Jeopardy! Kids

Got a 10, 11, or 12-year-old who’s Jeopardy!-smart? Get them started on the track to success early with the Kids Online Test on January 13.

I have to say that even though I’ve never made it onto the show, the four times I’ve tried out (and the three times I’ve made it as far as the potential contestant pool) were nonetheless a lot of fun. It’s nice to find a use for a head full of useless knowledge.


This brief excerpt is from Hooman Majd’s very interesting book The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran, when he looks back at what he felt was the mood in the country in the days immediately after the election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had defeated the reform ticket candidates favored by the outgoing president, Mohammad Khatami (emphasis is mine).

Khatami was the first true liberal (by the standards of Iran, or indeed the Middle East) to become president, and under his leadership noticable changes occurred in Iranian society. …

The kinds of changes to Iranian society that were made under Khatami have proven very difficult to undo, even when conservatives have tried their utmost. … It is probably safe to say that a majority of Iranians, perhaps commensurate with the percentages that voted for him, share a political philosophy with Khatami—that is to say, a philosophy of moderation and real political change that doesn’t subvert the Islamic underpinning of the state. (It should be noted that the Revolutionary Guards, thought of in the West as monolithically and ideologically hard-line, also voted for Khatami with about the same percentages, over 70 percent, as the general population.) Naturally, the more left-leaning and liberal Iranians were greatly disappointed by the pace of change and by Khatami’s unwillingness to take on the real hardliners when it most counted, and there are those in the diaspora who are reluctant to countenance anyone who works within the Islamic system, but leaving aside economic factors (which Ahmadinejad played to his advantage), few Iranians, including members of the Guards, would describe themselves as being pholosophically much to the left or the right of Khatami.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Bank Bailout

This version of the conversation between clueless everyEarthMan Arthur Dent and Megreathean world-designer and oligarch Slartibartfast is from the third episode of the BBC-TV adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy.

SLARTIBARTFAST: You seem ill at ease.

ARTHUR DENT: Actually, I don’t think we expected anyone to be about, in fact. No disrespect, but I gathered you were all dead.

SLARTIBARTFAST: Dead? No! We have but slept. For five million years. Nothing much seems to have changed.

ARHUR: Slept?

SLARTIBARTFAST: Yes. Through the economic recession.

ARTHUR: Economic recession?

SLARTIBARTFAST: Well, you see five million years ago the galactic economy collapsed. And seeing that custom-built planets are something of a luxury commodity — you know we built planets, do you?

ARTHUR: Well, I’d sort of gathered that.

SLARTIBARTFAST: Fascinating trade. Doing the coastlines was my favorite. Use to have endless fun doing all the little fiddly bits around fjords. Well, anyway, the recession came and we thought — thought it would save a lot of bother if we just slept through it. So we programmed the computers to revive us when it was all over.


SLARTIBARTFAST: They were index-linked to the galactic stock market prices, you see, so that we’d all be revived when everybody else had rebuilt the economy enough to be able to afford our rather expensive services.

ARTHUR: Isn’t that rather unethical behavior?

SLARTIBARTFAST: Oh, is it? I’m afraid I’m a bit out of touch.

Everything Old Is New Again

Oliver Breidenback at O’Reilly’s “Inside iPhone” blog notes the release of Seadragon from Microsoft, a new iPhone app:

Seadragon is a viewer for ultra-high-res images. Imagine a contact sheet with all your 15,992 iPhoto library pictures filling the iPhone screen. You start to zoom in, zoom in, zoom in until a single photo fits the screen. Then you zoom in more and another bit until one pixel fills the screen. Quite impressive

Maybe I’m just jaded, but then I’m a guy with I don’t know how many copies of old xRres disks from my old Director bundles and a long memory:

Shockwave for xRes


Shockwave for xRes enables users to view, pan, and zoom large image files on the web quickly, based on xRes technology. Shockwave for xRes is basically a CGI script for Windows NT and Unix web servers that is available free for downloading in the Macromedia Developers Center. The Mac plug-in and Afterburner are available for end users; however, Mac web servers are not supported yet. The CGI scripts for Macintosh web servers and Windows 95 web servers are still under development. Microsoft Internet Explorer is currently not supported. Considering the fact that this is a beta plugin, there is no direct support from Macromedia Technical Support, and the user must rely on the information available on the web.

Copyright 1996 Macromedia Inc.

Last updated: September 26, 1997

Created: Before June 25, 1997

As if anyone needed the dates to know that was from a while back when the page has words like xRes, Afterburner, and Windows 95 on it.

Comparing Apples to Buttons

I’ve been reading books introducing the concept of Object-Oriented Programming for a lot of years now, for a number of different languages and with any number of authors. And it boggles my mind that the convention in every single one is to try to explain notions like methods or instances with variations on cars, fruits, or small mammals.

Maybe twenty or even fifteen years ago people who were learning basic programming might not have been all that familiar with computer interface elements like, say, a button, but that’s no excuse in 2008 (almost 2009) not to use some sort of more concrete examples when describing how OOP is implemented, instead of grasping for ever more strained “real-world” explanations.

Six Years

Today’s the sixth anniversary of the day I didn’t die from a bunch of blood clots in my lungs, the result of having my leg more or less immobilized for a couple of months after breaking my leg and ankle.

Three years ago, I took the opportunity to celebrate by dancing on the grave plot Barbara and I had bought earlier that fall. The next day I was in the ER with an intense pain in my foot that turned out to be gout.

Now I’m just a couple weeks off of crutches after wracking up my knee back in September.

No dancing this year. Just gonna lay low.

Hammering Out the Cabinet

There’s been a lot of hoopla over the past few weeks as the Obama administration has started to propose Cabinet secretaries and various “left-of-center” groups have expressed dismay over:

  • Iraq war supporter Hillary Clinton as proposed Secretary of State;
  • Bush administration Defense Secretary Robert Gates continuing for an indefinite period;
  • Deregulation proponent Larry Summers advising Obama as the Director of the National Economic Council;
  • Dissent-intolerant Eric Holder for Attorney General;
  • And whatever else…

Over and over progressives are told that it doesn’t really matter who gets nominated and to just shup and stop whining. Obama will give his Cabinet their marching orders and they will follow them to the letter. Presumably, the concept of “plausible denaiability” is out with this administration, and if anyone did something wacky like, say, selling arms to a country considered an enemy to fund “freedom fighters” in another country, there isn’t going to be the hemming and hawing about how Obama was “out of the loop” or that the whole thing was “compartmentalized” for his safety. Nobody’s going to do anything he doesn’t approve of and the only things they do are going to be things he approves of.

I was thinking of this while reading a section of Hooman Majd’s book The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran. Majd, the Iranian-born and Western-educated son of a Shah-era diplomat writes of a visit to the Iranian Foreign Ministry shortly after the 2006 conference on the Holocaust. The conference invited former Ku Klux Klan leader and Louisiana politician David Duke to speak, along with a crew of Holocaust deniers.

Majd met with Deputy Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mohammadi, the actual organizer of the conference (on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s order), and discusses with him the fact that Duke wasn’t simply anti-Semitic but promotes the concept of the inferiority of people like Iranians and Africans. The conversation wanders away from the subject then is brought back up by Mohammadi himself as Majd is about to leave.

“On the Holocaust, by the way, you should know that I conducted my own very extensive research into it. You know I’m a scholar, of course.”

“Really,” I said, a little surprised that he’d want to revisit the topic.

And I discovered the truth.” he continued proudly. “There was no Holocaust.” He gave me a knowing smile. “Sure some people died,” he carried on, perhaps because of my hanging lower jaw and dead stare, “but you see, there was an outbreak of typhus in the prison camps, and in order to stop its spread, the Germans burned the corpses. All told, something like three hundred thousand people died from typhus.” Mohammadi smiled again, a little triumphant smirk.

I stood still in disbelief, not knowing what to say. In the space of minutes he had gone from being Holocaust agnostic, like his president, to a full-fledged denier, like Duke.

Majd mentions in the text that if Mohammadi had simply gone back in records of the ministry he belonged to he could have found the stories of Iranian diplomats in Paris issuing passports to Jews escaping “the very Holocaust they were aware of, but that he now denied.”

I felt relieved to be out of his presence, and as I walked across the perfectly manicured lawns outside, I wondered just how much influence men like him could have on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s thinking. Ahmadinejad may be open to questioning the Holocaust, I thought, but he was a far smarter man than the deputy foreign minister. A few days later, when I was relating my meeting with Mohammadi to President Khatami, he screwed up his face in disgust at the first mention of his name. Mohammadi has held senior positions at the Foreign Ministry even under the reformists, just as other hard-liners have, and their apparently untouchable status only serves to illustrate that the “Ahmadinejad element,” always a factor, will remain a constant in Iranian politics long after he’s gone.

The point isn’t that any one of Obama’s picks is going to influence him to deny the Holocaust or undertake any other major abrogation of perceived reality. It’s far, far easier to sway people to your position when the distance between two points is shorter, when you’re talking about two potential outcomes of different policies instead of historical evidence.

And whether it’s expressed in those terms or not, I think that’s what makes people unhappy (those who are) about some of Obama’s choices. A president doesn’t have endless time to fact-check the recommendations his Cabinet places in front of him. If you pick Joe the Hammerer — someone with a propensity for treating everything like it’s a nail — as your advisor, don’t be surprised if your advice involves a lot of hammering.

Good Times At the Department of Motor Vehicles

Just spent a little while waiting at the DMV for an extension of my disabled parking permit, and a couple ahead of me was there for a redo on his new license because when he’d gotten it on Friday the clerk had apparently hit the wrong button on the form for the guy’s sex. “He’s been worried about it all weekend,” his wife said, laughing. The clerk was laughing, the guy was laughing. He offered to prove he deserved the “M” right there at the counter.