Archive: December 2004

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Mac desktop software technology?

Wednesday,  12/01/04  11:42 AM

Here's a question for all you Mac-ers out there: What's the best way to build desktop software for a Mac?

My company Aperio has built a high-performance spiffy image viewer for very large images used in virtual microscopy, particularly Pathology applications.  This is currently a Windows desktop program, written in VB wrapping a C++ OCX with C++ supporting classes.  We're planning to build a native Mac version of the same program.  I believe the C++ supporting classes will port directly with a bit of codesmithing, including the ones which deal with image files and network communications.  However the higher-level stuff will have to be rewritten from scratch.  So what do people use?  Java?  C++?  Is there a technology similar to ActiveX controls which readily enables embedding functionality into other programs?

If you have thoughts on this, please email me.  (I plan to post everyone's replies, so please tell me if you don't want attribution for your thoughts...)  Thanks!

[ Later: Here's the answer...  thanks, everyone. ]


Wednesday,  12/01/04  11:32 PM

It is still cold here, and now windy, too...  brrr...  meanwhile, back at the 'net...

This is something to watch: WebMD reports Novel Vaccine Stops HIV.  "A therapeutic vaccine has stopped HIV in its tracks.  The vaccine is made from a patient's own dendritic cells and HIV isolated from the patient's own blood.  Animal studies show that when dendritic cells are 'loaded' with whole, killed AIDS viruses, they can trigger effective immune responses that keep infected animals from dying of AIDS."  Excellent. 

Netherlands hospital euthanizes babies.  "A hospital in the Netherlands - the first nation to permit euthanasia - recently proposed guidelines for mercy killings of terminally ill newborns, and then made a startling revelation: It has already begun carrying out such procedures, which include administering a lethal dose of sedatives."  People are going to react to this with horror (see the comments in this LGF thread), but it is a pragmatic solution.  Of course where do you draw the line... 

The NYTimes: U.N. Report Urges Big Changes; Security Council Would Expand.  Powerline explains why there's not much new at the U.N.: "Currently, all power at the U.N. resides in the Security Council, which has five permanent members and ten temporary, rotating members.  Only the five permanent members have the power to veto any U.N. action.  The problem is intractable; no nation that now has a veto will consent to give it up, while adding more vetoes inevitably moves in the direction of paralysis.  And doing away with the veto power entirely is unthinkable, since no real power - like the U.S. - trusts the organization enough to give it meaningful authority without retaining a veto right."  This is why the U.N. is a toothless debating society. 

Tim Oren notes an interesting milestone: "The canard that it takes legacy media to effectively cover an overseas story died on the streets of Kiev.  If you've been trying to follow the story of the Ukrainians' attempt to overturn a corrupt election, you didn't go to CNN or the NYT, even for primary coverage.  Instead you picked up first hand reportage at quaintly named places like 'Post Modern Clog', TulipGirl, Periscope, and the Maidan Internet news collective."  Exactly. 

Wired has an interesting interview with Burt Rutan, designer of SpaceShipOne.  "In the coming era of manned space exploration by the private sector, market forces will spur development and yield new, low-cost space technologies.  If the history of private aviation is any guide, private development efforts will be safer, too.  A NASA-funded study estimates that if the price of a ticket to space approached $100,000, close to a million people would buy one.  That's a $100 billion industry."  I'm eagerly awaiting Elon Musk's next update from SpaceX

Slate has a puffy interview with Richard Dawkins: The Man Behind the Meme.  He's promoting his new book, The Ancestor's Tale, which is [of course] a must-read for me.  "When Dawkins introduced the meme concept a couple of decades ago, hopes were raised that the evolution of culture, or even of the human mind, might be explained as a sort of Darwinian competition among memes.  But little has come of this project, even if the word "meme" does continue to get tossed around quite a bit by pretentious intellectuals."  I bet Susan Blackmore would disagree

CNet reports New microscope could focus nanotech dream.  "The U.S. Department of Energy is enlisting partners to develop a microscope that can capture images of particles measuring a half an angstrom, or half the size of a hydrogen atom."  Cool.  Of course these government-funded projects are part boondoggle, they've earmarked $100M for the development...  The micrograph at left shows gold atoms, 23 angstroms apart (proving all that's gold does not glitter :) 

Engaget links an NYTimes story about a guitar-like robot called GuitarBot, and wonders whether it could beat Yngwie or Satriani in a shredding contest.  I haven't heard its "music", but I suspect Ottmar is not worried :) 

AOL has updated Singingfish, a multimedia search engine.  I tried Singingfish by searching for "Ottmar Liebert video", and it worked - it found this Bravo movie (RealVideo) of Ottmar in concert.  (Click through if you're never seen him - you'll love it!)  I also tried searching for "GuitarBot", but no luck... 


Mac desktop software technology II

Thursday,  12/02/04  01:10 AM

Yesterday I wondered "What's the best way to build desktop software for a Mac?"  I got a lot of feedback - thanks - and the consensus was:  Use Apple's Xcode IDE, develop for the Cocoa environment (present-day version of NextStep), and program using the Objective-C language.  Apparently there is no direct equivalent to ActiveX but you can build Objective-C components which can be incorporated into multiple programs.  So be it.  Thanks especially to Mark Wrenn and Gary Lang.

Right now I have an "original lamp" iMac as my development machine, running OS 10.3 ("Panther"); upgrading to newer hardware might be a first step.  I'm not as worried about the machine's speed as I am about the 1024x768 screen resolution; I'm pretty spoiled by the 21" 1600x1200 monitor I use with my PC.  Is there any way to hook an external monitor to an iMac?  Or maybe I run an Xwindows server on my PC and connect to the Mac (I've heard good things about Exceed)?

I'll be traveling down this road - stay tuned for updates... 

[ Later: The 'net is awesome.  So I post this to my blog, check my referer log, and find this thread, which links to this helpful article about porting from Win32 to Mac OS X.  Excellent! ]


kid blogger

Thursday,  12/02/04  01:22 AM

[ via Dungis, thanks, Julien ]



Friday,  12/03/04  12:00 AM

printf("%X!", birthday);



Birthday, cont.

Friday,  12/03/04  10:30 PM

Brandywine, gravlax, champagne, Cæser salad (made at the table), Chateaubriand (rare, of course), asparagus, roasted potatoes, 1997 Stag's Leap Cask 23 (WS 95, I give it 99+), flourless chocolate cake, espresso ice cream, 1977 Warre's.  Thanks, Shirley!  I will say no more.


referral spam wars, cont.

Saturday,  12/04/04  09:55 AM

The other day I noted I'd implemented a simple change to my server logging to filter referral spam.  This change is a great source of satisfaction; I love viewing my referral logs and knowing every single entry is legitimate.  But this morning I noticed something which amazed me - all through last night I'd been receiving referral spam hits from URLs which are not on the air!  The essence of my filter is that it explicitly checks referrals by retrieving the page which allegedly links to my site.  These referers made it through because I don't eliminate invalid URLs; I figured what would be the point?  So here we have a referral spammer who was successful because of incompetance.  Of course they were only successful in defeating my filter; the sites they're advertising don't exist, so there really is no point.  Man.



Sunday,  12/05/04  10:27 AM

So - I am just now on negative time working on two projects, and haven't even made time for reading blogs, let alone posting (SharpReader is already backed up with hundreds of unread items, sigh).  Please stay tuned, regularly scheduled programming will resume "shortly".

I have now been blogging "daily" for nearly two years.  (No snickering about that four month gap, please.)  My daily viewership is about 500 people, who generate about 2,000 page views.  Of them, about 350 are people who have previously visited at least three times.  Plus, I now get over 2,000 requests for my RSS feed every day, and since my feed contains full item content a goodly percentage of these people are not web visitors.  All this is so excellent, I thank you all.

Because of all you guys out there, whenever I have any gap in posting I always get a few emails asking if everything is okay, and when I'll resume.  It isn't quite like the LATimes forgetting to put out an edition, but inquiring minds want to know.

So now you know.

Oh, and not to mention, my kids gave me Myst Revelation for my birthday - thanks! - and I can't wait to play it, only the real world is intruding...




Wednesday,  12/08/04  10:49 PM

Okay, I'm back.  Here's what's happening...

First, I have to report that today I had one of my best online shopping days ever.  Between Google and Froogle and Amazon and all the little stores out there with specialty stuff, I found everything I wanted from the comfort of my office.  And everything works now; the sites are fast, payments are processed smoothly, you can track shipping online.  Wow.  How did people handle December before the 'net? 

There is one thing online vendors still need to figure out - please please do NOT resize browser windows.  We don't want you to do this.  And please please don't hide the window controls, either.  I have this little routine I go through whenever this happens; right-click, view page info, copy URL, open new browser window, paste URL.  Poof, a window the size I want, with controls, displaying the same page.  But I shouldn't have to do this... 

Speaking of online shopping, Shirley reports that Albertson's now delivers!  Yippee.  We tried it and it worked great, just like the Webvan of old.  Order online, pick your delivery window, and poof! a guy shows up with your groceries.  They charge $10 for delivery which seems very reasonable.  I love living in the 21st century :) 

People have been sailing for thousands of years, so you'd think there wouldn't be much new in the way of sails, but you'd be wrong.  Here we have the Kite-sail.  In addition to providing forward thrust, this sail lifts the bow of the boat out of the water, reducing wetted surface and hence drag.  I bet it isn't easy to fly, though, seems like it could knock the boat over rather easily.  I notice it seems to be flown from the deck rather than the mast, which makes sense... 

Halley Suitt: Dave Barry vs. the Department of Labor.  "But my point is that this survey is very misleading.  Take the concept of ''housework.''  It may be true that women spend more TIME on it, but what, really, are they accomplishing?

Ottmar Liebert has added a podcasting feed to his online listening lounge.  Excellent.  If you've never heard him play, here's a new reason to check him out! 

When you're a product company, how do you know if you've really made it?  When your customers start making ads for you!  Here's a wonderful ad for the iPod mini courtesy of Apple fan George Masters.  Wow.  [ via Cult of Mac

So far my customers like their ScanScopes, but I haven't heard of one making an ad for us yet.  Guess we have some work to do. :)

BTW, there is a ton of speculation about a new flash-based Apple iPod.  Daring Fireball posted a nice argument why it won't happen (basically, there is no consumer benefit; flash is a technology, not a feature).  Cult of Mac thinks there will be an iPod Micro.  I guess this is possible - small size is a feature - but it seems unlikely.  The real feature of iPods is that you can carry all your music around, not just an album or two... 

This is kind of cool - TV2Me.  A network connected PVR designed to record programs in one city, and let you view them in another...  Time shifting and space shifting :) 

If you're not a blogger - yet - but are considering trying, check out the new MSN Spaces, a free online blogging service from Microsoft.  It competes with Blogger and Typepad in the "entry level blogging" arena.  As usual you have the "ease of use" / "functionality" trade-off, and they've tilted heavily toward ease of use.  Scoble says it's not the service for him, and has links to others' reactions

Eugene Volokh: You can blog, but you can't hide.  An interesting rumination on the first-amendment implications of blogging.  Are we journalists? 

Bigwig thinks this song should be our new national anthem.  It is kind of catchy :) 

U.C.Berkeley has a class on programming Lego Mindstorms robots.  "The aim of Professor Roger Glassey's introductory robotics course is to instill students with the most fundamental skills in designing computer-controlled mechanical systems, and provide them with the discipline and stamina to solve difficult engineering problems systematically and efficiently."  I am not making this up. 

The other day I mentioned I'm working on porting a Windows application to Mac OS X.  Through the magic of referers, I found a discussion board were people were talking about my need (!), and a link to this page from Apple.  Very helpful, this seems to be a solved problem.  Also, I'm going to try client/server development, using my PC as a workstation on my Mac, rather than investing in a new Mac.  We'll see how it goes - stay tuned! 

Oh, and I finally got a chance to start playing Myst IV: Revelation.  What can I tell you, it is great; excellent graphics, interesting puzzles, and a weird new world hovering at the edge of your imagination.  The coolest new thing is the amount of background motion; trees blow around in the wind, birds fly, steam rises from waterfalls, etc., all from within in a 3D environment.  If you liked Myst and Riven and Myst Exile, you'll love this one, too. 

New Year's Resolution update: still 204.  At least I'm not losing ground.


Lights, Camera, Xmas!

Wednesday,  12/08/04  10:56 PM

This one is for Kevin:

The other day I treated myself to a birthday gift, a cool little camera from Fuji.  It is tiny!  And it really works great, the shot above was taken in pitch blackness, in the rain.  The original is 2200 x 1600 pels!

Digital camera technology is impressive - this device is about as small as it can be and still be usable by human fingers, yet it takes hundreds of sharp clear high resolution pictures (4Mp), records movies including sound, and has great battery life.  When you get home you put it in a little USB cradle and the pictures are directly available on your desktop as a disk drive, and the battery recharges.  It costs far less than a high-quality film camera did 10 years ago.  Amazing what can happen to technology in a market when it reaches "consumer scale".


the gravity bill

Thursday,  12/09/04  07:32 AM

I had always thought we'd have to pay for anti-gravity.
(new yorker, 12/04/06)


phoning home

Thursday,  12/09/04  08:38 AM

If you want to support our troops and help someone less fortunate this Holiday Season, consider donating phone cards to wounded troops.  You can send phone cards of any amount to:

Medical Family Assistance Center
Walter Reed Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20307-5001

Apparently they need an "endless" supply of these -- any amount even $5 is greatly appreciated.  Walmart has good prices on AT&T cards, Sams Club is even better, if you are a member.

You can buy phone cards for troops online as well.

Please pass this on, copy and paste it into your e-mail, and send to everyone you know.  These men and women are supporting us, now let's support them!


extreme dialup

Thursday,  12/09/04  10:59 PM

I had a good day today.  Got a lot done.  Enjoyed being with my kids.  In fact only one bad thing happened today, but it was bad; MY DSL WENT DOWN!  Gasp!!  How can anyone survive life without broadband, especially in December, and especially when hosting ten websites?

So I called Verizon, and predictably they didn't find anything wrong, and have "opened a trouble ticket".  I asked for a prognosis and they said these kinds of problems are usually resolved within 24-48 hours.  What!  You want me to be down for two days!!  Okay, stay calm.  I made a dial-up connection from my laptop to, my trusty ISP going back for about ten years, and poked around a bit.  I found a diagnostic program on the Westell website for my DSL modem.  This program cannot even find the DSL modem, let alone diagnose it.  I'm guessing the modem has died.  It will take Verizon days to agree and more days to ship me a new modem.  So I'm down.  I can dial-up from my laptop, but my network is down.  Sigh.

But wait!  I have an Airport Extreme wireless access point - and it has a built in V.90 dial backup facility!  To make a not-so-very-long story short, I was able to configure the access point to act as a dial-up gateway to my account, so here I am, with my entire network running on a V.90 dial-up at 56K.  Yeah, my websites are slow, and yeah, surfing is a bit slow, but email and RSS are working just fine, and everything is up.  If you are reading this, you are reading it over a dial-up connection.

I knew Apple's wireless hubs were cool, but this is really cool.  And it isn't even a feature I would have ever looked for or cared about until now.  Excellent.

P.S. I have modified my page template to eliminate all unnecessary images.  Not too bad, eh?  Who knows, I might leave it this way.  What do you think?


Thursday,  12/09/04  11:13 PM

Poking around the 'net at 56K, here's what we find...

The Economist ponders America's One-Party State.  "If you loathe political debate, join the faculty of an American university...  Academia is simultaneously both the part of America that is most obsessed with diversity, and the least diverse part of the country."  A great point, and well made.  Some would say this is an IQ-driven thing (smarter people vote blue) but I would suggest a role-driven thing (people with skin in the game for red). 

Ethan Zuckerman is looking for a name for 4.8B people!  There are 800M people currently "on" the Internet, and then there is "the next billion".  Which leaves 4.8B people which are neither currently "on" nor about to be.  Check out the comment thread as well...  My personal favorite is "The Unwired". 

LGF reports French Winemakers are Whining.  "'We are a sector in crisis,' said Jean-Michel Lemetayer, the head of France’s main farmer union, urging the state to bail out an industry awash in a sea of Chablis and Bordeaux.  France’s wine industry, which employs about 500,000 people, says exports through Aug. 31 dropped by more than 5.5 percent in volume and 9.6 percent in value."  Boo hoo.  Interesting that they don't mention France's increasingly hostile relationship with the U.S., which is obviously a key factor. 

This is great news: The Commercial Spaceflight Bill has passed!  "Under this legislation, the FAA's role until 2012 will be to protect the uninvolved public on the ground, and allow passengers to ride as long as they've been properly informed of the related dangers."  This will greatly reduce the liability of private spaceflight pioneers, reducing cost and making space tourism much more feasible. 

AdAge has a terrific story Dissecting the wreckage of airline marketing disasters.  "In retrospect, it's easy to see the fallacy of an all-forks strategy.  But in the short term, many of these marketing moves increased revenues and profits.  It's only in the long term, and in the presence of narrowly focused competition, does an all-forks strategy fall apart."  This is a great analysis; why are Southwest and Jet Blue viable, yet United, American, and Delta are hovering on the brink of disaster?  [ via Doc Searles, in a post titled "Customers to airlines, go fork yourself" ] 

Oh my gosh - F.A.O.Schwarz is back!  Too bad they're not bringing Zainy Brainy back with them.  One of the few crummy things about shopping for Christmas this year has been doing it at Toys 'R' Us instead  >:( 

The new VoIP?  Not voice, but video!  Leading voice-over-IP providers Vonage and VoicePulse are both planning video-over-IP services.  Excellent!  That should finish off whatever is left of the analog phone companies...  Apparently Vonage is introducing a $600 phone called the Videon (pictured at right); this seems like a high price point, but maybe it will be okay for early adopters. 

Matt Haughey had a chance to try a hacked DirecTivo.  "Once you've got a DirecTiVo on the network, you can use TiVoWebPlus as a front-end to add shows, sort recordings, and do some deep searching.  Along with the included FTP and telnet, you can extend the basic toolkit in all sorts of ways.  This is really exciting stuff, and the start of the perfect TiVo toolset I always dreamed of having.

Matt also interviews Margaret Schmidt, Tivo's Director of User Experience.  Matt fails to ask the key question, how does Tivo balance the conflicting needs of their consumer users and their advertiser customers?  I wonder what she thinks of displaying ads during fast-forwarding! 

Oh, and here's a review of BeyondTV, a PC-based PVR from SnapStream which really seems to be as easy to use as a Tivo.  Almost :)  The screen shots look very nice, anyway. 

And of course, Video Feeds Follow Podcasting.  "We think of it internally as TiVocasting.  It's one thing to have a bunch of video files dumped into a folder on your desktop.  The interesting future is when it is put into a TiVo-style mechanism."  Yep. 

A boy and his dog - in space.  By Floyd Darrin Perry, former Creative Director for Wired, who recently passed away... 

Just a big dinghy?  The Open Pro 60 looks like it, doesn't it?  Amazing.  Must be fun - and just a bit exciting, too.  [ via The Horse's Mouth

Gerard Van Der Leun, The Name in the Stone.  Great post, very moving. 

Om Malik thinks the personal blog is dead.  Um, not quite.  Bloggers are terrific filters.  The bigger the net gets, the more need there will be for filtering...   [ via Scoble, who is a great filter himself ] 

Heck, even Eliot Spitzer has a blog

Finally, my DSL is down - boo! - maybe I should blame it on Christmas Lights


back on broadband

Friday,  12/10/04  03:26 PM

Hey, my DSL is back up!  Thank you Verizon, only 24-hour turnaround (and I don't mean that sarcastically; that really is pretty good).  Fortunately my extreme dial-up band-aid kept me on the air in the meantime, although it did remind me how crappy it is to surf the web at 56K.

A thing I knew but worth noting; one of the cool things about the whole RSS mechanism is how efficient it is.  While on dial back-up I really appreciated the asynchronous nature of RSS retrieval.  And it doubly reinforced how much better it is to get “entire content” in RSS feeds as opposed to simply teaser text.

I also cursed spammers for choking my precious bandwidth with their offal.  Thanks to MailFrontier it doesn't end up in my inbox, but it does take time to retrieve, of course.

And finally, dynamic DNS rocks.  I use zoneedit, and I'm very happy with them.  The whole cut-over-to-dialup and cut-back-to-DSL thing "just worked", without me having to do anything to make it work.

P.S. I've restored the full-graphics template for pages.  What did you think of the skinny look?  If you have an opinion, please email me...  You can click here for the without-graphics template.


Friday,  12/10/04  10:14 PM

I am really anticipating Christmas this year.  Am I going to get great presents?  Hmmm...  I don't know yet.  But I'm going to give great presents, and I can't wait to watch my kids playing with them.  (And to help them play with them :)  More on that after Christmas!

Charles Krauthammer: The Afghan Miracle.  "'Miracle begets yawn' has been the American reaction to the inauguration of Hamid Karzai as president of Afghanistan.  Before our astonishing success in Afghanistan goes completely down the memory hole, let's recall some very recent history."  The transformation has been amazing; if you've ever read Ken Follett's Lie Down with Lions you could never believe the Afghanistan of today.  [ via LGF

This is excellent news: Congress OKs Private Spaceflight Bill.  "On the verge of adjournment Wednesday, the U.S. Senate gave final congressional approval to a bill that could open the way for suborbital space tourism.  It would put a clear legislative stamp on regulations already being put in place by the Federal Aviation Administration - and more significantly, allow paying passengers to fly on suborbital launch vehicles at their own risk."  Great stuff.  I can't wait to visit Titan :) 

Bram Cohen, author of Bittorrent, considers the declining dollar.  A bit simplistic; I disagree that "this leads to a very strong likelihood that international business will stop being done in dollars."  If that ever happens - which I doubt - it will happen over a long period of time, gradually.  Another over-simplification: "We could cut our military budget to what's actually needed for national security, which in the absence of any serious international military threat is a tiny fraction of what it currently is."  Bram obviously misses the concept ofDeterrence.  Still, I enjoy it when scientific minds turn to economics :) 

I chatted with Andrew Grumet today and among other things he pointed me to his cool GigaDial project, "the podstation factory".  Essentially you setup an "inbox" for podcasting feeds.  You can subscribe to other feeds, and your friends can send feed items into your inbox.  I've only just starting playing with it but this seems like it solves an important problem; podcast feeds are too granular.  I might like a feed, but only like some of the content in it.  With RSS feeds, you can easily see what's there and delete what you don't want, but with podcast items you have to listen to them to find out whether you'll like them, which is a lot more time consuming.  Anyway it looks cool, check it out! 

AlwaysOn considers Sky Captain and the Filmmaking of Tomorrow.  "A dud at the box office, the fall film is nevertheless one of the most important films of 2004.  It heralds a new generation of young filmmakers armed with DV cameras, Macs, and blue screens."  Excellent.  I haven't seen it, but now I want to. 

The other day I noted Matt Haughey's post about using a hacked DirecTivo.  He'd extracted a video stream from a mountain bike program, by way of example.  But check out this video (click on thumbnail at left, 7MB AVI), these are some of the most intense wipeouts I've ever seen.  Wow.  Gives new meaning to the phrase "aggressive rider". 

The NYTimes chronicles Tom Swift's New Camera, Ready for Space and Spies.  "With this camera that he concocted out of 60-year-old camera parts, mirrors, a microscope and other items - none of them digital - Mr. Ross has taken photographs on 9-by-18-inch negatives that when slowly processed by hand and digitally scanned contain 100 times as much data as the average professional digital camera." Cool, but the reporter was obviously more impressed than I was.  [ via Xeni Jardin

Apparently there is a "big picture" summit at Sandia Labs about this type of technology.  The problems of displaying high-resolution pictures are more severe than capturing them.  Really this feels a bit off the mainstream; capturing data with analog film and scanning it is so 1900s.

Doc Searls posted a great picture, albeit a more conventionally acquired one; Rising before Shining.  "In this order: Venus, Moon, dawn, Santa Monica Mountains, Pacific Ocean, night."  As he says, it puts everything in perspective (in more ways than one).  Awesome! 

Eric Harshbarger built a working 7' grandfather clock - completely out of Lego!  Pretty cool.  Unbelievable all the details which have to be worked out - check out all the pictures, particularly the escapement.  I mean, imagine building a working clock, period, let alone doing it solely with Lego parts.    Amazing. 

I've been playing a bit more Myst Revelation - continues to be excellent.  The motion graphics in the background are nothing short of amazing - trees blowing around, lights flickering, and when you "turn your head", sound shifts from one channel to the other.  And of course the puzzles are great, too... 


visiting Titan

Saturday,  12/11/04  10:00 AM

I've decided I have one "out there" goal for my life; before I die, I want to visit Titan.  This is the largest of Saturn's 33 moons, larger than Mercury and Pluto, and has an actual atmosphere.  It is a bit cold (about -290°F) but it is really cool, too.  Next Monday the Cassini spacecraft is going to make another close flyby of Titan, hopefully taking more "cool" pictures (check out this one of Saturn; it just doesn't look real, does it?)

Here's an amazing composite of all Saturn's moons...  If you go to this page and click Moons, you'll get an interactive version with mouse rollovers that tell you about each one; they are each fascinating in their own right.  The big orange one is Titan:

Why Titan?  I could say why not, but really Titan is an interesting destination; there is a mystery about its composition and atmosphere.  It is more complex than most moons; it appears to be "alive", with active geology, weather systems, etc.  It even looks a bit like Earth, doesn't it?  One could imagine some sort of alien life living in its Nitrogen clouds...  It is the only moon in our solar system with an atmosphere, and understanding it better could help us understand Earth, too.  Here's a comparison of Earth's and Titan's atmospheres:

This image from the mission pages explains "why explore Titan", and shows a visual comparison to similarly-sized planetary objects in the solar system:

This page explains the Cassini mission in more detail.  NASA did a terrific job with this website; how great is it to have this kind of information available online?

On Christmas Day, the Huygens probe will separate from Cassini and begin its voyage to Titan's surface.  It will reach Titon's atmosphere on January 14, 2005, and who knows what will happen after that?  Here's a picture of Huygens, which was built by the European Space Agency:

Looks like something from Myst, doesn't it :)

Cassini recently captured a bunch of high-resolution images of Titan, which have been assembled into a mosaic for this full-disc view [ via Gerard Van Der Leun ]:

Be sure to hit F11 to maximize your browser's window so you can see as much of the image as possible.

As usual with big images, I upsampled it and am serving it with Aperio's image server software.


the Dickerson formula

Sunday,  12/12/04  07:45 PM

I had a weird sense of familiarity seeing a post from John Robb about  The Dickerson Formula:

"In 1977, Richard Dickerson, then a professor of physical chemistry at Caltech, noted that the number of protein crystal structures had risen from one solved by the end of 1961 to 23 solved by the end of 1977.  His formula predicted that by March 2001, scientists would have solved the 3-D structures of a grand total of more than 12,000 proteins.  By that date, the Protein Data Bank (PDB) had posted 12,123 protein structures."

Richard Dickerson was my undergrad advisor while I was at Caltech.  I was only passingly familiar with his conjecture, which in the intervening years has graduated to a “law”.

Retinol - Vitamin A

My father was a crystallographer, and in collaboration with Linus Pauling published the structure of Retinol, one of the chemicals known as Vitamin A, in 1956.  Although they did not completely solve the 3D structure in the Dickerson sense, they determined the Amino Acid configurations and detailed configuration of the active sites, the first time this had been done for any organic molecule.

Ascorbic Acid - Vitamin C

The techniques at their disposal were primitive by today's standards; the formulae had to be laboriously worked by hand, and much of the arithmetic to compute crystal reflections was done using slide rules. Pauling’s team went on to solve the detailed structure of Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) using the same techniques, which was the first molecule completely characterized in 3D, in 1961 (the first data point for the Dickerson conjecture).

It is a small world.


Sunday,  12/12/04  10:37 PM

Suggestions for online stores: 

  • Tell me if you don't have something in stock.
  • Show what stuff costs right up front, including shipping if possible.
  • No flash, please.  And don't pop up new windows at weird sizes.
  • HTML is way better than PDF.
  • No surveys, please.  I'll vote with my money.

Victor Davis Hanson bonks another nail on the head: The Ents of Europe, how "old Europe" resembles the Tolkein characters.  "Gut-check time is coming for Europe, with its own rising unassimilated immigrant populations, rogue mosques entirely bent on destroying the West, declining birth rate and rising entitlements, the Turkish question, and a foreign policy whose appeasement of Arab regimes won it only a brief lull and plenty of humiliation."  Will the old Ents awaken, or will they slumber on, muttering nonsense to themselves, lost in past grandeur and utterly clueless about the dangers on their borders? 

Sisu wonders about Rats Leaving the Sinking Ship.  "Escaping the stress of clogged roads, street violence and loss of faith in Holland's once celebrated way of life, the Dutch middle classes are leaving the country in droves for the first time in living memory."  Hmmm...  Even Adam Curry moved to England.  Not that he's a rat, he's more like a savvy canary. 

Francis Porretto on Finding the Waste Line:  "The observation about input is economically fundamental: you cannot make anything new out of a single input.  All production involves a combination of some kind of working substance with some kind of labor."  And this is the driver of outsourcing in America...  read it!  [ via American Digest

This is awesome - there is now an ice rink 200' above the ground in the Eiffel Tower.  [ via Kate Yandoh

Another cool TV / PC convergence thing: The Sassam OnAir HDTV let's you watch HDTV on your computer.  It's gotten to the point where if you imagine a device with some capability, it already exists.  [ via Tom's Hardware

A terrific interview with Stephen Hawking: The Science of Second Guessing.  "My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus."  What an amazing person he is, not just an incredible scientist, but a wonderful thinker in all areas.  [ via Ann Althouse

GNXP skewers the NYTimes' "year in ideas" issue.  I have to admit, they found a lot of interesting ideas from the year, but their take is amazingly clueless

JavaHMO is an open-source replacement for Tivo's Home Media Option.  It has an amazingly long list of features - including email and RSS integration - and since the source code is available you can add to them yourself :)  [ via George Hotelling

Scott Loftesness links Robert X. Cringley's thoughts on the IBM-Lenovo deal and summarizes: "IBM's playing chess, the others are still playing checkers."  Interesting. 

Hey, iTunes now supports PayPal.  That's pretty cool.  Good for Apple - they lower their cost of processing payments - and good for PayPal - they get additional flow, great publicity, and added legitimacy.  And good for us, we get another payment option! 

New Year's Resolution update: 205.  Again.  Sigh.


White Christmas

Monday,  12/13/04  06:42 PM

So there we are, we're decorating our house for a Christmas Party.   And Shirley says "wouldn't it be great to listen to Bing Crosby singing 'White Christmas'"?   Yes, it would.

So I launch iTunes and poof! they have like six versions including the "Holiday Inn" version from 1942.   So I buy it (one click) and right now we're listening to good ol' Bing.   What a great song - not only is it old and sentimental and wonderfully nostalgic, but it was wonderfully nostalgic when Irving Berlin wrote it in 1935.   A perfect fit for Bing's slow mellow style, sounds like he's standing next to a roaring fire in an log cabin.   I guess the idea of "going back home for a White Christmas" is pretty fundamental.

Of course we're streaming it in AAC from a [Windows] laptop in my office to a [Mac] PowerBook in our family room, from where it is played via an Airport Express connected to our Yamaha surround sound receiver through our Bose 5.1 speakers.   High tech nostalgia!   Yet somehow it sounds just like a '78 on a scratchy old record player.   Bing would love it.


Monday,  12/13/04  10:53 PM

Have you ever noticed that "Why?" is qualitatively different from all the other interrogatives?  ("What?", "When?", "Where?", "Who?", and "How?")  Of all of them, only Why calls for interpretation of human opinion.  All the others call only for fact.  Fascinating. 

I've been reading the classic Anne from Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery with my daughter Megan.  (We're really enjoying it; Anne reminds both of us strongly of Megan :)  Anyway this story takes place on Prince Edward Island, a Canadian Province located North-East of Maine.  You would think this is pretty far North, right?  Well guess what, the latitude of P.E.I. is the same as Portland, Oregon, and the south of France!  I guess I always thought of Europe as approximately the same latitude as the United States, but this is way off.  Actually most cities in Europe are far North of the United States.  Amazing.  No wonder it is so cold in Northern Europe! 

John Battelle discusses Google LibraryTalk about a long tail.  They plan to scan, OCR, and index all the books in some of the world's most important libraries.  Incredible. 

This looks cool - the World Wide Panorama Project.  "The week of the Equinox, September 18-22, 2004, photographers around the world created VR panoramas on the theme 'Bridges'.  The site they produced features 186 panoramas, plus interactive maps for navigation."  If you're an aficionado of Quicktime VR pictures, or just like bridges, check this out!  It is especially neat to see those really old bridges in Asia...  [ via Cult of Mac

The .NET CPU?  Apparently the CLR doesn't run fast enough as a virtual machine, so a startup is poised to launch an actual machine which runs a subset of the same "instruction set".  Interesting... 

Fortune magazine has a nice series: The Family Car, circa 2010.  It will includes next generation GPS, self-parking, electronic stability control, night vision, external airbags, driving "by wire", a lane departure warning system, adaptive headlights, blind-spot warning systems, and of course my favorite - adaptive cruise control (my caravans idea is becoming reality!) 


Tuesday,  12/14/04  11:27 PM

The blogosphere seems kind of quiet.  No big news to hash out, I guess...

Here's a cool photography site for Myriam Santo-Kayda, with lots of musicians.  One of the [very few] sites where the Flash actually makes for a nice user interface.  [ via Ottmar Liebert

Eric Sink: finding a product idea.  Or how to systematically figure out what to do.  I love Eric and there is a lot of good stuff in this article, but I find the entire premise to be flawed.  Generally good product ideas find you, you don't find them.  Most of the cool software products I've ever see came from someone's personal need.  This is why Luke Hutteman wrote SharpReader, for example. 

17" powerbookI've been mulling over Mac development - whether to get a desktop or a laptop.  I've used a laptop for Windows development for years now, they seem to be more than fast enough...  using a full-size keyboard, mouse, and 21" monitor, of course.  It's been suggested that I wait until Macworld in January, apparently rumor has it there are some Powerbook announcements planned...  I'll be watching Jobs' keynote with even more interest than usual. 

Thinking of attending the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego, in March...  Looks interesting - lots of fascinating speakers - but it is expensive :( 

I came across this a while ago - taskspace - a two-dimensional to-do list manager.  What's interesting is the idea that tasks are organized by two criteria, urgency and importance.  Despite being all for computer automation in most things, I've never found computer-based task managers useful; I still rely on the old analog handwritten list.  Maybe this could work for me?  I'll have to add "check out taskspace" to my list :) 

My little essay the Tyranny of Email has been turned into a Change This manifesto.  Cool.  I'm not sure of the PDF format thing, but it does look nice... 


Wednesday,  12/15/04  10:42 PM

Okay, now it's all happening.  After yesterday I was worried...

You can't even believe how windy it is here.  (Northwest of Los Angeles.)  Probably gusting to 50.  Seriously.  It wreaks havoc with the reindeer.  I hope my dog doesn't blow away. 

The NYTimes: A New Forum (Blogging) Inspires the Old (Books).  Sigh.  All I want for Christmas is a year of 40-hour days. 

Dave Winer on Trusting Google.  Or rather on not trusting Google.  I think this is important; big companies like Microsoft and Google need user trust to be successful.  I know a lot of people who are staying away from Google's Desktop Toolbar (and Microsoft's MSN Toolbar) for exactly this reason; they don't want these big companies messing around with their hard drives.  Among biggish software companies who do we trust?  Intuit comes to mind.  As does Norton (Symantec).  And eBay... 

This is cool: Proud France Inaugurates World's Highest Bridge.  "The highest of the bridge's seven concrete pillars stands at 343 meters (1,125 ft), 19 meters (62 ft) higher than the Eiffel Tower.  At almost 2.5 km (1.5 miles), it is longer than the Champs Elysees and slightly curved to afford drivers a dramatic view of the surrounding countryside and the ancient town of Millau with its medieval bell tower."  Beautiful, form following function.  [ via Ann Althouse

Here's a great parody of the Apple store.  "Inexplicable brushed titanium box with a single tiny green flashing light.  Does nothing but looks great."  I love it.  [ via Cult of Mac

Something you might find in the Apple store: an analog dashboard for digital data.  Perfect for monitoring blog hits :)  [ via Doc Searles, who wonders, "does it use RSS?" ] 

Camels and Rubber Duckies.  Joel Spolsky has posted another in his infrequent series of musings on life and software, and you know what that means: you have to read it!  Truly of all the mysteries of marketing, pricing is the most opaque. 

Yahoo Video Search.  Of course.  Search is the new black, and video is the newest search.  As with pictures, the limiting factor in video search is the inability to canvass content directly, you have to rely on metadata. 

Wired reports Hollywood wants Bittorrent Dead.  Sorry boys, this genie isn't going back in the bottle, any more than Napster did.  See iTunes Music Store if you want to understand the answer.  (They just reported their 200 millionth download!) 

Here we have Me-TV.  "On me-tv, you can easily watch the videos that your friends post on their blogs.  You subscribe to channels (RSS feeds of your friends), and me-tv lets you watch them all in one place.  It's a feedreader for video.

Wonder if it will use the Media RSS extension proposed by Yahoo.  "Q. How is Media RSS different from RSS enclosures?  A. Media RSS adds functionality to RSS that improves the handling of multimedia content, such as encoded video files."  Okay.  I think the functionality of having a media client for enclosures - such as a Bittorrent receiver - makes sense. 

Ross Rubin thinks Tivo should skip ahead and kill subscription fees.  Essentially eliminate them by bundling a 'lifetime subscription' with each sale.  I think this makes sense; I bet a lot of people are threatened by the idea of yet another monthly fee.  And it is cash up front... 

Wow, this is cool; someone has figured out how to add WiFi to a Treo 650!  They've modified the driver for the Palm Tungsten T5.  Excellent.  Probably doesn't work with a Treo 600, through. 

NASA to fire projectile into comet.  Another NASA/JPL production, called Deep Impact, will launch in January 2004.  Objective: "To study the pristine interior of a comet by excavating a crater more than 25 m deep and 100 m in diameter."  Cool. 

I like CNet, but I hate the way they only ever link to themselves.  So you read about Deep Impact, why can't they just link to the site?  What do they think, we can't Google?  C'mon guys, this is 2004.  The walled garden is a chimera. 

From Gerard Van der Leun comes this dysfunctional gift suggestion: these missile balloons.  "Do you know someone who has trouble with tailgaters and lane changers?"  I can see a whole genre of products in this area, balloons to tow with your car.  I'd like a nice pirate ship, myself.  Or perhaps a giant iPod :) 


referral spam wars, cont.

Thursday,  12/16/04  09:13 PM

The great referral spam wars continue...  At the last turn of the crank, I noted I was getting a bunch of bogus referral hits from URLs which are not on the air.  There doesn't seem to be any point to these, but still they are annoying.  So I changed my filter a bit to check whether the domain for a referer is registered in the whois database.  If not, I drop it silently.  I am back to taking a quiet satisfaction in my chaste referral logs :)


unintelligent design

Thursday,  12/16/04  09:20 PM

There are people who do not believe the theory of evolution is sufficient to explain the existence of the world as we know it.  They prefer to believe in creationism, the idea that there is a deity who created the world.  I have no problem with people who wish to believe this, it is their prerogative, of course, just as they may chose to believe the Sun orbits the Earth, or that the Earth is 6,000 years old.

Because the belief systems of organized religions like Christianity are thousands of years old they predate a great deal of scientific learning, and there are situations where religious dogma contradicts current knowledge.  Some of these conflicts have been resolved over time; very few religious people still believe the Sun orbits the Earth, for example, although as recently as 1633 Galileo was condemned for heresy because he proved otherwise.  Today most religious people accept that the Earth is billions of years old, based on overwhelming geologic evidence.  However many religious people still reject evolution as an accepted scientific theory, despite the strong evidence in its favor, and despite the fact that few scientists have doubts about its validity.

Note: one may accept evolution as a scientific theory and still be a creationist.  Evolution does not say anything about the existence of a deity, it says only that the existence of a deity is not necessary to explain the world.

People who are anti-evolution try to position creationism as an alternative to evolution, but they are different things entirely.  Evolution is a scientific theory, which attempts to explain observed facts and makes predictions, while creationism is a human belief, sustained by faith.  Be that as it may, creationists nonetheless have invented terms like "creation science" and "intelligent design" to position their beliefs as a theory.  In some sense they feel their beliefs are competitive with evolution, as if the two were mutually exclusive.

Note: there are known facts which are not fully explained by current theories of evolution.  These facts do not mean "evolution is wrong"; as with any scientific theory, evolution steadily evolves to explain more and more observed facts.  Apparent contradictions between facts and evolution provide no evidence at all for creationism.

Advocates of intelligent design have been working hard to convince public school systems to modify their science curricula to teach intelligent design alongside evolution.  Aside from the confusion between religion and science, this is simply unintelligent; we don't teach our kids the theory that the Sun orbits the Earth, nor that the Earth is 6,000 years old.  These efforts have mostly failed to gain traction, but simply raising the issue in debate has value to creationists, because some people assume "where there's smoke, there's fire".

(via The Panda's Thumb, a terrific blog about Evolution)

Recently I had an interesting email exchange with a reader who asked good questions about evolution and creationism.  I've copied his questions and my answers below:

1. How did life begin?  How did the first cells evolve from nonliving matter?  Have we ever seen life produced from non-life in a laboratory?

Life began incrementally, from crystals which were self-replicating.  Over time the crystals accumulated “mutations” which improved either their fidelity of replication, or their fecundity (rate).  Such mutations were selected for and became predominant.  Slowly component specialization crept in.  There are many books which tell this story in detail – the chemistry is well characterized.  The key here is that there was no moment at which life suddenly started.  Life is a meta-property of matter configurations.

Scientists have been able to form complex organic molecules like amino acids in labs by duplicating the conditions found in the first billions of years on Earth.  They have not made life, of course, because they haven’t had enough time!

2. How can genetic mutations bring about drastically different life forms?  For example, when reptiles evolved into birds, they supposedly grew wings.  That means there must be intermediate creatures with half-wings.  But a half-wing is not an advantage that is naturally selected for, it is a big disadvantage!  So how did the wing ever evolve?  Have we ever seen one species mutate into another species in a laboratory?

Speciation is exactly like life – there is no one moment where suddenly you have a new species, any more than there is one moment when you have life.  Gradual mutations are responsible for all the incredible variation we see in life today.  Richard Dawkins’ book Climbing Mount Improbable is a great discussion of this objection, and contains a specific discussion of the evolution of wings.  It turns out a half-wing does have advantage.  Eyes are another commonly cited “thing which couldn’t have evolved”.  But half-eyes existed - they exist today, in fact - and eyes evolved not once but at least seven different times.

3. Why doesn't the fossil record show any evidence of intermediate species?  To my knowledge, there is not a single example of an intermediate species, even though the earth's crust should be full of such fossils.  Have we ever found a single example of an intermediate species in which we are confident?

There’s no such thing as intermediate species.  Species evolve gradually and later you can look back and note that speciation apparently occurred over some timescale.  The fossil record is amazing – it shows a huge variety of different species including entire phyla which are no longer in existence, victims of natural selection.

One way to think about this is to consider the common objection that “humans can’t be descended from apes”.  Well, no.  Humans and apes have common ancestors, but at the time those ancestors lived neither humans nor chimpanzees were in existence.

4. These flaws are really big!  They all suggest that each species was created by an intelligent creator with a specific purpose.  I cannot imagine a reasonable alternative to the theory of evolution, but it looks like I might have to.

Assuming you don't accept my explanations of these "flaws", nor anyone else's, they provide no evidence at all for creationism.  Flaws in evolution mean improvements in the theory are needed.  Creationism is simply giving up; if you can't explain something scientifically, postulate magic.

To me a belief in magic is far worse than a belief in science.  I can’t imagine there really could be such a thing as an intelligent creator.  Explaining that would be much harder than explaining any of the things which such an intelligent creator might have created.  (Who created the creator?)  The argument for intelligent design is appealing to people who feel evolution defies their intuition.  It doesn’t solve the problem, but it is comfortable.

Obviously religious belief is personal, and I have no problem with anyone who doesn’t believe as I do.  I only ask that they admit they are choosing to believe in “magic” instead of rational facts and logical reasoning.

Finally, I must caution those thinking about these issues not to invoke the “argument from incredulity”.  Many people feel evolution violates their common sense, and so it can’t be right.  People have the same reaction to other science – relativity, or quantum mechanics, or the scale of the universe.  The big disconnect is time; evolution on Earth has been quietly operating for billions of years, far longer than anything we can easily grasp.

If you are interested in these issues I recommend Daniel Dennett’s classic book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.  It deals with all these issues and many others in a wonderful entertaining way.

© 2003-2024 Ole Eichhorn


Thursday,  12/16/04  11:17 PM

Our wind tunnel test continues...  wow.  "People should watch for flying debris as well as downed trees and power lines."  Not to mention flying dogs. Don't read if you're a Dodger fan.  Well I shouldn't have, but I did.  Beltre to Seattle?  Finley to Anaheim?  Jeff Kent coming?  Jose Lima going?  WTF?  Coming on the heels of last season's debacles (LoDoca / Mota / Roberts), this just shows that the Dodgers are clueless.  There's no there there.  Anymore. 

So this is finally going to happen: Stock Option Expensing Required Next Year.  "The new rule, which takes effect in June, promises to have a big impact on technology companies.  Tech firms have used stock options as a means to recruit and retain employees.  Recognizing stock options as an expense could take a big bite out of earnings."  I don't understand why this is a good idea.  Seems like a reaction, not a solution. 

Wired: Inside the Mac Revolution.  Mac pioneer Andy Hertzfeld has written a memoir of the early days of the Mac, and this is an interview with Andy about his book.  It started as the website (which makes for great reading), and now it has been "booked"! 

Hey, this is interesting: Apple and Motorola announce partnership on cellphone.  Could this be the "flash iPod" everyone is speculating will be announced at Macworld in January?  I wonder how long before every phone has a hard drive? 

Engadget: Samsung's 102-inch plasma TV.  Okay, that's big enough, you can stop making them bigger now.  Still, I want one, although right now they're probably about $50,000. 

Blinkx unveils video search engine.  This is probably going to go on for weeks, with new video search engines every day.  There really isn't that much content out there - yet.  And no reason business model for the content owners, either. 

Scoble thinks Onfolio is a great RSS aggregator, because it runs in a browser.  Hmmm...  I'm not sure about that.  SharpReader has a browser run inside it, and that seems like a good way to do it.  This might come down to the "three pane" vs. "one pane" argument.  I'll have to check it out, stay tuned... 

Robert reports his wife Maryam is now an American citizen!  Congratulations!!


Monday,  12/20/04  07:18 AM

We had a big party last night - lots of people, lots of eating and drinking, lots of laughing.  What a great time...  Whew!  Now it's time to catch up with the blogosphere...

The NYTimes ran a contest for best alternative definition for words.  The winner was "coffee (n.), a person who is coughed upon"...  Second place went to "flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained".  Which would describe me after this weekend, I believe :) 

Predictably, my rant on unintelligent design drew some unfavorable reactions, some regrettably rude in tone.  Why are religious people so unwilling to accept other points of view?  I don't mind if they're creationists, why should they mind if I'm not

This is what online commerce looks like - an delivery truck parked outside our house (click picture for larger version.)  If you have a party with 100 people and you need drinks and ice and so on, this is the only way to go.  Everything costs the same as in the stores, and there's a $10 delivery fee.  Excellent! 

This is really interesting; the Houston Chronicle interviews astronaut John Young.  Essentially he makes the point that single-planet species are doomed to eventual extinction.  "The statistical risk of humans getting wiped out in the next 100 years due to a super volcano or asteroid or comet impact is 1 in 455...  You're 10 times more likely to get wiped out by a civilization-ending event in the next 100 years than you are getting killed in a commercial airline crash."  I'm not sure of his numbers, but I agree with his conclusion.  Space exploration is important. 

NASA is spying on Titan's weather.  Good to know if I ever visit.  "Evidence of changing weather patterns in the skies over Titan's southern region are revealed in these false color images obtained by the Cassini spacecraft's visual infrared mapping spectrometer over two recent flybys of this largest of Saturn's satellites."  [ via Gerard Van der Leun reports the Ambassador Auditorium has reopened!  In addition to the external beauty, this building has amazing internal acoustics; I had the pleasure of attending a Jean-Pierre Rampal concert here a while back, and the sound was incredible. 

Security expert Bruce Schneier quotes from Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason:  "Nothing works more in a thief's favor than people feeling secure.  That's why places that are heavily alarmed and guarded can sometimes be the easiest targets.  The single most important factor in security - more than locks, alarms, sensors, or armed guards - is attitude.  A building protected by nothing more than a cheap combination lock but inhabited by people who are alert and risk-aware is much safer than one with the world's most sophisticated alarm system whose tenants assume they're living in an impregnable fortress."  Interesting implications for our present approach to airline security, which conveys that false sense of security without much actual protection... 

Bram Cohen, author of Bittorrent, considers streaming.  "The sweet spot for streaming is fairly small.  Lots of formats can't be displayed in real time at current speeds of net connections, and among the ones that can it's frequently not much longer to wait for the entire thing to download than to wait for a reasonable size of buffer to accumulate."  This makes logical sense, but the emotional response to streaming is important.  I like Quicktime streaming because you can watch that little progress bar... 

Bram also considers great programmers.  "There are only two coding skills which mostly people who are completely self-taught as a programmer miss out on: proper encapsulation, and unit tests."  Bram has one trait shared with all great programmers I've met, an absolute belief that their Way is the One True Way.  I may not be a great programmer, but I believe this myself :) 

This is going to be really cool: Yahoo Maps Offer Live U.S. Traffic Conditions.  I want this service on the GPS unit in my car, please :) 

MediaTinker showcases the gingerbread motherboard.  Looks delicious! 

Here we have Suite Vollard: The only revolving building in the world.  Wow.  "The building is made with reinforced concrete and gigantic metal platforms, its facade has no masonries, and the huge vinyl- framed glass panels change shades every 90º.  Remote control-operated engines (with control pendant switches) turn each of the 11 apartments individually."  Talk about changing your point of view :) 

Tom Coates ponders the weird context shifts caused by IM on hiptops.  "I'm having a crisis of etiquette caused by what I believe to be bad user interface design."  I'm not sure this problem resides at the sender's end...  Seems like if you're running an IM client on your hiptop, you're asking for interruptions. 

Still shopping?  You might want to read PC Magazine's Ten Worst Products of the Year.  You still won't know what to buy, but at least you'll know what not to buy. 

Think you've seen everything?  Then check out the iPod hoodie.  "A naked iPod?  Girlfriend, you’ve got to cover that thing - and we have a super solution."  I am not making this up.  [ via Tom Coates

Rogers Cadenham liked the Polar Express.  Interesting, I hadn't heard much positive buzz about it, but now I want to see it. 


Merry Christmas

Saturday,  12/25/04  10:29 PM

Merry Christmas to all of you!  I know it is a bit unfashionable but for me "Happy Holidays" is a bit too generic.  I'm not religious anyway but I do celebrate Christmas.  Anyway I hope you were able to relax and enjoy yourself, in the company of family and friends and those you love.

I had a great Christmas helping my kids play with their toys, hanging out, watching football, and eating junk.  Doesn't get too much better than that.  Actually I'm planning to do exactly the same thing tomorrow.  Except that I'll probably do some catch-up blogging as well.  Cheers 'till then!

Oh, yeah, yesterday I took my kids and niece to see The Polar Express.  We all thought it was great (the perfect Christmas Eve movie!)  I'm not sure why critics insisted on comparing it to The Incredibles; they're both animated, but the similarities end right there.  Which is just fine because they are each great in their own very different ways.  Anyway if you haven't seen Polar Express yet you should - in a theater! - and take a small child with you :)


Sunday,  12/26/04  11:40 AM

Okay, time to get back into the swing of blogging...

I hope you all had a terrific Christmas.  I did; spent the weekend doing very little, hanging out, playing with my kids and their toys, eating, watching football.  Doesn't get much better than that!  It is even raining, which is great, who wants nice weather for Christmas?  Of course, I do have to get back into bike riding...  My New Year's Resolution is not looking good.  I'm at 206, just about exactly where I was when I started. 

Ann Althouse on the insidious plot to replace "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays". 

This is pretty cool: iPod helps Radiologists manage medical images.  "The iPod is not just for music any more. Radiologists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and their colleagues at other institutions from as far away as Europe and Australia are now using iPod devices to store medical images."  Radiologists are lucky because their images (X-rays and CT scans) are approximately the same size as ordinary high-res photos.  Pathologists are not as fortunate; virtual slides tend to be two or three orders of magnitude larger.  I doubt displaying a 20GB image on an iPod Photo is helpful :) 

Dave Winer suggests a nextgen iPod will hook up to satellite radio.  The xPod?  Hmm...  Not compelling for me.  But then, I haven't found podcasts to be compelling either... 

Wow, read this: the story behind Apple's graphing calculator.  "It's midnight.  I've been working sixteen hours a day, seven days a week.  I'm not being paid.  In fact, my project was canceled six months ago, so I'm evading security, sneaking into Apple Computer's main offices in the heart of Silicon Valley, doing clandestine volunteer work for an eight-billion-dollar corporation."  I love it. 

Here's a user report on wireless speakers; I bought a pair of Sony wireless speakers a couple weeks ago for Holiday partying and they work great.  Good sound, and the effect of having music in several rooms is terrific.  Bass is lacking a bit, but not really needed for White Christmas :)  The batteries seem to last a long time, several hours at least.  Note that each speaker has a subwoofer and two tweeters (L and R); so if you have two speakers, it means you can play music in two different places.  My only problem was placing the transmitter properly; my stereo is in a low built-in wooden cabinet, and I had to place the transmitter up to a shelf to avoid signal interruptions, especially when the room was full of people.  Anyway these things work; a great technology.  And during the summer they'll be great poolside! 

The Register reports Auto makers to create car-to-car wireless networking.  Excellent.  Another part of the caravans idea is becoming reality! 

Hey guess what!  The great blog Sailing Anarchy ("where the status quo blows") has an RSS feed!  Yippee.  And they have great pics of the Rolex Sydney Hobart race, which started yesterday. 

By the way, here are more great pictures of the yachts in the race.  80' maxi boats surfing like dinghies!  These machines are just beautiful.  

This is what I want to do when I grow up; travel the globe racing sailboats.  Before I visit Titan, that is :)

Is 2004 the breakout year for space entrepreneurship?  Could be.  Certainly the X-Prize winning flight of SpaceShipOne, coupled with new commercial spaceflight legislation and the Bush administration's Vision for Space Exploration have given private spaceflight new life.  And early next year we have the SpaceX launch.  Maybe 2005 will be the breakout year! 

There's been some interesting coverage of a potential asteroid collision in 2029.   Asteroid 2004 MNA is currently given a 1/233 chance of hitting the Earth.  Uh, make that 1/62.  No, looks like 1/45.  (The trend is disturbing.)  Well, that gives us 24 years to plan. 

Meanwhile, Huygens is on its way!  "The Huygens lander, built by the European Space Agency, separated from Cassini shortly after 10 p.m. ET, under the watchful eyes of U.S. and European control rooms in California and Germany, without any problems reported.  On January 14, if all goes as planned, the $600 million probe - about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle - will descend through Titan's thick atmosphere and parachute toward the surface, taking pictures and scientific measurements all the way to touchdown - or, possibly, splashdown, because scientists aren't entirely sure what to expect under the moon's heavy clouds."  How exciting! 

John Battelle: A look ahead.  "Last year I did pretty well with my prognostications, mainly because I chose carefully.  This time, I'm feeling a bit more reckless.  A year from now, I am sure I'll be scratching my head - what was I thinking? - but then again, that's not such a bad place to be."  Here's the one I think is most important: The long tail will become the talk of the "old line" media world

Thank you, Steven Den Beste.  One of the really great long-form bloggers, he's apparently suffering from a degenerative disease.  Too bad, for him, and for us.  I haven't removed the old U.S.S.Clueless from my aggregator yet, hope springs eternal. 

Mark Pesce on Bittorrent: Out of Control, the Sequel.  "Hey, Hollywood!  Can you feel the future slipping through your fingers?  Do you understand how badly you've screwed up?  It's said that the best sequels are just like the original, only bigger and louder.  Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for one hell of a crash. This baby is now fully out of control."  Yep, stay tuned :) 



Sunday,  12/26/04  11:54 PM

A major research institution has recently announced the discovery of the heaviest NEW chemical element yet known to science.  The new element has been tentatively named Governmentium.

Governmentium has 1 neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.  These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.  Since Governmentium does not have electrons, it is therefore inert.  However, it normally can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact.  Governmentium has a normal half-life of 4 years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.  In fact, Governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since any reorganization will cause some morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.  This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to speculate that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration.  This hypothetical quantity is referred to as "critical morass".

...thanks to my colleague Martin Stuart :)

P.S. In sailing there is always a desire to have the densest possible material for keel ballast.  For years lead was used, but more recently in high end yachts the denser and far more expensive material depleted uranium is used.  (This also has the side benefit of yielding lots of radioactivity jokes for the crew.)  Lead has an atomic mass of 207, Uranium has 238.  So Governmentium at 312 would be far denser.  Of course anything ballasted with Governmentium might have too much inertia to move at all...


alternative entropy

Monday,  12/27/04  12:20 AM

Ottmar Liebert noted Alternative Energy: "The world's biggest solar power plant went online in Mulhausen, Germany this month, putting out 6.3 megawatts of power."  From my comments on his blog:

Unfortunately this illustrates why solar power is NOT an interesting alternative source of entropy.  Mulhausen now has the world's biggest solar power plant, but at 6MW it is about 1/100th the power of even a small nuclear facility.  For example the San Onofre plant in Southern California was turned on in 1983, and has two 1100MW units, together providing roughly 400 times more power than the Mulhausen solar plant.  San Onofre is considered small and old by nuclear standards.  France currently has 59 reactors with an aggregate capacity of 63GW.

Similarly, wind power, which is another alternative entropy source often mentioned, is likewise too expensive and does not have nearly enough capacity to be a useful alternative.  The wind power installation in the San Gorgonio pass in California, just outside Palm Springs, is the largest in the world, with 4,000 turbines operating.  This is an area with strong winds, very dry, with lots of open land, and hence unusually suitable for wind power.  Unfortunately the aggregate power of this facility is 600MW!  Which puts it in the category of a small commercial plant in terms of its power output, but when you see those turbines covering hundreds of square miles, you know it was massively expensive.  It is also debatable how "clean" this source of power really is; although the environment isn't directly harmed by using wind as power, it is certainly harmed by having thousands of large steel structures erected, to say nothing of the associated roads, power lines, buildings, etc.  It is impressive but could be considered an eyesore, and I wouldn't be surprised to find it has significantly affected wildlife living in the area.

I really wish greens were on the other side of the nuclear energy issue.  Of all "alternative" sources of power, it is the only clean source of power which can practically displace burning fossil fuels (coal and oil).  The only other large-scale source of entropy is hydroelectric power, and the destruction caused by damming rivers is immense.


Monday,  12/27/04  10:18 PM

The Ole filter makes a pass...

It just keeps on raining here!  This is the rainiest winter I can remember for a long time.  Good thing, too, we need the water.  It really feels like winter with the wind howling and rain lashing the roof. 

Big news right now of course is the massive 8.9 earthquake off Sumatra, which unleased Tsunamis all over the Indian Ocean.  (Click on the picture for an animated version; the USGS has more info.)  Apparently 26,000 people have died.  That is about 10 times the number of people killed in the 9/11 attacks; mother nature puts humans to shame in her capability for destruction. 

Xeni Jardin has been linking up a storm [literally] on BoingBoing; click through for more blogospheric coverage.

Interestingly, this happened exactly a year after the massive earthquakes which devistated Iran.  That killed over 20,000 people too, although is was a "mere" 6.5 magnitude, 100 times less energy than the Sumatra quake.

Yesterday's news about astroid 2004 MN4 having a probability of 1/45 of hitting Earth has been revised twice, first to 1/37, and then to 1/56,000.  Somehow I'm not reassured :)  

Clifford May writes We have met the enemy, and he isn't us.  And in a similar vien, you may enjoy Norman Podhoretz' World War IV (from August). 

Osama bin Laden (or someone pretending to be him) has released a video urging Iraqi Muslims not to vote in the upcoming elections.  So this is a tangible measure of our progress; this terrorist leader has been reduced from ranting about killing millions to begging people not to vote.  [ via LGF ]  The same thing is happening in Palestine.  Wow.

Meanwhile, in another triumph for democracy, Viktor Yushchenko has won the new elections in Ukrane.  "'It has happened,' said Mr. Yushchenko, his face still disfigured from dioxin poisoning this fall for which he has blamed his adversaries in the government. 'Today we are turning a page of lies, censorship and violence.'  Ahead, he said, lay a 'new epoch of a new great democracy.'"  Excellent.

This is amazing; Yahoo reports Drug firms issue memos on Michael Moore.  "The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that at least six drug companies have released internal communications telling employees to be wary of filmmaker Michael Moore...  Moore has now set his sights on the health care industry, including insurance companies, HMOs, the Food and Drug Administration, and drug companies."  What's even better than the story is that is is accompanied by two pictures, one of Michael Moore, and the other of a beached whale.  I am not making this up; I'm laughing uncontrollably as a type the photo caption "Michael Moore and beached whale".  Who says the AP doesn't have a sense of humor? 

GC_emeritus considers the bell curve for doctors.  "What you tend to find is a bell curve: a handful of teams with disturbingly poor outcomes for their patients, a handful with remarkably good results, and a great undistinguished middle."  This doesn't surprise me in the least; you find the same in every field of human endeavor.  The article goes on to draw a strong correlation between doctors' performance in medical school and later success.  Which has implications for affimative action, of course. 

AlwaysOn carries an interesting interview of Steve Jobs by WSJ's Walt Mossberg.  My favorite part is at the end: "Mossberg: What's your favorite thing you've not done?  Jobs: PDA."  I do think Apple could make an awesome smart phone - think of a Treo crossed with an iPod...  (the pic is a mockup; click for larger view.) 

I received some interesting email regarding my post on alternative entropy, thanks!  Reaction was about evenly split between people who agree with me and people who don't.  The contra view was more interesting, with the main objection being the safety of nuclear power plants.  (Not the disposal of radioactive wastes, which seems like the biggest objection to me.) 

Check out this flash animation

A continuous fractal-like sequence zooms through a series of paintings.  This is a cool idea, and could be done with virtually any sequence of pictures whatsoever.  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

Fortune: Why there's no escaping the blog.  Resistance is futile :) 


Tuesday,  12/28/04  10:39 PM

Man, more rain!  And more rain coming...  Whew. 

Are you like me?  I just can't believe the news coming from the Indian Ocean about the devistation caused by the tsunamis.  I read the numbers - 80,000 people dead, millions homeless, billions in property damage - and I see the videos - walls of water washing over land - but I just can't comprehend it.  An unbelievable disaster. 

The blogoshere is really rallying to help; check out the Amazon relief counter!  Over $4M!

I like Apple's home page, too.

Need another reason to dislike the U.N.?  Here we have Jan Egeland, undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, bashing the U.S. as "stingy".  I wonder at what point we get fed up with these leeches and just throw them out? 

Congratulations to Nicorette, winner of the Sidney - Hobart race.  Of the 116 entries, 53 have dropped out.  Some of the "maxis" in the race had some amazing wipeouts, with keels falling off, masts breaking, and hulls disintegrating.  Wow.  Sounds like fun :) 

This is cool!  Kaden Harris, self-proclaimed eccentric genius, makes miniature medieveil war machines - catapults, siege engines, trebuchets, mangonels, etc.  "I build antiques else.  A parallel universe where Leonardo Da Vinci, John Cleese and Jimmy Neutron spend every Tuesday night playing poker with Sherlock Holmes, and the Victorian era 'gentleman inventor' still toils diligently in his potting shed laboratory."  The perfect desk accessories!  [ via collision detection

The latest issue of Wired has a nice interview with Bram Cohen, creator of Bittorrent.  "Cohen knows the havoc he has wrought.  In November, he spoke at a Los Angeles awards show and conference organized by Billboard, the weekly paper of the music business.  After hobnobbing with 'content people' from the record and movie industries, he realized that 'the content people have no clue.  I mean, no clue.  The cost of bandwidth is going down to nothing.  And the size of hard drives is getting so big, and they're so cheap, that pretty soon you'll have every song you own on one hard drive.  The content distribution industry is going to evaporate'."  

Wired is on a roll - their latest issue is great, coming on the heels of their previous issue about exploration which was great, too.  On the cover of Wired: Richard Branson, "rocket man", talks about Virgin Galactic, his new interplanetary spaceline. 

Stumbling across the Martian desert, Opportunity encountered its own heat shield.  The two martian rovers are still driving around, having a great old time on the surface of Mars.  And meanwhile Huygens continues heading toward Titan.  I love it. 

I want a green laser pointer.  Just because. 


Thursday,  12/30/04  11:15 PM

We had some good friends over tonight, drinking Merlot, eating Shirley's pizza, talking about life.  Second time this week.  Doesn't get much better than that.

Sailing Anarchy: Is there any stopping Big Mac?  Ellen MacArthur continues her assault on the solo around-the-world record, she's currently halfway there and two days ahead of schedule.  Nice boat :) 

It seems a bit petty to post pictures of flooding in Los Angeles after what's happened in the Indian Ocean, but we are having rain.  I guess it's a good thing, we need the water, and it sure makes it feel like winter.  Whew.  [ via

Amazon's relief counter for tsunami aid is now at $7M.  That's from over 100,000 individual donations.  Amazing.  Even more amazing; load that page, and then click refresh a few times.  You can watch people donating in realtime; something like 10 donations per second, right now...  The estimated death toll keeps rising, it is now over 110,000

Merlin Mann: A Year of Getting Things Done, Part I.  "Far and away, my best takeaway has been the idea of the next action.  Leaning to identify the absolute next physical action that will keep a project moving has been a godsend to the way I think about, plan, and execute my work."  Great introspection about productivity.  [ via Cory Doctorow

Check out this awesome gallery of microscopic images!  Just beautiful. 

Hack-a-day: How to record on your iPod (for free).  Of possible interest to those who want to record on their iPod.  Personally I use it as an output-only device.  I like the directions: 1) install podzilla on your iPod, 2) boot into Linux.  Yep, you got that right, boot into Linux on your iPod.  Whew. 

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine and author of the long tail, wonders is DRM evil?  In response to Cory Doctorow's comments that Wired should be harder on DRM.  And then Cory responds back.  So what do you think, is DRM evil?  I link, you decide. 

Want my opinion?  Of course you do.  Well I think it doesn't matterDRM doesn't work, period.  So arguing about whether it is good or bad or somewhere in between is irrelevant.  The digital genie is out of the bottle. 



Friday,  12/31/04  11:18 AM

It's the last day of the year!  Wow, another year gone.

What was the best present you received for Christmas (or whatever you celebrate in December)?  I received some pretty great ones, but one of my favorites was quite simple; a little Vornado space heater.  This has already done wonders for my productivity (and bad things to my sleep pattern).  Now I can work all night without freezing!

Which brings me to - tivoweb.  My midnight+ project this week has been hacking my trusty Tivo Series 1, which regular readers know is my single favorite item of personal electronics.  (Take my iPod, take my Treo, take my Fuji FinePix, just don't take my Tivo.)  Anyway back at time zero I'd "hacked" my Tivo by adding an 80MB hard drive, and later added a network card (thanks, Nick).  It is nowadays connected wirelessly via an Airport Extreme which also sends music to my stereo receiver, a perfect combination of functionality!  Being online has allowed my Tivo to download its program updates without dialing.  But until recently I've held off doing real hacking - programming.

(click for fullsize screen shot)

After a bit of magic (including mounting the Tivo's hard drive temporarily in a Windows 98 PC) I can now telnet to the Tivo, ftp back and forth, and have installed the spiffy tivoweb!  Written mostly in TCL, this easily-customizable tool turns your Tivo into a webserver, and gives you the full Tivo UI right on the web.  Now I can see what my Tivo is doing, schedule new programs, create wishlists, etc., all from the comfort of my laptop screen.  Or my phone - tivoweb even works on my Treo.  Now that's cool.

Tivoweb also includes a resource editor, which enables you to modify a lot of the operating parameters of your Tivo.  So far the one I like the best is the ability to change the available "start recording" and "stop recording" intervals.  Now I can start recording late, and stop recording early.  This is perfect for situations where sports events are back-to-back.  I routinely set football games to stop 30 minutes late, because they always run late, and now I can set the following game to start 30 minutes late!  Yippee.

Life's small pleasures...  I now have a backlog of six football games to watch, going in to New Year's weekend.  Good thing I have a space heater so I can stay up all night :)


I, flowerbot

Friday,  12/31/04  04:36 PM

I just got back from a bike ride - the skies have cleared and it was the most beautiful day imaginable.  Southern California after a rain is really quite breathtaking.  The hills were shining, the lake was shimmering, and the sun bathed everything in a wonderful yellow light.  All set for tomorrow's Rose Parade, so people watching while freezing across the country can decide to move here :)

And speaking of the Rose Parade, bookmark this page!  This is the "floatcam" from high atop the 50' high JPL/Caltech robot.  This parade float, built entirely from flowers as the rules require, is named "In Praise of Explorers", and will definitely win the technology awards.  (Makes me proud, as usual, to be a Caltech alum...)

You can warm up by viewing the RealPlayer video feed, which is currently playing a loop showing testing of the robot.  Here are some stills (click thumbnails for larger pics):

The JPL/Caltech robot float
(click for larger pics)


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