Critical Section

Archive: September 2011

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on the horizon (New Yorker 8/29/11)

Thursday,  09/01/11  10:34 AM


"on the horizon"

a perfect end-of-summer cover



last summer weekend

Saturday,  09/03/11  07:09 PM

sailboat on the beach at sunset; awesome!Hey y'all; celebrating my last summer weekend, yeah I know the equinox isn't 'till September 23, but next weekend I go back to work (!) after twelve weeks off (!!) so this *feels* like my last summer weekend.  So far I've celebrated by watching a movie last night with Shirley (The Help, excellent), riding (of course, report to follow), and reading out by the pool enjoying the sun and breeze which felt most summery.  On tap tomorrow is more riding (of course) and more hanging out, and Monday I'm going sailing.  It has been a *great* summer and a long one too, but I am looking forward to getting back to work.  And in the meantime there is always blogging...

giant airship hanger turned into tropical resortRemarkable: Giant airship hanger transformed into tropical island resort.  How cool is that?  (Well okay, maybe "cool" is the wrong word :)  You could have summer forever in there!

Robert X Cringley: the mortgage reality distortion field.  "This is all you need to know to understand the stalled U.S. housing market: it is stalled because a class of investors has found a way for their investments to not only live on after the housing bubble popped, they are actually making more - in some cases a lot more - than they were on that money when the loans were originated."  Yikes.

Opportunity at work in Endeavor craterAwesome!  The Mars rover Opportunity begins study of Martian crater.  "We have a very senior rover in good health for having already worked 30 times longer than planned...  However, at any time, we could lose a critical component on an essential rover system, and the mission would be over. Or, we might still be using this rover's capabilities beneficially for years. There are miles of exciting geology to explore at Endeavor crater."

A couple from MG Siegler: the iPad as a PC replacement, and the Amazon Kindle revealed (Android based).  I agree tablets are rapidly becoming a new category which replaces PCs for many people; mostly those who don't have to type a lot.

HTML video player in actionWow, this is a big deal: HTML5 video player.  Free and open source, works on all browsers (including - ta da - IE9), and has full screen mode.  I suspect the key is that video has to be encoded in the right way on the server, but so be it; the YouTube's of the world will figure that out.  I am so tried of embedding Flash (with nested EMBED/OBJECT tags), and of course that doesn't even work on most mobile devices.

Great demo movie, too - I love watching birds fish :)

HP's 12c scientific calculatorI love this: HP's 12c calculator hits middle age, celebrates with 30th anniversary edition.  I still have a [working] HP 16c, which is great for hexadecimal calculations.  I don't use hex all the time, but when I do, I prefer HP's 16c :)

Apropos: I also have a still-working HP-25, the original programmable calculator.  I don't use it anymore, but it turns on :)

Yellowstone BisonPicture of the day: Yellowstone Bison, from Xeni Jardin, taken with her iPhone.  Please click through to enbiggen for maximum effect.

Good to know: Exercise tells stem cells to become bone, not fat.  I'm telling them as much as I can :)


it was just a bike

Saturday,  09/03/11  10:55 PM

It was just a bike.  That's what I keep telling myself.

My trusty Kestrel, hanging on the wallTonight it's late, I'm walking around the house checking doors and turning off lights, and walk out into the garage where two of the doors are still open.  I close the doors, glance at the wall where my road bike hangs, glance at it again, and glance once more.  It's gone!

I look around wildly like it would be anywhere else, but no; it's gone.  Someone has taken my trusty much beloved road bike, on which I have ridden so many miles.  Take a deep breath.  It was just a bike.


No ride tomorrow, I guess, now what do I do?  As it happened I have ordered a new bike but it won't be here for three more weeks, and there will be a shakedown period after that.  I was planning to continue using my old bike for training.  And of course I'm riding the Furnace Creek 508 in October, on the new bike, but was counting on having the old one as a backup, both in case of mechanical trouble and for mental peace of mind.  Oh well.

Kestrel ride stickers (click to enbiggen)With all the practical issues like having a bike for training and having a backup for the 508, my sense of loss is much deeper.  I've had this bike for ten years, and probably put 50,000 miles on it.  I've spent countless hours riding, thinking, training, and living on that bike... it had a near death experience but recovered, and just recently we rode the Son of Death Ride together.  The bike was covered with stickers commemorating all the "ultra" rides we did together.  But I still have those memories.  It was just a bike.


I'm not sure what to think yet, or what to do.  I'm staggered.

It was ... just a bike.


labor day pass

Monday,  09/05/11  08:39 PM

WLYC Labor Day regatta ... leading the C-14 fleet downwindA labor day blogging pass ... my weekend was pretty great (despite losing my bike), how was yours?  Today I went sailing, Westlake Yacht Club's annual Labor Day Regatta, and managed to win, barely, on the third tiebreaker over my longtime friend Charlie; I cannot guess how many times we've raced each other on this very water, since we were kids in single digits.  Followed by a steak BBQ and a nice glass of Pinot, an interesting movie (Sunshine Cleaning), and now ... blogging!

Myst - the classic adventure - returns on the iPadI've been re-playing Myst, on my iPad, it's been about 20 years since I played it last.  Still cool.  I so remember the amazingness of it, so far ahead of its time.  (And I remember getting a CD-ROM drive, at one time I was an expert at hooking them up - remember IRQs?)  The graphics and puzzles are still great.  And next up, Riven :)

BTW no, I don't remember all the puzzles ... actually I remember them after I solve them again, but not before :)

Was it really only a month ago that we got back from Europe?  Wow.  Seems like ... a year, or something.  Man has this summer passed  s l o w l y ...

An interesting interview with the CEO of Nestle, Peter Brabeck-Lemathe: Can the world still feed itself?  It's a wide ranging discussion - most interesting - but the most salient points are the inefficiency of using biologically produced calories as energy, and the foolishness of banning GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  The latter reminds me a lot of nuclear energy, in that the "greens" are on the wrong side of the issue.

A meta-observation: the acumen of our business leaders far exceeds that of our political leaders.  Sigh.

Those magnificent men - and women - in their flying machinesThe other night we watched Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.  A classic.  And all those flying scenes were real; this was pre-CGI.  How great to construct all those amazing contraptions?

bike in a treeI hope this isn't fake: a boy went to war in 1914, and left his bike chained to a tree...  excellent.

I haven't been paying much any attention to the Vuelta a Espana, but saw where Juan Jose Cobo is leading, after winning on the desperately tough climb to Angliru.  Good for him.  Bradley Wiggens is in the hunt, as is Denis Menchov.  Rooting for Bradley, it was tough luck when he crashed out of the Tour de France.

Excellent advice from Steve Jobs, passed along by Brad Feld: Start with the Customer Experience.  You can feel when a company does this, and also when they stop...

Here's an important question: Can a great chef's cookbook turn you into a great chef?  This is a tough question to investigate, because many of the buyers of great chefs' cookbooks are already good cooks.  I would say a great chef's cookbook can be inspirational, and that could make a big difference.

cyborg dinosaursThis is incredible: Cyborg Dinosaurs.  I can't do this justice, you just have to click through to read it, and watch the movie...

ZooBorns: baby ChinchillasWrapping up, ZooBorns of the weekend: Baby Chinchillas.

Onward!  Into my last week of vacation...


team Rocky

Tuesday,  09/06/11  11:00 AM

team Rocky ... rocksRocky the Squirrel update:  I now have one month to go, one more month of training and preparing before the big race.  Yay.  Actually I must tell you after riding the SoDR, I feel physically ready.  My big questions marks are mental preparation, and eating and drinking properly before and during the race.  For which I will need my team.


Tonight team Rocky held its first group meeting, it went great. We talked about logistics (hotels, crew vehicle), food (a lot, and drink), navigation, bikes and bike parts, clothes, etc. And of course we talked about the 508 route, the long distances, the climbs, the descents, best places to take breaks, etc.

Here's my team:

Mitch Albo

Gene Smith

Mark Elliot

It seems like everyone brings different experience and knowledge which is great. I'm totally excited to have such a great team!



why Evolution is true

Wednesday,  09/07/11  10:20 AM

Jerry Coyne explains "why evolution is true"Here's a pretty great BILL talk: Why Evolution is True, by Jerry Coyne. 

He begins by noting that the US is 34th among all countries in the acceptance of Evolution, just ahead of Turkey, and bemoans the fact.  This sets up a basic explanation of what Evolution is and why it is true.

There's a lot of hard evidence presented, which is great, but I like that he structures the argument so well.  There are the elements of evolution:

  • Evolution occurs
  • Speciation occurs
  • Species have common ancestors
  • Evolution occurs because of natural selection

hard evidence: the evolution of whalesAnd there are predictions which come from the "theory":

  • Life becomes more complex over time
  • Speciation occurs over time
  • Transitional forms exist
  • Vestigial features exist
  • Adaptation paths exist
  • Concrete examples of Natural Selection

And he notes there are no counter examples; nothing has been found which refutes Evolution.

Based on the huge amount of scientific evidence supporting these elements, predictions, and lack of counter examples, the "theory" is considered scientifically true, in the same sense as the theories that matter is made of atoms, or of gravitation, or of relativistic space-time.  He notes that all these other theories are more abstract, harder to grasp, and further from our everyday experience than Evolution, yet far more readily accepted.


evolution vs religionTo wrap up he considers why, in the face of such overwhelming evidence, Evolution isn't more accepted in the US.  Which brings him to religion; as shown in the graph at right, there is a strong negative correlation between acceptance of Evolution and belief in God.  Nobody can doubt that the apparent conflict between religious teaching and Evolution is responsible for the lack of acceptance in the US.

{ I say "apparent" conflict because while Evolution obviates the need for religion to explain the existence of Earth and its inhabitants, it does not directly contradict most religious doctrine.  But many people think it does... }

Unfortunately clear precise arguments like these are preaching to the choir; most people who accept scientific reasoning already accept Evolution anyway, and most people who don't accept Evolution also don't reason logically about it, so logical arguments are unlikely to sway them.

© 2003-2020 Ole Eichhorn


Thursday,  09/08/11  09:42 PM

Wow is it hot.  Hot.  Did some great cycling anyway, and enjoyed some peaceful poolside reading too.  I'm going to miss summer :) and I have only one day left.  I guess going back to work doesn't mean going back to working 24x7!

Obama bingoSo did you watch President Obama?  Me, neither.  I knew what he was going to say - let's spend a bunch of federal money creating new jobs - and I knew the positioning - let's break the legislative logjam created by the Republicans.  It was a campaign speech.  I'm sure everyone declared Bingo in the first five minutes.

What we actually need is a President and government which will get out of the way, so businesses can create new jobs for real.

So far the returns are not positive.

I didn't watch the Republican debate last night either, did you?  It might have been slightly more interesting, but (yawn) I couldn't bring myself to do it.  I think it's interesting that while there is debate about the winner - Perry vs Romney - there is no debate that the CNN moderators lost.  Click through, I love that clip of Newt giving 'em hell.

Lucasfilm' "Sandcrawler" officeThis is cool: Lucasfilm unveils "sandcrawler" office.

Things I think:

Stay cool my friends!


political compass

Thursday,  09/08/11  10:13 PM

Have you taken the political compass test?  Here's how I come out:

Feels pretty accurate to me.  BTW I found I answered "agree" and "disagree" a lot, and "strongly" hardly at all.  YMMV!


never forget

Sunday,  09/11/11  12:01 AM



back to work

Saturday,  09/17/11  06:42 PM

I'm baaack ... to workSo ... I'm back, as in back to work, as in last weekend I attended the College of American Pathologist's annual conference, flew back, and spent a couple of days back in my office in Vista.  It was pretty weird, but exciting too; I'm ready for some new challenges.  Fortunately the company didn't miss a beat in my absence; I could feel bad ("they don't need me anymore") but actually I feel good ("I'm free to throw myself into some new projects").  More than anything it was nice to see all my friends at work, I had a nice reception.  I've also kept riding this week - final approach, just three weeks 'till the 508! - and now it's back to blogging as well...

You may ask - and many of you have already - how was my twelve weeks off?  GREAT.  Actually I'll have more to say about that in the coming days ... please stay tuned :)

Love using the Kindle app on my iPhone, because it links straight into Wikipedia.  I have almost entirely stopped using my Kindles, only use them outside in sunlight.

Apropos: Amazon's future is so much bigger than a tablet.

GoDaddy was bought!  By KKR et al.  Not totally comfortable with this, but IIWII.

Raise your hand if you're still using Google+.  I'm not, but then again I never have.  It looks like my careful effort to avoid using it or even learning much about it has paid off.

Google have announced a new structured programming language called Dart.  Apparently it is a better JavaScript.  Who ordered that?  I plan to treat it much like Google+ and hope for the best.

Heathkit single-sideband receiverYay oh yay: Heathkit DIY kits are coming back.  Man, I spent some of the best time of my childhood with my Dad in his workshop, soldering resisters and capacitors onto circuit boards.  Put me down for this!

The Heathkit single-sideband receiver at right looks so familiar; I'm almost sure I built one of these for my Dad's boat :)

Of course today's Heathkit is the Arduino.  Maybe I should learn how to make stuff from them?  Here's a cool comic book introduction to the Arduino.  For the list...

One of the truest things I've ever posted: the inverted pyramid for video.  "I find most YouTube -type video is organized like a mini movie. No good. Grab me immediately on startup, or I'm gone."  Still just as true today.

Juan Jose Cobo wins the 2011 Vuelta a EspanaCongratulations to Juan Jose Cobo, who unexpectedly leveraged his win on the steep slopes of the Angliru to win the 2011 Vuelta a Espana.  Excellent.

Reading about the Angliru reminded me of my own brush with a steep Vuelta stage, when I rode up to the Lagos de Covadonga in 2007.  An experience I'll never forget, but I love having that blog post too :)

Answering the important questions: Do big cats like to chase laser pointers?  (Spoiler: yes)


what's inside red wine

Saturday,  09/17/11  07:24 PM

Ever wonder what's inside red wine?  Wired magazine to the rescue :)


Reginald is not amused

Saturday,  09/17/11  07:33 PM

So, have you seen the blog Spock is not impressed?  It's pretty funny; they photoshop Mr. Spock looking unimpressed into various other pictures. I have a similar idea for a new blog: Reginald is not amused, featuring my cat, Reggie :)

If I did this, he would not be amused.



Blue Gavel

Sunday,  09/18/11  11:23 PM

the venerable Blue Gavel trophyHow was your weekend?  Mine was pretty good, thanks; long tough ride yesterday, and then hanging out, watched an old chick flick (Beaches!), and today did a short ride and raced in the Westlake Yacht Club's Blue Gavel regatta, and then watched a new chick flick (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days).  In between saw each of my daughters coming and going, and even worked a little on some project proposals.  I know, I know, too much information ... onward:

Oh and I managed to install the Win 8 developer preview, which was a minor exercise in yak shaving as it involved upgrading to VMWare 8 :)  I'll have more to say about it soon.

professor signature semioticsImportant work: The semiotics of professor e-mail signatures.  Highly recommended - O.  [ via Z :) ]

Speaking of email signatures, the other day I noted "Email signatures should be contact information, not sayings".  Prompting William to email "I couldn't agree more"; his email signature was ... "Email signatures should be contact information, not sayings" - Ole Eichhorn.  How great is that?

Rereading an old post, I encountered some excellent correlation vs causality confusion.  "The alternative headline, 'why kids with lower IQs need to be spanked', was apparently not considered, despite the fact that IQ is demonstratively harder to change than needing-to-be-spanked."  Fire on 'em!

Albert EinsteinFrom Time Magazine, May 1955: Death of a Genius, an epitaph for Albert Einstein.  "Einstein's only instruments were a pencil and scratchpad; his laboratory was under his cap. Yet he saw farther than a telescope, deeper than a microscope. Einstein traveled in lonely splendor to the crossroads of the visible and the invisible, expressing each in terms of the other."  A reminder not only of the former greatness of Professor Einstein, but of Time Magazine.

So, Sprint says they can handle the iPhone traffic.  Good to hear.  I love my iPhone, but I do not love having a crappy Verizon signal at my house.  Sprint was great.

BTW I have a Verizon "network extender", a mini cell tower attached to my network, but the voice quality through the extender is variable and often iffy.

volcanic auroraAwesome: The most amazing space pictures of 2011.  (so far :)  My pick is the volcanic aurora at left, over the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.  (Yes of course that's the correct spelling.)

Clive Thompson gets asked How did you find my site?  A good question, and I'd like to ask you how you found mine :)


from Vacaville

Friday,  09/23/11  10:29 AM

Vacaville!Blogging from Vacaville, CA, where I find myself to ride in the Knoxville Double Century tomorrow, after a nice dinner at The Mustard Grill in Davis (I *love* Davis, BTW, what a great little college town).  Anyway.

So last week was my first week back, and this week was my first "real" week back, with projects and assignments and deadlines and deliverables, and interactions with colleagues and partners and customers.  It was weird to be back, and great.  I suspect the weirdness will wear off and I hope the greatness doesn't :)

I have lots to blog about, and while I have to sleep I'm not sleepy, so here goes...

solved protein structureHow excellent is this?  Public solves protein structure.  "Players of an online game that allows users to adjust how proteins are folded have solved a decade-long protein structure mystery."  Turn anything into a game and you can harness a lot of human energy; remember SETI@home?  Wow.

Good advice: avoid boolean "traps" in an API.  Don't you love it when you're reading code and see: doSomething(false); and you're like, is this going to do it or not?  Much better to use an enum so you have doSomething(faster);

An interesting take on the perils of automated memory management, from my colleague Ed.  "The moral here is; you can't just assume that resource use is not an issue you will have to tackle in a managed application."  Amen.  I'm glad to see the younger generation (*cough*) doesn't necessarily buy into the whole managed code story.  I look forward to great things from Ed, not only is he an excellent engineer, he's off to a great start as a blogger :)

Reading this prompted me to head back into my Archive to find: managed memory leaks, a most excellent foaming rant from three years ago.

Ready Player One - fantastic!I can confirm Ready Player One is a fantastic book.  I'm reading it now - on my iPhone using the Kindle App - and can hardly put it down.  I'm not even an 80's video game fanatic, but I love all the references anyway.  Check it out!

BTW this is a great book to read on an iPhone with the Kindle App, because I could readily Wikipedia any obscure references I didn't know.  Added a lot of texture to be able to see all the mech warrior robots, for example :)

webvi in action!Some people look at something like webvi and ask why?, I look at it and say awesome!

Back in the day when I did lots of *ix programming (AIX if you must know) I used vi a lot, and I came to dislike it a lot, and I actually wrote my own editor called ice, full-screen on dumb terminals.  I don't use ice anymore, but somehow I still find myself using vi ... to edit ksh scripts :)  If you are reading this, there's a script somewhere which still works because of it.

I'm loving IOS 5 but hating a bug which causes me to "lose" pictures I take directly after double-clicking the iPhone's home button.  Don't know whether I can trust it - such as when doing a long ride.  Blech.  Tried this advice to fix iPhone Camera Roll corruption but didn't help entirely.  Tried reloading the whole thing; stay tuned to see if that helped.  If you have any suggestions I'm open to them (TIA).

BTW, do you recognize TIA?  It's a TLA I use often...

paging Dr. Watson ...Way cool!  IBM's Watson to offer medical advice to doctors.  "IBM has inked a deal with health insurer WellPoint that will let the latter use the technology behind "Jeopardy"-playing computer Watson to suggest patient diagnoses and treatments.  WellPoint hopes the technology will help improve the quality of patient care and help reduce costs."  Even more useful than playing chess or jeopardy!

Avatar! - the movie which heralded the age of 3DRemember how 3D was going to take over the world?  What happened?  Here are four theories.  Personally I think the technology is amazing, but you *still* need a good story.  Paging Pixar :)

Joel Spolsky answers the tough questions: Should you launch at a conference?  (his answer: yes)

Did you see Netflix' interesting news?  They're splitting off their historical DVD rental business into a separate company called Qwixster, and concentrating on the online video rental business.  Seems like a great move, albeit communicated a bit ineffectively.  MG Siegler's thinks this is a lesson for Microsoft.  Huh.

Windows 8!So Windows 8 has been announced - I actually have it running in a VM right now (!) - and Axel Raushmayer reviews the keynote at which it was announced, so you don't have to.  A great overview.  I'm struck by the dual nature of the OS; it feels like Windows 7 with the "Metro" UI glued on the front.  And Metro Apps look and feel nothing whatever like Windows Apps.  I get what they're trying to do, but I wonder if it makes sense.  Maybe having a 100% Metro OS (only) for mobile devices would be better...

In case you're wondering, no, I don't like the new Facebook changes. What was wrong with displaying my friends' updates in chronological order? That made so much sense. Now I have to pick around more to make sure I didn't miss anything. I get that there are people with 1,000 "friends" who each post 100 status updates every hour, and who need this kind of filtering, but I'm not one of them.  Blech.

Google Wallet!Wow this could be big: Google Wallet, confirmed.  Everyone wants to use their phone as a credit card, but this isn't as groundbreaking as you might think; notice the Mastercard logo, because this payment system still uses the same infrastructure as credit cards.  Will be most interesting to see how much traction this gets among merchants.

Funniest analogies: "Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever."

And finally this:  "An infinite number of mathematicians walk into a bar. The first one tells the bartender he wants a beer. The second one says he wants half a beer. The third one says he wants a fourth of a beer. The bartender puts two beers on the bar and says 'You guys need to learn your limits'.


cyclistes 1947

Friday,  09/23/11  10:02 PM


"cyclistes, 1947"

(awesome poster on the wall of Megan's French teacher's classroom :)


Knoxville Double

Sunday,  09/25/11  09:34 PM

Yesterday I survived the Knoxville Double, all 202 miles and 12,600' of it, riding a giant figure eight through and around Napa Valley and its beautiful and isolated environs, like Lake Berryessa.  This was my last long ride before the Furnace Creek 508 in two weeks, and my best chance to concentrate on eating and drinking all through the ride.  That worked well - I finished hungry and thirsty, but not famished and dehydrated.  Unfortunately I also suffered from "hotfoot", a common cyclist ailment wherein the pads of your feet hurt right where they press on the pedals.  It was bad, and I'm going to have to find a solution or it will be a real problem in the 508.

This is an interesting ride because it doesn't have too many defined "climbs", but instead just goes up and down all day, so that you can't believe you've climbed over 12,000' at the end of it.  I found myself loving the 34x28 granny on my borrowed bike, same as I'll have on my new bike; even when not in the granny, having it caused me to dial back and spin instead of powering along.  Maybe a bit slower, but certainly a lot faster over the course of 200 miles.  I finished in 13:53 which is pretty respectable for a hilly double, especially considering I went into it determined to "take it easy".

Here are some pictures:

the route: 202 miles, 12,600', in a big figure eight in and around Napa Valley

sunrise over Peña Adobe Park in Vacaville

the metropolis of Green Valley

self-portrait riding through the vines

Silverado Trail: beautiful wineries yield beautiful wines

one of my favorites: the Oakville Grocery; didn't stop for cheese but wanted to :)

CIA headquarters (Culinary Institute of America); Greystone Mansion

climbing Deer Park looking back into Napa Valley

descending to Pope Valley - whoosh!

how awesome is this?  a 360panorama of Lake Berryessa shot from my iPhone with 360panorama
(yes, you MUST click to see in all its panoramic glory)

Knoxville-Berryessa Road, the backbone of this ride goes on forever...

cruising along, didn't see many other humans all day, not even many other riders

not too many big climbs but lots of rollers like this one
was very happy to have a 24x28 granny gear

Walker Cove, Lake Berryessa

the Monticello Dam which created Lake Berryessa
apparently there was once a town called Monticello now deep under the lake

don't know the name of this river, but it's beautiful :)

final checkpoint, the turn home

riding through Pleasants Valley in the dusk

back to Peña Adobe Park, was it only fourteen hours ago that I left?

post-ridedinner at Bardessono in Yountville was spectacular

A highlight of this ride is the California Triple Crown awards breakfast the next day (this morning). And a highlight of the breakfast is the part where cyclists who have completed 50 or more double centuries are inducted into the hall of fame. 50 doubles! that's unbelievable. I loved hearing their stories, and thinking about all those years and all the miles they've ridden. Wow.

Mr. California Tripe Crown Chuck Bramwell emcees the awards breakfast

A great story was told about the first winner of Paris-Brest-Paris, a famous 1200km brevet; when asked "how can you ride so far?" he answered, "if a pedal comes up, I just push the bastard down, and then if the other pedal comes up, I push it down too." I love it.


vs fifteen years ago

Monday,  09/26/11  08:59 PM


"15 years ago, vs today"

(actually it is more like 15 years ago vs 5 years ago; today is another column with iPhones)



seeing Ray Kurzweil

Monday,  09/26/11  09:54 PM

A few weeks ago I attended the College of American Pathologists' annual convention, and was privileged to see Ray Kurzweil as the keynote speaker for the main session.  Ray is a fascinating and accomplished guy; perfect to address the leading Pathologists in the world on the subject of innovation.  He actually has history with this field, too; his Kurzweil Speech Systems (now Nuance) developed the text-to-speech algorithms used by many pathologists for dictating diagnoses.

Ray is nothing if not an optimist; to him, technology grows in price/performance at an exponential rate, regardless of the underlying dynamics of societies and economies, and this ultimately results in dramatic improvements in the overall standard of living, as well as health.  He pointed out that life expectancy is following this trend, and if we can only live long enough we'll live to see a day when people live much longer.

He talked about the way we're using advances in genomics and "reprogramming the software of the body", with dramatic results.  The implications for medical care are only just know being felt, but will be significant.  Imagine a world in which everyone's DNA sequence is known.  Imagine a world in which changing any gene can be done easily.  This world is closer than we think.  The vast improvements in information processing are also causing big changes; for example, Watson, IBM's computer which defeated world champions at Jeopardy, is now being used to digest and analyze medical diagnoses, with the intent of using it to give doctors advice.

The most interesting implications to me were for business strategy; in his view, technology improves exponentially, but companies can only foresee and plan linearly.  Therefore there will be inevitable disconnects between what we think will happen and what will actually happen.  The most successful companies aren't the ones who can see ahead the furthest, but rather those who can react to unpredictable events the most effectively.  This biases business success toward smaller nimbler companies, and those large companies which are sufficiently distributed to behave like multiple smaller ones.

It was a great talk and will provide me much food for thought.  Already I am asking myself "what things could happen in the next five years much sooner than I expect", and what will be the implications...


the Earth in 60 seconds

Tuesday,  09/27/11  06:57 PM


This must-see video condenses the International Space Station's night flight over Earth into 60 seconds,
courtesy of science educator James Drake.


[via the Horse's Mouth]



on Fire

Wednesday,  09/28/11  11:08 PM

So, today Amazon announced four new Kindles, including the Kindle Fire, an Android-based 7" color tablet for $199.  This is not a mere iPad wanna-be, in fact I don't think it is positioned against the iPad much at all.  I think this is much more Amazon competing with Wal-Mart than it is Amazon competing with Apple.  For the full story, please see Jeff Bezos' keynote:

In front of a slide showing logos for Amazon's web services,, Amazon Kindle, Amazon video, Amazon MP3, and Amazon Appstore, Jeff said "we asked ourselves, can we leverage all of these businesses to create a compelling new product that customers will enjoy?  The answer is Kindle Fire."  You can see from this positioning, Kindle Fire is a portal to Amazon's services, it is *not* a general purpose tablet.  And that's why it can cost $199, and that's why it is more of a threat to Wal-Mart than Apple.  Overall I agree with this: it's not Amazon vs Apple, it's Amazon and Apple vs everyone else.

BTW I must say I was most impressed with Bezos' speech.  He wasn't Steve Jobs, but he wasn't trying to be; he gave a clean crisp presentation of the new products and the logic behind them in a compelling way.  He presented only the most important details and arguments, in a calm relaxed manner.  Very strong.

The Silk "split browser" that Amazon is using on the Fire is most interesting.  In this architecture all page requests are passed from the Kindle clients to Amazon's servers, from where each page is assembled and excerpted from its component parts before being returned to the device.  In theory this will make surfing much faster, delivering a better user experience, but there are business implications for Amazon as well.  Chris Espinosa's take is compelling: "Amazon now has what every storefront lusts for: the knowledge of what other stores your customers are shopping in and what prices they're being offered there."  Look for this architecture to be copied by others... (maybe even using Amazon's own infrastructure :)

Overall I was most impressed by Amazon; instead of building a device and hoping people will figure out why they want one, they've created a content delivery service, with the device as an endpoint.  It will be interesting to monitor their traction.  Stay tuned!


Thursday,  09/29/11  09:54 PM

Meg shoots the pizzaWhew, what a long eventful week, and it isn't over yet; heading back down to Vista tomorrow for a meeting there, and have a meeting back in the Valley in the afternoon.  But I also have a backlog of things to blog about...

Oh, and I have a most happy daughter; Meg is taking a video editing class, and we got her a new video camera.  (Yay, that such classes exist!)  Actually we got her a new camera, period; a Canon T3, which is an awesome 35mm digital camera and a cool video camera, all in one.  (Yay, that such devices exist!)

Moody Blues' Every Good Boy Does FavorHave you ever wondered at your brain's ability to remember music?  It is truly incredible how many songs you know, how many songs you can recognize within just a few notes, and how much of the song you can remember.  Just today I was driving listening to Classic Rewind on XM and the Moody Blues' Music to the Story in Your Eyes came on.  I haven't heard that song for 100 years but I recognized it instantly, and was able sing along without any problem.  (Well, I can't sing, but I can try :)  Amazing.

Who would have thought?  Record-low SAT scores a wake up call.  "SAT reading scores for the high school class of 2011 were the lowest on record, and combined reading and math scores fell to their lowest point since 1995."  While everyone struggles to rationalize these data points, we should accept them for what they are; evidence of Unnatural Selection.

Interesting: Do users change their settingsNo.  The power of defaults is strong and must be respected.

UCSF stem cell lab; not a typical environment for scienceA fascinating article in the New Yorker: Laboratory Conditions, in which architects re-imagine the science laboratory environment.  It turns out extraordinary work environments can yield extraordinary results.

This is way cool: Augmented Reality's Disruptive Potential.  "One of the most interesting apps that someone produced was a virtual tee-shirt shop. It was placed in the 20 most expensive shopping streets in the world, selling tee-shirts. Stop and think about that for a minute. He built a virtual shop where a real one already existed."  Excellent!

In thinking about Ray Kurzweil's talk about how things develop exponentially when you expect them to develop linearly, augmented reality is a good candidate for a technology which is set to explode.

Another candidate: Rapid Ramp in full-genome sequencing: 30,000 in 2011.  Ray actually mentioned this one; the day is nearly at hand when everyone's DNA will be sequenced.

Wooden desk which incorporates a fluidic computerThis is excellent: Wooden desk hides a pipe organ and fluidic computer.  Don't you just love non-electric mechanical devices?  Me, too.  I don't know why, but this is ever so much cooler than a desk which accomplishes the same things with electronics.

Duplicating blogger Jason Kottke with software: Robottke.  You can imagine that while it isn't quite as good now, it could get better, and eventually maybe even better than Kottke himself.  This is sort of a weird Turing Test, huh?

I'm not buying this: Neutrinos clocked faster than light.  Anything faster than light would violate causality, and that is logically impossible.  The interpretation of the experimental results must be wrong.

Tap tap, crash: "'We don't allow faster than light neutrinos in here' said the bartender.  A neutrino walks into a bar."  :)

Mark Cavendish wins 2011 world road racing championshipMan, I shouldn't have done this but I did; I ignored the world cycling championships!  Congratulations to Tony Martin for upsetting Fabian Cancellara and winning the world time trial championship, and congratulations to Mark Cavendish for outsprinting the field and winning the world road racing championship.  (I must say, I think the organizers of the worlds should always have a course which breaks up the field and doesn't result in a field sprint, but what do I know...)

Dirk Schmidt: Visualizing the Steve Jobs era.  "From a value creation point of view, it’s hard to think of a better performance from anyone, ever."  And related, hard to think of anyone who will have left a bigger impact on the world of technology and business.

Volkswagon's New Beetle page: just scroll :)This is pretty amazing: Volkswagon's New Beetle page, "just scroll".  HTML5 gone amuck!  Definitely not your father's web page, celebrating a car which is not your father's beetle.  BTW works in IE 9 (yay), but not under IOS (boo).

Angry Bird costumeStuck for a Halloween costume?  You could always be an Angry Bird.  I love it :)

Finally, celebrating Rosh Hashana, Google brings the Dead Sea Scrolls online.  L'Shana Tova!



Friday,  09/30/11  10:29 PM

end of Q3Wow, end of September, end of Q3, end of ... summer.  And now onward into fall and the holidays and so on, all the stuff that happens in Q4.  Next weekend I have the Furnace Creek 508, which I've been thinking about all summer, and so that feels like the real end of Q3, but here we are.  Today was quite a day; started out driving down to Vista for a planning meeting, then drove up to the Valley for another meeting (and yes, it rained, and yes, I had mega traffic), and finally made it home in time for a nice dinner :)  Yay.  Meanwhile, it's all happening...

Don Draper pitches Facebook TimelineDon Draper pitches the Facebook Timeline.  This is great, but I'm not a big fan of the timeline.  Actually I don't mind the timeline, I mind that my News Feed isn't in chronological order anymore.  Anyway.

John Gruber's take on Amazon's New Kindles is much the same as mine.  "It’s all about the content, though. That’s the difference that other tablet makers missed. Motorola, Samsung, RIM - they seem to be chasing the iPad on specs, building the best tablet they can manage at the same starting price of around $500. But they have no clear message telling people what you can do with them."

Apparently Amazon are considering bringing Silk to Windows, Mac, and Android.  Not surprising.

Meanwhile: Finally, the tablet to make HP and RIM feel better.  "On NBC's 'The Office,' the fictional Dunder Mifflin team was forced to sell a triangle-shaped tablet, dubbed the Pyramid."  Hey you never know, with the right content...

Life of George: digital-to-physical gameplayThis is just fantastic: Life of George melds Lego bricks with IOS for 'digital-to-physical' gameplay.  Apparently you build stuff with the Legos, then take a picture to get credit inside the iPhone App.  A whole new category.

Mike Arrington takes a look back one year to AOL's acquisition of TechCrunch, which blew up spectacularly in recent weeks, leading to Mike's departure.  Too bad because there has been so much interesting tech news of late, and news about news isn't so interesting.

$40M eco-yacht!Check this out: $40M Solar Sailboat for Eco-Conscious Yachtsman.  Does it actually sail?  Well yeah, apparently.  And it's so pretty!

I can *so* relate to this:  My non-linear work stream.  "In the era before Blackberrys, iPhones, instant messaging, social networks, and blogs, I had a predictable day."  Eliminating all the interrupts and focusing is hard.

I'm gonna wrap with a couple of most excellent pictures, first, here we have one from a surf-city surf dog competition held in Huntington Beach:

surf dogs!

And here's my picture of the day quarter, a bunch of Giant Panda cubs, all taking a nap:

Giant Panda cubs, taking a nap :)



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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