Critical Section

Archive: March 2003

<<< February 2003


April 2003 >>>

Alinghi Wins the America's Cup!

Saturday,  03/01/03  10:28 PM

America's CupSo the Swiss win the America's Cup!  Congratulations to Alinghi, Russell Coutts, Brad Butterworth, and their whole team.  They clearly outsailed TNZ - this is their third straight Cup win, including the successful 1995 challenge in San Diego which brought the Cup to New Zealand, their 2000 defense against the Italian Prada challenge, and now having switched nationalities (!), the successful challenge for Switzerland.  In those three series they won 15 races straight.  Whew!

America's Cup race 5: the start
AC race 5: start

This race was decided right at the start - the Virtual Spectator screen shot at right shows the positions at the gun (click for bigger pic).  Alinghi is on the line going to weather at full speed, with access to the favored right side, while TNZ is a ½ boatlength off the line, not on point, not at speed, and trapped to the left.  Coutts took 5 starts out of 5 from Dean Barker, and not surprisingly won all 5 races.  I can't understand why TNZ wasn't more aggressive in the starting sequence - this was do or die for them!  Much may be made of TNZ's breakdowns during the regatta - they had to retire from two races, and broke a spinnaker pole in this one - but in each case they were already trailing decisively.  TNZ was basically outsailed.  I don't think Alinghi made any tactical errors in any of the races, and their tacks, sets, and jibes were flawless.  Come to think of it they only lost 3 races all summer, all through the Louis Vuitton series to determine the challenger.

Alinghi extended their lead from the start on the first beat, defended down the second leg, and applied loose cover on the second beat to open up slightly.  The boats are basically equal to weather, with Alinghi pointing higher but TNZ footing faster.  On the second run TNZ tried an asymmetrical chute but it backfired, and they lost ground because Alinghi was able to sail lower.  (I guess they had to try something!)  On the final beat I expected a wild tacking duel - TNZ had nothing to lose - but they seemed resigned to their fate, and meekly followed the Swiss up the course.  The final run was a parade, ending in a 41 second horizon job.

It will be interesting to see where and when the Societe Nautique de Geneve will host their defense.  The Golden Gate Yacht Club and Larry Ellison have already submitted a formal entry to become the "challenger of record".  It is expected that Ellison and Alinghi syndicate head Ernesto Bertarelli will make several changes to the Cup protocol for the next regatta, including running the challenger series under the same rules as the finals.


Sunday,  03/02/03  01:12 AM

Gene Expression links this article about how bad things are in Argentina.  Razib just totally nails it with the quotes he pulled out - please read them.  Unnatural Selection is alive and well.  In case I didn't mention it before, this phenomenon where the human race is becoming less intelligent is much worse in the third world than the first...

The "human shields" are leaving Iraq because it has become, er, too dangerous.  Huh?

Scoble thinks Bill Gates should give away Lindows with each copy of Longhorn (Microsoft's successor to Windows XP).  Well, that's certainly thinking outside the box, Howard!

Guess what?  There is now a SpongeBob Squarepants Barbie.  I am not making this up.


Correlation vs. Causality

Sunday,  03/02/03  08:53 PM

Just wanted to do a quick rant on the difference between correlation and causality.  This difference is important in many things, including studies of people.  The Age published an article that Obese Men Eat Up Their IQ Points.  This article was written in London for an Australian audience, but describes a study performed at the University of Boston.  Before we look at this article, let's talk about some basics.

Correlation is the mathematical relationship between two things which are measured.  It is given as a value between 0 and 1.  A correlation of 0 means the two things are unrelated; given the first value, there is no way to predict the second.  A correlation of 1 means the two things are completely related, the first thing always predicts the second.  As an example, let's say you measure the heights and weights of a group of people.  These have a high correlation, somewhere around .8; height is a good predictor of weight, and vice-versa.  Now say you took the same group and measured eye color.  There is a low correlation between eye color and height, pretty close to 0.  They are basically independent, knowing one doesn't tell you anything about the other.

Causality is also a relationship between two things, but it is not mathematical, it is physical (or philosophical).  Something causes something else if there is a chain of events between the first thing and the second thing, each of which causes the next thing in the chain to happen.  Causality involves time; the first thing happens, and then later the second thing happens as a result.  We say the first thing is the cause, and the second thing is the effect.  Note that unlike correlation, the relationship is unsymmetrical.

People get these two relationships mixed up, and it causes incorrect conclusions to be drawn.  For example, we noted a high correlation between height and weight.  Does this mean height causes weight?  Of course not.  On the other hand, there is a high correlation between smoking and getting lung cancer.  Does this mean smoking causes lung cancer?  NO!  It turns out smoking does cause lung cancer, but you couldn't draw that conclusion purely from the fact that they have a high correlation.

Now let's take a look at this article.  Consider the final paragraph:

"When given cognitive function tests involving logic, verbal fluency and recall, obese men achieved scores as much as 23 per cent below those of non-obese men, even after taking into account factors such as educational level, occupation and blood pressure."

So, there is a high correlation between cognitive function and obesity.  Does this allow us to conclude obesity causes low cognitive function?  NO!  How about in the other direction, can we conclude that low cognitive function causes obesity?  NO again!  Either could be true, but neither follows logically.  The headline is clearly false.

There is another problem in the article.  It uses words like decline and reduce, which imply a change in the measured cognitive function in the same individuals.  But the study doesn't appear to have measured the same people over time, it appears to have measured different people at the same time.  This is a really serious logic error.  In fact, most studies have found that people's IQs don't really change from about age 5 onward.  Given that, you could actually conclude a reverse causality, perhaps the headline should have read "Less Intelligent Men at Risk of Obesity".



Monday,  03/03/03  05:35 PM

Today is 3/3/3.  I will never see another day like this one.  Reminds me of the preface to Godel, Escher, Bach, one of my very favorite books, in which Douglas Hofstadter mentions that he remembers "at an early age being fascinated with the idea of taking three 3's; operating upon 3 with itself!"  I hope you enjoyed Threesday.

Is is becoming clear that the U.S. war against Iraq won't "start" in the sense that one day it isn't on, and the next day it is.  Right now we're bombing and we already have ground troops in Iraq.  Maybe it will be a process, not an event.

Have you heard about "the semantic web"?  Do you get it?  Well, I don't either.  With stuff like this I've decided if I don't get it, either it is too complex to be really cool, or there's nothing to get.  { Like .Net, for example, which emperor's nakedness is slowly becoming obvious, but I digress. }  The clear simple alternative to "the semantic web" is the existing web, which Google is steadily evolving.  Duncan Wilcox ponders PageRank 2.0.

Sony has announced the first "blu-ray" DVD recorder, which can store 23GB on a single side.  Early pricing is 450,000 yen, or about $3,800, keeping this away from all but the most anxious early adopters.  Still, in five years it will be standard-issue...

William Gibson: "The future is already here, it just isn't evenly distributed."  I like that.


Tuesday,  03/04/03  11:55 PM

Interesting...  Apparently [U.N. Secretary General] Kofi Anan has had plans drawn up for a post-war  U.N. government in Iraq.  Of course the U.S. has plans for a U.S.-led government.  That will be the next U.S. pissing contest with France.

Quick thought:  There are certainly serious people with well-reasoned objections to America's pending war against Iraq.  But most of the anti-war protesting going on is not about this war.  Instead the issues include: 1) opposition to war in general, 2) anti-American-ism, 3) anti-Israeli-ism, 4) pro-Muslim-ism, 5) anti-Republican-ism, 6) pro-Democrat-ism, 7) anti-Bush-ism, 8) French / European hand-wringing over their reduced role, 9) worldwide hand-wringing over America's increased role, 10) a general urge to protest.  That's ten, you can probably think of more...  I think the anti-war agenda would be far better served by some specific objections to this war, combined with constructive suggestions for dealing with Iraq.  (And that would not include illogical platitudes like "give inspections a chance".)  What we have here is a wealthy power-hungry dictator desperately trying to acquire or build WMDs.  So what would you do?

RSS aggregators continue to generate interest.  I must not get it.  You know what I think...

Apple is launching a service to sell music online, tied into iTunes.  Excellent idea, IMHO.  [Later, others agree...]



Frames, Too

Thursday,  03/06/03  11:16 PM

Yeah, this site uses frames, as described previously.  And yeah, they aren't perfect.  But I recently made them a little better.

I made two slight changes, both of which will help visitors who have limited screen real estate:

  1. Added the ability to "close" the header.
  2. Added the ability to resize the navigation bar.

My computer monitor runs at 1600 x 1200 pixels and I use "normal" fonts, so I have a ton of real estate.  (And I like it that way :)  But some people run at 1024 x 768 or even 800 x 600, and for them room on the screen is at a premium.

Close Header

In order to close the header, I added a little "close box" in the upper right corner.  When clicked, it causes the frameset to reload itself without the header (just the main frame and the navigation bar).  This frees up all that room for people who don't have enough.  If you're interested please try clicking it; you can use the "back" button to restore the header.

I also made the border between the main window and the navigation bar resizable.  This means it can be dragged left or right to make the navigation bar bigger or smaller.  For people who have little real estate, they may wish to drag it to the right, obscuring part [or all!] of the navigation bar, but making more room for the main frame.  Conversly, people who use larger than normal fonts can drag the frame border to the left, so the entire navigation bar becomes visible.  If you're interested please try it; you can drag the border just at the left edge of the blue regions in the navigation bar.  To restore the original layout, just "refresh" the page.

Neither of these changes make anything worse - you may freely ignore the close box and choose never to resize the navigation bar.  These are minor enhancements which will only be useful to a small number of visitors, but hey, I want you guys to be happy!

[ Later - People have asked, what do I test with:

  • Windows - IE 5.5 and 6.0, Mozilla 1.2, Opera 7.0.  This is the order of popularity with visitors to Critical Section, by the way.
  • Mac - IE 5.2, Mozilla 1.2, Safari 1.0 beta.  This is the order of popularity.
  • Linux - Mozilla 1.2.

This illustrates a benefit of frames over CSS - they've been around so long, browsers pretty much implement them the same way.  Even venerable Netscape 4.7 supports them. ]

[ Even later - I decided to serve a special home page to robots, please see Site Optimization... ]


World of Ends

Thursday,  03/06/03  11:17 PM

Figure and GroundDoc Searles has teamed with David Weinberger to produce World of Ends.  It purports to explain what the Internet is, but actually seems to spend most of its words explaining what it is not.  Kind of a figure and ground thing.  Here are my thoughts on their "list of truths":

  1. The Internet isn't complicated.
    Well, architecturally it isn't, which was the point.  But from the inherent simplicity a network of staggering complexity has arisen, defying simple characterization.
  2. The Internet isn't a thing.  It's an agreement.
    I disagree, the Internet is a thing.  In fact, it is a Thing.  If it wasn't a thing, you wouldn't be able to make a list of 10 things about it.
  3. The Internet is stupid.
    This is intended to convey that the Internet doesn't "think".  I think it could have been better said as "The Internet is simple".  See (1) above.  Except that in many ways it is complicated, and it does "think".  Take DayPop for example.  Or Google News.
  4. Adding value to the Internet lowers its value.
    This is false.  It sounds cute, like it might be a key finding, but it isn't.  Any network fosters a "power-effect", adding value increases its value exponentially (see Metcalf's Law).
  5. All the Internet's value grows on its edges.
    Uh, no.  The value adds tend to come on the edges, but the growth can be in the middle.  This is why eBay, Yahoo, Amazon, and Google are so valuable.
  6. Money moves to the suburbs.
    This doesn't make sense, so it isn't even false.  The underlying point is that to maximize the value of the Internet, the barriers to entry at the edges should be kept low.  That is a good point.  {It also contradicts (4) and (5).}
  7. The end of the world?  Nah, the world of ends.
    The premise here is meaningless, they're just trying to be cute again.  The "world of ends" part is true.  There is no middle to the Internet, which is a good thing.
  8. The Internet's three virtues:
    1. Nobody owns it.
    2. Everyone can use it.
    3. Anybody can improve it.
      You betcha.
  9. If the Internet is so simple, why have so many been so boneheaded about it?
    This doesn't fit in with the rest, it is not a statement about the Internet, but a question.  Kind of a boneheaded question, which makes it kind of recursive, eh?  The answer given to the posed question is essentially "business and government don't like it".  That seems wrong.  The Internet is a new thing, and people try to understand new things by relating them to old things.  Sometimes the analogies are valid, leading to insight, and sometimes they aren't, leading to boneheadedness...
  10. Some mistakes we can stop making already.
    Again, not a statement about the Internet, and not a question either.  But it introduces some observations:
    1. Bits are not like lightweight atoms.
      True.  The RIAA and MPAA haven't figured this out yet.
    2. The value of the Internet is not the value of its content.
      True.  The FCC and FTC haven't figured this out yet.
    3. The Internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it.
      True.  The radical left and the religious right haven't figured this out yet.

Of course they missed another mistake we can stop making already: "Trying to characterize the Internet by a list of simple truths".  They should have stuck to the three sub-bullets of (8) and quit!


This War

Friday,  03/07/03  12:01 AM

I could understand if one opposes the upcoming conflict because one consistently opposes all conflict. But if you would allow that there are at least some circumstances that would justify taking up arms in defense of this nation and its citizens, read on...

A few things to think about when someone says we have no right to strike against middle-eastern extremists:

- The bombing of PanAm Flight 103
- The bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993
- The bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon
- The bombing of the military Barracks in Saudi Arabia
- The bombing of the American Embassies in Africa
- The bombing of the USS COLE
- The attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/01
- The attack on the Pentagon on 9/11/01

Set aside your political biases and take a moment to consider the thousands of innocent lives - most of them American lives - lost in these attacks. Consider what the trend of these attacks portends for citizens of this country if we do nothing.

Is it appropriate to oppose the Bush administration's plans on the grounds that we should not attack "because we have not been attacked?" No.

What about the claim that this is all about oil? To someone committed to a liberal position, it may feel good to characterize this campaign as being only in the interest of "Big Oil."  There is no question that big business influences policy in this country - whether it be fiscal policy, war, or health care reform. This has always been the case, and always will be, regardless of which party rules which branch of government in any given year. Get over it. But to say that we are wrong to strike because this is all about oil, and we have no real beef with these people, is just insulting to the intelligence of anyone who looks even casually at recent history.

Now, the question remains: Who are "these people?" Does striking at Saddam Hussein serve the purpose of protecting Americans (and other innocent people around the world)? Is Iraq an appropriate target at this time? That's a very important question, and it is a question about military intelligence. Our military intelligence says that Saddam is an imminent threat to add to the list of attacks above. If you know anything about him, you know that Saddam is a powerful and wealthy dictator, with a long history of savagery, who has dedicated his life to taking down Western Civilization. He is known to have WMD and has in fact used such weapons against his own people.

I could understand if one opposes this conflict because one feels that our military intelligence is not to be believed. But realize that, in taking that position, one posits that Bush, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and many others are intentionally misleading this country (read lying). I have no proof that they are lying. Do you?

There is one thing we do have proof of, and it can be seen in the list above: Proof that there are many people actively working to kill innocent Americans in large numbers, and that the intensity of their efforts is increasing.

Don't get me wrong - in general, I am very cynical about politicians. But this is not a time for generalizations; this is a time to think clearly and critically about the specifics of the current situation.

If you say this is only about oil, I say look at the list of attacks, and the trend.

If you say we have no right to strike against people who have not harmed us, I say look at the list of attacks. And the trend.

If you say that attacking Iraq in order to separate violent anti-American extremists from weapons of mass destruction is not necessary, I ask:

What do you know about the US military intelligence that I don't?

-- received via email 3/6/03, and posted anonymously...


Friday,  03/07/03  02:21 AM

Did you see President Bush's press conference tonight?  He seemed tired, didn't he...  I would be, too, if I carried his responsibility.  I don't see how anyone could watch him and think he is a warmongering cowboy, he seemed very serious and concerned.  He also made two significant points: "When it comes to our security, we really don't need anybody's permission", and "the risk of doing nothing is greater than the risk of doing something".  He also said he's going ahead with a U.N. Security Council vote whether or not a "whip check" reveals he has the votes.  Meaning note will be taken of who is with us...Armed Liberty

Wondering why we are so bothered with Iraq and not North Korea?  Eugene Volokh nails it.  Please read this if you are wondering...

Saddam is such a great guy.  This article describes how he has issued U.S. uniforms to some of his troops so they can attack Iraqi civilians, then blame it on the U.S.

Have you heard about The Lysistrata Project?  Apparently women are being urged to withhold sex from pro-war men.  Yeah, right, like that's going to happen.  Asparagirl posted a terrific response.  I think of women more like the illustration at right.

The Pentagon gave a briefing yesterday on how Iragi targets are determined and how collateral damage will be minimized.  Details here...  very interesting.

Here's a really cool essay about "overclocking" humans by Gregory Cochran, who doesn't have a blog but should.  It is posted on Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor site, of all places.

Razib copied this article from The Economist's print edition about affirmative action in Britain.  "What caste is to India and race is to America, class is to Britain."

From Scoble:  "If you're going to do a layout of pictures, you must ALWAYS make one picture twice as big as any of the others.  Why does this rule work?  Because the human mind wants to focus on one thing."  Fascinating.


Friday,  03/07/03  11:35 AM

Every once in a while you come across a utility which is just - cool.  I figured I'd run a "link check" against little 'ol Critical Section to make sure nothing was broken.  Surfing around I came across Xenulink, a free link checker written by Tilman Hausherr which just ... works.  Awesome!

This is the power of the Internet.  Some guy in Germany wanted a great link checker, so he wrote one.  Then some guy in California needed a great link checker, and he was able to find and use the same one.  How efficient is that!

You learn some interesting things this way...   turns out the L.A.Times only keeps articles posted for 7 days.  After that they go into their "archives", which you must pay to access!  So any link to a LAT article goes stale after 7 days.  That's it, they're off the blogroll!


Friday,  03/07/03  04:08 PM

Paper Sky.  Cool.  View it.


Saturday,  03/08/03  10:40 AM

Just wanted to welcome Rob Smith and his Gut Rumbles to the blogroll.  He hosted last week's Carnival of the Vanities, and was good enough to include me, but the reason I'm adding him is because he's funny.  In kind of a crude, gut rumbly way.  Check him out!  P.S. Yeah, he did say I made his head hurt, but I like him anyway.


The Tyranny of Email

Saturday,  03/08/03  11:41 AM

Email is one of the greatest things the computer revolution has done for personal productivity.  Used improperly, it can also hurt your productivity.  This article discusses ways to use email effectively.  Then it goes beyond that and talks about how to be productive, period.

When Email Goes Bad

I'm not going to list all the reasons email is good.  You know them already, I assume you are an avid email user.  (Anyone reading this is online, and just about anyone who goes online uses email.)  I'm also not going to tell you email is evil, because it isn't.  The negative productivity impact of email comes from the way you use it, not the medium itself.

There are two ways email impairs your productivity:

  1. It breaks your concentration.
  2. It misleads you into inefficient problem solving.

Let's take the concentration impact first.  I'm a software engineer, and programming requires extended periods of concentration.  Actually this isn't unique to programming, a lot of fields require that you concentrate.  (Probably just about everything worth doing requires some concentration!)

I maintain that programming cannot be done in less than three-hour windows.  It takes three hours to spin up to speed, gather your concentration, shift into "right brain mode", and really focus on a problem.  Effective programmers organize their day to have at least one three-hour window, and hopefully two or three.  (This is why good programmers often work late at night.  They don't get interrupted as much...)

One of the key attributes of email is that it queues messages.  Unlike face-to-face conversation and 'phone calls, people can communicate via email without both paying attention at the same time.  You pick the moments at which you pay attention to email.  But many people leave their email client running continuously.  This is the biggest baddest reason why email hurts your productivity.  If you leave your email client running, it means anyone anytime can interrupt what you're doing.  Essentially they pick the moments at which you pay attention.  (Even some random spammer who is sending you a crappy ad for a get-rich scheme.)  This is bad.

There are three stages to this badness.  Stage one is configuring your email client to present alerts when you receive an email.  Don't do this.  Stage two is configuring your email client to make noise when you receive an email.  Don't do this.  Stage three is running your email client all the time.  Don't do this, either.  To be effective, you must pick the moments at which you're going to receive email.  I know this goes against common wisdom.  Just about everyone I know runs their client all the time, has it configured to make noise, and may even have it present alerts when an email is received.  Don't do it.

Spam is the best kind of email to get, because you look at it quickly, see that it's spam, and delete it.  Then you get back to work.  Personal email is the second best kind of email to get, because you either respond quickly ("Hi Jane, great hearing from you.  See you at the club tonight.") or set it aside for later.  Task-oriented work email is the worst kind of email to get.  It often requires thought, and because it is work there is some immediacy to it.  But as soon as you take the time to respond, you've interrupted yourself.  You've shifted back to "left brain mode", and you've lost the thread of your concentration.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't respond to emails promptly.  Check email whenever you're interrupted anyway - before you start work, after a meeting, after lunch, before you go home, etc.  Set aside time to do this.  Just don't let others dictate the timing.

Has this ever happened to you?

[ In the hallway at work... ]
O:  "Hi R, how's it going?"
R:  "Great, how are you?"
O:  "Good.  Hey, did you see my email about the framitz?"
R:  "No, I haven't checked my email yet today, sorry."
O:  "WHAT!"

It has happened to me.  Sometimes I can't believe it - I sent the email at 9:30, and here it is 11:30, and they haven't checked their email?  What are they doing?  They're being efficient, that's what.  They're picking their moment to be interrupted, and that's a good thing.  We'll revisit this theme again below in the Three Hour Rule.  For now, here's the takeaway:

  • Turn your email client off.  You should pick the moment at which you'll be interrupted.  

Okay, now let's look at the second productivity-sapping attribute of email, that it misleads you into inefficient problem solving.  Email is a communication medium.  You send messages to others, you receive messages from others.  Some of these messages are mere data transmission - FYIs so you know what's going on.  Some are "noise" - 'thank you's, 'I got it's, jokes, etc.  And some - many - are problem solving.  You hear about a problem, and you respond with a possible solution, or a possible approach, or more questions.  Nothing wrong so far - email is a good medium for problem solving.  And it is so easy - you get an email, you think (sometimes), and you respond.  Poof, you're done.

Except when you're not.  Because there are some kinds of problems which don't get solved in email, ever.  And as soon as you have that kind of problem, you have to stop, immediately, before you make the problem worse.

First, never, ever, criticize someone in email.  For reasons which I have never fully grasped, any negative emotion is always amplified by communication through email.  Sometimes you intend to be critical - someone has done something dumb, or said something silly, or emailed something ridiculous.  Resist the urge to reply.  Sometimes you don't mean to be critical - you're just making an observation, or engaging in technical debate, or adding facts to a discussion.  But as soon as you sense that the recipient has taken your email as criticism, you must immediately switch media - a face-to-face meeting is best, but a 'phone call is also okay.

Second, don't get into prolonged technical debates in email.  I've seen threads lasting weeks with a whole series of kibitzers, with everyone restating their points of view and nothing getting settled.  Often email has the effect of polarizing the debate, and the combatants end up further apart in their views than when the debate began.  As soon as you sense this happening, you must immediately switch media.  A meeting with the core people involved is best, but a conference call is also okay.

Both of these kinds of problems which don't get solved in email are exacerbated by copying others.  The bigger the audience, the worse things get.  As bad as it is to be critical in email, it is far worse if ten colleagues are copied.  Often the presence of an email audience is what makes for the polarization of technical debates - if the core people were the only ones involved, they would be less virulent and more willing to acknowledge other points of view and seek compromise.  Okay, so here's the takeaway:

  • Never criticize anyone in email, and avoid technical debates.  Use face-to-face meetings or 'phone calls instead.

Before I go on to talking about productivity in general, let me share some other thoughts about email.  First, be judicious in who you send email to, and who you copy on emails.  Every email recipient is going to lose a little time reading each email you send.  Simple emails which say "thanks" or "got it" or "see you at the meeting" are polite and part of normal human communication.  But there is a limit, no need to reply "you're welcome", or "glad you got it", or "great, I'll see you, too".  In my career I've run large teams, and sometimes people in those teams copied me on virtually every email they sent.  Maybe they wanted me to know what was going on, or maybe they were letting me know what a great job they were doing.  Either way, they were taking my time with stuff I didn't need to spend time on.  I have a high capacity for skimming email, but there is always the feeling that they didn't get it; like "why did they copy me on this?"  There should be a purpose to every addressee on each email.  It is okay to drop recipients from a reply - in fact, it is good; less people are involved, and [to reiterate the point] the bigger the audience, the more any implied criticism or debate will be exacerbated.

I have to digress for a pet peeve.  I send an email to S, and S replies, copying eight other people.  I reply back to S alone.  S replies, again copying eight other people.  This is bad.  If I'm smart I will abandon email and continue the conversation with S face-to-face or over the 'phone.  If I'm not smart I'll flame S so badly his hair catches fire, copying everyone, and regret it later.

Second, email is a very relaxed medium, but observing some formality is important.  Use an email client which spell checks.  Use normal capitalization.  Use correct grammar - complete sentences make email easier to read just like everything else.  Don't use weird background colors and strange fonts.  Don't append pictures of your dog.  You get the picture...  I've received emails from senior people which bordered on illiterate, with incorrect capitalization, grammar, incomplete sentences, etc.  The impression is not positive.

Third, email can be immediate, but don't hesitate to review and revise important emails.  In many companies email has all but replaced paper memos.  In many business situations email has replaced letters.  When writing an email which has a wide distribution, or which affects a negotiation, or possible deal, or potential sale, take the time to write a draft, and reread it later.  You can almost always improve the wording, make a point more concisely, or otherwise improve the communication.

Finally, remember that email is a public and permanent record.  Email is plain text and goes out over public networks, and is often stored on servers for a long time and may be backed up for a longer time.  It might feel "throwaway" at the time, but it will not be thrown away, as senior executives at Microsoft, Enron, Worldcom, and others have discovered.  If you have something to say which won't bear the public light of day, it shouldn't be said in email.  And if you are sending something confidential or sensitive, consider sending it as an encrypted and/or password-protected attachment.

Okay, enough about email.  Here's the six rules for avoiding email tyranny:

  1. Turn your email client off.  Pick the moment at which you'll be interrupted.
  2. Never criticize anyone in email, and avoid technical debates.  Use face-to-face meetings or 'phone calls instead.
  3. Be judicious in who you send email to, and who you copy on emails.
  4. Observing some formality is important.
  5. Don't hesitate to review and revise important emails.
  6. Remember that email is a public and permanent record.

Got it?  Cool.  Thinking about email productivity led me to make some comments about productivity in general...

The Three Hour Rule

Programming is a right-brain activity.  It is very conceptual and spatial and [gasp!] artistic.  Effective programming requires that you transition from your body's normal "left brain" mode into a "right brain" zone.  As I mentioned above, programming cannot be done in less than three-hour windows.  Really.  And in talking to friends in other fields, I'm convinced this applies to many other lines of work.

When you're in a three-hour zone, you've spun up to speed, gathered your concentration, shifted into "right brain mode", and are focusing on a problem.  You're being productive.  There are four things which can interrupt you, and you have to watch out for all of them:

  1. Receiving email or 'phone calls.
  2. Personal contact with colleagues.
  3. Meetings.
  4. Warp-offs.

Let's talk about each of these...  First, emails or 'phone calls.  Email we've talked about, this one is easy - just turn your email client off.  Done.  Most people receive far less 'phone calls than emails, so calls aren't nearly as much of a problem.  The solution is the same - put your phone in "do not disturb" mode.  Nowadays most everyone has a cell 'phone, leave that on, and if there is a genuine emergency your significant other or doctor or whomever will reach you there.  Most calls to your desk are colleagues or customers; these are important, but as with email, you should pick the time to take them.

Second, there is personal contact with colleagues.  Most companies these days can't afford for everyone to have a private office, so it is pretty easy to get interrupted.  (If you have an office, close the door!)  Distractions include ambient noise, questions ("Hey, do you know how to invoke a framitz?"), and other interruptions ("Hey, you want to play foosball?").  These are really important (especially foosball), but they are interruptions, and they will mess up your three-hour window.  Basically you want to isolate yourself from your colleagues, just like with email and 'phone calls.  To deal with ambient noise, get yourself some really good headphones and play music.  Cordless, if you want.  For $100 you will have the best-sounding music you can imagine, and a sure-fire way to eliminate background noise.

The "office vs. cubicle" debate rages and has not been settled.  Some companies give every engineer their own office, and claim the productivity improvement is worth the cost.  Others feel the atmosphere is better in a cubicle farm, and the interaction between engineers leads to better problem solving.  Without taking a stand in this debate, the fact is that most engineers work in cubicles, and have little control over this.  So it is what it is - you have to make the best of it.

In 2000 I joined PayPal, a dot-com with an egalitarian work environment where everyone had a cubicle, even the CEO.  After many years of enjoying a private office, I was back in a cube.  I quickly found two things to be essential, first, I positioned my desk and computer so I was not distracted by traffic (away from the cube opening), and second, I bought a great pair of cordless headphones.  With these adaptations I was able to work just as productively as I had in an office.  (Of course I used conference rooms for meetings.)

Do Not DisturbDealing with questions and interruptions from colleagues is more difficult.  The give-and-take between engineers in a team is important; often one person will have the answer to another's dilemma.  There is also the social aspect, it is enjoyable to interact with your colleagues.  However, you need to have those three-hour windows.  I recommend a simple sign you can hang on your cube: "I'm in a zone", "Do not disturb", etc.  (This is a chance to be creative...)  Essentially you want your colleagues to know you're zoning.  If they have a technical question which can wait, they can put it in email, or wait until you emerge.  If they need immediate attention ("hey, you want to play foosball?") at least they know you were in a zone, and that they're interrupting you.

Third, meetings...  Ah yes.  An entire book can be written about meetings, and many have.  Let me make a few comments about meetings and then leave it.  Meetings interrupt everyone who attends, obviously, so they are "expensive".  They are also often the best way to communicate team status and to problem-solve.  So there is tremendous leverage in having good meetings instead of bad ones.  Each meeting should have a well-defined purpose, and the organizer should keep the meeting on track.  It is good to have meetings "first thing", bordering on lunch, or at the end of the day; this way people's three-hour windows are less affected.  Enough about meetings...  they are what they are.

Finally, warp-offs.  So, what's a "warp-off"?  Well, unlike the other three kinds of interruptions, in which other people interrupt you, a "warp-off" is when you interrupt yourself.  Generally this happens because you're stuck - you don't know what to do next - so you switch tasks and do something you know how to do.  My favorite warp-off is surfing the Internet.  Sometimes when I'm working on a tough problem, I have to force myself not to do it.  Other possible warps include: reading email (!), working on "fun" stuff instead of "hard" stuff, bugging your colleagues ("foosball, anyone?"), and of course posting to your 'blog :)  Keeping yourself from warping off is really tough, and gets into what motivates people and a bunch of stuff I can't really tackle here, but the main thing is to be self-aware enough to realize that you do it (everyone does), and strong enough to work on not doing it.  I tend to warp when I'm stuck, so the best un-warp strategies for me are ways to un-stuck myself.  These include talking to others, taking a bike ride, thinking out of the box (generally above the box - take a bigger picture view), trying to simplify the problem, and relentless application of W=UH ("if something it is too ugly or too hard, it is wrong").

In re: working on "fun" stuff instead of "hard" stuff, it is interesting to think about what makes some tasks fun and others hard.  I think happiness comes from liking yourself, and fun things are things which make you like yourself.  Tasks which are fun are therefore tasks which you know how to do, and which demonstrate your proficiency.  Tasks which are hard are tasks which you don't know how to do, or which reveal a lack of expertise.  There is often feedback involved - fun tasks will gain you recognition from customers or coworkers, but hard tasks may not.

When you get stuck and find yourself doing something "fun" instead of something "hard", ask yourself what makes the hard thing hard?  In a perfect world each person would always be assigned tasks which they're good at, and which gain them recognition, so that everything they do is fun.  The world isn't perfect, but that's the goal.

Okay, that's a lot of words, let's see if we can summarize.  There is essentially one big rule and four guidelines:

  • Big Rule: It takes three hours to get anything done.
  • Guidelines:
    1. Turn off your email client, put your 'phone in "do not disturb".
    2. Isolate yourself.  Get good headphones.  Warn colleagues when you're "in the zone", to minimize their interrupts.
    3. Minimize meetings and schedule them to avoid three-hour windows.
    4. Become self-aware about warping off and try to un-stuck yourself.

That's it - thanks for your attention.  If you have comments about any of this, I'd love to hear them; please shoot me an email.  Don't worry, it won't interrupt me :)

[ Later - this article generated a terrific response - thank you! - and I have summarized the most interesting observations and comments as Tyranny Revisited... ]

[Update 3/5/09 - the antidote to the tyranny of email... ]


Sunday,  03/09/03  01:27 PM

Well, my Mozilla experiment is at an end.  I have been faithfully using Mozilla 1.2 as my everyday browser for two weeks.  In the end I like many things about it, but I'm switching back to IE.  Here's why:

  • My laptop's trackpad scroll feature doesn't work with Mozilla.  I am so used to drawing my finder down the right edge of my trackpad to scroll, and it just doesn't work with Mozilla.  Which is weird, because the wheel on my desktop mouse works fine.
  • The back button doesn't always work.  Sometimes you click back, and you say "uh, how did I get here?"
  • No Google toolbar.  Wow, did I miss that!
  • Mozilla opens windows under my taskbar.  I have my taskbar at the top of my screen  (yeah, weird, I know, but try it and see if you don't like it, too) and Mozilla doesn't handle this right.  Crummy.
  • IE is faster.  It really is.  Day in, day out, page in, page out, IE is noticeably faster.  Especially when you load, like, ten pages at once.  Who would do this?  I do, all the time.
  • There are sites which don't work right with Mozilla.  It is really close, but everyone tests with IE, and not everyone tests with Mozilla.  Complicated CSS, non-standard JavaScript, and interfaces to media players can trip it up.
  • Mozilla won't use Outlook to send email, it only works with Mozilla's email client.  Independent of my opinion of Mozilla email - which is very low, it looks like Netscape from four years ago - I wasn't trying to switch email clients.  They should optionally use Windows' default client setting, like Opera does.

The stuff I'll miss most:

  • Pop-up window blocking.  I forgot how much I hate them.  Mozilla kills them all.
  • Ad blocking.  I forgot how much I hate them.  Mozilla doesn't kill them all, but it does a nice job.
  • Mozilla can save images as JPGs, IE can't.  I still launch Mozilla when there's a picture I want to save.


Sunday,  03/09/03  02:26 PM

Want to read a real crock?  Check out Why We Need a High-tech Shakeout.  This article deserves a thorough fisking, but it is too vague to rebut logically.  It is [as Bohr said of Heisenberg's quantum theory] "not even wrong".  Read this as a perfect example of why blogs are gaining popularity and are more reliable than "the media".  (Have you ever noticed than whenever you read a media story about something you really know, they get it wrong?) 

This article is also a great example of a sheep in wolf's clothing.  It was written by a retired McKinsey director named T. Michael Nevens, and was published without attribution under the McKinsey Quarterly name.  Then CNet picked it up.  So we have the aura of CNet and the respectability of McKinsey, but under the covers it is still just one person's opinion.  Which doesn't make it wrong.  It just means you can't buy it without thinking about it...

The biggest problem is evident in the headline.  What the heck is "high-tech"?  It could be anything from computer equipment to IT services to Internet commerce to software to biotechnology to, well, you name it.  Any conclusion you reach about a subject so broad can only be vaguely useful.  Here's a sample observation: "Customer spending will probably pick up when enterprises become convinced that they can get top- and bottom-line benefits from their technology investments".  Wow, brilliant!  After some serious buzzword dropping and piffle, the author opines "most likely the industry will require outside intervention".  Huh?  Which industry?  What would be "outside"?  What would "intervention" look like - acquisitions, capital investments, consulting, government regulation?  No answers follow, just more words.  Sigh.


Sunday,  03/09/03  10:12 PM

I've been Winerized!  Dave posted a link to The Tyranny of Email on Scripting News this afternoon, and 471 new users have come by since.  Uh, make that 472.  What's really cool is seeing so many different sites in my referer logs.  Thanks for the links!


Monday,  03/10/03  12:02 AM

I thought this post was funny.  I can't figure out whether Saddam is an idiot or really clever.  Or a bit of both...

My kids will like this one - perhaps Pluto will no longer be considered a planet.  Or there could be three more: Quaoar, Varuna and Ceres.

So I added little 'ol Critical Section's RSS feed to Roogle.  Stand back!  Actually Roogle is an interesting thing, a search engine for RSS feeds.  I don't know if I like it yet.  Could be a useful tool.

Congratualtions to Chris Pirillo, winner of the Best Technology Weblog in the 2002 Bloggies.  He also won loudest background and hardest-to-read font.  Go figure.

Tired of the same old punctuation marks]  Then consider the Interrobang]  I am not making this up...


Tuesday,  03/11/03  08:03 PM

Looks like the U.N. Security Council is toothless, and will not back the U.S.-led effort to disarm Saddam Hussein, which will have ramifications for future U.N. relevence.  Meanwhile Saddam has opened a camp for training suicide soldiers.  What are those guys at the U.N. thinking?  They aren't thinking clearly like David Warren, who explains why Blair Goes Wobbly.

GM has pulled the plug on their EV1 electric car.  Ford had previously disconnected their electric car program last August.  I guess we'll be burning old dinosaurs a while longer...

Looks like Stewert Alsop agrees with me about email...

Finally, Navy Petty Officer Mike Evans is auctioning what he claims is the world's largest chee-to.  I am not making this up.



Tuesday,  03/11/03  08:35 PM

Well, today I was fully slashdotted.  The Tyranny of Email seems to have struck a chord in the blogosphere. Sorry if you had trouble getting in, you were competing with over 10,000 new visitors, who generated over 100,000 hits.  (I don't know the exact numbers because for several hours I turned off logging in self-defense!)  To put that in perspective, my previous daily highs were 97 new visitors, and 2,228 hits.  Wow.

My day started with ten minutes of wild excitement ("I'm on slashdot!"), followed by four hours of frantic webmastering ("I'm down!").  Of course I happen to be out of town, so I could not physically do anything to the poor little server, and I couldn't SSH in because of all the traffic.  Finally I talked my wife through reconfiguring another router (yay, Shirley) and I had a back door into the site.  From there it was a cram course in mod_throttle, followed by tweaking (get rid of all images, put CSS inline, turn of logs, etc.) and by mid-afternoon I was steadily serving visitors at a rate of about 2 hits per second.  In the public interest I'll post everything I did as soon as I catch my breath.

This whole experience has been really thought provoking.  I post this little article with a semi-catchy title (the tiny pebble), email links to a few colleagues and friends (including Dave Winer, the big boulder), then a bunch of his visitors come by (rocks start flying), then Jason Kottke posts a link (another big boulder), then his visitors start coming by (serious rockage), then poof, I show up on blogdex (wind howls), then popdex (it starts snowing), then daypop (snow dumping down), then technorati (gravel whipping through the air), and finally slashdot (avalanche).  All in two days.  The internet is just amazing.

Really the coolest part in all the coolness is the goldmine of referer links.  A bunch of people all over the world read the article and then linked it from their sites.  That in turn inspired more traffic as their visitors followed links back to me.  I'm guessing over 1,000 sites have me linked right now, all over the world.  Just an amazing demonstration of the blogosphere in action.  I'll have more to say on this later, after I collect my thoughts...



Wednesday,  03/12/03  11:46 PM

You work hard, day and night, off and on, posting cool stuff to your site, enjoying it for itself, taking pleasure in it, and sharing it with a few friends.  Then one day out of the blue, something you post catches a wave in the blogosphere, and before you know it, those few friends have turned into thousands of visitors.  Yippee!  ... And GAACK!  You've been - dum, de dum dum - slashdotted.  Now what?

The Basic Problem

Okay, so thousands of people come.  So what?  Why doesn't everything "just work"?  Well, there are a few possible problems, and one very likely problem:

The possible problems:

  • Your OS can't handle all the traffic.
  • Your CPU is maxed out.
  • Your disk is maxed out.
  • Your logs are full.

The very likely problem:

  • You ran out of bandwidth.

We're going to talk about each of these things, and then propose solutions.  But first, how do you know you have a problem?  Well, because you can't get to the site.  Pretty simple.  If you can get to the site, even if it is slow, you're fine.  Chances are everyone else can get in, too, even if they find it to be slow, also.  That's the best you can hope for, and if that's all that happens you're in fine shape.  You don't really have the problem - feel free to skip the solution, and jump down to optimization.

Say you can't get to the site.  You try, and nada - timeout - nothing.  So what's wrong?  The first thing you have to do is figure out how to talk to your server.  If you're physically near it, great, you have a console, you're in luck.  And if you have a local network connection to it, chances are you'll be able to get in and poke around.  If all you have is a remote connection you're going to be sad, because the remote connection is flooded (see "the very likely problem" above), and you have your basic catch-22. 

When I was recently slashdotted, I was actually out of town (of course!), and talked my wife through setting up another router to access my server.  You might want to think about how you would solve this problem if it ever happened...  even a dial-up works great as a back door when the front door is flooded.

Okay, now you're talking to your server.  How do you figure out what the problem is?  Let's take the possible problems in order:

Your OS can't handle all the traffic.  If you're running Windows, this is a possibility if you have a fast network connection.  Most of the time you'll run out of bandwidth before Windows networking gets flooded, but if you have a T1 or faster this could be your problem.  You'll know because your OS is dead.  As in - blue screen - as in - reboot...

Your CPU is maxed out.  As with the OS, this will mostly happen if you're running Windows, and will only happen if you have a fast network connection.  Critical Section has the world's lowliest CPU (a five-year-old Pentium II) and it has a lot of Korn Shell CGIs (one for just about every page view), and it was nowhere near maxed out when I was slashdotted.  On Linux you can monitor CPU consumption with top, on Windows use Task Manager.

Your disk is maxed out.  Disk I/O used to be the rate-limiting factor for web servers, but disks have gotten much faster and network connections have not.  It is possible this will become a bottleneck if you have a fast network connection.  You can tell on Linux by using top, and on Windows in Task Manager.  If your machine "feels" really slow but you're not CPU-bound, this could be the problem.

Your logs are full.  Poor you.  This won't keep you from serving visitors, it will only keep you from knowing they came.  You can tell because, well, your disk(s) will be full and you will have a really huge log file somewhere.  This problem will occur in conjunction with one of the other problems; basically it is what it is, but it is not fatal.  You do want to do something about it (see below) because filling up your disks can cause other problems.

Slashdot bandwidth
You ran out of bandwidth
.  This is by far the most likely problem.  You have tens or even hundreds of concurrent requests, and they are all sharing one little pipe, and none of them will be successful.  You can tell by running netstat under Linux, or using Task Manager under Windows XP (not sure what you do on Win2K... anyone?).  You can also tell by looking at the lights on your router (flashing wildly) or [if you're a geek] by viewing your router statistics (see picture).

If you don't know what your problem is - and can't figure it out - just assume you are out of bandwidth.

The Solutions

Okay, you have a problem, and you might know what it is.  What do you do about it?  Well, the first thing is to bring the site down.  Really really.  Don't worry, nobody was getting any response anyway.  Once the site is down, the pressure is off, and you can calmly reconfigure things to handle the onslaught.  Don't worry, everyone won't stay away, they'll be back...

Next - and this is really important - keep a written log of all the changes you make.  Many of your changes are short-term temporary things to get you through the next hours and days while you are basking in the glow of popularity.  In a week things will be calm again, and you'll want to go back to the way things were.  Also, in the heat of the moment you may try things which don't work at all, and you want to be able to back them out.  If there is one thing I can recommend for ANY computer problem solving situation, it is - keep a written log of all the changes you make.  Trust me, you will not remember everything you did.

Okay, so here are the things to try.  I'm suggesting solutions for Windows/IIS and Linux/Apache, because those are by far the two most common OS/webserver configurations.  (Also because those are the only two I know anything about :)

Your OS can't handle the traffic.  The main problem here is too many concurrent connections.  You want to limit the number of connections your website will accept. 

  • Under Windows/IIS the best way to throttle traffic is to use bandwidth throttling.  From your Computer Management console, select Internet Information Services, then right-click on your website and select Properties.  Now click on the Performance tab.  Check the box labeled "Bandwidth Throttling" and enter the maximum KB/s you want to allow.  Here's a good rule of thumb - web pages are around 20KB in size.  So if you set this to 20 it means you'll be serving about one page per second.  Setting this to 40 will serve about two pages per second.  For a typical PC-based website, that's pretty fast.  Remember you are throttling, deliberately holding back traffic so at least some of your visitors will get served.  Be conservative.

Your CPU is maxed out.  The problem here is that you probably have lots of ASP or CGI pages, perhaps with a database interface.  You need to hold back some CPU cycles so the machine stays alive. 

  • Under Windows/IIS use process throttling.  From your Computer Management console, select Internet Information Services, then right-click on your website and select Properties.  Now click on the Performance tab.  Check the box labeled "Process Throttling" and enter the maximum  percent CPU you will allow IIS to use.  I suggest 75%, that seems like a good compromise.  Be sure to check the Enforce Limits box as well.
  • Under Linux/Apache use mod_throttle.  Edit your httpd.conf file and add the following lines:

    <IfModule mod_throttle.c>
         ThrottlePolicy request 2 1s

    This enables mod_throttle in "request" mode, which limits the number of requests per time period.  The example above shows 2 requests per 1 second, which is pretty fast for a typical PC-based website.  You could make this 1 request per 1s if you want to be conservative - that is still a lot of traffic...

A digression - what if you don't have mod_throttle?  This means you are not running a "current" version of Apache, and that's a bad thing (the patches generally plug security holes which you want to have plugged).  But the heat of battle is not the time to discover you need to upgrade Apache.  So if you're reading this at a calm moment, check to see if there are updates available, and check to make sure the mod_throttle RPM is installed.

Okay, on to the next problem...

Your disk is maxed out.  The problem here is that you are serving a lot of static pages, probably with lots of images, and/or you have a database interface as part of your page generation.  You want to limit the number of concurrent requests so some of your visitors get served.

  • Under Windows/IIS, restrict requests with bandwidth throttling, see "your OS can't handle the traffic" above.
  • Under Linux/Apache, restrict requests with mod_throttle, see "your CPU is maxed out" above.

Your logs are full.  There are two things to do here.  First, you could copy off the old log(s), and free up the disk space.  Second, you could turn off logging.  Turning off logging also reduces the resource requirements of serving each page; in many cases the overhead of making a log entry for each hit is far greater than the overhead of serving a page.  This is especially true if you have DNS resolution enabled (resolving visitors IP addresses).

  • Under Windows/IIS, turn off logging as follows:  From your Computer Management console, select Internet Information Services, then right-click on your website and select Properties.  Now click on the Web Site tab.  Uncheck the Enable Logging checkbox.
  • Under Linux/Apache, turn off logging as follows:  Edit httpd.conf and find each CustomLog directive.  Comment out the directive and replace with a /dev/null path, like this:

# CustomLog /var/log/httpd/access_log common  # old one
CustomLog /dev/null common                    # new one

If you're like me, vanity will compel you to try to keep logging enabled.  Go ahead and try, but remember that the most important thing is to keep serving your visitors. 

You ran out of bandwidth.  This is the most likely problem, so if you don't know what to do, try this first.  Basically there are too many requests coming through at the same time, and nobody is going to get a response.  Your onramp to the information highway is gridlocked.  You have to restrict the number of requests so at least some of your visitors will get served.

  • Under Windows/IIS, restrict requests with bandwidth throttling, see "your OS can't handle the traffic" above.  Remember to be conservative - just because you have a 384K link doesn't mean you can serve 384KB/s.  Half of that would be more likely - 50% network utilization is a good target.
  • Under Linux/Apache, restrict requests with mod_throttle.  There are actually three different ways you can use mod_throttle, each is described below (you have to pick one).  Essentially you edit httpd.conf to add the following directives:

<IfModule mod_throttle.c>
     ThrottlePolicy request 2 1s       # one way
     ThrottlePolicy idle 500K 1s       # another way
     ThrottlePolicy volume 200K 1s     # a third way


Each of these "ThrottlePolicy" directives accomplishes restricting requests, but they each do it differently.

  • The "request" directive restricts the number of requests accepted in a particular time period, as mentioned above. 
  • The "idle" directive forces a specified amount of idle time between requests.  This is helpful is your machine is doing other things besides web serving, or if you want to "pace" the traffic on your link (e.g. you want to be able to get in yourself!) 
  • The "volume" request restricts the amount of bandwidth used in a particular amount of time.  Again, you should pick a value like 50% of the rated bandwidth of your link. 

So how do you pick?  I'd say if you have a slow connection, use the "idle" method.  I have an ISDN line (128K) and this worked well for me.  If you have a faster connection, the "volume" method is probably best.  Just make sure you don't set it too high...

So you make the configuration changes - and bring your site back up.  Yippee - you're alive!  Now you can bask in the glow of Internet affection.  Nothing quite like a "tail -f access_log" when the hits are coming faster than you can read them...  You might have to tune things more than once.  Human nature being what it is, you probably didn't throttle enough on your first set of changes.  This means requests out there are timing out, and that means wasted bandwidth.  Monitor things closely and don't be afraid to bring your site back down for a bit to reconfigure and throttle back further.

Well, that was good.  You reconfigured your server, brought the website back up, and now you're alive.  You can handle any amount of inbound traffic without dying if you throttle as described above.  Of course, many of your visitors will get nothing, but some will get served.  How can you maximize the number who aren't disappointed?  Read on...


Once you're back up and running, naturally you'll want to tweak as much as possible to serve as many users as you can.  Here are some tips:

  1. Keep a written log of all the changes you make.  I know, I said this already.  But please do this - some of the things you try won't work, and other things you do will work, but will be of a temporary nature.  You'll want to have the ability to back things out later.
  2. Reduce any unnecessary overhead on the server.  If the machine is doing anything else - turn it off.  Under Windows use Task Manager to find and kill any stuff going on which is not essential.  On Linux use ps and kill to eliminate unnecessary processes.  You might also check crontab to make sure you don't have some scheduled things happening which are unnecessary.
  3. Figure out what to optimize.  Most likely you have posted a particular article, and everyone is trying to read it.  Your mission is to make that page fast, you don't have to optimize the whole site.  My site uses a frameset (I know, I know - but I like frames...).  When Tyranny of Email was slashdotted, I reconfigured that article to display as a single page, outside the frameset.
  4. Optimize the number of hits.  Any files referenced from your pages will cause more hits - CSS files, JavaScript files, images, etc.  This is the single best thing you can do, eliminate extra hits.  Here are some ideas:
    • Put CSS and JavaScript inline.  Normally it is a great idea to put "common" CSS and JavaScript in separate files.  But when you're under attack, you need to reduce hits.  Inline the CSS and the JavaScript for the page(s) which are being whacked.
    • Eliminate unnecessary images.  Any images which are decorations like logos, corners, bullets, etc. can be eliminated.  Just do this temporarily on the pages under attack.  Utility before beauty.  Some sites have little invisible images as spacers - kill them (yeah, the spacing is off a little, so what...)  Some sites use invisible images as beacons for hit counting and tracking - kill them.
    • Eliminate necessary images.  Yeah, really.  Tyranny of Email contains a cartoon image; it breaks up the page and is relevant, but not essential.  I temporarily took it out.
  5. Optimize the size of your pages.  As we talked about already, your most likely bottleneck is bandwidth.  If you can make your pages smaller, you'll be able to serve more users.  Here are some ideas - remember, you can do stuff temporarily and restore later when the wave has passed:
    • Remove unnecessary CSS.  Sometimes you have a site where every page has the same styles defined in it, generated by a template.  Or maybe you have CSS in a common file, but you took the advice to inline the CSS.  For the specific page being whacked, get rid of any styles you don't need.  If you want, get rid of the styles you do need, too, or simplify them.  It won't do you any good to have pretty pages if nobody can read them.
    • Remove unnecessary JavaScript.  Any "onload" animations and stuff like that can be temporarily eliminated.  If you have moved common JavaScript inline, eliminate any functions not used on this page.  Actually you might be able to eliminate functions which are used - mouseovers and stuff like that which are not essential.  Survive first, prosper later!
  6. Make pages static where possible.  This can be a temporary change.  On Critical Section virtually every page is generated by a CGI.  When I was flooded, I made the popular pages flat HTML.  Eliminate CGI and ASP - even if you have enough CPU cycles to run them, the responses are slowed and thus resources are consumed longer which could otherwise be available for serving another user.

Those are some ideas, you may think of others.  Essentially you want to do everything you can to keep things moving while the world's population hammers your site.  Later after the dust settles you can revert back to normal.  If you want to.  But do take the time to...

Learn From the Experience

So it happened - you were popular for one day, you throttled your site, you optimized your pages, and you survived.  Congratulations and yippee.  Take the time to learn from the experience.  Maybe some of the things you did should be permanent changes.  Most likely you'll want to back out the throttling changes to the server.  But the site optimization changes might be good ones.  Do you have to have all those images?  Is every CSS style and JavaScript function necessary?  (Do you have to have frames? :)

So - that's it for my slashdot sunscreen.  Good luck - may you have the good fortune to need it! 

I'd be interested in your comments and suggestions, please shoot me email.

[ Later - I wrote up some more thoughts on Site Optimization... ]


How to Write C++ Classes II

Thursday,  03/13/03  11:48 AM

A little while back I posted How to Write C++ Classes, which discussed ways to separate the interface from the implementation when building C++ and Java classes.  There is more which could be said, of course, and here is more (not to say everything that could be said :).  A brief table of contents:

These sections each illustrate that good languages like C++ and Java enable good programming style, but don't necessarily enforce it.

Local Types

Often a class may define "local types", types which pertain to the parameters and returns of the class methods.  How and where should these be defined?

Consider a class cA which provides an API for encapsulating access to something.  This class in turn uses other classes internally for implementation, which are hidden from uses of the cA class.  For example cB provides encapsulation of some internal object.  Good so far - anyone can use cA and be blissfully unaware that cB is used "under the covers".

Now say that cA provides a method to return a value, and that value is actually provided internally by cB.  Let's say cB defines an enum type for the possible values.  How and where should this type be defined?

  1. One possibility is to define an enum type tB in the cB header, and define a corresponding enum type tA in the cA header.  The cA method returns a tA, and invokes a cB method which returns a tB.  The tB is cast into the tA or converted via a switch.  The upside is that a caller only sees the cA header, and the tA type.  The downside is that the type is duplicated in two different headers, with the consequent possibility of a maintenance issue.  If a new type is supported by cB, it won't be supported automatically by cA.
  2. Possibility two is to define an enum type tB in the cB header, and #include the cB header in the cA header.  The cA method calls the cB method, and both return a tB.  This eliminates the duplication of types, but exposes the cB interface to all  users of cA.  If the cB header is changed, all cA users will require recompilation.
  3. Possibility three is to define an enum type tC in a separate header file hC.  This header is #included in both the cA and cB headers.  The cA method calls the cB method, and both return a tC.  This solves the maintainability problem of (1) and the implementation exposure of (2), at the cost of having another header file floating around.

The last possibility is strongly preferred.  It preserves the separation between interface and implementation, and has no maintenance downside.  The takeaway:

  • If two or more classes share a common "local type", define the local types in a separate header.

Constant Correctness

When designing class interfaces, it is helpful to impose "constant correctness".  This doesn't mean the code is constantly correct and has no errors :)  What it means is that the const attribute of types is used whenever appropriate in parameters and return values.  This attribute tells the compiler "this thing may not be modified".  The most common occurrence is with C strings and other buffers, normally typed as char*.  If you have a string or buffer which should not be modified, you should tell the compiler by defining it as const char*.

Here's an example:

____ OLD BAD WAY ___
char *getUserid(void);            // get/set userid value
void setUserid(char *userid);

____ NEW COOL WAY ____
const char *getUserid(void);      // get/set userid value
void setUserid(const char *userid);

This not only prevents poor coding (like modifying a caller's parameter) but it also prevents genuine errors.  Consider the following:

____ OLD BAD WAY ____
CString m_userid;

char *cA::getUserid(void)        // get userid value
return (char*)(const char*) m_userid;

____ NEW COOL WAY ____
CString m_userid;

const char *cA::getUserid(void)  // get userid value
return (const char*) m_userid;

This is a simple "glue" method which passes back a string value.  Not only is the double cast in the "old bad way" ugly, but it has a bug!  The inner cast (const char*) causes the CString object to return a pointer to its internal representation of the string.  The outer cast (char*) causes the compiler to copy the constant string from inside of the CString object to a new temporary string, so it can be modifiable.  This temporary string has local scope!  So by passing back a pointer to it, you are passing back garbage to the caller.  It might work, but it might not.  And it might work for a while, until the heap is modified, and then stop working.  Quite subtle and ugly.

You could fix this in the old bay way with an indirect cast, like this:

CString m_userid;

char *cA::getUserid(void)        // get userid value
const char pUserid = (const char*) m_userid;
return *(char**) &puserid;

This is so ugly you just know it has to be wrong (W=UH).  This doesn't have the bug of creating a temporary string, but it causes the internal objects' data to be accessible and modifiable by the caller - not good.

The const char* return type wins easily.  Not only is it bug free and clean, but by defining the method with a const return type, you are telling the caller they cannot modify the value.  And the compiler will enforce this, which is what you want.  The takeaway:

  • Use the const attribute of parameters and return values whenever appropriate.

Direct access to data

One final thought about C++ classes.  This is a bit heretical, but please bear with me.  It is standard C++ dogma that one should never ever expose class data in the public interface.  Instead, one should always provide get and put methods to access the data.  Well, yeah, but...

I claim there are times when it is better to make data members public.  There are three cases where this is justifiable and efficient:

The class is tiny and many objects are instantiated to form a larger structure.  Examples include nodes in a tree, links in a chain, or entries in a table.  In these cases the additional overhead of having "get" and "put" methods for each datum is not justifiable.  It is far easier simply to access the members.  Consider the following example, incrementing a counter in the left leaf of a tree node:

____ THE PURE WAY ____
pNode->getLeft()->putCount(pNode->getLeft()->getCount() + 1);

____ THE COOL WAY ____

Just looking at this example, it is obvious which way is better.  W=UH and all that.

The class is used to encapsulate something inside another object.  Typically such "internal" classes are not publicly used.  The primary reason for the class is encapsulation and modularization.  In such cases there are often a lot of data inside the inner object which are used by the outer object.  Why impose the complexity and overhead of "get" and "put" methods?  Separation of interface from storage isn't important, because both objects are likely to be updated and compiled together.  The code will read better and execute faster if the outer object has direct access to the inner object's data.  You will also spent less time maintaining "glue" between the classes.

The class contains internal objects which are exposed in its interface.  Consider a class cA which contains one or more instances of another class cB.  Say that users of cA want to invoke methods on the cB objects inside it.  There are two possibilities:

____ THE PURE WAY ____
pA->createB(...);               // instantiate a cB
pA->getB()->doThing(...);       // invoke method of the CB
pA->destroyB();                 // destruct the cB

____ THE COOL WAY ____
pA->pB = new cB(...);           // instantiate a cB
pA->pB->doThing(...);           // invoke method of the cB
delete pA->pB;                  // destruct the cB

Again, just looking at the code gives you a strong clue which way is preferred.  In the former case you end up with a bunch of "glue" in cA which passes through calls to cB.  This glue adds noise but no value.  And - if cB is changed in some way, in the pure way new glue would have to be added to cA to make the changes visible, whereas in the cool way the interface to cB is directly available.  The takeaway:

  • There are cases where publicly exposing class data is better than using get and put methods.

There is even more which could be said, of course (and you know me - I'll probably end up saying it); if you have thoughts, comments, suggestions, etc.  please let me know!



Thursday,  03/13/03  10:51 PM

I had a bunch of posts queued up - on the road - finally let them escape...

Interesting - Chile has proposed a new U.N. resolution aimed at bridging the gap between the Alliance (US/UK) and the Axis (France/Russia/China).  The proposal may not be acceptable to either side, but the fact that Chile has taken it upon themselves as a conflicted and unaligned member of the U.N. Security Council to make this unsolicited proposal is interesting.  Meanwhile the Alliance are meeting in the Azores off Portugal to plot strategy; I've always wanted to visit there, but somehow I doubt they'll do much sightseeing.  If you're a student of the military preparations, please visit  Much maneuvering, and as usual Steven Den Beste is thoughtful and interesting on the countdown...

This period in world diplomacy is going to be studied by historians, politicians, and thoughtful people everywhere for many years to come.  Interesting times, indeed...

"Pentagon Threatens to Kill Independent Reporters in Iraq" - This gets my vote for the most misleading and biased news headline of the year, amid stiff competition.  The Pentagon has stated satellite uplinks in a war zone could be targeted.  Does anyone find this amazing?  Of course they'll be trying to disrupt communications during a war.  They haven't threatened to kill anyone, they've warned people so they won't get killed.  Sheesh.

There are about one billion articles about Elizabeth Smart, and I can't add anything to them, but as a parent I can only imagine how blessed her parents must feel.  Just shows that there is always hope...

Wow - I wonder if AOL is really planning an answer to Tivo?  Doesn't seem likely that Time Warner, the world's leading content company, could bring themselves to endorse this.  They'll have the same conflicts as Sony, with even more bias towards content.  But who knows...

Interesting post by Dave Hyatt about's coverage of the new Mozilla 1.3 release, which revisits the 1998 browser wars...  Dave makes some good points, but he also indulges in logical fallacy; he says even though IE 4 was technically superior to Netscape 4, it didn't matter because Netscape couldn't have won anyway.  Well, maybe, but it did matter - technical superiority is why Microsoft won.  More on this later...

Hey - check out Feedster! (the RSS search engine formerly known as Roogle...)

This is interesting - is starting to carry live baseball games, with the same kinds of blackout restrictions in effect for TV.  They use your credit card billing address to know where you live.  If you're reading this five years from 2003, you probably think this was always routine, right?  As in "oh, yeah, remember TV?"

Howard Stern is suing ABC over plans for a show called "Are You Hot?"  Yeah, right Howard, you invented the idea of objectifying women for their sexiness.

Check out the fly guy...  cool.

Finally - Happy Birthday NCSA Mosaic.  The first version of the first web browser was released ten years ago today.  Seems like only yesterday, doesn't it?  Uh, no, actually.  Seems like forever!  Who can even remember what it was like before the web?


Saturday,  03/15/03  11:40 AM

The Sun has this interesting article about one of Saddam Hussein's palaces, which apparently has a fully equipped blast-proof bunker as a basement.  It was built in 1982, at the height of Iraq's war against Iran.  What do you do against such a bunker?  Anh Duong has the answer.

Reading about Anh made me think.  She was a vietnameese boat-person who came to the U.S. at age 15.  She became a chemical engineer at the University of Maryland, and joined the famous Indian Head weapons team twenty years ago.  Now she is a world-renowned explosives export.  This kind of social mobility - the ability for anyone to shift intellectual classes based purely on merit - is unique to the U.S., and one of the key reasons why the U.S. has been so economically successful.

Life expectancy is at an all time high in America - the average lifetime is now over 77 years.  This is reported as unmitigated good news, of course, but it does have troubling implications for Unnatural Selection...

Gridlock can be addicting.


I am an Iterator

Saturday,  03/15/03  02:13 PM

I am an iterator.  When I make something, I don't just make it and go on.  I make it, then I remake it, then I remake it again, and iteratively improve it until I'm happy.  Later I might come back to it and iterate again.  I annoy myself sometimes, I am so unwilling or unable to leave something as it is...

This is a great mode for a software engineer.  As long as I can remember, it has been possible to update software.  It used to be hard - snail mailing diskettes and tapes into the field - but it was always possible.  Now it is easy - virtually all desktop software has some mechanism for auto-updating.  And working on websites is easiest of all.  When I'm working on a website, I am constantly tweaking and diddling.

An iterator is kind of like a perfectionist, but not exactly.  The perfectionist wants everything to be "perfect" on the first pass.  The iterator knows the first pass will not be perfect, or the next, or the next, but feels secure knowing that perfection is getting closer, and that it may be reached on the nth pass, off in the future.  An iterator is a pragmatic perfectionist.

Being an iterator is great for programming, not so great for writing a book.  When a book is published, it is what it is - there is no update mechanism.  Authors sometimes get a chance to publish a new edition of a successful book, but this is rare and editions are often years apart.  Some authors publish errata and notes on their websites - this is increasingly common - but it is far different from actually updating the book.

I've thought about this a lot lately, and I've decided this is why I started this blog, even though I wasn't aware of it at the time.  I wanted a way to write my book incrementally.  I can publish a chapter online and iterate.  Then I publish another chapter, and iterate on that.  I can go back to the first chapter and change it.  Everything is fungible.

Which brings me to the Unnatural Selection outline.  I have been iterating on it relentlessly, but I've been strangely reluctant to post it.  I guess I felt like it wasn't "done".  But of course it can never be done - it will probably be in flux until the day far into the future when the book itself is "done".  (And even then it may not be done!)  I have to post it "undone", and then iterate.  This is good practice for me, the whole book is going to be like this.

© 2003-2020 Ole Eichhorn


Unnatural Selection

Saturday,  03/15/03  11:27 PM

Welcome to the outline of Unnatural Selection.  I'm writing a book, and this is the skeletal framework on which it will be built.  This outline will evolve into the Table of Contents.  The plan is that eventually each chapter and section heading in the outline will become a link to the contents of that chapter or section.

The book is divided into five parts.  Each part and each chapter begins with a brief summary.  The intention is that a reader in a hurry could read just the summaries and get a pretty good overview of the book's contents.  As summaries are created, they will be placed inline in this outline, and shaded pale yellow.

Please email me with your comments, suggestions, feedback, related links, etc.

Unnatural Selection


  • Introduction
  • Genesis of the book
  • Dialogs vs. expositions
  • The blog - contributions from the online community
  • Influences
  • Acknowledgements

I: What’s Happening?

Once upon a time the fittest, smartest people were the ones having kids.  Their kids were fit and smart, and each generation was smarter than the last.  But that stopped happening a long time ago, and these days, less fit, less intelligent people are the ones having kids.  So their kids are not as fit and not as smart, and each generation is less and less intelligent.  This is Unnatural Selection.

Dialog: Nature of Intelligence

  • Introducing the characters: Oak, Palm, Beech, Ash, Q9
  • Is there such a thing as "intelligence"?
  • Existence of summary qualities
  • Common nonsense

The History of Population

  • This chapter reviews human population statistics.  Humanity has steadily increased in numbers through about 2,000 years ago.  At that point population levels began increasing more rapidly, interrupted by wars famine, and pestilence.  About 200 years ago human population levels began "exploding"; a continuous increase in an exponential rate of growth that continues through today.  In each of the last 100 years the total human population as increased by an order of magnitude (80M people in 1800, 800M people in 1900, 8B people today).

The History of Selection

  • This chapter discusses the way selection within the human race has changed, as external and internal factors have changed priority.  The advent of agriculture was the first big change, as individuals began to generate more food than they needed for their own survival, enabling individuals to provide for others less able to support themselves.  The advent of social support structures within human societies was the second big change, as societies began to distribute resources among their members to provide for individuals less able to support themselves.

Species History

  • A review of the history of the human race, from earliest identifiable fossils through the present.  Key benchmarks in human cultural evolution are noted, such as the development of tools, use of metals, agriculture, mechanization, social organization, religions, and politics.

The Three Phases

  • Time zero through agriculture (˜5,000 years ago)
    • Natural selection operational - "survival mode"
    • Individuals in survival mode
  • Agriculture through social support (˜500 years ago)
    • Natural selection neutralized
    • Individuals could share resources to aid those less able to survive
  • Social support through present
    • Natural selection reversed - unnatural selection
    • Society could share resources to aid those less able to survive


  • Discussion about the fact that ideas ("memes") are socially hereditable, and have largely replaced physical characteristics ("genes") as the mechanism for human evolution.  Certainly the timescale over which memes mutate and evolve are much shorter than the timeframes for genes.  Memes have significant implications for evolutionary selection.  They also offer hope for change.

Regression to Mean

  • This chapter surveys anthropological concepts like "evolutionary pressure" and "regression to mean".  It plays off Appendix A, population mathematics.  The intention is to give readers unfamiliar with evolution enough background to understand the later discussions of population growth and differential birth rates.

Unnatural Selection

  • This chapter discusses the available data on population growth, birth rates, intelligence distributions, etc.  These data are used to draw some inferences about whether the drivers for unnatural selection are truly present (are there differential birth rates between sub-populations with different intelligence levels).  This sets up "Is this Happening?", and also "Why is this Happening?"

Dialog: Ways Things can be True

  • Observation
  • Deduction
  • Induction
  • Extrapolation

Is This Happening?

  • Discussion about whether unnatural selection is actually occurring.
    • Review of direct scientific data
    • Indirect evidence
    • Ways it could not be true.
  • Conclusions

II: Why Isn’t This Obvious?

Aside from gender, intelligence is arguably the most significant human characteristic.  Given that, persistent changes in the mean value of this characteristic in human populations should be readily apparent, but this is not the case.

Concurrent with unnatural selection, several other effects are taking place which "mask" the downward trend in mean intelligence.  These include:

  • Education.  People are far more educated today than at any time in human history, and the quality of education is continuously improving.  Education is also readily available to a larger percentage of humans.
  • Population Growth.  The continued strong growth of the human population means there are more people at every intelligence level than ever before.  The mean value is decreasing but the absolute numbers are not.
  • Political Correctness.  During the last fifty years or so, it has been increasingly difficult to perform serious scientific research on intelligence.  A lot of great work has been done, but the results have been kept quiet, or watered down, or in some cases discredited via personal attacks on the researchers.  Any study which tries to measure intelligence and its correlations to other attributes will be immediately attacked, regardless of its scientific intent or its findings.
  • U.S. Parochialism.  People studying areas related to unnatural selection overwhelming tend live in the United States.  This phenomenon is mitigated in the U.S. by a strong influx of highly intelligent people from other countries, which has a "masking" effect.
  • Time Perspective.  On the scale of human existence, 150,000 years or so, the time period during which unnatural selection has been operating is very small.  It is difficult to analyze such "blips" even from a distance, and more difficult to do so in near-realtime.  It may be decades or even centuries before we have sufficient perspective to clearly see the changes now taking place.


  • People are far more educated today than at any time in human history, and the quality of education is continuously improving.  Education is also readily available to a larger percentage of humans.
  • People perceive knowledge and intelligence similarly.  There are differences between a knowledgeable person who is less intelligent than a more intelligent person with less knowledge, but they are often confused.
  • In many ways the average high-school graduate today knows more technical detail about the world than the most expert scientists of 100 years ago.

Dialog: The Best in the World

  • The piano player.
  • Sorting wheat.
  • 1,000,000 monkeys typing.

Population Growth

  • The continued strong growth of the human population means there are more people at every intelligence level than ever before.  The mean value is decreasing but the absolute numbers are not.
  • Human society evolves technically via the achievements of a small number of very intelligent people.  The total number of very intelligent people continues to increase with population growth, yielding more technical innovation than ever before.  Additionally, human society has evolved to efficiently productize and distribute the fruits of technical ideas, so a higher percentage of ideas get realized.

Political Correctness

  • During the last fifty years or so, it has been increasingly difficult to perform serious scientific research on intelligence.  A lot of great work has been done, but the results have been kept quiet, or watered down, or in some cases discredited via personal attacks on the researchers.  Any study which tries to measure intelligence and its correlations to other attributes will be immediately attacked, regardless of its scientific intent or its findings.
  • If research contains credible evidence that unnatural selection is taking place it will most likely be hidden and ignored, rather than analyzed and publicized.

U.S. Parochialism

  • People studying areas related to unnatural selection overwhelming tend live in the United States.  This phenomenon is mitigated in the U.S. by a strong influx of highly intelligent people from other countries, which has a "masking" effect.

Time Perspective

  • On the scale of human existence, 150,000 years or so, the time period during which unnatural selection has been operating is very small.  It is difficult to analyze such "blips" even from a distance, and more difficult to do so in near-realtime.  It may be decades or even centuries before we have sufficient perspective to clearly see the changes now taking place.
  • The AIDS virus provides a unique opportunity to study rapid evolution.

III: Why is This a Problem?

Say you accept unnatural selection is taking place - the human race is really becoming less intelligent.  So what?  Does it matter?

Unfortunately it matters a great deal.  Studies have shown strong correlations between low cognitive ability and socially undesirable traits, such as:

  • Criminality.  People of lower intelligence tend to commit more crimes.  This may be because the deterrent effect of social punishments are less effective, because the probabilistic consequences are less "computable".
  • Violence.  People with lower intelligence have a higher proclivity toward violence.  This may be because diplomatic approaches toward problem resolution are less useful, or because social deterrents toward violent behavior are less effective.
  • Civility.  People with lower intelligence are less "civil".  The working definition for civility is a kind of enlightened altruism, where people realize investing in cooperation with others pays dividends.  This may be because the calculation of the returns on the investment is less available to people with low cognitive ability.
  • Parenting.  In several key measures of parenting skills people with lower cognitive abilities are found to be worse parents.  Less intelligent people tend to employ more unfocused discipline rather than rational guidance, and to be less consistent and less attentive.  This may be because parenting strategies require forethought and flexibility which may be less available to people with lower intelligence.
  • Responsibility.  The complex attribute summarized as responsibility is a social response to mores; taking responsibility means living up to the expectations created by society, and fulfilling the obligations imposed by the society.  People with lower intelligence are less able to understand a societies mores and the rationale for them, and [as with criminality] less likely to be deterred by the consequences established for those who do not live up to societies' expectations.  This may be because the calculation of consequences is less available.

These factors are themselves hereditary - not necessarily through any genetic connection, but through mnemonic transmission from parents to children, and cultural conditioning.

Correlated Factors

  • This chapter contains a discussion about undesirable social traits which are correlated with low cognitive ability.
  • The data from several studies which indicate the correlations are presented and discussed.
  • There is a difference between correlation and causality.  It is not necessary to show causality to infer negative conclusions from the correlations.  Nonetheless, in the discussion of various correlated traits, some suggestions will be made for causality.


  • People of lower intelligence tend to commit more crimes. 
  • This may be because the deterrent effect of social punishments are less effective, because the probabilistic consequences are less "computable".


  • People with lower intelligence have a higher proclivity toward violence. 
  • This may be because diplomatic approaches toward problem resolution are less useful, or because social deterrents toward violent behavior are less effective.


  • People with lower intelligence are less "civil".  The working definition for civility is a kind of enlightened altruism, where people realize investing in cooperation with others pays dividends. 
  • This may be because the calculation of the returns on the investment is less available to people with low cognitive ability.


  • In several key measures of parenting skills people with lower cognitive abilities are found to be worse parents.  Less intelligent people tend to employ more unfocused discipline rather than rational guidance, and to be less consistent and less attentive. 
  • This may be because parenting strategies require forethought and flexibility which may be less available to people with lower intelligence.


  • The complex attribute summarized as responsibility is a social response to mores; taking responsibility means living up to the expectations created by society, and fulfilling the obligations imposed by the society.  People with lower intelligence are less able to understand a societies mores and the rationale for them, and [as with criminality] less likely to be deterred by the consequences established for those who do not live up to societies expectations. 
  • This may be because the calculation of consequences is less available.

Dialog: Mnemonic Plague

  • The insidiousness of cultural transmission.
  • Separated at birth, and other stories.
  • The myth of immutable heredity.

Mnemonic Transmission

  • The negative social characteristics which correlate to lower cognitive ability are hereditary, just as intelligence itself.  They need not be transmitted genetically, they can also be transmitted culturally via parent/child relationships, and by the cultural environment in which children are raised.

Parent/Child Transmission

  • By far the strongest environmental influences on children are their parents.  Whether via genetic transmission or these environmental influences, correlation between parents and children for these characteristics is high, as with intelligence itself.
  • From a social standpoint the issue of whether these traits are transmitted genetically or environmentally is moot.  Of primary importance is the fact that they are transmitted.

Cultural Transmission

  • Besides parents, there are many other environmental influences on children which lead to cultural transmission.  For example children who are raised in a violent environment will have a higher tendency to resort to violence as a means of settling disputes.
  • People with similar intelligence levels tend to group socially, and hence children tend to be raised in a cultural environment which is characteristic of the intelligence level of their parents.  This means undesirable social traits such as criminality may be culturally transmitted and correlate to intelligence even though there is no link between the attribute and cognitive ability.


  • In addition to parent/child and culture/child mnemonic transmission, people are influenced in a variety of other ways.  These ways include:
    • Interaction with friends
    • Social mores
    • Entertainment
    • Religion
    • Political affiliation
  • People of similar cognitive abilities tend to receive and respond to these influences in similar ways.  For example, some forms of entertainment are more popular with people of lower cognitive abilities.
  • The cultural influence from people of similar cognitive abilities tends to "propagate" negative traits fostered for other reasons.

In The Year 2100

  • This section considers scenarios for the year 2100, by extrapolating trends in population, intelligence distribution, and differential birth rates.  These scenarios are interpreted based on correlations with other traits.
  • Analysis of the "most likely" scenarios for 2100 reveal that significant social problems will result if unnatural selection continues unchecked.

IV: Why is This Happening?

Unnatural selection results from differential birth rates between people of differing levels of intelligence.  There are three components to the effective birth rates:

  1. Choice.  People in different cultural environments choose to have different numbers of children.  For various reasons people of lower cognitive abilities are influenced to have more children.  These reasons include:
    • Social selection.  Society establishes active financial and other incentives for people of lower cognitive levels to have children.
    • Social safety net.  At most points in human history people have been constrained to raise only as many children as they themselves could support.  More recently, extended family units have enabled people to have more children than they can support, using the family to provide resources.  More recently still, societies have established programs to support children when their parents cannot.
    • Cultural influence.  Many cultural institutions within society provide active incentive for people to have children (such as religions).  Less intelligent people are more likely to be influenced by such cultural institutions than people at higher cognitive levels.
  2. Generation length.  Less intelligent people tend to have children younger, because they don't have the delaying factors of attending college and/or establishing professional careers.
  3. Death rates.  Throughout human history people with lower cognitive levels have faced higher death rates, because of famine, reduced access to medical care, occupational hazards, and lifestyle factors.  In recent times these factors have been strongly reduced, such that death rates are similar for people at all cognitive levels.

Dialog: Choosing Not to Choose

  • The popularity of defaults
  • Local vs. global decisions


  • People in different cultural environments choose to have different numbers of children.  For various reasons people of lower cognitive abilities are influenced to have more children.
  • The same types of factors which influence the choice of individuals also influence the collective choice of the individuals in a country.

Social Selection

  • Society establishes active financial and other incentives for people of lower cognitive levels to have children.
  • In many cases the incentive for having more children is an unintended side effect of public policy.  For example, giving more aid to women with more children might seem reasonable, since women with more children have more resource requirements.  However, this also creates an incentive for women to have more children merely to increase their level of aid.
  • Social selection operates at the country level as well.  If wealthy countries provide aid to poor countries based on population levels, it creates an incentive for poor countries to foster higher birth rates.

Social Safety Net

  • At most points in human history people have been constrained to raise only as many children as they themselves could support.  More recently, extended family units have enabled people to have more children than they can support, using the family to provide resources.  More recently still, societies have established programs to support children when their parents cannot.
  • Essentially today's societies say to people: "go ahead and have as many children as you want, if you can't feed them, we'll provide food, and if you can't afford medical care for them, we'll provide it."
  • To some extent a social safety net exists between countries.  Rich countries say to poor countries: "go ahead and have as many children as you want, if you can't feed them, we'll provide food, and if you can't afford medical care for them, we'll provide it."

Cultural Influence

  • Many cultural institutions within society provide active incentive for people to have children (such as religions).  Less intelligent people are more likely to be influences by such cultural institutions than people at higher cognitive levels.

Generation Length

  • Less intelligent people tend to have children younger, because they don't have the delaying factors of attending college and/or establishing professional careers.
  • As shown in Appendix A, Population Math, a 30% shorter generation length is mathematically equivalent to a 30% increase in children/parent ("choice").

Death Rates

  • Throughout human history people with lower cognitive levels have faced higher death rates, because of famine, reduced access to medical care, occupational hazards, and lifestyle factors.  In recent times these factors have been strongly reduced, such that death rates are similar for people at all cognitive levels.
  • In the past differential death rates counterbalanced differential birth rates to keep overall reproductive rates similar.  The recent dissimilarity is partially caused by the elimination of differential death rates.

V: What Can Be Done?

This is a book about a simple thing.  But the simple thing defies a simple solution.

All solutions must affect choice, the first part of the equation which yields the overall reproductive rate.  It is not feasible to affect generation length nor death rates.

Many of the conceivable solutions are impossible to implement for political reasons.  For example, a "eugenic" public policy which actively selected more intelligent people to have birth would be immediately condemned in a firestorm of protest.  Other "impossible" solutions include:

  • Physical / legal prohibition.  E.g. passing a law to restrict the number of children each parent can have.
  • Explicit financial or social penalties.  E.g. a tax on having children, or a restriction on how many children each parent can send through public school.
  • Manual Selection.  E.g. Governmental or institutional selection of parents based on intelligence and other factors.  A clear non-starter in the current political environment.

There are a few ways "choice" might be influenced in ways which would reduce the differential birth rate between people at different cognitive levels:

  • Incentives.  Establish financial and social rewards to influence a reduction in the birth rate.  In many cases these solutions amount to removing societal barriers to natural selection.
  • Resource allocation.  Change social policies toward resource allocation to reward appropriate behavior.
  • Leadership.  Intellectual, Political, and Religious leaders must understand this problem and work together to craft solutions.  In many ways subtle variations in message can have large impacts on constituent behavior.  Leadership influence can be guided by economic reinforcement.
  • Family values.  The high-level influences on birth "choice" will become codified as family values.  These values are local to a community, and culturally transmitted.  This partially accounts for the persistence of large differences in birth rates between societies.  Ultimately the solution to unnatural selection lies in changing the core "family values" of society.

Nature of Solutions

  • All solutions must affect choice, the first part of the equation which yields the overall reproductive rate.  It is not feasible to affect generation length nor death rates.
  • Generation length is primarily driven by lifestyle.  On average, people at lower levels of intelligence have children in their late teens and early twenties, as dictated by biology.  People at higher levels of intelligence tend to delay having children to complete their education and to establish their careers, often waiting until their mid- to late- thirties.
  • Death rates have evened out due to vast improvements in medical care, reduction in dangerous occupations, and advances in food production and distribution.  These changes are permanent and in any event retracting them would be lower quality of life and be undesirable.

What Cannot Be Done

  • Many of the conceivable solutions are impossible to implement for political reasons:
    • Physical / legal prohibition.  E.g. passing a law to restrict the number of children any parent could have.  { This has been tried in China with some success, but also with a wide range of unintended social consequences.  It would be impossible to implement in any Western democratic society. }
    • Explicit financial or social penalties.  E.g. a tax on having children, or a restriction on how many children each parent could send through public school.
    • Manual Selection.  E.g. Governmental or institutional selection of parents based on intelligence and other factors.  A clear non-starter in the current political environment.

Dialog: Cultural Viruses

  • Tipping points and other factors
  • Transmission time vs. assimilation time
  • Why popular things are popular
  • Designing a memetic virus


  • Establish financial and social rewards to influence a reduction in the birth rate.  In many cases these solutions amount to removing societal barriers to natural selection.  Solutions include:
    • Societal.  E.g. Stigmatize unmarried women with children, or women otherwise unable to care for their children.  Glorify virtues like self-sufficiency.
    • Economic.  E.g. Change welfare incentives to reward people for not having more children than they are able to care for themselves.
    • Self-correction.  Establish policies that lead to the desired behavior directly, rather than via coercion.  E.g. People don't stop at red lights because it is the law, they stop at red lights to avoid getting hit by other cars.

Resource Allocation

  • Change social policies toward resource allocation to reward appropriate behavior.  Considerations include:
    • Quality vs. quantity of life.  Currently society is "programmed" to value all life equally, and to celebrate additional life.  There must be a realization that under resource constraints all life is not equal, at least in terms of quality of life, and that reducing birth rates will improve the quality of life for everyone.
    • The “mutilated child” effect.  Avoid social policies which reward undesired behavior, even at a short-term cost; e.g. it is not possible to support all children equally and to create an incentive for people not to have more children than they can support themselves.
    • Education.  The message must be communicated that unnatural selection is taking place, and that it has negative consequences for human societies.  This book should be wildly popular and widely quoted :)
    • Contraception.  If people don't want to have children, they shouldn't.  Contraception must be socially supported (see "religious leaders", below!) and readily available to all.
    • Abortion.  For many fetal rights or a woman's right to choice is an emotional moral issue.  From the standpoint of fighting unnatural selection, legal, safe abortion is an essential tool.  Again, if people don't want to have children, they shouldn't.  { Especially if they have pre-knowledge that their child may have significant medical issues. }


  • Intellectual, Political, and Religious leaders must understand the problems and work together to craft solutions.  In many ways subtle variations in message can have large impacts on constituent behavior.
    • Intellectual leaders.  Columnists, authors, entertainment personalities, reporters, webloggers.  Open to a free exchange of ideas, receptive to descriptions of problems, creative in working to solve problems.
    • Political leaders.  Generally open to a free exchange of ideas, but will only be receptive to descriptions of problems if endorsed by their constituency.  Not necessarily creative in working to solve problems, can be mired in bureaucracy.  The driver is always how their constituents will feel.
    • Religious leaders.  Generally quite conservative and not open to changes in dogma.  Not open to a free exchange of ideas, in fact, frequently threatened by ideas.  Not creative in problem solving.
  • Leadership influence can be guided by economic reinforcement.

Family Values

  • In many ways the high-level influences on birth "choice" will become codified as family values.  These values are local to a community, and culturally transmitted.  This partially accounts for the persistence of large differences in birth rates between societies.  Ultimately the solution to unnatural selection lies in changing the core "family values" of society.
    • Importance of two parents.  The strong value of having two parents in each family comes from having the additional resources contributed by another adult.  This lessons the chances that people will have children which must be supported by society.
    • Economic reinforcement.  Society must design welfare, tax, and other programs to reward two-parent families, as a way to reduce the carrying cost of one-parent families.
    • The local loop.  Most people are strongly influenced by a "local" combination of social mores, economic incentives, and enlightened self-interest.  This combination of factors generally outweighs more global considerations like "what's good for the country".  To win the battle against unnatural selection, it will be critical to tune the "local loop" so people are pre-incentivized for the desired behavior.


A: Population Math

  • This appendix reviews the mathematics of populations, including how hereditable trails are distributed, how favorable and unfavorable traits evolve, the overall affect of favorable traits on mean and extreme values with populations, etc.

B: Selection Model

  • This appendix presents a simple mathematical model of the evolution of intelligence, based on parameterized assumptions.  Using this model, the future mean value of intelligence within a population can be computed for any set of parameter values.

© 2003-2020 Ole Eichhorn


"Tyranny" Revisited

Sunday,  03/16/03  02:29 PM

A week ago I posted a little article called The Tyranny of Email, giving some tips for improving personal productivity.  To say this struck a chord would be an understatement - I was Winer-ized, DayPop-ed, Popdex-ed, Blogdex-ed, and Slashdot-ed.  Looking in my referer logs, literally thousands of sites all over the blogosphere have linked to this article.  Surprisingly, most of the references were quite positive, sort of a net-wide "YEESS!"

Many of you took the time to send me email - over 400! - and I decided to summarize the most interesting ideas in this post.  There was also a great thread on Slashdot and two active discussions on JoelOnSoftware, both with many good ideas..  Thanks for all your feedback, it was great.

Instant messaging.  Many people asked about or commented on IM.  I don't use IM myself, so I didn't write about it in my article.  It seems to fit somewhere between email and 'phone; on the plus side it has the immediacy of a phone call and the typed accuracy of email, and on the minus side it combines the impersonality of email with the urgency of phones.  If you IM, I suggest turning off your IM client whenever you want to concentrate.  Not only do IM messages interrupt your "flow", just like email, but IM clients can interrupt you just to let you know a friend has come online, even if that friend doesn't have anything to say.  That's a sure invitation to "warp off".

Turning off email vs. just not checking.  Okay, this is a little subtle, but bear with me here.  Several people noted that it is not necessary to turn off your email client, all you need to do is disable notifications.  This is theoretically true ("does a tree falling in the forest interrupt you if you aren't notified?") but in actual practice I don't think it is the same.  It is just too easy to quickly alt-tab and check if you have email.  Just the temptation to do so might be disruptive.  One correspondent noted that he leaves Outlook running because it takes too long to launch.  If it takes too long to launch, you're launching it too often.  You don't want to be checking email when you're in the zone.  Really really.

Whenever you are not doing something which requires concentration, by all means, run your email client, run your IM client, have notifications turned on, take 'phone calls, the works.  But when you really need to get work done, turn everything off.  Isolate yourself.  Okay, enough about that.

Technical debates.  This was the single thing that generated the most objections from people.  My suggestion was don't get into prolonged technical debates in email, the key being "prolonged".  Obviously email is a terrific way for engineers to communicate, and a lot of problem solving does involve debate.  There can be a lot of productive back-and-forth among different people and this often iterates into the best solution.  But when no new information is being contributed, and people are just restating their positions - when the discussion thread is generating more heat than light - then it's time for a meeting.

BCC badness.  Quite a few people mentioned the evil potential of BCCs (blind copies).  I have to agree, there are rarely situations where a BCC is called for...  You should anticipate that everyone will find out who received a copy anyway.  My advice for avoiding BCC badness is as soon as it becomes apparent that things are going wrong, switch media - talk face-to-face, or on the 'phone.  That will tend to defuse things before they get out of hand.

I had some fascinating correspondence from several people about why email exacerbates negative emotions.  Did you know 90% of face-to-face communication is non-verbal?  Apparently 60% is body language, 30% is tone of voice, and only 10% is actual verbal content.  I find that amazing.  It certainly explains why phone calls are better than email for touchy subjects (40% vs. 10%) and why face-to-face is best (100% vs 40%).  And it explains the evolution of emoticons and other cues like boldface, colors, italics, and punctuation.  Anyway, email is terrific, but everyone agrees it does not work for criticism.

Three hours?  Proving that mine was primarily an audience of engineers, several people wanted to know where the number three came from...  Was there a study that proves this is the minimum interval?  Well, three hours is purely anecdotal, based on personal experience.  Your mileage may vary.  The central point was not three hours vs. two or four, it was that you need fairly long periods of uninterrupted time to be productive. 

Here's another reason for three, it kinds of "fits" into a workday.  For example, you get in at 8:30, check email, pick up voicemail, do all that.  Then you shut everything off and work for three hours, 'till say 12:30.  Now you break for lunch.  You get back at 1:30, check email, pick up voicemail, do all that.  Then you shut everything off and work for another three hours, 'till say 5:00.  Then you check email, pick up voicemail, play foosball, run around and bug everyone, etc.  You've had two nice periods of time to get work done.

I know, I know, this isn't real-world - it is a canonical example.  Nobody really does this every day, or even on any given day.  But my point is that this would be way more productive than taking interrupts all day long.

Nature of your work.  Maybe it wasn't obvious, but my comments were targeted at engineers and others who profit from uninterrupted periods of concentration to get work done.  If you're a customer support rep or a salesperson, this advice may not be for you.  { Unless of course you happen to be working on a "cheat sheet" to help your team with a prevalent problem, or writing a proposal to win a big deal. ;) }

Timely response.  Some people felt three hours does not constitute "timely response" to emails.  Obviously this can vary with the nature of your job.  There are certainly people whose responsibilities entail being more responsive than that.  Hopefully they are not engineers, however.  To restate the central point, engineers need fairly long periods of uninterrupted concentration to be productive.

I've managed people who had to balance technical support responsibility with development.  The best solution for such positions is to setup a rotation, such that some people are "on call" while others are not.  That enables some people to give timely support, while others are able to concentrate on development.

PA systems.  Amazingly, quite a few people reported that their office features PA systems.  I can't think of anything more annoying than periodic PA pages, you certainly have my sympathy.  Beyond lobbying to have the PA system disabled (or buying wire clippers), it seems the solution would be headphones and music.

Finally, if you ever want to abuse your personal productivity, post a semi-interesting article about productivity on the web.  Between deploying slashdot sunscreen, replying to interesting emails, and tracking down all the great sites linking to you from referer logs, it can easily cost you a week :)

[Update 3/5/09 - the antidote to the tyranny of email... ]


Monday,  03/17/03  05:01 AM

So it will be war.  Like many I feel sad that it has come to this, but relieved that we are finally taking action.  My best wishes and thanks to all the soldiers representing us "over there".  If you'd like to show support, here's a good way.  And don't visit Pep Boys.

By the way, I think anyone has the right to feel we shouldn't be going to war, and has the right to protest (this is the U.S., after all).  I know many reasonable, thoughtful people who are opposed to war.  But now that the decision has been made, we should all pull together.  This is something Tom Daschle needs to learn.

Here's a terrific piece by Dave Sifry on Zen and the Art of Debugging.  It is interesting to see some background on Technorati, as well ("tracking 135,000 blogs every hour").

The L.A.Times ponders why the rollout of DVRs like Tivo is "stuck on pause".  Their conclusion - at $500, it is too expensive for the mass market.


See anything wrong with the picture at right?  Courtesy of Rainer Brockerhoff.

Interesting article in FastCompany about Google.  The more you study these successful companies, the more you discover that they are all unique.  Which may be their key to success!

Among the many great sites I've found by tracking referers during the recent "Tyranny" storm was Interconnected, which I like so much I'm adding to the blogroll.  Check 'em out!

Finally - you heard the one about the talking 20lb. carp, right?  I am not making this up.


Tuesday,  03/18/03  10:36 PM

Man, there's a lot going on!  I actually pushed stuff off so you wouldn't be overloaded.

Want to see a classic example of press bias in action?  Compare the headlines reporting the British Parliament's vote to join the U.S. war against Iraq.  Two extremes: Blair Survives a Mutiny Over Joining U.S. in War (N.Y.Times, predictably critical of Blair), and Blair rallies the Commons for War (London Times, predictably supportive).  As usual, the blogosphere has better detail and is more balanced.  { You want to hear it firsthand?  How about a blogging MP. }  I'm just really glad the Brits have joined us, as have the Aussies.  Don't worry, weasels, noses are being counted... 1 2 3 4 not to mention 5 and 6 and of course 7 and 8...

Navy Women Finding Ways to Adapt to a Man's World.  We're thinking about you, Nicole!

The Times (London) is reporting the first shots of the war have been fired.  And according to the Mirror 30,000 Iraqi soldiers have deserted.  Meanwhile WP reports negotiations with Iraqi officers to surrender.  Too bad it isn't all going to be that easy...

This is great stuff: The world according to Donald Rumsfeld.  Sample:

For those who think world affairs can use a bracing shot of candor, Rumsfeld is the star of this war.  At one Pentagon briefing on Afghanistan, some showboating reporter noted that human rights groups had objected to the dropping of cluster bombs and demanded to know why the U.S. was using them.  "They're being used on frontline al-Qaeda and Taliban troops to try to kill them," replied Rumsfeld.  It was a small indicator of a large cultural shift when NBC's Saturday Night Live introduced a weekly parody of his press conferences, mercilessly mocking not the politician but the dopey journalists.

A fascinating article in the N.Y.Times suggests that It Will Be a Smaller World After All - about a new U.N. population study which indicates world birth rates are dramatically lower than previously thought, particularly in third-world countries.  [thanks Future Pundit.]  This would be tremendously important if true - really good news, actually - I'm going to try to get the report.  Without having read it, my guess is that the trends are accurate, but the figures themselves are not; they are simply too different from what many previous studies have found.

This is awesome - How to Write a Book in 10 Days.  Some great material here for would-be authors.  { I am really jealous, I've been working on Unnatural Selection for four months and have little more than an outline to show for it.  Maybe some books take longer than 10 days :) }

It's been thirteen days since I last found the RIAA guilty of stupidity, so here we go again.  These guys are just determined to piss everyone off, aren't they?  And it is working.  Let's see a show of hands, how many people out there aren't pissed off at the RIAA?  I thought so.  Hilary, you can put your hand down now.

Yahoo has launched Yahoo Platinum, a premium multimedia service which costs [ahem!] $10/month.  It looks similar to RealOne, with a heavy emphasis of sports (for boys) and entertainment (for girls).  The lack of downloaded client software will probably be the differentiator; it makes installation and maintenance more cumbersome (advantage Yahoo) and improves the user experience (advantage Real).  The key sales driver for Yahoo appears to be "exclusive" coverage of the Men's NCAA basketball tournament, but at $17/month I seriously doubt this will get traction.

Biondi iMacStrawberry iMacApple Pulls Plug on Original iMac.  One of the all-time great consumer marketing adventures ends.  We have two of the little guys, one strawberry, one biondi blue...

Mozilla 1.3 has been released - yet another browser to try in my never ending quest for surfing perfection...  =O

I'm listening to the Rolling Stones tonight...  haven't done that in a long time.  Man are they good.  They have that "four guys in a garage having a good time" sound which is timeless.  I distinctly remember blasting "Some Girls" from my pickup truck when I was a teenager; Miss You still has me reaching for the volume knob...

Don't you hate it when a blogger doesn't post her email address?  I do.  Tonight I was reading Scoble's blog - which I really like, BTW - and he wrote "David Coursey is someone I respect".  I think he is being sarcastic, nobody as insightful as Robert could really respect someone as lightweight as David Coursey (the ZDNet AnchorDesk editor), but how I am I supposed to ask without his email address?  Would everyone please click through this link so Robert sees my link in his referer logs?  Hey Robert, shoot me email, okay?  My address is posted.

[ LaterRobert, thanks for getting in touch with me.  I apologize, he does have his email address on his site, only it isn't an address, it is a link to a web page which sends him email.  A little less convenient but given the spam situation these days, quite understandable. ]

If you've never visited Gut Rumbles, please check out this post, in which he, er, discusses a, er, situation involving two dissimilar neighbors.  I read it twenty minutes ago, and I'm still laughing.  Remember, this is the guy who said my site made his head hurt.  In retrospect, I think he was being nice, don't you?  I mean, I own a white couch.


I Don't Get .Net

Wednesday,  03/19/03  02:27 PM

Hello, my name is Ole, and I don't get .Net.

If you know what .Net is, and can explain it to a reasonably intelligent software engineer, please send me email.  I will be so happy, and you will become famous; I promise to post your explanation with full attribution right here, on this website, for everyone to see (my 7 regular visitors).

Microsoft created this concept they call "dot-net", but nobody seems to have a good handle on what it is.  In fact, nobody even seems to know how to spell it, is it ".Net" or "dot-net" or "DotNet"?

This has to be one of the worst names for something ever.  How many names can you think of which begin with a period?  Do you think everyone missed out on the potential for starting names with a period?  Not to mention, there is already such a thing as ".net", it is a top-level Internet domain.  (Generally used by ISPs, for example, my service provider is Pacific Bell, and their domain name is  Strangely, the Microsoft "dot-net" doesn't seem to have anything to do with the Internet ".net". 

It isn't even clear what category .Net fits into, let alone what it is.  Here are some possibilities:

  • Is it a product?  If so, where do I buy it?  What does it do for me? 
  • Is it an architecture?  If so, where is it documented?  What does it do for me?
  • Is it a software technology?  If so, how do I use it?  What does it do for me?

Microsoft has a .net website, which features a page called What is .NET?  Unfortunately this page is misnamed, it does not explain what .NET is (visit it and see).  You would think a couple of paragraphs on this page would be helpful, but apparently the secret must be kept.

I'm not the only one who is confused.  Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer explains:

 "One question might be, and I'll be as direct as I can be about this, what is .Net?  Unlike Windows, where you could say it's a product, it sits in one place, it's got a nice little box.  In some senses, it's a very good question." - July 2002

Well, that was a good effort, but apparently there were some people like me who still didn't get it, so later Steve tried again:

"It's about connecting people to people, people to information, businesses to businesses, businesses to information, and so on.  That is the benefit." - October 2002

Believe it or not, this did not clear things up for me.  Apparently I was not alone, because several Microsoft engineers put together a website called GotDotNet.  (It is at, not to be confused with  If you visit this website, don't expect to find an explanation.  Maybe these people really "got" dot-net, but they appear unwilling to share the secret.

Last July at ".Net briefing day", Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was asked "what is .Net".  That was the question, and here was his answer:

"We don't have the user-centricity.  Until we understand context, which is way beyond presence -- presence is the most trivial notion of context."

I just don't get it.

[ Later: Okay, well, maybe I'm Starting to Get .NET... ]


Wednesday,  03/19/03  08:43 PM

Well, the war has started.  You won't get the best analysis from me.  But I encourage you to get many cross bearings - visit CNN, but also visit foreign websites and bloggers.  At times like this it is really hard to know what is really going on, you have to average over many sites.  Google News is as always invaluable, the "and 1459 related" links give you all the coverage on a given story.  And bloggers like Instapundit and are good because they drop so many links.  Like - here's a blogger in Baghdad.

Here is the text of Tony Blair's speech yesterday before the House of Commons.  I find it to be, as the Guardian reports, "nothing short of splendid".  Too bad such oratory has fallen out of favor in our Congress.

Seems weird that the NCAA basketball tournament starts tomorrow.  In years past I had my brackets filled out and my Tivo ready.  Thirty-two games in two days!  This year I'm just not into it.

When cricket reporters go bad...  I love it that his editors ran this.

Business 2.0 has released their annual 101 Dumbest Moments in Business.  It's pretty funny.  I do hate the way all their links are to themselves - they don't get the net.  My favorite is #89, "How the right merger can create exponential growth":

January 2002 - One year after the completion of its much-ballyhooed merger, AOL Time Warner posts a paltry quarterly loss of $1.8 billion.

April 2002 - Just three months later, AOL Time Warner announces a loss of $54.2 billion, the biggest quarterly loss in U.S. history.

January 2003 - Stunningly, a mere nine months after that -- and just two years after the consummation of the marriage -- AOL Time Warner sets another record with an annual loss of $98.7 billion.

Texas Congressman John Carter thinks jailing college students who download music will discourage piracy.  Sure, and shooting people who jaywalk will discourage jaywalking, too.

Elon Musk's new company SpaceX has successfully fired their rocket engine.  Elon previously founded Zip2, which was sold to AltaVista, and, which merged with PayPal.  It will be interesting to watch SpaceX, I would never bet against Elon...

Finally, have you seen the Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri?  In Japan his hairdo is called a barcode.


Thursday,  03/20/03  01:20 AM

Aha!  Robert Scoble has stepped boldly into the breach, and explains .NET

According to Robert .NET is three different things:

  1. .NET is a programming platform.  As Robert describes it, .NET is a different way to create OCXs, that is, the newest incarnation of COM.  (It took me a long time to get COM, too.)  There are two parts, a framework (APIs?) and a runtime (the infamous 20MB .NET CLR).  Okay, I get this.
  2. .NET is a set of protocols.  Basically SOAP.  Okay, I know SOAP, it is like XML-RPC.  I find XML-RPC to be cleaner than SOAP <sorry;>, but I get this.
  3. .NET is marketing.  This is the part which probably threw me, and others also.  I'm fine with marketing, but labelling stuff with a "brand" which doesn't have an anchor is silly.  Not to mention it dilutes the brand, and it confuses people :)

This actually helps, thanks, Robert.  Microsoft should copy your post to the top of their What is .NET page.  And the GotDotNet guys should, too.  I still think .NET is a crummy name, OLE was better ;)

I'm going to mull this over; I'm not ready to say "I get .NET" - yet.


Starting to Get .NET

Thursday,  03/20/03  08:42 PM

I've had a number of interesting responses to my I Don't Get .NET post.  (Along with Scoble, I'd single out the thoughtful input from Mike Amundsen.)  What is striking is that every email contains a bulleted list.  So one part of my confusion is explained - .NET is not one thing, it is several things.  That is a strange branding decision by Microsoft, but so was picking .NET as the name.  I guess time will tell whether they can overcome poor marketing with good technology.

Everyone agrees that .NET is at least two things:

  • A development environment.  Programming tools (VS.NET), a set of APIs (the .NET framework), and a runtime library (the .NET CLR).  I'm going to lump support for XML and SOAP in here as well; they are data and message formats supported in the environment.
  • A marketing concept.  Apparently Microsoft wants to position .NET as a follow on concept to "Windows", although .NET is not an operating system.  Windows is a platform for running software, and the idea seems to be that .NET is a platform for running software also.  Interesting.

There may be other things also under the .NET umbrella.  The brand seems a little slippery, I think out of the blocks just about everything which came from Redmond was suddenly part of .NET, and lately they’ve been crisper.  Like Windows 2003 server is now NOT being called .NET anymore.

As the fog clears, there is actually less to this than I thought.  Perhaps that's what Microsoft wants...

So here's the net net on .NET:

.NET is a development environment positioned as a follow on platform to Windows.

Thanks everyone, I may not have it exactly, but I'm starting to get .NET.


Thursday,  03/20/03  09:15 PM

Today was the first day of Spring.  I celebrated with a bike ride.  It was a nice break from worrying about the world.

I watched the war on TV for a while today.  Most of the talk was about the technology used for reporting, like how amazing is it that we can send live TV from the Iraqi desert back to the U.S.  This did not impress me.  I was struck by how little actual reporting was taking place.

You want reporting, check this out.  BBC has a "reporters log" where all their correspondents post snippets of news as they're happening.  Should call it a reporters blog.  (Strangely, this page's URL changes with each post.  So you have to go to this page, hit refresh, then click on the "war diaries" link.  Sigh.)  This is much better reporting than you'd get from, say, the N.Y.Times website.  What's really interesting is that "the media" are adopting the blogging style.  Inside Ventura County has a great war blog (I live in Ventura County, BTW).  I think Dave's bet is looking good.  So does Reuters (looking way better than AP in this war, IMHO.)  So does the L.A.Times, amazingly...  (Remember, LAT links turn into fairy dust after 7 days.)

Just stumbled across John Lemon's Barrel of Fish.  Good stuff.  Sample: "Chirac shouldn't have any trouble saving face, since he has two of them".

Another good blog is the Strategy Page.  Sample: "The top three nations to whom Iraq owes money: Russia ($25B), France ($5B), and China ($5B)."  { Gee, I've read about those three nations somewhere before...  Note those are Bs, not Ms. }

I had missed this, but just found it; Tim Bray writes XML is Too Hard for Programmers.  Yep, it is.  And you know what that means, don't you?  (Hint: W=UH)

So, are you ready for some cricket?  I didn't think so.  But it is actually a fascinating sport, with its own language, and if you didn't know India is meeting Australia in the World Cup finals this Sunday.  I don't think it is Tivo-able, if anyone knows of a way to watch this in Southern California, please let me know.


Friday,  03/21/03  11:40 AM

[U.S. Secretary of Defense] Donald Rumsfeld:

"With all the coverage of the war, what we're seeing is one particular commentator or reporter's slice of the war. We're not seeing the whole war.

Keep that in mind ... hope you aren't relying on just one news source for the war.  There is a huge amount of information on radio, TV, newspapers, and of course the web (most of it on the web).  Use them all.

And you still won't have a complete picture, but you'll be much better informed if you do more than just camp out on CNN."

Yep.  So far Donald Rumsfeld is coming through well.  Visit those bloggers....


Friday,  03/21/03  09:53 PM

_____ WAR _____

I keep reading these rumors that Saddam has been hurt.  I can't decided whether 1) it is likely true, because otherwise he would make some sort of gesture to reassure Iraqis that he is okay, ot 2) it is likely untrue, because otherwise the Iraqi government would have come apart.  The rumors don't seem helpful as a ruse, do they?

It sure is nice to read that ordinary Iraqis are pleased by the coalition "liberation".  Makes you think maybe this is all going to be worthwhile in the end.  Imagine the lives these people have led.  And Iraq is not a backward country, they are wealthy and have a long history of culture and technology.

Technorati has a great new "current events" page, sort of a Google News of blogging.  Check it out!  This seems like a great way to follow the war online.  Of course now we have one more index to check - alongside Daypop, Popdex, and Blogdex...  I love this comment by Ken Layne - "CNN is so Gulf War I".  It is so true.

CBS - fake "B-52s over Baghdad"CBS really messed up.  They posted this picture with the caption "In a photo taken using infrared night photography, B-52s fly over Baghdad during the raid Friday".  Well, it is a fake - look at the grayscale/invert picture and you can easily tell the same plane has been duplicated three times.  B-52s don't fly that close together anyway, and they don't fly "over" anything - they get close, then their bombs fly the rest of the way.  Sheesh.  CBS is so World War II.

If you want a blow-by-blow of war news as it happens, check out The Command Post.  All sorts of people are tracking all sorts of media, and posting excerpts.  Really good.

I don't care if you think this war is a mistake, but it totally pisses me off if you don't support our troops "over there".  These people need help.

LGF is outdoing themselves today, I particularly like this one...

Here's a fascinating site -, the home page of the one and only Iraqi Internet Service Provider.  According to their site meter, 40% of their hits come from the U.S., despite the fact that the site is in Arabic.  What is especially interesting is that this site is still on the air - the U.S. is doing everything it can to convince Iraqi civilians that it is not at war with them.

_____ NON WAR _____

Please check out Day by Day, a great comic strip in the tradition of Doonesbury.  I'm finding myself there every day...

Are you as exasperated by spam as I am?  Here's an interesting idea - "e-stamps" which would charge a tiny fee for each email sent.  Of course regular stamps haven't prevented junk mail, but it could definitely help,

And then there was one?  SonicBlue has filed for bankruptcy; they are (or were) Tivo's closest competitor...

Here's a great name for a blog: Interrobang.  Pretty nice blog, don't you think]


Saturday,  03/22/03  10:44 PM

APC with woman and child_____ WAR _____

Are you watching the war?  I am...  But I gave up on TV, they are too far behind and too personality oriented.  I'm refreshing The Command Post and the BBC Reporters Log, oh and InsideVC's blog, and skipping around from there.  This could go on for weeks - months! - I wonder when I'll stop polling for updates every half hour.  Right now I can't tear myself away from it.

U.S. Forces are now within 100 miles of Baghdad.  Their speed of advance is awesome.  Iraq is the size of California, and it is 600 miles from Kuwait to Baghdad.  This is like having an army cross into San Diego from Mexico and reach San Francisco two days later.  It is hard to drive a truck that fast on a highway, let alone thousands of tanks and all their supplies through unpaved desert.  Amazing.  Here's a great map by Nick Denton showing coalition forces in Iraq (the orange sprinkles).

Interesting post on the Belligerent Bunny Blog: The failures of the peace mongers.

_____ NON WAR _____

Dave has a great idea - an adaptive search engine that returns results based on who you are.  This seems so obvious doesn't it?

Pentagon Spokesperson Tori ClarkeThe Nintendo Gameboy Advance SP was released today; not big news in my life, but there are some who have literally been counting the days...  These things sell millions of units, an order of magnitude more than a typical PDA.  And they are becoming more powerful...

Finally, I can't bring myself to call this war news - what the heck is Pentagon spokesperson Tori Clarke wearing?  I promise I did not do this with Photoshop...


Sunday,  03/23/03  03:33 PM

_____ WAR _____

It was inevitable that we'd have soldiers die and be captured, but it sure is tough.  Let's hope we can continue to advance rapidly and force a quit end.  It will benefit the Iraqis just as much or more than the coalition.  And where's Saddam?  I really think he was at least injured, or we would have heard from him by now...  and if he were dead, we probably would have heard that by now, too.

The Command Post has moved - it is now [temporarily] here.  It is a great blog and I can understand they were getting hammered, but they could have handled their server transition better.  Need DNS help, guys?

Here is the best map of Iraq I've found.

_____ NON WAR _____

John Dvorak claims Apple is switching to Intel - as in Itaniums (64-bit).  Reading his article, it really makes sense, Apple can optimize OSX for the Itanium without having to worry about backward-compatibility of a 32-bit installed base.  (It is known that 32-bit code runs better on Pentiums than Itaniums.)  Meanwhile Scoble disagrees, and claims Apple is sticking with the PowerPC, but switching to IBM.  Either way Motorola loses.  This is going to be fun to watch - Apple is one of the few companies that can moon the giant.


Sunday,  03/23/03  10:05 PM

Tonight Shirley and I attended a black-tie fund-raiser with the theme "An Evening With The Stars", held at the Ronald Reagan presidential library.  The Academy Awards were broadcast live via satellite on a huge screen.  You can't imagine a more conservative group, or a more proper one.  When Michael Moore criticized President Bush, you might have expected some restrained and horrified tisk-tisking.  No way.  There was serious and sustained booing, laced with angry comments.  Afterward, the volume level of conversation was noticeably higher and more directed, as each table agreed he was a complete idiot.  Sure, we recognize his right to have an opinion, and sure, we recognize his right to voice that opinion.  But we sure don't have to agree with it.

Perhaps it was the environment, but I don't remember the reception his remarks received by the academy the way the San Francisco Chronicle does: "A standing ovation and a handful of jeers"...  I remember it more like this: "Michael Moore booed as he slams Iraq war at Oscars".  Seems to me he was basically booed off the stage, by a very liberal audience.  Steve Martin got loud applause for commenting "It was so sweet backstage, the teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo".

_____ WAR _____

If you are concerned about the coalition forces meeting resistance, you're not alone.  But this was not unexpected, and overall things have gone exceedingly well.  Read James Lileks' thoughts on this...  and Steven Den Beste's...  CNN has put up a "war tracker"; note especially the graph showing coalition deaths.  Every death is a tragedy, but each day of this huge operation involving hundreds of thousands the death toll has been in single digits!  If you have a city of 300,000 people, each day people may die, too.  Meanwhile the rabidly anti-war Iraq Body Count website lists only 126 confirmed Iraqi civilian casualties.  Again, I abhor any deaths, but, in a country of 22M that's pretty good.

Just want to call your attention again to Nick Denton's map, which is frequently updated to show coalition forces' locations within Iraq.

Isn't it a bit weird that in CNN's coverage of the soldier who committed treason and attacked his superiors with a grenade they never mention he's Muslim?  That seems relevant, doesn't it?

The Jerusalem Post reports that Blix and company missed a 100-acre chemical plant.  Of course, it isn't their fault.  The inspectors were not spies.

I pulled up L.T.Smash and the lead post was "life during wartime".  Right.  Cueing the Talking Heads right now...  the sound of gunfire, off in the distance, I'm getting used to it now...  this ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around...

_____ NON WAR _____

Interconnected: If you had to get rid of one planet, which one would it be?

Did you catch the terrific Arizona-Gonzaga game last night?  Probably old news for many, but I Tivo-ed it, of course.  What a game!  Man, the excitement was palpable.  I think squeakers like this are good for teams, UCLA had several of them in their improbable 1995 championship run.  At this point my money's on Arizona (speaking metaphorically...).  Kentucky seems to be cruising, and Michigan State is the other team which looks hot.

I didn't get to see it, but Australia crushed India to win the cricket world cup.

I've been trying Mozilla 1.3, and I like it.  It is definitely faster than 1.2, and nearly as fast as IE.  More importantly, it can handle twenty or so concurrent loads with no problem.  The input line search is as good as the Google toolbar (just change Mozilla's preferences to use Google for searching).  The only problem left from my list of drawbacks is the lack of support for my laptop's trackpad scrolling.  So when I'm traveling I still use IE.  If you haven't tried Mozilla, give it a whirl.  You'll love not playing whack-a-mole with pop-up windows, and you can block images from any server, so after a while you don't see ads anymore.


Monday,  03/24/03  01:12 AM

I had to stay up to read about Saddam's speech this morning.  I think this is good news.  It confirms my suspicions that Saddam is badly hurt, but not dead.  Nothing in this speech mentions any events which have happened since he was attacked Thursday night.  He talks about "resistance in Umm Qasr", but that was an easy guess since the city is on the Kuwait border, and actually there was little fighting there.  (He never anticipated coalition forces would be 100 miles from Baghdad.)  If this tape were made since yesterday, it would surely have mentioned the U.S. POWs and the fighting at Nasiriyah.  There is also the two camera thing.  Most damagingly, if this tape was shot after Thursday, he would have mentioned the attack itself!  Early analysis by FOX and MSNBC agrees - it was Saddam, and it was canned.  Also, seeing this tape confirms that the man we saw on television Friday was not Saddam (which further bolsters the "Saddam is hurt" theory).  This is a guy who has been an absolute dictator for twenty years, and you can't fake his attitude.


Where is Apple Going?

Monday,  03/24/03  09:02 PM

Where do you think Apple is going?

Intel Logo
- 64-bit Itanium

IBM logo
IBM - 64-bit PowerPC

total votes = 19

  (ended 04/01/03)


Monday,  03/24/03  10:13 PM

_____ WAR _____

If you're not surfing The Command Post, you're missing out on the single best source for war reporting.  It is currently both #1 & #2 on Popdex, #2 & #3 on Daypop, and #1 & #4 on Blogdex (two URLs, one old, one new).  I wonder how their traffic compares to CNN?  (No question about how their reporting compares...)

The Telegraph carris a great analysis of the Tough decisions at Baghdad gates.  There's a terrific map accompanying the article as well.  The punch line is that the coalition has done well so far but the toughest times are still ahead.  Steven Den Beste sounds a similar theme...  Fox News has a good interview with Colin Powell.  I keep forgetting he led our forces in Gulf War I.

As we tally the casualties, note that these Thai Islamic miltants killed 24 civilians, and they aren't even in a war.  Of course that doesn't justify anything, but it helps create perspective - that's more people than coalition forces have lost to date.

Another great day-by-day today (check it fast, no permalinks).  Another great cartoon lampooning current events is Cox & Forkum...  This one is great, too.  [Thanks, American RealPolitik.]

_____ NON WAR _____

I'm really fascinated by this Apple going to Intel thing.  Intel seems to feel "we" are not ready for 64-bit computing, where "we" = "Windows".  So they have this big push to make 64-bit chips their future, but only for servers?  Doesn't quite compute.  Seems like such an opportunity for Apple; OSX could be migrated to Itanium, it would hold their differentiator while opening them to a huge world of inexpensive support chips and peripherals.  I bet Photoshop would fly on an Itanium.  On the other hand people who know like Scoble and Doc say Apple is committed to the PowerPC.  Hmmm...  (If you have an opinion, please vote in the survey below...)


Tuesday,  03/25/03  10:35 PM

Rats - XO [my ISP] just went down for six hours.  Nice of them to warn me.  Sorry!

_____ WAR _____

Isn't it amazing how quickly the pendulum swings?  First on Thursday we had the decapitation strike, Friday we had "Shock and Awe", then Saturday the capture of the port cities Umm Qasr and Basra.  Sunday featured the mad dash toward Baghdad.  Then Monday introduced [gasp!] resistance, and the battle at Nasiriyah.  Today was the uprising in Basra and the heavy attacks against the Republican Guard outside Baghdad.  The most experienced military commentators are also the calmest and the least inclined to draw conclusions from any one day's action.  It is going to take time, weeks and maybe months...

Iraqi LiberationWith the coalition forces basically knocking on the door in Baghdad, a lot of people have wondered "what now"?  Will there be hand-to-hand combat in the streets of the city?  I think the best answer would be if coalition forces continue to pound the Republican Guards while the people of Baghdad took take their city back.  This is apparently happening in Basra already, which [if true] would set a terrific example.

How many of you remember Gulf War I?  Show of hands?  Okay.  How long did it take?  Did you say eight weeks?  Give yourself a star.  Do you remember that a daily feature of that war was Saddam, on TV, denouncing the U.S. and harranging our allies to make us stop?  Remember "The Mother of All Battles"?  Well, I do (especially since I refreshed my memory with Google).  This war is six days old, and so far we have not heard one word from him.  He's hurt or dead.

Don't you love Donald Rumsfeld?  Here he smokes Wolf Blitzer...  [Courtesy of Mike Campbell]

BLITZER:  There are plenty of people out there, counterterrorism experts, who have already expressed fear that the images of this bombing, the Shock and Awe campaign, will merely ferment [sic] terrorism, create new recruits for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to go after American targets.

RUMSFELD:  Wolf, I know there's lots of so-called experts opining on this and that.  The fact is that the terrorists did not need any provocation.  They attacked the United States of America on September 11, viciously killed 3,000 innocent men, women and children of every religion, of every nationality across the globe.  That was not a response to an attack on Baghdad.  It was an unprovoked attack....

The idea that -- that this is provocative is wrong.  Weakness is provocative.

Yahoo reports France Seeks Big Role in Post-War Iraq.  What's the French word for chutzpah?

Add The Agonist to your list of war blogs.  This guy is going solo, round the clock, blogging up a storm.  Great, balanced reporting of things as they happen.  Why doesn't one of the media do this?

Even Saddam has a blog...

_____ NON WAR _____

So far 75% of you think I'm wrong about Apple going to Intel...  Take my survey, please.  When you read articles like this one about Adobe's performance tests, you realize they have to do something...

Red heads feel less pain, and red headed women can tolerate more pain.  So be it.

Michael Moore's Oscar acceptance speech: "... documentary filmmakers ... like non-fiction, we like non-fiction but we live in fictitious times".  Well, according to this article '[Michael Moore's movie] fails the first requirement of a documentary: some foundation in the truth.'  Yeah, fictitious times, indeed...


Wednesday,  03/26/03  06:19 PM

Do you continue to find yourself drawn to "watching" the war?  I do...  The Command Post and The Agonist are my regular stops, along with the BBC Reporter's LogThe Strategy Page is good too (today's offering: Top Ten Myths about the War in Iraq).  But enough of that!  I've decided you probably don't need war news from me.

Interesting article in Business Week: Hollywood Needs a Digital Story Line.  Reading between these lines, Hollywood studios are ripe for a disruptive technology attack.  The combination of the growth of broadband Internet connections and improvements in compression technology threaten the carefully timed release of movies on different media (theaters, rentals, pay-per-view, broadcast).

I talked to a friend today about Silicon Valley.  He lives in San Francisco, and is a consumate technologist.  I'd regard him as a SV insider, but he's considering moving!  Boston and L.A. are two possibilities...  The factors are: overall malaise in the technology industry, real estate glut (commerical) and bubble (residential), lack of new investment, bad environment for creative new ventures.  I wonder if this happened in the 80s, too?  Seem to be a number of data points where smart creative people are leaving SV for other places...  Of course, smart creative people were what made SV in the first place.


Thursday,  03/27/03  08:50 AM

So - I need new tires on my car.  It is eleven years old, and this will be my 11th set of tires.  (Yeah, I get about 15,000 miles on a set.  Yuk.)  Each year I faithfully buy a new set from Michelin...  but not this year.  I'm going with Pirelli.  No need to send money to the frogs, eh?


Thursday,  03/27/03  06:59 PM

People lie a lot.  Human communication is mostly an attempt to influence other humans, and lying is a good way to do it - if you don't get caught.  There seems to be an ethic that "if you can't prove I'm lying, then I'm not lying".  Check out the news and see if you don't agree.  Or do what I did today, and spend a couple of hours in a deli, listening to conversations.  Today's top lie: "I'm not in it for the money".  More on this to come...

France continues to dig themselves a hole.  The International Herald Tribune notes France Will Have to Pay a Price.  (IHT is based in Paris.)

I'm thinking there should be a semi-organized boycott against French and German companies doing business in the U.S.  I know a lot of people are like me and are informally doing it, but perhaps a more formal boycott would be helpful.  Many people probably don't even realize that Chrysler is a German company, for instance (they're owned by Daimler Benz, the same company which makes Mercedes - and Rolls Royce!).  Non-obvious French companies include: RCA, BIC, Motown Records,, Red Roof Inns, Smart & Final, Sparkletts, Universal Studios.

Heck, I even stopped buying Peet's French Roast.  It's good most of the time, but it just wasn't there for me when I really needed it.  I switched to Italian...

Hans Blix is retiring.  Not too surprising, he was under a lot of pressure.  Many people blame him for "the failure of inspections", but they should be blaming Saddam (for not disarming) and Chirac (for setting unreasonable expectations).  More about this here.

You know how people are asking "Where is Saddam?"  Well, I have a question.  "Where is Osama?"  If he were around, you'd think he would publish one of his little videos condemning U.S. aggression and calling on Islam to defeat the infidels.  Maybe Osama and Saddam are together?

Wondering why Iraqis are not welcoming their "liberation" more enthusiastically?  Read Kanan Makiya's war diary.

Despite a good start and a promising name, is just not delivering.  They're Command Post wannabes.  Off the blogroll!

Did you like the Onion before they stopped being satirical?  Then see the Lemon.  Sample headline: 'Fox News condemned for "Flagrant centrist bias"'.

C|Net has an interview with Bill Gurley.  He used to be so smart and cool and interesting.  Now he's blathering about Business Process Management - read this for buzzword overload.  The content/word ratio approaches zero.

Are you a Windows XP "power user"?  Do you play with Power Toys?  Some of them are, uh, quite powerful :)

Did you watch NCAA basketball today?  Two good games (1, 2) and two blowouts (1, 2).  Arizona really looks unstoppable to me.

Here's some interesting perspective on the current state of the music business, from Pamela Horovitz, president of NARM (the people who sell music).  She seems much more balanced and realistic than Hilary Rosen and the RIAA.  Meanwhile there's another entry in the online music subscription race...

Here's the perfect search engine if you're surfing with a mirror.  Some programmer obviously has way too much free time.

Finally - you have to be a nerd to appreciate this - check out Interconnected's suggestion for hacking London traffic.



Friday,  03/28/03  10:03 PM

I'm a pretty calm person.  Which is not to say that I'm relaxed.  I am a ball of tension inside a calm exterior.  Generally the tension stays inside but a few things can cause leakage, which is when I get not so calm.  And the most usual thing which causes me to get not so calm is lying.

Lying is all about intent.  When you say something you know isn't true in order to influence others, you're lying.  If you say something which isn't true but you didn't know it wasn't true, that's not lying.  But if you try to influence others by passing off something you don't know is true as truth, you are lying.  Even if it subsequently turns out the thing was true.

The thing which really bothers me about politics and diplomacy is that they involve continuous lying.  There is a game.  Everyone is lying all the time.  They are either saying things which they know aren't true, or they are saying things they don't know are true.  Once you say something, it is up to everyone else to prove it isn't true.  If they can't prove it isn't true, then it counts as true.  What a wacko game!  Instead of everyone just telling the truth.

The war has really exacerbated my feelings about lying.  Each day I read tens of stories about the war (I am drawn to them like a moth to a flame).  I can't accept anything at face value.  Each story, each posting, even each photograph has to be analyzed; I have to ask, "is this true"?  The politicians, the military people, the reporters, and even bloggers like me are all spinning.  Everyone is riding the fine line between complete falsehood and "not true but not proveably false".  Disgusting.

There is an antidote for lying.  It is logic.  You start with some facts, and you reason from the facts to make more facts.  When you have a hypothesis you can test, you test it.  You are continuously searching for truth.  This is the essence of science, the core methodology.  It works great for things which are simple and static.  The laws of physics, the nature of chemical reactions, even the structures of life are all amenable to science.  It does not work great for things which are complex or dynamic, like the behavior of people.  This is why it is so tough to apply science to markets, or politics.

To deal with markets and politics and other realms involving the behavior of people, you have to rely on statistics.  It is easier to predict what 10M people will do than to predict what any one of them will do.  But even then you have only a prediction, no certainty.  Which opens to the door to opinion.  Reasonable people can and do disagree about things which are not scientifically proveable.  They can do so honestly - gathering as many facts as possible and reasoning logically - or they can do so dishonestly - selectively picking facts and spinning them to support a predetermined view.  That's lying, and I don't like it.


Sunday,  03/30/03  11:49 PM

Yeah, so I took yesterday off.  Sorry.  But - I'm baack...

Tomorrow marks the three-month anniversary of Critical Section.  Yay!  We have served 10,715 unique visitors, of whom 1,636 have come back at least three times.  Wow.  That is so cool.  Thanks to all of you for stopping by.  I'll keep it up if you will ;)

Here's a new and interesting war blog: Back to Iraq 2.0.  Christopher Allbritton is an ex-AP reporter who raised enough money from his website readers to travel to Kurdistan (Northern Iraq), and he's reporting from there.  Wild.

My post last Thursday about boycotting French and German companies drew some interesting mail, especially from European visitors.  { And how cool is it that my little blog has European visitors! }  Some of the points made in email:

  • Several correspondents pointed out that there are many people in France and Germany who are not anti-U.S. and who support the war effort.  That's great, and I am grateful for the support of anyone anywhere who is opposed to terrorism and totalitarian regimes.  However, the fact is that the governments of France and Germany are anti-U.S. and oppose the war effort, and this made it much more difficult to obtain a diplomatic solution.

What is particularly frustrating about the opposition of France and Germany is that they are Western democracies on the “same side” as the United States in opposing terrorism and totalitarianism.  Of course reasonable people may disagree about the best of course of action, whether continued inspections would have disarmed Iraq and whether military action was required.  But it seems to me that if France and Germany would have supported the U.S. at the U.N., the pressure might have been sufficient to cause Saddam to back down, to disarm, and maybe even to give up power.  The opposition of France and Germany gave Saddam hope that the U.N. would remain divided, and encouraged his continued non-compliance, which ultimately led to war.

  • Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Shroeder may honestly believe their opposition to the U.S. and to the attack on Iraq was in the best interests of their countries, but I don't think so.  I think they were lying.  I think each of them took a position which was in their own best interest as politicians, to become more popular.  Tony Blair on the other hand took a tremendous political chance by supporting the U.S. and almost lost power, but in the end he prevailed and now we have the British side-by-side with us. 
  • I am not sure war was the best answer.  I am not sure diplomacy would fail.  Reasonable people may have reasonable doubts about this.  But I am sure that now we are at war, we have to support our troops and our allies.  And I am sure that France's and Germany's opposition to the U.S. in the U.N. was not constructive, and that their unconstructive opposition reduced the chances of a diplomatic solution and led to war.
  • So - I am actively boycotting French and German companies, this is my way of expressing my opinion.  I also support British, Spanish, and Australian companies every chance I get.  At times like this you find out who your friends really are, and you have to support your friends.  And I encourage all Americans to do likewise...
  • And also - When the situation in Iraq is settled and Saddam is no longer in power, I do not expect France or Germany to have much say in the post-war settlement, nor do I expect French or German companies to get many of the contracts to rebuild the country.  There will be diplomatic and economic consequences to their actions.
  • Finally, I want to correct my statement that Daimler Benz makes Rolls Royces; a correspondent who works for Volkswagen in Germany pointed out that BMW owns Rolls Royce, and Volkswagen owns Bentley.  They are German owned, so don't be buying Rolls Royces or Bentleys!

Canadians are increasingly disenchanted with their government's opposition to the U.S.-led war on Iraq - this new poll suggests Jean Chrétien is losing support.

There is a new Eject!Eject!Eject! entitled "History".  Great as usual.  Please, please read it, it will give you perspective and make you feel good.Perpetual Motion Wheel

Here's something really cool - the Museum of Unworkable Devices.  I love it.  Can you spot the fallacy in the perpetual motion machine at right?

A BBC article says "ET fails to 'phone home'"; a preliminary review of the most promising 150 signals found by the SETI@home project has failed to find evidence of an extraterrestrial signal.  { I am currently ranked 797th among SETI@home users, having analyzed 45,948 results. }

Tom's Hardware has a review of Microsoft's new wireless bluetooth keyboard and mouse which use bluetooth; probably a harbinger of many devices to come.  Actually it is more than a review, it is a great overview of bluetooth.

If you like Wi-Fi, you may like Wider-Fi - Forbes takes a look at new wireless technologies which feature higher bandwidth and longer range.

Jon Udell reviews InfoPath: "the next version of Microsoft Office is, among other things, a family of XML editors".

Business 2.0 notes Internet Mania Returns!  In 2003 eBay is up 33%, Amazon 47%, and Yahoo 51%.  Quoting from the article "the valuations are, to put it mildly, absurd".  Yeah, sadly, I'm afraid there is still air left in the bubble.  Fasten your seat belts.

BlogShares is a fantasy stock market for weblogs.  Blogs are valued by inbound links.  Cool idea!  This meme will probably burn out, but for a while expect to see this a lot:

Listed on BlogShares

I'm having a hard time getting excited about the final four.  First UCLA didn't even make the tournament.  Then Stanford and Cal were eliminated, and then Arizona.  I have no rooting interest whatsoever in any of the teams.  I have to admit Kansas gave Arizona a great game, but I felt Arizona gave the game away.  I liked watching Marquette against Kentucky, maybe I'll root for them...

If you watched the NCAA tournament this weekend, I sure hope you did it via Tivo.  The number of commercial breaks was unbelievable.  The commercials were definitely targeting the far end of the Bell Curve.  Junk TV.  Yuk.

Finally - today is of course (ta da!) opening day.  Hope springs eternal.  Play Ball!


Monday,  03/31/03  12:34 PM

I, Cringely expounds on the virtues and far reaching consequences of Tivo.  The future of TV: 1) pay-per-view, 2) cheaper production (e.g. "reality" shows), 3) in-band product placements.  Yep.


Monday,  03/31/03  10:21 PM

Sometimes a graph is worth 1,000 words.

Today's "Is Saddam Alive" data point...

Glenn Reynolds makes some great points about why the networks' coverage of the war is so poor.  He cites this link to Tim Blair's great discussion of the missile strike in the Baghdad market as an example of blogger collaboration.  Steven Den Beste also shares some thoughts about embedded reporting.

From Tom's Hardware: Microsoft buys Linux.  Post dated 4/1.

Note to Chris - my opening day went better than yours :)  Nomo pitched a four-hitter as the Dodgers beat Arizona and the Big Unit 8-0.  Yay, baseball.


Return to the archive.

this date in:
About Me

Greatest Hits
Correlation vs. Causality
The Tyranny of Email
Unnatural Selection
On Blame
Try, or Try Not
Books and Wine
Emergent Properties
God and Beauty
Moving Mount Fuji
The Nest
Rock 'n Roll
IQ and Populations
Are You a Bright?
Adding Value
The Joy of Craftsmanship
The Emperor's New Code
Toy Story
The Return of the King
Religion vs IQ
In the Wet
solving bongard problems
visiting Titan
unintelligent design
the nuclear option
estimating in meatspace
second gear
On the Persistence of Bad Design...
Texas chili cookoff
almost famous design and stochastic debugging
may I take your order?
universal healthcare
triple double
New Yorker covers
Death Rider! (da da dum)
how did I get here (Mt.Whitney)?
the Law of Significance
Holiday Inn
Daniel Jacoby's photographs
the first bird
Gödel Escher Bach: Birthday Cantatatata
Father's Day (in pictures)
your cat for my car
Jobsnotes of note
world population map
no joy in Baker
vote smart
exact nonsense
introducing eyesFinder
to space
where are the desktop apps?
still the first bird
electoral fail
progress ratches
2020 explained