Archive: August 2005

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(New Yorker 8/1/05)

Wednesday,  08/03/05  09:31 PM


This happens to me, too.
He's probably off to read his RSS feeds :)


inclusive fitness

Wednesday,  08/03/05  10:36 PM

I found this cool presentation by Keith Goodnight: Kin Selection and Inclusive Fitness.

It begins with the problem of altruism, examines group selection (and rejects it), makes the key distinction between genes and organisms (replicators and vehicles), examines the greenbeard effect, explains Hamilton's rule (conditions under which gene for altruism will be favored by selection), and finally ends up with inclusive fitness:

"An individual's fitness is not based only on its own reproduction but also on all the effects it has on other individuals, weighted by their relatedness to it."

If you're at all interested in these things, check it out!

© 2003-2024 Ole Eichhorn


how to fix the tort system

Thursday,  08/04/05  10:46 PM

BusinessWeek had a great cover story: How to Fix the Tort System.  If you're a regular reader you know this is a subject near and dear to my heart.

BW offers a four-point plan:

  1. Pay for Performance.  "Solution: Reverse the economics of class-action settlements. Plaintiffs' lawyers should be paid after victims collect their money -- not before."  This has been my favorite; make behavior which is undesirable unprofitable, and people won't engage in it.  Even lawyers.
  2. Penalties that Sting.  "Simply rewriting the rules only solves part of this problem, though.  An equally important step is for judges to rise to the challenge and use their disciplinary powers.  For too long, a cozy, protect-the-guild mentality has protected exploitative attorneys from serious punishment."  Okay, I'll buy that.  But I think (1) is a better driver than (2).  {People don't wait at green lights because they'll get a ticket, they wait because otherwise they'll hit other cars.}
  3. Curb the Duplication.  "The first [idea] would be eliminating punitive damages for injuries caused by products that have been approved by regulators.  A second idea is giving judges explicit authority to reject class actions that duplicate ongoing regulatory initiatives."  This helps businesses by eliminating multiple jeopardy.
  4. Exiting the Tort System.  "These three changes would solve many of the tort system's genuine problems, but not all of them.  There are rare issues that need to be removed from the courts -- with all of their elaborate procedural rules -- and directed into specialized administrative tribunals."  So be it.

These are good suggestions, but I think they missed one, too:

  1. Loser Pays.  Make the party which brings a frivolous suit pay the legal expenses of the defendant, and there will be fewer frivolous suits, because there will be fewer lawyers willing to take such suits on contingency.  Make the party which loses a legitimate suit pay the legal expenses of the plaintiff, and there will be more reasonable settlements, resulting in lower legal fees for the representing lawyers.

I sure hope something changes.  This is the biggest problem we have in American business today.


Thursday,  08/04/05  11:13 PM

The Ole filter makes a pass...

CNN published an interesting survey: The Internet Transforms Modern Life.  Indeed.  The thing I like best about it is the screen shot of NCSA Mosaic, the forerunner of all modern browsers, dating from January of 1994.  I ran that very version, I think; I sure recognized the logo.  Unbelievable how much things have changed; I'm guessing very few people had even heard of the Internet in 1994. 

Julian Beever is a pavement artist.  Kind of like Lance Armstrong is a bike rider.  Wow.  These drawings absolutely look three-dimensional.  [ Thanks, Justin ] 

The Economist reports London pips Paris at the finish line, regarding the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.  "In one of the closest contests in the history of the modern Olympics, London has been chosen to host the 2012 games, edging out Paris in the final round of voting. After Athens’s soaring costs and its struggles to get the venues ready in time for the 2004 games, should Londoners really be celebrating?"  The economics of these huge events is fascinating and complicated.  That there is a business case for them at all equally so.  Personally I'm glad because they're fun, even if they're not profitable. 

This is pretty interesting: Macworld reports Apple making big inroads in business with OS X.  "The report found that 17 percent of businesses with 250 employees or more were running Mac OS X on their desktop computers.  Twenty-one percent of businesses that had 10,000 or more employees used Mac OS X on their desktop."  Those numbers seem really high.  I wonder if I even believe them?  But I do believe the trend. 

Ottmar Liebert reviews Wired's The Digital Devolution.  "Great article in Wired about music and sound.  Simple, this is what democracy does.  The brilliant and benevolent despot will always reach greater heights, but then people have to suffer through generations of not brilliant and not benevolent despots...  Come to think of it...not a great article in Wired, merely interesting, and probably written by somebody old enough to have fond memories of the olden days..."  I love it.  Where but on a blog would you read that? 

BTW, OL's Winter Rose album will be released October 11th.  Mark your calendar.

blue whale - this is not a flukeCybele goes out to sea - and sees blue whales!  And takes pictures!  Awesome!!  Whales are just wonderful, aren't they? 

See also "The Man"'s gallery...

(My family and I spent a week at Orcas Island, and yes, we went whale watching and yes, we saw whales.  Man was that cool.  And yes, we took pictures.  Stay tuned...)

Joel Spolsky hits a high note.  "The real trouble with using a lot of mediocre programmers instead of a couple of good ones is that no matter how long they work, they never produce something as good as what the great programmers can produce."  I was getting worried about Joel, seemed like he was too busy extolling the virtues of .NET to write anything good anymore.  (But I understood because .NET is very time consuming to understand, let alone write about :)  Anyway I agree with this piece and like it a lot, and find it completely 100% IN CONFLICT with Joel’s apparent liking for .NET.  I link, you decide. 

Paul Graham, like Joel, bats disgustingly close to 1.000; he ponders what business can learn from open source.  He makes some great points, but I didn't think it was as insightful as some of his missives.  It defies easy synopsis, please read it for yourself. 

I like the new Mighty Mouse, looks cool.
I think I need one for icebaby :)
But...why does it have a tail.  Should be wireless, eh? 

Yahoo listed the top ten movie lines of all time.  [ via Halley ]  They have a good list, but they missed the best ones: 

  • "You can't handle the truth."  (A few good men)  How could you leave this one out?

  • "You had me at hello."  (Jerry McGuire)  My favorite.  What can I say, this is just a great line.

  • "When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."  (When Harry met Sally)  Shirley's favorite.  Deep, but hard to remember exactly.

Finally, today's new buzzword is Yak Shaving

Any seemingly pointless activity which is actually necessary to solve a problem which solves a problem which, several levels of recursion later, solves the real problem you’re working on.

So that’s what it’s called.  I always thought it was called “programming” :-)

P.S. Apparently the nerd usage of this term dates from the MIT AI Lab, after a Ren and Stimpy episode, but I like this etymology better.
P.P.S. And then of course there is the Yak Shaving Razor.


estimating in meatspace

Thursday,  08/04/05  11:24 PM


I am really good at estimating.  By which I mean, I can estimate anything, even if my estimates are not accurate.  If you ask me for an estimate – on anything – I can give you one.  I never let absence of facts stand in my way.

However, many people are horrible at estimating.  You ask them for an estimate – on anything – and they can’t do it.  They don’t know where to start.  Even if they should be able to estimate something, based on their experience and knowledge and the availability of facts, they just can’t do it.  It isn’t that they don’t want to commit – they might say that’s why, though – it is because they honestly can’t make an estimate.

In the past I have found this frustrating.  I think to myself, “if I had your experience and these facts, I could form an estimate immediately”.  Experience has taught me that getting mad and putting pressure on someone to give you an estimate when they think they can’t doesn’t help.  (This is especially true if the “someone” in question is your wife or daughter :)

But recently I’ve found a great trick.  You can help people form estimates by using binary searchingPeople are much better at comparisons than they are at estimating.  This is true even though all you need to do to form an estimate is iterative comparisons.

Binary searching

The technique of binary searching is well known in computing, it is part of every freshman computer class.  It is a routine technique; suggesting that a programmer use binary searching is like suggesting to a fish that they swim.  However non-nerds might not be familiar with the technique so here’s a quick example.

Pick a number between 1 and 8.  Got it?

Okay, I can guess your number with three questions.  Here we go:

#1) Is your number bigger than 4?

Yes - #2) Is your number bigger than 6?

Yes – #3) Is your number bigger than 7?

Yes – your number is 8!

No – your number is 7!

No – #3) Is your number bigger than 5?

Yes – your number is 6!

No – your number is 5!

No – #2) Is your number bigger than 2?

Yes – #3) Is your number bigger than 3?

Yes – your number is 4!

No – your number is 3!

No – #3) Is your number bigger than 1?

Yes – your number is 2!

No – your number is 1!

See how it works?  Each question is a comparison, and each result divides the number of possible answers in half.

Estimating by binary searching

Okay, so let’s say you want someone to give you an estimate.  Instead of asking them directly for the estimate, ask them to do a series of comparisons, each of which cuts the possible answers in half.  Pretty soon you have a reasonable estimate.  Here’s a real example:

You’re talking to a pool repairman and you want to know how much a particular repair will cost.  He says he has no idea.  But you know he should have a good idea, based on having been a pool guy for years.  Here’s the conversation:

You:  Do you think this will cost more than $100,000? 
(NOTE: start with an obvious upper limit.)

Him:  What!  Of course not.

You:  Whew!  Okay, well, will it cost more than $50,000?

Him:  No way.  Not nearly that much.

You:  Okay, well, will it cost more than $25,000?

Him:  No, this isn’t that bad.  I didn’t mean to scare you, it will only take a few days to fix.

You:  Okay, well, will it cost more than $10,000? 
(NOTE: pick round numbers!!!)

Him:  Hmmm….  No, it won’t cost that much.

You:  Will it cost more than $5,000?

Him:  Let me think.  No, I don’t think so.  I did a job a couple of weeks ago which was just like this, and it was less.
(NOTE: Resist the urge to say “why didn’t you just say that in the first place”.  Don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory :)

You:  Okay, so will it be more than $2,000?

Him:  Oh, yeah, I have to get a new framitz, and my guys have to decombobulate the qwork, it will be more than that.

You:  Yeah, I was afraid of that.  Okay, well will it be more than $3,000?

Him:  It might be.  I’ll try to stay under that, but with these things you never really know how much they’ll cost.

See how it works?  This guy really knew the right estimate was “about $3,000”, but he didn’t know he knew, and he didn’t know how to get there.  By binary searching with comparisons you helped him unearth his knowledge.

Be careful always to phrase each question as a comparison.  Don’t ask “will this be about X?”, instead ask, “will this be more than X?”  I don’t know why, but humans do better with “more than” -type questions.

This technique even works within yourself.  Let’s say you have a project to do.  (You need to decombobulate a qwork.)  You can’t form a decent estimate.  Ask yourself – will it take more than a month?  More than two weeks?  More than a week?  More than two days?  More than eight hours?  Etc.  You know more than you know!

I hope you find this as useful as I have!

(Did you find it more useful than...  just kidding :)


I've got spam

Friday,  08/05/05  12:08 PM

I get about 300 spams a day, most of them pretty unremarkable.  In fact I don't even see most of them at all, thank you SpamBayes.  But this morning I received one classified as "suspect" which was remarkable for its charming broken English and delightful twisted logic, so I thought I'd share.  If you fall for this one you definitely deserve what you get.  Anyway here it is for your reading pleasure:

Did you ask Mark Ferguson to act on your behalf?

Group Finance Director,
Prudential Bank plc London
Laurence Pountney,
Hill London EC4R 0HH
+44 704 011 1935


It has taken so long without hearing from you with regards to your Deposited Seven Million, Five hundred thousand United State Dollars ($7,500,000:00) Funds Transfer claim procedures that was made near conclusion as at late December 2004 by a claimed Legal Consultant {Mr. Mark Ferguson} and others.  As a matter of fact, since the Prudential Bank information has your name/contact information as submitted by these people and has you as the claimant, my Bank concern is this: why such unnecessary delays at your end, is everything alright with you?

My Boss, Group Finance Director of Prudential Bank do not have any iota of ideas, why it has coursed you so much delays before presenting/explaining yourself for your own late relation's claims as clearly submitted/computed with the Prudential Bank International Remittance department.  It surprise to the Bank that, the said Mr. Mark Ferguson could present your information clearly and correctly as the benefactor but could not place his own contact information correctly, instead made himself an anonymous consultant, as a result, my Bank really have much to play carefulness/suspicious.

My Second question is this:  Who is Mr. Mark Ferguson, Is he your representative Consultant to this claim's?

My Boss is curious because there are series of sharp practices emanates from different people in the Banking industries this days.  Also some junior Officers of Banks do play sharp practices by claiming long-over-due Inheritance Fund's of Customers or Customer relation's deposit, without claimant consent.

Nevertheless, Since your complete contact information had been submitted, computed/accepted as the next of Kin/the benefactor to the Deposited $7,500,000 and in view of the fact that, any unnecessary alteration of claims computed data's could be of a jeopardy to claims of this nature, if your delays has anything associated with lack of the huge finance to take care of the needed expenditures: Tax as well as the Legal Probate documentations that would give you the Legal Authority, in order to get your Deposited Fund's transfer/collection made without delays, I would advise you to urgently reach out to my Boss, so that he could stand as a claimant reference person in your deposited Fund's clearance situation, thereby exploiting different waivers/ Free packages of the Bank designed for project sponsoring of this nature.

Furthermore, since delays of an Inheritance Deposited Fund's of this nature could be jeopardized by the Prudential Bank Confiscation/declaration Act/Clauses, as an Unclaimed Fund of the Bank.  Instead of loosing your Fund's, it would be pretty wise that, you politely communicate to my Boss by pleading with him on your behalf as a reference person to your deposited $7.5M Fund's claim, I am saying this as an advise, personal opinion.

For clarity purpose, do not hesitate communicating clearly/politely to the Prudential Bank Group Finance Director through his contact as information as shown above.



Friday,  08/05/05  09:38 PM

What's happening?  Well, let's see, shall we...

Eric Raymond is blogging again, which is a good thing.  Check out Kurds in the Coal mine for an example of his insight.  "How will we know if the attempt to reconstruct Iraq is failing?  I was pondering this question the other day, and I realized that there is an excellent test for the state of Iraq.  When the Kurds start muttering about secession, then is the time to worry that matters are spinning out of control."  A litmus test is always helpful... 

This is pretty cool; artist Banksy has painted "holes" on the Israeli barrier wall protecting themselves from suicide bombers.  I'm sure it was intended as a political statement as well as an artistic one, but viewed purely as art they're awesome.  [ via Ann Althouse ]  (P.S. I'm not sure why anyone would object to this wall, but it seems "controversial"...) 

Omri Ceren notes some Stark Contrasts: "When a Jewish terrorist kills Arabs, Jews condemn him for it.  When an Arab terrorist kills Jews, Arabs celebrate.  When an Arab mob savagely lynches a Jew for killing Arabs, the world yawns.  When highly trained and disciplined Israeli operatives target a Palestinian terrorist who is literally in the act of terrorism, it’s highly 'controversial'."  Indeed.  [ via Charles Johnson

BTW, so far I haven't posted anything about John Bolton, but if you know me at all you know that 1) I like him, a lot, and 2) I totally support President Bush's recess appointment.  The Economist has a good survey of the situation.  "The man George Bush appointed this week to represent America at the UN isn’t boring, and he certainly isn’t bewildering.  What he thinks is never hard to guess, because he uses the bluntest, most vivid language available."  I look forward to some interesting fireworks at the U.N... 

Howtoons!  "Howtoons are one-page cartoons showing 5-to-15 year-old kids 'How To' build things."  Excellent!  [ via Doc Searles

Do you drink bottled water?  Yes, I thought you did.  But did you know it is often worse than your local tap water?  No, I didn't think so.  Check out Tom Standage in the NYTimes: Bad to the Last Drop.  "Ounce for ounce, it costs more than gasoline, even at today's high gasoline prices; depending on the brand, it costs 250 to 10,000 times more than tap water.  Globally, bottled water is now a $46 billion industry.  Why has it become so popular?"  Beats me.  We drink bottled water, too - Shirley claims she can tell the difference - but I often wonder why...  [ via Jason Kottke

In this corner it's Chris "Long Tail" Anderson, and in this corner, Mark Cuban...  The battle over the future of broadcast television.  My take: What future? 

Check out Orb, "a free software-based place-shifting service that lets you access your media from anywhere over the internet.  Orb runs on computers with Windows XP or XP Media Center and provides streaming access to the audio and video on the computer.  It also can stream live TV if you have a tuner attached to your computer, and it provides TV listings and scheduled recordings."  This is the future of broadcast television :)  [ via George Hotelling ]

Finally; I have a confession to make: I am a faucet nerd.  Just check out these awesome fixtures from Marco Mammoliti.  Really a wonderful example of design, with a lower case "d".  [ via Gizmodo






Westlake sail-a-thon: results!

Sunday,  08/07/05  10:03 AM

So, we sailed in the Westlake sail-a-thon, as threatened, and we won!  We completed 45 laps, barely short of the record of 47, but in seven hours instead of the tradition nine, so we'll take it.  And we raised over $1,800 for the Casa Pacifica children's crisis center thanks to friends and colleagues.  The wind cooperated and the sun was out, and really it was an excellent day.

Here we are on the lake; me, my daughters Alexis and Megan, and Megan's friend Madison.
(click for larger pic)

Going downwind.  The boat in the foreground is a sabot; there were a bunch of them...
(click for larger pic)

Later: To the victors go the spoils!
That's us, with Robert Piccione, Rear Commodore of the Westlake Yacht Club.

(click for larger pic)

It left us a bit tired and sore (especially me), but it was great...  and Thanks to everyone who supported us!



Sunday,  08/07/05  10:13 AM

Scott Loftesness discovers Zopa, person-to-person lending.  I find this fascinating; could be an interesting business.  It is U.K. -only at this point, but I wonder if something like this could be done in the U.S.?  (If nothing else, they have a cool logo :) 

Ah, the issue of Photoshop vs. untouched, yes.  A photo is already not the truth; merely a representation of it.  I have this discussion with Aperio customers all the time.  They scan a microscope slide, creating a digital image.  Is the image "the truth"?  Some people want to have the raw bits, with no corrections, no enhancements, no compression.  I sympathize with this desire, and in fact we do everything we can to ensure the image is as accurate as possible.  But the corrections, enhancements, compression, etc. add value, they are not distorting the truth.  And what is more - even looking through a microscope is creating an image. 

This is one heck of a cool photo.  "Astronaut Steve Robinson turns the camera on himself during his historic repair job "underneath" Discovery on August 3.  The Shuttle's heat shield, where Robinson removed a pair of protruding gap fillers, is reflected in his visor."  You must click through to see it at full resolution.  [ via Xeni Jardin

Ottmar Liebert has released a new track in his Listening Lounge, and it's awesome.  "A new album in the ListeningLounge in which I will collect odd songs that did not fit on the albums they were recorded for.  First up a song I recorded for La Semana..."  Ottmar's "misfits" would be the best song on many another artist's album :) 

Final Ottmar note: he has a mini tour planned for September in California.  Excellent!

There's this new app out for the Treo: Traffic.  It sounded awesome, realtime traffic information for Los Angeles!  What could be better than that?  So of course I downloaded and installed it, and it works okay, but...  First, it is slow.  Too slow.  And second, it is not handheld friendly.  You actually have to use your stylus, what fool thought of that?  And finally the information is just interesting, not really useful.  The granularity of the reports is too large to allow you to take evasive action.  [ via Sean Bonner

I guess I'll have to wait until there is realtime traffic information in my GPS unit - now that would be cool...

Robert X. Cringley notes there's more to the Apple - Intel deal than met the eye.  And even so it was eye-opening.  His bottom line: It's all about video, which is what I speculated, too.  (Maybe I was right, after all?)  First we get the video iPod, then the Apple video store... 

I thought this was pretty funny: Napster loses $19M on revenues of $21M.  Can you spell "dot-com"?  Yes, I thought you could.  "Napster chairman and CEO Chris Gorog stressed the positive news: 'Napster continues to make strong progress as we recorded our fifth consecutive quarter of double-digit revenue growth.'"  This is the new Napster, a legal DRM-crippled service, not to be confused with the old Napster, an illegal file sharing service.  I bet there are any number of business which could record double-digit growth losing $1 on each $1.  [ via Cory Doctorow

I remember back in 1999 I joked about, a new site which gave away dollars for fifty cents.  A customer acquisition cost of just fifty cents!  How can you beat that!  (Did you ever think we'd say "back in 1999"?  Seems like a long time ago!  Anyway.)

Some Longtailmanship, from Chris Anderson: Pre-filters vs. Post-filters, and Filters 101.  The idea being, when you have a long tail, it isn't valuable unless you can find what you want, and for that, you need filters.  Filters are an instance of Tools, which is one of the business opportunities presented by the Long Tail.  In fact, some of the most value is created there, see Yahoo! and Google, for example, which really are just tools for filtering the Long Tail of the internet.  Finally, Chris considers Do you really need a Head to have a Tail?  He says "yes" but I'm not sure; wouldn't the Internet be just as interesting without large anchor sites like Amazon and eBay?  I think it would...  Anyway I love this stuff, check it out! 



Sunday,  08/07/05  10:16 AM

l'Hydoptère - a trimaran with hydrofoils!  Wow.

Just beautiful.

[ via the Horses Mouth ]



Wednesday,  08/10/05  04:30 PM

My world, 4:30PM.

I am sitting in a deli, waiting for new tires to be installed on my car.  I am eating a roast beef sandwich and drinking coffee.  I have my laptop, and I am coding.  I have plugged into someone’s free WiFi (network name ‘linksys’), so I have my VPN to my office up.  I have three instances of Visual Studio launched, switching between them and my Perforce client (our code management system).  I am debugging ImageScope (high-end digital image viewer) and Digital Slide Studio (editing tool for digital images), both of which require megabytes of memory to deal with images which are gigapixels in size.  I can launch Outlook and pickup mail.  I can launch Sharpreader and read RSS.  I can launch Firefox and connect to any website in the world.  I can ask Mr. Google any question I can think of and get an instant answer.  And of course, I can blog.  Wow.

Meanwhile, I am in the middle of an invasion.  About fifty senior citizens have suddenly appeared in the deli, filling all the surrounding tables.  The deli staff are temporarily overwhelmed.  The noise level rises.  Distracting?  No.  I plug my Sony headphones into my HP laptop, launch iTunes, and select my "metal" playlist.  Mr. Satriani and Mr. Blackmore blast away the environment, and I am back in my little cocoon, oblivious.


icebaby rocks

Thursday,  08/11/05  09:09 PM

Thought you might like a little update on icebaby, my new Mac Mini.

Here's the scene in my office, with the little guy in action:

The mini happily shares my ViewSonic 21" monitor with my HP laptop, both using DVI.  The display is rock solid.  As you can see I haven't motivated to buy a KVM switch yet, so I have two keyboards and two mice.  I might not really need one because 99% of the time I use icebaby via Timbuktu from my laptop, which works great.  (I can probably get rid of the Mac keyboard and mouse altogether.)  I've found this machine is considerably faster than icequeen, my four-year old "lamp" iMac, so I'm gradually migrating my development over.  The little baby runs RealBasic and xCode just fine, which is what I do all day long...

My only real complaint so far is that it won't boot "headless", without a display attached.  Well it will, but then the resolution through Timbuktu is only 1024x768.  If I want 1600x1200 I have to actually plug in my display while it boots.  Not a huge deal, but it is annoying.  If anyone knows of a software workaround please let me know.


Thursday,  08/11/05  10:24 PM

Tuesday morning I was up early (0500), just leaving my house for my office in San Diego, and BAM.  What was that?  An earthquake?  An explosion of some sort, surely.  What the heck?  Turns out it was only the space shuttle landing at Edwards Air Force base.  Whew. 

I'm really glad they made it back.  And I'll be even gladder if the shuttle never flies again.  This is such a waste of money, compared to the cool stuff we could be doing instead.

Slate: The White Stuff.  How "vanilla" became synonymous with "bland".  Personally I love it.  (Oh, and hey, did you know most chocolate contains vanilla?) 

Panda's Thumb considers the genetics of Harry Potter.  "This suggests that wizarding ability is inherited in a mendelian fashion, with the wizard allele (W) being recessive to the muggle allele (M).  According to this hypothesis, all wizards and witches therefore have two copies of the wizard allele (WW).  Harry’s friends Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom and his arch-enemy Draco Malfoy are ‘pure-blood’ wizards: WW with WW ancestors for generations back. Harry’s friend Hermione is a powerful muggle-born witch (WW with WM parents).  Their classmate Seamus is a half-blood wizard, the son of a witch and a muggle (WW with one WW and one WM parent). Harry (WW with WW parents) is not considered a pure-blood, as his mother was muggle-born."  I love it! 

There is a serious point behind the humor; let's teach our kids this, instead of some mumbo jumbo about a deity who made everything.  Science trumps magic.

Check out "balancing point", this awesome movie made by recording people destroying rock sculptures, then playing it backwards.  Talk about surreal!  It rocks :)  [ via Mark Frauenfelder

KMaps - Google maps on your Treo.  My goodness!  [ via Gary Lang ] 

Well we knew this was coming: Engadget reports on Tivo's download service.  They have lots of pictures, click through to see 'em...  It looks very Tivo-uler. 

Apple News reports on the technology used to edit the TV coverage of the Tour de France.  I've been watching OLN's back-episodes of the 2005 tour - I was on vacation during the tour itself - and man is that cool.  Not only the event, which is awesome, but the coverage.  It's hard to imagine any sporting event which is harder to cover, but between motorcycles and helicopters they did a fantastic job.  I can imagine how hard it was to edit all those streams together, too... 

From my as-yet-unlinked archives, Cox & Forkum did their usual great job on a tribute to Lance Armstrong... 

Here's a great Slashdot thread on how to convert Word documents to HTML.  I do this all the time, and I found a great answer in's comment: 

The option you want is "Web Page (filtered)|*.html".  I saw an interview once with somebody on the Word development team, and he claimed that the original Save As HTML was built for passing Word Documents over the web- and never meant to be read by human beings as a web page at all.  Web Page (filtered) cuts out all the extra shyte that Save As HTML used to put in for managing version controled updates and changing the font every bloody character- and builds a real web page.

This really works.  Very cool!

Finally, here we have the geekiest comic strip: Everybody Loves Eric Raymond.  In which, improbably, Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman, and Eric Raymond share an apartment...  Unbelievable.  If you think this is funny, you might be a geek.  I think this is WAY funny :) 



conservation of ignorance

Friday,  08/12/05  07:22 PM

From Bob Peoples, relayed by my friend Eric Artman:

I believe in the law of conservation of ignorance.  That is, the more you know, the more you realize that you don’t know.  The learned ignorance replaces unlearned ignorance, but the total amount of ignorance remains constant.

I think not knowing is ignorance, but knowing you don't know is knowledge, not ignorance, so it isn't really correct.  It's a great thought, though...

By the way, Eric is a terrific artist, check out his work...  the piece at right isn't really entitled "conservation of ignorance" - or at least I don't think it is - but maybe it should be:

This drawing is inspired by mathematics and chemistry. I was inspired to create this drawing after pondering what brilliance was coursing through Erwin Schrödinger's mind when he conceived of the wave equations.


patently absurd

Friday,  08/12/05  07:58 PM

Richard Stallman blasts patent absurdity, and deftly contrasts copyrights and patents:

Consider the novel Les Misérables, written by Hugo.  Because he wrote it, the copyright belonged only to him.  He did not have to fear that some stranger could sue him for copyright infringement and win.  That was impossible, because copyright covers only the details of a work of authorship, and only restricts copying.  Hugo had not copied Les Misérables, so he was not in danger.  Patents work differently.  They cover ideas - each patent is a monopoly on practising some idea, which is described in the patent itself."

[ via Cory Doctorow, who titled his post "Software patents are bad for coders like literary patents would be bad for writers." ]  Exactly!

Got it?  Copyrights = goodPatents = bad.  All software patents are bad, all the time.  Always.

I'm telling you, Everybody Loves Eric Raymond is my favorite comic right now; check out web comic patents.  The hits keep on coming...


Friday,  08/12/05  08:49 PM

The Ole filter makes another pass...

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has made it off the ground!  "The MRO was carried into space on an Atlas V rocket and is now on a nearly seven-month journey to Mars. The launch had been delayed 24 hours after engineers saw an anomalous reading in the hydrogen propellant loading system on the Atlas V. There was insufficient time in the launch window to fully investigate the reading."  Excellent. 

DigitalCameraInfo has a great story about the 40,000 x 20,000 pixel camera on board the MRO.  That's almost the resolution of the ScanScope instruments made by my company Aperio.  (We can go up to 120,000 x 80,000 pixels, but we use a line-scan camera, so it is a different process altogether.)  [ via Engadget

SpaceX hits a rough patch: SpaceX Private Rocket Shifts to Island Launch.  "After spending an estimated $7 million on its Vandenberg Air Force Base facilities, the private rocket company is being told to get out of its Complex 3 West launch site [at Vandenberg AFB]."  There are two sides to every story, but it is hard to imagine what the other side of this story could be.  Anyway never bet against Elon Musk. 

Ever wonder what happens to all those white doves that are released on "peaceful" occasions?  Slate explains.  I didn't know doves were pigeons, and I didn't know cooked pigeons were squab.  I love squabs - medium rare, with a nice red wine reduction sauce. 

Der Spigel: the World in the iPod.  "The microchip that runs Apple's popular music player is made in India, Taiwan, China and Silicon Valley.  Is this an example of how globalization works to everyone's benefit -- or a sign that the world economy is about to roll over America?"  The former, of course, dummy!  

Don't worry about America's competitiveness because of lower labor costs elsewhere, worry about it because of liability and patent costs here at home...

Speaking of the iPod, Andrew Grumet compares the iPod Mini to the Creative Zen Micro.  "Overall: iPod wins."  What I found interesting is that on features and everything else it was a push, yet Andrew clearly liked the iPod better.  Yes, Virginia, design is important

Oh and by the way, Doom has been ported to the iPod.  Thank goodness.  It isn't a real computer until it runs Doom :) 


my positive Sprint experience

Saturday,  08/13/05  10:12 AM

Are you sitting down?  Are you holding any sharp objects?  No?  Good.  Because you aren’t going to believe this…

I’ve had a positive experience with Sprint.  Let me repeat that because I’m sure you think it’s a typo: I’ve had a positive experience with Sprint.  Yes, this is the same Sprint that finished at the bottom of a recent J.D.Power & Associates survey of mobile phone providers, a survey more notable for the fact that every one of the providers was despised than for the differences between providers.

Here’s what happened.  Of course your mileage may vary.

So I have a Treo 600 phone.  I love it, by the way, but that credit goes entirely to Handspring PalmOne and not to Sprint.  (There is now a Treo 650 out which is even cooler, and which I’m eyeing covetously, but I digress.)  The other week I had a minor incident while driving which resulted in my Treo being bathed in coffee.  That’s another story which I won’t relate here.  Overall the Treo emerged from its coffee bath operational, but a few quirks appeared, most notably the battery was somewhat hosed and as a result my phone suddenly became much more sensitive to signal strength.  It worked, but it stopped working well.

A brief digression.  This tip courtesy of Greg Crandall.  If you ever have an item of personal electronics bathed in coffee or some other liquid, do the following:  1) Remove the battery (if possible).  2) Rinse thoroughly in clean water.  Yes, you read that right, rinse thoroughly in clean water.  Bottled water is good, distilled water is even better.  3) Dry thoroughly using a hair dryer.  Chances are good that the device will still work.  Really really.

A while back, when I first bought my Treo 600, I decided to subscribe to Sprint’s “extended care plan”.  I am not usually a fan of extended warranties, they seem like a ripoff, but somehow this seemed worth doing.  Maybe it was the fact that the plan only cost $6/month, and my phone cost $500.  The extended care plan has two parts, first, Sprint extends the manufacturer’s warranty through the life of the phone (while you own it), and second, Sprint offers a no-questions-asked replacement in the event your phone is lost or damaged via a company called Lock/Line.  (More on Lock/Line in a moment.)  Since Handspring offered a 90-day warranty and I was planning to own my phone a lot longer than that, this seemed like a good deal, with the added bonus that if I lost or damaged the phone (or dipped it in coffee), I’d get a replacement.

After struggling with my now-really-sensitive-to-signal-strength phone for a couple of weeks, I decided to put the extended care program to the test.  I called Sprint, reported the problem, and they said “call Lock/Line”.  Sigh, here we go, I thought.  So I called Lock/Line, jumped through about 10 hoops, finally reached a human, and they said “call Sprint”.  Sigh, here we go again, I thought.

You see, there’s a weird tension in the business relationship between Sprint and Lock/Line.  Sprint offers an extended warranty, while Lock/Line offers insurance.  They are both bundled together in Sprint’s “extended care plan”.  The difference is that warranty covers defects in the phone, while insurance covers everything else.  Lock/Line wants every problem to be a defect, so it is covered by Sprint’s warranty, while Sprint wants every problem not to be defect, so it is covered by Lock/Line’s insurance.

The Sprint customer support rep asked a few questions about what happened, and then determined that obviously it was not a manufacturing defect, so obviously it wasn’t covered by their extended warranty.  That’s why they had me call Lock/Line.  The Lock/Line customer support rep asked a few questions about what happened, and then determined that obviously it was a manufacturing defect, so obviously it was covered by Sprint’s extended warranty.  Sometimes in this situation the consumer is the loser, you end up falling through the cracks between the finger pointing.  But in this case the relationship works, because one way or another, you are covered.  In the end the Lock/Line rep prevailed and was able to file the Sprint warranty claim on my behalf.  This seems like a bad thing from Sprint’s point of view but it was a great thing from my point of view, because I received a new phone for a processing fee of $10.

I’ve had my Treo 600 for about 18 months, so I’ve paid 18 x $6 = $108 in “insurance premiums”.  Therefore the new phone cost me $118 plus about an hour on the phone with Sprint and Lock/Line.  Of course I could have destroyed my phone earlier, or never, that’s how insurance works.  On average I would say I do destroy a phone every couple of years or so.  (On one memorable occasion I left one on the roof of my car, and watched it fly off onto the freeway…)

After the warranty claim was filed, I received a brand new Treo 600 four days later.  The phone arrived with detailed and accurate instructions about how to activate the new phone and how to return the old one.  I followed the instructions and am now happily using my brand new Treo 600.  Oh, and of course the extended care plan covers this phone, too, so I can do the coffee bath thing every year or so and have a new phone forever.

Anyway as I said your mileage may vary but this was a positive customer service experience with Sprint.  And if you have an expensive phone I can recommend Sprint’s extended care plan, it is a good deal.

P.S. Note to self – one of the most positive aspects of the whole experience was the detailed and accurate instructions about how to activate the new phone which came with the replacement.  Documentation is so important.



Saturday,  08/13/05  08:33 PM

Hey, guess what?  I'm becoming more popular!  Yay!  Nothing is more annoying than naked self-congratulation, so let's see if I can make a real point out of this.  My blog hits have been climbing, and more interestingly the hits on my RSS feed have increased, too.  Either more people are discovering this blog or maybe there's just a sort of rising tide effect, where there are more people reading blogs in general, and therefore at random more of them end up here.  Weird.  Anyway thanks for dropping by and reading.  This is an ego-driven blog, I write for me and you!

Steve Verdon points out that we are experiencing record inflation, but we are not experiencing record old prices.  "Sure it is a record in nominal dollars, but this is like looking at your paycheck and saying you are rich because you are earning so much more than you did 25 years ago.  You see, 25 years ago the price of oil was just under $40/barrel.  So what is $40 from 1980 worth today?  Ninety four dollars and 42 cents."  (According to this graph, during 1978-1986 oil prices were higher than today.)  Of course he's right, but I must say I think we are going to be experiencing record oil prices "soon".  We have a finite resource, the supply of which is decreasing, and the demand of which is increasing.  You do that math.  [ via Megan McArdle ] 

Of course I have to point out as I always do, the nuclear option is our best option.

Christopher Hitchens wonders if the left really wants us to lose the war.  "There is a sort of unspoken feeling, underlying the entire debate on the war, that if you favored it or favor it, you stress the good news, and if you opposed or oppose it you stress the bad.  I do not find myself on either side of this false dichotomy."  Indeed.  Let the truth out, and it is what it is.  Of course this ignores the unpleasant fact that people vote based on perceptions rather than reality. 

I love Australian Prime Minister John Howard.  He isn't fooled, and sets a reporter straight.  "Can I remind you that the murder of 88 Australians in Bali took place before the operation in Iraq.  And I remind you that the 11th of September occurred before the operation in Iraq."  Fire on 'em, John!

Talk about a setup line: California beach boast world's pickiest females.  This would be fiddler crab females.  In my experience, human females in California are considerably less picky :) 

My recent positive experiences watching OLN's coverage of the 2005 Tour de France have reinforced for me how great it will be when we have iTunes for movies.  I've always been one to say people consume video differently from audio.  You can listen to music anywhere and when you're doing other things, but watching video you do in your family room, in a dedicated way.  I'm starting to think that isn't quite right.  I've watched quite a bit of the Tour on my computer, while working.  (Maybe "listened" rather than "watched" would be the right verb, except that of course when something happens you can back up and watch.)  An awful lot like the way I consume baseball; I Tivo the game, and watch it while I'm working or blogging or something. 

I'm really sure Apple is going to do this.  They aren't dumb, and they're in the catbird seat to make it happen.  Only question is when?  Will it be this winter?  I think so, but that could just be wishful thinking :)

This is pretty cool and entirely expected: Hearing Aids for the Unimpaired.  "Technology may soon give us superhuman hearing, recorders that prompt names at cocktail parties, and even ear devices that look fashionable."  Of course the trend is going to continue, the same technology which corrects deficiencies in our senses can also enhance them beyond normal.  Soon we'll have glasses with a heads' up display inside them, fed via bluetooth from your personal computer (which is also your mobile phone).  We'll have hearing aids which let you hear across the room, translate from foreign languages, recognize people, etc., again connected to your personal computer.  Does anyone really doubt this will happen?  In the next ten years, even?  Of course it will!  What a great time to be alive. 

A lot of the information you'll see inside your glasses or hear in your ear will come from Google.  People are doing the coolest things with Google Maps, such as combining them with U.S. census information.  Want to know how many people live on a given block?  Now you can.  [ via Cory Doctorow

Denny Wilson, aka Grouchy Old Cripple, uncorks a rant.  (And when he rants, he rants.)  With which I completely agree, by the way.  [ via acidman, who agrees, too... ] 

Seems Clive Thompson agrees with me about the uselessness of the space shuttle: Houston, we have a problem.  Indeed. 

The other day I noted Andrew Grumet's comparison of the iPod Mini to the Zen Micro.  FastCompany has an interesting article about the companies trying to compete with the iPod.  "The iPod -- with its sublime design, intuitive usability, and unparalleled cool quotient -- set a new standard by which all other MP3 players would be judged.  Six rivals talk about designing their answer to an icon."  A classic example of a failed strategy comes from the Sony product manager; her first line is "At Sony, we believe what customers really want is choice."  WRONG.  No customer wants choice, they just want the perfect product.  Choice is what you do when you can't design one product which is perfect for everyone. 

Dave Winer: Why the customer is always right.  He's right :)  Seriously, the market is always right.  That's why it is silly to argue that the iPod isn't a great product. 


losing something

Sunday,  08/14/05  09:08 AM

I had a random thought last night which I thought I'd share.  There is a visceral human reaction to losing something.  People never ever want to give up something they feel they already have.  This is not a cold logical calculation, even if you give people something which is way more valuable than the thing you're taking away, they hesitate.  (This is why FREE is the most powerful word in marketing :)

The idea of accumulating "stuff" must have hit early on in the evolution of humans.  Anthropologists tell us we were herders, and [probably] harem-based, and both of these imply possession.  Intelligence may have evolved so we could evaluate trades.  Anyway however it happened, it is now true; we are materialistic.  Any human society which has attempted to deny this has failed, and the human society which is most successful is the United States, which celebrates materialism and features it as a core value.  One of the first things that must happen to transform a failed state is some sort of rule of law, including some rights to personal possession.

Losing something doesn't only mean losing an object, it can also mean losing a right, such as freedom.  And losing rights provokes even more of a reaction than losing objects.  Tell someone they can't do something, especially something they could do yesterday, and you are going to get strong resistance.

The implications of this for businesses are significant, especially those targeting consumers.  Any product or service which trades one thing for another is going to have tough sledding compared to a product or service which gives you something for nothing.

Media companies are finding this out the hard way.  Consumers do not want products with strings attached.  They are used to buying something, and owning it, and having complete freedom to do with it what they want.  Any kind of restriction is taking that freedom away, and is going to piss people off.  It isn't just that they won't buy the product or service - although they won't - it's that they're actually going to be insulted and angry.  Look at the way consumers have reacted to DRM.  ("You mean I buy it, but then I can't do what I want with it?")

Consumers don't do a logical calculation and say, okay, I get it, I pay you $X and get Y product with Z strings attached.  No.  They say, no way, if I give you $X for Y product I expect zero strings attached.  Don't take my freedom!  I hate losing something!


175 505s!

Sunday,  08/14/05  10:12 AM

From Sailing Anarchy, a great blog (which unfortunately does not have permalinks):

Is this the largest fleet for a World Championship?  175 505's are registered for the CSC 2005 505 World Championship in Warnemunde, Germany!  And yes, they will all be racing on the same course, at the same time.  Team USA is 10 boats strong, and I think it's noteworthy that Howie Hamlin and Cam Lewis are sailing together again, with a combined age of about 100!  On the other side of the spectrum, California high school sailing phenom, Parker Shim, has bought a boat and will also be competing.

Can you even imagine 175 505s on one start line?  Good thing they use a rabbit start.  I would not bet against Howard and Cam, man, what an all-star team!

A 505 start
The boat on port tack is "the rabbit", everyone else starts on starboard and must duck the rabbit.
Typically the rabbit is the boat which finished 10th in the previous race.

I sailed in the 505 worlds at Kingston, Ontario, back in 1990.  "Only" about 100 boats.  We sailed our asses off and finished about 40th.  I really think boat-for-boat the 505 fleet is the strongest in the world.  If you win the 505 worlds, you're my hero.


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