The Inwood Journal Indian headdress
The illustrated journal of Lou Bruno, Director of The Webshop@servenet.com    Current Topics: Index


11/8/2004

Book: Bushworld

Bushworld front cover

Bushworld is too much of a good thing. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's new book, Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk is a great box of chocolate, but it's better consumed just a bit at a time, as it was written. A tasty anthology of over 100 NYT columns covering the Presidents Bush, Bushworld showcases Pulitzer Prize winning Dowd's wit, satire, and clear sense of George W's shortcomings. Unfortunately, it's more than a little repetitive.

Ms. Dowd sees Bush 43 as a princeling (41 is King) who, trading on the family name, wound up as the leader of the free world despite no Weltanshauung, no experience and a record of personal and business failure. Her 43 is a clueless kid running laps around the White House while Cheney, Rummy and Wolfie take care of business. She pokes mercilessly at his notion that strength of purpose is more important that sense of purpose and portrays his purpose as Oedipal (do the opposite of daddy). And then there's the war in Iraq, which she dissects ad nauseum (no coal in the coalition, no WMDs, no win by military techies, no open-armed citizens, no postwar plan, no domino democracy).

Dowd is a good writer, clever satirist, and good judge of character. I wish she'd had time to edit Bushworld to make a book that works as well as her columns.

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11/7/2004

Preservation, Restoration, Gustation

Judith and I had dinner last evening with our friends, Tom and Robin Kuehhas. Tom is the director of the Oyster Bay Historical Society and Robin teaches elementary school in Elmont. Tom told us enthusiastically about the upcoming exhibit at the Society on The Architecture of Oyster Bay: Issues in Preservation & Restoration, which he and Maureen Monck have organized with curator Yvonne Noonan-Cifarelli. This is sure to be another killer exhibit. For more information, visit the Oyster Bay Historical Society website, or call 516-922-5032.

And speaking of winners, Judith selected our restaurant for the evening using the Zagat guide. Her choice: The Veranda Restaurant located at 75 Cedar Swamp Road, Glen Cove, NY 11542 (Telephone: 516-759-0394). Specializing in Northern Italian dishes and seafood, the elegant Veranda has valet parking, two attractive dining rooms, superb service from maitre d' to busboys, and generous portions of fresh, perfectly prepared dishes. A bountiful selection of daily specials supplemented the ample menu. Our four dinner selections were all tasty, attractive, and well-seasoned. Zagat rates veranda 23/20/23 out of 30 for food/decor/service. We rated them 28/23/27. We give it four stars out of five (Mobil gives it three).

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11/5/2004

Book: The Great Bridge

The Great Bridge by David McCulloughLike David McCullough's other books The Great Bridge is a good read. It's not just the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge -- an engineering marvel in its time and a beautiful historic landmark today -- but the story of three extraordinary members of the Roebling family. John A. Roebling emigrated from Germany, established a visionary community in Pennsylvania, got bored and returned to engineering. He conceptualized the bridge and saw it through the political and engineering skepticism that mark great feats of engineering. A micromanaging genius, he probably managed himself to death by ignoring the doctors treating an injury sustained while supervising the work of surveyors. His son, Washington Roebling, also an engineer, had been involved with the bridge from the beginning and took over on his father's death.

It was the son who "built" the bridge, producing the engineering drawings, letting contracts, managing the bridge company, and supervising the work right up until it opened to great ceremony. The remarkable thing is he did most of this while incapacitated by caisson sickness, or the bends, and what was probably a chronic nervous breakdown. Micromanaging a project of the scope of the Brooklyn bridge could make almost anyone sick and nearly blind.

The third great Roebling, and certainly the most unique for the time, was Emily, Washington's wife. During the many years when he never left the house, suffered no visitors, and managed the work by dictating letters and orders for her to prepare and convey, Emily became an accomplished engineer in her own right. It was she who visited the construction site -- something unheard of at the turn of the century -- relayed details in both directions, dealt with contractors, dignitaries and politicos. What was remarkable about her was not only her level of skill but also the fact that she was widely accepted and respected.

The Great Bridge is mercifully light on engineering details and strong on the history of the times -- painting a vivid picture of the the political shenanigans, including those of Boss Tweed -- and on the amazing Roeblings. Would that there were more about Emily, the most amazing of the three.

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11/4/2004

Cutting Property Taxes to Size

You may be paying too much if you're a homeowner and haven't reviewed your taxes. Real estate or property taxes are arguably unfair in general, but why add insult to injury by paying more than your fair share? Your taxes have two components: (a) the tax rate which is a given and the same for everyone in your community, and (b) the assessed value of your house and land. It is the second component -- the assessment -- which experts think is too high for a third or more properties nationwide.

Challenge Your Taxes: Homeowner's Guide to Reducing Property TaxesYou can check and challenge your assessment yourself or engage a property tax consultant to do it for you. Do it yourselfers should read James Lumley's Challenge Your Taxes: Homeowner's Guide to Reducing Property Taxes, then set aside four to five days to learn the process, research your claim, file a grievance or petition, appear before the assessment review board, and, if necessary, file and defend a small claims court appeal.

If you're not inclined or short of time, most consultants will do it for you on a contingency basis, charging nothing up front and getting paid half of the first year's tax savings if they challenge your taxes successfully. For property tax reduction experts in Nassau and Suffolk counties New York, we recommend NY Property Tax Reduction (NYPTR). In Westchester and Putnam counties New York, we suggest Property Watchers and Domus Appraisals. To find a consultant in your area, try these keywords in your favorite search engine: property tax reduction, assessment reduction, property tax grievance, property tax challenge, real estate assessment petition, tax certiorari.

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7/28/2004

Books: A Left-Wing Conspiracy?

Bernard Goldberg is one part whistleblower and two parts spoiled brat. His best-selling, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News dissects the coverage of several topics -- among them homelessness, aids, feminism -- from a fresh perspective. His thesis, that the mainstream media is inherently liberal, is well-developed. What rankles are his incessant jibes at media personalities, particularly his former boss Dan Rather, accompanied by endless self-aggrandizement and self-pity. I thought navel-gaxing went out with Woodstock.

Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News by Bernard Goldberg

His analysis of the coverage of aids is a classic study in how well-intentioned but liberal-leaning newsfolk get it wrong. Bernard reviews the gruesome statistics and shows that while aids is a devastating, universal problem that needs urgent attention, it's not a problem for middle-America. The media swallowed whole the factoids offered up by aids activists, who knew Americans wouldn't take up the cause until it threatened them in their own bedrooms. True enough. But the facts were wrong. In America, aids is mostly a problem associated with drug use, unprotected homosexual encounters, and prostitution. But that's not what the average viewer or reader finds interesting. "Aids, the problem next door, " while inaccurate, inflates Nielsen ratings. Why did the media buy into it? Because the impulse to sympathy, the call for government intervention, and the genuine desire to help the unfortunate are the hallmarks of right-thinking liberals. And that's what Bernard Goldberg means by media bias.

I listened to the unabridged edition, read by the author, a seasoned TV journalist. It was lively and entertaining. Goldberg is a witty, colorful and convincing reporter with a strong New York flavor. The book is also available in hard cover, large print, and paperback editions. Warning: this is a goad for thinking liberals, not a sop for fans of Rush Limbaugh or Bob Grant.

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7/22/2004

Computer Backups

A dear friend called with a problem. An appraisal report which had taken many days to write wouldn't open. I retrieved the file and ran it through several file recovery tools. The report was irreparably corrupted. There was no backup! The work had to be done all over again.

Don't let this happen to you. Please read my 10-second guide to computer backups and make sure you'll never need to spend hours, days or weeks recreating your work.

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7/21/2004

The Price of Scumware

Two recent vintage PCs sit in our shop at Installations Plus, victimized by scumware. Both are in near-new condition, physically. Both were abandoned by their owners, who found it more economical to buy new PCs than to repair and/or replace software ravaged by scumware.

Scumware -- viruses and parasitic software or spyware -- is everywhere. It's transmitted by email, by instant messages, by downloaded software, and even just by visiting websites. You can't avoid it, but you can protect yourself against its onslaught.

Firewall.  The first step is to erect a barrier or firewall between your PC and the Internet. The best firewall is a hardware firewall such as those found in network routers. If you access the Internet via cable modem or DSL, it's simple and relatively inexpensive (about $50) to install a router between the modem and your PC. Available at most office and computer supply stores, routers also allow you to connect additional computers to the Internet via cables or by WiFi. Major manufacturers are Linksys, NETGEAR, and D-Link.

Second best are software firewalls. A basic, better than nothing, firewall is built into Windows XP/2000. (Search for firewall in the Help and Support center available from the Start button.) A good, free firewall is distributed by Zone Alarm, which also makes "pro" shareware versions. Reliable firewalls are often packaged with antivirus software and available separately from antivirus software manufacturers (see below).

Prevention & Removal.  There are many effective antivirus packages from reputable companies such as Symantec, McAfee and Computer Associates, even trustworthy freeware packages from Grisoft and Avast (free for individuals; corporate licenses available). All are capable of detecting, removing, and blocking viruses. Antivirus software should be set to for real-time monitoring (files, email, removable disks, downloads) and to run a full scan once a day.

There are also well-designed software tools for detecting and removing scumware. Free tools include AdAware (pro licenses, too) and Spybot Search & Destroy (good product, terrible name). Pest Patrol is one of the better shareware (try before you buy) products. None of these products -- or any others at this time -- are good bets for blocking spyware. However, there is much activity on this front and reliable, trouble-free blockers should be available within a few months. For now, anti-spyware scans should be run weekly.

Update, Update, Update.  None of the antivirus and none of the anti-spyware programs are worth much if you neglect to update their definition files regularly. New scumware appears daily, so daily updates are a sensible precaution. But it's not only the medicine that should be kept fresh, it's the patients, too. Use the Windows Update facility (Internet Explorer > Tools > Windows Update) to check for patches, fixes, and modifications to the operating system, browser, email software, etc. installed on your PC. Windows XP/2000 can be set to do this automatically. (My Computer > Right Click > Properties > Automatic Updates)

Fight or Switch?  The hackers who write scumware don't target less popular operating systems, browsers, office suites, email software, or instant messaging systems. They can't be bothered. That means you may be able to avoid scumware by switching to minority software for some applications. But remember: the less popular software may be harder to use, less versatile, more problematic, and sometimes more expensive. There are, afterall, good reasons for the lack of market penetration.

For Switchers.  Some quick recommendations for no and low-cost alternatives:

Try Knoppix, a Linux distribution that boots from a CD (no installation, no changes or damage to your existing setup), to see if you can live with an alternative operating system.
  • Don't try uninstalling Internet Explorer -- it's really an integrated part of Windows -- but give open-source (freeware) FireFox a spin. It's the current browser from the Netscape/Mozilla camp, and a good IE alternative. But realize that most webpages are written for IE, and some won't work in anything else. That holds true for my favorite, the Opera browser (freeware and shareware versions), which boasts many features not found in IE, including a robust email client.
  • Speaking of email software, Eudora (freeware/shareware) is an easy switch from Outlook Express and again provides the bonus of additional features. Even safer: use a webmail interface to handle email. Many POP3 accounts now have one. If yours doesn't, try Mail2Web or a free Yahoo! or Hotmail account to collect your POP3 email.
  • Not married to Microsoft Office? Try dating Open Office, a free, open source suite that is compatible with and includes most of the features of MS Office, and adds a few neat features of its own.
  • Finally, for instant messages, try Trillian (freeware/shareware), which communicates with the AIM, IRC, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo! networks in a single interface -- without ads.
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    7/20/2004

    Books: Still Searching for Wilbur & Orville

    I grew up on Long Island, the cradle of aviation. I spent vacations during college working for Grumman, a prime avaiation contractor. And I'm into history, enough to produce websites for the Oyster Bay Historical Society and the Raynham Hall Museum. So I was really up for Noah Adams' The Flyers: In Search of Wilbur & Orville Wright, which I listened to on audio CD, read by the author, a National Public Radio journalist. Unfortunately, the book was a disappointment.

    It wasn't disappointing historically.The Flyers: In Search of Orville & Wilbur Wright by Noah Adams Adams paints a compelling picture of the times which produced the "first flight" and, particularly, of the Wright family. Nor was it diappointing from a scientific viewpoint. Although not a science writer, Adams does a good job of explaining the difficulties the Wright brothers overcame, and how they did it. Nor was it a literary disappointment. Flyers was a good read. The disappointment is Adams, whose self-focus, many diversions into tangential stories, and attention to minutiae spoil an otherwise interesting book. It's okay to tell us that the Wrights took a train to get from their Ohio home to Kitty Hawk. It's even okay to tell us which train, and maybe a few words about trains of the era. But do we really need to know the names of every stop and whistle-stop along the way?

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    7/19/2004

    Go Slow On Stem-Cells Research?

    Kerry is overzealous says Arlene Weintraub writing in the July 26, 2004 issue of Business Week. "Washington should lift the research ban," according to Ms. Weintraub but Democratic Candidate John Kerry is overzealous, having invited former (Republican) President Reagan's son Ronald Jr. to speak at the Democratic Convention. Reagan and the like-minded, she continues, overstate "stem cells' near-term ability to treat grave illnesses," raising hopes that are sure to be dashed.

    Overstate ability? Yes. Overzealous advocates? Perhaps. But as a former psychophysiologist who remembers the devastating effects of Nixon's budget cuts on basic research, I'd much prefer overzealous overstatement to a misguided policy of scientific containment. The Dark Ages are over, aren't they?

    Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
    -- George Santayana

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    7/17/2004

    Books: Woods' Biography of Franklin

    The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin by Gordon S. Wood

    There are more biographies of Benjamin Franklin than of any other person. And rightfully so. Franklin, like DaVinci and few others in history, was a uniquely powerful individual whose efforts changed the world. There may never be a definitive biography, but The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin by Gordon S. Wood comes close. Having recently read the excellent Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson, David McCullough's John Adams, and the illuminating Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts, I found familiar ground in Woods' biography, all covered with clarity and interest.

    More than other treatments, Woods' developed the theme of Franklin, the great conciliator. Woods and others show Franklin as an innnovator, a superb businessman, and self-taught scientific prodigy, but Woods alone makes clear Franklin's strength in negotiating agreements by reasonable and practical compromise -- including that of his own ideas.

    Also unique is Woods' thorough and penetrating explanation of the importance of Franklin's metamorphosis from "B. Franklin printer" to "Benjamin Franklin, gentleman." Woods careful and concerete explanation of what it meant to be a gentleman in Colonial America is gem of interpretative history.

    Woods' treatment of the relationship between Franklin and John Adams is more comprehensive and revealing than McCullough's (Adams and his clan were jealous of Franklin and took every opportunity to attack him and his heirs). Although Woods is clearly a Franklin fan, he wasn't afraid to take him to task for being a poor husband. And he paints a sometimes less than flattering portrait of Franklin's loyalties to the English (before the Revolution) and the French (during and after), both of which contradict the commonly-held image of Franklin as archetypical patriot. Delightful reading!

    I listened to this well-written book on audio cassette well-read by Peter Johnson. It is also available in hardcover and audio CD.

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    7/16/2004

    Summer at the NY Botanical Garden

    View across the lily pond in the courtyard behind the Enid Haupt Conservatory at The New York Botanical Gardens.

    Tucked away, between Fordham University's main campus and the world-famous Bronx Zoo, is another world-class attraction, The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG). Carefully tended and thoughtfully designed, this horticultural oasis merits a trip in any season -- even in the dead of winter when the Conservatory hosts the annual Holiday Toy Train Show.

    A visit on a warm, early summer day caressed by gentle breezes is especially delightful. We went today and were happy to see that the new Visitor's Center is tasteful (slightly Japanese in style) and useful. A stroll through the Irwin Perennial Garden was breathtaking. There the carefully orchestrated vistas of colors, textures, and shapes created painting after Impressionist painting. Inside, the Conservatory boasts a summer-long exhibit of Victorian ornamental plants, with some interesting surprises. And its peaceful courtyard pools, surrounded by exotic seasonals, are resplendent with water lilies, bulrushes and grasses (see photo).

    This is a must-do when you're in the greater New York area. You don't have to like flowers to love the NYBG!

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    7/15/2004

    Microsoft OEM Software: Having Isn't Owning

    eBay cancelled my auction for a copy of Microsoft's Office 2000 Professional. Why? Because the software, which came with a computer, is OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) software. Microsoft's NetSafe Team explained:

    When OEM software is received with a computer, it is licensed for use only on that computer -- the software and the original computer are essentially "married" and are considered a single integrated unit. Under the terms of the software license, OEM software is to be transferred only as part of a complete transfer of the computer with which the software was originally distributed.

    In other words, now that its computer died, the software must go, too. Good thing real marriages don't work that way.

    Silly me. I though I owned the software and had the right to sell it when I no longer needed it.

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    7/14/2004

    AOL May Be Blocking Your Email

    A property tax reduction client for whom we produce websites like New York Property Tax Reduction, wrote today, saying AOL helped her fix her email problem. She said:

    I called AOL complaining that I do not get all my e-mail and she walked me thru getting all the settings back to where they should be. Now I believe I can get all my e-mail. So you can e-mail me and let me know how you are doing with the high assessments.

    My response: The problem with AOL isn't on your machine, it's on their servers. There's nothing you or customer service can do about the policies they've implemented to try to reduce SPAM.

    Did you know?  If AOL identifies the IP address of a spammer, it blocks email coming to you from that address (good), and from all the addresses in the IP neighborhood (bad). It doesn't release the block until a request is made from the ISP responsible for those addresses.

    Did you know?  AOL monitors email transmission patterns and content for SPAM-like characteristics. When it identifies suspicious email, it either blocks email by IP address (above) or handles the email according to the SPAM rules you set. The result: many legitimate email newsletters, such as Fred Langa's LangaList and Chris Pirillo's LockerGnome newsletters are deleted or shunted to your SPAM folder. Ditto for mass-emailed notices from your church, professional organization, online merchant, etc.

    Did you know?  You have a SPAM folder! If you're not using the current version (v 9.0) of AOL software, you don't have access to your SPAM folder from within the software. You may not even know you have one. Simple work-around: check your email using the AOL webmail interface.

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    7/14/2004

    Maria Remembers

    Newmark & Lewis, the appliance and electronic retailer is gone, but clearly not forgotten. A few days ago, Maria Mirabella, one of the mainstays of the N&L headquarters staff, wrote after reading Fantastic but Getting Better, our page about having a positive attitude at N&L. Maria's email is quoted below with her kind permission.

    Mr. Bruno,

    I was thinking of old days, back when I LOVED where I worked and whom I worked for and so out of curiousity I typed in Newmark & Lewis. I came across your page and was delighted to see it. I remember your name well. I was Russell Graham and Peter Lewis' assistant. I just wanted to tell you seeing it's name on line added joy to my heart. I had worked there for close to 10 years myself and was one of the last to leave (even after Peter told me to get out quickly). I always thought Peter, Russ and I would retire together. Thanks for the up-lift. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has spotted it and felt the same.

    Sincerely,
    Maria Mirabella

    The pundits may argue about the reason for Newmark & Lewis' demise, but the reason for its long and outsized success is clear. Its people cared. And that came from the top down, as somewhat facetiously captured in the frequently lampooned advertising slogan, "Dick Lewis is watching." Like Maria, I really liked working at N&L, and I, too, stayed to the end.

    If my reminiscences and Maria's trigger yours, let me know. If there's enough interest, an N&L Forum might be in the cards.

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    7/13/2004

    Deals or Duds?

    Sleepy's, an East Coast sleep products retailer, calls itself "The Mattress Professionals." I call them "Simply Deceptive". Recent radio ads for this aggressive marketer tout savings of 20%. That would be a good deal, except it's not 20% off Sleepy's regular prices -- a true sale -- but 20% off the prices offered by Sleepy's competitors. What's wrong with that? Proprietary model numbers make comparison shopping of mattresses almost impossible.

    It gets better. They back up their offer with this guarantee: "Sleepy's will beat anyone's price by 20% or it's FREE." FREE sounds good, doesn't it? But Sleepy's has never given anyone a FREE mattress or other product. If you can actually find the same product Sleepy's sells elsewhere for less, Sleepy's simply beats the competitor's price by a penny or a dime, and FREE gets reshelved for another sucker. No one loses: Sleepy's gets your business and you get the mattress at a competitive price. Maybe not a dud, but not a deal either.

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    7/12/2004

    Another Volley in the Browser Wars

    Freebird, a guest moderator on the PC Forum posted this message:

    "Some analysts estimate the U.S. Internet population at around 200 million. A 1.32 percent change in browsers, then, translates into 2.6 million dropping IE..."
    From: IE's Market Share Drops, Security Gaffes To Blame

    If you use IE, great! Bill will be happy, however, if you want to reduce the times that you have problems, and also to make a safer internet, so that your PC is not susceptable to browser hijacks, zombie status (Trojans - another person has control of what you your PC does), whereby your PC is used and controlled by someone else etc, then try Firefox, Opera or Mozilla browsers.

    As a long-time Opera user -- because it's faster and has some better features than Internet Explorer (IE) -- I second the motion, but with these caveats:

    1. Internet Explorer in Windows XP/2000/NT and later is an integral part of the operating system and is needed for it to perform properly. If you don't like it, don't use it, but don't try to delete or uninstall it.
    2. Many website producers optimize their products for Internet Explorer, which enjoys a 95% share of the browser market. Producers should be encouraged to make their sites Viewable with Any Browser. But until that happens, you'll need IE to view many valuable, important and fun websites.
    3. Every browser is chock full of holes. But what self-respecting hacker would write code for a browser with less than 5% market share? So please don't everyone climb on the Opera or Mozilla (Netscape) or Safari carvan.

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    7/12/2004

    WTC Tragedy Didn't Hurt That Much

    David Wolf, Master Gemologist Appraiser® and President of gemological appraisal service Just Appraisers will address the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers' 22nd Summer Conference in Philadelphia, PA this August. Mr. Wolf will discuss his experience appraising the jewelry in the safe deposit boxes under the World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. With no malice aforethought, he emailed this urgent request today:

    Please remove any mention of WTC/911 from the website. The bank's legal position is, only one bank suffered exposure. So please replace the words "WTC/911" with "Catastrophic" to avoid repercussions.

    It could have been worse. Only one bank suffered exposure -- probably from the neck up. That should make the families and friends of the 2572 people who died or are missing as a result of the attack feel a lot better. Yes, David, let's employ euphemisms and avoid repercussions. And you all be careful not to step on any cracks in the sidewalk.

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    7/12/2004

    A Viral Coincidence

    Sallie Connelly, the Sallie in Bob & Sallie Connelly: Antiques, Auctions, Appraisals, wrote today saying her email address had been spoofed:

    A friend of ours that moved from this area several years ago received a screensaver from me with a virus. I goes without saying that I didn't send it to him.... What's really weird is that since we know each other that out of the zillions of email addresses it would be sent to him. We haven't talked in years and neither of us had each other's emails prior to this incident.

    Of course, it's nice that these two friends found each other again. But it's probably not much of a coincidence. Most likely, the screensaver virus came from the computer of a correspondent that Sally and her friend have in common. So much for six degrees of separation.

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    7/11/2004

    Ken Lay May Get Off Easy

    Business Week (July 19,2004) says Kenneth Lay, former Enron Chairman, may have any easy time of it if his case goes to trial because "he is still regarded fondly by many ... Houstonians for his mammoth charitable contributions." BW thinks it would be difficult to find unbiased jurors in a city where Mr. Lay has done so much good.

    Bias probably wouldn't prevent a conviction if the prosecution can show that Ken Lay ordered the plundering of Enron or let it happen. But if the prosecution argues guilt by implication, the jury might consider another implication, viz. that a man of broad beneficence wouldn't knowingly destroy the lives and savings of so many.

    In any case, thanks to Business Week, few in Houston will be ignorant of Ken Lay's civic and charitable contributions.

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