Clifford Stoll

March 29, 2008

Clifford StollClifford Stoll became somewhat famous shortly after his first book, The Cuckoo’s Egg, was published in 1990. It’s the story of his success at tracking down a hacker who had infiltrated the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory computer network in 1986.

Stoll, a University at Buffalo graduate, is a Robin Williams-esque character: energetic, brilliant, and very eccentric. A few years ago I had the privilege of meeting him when he was the recipient of the Pioneers of Science award from the Hauptman-Woodward Institute. I remember the hushed moment when he thanked the presenters, his mother, Cooley and Tukey – at which point I laughed so hard that those seated around my table got really annoyed. When I spoke with Clifford afterward he thanked me for getting the joke.

This brief presentation by Stoll is a wonderful look at what happens when you mix a mad scientist and an effervescent, almost innocent, personality. I would like to know how much of this is a rehearsed act (it is obvious that some of it is) and how much is on-stage ad-libbing.

If you like Klein bottles (you can buy one here), bad-tasting vitamin water or inspirational science, this is a fun watch.


Bad Grammar and It’s Repercussions

March 27, 2008

My older brother blogged about grammar today, in particular, whether the word none was singular or plural (correct answer:  it depends on usage).  His point was that worrying to this level of detail was irrelevant when the average American can’t handle the basics of the English language.

Or balance a checking account.

Or find Iran on a map.

As a society we often mistake our global preeminence as a sign of superior intellect, but on that issue we are steadily losing ground to most industrialized countries.  (Or are we?)

Regardless of who’s on the correct side on that debate, I do think that our educational system is on the wrong track, as evidenced by No Child Left Behind – a national program built on a false pretense to help some guy win the governor’s seat in Texas.  I think that such programs – testing for testing’s sake, and teaching for the tests – steal time away from the fundamental task of education, and as such dilute the end product.  I also think that mainstreaming children who just can’t cut it, or blending classes to mix the over- and under-achievers is a recipe for mediocrity.  And I think that as their economies grow and they are able to pump more money into their educational programs, it is only a matter of time before China and India eat our shorts.

Our kids need more quality teaching time.  And parents who instill in them the importance of a good education.  And better accountability throughout the system.  And yes, even proper use of the word its.

Instead, it often seems like we care more about the condition of the high school football field than the condition of the social studies books.

The Right to Bear Arms – On Campus

March 27, 2008

Courtesy Chuck RoseAn unarmed, angry, irrational, emotional wreck of a person is dangerous to me only when he’s an arm’s length away.  The same person with a gun is deadly to 50 feet.

Utah allows college students to carry concealed weapons on campus.  Nine other states are considering allowing the same.  Georgia state Representative Tim Bearden, a gun-rights advocate, recently stated “How many kids must die before we realize that firearms in law-abiding hands actually save lives?”

The key words being law-abiding.

…So 19-year-old, law-abiding college student Joe Jones, who just happens to get dumped by his steady girlfriend, decides to get drunk, then drunker, then confronts the ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend Mitch.  How might that encounter end?  I guess it might depend upon who’s carrying concealed handguns, and how freely the alcohol has flowed.

An argument occasionally escalating to a fight occasionally escalating to weapons fire doesn’t see the light of day very much; yet as emotional, irrational beings who tend to become more emotional and irrational – and less inhibited – while under the influence, we know that it happens often enough.

To have it happen on campus, even rarely, should be justification enough to take a long hard look at this issue and rationally ask if the cure is worth the price.

Blu-Ray Copy Protection Breached

March 25, 2008

Blu-RayWell, that didn’t take long.

RIP Peter

March 22, 2008

No more pickled peppers from this guy.

Peter J. Pieper of Hamilton, a longtime Buffalo travel agent, died Friday in Masonic Care Community, Utica. He was 77.   He owned Pieper Travel Bureau in the Brisbane Building for 50 years before retiring in 1998.

Born in Flushing, Mr. Pieper grew up in Lancaster and graduated from Lancaster High School in 1948. He attended the University of Buffalo for a year before joining the travel agency founded by his father, Emil.

After his first flight in a single- engine Piper J3 Cub in the early 1950s, Mr. Pieper developed a passion for air travel. He also explored U.S. highways and attended the 100th anniversary of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on his Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic.

He was a member of Masonic Master Builder Lodge, Kenmore, Zion Lodge in Orchard Park and Hamilton Rotary. He also was a former member of Buffalo Rotary, Buffalo Executives Association, Buffalo Harley Owners Group and Cornell Flying Club.

He and his wife, Margherita, retired to Fresno, Calif., before moving to Hamilton three years ago to be near their daughter, Peggy O’Connor.
Surviving besides his wife and daughter is a sister, Dolores Kessler.

Services will be private.

Five-Year State Transportation Plans

March 22, 2008

New Peace BridgeThe new Peace Bridge is coming!

So it says in the state’s new 5-year transportation plan, along with the extension of the Route 219 expressway.

I’m not holding my breath.  I doubt that the Peace Bridge expansion will ever occur in my lifetime, because someone else about my age is saying “Not in MY lifetime”, and will hamstring the development process through continued obfuscation, litigation and (lack of) legislation.  The Peace Bridge development process, ongoing now for something like 15 or 20 years, is also crippled by ongoing disputes among landowners, issues regarding Homeland Security and a weak political will that, perhaps by necessity, places emphasis on local concerns deemed more important than a better international crossing.  The calls for action on Peace Bridge construction by our political leaders remind us that only the names have changed over the years.

In the meantime, urging our congressmen/women to add U.S. Customs inspection stations might help to alleviate some of the hours-long congestion at each of our existing international bridges.  It’s discouraging to have to spend almost as much time waiting to cross the border as it takes me to drive home from Toronto.

RIP Arthur C. Clarke

March 19, 2008

Arthur C ClarkeArthur C. Clarke has died.  I am forever grateful to this very best of science fiction writers for giving me Childhood’s End and 2001: A Space Odyssey among many, many other stories.

As a kid he turned me onto the science at the very fringe of the (im)possible, and my curiosity has never waned.

Rest in peace.