Thursday, April 27, 2006


The judge who presided over the Da Vinci Code trial has put a code of his own into his judgment and today said he would "probably" confirm it to the person who breaks it. Since Judge Peter Smith delivered his judgment in the case on April 7, lawyers in London and New York began noticing odd italicisations in the 71 page document.

In the weeks afterward, would be codebreakers got to work on deciphering the judge's code. "I can't discuss the judgment," Smith said in a brief conversation with The Associated Press, "but I don't see why a judgement should not be a matter of fun." Italics are placed in strange spots: the first is found in paragraph one of the 360 paragraph document. The letter S in the word claimants is italicised.

In the next graph, claimant is spelled "claiMant," and so on. The italicised letters in the first seven paragraphs spell out "Smithy code," playing on the judge's name. Lawyer Dan Tench, with the London firm Olswang, said he noticed the code when he spotted the striking italicised script in an online copy of the judgment.

"To encrypt a message in this manner, in a High Court judgment no less? It's out there," Tench said. "I think he was getting into the spirit of the thing. It doesn't take away from the validity of the judgment. He was just having a bit of fun."

Smith was arguably the highlight of the trial, with his acerbic questions and witty observations making the sometimes dry testimony more lively. Though today Smith refused to discuss the judgment or acknowledge outright that he'd inserted a secret code in its pages he said: "They don't look like typos, do they?"

When asked if someone would break the code, Smith said: "I don't know. It's not a difficult thing to do." And when asked if he would confirm a correct guess to an aspiring code-breaker, the High Court judge said, "probably".

Tench said the judge teasingly remarked that the code is a mixture of the italicised font code found in the book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail - whose authors were suing Dan Brown's publisher, Random House, for copyright infringement - and the code found in Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh had sued Random House Inc, claiming Brown's best-selling novel "appropriated the architecture" of their 1982 nonfiction book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Both books explore theories that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, the couple had a child and the bloodline survives, ideas dismissed by most historians and theologians.

The Da Vinci Code has sold more than 40 million copies since its release in March 2003. It came out in paperback in the United States last week, and quickly sold more than 500,000 copies. An initial print run of five million has already been raised to six million. Since the judgment was handed down three weeks ago, Tench said it took several weeks - and several watchful eyes - to spot the code. Now, London and New York attorneys are scrambling to decode the judgment. "I think it has caught the particular imagination of Americans," Tench said. "To have a British, staid High Court judge encrypt a judgment in this manner, it's jolly fun."

I'm definitely going to try to break the code," said attorney Mark Stephens, when learning of its existence. "Judges have been known to write very sophisticated and amusing judgments," Stephens said. "This trend started long ago ... one did a judgment in rhyme. Another in couplets. There has been precedent for this. "It adds a bit of fun to what might have been a dusty text," he said.
UPDATE: Code cracked in 'Da Vinci' case (April 29, 2006) The British judge who embedded an encoded message in his recent judgment in a case involving Dan Brown's bestseller "The Da Vinci Code" revealed the secret after a London lawyer solved the puzzle.

In his ruling, Justice Peter Smith hid a reference to the man who invented the British Navy's first modern warship, using the Fibonacci Sequence, a combination of a mathematical progression and letter substitutions featured in Brown's religious thriller. Dan Tench, a lawyer at the law firm Olswang, claims he was first to uncover it: "Jackie Fisher who are you Dreadnought." John "Jackie" Fisher was a 19th-century admiral credited with developing the Dreadnought, a battleship equipped with six or more guns.


For decades, historian Robert Winter has preserved a 1909 bungalow in Pasadena that resonates with timeless beauty. For the last 34 years, Winter has owned the Batchelders' former home and been guardian of the legacy that lives inside, preserving the 1909 Craftsman on the east side of the Arroyo Seco as a homage to the legendary artisan who built it. To comprehend the timelessness of Batchelder — his willingness to "play down excess," Winter says — one only need step into Winter's living room, where the tiled fireplace emanates warmth, richness and a lived-in elegance. "It doesn't call attention to itself," the historian says, "that is, except to say that it's beautiful." Batchelder's business failed during the Great Depression, and the artist died in 1957. But his designs — often depicting ships, castles and nature scenes in a spare, matte finish — remain coveted by collectors and grace Arts and Crafts homes built in the early 20th century, many considered historic simply by virtue of their Batchelder fireplaces.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


The motion picture industry orchestrated an extravaganza to dedicate Los Angeles' new City Hall. Film producer Joseph Schenck was master of ceremonies, Sid Grauman ran the entertainment and Cecil B. DeMille arranged part of the celebratory parade, which, according to The Times, stretched over five miles and included a lion in a cage.

That night, the city experienced "the greatest illumination feat in the history of the West, when the entire lighting equipment of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studios illuminated it for its dedication," The Times reported. Irving Berlin sang at the ceremonies. From the White House, President Calvin Coolidge pressed a telegraph key to light the Charles Lindbergh Beacon atop City Hall's pyramidal tower. It all happened on April 26, 1928 and I'm sorry I missed it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


The Boston University Bridge is one of the few places in the world where a boat can sail under a train driving under a car driving under an airplane.
The Boston University Bridge at sunset.


MODERNISM: “Brooklyn Bridge” (1919-20) was painted by Joseph Stella, one of the American artists whose work was pulled into a collection that also included the most avant of Europe’s avant-garde.


The General Sherman Tree in California's Sequoia National Park is thought to be the world’s largest by volume, an estimated 52,508 cubic feet. Its weight is about equal to that of 10 blue whales, and it has one branch nearly 7 feet in diameter.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


U.S. 395 takes travelers on a tour through desert and mountains, past ghost towns and motels, serene lakes and alpine ski resorts. In the image above, misty late-afternoon light hovers over the snow-covered eastern Sierra which form a spectacular backdrop to the pastoral scene below. The image below is of Mono Lake where exposed limestone tufa towers are created by freshwater springs that bubble up through the lake, which is twice as salty as the ocean.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


For 84-year-old Josephine Crawford, the golden years just got a lot more golden. After plunking $40 into slot machines in an Atlantic City casino, the retired waitress hit a $10-million jackpot on a nickel progressive machine. "Somehow, I'll spend it," she said. I'll bet she will.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. --Since the Jamestown Bridge first opened, Rhode Islanders have alternately embraced it as an enduring landmark or loathed its narrow lanes and car-shaking winds that always seemed worse on the see-through grating high above Narragansett Bay.
Smoke rises as the old Jamestown Bridge falls 135 feet into the waters of Narragansett Bay today in North Kingstown, R.I. The landmark bridge, built in 1940, connected North Kingstown and Jamestown. The steel center span of 1100 feet, which rose 240 feet, was dropped into the bay using 75 pounds of explosives. Before the Jamestown Bridge opened, Conanicut Island's only link to the rest of the state was an unreliable ferry system that often did not run in bad weather. Traffic is now routed across the nearby Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge, which was closed for the demolition.(AP Photo)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Looking back, the Cirque de Soleil show,"Mystere" which opened in December 1993 was probably the most significant event in Las Vegas entertainment since the arrival of Elvis Presley as a regular headliner. The template for the successful contemporary Las Vegas high end resort (mixing clubs, fine dining, shopping and entertainment on equal footing with gambling) is generally believed to have started with the Mirage in 1989. But for its headliner, the property took an already well established act, "Siegfried & Roy," and built them a custom showroom. Obviously, that decision worked out brilliantly for Mirage but ducked the issue of how to move Las Vegas into more innovative entertainment than variety acts, topless showgirls and established headliners.
So, when next door to the Mirage, Treasure Island opened "Mystere" a few years later the time was more than ripe for something new, and instantly shows like "Splash" and "Jubliee!" become retro-Vegas. "Mystere" was Cirque's first free standing show (other Cirque shows toured North America) and this allowed the troupe unprecedented opportunities to innovate and create (staging, lighting and the unlimited potential of a custom theatre) that resulted in what is still thought to be the best of the French Canadian company's efforts in town.
After "Mystere"'s success Cirque became the most important entertainment creators in Las Vegas by becoming the go to team for MGM-Mirage properties. They now have four shows going. Anyway, the amazing thing is that "Mystere" is now more than a decade old and the production still seems fresh. And, yet because of its age, "Mystere" is the one Cirque show tourists even have a chance at getting things like ticket bargains and good last minute seats. Good deal.
In the most simplistic terms "O" (at Bellagio) is "Mystere" on water, "Zumanity" (at New York New York) is "Mystere" with pumped up overt sexuality, and "KA" (at MGM Grand) is "Mystere" built into a Hollywood blockbuster with magnificent and epic staging and scope. Each of the Cirque shows is really, really good in its own way. Still, if you can only see one of these shows, "Mystere" is the most integrated theatre work.
So, now back to the Mirage where, after the Siegfried & Roy show closed, the decision what to do next was now an entirely predictable one: Cirque. So, Cirque has show number five, as yet untitled (rumor is that the name of the new show will be Love), based on the music of the Beatles coming to the Mirage in late June or early July. This will be within weeks of when "Phantom of The Opera" opens at the Venetian. Interestingly this will put this latest installment of the Cirque empire into a head to head competition for attention with the latest chapter in the Broadway/Vegas nexus. Stay tuned. (The comments above, are excerpts from the Movable Buffet blogger).

What's 41 feet long, weighs 15,000 pounds, travels in packs and wouldn't mind a bite of your tri-tip sandwich ??

Could be your relatives from Wisconsin, but in this case we're talking about Mapusaurus roseae, perhaps the largest meat-eating dinosaur ever. Paleontologists say they've found fossilized remains of the beasts in Argentina. What they don't know is why the dinosaurs died.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan blamed it on the clouds and a faulty compass. That's how he wound up in Ireland on his way to California, he insisted. Never mind that he'd sought permission for a transatlantic flight and twice been denied. Aviation authorities said his rickety craft would never make it across the ocean. Despite a cockpit door "latched" with wire and extra fuel tanks obscuring his vision, he landed safely near Dublin. But really, Corrigan maintained from 1938 until he died in 1995, he intended to fly from New York to Los Angeles that day.
"I made a mistake," he said.His feat caught the fancy of a world in the grip of prewar tension and the Depression. People chose to believe it was Corrigan's way of thumbing his nose at authority.
Wrong Way Corrigan riding in this parade honoring him.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


A table of L.A's elite listen attentively at the Palm Restaurant in West Hollywood to their server's suggestions while surrounded by caricatures drawn onto the walls for the past thirty years.

The mythology of the place can be traced to the East Side of Manhattan, where two Italian immigrants opened the original Palm restaurant in 1926. The story goes that without the money to decorate their fledgling steakhouse, partners Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi traded repasts of chops and pasta for drawings on the wall by local artists and cartoonists. The restaurant became a fixture in New York, up there with Sardi's and the 21 Club.

Monday, April 10, 2006


"We lived in the wind and sand with our eyes on the stars" --- Women Airforce Service Pilots ---
WASP Pilot Violet Thurn Cowden

How big do you have to be to fly a P-51? Obviously, at least 5'2' and 100 pounds! In addition to the P-51, Pilot Vi Cowden also flew the P-39, P-40, P-47, and P-63 during World War II. The WASP were the first women military pilots to serve the United States Army Air Force during World War II. Almost 25,000 women applied to the WASP and 1830 were accepted.

They flew wartime missions within the United States. The WASP flew more than 60 million miles in 78 different types of military aircraft - from trainers to B-29 bombers. At the time, women could not be commissioned pilots in the military and were governed by the Civil Service Commission. Thirty-eight women lost their lives and were not covered by government life insurance.

In 1979, the Secretary of the Air Force granted that long overdue recognition and veteran status to the WASP.

Vi Cowden's latest parachuting adventure came Feb. 25, when she dived with the Golden Knights, the Army's elite parachute team. With a team member behind her firmly attached by harness, Cowden plummeted through the sky for about 30 seconds. Smiling ear to ear, she spread her arms out like wings as the wind blew furiously against her face. Once the divers' parachute was released, they floated the rest of 12,500-foot drop. Her husband, 85, admitted he was "a little bit concerned" for her safety but enjoyed watching her. "It's beautiful floating down like a bird," he said.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Dr. Charles Schepens, a World War II hero who helped more than 100 people escape from Nazi-occupied France and a noted ophthalmologist widely considered the father of modern retinal surgery, died March 28 of a massive stroke at his home in Nahant, Mass.

He was 94 and had received the French Legion of Honor from the consul general of France only a few days before his death. His exploits during the war were a secret known only to his family and a few others until the 2004 publication of the book "The Surgeon and the Shepherd" brought them to a wider audience, including French officials.

Born in Belgium, Schepens (pronounced SKAY-pens) had already earned his medical degree when, in the early stages of the war, he joined the Belgian air force. After its defeat, he returned to private medical practice.

He was arrested by the Gestapo in October 1940 on trumped-up charges of using a bus to transport Allied pilots out of Belgium. Although he was released 10 days later, the experience turned the previously apolitical physician into an activist, and he allowed his office to be used as a post office for underground agents, arranging for the transfer of maps and such information as troop movements.

In 1942, a spy in Gestapo headquarters alerted him that he was about to be arrested again, and he escaped to Paris, where he adopted the name Jacques Perot-Spengler, later shortened to Jacques Perot.

Looking over a Michelin map to find an escape route to Spain, he and a group of fellow resistors spied an abandoned sawmill near the town of Mendive in the Pyrenees on the Spanish border. One of the key features was a 12-mile cable car system extending up the mountain and terminating near the border.

Schepens, a rugged outdoorsman, bought the mill in July 1942 with backing from a wealthy French patriot and had it in full operation by the end of the year. The site became a functioning lumber enterprise, taking orders, delivering wood and meeting a payroll.

But men performing manual labor around the mill could surreptitiously ride the cable car system to the top of the mountain and slip into Spain, often with the assistance of a shepherd named Jean Sarochar. Sarochar died in 1975.

More than 100 Allied pilots, POWs, Belgian government officials and others made their way out of France over the cable railway. The system was also used to move documents, currency, propaganda and other materials into and out of France.

Schepens kept his profile low and cooperated with the Nazis to divert suspicion — so much so that many locals considered him a collaborator. But in July 1943, the Nazis captured a member of the Resistance who told them about Schepens' activities.

When the Gestapo showed up, he later recounted, he told them he would return to Paris to confront his accuser. Then he said, " 'You know, it is now 10 o'clock. I have 150 workers idle, because they have not been given their orders this morning. Give me 10 minutes with them. I'll give the orders and come back.' So I walked out and escaped."

He spent 16 days in the forest before reaching Spain and, eventually, England, where he resumed his medical career.

His wife and children were placed under house arrest by the Nazis, who hoped to use them to lure Schepens back. But they made their own daring escape, hiking through the mountains to reach Spain, and were reunited with Schepens in England nine months after he fled.

Back at work, the doctor began testing a theory he had developed as a medical student that retinal surgery could be performed more precisely if the surgeon used both eyes rather than looking through a monocular microscope.

He tested the theory by building a device known as the indirect binocular ophthalmoscope, piecing it together from bits of metal retrieved from his London hospital after a V-1 bomb attack. The device, which sits on the surgeon's head and leaves his hands free, is now used by surgeons worldwide and is a major reason that the success rate for reattachment of retinas has improved from 40% to more than 90%.

Schepens immigrated to the United States in 1947 and started the retina service at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, part of Harvard Medical School. Three years later, he established what is now the Schepens Eye Research Institute, the largest independent institute for ophthalmology research in the world.

Over the course of his career, which continued well past his retirement from Harvard in 1978, he wrote four books and published more than 360 research papers. Up to the time of his death, he was commuting to Boston three days a week to see patients.

Charles L. Schepens was born in Mouscron, Belgium, in 1912, the son of a general practitioner. The youngest of six children, he had three brothers who also became physicians. After his father died when he was 7, he was raised by one of the brothers.

Schepens studied mathematics in college before taking up the family business of medicine. But the interest in math led to his subsequent interest in ophthalmologic instrumentation. In addition to the ophthalmoscope, he developed a variety of other instruments, including micro-scissors for surgery on the vitreous, the clear gel in the middle of the eye.

According to his family, Schepens was always athletic, with a lifelong interest in woodcutting, swimming and walking.

Had it not been for the intervention of the Nazis, he might have stayed in France in the lumber business, he said.

"It was a wonderful life, you know," he told the Boston Globe in 2004.

Schepens is survived by his wife of 69 years, Marie Germaine, known as Cette; a son, Luc, of Southborough, Mass.; three daughters, Bernadette Butler of Nahant, Catherine Rojas of Petaluma, Calif., and Claire Delori of Brussels; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Friday, April 07, 2006


Hollywood screenwriters should know a good movie script when they see one, and "Casablanca" has been crowned the best screenplay ever.

The members of the Writers Guild of America voted Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch's "Casablanca" into the top spot of the guild's 101 greatest screenplays.

In a tally announced Thursday, Francis Ford Coppola's collaborations with Mario Puzo on the first two "Godfather" scripts were both voted into the top 10 — although "Godfather III" somehow didn't make the cut.

Among living screenwriters, Woody Allen tied with Coppola (who also was honored for his work on "Patton" and "Apocalypse Now") for the most mentions with four: "Hannah and Her Sisters" (No. 95), "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (No. 57), "Manhattan" (No. 54) and "Annie Hall" (No. 6).

Charlie Kaufman ("Adaptation," "Being John Malkovich" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") and William Goldman ("Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "All the President's Men" and "The Princess Bride") each earned three recognitions.

Neither the script for "Crash" nor "Brokeback Mountain," which won this year's WGA and Academy Award screenplay awards, landed on the list.

The guild, which has branches on both coasts and 9,500 film and television writer members, voted its top 10 screenplays in this order:

1. "Casablanca"
2. "The Godfather"
3. "Chinatown"
4. "Citizen Kane"
5. "All About Eve"
6. "Annie Hall"
7. "Sunset Boulevard"8. "Network"
9. "Some Like It Hot"
10. "The Godfather II"

It's a little surprising to me that Casablanca's screenplay was selected #1. There probably are better screenplays but not better movies. It's the total package that makes Casablanca the best movie ever made. Drama that is riveting, romance that tears at your heart and unforgettable characterizations that take on a life of their own are some of the elements that make Casablanca great. The magnetism of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman is magical and compelling. Add to that the humor that is so preposterous but works so well, and then of course you have that song: Is there anyone, anywhere in the world who doesn't know the song, "As Time Goes By" ?? Many of us know the lines from many parts of the movie. One of my favorite scenes is where one of Rick's girls pleads with him, "Where were you last night?" and he answers, "That's so long ago, I don't remember." Then she says, "Will I see you tonight?" and he answers, "I never make plans that far ahead." My recollections of Casablanca make me laugh long after the film has ended.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


An engine malfunction apparently caused this C-5B Galaxy cargo plane, the military's largest, to crash shortly after takeoff from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. All 17 people aboard survived though several were drenched with fuel and 14 were taken to the hospital.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


El Camino's MAN OF LA MANCHA is a glorious production starring George Champion as the knight errant who chases windmills and protects the honor of wenches. Bets Danko plays Aldonza and John Massey is Sancho. This is powerful theatre that uses hopes and dreams to vanquish despair. Critics have described George Champion's performance as riveting and flawless. His rendition of "The Impossible Dream" brought chills to the audience and left them awe-struck.
The transformation of Miguel de Cervantes into Don Quixote takes place on stage before your very eyes.
George Champion and John Massey

Sunday, April 02, 2006


AT Castel del Monte, the stage is set for tragedy or black magic. Clouds scuttle across the sky, and a milk-white full moon rises. Footsteps echo on cold, wheat-colored stone, startling pigeons into flight.

A medieval emperor hunted with falcons and cheetahs here, consulted astrologers and slept on Oriental silk. Local people sought refuge during the plague, and brigands hid out in the castle. Vandals over the years stripped it, leaving little more than an empty shell on a lonely hilltop at the edge of the Murge, a barren-looking limestone plateau worlds apart from the sunny Italian south most people know.

This medieval masterpiece, begun in 1240 — about the same time as Westminster Abbey — has eight sides, linked by eight eight-sided towers. Its seemingly endless repetition of the octagonal form has haunted mathematicians through the ages who see it as a work of pure geometry. The more mystically inclined impute occult significance to this temple of the octagon, noting that great buildings around the world, such as Jerusalem's 1,300-year-old Dome of the Rock, also have eight sides.

Whether icon or equation, the castle has more vibes than "The Da Vinci Code." But Castel del Monte, as silent as a sarcophagus and as strange as a UFO, keeps its secrets, glowing like the crown of its 13th century builder, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.

Like England's Richard the Lion-Hearted and saintly Louis IX of France, Frederick was one of the giants of the European Middle Ages, though far more complex than his contemporaries. Cultured and brutal, despotic and enlightened, a Christian crusader who was excommunicated, he left a legacy that historians still debate, including David Abulafia, author of the recent biography "Frederick II: A Medieval Emperor," which seeks to demystify the medieval ruler.

But Frederick's enigmatic aura has proved hard to dislodge. In his time and afterward, he was called stupor mundi (the wonder of the world) and the Antichrist. A 1927 biography of Frederick by German historian Ernst Kantorowicz was a favorite of Hitler, whose delusions of grandeur were fueled partly by the emperor's efforts to consolidate a realm that included Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, parts of France and Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Israel and Lebanon.

Of all the lands he ruled, he loved low-lying Puglia best, in those days a richly forested region bordered on the east by the Adriatic Sea. Here he built his startling octagonal castle, part hunting lodge, part pleasure palace, part symbol of his might.

Among great architectural ciphers, Castel del Monte stands out for its stubborn unlock-ability, though it is less well known than others chiefly because it is in the relatively untrammeled, ill-reputed Mezzogiorno, at the heel of the Italian boot.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


HO CHI MINH CITY, whose very name is meant to evoke the defeat of American imperialism, is about to get Intel inside. The Silicon Valley microchip maker — and icon of triumphant American capitalism — is building a $300-million factory in the city once called Saigon, a place most Americans associate with images of terrified people hanging on to evacuating U.S. choppers.

Intel Corp.'s arrival serves as an exclamation point to the remarkable transformation that Vietnam has undergone in the last decade. Like its Chinese neighbor to the north, the communist regime in Hanoi has embraced market reforms that have raised living standards and reduced rural poverty. The country may still fly a red flag, but Vietnam's young people are as eager to text message (and do deals) on their cellphones as their capitalist neighbors in Thailand are, and Intel's decision to build a plant there (instead of India) is an important vote of confidence in the nation's future.

Vietnam's opening to the outside world has been a remarkable turnaround. Long suspicious of the West and foreign investment, the country had endured so many wars — with France, the United States, China, Cambodia, itself — that its communist leadership looked singularly incapable of laying down a gun in exchange for a briefcase.

But now Vietnam's leaders are working hard to join the World Trade Organization, with negotiations entering the final stages. They are investing billions on infrastructure, and they understand that WTO membership will require more open trade and better legal safeguards for international investors.

Intel executives did not wait for the WTO paperwork to be complete. They are going ahead with plans for a mammoth new plant, announced in February and expected to be up and running by late 2007. It probably will be the largest single foreign investment ever in Vietnam, and it could double in size if all goes well in the first stage. The facility, which will package and test microchips for personal computers and mobile phones, is designed to serve Asia's booming market.

Doing business in Vietnam is not always easy, given the amount of red tape and the capricious nature of its enforcement. Still, Intel says it chose Vietnam because it could meet the chipmaker's basic needs: a reliable supply of electricity, clean water and a young workforce eager and willing to learn the tedious ropes of high-tech production.