Crooked CA watch: 2

Wang is wrong: a blistering report by Computer Associates’ board of directors implicates former head Charles Wang as the leader of a pervasive culture of fraud.

Mr. Wang created a “culture of fear” at Computer Associates — now called CA — and deliberately put inexperienced executives in senior positions so that he would have more control, according to the report. He discouraged executives from meeting with each other and arbitrarily fired managers or employees who disagreed with him.

“Fraud pervaded the entire CA organization at every level, and was embedded in CA’s culture, as instilled by Mr. Wang, almost from the company’s inception,” the report said.

How convenient for Wang, who stepped down as chairman in 2002, that the statute of limitations is only five years.

Digital, not digital

Roland’s crossword puzzle this morning had a reference to chisenbop, a manual reckoning system where you use your fingers like the beads of an abacus. I hadn’t heard about chisenbop for decades, not since I saw a TV ad for a book that would teach your kids how to count on their fingers. I think Fred MacMurray was the celebrity spokesman, but I could be wrong.

And I was thus reminded of Jakow Trachtenberg’s Speed System of doing multiplication and other arithmetic without pencil and paper. Somebody told me about it when I was a kid, I checked the book out of the library and devoured it. I don’t really remember any of it, except that multiplying by 12 was especially easy. Trachtenberg developed the system while he was held in a concentration camp in World War II and, if you will, didn’t have anything better to do with his time. The book is still in print.

Short bits of string: 5

O tempora!
Three things that I learned recently:

  1. Cardboard file boxes (“banker’s boxes”) work very well for costume storage, especially if you have a lot of small pieces that don’t easily hang and that you don’t want to get crushed. We’re storing costumes for 26 cast members in a 3′ x 6′ footprint.
  2. You can drag and drop tabs in an Excel workbook to reorder your worksheets. I’ve been using the right-click context menu to do that for years. I wonder how many clicks and scrolls I’ve wasted.
  3. A good articulation warmup is to play Tongue Jeopardy: Sing the “Jeopardy!” theme song, but with your tongue sticking out. On each successive syllable, point your tongue up, left, down, and right. (So you’re actually singing “Anh-anh-anh-anh-anh-anh-annnh…”) It gets really tricky when you get to the eighth notes.

Who’s to say?

When I first read about Gordon Bell’s MyLifeBits project (warning: annoying animation on the front page), I was more than a little torqued.

MyLifeBits is a lifetime store of everything. It is the fulfillment of Vannevar Bush’s 1945 Memex vision including full-text search, text & audio annotations, and hyperlinks. There are two parts to MyLifeBits: an experiment in lifetime storage, and a software research effort.

The experiment: Gordon Bell has captured a lifetime’s worth of articles, books, cards, CDs, letters, memos, papers, photos, pictures, presentations, home movies, videotaped lectures, and voice recordings and stored them digitally. He is now paperless, and is beginning to capture phone calls, IM transcripts, television, and radio.

And when I read an article by Bell and Jim Gemmell in the current Scientific American, I got spun up again (warning: Sci Am links rot quickly). Come on, already: the digitialization of “everything”? How reductionist, how naive.

Bell seems to think that only those items that are convenient to archive are worth archiving. That is, word-oriented documents, and a scanty bit of audio and video. There’s a look-Mom calculation that demonstrates that 60 years worth of accumulation can fit comfortably in a terabyte of storage, and yet this calculation doesn’t provide for any storage of feature-length movies, and for only one MP3 per day.

Bell doesn’t just short-change the other senses, he ignores them entirely. He’s not interested in capturing the smell of just-baked chocolate chip cookies, or of the artificial fog from a Rosco machine, or of an ailanthus tree. He’s not interested in capturing the feel of your cat’s fur, or pine bark, or a hot shower after a morning’s exercise. He’s not interested in capturing the taste of wedding cake, or of a good zinfandel recommended by your cousin from California, or of blood, sweat, or tears.

And for those of us seeking to emulate Bell, it helps to retain a personal assistant; in Bell’s case, the digitizing of past records was accomplished by “several years” of work by hired help.

The Bell and Gemmell article brushes off privacy and security issues with some hand-waving. And yet… and yet… when I read Emily Nussbaum’s story (via Arts & Letters Daily) about the embrace by the under-30 crowd of all things social online, about the “let it all hang out” attitude of high-schoolers, I begin to wonder whether Bell isn’t a visionary just a little ahead of his time. From the Nussbaum piece:


I remember very little from junior-high school and high school, and I’ve always believed that was probably a good thing. Caitlin Oppermann, 17, has spent her adolescence making sure this doesn’t happen to her. At 12, she was blogging; at 14, she was snapping digital photos; at 15, she edited a documentary about her school marching band. But right now the high-school senior is most excited about her first “serious project,” On it, she lists her e-mail and AIM accounts, complains about the school’s Web censors, and links to photos and videos. There’s nothing racy, but it’s the type of information overload that tends to terrify parents. Oppermann’s are supportive: “They know me and they know I’m not careless with the power I have on the Internet.”

As we talk, I peer into Oppermann’s bedroom. I’m at a café in the West Village, and Oppermann is in Kansas City—just like those Ugg girls, who might, for all I know, be linked to her somehow. And as we talk via iChat, her face floats in the corner of my screen, blonde and deadpan. By swiveling her Webcam, she gives me a tour: her walls, each painted a different color of pink; storage lockers; a subway map from last summer, when she came to Manhattan for a Parsons design fellowship. On one wall, I recognize a peace banner I’ve seen in one of her videos.

I ask her about that Xanga, the blog she kept when she was 12. Did she delete it?

“It’s still out there!” she says. “Xanga, a Blogger, a Facebook, my Flickr account, my Vimeo account. Basically, what I do is sign up for everything. I kind of weed out what I like.”

Maybe it’s true, maybe each one of us is nothing more than a list of our favorite movies and a blogroll. Jeez, I hope not.

One-Tooth Ree

Thanks to Language Log (?!), Mandana T. Manzari reports on the Large Number Championship. Two philosophers compete at MIT to produce the largest finite number ever written on an ordinary whiteboard. The winning number:

The smallest number bigger than any number that can be named by an expression in the language of first order set-theory with less than a googol (10100) symbols.

Pedants might clean up that definition to read, “an expression… with fewer than a googol symbols.”

Security flaw in Adobe plug-in

News of a significant security vulnerability in earlier versions of Adobe Reader and Acrobat has come to light.

The vulnerability exists in nearly any browser with the Acrobat Reader plug-in installed and allows malicious Javascript code to be injected on the client side.

Possible attacks that could be delivered using the flaw include session riding, cross-site scripting attacks and, in the case of Internet Explorer, denial of service attacks.

An upgrade to Reader 8 is recommended.

AI = audience interface

Ten more things computers (and their users) do in the movies that they don’t in real life.

9. You’ve Got Mail is Always Good News

In the movies, checking your mail is a matter of picking out the one or two messages that are important to the plot. No information pollution or swamp of spam. No ever-changing client requests in the face of impending deadlines. And you never overlook information because a message’s subject line violated the email usability guidelines.

Blip blip blip-blip-blip blip

Via Boing Boing, a rant that needed to be ranted: What code DOESN’T do in real life (that it does in the movies). Coders, too.

5. Code does not make blip noises as it appears on the screen

This goes for ANY text, not just code. When text appears on my monitor it doesn’t make blip sounds – this isn’t 1902 (or whenever monitors used to do that). This is one of the most common offenses in Hollywood films, almost every movie that has a scene where a character is composing an email or surfing the net has the text make blippity-blip sounds as it appears. Do they have any idea how fucking irritating that would be in real life? This article alone would be like thirty thousand blippity-blips.

Clockwork moon

Jo Marchant brings us up to date on the reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism, a second- or first-century BCE gearwork model of the heavens salvaged from a shipwreck more than 1,900 years later. Michael Wright has used computer-assisted tomography on the badly-corroded assembly of bronze to reveal a pin-and-slot model of a nine-year cycle in the Moon’s movements:

One of the wheels connected to the main drive wheel moves around once every nine years. Fixed on to it is a pair of small wheels, one of which sits almost—but not exactly—on top of the other. The bottom wheel has a pin sticking up from it, which engages with a slot in the wheel above. As the bottom wheel turns, this pin pushes the top wheel round. But because the two wheels aren’t centred in the same place, the pin moves back and forth within the upper slot. As a result, the movement of the upper wheel speeds up and slows down, depending on whether the pin is a little farther in towards the centre or a little farther out towards the tips of the teeth….

The researchers realized that the ratios of the gear-wheels involved produce a motion that closely mimics the varying motion of the Moon around Earth, as described by Hipparchus. When the Moon is close to us it seems to move faster. And the closest part of the Moon’s orbit itself makes a full rotation around the Earth about every nine years. Hipparchus was the first to describe this motion mathematically, working on the idea that the Moon’s orbit, although circular, was centred on a point offset from the centre of Earth that described a nine-year circle. In the Antikythera Mechanism, this theory is beautifully translated into mechanical form. “It’s an unbelievably sophisticated idea,” says Tony Freeth, a mathematician who worked out most of the mechanics for Edmunds’ team. “I don’t know how they thought of it.”

Follow links in Marchant’s piece to more technical material, nifty illustrations of the reconstructed device, and Freeth et al.’s paper.

Crooked CA watch

The former chief of what was known as Computer Associates International, Inc., Sanjay Kumar, has been sentenced to twelve years in prison for his role in a massive accounting fraud. Charges were made that

Kumar and other executives instructed salespeople to complete deals after the quarter had closed — a practice known within the company as the ”35-day month”…