Let me say publicly that DonBoy’s answer exudes a combination of intuitive genius and confidence that make me think DonBoy is going to do big things in his life. -- Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics blog)
Friday, December 26, 2003
It was either that or get killed in Vietnam...or maybe eat Pop Rocks and drink Coke and explode, I forget

Ever wonder what happened to the actors in A Christmas Story? (That's the one based on the Jean Shepherd story about the kid who wants the BB gun.) Well:
Actor: Scott Schwartz.

Character: Flick, Ralphie's friend.

Best line: ''Thtuck. Thtuck! THTUCK!! AAAaaaaii!!''

Bio: The kid who got his tongue stuck on a pole left mainstream acting for porn films in the late 1990s. ''I did what I did,'' he said of his X-rated past. ''Now I'm married and gonna work on a family soon. Did I break any laws? Did I go to jail? Nothing.'' He currently works with his father at Baseball Cards and Movie Collectibles Etc. in suburban Los Angeles. ''People say, 'If you could trade, would you make, like, ''E.T.'' or would you still make ''A Christmas Story''?' he said. "I'll take 'A Christmas Story.' ''
Sometimes I guess the urban legend comes true.

Monday, December 15, 2003
Spellcheck, don't fail me now

Here's the entire text of an item at The Corner yesterday afternoon:
Had to razz my sister-in-law in Minnesota as she called at 3 PM and said "Oh my God! I just heard! I was watching MTV..." This demonstrates how the Other Half lives, those who get their news almost entirely by accident.
This however might have been more effective if the headline were not
(Let me was satire?)
Monday, December 08, 2003
Evanier on Donenfeld

Followup to this earlier item: Mark Evanier replies:
I like Irwin but some of the above is at odds with the facts as I've heard them. Jerry Siegel was certainly hired by others after leaving Superman and so was Joe Shuster, as long as his eyesight permitted. Siegel and Shuster won their lawsuit for Superboy, then sold those rights to DC for a dollar figure that has always been reported as much lower than what Irwin reports. It's true that DC gave Siegel work in the late fifties when he needed it but all records say that his employment there ceased in 1966, and when I first met him in '68, that's what he told me. There are other points and I've generally found Irwin to be accurate, but I have to note when his recollections do not coincide with others. (One other trivial matter: Vince Sullivan may have "cut up" those Superman comic strip samples to form the first story in the sense that he was the guy in charge. But Vince told me that Joe Shuster and his brother did the actual conversion, with Siegel deciding what should go where.)

Thursday, December 04, 2003
Dead Media?

Volokh-ite Tyler Cowen points to this by Simson Garfinkel, from which he quotes:
It is simply inconceivable that documents created today in Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF), or images stored in the Joint Photographic Expert Group (JPEG) format, won’t be decipherable on computers in the year 2030. That’s because both the PDF and the JPEG formats are well-defined and widely understood. Adobe has lost control of PDF: there are more than a dozen programs that can create PDFs and display them on a wide range of computers. In other words, PDF is no longer a proprietary format. The same goes for JPEG. Yes, Adobe may fail and new 3D cameras may make two-dimensional photography obsolete. But we will always be able to read files in these formats, because the detailed technical knowledge of how to do so is widely distributed throughout society.

What about the physical media itself? Although there are many examples of tapes and floppy disks being unreadable five or 10 years after they are created, there are many counterexamples as well. Generally speaking, people who make an effort to preserve digital documents have no problem doing so.

This confuses (at least) two levels of description: the semantics of the data, and the physicality of it. Sure, the JPEG standard and the PDF standard will not be lost. The problem is getting those data sets off of the physical medium; as the pointed-to article mentions,
Take, for example, the electrical standard (sometimes called IDE, now called ATA) that’s used by the disk drives in most PCs. Developed in the 1980s, the ATA interface has been significantly enhanced over the past 20 years. Yet with rare exceptions, you can take a hard disk drive from the late 1980s or early 1990s, plug it into a modern desktop computer, and read the files that the disk contains. That’s because the power cables, physical mounting brackets, data connectors, and even the electrical signals used by today’s computers are compatible with the old drives. What’s more, today’s PCs, Macs, and Linux boxes all can read DOS file systems created in the 1980s. If the disk spins, you can frequently get back the data.
Fine. You can read DOS files from IDE drives, because nothing drastically better than IDE drives has come along; because most of the computing world runs Windows, which has taken great care to be backwards-compatible; and because the rest of the world cares enough to write code to get files from those disks -- remember, you need the physical level and the file system level, at least. Can we read Amiga files? Apple II files? TRS-80 files? From floppies, tapes, or whatever? And how long until something vastly better than IDE-compatible drives comes along -- super-fast super-hi-density rewritable optical storage or something -- and 30 years later we're in the same pickle trying to get back the data on IDE drives? Garfinkel posits that any optical medium will have to be infinitely backwards-compatible; but if it's dramatically better enough, it doesn't have to be. Who would have guessed what CDs would do to LPs? Imagine that optical storage is indeed backwards-compatible, but IDE is eventually obsolete. Sure, you're fine if you've migrated all your IDE data to CD-ROM; but if you haven't, you're out of luck. As Garfinkel says, "Generally speaking, people who make an effort to preserve digital documents have no problem doing so." The problem is people who haven't made that effort, possibly because the data has no clear owner who knows what's required.

The example of the Domesday book isn't a very impressive counter-argument. Certainly the knowledge of how one might possibly read the data from those videodiscs was available; as the author admits, it was a hugely expensive project, only undertaken because the data was considered very important. The concern here is for the data that's not very important.

Another point:
The Internet “Request For Comment” (RFC) series, started back in the 1970s, is readable on practically every computer on the planet today because the RFCs were stored in plain ASCII text. Similarly, you can download images sent back from the Voyager space probes 30 years ago and view them on your PC because NASA stored those pictures as bitmaps—pixel-by-pixel copies of the images without any compression whatsoever.
Can I get RFC's off of 7-bit ASCII paper tape? Can I get Voyager images from a Perkin-Elmer Interdata 8/32 (a machine I worked on in the early 1980's)?

Tuesday, December 02, 2003
As reported previously, the future ain't what it used to be

The plot description for last week's Enterprise referred to Archer and T'Pol looking for something "in the 21st century". It wasn't until I watched the show that I remembered: oh yeah, that's us. To me, it still means "the future". Or, as an unfortunate alternative, I remember at midday 9/11, a remark reported second-hand on TV: "The 21st century begins today." So I guess it's just ruined.

On Jan. 1, 2001, I watched the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, figuring it was demanded by the date. For most of my life the number 2001 had brought that film to mind. I was prepared to settle into the rest of a lifetime of thinking of 2001 as just another year. As it turned out, the year 2001 had 8 months and 10 days of life as the name of a normal year.
And now, an opposing viewpoint: Superman created by whining ingrates!

By now we're all familiar with the story of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Jerome Shuster, the creators of Superman, who sold their creation to what would eventually become DC Comics, saw next to no money from it, were reduced to penury, and eventually received proper credit only after a PR campaign by other comics creators in the 1970s. For another take, you can look at the letters column in Reform Judaism, the quarterly magazine of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. In their previous issue, they ran part 1 of a series on Jewish comics creators, which I'd say includes maybe 75% of those through the 1960s and a still-substantial proportion of those since then. As seen here:
Even Siegel and Shuster, creators of the world's first comic-book superhero, were bilked, earning a paltry $130 from Harry Donenfeld for the first thirteen-page Superman story and having to negotiate for meager financial and creative participation in subsequent Superman strips and spin-offs (all Superman licensing fees were paid to Donenfeld's corporation, "Superman, Inc.").

The turning point for Superman's creators came in 1978--exactly forty years after Superman's first release. During a TV talk-show promotion of the first Superman movie, an elderly gentleman rose from the audience and said in a soft voice: "My name is Jerry Siegel. I co-created the character Superman on which they're making this movie, and I work at a supermarket bagging groceries." The studio audience gasped. So did Jerry Robinson (a cartoonist, comic-book historian, and at that time the head of the National Cartoonists Society), who was watching the show from home.

Robinson decided to launch a campaign aimed at Warner Brothers, which, as the parent company of DC Comics, owned the Superman copyright. He wanted the media giant to compensate Siegel and Shuster for having created one of the most widely recognized characters on earth. It would take many players, hundreds of arts organizations, and considerable legal maneuvering before the studio bowed to the pressure. The inventors of Superman received a "created by" credit in the movie, and an annual stipend which continued for the rest of their lives. Today, when a movie or TV series (not to mention comic book) is released featuring Superman, it bears the credit line: "Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster," ensuring that future generations will know the genesis of the Man of Steel.
Well..Harry Donefeld's son, Irwin, has another take on it, and it's in the letters column of the next issue -- sadly, not online, so here's some typing:
This is the true story of Siegel and Shuster. Dad decided to take a chance on a comic character that no one else wanted. Vince Sullivan, Dad's editor, cut up the panels made for newspaper syndication. It came out to thriteen pages, and at $10 a page it was more than the going rate, and easy money for the boys. Ther were paid for their artwork when no other publisher wanted it. In 1938, $130 was a lot of money. Dad paid for the first issue of Action, and the second issue at the printers, and the third issue on the way to the engraver, before he found out if Superman would sell. He had a lot of money riding on his hunch. I was the first kid in the country to read Superman, and in the original art.

After Superman became an enormous hit, Dad got it into newspaper syndication. After all the expenses were paid, all of the profit went to Siegel and Shuster. Dad kept none of it. they were far and away the best-paid artists in comic books. Despite this, and at the urging of a lawyer, they decided to sue dad for the rights to Superman and Superboy. In a settlement directed by the judge, they gave up all rights to Superboy (they never had any for Superman) and in return they each received $125,000. It didn't take them too many years to run through all their money. No one else would hire them. Toward the end, Joe Shuster needed an eye operation, but he didn't have the money to pay for it. Dad paid for his operation.

In 1948, after college and a stint in the Air Force, I went to work at DC. In 1954, I became editor-in-chief. In 1956, DC president Jack Liebowitz made me publisher. We built up our circulation to more than eight million copies (average) a month. We were the largest comic book publisher in the industry. One day Mr. Liebowitz called me into his office and told me Jerry Siegel was in financial trouble. He had a wife and a child, and he was broke. Despite the fact that he had sued us and caused us all kinds of trouble, Mr. Liebowitz asked me to hire him, which I did. All the time that I was there, until 1968, he always had work.
I see that Irwin Donenfeld has been a guest at a couple of cons, and was interviewed in the July 2003 of the fanzine Alter Ego by Mark Evanier and Julius Schwartz; I don't know if he got into this dispute in any of those venues.
Monday, December 01, 2003
Who's on your money?

Tom Tomorrow's blog partner, Bob Harris, is blogging from London, and makes this interesting point:
Money is interesting here, and not just in the ooh-neat-shapes kind of way. First, the dollar has apparently been quietly plummeting, something I hadn't realized until exchanging it for other currency.

Also: in England, Charles Darwin is on the ten-pound note.

Stop and think about that, fellow Americans. Try to imagine the freak-out that would result in the U.S. if anyone suggesting putting Charles Darwin on our currency. The shrieking and posturing of our religious right would be without end.

I once read Noam Chomsky refer to the U.S. as one of the most fundamentalist societies on Earth. Hmm. As usual, I think he has a point.

(As an aside: Darwin has apparently replaced Charles Dickens on the ten. Edward Elgar is on the twenty-pound note, replacing Michael Faraday. The American equivalent on our $20 might be... gee... Aaron Copeland, replacing Richard Feynman. A bit hard to imagine. Draw your own conclusions.)

Most Ironic New York Times Correction ever, or: The Cobbler's Children Go Barefoot

Italics mine:
An obituary yesterday about Paul Haskins, an editor at The New York Times and earlier at The Kansas City Times, misstated his birthdate and the number of surviving grandchildren and omitted the maiden name of his wife. He was born on April 18, 1941, not April 8; he had 12 grandchildren, not 11; his wife is Judith Hyman Haskins.

(From this link, which I'm sure will die soon. I can't remember where I recently saw the uncovered procedure for deducing permalinks to Times stories, on some blog or other.)

UPDATE: Permalink instructions found. As I'm not running an RSS reader, plus I'm not confident that the Corrections page is in any of the RSS feed categories, you'll just have to take my word for it.

UPDATE II: Slicker interface here, but the Corrections page doesn't seem to be covered.

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