Archive: February 2006

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On the Persistence of Bad Design...

Wednesday,  02/01/06  09:36 PM

… on the persistence of bad design decisions …

As a programmer you are constantly making design decisions.  Some are small, some are big.  Some have little effect, some have larger effect.  And every once in a while you make some decisions which seem small, but have a huge effect.  If these decisions are made badly, then it affects many other people for years to come.  Some of the worst decisions which have had the biggest bad effect were made in the early days of DOS.

These decisions were not made at Microsoft (raise your hand if you knew DOS was not originally developed by Gates & company) and were made in a hurry, because IBM was choosing the operating system for their new personal computer, and time was of the essence.  The competitors at that time were CP/M, QDOS, and UCSD p-system.  QDOS was a skinny clone of CP/M, which was [at that time] the dominant OS for personal computers.  Microsoft took QDOS, reworked it a bit, and positioned it as the OS of choice for IBM.  They priced it far less than CP/M and p-system, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now CP/M was a shallow copy of Unix.  CP/M was little more than a command line interpreter, but it did emulate a few really important Unix concepts, such as stdin/stdout, redirection, and pipes.  (It also introduced some non-Unix kludges, like “drive letters”, which – in the spirit of this rant - we regret to this day.)  And these concepts were cloned in DOS.

The DOS people made one little teeny decision which plagues us to this day.  They wanted to support “switches” on the command line.  This is a Unix-ish concept, and in Unix switches are always introduced by a dash.  So you type, “program –switch –switch2 file file”.  The command line parameters were positional, but switches were a way to stick in non-positional optional things.  I don’t know why – history does record, or at least Mr. Google doesn’t seem to know – but for some reason the DOS people decided to use slashes instead of dashes for switches.  Queue heavy organ music – dum dum DUM.

As we all know, the Unix path delimiter was a forward slash.  But this was before hard drives, there were no directories in DOS.  Only devices and files.  Since slashes were not used for anything else, it probably seemed okay to use them for switches.  That was a bad decision – not to remain compatible with a preexisting standard – but so be it.  There was worse to come.

Along came DOS 2.0, and support for hard drives, and support for directories.  And now we needed path delimiters!  But since the DOS people had already used forward slashes for switches, they decided to use backward slashes for path delimiters.  Queue more heavy organ music – dum dum DUM.  This one decision ranks as one of the worst OS design decisions of all time, amid serious competition.  At least in terms of the reach of the effect, this one wins.

Now backslashes are funky characters to begin with – most people have trouble finding them on a keyboard – but they already had a purpose in life.  Since time zero backslashes have been used to “escape” non-printable characters.  For example, t means “tab” and n means “linefeed” (“newline”).  So the DOS guys, in their infinite dis-wisdom, picked the escape character to use as their path delimiter.

By the way, this difference only exists on the command line.  Internally DOS has always supported forward slashes as well as backward slashes in path delimiters, probably as a concession to compatibility with Unix.  But on the command line you must use backward slashes to avoid confusion with switches.

Did this make sense?  No.  Does it cause problems?  Yes.  How much time has been wasted over this bad design decision?  Who can say...  Not only do people like me have to make a career of editing scripts which include things like this: “sed s/\\\\/\\\\\\\\/g”, we also get so irritated that we spend additional time composing and posting long rants about it on blogs.  Which then waste the time of our visitors who have to read them :)

Moral of the story:  Make good decisions.  You never know how far-reaching the effects of a bad decision might be.

P.S. Yes, I really have a script which includes “sed s/\\\\/\\\\\\\\/g”.  This is necessary to preserve the leading “\” in servernames.  Don’t ask.

[ Later: this article explains further.  [ via Keith Gaughan ]  My favorite part of the article is the last line, "Fixed title - it's been bugging me all week"; of course we know exactly why the title was broken, it contains a backslash, and the author probably had to add at least one backslash, or maybe three, or maybe five, in order to get a backslash to appear in the title correctly :)  The persistence of bad design, indeed...  ]


Wednesday,  02/01/06  09:49 PM

Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear Nicole,
Happy Birthday to you!

Woah.  I have a 24 year old daughter.  Now that is scary.

Woundwart notes the age gauge.  It tells me: "You were...  25 years old when Apple introduced the Macintosh" So be it :)

Hey, we have a new planet!  (or something...)  There's a new kid in town, named UB313, which orbits our Sun and is larger than Pluto.  First we had Quaoar, then Sedna, and now this - clearly the whole planet definition thing needs to be looked at.  I actually think all of them are Kuiper objects and probably not really planets... 

P.S. Score another one for Caltech.  We can't play football, but we can find planets :)

P.P.S. However, we can't find our way down Mount Wilson in the dark.  Without flashlights.

BW: Top ten hybrid myths.  #10 is "Hybrids are a Fad".  That is clearly a myth :)  Here in Southern California many freeways have a diamond lane, the left lane can only be used by vehicles with two or more people in them - or, by hybrids.  A very cool law, IMHO. 

The Sailing Simulator!  Very cool.  I was able to hit 8 knots to weather in 17 knots, how about you?  [ via The Horse's Mouth

So what do you think, Is it time to revamp the periodic table?  (One approach is shown at right; it looks a bit like the solar system including Kuiper belt objects...)  This is one of those vexing problems that nag at you every day, isn't it :) 

liquid on siliconHere are more awesome pictures from science, posted at Princeton's website.  Just amazing.  [ via Cory Doctorow

Okay, more beautiful pictures, this time from the Harbin ice festival in China!  I have to say it - this is SO COOL!  Check it out, you'll be amazed... 

Here's good news: Randall Parker reports Brain Enhancement Drugs Headed to Market.  Primarily memory enhancers, but also some other things that I can't quite remember... 

Maybe after I use brain enhancement drugs, I'll be able to fully comprehend quantum physics.  Until then, it seems too weird to be true.  Bram Cohen (author of Bittorrent) illustrates the weirdness perfectly with hisquantum duelist.  "After entering and locking the black box, the Quantum Duelist flips a coin.  If it comes up heads, he turns to the right, if it comes up tails, he turns to the left.  Either way, he then takes ten paces forwards, turns around, and fires a gun straight ahead.  According to quantum mechanics, after the black box is opened, there's some chance that the duelist will be lying on the floor ten paces to the left, dead from a gunshot between the eyes fired by himself at a distance of twenty paces."  Riiight. 


NASA's Virtual Earth

Wednesday,  02/01/06  11:14 PM

NASA recently published a high-resolution topographic map of the Earth, created from satellite photographs.  It was remarkable not only for its detail, but for the fact that it was 2.9GB in size (86400x43200 pixels), and that it was distributed using Bittorrent.  Pretty cool.  For those of you who don't feel like downloading the file, you can still view it in comfort right here in your browser, just click this image:

(After clicking, hit F11 to maximize your browser's window.)

This same problem confronts Pathologists who want to view digitized microscope slides.  The images are so large they cannot practically be transferred over wide-area networks, not even with Bittorrent.  But using incremental client/server viewers like Aperio's, they can view any part of the image at any resolution.  Pretty cool :)


Happy Groundhog Day!

Thursday,  02/02/06  08:00 AM

It's Groundhog Day!  "Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, but it was hard to find a complainer in the crowd at Gobbler's Knob, where the morning temperature was well above freezing and the Groundhog Day high was expected to hit 48 degrees."  So be it, another six weeks of winter.  I have to say, this is one of my favorite holidays...  fun, harmless, and un-loaded with bogus religous baggage.  Plus, groundhogs are cute.  Plus, sometimes you get to live it over, and over, and over, and over...  until you get it right and end up with Andie McDowell.  May your day be a happy one, and lived once :)



Thursday,  02/02/06  10:03 PM

This is pretty cool: Jakob Nielson from 1997: How Users Read on the Web.  Seems every bit as relevant today as it was then.  Key findings include that users scan a page, so highlighting key words is helpful.

Want to see racism in action?  A major Canadian agency has banned the hiring of white men.  "Managers in the Public Works department must hire only visible minorities, women, aboriginals and the disabled, except with written permission from their superiors, David Marshall, the deputy minister, ordered in an e-mail circulated yesterday."  This is unbelievable, except I can easily believe it, and I bet you can too.  This pendulum has to start swinging back, doesn't it? 

One of my favorite blogs is Watching America, which runs stories from other countries' media about the U.S.  They are mostly anti-U.S. but it is interesting nonetheless, fascinating, in fact.  The dilemma for many of these foreign writers is how best to combine ridicule with admiration.  This situation is summed up perfectly by this column in The Times: The President is a dolt, so how can America be such a success?  Yes, that is hard to explain... 

Baldilocks: Two women.  Absolutely nails it, IMHO.  [ via Acidman

Remember those cool little Mars rovers?  Yep, they're still rolling around, Yahoo has a Mars Rover Update.  "At present, both robots remain relatively healthy and active, despite working eight times as long as the three-month missions originally planned for them--but each shows signs of wear and tear.  Opportunity rolled its way into a third year of Mars operations on January 24.  Spirit did so on January 3."  Awesome. 

Think those dual-core AMD chips are fast?  Check this out: AMD to demo quad-core chips in mid-2006

RIM shot: The Onion on what users will do when their Blackberries go dark.  I like this one: "look where they're going."  Tap, tap... crash. 

Well, I guess it had to happen sometime: Telegram passes into history.  "For more than 150 years, messages of joy, sorrow and success came in signature yellow envelopes hand delivered by a courier.  Now the Western Union telegram is officially a thing of the past."  CNet's take is pretty cool: Telegrams. Stop

Here we have the top ten most peculiar places in the world.  "Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is a village on the island of Anglesey in Wales. It is best known for having the longest officially recognized place name in the United Kingdom."  I love it :) 

Hey buddy, want to buy an island?  Check out the international real estate marketplace - for islands.  Who knew they were so reasonable :)  [ via Mark Frauenfelder

Clive Thompson ponders The anarchy of airplane boarding.  "What's the fastest way to load people onto an airplane? Certainly not the way that it's normally done, as any business traveler will attest."  Seems like the Southwest method works best - don't assign seats.  Then again, I like having an assigned seat, so maybe boarding a bit slower is okay... 


The galactic center

Thursday,  02/02/06  10:38 PM

Today's high-resolution space shot comes from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope: A stunning view of the Milky Way Galaxy's bustling center.  Just click this image for the high-res viewer:

(After clicking, hit F11 to maximize your browser's window.)

"The Milky Way's core is indeed a very busy place.  Stars are packed together like subway riders as they race around the supermassive black hole that lies at the very center.  Our sun is located 26,000 light-years away in a more peaceful, spacious neighborhood, out in the galactic suburbs.  It circles the galaxy about every 225 million years, which amounts to 20 trips over the course of its 4.5-billion-year lifetime.  In contrast, stars at the galactic center complete one lap in only a few million years or less."  Awe-inspiring, isn't it! 


file permissions

Friday,  02/03/06  07:01 PM

<rant superfluous=yes.

I have a question.  Have you ever used OS file permissions?

I have not.  Ever.

I have been programming for 30 years.  I have developed many sensitive and secure applications, including large financial transaction systems, online bill payment systems, internet financial services, and now medical imaging applications.  I have never used OS file permissions.  Ever.  Furthermore I am confident that I will never use them.

Every OS should have a checkbox at the admin/root level that says “I don’t want to use file permissions”.  That single thing would save hundreds thousands of hours of aggravation, trying to get file permissions out of the way so you can do something that would otherwise just work.  At least with Unix / Linux if you’re root you can chmod files and directories and there you are.  I always setup a way to get to root easily (sudo, syscmd) just for this purpose.  However with Windows the file permission story is much more complicated.  I often can’t figure it out, and have to resort to copying files, random editing of directory permissions, etc., in an effort just to get the file permissions out of the way.  MacOS is almost as obtuse as Windows, by the way.

Any application that actually needs file permissions probably can’t rely on the OS, anyway, because it is too hard to get them right.  Only simple things work for security, and file permissions are not simple.  I know of an application that stores all its data in ZIP files just because that way the password mechanism can be used to protect the data.  That’s pretty weird but it works, because it is simple.  Most “real” applications store data in a database, and the database provides the protection.  That can be complicated but not that complicated, so it also works.  File permissions at the OS level just don’t work.

So the moral of this story is that if you ever design an operating system, don’t have file permissions.  Thanks for listening.



Friday,  02/03/06  07:09 PM

Wow, I'd missed this.  Venus Express blasted off (last November).  "European-built spacecraft designed to explore the hot, dense atmosphere of Venus made contact with mission control after blasting off on its five-month journey to Earth’s neighbor, scientists said.  The European Space Agency’s unmanned Venus Express probe, which lifted off from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, should take 163 days to reach Venus."  That's excellent.  Mark your calendars!

I'd saved this but haven't linked it:  In response to the challenges faced by the Space Shuttle, Xeni Jardin asked "what would Burt Rutan do?"  And then she got this answer: "One can argue that Rutan could make a design that could make orbit cheaply.  However, his building SS1 is not good evidence of that.  That is a completely different requirement requiring entirely different engineering.  A much harder and much more expensive requirement."  Exactly.  Which makes what Elon Musk is trying to do with SpaceX (launch next Wednesday, BTW) so impressive.  Check out the post for lots of hard numbers.

I guess we'll find out more when SS2 launches, followed by SS3.  "Orbital vehicle SpaceShipThree (SS3) will be developed by space tourism company Virgin Galactic and Mojave-based SpaceShipTwo (SS2)-developer Scaled Composites, if the planned SS2 suborbital service is successful, says Virgin Galactic president Will White­horn."  So be it.

Lance Armstrong and Sheryl Crow have split.  So be it.  I still love them both :) 

O.M.G.  Screenshots from Windows 1.01.  Wow.  Brings back memories.  Good ones, oddly enough. 

Slate on Penn Jillette.  One of my very favorite entertainers, because he doesn't assume the audience are idiots, he assumes they aren't idiots.  And has fun anyway :) 

Eric Raymond: The Cheesecake Factory Must Die.  "When some soulless android of a chain restaurant designer willfully perverts the meaning of 'traditional' so he can sell dreck to the ignorant with the illusion that said dreck is just like what his Yiddish grandma made, that’s where I reach my limit.

Continuous partial attention.  Say what?  (Are you paying attention :)  Yes, this is a meme of the moment, to which people are paying some portion of their attention.  Somewhat related to attenuation: "Any time you have to make a choice about anything is a time when you need to attenuate, and maybe you could externalize that method of choice into the system itself; any time there's too much complexity to be understood immediately is a time when time-based attenuation can help."  Riiight.  Clive Thompson tries to clarify; "Can anyone find a way to make your constantly beeping computer leave you alone and let you work?  Inside the nascent field of interruption science."  There is something to this; I find excluding external interrupts so I can concentrate is crucial. 

Ottmar: contemplationTonight's sunset is courtesy of Ottmar Liebert (at left, click for bigger pic).  Awesome!  Puts me very much in mind of the artwork at right (click for bigger pic), entitled "contemplation", which Ottmar received from a viewer.  That could be him, composing a haunting ode to the sunset... 



Large Hadron Collider

Friday,  02/03/06  08:01 PM

This is so cool: a QTVR of the Large Hadron Collider under construction at CERN (click image to launch):

I love "big science".  [ via Xeni Jardin ]



Saturday,  02/04/06  07:20 PM

So, tomorrow we have the Super Bowl.  An eating opportunity, as well as a football watching opportunity :)  I am looking forward to Shirley's tamales and chili as much as the game.  My pick - Seattle.  Hey, I don't know, Pittsburgh has won it before, Seattle hasn't.  Plus, I like Seattle.  Well actually I like Pittsburgh, too - it is much more friendly and beautiful than you'd think from the "steel city" moniker - but I feel a special connection to Seattle.  Should be a good game, I actually like that it hasn't been as hyped as other games in the past, I mean, it is only a game, right? 

Oh, yeah, and I did buy a new TV.  A Fujitsu 55" plasma.  Awesome, totally awesome.  It did take some futzing (technical term) to get ordinary composite video from my cable and my Tivo to look good, but now, it does.  And component video from my DVD player looks really good.  So good, I'm not sure I'm going to need a new DVD player which upsamples and supports HDMI.  I did buy a new DVD player - a Yamaha, to match my receiver - but haven't hooked it up yet, stay tuned for a report on that...

Still to be figured out, also; does the really expensive Monster HDMI cable matter?  I've bought one for $155 (ouch!) but verified it can be returned, and have also bought a plain vanilla one for $10.  I confidently expect, based on that fact that this is a digital interface, that there will not be a difference.

NYTimes on SpaceX: A bold plan to go where men have gone before.  (If the link is dead, here's a PDF of the article.)  "Through his company, Space Explorations Technology, or SpaceX, Mr. Musk wants to send things to space for one-third of the going rate or less — even bringing down the price to $7 million for small payloads to low Earth orbit — with a series of simple rockets of his own design."  Their third attempt at their first launch is this Wednesday - stay tuned! 

This is pretty cool: The Many Directions of Time.  Stanford Physicist Alex Mayer has proposed that time has multiple dimensions, just like space.  "Imagine that 'the arrow of time' in the Universe, like gravity on Earth, is pretty much the same everywhere, yet also different everywhere relative to everywhere else.  That means that the 'arrow of time' points in different directions in spacetime depending on where you are, so time has a geometry just like space has a geometry."  I barely follow the argument, but check out this PowerPoint presentation which illustrates the phenomenon pretty well (diagram at right).  Very cool. 

Perhaps this could explain why I'm always late?  Nah, I didn't think so :)

Scott Adams is a wise man.  Consider his WCM Method:  "WCM stands for Who Cares Most.  If you want your relationship to have a chance, defer all decisions and interpretations of fact to the person who cares the most.  In practice, this will mean that women will make 98% of all the decisions and be “right” 98% of the time.  Compared to men, women care more passionately about just about everything.  Men mostly scratch what itches and call it good."  This is so true.  I tried to explain it to Shirley, but she didn't get it.  I think that's because I cared more than she did :) 

For those of you who are Treonauts (you know who you are), here comes the Palm 700p:  "The new Treo 700p, which will supposedly be available from Sprint in April, will have a 312MHz processor, Palm OS 5.4.9, EV-DO, 1.3 megapixel digital camera, a 320 x 320 pixel display, and Bluetooth."  Of these, EV-DO is the cool new feature, I think. 

I meant to link this a while ago, but it seems particularly appropriate right now: Dave Winer explains How to make money on the Internet.  "The way to make money on the Internet is to send them away.  Google proved this, in the age of portals that were trying to suck the eyeballs in and not let them go, Google took over by sending you off more efficiently than anyone else...  Yahoo doubled their share of the online news market by adopting RSS and sending readers away as fast as they can.  People come back to places that send them away.  Memorize that one."  Got it. 


one week

Sunday,  02/05/06  08:44 AM

Hey, I've been blogging for a week!  No big deal, you say?  Yeah, you're right.  But somehow, this is fun.  Maybe what I had to do was take so much time off, that it became obvious that nothing bad would happen if I stopped "forever".  At that point it was no longer an obligation, and hence, it could be fun again...  Wow, that makes my brain hurt.

This is related, I think, to the reason I don't like to keep stuff.  I am a compulsive thrower-away of things, or lately, a compulsive eBayer-away of things.  I like a clean desk, and a clean desktop.  I like an empty inbox.  I like having zero posts waiting in my aggregator.  All of these things - keeping stuff, stuff on my desk, mail in my inbox, are in some sense obligations.  Getting rid of them feels good, in the same way that crossing to-dos off my list feels good.

The same thing happens to me with programming.  Nothing is more fun than "noodling"; building something new which does something cool, something unexpected, something unplanned.  Sitting down at my computer with a task at hand, designed but not yet implemented, is a simple pleasure.  At the same time, building something on deadline - or (gasp!) behind deadline - is not fun; it is an obligation.  It must be done, and requires the same concentration and creative energy, but the obligation makes it less fun.


a better archive

Sunday,  02/05/06  01:39 PM

This afternoon I decided to fix my archive.  At first I merely changed it a little to make it work better now that I've been blogging for three years.  But as I was working on it, I realized the calendar metaphor is really lousy for blog posts.  When I started blogging I'd created a calendar-like archive, because, well, that's what leading bloggers like Dave Winer did.  I never really questioned it... but in the back of my mind, I remembered a comment from Jeff Jarvis (who I met at BloggerCon II), saying that when he found a blog he liked, he wanted to see "everything", not just the new stuff.  And that got me to thinking...

So, presenting the new and improved archive!  There they are, links to all 900+ articles, posts, surveys, etc. I've made to this blog in reverse chronological order.  I actually think this makes much more sense as a way to present a blog's archive.  At least this way if you're browsing around, you have some chance of finding something interesting, as opposed to merely picking by date from a calendar.  Check it out!  (And of course, please tell me what you think...)


Sunday,  02/05/06  10:57 PM

So congratulations to the Steelers.  I must say I thought neither team played very well.  Overall I thought Seattle played better, but at the end of each half they brain-locked and had horrible clock management, and that proved to be the difference.  The referees didn't have a good game either, twice calling Seattle for phantom penalties at critical moments, and giving Pittsburgh a touchdown when the ball never reached the goal line.  I'm not saying that was the difference (although Slate is!), but it didn't help... 

Shirley's tamales and chili were awesome, as usual.  I feel like a Penguin, about to go four months without food.  The Stones were cool - we made fun of them for being old, but hey, for old guys they are pretty good, and pretty entertaining.  I can't honestly say any of the commercials grabbed me.  There were some funny ones, but none that were awesome, if you know what I mean.  A pretty tame game, all things considered.  But still spending the afternoon eating and watching a game with friends, it doesn't get much better than that :)

In the process of messing around with my new TV, getting ready for the Big Game, I learned some things.  First, there is a big difference between my old DVD player on a composite interface and my new DVD player (which upsamples to 1080i) on an HDMI interface.  Dramatic.  Movies look, well, like movies.  Incredible, actually.  Second, there is a big difference between an optical audio link between a DVD player and a stock RCA cable.  I hadn't meant not to use an optical link, but it turns out ever since I've lived in my house I've had it hooked up incorrectly.  So I was listening to stereo sound with surround sound speakers, instead of true 5.1 Dolby sound.  The combination of suddenly better audio with suddenly better video made for a qualitatively better movie watching experience.  I actually watched all of Star Wars IV, awed by the quality.  Very cool. 

Of course then I watched the Big Game with stock cable video and audio, and it was pretty lame in comparison.  I can't wait to get my new Adelphia HDTV box (hopefully in time for the Winter Olympics).  Stay tuned for a report on that...

The other day I noted the unintentionally ironic headline, "The President is a dolt, so how can America be such a success?"  In the same spirit, check out the cover of the latest Economist: The one thing Bush got right (democracy).  Yes, well, I guess he only got one thing right, eh?  But at least it was important, in fact, it was the most important thing.  Of course, reasonable people might differ about whether this was the only thing he got right.  After all, if the President is a dolt, how can America be such a success :) 

I see where Russell Beattie is giving up on comments.  (He calls it "back to old school blogging".)  From time to time I think about adding comments, but it just doesn't seem like a good idea.  Gardening comments seems to take a lot of time - replying to interesting ones, deleting inappropriate ones, and fighting link spammers.  I guess if you want to comment on my posts, you can post on your blog :) 

John Battelle reports Google is really going to take on PayPal.  At least, they're going to build a payment service, they probably won't get much or any traction on eBay, which is still where the majority of PayPal payments are made.  They may use it for settling payments for videos and stuff like that...  Somehow, I can't see where this is going.  Fraud will be a big problem, and if they don't have a stored value system they won't be able to deal with it effectively, and if they do have a stored value system, then they'll have to dodge being classified as a bank, and they'll be competing with Visa, and they'll find themselves in the same minefield PayPal had to cross.  Good luck to them :) 

I just found this, and it's awesome: Duct-tape band-aids.  Wow.  Makes you want to get hurt, doesn't it? 

Jim Lawrence has a collection of the worst album covers of all time.  Pretty impressive actually, they are that bad.  [ via Ottmar Liebert





Monday,  02/06/06  09:04 PM

Scientists hail discovery of hundreds of new species in New Guinea.  "An astonishing mist-shrouded 'lost world' of previously unknown and rare animals and plants high in the mountain rainforests of New Guinea has been uncovered by an international team of scientists."  Awesome!  Shades of The Relic by Lincoln Child :) 

Gerald Vanderleun nails it: The Kids are Not All Right.  "A cartoon is published in Denmark and embassies are stormed and torched throughout the world to the shrieking cacophonies of Muslim mobs.  Just another dutiful day in the sunny realms of Islam.  These predictable tantrums grow by turns more disturbing and irritating.  It is as if civilization has, in its efforts to be ever more civilized, nurtured a slight skin rash into a full blown case of adolescent acne and decided to treat it with a variety of homeopathic and ineffective nostrums that only seem to encourage its spread, even when more effective palliatives are at hand.  Seriously, for serious we shall some day become about this matter, what are we to do about these children of a younger god?"  I can't wait for the adults to impose more discipline. 

This is excellent - the U.S. has a new Pro Bike Racing Team!  "The veil of secrecy surrounding the new domestic United Pro Cycling road team was lifted Tuesday morning with the announcement of the team's title sponsor, Toyota Motor Sales USA, as well as its team roster, equipment sponsors and unique brand of marketing and revenue initiatives...  As rumored, prominent Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team signings include reigning USPRO road champion Chris Wherry (pic at right), reigning national time trial champion Chris Baldwin, Pan Am Games champion Ivan Dominguez, former U.S. Olympian Tony Cruz and four-time Argentinean national champion Juan Jose Haedo."  I hope bike racing continues to gain popularity in the U.S., it is such an awesome sport. 

Motley Fool: Money Matters for Google and eBay.  A good analysis of Google’s potential entry into payments.  Despite Jeff Jordan’s statements – which are properly sober about a new competitor – I honestly don’t think Google is much of a threat to PayPal.  There are two reasons for this: 

  1. Fraud.  When online payments first began getting traction there was an explosion of little companies in the space, including PayPal and, but also including entries from well-established competitors such as Citibank, Western Union, Bank One, and Wells Fargo.  After and PayPal merged, their key advantage was that they were able to manage fraud successfully.  Payments is a low margin business, and the only way to keep fees low and make the service work for “everyone” (including people who don’t have credit cards, of which there are many) is to effectively manage fraud.  PayPal had a fundamental advantage over other approaches because it is a “stored value” system, so assets can be frozen, briefly, while fraud investigations take place, and money movements can be tracked within the system.  If Google is going to enter this space as a service, rather than as a stored value system, they’ll either have a conservative entry which can’t be widely used, or they are going to have too much fraud.
  2. eBay.  By far the most money on the web trades hands because of auction settlements.  It is unlikely that Google will have much traction on eBay, ever, now that eBay has integrated PayPal into their site, and it is unlikely that Google will have enough non-auction commerce to get enough traction with a payment system to start a network effect.  Google Video is their best shot right now, but even if their volume becomes iTunes-like it will still be dwarfed by auction settlements.  Most songs and videos go for single digit dollars.  The average price of an eBay auction is about $50.

That said, it will be good for PayPal to have a competitor; like eBay, their competition has dwindled to the point where they have a virtual monopoly.  Competition is good for all of us :)

Wow is this cool; a carbon fiber case for your iPod.  I've always ignored iPod cases, they just make the thing bigger, needlessly, but this looks pretty darn excellent.  [ via Digg

Steven Baker: Why RSS doesn't catch on.  "Long story short, I'm a typical tech user.  That's why I related to Debbie Weil's and Fred Wilson's posts on why RSS hasn't yet made a dent in corporate e-mail.  If it's something I have to outsource to my 13-year-old, a technology isn't dunce-proof ready for primetime."  This is a critical point.  It isn't just how useful a new thing is once you're using it, it is also how much effort does it take to try it.  I call this the "activation energy".  A worth subject for a longer post, when I have a moment.  For now, I agree that new technology must have low activation energy to achieve widespread adoption

Wired news: The 2005 vaporware awards.  (Better late than never :)  Interesting how so many games are vaporware.  I guess that's because preannouncing is a way of life in that industry.  I did enjoy the "Hasta la Vista" joke about Windows Vista, yeah, it's late. 

Linux on the Treo 650.  Woah.  No, I am not making this up.  I have no desire to run Linux on my phone, but I am thrilled that it is possible.  Yippee for platforms! 

Here we have Charles Babbage's Difference Engine, made from lego.  Now that's awesome!  (P.S. Site hosted by Steve Wozniak...) 

Hey, it's a new sailing blog: Inside Yachting.  With columns by Rich Roberts, no less.  Cool. 



Texas chili cookoff

Tuesday,  02/07/06  08:18 PM

(From my colleague Martin Stuart)

Notes from an Inexperienced Chili Taster, named FRANK, who was visiting Texas from the East Coast...


Recently I was honored to be selected as a judge at a chili cook-off.  The original person called in sick at the last moment, and I happened to be standing there at the judge's table asking directions to the beer wagon when the call came.  I was assured by the other two judges (Native Texans) that the chili wouldn't be all that spicy, besides, they told me I could have free beer during the tasting, so I accepted.

Here are the scorecards from the event:

Chili # 1: Mike's Maniac Mobster Monster Chili.

JUDGE ONE: A little too heavy on tomato. Amusing kick.

JUDGE TWO: Nice, smooth tomato flavor. Very mild.

FRANK: Holy shit, what the hell is this stuff?  You could remove dried paint from your driveway.  Took me two beers to put the flames out.  I hope that's the worst one.  These Texans are crazy.

Chili # 2: Arthur's Afterburner Chili

JUDGE ONE: Smoky, with a hint of pork.  Slight Jalapeno tang.

JUDGE TWO: Exciting BBQ flavor, needs more peppers to be taken seriously.

FRANK: Keep this out of reach of children!  I'm not sure what I am supposed to taste besides pain.  I had to wave off two people who wanted to give me the Heimlich maneuver.  They had to rush in more beer when they saw the look on my face.

Chili # 3: Fred's Famous Burn Down the Barn Chili

JUDGE ONE: Excellent firehouse chili!  Great kick.  Needs more beans.

JUDGE TWO: A beanless chili, a bit salty, good use of red peppers.

FRANK: Call the EPA, I've located a uranium spill.  My nose feels like I have been snorting Drano.  Everyone knows the routine by now, get me more beer before I ignite.  Barmaid pounded me on the back; now my backbone is in the front part of my chest.  I'm getting shit-faced from all the beer.

Chili # 4: Bubba's Black Magic

JUDGE ONE: Black bean chili with almost no spice.  Disappointing.

JUDGE TWO: Hint of lime in the black beans.  Good side dish for fish or other mild foods, not much of a chili.

FRANK: I felt something scraping across my tongue, but was unable to taste it, is it possible to burn-out taste buds?  Sally, the bar maid, was standing behind me with fresh refills; that ugly bitch is starting to look HOT, just like this nuclear-waste I'm eating.  Is chili an aphrodisiac?

Chili # 5: Linda's Legal Lip Remover

JUDGE ONE: Meaty, strong chili.  Cayenne peppers freshly ground, adding considerable kick.  Very impressive.

JUDGE TWO: Chili using shredded beef; could use more tomato.  Must admit the cayenne peppers make a strong statement.

FRANK: My ears are ringing, sweat is pouring off my forehead and I can no longer focus my eyes.  I farted and four people behind me needed paramedics.  The contestant seemed offended when I told her that her chili had given me brain damage.  Sally saved my tongue from bleeding by pouring beer directly on it from a pitcher.  I wonder if I'm burning my lips off?  It really pisses me off that the other judges asked me to stop screaming.  Screw those rednecks!

Chili # 6: Vera's Very Vegetarian Variety

JUDGE ONE: Thin yet bold vegetarian variety chili.  Good balance of spice and peppers.

JUDGE TWO: The best yet.  Aggressive use of peppers, onions, and garlic.  Superb.

FRANK: My intestines are now a straight pipe filled with gaseous, sulfuric flames.  I shit myself when I farted and I'm worried it will eat through the chair.  No one seems inclined to stand behind me except that slut Sally, she must be kinkier than I thought.  Can't feel my lips anymore.  I need to wipe my ass with a snow cone!

Chili # 7: Susan's Screaming Sensation Chili

JUDGE ONE: A mediocre chili with too much reliance on canned peppers.

JUDGE TWO: Ho Hum, tastes as if the chef literally threw in a can of chili peppers at the last moment.  I should note that I am worried about Judge Number 3.  He appears to be in a bit of distress as he is cursing uncontrollably.

FRANK: You could put a grenade in my mouth, pull the pin, and I wouldn't feel a damn thing.  I've lost the sight in one eye, and the world sounds like it is made of rushing water.  My shirt is covered with chili which slid unnoticed out of my mouth.  My pants are full of lava-like shit to match my damn shirt.  At least during the autopsy they'll know what killed me.  I've decided to stop breathing, it's too painful.  Screw it, I'm not getting any oxygen anyway.  If I need air, I'll just suck it in through the 4 inch hole in my stomach.

Chili # 8: Helen's Mount Saint Chili

JUDGE ONE: A perfect ending, this is a nice blend chili, safe for all, not too bold but spicy enough to declare its existence.

JUDGE TWO: This final entry is a good, balanced chili, neither mild nor hot.  Sorry to see that most of it was lost when Judge Number 3 passed out, fell over and pulled the chili pot down on top of himself.  Not sure if he's going to make it.  Poor Yank, wonder how he'd have reacted to a really hot chili?

FRANK: --(editor's note: Judge #3 was unable to report)



Tuesday,  02/07/06  08:54 PM

Here's some wonderful sarcasm: The Jewish Street Explodes.  [ via Glenn Reynolds

I've been conducting an unintended stress test on Aperio's image server.  Recently I posted high resolution photos from NASA of Virtual Earth and the Galactic center.  These high res images are located on one of Aperio's servers, and are being served by Aperio's ImageServer software.  A Flash-based thin client displays the image incrementally, enabling rapid panning and zooming throughout the entire image.  Anyway, I've been getting more and more links to these images, and in the past day the traffic has really built up.  As people are panning and zooming, the ImageServer is serving.  So far, so good.  In the last 24 hours the steady state has been 4200 requests per hour, for 800MB of data.  Respond time hasn't suffered despite a large number of concurrent users.  So thanks everyone for helping us test :) 

Now I need Visitorville, "an application that takes a website's traffic information and renders it as a Sim-City-like world, where each page in a site is a building, and visitors appear as human avatars that travel to and fro..."  Now that would be cool.  Useless, too. 

This sounds excellent: One Giant Leap to IMAX.  "After gliding 100 million miles and plopping on the red planet's surface inside a giant puffball, the robot Spirit unfolds, then basks in sunlight like an origami bird.  Back on Earth, a NASA control room is jammed with scientists.  They alternately cringe, calculate and cheer while Spirit and its younger sibling, Opportunity, meander on Mars and snap photos like bug-eyed robot tourists.  And that's just the first 20 minutes.  An eye-popping documentary about NASA's Mars Rovers is about to hit IMAX screens."  That's so excellent! 

If you're a regular reader, you know I like Titan.  (In fact, I plan to visit Titan :)  Now BBC reports Titan moon occupies 'sweet spot'.  "Earth and Saturn's moon Titan show striking similarities because both occupy 'sweet spots' in our Solar System, researchers have said.  Many processes that occur on Earth also take place on this moon, say scientists participating in the US-European Cassini-Huygens mission.  'Titan is perhaps the most Earth-like place in the Solar System other than Earth, in terms of the balance of processes,' says Jonathan Lunine, of the University of Arizona, US, who is an interdisciplinary scientist for Cassini-Huygens."  [ via Slashdot

There is even some conjecture that there could be life on Titan.  "People talk about Titan and astrobiology all the time, but it tends to be Titan as the laboratory for the pre-biotic Earth.  It's got nitrogen, it's got organic chemistry.  We've known that for a long time, and that was a large part of the motivation for sending these missions, Cassini and Huygens, to examine the pre-biotic chemistry...  But people haven't talked much about the idea that something might be living on Titan today.  I think mostly because it's so cold there, and chemical reactions just proceed too slowly.  But Titan turns out to be an exceedingly active planet."  Wow, now that would be cool.  Pun intended :)

I know you had your calendar marked for the SpaceX launch tomorrow, right?  Well, it has been delayed a little bit more, with a test Thursday and the actual launch on Friday.  Third time's a charm! 

[ Later: Kimbal Musk is posting from Kwajalein again!  The best way to follow the launch, blow by blow... ]

Cory Doctorow noted a new sitcom called The IT Crowd.  I downloaded the first two episodes with Bittorrent, and man, is it funny.  I mean Office Space funny.  I don't know if it will have wide enough appeal to succeed - somehow I don't think Shirley would think it is funny, or my Mom - but it definitely has the Geek Vote.  

Apparently Google is talking to Dell about distribution.  I don't really understand this, unless, as Jakob Nielson notes, it has to do with the power of defaults.  Anyone can use Google, and anyone can install the Google toolbar.  So why would Google pay Dell to do it for them?  Not clear.  Seems like old school thinking to me. 

OTOH remember when the Netscape home page was the most visited page on the web?

Ottmar Liebert considers David Byrne's regarding Self and Brain.  "From observation it seems to me that the brain craves order.  The brain will do anything to achieve order, including believing in something - just to be done with it.  The brain thinks that believing something is efficient since a problem is solved - or rather filed away."  I think that's right, it certainly describes my brain... 



in praise of old boats

Thursday,  02/09/06  11:01 PM

Some things age gracefully, some don't.  Boats do.  A while ago I came across this picture, posted by the Horse's Mouth:

Yeah, it's old, and yeah, it's probably unusable and certainly decrepit, but it's beautiful, perhaps more beautiful than the day it was launched.  Then we have the Staten Island Boat Graveyard, an amazing collection of photos of abandoned wrecks.  [ via Cory Doctorow ]:

When you see a wreck like this, it makes you wonder what happened.  How did it come to sit here?  Surely there was a day when it was spiffy and new, and someone was proud of it?  But then time passed, and it was less spiffy and less new, and finally one day it was wrecked and nobody cared.  And then time began to take its toll, inexorably.  Until now it is a relic, a window into an older time.  So cool.

Few things age as gracefully as old boats...


Thursday,  02/09/06  11:43 PM

The Ole filter makes a pass...

So tomorrow the Winter Olympics start!  Fire up your Tivo!  I'm expecting my new Adelphia HD-PVR next Monday, so I'll have to watch the old way over the weekend.  The official website's lead story is Olympic Stadium is ready for the Ceremony, which is good news considering it takes place tomorrow night.  (Whenever I hear "Torino" I think of my Mom's car back when I was a kid, aka the world's biggest station wagon.)  Anyway I'm looking forward to it, especially speed skating, which is one of my favorite sports to watch. 

Matt Haughey notes NBC, the Olympics, and Intel's new Viiv platform.

Today's bonus question: where does the phrase "Olympic Movement" come from?  It sounds like something which might cause plumbing problems :)

Powerline notes: The gentleman from Louisiana is recognized, regarding former Congressman Robert Livingston.  Read it all.  Seems not all politicians from Louisiana are clueless. 

My favorite take on the Cartoon Wars comes from Dilbert Scott Adams: Cartoonist or Puppet Master.  "I always thought it was unfair that diplomats had diplomatic immunity.  They can run over you with their car several times a day while saying the equivalent of 'neener neener' in their own language.  And it’s all perfectly legal.  As a cartoonist, I have the power to fight back.  The next time I see an ambassador double parking, I will mumble to myself 'Say goodbye to your embassy.'

Daniel Dennett has a new book out, called Breaking the Spell.  Subtitle: "Religion as a Natural Phenomenon".  You know what that means (you have to read it :)  I've one-clicked it, stay tuned for a review.  Dennett is one of my very favorite authors. 

Speaking of my favorite authors, Geoffrey Moore posted his Top Ten Myths about Business Innovation.  Consider #3: "It is good to innovate.  No, it is good to differentiate on an attribute that drives customer preference during buying decisions.  Innovating elsewhere costs money and entails risk but does not create competitive advantage.

So, have you tried Songbird yet?  "Songbird is a Web player built from Firefox's browser engine."  [ found via Xeni Jardin ]  Pretty darn cool; essentially, an open-source version of iTunes.  Although I must say I downloaded it, installed it, ran it, and then I was like "now what"?  It is a front-end for a whole bunch of music websites, but it doesn't have it's own content.  So the interface is not uniform.  It will be interesting to watch this play out... 

Some of you may be using Google Desktop Search, which is a Google Toolbar function that indexes your hard drive.  When you perform a search, Google delivers results from your hard drive as well as results from the web.  Okay as far as it goes, but recently Google has taken this further.  They now have a function described as “search across computers”.  This means the index is uploaded to Google’s servers, so they can deliver results to you from computer A even if you are located at computer B.  I don’t know about you, but I do not want Google to upload anything about my stuff to their computers.  Sure, they are doing it just to help me, sure they are.  Until the dust settles on this new feature and the ‘net has a chance to figure out the implications, I suggest people do not enable this feature.  In fact, I really suggest that instead of trusting big companies like Google or Microsoft with desktop search, you use a simple little utility like X1.  I just don’t trust these big companies, seems like the temptation to do evil things with your data is too strong. 

[ Later: The EFF agrees with me:  "Coming on the heels of serious consumer concern about government snooping into Google's search logs, it's shocking that Google expects its users to now trust it with the contents of their personal computers". ]

SpaceX did a "wet dress" yesterday, and things did not go perfectly.  Another is scheduled for today, but they missed their launch window.  Elon Musk notes: "Once we have thoroughly checked out all systems, I will post an update on what was found and when the next countdown attempt will occur. Based on range availability and logistics constraints, a rough guess would be two to four weeks."  I guess the third time wasn't a charm, this time... 

Jeff Atwood: The Day Performance Didn't Matter Any More.  "Clearly, the performance penalty for interpreted languages is extreme.  How extreme?  If you have to ask, you probably can't afford it."  Right.  This is why Photoshop isn't written in Python.  Or Aperio's ImageServer :) 

I'm actually really enjoying my new archive.  It is simple, it works, and (gasp!) it is useful, which the old calendar-based one never was.  I find myself using it to find stuff instead of using Search... 


crappy Treo GUI

Friday,  02/10/06  11:58 AM

Today I was on a conference call, on my Treo 650, as I often am (!), and I was going in and out of "mute", as I often do (!), and I noticed for the first time how horrible the Treo 650 GUI is for this.  Actually I've been dimly aware of it for a long time, but the horribleness suddenly shot into the foreground as I realized exactly how bad it was.  Now I'm a huge fan of the Treo 650, as you know, and in general the interface is very good.  But this is not good:

What we have here is a "Hang Up All" button - that's pretty obvious - and a "Cancel" button - pretty obvious also; I'm using a bluetooth headset, and clicking this button cancels the headset - then a "Swap" button - I had two calls attached, and can swap between them - and then finally a "Mute" button.  Aha, that mute button!  Take a close look at that.  Is it muted now, or not?

Since the Cancel button has a picture of headphones, and a little red X, you would think clicking the Cancel button would cancel the headphones.  And indeed it does.  Now the Mute button has a picture of a microphone, and a little red X, so does clicking the Mute button cancel the microphone?  NO!  In actuality Mute is already on in the picture above, and the microphone is off.  Clicking the Mute button cancels muting, and turns the microphone back on.  At that point the icon changes, like this:

I've had this phone for a while now, and I still have to think about this all the time ("is it muted now, or not?")  A red slash through the picture of the microphone like one of those European road signs would have been a good choice, that would indicate muting pretty unambiguously.  I Googled for "mute" and the very first hit was a great choice:

Totally unambiguous.  And cute besides.  Okay, you Treo designer people, are you listening?


coffee notes

Saturday,  02/11/06  07:58 AM

Yippee I love coffee.  And I'm having some right now...

Today I plan to take my life in my hands.  My computer life, that is...  Last week I did something bold, strange, and unsuccessful.  I switched my email connection to our office Exchange server from POP/SMTP to Exchange.  This took a while, involved many false starts and reconfigurations, but ultimately "worked", except that now things are slow as molasses.  Not good.  However I am assured that things are slow because I have Office XP instead of Office 2003 ("we're from the government, and we're here to help") and so today I plan to upgrade my machine from Office XP to Office 2003.  As I said, I'm taking my [computer] life into my hands.  If this doesn't work, I may have to commit suicide.  Stay tuned. 

Last night I had one of the best dinners of my life.  Shirley and I went to Brandywine, a little hole-in-the-wall French restaurant we love in Woodland Hills, where we've been going "forever" for romantic dinners.  As usual, we had their made-at-the-table-the-old-fashioned-way Caesar salad, and as usual, we had their-cooked-at-the-table chateaubriand for two, rare.  Unbelievable.  If I could have one meal before I die (and see the paragraph above), then this would be it.  We had a 2001 Stag's Leap Cask 23, which was awesome - the best Cask 23 since 1997, IMHO - and for dessert, flourless chocolate cake with 1970 Dow's port.  Incredible.  Happy Valentine's Day, Shirley

DFL - Celebrating last place finishes at the Olympics.  Because they're there, and you're not.  Now that's cool...  [ via Dave Winer

Gerard Vanderleun reprises a classic: Where the Buffalo roam.  Perhaps coincidentally, Moab, Utah, is also where the mountain bike riders roam; I'm planning a week long trip there this May.  Excellent. 

Cool rumor of the day: the Apple video iPod.  "Think Secret can confirm recent rumblings that Apple is nearing completion of a completely revamped video iPod that will shed the ubiquitous mechanical click wheel for a touch screen and will sport a 3.5-inch diagonal display...  Sources who have seen the device report that it features a digital click wheel, one that overlays the touch-sensitive display and appears when a finger touches it and disappears when the finger is removed."  Great stuff - a bigger screen, and a touch screen instead of a click wheel.  I might have to get one :) 

The case of the disappearing teaspoons.  I love it. 

The other day I considered the day performance didn't matter anymore.  And a reader reminded me of another great Jeff Attwood post: despite the incredible slowness and sparseness of features, this is really really cool.  Which concludes: "And that's why C, C++, and even assembler are still part of a developer's toolkit.  I argue that they are of increasingly diminished importance, but I would never propose that every application should be written in .NET."  Indeed. 

Perhaps related, the Guardian notes Survival of the Unfittest.  No, this isn't a story about Unnatural Selection, it is about Lotus Notes: "Imagine a program used by 120 million people, of whom about 119m hate it.  Sound unlikely?  Yet that's the perception one garners in trying to discover whether Lotus Notes, IBM's 'groupware' application, is - as readers of Technology blog suggested - the 'world's worst application'."  D'ya know what people hate about Notes?  The #1 thing is that it is too slow.  Hmmm... 

Which is why todayI'm taking my life into my hands...



Sunday,  02/12/06  08:39 AM

Governor Sio Bibble: A communications disruption can mean only one thing: Invasion.

And so it was; yesterday I took my computer life in my hands (and lived to tell the tale), and survived an invasion of fourteen twelve-year-old girls.  Whew. 

First I upgraded to Office 2003, and while there were a few configuration glitches, on the whole everything worked great, and I am now happily computing with the latest version of Microsoft Office.  And significantly, I am happily computing with the latest version of Outlook, which seems to work quite well with the latest version of Exchange.  All's well that ends better.

And - my daughter Alexis invited thirteen friends over for "Valentine's tea".  To say there was a disturbance in the force would be an understatement.  However the house is still standing, a good time was had by all, and we are left only with stories to tell.  Truth be told I escaped and spent most of the day mountain bike riding; the perfect testosterone-laden antidote.

Then last night some friends came over and we had pizza and watched movies on our spiffy new TV.  Star Wars IV (if you hadn't guessed!), and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, which is a cute "romantic comedy".  Excellent.

Powerline reports Glenn Reynolds on CNN: "Glenn Reynolds was on CNN yesterday, discussing the Mohammed cartoons.  Glenn delivered a ringing defense of free speech: 'You guys have blown it'...  My beliefs are offended when gangs of ignorant thugs burn embassies, and where is the respect for my beliefs?  Do I need to burn embassies to get respect for my beliefs?  Because that's the message CNN sends.  The message they send is, we will reward violence.  And you're going to get more of what you reward, that's how it works."  Fire on 'em, Instapundit!  Sio Bibble couldn't have said it better. 

The Cartoon Wars remind me strongly of the situation in New Orleans after Katrina.  Just because people are [supposedly] oppressed, they are not held accountable to the rule of law.  Apparently, being a victim entitles one to do whatever one wants.  This is The Excuse:  "'To be honest with you, people who are oppressed all their lives, man, it's an opportunity to get back at society,' said a certain Mike Franklin, glibly explaining the scene before the cameras to the Associated Press.  How wonderfully that sentence encapsulates the spirit of postmodern liberalism...  It is the idea of 'victimhood'; the idea that a man is not responsible for his acts; that he is instead a victim of the oppression of some abstraction called 'society'.  And everyone who isn't can be held guilty, regardless of how they have actually behaved."

Not good: New Scientist reports Uganda pulls the plug on Lake Victoria.  "East Africa's Lake Victoria, the world's second largest freshwater lake, is being secretly drained to keep the lights on in Uganda.  A report published this week says Uganda is flouting a 50-year-old international agreement designed to protect the lake's waters."  A tragedy of the commons if there ever was one. 

Check out these amazing photos of China.  Beautiful! 

Have you ever wondered how much your house is worth?  Or how much your neighbors' houses are worth?  Or anyone's at all?  Then check out Zillow.  I don't know how accurate this is, but it sure is cool...  and also, a bit scary! 

Spirit reaches 'home plate'.  "Home Plate has been a target for Spirit since shortly after the robot landed on the red planet in January 2004.  The feature stood out in overhead images taken by Mars Global Surveyor’s Mars Orbiter Camera.  It stood out as a bright, nearly circular spot in the Columbia Hills region.  'It has a shape when seen from above that is reminiscent of a playa or evaporite basin…so that has made it a point of possible interest in a mission seeking evidence for past water on Mars'."  It's gotten so these pictures from Mars are routine, but they are still amazing. 



busy week

Thursday,  02/16/06  11:32 PM

Well, it was a busy week.  A good week but a busy week.  Let's review, shall we?

Check out the work of this Dutch cartoonist.  Absolutely nails it, IMHO.  ("gevoelig" means "sensitive".)  [ via LGF

Andrew Sullivan on Cartoon Cowardice.  "You’d think, wouldn’t you, it might be helpful to view the actual cartoons so you can see what on earth this entire fuss is about.  But the British and American media have decided that it is not their job to help you understand this story."  I can see the point about not wanting to put your staff in danger, but...  Andrew is right. 

Meanwhile Al Gore is not right, as Powerline notes in Al of Arabia.  I can't believe I voted for this guy.  I really think he's changed, hasn't he?  Reminds me of what Bill Whittle wrote right before the 2004 election: "People are telling you that Tuesday will be the most important election of your lives.  That is not true.  The most important election of your lives was held on Tuesday, November 7th, 2000.  You just didn't know it.  Neither did I."  He voted for Gore, and after 9/11 he was glad Gore didn't win.  Me too.  And it seems like every time Al opens his mouth these days, he makes me gladder. 

So I got my Adelphia Moxi box.  Digital HDTV and a PVR all in one.  Digital interface to my new plasma TV.  Does it get any better than this?  No.  Talk about awesome.  This is really cool.  Perfect for watching the Olympics.  Oh, and the Olympics happen to be taking place right now :)  It takes a lot to make me happy, but this makes me happy :) 

I was afraid I would hate the Moxi GUI and pine for my Tivo.  Well, I have to say, it doesn't suck.  I'm not sure whether I'd say it is as nice as the Tivo - I guess maybe I would not say it is as nice as the Tivo - but it is eminently usable.  And it has some pluses besides the obvious one of handling HDTV, such as having two tuners, and it is quite a bit faster.

Matt Haughey reports on the status of the Tivo 3, due out later this year and currently in beta.  My interest in this device has diminished after realizing the Moxi UI is just fine.

I like this: Guy Kawasaki's 10-20-30 rule for PowerPoint presentations. 

  1. 10 slides maximum.
  2. 20 minutes maximum.
  3. 30 point type minimum.

Pretty cool.  I seems just about anything should be presentable within these parameters, right?

Bill Burnham analyzes Edgeio.  "In many ways, Edgeio is kind of like an independent version of Google Base, only with a much easier way for owners to get listings into the site (they don’t have to lift a finger) and with a much more end-user friendly interface.  Rather than get bogged down in the numerous “hard” computer science issues that plague unstructured data management, Edgeio has instead tried to keep its whole architecture very lightweight and loose and to leverage as much of the existing web and blog infrastructure as possible."  Very interesting.  The first real disruptive threat to eBay, I think. 

Clive Thompson: Blogonomics.  A fascinating investigation into how to get popular, and stay popular, and how to monetize being popular.  I've never managed to do any of these things :) 

Brad Feld: These aren't the companies you're looking for.  When he's right, he's right, and in this case he's really right.  The idea that you start a company just to build a feature for a bigger company is just weird.  Read it all... 

Check out this GUI!  Wow.  Talk about interactive.  Almost seems faked.  Almost.  [ Thanks to Tom Wang for the link ] 

So I can find them later - the Yahoo Slider Widgets.  Perfect JavaScript-only little controls.  Excellent.  Not to mention the color pickers, which are useless but awesome. 

Speaking of GUIs, Jan Miksovsky discusses UI patterns for preventing accidental deletion.  "It's worth asking: exactly what is the concern with the user clicking a Delete button?"  Indeed. 

In the same vein, Jeff Atwood wonders: Why do login dialog's have a "user" field?  What an excellent question!  "The more I think about this, the more I think username/password is simply a bad convention that nobody has sufficiently questioned.

One more GUI note: Bram Cohen on Configuration Proximity.  "One thing which has irritated me for a long time about configuration of software programs is that the configuration UI is always nowhere near the thing it's configuring."  Very true.  On the other hand, configuration is done rarely, so why clutter the UI with configuration controls?  This is a tough trade-off which falls in the category of design

Josh Newman's paradox: 1) Equal pay for equal work. 2) The guy pays on the first date.  Conclusion: "Sorry, ladies; choose one.


man at work

Thursday,  02/16/06  11:44 PM



Blogging?  Or coding?


Friday,  02/17/06  07:44 PM

Mark Steyn salutes Danna Vale.  There is no way to summarize, you have to read it (and please do!), but the essential argument is that a higher birthrate is giving Muslims a larger voice in Australia, and in the world.  Shades of Unnatural Selection, eh? 

Last Sunday was the 197th birthday of two amazing people, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln.  That is a pretty weird coincidence, and Larry Arnhart compares the two.  Fascinating in that most people think of Darwin as being an aethiest, and Lincoln as very religious, yet their core beliefs were nearly identical.  [ via Panda's Thumb, who also link this missive by Mike Dunford on Darwin Day. ]  "" 

Do you ever marvel at the technology we have available today?  I just bought two Insignia 7" DVD players at Best Buy for a little over $100 each.  They play music CDs, MP3s, etc., and of course DVD movies, using little speakers and a pretty darn clear 7" 16:9 screen.  They run on batteries for four hours, or charge from a car or the wall.  They have two headphone jacks.  They have a video out jack, so you can connect to a TV and use as a "normal" DVD player.  They have an IR remote control.  And think about the technology a layer down, with the MPEG2 decoder and all.  And a layer below that, the laser picking the bits off the disc.  I mean, this is pretty cool stuff, and it is absolutely routine in 2006.  What a great time to be alive! 

Among John Patrick's top ten picks from Demo 2006 was Accomplice Software, who claim to offer "a simple, intuitive application that integrates an efficient personal organizational tool with the ability to quickly pull together a team."  Okay, that seems kind of compelling, so I requested a beta copy and am presently testing it.  Stay tuned for my report as I become way more productive :) 

Josh Newman ponders the effect of movie-watching on coffee-drinking.  "Somehow, ninety minutes spent sitting in the dark, watching lights flicker against a blank wall, had left me seeing the real world itself in a new, different way.

This is just too awesome, Netherlands debuts "video" stamp.  Featuring cool technology and speedskating, what could be better.  { My Dutch genes reveal themselves sometimes in odd ways, like my strange affinity for speedskating, which I absolutely love. }  As Gizmodo report: "Each stamp sells for €.39 (46 cents US), and before you think that’s crazy, keep in mind that these are not flat panel displays that we’re talking about.  How does this work, you might ask?  The technique is a variation on those little plastic decoder rings you might have seen as a kid - as you tilt the stamp to the left and right, the series of images appear to play back in sequence."  Almost enough to get me to use snail mail. 


morning coffee

Saturday,  02/18/06  07:49 AM

In which, once again, your intrepid blogger discovers his love of coffee on a cold Saturday morning...

Cold in this case is relative; it is about 50 here in Southern California, with frost on the golf course, but I realize we have no idea what cold really is... 

Did you watch the Olympics last night?  Man, was Lindsey Jacobellis cool, or what?  I'm dead serious.  First, I love this new sport of snowboard cross.  It is really great, and I hope to watch a lot more of it.  I think this could be my new favorite winter sport, well, behind speedskating of course.  And I think what Lindsey did last night was awesome.  She's on the biggest stage of her life, she's winning her race, so why not go for it?  And she did.  And she didn't make it.  But you know what, she went for it, and that's why I think she's cool.  Hundreds - thousands - of athletes win gold medals, but how many lose gold medals going for it? 

I could watch some ice dancing, too :)  Taneth Belbin is beautiful.

BTW, I like NBC's coverage of these Olympics.  They aren't spending huge amounts of time on athlete profiles and siteseeing tours of the city, and they aren't [overly] pandering to American athletes.  They are showing the competition, which is what they should be doing.  And of course they are showing it in HDTV, which is amazing :)

The big news out here is the Tour.  Not that tour, I mean the Amgen Tour of California, which starts tomorrow, as California gets read for a big week of racing.  "A colorful, rolling postcard for the State of California begins Sunday in San Francisco, ending a week later, on February 26, in Redondo Beach. Along the route - which will also highlight Marin County, Big Sur, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Thousand Oaks - a who's-who list of top American cyclists will begin their races seasons fighting to win the inaugural Amgen Tour of California, an event that has quickly emerged as the top UCI stage race in North America."  The race ends about 5 miles from my house on the Amgen campus; I'm really looking forward to watching! 

MSN reports New group to develop passenger spaceship.  "The company that helped put three millionaires into orbit has teamed up with Russia's Federal Space Agency and the financial backers of the $10 million Ansari X Prize to develop a new breed of suborbital passenger spaceship."  [ via Slashdot ]  The space race is on.  Note they are doing suborbital flights; as I noted the other day, there is a big difference between orbital and suborbital in terms of the energy required.  Speaking of which, no new news yet on SpaceX's next launch attempt... 

If you're an HDTV aficionado (you know who you are), you'll enjoy this article about video scaling.  "Simply put, scaling in video means the reformatting of the picture through various algorithms, to occupy more or fewer scan lines than it did before without cropping of subject material."  [ via digg ]  A very important thing.  I compared by new DVD player which does scaling to 1080i to my old DVD player which didn't, and the difference was dramatic. 

This is pretty cool - time for space.  Displaying stereo images by alternating between the "left" and "right" images.  A bit nerve-wracking to watch, but pretty effective.  I wonder if this would work for Pathology images? 



caravans revisited

Saturday,  02/18/06  08:26 AM

A long time ago I posted an article about caravans; my idea for making traffic move more smoothly by using technology to keep your car as close to the car in front of you as possible.  At the time, nearly three years ago, this seemed like a future.  But now the future is here! 

Mercedes' 2007 S-class sedan has something they call Distronic Plus, a radar cruise control which automatically maintains a safe distance between your car and the one in front of you.  [ via Engadget ]  The name needs work, but this feature is exactly what I wanted!  { Click through to the autospies article to see a video of the feature in action. }  It not only maintains distance by adjusting your accelerator, but even brakes, so it can be used in stop-and-go traffic.

In my article I suggested that this feature was the best way to speed traffic on congested freeways, because the delay in human reactions was one of the factors which causes traffic to slow down.  If "everyone" had this feature, the distance between cars in traffic would be minimized, and traffic flow would be much faster.  Well of course it will be some time before everyone has a Mercedes S-class sedan (!), but if this feature is on a high-end car today, how long before it is standard?  Five years?  Ten?  You know it will happen, and when it does, it will be good.

{ For more discussion on this, please see also my post on the caravan fallacy. }

{ Later: caravans, cont. }

Definitely worth a test drive, stay tuned!


ski report

Sunday,  02/19/06  03:51 PM

So, we're skiing!  And having an excellent time, too.  I couldn't be prouder of Alex and Megan, they're skiing like they were born to it.  (Actually to be technically accurate Alex is snowboarding, not to be confused with skiing; much cooler, apparently :)  So I'm in a condo at Mammoth, and only have dial-up to a local ISP, but of course I brought my trusty Apple WiFi hub and therefore we are all on WiFi here, sharing the 48K dialup.  And surprisingly it doesn't suck.  Not as fast as DSL, of course, but I've had worse.  Anyway, the blogosphere didn't hit pause just because I left town, so let's see what's happening...

The Tour [of California] started today, and Levi Leipheimer took the prologue.  This doesn't surprise me in the least.  Ever since he beat Jan Ullrich in the Tour of Germany, he's been my pick for this year's Tour [de France].  Tomorrow is a sprint. 

Gizmodo notes Apple's free Olympic publicity.  "Though Apple doesn’t specifically target athletes, Olympians from figure skater Kimmie Meissner to snowboarder Shaun White have been spotted using Apple’s little music device during their runs.  Burton Snowboards even designed outfits for the athletes to wear that have pockets designed especially for the iPod."  Pretty cool.  I was pleased to read that Shaun White listens to Led Zeppelin and AC/DC.  I guess that music still has the power it had for me when I was 19!  Overall if there is one result of these Winter Games for me, it has been to make X-game sports like Snowboarding seem more "legit". 

Let's hear it for Shani Davis!  Not because he's black - so what - but because he won gold in speed skating for the U.S.!  I guess he made the right decision to skip the pursuit, he concentrated on his event, and won.  Excellent.  [ via Horse's Mouth, who very properly asks "Bryant would you like a glass of whiskey with that crow?" ] 

Guy Kawasaki: How to suck up to a blogger.  "Blogging has flipped traditional PR on its head.  It used to be that ink begat buzz...  Nowadays buzz begets ink.  Journalists no longer anticipate or create buzz--rather, they react to it."  [ via Dave Winer, who notes of Guy "He knew how to blog before he knew he knew" ] 

If you're in the market for a new car or just want an entertaining read, check out Confessions of a Car Salesman.  If you're in a hurry, start at Part 9 - the concepts and recommendations.  Pretty useful stuff.  Not surprising, but it verifies all the stereotypes you've heard.  Yes, car salespeople can be pond scum.  And it also reveals that there are honest car salespeople out there who try to figure out what you want in a car (gasp!) and sell you a car that gives it to you (double gasp!). 

This is what we do at Aperio - we call it solution selling - and it has two incredible benefits; first, the customer is happy (because they get what they want) and second, the salesperson is happy, because they don't have to lie and so on, they just have to ask a bunch of questions to understand the customer.  Seems simple but apparently it isn't.

Tim Bray on PHP.  "So here’s my problem, based on my limited experience with PHP: all the PHP code I’ve seen in that experience has been messy, unmaintainable crap.  Spaghetti SQL wrapped in spaghetti PHP wrapped in spaghetti HTML, replicated in slightly-varying form in dozens of places."  I have the same problem, and I have it with every web scripting language; whether it be PHP, Perl, ASP, or KSH.  There is no separation of data encapsulation from business logic, and no separation of logic from presentation.  You can force this - with stored procedures, templates, etc. - but the language doesn't, which can lead easily to kludging.  Yet having said that, it is productive, it runs rather well, and it is designed for web interactions and database access.  Tim has appended a "virtual comment section" with emails he's received.  A great discussion. 

Scott Loftesness asks What's your favorite Mac stuff?  Then he answers the questions with a good list of his favorite Mac stuff. 

I wonder what Scott thinks of, a new site trying to be "eBay for money".  The NYTimes reports its Like lending to a friend, except you'll get interest.  "Prosper's users lend money to and borrow money from other people on the site at what the company says are better interest rates than those available through traditional financial institutions and without some of the risk that comes from typical person-to-person loans."  Quite an interesting concept. 


coffee notes

Wednesday,  02/22/06  07:38 AM

Have I ever told you how much I love coffee?  Oh, I have?  Well, sorry, but I must tell you again; I love coffee.  Whew, glad I got that off my chest.  {  I am known in my family for saying, "few things in life are as satisfying as ice cream".  And I stand by that.  But on a cold morning on a ski trip, nothing is as satisfying as coffee.  Good coffee, of course :)  }  Anyway here are a few brief notes made while drinking coffee...

So, there's this new online payment service called TextPayMe which lets people send money to each other with text messages.  "We just want to take over the world in all face-to-face transactions."  Let me just say, as a veteran of the PayPal wars, this is not going to work.  Not because it won't work - I'm sure they'll fix the inevitable problems with security, and fraud - but it won't work because people really don't send much money to each other.  Really.  PayPal has gotten traction as a payment service for purchases, first on eBay, and later on many other websites.  Very little of PayPal's traffic was ever person-to-person, there just isn't that much demand. 

Russell Beattie has been playing with TextPayMe, and likes it.

Bonus note: did you know that PayPal started as a service to let people "beam" money from one Palm Pilot to another?  True.  They only added a web interface for sending payments as an afterthought, and then eBayers discovered it as a good way to settle auctions.  The rest is history.

Yippee.  Big George Hincapie wins stage 2 of the Tour of California, barely edging out Levi Leipheimer for the overall lead.  This is shaping up as a great race. 

Have you ever wanted to create a Firefox extension?  You know you have.  Well here's a useful tutorial... 

I think this is really cool - the MusicBrainz tagger, a service that let's you identify music by the way it sounds, which then correctly tags your MP3s with the artist, track, album, etc.  This is a great way to fix bogus tagging on random downloads. 

Are you a cricket fan?  You probably know that the Indian-Pakistan matches just took place, those countries' answer to Yankees-Red Sox, with national pride thrown in for good measure.  Om Malik reports the matches are available on YourTube, kind of a Napster for video.  So the videos are there, but it is cricket? 

Kathy Sierra: The Clueless Manifesto.  "Cluelessness is underrated.  It's the newbie who does something he didn't know was supposed to be impossible.  It's the naive guy asking the one dumb question any clued-in person would diss.  And it's that question that leads to the answer no expert would have found."  Well, sometimes, maybe.  Other times the Clueless flounder exploring paths which experts already know lead to nothing.  I'm generally a fan of experts :)  [ via Robert Scoble

Randall Parker notes that you should Let your subconscious handle complex decision making.  What!  That would make you a bit clueless :) 


pain relief

Wednesday,  02/22/06  06:44 PM

I have been skiing for the past few days, with boots which do not like my feet.  Or actually my feet do not like the boots.  How I came by these boots - high-end Technicas, if you must know - is a story for another day.  Anyway it is a fact that there is variation among human feet, and the shape of a particular human's feet may not match the canonical shape for which a particular manufacturer's boot were designed.  And so it was with my feet and the Technicas.  But I digress from the main subject, which is...

PAIN.  Yes despite having a wonderful week of skiing in wonderful conditions with my wonderful kids and wonderful friends, I was in pain.  And hence I had the chance to do an impromptu review of pain relievers.  In the public interest, here are my findings:

On day one I did nothing.  Pain.

On day two I took three Advil in the morning.  Less pain, but pain.

On day three I took three Tylenol in the morning, and three Tylenol around noon.  The effect of the Tylenol was unnoticeable, basically I had the same amount of pain before and after.

On day four I took three Advil in the morning, and drank two black Russians at noon.  Way less pain.  I suspect that the Advil was helpful, based on day one, but the Stolichnaya was way more helpful.  As well, perhaps the combination was helpful.  Next time I will begin drinking early in the morning. :)

On day five I took 10mg of Heroin.  Worked perfectly, no pain!  I think?  Just kidding.  I think.  Or was that just a dream?

Actually, on day five I blogged about it.  And my conclusion: If you are in pain, Stolichnaya > Advil > Tylenol.  Your mileage may vary.


generation Y rocks

Wednesday,  02/22/06  07:14 PM

I am not really in touch with Generation Y.  This would be today's "kids", from teenagers to say mid twenties.  I am vaguely aware that they have an identity, and vaguely aware of some of their values and ideals.  I am vaguely aware of their music, and the sports they like, and the entertainers they like, and stuff like that.  But I am not really in touch.

So today I really came into contact with Generation Y.  And it was cool.

I am off skiing at Mammoth.  I have been skiing since I was a kid myself, maybe thirty-five years.  "Back then" there was only skiing.  There was no snowboards, no freestyle.  Skiing competition consisted of racing, and there were two varieties, slalom and downhill.  If you were a great skier it meant you had the longest skis you could find and you could make them turn in big moguls and you could ski down hills with a 50% grade without killing yourself.

But these days there is snowboarding and it is "the sport" of Gen Y.  I was skiing with my kids (Megan, 8, was on skis, but Alexis and her friend Katherine, 12, were on snowboards).  On most of the mountain, skiers and snowboarders are about 50/50, and share the hill.  There is a trend that younger people tend to be on snowboards, but not all, there is a good mix.  As you get to the top, there are more skiers; you have to be a pretty good snowboarder to ski the black diamond runs off the top at Mammoth.  But that isn't the main reason; it turns out that turning in big moguls and skiing down hills with a 50% grade without killing yourself is no longer the goal.  Now the goal is to "get air", and to go freestyle.

We were skiing around and we accidentally ended up on chair 4, aka "Roller Coaster", where Mammoth now has a "freestyle area".  Here the demographic changed.  Everyone was young, and everyone was on snowboards.  It was a total Gen Y scene.  Loud music was blaring from speakers all along the run.  There were twenty foot jumps, and rails, and tubes, and a monster half-pipe.  Kids were flying through the air, doing tricks, and wiping out.  The most commonly spoken word was "dude", often with an exclamation point.  (Dude!)  Here the cool thing was getting air, as much as possible, and then doing as much as you can while in the air.  Flips, twists, grabs, you name it.

So now I'm going to generalize, in the manner of a Martian observing Humans.

  • Everyone was "nice".  Really.
  • Everyone was having a great time.  There was competition, and there was flirting, and there was good-natured ribbing, but it was all in fun.  The adrenaline level was high but the threat level was low.
  • Everyone was trying.  Sure there was some posing, and some sitting on the sidelines and watching, but in general it was okay to try and fail.  In fact the only way to learn freestyle skiing is to try and fail, and try and fail, and keep trying and keep failing until finally you succeed.  (Pretty much like getting good at anything, I guess :)
  • Everyone was in shape, and in form, but not vain.  Snowboarding clothes tend toward the baggy and unstructured, but there's no hiding trim athletic bodies of either sex.  It seems you want to look cool, but looking cool doesn't involve looking beautiful or handsome or sexy.  Or at least, not obviously :)
  • And this is the most amazing of all - everyone was listening to rock.  The music playing on the run was rock - Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, Ted Nugent, even Pink Floyd.  Virtually everyone had an iPod, and virtual everyone was listening to rock.  No rap.  No hip-hop.  Nothing negative.  Just good old fashioned rock 'n roll.  Awesome.

I really enjoyed myself.  There is hope for the world.  Generation Y rocks.

[ Later: Want to know how not really in touch I was?  This post was originally titled Generation X Rocks!  I was off by a whole generation.  Sigh.  Thanks to Dave Johnston for gently setting me straight. ]


Thursday,  02/23/06  08:51 PM

One of my favorite bloggers is Joshua Newman.  We've never met - had one conversation over the 'phone, and several in email - but somehow I feel I know him.  Anyway Josh runs Cyan Pictures, an indie film producer, and he recently told me he'd send me some DVDs.  Of course I ragged him about not posting them online instead, and he pointed out the "living room problem"; how to get that MP4 from your PC to your TV.  And he's right; the movie watching experience in my office on my PC is 100% different than the movie watching experience in my family room on my TV.  And although I have every gadget known to man, the only way I currently have of solving the "living room problem" is to physically take my laptop into the family room and plug it into my receiver.  Which is just hard enough that I seldom do it.  So what's the answer?  Clearly someone has the solution to this problem? 

Tour of California - Big Sur coastlineFloyd Landis won the stage 3 time trial of the Tour of California, taking the overall lead as well, and then held it through stage 4, and most observers think he's going to win.  Check out these awesome pictures of the Tour along the Big Sur coastline.  Excellent. 

We could call this "Pluto strikes back".  After seemingly daily discoveries of new Kuiper belt objects which cast doubt on Pluto's planetary status, Hubble confirms new moons of Pluto

Today's economic lesson, courtesy of Eric Raymond: Outsourcing breeds more jobs.  "Is there, like, some cosmic law that reporters have to be poisonously ignorant about economics?  Of course outsourcing stimulates domestic demand. Increases in efficiency and better exploitation of comparative advantage do that."  Indeed. 

Here's more economics, courtesy of Scott Adams Dilbert: 

[ via The Horses Mouth, who notes: "Sunday's Dilbert demonstrates more literacy about international energy markets than anything that the White House, NRDC, MoveOn, or Tom Friedman has ever published." ]

Apple's iTunes store sold its one billionth song yesterday.  Excellent.  Remember when it started?  I do.  Who would have thought it would be this successful?  I did. 

For more, see this post on Boing Boing by Xeni Jardin.

Here's some non-news: Dutch found to be most computer literate in world.  "Residents of the Netherlands, armed with a tax break for computer purchases and some of Europe's lowest broadband fees, lead the world in the use of personal computers and the Internet, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts released Tuesday."  Take that, Korea! 

Clive Thompson wonders Do iPods help Olympic athletes perform better?  Of course they do!  "The music, says snowboarder Dustin Majewski, helps him stay in the zone: 'It enables you to focus on what you're doing without actually focusing, if that makes any sense'."  Makes sense to me. 

Up until now I have resisted the urge to get a USB thumb drive.  I know they're cute and all, and possibly useful once in a while, but it just hasn't been compelling.  Up until now.  Here we have the HAL 9000 memory unit.  I am not making this up, and I want one. 



living strong

Friday,  02/24/06  08:42 AM

I support a number of charities, some of them because of the work of my wife, Shirley, who is VP/Fundraising for the Assistance League of Conejo Valley.  But my favorite is the Lance Armstrong Foundation, not only because of Lance, or because of the little yellow wristbands (yeah, they're cool), but because of their work fighting cancer.  I recently made a donation in memory of my friend and ex-partner Daniel Jacoby, who lost his life to cancer.  I'm pretty proud of this:

Sure, I know, it's just a piece of paper.  But I find it inspiring.

It even helps motivate me in my work for Aperio, too; our customers are Pathologists, many of them doing cancer research or treating cancer patients.  Our systems help them do their work faster and more accurately, and if we help them even a little, we're helping the world, too.


morning coffee

Saturday,  02/25/06  07:25 AM

It's a Saturday morning, a cold crisp one, and I'm huddled over my Peet's, checking out the world...

So yesterday George Hincapie won another stage in the Tour of California, but Floyd Landis kept his overall lead.  Reading the blow by blow, it sounds like it was an interesting race, with a big climb, a breakaway, and several interesting lead changes.  Today the Tour goes from Santa Barbara into Thousand Oaks, ending up at the Amgen campus.  I'm going to try to watch it - I've never seen a pro bike race in the flesh - stay tuned. 

Wow, this is unbelievable, Cheryl Crow undergoes cancer surgery.  Right after splitting with Lance Armstrong, too.  I sure wish her the best, I guess her prognosis is much better than Lance's was... 

Did you watch Olympic speed skating last night?  Dutchman Bob de Jong put on an amazing performance in the 10,000 meters, winning with a time slightly off the world record, despite Turin's "slow ice".  American Chad Hendrick finished second, and promptly put a skate in his mouth.  "'My heart,'' Hendrick said, tapping his chest with his fingers, 'is bigger than everybody else's out there.'"  Yeah, Chad, that's why you finished second.  "He can say a lot,'' de Jong said.  'He can say America rules.  But today Dutch rules, and he cannot beat me.'''  Hendrick is an embarrassment.  Meanwhile what can we say about De Jong.  You cannot imagine the effort it takes to skate six miles at top speed.  Awesome. 

Malcom Gladwell has a blog!  (He's the author of Tipping Point and Blink, and one of my favorite contributors to the New Yorker.)  "In the past year I have often been asked why I don’t have a blog.  My answer was always that I write so much, already, that I don’t have time to write anything else.  But, as should be obvious, I’ve now changed my mind."  Subscribed! 

So, with all the brains and money behind blogging and RSS and browsers, you'd think there would be a one-click way to subscribe to a new blog's feed, right?  You would think.  And yet, you still have to copy the blog URL from your browser into your RSS reader, hope auto-discovery of the feed URL works, and then manually subscribe.  Clearly there is work to do before RSS reading becomes mainstream. 

Oh, and by the way - how does one "use" OPML?  I kind of understand what it is - a standard XML format for encoding information in hierarchical form, such as blogrolls or reading lists or even blogs' content.  But where is there a simple description of what it is and what it does?  Where is there a simple description of how to use it?  As Dave Winer notes, we have work to do... 

Mark Frauenfelder reports Richard Dawkins hosts UK TV show about religious faith.  Wow, I have to find this online somewhere, how awesome!  (This review of the show makes it sound even better.)  I am reading Daniel Dennett's latest Breaking the Spell right now.  Dawkins and Dennett are probably my two favorite philosophers. 

Wired notes Earth hurtles toward 6.5 billion.  "The planet's population is projected to reach 6.5 billion at 7:16 p.m. EST Saturday, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and its World Population Clock."  Ominously and in support of Unnatural Selection, "The highest population growth rates emanate disproportionately from the poorest regions of Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent."  Yes, rich countries are making it possible for poor countries to increase their population.  The effect of this is already being felt, and the trend is not positive.  Sigh. 

Finally, there's a new  SpaceX launch update.  "The tentative launch window for the maiden flight of Falcon 1 is March 20 through 25.  The gating items are receiving a shipment of liquid oxygen (LOX) from Hawaii and switching out the 2nd stage tank."  So be it, marking my calendar... 

The picture at right is of the "static fire" performed the day before the last attempted launch date.  This is where the whole countdown proceeds as if for launch, all the way up to starting the engines.  After the last one they learned some things and delayed the launch, let's hope fourth time's a charm.

CollegiateTimes writes Simplicity key for Musk's rocket science.  "'I said I wanted to take a large fortune and make it a small one, so I started a rocket business...   the ultimate goal is to make life multi-planetary.'"  Elon is amazing. 


heavy medal

Saturday,  02/25/06  07:36 AM

Sports Illustrated has an awesome cover this week, celebrating Generation Y:

This picture seems to capture the spirit I was trying to describe perfectly.
I used to think including "X sports" in the Olympics was a mistake, like, they aren't real sports, you know?  But I've changed my mind, I now think including them was the best thing that could have happened.  I look forward to seeing "X sports" included in the Summer Olympics as well (e.g. freestyle bicycling, and roller blading).
Hannah Teter, Seth Wescott, Shaun White, Danny Kass, Gretchen Bleiler, Lindsey Jacobellis. 
They rock :)


viewing the Tour

Saturday,  02/25/06  02:03 PM

I'll start by saying what everyone says the first time they see pro bike racing in person: WOW.  Today my friend Peter Simons and I stationed ourselves at the top of the last grade of stage 6 in the Amgen Tour of California.  It happens to be a climb we've done together many times - slowly, gasping for air - and it was an amazing experience.  This was a 90 mile stage - short, by pro race standards - with four categorized climbs.  Here's the stage profile; the little green arrow is where we were:

We got there about two hours before the race arrived, armed with folding chairs, water, cameras, and cellphones (so we could monitor the race via VeloNews' blow-by-blow blogging).  There was a pretty good crowd, which got bigger as the race got closer, and more excited.  Here's the view up the hill, and the view down:

view up
(click for larger pic)

view down
(click for larger pic)

Pretty soon cars stopped coming by, so we knew the road was closed.  Then race vehicles started coming up the road, with lights flashing, and highway patrolmen with sirens blaring.  The excitement level built.  Oh, and there were trucks with swag, too; I scored a chocolate Cliff bar.

tour vehicles
(click for larger pic)

scoring swag
(click for larger pic)

Finally there were helicopters overhead, and a cavalcade of motorcycles, and then - there they were, the race leaders!  The crowd erupted in cheering and yelling as the riders flashed past.  I must tell you, they crested this climb like it was nothing.

the cavalcade
(click for larger pic)

the race leaders
(click for larger pic)

And close behind the leaders, the peloton flashed past.  Amazing.  A sudden burst of color and sound and motion, a whoosh, and they were past.  Here's a little video I shot with my camera of the passing of the peloton:

the peloton
(click to view movie)

As I said, WOW. 

What's cool about bike racing is that unlike every other sport, the competitors are right there.  It is possible for anyone to just go and see a bike race, and stand by the side of the road, and have professional racers zoom past within six feet of you.  I don't know how many people total saw this stage (I'm guessing there were thousands at the finish on the Amgen campus), but all of them had a front row seat.  Excellent.

Now that I've seen a race in person, I'm not going to miss any other chances to see another.


air force one

Sunday,  02/26/06  09:18 AM

Last night Shirley and I attended "Destination Celebration", a charity fund-raiser for the Assistance League of Conejo Valley (for which Shirley serves as VP/Fund-raising).  The event was held at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, which recently added a huge pavilion housing Air Force One.  Not a model, mind you; the entire airplane, the very Boeing 707 which served seven Presidents from 1973 through 2001.  Pretty darn cool.  If you ever have a chance to visit the Reagan Library and see this exhibit, take it; the whole thing is fascinating.  They actually placed the plane on the site, then built the pavilion around it, including a dramatic 60' x 200' glass wall.

Here's a cheesy shot of Shirley and me pretending to be the First Couple, emerging from the doorway of the plane:

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Yes, I know.  But it was fun.  To get an idea of the scale of things, check out this photo:

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They didn't allow flash, sorry for the blurriness.  Note (if you can) the tables way down below the nose of the plane, that's where 200+ people had dinner and danced the night away.

Anyway, the event was a huge success - raising a lot of money for underprivileged kids - and we had a great time.  I wasn't a big Reagan fan while he was President, but somehow his legacy has worn well; I think history will regard him as a good if not great President.  Certainly a lot of interesting things happened during his time in office ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall"), and the library is an interesting record of the time.



Sunday,  02/26/06  09:47 AM

So it has been well over a month since I began blogging again.  Nothing is less interesting than blogging about blogging, but Sunday mornings are for reflecting, so well...

In the three years since I began, blogging has come a long way.  It is now pretty "mainstream"; lots of famous people blog, some people even have become famous through blogging, and the 'blogosphere' has become an important element of U.S. public life.  Meanwhile I just continue has I have, reading blogs and filtering, and noting things of interest.  Probably the main thing that's happened recently is that blogging is trying to become a business.  But it just doesn't work.  Nobody is willing to pay for reading blogs, so the only source of income is advertising, and very few blogs have sufficient traffic to generate much revenue from ads.  Many readers like me consume blogs with an RSS reader (like SharpReader), and others visit blog sites using Firefox with Adblock, and hence don't even see the ads.  Whatever drives people to blog - and I don't fully understand why I blog, let alone anyone else - it isn't money.  I actually think it is ego.  It is fun seeing your stuff up there in public, and even more fun realizing a bunch of people value it enough to come by and read it.  And link to it.

I started out blogging because I wanted to write a book, and thought blogging would be a good way of prototyping.  That may still happen - I hope so - although it turns out being CTO of a growing startup and father of a growing family appear to be incompatible with making time for writing.  (That's my reason anyway, even if it isn't an excuse.)  Meanwhile blogging remains fun, and so it remains something I do.  Thanks for visiting, and please stay tuned!


all Google's base

Sunday,  02/26/06  10:01 AM

One of the blogging VCs I really respect is Bill Burnham.  He recently posted Uh oh eBay, Google Base is now facilitating payments and Google Base is the Merchant of Record.  Please read his posts, but essentially the point is that Google now has a payment service, and this is a threat to PayPal, which is now part of eBay.  I felt compelled to email Bill about this, and also to share my thoughts with you:

Bill –

As a veteran of the PayPal wars, I think Google is going to bust their pick on this one.  Sure, they have a lot of cash, and sure, they can afford to mess around for a while with something new that isn’t profitable, but ultimately operating a payment service is not going to work for them.

First, payments is a low margin business.  You need serious volume to make money doing payments.  eBay auctions gave PayPal serious volume long before PayPal was a part of eBay.  Of web merchants, only Amazon has the volume to make payments a business, and even their payment service was abandoned because it was unprofitable.  Remember Billpoint?  C2it?  Dotbank?  Bank One’s eMoneyMail?  Yahoo’s PayDirect?  Western Union’s Money Transfer service?  None of them had the volume to make it.  Right now Google Base is a curiosity.  There just isn’t enough volume there to support a payment service.

Google Video might be able to get to high volume, except it is so lame right now.  If Google seriously became the iTunes for video, I would change my mind on this point.

Second, fraud is a huge problem online.  PayPal’s success over a large number of competitors was largely due to their ability to manage fraud, and that ability was largely due to the account-based architecture of the PayPal service.  If Google tries to operate a payment service without stored value, they will have a massive problem with fraud.  They will rapidly become the best way to monetize stolen credit cards.  They have to be the merchant of record if they don’t have a stored value system, because otherwise their customers will bear the brunt of this fraud.

Third, there are a lot of people online who don’t have credit cards.  One of the reasons PayPal succeeded was because they enable people to make payments via ACH.  This has two big benefits, first, people without credit cards can use the service, and second, the cost of ACH is much lower than credit card exchange fees.  This is why PayPal costs 3% instead of 6% like most card-not-present merchant account services.

Fourth, PayPal had a really tight squeeze to avoid being regulated like a bank.  I really think they skated through because of the times and flying under the radar.  Google is going to be a bright flash on the radar, every banker in the country is going to want them to be regulated like a bank.  And that will mean holding reserves, smurf reporting, tax withholding, etc.  I’m not sure Visa and Mastercard are going to play along, either.  Citibank in particular may very well refuse (they switch most of the Mastercard authorizations) in order to prevent Google from becoming a competitor.

Fifth, customer support for payments is tricky.  Again, PayPal’s account-based architecture made customer support easier, because more of each transaction was “visible”.  Right now Google has zero services which require customer support, it is not a core competence for them.  They’re going to have some unpleasant learning before they master this.  And purely email-based support is not going to do it for them, either, they’ll need a call center.

I know it is a mistake to underestimate Google, they’re top-heavy with smart people.  But I also sense that they’re a bit cocky.  Payments is a mature market with a lot of entrenched competitors (banks, CheckFree), and a new entrant with a decent network effect (PayPal).  I would bet against them.

Finally, it is interesting to speculate, what should they do instead?  Accept PayPal, of course!  Sure, they would be giving away the payment revenue, but that’s not their core competence.  It would be much better for them to host content (goods for sale), use it to display advertising (which is their core competence), and let people settle the transactions using PayPal.  They could probably even cut a deal with PayPal which gives them some margin back.  They probably won’t start their own shipping service, either, and they shouldn’t; they’ll just partner with UPS or FedEx, in exchange for some margin.



Have a thought about this?  Please share it with me...


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