Release Watson, IBM. Now.

Remember Deep Blue? The computer that beat Gary Kasparov? It seems IBM’s next target might be a Jeopardy-playing computer.

Whether this computer can ever beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy is irrelevant. If it were commercialized, this thing could change everything overnight.The New York Times article goes into it. Here’s the thing. Being good at Jeopardy requires several skills, one of which is being able to retain and cross-reference information. Watson is amazing at that. Better than a human being, right now. Second is being able to understand questions. It might be better at understanding a tricky question than my two-year-old son, but not much. It’s better than any other computer I’ve seen.

When I played the demo hosted at the New York Times, I won, but it came down to the last question. Mostly it came down to the questions that included puns and, let’s face it, misuses and abuses of language.

But in the real world, we don’t ask questions like Alex Trabek does on Jeopardy. At least we don’t if we don’t want our colleagues to hit us with a broom. And in the real world, we don’t mind re-phrasing a question when we have to, if it gets us better answers.

The article in the Times cited a possible application. Feed Watson all available medical journals and textbooks. It could then dispense medical advice. But would a surgeon trust it when seconds count?

I think that’s the wrong question. In trial runs playing Jeopardy, Watson isn’t at its best when seconds count, which is why Ken Jennings will probably beat Watson every single time.

But imagine situations where there’s lots of available time. A patient is describing symptoms. Enter the symptoms into Watson. What does Watson think? But more importantly, why does Watson think that? Watson should spit out the opinion and the articles that led it to that conclusion. Let the doctor read the articles and come to a reasoned conclusion.

What about when seconds count? Run drills through Watson when seconds don’t count, so doctors can practice their imprecise science and get better. Don’t rely on the technology directly when seconds count–rely indirectly instead.

But doctors aren’t the only ones who can benefit from Watson. I once worked someplace that referenced every shred of data it had through a search engine called htdig. It was next to useless. It could give me a list of documents that contained words I was looking for, but had no way to rank them. It was marginally better than connecting to a file server and using FIND or FINDSTR or grep from a command line. Which was something that’s worked since at least 1990, possibly longer.

Today I work someplace that has a Google search appliance. It’s marginally better than htdig. But not much. When a complicated question comes across my desk, I still spend 8 hours digging through semi-relevant documents in search of an answer.

Watson provides a different approach. Ask Watson how far apart two computers have to be in order to avoid TEMPEST, by policy. Because of its ability to link related concepts, it would be able to spit out an answer, and an excerpt from each document that led it to believe that. A question that takes me hours to answer (unless I know it off the top of my head) takes minutes to answer instead.

Even when Watson is wrong, it’s still useful. It got that opinion from somewhere, right? Read those documents. It could be the problem is that the available documents contradict themselves. So Watson could expose holes in policy and/or technical documentation that nobody is aware of.

The problem with the Information Age is that humans now are burdened with information overload. There’s too much useless information out there. A technology like Watson offers the possibility of filtering through all the noise and showing us what’s relevant. And, used creatively, it could tell us what we know but forgot to write down anywhere.

At first the idea of a computer capable of making decisions and beating Ken Jennings at Jeopardy scared me. And it probably should. But that’s not what Watson is. It’s not good enough right now to do either of those things, and, frankly, I think morally we shouldn’t make a machine and put it in charge of making life-or-death decisions for us.

But it’s good enough to change the world right now. So I think it needs to be commercialized, however that looks. One of the problems is cost, since it requires $1 million worth of hardware to run on.

Offer it as a $10 million box for governments and huge companies to use to untangle their mess of documents. The U.S. government should be clamoring to feed all it knows about Pakistan, Afghanistan, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden into it, then ask where Osama bin Laden is, if only to see what answer it gives. It may not be able to answer that question, but I’ll bet it could answer lots of other important ones.

Feed the entire contents of The New York Times into it and charge a subscription to ask it questions. I’m sure Google could find a way to commercialize it by feeding the contents of Google Books into it.

For that matter, IBM could feed the documentation for all of its products into a standalone instance of Watson, and call it a technical support site. In reality it would just be the world’s foremost expert on AIX, DB2, Tivoli, Lotus Domino, and whatever else IBM owns these days. Why would I ever spec a competing product when I could ask IBM any question and get really good answers in seconds?

I hope IBM realizes what it has here. I really hope IBM realizes what it has. But I fear it may not.

Of cameras and manhandling

If you haven’t heard, Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.) is the new Internet meme.

Two younger men, claiming to be college students, approached Etheridge on the street as he left a meeting. They asked if he supported Obama’s agenda. Etheridge demanded to know who they were, manhandled one of them, then finally walked away. Although he succeeded in disabling one camera, the other camera was rolling. After some editing, he became a You Tube sensation.

This is a very clear-cut case.Some are speculating the two "students" were trying to trap a Democrat in an embarrassing situation. In this case, the motives don’t matter. The two men were on a public sidewalk. They had every right to be there, cameras rolling or no.

Etheridge wanted the two men to identify themselves. However, this is a courtesy, not a right. When I was reporting, I always identified myself. I told my sources my name, the name of the publication I was working for, and, usually, the subject of the story I was working on. A few times I flashed my press pass, but usually nobody cared. Such courtesies lend credibility, but a journalist isn’t required to disclose any of that.

What did these two men say? "We’re two college students working on a project." Credentials like that will get you the brush-off about 99% of the time, and for good reason.

So what’s an appropriate brush-off? Say "No comment," then keep on walking. Make an excuse, like you’re late for another appointment, and keep walking. Hand them a business card and tell them to call you some other time.

Or, just answer the question. The question was whether he supports Obama’s agenda. The answer, of course, is, not all of it. Etheridge represents the second district of North Carolina, and the president does not. Since they’re both members of the same political party, there should be some overlap, but two representatives from adjacent districts who are members of the same party will disagree at times. Assuming they aren’t letting the party dictate everything to them.

Saying that takes less time and effort than grunting "Who are you?" a half dozen times and manhandling someone. And if they really are students, it gives them the material they need and they’ll leave you alone. If they’re political operatives for a rival party, it shuts them right down.

I started in journalism school a long 15 years ago. You Tube was a technical impossibility then, although it was something we expected would exist someday. Back then, the saying was that you should never do anything you wouldn’t want to see plastered across the front page of the New York Times.

There was another saying too. Freedom of the press is for those who own one.

A lot has changed. Today you can buy a video camera that fits in a shirt pocket for $70. Every computer sold in the last 8 years came with at least basic video editing software. And anyone can upload to You Tube.

Anyone can register for a blog and write whatever they want, and Google will index it. The overwhelming majority of it will be ignored, but there are legions of bored people out there. Never underestimate their ability to find stuff.

In 1995, there were serious barriers to entering journalism. Today, the traditional institutions like the New York Times are losing influence, but anyone who wants to practice journalism can do it.

I guess the saying today ought to be "Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to see on the home page of You Tube."

Cameras can be used to restrict freedom and privacy. But they can also be used to prevent (or at least expose) abuses of power. This is still pretty new stuff, and a lot of people are having trouble adjusting to it.

Etheridge is trying to spin this as a mistake made at the end of a long day. That sounds plausible. But it’s a mistake that’s going to be around a long time. He’s up for re-election, and there’s no doubt in my mind that his opponent will use it in political advertisements from now until November.

Until this week, Etheridge looked like an automatic re-election. But video footage of an authority figure going all WWF Smackdown on two young men after asking a simple question has a way of changing things.

Another take on Google’s digital library

CNN has an interesting analysis of Google’s attempts to digitize millions of books.

I still argue this project can only be a good thing.The article quotes Tim O’Reilly, and while anyone who knows me knows O’Reilly and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, he’s right when he says the biggest problem an author faces, by far, is obscurity.

I have a real-world example that I’ve seen firsthand. About 18 months ago, I was introduced to a pair of obscure books written by master modeler Wayne Wesolowski. Today, Wesolowski is best known for hand-building a huge model of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train, but an earlier generation knew him as someone who published articles in magazines like Model Railroader and Railroad Model Craftsman on an almost monthly basis.

In the early 1980s, Wesolowski wrote a couple of books. Both were printed twice under different titles, but one dealt with building model railroad cars from scratch and the other dealt with buildings. At the time I was introduced to them, the books were believed to be rare, and it was impossible to find a copy of either of them for any less than $125.

Today, it’s still possible to buy used copies of the books for $125, but if you shop around, you can get them for a lot less. I found a copy of Wesolowski’s ABCs of Building Model Railroad Cars for less than $12 earlier this month. It sold before I could click on the link, but I found another copy for $18. I snapped it up immediately.

Wesolowski’s books may not always be possible to find for less than $30, but it’s pretty easy to find them at or around that price with just a little bit of patience. I believe what’s happening is that people who otherwise would have never known the book existed started looking for it, which in turn caused used booksellers to look for it. In the meantime, the sale of used books online has drummed up a lot of press, including in the New York Times, causing still more copies of the book to come off dusty shelves and into circulation, driving down prices and possibly driving up sales.

If snippets of text from this book were searchable online, as opposed to vague mentions on an obscure Yahoo discussion group, who knows what would happen to these books’ sales? Maybe it still wouldn’t be enough critical mass to ramp up publication again, but it’s possible. At the very least, it’d be a bonanza for used booksellers, whether it’s people who do it for a living or people who are thinning out their personal book collections.

In turn, that extra commerce can only help the economy.

This author says used book sales don\’t hurt authors or publishers

In case you didn’t know it, Amazon.com sells used books as well as new books. This New York Times story (via News.com) says authors and publishers still don’t like used book sales because they say it hurts new book sales.

I happen to be a published author. I say they need to quit whining.In case you didn’t know it, here’s how authors are generally paid. Authors get a royalty on each copy of the book sold. The royalty varies. On a typical Dummies book, the royalty is about 25 cents. Other publishers pay closer to 10 percent of the cover price. When you buy a book for $25, the author will probably see $1.50-$3 of it.

When the publisher agrees to take the book, the author gets an advance, usually of a few thousand dollars. Celebrities might get half a million or more. A first-time author might get less than $10,000. Generally the advance is determined based on expected sales. So I’ll always get a fraction of what a marketing machine like Phil McGraw gets, since he can essentially turn his daily TV show into an hour-long commercial for his book until he’s happy with the sales.

The advance is paid back by withholding royalties. So, if I were to get a $6,000 advance to write a book and got a royalty of $1 per copy, I would start seeing royalties after 6,000 books were sold.

Some people say used book sales hurt authors and publishers because these books exist and are bought and sold outside of this royalty structure. If you buy a used copy of Optimizing Windows, I don’t see a penny of it. Unfair, right?

Wrong. I got my royalty on that copy when the copy sold the first time.

The only time that a used book sale truly hurts the author or the publisher is when a copy that was sent to a reviewer or an otherwise free copy ends up on the used book market. This happens, even when the free copy is stamped “Not for resale” or something similar. But even then, the harm is minimal. Optimizing Windows got a huge burst in sales when Sandy McMurray reviewed it. Thanks to him, the book made Amazon’s Top 10 in Canada and even hit #1 a couple of times. He made me thousands sales. I don’t give a rip if he resold his review copy–it’s still a huge gain for me. As far as I’m concerned, if a review results in two book sales–which it inevitably will–that free copy did its job.

And, sadly, books go out of print. Once that happens, the only way to get a copy is to buy a used one.

I have no problem at all with used books. It keeps books circulating, and I believe that people who buy used books also buy new books. They’re also more likely to talk about books, which will result in more sales of both used and new books.

Besides, if you buy a book and you don’t think enough of it to keep it, shouldn’t you be able to get some of your money back out of it?

Should journalists protect their sources?

In the wake of New York Times reporter Judith Miller going to jail for refusing to reveal the identity of an unnamed source, of course I was asked about journalism and confidential sources, and should journalists protect their sources anyway?

I liken this situation to what would go through my mind if the New York Yankees ever played the Cuban Nationals. I would have a hard time deciding which team I wanted to lose.You see, confidential sources aren’t something you’re supposed to use very often. Since the biggest journalism event of the previous century–Watergate–couldn’t have stood without Deep Throat, people tend to assume it happens a lot. In reality, you ought to see a rude four-letter word somewhere on the front page more often than you ought to see an unnamed source in a story.

I was taught that unnamed sources are inherently unreliable. Think about it. Why would you have any interest in what I had to say if I wasn’t willing to sign my name to it? When my name’s not on it, it doesn’t matter what kind of a lie I tell. It’s not going to affect my reputation any. The best source has something at stake by talking to the journalist. A lot of people find talking to journalists to be tedious and unpleasant, but let’s face it: People respect people whose names they see in the newspaper. So a journalist inherently ought to seek out people who have a need to build or protect a reputation.

To my knowledge, I only ever used unnamed sources once. That was in a story about college students drinking underage and getting DWIs. None of the students I interviewed wanted their names used. Every attorney I interviewed did. That’s predictable. And since the unnamed sources’ stories sounded reasonable, nobody questioned me over their use. My assurance that these people really lived and weren’t the product of my imagination was enough. The story ran.

But that’s one problem with unnamed sources: A lot of times they’re just a cover for laziness. It’s a lot easier to make up quotes than to get them. And if you’re not willing to divulge a name and a phone number, and the editor is willing to take you at your word that you talked to these people, unnamed sources can result in a lot of fiction being presented as fact.

That’s why I’m not a fan of unnamed sources. They should be a last resort, not a first resort. If one person’s willing to talk, someone else ought to be as well, and maybe that other person has a name and is willing to let you print it. And two unnamed sources lend more credibility than one. It’s a little harder to fake, for one thing.

But Ms. Miller used unnamed sources. And this unnamed source revealed the identity of a CIA operative during a time of war, which is a crime. Since she wouldn’t reveal the source’s name, she’s doing time.

And that’s why I liken this to the Yankees playing the Cubans. On one hand you have a journalist using an unnamed source. On the other hand, you have a government that considers this a time of war when it’s convenient, but not really a time of war when it’s not–there’s that little bit in the Constitution about only Congress being able to officially declare and wage war, for instance. And that government really seems to be eager to gobble up freedom these days. Without a truly free press, that’s one less check and balance. Thomas Jefferson once said newspapers are more important than government.

So I’m wondering a lot of things, including how Ms. Miller could have broken that law when we aren’t officially at war, but also if we were to lose a free press, how we would get it back. It’s a lot easier for the CIA to get another operative.

Journalist-source confidentiality is supposed to resemble that which exists between a doctor and a patient, an attorney and a client, or a priest and a parishioner. And while there are exceptions to those often unspoken confidentiality agreements, they are just that: exceptions. If during the course of gathering a story an unnamed source told me he committed a murder, or another heinous crime such as child abuse or rape, that’s obviously an exceptional situation. A journalist who has just learned such a thing should be compelled to go to the police, as should a priest.

While a CIA operative being unmasked is a more exceptional situation than someone confessing to having run a red light or having spent the previous evening at a disreputable entertainment establishment, I have a difficult time mustering up the same sympathy for the CIA as I would the family of a victim of a violent crime. Murder, rape, and molest ruin lives. Did Ms. Miller’s source ruin the CIA? Ms. Miller’s source certainly changed the life of that CIA operative, but is that along the lines of murder? Isn’t this situation one of the hazards of the job?

So while I don’t like the practice of using unnamed sources, and I’m anything but a big fan of the media as it exists today, I believe that a free press is a necessity. And by that I mean a truly free press–not a press that’s free to print things I agree with. The Soviet Union had that. The Pravda was free to print whatever the government would allow it to print.

Once you lose a truly free press, it usually takes a very bloody revolution to get it back.

Unfortunately, both the far left and the far right tend to want to suppress opinions that don’t agree with theirs. I believe that the people who disagree with me have the right to print whatever they want to print. I’m confident that enough people will see that they are idiots and will agree with me. And in those instances where I’m the idiot, how else would I ever find out that I’m the one who’s wrong?

So while I’m not willing to call Judith Miller a martyr–some headlines have–I believe I can make a case for siding with her. I don’t see how I can make anything but a very wobbly case in support of the government.

Those who don’t agree with me ought to click on that link a few paragraphs back that features some quotes from Thomas Jefferson.

Fascination with old technology

I found this New York Times story on retro technology today. I have my own take on retro gaming.

My girlfriend tells me the 1980s are terribly hip with her students. As she was grading papers last night, I noticed one student had doodled Pac-Man on a paper, the way I remember my classmates and I doing in 1982.

I dig it.I was feeling nostalgic in the summer of 1996 when I started visiting old 8-bit oriented newsgroups on Usenet. Someone wrote in with a question about an Atari power supply, and I happened to have a Jameco catalog in my hands that was advertising some old surplus Atari boxes.

That led to me meeting Drew “Atari” Fuehring, who along with his brother had accumulated one of the largest collection of retro video game consoles in Missouri. Atari 2600, 5200, 7800; Vectrex; Colecovision; Intellivision–you name it, they had it, and if they didn’t have every cartridge and accessory that came with each, they had more than 75 percent of it.

I did a feature story on them for the Sunday magazine of the newspaper I was working at the time. It was easily the most enjoyable story I did during my time at that paper. Maybe the most enjoyable story I ever did.

I didn’t take up video game collecting, but obviously I never forgot that article. (I’d link to it but the database seems to be down forever.)

Those of us in our 20s (I’ve still got 3 1/2 months left of my 20s) grew up around technology. We’ve watched it grow up with us. So why does it seem so odd for us to think of older technology as something other than inferior? Isn’t that like saying that once you’ve heard rock ‘n’ roll, you have to give up jazz and blues?

In some regards the old stuff’s better. Hold up that original fake wood-grained Atari 2600 alongside my GPX-branded DVD player. Hold both of them up and then ask any person which of those two things originally cost more money. Even if they don’t have a clue what the two objects are, they’ll know.

There was a time when things were built to last and they weren’t rendered obsolete in two years or six months just to force us to buy more stuff.

Take the guy in the article who bought a 15-year-old Motorola cell phone. I’m sure some people think he’s nuts. The new phones have all the functions of a Palm Pilot in them, and you can play video games on them (funny, they’re old video games–I hold out hope that the people who make these gadgets have some clue) and you can take pictures with them and you can program them to play annoying songs when people call you, and I think some of them even do septuble duty as an MP3 player. But have you ever tried to talk on the phone with one? Or worse yet, talk with someone who’s talking on one? They’re terrible! They cut out all the time and the conversation sounds robotic, so everyone talks really loud trying to make up for the terrible quality–and succeed only in annoying everyone around them–and if you drive under a bridge, forget it. You’ll lose the connection.

I remember all the promises of digital. I’ll tell you what was so great about digital: It allowed the phone companies to cram a lot more conversations into a much narrower frequency range. It saved them a buttload of money, and we get the benefit of… ever-smaller, costlier phones that are easier to lose, along with an endless upgrade cycle. Trust me, next year the annoying salespeople in the mall will be asking you if you can watch movies on your cellphone, because you can on this year’s model.

Eugene Auh says he bought the phone to impress girls. Maybe he did, but he’ll keep the phone because it works.

I spend my day surrounded by technology and by the time I manage to get home, I really want to get away from it. My sister asked me a few months ago where my sudden fascination with trains came from. I think that’s exactly it. The first time I saw a train with onboard electronics that ran by remote control it really wowed me, but I’m constantly drawn to the old stuff. The older the better. I have a lot of respect for the 1950s units that my dad played with, but for me, the holy grail is an Ives train made between 1924 and 1928. In 1924, Ives came up with a technological marvel: a train that could not only reverse when the power was cycled, but added a neutral position to keep the train from slamming itself into reverse and doing a Casey Jones maneuver, and could keep the headlight lit at all times.

Trust me, it was a big deal in 1924.

Besides that, those oldies were built to be played with hard and built to last. And they were built to look good. Remember that picture I posted this weekend? That’s nothing. The electric units were gorgeous, with bright, enameled paints and brass trim and the works.

Why should I settle for a hunk of plastic made by someone who gets paid a dollar an hour whose electronics are going to fry in a year, rendering the thing motionless?

Nope. I like old stuff.

Next time I’m at a flea market and I see a Betamax VCR, I might just buy it.

It\’s 2004, and that means a new presidency

I am Lutheran. Lutheran in both senses. Dad was Lutheran because his mother was Lutheran and she was Lutheran because her grandparents were Lutheran when they got off the boat in Philadelphia. But that’s not the end of my Lutheran background–my ancestry hits Baron Jost Hans Hite (Heydt) at least twice.

But I’m not a Lutheran just because my forefathers were Lutheran. I left the church, and at 22 found myself at another church that I sensed was teaching things that were wrong, but I wasn’t sure why. So I read the Bible cover to cover trying to find out why. And in the end, I realized the Lutheran explanation of all this stuff made more sense than anyone else’s.

So here’s my take on the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s much publicized convention.The semi-underground Christian News reported the following: “MAJORITY IN THE LCMS VOTES THAT LUTHERANISM IS NOT WHAT THEY WANT IN A CHURCH – KIESCHNICK IS RE-ELECTED; OKLAHOMA D.P. DIEKELMAN ELECTED AS 1ST V.P.”

I define “Lutheranism” as a discipline that teaches people to read and interpret the Bible and not necessarily take the clergy’s word for it because the clergy can be wrong and needs those checks and balances. That’s my Lutheranism.

In my Lutheranism, God chooses us, not the other way around.

In my Lutheranism, we believe that faith without works is dead, but we teach that it’s God who does those works through us. It’s by grace that we’re saved, not those works. Works are a symptom of that disease called faith. We don’t do it ourselves! That’s what Jesus came here for, because we spent 4,000 years proving that all we could do was mess it up! In my Lutheranism, we don’t compare works and beat each other up trying to prove who’s the better Christian.

In my Lutheranism, “grace” is a simple concept: God’s riches at Christ’s expense. And that’s Lutheranism’s greatest treasure.

I may have ruffled a few feathers by not saying anything about tradition. Funny thing about tradition. It explains things that were never officially written down, and that can be a good thing. But tradition can get in the way too. The Pharisees had tradition. In spades. Jesus had some problems with them.

And I wonder sometimes too if we Lutherans might be a bit too smug. The Lutheran stereotype is someone with a whole lot of education and a whole lot of money. We’re successful, and that makes us not too eager to try out something we never thought of before, because, well, look where my way has gotten us!

There’s room for tradition and excellence in my Lutheranism. But when tradition and excellence get in the way of that last thing Jesus said before the ascension (“Go to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”), then they become a problem.

When publications like the New York Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch call you “The Taliban of American Christianity,” I think we have a problem.

Now, I know I don’t have as much education as some people, but when I look at the election results, I don’t see it as a majority of delegates rejecting Lutheranism. I see it as a majority of delegates rejecting the power plays and the infighting that happened after an LCMS pastor offered up a prayer in mixed company at Yankee Stadium after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack.

Some believed that wasn’t a very Lutheran thing to do. And some believed it wasn’t a very Lutheran thing for our president to do, approving this despicable act of praying in mixed company. Now I’m not saying that this was the motivation, but what happened next appeared to be an attempt by the president’s political opponents to bring him up on charges so they could take the presidency, since the next person in line for the presidency was one of the president’s political opponents.

It left a bitter taste in some people’s mouths.

And I think that’s why Dr. Gerald Kieschnick won re-election by a reasonably comfortable margin on the first ballot this year, and why another person much like him won the #2 slot, and other like-minded people took three of the remaining four slots.

I have one question for those of you who are Lutheran like me.

If–without changing any of your fundamental beliefs, but simply losing a label–if giving up that “Lutheran” label would cause one–just one–person to be in heaven who otherwise wouldn’t, would you do it?

No one’s asking you to do that. I’m just trying to get you to decide where your priorities sit.

Misspelling for profit (or lack of it)

I read an interesting story today on several sites, quoting an article that originally appeared in the New York Times about misspellings on eBay and people who get bitten by them–and others who exploit them. (This particular link is registration-free.)

Executive summary: A lot of people can’t spell, and that means items sell for much lower prices than they would otherwise, if they attract any interest at all (one has to be able to find them, after all).

Funny how there’s little demand for “Compact Laptops.” Less yet for “Compact Labtops.” (Why would I want a small hat for a Labrador?)

Some people are afraid their secret’s out now, but I suspect there are more people on eBay than there are who regularly read the NYT. Fewer still will try it. Fewer still still will remember it for more than a couple of weeks.

But it gives me an idea. Is there such thing as a dictionary of common misspellings? Not commonly misspelled words, but common misspellings? Imagine plugging that into a piece of software that searches eBay.

I think I need to patent that.

An irreverent look at this day in history, April 3

In 1882, my fellow Missourian Jesse James was shot in the back of the head and killed by a man he’d recruited to help him rob a bank in Platte City. Rumors persist to this day that James faked his death, even though 1995 DNA analysis of the body buried in Kearney, Missouri under a headstone reading “Jesse James” proved 99.7% conclusive. A man named Frank Dalton died in Granbury, Texas at the age of 104 in 1951 and he claimed to his dying day that he was Jesse James. Dalton’s body was to be exhumed in 2000 for DNA analysis and the story was a media sensation that you might remember. You probably don’t remember the results, because a mismarked gravestone caused the body of a one-armed man who died in 1927 to be exhumed instead, and the body buried as “Jesse James, supposedly killed in 1882” has yet to be tested. Despite the 1995 tests, citizens of Gransbury and citizens of Kearney still argue over which of them has the real Jesse James.
In other news, Adolf Hitler, FDR, Abraham Lincoln and Elvis were last spotted playing cards together in Argentina.

In 1826, Boss Tweed was born. Tweed was the political boss of the Tammany Hall machine in New York City. Their motto: Vote early and often. Tweed’s downfall came when one of his own men felt he got shortchanged when the embezzled money was split up, so he ratted to the New York Times. Tweed was imprisoned twice, on criminal and then on civil charges. He escaped and fled to Spain in December 1875, only to be recognized (supposedly a series of famous political cartoons gave him away) and he was returned to New York, where he died in prison in 1878.

In 1783, Washington Irving was born. I’m sure you’ve read his Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow or seen at least one of the many movies or Scooby Doo episodes based on it.

In 1942 and 1944, singers Wayne Newton and Tony Orlando, respectively, were born. Branson, Missouri would never be the same.

So you think Linux is unproven?

I’ve had arguments at work with one of the managers as to whether Linux is up to the task of running an enterprise-class Web server. When I mention my record with Linux running this site, the manager dismisses it, never mind that this site gets more traffic than a lot of the sites we run at work. So I went looking this afternoon for some sites that run on Linux, Apache, and PHP, like this one does.
I found a bunch of small-timers. Read more

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