How thousands of Atari cartridges ended up in the desert

The famous story of Atari burying millions of dollars of unsold videogame cartridges, including the infamous E.T. cartridge, is no longer just a legend–it’s been confirmed.

How they got there was mostly a misunderstanding of the nascent business.

Read more

Paul Allen’s tearing into Gates seems familiar

You’ve probably heard by now about Vanity Fair publishing an excerpt from Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s autobiography,  which doesn’t give the most flattering portrayal of Bill Gates, his former business partner.

I’ve heard most of these stories before, though I’m trying to figure out where. What surprises me is the people who are acting like this stuff came out of the blue. If I’ve heard most of this stuff before, then so have a lot of people.

Read more


Web content filtering. Sometimes you just have to filter Web content. I’m not in favor of requiring it by law, but I won’t go to the extremes that some personal liberty advocates go, who say there should be no filtering. If a company or organization is providing equipment and an Internet connection, I believe they have some right to say what that connection will be used for. It’s a question of whose rights trump whose.

At any rate, I’m doing some work with a church/school that needs some content filtering, because, well, they don’t want to become the place for people who don’t have computers of their own to come and get porn. And they’ve got jack to spend. Getting them some low-end hardware shouldn’t be a problem. But what about content filtering software?

There’s some stuff out there. — Filtering based on PICS and keywords, requires Linux and Squid. — Filtering based on URLs. Uses Squid. Blocklist updated three times a week. Automatic updating? That’s what cron is for! — Caching Web proxy.

Squid saves you bandwidth, then the other two hop on board and take advantage of its expansion capabilities and add filtering. Both are written in C or C++, which makes them much faster than solutions written in Perl.

Controversy. Chris Miller sent me a link to this commentary .

I sincerely hope the US View/European view at the end is satire.  We know Cuba isn’t bent on world domination and wouldn’t get it anyway. Castro annoys the heck out of conservatives, though some in Hollywood profess to be very fond of the man. Most conservatives see him as a totalitarian with a really big mouth that’s usually open. We don’t put guns on kids’ lunchtrays. Most conservatives believe that when you walk into a school building, you lose all constitutional rights. I don’t agree with that, but if I’m going to give a constitutional right to schoolchildren, the first amendment is much more useful to them than the second.

Most of us are very disgusted with lawyers and lawsuits and opportunists and huge, unfair settlements. And as for foot-and-mouth, we don’t want it, hence our restrictions on importing European livestock. Europe should have sealed off its borders to prevent its rampant spread. It’s called a quarantine.

I wholeheartedly agree with the author’s friend, who said: “The trouble with Europe is that every time you get into trouble you yell across the Atlantic for help. But, when things are good you expect us to listen to your horses— lectures about the way we run things in the US.”

This doesn’t totally excuse the United States’ lack of interest in affairs abroad, but until they’ve been here, Europeans don’t grasp the size of this place. The United States is not the size of France. We have individual states that are larger than European countries, in land mass and/or population. We have divisions. To a New Yorker, New Mexico is difficult to understand. Keeping up just with what’s going on in the United States is like keeping up with all of Europe. Maybe worse. That said, if we’d learn the lessons of Europe we’d be much better off.

Not much needs to be said about this piece, except it illustrates how little the United States and how little Europe have changed over the past three centuries. The Founding Fathers were the liberals of their day, while Europe was conservative. Now, the United States is seen as conservative and Europe as more liberal. But we haven’t changed. The Founding Fathers mistrusted government, and modern conservatives and libertarians still do. Therefore, in the United States, we are apt to look for a solution outside government, and only go to the government to solve a problem as a last resort. We’ve always had that tendency and probably always will. In Europe, where people tend to trust the institution of government much more, that’s a strange idea.

And, to the inevitable question of environmentalism… We have precious little data. We know very little. We have tons and tons of satelite data from the past few years. But even assuming we have 40 years’ useful data, think about it. How old is the earth? The most extreme Judeo-Christian view dates the earth at about 6,000 years old. Many scientists say it’s several million years old. I’m no statistician, but as a journalist I had to take a statistics class so I’d at least remember to ask that sort of question. Seven years ago I would have had a prayer of telling you how many years’ sample size we did need. Forty years is not a significant sample size against the larger set, which is the figure the majority of environmentalists would accept. We know that temperatures and atmospheric content fluctuate over time, but we don’t know how much. Taking drastic measures at this point is little different from deciding public opinion on a given issue based on asking four people.

I’ll open this up for discussion, but talk about it in the forums. E-mail about this will probably just sit here or get a short private response; I need to focus on the things I do well. I can’t solve this problem, so I’ll focus on people’s PC questions and problems, which I frequently can solve.


Let’s talk about wealth. When I was 15 or 16, I was sitting in English class and the teacher stood up and told everyone that the American Dream is dead. We would be the first generation that would have it worse than our parents did, she said.

I didn’t argue, though I should have. I figured I’d at least be the one to buck the trend, if what she said turned out to be right. A couple of years before, my dad had actually bothered to sit down with me at the kitchen table, candidly tell me the mistakes he’d made in life, and then he told me it didn’t look like I’d make those same mistakes. I trusted my dad’s judgment.

But when I look around today, I wonder if my English teacher might have been right. Wealth isn’t  about money or possessions, after all. In that regard, she’s very wrong. There’s a high school next  to one of the buildings I work in. Most of the cars in that parking lot are nicer than the cars in the parking lot for the building I work in. And there are plenty of highly paid IT professionals like me in my building.

Am I better off than my dad? Well, let’s see. In 1981 my dad decided he’d made it, so he splurged. He  bought a luxury car: a Chrysler LeBaron. It wasn’t the swankiest of cars, but it was far and away the  most loaded car he’d ever owned. The only features it was missing were a tape deck (not sure if  Chrysler was offering that in 1981), the famous Corinthian leather, and speech synthesis (which I think they  were offering that year). I thought it was a nice car.

Today, nearly 20 years later, I drive a Dodge Neon. That car has everything that 1981 LeBaron had, plus some things it didn’t. By today’s standards, it’s not a luxury car.

Ten years later, my dad bought a 1980 Chrysler Cordoba, which he let me drive most of the time. That was the swankiest car Chrysler made in 1980. Leather seats, everything adjustable… It was still  awfully nice in 1991. The car my sister drives puts that Cordoba to shame. Leather seats, but these are heated. And my sister’s car isn’t a luxury car either. It’s mid-range.

I can’t quite afford the last house my dad bought. Give me a couple of years. I could afford the  next-to-last house my dad bought pretty easily. I don’t see the point–I’d just fill the place with computers and books, and I’d have to drive longer to get to work. I like where I’m living now.

Compared to my dad, I’ve got it good. Real good. And my dad was no pauper. He was a successful doctor. Not a high-priced doctor like a brain surgeon, but he did fine.

This weekend, I was talking to my good friend Tom Gatermann. He was talking about a friend who’s  about to marry a girl from the former Soviet Union. Her hometown is just south of Siberia. His friend was talking about living conditions there. Indoor plumbing is a luxury.

I spent a couple of weeks on a Navajo reservation in 1998 and 1999. Out there, a telephone is a luxury. Sometimes electricity is a luxury. Usually, those who go without budget so they have  electricity during the hottest parts of the year, then shut it off during the mild months.

For me, budgeting involves raising or lowering the thermostat by about 5 degrees if I’m going to be  gone for a few days. Or if a month looks like it might be particularly tight for some reason, I’ll  move my thermostat and turn off all but one of my computers. I did that last year, around tax time. Comparatively, that’s not a big deal.

No, wealth isn’t about possessions. I learned that in New Mexico. Wealth is about gratefulness. My  friends down there are much wealthier than I am. They’re grateful for just about everything they  have. I take my car, my computers, my phone, my indoor plumbing, my lights… I take all of that for granted pretty much. I complain when my DSL connection isn’t working right. Meanwhile, miles away, there’s someone walking half a mile to use a neighbor’s telephone, or someone walking outside in the dead of winter to an outhouse.

My generation’s spoiled. The generation after mine is even worse. We take everything for granted. Those younger than me take everything for granted and many of them want it handed to them. And if we  don’t have something we want, it’s always someone else’s fault. Eight years ago it was George Bush’s fault. Now it’s Bill Clinton’s fault, or those mean-spirited Republicans in Congress. Or maybe it’s Bill Gates’ and Larry Ellison’s and Warren Buffett’s fault, because they’ve accumulated all that  money and won’t share.

My cubicle neighbor agrees. We talked about that the other day, and he asked me the same question my  mom asked me last week: How do we fix it?

I remember my grandmother was grateful for everything she had, which by today’s standards, was zilch. But she never thought of herself as poor. Never. She lived through the Great Depression. People who  lived through the Depression looked at things very differently.

So I told my cube neighbor and my mom the same thing: We need a good, long, hard depression.  Capitalism gave us everything we ever wanted. But we changed the rules and said it wasn’t what we  wanted. We don’t know what we have, and we won’t all make a pilgrimage en masse to see how great life  is in Siberia. The only way for us to find out what we have is to struggle for a while.

So, was my English teacher right? Are we better off than our parents? NO.

I’m very sad to say I couldn’t prove her wrong.