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Archive: January 2008'

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Happy New Year!

Tuesday,  01/01/08  12:00 PM

Happy 2008!Yay, 2008!

Happy New Year to you all.  We spent last night celebrating 2007 the old fashioned way, with friends, food, and football.  And we plan to bring in the new year the same way :)

It could not be windier here; the dogs are blowing around the yard, and anything not nailed down or planted has long since gone airborne.  Not a good day for a ride but I'm going to try to squeeze one in anyway.  I did a 40 miler yesterday and it felt like 80; by "Ole's Law" every wind is a headwind.

I have a Moxi attached to my HDTV; and if you had asked me yesterday I would have said I liked it.  The combination of cable box and DVR is nice.  But the UI is not nice, at least not as nice as my seven-year old Tivo's.  This morning I was trying to do a simple thing, doubtless in concert with millions all over the world; I was setting up the Moxi to tape record the games I'm interested in watching today.  It was painful.  I finally resorted to going upstairs, using the Tivo to figure out which games were on and on which channels, and then going back downstairs to program the Moxi.  So that's it.  I'm getting a Tivo HD.  I confidently expect a lot of trouble getting two cablecards from AT&T and getting them installed and working, but I don't care; I want the Tivo UI.  So be it.

Did you see that Peter Garrett. lead singer of Midnight Oil, is Australia's new Environment Minister?  "The music of Peter Garrett has always been politically charged. Now the towering, baldheaded former singer of Midnight Oil is charged with practicing politics -- as Australia's new environment minister...  A longtime environmental campaigner and advocate for Aboriginal rights, Garrett made his first foray into politics with an unsuccessful bid for the Senate as a member of the Nuclear Disarmament Party in 1984."  Now that's cool...

the four horsemenIf you're not into football, or even if you are, you might consider watching The Four Horsemen.  Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sat down for an unmoderated 2-hour discussion.  These four are known as atheists (or as I prefer, "brights"), but additionally are smart, thoughtful, and funny.  And not strident, in contrast to their detractors...   [ via Russell Beattie ]

Rogers Cadenhead considers the Long Bet Winner: Weblogs vs. The New York Times  The bet: "In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times' Web site.".  So, blogs won, narrowly,  but interestingly the actual winner was Wikipedia, which beat both.  That is, the wisdom of crowds beat the wisdom of individual experts and the wisdom of institutional experts.  Not surprising, in retrospect, and it has implications for many fields, including Digital Pathology...


Tuesday,  01/01/08  08:11 PM

I'm going to have to be ruthless with the 200 or so items I have saved up to post about...  nobody wants to read a bunch of old news, least of all you.  Still some of this stuff is genuinely interesting.  I'll try to sprinkle it in among the new stuff.

One of the more interesting ideas from 2007: How to keep Brown alive.  Since discrimination based on race is illegal - and clearly should be, whatever the good intentions of those involved - maybe we can use income, socioeconomic status, or other factors as proxies?  Or perhaps we should go all the way and use performance on standardized tests?

I should mention parenthetically that Slate and Salon continue to be two of my favorite websites, despite the fact that I disagree with most of what is written on them.  (For similar reasons, The New Yorker continues to be a favorite magazine.)  Public discussion of these issues seems important.

Global dimming?  At first I thought it was Unnatural Selection - the idea that the world is getting dumber because of differential birthrates between smart people and dumb people - but no, merely the idea that sunlight is being blocked by pollution.  That might be happening - in fact it might be a result of the Unnatural Selection kind of global dimming - but it isn't quite as interesting to me...

One of my favorite thinkers is Jared Diamond.  In 1987 he published as essay: The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.  The mistake?  Agriculture.  Which led to many things, including - ta da - Unnatural Selection...  Maybe the end result will be a carbon tax on babies?

My 2007 "rolling a boulder uphill" award goes to Michael Newdow, who has been trying to get "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance since 2000, arguing that it violates the separation of church and state.  Courts have ruled in his favor twice in the meantime, but the rulings have been overturned on technicalities.  It doesn't seem like our biggest problem, but on merit you have to say he has a point.  Next up: taking "in God we Trust" off our currency. 

It would be cool to see a Presidential candidate sworn into office using a copy of Godel, Escher, Bach instead of a Bible.  But don't hold your breath. 

Still, the Economist notes an increasing number of [admitted] atheists in America, believe it or not.

Google celebrates the 25th anniversary of TCP/IPGoogle is celebrating the New Year with a new logo - celebrating the 25th anniversary of TCP/IP.  Interesting that they'd use RJ25 jacks, though, instead of coax cable.  All I can say is, there's no place like

John Dvorak, tech curmudgeon: 2007: The Miserable Year in Review.  I agree with all his points, but not his conclusion; it was not a miserable year in tech at all, he just picked the low points.  What about iPhone or the OLPC?  Or the Wii, or Kindle?  I guess "best of" is in the eye of the beholder, but we can all agree on "worst".  That would be Vista...

panda baby!Found on Digg: the cutest thing you'll see all day.  (The development of a baby panda, seen at right.)  Un-bear-able.

Music news: album sales plunge 20% this Christmas.  I'm shocked.  Meanwhile Apple is preparing to launch video rentals on iTunes.  Will this be the end for DVD sales?  Yes.  Interestingly, it is being reported that the rentals will be time-limited.  That implies unbreakable DRM.  And as we all know, "unbreakable DRM" is an oxymoron.  Paging dvd jon...

Of course most consumers are sitting out the high-def war between blue-ray and HD-DVD... they're waiting for high-def video downloads.  My prediction for 2008: this isn't going to end like the VHS / beta war, with a clear winner, it is going to end with both sides losing to an attack from below, courtesy of the 'net.


an uncomfortable truth

Tuesday,  01/01/08  08:26 PM

On August 31, 2003, I posted IQ and Populations, which to this day remains my second most popular post.  Unlike Tyranny of Email, my most popular article, the reaction is not generally positive.  The post is popular in the sense of being widely linked, but unpopular in the sense of being widely disputed.  While Tyranny asserts opinions that nearly everyone agrees with, IQ and Populations reviews facts with which nearly everyone disagrees. 

Just today I received a friendly email which stated with confidence: "I just wanted to assure you that regardless of studies and debatable ideas such as IQ measurements, the world is unlikely to become any dumber because of a larger number of Indians as a proportion of the world population."  My correspondent goes on to write "It is difficult to see how you could buy the argument that an entire population of over a billion people in some intellectual way scores lower on a standardized IQ test."

Here's what I replied:

Thank you for your email.  It is gratifying to get a response to posts I made four years ago, and this one still gets a lot of traffic.

Here’s something to consider… if I were to say that the average height as measured of the population of India was smaller than the average height as measured from the population of the Netherlands, I believe you would not disagree.  Furthermore the average height as measured of Indians is larger than that of Chinese.  These are not controversial statements.  And of course any given Indian or Dutchman or Chinese can be much taller or shorter than the average.

Yet if similar statements are made for measured IQ, people get very uncomfortable.  It seems harder to believe that the average measured IQ for distinct populations would be exactly the same than to believe there would be some difference, yet when a study shows such a difference to exist, it is immediately discredited.  Not only could I buy this argument, but it is not based on opinion, it is based on fact.  Different populations have different measured characteristics for height – and for IQ.  And of course as with height, any given individual can vary widely from the average; in fact the variations within each population are larger than the differences between the averages.

I believe the discomfort from this measured result is because measured IQ is not only a proxy for intelligence, it is a proxy for worth.  Unlike height or other mundane physical characteristics which seem at best loosely correlated with “success”, measured IQ and intelligence are strongly correlated.  This is why people are so eager to discredit first the measurements of IQ and secondly the correlation of IQ to intelligence.

Finally, given that average measured IQ differs between populations, and since measured IQ is hereditary – whether genetically based or purely a result of environment, or some combination, study after study has shown that measured IQ of parents is strongly correlated to measured IQ of their children – it follows that the relative birth rates of different populations will affect the overall measured IQ of people in general.  It may be an uncomfortable conclusion but it follows logically from the facts.

Cheers, and thanks again for your email…

So, is this really true?  Yes.  Is this uncomfortable?  Yes.  Is this important?  Yes.

© 2003-2020 Ole Eichhorn


my iToy

Wednesday,  01/02/08  12:59 AM

So Aperio had a good year, and celebrated by gifting each employee a spiffy new iPod touch.  To say they have been well received would be an understatement.  Right out of the box the iPod Touch is an amazing little device, with some great capabilities; I've enjoyed my little iToy quite a bit, and spent the New Year's weekend watching football and figuring out how to display big digital slides on an iPod touch, under Safari.  (More on that if I ever get it to work :)

However did you know you can install third-party applications on it?  Yes indeed!  This helpful article explains how to do it – you end up with a fully functional iPod Touch which is also a computer with a new application called Installer, from which you can install various third-party applications.  There’re a ton of games, utilities to change the look and feel, a word processor, a spreadsheet, graphics editors – you name it.  There’s even an eBook reader and various eBooks available – including the Bible, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and Godel, Escher Bach.  (Heck, there’s even the apache webserver – yes, you can actually run a website from your iPod touch!)  My favorites so far are Summerboard (which modifies Springboard, the iPod’s launcher), Mobile RSS, and iRadio, which lets you listen to Internet radio stations!  The instructions are mildly technical and the whole process takes about an hour.

The term for modifying your iPhone / iPod in this way is called “jailbreaking”; a reference to the fact that as the device comes from Apple it is closed, or “in jail”, and by making these changes you make the device open, by “breaking it out of jail”.

Here’s what mine looks like right now:

Ole's iToy - a spiffy iPod Touch

Of course you don’t have to do anything – you can just enjoy it unmodified as a wonderful little device.  But what would be the fun of that?


Yahoo + Flickr = fail

Wednesday,  01/02/08  01:13 AM

So Yahoo bought Flickr.  These acquisitions are usually great for shareholders, sometimes great for employees, and rarely great for users.  In fact, this is what not taking care of the customer looks like:

Yahoo + Flickr = fail

Isn't that special?  Here's what's really going on; Yahoo bought Flickr, they tried to merge the authentication systems (for marketing reasons), and didn't think through all the possibilities.  I am not trying to create a new account, I am not trying to access a Flickr account, I am simply trying to display an image.  And if they think I am going to do anything at all to figure this out or fix it, they are mistaken.  Kiss this user goodbye!

P.S the "= fail" is shamelessly stolen from uncov, one of my new favorite blogs, which irreverrently skewers startups that do stuff like this with the simple exclamation: fail.


Wednesday,  01/02/08  08:30 PM

Wow, the first day back to reality.  The New Year has started.  All the Christmas decorations are put away, the garland is thrown out, the tree is dragged to the curb.  The lights are taken off the house (and it is windy - of course - maximizing my annual chance to kill myself by falling off the top of a 25' ladder).  Sad, yet somehow invigorating.  What will the new year bring?

One thing the new year always brings is retrospectives on the old year.  And with the web and blogs, everyone gets their two cents in...  you'd think we never had a year before :)  Earlier I mentioned a few of the high points in tech, and the low point (Vista), but I should also have mentioned the tech enigma of the year, which is Twitter.  Do you twitter?  Do you know what it is?  Do you care?  My answers are no, sort of, and kind of.  So many people think it is important, that I think it should be important, but I can't figure out why or if it actually is.  An enigma to be sure.  If you can shed light on this, please do.

the rare long-whiskered owletNational Geographic: Top ten photos of 2007.  Way cool.  My favorite is the cute little rare long-whiskered owlet at right, although the crocodile with the veterinarians hand in his mouth is pretty amazing.  (Even more amazing, the hand was reattached successfully!)

Macworld in two weeksAs you know, if you're a Macist or simply a nerd, Macworld takes place in two weeks.  This is our biannual chance to guess what Mr. Jobs has in store for the world (pun intended), and to appreciate superior demomanship.  The 'net is alive with the sounds of speculation including new teeny Macbooks with iPhoneular screens (and touchpads) and of course the breathlessly-awaited third-party developer API for the iPhone.  And there are other angles: Fortune discusses How to cash in on the Macworld keynote effect.

Malcom Gladwell is one of my favorite authors (Tipping Point, Blink), and a blogger, and he recently he wrote an article for The New Yorker about IQ and Race: None of the Above.  He works hard to discredit IQ scores - leaning on the Flynn effect, for example - and makes some progress.  The article wasn't accurate in all respects however, as Steve Sailer notes; in particular he completely missed the point of The Bell Curve, by Murray and Hernstein, that measured IQ correlates to many things.  Why is it, when discussing The Bell Curve so many people fail to simply read the book?  It's a good book, and even if you don't agree with all or any of it you should at least read it before criticizing...

So oil has hit $100 / barrel.  [ via TTAC ]  Is this peak oil in action?  "Ira Eckstein, president of Area International Trading Corporation, says you ain't seen nothin' yet: 'This market is really gonna fly.'"  At some point this is going to reduce consumption and increase incentives for alternate energy sources, both good things, but in the short term this is going to make everything more expensive and slow the economy, both bad things.  Stay tuned.

Is it just me, or is spam getting worse and worse?  Yeah, I didn't think it was just me.  Computers keep getting faster, network bandwidth keeps increasing, and software gets smarter, but it is hard to think that this is sustainable.  I could get 5X the amount of spam I get now and probably nothing bad would happen.  (I get around 750 spams per day.)  Maybe 10X, but that would be pushing it.  Certainly 100X the spam would cause problems; at that point it seems likely my entire computing infrastructure would be doing nothing but filtering spam.  And what about 1,000X?  Yet there seems nothing to prevent spam from increasing without limit, since the marginal cost of sending it is [essentially] zero.  I don't know the answer, but whoever finds it will make $big.


me and Fred Thompson

Wednesday,  01/02/08  08:52 PM

I haven't found any candidates I like for President yet, but on the eve of the Iowa caucuses I'm shopping.  Glenn Reynolds linked to this video from Fred Thompson:

I watched it, and I must say I liked it.  Not only what he said, but how he said it, and that he said it; a 15 minute video like this tells me a lot more than a 60 second attack ad.  (That means you, John McCain, your negativity is showing...)

Maybe he's really a Reagan conservative, or maybe he just wants to look like one :)

Coincidentally I found Glassboth on Digg.  This is a little website that asks you what you think is important, and then asks you some "position" questions, and suggests the candidates you will like (from both parties).  In my case, the best fit was - ta da - Fred Thompson, followed closely by John McCain.  (I guess I've become a Republican!)  Here are the results:

Glassbooth: me and Fred Thompson

The biggest difference we have is over immigration.  I strongly oppose a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, while Fred "opposes blanket amnesty programs, but [is] willing to consider allowing some illegal immigrants to earn citizenship without being unfair to those here legally."  That sounds far apart, but I suspect we aren't really; earning citizenship is fine with me, too, as long as it takes more than showing up to earn it.  My parents came to the U.S. from The Netherlands and earned their citizenship, and so I'm from Missouri on this one.

Related: Powerline reports No Buses Necessary.  "A prominent canard in the debate over illegal immigration is the claim that, should we begin to enforce our immigration laws, we would be faced with the prospect of deporting 10 million or more illegals--an impossible logistical task, according to many pro-illegal immigration commentators.  The conservative response has always been that no such deportation would be necessary; that if we enforced our laws, illegals would return across the border the same way they came."  Absolutely.

Anyway it looks like maybe I'm a Fred Thompson supporter.  I'll continue to monitor; it should be an interesting election...


Thursday,  01/03/08  09:34 PM

Man, it is cold here.  And windy.  Rain threatens.  What is this, winter?  Not a good thing for bike riding, that's for sure, and therefore not a good thing for Holiday Season recovery :)

So, Huckabee and Obama have huge night in Iowa.  And Clinton finished - gasp! - third, behind Edwards, while Thompson finished - not really gasp - third, behind Romney.  The real news here is that Clinton is finished, and perhaps also that Romney is weakened.  Nobody thinks Huckabee will win - he's too religious - and nobody thinks Edwards will win - he's too lightweight.  I think this could mean Obama is the Democratic candidate.  And that either McCain or Giuliani will be the Republican.  Interesting.

Yesterday I linked, and today I'm doing it again.  If you're going to support someone, you should at least be informed about what they think, right?  I was amazed to discover that I disagree with Obama on virtual everything, for example; so as a presumptive Democrat I will probably not vote for the Democratic candidate.  Same thing happened to me last time with John Kerry.  Is there a moderate Democrat in the house?

Are you sitting down?  Are you holding any sharp objects?  You will not believe this, but I am looking forward to a TV show.  Yes, Terminator, the Sarah Connor Chronicles, looks like it will be pretty cool.  My Tivo is ready, we'll see whether it lives up to the hype...

Also in the "you won't believe this" category: Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore is Going Nuclear.  "In the early 1970s when I helped found Greenpeace, I believed that nuclear energy was synonymous with nuclear holocaust, as did most of my compatriots.  That's the conviction that inspired Greenpeace's first voyage up the spectacular rocky northwest coast to protest the testing of U.S. hydrogen bombs in Alaska's Aleutian Islands.  Thirty years on, my views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change."  Excellent, I think this is a trend...

I saved this link from June; Marc Andreessen explains Why there's no such thing as Web 2.0.  "But here's the problem...  Web 2.0 has been picked up as a term by the entrepreneurial community and its corollaries in venture capital, the press, analysts, large media and Internet companies, and Wall Street to describe a theoretical new category of startup companies.  Or a 'space', if you will...  But there is no such thing as a 'space'."  He nails it, IMHO.  Keep this in mind as you're reading about Facebook or MySpace, and how they're the next Big Thing.

Similar to Mike Arrington's rant on TechCrunch, about how Silicon Valley could use a downturn.  And that was back in May.  The corner has not yet been turned.


Friday,  01/04/08  11:36 PM

So, the promised massive rainstorm did not materialize.  Yet.  It is cold however and threatening.  Perfect coding weather.

Temenos! (banking software?)(click for larger pic)

Check out this boat, Temenos, competing in the Barcelona World Race.  Wow.  (And if you look at the enlarged picture, check out the name - obviously I was in the wrong line of work :)  [ via Valencia Sailing, a great blog chronicling the America's Cup and other world-level sailing events...]

BTW, on 11/9 Valencia Sailing posted Full details of the America's Cup schedule and competition format.  I don't know if you've been following this saga, which is now in court, but this was an optimistic high point; everything has gone downhill and it isn't clear whether or when there will ever be another America's Cup race.  And this coming after arguably the most popular and publicized competition in history last summer.  This sport seems determined to self-destruct, driven by the greedy rich men who compete in it...  Too bad.  I would have loved to see AC90 boats match racing!

Michael Rasmussen, aka "chicken"(click for larger pic)

Another sport heading in the same direction is pro cycling, which happens to be the other sport I love myself.  I thought the low point occurred near the end of this summer's Tour de France, when leader Michael Rasmussen was pulled from the race by his own team, on the verge of winning.  I was devastated; I'm a longtime "chicken" fan and longtime Rabobank fan, this was about as bad as it could get.  And then Discovery disbanded (!); the only U.S. pro tour team, the team of Lance Armstrong.  We'll see whether the sport can recover.  I guess I'm going to become a Slipstream fan...

Useful idiots?  The macalope notes Yes, Virginia, any idiot CAN file a lawsuit.  About Stace Somers' lawsuit against Apple.  "It alleges that Apple has constricted the market by not enabling iPods to play content in the Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, Microsoft's copy-protection technology."  This is mere ambulance chasing; clearly there has to be more of a penalty for filing frivolous lawsuits, right?

mars roverThose little Mars Rovers keep on tickin'.  Wow, has it really been four years?  "Two robots the size of golf carts were given 90 days to squeeze as much science as possible from the barren, dust-swept terrain of Mars.  After that, scientists expected nothing more from them than death.  Nearly four years after their warranties expired, however, the Mars Explorations Rovers (MERs) 'Spirit' and 'Opportunity' continue to play productively in the red dirt.  Spirit celebrates its fourth anniversary of Martian work on Jan. 4, the day it landed in 2004, followed by Opportunity on Jan. 25."  Amazing.  [ via Slashdot ]

BTW, here's Popular Science's Guide to the Year in Science: 2008.  Cool and comprehensive...


effectiveness quiz

Friday,  01/04/08  11:56 PM

Bug Bash: effectiveness quiz

This totally pounds the nail through the wood, IMHO.  Bug Bash is inconsistent but occasionally brilliant.


Saturday,  01/05/08  10:18 AM

The promised storm *finally* materialized.  It rained pretty hard for a long time, but it was not - yet - unusual by historical standards (only by recent ones, in that it rained at all).  Stay tuned for more...

ZZTop!Did you see ZZTop at halftime of the FedEx Orange Bowl?  Pretty cool.  Those guys must be 100 years old, but they still rock.  Good to see they haven't become a cover band, doing old ZZTop tunes :)

The game itself was pretty good, too.  Although I must say watching college bowl games on January 4th does not feel right.  Yes, I'm a dinosaur.

Speaking of old bands who are still great, all the reports of Led Zeppelin's one night reunion were overwhelmingly positive.  A true event, I wish I could have been there.  If I were forced to pick one band as my favorite (e.g. "if you could only bring one band's music to a desert island") it would be Zep.  The bootleg clips surfacing on YouTube are excellent, Plant and Page still have it.  BTW their drummer was Jason Bonham, John Bonham's son, how cool is that.  Will they tour?  I doubt it.  Too bad.

Tesla Roadster: the song remains the same?How's this for a segue: Tesla changes CEOs, reports The Song Remains the Same.  As longtime readers know, Elon Musk is my hero, but he may have busted his pick on this one.  Then again, I thought that about SpaceX, too, which keeps on ticking...

Looks like maybe Blu-ray is going to defeat HD-DVD (albeit temporarily, before the 'net defeats both :); Engadget reports HD-DVD group cancels CES press conference.  So be it.  And rumor has it that Apple will include Blu-ray in future Macs.

Meanwhile, Business Week reports Sony BMG plans to drop DRM.  Excellent.  Looks like music DRM is dead, but video DRM is alive and well - for now.  We'll see what effect Apple's anticipated announcement at Macworld has...  rumor says they're going to announce a movie rental service, which (because of the limited time nature) implies DRM.

BW also has a little 'Intel' on Apple's next move.  At this point, if Apple doesn't announce a subnotebook, it will be a huge surprise.  More clues about Apple's future plans in this Engadget post: Maximus-like keyboard, iMac Macbook dock.

Marc Andreessen has an interesting take on Rebuilding Hollywood in Silicon Valley's image.  [ via Tim Oren ]  The writer's strike has affected me little, as I don't watch TV (except "unscripted" events like football games :), but if the ultimate effect is to change the way movies are made, that would be good.

Some Microsoft bashing; Tim Bray's 2008 prediction: Windows looks Bad.  Mark Pilgrim wrote Windows off years ago, but now thinks 2008 is the year of Linux on the desktop (at least at his parent's house).  And Bill Burnham thinks Microsoft should buy Plaxo.  I do agree with Bill that 1) Outlook is my most-used application, and 2) Microsoft hasn't enhanced it significantly since 1997.  Still, I am not [yet] motivated to switch to Thunderbird, despite being an avid Firefox user...


may I take your order?

Saturday,  01/05/08  12:21 PM

This could be the funiest thing I have ever read.  Warning, do not read while drinking hot liquids.

May I take your order?

(Just in case this ever disappears, here it is as a PDF.  I do not want to lose this :)


the cowboy

Saturday,  01/05/08  12:53 PM

Apropos, with the elections in the air, this from my friend Jim Holder:

A cowboy named Bud was overseeing his herd in a remote mountainous pasture in California when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced out of a dust cloud towards him.

The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, RayBan sunglasses and YSL tie, leans out the window and asks the cowboy, "If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?"

Bud looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, "Sure, Why not?"

The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his Cingular RAZR V3 cell phone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo.  The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany.  Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored.  He then accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response.  Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer and finally turns to the cowboy and says, "You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves."

"That's right.  Well, I guess you can take one of my calves," says Bud.

He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on amused as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.  Then Bud says to the young man, "Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?"

The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, "Okay, why not?"

"You're a Congressman for the U.S. Government", says Bud.

"Wow!  That's correct," says the yuppie, "but how did you guess that?"

"No guessing required" answered the cowboy.  "You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked.  You tried to show me how much smarter than me you are; and you don't know a thing about cows... this is a herd of sheep... give me back my dog.




Saturday,  01/05/08  08:07 PM

m.w-uh.comSo: I have "moblified" this site; if you are viewing with a Treo, iPhone, BlackBerry, or other handheld you might want to try instead.  Among other things, it works great on my new toy (and my old toy, a Treo 650, too).  This version of my site is simply piped through Russell Beattie's mowser service.  (You might want to bookmark on your handheld also, so you can view any site through this filter.)

My standard site as seen by a browser worked well via mowser, but using the "robot" version of my site, as served to Googlebot and bretheren, worked better.  Mowser simplifies the page structure, removes scripting etc., and shrinks images, among other things, to create a better experience on a handheld device.  This seems like a great idea - whether it will catch on and whether Russell can monetize it through ads or whatever remains to be seen...


Sunday,  01/06/08  10:20 PM

Well, it is raining here, an actual serious storm.  Whew.  Didn't keep me from heading down to San Diego to watch the Chargers beat the Titans today; that was pretty cool.  Yeah, it rained a little, but the crowd noise blew the water away :)  Seriously the game was great, and so were the hot dogs.  And it is raining...

Yay, I've got links!  A few, anyway, my awakening from hibernation has been noticed.  I am always amazed that people haven't completely given up on me, but I guess since it takes no effort to leave a feed in your reader, but effort to remove one, entropy takes over.  Anyway thank you for hanging in there.  I was so motivated by this that I began posting on my Aperio blog, too, after a two year gap.  Whether I can keep it up remains to be seen - please stay tuned...

Voyager voyagesI get a bunch of magazines, but one of my favorite dead-tree communiques is the quarterly Caltech Engineering & Science.  The most recent issue is devoted entirely to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), which has been the prime contractor for NASA's unmanned spacecraft ever since.  E&S in general, and this issue in particular, always pulls the curtain aside to reveal a slightly different world, where people devote themselves to science and technology and do great things by overcoming great challenges.  I was particularly taken with the article recounting the Voyager project; these two spacecraft, launched in 1977, not only performed the "grand tour", visiting every planet in the solar system, but are still transmitting data today, from the very edge of the solar system.  Imagine 1977 technology, and now imagine the complexity of designing a 30-year mission.  Unbelievably impressive.  The science enabled by the data retrieved by these spacecraft is amazing, too.

The other day I noted the Mars rover's four-year anniversaries; they are products of JPL, too...

Want to read a comprehensive description of the Theory of Evolution, and why Creationism aka Intelligent Design doesn't count as an alternative theory?  No, I didn't think so; if you're reading this blog you already know this stuff inside out.  Nonetheless this publication by the National Academies Press is pretty amazing, for its thoroughness if nothing else.  You can download a nice summary in PDF form, too.

the Creation MuseumBTW one of the things I missed during my blog holiday was the grand opening of the Creation Museum.  This is a link to a great walkthrough by PZ Myers.  Warning: skepticism ahead...  as the Washington Post puts it: "But in this latest demonization of Darwinian evolution, there is a sticking point: For the biblical account to be accurate and the world to be so young, several hundred years of research in geology, physics, biology, paleontology, and astronomy would need to be very, very wrong."  Blech.

Related: Chris "long tail" Anderson wonder's Why Give Away Your Book?  (You might wonder, why would the NAP give away their book, as linked above...)  The answer is simple: in order to get the maximum number of people to read it!  "The biggest challenge most authors face isn't online piracy.  It's not people out there diabolically copying their works and distributing them for free.  In fact most authors (including yours truly) suffer from a different problem entirely -- no one has ever heard of them.  After all, literally hundreds of thousands of new titles come out every year, and only a few hundred writers in the entire United States (if that many) actually live off their books full time.  So, by giving away the book, I hope more people actually read it."

GNXP notes John Brockman is packaging "What is your dangerous question?" as a book.  You can read Steven Pinker's and Richard Dawkins' preface and afterward online.  Cool.

Maybe I should / will give away Unnatural Selection.  If I ever write it.  Stay tuned :)

This is too funny; a genuine Microsoft website gives you 100 reasons why everyone's so speechless (about Vista).  I am not making this up.  Of course, not everyone's speechless; here are 100 things people are really saying about Vista

I have tried to figure out where is Microsoft going?  Are they going to resurrect XP?  Come out with Vista 2.0?  Give up?  Honestly I know so many people who are determined never going to "upgrade" from XP to Vista.  I'm one of them.


missing Ze Frank

Sunday,  01/06/08  11:38 PM

Ze FrankOne of the things that came and went while I was out was Ze Frank's "show".  I must tell you I am not a fan of online video, in fact I am so not a fan, that I actively resist watching videos by many bloggers I love in print - e.g. Robert Scoble - but Ze was different.  Never boring and always original.  For example I loved this idea, about redefining punctuation in communication...  Anyway I understand why the show couldn't go on - anticipating a shark jump with his great sense of timing, Ze killed it before that could happen - but I do miss it.


craving bad design

Sunday,  01/06/08  11:49 PM

Subaru TribecaHonda ElementThis is terrific: Crave (a gadget website) presents The 10 ugliest cars we've seen.  This slideshow is notable not only for the ugly cars - which are indeed ugly, and confirm that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we can all agree on ugly" - but also for the pithy captions.  Yes, I laughed out loud.

What were these designers thinking?


Monday,  01/07/08  10:46 PM

It's all happening...

BCS championshipCongratulations to LSU, for easily beating Ohio State to win the BCS.  Are they #1?  Yes.  And I say that as a USC fan; both lost two games, and both hammered a Big Ten opponent in a major bowl, but LSU lost two overtime games while USC lost to Stanford (!) and was pretty soundly beaten by Oregon, too.  I'd put George at #3, also with two losses, after thrashing Hawaii.  Others receiving votes: Kansas, West Virginia, Michigan, and Missouri...

This is amazing: Gerald Vanderleun posts 30 Years Ago at The Nation.  From the "more things change, more they stay the same" file.  That is unbelievable.

Also from that file, check out this post I made four years ago about John Kerry, linking James Lileks.  Does that remind you of anyone?  Barack Obama, maybe?

Bill Gates at CESClassic; TechCrunch notes that Bill Gates' CES keynote sucked.  Yeah, like that was a surprise.  "The big question is how, in 2008, have we come to a point that Microsoft is so bereft of new ideas and innovation that what was once the most important keynote speech of the year turned out to be a complete dog?"  Look, Gates is a rotten speaker, and hasn't had anything much to say lately, if ever.  I continue to maintain he is overrated as a really smart guy.  Good businessman?  Unquestionably.  Good philanthropist?  Undoubtedly, and the world is better for it.  Smart?  No.

How much do you want to bet TechCrunch won't think Steve Jobs' Macworld keynote sucks?

This is just in case you're a web nerd, and so I can find it later: Pure CSS Drop Down Menu.  The demo is ugly, but it works, and of course can be spiffy-ified.  Nice.



the cowboy's dilemma

Monday,  01/07/08  11:24 PM

Courtesy of BoingBoing, today’s brainbuster:

You're a cowboy, and get involved in a three way pistol duel with two other cowboys.  You are a poor shot, with an accuracy of only 33%.  The other two cowboys shoot with accuracies of 50% and 100%, respectively.  The rules of the duel are one shot per cowboy per round.  The shooting order is from worst shooter to best shooter, so you get to shoot first, the 50% guy goes second, and the 100% guy goes third, then repeat.  If a cowboy is shot he's out for good, and his turn is skipped.  Where or who should you shoot first?

I'll give you the answer in a day or so.  It's great :)

Update: hint.

Update: here's the answer.

Update: here's a detailed analysis.


Tuesday,  01/08/08  06:45 PM

What is more exciting to you, CES or the New Hampshire primaries?  Yeah, me too...  Man I must tell you it is cold down here.  Really freezing cold.  I spent the whole day huddled in my office with the space heater on.  No thought whatsoever of leaving the house, or riding.  So.

LOTR HD vs DVDThis is awesome - a comparison of the HD and DVD versions of LOTR.  [ via Kottke ]  This is the best advertisement I've seen yet for why I need Blu-ray.  A closeup of Liv Tyler would have sealed the deal :)

Mac Pro eight-way processorApple announced a new Mac Pro, with eight processors standard.  Did it the week of CES, not at Macworld, interestingly enough... to me this is further proof that the processor people have hit the wall at around 3.2GHz, and have been there for two years now.  So they have to have more and more cores, or they won't have anything to sell.  Interesting.  Erlang, anyone?

Have I told you I love The Truth About Cars?  Well I do.  Today they note that GM have wished the Volt 'happy birthday'.  "How something that has yet to be birthed can have a birthday is beyond me."  Yeah, beyond me too.  The Volt was 100% announceware.

Speaking of announceware, Sony BMG have fully confirmed their reputation for media cluelessness; they announce DRM-free music so stupid it hurts.  "If she gets one as a gift, all she’s going to do is ask me how the heck she’s supposed to use it. And then she’s going ask me to get the download for her. Like I’m not busy. And you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to return the card for cash, and then I’m going to download the album off of Pirate Bay, because you’ve confused and upset my mom. And annoyed me."  Big music deserves to lose.

You may know, Scott Adams, author of Dilbert, has a blog.  Some of the stuff he writes is funny - like the urge to simplify ("Now the casinos have people trained, like chickens hoping for pellets, to take money from one machine (the ATM), carry it across a room and deposit in another machine (the slot machine). I believe B.F. Skinner would agree with me that there is room for even more efficiency: The ATM and the slot machine need to be the same machine.").   And some is pretty wonderful - like winning (about James Blake's tennis match against Roger Federer).  And some is amazingly insightful, like Respecting the Beliefs of Others.  Here he is serious, and he makes a serious point: "People keep telling me that I should respect the beliefs of others. That sounds entirely reasonable, at least until you think about it. The problem is in knowing where to draw the line... How about the people who give away all of their possessions because they have determined the exact date that the world will end? Do I respect their opinions up to the predicted end-time and then, after it passes, keep on respecting their opinion while they are begging the neighbors to give back their crap?"  Reminds me of, why is "motherhood" something everyone can agree on?  (Should every woman have as many children as she can?)

Here's a link I saved for you: Clive Thompson wonders Should you pick an unusual name for yourself - so you'll be more Google-able?  You can probably guess my answer :)


the metric magic

Tuesday,  01/08/08  09:00 PM

(... an old rambly email, pulled from the dusty attic for your perusal ...)

So, it is Monday afternoon, December 26.   I love this week, between Christmas and New Year.   There is no pressure to get things done, yet I often get a lot done.   Mostly it is done at a high level, in my brain, rather than at a low level, with my fingers.   This email is part of my work for this week.

So, I went for a bike ride this morning with a good friend who is not a programmer.   He’s actually a financial guy, buys and sells bonds or something, he’s a neighbor and the father of my daughter’s best friend and a nice guy and a fellow bike rider.   And a smart guy.   So I was explaining why I like this week, and that my goal for this week was to plan out next year, and how measuring what we do (at Aperio) was one thing I wanted to improve, significantly, and that was my goal.  

How did this come up?   Maybe you don’t care but hey I’m going to write about it anyway.   See both of us have been eating like crazy the last few days and both of us are conscious of the fact that an hour’s worth of bike riding is equivalent to one piece of See’s candy.   So we’re both getting fat(ter) and we were talking about how we’re going to lose the weight in January.   And we differ in our approaches to this in one important aspect, I weigh myself every day, and he never weighs himself, ever.   So I was telling him that measuring is the key to improving.

Why does it work?   I think it works in environments where you don’t know all the factors, and where the main factor is the behavior of people.   Measuring somehow changes the behavior of people, in subtle ways, in ways that they cannot themselves control.   And that is how the magic is done.

Imagine measuring the output of a completely automated factory.   No people at all.   Would the simple act of measuring change the output of the factory?   No, it would not.   You would know the output, and that might be helpful all by itself, and over time you would know the variability of the output and things like that, but the output itself would not be affected.

Now imagine measuring the output of a factory which contains humans.   But you don’t tell the humans that you’re measuring the output.   Would this simple act change the output of the factory?   No, it would not.   Exactly like the case of the fully automated factory, you would know the output but the output itself would not be affected.

Now imagine measuring the output of a factory with humans, but this time you tell the humans that you’re measuring the output.   You don’t tell them the output, you don’t feed back what you measure in any way.   At time zero you tell them that you’re measuring, and that’s it.   Would this simple act change the output of the factory?   I claim that it would.   Somehow in ways you might not be able to explain, knowing that the output is being measured would change the humans’ productivity.   So not only would you know the output, you would have affected the output.

Given that the output is affected, would it be increased?   Aha!   You might say “sure, people want to do a good job, so knowing their output is being measured, they will do a better job, and the output will be increased”.   That makes sense if people know what to do to increase output.   If the correlation between their activities and the output of the factory is well understood, then knowing their output was being measured would cause people to work “better”, and the factory output would be increased.

But what if the correlation between people’s activities and the output of the factory was not straightforward?   What if it was complicated and not well understood?   It is conceivable that people would change their behavior in the factory thinking their changes would increase output, not realizing that in actuality their changes decreased output.   So knowing that their output was being measured would cause the output to change, but it would not necessarily cause the output to increase.

In many complicated environments it is tough to know which changes have which effects.   In all likelihood some changes cause increases in output, some don’t, and the overall mix of changes causes a mix of offsetting changes in output.   Overall the change might be positive, but not necessarily optimal.

Finally imagine measuring the output of a factory with humans, telling them that you’re measuring, and periodically telling them the output, too.   Would this simple act change the output of the factory?   Yes, it would.   And I claim that this is the best thing to do because the people in the factory can learn from the effects of their changes, and optimize their changes to increase output.   They might make some changes which decrease output, but after learning, they would change back.   They might try some things without knowing whether they would increase or decrease output, and learn which do and which don’t.   Over time the factory would asymptotically approach optimality.

I know I’m jumping around here, sorry, this is a bit of stream-of-consciousness here.   Please bear with me, I think this is all going to make sense in the end.

Think about trying to lose weight.   This is a fairly simple system – at least the inputs - with one measured output.  However there are many things you can do, in complex combinations, to affect the system.   Sure, eating See’s candy is known to be suboptimal.   But how about eating stew?   You have to eat something, so maybe that is good?   How about drinking Diet Coke?   Is that better or worse than drinking water?   How about riding?   Sure, exercise is known to be helpful, but you can ride in the morning, ride in the afternoon, ride every other day.   You can eat before you ride, or not, you can eat after your ride, or not.   Complicated.   Without getting periodic feedback on the system – without weighing yourself – how can you optimize?

Okay, now let’s talk about Aperio.  (Here’s the part where, hopefully, it will start to make sense.)  I really want to ship releases on time.   I want to be able to say, in December, that we’re shipping release 8 in May, and I want to publish the high-level features of release 8, and I want to know that we’re going to ship that release on time, in May, with those features.   How can we do that?

First, we need enough resources.   We need sufficient people, computers, tools, etc. to actually be able to create the contents of release 8 by May.   (Actually the contents need to be created by March, so they can be tested in April, so they can be released in May.)   In the past maybe we didn’t have enough resources do to what we wanted in the timeframes that we wanted.   Now I think we do.

Next, we need to manage all the distractions that can interfere with getting release 8 built.   Some of these distractions are important parts of what we do, they create value.   We have to support sales as they sell systems to prospects.   We have to support operations as they make systems, install them, and support existing customers.   And we have to have fun!   We have to take vacations, and fix bugs in old releases, and hook up webcams so we can see our dogs from work.   We have to configure new computers, and install various software tools, and play games.   There is a lot to do.

Each day there are a million little decisions to make which contribute to whether or not we achieve our goals.  How can we optimize that decision making?

I can try to manage the distractions.   I can try to make all those little decisions.   But that is inefficient.   In fact, it just doesn’t work.   (For one thing, it annoys the people in the factory :)   I can make high-level rules, or share my experience.   Some of these things are obvious – kind of like knowing that eating See’s candy will increase your weight.   Some of these things are less obvious – kind of like discovering that eating after a ride is better than eating before a ride.   Communicating high-level generalizations is good, but still suboptimal.

But what about this: I tell you the goals – you, the thinking humans in the factory - and let you make all the little decisions in ways which enable us to achieve our goals.   Just like with a complicated factory, some of the cause and effect is pretty unobvious.   We try stuff, and we measure, and we learn what works and what doesn’t.   And over time we improve.   That is the magic.

I hope you’re with me so far, that you’ve been able to filter all the babble and get the essence, because I think this is pretty important.   I don’t want you to feel that we’re measuring because we read it somewhere in a book, or because managers all take a class in measurement.   Or because I just have this urge to write long emails about stuff, so I invented this theory about measuring.   There is a method to this madness, I’ve honestly thought about this a lot.   I want to improve, and I think measuring is the key to improving.

If I’m right, and this really works, and there is a magic to measurement, then maybe this will help.   So what do we measure?  How do we work the magic?   We need to decide what we want to optimize, and this will tell us what to measure.  

If we want to improve productivity, we should measure productivity.   I’m not saying that’s easy – because productivity is complicated, and measuring it is complicated – but it can be measured.  Essentially productivity is the amount of work that gets done in a certain amount of time.  Get more work done in less time, and you’re more productive.   Measuring time is easy, but measuring work is not.  I don’t want to run back through how we plan to measure productivity, only to note that we do, and that the hope is that in so doing, we can all iterate into a more efficient workflow.

There are all kinds of work products that are valuable but tough to measure.   Helping salespeople to close a sale.   Helping operations to satisfy customers.   Helping each other to have fun.   (Foosball, anyone?)   Even code is hard to measure, because what we really want is functionality for customers, and how do you quantify that?   So we approximate, but measuring something is worthwhile, because measuring is the key to improving.

Back to what I wrote earlier.   “I really want to ship releases on time.   I want to be able to say, in December, that we’re shipping release 8 in May, and I want to publish the high-level features of release 8, and I want to know that we’re going to ship that release on time, in May, with those features.”   What I really want is to become more predictable.   Unfortunately as everyone knows building software is hard to predict, so how do we make it more predictable?

Following the logic of this thread, if we want to improve predictability, we should measure predictability.   This is way better than me telling everyone what to do, and also better than me making general suggestions to guide what to do.   Sure, we know breaking projects down into pieces helps.   Sure, we know writing specs helps.   Sure, we know eliminating distractions, and setting priorities, and establishing goals all help.   But there might be a lot of other things which help, too.   I’d rather have 20 thinking humans on this problem than one.   By measuring our predictability, and sharing the measurements with you, I think we can all iterate into better predictability.

And that is the magic.


more on the cowboy's dilemma

Tuesday,  01/08/08  09:45 PM

slugfight at the OK corralYesterday I posted the cowboy's dilemma.  Maybe you thought the answer is obvious, or not, and maybe you thought it was a trivial puzzle.  But there's a surprising message in there.  I'm not ready to tell you the answer - and there is "an answer", by the way - but I will give you a hint. 

The problem is carefully worded: "Where or who should you shoot first?"  There are two other cowboys, but there are more than two possible answers to this question...  More tomorrow.

Update: here's the answer.

Update: here's a detailed analysis.


yesterday in NH

Wednesday,  01/09/08  08:20 AM

Some quick thoughts about the New Hampshire primaries while drinking coffee...  So McCain won pretty handily over Romney, and Clinton won by a smaller margin over Obama.  New Hampshire is a much better predictor of the way "the country" feels than Iowa (or Wyoming), so these two would appear to be the front-runners.  Reassuringly they are also the two most centerist candidates for their respective parties, Romney and Thompson and Huckabee are to the right of McCain, and Obama and Edwards are to the left of Clinton.  I can support McCain - we disagree about a lot, but agree on the things which are most important to me - but I'm not sure I can support Clinton.  More study seems indicated.

Watching the candidates' "victory" speeches, I was struck that Clinton really seemed focused on beating Obama (why I'm better), not on what she would do if she were elected (why I'm good).  And yet, so was McCain!

This morning while driving Alexis (14) to school we talked about this a bit (my subject, not hers :).  It is fascinating that we've reached the point where a woman and a black man are serious candidates, in fact at this point it seems likely that one or the other will represent the Democratic party.  That's progress, right?


The sheep of Saint-Affrique

Wednesday,  01/09/08  07:59 PM

I have an Dutch aunt who married a French sheep farmer; they live in a small town called Saint-Affrique.  Today I received a nice Holiday letter from her, accompanied by this fantastic postcard:


I am told that these are not just any sheep; their milk is used to make Roquefort cheese.  I like sheep (would it be wrong to say of shorn sheep, "they're cool"?), and these sheep clearly rock.  In the background we see the awesome Viaduct of Millau, a modern wonder of the world; at 1,125 feet high it is more than 50 feet higher than the Eiffel Tower with a sweep of one and a half miles.  I wonder if the sheep think it is as cool as I do :)


Wednesday,  01/09/08  07:59 PM

The Ole filter makes a pass...

Brian Bailey concludes Bloomberg Wins New Hampshire.  "Last night was an absolutely historic night.  Senator Clinton pulled off a huge upset (and yes, a comeback) and Senator McCain brought himself back from the brink...  That's the story that's being written today. Here's one that isn't.  It just became much more likely that Mayor Mike Bloomberg will run for president."  Interesting; I believe I could like Michael Bloomberg.  [ via Dave Winer ]

This is not good: FuturePundit notes Africa Human Population To At Least Double By 2050.  I hope they can handle it, but I fear they won't ...

... GNXP noted In the days of yore, the wealthy were healthy and prolific.  Not anymore :(

Wired Magazine: Red Wine Drug Shows Proof That It Combats Aging.  "For the first time, scientists have proof in human subjects that a derivative of an ingredient in red wine combats some symptoms of aging."  Excellent.  I'll drink to that.

Microsoft Home ServerMommy, why is there a server in the house?  Helping your child understand the stay-at-home server...  (Note: I am not making this up.  You have to read this to believe it...)

I wonder if Wal-Mart will start selling Linux-based home servers?  They already have a $200 Linux-based home PC!

Maserati GTToday TTAC posted a review of the new Maserati GT:  "It’s the Jessica Alba of GTs. From any angle, the Italian coupe offers seemingly endless, perfectly shaped curves; all exactly where they should be. From its 60’ F1-style curvilinear maw, to the subtle swell of the front wheel arches, to the gracious sweep of its rear air spoiler, the GT tells the world that Maserati’s roots rock."  Beautiful.  And that describes the sound of the 405hp Ferrari powerplant, too.

Hot on the heels of my pondering the metric magic: Medscape suggests Physician Performance Measurement: Potential Benefits Outweigh the Challenges.  Wow, and are there ever challenges.  Don't expect this anytime soon, but I have no doubt that there are significant potential benefits.

Command Line Warriors explains how dishonest Network Solutions are...  the punchline is do not use them for anything, not even their whois service.  [ via John Gruber, who comments "Yet another chapter in the ever-popular saga, Network Solutions: Shitbags Extraordinaire." ]


cowboy's dilemma: the answer

Wednesday,  01/09/08  08:45 PM

shoot the sky!Are you ready for the answer to the cowboy's dilemma?

You're a cowboy, and get involved in a three way pistol duel with two other cowboys.  You are a poor shot, with an accuracy of only 33%.  The other two cowboys shoot with accuracies of 50% and 100%, respectively.  The rules of the duel are one shot per cowboy per round.  The shooting order is from worst shooter to best shooter, so you get to shoot first, the 50% guy goes second, and the 100% guy goes third, then repeat.  If a cowboy is shot he's out for good, and his turn is skipped.  Where or who should you shoot first?

Reach for the sky!  Actually, shoot the sky.  Your best chance is not to shoot at either cowboy.  Really really.

There are actually three possibilities:

  1. Shoot the 100% cowboy.
  2. Shoot the 50% cowboy.
  3. Shoot anywhere else.

Your chances of surviving the duel are best with door #3.  I'll give a detailed analysis later...

Update: here's a detailed analysis.


milestone ScanScopes

Thursday,  01/10/08  10:46 PM

And now for a little chest beating...  Just wanted to report a cool Aperio milestone, we recently completed manufacturing our 100th ScanScope XT and our 200th ScanScope CS!  The picture below shows these two units in the manufacturing test area, along with a few of the many people responsible for this achievement. 

Milestone ScanScopes 

Not pictured but very much "in the picture" is Marc Cohn, Aperio's Director of Manufacturing, who leads this team.  Congratulations to all Aperions for their hard work and dedication which made this accomplishment possible!


Thursday,  01/10/08  10:48 PM

Ronald Baily: Why we should care what candidates think about biological evolution.  "I don't need them to describe their faith; that's their business and not mine.  But I do care about their scientific knowledge and how it will inform their leadership."  Not only their knowledge, but their ability to reason.  Would I vote for a candidate who didn't "believe in evolution"?  No.  [ via Panda's Thumb ]

Yesterday I posted about the sheep of Saint-Affrique, including the Millau Viaduct.  So I Googled for "Millau", and got a hit on this site, from December of 2004!  Sometimes the small world is even smaller than you thought!

iPhone makes historyWired: The Untold Story: How the iPhone blew up the Wireless industry.  "The demo was not going well.  Again.  It was a late morning in the fall of 2006...  It was clear that the prototype was still a disaster.  It wasn't just buggy, it flat-out didn't work. The phone dropped calls constantly, the battery stopped charging before it was full, data and applications routinely became corrupted and unusable...  At the end of the demo, Jobs fixed the dozen or so people in the room with a level stare and said, 'We don't have a product yet.'"  The rest is [or will be] history...

Jason Kottke comments: "I wish this story had more direct quotes and explicit's hard to read it and not take the whole thing with a huge grain of salt."  Yeah, but it feels true :)

Zeldman: Everything that can be iPhonelike, will be...  "It’s inevitable.  The iPhone is too great a leap forward in interface design to be confined to, well, the iPhone."  I predict this will seem prescient after Macworld.  Stay tuned :)

Well, if you read Scott Rosenberg's excellent Dreaming in Code you knew this was coming: CNet reports Mitch Kapor bails on the Chandler Project.  "Kapor--the designer of Lotus 1-2-3, the co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the founding chairman of the Mozilla Foundation, and the chairman of Linden Labs--certainly can find other things to do.  OSAF wasn't a bad idea, and Chandler wasn't either.  But neither was managed particularly well."  So be it.

Uncov is merciless: Wikia Search: Weapons Grade Fail.  "Here's the story: Wikia has set up Nutch, a mediocre open source search engine, and laid a wiki on top of it. You can write a mini wiki page for your search result if you don't like what Nutch comes up with. This is even more craptacular than Mahalo."  Fire on 'em!

OMG!  Halley Suitt is back!!  Yay!


cowboys dilemma analyzed

Thursday,  01/10/08  11:57 PM

ready, aim, wait!Okay, here we go; an analysis of the cowboy's dilemma.

You're a cowboy, and get involved in a three way pistol duel with two other cowboys.  You are a poor shot, with an accuracy of only 33%.  The other two cowboys shoot with accuracies of 50% and 100%, respectively.  The rules of the duel are one shot per cowboy per round.  The shooting order is from worst shooter to best shooter, so you get to shoot first, the 50% guy goes second, and the 100% guy goes third, then repeat.  If a cowboy is shot he's out for good, and his turn is skipped.  Where or who should you shoot first?

Yesterday we noted there are three possibilities:

  1. Shoot at the 100% cowboy.
  2. Shoot at the 50% cowboy.
  3. Shoot anywhere else.

So we want to determine which of these possibilities has the best probability for our survival.  To do this, we take each case and determine all the outcomes, along with the probability of each outcome.  The overall probability for the case is the sum of all the possible outcomes.  Here we go:

n      Shoot at 100% cowboy

o       33%: hit him

§         50% cowboy shoots at you (you’re the only one left)

·         50%: he hits you (he wins – 33*50)

·         50%: he misses, your turn

o       You shoot at 50% cowboy

§         33%: hit him (you win – 33*50*33)

§         66%: you miss, his turn

·         50%: he hits you (he wins – 33*50*66*50)

·         50%: he misses, your turn

o       33%: hit him (you win – 33*50*66*50*33)

o       66% you miss, his turn

§         50%: he hits you (he wins – 33*50*66*50*66*50)

§         50%: he misses, your turn (33*50*66*50*66*50)

§         Probability of winning approx .06%, ignore further…

o       66%: you miss

§         50% cowboy shoots at 100% cowboy (best chance for him)

·         50%: he hits him (100% cowboy dead)

o       You shoot at 50% cowboy

§         33%: hit him (you win – 66*50*33)

§         66% you miss, his turn

·         50%: he hits you (he wins – 66*50*66*50)

·         50%: he misses, your turn

o       33%: hit him (you win – 66*50*66*50*33)

o       66% you miss, his turn

§         50%: he hits you (he wins – 66*50*66*50*66*50)

§         50%: he misses, your turn (66*50*66*50*66*50)

§         Probability of winning approx 1.2%, ignore further…

·         50%: he misses, 100% cowboy's turn

o       100% cowboy shoots at 50% cowboy (best chance for him)

§         100%: kills him, your turn

§         You shoot at 100% cowboy

·         33%: hit him (you win – 66*50*33)

·         66%: you miss, his turn

o       100%: he hits you (he wins – 66*50*66)

The total probability of survival is the sum of each outcome where you win, highlighted above:
(33*50*33 +  33*50*66*50*33 + .06 + 66*50*33 + 66*50*66*50*33 + 1.2 + 66*50*33 = 34.4

If we shoot at the 100% cowboy, our probability of winning is 34%.

n      Shoot at 50% cowboy

o       33%: hit him

§         100% cowboy shoots at you (you’re the only one left)

·         100%: he hits you (he wins – 33)

o       66%: you miss

§         50% cowboy shoots at 100% cowboy (best chance for him)

·         50%: he hits him (100% cowboy dead)

o       You shoot at 50% cowboy

§         33%: hit him (you win – 66*50*33)

§         66% you miss, his turn

·         50%: he hits you (he wins – 66*50*66*50)

·         50%: he misses, your turn

o       33%: hit him (you win – 66*50*66*50*33)

o       66% you miss, his turn

§         50%: he hits you (he wins – 66*50*66*50*66*50)

§         50%: he misses, your turn (66*50*66*50*66*50)

§         Probability of winning approx 1.2%, ignore further…

·         50%: he misses, 100% shooter’s turn

o       100% cowboy shoots at 50% cowboy (best chance for him)

§         100%: kills him, your turn

§         You shoot at 100% cowboy

·         33%: hit him (you win – 66*50*33)

·         66%: you miss, his turn

o       100%: he hits you (he wins – 66*50*66)

The total probability of survival is the sum of each outcome where you win, highlighted above:
(66*50*33 + 66*50*66*50*33 + 1.2 + 66*50*33 = 26.6

If we shoot at the 50% cowboy, our probability of winning is 27%.

n      Shoot at the sky

o       50% shooter’s turn, he shoots at 100% shooter (best chance for him)

§         50%: he hits him (100% shooter dead)

·         You shoot at 50% shooter

o       33%: hit him (you win – 50*33)

o       66% you miss, his turn

§         50%: he hits you (he wins – 50*66*50)

§         50%: he misses, your turn

·         33%: hit him (you win – 50*66*50*33)

·         66% you miss, his turn

o       50%: he hits you (he wins – 50*66*50*66*50)

o       50%: he misses, your turn (50*66*50*66*50)

o       Probability of winning approx 1.8%, ignore further…

§         50%: he misses, 100% shooter’s turn

·         100% shooter shoots at 50% shooter (best chance for him)

o       100%: kills him, your turn

o       You shoot at 100% shooter

§         33%: hit him (you win – 50*33)

§         66%: you miss, his turn

·         100%: he hits you (he wins – 50*66)

The total probability of survival is the sum of each outcome where you win, highlighted above:
50*33 + 50*66*50*33 + 1.8 + 50*33 = 40.2

If we shoot at the sky, our probability of winning is 40%.


There you have it.  The best option is door #3, shoot at the sky.  We actually have a 40% chance of winning if we do so, despite the fact that both of the other cowboys are better shots than we are.

This is a pretty interesting result.  By not shooting at either of the "better" cowboys, we let them shoot at each other first, doing our dirty work for us.  Then later we engage and shoot at whoever's left.  This same effect is responsible for the complexity of reality TV shows.  Many times a "weaker" competitor can survive by being unaggressive in the early going, enabling the "stronger" competitors to take each other out.  Then later the weaker competitor can become more aggresive and [possibly] win.  Pretty cool!


Friday,  01/11/08  06:53 PM

So, tomorrow I am riding my first 200K!  I have ridden a number of centuries, but this will be the farthest / longest I've gone in one day.  Wish me luck :)  At least the weather is getting warmer...  and the route is mild, just a long out and back up the coast, with just 1,800' of climbing.

While I was navel gazing, looking in my referer log, I noticed a link to the big day, a post from November 2004 which chronicled the last Presidential election.  And I saw a link to the Electoral Vote website.  And I discovered it is back alive!  With lots of good data about the primaries...  and no doubt will track polls leading up the election, too.  A great resource.  That election was so amazing, I remember being shocked and relieved when I realized we wouldn't have to put up with President Kerry.  Whew.  I wonder what next November will bring?

Brings to mind an old post from Gerard Vanderleun that I'd saved: I will always vote the best.  Me, too.  Otherwise, we may lose the chance to vote at all.  I worry about Britain, for example.

Everyone is linking this: The ad Ms. doesn't want you to see.  Make sure you see the ad, first, then read what Ms. wrote when they rejected it: "publishing the ad 'will set off a firestorm' and that 'there are very strong opinions' on the subject".  Antisemitism is alive and well, apparently.

Snow falls on Baghdad, for the first time in memory.  Instapundit reader Kevin Greene comments, "I had no idea Al Gore was in Iraq" :)

Floyd Landis in 2006Neal Rogers fosters a conversation between Floyd Landis and Steve Johnson.  The conversation itself is less interesting than the fact that it took place. 

I know lack of motive doesn’t prove anything, but it seems weird that a GC rider like Floyd would dope with testosterone towards the end of a grand tour, given that 1) it wouldn't help, and 2) he would be caught.  Also, he was tested nine times during the 2006 Tour, including after stage 20 (the TT), and only the test after stage 17 was positive.  That seems weird, too.

there's something in the airWith Macworld next week, the Apple rumors are rampant.  ValleyWag thinks a new Macbook will include WiMax.  Well, that would be cool...  the big posters inside the Moscone Center say "there's something in the air"...  My only problem with this analysis is that I don't know that WiMax needs saving, seems like it is only a matter of time.

Dave Winer: the debate about the worth of podcasting.  "My phone doesn't have a business model. Neither does my porch. I still like having a phone and a porch because they help me meet new people and communicate with people I know. Same with my blog and podcast."  My blog doesn't have a business model either.  So be it.

This is so classic; the Visual Basic team blog touts VB2008 outperforms VB2005!  And what do they mean by this?  They mean the VB IDE is faster, it loads projects faster, it compiles faster, etc.  Not one word about whether the generated program is faster!  Which is really the most important thing...  As I said, classic.  I'm afraid the MS developers are clueless.


cowboys dilemma analyzed again

Friday,  01/11/08  11:02 PM

shoot self in footYesterday I analyzed the cowboy's dilemma.  Via email, Shawn Hillis suggested a simpler explanation of the counter-intuitive solution:

If you shoot at and hit the 50% guy, then you are dead on the very next shoot when 100% shoots at you.  So you either want to shoot at 100% or miss purposely.  Let's call the odds of you dying if you miss 'm'.  If you shoot at 100%, you'll either hit or miss.  The odds of you dying with a miss is the same as if you missed on purpose, m.  Let's call the odds of you dying if you hit, h.  So the odds of you dying if you aim at 100% are m + h, which both h & m > 0.  Thus, since h + m > m, you want to miss to minimize the odds of you dying.

He also suggested a nice refinement, allow each duelist to optionally shoot themselves in the foot.  If they're successful then they're injured, and they withdraw from the duel.  I haven't worked this out, but I suspect if you're a bad shot, shooting yourself in the foot might be a good option.


Yay 200K!

Saturday,  01/12/08  06:39 PM

I did it!  Completed the PCH Rando 200K, took me 7h 20m, for an average speed of 17.5mph.  Yay,me!  Good weather, great support - thank you Bobbi Fischer and your whole team - and great company - thank you Mark and Peter.  (Peter did his part by acting as a lightning rod, he had four flats!)  Awesome.  Oh and I lost 3lbs, despite eating eight peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, two bananas, and two Clif bars, and drinking 120 ounces of water and 20 ounces of Gatorade.

Ole at the 35 mile mark.
Me at the 35 mile mark.  Smile, dude!

Done!  200K = 127 miles.  Whew.


a solid spatial puzzle

Sunday,  01/13/08  07:41 AM

I am a big fan of 3D spatial puzzles; you know, those things with the bars, and ropes and balls and holes, where you have to twist the parts around and loop them and pull them and so on to free one or more pieces.  What can I say, they're fun.

So, my daughter Megan brought one home recently that was the best one I've ever encountered.  First, it was really hard, and second, it is deceptively simple, and third, it is composed entirely of three solid parts.  Here it is in its original state, with the three parts intertwined:

The puzzle, original state.  (click for closeup)

At first it doesn't seem there is any way to do anything, the pieces have plenty of "wiggle" room, but you can't seem to change their spatial orientation relative to each other.  I literally spent three days off and on playing with the puzzle before I could even make the first move.  After that I realized it wasn't a joke (!), and I realized it was a great puzzle.  Everything you try almost works, but then some little geometric feature of a piece prevents it from working.  Finally after about a week I was able to free one piece!  Yay.  But I couldn't free the other piece, and I even starting thinking perhaps that's all there was to the puzzle; that the goal was to free one piece, and leave the two others linked.  And then yesterday as I was looking at it again, I thought to myself: "the people who made this puzzle did a great job.  They would not have designed it such that two pieces were left linked."  So finally, after about an hour of futzing (!), I was able to separate the last two pieces.  Yay.  And whew.  Here it is with the piece separated:

the solution!
The puzzle, solved.  (click for closeup)

Awesome.  What's really amazing to me is how was this puzzle designed?  Each piece has this weird shape, perfectly designed to fit and be manipulated in only one way, and to create problems for every other way.  Someone must have spent a lot of time laboriously crafting this puzzle.  And to what end?  So it could be sold for $25 in a novelty store?  Or so I could enjoy solving it, and blog about it?

Bonus question: if you wanted to Google for this, how would you do it?


view digital slides on your iPhone!

Sunday,  01/13/08  05:37 PM

The other day I mentioned my new iToy, a spiffy iPod Touch.  An obvious thing for me to do with such a cool device with such a nice screen would be to view digital slides.  (After all, that's what I do.)  And it didn't work.  Boo.

When you view digital slides on a website using Aperio software, a little program called WebViewer is displayed right inside your browser.  You may have seen this (if you visit digital pathology sites, anyway), it looks like this:

the Aperio WebViewer

This WebViewer program is written in a language called Flash.  And the iPod / iPhone do not support Flash.  Boo.  Maybe someday the iPhone will support Flash, and everything will just work.  (That day could be as soon as next week; Apple has a lot of announcements planned at Macworld.)  However, that day could be never, and who wants to wait that long?

So we made it possible to display digital slides without Flash, using a different language called JavaScript.  The iPod / iPhone do support JavaScript.  Yay.  The JavaScript viewer works almost like the Flash viewer, but there are some differences.  Mostly these differences are to make using the viewer easier on an iPhone.

When you're viewing on an iPhone, you can zoom in.  I’m sure you've tried this (or have seen it), you pinch your fingers apart, and poof, the screen zooms.  Very cool.  Once you've zoomed in, you can pan around.  You just brush your finger in the direction you want the screen to go, and poof, it pans.  Very cool.  The result of this zooming and panning is that at any moment you might be looking at only a portion of the viewer window.  Something like this:

how the iPhone displays a WebViewer page

You can see, the controls for zooming and panning are at the bottom of the window, and are not visible on the screen.  Not good.

So with the iPhone viewer, the controls are only displayed when you want to use them.  You click on the screen with your finger, and the controls are displayed right there in on the screen, where you clicked.  Like this:

iPhone digital slide viewer

The red circle shows where you clicked, and the controls are displayed so you can see them.  Now you can click on one of the controls to zoom in (plus), zoom out (minus), pan (arrows), or “show the whole slide” (the circle with an arrow).  If you click outside the controls, they are hidden again.

When you click on a control, it turns red to confirm that you clicked it.  For example here’s what it looks like after you zoom in:

iPhone digital slide viewer while zooming

The plus stays red while the image is being updated; then the controls are hidden again.

That’s really it; hopefully people will find this pretty easy to use.  It has been installed on the Aperio slide gallery, which you can get to from our website under the Applications menu.  You can also go directly to

Oh, and you can view slides in landscape format just by turning your iPhone sideways.  Like this:

iPhone digital slide viewer, landscape mode

Yay.  Now I can play with my iToy!

Okay, a little more detail for those of you who, er, want a little more detail.

Since we don’t have Flash, we can't run anything client-side except JavaScript.  In theory it would be possible to build a viewer with AJAX, essentially duplicating the functionality of WebViewer.  (e.g. Google Maps is entirely JavaScript.)  However the user-interface would have to be pretty different.  In addition to the zoom/pan phenomenon mentioned above (wherein the iPhone displays only part of the window), you also have the problem of limited user input.  With no dragging, no modifier keys, and no double-clicks, you are down to handling a single click somewhere in the window.  (All those things are captured by the iPhone for its user interface, and are not passed to the browser.)  You would need some kind of “modal” controls.  This could be worked around and someday we might build a full-on AJAX viewer.

But I’m impatient.  In the meantime, how about a poor man’s viewer?

Aperio's ImageServer can return any view of any digital slide, at any zoom level.  So it can already do the work!  Panning and zooming by repainting the whole window is slow, but it isn’t impossibly slow (especially with a small window).  So that’s the core functionality of this viewer.  The server-side page generation logic checks the browser user-agent to see if it is dealing with an iPod / iPhone, and if so it generates a different page, which doesn’t embed the WebViewer Flash object.  Instead it just loads the slide client area with a single image rendered by ImageServer.

Now how about the controls?  They are “painted on” over the slide image using CSS.  The JavaScript captures the clicks from the user’s finger, and reloads the image asynchronously, without reloading the page.

It may not be the most complicated development, but it was easy and looks nice.  By W=UH, it is "not wrong".


(New Yorker, 01/14/08)

Monday,  01/14/08  10:29 AM

pleading cute


Darn.  That is my usual way out :)


Monday,  01/14/08  08:40 PM

I am [temporarily] back on my old hard drive.  What's that, you didn't know I had a new hard drive?  Well, I do, er, did.  Therein lies a story worthy of a blog post, but this isn't it.  Anyway I am back on my old drive so if my prose seems dated, well, you'll know why :)

With Apple poised to announce movie rentals tomorrow, everyone is talking about DRM, or lack thereof.  Wired notes DRM is dead, but watermarks rise from its ashes.  "Watermarking offers copyright protection by letting a company track music that finds its way to illegal peer-to-peer networks.  At its most precise, a watermark could encode a unique serial number that a music company could match to the original purchaser."  This makes so much sense to me, because unlike stronger DRM there is no burden on the ordinary user.  Do what you want, just don't steal.

nuclear cooling towersIf you're a regular around here, you know I'm a big fan of nuclear power.  Perhaps we have started seeing the light?  "Most of France's electricity has been generated by nuclear power for years, and now Great Britain is again looking to atomic energy. Why can't we increase nuclear output in this country?"  Uh, good question, and: "The answer is, of course, irrational opposition by environmentalists. They screech about greenhouse gas emissions from gas- and coal-fired electric plants but, with a few exceptions, they fanatically resist the most reasonable alternative: nuclear power."  [ via Instapundit ]

BTW, FuturePundit had posted a nice checkpoint: Future of Nuclear Power Surveyed.  "Thanks partly to large government incentives and to market forces that have pushed the price of other electric plant fuels (especially natural gas) to historic heights, the prospect of starting a new nuclear reactor in this country for the first time in 30 years has become increasingly likely."  Let's hope so.  I notice this is not an issue discussed by our Presidential candidates, despite the fact that energy (entropy) is likely to become a major problem during their term.

One more from Randall Parker: Saudis see peak oil within two decades.  Interestingly in this post from April 2006 he writes "so then $80 per barrel oil is not out of the question".  I guess not; it has recently passed $100 and isn't coming down anytime soon.  "Maybe $200 per barrel oil is possible.  But for how long?  Such a price would cause a deep worldwide recession."  Personally I think it is going to happen, but the recession will be averted by alternative sources of energy, since it won't happen all at once.  Sources like, um, nuclear power.

A binary black hole 18 billion times the mass of the sun.  "OJ287 is thought to be a binary black hole in the centre of a distant galaxy.  Both black holes are very heavy -- one equivalent to some 18 billion times the mass of the Sun, while the other weighs in at a mere 100 million times the mass of the Sun."  Whoa.  That's the kind of thing you can understand intellectually but I honestly have no feel for it.  Too big, too weird.  [ via Slashdot ]

fun with Tesla coilsThis picture is worth a thousand words, maybe two thousand.  Apparently this is an Australian Tesla coil enthusiast; every once in a while you get a reminder that Australians are, well, a little different.  I am not making this up.  [ via BoingBoing ]

Mark Pilgrim on the persistence of memory.  I have the same phenomenon...

Harbin ice festival 2007Finally, I link this every year: the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, courtesy of R. Todd King.  The things that can be done with ice, and lighting...  It gets more awesome and beautiful every year, check out these pictures!
Harbin ice festival


hard drives: faster isn't necessarily faster

Tuesday,  01/15/08  09:13 PM

Okay, so here’s some esoterica for you… on the subject of laptop hard drives.   Please feel free to skip…

Windows being what it is – a horribly inefficient OS which has poor paging algorithms – disk performance tends to be just as important as CPU performance in the overall “feel” of a system.   Historically this is a key reason why laptops have felt slower than desktops; the CPUs are nearly as fast (even with their power management algorithms), but the 2.5” disks found in laptops have been way slower than their 3.5” desktop brethren.

Since carrying around a desktop is a bit awkward, finding a fast hard drive for your laptop is a good thing to do.

So there are four characteristics of a drive which determine its performance.   First you have seek time, the speed with which the disk heads move across the disk to the desired track.   Second you have rotational speed, which affects the latency of waiting for the desired sector to spin under the heads.   Third you have transfer speed, the speed at which bits are moved from the drive to main memory.   And fourth you have the cache size; a larger cache allows the disk to do more reads faster, because read B can be started while read A is being transferred (and for a big cache, read C and D and … can be started too).   These four factors are important in roughly the order I listed them above.

A couple of years ago I began with the “stock” drive that came in my HP nc8230 laptop.   (for longtime readers, yes, that laptop :)  It was a 60GB hard drive, spinning at 5400 RPM, with a 2MB cache.   About a year ago I upgraded to a 100GB hard drive, spinning at 7200 RPM, with a 4MB cache.   Big difference!   In addition to having 40GB more for storing digital slides (!), the drive was noticeably faster, and the whole laptop felt faster.   A good thing.

Recently I began poking around for a new drive, since I had managed to fill my entire 100GB with files.   Plus I thought maybe drives had become faster in the interim.   So what I found is that the largest drive available spinning at 7200 RPM is still about 100GB.   In order to get a bigger drive, I’d have to get a “slower” drive spinning at only 5400 RPM.   How much slower would this drive be?   Not clear.   So in the name of science I ordered a 250GB drive, spinning at 5400 RPM, with an 8MB cache.

Guess what?   It is faster.   Noticeably faster, the whole laptop feels faster.   Which is a good thing.   But, um, it is only 5400 RPM, not 7200 RPM.   What is going on?   Well it turns out there are four factors in hard drive performance :)   And the seek time of this drive is considerably faster than the seek time of the “faster” 7200 RPM drive.   (As a general rule, the larger the capacity of a drive, the faster it seeks, because to access any given amount of data requires less head movement.)   Furthermore the transfer speed is faster (slightly), and the cache is twice as large, allowing more activity to take place in parallel.   The net of all this is that the 250GB 5400 RPM drive is actually quite a bit faster overall than the 100GB 7200 RPM drive, despite having a slower rotational speed.

So – faster (rotation) isn’t necessarily faster (overall).  And yes I am enjoying having an additional 150GB too :)

P.S. You might wonder why the newer bigger drives aren't also 7200 RPM.   I think it is because 1) they draw more power, and 2) they are noisier (whinier).   Both are important factors to laptop users.   So as long as the hard drive vendors can give you faster performance at a lower rotational speed, they’ll do it.


Tuesday,  01/15/08  10:12 PM

Still on my old laptop hard drive, in the process of rebuilding my new one.  (The rebuild doesn't have anything to do with it being faster, or larger, it has to do with an NTFS corruption issue.  But I digress.)  Anyway onward, let's see what's happening...

So Mitt Romney has won Michigan.  Powerline analyzes the state of Republican play.  My main attraction to Romney is that he's a governor.  Really, that is much better preparation for being President than having been a senator.  Plus, he's a successful businessman, and seems to have a really stable family.  If only he weren't a Morman, not that I care much about religious beliefs, but it seems a leading indicator of lack of intelligence...

Apple!  Whoa.  Did you see the Jobsnote?  I treasure them as performances, not only communications from an innovative computer company.  I'd give yesterday's performance a solid 8, unrelated to the announcements themselves, which I'd give a 10. 

Mahalo has a fantastic 60 second summary of the 90 minute presentation, if you're in a hurry.

So the new Macbook Air will garner the most attention - it is beautiful - but I actually think the iTunes Movie Rental stuff is the most significant.  About a year ago I bought an original AppleTV, I like it, but it hasn't set my world on fire.  The friction of buying movies online from my computer (in my office), waiting for them to download, and then waiting for them to sync to the AppleTV before watching them (in my family room) was just enough to keep it from being used a lot.  Now that is all history; you rent online from the family room, and poof, you start watching it immediately.  And a lot of the content is HD!  I agree with Popular Mechanics that this makes the whole Blu-ray vs HD-DVD issue moot. 

John Gruber analyzes iTunes rental details and makes an excellent point: how about a 27-hour day?

But back to the Macbook Air, yes, it is beautiful.  And I notice it has an option for a solid state disk, 64GB of SRAM masquerading as a hard drive.  As Jobs said, "they're pricey, but they're really fast".  This could be a peek into the future.

Macbook Air

After I watched the Jobsnote I turned to Reggie (my cat) and said, "what a great time to be alive".

More techno-lust on my part: the Dash internet-connected GPS.  I want one.  In fact, I've wanted one ever since I had my first GPS in my car, eight years ago.  Someday they'll be built into every car.

Did you know expensive wine tastes better, because it's expensive?  Yes, apparently.  "Researchers from the California Institute of Technology and Stanford's business school have directly seen that the sensation of pleasantness that people experience when tasting wine is linked directly to its price."  This explains so much.  My taste in women, for example :)

I wonder if Maseratis drive better because they're expensive?

Glenn Reynolds watched Terminator, the Sarah Connor Chronicles, and I did too.  "Not bad, and Summer Glau makes a surprisingly credible Terminator robot. Well, maybe it's not surprising considering her scarily-credible role as a biologically enhanced killer on Firefly/Serenity."  I found myself rooting for it, I think it wasn't as good as I hoped, but wasn't as bad as I feared.  I'll give it a chance - this could be the first TV series I watch in, well, years and years and years...

Robert Scoble is on the move again; Microsoft's most famous blogger spent the last year at Podtech, and is now moving to  I like Robert and definitely wish him well.  I must tell you I'm from Missouri on this whole "video podcast" thing, however; I still like text because it can be skimmed.  But I'm an oleosaur.


as the memory turns

Wednesday,  01/16/08  06:21 PM

<rant optional=yes>

You all know my status as a dinosaur; I can remember when all we had were zeros, and how great it was when we first got ones.  (There are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who understand binary, and those who don’t.)

So in the bad old days of 16-bit computing, the biggest programming problem was the size of your address space.   With only 64K to work with, and typically more physical memory than logical address space, you had to page stuff in and out in order to deal with it.  In those days every malloc was surrounded by an if(), because memory allocations could and did fail.

In the good new days of 32-bit computing, the biggest programming problem is the size of physical memory, and avoiding paging.  With 2GB to work with, and typically more logical address space than physical memory, you can allocate virtual storage with impunity.   In these days every new goes unchecked, because memory allocations don’t usually fail.

Well, we're entering some newer new days now, with machines that have more physical memory than logical address space again.   It is quite common to have 4GB on a machine, and yet the address space is “only” 2GB.   (Windows lamely uses the high-order bit, so you don’t have all 2^32.)   Which means once again you have to page stuff in and out in order to deal with it, and once again you have to check whether a virtual storage allocation has failed.

I suppose soon we'll all be running 64-bit operating systems and applications, and so this is a temporary situation; once we have a 2^64 address space we'll once again be worried about physical memory size and paging, and not about allocating virtual storage.

But for now, this is a problem.

You may know, a little while ago I made the world’s largest TIFF file, containing nearly 3TB of information.   I discovered 5 hours into an 8 hour compression run, I had run out of virtual storage.   I was running on a machine with 4GB of RAM, but my address space was “only” 2GB.   And so yes after a while – a long while – I allocated so much stuff that I hit the address space limit of my local heap, and news began to fail.  And of course my code didn't expect news to fail, so it died a horrible death.  I had to rearchitect the cache I was using to check for virtual storage availability in addition to physical storage availability.  A lot of work for an artificial limit.

So, what do we do?

We can surround every new with a an if(), and attempt to gracefully handle memory allocation failures.   That is too hard and too ugly to be right.  Anyway what do you do if one fails?   Most of the memory allocations are little pissant buffers and arrays; it is only the accumulation of literally millions of them that results in an overall failure.  We can catch the exceptions thrown by the C++ runtime when a new fails - that is better than checking every new - but it still leaves the problem of what do you do if you catch a failure.  We can move buffers into shared memory segments - kind of complex - or we can wait for 64-bit computing to be ubiquitous.

I do think that 64-bit will be the final frontier; it is unimaginable that 2^64 wouldn't be a big enough address space for everything.  Remind me I said that :)



Wednesday,  01/16/08  08:33 PM

I'm back!  (on my new laptop drive)  Considering the potential for disaster, it was relatively painless.  A mere matter of reinstalling Windows and reloading the entire 150GB of data which constitutes my online / business life.  {Let me just put in a plug for Acronis TrueImage which is a great backup/restore tool.}  Have I ever told you how much I hate file permissions?  Yeah, well I do.

Okay, with that out of the way, let's see what's happening...

Macworld!The blogosphere is having a field day digesting yesterday's Apple announcements, of course.  Engadget has a ton of product details and hands-on reviews.  You might find this interview with Walt Mossberg interesting - he makes some sensible points (e.g. the significance of multitouch gestures on a trackpad).  Journalists like Walt have now become celebrities to the point where they are the subject of interviews!  BusinessWeek has an interesting series on Apple's New Friends and Foes.  Of course as a media distribution company (yes Virginia, that's what they are) they have relationships with a lot of content providers like music labels and movies studies, and with a lot of distribution points like cellular carriers.

My own morning after reaction: I still think iTunes Movies Rentals and the AppleTV are brilliant; they are going to do for movies what the iTunes store and iPods did for music.  The Macbook Air puzzles me, however; why doesn't it "stay on the air" all the time, with Internet access via Edge or EVDO?  The iPhone does...  This must be coming, right?  John Gruber and Paul Boutin wonder the same...  Reinforcing this for me, I actually watched part of the Jobsnote in my car while driving from San Diego to Los Angeles (don't ask) using my laptop's EVDO card....

And I'm wondering as I'm sure is Steve Jobs: how long before someone hacks Apple's DRM to allow "rented" movies to be owned?

Uncov skewers rewriting in Ajax: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.  "The proliferation of stupid is the cancer that is killing the internet.  In the quest to re-implement every conceivable desktop application in Ajax, you mental midgets are setting computing back 10 years.  The worst part about it is, you think that you're innovating."  Indeed.

Kind of reminds me of Russell Beattie's WTF 2.0?  "I really do think there should be a litmus test for new web apps launched from now on - something very basic and if they don't pass, they don't qualify for any buzz or linkage.  It's a simple test: Will they take my credit card?"

Random note: Have you ever noticed that Chick Hearn appears on Pink Floyd's The Wall?  Yep, right near the end of Don't Leave Me Now, seems like maybe a Lakers / Bulls Game...

I saw this in The Scientist; seems more and more scientists are "going digital":
Scientist: Fish out of Water


that was not a fish

Thursday,  01/17/08  10:12 AM

I was just reading my post from last night; viewing the analog and digital fish it occurred to me that the "analog" fish is really digital too; you are viewing it on your monitor!  Rene Magritte would love it.  "Ceci n'est pas une poisson".


Thursday,  01/17/08  08:36 PM

Just so you feel a little better, my note about how my laptop is now working was slightly wrong.  Everything works except picking up email with POP, which yields the easily understood 0x8007007E error.  Sigh.  Reckless precelebration is the root of all failure.

Onward!  The Ole filter makes a pass...

visual hub: Advanced dialogWith the recent AppleTV announcements, I have a renewed interest in using it, and have *finally* made time to try to convert the movies I have in AVI format for iTunes import (and subsequent AppleTV sync).  The movies are mostly encoded with Divx (various versions) and some with Xvid (various versions), with a variety of pixel dimensions, frame rates, audio codecs and qualities, etc.  Truly the acid test for a conversion utility.  So I couldn't find anything that worked on Windows (Google yields a million hits, but after trying a few apps which didn't work well, I gave up).  My friend Gary recommended Visual Hub for the Mac.  So far works like a charm; it has converted five movies with five different formats, and automagically imported them into iTunes, which synced them to the AppleTV.  Quality seems as good as the originals (which were not all great to begin with).  Excellent!

P.S. In addition to "just working", Visual Hub also features a nice sense of humor.  Check out the Advanced... dialog box at the right :)

AirMail - sleeve for Macbook AirHere we have AirMail; a Macbook Air "sleeve" that looks like a Manilla folder.  Unbelievable.  These people did not have advance warning of the Macworld Jobsnote, but immediately afterward they had the idea, registered the domain, and created the website.  Product ships in two weeks.  It's the American way.

The other day in my rant as the memory turns, I wrote: there are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who understand binary, and those who don't.  A friend wrote back: there are actually 32 kinds of people in the world, those who understand ASCII, and those who don't.  Good point, but on further review there are 242 kinds of people in the world, those who understand EBCDIC, and those who don't.  It is frightening that I remember EBCDIC digits, but then, I remember using PIC 9(4) PACKED all too well.

adaptive cruise controlHow many of you have used Adaptive Cruise Control?  I've test driven a few cars that had it; definitely the wave of the future.  The emphasis so far has been on safety, but as FuturePundit notes Automated Tailgating Would Save Fuel.  Even cooler, it would reduce traffic congestion; I've been hawking this idea for years.  The great thing about adaptive cruise control is that it works all by itself, but it works better as more cars have it; a classic network effect.

I liked this one: CNN notes Boomerang returns after 25 years.  "Officials in an Australian Outback town were surprised when a boomerang arrived in the post.  Along with it was a note from a guilt-ridden American who said he stole it 25 years earlier from a museum in the mining town of Mount Isa, and now felt rotten about it."

LOLinatorOkay, before you click this link, you must sit down and set aside all hot liquids and sharp objects.  Here we have LOLinator.  It makes any website look like it was written by cats.  Here's this blog LOLinated.  Just when you thought you'd seen everything, you realize "everything" is so much bigger than you thought :)



desperately seeking sympathy

Friday,  01/18/08  10:58 AM

sad hard drive :(The problem with my new 250GB drive was worse than I thought.  After futzing a little bit to try to get POP to work in Outlook, I rebooted.  Er, I tried to reboot.  I received the dreaded "error reading boot device".  I know what this really means, it means the boot record is messed up, and it also means I am reloading the entire drive again.  Sigh.  So the data on the drive is good - I was able to back up Documents and Settings (where all my volatile files live) using a TrueImage recovery CD, reinstall my old 100GB drive, restore the volatile files, and poof! I'm back on the air.  But I still have a whole recovery session ahead of me...  well, that's what football is for, right?


Friday,  01/18/08  08:13 PM

Man, what a boring day!  It isn't all happening, in fact, nothing seems to be happening.  And yes, I am still on my old drive.  A recovery of the new drive is pending, but boring, so I won't say more about that...

Powerline: What does success in Iraq look like?  They show you...

Rand Simberg pens an Ode to Laziness.  His real subject is Fred Thompson ("As an engineer, I'm extremely impressed with his efficiency"), but he memorably quotes Robert Heinlein: "Progress is made by lazy men looking for easier ways to do things."  I like that a lot.

Robert X Cringley gives us The Big Picture following Apple's announcements at Macworld.  "So Macworld was just another step in a very measured plan to establish global media dominance for Apple and probably for Google, too."  He makes two interesting observations, first, that special small core-Duo processor that Intel made for the Airbook wasn't just made for the Airbook, and second, there will be collateral damage to ISP's bandwidth from downloadable HD movies.

Everex Linux PCLast summer the "Wal-Mart PC" was announced; a cheap little PC from Everex, running Linux instead of Windows.  Well, it sold out.  And has since spawned a bunch of $200 competitors...  Is this the future of the desktop?  Not clear, but once side effect from the rewriting of desktop apps in Ajax is that Windows is no longer as important as it used to be.

BTW I've read that the most contentious Wikipedia page is this one: Comparison of Windows and Linux.  There's a three-cornered battle between fans on each side and those who want a dispassionate analysis.  To me it comes down to the network effect of Windows' dominance, and the software that only runs on Windows; the technical merit is irrelevant.  You can debate all you want about 110v and 220v power, but if your house has 110v plugs, what kind of lamp are you going to use (pun intended)?


Saturday,  01/19/08  11:49 PM

I played a round of golf today at the Montecito Country Club (110, don't ask).  It was gorgeous outside; sunny, crisp, with beautiful views of the ocean and the channel islands.  I've been reading about how cold it is going to be at the two NFL championship games tomorrow, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Foxboro, Massachusetts.  I'm sure those are really nice places with wonderful people, but brrrr...  I'll take Southern California, thank you very much.

My picks for tomorrow's games, Green Bay and San Diego.  Yeah, I know all about the Patriots.  We'll see.

So, McCain won in South Carolina.  I think that makes him the clear front-runner among Republicans; this proves he can win a purely Republican primary (no independents or Democrats voted).  Thompson finished a distant third, behind Huckabee.  We won't know whether Guiliani is really a factor until "super Tuesday".  Stay tuned!

Huckabee's support is often characterized as the "religious" vote.  But what's weird is that in the U.S., everyone is a religious voter; check out this chart in the NYTimes.  The number one trait that would cause people not to vote for a candidate is "doesn't believe in God".

Taylor PhinneyThe next U.S. cycling star is going to be Tayler Phinney, Connie Carpenter and Davis Phinney's son.  He just won the 4000 meter World Cup - at seventeen.  Look for him on the Slipstream team later this year.  And in a few years, maybe, in Paris :)

Quite possibly the dumbest idea you'll hear this year, even though it is mid January: Columbia Journalism Review suggests unionizing bloggers.  Yeah, that'll work.  [ via Slashdot, where the commenters have not been kind. ]


the referer mess

Sunday,  01/20/08  10:33 AM

I started blogging a little over five years ago (!), and at that time referer logs were a really cool thing.  (BTW, yes, "referer" is misspelled; it always is, going back to the early days of the 'net when a bad speller defined the HTTP header syntax.)  It was fun to see who was linking to you, and to find interesting new sites in that way.

Quick digression if you don't know what this is about:  Whenever you click a link on a web page, the website which serves the new page gets passed the old "referring" page's address.  By looking at server activity logs, a website owner can find all the websites which link to his.  In my case, I can find other blogs and sites which have linked to my blog, which is fun.

So now, in 2008, referer logs are basically a cesspool of misinformation.  If you are ever able to find anything useful of interesting in there, good luck.  First you have all the spiders; programs which access pages on your site for indexing purposes, their referers are often faked or meaningless.  Next you have access via RSS feeds, feed readers typically don't even pass a referer.  And then you have referer spam, which you might remember from my referer spam wars, where various websites send you fake referrals in the home that you'll click through to them.  (This is a weird and despicable practice, first, the volume from such traffic has to be uselessly low, because only webmasters see the spam, and second, no webmaster is going to care about a slimy site which is advertised in this way.  But I digress.)  And finally you have just plain old garbage; various bots which don't access anything useful and which pass junk as a referer.

This is a classic tragedy of the commons, we see this all over the 'net.  In the bad old days it worked great, but people have subverted the mechanism for other purposes to the point where it barely works at all.  The legitimate stuff is till in there but the signal to noise is decreasing to the point of uselessness.  Kind of like email :(


Tivo > Moxi

Sunday,  01/20/08  10:45 AM

Tivo GUIMoxi GUILongtime readers know I am a huge fan of Tivo, and have been since time zero about eight years ago when I bought my first Series/1.  (BTW I still have it - suitably enhanced with a larger hard drive and ethernet adapter, and augmented with a webserver so I can program it from anywhere - and it still works great!) 

However for the last two years I've had a Moxi as my "primary" DVR driving my plasma HD in my family room.  If you click through that link, you'll see when I got it I opined: "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."  On further review, actually, it does suck.

For two years I've been putting up with the Moxi GUI, it has been just good enough not to replace it, but bad enough that think about replacing it often.  On New Year's day I had an unpleasant experience programming it for that day's football, and resolved to get a Tivo HD.  Today I had the same unpleasant experience programming it for today's football.  So I re-resolve to get a Tivo HD.

Should be good for a blog post or two - so stay tuned!

(I know, another mishigosh.  What can I say :)


Sunday,  01/20/08  11:02 PM

Well, it was cold here today - brrr... - but not as cold in Green Bay or Foxboro, where neither of the teams I was rooting for won.  So be it.  At least Shirley's chili was delicious :)  Meanwhile I also spent the day wrapped around the axle on a coding project, dug a big hole, filled it, and have now declared failure.  Sigh.

This gives me an excuse to link Paul Graham's excellent article: Holding a Program in One's Head.  "A good programmer working intensively on his own code can hold it in his mind the way a mathematician holds a problem he's working on."  Exactly.  He goes on to list the eight things you can do to help keep a program in your head, including my favorite: start small.  I violated this today, and paid the price.

world's tallest building in DubaiIn the course of reactivating hotlink redirection (!), I found the picture at right of the world's tallest building being erected in Dubai.  You really have to click through to enlarge; this is an amazing structure!  It dwarfs the surrounding buildings, which are also huge and brand new.  Looks like something from a science fiction movie.

hotlink alert!{ Yes, I have reactivated hotlink redirection; hotlinks to images on this site now display this little badge.  I am happy to share images, but I am not happy to host them! }

At least I'm not as mean as this guy; he figured out how to sign off MySpace users when they hotlinked to images on his site.  Of course those kids have no idea what they're doing; they don't understand hotlinking, or why they shouldn't do it, and they surely won't understand why they keep getting signed off every time they reload their page...

AppleTVAbout a year ago I bought an AppleTV; at the time I was pretty excited about being able to watch movies I had already downloaded (from "somewhere"), and less excited about being able to buy movies from the iTunes store.  In the intervening year I have used it some - mostly as a music server for parties - but that original vision of being able to watch downloaded movies wasn't realized.  However now that I've found Visual Hub, I'm happily using it as I originally intended.  The other night Shirley and I watched A Good Year (which is a good movie, by the way, featuring Russell Crowe, a beautiful vineyard in Provence, and the wonderful Marion Cotillard).  I'm happily transcoding all my movies from MPEG4 (Divx/Xvid/whatever) to Quicktime (H.264).  More downloading / watching will ensue, I am sure...

Related; the Macalope writes about that $20 upgrade.  I have an iPod Touch, so this applies to me...  "You can't argue that Apple shouldn't charge for the update.  It's too late.  You do have some recourse, however.  If you think $20 is too much, don't buy the upgrade."  Exactly!  [ via Daring Fireball ]

And some good news: Slipstream scores Giro invite.  Excellent.  Let's hope they get invited to the Tour and the Vuelta also; that would give us a U.S. Pro team to root for this summer!  Go Argyle...


spaced out

Monday,  01/21/08  01:05 AM

Okay, time to get spaced out!

I have accumulated a number of juicy links about one of my favorite subjects - space, and especially planetary exploration - and here they are, for your clicking pleasure...

  • Hubble's Largest Galaxy Portrait Offers a New High-Definition View.  Wow.  The largest and most detailed photo of a spiral galaxy that has ever been released; it is composed of 51 individual Hubble exposures, in addition to elements from images from ground-based photos. The final composite image measures 16,000 by 12,000 pixels.  And is beautiful, too...
  • NASA's Cassini Discovers Potential Liquid Water on Enceladus.  NASA's Cassini spacecraft may have found evidence of liquid water reservoirs that erupt in Yellowstone-like geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus.  The rare occurrence of liquid water so near the surface raises many new questions about the mysterious moon.
  • Cassini's View of Jupiter's South Pole.   Cassini took many photographs of Jupiter on the way to Saturn, including this unusual montage of its southern pole. This photograph was made up of 36 separate images, stitched together on computer.
  • Saturn's moon 'best bet for life'.  Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus may be the best place to look for life elsewhere in the Solar System.  That is the view of a senior scientist working on the Cassini spacecraft, which has been studying Saturn and its moons for nearly two years.
  • Titan Descent Data Movie with Bells and Whistles.  This movie, built with data collected during the European Space Agency's Huygens probe on Jan. 14, 2005, shows the operation of the Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer camera during its descent and after touchdown. The camera was funded by NASA.
  • Lakes on Titan!  The Cassini spacecraft, using its radar system, has discovered very strong evidence for hydrocarbon lakes on Titan. Dark patches, which resemble terrestrial lakes, seem to be sprinkled all over the high latitudes surrounding Titan's north pole.
  • Marooned Mars rover returns stunning panorama.  The most detailed panoramic view ever obtained on Mars has been returned by NASA's Spirit rover in time to mark its 1000th Martian day, or sol, on the Red Planet.  A total of 1449 individual images representing 500 megabytes of raw data were acquired for the view, called the McMurdo panorama.
  • Image archive: the top 100 photographs taken by the Hubble space telescope.  Can you choose a favorite?  Mine would have to be the glowing eye of NGC6751.  Absolutely stunning.  And to think how large it is!
  • Mountain range spotted on Titan.  The Cassini spacecraft has spied the tallest mountains yet seen on Titan, Saturn's major moon.  The range is about 150km long (93 miles), 30km (19 miles) wide and about 1.5km (nearly a mile) high.
  • Cassini Finds Lakes On Titan's Arctic Region.  NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found lakes on Saturn's moon Titan.  The lakes are most likely the source of hydrocarbon smog in the frigid moon's atmosphere.  Finding the source of the complex soup of hydrocarbons in Titan's atmosphere has been a major goal for the Cassini mission and is a significant accomplishment.
  • Here's a gallery of the best images taken by Cassini of Saturn and its moons.  Can you choose a favorite?  It isn't easy, but I rather like the movie of Hyperion tumbling toward Cassini.  Totally looks like something from Star Wars.  Can you imaging actually looking out the window and seeing that?  I can...
  • Can Titan be our future home?  Titan is the largest moon of Saturn and the second largest moon in the solar system after Jupiter’s Ganymede.  Titan is also the only moon in the soar system with a dense atmosphere that is even denser than that at Earth.  Studies have demonstrated that the most important and advantageous target in the solar system for colonization is Titan.  Yes!
  • Pluto status suffers another blow.  Not only has it been demoted from planet to "dwarf planet", research now shows that it cannot even lay claim to being the biggest of these.  A study has confirmed that the dwarf planet Eris - whose discovery prompted Pluto's relegation from planet to dwarf - outranks it in mass.  So be it.
  • Here's more information about Hyperion, including some awesome high-resolution pictures.  New images of Hyperion taken by the Cassini Spacecraft on September 26, 2005 will forever change our understanding of this new world. These pictures show a surface dotted with craters and modified by some process, not yet understood, to create a strange, "spongy" appearance, unlike the surface of any other Saturn moon.
  • Though colder than Earth, Titan is tropical in nature.  If space travelers ever visit Saturn’s largest moon, they will find a tropical world where temperatures plunge to minus 274 degrees Fahrenheit, methane rains from the sky and dunes of ice or tar cover the planet’s most arid regions. These conditions reflect a cold mirror image of Earth’s tropical and subtropical climates, according to scientists.

You're welcome!


black women voting

Monday,  01/21/08  12:34 PM

Barack and HillaryI saw this headline on CNN this morning: Black women voters face tough choices.  This is about the South Carolina democratic primary, and the two leading candidates are of course Hillary Clinton, a white woman, and Barack Obama, a black man.  The implication is that if you're a black woman, you're torn between voting for someone of your gender, or someone of your race.  But when you take a step back, isn't that a little weird?

All other things being equal, people might favor a candidate who is of their race or gender.  But all things are definitely not equal, every candidate is a unique person with different experience, capabilities, opinions, etc.  Wouldn't those things be more important?  And why is it a good thing for a candidate to share your race or gender?  Is there an implication that they'll make decisions more favorable to you (to your race, or your gender) than other candidates?  There might be something to that, but not much.  Barack hasn't run on a platform of improving things for blacks, and Hillary hasn't featured women's issues in her campaign.  If either did they would risk alienating everyone else, not to mention policies which help one group at the expense of others generally aren't the best ones anyway.

At the highest level it seems shallow for CNN to think that black women voters face a tough choice between Barack and Hillary on account of race or gender.  It might indeed be a tough choice - it is for me, for example, and I'm a white man! - but not because of such a simple association.


Monday,  01/21/08  07:30 PM

Blogging I be...  Yoda I be not.

I saw where Ann Althouse had a similar (although more sarcastic) take to mine on the CNN story about black women voters.  This ties in nicely with Christopher Hitchens article in Slate: Huck's free pass (Why are the media ignoring Mike Huckabee's remarks about the Confederate flag?)  "In this country, it seems that you can always get an argument going about "race" as long as it is guaranteed to be phony, but never when it is real."  That really does seem to be the case.  Any real discussion about race is off the table as being too explosive.

Kind of like what happened with James Watson, the Nobel-prizewinning biochemist who discovered the structure of DNA; he told the inconvenient truth, and faced the consequences.  Even if you disagreed with him, you could have the debate, but in today's environment even having that discussion was impossible.

BTW, if I ever had any thoughts about voting for Huckabee, and I don't think I did, this would have killed them dead.  At this point he is just taking up bandwidth in the conversation, he's no longer a serious candidate.

Gary Kamiya thinks the Republicans are a Dead party walking.  "The GOP candidates are a feeble group of Bush imitators tied to his disastrous war. And unless the surge turns into a miracle, even front-runner McCain won't beat a Democrat."  This is reckless precelebration.  The Republicans might be the Dems best friends, but they are their own worst enemies.

Steven Dubner and Steven Levitt - of Freakonomics fame - consider Unintended Consequences in the NYTimes today.  "Does this mean that every law designed to help endangered animals, poor people, and the disabled is bound to fail?  Of course not.  But... if there is any law more powerful than the ones constructed in a place like Washington, it is the law of unintended consequences."  So very true, most of the time when the government tries to get involved, they don't help.  Ann Althouse notes: "Reading this terrific essay, I thought it should be necessary to acknowledge the famous Ronald Reagan line: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'""  Absolutely, and well worth keeping in mind as we watch the Presidential candidates promise to get our government involved to fix everything.

One more political note, I often enjoy James Taranto's column in the WSJ.  Today he notes: "This column generally tries to avoid taking shots at Andrew Sullivan, on the theory that it would be unsporting to do so. But a post over the weekend is so crazy that it's worth noting.Here it is, and yes it is crazy.  I've come a long way on Andrew Sullivan, from liking him, to disliking him, to being rather disturbed by him, to ignoring him.  As James says, "Sullivan thus becomes the only person ever to suggest that there's a vast right-wing conspiracy working for Mrs. Clinton."  Blech.

Floyd Landis in yellowLongtime readers know, I'm a huge fan of Floyd Landis, disgraced winner of the 2006 Tour de France.  Velonews carries an interesting interview with him.  You might think he hasn't proven his innocence, I think he hasn't been proven guilty.  Either way it is too bad it lingers...

uncov: failSo this is rather sad: Ted Dziuba of Uncov posted about the Crunchies awards (Crunchies. Ingredients: Fail), and winds up "Oh, right. One more thing. This is the last Uncov. Ever. I have been getting tired of it, and this has been manifesting itself in my writing. After seeing the spectacle at the Crunchies, I think it's finally time to quit."  Noooo!!!!!!!  What will we do without Uncov?  Already "Fail" has become a part of my daily lexicon, and when I use it people know exactly what I mean.  Maybe the Crunchies hangover will wear off, we can only hope.

Cory Doctorow notes we have Wubi!  "It's an installer package that lets Windows users install Ubuntu Linux like any other Windows app, without worrying about disk partitions and whatnot."  Sounds cool, but I suspect it is a dancing bear; that is, the fact that it does what it does is cool, but not useful.  Still, might be worth a try as an alternative to real work some afternoon :)


Thursday,  01/24/08  10:54 PM

rain at Point MuguI'm baaack!  No worries, I was just traveling...  I must tell you we are having serious rain out here.  As in water from the sky, day after day.  I believe it is a good thing in that we need the water, and also I find it pleasant and relaxing.  Tonight I did a ride in the rain from Carlsbad up to Camp Pendleton, and it was great; the sound of rain on the ocean is amazing.

So an interesting thing has happened; my blog traffic has increased significantly, and I blame Google Image Search.  See, with Google Image Search people easily can find pictures on a variety of subjects, and sometimes the pictures they find are in one of my blog posts.  So far, so good; enjoy my pictures!  And sometimes they link to the post containing the picture, so far, so better; enjoy my blog posts!  But sometimes they link to the picture only, so far, not good; I don't mind if you enjoy my pictures, but I don't necessarily want to host them for you.  Make a copy and host it yourself.

Okay so this has been going on for a while - exacerbated more recently by the ascendancy of MySpace and Facebook, which make "hotlinking" really easy - and a while ago I implemented a mechanism to discourage it.  With this in place, hotlinkers would see a little Critical Section logo instead of the linked-to image.  I don't know if this really worked - I still got a lot of hotlinking - but maybe it did.

What you see when you hotlinkSo more recently I changed the hotlink mechanism slightly; as before hotlinkers see a little Critical Section logo, but I added the URL of the blog;  Poof!  So now anyone who visits a hotlinker's site will see this, and probably wonder what it is, and probably visit  Hopefully they find it interesting and return later, but if not so be it, at least they had a chance to see it.  Basically this image serves as an ad for my blog, hosted by all the hotlinkers out there.  Pretty cool.

Okay, with that let's see what's going on "out there"... 

Dave Winer: what woke me up about the Clintons.  I know exactly what he means; I've joined the ABC camp (Anyone But Clinton).  I was talking to my Mom about this earlier tonight; I don't really hate Hillary, exactly, but I definitely don't want her and Bill back in the White House.  Barack Obama, John McCain, whomever would be better.  The backslash is real.

Meanwhile, Geert Wilders Wakes Up the Netherlands.  Good thing, too, they're sound asleep over there.  Just the fact that everyone is so worried about broadcasting a film critical of Muslims shows how bad things have become; whatever happened to free speech?  You can say whatever you want, as long as you don't criticize those who can't take criticism, apparently.

PayPalSo Meg Whitman is leaving eBay, after ten successful years.  Check out TechCrunch's exit interview with her.  "Q: If you had to pick one thing you did over the past decade, what was your best move?  Meg Whitman: ... For me, the international expansion of eBay was the best idea. We are now in 35 countries, and have a huge global network. The second best one was the acquisition of PayPal—the wallet on eBay."  As successful as PayPal has been inside eBay, the original ambition was even larger; at one time the motto was PayPal: A New World Currency.  In addition to spawning a successful business, it also spawned many successful entrepreneurs, aka The PayPal Mafia.

I love the Macalope, check out the Macbook Air Attack.  "... this gem from PC World's Mike Barton: MacBook Air Amiss: Time to License Mac OS X?  Good question!  Like 'I Have Stubbed My Toe And Find It Painful: Time to Commit Suicide?'"  The analysts' uneducated attempts to find fault with the Airbook have been totally over the top.  [ via Daring Fireball ]

get out of jail free!Hey, iPhone / iPod Touch release 1.1.3 has been jailbroken!  Cool.  A new toy for my new toy.

I find it amazing that there's a whole development ecosystem which has grown up around this "closed" system.  People are actually writing serious applications which are useful, not just cool.  For example I have an HP 16C emulator for my iPod Touch which is great.  (The HP 16C is of course the world's greatest programmer's calculator, despite not having been sold for ten years.)

non-dripping wine decanterThis is awesome! - non-dripping wine decanters.  What will they think of next?

Mark Pilgrim is truly one of my favorite bloggers; check out his Microsoft koan.  "Said the monk: If you give me non-standard markup, I will render it according to standards.  If you give me standard markup, I will not render it according to standards.  What do you do?"  (A Zen koan is a little poem which "breaks the mind of logic".  Truly Microsoft products are Zen-like in their inscrutable design choices.)

With Vista a declared failure, an interesting meme of the moment is Windows 7, the next Windows OS, which is now being rumored for 2009.  (Ars Technica: Windows 7 in 2009? Be careful what you wish for.)  So I'm not wishing for Windows 7 - I just want XP with better paging - but what makes anyone think Windows 7 wouldn't be as bad or worse than Vista?  I will say the longer it takes, the crappier it will be...

SpaceShipTwoPopular Mechanics: Virgin Galactic unveils SpaceShipTwo.  See also this Q&A with Burt Rutan, SS2's designer.  "Q. What will SpaceShipTwo look like?  Rutan: I think the public will be surprised at how large it is.  We are building 11-place commuter airliners.  If you're going to send somebody to a resort hotel in orbit, it's okay to cramp him into something small with a little window.  Because when he gets there he has this big spacious hotel, and he gets his view and his weightless experience.  But with suborbital spaceflight, your destination has to be your transfer van.  We believe the people - and there will be large numbers of them at the cost at which this can be done - they'll want to float around and look out of large windows facing all directions."  I wonder if SpaceShipSeventeen will end up taking me to Titan?


paper art

Friday,  01/25/08  05:57 PM

Entries for an art contest at the Hirshorn Modern Art Gallery in Washington, DC.
The rule was that the artist could use only one sheet of paper.

Update (2/15/08): I am told that the "art contest" is a myth; and this art is actually all the work of Danish artist Peter Callensen.  That it is the work of one artist makes it even more remarkable!  Enjoy...


Friday,  01/25/08  09:10 PM

So the rain has stopped, briefly; I am given to understand more is on the way.  So be it.  In the meantime, we can blog!

Yesterday I had someone email with an offer to place ads on this blog.  I think it was a human, too!  Weird.  First, there isn't enough traffic to matter, and second, what advertiser would want to be associated with me?  And then there's the fact that I hate online ads; fortunately with Firefox and Adblock I hardly ever see them.  Even if they are on a blog...

Yuck!  Powerline notes A reason to vote for Hillary: "Barack Obama is putting out the word that if he is elected, he will appoint John Edwards as Attorney General."  I don't think that's a reason to vote for Hillary but it is a reason to vote against Obama.

Woody and BuzzSo Pixar's upcoming Toy Story 3 will be produced in 3D.  That is, played in 3D; all the Pixar movies are rendered from 3D models.  And the original Toy Story and Toy Story 2 will be converted to 3D as well.  This could be the first time 3D is "real" as opposed to a toy :)  Actually I loved the Toy Story movies so this will be fun to watch...  [ via Jason Kottke ]

Why I hate frameworks.  "Each hammer factory factory is built for you by the top experts in the hammer factory factory business, so you don't need to worry about all the details that go into building a factory. Yet you still get all the benefits of having your own customized hammer factory, churning out your own customized hammers, according to your own specific hammer designs."  This is so totally what goes on with Microsoft.  They believe the proper study of programmers is their tools, not their applications.  Or maybe their tools for building tools :)

measuring the silverado badgeThis is funny: Pickup Logos: Mine's Bigger than Yours.  "Welcome to the Battle of the Badges, an arms race among pickups to adopt a logo capable of obscuring everything between the lights and the bumper."  This seems very logical, an extension of the trend toward big trucks in the first place.  Classless, IMHO.

visualizing the tenth dimensionClive Thompson links How to imagine in ten dimensions.  Good to know!  Actually this comes up in connection with String Theory, which holds that the universe exists in ten dimensions.  Do I believe this?  No.  Not on physical grounds, but on metaphysical; the number ten is not round enough to be right :)



watching more movies

Saturday,  01/26/08  09:40 AM

under the Tuscan sun

So, now that I am converting a bunch of movies from MPEG4 to Quicktime using Visual Hub, and able to watch them on my AppleTV, Shirley and I are watching more movies.  Somehow the subtle increase in easy of doing so has changed our habits.  Either of us (or both) could easily jump in the car and drive over to Blockbuster, but we don't do it.  And Netflix requires premeditation.  We've had OnDemand movies from Time Warner for a while through our Moxi, but all of those movies suck (mostly).  So there you are, once again technology changes the world.  In a small way, at least.  Although I must tell you, we're eagerly anticipating iTunes Movie Rentals on the AppleTV itself, I think that might change the world in a little bit bigger way.  We'll see...

In the meantime, last night we re-watched Under the Tuscan Sun, and it was fun!  ( The other night we watched A Good Year, and it was good - thanks, Tim :)    On tap for tonight, No Reservations...

no reservations


Sunday,  01/27/08  10:27 PM

Still raining!  Amazing, we've had a lot of water fall down from the sky around here.  I guess we need it, but it is easier when it doesn't come all at once...

So, yesterday I spent the day installing dimmers.  (This is doing something worthwhile by way of procrastinating from doing something else more urgent :)  In this case, I *finally* posted all the thousands of pictures I had queued up to my personal website.  (I'm not linking it because, well, all those old photos are only interesting to us, not to you :)  The photo gallery there is a sort of Flickr-before-there-was-Flickr; written by me using Korn shell scripts.  Yeah, I wouldn't do it today, but I did it then (1999!) and there it is, so I use it.  When we lived in Northern California and our parents didn't, we used this as a way to keep them abreast of their grandkids progress.  Then we moved back to Southern Cal and I stopped updating.  But we kept taking pictures, and having an online photo album is really cool.  I love seeing what my kids looked like in 2003.  Now that I'm up-to-date, maybe I can stay that way... 

Meanwhile, back in the world...

Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point, Blink) has a great blog; he's been posting about the War on Drugs.  Steroids in sport, that is...  "Just to be clear: I'm not advocating that steroids be legalized. In fact, I think that's probably a terrible idea. I'm simply puzzled. The professional sports establishment is in the midst of a major witchhunt against alleged users of performance enhancing drugs. But no one--so far as I can tell-- has articulated a coherent explanation for what should be banned and why."  It is true; what's the difference between taking prescribed drugs for rehabilitation vs. taking steroids for performance improvement?

TechCrunch posted a roundup of companies presenting at Demo 2008.  There seems to be a trend toward "real" businesses instead of companies trying to be Google's or Yahoo's next product feature.  I especially find Voyant intriguing; "a web-based financial software offering intended for individuals who want to gain 'direct control over their financial health'. The software is particularly useful for generating 'what if' scenarios and forecasts stemming from your current financial situation."  Cool.  I could be a user :)

Ferrari F430I just love The Truth About Cars, aka TTAC, a fantastic car review site.  Check out their review of the Ferrari F430: "the F430’s interior is something of a shock, a radical departure from Enzo’s philosophy of selling his customers an engine and throwing the car in for free", "Firing-up the F430’s 4.3-liter V8 is like watching the opening scene of a James Bond movie: predictably ridiculous, yet giddy-making in its promise of extreme violence", and my favorite, "The F430 gently whisked me from the daily grind and gawking SUV owners. If Jimi Hendrix was reincarnated as a gearbox, I’d be standing next to his Fire."  Wonderful.  (Oh, and the F430 is pretty nice too :)


Tuesday,  01/29/08  11:23 PM

I'm traveling this week, posting may be light.  If not nonexistent :)

Powerline speculate that with the results in Florida there will be a Run on the Bank; and Giuliani will withdraw from the race, possibly positioning himself to be McCain's VP running mate.  I could live with that.

airplane on a treadmillSet your Tivo!  Tonight Mythbusters will air their recreation and analysis of the airplane on a conveyor belt puzzle (Wednesday at 9PM EST).  [ via Kottke ]  BTW David Pogue wrote a great analysis of this problem a year ago.

The death of influentials?  Clive Thompson ponders whether "influentials" - who are so charismatic and well-connected that they can start or accelerate trends - have less influence than before, given online communications.  I'm not sure.  I think some people have become more influential.  Clive Thompson himself might be an example :)

Argh!  Joel Spolsky notes :CueCat is back.  "The number of dumb things going on here exceeds my limited ability to grok all at once. I'm a bit overwhelmed with what a feeble business idea this is."  Yes, even Google can have a bad idea, in fact, they seem to be having more and more of them as they grow...



political system: fail

Wednesday,  01/30/08  08:29 AM

Watching the primary results, I am struck once again by how screwed up our political process has become.  Consider this; California is the most important state in the United States.  We have the most people, some of the biggest cities, some of the most important and innovative industries.  We are often the source of new trends in any field, from business to entertainment to education to politics.  Yet, California is not involved in choosing our next President.  Already we can see it will be Obama vs McCain, and California has had virtually no influence on this.  In the fall, the election will be over before California's votes are counted.  The candidates will ignore California all summer, knowing this.  How screwed up is that?

Not to mention, our governor, who would likely be a serious contender for the nomination in either party, is not even eligible to run.  How screwed up is that?

What should be done?  First, all the primaries should take place at the same time.  Second, the electoral college is an anachronism that should be eliminated; the President should be chosen by direct voting.  That would fix everything.  Well, maybe not everything but it would help.  Oh, and immigrants who have been U.S. citizens and residents for twenty years should be able to run for President.


Wednesday,  01/30/08  10:42 PM

So Giuliani has dropped out, and endorsed McCain.  And now Arnold is about to do the same.  That should do it for McCain, I think; Romney can hang in there, but he's ultimately toast.  Probably Giuliani will be McCain's VP.  I would say that ticket could beat Hillary and just about anyone, but they'll have a tough time against Obama; it will be interested to see how it plays out.  With both of their respective nominations seemingly wrapped up, the candidates will move away from their party's fringes toward the middle.  Four years ago I thought maybe it would be Arnold against Obama :)  Too bad it isn't...

slipstream cyclingCycling News conducted an interview with Jonathan Vaughters, the leader of the Slipstream cycling team.  They'll be the team I'm rooting for in '08, (along with Rabobank, of course).  Astana, not so much, although they do have Levi Leipheimer.

BusinessWeek reports on eBay's profitable Pal.  "The business purchased by eBay in 2002 handled almost $50 billion in payments during the year, up more than 30% from the prior year. Along the way, PayPal generated $1.9 billion in processing fees for eBay, giving company executives plenty to crow about on their conference call with analysts."  $50B in payments per year.  Wow.  That's about all I can say.

Jason Kottke liveblogs the Mythbusters episode about the plane on the conveyor belt.  Warning, BIG spoiler if you click the link.  I must confess that I had this right all along.  For the benefit of those who haven't yet watched the episode, I'll refrain from explaining why I knew.  Until tomorrow.  [ John Gruber guessed wrong :) ]

Dell to close its U.S. stores.  My reaction is the same as when I heard Palm was closing its storesWhat stores?


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About Me

Greatest Hits
Correlation vs. Causality
The Tyranny of Email
Unnatural Selection
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
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?
still the first bird
electoral fail
progress ratches
2020 explained