Critical Section

Archive: August 2003

<<< July 2003


September 2003 >>>


Saturday,  08/02/03  10:16 AM

Sorry for the gap - I've been working on a really cool pattern recognition program based on Vector Quantization.  More about this when I have time.

Whenever I'm away from blogging there is an interesting race which takes place between the unread entries in SharpReader (my RSS aggregator) and the junk mail filtered by Matador.  Currently Matador is winning 444 to 395.  And that's after only two days.  Whew.

My biggest accomplishment in the past few days was splicing a USB cable back together.  My cat Reggie takes an extraordinary interest in any wires or strings hanging about.  We have blinds on all the windows in the house, and are forever restringing them because Reggie bites through the cords.  More annoying than that is when he bites through the electrical wires of walkman headphones (I've gotten really good at splicing them together; there are two concentric wires involved...) and ethernet cables (I've gotten really good at splicing them together; there are four parallel wires involved...).  Anyway last week he bit through Alex's USB mouse wire.  This is the big leagues of splicing - we're talking a shielded wire with five tiny concentric wires inside it (four signals plus ground).  Anyway I spliced it and it works!  Yippee.  Made me feel like taking up fly-tying, except that I don't fish...


Saturday,  08/02/03  10:30 AM

It's all happening...

You can't make this stuff up.  "Arnold Schwarzenegger will officially announce his intentions with regard to the California recall election for governor on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno next Wednesday."  So be it.  I like Arnold, but I'm hoping he doesn't run so Richard Riordan will...  we need someone with experience to clean up Gray Davis' mess.  Gosh, I'm starting to sound like a Republican... slap! slap!

Bigwig: "The California Governor's recall race is going to be the most interesting trainwreck in the history of the planet to watch."  Interesting, you bet, trainwreck, that's what we have now, in the form of a $38B deficit.  Yeah, that's a B, not an M.

Steven Den Beste considers the history of the world, biology version.  Very interesting stuff.  (I don't know how Steven makes time to write these long tomes...)

the eyetopRemember the Sony Glasstron?  Well here's another entry into the head-mounted display race - the Eyetop...  looks very cool!

the AudiopadWired considers the Audiopad, a composition and performance instrument for electronic music which tracks the positions of objects on a tabletop surface and converts their motion into music.  Very cool.  Apparently it is easier to use than to explain - always a good sign :)

UAV planeWant to spy on someone?  How about an unmanned RC flying wing with a UV movie camera, programmed with GPS waypoints?  What a great time we live in - that stuff like this actually exists, and not just in science fiction novels...

The NYTimes has a story about statistical language translation - the idea that you use statistical properties of human-translated documents to develop rules which are then used for machine translation.  I think this kind of technique - which uses emergent properties rather than explicit heuristics - is the future of AI.  A variation of this is what we're using for image pattern recognition at Aperio.

The Houston Chronicle reports: Teachers to keep tabs on potential dropouts by computer.  "With a new computer database available at every campus this fall, teachers can keep a virtual eye on every student and identify those at risk of leaving."  So that's nice, but even nicer would be a way to keep them from leaving - by motivating them to stay.  At least this way teachers who care would know who to pay attention to...  but then teachers who care would already know this themselves.

Joel Spolsky discusses stupidity at the helm of software companies...

Speaking of software company stupidity, consider Napster.  The new Napster, that is, post-Roxio-acquisition.  This new Napster is just like the previous new Napster - announceware.  They can build web pages until they're blue in the face, and nobody will care.  They have to be like the old Napster - real working software - before anyone will or should pay attention.  Meanwhile Kazaa and the Apple Music Store are eating their would-be lunch.  Napster remains one of the biggest lost opportunities of the Internet era.

Oh, and Cringley weighs in with his ideas for new Napster, Son of Napster, aka Snapster...  I think he is far less stupid than Roxio so far...

NYT: cable or satellite, please stay tuned.  Another article which (among other things) sings the virtues of Tivo.  The article discusses Time Warner's new cable service for New York city, which includes a cable box that has a PVR built it.  The future is here, ladies and gentleman.  Time-shifting is the wave of the present.  (You mean you still watch live TVThat's so 1900s...)

Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with JupiterResearch, claims Media Center PCs are better than Tivo.  Yeah, right.  What planet is he from?  Maybe for the .001% of all people who have their PC next to their TV.  Even nerds code in another room.  And that doesn't even begin to address Tivo's functional superiority.  Can Media Center PCs automatically record every Reese Witherspoon movie?  I didn't think so.

Don Park tells it like it is: XHTML is Technical Masturbation.  "Emitting XHTML instead of HTML is pretty popular among geeks these days... Unfortunately, it amounts to technical masturbation because there are no real benefits to using XHTML.  Even worse, using XHTML can be down right harmful."  Don't worry, you're safe reading this blog; I have not succumbed to this temptation [yet] and still use plain vanilla HTML like my father and his father before him.

By the way, if you have no idea what this alphabet soup is all about, don't worry.  If you know what HTML is but can't spell XHTML, here's a one-line explanation: XHTML is HTML reformatted as valid XML.

For the nerds among you (and for me to find again), Microsoft Developer Tools Roadmap.

There are a lot of blogs out there; CyberAtlas estimates there are 1,600,000 active ones...  And you're using your valuable time to read this one!

If you want to find others - and who wouldn't - check out the 45th Carnival of the Vanities, hosted by Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.  I haven't made time to check it out yet, so I have no recommendation to offer, but please don't let me stop you from doing so...

Meanwhile Dave Pollard presents the secrets of breakout blogs.  I think the real secret is there is no secret, you just have to write interesting stuff...

Burt Rutan's spacecraftThis picture of Burt Rutan's private spacecraft is to reward your persistence in making it to the bottom of this long post :)  Very cool.  [ click through for large pic ]


Sunday,  08/03/03  10:45 PM

Well it's a punky reggae part-ay, and it's tonight...  (sorry, just can't get Bob out of my head :)

We had a great party over here this afternoon / tonight; thanks to all of you who came.  Sitting around BSing with friends has to be the ultimate fun in life.  Why would this be?  Don't know - need to think about this...

So, it's fourth down and inches.  What do you do?  If you're a conventional football coach, you punt.  Wrong!  At least so says David Romer, in a terrific and scholarly analysis of the probabilities involved.  Greg Garber of ESPN has the traditional contra response.  I love this stuff - reminds me of the book Moneyball, about how Billy Beane and the Oakland As have turned baseball inside out by challenging conventional wisdom with facts.

Steven Den Beste followed his fascinating biological study of cross-pollination with another from the point of view of culture.  Excellent stuff - along the lines of Susan Blackmore's terrific book The Meme Machine, but with a political bent.

Sony projectorWe've been talking about "eyetop" displays, but what about plain old big screens?  Like all red-blooded American males I am coveting a plasma display, but John Robb reports Sony's latest projector is really great.

Wired laments Chilly Forecast for Smart Fridge.  Of course "smart" refrigerators haven't taken off yet...  the thing they really need is RFID tags on each product, so the fridge knows what's in it.  That will make smart fridges a smart product.  Stay tuned!

Dan Gillmor is doing his part against the phone company monopolies: Why I Buy Internet Phone Calling.  This is an interesting meme which is picking up steam; there are now a number of companies offering voice-over-IP phone systems.  They are cheaper than analog phones, and competitive on features and quality.

flying or falling?CNN reports Felix Baumgartner has become the first human to fly across the English Channel.  But Bigwig claims this isn't flying, it is merely falling with style :)  Either way it is cool.  Personally I want one so I can just fly around...

Beluga jetSpeaking of flying, check out this jet.  Nicknamed "Beluga", it is used primarily for flying around pieces of other jets.  Absolutely amazing.

For extra credit: one of my favorite interview questions is: "how would you weigh a 747?", with the follow up "how would you guessimate how much it weighs?"  So how would you weigh this, and how much do you think this weighs?

Dave Winer discusses how to name a product.  Very apropos for me; I'm trying to figure out a great name for Aperio's image pattern recognition tool.

Okay this is nerdy but cool: Adrian Holovaty has customized RSS feeds.  [ via John Robb ]  This is interesting; it would surely help cut down the "aggregator glut" afflicting those of us who are enthusiastic blog readers, but how will you know exactly what to filter for?  The serendipitous discovery of something interesting you didn't already know about is the charm of blogsurfing...


Monday,  08/04/03  10:36 PM

Steven Den Beste reports North Korea blinks.  Let's hope this is the prelude to a reasonable solution.  The Chinese don't want NK to have nukes any more than we do, and they have the power to force NK to abandon them, which we do not - yet.

Well, here's the article I've spent three years waiting to read: Video Extraction from a Tivo.  It appears there is now a clean technical path to extracting recorded video from a Series 1 Tivo via Ethernet onto a PC.  It isn't very polished - yet - but this is the start of a bunch of movie file-sharing on line...

Tricolor salvageThis is amazing.  Last December the Norwegian auto transport Tricolor foundered in the English Channel after colliding with another ship, sinking in the shallow water with its cargo of 2,862 luxury cars.  Since then it has been hit three times by other ships in the Channel, despite being surrounded by lighted buoys.  Now an operation is under way to remove the wreck by sawing it into pieces using a specially hardened steel cable.  Adam Curry did some helicopter-blogging and posted pictures - check them out!

Want to compare two American Cities head-to-head?  Then here is your tool.  For example I performed this comparison of Thousand Oaks, CA, to Los Altos, CA (the last two cities in which I've lived).  You can draw some interesting conclusions combining the "people" information with the "health" and "crime" information.  Too bad there isn't an IQ test - but you can use "education" as a proxy...

Researcher Jose Hernandez-Rebollar of George Washington University has developed an electronic glove that can turn American Sign Language gestures into spoken words or text.  Now that's a cool use of technology!

Wine Spectator: matching wine with food.  "This is not rocket science.  It's common sense.  Follow your instincts."  I think the most important thing is to drink good wine; it doesn't make sense to say "Cabernet goes great with steak" if you're talking about $4 rotgut.  [ via Ottmar Liebert ]

Ottmar's studioSpeaking of Ottmar, this is what his studio looks like:

Wired reports Millions going Solo with Cells.  "Industry analysts say 7.5 million Americans have cut the cord of their land-line phones, with students, recent graduates and young professionals leading the way."  For the past three years my only business phone has been my cell.  Why have more than one, it is just more expensive and more confusing for people trying to reach you...

So Novell bought Ximian.  Cool.  Ximian is known for their founder, Miguel de Icaza, and his Mono project, an open-source Linux-based implementation of the .NET runtime.  I guess Novell wants to be a player in the Lintel market - good for them.

Okay, here you go Dave; a gratuitous link to test the new trackback facility in Radio.  I'm undecided about trackback; on the one hand it is useful to see who has linked to what, but on the other it feels like this information should be an emergent property gathered from logs, rather than an explicit one...  Next we'll have trackback spam, wherein people post a trackback from a website they want to publicize even though it doesn't link to the target.

A great exchange overheard on Slashdot:

"I wish all you gun-toting fucktards would just go create your own nation."
"We did.  Who the hell let you in here?"


Writing in Elvish

Monday,  08/04/03  10:53 PM

the writing on The Ring

This is (of course!) the writing on The Ring, in Old Elvish.  The language is that of Mordor, as spoken by Gandalf at the Council of Elrond.  In English it might sound a little like this:

ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul

Would you like to be able to write in Elvish?  Aha, I thought so.  Then here is your page, a tutorial in writing with Elvish fonts, using the Tengwar writing system developed by J.R.R.Tolkein.  And no, I am not making this up.


Tuesday,  08/05/03  11:49 PM

The McKinsey Quarterly has a terrific article on pricing new products.  (I think you have to register to read it, but it is well worth it.)  The biggest takeaway among many great thoughts is that it is vital not to begin too low; it is much easier to lower prices than to raise them.

A honeybee kills a renegade worker's egg.
honeybee police

John Whitfield reports on some fascinating genetic experiments with ants: The Police State.  "Murder, torture and imprisonment - these are the standard tools of repressive regimes...  Social insects perfected the police state long before people got in on the act."  By selectively breeding "anarchic" bees, the usual genetic calculus of the hive (wherein all workers work for the benefit of a single breeding queen) has been upset.  This is great stuff.  [ via Interconnected ]

Jonathan Zittrain: The Copyright Cage.  "Bars can't have TVs bigger than 55 inches.  Teddy bears can't include tape decks.  Girl Scouts who sing Puff, the Magic Dragon owe royalties.  Copyright laws needs to change."  Boy, when I read articles like this it really raises my blood pressure.  These kinds of laws are exactly the opposite of why the U.S. has been so successful.  [ via Dave Winer ]

Sony has introduced plasma TVs which include broadband wireless networking!  Wow, if that isn't the wave of the future!

Rageboy takes his daughter to a rock concert.  You have to read this, yeah, it is long, but yeah, it is great.  He definitely writes at night when he should be sleeping, and it shows.

Benlog asks is there a geek on the plane?  " one has stories such as: 'Hey, I was taking my Toyota out of the garage last night when it just blew up on me!'"  Excellent stuff.  BTW Ben is an MIT student with a Harvard blog :) 

Are there bloggers at CalTech?  I need to find out!  P.S. of course there are.

I am always surprised to see which of my blog posts generate interest, and which ones don't.  One of my very favorite posts of all time was books and wine, which hardly anyone read and nobody linked.  Meanwhile all kinds of people read and link moving Mt. Fuji.  You just never know...


Revisiting the Nest

Wednesday,  08/06/03  11:27 PM

(click for larger pic)
The Nest

Many of you will remember "the nest", a comedy of errors in which I nearly killed five baby birds but ended up successfully reuniting them with their single parent, after the unfortunate demise of their other parent.  Here's an update.

The picture at left shows the parent - female, I think, from the fact that she's all brown and the dead parent had a red neck (see "the nest" for details) - sitting happily on her nest.  She has been most diligent and feeds her clutch without fail every morning and night, stopping only to flit about in an aggravated manner whenever we come near.

One of the babies didn't make it, we found her dead on the patio below the lamp.  Whether this was an after-effect of the nest incident or simply Darwinian selection in action I cannot say.  The remaining four babies have grown nicely - they have wings and feathers and look like miniature versions of their mother -and experiment with flying from the lamp to nearby trees.

The flying lessons were pretty interesting.  The mom would make a bunch of noise inside the lamp, flapping her wings and flitting about, and then would fly over to a nearby tree, making a bunch of noise all the while.  A bunch of other birds joined in the chorus.  Then a little one would peek out of the lamp, and go for it, flapping furiously straight for mom sitting in the tree.  Upon arrival in the tree, the mom flies back to the nest, and the baby follows.  Then it is another kid's turn.  They did this all afternoon one day.

We think perhaps three of the kids have now "flown the coop", because only one seems to be in the nest with any regularity.  There's always one, huh?


Wednesday,  08/06/03  11:45 PM

Arnold SchwartzeneggerSo - Arnold is running!  In fact so is everyone else...  what a wild wacky gubernatorial race we're having!  Anything but Gray, in fact :)

This will be a field day for columnists and pundits, already the headlines are being written.  My favorites: "Total Recall", and "I'll Be Back".

Speaking of pundits, here's a great idea: Roger Simon proposes term limits for op-ed columnists.  I love it.  Even better, post hit counters on their websites :0

Mike Hawash, the Intel programmer accused of aiding the Taliban, has pleaded guilty.  I notice the tone of has changed considerably...  they went from being virulent critics of the Department of Justice to stating "we hope justice has been served".  (Check the Google cache...)  Guess they must feel kind of betrayed, but then, by his own admission Mike is a traitor.  [ via Blaster's Blog ]

buried Iraqi MIGCheck out these photos (1, 2, 3) of Iraqi MIGs buried in the desert.  Amazing!  Newsmax has the story, these are brand-new Russian fighters with French radar.  (Wonder why they were buried :)  One reaction I have looking at the pictures is that Iraq has a lot of dirt.  If an informant hadn't come forward with the coordinates at which these planes were buried, what is the chance we would have found them?  Iraq is bigger than California...

Say what you like about Michael Robertson, he thinks big.  Not content with taking on the music industry (, and Microsoft (Lindows), he has just formed a new startup to take on the 'phone companies (SIPphone).  This is a voice-over-IP play which uses broadband Internet connections to replace 'phone circuits.  It makes all kinds of sense, especially for people (and companies!) which makes lots of long-distance calls.  This is an important new market with Vonage already makes waves...

Andy Grove has a great article in Fortune: Churning Things Up.  He notes that company's strategic decisions can have "linear" effects (the general market structure in which the company operates remains the same), or "non-linear" effects (the general market structure changes).  In the latter case a "good" strategic decision may ultimately hurt the company, by hurting the overall market in which it competes.  Interestingly, he identifies health care as the next candidate industry to undergo non-linear change...

AOL 9So - I've upgraded to AOL 9, have you?  Looks nice.  They seem to have cleaned things up in the GUI (it is much less cluttered than it was), and incorporated video all over the place.  AOL 9 clearly is designed for broadband users.  The NYTimes has a complimentary review.

godless on GNXP notes Digital Rights Management is Inherently Doomed.  I've had the same thought; in the end music and movies must be played, and hence can be recorded.  It is what it is.

SI's Rick Reilly has a great article up on the weirdness of NCAA justice.  "I support the small-mindedness of the NCAA.  In fact, my hope is that someday the NCAA will get so small -- so microscopic -- that it will slide down the holes in its shower drain and be gone for good."  [ via Silflay Hraka ]

Andrew Anker considers Bootstrapping your Company.  "a VC who changes a company's strategy as part of his own portfolio rebalancing should have his wallet privileges revoked."  There are two good points in this short post, first, not all good companies fit a VC investment profile, and second, there is a gradual thaw within the investment community, starting with more mature companies and working their way back to early stage deals.

Looking for new blogs to visit?  Then check out the 46th weekly Carnival of the Vanities, which this week jumped Across the Atlantic.  The theme is the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, which seems very appropriate.  Happy blogsurfing!


Andale = bad

Thursday,  08/07/03  09:45 AM

I just want to say - publicly - that the Andale counters on eBay items are horrible.  Instead of quietly providing a simple service for sellers, they try to turn it into a huge cross-sell opportunity, and completely lose sight of what users want.  After my experience with their counters I wouldn't buy something from Andale even if I really wanted it.  I'm actually surprised, given the quality of other eBay partners like iPix and PayPal, that eBay puts up with them.  The next time I sell stuff on eBay I'm going to use a third-party counter.  There, got that off my chest...


Westlake Sail-a-Thon

Thursday,  08/07/03  09:46 AM

Westlake Sail-a-ThonThis Saturday, August 9, I'm participating in a Sail-a-thon on Westlake to benefit the Casa Pacifica Children's Crisis Center.  This is the 10th anniversary of this event, which last year raised over $30,000 to benefit victims of child abuse and neglect.  For nine hours participants sail "laps" around Westlake.  Typically participants sail about 30-40 laps although my team is shooting to break the record of 47 (me, my daughter Alexis, her friend Katherine, and my daughter Megan).

If you're a regular reader you know about "Ole's Law", that any time spent in a boat is better than any time spent not in a boat.  Well this time spent in a boat will be even better than usual, because we'll be raising money to help abused and neglected kids.

I'd  like to ask each of you to help by sponsoring us.  Typical sponsorship levels are $.25/lap, $.50/lap, or $1/lap (about $12, $25, or $50, respectively).  It really is a great cause.  If you're interested please just send me email; after the event I'll report on how we did :)

I should add - thanks to all my friends who have already pledged their support.  If we sail 50 laps, thereby breaking the record, we will have raised over $1,000.  That's terrific!


Friday,  08/08/03  09:13 AM

There's a lot going on this morning, its all happening...

Time carries a levelheaded survey of the California gubernatorial race - the political Earth moves.  We do enjoy providing entertainment for the rest of the world out here :)  The essence of the Time piece is that with Arnold and Cruz' entries, Davis is dead, and the race becomes a straightforward Democrat vs. Republican contest.  "The campaign will hopefully shift from debates on whether a pornographer can run a state to who has the best plan to save the world's fifth largest economy from imploding in red ink."  You bet.  Unlike when Jesse Ventura took the helm in Minnesota, California has big problems, and we need real solutions.  Whether an outsider - even a well-connected outsider like Arnold - can be more effective than an insider remains to be seen.

rhesus macaquesWired reports the rhesus monkey is rapidly becoming an endangered species, due primarily to the Ebola virus.  Aside from the value of this species on its own, they are tremendously useful (if also controversial) as proxies for humans in health research.  Plus, they're smart, and cute.

When I was at CalTech in 1977, I worked in a neuroscience research lab which used rhesus monkeys for vision research.  They are amazingly human-like, friendly, communicative, and fun-loving.  Fortunately the work of this lab didn't involve destroying animals, but I could see where it would have been very difficult for the researchers if it did.  It was quite easy to form relationships with the little guys.

Harry Pierson reflects on a bad presentation.  In which we again discover that we learn much more from failure than success.

Proving once again that some people have too much free time, we present Cow FooThis is hilarious!  [ via Robert Scoble ]

tadpole galaxyYahoo reports on a fascinating picture taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of the "tadpole galaxy".  This is actually a big galaxy consuming a smaller one, using its superior gravity to "suck" the little one into it.  Cool!

The NYTimes has an interesting article about choosing roommates at college.  Apparently there are now "dating services" which match roommates for compatibility.  It makes sense, but it probably isn't much of a business opportunity, after all poor customers make poor customers.

You've heard about Apple's cool new iChat A/V software, right?  It is "videoconferencing for the rest of us".  But did you know you can hook it to your Tivo?  Aha, I didn't think so.  Wired reports Marc Zeeder uses it to rebroadcast pay-per-view soccer games recorded on his Tivo to his friends.  Now that is cool.  And it must be tried ... :)

Jabra headsetI've been investigating bluetooth wireless phone headsets, and this review by Howard Chui was right on the money.  I like the Jabra headset (pictured at left); primarily because it comes with an adapter which enables non-bluetooth phones to work.  {My Treo 300 is not bluetooth-capable.}  This could be a great solution...  stay tuned...

Speaking of Treos, Philip Greenspun traded in his Treo for a Compaq PocketPC, primarily because his Treo kept breaking down.  However his initial experience is pretty negative; battery life is miserable, he misses the Treo's keyboard, and "carrying a separate phone and PDA is painful".  The grass is always greener, until you cross the fence :)  Personally I love my Treo...

The BBC reports Microsoft is preparing new versions of its mouse that will be fitted with wheels that tilt as well as roll.  This would enable horizontal scrolling as well as vertical scrolling.  Cool, but not new; I've used an IBM trackpoint mouse for years which has the same capability.

"hand blogging"Don Park illustrates a low-tech way to blog, "hand blogging".  His discussion about this is fascinating; he imagines using a camera-equipped cell phone to enable merchants to blog their current wares and prices.  "Guess how many people in the world know how to type?"  Good point.  In this scenario people would blog even though they don't have the ability to view their blogs themselves.  Another variation is capturing handwritten notes as images (no handwriting recognition) and blogging them "as is".

In a similar vein, Tim Bray considers a slim book of verse.  The virtues of books are undeniable, and will be difficult to duplicate with any electronic form.  But hey, the virtues of horse carts were probably undeniable, too...

Google has begun testing Google News Alerts.  They will send you email whenever there is a new news item on a topic you specify.  This is a pretty cool "clipping service"; I can imagine on a for-fee basis it could become quite a revenue generator.  Who wouldn't want to know if there was new news about themselves, or their company?

John Robb points out that Google News Alerts could be used to automatically post to a blog.  Once having done so, the content of the blog could be published automatically as an RSS feed.  To which others could subscribe :)  So perhaps this isn't quite the for-fee opportunity it might at first appear to be...

butter HarleyJust when you think you've seen it all, you realize "it all" is much larger than you thought.  Here we have a woman making a Harley Davidson motorcycle out of butter.  I am not making this up.  [ via Michael Feldman ]


Blogging the Sail-a-Thon

Friday,  08/08/03  11:26 AM

As you know, tomorrow I'm sailing with my kids and their friends in the Westlake Sail-a-thon, a charity event to benefit the Casa Pacifica Children's Crisis Center.  For nine hours participants sail "laps" around Westlake and our team will be trying to break the record of 47 laps.

Since I know each of you will be anxiously waiting to see how we do, I thought it would be fun to blog our progress during the event.  I'm going to take my trusty Treo on the water and will be sending email updates to my blog server, which will be posted in realtime.  So you can monitor this site (or my RSS feed) between 11:00AM and 8:00PM tomorrow (Saturday, 8/9) and you'll know exactly what's happening!

Fujin, god of wind
Fujin, god of wind

Oh, and by the way, please make your offerings to the wind gods.  We'll need a nice breeze to be able to break the record.  Each lap is about one mile, ½ mile upwind, and ½ mile downwind.  Upwind my C-15 can go about 10mph, assuming a reasonable breeze, but we have to tack back and forth, of course, so the actual speed made good is about 7mph.  Downwind we'll only be going about 5mph.  This means it will take about 10 minutes to sail a lap, so in nine hours of continuous sailing we could do about 54 laps.  We won't be able to sail continuously for nine hours - there are human requirements like food and bathroom breaks to consider, to say nothing of fatigue - so breaking the record will be a challenge.  But we'll have no chance without wind!

Finally, thanks again to all of you who are sponsoring usWe are now at about $1,500, assuming we break the record and sail 50 laps.  That is so awesome!



Saturday,  08/09/03  11:09 PM

Our mighty steed - It's the Water...
(click for larger pic)
It's the Water...

So - everything didn't go perfectly today (!) but it turned out great in the end. 

It started this way; my daughter Alex bruised a rib (not sailing), and was out for most of the day.  And her friend Katherine was not able to join us.  So I actually began the day sailing solo.  This didn't leave any hands free for blogging, so I stayed off the air - sorry!  Later my friend Nick joined me, and we promptly capsized.  It wasn't a big deal, but it did help us cool off, and it made me glad I didn't have my Treo!  Nick's cell 'phone was marinated in Westlake and is probably hors d'combat.  Thanks Nick for the pinch hitting!  Alex helped me sail the final laps and to celebrate afterward :)

the spoils...
Sail-a-Thon trophy

Here's the big news - we sailed 38 laps.  This was 2 laps more than any other team, but well short of the record of 47.  We just didn't have enough wind today; at times we were just drifting.  There was a point where we were doing 12-minute laps consistently, but we would have had to do that all day long to have a chance.

By the way, I'm told that in past years this event was sailed for ten hours, so the record was actually set using an extra hour.  We will definitely give it another shot next year.

Overall the event raised over $30,000 for the Casa Pacifica Children's Crisis Center.  Even though we only sailed 38 laps, my team's sponsors together still contributed about $1,500, which made us the team which raised the most money!  Yay, us, and yay, all of you who sponsored us.  Thanks again for your support!


Sunday,  08/10/03  10:16 AM

Paul Martin will likely be Canada's next Prime Minister.  ("Hasta la vista, Jean Cretin!")  He also has a blogThat is so cool!  [ via Dave Winer ]  Yeah, this blogging stuff is just a fad, eh?

Here's a positive story from the Middle East; an Israeli conductor giving free concerts to Palestinians.  It is naive to think all the problems could be solved this way, but it sure is a hopeful channel.  [ via Tim Bray ]

This is a great letter.  Read it to feel wonderful.  [ via Rob Smith ]

Well, you knew this was coming - Total Recall 2003 tee-shirts.  Yeah, I bought one.  "It's not a rumor" :)

can't find ""I was looking for some info, and got this error (click for full screen).  Seemed pretty appropriate :)

More on the shortage of Rhesus monkeys, from CNN.  These little guys are selling for $10,000!  I didn't realize, but apparently they have been used in a lot of AIDS research.  One might ask, is this really the best use for these valuable and unusual animals, but I won't.  Well, okay, I will.  Is it?

In other monkey business, CNN also reports there may be a new species of ape in Northern Congo.  Larger than chimpanzees, which also live in the region, with flatter faces.  The genetic evidence from feces is interesting, the mitochondrial DNA is chimp-like.

Nikon camera with WiFiNikon has introduced a camera with WiFi.  That's pretty cool.  Can anyone seriously doubt that this is the future?  USB and even Firewire is not nearly as convenient.  This camera is $3,500, but you know how these things go...  [ via a pretty excited Jason DeFillippo ]

Joi Ito wonders Is streamripping legal?  There are now several software products available which record music streams from online radio, making them available for Tivo-like later listening.  The sound quality is not CD, but apparently it isn't bad, either.  This certainly poses a tough philosophical problem for opponents of file-sharing.

Dan Gillmor reports Microsoft's answer to blogging will be Front Page enhancements combined with the SharePoint portal server.  Pardon me if I'm not excited.  I think they "get it" - there are a lot of Microsoft bloggers now - but they always seem to go for the most complicated solution.


Monday,  08/11/03  09:09 AM

Steven den Beste discusses Ward Connerly's upcoming California ballot initiative, which makes it illegal for any part of the State of California to classify people according to race or ethnicity or national origin.  This initiative has somehow become controversial, despite being drop-dead obvious, but it will probably receive less publicity now that the gubernatorial recall has become such a circus.

peacock's tailDavid Burbridge introduces The Handicap Principle, one possible explanation of apparently disadvantageous features which have evolved in organisms (such as the peacock's tail).  Another is "The Greenbeard Effect", an interesting phenomenon which I should really blog about...  stay tuned...

legally blondeSteve Sailer writes about The Blonde Wars.  (alternate title: "why blondes have more fun".)  Interesting.  Blonde hair is probably a human example of the Greenbeard Effect in action :)

Here's an interesting essay by Charles Murray: Measuring Achievement, the West and the Rest.  Charles is one of the two authors of The Bell Curve, and it looks like he's found another controversial subject.  The tone is a little patronizing, which will put some people off, but he's dead right about the facts, of course, which are that most human accomplishment in the past two centuries has come from "the West".

Scoble reports sharing an airplane with an IT guy from a title insurance company.  "Right now the company is preparing for a major business pullback.  Mortgage rates have gone up six weeks in a row, and already they are seeing business down by 30%.  As rates go up more, that business pullback will get worse."  Yep, and housing prices are going to fall.  There is still a housing bubble left over from the stock market bubble.  It won't pop, but it will start leaking...

Have you ever seen an unassisted triple-play?  No?  Well, here you go...

The DaVinci institute has published an interesting survey on the Ten Top Inventions in Money Technology during the 1900s.  I found #8 ("the smart card") to be conspicuously incorrect; smart cards haven't made any impact at all, and are certainly not in the same class as #2 ("electronic money") or #9 ("the spreadsheet").  I also think they missed PFMs (personal financial managers like Quicken and Money), UPC codes, POS devices (point-of-sale), and [most crucially] electronic trading.

The ScanScope
(click for larger pic)
The ScanScope

Wired reports on 3-D Printing's Great Leap Forward.  This technology is rapidly becoming mainstream.  At Aperio we used a form of 3-D printing called stereolithography to make the molds for the ScanScope's covers (see pic at left).  I'm not sure why the article makes such a deal out of "printing moving parts"; once made, any part could potentially move...  Note also in this article the mention of Therics, a biotech company which prints pillsWhat a great time to be alive!

PVRBlog has a terrific review of Tivo's Home Media Option.  I love my Tivo, but its a Series 1 and hence can't take advantage of this...  Hmmm.  I  might need to break down and get a Series 1.

And speaking of streaming video in a home network, now we have WiMedia, aka 802.15.  This is a wireless protocol for streaming data.  Look for it on the back of your TV, "soon".

Chris Pirillo thinks RSS will replace email for online publishing.  He should know, and I think he's right.  The client software used for aggregating RSS feeds is still a little nerdy, but at some point Microsoft will probably build an RSS aggregator into Outlook and then it will be all over.  (Scoble?)

Brian Duff explains Why We Watch Users.  [ via Scoble ]  Reading stories like this always makes me flinch, they feel so "real".  Could your software pass this sort of usability test?  Could mine?

Did you see this?  Joel posted this a JPEG image , and asked "what's this?"  It struck me as really weird that I couldn't Google to find the answer.  Usually when people say "what's this", I take the "this" and Google for it, but that only works if the "this" is text...

toilet roll printerHere another item to make you expand "everything" as in "now I've seen everything"; the Internet Toilet Roll Browser.  "The product allows you to search the Internet whilst sitting on the toilet and print out any pages you are interested in on your toilet roll."  I am not making this up.  [ via Boing Boing ]


Gravity Inversion

Monday,  08/11/03  09:10 PM

Today I was riding my bike, when suddenly I got this weird feeling.  About gravity.

studying gravity?
Einstein biking

When you're riding a bike, gravity is your constant companion.  Every change in incline is apparent.  Frictional changes in the road surface are apparent.  (Bike riders often ride on the white lines bordering the road because they're smoother.)  Temperature changes in the air are apparent.  Everything matters, and the thing that matters most is gravity, and your angle relative to it.

So I'm riding along, and suddenly I imagine that I am motionless.  My bike is pushing the earth underneath me.  The harder I ride, the harder my tires push against the road glued onto the earth, and the faster it moves underneath me.  I start a climb and the earth presses harder on my tires, and gets heavier (harder to move).  I crest the hill and the earth falls away slightly, and lightens (becomes easier to move).  I lean to the right, and the earth spins counterclockwise beneath me.  I straighten, and it stops spinning. 

Very odd.

And then I imagine gravity, not as an attractive force from below, but as a repulsion from above!  It is pressing me away, into the earth.  As I go uphill the force becomes stronger, pushing me into the street.  My tires resist and my legs spin the earth beneath me.  As I go downhill the force weakens, and I'm freed a little from the pressure.  I reach a steep decent and gravity shoves me downward - whee! - and the earth slides easily along under my bike, tires spinning, legs resting.  I begin another climb and suddenly I am pressed back into the street, the earth groans and resists the puny efforts of my tires to push it along. 

Very cool.  All physicists should ride bikes.


Tuesday,  08/12/03  08:37 AM

Arnold vs GrayThe Economist: Running Man.  Okay, I admit it, I'm infatuated with Arnold running for Governor.  No, he won't be able to erase all our problems with a rail gun.  But as an agent of change, he is appealing.

Dave Winer thinks blogs are going to be a big part of the 2004 election.  I think he's right.  Few people read blogs, and fewer write them, but they make up a disproportionate number of the nation's "thought leaders".  Just ask Trent Lott :)

Doc Searles blogs about "the third wing".  "I think there's a middle wing that doesn't see much play in the press, though it's all over the blogosphere.  It doesn't think of itself as libertarian, although that's basically what it is...  I think the candidate that captures the sympathy of that third wing will win in 2004."  Doc has his finger on the pulse better than most, I think he's right.  The strange thing about U.S. politics is that frequently a candidate has to move away from the center to win their party's primary, but move back to the middle to win the general election.

This is important - and good - a federal judge has ruled that two universities do not have to comply with subpoenas requesting that they hand over the identities of students who could be illegally sharing music online.  Emphasis on "could be".  In the RIAA's zeal to prosecute, they are neglecting due process in a shameful way.

AOL Time Warner is apparently considering dropping the "AOL" from their name.  Wow.  And to think only three years ago, it seemed perhaps they would drop the "Time Warner" part...

This is just terrible.  CNET: Online gamblers sue their creditorsAnyone doubt that the civil tort system in the U.S. is a shambles?  These people incur a debt, and then blame their creditors for causing it.  This totally raises my blood pressure.  It is so ridiculous but so possible, and fueled by greedy lawyers who only want a percentage of the take.  The sad thing is that from a financial standpoint many targets of such lawsuits are better off settling, even if the suits have no intrinsic merit.

Google is a great search engine.  One thing about it; everyone gets the same results.  So if I'm a pilot and I enter "wing" as part of a search, I'm going to get chicken recipes.  If I'm a chef and I enter "wing", I'm going to get airplane engineering results.  And this will happen every time; Google learns, but it doesn't learn about me.  A new startup called Kaltix wants to out-Google Google by personalizing search results.  Who knows, it might work!

Did you know Google has a built-in calculator?  Cool, eh?  [ via Dave Winer ]

the wooden mirrorWant to see something really cool?  Check out the wooden mirror.  "The wooden mirror has 830 pieces of wood each about 40 mm square arranged into an octagon of 35 x 29.  Each piece of wood is connected to a servo motor that can tilt it about 30º up and down.  The whole piece is lit from above with a few spot lights, in a way that when the pieces are tilted upwards they become brighter, and when they tilt downwards they become darker."  Amazing.

New Scientist: Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne has taken a crucial step towards becoming the first privately funded mission to carry a crew into space by completing its first solo test flight.  His company Scaled Composites is competing for the $10M X-Prize...


A few days ago Philip Greenspun posted about Bay Area traffic: "Hell is Other People".  I added a comment about my caravan idea, and there's been a lively discussion in the comment thread, including a fascinating analysis of traffic waves.  Excellent!  

Adam Curry: To collect and to serve.  He thinks RSS aggregators should be used to time-shift big payloads like movies.  A very interesting idea.  Adam is definitely a thought leader in uses of technology for media...  I need to think about this.

Treo 600Handspring keeps sending me emails about the Treo 600, which isn't available yet, and won't be until "fall".  Now that's unreasonable torture, don't you think?

Wired: Luxury Loo, the Seat also Rises.  "Steve Marshall vividly remembers the night he was terrorized by a toilet."  Yeah, I guess I would, too.


Wednesday,  08/13/03  05:27 AM

Wired - New Diamond AgeWired cover story: The New Diamond Age.  "Armed with inexpensive, mass-produced gems, two startups are launching an assault on the De Beers cartel.  Next up: the computing industry."  Wired isn't always right, but they're almost always interesting.  Check it out!  (click pic at left for larger view of cover.)

Philip Greenspun asks "Why can't we buy a Chinese house at Walmart?"  Interesting...  It is probably only a matter of time; the labor in housing construction is definitely a factor in the expense.

NYT via CNN on life expectancy.  "Psst.  Wanna live to the age of 600?  This may not be as absurd a question as it sounds.  Genetic medicine is making enormous strides, and it may hold the promise -- or maybe it's the peril -- of eventually making us something closer to immortal.This re-begs the question of why animals live as long as they do.  The quick answer is "just long enough, no longer"; that is, long enough to become mature enough to reproduce, and [in some cases] to rear their offspring.  After that they are simply consuming resources best left for the younger generation.  So extending lifespans is truly Unnatural Selection!

Lots of sources are covering McDonald's plans to provide WiFi in their restaurants.  Paul Boutin has an interesting takeWi-Fi isn't a luxury or even a commodity.  It's a condiment...

Glenn Reynolds loves his new Mazda RX8The Instacar...

Eclipse IDE
(click for larger view)

Yesterday I was seized with the desire to build a desktop Java application.  (Don't ask!)  On the advise of my friend Kevin, I downloaded and installed IBM's eclipse IDE, which runs on JDK 1.4.  To my great surprise it was 1) easy to get up and running under WinXP, and 2) easy to understand and use.  The documentation is great - I recommend the white paper - and best of all the IDE is snappy, with none of the sluggishness for which Java is known.  IBM has built some great UI support - SWT and JFace - which lets applications build reasonable GUIs in a cross-platform way, without looking like they don't belong in their host environment.  Very cool.

Related: AlwaysOn interviews VC Vinod Khosla.  "What do you think about the whole Linux movement?  I'm a big fan of Linux."  Me too, it works, and its free.

Dave Winer fixed his RSS feed bug, and publicly thanked me for my "courage" in pointing it out.  I don't think he gives himself enough credit; he's actually a reasonable guy who just wants stuff to work :)


Thursday,  08/14/03  08:05 AM

North poleYahoo reports the Arctic ice cap will melt in 100 years.  Now that's special.  "Since 1978, the ice cap has shrunk by nearly three or four percent per decade.  At the turn of the century there will be no more ice at the North Pole in summer."  (Click pic at left for a cool satellite picture of the North pole.  Pun intended :)

Remember the Island Chronicles, about the journalists who moved from Los Angeles to Rarotonga?  Check out the First Day of School.

I know from personal experience how heart-breaking it is when you move your kids and they miss their friends.  You feel guilty, but what can you do?  And they don't understand why you can't just move back....

Naval writes about TruckWidth.  "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a truck full of DVDs speeding down the highway."  Yeah, Netflix is cool now, but history will record it as an intermediate technology, until broadband video services became mailstream.

Speaking of digital threats to traditional media (and we most emphatically were, that's what Netflix represents), the RIAA can now worry about A P2P outpost in a Palestinian refugee camp.  I am not making this up.

Meanwhile Microsoft premiered their online music store - in Europe, with partner OD2.  Surprise, surprise, it integrates with Windows Media Player 9.  The key metric is the price per track - $1.13 (translated from Euros).  About 2X too high for liftoff, IMHO.

BW has a great interview with Jim Clark, one of the founders of Netscape (and star of The New New Thing).  "I have been out of Silicon Valley for five or six years.  I go there for board meetings, then I split.  I find the place depressing...  We're now developing real estate in south Florida."  Hmmm... would that make real estate the Newer New Thing?  Or the Oldest New Thing :)

shiny balls mirrorHere's something cool: the shiny balls mirror, from Danny Rozin, who also brought us the fabulous wooden mirror.  "Shiny Balls Mirror is a large physical object made of 900 hollow metal tubes with polished chrome balls placed in them...  Each hollow tube and shiny ball are one pixel in the display.  This pixel has the ability to change its brightness by moving the chrome ball in (darker) or out (brighter) of the tube."  Really cool!

Want to make a 3D display out of your laptop?  You can use the polarizing properties of LCDs and cellophane...  Excellent.

WiFi phoneJohn Robb asks: has anyone used one of these new WiFi phones?  I haven't, but I bet I will - seems like a really good idea.  Especially combined with VOIP services like Vonage...

There's blogosphere buzz aboutNutch, an open-source search engine.  Business 2.0 says Watch Out Google!, but that's probably premature.

I continue messing around with eclipse, and ant.  Do people know building cross-platform Java applications for the desktop is this straightforward?  I don't think so.  They should!

samorostI don't know what to call samorost?  A game?  Entertainment?  It is sort of a flash-based "Myst in Space"...  And it is way cool, check it out!  [ via Interconnected ]

It really seems like Flash has - finally - delivered on the uniquitous "write once, run anywhere" multimedia which Java promised when it first came out...


Friday,  08/15/03  05:24 PM

From 10,000', Brian Head, Utah...

Atomic element #110 will be named "Darmstadtium", honoring Laboratory for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany.  So be it.  Note: the heaviest stable element is Uranium, at 92.  Darmstadtium is made by fusing lead and nickel.

Scientists have found a microbe that thrives in 250° heat.  So far it is only called "Strain 121".  Sure indicates that early life might have put up with some extreme conditions on Earth...

pulse detonation enginePopular Science discusses Pulse Detonation Engines, a far-out way to power jets and rockets.  "It works by detonating (instead of slow burning) fuel hundreds of times a second.  PDE technology is poised to make supersonic passenger flights and space travel affordable."

John Robb says Google is about to create another bubble in web advertising.  The first bubble was portals, and now the second will be search engines, wherein a too-high value is placed on the ads, leading to temporary high revenues but ultimately dissatisfied advertisers and a big drop in value.

Scoble meets Anders Hejlsberg, and takes his picture.  Anders created Turbo Pascal and Delphi while at Borland, and created C# at Microsoft.Linksys media adapter

The Linksys Media Adapter does pretty much everything Tivo's Home Media Option does, without the Tivo.  Hook it up to your home theater, and then stream movies and music from your computers.  Very cool, and definitely the wave of the future.  [ via John Robb ]

Sony wireless PDAWalt Mossberg reviews Sony's newest wireless PDA, a funny device which looks like a tiny laptop.  On the whole he likes it; good connectivity, great built-in camera, great screen.  The keyboard is okay, and the price is high - $700.  And it does not have a built-in phone...


Saturday,  08/16/03  10:46 PM

Columnist Dan Gillmor: Why I Might Vote for Schwarzenegger.  Apparently there are rumors that if elected Arnold is considering overturning Proposition 13That would be great!  This deserves a separate post, stay tuned...

20 hours before blackout 7 hours after blackout
before blackout after blackout
(click for larger pics)

There are some amazing pictures up on the net from "the great blackout"; here's 20 hours before (normal lighting pattern), and 7 hours after (blackout in effect).  Pretty darn cool.

CamWorld is a nice site which has lots of pictures of the blackout, taken at somewhat closer range...

India will send a mission to the moon by 2008, according to Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.  So be it.

induction rangeEver heard of an induction range?  I never had, either.  Apparently it uses a magnetic field to cook food without heat.  According to this article in EPRI, it looks like a very "cool" technology.  Coming to a range top near you...  [ via John Robb ]

A little while ago some friends and I were trying to figure out what great personal electronics would be developed in the next ten years (the last ten years featured cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players, etc.).  I suggested perhaps a personal medical monitor.  Computerworld reports this is closer than I thought; a company called CardioNet has developed a handheld wireless heart monitor.  Excellent!

Dann Sheridan says bye bye VCR.  "We finally retired our VCR today.  We haven't used it in months.  It has been replaced by our DVD player and Tivo."  Same story in our house.  We still have a bunch of old Disney movies on VHS, but as the kids grow older they'll be used less and less...

Scoble reports Jeffrey Randow is writing down his wishes for Longhorn.  I thought about this for while, if I had three wishes for the next version of Windows, what would they be?

  1. Don't reinvent the wheel and change "everything".  I have a feeling based on what I've read that I won't get this one.
  2. Networking that works.  Why is it so much harder to hook PCs together than Macs?  Or than Unix boxes?  It shouldn't be...  The whole domain master thing needs to go.
  3. Paging that works.  Why can Unix boxes and (to a lessor extent) Macs easily run working sets larger than physical memory, whereas on a PC as soon as you start paging, the machine turns to crap?

Let's keep track of these and see how they do...

Happy Birthday to Gizmodo!  They're the online equivalent of Fry's, my toy store...


Arnold and Proposition 13

Saturday,  08/16/03  11:30 PM

Earlier I reported that columnist Dan Gillmor wrote  Why I Might Vote for Schwarzenegger.  Apparently Warren Buffet, an advisor to Arnold in his gubernatorial campaign, mentioned that if elected Arnold might consider overturning Proposition 13.  This has caused a stir, with many people feeling it would be political suicide to mention during the campaign.  And maybe it is...  but, Proposition 13 has been a horrible thing for the state of California, and overturning it would be a great good thing.

It is interesting that Arnold would even consider this move, since Prop 13 is generally regarded as a Republican initiative.  Lower taxes and all that.  It just shows that although he is a Republican, you can't really peg him that way.  He is also pro-choice and pro-gay rights.

[ Later: Here's an article about Warren Buffet's comments.  Reading the comparison of his house in Omaha to his house in Laguna Beach, how could Prop 13 not be wrong?  And not coincidentally the schools in Omaha are much better than the schools in Laguna Beach... ]

As a concerned parent who has participated as a board member in several community fund raising organizations, I can tell you Prop 13 is a disaster.  Many of my fellow parents are people who live in expensive properties, who would be most affected by a property tax increase, and we would all gladly pay more property tax so we could have better schools.

The tragedy of Prop 13 is that in affluent neighborhoods there are parents like me who are willing and able to raise additional funds to support local schools, and in consequence our kids get things like music teachers and librarians.  Meanwhile in poor areas where people don't pay much property tax anyway, the schools have no money, the kids don't participate as much, and bad things happen.  California has some of the worst schools in the nation.

California also has one of the largest prison populations anywhere.  Keeping prisoners is an expensive business.  It would be far more efficient to invest in better schools, perhaps improving the prospects of our children and redirecting them away from crime, and reducing the prison population.  Pay now or pay later.  Don't think for a moment there isn't a tangible cost to the property tax reductions mandated by Proposition 13.

So - I don't know about voting for Arnold; I need to learn more about where he stands, but I strongly feel almost anyone could do better than Gray Davis - but I think repealing Prop 13 and gradually raising property taxes is right on.


Sunday,  08/17/03  09:42 PM

iMacBW thinks Apple's School Days are Numbered.  "Mom and dad have spoken, and what they say is this:  Why should my child work on a Mac in class when most people use PCs at home and in the office?"  Good point...  I love Macs myself, and all my kids have one, but this point is tough to work around.

The Rolling Stones, one of the last marquee holdouts against online music distribution, have finally agreed to sell their music online.  They'll be on Real's Rhapsody exclusively (i.e. not Apple Music Store).  Guess they're showing some sympathy for the devil...

Dan Gillmor says RSS is hitting critical mass.  Excellent.  It isn't mainstream - yet - but it sure is useful, and its use is spreading quickly.  Do you use an RSS aggregator?  (Please take my survey :)

Remember Nutch?  (An open source search engine, sometimes mentioned as a competitor for Google.)  My friend Gary points out "Nutch is written in Java.  End of story – it'll never compete.  You need native code for this kind of stuff."  Yeah, probably true.

I continue to mess around with Java, in the form of IBM's eclipse framework.  It is a beautiful IDE and makes Java development of desktop applications very easy.  However, deploying desktop applications is not easy; you have to use Sun's Java Web Start, which is a whole lot more complicated than simply distributing an .EXE.  And there seem to be performance problems...  Of course, it is cross-platform, but that only helps developers, not users.


Do you use an RSS reader?

Sunday,  08/17/03  09:45 PM

RSS is rapidly becoming mainstream.  So here's today's survey:

Do you use an RSS reader?



Uh, what's RSS?

total votes = 53

  (ended 08/31/03)


Monday,  08/18/03  07:38 PM

David Burbridge considers The Future of the Birth Rate.  "I conclude that over the course of another 2 or 3 generations, fertility is likely to rise back above the replacement rate, and populations in developed countries will grow again.  If infant mortality does not also rise, at some point pressure on resources will lead governments to introduce measures to discourage fertility."  Interesting stuff.  And of course I must add, David's analysis does not consider the differential birth rates between people with different levels of cognitive ability.  When that is considered along with the overall increase in populations, Unnatural Selection is the inevitable result.  Whether governments can or will introduce measures to discourage differential fertility remains to be seen.

Joel Grus on the Robotic Nation.  Razib paraphrases his point as "When the left side of the Bell Curve is made redundant by robots, what will they do?"  Excellent stuff.  It is undeniably true that as technology replaces menial labor with machines, the average amount of intelligence and education required to be useful to society (i.e. to get a job) keeps increasing.  One solution has been to increase education for everyone, staving off the inevitable.

Wired April 1999 cover "Lights Out"It was April 1999, and Wired Magazine's cover story was Lights Out, about a huge potential blackout in the wake of Y2K.  Interesting that with all the redundancy that was supposedly created to defend against Y2K problems, we could still have a large "chain reaction" blackout on the East Coast.

One way to ameliorate power shortages on Earth is to generate power in space; the BBC reports Russia plans Mars nuclear station.  Reading the article it doesn't sound like they're very close.  It is interesting to contemplate, eh?

Dave Winer is meeting with presidential candidates in New Hampshire, and has this list of questions for them.  I think it is a great list; I would add:

  • What do you think about school vouchers?  What would you do to improve the quality of public education in the U.S.?

Keep watching Dave's site to stay up on his experiences...  (I will :)

Wired asks Who's Holding the Aces Now?, a story about the technology being employed by casinos to detect blackjack card counters.  Is this a great use of pattern recognition technology?  Well, no, not quite like detecting cancer in digitized microscope slides, but it is cool.

Albatross tablet PCSpeaking of image processing (we were), Gizmodo reports a French company is coming out with a new Tablet PC which has a 14.1" screen.  Can't tell if it will have better than 1024x768 resolution, that would make it genuinely useful for medical imaging, COOL!

MatterhornI'm a sucker for cool Quicktime 3D pictures; check out this one from the top of the Matterhorn at Zermat, Switzerland.  [ via Xeni Jardin ]  The Matterhorn is 14,691' high, and is one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world.

Yesterday I asked Do you use an RSS reader?  About 12% of you have answered "Uh, what's RSS".  So here's my one-paragraph summary:

RSS is a way for web sites to summarize all their content in a single page.  Kind of a table of contents for the site  (called the site's "RSS feed").  Individual blog entries can be summarized as well as pages.  RSS readers are programs which run on your computer to periodically sample the feeds from sites you've specified, and present them kind of like emails.  Each time one of the sites has a new item or page, you get a new summary.  You can use an RSS reader to easily monitor the contents of a lot of sites.  If you see something you're interested in, you simply click to bring up the item in a browser.  They're very cool.  On PCs, I recommend SharpReader, and on Macs, NetNewsWire.

(P.S. RSS readers are also called "aggregators".)

Hope that helps!

Oh, and by the way, Wired just published an article about RSS as well.


Tuesday,  08/19/03  08:55 PM

Robert Scheer wants A higher tax on all your houses.  "An amazing thing happened on the way to the California recall: Someone spoke the truth about the state's financial predicament.  Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, ballyhooed as a top economic advisor to Arnold Schwarzenegger, told the Wall Street Journal that property taxes in California are ridiculously low.  He's right.You bet.  Not only was Warren named Fortune Magazine's "most powerful person in business", but he's a plain talking California homeowner.

By the way, in the same article Robert says "we don't need to recall Davis", so I don't agree with all of it.  I actually disagree with Robert on most things most of the time.  <soapbox> But Prop 13 is a big problem for California, and must be repealed. </soapbox>

James Dunnigan: The Great Blackout of 2003 and the Situation in North Korea.  Yeah, these subjects do have something to do with each other; read James' post.  It does appear that the situation in North Korea is unstable and coming to a head.

(click for larger pic)
Mazda RX-8

There is a lot of buzz around Mazda's new RX-8.  Paul Boutin raves about it in Slate.  Warren Brown in the WP calls it "transcendental".  And I drive a twelve-year old Lexus coupe which may need replacing someday.  Hmmm....

You know how I always say "anytime you read about something you know, they get it wrong"? Well here's another example.  Intuit just announced their fourth quarter results (their fiscal year end is July), and every headline said "Intuit reports lower fourth-quarter loss".  Not one of these reporters got the real story, which is that Intuit had a killer quarter to cap a killer year.  Intuit always loses money in the fourth quarter, they have some very cyclical businesses like tax preparation.  What matters is their numbers relative to last year's quarter, and the full-year results.  You would think at least one of these reporters would get this, but sadly, no.

Interesting article in Canada's National Post about Lifting the veil on gender apartheid.  I didn't know this, but apparently the Islam jihab (headgear) which women wear is a recent invention, circa 1970, and has nothing to do with Islam as a religion.  Fascinating...

David Hornik discusses The Summer Slowdown, and has "a feeling that this fall is going to be an excellent time for startups to raise money."  So be it :)

Now this is special; movie executives are blaming teenagers' text messaging for this summer's flops.  "In Hollywood, 2003 is rapidly becoming known as the year of the failed blockbuster, and the industry now thinks it knows why...  The problem, they say, is teenagers who instant message their friends with their verdict on new films - sometimes while they are still in the cinema watching - and so scupper carefully crafted marketing campaigns designed to lure audiences out to a big movie on its opening weekend."  What BS.  The problem is that the movies are no good.  Period.  Watch what happens at the end of the year when Matrix Revolutions comes out, or Harry Potter III, or LOTR Return of the King.

football trophiesAre you ready for some football?  Nah, I'm not ready yet, either.  But the 48th Carnival of the Vanities has a football theme; check it out.  This is a great way to meet some new blogs.

My discovery of the week is Little Miss Attila, who likes Arnold, hates the "obesity is society's fault" bandwagon, and loves Siggraph.

Pito Salas wonders Can your mother use RSS?  Which is a great thing to wonder, because as he points out it isn't necessary to understand something in order to use it.  Many people use email every day without the slightest knowledge of POP, SMTP, IMAP, MIME, or any of the other underlying protocols.  So the real question is "Can your mother use an RSS reader"?  In my case the answer is yes, your mileage may vary :)

And if you haven't taken my survey: Do you use an RSS reader?, please do so!


Rock 'n Roll

Tuesday,  08/19/03  11:15 PM

I'm mountain biking with my good friends Bill and Jim, and one of the highlights has been Bill's incredible Rock 'n Roll collection.  1700 terrific songs on one little MP3 player.  Wow!  One great song after another.

Some reflections:

  • Isn't it amazing how much information the human brain can store?  As we're listening, the three of us recognize virtually every song and band, and know almost every note.  That is a lot of information.
    • And it can be random accessed so well: 
      "Remember Argent?" 
      "Oh, yeah, 'Hold Your Head Up'". 
      "Yeah, that was cool." 
      And we all have Argent's "Hold Your Head Up" playing in our heads... 
      (You probably do, too, right now, huh?)
    • And it can be cross-referenced so well:
      "Hey, doesn't Eric Johnson sound like Joe Satriani?"
      "Yeah, he does!"
    • And it is so tied in.  Sometimes you hear a song, and you associate it immediately and exactly with a particular place and time (and even sights and sounds and smells...)
    • And the indexing is so efficient.  We compete to see who can identify a song first, and usually the first few notes are sufficient.   I can pick off Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath" or Supertramp's "School" on the first note.  Try writing a computer program to do that kind of search!
  • Music triggers emotions in an amazing way.  Who can say why Trower's "Day of the Eagle" makes me feel good?  But it does...
  • The human hearing system is incredible.  It can pattern recognize sounds across a wide range of frequencies and amplitudes (including VERY LOUD :), and can parse rhythm from harmony from melody effortlessly.
    • Even if we're talking about the rhythm section of Bad Company, buried behind vocals and guitar, or the drumbeat of Rush, or the guitarwork in Deep Purple's wall of sound.
  • The music industry is so very very dead.  We carry around all this music at $0 and listen to whatever we want whenever we want.  Too bad for them.
    • Best line, from Jim, in regards to a particular album: "I have the hardcopy".
      Meaning the CD. 
      I love it!
    • Let's hope there is some way to go back to the original days, when artists were performers and people paid them for the enjoyment of their performances.  With online distribution the record companies are superfluous.  But right now they are in the way.
  • Finally and least importantly:
    What the heck does "TVC15" mean?
    (Or was Bowie just, like, on drugs when he wrote it...)
    • Update: Hey, we figured it out!  TVC15 means "Television Channel 15".  TVC15 was a company in New York which was working on holographs.  The song is about a TV which sucks in a girl and displays her as a holograph.  Oh, and yeah, the Duke was probably on drugs when he wrote it :)  [ thanks to the Davie Bowie FAQ (and Google) ]

It's better to burn out, than to fade away...  Rock 'n Roll is here to stay...

mountain biking!


Wednesday,  08/20/03  06:33 PM

Kim Jong IISlate discusses How Kim Lost the Russians.  "In the latest sign that the North Korean nuclear crisis might be on the verge of settlement, Russia has embarked on a joint, 10-day naval exercise with South Korea and Japan."  Let's hope for the sake of the North Korean people that Kim loses the Chinese, too, as soon as possible.

Think blogs are a backwater?  WP reports Bush Campaign Reaching Out to Bloggers.  And no, this is not a fad...  I agree with Dave Winer that blogging is going to play a very important part in the 2004 elections...

Speaking of blogging, Bill Whittle has posted a new essay on Responsibility.  As usual I recommend you read it immediately, and savor.

CNN quotes Arnold:  "We must immediately attack the operating deficit head-on.  Now, does this mean that we are going to make cuts?  Yes.  Does this mean education is on the table?  No.  Does this mean I'm willing to raise taxes?  No."  Easier said than done, but at least he's saying it.

ABC reports Ocean Sponge May Be Best for Fiber Optics.  "Scientists say they have identified an ocean sponge living in the darkness of the deep sea that grows thin glass fibers capable of transmitting light better than industrial fiber optic cables used for telecommunication."  Now that is cool.  I keep saying it, but what an awesome time to be alive (as a nerd, that is!)

NYTimes says In Los Angeles, Strip Mall Food is Cool.  Hey, in LA everything is cool :)

The parody site is back on the air, after a redesign which they claim dodges the legal claims previously made by to get them to take it down.  I have a feeling this is temporary - the site is still pretty - so you might want to check it out now while you can.

The Onion: I have an iPod in my mind.  "Thirty gigabytes?  So what?  I know 7,500 songs, maybe more.  Some songs, I forget I even have until they come around on shuffle."  Very apropos to yesterday's Rock 'n Roll postOkay, so everyone has an iPod in their mind, and why is it more fun to listen to music externally than internally? This is a very interesting question!

The market is smarter than the analysts department; yesterday I bemoaned the fact that whenever Intuit announces its fourth quarter results (always a loss), analysts and editors report it as a loss, instead of relative to the loss the previous year and in the context of the full-year numbers (always a tidy profit).  So, today the shares traded up nicely and closed 3% higher.  The people who own Intuit know more about it then the reporters.  Of course.

USB coffee warmerYou knew USB was handy, right?  Ah, but did you know you could get a USB coffee warmer?  I didn't think so.  Unfortunately, according to this review its performance is, er, lukewarm...  [ via Gizmodo ]

hummingbird nestCheck out these pictures of a Hummingbird Nest.  Man, are they cute or what?  { Hummingbirds fly differently from other birds, their wings are different, etc.  They actually fly a lot more like large insects.  A typical hummingbird flaps their wings 50 times/second! }  [ via Boing Boing, in a post titled "Hot Chicks" :) ]


Thursday,  08/21/03  10:24 PM

I'm back!  Spent a week mountain bikin' in Utah.  Pictures to follow.  In the meantime...

During the past week I blogged over dial-up.  Not terrible but I certainly missed my cable modem.  Not to mention the 'phone bill was steeper than the summit at Brian Head.  Whew.

The results of my "Do you use an RSS reader?" survey are [mostly] in.  Yes = 59%, No = 30%, and Uh, what's RSS = 9%.  That's about what I expected.  I bet in another year - heck, in another six months - the 'No's will decline significantly.  Of course this is taken from an atypical sample, the people who read my blog.  (Actually a subsample, the people who read my blog and respond to surveys :)  When my mom and your mom are reading RSS, just like today they're reading email, then we'll be at critical mass.

Bigwig wonders, once the California recall election is over, what's to stop a liberal from recalling the conservative who wins.  But this ignores the fundamentals of the situation; although recalls have been technically possible for over 50 years, this is the first time voters have been dissatisfied enough with their governor to do something about it.

The Island Chronicles continue: Friends.

Man, does this ever raise my blood pressure: A textbook case of bad science.  "Defenders of evolutionary theory in Texas say creation scientists are getting sneakier -- and more successful -- in getting their views into public school educational materials."  Yeah, and the flat-Earth society is demanding equal time, too, to argue against the "theory" of a round Earth.  Man, some people just refuse to accept facts, you know?

Longhorn previewI saw this a few days ago, but couldn't view it properly on dial-up; Paul Thurrott has published screenshots of Longhorn, which is Microsoft's next version of Windows.  There are lots of Microsofties claiming these aren't real, but whether they are or not they're certainly interesting.  Check 'em out.

PVRBlog thinks about Tivo's Apple problem.  I don't know if Tivo really has an "Apple problem"; they're a market leader in a new space, and there will be price-cutting and new competitors as the market matures.  Apple was never the market leader, despite being the innovator...Motorola Linux phone

Motorola has released the first Linux-based cell phone.  "Announced last February, the A760 uses Linux as a core operating system, on top of which Java provides a multimedia application framework.  Software that ships with the device includes a PDA-style personal information management suite, a video player, music player, an instant messaging tool and more."  This could be the future of cell phones - imagine a bunch of open-source applications...

Panasonic's new "home theater in a box" includes a DVD recorder.  I bet nobody reading this is surprised or even amazed.  DVD recorders will take over, as surely as cassettes pushed out eight-tracks...

Matrix RevolutionsThe new Matrix Revolutions trailer is out!  Yippee.  Mark your calendars - November 5, 2003, is the release date.  It looks excellent.  I predict this movie will demonstrate whether good movies can still be box office blockbusters...


Monday,  08/25/03  10:01 PM

I'm back.  Sorry I was gone.  I was, er, coding.  And stuff...Happy Birthday!

So - important news first - HAPPY 10TH BIRTHDAY to my wonderful daughter Alexis.  Ack, another pre-teen!

Happy Driver's LicenseAnd - more important news - HAPPY DRIVERS LICENSE to my wonderful daughter Jordan.  If you're driving in North Los Angeles, you've been warned :)

Last Saturday I took Alex and her friend Katherine to Six Flags Magic Mountain. 
They had a terrific time, and I had a great time watching them. 
(Also I got a chance to read a lot of Altered Carbon, which is really good.) 
Magic Mountain is big and is pretty much just a collection of really tall really fast really scary roller coasters, each taller and faster and scarier than the other.  The exact reason why being accelerated around and scared in a roller coaster is "fun" escapes me, but apparently it is; there were a bunch of people there. 
And incredibly a bunch of really fat, really ugly people
Why the guests at Magic Mountain this previous Saturday should have been SO fat and SO ugly, I cannot say, but it was a fact.  Strong evidence that Americans are overweight for sure. 
(And what a burden for the roller coaster designers!)
Map: Six Flags Magic Mountain
(click for larger map)

Want to know who's running for governor in California?  Chris Heilman provides a list...

If you think government isn't completely out of hand trying to take responsibility away from people, you aren't paying attention.  (Go directly to Bill Whittle's latest, Responsibility.)  Here's the latest incredible example, California lawmakers OK soda ban for some schools.  We have a $38B deficit and our lawmakers are worrying about this.  Man, I am not making this up, but I wish I was.  Help!

P.S. I recently learned than in Utah it is illegal to serve hamburgers medium rare.  Are you kidding me!  Clearly people over 30 should be dead  =0

The Motley Fool considers Tivo, and finds it worthy (based on being the leader in a big new market).  Interestingly they compare it to Netflix, which though a successful company I consider to be at the trailing edge.  On the other hand, "never underestimate the bandwidth of a truck full of DVDs...".

And check out this interesting article by Tivo founder Jim Barton, about how they use open source software like Linux.

This site is terrific!  Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics.  A detailed exposé of all the strange stuff that passes for reality in movies.  Reminds me of that great line: "It would cost less to send a man to Mars than to make a movie about it."  (Not to mention, in real life the physics would be better :)

Tomb Raider 2Tonight I tried to see Tomb Raider 2.  Had to walk out.  You would think watching Angelina Jolie bounce around would be entertaining enough, but you would be wrong.  This has to be one of the worst movies I've ever seen the first half of.  People say the first Tomb Raider movie was worse, which is impressive, it is hard to believe anything could be worse.

Ever wonder why fireflies blink in unison?  Or crickets chirp?  Well, A New Science Looks at Things in Sync.  Cue the Police, "With one breath, with one flow, you will know, Synchronicity..."  [ via Ottmar Leibert ]

Speaking of Ottmar, he explains why he will not use a conventional copyright on his next album.

Mercury News reviews The Concert Companion, an off-the-shelf Sony Clie loaded with special software so that audience members at classical concerts can figure out what's going on in realtime. Wow, what a cool use for a PDA!

Nicholas Wade considers The End of Evolution.  "...the one safe prediction about the far future is that humans will be a lot further along in their evolution."   Hmmm...

GNXP wonders Why do Americans fear Nuclear Power?  I've wondered the same thing, many times.  In fact I'm puzzled why nuclear power isn't a favorite of "greens" everywhere.  There is some danger, sure, but on balance it is cleaner and less destructive of Earth's resources than any other source of entropy.

Oren's Laws of Microsoft

  1. You can always see them coming.
  2. They never get it right the first time.
  3. They never go away (unless the market is proven not to exist).

There's actually at least two counter-examples to (3): tax preparation software (they tried with TaxSaver and couldn't dent Intuit's share, so they gave up), and bill payment processing (they tried with Transpoint and couldn't dent CheckFree's share, so they gave up).

There's more, but I'll save it for later.  Thanks for making it all the way through :)


Bloggers as Filters

Wednesday,  08/27/03  07:23 PM

Bloggers are interesting sources of information and analysis, and entertainment as well.  But did you ever think of them as filters?

I did an interesting thing yesterday; I subscribed to Yahoo's new headlines RSS feed in my RSS Reader.  Suddenly I was inundated with news entries.  Some of them were interesting, most of them weren't, and many of them were duplicates of other feeds I already subscribe to, like CNN News.  So, what to do?

This has actually happened to me before.  It happened when I first subscribed to Wired News.  It happened when I first subscribed to DayPop's Top 40.  It happened with Salon.  Each time there was this glut of new entries, many of which I didn't care about.  And each time there was this question, do I keep it for the good stuff, or drop it because the signal to noise ratio is too low?

So here's my answer.  I'm going to drop Yahoo, and rely on other bloggers to filter it for me.  If there's anything interesting or important, I'm counting on one of the blogs to which I remain subscribed to point it out! 

Now think about that for a minute. 

A digression.  There is way more stuff happening in the world every day than I could ever comprehend.  If I subscribed to every feed I possibly could, I would never be able to read all the items, it would be like drinking from a fire hose.  The compression of information from websites into RSS feeds is really good - RSS is a great thing - but even just reading the item summaries would be impossible.  So I want to filter "everything" to just a managable trickle. 

I want the most interesting things only, the most interesting things to me.  How is that done?

One way is to filter "everything" is to subscribe only to feeds which have information I really care about.  That's great in principle, but there are few feeds like that.  I have a wide band of interests, and outside that band there are sometimes weird things which peak my interest.  Most of the feeds I find interesting have a signal to noise ratio of about 10-40%, meaning I skip past a majority of their items.

Another way is to use other bloggers as filters, and this is exactly what I do.  In fact it is probably exactly what you do, too.  The reason you are reading this is because you read my blog, and that's because you rely on me to be a kind of filter.  If I think it is interesting, maybe you will, too :)

Much has been made of the dichotomy between "thinkers" and "linkers".  Some bloggers mostly originate information, or add analysis or commentary to daily events.  These are thinkers.  (Steven Den Beste would be an A-list example.)  Other bloggers mostly link to things which are off their site, usually adding some light commentary or opinion.  These are linkers.  (Glenn Reynolds is an A-list example here.)  Some bloggers do both, they alternate between thinking and linking.  (Dave Winer does this, and I try to do it too :)  Thinkers add information to the blogosphere, which is a good thing.  But linkers contribute too, because they inherently act as filters.  Consider Boing Boing, one of my favorite blogs.  They cast a really wide net and consistently come up with wacky things I find interesting.  In so doing, they are creating value; there is no way I could monitor all the information sources they monitor, and filter it down myself.

So although I think it is a great thing that Yahoo and a bunch of other news outlets are summarizing information as RSS feeds, I'm not going to subscribe.  Instead, I'm going to subscribe to your blog, and count on you to filter the feeds for me.  Thanks in advance!


Wednesday,  08/27/03  11:31 PM

Okay, here we go, I'm the filter...

Kestrel RocketRemember SpaceX, Elon Musk's new company?  They just published an update about their progress.  Particularly interesting is Elon's testimony before the Joint Hearing on Commercial Human Spacecraft.  Check out the videos of the Kestrel rocket firing, too.  This is great stuff!

So - would you fly into space if you could?  I would.  I would be scared to death, but what a once-in-a-lifetime experience...

MarsHey, its that time again!  Yeah, you know, every 70,000 years we get really close to Mars, and can see some amazing pictures.  Check out Close Encounters of the Martian Kind for more...

I find it really really weird that after putting a man on the moon in 1969, we've done nothing for 34 years.  Well, maybe not nothing, but certainly nothing like what we're capable of doing.  Like landing men on the moon!

Unfortunately, Wired reports Mars Trip not on Political Radar.

NASA did just launch a new space telescope, SIRTF, built to see objects either too cold to cast their own light or obscured by interstellar dust.  Excellent.

L.T.Smash, the blogging reservist called up to serve in Iraq, chronicles The Long Road Home.  I'm glad he made it home safely but will miss his on-the-scene reports.  He was a first-rate example of first-person blogging.

This sounds like a joke, but it isn't: A Swedish moose hunter has invented a matchbox-sized device that can trace just about anything that moves.  (Spy Gadget Leaves Nowhere to Hide.)  "Using mobile phone text messages and satellite navigation technology, the surveillance gadget can reveal its location to an accuracy of 10 ft in 140 countries."  What will those moose hunters think of next?

And here's a terrific application of technology: Cell transplant restores vision.  "A blind man can see again after being given a stem cell transplant."  Wow.

NYTimes: Life-Extending Chemical Is Found in Certain Red Wines.  So be it, yet another reason to drink Lewis Reserve :)

On the online music front, CNet reports Indie labels lure Net music stores.  "A new set of services aimed at giving independent music labels online distribution is springing up, hoping to reach companies like Apple's iTunes and the new Napster."  Interesting.

Then there're artists like Ottmar Liebert, who just began selling CDs directly from his site.

737 hailstormCheck this out - pictures of a 737 which flew through a thunderstorm featuring golfball-sized hail stones.  Apparently nobody was hurt, but the plane needs a little bondo.  Wow.  [ via Boing Boing ]

Tim Oren and I had an interesting email exchange about "Oren's Laws of Microsoft".

Speaking of Tim, who's a VC, David Hornik says the Q2 Venture Economy is Looking Up.  Cool.

More VC blogging; Bill Gurley discusses Much Ado About Options.  "Should stock options or restricted stock be expensed?  The answer to the question is an easy one: it doesn't matter."  Seems not everyone thinks so, but Bill's argument is persuasive.

This is a cool digital clock.  Well, sort of digital, anyway :)  [ via Robert Scoble ]  Just goes to show, once again, you can find just about anything on the 'net.

I haven't spent much ink on the SCO vs. Linux battles - it pisses me off, but what can one do, eh? - but this is worth linking; Eric Raymund's Open Letter to Darl McBride (Darl is SCO's CEO).  Read it and you'll know all you need to know about SCO.  Disgusting.

In case you think CSS is a clean standard, check out Dave Hyatt's latest rant.  (He's an Apple developer working on Safari.)  "It took me 10 hours just to decide that what I did in the first place was correct."

Finally, would you believe a tennis racket with a chip?  Active dampening to stiffen the racket...  "While the ball is still on the strings, intellifibers stiffen and stabilize the racquet head and throat."  I am not making this up.


First Day of School

Thursday,  08/28/03  10:52 AM

This morning my kids went back to school, so summer's over.  Already it feels cooler and the leaves look yellower.  Time passes oh so fast.

Jordan is now a senior (!), Alexis is in 5th grade, and Megan is a first grader.  Wow.  I remember all of them as little preschoolers like it was yesterday.  I think it is sad for them, too.  All kids want to grow up - it's their job, and they're programmed that way - but they like stability and continuity, too.  Growing up means change, and change is scary.

Well, onward!  It is what it is.  I hope they make lots of friends, and have great teachers, and enjoy themselves, and each day continue their inexorable paths to the great people they will become.

[ Later:  Well, they made it.  With smiles.  And a few complaints - mostly friend stuff.  So we're off on a new school year.  Whee. ]


Thursday,  08/28/03  10:18 PM

The Ole filter cranks up again...

Great commentary by Rand Simberg on Fox about the Columbia Accident Investigation report.  "The Gehman Commission is to be commended...  There's one area that they get tragically wrong, however - in their recommendations for the future of manned space transport."  Read it - good stuff.

Steven Den Beste shares an interesting insight into the Formation of Residues.  The essential idea is that certain kinds of inequality are self-perpetuating.  The resulting problems are difficult to solve, because the underlying inequality is stable.  Fascinating, well worth slogging through the whole thing.

Apropos, Gweilo lists average IQs from various countries.  What a wide band.  I find it amazing that there are entire countries where the average IQ is below 70.  Now we have to take this list and correlate it with populations and birth rates, and then extrapolate forward 50 years.  Stay tuned...

WiFi Rides the Rails; Wired reports a train running through Silicon Valley will provide WiFi for its passengers.  Seems like a great idea, you've got to believe about 75% of those riders will have laptops.

Jeff Jarvis asks will the Democratic and Republican conventions be WiFi-ed?  They should be, eh?  It certainly would be interesting to read some realtime blogging from the convention floor!

You know those "wireless" cameras?  Well they aren't really wireless, because they require power.  Or they did; here's one which uses solar power, so it truly is wireless.  Cool.

station wagon adWhen you were a kid, did your parents have a station wagon?  Mine did - I remember a Ford Torino which was about 100' long.  It was the SUV of the 1950s and '60s...  Anyway here's a great collection of old station wagon ads.  [ via Boing Boing ]

Anil Dash takes on bottled water.  Do you drink bottled water?  Did you know it is probably worse than tap water?  Aha, I didn't think so.  Well, I report, you decide.

Apparently 2D annimation is dead at Disney.  3D movies are doing better at the box office - Pixar's especially - so that's their future direction.  But are 3D movies doing well because they're 3D, or just because they're better movies?  I think Finding Nemo would have been a great story 40 years ago with hand-annimated 2D, too.

Does anyone have experience with Vindigo?  It is now available on Sprint PCS (i.e. on my Treo 300).  I can't tell whether it would be really cool or really useless.  Please tell me if you've had experience with it...

CNN reports a German study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that eating dark chocolate can lower blood pressure.  Ottmar concludes "There you have it....dark chocolate, red wine and good music is all you need."  Amen.

Samsung PVRSamsung has gotten into the PVR act; they've announced a 100 hour Tivo / DirectTV receiver with dual tuners.  These things are becoming pretty standard, eh?  [ via PVRBlog ]  (Interestingly, they are all really Linux computers under the hood.)

CNet thinks another recent announcement is important: EchoStar announced a Dish Player with a 100 hour PVR.  "And for the first time, EchoStar will specifically promote the Dish Player's 30-second ad-skipping feature."  Interesting...  and oh yeah, the price is right - free.

On the other hand, Gearbits reports Scientific Atlantic DVR Not So Hot.  (DVR?)  It has dual tuners and 80GB, but it sounds like it pretty much just doesn't work.

PVRBlog has a nice post on Home Media Option sharing.  Apparently you can share all sorts of stuff with your neighbors...

... like a marriage proposal!  (I am not making this up.)

And to go with your PVR, your next TV should be a widescreen.  I know mine's going to be.  I'm just waiting for those plasma TVs to become affordable :)

What happens when a huge Macy's storefront display is run by Windows?  This.  I hate when that happens.  (And it happens to me a lot; Windows paging sucks!  Really really.)  [ via Scoble ]

Creative Slips hosts the 49th Carnival of the Vanities, featuring a Star Trek theme.  If you're looking for some new filters to apply, check it out :)

I liked Wicked Thoughts' on Saddam's Progeny.  (Souflet, Say hey, eBay, and Olé...)


Saturday,  08/30/03  10:38 AM

My Bloggers as Filters post seems to have struck a chord; I'm getting a lot of referral traffic because of it (thanks for visiting!).  Interesting how of all the things I write about, the articles about blogging seem to attract the most traffic.  I actually wish it wasn't so, I'd rather be known for philosophy or technical issues or simply, er, being a decent filter ;)

So the North Korean "situation" continues to evolve.  While the six-country talks were taking place Steven Den Beste suggested things were hitting the fan, but then the talks ended in stalemate, and now North Korean says they're not interested in more talks.  The key continues to be China.  We have a corrupt, bankrupt, renegade state on the verge of collapse, attempting to hold the world hostage with the threat of nuclear weapons, and China continues to prop them up.

Victor Davis Hansen notes "everyone" is Hoping We Fail in Iraq.  Well, I guess "everyone" will be disappointed, because the resolve of Americans is pretty strong.  I think Democrats like Howard Dean who are criticizing the administration are going to be soundly defeated in the 2004 elections.  [ via LGF ]

In addition to "everyone", many Iraqis are hoping the U.S. fails, too.  Bernard Lewis discusses why Iraq is proving more difficult than Afghanistan, and suggests we Put the Iraqis in Charge.  I happen to disagree, but the discussion is interesting and the idea is soundly defended.

This is terrible, just terrible.  The LATimes reports Michigan Takes New Path to School Diversity.  "The University of Michigan, told by the U.S. Supreme Court in June to scrap its admissions system of awarding bonus points to minority applicants, on Thursday unveiled a new application that asks all students to write a short essay on diversity."  Are you kidding me?  Now instead of a bias toward people with a certain skin color, they're going to add a bias toward people with leftist politics.  This is completely ridiculous.  And for a State-sponsored university, illegal.  [ via GNXP ]

Teslar watchWired reports on A Watch Powered by Snake Oil.  On top of being an expensive scam, the watch is kind of ugly, too.  Wearing this would be a sure way of saying "I'm clueless".  (I'd like to see the "EMF-proof" lingerie mentioned in the article...)

WiFi is everywhere!  Even on the ocean...

Archos MediaboxHere's a thorough review of a cool product, the Archos Mediabox.  This device goes way beyond being an MP3 player; it has a 20GB hard drive, and can store and play MPEG-4 videos (e.g. encoded with DIVX).  What's more, it can encode composite video streams from a TV, DVD, VCR, or camcorder.  That's pretty cool.  I wonder if Apple is looking into this?  The iPod A/V, anyone?

Garmin ForerunnerAnd here's another coolgadget, the Garmin Forerunner, a GPS unit for your wrist.  "The Forerunner 201 uses an integrated GPS sensor to measure training time, pace, distance, lap time, lap pace, lap distance — even calories burned."  Now that's a cool use for GPS.  Perfect for mountain biking!  [ via Gizmodo ]

Sharp tiny cameraAnd check this out - the smallest megapixel camera, from Sharp.  Coming soon to somewhere near you, but you probably won't see it.  These will end up in cell phones, I'm guessing, and videophone messaging will be The Thing.

Just in case you think Google is perfect, Silflay Hraka reports they are #1 search result for "French military history".  The whole "how should Google treat blogs" discussion seems to have died down, but there is clearly still an issue.  I seriously doubt people researching French military history want to be directed to Silflay Hraka, although it is a great blog...

dimensional warp generatorI review a bunch of awesome new technology here, but here's some stuff you don't see every day.  A Dimensional Warp Generator, a Quantum Computer (from Intel, no less!), a Portable Fusion Generator, and of course a Time Transduction Capacitor.  I am not making this up - but they are :)


Arnold, Oui

Saturday,  08/30/03  11:37 PM

Today I read Doc Searles' rather positive comments  about Arnold Schwarzenegger.  This was a head spinner for me because Doc seems awfully liberal, and I would never expect him to support a Republican on anything.  But then again I don't know Doc and he is full of surprises anyway.

Arnold SchwarzeneggerMusing on this prompted me to read the [infamous] August 1977 Oui interview.  (If you haven't read it, please do, you can't trust others' opinions on something like this, not even mine :)  The reaction to this interview has been mostly either:

  1. Gasp, he did drugs, and had promiscuous sex, and called gays "fags", how terrible!
  2. C'mon, that was 26 years ago, it was the '70s, give the guy a break!

Well my reaction is neither of these things, rather, it is "so what"?  Even if it wasn't 26 years ago, really so what?  He did do drugs (how many of us haven't?) but the way he admits it shows he was no addict.  He did engage in [some] promiscuous sex, but it was consensual, he was not married, so what's the big deal?  The way he discusses gays shows a great deal of tolerance, especially considering the time.  Overall to me he emerges as a reasonable, smart, honest, interesting guy.  And something else - he was driven.  He understands what it takes to be successful at anything, you have to be willing to work harder than the next guy.  And you have to have confidence.

I might be the only person to feel this way, but the Oui article actually swayed me towards voting Oui for Arnold.


IQ and Populations

Sunday,  08/31/03  11:35 AM

The other day I came across this table of National IQs for all the countries in the world.  (Drawn from Richard Lynn's and Tatu Vanhanen's "Intelligence and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations", via Gweilo, via razib.)  This is fascinating information, particularly when combined with population growth rates.

For the purposes of this discussion, let's stipulate that someone's IQ is just something you can measure, which may or may not have some correlation to anything else you can measure.  Whether it has anything to do with intelligence or any particular cognitive ability will not be addressed.

The U.S. Census Bureau has a terrific website called the International Data Base (IDB).  This includes a facility to create a table of National populations for any year between 1950 and 2050.  Let's assume that countries are (first-order) self-breeding and that measured IQ was/will be stable in each country during the 100 year period.  Combining all these data yields the following graph:

world IQ over time

The dark blue line is the average IQ of the world.  I've also plotted the population growth of the five most populous countries, India, China, the U.S., Indonesia, and Nigeria; the average IQ of each of these countries is in parenthesis.  (Nigeria is currently ninth, with Brazil (87), Pakistan (81), Russia (96), and Bangladesh (81) intervening, but by 2050 it will be fifth.)  As you can see, in a 100 year period the world's average IQ will have dropped from 92 to 86, a change of 6%.  That is pretty darn significant.  And all because of differential population growth.

I extrapolated the population growth of each country another 50 years to the year 2100 (lightly shaded region of graph).  At that time the world's average IQ will have dropped below 84.  Within this time period of 150 years, extremely short by any evolutionary standard, an incredibly significant change in this key metric will have occurred.  And there is no sign of the trend bottoming out, because the growth rate of countries with lower IQs exceeds the growth rate of countries with higher IQs.  The most populous country today is China, which has a high IQ (100), but its growth is actually projected to be negative because of their "one child" policy.  After about 2030 India will be the most populous country, and it has relatively low IQ (81).  At current growth rates by 2100 Nigeria will be the third most populous country, and it has a low IQ (67).

If you're interested in playing with these numbers yourself, here's the Excel spreadsheet with all these data.  If you publish further analysis or commentary, I would appreciate it if you'd link back to this page.

There were two assumptions we made up front, and I'd like to revisit them.  First, we assumed countries are self-breeding.  With modern vehicles and opportunities for travel this is becoming less and less true, but for the bulk of the world's population it is definitely a safe assumption.  The two largest countries, China and India, are both relatively undeveloped and by-and-large people do not travel in or out of them.  The third largest country, the U.S., is the only possible exception to this assumption, because so many people immigrate into the U.S. (in 1990 8% of the U.S. population was foreign-born).

The second assumption is more interesting; we assumed measured IQ was/will be stable in each country.  The Flynn Effect predicts this is false, and that measured IQ will increase over time.  (Historical data provide significant evidence for this.)  Many explanations have been offered for this effect, including steady improvement in testing procedures, and there is some evidence that in recent years the Flynn Effect has diminished.  If the overall world IQ changes due to differential birth rates among populations with different IQs (that is, separate countries), then it seems plausible that a country's IQ could change due to differential birth rates within its sub-populations as well.  In most countries and under most circumstances the birth rate of poorer and less educated people is significantly higher than the birth rate among wealthier and more educated people.  (China is the primary exception; due to their "one child" policies the birth rate within all sub-populations is essentially the same.)  Given the positive correlation between measured IQ and wealth, and between measured IQ and education, these differential birth rates would suggest that individual countries' IQs would decrease as populations expand.  If true, this would obviously accelerate the overall decrease in world IQ over time.

There are other factors at work.  For example, AIDS is presently the most common cause of death in Nigeria, which is one of the most populous and fastest growing countries.  Wealthier and more educated people are less likely to become infected by AIDS, because of awareness of the known transmission mechanisms and available protections, and also more likely to survive infection, because of availability of treatment (at least to the point of having and raising healthy children).  Because of this the effective birth rate among wealthier and more educated people in Nigeria is probably higher than poorer, less educated people.  There is a substantial correlation between wealth, education, and measured IQ.  Thus the AIDS epidemic may have the effect of raising the average IQ of Nigerians.

The human race has been in existence for approximately 150,000 years, during which time natural selection has incrementally increased human intelligence and cognitive ability.  It is not possible to give IQ tests to humans from 100,000 years ago - at least not yet :) - so we can only surmise that there would have been a corresponding increase in measured IQ as well.  Only recently - within the last 10,000 years or so - has this trend been halted, primarily by organized agriculture which enabled a small group of humans to provide food for a larger group.  It now appears that very recently - within the last 100 years or so - this trend has been reversed.  I call this Unnatural Selection, since it appears that societal rather than evolutionary effects are at work.  The consequences of this overall decrease in world IQ have yet to be quantified, but they are bound to be significant.


© 2003-2020 Ole Eichhorn


Sunday,  08/31/03  11:52 PM

In the wake of the Challenger disaster, CNN reports that Experts suggest extreme measures for NASA.  I suggest something really extreme: disband NASA, support commercial development of space as much as possible, and watch what happens.

But NASA keeps on ticking; they have plans for a light orbital plane to replace the space shuttle.  And this appears to have strong public support; "The survey found that 81 percent of Americans consider space exploration very important or somewhat important to the country's future."

Okay, so here's a cool idea: the idea a day site, "where ideas are free".  There are already 1109 ideas out there.  No RSS feed, but I've bookmarked it...  [ via Andrerib ]

Revolve - the bible for teenage girlsAnd here's an off-the-wall idea: a bible especially for teenage girls.  From the marketing pitch, "it's quite likely you'll see teen girls sporting the newest, hippest Bible this summer - from the beach to the mall, this magazine-style Bible is the most innovative concept in Bible publishing in the last twenty years."  Are you kidding me?  And no, I am not making this up.  [ via godless, who headlines her post "this is not the Onion"... ]

Yippee, another great book series coming to the silver screen.  This fall Russell Crowe becomes Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander, the initial episode of Patrick O'Brian's fantastic Aubrey-Maturin series.  If you haven't read the books, start now, that way you'll have read the first one by the time the movie comes out...

We're used to talking about the "brain drain" from Africa - smart young Africans go to school elsewhere, and stay there - but the Economist writes about the "brawn drain".  Interesting.  The markets for everything are becoming global, including skilled people.  [ via razib ]

bromine and raisinetteI found 101-365 in my referral log, and I like it!  Check it out, I mean bromine and raisinette, you can't really top that, can you?  (Bromine is bad stuff, but Chris' raisinette appears to be perhaps equally poisonous :)

Yesterday I linked a review of the new Archos Mediabox, and I wondered about an iPod A/V.  Well, here's the rumor.  If Apple could sell Quicktime-encoded downloadable movies through the iTunes store, they'd be able to print money.  And it would be time to short Blockbuster.

spider webThis is cool: Scientists Crack Secret Strength of Silk.  Spider silk is one of the most amazing things.  Aside from the material itself, which is amazingly strong and light, the 3D structure in which it is organized is amazing.  The elasticity of spider silk is actually a property of the way it is spun, not the material; essentially there are tiny "coils" of silk like beads on a string which act as springs.  And then there are the webs themselves, which have some amazing topological properties.  Richard Dawkins goes into some depth about spider silk in his terrific book Climbing Mount Improbable, check it out if you're interested in learning more.

Microsoft has an endless stream of great downloads available, monitorable with this RSS feed.  Of course 99% of them are uninteresting to any one user, but the other 1% are great.  Like this one, Inside the Microsoft .NET Framework.  If you've ever said "I don't get .NET", then this is for you.  Dr. GUI takes you on a magic tour through the .NET kingdom, with zero marketing BS.  Warning, it is 94MB, broadbanders only.

weapon of choicestick-figure ninjaAnd here we have - the stick-figure ninja!  Awesome flash animation, check it out.  A perfect stick-figure copy of this Fatboy Slim video, featuring Christopher Walkin.  (it is cool, too...)  [ via Bigwig ]

Want to read or share old Apple anecdotes?  Then visit the Apple Computer History Weblog.  { This is one of those things where I'm just glad it's out there.  I won't visit it often or bookmark it, but Google will know about it, and one of these days I'll be looking for something and poof!, there it is... }


Return to the archive.

this date in:
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