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March 31, 2003

Paolo’s Solution

At dinner the other night, Paolo pointed out that while the US is budgeting $75+ billion for the war, Iraq’s GDP is $60 billion. We could buy the entire country for less than it’ll take to conquer it. (And does anyone believe the current budget figure?)


Apparently there’s some footage of Bush trying out his firm-and-patriotic scowl before broadcasting his recent speech. It’s been shown by the BBC and elsewhere, but not in the US. Does anyone have a link to it? (If this is currently the number one hit at blogdex, forgive my being so out of it. Damn vacation.)

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From Florence

Finally found both time and a Net connection to update my blog! I’m in a Net cafe in Florence, two blocks from the Duomo, this big hunk of bricks with some art ‘n’ stuff inside it. It’s been a great trip, but I’ll spare you the details because I’m blogging it for the Boston Globe somewhere around here

I had dinner with Paolo and Monica Valdemarin in Venice, along with the other six members of my family traveling together. Paolo and I know each other through our weblogs and decided to meet in person. (We got a little encouragement from Marc Canter. Thanks, Marc!) We had a great time.

We talked about weblogs as building webs of trust. I met Paolo already knowing him through his weblog. I trusted him before I met him, and I had good reason to trust him. We were able to start talking as if we had been friends for months, which in a sense we had been. The Web is rewiring the real world. Just not fast enough. (Paolo blogged it and some pictures here.)

By the way, Paolo’s Google URL is “paolo”: that’s all you need to search on in order to get his blog as the first hit on Google.

On a semi-related note, Paolo told me that he posted on his blog a few months ago that he’d like a Radio script that would return the first hit on Google for any selected text so that he could more easily link while writing his blog. Within a few hours, two readers had sent him such scripts, one in England and one in Italy. Pretty cool, both as a widget and as an example of the power of this Web thing.

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March 29, 2003

From Venice

I just posted Friday’s update on our trip to boston.com although it takes a couple of hours for the update to “take.”

There are peace signs everywhere in this city. No other political signage, as far as I can tell.

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March 28, 2003

From Venice

We’re in Venice on vacation. I’m blogging it for the Boston Globe. We’re counting on the second day being better than the first. Just a loooong, wearying day of travel.

By the way, the second blog entry on the Globe site is by my son, Nathan, 12. The Globe’s going to update it to reflect that.

Bad, expensive AOL connection from the hotel room. 650 emails waiting. I think I’ll flee the Net for the day.

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March 26, 2003

Return to Campus

Returning to Bucknell to give a talk was unsettling. I haven’t been back in 25 years and I’ve kept up only with a few friends. I was unhappy during college, and I have kept the lid of memories screwed on pretty durn tight.

I got a good education there. The teachers ranged from good to life-changing. But I didn’t realize how isolated and privileged the experience was until I stepped back on campus. Has it become even more of a country club than when I was there? No way of telling. Statistically, of course, it’s more diverse. Spiritually, I don’t know.


My breakfast with Professors Fell and Sturm meant too much for me to write about. But I can give you their reading list.

Professor Fell recommends John William Miller, his own teacher. He gave me a copy of The Midworld of Symbols and Functioning Objects. I started reading it on the way back. Chapter One is gibberish to me. Chapter Two affords me at least a handhold. I will go to the site that Prof. Fell recommended, hoping that it will give me enough context to begin to understand what the book is about. (The site links to Prof. Fell’s exceptionally clear and helpful introductory essay on Miller.)

Professor Sturm recommends that I read Whitehead. I read Whitehead when I was an undergrad and maybe some more in grad school. Back then I read to conquer, to get Whitehead under my belt. (Talk about consumerism!) I read better now, but not well enough: I am still defensive, holding off ideas, maintaining my current beliefs. It’s one reason among several that I could never be a genuine scholar.


I talked with my old professors about my interest in the idea that the universe might be a computer. Within 90 seconds, the conversation clarified a point for me that should have been apparent: The universe-as-computer idea does not imply a maker the way the universe-as-clockmaker idea does because the complexity of the universal clockworks makes the Argument from Design seem plausible while the point of the universal computer is that enormous complexity results from great simplicity.

Ok, so this is a big D’oh! But isn’t so much of great teaching the revealing of the blindingly obvious?


I walked through Lewisburg two nights ago. I lived there for four years as a student and one year as a resentful day-laborer and bad writer.

Places change more slowly than we do. It doesn’t seem fair.

As I strolled, nostalgia intermittently struck, like being pelted with rocks. I say with no pride that I oddly found myself most wanting to visit places where I had been most notably stoned way back then: Tommy T’s apartment overlooking Market Street, the home goods store where I once spent too long watching skeins of yarn merging, the secluded point in the river behind the railroad tracks where we smoked freshman year when we thought we had to go a half mile into the woods to avoid detection.

I don’t know why those were the memories most present. It felt more like the effect of brain chemistry than memory. Damn embarrassing.

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Splash

Here are some more honest and enjoyable splash pages for well-known sites. (Thanks to Hanan Cohen for the link.)

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Invasion

At the AT&T Wireless kiosk in Sunbury, PA, when I tried to buy a new cell phone charger for $14.95, I was told that the cash register wouldn’t accept the transaction unless I gave them the phone number of my cell phone.

Fortunately, (617) 555 1212 was acceptable to the cash register when the cashier grudgingly entered it.

“It’s not an invasion of privacy,” she called after me as I left, genuinely wounded that I had insulted the integrity of AT&T Wireless.

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PC Forum Wiki – The Semantic Mess

I’m finding the PC Forum Wiki a good way to catch up on what’s going on at that conference.

And I was glad to read Sergey Brin of Google taking on Tim Berners-Lee‘s idea for the semantic web. It’s the battle between order and mess, and messiness not only will win, we’re better off for it. I mean, if the early browsers only read well-formed and valid HTML, the Web would be far neater, one-thousandth the size, and lifeless.

[Thanks to the people contributing to the Wiki. Here's an enhancement request that I know is counter to the wiki culture: I personally like it when the primary author of a page notes that fact. I don't even know who to thank for most of the work!]

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March 25, 2003

TrackBack Explained

movabletype.org : TrackBack Explanation

Aha! Ben and Mena have posted a step-by-step guide to TrackBack.

Thanks!

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Breakfast

I am giving a talk at Bucknell University, from which I was graduuated in 1972. I haven’t been back in 25 years.

This morning I had breakfast with the two teachers who had the biggest influence on my intellectual development, JP Fell and Douglas Sturm.

It was for me a moving event. I may write about it more, or I may not.

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