^zhurnal - v.0.12
This is Volume 0.12 of the ^zhurnal --- musings on mind, method, metaphor, and matters miscellaneous ... a rather cluttered set
What's it all about?
Maybe "... to create moments of philosophy --- that is, to pass from
opinion to thought ...."
It's also the journal of
^z = Mark Zimmermann. See the
on zhurnaly.com for a parallel
"live" Wiki experiment.
For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes
Send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com". Thank you!
(Copyright © 1999-2004 by Mark Zimmermann.)
Dreadlocks drift forward and back every stride,
Like kelp in the ocean as seen from a pier,
Swaying with each passing tide ...
Blonde cap explodes at a toss of the head
Into a pale nimbus that floats and then falls
Over a glimpse of an ear ...
Ringlets cascade like a waterfall down
Twin ridges of shoulder blades, pouring a flood
Into the valley below ...
Ponytail pendulum tick-tocks a beat
That follows the jogger intent on her pace:
Metronome cadence for feet ...
'Lectrified 'Fro forms a spherical cloud,
Dark halo defying conventional style ---
Natural, nappy, and proud ...
Bald rocky pate gleams through whispy gray threads;
Yosemite dome-like, it looms over brows,
Monument-weathered by age ...
Strands of brown dangle and sway in the breeze,
A curtain of beads or a jungle of vines,
Blowing a kiss to a cheek.
- Friday, February 09, 2001 at 07:09:40 (EST)
William H. Prescott in 1843 finished writing his History of the
Conquest of Mexico --- the story of how a few hundred energetic
adventurers disobeyed orders and took over a country. Prescott tells
the tale with relatively good balance and general objectivity towards
The overarching theme (from the opening of Book I, Chapter I):
"Of all that extensive empire which once acknowledged the authority of
Spain in the New World, no portion, for interest and importance, can
be compared with Mexico; --- and this equally, whether we consider the
variety of its soil and climate; the inexhaustible stores of its mineral
wealth; its scenery, grand and picturesque beyond example; the character
of its ancient inhabitants, not only far surpassing in intelligence that
of the other North American races, but reminding us, by their monuments, of the primitive civilisation of Egypt and Hindostan; and lastly, the peculiar circumstances of its Conquest, adventurous and romantic as any legend devised by Norman or Italian bard of chivalry. It is the purpose of the present narrative to exhibit the history of this Conquest, and that of the remarkable man by whom it was achieved."
And part of a classic Prescott description of Aztec ritual
(from Book I, Chapter III):
"Human sacrifices were adopted by the Aztecs early in the fourteenth
century, about two hundred years before the Conquest. Rare at first,
they became more frequent with the wider extent of their empire; till,
at length, almost every festival was closed with this cruel
abomination. These religious ceremonials were generally arranged
in such a manner as to afford a type of the most prominent circumstances
in the character or history of the deity who was the object of them. A
single example will suffice.
"One of their most important festivals was that in honour of the god
Tezcatlepoca, whose rank was inferior only to that of the Supreme
Being. He was called 'the soul of the world,' and supposed to have
been its creator. A year before the intended sacrifice, a captive,
distinguished for his personal beauty, and without a blemish on his
body, was selected to represent this deity. Certain tutors took charge
of him, and instructed him how to perform his new part with becoming
grace and dignity. He was arrayed in a splendid dress, regaled with
incense, and with a profusion of sweet-scented flowers, of which the
ancient Mexicans were as fond as their descendants at the present day.
When he went abroad, he was attended by a train of the royal pages, and,
as he halted in the streets to play some favourite melody, the crowd
prostrated themselves before him, and did him homage as the
representative of their good deity. In this way he led an easy,
luxurious life, till within a month of his sacrifice. Four beautiful
girls, bearing the names of the principal goddesses, were then selected
to share the honours of his bed; and with them he continued to live in
idle dalliance, feasted at the banquets of the principal nobles, who
paid him all the honours of a divinity.
"At length the fatal day of sacrifice arrived. The term of his
short-lived glories was at an end. He was stripped of his gaudy
apparel, and bade adieu to the fair partners of his revelries.
One of the royal barges transported him across the lake to a temple
which rose on its margin, about a league from the city. Hither the
inhabitants of the capital flocked, to witness the consummation of
the ceremony. As the sad procession wound up the sides of the pyramid, the unhappy victim threw away his gay chaplet of flowers, and broke in pieces the musical instruments with which he had solaced the hours of captivity. On the summit he was received by six priests, whose long and matted locks flowed disorderly over their sable robes, covered with hieroglyphic scrolls of mystic import. They led him to the sacrificial stone, a huge block of jasper, with its upper surface somewhat convex.
"On this the prisoner was stretched. Five priests secured his head
and his limbs; while the sixth, clad in a scarlet mantle, emblematic
of his bloody office, dexterously opened the breast of the wretched
victim with a sharp razor of itztli --- a volcanic substance hard
as flint --- and, inserting his hand in the wound, tore out the
"The minister of death, first holding this up towards the sun,
an object of worship throughout Anahuac, cast it at the feet of
the deity to whom the temple was devoted, while the multitudes
below prostrated themselves in humble adoration. The tragic
story of this prisoner was expounded by the priests as the
type of human destiny, which, brilliant in its commencement,
too often closes in sorrow and disaster. Such was the form of
human sacrifice usually practised by the Aztecs."
- Thursday, February 08, 2001 at 08:55:36 (EST)
Knowledge & Consistency
Doing science, a teacher (David Ost) argues, is like a solving
a crossword puzzle: where words interlock and cohere, one's confidence
grows that the emerging answers are correct ... but when crossing
words clash and contradict it's necessary to erase, backtrack, give
up on otherwise-cherished hypotheses, try alternatives ... until
things click and one suddenly sees the unanticipated meaning of subtle
clues. Nature is like that. Simple theories explain many phenomena,
but as those theories are stretched they begin to break down.
Newtonian physics works amazingly well --- until at high speeds or
in microscopic realms or near strong gravitational fields it begins
to crumble. The same goes for knowledge in every area.
- Wednesday, February 07, 2001 at 07:28:25 (EST)
Andre Weil, mathematician at the Institute for Advanced Study, was asked for his Department's budgetary needs. He replied, "Give us enough chalk!"
Sometimes (maybe more often than we realize) what we really need is not a large amount of physical resources --- but simply quiet focused time to think about a subject, plus occasional "noisy time" to talk with others about our work and to listen to them tell of their activities. Modern life tends toward the opposite. Phones ring, computers beep as new email arrives, pagers buzz, voicemail lights flash, and then "whoops, gotta run!" to the next scheduled meeting. Attention is divided into finer and finer slices; it's a luxury to spend more than 10 minutes on a single task. Mobile phones ensure that no one is ever far from interruption. "Brevity - Variety - Fragmentation" is how a teacher (David Ost) recently described it. Who has time to read serious books any more? The trend is towards the shallow and the diffuse.
At home, at the top of the stairs, my wife has a print titled "Undivided Attention" made by a friend and art teacher of hers, Katja Oxman. Amongst other things it shows people regarding each other and steadily looking out of the picture plane....
- Tuesday, February 06, 2001 at 07:40:37 (EST)
Stupidity & Conspiracy
Last week (27 Jan 2001) the New York Times quoted
California energy czar S. David Freeman: "The stupidity theory
explains most things; the conspiracy theory doesn't."
Similarly, at a recent Philosophy Breakfast a comrade (GdM)
noted: "Never attribute to malevolence what you can explain by
simple stupidity." (GdM speculates that this
aphorism comes from some ancient source, but thus far I have not
been able to find it on the 'Net - ^z)
And in Vol. 1, Book 1, Chapter 10 of The Wealth of Nations
(1776) Adam Smith observed:
"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for
merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy
against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."
- Monday, February 05, 2001 at 20:11:20 (EST)
Building --> Book --> Web?
Will the Web fundamentally change human civilization? Or is almost-free
publishing (for those who have something to say, who have time and
skill to write, and who have network facilities) plus
almost-instantaneous access to information (for those who know how,
and where, to find it) merely a quantitative,
not a qualitative, shift --- important on the margin, but not
radically new? Did the real earthquake happen
more than 500 years ago?
In Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame Book V
Chapter 2 is titled "This Will Destroy That". Hugo tells
how human history, pre-Gutenberg, was written in its buildings:
huts and temples, pyramids and pagodas, tombs and towers.
Now (as of the Fifteenth Century)
he argues that the printing press and its products have taken
over the rôle of recording knowledge. Faster, cheaper,
more democratic --- and, with widespread proliferation of
books, far more imperishable than architecture. Hugo says,
"The invention of printing is the greatest event of
history." True? Chapter 2 concludes with a summary of
"Thus, to put it shortly, mankind has two books, two registers,
two testaments: Architecture and Printing; the Bible of stone
and the Bible of paper. Doubtless, in contemplating these two
Bibles, spread open wide through the centuries, one is fain
to regret the visible majesty of the granite writing, those gigantic
alphabets in the shape of colonnades, porches, and obelisks; these
mountains, as it were, the work of man's hand spread over the whole
world and filling the past, from the pyramid to the steeple, from
Cheops to Strassburg. The past should be read in these marble pages;
the books written by architecture can be read and reread, with
never-diminishing interest; but one cannot deny the grandeur of the
edifice which printing has raised in its turn.
"That edifice is colossal. I do not know what statistician it was
who calculated that by piling one upon another all the volumes issued
from the press since Gutenberg, you would bridge the space between the
earth and the moon --- but it is not to that kind of greatness we
allude. Nevertheless, if we try to form a collective picture of the
combined results of printing down to our own times, does it not appear
as a huge structure, having the whole world for foundation,
and the whole human race for its ceaselessly active workmen,
and whose pinnacles tower up into the impenetrable mist of the future?
It is the swarming ant-hill of intellectual forces; the hive
to which all the golden-winged messengers of the imagination return,
laden with honey. This prodigious edifice has a thousand storeys,
and remains forever incomplete. The press, that giant
engine, incessantly absorbing all the intellectual forces of society,
disgorges, as incessantly, new materials for its work. The entire
human race is on the scaffolding; every mind is a mason. Even
the humblest can fill up a gap, or lay another brick. Each day another
layer is put on. Independently of the individual contribution,
there are certain collective donations. The
eighteenth century presents the Encyclopædia,
the Revolution the Moniteur.
Undoubtedly this, too, is a structure, growing and piling
itself up in endless spiral lines; here, too, there is
confusion of tongues, incessant activity, indefatigable labour,
a furious contest between the whole of mankind, an ark of refuge
for the intelligence against another deluge, against another
influx of barbarism.
"It is the second Tower of Babel."
So does that put the Web into a better context? Is what we're now
experiencing just a step or two more along the road that Victor Hugo
identified in the move from the building to the book? And is the
noise of the 'Net only an increment (though perhaps an
order-of-magnitude worse) to the pandemonium that the printing
press has already brought us?
- Friday, February 02, 2001 at 14:42:32 (EST)
Visible Symbols of Thought
Hit in the eye by a thrown bread crust, William H. Prescott (1796-1859)
was blinded during a food fight while an undergrad at
Harvard University. He turned from law to history, learned Spanish,
hired readers, acquired reference books, and began to write.
From his History of the Conquest of Peru, Book I,
Chapter 4, on the critical link between writing and thinking:
"It is impossible to contemplate without interest the struggles made
by different nations, as they emerge from barbarism, to supply
themselves with some visible symbol of thought --- that mysterious
agency by which the mind of the individual may be put in
communication with the minds of a whole community. The want of
such a symbol is itself the greatest impediment to the progress
of civilization. For what is it but to imprison the thought,
which has the elements of immortality, within the bosom of
its author, or of the small circle who come in contact with
him, instead of sending it abroad to give light to thousands and
to generations yet unborn! Not only is such a symbol an
essential element of civilization, but it may be assumed as
the very criterion of civilization; for the intellectual
advancement of a people will keep pace pretty nearly with its
facilities for intellectual communication."
Edward Gibbon's remark in Chapter 9 of History of
the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
"The Germans, in the age of Tacitus, were unacquainted with the use
of letters; and the use of letters is the principal
circumstance that distinguishes a civilised people from a herd
of savages incapable of knowledge or reflection. Without that
artificial help, the human memory soon dissipates or corrupts
the ideas intrusted to her charge; and the nobler faculties of the
mind, no longer supplied with models or with materials, gradually
forget their powers; the judgment becomes feeble and
lethargic, the imagination languid or irregular."
- Tuesday, January 30, 2001 at 08:24:26 (EST)
Charlie Mingus, jazz pianist and composer, reputedly said:
"Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody
can play weird --- that's easy. What's hard is to be as
simple as Bach. Making the simple complicated is
commonplace --- making the complicated simple,
awesomely simple --- that's creativity."
and Embarrassed Libertarian,
^zhurnal entries of 26 Aug 1999 and 28 May 2000 respectively.)
- Friday, January 26, 2001 at 11:50:15 (EST)
<Bra| & |Ket>
On the theme of appropriate notation and how it empowers
good thinking, an example from quantum mechanical circles:
P. A. M. Dirac's "bra-ket" symbolism. A Dirac "bra" looks like
<a| and a "ket" is written |b> --- put them together to get a
bracket, <a|b> which compactly symbolizes the overlap between
quantum systems "a" and "b". An experiment "E" is a
transformation operator. Put it in a bracket, <a|E|b>
and you've got the chance that E turns state "b" into "a".
The bra-ket notation keeps track of the nasty algebra and
resolves ambiguity ... making it easy to derive and solve the right
equations. (There's a mountain of powerful mathematical machinery
behind the bra-ket stage: complex numbers, vectors
and matrices, integrals, Hilbert spaces, etc.) Like Feynman diagrams,
or the upstairs-downstairs tensor subscript convention, or
Leibnitz's method of writing derivatives and integrals in
calculus, or the Arabic invention of the zero for place-value
representation of numbers --- nice notation, an efficient language
for simplifying the complex.
(Cf. "Good Notation", the
entry of 6 January 2001.)
- Wednesday, January 24, 2001 at 12:58:21 (EST)
5th Gen X
Last week while browsing the library's shelves for something on Perl
programming I found a real pearl, deeply flawed but
nonetheless thought-provoking: The Fifth Generation Fallacy Why
Japan Is Betting Its Future on Artificial Intelligence by
J. Marshall Unger of the University of Hawaii (Oxford, 1987).
This mistitled book offers a plausible socio-economic-linguistic
explanation of the (much touted at the time) Fifth Generation Project.
Unger argues that the Japanese writing system --- an
æsthetic mix of Chinese ideograms and phonetic symbols --- is
woefully inefficient and in fact causes low productivity and
impaired literacy throughout Japan. The 5th Gen was, Unger contends,
born of a vain and confused hope to overcome that
linguistic handicap via computer magic.
One may enjoy this tome and still believe (as I do) in the long-term
possibility of "strong AI", that is, machine consciousness.
Professor Unger disbelieves, for various reasons --- but no matter.
He's a linguist, not a mathematician. The best part of his
book is a fascinating discussion of the written Japanese language.
He notes, "Human beings learn to live with this large,
open-ended set of characters, with their countless variations, even
though they do so in, by computer standards, highly
unsystematic and unreliable ways. People are adept at perceiving
contexts and guessing at the meaning of unfamiliar characters
without the guidance of hard and fast rules; they easily
tolerate ambiguity in both language and writing...."
Unger talks about the common confusion between sound, symbol,
- "Regrettably, most people are not so logical. They think that
kana are 'phonetic' characters, while kanji are 'ideographs,'
or to put it a bit more dramatically, that kana stand for
meaningless sounds, while kanji stand for soundless meanings.
Nothing could be further from the truth."
- "Mastering kanji is something like trying to memorize the
answers to thousands of 'trivia' questions, but it is hardly a
game; to fail to learn this multitude of isolated facts so
well that they become automatic reflexes is to cut oneself off from
literate Japanese society. No wonder Japanese are convinced
that kanji are wordless molecules of meaning!"
On the social front, Prof. Unger discusses the serious challenges
of alphabetization, filing, and indexing in Japanese. He
observes that Japan has relatively few public libraries, and
that the apparent widespread availability of books and magazines
and newspapers is quite deceptive, since most of those are
comic books and sports- or scandal-mongering tabloids. He
identifies a key cultural issue: "... the Japanese attachment
to kanji is intimately tied to the shared experience of mastering a
complex body of knowledge that defines group membership.
Whether kanji facilitate communication or not is a secondary
The real moral of Unger's book is perhaps stated at the end
of his Introduction: "The Japanese have no monopoly on woolly
thinking. If we cannot see how covert cultural biases interfere
with the advance of presumably objective science in another,
markedly different culture, how can we hope to diagnose our
So, stepping back and coming home, let's ask what are the
most significant sources of inefficiency in our society?
The non-metric system of weights and measures (in the US)
is a problem; so is the non-decimal system of timekeeping (clocks and
calend ars). English spelling is non-phonetic, and many
verb conjugations are irregular. Our postal service is arguably a joke;
the banking and finance sectors are similarly silly.
Are these frictional forces worth fixing?
Perhaps a much larger effect to ponder is the widespread
squandering of human intelligence --- due to, among other things:
Can we do something about these?
- grossly unequal access to educational opportunity;
- suicidal subcultural pressures that deter some people
from ever starting to learn;
- constant mindless "entertainment" via TV, movies,
video games, commercial sports, etc.; and
- rampant sexism and racism.
- Friday, January 19, 2001 at 07:24:30 (EST)
The makings of a mind are threads of thought
That weave a web --- coherent consciousness ---
To conjure and control the fire of soul.
By day the bonds are stout, the spirit pale;
Sure spells confine the flame within her cage
Of reason, logic, memory, and fact ...
Until soft darkness comes to cut the cords
That bind the bright beast tight. See how she turns,
Unfolds and spreads her wings, and grows, and glows!
She leaps to flight and joins the shining flock:
Dark dreams that dance the sky and sing the songs
Of creativity and life and love.
- Tuesday, January 16, 2001 at 08:22:57 (EST)
One word still has the power to strike terror in my soul: molybdenum. Back in 1969 my Mother drove me to Houston, Texas --- the nearest exam site where the Federal Communications Commission offered a chance to earn a ham radio license. Multiple-choice tests of electronics theory and FCC regs were easy. Morse at 13 words per minute was tougher. I had practiced and felt I was ready ... but when the dits and dahs of the international radiotelegraph code began to flow past, I choked. I tried reading words as they were spelled out, guessing to fill in gaps when I missed a character. Big mistake! I only needed to get one minute solid out of the five minute transmission. But then, letter by letter, I heard the dread sequence that would forever haunt my nightmares: M - O - L - Y - B - D - .... Huh? What's that? Arggghhhhhh! My concentration shattered like a dropped vacuum tube.
I settled for a lowly Technician Class license that day; it only demanded 5 words/minute of code. A few months later I tried again and passed the General (13 wpm) amateur radio exam. Advanced and finally Extra Class (20 wpm) followed a year or two later. N6WX became my call sign: "WX" means weather in Morse, and my brother the meteorologist got K5WX. We both eventually were ARRL certified at code speeds of 30 wpm or so, far above any official requirement. But don't ask me to spell "molybdenum"!
- Wednesday, January 10, 2001 at 05:58:42 (EST)
The ^zhurnal entry of 11 April 2000 described a 1979 publication of mine: "It was rather a dull paper in my opinion, without any fundamental or exciting new insights. Boring work, but somebody had to do it." That occurs a lot, in research as well as in everyday life. Most of the time the feedback loops don't close; the happy consequences of quiet labors go unrecognized.
But in August 2000 the unexpected happened. A Berkeley astrophysicist, J. Garrett Jernigan, wrote and then phoned to tell me about a new theory he had come up with, to explain Quasi-periodic Oscillations (QPO) seen from Low Mass X-ray Binary (LMXB) neutron star systems. Professor Jernigan proposed that free precession of a neutron star's crust could produce the right kind of flickering X-ray emissions --- rigid-body precession quite similar to what Eugene Szedenits and I had computed in grad school more than two decades earlier, following suggestions of Kip Thorne and Roger Blandford.
The conversation with Garrett was a thrill. Imagine: somebody actually read what Gene & I had written! And something in the real world (maybe) corresponds to our calculations! Incredible. Garrett swore me to secrecy until his paper could get further through the publications process. A few days ago, he gave me permission to write; a preprint of his draft is now on the public LANL archive. Will Jernigan's theory survive critical review and further tests against observation? It's too early to tell. The contributions that Gene and I unwittingly made to this research are minor. But nevertheless, how nice to see (as two bibliographic references out of 57) evidence of the echoes, still reverberating, from old struggles to learn, explain, and share. (Cf. the 21 May 1999 ^zhurnal item quoting from George Eliot's Middlemarch.)
- Monday, January 08, 2001 at 06:09:40 (EST)
"As late as the 17th Century in many European universities, only the very best students were told that they could someday hope to conquer long division if they applied themselves. ... If a bad system is chosen to represent aspects of a problem, relatively simple problems can be made quite difficult." --- P. G. Emma (IBM Journal of Research and Development, 3 May 1997, p.215)
- Saturday, January 06, 2001 at 19:58:24 (EST)
IR, I Wish
While looking through my old notebooks I found some fantasy plans for information retrieval software development projects which, as far as I know, still haven't been accomplished. I'd like to see:
My resolution for the Third Millennium: get to work on implementing the above, or induce someone cleverer to do it first!
- morel --- a relevance-ranked version of the UNIX "more" command. Classic "more" displays a file one screen's worth at a time but also has a neat frill: type "/" followed by a pattern, and you jump ahead to the next occurrence of that pattern. Extend that to get morel, which takes as arguments a file name (or names) and a set of search terms. Morel (= "more" + "relevance") scans the file(s) and comes back with chunks (screens) that best match most of the requested terms. (See "Fuzzy Proximity IR", the ^zhurnal entry of 18 March 2000, for a sketch of one simple yet relatively successful matching method.) A little pattern-description language could allow run-time customization of the relevance ranking (e.g., put "+" in front of the most important words, use "-" to indicate negative weighting, insert "|" to separate alternatives, and maybe even support some regular expression wildcards). Morel could be especially useful with big, heterogeneous, ill-structured collections of raw text, whenever a needle in a chaotic landscape of haystacks needs to be found.
- autolinker --- a system to build hyperlinks between related chunks of information. Consider a collection of web pages or otherwise delimited articles, such as this ^zhurnal itself. Humans can add cross-references (e.g., the pointer in the previous bullet), but that takes time and some amount of wit ... both of which are, alas, in limited supply. An autolinker takes the data collection, correlates items, and identifies clusters that cohere: material which has a common vocabulary, for example, or repeatedly uses certain phrases, or possesses other similarities based on a statistical metric. The autolinker then supplies bridges between related items, resulting in an enhanced set of files ready for fast and effective browsing. Auto-generated cross-links are there if needed, but can be ignored if they seem irrelevant.
- kwicker --- an on-the-fly generator for Key Word In Context (KWIC) displays and other information retrieval via a Web interface. The primitive free-text indexer/browser work that I did back in the late 1980's and early 1990's was helpful, but was also very much stand-alone. How about making that service available via a *.cgi or other remote computational resource? The user picks a database (e.g., the works of Shakespeare, or Gibbon's Decline and Fall) and gets a page showing an alphabetized list of all the words in that database (or an excerpt thereof, if the list is too long). Scroll around in the word list and click to get a KWIC showing all the instances of the selected word with half a line of context on each side. Scroll around in the KWIC and click to grab a page of the database centered on the selected instance. Simple, fast, intuitive, and useful. Add fuzzy proximity search for the (relatively rare) hard retrieval cases. (See "Free Text Information Retrieval Philosophy" for an overview essay, and the "FreeText Archive" for commentary, source code, and DOS executables for the old indexer/browser. See also the ^zhurnal entries of 29 October 1999, 31 January 2000, and 15 May 2000.)
- Thursday, January 04, 2001 at 20:12:04 (EST)
The first big Internet bubble is now in the process of popping (it still has more deflating to do than most pundits believe) ... and already the grandiose comments of the past few years are starting to look singularly silly. "The Web is as important a discovery as Fire," comes to mind. (I'll be merciful and not identify the formerly-rich-and-famous speaker of that line.)
But another metaphor for the Internet may actually have legs: the Web boom is like the Railroad construction mania of the 19th Century. Rail transport cut the cost of moving goods and people dramatically, while speed and reliability shot up. A great thing, yes. But follow the analogy further: are railroads mega-money-makers today? No, and they haven't been for decades.
An infrastructure, once it has been built, is no cash cow. During the initial construction phase a few companies can be big winners, and we tend to remember them --- rather than the less-lucky also-rans. But real profits are made elsewhere, by overcoming new economic bottlenecks in a constantly-changing landscape. Not even monopoly-style predatory behavior can garner exorbitant returns on capital in the long run; it either attracts competition or regulation.
So, once the dust settles, whither the Web? Like the rail system, it will fade into the background ... carry the bits cheaply and quickly ... and only come to consciousness when there's a catastrophic failure: a "train wreck", so to speak. Good infrastructure is like that.
- Wednesday, January 03, 2001 at 05:43:59 (EST)
Four quotes unearthed during a dig through my notebook of early 1998:
- "What is a trick the first time one meets it is a device the second time and a method the third time." --- W. J. Leveque (Fundamentals of Number Theory as quoted in Mathematical Recreations for the Programmable Calculator by Dean Hoffman & Lee Mohler, p. 7)
- "Bach, whose music has the most rules, also gives the most freedom, a paradoxical quality of creativity." --- Michael Kimmelman (review of Bach-Busoni Goldberg Variations performed by David Buechner, New York Times 4 January 1998)
- "The relevance of bypass as a rhetorical device is forcibly shown by Tolstoy in War and Peace (the Maude translation, Bk. VI, Ch. VI, p. 22) in words that are, from our point of view at least, very striking; Tolstoy here describes Michael Speranski, who was for a time a favorite counsellor of the Tsar Alexander. After telling us that metaphysics was a resource the brilliant Speranski very frequently employed in argument, Tolstoy goes on to say: 'He would transfer a question to metaphysical heights, pass on to definitions of space, time, and thought, and having deduced the refutation he needed, would again descend to the level of the original discussion.' " --- Z. A. Melzak (Bypasses: A Simple Approach to Complexity Chap. 11)
- The duties of the Astronomer Royal "... are so exiguous that they could be performed posthumously." --- Sir Martin Rees (interview, New York Times 28 April 1998; "exiguous" = scanty, meager)
- Monday, January 01, 2001 at 20:37:43 (EST)
In reaction to "Worth Remembering" (^zhurnal, 28 Dec 2000) some Philosophy Breakfast friends suggested several other noteworthy achievements of the 20th Century: space exploration, communications technology, cheap and fast transportation, public sanitation and health initiatives, mass education, widespread literacy, etc. Good things, undoubtedly.
But one idea (tnx, BD & GdM!) was so outstanding that perhaps it deserves to win not for the century, but for the whole Second Millennium: individual worth. All human beings are precious. It's no longer acceptable for some people to enslave others. Rape is wrong. Murder is wrong. Exploitation is wrong.
We're still trying to figure this concept out. There are plenty of disagreements left, in areas such as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, war, wealth distribution, social justice, animal rights, racism, sexism, and intolerance in general. But over the past several hundred years, in most of the world the trend is clear --- and it's a wonderful trend. Individuals matter.
- Sunday, December 31, 2000 at 21:39:03 (EST)
In the basement of the old Caltech physics building, circa 1975, ^z shared an office with another student: Cosmas Zachos. CKZ had been an undergrad at Princeton. He possessed a wickedly cynical sense of humor, studied high-energy physics, and took calligraphic notes in jet black ink using a broad-tipped chisel-point fountain pen. Zachos was also a central social communications node among his fellow students who came from Greece.
^z was always happy to answer the shared phone, but after unsuccessful attempts to help non-English-speakers he came up with a plan. He asked, and Cosmas taught him to say (phonetically) "Embrós? ... O Záchos then íne ethó ... Hérete!" --- which more or less means "Hello? ... Zachos isn't here ... Good-bye!"
Delivered with strategic pauses the script worked, perhaps too well at times. Some Greek callers complained to Zachos of the impolite office-mate who spoke with a heavy accent and wouldn't take messages or respond to questions. Belated apologies to all concerned!
(cf. the ^zhurnal entry of 10 January 2000, "Seeing Stars (1)", for another ~1975 underground office anecdote.)
- Saturday, December 30, 2000 at 17:40:10 (EST)
The end of the Twentieth Century invites a retrospective glance at humanity's accomplishments during the past hundred years. Which of our discoveries will schoolchildren (assuming there are any) study in 2101? Perhaps:
Quite a lot to be proud of! But what else can we hope to be remembered for? Which novels will be read? What art will be admired? And, to our embarrassment, which "triumphs" will turn out to be far more ephemeral than we can imagine today?
- incompleteness theorems --- the limitations of formal systems and the existence of unprovable truths (with critical implications for computability)
- cosmology --- the age, size, and structure of the universe
- nuclear astrophysics --- the energy sources of stars and the origin of the elements
- special & general relativity --- the dance of matter and energy, space and time, gravity and geometry
- quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, & field theory --- the laws of the very small
- molecular biology --- the chemistry of life (with huge benefits for food and health)
- mechanical, aeronautical, & electrical engineering --- the development of marvelously efficient transportation, communication, and information systems
See also "We Suddenly See to the Edge of the Universe", the 8 June 1999 ^zhurnal entry.)
- Thursday, December 28, 2000 at 06:19:01 (EST)
Downstairs the ceiling overhead consists
Of beams and joists and rough unfinished boards ---
The splintery skeleton of floors above
That varnish, tile, parquet, or carpet hide
From delicate perception, lest offense
Be given to the senses of the sleek
Who glide from room to room on polished tracks ...
Exchanging pleasantries ... sipping their drinks ...
Admiring the portraits on the walls
Beneath the chandeliers that sprinkle light
To mist bare maiden shoulders with a dew
Of wealth and beauty. Music now cascades
Soft in a waterfall of liquid sound.
A dozen conversations splash and fade
Like waves upon the shore of a bright bay.
But underneath the surface of the sea
A colder current flows. The denizens
Of basement chambers, servants of the house,
Can hear the creak of floorboards as new guests
Arrive and doff their cloaks. They know their job,
These underfolk: to stand, obey, and wait
Upon their betters. So they lift their eyes
To naked bulbs, stark shadows, rafters, planks,
Preparing to put on a cheerful mask
Of gracious acquiescence in their rôle.
They fix their smiles in place and go upstairs.
- Tuesday, December 26, 2000 at 07:05:51 (EST)
Almost a century ago, the British novelist Arnold Bennett, musing about the real meaning of Christmas for an era troubled by spiritual doubt, wrote:
"An age of skepticism has its faults, like any other age, though certain persons have pretended the contrary. Having been compelled to abandon its belief in various statements of alleged fact, it lumps principles and ideals with alleged facts, and hastily decides not to believe in anything at all. It gives up faith, it despises faith, in spite of the warning of its greatest philosophers, including Herbert Spencer, that faith of some sort is necessary to a satisfactory existence in a universe full of problems which science admits it can never solve. None were humbler than the foremost scientists about the narrowness of the field of knowledge, as compared with the immeasurability of the field of faith. But the warning has been ignored, as warnings nearly always are. Faith is at a discount. And the qualities which go with faith are at a discount; such as enthusiasm, spontaneity, ebullition, lyricism, and self-expression in general. Sentimentality is held in such horror that people are afraid even of sentiment. Their secret cry is: 'Give us something in which we can believe.'
"They forget, in their confusion, that the great principles, spiritual and moral, remain absolutely intact. They forget that, after all the shattering discoveries of science and conclusions of philosophy, mankind has still to live with dignity amid hostile nature, and in the presence of an unknowable power and that mankind can only succeed in this tremendous feat by the exercise of faith and of that mutual goodwill which is based in sincerity and charity. They forget that, while facts are nothing, these principles are everything. And so, at that epoch of the year which nature herself has ordained for the formal recognition of the situation of mankind in the universe and of its resulting duties to itself and to the Unknown --- at that epoch, they bewail, sadly or impatiently or cynically: 'Oh! The bottom has been knocked out of Christmas!'
"But the bottom has not been knocked out of Christmas. And people know it. Somewhere, in the most central and mysterious fastness of their hearts, they know it. If they were not, in spite of themselves, convinced of it, why should they be so pathetically anxious to keep alive in themselves, and to foster in their children, the Christmas spirit? Obviously, a profound instinct is for ever reminding them that, without the Christmas, spirit, they are lost. The forms of faith change, but the spirit of faith, which is the Christmas spirit, is immortal amid its endless vicissitudes. At a crisis of change, faith is weakened for the majority; for the majority it may seem to be dead. It is conserved, however, in the hearts of the few supremely great and in the hearts of the simple. The supremely great are hidden from the majority; but the simple are seen of all men, and them we encourage, often without knowing why, to be the depositaries of that which we cannot ourselves guard, but which we dimly feel to be indispensable to our safety."
(From Chapter II of Friendship and Happiness by Arnold Bennett, first published ca. 1905 under the title "The Feast of St. Friend". See also "My Business", the ^zhurnal note of 30 May 1999 quoting from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.)
- Saturday, December 23, 2000 at 06:27:45 (EST)
(See the ^zhurnal entry of 14 December 2000 for "1990-1991")
On the day before ^z's 39th birthday, his over-the-board chess career took a new turn. The Saint James School (a pre-college religious institution for boys) sits on a pleasant rural campus near the Antietam (US Civil War) Battlefield south of Hagerstown, Maryland, an hour's drive from ^z's customary turf. Michael Anders taught Spanish at St. James, and in the early 1990's he organized and ran a series of tournaments. ^z ventured to St. James a total of five times, and also took part in three other tourneys closer to home before hanging up his caissic spurs for the rest of the 20th Century. Let the record show:
- St. James "Bilbo's Unexpected Party" G/60 (28 September 1991): In a first venture there, among a field of 20 ^z took first place ($35 - $15 entry fee) in Class B with a score of 2 wins (vs. Brian Chaney (C) and Jon Morris (A)), a loss (to Senior Master Boris Zisman, who read a newspaper during the endgame), and a draw (with Frank Knarr (C), by mutual agreement with both players in severe time trouble).
- St. James Chess Club "1/4 k" G/30 (11 October 1991): The "k" factor in the USCF's system governs how fast a player's rating changes. This "1/4 k" experimental tourney reduced the risk of disaster from a bad performance, but also reduced the rewards to be gained by a triumph. Chess players being eternal optimists, only 6 appeared for the contest. ^z emerged victorious, in first place with 4 straight wins over Laura Nelson (C), Mike Keppel (C), Tournament Director Michael Anders (B), and Bill Lewis (B). No prize money, but quite an ego boost.
- St. James Open Open (8 December 1991): Another lucky day, 4 wins and a first place among the 10 competitors for a $30 prize (-$10 entry fee). Opponents were John Tutin (C), Thomas Simson (C), Linda Simson (B), and Mira Madans (C).
- St. James Team Tourney (5 January 1992): In a "team" tournament the people are grouped into squads, which are then paired against each other as sort of "virtual" players. Each individual game is a normal chess game, but results are aggregated to determine which team won in every round. ^z's team finished 3-1, although he himself had only 2 wins (over David Halterman (D) and David Keppel (D)) and 2 losses (vs. Farah Frederick (B) and Master David Sherman).
- Rockville JCC G/30 (26 April 1992): This time ^z did well, a 4-2 score to finish first among the seven players in the Under 1900 group which yielded $21.25 (-$12 entry fee). There were 17 total participants in the tournament. Master Boris Zisman and Expert Mark Coleman crushed ^z, as he expected. But he won against Jay Campbell (D), Brian J. Robertson (D), and Brandon Becker (A). Then, in a splendid last-round upset, ^z with the White pieces managed to defeat Master Alexander Passov in a hard-fought and highly tactical Giuocco Piano.
- St. James Quick Chess (23 October 1992): "Quick Chess" is played under time controls of less than 30 minutes per side. The one and only rated QC experience that ^z had was in this outing, where games were played in at a sudden-death 10 minute (G/10) pace. The result: a third-place finish among the six competitors, with 6 wins, 3 losses, and 1 draw --- but with no record of moves played or even opponents' names.
- Rockville JCC G/30 (21 March 1993): Not good; 2 wins (against Steven Willmore (D) and Josh Biber (D)) but 3 losses (to Expert Don McMahon and Masters Pappu Murthy and Alexander Passov, who got his revenge for the loss he suffered in the previous month). This was a six-round tournament, but since there were an odd number of players left going into the final round, when the Tournament Director asked for a volunteer to sit it out, an exhausted ^z raised his hand. His rating was a little above 1800 at this point, putting him barely into Class A --- and he did not want to risk a loss on a day when he felt unlucky.
- Ft. Meade G/60 (22 May 1993): This was the final tournament chess foray of ^z for the 1990's. It went superbly: among 12 players present, ^z finished first with 3 wins and a draw. His victories were over Terry Coffee (B), Roger Smith (A), and Bob Giordani (A). In the final round, after a tough struggle he reached a draw with Hilbert Turner (B) to guarantee the first prize of $32 (-$12 entry fee). More importantly, ^z gained another clutch of rating points --- putting him solidly into Class A.
The main chess changes that ^z observed after two decades of siesta? Instead of tournaments that lasted two or three days with games played at a slow pace of 2 hours (or more) per 40 moves, by the early 1990's single-day tournaments at sudden-death time controls of G/30 or G/60 had become the bill of fare. Players seemed stronger, probably because they had good computers to train against. Tournament directors were better-organized, and frequently had computer assistants to optimize pairings and scorekeeping. And there were far more players who were young and/or female and/or non-European --- many of whom were deadly opponents across the board. Overall, healthy progress for one of the world's foremost intellectual pursuits.
(See also the ^zhurnal entry of 10 December 2000 for a summary of ^z's teenage chess experiences in 1969-1971. Please send me a note if you spot your name, or the name of someone you know, in these listings --- and let me know how you're doing nowadays! I still have the record of the moves for all of these games, with the exception of those played at fast time controls.)
- Thursday, December 21, 2000 at 20:54:34 (EST)
Encounters at a 1996 wacky-computer-people conference:
... in short, a fine crew of deep, thoughtful, concerned people, worried about important issues.
- the veteran --- started working at a weapons lab in 1953; developed and ran pre-FORTRAN era models of hydrogen bombs; told of doing data reduction on decks of punch cards from early tests in the South Pacific; now frail, tired, used a walker to navigate the room; napped in a corner, ignored by all the young hot-shots (and where will they be in a few decades?) ...
- the computer scientist --- seduced away from a PC company to a media conglomerate; felt guilty, but had to abandon work on software development environments for kids, since there was no money to continue the project ...
- the new father (& semi-famous author) --- goofily gregarious in a group, but in private worried that he wasn't "mensch enough" to homeschool his children ...
- the social activist --- talked about bringing computers to disadvantaged high schools (a presentation that was spurned by the majority in favor of video game demos) ...
- the civil servant --- modest and self-effacing, a late-night philosopher who spent most of his time driving visitors around town and managing major procurement contracts, so that others in his labs could do research ...
- the international technologist --- frustrated in attempts to work with the US Government by stupidity and ignorance on the federal side of the table; talked movingly about challenges of Third World technology development, and noted with anger that two thirds of the audience left at the beginning of the session ...
- the millionaire mathematician --- an extreme introvert, almost too shy to introduce himself, but blossomed into quiet talkativeness one-on-one about his research and discoveries ...
But far outnumbering them, alas, were flocks of self-promoters whose agenda focused on passing out business cards and making quick spiels, in hopes of attracting money for their ventures ... plus a slightly smaller herd of megalomaniacs, each of whom was sure s/he knew The Answer --- and insisted on explaining it in detail to anyone who was polite enough to listen.
- Wednesday, December 20, 2000 at 19:53:48 (EST)
Some notes from a one-day lecture/course (21 March 1997) by Professor Edward Tufte on information visualization and understanding:
- There are "two deep, long-run, essential problems in the display of information":
- nearly everything is multivariate and high-dimensional, but needs to be communicated on two-dimensional surfaces; and
- we never have high enough resolution (bits per time and bits per area).
- "Bureaus, agencies, and divisions don't do things --- people do things." --- so always give credit to authors.
- Eliminate letter codes, legends, etc. as much as possible, and put labels right on the lines: direct access to information
- The "Great Principles of Information Design" are:
- enforce visual comparisons
- show cause and effect
- display multiple variables
- integrate text and figure and graphic
- focus on content --- quality, relevance, and integrity
- place information adjacent in space --- not stacked in time
- "Good design is good thinking made visible."
- "Credibility often arises from your mastery and demonstration of detail."
- "The entire day today is devoted to the design of Web sites; or the entire day today is devoted to the scratching of a map into a stone 6,000 years ago ..." --- that is, the goal is to be independent of language and culture, and to focus on "... universal principles indifferent to this month's fad, or the technology of the display."
- "Whenever you show money versus time and you fail to adjust for inflation, you lie."
- "Don't trust a display if it doesn't have any footnotes" --- provide documentation and a source for every image and all data.
- "Use the smallest effective difference to differentiate, especially for secondary information.
- "Let people know about the errors in the data."
- "Don't get it original --- get it right." --- borrow strengths from other people's designs. As T. S. Eliot said, "Talent imitates, but genius steals."
- "The metaphor in Web design and in interface design should be let the information be the interface."
- "No matter how good your interface is, less of it is better." Computer interfaces tend to have only a few percent of the typographical density of newspapers. Don't waste precious screen real estate.
- "The lowest information density medium is the overhead projector."
- Goal: "Make our presentations worthy of ourselves, worthy of the human eye and the human mind."
- Rules for giving a good presentation:
- "Show up early. Something good is bound to happen!"
- "Early in your talk, tell people:
And never apologize in your introduction.
- what the problem is
- who cares
- what the solution is"
- When explaining something complicated, think "PGP: Particular - General - Particular". Go from specific examples to high-level overview and then back to specifics.
- "No matter what, give everybody in the audience a piece of paper. ... That's the highest resolution means of communication you have at your disposal."
- "People haven't suddenly gotten stupid just because they came to her you talk." Don't be condescending or patronizing to your audience.
- Rethink the overhead projector --- limit vugraphs to art, tables, complex graphics, etc.
- Be careful with humor; make sure it is on point. We live in an age of sensitivities. Don't alienate anybody gratuitously.
- Avoid using masculine pronouns as universals; try plurals.
- Be careful when answering questions. Many people will use your response as the sole basis for judging you. Don't embarrass audience members. Prepare responses for interrupters; let them know the ground rules. For a shy audience, count to 10. Be patient. If necessary, plant a question before the meeting to break the ice.
- "If you believe the stuff, let your audience know. If you're enthusiastic about the material, show it." For many presentations, your honest enthusiasm is the most important thing the audience will get.
- "Finish early --- people will be thrilled. Something good is bound to happen!"
- "Practice, practice, practice. Work harder at it. You'll get better." Use a friend, or practice in front of a mirror. Recognize and eliminate distracting mannerisms. After mastering the content, you'll be able to open up a "metachannel" to the audience, sense people's reactions, etc.
- Protect your voice and body by drinking a great deal of water; avoid alcohol.
- The ideal meeting: people trickle in, look at your handouts, understand, and evaporate....
- Monday, December 18, 2000 at 05:49:05 (EST)
In a thoughtful interview (by Heidi Aspaturian, Caltech News vol. 24, no. 3) Professor Steve Koonin talks about the challenges of being provost (chief academic officer) of a major research institution. Those challenges are profound ones --- tough trade-offs between breadth and depth, between independence and cooperation, science and the humanities, teaching and research, business and academia, and on and on. This is the real world. Nothing is simple.
Prof. Koonin concludes: "That's one of the key things I think I've learned as provost --- that decisions are not always optimized. This job has also taught me a lot about human nature, and about how heavily it figures into science and engineering. And that has humbled me in some ways. In this kind of environment, it becomes so clear that while there are right answers, there are also good answers, and that the two are not always the same. It sure is interesting. Hope I've done some good."
Sounds like a worthy goal for everybody: "Hope I've done some good."
(See also the 4 May 1999 ^zhurnal entry, "Simple Answers", and 6 November 2000 quotation from Middlemarch by George Eliot.)
- Saturday, December 16, 2000 at 21:53:39 (EST)
A recent talk by Dr. Rushworth Kidder discussed several important issues. Kidder is an author (How Good People Make Tough Choices and Shared Values for a Troubled World) and is also the founder of the nonprofit Institute for Global Ethics. Among the points he raised were:
- Technological progress has leveraged ethics: today a bad individual decision (e.g., Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez, and the Barings Bank disasters) can cause damage on a global scale.
- Ethics is a core of shared values, including:
These are reverenced around the world, across all cultures (though the relative emphasis varies) --- independent of individual religion or apparent lack thereof.
- Respect for Life
- Ethics is "obedience to the unenforceable"; law is "obedience to the enforceable".
- The dilemmas that thoughtful people wrestle with are not right vs. wrong (violations of values), but right vs. right (conflict of two or more core values).
- Four big sources of ethical dilemmas are:
- individual vs. community
- short-term vs. long-term
- justice vs. mercy
- truth vs. loyalty
- Three general resolution principles for ethical conflicts are:
An ethical individual may use each of these resolution principles to solve different problems at different times. (Very roughly speaking, people seem to average about half Utilitarian, about a third Golden Rule, and about a sixth Kantian, depending on the question.)
- Ends-based --- Utilitarianism
- Rule-based --- Kant's Categorical Imperative
- Care-based --- the Golden Rule
- An enduring organization has to have an ethical foundation and a culture that shares the same values as its employees. Money is far less important than being able to "... trust the people you work for, have pride in what you do, and enjoy the people you work with...."
- The triumph of ethics is to develop "... intelligence operating at intuitional velocity ..." --- that is, to have already thought about issues and thus to be able to make good ethical choices rapidly, almost instinctively.
- "I wish I could provide you with a little black box to solve your ethical dilemmas. But if there were such a little black box, Aristotle would have found it."
- "Progress of a culture is progress in the expansion of the 'moral perimeter'" (the circle of one's empathy) --- to the point where there is "... no one who is not worthy of moral concern."
(See also quotes from Albert Schweitzer in the ^zhurnal entry of 23 July 2000.)
- Friday, December 15, 2000 at 05:43:08 (EST)
Second childhood? Fantasies of not-yet-over-the-hill-ness? Sheer hubris? For whatever reason, after 19 years of inactivity (and a few months of practice against computers) ^z came back to the chess arena in late 1990 and played in 20 official tournaments during the next two and a half years. He met scores of nice (and similarly delusional) opponents in the course of achieving 50 wins, 34 losses, and 7 draws --- and pulling his USCF rating up into Class A, a long-time fantasy he had held since youth. (If you see your name in these notes, please drop me a line and let me know how your chess is going! But beware: I have the moves on file for all of these games, and will not hesitate to share them with you.)
... to be continued ...
- Rockville Jewish Community Center (JCC) Tornado (25 November 1990): Not a pleasant come-back --- three straight losses in the first three games versus Master Geoff McKenna and then-Class C players Philip J. Riccobono & Ray Hardy. The sudden-death game in 60 minute pace was unexpectedly stressful. ^z redeemed himself slightly with a final round win over Jerry Cline (Class A or B). The 1-3 result put him near the bottom of the 24 player crosstable.
- Rockville JCC Action (23 December 1990): If playing a full game in 60 minutes (thinking time per player) was so disconcerting, who but a fool would try a G/30 pace? Yet strangely enough, ^z's performance improved: in a field of 16 players he won 4, lost 2, and took home $20 as first in the under-1900 rating bracket. With an entry fee of $12 that was obviously far below minimum wage, but no matter --- he was hooked! Wins over Wayne McLaughlin (Class C at that time), Mehran Diranbaigyzand (A), Rochelle Payzer (B), and Frank Knarr (D) compensated for the psychic scars inflicted in losses to Mark Larzelere (Expert), and Jan Linders (A).
- Rockville JCC Tornado (27 January 1991): A level result this time, 2 wins and 2 losses at a G/60 pace (sudden-death play with one hour per player). This tournament began with a glorious victory over Philip Collier, a Master --- ^z's first win against a player rated above 2200, and quite a psychological thrill. (In fairness, Phil may have been sick that day; he withdrew before the end of the tourney.) The only other ^z triumph occurred in the last-round over young Charles Gelman, then rated only Class B but soon to become far stronger. Before that the elder Gelman brother Geoff (a strong Class A, and rising fast) beat ^z, as did Senior Master Boris Zisman. ^z sprang a prepared Riga variation of the Ruy Lopez against Boris, who solved all the problems it posed in real time, as his 2400+ rating promised he would.
- Laurel Colonial Chess Club (LCCC) G/30 (12 April 1991): This Friday evening experiment turned out well for ^z, who won 2, drew 1, and came in first of 6 players to capture the $15 first prize (though the entry fee was $5, so profits were not as exorbitant as they may have seemed at first glance). He beat Frank Knarr (who had moved up into Class C since their previous encounter) and Mark Lynch (B) in a game where both sides got into severe time trouble. A last-round draw was agreed to with Mike Zimmet (C); ^z had a won ending but not enough time to succeed in demonstrating it, and the half point guaranteed him the overall tournament victory.
- Rockville JCC Action (28 April 1991): This outing was less successful, with 2 wins, 3 losses, and a draw resulting in a middle-of-the-pack finish among a field of 17. ^z managed to again beat Frank Knarr (C) and also won against Ed Gerritson (unrated), but only eked out a draw with Chris Leech (C) and lost most heinously to Master Greg Acholonu, Expert Jefferson Teller, and A Class Glenn Flodstrom.
- LCCC G/30 Quad (3 May 1991): A disastrous Friday evening in Laurel --- three straight losses to Master Richard Benjamin, Tournament Director Alan Beadle (A), and Jeffrey Crook (A), to finish fourth out of four players in the group. Ugh!
- LCCC G/30 Swiss (10 May 1991): One week later, how much was changed! In a field of eight, this time ^z won 2 (vs. José Castanos (unr) & Ed Gerritson (unr.)) and lost 1 (to Master Frank Gomez) to emerge in first place among the Under-2000 rated crew --- and garnered a big $15 prize (less $5 entry fee).
- LCCC G/30 Swiss (17 May 1991): This week, Fortune's smile was far fainter. A win (vs. Dan Quigley (A)), a draw (vs. Ed Gerritson (unr.)), and a loss (vs. Alan Kline (A)) added up to a three-way tie for second to fourth place among the six players present --- and a less-than-stellar $3 share of the pot.
- LCCC G/30 Quad (24 May 1991): Much better! ^z took first place ($15) in his group with wins over Alan Beadle (A) and Ed Gerritson (unr.) plus a draw with David Porter (B). Tournament Director Beadle played a risky Bird's Opening which quickly disintegrated. He explained that he had been awakened early that morning by the sound of running water, a minor flood in his house from a broken toilet. When asked how to become a Class A player, Alan advised, "Start as a Master and go down!"
- DC Action (G/30) (1 June 1991): This experiment in a new venue, on the campus of American University, was a wash with 3 wins and 3 losses, at a cost of $25 to compete in a field of 78. ^z won against John Ross (D), the youthful Sung-Shin Hong (D), and most notably vs. Louis Arana (A, maybe even Expert). But he succumbed to defeat at the hands of Experts Greg Kearse, André Sergeon, and John MacArthur. The bottom line was a rating gain of perhaps 20 points.
- Rockville JCC G/30 (25 August 1991): Another 3-3 balanced result in a tournament of 25 players. Wins over the 9-year-old Robert Sinden (unr.), the 12-year-old Ira Rothberg (D), and Richard Allen (B) were compensated for by losses to three Experts: Dave Hurchalla, Dave Hulvey, and Mark Coleman.
- American University G/30 (29 August 1991): Back at AU in DC on a Thursday evening, the dismal 1-2 score that ^z achieved was good enough to finish in a tie for fourth place out of the six competitors, and as "Best Under 2000" to take back $4 of the $6 entry fee. Losses to Master Alan Anderson and Mike Maguire (B) were followed by a last-round win against Scott West (B) in a wild sudden-death race against the clock which ^z won by about 15 seconds.
- Thursday, December 14, 2000 at 05:52:51 (EST)
Punishment & Crime
Another thought from The Vicar of Wakefield (by Oliver Goldsmith, 1766), Chapter XXVII:
"Our Saxon ancestors, fierce as they were in war, had but few executions in times of peace; and in all commencing governments that have the print of nature still strong upon them, scarce any crime is held capital.
"It is among the citizens of a refined community that penal laws, which are in the hands of the rich, are laid upon the poor. Government, while it grows older, seems to acquire the moroseness of age; and as if our possessions were become dearer in proportion as they increased, as if the more enormous our wealth, the more extensive our fears, our possessions are paled up with new edicts every day, and hung round with gibbets to scare every invader.
"Whether is it from the number of our penal laws or the licentiousness of our people that this country should show more convicts in a year than half the dominions of Europe united? Perhaps it is owing to both; for they mutually produce each other. When by indiscriminate penal laws a nation beholds the same punishment affixed to dissimilar degrees of guilt, from perceiving no distinction in the penalty, the people are led to lose all sense of distinction in the crime, and this distinction is the bulwark of all morality; thus the multitude of laws produce new vices, and new vices call for fresh restraints.
"It were to be wished then that power, instead of contriving new laws to punish vice, instead of drawing hard the cords of society till a convulsion come to burst them, instead of cutting away wretches as useless before we have tried their utility, instead of converting correction into vengeance, it were to be wished that we tried the restrictive arts of government, and made law the protector but not the tyrant of the people. We should then find that creatures whose souls are held as dross only wanted the hand of a refiner; we should then find that wretches, now stuck up for long tortures, lest luxury should feel a momentary pang, might, if properly treated, serve to sinew the state in times of danger; that, as their faces are like ours, their hearts are so too; that few minds are so base as that perseverance cannot amend; that a man may see his last crime without dying for it; and that very little blood will serve to cement our security."
(See also the ^zhurnal entry of 2 December 2000 for some other Goldsmith quotes.)
- Tuesday, December 12, 2000 at 06:09:29 (EST)
Gray sky above: a Sunday afternoon drizzle of rain, mixed with traces of sleet, drools on the US Supreme Court building. A few dozen picketers zig-zag for a few hundred cameras feeding live video to a few thousand TV stations which broadcast to a few million viewers who, with a few exceptions, ignore the show.
But go south and east ... past the tents where campers await a chance to get into the Court tomorrow ... past the Library of Congress, data warehouse to the world ... past the Folger Shakespeare Library, monument to the Bard ... to a lanky red brick structure, St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Forget politics. Today something more important is happening: a concert in memory of Rafe Ronkin. While stained-glass saints look down, fifty people sit near a small stage in the middle of the nave.
Scott Reiss introduces himself and the other two performers, Tina Chancey and Webb Wiggins. The music is from 17th century Europe --- works by Matthew Locke, Jacob Van Eyck, Johann Jacob Froberger, Marin Marais, Giovanni Battista Fontana, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, and Francesco Turini. Scott, Tina and Webb play, respectively, recorders, violi da gamba, and harpsichord. Notes dance counterpoint inside the church.
Rafe Ronkin, the deceased, was a biology professor who moved on to a second career at the National Science Foundation. He took up the recorder in his 50's and was one of Scott's first students. Sometimes, Scott reported, Rafe struggled in frustration to get the music to work out. But he loved making music and kept at it. With a catch in his voice, before starting to play a solo recorder piece Scott holds up his hands and says, "I'd like to dedicate this to you, Rafe --- and today, these are your fingers."
- Monday, December 11, 2000 at 06:12:54 (EST)
TX Chess 1969-1971
In late high school and early college, ^z played a little chess. His rating drifted around within Class B ... more or less average, in other words, for a semi-serious tournament player. He took part in seven competitions:
- Texas Open (29-30 November 1969): won 2, lost 2, drew 1; finished 24th out of 40, resulting in a rating of 1642 --- ^z began his rated tournament career with a horrible 18-move Round One loss against Bird's Opening as played by Median Anderson (1812, who had the White pieces). ^z then had a drawn French Defense (Exchange Variation) with Jesse Tuggle (1753/B), a quick loss in the Max Lange Attack to Norman N. Snapp III (1738/W), followed in the two final rounds by victories in a Pirc vs. Samuel Young (1323/B) and a nondescript Queen's Pawn opening vs. Robert E. Anderson (1583/W) ... overall, not a pleasant performance, partly due to nervousness in this debut experience.
- San Jacinto Open (18-19 April 1970): won 2, lost 2, drew 1; finished 25th out of 54, moving up to a rating of 1704 --- starting well, with a quick win using the (unsound?!) Falkbeer Counter-Gambit vs. M. L. Berki (1666/W) and then a 63-move triumph against P. A. Oliver's (1700/B) Sicilian Defense. Alas, ^z reverted to form then with a loss to the Sicilian of William Gray (1969/B) and a draw with Curtis Lucas (1641/B) in the French Defense (Exchange Variation). The struggle ended with a slow final-round win over Dusan Djuric (1813/W) via a Queen's Gambit Declined (symmetrical variation) ... for a net gain of 62 rating points, based on good results against stronger players.
- Austin Open (18-19 July 1970): won 2, lost 3; finished 31st out of 42, final rating 1671 --- not a good start, with losses to Expert James Stallings (2073/W) in a King's Indian Defense and to Robert Chalker (1728/B) in a King's Gambit Declined. ^z then managed to beat Class C player Charles Stokes (1404/W) with a Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, fell victim to a surprise checkmate (on move 18!) by Thomas Arnold (1679/B) in a Ruy Lopez (Exchange variation), and ended with a fifth-round win over George Stephen's (1441/B) Sicilian.
- SMI-SW Open (5-7 September 1970): won 3, lost 2, drew 2; finished 40th out of 130, rating 1750 (including subsequent tournament) --- beginning strong, with a quick kill using the Colle System over M. Ybarra (1361/B) and a slower win via the Riga variation of the Ruy Lopez against Pedro Oliver (1637/W). Two ^z losses followed: his Colle failed vs. Expert D. L. P. Ballard (2170/B), and he fell to a startling Grob's Attack by near-Expert R. F. McGregor (1954/W). A Colle draw followed with R. S. Underwood (1764/W), then a win over A. Means (1558/B) in yet another Colle which transposed into a QGD. This three-day tournament concluded with a draw in a symmetrical QGD vs. Owen Johnson (1795/W).
- Texas Open (28-29 November 1970): won 3, lost 1, drew 1; finished 13th out of 70, rating 1750 (including previous tournament) --- Round One saw a repeat performance with M. Ybarra (1361/B) who lost quickly to ^z's King's Gambit. The glow faded after the next game's rapid loss to Master John Hall (2260/W) when an (unsound?!) Latvian Gambit bit the dust in 20 moves. Against his cousin David Zimmermann (1487/B), ^z essayed another King's Gambit which won, as did his King's Indian Defense vs. Lee Gaskill (1444/W). The final game was a drawn Albin Counter Gambit with J. Fox (1798). The positive net scores in these last two 1970 tourneys sent ^z's rating skyrocketing.
- Aggie Open (13-14 November 1971): won 3, lost 2; unknown final ranking, rating 1735 (including next tournament) --- a strong start in the first two rounds, with wins over M. K. Bandyopadhyay (1686/B) using a Tchigorin French Defense, and over Robert Corley's (1938/W) Van't Kruys Opening. But then, a rematch with Median Anderson (1899/W) in another Van't Kruys came to an ill conclusion. A win over Nelson Ford (1691/B) using the Vienna canceled out a loss to Alan Leonard's (1922/B) Alekhine.
- Texas Open (27-28 November 1971): won 2, lost 2, drew 1; finished 36 out of 78, rating 1735 (including previous tournament) --- Rolando Cantu (1156/W) played well, belying his low rating, until he was checkmated on move 43 of a Colle System. ^z then tried and lost with a Smith-Morra Gambit against the Sicilian of Robert Mapes (1847/B). An Open Ruy Lopez drew against Thomas Arnold (1614/W), but a repeat Smith-Morra fell to Lamar C. Bush (1571/B). Only a last-round Budapest Gambit win over Richard King (1682/W) brought the net result back to neutral.
So ended ^z's teenage tournament chess career: 17 wins, 14 losses, and 6 draws. More than 60 solid hours of over-the-board sweat, building upon thousands of hours of study plus countless behind-the-scenes unrated practice games. ^z did not return to competitive play until late 1990, after a lapse of 29 years. (See Postalite 1992-96 for ^z postal chess results and commentary.)
- Sunday, December 10, 2000 at 08:05:05 (EST)
This is Volume 0.12 of the journal of
^z = Mark Zimmermann
... musings on mind, matter, method, and metaphor ... new posts every few
days, since April 1999. See
on zhurnaly.com for a parallel
"live" Wiki experiment in shared thought.
For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes
v.01 (April-May 1999),
v.02 (May-July 1999),
v.03 (July-September 1999),
v.04 (September-November 1999),
v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000),
v.06 (January-March 2000),
v.07 (March-May 2000),
v.08 (May-June 2000),
v.09 (June-July 2000),
v.10 (August-October 2000),
v.11 (October-December 2000),
v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001),
v.13 (February-April 2001),
v.14 (April-June 2001),
0.15 (June-August 2001),
0.16 (August-September 2001),
0.17 (September-November 2001),
0.18 (November-December 2001),
0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002),
0.20 (February-April 2002),
0.21 (April-May 2002),
0.22 (May-July 2002),
0.23 (July-September 2002),
0.24 (September-October 2002),
0.25 (October-November 2002),
0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003),
0.27 (January-February 2003),
0.28 (February-April 2003),
0.29 (April-June 2003),
0.30 (June-July 2003),
0.31 (July-September 2003),
0.32 (September-October 2003),
0.33 (October-November 2003),
0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004),
0.35 (January-February 2004),
0.36 (February-March 2004),
0.37 (March-April 2004),
0.38 (April-June 2004),
0.39 (June-July 2004),
0.40 (July-August 2004),
0.41 (August-September 2004),
0.42 (September-November 2004),
Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you!