The Musings of Montana Mouse

Fri, 01 Jun 2001

My name is Montana Mouse.

I'm a journalist.

I tag along with a rather odd character, a schmeggegy would-be scientist who calls himself "Moulton."

I was there when he adopted that name. He was sitting in his office on the fourth floor at BBN — the little company that invented the Internet — when he logged on for the first time to one of those online communities that emerged out of the Internet.

And the first thing the system asked him was "What name do you want to be known by?"

Talk about hard questions. He just stared out the window for minutes, looking vexed and perplexed. I guess no one ever asked him that question before.

Anyway, he just stared at the traffic passing through the intersection of Concord Avenue and Moulton Street for about 4 minutes. Then he turned back to his computer and typed in "Moulton."

I guess he didn't want to be known as "Concord Avenue."

Things have never been the same since. Moulton was born. It was the spring of 1989.

Fri, 01 Jun 2001

For a would-be scientist, Moulton isn't very methodical. For one thing he never takes notes, never keeps a journal. He's about the sloppiest scientist you'd ever meet. But occasionally he does some decent science. It's just that he never writes it down.

So I took up the job. I've been keeping Moulton's Journal for him for a dozen years now. He doesn't know I'm keeping notes. He probably wouldn't read them anyway. He hates to read journals. He finds them boring as sin.

The trouble with scientists is they never know how they know stuff. They look at the world, see stuff, and ask themselves, "How do I know that what I'm seeing is really what it seems to be?" And then they spend the rest of their lives trying to prove that the world is what it seems to be.

Except that a lot of the time, the world proves to be a lot more subtle and complex than it seems to be at first glance. Poor Moulton -- show him an enigma and he'll spend the rest of his life trying to solve its mysteries. You'd think he'd pick something more interesting to do than to solve the enigmatic mysteries of the Universe.

I mean who cares?

Fri, 01 Jun 2001

Moulton is such an absent-minded professor. He'll forget what day of the week it is. Coupla times he even forgot it was his birthday. You shoulda seen the look of surprise on his face when his buddies at the Science Museum brought in a cake one day. "What's the occasion," he asked? The dood didn't even know it was his birthday. But he seemed to enjoy the cake anyway.

But that's not the sad part. The sad part is that he also forgets other people's birthdays. It must break their heart.

Last summer he was with his long-time companion and soulmate, who calls herself "Moonbeam." She's really cool.

But she had an accident. She dislocated one of her bionic hips, and had to go to the hospital. Poor Moulton. The Admissions Clerk asked him all these really hard questions. "What's her address and phone number? What's her Social Security Number? What's her Medical Insurance Plan? What her date of birth?" He didn't know any of that.

The Admissions Clerk musta thought this guy was living on another planet.

Which is sorta true. Sometimes Moulton calls himself, "Barsoom Tork, Anthropologist from Mars." It's apt. He might as well be a Martian, sent down to Earth to study Human Beings. Cuz that's what he does.

He walks around like some Martian, puzzling out Earth Culture. He's not very good at it. Hasn't figured out much of anything yet.

People look at him and say, "You haven't figure out much of anything, have you?"

You'd think they'd give him a bloody clue now and then.

Sun, 03 Jun 2001

Moulton was funny today.

The regular staff person in the Cahner's Computer Place at the Museum of Science was off this week, so another intern named Judy was filling in. Judy's young and giggles a lot. She's a student of psychology. She goes around the Museum and interviews the visitors to find out what they like and don't like.

Judy is so good natured and giggly that I can't imagine anyone telling her there was something about the Museum they didn't like.

Anyway, Moulton didn't know that Judy is about to leave for the summer, so he was busy trying to get to know her, cuz he thought she was a new Sunday volunteer who was just coming on board.

He showed her the Tower of Hanoi and demonstrated his annoying method of asking the same four questions over and over to guide the poor beleagured visitors to solve it with "deep reasoning."

If I hear Moulton say "Recursion" or "Deep Reasoning" one more time, I think I'll hop into Judy's pocket and hitch a ride to Canada with her for the summer. At least she has a contagious giggle.

Moulton never giggles.

Matthew was there today, too. Matthew is this big lunk who supervises the Cahners Computer Place on Sundays. Miss Congeniality he is not.

Matthew was interviewing a teenager who might become a new volunteer. When he finished, he came out of the office and said, "I told her about the Sunday crew, including Moulton, so if she doesn't take the job, we'll know why." And Moulton retorted, "See, if I had interviewed her, we'd have gotten the opposite outcome: She wouldn't have taken the job because of you!"

Heh. Josh thought that was a funny comeback. Josh is cool. He's a young high-tech entrepreneur who comes in every other week. He has a wry sense of humor, kind of like Yesdeer, but not as cynical.

And then there's Michael. Another teenager, very bright, but a little out of his league when Moulton and Josh are doing "schtick" together.

Moulton stuck around to go see the Omni movie. It was a drama, with a kind of dream sequence flashback to the Cretaceous Era. The teenage heroine, who is the daughter of a Paleontologist, meets Mama T-Rex and helps her defend her eggs against marauders. It was a love story involving parental instincts. Moulton was shocked. After all, this was the Mugar Omni Theater at the Museum of Science. What are they doing putting on a love story with dinosaurs? Scary.

Oh, but I forgot the best part. I was just sitting there in Moulton's pocket when he reached in, took me out, and showed me off to Judy, Josh, and Michael. Then he put me on his head, like a little hat.

Thought I was gonna die. The humiliation I have to put up with to help Moulton explain his silly ideas to people. If he calls me a "Learning Critter" one more time I'm gonna puke on his "Wizard's @ Work" BBN Technologies Chambray Shirt.

Wed, 06 Jun 2001

Moulton's an odd bird.

He says everything is connected to everything else.

God help anyone who questions that. Moulton will spend the next four hours drawing a detailed map revealing how everything is connected to everything else.

And not in two-part melody and four-part harmony with an occasional bridge between stanzas.

Nope nope nope. He just weaves it all together like some huge Tapestry that you couldn't even hang on the Berlin Wall, if it were still standing.

He drives the Juke-Boxers nutso.

Who are the Juke-Boxers, you ask?

Heh. That's Moulton's metaphor for people who park every little song and dance in a separate slot. The compartmentalizers, except he doesn't use that long word. He just calls 'em Juke-Boxers.

Moulton sez most people store information the way a Juke Box stores records. In little separate compartments. Adjacent records have little or nothing to do with each other.

Moulton sez about one person in 100 doesn't use the Juke Box method to compartmentalize stuff. Instead they weave Tapestries. Giant maps with stories embedded all over them. And with a Tapestry, everything is woven together, everything is connected to everything else.

Bards work from Tapestries. They can spin a tale by plotting out a path from one point on the Tapestry to another, like a Journey.

Moulton sez a Juke-Box can't compose music, can't even play medleys. It has to play one record at a time, and if you don't like that record, you have to hit the Reject Button. So Juke-Boxers are used to Rejection.

But Tapestry Weavers are a different story. They operate on an entirely different principle. To Reject a part of a Tapestry is to tear a hole in the Fabric of Civilization itself.

Moulton sez it's hard for Juke-Boxers to grok Tapestry Weavers. Juke Boxers have no way to store a whole Tapestry. They only have the capacity to store a large collection of unrelated records, like cutting up the Tapestry into little squares. They miss the big picture hidden in the Tapestry.

Fri, 08 Jun 2001

I've watched Moulton over the years. It's interesting to see how he acquires the practices of each locale and culture he's embedded in.

When Moulton was 12, his father moved the family to New Orleans for a year while he attended Tulane to earn a Masters in Public Health.

It was strange for Moulton to watch his father become a college student at the age of 45. It was cute the way Moulton gave his dad tips on how to take exams.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about today.

What I wanted to talk about was how Moulton adapted to the local culture of New Orleans, especially the speech patterns.

When he first arrived, he couldn't understand a word people said. They talked so different in New Orleans than in Omaha. And 10 months later, when the year in New Orleans was about over, Moulton was talking just like them.

After returning to Omaha, he lost his New Orleans drawl within a few months.

Then he went off to college himself. Not all that far. He only went from Omaha to Lincoln, a mere 50 miles. But oh what a change in culture. Moulton was no longer living at home, but in a house full of other students who brought all manner of different ways of speaking.

One of the features of that culture was teasing and ribbing. It went on all the time, and the only way to survive was to give as good as you got. They had a strange name for it in those days. They called it "pimping" — I kid you not. In Lincoln Nebraska, in 1964, put-downs were known as "pimping."

I'll never forget the day the girl friend of one of the brothers drops by, and by way of greeting, she says, "Pimp me."

But the problem was, when Moulton went home during breaks, he brought that acid tongue with him. Which his Mother did not like. Moulton himself wasn't even aware of it. "What acid tongue?" he would inquire.

It wasn't until after he graduated and moved on to the next cultural model — the research lab — that he realized he had acquired a habit of speech that no longer served him well. And gradually he lost his acid tongue.

Cultures, it seems, are like seawater to a fish. You don't notice the features of your culture until you move to a different one.

Moulton is now a lot more resistant to picking up undesirable features of a culture. Which often makes him stick out like a sore thumb.

It's like going to the beach, where everybody is playing volleyball except this one dude, who is sitting quietly with a sketchpad, sketching pictures of the volleyballers. Of course they don't notice he's drawing pictures. They just see him sitting there, not playing the game.

Pretty soon, one of them throws the volleyball at the guy with the sketchpad, to see if he'll enter the game. But the ball just bounces off him. He ignores it and goes on sketching. Which really irks the volleyballers. Pretty soon a few of them are pelting him with the volleyball, trying to get a rise out him. And he just draws a sketch of them throwing the volleyball at him.

This is how Moulton behaves when he is in a foreign culture.

Is that weird or what?

Mon, 11 Jun 2001

Speaking of foreign cultures, Moulton is on another jag.

He's researching yet another of those ineffable affective emotional states.

He's trying to find out the name of the affective emotional state one experiences when others are behaving like arrogant pompous ass know-it-alls.

Sheesh, what a nebbish.

Why doesn't he just say he feels like calling them arrogant pompous assed know-it-alls. Is that so hard to say?

Trust me on this. Moulton will research this puzzle until he comes up with a clinical term for his affective emotional state that no one ever heard of before.

Tue, Jun 12, 2001 6:25 AM

Moulton seems to be feeling "abraded" by the "abrasiveness" of others. He went down to the basement and got some "True Grit" Coarse Grit Sandpaper and papered a sample of it on the wall of his computer study. Then he labeled it, "Welcome to the Emery Board."

Moulton is weird.

Me, I just feel a little gritty after the affairs of the day.

Tue, 12 Jun 2001

Well, Moulton is fit to be tied today.

He just came home from grocery shopping at the local Stop & Shop.

This week, chicken is on sale. The regular price is $2.99/lb, but this week they are running a "Buy One, Get One Free Sale."

And the ad (both in the store and in the circular) says "You Save $2.99/lb".

Heh. Moulton pointed out to the store manager that his savings was not $2.99/lb but $1.50/lb.

The store manager didn't get it. He assured Moulton that he was saving $2.99 a pound when he bought two pounds of chicken for $2.99 (when Moulton normally would have paid $5.98 for those same 2 pounds of chicken without the sale).

Moulton tells the guy that if he buy 2 pounds of chicken for $2.99, he is paying $1.50 a pound, which is half the regular price, for a savings of $1.50/lb.

The guy just doesn't get it. Moulton is exasperated.

So Moulton comes home and, as he is unpacking his groceries, he turns on the radio to NPR's Talk of the Nation and guess what they're talkin about? Yep. Basic economic literacy and why people can't understand simple marketplace math.

Mebbe Click and Clack should do a Puzzler on this one.

Thu, 14 Jun 2001

Moulton has been thinking about issues of ownwership for a day or two.

He drew a diagram on the board:

A ⇒ B
which he reads aloud as "A Implies B."

Now, here is where Moulton is confused...

If 'A' and 'B' are States of Affairs or States of Mind, such that one person "owns" 'A' and another persons "owns" 'B' then who "owns" the Implication itself, 'A ⇒ B' ?

Moulton is coming to the conclusion that, in Systems Theory, flows in the system are not "owned" by any system component, but are an Emergent Property of the System itself.

What a nerd! Nobody is ever gonna understand that.

The guy oughta go looking for some song lyrics that express that notion.

Sat, 16 Jun 2001

Moulton spent the day at MIT yesterday. He does that about one day a week. He mainly goes there to socialize and to schmooze.

Moulton went into the MIT Coop yesterday, which is a large store where you can buy all kinds of survival gear, like clothing.

Moulton hardly ever buys clothing, but yesterday he bought a T-Shirt.

I kid you not. This guy, who still owns every ratty T-Shirt since he was in college actually bought a new T-Shirt with real hard-earned money.

And he had to go to the MIT Coop to buy this particular T-Shirt because you can't buy it anywhere else on the planet.

Moulton bought one of those Maxwell's Equations T-Shirts. Only at MIT.

They come in four colors and two styles of printing. They all have the 4 famous equations of James Clerk Maxwell printed on the front, but one style surrounds the equations with "And God said ..." [Maxwell's Equation Go Here] "... and there was light." The other style is for Atheists, I guess. Moulton is not an Atheist.

Moulton bought the "And God said ..." model.

He says he is going to wear it as his "costume" at a talk next week.

This should be good. Stay tuned and I'll let you know how it goes.

Moulton's Maxwell's Equation T-Shirt

Sat, 23 Jun 2001

Well, Moulton was in his element this week.

The conference, which was held in the posh Tang Center at the MIT Sloan School of Management, was called "WET-ICE" which stands for "Workshop on Enabling Technologies — Infrastructure for Collaborative Environments."

Most of the regular talks sucked, but there were two good keynote speeches, and several good coffee breaks and dinner conversations.

Moulton ran into two old colleagues from a 1995 Mud Workshop and did a lot of catching up with them. Kirstie Bellman is one of the most extraordinary professional women in the business. Moulton is a terrible listener, but he can listen to Kirstie for hours. And he did. Kirstie is joined at the hip to Chris Landauer who documents everything they do. He's cool. Like Esther Dyson, Kirstie is the daughter of a famous researcher who began teaching her how to think at age 3. What a difference it makes to have a parent who bothers to teach their children how to think.

Believe it or not, Kirstie says she has never met Esther Dyson, but they both know it's inevitable. I'd love to be a mouse in Moulton's pocket when they meet. Trouble is, Moulton prolly won't be there when it happens.

Moulton also met several other movers and shakers, including Tom Malone, the best of the two keynote speakers. He wants Moulton to write up the remarks he made after Tom's talk.

Moulton also fell for another researcher from Sandia National Labs. Elaine Raybourn is new on the scene, but smack on target. She's a Sociologist who studies human behavior in collaborative environments.

Well, 'collaborative' is sort of a euphemism here. If you put humans in a collaborative environment they discover ingenious ways to transform it into a war zone.

Which brings me around to Moulton's talk on Friday morning.

What a performance. The guy is practically an evangelist. Barsoom Tork on speed.

Oh, and I was in the talk, too. Yep. He trotted me out for his patented 'Bricolage with Montana Mouse' sketch. But now I have competition from Moulton's new Maxwell's Equation T-Shirt. But I'm cuter.

Definitely cuter than Moulton in his Maxwell's Equation T-Shirt.

Yep. No question about it.

I'm cuter.

Sun, Jun 24, 2001

Part of Moulton's talk last Friday was the introduction of yet another model. This guy has more models than Carter has pills.

Moulton starts with Data. "What's Data?" he asks.

And then before anyone can even ponder the question, Moulton answers his own rhetorical question. "Data is the answer to a question no one asked."

Who asked him, anyway? The audience looked annoyed.

But Moulton, oblivious of the blank stares, drones on.

"So what is Information?"

Now you'd think he would wait for the poor schlepps to answer this one, but they are too annoyed to respond, so he answers for them. "Information is the answer to an asked question."

And he goes on about converting Data into Information by attaching questions to each datum so as to build a mountain of Question-Answer Pairs out of the Data that no one cared about in the first place.

Now you'd think the guy would sit down and let people go get a cup of coffee and a brownie, which is what they really want. But nope. Moulton isn't done yet. He's barely begun.

"Information," he drones on, "is like a box of unassembled jigsaw puzzle pieces."

The audience is all but snoring.

"And what do we do with a box of unassembled jigsaw puzzle pieces?"

I'm waiting for someone to say, "We throw them at you, one by one."

But no. This is a polite, if long-suffering crowd. One of them meekly whispers, "Assemble them?"

"Right!" says Moulton encouragingly, "We assemble them into a Fabric of Knowledge."

Blank looks blanket the room.

"And what happens when we finish assembling the Jigsaw Puzzle of Knowledge?"

Silence happens.

Eye glaze happens.

But Moulton is undaunted. "Insight. We see the Big Picture that was previously hidden in the disassembled pieces of information."

And Moulton launches into his Evangelistical Mystical Rapture. "Insight. Enlightenment. Epiphany. Revelation. The Aha Moment. The Eureka Moment."

More like the Snore Moment if you ask me.

Moulton is Snorkeling in Deep Water. Then he goes Scuba Diving.

"So what is the use of Knowledge? What is the use of all this Insight, this Seeing the Big Picture?"

The Sominex Company should be very afraid. Moulton could put them out of business.

"People have Values and Disvalues, Desires, Goals, Objectives. They want to use their Knowledge to get more of what they want. When you fold in a Value System, you get Wisdom."

More like Foolishness, if you ask me.

"And what comes out of Wisdom?"

Stone silence comes out.

"StoryMaking. The Bard, with his Deep Insight and Wisdom extracts a Story from the Big Picture."

A StoryMaker Moulton is not.

"And what is a Story?"

The audience is lost somewhere in Nepal.

"A Story is an Anecdote."

As if Moulton could tell an Anecdote from a Sleeping Pill.

"And what is the plural of Anecdote?"

By now the whole audience is in Emotional Paralysis.

"The plural of Anecdote is Data."

And Moulton draws a big arrow on the blackboard closing the loop.

No one gets it.

Oh the Humanity!

It was a Stunning Performance.


Mon, 25 Jun 2001

Speaking of leaving people speechless, Moulton seems to have done it again.

Yesterday he was digging up references to Harry Potter and his arch nemesis, Voldemort.

About the only character in the Harry Potter stories who is able to mention Voldemort by name is Albus Dumbledore. The other characters cannot even utter his name, but refer to Voldemort elliptically.

Many of the antagonistic characters in Harry Potter have names that are clues to their roles. Draco Malfoy is the Boy Lizard with Bad Faith.

Voldemort is the Annihilator of Free Will.

Antagonistic and nemesistic characters seem to leave the Protagonists speechless, frozen in terror.

Emotional Paralysis.

It's a common affliction.

What is the Unutterable Name of their Fear?

Tue, 26 Jun 2001

Seems I'm not the only mouse in Moulton's life.

Moulton goes into the MIT Media Lab several times a week these days.

It's a busy time for him and his project there.

In the lobby of the Media Lab hangs a large fabric flag. Except that what's depicted on the flag is not some typical pedestrian flag design. Nope, nope, nope. The flag depicts the face of a well-known mouse which children the world over adore.

Well almost. It's not a regulation image of this famous mouse.

Definitely not a regulation image.

This mouse has those slanty almond eyes that make it unmistakeably an Alien Mouse.

Moulton stares at the Alien Mouse with the slanty almond eyes every time he passes through the lobby of the Media Lab.

Moulton identifies with that Alien Mouse.

Alien Mouse

Sun, 01 Jul 2001

Moulton was in his element this week.

It was a big week, culminating in a meeting with the Advisory Panel of his big project at MIT.

But the best part was Friday and Saturday. One of the members of the Advisory Panel stayed over to schmooze with Moulton.

They were up half the night trading stories and ideas.

There was Moulton, in his living room, choreographing a scene to explain the fundamentals of electricity to children who would be too young to grasp the usual abstractions. The children would dance a kind of Conga Line that depicted the way electricity moves.

Seņor Wences is alive and well, performing in Moulton's living room.

Moulton is a Systems Thinker. There aren't a whole lot of Systems Thinkers in this world. So when Moulton has a houseguest who is also a Systems Thinker, researcher and an educator to boot, it turns into a high intensity seminar.

I couldn't begin to recap everything they talked about. It went on for hours and hours, and neither of them tired of it. It was an astonishing candlelight performance.

Yep. The power went off. There was a huge downpour and electrical storm, and the power went off. Moulton lit some candles and they did all this in the near darkness on Saturday night.

Candlelight dancing in Moulton's living room.

You had to be there.

Mon, 23 Jul 2001


It's been a hectic weekend in these parts.

On Friday, Moulton dashed over to the airport to meet Moonbeam's arriving flight. The Red Line was suffering delays, and Moulton arrived at the gate to meet Moonbeam's flight just as she was coming out the door.

But the ride on the T back to where Moulton parks his car was an adventure. It took them 3 hours to go from the airport to Moulton's house.

The big hangup was another breakdown on the Red Line, just two stops short of their destination. The train in front broke down and had to be pushed into the station by the train behind. Phun.

Saturday, Moonbeam was feeling ill, but they went to the Science Museum nonetheless, where Moonbeam spent most of the day sitting in the Volunteer Lounge writing and resting. It has a nice view of the Charles.

Then Saturday night they went to MIT for a picnic. The organizers had moved the picnic, so Moulton and Moonbeam wandered all over campus looking for it. But the food was good.

Sunday they returned to MIT for a marathon workshop that ran for 11 hours with no breaks. It was a good workshop, but Moonbeam was exhausted. The best part of her day was playing Scrabble on a Media Lab machine that is faster than Moulton's antiques.

What a 'Mechiah'!

Fri, 07 Sep 2001

Moulton's been busy of late. So busy, he sometimes forgets me. Three times now he's done his laundry without bothering to remove me from his pocket. It's like going through the carwash in Moonbeam's Zephyr.

Gimme a towel already.

Moulton and Moonbeam finished their reunion with visits to some museums of art and history, and enjoyed some quiet evenings, briefly interrupted by a small crisis or two.

Anyway, Moonbeam headed back to the mountains while Moulton went to Madison Wisconson, on the shores of Lake Mendota, to give a paper on his favorite research subject. And, as usual, he dragged me out of his pocket to demonstrate his ideas.

I must have done a good job, cuz they gave Moulton an award for his talk, and he even thanked me for helping him. I guess that makes up for all those unadvertised launderings.

Then he spent a week and half visiting his family in Indiana. Different members of Moulton's family move at different speeds. His mother, naturally, moves at a snail's pace. His nephew, Bob, who has his own construction business, moves at lightspeed. Bob's speedboat is called "This Side Up" because he flipped the last one he owned.

And his brother and sister-in-law, who were in the process of moving into a new house, move around in circles, tangoing to the music of the sneers.

It was a weird interlude.

Moulton returned to resume his bucolic life at home. He planted 14 mums, 2 pansies, and 180 bulbs in his garden, and resumed his routine at the Museum of Science, with an occasional night out for Dungeons and Dragons.

But wait. There's more.

Then he drove out west. Well to western Massachusetts anyway, to give a marathon guest lecture to a bunch of public school educators who were enrolled in a professional development program at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. It was Show Time again. But no award this time. Just a nice thank you and a drive through the Berkshires.

Now Moulton has a houseguest for the next two months. A young post-doc from Carnegie-Mellon has moved in for a spell to collaborate on Moulton's big project at MIT. Poor Moulton. He won't be able to laze around for a while. There's work to do.

Date: Sat, 08 Sep 2001

I almost got the day off, today.

Last week, one of the other volunteers at the Museum of Science brought in a small Van de Graf Generator. It was in a state of disrepair, which naturally attracted Moulton's interest. He can't keep his mitts off stuff that's broken.

So today being a slow day at the Museum, Moulton had time to fiddle with the Van de Graf Generator.

"What's a Van de Graf Generator?" you ask.

It's a lightning machine.

Well, the big ones are. This was just a little one, so it only produced little sparks, not big lightning bolts.

Sparks are baby lightning bolts. Or lightning bolts are moby sparks.

Anyway, it's a fairly simple machine. There is a rubber belt that runs up and down a vertical tube, about the size of a paper towel tube. At the bottom of the tube there is a little piece of copper wire that rubs against the belt. At the top of the tube is a metal dome, about the size of a small mixing bowl. It fits snugly over the top of the vertical tube.

The belt is driven by a small electric motor. As the belt turns, it rubs against the copper wire and picks up a few stray electrons which are carried up with the moving belt, where they jump to the metal dome.

There they collect and build up a charge of static electricity, which you can feel if you bring your hand near the dome. The static electricity makes the hairs on the back of your hand stand up, and it feels a little like wind on your arm.

Moulton then attached a ping pong ball to a string and suspended it near the dome of the Van de Graf Generator. The ping pong ball would pick up some static electricity which makes it repell from the dome.

Moulton got all this working and spent much of the afternoon entertaining the visitors with the machine.

I almost got off scott free.

But just at the end of the day, he hauled me out to repeat, for the umpteenth time, his spiel on emotions and learning, with me in the ignominious role of "learning critter."

I'd rather have been electrocuted on the damned lightning bolt machine.

Date: Sun, 29 Sep 2002

This has been something of a breakthrough month for Moulton at the Museum of Science.

For years he has been perfecting the art of coaching visitors at the puzzle counter.

Julien is another Science Museum volunteer and part-time staffer who has gradually picked up the art of coaching, much to Moulton's gratification and delight.

About a month ago, Julien asked Moulton if he knew any way to coach visitors to solve one of the newer puzzles in the collection.

Moulton told Julien that he didn't know any coaching technique for the newest puzzle, but his intuition suggested that the new puzzle was similar to the Tower of Hanoi, for which there was a well-established coaching technique that Julien had already mastered. Perhaps, suggested Moulton, the coaching technique for the Tower of Hanoi could be adapted to the new puzzle.

A week later, Moulton came into the Discovery Center to see Julien coaching a young visitor to solve the newer puzzle. Moulton watched in astonishment as Julien led the young visitor to systematically solve the puzzle.

It was a red-letter day. Julien had not just matched Moulton's practice, he had moved beyond it. Julien was not just flying solo anymore, he was now doing tricks beyond anything that Moulton had been able to figure out.

And then there was a touching moment when Moulton went up to Julien to congratulate him on his astonishing achievement. Julien had been the first to prove that others could both master the coaching technique and generalize it.

Yesterday, Moulton arrived in the Discovery Center to find Julien visiting with a parent at the puzzle counter. Julien had drawn a diagram on a piece of paper and was explaining it to the parent.

Moulton looked down at the paper and his jaw dropped.

Julien was deftly explaining Moulton's Four-Quadrant Model of Emotions and Learning to the visitor.

Hallelujah! Moulton has won. Julien, at age 30, has now mastered his own understanding of the underlying theory and is now able to explain that, too.

It's another Mechiah!

If Julien can learn it, so can others.

Date: Mon, 30 Sep 2002

Saturday night, after the Museum of Science, Moulton went over to the home of his friends, Len and Roz, who were celebrating the second birthday of their youngest child, Christopher.

To Moulton's surprise, all of Len's family had come up from Connecticut, and Roz' parents were there from Atlanta. The place was packed.

Roz' father, Bill, had bought a puzzle called 'Rush Hour' for 6-year old Michael, the older child. 'Rush Hour' (sometimes marketed as 'Grid Lock' or 'Traffic Jam') is a large sliding block puzzle in a square frame, with rectangular blocks of different sizes. It's not an easy puzzle.

In a matter of days, reported both Bill and Len, Michael had zipped through Levels 1 and 2 of the puzzle and was on his way to solving Level 3.

Len is the oldest of 5 siblings. Len's youngest brother, John, is not a puzzle solver. He's invariably the last member of the family to be found amusing himself with a challenging mind-bender.

But Michael had somehow cajoled John into trying the 'Rush Hour' puzzle. After all, if a 6-year old can do it, how hard can it be?

So here was John, aided by his girl friend, Tara, sweating over this classic, challenging puzzle.

'Rush Hour' is based on 'nested goals'. To solve the main problem, you first have to solve a slightly simpler one. And to solve the simpler puzzle, you have to solve a yet simpler one, and so on. The key idea is to recognize the sequence of nested goals, and work them in reverse order.

It's easy to get lost or confused.

John and Tara were lost and confused.

And then along comes 6-year old Michael — but not to show them how to solve it. Nonono. Michael understands the point of solving puzzles. It's not to get the answer. Nopenopenope. It's to enjoy the process of discovering the elusive solution.

And there was 6-year old Michael, coaching his 32-year old uncle to think his way through the solution to 'Rush Hour'.

And the best part was that John enjoyed it, and didn't feel stupid or embarrassed to receive help from a precocious 6-year old. John was able to boast that he had solved it.

Moulton was so impressed he awarded Michael an orange Museum of Science T-Shirt.

Why orange?

That's his father's favorite color.

Orange is the color of Amusement.

Date: 10 October 2002

Well, Moulton's gone and done it now.

Last March, he gave a coupla guest lectures at Harvard, which the instructor taped.

Then she had her husband process the tapes into QuickTime movies.

Then she had him burn the movies onto a CD and she gave Moulton a copy.

It was no big deal, cuz Moulton didn't have a machine powerful enough to play QuickTime movies.

So he just put the CDs aside.

But then, the idiots at MIT broke down and gave Moulton a half decent iMac to take home, since his ferchachta old machines were barely able to boot up without falling apart.

So naturally, Moulton needed to find out if the CD player worked.

Yah, it worked. But the speakers didn't. Silent movies.

So Moulton took the bloody iMac apart and soldered up the broken leads on the little printed circuit board where the headphone jacks plug in. Took him all day. Plus he burned his fingers on the soldering pencil.

What a klutz.

But now he had a CD player that played QuickTime movies with sound, and even DVDs. Moulton is not in the stone age anymore.

But then something evil overtook him. He decided to upload the QuickTime movies to the MIT Web Server so that Moonbeam and others could see them. Hah. Do you know how long it takes to upload half a gigabyte of movies over DSL? The upload speed on DSL is much slower than the download speed. It took two days to upload those movies.

It would have been faster for Moulton to take the Red Line down to MIT and to copy the movies straight off the CD on a lab machine.

Moulton is too lazy to go out of the house if he doesn't have to.

Anyway, he finally gets the movies up on the MIT Web server.

As if anyone is gonna stream 2 hours worth of Moulton ranting and raving in front of a bunch of students at Harvard. Hah!

The worst of it is that I'm in the movie, too. Yep.

Part way into one of the lectures, he pulls me out of his pocket and subjects me to that humiliating bit about how I'm first a 'moving critter' and then a 'learning critter'.

I never signed up to be an Internet movie star.

Date: 16 June 2005


Seems I have a rival. There is a new GhostWriter in Moulton's life.

Not that I can blame him. I haven't been much of a chronicler or publicist to that schmeggegy scientist for — oh lessee — about three years now.

But that GhostWriter — jeez he sucks. The guy can't even tell a story.

I'll prolly have to be his Ghost-Writer-Once-Removed.

Once removed? Hrmmm. Mebbe that's a poor choice of words under the present circumstances.

Date: Tue, 05 Jul 2005

Paul Winchell, the voice of Tigger, who died last week, had a puppet named Jerry Mahoney. Jerry Mahoney had a doppelganger (carved by the same Gepetto (Frank Marshall)) known as Danny O'Day, whose strings were pulled by ventriloquist, Jimmy Nelson, who had a second puppet character — a dog named Farfel, whom he [Jimmy Nelson and/or Danny O'Day] talked to.

Unlike Kevin Bacon, there were 7 degress of schmooziness between Tigger and Farfel.

I never met any of them, although Moulton once told me he admired puppeteers like Burr Tillstrom (Kukla Fran and Ollie), Shari Lewis (Lamb Chop), and Jim Henson (the Muppets).

I'm glad I'm not a puppet. A journalist has to be able to think for himself and question authority. Part of my job is to ask tough questions of Moulton.

Date: Wed, 3 August 2005

Moulton lived in NJ for a while, when he worked at Bell Labs in Holmdel, back in the 70's and 80s'. He left NJ in 1987, not long after the US DoJ broke up the Bell System, thereby leaving Bell Labs in a shambles.

During those last few years in NJ, Moulton managed to accumulate a few points on his NJ Driver's License for two local speeding tickets in Holmdel and Tinton Falls. About that same time, NJ instituted a state-operated Insurance Surcharge for drivers with points on their record.

Moulton had diligently paid all the fines and insurance surcharges that were levied while he lived, worked, and drove in NJ. After he left the state, he allowed his NJ Driver's License to expire, and obtained a new one in Massachusetts, where he now lived.

Unbeknownst to Moulton, the NJ AISC (Automobile Insurance Surcharge Collection) agency continued to assess the insurance surcharge for a year or two after he left the state, racking them up against his long-expired NJ Driver's License. About ten years ago, Moulton got the first of many annual dunning and threatening letters from them, advising him that his old NJ Driver's License (which had long ago expired anyway) had been suspended, and that he owed them some big bucks, or else all sorts of horrible and dire things would happen to him.

So Moulton wrote them to advise them that he had left NJ, no longer even had an NJ Driver's License, and had not even set foot in the state since his departure from the state in the previous decade.

No matter, they ignored the letter and continued to send him annual dunning letters.

This time Moulton called them up on their 800 number and yelled at them about it for a good hour. It didn't help a bit. It just got his dander up, bigtime, as they were utterly intransigent.

Today, Moulton Googled up the statute, which clearly says in the very first line that the NJ Automobile Insurance Surcharge Collection applies to 'Drivers'. So he called them again to point out that he had become a Non-Driver during the year or two in the late 80's when they had continued to bill him, in clear violation of the authority of the Statute.

But the agent on the 800 line said he had no power to respond to that observation — that his office was allegedly operating in violation of the clearly worded authority of the Statute — and that Moulton would have to take it up with 'higher authorities' at the DMV (which didn't have an 800 number).

So Moulton called them on his own dime, and got pretty much the same run-around again.

It all goes to prove Moulton's Law: If a bureacracy makes a mistake, it can't be fixed. Ever.

Not even after 18 years.

Date: May 10, 2007

Moulton spent the day at MIT, attending the fabulous launch of John Hockenberry's new project, Human 2.0. The entire day-long event is up in RealVideo on the project's web site.

Moulton got home around 10:30 PM, utterly exhausted, and fell into bed straightaway. He woke up at 2:30 AM.

I was there, too, of course, covering the event as a journalist.

And it was fabulous program, if I do say so myself.

Mebbe one of the upcoming reports in the media can do it justice. As experienced an amateur journalist as I am, I don't think I can begin to write about Human 2.0 and do it justice.

There aren't any news stories up yet in the mainstream press, but Cati Vaucelle (who worked on the Affective Learning Companion with Moulton about 7 years ago) did blog three of the special guests.

One special guest was athlete and stunning model Aimee Mullins who is a double amputee. She has 10 pairs of artificial legs, one for every occasion including fashion shows, foot races, and avant guarde art installations. Aimee was the 'Cheetah' in the video clip from the Guggenheim in Cati's blog.

Another special guest, Hugh Herr, who lost his legs in a climbing accident, literally designed his own new body — a state of the art bionic knee and ankle. Aimee and Hugh are 'body builders' of kind never seen before. Hugh scaled a special 'climbing wall' to show how he regained his ability to engage in his favorite recreational sport.

Tod Machover's musical show stopper drew a standing ovation and brought tears to Moulton's eyes. That's the second time Machover's done that.

Cati also blogged Cynthia Breazeal's presentation on sociable robots.

Two of the managers from Cahner's Computer Place at the Boston Museum of Science attended the program, at Moulton's invitation, prodding, and insistence. He had to drag them there, kicking and screaming, but they later admitted they were glad they came.

Well yeah.

Date: March 15, 2011

Beware the Ides of March.

Moulton is all in favor of historical re-enactments, as they often have significant educational value.

But it's important to let everyone know when a drama is an historical re-enactment and not a live event.

Alas, Moulton was not prepared for the dramatic re-enactment of the Columbine shootings at Wikiversity.

The headmaster of Wikiversity (played by Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry) foolishly gave a single bullet to his special education student (played by Barney Fife). The special education student then used the single bullet to kill an unsuspecting visiting scientist (played by Barsoom Tork).

Barsoom's character did not survive.

Oh well. So it goes.

Copyright 2001-2011, Barsoom Tork Associates.