Sunday, April 29, 2007

Questioning carbon neutrality

NYTimes

April 29, 2007
Global Coolness
Carbon-Neutral Is Hip, but Is It Green?
By ANDREW C. REVKIN

THE rush to go on a carbon diet, even if by proxy, is in overdrive.

In addition to the celebrities — Leo, Brad, George — politicians like John Edwards and Hillary Clinton are now running, at least part of the time, carbon-neutral campaigns. A lengthening list of big businesses — international banks, London’s taxi fleet, luxury airlines — also claim “carbon neutrality.” Silverjet, a plush new trans-Atlantic carrier, bills itself as the first fully carbon-neutral airline. It puts about $28 of each round-trip ticket into a fund for global projects that, in theory, squelch as much carbon dioxide as the airline generates — about 1.2 tons per passenger, the airline says.

Also, a largely unregulated carbon-cutting business has sprung up. In this market, consultants or companies estimate a person’s or company’s output of greenhouse gases. Then, these businesses sell “offsets,” which pay for projects elsewhere that void or sop up an equal amount of emissions — say, by planting trees or, as one new company proposes, fertilizing the ocean so algae can pull the gas out of the air. Recent counts by Business Week magazine and several environmental watchdog groups tally the trade in offsets at more than $100 million a year and growing blazingly fast.

But is the carbon-neutral movement just a gimmick?

On this, environmentalists aren’t neutral, and they don’t agree. Some believe it helps build support, but others argue that these purchases don’t accomplish anything meaningful — other than giving someone a slightly better feeling (or greener reputation) after buying a 6,000-square-foot house or passing the million-mile mark in a frequent-flier program. In fact, to many environmentalists, the carbon-neutral campaign is a sign of the times — easy on the sacrifice and big on the consumerism.

As long as the use of fossil fuels keeps climbing — which is happening relentlessly around the world — the emission of greenhouse gases will keep rising. The average American, by several estimates, generates more than 20 tons of carbon dioxide or related gases a year; the average resident of the planet about 4.5 tons.

At this rate, environmentalists say, buying someone else’s squelched emissions is all but insignificant.

“The worst of the carbon-offset programs resemble the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences back before the Reformation,” said Denis Hayes, the president of the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental grant-making group. “Instead of reducing their carbon footprints, people take private jets and stretch limos, and then think they can buy an indulgence to forgive their sins.”

“This whole game is badly in need of a modern Martin Luther,” Mr. Hayes added.

Some environmental campaigners defend this marketplace as a legitimate, if imperfect, way to support an environmental ethic and political movement, even if the numbers don’t all add up.

“We can’t stop global warming with voluntary offsets, but they offer an option for individuals looking for a way to contribute to the solution in addition to reducing their own emissions and urging their elected representatives to support good policy,” said Daniel A. Lashof, the science director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But he and others agree that more oversight is needed. Voluntary standards and codes of conduct are evolving in Europe and the United States to ensure that a ton of carbon dioxide purchased is actually a ton of carbon dioxide avoided.

The first attempt at an industry report card, commissioned by the environmental group Clean Air/Cool Planet (which has some involvement in the business), gave decidedly mixed reviews to the field, selecting eight sellers of carbon offsets that it concluded were reasonably reliable.

But the report, “A Consumer’s Guide to Retail Carbon-Offset Providers,” concluded that this market was no different than any other, saying, “if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Prices vary widely for offsetting the carbon dioxide tonnage released by a long plane flight, S.U.V. commute or energy-hungry house. The report suggested that the cheapest offsets may not be legitimate.

For example, depending on where you shop for carbon credits, avoiding the ton of carbon dioxide released by driving a midsize car about 2,000 miles could cost $5 or $25, according to data in the report.

Mr. Hayes said there were legitimate companies and organizations that help people and companies measure their emissions and find ways to cut them, both directly and indirectly by purchasing certain kinds of credits. But overall, he said, an investment in such credits — given the questions about their reliability — should be looked at more as conventional charity (presuming you check to be sure the projects are real) and less as something like a license to binge on private jet travel.

In many ways, the carbon-neutral campaign mimics other efforts that use markets to save the environment. For nearly two decades, for example, forest protection groups have disputed the merits of “certified” tropical hardwood and other products that manufacturers claim are harvested in ways that don’t imperil virgin forests.

Some environmentalists say it’s better to offer some income to those who use forests in a renewable way. But others insist that instead of trying to police the trade by rooting our fraudulent planks, it’s better to avoid the timber altogether. Only one of many forest certification programs, run by the Forest Stewardship Council, has been widely endorsed by environmental groups.

Michael R. Solomon, the author of “Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having and Being” and a professor at Auburn University, said he was not surprised by the allure of the carbon-offsetting market.

“Consumers are always going to gravitate toward a more parsimonious solution that requires less behavioral change,” he said. “We know that new products or ideas are more likely to be adopted if they don’t require us to alter our routines very much.”

But he said there was danger ahead, “if we become trained to substitute dollars for deeds — kind of an ‘I gave at the office’ prescription for the environment.”

Charles Komanoff, an energy economist in New York, said the commercial market in climate neutrality could have even more harmful effects.

It could, by suggesting there’s an easy way out, blunt public support for what will really be needed in the long run, he said: a binding limit on emissions or a tax on the fuels that generate greenhouse gases.

“There isn’t a single American household above the poverty line that couldn’t cut their CO2 at least 25 percent in six months through a straightforward series of fairly simple and terrifically cost-effective measures,” he said.

Jonathan Shopley, the chief executive of Britain’s CarbonNeutral Company, which does only 5 percent of its offsetting directly for individuals and the rest for businesses, insisted that the voluntary markets fill a vital gap.

This is particularly true, he said, because laws or treaties, like the Kyoto Protocol, that have mandatory limits on greenhouse gases have so far failed to blunt the relentless global rise in such emissions.

“That isn’t going to get us where we need to go,” Mr. Shopley said.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Chemotherapy-associated memory problems

NYTimes

April 29, 2007
Chemotherapy Fog Is No Longer Ignored as Illusion
By JANE GROSS

On an Internet chat room popular with breast cancer survivors, one thread — called “Where’s My Remote?” — turns the mental fog known as chemo brain into a stand-up comedy act.

One woman reported finding five unopened gallons of milk in her refrigerator and having no memory of buying the first four. A second had to ask her husband which toothbrush belonged to her.

At a family celebration, one woman filled the water glasses with turkey gravy. Another could not remember how to carry over numbers when balancing the checkbook.

Once, women complaining of a constellation of symptoms after undergoing chemotherapy — including short-term memory loss, an inability to concentrate, difficulty retrieving words, trouble with multitasking and an overarching sense that they had lost their mental edge — were often sent home with a patronizing “There, there.”

But attitudes are changing as a result of a flurry of research and new attention to the after-effects of life-saving treatment. There is now widespread acknowledgment that patients with cognitive symptoms are not imagining things, and a growing number of oncologists are rushing to offer remedies, including stimulants commonly used for attention-deficit disorder and acupuncture.

“Until recently, oncologists would discount it, trivialize it, make patients feel it was all in their heads,” said Dr. Daniel Silverman, a cancer researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies the cognitive side effects of chemotherapy. “Now there’s enough literature, even if it’s controversial, that not mentioning it as a possibility is either ignorant or an evasion of professional duty.”

That shift matters to patients.

“Chemo brain is part of the language now, and just to have it acknowledged makes a difference,” said Anne Grant, 57, who owns a picture-framing business in New York City. Ms. Grant, who had high-dose chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant in 1995, said she could not concentrate well enough to read, garbled her sentences and struggled with simple decisions like which socks to wear.

Virtually all cancer survivors who have had toxic treatments like chemotherapy experience short-term memory loss and difficulty concentrating during and shortly afterward, experts say. But a vast majority improve. About 15 percent, or roughly 360,000 of the nation’s 2.4 million female breast cancer survivors, the group that has dominated research on cognitive side effects, remain distracted years later, according to some experts. And nobody knows what distinguishes this 15 percent.

Most oncologists agree that the culprits include very high doses of chemotherapy, like those in anticipation of a bone marrow transplant; the combination of chemotherapy and supplementary hormonal treatments, like tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors that lower the amount of estrogen in women who have cancers fueled by female hormones; and early-onset cancer that catapults women in their 30s and 40s into menopause.

Other clues come from studies too small to be considered definitive. One such study found a gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease in cancer survivors with cognitive deficits. Another, using PET scans, found unusual activity in the part of the brain that controls short-term recall.

The central puzzle of chemo brain is that many of the symptoms can occur for reasons other than chemotherapy.

Abrupt menopause, which often follows treatment, also leaves many women fuzzy-headed in a more extreme way than natural menopause, which unfolds slowly. Those cognitive issues are also features of depression and anxiety, which often accompany a cancer diagnosis. Similar effects are also caused by medications for nausea and pain.

Dr. Tim Ahles, one of the first American scientists to study cognitive side effects, acknowledges that studies have been too small and lacked adequate baseline data to isolate a cause.

“So many factors affect cognitive function, and the kinds of cognitive problems associated with cancer treatment can be caused by many other things than chemotherapy,” said Dr. Ahles, the director of neurocognitive research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

The new interest in chemo brain is, in effect, a testimony to enormous strides in the field. Patients who once would have died now live long enough to have cognitive side effects, just as survivors of childhood leukemia did many years ago, forcing new treatment protocols to avoid learning disabilities.

“A large number of people are living long and normal lives,” said Dr. Patricia Ganz, an oncologist at U.C.L.A. who is one of the nation’s first specialists in the late side effects of treatment. “It’s no longer enough to cure them. We have to acknowledge the potential consequences and address them early on.”

As researchers look for a cause, cancer survivors are trying to figure out how to get through the day by sharing their experiences, and by tapping expertise increasingly being offered online by Web sites like www.breastcancer.org and www.cancercare.org.

There are “ask the experts” teleconferences, both live and archived, and fact sheets to download and show to a skeptical doctor. Message boards suggest sharpening the mind with Japanese sudoku puzzles or compensatory techniques devised to help victims of brain injury. There are even sweatshirts for sale saying “I Have Chemo Brain. What’s Your Excuse?”

Studies of cognitive effects have overwhelmingly been conducted among breast cancer patients because they represent, by far, the largest group of cancer survivors and because they tend to be sophisticated advocates, challenging doctors and volunteering for research.

Most researchers studying cognitive deficits say they believe that those most inclined to notice even subtle changes are high-achieving women juggling careers and families who are used to succeeding at both. They point to one study that found that complaints of cognitive deficits often did not match the results of neuro-psychological tests, suggesting that chemo brain is a subjective experience.

“They say, ‘I’ve lost my edge,’ ” said Dr. Stewart Fleishman, director of cancer supportive services at Beth Israel and St. Luke’s/Roosevelt hospitals in New York. “If they can’t push themselves to the limit, they feel impaired.”

Dr. Fleishman and others were pressed as to why a poor woman, working several jobs to feed her children, navigating the health care system and battling insurance companies, would not also need mental dexterity. “Maybe we’re just not asking them,” Dr. Fleishman said.

Overall, middle-class cancer patients tend to get more aggressive treatment, participate in support groups, enroll in studies and use the Internet for research and community more than poor and minority patients, experts say.

“The disparity plays out in all kinds of ways,” said Ellen Coleman, the associate executive director of CancerCare, which provides free support services. “They don’t approach their health care person because they don’t expect help.”

But approaching a doctor does not guarantee help. Susan Mitchell, 48, who does freelance research on economic trends, complained to her oncologist in Jackson, Miss., that her income had been halved since her breast cancer treatment last year because everything took longer for her to accomplish.

She said his reply was a shrug.

“They see their job as keeping us alive, and we appreciate that,” Ms. Mitchell said. “But it’s like everything else is a luxury. These are survivor issues, and they need to get used to the fact that lots of us are surviving.”

Among women like Ms. Mitchell, lost A.T.M. cards are as common as missing socks. Children arrive at birthday parties a week early. Wet clothes wind up in the freezer instead of the dryer. Prosthetic breasts and wigs are misplaced at the most inopportune times. And simple words disappear from memory: “The thing with numbers” will have to do for the word “calculator.”

Linda Lowen, 46, had a hysterectomy and chemotherapy for ovarian cancer 13 years ago, and says she still cannot recognize neighbors at the grocery store. “I had a mind like a steel trap, and I ended up with a colander for a brain,” said Ms. Lowen, a radio and television talk show host in Syracuse.

The other night, Ms. Lowen set out to find a good place to store her knitting supplies. She began emptying a cabinet of games that her teenage daughters no longer played. Meanwhile, she noticed a blown light bulb and went to find a replacement. That detour led to another, and five hours later she had scrubbed every surface and tidied the contents of eight drawers. But she still had no storage space for her knitting supplies.

“I have an almost childlike inability to follow through on anything,” Ms. Lowen said.

Solutions come in many forms for women whose cancer treatment has left them with cognitive deficits.

Sedra Jayne Varga, 50, an administrative assistant in family court in Manhattan, is part of a research study of the stimulant Focalin, which she said had helped. But Ms. Varga also plans to have laser surgery on her eyes so that losing her glasses will no longer be an issue.

Lu Ann Hudson, 44, a designer of financial databases in Cincinnati, relies on a key fob that sets off a beep in her car when she is looking for it in parking lots. Terry-Lynne Jordan, 43, who analyzes environmental incidents for an oil company in Calgary, Alberta, uses the calendar on her computer and voice mail messages to herself to remind her of meetings.

And Debbie Kamplain, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mother in Peoria, Ill., hired a $30-an-hour personal organizer to help her sell a house, buy another and get ready to move her family to Indiana next month.

But it is Ms. Kamplain’s 2 ½-year-old son, Daniel, who sees to it that she stays on task. Long before Daniel could talk, he would pull her over to the refrigerator if she got distracted while getting him a drink.

“Poor kid,” Ms. Kamplain said. “I say I’m going to do something, forget about it immediately, and he’s the one who has to remind Mommy about stuff.”

Friday, April 27, 2007

History of AOL Warez

Link

Before I begin, let me state the following: This is my personal perspective of the history of Warez and the scene in general on America Online (AOL). How the scene developed in the beginnings, and where it has evolved to today. I also would like to thank Mat Stars, Reflux, and Da Chronic himself for their input and insight. Enjoy.

Well, as of writing this, I am 22 years old (it’s 2003 as of this writing). I chose to write this little piece on the history of AOL Warez (at least from my perspective) for two primary reasons. Firstly, it may sound ‘lame’ or whatever, but I’ve been involved in the scene in one form or another since I was 10 years old… so that’s 12 years and counting. For better or for worse, AOL Warez has played a part in my life, and it’s something I don’t wish to ignore or forget as I get older, so this is a good reminder document for me. Secondly, being the “wise sage” that I am, I feel it may be of benefit or interest to others to share my experiences and knowledge about the history of the scene.

To be fully honest, I don’t know or recall exactly how *I* first got involved. I know it was when I had a 2400 baud modem, and was trading old software (DOS, 16 color games, etc) through single line BBS’s, around 1991 I believe. I first began using AOL 2.0 back in 1993, when the first version of AOL for Microsoft Windows was released. Yes, I had tried AOL for DOS (back then, there was no version number) in 1991, but at that point, AOL was called Quantum Computer Services. And in case anyone is wondering why AOL has always “been so easy to use,” it’s because it was originally designed for the Macintosh and Apple II. Anyhow, at this point there were fewer than 1 million subscribers, chat service did not exist, and the scene had not yet been born. Obviously, this is also pre-unlimited use per month days (which did not occur until 1996).

With the advent of 9600 baud modems, public chat rooms, and soon the private rooms which began spawning on the AOL service. Back then, the internet was not for everyone. Only tech savvy people who knew what was going on ever logged on to the internet during this time period, and by tech savvy, I’m referring to people such as myself: young, adolescent boys, with a curiosity of technology and sense of adventure. (Yes, I consider myself the Tom Sawyer of the modern age). Anyways, enough background information, on to the creation of the scene…

Primarily through word of mouth, news spread about free programs being offered in chat rooms for trade and download. Prior to this, I had been doing BBS trading on boards such as Iniquity and Eternity. On AOL, this was first done in public chat rooms; soon of course, people migrated to private rooms, and the creation of the “warez” series of rooms. For teenage boys who wanted free software, and to be part of the “in” club, things were going great. But something was missing. Along came a man, calling himself “Da Chronic.” Now, if you don’t know of this nick name, stop reading beyond here, you don’t belong. Da Chronic, who at the time was a 17 year old high school student from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, created the first of what was to become literally thousands of programs for use on AOL, none other than “AOHell.” A fairly simple program created in Visual Basic, AOHell reached a level of popularity which has never been equaled or even rivaled (no, don’t tell me FateX was more popular, it was not). AOHell allowed people to do several basic things. Firstly, it allowed anyone, his sister, mother and dog, to create fake accounts on AOL using randomly generated information. Secondly, it had a few built in macro’s, the most popular of which was the “scrolling middle finger.” Third, you could “email bomb” or “IM bomb” people, and just be generally disruptive, which was the true intent of Da Chronic. The original version of AOHell was released around November 1994.

So at this time, AOL didn’t really do a whole lot to stop the spread of Warez on their system. I’m sure they regret this now. Had they been aggressive in the early stages of the development of the scene, I am positive that it would not have survived, just as it did not on other similar services, such as Compuserve and Prodigy. All AOL did was modify the account sign up process. Essentially, they changed the checking account creation to have some sort of validation period, and basically that was about it for a while. Of course, that didn’t stop us. Some brilliant person figured out the now infamous ‘5396’ MasterCard prefix. Simply by having the correct 4 digit CC prefix, you could still create fake accounts fairly quickly, and AOHell and similar programs automated the process for you.

The “scene” as an organized community did not establish itself until the middle of 1995, probably during the summer months. Prior to this time, such a thing as “free warez” did not exist. You traded for programs/games/utilities etc. Then along game the first known organized group, dedicated to the “free warez” concept, SHiZZa. Basically, group members from SHiZZa went around warez rooms (now being called such things as ‘cold’ or ‘thin’ ice, since the word “warez” had been banned), and recruited new members. This was taken a step further by FWA (the Free Warez Alliance, which claimed to have created the ‘freewarez’ series of private rooms, once the ‘ice’ series was also banned). Other people quickly followed suit, and created groups of their own, most notably, UPS, MySTiC, and SNT which were formed within weeks or months of SHiZZa. Groups worthy of mention who came about in the second and third waves, include Synapse and iMaGe (which iMaGe was formed via merger of Gen-X and Digital) who then later on merged to form what is now Legion, DGG (which spawned off Arise), WaY (which died off), Logic (which moved to I-Net only), and OsW (died off). I’m sure there were other groups during this time, but these are the most important and prominent ones (and the ones which I can still remember). The three dominant groups during this time were UPS, MySTiC and WaY (the latter of which, I was a part of for a few short weeks). UPSS by the way, (the AOL arm of UPS), was the first group to begin “massmailing” Warez with automated programs, and WaY took it a step further when CooLziE created IcE DroP MM’er, the first stable, fast, and fully automated MM program (it could both collect screen names from a chat room where people signed up, and then MM them all on its own).

It was also during this time when “phishing” for accounts was ever so popular. Stupid new AOL’ers just seemed to love sharing their accounts with people. At that time, it was almost too easy to steal passwords since no one made unique, hard to guess pw’s. I remember trying out passwords like sex123 and getting into accounts with ease. Of course, the other major thing which was going on was “carding.” Once you stole a person’s CC information (or more often, they ‘volunteered’ it, you could go to places such as buy.com and FedEx shit using that stolen CC info, and within a few days have a new computer, or stereo or whatever your heart desired. Now, this is a simplified explanation of how ‘phishing’ and ‘carding’ both worked, but I am not going to get into the details of those two scenes; I merely wanted to mention them because they were loosely associated with the Warez scene.

Then of course, came the crack downs in 1996. CATwatch automated sentinels were placed on AOL's warez chat channels, logging off anyone who entered. "Free" accounts were traced and nuked. Address verification systems were created to authentic all types of online transactions. AOL began warning its members of its policy of “never asking for your password or credit card.” Off the AOL scene, major release groups such as Razor 1911, Drink or Die, Inner Circle, Class, Pirates with Attitudes were targeted by authorities repeatedly. That was the “dark age” of Warez (which of course lasted only a year, but still). However, the scene would soon rebuild and be back better than ever before.

By now we are in 1997 already, and some of the ‘old school’ groups had died off, and new ones such as Arise, PaS, and Legion, (along with good ‘ol UPS) had become the dominant groups. From 1997 to 2000, I would say a good thousand groups came and went, some with a bang, others without notice. Groups I have not yet mentioned which I feel are of some worthy note include Legend, FoCuS, GoH, ink, MiRaGE. Three things to mention about this time period; first, this is the era in which every group was “allied” with one another, which basically didn’t mean a goddamn thing, except that supposedly you wouldn’t TOS another group’s member account or something. Secondly, every group had their “security” personnel, which again, didn’t mean a goddamn thing, since 99% of these groups did not have IRC chat rooms back then, and so security from what? Steve Case? I always found that funny. And third, most of these groups consisted of a President, Vice-President, and 15 members who were the President or V.P., but different screen names they used to make their group look larger; of course the majority of these groups didn’t last, hence the terms “3 month summer crew” or “2 dollar Warez group” came about. Still though, without these groups, we wouldn’t be where we are today. The final group I want to mention is Premium, whom my friend chaos helped co-found; always thought of as the “newbie” group, but over time established themselves as one of the bedrock foundations of AOL Warez.

You may be wondering why I have made no mention of “0-day Warez.” Mainly, because I was never really directly involved in that stuff and don’t have much knowledge about it. Let’s be honest, the vast majority of programs released each day are worthless pieces of crap. Who honestly gives a fuck if you are the first person to upload the newest version of a program that no one cares about? Yea, you got big balls alright… and no brains. Good fucking job bonehead. Not to rag on 0-day groups… they do an important job. But on AOL, is 0-day Warez really needed? I doubt it; in fact, I think most people would prefer a group keep a working copy of a 5 month old game on their lists instead of the newest piece of 0-day worthless software.

Another two items I have not yet mentioned were the Audio and Porn scenes on AOL. I was never heavily involved in either, but had friends who were. TuNeZ was the first major group on AOL to begin distributing music, which back then was in *.wav format since mp3’s did not yet exist. Once mp3’s began to become the dominant music format, the major group for many years on the scene was AuDiO, led by ZiGGy, and some other peoples. Other major mp3 groups of the early days included BadByz and PhreeMP3. There were plenty of other groups, and many Warez groups also had mp3 divisions for a while, but I don’t care to discuss them at length. As you might imagine, there has always been porn on AOL. Ever since I could first remember using AOL, porn has existed. The most famous, dedicated and long lasting group is none other than ESP, which has been around since 1997, and continues to spew out some great stuff even today.

Now, the biggest thing, besides the idea of free Warez on AOL, was of course, serving, instead of mass-mailing. Who exactly created the FIRST serving program, I do not know. However I know that among the very earliest was Entity for AOL 2.5 (which also worked for 2.0), by my friend BoFeN, who later went on to create the “Millennium” line of serving and mm’ing programs. After that, many of the famous early serving programs include Scream Server, Soylent Green, Ao-NiN 98 created by MemberTwo (known as the most stable server of the time), Unreal mm’er/server by eviction, and then of course BLiZzaRD by NoVa, which was the first serving program to work across multiple versions of AOL, both 16 and 32 bit. MM’ing was still important, particular inter-group MM’s. Popular MM programs I can remember were of course Turbo iCe Drop by CooLziE (the original, automated MM program for AOL 2.5), WaaS by SLaYeR, which was another one of the very early serving programs, GreeN mass mailer by everyone’s favorite coder dude, bmxer, and Krylon Cans by fin. It’s funny, as I write this, I’m thinking.. whatever happened to these guys, bmxer, fin, BoFen, NoVa… I knew all of them back in the day; wonder if they work at some software company now or something. If any of you guys should ever happen to read this, hit me up sometime goddamnit. Also, all those useful little utility progs! The 45-minute and anti-idle killers, Phantom auto-tagger, and the auto-tagger by foog, screen name reset by seven, and dead mail checker by TrU (didn’t come around until AOL began killing files off). I’m not going to even bother getting into programs like HaVoK, LuciferX, FateX, and the unlimited number of other ones which were made, I don’t consider those things to have been vital to the success of the scene at all, and most were pretty annoying.

My personal experience with the AOL scene (after leaving, and then returning during the summer of 1998) was mostly with Arise. Yes, I had created my own “3 month summer group” prior to that, which basically retagged UPS or Legion Warez. But when I joined Arise, things changed for me. It was the first time I saw the foundation of the community, based on IRC. Yes, I had used IRC previously in my BBS days, but it had changed, and a lot more people were around now. Early in 1999, I was promoted to President of Arise, and began to run the daily operations of the group with a few close ‘online friends.’ I ran things for about a year, until in early 2000 when I took a leave of absence from the group and scene in general. I returned late in the year of 2000 to find a scene which was being battered down by increased monitoring by AOL, which was now really doing whatever it could to combat Warez (and mp3/porn to a lesser degree). This is the time of killing random uploads so that a 20-part game would be unplayable since part number 19 was ‘missing.’ Groups at this time began experimenting more with things such as xDCC transfers through IRC, X-Drive’s on the internet, FTP usage en masse, all of which failed to be made available to the masses of AOL’ers who just never seem to be able to go anywhere better than a private chat room (where we ALL once started out, I remind you). By early 2002, I had once again left the group, this time for good, because of increasing demands of work and college… unfortunately, we all have to grow up at some point it seems. Of course, throughout the years, I made many good friends, and I still keep in contact with a number of them on a regular basis.

Now, the way I see it, from 1998 until about the end of 2002, there have been 4 groups which have dominated the scene with reliability. UPS, the oldest of these groups still exists today; Legion is still around, as is Arise, and of course, was Premium. Now, all four of these groups have gone through their ‘downtimes’ in which their production was minimal or nonexistent, and yet, they all survive, recruit anew, and come back strong as ever. The difference is, the backbones of these groups are always lurking around in the shadows, while other groups tend to just breakup and die whenever things become difficult on AOL, and these four groups remain focused, strategize, and proceed with plans. They are flexible to try new things, but always remain true to the purpose of their organizations: the free spread of Warez on AOL. In the past 4 or 5 years, hundreds of groups have come and gone, some lasting only weeks, others a few years, and others merging with one another. Groups from this time period which I want to give honorable mention to are Relik/React (which I believe were both born from FoCuS), Liquid, mob, and RaaO; again, I am positive there are many groups of value whom I did not include. I simply cannot remember every one of them, as there were many.

The next thing AOL did to combat Warez was limiting the amount of mail people can send out in a certain period of time. Answer to this problem? White-listing, in which you get your screen name placed on a special list which then has access to unlimited bulk email sending. No matter what tactics AOL tries to employ, they fail to realize who they are dealing with: young, adolescent boys whose passion in life it is to find ways to defeat AOL. We thrive in times of difficulty, we love the challenge, and the boasting about it to all our peers when we come out on top, it’s what we live for, and it’s in our blood. Nothing makes me happier than when I go into ‘cerver’ rooms (what they are frequently called these days), and see 2 or 3 active servers and a room full of AOL’ers requesting files like no tomorrow. As I always joke with buddies on IRC, I hope the scene exists years down the line, I surely want my son to be involved, and maybe become President of Arise or some other group, as should all of you.

When I first began writing this article in January of 2003, my original inspiration came from a similar piece I had seen on allied.org. I make no guarantee of that site still being around when YOU read this, and although it hasn’t been updated in years, it is still a site worth checking out if you have the time. Three final AOL Warez groups I wanted to mention are Infinite, Solution, and Imperial. These are 3 relatively newer groups, which have come into their own as of late. I know many members from these groups; some are ex-members from groups such as Arise or Legion. These three, along with Arise, Legion and UPS, and the dominant groups of the scene. Sadly missing from this list, you might be wondering, is Premium. Due to lack of new recruits, and increased difficulty in serving, they were forced to shut down operations. From what I have heard, a new problem has arisen lately- terminating of accounts, and shutting down the popular ‘cerver’ series of rooms. It’s just another attempt by AOL to end the Warez trade on their system, which I doubt will ever happen. Solutions to every problem always exist, some just take a while to figure out.

Well about one full year after I began this article, I decided to make an update to it, as some things have changed. It's January 2004 at this point, and I think that 1 update a year is pretty good for this page. So anyhow, things which have changed are that my old group, Arise, is no more. I was shocked and saddened to hear the news directly from EviL (the founder of Arise), that after a long, drawn out struggle to attract new members, the group had finally decided to shutter it's doors. I wish I had known about it, and I even though about calling him on the phone to bitch his ass out about giving up, but I am not much involved in the AOL scene these days and I don't see what good that would have done. Also from what I've seen and heard, most people from AOL have finally migrated to IRC when they want to obtain their Warez. It seems as though AOL has been very successful as of late in their quest to end the trading of illegal programs through their service, and although there are a few brave men who continue to serve and mm there, most have moved on to the unregulated worlds of IRC. It appears like the scene is going through another dark phase right now, as the levels of activity have dropped since I was last around, but as always, I am positive that new ways will be found, and we will refuse to be defeated as a community. See you all next year.

This history of AOL Warez is MY viewpoint on the development of the scene. I am sure I left out some important things, maybe got some facts or dates or other information wrong, and what not. And certainly, I don’t claim that it is in any way complete or final. If you remember something of IMPORTANCE which was left out (no, I don’t care about your 3 week stint in some unknown Warez group, or about the super elite hax0rish punter program you made that no one used), please feel free to contact me and let me know, or if you just want to chat about the old days.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Imus - the most sane opinion that I've read

By Shaun Powell of Newsday (an African-American journalist, to those who care about such details)

In retrospect, outraged people shouldn't have united and screamed "blank you" to Don Imus the last few days. No, instead, we should've stuck out our hand and said, "Thank you."

We should feel indebted to a shriveled, unfunny, insensitive frog for being so ignorant that he actually did us all a favor. He woke society the hell up. He grabbed it by the throat, shook hard and ordered us to take a long, critical look at ourselves and the mess we've made and ignored for much too long. He made us examine the culture and the characters we've created for ourselves, our impressionable young people and our future.

Had Imus not called a bunch of proud and innocent young women "nappy-headed hos," would we be as ashamed of what we see as we are today?

Or, to quote Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer: "Have we really lost our moral fiber?"

And our minds as well?

I'm not sure if the last few days will serve as a watershed moment for this MTV, middle-finger, screw-you generation. Probably not, according to my hunch. A short time from now, the hysteria will turn to vapor, folks will settle back into their routines, somebody will pump up the volume on the latest poison produced by hip-hop while Al Sharpton and the other racial ambulance chasers will find other guilt-ridden white folks to shake for fame and cash. In five minutes, the entire episode of Imus and his strange idea of humor will be older than his hairstyle. Lessons learned will be lessons forgotten.

I wish I were wrong about that last part. But I doubt it, because any minute now, black people will resume calling themselves bitches and hos and the N-word and in the ultimate sign of hypocrisy, neither Rutgers nor anyone else will call a news conference about that.

Because when we really get to the root of the problem, this isn't about Imus. This is about a culture we -- meaning black folks -- created and condoned and packaged for white power brokers to sell and shock jocks like Imus to exploit. Can we talk?

Tell me: Where did an old white guy like Imus learn the word "ho"?

Was that always part of his vocabulary? Or did he borrow it from Jay-Z and Dave Chappelle and Snoop Dogg?

What really disappointed me about that exhausting Rutgers news conference, which was slyly used as a recruiting pitch by Stringer, was the absence of the truth and the lack of backbone and courage. Black women had the perfect opportunity to lash out at their most dangerous oppressors -- black men -- and yet they kept the focus on a white guy.

It was a tremendous letdown for me, personally and professionally. I wanted Stringer, and especially her players, many of whom listen to rap and hip-hop, to take Nelly to task. Or BET. Or MTV. Or the gangsta culture that is suffocating our kids. They had the ear and eye of the nation trained upon them, and yet these women didn't get to the point and the root of the matter. They danced around it, and I guess I should've known better, because black people still refuse to lash out against those black people who are doing harm to us all.

Honestly, I wasn't holding my breath for Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, a pair of phony and self-appointed leaders, because they have their agendas and financial stakes. I was hoping 10 young women, who have nothing on the line, who are members of a young culture, would train their attention to within the race, name names and say enough is enough. But they didn't, and I was crushed.

You should walk around the playground and the elementary and high schools today and listen to how young black people speak to each other, treat each other and tease each other. You'd be ashamed. Next, sample some of their CDs and look at the video games they're playing. And while you're at it, blame yourself for funding this garbage, for allowing your kids to support these companies and for not taking a stand against it or the so-called artists making it happen.

Black folks, for whatever reason, can be their own worst enemy. The last several days, the media had us believe it was Don Imus. But deep down, we know better.
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Bravo! Imus made a big mistake. However, it has been abundantly clear that people such as Sharpton and Jackson have endeared themselves to this issue to further their own personal agendas. Will people really change as a result of whatever comes of this series of events? Sadly, probably not. Where has this outrage been for the countless more egregious examples of bigotry and racism in our current culture?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

50 year cost of marriage?

MSN

A 50-year marriage will run you a cool $590,400. Make it count.

But first, our sources:

National Greeting Card Association
National Restaurant Association
Forbes.com
Broadway.com
CNNmoney.com
TravelDailyNews.com
Unity Marketing
Mintel
Hotelinteractive.com
American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
Planned Parenthood
National Retail Federation
National Association of Theater Owners

What You'll Give Her: Flowers
Cost in a Year: $300
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $15,000

What You'll Give Her: Cards for all the usual reasons
Cost in a Year: $21
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $1,050

What You'll Give Her: Dinners out
Cost in a Year: $2,526
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $126,300

What You'll Give Her: Expensive dinners to apologize
Cost in a Year: $700
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $35,000

What You'll Give Her: Theater, movie, concert tickets
Cost in a Year: $752
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $37,600

What You'll Give Her: Vacations
Cost in a Year: $2,913
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $145,650

What You'll Give Her: Jewelry
Cost in a Year: $1,336
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $66,800

What You'll Give Her: Lingerie
Cost in a Year: $122
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $6,100

What You'll Give Her: Trips to the spa
Cost in a Year: $275
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $13,750

What You'll Give Her: Haircuts, grooming products for you
Cost in a Year: $1,000
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $50,000

What You'll Give Her: Vasectomy after the kids are born
Cost in a Year: $1,000
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $1,000

What You'll Give Her: Caring for the dog she loves so much
Cost in a Year: $1,266
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $63,300

What You'll Give Her: Valentine's Day
Cost in a Year: $86
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $4,300

What You'll Give Her: Mother's Day
Cost in a Year: $70
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $3,500

What You'll Give Her: Holiday, anniversary, birthday gifts
Cost in a Year: $421
Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $21,050

TOTAL Cost in a Year: $12,788
TOTAL Cost Over a 50-Year Marriage: $590,400

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Achieving girls

NYTimes

April 1, 2007
For Girls, It’s Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too
By SARA RIMER

NEWTON, Mass., March 31 — To anyone who knows 17-year-old Esther Mobley, one of the best students at one of the best public high schools in the country, it is absurd to think she doesn’t measure up. But Esther herself is quick to set the record straight.

“First of all, I’m a terrible athlete,” she said over lunch one day.

“I run, I do, but not very quickly, and always exhaustedly,” she continued. “This is one of the things I’m most insecure about. You meet someone, especially on a college tour, adults ask you what you do. They say, ‘What sports do you play?’ I don’t play any sports. It’s awkward.”

Esther, a willowy, effervescent senior, turned to her friend Colby Kennedy. Colby, 17, is also a great student, a classical pianist, fluent in Spanish, and a three-season varsity runner and track captain. Did Colby worry, Esther asked, that she fell short in some way?

“Or,” said Esther, and now her tone was a touch sarcastic, “do you just have it all already?”

They both burst out laughing.

Esther and Colby are two of the amazing girls at Newton North High School here in this affluent suburb just outside Boston. “Amazing girls” translation: Girls by the dozen who are high achieving, ambitious and confident (if not immune to the usual adolescent insecurities and meltdowns.) Girls who do everything: Varsity sports. Student government. Theater. Community service. Girls who have grown up learning they can do anything a boy can do, which is anything they want to do.

But being an amazing girl often doesn’t feel like enough these days when you’re competing with all the other amazing girls around the country who are applying to the same elite colleges that you have been encouraged to aspire to practically all your life.

An athlete, after all, is one of the few things Esther isn’t. A few of the things she is: a standout in Advanced Placement Latin and honors philosophy/literature who can expound on the beauty of the subjunctive tense in Catullus and on Kierkegaard’s existential choices. A writer whose junior thesis for Advanced Placement history won Newton North’s top prize. An actress. President of her church youth group.

To spend several months in a pressure cooker like Newton North is to see what a girl can be — what any young person can be — when encouraged by committed teachers and by engaged parents who can give them wide-ranging opportunities.

It is also to see these girls struggle to navigate the conflicting messages they have been absorbing, if not from their parents then from the culture, since elementary school. The first message: Bring home A’s. Do everything. Get into a top college — which doesn’t have to be in the Ivy League, or one of the other elites like Williams, Tufts or Bowdoin, but should be a “name” school.

The second message: Be yourself. Have fun. Don’t work too hard.

And, for all their accomplishments and ambitions, the amazing girls, as their teachers and classmates call them, are not immune to the third message: While it is now cool to be smart, it is not enough to be smart.

You still have to be pretty, thin and, as one of Esther’s classmates, Kat Jiang, a go-to stage manager for student theater who has a perfect 2400 score on her SATs, wrote in an e-mail message, “It’s out of style to admit it, but it is more important to be hot than smart.”

“Effortlessly hot,” Kat added.

If you are free to be everything, you are also expected to be everything. What it comes down to, in this place and time, is that the eternal adolescent search for self is going on at the same time as the quest for the perfect résumé. For Esther, as for high school seniors everywhere, this is a big weekend for finding out how your résumé measured up: The college acceptances, and rejections, are rolling in.

“You want to achieve,” Esther said. “But how do you achieve and still be genuine?”

If it all seems overwhelming at times, then the multitasking adults in Newton have the answer: Balance. Strive for balance.

But balance is out the window when you’re a high-achieving senior in the home stretch of the race for which all the years of achieving and the disciplined focusing on the future have been preparing you. These students are aware that because more girls apply to college than boys, amid concerns about gender balance, boys may have an edge at some small selective colleges.

“You’re supposed to have all these extracurriculars, to play sports and do theater,” said another of Esther’s 17-year-old classmates, Julie Mhlaba, who aspires to medical school and juggles three Advanced Placement classes, gospel choir and a part-time job as a waitress. “You’re supposed to do well in your classes and still have time to go out.”

“You’re supposed to do all these things,” Julie said, “and not go insane.”

Stress Trumps Relaxation

Newton, which has a population of almost 84,000, is known for a liberal sensibility and a high concentration of professionals like doctors, lawyers and academics. Six miles west of Boston, with its heavily settled neighborhoods, bustling downtowns and high numbers of immigrants, Newton is a suburb with an urban feel.

The main shopping area, in Newton Centre, is a concrete manifestation of the conflicting messages Esther and the other girls are constantly struggling to decode. In one five-block stretch are two Starbucks and one Peets Coffee & Tea, several psychotherapists’ offices, three SAT test-prep services, two after-school math programs, and three yoga studios promising relaxation and inner peace.

Smack in the middle of all of this is Esther’s church, the 227-year-old First Baptist, which welcomes everyone regardless of race, sexual orientation or denomination, and where Esther puts in a lot of time.

The test-prep business is booming. Kaplan (“Be the ideal college applicant!”) is practically around the corner from Chyten (“Our average SAT II score across all subjects is 720!”), which is three blocks from Princeton Review (“We’re all about scoring more!”). My First Yoga (for children 3 and up), with its founder playing up her Harvard degree, is conveniently located above Chyten, which includes the SAT Cafe.

High-priced SAT prep has become almost routine at schools like Newton North. Not to hire the extra help is practically an act of rebellion.

“I think it’s unfair,” Esther said, explaining why she decided against an SAT tutor, though she worried about her score (ultimately getting, as she put it, “above 2000”). “Why do I deserve this leg up?”

Parents view Newton’s expensive real estate — the median house price in 2006 was $730,000 — and high taxes as the price of admission to the prized public schools. There are less affluent parents, small-business owners, carpenters, plumbers, social workers and high school guidance counselors, but many of these families arrived decades ago when it was possible to buy a nice two-story Colonial for $150,000 or less.

Newton North, one of two outstanding public high schools here, is known for its academic rigor, but also its vocational education, reflecting the wide range of its 1,967 students. Nearly 73 percent of them are white, 7.3 percent black, nearly 12 percent Asian and 7.5 percent Hispanic. Many of the black and Hispanic students live in the Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston, and are bused in under a 35-year-old voluntary integration program.

Newton North has a student theater, winning athletic teams and dozens of after-school clubs (ultimate Frisbee, mock trial, black leadership, Hispanic culture, Israeli dance). There is an emphasis on nonconformity — even if it is often conformity dressed up as nonconformity — and an absence of such high school conventions as, say, homecoming queens, valedictorians and class rankings.

‘Superhuman’ Resistance

Jennifer Price, the Newton North principal, said she and her faculty emphasized to students that they could win admission to many excellent colleges without organizing their entire lives around résumé building. By age 14, Ms. Price said, the school’s highest fliers are already worrying about marketing themselves to colleges: “You almost have to be superhuman to resist the pressure.”

If more students aren’t listening to the message that they can relax a bit, one reason may be that a lot of the people delivering the message went to the elite colleges. Ms. Price has an undergraduate degree from Princeton — she makes a point of saying that she got in because she was recruited to play varsity field hockey — and is a doctoral candidate at Harvard. Many of the teachers have degrees from the Ivy League and other elite schools.

But the message also tends to get drowned out when parents bump into each other at Whole Foods and share news about whose son or daughter just got accepted (or not) at Harvard, Yale, Brown, Penn or Stanford.

Or when the final edition of the award-winning student newspaper, the Newtonite, comes out every June, with its two-page spread listing all the seniors, and their colleges. For that entire week, Esther says, everyone pores over the names, obsessing about who is going where.

“In a lot of ways, it’s all about that one week,” she said.

There is something about the lives these girls lead — their jam-packed schedules, the amped-up multitasking, the focus on a narrow group of the nation’s most selective colleges — that speaks of a profound anxiety in the young people, but perhaps even more so in their parents, about the ability of the next generation to afford to raise their families in a place like Newton.

Admission to a brand-name college is viewed by many parents, and their children, as holding the best promise of professional success and economic well-being in an increasingly competitive world.

“It’s, like, a really big deal to go into a lucrative profession so that you can provide for your kids, and they can grow up in a place like the place where you grew up,” Kat said.

Esther, however, is aiming for a decidedly nonlucrative profession. Inspired by her father, Greg Mobley, who is a Biblical scholar, she wants to be a theologian.

She says she is interested in “Scripture, the Bible, the development of organized religion, thinking about all this, writing about all this, teaching about all this.” More than anything else, she wrote in an e-mail message, she wants to be a writer, “and religion is what I most like to write about.”

“I have such a strong sense of being supported by my faith,” she continued. “It gives me priorities. That’s why I’m not concerned about making money, because I know that there is so much more to living a rich life than having money.”

First Baptist Church counts on Esther. She organizes pancake suppers, tutors a young congregant and helps lead the youth group’s outreach to the poor.

On a springlike Sunday afternoon toward the end of winter, Esther could be found with her father, her two brothers and members of her youth group handing out food to homeless people on Boston Common. She had spent the morning in church.

About 2 p.m., a text message flashed across her cellphone from Gabe Gladstone, a co-captain of mock trial: “Where are you?” Esther, a key member of the group, was needed at a meeting.

Esther messaged back: “I’m feeding the homeless, I’ll come when God’s work is done.”

Fending Off ‘Anorexia of the Soul’

On a Saturday afternoon in late November, Esther and her mother, Page Kelley, sat at the dining room table talking about the contradictions and complexities of life in Newton. Esther’s father was with his sons, Gregory, 15, who plays varsity basketball for Newton North, and Tommy, 10, coaching Tommy’s basketball team.

Ms. Kelley, 47, an assistant federal public defender, and Mr. Mobley, 49, a professor at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, grew up in Kentucky and came north for college. Ms. Kelley is a graduate of Smith College and Harvard Law School. Mr. Mobley has two graduate degrees from Harvard.

Amid all the competitiveness and consumerism, and the obsession with achievement in Newton, Ms. Kelley said, “You just hope your child doesn’t have anorexia of the soul.”

“It’s the idea that you end up with this strange drive,” she continued. “One of the great things about Esther is that she does have some kind of spiritual life. You just hope your kid has good priorities. We keep saying to her: ‘The name of the college you go to doesn’t matter. There are a lot of good colleges out there.’ ”

Esther said her mother is her role model. “I think the work she does is very noble,” she said.

“She has these impressive degrees,” Esther said, “and she chooses to do something where she’s not making as much money as she could.”

As close as mother and daughter are, there is one important generational divide. “My mother applied to one college,” Esther said. “She got in, she went.”

Back from basketball practice with his sons, Mr. Mobley joined the conversation. To Mr. Mobley, a formalized, competitive culture pervades everything from youth sports to getting into college. He pointed out to his wife that the lives of their three children were far more directed “than any of the aimless hours I spent in my youth daydreaming and meandering.”

Ms. Kelley asked, “Is that because of us?”

“Yes — and no,” he said. “It’s because of 2006 in America, and the Northeast.”

The bar for achievement keeps being raised for each generation, he said: “Our children start where we finished.”

As the afternoon turned into early evening, Esther went out to meet her best friend, Aliza Edelstein. The family dog, a Jack Russell terrier named Bandit, was underfoot, trolling for affection.

“I’m not worried about Esther because I know her,” Mr. Mobley said. “Esther’s character is sealed in some fundamental way.”

Ms. Kelley, however, wondered aloud: “Don’t you worry that she never rebelled? When I was growing up, you were supposed to rebel.”

But she acknowledged that she had sent her own mixed signals. “As I’m sitting here saying I don’t care what kind of grades she gets, I’m thinking, she comes home with a B, and I say: ‘What’d you get a B for? Who gave you a B? I’m going to talk to them.’

“You do want your child to do well.”

Mr. Mobley nodded. “We’re not above it,” he said. “It’s complicated.”

On a Fierce Mission to Shine

To sit in on classes with Esther in her vibrant high school where, between classes, the central corridor, called Main Street, is a bustling social hub, is to see why these students are genuinely excited about school.

Their teachers are pushing them to wrestle with big questions: What is truth? What does Virgil’s “Aeneid” tell us about destiny and individual happiness? How does DNA work? How is the global economy reshaping the world (subtext: you have to be fluid and highly educated to survive in the new economy)?

Esther’s ethics teacher, Joel Greifinger, spent considerable time this winter on moral theories. An examination of John Rawls’s theory of justice led to extensive discussions about American society and class inequality. Among the reading material Mr. Greifinger presented was research showing the correlation between income and SAT scores.

The class strengthened Esther’s earlier decision not to take private SAT prep.

In her honors philosophy/literature class, Esther has been reading Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, “Sophie’s Choice” and Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Amid a discussion of the strangely unsettling emptiness Frankl encountered upon his release from a Nazi concentration camp, Esther quoted Sartre: “You are condemned to freedom.”

Her honors teacher, Mike Fieleke, nodded. “That’s the existential idea. If we don’t awaken to that freedom, then we are slaves to our fate.”

A few weeks earlier, Esther, taking stock of her own life, wrote in an e-mail message: “I feel like I’m on the verge. I feel like I’m just about to get out of high school, to enter into adulthood, to reach some kind of state of independence and peacefulness and enlightenment.”

More immediately, she wrote, Mr. Fieleke had told her “he thought, from reading my papers and hearing me speak in class, that I was just on the verge of some really great idea.”

“I asked him if he thought that idea would come by next Wednesday, when our big Hamlet paper was due. He said I might feel this way all year long.”

The most intensely pressurized academic force field at school is the one surrounding the students on the Advanced Placement and honors track. About 145 of the 500 seniors are taking a combined total of three, four and five Advanced Placement and honors classes, with a few students even juggling six and seven.

Esther’s friend Colby takes four Advanced Placement and one honors class. “I’m living up to my own expectations,” Colby said. “It’s what I want to do. I want to do well for myself.”

Another of Esther’s friends, from student theater, Lee Gerstenhaber, 17, was juggling four Advanced Placement classes with intense late-night rehearsals for her starring role as Maggie, the seductive Southern belle in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” It was too much. About 4 a.m one day last fall, she was still fighting her way through Advanced Placement physics homework. She dissolved in tears.

“I had always been able to do it before,” Lee recalled later. “But I finally said to myself, ‘O.K., I’m not Superwoman.’ ”

She dropped physics — and was incandescent as Maggie.

Esther’s schedule includes two Advanced Placement and one honors class. Among certain of her classmates who are mindful that many elite colleges advise prospective applicants to pursue the most rigorous possible course of study, taking two Advanced Placement classes is viewed as “only two A.P.’s.” But Esther says she is simply taking the subjects she is most interested in.

She also shrugged off advice that it would look better on her résumé to take another science class instead of her passion, A.P. Latin. Like so many of her classmates, Esther started taking Latin in the seventh grade, when everyone was saying Latin would help them with the SAT. But now, except for Esther and a handful of other diehards who are devoted to Latin — and to their teacher, Robert Mitchell — everyone else has moved on.

“I like languages,” said Esther, who also takes Advanced Placement Spanish. “And I really like Latin.”

Who Needs a Boyfriend?

This year Esther has been trying life without a boyfriend. It was her mother’s idea. “She’d say, ‘I think it’s time for you to take a break and discover who you are,’ ” Esther said over lunch with Colby. “She was right. I feel better.”

Esther turned to Colby: she seems to pretty much always have a boyfriend.

“I never felt like having a boyfriend was a burden,” Colby said. “I enjoy just being comfortable with someone, being able to spend time together. I don’t think that means I wouldn’t feel comfortable or confident without one.”

Esther said: “I’m not trying to say that’s a bad thing. I’m like you. I never thought, ‘If I don’t have a boyfriend I’ll feel totally forlorn and lost.’ ”

But who needs a boyfriend? “My girlfriends have consistently been more important than my boyfriends,” Esther wrote in an e-mail message. “I mean, girlfriends last longer.”

Boyfriends or not, a deeper question for Esther and Colby is how they negotiate their identities as young women. They have grown up watching their mothers, and their friends’ mothers, juggle family and career. They take it for granted that they will be able to carve out similar paths, even if it doesn’t look easy from their vantage point.

They say they want to be both feminine and assertive, like their mothers. But Colby made the point at lunch that she would rather be considered too assertive and less conventionally feminine than “be totally passive and a bystander in my life.”

Esther agreed. She said she admired Cristina, the spunky resident on “Grey’s Anatomy,” one of her favorite TV shows.

“She really stands up for herself and knows who she is, which I aspire to,” Esther said.

Cristina is also “gorgeous,” Esther laughed. “And when she’s taking off her scrubs, she’s always wearing cute lingerie.”

Speaking of lingerie, part of being feminine is feeling good about how you look. Esther is not trying to be one of Newton North’s trendsetters, the girls who show up every day in Ugg boots, designer jeans — or equally cool jeans from the vintage store — and tight-fitting tank tops under the latest North Face jacket.

She never looks “scrubby,” to use the slang for being a slob, but sometimes comes to school in sweats and moccasins.

“I think sometimes I might be trying a little too hard not to conform,” Esther says.

She says she is one of the few girls in her circle who doesn’t have a credit card. But she is hardly immune to the pressure to be a good consumer.

During the discussion around the dining room table, Esther’s mother expressed her astonishment over her daughter’s expertise in designer jeans. They had been people-watching at the mall. Esther, as it turned out, knew the brand of every pair of jeans that went by.

So what were the coolest jeans at Newton North?

“The coolest jeans are True Religions,” Esther said.

“They look,” she said, and here she smiled sheepishly as she stood up to reveal her denim-clad legs, “like these.”

Aliza and several of Esther’s other friends chipped in to buy them for her 17th birthday, in November.

Encouraged to Ease Up a Little

The amazing boys say they admire girls like Esther and Colby.

“I hate it when girls dumb themselves down,” Gabe Gladstone, the co-captain of mock trial, was saying one morning to the other captain, Cameron Ferrey.

Cameron said he felt the same way.

One of Esther’s close friends is Dan Catomeris, a school theater star. “One of the most attractive things about Esther is how smart she is,” said Dan, whose mother is a professor at Harvard Business School. “There’s always been this intellectual tension between us. I see why she likes Kierkegaard — he’s existential, but still Christian. She really likes Descartes. I was not so into Descartes. I really like Hume, Nietzsche, the existentialist authors. The musician we’re most collectively into is Bob Dylan.”

Sometimes, though, everybody wants some of these hard-charging girls to chill out. Tom DePeter, an Advanced Placement English teacher, wants his students to loosen up so they can write original sentences. The theater director, Adam Brown, wants the girls to “let go” in auditions.

Peter Martin, the girls’ cross-country coach, says girls try so hard to please everyone — coaches, teachers, parents — that he bends over backward not to criticize them. “I tell them, ‘Just go out and run.’ ” His team wins consistently.

But how do you chill out and still get into a highly selective college?

One of Esther’s favorite rituals is to hang out at her house with Aliza, eating Ben and Jerry’s and watching a DVD of a favorite program like “The Office.” Their friendship helped Esther and Aliza keep going last fall, when there was hardly time to hang out. Esther recalled in an e-mail message how one night she had telephoned Aliza, who is also a top student, and a cross-country team captain, to say she was feeling overwhelmed.

“I said, ‘Aliza, this is crazy, I have so much homework to do, and I won’t be able to relax until I do it all. I haven’t gone out in weeks!’ And Aliza (who had also been staying in on Fridays and Saturdays to do homework) pointed out: ‘I’d rather get into college.’ ”

By Dec. 15, Newton North was in a frenzy over early admissions answers. Esther’s friend Phoebe Gardener had been accepted to Dartmouth. Her friend Dan Lurie was in at Brown. Harvard wanted Dan Catomeris.

Esther was in calculus class, the last period of the day when her cellphone rang. It was her father. The letter from Williams College — her ideal of the small, liberal arts school — had arrived.

Her father would be at her brother’s basketball game when she got home. Her mother would still be at the office. Esther did not want to be alone when she opened the letter.

“Dad, can you bring it to school?” she asked.

Ten minutes later, when her father arrived, Esther realized that he had somehow not registered the devastating thinness of the envelope. The admissions office was sorry. Williams had had a record number of highly qualified applicants for early admission this year. Esther had been rejected. Not deferred. Rejected.

Her father hugged her as she cried outside her classroom, and then he drove her home.

Esther said several days later: “Maybe it hurt me that I wasn’t an athlete.”

But she was already moving on. “I chose Williams,” she said, with a shrug. “They didn’t choose me back.”

About that thin envelope: Mr. Mobley, unschooled in such intricacies, said he hadn’t paid much attention to it. He had wanted so much for his daughter to get into Williams, he said, and believed so strongly in her, that it was as if he had wished the letter into being an acceptance.

“It was a setback,” Mr. Mobley said weeks later. “But it’s not a failure.”

And Then One Day, a Letter Arrives

Has this all been a temporary insanity?

Esther’s friend Colby learned in February that she had been accepted at the University of Southern California. Soon, more letters of acceptance rolled in: from the University of Miami, the University of Texas at Austin, Tulane. With the college-application pressure behind her, she can go back to being the pragmatic romantic who opened her journal last August and wrote her “life list,” with 35 goals and dreams, in pink ink.

She wants: To write a novel. Own a (red) Jeep Wrangler. Get into college. Name her firstborn daughter Carmen. Go to carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Learn to surf. Live in a Spanish-speaking country. Learn to play the doppio movimiento of Chopin’s Sonata in B Flat. Own a dog. Be a bridesmaid. Vote for president. Write a really good poem. Never get divorced.

In mid-January Esther was thrilled to receive an acceptance letter from Centre College, one of her fallback schools, in Kentucky. But she was still dreaming about her remaining top choices: Amherst, Middlebury, Davidson and Smith, her mother’s alma mater.

Esther’s application to Smith included a letter from her father. He wrote about how, when Esther was a baby, they had gone to his wife’s 10th college reunion. He described the alumni parade as an “angelic procession of women in white, decade by decade, at every stage in the course of human life.”

He wrote about seeing the young women, the middle-aged graduates and, finally, “the elderly women, some with the assistance of canes and wheelchairs, but with no diminution of the confidence that a great education brings.”

“I still remember holding Esther as we watched those saints go marching into the central campus for the commencement ceremony,” he wrote.

“Lord,” he concluded, and he could have been talking about any of the schools his daughter still has her heart set on, “I want Esther to be in that number.”

Epilogue: Esther learned last week that she had gotten into Smith. She learned on Saturday that she had been rejected by Amherst and Middlebury. She is still hoping for Davidson.