Scott Johnston is adding. And subtracting.
C O N T A C T   I N F O  
postal  -  Scott Johnston
375 Elliot Street
Suite 130K
Newton Upper Falls, MA 02464
e-mail  -  johnston@mit.edu
telephone  -  (617) 369-0733 [cruftlabs]
(617) 965-8209 [office]
(and no more letter bombs, OK?!)
 

July 6, 2004
Another July 4 came and went. An excellent time was had by all (I assume) with dinner at the Pour House and fireworks-watching from the water.

I didn't build a boat this year, so five friends and I went out in a pair of inflatable rafts. Greddy and Steve built a cool craft with a plexiglass deck. McBean was flying the Canadian flag from the crow's nest atop his triangular raft.

Although the MITERS boats sailed uneventfully east of the fireworks barge, apparently the East Campus crowd didn't fare so well. At least one raft (a deck mounted on sketchy oil drums) was escorted from the water by State Police patrol boats. After reaching shore, those folks were presented with "release forms" to sign, which must have raised some stress levels! But as it turns out, the State Police were being shadowed by camera crews for one of those "Cops" shows, who needed the signatures of the guilty to put the whole act on television. Stay tuned. Another group from East Campus was forced underground by continued threats from MIT administrators (mostly the MIT Housing Office). Having thought they claimed victory by sneaking their craft off campus and down to the public dock near the Galleria, they were surprised when yet more State Police (rumored to have been acting on instructions from MIT) forced them to give up. I'm not clear on the eventual fate of their boat, but they weren't allowed in the water.

McBean spent the entire day on the Charles, which meant he was hassled at least 10 different times by various waterborne authorities. In one encounter with the MDC patrol boat, the cop mentioned that some group had tried to launch a "floating couch" from the Esplanade side of the river, but they were caught in time.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I am deeply honored.

July 1, 2004
I'm having a bad case of boat jealousy. For various reasons, I'm not really building one this year. Though I'm planning to help Quinn and Harvey with their barge-o'-astroturf.

At the labs, G-Funk and British Steve are building an interesting catamaran of plywood, sporting curves meticulously computed by Steve with his mad Matlab skills. I'm a little concerned about how they plan to seal the keel, but overall it's a pretty sweet endeavour.

McBean and his ladyfriend are almost done with their craft, an equilateral triangular platform supporting a 10' tall observation tower. It was sort of inspired by an oil rig.

Next year, I'm going nuts.

June 31, 2004
Curiously, nothing happened on this day.

June 30, 2004
Here is a casino giving away $25 Free when you sign up an account.
No credit card required

Oh, just kidding.

I read an article in a trade magazine today about electronics manufacturing in China. The productivity of these people is amazing. The author briefly described two typical assembly workers. One inserts pins into USB connectors all day. She installs eight thousand pins a day. Another crimps tiny pins onto the ends of wires for use with another type of connector. She does eleven thousand of these in a shift.

June 29, 2004
MIT Homepage While
everyone is complaining about the MIT homepage, I thought I'd take a moment to remind you how terrible it all is without stylesheets. Think of what I have to go through, people.

June 27, 2004
Why don't I ever get good messages on my voicemail? Here's the transcript of one message left for the German-speaking CEO of Chrysler, Dieter Zetsche, as quoted in
The Detroit News:

"Yo, what up? This is big Snoop Dogg, trying to put these new legs down for this new 300C. What I gotta' do to get that brand new 300 up outta' you? Get back in contact with my nephew so you can make it happen, then it's official like a referee's whistle. If you want this car to blow, give it to me. This is Snoop Dogg. Preach!"

The "translation" they ran is even funnier.

Snoop Dogg's car consultant, "Big Slice," was quoted in the New York Times as saying "I wouldn't buy the Magnum without the Hemi. The car looks like it needs to go, so you might as well put the go in it."

The funny thing about this yearning for the Hemi -- a hemispherical combustion chamber design that was revolutionary in the 1960's -- is that it is a big piece of shit by today's standards. In fact, in order to meet modern emissions requirements with this design, Chrysler had to put two spark plugs in each cylinder. Without the second flame front, it suffers from incomplete combustion.

Chrysler's marketing genius has taken something boring and undesirable and turned it into a much sought-after commodity that people dream about. I should get them to help me with my foray into online dating.

June 26, 2004
I spent some time today catching up on transcripts of Andy Rooney's "60 Minutes" commentaries. People who write him off as a curmudgeon may not appreciate his sense of humor. But where Rooney really shines, I think, is when he's being perfectly serious. I will never have his extraordinary powers of observation, keenness of wit, and remarkably rich life experiences, but I certainly hope that when I'm 84, I will be as sharp as he is.

His explanation of Memorial Day is both enlightening and very moving. The same goes for his remarks on the 60th anniversary of D-Day. The last paragraphs of his comments on the torture of Iraqi prisoners, "Our Darkest Days Are Here, are so powerful that they elude summary.

Regular readers of this space are probably tired of the seemingly endless praise I heap upon Mr. Rooney. But while the prolification of "experts" and "pundits" has made television news almost completely irrelevant -- especially cable news -- we all have something to gain from that the medium still carries the voice of someone old enough to know history, and its relevance to our modern lives, firsthand.

Sharing this kind of knowledge in a personally relevant way is magic.

Last month, I flew to Minneapolis for the funeral of my grandfather. Prior to his career as a machinist, woodworker, and inventor, he served in the Navy during World War II. Nobody knew much more than that, and he wasn't interested in talking about it, either. (He had a "difficult" personality, although the two of us had nothing short of mutual admiration for each other.)

So it was an eye-opening experience to sit in his basement the day before the funeral, leafing through the WWII photo album he would never let anyone look at. His discharge papers listed him as a "projectionist," but somehow or another he wound up delivering play-by-play baseball coverage for the Armed Forces Radio Service. His voice broadcast across Europe. There were photos of him sitting on a stoop in Italy, smoking a pipe, mimicing an old wartime portrait of his father. Dinner menus from mess halls all over the world. The stories that could have been told!

His War Department is my Defense Department. His Armed Forces Radio Service is now my American Forces Radio and Television Service. His experiences were his own, but whatever I had to learn from them is lost to time.

Which should help explain, in part, my fascination with Andy Rooney.

June 24, 2004
I knew my Salon.com subscription was good for something. "
The Last Lone Inventor" is the best piece of journalism I've read in a long time.

It's the story of an 86-year-old mechanical engineer who still works 10-hour days. He still dates women half his age. He designed the ubiquitous Votomatic punch-card voting machine in 1963. And, when companies like Diebold are pushing $4500 computerized voting terminals in the wake of the Florida election debacle -- despite disturbingly questionable performance -- he intends to "save democracy" with a simple $200 mechanical voting machine. Affordable enough for every precinct. Reliable, trustworthy, and transparent in operation. Simple and easy to use. Brilliant.

Did I mention this same inventor styles himself after Philo Farnsworth?

I need to meet this guy.

June 23, 2004
Check out this snazzy new stylesheet. I call it "shades of gray." Thanks to everyone for their help.

June 21, 2004
Yesterday, on my way to work (yeah, on a Sunday), I was stopped by a police roadblock on Beacon Street. My curiosity was satisfied by the near-simultaneous arrival of a marching band, what turned out to be the start of Brookline's
Flag Day parade. Having worked for the organizers of several parades in my distant past, I know better than to run across a parade route, as a couple of impatient folks did. So I waited on the street corner and watched. The veterans. The gymnasts. The Elks Lodge Local somethingoranother. The local cycling group, which stopped at my corner and begged me to join them for the rest of the parade (a duty which I talked my way out of). Eventually, some dude in combat fatigues driving a flag-bedecked HMMWV stopped and waved a bunch of us across the street. So I continued on, even though the bagpipers were just around the corner.

As luck(?) would have it, I got my dose of bagpipes later in the night, since Feldmeier was listening to "Tones and Drones" on WZBC.

June 19, 2004
The other day in Kenmore Square, no less than four volunteers wearing Democratic National Committee jackets asked me "Wanna help get Bush out of office?" (Why they ask this and not, "want to help elect John Kerry," is a good question, but not the one I want to address here.)

What these volunteers actually wanted was not my vote, but my money. I don't have any problem giving money to a cause I believe in, but the fraction of each dollar that goes to pay for John Kerry's peanut butter sandwiches is pretty meager, no doubt, compared to what bankrolls the television commercials. I don't watch television, nor do I revel in its frightening influence.

I mention influence because today I read a Salon.com article, "Kerry Still Standing Despite Ads' Damage." The article cites a study that proves the effectiveness of $80 million in TV advertising by the Bush campaign in the last 3 months. This advertising is apparently as much anti-Kerry as it is pro-Bush. They mention one example of Senator Kerry being "indecisive" on some issue or another, which is an even dirtier trick than that which I complained about last time because it relies completely on the public's ignorance of the nitty-gritty of parliamentary procedure. Like the simple fact that bills go through multiple revisions, which wouldn't work at all if people didn't change their votes. You simply can't pass this off as waffling on the greater issues. That any of the public was swayed by this argument makes me wonder if the popular vote is simply a waste of time.

Meanwhile, I'll be keeping an eye on the Goodwill store in case any of those D.N.C. volunteer jackets show up. I'm determined to stay ahead of this fashion trend.

June 18, 2004
The New York Times made my day with their story on the U.S. Open, "
Such Sorrow to Part With Cellphones."

Choice quotes follow.

"If I have a heart attack, who's going to call 911?" said Claudia Mutter, 50, from Coventry, R.I., who said she was unaware of the cellphone ban, even though it was printed on the back of tournament tickets. "Seriously, I have to call home and check on my kids. Now I can't relax."

Going to an outdoor sporting event must be awfully stressful.

Doug and Ginny Johnstone, 40, from Wantagh, N.Y., said the ban made it hard to check on their year-old son, Daniel, who is sick. "It's hard not having that lifeline," said Ginny Johnstone, who struggled with the pay phone. "It keeps asking me for more quarters and then cutting me off."

When I was sick as a one-year-old, my parents stayed home to take care of me. But times are different, I suppose. Last but not least:

"I have a promotions and marketing company," [Brandon] Yankowitz said, "and my cellphone is my life."


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