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the lost art of desk checking

Tuesday,  04/01/08  11:08 PM

<rant soapbox=”true” optional=”yes” >

Okay, I’m going to date myself here.  I’m 49 years old, and I started programming in Junior High, when I was 13, so my story begins 36 years ago.  The dawn of time, metaphorically speaking.

Back then, I didn’t have to walk to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways, but I did have to learn programming by submitting batch decks of cards.  Yes indeed.  My school had a deal with Northridge University whereby students could mail a deck in, they would run it, and then mail back the results.  I’m talking about snail mail, postman knocks twice and delivers once a day kind of mail.  Oh, and of course I didn’t have a card punch, so I hand bubbled the cards.  Yes, I do still remember Hollerith codes, thanks for asking.

Okay, so there I was, writing FORTRAN programs by hand-punching cards, and then waiting a week while the deck was mailed to Northridge, and I’d get the deck back with a pile of greenbar.  Now in this environment, a typo was expensive.  We’re talking a week wasted expensive.  Furthermore trivial bugs were not inconvenient, they were infuriating.  There was a big payoff in being careful.  Every program was laboriously written out (graph paper, baby) and then carefully desk checked, and then hand-punched, and then run.  Which could bring me to my point but it won’t yet.

Later I advanced to driving over to Northridge and using their card punch machines, but it still took hours to run a deck before you got your pile of greenbar, and it was still well worth carefully desk checking before submitting.  Aside from the lost time, resubmitting the same deck over and over was embarrassing.

Later I advanced to using a PDP 8, with a 110 baud teletype.  (If you want to know why I type so “hard”, it’s because I learned to type on a TTY where the keys had an inch of travel and required about 10lbs of force.)  I used a line editor and the TTY spit out hardcopy on greenbar.  Any kind of problem and you were wasting serious amounts of paper and time, so it was definitely worth desk checking before typing in a program.

Later I advanced to storing my programs on paper tape.  Yes, I do remember Baudot codes, thanks for asking.  You didn’t really want a typo in a paper tape, because editing was a bit lame.  You copied the tape to another tape up to the spot of the change, made the change, and then copied the rest of the tape.  Really.  Any bugs were not only annoying, they wasted frightful amounts of time, not to mention tape.  So yeah, desk checking was definitely the thing to do.

Later I advanced to using a “glass TTY”, a green and black 24x80 CRT.  Man, what an advance!  I could actually edit programs interactively – a line at a time – without cards, printouts, or paper tape.  Still, it took time to enter programs, and more time to fix them, and it wasn’t like there were debuggers or anything; this was the original “printf” debugging environment.  So it was still very beneficial to desk check code before running it.  As in, print it out, read it, look at it, analyze it, convince yourself it was really going to work, and then type it in.

Later I advanced to using full screen text editors – in fact, I wrote my own at first – and man was that nice.  You could actually read the program on screen instead of working from a printout.  Of course, you could only see 24 lines at a time, so it definitely encouraged tight code and small modules.  (Want to know why I put comments at the end of lines instead of on separate lines – now you know :)  And it was still a bit tricky to fix stuff, and still hard to debug – lots of paper later, you finally found the error on line 781, or line 78,100 - and so desk checking was still the thing to do.

Okay, okay, you get it, I’m a dinosaur, I’ll get to the point.

So today I have a huge LCD monitor with an amazing visual interactive tool like Visual Studio where I can have hundreds of modules all up at the same time in a color-coded full-screen interactive environment.  I can compile in seconds to find typos, and debug interactively to find logic errors.  I never ever print anything out anymore.  (In fact when I do have paper, I scan it in.)  To write code I just look at my screen and start typing, and to fix code, I just look at my screen some more and type some more.  So now, finally, I‘m done with desk checking, right?

Wrong.

I desk check everything.  Thoroughly.

And this, to me, is a major league black art which is lost to all those who didn’t have to hand-punch cards and wait a week for their deck to run.  It is a lost art, but an essential art, because all the tools which make entering code and editing code and compiling code and running code faster don’t make your code better.

Desk checking means carefully reviewing everything you’ve coded, running the code in your head before you run the code on your computer.  It means pretending you’re the compiler, and pretending you’re the CPU.  It means thinking about what is really going to happen, what are the boundary conditions, what are the possible error conditions.  What are the real world data going to look like.  It means you spend an extra five minutes or five hours so you don’t have bugs later.  And it is really important.

You cannot possibly find all the problems in a program just by running it.  For one thing, there are problems where the code is wrong, but it still produces the correct output.  There are problems where the code is unmaintainable, or incorrectly factored, or encapsulation is violated.  There are problems were there is dead code that is never executed.  There are problems where the style of the code is wrong, even if the code itself is right.  (Gack!)  There are problems where there are error conditions which are impossible to simulate so you can’t test the code.  Even if you step through the code one line at a time, carefully, you won’t take all the possible paths through the code.

Back in the day, desk checking saved a lot of time.  Weeks even.  And guess what?  It still saves a lot of time.  Weeks even.

The best way to write clean code is to relax, load up the code, full-screen, turn off all distractions (crank some Zeppelin), and just read through the code, one line at a time, one function at a time.  You’ll probably find a lot of little things which can be polished, adjusted, fixed, improved.  Most of them might not even be visible to a user, but the code is better for it.  If you spend a day writing some code, spend an hour desk checking it.  And when you finally do run the code, you won’t just hope it works, you’ll know it works.

Yep, even 36 years later, desk checking is well worth doing.

</rant>

Comments welcome :)

 

Tuesday,  04/01/08  11:43 PM

Welcome to the April Fool's edition of Critical Section.  And no we don't suffer fools gladly or even at all if we can help it; you won't find anything foolish here.  In fact, let's see what's really happening, shall we?

Is Robert Mugabe negotiating to leave power in Zimbabwe?  Dare we hope?  We dare.

Powerline skewers House Democrats' Incoherence.  "Today House Democrats appealed to ignorance, in their usual fashion, by summoning executives from the five biggest oil companies to berate them for high gasoline prices. This is fundamentally stupid in at least two respects...  First, these same Democrats purport to be worried about 'global warming' and committed to taking strong measures to combat it...  Second, if you really want the price of gasoline to fall, there is only one way to achieve that goal: increase supply."  One wonders if they just don't get it, or just hope that we don't...

zkimmer - Google Maps for reading a magazineJason Kottke notes "a surprisingly effective idea": using the Google Maps interface for reading a magazine.  I have to admit, this is really compelling.  (I sure wish Winding Road used this!)  Now that I've seen it once, I'm sure I'm going to see it again, and again, and again...

"painting downloading"This is pretty awesome: Dan Proops' oil painting of a dialog box, entitled "painting downloading, please wait".  [ via Boing Boing ]  René Magritte would have loved it!

Some excellent news from Ottmar Liebert: his new album is almost done.  That it, almost done as in released, it is truly done as in recorded.  I cannot wait.

Congratulations to Dave Winer on 11 years of Scripting News!  Not only blogging pretty much continuously the whole time, but great blogging.  We don't always agree but I always find what he has to say interesting and relevant, which I can't say about very many others.  Best wishes for the next 11 and beyond!

 

Ferrari 250GT Competizione Berlinetta

Thursday,  04/03/08  01:27 PM

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who think vintage Ferraris are awesome, and those who don't.  If you are in the latter category please click "back" and resume your web surfing.  If you are in the former category, welcome to the club and read on...

So I'm in my dentist's office waiting and I pick up an issue of Road & Track, and I see there is an article about the Ferrari 250GT Competizione Berlinetta, written by Tim Considine.  And it sucked me right in. 

"I've died and gone to heaven", is all I could think.  Trees flew past in a blur on either wide of one of New Hampshire's forested back roads.  I looked past the classic wooden Nardi wheel, through a short wraparound windshield and over the long, silver hood covering a screaming 12-cylinder Maranello masterpiece reaching full song.  Six open stacks sucking air, chain-spun camshafts opening and closing 24 valves, hand-lapped transmission gears whining in harmony and barely muffled exhausts howling - a virtuoso mechanical symphony.

Oh, Tim, you had me at screaming 12-cylinder Maranello masterpiece.

Ferrari 250GT Competizione Berlinetta

Anyway I loved this article and have scanned it for your reading pleasure.  A mechanical symphony indeed!

 

Thursday,  04/03/08  10:13 PM

Quite a day - Aperio is moving!  Will the network come up at the new location?  Will the servers survive their 1/2 mile trip across Vista?  Stay tuned - and keep your appendages perpendicular.

I had a bad day, thanks for asking.  Tense, irritable, unproductive.  Badness.  I tried to get out of my funk by riding Rockstore, but it didn't help.  (I did do it in 1:46, not bad but not my best.)

Meanwhile the world pays no attention and goes on with its life...

This is so excellent; The ROQ of the 80s.  I totally listened to KROQ in the 80s, this is like coming home.  They just played Careless Memories by Duran Duran and just now Dead Man's Party from Oingo Boing is starting.  (More volume, Scotty.  Aye Aye, Captain.)  Wow, I love the Internet!  [ via Blogging.LAUpdate: Walking on the Moon, Police.  Update2: Radio, Radio, Elvis Costello.  {How ironic is that?  Too bad they won't play TVC15 but that would be too old...  but they could play Channel Z...}  Update3: Blue Jean, David Bowie.  Update4: Head over Heels, Tears for Fears.  This stuff is great!

Instapundit debunks some myths; Humphrey Bogart never said, "play it again, Sam," Captain Kirk never uttered, "Beam me up, Scotty" -- and John McCain never promised a hundred year war!

And my favorite: George Bush never refused to sign Kyoto.  The U.S. Senate voted unanimously against the treaty when Bill Clinton was president.  You could look it up, if you weren't a journalist.

Karl Rove is interviewed in GQ.  (I am not making this up.)  "To be with Rove is to listen to a man who is utterly articulate and insightful and at the same time utterly…what's the word? Plain? ... In what ways is he cool? We can't help but ask. 'None,' he says. 'I am the antithesis of cool.'"  I'm sorry, but that's cool.

the singles mapGoing against stereotype: L.A. has more men than women, and N.Y. has more women than men.  Huh.  The diagram at right has more detail.  How did we end up with so many guys on the West Coast?  This can't be right, can it? 
Maybe I should move to Memphis :)
[via Ann Althouse ]

The headline of the day: Apple passes Wal-Mart, now #1 music retailer in US.  Wow.  That's just about all I can say.

I reviewed the iTunes Music Store in April 2003, right after it launched.  My conclusion: As soon as you see it, you'll say "this is the way online music should work".  Good call.

You might not be following the kerfuffle about Adobe’s announcement that the next Photoshop will be 64-bit for Windows, but 32-bit on the Mac, but it is kind of interesting. It has to do with the APIs, Adobe uses Carbon not Cocoa, and only Cocoa is 64-bit on the Mac. John Gruber posted a nice rundown of the situation.

The biggest issue for Adobe is that migrating from 32-bit to 64-bit is a lot easier than migrating from Carbon to Cocoa. (Especially since Carbon is a lot more platform neutral, so there is probably code shared between the Windows and Mac versions on Carbon that will now have to become separated.) I don’t think Apple did this deliberately – they have as much to gain from Adobe’s continued support of the Mac platform as Adobe – it just shows the unintended consequences of these architectural decisions.

Tim Bray on Twitter: "I think that with Twitter, something important is happening. But I’m having trouble figuring out what".  John Gruber linked this too, implying that he feels the same way.  Me, too.  Some of this stuff comes and goes and I never paid attention with no downside. But I came late to RSS, at first I didn't get it and thought aggregators were dumb, and now I don’t remember how I ever got along without it.  I can't even tell yet whether Twitter is in the former category or the latter.

From Gerard Vanderleun: Take a break.  "I don't care who you are or what you're doing, this will be one of the best 5 minute segments of your day.It was, thank you.

 

triple double

Sunday,  04/06/08  11:19 AM

Well, I did it, or actually I must say we did it; my friend and riding partner Mark Burson and I successfully completed the Hemet Double Century yesterday, making our third double this year and hence we have become - ta da - California Triple Crown winners.  We are [very] sore and [very] tired today, and [very] happy.  And more than a bit proud of ourselves :)

triple doublers
A couple of happy guys - we did it!


This story begins over a year ago, when Mark rode the Solvang Century in March 2007.  At about the thirty mile mark he had a bad fall and thrashed his hip.  He struggled to finish the century but did so, complaining of severe pain in his knee.  Making a long story short after some false diagnosis he discovered he had cracked his hip.  In fact, he had the Bo Jackson problem where the blood supply to his hip was interrupted, and he ended up getting his hip replaced on April 7, 2007.  Mark that date.

Being an avid cyclist and tough guy, Mark hatched a plan to rehabilitate via long rides, and set a goal of achieving the triple crown; three double centuries in one year.  And he got me, somewhat reluctantly, to agree to join him.  That was late last summer.  We began by doing the Lighthouse Century together last September; Mark's first long ride after getting a new hip.  That was a great victory for him and we discovered we enjoyed doing centuries together.  (I can't link a blog post, because, well, I wasn't blogging last year.  Boo.)  You can't do these rides with just anyone; you need someone of compatible speed and climbing ability, and also compatible temperament :)  I mean, we're talking 6-15 hours together.  Flushed with success we rode the People Powered Ride the following weekend, two centuries in a week, and that "worked".  Then we rode a 200K together in January (125mi) - which at the time was the longest ride I had ever done - and then a 300K together in February (185mi) - again a personal longest.  And then we completed the Butterfield Double in mid-February, the first leg of the triangle.  It was tough, but we did it.

Which was all nothing compared to recent events.

Last weekend we rode the Solvang Double together in fine style, with no problems.  The second leg was done.  Victory was at hand.  All that was left was one more double century, yesterday - the Hemet Double - billed as the easiest of the three.  (Although it must be said, two doubles on consecutive weekends is not for the faint of heart or the out of shape :)


The Hemet Double is organized as two loops, each 100mi; many people ride just the first loop as a Century, and others ride both as a Double.  The first loop is easier, but we were warned at registration that the second loop had been changed from previous years and was now "a bit tougher".  Riight.

We begin the first loop at 6:30, cruising through Hemet and Morongo Valley with no problems.  Until, at about thirty miles (!), Mark has a bad fall and comes down heavily on his [new] hip.  His hand and arm are bleeding, and he is sore everywhere.  Oh no!  What will this mean?  Can he ride another 170 miles?  Being an avid cyclist and tough guy, Mark gets back on his bike.  A little first aid, some ducktape, and we're off. 

We finish the first loop in a bit of a funk.  The weather is crummy; cold and overcast, with a stiff wind.  The loop isn't that hard but with the wind it isn't that easy, and anyway 100 miles is 100 miles.  Our riding time is 5:30 for the first loop, 6:30 elapsed, not bad but not our best.  We eat lunch, our spirits revive, and we take off on the second loop.  Mark's hand is sore and his arm is thrashed, but fortunately his hip seems okay.  It looks like he/we might make it...

The second loop is a killer.  The first 25 miles features serious climbing up Sage Canyon, and we reach the first checkpoint at Vail Lake exhausted, with 75 miles left.  Next comes a thrilling eight-mile decent down Pala-Temecula Road into the Pala Indian reservation; the whole way down I'm thinking "crap, we're going to have to get all this vertical back".  And so we do; after a terrifying encounter with fast traffic on 76 (no bike lane and no shoulder) we have to come back up Rice Canyon, mile after mile of climbing.  By the time we reach the second checkpoint at Rainbow, with 50 miles left, we are toast.  Normally in a double when you have "only" 50 miles left, you feel like you're basically done, but this is different.  The concern has shifted from whether Mark will make it due to his injuries to whether we will make it, period. 

The next section takes us mile after mile through the Lake Skinner recreation area - in the dark - up and down through rollers which are progressively steeper.  Well probably they aren't, but they feel that way.  We are on autopilot, legs moving, brains numb.  Failure is not an option.  Finally we make it to the last checkpoint - yay! - with only 25 miles to go.  And this time it really does feel like the home stretch; we could have carried our bikes 25 miles if we had to, the finish felt that close.  And can I just thank the organizers for providing hot chili at the last checkpoint; that was a key feature.

Finally we have just ninety minutes left: a little blundering about near Menifee Lakes, another brush with fast traffic and no bike lane - this time in the dark - and all right whew yes YES! we have made it.

{For posterity I will note our riding time for the second loop was 6:30, elapsed time 7:15, for a total of 13:45 elapsed overall.  Incredible considering the vertical, over 10,000', with the bulk of that climbing concentrated in the last 100.}

So you marked the date, right?  Yes, as I mentioned, tomorrow will be the anniversary's of Mark's hip replacement.  So he was able to achieve the triple crown within a year.  A pretty remarkable achievement; there are plenty of people with artificial hips walking around, but not so many who have ridden three double centuries within a year of getting them.  Amazing.


As for me, now I have to ask what's next?  The Furnace Creek 508?  Just kidding!  Or am I...

 

Sunday,  04/06/08  09:16 PM

A day of coding, and of recovery...  feeling pretty good actually.  Physically anyway.  There is a mental recovery which make take longer...

Tomorrow I'm going to Vista for day one in Aperio's new building!  Very exciting.  The team pulled together and the move went amazingly smoothly.  We had our critical servers back up within hours of taking them down, last Thursday night, and had pretty much everything running by Friday afternoon.  The logistics of moving all the furniture etc. then took over, and our IT team was in over the weekend testing phones and hooking up everyone's computers.  I have no doubt there will be some problems tomorrow but given the potential for disaster it couldn't have gone better.  Whew.

So UCLA lost!  Badly!  I was otherwise occupied Saturday so I Tivo'ed the game, and began watching it this morning.  Within five minutes I could tell Memphis was going to win, and they did.  So be it, my bracket is a shambles, and I have no rooting interest tomorrow night.  I'll take Memphis just because they beat UCLA, I guess.  Go {had to look it up} Tigers!

Mars - 3D picture of Herbes ChasmaThe Daily Mail features some stunning 3D photos of Mars.  Hard to even imagine a five-mile deep chasm, isn't it?

Pink Slip Nation?  Well...  "Actually, the unemployment rate in November 1996, when Clinton rode a soaring economy to victory, was 5.4%, three tenths of a percent higher than the 'grim picture' of a 'pink slip nation' painted by this month's unemployment report."  [ via Instapundit, who notes "that was different, because back then a man from Hope promised Change" :) ]

Powerline on the Mark Penn fiasco: A Good Deed Punished.  The more you read about how Clinton runs her campaign, the more you realize she is not qualified to be President.

Tristan and Two IsoldesA fantastic opera review: Tristan and Two Isoldes, from Alex Ross in the New Yorker.  I don't even really like opera, but I like opera reviews.  Go figure.  This one is notable for recounting one of the best lines ever in an opera, ad libbed; Leo Slezak missed the swan boat in Lohengrin, turned to the audience, and asked "when does the next swan leave?"

There's a great new cancer resource: cancer.net, from the American Society of Clinical Oncology.  It is amazing how great the Internet resources for medicine have become.  [ via Learn to Live ]

Forbes: Dial D for Disruption.  "Mark Spencer, who is all of 29 years old, is poised to disrupt the $7 billion market for office telecom switches much the way the Linux open-source computer operating system crushed the price of business computing and brought woe to established leaders such as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.  Since Spencer released Asterisk to the world in 1999 as a phone operating system, it has been downloaded 500,000 times, and it continues to be downloaded 1,000 times per day. Some 350 contributors have taken it from a rocky voice system to one with clear calling and more than 100 features."  I love it.

I'm trying an experiment.  I have a 15-year-old email address, ole@pacbell.net, which is now run by Yahoo.  (Pacbell was bought by Airtouch, who were bought by Southwest Bell, who became SBC, who sold their internet business to Yahoo.)  It is a total spam magnet; I get about 2,000 spams a day.  Fortunately SpamBayes deals with them, but it takes time and bandwidth to retrieve all that crap, and it makes the account unusable from my Treo.  So I've configured GMail to retrieve mail from Yahoo via POP, and then I retrieve my mail from there, using GMail as a server-side spam filter.  So far it is working quite nicely, although I'm spending time manually checking the Spam folder on GMail to make sure I'm not getting false positives...

Microsoft has posted a detailed overview of Windows XP SP3.  This is far more interesting and relevant to me than anything Vista-related, I'm afraid...

Engadget reports XP will remain available through 2010 for Eee-class ultraportables.  That's excellent, because that means it will be around for all sorts of other computers as well.  I wouldn't be surprised if this back-door is deliberate.

Slashdot reports 40% of us may be paranoid.  I'm worried that I could be one of them.

 

a flawless day

Tuesday,  04/08/08  07:20 AM

Yesterday was a good day.  A great day, even.  One might even say it was... flawless.

The day began early for me, a pleasant little 140-mile drive down to Aperio's new office in Vista, followed by a nice ribbon cutting ceremony; it was day one.  The building itself is wonderful and the move went spectacularly well.  I have been part of several corporate moves, and never have I seen such a smooth operation, a tribute to thorough planning by a few and careful execution by many others.  All day everyone was able to "just work"; remarkable, really.

"earthshine"After work I did a bike ride, one of the best training rides I've ever done.  About 35 miles, round trip, from Vista to San Luis Rey to Oceanside.  I thought my legs would be dead from the Hemet double, but I felt great.  The middle 16 miles out and back were on a bike path that parallels the 76 highway, smooth and flat.  In the dark it felt like I was stationary, with the earth spinning beneath me and the trees and buildings flying past at 20mph.  I love that feeling.  And there was a weird / amazing crescent moon, framed directly in front of me as I rode toward the ocean, exhibiting the phenomenon known as earthshine.  Thank you for arranging that :)  And just at the right moment, my iPod selected the Talking Heads' Once in a Lifetime.  Chills.

Finally late at night, exhausted after watching Kansas outlast Memphis in overtime, I watched a movie called Flawless.  I'm not a Demi Moore fan but I am a Michael Caine fan, and this movie really "worked" for me.  Maybe it didn't live up to its name, but it was much better than I expected.  (A side note: it attempts to single-handedly revive smoking as "cool", as a by-product of its 1960 setting.)  The thing I liked best was the contrast between the too-cool-to care young female reporter and the actually-cool-but-modest aging hero (Moore), and the reversal of their roles in our perception as the movie unfolds (most of the plot is told as a flashback).

So, what else is going on?  Well...

It doesn't look good in Zimbabwe: Opposition braced for dirty war as Mugabe clings on to power.  We can't be surprised but we can be sad, this poor country has been through enough, hasn't it?  The endgame looks to be drawn out...

You will remember the airplane on a treadmill?  Well now we have the helicopter on a turntable!  Is it the same?  No.  Can you spot the crucial difference?  Paging Mythbusters...

Asia's fight for web rightsI'm linking this just so I have an excuse to run this illustration: Asia's fight for Web Rights.  I love the metaphor of a life trapped inside the keyboard, trying to break out.  I'm imagining that right now as I type and it is kind of creepy.

American Digest chronicles the hapless scribes of the LA Times.  "The Pig Ignorant Journalist of the Year to Date goes to Carol J. Williams, Caribbean Bureau Chief at The Los Angeles Times, for her record setting article of March 28, A day in a Guantanamo detainee's life.  Ms. Williams' effort to 'expose' the 'conditions' at Guantanamo ran to a length of about 1200 words.  But that was not the record.  The record came today when the Los Angeles Times was forced to issue a 370 word correction to her screed.  That's a one to four ratio."  To an ever larger extent the mask is slipping, and the incompetence and bias of mainstream media journalists is laid bare.  How anyone can believe anything at all they read in the LA Times is beyond me.

Exhibit B: CNN's Amanpour Equates US with Khmer Rouge.  "Two million Cambodians killed on one side, three terrorists in perfect health on the other side. Three terrorists who are now preparing to have their days in court, with high-powered legal teams fronted by the ACLU.  Christiane Amanpour sees no difference."  Sigh.

TTAC asks "Is there any good reason to buy an SUV"?  You know my answer.  No, there isn't.  Not even that many bad ones...

 

Tuesday,  04/08/08  09:50 PM

Another good day, although perhaps not flawless like yesterday.  Didn't get a ride in, for one thing; too cold.  I did learn that my daughter Megan received a Student-of-the-Month award for her academics, so that was cool; Yay, Megan!  And the new Aperio building experience continues to be excellent.  In the meantime, it's all happening...

Obamanomics: (From Michelle, not Barack): "The truth is, in order to get things like universal health care and a revamped education system, then someone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie so that someone else can have more."  There it is, right there, the #1 reason why I have evolved into a Republican.  This the great economic fallacy that lies behind all the victimology I dislike so much.  Let's make the pie bigger, huh, and then everyone can benefit!  [ via Glenn Reynolds ]

Powerline notes on General Petraeus' testimony before the senate: Hillary weighs in.  "A reminder of how junior she is in the Senate, notwithstanding that her campaign is based largely on her purported experience.  Clinton consumed most of her allotted time by delivering a speech rather than asking questions. Her speech was notable for its defensiveness and for the fact that it ignored the hours of testimony that went before."  Scary.  The "weighs in" headline was well-chosen for the implication that her approach lacks the gravitas one would like to see in a President.

baby owl found in fighter jetExcellent story of the day, and winner, best picture: Owl found in the cockpit of fighter jet.  This baby screech owl was found by sailors in a cockpit on the Harry S. Truman carrier.  "If this owl was hiding in a cockpit while a jet was on the catapult. It could possibly bring a jet down if the pilot freaks out because an owl is flying around in his cockpit".  Yeah, I could see that might present a problem.  [ via Inhabitat ]

Sadly it appears this week's Tour of the Basque Country will be our only chance to watch Cadell Evans race against Alberto Contador.  (Contador is the defending Tour de France champion, but his team Astana have not been invited to compete in this year's Tour.)  Let's hope for a great dual leading up to next Saturday's deciding time trial...

Well I am unsubscribing from Tom's Hardware.  Bye byte.  It began as a gritty and personal review site, an excellent resource for understanding the minutae of PC hardware; they did low-level testing of memory and processors, and gave you the real dirt.  But two things have happened, first, the site has turned into a flabby general purpose portal, linking all sorts of "news" which I can read anywhere, and second, the importance of low level hardware information has decreased.  Somehow knowing that this Intel processor is faster at block transfers than this AMD processor has become irrelevant.  The signal to noise has decreased, and the signal itself has decreased, so it's gone.  (Plus, they have ads in their RSS feed - yuk!)

 

Wednesday,  04/09/08  10:57 PM

Yet another good day for me - how boring, huh?  (And why is it that other people's travails are more interesting than their successes?  I don't know, but I know it is so; I'll try to work up a nice disaster for you.)  Day three in the new Aperio office was excellent.  In this environment if we can't be productive it won't be due to the facility.

This is pretty interesting, The Scientist reports First Cancer Vaccine Approved in Russia.  "A New York-based biotech company announced today (April 8) that it has received approval for the first therapeutic cancer vaccine -- in Russia. It is the first approval by a regulatory body of a cancer immunotherapy."  Wow.  I wonder if this heralds a day where biotech companies launch first outside the U.S. and EU, as a sort of advanced clinical trial?  Stay tuned...

cancer cells...Also from The Scientist: Heading for the Big Time, a solid overview of the caBIG initiative.  Aperio is watching this closely because researchers want digital pathology images to be part of this network.

This just really struck home for me; an elderly gentlemen who for years has called his late wife's voicemail just to hear her voice.  Isn't that just so sad, and yet so sweet?  Would I do this?  I believe I would...

 

 

Thursday,  04/10/08  10:26 PM

John McCain with Condoleezza RiceFrom CNN: poll suggests McCain - Rice ticket could win big.  Yes, please.

On the other hand, a National Health System is not polling well: 29% favor national health insurance.  No, please.

Georgie Hincapie gets ready for Paris RoubaixI'm getting mentally ready for Paris-Roubaix, how about you?  My money's on George Hincapie to finally, finally, pull it off.  As I watched him win the final stage of the Tour of California - in the rain - I thought "this guy is ready", and reading this interview in Velonews confirms my opinon.  Of course luck plays a part; in 2005 George was this close but broke his stem just before finishing.

history of my blog - why I deleted my Twitter accountI'll be the four millionth blogger to link cartoonist Hugh LcLeod: why I deleted my Twitter account.  Of course, I've never had a Twitter account, and have a curious lack of desire to open one...  interesting too is the contrast he draws between 2005 and 2006.  I've noticed that too; the blogosphere has become increasingly inwardly focused; Twitter is just the endpoint of that trend.

Alfa Romeo 169I'm linking this TTAC post about Alfa-Romeo as an excuse to run a picture of the rumored Alfa 169, which may use the new Jaguar XF platform.  Wow.  This is the only car I've seen that rivals the Maserati GT.  It's like comparing two beautiful women, it's fun to compare, but in the end they're both beautiful.

Phobos!I'm not used to getting space news from CNet, but whatever: Orbiter's close-ups of Martian moon Phobos.  "NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter used its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera to take the sharpest images ever of the Martian moon Phobos, though previous spacecraft have swung closer to the moon for more detailed images. Scientists were able to add color and combine the photographs to make a 3D image of the terrain."  Excellent.  Sci-fi movies are gradually being replaced by reality :)

 

 

 

Unplugged

Sunday,  04/13/08  06:07 PM

So I unplugged this weekend, and it was great.  No rides, no work, and no kids.

Jim Clendenen
Jim Clendenen

Saturday night Shirley and I attended a winemaker's dinner at the Qupé winery in Los Olivos, hosted by Jim Clendenon of Au Bon Climat (left) and Frank Ostini of the Hitching Post (right); yeah, if you saw Sideways, that Hitching Post.  We left Saturday morning, and before the dinner drove all over the Solvang / Lompoc / Los Alamos / Santa Maria / Los Olivos wine area.  The dinner was fabulous: great food, and even greater wine; fortunately some of the winemakers present sampled their own wares and began one upping each other, and before long the really good stuff was coming out; a '96 Sanford and Benedict Pinot Noir was amazing (from the Santa Rita Hills), but I give the night's honor to a '00 Hitching Post, a Pinot made right there in what is today the Qupé winery, in the middle of the Bien Nacido vineyard; paired with pheasant and butternut squash purée.  You might say it had the home field advantage :)

Frank Ostini
Frank Ostini

Countrywide for saleToday we got up at the crack of noon, headed up Ballard Canyon, and ambled through the town of Los Olivos.  That sleepy upscale town is doing fine - no shortage of tourists, wine drinkers, or art patrons - but I did notice something kind of amusing; a Countrywide Home Loans office with a Coldwell Banker "for sale" sign out front.  A sign of the times, I suppose, for Countrywide if not for Los Olivos.

Ojai Grand Prix - right opposite the podiumThen we drove the long back way to Ojai (along Lake Cachuma and through foothills of Monecito and Carpinteria).  Once there we happened upon the Garrett Lemire Grand Prix, a 45 mile criterium bike race!  I swear it was a coincidence, I had no idea.  Pretty much at random we picked a little restaurant to have lunch, and upon walking out the front door I discovered we were directly opposite the podium.  How cool was that!

Ojai Grand Prix - the finish!So we ate a leisurely lunch while the riders did lap after lap in the 95o heat, and then walked out to watch the finish, as the survivors of a 20-man break sprinted home.  Pretty awesome.  Kyle Gritters outkicked the field for his first pro victory.  Once again I must tell you that you have to see a pro bike race live in order to appreciate the power and speed.

Anyway I'm back now, rested, mentally and physically, full of food and wine, and with my batteries charged.  As I plug back in I am happy to note my experiment with using Gmail as a server-side spam filter remains a massive success.  Just a few wayward spam have escaped, and meanwhile there are over 7,000 spams on the server.  How satisfying...  Onward into the week!

 

Sunday,  04/13/08  07:26 PM

Beijing Olympics logoFar from being the PR success the Chinese government had hoped for, the Olympics are becoming a sort of bad political joke.  The headline news seems to be speculation about who will show up at the opening ceremonies.  And this is rather typical: how the Bejiing Olympics got its logo.

Remember I reported I changed my site to direct hotlink requests to a special logo image?  Well today pretty much randomly I checked my referer logs for images, and I can't believe it but there are still a metric ton of hotlinks to images on my site!  All these sites all over the place are serving billboards advertising this blog.  I think what must happen is that the images get cached by would-be hotlinkers' browsers, so they never see the logo image instead of the one they think they're linking.  Amazing.  Moral of the story: don't hotlink :)

cancer cellGood news from the front: Cancer rates decrease for some groups.  "The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, released in October, found that cancer incidence rates have stabilized and, for many of the most common forms of cancer, are actually dropping.  Among men, incidence rates for lung cancer (the leading cause of cancer death in men) decreased by 1.8% a year from 2001 to 2004, and rates for colorectal cancer fell by more than 2% annually. Perhaps most impressive were the changes in the incidence of breast cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer death in women, behind lung cancer. Those rates for women dropped by 3.5% a year during this period."  Excellent.  As people live longer, more will get cancer - it tends to be the thing that kills you in the end - but we are now increasing the quality of life for the average person.

odd of dying different waysAnd speaking of the odds of dying somehow, this great chart shows that your chance of dying from a bicycle accident are 1 in 5,000, less than in a car (1 in 84) and from cancer (1 in 7).  Heart disease is still the worst at 1 in 5.  (Yeah, I know you can't read it; click it to enlarge.)  Good stuff to know.  [ via Ottmar Liebert ]

I find it very weird that suicide is 1 in 119.  Wow.  Can that be right?  Also weird: earthquakes (1 in 117,000) are worse than floods (1 in 144,000).  Not shown, but found in the table of the linked National Safety Council report: cataclysmic storms (e.g. hurricanes) are much worse, at 1 in 4,300.

Tom BoonenTom Boonen is the king; he triumphed in a bunch sprint to win Paris-Rubaix, the toughest one-day bike race in the world (sorry, Milan-San Remo) and arguably the toughest one day sporting event, period.  Poor George Hincapie was riding in the front and feeling good when his rear wheel broke.  Such are the breaks...

Brad Feld: Sillyness-as-a-service.  I love it.  He forgot AaaS - Acronyms as a Service :)

 

 

Monday,  04/14/08  10:57 PM

Man, I am one tired puppy.  Got up at four, drove down and spent the day in Vista, then did a 35 mile loop including Del Dios highway along Lake Hodges.  Finished with a nice steak and a decent Pinot.  What could be better than that?  However I must say this was not a good day; much to do, too much finicky crummy not-fun stuff to do...  (So, what makes something fun?  A great mystery... but definitely there are things which are not fun.  Like taxes.)

ElementeoThis is very cool: 14-Year-Old Creates Chemistry Trading Card Game.  From the Elementeo website: "In this action-packed game, two or more players wage a chemical war with just one goal in mind – destroy their opponent's electrons to zero! Armed with their arsenal of elements, compounds, and nuclear reactions, these young chemists strive to create, combat, and conquer the world!  As the commanding general of your army, your job is to move, attack, and strategize with your elements and compounds. The primary goal is to destroy the most number of your opponent's electrons by the end of the game."  Pre-ordered!

Santa Monica Civic Center parking garageInhabitat notes the First LEED Parking Garage at the Santa Monica Civic Center.  Not only is it green, it is beautiful!  Wow, what a triumph of design...

I've held off commenting on Fred Wilson's We need a new path to liquidity.  When I first read it something bothered me, but I couldn't put my finger on it...  but now I have.  From Fred's point of view "an exit" is the only thing that matters; he's a VC, so he invests and then an exit gives him a return.  An IPO or an acquisition gives him liquidity.  But I'm not a VC, I'm an entrepeneur, and although I want liquidity too (someday) I am more interested in other things...  like succeeding at building a good company, and generating cash.  It feels like if you build a company to grow for twenty years, the five-year things take care of themselves.  Maybe the new path to liquidity is that management buys out investors with profits!

John WheelerRenowned physicist John Wheeler, who coined the term "black hole", has died at 96, the last of the great pioneers of quantum mechanics.  His students at Princeton went on to become a who's-who of physics, including Richard Feynman and Hugh Everett.  He will be missed but never forgotten.

ESPN on Greg Maddox: How in the world did this guy win 347 games?  "When Brad Penny and Maddux were teammates on the Dodgers, during the last two months of 2006, they had a conversation one day that led Penny to reach a stunning conclusion: This guy knows my stuff better than I do. It was eerie, really, how easily Maddux dissected Penny's repertoire and suggested ways to maximize it. Penny, figuring he'd take advantage of the situation, asked Maddux to call a game for him against the Cubs. And so, on the night of Sept. 13, Penny glanced into the dugout before every delivery and found Maddux, who signaled the next pitch by looking toward different parts of the ballpark. Penny threw seven scoreless innings with no walks and beat the Cubs 6-0."  I love it.  Too bad he's now a Padre...

Russell Beattie: The End of Mowser.  "Now the question you might be asking is why not stick with it a little longer?...  Beyond the fact that I'm irretrievably in debt, the general answer is that I don't actually believe in the 'Mobile Web' anymore, and therefore am less inclined to spend time and effort in a market I think is limited at best, and dying at worst."  Interesting because Russell was always the biggest proponent of "the mobile web", which I never saw.  I guess he no longer does either...  There is only one web, and this is it.  Anyway good luck to Russell in his next endeavor, whatever it may be!

Wired reports Users Fight to Save Windows XP.  "Fans of the six-year-old operating system set to be pulled off store shelves in June have papered the Internet with blog posts, cartoons and petitions recently. They trumpet its superiority to Windows Vista, Microsoft's latest PC operating system, whose consumer launch last January was greeted with lukewarm reviews.  No matter how hard Microsoft works to persuade people to embrace Vista, some just can't be wowed. They complain about Vista's hefty hardware requirements, its less-than-peppy performance, occasional incompatibility with other programs and devices and frequent, irritating security pop-up windows."  Go Users!  I love "less than peppy" performance, BTW.  How about dog slow?

 

Tuesday,  04/15/08  11:02 PM

Got an interesting email from Brian entitled "why Hillary will never close the deal".  His bottom line, with which I agree: people will never like her.  So we have Obama, who we like but don't think will be a good President, and Clinton, who we think might be a good President but we don't like.  Tough choice.

BTW I am increasingly not liking Obama either; the victimology he espouses is a badness.  To me the worst aspect of his "bitter" remarks wasn't the condescending tone, it was the implication that if people are unhappy it is someone else's fault.

Powerline comments on Jimmy Carter's visit to Hamas: Different Opinions.  "It's always an open question whether Carter is a knave or a fool, but in this instance, with everyone from the Secretary of State to Israel's Prime Minister pointing out the folly of his mission, the balance tilts toward 'knave.'"  A dangerous one at that.

Randall Parker wonders Is anyone happy about high oil prices?  Oddly enough, the answer is no...  And yet, it will reduce consumption, greenhouse emissions, and congestion...  I don't like paying more for something I need, but I do like the side effects.  Anyway it is what it is; we have a classic supply and demand situation here, and the price is just going to keep increasing...

Fring! - VoIP on iPhonesSo now we have VoIP on iPhones (and even iPod Touches).  That is pretty interesting, although it requires [not globally available] WiFi to be independent from the cellular network.  I have a feeling that this is a dancing bear.

night over Flagstaff...Check this out: the astronomy picture of the day, a "protected" night sky over Flagstaff.  Wow.  They say this is one of the best parts of long sailing voyages, you get to see a truly dark sky at night.

I love this: Josh Newman tells A true story.  "When you are lost, any map will do."  Not to mention, when you find yourself in Hell, keep going...

 

 

confidence!

Wednesday,  04/16/08  11:18 PM

My brain is too full and too tired tonight to review the world; it will have to spin on without me. 

Today was an object lesson in confidence, one of my favorite subjects, which is closely related to value creation, another one.  (See this post about my friend Paul, and this one about Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

People are drawn to people with confidence.  And if you have confidence - if it comes from somewhere, within yourself, from your experience, from your friends, your family, or whatever - you become aware that people are drawn to you, and it self-reinforces.  With enough confidence you can carry all before you...  the exact same idea presented with the exact same arguments may be accepted readily or summarily rejected depending on the confidence level with which it is presented.

confidenceIt is worth thinking about where does confidence come from - how do you get it, and marshal it?  What does it look like?  A lot of it is in your demeanor.  Be calm, and smile.  Be pleasant.  As objections are raised, listen to them and validate them ("that's a great point").  Accept criticism and respond cleanly to the central objection.  Avoid being defensive.  Often your attitude is more convincing than your arguments.

And what's so cool is that if once you start in the right direction, you'll feel it working, which will give you more confidence, which will allow it to work further.  Even if you don't start out actually having confidence, you can pretend, and the positive feedback will get you there in the end.

(Of course if you start in the wrong direction the feedback will go in the other direction.  And that is not so good.)

I can't recount the details, but it was an amazing day.  I started with a goal, at first dimly perceived, with no plan and no confidence.  After a while I could visualize the goal clearly, but still couldn't see how to get there.  My lack of confidence was self-defeating, the negative spiral began.  But then headlessly, several circumstances combined to create a sort of tipping point.  The outline of an approach formed, I started to feel maybe it was possible, then I got a flywheel kick from a friend, the positive spiral began, and I ended up on a great trajectory.  After that it was easy... 

I probably didn't deserve it but I understand what happened anyway :)

 

Friday,  04/18/08  11:21 PM

Blogging late on a Friday night...  it has been a weird and wonderful week away from home, following another one, separated by an unplugged weekend.  I'm back to normal now, back in my own little office, working away (and now... blogging).  Whew.

Meanwhile, it's all happening...

And boy does he deserve it: "Today, Rep. Sue Myrick called on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to revoke former President Jimmy Carter’s passport."  I don't know Rep Myrick, but I like her already.  Carter has single-handedly invented the role of idiot ex-President.  [ via Instapundit ]

Are you bitter?  Then perhaps you should visit bitteramericans.com.  "Do you agree with Barack Obama that many Americans are 'bitter' over what has transpired these past nearly eight years? If so, then add your voice to those who proudly proclaim 'Damn right I’m bitter.'"  Me, I'm not bitter.  I'm confident :)

Jumping shark - I love the worldOn the other hand, watch I Love the World from Discovery Channel and you cannot be bitter.  Not even a little bit.  [ via Kottke ]  Boom de ya, boom de ya...

Vista promotional videoMicrosoft does some amazing things, this isn't one of them.  An internal promotional video for Vista that is so bad it hurts.  Even if this were designed as a spoof, it would be lame.  And it wasn't. 
(They'll say "Vista, gotta get me some"?)

The endgame of disruptive innovation: Encyclopedia Britannica now free for bloggers.  For those of you who don't know Encyclopedia Britannica, it was the Google of its day, the paper-based source of all knowledge.  Google it to learn more :)

So is Ning worth $500M?  No.  Marc Cantor nails it: "What can Ning do with $44M?  Now what can they do with another $60M?  Well since they're not profitable - let's see - they could lose $10M a year for 10 years and still sell the company for $100M."  Borderline disgusting; reminds me a little of Marimba, another startup with no business model and a cute CEO...

Titan's Lakes - harbinger's of Earth?You know how I'm a sucker for news from Titan?  The Daily Galaxy ("news from Planet Earth") asks Saturn's Titan: A Mirror Image of Earth Before Life Evolved?  "The Cassini spacecraft observations of Saturn's largest moon, the orange-colored Titan, have given scientists a glimpse of what Earth might have been like before life evolved. They now believe Titan possesses many parallels to Earth, including lakes, rivers, channels, dunes, rain, snow, clouds, mountains and possibly volcanoes."  Sounds like a great place to visit!  (BTW I am delighted to see that my post from 2004 remains Google's top hit for "visiting Titan", as it should be.)

MSDN Magazine has a nice interview with Bjarne Stroustrup, author of C++.  He speaks the sooth, the whole sooth, and nothing but the sooth.  You can imagine that he is not a fan of .NET :)

This looks way cool: Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky introduce stackoverflow.com.  "We're starting to build a programming Q&A site that's free. Free to ask questions, free to answer questions, free to read, free to index, built with plain old HTML, no fake rot13 text on the home page, no scammy google-cloaking tactics, no salespeople, no JavaScript windows dropping down in front of the answer asking for $12.95 to go away."  Excellent, I can't wait...

 

renewing the war on cancer

Sunday,  04/20/08  09:01 AM

LiveStrong Lance Armstrong, writing in the Boston Globe: Renewing the war on cancer.

Now, what is our government's victory plan?

After six years on the President's Cancer Panel, I can say with reasonable certainty that there isn't one. Few of our leaders, with the exception of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, are still devoted to this fight. And to be fair, cancer is one of many causes competing for resources and attention in Washington.

Still, you'd expect the number one killer of Americans under 85 to merit more outrage, more opposition, more resources. But funding for the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health is static or declining in recent years. There is no central command, no general who looks over the broad spectrum of this disease and is able to deploy resources where they will save lives and advance this fight. A pessimist would say that cancer is winning. Luckily, I'm not one.

Lance Armstrong Lance is one of my personal heros, not only for his personal and athletic accomplishments, but because he has channeled the fame and fortune those accomplishments created into this critical fight.  Let's hope he is successful, but more than that, let's all support him in any way we can.

 

 

 

 

the cynic

Sunday,  04/20/08  09:09 AM

cyn-ic, noun,

  1. someone who sees things as they are
  2. someone who thinks a cynic is someone who sees things as they are

At least that's how I see it :)

 

everything you need to know about COM

Sunday,  04/20/08  08:53 PM

<rant optional="absolutely">

Everything you need to know about COM:

//
// Success codes
//
#define S_OK    ((HRESULT)0x00000000L)
#define S_FALSE ((HRESULT)0x00000001L)

For those of you keeping score at home, please note that since time zero in all computers everywhere a nonzero value has meant true, and a value of 0 has meant false.  In their infinite lack-of-wisdom, the COM designers decided to invert this convention.

This really is everything you need to know about COM.  It was clearly designed by junior programmers who weren't even aware of the most basic programming conventions.

How does this happen?  Big companies like Microsoft hire the best and the brightest, the smartest young kids coming out of school.  These people are smart, but they are not knowledgeable.  They haven't lived long enough to understand that reinventing the wheel is not only inefficient, it leaves you with two different wheel designs to maintain.

About twenty years ago I worked on a computer called the IBM Series/1.  We ended up doing quite a bit of debugging of the operating system, and IBM eventually hired us to maintain the OS for them (I am not making this up).  I saw exactly the same thing; a system designed by smart young programmers without experience, full of wheel reinventions and neglected programming conventions.

Just about everywhere you care to look in the software development world, there are two ways to do things, the Microsoft way, and the other way.  In just about every case, the other way came first, and then Microsoft came along, ignored what had been done before, and reinvented the wheel.  Their size and market share have allowed them to survive with an incompatible approach. 

Probably the best example (or worst offense, depending on your view) is in browsers; all over the internet there are two ways to do things, the Microsoft IE way, and the all-other-browsers on all-other-platforms way.

In fact .NET itself is like this; first there was Java, everyone used it, and then Microsoft reinvented it.

So what about .NET?  Certainly Anders Hejlsberg (the designer of .NET) is smart and experienced.  The API design is – by general agreement – brilliant.  Or at least much better than Win32 / GDI.  It is however also incompatible with Win32 and GDI, a major reinvention of the wheel.  It could be argued that this was necessary in order to clean things up and move forward.  Maybe.  It could also be argued that the net amount of work for everyone in adapting old code to a new API exceeds the benefit.

{And where does that leave VB.NET?  Not brilliant, IMNSHO, not necessary, and not even helpful.  Just a needless wheel reinvention.  So much work has been expended in converting VB 6 to VB.NET, for so little benefit.}

One final note.  When a function succeeds, the status is ERROR_SUCCESS.  In addition to having a beautifully ambiguous name, the value of ERROR_SUCCESS is zero (false).  I am not making this up.

</rant>

Oleosaurus out...

 

Sunday,  04/20/08  09:25 PM

I had a nice weekend, at home (although I spent part of it mountain biking yesterday, and we had a triple birthday celebration today).  I also seemed to spend a lot of time cold and hungry.  Turns out you can't eat your way to being warmer...  although I tried.  Anyway let's make a scan of the blogosphere, shall we?

Bond's Aston Martin goes for a swimThis should be severely punished: 'Bond' car plunges into Italian lake.  Waste of a beautiful Aston Martin.  They should use Chevys as a sort of stunt double, don't you think?

Randall Parkers says Time to Think about Petroleum Oil Substitutes.  "It is time to move beyond a discussion of why oil prices have gone so high and focus on the prospects for substitutes. In particular, a realistic discussion of the future liquid fuels ought to center around the costs of substitute liquid fuels such as algae biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol, and coal-to-liquid. We will be able to reduce the relative portion of transportation powered by liquid fuels by use of more electricity and batteries in transportation. But for at least a portion of our transport needs (e.g. airplanes, longer distance vehicles) we will continue to need liquid fuels."  Yeah, that's right.  Nobody is talking about electric airplanes.  Yet.

non-transitive dice!I don't know how I missed this, but I did (and I even read Fortune's Formula): Non-transitive Dice.  A beats B beats C beats D ... beats A.  I love it.  As did [apparently] Albert Einstein...  This is one of those things, you see that it works, but you don't see how it works.

From the "I hate liability lawsuits" file: Philip Greenspun notes Airplane engine manufacturer loses $4 million judgment.  "An engineer might say 'it is impressive that those engines spun flawlessly for thirty years, not quitting until this pilot flew them right into the ground.' A jury saw this accident differently, ordering TCM to pay $4 million to the survivors of the pilot."  At some point there has to be some correlation of responsibilty to liability, doesn't there?

 

midnight special

Tuesday,  04/22/08  11:05 PM

You won't believe this, but I have to share it anyway.

I had a crappy day, but it ended great.  I am now enjoying a steak and a glass of Pinot after a nice ride.  A great ride actually.  I had a bad / complicated day at work, spent the day jumping onto the front lines.  It was a day of revelations followed by triage followed by quick decisions to move forward.  Frustrating :(  I almost didn't ride after work because I was frazzled and cold and just didn't feel like it.  But sometimes when you're frazzled riding helps.  And music.  So I take off for Oceanside, and almost the first song my iPod dials up is Midnight Special, by Creedence Clearwater.  This has to be the world’s oldest song, but their version rocks.  Pretty soon I’m smiling and warming up and defrazzling.  I decide to random play Creedence – haven't listened to them in a while - and it was excellent.  I get to the pier in Oceanside just in time to watch the sun set into the ocean, and my iPod selects Long as I can see the Light.  And then I ride down along the ocean, and as I get to Leucadia the moon appears, and my iPod gives me Bad Moon Rising.  I am not making this up, I had chills, it was that excellent.  I get back and I decide yes I need a steak and some Pinot.  So here I am.  And as I walk into the restaurant the house sound system plays… Midnight Special.  Whoa.

 

Tuesday,  04/22/08  11:32 PM

So, have we elected a new President yet?  What's that, this is just the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania?  Oh, sorry.  From the volume level in the news, I really thought we must be electing a new President.  Well anyway it seems Hillary is going to win, and so the Barack & Hillary show will continue for a while.  This whole thing is so weird, isn't it?  And you know, if the Democrats used a straightforward selection process like the Republicans do, Hillary would be so far ahead the contest would be over, with Obama just a footnote.  We'd be talking about McCain vs Clinton.  Well, it is what it is...

Gerard Vanderleun has a great post: The Dane's ask why bother.  "We in Denmark cannot figure out why you are even bothering to hold an election.  On one side, you have a b*tch who is a lawyer, married to a lawyer, and a lawyer who is married to a b*tch who is a lawyer.  On the other side, you have a true war hero married to a woman with a huge chest who owns a beer distributorship.  Is there a contest here?"  Politics defies logic :)

Aptera electric carCheck this out: Aptera.  0-60 in 10s, 85mph max, range 120 miles on electric.  Of course you have to be from Missouri with all these electric vehicles, until they're shipping (really shipping) you just don't know.  But it looks cool.  As the price of gas continues to rise (now routinely over $4.00/gallon in SoCal) the value proposition of electric cars gets better and better...

Men on the Moon!Scientific American: Fifty Years of American Space ExplorationAwesome, that's just about all I can say.  This is truly important work.  We can do everything we can to preserve the environment here on Earth - and we should - but eventually we will use up its resources, that is inevitable, and we will have to find new places to live.  Not to mention, new friends from alien races!  What a great time to be alive.

I am always struck by how much was accomplished so long ago, with such primative technology.  We put a man on the moon in 1969!

Congratulations to Adam Engst and TidBITS on eighteen years of publishing.  That is nothing short of unbelievable.  I can remember receiving TidBITS in the old SETEXT format through my CompuServe account, on my Mac SE II.  That was before I could even spell Internet.  And through all that time it has remained a valuable and interesting source of information about Macs...

Just wanted to sing praises to this Online Icon Maker from RealWorld Graphics, which I've found really useful.  I typically design icons in Photoshop, but then use this tool to convert them into an Icon file.  Works great.

Doc Searles: Grand Canyon TourDoc Searles gives us a Free Grand Canyon Plane Tour.  Wow!  Amazingly these pictures were taken by Doc through the window of a commercial jet.  The scale and variation of the Grand Canyon is unbelievable.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday,  04/23/08  09:52 PM

The latest issue of The Economist has a nice special report on Mobility, starting with this article: Nomads at Last.  It is a pretty interesting survey, kind of a sociological perspective on the impact of new technologies like mobile phones, blackberries, texting, WiFi, etc. on the way people live and work.  In the beginning computers kind of isolated us, but now they are making us more social.  Many people are "always on", and the line between work and home life has blurred beyond all recognition.  This is certainly true for me, I am a poster child for this kind of nomadability.

Today I received an email from a friend, sent from her smartphone while in the dentist's chair.  Talk about always on :)

So Clinton not only won Pennsylvania, she won convincingly, with a 10-point margin.  At this point, having won all the "big" states, you'd have to say she has a good claim on being more electable than Obama.  In fact if you include Florida and Michigan (and their votes will count in the general election), Clinton has a great claim to being the Democratic candidate.  Fascinating.  This is looking like a world-class choke on Obama's part.

And now who do McCain supporters root for?  It is becoming apparent that Clinton would be the stronger candidate in the general election, despite what head-to-head polls may say; she has won all the big states like California, Texas, Florida, and [now] Pennsylvania which a Democrat must win in order to win overall.  Furthermore it is also becoming apparent that Obama's weaknesses runs deep; a head-to-head debate with McCain could be gruesome.  I guess we root for Obama, although it feels unsporting.  I hate to precelebrate, but this is looking like a world-class choke on the Democrats part.

Parenthetically, not everyone is happy about this state of affairs; in particular the NYTimes, which has become disgustingly partisan for Obama, is spinning furiously.  Ann Althouse reports on the moving goalposts: "The news is not that she won big, but that it's bad that she won."  I'll just note that Clinton is currently the Junior Senator from New York.

[Update: Looks like maybe Obama has to win Indiana.  And it looks like maybe he won't...]

One of the really weird things in the software development job market is how many foreign professionals there are, compared to just a few "native" Americans.  When I post a software development position I get a ton of resumes with Indian and Chinese names, and many Eastern European ones.  Only seldom do I get Sally Jones.  This situation is not a problem - my company Aperio is a virtual United Nations of different nationalities, and it works great (in fact it kind of spices things up :)  The problem is that many of these foreign engineers need an H1B visa in order to work in the U.S., and the number of these visas is capped.  In fact it is capped way too low, in a bogus effort to "protect" U.S. workers.  Fortunately this situation is recognized (Congress doing its best to lose the global talent war), and is now being addressed (House Republicans move to increase H1B visa quota).  Stay tuned...

the "big stick"The Weekly Standard: 24 Hours on the 'Big Stick'.  "Landing on an aircraft carrier was the most fun I'd ever had with my trousers on. And the 24 hours that I spent aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt--the "Big Stick"--were an equally unalloyed pleasure. I love big, moving machinery. And machinery doesn't get any bigger, or more moving, than a U.S.-flagged nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that's longer than the Empire State Building is tall and possesses four acres of flight deck. This four acres, if it were a nation, would have the fifth or sixth largest airforce in the world--86 fixed wing aircraft plus helicopters."  I love this quote from a CPO: "These are the same kids, who, back on land, have their hats bumped to one side and their pants around their knees, hanging out on corners. And here they're in charge of $35 million airplanes."  There is a lesson in there somewhere...

Another bogus non-story exposed: Upconverting HDMI DVD players: Fact vs. fiction.  The bottom line is that if you have a good HDTV, it can upconvert just as well if not better than DVD players.  The whole upconvert thing is a ruse to unload all the HD-DVD players nobody wants anymore.

Can you muster up any enthusiasm for Microsoft's Mesh?  Me, either.  It should be interesting, it could be interesting, but somehow I feel without having investigated at all that it won't be interesting.  Microsoft hasn't done anything cool for a long time.  Making it seem even less interesting: "A hundred of Ozzie's engineers have been working on Mesh for the past two years".  Nothing that takes one hundred engineers two years to build is worth building!

sun canopy by Christoph KlemmtWrapping up, check out this gorgeous sun canopy designed by Christoph Klemmt.
 Just beautiful.  What is it about Italian designers? 
They seem to be able to make ordinary stuff extraordinary.

 

 

 

 

Thursday,  04/24/08  10:33 PM

Man, I ate and drank too much tonight (Osso Buco paired with Ampelos Pinot Noir, if you must know; I am beginning to think all Pinots from Santa Rita Hills are fantastic!), and feel bone lazy as a result.  I guess I could just go to sleep.  But wait, first, it's all happening...

Actually before launching into a pass on the blogosphere, I should tell you that my ongoing disaster with hard drives in my laptop has come to a head.  You may remember I was desperately seeking sympathy when my new 250GB drive failed, and I have been running on my old 100GB ever since, putting off the inevitable recovery session.  Every time I boot Windows wants to check my hard drive because something is screwed up, and today whatever that is has escalated into badness.  So tomorrow I get to reattempt the recovery and move back to my 250GB drive.  Oh, goody.  Definitely not something to try late at night, especially if you are feeling bone lazy :)

Stephen HawkingWired: Hawking: Unintelligent life is likely on other planets.  "Famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has been thinking a lot about the cosmic question, 'Are we alone?' The answer is probably not, he says."  However the probability of intelligent life is low, "'Primitive life is very common and intelligent life is fairly rare,' he then quickly added: 'Some would say it has yet to occur on earth.'"  And some would say there was intelligent life on Earth, but it is becoming increasingly rare...

From Tim Oren: Go as a Business Metaphor.  "The whole board is the available market. The stones played down are investment and expense to go after the market. A space surrounded is the net margin achieved by a product or company (the group). Too little space, and you're squeezed out of the market. Too much margin, and you are inviting competition to jump into your space."  I've never played Go, but I can appreciate the metaphor.  It is interesting to contemplate as we watch Microsoft try to buy Yahoo, and Google, and Apple...  what is their strategy?

the Sarah Connor chroniclesYou won't believe this, but there is a TV show I care about - the Sarah Connor Chronicles.  I thought this show was pretty excellent.  Apparently it will come back for a second season.  Yay.  You might say it was not terminated :)

Having you been following this?  Amateur Hour over at Twitter.  The back story is that Twitter has been down lately, or almost down, or half down, or something like that, and the techno-cognoscenti who use it are up in arms.  The CTO has left (quit or pushed, who knows) and the VP/Engineering has left, and things are unsettled.  Underlying all this is the unappreciated root cause; Twitter is written in Ruby, which is slow and doesn't scale.  As Twitter has grown, this has become a problem.  There is a rewrite in their future if they want to stay alive...

Cat 5 wedding ringsThis is pretty cool: Cat 5 wedding rings.  ("to help nerds couple".)  Just when you think you've seen it all, you realize that "it all" is so much more than you thought...

 

 

 

 

Friday,  04/25/08  10:05 PM

Greetings...  I am in the middle of a hard drive recovery, so if I seem a bit snippy you'll understand.  On the other hand it was a gorgeous day and I had a good ride, and my daughter Jordan is visiting, and other good things happened, so how bad is it really.  I'm listening to old Trower today.  As Joe Walsh says I can't complain but sometimes I still do :)

So as part of my hard drive recovery I visited the candy store Fry's Electronics today, and found a 1TB external USB2 hard drive for $189.  Yes this is not a typo, that is 1TB for $189.  Wow.  There was one per customer so I bought two :)

acomdata 1TB external driveThis is what 4,000 digital slides looks like!  The little blue light along the front even flashes purple when the drive is accessed, so you get a light show to go with your inexpensive bits...

HancockLooks like I'm going to have to see Hancock...

Brad Feld nails it: Why more stress is not inevitable.  "As I look back over the past decade, my intensity level hasn't changed much since the turn of the century. However, my stress level has changed dramatically."  Me, too.  Cycling is the key for me, YMMV...

But here is something you can get stressed out about: the Columbia Tariff Ticker.  Not much of a Heh for this one, I'm afraid; this deal makes all kinds of sense, except maybe in an election year...

The latest in the Microsoft - Yahoo saga - Microsoft announces flat revenues and a big drop in profit.  Still, as long as there are no other bidders in the fray, this deal seems inevitable.  I am not rooting for it, however; I think Yahoo will deliver more cool stuff outside the borg than in it.

Chilirec - Tivo for Internet radio.  I've often wondered why nobody had done this, maybe there's no business model.  Although that doesn't seem to stop people from doing stuff...

The Scientist reports Darwin hits Dating.  "Web sites attract beautiful people who use 'natural selection' to eliminate the imperfect."  Um, not.  This would be artificial selection, right?  You would expect The Scientist to get this right.

wine-a-bitMy new motto.
[ via blogging.la ]

I really wasn't snippy at all, was I?

Have a fantastic weekend, and see you on the other side :)

 

 

 

contemplating breathless agony

Sunday,  04/27/08  09:52 PM

This Sunday night finds me contemplating Breathless Agony, a century in which I plan to ride next Saturday.  This appropriately named ride features 12,000 feet of climbing in 114 miles, and reaches 8,443' at the Onyx summit above Big Bear Lake.  Here's what the route profile looks like:

Breathless Agony route profile

Here's the route map as plotted on Google Maps:

Breathless Agony route map

There are four main passes, the Jack Rabbit is 4 miles at 4% (max 8%), the Oak Glen is 5 miles at 6.7% (max 16%), the Damnation Alley is 11 miles at 5.2% (max 10%), and the Onyx Summit is 9 miles at 4.4% (max 10%).  That is two Cat 2s and two Cat 1s.  In fact Damnation Alley could be an HC.  This could be a Tour stage, it is that tough.

Extreme rides require extreme measures, I am considering removing my aero bars for this ride.  I won't need them, and they're just another pound to lug up the hills.  That will require rewiring my computer, but so be it.  Another key decision is whether to use bottles or a camelback; bottles are lighter, but with a camelback it is easier to drink continuously.  There are SAG stops at the top of each climb, so some don't take water at all.  I think I'll stick with my trusty camelback, this is no place to bonk.

Should be fun!

 

Sunday,  04/27/08  10:27 PM

Had a great weekend; we went wine tasting with friends in the Temecula area, north east of San Diego.  The wine was unremarkable and the area seems more focused on tourism than winemaking, but we had a great time anyway, capped by a wonderful dinner at the South Coast Winery Resort (I will confess, we had Heitz Cabernet with dinner [from Napa]; it put the Temcula reds in their place).

Okay, so back to the real world, let's see what's happening...

More interesting than Microsoft's bid to acquire Yahoo is Microsoft's struggle to figure out what to do about Windows XP.  Of course they had previously announced XP would no longer be sold after June 30, but millions of their customers would rather keep buying XP than switch to Vista.  In fact Dell, HP, and Lenovo have all listened to their customers and are planning to ship machines "downgraded" to XP after June 30, exploiting a loophole in their license agreements with Microsoft.  This situation pits Microsoft against their customers, it will be interesting to see if Microsoft blinks.  I think how they handle this is more important to their future than the Yahoo deal.

[ Update: Eric Sink thinks it might be the most arrogant corporate decision in history. ]

Here's what happens when you don't listen to your customers: Firefox market share climbs higher.  Safari is also doing well.  Perhaps by the time IE 9 comes out, nobody will care.

slide ruleScientific American: When slide rules ruled.  I am old enough to remember this - barely.  I definitely remember getting my first HP electronic calculator when I was in college, must have been 1977 or so...  what a breakthrough!

In the same vein, my friend Craig points out the Curta calculator, a mechanical marvel.

Probably the biggest weakness of the iPhone is the keyboard, and the biggest reason is the lack of tactile feedback.  Now C|Net rumors Apple to add tactile feedback to iPhone.  "An anonymous Apple employee says company executives are in talks with Immersion to license its haptic technology for use in the iPhone, according to a report at Palluxo.com."  That would be cool.

Pininfarina dreamTTAC reports on a rumored relationship between Tata, the new owners of Jaguar, and Pininfarina, ace designers for Ferrari and Maserati.  Yes, please!

 

 

 

 

recovered

Monday,  04/28/08  01:25 AM

Yippee I am recovered!  (Thank you Acronis.)  I was able to do a full restore of a backup taken on April 6 from my [temporary] 100MB drive onto my [permanent] 250MB drive, and then restore a current backup of just my volatile files (Documents and Settings/ole) over it.  There were three keys, first, installing XP from scratch directly onto the drive, to get the boot sector and partition table right, second, having a large direct-connected drive to hold the backups (over a network, they take forever), and third, remembering that in order to restore "ole" I needed to sign on as "administrator".  It all worked, and I am happily up on the 250MB drive with no apparent data loss.  Whew.

I am no longer desperately seeking sympathy.  Although I am mindful of the fact that precelebration is the root of all failure.  As Dave Winer says, "praise Murphy" :)

 

Tuesday,  04/29/08  12:16 AM

Had a really nice time tonight; attended a classical music concert with my Mom.  Four Dutch students who are guests of the Netherlands American Foundation performed, and man, they were awesome!  The concert was in the Santa Monica Presbyterian Church, which in addition to being a nice setting also has great acoustics.  Not quite Ted Nugent, but all in all quite excellent.

Kara Swisher calls it like it is: Twitter: Where Nobody Knows Your Name.  "I conducted a little experiment among the more than 100 folks gathered for the wedding, all of whom were quite intelligent, armed with all kinds of the latest devices (many, many people had iPhones, for example) and not sluggish about technology.  They were also made up of a wide range of ages and genders, from kids to seniors.  And so I asked a large group of people–about 30–and here is the grand total who knew what Twitter was: 0."  More proof, if any were needed, that Twitter is an echo chamber, and not even a very big one.

iTunesWow, happy birthday iTunes Music Store, it turns five today.  Five!  I can so remember when it launched.  Even at time zero it seemed like it was going to be successful, but this successful?  Who knew!  [ Daring Fireball: Seems to be doing OK :) ]  (I'll commemorate with the old logo, from back in 2003.  Yeah, it used to be green.)

Dave Winer wonders Is Rev Wright the new Billy Carter?  I don't think so...  first, Billy was a relative, and you don't pick your relatives, while Wright was chosen by Obama to be his pastor, second, Wright has a big radical following, Carter was simply a fool, and third and perhaps most importantly, Obama's appeal is based on being a uniter, and Wright is a divider, hitting right at the core of that appeal.  I think Wright could be fatal to Obama, I really do, especially since he has resisted fading away.

Halley Suitt thinks it was okay for Miley Cyrus to pose topless.  Not me.  She's 15.  Fifteen!  She doesn’t need to be a sex symbol yet, and shouldn’t be.  There’s nothing wrong with the picture, it’s beautiful, but there’s something wrong with fifteen year olds posing topless.  Worse yet, she’s a role model for a lot of younger kids.  My 10 year old loves Hannah Montana, like all 10 year olds.  She doesn’t need her heros to be sex symbols yet.  That can come later, when she’s sixteen and her heros are twenty :)

 

koninginnedag!

Wednesday,  04/30/08  01:04 PM

 

I wanted to wish everyone Happy Koninginnedag (the Dutch Queen's Day)!

Yes of course I am wearing Orange, aren't you?  (Fortunately I have an orange Tivo tee-shirt :)

orange house!

Sorry, I know I've been gone; I was out riding Mount Palomar 'till late last night (yes I did wear my Rabobank riding kit :), and didn't get back in time to blog, and had to jump right into work this morning.  I'll try to post some updates later, but in the meantime have a Happy Queen's Day.  You could celebrate with some orange juice!

 

 

Wednesday,  04/30/08  11:16 PM

Greetings!  Did you have a wonderful Queen's Day?  I hope you did, and that you "thought Orange" all day.  Being Dutch is much more than a nationality or ethnic background, it is a state of mind.  After all, you can tell a Dutch person, but you can't tell them much :)

I had a nice day myself, though a long one; worked through some of niggling details.  Satisfying.

(You will notice and appreciate, I hope, that I am not going to dignify the whole Obama-Wright thing by commenting on it.)

This is fascinating; over an GNXP Razib has analyzed a bunch of data to figure out What predicts creationism?  Put another way, what factors correlate to a disbelief in evolution...  Nothing shocking but the data are nice to have laid out so cleanly.  Of course the other factor which correlates strongly, not considered this time, is intelligence.

ghost bikeI don't know whether to think this is cool, or spooky, or weird, or what: ghost bikes memorialize accidents.  "A Ghost Bike is a white-painted bike that is placed at a location where a cyclist has been hit."  I'm trying to imagine what it would be like to have a ghost bike on a daily ride.  I sort of have one now; a couple of years ago a neighbor was killed while riding on a street near my house, I know the exact spot it happened, and pass it several times a week.  Maybe the main reason to do it would be for cars, so they would be more careful.

One of my quarterly delights is reading the latest issue of Caltech's Engineering & Science, which always has some great articles about the doings there.  The tone is resolutely old school, harking back to the days of white-shirted engineers with slide rules and pocket protectors, quietly reinventing the world.  I am always interested in the obituaries; reading about these great people and their lives and accomplishments, such as Seymour Benzer, who pretty much invented modern genetics.  One of the obits in the latest issue is for David Elliot, professor of History emeritus.  I remember taking classes from Professor Elliot thirty years ago; I can still hear his Scottish brogue and cheerful enthusiasm, as he endeavored to teach history to a bunch of science students.  He taught me how to write, one of the most important things I've ever learned.  Thanks, David, see what you did :)

Speaking of how to write, and people who can; check out Regret and Time Travel, from Mark Elliot (no known connection to David).  "So, I can have no regrets and I can assign no blame, unless I am willing to invalidate and betray what I have gained."  Well said and thought provoking...  (You will notice and appreciate, that I am not going to dignify the whole Obama-Wright thing by pointing out the analogy.)

Remember when Microsoft Mesh was announced, I couldn't get interested enough to investigate?  Well, Joel Spolsky investigated, and concludes the Architecture astronauts take over.  I actually didn't even realize there was a difference between Microsoft Live Mesh (Hailstorm revisited), and Windows Live Mesh (Groove revisited).  Now that I've enjoyed Joel's skewering, I'm even less interested.  And meanwhile they are trying to buy Yahoo to, er, what?  Get technology?  Users?  Programmers?  Good ideas for new products, maybe...

Well here's a surprise: Schmidt says Google still scratching head over YouTube profits.  Remember when Google bought YouTube, we all wondered how in the world it could be worth $1.5B?  Well, it wasn't based on normal business metrics like cash flow.  Of course it was based on abnormal metrics like the amount Google's stock appreciated in value...

Rube Goldberg: InventionsMeanwhile YouTube has become the total standard for things like this: The best Rube Goldberg Ever.  I don't know about best ever, but it is pretty good.  [ via my daughter Megan, who is a sucker for these things, and who asked "who's Rube Goldberg"? - turns out he was a cartoonist... ]

 
 

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