Friday, September 13, 2002

After an extensive Internet archeology project involving retrieval of 20-year-old 9-track tapes from a warehouse in Pittsburgh, Mike Jones has traced the origin of the ubiquitous smiley :-) to a post on a Carnegie-Mellon computer system in 1982. Here's the idea that started the revolution:
19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman :-) From: Scott E Fahlman I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers: :-) Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use :-(
It appears that the idea for a "joke mark" emerged after someone caused a panic by joking that one of the physics department elevators was contaminated with mercury. (There had been a previous discussion about what would happen to a blob of mercury on the floor of the elevator if the cable snapped.)

Interestingly, in reading the followup thread, many people began using doing it the other way (-:, which doesn't look very familiar to us now.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

And now, an excerpt from Pumas on Hoverbikes at
We've all heard the "herding cats" analogy with regard to managing programmers. Managing sysadmins is like leading a neighborhood gang of neurotic pumas on jet-powered hoverbikes with nasty smack habits and opposable thumbs. Oh, and as a manager you're a neurotic junkie puma too, only they cut your thumbs off and whereas all the other pumas get to drive around on their badass hoverbikes and fire chainguns at the marketing department, YOU have to drive a maroon AMC Gremlin behind them and hand out Band-Aids and smile a lot, when all you're REALLY thinking about is how to get one of them to let you borrow his hoverbike for a few minutes so you can show those fools how it's DONE. This is because managers are usually people who proved that they were handy with a chaingun and were thus rewarded by having their thumbs cut off and their weapons handed to some punk college hire.
Hehe. Very true, I think. Except that some managers weren't very good with the chainguns in the first place.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

The Tennessean has posted a collection of almost 500 reader essays about September 11th. They are written by a wide variety of people -- 5th graders to retirees. Some are pretty out there -- one guy claims that he tried to warn NYC officials about the attacks based on what he read in the book of Revelations. But other are well written -- and taken as a whole the project is a notable cross section of the way people dealt with the tragedy. Here's one:
Why do people hate each other so much? I don't see why people hate each other so much that they would kill people and destroy buildings. I think they don't know what love is or have never felt love in their lives. I think we should all find ways to spread love around to other people. Some things we can do is be nice to all our friends and enemies, help feed the hungry and poor, give homes to the homeless and help our neighbors. Since Sept. 11, people have been nicer to each other and more helpful in their communities. To remember those who lost their lives, we should all try to do something every day to make the world a better place to live.
--Caleb Pease
Westmeade Elementary School
Here's another good one about living in fear. (The section also contains more than 400 drawings done by area school children.)

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Check out Peeling the Onion, an interesting look at the making of The Onion. (Link via Scrubbles.) Includes this interesting observation:
Stalberg says he particularly liked Siegel's [Pulitzer Prize] nomination letter, which ended with a George Bernard Shaw quote that Stalberg wrote down and saved: " 'Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.' "

That, says Hanson, is what the Onion is all about. "Some people see comedy as a venue to provide light distraction, put a smile on other people's faces," he says. "And yet if you really understand what comedy really is, I believe, it's not about lightheartedness at all. It's about very harsh and terrible things that were really horrific. It's sort of a way of processing horror and misery. That's where comedy comes from."

I just applied for a job in another city. This is not a new thing. It's actually the third out-of-town job I've applied for in the last three months. The difference is that this is one I'm actually qualified for. The others were more "no way in hell they'd hire me, but if they really want to give me a lot of money to come work there, it would be cool." Crossing the line into jobs that I actually have a chance of landing is a bit of a leap for me. The thing is, I'm not even sure I want a new job. I came to work in Nashville just over four years ago. I never thought I'd end up this far south, but I was out of school and needed a job, and there was one here. By all rational standards, it was a pretty good job. It paid well, had a passing relationship to my undergraduate degree, and was a great opportunity to learn. The first year was a bit crappy, but overall I've learned a lot and I've gotten to do some very interesting things. But I'm not sure I've ever truly become a Nashvillian. Not that I have anything against the city. If anything, it's grown on me. And I think great things are happening here. Since I arrived, two pro sports teams have come to town, and a agreat new art museum and central library have opened. I think it's definitely a city on the upswing. But I continue to spend too much money flying back to places like Washington, New York, and Boston to visit friends and family. And when I am in Nashville I feel like I spend way too much time working. Perhaps, I tell myself sometime, it's just time for a change of scenery. This is not a new thing -- I've been telling friends that I'll be out of Nashville in two months for about 4 years now. But I now I'm actually considering doing something about it. But then there's my job, which for the most part I like and would have no real problem with if it were located elsewhere. And I don't think they'll go for the full-time telecommuting thing. So I'm totally not sure what I'd do if I were to be offered a job elsewhere. But mulling it is certainly keeping me up nights.

Sunday, September 08, 2002

Where have I been?

Newton's Kumquat has been on something of a summer vacation for the last month or so. I'd like to reassure my dozens of loyal readers (well, ok, two) that this is not permanent and should not be taken as anything more meaningful than a fit of inexcusable laziness.

As some of you may know, I'm taking online classes from the University of Maryland University College toward a master's degree. Since this involves a lot of typing, I tend to end up glued to my computer for hours on end. (This isn't always welcome, since I spend most of my time at work also glued to my computer.) Blogging provides me with a way to avoid school work while pretending that I'm still busily slaving away.

August, however, was a month of no classes and hellish hours on a project at work. Since I didn't have to do school work, I tended to avoid the computer when I got home. (My real-world accomplishments included skipping town to visit friends in New York, watching strange late-ngiht TV movies, and actually reading books that didn't appear on a syllabus.)

But, now that classes have started again, I'm once again glued to the computer and looking for ways to procrastinate. And so, gentle reader, be assured that you can look forward to more of the quality prose you've come to expect from Newton's Kumquat.