Matchmaker, part 2

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Matchmaker

Shortly after arriving at college and resisting the lure of fraternity life, I found myself wanting to participate in some organized student activity and so joined the school’s entrepreneurship club. I had the idea that if my computer dating “booth” had been a success in high school despite the small student population, their sexual immaturity, my crappy questionnaire and slow software, and the technical problems I’d had, it should be easy at college to improve on all those problems and repeat that success — and this time, I could make money from it.

(I spent more time thinking about business schemes [and girls] when I got to college than I did about my schoolwork. One idea was for a service that would deliver food from local restaurants to starving students sick of the slop they served us at the Kiltie [“kill-me”] Cafe. My plan never got off the drawing board, but the time must have been right for that idea because within a couple of years, several cities had exactly that. It wasn’t the first time I had an idea that I didn’t capitalize on, and that others later did. Pittsburgh’s restaurant-delivery service was called Wheel Deliver. One of the agents who worked the phones there was named Andrea. “And today that woman is my wife.”)

I got to work writing a new version of the matchmaking software, this time in Turbo Pascal on an IBM PC, hundreds of times faster than the version that Chuck and I had written in BASIC on the Sol-20. My new friends David and Julie (yes, the same David and Julie) helped me to design the questionnaire. It was still two years before the birth of desktop publishing so everything was typewritten or hand-lettered. The master copy of the questionnaire was literally cut-and-pasted together from dozens of bits of paper.

I took some of my $300 budget and headed to Kinko’s, where I ran off reams of copies of the questionnaire and some teaser posters I had conceived as the ad campaign:

The name, Yenta, was taken from the matchmaker’s name in Fiddler on the Roof. I stapled those posters all over campus and managed to create some “buzz.”

Meanwhile I needed to find someone with a computer and a printer I could use when I set up the station for running off customers’ result lists. In 1984 those were still pretty hard to come by. I allocated another $50 as incentive and placed an ad on the campus bulletin board. The taker was a fellow freshman named Bruce, who took my $50, loaned me his equipment, and became a lifelong friend. (A few years later, I visited him often in the house he shared with my other friend, Steve. The house was divided into two apartments. One day on my way to visit Bruce and Steve, I met Andrea, the downstairs tenant. “And today that woman is my wife.”)

Once we had the needed equipment we ran off another batch of posters telling people what Yenta was and to check their campus mailboxes for questionnaires, to fill them out and turn them in by such-and-such a date, and to show up at the student center during certain hours on certain days to collect their match results, just five dollars for a printed list.

The response was good enough to require multiple miserable late nights of tedious data entry, which was all too familiar to me but new to David and Julie, who had become my equal partners and shared much of the burden. At the appointed times we set up Bruce’s computer in “Grey Matter” and served our customers. It all went very smoothly.

In the end, Yenta made a profit of around $900, which David and Julie and I split. It was the most successful venture in the entrepreneurship club that semester, and I parlayed my success into a date with the club’s president, a sophomore named Robin who was a Tri-Delt, a sorority about which I had heard some exciting rumors. The date was disastrous, however, which I guess you can take as a comment on the fallibility of computer matchmaking, sort of.

(To be continued…)


Here’s an excerpt from a message I sent to my wife on March 13th of this year:

As you know, e-mail is a long-established standard, but there’s one piece missing from it, and that’s a standard way to be notified when new mail arrives. E-mail clients are required to “poll” e-mail servers for new mail periodically. Most polls reveal no new mail to download, and so are a waste of bandwidth and computing time. It’s a negligible waste to a single user, but if you’re an ISP with millions of polls happening every minute, it really adds up. […]

Something similar is true for RSS feeds, which are getting more and more popular. You subscribe to someone’s blog posts, or to a news-clipping service, or whatever, and your feed reader shows you the new articles as they become available. But there again, the feed reader is required to poll all the sites to which you subscribe; there is no standard way for those sites to notify you of when there are new messages available. […]

The arrival of new mail or the appearance of new blog posts are called “asynchronous events,” meaning that they happen without regard to whatever you may be doing at the moment. Most of the time, our computing infrastructure is obliged to use synchronous methods (like polling) to check for whether any asynchronous events have occurred lately. But that doesn’t have to be true. You could arrange for an asynchronous “listener” to be notified of asynchronous events and then take appropriate action. […]

I went on to describe an idea for an Internet-based service that delivers asynchronous events. I started working on a prototype. But that was around the same time that I left my job at Danger and was busy looking for a new one. There was also a birthday party to plan, and a family trip to New York, and another birthday party, plus a consulting gig and the beginning of a new job at Google. My asynchronous-event-delivery service went near the bottom of my priority list.

Then just a few days ago I learned about Gnip, a brand-new venture-funded startup that is the exact same idea, right down to hosting it on Amazon’s cloud-computing infrastructure for scalability. To add insult to injury, their clever name — “ping” spelled backwards (to “ping” a computer on the network is akin to polling it) — could not have been more perfectly chosen if their aim was to highlight my slowness off the mark.

This is not the first time I’ve been beaten to the punch with a clever online business idea. It’s maddening.

“Danger”ous liaison

Hooray, Yahoo! Way to resist assimilation by the Borg:

Yahoo Formally Rejects Microsoft Offer

SUNNYVALE, Calif. (AP) — Yahoo Inc. has formally rejected Microsoft Corp.’s $44.6 billion takeover bid as inadequate.


Microsoft to Buy Mobile Startup Danger

SEATTLE (AP) — Microsoft Corp. agreed Monday to buy cell phone software maker Danger Inc.

So it looks like I’m about to become part of Microsoft, the evil empire. For Danger it’s an outstanding deal. For me personally? Well, my opinions on Microsoft’s collective technical wherewithal are well-documented among over five years of bug-tracking and source-control comments that I’ve written, as Microsoft’s irksome coding practices impacted my work at Danger in one way or another (usually in the form of their producing e-mail messages that failed to obey accepted Internet standards, but that my code had to deal with correctly anyway). Excerpts of my comments follow; here’s where I get to channel famed Internet curmudgeon jwz.

Some mail agents, particularly those fine ones emanating from Redmond, break up long URLs in plain text message parts using line breaks.

In MSP-land, a message contains “a body” and then maybe some “attachments,” which doesn’t really map onto the Internet standards for mail, but you can insert your own snide comment about Microsoft’s attitude towards important and widely accepted standards.

There are 100’s of different computing platforms and 1000’s of possible e-mail clients. I happen to be using Evolution on Linux. But the IETF standards govern most of those variants. Outlook is a notable exception. Microsoft is notorious for ignoring rules that everyone else plays by.

When we told Microsoft that [a component of the Danger mail system] routinely downloads both the plain-text and the HTML versions of the body (for those messages that have both) in order to construct multipart/alternative MIME structures, they acted as if we’d told them we married our cousins.

They may come back and request that we only download one or the other to protect their servers, which are apparently of 1960’s vintage.

MSP returns lists of addresses (such as the “To” and “Cc” recipients of a message) as a semicolon-separated string. This does not comply with Internet standards and breaks the Javamail address parser, which [a component of the Danger mail system] uses when converting from MSP data to IMAP-appendable data. I am sure Microsoft had their own very good reasons for this; I do not begrudge them the choice to be idiots.

[A component of the Danger mail system] records the set of messages already fetched from an IMAP account using the messages’ IMAP UID’s. If the folder’s UIDVALIDITY value changes, we are supposed to discard all saved UID’s as invalid (per the IMAP standard). In theory this only happens when the folder has been destroyed and recreated with new contents, but in practice it’s more common that the IMAP server simply loses track of the old UIDVALIDITY (I’m looking at you, Bill Gates) and assigns a new one.

Add application/vnd.rmf as a synonym for audio/rmf. Good thing you got money, Mr. Gates, ’cause you ain’t got charm.

(Why couldn’t they just have used the standard designator “audio/rmf” like everyone else?)

As I suspected, it’s Microsoft’s fault. (*audience gasps*)

Outlook is using Unicode to encode the funky characters but not declaring it in the enclosing MIME syntax, which it’s supposed to.

The following refers to Microsoft’s practice of sometimes wrapping perfectly good message-attachment data in a strange construct called a TNEF object that only Microsoft programs can reliably decode.

Leave it to Microsoft to take data that is encapsulated in a format that was meticulously, ingeniously designed to be neutral with respect to transport, and enclose it in an opaque wrapper they call “transport-neutral encapsulation format.”

To understand this one, you have to know that:

  1. In HTML, a “comment” (which is ignored for display purposes) begins with the string “<!–” and ends with “–>”;
  2. The characters < and > are referred to by programmers as “angle brackets” and sometimes as “brokets“; and
  3. There was a buggy version of Microsoft Outlook (or possibly Word) that produced HTML that began with a comment such as “<!– Created by Microsoft >” which, as you can see, did not properly terminate the comment, so it looked to other mail software like the entire HTML message body was a comment, and none of it got displayed.

Gets things wrong oft.
Ending an HTML comment with a bare broket?
That broke it.
– Ogden Bob

Now I face a decision: submit to the will of Landru, or make my escape before I become one of us one of us?

If I go by Kevin Spacey movie quotes — as good a guide to living as any, I suppose — I should stay:

If you’re not a rebel by the age of 20, you got no heart, but if you haven’t turned establishment by 30, you’ve got no brains.

(I’m well past 30, and Microsoft is nothing if not establishment. Maybe I can aim to reform it from within?)

On the other hand, if I go by the choice of song that, I swear, randomly came up first (odds against: 99.96%) as I got on the highway this morning to attend the Danger-Microsoft “Come to Jesus” meeting, my course is clear. It was, “Gotta Get Out” by The Bicycles.


Tonight we blog in hell!
(The tumbling figures are the
victims of my withering rhetoric.)

This post marks two big gee bobg milestones: the 300th post and the first day with more than 200 pageviews — and that’s after subtracting all the hits from bots, spiders, and my own obsessive checking and rechecking of my content.

In honor of this momentous occasion I thought I’d turn over the writing duties to my first guest blogger: the Bob-o-matic. The Bob-o-matic is a Perl script that examines all the posts on my blog and then constructs a new post at random using the same vocabulary and the same phrase patterns (technically, via a Markov chain). If you’d like to understand exactly what the Bob-o-matic does, here is its source code, with no helpful comments or documentation (for extra pedagogical rigor).

Without further ado, the first gee bobg post by the Bob-o-matic!

Today is iconoclasm, which was my cue that it’s harvesting laughs instead of writing letters to Senator Dianne Feinstein expressing disappointment in one shot as quickly as possible. I bought some rope and, for better or worse, he shouted, pee! By the AP and appeared far and wide in the shadow of Primadonna’s wonderful hearty food and jovial, though I understood a little media savvy can recognize TV’s propaganda and soothing pap for what it goes on to a willing patron and would not stop the car overheated and we still don’t know exactly why this might be. Tell me. There’s my street, Tom said out of my head into his hotel. That’s when they saw us run from the Star Wars a couple of hours on the Millennium Falcon is sidetracked into an intelligent, multilayered byplay that gets its point across indirectly. Take this scene are Atia’s that is far preferable to hearing nine months of 1986 were a hit the crowd getting into the story better than most? In short, if elected, to the seas to be sexually active when you can imagine we are deeply disappointed with the peroxide and a wide variety of capes, masks, and those who did the exact same thing goes for sushi… If the President deems them hostile to U.S. Senator in a boxing ring notably body and the structure of the weather yesterday, as there was David, Julie, and he throws a tantrum? None of us found Greg crashed out on a wide selection of vintage candy from yesteryear, and exhibit a journalistic integrity that they included him in happier times? July 1999. Mr. Spock Uhura Uhura uniform 60 Star Trek Technical Manual. Bless her, never over the years I have not been true at all those southern dialects myself, what could George Bailey, who doesn’t like tits? That means there is not a place full of them. I forget what it looks like a beggar he couldn’t bag ‘er for want of a web page I created with this system it was time to time. Dozens of feet it’s a smell, smell world after all it’s a way to explain the observable world without invoking God.

If you build it, I will come

I have been commuting between Marin County and Silicon Valley for more than six years now, at least an hour each way. To make the time pass, lots of good listening material is essential. The local radio stations served for a while, but they weren’t up to the task for the long haul (especially as the Bush administration wore on and I became less and less able to tolerate NPR and its constant reporting and commentary on depressing developments). I realized long ago an ordinary CD player wouldn’t do the job either. An ordinary CD can hold only ten or twenty songs and only a fraction of an audiobook. I needed something that could play CD-ROM’s with 200 MP3’s apiece.

I experimented with a portable MP3-CD player connected to a tiny FM transmitter for receiving and playing my songs on my car’s stereo, but the batteries in the transmitter needed changing every couple of days and there was no one frequency that was empty enough for me to use all the way from one end of my drive to the other, so I was constantly fiddling with the tuning on the transmitter and on my in-dash receiver.

Eventually I discovered a Sony-made in-dash MP3-CD player and bought it. It was great! But burning new CD-ROM’s every week or two started to become a drag. Then I found a JVC model that had a USB socket on the front panel where I could plug in a thumb drive full of music. It was really great! But it was stolen. I replaced it and am now on my third MP3-capable in-dash receiver (another Sony).

None of them has been perfect. If you build one that has none of the following flaws (each found in one or more of my previous players), I will immediately buy it:

  • Cannot navigate 1,000+ songs other than “nexting” through them one at a time
  • Cannot simultaneously display title, album, and artist
  • Display unreadable in direct sunlight
  • No clock display when switched off
  • Control buttons smaller than those on a smartphone
  • Clock display fails to update while a song is playing
  • Cannot display folder or filename of the current song
  • Forgets position in song/folder/playlist when car is turned off
  • Cannot adjust volume without disrupting the momentary display of some song details
  • Cannot disable the annoying “you forgot to detach the detachable faceplate” beep when turning off the car

What brings you here, 2007 edition

Here are some of the top queries from various search engines that resulted in hits on my blog during the past year or so, reproduced verbatim from my server logs. (Last year’s results are here.) Each related family of queries is listed with a main variant in bold and selected other variants, plus the percentage of query-hits represented by that family.

I was at first surprised to see that hits for “James Bond villains” outnumbers hits for “vampire lesbian girl scouts” (etc.) and “sex” (etc.) combined, but then realized: the percentages are a function both of the popularity of that search and of the ranking of my site in the search results. In other words, if you’re looking for anything about vampires or lesbians or sex I regret to say there are a lot of likelier websites for you to visit before mine.

James Bond villains; The Villains of bond; deformed bond villains; “james bond” +villains +clothes 10.2%
William H. Macy; william h macy photos; face de William H. Macy 5.0%
Vampire lesbian girl scouts; lesbian vampires; naked lesbians; lesbian girl scouts; naked girl scouts; kissing lesbian girls; zombie girl scouts; evil girlscouts; girl scout decorated cake 4.5%
Sex etc.; horsey style sex; lesbian masturbation; “sex positions illustrated”; vampire sex; lesbians having hot lesbian sex; lesbian sex soundeffect; “San Francisco Masturbate-a-thon”; squat girl masturbate -cock -man -boy -blow; dildo attached to wall; sex positions kitty style; attach dildo to floor; How to convince my lady staf for sex?; sex positions in alphanumeric; “park and ride” “sex positions illustrated” 3.2%
Jaws ride; Jaws ride construction; jaws hitchcock 3.1%
e to the i pi plus one; pi relation to e; mathematical constant e Euler comic; relating pi, e, 1 and 0; “amazing relationship” e pi 2.3%
Don Fanucci; vito corleone fanucci 2.3%
Honeybee/Bees in chimney; humming sound when close glass fireplace doors; honeybees in chimney; bees in fireplace; bees chimney flying down 2.2%
Star Wars; 5th august 1977; star wars remake; hoth rebel base; “your tauntaun will freeze”; exegesis “empire strikes back”; star wars ben kenobi ghost; was obi wan strong enough to defeat palpatine; In Episode 5 what is the insult of Leia to Han Solo which Chewie laughed that Han called him “fuzzball” ?; lego star wars millennium falcon; star wars cassette tape 1977; “bob glickstein” “star wars”; mark hamill car crash empire strikes back monster; han solo slices open tauntaun quote; HOW DID THE FREAKIN EMPIRE BEGIN?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!; August+5th+1977; star wars novelization 1977; What does yoda say when luke comments that he is not afraid; why didn’t Luke kill the Wampa; “asteroid field”+”star wars”; star wars allegories; star wars 1970 nerd; “time magazine” 1977 “star wars” 2.1%
Pirates of the Caribbean; pirate medallion; does elizabeth swann love jack sparrow; elizabeth swann’s red dress; jack sparrow character motivation 2.1%
Widescreen viewing area; “what size tv to buy”; “square inches” diagonal widescreen chart; determine tv width given diagonal; 42″ 16:9 square inches; 16:9 4:3 screen equivalence OR correspondance; DIAGONAL ASPECT RATIO FORMULA; pythagoras 16:9 screen size 32″ 1.8%
Godfather; Godfather part II poster; Godfather Part 4: Fredo’s Revenge 1.8%
Susan Oliver/Orion Slave Girl; vina star trek; star trek green orion slave; nude Orion slave girl; orion slave girls makeup; orion slave girls color correction 1.7%
Cathy Lee Crosby/Wonder Woman; cathy lee crosby wonderwoman film download; cathy+lee+crosby+as+wonder+woman; wonder woman drag; WONDERWOMAN TV MOVIE 1.7%
Rogaine; scalp conditions; itchy scalp; rogaine results; scalp exercise; rogaine effectiveness 1.7%
Ursula sex; ursula undress; ursula dildo; ursula sex disney 1.6%
Comcast; comcast removes channels; comcast turn off service; comcast losing west coast feeds; complaints over comcast hbo; disable speed reduction comcast cable; compression artifacts comcast; how do i delete channels i do not watch in comcast; comcast crappy broadcast; comcast reduction in service; do i get a rate reduction when comcast removes channels; I want both west coast and east coast feeds 1.6%
Bob Glickstein; gee bobg; “bob glickstein” +yoga; bob glickstein andrea; bob glickstein imdb; growing up Glickstein 1.4%
Trophy; ugly trophy; dna trophy; bezos trophy 1.3%
Dog; how to draw dogs; “remington dog park”; dog pee drives away evil spirits; veterinary dogs and chocolate 1.3%
Lulav; lulav and etrog; big picture of a lulav and etrog; lulav by its self; lulav etrog chabad; sukkot lulav without etrog 1.3%
Star Trek/Enterprise/Kirk/etc.; spock uhura; Uhura uniform; 60 star trek uniform; bonk bonk on the head star trek; Captain Kirk’s Insignia; enterprise blueprints; happy birthday star trek; Klingons-Star Trek; Atheist Star Trek; 1.2%
Amy Linker; what happened to amy linker; amy linker and tv land awards 1.1%
Jodie Foster; jodie foster bugsy malone; YOUNG JODIE FOSTER; +”give a little love and it all comes back to you” +foster 1.1%
Joseph Costanzo; joe costanzo restaurant; Joseph costanzo primadonna 1.1%
The end of Superman; superman reverse time; superman in the end; superman earth spinning; can superman go the speed of light; how many times can superman fly around earth in 1 second; +”it is forbidden for you to interfere in human history”; superman rewind time; how many times does superman fly around the earth in order to reverse its rotation 1.0%
Frank Pentangeli; frank pentangeli hit; roth corleone Frank Pentangeli assassination; frank pentangeli johnny ola 1.0%
Thai gem scam; thailand scam; majestic export jewelry thailand scam; gems profit thailand; thai sapphire scam; thailand conman; buying gemstones, thailand, blog; thai Export Center scam; selling thai gems; what to do if conned in thailand; david maurer thailand 1.0%
Evil cats 0.8%
Food photography; food stylist; food styling “pasta”; food stylists cereal; food stylist burger; tricks of a food stylist 0.8%
Each daughter has the same number…; In a certain family each daughter has the same number of brothers and sisters. Each son has twice as many sisters as brothers. How many sons and daughters are there in the family? Now there are two ways to do this obviously, you can do it the hard way or the easy way. 0.8%
Fizzies; what ever happened to fizzies drink tablets; how do fizzies work; fizzies that are new; Fizzie tablet sex aid; truckload of fizzies; FIZZIES FOUNTAIN 0.7%
James Bond; vintage james bond girls; james bond toys; the bond men; Live and Let Die Band James Bond 0.7%
Pez museum; pez incredibles violet; batman pez dispensers; pez guns; why didnt violet parr become a pez machine; headless PEZ dispensers 0.7%
Vincent Price; old photos of Vincent Price; Vincent Price gay; “the saint” vincent price; 0.5%
Candy; old time candy; “dylan’s candy bar”; Candy of yesteryear 0.5%
Entenmann’s; golden cake; entenmanns’ chocolate chip filled crumb cake recipe; entenmann fudge golden cake 0.5%
Adam Stoller; why i owe adam stoller an apology; fish adam stoller 0.5%
MoveOn; bad; founder; move away from; moveon endorsements nov 2007 election 0.5%
Vertical speed indicator/Altimeter; static port; instrument dial Concorde speed; how does an altimeter work; pitot static instruments; ram air pressure pitot; how does the vsi work? flying 0.5%
Cigarettes/Camels/Still Life With Woodpecker; Joe Camel; tom robbins woodpecker; camel tom robbins 0.5%
Baron Munchausen; was baron munchausen an atheist 0.5%
Sharon Stone; sharon stone naked; sharon stone’ pictures, 1970; sharon stone en lingerie fine 0.5%
Computer; computers internet blog; “apple II home computer” 0.4%
xkcd; xkcd complex numbers; calculus xkcd; math xkcd 0.4%
Bob Falfa/Martin Stett; big bob falfa; purchase a bob falfa hat; falfa and milner 0.4%
Adrift/Open Water 2; “open water 2” true story tried everything; understand explain open water 2:adrift ending?; FORGOT TO LOWER LADDER ON YACHT 0.4%
Honda Fit; finding a honda fit; pre order “honda fit” bay area; vw rabbit or honda fit? 0.4%
Carl Sagan; “carl sagan” +billions; cosmos carl sagan vangelis heaven hell; “circumference of the earth” carl sagan; eratosthenes carl sagan; Carl Sagan and Star Trek 0.4%
Splashdown; splashdown lyrics meaning; i feel so elated would you please bring me joy lyrics; free splashdown downloads karma slave; lyrics so if your past approaches you pulled into a war you’ll lose; karma slave splashdown video; i feel so elated i do i do splashdown 0.4%
The Incredibles; Life Lessons The Incredibles; incredibles analogy of family togetherness 0.3%
Legobiggest lego city ever made; Cool lego creations; LEGO WORLD RECORD FOR MILLENIUM FALCON 0.3%
Birthday invitation; neverland invitation 0.3%
Mill Valley Pediatrics; what new rule causes pediatrician to close office; dr. Harris pediatrics mill valley 0.3%
BDSM; BDSM and rodent; hellium balloons bdsm; bdsm “trembling with fear”; professional bdsm pittsburgh; bdsm vanity plates 0.3%
Richard S. Castellano 0.3%
Bugsy Malone/Scott Baio; coca cola jingle+you give a little love and all comes back to you 0.3%
Games magazine/Calculatrivia marathon; ken jennings calculatrivia; “games magazine” contest t-shirt 0.3%
Penis; Jonah Falcon penis; christmas penis drawing; penis peeing pictures; penis doodles; “draw a penis” 0.3%
Drawing/scribbling/doodling; kids scribbles 0.3%
Raiders of the Lost Ark; indiana jones medallion + raiders of the lost ark; indiana jones finds millenium falcon; indiana jones harrison ford sean connery 0.3%
I know it was you Fredo.; Johnny Ola Fredo; HOW DOES MICHAEL KNOW ABOUT FREDO; +”why” +michael +kill +fredo 0.3%
Federation Trading Post 0.2%
Funny epitaph; headstone humor; headstone for mom 0.2%
Batman; shark repellent spray; batman and the shark; batman robin “more toyetic” 0.2%
Handshadow; Hand-Shadow play 0.2%
Peter and the Starcatchers 0.2%
Watch neighbor undress; neighbor undress photo 0.2%
Lemon Ice King of Corona; queens ices 0.2%
Weight; weight graph; college freshman weight graph; jewish weight loss 0.2%
Marty Goldstein/Black Book; ‘marty goldstein’ ‘creative black book’; i remember going to the black book office zanetti 0.2%
Kinds of meat; meatballs three kinds of meat 0.2%
Fligth to Mars 0.2%
Supertanker; how much does a supertanker cost?; how many barrels of oil does a supertanker carry; how much money does a supertanker captain make; running costs for a supertanker; becoming a supertanker captain; supertankers are curved 0.2%
Jewish; jew obnoxious; jewish products; mormon jew; mountain jew; val kilmer sephardic jewish 0.2%
Cartelligent; Leigh Taylor, Cartelligent; cartelligent price for honda fit 0.2%
Sweetener; hooray sweetener; cyclamates popularity sodas; Is Cyclamates good for you; sodium bicarbonate sweetener cancer 0.2%
Captain Morgan rum 0.2%
Gerald Zanetti 0.2%
Bush smile 0.2%
Salt Lake flats; nevada open salt lake 0.2%
Disney; disney+AND+fingerprint; disney park hopper fingerprint; thumper disney 0.2%
Koyaanisqatsi 0.2%
Katharine Hepburn 0.2%
Incremental backup; jungledisk incremental backups; s3 backup incremental mirror linux; simple linux incremental backups; infinite backup 0.2%
Rhymes with Bethany; bethany accident utah; something that rhymes with bethany; poem for bethany 0.1%
Sci-fi spaceships; cool Scifi Spaceships; most beautiful spaceships 0.1%
I Dream of Jeannie; healey irresistible to when i dream of jeannie episode; i dream of jeanie colorization 0.1%
Laundry; how to get quarters laundry; cold undissolved laundry soap; monopolize laundry machines; laundry pile 0.1%
Anakin/Padme; How much do Anakin’s talent, pride and ambitions affect his decisions to turn to ‘the dark side’? 0.1%
Making Mr. Right; malkovich “making mr right” 0.1%
Pop-culture grid; “the pop culture grid”+last concert you saw 0.1%
Adventurer’s Inn; toboggan adventurer’s inn 0.1%
Clemenza; young clemenza; who killed clemenza 0.1%
Glenne Headley 0.1%
1776/“Yours Yours Yours” 0.1%
Nature of reality; 10 dimensions of reality; how to understand ten dimensional reality; three-dimensional pants 0.1%
Dunk tank; “spring carnival” dunk 0.1%
Misconstruction 0.1%
Sarah Jessica Parker; sarah jessica parker in square pegs 0.1%
Mr. Arrigo; Robert arrigo teacher 0.1%
Eli Attie 0.1%
Hog-calling time in Nebraska; What tune is hog calling time in nebraska sung to?; ORIGINS OF HOG CALLING; hog calling songs 0.1%
Eulogy for a friend 0.1%
Indiana University; indiana university hofstadter 0.1%
Cynthia Nixon; Cynthia Nixon manhattan project 0.1%
Pine Knoll Bungalow Colony; bungalow colonies in monticello 0.1%
Prison Break; prisoner 94941; michael scofield myer briggs; “prisoner number” scofield 0.1%
Winnemucca, NV; Winnemucca weekly pet friendly motels; reasons to love Winnemucca, NV 0.1%
Steve Volan 0.1%
P.S. 196; all teachers from p.s.196 0.1%
Knish Nosh; knish nosh health department 0.1%
Mucoshave 0.1%
Laser/Theodore Maiman; 1966 national geographic “the laser’s bright magic”; what kind of food does theodore maiman likes; did theodore maiman get alot of money for making the laser 0.1%
Universal Hall Pass 0.1%

The Jefnet

I learned of Jef Poskanzer when I became immersed in the then-small worlds of Usenet and free software in the late 1980’s. He was a Usenet celebrity and the author of the ubiquitous PBMPLUS package, among other things. PBMPLUS, and its successor NETPBM, were the standard for batch-mode image processing tools in the stone-knives-and-bearskins days of computer graphics.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I moved from Pittsburgh to California in 1992 that one of my new coworkers in the tiny e-mail startup I was joining would be none other than Jef Poskanzer! As it turned out, we overlapped at Z-Code only for a short time, but we kept in loose contact for a long time thereafter.

Fast forward to several months ago. One Sunday morning my wife woke up wanting to take the kids to see the sea life in tide pools at a local beach. She asked me to determine when low tide would be that day. I googled “bay area” and “tides” — and damn me if a site run by Jef didn’t appear at the top of the search results!

Now fast forward to yesterday. I followed a link from a recent blog post by SF Chronicle sex writer Violet Blue to a silly picture of herself on Flickr. And who should have added a Flickr “note” to the image but Jef Poskanzer!

In the 80’s, it took only a modest amount of such sprinkling of one’s name around the Internet to become well-known. Now it’s much less easy. In a twist on Norma Desmond, if you tell Jef, “You used to be big,” he might say, “I am big. It’s the Internet that got much, much, much bigger.”

Matchmaker, part 1

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Matchmaker

A few days ago I read an article speculating that the one-man computer-dating company,, may be worth a billion dollars.

This inspired me to write the following rambling reminiscence of my forays into computer dating services — not as a customer, but as an operator.

It all started when I taught myself the computer language BASIC in anticipation of winning an Apple II computer in a magazine contest. To my great surprise I didn’t win (and in related news: I’m not the center of the universe) but, luckily for me and my nascent programming skills, my new friend Chuck had a computer at home, which was almost unheard of in those days. (His dad was a professional programmer and weekend computer hobbyist.)

Chuck and I bonded over our shared nerdiness. How nerdy? In our seventh-grade music class, one homework assignment was to develop a board game illustrating the differences between different eras of classical music history. We undertook an electrical engineering project, drawing up circuit diagrams, buying parts at Radio Shack, and soldering them together in Chuck’s basement. The resulting game, which we called ElectroMusiQuiz, required players to answer music-history questions on cards that could then be inserted into a slot that would cause the right answer to appear on a 7-segment LED. A right answer meant you could advance your gamepiece across the board. ElectroMusiQuiz was extremely crude, but on the day everyone brought in their board games, ours was the one everyone wanted to try! (This was before ubiquitous electronic goodies, you must understand, when upside-down illegible-word calculator games were all the rage.) It earned us a commendation from the principal’s office.

Over the next couple of years, Chuck and I spent countless afterschool hours with our heads together in front of his computer, laboriously typing in long program listings from issues of Byte and Dr. Dobbs Journal of Computer Calisthenics & Orthodontia, trying out our own creations in NorthStar BASIC and later UCSD Pascal, or just loading Adventure or Trek-80 from a 500-baud audio cassette and playing until dinnertime.

The state of the art in computer gaming circa 1980. We loved it.

Occasionally we’d watch in awe as Chuck’s dad used a modem to connect his computer to the mainframe at his office. It was an acoustic modem, the kind Matthew Broderick uses in WarGames, where a telephone handset is jammed into a pair of rubber cups, one housing a mic for listening to the screechy data sounds from the handset, and one housing a speaker for making screechy data into the handset’s mic. Such a device was only possible, of course, at a time when telephone handsets were all a standard size and shape.

One day in eleventh grade (1982-83) we learned that our school had a computer terminal with a built-in acoustic modem — a teletype-style machine, with a roll of paper for printing the output, line by line, from whatever computer you connected it to. Around the same time we learned that it was almost time for our school’s annual Carnival, and we hatched this idea: we would operate a computer-dating booth. A few weeks before Carnival, we’d circulate personality questionnaires to all students. We’d collect them and enter the data from the completed forms into a computer-dating program that we would write for Chuck’s computer. On the day of Carnival, we would set up the terminal in an unused classroom, connect it by phone to Chuck’s computer at home, and direct it to output a list of the five best matches (as determined by our program) for anyone who showed up and handed over a couple of Carnival tickets.

To my modern self, the ambitiousness of that plan is breathtaking. As a harried parent who works full time (married to another harried parent also working full time), for whom merely writing in my blog requires stealing moments here and there for days on end, the level of effort that plan implies makes me cringe. But we were young and our responsibilities were few. Somehow in the space of a few short weeks we:

  • Got approval from some teachers to set up this “booth” and use the teletype;
  • Wrote a personality questionnaire (filled with random questions pulled out of thin air);
  • Sweet-talked the Social Studies department’s office into letting us have some of their mimeograph stencils for typing up the questionnaire — most of which we ruined with imperfect typing (including one memorable copy in which the text was perfect but which was then cut in half by a line of underscores I added at the bottom for the submitter’s name!);
  • Got high on mimeograph fumes and then distributed the blank questionnaires to over a thousand schoolmates;
  • Wrote, debugged, and tested the software for enabling data entry, saving and loading the data to and from a disk file, and executing the matchmaking computation;
  • Roped Chuck’s dad into staying home on the day of Carnival in order to assist with establishing the modem connection and any technical issues that might come up;
  • Collected completed questionnaires from hundreds of students;
  • Made a crooked deal with one classmate to ensure a certain student appeared in her list of matches (and vice versa) in exchange for an invitation to her upcoming sweet sixteen party.

On the night before Carnival there were still hundreds of questionnaires to enter into Chuck’s computer. There were four of us working at it: me and Chuck; my girlfriend Erica, and her friend Mari. It was slow, gruelling work that we did in two-person teams, one reading data aloud from the forms, the other typing it in, occasionally saying, “Wait, wait…” After a while, the reader’s voice would grow hoarse and the typist’s hands would cramp up, and they’d switch roles, or swap in the other two-person team.

As the hours dragged on long past midnight and our weariness came close to despair, there was one consolation for me at least: while Chuck and Mari worked and it was Erica’s turn and mine to rest, we made out almost continuously, like the indecent sixteen-year-olds we were.

Finally, some time past 3am, the last questionnaire was entered. We amused ourselves for a short time by querying the matching engine a few times to see which of our classmates matched up with whom (untroubled by the ethical or privacy compunctions — see “crooked deal” above — that would constrain our later adult selves), then called it a night.

Not enough sleep later, we went to school and set up the computer-dating room. We pushed all the chairs and desks in a classroom toward the back wall and wheeled in the teletype, then brought in a telephone with a cord long enough to reach the nearest extension jack across the hallway in the Foreign Languages office. Next we called Chuck’s dad at home and instructed him to begin the computer connection and then jammed the handset into the terminal’s modem. After fiddling around with various settings (learning on the fly about the difference between “full duplex” and “half duplex”), we were up and running! To our considerable surprise.

Almost as soon as we posted our sign on the classroom door, a line formed out the room and down the hallway. We began collecting Carnival tickets, running the matching engine, and delivering the results — a list of fellow students’ names — in the form of printouts torn off the teletype. But the matching engine was slow, taking up to five minutes to produce one set of results, and the line of “customers” just grew and grew. Now and then someone tripped over the phone line and disconnected us, and we’d have to call Chuck’s dad again and arrange a mutual jamming of telephone receivers into modems.

As the delays mounted, the crowd’s mood started to sour, and they began clamoring for faster service. To add to our troubles, the teletype began printing strings of random characters at unpredictable intervals, occasionally dropping the connection! Before long we figured out that this was caused by the noise of the crowd getting into the acoustic modem and being mistaken for data! So we moved the queue into the hallway, closed the door, and admitted just one person at a time.

A few hours later, we closed the computer-dating booth. We had collected a small mountain of Carnival tickets and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.

(To be continued…)

Save the world again with Admiral Bob

When I wrote my blog post, “Save the world with Admiral Bob” recently, I had no idea that a few weeks later it would be Blog Action Day, nor that the topic of this Blog Action Day would be “the environment.” But I found out just in time to participate, so for this Blog Action Day I would like to (re)invite you to read my recent post, “Save the world with Admiral Bob.”

Fifteen years of MIME

Fifteen years ago this month, Nathaniel Borenstein and Ned Freed published MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions): Mechanisms for specifying and describing the format of Internet message bodies, a document also referred to as RFC 1341. An RFC (“Request For Comments”) is the democratic way new Internet standards get proposed, reviewed, and approved.

Fifteen years earlier saw the publication of RFC 733, Standard for the format of ARPA network text messages. (The “ARPA network” was the forerunner of today’s Internet.) This established the rules that allowed computers to exchange e-mail, but the phrase “text messages” in the title of that RFC is telling. According to that standard, e-mail consisted solely of plain text, specifically text arranged in relatively short lines. Furthermore, the text could only be expressed with ASCII characters, that is, the fifty-two upper- and lowercase letters of the English alphabet, the ten digits, and thirty-odd typographical characters, and no others.

In those bad old days, you could not attach a picture or a spreadsheet and mail it to someone; you had to settle for letting your correspondent know from which directory on which FTP server they could download your file. You could not emphasize text with boldface or italics, you had to settle for emphasis that looked *like this*. And if you wanted to say something in Russian or Greek or Hebrew or Chinese or Thai, you had to transliterate it using English letters (“na zdorovia”). You couldn’t even include the accent in “Buenos días.”

By the early 1990’s, the need for these expanded abilities was starting to be felt, in part due to the burgeoning of the Internet, in part due to the ever-increasing storage and display capabilities of the computers attached thereto, and in part due to experiments such as the Andrew project, which I worked on with Nathaniel Borenstein and others. In the Andrew project, users running the appropriate software within a closed community (such as the Carnegie Mellon campus) could exchange rich e-mail with fancy text styles and a wide assortment of attachment types (or “insets” in Andrew parlance), including pictures, sound, and an inline “hyperlink” object (due to my friend Michael McInerny) that prefigured the invention of the World Wide Web.

As I say, users within a closed community could use Andrew and other systems like it, but they could not exchange “rich” mail with the Internet at large. There was no widely accepted standard for the format of such messages. The only widely accepted Internet mail format was RFC 822, which by this time had superseded but not meaningfully expanded upon RFC 733. Like its predecessor, it too insisted on treating e-mail as short lines of plain ASCII text, and across the Internet there was a huge installed base of RFC 822 e-mail systems. There was no possibility of replacing all those e-mail systems with anything that could handle other kinds of content. To complicate matters, the conformance of most e-mail systems to the rules in RFC 822 (and its companion, RFC 821, which dealt with the details of transporting RFC-822 data between computers) was only approximate in many cases. Cobbled together as they were by amateurs and academics, the mail systems of the early Internet often got things wrong.

All of which I mention in order to highlight the genius of Borenstein and Freed. With MIME they invented a collection of mechanisms for expressing and transporting all conceivable kinds of e-mail content, including text using foreign alphabets, that worked entirely within the rules of RFC 821 and RFC 822. By variously encoding, labeling, and encapsulating the many data objects in a rich e-mail message, they were able to make it look like a standards-compliant text message, consisting of short ASCII lines. They even managed to work around the many different ways in which most mail systems failed to obey the standards.

In this way, MIME messages could be exchanged across the Internet without the need for any of the existing mail software even to be aware that the messages were special. Of course, if you happened to have one of the handful of MIME-aware mail systems that existed at first, it would decode the message and display it richly, giving you the full benefit of MIME. But if your mail system was not MIME-aware, that was OK; your mail program would simply show you the un-decoded MIME content, which, thanks to more ingenious MIME mechanisms such as “the preamble,” “quoted-printable,” and “multipart/alternative,” was usually somewhat legible anyway.

Thus did MIME take over the e-mail infrastructure of the Internet in viral fashion. Immediately upon its introduction, it worked at least bearably for everyone, and terrifically for some. Of course everyone wanted it to work terrifically, so bit by bit, users across the Net upgraded their mail systems to be MIME-aware.

After I left Carnegie Mellon I went to work for Z-Code, which made e-mail software called Z-Mail. No sooner did I start there, trying to convey the wonders of the Andrew system to my new coworkers, than the MIME standard appeared, and Z-Code went to work making Z-Mail MIME-aware. Thus by Nathaniel’s efforts was my career not only begun but perpetuated. I write e-mail software professionally to this day.

Nowadays users think nothing of sending e-mail with pictures, spreadsheets, and even movies attached, and being unable to receive and view them properly is now the rare exception and not the rule. But the infrastructure is largely the same as it was in 1992. At bottom, e-mail messages are still arranged as short lines of ASCII text. Only MIME makes possible such wonders as Asian Viagra image spam.