E-mail Jail

Somebody must’ve gone my bail.

I have been in e-mail jail for the last two weeks. I was out for about one day, but then I was thrown back into the clinker. I may have violated my parole. I do not know. You never know. No one ever tells you why you were put in jail; in fact, no one even tells you that it happened. All that you know is that something that worked for a long period of time no longer works.

I send a lot of e-mails. As webmaster of the New England Bridge Conference, I keep a database of players in New England, and every month or so I try to keep them apprised of developments. I use a program that I wrote to send the e-mails, which are customized for the group receiving them. Unfortunately, the last two times that I attempted this I was thrown in the hoosegow in the middle of the project. I only found out when I never received my test e-mails.

After thirty or so (no exaggeration) exchanges with my ISP I learned a little bit about what is going on. The company that runs the server, iPower, uses a “spam filter” program to determine whether to send an e-mail that is generated from a script (program). I assume that the spam filter actually runs on a different server or at least was developed by someone else. Most of the technical support people seemed totally unaware that it was even possible for a script to generate an e-mail that never got sent. They kept checking the e-mail logs for the e-mails. When they were not there, they repeatedly asked me to debug my scripts more carefully.

Evidently there are independent companies that keep “blocklists” of known spanners. If you are on one of these lists, and your ISP’s filter program checks them, you will not be allowed to send a mailing. You won’t be informed of what happened, why, or when. You will need to figure it out yourself. On iPower I could still use their webmail program to send individual e-mails even after the scripted mailings stopped working. I was also able to receive e-mails.

Here is how I think that the process works. Someone received an e-mail. He/she did not ask me to remove them from the list. I always respond to those requests immediately. Instead he/she complained to his/her ISP (Comcast, Cox, AOL, Google, or whomever). The ISP complained to one or more of the spam detection companies, and I got blocklisted.

The problem is not that individuals got irritated by e-mail from unwanted sources. The people who provide the e-mail software could solve that problem easily by allowing users to maintain a list of “from addresses” that they want to delete immediately. Outlook has this feature, and I have used it for years. I suspect that the ISP’s are actually concerned about the e-mails using up precious bandwidth. Their approach cannot do much to stop spam. Since I have no idea who registered the original complaint, I will probably send them another unwanted e-mail.

There is no court for spam offenses. It is like support for terrorism. If someone suspects you of committing the crime, you are thrown in jail without notice. You have to find someone who can get you out of jail and convince them to do it.

I expect to be back in jail before the year is out. Could someone send me a cake with a hacksaw in it?

Ben Ten and the “Reformers”

Evaluating the Tusculan popes and the reformers who succeeded them.

Almost no one has even heard of Pope Benedict X. Pope Stephen IX had died in Florence on March 29, 1058. On April 4 a group of bishops met in Rome and elected John, the Cardinal-Bishop of Velletri, as the new pontiff. At the time there were no set rules for the selection of a new pope. The designation of the College of Cardinals as the body charged with papal elections did not come until later (although not much later). Benedict’s election was pretty much in line with established procedure at the time. The elections that were quite different from it were generally far less canonical. For example, Stephen’s three predecessors were all hand-picked by Emperor Henry III and rubber-stamped by councils sometimes held as far away from Rome as the German city of Worms. Furthermore, John was a rising star in the curia and was widely considered as being on the short list of papabili.

Benedict’s pontificate, however, had a few fatal flaws. In the first place he was a relative of the counts of Tusculum who had controlled the papacy for most of the eleventh century. The second was that the most influential figure in the so-called reform party, a young monk named Hildebrand, was in Germany at the time negotiating with Henry III’s widow, Agnes, who was the regent for her seven-year-old son. Allegedly Pope Stephen IX had asked that the election of his successor be postponed until Cardinal-Deacon Hildebrand could return.

Hildebrand did return, but he did not exactly rush back. Pope Benedict ruled until January of the following year. Not much is known about his pontificate, which is a pretty clear indication that it was a period of peace and relative tranquility. The same, by the way can be said of the pontificates of the other three Tusculan popes of the eleventh century. All told, these four men ruled Rome, the papal territories, and the Christian Church for about thirty-five years.

The cardinals met in Florence and on January 23, 1059, elected a man named Gerard from the Provence area of France. Hildebrand had arranged for Godfrey, the Duke of Lorraine, who was by far the most powerful man in Italy because of his marriage to Beatrice, the widow of the Margrave of Tuscany, to accompany them to Rome. Since Godfrey brought most of his army with him, Benedict was forced to flee, and Gerard was installed as Nicholas II. His first six months were largely devoted to employing Godfrey’s troops and some Normans who had been commissioned by Pope Stephen to hunt down Pope Benedict and his Tusculan supporters. A series of bloody battles ensued. Benedict fled first to a castle near Tivoli and then to the castle of the Count of Galeria, which was north of Rome. Eventually he was apparently captured, but accounts differ greatly as to what became of him after that.

Hildebrand also eventually was elected pontiff. He was known as Pope Gregory VII from 1073-1085.

There is no question that the reformers won a total victory over the influential noble families that had controlled the papacy in the early eleventh century. Reading the official records one can easily to picture them as a group of progressives who loved the Church so much that they felt obligated to do whatever was required to eliminate the corruption that had infested the papacy. In fact, Hildebrand and one other reform pope, Leo IX, are both canonized saints. Since only seven popes in the second millennium achieved that distinction (and two of those were named in the last year), this is quite unusual. For all that I know the two of them are sitting at God’s right and left hands (assuming that He has hands and that there are only two of them). I do know, however, that it is hard to think of any popes who were less successful than these two.

Leo, like the other German popes, spent almost no time in Rome. A cousin of Emperor Henry III, he almost immediately turned his attention to the Normans who controlled large swaths of southern Italy. The pontiff went to Germany and tried without successful to persuade the emperor to provide him with an army. He then hired a band of Swabian freebooters and led them back to Italy. After he combined this force with part of Godfrey’s contingent, he marched into Apulia, where he confronted the Normans and provoked them into the Battle of Civitate. When the dust settled, the papal forces had been routed, and the pope himself was in Norman hands. Although he was treated with respect and allowed to communicate freely with his subordinates, Pope Leo was held in Benevento almost until his death.

During his captivity Pope Leo dispatched some envoys to Constantinople to confront the patriarch. They came armed with forged documents that claimed that six centuries earlier the Emperor Constantine had bequeathed all of western Europe to St. Peter, whose vicar on earth was the Bishop of Rome. The westerners may have considered the documents to be genuine, but the story they told contradicted many events that were well documented in the east. When the patriarch refused to meet with them, the pope’s legates left a decree of excommunication on the high altar of the Hagia Sophia. This reckless act began the Great Schism between the Roman Church and the Greek Orthodox Church and its affiliates, which has lasted until this day.

So, Leo had two great legacies. He spent most of his time gathering together a Christian army that he used to attack a different Christian army. This one resulted in a lot of deaths and his own capture. The other was a committee armed with bogus documents that split the Christian Church in two irreparable (at least so far) pieces.

Gregory VII’s claim to fame was his attempt to wrest from Emperor Henry IV (a young man by this time) the power to invest bishops in imperial holdings. When the emperor refused, Gregory excommunicated him. The emperor, who was facing opposition in Germany, eventually repented and came to Gregory to ask for the lifting of the excommunication. For three long winter days he stood outside in the cold waiting for the pontiff to make up his mind. Eventually Gregory reinstated him.

Henry had to return to deal with a civil war in which the pope supported his opponent, Rudolph. When it appeared that Rudolph was winning, the pontiff again excommunicated Henry. The tide turned, however, and Henry not only solidified his hold in Germany. He also marched back into Italy and called a council that elected a new pope named Guibert. For a time there was a stalemate between Gregory’s forces and those of Henry/Guibert. Finally, in a desperate move Pope Gregory asked Robert Guiscard, the leader of the Normans to liberate him. He did, but the Normans also sacked Rome, inflicting much more damage than either the Goths or the Vandals had inflicted.

Gregory became a persona non grata in Rome. He spent the rest of his pontificate wandering as a beggar in southern Italy. His two hand-picked successors also had great difficulty even entering the city.

Here are a couple of questions that Church historians seldom ask. 1. Who were these “reformers”? 2. What did they want.

The answer to #1 is that almost all of them were Benedictine monks. The answer to #2 is a little trickier. Their platform included the elimination of simony (puchasing of religious offices) and the enforcement of celibacy among the clergy in the Church. By Hildebrand’s time they also championed the elimination of investiture by civil rulers like Henry IV. They have been almost uniformly portrayed as righteous people who took a corrupt papacy and returned it to the principles of the gospels. The word “portrayed” here is key. Almost everything known about these people was written by them and their supporters.

There is a different way to look at it. Before the reformers took over, the papacy was a local affair. The popes were generally elected by groups of local bishops. It is probably true that sometimes one noble family or another would spread enough cash around to influence the election. Outsiders would, however, only be called upon to help in dire circumstances when the very life of the papal states and the pope were in jeopardy. Seldom did any pope attempt to exert much influence outside of the papal states. Other regions chose their own bishops. There were no general rules for doing so. The popes seldom left their own territories.

The sex lives of clergymen was not high on the priority list of any of the Tusculan pontiffs. Pope Benedict IX, the third of the Tusculan pontiffs, was charged with many outrageous acts of sexual misconduct. His primary accuser was Peter Damian, the chief propagandist of the reformers, a man who never set foot anywhere near Rome during the time when Benedict IX was supposedly misbehaving.

Ethics aside, the reformers transformed the papacy in two ways. Their primary focus was the attempt to make the pope, once they controlled who wore the tiara, a prominent player on the European and, eventually, the world stage. Pope Urban II, who called the First Crusade, was a disciple of Hildebrand’s. In this they had mixed results. The First Crusade, although it caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of Christian lives, did result in the capture of Jerusalem. The other crusades – and there were many – were, by just about any measure, disasters.

They were much more successful in the other aspect, which was to change the rules so that they had access to power. In fact, the monks exerted dominance over papal elections long after the original purposes of the reformers were dim memories.

The question no one seems to ask is this: What did the Christians in Rome think? If I were a Roman, I would certainly have preferred the relative calm of the Tusculan pontiffs to the chaos and catastrophes of the reformers.

Two men, Boniface VII and Benedict X, were elected as pope and served as the unquestioned leader of the Church for a considerable period of time. Everyone considered them the pope. Both fled when threatened. In both cases the next pontiff who took the name (centuries later) assigned himself a number that was one more than the neglected pope.

Neither Boniface nor Benedict is on the official list of popes, and, take my word for it, there are dozens of popes with flimsier claims. All that it proves is that history is written by the winners.

Second Day on the Trail

I was better prepared.

The Windsor Locks Canal Trail annually opens on April 1. I was on the trail along with quite a few other walkers on the first day. I was shocked to see how much snow was there. The trail is paved with asphalt. In the rest of the area all the paved areas had been bare for a week or more – except of course where huge piles had been made by trucks clearing parking lots. Furthermore, there are very few coniferous trees on the trail. In the spring most of it was subject to direct sunlight most of the day.

I had made two big mistakes on my first trip to the park: I wore my sneakers, which meant that I had wet socks for the return trip, and I did not bring my camera. I resolved to return on the next day, Thursday, which promised delightful temperatures in the sixties, to rectify my errors.

I was surprised to find only one other car in the parking lot in Suffield. There had been at least ten on Wednesday.

Mound1

The mound of snow that seemed to block the entrance to the trail was nearly as formidable as it had been on Wednesday. However, it was possible to walk between the cabin and the mound. On Wednesday that area had been covered with a thin layer or water, but on Thursday it was dry.

Mound2

The blue car is mine. I was not lying about only one car in the lot. The other car arrived shortly after I did.

First_View

People who ventured out on the trail on Thursday had no reason to suspect that any snow would be left on the trail. This was the first view after crossing the bridge. On Wednesday there had been a few patches of snow here.

Snow_Patches

On Thursday the first snow patches appeared after the first bend in the trail. It was easy to walk around the first few, but there was still plenty of snow in the second quarter of the 4.25 mile trail.

One_Mile

The one-mile marker is just before the left turn in the above photo. By the time that I reached it I was glad that I had left my sneakers at home.

Bike_Tracks

Nearly the entire area in the above photo had been covered with snow on Wednesday. The bike tracks must have been made on Thursday. No bikers made it this far south on Wednesday.

Gave_Up_Wed

This is the point, about 1.7 miles from the northern gate, at which I gave up on Wednesday. The Thursday cyclist did not attempt it either. I pressed on. My goal was to make it at least halfway.

Geese

The geese were congregated near a small island to the northeast of King’s island. I could hear them much better than I could see them as black specks on the river. They were approximately 200 meters away.

During last summer, which was exceptionally dry, the river contained hundreds of tiny islands. Nearly all of them were now completely submerged.

Geese2

The only Canada Geese that I saw in the canal were this pair of lovebirds. I also disturbed a few pairs of wood ducks who were probably engaged in naughty behavior in the weeds along the bank.

Other birds were also flitting around. I even saw a few moths. The gnats that plague the summer months were not yet in evidence.

Ice1

I saw no ice whatever in the river. In a few places the canal was still partially covered in white.

Bridge

The bridge is roughly the halfway point on the trail. South of it there was almost no snow on the trail. Neither bank had any snow to speak of.

Iceberg

An iceberg in the canal! This one could not have sunk the Titanic, but it might do some damage to a kayak. Fortunately, boats, canoes, and kayaks are banned from the canal.

Ice_thing

This weird-looking thing was on the other side of the river. I was lucky to get a pretty good photo of it. It was presumably made of ice, but even that is just a guess.

On Wednesday I could hear water flowing at a fairly rapid rate at one point on the far side of the canal, but it was in the shadows, and I was never able to see it. The phenomenon was no longer in evidence on Thursday.

Scat

Scat on the trail: can anyone identify it? Each pellet was about 3/8″ in diameter.

Bike_Ice

I love this photo of one of the few places in which ice covered the canal from bank to bank. That bicycle track interests me. Did someone try to pedal from the eastern shore to the bank or vice-versa? If the latter, did they make it to the shore? The track appears to end, and there is no returning track.

Of course there may have been more ice a few days earlier.

RR_bridge

The railroad bridge is one mile north of the Windsor Locks gate. It is still used by Amtrak, an occasional freight train, and graffiti artists.

I did not encounter a single person until I reached this point – over three miles in the company of no one.

I was a little surprised that the last mile of the trail was open. In the last few years it did not open until July in order to give some privacy to a pair of breeding eagles. Maybe they did not show up this year.

Beavers

I did not see any beavers on either hike, but they have evidently been busy.

Helicopter

The noisiest part of the hike was when this helicopter flew directly overhead. My first thought, naturally, was that Obama and the U.N were coming after our guns. When it disappeared over the horizon I resolved never to venture out again with so little firepower.

EHS

Enfield High School is located close to the river. In six weeks or so it will be completely hidden from the view of the users of the trail by the foliage.

The Red Hand

It cost Felix Springer the Barb Shaw trophy.

If you play enough bridge, occasionally a hand comes up that is so startling that you absolutely must talk about it with someone. On this occasion it was the very last hand that we played in the sectional in Hamden on Saturday. My judgment had been faulty all day long.

Sitting East with both sides vulnerable, I picked up this unusual set of pasteboards:
___    Q J 7 5 4 3    A Q J 8 6 5 3    ___

I decided to open 1. I was only looking at ten points, and someone must have a lot of black cards. Therefore, I expected the bidding to be vigorous. I did not want to lose the heart suit.

After the next two players passed North made the surprising bid of 3NT. He probably had a suit that he expected to produce at least six or seven tricks and stoppers in the other three suits. I immediately placed the K in his hand. He also certainly had either the ace or king of hearts. Making that bid with two kings would be pretty risky. If my partner had one of the aces, and I found it with the opening lead, the contract might be down before he took a trick. I strongly suspected that he held the A. In fact, if I were a betting man, I would have laid the usual 8-5 odds that he held all three aces that I could not see.

I considered letting North play this contract, but if he had what I thought he had, and if he really had a runable suit, there was nothing that I could do to stop him.

I felt that I needed to try to get my partner involved. I bid 4 to try to rouse him from his reverie. That would tell him that I had a two-suiter.

My bid had the desired effect, but upon the wrong player. South, my left-hand opponent, played the 4 card, which was followed by two passes. I wasted no time in adding the 5 card to the red stack in front of me. Once again, there were two passes.

North went in the tank. He obviously was disconcerted by the turn that the auction had taken. After at least a minute of mental agita he bid 5, which was the final contract.

Red_Hand.jphMy partner, Felix Springer, led the 10. Declarer lost two spade tricks, but he managed to take the other eleven. If Felix had led a diamond, declarer would have had to lead up to the 9 on the first round of trump in order to make it. This would have been a highly unusual play, and he did not find it with the heart lead. However, the bidding was certainly bizarre, and perhaps he would have played it differently if the first trick had been pointed towards us.

The -650 score was a very bad result. If we had set them, I think that Felix would have gotten just enough points to win the trophy that went to the top player in Flight C.

I have been second-guessing myself for three days. What puzzled me the most was why South did not mention his six-card spade suit. I suppose that he feared the vulnerability and hoped that he might be able to take advantage of his nice heart suit.

Suppose that I had opened 1 instead. That would have removed the defensive aspect of South’s hand. He might have bid 2. If so, what would North have done? I would have bid 4NT with that hand. The only other reasonable possibilities are 3 and 4.

In any case I would need to mention the heart suit at that point. Who knows how the opponents would have reacted? It is possible that they would have found their best contract, which is 6. If so, they would have needed to negotiate a mine field to make it. It is also possible that they would have ended up in spades, and Felix might have chosen to lead my first-bid suit, diamonds. It is also possible that they would have stumbled into 6, which is only makeable on a heart lead, and even then requires the declarer to play Felix for both spade honors. It is futile to guess as to what would have happened.

Suppose that I had bid 5 over 3NT instead of 4. Would South have had the temerity to introduce the spade suit at the five level? That would have been a bold mood. I think that he would have passed. Would he then have pulled North’s inevitable double to 5? I suspect that he would have. The question then would turn to Felix’s lead. Would the jump in diamonds impress him more than repeating diamonds had?

My favorite aspect of bridge is competitive bidding. In this case I hoped to get some information out of my partner, but that would never happen. I don’t see how I could have ever realized that the defensive aspect of my hand – one or two diamond tricks if Felix led diamonds – was the critical one.

What lesson is to be learned? The only one that I can think of is that bridge is often a cruel game.

Me and the Shack

My experiences with the Tandy Corporation.

In 1996 TSI’s salesperson, Doug Pease, and I had negotiated a contract to provide the Tandy Corporation with three licenses for our AdDept software system. AdDept was designed to handle all administrative functions for an advertising department of a large retailer. Tandy only planned to use it for its newspaper and magazine advertising for reasons that were never really explained to us. At the time Tandy had three sizable retail chains, RadioShack (which, at least at the time that we dealt with them was officially one word), Computer City, which sold personal computers and peripherals, and Incredible Universe, which sold all kinds of electronic gear in a Disney-like setting. The three operated somewhat independently, and so there were three different systems. Unfortunately, by the time that the contract was finalized, Tandy had decided to shut down IU altogether, and so we only sold two licenses.

Tandy’s headquarters was in downtown Fort Worth (or, as I later came to think of it, Fort Worthless) adjacent to a mall. There was no parking nearby. All Tandy associates and customers of the mall parked in a lot that was .7 miles from the building. A small train, which they called a “subway,” ran back and forth.

We sold the systems to Tandy, but all of the negotiations were with the VP of Newspaper Advertising at RS. The other divisions had no input. We learned that RS had two systems (the other divisions had none) for newspaper advertising – one for ordering and one for paying bills. RS had four newspaper buyers for four geographical areas, and each had an assistant and a few clerks. Each of these employees had two terminals on their desks because the two systems were totally independent. They had to enter every single ad into both systems, and at the time RS ran ads or inserts in over two thousand newspapers every week as well as a few additional ads.

While I was installing the AdDept systems on one of their dozens of large systems, a security specialist in the IT area was assigned to oversee what I did. She sat next to me and did nothing for the better part of a day. She had no clue about anything that I was doing, and she expressed no interest in learning. Now, I had once been accused of sabotaging word processing documents when I installed a system, and so I actually appreciated that someone else might be able to testify about what I was doing. On the other hand, she was totally incapable of actually monitoring what I was doing, and if I were malicious, she could not have prevented me from deleting or modifying their files or programs. What I did not understand was why Tandy would pay her to keep the seat warm. I had to wonder what she did on the days when a vendor was not installing a system.

For a short period of time the RS employees in the newspaper area had to deal with three systems. When AdDept was fully installed, they were able to remove one of the terminals from everyone’s desk. However, as far as I know, they never adjusted the staffing levels to reflect the fact that they were now doing much less than half as much as before. In fact, I would estimate that AdDept eliminated three-quarters of the work previously performed. I kept expecting to see empty desks on each subsequent visit, but I never did.

RS insisted that I train each of the buyers separately. Despite the fact that their job descriptions were nearly identical, they interacted almost not at all. This was fine with us. We charged them $1,000 per day for training.

The buyers were considered experts concerning all of their papers. I noticed that they were running inserts in The Garden Island, a newspaper only available on Kauai. The buyer told me that inserts were cheaper in that paper than display ads (called ROP in the business). I wondered why they advertised in that paper at all. My recollection was that it was not a serious paper and that free copies were available at any restaurant. It was more like a shopper, and on Kauai most of the shoppers are tourists. I doubted that many of the locals subscribed to it.

One day when I was at the RS office for training I mentioned that I lived in Enfield. One of the ladies told me that they were opening a new RS store there. I was surprised at this, and I asked where it would be located. She gave me an address on Elm Street. I knew that the only part of Elm Street that had any retail establishments was the Enfield Mall, which already contained an RS store, and the strip mall across the street from it. Sure enough the new store was located across the street from the existing one. It was open for two or three years, and then they closed it down. I wonder if anyone at headquarters knew how close these stores were.

My best stories from my many trips to Fort Worthless came from the installation at Computer City. One day I noticed the Advertising Director at the copy machine. I had never seen anyone of that level at any other company performing such a mundane task. He was not there for just five minutes. He had a huge stack of papers with him, and it took him several hours to finish.

You might think from this incident that the department was understaffed. Oh, no, there were dozens of employees, so many that it was impossible for me to figure out what most of them could be doing. One thing that nearly all of them did was eat. Every day one of them brought in a large tray of snacks, and they all took a break and chowed down shortly after the work day began.

They also talked a lot. One day the subject was cats. One lady mentioned in passing that she had fifty-three cats. I asked her whether they were indoor or outdoor cats. She said that she had to keep them indoors because one of her neighbors shot her cats with a rifle whenever one ventured near his property. I mentioned that this would be considered bad form in Connecticut. No one commented, and no one laughed.

CC was sold to CompUSA in 1968 just as the employees were getting used to using AdDept.

Retailers are known for running lean operations. Of all the major ones that I had dealings with, Tandy, which shortly after discarding CC became known as just RadioShack, appeared to be by far the least impressive in regards to the efficiency of its administration and management. I am not a bit surprised that the company is about to give up the ghost.