Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

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Entries from February 2005

Google changes its model from “Don’t be evil” to “Arrrrrrr….”

February 19th, 2005 · Comments Off

Avast, ye scurvy dogs formerly known as Google!

Steve Rubel, Dave Winer, and Dan Gillmor have the real story about Google’s new”AutoLinks“–which turn out to be the same idea as Microsoft’s idea for “Smart Tags”–and were apparently dreamed up by the same person who made up Smart Tags to start with.

The piratical plan behind both AutoLinks and Smart Tags
is to use
near-monopoly power to shanghai web traffic away from smaller players, and into sites you control. Example:  Gary Price went shopping for books at the Barnes and Noble website–and discovered that
every book’s ISBN number had been Autolinked to a sales page over at Amazon. 

Maybe they could just Smart Tag or AutoLink “Don’t be evil” to a page more fitted to their new business model. Arrrrr!

Pirati: Johnny Depp based his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow on legendary bad boy Keith Richards, and on legendary cartoon skunk Pepe Le Pew.

Tags: Good versus Evil

Eternal life of a Willy Loman

February 16th, 2005 · Comments Off

Stephen Hawking liked to joke about his ambitions for A Brief History of Time:

“I’m so ambitious that I want my book to be sold in airport bookstalls.”

A goal even more ambitious than Hawking’s bestsellerdom and celebrity would be…to see your book a standard of high school English. Because then, for the rest of their lives, people would be checking back with their teenage selves to see if what your book told them kept on making sense.

Short works with not too much sex–didn’t you all read these?

These are the ones I remember, because these are the ones made me cry then and kept on making sense afterward.

You can get learned texts on Death of a Saleman; you can get a DVD of it with Lee J. Cobb and George Segal (1966) or with Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich(1985).

One of my own very favorite Willy Lomans was Kevin Klines’s wonderful loopy dinner theatre rendition in the movie Soapdish (1991). (Horrifyingly, the scenes were said to be based on an actual Florida dinner-theater production starring Vincent Gardenia and Julie Harris. Shudder!)

I was reminded of Willy Loman today by a touching article called ”
The F word” (it’s “Fired,” in case you don’t know.) The author, James Atlas, took comfort from thoughts of Willy as his young boss told him his job was ending. Reading Atlas’s story, I realized again how ignorant, back in the sixties, were my teenage tears for Willy. It’s something I don’t mind being reminded of….and I hope James Atlas keeps writing.


Tags: Sister Age

Linky lottery

February 15th, 2005 · Comments Off

Wow, too much real life going on and not enough blogging! But, since my
real life includes lots of time on the web, here are a few great links
I recommend.


* “Frank Wilczek, personal communication,” as the scholarly papers say.

Tags: Life, the universe, and everything

R.P. Feynman and my Valentine

February 14th, 2005 · Comments Off

FeynmanWilczek: Richard Feynman with Frank Wilczek, at Murph Goldberger's 60th birthday party, 1983, "devil horns" by Sam Treiman.

Rebecca Mackinnon is promoting Valentine sonnets. I’m not posting my efforts–Joho’s will beat everyone for humor if not for love–but, speaking of Valentines and love, I love this 1983 picture of Frank Wilczek with legendary physics bad boy R.P. Feynman.

Yes, that’s the Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman Feynman, the Challenger disaster frozen O-Rings Feynman, safe-cracking, bongo-playing, Tuva-loving, 1965-Nobel-Prize-winning, 1918-1988 Richard P. Feynman.

About this photograph–first, roll your mental cameras back even farther, to 1972, the year I met Frank Wilczek. When I think back to those intense happy days, I can remember earnestly playing Bob Dylan records and moving the needle to tracks I thought Frank “should” hear. And I’ll never forget his introducing me to Feynman, by which he meant the tattered red three-volume Lectures in Physics he’d read by himself in high school to learn about physics. He sat me down next to him on some seedy Grad College sofa, put the first volume into my hands, and waited to enjoy the delight I would surely feel as soon as I started reading. These books were an intellectual treasure that he couldn’t wait to share–only later did I find out they were also a part of his personal odyssey–if I hadn’t been in love with him before, I would surely have fallen in love with him right then.

Now–ten-plus years, lots of physics, and two great kids later–we get to 1983. Murph Goldberger sent us this photo of Frank with Feynman at his (Murph’s) 60th birthday bash. No wonder Frank looks happy–even if Feynman is teasing him and our friend Sam Treiman is giving him “devil horn” fingers…


I’ve been hard at work collecting Frank Wilczek photos, which have to go out to a whole bunch of publications. So that and some chocolate will have to make up for my Valentine failure to come up with the really perfect love sonnet….

Tags: Frank Wilczek · Nobel · Science

Can Wes Crusher save CSI from destruction? Tune in next year!

February 13th, 2005 · Comments Off

WilWes: Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher + = ! ! !

Like 94.7% of academics in Cambridge, Frank and I have no TV. But that doesn’t mean we’re CSI-deprived! We started hanging out with Gil and the gang in September, and there’s now only one show un-watched left in our fourth-season DVDs.

Today, thanks to Scobleizer, I discovered a new way to stave off CSI-withdrawal symptoms. Wil Wheaton, formerly Ensign Wesley Crusher, just got hired by the show and he’s blogging it! Check out his

I love CSI, but it can only get better if it adds everyone’s favorite supergeek Wil Wheaton.


Amazon Associate disclosure–I get a boatload of statistical satisfaction from putting up links to Amazon products–and even some money if people buy the stuff, but that’s not why I do it.

1 2 3 4


Tags: Life, the universe, and everything

Right’s often wrong, but this time Left was wronger

February 13th, 2005 · Comments Off

You know, back when I was working for Howard Dean, I never imagined I’d see Kos or Atrios outing somebody for alleged gay-ness or other non-standard sexual behavior.

I don’t like Jeff Gannon‘s politics. I didn’t like his sloppy, partisan reporting.

Comparing his sins to the no-holds-barred dirt-campaign against him, Jeff Gannon sounds like Walter Cronkite plus Mother Teresa.


Tags: Good versus Evil

White valentine

February 12th, 2005 · Comments Off

The February 14 New Yorker includes a short memoir of E.B. White by his stepson Roger Angell.

Angell gives special attention to two of my favorite essays, “Once More to the Lake” and “This is New York”–which, coincidentally, I blogged here exactly two years ago, struggling to understand what makes White so funny.)

Angell offers delightful backstage details about White’s Charlotte’s Web and Stuart LIttle. He also includes somewhat Too Much Information about White’s illnesses, fretfulness, and fear of crowds. Well, it’s a sad fact of the way lifespans overlap that the our parents’ old age and frailty can fill so much foreground of our adult memories.

Of course the best bits are the bits that are written by White–a letter about baby birds, or this fragment from an essay on driving Maine highways:

Like highways everywhere it is a mixed dish: Gulf and Shell, bay and gull, neon and sunset, cold comfort and warm, the fussy façade of a motor court right next door to the pure geometry of an early-nineteenth-century clapboard house with barn attached. You can certainly learn to spell “moccasin” while driving into Maine, and there is often little else to do except steer and avoid death. Woods and fields occur everywhere, creeping to within a few feet of the neon and the court, and the experienced traveler into this land is always conscious that just behind the garish roadside stand, in its thicket of birch and spruce, stands the well-proportioned deer; just beyond the overnight cabin, in the pasture of granite and juniper, trots the perfectly designed fox. . . .
The Maine man does not have to penetrate in depth to be excited by his coastal run; its flavor steals into his consciousness with the first ragged glimpse of properly textured woodland, the first whiff of punctually drained cove.

Anyway, do yourself and your Valentine a favor–read this loving essay and pass it on.

Tags: Learn to write good

Weetabix shares fall on news of IKEA shortage

February 11th, 2005 · Comments Off

It has been estimated, says BBC News, that “one in 10 Europeans are conceived in an Ikea bed.”

This statistic may explain the recent chaotic scene in North London, as fans of IKEA furniture–7,000 of them–overwhelmed 40 security guards and entered the store as a kicking, screaming mob in response to an ad for cheap sofas and bedframes.

The store remains closed and a 10% population drop in Great Britain is likely to follow.


Tags: Life, the universe, and everything

Blogswarm reporting and the new public figure

February 11th, 2005 · Comments Off

What happens when multiple bloggers do multiple investigations of a currently hot blog topic? What happens when the hot topic is a human being? Does that human being become a public figure*, with the loss of legal rights that status entails?

After Kathryn Cramer blogged some (mistaken) speculation about the Fallujah killings–and after she took down the post and apologized for it–she got hate mail including death threats, some posted to her teenage daughter’s website.

Kathryn Cramer believed she was being attacked by conservative readers of the LGF blog. JD Guckert (better known by his professional name Jeff Gannon) believes that liberal blogreaders are harassing his family.

If you find that hard to believe, check out, for example, this collaborative investigative thread on Kos. What’s striking about it is not so much the occasional bit about “Don’t harass his mother, she’s probably a senior citizen,” but the thrill of the chase that unites participants as they compete to deliver new information of any kind about anyone named Guckert.

We bloggers think of ourselves as individuals. When we team up to report on a shared news story, we need to start thinking about the human impact of an possible swarm of people following our lead.


* public figure
n. in the law of defamation (libel and slander), a personage of great public interest or familiarity like a government official, politician, celebrity, business leader, movie star or sports hero. Incorrect harmful statements published about a public figure cannot be the basis of a lawsuit for defamation unless there is proof that the writer or publisher intentionally defamed the person with malice (hate).

Thanks to
Jay Rosen (PressThink) for a post on Blog Storm Troopers that made me start asking these questions.

Tags: Metablogging

Er, ah, Camilla, old bean, oh, dash it all…

February 10th, 2005 · Comments Off

Britain’s Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles shared a first, ahem, kiss back in 1970. Now, 35 years and just a few headlines later,  this long-running couple is planning to get married.

Just how do you suppose he popped the question? My guesses:

  • “This is a bit awkward, but, oh, dash it all! Could you pencil us
    in for some time together on April 8? Why? Well, ahhhh…. ” [and so on,
    Hugh Grant ad libitum…]
  • “D’you know, I seem to have been putting you in a damn sticky
    wicket for, what is it, 35 years now? I say, let’s get married, so the
    tabloids will really have a heyday.”
  • “I say, Camilla, it can’t have escaped your attention that we are both
    approaching retirement age, and my job comes with a rahhhther good
    pension thingummy…”

Poor dears, I wish them both luck. No time like the present to make up for lost opportunities.


Thanks (for dialogue coaching) to the Posh Translator at whoohoo.com.

Tags: Life, the universe, and everything