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January 31, 2004

January 30, 2004

That's not how I spell it

From an article at the San Jose Mercury News web site, "Computer whiz pleads guilty to federal hacking charges"

Heckenkamp, who was set to go on trial in March, admitted first hacking into eBay and Qualcomm computers in February and March 1999 while living in dormitories at the University of Wisconsin. At the time, he was pursuing his master's degree in computer science. In addition to installing programs that allowed him to get user names and passwords, Heckenkamp defaced the eBay web page using his computer name, ``MagicFX.''

Federal prosecutors allege that Heckenkamp's conduct cost the companies as much as $350,000.

Until recently, Heckenkamp had insisted he was being unfairly targeted by the government, and a ``Free Jerome Heckenkamp'' Web site had been operating. It was no longer accessible on Thursday. Heckenkamp has gone through a succession of lawyers, and at one point represented himself at a hearing in which he told a judge that the person charged in the case must be someone else because the government's complaint listed his name in all capital letters.

Posted by tplambeck at 08:21 PM

At the flower mart




Posted by tplambeck at 08:46 AM

January 29, 2004

I'll tell you where...


Posted by tplambeck at 04:46 PM

January 28, 2004

Universal Pants

My first cousin Liz Plambeck came to San Francisco from Minneapolis for a visit this weekend.

She's been making and selling pants. Here's an article that came out this week in the twincities.com Pioneer Press:


Liz Plambeck bias-cut designs

The Twin Cities aren't exactly a hotbed for fashion designers, but Liz Plambeck of South Minneapolis hasn't let that stop her. She has been designing bias-cut pants and skirts for women of all ages for the past year and a half. A men's line is expected in the near future.

A former thrift-store shopper, Plambeck got the idea for unique designs while looking at vintage clothes and old table linens. She experimented with the bias cut and made herself a pair six years ago.

Since then, she has been selling the pants by word-of-mouth. She also throws parties at her home and those of friends. "Some people giggle trying them on. They're funny and sexy at the same time," says Plambeck. "People can have something new that fits well and is flattering. They're like one-of-a-kind."

Plambeck usually has on hand 20 to 40 pants and skirts in all sizes. The bias-cut pants and skirts cost $85 to $130. For an appointment, call 612-824-2169 or visit http://www.universalpants.com.

Gallery 360 at 50th and Xerxes in South Minneapolis also carries her designs.
Posted by tplambeck at 09:52 PM

100 Suns

A book, or hypnotic spectre?

Posted by tplambeck at 01:44 PM

January 27, 2004

Mammon, Inc


The Winter 2004 Wilson Quarterly duplicates a full-page magazine ad that appeared in Adbusters. At the top of the ad, a yuppy guy in a suit is holding his hands out expressively. It looks like a financial services advertisement. He's saying: "I need a belief system that serves my needs right away."

Then this text under it:
Dean Sachs has a mortgage, a family and an extremely demanding job. What he doesn't need is a religion that complicates his life with unreasonable ethical demands.

Spiritual providers in the past have required a huge amount of commitment—single-deity clauses, compulsory goodness, and a litany of mystifying mumbo-jumbo. It's no wonder people are switching to Mammon.

Mammon isn't the biggest player in the spiritual race. But our ability to deliver on our promises is unique. And our moral flexibility is unmatchable.

MAMMON: Because you deserve to enjoy life—guilt free.
Now, that's not such a nice treatment of Mammon, although the WQ observes "Americans seem to embrace withering critiques of the consumerist ethos, but they're not deterred by them from heading out to the mall." The Bible isn't too nice to Mammon either. And John Milton hardly helped—here he is in Paradise Lost, Book I, describing one part of hell:
There stood a Hill not far whose griesly top
Belch'd fire and rowling smoak; the rest entire
Shon with a glossie scurff, undoubted sign
That in his womb was hid metallic Ore,
The work of Sulphur. Thither wing'd with speed
A numerous Brigad hasten'd. As when bands
Of Pioners with Spade and Pickaxe arm'd
Forerun the Royal Camp, to trench a Field,
Or cast a Rampart. MAMMON led them on,
MAMMON, the least erected Spirit that fell
From heav'n, for ev'n in heav'n his looks & thoughts
Were always downward bent, admiring more
The riches of Heav'ns pavement, trod'n Gold,
Then aught divine or holy else enjoy'd
In vision beatific: by him first
Men also, and by his suggestion taught,
Ransack'd the Center, and with impious hands
Rifl'd the bowels of thir mother Earth
For Treasures better hid. Soon had his crew
Op'nd into the Hill a spacious wound
And dig'd out ribs of Gold. Let none admire
That riches grow in Hell; that soyle may best
Deserve the pretious bane.
An anagram:


Posted by tplambeck at 01:10 PM

January 26, 2004


I've been learning some physics, spending more and more time with Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler's 1973 book on general relativity. Its no-nonsense title is Gravitation.


It's hard for me to look my copy without having words like "gigantic," "imposing," or "heavyweight" come to mind. It's got to be the Muhammad Ali of General Relativity books. Gravitation weighs in at 1,272 pages and has the same height, weight, and reach as a large city's Yellow Pages telephone directory. One could expect a loud thud were it ever to be dropped to the canvas by some future, new and improved theory of gravitation. It also seemed well beyond my possible comprehension when I first peeked into it, relying as it does on the "modern" language of differential forms and a geometric treatment of tensors.

But I wouldn't recommend Gravitation as a book to learn general relativity from. Instead, there is this excellent book by Bernard F. Schutz, which is much more to my liking.

Posted by tplambeck at 02:24 PM

January 23, 2004


A documentary on spelling bees:


At spellingbee.com: champions and their winning words, 1925-2003.

The winning word from 2003, pococurante, reminded me of the aria "Non piu andrai, farfallone amoroso," from The Marriage of Figaro:
Fra guerrieri,
poffar Bacco!
Gran mustacchi,
stretto sacco,
Schioppo in spalla,
sciabla al fianco,
Collo dritto, muso franco,
Un gran casco, o un gran turbante,
Molto onor, poco contante.
Poco contante
Poco contante
But that's "poco contante," (with little money), not "pococurante," (one who doesn't care).

Posted by tplambeck at 09:37 AM

January 21, 2004

The Cosmic Laundry

CHARLES: You've got a fine idea of the way they run things, you have. Do you think they're going to all of the trouble of making a soul just to use it once?

ZERO: Once is often enough, it seems to me.

CHARLES: It seems to you, does it? Well, who are you? And what do you know about it? Why, man, they use a soul over and over again—over and over until it's worn out.

ZERO: Nobody ever told me.

CHARLES: So you thought you were all through, did you? Well, that's a hot one, that is.

ZERO: [Sullenly] How was I to know?

CHARLES: Use your brains! Where would we put them all? We're crowded enough as it is. Why, this place is nothing but a kind of repair and service station—a sort of cosmic laundry, you might say. We get the souls in here by the bushelful. Then we get busy and clean them up. And you ought to see some of them. The muck and the slime. Phoo! And as full of holes as a flour-sifter. But we fix them up. We disinfect them and give them a kerosene rub and mend the holes and back they go—practically as good as new.

ZERO: You mean to say I've been here before—before the last time, I mean?

CHARLES: Been here before! Why you poor boob—you've been here thousands of times—fifty thousand, at least.

ZERO: [Suspiciously] How is it that I don't remember anything about it?

CHARLES: Well—that's partly because you're stupid...
From The Adding Machine, A play in seven acts, by Elmer L. Rice, 1922.
Posted by tplambeck at 09:33 PM

Mars Rover

I wanted to buy the Lego "Mission to Mars" set. But no one seemed to have them in stock online. Amazon at least let me sign up to be notified, should a lander bounce down safely into their warehouse.

Greetings from Amazon.com.

We're happy to inform you that the item you requested, Lego Mission To Mars (7469), is now available!

If you would like to purchase this item, please follow the link below to place an order:


Since supply is often limited and some products sell out quickly, we recommend that you place an order as soon as possible if you are still interested in obtaining this item.

They weren't kidding—I clicked on that URL immediately after receiving the email, and there were no rovers available. Someone had beaten me to it.

So I signed up for the email notification again, got the email again, and missed again. On the third iteration I clicked in time. Today Owen, Cole and I put it together and dispatched it immediately to the Martian surface.

We're excited to be able to bring you the most detailed photograph ever seen of a toy on the surface of another planet:


All systems are functioning perfectly!

Posted by tplambeck at 04:45 PM

January 20, 2004

Wormwood Scrubs [1880]

Prisoners of Wormwood Scrubs

Posted by tplambeck at 09:37 AM

January 17, 2004

The New Kitchen


Posted by tplambeck at 02:56 PM

January 15, 2004

Ivars Zarins

I got some paintings by Ivars Zarins this morning in a big box from Kara Lynn.



Posted by tplambeck at 10:53 AM

January 14, 2004



Opposite the School of Hypnotherapy, a truck had this logo on it:


Is that a tooth in the middle of the horseshoe?


Even telephone poles carry all sorts of inscrutable symbolic information. These numbers must be important to someone—they're stamped out of metal and hammered into the wood with big nails. What could they possibly mean?

Posted by tplambeck at 09:07 PM

January 12, 2004

White Cliff of Camphor


Once I asked Steve Norman if he knew much about trees.

"There are two types of trees—Trees, and Pine Trees," he said.

That summed up my knowledge about trees, too. Later, after becoming dimly aware that some non-Pine Trees don't lose their leaves in the winter, I felt a need to identify Palo Alto trees. The Camphor tree struck me as particularly bizarre. It never seems to lose any leaves, unless you pull them off, and that's not easy—the leaves are waxy and feel like they're made out of plastic. If you think, "OK, I'll just crush this nasty little leaf and show it who's boss," you find that your fingers smell like Mentholatum. Camphor trees just keep getting bigger and bigger, adding more low limbs like some kind of mutant octopus.

They're the squat Asian wrestlers of the arbor world, and can do some heavy lifting.

In the photo (click it), a camphor has pushed up a block of concrete so far that the owner just gave up on half his driveway, painted it white, and made it into a street curb instead.

Posted by tplambeck at 11:56 PM

January 11, 2004



Gloria's grandmother.
school photo, Renton, Scotland

Posted by tplambeck at 10:12 PM

January 10, 2004

How TV works

"But first of all, do you know how ordinary television works? It is very simple. At one end, where the picture is being taken, you have a large movie camera and you start photographing something. The photographs are then split up into millions of tiny pieces which are so small that you can't see them, and these little pieces are shot out into the sky by electricity. In the sky, they go whizzing around all over the place until they hit the antenna on the roof of somebody's house. Then they go flashing down the wire that leads right into the back of the television set, and in there they get jiggled and joggled around until at last every single one of those millions of tiny pieces is fitted back into its right place (just like a jigsaw puzzle), and presto!—the photograph appears on the screen..."

"That isn't exactly how it works," Mike Teavee said.

"I am a little deaf in my left ear," Mr. Wonka said. "You must forgive me if I don't hear everything that you say."

"I said, that isn't exactly how it works!" shouted Mike Teavee.

"You're a nice boy," Mr. Wonka said, "but you talk too much. Now then..."

From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl [1964]

Posted by tplambeck at 09:48 PM

The Busy Frontier

A good article at the Guardian on upcoming space missions.

A good blog on the Mars Rovers.

An interesting meeting at NASA Ames in early 2001, "First Landing Site Workshop for the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers," (PDF), with embedded links to technical papers.

Posted by tplambeck at 06:21 PM

January 09, 2004

Surprise Quiz

This is an oral exam.

1) Category: Impromptu Etymology

What is the origin of the term "to wit"? (Full marks to be granted only to responders that blather on for a minute too, no matter what their actual level of knowledge).

2) Category: Impromptu Entomology

Give some examples of creatures that people less knowledgeable than yourself might be expected to say are spiders, but which in fact, are not. (As before, with full credit achieved only for a longwinded answer).
not really a solution

Posted by tplambeck at 10:07 PM

January 08, 2004

Spirit Lander


Owen used my laptop and his McDonald's "Spy Kids" 3D glasses to look at this 3D image of the Mars Spirit Rover landing site.

Posted by tplambeck at 02:18 PM

January 07, 2004

American Sucker


I just finished this book by David Denby, a film critic at the New Yorker magazine, about his decision to invest heavily in tech stocks in 1999, a few months before the crash began. I pre-ordered it at Amazon and gulped it down in about 5 hours over the last few days.

Here he is in 1999, going through a divorce. He wants to buy out his wife's portion of their apartment (pg 12):

I conceived a simple plan. The market was booming. We had some serious resources, and I would throw those assets into the right things and make money quickly. I would try to make $1 million in the market in the year of 2000—yes, $1 million—and then I would buy her out...

Things go well at first (pg 95):

Quarterly Report, April 1, 2000
Cumulative Net Gain: $237,000

Yet clouds are on the horizon (still on pg 95):

...the day of the Nasdaq high, March 10, 2000, when index closed at 5048...the Journal ran an article that asked with a straight face which stocks would be the ones to "carry the baton" up to Nasdaq 6000.

But there was trouble after March 10—not just a dropped baton but, in middle March, skittishness, minicollapses, sessions in which the Nasdaq index would fall by 200 points on rumors and misunderstandings, only to recover over the next couple of days. Just as I feared, my hero Greenspan appeared to be ruining me.

Just two months later, the pain is only beginning (pg 102):

Back in the city, hope drained away, and I felt my brain slipping through my fingers. The Nasdaq index dropped all through May, reaching a low of 3164 on May 23, a fall of 1900 in two and a half months. As the index fell, I was beginning to get seriously hurt. From day to day, I struggled for clarity. The million...I kicked it loose as savagely as I could. I was in the office in mid-May when I let it go for good, staring out of the room with the great view east and the strong light. It was a joke the million, and I had to rein in my fury, because I could do nothing with it but destroy myself.

But things weren't so bad even after that (p 135):

Quarterly Report, July 1, 2000
Cumulative Net Gain $110,000

He's going to be a big loser though (pg 139):

An unwilling passivity before my fate, an overall languor...

I neither bought nor sold; I held, merely hoping for fresh gains. I needed a shot of energy, but, in July 2000, entering a three-day venture capital conference at the Marriott Marquis Hotel on Seventh Avenue, I got exactly the opposite. The glamour, the excitement had gone. What a dreary lot! What sloth and despondency! There were lots of young men, serious-looking Indians and Pakistanis; a few African-Americans; Asians in pairs talking to one another in Chinese or Korean....The movable chairs with their aluminum frames scraped the spotted and ash-stained carpets. Why are American business hotels so ugly?

Needless to say, it's downhill from there:

Quarterly Report, October 1, 2000
Cumulative Net Gain $85,000
Quarterly Report, January 1, 2001
Cumulative Net Loss $155,000
Quarterly Report, April 1, 2001
Cumulative Net Loss $395,000
Quarterly Report, January 1, 2002
Cumulative Net Loss $800,000
Quarterly Report, October 1, 2002
Cumulative Net Loss $900,000


Highly recommended.

Posted by tplambeck at 10:39 PM

January 02, 2004

William Empson

Seven types of ambiguity.

Or, Adam Phillips, writing in the Winter 2004 Threepenny Review:

If the fact that we are going to die has been taken by the great religions and their secular counterparts as the most salient fact about us, perhaps we should note the more improbable fact that we were conceived at all (that, in Empson's words, we came out of the nowhere into the somewhere). We are probably over-impressed by anticipation and inevitability—have, in a sense, organized our lives around them—because we have grossly overrated the significance of our own deaths.
Posted by tplambeck at 01:06 AM

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