Wednesday 21 November 2001, 14:32

[Identifying information removed. I was either sender or receiver of this email; guess which.]

You wrote an article, I sent you some comments, you sent me a reply. I have deleted your reply because its tone indicated that you did not value my comments already made and weren't looking for further comments from me. I believe you are an expert writer and would not create that impression accidentally. Nonetheless I am sending you this note in case it was unintentional, because in a similar situation with the roles reversed I'd appreciate a "heads up". I do not ask nor expect a reply to this note.

Safety first

Tuesday 20 November 2001, 22:05

New research from Iowa State University indicates that nepetalactone, the active chemical in catnip, is 10 times more effective as a mosquito repellant than the current state of the art, a chemical called DEET:

Mosquito bites can be very dangerous. Between malaria, dengue, and West Nile fever, you just can't be too careful when you're travelling in Africa. So be sure you wear plenty of catnip oil every day during your lion safari.


Tuesday 20 November 2001, 00:10

To make best use of this posting, you should have a quantity of identical standard dice. Attempt to solve the questions for yourself before reading the answers. It is more fun to use real dice, but on the other hand, solving them in your head by visualizing the dice will almost certainly qualify you for membership in some pretentious organization.

Breaking fast with the code monks

Sunday 18 November 2001, 22:55

[thanks to Brother Headchalk for suggesting "nutella" as topic]

Breakfast was an adventure. I had to get up early to catch the bus back to Redmond; most of the compound's inhabitants were still asleep. Those guys like to get up late and hack all night. I wandered down into the communal kitchen, toyed with the idea of just chugging a couple of beers out of the "FAIB" cooler, and decided that it was still too early for that. Instead I looked in the fridge, finding some bread and an unlabelled jar of brown paste. I opened it and cautiously smelled it, and concluded that it was Nutella or some similar product. I thought I'd have some toast with some of the brown stuff.

Students rush in

Sunday 18 November 2001, 21:44

Behold, I am the peer review angel, wearing my double blindfold, with the sword of irony in my left hand and the trowel of constructive criticism in my right. At my sides are my companions, the spirits known as Strunk and as White, and on my shoulder the falcon Google. See, the falcon strikes down from the skies, his sharp eyes spotting your copied paragraphs no matter how well concealed. Look, the Spirits have catalogued your errors in their little book before you were even born. Quake in fear, oh plagiarists! Repent, oh illiterates! Seek ye spell checks, seek ye grammar analysers, and stray not into the swamps of cut'n'paste. For before ye pass the course, ye must pass me.

Is that two point six?

Sunday 18 November 2001, 03:05


Coffee house

Saturday 17 November 2001, 00:28

It is after two in the morning and you aren't in a state to make best use of the serious bizarre ideas you have written down on your note cards for today and you are in a state where you would forget that it's a bad idea to write in second person and you would even go so far as to use a breathless present tense and hey, why not go for the hat trick by making it a stream of consciousness piece, sort of.

The auditors

Thursday 15 November 2001, 20:59

Every night when you close your eyes and your brain stops working, the workers all file out punching their cards in the time clock and they walk out the main doors in your ears, a few slip out your nose, they all go home to their families and their late dinners and it's all quiet and dark inside your head all except at the very back where the night manager sits at his desk waiting for all the regular employees to go. When the last swirls and eddies of dust come to rest, when the photocopiers all go onto power saver, somewhere behind your nose a pin drops to the floor and bounces like in that long distance commercial, and the night manager hears it all the way back where his desk is, because the night manager has very good ears and can hear things like that.

Inner night

Wednesday 14 November 2001, 21:09

Transportation must always follow geography. Conventional water-boats travel over rivers, lakes, and oceans, and the cities that grow fat and prosperous on the strength of boats are those that are well-situated for their loading and unloading. Railways have their own logic of grades and directions, the open spaces and the convenient passes for the tracks, and the cities feel the benefit at intersections of major routes or where it is convenient to transfer goods to other modes. Air transportation has fewer constraints, but given that you will build an airport near some given city, you bet you're going to think hard about where to put it. You want to avoid (if I may make so bold as to mention it) having planes fall apart just after takeoff and drop pieces all over high-density population areas. On purpose or by accident hardly even matters to the people it lands on.

Hermit books

Tuesday 13 November 2001, 20:37

The phrase "hermit books" describes any of 23 species of paper-based animals related to the familiar hard- and soft-cover books and also (less closely) to magazines, pamphlets, facial tissues, particle boards, and so on. The life cycle of the hermit book begins during spawning season in mid-October, when adult females release thousands of tiny particles of paper called /crufts/. Meanwhile the adult males release fertilizing /toner/, an inky black powder, which combines with the crufts on the library floor. Fertilized crufts soon grow into larvae, or /chads/, which live for a few weeks in a free-floating state before seeking permanent covers.