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Miscellaneous Data  

All of this stuff seems too small to put on its own page.


Bob Dylan talks to Eliza=

the idiot test, a set of easily-misinterpreted questions

laplink cable


SPEC benchmarks

MetaSpy data

ACN, LCI, Quest

Web Hosting

The Four Types of Markets

Ethernet Wiring

Install notes for wavplay 1.0 for Linux

Data I am looking for (unanswered questions, mysteries, etc.)

Some recent trends in operating system popularity

Background check on the new (1978) JATO story

Bug in fgetpos/fsetpos when used with read

Old British Monetary System

Sentence (in English) with all the Letters of the Alphabet

Sentence (in English) using the same word in multiple senses

Dewey Color System

SmartMedia Card Reader UIS4S

Where Is the Finder's Hidden File for Burning a CD-R?

Circus Peanuts

Origin of "29.97" frame rate in the NTSC television standard

Pilobolus Article (partial)

MAD Magazine Neuman Photo Ad

Avias MecDvr

Mac OS 10.3 (Panther) Finder List-View Folder Collapse Bug

Totoro ASCII art

Old Homepage Quotes

Disabling Google+ Birthday Reminders

Bob Dylan talks to Eliza

This is from sometime in the mid 1990's, without further explanation...

I am the psychotherapist. Please, describe your problems. Each time you are finished talking, type RET twice.

How many times must the cannonballs fly before they're forever banned?

Is it because many times must the cannonballs fly before they're forever banned that you came to me?

Yes, and how many years must some people exist before they're allowed to be free?

Does it bother you that many years must some people exist before they're allowed to be free?

Yes, and how many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry?

When did you first know that many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.

Why do you say that?

The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Earlier you said many times must the cannonballs fly before they're forever banned?

[harmonica: G A7 bm7 Bdim F A C]

Maybe your plans have something to do with this.

The Idiot Test

This type of thing was very popular in the USENET/email list days of the Internet. I encountered it in 1997. I assume it is much older.

1. Do they have a 4th of July in England?

    Yes. They also have a 1st of July, a 12th of April and a 27th of October.

2. How many birthdays does the average man have?

    Just one, but it is celebrated once per year.

3. Some months have 31 days; how many have 28?

    12. This one hinges on interpreting "I have 28" to imply "I have at least 28", rather than "I have exactly 28".

4. Lisa gives a beggar 50 cents; Lisa is the beggar's sister, but the beggar is not Lisa's brother. Why?

    Because the beggar is Lisa's sister. (This one relies in the reader thinking all beggars are male)

5. Why can't a man living in the U.S.A. be buried in Canada?

    Because if he's living, he isn't dead yet, and Canada has a law against burying someone alive.

6. How many outs are there in an inning (of American baseball)?

    6 (3 for each team).

7. Is it legal for a man in California to marry his widow's sister?

    No, because if he has a "widow" then he is dead, and they don't let dead men marry in California.

8. Two men played five games of checkers. Each man won the same number of games, but there were no ties. Explain this.

    They didn't play all five games against each other.

9. Divide 30 by 1/2 and add 10. What is the answer?

    70. "30 divided by 1/2" is the same as "30 times 2".

10. A man builds a rectangular house; all four sides have southern exposure. A big bear walks by. What color is the bear?

    White. The house straddles the north pole.

11. If there are 3 apples and you take away 2, how many do you have?

    After you take 2, you have at least 2.

12. I have two U.S. coins totaling 55 cents. One is not a nickel. What are the coins?

    A half-dollar and a nickel. One coin is not a nickel, and the other coin is a nickel.

13. If you have only one match and you walk into a room where there is an oil burner, a lamp, and a wood-burning stove, which one would you light first?

    You would have to light the match first.

14. How far can a dog run into the woods?

    Halfway; after that he's running out of the woods.

15. A doctor gives you three pills and tells you to take one every half-hour. How long would the pills last?

    1 hour or
    Each pill lasts until you take it.

16. A farmer has 17 sheep, and all but 9 die. How many are left?


17. How many animals of each species did Moses take on the ark?

    None. Perhaps you were thinking of Noah?

18. A clerk in the butcher shop is 5' 10'' tall. What does he weigh?

    Butcher shop clerks weigh meat.

19. How many two-cent stamps are there in a dozen?


20. What was the President's name in 1984?

    The current U.S. president had the same name in 1984 that he has now.

Laplink Cable

This info has moved here

Personal Business Ownership and AMWAY

For some period of time (including the mid-1990s), the phrase "personal business ownership" was used to refer to the AMWAY sales and distribution system, a multi-level distribution system where (for the most part) everyone does business with people they already know (friends family and neighbors, etc.). Your customers are called "downlines" and your supplier is called an "upline".

I discovered that the AMWAY folks were trying to use phrases like "personal business ownership" and not mention "AMWAY". Apparently, AMWAY was stigmatized and has a bad reputation with many people, but I did not feel there was anything inherently wrong with using the name. However, the business model suffers from a few drawbacks —

1. The need to send products through many "middlemen" means that the profit at each level is comparatively small, not enough to live off of unless you're at least 3 or 4 levels up from the bottom. And once you get there, distribution and promotion of the business become your job.

2. In order to do well you have to like the AMWAY products, which means you have to use them all the time (in place of competing products) so that you get used to them — you can't sell something you're not using yourself. But the products aren't that much better than competing products, at least not enough to make you want to buy them all the time. Because AMWAY people are distributors, many products need to be purchased in quantities (like 12 at a time). And because of drawback 1, they aren't much cheaper than competing products.

3. Once you become a distributor (i.e. once you start selling more to others than you use yourself), in order to stay at the "level" you're at you have to keep working to spread the word and invite other people to buy from you, in order to replace the people you lose from attrition. This "evangelizing" is a special skill distinct from ordinary sales skills (Werner Erhard calls it "enrollment") that most people just aren't all that good at.

SPEC Benchmarks

My discussion of the SPEC benchmarks has moved here


Some of 1999's silliest, most incomprehensible or most frightening queries issued to MetaCrawler:

"Nuculear bombs" — The CIA has nothing to worry about so long as Saddam can't spell.

"mp3" — Let's not get too specific, huh?

"space shutte" — I guess NASA has nothing to worry about, either.

"satans realm" — Probably quicker just to point your browser at

"love coupons" — Sounds pretty good, out of context

"wheather" — HotBot's 3268 matches are almost evenly divided between people who can't spell "weather" and those who can't spell "whether". Scary, huh?

"illegal nude girls" — You'll have to try harder, Meese — they're not that stupid.

"lyrics to the song surrounded by chantal kreviasuk" — Returned 0 matches. Sadly, all they needed to do was type in a few key words from the song and they would have found it.

"passwords" — A cracker exhibiting about as much imagination as Meese.

"m" — The "mp3" guy broadening his search? — or a fan of the early 80's one-hit wonder pop band?

"big big tits" — "big tits" must have returned too many matches.

American Communications Network

American Communications Network (Troy, Michigan) is a multilevel marketing organization that sells domestic long-distance service to United States customers at a rate of $0.09 per minute (last I checked). The long distance service is provided by LCI International (McLean, Virginia), which merged in March 1998 with Qwest Communications International.

Web Hosting

Some low-cost Web hosting prices I found while doing research. Most prices here are from 1999 March 25th

provider cost Disk Xfer email
(based on setup fee and one year of service) (MB of webpage storage space) (maximum data transfer, GB/month) (number of separate POP mailboxes)
Web hosting only 5.95 30.0 3.000 1 18.00 50.0 1.000 5 36.00 100.0 2.000 10 6.95 15.0 1.000 2 27.00 ? ? 2 10.53 10.0 ? 1 17.53 25.0 ? 3 21.53 50.0 ? 5
Net access and web hosting hours/month 25 13.33 10.0 0.200 1 744 19.95 10.0 0.500 1 100 24.58 100.0 0.300 1
Net access only 3 4.95 1 100 19.95 1 744 19.95 1

The Four Types of Markets

Auctions have recently become more popular thanks to the many Internet auctions. Much misunderstanding exists about what influence auctions have on the economy as a whole and the role of traditional fixed-price sales. This is complicated by the fact that there are lots of different types of auctions.

There are many variations as to how auctions are conducted, who bids, how much information about other bids is available, and how a winning bidder and price are selected. However, the most important factor in an auction is which side does the bidding (buyer or seller). When sellers bid, it's called a "reverse auction".

In a reverse auction the buyers are committed (they must conduct a transaction) and the sellers are uncommitted (they'll conduct the transaction only if there's a good price). In a standard auction, it's the sellers who are committed and the buyers who will participate only if the price is good. Either type of auction can (at the option of the committed party) involve an "opening bid" which will result in no transaction if the opening bid isn't taken by anyone. When the first real bid is made, it is almost always equal to the opening bid.

In a reverse auction, the first bid by a potential seller sets a transaction price, which must be underbid by other sellers. In a standard auction the first potential buyer bids, setting a price which must be over-bid by other buyers.

In a reverse auction the price goes down as the auction proceeds. In a standard auction it goes up as the auction proceeds.

Perhaps most important is to realize why auctions and reverse auctions are used. There are actually four fundamentally different types of transaction markets, of which auctions are two. The crucial difference in the four types of markets is in which side knows more about value.

- Reverse auctions are used in situations where the buyers do not know in advance how much the good or service is worth, so they give complete control of the price-setting to the sellers. All bids come from sellers. Examples include contractors bidding for a publicly-funded civil engineering project: the government has no good idea how much it should cost.

- Standard auctions are used in situations where the sellers do not know how much the good or service is worth, so they give complete control of the price-setting to the buyers. All bids come from buyers. Examples include FCC radio bandwidth blocks, "A night on the town with Robert Munafo", antiques and curios: the seller has no idea how much their property or service is worth.

- When both sides of the market have a good idea of the value of the good or service, traditional fixed-price transactions are used. There are no bids of any kind, just an established fixed price. Most mass retail markets serve as good examples. Neither side allows haggling because both sides know how much the thing should be worth.

- When neither party has a good idea of the value of the good or service, one-on-one or many-to-many haggling is used (the modern term for this is "double auction"). Bids come from both sides. Most stock and commodities exchanges are good examples of ongoing markets based on haggling. The "double auction" can be either like a haggling session where the buyers start low and the sellers start high and they eventually meet somewhere in the middle, or it can be continuous like the stock market. In the continuous case, whenever a buyer's and seller's bids meet they conduct a transaction, and only one is satisfied (the one who was trading a smaller number of items). All the remaining buyers and sellers haven't "met in the middle yet" so future transactions will usually occur at a different price. Also, both sides will frequently "move away" from the middle by cancelling their bids and making new bids more favorable to their side. It is harrowing work.

All four scenarios are subject to various inefficiencies, and all are potentially vulnerable to conspiracy (collusion) between buyers or between sellers. None is an adequate substitute for any of the others, although the continuous double auction (stock exchange model) is the best approach to use when you don't have any idea of which approach is best.

It is misunderstanding of these few basic concepts that lead to so much misunderstanding of auctions and what purpose they serve.


This info has moved here

wavplay 1.0

Getting wavplay 1.0 for Linux to build under Mandrake 5.3:

When I tried to build it, I got the errors:

In file included from main.c:55: wavplay.h:303: warning: function declaration isn't a prototype wavplay.h:303: field `__errno_location' declared as a function make: *** [main.o] Error 1

The problem results from the use of structure fields named "errno", which causes problems because "errno" is a #define that translates to a function invocation.

To fix it, first make the source code editable by doing:

chmod +x *

then edit the file "wavplay.h", and search for "errno". Each one that occurs as a structure field should be changed to "errnox". That is, just add an "x" to the end of the name.

Then edit the source files server.c and xltwavplay.c. Find all occurrences of "errno" that are references to the structure firleds you edited in "wavplay.h", and add the "x" to them.

Finally, add the following to the includes at the beginning of "recplay.c":

#include <errno.h>

That should be enough to get the no_x binaries to build. I haven't bothered trying to get the X stuff to build.

On the Unity Through Percussion page they mention the "African rock game" used to build community and "team". Is this African rock game related to the "hot potato" game played by children in America?

Operating System Statistics

The pretty awesome Operating System Sucks-Rules-O-Meter presents current statistics on what the Internet community thinks of all the most well-known computer operating systems. It also has a link to a July 1998 DARPA report giving the same statistics at that time. Some useful conclusions can be drawn from the data. First, the numbers I used (these were provided by Don Marti; for more recent numbers please go here):

19980720 20000512 hitgrowth Windows 1298:185 = 7.0:1 4225:514 = 8.2:1 3.2 Linux 205:952 = 1:4.6 470:2903 = 1:6.2 2.9 MacOS 40:364 = 1:9.1 48:80 = 1:1.7 0.32 FreeBSD 3:78 = 1:26 7:598 = 1:85 7.5 Unix 228:278 = 1:1.2 160:332 = 1:2.1 1.0 VMS 21:39 = 1:1.9 24:50 = 1:2.1 1.2

Here's what I noticed:

- Windows' suckiness has increased from 7-to-1 to a bit over 8-to-1. This reflects the assertion that Windows is less well-suited to the public at large today than it was two years ago. Perhaps because it is getting buggier, more out-of-date, or maybe the people are becoming more demanding.

- Conversely, Linux's ruleziness has increased from 4.6 to 6.2 in the same period, a larger increase. One would conclude that Linux is more well-suited to the public, at least to those who have tried Linux. Perhaps this reflects its gradually more stable and usable installation and graphical UI.

- Both Linux and Windows are mentioned about 3 times more often than they were a couple years ago; both are roughly in line with the growth of the Internet as a whole (Internet Host Counts have increased by 3.0 per 2 years; Americans with Internet access have increased by about 2.5 every 2 years and worldwide rate is somewhat greater because the US is already well over 50%)

- The only statistic that has gone down is the "MacOS rules" statistic. From 364 to 80 in 2 years, and no corresponding rise in the "sucks" figures. Hard to believe with the growth in the Internet. Is there an error in the 1998 figure, or did all the MacOS supporters silently go away?

- UNIX and FreeBSD are experiencing the same trend as Linux, while VMS is holding steady. However, only FreeBSD is growing in number of mentions, probably an indicator that it is the only one actually growing in number of users.

If you like this sort of thing, you should also check out my Computer Languages Popularity Chart

The "cardhouse" JATO Story

The August 2000 WIRED magazine included a story that appears to be written by an author ("John Pelligrino", since Jul 10 1999 or earlier) claiming credit for inadvertently starting the urban legend that is now known as the "rocket car" or "JATO" story, and which was popularized as one of the Darwin Awards legends in 1995.

This discussion is now a bit out of date, due to much investigation which has pretty much proven that the story is fiction, thanks to a lot of investigative work documented on alt.folklore.urban. But I'm leaving it here just as a record of my own theories.

The story that was published in WIRED is called the cardhouse story because WIRED says they found it first at this URL on It has also existed in several other places including these: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 . It was posted on alt.folklore.urban on 12/28/1999 by "mister meat".

It's a good story, but like all urban legends it is difficult to verify. The author specifically avoids identifying the county and state, the military base, etc.

So, like any urban legend this one needs to be verified or refuted on the merit of its own internal consistency. Here's a start:

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