away for competition sometimes), Barcelona itself was a fascinating city to explore. From Antonio Gaudi's Sagrada Familia cathedral, to the Picasso Museum, the topless beach (we never had that in NJ), to the shops along the Rambla (this is where my fountain pen collecting really took off, as it seemed that every other store had a large selection), it was a magical place.

Gaudi's Sagrada Familia cathedral

After leaving Spain following the conclusion of the Games, once more Olympic event took place several months later, when NJ Governor Jim Florio and his wife graciously invited all of the Olympic and Paralympic athletes from the state to lunch at the Governor's mansion. As you can see from the photo below, I'd spent a bit more time in the commissary in Barcelona than had been strictly necessary.

Although I had certainly hoped to try out for one more Paralympic Team, to play before the 'home field' crowds in Atlanta in 1996, within a year or so of returning from Barcelona I had two falls (one caused by rain, the other by snow). The first re-broke my right patella, which had been my original injury at age 6, and the second snapped my right ankle. That, and the responsibilities of running my own business beginning in 1997, have left me with the greatest of memories of my time 'in the Arena', rekindled every 4 years, as now.

Oh, and just follow the link if you want to know why you shouldn't call it ping pong!

Monday, August 23, 2004

Genghis Khan's Pen as Mighty as His Sword?

Ummmm....I vote for "no".

South Korean wins men’s gold in table tennis

Although ranked #3 in the world, this is still considered a major upset, as China has won *all* of the golds since Table Tennis became an Olympic sport in 1988.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Philadelphia Inquirer | 08/17/2004 | Bob Dylan ranked with Shakespeare

The Master. Period. - Table Tennis - Inside The Sport

Although one has to generally get up at 4:00 AM to catch any of the matches (!), NBC's web coverage brings back many memories for me of my competitions at Seoul in '88 and Barcelona in '92. More about that anon.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The New York Times > Business > Your Money > Spending: Sometimes, the Collectible Is Mightier Than the Sword

An article about fountain pens from July 25, 2004. You may have to 'join' (free) the Times to read it, I'm not sure.

A scientific approach to managing competition - The Industrial Physicist

An interesting use of the Volterra-Lotka model, applied to the competition (or lack thereof) between ballpoints and fountain pens. Quoting directly from the article by Theodore Modis in The Industrial Physicist:

Battle of the pens
The struggle between fountain pens and ballpoint pens had a different ending (Figure 1, left). The substitution of ballpoint pens for fountain pens as writing instruments went through three distinct stages. Before the appearance of ballpoint pens, fountainpen sales grew undisturbed to fill the writing- instrument market. They were following an S-shaped curve when the ballpoint technology appeared in 1951. As ballpoint sales picked up, those of fountain pens declined in the period 1951 to 1973. Fountain pens staged a counterattack by radically dropping prices. But that effort failed. Fountain pens kept losing market share and embarked on an extinction course. By 1973, their average price had dropped to as low as 72 cents, to no avail.

Eventually, however, the prices of fountain pens began rising. The fountain pen underwent what Darwin would have described as a character displacement to the luxury niche of the executive pen market. In the early 1970s, the strategy of fountain pens became a retreat into noncompetition. By 1988, the price of some fountain pens in the United States had climbed to $400. The Volterra-Lotka model indicates that today the two species no longer interact but each follows a simple S-shaped growth pattern. As a consequence, fountain pens have secured a healthy and profitable market niche. Had they persisted in their competition with ballpoint pens, they would have perished.