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Blind Watchmakings

Monday,  09/01/03  09:33 PM

long-horned beetles
Cerambycidae
from the Insect Company
(click for larger view)

blind watchmakings
Blind Watchmakings
from Richard Dawkins
(click for larger view)

I recently discovered The Insect Company website, which has fascinating photo galleries of beautiful and interesting insects.  [ via Boing Boing ]  An example is shown at right; Cerambycidae are long-horned beetles, and this gallery shows the variations from different countries.  I was awestruck by these wonderful examples of Darwinism in action; for me this was a religious experience.

In paging through these photos, I was reminded of the amazing software Richard Dawkins wrote to accompany his 1986 classic, "The Blind Watchmaker".  (If you have not read this book, then STOP, do not pass go, and immediately order it.  You will thank me.)

Chapter 3, Accumulating Small Change, is an in-depth exploration of a synthetic organism-producer Dawkins developed to try out the ideas behind the book.  This is a Macintosh application which generated "biomorphs", 2D black and white organism-like configurations of pixels which were generated algorithmically from a set of variables ("genes").  From any biomorph "children" are generated by mutating the variables.  You then select which children survive to generate children themselves, and thereby "breed" generation after generation of evolving biomorphs.

{
BTW, I just ran the Mac application again.  This 17-year-old program still runs!  (OSX emulating OSn and PowerPC emulating 68000.)  Pretty nice GUI, despite being black and white, and awesome functionality.
}

An example of biomorphic evolution is shown at right.  Each of these "organisms" differs from the previous by a single mutation in one of the "genes".  The visual similarity to the beetles is profound, and to my mind not coincidental.

There is one big qualitative difference between the beetles and the biomorphs; the beetles are naturally selected, while the biomorphs are not.  In each generation of beetles the fittest survive to have offspring.  The variation among beetles from different countries presumably reflects different environments (food, predators, habitat, weather, etc.).  In each generation of biomorphs the program user performs the selection, using morphological similarity to actual organisms as a measure of "fitness".

{
Or based on visual similarity to some other target; when the book was first published Dawkins offered a $1,000 prize for anyone who could "breed" an image of a chalice, "the Holy Grail".  To his surprise, a Caltech student claimed the prize within a year.  Subsequently a new prize of $1,000 was offered for breeding an image of a human, but this has not to my knowledge been claimed.
}

Biomorphs are generated from sixteen variables ("genes"), each with a range of 20 values ("alleles").  There are thus 16^20 possible biomorphs.  Mimicking biology, one of the genes controls the magnitude of mutation which can occur in one generation (variation in alleles), and another the range (number of genes which mutate).  These genes can of course themselves mutate, so that some biomorph populations are relatively stable from one generation to the next, while another might vary wildly.  The capacity of the program to surprise you from one generation to the next will, er, surprise you.  Fans of Stephen Gould will also note the "hopeful monster" mode, in which an entirely new biomorph is randomly generated!

Great stuff.  What is most amazing is that evolution has resulted in creatures sophisticated enough to generate algorithmic models that mimic evolution!

 

Monday,  09/01/03  11:31 PM

International Space StationI kind of forgot about this, but the International Space Station is still up there, and still manned with one U.S. and one Russian Astronaut.  Since we're not flying shuttles right now, the Russians have been flying up supplies.  Amazing how this went from big news to no news.

Wired: Why Apple is so Tempting.  "Why doesn't some ambitious company with deep pockets and distribution muscle adopt Apple and hold it aloft as the trophy it really is?"  I sure hope someone doesn't buy Apple, despite the temptations; it is a great company the way it is, profitable, innovative, and fun!

Magink billboard"Digital ink" is getting real.  Magink billboards can hold their images for up to 12 years without power.  Wow.  And the mechanism sounds like something from science fiction, "Magink uses tiny helix structures, which don't actually contain any color.  Instead, the helixes, functioning like microscopic machines, can be controlled with electrical currents to make them longer or shorter, acting like tiny prisms, reflecting the bands of the spectrum needed to render the required colors.  When black is needed, the helix is instructed to change its pitch and lie down, allowing light to enter it and reflect the black backing of the display."  Great time to be alive, eh?  [ via Gizmodo ]

Panasonic camcorderCheck out this new camcorder from Panasonic.  Man, is that tiny!  (Perfect for putting in a backpack, and recording from a helmet-cam while mountain biking!)  [ via Gizmodo ]

New Scientist reports Origami Helps Cellphone Camera to Focus.  Great, now we'll have zoomed blurry pictures on everyone's blogs :)

Toyota self-parking PriusOh, and this is cool - Toyota has come out with a self-parking car!  This sounds like science fiction.  "Toyota's new hybrid gasoline-electric Prius sedan uses electrically operated power steering and sensors that help guide the car when reversing into parking spaces."  So if they can do that, they could certainly build a caravan feature, right?

This looks like a great book:  In the Blink of an Eye, by Dr. Andrew Parker.  The Age published an article which reviews the book.  The main idea seems to be that the evolution of the eye triggered the Cambrian explosion.  I've ordered it, stay tuned for my review...  [ via razib ]

Interestingly, the development of the eye is often cited by critics of evolution by natural selection; the argument being, essentially, "of what use is half an eye".  (Richard Dawkins answers this objection convincingly in Climbing Mount Improbable.)  So here we have another good answer - any light sensitivity at all would have been such a selective advantage in the early Cambrian period that it was immediately adopted!  (Literally "in the blink of an eye"; less than 400,000 generations.)

TidBITS notes:

"Virtual PC 6.1 for Mac will not work on Apple's new Power Mac G5.  Unlike the PowerPC G3 and G4 chips, the PowerPC G5 processor does not support a feature known as pseudo little-endian mode, which Virtual PC uses to emulate a Pentium processor. Microsoft is reportedly working on a fix, but it requires significant engineering work, and no time frame has been given."

Ha!  Back in a previous life I coded a simulator for the IBM Series/1, which was big-endian, to run on the DEC VAX, a little-endian machine.  Handling the cross-endian data representation was a major difficulty which we finally evolved an elegant solution to handle.  Ironically the simulator ended up running on the IBM PowerPC, which was also big-endian, but the simulator could have been compiled to run on anything.  Perhaps I should offer my services to Microsoft :)

P.S. Somehow a version I compiled for the Mac got out onto the 'net.  I love the description :)

Can you image the reaction someone from fifty years ago would have to reading my 'blog?  Every day there's all this amazing stuff, and it all feels like stuff from the future, but it is here now!  Heck, even someone from ten years ago would be amazed!  (Makes you wonder what a 'blog from ten years into the future would look like :)

 

Tuesday,  09/02/03  10:59 PM

Have you had your fill of stories about the horrors of North Korea?  Or are you, like me, drawn to this incredible train wreck of incompetent governing?  Koreans are among the most intelligent and productive people on earth (average IQ 105), and South Korea is a triumph of capitalism (per capita GNP $9,700).  But as this Q&A with Philip Gourevitch illustrates, North Korea is a disaster.  And a dangerous one...

Sometimes you read things that have lots of facts, or contain a lot of great analysis, and you feel informed by them.  Other times you read things which just make you think.  In the latter category I came across a wonderful article by Katherine Boo in the print version of the New Yorker called The Marriage Cure.  Fortunately for you, I found the same article, sans pictures, on the website of the New American Foundation.  This article chronicles two poor black women in Oklahoma City, where a new project is attempting to teach women how to get and stay married.  The theory is that singleness, and especially single parentness, is a root case of poverty, rather than a consequence.  Really fascinating and thought provoking, I encourage everyone to read it.

VentureStar RLVSpace Review: Is there a business case for RLVs (reusable launch vehicles)?  it all comes down to cost.  Making a launch vehicle which can be recovered and reused is much more expensive, do you get the cost back over time?  The space shuttle is a clear counter-example, and every other attempt to build RLVs has failed.  However, the new model of suborbital RLVs might work, wherein the launch vehicle has two parts, a reusable "airplane" which gets you to the upper atmosphere, and then a non-reusable "rocket" which goes the rest of the way into orbit.  Many of the competitors for the X-prize are using this architecture, including Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne.

The NYTimes has a nice survey of string theory.  I'm not a physicist, but I don't think they're on the right track.  This is just too complicated to be a "theory of everything".  It is kind of like the way physicists used a complicated system of epicycles to explain planetary motion, before Kepler's ellipses.  In the end, W=UH, and string theory is too U.

(click for larger view)
Snapstream screen shot

PVRBlog reviews Snapstream, software which turns your PC into a Tivo-like PVR.  It sounds like this software really works, but I wonder if this category of product will ever replace stand-alone PVRs.  Entertainment on the PC always suffers from the "locality" problem; PCs are in the wrong place in the house for sitting and watching.  I suppose you could stream the video from your PC to your TV over a wireless network.

Sony has introduced a 500GB PVR in Japan.  [ via Gizmodo, and translated via Babelfish ]  Now that's what I'm talking about.  I'd still like an integrated DVD burner for permanent archive.  Actually I think what I'd really like is automated archiving to DVD.  500GB is actually overkill for anyone's current "working set" of recorded video.

And to go with your 500GB PVR, you'll need an Automatic Sports Video Analyzer, software which automatically fast-forwards through the boring parts of a game.  You know, the huddle in football, the interval between pitches in baseball, the long intervals between goals in soccer...  This is going to be big, wait and see.

See, PVRs are just kind of taking over.  In ten years we'll have fond reminiscence of VHS the way we currently remember 8-track tapes.  (You do remember 8-tracks, don't you? :)

Gateway 46-inch plasma TVOh, and to view your PVRed video, you'll need a large plasma TV, right?  Gateway now has a 46-inch model for $3,800.  That's still too small and too expensive, but we're getting there...  (In the user comments on CNet, someone wrote, "The viewing could be better in dark areas and for regular broadcasts, but what can I expect for $3,799?"  Ha ha ha.)

Wrapping up today's home entertainment news, About.com has a nice roundup of ten DVD recorders.  My only quibble is that they lay too much stress on recording format flexibility.  As I noted in my Sharp DVD recorder review, all DVD recorders are compatible with each other and with ordinary DVD players, as long as you write "vanilla" DVDs.

BW article: Music Pirates, You're Sunk.  "The recording industry's new onslaught against individual file traders won't win it any friends, but it sure seems to be working."  After reading the article I disagree with the "it sure seems to be working".  There is no evidence that consumers are buying more CDs in stores as a result of this action.  So unless "working" is defined as "consumers disliking the RIAA", it is definitely not working...

Apropos, The Register quotes Forrester: CDs and DVDs are doomed.  "Forrester reckons that a third of all music sales will be made by downloads in the next five years.  It also predicts that almost 15 per cent of films will be viewed by 'on-demand' services such as cable TV rather than by DVD or video by 2005."

Rageboy: The difference between Decoration and Art.  Rageboy is always worth reading - he writes at night when he should be sleeping, and it shows :) - but I pretty much disagree with the point.  I actually would rather visit the Louvre than a monster truck rally.

seamless videowall beforeseamless videowall afterA company called Seamless Display has developed technology for seamlessly combining multiple displays in video walls.  Cool!

Doh!  Man steals GPS tracking device.  Now that's stupid.

 

(new yorker, 9/1/03)

Wednesday,  09/03/03  06:16 PM

turtle astronomer

 

SES and IQ heritability

Thursday,  09/04/03  08:35 AM

Back-to-school pop quiz:  Why do poor children, and especially black poor children, score lower on average than their middle-class and white counterparts on IQ tests and other measures of cognitive performance?

That's the lead question in a Washington Post article about a new study by researchers at the University of Virginia.  This study appears to show that IQ heritability varies significantly with socioeconomic status (SES):

Until recently, [lead researcher Eric] Turkheimer and others said, research had indicated that the "heritability" of IQ - that is, the degree to which genes can explain the differences in IQ scores - completely dominated environmental influences.

But it turned out that virtually all those studies on the heritability of IQ had been done on middle-class and wealthy families.  Only when Turkheimer tested that assumption in a population of poor and mostly black children did it become clear that, in fact, the influence of genes on IQ was significantly lower in conditions of poverty, where environmental deficits overwhelm genetic potential.

Specifically, the heritability of IQ at the low end of the wealth spectrum was just 0.10 on a scale of zero to one, while it was 0.72 for families of high socioeconomic status.

The study itself used 320 pairs of twins.  Twin studies are great for this kind of research, because comparing the correlation of IQ between identical twins, which share environment and genes, with fraternal twins, which share environment but not genes, allows the degree of heritability to be accurately determined.

This would be a very important finding if true - and would go a long way toward explaining the surprisingly low average IQs of many third-world countries (see IQ and Populations for more).  It would also give hope to those who feel improving living conditions in poor countries would enable them to become competitive in the global workforce.

However, it is worth pointing out that this study contradicts earlier studies looking for the same thing.  The WP article mentions Robert Plomin, a behavioral geneticist with the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College of London, who has been seeking genes linked specifically to intelligence.  Plomin said his own unpublished work involving 4,000 pairs of twins has not produced the same results as Turkheimer's.  Similarly, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth study famously used as the basis for many of the conclusions drawn in Richard Herrnstein's and Charles Murray's classic book The Bell Curve did not find these correlations, despite specific efforts to correlate SES with IQ.

The U of V study does differ from other work in one important aspect.  Instead of seeking correlation between SES and IQ directly, the researchers were seeking correlation between SES and the heritability of IQ.  Why is this different?

Well, if SES and IQ correlate, and IQ is substantially heritable, then it implies that poor populations are stuck in a sort of vicious circle.  Their poorness implies low average IQ, and their low average IQ implies a low average IQ among their children, which in turn implies their children will be poor.  (That's an over-simplification, but first-order this is the result.)  That's a pretty tough circle to exit, especially if the poor populations also have a higher-than-average birthrate.

On the other hand, if SES and heritability of IQ correlate, then in poor populations IQ is not significantly heritable (the heritability figure of 0.10 means essentially there is no correlation from one generation to the next).  This would break the vicious circle.  Poor populations might indeed have a low average IQ, but their children need not if their socioeconomic conditions are improved.  This conclusion supports efforts such as Project Head Start, which attempts to improve the lot of poor young children by giving them food, books, and exposure to positive learning environments.

Despite this hopeful conclusion, it should be noted that studies which have attempted to validate the effect of Project Head Start have invariably suggested it is not helpful.  But again, these studies have measured correlation to IQ, not correlation to heritability of IQ.

As the article indicates, this research suggests a fruitful avenue for future study:

The next big challenge is to find out what it is about socioeconomic status - a measure that includes not only income but also parental education and occupational status - that contributes to [heritability of ] IQ, so social programs can more effectively boost those factors.

The WP article is balanced and well worth a read.  I'm going to try to get the study itself to learn more...

 


© 2003-2014 Ole Eichhorn

 

Thursday,  09/04/03  11:00 PM

BW: Time for Apple to Spread the Beat.  Encouragement, if any were needed, for Apple to proceed with the Windows version of their online music store...

You all know I'm an America's Cup aficionado.  Well, as benefits the most expensive sport on earth, Forbes has an article about the state of play: Sailing for the Gold.  The next cup will most likely be in the summer of 2007, at either Lisbon or Marseilles.  Sounds like a terrific excuse for a trip to Europe :)

Burning Man 2003Xeni Jardin attending Burning Man 2003, and filed this report, and posted these pictures.  Yeah, you want to know, What is Burning Man?  "Trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind."  Oh.

Time did a recent cover on What's Next, which features What's Always Next?  Interestingly, many of these innovations which were predicted but never came to pass are now on the cusp of reality:

  • Videophones.  Look at all the cell phones with cameras.  Think video conferencing won't happen?
  • A Moon colony.  Okay, this is a little farfetched.  Still, I expect to see one in my lifetime.
  • Food in pills.  Well, it's here, but it just isn't quite as fun as a nice steak.
  • Cars that drive themselves.  Pretty darn close.
  • Jet packs.  This one is pretty far out there.  May never happen.
  • Moving sidewalks.  Probably not, but how about Segways :)

Gibbs AquadaI'll be the one-millionth blogger to link this: The Ultimate Boy's Toy.  The Gibbs Aquada is a 100mph car which is also a 30mph boat.  Yeah, everyone wants one - but it's $200,000...

Sony Ericsson bluetooth carA little more affordable is this car from Sony Ericsson, which you can control with your bluetooth cellphone.

This is terrific!  CheeseburgerBrown on Traffic Zoology.  You've got to love any article about traffic which starts by quoting Richard Dawkins.  I can't do it justice here, please just read it.  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

This brings to mind one of my favorite passages from Godel, Escher, Bach, which remains my favorite book ever, in which Douglas Hofstadter invents a character named Aunt Hillary, a self-conscious ant- hill.  The underlying idea is that at one level an ant-hill is a bunch of ants running around, seemingly without purpose, while at a higher level they are best regarded as a single organism.  Way cool.

Maybe someday we really will have Moon colonies, and travel to Mars also.  In which case you might need The Traveler's Guide to Mars.  In the meantime you might read it just because it is a great overview of Mars, including the exploration history, the likely geologic evolution of the planet, and [of course] interesting places to visit while you're there.

Haight Speech: Depriving the Third World of Flush Toilets.  It sounds like a headline from the Onion, but this is serious, as is the International Dry-Toilet Conference.  And no, I am not making this up.

From Adam Curry: We take our soccer seriously in Holland.  A hilarious short movie.

That's all for now... more later.  Because I'm ready for some football!

 

Saturday,  09/06/03  08:51 PM

Think Google isn't broken with respect to weblogs?  Try searching for "Arnold Oui".  Yep, that's me.  Very odd.  Meanwhile, it's all happening...

Stefan Sharkansky: Iraq is safer for some than Washington, D.C.  "In other words, a young black male soldier from Washington DC would have been 36% more likely to die by staying at home than by serving in active duty in the Iraq war, and almost twice as likely to be murdered at home than to be killed in combat."  Wow.  Great point.

Want to know what's really happening in Iraq?  Ask our soldiers.  Here's the story from one returning marine...

Question:  Why do "the media" apparently have a different view?
Answer:  Because they have a different agenda.  Sigh.

I like it: The true meaning of "first class".  Read it and feel good.

Just in case you thought there was any chance I wasn't going to vote to recall Gray Davis, let me assure you I will.  With his pandering vote to give illegal immigrants driver's licenses, he has proved beyond any doubt that he stands for nothing.  I can handle a politician who takes positions I disagree with, but I can't handle a politician who doesn't take any position at all.  What a joke.

Oh, Howard Dean is supporting Davis.  So just in case you thought there was any chance I would vote for support Howard Dean, let me assure you I won't.

Dave Winer: Howard Dean is not the rising tide.  He is a boat.  More like a cork.

URU screen shotThis is important news.  There's a new website for URU, the next installment in the Myst saga (Myst, Riven, Exile).  I'm not a gamer, but I love these adventures, and I can't wait.  "It is scheduled to launch for Holiday 2003."  Check out the site, plenty of screen shots.

And in other important news, here's a review of the Treo 600.  "The Treo 600 will be the device to beat, from the integrated PDA/phone perspective."  I want one.  Now.

BW: Tooling Around in Teutonic Technocars.  "My test BMW also had Adaptive Cruise Control, an advanced feature that soon will be standard on luxury cars.  It's similar to conventional cruise control, except that the car "watches" the traffic ahead via sensors.  You not only set your cruising speed but also how far you want to stay behind the cars in front."  Hey, it's "caravan mode".  They did it!  [ part of a series, "21st Century Cars Hit the Road" ]

librarian action figureAnd here we have the Librarian Action Figure, featuring "push button shushing action".  No, I am not making this up.  But I love it...

Elevator Moods.  Cool,  Check it out!

MyTinyGarden.com.  Some of the best bug closeups ever.  And some great Flash...

From ABCNews: Elephants in the Sky.  Ever wonder how much a cloud weighs?  A little white puffy cumulous weighs about 550 tons!  (or about 100 elephants.)  I bet you could win a bar bet on that one.  In the right bar :)

IBM Linux kidIBM is running a new series of ads about Linux.  They have a ten year old boy personifying Linux, while all these great and wise people tell him stuff.  So, I watched this ad, and I didn't get it.  I guess it is cool that IBM is promoting Linux, but this doesn't click for me.

Did you see this?  George Hotelling bought a song from the Apple Music Store, then tried to sell it on eBay.  He was trying to see if he truly "owned" the song, but eBay cancelled the auction (they have a policy against selling anything which can be downloaded online).  Fascinating.

I wonder what would have happened if he'd burned it onto a CD, and tried to sell that?

Forbes reports TVs Join the Wireless Grid.  New plasma TVs with build-in WiFi.  Excellent.  I believe broadcast TV is going to follow big music onto the dustbin of history.

CNet chronicles Universal Music's decision to cut their prices.  Prediction: This will increase music store volume numbers by a lot.  But it won't increase revenue...

Of course, this has everything to do with the plummeting volumes of CD sales.  Supply and demand, baby.  The RIAA membership are so very very dead.  First they neglect new distribution channels (online), then they piss off and sue their customers, and then they complain when they have to drop prices to boost sales.  Someday this will be a textbook case of how to destroy a market.

Philip Greenspun comments: Music CDs are dead, why did it take so long?

Meanwhile Sony is planning to launch their own music service.  Makes sense.  Of course, if they only sell Sony music, it won't be as cool as Apple's or BuyMusic's, and if they sell "everything" they'll be helping their competition.  In other words, producers have trouble being distributors.

Also Apropos, Kevin Marks notes DRM destroys value.  "If the labels succeed in making iTMS Windows stricter it will sell fewer songs."  (iTMS = iTunes Music Store.)  Yep.

And the dog that hasn't barked?  Napster.  Their little flash movies are all very exciting, but where's the beef?  They've been dead for three years now.  Last December Roxio bought the Napster brand, but they've done nothing with it.  Then last May Roxio bought Pressplay, and we all thought it would be re-branded as Napster, but not so far...

Hummer Les Paul guitarThe Hummer Les Paul guitar.  I wish I was making this up, but I'm not.  Is nothing sacred?  [ via Ottmar Liebert ]

errupting volcanoYou know I'm a fan of Quicktime VR.  Here's some great pics of Piton de la Fournaise, an erupting volcano.  Way cool.  [ via Xeni Jardin ]

Hey, even Samuel Pepys has a 'blog!  Only 400 years out of date :)

If you're looking for other cool blogs, check out the 50th Carnival of the Vanities.  My pick: Steven Silver didn't think much of the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.  (Can something jump the shark if it was always crappy?)

 

Sunday,  09/07/03  08:38 AM

Good Morning!  The Ole filter makes another pass...

Galileo spacecraftThe New Yorker has a nice review of Galileo, the spacecraft which has been orbiting Jupiter for the past eight years.  On September 21 it will plummet into the planet, having finally used up its fuel.  This mission shows space ingenuity at its finest, at many points scientists had to redesign the mission and reconfigure software to work around problems, but ultimately it was an extremely valuable scientific probe.

The Economist surveys the European software patent situation: A Clicking Bomb.  Interestingly they contrast the proposed legislation in Europe with the existing legislation in American.  They note [correctly] that if the European protections are weaker than those in the U.S., it will cause innovators to move to the U.S.  So unfortunately the U.S. is setting the pace for the world.

You know what I think - all patents are bad.  There just isn't really any such thing as intellectual property.

Tom Coates: (Weblogs and) The Mass Amateurisation of (Nearly) Everything.  "Mass-amateurisation is EVERYWHERE...  Fundamentally it's because the gap between what can be accomplished at home and what can be accomplished in a work environment has narrowed dramatically over the last ten to fifteen years."  This is really true - writing, photography, music, video - you name it, the professionals no longer have the technological barrier to entry over amateurs that they once had.

baby loggerhead turtleDepartment of unintended consequences: Turtles lured to disco death in Greece.  "Environmentalists say that loggerhead turtles scramble out at night from eggs in the sand and instinctively head for the brightest horizon - normally the white foam of waves under the stars.  But neon lights from discos and cafes along the back of the beach are often fatally brighter."  Poor little guys.

BUG yellow piece in trafficThe Big Urban Game (BUG) is a citywide game that turns the Twin Cities into a 108-square mile giant game board.  "Three teams race three giant (26 feet high) inflatable game pieces -- Red, Yellow and Blue -- from three different starting points along three different routes between checkpoints in Minneapolis and St. Paul to a shared destination at the west end of the Lake Street/Marshall Street bridge."  Looks really cool (pictures here).

I'm trying X1, a new desktop application which searches your files and email.  The promise of finding files or email fast is great - Outlook's search takes forever - but so far it seems to be a victim of "creeping featurism".  It hate it when a tool you use for function A tries to take over your desktop and do X, Y, and Z, too.  (RealPlayer is like that.)  Stay tuned for the verdict...

 

Ode to my Car

Monday,  09/08/03  09:48 PM

I have a 12-year old Lexus Coupe, and I love it!  Really really.

I was thinking about this today, because I was listening to rock music (coding, of course), and every other song I wanted to run out to my car and crank it.  Somehow my computer speakers just don't do Def Leppard justice.  (GUNTER GLIEBEN GLAUTEN GLOBEN means "reach for the volume knob" :)  The Nakamichi sound system in old Lexus coupes is probably the best sounding stereo ever shipped as "stock".  It has a great cassette deck, which is important because that's how my iPod connects.  The speakers are awesome, and you can turn the volume all the way up - pegged - with no clipping, no distortion, nothing.  When I first got my car people used to ask "how powerful is it?", and I answered "280 watts!" 

{Note: newer Lexus coupes have a Mark Levinson system which is noteven as good.  For those of you with a new Lexus, sorry.}

That led to me reflect on recent new cars I've found interesting.  With a 12-year old car, 177,000 miles, you think about these things.  The Jaguar coupe is beautiful.  The new Mazda RX-8 is excellent (love rotary engines).  That Audio TT with the funky continuous transmission is way cool.  And of course there's the BMW Alpina (A Z4 with a V8!)  I'm sure they're all wonderful cars, but do I really want a new car?

No.

I love my car.  It is nice looking, it has a very comfortable interior, it kicks serious butt off the line (0-60 in 7s), it goes faster than I do, it rides great, it handles wonderfully, and basically nothing has ever gone wrong with it...  and oh did I mention the stereo?

 

Monday,  09/08/03  10:25 PM

Today Shirley and I both received nice things in the mail - she got some beautiful serving bowls, and I got a half-case of great wine.  These things were similar in that they were both Italian, not French.  Shirley has given up ordering French bowls, and I've given up ordering French wine.  No loss.

Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco{By the way, thanks Ottmar for recommending Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco.  It was terrific!}

So, what's happening?  Well...

So what did you think of Bush's speech?  Do you think we should spend another $87B to fight terrorism?  My thoughts - we have to.  Next Thursday is the second anniversary of 9/11, and that cost a lot, in lives as well as money.  We can't afford to be passive.

Quote of the Day, from Winston Churchill:  "I see it said that leaders should keep their ears to the ground.  All I can say is that the British nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture."

In the wake of Mahmoud Abbas' resignation and an escalation of violence by both Israelis and Palestinians, the WP says "Ditch the Road Map, Just Get There, Already."  Interesting suggestions.  [ via Tim Bray, who also posted The Road Map itself ]

This is excellent: Glenn Sacks on The Daddy Tax.  [ via Glenn Reynolds ]

I'm sure you saw this - today Apple announced new iMac models, and larger iPods.  40GB for music?  Well, maybe.  But 40GB for video?  Yeah, baby!  You know that's where they're going...

Speaking of where Apple is going, the iTunes Music Store (iTMS) just sold its 10 millionth song.  (Appropriately, it was "Complicated", by Avril Lavigne.)  Considering iTMS is only for Mac users at the moment, that's quite a milestone.

Tabula PC: Why Apple is Cool and the Tablet PC is Not.  "Right now, the majority of Tablet PCs are downright fugly."  I'm not sure they nail the "why", but they definitely nail the "what".  Tablet PCs are not cool and I don't know why.  Someday someone will make a cool Tablet - maybe Apple - and we'll all look at it and say "oooh, coool!".

Sony DVD camcorderSony just announced a camcorder which burns video direct to DVD.  It looks a bit big.  I'm not sure this is the technology combination of the future.

Nokia future cellphoneThe future of cell phones, as envisioned by various manufacturers.  They all seem to involve video, that's clearly the Next Big Thing.  Excellent!

boomless supersonic jetSpaceflight Now has a story about a NASA program to develop a supersonic jet which doesn't cause sonic booms.  "The team was confident the design would work, but field measurements of sonic booms are notoriously difficult.  We were all blown away by the clarity of what we measured."  Now that's cool.

Hey, Google loves me!  For some reason, the number of search hits I've gotten today is about three times higher than average.  It started with the weird "Arnold Oui" thing (I am still the #1 result if you search for "Arnold Oui"), but now all sorts of stuff is pointing to me.  Whatever!

 

Brain Candy

Monday,  09/08/03  11:23 PM

Check these out.  Man.  Is this brain candy, or what?  [ via Xeni Jardin ]  (So, how do people come up with these things, anyway?)

crawling snakes illusion

 

Light Reading

Tuesday,  09/09/03  07:28 PM

At the moment I am reading three different books, all great, and I want to share them with you.  Well, to be specific I am not actually reading any of them right now, I'm typing, but you know what I mean.

In the Blink of an EyeFirst up we haveIn the Blink of an Eye, by Andrew Parker.  This is a fantastic presentation of Parker's theories about the Cambrian explosion.  First he explains that all the animal phyla currently on earth actually evolved before the Cambrian period (about 525M years ago).  The "explosion" was actually a sudden evolution of "hard" parts by animals in many different phyla, with a consequent huge increase in the number of species.  He suggests this evolution was triggered by the strong selective pressure caused by the development of eyes, which made predators suddenly more effective.  In the process he takes us through a wonderful tour of the history of life on Earth, spiced with delightful anecdotes about ancient animals and the humans who tried to figure them out.  Parker doesn't write very well - he is a scientist, not a novelist - but the overall effect is charming rather than deterring, and his style doesn't get in the way of the facts.  You can tell he had to really work to avoid diving into too much scientific detail, but he made it.  (He also an Aussie, and that comes through in his style, too; I can just about hear his accent...)  There are also lots of great diagrams of animals and their various strategies for survival.  Highly recommended.

A Short History of Nearly EverythingNext we have A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson.  Where Parker is a scientist but not a great writer, Bryson is a great writer but not a scientist.  Rather than struggling to contain the level of detail, Bryson works hard to avoid too shallow a treatment, but his wonderful folksy style and thorough research make the book work.  This book is essentially a tour through the development of the universe, picking up as many random facts about as many physical things as possible.  Bryson takes a delight not only in the facts themselves, but in the intricate chains of reasoning required to find them, and the people who did the finding.  Means of quantification are particularly treasured (e.g. just how hot is the center of the Earth, and how do we know?)  I'm enjoying this book a lot, Bryson's obvious enthusiasm carries me along even when the subject matter gets a bit dry.

I am actually reading this as an e-book, using Microsoft Reader; the first time I have ever done so.  Overall I don't like the on-screen reading experience as much as a "real" book (it is tough to take my monitor into the bathroom), but the software works and I found myself basically disappearing into the book.  This is the wave of the future, we just need better reading devices...

A Traveler's Guide to MarsFinally we have A Traveler's Guide to Mars, by William Hartmann.  This is really three books in one, deftly woven together.  First there's a data dump of everything which is known about Mars, including the history of what we knew and when we knew it (and why).  There are tons of great maps and photographs, including many in full color from the recent Mars Global Surveyor Spacecraft mission.  Second there is a whimsical series of sidebars patterned on a standard travelogue; "What to Wear: Martian Weather", "Telling Time on Mars", "How Ice Behaves on Mars", etc.  These are great because they really emphasize the differences between Earth and Mars, and ironically make the possibility of near-term human landings on Mars seem less remote.  Finally there is Hartmann's personal series of anecdotes ("My Martian Chronicles"); in addition to livening up the story, they give him a real sense of authority.  I'm enjoying this book on two levels, first, I am learning a lot about Mars, and second, I am excited by the prospect of human planetary travel.  As Hartmann says, viewing the Earth from Mars makes you realize that with all our cultural differences and problems, we're one species alone in a vast universe.  Inter-planetary travel may ultimately be our greatest accomplishment.

 

Tuesday,  09/09/03  09:15 PM

The Ole filter in action...

I can't even believe this, France Heat Wave Death Toll at 15,000.  Wow.  "The heat wave brought suffocating temperatures of up to 104 Fahrenheit in the first two weeks of August in a country where air conditioning is rare.  The high death toll has triggered an angry debate in France over shortcomings of the health system.  The French lifestyle has also come under scrutiny, since some of the elderly victims died alone in their homes while families were away on lengthy August vacations."

I don't mean to make light of this, at all, but it sure puts the 337 American military deaths in Iraq in perspective.

Also for comparison, SARS killed about 800 people worldwide.  (And on that front, get ready for round two...)

And finally, about 2,800 people died in the World Trade Center attacks.

X keyboardHere's an interesting keyboard - currently being auctioned on eBay - where every key is the letter "X".  Handy for practicing your touch typing skills.  Reminds me of that "pirate" keyboard with only "R"s...  [ via Xeni Jardin, of course :) ]

No Joy in Sunville...  Sun co-founder Bill Joy is leaving after 21 years.  Is this a super successful techie looking for his next challenge, or a rat leaving a sinking ship?  Or both.

You've no doubt read about the 261 people the RIAA have sued, alleging copyright infringement.  Well, guess what?  According to this article on Wired, in the seven weeks since the RIAA launched its legal campaign against file trading, CD sales have declined 54%.  Now that's what I call a successful strategy!  [ via Bigwig ]

So Disney is going to start selling "disposable" DVDs.  They're wrapped in an airtight package, and upon exposure to oxygen they self-destruct over about 48 hours.  In other words, you have two days to make a copy.  The price will be about $5, low enough to encourage some people to buy them in lieu of "permanent" DVDs (which are typically around $20), but too high to discourage online file sharing.  (And higher than Netflix per-DVD rental fee.)  [ via Mark Frauenfelder ]

 

Are You a Bright?

Wednesday,  09/10/03  10:20 PM

Are you a bright?  Do you know what the question is asking? 

A Bright is a person who has a naturalistic worldview

These days "bright" is like "gay", an ordinary noun pressed into service to paper over an earlier, less-flattering term.  Being a gay sounds better than being a homosexual, more normal, less scientific, more acceptable.  And being a bright sounds better than being an atheist or agnostic for the same reasons.  A significant number of people are coming "out of the closet" and admitting they are brights.

Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are brights.  They just happen to be two of my very favorite authors, philosophers, avowed Darwinists, and opposed to mysticism in any form.

Dawkins: "Brights constitute 60% of American scientists, and a stunning 93% of those scientists good enough to be elected to the elite National Academy of Sciences (equivalent to Fellows of the Royal Society) are brights.  Look on the bright side: though at present they can't admit it and get elected, the US Congress must be full of closet brights.  As with gays, the more brights come out, the easier it will be for yet more brights to do so. People reluctant to use the word atheist might be happy to come out as a bright."

Dennett: "If you're a bright, what can you do?  First, we can be a powerful force in American political life if we simply identify ourselves.  (The founding brights maintain a Web site on which you can stand up and be counted.)  I appreciate, however, that while coming out of the closet was easy for an academic like me - or for my colleague Richard Dawkins, who has issued a similar call in England - in some parts of the country admitting you're a bright could lead to social calamity.  So please: no 'outing'."

Yeah, I'm a bright.  I believe in a naturalistic world view.  I believe everything can be explained rationally, logically, and scientifically, without resort to "magic".  (Arthur C. Clarke famously noted "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".  I would add, "any sufficiently complex scientific process is indistinguishable from magic".)  I am excited by science, the relentless pursuit of truth, piling fact upon fact, testing hypothesis, gradually revealing underlying simplicity, building understanding.

So, I'm a bright.  Does this mean I don't believe in God?  The quick answer is no, it doesn't mean that.  The slow answer is a question; "what do you mean by God"?  If you mean a Judeo-Christian God, no, I don't believe in that God.  If you mean a Muslim Allah, or the concept of Buddha, no, sorry, not for me.  Those Gods are concepts invented by people thousands of years ago to explain the unexplainable.  My world view doesn't require a God to explain anything.  But my world view does have room for spirituality, for feelings, for emotion.  For beauty.  For symmetry.  For simplicity and elegance.  For science.  That is my god (and it doesn't require a capital letter, either).

For some, replacing an all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing, all-everything deity with "mere" science is horrible.  That's okay, I don't ask anyone to think as I do, and I can accept that your reality (as perceived by you) is different from my reality.  But for me, I can't imagine anything more beautiful.

 

 

Never Forget

Thursday,  09/11/03  05:24 AM

9/11/01 - World Trade Center

9/11/01

 

Friday,  09/12/03  08:38 AM

More active filtering...

David Letterman: "It's getting ugly out there.  The governor, the recall Governor, Gray Davis, was making fun of Arnold Schwarzenegger's accent.  He said if you want to be governor of California, you have to be able to pronounce it.  And so, this upset Arnold, and Arnold said to be governor of California, you should be able to govern it."  Yep.

Robert Scoble has an interesting perspective on 9/11/01.  "Wow how has life changed in just those short two years for me.  Car wreck.  Divorce.  Move.  Ship Radio.  Grandma died.  Lay myself off from UserLand.  Get job at NEC.  Engagement to Maryam.  Wedding.  Move.  Get job at Microsoft.  Move.  Whew."  I moved and changed jobs in the last two years, too.  Two years can be a long time...

The other day I noted Bill Joy's departure from Sun, the company he co-founded and led as a technical visionary for many years.  It reminded me of Bill's controversial and thought-provoking Wired cover story from 2000: Why the Future Doesn't Need Us.  "From the moment I became involved in the creation of new technologies, their ethical dimensions have concerned me, but it was only in the autumn of 1998 that I became anxiously aware of how great are the dangers facing us in the 21st century."  I think he overstates the problem, but he makes a good point.  If you haven't read it - or haven't read it for a while - check it out...

Treo 600Important news, apparently Orange is launching the Treo 600 in Britain next week!  Does this mean the U.S. launch is imminent?  Who knows - I hope so.

So, I signed up for Vonage!  This is a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service that lets you use your broadband Internet connection as a 'phone line.  A little back of the envelope figuring convinced me this could save us some serious money.  Stay tuned for my review...

Vint Cerf, one of the original architects of the Internet, hears VoIP calling.

Here's another way to use your Internet connection for voice - Skype.  They offer a P2P voice chat service.  Maybe there will finally be a reason to have a microphone on my computer?  [ via John Robb, who says it works great. ]

Sharp 3D laptopSharp is going to start selling their 3D laptop.  "The computer display produces 3-D images by sending a slightly different image to the right eye and the left eye at once by bending them in different angles, according to Sharp.  The special screen has applications in architecture, medicine, science and gaming."  Yeah, applications in medicine.  I can see Aperio's virtual slide images being displayed in 3D.  COOL.

Think movies aren't going the way of music?  DVD recorders are flying off the shelves, and blank DVDs are now under $2 each.  Yeah, people are just burning old episodes of I Love Lucy...

Sony memory stick PVRSony has announced a PVR which records video on memory sticks, intended to be played back on their Clie PDAs.  Yet another way to watch I Love Lucy.

Wired: BigChampagne is watching you.  And big music is hiring them to do it...  (Note: this is "watching you" in the Tivo sense of watching what users in aggregate are doing, not watching you in the sense of watching you.)  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

Andrew Anker ponders Tivo's first-mover disadvantage.  "Tivo suffers from a great entrepreneurial problem - it's a feature, not a product."  I don't know about that.  Almost any product can be a feature of a more complicated product.

Mari Cha IVMessing about in boats dept: Please check out the Mari Cha IV, the world's largest racing yacht, 140' long.  This is about twice as long as the America's Cup boats, which means everything is about eight times as big.  (And probably at least eight times as expensive.)  Wow.

Blogger is going back to free!  Now that they're part of Google, they are no longer going to charge for their Blogger Pro service.  If you've ever thought about starting a blog but didn't know what or how, this is your chance.  See you online :)

USB noodle strainerAnd here we have a USB-attached noodle strainer.  The uses for this boggle the mind.  I am not making this up.  Really.  [ via Gizmodo ]

 

Saturday,  09/13/03  10:46 PM

MedScape: Visualization Tools in Clinical Medicine.  "The practice of clinical medicine relies heavily on pattern recognition -- the ability to recognize patterns in the presentation of patient data and thereby formulate a diagnosis."  Automating that pattern recognition is what I do :)

Humans are unbelievable pattern recognizers.  Want to see yourself in action?

"Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, olny taht the first and last ltteres are at the rghit pcleas. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can still raed it wouthit a porbelm. This is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by ilstef, but the wrod as a wlohe."  [ via Joi Ito ]

Impressive, eh?  We do the same thing with pictures, only more so.

Viewsonic VP2290bSpeaking of visualizing, John Robb notes the Viewsonic VP2290b.  Features 3840x2400 pels on a 22" wide screen, or 204dpi.  "At 18" away, the human eye can't tell the difference between an image on it and the real thing."  I can visualize myself using one!  Too bad I can't visualize writing a $6,000 check.  But these things always become less expensive...

HeliodisplayAnd visualize this;Introducing Heliodisplay, a projector that displays videos into thin air.  Wow.

The 2nd Annual Space Elevator conference is taking place in Santa Fe.  "A space elevator is a revolutionary way of getting from Earth into space, a ribbon with one end attached to Earth on a floating platform located at the equator and the other end in space beyond geosynchronous orbit (35,800 km altitude)."  Based on an idea from Arthur C. Clarke, who is speaking at the conference.

From Slashdot: "Democrats have just introduced the Space Exploration Act of 2003 to the U.S. House of Representatives; the author is Nick Lampson of Texas, with 26 co-sponsors.  The bill sets a vision and goals for the future of NASA, beyond the Low Earth Orbit of the Space Station and Shuttle, outlining a series of incremental steps for human spaceflight.  These include development of reusable spacecraft for carrying people around in the Earth-Moon vicinity, including to the nearby Lagrange points; sending people to an Earth-crossing asteroid; establishing a lunar base, and sending people to Mars with a base on a Martian moon by 2024."  Man, is this a great time to be alive, or what?

I noted the other day I'm reading A Traveler's Guide to Mars.  Maybe I'll be able to put it to actual use in my lifetime!

A great post on Intelligent Design vs. Evolution, by godless.  "Should we decide whether to teach things because they're 'plausible' to people?  Of course not."  You know where I stand on this...  The biggest argument against ID is that is isn't necessary!  Essentially Occam's Razor.  Natural selection all by it very own self can explain everything.  So why postulate intelligent design?

From Kevin at VentureBlog, Snidely Whiplash And The Liquidation Preference.  I love it.

Clay Shirkey discusses the persistent failure of micropayments in Fame vs. FortuneSo good I probably would have paid $.25 to read it.

Scott McCloud posted this rebuttal.  Not only does he write less well than Clay, he has a weaker point to defend.  Interesting nonetheless...

The main point here is that "free" is qualitatively different from "inexpensive".  I believe this to be observably true.  Look at the vast amounts of work people perform to get "free" music and even more work they perform to get "free" movies.  Music now costs $1/track, and movies can be rented for $2 from Netflix.  But people like free...

Wired: Disney Animates Dalí's Flick.  "In 1946, Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí, in one of cinema's oddest collaborations, teamed up on a short film called Destino.  But Disney's studio ran into financial trouble and put the unfinished film on the shelf.  Now, 57 years later, a team of Disney animators has finished what Dalí started."  This looks wild!

Nokia printable phoneNokia is coming out with a phone that lets you print your very own faceplates.  What a great idea!  Think this won't catch on?  Consider the huge ringtone business...

The 51st Carnival of the Vanities is up, I haven't checked it out yet...  but you should.

Anastasia VolochkovaDo you love ice cream?  I do...  Anyway we're not the only ones: Bolshoi Theater Struggles with 'Heavy' Ballerina.  "Volochkova, who is taller than most ballerinas, admits being partial to ice cream although she opts for the lower-fat option of frozen yogurt.  'I love ice cream so much that I can't imagine life without it,' she said in a statement handed out at the news conference."  I found the picture at left on the web (click for larger pic).  I examined it closely, and she doesn't look too heavy to me :)

 

Monday,  09/15/03  10:12 PM

Steven Den Beste thinks we should keep an eye on this: China Puts Soldiers on North Korea Border.  Could this be the first step in a Chinese occupation of North Korea?  Not a terrible solution, when you think about it.

The IHT wonders Is Online Piracy Unstoppable?  My answer is yes.  "The recording industry's long-running battle against online music piracy has come to resemble one of those "whack-a-mole" arcade games."  Yep.  And... "Already, Hollywood is trying to curb the next frontier, film swapping.  The inevitable advance of technology will make reading on digital tablets more convenient than reading on paper, so the publishers of books, magazines and newspapers have their worries as well."  Yep.  Read it!

I often write as if the film industry is future toast, just as the music industry is past toast.  But as the Denver Post points out via Recording industry missteps the music people have been way dumber than the film people.  Not to say the film industry won't be toast anyway - I mean, free bits...

NYTimes: File-Sharing Battle Leaves Musicians Caught in Middle.  And pissed off.

So do you think Windows Media 9 will be the standard for HDTV?  Maybe....

A new way to distract yourself while coding - glancing.  I can't wait.  [ via Matt Webb ]

i-move	This is cool - a QTVR panorama of the i-move, a new car which has an integrated iPod holder.  Looks like a cute little car, too.

I've actually wondered - while struggling with my analog cassette adapter - why there aren't aftermarket adapters available...

The power of group thinking - the Mind World Map.  Shows how even loosely organized groups can collectively derive knowledge.  Excellent!  [ via Geoff Cohen ]

From space.com - Why Space?  The Ten Top Reasons.  Reason #1 "the lack of a space program could get us all killed.  I don't mean you or me or my wife or children.  I mean that homo sapiens as a species are actually endangered.  A well conceived space program may well be our only hope for long-term survival."  I agree 100%, but I think commercial development is a more promising avenue than federal funding.

Meanwhile, China Nears First Human Space Flight.  "If successful, the mission would make China only the third nation to launch humans into space, after Russia and the United States.  The first taikonaut in space will become a national hero.  The Chinese government believes the feat will be a source of great international prestige and also bring technological and industrial benefits."  (boldface mine.)  Despite what they say publicly, the Chinese are far less concerned with safety than the U.S., which will actually be a benefit.  Right now the U.S. program is stuck in reverse following the Challenger "disaster".

floatation phoneThis is too stupid - a device which let's you make an un-distracted phone call.  As long as you have a warm pool handy.  I am not making this up...

 

Tuesday,  09/16/03  11:42 PM

Watched the Dodgers lose to Arizona tonight.  Phillies had already beaten Florida.  Arg!  This was an important chance to pick up a game and we didn't do it.  Could be the season's turning point.  As usual the Dodger staff only gave up a few runs, and as usual the Dodger batters had trouble scoring themselves.  I tell you it is hard work rooting for this club...

Of course the dogs were, as usual, terrific.

So, did you watch the WNBA finals?  You didn't!  Do you know they were on?  Did you care?  Do you even know what the WNBA is?  Can you spell WNBA?  Nah, I didn't think so.  Try as they might, women's professional sports just can't get traction.  This is fundamental, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the athletes or the entertainment value.  It has to do with the difference between men and women.  Really.

More unnatural selection: In Seattle some idiots have proposed an espresso tax, so people who drink coffee can pay for other people's kids.  Now that's special.  [ via Truth Laid Bear ]

The Boston Globe reports two incomes, one bankruptcy.  "The single biggest predictor that financial failure lies ahead for a family?  Having children.  Even just one of them..."  So the answer is not to have zero kids until you can afford them, the answer is to tax espresso, so society can pay for them instead.  Sigh.

I see TimeWarner is dropping "AOL" from their name.  So be it.  Won't change anything, but it indicates the underlying mindset.

Interesting article on Marketwatch about Friendster, which really seems to be gaining mental traction.  What is the business model?  Don't know - yet.  But there's clearly a "there" there.

And speaking of "there"s, Wired does another 'Tivo revolution' article, The Fast-Forward, On-Demand, Network-Smashing Future of Television.  Interestingly it seems like the real business model to exploit this obviously huge sea change in consumer behavior has yet to materialize.

And one more "there" - skype.  Rhymes with hype, and boy does it have it.  This is a P2P service which enables realtime voice chat.  Apparently it is pretty cool, I need to try it...

This is kind of a funny way to do VoIP.  The more traditional way is services like Vonage, which I've mentioned before, and which also really seems to get getting traction.  Long term I predict the Vonage mechanism will win; people will always use phones rather than computers to make calls.  But the line is getting blurrier...

Craig Wallace with fusion reactorWhat did you do as a college freshman?  Did you make a fusion reactor?  I didn't think so.  Well Craig Wallace apparently did!  Note this is not to be confused with unintentional attempts at chemistry found in many freshman refrigerators.

The 52nd Carnival of the Vanities is up, on its creator Bigwig's site Silflay Hraka, marking the one-year anniversary of this movable feast featuring bloggers from all over.  A great way to meet new blogs, check it out!

15-inch PowerbookApple announced a new 15" Powerbook, to match the Yao/MiniMe 17"/12" models.  It looks really nice (but no more titanium).  They also announced a cordless bluetooth keyboard and mouse.  Now that's the future...

Daring Fireball: IBM Compatible.  Or why 2004 won't be like 1984.

 

Adding Value

Wednesday,  09/17/03  08:42 AM

I saw my good friend Paul last night, and he reinforced something I've been thinking recently.  The most important thing you can do every day is add value.

There's a spectrum of activities you can perform every day.  Some of them are value-neutral - you just do something, and in the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter.  And some of them are value-positive, they actually add value to the world.  These are the things you should do.  And of course, some of them are value-negative, they subtract value from the world.  These are the things you should avoid.

Adding value can be direct - you can create something useful, or fix something which is broken, or find a solution to a problem.  It can also be indirect - you can inspire someone else to do something which creates value

The things you yourself can do to add value are often time-consuming.  Creating something useful is hard; it requires thought, planning, work, iteration, problem-solving, etc.  This takes time.  Fixing something which is broken is hard; it requires the same thought, planning, work, iteration, problem-solving, etc. as creating something useful, and it can be less rewarding.  And time consuming.  ("No good deed goes unpunished.")  Finding solutions can be hard or easy, depending on the problem and your approach.  (W=UH!)  Often solving problems is very time consuming.

{
You could imagine a unit which measures value creation efficiency:

(value created) ÷ (time spent)

This is analogous to "power", the physicist's term for work over time.  I haven't thought of a good word for this, but we need one <your word here>[ Later: "productivity"! ]
}

The things you do indirectly to inspire others are not necessarily time consuming, and they can have a huge leverage.  So motivating others to create value is a really efficient way to add value yourself.

So back to Paul.  He is a smart guy, successful, friendly, and fun to be around.  Paul is full of energy.  People like being around him, and I think one reason is because he readily inspires value creation.  How does he do this?  How do people in general motivate others to create value?

  • Ask good questions.
  • Focus on things which matter.  This means filter things which don't matter.  Don't get distracted by details.
  • Be honest.  Not as in "don't steal", but as in "don't delude yourself".
  • Related to the previous point, accept empirical evidence over theory.  If something is happening, it is what it is, whether you can explain it or not.
  • Understand that different people are good at different things.
  • Be self-aware.  Know what you're good at (and by implication, what you're not good at).

These are all things I'd like to do myself, and being around people like Paul who are good at them is good for me.  I want to create value, and I want to inspire value creation in the people around me.

Of course there is something even more efficient, which is inspiring others to inspire others.  That's why I wrote this :)

 

Wednesday,  09/17/03  10:51 PM

Today I had to find a bunch of historical dates; product releases, customer installs, stuff like that.  It gave me a great chance to put X1 through its paces.  It worked great!  X1 searches your Outlook archive and your local files fast.  As in by the time you finish typing the query, you have the result.  It took a bit to "tame" the program - it tries to do too much when first installed - but overall it is a great tool.

Beluga caviarOkay, this is serious.  New Scientist reports 'Miscalculation' could mean the end of caviar.  "One of the world's most valuable fish could be driven to extinction because an international conservation body has miscalculated how many are left in the wild.  So claim fisheries scientists who are warning that flawed science is behind a decision this month to allow continued fishing of beluga sturgeon."  This is probably not as bad as reported, but I sure hope it doesn't drive up the price of Beluga.  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

This is wonderful: the Fellowship Baptist Creation Science Fair.  "1st Place: Using Prayer To Microevolve Latent Antibiotic Resistance In Bacteria."  Amazingly, from the comments in the guestbook it appears less than half the visitors realize this site is a parody!  [ via Bigwig ]

David Burbridge links an Observer story about the "meteor killed the dinosaurs" theory.  Interesting discussion and good comments in the GNXP thread, too.  My unscholarly opinion is that the meteor theory is not wrong, but not the whole story, either.  But please read and decide for yourself...Handspring treo 600

The Treo 600 is out!  Orange has launched it in Europe.  I want mine NOW.

Handspring keeps sending me emails telling me how great the Treo 600 is going to be.  It pisses me off.  I'm sold already, now let me buy one!

Have you called 1-800-555-TELL yet?  Try it!  [ via Scoble ]

Hey, my Vonage VoIP adapter arrived today!  Just a little Cisco ATA-186.  So I just plug it in and poof, I have a phone!  We'll see - stay tuned.

<nerdy>
I'm going to the Microsoft PDC (the bi-annual professional developer's conference), and there is a PDC meta-blog (of course).  All the pre-conference buzz seems to be about "Indigo", which nobody understands but everyone talks about anyway.  Brain.save() regards the way of the Indigo...
</nerdy>

I hesitate to report this because it is still vaporware, but today Samsung announced it will bring out a line of digital music players which will interface with the "new Napster".  It is being positioned as Apple-like in the pairing of a hardware player with an online service (iPod and iTMS).  I must tell you I am so from Missouri on this - show me the new Napster, and then I'll believe it.

 

Really Moving Mount Fuj

Wednesday,  09/17/03  11:27 PM

So, how would you move Mount Fuji?

That seems to be the question everyone is asking.  A couple of months ago I wrote a little review of "How Would You Move Mount Fuji", a book about technical interview questions written by William Poundstone.  In this review I "solved" several of the puzzles.  Subsequently I posted a discussion about The 21$ Question, and also Revisited the Bridge of the Programmers, then later did More Bridgework, and Even More Bridgework.  Not to mention solving The Two Switches.

So - I periodically monitor the searches people do which lead them to this site, and "Moving Mount Fuji" is one of the most popular.  It would seem that people are looking for the answer, rather than looking for a review of the book.  So I decided to answer the question!  This is one of those questions which doesn't have a "right" answer; basically the interviewer asks the question to see how you think.  Any semi-logical series of assumptions and deductions which leads to a reasonable answer would be good.  Failing to attack the problem at all or giving up would be bad.

In this, it resembles a question I quoted from the book in my review,How many piano tuners are there in the world?  (Here's the answer I gave for that one.)


Mount Fuji

Okay, we want to move Mount Fuji...  So we have to make some assumptions.  First, we have to define what "moving" means.  So let's say we are going to move the entire mountain to Mojave, California.  Hey, it's desert, there's a lot of room out there.

First let's consider the overall technique.  We need a bunch of dynamite to blow up the rock.  Then we need bulldozers to pick up the rock and put it into trucks.  We use the trucks to carry all the rock to the nearest airport, where we have a fleet of 747 cargo jets waiting (and loading equipment).  From there we fly the rock to Mojave, unload it from the planes, transfer it back into trucks, move it into the desert, and dump it.  And we'll need bulldozers to push the rock back into shape.

There is a philosophical question as to whether, having moved all the rock and reshaped it, we still have Mount Fuji.  We certainly have the parts to Mount Fuji, but is the mountain still the mountain after it has been moved in this way?  I'll leave the philosophy alone (for once!) and just say we stipulate up front that moving the parts is equivalent to moving the mountain.

Next we have to figure out how big the mountain is...  Well, I Googled and figured out it is 3,776 meters high (about 13,000 ft.).  I might have guessed about 12,000 ft. without Google because that's about the height of Mt. Whitney (the tallest peak in the California Sierra Nevada range).  The shape of this mountain is nearly a perfect cone, with the width of the base about three times the height.  As you know, the volume of a cone is given by:

(base area * height) / 3 = (πr2 * height) / 3

So this means the volume of Mount Fuji is approximately:

(π * 18,000 * 18,000 * 12,000) / 3 ≈ 4 x 1012 ft3       [ 1/8/14 - thanks for fixing my arithmetic, Jay ]

That's a lot of rock.  Next let's figure out how much this might weigh.  Imagine a rock the size of a cubic foot.  Could you pick it up?  I'd say barely.  It probably would weigh about 100 lbs.  So that means we have a lot of heavy rock to move:

4 x 1012 x 100 lbs = 4 x 1014 lbs = 2 x 109 tons

Cool.  Okay, so how many 747s would we need?  A 747 can carry about 500 people with all their luggage.  The people weigh about 150 lbs on average, and their luggage probably weighs about the same, so we're talking 500 x 300  = 150,000 lbs, or about 75 tons.  Let's say for cargo purposes we could carry 100 tons.  Would that be the limiting factor, or would volume?  Well, if each ton is about 20 cubic feet, then we're talking about 2,000 cubic feet.  That's 10 ft x 10 ft x 20 ft, so clearly the size of the rock would not matter.  (Actually since the rock would be broken up it would take more space, but not that much more.)  We would therefore need 2 x 107 = 20M plane flights.  If we had a fleet of 1,000 planes flying in parallel, and each plane made two flights per day, it would take 10,000 days or around 33 years.

That's a long time, but this is a big project.  Many of the great European cathedrals took over 100 years to build, as did the Great Wall in China and the Great Pyramid in Egypt...

What about trucks?  Well, I'd guess a really big dump truck could haul 25 tons.  (That would be about 5,000 cubic feet, or 10 ft x 10 ft x 50 ft, roughly speaking.)  So we'd need four times as many trucks as planes.  I don't know how close the nearest airport is to Mount Fuji, but let's assume we could make two trips from the mountain to the airport each day (same as plane flights), so we'd need 4,000 trucks.  No problem.  Oh yeah and we'd need about the same number of trucks on the other end, too.

Now, about those bulldozers.  Well, let's say it takes one bulldozer to load one truck.  We assumed the trucks make two trips per day, so now let's assume a trip is really four hours of loading, four hours of driving, and four hours of unloading.  That would give a bulldozer four hours to do the loading, and that seems reasonable.  So pencil in 4,000 bulldozers.  I'm sure there would be some traffic problems with that many bulldozers roaming around the mountain, but we could deal with that.  No worse than the Ventura Freeway at rush hour :)  And as with the trucks we'd need the same number of bulldozers to rebuild the mountain in Mojave.

So, that's how I'd move Mount Fuji into the Mojave desert.  Give me 8,000 bulldozers, 8,000 dump trucks, 1,000 cargo jets, and (of course) the people to man them, and it would take me about 33 years.  No problem.

 

Isabel

Thursday,  09/18/03  08:52 AM

Isabel from space #1   Isabel from space #2

Isabel from the International Space Station.

 

Thursday,  09/18/03  11:52 PM

Wired considers Why Stock Options Still Rule.  "Nothing lures top talent like the chance to get really rich."  It certainly works for me!  But it isn't just luring top talent, it is also motivating your team.  With options everyone thinks and acts like an owner.  That matters.

NPR: Fashion Industry Copes with Knockoffs.  Interesting how in the fashion world it is accepted that "good design" will be copied.  But in the music world, or the video world, or the book publishing world, "good design" is copyrighted, and you get sued for copying.  Hey, it is just information.  Once created, it can be copied infinitely with zero marginal cost.  It is what it is!  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

NYTimes: Music File Sharers Keep Sharing.  "Last week, more than four million Americans used KaZaA, the most popular file-sharing software, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, only about 5 percent fewer than the week before the record industry's lawsuits became big news."  Well, duh - water flows downhill!Handspring Treo 600

Walt Mossberg, the WSJ's personal technology writer, says New Treo 600 Rules.  Best things I learned were that 1) the camera doesn't suck, and 2) the device has been redesigned for one-handed operations.  I am so ready to buy one already...  This article says the Sprint version will launch in mid-October.

Samsung phones with TVSamsung announced two phones with built-in TV!  Interesting...  Next we need phones with built-in Tivo :)

Cablevision is joining the VoIP bandwagon.  Welcome.  This is really a thing; you could believe that within five years many people will not be using phone lines.  Except maybe for DSL...

What do you get when you cross Farrah Fawcett with Dorothy Hamill?  Why Valerie Bertinelli, of course.  At least according to The Feathered Back Hair site.  I am not making this up.

I bet they could join VanityDate.com.  Tagline on the home page: "L.A.Darwinism: Survival of the Prettiest".  I love it.

Finally - I know you were waiting for this - my current favorite tem for "value creation over time" is productivity.  (BTW thanks for all the comments on this, you guys are really adding value...)

 

Vonage works!

Friday,  09/19/03  11:27 AM

Hey, guess what?  Vonage works!

Vonage phone adapter

Here's the Vonage phone adapter;
the gray box stacked on top
of my router and cable modem.
A typical home networking setup...

What is Vonage?  It is a phone service which uses your Internet connection instead of phone lines.  Why is this interesting?  For $40/month you get unlimited calling anywhere in the US and Canada.

You pay a one-time fee of $60, and this little box arrives in the mail.  You plug it into your network, plug any old 'phone into the back of it, and poof!  Dial tone!

Vonage assigns you an ordinary local number for inbound callers (you can even transfer your existing number, but I didn't do this), and includes all the bells and whistles; caller id, call waiting, call forwarding, voicemail, etc.  Very cool.  So far the voice quality seems excellent; there is a slight "digital delay" but no worse than say a digital cell 'phone.

I think this is going to be BIG.  It may be a slight incremental hassle, but the hassle is one-time, and  it saves people money - real money - and that is a significant draw.  Quite different from cool services which provide some value but cost money.  Joe sixpack is going to be all over this.

 

Ottmar!

Saturday,  09/20/03  11:56 AM

Ottmar LiebertI saw Ottmar Liebert last night at the Canyon Club, with ten friends and a half-case of Sammarco.  It actually just doesn't get any better than that.  Truly some serious guitar work, combined with some serious percussion work, too.  Excellent.  The friends and the wine were pretty good, too :)

NouveaumaticI picked up his new album Nouveaumatic - only available at concerts and through his website - and whew, check it out!

Da duh, da da da da duh da duh, ...

 

PDC: Oh, not Oooh

Sunday,  09/21/03  08:17 PM

I'm attending the Microsoft Professional Developer's Conference in October.  The big subject is Longhorn, the next version of Windows after XP, and the underlying technologies.

All the pre-PDC talk about how great everything is and how complicated and how cool and how mystical is scaring me.  (I'm talking about the PDC bloggers and the .NET guys…).  I know a lot of these guys are young and excited, so perhaps it is forgivable, but I hope the older cooler heads will remind them that the purpose of the PDC is to communicate new tools to the developer community so they can use them.  MS is best served by having developers say “oh, that’s easy, I could do that”, rather than saying “oooh, how cool, I wonder if I could ever do that”.  You want people to say “oh”, not “oooh”.

If you look at any technology which targets developers, the adoption rate and ultimate adoption percentage are a function of how easy it was.  HTML was easy, the adoption rate and percentage were very high.  Java was pretty easy, and the early adoption was good, but J2EE is not easy and the later adoption has not been that good.  (Many more people program in Java than build applications using J2EE architecture.)  COM was not easy.  COM+ was not easy.  DCOM was not easy.  So far I have not found .NET to be easy, in fact even just understanding what it is was hard, let alone how you use it.  MS does not have a history of making things easy, and this has hurt them.  The things MS did which were easy were the most successful – look at VB, for example.

In the blogging world, Movable Type is easy.  RSS is easy.  XML-RPC is easy.  Meanwhile RDF and SOAP are not easy, and nobody uses RDF and SOAP.  This Atom thing is going to die a quick death from lack of adoption, because the guys behind it are nerds who don't understand easy.  Dave Winer understands easy, it is his biggest virtue.

My sense is that the attitude of a lot of the MS presenters and attendees at the PDC is not “let’s make this easy”.  Instead it is “let’s show how cool this is” (and by extension how cool we are).  And that isn't going to make for fast adoption.

Why do I care?  I want it to be easy.  I've been programming for thirty years, I can do anything.  But I don't use tools which aren't easy, because I firmly believe W=UH (wrongness = ugliness times hardness), and if something is hard, it is wrong.  Right now Longhorn and all its associated technologies feel hard.  I hope the PDC changes my mind, but I'm not optimistic...

[ Later: considering reactions, More Oh not Oooh... ]

 

Sunday,  09/21/03  08:36 PM

Happy Birthday, Jordan!HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my wonderful daughter Jordan!  Seventeen!!  Yay.


Victor Davis Hanson writes that These Are Historic Times.  Comparing the present day state of America in Afghanistan and Iraq with Lincoln in 1864.  "Our real challenge is not the conduct of the war, not the money, not even the occasionally depressing news from Iraq...  No, it is more a psychosocial malaise, a crisis of confidence that is beginning to creep back into the national mood a mere two years after September 11."  Yep.  Hopefully we'll have the persistence Lincoln did and push through.

Steven Den Beste considers Analyzing the Genome.  "We've disassembled the code of life.  Now we have to reproduce all the comments, and that's a lot harder."  True.  The key is going to be understanding the machine language to which the code is translated - proteins - which will allow the function of each gene to be reverse-engineered.

A NYTimes article on Testing Handicaps considers the possibility of "norming" SAT scores.  This is so wrong, on so many levels, I don't know where to begin.  Why don't we just give SAT tests to monkeys, too, and then if they score higher than the average monkey, we let them attend Stanford?  [ via razib ]

A girl in Oakley, California wants to start a Caucasian Club at her high school.  Heck, why not?  "Darnell Turner, first vice president of the local chapter of the NAACP, says he thinks the club will create racial tension."  Now isn't that the pot calling the kettle black?  [ via Rob Smith ]

Philip Greenspun suggests we Send Our Underclass Overseas.  "Rather than figure out a way to fix inner city schools and turn these folks into productive citizens it is cheaper and easier, apparently, to give the teenager mothers AFDC and collect the young men up into our growing population of prisoners."  I don't think the solution is to send them away, and "fixing" inner city schools won't do it either.  We need to "fix" inner city parents.

This is pretty funny: the Accordion guy's date from hell, part 5.  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

Star Wars IIIPhotography for Star Wars episode III is complete!  Now it's on to an eighteen month post production.  If you're into spoilers, here's a possible early version of the script.  I haven't read it - don't tell me what happens.  Although I must say episode II left me less interested in episode III than I used to be...

An interesting interview with Michael Powell, Chairmen of the FCC.  Lots of good stuff about Tivo.  "How has Tivo changed your life since you got it?  I think there's something going on in the world that's very profound.  We're moving to a world of incredible intimacy in mass media.  I'm my own programmer, not NBC."  Read it.

HP sunglasses cameraYou know how people are buying cell phones with cameras?  Well, here's something even better - sunglasses with a camera built in!  It takes pictures continuously to capture a record of everything you do.  Hmmm...

Intel fastap keyboardA big downside of cell phones is the lack of an alphanumeric keyboard.  Intel might have the answer - the Fastap keyboard.  "The design puts letters of the alphabet on raised buttons that fit between the keys.  Words can be typed by pressing the raised keys, and numbers by pressing the four keys that surround a particular number."

Kineto has a WiFi cell phone - it is "dual band" in a funny way, it can use WiFi and VoIP if available, otherwise a standard GSM or CDMA cell network.  An interesting solution for business users, probably doesn't help consumers in any way, though...  Unless they forgo wired phone altogether, in which case this could be similar to a broadband VoIP solution like Vonage.Sony Vaio video player

By the way, I found out the correct pronunciation of Vonage is von'-aj.

You knew this was coming - a Sony handheld video player.  Billed as a "video iPod".  Plays MPEG2 and [probably] will play DivX, too.  Excellent use for those tiny 40GB hard drives!

Want to see what a new 15" Apple Powerbook looks like inside?  Here you go.

 

Pick a War

Tuesday,  09/23/03  11:35 PM

Halley writes Pick a War, any War.  "Do you really think Bush's economic war on the middle class, is any less lethal than his military war?"  So, I really like Halley, but this is wrong on so many levels I don't know where to start.

First, let’s be clear that the war in Iraq saved lives.  Many.  So far about 400 coalition soldiers have died.  Maybe 10,000 Iraqi soldiers died, and about 2,000 civilians have died in war-related action.  That’s horrible, but before the war over 15,000 people were being killed every month in Iraq.  Not dying, being killed.  So the Iraq war is not lethal.  You don't have to agree with the war or feel that it was worth spending money or lives fighting, but this is a fact.

Second, let’s be clear that the U.S. economy is not killing anyone.  Maybe metaphorically, but hardly in actual fact.  This is a crummy analogy.

Third, Bush hasn't vaporized any jobs.  The economy has done that without any explicit action or lack of action from him.  You know what the biggest thing slowing down our economic recovery has been?  9/11.  Yep, the terrorist attacks did a huge amount of damage to the economy, ask anyone who works for an airline, or a car rental company, or a hotel chain.  Or a software company.  Far more than $87B in damage, in fact, probably close to ten times that much.  Preventing further attacks is a sound investment.  You can argue about whether the investment will pay off – maybe you'd rather invest the $87B in schools, or tax relief, or business stimulation – but you can't argue with the economic logic of trying to prevent further terrorism.

(Oh and by the way, the economy is recovering.  We had this huge bubble, remember, and it popped?  And that surely wasn't Bush’s fault.  The market was already heading for the tank when he took over.)

I first wrote this in an email exchange with Halley.  She disagrees - obviously! - but was respectful about it.  My first email to her was not.  So sorry, Halley, and thanks for being an adult.

 

More Oh not Oooh

Tuesday,  09/23/03  11:41 PM

My Oh not Oooh post made the PDC Bloggers blog, and attracted some comment from James Robertson, Martin SpeddingSteve Maine, Greg Hurlman, among others.

Their comments are all worth reading and I can't do them justice, but I want to reiterate my central point.  Microsoft would be best served by making their new technologies easy to use.  That doesn't seem controversial, does it?

One of the reactions people had to my post was "sorry if it isn't easy, but this new stuff is new, and so yeah, you have to invest some time in understanding it".  Well that's okay.  I'm no longer programming in assembler, at some point I learned C (and C++, and Java, and C#), and I'm not longer programming using the "Petzold SDK", at some point I learned MFC (and .NET).  The point wasn't that we shouldn't have new development technologies.  (Some of them are worthwhile and make things easier and better, or enable things which could never have been done before.)

I was reacting to the way the MS people seem to be positioning their new development technologies.  They appear to be stressing the coolness and complexity and even the mysticism, and not the ease of use.  And I don't think that's helpful.  Cool is okay, but complexity is not okay, and mysticism is most definitely out of place.  I've found in 100% of the cases, the best development technologies are falling out of a chair easy to understand and use.  And those are also the ones that get the best adoption. 

In the same vein, yesterday Philip Greenspun posted Java is the SUV of programming tools, and was immediately slashdotted.  "A project done in Java will cost 5 times as much, take twice as long, and be harder to maintain than a project done in a scripting language such as PHP or Perl."  Read it if you haven't already, he hits the nail right on the head.

So here's the question for the MS presenters at the PDC.  If a project done in Java / JSP costs 5 times as much as a project done with Perl, where does that leave C# / .NET?  Is it really easier?

Hey, thanks for listening, and CU@DPDC!

 

Tuesday,  09/23/03  11:45 PM

SpaceX has a new update out...  This is one of my favorite companies to watch.  Their ultimate goal is to put people into orbit.  There's some interesting remarks in the update about the difference between sending people (or anything) "into space", and sending them into orbit; it takes about 25X more energy to put them in orbit.  Note this differentiates SpaceX from other companies which are merely trying to win the X-prize (put a person "into space").

The Ward Hunt ice pack, the largest ice shelf in the Arctic and a feature for 3,000 years, has broken up.  "Local warming of the climate is to blame, they said -- adding that they did not have the evidence needed to link the melting ice to the steady, planet-wide climate change known as global warming."  Hmmm...

Kevin Laws on Toppling Ticketmaster.  "Unfortunately, all the fall of the recording industry will accomplish is to deliver the industry to a player with even more power: Ticketmaster."  Naval Ravikant says it isn't quite that bad, because Ticketmaster ain't eBay.  "At Ebay, a large number of relatively undifferentiated sellers go to sell relatively commoditized, mostly physical products.  Ticket sales are at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum -- they are heavily branded and differentiated virtual products."  Great stuff.

WSJ announces Camera Phones Pass Milestone In Photo Market.  "For the first time, global sales of cellphones with built-in cameras surpassed sales of conventional digital cameras."  Wow, that's amazing.

And that's why Some Gyms Ban Cell Phones.

Students all have cell phones, PDAs, and laptops.  Which is great, except they are distracting (passing notes in class has nothing on text messaging) and encourage cheating (crib notes on the PDA, anyone?)  Yahoo reports Schools Set Rules on Classroom Gadgets.  Short of banning them completely - hard to enforce! - what can you really do?

Entry-point Tivos are now down to $199 (with rebate).  That's exciting.  Then you go to WeaKnees and upgrade!

Roku media playerRoku is a new company which makes an HTDV connection device for music and pictures stored on your PC.  Doesn't do movies - yet.  (Why not?)  [ via John Robb ]

Panasonic has a TV with an integrated DVD burner.  Okay, that's different.  How soon before we see TVs with integrated PVRs?  That has to be next, right?  I wouldn't be surprised or amazed.

Think VoIP isn't the Next Big Thing?  Well, check this out.  Dartmouth is making free VoIP available to all students in their dorms.  "The roll out of voice over Internet protocol is closely coupled with Dartmouth's recent decision to stop charging students, faculty and staff for long-distance phone calls.  The college made that decision when administrators discovered that the billing function was costing more than the calls themselves."  Okay, did you get that?  It is less expensive to give away VoIP than it is to bill for analog calling.  Wow.

Want to know how often you're Googled?  Glenn Fleishmann says it's easy, just buy Google AdWords for your name...

My $.02 on this - save your money and look in your referer logs.  That way you'll know how many times people have clicked through from Google, which is actually more interesting...

In other Google news, they've launched a beta of Search by Location.  You enter a search string and a location (address, zip code, city) and they deliver results in that area, along with a map.  Pretty cool!

 

Wednesday,  09/24/03  10:20 PM

There's a lot of great stuff happening...

Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, and Io
(click for larger view)
Galilean moons

With the demise of Galileo (the satellite, not the scientist), there has been a lot of web activity about Jupiter.  I came across this amazing picture of "the Galilean moons"; the four large moons of Jupiter which were visible to Galileo with his crude telescope.  Watching the moons orbit Jupiter, Galileo had his first proof that the entire universe did not revolve around the Earth.  What is especially fascinating to me is the way each moon is so different.  Many astronomers consider Europa the most likely site for extra-terrestrial life in the solar system.

Think Tivo doesn't have the networks' attention?  Matt Haughey notes NBC has juggled their fall lineup on Thursday nights to have non-standard start and end times.  "Note the time of the Scrubs premiere show.  It starts at 8:32PM.  Huh?  Coupling is a new show that also sports an odd time slot: 9:27PM-9:58PM.  ER starts at 9:59PM that same night.  Friends runs for 47 minutes and is followed by a 39 minute long Will and Grace.  What in the hell is going on?"  Presumably to mess up overlapping season passes?  This is going to backfire - Tivo users will be pissed.  If they even care about NBC, which is doubtful...

Lore Sjöberg thinks we should be Charging People.  A really well-written look at micropayments and free content on the web.  "But here's the dirty little secret of the artistic Web community: We're not as popular as we like to think we are.I wish The Slumbering Lungfish had an RSS feed, I'd subscribe...  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

Doc Searles posted a terrific rant On the continuing death of Radio as Usual.  "I think the future of radio is Webio over wireless IP, fed by the same grass roots originalities that give us both blogging and the equivalent in webcasting.Webio - I like it!

Philip Greenspun is on a roll, today he considers RIAA, friendship, and prostitution.  "What is the point of Internet file sharing when people can, perfectly legally, copy as much music from each other as they could reasonably want?  Only a person with zero friends would want to bother with file sharing.  Which is why we can now say that the RIAA is the world's leading promoter of friendship!"  The logic is impeccable.  The RIAA is screwed reliving the past.  Better they should buy an iPod, check out the Apple iTunes Store and start living in the future.

This looks like a headline from the Onion, but it's in the Register: KaZaA sues RIAA for copyright infringement.  "Sharman Networks is suing the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for distributing replicas of its P2P file sharing software."  Now you have to love that.

In the unintentional humor department, check out the 2003 Worst Manual awards.  For a butcher's trolley, "test stranger and use on" is the last step.  Hmmm...

And from Hoom! Maps, we have walking directions from Bag End to Mordor.  "When using any walking directions or map, it is a good idea to stop at an inn or hostelry and inquire about news from abroad.  Find out whether any wars are brewing, and if so, whether agents of the enemy are pursuing you."  I love it.Go-L Mach 3.8 desktop

Want a new desktop or laptop?  How about a Go-LThis one looks nice :)  [ via John Robb ]

T-Mobile N-GageT-Mobile gets in the N-Gage Game.  As Gizmodo reports, "We're somewhat ambivalent about the N-Gage's prospects and aren't particularly impressed with it, but you really have to root for any gadget that seems to have so many pundits predicting its demise."  Looks like a cross between a gameboy and a pillow.  But it's a 'phone...

 

Friday,  09/26/03  11:02 PM

Yes, I've been bad, I've been coding...  but I'm baaack.  And it's all happening...

Victor Davis Hanson says we're On the Right Side of History.  You have to believe this is true, there is no other solution.  Right?  { I'm always struck by the fact that critics of America's proactive foreign policy don't have much to offer in the way of alternatives.  These are not self-fixing problems. }

SailRocketMan is this cool.  The SailRocket is a high-speed sailboat designed expressly for the purpose of breaking the 50 knot barrier.  "Previous record attempts have used weight to counterbalance the force of the rig, so much of the driving force is used to counteract this drag.  SailRocket has equalized the forces creating a perfect balance between the rig and foils.  There is no heeling moment, so all of the drawing power is converted into speed."  I want one, or at least I want a ride in one!

godless asks, Am I Chomksy?  (Answer: no!)  An interesting post and comment thread about human biodiversity and economic efficiency.

Wollemi pineWant to buy a Jurassic Plant?  Sales of Jurassic Pot Plants to go on Sale Soon.  "The Wollemi Pine, a plant from Jurassic times which survived in a single isolated Australian grove, is set for an amazing comeback.  In 2005, small plants cultivated from the tree once thought to have gone extinct will go on sale to the public.Am I going to get one?  Yes.

PCWorld reports States Fight Internet Tax Ban.  The main reason?  "The Multistate Tax Commission fears it may also ban taxes on such telecommunications services as voice telephone services through packet switching technology, a growing trend."  Amazing what the impact of VoIP has been already, eh?

Matrix Revolutions screenshotBig news: the theatrical trailer for The Matrix Revolutions is out.  Excellent, it looks amazing.  I can't wait!

By the way, want to know how to get screenshots from Quicktime movies?  Go into your Control Panel's Quicktime Video settings, and select "Safe Mode (GDI only)".  Then launch your browser.  The Quicktime plugin won't use your video card's overlay mode, and you'll be able to shoot screenshots to your heart's content.  Don't forget to switch back, video playback is slower this way...

Wired says soon we'll be able to Catch a Flick on Flexible E-Paper.  "Hot on the heels of the invention of a wafer-thin foldable screen that can display static type and may one day replace newspapers as it can be overwritten each day, scientists at Philips Research in Eindhoven have found a way to display high-definition moving pictures as well."  This is going to happen, and it will be cool...

Virginia Tech Powermac G5 supercomputerWired also has the story behind Virginia Tech's new supercomputer, made up of 1,100 Powermac G5s: Thinking Different, Saving Money.  "Usually you assume that you'll pay a premium for Apple machines, but they will be easier to set up and work with. But in this case it seems that the Macs were cheap, but challenging."  Very cool.  The clustering software was ported from Linux to Mac OSX.

Dish Networks has 1,000,000 users.  They got there first, beating Tivo.  And unlike Tivo, which relies on advertisers for revenue, they unabashedly promote the PVR's ability to fast-forward through commercials.  They do not have anything like Tivo's Home Media Option, however.

ExtremeTech: Building a Wireless Home Media Network Server.  Do it yourself...

ReplayRadio.  "It's like Tivo for Internet Radio".  I knew someone was going to do this.  Next they'll be ripping streams from Radio and making them available for file sharing.  [ via Dave Winer ]

[ Later: Matt Webb notes a bunch of applications in this space.  Wow. ]

Nokia 7600 imaging phoneNokia has announced their 7600 "imaging phone".  What a wild design!  Seems like 'phones don't have to look like 'phones anymore.  This is not only a digital camera, but a video recorder, and an MP3 player, and a video player.  We're getting closer to realtime video conferencing through cell networks.  I wonder when we'll have the first phone with a hard drive - this looks to be about the size of an iPod...  [ via Gizmodo ]

Dell digital jukeboxAnd Dell to Dive into Consumer Electronics.  Not only with their iPod-like "digital jukebox", (pic at right), but with an online music service, a la Apple's iTunes Music Store.  Interesting; this is quite a departure for Dell, and could represent some risk.  They haven't been noted for offering services up until now.

iBlog screenshotMeanwhile - and you knew this had to happen - Apple is beta-testing iBlog.  "iBlog is an elegant desktop weblogging application that makes authoring and publishing your personal weblogs a breeze.  Unlike other weblogging systems, you don't have to be an expert database administrator or a Perl programmer to setup and use iBlog."  A desktop application, but integrated with Apple's online .Mac service.  Very cool.  Yes, I will try it, and yes, I will tell you about it.  Stay tuned.

The other day I noted Viewsonic's new 23" monitor, which displays 3840 x 2400 pixels.  Those are teeny pixels.  Now check out Eurocom's new 15" laptop, which displays 2048 x 1536 pixels.  Those are teenier pixels!  Wow.

P.S. I'm going to Viewsonic next Tuesday to check one out.  Perfect for displaying Aperio's virtual slide images.

The Red Herring is back!  At least on the web, at redherring.com.  No RSS feed yet, however.  Somehow with RSS feeds and all the 'blogs out there, I didn't miss them...  But perhaps they will focus on analysis rather than reporting, which would be good.  Stay tuned.

Sheikh Ahmed YassinSarumanJoshua Claybourn notes the similarity between Hamas' leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Saruman.  "Seduced by the promises of Sauron, Saruman fell under the sway of the dark lord.  Together, these imposing figures formed an evil alliance, bent on ruling all of the Middle East Middle-earth."  It would be funnier if real people weren't dying in suicide attacks all the time.

Wrapping up, Bigwig notes Political Operating Systems:

  • The Arianna Huffington: A resource hog.  Never displays the same output twice.
  • The Robert Byrd: Attempts to divert all system resources to its home directory.
  • The Ronald Reagan: Slowly loses all access to the hard drive.
  • The Bill Clinton: A GUI root application.

Read 'em all...

 

Unless...

Sunday,  09/28/03  09:39 PM

the Lorax

I am the Lorax
I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues
.

The Lorax has been each one of my kids' favorite story at a certain point.  Meg is six, and it has been her favorite for about two years.  This amazing story by Dr. Suess (Theodore Geisel) was published in 1971, but its message rings as loud and true 32 years later.  Amid Suess' usual whimsical rhymes, delightfully original creatures, and weirdly undulating illustrations is something more - a powerful ecological message.  I've read it dozens, maybe even hundreds of times, but each time I find my voice more emotional than usual, and I always pause when I reach that sickening smack.  "Then we heard the tree fall.  The very last Truffula Tree of them all!"

The best thing about this story is its positive ending.  Yeah, the Truffula trees were wiped out by the Once-ler, but there's still that one seed...  In addition to enjoying the story for what it is, a story, I do believe my kids "get it".  I hope so.

UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.
It's not.

 

Sunday,  09/28/03  09:49 PM

I sailed today.  The wind was blowing, the competition was great (no, I didn't win, sigh), and I'm smiling.  Nothing beats a day on the water.


Go-l logo #1Go-l logo #2Remember the Go-l computers?  Really cool laptops, desktops, and servers.  Well, they have a cool logo, too.  "So, what will yours look like?...  Every time you receive your new computer or product, there is always the extra surprise factor on the looks of the logo on your machine.  Because they are different on every one.These logos really rock!  (sorry :)

Three Google engineers have posted a paper on The Google File System.  "Component failures are the norm rather than the exception.  The file system consists of hundreds or even thousands of storage machines built from inexpensive commodity parts...  The quantity and quality of the components virtually guarantee that some are not functional at any given time and some will not recover from their current failures."  Pretty cool, check it out.

Ariane moon blastoffEurope's First Moon Mission Blasts Off.  "The Ariane-5 rocket carrying the SMART-1 moon exploration probe and two commercial satellites blasted off at 8.14PM from the European Space Agency (ESA) launch center at Kourou, in French Guiana on the northeast coast of South America.  The probe will provide data on the still uncertain origin of the moon and has been described by ESA as an important instrument 'to unraveling some of the secrets of our neighboring world'."  Cool.  Unmanned probes are really the way to go for this type of exploration; far less expensive than manned probes, and able to go places men are not.  The BBC discusses the technology of this rocket, which uses an ion stream from charged Xenon for propulsion.

ZDNet Australia reports Brains Can Have Wireless Upgrades.  (It is harder and harder to tell "real life" headlines from the Onion.)  "It could well be the ultimate in hands-free adaptors: A researcher claims that in a decade, people will have wireless networks in their heads."  I don't know about the timing - ten years seems optimistic - but there is no doubt this will happen.

The other day I mentioned iBlog, a blogging front-end for Mac OSX.  Just want to be clear this is not an Apple product - yet! - but clearly endorsed by them.  John Robb thinks it is a "try before you buy" situation.

Nokia medallionHey, digital jewelry!  Why not?  Nokia has brought out this medallion, which displays pictures "beamed" to it from compatible Nokia bluetooth phones.  I don't wear jewelry, but for this I could make an exception...  Seems like the front edge of something big, doesn't it?  [ via Xeni Jardin ]

Wired expresses amazement at Zagat's new WiFi Hotspots guide.  I did too, when I found it inside the latest issue of The New Yorker.  Not exactly a geek mag, either; WiFi is becoming pretty mainstream.

Getting ready to buy an HDTV?  Not so fast, here comes UHDV, with a resolution sixteen times greater.  "UHDV displays images with 4,000 horizontal scanning lines, compared to the 1,000 offered by the current state-of-the-art high definition television (HDTV) technology and just 625 for standard TV broadcasts.This truly is Reality TV.

The MPAA is calling for a ban on "screeners"; preview copies of movies sent to Academy voters.  This is an admission that the Academy's own members are a major source of file-sharing "piracy".

Often when a movie is on Kazaa before it has left theaters, it's a screener...

Via Gizmodo: "An overzealous cop in Australia arrested a man for talking on his cellphone while driving a horse and carriage.  The coachman, Dean Crichton, was going a dangerous 2mph when the policeman pulled him over and field-tested him for alcohol.  A judge ended up throwing out the case."  I love it.

overloaded Somali truckThis truck seems to be slightly overloaded...  A Somali truck laden with corn.  A great picture for a caption contest...  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

 

 

Tuesday,  09/30/03  10:50 PM

The Ole filter makes another pass...

So, it is the end of September.  Nine months of blogging.  Seems like only yesterday I started...  Looking back at "old" posts, I see that I've slowly begun blogging more "news" and less "commentary".  In particular, a lot of electronics "news".  I'm going to slow that down; check out Gizmodo (linked from my blogroll), which is a great site for electronics news (and their RSS feed).


Johan Hari has a great post, The Iraqi Homecoming, about the experience of some young Iraqi exiles from the UK who spent the summer in Iraq.  Fascinating, a great inside look at what's really happening.  Overall the picture is positive, especially in the longer view.  [ via Steven Den Beste ]

the Fanimatrix screenshot 1the Fanimatrix screenshot 2Wow - check out the Fanimatrix.  A terrific amateur effort, another segment in the Matrix saga...  They absolutely nail it, with the music, the sound effects, the green tint, everything.  Awesome!  It is spreading like wildfire over the 'net, fueled by word of mouth and P2P distribution.

Speaking of P2P, have you checked out Bittorrent?  The Fanimatrix is a great way to check it out.  First, download this program (the Windows client), and run it.  Now click on this link.  Man, it works.  High-speed P2P downloading of movies.  And there are a ton of them out there...  This looks to me to be the Napster of video; although great for music, Kazaa is just too slow and unreliable for 1GB movies.

Here's a great PDF paper which explains how Bittorrent works.  Author Bram Cohen has analyzed the philosophy of P2P in detail to craft a tool which has the right incentives.  The biggest thing is that clients only receive download bandwidth if they give upload bandwidth.

P2PUnited: fighting for the future of peer-to-peer technology.  "P2P United is the unified voice of the peer-to-peer ('P2P') technology industry's leading companies and proponents."  The members of P2P United are LimeWire, Blubster, Grokster, Streamcast Networks (Morpheus), BearShare, and eDonkey 2000.  Essentially "everyone" except Sharman Networks (Kazaa).

Meanwhile ACLU Takes Aim at Record Labels.  If nothing else P2P is keeping lawyers employed :)

internetnews.com: Remote Power: Can PVRs Kill TV Spots?  Lots of detail about PVR penetration figures and projections.  Everyone understands now that PVRs will take over, the 30-second spot is dead.  Now what will the industry do about it?

MovieBeam screenshotCNet reports Disney unveils video-on-demand service called MovieBeam.  It uses a dedicated set-top box which has PVR-like features (pause, rewind, etc.).  The experience will be similar to that of hotel video-on-demand, but for consumers in their homes.  Content distribution is via broadcast (cable), not over the 'net.  "It's a very TV-centric box. It doesn't face the same challenges that PC-based services have experienced, because the content is delivered directly to the living room."  Interesting, this will be one to watch!

James Cramer thinks MovieBeam Will Fade Like a Moonbeam.  "No more devices.  Sorry, I don't want still one more device attached to my television set.  And I certainly don't want to pay for it."  But people are buying Tivos, and ReplayTVs, and ...

Battery Ventures: Rays of Sunshine after a Perfect Storm.  Less interesting for the detail as the mindset.  As VCs think more positively, more startup activity will occur.Klockwerks clock

Check out Klockwerks.  Excellent!  I want one.

volumetric rendering of airplane

This is cool"Volumetric rendering" of movies.  "The basic idea is simple: Video is composed of a large number of individual frames, each with X and Y dimensions.  Just stack each frame on top of the next and you've got a Z dimension to place into a volume renderer."  Wow.  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

Finally, we have Duct Tape vs. Duck Tape.  Proving once again that you can find everything on the 'net, and that "everything" is much more than you ever thought.

 
 

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