Walt Mossberg, WSJ Tech Critic

I just listened to an excellent interview with Walt Mossberg, who since 1991 wrote a weekly computer industry column for the Wall Street Journal. Walt’s now retired. Leo Laporte, an industry podcaster, coaxes some great stories from Mr. Mossberg. 

Walt’s perspective was always that of a user — not a tech freak. Most industry reporters are techies who don’t appreciate that most of us don’t care about the inner workings and secret mechanisms of computers.

Walt speaks a bit about his long relationships with both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. (Walt sat in the passenger seat as Gates, frustrated by traffic, drove his Lexus for miles on the road’s shoulder.)

It’s a pleasant and informative hour-long conversation. 

[Triangulation (MP3)] Triangulation 310: Walt Mossberg via @PodcastAddict

ABBA reconsidered

In the 1970s and early 1980s, I loved ABBA’s music. I was pleased to discover this recent critique, in both spoken and written form. I didn’t realize that ABBA were considered politically incorrect in their home country.

Listen The world according to ABBA (audio clip)

Intelligent Life magazine‘s Matthew Sweet observes that ABBA’s songs progressed from naiveté through sophistication to melancholy. As Matthew says, “Many of their songs are about accepting the failure of relationships”.

Here’s the companion article, Thank You for the Music, by Matthew Sweet, from a recent issue of Intelligent Life. Both the article and the audio clip stem from his visit to Stockholm’s ABBA Museum.

Truths about swimming

These observations will help you get the most from your swimming. (They’re from Australian podcast Effortless Swimming). Each is a short audio clip of less than ten minutes.  (The first truth is that one or two swim workouts a week won’t cut it.)

Listen  Part one


Listen  Part two


Listen  Part three

I enjoy listening to all Effortless Swimming podcasts.

Taking Back the English Language

ListenI listened to KERA’s Krys Boyd interview author Steven Pinker about one of my favorite topics: plain English. Mr. Pinker authored The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. He claims that education often interferes with a person’s clarity. He refers to this wordy English dialect as academese, which is similar to corporate hack boilerplate.

Do you speak English?I agree. Most academic papers are terribly written, as is the text in many corporate websites.

Both dialects employ the passive voice and zombie nouns: nouns created from verbs. For example, instead of appearing, there is an appearance. Instead of cancelling, there is a cancellation.

Mr. Pinker closes with the “prime directive” of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style:

Omit needless words.

Why not a movie about Ada?

Now that not just one, but two movies (Breaking The Code and The Imitation Game) have been produced about Alan Turing, it’s time we had a movie about Ada Lovelace. She seems to have possessed an unusual combination of precise reasoning and imagination, strong will, and feminine charm. Plus, she was in the middle of a tug o war between her feuding parents, poet Lord Byron and his wife Anne Isabella.

Ada LovelaceWhy is Ada important? She’s acknowledged to be the first computer programmer (c 1840!). Like Mozart and Turing, her life was tragically cut short at a young age. I propose this biopic today because it’s Ada Lovelace Day!

imageBBC Great Lives 28-minute audio portrait of Ada Lovelace.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Tell FCC your opinion on net neutrality

The FCC is considering allowing Internet service providers to create a tiered Internet. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is a former lobbyist for both the cable TV and wireless phone industries(!). He has proposed an anti- net neutrality plan that, perversely, he labels “net neutrality”. Yes, Newspeak has arrived at the FCC. (originally published 16 July 2014)

More than 900,000 Americans have filed comments with the FCC on this topic. Today, the FCC extended the comment period:

The deadline for filing submissions as part of the first round of public comments in the FCC’s Open Internet proceeding arrived today. Not surprisingly, we have seen an overwhelming surge in traffic on our website that is making it difficult for many people to file comments through our Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS). Please be assured that the Commission is aware of these issues and is committed to making sure that everyone trying to submit comments will have their views entered into the record. Accordingly, we are extending the comment deadline until midnight Friday, July 18. You also have the option of emailing your comments to, and your views will be placed in the public record.

Without enforcement of net neutrality, ISPs will be tempted to sell high-speed access to preferred content at a premium price. Everything else must poke along in a slow lane. Cable TV companies have grown fat on this model: it allows them to collect revenue from both you the subscriber and CNN the content provider.

The Internet was not built on this model. Its creators envisioned a level playing field on which each user enjoys equal access to all Internet resources, and vice-versa. This has allowed fledgling sites to quickly blossom into giants. It encourages constant innovation. Mr. Wheeler’s proposed tiered Internet would encourage the status quo.

I vote for innovation. Email your vote to before midnight Friday, July 18.

image of loudspeakerConfused? Listen to a good audio explanation of net neutrality.


31 July 2014

Tom Wheeler

Thank you very much for contacting us about the ongoing Open Internet proceeding. We’re hoping to hear from as many people as possible about this critical issue, and so I’m very glad that we can include your thoughts and opinions.

I’m a strong supporter of the Open Internet, and I will fight to keep the internet open. Thanks again for sharing your views with me.

Tom Wheeler
Chairman Federal Communications Commission

Mr. Wheeler’s definition of “an open Internet” seems to mean one that’s open to exploitation by shared monopolies such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T (the companies that he once lobbied for). Until now, the Internet has succeeded by leveling hierarchies. Mr. Wheeler would allow these companies to create new hierarchies, which would be a giant step backward.

Ref FCC chairman Wheeler proposes net partiality

What skills are needed by graduates . . . and employers?

Tom Friedman, Pulitzer prize winning New York Times columnist, predicts that “college education is headed for a huge disruption”.

Tom Friedman portrait image
Tom Friedman

According to Friedman, “High wage/middle skill jobs are disappearing”, leaving a different employment landscape. Graduates “won’t need to find a job. They’ll need to invent a job.” He claims that “Bosses look for people who are relentlessly entrepreneurial.” Employers don’t care what you know; “they will pay you only for what you can do with what you know.”

loudspeaker image22 minute audio interview published two weeks ago by Innovation Hub.

What is music?

Edmund Morris, biographer of Beethoven, in an audio interview, was reminded of a Thelonius Monk quip:

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.

Mr. Morris added that Mendelssohn claimed that the reason that writing about music is so hard is that music is a superior language.

This reminds me of Walter Pater’s quote:

all art constantly aspires to the condition of music


imageThe audio interview about Beethoven is fascinating. Mr. Morris explains that Beethoven was profoundly deaf when he created his Ninth Symphony. Tinnitus sufferers claim that the pianissimo opening punctuated by stabbing violins of the Ninth Symphony is exactly like the ringing that they hear 24/7 as they begin to lose their hearing.

Exploding the phone

I’ve been reading a fascinating new book titled Exploding the Phone, by Phil Lapsley. It tells the stories of the guys (they were all males) who explored the Bell telephone system and unraveled many of its mysteries from about 1950 until the late 1970s. They became known as “phone freaks”, or just “phreaks”. Yes, they could place toll calls for free, but most of them were motivated by curiosity, not profit.

Exploding the Phone book coverThe Achilles heel of the original Bell long lines system was that it used in-band signalling between switching centers . . . and Bell, in uncoordinated fragments, published specs on the signalling tones that commanded their switches. This “security through obscurity” is a recipe for system abuse.

One of the young phone explorers — Joe Engressia — was blind from birth. The phone was his friend. He learned to whistle in unison with the signaling tones he heard as the telephone system set up and knocked down telephone circuits. Author Lapsley tells the telephonic biography of Joe and how he was eventually hired by Mountain Bell to troubleshoot their system — all by ear.

The book is loaded with mini-bios of other phreaks, including the infamous Cap’n Crunch, John Draper. One of John’s tricks resulted in remotely listening to phone conversations of the FBI’s field office in San Francisco. It also helped put him in prison.

What brought phreaking to an end? Bell replaced its in-band signalling with out of band signalling, a few phreaks served prison time, and this new tech toy called the microprocessor appeared. Eventually phone phreaks either quit or migrated to computer hacking.

Exploding the Phone tells their tales. It reflects five years of research: its last chapter is filled with references. I give it two big thumbs up.


Audio interviews with the author:

Phil’s excellent website:

Colin Berkshire discusses blue boxes from inside AT&T.

Were we warned of Pearl Harbor attack?

Like the September 11, 2001 attacks, it appears that lack of co-ordination and bad luck prevented America from preparing for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. There was plenty of warning.

America had cracked the Japanese diplomatic codes — Purple and JN-25 — and was aware that Japan was becoming hostile, but nobody “connected the dots”. (We’d not yet broken their naval code. In any case, the Japanese naval task force maintained radio silence.)

SCR-270-set-upAir Corps Lt. Kermit Tyler, on his second day in charge of a new 106 MHz transportable radar station on Hawaii’s Opana Point, didn’t report radar detection of incoming aircraft. (A fighter pilot, he thought that the SCR-270 radar had detected a flight of B-17s that was expected to arrive that morning.) At 7:02 AM, his two brand-new untrained radar operators had detected some of the incoming 354 Japanese fighters and bombers. Estimated range was 132 miles. Estimated ground speed was 180 MPH. The two operators continued to track the planes until 7:40 AM. Lt. Tyler, certain that they were tracking the incoming B-17s, told his two radar operators, “Don’t worry about it. Let’s have breakfast.”

At 6:37 AM, our destroyer Ward detected and used depth charges to sink a submarine in Pacific waters outside Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor’s commanding officer, Admiral Kimmel, received the radioed report via telephone at 7:30 AM, discussed it via telephone with Rear Admiral Claude Block, and at 7:50 dispatched a destroyer to confirm the Ward’s report.

Pearl Harbor came under attack at 7:55 AM.

ListenListen to the American broadcast radio response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Includes news reports, man in the street interviews, FDR’s “day of infamy” congressional address, and his fireside chat.

1913’s Prelude to Rock n Roll

2013 marks 100 years since Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes kicked down music’s barriers. The Rite Of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps) debuted in Paris on 29 May, 1913. Western music would never be the same. I want to pay tribute to this milestone before the year ends.

The work of a madman.

Rite of Spring premiere, 1913The piece opened with a bassoon in a high register: a sound never before heard in a concert hall. Then the whole orchestra, in unison, became an insistent frantic drum. No orchestra had ever sounded anything like this: it pulsed and throbbed while flutes punctuated its staccato thumping. Many listeners hated it. A near riot broke out in the audience. Theater management called the police and threw out about 40 noisy audience members.

The choreography was by legendary dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. As revolutionary as Stravinsky’s music, it introduced what’s now called modern dance.

1913 marked a sharp break with the past: the Titanic sank while World War I festered just over the horizon. The Rite Of Spring introduced the world to the music of the future. That future would include jazz, big band, bebop, and . . . rock n roll. Yup, decades before Chuck Berry, way back in 1913, Igor Stravinsky shouted, “Roll Over, Beethoven!”

ListenAudio clip: 9-minute BBC description of this performance
Listen: Internet Archive – Rite Of Spring
NPR produced an audio documentary about the Rite Of Spring premiere. It calls the music “angular, dissonant and totally unpredictable.”

YouTube is loaded with Rite Of Spring performances.

Here’s an entire blog that’s devoted to The Rite of Spring.

David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries

David Byrne (once the Talking Heads guitarist/singer, now world music producer) is an avid bicyclist. While on concert tour, he uses his folding bike to explore the local color. A few years ago he assembled his worldwide bike travel notes into a book titled Bicycle Diaries.

ListenDavid Byrne on folding bikeYou can listen to him read a chapter from his book. David Byrne reads his Australia chapter from his 2009 book, Bicycle Diaries. I like his transportation philosophy: use a bicycle when it’s appropriate, such as in urban settings and for short to medium length rides. Use other transport modes when they make more sense.

Lavabit CEO discusses his surveillance nightmare

ListenLeo Laporte yesterday aired a live audio interview with Ladar Levison, CEO and founder of Lavabit.

Ladar-Levison-FacebookLast month, Mr. Levison made the headlines when he shut down his Dallas-based secure email service immediately after providing his company’s SSL keys (effectively, the company’s master keys) to the FBI in compliance with a federal court order. He posted this message on Lavabit’s home page:

I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit.

Levison expects his case to eventually reach the Supreme Court. Some snippets from yeesterday’s interview:

Law enforcement is necessary. It’s a difficult job. Surveillance is supposed to be difficult. When it’s easy, we have a police state.

I’m not anti-government. I’m pro-freedom.

Lavabit defense fund

I found a humorous reading of Mark Twain’s Taming the Bicycle on 648px-PSM_V38_D791_An_ordinary_bicycle_with_lines_of_forceI could sympathize with his difficulty in learning to ride a penny-farthing bike. The proper name for this design was Ordinary Bicycle. They had a large front wheel with pedals, a small rear wheel, and no freewheel — you couldn’t coast — and just one speed — you couldn’t shift gears. Oh — no brake, either.

Philip K Dick
Philip K. Dick
dwg: Pete Welsch
Librivox provides “Acoustical liberation of books in the public domain”. The readers’ voices bring life to the authors’ words. The authors include unexpected surprises: I spent a pleasant hour listening to The Defenders by Philip K. Dick (1928 – 1982). (Who’s he? An imaginative writer. Hollywood based Blade Runner, The Minority Report, Paycheck, The Matrix, and Total Recall on his short stories and novels.) The Defenders introduces a world in which humans have burrowed deep into the Earth to escape radioactivity caused by a never-ending war that’s fought by robots on Earth’s surface.


ListenThe terrible destruction of total nuclear war between the Western and Eastern Blocks has succeeded in sterilizing the surface of the earth. No living creature can now exist there and all humans on both sides, have fled to the hives built miles below the surface where they constantly work to produce the war materials necessary to carry on the battle. For 8 years now, the actual fighting between these super powers has been conducted by robots known as Ledeys since only they can sustain the terrible levels of radiation caused by the constant bombardment. They are the Defenders, standing between the combatants far below and ultimate victory or defeat. Life is hard in the tunnels, but liveable, while it is lethal on the surface. The ledeys keep the generals informed on everything through vids and pictures; but how can this continue? what will happen? Who will win? (Summary by Phil Chenevert)

I look forward to listening to more Librivox readings on my smartphone. I’ll listen to more Phil Dick stories and then Edgar Allen Poe is next.

Mark Twain’s penny-farthing bicycle? Riding it sounds as daunting as riding a modern track bike: no freewheel, gears, or brakes. I’ve ridden them in a velodrome only. Some daredevils (somehow) ride them on the street. I think they’re nuts.

12th anniversary of 9/11/2001

photo: National Park Service
photo: National Park Service

They must have seen it coming
When they turned to face the fire.
They sent us down to safety,
Then they kept on climbing higher.
. . .
Now every time I try to sleep
I’m haunted by the sound
Of firemen pounding up the stairs
While we were running down.

– chorus of Tom Paxton’s The Bravest

Listen to The Bravest.

Tom’s recording of The Bravest in MP3 form is available in an on-line player on Tom’s website. (It’s the second selection from the bottom.)

Father Mychal Judge
Father Mychal Judge
FDNY Chaplain
WTC victim 0001

Who was this amazing man? Video documentary