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Archive: April 2007

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Installing Dimmers

Sunday,  04/29/07  01:09 PM

A long time ago I was working on something - well actually I was supposed to be working on something, I wasn't really - and by way of procrastination, I decided it must be the moment to replace some of the light switches in my house with dimmers.  I won't bore you with the details but you can imagine "merely" replacing light switches with dimmers was non-trivial.  { To give you a flavor for the yak shaving involved, I had to make made a circuit diagram of every switch and plug in my house. }  Many hours later I had a bunch of nice working dimmers and had made zero progress on the thing I was supposed to be doing.


In my team "installing dimmers" has become a neologism for doing something useful which is nevertheless procastination.  You can rationalize doing useful work pretty easily, compared to say watching the Lakers lose, but there is still the guilt; you know you are not doing the highest priority thing.  Still, an amazing amount of work can get done this way.  I've done incredible amounts of useful work by way of procastination from things I didn't want to do (or more to the point, didn't know how to do).


Here I am, it is Sunday afternoon, and I am [metaphorically] installing dimmers.  In fact I have a whole nest of dimmers I'm installing; there is the task-I-should-do, the task-I-did-instead, and the task-I-did-instead-of-the-task-I-did-instead-when-I-got-stuck.  And then there is the task-I-did-instead-of-all-of-them, blogging.  So here we are.

My last blog post was October 15, 2006 ("Ole Votes"), cleanly seven months ago.  That is my biggest gap ever, and followed closely my second biggest gap ever - five months - so it would be defensible to say I really haven't blogged in over a year.  Unbelievable.  I like blogging, well I liked blogging, anyway, but somewhere along the line it became a task to perform instead of a fun thing to do instead of tasks to perform, and so I stopped.  Whether I have started again remains to be seen.


Ole status

Sunday,  04/29/07  02:01 PM

So you meet someone you haven't seen in over a year, and you say "hey, how's it going", and they say "great, how's it going with you", and you say "great".  Right?  And if it is someone you are close to and/or you care about, you might exchange a few sentences about how things are really going.  About your family, about your work, about you personally.  It is tough to summarize a year in a few sentences.

Reginald!My family are all doing great.  I don't blog much about my family, so if you don't know me outside of blogging, you probably don't know them.  I have a fantastic wife and four amazing daughters, and they are all well.  Growing up too fast (!) but well.  I also have two dogs and a cat (well two Shih-Tsus and a cat, I don't know if you consider Shih-Tsus to be actual dogs), and they, too, are all doing well.  A boring report, but there it is.

I am the CTO of Aperio, a company which makes systems for Digital Pathology, and at the highest level things are going great there, too.  We are growing and steadily gaining traction.  Other than growing pains and increasing competition, we don't have any real problems.  Of course at a level below the highest level, there are a million challenges and issues every day.  I should blog about more of them, maybe I will.

Eichhorn takes the turn!On a personal level, I have been cycling a lot, and have [finally] lost some weight.  Longtime readers may remember my New Year's Resolution; at the end of 2004 I vowed to weigh less than 200 lbs by January 1, 2005, and less than 190 by January 1, 2006.  It didn't happen.  I stayed rock steady at 205 all through 2005 and all through 2006.  On January 1, 2007, I weighed 205 lbs.  I could have loaned myself out as a calibration device, I was so consistent.  So this year I've changed two things, first, I have been exercising a lot more as a byproduct of cycling, and second, I have been staying up less late.  The combination has helped me lose about 15 lbs, I am now about 190, and confidently expect to hit 185 within a month or so.  At that point none of my clothes will fit anymore and I will be content :)  In all other ways little has changed for me.  I may dribble out more if I keep posting.  Stay tuned.


Sunday,  04/29/07  06:05 PM

Cool, I've already received some "welcome back" emails.  Thank you very much!  Basically I assumed nobody was still reading, I'd have to start over.  With RSS maybe that is no longer true?

So, what's happening? 

While I have fallen out of the habit of posting I have not stopped reading, in fact, I read more blogs and more blog posts than ever.  (Via RSS of course; if you are not reading blogs via RSS, please stop what you're doing, and immediately follow the directions in the RSS cookbook.  You will thank me.  Yes, you're welcome.)

Di Luca wins!Well first, Danilo Di Luca won Liège-Bastogne-Liège!  Congratulations, Danilo!  If you're not a fan of pro cycling this entry might be a mystery to you; so be it.  Trust me, winning this race is major accomplishment.  I will be blogging more and more about pro cycling, which means you will learn more or read less, depending :)

Bill Burnham asks: Is it just me, or is GAAP completely broken?  It isn't just you, Bill.

Paul Graham lists the reasons Why not to start a startup.  "Because of Y Combinator's position at the very start of the venture funding process, we're probably the world's leading experts on the psychology of people who aren't sure if they want to start a company."  I love Paul and it is a great list, but it is incomplete; the #1 reason not to start a startup is, you're not an entrepreneur.  See, I am a small company guy - I've done five startups - but I am not a startup starter.  I am a startup fast follower.  I know this about myself, perhaps you know it about yourself, too.  It's okay :)

Apple iLaunchThis is already a bit dated but it was so great I had to link it: Apple iLaunch.  "The iLaunch is a product that will 'revolutionize the process of unveiling new products throughout the world.'"  [ via TechCrunch ]  This hits about ten nails on the head at once, awesome satire.  ("As his presentation wound down, Jobs said there was 'one more thing' he wanted to mention: The iLaunch automatically saves a significant, salient product feature for the end of a presentation, to surprise and delight audiences.")

Gliese 581cOf course you've already read about Gliese 581c, right?  This is the third rock from another sun, a red dwarf named Gliese which is about 20 light years away, and it is the most "earthlike" planet yet found.  "The new planet is about 50 percent bigger than Earth and about five times more massive... It is located about 15 times closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun; one year on the planet is equal to 13 Earth days."  Scientists have calculated that the planet is at the correct distance from its sun that water would be a liquid, which means the Search for Life Gets Serious.  I love it.

Saturn from above, as seen by CassiniOh, and a little while back, Cassini Spacecraft Images Seas on Saturn's Moon Titan. [ via slashdot ]  "Instruments on NASA's Cassini spacecraft have found evidence for seas, likely filled with liquid methane or ethane, in the high northern latitudes of Saturn's moon Titan. One such feature is larger than any of the Great Lakes of North America and is about the same size as several seas on Earth."  I can't resist saying, huge liquid methane lakes are pretty cool.  Soon after Cassini returned some amazing high-altitude views of Saturn (click on thumbnail at right for larger pic).   Yes, I still want to visit Titan.

AppleTVYou know I'm a gadget guy, right?  Well while I was out, one of the more important gadgets I acquired was an AppleTV.  So far it works flawlessly; I've watched a couple of movies (downloaded from iTunes) and used it as my stereo for a dinner party.  Shortly after its release ArsTechnica posted a definitive review.  ("Based on what we think the potential is for the Apple TV, combined with how we think most average people will use the device, we would have no problem giving it an 8 or higher. Based on the current feature set and how much we desire certain things (out of the box) that don't currently exist, though, we would score it much lower.")  For me a highly interested aspect is transcoding all the video I've acquired over the years into a compatible format.  Fortunately people have already figured out how to play DivX and Xvid on your AppleTV and how to upgrade the disk drive in your AppleTV.  The market finds a way.

As time passes and if I keep blogging, I'll try to spool in some of the more interesting ideas which surfaced over the past year.  One of the ideas most worth preserving came from Dave Winer: preserving ideas.  "No one really likes to think about dying, but it comes for everyone, eventually, and if you're living a creative life, as so many of us are these days, maybe you'd like your creations to live at least a little bit longer than you do?"  He's exploring the idea of a commercial service which would keep your pages posted long after you are gone.  Very cool.  When I think of all the "gardening" required to keep this little site on the air, I have to admit when I'm gone, its gone.

[Self-identified "longtime reader"] Bill asks: "I was intrigued by your statement about staying up less late.  How does that help you lose weight?"  Ah yes.  Well, for me, it means I have been going to bed instead of eating a box of wheat thins. 

The difficulty was that eating a box of wheat thins generally coincided with coding something useful, so I had to re-learn the knack of getting stuff done during the day.  Which meant re-leaning the knack of ignoring email, voicemail, etc. for significant periods of time.  And that turned out to mean enjoying life more, and getting frustrated less.  Win win!

A key to losing weight for me was having a metric.  And the metric turned out to be how fast I could do certain rides around my house!  Sure, I can get on a scale, and see "wow, I'm 205", but that didn't do it for me.  What did do it was knowing that I could do a certain 13.7 mile ride in 45 minutes.  And as I lost weight, I got faster!  At 200, I did it in 43 minutes.  At 195, I did it in 42 minutes.  Which made me ride harder, which made me lose more weight, so I went even faster...



The Traffic School Web Usability Test

Monday,  04/30/07  10:00 PM

So, the other day I got a traffic ticket.  (It was boring, 65 in a 50 zone near my house.  Sorry.)

Fortunately, I was able to ask the court for traffic school so the ticket won’t go on my permanent record.  This is especially fortunate because one measly ticket would mean I’d have to start robbing banks to pay for my car insurance.  But I digress.

Now, the LA County Courts have accredited a number of online traffic schools.  I’ve done this before, you pay a fee (typically about $20), read a bunch of online pages, answer questions to show you’ve read the pages, and after a couple of hours, poof, you’ve done the equivalent of an eight hour traffic school.  (BTW I think this is a good thing, sitting in a physical traffic school all day on a Saturday leads to serious brain damage - from the other students if not from the instructor - this way you really do read about traffic laws and such, and no brain cells are harmed.)  Anyway as I said there are a number of these schools, a large number.  So which to pick?

This turned into an interesting exercise in web usability.  There are quite a variety of designs represented among the various schools, from the austere to the gaudy, and from the professional to the distinctly “my son did this for a high school project”.  (e.g. this one.  Oh, and this one gets the “look Ma, I know how to use a table” award – I’m surprised they don’t have a “works best with Netscape” badge.) 

So what are my criteria? 

At the highest level, I want the site to work (!), I don’t want to pick some weird school which is about to go out of business, or whose servers go down when the neighbor’s air conditioning kicks on.  Or which doesn’t support Firefox.  Or which is going to require me to install some odd browser plug in.  Etc.  There is a kind of pass/fail to this, either site looks professional, or it doesn’t.  Even the URL of the site is a clue; a common URL like feels more professional than  

I also want it to be fast.  If there was a way to know the “average time taken by students to complete course”, that would be great.  Too bad that kind of stat isn’t available, and none of the sites even advertise that they’re fast, because you’re taking this in lieu of an eight hour class.  They use “easy” as a metaphor for “fast”, and maybe also to reassure you that you don’t have to be a computer person to figure it out.  However that kind of “easy” can also mean “dumb”, and I don’t really want to have my intelligence insulted for two hours.  So there’s a judgment call.  There’s even a traffic school for dummies.  Now who identifies with that?  (Oh, and here’s one if you’re lazy.  I am not making this up.  I can see myself in court now, telling the judge “yes, I did remember to mail in the completion certificate, I know I did”.)

Then, I am choosing nice looking pages.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we can all agree on ugly.  And some of these sites, we would all agree, are ugly.  In a W=UH way as well as a plain old U way.  Give me simple, with clean graphics, lots of white space, and I’m happy.  Give me this, and I can’t click on the back button fast enough.  Oh, speaking of back buttons, there was one site which, when I hit back, opened a new browser window to ask “do you really want to go back”?  Bzzzzz.  Get the hook.

Some of these sites seem to feature comedy, like the site will be funny, or something.  I must confess there is nothing funny about traffic school to me.  I have attended “comedy” traffic schools in the past, and other than some of the things said by idiot students, there was nothing remotely funny about them.  I am steering clear of comedy.  If I want to laugh, I’ll apply a VS 2005 service pack.

Then there was a site called  Good name, right?  That’s me, I’m skilled :)  The site is clean and they let you start the course before you have to pay.  Now that is a great idea, because it feels like there’s no investment to try it.  Of course once I’ve spent twenty minutes, I do have an investment, and if it isn’t awful, I’m likely to continue.  These guys feel like they’ve thought this through, I like it.  (On the other side of smart, we have this: Welcome to the Traffic Violator Internet Program.  That’s me, I’m a violator.  Back!)

I liked it when a site had a nice “how it works” summary.  You want to know what you’re in for; an overview is helpful.  I didn’t like it when the site didn’t even load.  (YMMV.)  That’s not a good sign.  Back!  And a definite don’t – sound in the home page (“look Ma, I can link a Wav file”).  Barf.  And back!

So in the end, although I found this site pretty compelling (not), I picked this one.  I’m not even sure why.  It isn’t the prettiest, not even.  But it seemed simple and fast, clean, no nonsense, with fast loading pages.  I started, and once I started, it felt like “okay, this is straightforward, no problem”.  One thing I really liked was that all the information fit into my browser, no scrolling.  And I liked that I could shift-click to the next page, so I had all the pages from a section up at once (so I could search them easily while taking the quiz at the end of the section).

The whole thing is kind of interesting when you ponder what does attract consumers to a product?  Somehow it seems like there is an expectation, and whichever meets the expectation best – with no surprises – wins.  Exceeding the expectation is even better.  At Intuit Scott Cook was famous for saying our goal was to delight the customer.  So I can’t say I am delighted with my choice of online traffic school, but still, there is an underlying feeling which is kind of like that.

So, what do our customers experience when they visit our company website?  Or maybe more importantly, when they use our product?  Does it meet their expectations?  Could there be a version with the same functionality which was significantly more compelling, that seemed easier?  It is not enough to make it work.  You have to make it great.  You have to delight the customer!  Because consumers have choices.  And back buttons :)


Monday,  04/30/07  10:13 PM

Day two of my return to blogging.  So far, so good.  Y'all can keep sending me email to tell me how glad you are I'm posting again, it's been great :)

Ivan BassoSo, this sucks - Discovery has released Ivan Basso, at his request.  "On Sunday April 29th Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team member Ivan Basso requested a meeting with General Manager Bill Stapleton and Sports Director Johan Bruyneel.  At the meeting Basso asked to be released from his contract, effective immediately, citing personal reasons related to the re-opened investigation by the Italian Olympic Committees (CONI)."  This is just bogus.  There is no proof Ivan has done anything wrong, and yet he is being convicted in the press.  I want cycling to be clean as badly as anyone, but doesn't there have to be a presumption of innocence?

Meanwhile Tyler Hamilton and Jörg Jaksche will start the Giro, despite being just as involved in the Puerto investigations as Basso - which is to say, their names have been mentioned, with no further proof.

The average American household spends $1,200 annually on gadgets.  I guess my household is not average :)

FuturePundit reports 60% Cancer Drop From Vitamin D Supplements.  "In June, U.S. researchers will announce the first direct link between cancer prevention and the sunshine vitamin.  Their results are nothing short of astounding.  A four-year clinical trial involving 1,200 women found those taking the vitamin had about a 60-per-cent reduction in cancer incidence, compared with those who didn't take it, a drop so large — twice the impact on cancer attributed to smoking — it almost looks like a typographical error."  So be it.  Yet another reason to enjoy the sunshine!

Saturn: Hexagon at the North PoleSo, what did you make of this: Cassini Images Bizarre Hexagon on Saturn?  "An odd, six-sided, honeycomb-shaped feature circling the entire north pole of Saturn has captured the interest of scientists with NASA's Cassini mission.  NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft imaged the feature over two decades ago.  The hexagon is nearly 25,000 kilometers (15,000 miles) across.  Nearly four Earths could fit inside it."  Whoa.  Bizarre doesn't even do it justice! 

I just love all the weird and wonderful stuff coming back from the Cassini mission.  (And all the great stuff from the Mars rovers, and the comet probes, and so on.)  I know all the arguments about feeding the poor people on Earth and everything, but this stuff is really important.  More important than feeding all the poor people on Earth.  And compared to manned missions, these unmanned probes are downright cheap.

I can't wait to seen Indoctrinate U.  The PC pendulum just has to start swinging back, doesn't it?  How much further can it go without falling over the top?  [ via Glenn Reynolds, who comments "I hope it gets seen".  Me too. ]

So, I'm seriously considering doing away with my Blogroll altogether.  It is grossly out-of-date, as I don't use it anymore; seems like it has been fully superceded by the OPML list of RSS feeds to which I am subscribed.  The Blog Roulette feature is kind of cool, though.  Maybe I ditch the blogroll and wire the Roulette wheel into OPML?  Comments?


What do I do?  (New Yorker - 1/12/07)

Monday,  04/30/07  10:51 PM




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About Me

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