Critical Section

Archive: November 2003

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The Emperor's New Code

Sunday,  11/02/03  10:25 AM

... In which the author proves himself a hopeless heretic by disparaging Longhorn ...

I attended the Microsoft Professional Developer's Conference in Los Angeles last week.  Microsoft formally unveiled "Longhorn", the next version of Windows, along with a bunch of new underlying technology.  The target of the conference was most emphatically developers, and the focus was "how to build stuff with these new tools".  My first day's reaction was PDC = Moo!; a positive impression of a lot of cool new stuff.  Parts of the conference were excellent; in particular, Rich Rasheed's keynote surveying new technology from Microsoft Research was amazing.  But my takeaway is...  there's a lot less here than it would at first appear.

If you're still reading and haven't clicked your back button in disgust, let me explain.  The most important thing is not how easy it is to build code, the most important thing is how well the code runs once it is built.  This concept seems to have escaped the Longhorn developers, and from this viewpoint Longhorn and its underlying technologies are pretty unexciting.

Remember, the audience for the PDC was professional developers.  We build code that other people pay to use.  It might take five people six months to build an application that thousands of people use every day for years.  What's more important, the experience those five people had for six months (and the fact that it took them six months instead of four), or the experience those thousands of people will have for years?

At the highest level there are two things a development platform can to do improve applications: first, improve performance, and second, enable functionality, in that order.  Let's take look at Longhorn from this angle.

Performance can be subdivided into speed and robustness.  Longhorn will certainly hurt speed.  Whether it helps robustness remains to be seen; we can only hope it will, given that this is a big problem for Windows currently.

If you list the most "important" applications today, you'll find that zero of them run on .NET (and zero of them run on Java), despite the fact that .NET has been out for three years, and Java much longer.  Why?  Because of performance.

On the client side, Microsoft Office has to be fast.  Adobe Photoshop has to be fast.  Quicken has to be fast.  Why do people code in C++?  Because it results in fast code.  Why do people use sockets?  Because they are fast. 

Bonus question: Why did Internet Explorer take over from Netscape?  Answer: Because it was faster.  Really.

On the server side, Google has to be fast.  Amazon has to be fast.  eBay and PayPal have to be fast.  Why do people use Apache?  Speed.  Why do people use Linux?  Because it runs fast (and because it stays up).  Yeah, that's right, not because it is easy (even though it is), but because it is fast and stable.  Why do people use Oracle?  Because it scales.

Etc.  Feel free to indulge yourself by making a list of counter-examples.  It will be a short list.

Generally people worry about robustness on servers more than on desktops.  Servers need to be up 24x7, and are exposed publicly, while desktops can be rebooted from time to time without much impact, and are generally safely hidden behind firewalls.  (Although of course clients do receive emails with attachments!)  This explains why Linux is more popular as a server OS, its better stability and security are more important for servers.

It is interesting that in all the demos and discussions at the PDC, nobody worried about performance.  I have to believe XAML imposes substantial overhead on the GUI (look at what XUL did to Mozilla).  And vector graphics?  Hopefully it can all be pawned off on GPUs and everything will work okay.  WinFS is going to be a big time resource hog.  I'm guessing it is painfully slow now and that there’s a bunch of people working hard trying desperately to make it fast enough (not to be confused with fast, period).  Indigo isn't far enough along for performance to be assessed, but because SOA is simpler than object proxying Indigo has a great chance to be faster than COM+ or DCOM or .NET remoting (none of which were fast enough to be useful in “real” applications).  Let's hope the security wrappers don't kill the basic speed of ASMX; in the real world people still use sockets with no security whatsoever, because they're fast.

In the opening keynote, Jim Allchin made a point of saying "the PDC 'bits' will be slow".  He said it unapologetically, like yeah, Longhorn is slow now, but we'll make it faster later.  I can appreciate that there may be debug code and features which haven't yet been optimized, but performance isn't something you add in later.  It has to be designed in from the start.  There were zero cases where I heard a presenter at the PDC say "this was done for performance".  Functionality for developers  was the guiding design principle.

Okay, so maybe performance will be a liability for Longhorn.  Surely the amazing functionality enabled by Avalon and WinFS and Indigo means applications will be cooler, right?  Yeah, maybe.  But let's double-click on this a bit.

Declarative code like XAML is all very exciting, but why does this improve the UI?  Um, it doesn't.  Consider that HTML makes for a pretty dull UI, only adding interactivity with JavaScript or Flash makes it interesting.  Anything you can do with XAML can be done with a procedural language, there is no feature benefit here.  Another key "improvement" with Avalon is incorporation of video as a basic display element.  This is going to be great, right?  Um, no.  How many applications can you think of which would benefit from incorporation of video?  I can't think of any.  (Maybe I'm just unimaginative.)  At best this will spice up online help, at worst it will lead to gratuitous glitz, kind of like websites with excessive Flash.  I think the main functional improvement Avalon brings to applications is the use of vector graphics.  That will really matter.

Every day the size and kind of display devices for applications keeps expanding.  You have handheld PDAs over here (and wristwatches!), and you have giant 200dpi monitors over there.  So I'm not denigrating vector graphics at all, in fact, it is probably the one thing in Longhorn which really will matter to users.

Surely WinFS is going to make applications better?  I mean, XML metadata for every file.  Common data shared transparently between applications.  Automatic searching and grouping.  What could be better than that?  Well, it won't work.  WinFS is going to be glacial.  Whatever benefits WinFS holds for applications will be overwhelmed by performance so poor as to make them unusable.

Consider my personal computer, an ordinary Compaq laptop.  The hard drive currently has 140,000 files stored in 6,000 folders, a total of 54GB of data.  I may be atypical, but I don't think so.  Is Microsoft seriously suggesting that XML metadata for 140,000 files is practical?  I probably care about 1,000 of these files, at most.  The rest are buried deep in the Windows or Program Files folders, little pieces of functionality for applications or the system which I don't know or care about.

Of the 140,000 files, there is one file I care about more than any other, my Outlook .PST file.  This one file is a repository of all my emails, sent and received, all my calendar items, and all my contacts.  Know why it is one file?  For performance.  Try storing every email, appointment, or contact in a separate file, and you'll have the slowest PIM known to man.

How about sharing all those calendar items with other applications?  Or my contacts?  Wouldn't it be better to expose these data so other applications could use them?  In theory, yes.  But in the real world practical considerations come into play.  These hypothetical other applications have performance considerations, too.  Searching my 5,500 emails or 1,200 contacts for something takes time.  It would be much better for Outlook to expose a search service than for all the data to be stored in separate files.

The same kind of trade-off occurs with database design.  In theory relational databases are great, you can compose ad hoc queries and fire them off to get any data in any way you want.  In practice with databases of any size you have to optimize access by organizing your tables appropriately, creating indices for frequent searches, limiting search result sets, etc.  There is no magic bullet.

How about Indigo?  Clearly better, right?  Yes, clearly better, as compared to any object-oriented program-to-program communication, like COM+, DCOM, or .NET remoting.  (Or for that matter, clearly better than CORBA.)  But clearly better than sockets?  We'll see.  The built-in security functionality of Indigo is compelling, and it is possible that by riding on ASMX (essentially, using SOAP to access exposed services) the overall performance will be acceptable.

It was interesting that in Don Box' introduction to Indigo at the PDC, he asked the roomful of developers "how many people have successfully deployed DCOM?"  Nobody raised their hands.  "How many people have successfully deployed .NET remoting?"  Nobody raised their hands.  "How many people have successfully deployed CORBA?"  Only a few hands.  Out of 3,000 developers essentially none had successfully deployed an object-oriented remote communication method.  It is good that Microsoft has abandoned OO and embraced SOA.

So although Longhorn will make code easier to build, it won't really make the code run better.  And that's why I'm unexcited.  I'm not disappointed, mind you; my expectations were low.  On August 16th I posted:

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...

My wishes were pretty low tech, huh?  And I didn't get them.

  1. Yeah, XAML will help me be more productive, and WinFX seems like a decent API for the OS.  But why did we reinvent the wheel.  Was it really that hard to build applications before?  No.  Will it be easier under Longhorn?  Yes, but in the meantime there’s a lot of new stuff to learn.  I don't mean to be a curmudgeon; well okay, yeah I do.  Aside from vector graphics I don't see that much benefit from all the changes.
  2. I don't know if Indigo represents networking that works or not.  It seems like Indigo mostly represents program-to-program communication that works (although SOAP already gave us that).  Service orientation seems like a step back from object-to-object remoting in the direction of HTTP.  However what about machine and network configuration?  Will it be as easy as Linux, or will we still have “my network places” and “domain servers” and “active directory”?  Yeah, I thought so.
  3. I don't think anyone cares about paging except me.  Just buy more memory, right?  I bet performance under Longhorn is not snappy.  Lots and lots of CPU cycles, and lots and lots of memory.  I still think Windows paging sucks, and fixing it would be really helpful.  But what do I know.

Let me wrap up with something positive.  Whidbey looks really nice (the upcoming release of Visual Studio).  Not only will it make programmers more productive, but it will make debugging easier and more thorough, resulting in more stable code for customers.  And - get this! - it does not look like the wheel was reinvented.  It is Visual Studio, but with incremental improvements.  Yippee.

So I can keep on cranking C++ for the Win32 SDK.  This is your friendly neighborhood curmudgeon, signing off...



Sunday,  11/02/03  11:24 PM

So are you getting ready?  The Matrix Revolutions opens this Wednesday.  Everything that has a beginning, has an end...

Alien vs. PredatorOh, and mark your calendars.  08/06/04.  Alien vs. Predator.  Yeah.

Lawrence Lessig in Wired: The New Road to the White House.  "How grassroots blogs are transforming presidential politics."  And you thought blogs were just something silly Ole did to fill up his time :)

Joi Ito relays an interesting snippet from George Bush (Sr.)'s memoir, published in 1998:  "Trying to eliminate Saddam...would have incurred incalculable human and political costs...  Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land."  Wow.  I wonder if his son read this?

Oh yeah, I think invading Iraq was the right thing to do - more than ever.

Citizen Smash has an interesting take on the recent "good" economic news: wishing the worst.  If you're a Bush-basher, what do you do?  Root for the economy to take a nose dive?

GNXP has an interesting map showing the worldwide probability of not reaching 40.  (Sort of a backwards take on life expectancy.)  The top 34 countries are all African.  In some countries the probability of not reaching 40 is over 50%!

The Economist surveys Google's IPO aspirations.  "Google is now more than a business:  it is a cultural phenomenon.  But where will it be in a few years?"  I predict it will be a big IPO, but overvalued; it is hard to see them justifying a $10B+ valuation based on economics...

And Google was/is considering a merger with being acquired by MicrosoftThat would be horrible.  I'm not a Microsoft basher by any means, but we need more interesting technology companies, not less.

Could the entire universe be a hologram?  This Scientific American article considers the question.  [ via Xeni Jardin, who titled her post "hack the universe" and concluded "If the universe is a vast two-dimensional plane of information -- then it can be hacked." ]

the Old SowCheck this out!  The Old Sow Whirlpool.  "I didn't mind so much getting’ caught in it.  What I resented was havin’ to row uphill to get out."  Awesome!  [ via Wired ]

The WP has a positive review of Panther, Apple's new OS.  I just upgraded my iMac and I like it, too.  Aside from the cool functionality (I already wish Windows had Exposé) it is noticeably faster, too.  When was the last time a new OS version was faster?

Diego Doval has a great introduction to weblogs.  This is where I'll send people when they ask "hey, what's a blog?" :)  He also has a great introduction to syndication.  Great stuff!

Just about every cell phone has a camera, right?  Well, how about a TV, too?

Business 2.0 has an interesting list: 10 Technologies to watch in 2004.  (I copied it to my site because of their paywall).  Unlike many of these lists, I agree with this one.  The one thing I'd add: "video-on demand becomes real".

Designtechnica has a great survey of the known networked media devices.  Very helpful!  (but this list is probably already out of date...)  [ via Matt Haughey ]  I kind of agree with Matt that there isn't one device which has all the characteristics I'm looking for - yet.


Saturday,  11/08/03  10:25 AM

Gak!  A week without blogging.  Horrible!  My brain overfloweth...

So, I got quite a reaction to my Emperor's New Code article.  You knew I would, and so did I.  Actually I wrote from an exaggerated point of view to stimulate response.  I'll post my thoughts on other people's thoughts soon...

Panther!I'm running Panther!  Very cool.  And very impressive.  No bugs so far, performance is better than before, and I love Exposé and the way Apple did "fast user switching".  It is interesting that while Apple did improve their development technology in this release (with something called Xcode), the focus was really on improving performance and the UI.  Quite different from Microsoft's apparent focus with Longhorn...

Did you see that Novell is buying SUSE?  This seems important.  It means Novell is going to join IBM as a major software company with a major commitment to Linux.

"island baby"Remember The Island Chronicles, about the two journalists who moved from Los Angeles to Rarotonga?  When last we left them, they were searching for a new island to live on, somewhere about the coast of New Zealand.  Well, apparently they're back in L.A.!  "Everyone is healthy and happy.  We're writing an article for LA Weekly that explains everything, so stay tuned!"  So be it - they tried it so we don't have to :)

Business 2.0 on The Card Sharks from Silicon Valley.  "An unlikely collection of computer jocks and math whizzes have been coming up aces in high-stakes tournament poker, the hottest new spectacle in televised sports."  I actually can't imagine watching poker on TV, but whatever, to each their own.  I guess it beats the reality shows with silly "boys meeting girls" themes.

Wired on the plethora of devices attempting to connect PC to Stereo.  (...and PC to TV...)  This is going to be so big, so soon.  It might end up being the biggest driver of WiFi.

Napster logoHave you checked out Napster 2.0 yet?  Wired reports New Napster off to Solid Start.  Overall it seems fine, but I have two problems; first, I can't figure out the licensing options (what do I get to do with which music?), and second, I dislike the fake street-cred attitude.  The original Napster was cool, this one is a business...

Speaking of potentially illegal digital copying (we were, sort of), consider 321 Studios, which makes software to facilitate copying DVDs to CDs.  CNet reports they're Taking on the DMCA.  This will be interesting to watch, because their ostensible reason for existence - making backup copies - doesn't really hold up under scrutiny (who really wants a low-fidelity CD copy of a high-fidelity DVD movie).

Oh, and here's an interesting take on P2P; Gomez is building a transaction network which pays clients for their participation.  [ via John Robb ]

Scoble and Mercedes at PDCScoble was tempted by a $450,000 Mercedes while at the PDC.  Was that because it made engineering easier for the people who built it, Robert, or because of its beauty and performance?  Just pokin' :)

Wrapping up - one of the cool benefits of posting a popular article is having lots of referring sites, which means you discover new cool ones.  Consequently I've updated my extended blogroll.  Check it out if you're looking for cool new sites!


Sunday,  11/09/03  10:10 PM

Agent SmithSO.  I saw the Matrix Revolutions.  And guess what?  I liked it.  Perhaps I had lowered expectations due to all the bad press (like Wired's rather negative take), but I thought it was really good.  Yeah, they could have done more with the "simulation inside a simulation" angle (the speech by The Architect at the end of Matrix Reloaded doesn't make sense in retrospect), but overall it did tie up the loose ends.  And the special effects were, well, special.  I think the original Matrix was such an awesome classic that it raised fan expectations to the point where they couldn't be met.

Current movie greatness - Alien.  Still the scariest movie of all time.  That stupid alien lived outside my window for weeks after I saw it the first time.  I might have to see it again.

Upcoming movie greatness - Master and Commander.  The Patrick O'Brian series is one of my alltime favorites, so this is a must-see.  (There are 20 books in the series, will there be 20 movies?)

And further out movie greatness - Shrek 2.  The trailer is hilarious.

The NYTimes reports States in India Take New Steps to Limit Births; an interesting twist to Unnatural Selection.  "A new reckoning is under way in India over how best to stabilize a population that is set to surpass China's as the world's biggest by midcentury...  At least six [states] have laws mandating a two-child norm for members of village councils, and some are extending it to civil servants as well."  I suppose the leaders have to set the example, but of course it is not the leaders who have the high birth rate in the first place.  [ thanks, Gary ]

Nice post by godless on GNXP: Two fallacies: international Marxism and reverse Marxism.  If you know me, you know I very much agree with this point of view.  Read the comment thread, too, lots of good discussion.

From Scoble: "The rumor: Microsoft wants to buy Google.  The reality: Microsoft Blogger has dinner with Google's founders."  I love it.

This is surprising: Xbox to Switch to PowerPC.  "It's a very big win for IBM.  It's a clear change of direction for Microsoft, and it's a very unfortunate surprise for Intel."

Meanwhile, Steve Jobs says Apple has no plans to switch to Intel.  (Which had previously been rumored...)  This article also notes Apple is not working on a Media Center -like capability (recording video from TV like PVRs).  "'We're not going to go that direction,' Jobs said.  'There is a small audience that likes this.'  Jobs said there are several problems with the Media Center concept, in particular the wide divergence in the way people want to watch television as compared with how they use a computer."  I would have expected Apple to buy Tivo, or something like that :)Tivo dude

Speaking of Tivo, they recently signed up their 1,000,000th subscriber.  Excellent, all us users are pulling for them to make it.

Interestingly, I recently saw an add for the new Nissan Z car which was uploaded to my Tivo.  It included interactivity ("do you want us to send you a DVD by mail?").  Interesting extension of their business model.

Ottmar Liebert has added a wrinkle to the traditional music CD; his latest album nouveaumatic included a URL that leads to two extra tracks available from his website.  Cool!

So, the FCC, in its infinite lameness, passed the "broadcast flag" mandate.  This will do nothing to deter piracy, but will inhibit perfectly legitimate innovation.  Not good.

carved eggshellThis is so cool - a website with a bunch of carved eggshells.  They're beautiful!  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

And...  Voyager I has reached interstellar space, the first man-made object to exit our solar system.  "'We are beginning the exploration of a new frontier,' said Voyager project scientist Edward Stone.To boldly go where no man has gone before...


Tuesday,  11/11/03  11:11 PM

strongest solar flareSun produces monster solar flare.  The biggest one ever recorded, topping a week of wild solar activity ("well above X20").  What's going on out there?

Doc notes: "I'm always amazed, though I shouldn't be, when I talk politics with people who get all their news from newspapers, radio and TV."  I know exactly what he means.  People who've been spoon-fed liberal piffle.  We're so lucky to have the blogosphere!

So, we have another "man vs. machine" chess match coming up; Garry Kasparov is taking on X3D Fritz.  Wired reports Rage Against the (Chess) Machine.  "'For years, it was seen as inevitable that computers would get stronger and dominate,' he said.  'But humans are getting smarter about playing them.'"  Very interesting.  Of all the really strong machine players, Fritz is rumored to be the most "human-like".  I wonder when a machine will play chess in a manner which is indistinguishable from top human players?  (Sort of a Turing Test in the limited domain of chess.)

Rubik's cube solving Lego robotAnd speaking of machines playing games, here's a robot which solves Rubik's cube - built from Lego!  There are [at least] three amazing technologies here - the gripping/twisting mechanics, the color recognition, and the algorithm for solving the puzzle.  Incredible!

The Grinch Who Stole Linux, by Scott Lazar.  I love it!  [ via Cory Doctorow ]  "But I think that the most likely reason of all, may have been that their bank account was two sizes too small."  That, and the fact that the civil tort system in the U.S. is a disaster.

Sony "video pod"Hey, the Sony "video pod" is out! - in Japan.  I wonder how large the market for these devices is going to be...  clearly smaller than the market for music players, I would think, based on their higher price and the fact fewer people will want to watch video remotely.

Alan Taylor's daughter has A life where TiVo has always existed.  "She gets quite confused when we are watching a non-TiVo TV...  we have to explain that 'this TV is broken'."  Man, when I was a little kid we didn't even have a TV.  Future Shock indeed!

John Patrick ponders The Future of Long Distance.  "Yesterday's Wall Street Journal carried two stories, that appeared as unrelated, but which I believe are actually part of the same overall picture.  One was about number portability and the other about WiFi roaming."  If you thought the music industry is in trouble (they are), what about the telcom companies?

Ars Technica released the definitive Panther review.  They like it but find it isn't perfect.

goofy grapeLore Sjöberg remembers Goofy Grape!  "Clearly the standards for goofiness have fallen in the last three decades.  I've seen goofier garbage disposal drain line adapters."  Man, I used to love this stuff...

Scott Guthrie offers a fascinating look at what it takes to be a keynote speaker at a big conference like the Microsoft PDC.  "Keynote demos are always 'fun' events, and are great at creating a lot of stress in a compressed period of time."  Spare laptops, "demo buddies", practice, timing tests, stage handlers, makeup, more practice, and poof, you're on!

Chris Maunder shares a great, balanced overview of the PDC.  [ via Robert Scoble ]

dull shoesOh, and here we have the dullest blog in the world.  I am not making this up.


Measuring Infinity

Tuesday,  11/11/03  11:47 PM

measuring infinity

To Infinity and Beyond

The New Yorker [hardcopy dated November 3, 2004] contains a review by Jim Holt of David Foster Wallace's new book: "Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity".  The review is accompanied by the the drawing above, which I think is just terrific.  How best to capture the elusive nature of Georg Cantor's infinite series of infinities?


The Little Boy Explains

Wednesday,  11/12/03  05:18 PM

The other day I posted The Emperor's New Code, a heretical critique of "Longhorn" Microsoft's upcoming version of Windows.  I expected to get a lot of links, and I did - thanks Dave, Tim, and Robert! - and I expected to get a lot of criticism, and I did.  I am like the little boy who cried "the emperor's not wearing any clothes", and of course some noblemen cannot admit this; it would be too embarrassing.  Or maybe the little boy just can't see the clothes :)  So.  Dialog is always healthy, right!

I have to admit, I took a somewhat extreme position in the interest of making my point.  In real life I don't feel as strongly negative about Longhorn.

But I do feel strongly about my central point: The most important thing is not how easy it is to build code, the most important thing is how well the code runs once it is built.  As a professional developer, you simply have to believe this, or your customers will suffer (as will your business).

I'd like to take a moment to discuss the most prevalent reactions.

  • "Premature optimization is the root of all evil".

Ha ha, cute.  But I'm not talking about optimization in my article.  I'm talking about efficient design.  If you think these two things are the same, I may not be able to help you.  Application performance is determined by four things, in this order:

  • Network utilitization.
  • Disk utilitzation.
  • Memory utilization.
  • CPU utilitization.

They are in this order because of their relative speed; networks are really slow compared to disks, which are really slow compared to memory, which is slow compared to CPUs.  There are very few applications which are actually CPU-bound.  Most of the time an application's performance is determined by disk and network access.  Optimizing this requires good design.  It isn't something you add in later by setting a compiler switch or refactoring a subroutine.  Sorry.

Oh, and if you use memory inefficiently you end up paging, which causes CPU-bound operations to become disk-bound.  That's why memory usage impacts performance.  (And why Windows' poor paging is such an issue.)

  • "There are, too, 'important apps' being written in .NET."

Oh yeah, name them.  Everyone who said this failed to name them.  I wrote: "Feel free to indulge yourself by making a list of counter-examples.  It will be a short list."  So far it is a null list.

Hey, I realize there are a lot of useful programs written as managed code.  My favorite RSS aggregator, SharpReader, is written in .NET, and I use it every day.  But is it an "important app" in the sense of Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop?  No.  Is it expensive commercial code?  No.  It is a cool freeware app written by one guy.

I have good friends at a [not-to-be-named] company which builds financial transaction systems.  The core system is client/server; VB/C++ under Windows on the clients, C++ under Unix on the servers.  Over many years it has evolved into a solid, high-performance product.  They recently recoded a major subsystem in .NET, and it has been a disaster.  The new subsystem is really slow, the thin-client GUI is horrible, and their customers are up in arms.  The programmers do love C#, but so what?

I know, one data point doesn't prove anything.  So, your serve.

  • "As long as an application is fast enough, it doesn't have to be faster."

I readily admit not all applications are performance critical.  And I accept that speed is not the only measure of performance; usability, functionality, and robustness are all important.  You have to optimize for the right things to make customers happy.

I'm probably a little three-sigma in that I've spent my whole professional life building systems which were performance critical.  Financial transaction systems, large websites, busy websites, and systems which manage large images.  At no time did we reach a point where we were "fast enough"; there was always more load to handle, more hardware to avoid buying.  And speed was always a competitive weapon.  Maybe not everyone feels the need for speed.  But I do.

  • "The most important thing is how easy it is to build code that runs well."

I agree with this, but only because the most important thing is how well the code runs once it is built.  (Yeah, I'm in a loop.)  I'm all for things which make it easy to build good code.  And I'm all for things which improve programmer productivity.  To the extent that Longhorn's technology helps build good code and improve productivity, it is good.  But.  I don't think hiding stuff under layers of abstraction always makes it easier to build good code.  Sometimes, it makes it harder.

{ Ask yourself, what is easier to optimize, the hwnd API or MFC?  Aha.  What is easier to optimize, sockets or the Internet Transfer control.  Aha. }

Many people may disagree with me on this, so be it.  I'm totally from Missouri on this issue.

In between the time I posted my article and today, I spent much of my time optimizing Aperio's ImageServer product.  This program acts as a simple HTTP server, fielding rich-client and web requests for image data from a store of very large virtual microscopy images.  It currently runs at around 550 requests/second on a reasonably powerful PC, pumping out 6.5MB/s of image data on a 100Mb LAN.  It is written in C++ and uses sockets.  As I was working on this code, I was trying to imagine writing this application in Java or C#, and I just couldn't do it.  Maybe someday, but not today.

You might say, sure, but at least you didn't write it in assembly language!  And that's true.  With modern processors the code generated by compilers is better than what I could generate by hand - otherwise I might be tempted :)  And as I mentioned above, the order of priority here is 1) optimize network, 2) optimize disk, 3) optimize memory, 4) optimize CPU.  So getting the network and disk access right is what really matters.  And getting the caching right.  

Just like it does in an OS... 

  • "Longhorn is not really reinventing the wheel."

Oh really?  Check out Jon Udell's thoughts on this, or Tim Bray's, they put it better than I could.  I think the general reaction people are having to Longhorn is "wow, this is really different".  Maybe that's good, but change for the sake of change?  As Jon wrote, "If the suite of standards now targeted for elimination from Microsoft's actively-developed portfolio were a technological dead end, ripe for disruption, then we should all thank Microsoft for pulling the trigger.  If, on the other hand, these standards are fundamentally sound, then it's a time for what Clayton Christensen calls sustaining rather than disruptive advances.  I believe the ecosystem needs sustaining more than disruption."  Amen.

To add to the long list of examples, consider Monad, Microsoft's new command-line shell.  Hey, it looks cool.  But why not use ksh?

  • "Mozilla is faster than IE, so obviously XUL doesn't hurt."

I have a 2GHz Compaq laptop, running XP Pro.  Modern equipment, I think you would agree.  When I launch IE it takes about 2s before I have a window.  Launching Mozilla takes about 6s.  Try counting to 6 right now to see how slow this is.

XUL is used for the Mozilla GUI, not for page layout.  The overhead of XUL is manifested in that startup time.  The speed of loading and rendering a page is not affected by XUL; it may be that Mozilla is faster at loading or rendering pages (I actually don't think so), but even if it is that has nothing to do with XUL.

  • "All PCs will have GPUs by the time Longhorn comes out, so vector graphics will be fast."

I accept this.  And I like vector graphics, I went out of my way to say so.  This is the one thing that stands out as a positive user benefit in Longhorn.

{ BTW, Apple's OS X uses a GPU for GUI rendering ["Quartz"], and it works great. }

  • "WinFS is, too, going to be fast."

We'll see.  Right now in the pre-beta build ("PDC bits") it is tectonic.  I think using metadata for some files might make sense, but adding it in as a general layer between applications and NTFS does not.

Scott Loftesness put it well: "Microsoft has never invested in performance - they've always relied on hardware vendors saving their bacon with more memory, faster processors, etc...  Where this strategy is most likely to fail with Longhorn is in the file system where the magnitude of disk I/O performance improvements are relatively miniscule compared to the rest of the system components."  Maybe they'll end up shipping Longhorn without WinFS, or with a stripped down WinFS, or make it so WinFS is only used for certain files.  It is really early days, yet.

I wrote: "I'm guessing it is painfully slow now and that there’s a bunch of people working hard trying desperately to make it fast enough."  Scoble replied: "WinFS is currently undergoing a major rework for the next few months just to get its performance up."  I knew it.  So - time will tell...

My colleague Allen summed up the whole thing very succinctly; "more abstraction always means less efficiency".  Exactly.

I want to end this rant on a positive note.  Scoble noted "I asked you all to hate Longhorn and Ole is just following directions.  I'm actually happy to see the feedback!"  Robert has a great attitude, and I appreciate that Microsoft appears to be listening.  I don't hate Longhorn at all (really there are very few things I hate).  I am trying to use my puny little pulpit to ever-so-slightly steer the gigantic Microsoft ship gently toward improving application performance.  I respect Microsoft tremendously for sharing the guts of Longhorn so early, and for genuinely trying to assimilate feedback.

This is your friendly neighboorhood curmugeon, signing off...


(click for fullsize diagram)
Longhorn architecture

P.S. Oh, by the way, here's a diagram of Longhorn.  It's beautiful!  And I'm sure you'll find it as easy to comprehend as I did.



Wednesday,  11/12/03  10:06 PM

Freakish storm hits Southern California.  If it isn't the earthquakes or fires, it's something else.  Why live anywhere else?

Scripting News transitionSomething new and different is brewing over at Scripting News, but I haven't figured out what it is, yet.  Dave Winer is one of the blogoshpere's true innovators.  Scripting News was the first blog I knew about, long before people called them "blogs".  Now it is the first something else.  What, I don't know...  yet...

Dan Gillmor is in Hong Kong, and he's receiving local calls via VoIP.  Of course he is, aren't you?

Interesting post on GNXP; a NYTimes article on "differentiated instruction", with godless' comments.  "It's just another example of the problems that arise when you intentionally neglect human biodiversity."

Remember LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman's new startup which mediates business interactions between people?  They just closed announced a $4.5M round with Sequoia Capital at a social networking panel (congratulations!); David Hornik describes the event.

I find this hard to believe; a Slashdot thread reports Saruman will not appear in LOTR: The Return of the King.  What!

Sony x505 laptopFrom the "you can never be too rich, or too thin" department...  Sony's new laptop.  9.7mm, wow, that's thin!  Comparatively weak specs, though (1GHz, 512MB, 10.4" screen) and most of the ports have been pushed into a mini-dock.

Bombardier EmbrioHere's a "hot wheel"; Forbes reviews the Bombardier Embrio, a cool-looking one-wheeled Segway.  "The Embrio is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, a technology that creates power by mixing hydrogen and oxygen, ideally resulting in water as the only exhaust."  You know what I'm going to say; yeah, I want one.

Steve Ballmer using an iPodSteve Ballmer using an iPod :)  Now that's funny.

Don Box, one of the architects of Longhorn, explains how to write "Hello World" in XAML.  I know Longhorn is pre-beta, but does anyone think this is easier than it used to be?




Thursday,  11/13/03  05:31 PM

This afternoon I went through my extended blogroll, clicked every link, and 1) verified the site is still there (most were) and 2) verified the blog is still being updated (many were not).  I deleted all the dead and dying links.

You'd think noticing that a bunch of people had stopped blogging would make me sad.  But it didn't.  In fact, it kind of made me happy.  Like I was part of a little club.  If everyone were blogging, then my little voice would get lost in the wilderness.  Or something like that.  It takes persistence, messed up priorities, a raging ego, and flat-out weirdness to keep on blogging, day after day :)

There are some blogs I miss.  Daniel, etc. was a great blog.  And now it is gone, with nary a trace.  It is actually better to disappear like that, stored only in the memory of those who visited (and in Google's cache :), than to stay up in a frozen limbo.  Some people even leave their site with a page that says "I'm coming back someday".  A great gravestone.

In a few cases, the blog was still there, the blogger was still active, but I didn't see anything interesting.  And if I don't find it interesting, I'm not going to link it.  Your mileage may vary!

I find the shorter someone's blogroll, the better.  I like following people's recommendations.  But if you have 200 sites in your blogroll, are you honestly recommending them all?  I doubt it.  If you simply link every site you've ever visited (or every site which has ever linked to yours) then your blogroll doesn't mean anything.  It is simply using up bandwidth.  I think anyone who has over 50 sites in their blogroll should clean it up!

Compounding the problem, a lot of people link to the same sites.  For example, I like Dave Winer and Glenn Reynolds.  Well, guess what; so do a lot of other people!  If you see Instapundit on someone's blogroll, it doesn't do much for you...  On the other hand, how many people have visited The Slumbering Lungfish?  Aha!  I knew it.

I while back I decided the best solution was to keep my on-homepage blogroll short, limited specifically to the sites I visit every day.  (Nowadays they are the sites whose feeds I subscribe to with SharpReader.)  And I moved all the other sites I like onto my extended blogroll.  So if you're in the mood to check out some new sites, there you go...  And each time the home page is loaded, I pick two sites at random from my extended blogroll and link them at the top; my "blog roulette".  So you can serendipitously discover new sites that way...


Thursday,  11/13/03  09:55 PM

Zogby blogs about the dumbing down of the California High School Exit Exam.  "They actually have the gonads to look a reporter straight in the eye and tell them that they're not dumbing down the test when they're replacing high school level math questions with 6th and 7th grade math questions."  How long can this stuff keeping going on?  Outrageous.

Check out this Palestinian brainwashing.  How sad.  How completely, thoroughly, discouragingly sad.

And speaking of sad, do you know what 300,000 really looks like?  (That's the number of people Saddam Hussien's government buried in the 263 mass graves found so far.)  Remember, every dot represents someone's son, or daughter.

Turning to more positive things, Eric Gagne easily won the NL Cy Young award.  The Dodger closer converted all 55 of his save opportunities with a 1.20 ERA, and had 137 strikeouts and 20 walks in 82 1/3 innings.  One of the best seasons anyone's every had.  Unbelievable.

103 carat D/IF diamondWant to see what perfection looks like?  Check out this 103 carat D/IF diamond.  D is the "whitest" color, and IF means "internally flawless".  The cut isn't mentioned, but my guess is 000 (why not, with such a perfect rough), so what you have here is - indeed - a perfect diamond.  This pic is about actual size, too!

Note: this grade of diamond is rarely made into jewelry.  Most flawless diamonds are purchased as investments, and spend their lives in bank vaults, like some kind of bearer bond.

Martin Spernau notes Eigenpolls.  "The problem with normal polls is that it find the most popular option.  But if you are looking for a solution to a problem you don't want the most popular, what you want is the best solution to the problem.  Eigenpolls try to solve this by letting the voters compare and rank the options, and then use a algorithm similar to Google's PageRank on the result."  Excellent!

Mark Morford lauds the famous Apple out-of-the-box experience: Lick Me, I'm a Macintosh.  "This is what Apple does.  This is what they are known for and why their design team is so famous and why they win so many awards and why they engender such passionate devotion from their adherents and why Macs are still far, far superior to PCs and always will be.This is the goal; I want my company to have people feeling this way about our products!


Hexagonal Cubic Bisection

Friday,  11/14/03  11:46 AM

hexagonal cubic bisection

I asked:

"Imagine a cube, which is going to be cut in two by a straight saw cut.  The saw-cut section, the raw face of the cut, can clearly be of various shapes, a square, or triangular (if a corner were cut off).  How would you cut the cube so that the section may be a perfect plane hexagon?"

I know you've been waiting with bated breath for the answer.  Here you go.

Bonus questions:

  1. Can a cube be sectioned in such as way as to create a regular pentagon?
  2. It appears this cut has the greatest area of all possible sections.  Can you prove it?


Saturday,  11/15/03  09:09 AM

Well, guess what?  X3D Fritz defeated Garry Kasparov in game 2 of their match, after they drew game 1.  But Fritz creator Frans Morsch was disappointed about the way his brainchild won.  "You don't want to win this way, after a simple mistake by a great player after a great game."  Chess experts are surprised by the liveliness of the games; apparently Fritz is more "human" than previous strong chess programs.  Garry himself seems pleased in his remarks on game 1...

Remember J. Craig Ventor?  This remarkable scientist lead the team at Celera genomics which helped sequence the human genome.  Now he's leading a group which has synthesized an artificial virus which can reproduce!  Some would say this is playing with fire, and indeed it is; but where would we be without fire?

I'm sure someday there will be "programmers" creating "life" which runs in the "real world", just as we presently create programs which run on computers.  Maybe sooner than you'd think!

This is fascinating; Second Life (which is one of these multiplayer virtual worlds) has announced that it has changed its terms of use "to allow users to retain real world property rights in the virtual world products they produce."  The line between the real world and others keeps getting blurrier...  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

"Hello, World" in various esoteric languages.  I love it.  [ via Jeremy Smith ]
Do you know this one?


What language will we use for programming DNA? I bet it won't be XAML :)

Are you an engineer, or perhaps married to one?  Then you may find all about engineers useful.  "If there is one trait that best defines an engineer it is the ability to concentrate on one subject to the complete exclusion of everything else in the environment.  This sometimes causes engineers to be pronounced dead prematurely."  [ via BigWig ]

Medscape reports Paperless, Wireless, and Almost no Typing; is this a killer app for Tablet PCs?  Now if they could just increase the screen resolution to make them useful for virtual microscopy!

Pocket TunesSo I got it to work; streaming MP3s via Shoutcast to my Treo 600.  This is definitely in the "bear dancing" category.  (It is cool that it works at all, but it doesn't work well.  Actually I think a $5 transistor radio from 1965 works better.  But this is progress, you know, in 1965 there were no cell phones, and no PDAs!)

And now we get news that MobiTV will be offering TV over the Sprint network.  More dancing bears?  Probably.  But Russell Beattie is so excited he thinks we'll need Tivo on our Treos!  [ via Matt Haughey ]

CNet reports CNet has bought  This is practically a yawn.


Sunday,  11/16/03  08:48 AM

Hard to believe it is November 16th, eh?  Seems like only yesterday I started blogging.  And then it was summer.  And now - Thanksgiving!  Not yet, but soon.  So be it.

Schwarzenegger on Immigration; his agenda, and godless' analysis.  Arnold: "The costs of providing social services to these individuals and incarcerating illegal immigrants is staggering - easily exceeding $3 billion a year."  godless: "Truth!  The figures are probably substantially larger than $3 billion, but the simple acknowledgement of this fact by the Governor of California is a major step.  Illegal and unskilled immigration are net economic losers."

AlwaysOn notes Arnold Promises to Boost Silicon Valley

He will be inaugurated on Monday.  So far he's been confined to speeches, now let's see if he really is a man of action!

Stephen Den Beste analyzes bin Laden's strategy.  "He unquestionably completely misjudged the American people...  bin Laden's strategy was to get God, or Allah, involved in the war against the infidel."  In order to make sense of Islam, you must shift your point of view.

Click for larger view

You might be a geek if this picture makes your heart beat faster.  From Fortune: The amazing back of the Yamaha RX-Z9 receiver.  Uh, Santa, I've been a good boy this year.  Really.

Pinnacle ShowCenterHere's what I really want, the Pinnacle ShowCenter.  It looks like there's finally a media adapter that does "everything", and at $300 it seems reasonably priced.  Stay tuned.

Rosie the Jetson's robotCory Doctorow in the NYTimes about Domesticating the (Electronic) Help.  A short survey of the home robots available today.  The technology keeps improving, but the promise of the Jetson's Rosie remains elusive.

Harry Fletcher: Why Microsoft Wants to buy Google.  The good news is that if MS did buy Google, and did "strip it naked and castrate it", something else would come along to take Google's place.  The 'net routes around censorship.


So, About Those Frames

Sunday,  11/16/03  08:55 AM

As my one year blogiversary approaches, I'm contemplating a redesign.  Using frames is one of the unique features of my blog (or one of the abominations, depending on your point of view).  So, please tell me...

What do you think of my frames?

I think they're cool,
don't change.

I think they suck,
get rid of them.

I use (no frames),
doesn't matter.

Uh, what's a frame?

total votes = 83

  (ended 11/18/03)


Monday,  11/17/03  09:52 PM

Right now my frames poll is running 20% in favor, 69% opposed, with 9% undecided.  If this was a fight, they'd stop it.  Wow.  I guess it's goodbye to frames...

So Mr. Arnold is now Governor Arnold.  And he wasted no time living up to his first campaign promise by canceling the 300% increase in vehicle registration fees.  "Schwarzenegger now has to deal with a shortfall expected to be at least $11.5 billion next year -- a gap he promised voters he would eliminate without raising taxes or cutting education spending."  I see the world's biggest bond issue, coming up...

Dave Winer proposes we ask candidates to pledge to keep the Internet free of interference from the entertainment industry.  "It's a poison pill that a candidate we can trust would happily take."  Absolutely.

Garry Kasparov crushes X3D Fritz in game three to tie the match.  Some observers feel this was the best game a human has ever played against a computer.  "X3D Fritz looked completely confused almost from the beginning.  The opening moves of the game created a closed position with very little active play for the powerful pieces.  In such positions the human ability to make long-term plans becomes far more effective than the machine's ability to calculate variations."  So perhaps the chess-domain Turing test has not yet been passed!

SpaceX has posted an October update.  I love reading about these guys, who are attempting to send a man into orbit as a private venture.  (Note: this is not to be confused with the X-prize contestants, who merely are attempting to send a man into space, a much easier proposition.)

Meanwhile, NASA is debating how to kill off the Hubble Space Telescope.

MSNBC: Seven flights of fancy that fizzled.  #1 on the list is flying cars, of course.

Adam Cvijanovic 01
(click to visit gallery)

This work is just beautiful!  Check out Adam Cvijanovic's Bellwether gallery.  [ via Ottmar Liebert ]

Scoble links some awesome Sand Art.  Wow!

Dave Sifry: Technorati growing pains.  "Right now, we're adding 8,000-9,000 new weblogs every day, not counting the 1.2 Million weblogs we already are tracking.  That means that on average, a brand new weblog is created every 11 seconds.  We're also seeing about 100,000 weblogs update every day as well, which means that on average, a weblog is updated every 0.86 seconds."  Yep, it's just a fad.

Oritron networked DVD playerSlashdot has an interesting review of the Oritron networked DVD player.  Looks really cool!  I wonder how long it will take before all DVD players are networked as a matter of course?

You know that SPOT watch you've had your eye on?  Better be patient, as Microsoft, Partners delay SPOT watches.  So be it.

Seiko have figured out a way to charge batteries wirelessly!  Now that would be useful.  Almost as good as getting rid of batteries altogether.  Wireless power, anyone?

I'm going to let y'all stew on the hexagonal cubic bisection stuff a bit longer.  I know you've been working on it nonstop :)


Tuesday,  11/18/03  11:53 PM

Governor Arnold outlined his plan for addressing California's deficit today.  As expected, the centerpiece is up to $15B in new borrowing.  "Mr. Schwarzenegger emphasized that there would be substantial budget cuts in addition to the borrowing, including at least $2 billion out of this year's budget."  So be it.

News-Images.comThis is pretty cool; is a page which displays current news visually.  I think they're on to something here.  People respond to images...

X3D Fritz staged a comeback and nearly won game 4 of its match with Garry Kasparov, but Kasparov navigates through danger to draw game four and the match.  Experts regard the quality of chess in this match as very high; indeed, Kasparov's blunder in game 2 was the only big mistake.

Kevin Laws contemplates The Irony of Outsourcing.  "Question: Since 1995, two million American manufacturing jobs vanished.  How many manufacturing jobs did China add during the same period?  Answer: None."  There is no way to stop the market.

Random Bytes quotes Richard Feynman: "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled."  Amen.

Epson flying robotEpson reveals the world's teeniest flying robot.  "The mFR causes levitation by use of contra-rotating propellers powered by an ultra-thin, ultrasonic motor with the world's highest power-weight ratio and can be balanced in mid-air by means of the world's first stabilizing mechanism using a linear actuator."  Another one for my Santa list :)

Philip Greenspun wonders should NASA send government employees into space?  And I say, NO!  It is time for the government to get out of the way and let private enterprise take over space exploration.  But you already knew that, didn't you?

Tivo HD DVRHey, guess what?  You know what this isIt's Tivo's new HD DVR.  "The new design offers viewers the flexibility of a DVR that is equipped to record today’s analog broadcasts along with the capability for recording the rapidly expanding programming offerings in HDTV."  Excellent!

CNet opines Internet calling verges on mainstream.  "Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is racing toward mainstream acceptance, steered by attractive price points -- currently $200 to $500 per line -- proven cost savings in early-adopter deployments and significant improvements in voice quality and reliability."  Where do they get $200 per line?  Vonage is only $40/month.

Doors of Perception has an interesting article about the "clock of the long now".  "The idea was to build a monumental clock – the original inspiration was something that would tick once a year, bong once a century and the cuckoo would come out once a millennium."  The design of something that has to last that long is quite challenging.  [ via Ottmar Liebert ]

Vishal Joshi: The 10 commandments of .NET.  #10 is "Thou shall not underestimate the complexity of .NET."  Something I would never do :)

I'll leave you with the USB Christmas Tree light.  And no, I am not making this up.


Look Ma, No Frames

Wednesday,  11/19/03  10:44 AM

Well, the people have spoken.  You guys don't want frames, so - poof!  No frames.  Never let it be said that I am not responsive to my readers :)

For those of you who do want frames (both of you), you can still click the "(frames)" link over there on the right.  Assuming it hasn't scrolled off the page :)

[ Later: Nobody appeared to use the "(frames)" link, and simple is good... ]


Wednesday,  11/19/03  11:01 PM

You've probably read about all the Bush protestors in London?  Or maybe about how few there were?  Well, have you read the actual speech itself?  You should.

Master and CommanderI saw Master and Commander the other day, and loved it.  It didn't follow the storyline of the book(s), but it was faithful to them; it seems the personalities of Aubrey and Maturin were captured perfectly, as was the whole zeitgeist of the Royal Navy at sea.  And the action was terrific.

This is the first movie I've ever seen where my first words walking out of the theater were "wow, the sound was terrific".  Finally a movie where THX mattered.  Those cannon balls were flying by my head.

For all you Monty Python fans: Estimating the Airspeed or an Unladed Swallow.  "What do you mean, an African or European Swallow?"  And yes, you get to learn about Strouhal numbers.

Nicole KidmanRazib considers redheads: It's better on fire.  I don't think redheads were selected for linked traits, I think they're an example of the Greenbeard Effect.  Which I must blog about further...

Wired interviews [ex-Sun CTO] Bill Joy: Hope is a Lousy Defense.  "I've always said that all successful systems were small systems initially.  The ideal project is one where people don't have meetings, they have lunch."  I don't agree with him on everything, but he's a smart guy.  Interesting reading.

Will there be a .mars?  Vint Cerf ponders the question, and NetworkWorldFusion takes notes.  [ via Tom Coates ]

Jeremy Zawadny answers the question with another: Is Google the next DNS?  Actually Jeremy's post is an answer only in my twisted mind, you decide.  How many of you enter www.<company>.com vs. Googling for <company>?

Scoble discovers adding titles to blog posts is not worth the trouble.  And uncovers the truth behind all metadata - anytime you have to explicitly add metadata, it doesn't work.  {This is the Achilles heel of The Semantic Web (note capitals)}.  What you need are emergent properties.  For example, if Scoble's blogging tool automatically generates titles for each post, that would be cool.

Forbes thinks Tivo at Crossroads, Needs Cable Partner.  [ via Matt Haughey, who previously said the same thing differently as Tivo's Apple Problem. ]  Personally I think Apple is a fine company, I love their products, and I don't see why becoming "like Apple" is a problem for Tivo.  You don't need 50% market share to have a good business - if the market is large enough...

Apple cube fishtankThe Apple cube fishtankOf course.

Kevin Werbach loves his Treo 600.  Yeah, this is convergence.  I love mine, too.



Thursday,  11/20/03  11:32 PM

Wow.  AT&T sues eBay, PayPal over patent.  "The patent, according to an AT&T release announcing the suit, describes 'transactions in which a trusted intermediary securely processes payments over a communications system such as the Internet'."  Am I the only one who thinks this business process patent IP stuff is completely out of hand?

Want to know where candidates are getting their money?  Here you go, maps!  [ via Dave Winer ]

David Burbridge goes Once more into the breach, and counterfacts the message of IQ and Populations by arguing that international comparisons of IQ do not necessarily indicate genetic differences between populations.  David knows more about this than I do, but I still think there's ample evidence for the hereditability of IQ.  (At best he weakens the case.)  I do agree that "nation" is a bad unit for studying populations, given the immense social and genetic differences between people within some nations.

This is cool: New Whale Species Announced by Japanese Scientists. "According to the description in Nature, B. omurai has an adult body length of less than 40 feet (12 meters) long, a relatively broad and flat skull, and a mouth that tapers from its base."  The last new whale species was discovered in 1913!

Andrew Anker's version of Future Shock: Accelerating Acceleration.  A good summary and I found this interesting, "Early adopters will become a big enough group to serve on their own."  Bodes well for Tivo, for example.

And in fact, Loss shrinks, sign-ups grow for Tivo.  Are they crossing the chasm, or just milking early adopters?

Matt Webb is excited about Me++.  "A couple of things that really got me: Cyberspace bleeding into the physical world, the undermining of physical distance, and the new ethics that come out of this."  Excellent stuff.

Jens-Christian Fischer finds Interesting things happening on the AI front.  You never know when you'll meet a salacious 'bot in a Yahoo chat room...

Lore Sjöberg notes Science According to Google.  "By averaging the Web's consensus, we can state unequivocally that Jupiter has 15.7075 moons."  I love it!

Jon Udell discusses Working with Bayesian Categorizers.  Excellent stuff.  If you suffer from spam all you need to know is "buy Matador" (or some other Bayesian filter).  But if you are interested in probability distributions (e.g. if you work on image pattern recognition :), check out Jon's article...

[MPAA President] Jack Valenti Predicts Movies Online by 2005.  He obviously hasn't discovered MovieLink or CinemaNow (to say nothing of Kazaa); Ole predicts movies online *now*.

binary clockUSB watchDo you have a geek on your Christmas list?  (Or are you a geek making a Christmas list?)  Then check out Scientific American's Sci/Tech gift list.  I like the binary clock :)  And of course there's always the USB watch...

CNet: .NET explained again - and again, and again...  I am not making this up.  Sigh.


More Cubic Bisection

Sunday,  11/23/03  04:07 PM

The other day I asked:

  1. Can a cube be sectioned in such a way as to create a regular pentagon?
  2. It appears the regular hexagonal section has the greatest area of all possible sections.  Can you prove it?

I know you've been breathlessly waiting for the answers, so here you go.

First, no, a cube cannot be sectioned to create a regular pentagon.  The closest you can do is this:

pentagonal cubic bisection

This is a "full house" pentagon; three of the sides are the same length, and the other two sides are the same length as each other, but longer than the other three.

Note: it is not necessary that one of the pentagon's vertices be coincident with a vertex of the cube.

Second, the regular hexagon is not the section with the greatest area.  I didn't mean for this to be a trick question, but I guess it was.  The section with the greatest area is this one:

maximal cubic bisection

The diagonal of each face is √2

Area: √2 = 1.41

Here's the regular hexagon again:

hexagonal cubic bisection

The diagonal of each face is √2
Each side of the hexagon is √2/2
Triangles are equilateral with area √3/8

Area: ¾√3 = 1.30

There are some other candidates as well.  In the two figures above, consider rotating the section about the dashed line as an axis.  That yields the following section (a diamond, not a square):

diamondal cubic bisection

Each side is √5/2
One chord is √2, the other is √3

Area: ½√2√3 = 1.22

And continuing the rotation, this section, a square with the minimum area of any section which passes through the center of the cube:

square cubic bisection

Section same as cube face

Area: 1

Another interesting section is this one, the largest triangular section:

triangular cubic bisection

The diagonal of each face is √2
Triangles are equilateral with area √3/8

Area: ½√3 = 0.87

Finally, here's today's bonus question:

  • What is the area of the "full house" pentagonal section?


Sunday,  11/23/03  11:27 PM

Citizen Smash summarizes Arnold's first week in office:

In his first official action as governor, he issued an executive order rolling back the tripling of California’s automobile registration tax shortly after taking office.  Next, he called the state legislature into special session to work on reforming the state’s workers’ compensation system; to draft a bond issue that would restructure the state’s debts (that would be placed on the March ballot); to draft a Constitutional amendment capping government spending (also for the March ballot); and to cut state spending to counter the lost revenue from vehicle licensing fees.  He also suspended all pending regulations for a 90-day executive review.

When Arnold ran into some friction from the Democrat-dominated legislature, he took to the radio airwaves across the state and warned of “severe casualties” in next year’s elections if lawmakers fight his efforts.

There’s a new sheriff in town.

Excellent!  So far, so good.

So, where were you?  Of all the things that have that "I remember when I heard the news" quality, President Kennedy's assassination is at the top of most people's list.  I was five, and I can remember sitting next to my Mom, listening to the radio.  I didn't know what was going on, but I could tell from her reaction that it wasn't good.  The only other thing that has that quality for me was the Challenger exploding.  I'm sure someday 9/11 will be on the list, too, but right now it still seems too recent.

I don't often link James Lileks (although I love his blog), but check this out, as he flips off Salam Pax.  In the same post he disses Michael Moore and bemoans the network's emphasis on the sordid Michael Jackson affair.  I cheer him on from the sidelines.

Hayling by LynnFox for FC KahunaXeni Jardin pointed out this awesome video by LynnFox for FC Kahuna's song "Hayling".  If you have a broadband connection, you must watch this.  Now.

You might have heard that CNet bought  They had planned to dump the extensive archives.  Michael Robertson, founder of (who is no longer affiliated with the company), wrote an impassioned plea that CNet turn over the archives to archive.orgWhich they've done!  All's well that ends better.

Scoble does some introspecting about Microsoft's brand image.  "Come on, admit it.  Microsoft doesn't have the best brand in the business."  Robert, you got me.  I admit it.

Diego Doval takes a walk down memory lane.  Longhorn is either the fourth or fifth time Microsoft has tried for an object-oriented file system, depending on who's counting.

If you haven't tried X1, you should.  It provides fast file and email searching today.  It does not use metadata of any kind, rather, it does full-text pre-indexing of file contents.  And man does it scream.

Amid the debate about Longhorn, Microsoft's upcoming new version of Windows, it is worth noting that MS Office 2003 seems to have issues.  I haven't loaded it myself; there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason to upgrade...

n-generate spacefarmHey, here's something cool; n-generate.  "Graphic Design the easy way.  If you can press a button, you can n-generate."  [ via Ottmar Liebert, who goes a little crazy n-generating album covers 1, 2, 3, 4 ]



Monday,  11/24/03  10:17 PM

Here's a though experiment: What if the world had twice as many people in it?  Every city you can imagine, duplicated - another New York, another Singapore, another Bombay.  Would it be the same, only more crowded, or would it be qualitatively different?  How about if we had 4 times more people?  Or 10 times more people?  There is a point at which things change, right?  Would it be better for you, or worse?  Would the world be more productive, or less?  Would the average quality of life be better, or worse?  Just wondering...

Hey, my favorite "little" VoIP company Vonage just raised $35M.  Yep, it's a Thing.

the time wheelThe time wheel.  I like this...  [ via Ottmar Liebert ]

Yahoo notes: New Robotic Gliders Can Soar Under Water.  "The submarine robots don't use propellers, jets or flapping wings to get about.  Nor do they swim.  Instead, they pump ballast water in and out to subtly change their buoyancy.  That enables them to alternately rise and fall through the ocean as they glide forward."  Pretty cool.

Hey, guess what?  Michael Jackson has a blog!  I am not making this up...


Tuesday,  11/25/03  11:15 PM

WSJ has a nice op-ed for Thanksgiving: Our Soldiers, Our Thanks.  I agree with the sentiment 100%.  I remember reading somewhere (I can't remember where!) that the U.S. makes lousy teenagers, but great young men and women.  That's for sure.

and the winner is... Valencia!To the surprise of nobody, Valencia, Spain, has been selected as the next venue for the America's Cup (in 2007).  Olé!

Newsweek has the first review of LOTR III.  It is really positive, I can't wait (December 17th is the release date).  "The Return Of The King is a sure contender for best picture.  More than that, it could be the first franchise ever that didn't, at the end of the day, let audiences down--either because of laziness, pretension, greed or other phantom menaces.  This is an especially poignant possibility at a time when we can all still smell the smoke from the wreckage of The Matrix."  Oh, and if you're a LOTR fan, you might enjoy this interview with Peter Jackson about LOTR gaffes.

Scoble posted an interesting rant about retail sales of computers.  "The retail industry seems to be giving up the fight.  Everything inside the store screamed 'we know you're gonna buy a Dell anyway.'"  This seems very true of most stores - certainly Best Buy, which Robert is primarily writing about, and Circuit City.  I think CompUSA hasn't quite given up, and Fry's hasn't.  And of course Apple and Gateway have their own stores.  On the whole I think a better buying experience would be in every manufacturer's best interest, but it is expensive.  Home entertainment manufacturers have pretty much given up, except at the extreme high end.

Treo 600The connected PDA notes now supports the Treo 600.  Now you can listen to books on your phone!  [ via Ottmar Liebert ]

Here's an interesting technical article complaining about recent changes at Google which have apparently caused many sites' ratings to drop.  Of course the target audience for the "Search Engine Guide" is sites who are trying to [falsely] boost their ratings.  Personally I've noticed an increase in Google-search traffic to my blog lately, but I'm not doing anything to cause it.  Maybe that's the secret!


Thursday,  11/27/03  08:10 AM

Happy Thanksgiving
Happy Thanksgiving!

To everyone, everywhere...
especially to all the young men and women serving in our armed forces,
helping to keep us free.

Here's today's "order-of-magnitude" thought experiment - what if everyone made twice as much money (was twice as productive - note to liberals, this is not a zero-sum situation!)  Would that be qualitatively different?  How about 4 times as much?  Or 10 times?  Would this be better for you, or worse?  Just wondering.

This SCO lawsuit against "Linux" is way out of hand.  Pure grandstanding; a "bet the company" move which will either pay off hugely or fail completely.  And either way SCO will be vilified.  Now Source Claims SCO Will Sue Google.  Of course, only they'll wait until Google's IPO has been filed.  "Industry wags are saying that God invented SCO to give people a company to hate more than Microsoft."  This is so counter productive, no value is created by this activity at all.

Fortune wonders Can Google Grow Up?  "[Google co-founder Larry] Page says he doesn't spend much time worrying about competitors: 'That's not what we're about.  We think of what we do as adding more value to the world.'"  The boldface is mine.  Compare Google to SCO.

Milwaukee Art Museum's Quadricci Pavilion	Check this out - the Milwaukee Art Museum's Quadricci Pavilion, designed by Santiago Calatrava.  What a beautiful sculpture building!  Looks like a design by Frank Gehry, doesn't it?  [ via Ottmar Liebert, in a post titled "Poetry" ]

Samsung robot vacuum cleanerSamsung Unveils High-tech Robot Vacuum Cleaner.  Wow.  "The Samsung cleaner draws a 3-D map of the environment to identify its relative location, enabling faster and more efficient cleaning of a defined area.  The VC-RP30W can be remotely controlled using a computer with an Internet connection too.  When controlled over the web, a user can monitor its working environment with the cleaner’s built-in camera."  Seems more like a toy than a way to clean your house, huh?

Tim Bray considers Do Databases Suck?  Yes, they do.  They are great for some things, not so great for others.  Like any general purpose solution, they are inherently less optimal for any specific problem.

A not-to-be-named company at which I have many friends recently migrated a large transaction system from a proprietary database optimized for transaction processing to a general commercial RDBMS.  Guess what happened?  Yep, performance sucks.  For any heavy-add application like transaction processing, relational databases are not going to be fast.  In some cases their optimal search and reporting capabilities compensate, in others, they don't.

Adam Curry passes on this ad - okay, I laughed.  Out loud.  For about five minutes :)

Here's a headline that caught my eye: Women Needed to Test Orgasm Machine.  I am not making this up.


Friday,  11/28/03  11:07 PM

I survived my annual brush with death; yeah, our house has Christmas lights all over it.  Standing on top of a 25' extension ladder on a windy day is not my idea of fun.  But having a warm, welcoming-looking home is :)

Today's order-of-magnitude thought: What if everyone was bigger?  Not bigger as in "I ate a lot of turkey yesterday", but bigger as in most people are about 10' tall, and weigh 400lbs...  Would that make our lives qualitatively different?  Would this be better for you, or worse?  Or if you prefer, what if everyone was smaller?  Imagine most people are about 3' tall and weigh 75lbs...  Would that make our lives qualitatively different?  Just wondering.

I spent some time surfing the blogosphere yesterday, reading interesting reactions to Bush's trip to Iraq.  Most interesting was the reaction from Iraqi's themselves.  Personally I think it was a great thing to do.  A wimp would be distancing himself from something which he's being attacked over; Bush is no wimp.  I really think he just does what he believes is right.

An interesting note from Andrew Sullivan:  As Bush described his 'flight from Waco', he mentioned that he and Condoleezza Rice sat in an unmarked car, dressed casually with baseball caps, and that 'we looked a normal couple'.  Now that's cool.  It might be the coolest part of the whole thing.

Andras SimonyiRocking in the free world, dept.: Andras Simonyi is the Hungarian ambassador to the United States.  He is also a guitar player, and this Winds of Change post contains a transcript of his speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.  Check it out, really cool.

Umberto Eco posted a wonderful article on The Future of Books.  At one time paper was "new technology", just as computers and the Internet are today.  Dr. Eco has a flowery writing style which takes a bit of digging, but he really has some interesting things to say.  (I really had to fight my way through The Name of the Rose, but ultimately ended up loving it.)  The key distinguishing feature of humans - the thing that really sets us apart from other animals - is our ability to retain and transmit cultural memory.  The consequent incremental accumulation of knowledge has led to all our power (exactly as incremental accumulation of improvements to a species enable it to evolve).

Speaking of new technology, I, Cringley thinks Apple is going to launch a tablet computer, and that the killer app will be high-speed wireless networking to home entertainment devices.  We'll see, analysts have been wrong about this before!

Say "hello" to Kathy!  Yep, right there on the homepage of, is a picture of Kathy, my admin when I was at Intuit (click through for a bigger pic on their "welcome" page).  She's obviously moving up in the world.

Oh, yeah, Wal-Mart had a great day today.  ("Out of the red, and into the black...")  Maybe the economic recovery is real?


Sunday,  11/30/03  10:03 AM

Watching football this weekend.  Great games!  I love my Tivo.  How could you possibly watch this many games, this fast, on your own schedule, any other way?

You've read about the FCC's "broadcast flag", right?  Wondering Will the Broadcast Flag Break Your Tivo?  Paul Boutin answers No.

Here's today's order-of-magnitude question.  (You knew this was coming, right :)  What if everyone on Earth was smarter?  Some reasonable increment, like, say, 10 IQ points (roughly 10%)...  Would that make our lives qualitatively different?  Or - wait for it - what if everyone was less intelligent?  By 10 IQ points...  Would that make our lives qualitatively different?  Just wondering.

You don't need to know this, but I'm going to tell you anyway...  Today I cleaned out my closet.  As a result I'm giving away about 50 shirts, jackets, sweaters, pants, etc. that no longer fit (either physically or culturally).  And I rediscovered another 50 shirts, jackets, sweaters, pants, etc. that I like, but I forgot I had.  Somehow I seem to wear the same three things, over and over.  Anyway I feel like I just went shopping and bought all these great clothes!

Discovery Labs DNA explorerThis is amazing: Discovery Labs' DNA Explorer.  "This kit--the first to feature a bona fide centrifuge and electrophoresis chamber--will turn your kid on to the intricacies of genetics at an even younger age.  Realistic lab equipment transforms the kitchen into a forensics lab, where your breakfast-bar biologist can extract clumps of real DNA from fruits and vegetables or solve 'crimes' by revealing DNA 'fingerprints'."  Italics are mine...  I wonder what Watson and Crick think of this?  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

Google logoIt's shopping season, which means it is online shopping season.  Which means Google is busier than ever.  And if you like Google, you might wonder What is Google Worth?  They have $800M in revenue, and $200M in profit (estimated, they're private, so we don't know for sure).  Most rumors seem to iterate around the $10B figure for valuation.  That is 12X revenue, and 48X profit.  Yeah, they're a great company, but that seems inflated to me.

Sony PS3 conceptAnother cool toy - the [rumored] Sony PS3.  Alice notes "a somewhat Orwellian future where consoles would 'be able to extrapolate eye movement and gestural [sic] recognition, more complicated finger movement, and the logical next step of that is to deduce from a person's facial expression and demeanor what their emotion state is'."  It will become harder and harder to distinguish reality from virtual reality!  [ via Ottmar Liebert ]

Adam Curry posted a wonderfully recursive QOTD: "Philip G. Hamerton: Have you ever observed that we pay much more attention to a wise passage when it is quoted than when we read it in the original author?"  The more deeply the quote is nested, the better.  If you link to my post, it will become even more significant :)


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About Me

Greatest Hits
Correlation vs. Causality
The Tyranny of Email
Unnatural Selection
Aperio's Mission = Automating Pathology
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
the big day
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?