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Archive: February, 20

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Saturday,  02/01/03  11:25 AM

Happy Birthday Nicole!Happy Birthday Nicole!  My oldest daughter turns 21 today.  She's at the Navy's Great Lakes Training Center right now, so I doubt she'll be able to go out drinking, but we'll toast her from here.  We're really proud of her...

I got up in a great mood, ready for a quiet day, feeling a little less sick, and then I read about the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrating over Texas.  Wow.  Sad, bad, stuff.  Technology is so great, but it is not perfect.

Today my little 'blog turns 1 [month]!  Seems like only yesterday I started.  This weekend I'll be making a few changes to accomodate archiving; having every post stay on the home page is okay for now, but not the long term solution.  I've had 926 visitors (people who have come back more than once), and 166 of you have come back at least three times.  Thanks!  [How we track you.]

 

Sunday,  02/02/03  04:15 PM

Today was Groundhog Day.  Puxatawny Phil did see his shadow - six more weeks of winter.  We were in Santa Barbara today, and the weather was perfect.  Why would anyone not live in Southern California?

The Columbia disaster continues to attract huge amounts of attention, both in the media and the blogosphere.  For me personally I am very sad, but this has not affected me the same way as the Challenger disaster in 1986.  I don't know why, but it doesn't have that "where were you when you heard the news" quality.

Here's a great article about the current state of the Iraq situation, from an English perspective.  Among other things they think the bombing will start on March 4, a new moon.  Let's hope Saddam seems the light, but it seems doubtful.  Iraq's latest: "U.S. will fabricate proof".

This is incredible.  "I really don't see how believing in the evolution of humanity has anything to do with studying science."  Uh, right.

John Snyder, president of Artist House records and a 32-time Grammy nominee, wrote this great article for Salon called Embrace File Sharing or Die.  He hits so many nails on the head I can't list them all.  My favorite: people pay for bottled water even though tap water is free, and they pay for Starbucks even though their office has free coffee.  People will pay for great, even if good is free. You just won’t get them to pay for not-as-good when good is free.  Meanwhile this interesting article on Slate says that recordable DVDs will be superced by network connections between your TV and your PC.

Did you watch the Pro Bowl?  I never do...  seems totally anticlimactic after the Super Bowl.  It is time for me to morph into a basketball fan again.

Finally, I implemented a little archive facility, to let you get to any day's stuff, any's weeks, or any month's.  The home page will now display only the last fourteen days' postings.  (As before, you may also search for anything you want...)

 

Monday,  02/03/03  10:28 AM

The dot-com shoes keep dropping!  Yesterday Brobeck, a leading dot-com era law firm, announced they were shutting their doors.  And today Key3Media, which runs Comdex, filed for bankruptcy.

Is it just me, or are the 'blogs doing a better job of covering the Columbia disaster than the media?  I learned far more from Glenn Reynolds than I did from CNN.  Bloggers care about why it happened and what will happen next technically.  The media care about who's fault it was and what will happen next politically.  Dave Winer is right!

Wired - "Tivo: The Rise of God's Machine".  Yeah, I like mine, too :)

The Vatican says Harry Potter is okay.  Whew...

 

Wednesday,  02/05/03  07:26 PM

Hmmm...  technical trouble kept this post in jail on my PC, it couldn't escape to the server.  Yippee, it's free.

So - my reaction to Colin Powell's speech before the U.N.:  It was solid evidence that the Iraqis are not complying with terms of U.N. Resolution 1441.  It was not solid evidence they're making WMDs, or that they have them.  So it is a narrower smoking gun than many have wished for.  It justifies further U.N. action, since it shows the U.N. resolution was violated, but it doesn't [by itself] justify U.S. military action.  Bush must have other evidence that Iraq is making and/or has WMDs that he isn't willing to share yet - we're pretty far along the path of war.  The reaction of the U.N. delegates was predictable - "oh, so Saddam is not complying with our resolution, let's send in more inspectors".  I think we aren't going to get a second U.N. resolution sanctioning military action - France would veto, among other things - but that won't stop us...

Columbia wing seen from insideHave you seen this picture?  This is a frame from an Israeli TV program called "Erev Hadash" taken on January 20.  Astronaut Ilan Ramon spoke with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon through a video link. He presented his view out the window of the Columbia shuttle.  Right there on the surface of the wing you can see a long crack and a dent.  Eleven days later, it was that same wing that broke off during reentry, causing the shuttle to disintegrate.  Even if NASA knew about the damage from the moment it happened, they could have done nothing.  Gene Kranz, the flight director who orchestrated the rescue of astronauts aboard the crippled Apollo 13 in 1970 ("Failure Is Not An Option"), said that from what he knew, there was nothing that could have been done to save the flight.  "The options," he said in a telephone interview, "were just nonexistent".

I love it when old media reviews the blogosphere.  They never get it right.  Kind of like the way TV reviewed "The World Wide Web" [say it in a deep voice] in 1996.  Ask yourself this: why is it that whenever the media do a story about something you really know, they get it wrong?

Guess what?  They've explained hiccups.  Thanks goodness for science!

 

Thursday,  02/06/03  11:42 AM

In houses these days you have two groups of equipment:  The A/V stuff clustered around the TV in the family room, and the computer stuff clustered around the broadband connection in the bedroom or office.  To glue these groups together Intel has developed a digital media adapter [ZDnet movie], a wireless front-end for the A/V stuff.  Cool - I want one!

 

Friday,  02/07/03  12:27 PM

The French are starting to take some well-deserved hits for their lack of support for the U.S. on Iraq.  I like this one!

Wired has a nice update on the Man vs. Machine battle, aka Kasparov vs. Deep Junior.  As you know, the series is tied after five matches, with one match remaining.  Chess experts feel the chess played in this match is the prettiest ever by a computer.  May the best, er, chess player win!

Scoble has a thoughtful post about Microsoft and Weblogs.  I like Scoble - he thinks of interesting stuff.  I like him so much, I'm adding him to my blogroll.  Welcome, Robert!

{
Wondering "what the heck is a blogroll?"  Well, you're in luck, because I'm in an explaining mood today.  When people have a weblog like this one, they often have a list of "sites they like" and/or "weblogs they visit".  I have one over there on the right.  This is a blogroll.  Some people get carried away and list every site they've ever visited, with the result that you have hundreds of links and it isn't useful.  But I like every site in my roll and visit them often.  You should, too!
}

Jon Udell writes about "Shipping the Prototype" in Info World.  I agree 100%.  Visual Basic is a great language for writing applications.  Heck, so is Korn Shell :)  Whatever gets your functionality out the door and into the hands of users...

Today I added GUIDs to this site's RSS feed.  You might be a geek if you know what this means, or care...

{
RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication.  An "RSS feed" for a website is a text file which contains a computer-understandable table-of-contents.  There are programs you can get called "RSS aggregrators" which combine RSS feeds from many different sites to create a customizable view of the contents of all the sites.  This is particularly useful with news sites and weblogs, which have content that changes frequently.  A nice friendly aggregator is Userland Software's Radio.
}

 

The Role of Inspectors

Friday,  02/07/03  06:52 PM

The U.S. government is patiently explaining to the world and to our congress the point of view that inspectors are not spies.  These explainers are intelligent, articulate people (well many of them are one or the other, and a few are both), and they probably don't need any help from me.  But you know me, they're going to get help anyway.

Here's the thing.  U.N. Resolution 1441 charged Iraq with disarming.  The role of the inspectors was and remains to verify that Iraq is disarming.  That is it.  They are supposed to watch and record as the Iraqis dismantle existing weapons and "prove" that weapons previously known to exist have been destroyed.  They are the U.N.'s eyes and ears to verify Iraqi compliance with the resolution.

The role of inspectors never was and is not now to find weapons nor to prove that they do not exist.  The inspectors are not spies.  I live in a town of about 10,000 people, covering about 6 square miles.  Imagine 10 nuclear bombs the size of washing machines were hidden somewhere in this town.  If I took 200 munitions experts with me, I could search for weeks and weeks and never ever find the bombs.  Iraq is the size of California, and includes large cities like Baghdad.  How in the world can 200 people search it thoroughly?  No way.  None at all.

The U.S. claims that Iraq is not complying with U.N. Resolution 1441.  By way of proof, U.S. officials have shown that Iraqi officials are moving vehicles and weapons away from locations the inspectors are due to visit, disguising chemical plants, and preventing the inspectors from interviewing key Iraqi scientists.  Hans Blix, the leader of the inspections team, said emphatically, "they know very well what they should provide. We have not seen it yet".  Mohamed ElBaradei, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General,  says Iraq needs to show "drastic change" in cooperating with U.N. weapons inspectorsThis is clear evidence that Iraq is in violation of the U.N. Resolution.

If you were confused about this, don't feel bad, because apparently many foreign governments and diplomats are confused also.  They are calling for more inspectors!  They don't get it.  You could put 10,000 inspectors in Iraq, and it would not matter one whit because they are there to monitor Iraqi disarmament, and the Iraqis are not disarming!

One final point before I leave the soapbox.  So there is clear evidence that Iraq is in violation of U.N. Resolution 1441.  They are not disarming.  So be it.  Whatever the U.N. decides to do about this, whether they do nothing, or debate endlessly, or send in more inspectors, or make another resolution, is the U.N.'s business.  But - and this is the point - the U.S. is not going to war with Iraq because a U.N. resolution was violated.  Don't be confused about this.  If the U.S. goes to war, it will be because, in the judgement of our government, Iraq represents a clear and present danger to the U.S.  That will be the reason.  So in order to go to war, it doesn't matter whether there is clear evidence that the Iraqis are not complying with a U.N. Resolution, what matters is whether there is clear evidence that the Iraqis have and/or are building WMDs.  I believe the U.S. government already has this evidence.  If they don't, they had no business going as far down the path to war as they have.  And if they do, I look for them to reveal some of this evidence soon...

 

Saturday,  02/08/03  07:15 PM

Today features an interesting ploy by the French.  They have proposed a U.N. peacekeeping force be stationed in Iraq, as a way to prevent Iraqi aggression while averting war.  It certainly complicates things, since now there is a credible alternative for U.N. Security Council members to consider (besides doing nothing and attacking Iraq).  U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was not amused, possibly because he found out about the proposal in the media, instead of being contacted directly.

Interesting Tale of Two Stories by Doc Searles on the Linux Journal website.  He suggests that Linux' success is an Innovator's Dilemma story - that Microsoft is being "attacked from below" in classic fashion.  A lot of interesting ideas - I can't do it all justice - read it!

The Scientist has a great article: Breast Cancer: The Big Picture Emerges [free registration required].  {My little company Aperio makes microscope slide scanners which, among other things, are useful for automated detection of breast tumors.}

Clear Channel, the company which owns over 1,200 radio stations and 37 TV stations, is planning to sell CDs of a live concert recording - at the concert!

Gary Kasparov and Deep Junior drew their match.  In six matches each won once, and there were four draws.  Most observers felt game 5 was the best, in which Deep Junior, playing black, offered a stunning bishop sacrifice and chased Kasparov's king all over the board.  Only a clever perpetual check enabled Kasparov to salvage a draw.  Isn't it amazing how much depth there is in such a simple game?

 

Simple Search

Saturday,  02/08/03  08:12 PM

This site has a homemade simple search facility.  Want to learn about it?

Background

Websites are basically collections of pages with textual information.  There may be pictures, animations, graphic elements, etc., but these are all fru fru, the meat is the text.  Websites have evolved two distinct ways of directing traffic among their pages of text information:

  1. Navigation and site maps.  The header, sidebar, footer, whatever which appear on [or next to] each page are a high-level table of contents.  A site map, if present, is a page giving a lower-level table of contents.  Both organize the content of the site by subject. 
  2. Search.  A way to find specific words or phrases, wherever they may appear on pages within the site.  Essentially an index to the site's content.

Implementing navigation and site maps is easy - just add links!  This is the essence and beauty of "the web".  But how do you implement search?  Do you have to duplicate all the functionality of Google?  Uh, no.  For most websites a simple search is all that is required.  And guess what?  I have a simple search to share with you!

{
To see the simple search in action, it is over there on the right.  Please try it!
}

Overview

Simple search is a single script written in Korn Shell - something which will run on any Windows, Unix, or Linux webserver.  If you're not a script aficionado, hang in there - the concept is directly transferable to any other scripting language like Perl or ASP.

First, how should search work?  We need a spec!  Here's the desired functionality:

  • A visitor enters one or more words of text, and clicks "search".
  • The search script displays a list of links to each page which contains the entered text.
    • The text for each link to a page is the page title.
    • The link to each page is accompanied by the date and time of the content.
    • The link to each page is followed by a brief excerpt from the page's contents.  Just enough to give the visitor some flavor of what is on that page.
    • The links are displayed sorted by relevance within time.  As a crude measure of relevance we'll use the number of times the search text appears on the page.  (Remember, this is simple search, not Google.)
  • If no text is entered, the search script responds with a simple form prompting for search text.

Okay, let's have a talk about tweetle beetles.  Just kidding.  Let's talk about the contents of the website, the stuff we're going to search.  Each site is going to have one or more folders [directories] which contain the pages.  You need to know which folders you want to search.  For example, on this site there are two folders containing all the pages, one named "posts" and one named "articles".  Your mileage will vary.

{
Pages of HTML are simply text files.  This is one of the really cool things about HTML.  So we can deal with them purely as text - even if the text will be interpreted to cause pictures to load, animations to play, graphics to display, etc. 
}

There are two things we need to get from each page:

  1. The title of the page.  This is usually simply the stuff between <title> and </title>, so it is pretty easy to find.
  2. The date/time of the page.  There are two ways to get this.  First, it may be that you have a consistent way of putting the date/time inside each page.  Second, you can use the modification date of the page's file.  The first way is preferable because the posting date/time may be different from the last modification, but the second way works - the main thing is you need a consistent way to get the date/time.

The basic idea is to look through the text of each page trying to match the search words, and if found, we're going to display a link to the page along with its title, its publication date/time, and some text from the page.  That's it, really simple.

Details

Great - we know what we want the search results to look like, we know where to search, and we know how to get the title and date/time from each page.  We're ready.  So here it is, the meat of simple search:

integer found=0
echo "$search" | grep -ci "\\b$search\\b" $target - | grep -v ":0$" |
    sed "s/:/ /" | sort -nr +1 | while read file hits;do
    if [ "$file" = "(standard" ];then
        if [ $found -eq 0 ];then
            echo "<p>No results found"
        fi
        continue
    fi
    found=1
    title="`grep \"<title\" $file | head -1`"
    title="${title#*title>}"
    title="${title%</title*}"
    tstamp="`grep \"Permalink\" $file`"
    tstamp="${tstamp#*<i>}"
    tstamp="${tstamp%%<*}"
    echo "<p><a href=\"$file\">$title</a> ($hits) - 
    echo "
<i><font size=-1>$tstamp</font></i>"
    echo "
<blockquote style="margin-right: 0px"><p><font size=-1>"
    grep "^<[pP]" "$file" 2>/dev/null |
        head -$hitlines |
        sed "s/<[^>]*>//g;s/&nbsp;/ /g" |
       
cut -c1-$hitchars |
        sed "s/ [^ ]*\$//;s/.\$/&...\&nbsp;/"
    echo "</font></blockquote>"
done

Pretty simple, huh?  (Well, I think it's simple, you might have run screaming from the room.  If so, sorry.)  Let's walk though this together, shall we?

The first line (integer found=0) simply initializes a flag so we can report "not found" if we didn't find anything.  The second line does the real work.  It begins with an echo which pipes the search string into a grep.  The grep is really the key to everything, it does the actual searching.  There are a few tricks here:

  • The -i option tells grep to ignore case.  This is a simple search, so that's what we want.
  • The -c option tells grep to output the name of each file searched together with the number of occurrences of the search text within the file.  Just what we want!
  • The \\b gets turned into a \b by the shell, and this tells grep to match "whitespace" (spaces, tabs, and the beginning or end of a line).  By bracketing the search text ($search) by these we're asking grep to do a word match.  This is a simple search, so that's what we want (we don't want "pain" to match "spain").
  • The target ($target) is a list of all the files you want to search.  On my site this is "articles/* posts/*" which means everything in the "articles" and "posts" folders.  You can search anywhere you want...
  • The output from the first grep is piped into a second one, grep -v \":0$\".  The -c causes grep to append a colon and the #matches to the end of each line, so ":0" will drop any files which don't have any matches.
  • The sed edits colons to spaces.  So each line will have filename, a space, and the #matches.
  • The sort sorts the lines into descending order by #matches.
  • The while read sets up a loop, assigning filename and #matches to variables "file" and "hits".

If you understand this, you understand everything.  If you don't, sorry, but maybe try once more.  I promise we'll go faster from here...

Okay, line three is in the body of the loop, performed for each file which has a nonzero number of matches.  The if tests for the last line of the loop, created by piping the search string into the grep with echo.  If the "found" variable is zero, we didn't find anything; output "not found".

The three "title" lines pull the value of the page's title out of the file (in this case by isolating the text between <title> and </title>).  The three "tstamp" lines pull the date/time of the page out of the file (every page on this website has an anchor named "permalink"; as mentioned above, you might have to do something different to get the date/time, including maybe using the file's date/time of last modification).  Then there are two "echo" lines which generate the HTML for the output - the link to the file and the date/time.

Hey, we're almost done.  And we've reached the most interesting part.  Remember our spec? 

"The link to each page is followed by a brief excerpt from the page's contents.  Just enough to give the visitor some flavor of what is on that page."

How the heck do we do this?  Well, that's what the next grep is all about.  In English, we're taking the first few paragraphs of the page, truncating each line, and stringing them together.  Here are the details:

  • The grep looks for each line of the file which starts with "<p".  This finds all the paragraphs.
  • The head takes just the first few paragraphs (based on $hitlines).  I currently have this set to 5 - you can experiment.
  • The next sed does two things - it drops all HTML tags from the text, and it converts each &nbsp; into a space ("&nbsp;" is a code which means "non-breaking-space" in HTML; my pages are full of them).
  • The cut truncates each line (based on $hitchars).  I currently have this set to 45, again, you can experiment.
  • Finally, the second sed backs up to the last space in the line, and truncates the line there (so we don't end up with partial words after the cut), and then appends "..." to the end. 

The result of all this is a relatively brief chunk of text which is somewhat representative of the contents of the page.  The preceding and following "echo" lines bracket this text with <blockquote>, which causes it to be indented.

That's it!  A simple search.  We're not competing with Google here, but it works. 

P.S. I'm happy to share this code - shoot me email if you're interested.

 

Sunday,  02/09/03  04:11 PM

Thomas Friedman has written a thoughtful op-ed piece for the N.Y.Times entitled "Vote France Off the Island".  I'm sure W would!  (Hey, how do you get your own letter?  Can I be "O"?)

Here's a recently posted [internal] memo from Sun engineers explaining why Java on Solaris is not appropriate for their internal software projects.  "As it stands client-side Java remains primarily a web language."  These dogs are spitting out the dog food.  Whew.  Adding insult to injury, Pixar is starting to use Lintel servers in their render farm.

Are smart cards a smart idea?  France is experimenting with a country-wide implementation.  They seem inferior to credit cards in every way to me...  The current economics of credit cards make their use for small transactions inefficient, but this is a market effect not fundamental to the product.

Every month there is a new story about broadband access over power lines [here's this month's, in Wired].  What a dumb idea.  We already have cable "everywhere", why would you establish a parallel network with a bunch of technical problems cable doesn't have?

Clay Shirkey has written an interesting article exploring the network effects of weblog traffic.  He concludes that "them that has, gets" - visitors and traffic, that is.  Meanwhile little 'ol 'blogs like mine languish in obscurity.  So be it - let the market decide!

Dave thinks Clay doesn't get weblogs.  But this is a market thing, not a weblog thing.  I doubt weblogs are immune to market things...

CNN has an interesting article about the state of Kazaa.  The lead for the story is about an unknown band who thinks its great that people are downloading and listening to their music.  That is the thing the RIAA just doesn't get.

I'm getting ready for the NBA all-star game, later today.  As usual this event marks my transition from football to basketball, from here on out I'll follow the Lakers all the way to their fourth consecutive title (you heard it here but probably not first :).  I love it that the all-stars are wearing old Air Jordans to honor Michael.  That's cool.

 

Monday,  02/10/03  06:50 PM

Yippee!  This post was made from the road.  My complicated rsync over ssh works.  (But it is still too hard, and hence, wrong...)

Apple has introduced an upgrade to their cool Xserve servers, along with a 2.5TB RAID array.  I caught myself saying "I wish it ran Linux", then I slapped myself.  (Mac OSX is a derivitive of Unix!)  This would make a great virtual slide server, at $4/GB = approx $4/slide :)

Jason Kottke weighs in on Weblogs and Power Laws.  Jason is of course an A lister...

McKinsey Quarterly has a terrific article on "The Power of Pricing" [free registration required].  The authors suggest transaction pricing is the key to profitability at times when there is downward pressure on prices.  (As I've suggested before, I think we're in a hidden deflation right now.)

From the "only on the web" file: here's a guy who scanned an LP record and then wrote a program to generate music from the resulting images.  How useless and how cool!  (If we had this technology twenty years ago, we could have done file sharing by faxing scans to each other :)

Here's a great article in Nature by Robert Plomin, entitled "Genetics, genes, genomics and g".  In this context "g" is the much-debated 'general cognitive ability', as measured by various tests such as IQ.  Strongly recommended!  [Thanks, Razib].

 

Tuesday,  02/11/03  07:17 PM

WSJ's Opinion Journal has an article from Khidhir Hamza, a former director of Iraq's nuclear-weapons program, which makes interesting points about the ineffectiveness of weapons inspections as a means of discovery (but you already knew that, right), and about the financial motivations of France, Germany, and Russia to avoid war.

Great lead story on Salon today: AOL's Jekyll and Hyde Act.  AOL is the biggest ISP and the biggest media company, so they have the most to gain and the most to lose from file sharing.  And I thought Sony was conflicted!  The ISP/media conflict adds to the high-volume usage dilemma file-sharing poses to broadband providers.  Forbes has a take on this also.

The Universe - Age 380,000 Years
Baby Universe
It's so cute!  NASA has revealed an interesting picture of the universe when it was only 380,000 years old.  This picture was made from microwave radiation levels measured by the Microwave Anisotropy Probe.  This same survey has pinned the age of the universe at 13.7B years, with an order of magnitude more accuracy than was possible before.

Pretty tempting - Tivo has a promotion for current lifetime subscription members, enabling them for a limited time to transfer their subscription to a new Tivo 2 recorder, which has home networking capability.  Too bad it is only 80 hours, my old Tivo 1 [with a hard drive upgrade] holds 130 ;)

100 Stories.  Interesting idea.  But I think the idea is more interesting than the stories...

 

Wednesday,  02/12/03  01:09 PM

Steve Wozniak, one of the founders of Apple Computer, recently decided to move from one mansion to another.  Why?  To get cellphone coverage, of course :)

For once the RIAA is being constructive, they have an initiative to track online music releases.  This doesn't do anything to prevent file sharing, but it does enable music to be identified for legitimate commerce.  Now if they would only charge what it is worth, like $.50 per song...\

MusicBrainz is a new community music metadatabase.  Kind of like Gracenote (aka CDDB) but with two big differences, they can identify music, not just CDs, and they're a .org, not a .com.

As an example of the power of the web, consider the flash mind reader...

 

We're down...

Wednesday,  02/12/03  09:11 PM

Well, we've been down since 8:30 AM PST.  It is raining, which consititutes a crisis here in Southern California, and apparently it has affected my data circuit...  My vendor is XO Communications, which uses Covad, which uses Verizon, so of course actually getting something repaired is nontrivial.  Sigh!

 

We're Still Down...

Thursday,  02/13/03  09:19 AM

Still down, it has now been 24 hours.  Verizon has finally dispatched a technician.  [Later - a technician came out, determined that there is a flooded manhole somewhere between the street in front of our house and the "main junction box", so a different technician will be dispatched.  Sigh.]

Where Have You Gone, Colin PowellRemember when Time wondered Where Have You Gone, Colin Powell?  It was the one-year anniversary of 9-11.  Well, nobody's wondering that anymore, are they?  (Ask Chirac and Shroeder!)

ClearChannel, which operates 1,225 radio stations and 39 TV stations, is preparing for war.

Just when you thought network TV had reached the bottom of the barrel, the barrel gets deeper.  CBS is apparently planning a "real" Beverly Hillbillies, where they recruit some rural hicks to live in a Beverly Hills mansion for a year.  I hope this is the bottom - almost seems like it has to be - but I've thought that before.  So who watches this crap?  Not you, surely...

For a limited time it costs only $.50 to download a music track and burn it onto a CD at listen.com.  This will be an interesting experiment - I've been saying $.50 is the right price point.  I wonder if this will work?

Who says science doesn't address the important problems?  Here's a research paper which carefully analyzes the use of the back button in web browsers.  The authors suggest a "mouse gesture" like dragging to the left would be easier than clicking a button at the top.  {Personally I don't use the back button much anymore, I shift-click to open a new window, then close it when I'm done.}

Hey!  A real-world blogging event in L.A.!  This will be my chance to test moblogging from my Treo....

 

We're back...

Thursday,  02/13/03  06:43 PM

Only took 34 hours, but we're back up...  Yippee.

You know what's amazing - we've been back up for 20 minutes, and we've already had 43 hits by robots.  It is really eye-opening how many different robots there are, and how often they come by...

 

Friday,  02/14/03  01:33 AM

Happy Valentine's DayHappy Valentine's Day to you, Shirley, and to my four wonderful daughters!

Are you ready for some sailing?  The America's Cup starts today!  I'm picking Alinghi (Swiss, the challenger) over Team New Zealand (the defender) in a squeaker...

 

Friday,  02/14/03  11:59 AM

This will be reported as a "good thing"; scientists at Caltech have isolated a genetic mutation common to people who live 100 years or longer.  So ask yourself, with 8B people on Earth, is finding ways to make them live longer really a good thing?

The bork browser.  I love it!

 

Friday,  02/14/03  09:42 PM

America's Cup Race 1: Start
America's Cup Race 1: Start
Alinghi takes race one in the America's Cup, as TNZ suffered a series of breakdowns and was forced to retire.  It was an even start and a great race was on to weather when TNZ's boom broke.  I hate when that happens...  If you are at all interested in either sailing or 3D software, you must download and install Virtual Spectator.  It costs $10.  This is such an awesome application I can't describe it properly.  Basically it gives you a full-screen 3D view of the racing, with a camera you can position at any angle and distance.  The races are available live via some sort of data stream, and can be replayed at your leisure.  The start of race 1 is shown at right (click on picture for a larger view).

 

Saturday,  02/15/03  11:17 AM

"The U.N. Security Council is sometimes dismissed as a 'debating society', but that's an insult to debaters everywhere" - from Stalemate, great article by Fred Kaplan in Slate.  It seems clear that the U.N. will not do anything more aggressive than send in more inspectors, so the ball is now squarely in Bush's court.

It was horrible that five people died in the Anthrax poisonings of late 2001 following the 9-11 attacks.  So what do we do about it?  We sue the government, of course.  Sheesh.  The U.S. need tort reform rather badly.  Hey, let's sue lawmakers to get it!

Here's a great paper exploring "the Case against Intellectual Monopoly", i.e. would innovation take place if there were no patents or copyrights.  It is dense reading but really thought-provoking stuff.  Personally I think patents and other social devices for establishing intellectual property stifle innovation (possibly a heretical view for the CTO of a small biomedical company with substantial IP to take :).  They certainly violate W=UH, being both U and H.

You guys probably know, there is no Robert X. Cringley; he's a placeholder for guest technology columnists on PBS.  But he sure writes well, anyway :)  His latest: Sunset, the pending demise of Sun, and how they could avoid it (by merging with Sony to revolutionize TV, no less).

 

Saturday,  02/15/03  02:30 PM

In case you think the U.S. is being "hasty" about Iraq, consider the sixteen previous U.N. Security Council resolutions concerning Iraq.  Of course it is clear that Iraq is violating the seventeenth (U.N. resolution 1441) as well.  The U.N. can keep passing resolutions 'till the cows come home, and nothing will change.  Now, is the U.S. bluffing about taking independent action if the U.N. does not?  We'll see.  [Later: the NYTimes agrees.]

Here's an interesting new blog, IraqWar.info.  No apparent bias, yet.

There is now an axisofweasels.com (of course).  So, I actually think this whole thing is unfair to weasels, who are cute little mammals, and pretty courageous ("Weasels are persistent and fearless hunters").

Gene Expression has an interesting post noting that Stanford and MIT have joined the University of Michigan's court battle to continue their "race-conscious admissions policies".  As an alum I'm glad Caltech has stayed out of this.  Caltech's entering freshman class is only 260 people, so unlike larger schools like MIT and Stanford they can't squander places on people who are not qualified, regardless of their race or anything else.  How can "race-conscious admissions policies" be considered anything but racist?

It is also notable that the grade inflation infecting The Ivies has not hit Caltech; a B is still good and an A is still rare.

Scoble is back on the air with a bunch of stuff from his week at Microsoft.  Start here, with the photo of Windows 2003 Server being built by a room full of servers (each build takes 5 hours).

Who says Microsoft can't innovate?  Check out the Penny Black project, investigating sender-pays email schemes.  IMHO such a scheme will be standard and will eliminate much spam (although not all; we still have junk snail mail, even though snail mail uses a sender-pays scheme).

Another convert: Ernie the Attorney reports "Tivo Changed My Life".  Ernie is a serious guy.  How many commercial products have serious people writing that they've changed their life?

 

Saturday,  02/15/03  09:10 PM

Race 2 of the 2003 America's Cup is in the books, with Alinghi barely winning to take a 2-0 lead.  Terrific racing!

Pic 1: race 2 leg 5: tacking duel!
AC 2003 race 2 leg 5: tacking duel
Pic 2: race 2 leg 6: rolled over!
AC 2003 race 2 leg 6: rolled over!
Pic 3: race 2 leg 6: tight blanket
AC 2003 race 2 leg 6: tight blanket
Pic 4: race 2: finish!
AC 2003 race 2: finish

After an even start and close 1st weather leg which gave Alinghi a tiny lead at the first weather mark, TNZ blew by on the first run to lead by 30 sec at the leeward mark.  A nice tacking duel on the second weather leg allowed Alinghi to close to 20 sec.  Alinghi closed still more on the second download by sailing lower.  The third weather leg featured a terrific 33-tack duel, in which TNZ extended slightly by protecting the favored left (pic 1).  Alinghi covered TNZ like a blanket on the next run, finally driving over the top (pic 2 - I love the way they model the wind shadows).  TNZ jibed back over and sat on Alinghi all the way to the finish (pic 3), but Alinghi held on to win by 7 seconds (pic 4).  Awesome racing.  Man.

Again I recommend Virtual Spectator to anyone with an interest in sailing or 3D software.  You can actually see more than you would watching TV; any camera angle is available, and you get realtime telemetry from both boats.  And they have something which would make Tivo even cooler - the ability to watch faster than realtime.

 

Weighting Links

Sunday,  02/16/03  09:21 AM

TO: suggestions@google.com; contact@pyra.com
FROM: ole@pacbell.net
SUBJECT: <A HREF= WEIGHT=>

Google:

Now that you’ve bought Pyra, you’re in a perfect position to make a slight but powerful enhancement to the HTML spec.  You should support <A HREF= WEIGHT=>.  The [optional] weight= attribute of links is ignored by browsers, but is used by search engine spiders like yours to determine the relevance of a link.  Positive weights from 1-9 mean “This content is related to this link”, with the value connoting the degree of relevance (1 means “this content is very slightly related to this link”, 9 means “this content is completely related to this link”).  Zero values mean “This link doesn’t have anything to do with this content”.  A value of -1 means “This content relates to the opposite of this link”.  The default would be +5.

Examples:

Check out <A HREF=http://www.google.com>Google</A>, a great search engine.  (Default=+5)
I just read that <A HREF=http://www.google.com WEIGHT=9>Google</A> bought Pyra.
The word <A HREF=http://www.google.com WEIGHT=2>Google</A> means a really big number.
Turns out <A HREF=http://www.google.com WEIGHT=0>Google</A> is not a pipe.
Remember that <A HREF=http://w-uh.com WEIGHT=0>Critical Section</A> is not Google.
I think <A HREF=http://w-uh.com WEIGHT=-1>Google</A> isn’t a dictionary.

This idea can be extended to images not in a link (images in a link use the weight of the link).  Examples:

A great search engine: <IMG SRC=http://www.google.com/images/logo.gif>  (Default=+5)
The Google logo is: <IMG SRC=http://www.google.com/images/logo.gif WEIGHT=9>
This logo changes on holidays: <IMG SRC=http://www.google.com/images/logo.gif WEIGHT=2>
This is not a pipe: <IMG SRC=http://www.google.com/images/logo.gif WEIGHT=0>
Not the Google logo: <IMG SRC= http://w-uh.com/images/critical_section_logo.jpg WEIGHT=0>
This logo is not gaudy: <IMG SRC=http://www.google.com/images/logo.gif WEIGHT=0>

You could support this unilaterally, and with your support the meme takes off.  Pyra could make it available in their ‘blogging tools, reinforcing the meme. 

Perhaps other blogosphere leaders like Userland would pick this up, too.  What do you think?

Ole

====================================
Ole Eichhorn
CTO, Aperio Technologies - www.aperio.com
(650) 814-9620 cell

W=UH

 

In the Elevator

Sunday,  02/16/03  02:14 PM

[The elevator door opens.  I get in.  Standing next to me is a well-dressed woman of fifty, whom I recognize to be Ms. X, well-known publisher at X books.]

O: "Hello!  You're Ms. X, aren't you?"
X: "Yes, yes I am."

[I gulp.  This is my chance.  I must tell Ms. X about my book...]

O: "You know, I'm writing a book."
X: "Really?" (Feigns interest but barely suppresses a yawn.)
O: "It's about how the human race is getting less intelligent."
X: "No kidding?  Well, I certainly meet examples every day."  (Thinking I'm one myself.)

[I glance at the elevator's indicator.  We're halfway to the ground floor.  Yikes.]

O: "I'm calling it Unnatural Selection.  The idea is that once upon a time the fittest, smartest people were the ones having kids.  So their kids were fit and smart, and each generation was smarter than the last.  But that stopped happening a long time ago, and these days, less fit, less intelligent people are the ones having kids.  So their kids are not as fit and not as smart, and each generation is less and less intelligent.
X: "Is this a work of fiction?"  (She's starting to show interest!)
O: "I wish!  Unfortunately it is all too true.  I think it's the most important problem facing the world, that's why I'm writing...  The book shows that this really is happening, talks about why it isn't obvious even though it should be, and discusses the reasons why it is happening.  Then it presents some ideas to reverse the trend."

[Only two floors left.  My heart is racing.]

X: "This sounds - controversial."  (She smiles.  Hey, maybe I've got her?)  "Is this science or philosophy, or politics?"
O: "All three.  It's science to show that people really are getting less intelligent.  It's philosophy to talk about why it is happening.  It's politics to present ideas to reverse the trend."

[The elevator door opens.  We've arrived.  I hold my breath expectantly.  Will she walk away?  Will she stop and ask me more questions?  Did I hook her?  You tell me - did I make my case?]

[Later - please see Baby Steps if you have no idea what's going on here...]


© 2003-2017 Ole Eichhorn

 

Monday,  02/17/03  10:49 PM

AC 2003 race 3: finish!
AC 2003 race 3: finish!

Another great America's Cup race today; Alinghi won this one, too, taking a 3-0 lead in the best-of-nine series.  It was basic sailboat racing; Alinghi started on time at the pin and hit the favored right, while TNZ started late and went left.  The shift filled in and the game was over.  The racing was close but TNZ could never catch in the steady breezes.  Let the debating begin: if the Swiss win, where will they defend the Cup?  (Lake Geneva is a little small for these boats :)  I suggest Holland...

Garry Kasparov pens his thoughts on his recent match against Deep Junior in the WSJ's Opinion Journal.  "In game five of my match with Deep Junior it played an imaginative sacrifice of the type generally considered impossible for a computer player..."

ESPN launched a sort of hybrid web page / annimation / video thing today called ESPN Motion.  It uses an ActiveX control (download!) and Flash to drive movie clips.  The interesting wrinkle is their store-and-forward approach; they download video not-in-realtime, so you don't have to wait.  Pretty cool, but the music has to go.

Everything on Daypop is about Google buying Blogger.  Go there and read it all if you're interested...  Seems like it will be important, but I don't have a take, yet.

 

Tuesday,  02/18/03  09:54 PM

C|Net has an article on Thomas Bayes.  At Aperio we use Bayesian statistics in our pattern recognition tools.

Internet footnote: Alta Vista, the football of Internet search engines, gets passed from Digital Equipment (remember them?) to Compaq, to CMGI, and now to Overture (aka goto.com).  This dates me, but I can actually remember when AV was by far the best Internet search engine.  This puts Overture clearly in the "distant second to Google" position, with Inktomi (recently bought by Yahoo) in third.

Paul Graham has a great piece entitled Why Nerds Are Unpopular.  It's pretty deep and goes into intelligence, the role of teenagers in society, and many other interesting things.  Recommended...

Making Internet Banking Pay - Forbes has an interesting review of NetBank.  They are essentially trying to do with home loans what First Data did with credit cards.

The Software Developer as Movie Icon - [now there's a great title] reviews the image vs. reality of software engineering...  I think Office Space pretty much nailed it.

More to bookmark than to read: Tom's Hardware has an exhaustive review of 65 processors released between 1994 and today, ranging from a P100 to today's P4 3GHz...

WMD 404.  ;)

 

Back in the Elevator

Wednesday,  02/19/03  09:23 AM

I few days ago I posted In the Elevator and asked for your feedback.  Many of you responded - thanks! - and the consensus was that Ms. X would be intrigued.  That is good.  However, a few of you also felt it was "harsh".  That is not so good.  So I ruminated on this for a bit...

I think the problem was the word “dumb”.  It doesn't only mean “not smart”, it also conveys “bad”.  The strange weird amazing thing about intelligence is that unlike many other human attributes, there is an implied moral judgment.  Just because you're tall or blond or left-handed or blue-eyed, doesn't make you “better”. You could equally be short or brunette or right-handed or brown-eyed.  But smart is perceived as better than not as smart.  This is a tough thing to get around.  People identify smarter with better, and so adjectives which mean “not as smart” also have the connotation “bad”.  This is not accidental, in fact it is deeply significant and relevant.

So - what to do?  Well, first, I've amended In the Elevator to use "less intelligent" and "not as smart" instead of "dumb" and "dumber".  Perhaps you could check it out and tell me if this is an improvement.  Second, the idea that "not as smart" = "not as good" deserves some air time.  I've actually planned a whole section of the book on "Why is This a Problem", after all, it doesn't follow that just because humans are becoming less intelligent, this is bad.  Humans are also becoming taller and heavier, and this doesn't seem bad (except possibly to furniture manufacturers).

I played around with adding something about dumb=bad to the elevator statement, and then I realized it is not necessary.  (And it would consume two or three floors... :)  Although there can be debate on this point - and there will be in the book - most people accept that IF humans are becoming less intelligent, THEN that's a bad thing.  Showing the premise is true is the job of part one ("What's Happening?") and showing the conclusion follows is part three ("Why is This a Problem?").  In between we have part two ("Why Isn't This Obvious") which discusses the masking effects shielding the problem.

[Please see Baby Steps if you have no idea what's going on here...]


© 2003-2017 Ole Eichhorn

 

Wednesday,  02/19/03  05:28 PM

Jordan's CarI have a public service announcement.  My daughter Jordan now has her driving permit (Congratulations!)  If you are driving in Northwest Los Angeles and you see a blue Volvo station wagon, you have been warned.

Have you ever wondered what the makers of kids' software are smoking?  This morning my daughter Megan was watching Dora the Explorer on Nickelodeon, and she saw an ad for a game on the Nick Jr. website.  She came running into my office to go online and play the game.  That's when it started.  Twenty minutes later she was happily playing the game, and I was back to work.  What happened in the meantime was not pretty.

We launch our browser and go to www.nickjr.com.  We immediately see Dora, and click on her.  A new window opens, and we get a dialog box telling us there is a new version of Flash available.  Forget Flash, we just want to play the game, right?  I hit Cancel and on we go.  Except we don't because next we get a message telling us we need a newer version of the Shockwave plug-in.  So be it.  Click the "Upgrade" button.  Now we get a 5MB download, then nothing happens.  Oh, yeah, I have to go find the file and double-click it to install.  Okay, found the file, double-clicked it, installed, all cool.  Now we can play the game!  Nope.  Now we get a gratuitous message welcoming us to Shockwave.  Okay, welcome it is, click okay.  Now I get a registration form!  Man, I want to play a game here, okay?  Register me another day.  Sheesh.  Hit cancel.  The browser goes to shockwave.com!  Seriously, what are these people thinking?  We're trying to play a game here.  Back at the Nick Jr. website we now get a message in the browser window telling us 3D Groove is being downloaded.  What?!  Okay, whatever.  Now we can play, here we go...  Close, but no cigar.  After the download completes we get the following message: "3D Groove SX is compatible with OS X in Classic Mode only".  I am not making this up.  Now, I happen to understand this message, but how many parents are going to deal with this?  Okay, so I quit the browser and relaunch in Classic mode.  (If you're not a Mac aficionado, feel free to use this example the next time a Machead tells you how much simpler Macs are than Windows.)  You know what happens next, right?  Yep, now we have to upgrade our Classic version of Shockwave.  Which isn't that easy, because after you download it, where the heck does it go when there's no Classic desktop?  After a little searching with Sherlock I find the Shockwave Installer, install it, and now we're going to be happy, right?  Noooo - now we get the registration dialog again.  Hey, I don't want to register, I want to play the game.  Onward...  And we get the 3D Groove is being downloaded message again...  And this time - finally! - the game starts.  Man.

The sad thing is, this is no exception.  Software is still too hard to use.  Especially if you're a parent.

 

Wednesday,  02/19/03  11:03 PM

No America's Cup today, the wind was too shifty.  Previously TNZ announced they were replacing tactician Hamish Pepper with backup helmsman Bertrand Pace.  The change makes sense; Pace has beaten [Alinghi helmsman] Russell Coutts before and is an aggressive starter, which TNZ badly needs being down 3-0 in the best of nine.

Can you even believe what Kobe Bryant is doing?  Tonight he scored 40 against the Jazz, making his seventh straight game with at least 40, and eleventh with at least 35.  This is Jordanesque, to say the least.  Last night he scored 52 against the Rockets to lead the Lakers to a double-overtime win over Houston, pulling them into playoff position with a performance that featured a gravity-defying monster dunk over 7'6" Yao Ming.  Whew.

Microsoft has bought Connectix, the innovative company which makes Virtual PC.  They claim this as evidence of their support for the Mac platform, but I'm suspicious; if you take away Virtual PC then Apple can't claim Windows programs run on a Mac anymore.  Would have made more sense if Apple had bought them...

So perhaps you think newspapers are outdated?  Well, I do.  I haven't taken a daily paper for five years.  But here in L.A. we're getting a new one - The L.A. Examiner is being reborn, courtesy of ex-mayor (and ex-gubernatorial candidate) Richard Riordan.  This project grew out of Riordan's dissatisfaction with the liberal L.A. Times, and is headed by Ken Layne and Matt Welch, the journalists who founded the L.A. Examiner blog.  These bloggers are going the wrong way - back to paper.  Oh well, they do have a great site.  They're hoping to emulate Ira Stoll, who founded the smartertimes.com website to counterbalance the N.Y.Times, then went on to start the New York Sun about a year ago.

P.S. My first job was delivering papers for the L.A. Herald Examiner.  It was heavy.

Glen Reynolds, the InstaPundit, has an op-ed piece in the Guardian (U.K newspaper).  Interesting becuase 1) Glen leans right and the Guardian leans left, 2) Glen is a blogger and the Guardian is a newspaper, 3) Glen is interesting.  Read it!

LGF points to: Human Shields Limp into Baghdad.  Charles comments "I hope someone was filming this trip; it sounds like a combination of Spinal Tap and The Big Bus.  But dumber."  Yep.  And speaking of filming trips, if you have broadband, check out Evan Coyne Maloney's antiwar protest vlog.  It speaks for itself.

Dave Winer thinks Teoma is as good as Google.  Nope.  They can't even find me.  Google can!

 

Friday,  02/21/03  08:21 PM

Sorry for the darkness yesterday.  Hey, I was busy coding!  Didn't seem like much happening in networld, either.

Could this be the final straw?  Iraq has been ordered by the U.N. inspectors to destroy hundreds of missiles by March 1.  This is right before a new moon, too.  And the WP writes about what happens later: Full U.S. Control Planned for Iraq.

Did you know Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut who died in the Columbia disaster, was part of the Israeli squad that bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981?  I didn't, either.  Quite a guy.

So again no America's Cup, race 4 has been postponed again due to light winds.

Keith Olberman blasts News Corp on Salon; Sandy Koufax has quit as a special instructor for the Dodgers because Dodgers owner News Corp also owns the New York Post, which has run unsubstantiated rumors that he is gay.  I really miss the O'Malleys.

A Business 2.0 article examines Digital Rights: A Thorny Issue.  Interesting because of the examples of unintended consequences associated with the DMCA.  A clear violation of W=UH.  Meanwhile it looks like Office 2003 is going to include DRM.  Terrific, I can see the message now: Outlook blocked an email attachment because you don't have the right to receive it.

The Why Nerds Are Unpopular article I linked the other day remains a strong meme around the web.  Everyone I know who's read it has a take - if you haven't, please do.  I keep thinking about it, not because of nerds, but because of my two older daughters who are not nerds (one's a junior doing battle with high school, the other made it through, though not unscathed).  Related: Eve Tushnet has an interesting take on home schooling.

I'm about ready to stop visiting the L.A.Times website, you get such a blizzard of popup ads on each visit.  No, I'm not linking to them, they don't deserve it.  Maybe the L.A.Examiner, eh?

Looks like Salon is in dire straights (again).  I'll miss them.  Remember when people thought 'zines like Salon and Feed were the future of media?  (The new replacements are blogs - and hey, Salon hosts blogs!).

I've decided ESPN's new ESPN Motion thing is cool, but too intrusive.  I now have a little icon in my taskbar (I hate those), the video launches by itself, the music is loud, and - gasp! - there are commercials.  Just a little too much like TV.  (Probably what they were going for...)  I like the download-in-the-background technique, just not what they did with it.

Web users are amazing, they expect cracks to be available for everything.  I've been watching my referrers and a bunch of people have come by with search strings like "virtual+spectator+crack" and "free+virtual+spectator".  I guess I did enough bragging about Virtual Spectator to make it into the Google-sphere for those strings.  If you're one of those idiots looking for a crack, let me give you a clue; it costs $10.

{ A crack is a hacked version of software which doesn't require a license key. }

Finally, I'm linking to Dave Winer's dumpster watch.  Everybody please click through, I want him to be amazed at the traffic this brilliant and interesting post is generating.

 

Survey Survey

Saturday,  02/22/03  03:25 AM

Welcome to the latest Critical Section feature - surveys...  So let's ask:

Do you like web surveys? 

No - I hate them
40%

Yes - I love them
20%

Uh - who cares?
30%

What's a survey?
10%

  (ended 03/01/03)

 

Saturday,  02/22/03  08:14 PM

Man, another day of non-racing on the Hauraki Gulf, race 4 was postponed *again*.  I'm having America's Cup withdrawals!

Well, I did it.  I switched, perhaps permanently, to Mozilla for my daily browsing.  Reasons:

  1. It kills pop-up windows.  This will save five minutes of whack-a-mole per day.
  2. It allows me to choose whether to accept cookies on a site-by-site basis.
  3. It supports tabbed browsing - Ctrl-click follows a link in a new tab. 

I'll tell you how I like it - stay tuned.

[Later: already I'm wondering about this.  Despite published reports to the contrary, Mozilla appears slower than IE, and - significantly for me and my style of browsing - it cannot deal with many clicks in parallel.  I have a tendency to read through a page, Ctrl-clicking every link of possible interest, and then I go back and see what I've dredged up.  Seems like at around eight or so concurrent loads, Mozilla balks.  More later...]

 

Who Are You - Survey

Sunday,  02/23/03  12:27 AM

Please see who are you for an introduction to my hypothetical readers.  And please tell me...

Who are you? 

The scientist.  I am well-informed, open-minded, and skeptical.
50%

The philosopher.  I have thought about this and have a point of view.
18%

The politician.  I have an agenda.  The ideas must be simple.
2%

The blogger.  I am smart, outspoken, and thoughtful.  And I'm online. 
13%

I am somebody else...

15%

total votes = 182

  (ended 04/30/03)

 

Who Are You?

Sunday,  02/23/03  10:47 AM

[Moments pass.  Ms. X and I stand there, the elevator door hanging open.  I wait...  She makes her decision.  She doesn't look at me, she just strides out of the elevator.  I begin to follow.  Suddenly she stops, reaches into her pocketbook, and pulls out her card.]

X: "Call me." (Crisp, businesslike.)
O: "Sure!" (Totally un-businesslike, I'm afraid.)
X: "I want to know who's going to read your book."

[Then she turns away and disappears into the lobby, leaving me standing agape.  Okay, that was good.  That was very good.  But now what?  I've thought about my intended audience - who I want to read this book - but who will read it?]

... three days later ...

[I call X Books, and ask for Ms. X.  After negotiating with her secretary, he puts me through...]

X: "Hello?"
O: "Uh, hello!  You asked me to call, so, er, I'm calling." (Off to a bad start.)
X: "Oh, yes...  the book about human intelligence.  Thank you for calling.  I think your project has... potential.  (Every book is a project, every project has potential.  How much potential?  That's the question.)

X: "So please tell me, really, who will read your book?"  (I sense a smile.)
O: "Um - yeah." (Four years of college, and I sound like a valley girl.)  "First, I'll tell you who I think will read my book.  Then, I'll tell you who I hope will read my book - the people for whom I'm writing..."

O: "Okay, let's take the 'I think will read it' group.  At the center are the people who read every book in this space.  They read Dawkins, Gould, and Dennett.  They read Sterelny.  They think Pinker is great.  They hate Lewontin but they read him anyway.  They actually read The Bell Curve instead of just complaining about it.  They're the core group, and they'll be all over this."
X: "Doesn't sound like a very big group..."  (She's right, it isn't.  Carry on.)
O: "Well, that's true.  You might call these the early adopters of new science memes.  But they are smart, influential people, and if they like something or think it is interesting, they'll spread the word.  So if I can write a book they think is worthwhile, they'll get the buzz started."
X: "Hmmm...  Anyone else?"  (She's disappointed.  Of course.  A book for science nerds!)

O: "Memes spread from early adopters in several directions.  There are academics who are professionally interested in genetics, human intelligence, sociology, and politics.  If they hear about this book, they will give it a try.  There are intellectual philosophers who are professional pundits - radio personalities, columnists, politicians, other writers.  They pick up interesting themes and spin them, looking for validation of their points of view.  They will read the book.  There are smart people everywhere who are thoughtful about humanity and enjoy debate on topics of interest, particularly ideas which affect the future.  They may read it.  And finally, there are journalists looking for controversy.  Any applications of science to human intelligence seem to attract their attention.  I'm afraid they will jump on this.  They may not read the book - but they'll skim it looking for an angle."
X: "Yes, that's true, isn't it?"  (She's beginning to warm up!)

O: "Now let me describe the 'I hope will read it' group.  I mentally picture three hypothetical readers, a scientist, a philosopher, and a politician:

  • The scientist is well-informed, open-minded, and skeptical.  She will reject any poor logic or unsupported assumptions.  She wants data, not opinions.  In the end, a well-reasoned argument will please and intrigue her.
  • The philosopher is also well-informed, but is not open-minded.  He will have thought about this already, and has a point of view.  He will be intensely critical of arguments which oppose his views, but even more so of poor arguments in favor; only solid logic will please him.
  • The politician is not well-informed, nor open-minded, nor skeptical.  She has an agenda.  She will evaluate the book's ideas carefully, and spin them to her advantage.  For her the concepts are key, the ideas must be simple and the arguments easily grasped.

X: "Fascinating...  How will you know if you're reaching these people?"  (Good question!)

O: "I enjoy reading weblogs and have started a little 'blog of my own.  It is tough to generalize, but bloggers tend to be smart, outspoken, and thoughtful.  I'm really hoping the blogosphere will like my book.  So I've added a fourth hypothetical reader, a blogger - someone who is intelligent, analytical, well-read, interested in the world, and who might well visit my 'blog.  In fact, I'm posting parts of my book online and soliciting as much feedback as I can from the online community."
X: "What an unusual idea.  Very interesting."
O: "The great thing is that the other three hypothetical readers are likely to be online as well.  They might even visit my site."  (They might even be reading this, right now :)
X: "I'd like to hear more about your project, maybe run it by some friends of mine.  Could you send me a brief synopsis?"  (Excellent.  She's definitely interested!)
O: "I've written a tentative outline, which I'd be happy to share.  What's your email address?"

[Well, that went great.  And thanks for visiting, I couldn't have done it without you.  In fact, you're the reason for the whole project.  So tell me, who are you - would you mind taking a survey?]

[Please see In the Elevator and Baby Steps if you have no idea what's going on here...]


© 2003-2017 Ole Eichhorn

 

Monday,  02/24/03  10:08 AM

So, I finally "read" the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover-to-cover.  Is it just me, or has this thing jumped the shark?  I like beautiful women as much as the next guy, but I don't know, it just doesn't have the same coolness it once did...  Perhaps because it is so endlessly promoted, so commercial, so - airbrushed...

After four straight days of not enough wind, today we had too much wind in Auckland.  Sigh...

Caltech is sponsoring a Turing Tournament.  You can enter two ways, either by building an emulator, a program which attempts to mimic human behavior, or a detector, a program which attempts to distinguish humans from emulators.  First prize is $10,000 and bragging rights...

An interesting series of discussions are linked from Gene Expression regarding The Bell Curve.  If you're interested in frank discussion of human intelligence, click away...

Unlike many who discuss The Bell Curve, I've actually read it, and I found it fascinating and well-written.  It is regrettable that Murray and Herrnstein were known to have racial views, and even more regrettable that race was mentioned in their book.  This turned debate about the book's ideas to discussions of race, which are nearly always emotional and unproductive.

The most important idea in the book was independent of race entirely - the strong and strongly researched link between intelligence and social behaviour.  (Most of the book analyzes data from a long-term study of Caucasians.)  The fact that low intelligence is a leading indicator of criminality, violence, lack of civility, and poor parenting was suspected before but has now been clearly shown.  The implications are significant for policymakers, philosophers, pundits, and thoughtful people everywhere, particularly in a world where the average intelligence level is steadily dropping.

I urge anyone interested in these issues to read the book, it is well worth your time even if you are unconvinced by or opposed to the authors' views.

Here's something cool: Alluvium uses RSS to form a peer-to-peer music distribution network.

Did you miss the Grammys?  Or are you like me, and did you just realize while reading this that you missed the Grammys?  Ted Barlow shares a brief review which captures the highlights of what seems to have been a dismal effort.  The reason for poor music sales must be online file sharing, what else could it be?  (And it couldn't have anything to do with this...)

Eject! Eject! Eject! has a new essay posted: Confidence.  Read it and you will feel good.

From Steven Den Beste When you sit at a poker table, if after fifteen minutes you can't figure out who the pigeon is, you're the pigeon.  I like that.

Finally, a USB toothbrush.  Huh?  I am not making this up.

 

Tuesday,  02/25/03  08:36 PM

Bush to U.N.: the decision has been made to go to war.  Now, are you irrelevant?  By the way, in case you think we're rushing to war, see this list...

I'm adding L.T.Smash to my blogroll.  He's a reserve officer stationed in Kuwait.  I like him.

AOL's Music Net service is set to debut.  But they don't get it - burning CDs will cost you $18/month.  Yeah, like that's going to stop Kazaa...  These days you can buy a movie on DVD for less than you can get its soundtrack on CD.

Sadly, master chef Bernard Loiseau has killed himself, apparently because a leading restaurant guide marked down his world-renowned La Côte d'Or.  After reading Burgundy Stars I've always wanted to go there...

After 30 years, Pioneer 10's signal has faded out...  my father wrote computer simulations to test its circuits.

Thinking of trying three degrees?  Read this review first...

"There are two types of data: those that have already been archived by backup and those that have not yet been lost."  Tom's Hardware reviews tape backup solutions.  Of course if you don't back up, you can always see a data loss psychologist.  I am not making this up.

 

MusicNet Review

Wednesday,  02/26/03  08:35 AM

<review>

So, in the interest of seeking knowledge, I decided to try MusicNet, an online music service from EMI, Bertelsmann, and TimeWarner [aka AOL].  AOL recently announced they were offering MusicNet.)

MusicNet signup - WebFirst I visit the MusicNet website.  A pop-up window opens.  My choices are 1) demo and 2) sign-up.  I watch the demo, a slick Flash animation that explains that you can stream music, download it to your computer, transfer it to your music player, and burn it to a CD.  Hey, that sounds cool!  Okay, I'm ready.  I go to sign up.  See the picture at right.  There is only one distribution partner, RealONE, and they "do not offer CD burning, permanent downloading, or transfer to portable devices".  In other words, all you can do with MusicNet is stream music.  Was the demo created by the same people who created the signup page?  Yeah, like I'm really going to pay $10/month to stream music, when there are thousands of free stations on live365.  Really lame.  Looks like the web version of MusicNet is a non-starter.

MusicNet signup - AOLNext I long on to AOL, something I hardly ever do anymore.  I'm thinking perhaps AOL has a different way to access MusicNet which is better.  { Note: I'd forgotten how slow AOL is...  that's what happens with one centralized server bank.  It is really s l o w ... }  See the picture at right for the signup options.  This seems amazingly expensive to me, you can stream or download songs for $.50 each, but if you want to burn them to a CD they cost $1.80 each.  Note that transfers to a music player are not supported here, either (of course, once you've burned a track to CD, you can do anything you want with it, including transferring it to an MP3 player.)  During the signup process a client application is downloaded and installed on your computer - intrusive, but this is how they enforce the limits.  You can only listen to music through the MusicNet client application.

The MusicNet client app requires that you be signed on to AOL, and appears to use AOL's network transport; it, too, is very slow.  It takes a long time to search, or to initiate an online "listen" or "download".  Downloading itself appears fast (limited by bandwidth).  The user interface is nice and easy to use.  I imagine a non-techie would be able to use it easily.  If you download more than one track at a time (e.g. select all the tracks from an album), they download in parallel.  Nice.  The music sound quality is excellent - as good in my uneducated opinion as 192K MP3s.

Now on to the $64,000 question: content.  I looked for each of the artists I have on my iPod.  Please see the table below for details.  (Your mileage will vary, of course, along with your musical taste...)  Overall I'd say this is as good as any of the pay online services I've tried.  They have a lot, but I do have three observations:

  1. When they have an artist, they don't necessarily have their whole catalog.  This seems weird to me - seems like they'd either have rights to the catalog, or not.  This is unfortunately one of the ways Kazaa distinguishes itself, they have everything...
  2. They did not have some big names, including the very three which I'd regard as the biggest:
    • Led Zeppelin.
    • Madonna.
    • Rolling Stones.
  3. When they have a track, they tend to have only one recording of it.  Again, this is what distinguishes Kazaa, you find live versions, bootlegs, alternate mixes, all kinds of stuff.  I actually have thirteen versions of Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water (don't ask).

So I'd give then a "good but not great" in this category.  Actually with the content they do have unlimited downloads would be a good deal, except that it costs $18/month, and you can only play them through their client application.

MusicNet upgrade - AOLNext I tried burning tracks to CD, which is the only way to make them "portable".  Clicking on the upgrade link in the application gives you the message shown at right.  You choices for upgrading this "online" service are 1) phone customer support [and sit on hold], 2) send snail mail, or 3) send a fax.  Huh?  This cannot be done online nor with email.  Sigh.  I called customer support and found that during the free trial period there is no way to upgrade.  Furthermore, everyone is forced into the free trial period initially, regardless of the choice made during signup.  I explained that I was reviewing the product and offered to pay my $18 for the first month up front, but they have no way to do this.  The product manager for this must have been a genius.

So - initial reaction is "not good".  A feeble effort, actually, which explains why Kazaa and other free file sharing services continue to be so popular.  People will pay for great, but they will not pay for good when better is free.

P.S. I'll let you know how CD burning goes - in 30 days...

</review>

<data>

Artist Tracks Music
AC/DC
0 Not found
Aerosmith
62 About half their catalog.
Acoustic Alchemy
115 What looks to be 3/4 of their catalog
Antonio Vivaldi 63 Good selection, not exhaustive
Bananorama
0 Not found
Billy Idol 48 About 1/3 of his catalog
Black Sabbath 43 About 1/4 their output
Bob Dylan 50 About 1/4 his catalog
Bryan Ferry 83 Pretty much everything
Buffalo Springfield 12 Only one album
Celine Dion 91 Everything
Cirque du Soleil 0 Not found
Concrete Blonde 71 Everything
Creedence Clearwater 242 Everything!
David Bowie 161 A lot - maybe all
Deep Purple 44 Only four albums - and not the best ones
Def Leppard 57 Everything
Depeche Mode 174 Everything
Dire Straits 40 Four albums
Don Henley 27 Three albums
Duran Duran 188 Everything
ELO 51 Just three albums
Eminem 77 Everything?
Eric Clapton 222 Everything
Eurythmics 0 Not found
Fine Young Cannibals 0 Not found
Fleetwood Mac 241 Everything
Foreigner 113 Anthologies, pretty complete
George Harrison 0 Not found
Glenn Frey 0 Not found
Golden Earring 0 Not found
Great White 0 Four albums, pretty complete
Guns N' Roses 10 Hardly anything
INXS 96 Good but not complete
Jethro Tull 178 About 1/2 their catalog
Joe Satriani 42 About 1/3 of his catalog
Led Zeppelin 0 Not found!
Linkin Park 28 Everything
Lita Ford 28 Everything
Lynryd Skynyrd 181 Everything
Madonna 5 Hardly anything
Midnight Oil 0 Not found
Missing Persons 14 Only best of…
Nazareth 0 Not found
Neil Young 210 Everything?
Nirvana 70 Almost everything
Pablo Casals 29 Only two albums
Pat Benatar 148 Everything
Pet Shop Boys 201 Everything
Peter Frampton 58 All the good stuff, not complete
Phil Collins 121 Everything?
Procol Harum 0 Not found
Queen 0 Not found!
Queensryche 137 Everything
REM 154 Everything
Robin Trower 40 Three albums
Rolling Stones 0 Not found!
Rush 151 Everything
Sade 55 Everything?
Santana 185 A lot - but not all
Scorpions 96 Everything
Soundgarden 0 Not found!
Stevie Nicks 14 One album
Stevie Ray Vaughan 99 Everything
Sting 149 Everything
Styx 75 Everything
Supertramp 21 Two albums
Talking Heads 125 About 1/2 their catalog
Ted Nugent 66 Everything
The B-52s 67 Everything
The Fixx 21 Two albums
The Police 104 Everything
The Who 150 Almost everything
Tom Petty 29 Only two albums
Tracy Chapman 0 Not found!
U2 130 Everything
UB40 161 Everything
Van Halen 94 Everything
Whitesnake 6 Hardly anything
Yes 149 About 1/2 their catalog
Yo-Yo Ma 0 Not found
ZZ Top 216 Everything

</data>

 

Wednesday,  02/26/03  08:54 AM

New WTC design
New WTC design
The New York Port Authority has choosen the design at right to be constructed on the WTC site.  It features a 1,776ft. spire and will be the tallest building in the world.

John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, explains why You Can't 'Contain' Saddam.  Meanwhile an anonymous Iraqi expat ponders If Antiwar Protesters Succeed.

Wondering what to do with the duct tape you've bought to seal your windows?

This guys needs a life.  He's devoted five months to getting Apple to make their G4 desktops quieter.

How about a cell 'phone, Neo?

Here's yet another reason why CD sales are off...

Update on my switch to Mozilla - so far, so good.  I haven't come across any pages which didn't render correctly.  I do believe IE is faster - perhaps just loading a new window, but I open a new window on every link, so that matters - however Mozilla isn't that much slower.  I have disabled tabbed browing for two reasons, first, it is unstable with a lot of concurrent loads, and second, I kept forgetting I had a bunch of tabs and closed the window!  I'm using a 1600x1200 screen so I have plenty of real estate for browser windows, so it just doesn't buy me anything.  (I could see it would be helpful at 1024x768, but that's not me.)  Anyway, so far, so good.  If you haven't tried Mozilla you might want to, it is not your father's Netscape browser.  It does kill pop-up windows, and it gives you really good control over cookies.

Finally, check out this headline: Hong Kong Moves to Raise Birth Rate and Draw Richer Immigrants.  Can you imagine the fuss if this was suggested in the U.S.?!

 

Thursday,  02/27/03  08:32 PM

AC race 4: dismastedWell, this is what it looks like when things go bad.  TNZ dismasted in the middle of the second beat of today's America's Cup race, and now Alinghi are up 4-0 in the best of nine.  Not looking good for the Kiwis...

I have to say they were going to lose this race anyway.  They lost the start, for the fourth race in a row (doesn't look like Bertrand Pace helped them), fell behind on the first beat, and Alinghi was pulling away when the rig fell over.  The boats have equal speed - at times TNZ even seems to have the edge - but Coutts and Butterworth are outsailing Barker and his team.  They get the first shift to weather every time, and their tactics downwind are flawless.

TNZ has a long night ahead of them replacing the rig, then they face elimination in race 5 tomorrow.

Remember the "do you think we're rushing to war" list?  This cartoon summarizes nicely!  If you're still wondering why we're going to war, Steven Den Beste clarifies Not Why We're Doing It.

Larry Lessig explains why U.S. software developers are choking on patents.

Goodbye, Mr. Rogers.

 

Why Aggregators Are Not Good

Thursday,  02/27/03  10:04 PM

Along with blogging, which has reached "everyone is doing it" proportions, another hot meme at the moment is "RSS aggregators".  Uh, what?  (Yeah, they need a catchier name.)  Here's the thing.  A lot of sites and especially blogs make their content available in two ways.  The way you know is this one; as a public website.  The way you might not know is as an "RSS feed".  This means the content of a site is presented in a computer-readable way; essentially a text file with a bunch of links and descriptions.  (Click on this little orange button XML if you want to see this site's "feed".)  Yeah, so?

Well, there are programs called Aggregators which periodically read RSS feeds from a list of sites you've created, and then present an organized view of all the recent content from those sites.  {Popular Aggregators include Radio, NewsMonster, NewsGator, NetNewsWire, AmphetaDesk, and NewzCrawler.}  Some run stand-alone, some run in a web browser, and NewsGator is a Microsoft Outlook plug-in.  Essentially Aggregators provide a slick front-end to the content on a bunch of web sites which you've told it to visit.  They save time because you don't have to click around looking for stuff of interest, and they allow you to organize the content in various ways.

This sounds nice, right?  What could be wrong with this?  Well, let me tell you.  I roam the web daily looking for stuff: news of interest, opinions, discussion, weirdness, you name it.  Part of this is my job (I am a CTO), part of this is because I find interesting and useful stuff, and part of it is, well, fun.  I enjoy visiting a bunch of different sites.  Each site has a different look and feel, a different style.  They are often very personal, and web content is affected by its presentation (just like food!)  But - and here's the problem - Aggregators make all sites look the same.  The whole presentation is lost, and only the raw content is left.

I don't think Aggregators will reach the same "everyone is doing it" level as blogs.  There are busy people who don't care about look and feel who will use them - the same people who eat fast food, probably - but many people will prefer visiting individual sites to taste their content in its natural setting.  As for me, I prefer reading novels to Reader's Digest, I prefer The French Laundry to McDonalds, and I prefer surfing around to using an aggregator.

[ Later: I've caved entirely on this subject; I'm now an enthusiatic user of RSS and SharpReader is one of my favorite applications.  Shows how wrong you can be :)  ]

 

Friday,  02/28/03  06:39 PM

Last day of February already!  Where is 2003 going?  Whew!  And this makes two months Critical Section has been in business.  We've served 1994 visitors of whom 310 have returned at least three times.  That is so cool, thanks!

Charles Krauthammer nails it: A Costly Charade at the U.N.

So again the America's Cup is postponed; after working through the night to rig a new mast, TNZ was not able to test it against Alinghi today.

Well, another dot-com shoe has dropped; the Red Herring has closed its doors.  It joins Upside, the Industry Standard, eCompany, and Forbes ASAP, leaving Business 2.0 as the last "new economy" business magazine still publishing.  I can distinctly remember early 2000, when Red Herring was about 500 pages thick, choked with tombstone ads from investment banks, and full of "we're too cool for ourselves" articles.  I found this great article about all the contenders in Forbes ASAP, dated August 2000 - good for a trip down memory lane...

In an interesting article, FastCompany asks Which Price Is Right?

Here's another wrinkle is my browsing experience - today I'm trying Opera.  So far it seems to combine the speed of IE with the pop-up killing and cookie management of Mozilla.  It might even be faster than IE.  It does not seem to know when to reload dynamic pages, though...  Stay tuned...

[Later - no dice.  We have two show stoppers - ads in the header (or pay $40), and trouble rendering sites with complicated CSS.  That's why I stay away from CSS layouts - but a lot of people use it now.  And they test with IE and Mozilla.  Too bad, because Opera sure is fast.]

If you want to laugh, please read The Horror of Blimps :)

 
 

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