You NEED to watch “For All Mankind”. What’s real? What wasn’t?

For All Mankind poster

I was a kid during the glory days of the Apollo space program and as you’ve probably heard me say a million times, Dad took us to Florida to see the actual launch of Apollo XI. Like every kid I lived and breathed every aspect of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, and I’ve devoured every book and movie I can find about it. “Apollo 13”? Loved it. “From the Earth to the Moon”? Terrific. “The Right Stuff” ? Fabulous.

Apollo 11 Launch

That’s a picture I personally took of the Apollo XI launch on July 16, 1969.

But, For All Mankind, WOW.

I need you to watch this too. Sign up for a free trial of Apple TV+ if you have to (i’m biased, but it’s a great service.)

This is a fictional TV series (on Apple TV, about to enter Season 2) from Ronald D. Moore, the creator of “Battlestar Galactica” that’s an alternate-history view of the world, starting in 1969 as the first Apollo missions are set to land on the moon, except … the Russians get there first. All told from the point of view of the NASA astronauts and engineers – and their families! – who are suddenly behind, racing to catch up.

I just love this show. It’s alternate history that feels real.
The thing is, I seem to be surrounded by increasing numbers of people younger than me, who weren’t around when this was all happening, and who might be unaware of exactly what went down. I don’t want them to be puzzled by For All Mankind. I want them to revel in it too!

This article’s for you.

Of course the Russians never actually landed on the moon, but as a kid I remember people being worried that they’d do something to upstage the Apollo XI landing. And – that’s what happens in episode 1. The first man lands on the moon, and it’s NOT Neil Armstrong, it’s Alexei Leonov.

This, of course, gets NASA and the American government all riled up, and the space race is ON. The show starts to diverge from reality as the Americans scramble to get Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon, but now shortly thereafter, the Russians have landed their second ship, and – it’s a woman. NASA now scrambles at President Nixon’s direction to recruit and train female astronauts.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the women astronauts and engineers are the true heroes of this alternate version of the space race.

What truly fascinates me about this show is the mixture of fictional and real people and events.
For instance, the Russians have never actually landed anybody on the Moon, but Alexei Leonov was a real cosmonaut, the first person to walk in space outside the capsule, and he really had been scheduled to be the first Russian on the moon.

We see a variety of actual people – NASA astronauts, administrators, politicians and so on, in slightly modified roles as the show’s timeline begins to diverge from reality. Here for instance are some notes on a few REAL people or events, what they did in real life, and what happens to them on the show.

(It’s also fascinating watching the technology slowly get better – very primitive computers and displays at Mission Control in early episodes, much better computers towards the end. That’s a reminder of how much of what NASA did drove advances in civilian technology too. Imagine if we’d kept going to the moon in real life, not just in the show.)

Also somebody gives somebody a slide rule. I liked that.

the actual Apollo missions

Apollo missions used a three-astronaut crew; two would descend to the lunar surface in the Lunar Module, while the third orbited the moon in the Command Module for a few days waiting for the crewmates to return in the (top half of the) Lunar Module. They’d rendesvous, everybody would transfer back into the Command Module, and they’d leave lunar orbit and head back to Earth.

A few missions were just rehearsals for different aspects of the mission.

Mission Purpose
Apollo 1 A test, on the ground, that tragically ended in a fire, killing astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. This was a major setback to the Apollo program, and NASA had to regroup.

Apollo 2,3|There were a variety of test launches but these names weren’t used.

Apollo 4 | An uncrewed launch, the first est of the Saturn V launch vehicle. 3 earth orbits.

Apollo 5 | An uncrewed launch, the first flight to include a Lunar Module. 7 earth orbits

Apollo 6 | An uncrewed launch. 3 earth orbits.

Apollo 7 | The first Apollo mission to fly with a crew of 3 – but only to earth orbit, testing various systems.

Apollo 8 | The first astronauts to leave Earth’s orbit. Apollo 8 executed the trans-lunar injection burn, and headed for the moon. It orbited the moon several times, took some very famous photographs, and returned to earth. The Lunar Module was not involved this time.

Apollo 9 | Earth orbit, but with the Lunar Module on board and the team practiced docking and undocking manouvres.

Apollo 10 | A full on dress rehearsal for a moon landing. Apollo 10 flew to the moon, where the Lunar Module separated from the Command Module and descended close to the surface – without landing.

Apollo 11 | Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first astronauts to walk on the moon’s surface in July 1969, while Michael Collins orbited above in the command module.

Apollo 12 | Yet another moon landing, a successful mission in the mold of Apollo 11, but to a different part of the moon, which I should really look up.

Apollo 13 | Houston, we have a problem. I hope you’ve seen the movie Apollo 13 which is an excellent dramatization of this real-life accident. The crew went to the moon, orbited a few times but were obviously unable to land due to damage from an explosion in the Service Module, and due to heroic efforts of many at NASA, they returned safely to the earth.

Apollo 14 | A two day visit to the moon, including Alan Shepard, who was already famous as the first American in space on the first Mercury mission.

Apollo 15 | They took a CAR to the moon on this one! The first launch that included the Lunar Roving Vehicle.
440px Apollo 15 Lunar Rover and Irwin

Apollo 16 | Three days on the moon, with the LRV. Commanded by John Young, later the commander of the first Space Shuttle launch.

Apollo 17 | In December 1972, Gene Cernan became the last person to walk on the moon.

And that was it. Cernan died in 2017. Only twelve astronauts have ever walked on the moon. As of this writing, only Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), David Scott (Apollo 15), Charles Duke (Apollo 16) and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17) are still with us. Schmitt is the youngest, at 85.

We haven’t been back. We thought there’d be more – but almost 50 years later, nobody has returned to the moon.

Well, not in real life, anyway.

But on the show …

Apollo 10

This really was a manned mission to the moon – but without a landing. The plan – which we also see in the show – was to rehearse every step of the Apollo XI mission, EXCEPT the actual landing. In reality, astronauts Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan descended in the Lunar Module to within 8 miles of the moon’s surface, at which point they deliberately “aborted” the landing and returned to join the Command Module (and astronaut John Young) and return to Earth.

In the show, it’s more or less the same except Apollo X is crewed by (fictional) Ed Baldwin and Gordo Stevens, who become major characters throughout the rest of season 1, and the “aborted” landing becomes quite the plot point as people question if they SHOULD have gone ahead and landed, and beaten the Russians.

Apollo 11

Of course this mission actually went to the moon, but on the TV series, they will be the second people to get there. One of my favourite scenes in the show shows a technician crawling into the craft while it’s still on the launchpad, to remove the historic plaque that was attached the leg of the lunar module. You know, the famous REAL plaque that said “Here men from the Planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. We came in peace for all mankind.”

This is the real plaque, still there today on the Sea of Tranquility.
Apollo XI plaque

And on the show, well, they’re suddenly not going to be first any more. Better remove the plaque before launch. A great little detail.

Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin

Armstrong and Aldrin are, of course, the first two people to land on the moon. In the show, they’re beaten to the moon by Alexei Leonov, but they still land as scheduled in Apollo XI – with a major twist, that I won’t spoil here.

Michael Collins

In real life, command module pilot on Apollo XI, so he orbited the moon while Armstrong and Alrdin landed.
In the show, he returns as the commander of Apollo 23.

Wernher von Braun

von Braun was a major figure in real-NASA – an actual Nazi Germany rocket scientist who moved to the USA and was instrumental as director of the Marshall Space Flight Center and chief architect of the Saturn V rocket. In real life, he was also obviously quite controversial because of his Nazi background. Tom Lehrer wrote a famous song about Von Braun and his controversial past.)

In the show, von Braun is played by noted Canadian actor Colm Feore and … well, his Nazi background is still a problem, and that affects the arc of the show.

The Mercury 13

In the show, President Nixon angrily orders NASA to recruit some female astronauts to help win the PR war – and many of those astronauts have spectacular roles later in the show.

In reality, a group of women known as the Mercury 13 were recruited and went through the same training as the actual Mercury astronauts, although they weren’t formally part of the space program. One of them was an accomplished pilot named Jerrie Cobb. In the show, this group is brought back into the space program and somewhat controversially brought up to speed – and one of the successful astronauts and a major character from this group is named Mollie Cobb, no doubt as an homage of sorts. (and now that I’ve done a little more googling, the producers agree that they named Mollie as a tribute to Jerrie Cobb who died during the production of Season 1.)

Deke Slayton

Real Donald K. “Deke” Slayton was one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, whose career was derailed by a heart issue that meant he couldn’t fly in the Mercury program, and he became a senior NASA administrator and manager of the astronaut office.
He was eventually cleared to fly, and flew on the Apollo-Soyuz mission (a joint earth orbit thing between American and Russian spacecraft) and here he is, whaddya know, with cosmonaut Alexei Leonov. (See above! In the show Leonov is the first man on the moon.)

Deke Slayton and Alexei Leonov

Deke Slayton is a major character in the show too, with a gritty performance by actor Chris Bauer. He’s in the same role as manager of the Astronaut office, selecting crews and … whaddya know, he manages to insert himself into the crew on one of the moon missions later in the show.

Real Deke Slayton passed away in 1993. I am very curious to know what his family thinks of his portrayal on the show.

Gene Kranz

Real NASA flight director. If you saw the movie Apollo 13, you saw a gritty portrayal of him by Ed Harris, chewing the scenery, and barking out the famous line Failure is not an option.. He never actually used that term but he was still a heroic real NASA character.

In the show, he’s played by actor Eric Ladin in the same gritty style.
You’ll want to watch carefully as he inspects the (mythical) Apollo 23 pre-launch. It doesn’t end well.

President Kennedy

Lots of fun historical tidbits are dropped in the show. You hear that Senator Ted Kennedy has postponed a vacation on Chappaquiddick to deal with some crisis or other – of course, in reality, he really did go to Chappaquiddick and an incident there derailed his political career.

On the show however – no incident! And he’s President by the end of the season, although we never really see him in the show.

Moon Missions

The actual Apollo program landed Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 on the moon between 1969 and 1972, with a famous accident on Apollo 13. Future missions, including Apollos 18 and 19, were scrapped, and today you can see some of that actual launch-ready hardware on display at the Kennedy Space Station.

Here’s some of the remains of the unused Apollo 18, 19 and other hardware on display today – we visited the Kennedy Space Center in 2015 and I highly recommend this tour. These aren’t museum mockups – this is actual launch-ready hardware that was built and never used. You can’t help but feel embarrassed that this magnificent vehicle is on display in a museum and never launched.

Apollo hardware

For All Mankind is moving at a much faster pace, due to competition with the Russians. At one point it abruptly fast-forwards by two years, to keep the plot moving along, and by the mid-1970s, NASA has an actual permanent base on the moon (and, minor spoiler, so do the Russians.) By the end of Season one, Apollos 24 and 25 are launched. And, NASA has modified the moon landing hardware so that the lunar module isn’t a single use land-once take-off-once thing as it was in reality, but a reusable vehicle to take people from lunar orbit to the surface. The tech still seems very believable and the Jamestown moon base is really fun to see, imagining that you’re still in 1975.

There is one hell of a cliffhanger involving an accident between fictional Apollos 24 and 25 at the end of episode 9, which turned out to be one of the most gripping things I’ve ever seen on TV.

And watch the final episode right past the credits. There’s a post-credit flash-forward to 1983, where we see NASA launching the Sea Dragon, a massive rocket launched from the middle of the ocean. Of course we’re now solidly in the fiction realm, but the Sea Dragon was an actual idea NASA was kicking around in the early 1960s (and one you briefly hear Von Braun mention on the show.)

What’s up in Season 2?

A first look is out.
We see modified space shuttles heading towards the moon.
We see a disturbing escalation of military action on the moon’s surface – astronauts with weapons.

And, I hear we’re going to see the Buran, the fabled Russian shuttle. In reality, the Russians were copying the overall design of the US shuttle but theirs never made it to space, and the remains of the only two Buran vehicles are actually rusting away today in a warehouse in Kazakhstan. Here’s an amazing picture of the abandoned Buran at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Read more about that here.

Abandoned Buran shuttles

But in Season 2, they’re up in the air.

I can’t wait.

business cards I have known

“business cards”? what are you talking about?

Kids, back in the day, you used to “travel” sometimes and “meet people” “in person” and, amazingly, you might “hand” them one of these things.

I should really find a nice frame for all of these.

cableshare, 1981

IMG 8006

Cableshare! 1981! My first job after graduating. Long enough ago that your card didn’t show an email address, which is strange because one of Cableshare’s products was an enterprise email system. But, dig the Telex number. I don’t think I ever got a Telex. But at Cableshare, I was lucky to work on a touch-screen network information system for shopping malls using Telidon, which I really need to write up at length. That was pretty cool. Absurdly expensive, and the touch screens were REALLY flaky, but hey, I was working on touch screen systems in 1982, and I still am today. Today’s touch screens are better.

grad school at Waterloo, 1983

UW Research

back in my grad student days someone figured out how to order UW Business Cards. I remember this coming in handy exactly once, when trying to rent a townhouse and persuade the landlord that no, I wasn’t a student, I was obviously a RESEARCHER.

I think the UUCP email address certifies me as old-school. also “ihnp4” means “Indian Hills Network Processor 4.”

the Warriors Band, 1984

IMG 8001

I snuck in another order, as leader of the University of Waterloo Warriors Band. Check this out, the band had an email address! watmath!watbun! This email was set up in about 1980, which could mean that the Warriors Band was one of the first bands in the entire world to be emailable. Maybe.

Math Faculty Computing Facility, 1985

IMG 7999

What’s the easiest thing you can do when you’re done being a grad student? Slide into an IT job with the Math faculty. First card with a proper domain name address on it, but you can see UUCP emails are hanging on for dear life. Also my first experience with a manager with a pretty relaxed attitude towards whatever your job title on the card was – thank you, Bill Ince. I’ve always thought of myself as A Software Kind of Guy.

Indiana, 1988

IMG 7998

Grad school friend Greg Rawlins somehow recruited me to come work for Indiana University for a couple of years. UUCP email addresses seem to have disappeared, but that was an amazing experience in an exotic foreign land, where I wound up buying a NeXT cube because I wanted a cheap ($11,000, WITH the academic discount) Unix computer at home. That led to …

NeXT, 1991


This is the position off from which I was laid in 1993.

That email address was a little clunky, and NeXT let you choose an additional alias, and for a brief period of time I was, a tremendously bad idea, but that’s worth of another story. Regret I did not hang on to that email address long enough to get a business card out of it.

More to come.

Remembering NeXT’s Black Monday. Or possibly Sunday.

NeXT Logo

NeXT’s Black Monday

Today’s the 28th anniversary of the day in 1993 that NeXT decided to

  1. stop making its iconic black computers
  2. abandon work on a PowerPC-based workstation
  3. try selling its hardware business and factory to Canon
  4. focus on software
  5. rename the company “NeXT Software”
  6. and not insignificantly

  7. lay off 300 of its 540 employees.

Including me, Systems Engineer for NeXT Canada.

(Later on, of course, Apple purchased NeXT and its software became the core of iOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS, all running on hardware that was inconceivable to any of us in 1993.)

or possibly Sunday

Looking back at my calendar I see that February 7, 1993 was actually a Sunday, so I might be off by one in my reminiscing. But still. It was kind of a big deal, personally.

vague reminiscences, previously tweeted

I remember we all got an urgent voice mail and the entire NeXT Canada office – all 3 of us – were instructed to fly to Chicago immediately for some news.

That was an interesting trip as Phil, Paul and myself debated exactly what was going on and who was going to be left standing. We knew that the regional manager was out.

And we all got let go, effective immediately, and – I still can’t believe we felt we needed to do this – we went to visit our big customers back in Toronto in person the following day to let them know what was going on.

You know those tables where they assign numerical values to various stress factors? Getting laid off was one thing but we had also (2) just bought a house and (3) were expecting child #1. I needed a bigger chart.

I remain, however, eternally grateful to Trimark Investment Management, one of our biggest NeXT customers, because when we visited them to tell them all of NeXT Canada had been let go, they said “Huh. That’s unfortunate …. Steve do you want to do some consulting for us?”

Thus began the historic short life of the consulting firm of Steve Hayman and Associates *

  • there were no associates

One thing I remember from the layoff meeting in Chicago, where somebody I had never met before told me I no longer had a job. “I want to keep my computer.”

— OK … what computer do you have?

(Changed the subject quickly. I think I actually had two computers.)

One other thing I remember. Consulting for Trimark, they had a fleet of NeXT computers, I had one at home, so I bought a portable SCSI hard drive to carry my work back and forth because how else were you supposed to do it in 1993

a ONE GIGABYTE SCSI hard drive. Massive! And it was only $1000!

Today for $1000, you’d get, what, 50 terabytes? 50,000 times as much? Storage is 1/50,000 th of what it was? How many other things are 50,000 times cheaper? That’s basically FREE now.

I know this will come as a surprise to nobody but Steve Hayman and Associates was not exactly a huge success. (I blame the associates, of course.)

18 months later, as NeXT pivoted to software, the regional team – from Michigan – came to Toronto to present to, I forget who exactly, some bank or something. They kindly invited the entire Steve Hayman and Associates team to attend.

Before the session started, the NeXT team said in a kind of off-hand way, “Hey Steve, how about you do the presentation?”

I guess in retrospect it was kind of an audition.

And, whaddya know, I guess NeXT saw (one of) the error(s) of its ways, and offered me a job again.

note: it is possible I am still telling the same jokes in presentations, because, you know, Object Oriented programming encourages re-use

So, miraculously, even though this day in February 1993 was a very stressful low point for me and hundreds of others, I was lucky enough to get drafted by NeXT a second time.

For a while, NeXT Canada was me in Toronto, and a guy in Vancouver (hi Scott.)
We’d phone each other on Memorial Day, or July 4, or US Thanksgiving just to verify the other guy was actually in the office.

I still have a surprising quantity of NeXT business cards. I keep those with my SCSI cables. Hey, you never know.

Audio Ping at 30

Thirty years ago today I achieved my first mild dose of Internet fame, with this post to the old Usenet newsgroup. Here’s the original post first – and let me tell you about what happened afterwards. Also it involves ducks.

Date: Sun 23-Jan-1991 21:15:24 
From: (Steve Hayman)
Subject: NeXT "audio ping" for network debugging

The thinwire started messing up in the building where I work yesterday;  I was scurrying around with an ethernet terminator cutting off segments of the network to try to isolate where the problem was.   I have a NeXT and a Sun on my desk, and was trying to 'ping' the Sun from the NeXT.  Whether it worked depended on where I cut the network off.

ping is a good tool for debugging but it sure is a pain to have to run back to your office to see if any of the ping packets are getting through.  So I came up with this quick hack.

1) Use "sndrecord ping.snd", hit return, say the word "PING" into the mike  hit return again.  Try to make the recording less than 1 second long.

2) Run this script

# audio-ping host
# output of 'ping' looks like this:
#    # ping porbeagle
#    PING 56 data bytes
#    64 bytes from icmp_seq=0. time=3. ms
#    64 bytes from icmp_seq=1. time=3. ms
#          ...
# one line per second.  no output is produced if the packets
# aren't coming back.  
# This script plays a sound whenever it sees a line with "icmp_seq" on it.

ping $1 2>&1 | while read line; do
    case "$line" in
        sndplay ping.snd

Now start this up.  Crank up the volume on your NeXT to the max.  You can now wander through the building fiddling with the network, unplugging different machines and so on; if it's working you'll hear this voice saying PING ... PING ... PING; if it quits working the voice will stop.

If you wanted to get really fancy you could play a different sound for some of the other messages that ping might generate - sometimes ping says "network is down", for instance.

This script helped me find a faulty tee-connector in just about a minute.

OK it's a dumb hack.


ping? what’s that?

ping is a Unix tool that attempts to make a connection to a remote computer, and once a second, it will print a line of received data. It’s a quick way to check if your network is working. Ping a faraway computer, and if you get a line of information back every second, your network is working.

I still use this today.


so what where you trying to do in 1991?


I was working for the computer science department at Indiana University – we’d temporarily been relocated to, I think, this building –
while the main CS building was being renovated (and wow, did I ever wind up with a great office in the renovated building when it was done, Lindley Hall – corner office, top floor, overlooking the quad… and two weeks after we moved in, I quit to come back to Canada. I’ll never have an office like that again.)

The network in our little house wasn’t working. I was running this ‘ping’ program and had to keep returning to my desk to see if it was working, as I experimented with changing network settings and futzing with cables on other computers in the building. We didn’t have portable computers, that’s for sure.

So what I did above was to combine the sound recording tool on my NeXT cube on my desk, with the Unix ping program, in a way that my computer would play a recording of me saying PING once a second when the network was working, and it’d be silent otherwise. I could then wander through the building adjusting things and when I heard the PING sound from upstairs, I knew I’d fixed it.

I didn’t think this was such a big deal but posted the above writeup to the net.
A few people congratulated me.

and then what?

Somehow this little hack made it into the Jargon File, a legendary compilation of hacker terminology, and a subsequent book, The New Hacker’s Dictionary.. If you check the jargon file today, 30 years later, you can see this entry for ping

ping [from the submariners’ term for a sonar pulse] 1. n. Slang term for a small network message (ICMP ECHO) sent by a computer to check for the presence and alertness of another. The Unix command `ping(8)’ can be used to do this manually (note that `ping(8)”s author denies the widespread folk etymology that the name was ever intended as acronym `Packet INternet Groper’). Occasionally used as a phone greeting. See ACK, also ENQ. 2. /vt./ To verify the presence of. 3. /vt./ To get the attention of. 4. /vt./ To send a message to all members of a mailing list requesting an ACK (in order to verify that everybody’s addresses are reachable). “We haven’t heard much of anything from Geoff, but he did respond with an ACK both times I pinged jargon-friends.” 5. /n./ A quantum packet of happiness. People who are very happy tend to exude pings; furthermore, one can intentionally create pings and aim them at a needy party (e.g., a depressed person). This sense of ping may appear as an exclamation; “Ping!” (I’m happy; I am emitting a quantum of happiness; I have been struck by a quantum of happiness). The form “pingfulness”, which is used to describe people who exude pings, also occurs. (In the standard abuse of language, “pingfulness” can also be used as an exclamation, in which case it’s a much stronger exclamation than just “ping”!). Oppose blargh.

The funniest use of `ping’ to date was described in January 1991 by Steve Hayman on the Usenet group He was trying to isolate a faulty cable segment on a TCP/IP Ethernet hooked up to a NeXT machine, and got tired of having to run back to his console after each cabling tweak to see if the ping packets were getting through. So he used the sound-recording feature on the NeXT, then wrote a script that repeatedly invoked `ping(8)’, listened for an echo, and played back the recording on each returned packet. Result? A program that caused the machine to repeat, over and over, “Ping … ping … ping …” as long as the network was up. He turned the volume to maximum, ferreted through the building with one ear cocked, and found a faulty tee connector in no time.

I gotta tell ya, to have your name mentioned in the Jargon File certainly gives you an aura of street cred in certain strange circles!

not only that

Mike Muuss

The Ping program itself was written by a legendary Unix developer at AT&T Bell Labs named Mike Muuss. He tragically passed away in a car accident in 2000 but his personal web site lives on, and I was delighted to see his page titled, The Story of the Ping Program.

He tells the interesting story of the birth of this program and then – much to my delight – includes this anecdote, which is mostly accurate

The best ping story I’ve ever heard was told to me at a USENIX conference, where a network administrator with an intermittent Ethernet had linked the ping program to his vocoder program, in essence writing:

ping goodhost | sed -e 's/.*/ping/' | vocoder

He wired the vocoder’s output into his office stereo and turned up the volume as loud as he could stand. The computer sat there shouting “Ping, ping, ping…” once a second, and he wandered through the building wiggling Ethernet connectors until the sound stopped. And that’s how he found the intermittent failure.

Imagine my delight at stumbling across that, from the author of ping himself.

the best part

There’s a famous children’s book from 1933 called “The Story about Ping”. It’s about a duck, of course. A Duck! Ping, a spirited little duck who lives on a boat on the Yangtze River and gets into various misadventures. It’s about a duck. A duck named Ping.

61wX5eTkNcL SY498 BO1 204 203 200

But Mike Muuss’s page mentioned this legendary Amazon review of the book which still makes me laugh today.

Customer Comments

A reader from Upper Volta, Uzbekistan, March 7, 1999

Excellent, heart-warming tale of exploration and discovery. Using deft allegory, the authors have provided an insightful and intuitive explanation of one of Unix’s most venerable networking utilities. Even more stunning is that they were clearly working with a very early beta of the program, as their book first appeared in 1933, years (decades!) before the operating system and network infrastructure were finalized.

The book describes networking in terms even a child could understand, choosing to anthropomorphize the underlying packet structure. The ping packet is described as a duck, who, with other packets (more ducks), spends a certain period of time on the host machine (the wise-eyed boat). At the same time each day (I suspect this is scheduled under cron), the little packets (ducks) exit the host (boat) by way of a bridge (a bridge). From the bridge, the packets travel onto the internet (here embodied by the Yangtze River).

The title character — er, packet, is called Ping. Ping meanders around the river before being received by another host (another boat). He spends a brief time on the other boat, but eventually returns to his original host machine (the wise-eyed boat) somewhat the worse for wear.

The book avoids many of the cliches one might expect. For example, with a story set on a river, the authors might have sunk to using that tired old plot device: the flood ping. The authors deftly avoid this.

Who Should Buy This Book

If you need a good, high-level overview of the ping utility, this is the book. I can’t recommend it for most managers, as the technical aspects may be too overwhelming and the basic concepts too daunting.

Problems With This Book

As good as it is, The Story About Ping is not without its faults. There is no index, and though the ping(8) man pages cover the command line options well enough, some review of them seems to be in order. Likewise, in a book solely about Ping, I would have expected a more detailed overview of the ICMP packet structure.

But even with these problems, The Story About Ping has earned a place on my bookshelf, right between Stevens’ Advanced Programming in the Unix Environment, and my dog-eared copy of Dante’s seminal work on MS Windows, Inferno. Who can read that passage on the Windows API (“Obscure, profound it was, and nebulous, So that by fixing on its depths my sight — Nothing whatever I discerned therein.”), without shaking their head with deep understanding. But I digress.

A National Anthem Update: Some bugs fixed.

One year ago today I broke the news that the National Anthem of Canada contained some bugs. I’m grateful to report that at least one of the following issues has been addressed.

See last year’s post for all the nitpicky details.

Now just so you know, although I usually limit my complaining to blog posts and Twitter, in this case I actually went the extra mile by tagging the Government of Canada Canadian Heritage account.

So what’s changed after a year?


They fixed complaint #2 above. The official sheet music now shows the correct notes.


NewImage 2

NewImage 3




You can see from the metadata in the PDF file that the change was made Feb. 17, 2020, no doubt in response to my tweet.


(You can also see that this PDF was originally created in Adobe InDesign, which explains the generally sloppy typesetting, lack of barlines at the end of each staff, and other formatting errors that wouldn’t happen if it were created in a proper music typesetting application.)

so everything is OK now, right?


Although I’m grateful for the above change, please note that in the new version the dot above the B♭ on “The” in the 2nd example has been shifted. Previously it was correctly to the right of the note, indicating a dotted-eighth note; now it’s above, indicating a staccato note.

This means the sheet music now features the exact same musical error as the National Anthem Act. The act, passed in 1985, includes this fragment of music notation.

NewImage 4

Let me remind you that the image above is the LAW in Canada. Bar 10 of the National Anthem is short one sixteenth note.

I realize that the government has had other things to worry about over the past year, but this is still wrong and I hope will be corrected some day.


it should be in E♭, the National Key Signature. And the last two notes should go up an octave because that’s how everybody sings it.

also also

we still have not designated “Taking Care of Business” as the National Rock and Roll Anthem of Canada. Perhaps that can be rolled into an Act to Correct the Music Notation Of O Canada.

also also also

Please, for the love of God, there is no apostrophe anywhere in the title O Canada.

I can see that my work here is not done. I’ll keep you posted.

The Christmas Potato Masher

here, for the record, is how what will probably be a future family running gag was born. A completely true story of the events of the evening of December 25, 2020.

The Christmas Potato Masher

A new fable for our times.

Christmas was quiet. Just me and my spouse.
All four of our children moved out of the house.
Mama in her kerchief and I in my cap
Had just settled down for an empty-nest nap.

When what to our wondering ears should appear,
But a phone call from Tyler. “Help me, Mama dear!
We’re cooking our dinner. Can you be here in a flash? er…
It turns out we don’t have a potato masher.”

As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When your son needs some help, you must leap to the sky!
We found our lone masher, and got into the car
And drove to see Tyler. (It wasn’t too far.).

IMG 7812

We handed it over – a small ceremony
Took place. See the photographic testimony
But as we drove off, across the street, saw a store
Rabba Fine Foods. Open 7/24!

We thought they might have a small utensil section
Perhaps a new masher’d be in their selection
And lo! They had one potato masher there
For $4.99. ‘Twas the last one, I swear

“Thank you for this Christmas miracle”, I said
To the clerk, and he smiled and nodded his head
“That’s why we’re all here”, he declared, as I paid
And we drove back to Tyler, to offer a trade.

IMG 7816

“Give us back the old one”, we asked, “Make it quick.
It’s plastic, and all of OUR pans are non-stick.
I’ll trade you this new one from Rabba. It’s metal.
We’ll take one more picture, and that will be settled.”

A new running gag was created that night,
The mashers might now be an annual sight.
Get ready for photos on Facebook each year
More potato mashers will surely appear!

Sleigh Ride?

Blogging this for posterity. Anybody who’s ever played in a band or orchestra has probably done the Leroy Anderson classic Sleigh Ride a bunch of times – and if you have, I hope you’ll enjoy this incredible version.

Is this brilliant or terrible or both? It takes a lot of skill to produce a train wreck like this. I find something new to laugh about every time. The pianist arbitrarily changing keys, the other players rushing to catch up, the ending that goes on too long, the final guitar honk, and maybe my favourite bit – all the extra eighth notes the second time through the bridge at 1:02 or so.

It reminds me a bit of Argonotes. Talented musicians all acting as directionless independent contractors and nobody really following the leader too carefully, and everybody having fun.

The Youtube comments give us an explanation.

This was recorded in one take by Nashville studio musicians in 2007, during a recording session for a legitimate artist’s Christmas project. The artist intended to use this as a “hidden track”, but then decided their audience wouldn’t get the joke.

Well that would be me, Jerry McPherson, on guitar, Scott Williamson on drums, I believe it was Joeie Canaday on bass, and the always amazing Jason Webb on piano.

This is a new Christmas favourite for me.

Grey Cup 2001 (Montreal; Calgary 27, Winnipeg 19)

Ah, Montreal. The band’s first overnight grey cup trip. In 1998 we’d come down for a regular season game at Molson Stadium – worthy of a blog post of its own, the team chartered 3 cars of a Via train to Montreal and miraculously offered the band a free ride – and we all remembered that so fondly, how could we NOT go to Montreal for the Grey Cup?

Plus it’s an eastern division cup. Those are easy. In all our history, we only ever managed to get the band to fly somewhere once (to a “home” game in Fort McMurray, Alberta) but hiring a bus to go to an eastern opponent seems simpler. And here’s Rick, our bus driver from Great Canadian, a great guy.

(More to come, this blog entry more or less a placeholder.)

I’m indebted to Colin “Trombone” Leech for the photos on this page (and for showing up! As the Ottawa branch of Argonotes, we could always count on Colin to show up only for certain road games.)

Argonotes at the 2001 Grey Cup

Grey Cup 2017 (Ottawa; Argos 27, Calgary 24)

Part of our Ongoing Series of Argonotes Grey Cup Memories.

2017 Grey Cup

Wait, what? Argonotes at the 2017 Grey Cup?
Didn’t the band fold in 2017?

Well, yeah, it kind of did, the band packed it in after 22 years just before the start of the 2017 season (and reunited for one reunion performance in July) but that’s a topic for a much longer post. Or if you subscribe to The Athletic, you can read about it here…

However, Argonotes did actually perform on Grey Cup Weekend. Sort of! So it gets its own entry in the archives.

the eastern final

So I guess the Curse of Argonotes that we applied to the team didn’t work, because they won the Eastern Final and made it to the Grey Cup against Calgary.
I was delighted to take my dad (and brother (and one son)) to the Eastern final at BMO Field, and the Argos beat Saskatchewan.

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should I stay or should I go

Yours truly was kind of moping around that week, debating whether to go to Ottawa for the game.

I’d talked myself into Not Going. I can’t go. Not without my band.

But after some intense lobbying by basically everybody I’d ever met in my entire life, all saying “What, are you nuts? Go!”, and especially after an invitation to connect with the Saskatchewan Roughrider Pep Band (who were making their 4,000th straight Grey Cup trip), I found a ticket and headed to Ottawa for the weekend.

hanging out with musical friends

The Roughrider band even let us hang around and play and possibly even conduct.


It was a fantastic experience, and I owe a lot to the Rider band for the invitation, and to my Argonotes colleague Jenn “Piccolo” “Or Bass Drum” Annis, because I think we both agreed that two people is, legally, a band.

two people are legally a band

Two Argonotes

And we found ourselves at the Argo bash. I had this informal plan to have the entire Riders band show up and I was going to give them Argos shirts if they’d just play Go Argos Go and pretend to be Argonotes, but that kind of fell apart when they said “Sure, we’ll do it, but wearing green”, which wouldn’t have been nearly subversive enough.

So, what the heck, whaddya gonna do, there’s a stage and a rowdy group of Argo fans and there’s beer and we had a trombone and a bass drum, what more do you need, and without further ado, here is a performance of “Go Argos Go” by Argonotes, the Until Recently Toronto Argonauts Band, at the Argos Ottawa party the night before the Grey Cup, and I promise you, there are much better recordings of this song!

My thanks to Spitzka for the video and all his support over the years.

Was it a great weekend?
Absolutely! Inspired, no doubt, by our performance, the Argos beat Calgary in an epic snow globe of a game, with some wild plays, an incredible finish, a great halftime show by Shania Twain (who arrived on a dogsled) and I had a great 2nd row seat surrounded by Ottawa REDBLACKS fans who couldn’t have been more gracious after the victory.

Was this our greatest Argonotes performance ever?
Probably not. Other than the part where it inspired the Argos to victory the following day.

Was it our final Argonotes performance ever?
Hey, you never know.

Grey Cup 1996 (Hamilton; Argos 43, Edmonton 37)

84th Grey Cup emblem

1995 was the band’s first year and at the end of the season, I think we were just too addled to even think about going to that year’s Grey Cup. But in the final game of 1995, there was some sort of Canadian identity crisis thing going on and as I recall, the team let anybody in to the final game for free if you brought a flag.

It was quite a sight in 1995, all those fans, and all those flags. It must have impressed the visiting quarterback, a guy from Calgary named Doug Flutie, because he wound up signing with the Argos for the 1996 season and led the team to a 1996 Grey Cup Victory.

Of course most of us had watched the 1995 Grey Cup on TV, and had probably seen the parties, and might have noticed some sort of green and white band from Saskatchewan in some of the media reports, and since the ’96 Grey Cup was in Hamilton, hmm. I wonder. We’d never played anywhere out of town. Could we make it to Hamilton?

As it turns out,

a) we did, and

b) there isn’t as much online record of it as you might like, because people weren’t yet carrying around cell phone cameras documenting every waking minute of their lives.

The 1996 season was notable for, I think, the first mention of the band in the Toronto Star. Dig the old URLs! People didn’t even think to get their own domain names.

Toronto Star, 1996:

ARGGOOSS: As the CFL playoffs get under way, you might want to check out the Double Blue’s official site in cyberspace(
Along with the standard mix of schedules, results and statistics, the Argos’ homepage has a nice where-are-they-now feature called “Ancient Mariners”.
The latest one is on 1940s star Bruce Richardson, but you can also select one of several earlier Ancient Mariners from the archive provided.

For a look at the lighter side of the gridiron, take a wander into the home page of the Argonotes, the team’s official band

Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh, right, the 1996 Grey Cup in Hamilton. Here are a few memories.

the Ottawa party


Somehow we’d heard that the city of Ottawa was hosting a party in Hamilton, and we got ourselves invited to that. It was a little awkward, because the Ottawa Rough Riders had either just folded or were on the verge of doing so.
I recall the band actually giving the organizer some money from the stage just to see if it would help. (It didn’t.)

We went on right after the Saskatchewan band. This was our first glimpse of our Western rivals –

2014 11 23 17 33 23 pdf006

I remember thinking – Hmm. They seem to know what they’re doing. Perhaps I should contact them and see if we can, you know, do some Massed CFL Bands thing in future years? (Foreshadowing! Stay tuned.)

And I think this is us at one of the gigs that year – sorry, cameras back then did not typically embed detailed timestamps and latitude/longitude info in each picture …

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what else was going on

Hey, check this out, I never throw anything out, an email to the band outlining our plans for the weekend

From: Steve Hayman 
Date: Thu, 21 Nov 1996 20:03:06 -0500
Subject: Quick Grey Cup Weekend Reminder!

Meet at 7:30 PM tomorrow (Friday) at the beer tent at King & Bay. At 8:30 we'll be at the Edmonton hospitality suite in the Ramada Hotel; at 9:30 PM, the Spirit of Ottawa show at the Royal Connaught Hotel.

Then on Saturday, meet at 10:30 AM at the Ramada Hotel for the Edmonton Klondike Breakfast, and we'll move on after that for the parade.

I have been unable to get tickets for the game itself on Sunday - although I did try; talked to the chairman of the grey cup committee, wrote to CFL chairman Larry Smith
too.  Oh well.

Any problems, give me a ring.  

See you tomorrow!
"Still no baby."

“Still no baby” ? What was that about? Oh, I remember now (see later.)

the Grey Cup Parade

Hamilton wisely combined the Grey Cup Parade with the city’s annual Santa Claus Parade.
The Grey Cup part was a sort of pre-parade that went right down the main street of Hamilton, with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance, and when they all saw the Argos Band proudly riding on the Argos Float, they all said – if I remember correctly – “Boo.”

Here are a couple of grainy photos from the live CBC coverage. For the full effect, please yell “BOO” at your computer when reading.
That’d be me at the front holding the shield.



the MOB – the Massed Ontario Band

Somehow I thought it’d be fun to worry about not one but two bands in the parade, and put together the first and last appearance of the MOB – the Massed Ontario Bands, a combined entry from the marching bands of Queen’s University, the University of Western Ontario, the non-marching but game-to-try-anything Waterloo Warriors Band, and the Carleton University Band, which turned out to be one guy (thanks for coming, Peter.)

We sent out a few simple tunes to all 4 schools and everybody theoretically learned them – I think we were doing “Ca-Na-Da”, the 1967 Centennial song, “Hogan’s Heroes”, the theme from a TV show about – wait, can this be right? a world war II prison camp? people thought that was funny? – and “Scotland the Brave”, because of the large contingent of pipers from Queen’s.

This was so much fun, I hope we can do it again some time. Everybody enjoyed it, old rivalvies were set aside, the group some how self-organized into a marching band shape and proceeded down the parade route. That was pretty cool. I still have the MOB banner out in the garage.

Thanks to my cousin John Hayman – Warriors Band Fhorn – for the photos, which it turns out were actually taken by my brother Michael!

The 1996 Massed Ontario University Bands

The MOB on the march

the game

A classic. Argos win, in a snowstorm. Flutie, long thought by many westerners to have fumbled on a crucial late game third down, did not in fact fumble, because if he had fumbled, surely the refs would have said something.

did you get in

No. We faxed the league, and commissioner Larry Smith asking if we could get in, and got a reply a week after the game saying basically “Sorry, everybody was out of the office and we didn’t see this message” which is an easier reply than “No.”

later that same week

The Grey Cup was on Sunday November 24, 1996.
on Monday, November 25, I sent the following urgent email to the band –


12:15 (noon), Union Station. Parade up to Nathan Phillips Square. Possibly marching, possibly riding on a bus.  We will be right behind Doug Flutie himself.

I need people for this!  Can you come?  Please?  It'll be over pretty quickly.

BONUS: FREE LUNCH!  Seriously!  The city will buy us lunch if we do this.

I called the mayor's office - which is running the parade - and got us invited.  Somehow the Argos neglected to mention us as a possible entrant.  Figures.


On Tuesday, November 27, the team organized our first Grey Cup Victory Parade, from Union Station to City Hall.
Gerry was whacking the bass drum pretty hard; an “E” fell off live on TV and by the end of the parade, the bass drum read “GR Y CUP CHAMPS”.

Here’s Global’s report on the victory parade, with the typical sort of downer woebegotten angle that too much CFL coverage of the day included. But they also included a brief glimpse of the band

On Wednesday, November 28, this picture from the parade was on the cover of the Toronto Star. Doug Flutie, Alexa Flutie, coach Don Matthews, the Grey Cup and … a glimpse of some guy with a trombone.

Flutie Parade

Later that day I took a copy of that day’s paper to the hospital and proudly showed it to a brand new baby. Nick, see that? Your dad’s on the cover of the paper today. Happy Zeroth Birthday. Maybe you’d like to join the band in 16 years or so. We could use some more trumpet players.

That was a pretty good week.