Warp Core: July 25, 1999 - The Moppets Take Manhattan

It was July, 1999 and I had just attended my first Macworld New York as a speaker along with Duane Straub from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. And I was a newbie gawker. Here’s the report I wrote back then — with my first reactions to Manhattan as a Colorado kid.

Author notes and comments are in [brackets].

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The Moppets Take Manhattan


“If you can DREAM it, you can DO it.”

— Walt Disney


Manhattan is everything you thought it was. If you’ve ever watched the David Letterman Show, you’ve seen the area around Times Square and Rockefeller Center. Street merchants. Crowded shops. Throngs of people. But, somehow, the TV camera misses the little things. The details. It misses the smells. It misses the sense of crowding and deterioration. It misses the piles of trash piled on the curbs after dark. It misses the “G” forces you feel in a Manhattan taxi as it careens around garbage trucks and barely misses mowing down a mother with her child in a stroller while he curses in a foreign language.

Ah, yes. Manhattan in the summertime.

Once I looked up between two fifty story buildings on 51st street and saw a glimpse of an airliner. I felt like a fish at the bottom of the ocean, a bottom feeder, trapped in a murky depth as other souls soared free above. Now I know why movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact show fiery meteoroids obliterating Manhattan skyscrapers. There is such a feeling of … decay … to it all that movie executives probably gaze out their 60th story windows fantasizing, longing that, someday, something from the heavens will come along and, in a mighty inferno, cleanse the whole island.

At dinner last Thursday night, I was talking to John Farr and Joe Ryan. Across from me was the bar where the fashion statement [for women] seemed to be a tight black dress, blonde hair, and a cigarette. Hardly anyone is overweight. Manhattan is a city of image — and lots of walking.

John Farr is a wonderfully erudite fellow. For a guy who writes with his hair on fire, it’s fascinating to talk with him in person — a slow west Texas (but intellectual) drawl. The son of an Air Force pilot, he might well have become a scientist like me — except for an abrupt right turn into the Twilight Zone of excessive creativity and independence. John M. and John F. Look out world, here we come!

Back in Denver, out shopping on Saturday, I-25 was fairly crowded. But I noticed something, again, for the first time. To the east, I could see to the horizon, towering hammerheads glowing gold in the sunlight. To the west, I could see the Rocky Mountains, blue and majestic. More often than we would like these days, Denver traffic is annoying. But one need only look up to remember one is in Colorado.

Or Taos, New Mexico, Mr. Farr.

Sorry, No Meteoroids. This Time.

I‘ve been to WWDC seven years in a row now, but MacWorld Expos have always seemed distant to me. In January, after a long Christmas break, I am thinking about going back to work. In July, New York (and Boston) always seemed unwelcome: distant, expensive and swelteringly hot. Reports of the heat, craziness, and inconvenience in the Mac press from years past never did arouse my interest to go there.

But this year, I was invited to participate in one of the MacWorld Pro Conference sessions, and the whole team from Applelinks [where I used to write this column] planned to be there as well. So I set off on the journey to New York.

IDG was a gracious host. While their book publishing division seems to manifest no end in its capacity to annoy their authors, the people who assisted the speakers, were utterly professional and gracious. They fed us to excess, gave us a place to gather and prepare, lavished a nice kit up on us with a “Conference Faculty” shirt and baseball cap, and were just plain great. My thanks Cara Peters and her staff.

The Javits Convention Center is not too shabby. I suppose if you could remove all the structure from the inside, you could probably park the U.S.S. Nimitz inside with room for several destroyer escorts. I never saw the facilities in Boston, but I have heard that they have nothing to match the Javits Center. Too bad. Boston is a classier town.


Macworld NY - The Crystal Palace

But take heart, Boston. If a stray comet or asteroid ever does home in on the planet Earth, it will head straight for, of course, Manhattan.

Of Firewalls and Stuff

One of the things that has annoyed me in the past has been the relative lack of security software for the Macintosh. I suggested to Viacomsoft that if they didn’t add a firewall to their router product, I’d just have to go an write one myself. Fortunately, I am too late.

At MacWorld, Intego introduced the Net Barrier 1.0, the first comprehensive personal security software for the MacOS — including integrated firewall, antivandal, and packet filtering technology. This software installs on each Macintosh on the network so that it can protect from attacks both from outside and inside the LAN. I will be testing this software and writing about it over the next week, so stay tuned. It certainly appears to be a winner. Contact Intego at 305.629.3501 (Miami,FL).

Since writing about hardware firewalls several weeks ago, readers have alerted me to some currently shipping products. Jon McDanel tipped me off to the UMAX UGate-Plus. This is an integrated router, Ethernet hub, and firewall that you can place between your cable modem/DSL box and your home network. It’s configured with any Web Browser, and the price is about $350. With luck, I’ll get one and review it as well. Finally, I was alerted to the SonicWall/10 by Doug Weathers. It is also a hardware firewall product in a small blue box, administered with a Web Browser, and sells for about $500. Finally, Tim Breen pointed out that the 6100’s form factor requires a special adapter to add a second Ethernet card — for use as a firewall — making it a somewhat less convenient choice compared to other Macs. Thanks, Tim.

At the Pro Conference session C16, “Demystifying Cryptography on the Macintosh,” Marshall Clow of Adobe Systems pointed out that, to prove a point, the Electronic Frontier Foundation built a computer, at a cost of $250K to decipher a DES encrypted message into plain text in about two days. The DES encryption algorithm uses a 56 bit key. In contrast, the standard 40 bit key used in Netscape is 2^16 time easier to crack, and the EFF computer could break your 40 bit message in about 2.6 seconds. But take heart. A conventional PC (200 MHz Pentium) would require about a year to crack a 40 bit key. So the upshot here is that your 40 bit encrypted communications are safe from the prying eyes of other citizens but not from planetary governments — which have computers designed for code breaking that are much more powerful than that $250K system. On the other hand, “… if every atom in the Earth were a computer and each was a billion times faster than our current best, they all working together could not break a 128 bit key in a time span of the age of the universe, about 12 billion years.” [13.6 billion is our estimate today.]

In the near future, 40 bit keys will become not only unrealistic but akin to a practical joke.

At the “Vision Thing” panel discussion, David Pogue, Jason Snell, Chris Breen and Jason O’Grady talked about Apple’s proposed new “Finder” for MacOS X which was euphemistically described as “Greg’s Browser” on steroids. (With apologies to Greg Landweber. ) Some on the panel suggested that Jobs and Tevanian were determined to push this new metaphor down our throats — a monument to their work at NeXT. Other suggested that Apple engineers would preserve the traditional Finder under MacOS X — or else be fired. Time will tell.

On another topic, discussing MP3 music and software piracy, the panel asked the audience how many of them had pirated Microsoft software. A few raised their hands. Chris Breen had the best line of the entire MacWorld conference. “Don’t do that. Bill needs the money because he’s still trying to buy his way out of hell.” Of course, that’s not really true.

No one can buy his way out.

The Mother From New York

I admit it. I was late making my flight reservations for MacWorld. As a result, I couldn’t get an advance seat assignment and fell into the pool of seats assigned at the airport. Of course, this got me a middle seat. On the way home, I was at least able to talk the United Airlines ticket agent into an Exit row seat. These are nice because you can still put your stuff under the seat in front of you, and the person in front generally cannot recline his seat — to keep the aisle clear. A healthy 70 cm of leg room! So when I boarded the plane, there was a woman sitting in my seat chatting with the guy next to her. It went like this.

“That’s my seat, there,” I said casually.

“Oh yes. Know what? I know this fellow here. I wonder if we could swap seats. I’m over there in the middle.”

I look over, across the aisle, up two rows, and see a middle seat between two big guys. Visions of Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes [and her classic airline disaster] exploded in my head. Three hours and 45 minutes in that seat? I think not.

“No thanks. I asked for this seat on purpose,” I said politely.

So the woman shrugs, gets up, and takes her original seat. Later, in the flight, she comes over to [stand in the aisle and] chat with her friend and takes great pains to insert an offhand comment that, “ordinarily, when you tell someone you know somebody, they’ll swap seats with you.”

I just kept on reading and ignored her. Such an uncontrollable urge to chastise me for taking my assigned seat must be something she learned as a parent. Later in her conversation, she turned to the subject of her work, and it became clear she was a fairly hard-nosed business woman, a real wheeler-dealer from New York.

She was a mother, all right.

Of course, New York is like that. One fond memory I have is the cab ride from the hotel to LaGuardia. We spent 30 minutes going from 45th Street to 91st Street alternating between breakneck speeding and mind-numbing delays. We’re stopped cold by the John F. Kennedy Jr. funeral procession while the shuttle driver just about goes nuts. One passenger, who was speaking Dutch with his girlfriend all the way, breaks into English and inquires, “Why can’t we go? Is he more important than we are?”

Then, on our last leg out of Manhattan, I see a sign that says:

“Hillary: If New York doesn’t work out, we have other jobs for you.” — hotjobs.com

[Ms. Clinton was running fo Senator at the time.] Ah, yes. The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. How can you sleep when you’re always daydreaming about fiery meteoroids?


[Bio from 1999] John Martellaro is a Senior Staff Software Engineer with Lockheed Martin Astronautics. When not in front of his G3 Macintosh, he’s on skis, generally at Copper Mountain. Or out with his telescope. Or practicing Karate.

Here’s the original column from my archive.