Critical Section

Archive: April 2004

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Thursday,  04/01/04  11:06 PM

James Lileks is even more penetrating than usual:

Kerry: I mean, there are countless numbers of things that we could be doing to enhance the world's view of us and to minimize the kind of anger and ...

Lileks: We stopped pretending we would ratify Kyoto.  We only spent $15 billion on AIDS in Africa.  We did not take dictation from Paris.  If we had done these things, it would minimize the world’s anger.  Is the world angry at Russia, which spends nothing on AIDS and rebuffed Kyoto?  Is the world angry at China, which got a pass on Kyoto and spends nothing on AIDS for other countries?  Is the world angry at North Korea for killings its people?  Angry at Iran for smothering that vibrant nation with corrupt and thuggish mullocracy?  Angry at Syria for occupying Lebanon?  Angry at Saudi Arabia for its denial of women’s rights?  Angry at Russia for corrupt elections?  Is the world angry at China for threatening Taiwan, or angry at France for joining the Chinese in joint military exercises that threatened the island on the eve of an election?  Is the world angry at Zimbabwe for stealing land and starving people?  Is the world angry at Pakistan for selling nuclear secrets?

Read the whole thing.  Right now.

This was predictable: Saudi Arabia pledges to fight rising oil prices.  Yeah, right.  Uh, so who sets those prices?

Ed Ring in AlwaysOn: Gerrymandering must go.  "Because of gerrymandering, everything the U.S. Congress and every state legislature does is overwhelmingly influenced by representatives who got there by winning their primary, not their election."  Another bad side-effect of two-party politics...

There are so many April Fools pranks on the 'net, you pretty much can't believe anything you read today.  One of my favorites is the latest from TidBITS...  And here's a nice summary.  Gizmodo has one too.

Doc Searles got fooled properly.  After reading about Google's Gmail announcement, he posted "Look at all the people who didn't get this joke".  Then he got a phone call:  "Doc?  Yes.  It's not a joke.  You're kidding!  No.  It's not a joke."  But Doc was wrong, it is a joke :)Google universal page rank

Google did have an April Fools joke; they're hiring for their lunar datacenter.

Final Google note: John Battelle notes Google's S1 filing (for an upcoming IPO) includes this detail: "The employee stock option plan, long believed to be the impetus to a public filing, has been dumped in favor of a private shadow equity plan modeled after the Economist magazine. 'It's the only magazine we read that hasn't put us on the cover,' Page explained. 'We kind of hoped this hat tip might change that.'"  [ via Mark Frauenfelder ]

Timothy Sandefur recalls Richard Feynman: "Today on the freeway, I drove behind a car whose license plate was 3SVD543.  Can you imagine how small the chances are of that happening?"  A perfect illustration of Littlewood's Law of Miracles, and the role of sequence in determining probability.

After posting this, I saw Bigwig's post with the same thing.  What are the odds? :)

Speaking of life in the universe, NASA is hosting the third annual Astrobiology Science Conference.  The Scientist notes: "The conference, which drew more than 700 participants, focused on three questions: 'Where do we come from?' 'Are we alone?' and 'Where are we going?'"  So how small are the chances of finding extraterrestrial life?  After we find it, the probability will be 1.

If you're interesting in virtual microscopy (you know who you are), you might find Apparent Magnification interesting.

mystery elevatorHere we have the Hall of Technical Documentation Weirdness.  Amazing and not Photoshopped.  For example, what do the elevator buttons at left do?  The mind boggles.infinite five

A great math joke, from Joi Ito:

John Gruber takes on Eric Raymond: Ronco Spray-on Usability.  "UI development is the hard part.  And it’s not the last step, it’s the first step.Exactly.  I know UI design isn't for everyone, but this is exactly like managing people; many engineers can't do it, so they assume it is easy and worthless.

If you're a blog newbie, you might enjoy Kinja, "a weblog portal".  This is some kind of online aggregator.  I don't think this will be much of a thing; desktop aggregators are really the way to go.  Kinja is to blogs as Hotmail is to email.

This might get me to watch TV: Masters of Disillusionment.  "Last year, the show took on topics as varied as creationism, bottled water, secondhand smoke, and alien abductions, in each case setting out to set things straight."  I love it.  Now adjusting Tivo, stay tuned...


Understanding Engineers, Take 9

Thursday,  04/01/04  11:51 PM

The ninth in our ongoing series attempting to understand engineers:

An engineer was crossing a road one-day when a frog called out to him and said, "If you kiss me, I'll turn into a beautiful princess."

He bent over, picked up the frog and put it in his pocket.

The frog spoke up again and said, "If you kiss me and turn me back into a beautiful princess, I will stay with you for one week."

The engineer took the frog out of his pocket, smiled at it and returned it to the pocket.

The frog then cried out, "If you kiss me and turn me back into a princess, I'll stay with you and do ANYTHING you want."

Again the engineer took the frog out, smiled at it and put it back into his pocket.

Finally, the frog asked, "What is the matter?  I've told you I'm a beautiful princess, and that I'll stay with you for a week and do anything you want.  Why won't you kiss me?"

The engineer said, "Look, I'm an engineer.  I don't have time for a girlfriend, but a talking frog, now that's cool."


Saturday,  04/03/04  06:17 PM

PinocchiometerThe Economist is my favorite magazine.  They've been pretty balanced about the U.S. Presidential race, but overall I think they've favored Bush over Kerry.  However, this may be changing.  A recent article, A Matter of Trust, strongly challenges the Bush administration's integrity.  "Evidence is growing that the Bush administration has misled the public.  But most voters, so far, are inclined to forgive."  Interesting not just in itself, but also as a potential harbinger; the London-based Economist often has a clearer view of U.S. politics than more local media.  If Bush truly loses the trust of the voters, he's in trouble.

Did you see this?  Microsoft and Sun resolve their differences.  This is just Sun being pragmatic, I think; their business is failing, and they needed the $1.6B Microsoft is paying them to settle.  I agree with this analysis on MSNBC.  Sun is cutting 3,300 jobs and announced their quarterly loss will be wider than anticipated.

  Scoble is shocked.

Wow, South Korea is paying parents to have children.  I wonder from which part of their society these mercenary parents will be drawn?  I predict this will lower their average IQ in a big hurry.  (Talk about Unnatural Selection!)  A great sociobiological experiment; it will be interesting to watch.  [ via razib ]

Gravity Probe BNASA has announced that Gravity Probe B is read for launch!  This cool project, designed to verify Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, features the most accurate gyroscopes ever built.  "The experiment will check, very precisely, tiny changes in the direction of spin of four gyroscopes contained in an Earth satellite orbiting at 400-mile altitude directly over the poles.  They will measure how space and time are warped by the presence of the Earth, and, more profoundly, how the Earth's rotation drags space-time around with it."

Scientific American has a fascinating article about flexible organic displays.  "Light-emitting organic materials offer brighter and more efficient displays than LEDs.  And you'll be able to unroll them across a tabletop."  Sounds perfect for virtual microscopy :)  [ via John Robb ]

Sony Clie remote controlSo, I'm working with some colleagues in the Aperio lab; we're filming a ScanScope in action.  Greg Crandall had brought in an old VCR, but he'd forgotten the remote control.  This VCR has a minimum of front-panel controls, we're dead.  Or are we?  Suddenly Mark Wrenn whips out his trusty Sony Clie, which has a universal remote program built in.  He selects Panasonic, and poof! we're in business.  Awesome!

And of course I used my trusty Treo 600 to take this picture...

Are you thinking of building a do-it-yourself PVR?  Then check out The PVR Guides, handy information for people building MythTV or VDR -based systems.  [ via Matt Haughey ]

Dave Winer re-linked Courtney Love's June, 2000 article about the math behind "big music".  I remember reading it at the time; this was right when Napster was going great guns, and the music industry began its ongoing slide into oblivion.  After four years it still strikes home.  And the RIAA still doesn't get it.

Molvania - a land untouched by modern dentistryThis is too funny: Molvania, a land untouched by modern dentistry.  "Molvanian is a difficult language to speak, let alone master.  There are four genders: male, female, neutral, and the collective noun for cheeses, which occupies a nominative sub-section of its very own."  I am not making this up, but they are :)  [ via Jane Galt ]




Sunday,  04/04/04  11:32 AM

Welcome to foursday - 04/04/04.  Pretty cool.  Almost as cool as threesday last year.  I woke up this morning and could not believe it is already April.  This year is absolutely whipping by.  Not good, somehow.

I watched the Final Four semifinals last night (on Tivo, of course).  Is it just me, or are these games just one foul after another?  Seems like there was a foul called on every trip down the floor, and both games were substantially influenced by which players were in foul trouble.  I know basketball is not supposed to be football, but I think the officials could have let more go.  It sure would have been more entertaining...

Tomorrow is Opening Day!  Hope "springs" eternal for us Dodger fans, a new year with new ownership, and new prospects for success.  Hopefully the hot dogs have not changed, however.  Put me in coach, I'm ready to play...

Tim Bray blogs about little league in Vancouver.  I love it!

dodecahedronSo - last night I'm putting my daughter Megan to bed, and I'm reading The Phantom Tollbooth to her - one of my favorites.  (I liked it when I was a kid, and I've read it to all four of my kids.)  In the book, there's a character named the Dodecahedron.  And Megan says to me [she's six years old], "Dad, is that like a 3D hexagon?"  Okay, Megan, good night!

The Dodecahedron sighed. “Why, did you know that if a beaver two feet long with a tail a foot and a half long can build a dam twelve feet high and six feet wide in two days, all you would need to build Boulder Damn is a beaver sixty-eight feet long with a fifty-one-foot tail?”

“Where would you find a beaver that big?” grumbled the Humbug.

“I'm sure I don't know,” he replied, “but if you did, you'd certainly know what to do with him.”

“That’s absurd,” objected Milo, whose head was spinning from all the numbers and questions.

“That may be true,” he acknowledged, “but it’s completely accurate, and as long as the answer is right, who cares if the question is wrong?  If you want sense, you'll have to make it yourself.”

The Dodecahedron is obviously an engineer :)

rhombic tricontahedronThere are only five "regular" polyhedral solids.  The dodecahedron is possibly the most interesting, and exhibits the most varied symmetries.  But if you relax the "regular" requirements just a bit, you can end up with some amazing polyhedra...

Buckminster Fuller stamp[ Later: The post office is releasing a new stamp featuring Buckminster Fuller this July.  Great illustration.  The illustration seems to feature a "tessellated buckyball"; a buckyball is a solid with 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons (no, it isn't quite a "regular" polyhedron), and a tessellated buckyball fills the hexagons and pentagons with triangles. ]

This geometry is the basis for C60, an unusual molecule consisting of 60 carbon atoms, also known as Buckminster Fullerene.  "The buckyball is the only molecule of a single atom to form a hollow spheroid, and it spins at over one hundred million times per second."  There are also larger so-called "fullerenes", C70, C76, C85, C90, and C94 have all been synthesized.  Chemists believe C240 and C540 would also be stable! ]


Understanding Engineers, Take 10

Sunday,  04/04/04  11:44 AM

Yet another in our ongoing attempts to understand engineers:

During the heat of the space race in the 1960's, NASA decided it needed a ball point pen to write in the zero gravity confines of its space capsules.

After considerable research and development, the Astronaut Pen was developed at a cost of $1 million.

The Soviet Union, faced with the same problem, used a pencil.

Note: if you think this series has run its course, sorry.  There are about 1010 engineer jokes in existence.


(new yorker, 3/22/04)

Sunday,  04/04/04  02:51 PM

what about here?



the Dodecahedron

Monday,  04/05/04  07:25 AM

Okay, okay, I know after my comments about the Dodecahedron yesterday you really wanted to see what he looked like.  So, here he is, courtesy of Jules Feiffer, whose illustrations grace the Phantom Tollbooth:

the Dodecahedron

"The only thing you can do easily is be wrong, and that’s hardly worth the effort."


Monday,  04/05/04  11:34 PM

Man, there's a lot going on, it's all happening...

The situation in Iraq is dicey at the moment, U.S. Marines have shut down Fallujah, Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has been declared an outlaw, and polls indicate Bush's support for his handling of the situation in Iraq are at an all time low.  But Stephen Den Beste thinks the situation in Fallujah is an enemy mistake; "Our enemies are making a tremendous blunder, and have given CENTCOM a priceless gift."  Interesting, read it for yourself and see if you agree.

I still believe - firmly - that the war on terror is the right issue for Bush.  Edward Kennedy obviously disagrees, but then he would.  Comparing the number of casualties in Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq to the relative success of each operation, they just don't compare.

Congratulations to Connecticut for winning the NCAA Men's Basketball championship.  Tonight's game was much better than the semifinals; fewer fouls, more flow, better basketball.  To me the outcome was never in doubt, Connecticut controlled the game almost from the outset.  I actually think Duke could have beaten Georgia Tech as well.  As could have Stanford, but that's another story >:(

Fortune magazine recently ran an interesting cover story: "Why we're losing the war on cancer" (PDF).  The point of view in the article is that little progress has been made in preventing or curing cancer, despite a huge amount of resource, attention, and effort being focused on the problem.  The article argues that researchers, drug developers, and physicians are primarily concerned with treating patients who already have cancer to prolong their lives or improve their quality of life.  Additionally, there is a suggestion that much cancer research is unfocused or uncoordinated, and that a centralized effort led by the National Cancer Institute would be a more efficient approach.  Personally I think we've made huge progress in the war, and I wouldn't describe this progress as "losing".  It is frustrating that more progress hasn't been made, but then "curing" cancer is a tough proposition, and really amounts to solving many problems in parallel, since there are so many kinds of cancer...

Sedna discoveryThe Economist wonders, ten planets, or eight?  The discovery of Sedna, a planet-like object 3/4 the size of Pluto which is sometimes ten times as far away from the Sun, has reopened the debate into what constitutes a planet.  Are Sedna, Quaoar, and Pluto planets?  Or "merely" Kuiper belts objects?  I like the definition that a plant is any object with enough mass to form a spherical shape.  By that definition, all three are planets, and there are very likely many others.

Lake VidaNASA's astronomy picture of the day last Sunday was Lake Vida, a frozen lake in Antarctica.  In addition to being beautiful, this lake is fascinating because it isn't completely frozen!  Sixty-two feet under the ice there is a salt-water lake, which scientists estimate has seven times the salinity of ocean water, and which has been isolated from the Earth's atmosphere for at least 2,800 years.  And amazingly, microbes have been discovered sealed in the ice.  Not only is this interesting in itself, but "NASA is interested in the research because the Lake Vida ecosystem serves as a classroom of sorts, providing lessons for launching Martian ice probes that may yield frozen microbes."  Wouldn't that be amazing, it the little green men turned out to be frozen brine shrimp thousands or even millions of years old?

This is really cool: AlwaysOn reports First reactor in three decades to test designs.  "A consortium of energy companies is seeking a permit to build the first U.S. nuclear power plant in more than 30 years."  Wow, it's about time.  I'm a big fan of nuclear energy, despite what "greens" may say, it is the cleanest way for us to generate energy [entropy].

Business 2.0 ran a fascinating article about Tivo: When the Network Meets the Net.  The article includes an interview with Tivo CEO Mike Ramsey, including this exchange:

B20: Right now TiVo gets its content from cable or satellite. What's next?
Ramsey: What if your TiVo were connected not only into broadcast but also to the broadband Internet?

Yeah, what if it was!

Meanwhile, Netflix to offer movie downloads.  Online video-on-demand is going to heat up here pretty soon.  With so many households now connected by broadband, it's bound to be the next big thing.

Segway soccer robotWhen the segway first came out, people said "yeah, it's cool, but what is it good for?"  Well, here's one answer; a group at Carnegie Mellon have used it as a platform for a robotic soccer player!  (They have a lot of pictures...)  Very cool.  [ via John Robb

And in a similar vein, Stanford has built the Segbot.

DARPA has standardized on it as the Common Robotic Mobility Platform.

Wired: Dodgy Patents Rile Tech Industry.  "Over the past few months, the number of questionable patents distributed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has reached a crescendo."  No kidding.  And no solution in sight...

riding square wheelsScience News discusses Riding on Square Wheels.  No, it isn't a joke; square wheels make sense, if you have the right shape road.  As long as the road consists of inverted caternary curves, your square wheels will roll smoothly along.

Ottmar Liebert is getting ready to release his next album, La Semana.  A limited edition package will be available direct from his website before he goes on tour.  Excellent!

Well, you knew this would happen: Playfair is an application which strips Apple's DRM from music downloaded from the iTunes music store.  It uses a key obtained from your iPod.  Essentially this allows you to bypass the three computer limit for iTunes music.

Worthwhile!Hey, a new online 'zine!  Worthwhile launched today.  "Work with purpose, passion, profit."  Interestingly, they built a website and comment system before they have a print magazine.  The site feels like a group blog, with an active comment system.  Cool!

The NYT reports the next issue of Reason Magazine will have an odd twist, each of the 40,000 subscribers will receive a personalized issue, with a satellite picture of their house on the cover!  Makes me want to subscribe.

Jack BennyDave Winer noted he gave a talk to a class at Harvard, and the students didn't know who Jack Benny was...  wow.  Jack was the funniest person ever.  I saw him once on the Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson.  They did a thing where an audience member was supposed to give Jack a sentence to say, and he'd say it in a way which made it funny.  A man in the audience gave him the sentence: “I went to the store today to buy a loaf of bread”.  Jack stood up in front of the audience, paused, looked around, and delivered that line.  And I swear everyone in the audience was doubled over, crying with laughter.  I'm snickering just thinking about it, thirty years later :)

The other day I noted the great comedic book, Molvania, a land untouched by modern dentistry.  Justin Knol emailed to say he saw it in a book store's travel section.  Wow.  Like Hugh Grant's character says in Notting Hill, "when you write a travel book, it helps if you've been there" :)


(new yorker, 3/8/04)

Tuesday,  04/06/04  01:49 AM

Montessori school

This one's for my mom :)


Tuesday,  04/06/04  11:13 PM

Spirit roverCNN reports: Mars rover finishes primary mission.  "The unmanned robot, marking its 90th full day on Mars, had accomplished all of the tasks NASA considered essential to declare the joint mission a success.  Its twin rover, Opportunity, was getting close to achieving the same."  Very awesome.  The article goes on to note that NASA has extended the mission through September.  If the rovers continue to function, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory will apply for money to extend the project again.

Think the press isn't biased?  (If you do, you're pretty naive.)  Anyway check this out, an AP story entitled "Bush loyalists pack Iraq press office".  Now, what does "pack" mean?  It means "one-third of the U.S. civilian workers in the press office have GOP ties".  I'm not sure "one-third" equals "pack".  And I'm not sure having a GOP tie means you're a Bush loyalist, either.  Sheesh.

Cambay designoidAn interesting class of objects are "designoids".  These are objects which occur naturally, but which appear to have been manufactured, because of their symmetry, regularity, etc.  For example, check out these objects found in the Gulf of Cambay.  They appear man-made, but they're not.  The so-called fairy circles of Namibia are another good example of apparent design.  These kinds of objects show how difficult it is to separate intentional design from natural evolution.  Humans are another such object :)  [ via Matt Brauer ]

caffeine moleculeThinkGeek celebrates caffeine.  They would.

PCWorld reports DVD Players Anchor Home Nets.  The number and kind of devices which move video from computers to home entertainment systems is staggering.  Networking DVD players is a comfortable choice, because people already understand DVD players.

Russell Beattie joins the Tivo bandwagon.  "It's awesome - as good as all its press and more."

Matt Goyer answers Dave Winer's question about Windows XP Media center.  "It's a software platform.  So just think about what you could do with RSS, BitTorrent and a Media Center."  Indeed.

Seinfeld / Superman American Express adThis is too funny: An American Express ad featuring Jerry Seinfeld - and Superman.  You must watch this!  [ via Cory Doctorow, who notes "I can hardly believe that DC/AOL/Time-Warner licensed Supe for it" ]  Yep.

Speaking of Cory, Boing Boing is apparently a victim of their own success.  "Our bandwidth bills are going through the roof.  If traffic continues along the projected curve, maintaining Boing Boing will become unaffordable."  There's an interesting comment thread from readers with suggestions about tip-jars, subscriptions, etc.

Marc Cantor reacts to the Sun-Microsoft deal by wondering: When will IBM buy Sun

I can remember a startup I was involved with; at one point we had an opportunity to buy a weak competitor, a minor roll-up.  The goal would have been to buy the company for its customers.  One of my colleagues said "nah, forget it, we'll take their customers one at a time in the market".  And we did.

So why would IBM buy Sun?  To get Java?  They have it already.  To get Solaris?  They have AIX already, and are moving toward Linux.  To get Sun's server technology?  IBM already has the RISC/6000 family.  No, the only reason would be to get Sun's customers.  And I think they're happy to be taking them one at a time in the market...

"Our president is an idiot" washing labelSkeptomai found this interesting washing tag on a computer sleeve.  "The English is exactly what you would expect and so is the French, for the first 6 lines.  The last three lines of French are most interesting: 'We are sorry that our President is an idiot.  We didn't vote for him.'"  If they feel that way, not say so in English, too?  Pandering wimps.

This is pretty interesting: Mary Jo Foley notes Microsoft releases source code on SourceForge.  "Microsoft made available an internally-developed product called the "Windows Installer XML" (WiX).  WiX is a toolset for building Windows installation packages from XML source code."  Interesting that they did this - and smart.

Linux on iPodAnd speaking of SourceForge, this is amazing: Linux on iPod.  These guys have reverse-engineered the iPod (which is a "closed" platform) and are able to run the 2.4 kernel on it!  From the FAQ: "Why would you do that?  A number of reasons, but mainly because its there."  I love it.  (Long-term you could imagine this could enable iPods to play, say, WMA audio as well as MP3s.)

Bill Gurley on the state of broadband: One nation under Internet Protocol.  Very interesting comparison of the progress of broadband usage in the U.S. vs. South-East countries like Japan and South Korea.  (P.S. I just can't get used to "J. William", sorry Bill.)

Tom Coates makes some interesting observations about Kinja, the new server-side blog aggregator.  "your killer app is this sharing of digests, this creation of really user-friendly throw-aroundable clumps of groupness."

I'm attending BloggerCon, a one-day conference about blogging at Harvard Law School on April 17.  Jay Rosen is hosting a session entitled "What is Journalism?", and has posted some thoughts about the nature of Journalism and how amateurs like bloggers fit in.  Fascinating, I think Jay hits several nails on the head simultaneously.  Check it out.

Andrew Grumet, of RSS+Bittorrent fame, is hosting a section on blogging infrastructure.  He's posted his notes on that session, along with a reader discussion.

Wrapping up, Microsoft launched Channel 9, a public group blog for Microsoft developers:

"Channel 9 started as a personal story from one of us about fear of flying.  Lenn realized after years of dealing with it, that it was actually a fear of the unknown.  The fear was conquered through learning.  The more transparency into what it took to fly a plane, the more the fear went away.  Lenn got to know pilots who flew planes everyday, and every time he flew he turned on Channel 9 on the in-flight audio system to listen in to the cockpit.

"We think developers need their own Channel 9, a way to listen in to the cockpit at Microsoft, an opportunity to learn how we fly, a chance to get to know our pilots.  Five of us in Redmond are crazy enough to think we just might learn something from getting to know each other.  Were we wrong?

"Time will tell.  Join in, and have a look inside our cockpit and help us fly the plane.

Looks interesting.  I especially like the use of embedded video, which seems like it has more promise in the long run than embedded audio, which always seems just weird when I see it (hear it?) on a blog.  I'll stay tuned, and share my reactions...


self portrait

Wednesday,  04/07/04  08:21 AM

Ole self-portrait

This is what I look like when I'm mountain biking.  Note smile :)


Wednesday,  04/07/04  09:14 PM

Things are getting ugly in Iraq right now.  Citizen Smash says it's Our Kind of Ugly.  We'll see.  I always thought there would have to be a reckoning with the militant Muslim factions, and I guess the June 30 deadline is forcing their hand.  The view from Baghdad has pictures of rioting Shi'ia in the streets.

John Kerry apparently considers Shiite Al-Sadr "a legitimate voice".

Out here in Southern California, there's finally resolution to a supermarket strike which had lasted five months.  Everybody lost.  Robert reflects on labor pains.

SFGate reports on a wonderful idea being tested in Pleasanton.  A stoplight has been rigged to a speed sensor; if approaching cars are traveling too fast, the light turns red.  It will be interesting to see if this really works.  I suspect it will.  The article also notes "At least one other place in California has put together a traffic signal that is deputized against speeders.  The Ventura County city of Thousand Oaks installed one in 2000."  That light is probably within 5 miles of my house.  I wonder where it is?

Wired blogsNice new group blog from Wired magazine: Cult of Mac.  Subscribed.

Typical of the important items they feature, this one showing the iPod is nearly as dense as a house brick (and denser than various cellphones).  Not clear if this is good or bad.

There's an interesting comment thread on Scoble's blog about the Windows XP Media Center PC.

My thoughts...  Media Center seems like a great software platform.  However:

  • MCPCs are expensive.  More than a PVR.  And way more than those little boxes people are making to connect TVs to PCs.
  • People put computers in a different room from their home entertainment systems.  So which room does it go into?
  • Like many people, my PC is a laptop with a docking station.  I wouldn't switch with a desktop for anything, even a *really* capable desktop like an MCPC.

I'm sure there will be some people who get them and they’ll probably love them.  But it doesn't feel like the way to get video to Aunt Tilly.

Tim Bray comments on the office doofuses in those Microsoft commercials.  "The message, insofar as there is one, is that people who work in offices are clueless doofuses, and that being around Microsoft Office will encourage poor grooming, juvenile behavior, and generally coming across like a complete moron."  I guess it takes a Sun engineer to give Microsoft good marketing advice.

Dan Gillmor: Linux on Desktop Makes Big Strides.  "It looks like I'm going to have to reconsider something I'd been taking for granted -- that Linux on the desktop, and especially the laptop, was a non-starter in the operating systems race. While I wasn't paying sufficient attention, the proverbial tortoise has been playing some serious catch-up."  I must check out OpenOffice...

Red SquirrelApparently Red Squirrels in Britain are facing extinction.  "Reds are being squeezed out by the more versatile American grey squirrels introduced as a curiosity in fashionable London gardens in the 1870s."  Too bad, they look really cute.  [ via BigWig, in a post entitled "Over Large, Over Fed and Over Here" ]

Lakeland Today surveys seven ways to save "Lake Red"
(The red squirrels live in the so-called Lake District.)

Well this is interesting: ABC News reports Surgeons Who Play Video Games Err Less.  "Researchers found that doctors who spent at least three hours a week playing video games made about 37 percent fewer mistakes in laparoscopic surgery and performed the task 27 percent faster than their counterparts who did not play video games."  So be it.  Kind of like the way playing foosball keeps you sharp for coding :)

world's biggest subwooferHere we have the biggest subwoofer in the world.  Wow.  "Total efficiency: more than 110 dB/1 watt/1 meter.  The total electrical capability of the 16 woofers is about 400 Wrms power per woofer that means about 400 x 16 = 6400 Wrms total."  Perfect for UB40; Kingston Town.

IKEA fartygNot a good name: IKEA's Fartyg bathroom wall spotlight.

Paul Boutin: "I really think that if Jesus were around today, he would have a blog."


Thursday,  04/08/04  10:25 PM

One year ago I was feeling proud as Baghdad fell.  "I know the war's not over yet.  There is much work to do, in some ways the hard part has just begun.  Winning the peace may be harder than winning the war."  Boy, didn't that turn out to be true...

Here we have - the national budget simulation!  Think the national debt is too high?  Now you, too, can try your hand at balancing the budget.

It is probably a good thing I'm not in charge of this - I'd pay for extra space projects and other science activities by reducing child care and other family support.  And probably cause a revolt.

From the BBC: File-sharing to bypass censorship.  "By the year 2010, file-sharers could be swapping news rather than music, eliminating censorship of any kind."  I kind of don't get this, it feels a bit clueless.  In the year 2004, people are swapping news rather than music, only they're using blogs.  The time-lag inherent in file-sharing is too high for news, but realtime posting to blogs is perfect.  And it is happening now.  [ via Dave Winer, who would probably point out that it has been happening for a while already; his blog Scripting News just turned seven. ]

In the past I've noted some of the problems with a two-party political system.  razib suggests Mixed-member Proportional Voting, in which individuals and parties gather votes.  Interesting.

are you prepared? ( you prepared?  These billboard are up around L.A. - posted by the Los Angeles Bioterrorism Unit.  Am I prepared for bioterrorism?  No.  What can one do?  Buy ducttape?  [ via Cybele ]

pricelessAdam Curry linked this "priceless" takeoff on the Mastercard ads.  Excellent :)  He also discusses his ideas for Personal TV Networks (a session he is hosting at BloggerCon).  I actually think the phrase "personal TV network" doesn't quite have the flavor of how this will evolve; I wouldn't necessarily describe all the MP3 files on my computer as a "personal radio station".  Although I guess it is...



the Knack

Sunday,  04/11/04  10:12 PM

If you've been following our series on understanding engineers, then you'll appreciate this: the Knack (MP3).  "Oh no!"  (Thanks, Greg :)


Sunday,  04/11/04  10:54 PM

Happy Easter to everyone!  Hope you had a great day with your family, as I did...

Leroy HoodThe latest issue of The Scientist features First Person: Leroy Hood.  This amazing pioneer of genetic research has started 11 companies and hold 14 patents, and is generally credited with being "the father of DNA sequencing".  The interviewer asked him about ethical issues in genetic research, and he replied:

"My own view is that progress is inevitable.  Those trying to block it will be utterly irrelevant.  I think it's one of the natural inevitable steps, a consequence of gaining rationality, and the ability to manipulate the most fundamental of all living things, our DNA.  I will say, it can be put to good use, or bad use, like any technology.  We have to give our citizenry the information, and the inquiry-based tools, to make rational judgments.  Our citizenry clearly do not have those tools."

Among his least significant accomplishments, he was my premed advisor at CalTech.

This is good news: NASA gives rovers five more months.  "Initially the missions were slated to last 90 days each, but with two healthy rovers returning regular information, the Mars rover project has been approved for a total of 250 days.  Mars manager Firouz Naderi said if NASA has one or two healthy rovers come September, they may ask for another extension."  Excellent!

In other space news, Astrobiology reports on the Messenger project, "a scientific investigation of the planet Mercury, and the first NASA mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the Sun."  Another unmanned robot from Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which has a pretty decent track record going...

Sea Snail tidal generatorRoland Piquepaille describes the heavyweight Sea Snail, a Scottish device which generates power from tidal action.  This is essentially a giant anchor which uses six "wings" to fly in the tides, generating electricity in the process.  Very cool.

camel spiderHere's more than you ever wanted to know about camel spiders.  You probably didn't even want to know such things existed, huh?  Apparently there have been some amazing rumors about these huge arachnids, but they're really not that bad.  You have to admit, they do look pretty bad;  six inch spiders are never a good thing.

Obo CocteauObo Cocteau is a story based on the flamenco guitarist Ottmar Liebert's recording of "Cocteau" [from the CD La Semana, 2004], a pure fictional evocation of the composition's moody Moorish atmosphere... and associations made from OL's title.  "OL's Cocteau has a deep, mysterious tone, like an opium den in perpetual night... or a hidden Moorish fortress where an imprisoned musician sends his melody across Time."  I suggest you listen to the recording as you read the story :)

Speaking of stories, in The Sword of Empiricism lukelea attempts to show "Adam and Eve is not only a true story, allegorically speaking, but that it is also empirically connected to the events to which it refers, in time as well as space, in fact as well as metaphorically".  A great effort, but I remain, as ever, unconvinced.  Actually it isn't so much that I feel the story of Adam and Eve is wrong as that I feel it is unnecessary.

playmobil airport security check-inHere's a real sign of the times: the playmobil airport security check-in.  I am not making this up.  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

Aldwych tube stationAnother great referral from Cory, London's ghost tube-stations.  A great pictorial investigation of the history of the tube, and the stations and tracks which have been abandoned.  The feeling I get from reading the pages is a tremendous sense of nostalgia and age - and I want to go there.

Well, you just knew this was going to happen: Vonage over Cell Phone.  "I called a friend of mine in New York.  20 minute conversation over a data connection.  Fat chance the cellphone company got to see any part of the revenues from that call.  It was a few pennies for Vonage, and a quarter or so for the data connection for 20 minutes."  This is the future.

BusinessWeek reports How Microsoft is Clipping Longhorn.  "To get the already-delayed follow-up to Windows XP out the door by 2006, it has decided to omit some of the most ambitious features."  Among the features being dropped, WinFS, the new database-like filesystem proposed for Longhorn.  Scoble says it isn't so.  But from what I've read, on Channel 9 and elsewhere, it is so.  Or at least, the ambitious version of WinFS originally envisioned will not be present.  Personally I think performance is a part of it; you'll recall I predicted after the PDC last fall that WinFS would be too slow.


"The Big City" - New Yorker magazine cover gallery

Monday,  04/12/04  01:16 AM

And now we present - for your enjoyment...

The Big City - New Yorker Magazine covers

The Big City

...a gallery of seventy-two New Yorker Magazine covers spanning 1925-2003.

Regular readers know I'm a big fan of the New Yorker, despite not living in New York and not agreeing with the prevailing left-wing political views it espouses.  The writing is top-notch, thought provoking, and just downright fun to read.  Not to mention their cartoons, which are excellent and worth a subscription just on their own.

March 29, 1976 by Saul SteinbergOver the magazine's 79-year history it has also become known for its covers, some of which have become cultural icons, like Saul Steinberg's whimsical 1976 cover (right).

September 22, 1928 by Adolph K. KronengoldMore often the covers express a unique mood or feeling, or embody a point of view available only to the artist, as in the 1928 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold (left).

A few weeks ago the magazine published a special suppliment entitled "The Big City", featuring seventy-two of their best covers.  I decided to scan them and post them in an online gallery.

September 15, 2003 by Gürbüz Dogan EksiogluMy favorite?  That would have to be the September 2003 cover by Gürbüz Dogan Eksioglu, which just gives me chills each time I view it (right).  See if you don't agree.

All these works are ©2004, The New Yorker Magazine.



Tuesday,  04/13/04  10:45 PM

Whew, missed a day, again.  I must work less so I can blog more :)

I have a bunch of links here with Iraq- and Bush- and Kerry- related stuff; Condi Rice, polls, commentary from both sides, even alternative histories and Miss USA.  And President Bush's press conference and reaction.  But you know what?  I'm going to bag it all.  It's important, sure, but you don't need to get that news from me.  I do have a meta-observation: It seems like the polarization in the U.S. is getting sharper all the time.  Maybe I just wasn't paying attention - or maybe we weren't "at war" - but I just don't remember this level of acrimony and negativism in the last presidential election.  I wish both sides would spend more time on the future, and less on the past.  Whether you believe Bush is doing a great job or a horrible job, whether you believe we should have invaded Iraq or not, whether you believe the tax cut was helpful or horrible, it is what it is.  Bush is president.  We did invade Iraq, and are occupying it right now.  We did enact the tax cut.  So my question for both candidates and both parties is: given that it is what it is, what are your plans?

This is so cool: The NYTimes reports With Tiny Brain Implants, Just Thinking May Make it So.  "Cyberkinetics Inc., a medical device company, plans to implant a tiny chip in the brains of five paralyzed people in an effort to enable them to operate a computer by thought alone.  The Food and Drug Administration has given approval for a clinical trial of the implants."  Excellent.

I wonder if someday I'll be able to blog just by thinking.  Now that's scary :)

micro-hydroelectric power systemsYou know what's great about Slashdot?  You get some awfully interesting discussions.  Like this one: "I live out in the middle of nowhere, and I lose power at the drop of a hat.  My house is right next to the Susquehanna river, and all the kinetic energy going past my house makes me just want to go off grid.  What would be a good, unobtrusive way to generate electricity from a high volume/low speed body of water?  I think maybe a miniature version of one of the recent submerged tidal generators might work...  Does anyone have some suggestions on how I might go about this project?"  I have no idea myself, but it was fun reading all the responses and discussion...  One approach is shown at left.

VC legend Vinod Khosla discovers the microlending economy of India: Tiny Loans have Big Impact on Poor.  The economics of microlending are pretty cool.  Just like on eBay, a built-in reputation system is critical to ensuring the benevolent outcome of a prisoner's dilemma, and both lenders and borrowers benefit.  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

Adam Curry has nothing to report.  From the Guerrilla News Network.  I wonder how soon GNN will be publishing daily using an RSS feed?  Seriously.

Speaking of free media (we were), Ed Felton has developed the Grand Unified Theory of Filesharing.  "The Grand Unified Theory explains the [disparate] study results by breaking down the users of filesharing into two subpopulations, the Free-riders and Samplers."  The free-riders are young and filesharing reduces their CD buying, while samplers are older and filesharing increases their CD buying.  This actually makes a lot of sense to me.

Oh, and PCWorld has Step-by-Step: Turn Your PC into a Personal Video Recorder.  Somehow, given that I have a Tivo, I have no desire to do this.  I can't see the upside.  Now if I could use it to "tune" programs from GNN, that would matter :)  [ via Matt Haughey ]

Finally, RSS reader NewsGator now has a Media Center Edition.  You need a Media Center PC to use it, but if you had one, it would be cool.  Somehow I don't think this is the way to get video to Aunt Tilly, or even GNN to me.

bald eagle chicksThis one is for Steph: Scientists aid eagles with bird-and-switch.  "The story began as it ended Friday, off the east side of Catalina Island with wildlife ecologist Peter Sharpe dangling from a Kevlar rope 200 feet above the Pacific Ocean.  His mission: to revive the population of bald eagles on the island.  Two months ago, Sharpe snatched 11 eggs from the nests of five breeding pairs of eagles.  On Friday, he attempted to return two young eaglets to the cliff-side nests."  Some guys will do anything to pick up cute chicks.

mini-cooperThe BBC reports a man was cited for driving his mini-cooper 2,100 mph in a Brussels suburb.  Man, those cute little cars are fast :)  [ via BigWig ]

Dave Winer suggests search engines change the unit of the web from a page to a post, presumably by indexing RSS feeds.  You would think Google might be doing this already, especially after their acquisition of Blogger, but they haven't - yet.

Steve Gillmor thinks we're at the RSS Tipping Point.  Could be.  "If it's going to be true, it is true."  [ via Robert Scoble ]

I'm not a big moviegoer, but I have to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  I just keep reading great things about it.  And I loved Being John Malkovich, another bizarre masterpiece from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.  Who ever would have guessed Jim Carrey would end up doing "real" movies?

goathead thorns aka "puncturevine"Robert reports on a seasonal menace in L.A.: goathead thorns, aka puncturevine.  "Puncturevine is just one of the myriad natural hazards living in SoCal.  With all the mudslides, forest fires, earthquakes, impending fire ant and killer bee fun...  well, some days it's almost too scary to leave the house.  Almost."  Yeah, almost.  But not quite.


Joe Satriani Rocks

Wednesday,  04/14/04  01:33 PM

Joe SatrianiI just downloaded Joe Satriani's latest album Is There Love in Space (from the iTunes music store, of course).  Great stuff.  I'm really enjoying listening to it while I'm working...  Check it out if you like delicious guitar work.

I think "The Souls of Distortion" is destined to be one of my favorite guitar tracks of all time.




Future Shock

Wednesday,  04/14/04  10:42 PM

Among the interesting articles in the Fortune 500 edition of Fortune Magazine was Future Shock, a prediction for the top ten companies of 2054 by futurist Peter Schwartz.  Here's the list:

  1. AmazonBay.  The first company to break $10T in revenue.  That's T, not B.
  2. Toyota.  "Flying cars are still not an option...  Toyotas in 2054 resemble the cars of 2004—a passenger compartment, a separate engine compartment, and four wheels."
  3. Sinogazzon.  "The first fully integrated natural gas company - combining production, shipping, and distribution - came into being in 2025.  That year Gazzon, the result of an earlier merger of Exxon and Gazprom, the Russian gas producer, bought the Chinese distributor Sinogaz."
  4. Sinobiocorp.  "The revolution in molecular biology and genetics triggered a huge wave of innovative industries early in the 21st century.  The world market leader in life-science, Sinobiocorp, formed after a 2010 state-driven roll-up of Chinese biotech startups."
  5. Indosoft.  "Computers woke up in 2043.  But revolutionary change in the software business began years earlier as the U.S. giants began to be dominated by their Indian talent.  So in 2020, when Microsoft and Oracle merged, it just seemed natural to change the name to Indosoft and move the headquarters to the new Gatestown complex in Mumbai."
  6. IBM.  "Possibly the single most significant moment in business during the Fortune 500's second 50 years was the day in 2023 when IBM introduced the BohrBox, its first quantum hypercomputer for office use."
  7. Pattelco.  "The Indian software giant, originally a software startup of the Patel clan, bought the remnants of AT&T in 2025 and incorporated the long-distance company's initials in its name when it launched the telepresence (TP) industry."
  8. Nestlé.  "Once known for chocolates and baby formula, Nestlé dominates nutriceuticals, the new class of foods that bridges the gap between agriculture and drugs."
  9. Nanobotix.  "A product of the first wave of consolidation in nanotechnology startups, Nanobotix, in Palo Alto, has been the pioneer in manufacturing on the atomic scale."
  10. News Corp.  "After holding back the tide of digital distribution for nearly two decades, News Corp. switched direction in 2010 and led the trend of making all types of media available on demand - movies, newspapers, magazines, books, music."

A fascinating list.  There's much more on each company, too, see the article for details.

I agree with (1), I'm not sure about (2), (3) and (4) seem reasonable, (5) seems right about the Microsoft part, maybe right about the Oracle part, but wrong about the moving to India part, (6) could be right, (7) is okay, (8) would be cool but is a bit farfetched, and (9) seems very possible.  (10) seems dead wrong to me; this is where the parochialism of Fortune and parent TimeWarner creep in, they just don't want to admit that big media are headed for irrelevancy...


Wednesday,  04/14/04  10:58 PM

This is going to be cool: The Tangled Bank.  "A Carnival is a weekly showcase of good weblog writing, selected by the authors themselves.  Each week, one of our crew will highlight a collection of interesting weblog articles in one convenient place, making it easy for everyone to find the good stuff.  Our weekly compendium of great science weblog articles will be called the Tangled Bank, after Charles Darwin's famous metaphor.I'm going to try to put together a stable URL for a Tangled Bank RSS feed, stay tuned.

DNA octahedronAlwaysOn reports DNA folds into paired pyramids.  "Researchers from the Scripps Research Institute have formed strings of DNA that spontaneously fold into a wireframe octahedron, a shape that has eight triangular faces.  The octahedron has two advantages over other artificially-formed three-dimensional DNA shapes, according to the researchers.  First, because the structures are triangular, they're relatively strong.  Second, like a three-dimensional paper airplane made from a flat piece of paper, the octahedron is made from straight DNA strands.  The three-dimensional shape forms when one long DNA strand and five shorter strands are mixed and heated."  Amazing!   This is an excerpt from an article in the February 12, 2004 issue of Nature.

Posts like this one are why I read Lore Sjöberg's Slumbering Lungfish.  "This is like being assigned to buy a new bong and discuss similarities between The Matrix and Lord of the Rings."  Yeah, like, cool, man.

Honesty requires I point out that I've already noted the seeming parallels, especially given the identity between Agent Smith and Elrond.  "You seem to live two lives, Mr. Baggins."  And no, I did not buy a new bong.

I don't often link Mickey Kaus on Slate, but I should.  A masterful skewering: "I sniped at the NYT's Adam Nagourney last night, but this very day he achieves a significant breakthrough, pioneering a solution to a problem that has plagued American journalism for decades.  The dilemma is this: What do you do when you have a strong opinion about your subject?  You can't just say what you think--not within the strictures of 'objective' reporting, anyway."  The solution?  Interview another reporter who has the same view!

Here we have Sapphire, a liquid which doesn't get things wet.  What will they think of next?

A9 logocame out of stealth mode today.  This is Amazon's search engine startup.  They are built on top of Google.  John Battle gives it a quick review and thumbs up.  "Something tells me the hearts are beating a bit faster at Yahoo and Google HQs today."  Interesting.  Apparently they have a very nice toolbar, I might have to check it out...

Scoble claims Jeremy Mazner clears up the WinFS confusion.  Read his post and see if you agree.  I'm not confused, but I am of the opinion that WinFS has been cut back, despite both evanglists' protests to the contrary...PC HabiCase

Just when you think you've seen everything, you are reminded that "everything" is much more than you thought.  ThinkGeek features this PC case which doubles as a home for small rodent pets.  I am not making this up.

These would be perfect for a laboratory server farm :)


Friday,  04/16/04  07:32 AM

Sedna trackThe dog that didn't bark?  Universe Today reports Hubble Looks at Sedna, but suprisingly the object/planet does not appear to have a moon.  "When Sedna's existence was announced on March 15, its discoverer, Mike Brown of Caltech, was so convinced it had a satellite that an artist's concept of Sedna released to the media included a hypothetical moon."  I find it amazing that we can even tell whether Sedna has a moon, let alone that we know enought about it to be surprised it doesn't have one.  After all, it is 7 billion miles away.

horn-shaped universeNewScientist suggests Big Bang glow hints at funnel-shaped Universe.  "Could the Universe be shaped like a medieval horn?  It may sound like a surrealist's dream, but according to Frank Steiner at the University of Ulm in Germany, recent observations hint that the cosmos is stretched out into a long funnel, with a narrow tube at one end flaring out into a bell.  It would also mean that space is finite."  Sub-regions of the shape have the inverted saddle characteristic of heated thin layers (like potato chips).  This is called a Picard topology, no relation to Captain Picard :)

A Japanese inventor claims to have a new super-efficient electrical engine, based on magnets.  Pardon me for being skeptical, I don't think the laws of physics have been repealed.  But you never know...

Here's an inside look at the patent examination process, from a former patent examiner.  "The successful prosecution of a patent application at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) requires not only a novel invention and adequate prosecution skills, but a bit of luck."  As someone who just spent several weeks filing four patents, this is tough to take.  Engineers and scientists spend a lot more effort creating the patent applications than the patent office can spend reviewing them.  The result is bad; unworthy patents are allowed, and prior art is ignored.  To someone on the outside it feels a bit like a lottery.universal invention space

Andrew Lee diagrams the Universal Invention Space [ via razib ]





(new yorker, 4/5/04)

Friday,  04/16/04  03:38 PM

that's the Spirit



Saturday,  04/17/04  06:49 PM

BloggerCon logoI attended BloggerCon II today.  It was really great.  I even got to pinch-hit for Adam Curry and hosted a session on Personal TV Networks.  What's really fun about this conference is meeting people face-to-face whom I'd previously know only through their blogs.  (By and large, bloggers are just like you'd expect them to be from reading their writing!)

So, after all the preseason hype about how the Yankees were going to dominate, and this team or that team was going to win their division, guess which team has the best record in baseball?  Yippee, it's the boy in blue.  (Yes, the Dodgers beat the Giants again tonight.  Who hoo.)

Wired reports on an interesting future feature for guns: No Chip in Arm, No Shot from Gun.  An RFID chip implanted in the gun owner's hand would activate the gun.  I wonder how many people are shot by guns fired by people who don't own them?

T-Steel eats some crow, which he prepares beautifully.  "No evidence.  No crime.  No nothing.  And I remember some of the blogs ripping this guy to shreds.  I'm mighty fine with a BBQ grill and I can make crow as tender as veal.  So how ya want it?"

John Battelle ponders the Web Time Axis.  "One of my largest gripes about the web is that it has no memory.  But I think this will soon change - at some point in the not too distant future we'll have live and continuous historical copies of the web that will be searchable..."  The Wayback machine is already attempting to do this, but maybe Google will do it for real.  Already webmasters who accidentally delete stuff use the Google cache as a backup system :)

BoingBoing has an interesting new feature; after each post they have a link to Technorati, so you can see what blogs are linking back to that postAndrew Grumet is doing this as well.  This works a bit like trackbacks, only it isn't limited just to blogs which support trackbacks (a fundamental limitation of trackbacks, IMHO).  This is a perfect example of using emergent properties.

Salon notes Sun Microsystems reports $760M loss.  That's a quarterly loss.  Wow.  They do have $1.5B in cash, but at this rate they won't for long.  Talk about getting shot out the back door, they're already irrelevant, but pretty soon they'll be gone.


In Harvard Yard

Sunday,  04/18/04  06:09 PM

Harvard Yard #2Harvard Yard #1I had a very interesting and wonderful day today.  It began with a pleasant breakfast and stroll about Cambridge with Andrew Grumet and Dave Winer.  We spoke of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.  I next spent several hours walking around "Harvard Yard"; the Harvard campus itself, and the delightful area which surrounds it.  Among other things, it is great for shopping, and people watching, and thinking.  I then met up with my friend and colleague Ul Balis, his wife Jennifer, and sons John and Hyke, and the five of us toured the fabulous Boston Museum of Science, finishing up with dinner at an Afghan restaurant.  Terrific.


Sunday,  04/18/04  06:41 PM

Weekend wrapup...

BloggerCon sceneI want to echo Andrew Grumet and John Palfrey in thanking Dave Winer and the staff of the Berkman Center for hosting BloggerCon II.  The value of a conference generally sinks in after the fact, so one day's perspective is probably not enough, but already I feel it was quite valuable in non-obvious ways.  The greatest effect of an experience like this is in what it makes you think about, not what you learned.

Time reports: See me, blog me, about video producer Steve Garfield (who attended BloggerCon, BTW).  "Boston-based music-video producer Steve Garfield, 46, is no ordinary blogger.  Garfield belongs to a small but growing legion of video bloggers, or vloggers, who are turning the Web into a medium in which someday anyone could conceivably mount original programming, bypassing the usual broadcast networks and cable outlets."  Excellent.

Scientific American carries an interesting study about where in the brain aesthetic tendencies are located.  "One trait believed to differentiate humans from other primates is the ability to appreciate aesthetics.  Scientists have suspected [and these studies show] that such judgment stems from an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex--one of the last cortical regions to expand dramatically over evolution..."  Fascinating.  This is further evidence that beauty was evolutionarily selected.

Opportunity continues to "rock": UPI analyses the import of the 'Bounce' rock.  "Controllers considered Bounce an odd find because it did not resemble any of the other rocks in the crater's vicinity -- nor did it resemble anything seen before on Mars.  So they ordered Opportunity to train its formidable instruments on the rock.  The results stunned the NASA team...  Bounce's chemical composition exactly matches that of a meteorite that hit the ground in Shergotty, India, on Aug. 25, 1865."  Okay, now that's weird, it means maybe Earth and Mars have been exchanging rocks for millions of years.

Peter Rojas explains how to read RSS feeds on your iPod.  I know you've been dying to do that, haven't you?

Little Pigeon River - in the Smoky MountainsCheck out the Smoky Mountain Journal - just one great picture after another taken from the Smoky Mountains between North Carolina and Tennessee.  Just keep scrolling, they're all amazing.  [ via Glenn Reynolds ]

WorldChanging notes an upcoming PBS series World in Balance, about global population trends.  Looks like a must-Tivo.  [ via Ottmar Liebert ]

And speaking of Ottmar, his latest album La Semana is about to be released, and he's going on tour!  Mark your calendars - I know I have...

Time Magazine have released their annual list of the 100 most influential people.  Once again, I am not on it.

Apparently Baystar, the investment group propping up SCO in their effort to hold Linux hostage, has requested that SCO redeem a sizeable block of 20,000 shares, citing breaches of their agreement.  This is excellent news, because it means SCO will have less money to piss away on lawyers.  This is going down in history as the most blatant attempt at IP blackmail ever.

Watch out, everyone; here we have frames without frames.  This is pretty tempting :)  [ via Mark Pilgrim ]

(Okay, okay; I was just kidding.  Whew.)


Tuesday,  04/20/04  10:25 PM

Terry Heaton reports the recent South Korean elections were decided by citizen-powered news.  "The liberal Uri Party swept into power [April 15] in the National Assembly elections, ending 44 years of conservative rule in the country.  What you'll likely NOT read is that this was accomplished largely through the steady efforts of a New Media entity that fought the conservative press in South Korea.  OhMyNews! is an Internet-based media company that took on the giants and won in its bid for influence.  In so doing, it has involved young people in the political process in record numbers and turned the whole culture on its ear.  It's a wake-up call for traditional media everywhere."  [ via Bill Hobbs ]  In this connection, it is worth pointing out that South Korea has the highest per-capita broadband penetration of any country, as well as the highest average hours-spent-surfing.

Josh Marshall can't figure out why the latest polls have Bush gaining on Kerry, despite, as he puts it "two or three weeks when the news for his White House has been universally and profoundly bad - principally because of the uptick in fighting in Iraq, but also because of the 9/11 business."  It's really quite simple.  War is the right issue.  As long as "war news" dominates the headlines, Bush will win.

Einstein probe launchEinstein is off!  The Gravity Probe B satellite designed to test general relativity has been successfully launched into space.  Excellent.

The article notes: "Mission controllers grounded the probe for 24 hours due to uncertainty about flight software during the countdown on Monday."  Ah yes, the software release control problem :)

I'm not sure what to make of this: Schwarzenegger promises California 'Hydrogen Highway' by 2010.  "Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an order Tuesday for California to have a network of stations offering the pollution-free hydrogen fuel up and down the state within six years."  Interesting.

Rafe Needleman contemplates Skype economics.  Skype is a new P2P voice-over-IP offering; unlike Vonage it uses your computer rather than a 'phone as the handset, and also unlike Vonage it is free rather than $30+ per month.  On both counts it seems like a worse business.  We'll see, but I think Skype will go the way of Kazaa (Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom's previous venture); a wildly popular app which does not lead to a commercial success.

conformateurDo you know what this is?  Mark Frauenfelder asks the question.  It seems the prevailing theory is that it is a "conformateur"; a device for measuring the shape of a person's head by poking little holes in a piece of paper fastened in the oval clip shown hinged open, for the purpose of making a form-fitting hat.  To me it looks like a Riven linking book holder :)

CCTV headquartersGoing Dutch - in style.  Slate features Rem Koolhaas, "the most influential architect of the last decade."  The picture at right depicts the CCTV headquarters building, in Bejing.  Awesome - sculpture you can work inside!

A medical mood ring: "MIT mechanical engineers Harry Asada and Phillip Shaltis have developed a 'ring sensor' that monitors the wearer’s temperature, heart rate, and blood oxygen level.  The battery-powered ring contains a wireless link that can transmit vital signs to a cell phone or computer, allowing a caregiver to determine remotely whether a patient needs assistance."  This is the future, and it's here now.

Wired reports Science Women Get Cinematic Boost.  Two new movies in preparation chronicle the lives of Rosalind Franklin, the under-publicized third hero of the discovery of DNA, and Hedy Lamarr, the Hollywood pinup who filed a patent on spread-spectrum technology.  Wow.

The NYTimes: Studios Rush to Cash in on DVD Boom.  "Between January and mid-March this year, Americans spent $1.78 billion at the box office.  But in the same period they spent $4.8 billion - more than $3 billion more - to buy and rent DVD's and videocassettes."  Which suggests there's a market for video-on-demand...  [ via Dave Winer ]

scissors in X-rayYahoo: "An X-ray showing a 17 centimeter (6.7 inches) pair of surgical scissors in the abdomen of 69-year-old Pat Skinner in Sydney, Australia.  Mrs Skinner had an operation at St.George hospital in Sydney's south in May 2001, but continued to suffer intense pain and it was only when she insisted on an x-ray 18 months later that she discovered the scissors inside."

BW wonders Can .Mac withstand the G-force?  Essentially this is the editors' suggestion that Apple abandon their .mac service in favor of a co-branded offering of Google's new email service.  This isn't a horrible idea, but why do the BW editors continuously try to run Apple?  They periodically admire Steve Jobs for doing a great job, but they can't help trying to run it themselves, anyway.

Apple powerbooks		Apple just made their G4 powerbooks faster and lower the prices, too.  They recently reported a strong quarter led by sales of the new mini iPods.  They must be doing something right :)

In Search Boosters for your PC BW admires X1.  I, too, feel X1 is a good thing; if you're not using it to search your Outlook folders and hard drives, you should be.

Interesting article on InfoWorld: Can email be saved?  Six pundits give their solutions to the problem of spam.


Sunday,  04/25/04  11:26 PM

Sorry for the break - work got in the way - must...adjust...priorities...

USA Today: "Internet cafes seemingly dot every block in Baghdad, and new ones open often. That has led to a new phenomenon here: bloggers."  Excellent.  [ via Dave Winer ]

Andrew Sullivan posted an interesting (and encouraging) letter from Fallujah.

LGF notes the Media Mask slips.  "Falling all over themselves in an unseemly and ghoulish haste to publish photographs of American soldiers arriving home in coffins, the Washington Post, CNN, AP, and Reuters all ran pictures of Columbia shuttle disaster victims - wrongly identified as Iraqi war dead."  That's terrible.

Victor Davis Hanson recounts more Iraq myths.

David Burbridge reports DNA: a new twist?  "A few years ago in southern England a drunken teenager threw a brick at a truck.  The brick hit the driver's window; the driver had a heart attack and died.  The police forensic services obtained a DNA sample from the surface of the brick, but could not find a match.  Then last year the Forensic Science Service told the police that the newly developed process of 'familial searching' might help.  The police listed close relatives of the partial match, identified a likely suspect, and obtained a DNA sample from him which proved to be a perfect match.   After initially denying all knowledge of the crime, when confronted with the DNA evidence the suspect pleaded guilty to manslaughter."  Way cool.

the Red Line - Los AngelesRobert links the Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California.  Awesome website.  I love this stuff.  And people say Los Angeles doesn't have any history!  What's weird is that 100 years ago, L.A. was a leader in public transportation, and today everyone takes a car everywhere...

Ottmar Liebert notes the SUV challenge.  "Isn't it outrageous that I could have a twenty-something thousand dollar tax credit for buying a Hummer vs a measly $1,500 tax-credit for a Hybrid car?Yes, it is!  This is a problem for Arnold :)

orange Empire State BuildingAdam Curry observes that on April 30 the Empire State Building will be lit orange, in honor of Dutch queen Juliana, who passed away recently...  That's cool.

Here's an interesting twist on the "are bloggers journalists?" debate: Time Magazine launches a blog.  "TIME's Eric Roston gives a daily commentary on the technology that will carry us through tomorrow - and the stuff that keeps us stuck in yesterday."  So be it.

Of course we're all waiting for Alien vs. Predator, and in the meantime we can contemplate the new Star Trek prequel.  What could be better than that?

Mark Cuban, founder and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, blogs about Success and Motivation.  "I did it too.  I drove by big houses and would wonder who lived there.  What did they do for a living?  How did they make their money?  Someday, I would tell myself, I would live in a house like that."

Man, this pisses me off.  Compression Labs has filed a lawsuit against 31 major companies for violating its patent, due to their use of JPEG compression.  These patent suits are ridiculous.

Ottmar considers the creative collective.  "I believe William Burroughs said once that an idea, any idea, doesn't belong to a person, but to a time period."  Exactly.  But with patents, the idea can belong to a company.  Which can then sue and stifle creativity.

This is pretty funny.shitbegone toilet paper  "Jed Ela exhibited a single role of a toilet paper he had thought of as a joke, called ‘Shitbegone’.  The exhibit was a great success, and Ela realized he could actually make money by mass-producing Shitbegone and selling it in stores.  What differentiates this from the sale of other artistic reproductions is that Ela markets Shitbegone as toilet paper, not as art: he sells it by the case ('96 double rolls for $44.99. That's 47 cents per roll!').  What started as something like Warhol’s soup cases turns into an idiosyncratic case of the product development and marketing of a basic essential commodity."  But that isn't the best part.  Now Michael Pulsford has analyzed 'shitbegone' in a business case study.  I am not making this up :)


Monday,  04/26/04  10:23 PM

The Ole filter makes another pass...

John Maynard SmithThe University of Suffix has issued a press release, announcing John Maynard Smith, the world renowned "evolutionary biologist", has died.  "Maynard Smith was remarkable for the breadth of his contributions to biology, including his radical application of game theory to understanding evolutionary strategies, and his clear definition of the major transitions in the history of life.  Maynard Smith was always enthusiastic about new data sources and continued to be a driving force in the use of molecular data to answer biological questions."  I first met Dr. Smith's ideas in Richard Dawkins' classic The Selfish Gene.  The idea of an Evolutionarily Stable Strategy (ESS) seemed particularly novel; a strategy which remains successful even when competing against itself.

J. Craig VenterThe Scientist has an interesting "First Person" interview with J. Craig Venter.  Dr. Venter is best know as the founder of Celera Genomics, the company which contributed so significantly to sequencing the human genome as part of the Human Genome Project.  He's also a fascinating guy.

Q: What's it like to be J. Craig Venter?
A: My mind is always very active, and I'm always dealing with a lot of continuous, complicated issues.  I have the wonderful, fortunate position of being able to work in areas that I find intellectually stimulating.  I have to be deeply asleep and unconscious to not be thinking about what I am doing in my life.

P.Z.Myers, of Pharyngula, has started a blogging series called The Tangled Bank, "in which we highlight weblogs and articles on the broadly defined topics of biology, medicine, and natural history."  Planned as a weekly moveable feast, a la the Carnival of the Vanities, this is going to be a great showcase.  Check it out!

synthetic lifeThis is cool; Scientific American has a story about Synthetic Life.  "Biologists are crafting libraries of interchangeable DNA parts and assembling them inside microbes to create programmable, living machines."  The goal isn't necessarily to create organisms, it is to create genetic machines comprised of "BioBricks".  This is going to be big - a cool new way to exploit nanotechnology.  Somehow I think John Maynard Smith and Craig Venter would be in favor.  (As would P.Z.Myers :)

Think bloggers aren't journalists?  Then check out this post about the South Dakota senatorial race.  I don't have a rooting interest regarding Daschle v. Thune, but I am definitely a fan of this kind of reporting, which is critical to the democratic process.  Excellent stuff.

The NYTimes has some interesting stuff on this race, too :)

New Yorker - Oct 21, 1991I met Betsy Devine at BloggerCon, and she pointed out a terrific New Yorker cover which wasn't included in our recent gallery.  So here it is (click thumbnail for larger view)...

Betsy also pointed out my little blog was recently Feedster's Feed of the Day.  That's awesome - Thanks!

There's been all this news about the pending Google IPO.  I'm on record already - it is not going to be a huge success.  I'm sorry, Google is a great service, but the company doesn't have an eBay-like business model (or even a PayPal-like business model).

Plus, they're doing stuff like this which is, well, troubling...

And they're doing stuff like this which is, well, even more troubling...  And Evan's response isn't helpful.  Their cockiness is apparent, and it isn't pretty.

Steve Gillmor interviews Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who doesn't seem like he would be behind the troubling stuff.

The NYTimes details Google's ownership.  [ via Dave Winer ]

Dave suggests we check out Gigablast as a Google alternative.

Technology Review has an interesting article about Google and Akamai, their similarities and differences.  (Akamai had a moon-shot IPO in 1999, but has struggled since.)

By the way, can you even believe eBay?  Just when you think the stock must be overvalued, they double their quarterly profit and raise guidance, again.  Wow.



Tuesday,  04/27/04  01:17 AM


Is this unreal, or what?  This is not an annimated image.  Wow.
And check out these other ones, too...
"there is no spoon"


Tuesday,  04/27/04  11:20 PM

The Economist has a really fascinating article about the possibility that stem cells may cause cancer:

"CANCER cells are distinguished by the fact that they multiply rapidly and in an uncontrolled manner.  Hence, scientists and drug companies have developed drugs that kill cells which divide quickly, while sparing slow-growing - and thus presumably healthy - cells.  The catch is that while such therapies often shrink tumors, they rarely cure the underlying disease.  Patients often relapse years after an apparently successful treatment.  At the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, which took place in Orlando, Florida, in the last few days of March, Michael Clarke, of the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, discussed why such relapses might occur.  Dr Clarke believes that a small population of slow-growing cells in tumors - cancerous stem cells - may be responsible not only for the recurrence of tumors, but for the original cancers as well."

This seems a very promising line of inquiry to me.  The other day I noted the Fortune magazine cover article: "Why we're losing the war on cancer".  The gist of that story was that cancer research is focused more on therapy than prevention.  This insight - if true - may lead directly to courses of treatment which truly "cure" cancer.  Very cool.

Titan's surfaceThe European Southern Observatory has taken some amazing photographs of Titan, Saturn's largest moon.  Early next year the Huygens probe will crash into Titan, relaying telemetry via the Cassini orbiter.  All this unmanned space exploration activity is very encouraging.

Allen Greenspan said today "the likelihood of persistently high energy prices would probably help keep U.S. energy use in check and influence energy-related business investments."  This seems like good news; let's give consumers a reason not to buy SUVs.

Phil Libin makes an interesting point about air-travel safety:  "Someone attempting an exact replay of the 9/11 attacks today would likely be beaten to within an inch of death."  Which means it is unlikely terrorists would try it again.  Which means all the effort to try to prevent it - ultimately very hard and inconvenient - is probably wasted.  [ via Glenn Reynolds ]

Taking Chance Home.  Really excellent.  [ via Citizen Smash, who notes This is Respect ]

Bugatti VeyronEver wonder how the Bugatti Veyron works?  Like, How do you fit 1,000 horsepower into a compact engine?  (No, it isn't 16 liters - it uses four turbochargers to aspirate 16 cylinders in a "W" configuration!)  And how do you keep a passenger car on the road at 250+ MPH?  (It is about as wide as a Hummer, but about 1/3 as high.  Plus, it has a "real" spoiler wing.)  I want one.

Isn't How Stuff Works just a great site?  A real meme repository.

More on Google: BW has a nice interview with Eric Schmidt, Google's "hired gun" CEO:

Q: Are you working hard to find a way to create more lock-in with your users?
A: You're asking a perfectly reasonable question of a normal company.  That's not how Google works.  The way Google works is about innovation.  We are awaiting the discovery of what will achieve your objective.  Do you see the distinction?

Fortune has a nice profile of Michael Moritz, one of the VCs backing Google.  I had some contact with Mike when I was at PayPal.  A real big picture guy.

Yesterday we noted Gigablast, a Google search engine competitor.  Here's a thorough interview with Matt Wells, Gigablast's one-man band, by Steve Kirsch (Infoseek founder and current CEO of Propel).  [ via Michael Heraghty ]

BW also analyzes the Twists in Netflix' Growth Plot.  All is not great there; "While few dispute that Netflix is the leader in the DVD rental biz, competition in this arena is starting to pick up.  And as Netflix' costs continue to rise, profitability could remain elusive, some analysts fear."  They're a transitional technology anyway; video-on-demand will kill Netflix, as surely as it will kill Blockbuster.

Speaking of online media (we were), iTunes is one year old!  Wow.  CNet marks the occasion with a nice review of the state of iTunes and the other online music services.  The key issue a year ago was consumer acceptance.  Now that it's evident that people will pay for online music, the key issue has become compatibility between services and devices.

Steve Jobs announces iTunes music storeFor old times' sake, here's a video of the announcement of iPods and iTunes, by Steve Jobs.  Paradoxically, it is in RealPlayer format :)

Hey buddy, want to buy a portal?  Terra Lycos is shopping  The asking price is $200M, marked down from the $12.5B Terra paid for it in 2000.  Such a deal.

Chris Pratley is a Microsoft blogger who writes Let's talk about Word, and then analyzes the great Word vs. WordPerfect battle.  Chris’ main points are that WordPerfect made the mistake of changing too much on each release, and Word did something smart by understanding what customers actually did.  If these lessons are applied to Windows, it means MS should concentrate on making Windows work better, instead of making Windows into something different.  So far Longhorn is doing the opposite; instead of fixing things like paging and improving performance, MS is inventing new ways to do new things.  This might be “cool” but it will open the door to competitors, and as well it isn't really what customers want.

Eric Sink thinks we should read Coder to Developer, by Mike Gunderloy.  I might.  Any book with a forward by Joel Spolsky can't be horrible :)


Wednesday,  04/28/04  10:59 PM

This is interesting; President Bush wants nationwide broadband access by 2007.  "Bush's proposal is both incremental and deregulatory. It touts the introduction of low taxes, more available spectrum and limited regulation as the way to encourage private companies to bring broadband to the shrinking number of Americans who do not have it."  I can't help thinking: video-on-demand.

Kobe drivingDid you watch the Lakers last night?  Man, when they are firing on all cylinders, they are great.  In fact, they have so many cylinders, they don't have to be firing on all of them.  Last night Kobe was dominating, and Shaq closed down Yao.  Last Sunday it was Karl Malone who delivered.  They're looking pretty good.  But, the Lakers have the defending champion Spurs next, who looked equally impressive putting away Dallas.  I think the winner of the Lakers-Spurs series is going to win the finals.

Wired reports New Study Urges Patent Upgrade.  "The council recommended in its report that the patent office and Congress take seven steps to improve the patent system.  Those steps include, among other things, hiring new patent examiners, creating a more open system for challenging questionable patents, and rejecting more patents on processes that are deemed to be 'obvious' by people in the field."  I suppose improving the patent system will help - the suggestions are obvious improvements - but the whole process is fundamentally broken.  Can a gene complex own a meme complex?

Andrew Grumet posted a nice rant about syndication and competing formats.  The RSS vs. Atom wars are probably of only esoteric interest to most of you, but when divergence of standards stifles innovation, users suffer.

A proper marriage of TV and blogs.  They're definitely going steady :)

I think the "amateur" software development in this area has been terrific (amateur in the sense of "free", not in the sense of "mediocre"!)  Now it will be interesting to see if any commercial models can take hold.  Like, er, video-on-demand.

David Bowie has invited fans to bootleg his music -- and he's offering prizes for the most creative theft.  The thin white duke stays ahead of the curve...

WMA to AACApple celebrated iTunes' one year anniversary with a new release, including an optional lossless encoding format.  My ears can't hear the difference.  Also, you can now convert WMA files to AAC.  Not vice-versa, of course :)

By the way, iTunes was profitable in its first year.  So not only did it drive tons of iPod sales, it pulled its own weight, too.

The San Francisco Giants have implemented WiFi throughout Pac Bell Park.  Wired has a nice story about it.  But they don't ask the important question - what happens when people start video-blogging games?  Think it won't happen?  Then you don't know San Francisco bloggers :)

golden oreoFinally, Eric Sink rants about Oreos.  Is it an Oreo if it isn't chocolate?  You make the call.



the Charles Hotel Rocks

Friday,  04/30/04  02:45 PM

Some people talk about great customer service.  Then there are those who walk the walk.

A couple of weekends ago I attended BloggerCon II at Harvard in Boston.  While there I stayed at the Charles Hotel, which is a really nice place right off Harvard square.  High-speed Internet access, comfortable beds, plenty of water pressure (!), nice restaurants, etc.  And while there I bought some Harvard tee-shirts for my daughters.

I left Monday morning at 4:00AM to fly back through Pittsburgh so I could spend the day with a client.  Naturally I forgot to pack the tee-shirts, left them in the closet.  Sigh.  So I called the hotel, they searched the room, talked to the housekeeping people, etc., and sadly were not able to find the shirts.  I thought that would be the end of it.  No sir.  Peter Davis, the hotel's service manager, called me back to ask what sizes my daughters wore, so he could go out and buy replacements! 

And today I got a FedEx package with three purple Harvard tee-shirts, courtesy of the Charles Hotel.  Okay people, listen up; that's service.  I don't know what it cost the hotel to buy those shirts and mail them, but they now have a client for life.  Any time I'm in Boston, you know where I'll be staying.

Not to mention the free publicity they'll get on my blog :)


Return to the archive.

About Me

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