Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Rump Session

I just got back from this conference's rump session. I'm not sure how widespread the "rump session" is in the scientific and technical world, but it consists of all the presentations too trivial, too bad, too new, or just too silly to make it into the regular program of the conference.

In my mind, it has two very important innovations which should give it an edge over the rest of the conference: very short talks and alcohol. The two achieved a very nice synergy in the first talk tonight, "AES Update," a 4-minute talk. The speaker started by giving a history of the AES process (don't ask). Someone shouted out, "We're all cryptographers; we know what AES is." Finally, he was heckled into sticking to the "update" part.

At its best, rump session talks consist of someone madly dashing through a quick, but interesting result -- like breaking a cryptosystem presented at one of yesterday's regular talks. Madly dashing through a boring result also works...the comic effect is still enjoyable. Unfortunately, there was too much plodding through really, really boring stuff. People reading from their slides in a monotone and not being cut off by the moderator when their time is up. Even 5 minutes of that can be deadly.

So I've come up with an idea I think can improve these rump sessions. I think they should be modeled after one of modern entertainment's greatest triumphs -- the Gong Show. Get a panel of noted cryptographers -- and Jaye P. Morgan -- give them gongs, stand back, and watch the fun begin. This would have a number of advantages. One, anything exceptionally boring would be cut off by the dreaded gong. Two, speakers would have even more incentive to entertain the audience for fear of getting cut off. Three, those particularly interesting talks -- the ones that leave the audience wanting more -- could continue on as long as they kept the judges amused. But most importantly, we could all go home earlier.

Viewer Mail

Martin writes

"Enjoyable as ever, but I'd like to ask that if I'm mentioned again in the near future, I be refered to as 'the guy who wrote in to say he'd pay that much for a daily [Lewinsky]'."

Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Details, Details

"A photo caption in one edition Aug. 21 incorrectly identified former baseball star Henry Aaron as Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings."

From a Washington Post correction today.

Monday, August 21, 2000

I Miss The Ocean

During my departure from California in the Great Retreat of '93, I left a number of things behind...restaurants, bookstores... But I realize, being back here, that the thing I miss most is the Pacific. I used to sit on the 10th floor of Evans Hall at Berkeley, in the Math Commons, and watch the sun set over the San Francisco Bay. A lot of things weren't going well for me at that point in my life, but that was one thing I had going for me. I'll have to try that again when I'm up there later this week, and see what emotions result...

Because of the weird geography of this place (Santa Barbara), the nearest bit of the Pacific is actually east of here. So nuts to the idea of the traditional Pacific sunset. Still, last night I wandered down to the beach and dipped my toes in the Pacific Ocean. Don't think I've done that since '93...the only times I've been back to California ('97 and January of this year), I didn't make it to the water. Anyway, it felt good.

Tonight I tried rounding the corner of land UCSB is on in order to see the sunset. There were two glitches. First, the sun was almost down by the time I made it into position. Second, there was still a spit of land sticking out to the west blocking my view. Still, it was a nice picture. Tomorrow I'll have to break out the camera.

How [Not] to Deal with Telemarketers

I was talking to a well-known cryptographer last night. (Well, as they say, he's well-known to those who well-know him.) He's done some work on ways to reduce spam (no success, yet), and the conversation naturally moved from there to the topic of telemarketing.

He mentioned that he had been growing increasily fed up with telemarketing calls, and related a recent one he had received from AT&T Cable. The woman calling went into a really long song and dance about all the remarkable benefits he could receive by signing up...multiple channels of HBO, etc. He let her finish her entire spiel and then said, "You're not going to tell me how much it costs, are you?" She said, "$55.95/month," to which he replied, "Lady, I wouldn't pay that much for a daily [Lewinsky]." And then hung up on her.

He turned around to see his 15-year-old daughter standing there. "Dad, can I tell my friends about this?"

Sunday, August 20, 2000

Personal Space

Greetings from sunny Santa Barbara, California, where I am until Thursday for a conference. Despite United's recent woes, today wasn't all that bad in terms of what the airline provided. They didn't cancel either of my flights! OK, sure, they delayed the second one without telling us what's going on. (Uh, there are people getting off our plane which is supposed to leave in 10 minutes, and it's going to be on time? Right.) But only 30-45 minutes, and I wasn't in a hurry.

The main annoyances today came, not surprisingly, from my fellow passengers. On the leg from BWI to Denver, I was seated next to a large (not fat, just up-sized) gentleman, who for some reason chose the middle seat while letting his wife have the window. Awfully gallant, fellow, but have a little consideration for the fact that you're spilling into a large portion of my seat. I eventually stuck my newspaper between myself and the armrest just so he'd stop bumping me. It cut the size of the seat down even more, but it seemed worth it.

But the worst part was the kids sitting behind me. Kicking the seat, banging on the trays, even once in a while reaching around to grab me. I heard the parents talking to them, and there seemed to be only token efforts at control. Look, I accept that in this country you can name your kids whatever you want, but if you name them "Madison" and "Sidney," they're probably going to turn out like that. Sigh.

The next leg was the opposite: two seats to stretch out in. Luxury.

Footnote about BWI. I watched Goldfinger last night. They referred to it as "Friendship" airport. A much better name; pity they changed it. I'm sure at the time, "BWI" seemed more modern. But now, "Friendship" seems nice and retro, and retro is, of course, now modern.