Critical Section

Archive: December 2003

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Monday,  12/01/03  09:58 PM

Wow, December!  Yippee!

world AIDS awareness dayKofi Annan thinks World Losing War on AIDS.  Today was world AIDS day.  Sadly, Annan chose to blame, instead of focusing on constructive solutions.  This is a societal, behavioral problem, not a medical one.  Really.  And while we blame, there are five people dying of AIDS every minute.

Steven Den Beste observes Pain at the BBC.  "Someone at the BBC really didn't want to write this story.  It's about the US economy."  Shhh, don't tell :)

Every once in a while I read something which totally hits a nail on the head; something which I knew, but didn't know I knew.  So here's godless' Thoughts on Fashion

I watched an assortment of bodies parade by, and was struck by the following realization: nice clothes really don't help women very much.  This is because there are three possibilities:

  1. Lithe, athletic women who look good no matter what they're wearing.
  2. Intermediate Bridget Jones types who could stand to lose 15 pounds and hit the weight room.
  3. Truly overweight/unattractive women who look bad no matter what they're wearing.

It is only the intermediate category who benefits measurably from clothes shopping...

The other day I noted this was cool: 

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'.

So two people sent me email asking "what's so cool about that?"  That's even cooler!  Maybe our society is really, painfully, slowly but surely becoming colorblind!

the iPodRob Walker contemplates The Guts of a New Machine.  "Two years ago this month, Apple Computer released a small, sleek-looking device it called the iPod."  Yep, and two years ago I bought one!

slow foodSlow Food!  "If we wish to enjoy the pleasure which this world can give us, we have to give of our all to strike the right balance of respect and exchange with nature and the environment."  [ via Ottmar Liebert ]

NYTimes notes a Chinese weblog with 10M readers.  How do you become this popular?  You just have to be an attractive 25-year old woman with an active sex life who blogs about it :)

Book website of the day: Nonzero, by Robert Wright.  "The logic of human destiny."  [ via John Robb ]

Steve Gillmor says Look Out, Outlook, RSS Ahead in 2004.  "You better watch out; you better not cry; you better not pout. Steve Gillmor is telling you why: RSS is coming to town."  Hey, it's been in town all year already.  You are using an aggregator like SharpReader, right?  [ via Dave Winer ]

A Slashdot thread noted TelevisionWeek: Getting Real About the DVR Threat.  Why a threat?  Because the 30-second spot is dead, and there is nothing on the horizon to replace it.  TV broadcasters are losing revenue.  Analyst James Marsh says of current actions "It's reminiscent of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."

P.S. I love my Tivo.  You knew that, but I had to say it anyway :)

The BitTorrent meme seems to be spreading in the blogosphere.  But it has Dave mystified.  It is a weird thing, in that there is no "client" to run.  You find a .torrent file somewhere, somehow, and click on it.

digital sundialOh, here we have a digital sundial.  Now is that cool, or what?  Just when you think you've seen everything, you realize "everything" is so much more than you realized...  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

A HeisenBug is a bug whose presence is affected by the act of observing it.  I love it!  Obviously leads to the famous HeisenBug Uncertainty Principle :)


Chardonnay Tasting

Tuesday,  12/02/03  01:02 AM

Shirley and I have some parties coming up - my birthday, a dinner party, and an open house - and so we have to pick wines.  I visited our local cheaper-than-dirt wine distributor (Wade's Wines), and picked eight possible chardonnays, in the range $5-$30 per bottle.  I also threw in a known-to-be-good $50 bottle for comparison, and we did a blind tasting.  Hey, it's hard work throwing parties :)

tasting Chardonnay blind
Tasting Chardonnay Blind

The results were amazing.  I totally mis-called which wines I thought I'd like.  My personal favorite going in was the 2001 Forman ($30), which ended up dead lastThis is why you have to taste blind.

Remarkably, Shirley and I had similar tasting notes.  We both found one wine to be the clear pick of the bunch - the 2001 Peters ($25).  I promise you, this is a great Chardonnay.  Our third favorite was a South African wine, the 2002 Graham Beck, which at $9 is a great bottle.  And the cheapest wine of the bunch, the 1997 Chateau Woltner ($5), finished a respectable sixth, ahead of the expensive "benchmark", the 2000 Kistler ($50).

Here are the results, your mileage may vary:

  1. 2001 Peters Family, Napa Valley ($25)
    Rich and smooth, with a wonderful nose and long vanilla finish.  What can I say, this was a great Chardonnay.  Yum!
  2. 1999 Thunder Mountain, Napa Valley ($20)
    Lighter than the Peters, but very sound.  Nicely balanced with full body.  Shirley thought it would be better with food than by itself.
  3. 2000 Graham Beck, South Africa ($9)
    A delightful surprise, nice and smooth, with full rich flavor.  Kind of an exotic finish.  It is always fun to find an inexpensive wine from "somewhere else" which is such a delight.
  4. 2000 Gary Farrel, Alexander Valley ($25)
    A rich buttery chard, maybe a little unbalanced.  Great nose.  Gary Farrel is pretty reliable, and this was really nice.  Plus, they have beautiful labels.
  5. 2001 Muir Hanna Estate, Napa Valley ($20)
    Austere and complex, a little dry, but overall nicely balanced.  Nice nose with a slightly bitter finish.  This grew on me, I rated it higher on each pass.  Maybe needed more time to air out...
  6. 1997 Chateau Woltner, Napa Valley ($5)
    A lighter wine, clean and smooth and dry.  Not rich enough to stand up to food, but a nice "sitting around and drinking" wine.  And at this price, get a few cases!
  7. 2000 Kistler Les Noisetiers, Napa Valley ($50)
    Probably not ready, seemed unbalanced and dull.  Not much nose and slightly bitter finish.  I'm a big fan of Kistler, this was a disappointment.  Might be better later but so what.
  8. 2000 Muir Hanna Estate, Napa Valley ($20)
    Thin and grassy, too much citrus.  Lemon nose, weak finish.  Way worse than the '01, not even remotely the same.
  9. 2001 Forman, Napa Valley ($30)
    Just completely disappointing, thin, acidy, and unbalanced.  Bitter finish.  I picked Forman to win based on past history, but so be it.  That's why you taste.

If you want to try this at home, here's how you do it.  Person A uncorks the bottles, and wraps them in foil.  Each bottle is given a letter (via a little sticky note), and Person A writes down the names of the wines and their letters.  Next fold the paper so only the letters are visible.  Then Person B removes the letter labels and at random assigns each bottle a number (via a little sticky note), writing each bottle's number next to the letter it replaced.  Now you taste, and each person makes notes on the bottles by their numbers.  Neither person knows which bottle goes with which number.

Some people like to compare notes as they compare wines.  Shirley and I typically each make a pass without sharing our thoughts with each other, then make a second pass comparing notes.

Remember to have crackers, bland cheese, bread, and water handy for "cleansing the palate".  Each person needs several glasses for comparison purposes.  And remember you don't have to drink a lot!  You can taste wines without swallowing...  Of course you can, if you want to.  Somehow our favorite, the 2001 Peters, was nearly gone by the time we were done.

tasting Chardonnay, the unveiling
Tasting Chardonnay, the unveiling...

Yeah, it's hard work, but somebody has to do it :)


Tuesday,  12/02/03  09:46 PM

Bad things happening on my hard drive, I'm crossing my fingers and performing other pagan rituals...

A couple of visitors suggested gently that I was out of my mind for agreeing with godless' thoughts on fashion.  The gist of their objection was that it is bad to judge women by their external beauty, and shallow to consider overweight women ugly.  Hey, it is what it is.  Bad or good, men judge women by their beauty, and shallow or deep, overweight women are unattractive.  Deal with it.

Cory Doctorow considers the "Analog Hole", and big media's efforts to plug it.  "The second section [of the MPAA's Content Protection Status Report], 'Plugging the Analog Hole,' reveals Hollywood's plan to turn a generic technology component, the humble analog-to-digital converter, into a device that is subject to the kind of regulation heretofore reserved for Schedule A narcotics."  Not good.  I can't believe these people actually believe they can put the digital genie back in the bottle.  [ via John Robb ]

YAMPA, from Wired.  (Yet another micropayments article.)  Will BitPass and PepperCoin supplant PayPal.  No.  The way is shut.

Joel Spolsky hits another nail on the head: Craftsmanship.  "It comes down to an attribute of software that most people think of as craftsmanship.  When software is built by a true craftsman, all the screws line up."  This is what I strive for, every day.  Lining up those screw heads...

ancient D20At Slashdot a post linked this Christies auction of a 2,000 year-old 20-sided die, known to D&D gamers as a "D20".   This is an icosahedran, a regular solid with 20 equilateral triangular faces.  These fascinating objects have five-fold symmetry with edges forming regular pentagons.  So I have to ask - what is the plane section with the greatest area?

Scoble discusses the state of Tablet PCs.  "I think the problem is that most people buy on screen size and quality and the truth is that Tablets look weak when compared to a 15-inch high resolution monitor."  That nails it for me.  Give me a high-resolution screen (like that found on my laptop), and sure, I'd be interested.  In 2003 nobody settles for 1024x768 anymore.

Matt Haughey reviews the Gateway connected DVD Player.  "Overall, I'd rate this unit very highly as a capable network media device.  With a simple setup and easy operation, it was painless to use all the files from my PC on my home entertainment center over the wireless network."  There are going to be more and more of these things, until finally a network connection becomes a must-have feature.

And a big part of every home will be their media server.  The Mirra is out, billed as the "first truly personal server".  Among other things, it can be set to automatically backup and synchronize files from all the computers in your house.  I wish I had this :\

Here's a cool new group blog: Blogging L.A.  No RSS feed, yet.  [ via Xeni Jardin, who comments "and then, in an unguarded moment, they loosened their standards and let me in" ]

Coral Castle Polaris TelescopeWired thinks Secret Energy Haunts Coral Castle.  Check out the Coral Castle website.  A friend who's seen it firsthand says it really is pretty amazing, especially the 25' lensless Polaris telescope, constructed from a 30-ton coral slab (see pic at right).  Even if it wasn't done with some secret energy source :)

I'll leave you with the Wired Geek Gift Guide.  A lot of terrific stuff here, for the geek on your list, or if you happen to be a geek, for your own list!


Back from lunch

Sunday,  12/07/03  10:52 AM

Okay, okay, I'm back from being out to lunch.  The hard drive in my laptop failed and I was down.  Not completely - I used my iMac for a few days, and therein lies a story, and a blog post to be made later - but to the point where I couldn't blog.  Anyway I'm back - thanks, Compaq, for the excellent next day support - so stay tuned for a blizzard of updates...

[ Later: I had some old posts trapped in my laptop, which I've posted on their original dates.  Please see below, especially our Chardonnay tasting... ]


Sunday,  12/07/03  02:50 PM

Okay, here's five days' worth of stuff, over 1,000 RSS items.  Whew!

Citizen Smash chronicles the pathetic attempts to put negative spin on the "Bush serves Thanksgiving dinner to the troops" story.  A lot of links.  Why do people find it so hard to believe the simplest explanation?

Looks like IBM won a legal battle against SCO, but the war continues.  SCO has been ordered to respond to IBM's request that they specify exactly what parts of Linux infringe their Unix copyrights.  It will be interesting to see what they come up with...

Econopundit on the Economics of the Alternate Universe.  Really good stuff.  The best way to analyze policy is to compare what's happening to what else might have happened, not to the way things were.  [ via Glenn Reynolds ]

CNet wonders VoIP's Best Week Ever?  It is now such a Thing that you don't even get points for saying so.  Big companies have the most to save, and are diving into VoIP in a big way.  And with services like Vonage, residential customers are, too.  I can easily see the day when there are no 'phone companies, and no cable companies, only ISPs.  They provide two-way data, and you run voice, video, whatever on top of it.  "Hey grandpa, tell us about analog phones again, would you?"

So, there are now more female medical school applicants than males.  Does this surprise me?  No.  [ via John Robb ]

Look Out design competition winner, Aurland, NorwayCheck out the Look Out Design Competition, from Norway.  Yeah, there is a plexiglas barrier at the tip.  Whew!  [ via Ottmar Liebert ]

Jubilee Church, Rome, ItalyAnd more architecture as poetry, the Jubilee Church, in Rome, designed by Richard Meier & Partners.  In addition to being beautiful, the concrete sails let in an amazing "play of light".

Andrew Anker contemplates Carrot Capitalism.  Gorillas use sticks, but startups can use carrots.  And also, your car as an open system?  Why not?

Jonathon Delacour is Overloaded.  Yeah, me too, especially after being mostly down for four days.  What would happen if you were on vacation for two weeks?  Would the earth keep spinning?  I guess it would, but it is hard to believe :)

Matt Haughey says Wait Until Next Year to Buy that Flat Panel TV.  Okay, I will.  I'm waiting for that 60" HDTV plasma for under $1,000.

Matt also notes the Dish Network's HD DVR.  "TiVo is being beaten (badly) to market by their competitors.  I know half of the posts on this site end with 'and this looks like another nail in TiVo's coffin' but it's increasingly looking to be the truth."

AlwaysOn agrees that HDTV Reaches Mainstream.  I think HDTV is still in the early adopter phase myself.  I live in a pretty geeky circle, and nobody I know has one - yet.

Kevin Laws suggests perhaps smartphones portend The End of the Laptop.  "First, people had computers at work.  Next, they got them at home.  Eventually, the work computer became a notebook, or one was added.  The next step is to eliminate the notebook and go back to a home pc with access via your smartphone."  Interesting point of view, but I still like the ability to blog upstairs while watching football.

Steve Gillmor thinks RSS will let Sun and Apple challenge Microsoft Office.  I don't know about that.  I think RSS is important, but...  Steve's argument is essentially that RSS levels the playing field.  Yeah, maybe, but I think Office still wins on a level playing field, the applications are that good.

Kazaa Lite K++ has been shutdown by Sharman Networks, owners of copyrights on Kazaa.  It continues to work, however, and many copies are available on the Kazaa network :)

Gizmodo is innundated with "connected media center" devices to review.  Poor babies!  This is the latest thing, and everyone has to make one.  Or so it seems.

Are you familiar with the story?  Yeah, these guys discovered that the iPod's one-year warranty is only valid for one year, and the unreplaceable battery actually cannot be replaced.  This irritated them, so they created the aforementioned (but unlinked) website, and ran around spray-painting Apple's iPod ad posters.  Anyway Daring Fireball suggests some nice alternative slogans.

So I was gone for a few days, and meanwhile blogshares died and then was resurrected.  So be it.  Personally I found it was an interesting concept, but it didn't suck me in.

This week's sign of the Apocalypse: Dodge plans Lingerie Bowl.  I am not making this up, but I wish I was.  Are you kidding me?  [ via Woundwort ]


I Switched! [temporarily]

Sunday,  12/07/03  11:00 PM

Windows LogoApple LogoSo, for the past four days my [Windows] laptop was down, and I switched to using my iMac as my "main" computer for a few days.  Overall the experience was pretty good.  I thought you might find a brief review interesting.

My "usual" Compaq laptop is a 2GHz P4 with 1.5GB RAM, running WinXP Pro.  My iMac is the original "lamp", with a 700MHz G4, 512MB RAM, running OSX 10.3 ("Panther").  The biggest hardware difference is screen resolution; my laptop has a 15" screen with 1400x1050 pixels, and when docked I have a 21" 1600x1200 external monitor.  The iMac's 15" screens has just 1024x768 pixels.  The lack of screen real estate was actually the biggest drawback to the [temporary] switch.

The real estate issue was greatly ameliorated by the single coolest thing about Panther - Exposé.  Hit F9, and poof, all your windows are visible simultaneously, making selecting the one you want trivial.  Hit F11, and poof, your desktop is visible.  I really loved Exposé, and miss it back on Windows.  Hopefully Microsoft will copy Apple on this one!

I have Office X on the Mac, and it's quite comparable to the Office XP I've grown to know and, er, like.  I'm a pretty experienced Mac user so the Mac-ish-ness of Office X didn't throw me; actually I liked it!  I had to use the online help every once in a while to figure stuff out (yeah, the Mac has one of those "clippy" pseudo-natural-language processors, too), but overall it was cool.

I use email a lot, and so I used Entourage a lot (the Mac equivalent of Outlook).  This worked fine, no problems.  I was able to setup my four email accounts in no time (taking care to leave messages on the server, so I could get them later on my PC), and poof, I was getting email.  In fact, I was getting spam!  So I found SpamSieve, a nice little Bayesian filter which integrates nicely with Entourage.  Seemed to work just about as well as Matador, the spam filter I use with Outlook.

Another thing I do a lot is surf, and so I used Safari (Apple's standard web browser).  I have to say, I really liked it a lot.  Unlike Mozilla (on either platform) Safari pretty much renders all pages exactly like IE on Windows, for better or worse.  I didn't encounter any sites which didn't work or looked funny.  And I really liked tabbed browsing.  This made a big difference since I had so little screen real estate.  On Windows I don't miss it, because I can space out a bunch of windows.

And of course I needed an RSS reader!  So I tried NetNewsWire, which is the most popular Mac client, but I didn't like it.  Your mileage may vary, but I found it was much clunkier than SharpReader.  So next I tried AmphetaDesk, but this didn't play nice with Panther.  Then I tried Shrook, and I liked it!  In some ways it is cooler than SharpReader - maybe because it is so Mac-ish.  Anyway that's the RSS reader to use, and once I had all my subscriptions entered I was off and reading.

The other thing I spend lots of time doing all day is coding (under Visual Studio), and this I could not do on the Mac.  Well, I could have installed VS under WinXP under Virtual PC, but I didn't.  So that part of my experience was incomplete.  I've messed around with Xcode a little but not enough to compare it, and anyway I don't have any "real" coding to do for Macs, so it wouldn't be a good test.

Oh, and what about performance?  Well, the Mac's specs were quite a bit worse than the PC's, but I really didn't notice any difference.  Programs launched quickly (especially Safari, which I launched a lot), the screen was responsive, network access was fast.  I was able to keep lots of stuff up and running without any degradation, despite having less memory.

Wrapping up?  It really was no big deal.  I was every bit as productive on the iMac as I was on Windows.  The one thing about Macs, you can pretty much figure out what to do because they're simpler.  Everything sort of seems to make sense.  If I'd have had a bigger screen, I might even have found the iMac to be better.


Tuesday,  12/09/03  11:30 PM

So did you get snowed in?  We don't get snow in Southern California, but it is finally feeling like winter; cold weather, brisk winds, and blowing yellow leaves everywhere.  And Christmas lights!  I love it.

Princess Catharina AmaliaThere's a new Dutch princess!  And Adam Curry reports her name - Catharina Amalia - was discovered by a reverse DNS lookup on the Dutch royal website.  Is this a great time to be alive, or what!

I agree with King Kaufman a lot (he writes a sports column on Salon), but I don't link him much.  However, today he bangs the nail through the wood: any way you look at it, USC belongs in the national championship game.  I understand the BCS computer thing is what it is - no humans were involved - but three of the last four years it has messed up.  Back to the polls!

Bonus question: If USC beats Michigan in the Rose Bowl, shouldn't they be #1?
Bonus answer: Yes.

Robert X. Cringley discusses e-voting: No Confidence Vote.  He concludes that since e-voting is an IT project, of course it will be late, over budget, and buggy.  This is a bit glib, but he does raise a good question, why don't voting machines keep a paper audit trail?

Oh, and the answer?  Voting confidentiality.  The only way a paper trail would help is if there were something to "balance" against.  There's no database of people and their votes (and there won't be anytime soon!), which makes it tough.

From Princeton: Full Body Scan, Imaging Project Offers View Inside Earth.  "Like doctors taking a sonogram of a human body, Princeton geoscientists have captured images of the interior of the Earth and revealed structures that help explain how the planet changes and ages."  Very cool.

Astrobiology has an interview with Dan Werthimer, the project scientist behind SETI@home.  There's some interesting news about BOINC, the generic distributed computing follow-on project.

Jeremy Zawodny's 2004 crystal ball looks great to me.  "Yeah, we all know that RSS has been growing in popularity, thanks largely to weblogs.  What will make 2004 different?  In 2004, RSS is going to go mainstream--and it's going to happen in a big way."  I agree.  And I also agree with this: "Forget Atom/Pie/Echo/whatever.  It will be RSS.  RSS may not be perfect, but it's good enough.  That train left the station quite a while ago."  There's more besides RSS, check it out.

Oh, and Paul Boutin lists 10 Technologies That Have Changed the Way we Live.  #1 is the Internet - duh - but interestingly #2 is genetic engineering.  "An estimated 70 percent of processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients, such as soybeans or corn engineered for higher crop yields."  I did not know that.

Master YodaAccording to Les Jones, Star Wars Jedi are Pussies.  "Maybe that's why I blew it with the queen.  Padme's turned me down so many times I think I've become a bedsheet instead of just wearing one.  These days I'd give anything to just be covered with fur.  Because like the Young Senator from Naboo says 'Once you've had Wookie, you never go back'."  I have to admit, a leash on those lightsabers would make sense :)

Mark Pilgrim discovers Cantor sets.  And Sierpinsky carpets, and Menger sponges.  "A Menger sponge has infinite surface area but 0 volume.  Each face of a Menger sponge forms a Sierpinski carpet, and each cross-section diagonal of a Menger sponge forms a Cantor set."  You might say there's an infinite set of possibilities :)

Oh, and here's more - check into the Infinite Hotel.

Dave Winer posted some awesome Jewish mother jokes.  My favorite:

Q - How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb?
A - (Sigh) Don't bother, I'll sit in the dark, I don't want to be a nuisance.

iDuckAnd here we have - the iDuck.  A new duck-shaped USB storage drive with 16MB of storage space that lights up when plugged into a computer.  I am not making this up.



Toy Story

Wednesday,  12/10/03  09:05 AM

RIP, Zainy Brainy
This really pisses me off

Once upon a time, there was this nice little toy store business called Zainy Brainy.  They specialized in educational toys, cool things smart parents wanted for their smart kids.  A cut above Imaginarium, and about ten cuts above Toys 'R Us.  They found a market niche, and they grew slowly but steadily.

And once upon a time, there was this nice big toy store business called F.A.O.Schwarz.  They'd been around forever, with a famous flagship store in New York on Fifth Avenue.  They specialized in unusual and exotic toys, cool things rich parents wanted for their rich kids.  Definitely several cuts above Toys 'R Us.  They found a market niche, and they grew slowly but steadily.

And then it happened that the founders of F.A.O.Schwarz became old, and sold their business to an investment corsortium.  The investors wanted to "leverage the brand".  They created a galactic "destination website" and broadened their offering.  They stopped specializing, and became a general purpose toy vendor, mixing it up with Toys 'R Us and Wal-Mart and KBToys and everyone.  They grew fast!  But they'd lost their differentiator...

And then it happened that the F.A.O.Schwarz investors decided the "education" niche was a good area for growth, and they purchased Zainy Brainy.  And they wanted to "extend the brand".  They created a galactic "destination website" and broadened their offering.  They stopped specializing, and became a general purpose toy vendor, mixing it up with Toys 'R Us and Wal-Mart and KBToys and everyone.  They grew fast!  But they'd lost their differentiator...

And then it happened that the stock market bubble burst, and terrorists attacked America, and the economy floundered.  And toy sales were off.  And F.A.O.Schwarz and Zainy Brainy had to mix it up with Toys 'R Us and Wal-Mart and KBToys and everyone, and they stopped growing.  And then they started shrinking.  And then, in the horrible fashion of bad big businesses everywhere, they began throwing furniture into the fire, closing Zainy Brainy stores in an effort to stave off the inevitable.

So now Zainy Brainy is dead, and F.A.O.Schwarz is dying.  And the smart parents with smart kids and the rich parents with rich kids have to shop at Toys 'R Us and Wal-Mart and KBToys.

And they are pissed.
And they blog about it.


Rock report

Wednesday,  12/10/03  10:18 AM

Today's whether:

  • Arctic squirrels rock.  And they're cool, too :)
    • P.S. "Eichhorn" means squirrel in German.  (But I'm Dutch.)
  • Sperm whales rock, and are unfortunately soaking up human-created toxins.  The top of the food chain has its drawbacks.
    • Did you realize there are 350,000 of these guys in the oceans?  Wow.
  • Mars rocks.  But it might be tough for humans to go there, because of radiation...
    • It does appear to be warming up!
    • [ via Bigwig, who rocks, and who thinks this "proof positive that not only is Mars inhabited, it's inhabited by SUV driving Americans!" ]
  • Oh, and Jupiter's Moons rock.  Which is why NASA is planning a cool new nuclear-powered probe.
  • This faked teaser trailer for the Hobbit rocks, and so does the creators' effort to recruit Peter Jackson to make this movie.
  • This shockwave "thing" from Nicolas Clauss totally rocks.  Check it out.  Now.  And stick with it, it gets cooler, and cooler, and cooler...
  • Tivo rocks.  But the company has issues, like how to ignore your best customers...
  • iPods rock.  Literally.  But you knew that.
  • Van Halen rocks.  That's just about all I can say.
  • This eye chart rocks.  "Increase distance from chart until readable" :)
  • WinHex rocks.  If you ever need to edit a disk boot record, this is your tool.
  • RSS rocks.  SharpReader rocks.  Citydesk rocks.
  • Oh, and yeah, this HP ad rocks.  Don't you think?

Blogging rocks.


Friday,  12/12/03  04:52 PM

So what to you think about the Pentagon's decision to bar French, German, and Russian companies from bidding on Iraqi construction work?  Seems appropriate, and I'm surprised anyone would be surprised.  So how about Canada?  Sorry, Jean.

Steven Den Beste's take is the same as mine.  But you knew it would be.  Citizen Smash has a nice roundup of reactions, pro and con.  And LGF posts a little fable.

Can you believe Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean?  Okay, I guess you can believe that.  But can you believe he invoked the dreaded Q-word?  Amazing.  I voted for Gore, but I'm so glad Bush won.

You know what I think about patents, right?  Well the WP has a great review, Patenting Air or Protecting Property?  The only people benefiting from the current system are lawyers, not businesses, and not consumers.

Copyrights aren't much better; SCO continues to amaze with their bogus lawsuit against IBM.

Jim Waldo debunks the "worse is better" meme.  "The dominance of C as a programming language was an example of better is better, not worse is better."  Exactly.  He pounds the nail through the wood, read it.

Hey, thanks Dave, for this Yatta movieYatta, Yatta, Yatta.  I've watched it about five times, and I can't get the stupid tune out of my head.  So yeah, thanks :)

P.S. Isn't flash cool?  This whole movie is a little over 1MB.

(click to play movie)
Dackia ad - parking

Now this is the way to park.  [ thanks, Kevin! ]

Paolo Valdemarin wants his comments on other blogs to be saved on his.  Hey, I want that too!  Great idea.  Now, how do we make it work?

O.L.E. cyborgHave you ever wanted a cyborg named after you?  Nah, me neither.  But just in case you do, Lore Sjöberg will help you out...  You can even order a tee-shirt with your cyborg on it.

Here's a funny Slashdot post about kermit on the Space Station.  A article treats it like this high-tech wonder tool.  I can remember doing remote support with kermit like fifteen years ago.  Cool.

Pinnacle ShowCenterTom's Hardware reviews the Pinnacle ShowCenter.  They like it.  Excellent, I want one.  In fact, I'm going to get one.  Stay tuned!

executive laptop steering wheel mountHere we have the Executive Laptop Steering Wheel Mount.  I am not making this up.  Wow.



Saturday,  12/13/03  08:53 AM

Big day today - gearing up a for a major dinner party.  I'm Shirley's consiglieri.  Onward!

Today's bonk on the nail head: John Robb asks Will ISPs like AOL, MSN, and EarthLink go after the RBOCs via VoIP?  Uh, yes, they will!  And he comments "A fast way to get there would be to buy Vonage and work with Akamai to roll it out globally."  Indeed.

David Burbridge considers IQ and the Wealth of Nations.  (The book, and the relationship.)  An interesting counterpoint to IQ and Populations.

Here's a great Rolling Stone interview of Steve Jobs.  He makes a strong case for a purchase model for online music (a la iTunes) vs. a subscription model (a la Rhapsody).

Canadian regulators have ruled it is legal to download music via P2P, but illegal to upload.  They've also imposed a $25 "tax" on MP3 players, kind of like we have on blank tapes.  [ via Dave Winer ]

Play@TVThe PlayQTV looks like an interesting competitor for the Pinnacle ShowCenter.  "The Play@TV Media Viewer is exceptional.  The engineers who designed and developed the TV user-interface (UI) did a remarkable job of making it intuitive, easy-to-navigate by remote control, pleasing to the eye, and informative."  Hmmm...

Walt Mossberg tries two Microsoft Smartphones, and concludes "Neither phone is anywhere near as good as the Treo 600."  The biggest problem: they're too slow.  I know, I know, the hardware will catch up to the software.  Someday.  Meanwhile I continue to love my Treo.

This is good news: AlwaysOn reports Tivo-based Set-Top Boxes in High Demand.  "After years of lukewarm demand, the elves at satellite television provider DirecTV are suddenly scrambling to fill holiday orders for its TiVo-based set-top boxes."  Finally.

Abacast is P2P distribution for radio stations.  Interesting!  [ via John Robb ]

There's a horrible new bug which can cause a website to appear to be at a different URL than it actually is.  For example:, then notice the URL up in your browser's Address area!  Not good.  [ via Don Park, who comments "It's like discovering that everything you designed was built on a gigantic turtle that just woke up." ]

note doorwayHere's an interesting note, courtesy of Ottmar Liebert...

"whirled white web"Hey, it's the 2003 Snow Sculpture Championships, from Breckenridge, Colorado!  No, I am not making this up, check it out!  The piece at right is named "whirled white web".  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

Dave Winer: no one listens to anyone.


We Got Him

Sunday,  12/14/03  01:07 PM

Saddam - we got him
"We got him"

So I'll be the millionth blogger to post that Saddam Hussien was captured last night in Al-Dawr, Iraq, south of his hometown of Tikrit.  He was captured alive, hiding in a mud hole underground, and although he was armed he did not put up a fight.

This is unmitigated good news for Iraq, the U.S., all U.S. allies in Iraq, and the world.  In a five minute live TV address President Bush stated "now he will face the justice he denied to millions."  (Citizen Smash posted the entire text.)  It remains to be seen how that justice will be administered; presumably by the Iraq people themselves, in some fashion.

I like the way Bush allowed the news to develop from Iraq, via military channels.  He has a pleasant way of letting events unfold without trying to seize the spotlight; as the U.S. President the reflected light will illuminate him anyway. 

There are many, many bloggers furiously covering this story; check out The Command Post which has links all over the place.  Interesting how the Iraq bloggers are uniformly celebrating.  Of course anti-U.S. blogger Riverbend has not posted yet, and neither has the ambivalent Salam PaxGlenn Reynolds noted this post on the BBC reporter's blog, that [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair was "pleased not just with what's happened - Saddam's capture - but also how".  I agree.

"we got him"



Monday,  12/15/03  08:15 AM

Here's an interesting reaction to Saddam's capture:

Bush like Ike - the man who ruined our year
"The man who ruined our year"

Courtesy of Merde in France, who linked Contrepoison.  Apparently L'Express said the same thing about Eisenhower in 1944.  Clueless fools.

Magic Johnson in Fortune discusses Why Race Matters.  "Minorities make money, but we don't generate wealth.  But a business generates wealth — it is power, it is something that you can pass on to the next generation.  That is what is needed in the black community."  Man, he is one smart guy.  This kind of thinking is what minority communities really need, not the blame-oriented ravings of Jesse Jackson.

Ottmar Liebert considers the Canadian 'MP3 player tax':  "That is truly pathetic.  Double taxation.  Pay tax on the mp3 player and then legitimately purchase music downloads and pay tax on that as well?"  I agree.

Google pigeon rankAre carrier pigeons faster than the 'net?  This article suggests for certain applications - like sending memory sticks with photographs out of caves - they are!  (Of course there is also Google's "pigeon rank".)

Steve Gillmor thinks BitTorrent and RSS Create Disruptive Revolution.  "Hi ho hi ho disruptively we go..."  I'm not used to thinking of them together, but that's why I check our Steve's column :)

David Coursey lists the ten things Microsoft needs to do in 2004.  Can't really argue with any of it, but I don't see any brilliance here.  David used to be better, I think he's gotten bored with AnchorDesk and now just whips out these missives with little thought.

"football season"Cat picture of the day, from Sandhill Trek.  This is inhumane.  [ via Dave Winer ]




Happy Holidays 2003

Monday,  12/15/03  08:45 AM

Happy Holidays 2003!
Happy Holidays 2003

Each year December brings challenges that cause me to take my life into my hands.  First there is putting up lights on our house - always dangerous - and then there is selecting the picture(s) for our Christmas Cards - even more dangerous, with five women involved.  Anyway here's this year's offering - I survived!


(new yorker, 12/8/03)

Monday,  12/15/03  10:47 AM


Monday,  12/15/03  09:40 PM

John Rhys-Davis aka Gimli Son of GloinJohn Rhys-Davies, aka Gimli son of Gloin, comments on the parallels between LOTR and the present day.  He notes the differential birth rate between Muslims and Christians in Europe as a particular issue.  Check it out...

Kevin Kelly excerpts from Art + Fear:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.  All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.  His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on.  Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot -albeit a perfect one - to get an “A”.  Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.  It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

[ via Ottmar Liebert ]

Wired ponders Next-Gen Flight: Sci Fi Scenarios.  "In the second century of flight, private companies will ferry tourists into space, personal flying machines will roam digital skyways and executive jets will make supersonic speed around the globe, aviation experts and scientists say."  Excellent.  The future is closer than you think.

Oh, by the way, SpaceX has their November update posted.  They continue to make excellent progress.  I love the way Elon Musk, their CEO, tells it like it is, good or bad.  That's one of the reasons Elon has been so successful, he doesn't lie to himself.

Joel Spolsky considers Biculturalism, the difference between Unix and Windows.  "What are the cultural differences between Unix and Windows programmers?  It comes down to one thing: Unix culture values code which is useful to other programmers, while Windows culture values code which is useful to non-programmers."  Joel is my hero, as regular readers know, but in this case I think he is not even wrong.  I'll have more to say about this later, but in the meantime please read it - it is well written as always - and decide for yourself.

Art of Unix ProgrammingThe stimulus for Joel's article was Eric Raymond's new book, The Art of Unix Programming, which [in the true spirit of open source] he has posted online.

CNet reports Apple hits 25 million iTunes downloads.  "Apple Computer has nearly doubled sales of digital music through its iTunes music store since launching a Windows-compatible version of its iTunes software in October."  They presently have an estimated 75% of the market for legal music downloads.  Wow.


(economist, 12/13/03)

Monday,  12/15/03  09:42 PM

The shape of things to come

"The world is too fat.  Too bad."


Thursday,  12/18/03  11:55 PM

Governor Schwarzenegger declares fiscal emergency, and invoked emergency powers so he could impose $150 million in spending cuts without the legislature's approval.  "I was elected by the people of this state to lead. Since the legislative leadership refuses to act, I will act without them."  So be it.  There are no easy answers when you're draining a swamp.

Robert Scheer absolutely defines the left edge of the spectrum.  His take on Saddam's capture: "Bush and his allies are celebrating the capture of Saddam Hussein, but they may come to regret it."  My take: we are all celebrating his capture, and it seems inconcievable that we will ever regret it.  Go ahead and read the article just so you get a flavor for how differently people view the same thing.

Janet Daley predicts the reaction to future success...

And Tim Blair notes "Saddam’s only been in custody a few days, and already the French and Germans have become oddly compliant".  Yep, the trial should be interesting...

Roger Simon reports on his trip to Paris.  This is really sad.  I've been to Paris three times, and loved it.  But it really does seem to be in decline now...

No, I haven't seen Return of the King yet, and yes, I really really want to.  Have you seen it?  From the reviews and buzz it seems like it might be the movie of the year, or maybe the century (so far :)

Are you ready for some science?  Well then, how about a cable channel devoted to 100% science programming.  Including C-SPAN style live coverage of conferences.  Cool! is a site for teens who receive music CDs for Christmas.  "I got that on the computer, like, two months ago."  No, I am not making this up.  And I'm giving iTunes gift certificates :)

Ottmar Liebert wonders "Wouldn't it be nice if we could buy a bag with 100 mini radio tags for a couple of bucks?  We would stick them on everything we usually can't find...the coffee mug, a book or magazine, maybe even the pet mouse or whatever..."  Yes, it would be nice.  Stay tuned, Ottmar, it's comin'!

AlwaysOn notes: A bank robber has lost his bid to overturn his conviction by arguing the stupidity of the crime proved he was too drunk to be responsible.  The stupidity of this defense almost convinces me he really is that stupid!

paper Yamaha motorcycleThis is so cool - a paper Yamaha motorcycle!  Just go to the site, print out the PDF files, cut them out [carefully], assemble them [carefully], and poof, you have a Yamaha!  Very cool.  Makes me wish I had free time.

<rant subject="metadata" opinion="dislike" stance="philisophical">
Tom Coates savages metadata, piling on after Jason Kottke's metadata overfizzle.  "Nothing takes the fun and personality out of writing like metadata."  Yeah.  Imagine if I had to bracket every block post with attributes.  That would suck.

Acidman engages in bible study...

QuickCam OrbitThis looks really cool - Tom's Hardware reviews the QuickCam Orbit, a new videoconferencing camera that keeps your face centered.

Om Malik reports Vonage is going wireless!  So - let's see now - my Treo 600 is basically just a computer on an IP network, so I can make VoIP calls on it via Vonage.  Oooh, I bet Sprint will love that =O

"now hiring" - EA CanadaYou might be a geek if you understand this billboard.  Actually you would definitely be a geek.  And you might want to check out Electronic Arts Canada :)

Jim Fawcette on "the forgotten 3 million".  That's VB programmers, and they probably wouldn't understand the billboard, either.  [ via Robert Scoble ]


Sunday,  12/21/03  10:06 AM

Well, it's here - the BIG day!  We're having 80+ people over for a party tonight.  And it is the winter solstice - the first day of winter, and the longest night of the year.

And in the blogosphere it's all happening, too...

TIME 2003 Person of the Year - The American SoldierTime Magazine's 2003 Person of the Year is The American SoldierA perfect choice.

Libya's leader Colonel Gaddafi has promised to dismantle his country’s secret weapons of mass destruction program, as announced by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.  This is excellent news, a sign that U.S. "diplomacy" is working.  Hopefully the leaders of North Korea and Iran are paying attention.  This is exactly the kind of good effect of the war in Iraq we were hoping for; anyone who thinks this is unrelated is not paying attention.

It will be fun to watch the Bush-dislikers try to spin this...

[ Later: Unbelievable.  CNN's main coverage of this is about the Lockerbie bombing, and how some victim's families are upset about "the deal".  First, horrible though it was, that was 15 years ago.  Second, there is no deal - Libya is voluntarily giving up their WMD programs.  That's it.  But the main thing is I can't believe how blatantly anti-Bush CNN has become.  For me this clearly crosses the line. ]

CNet reports Online Holiday Spending Up, Up, and Away.  On top of the good news on the military front, the economy is definitely improving, with declining unemployment and improved wages without inflation.

Virginia Postrel uses Christmas lights as a gauge of economic health...

I must tell you, in my neighborhood Christmas lights are everywhere :)

Freedom TowerThe design for the "Freedom Tower" to be built on the World Trade Center site has been unveiled; at 1,776 feet it will be the world's tallest building.  An exclamation point!  I like it.

Glenn Reynolds wonders: "If Jose Padilla were still known as Abdullah al-Muhajir, the name he was using when he was arrested, would the decision have come out the same way?"  Good question.

the Beagle 2 Mars Express landerIt's so cute!  Talking about The Beagle 2, England's Mars Express lander.  It has successfully separated from the "mother" orbiter and is headed for the surface.

I'm sure you've heard about this already; the RIAA lost an important battle to Verizon.  The Washington D.C. circuit court has ruled Verizon does not have to turn over the identities of people the RIAA suspects of illegal file sharing.

ColorwarePC colored iPodDo you like iPods, but don't like white?  Or are you just a colorful character?  Then ColorwarePC may be just the ticket; they'll paint your iPod for you!

Apple is apparently hiring video engineers for work on the iPod; does this mean a videoPod is in the works?

This is a little weird.  A Chinese court has ordered an online role-playing game host to create new instances of artifacts looted from a player-character's account after it was hacked.  The line between the real world and virtual worlds keeps getting blurrier...  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

iRobotOh no!  It's coming!  iRobot...  (Cue Alan Parsons...)

Mr. PicassoheadOh, and here we have - Mr. Picassohead!  Design your own Picasso using this cool flash-based tool.  Excellent.





Monday,  12/22/03  05:15 PM

earthquake - 12/22/03 11:15AM
Magnitude 6.5
That's a big blue square hiding under all those aftershocks.
(we're the little green circle at the lower right)


The Return of the King

Monday,  12/22/03  05:26 PM

I saw Lord of the Rings, the Return of the King this afternoon, with Alex and two friends.  The best movie I have ever seen.



Some thoughts:

  • A perfect adaptation of Tolkien's masterpiece.  I'm a big-time LOTR fan, from way back; I can remember winning a LOTR trivia contest while in college (reward = beer).  I know Director Peter Jackson didn't put "everything" from the books into his movies, but he captured their essence perfectly.  Given the constraints of time and the difference in medium, it was great.
  • This is how CG should be used in film.  The purpose of the movie was to tell the story, not to show off the CG, and the CG blended perfectly with live action.  It was really hard to tell the "real" creatures from the "fake" ones.  Gollum in particular was awesome.  As were those huge Mumakil (elephants).  And the Ents were perfect; they were the stars of the Two Towers.
  • Yeah, it was 3½ hours.  But it didn't seem that long.  There was no fat - what would you have cut?  Maybe the ending was a little drawn out, but hey, it was dramatic.
  • The biggest thing missing was the Battle of Bywater.  In the books, after the hobbits save Middle Earth by defeating Sauron and throwing the ring into the Cracks of Doom, they still have to defeat Orcs which have taken over the Shire.  Although it was an enjoyable final coda to the books, it was a bit superfluous.  Given the constraint of time and the desire to tell a coherent story, I don't feel the movie lost anything by omitting it.
  • I love Christopher Lee and I was prepared to be upset that Saruman had been entirely cut from the final movie.  He was terrific in the Two Towers.  But having seen the Return of the King, I have no quibble.  Saruman wasn't necessary, especially since the Battle of Bywater was cut (in the books, Saruman takes over the Shire in revenge for the hobbits' role in defeating him at Isengard).
  • I missed the romance between Eowyn and Faramir, and the part about Faramir remaining Steward even after Aragorn takes the throne.  This was perhaps the biggest plot gap; in the books, Aragorn is revealed to be king by healing Eowyn and Faramir.  In the movie, it just, uh, happened.
  • The father-daughter stuff between Elrond and Arwen was probably the biggest invention.  I think Jackson might have enlarged the role of Arwen for Liv Tyler, which gets no argument from me :)
  • It was not necessarily an actor's movie - the story came first, and the characters second - but the casting and acting were great.  John Rhys-Davies as Gimli and Orlando Bloom as Legolas were particularly inspired, and Viggo Mortensen was perfect as Aragorn.  Ian McKellen's Gandolf tracked the story very well; in the beginning he was a kindly old wizard, then he became a warrior, battled the Balrog, returned to direct Minas Tirith during the battle, and then faded to an old wizard again.  Elijah Wood was a terrific Frodo - you could feel the ring dragging around his neck - and Sean Astin was spot-on as Sam.  The lesser roles were perfectly acted, too; I'd single out Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, and Miranda Otto as Eowyn in particular.

LOTR3 x 4

My favorite part?  Wow.  There were so many great scenes; so many which would have been "the scene" in a lesser movie.  My view may change, but right now the scene which really stands out was the lighting of the torches of Gondor, signaling Rohan.  Those breathtaking few minutes capture the entire magic of the film.

Okay, enough raving.  I liked the movie.  And yes, I will see it again.  I bet it will be even better the second time, and the third, as the full range of glorious detail is revealed...


Monday,  12/22/03  11:24 PM

The greatest week in rock history?  We're talking mid-December, 1969.  And it is tough to argue - albums from the Beatles ("Abbey Road"), Led Zeppelin ("Led Zeppelin II"), Creedence Clearwater ("Green River"), the Rolling Stones ("Let it Bleed"), and the Temptations ("People Puzzle") were released, along with the debut albums of Santana, Blood Sweat & Tears, and Crosby, Stills, & Nash.  Wow.

M81 galaxy in infraredWired reports Heat Telescope Shows Cool Sights.  More space goodness from my alma mater, CalTech.  "The new telescope will not orbit Earth, but rather will trail behind the planet as it circles the sun, away from its heat."  That's an, er, cool picture of galaxy M81 over on the right; infrared converted to false color.  Wow.

David Burbridge on the Flynn Effect, namely that intelligence test scores in most industrialized countries have risen substantially over a period of decades.  Interesting stuff!

Dave Winer blogs his attendance at a Howard Dean event.  I tell you, I get way more political information about candidates from bloggers than I do from "big media".  And it is more honest, too.  At least bloggers are open about their bias, and more or less self-correcting.

Hey, guess what?  IPOs are back!  This is good news because with a public exit as a possibility, investors will be more willing to invest in startups, thereby fostering more innovation.

J. William Gurley explains why a recent court decision may inadvertently delay the progress of the Internet in the United States by certainly years and potentially decades.  The core issue is whether Internet services are considered a "telecommunications service" by regulators...

Auren Hoffman: There is no consolidation... period.  "U.S. consumers and businesses have more choices when buying products than they ever did before.  That competition translates into lower prices, better features, and higher quality."  I fully agree.

iTunesBrian Briggs reviews Digital Music Stores.  All of them!  Napster, BuyMusic, eMusic, MusicMatch, Wal-Mart, Rhapsody, and of course iTunes.

Boo hoo.  So SCO lost money this quarter, due primarily to legal fees :)  Even if you can stomach them on moral grounds, which I can't, you certainly have to feel they're a lousy investment.

Think you have a tough job?  How would you like to convert a C++ application to COBOL?  Wow, that's real work.  [ thanks, David ]

Robert Scoble goes through airport security:

I was wearing my "I'm blogging this" PDC shirt in the airport.  I was going through the security line in Seattle.  Here's the exchange that happened:

Security guard #1: "What's a blog?"
Security guard #2, before I could answer, said: "It's a weblog", and launched into an explanation.

I love it!

Okay, finally, three men from Yemen sue NASA for invading Mars.  [ via Xeni Jardin ]  I am not making this up, but it sure sounds like a headline from the Onion, doesn't it!


Tuesday,  12/23/03  11:37 PM

'Twas the night before the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for a blogger with wrapping left to do...

Interesting interview of Steve Ballmer, by AlwaysOn...  "All of the best things we've ever done from the financial perspective took many, many, many years to happen.  That doesn't mean we're going to get them all right, it's not like every one of these new things is going to work out.  But if you're not prepared to work hard at things for many, many, many years, you're probably not prepared to be in the technology business.  I think that's what most VCs sort of had to learn again, after the Bubble.  Most startups are going to have to work at something for many, many years to get the concept, get it right, refine it enough, build a real business."  Yep, virtually every overnight success takes many many nights.  My father used to say "everything comes to he who waits, so long as he who waits works like hell while he waits".  Truth!

"reptiles are intrigued"Lore Sjöberg considers The Laser Pointer for Pets.  "How exactly does one detect intrigue in a lizard?  How do you discern it from, say, pique?  Or, for that matter, a sort of jaded disenchantment that you get when you realize that all crickets taste pretty much the same?  I hate to say it, but I distrust our nation's laser pointer package designers."

Wired on why CDs keep getting louder...  and yeah, the sound keeps getting worse.  Use up all the dynamic range, and you have mud.  [ via Ottmar Liebert, for whom louder CDs present a dilemma ]

Tim Bray discovers digital telephony.  "Restating for emphasis: whenever I'm anywhere in the world and have an Internet connection, I can have a free videophone call home, that goes on as long as I need to and nobody’s counting minutes or running up a phone bill.  Let’s see; free telephone with video, or pay-for-it telephone with no picture.  Costly and voice-only, or free with a picture.  I think this is what an inflexion point smells like."  Indeed.

The NYTimes reviews Vonage, and likes it.  How long before Vonage is bigger than Verizon?

Fast Company: Steve Jobs, Apple, and the Limits of Innovation.  "If Apple is really the brains of the industry--if its products are so much better than Microsoft's or Dell's or IBM's or Hewlett-Packard's--then why is the company so damned small?"  Well, uh, BMW is smaller than GM, too...  Actually it is a thought-provoking article, check it out.

snow globe mouseFrom the department of weird USB devices, we have the Snow Globe Mouse.  Proving once again that "everything" is so much more than you thought.  I love it.



The "under the skin" game

Wednesday,  12/24/03  12:12 AM

When I was a kid, I had a subscription to a magazine called Highlights.  (Hey, it still exists!)  I think it was associated with Cub Scouts, I don't know.  Anyway I remember one little article which stayed with me my whole life, called "the under the skin game".

The article described how different people see things in different ways, and if you are fighting with someone you should try "getting under the skin", i.e. putting yourself in their place.  Once you see the situation from their point of view, the article claimed, you'll understand why you're fighting, and [presumably] find a way to compromise, or something.  Pretty apple pie stuff and targeted at little kids.  But amazingly I've found such value in this simple concept.

Ever since I read that article - I was probably eight years old or so - I've tried to do this.  I might do it two or three times a week.  It actually isn't all that easy.  I'm no actor, maybe this would come easily to an actor, but essentially you have to setup everything that's going on for that other person in order to really be able to get "under their skin".  You have to force yourself to truly see things from their perspective, including everything you know about them, until you suddenly "pop" into their skin.  (Yeah, it's a weird feeling.)  So there I am, pretending to be someone else - maybe pretending to be you! - and I look at me, and some situation, and try to figure out how it can be resolved.

Every situation is different, but there are two big things I always learn.  First, the other person is generally more rational than I thought.  They might have done or said or felt things which seemed irrational to me, as seen by me, but once I see the same things from their point of view they seem far more rational.

{ You might say, "yeah, well, if you pretend to be someone else, then you'll see them as being rational since you are rational."  But that's not the whole story.  People generally do rational things to further their own interests, and if they seem irrational it is only because you don't understand them and their motivations.  Yet.  Of course they might have a distorted view of events (i.e. they seem them differently from you :), but based on that view their behavior tends to be rational. }

The second thing is that I always seem less rational when seen from another's point of view.  I am doing rational things to further my own best interest, but when seen from the other person I may appear emotional, or stupid, or evil.

There is this great saying, Occam's Razor, which essentially states "never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence".  (There are many versions, this is my favorite.)  Sometimes it doesn't even take incompetence, sometimes it is just bad communication or differing points of view which make people appear malicious.

I went "under the skin" again today.  I had a business meeting - with whom and about what is not important - and there was an apparent severe disconnect in points of view.  During the meeting I kept thinking, "these are rational people, why are they behaving in ways which seem so contrary to their own best interest?"  It just didn't make sense.  Later I tried really hard to put myself in their place.  Wow!  They had a completely different set of priorities and motivations...  and saw things very differently as a result.  And saw us very differently as a result, too.  They must have been thinking - about us - "these are rational people, why are they behaving in ways which seem so contrary to their own best interest?" :)


(new yorker, 12/22/03)

Wednesday,  12/24/03  10:14 AM

What do you want for Christmas?

Merry Christmas to everyone!


Merry Christmas!

Thursday,  12/25/03  08:57 PM

Christmas cottage

Merry Christmas to all of you!  I hope you were able to relax and enjoy yourself, in the company of family and friends and those you love.

I had a great Christmas, thanks for asking.  Our family gets together on Christmas Eve for an orgy of eating and present exchanging and kid watching, so Christmas Day is quiet.  Of course Santa does visit, and our kids do spend the day playing with their gifts, so "quiet" is relative.  I actually went for a nice bike ride in the pouring rain - that's what mountain bikes are for! - and then enjoyed sitting around cozy inside while the wind swirled water around outside.

Do you "do" New Year's resolutions?  I do.  I find the time between Christmas and New Year's to be a time of reflection, and it enables me to think and plan and resolve.  My annual resolution is to spend more time "having fun" and less time "working".  Each year it turns out to be a tough resolution to keep, partially because for me the line between "having fun" and "working" is pretty blurred, and partially because I'm a workaholic.  Not to mention, I've spent most of my career in little companies balanced precariously between success and failure.  This year it's no different.  Oh well.

It certainly was an eventful year.  I started blogging last January 1, and a year ago I was making final plans to launch.  It is pretty cool to read those early posts.  (If you're interested, please visit my archive!)  This year I'm planning a few minor changes to the look and feel, but I'm not planning any changes to the way I blog.  So far it has been fun, and a useful way of staying abreast of the doings in the world.  It seems hard to believe, now, that I ever surfed to fifty sites each day; monitoring them via RSS with SharpReader is just so much easier.

If you're a regular visitor, thanks for reading!  Some bloggers say they write for themselves, and I guess I do that to some extent, but really I write for you.  During the year my visitorship has gradually increased, slowly but surely, to the point where I get about 1,000 unique visitors each day.  And although I can't tell how many unique visitors I serve via RSS, on a typical day I serve my RSS feed about twice as much as my home page!  That is just very cool, thanks for stopping by...


Religion vs IQ

Friday,  12/26/03  09:23 AM

Gene Expression bloggers razib and godless were bored, so they plotted and graphed "religion important" vs. IQ for different countries.  If you're in the mood, you can add the population data and have a real math fest.  The bottom line: "religion and IQ are strongly negatively correlated (-.886)."

IQ vs religion

Remember my missive about correlation vs. causality?  We're not entitled to conclude causality from these data, but there are three possibilities:

  1. Considering religion important lowers measured IQ (unlikely, since IQ is substantially genetic whereas belief is not).
  2. The causality is via other factors not considered, such as socio-economic conditions, cultural history, or physical environment (definitely possible).
  3. Having a higher measured IQ lowers your likelihood of considering religion important (my personal favorite, given the absence of evidence to the contrary).

Please note: these are data, not opinion.  (The sources are noted in razib's and godless' posts.)  Possible interpretations of the data are opinion, of course.

These data lend credence to the implied correlation between the definitions of bright :)

© 2003-2017 Ole Eichhorn


Friday,  12/26/03  09:37 AM

CNet has a nice Year in Review (of tech).  My favorite: Technology Overturns Five Major Businesses (life sciences, finance, health care, security, and entertainment).

Well, it looks like the little Beagle is in trouble; CNN reports No News is Bad News from Mars, and the Beagle 2 website notes: "The fate of Beagle 2 remains uncertain this morning after the giant radio telescope at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, UK, failed in its first attempt to detect any signal from the spacecraft."  Landing on Mars remains tough; out of nine known missions only three have succeeded.  (I say "known" because it is rumored Russia made several more unsuccessful attempts during the early 70s.)

Green Business Centre, Hyderabad, IndiaWorldChanging notes The Greenest Building in the World.  "Two 45-foot wind towers and screen walls provide air pre-cooled by 10 degrees to the air-conditioning system, thereby reducing the amount of energy required for cooling.  The core structure also has photovoltaic panels built into it to generate solar energy that takes care of 20% of the building’s annual energy requirements.  Thanks to its circular design, fewer materials were used in the building’s construction."  Very cool.  [ via Ottmar Liebert ]

Think the U.S. civil tort system isn't out of control?  Then check this out; 2-year old model seeks lost wages.  Absolutely pathetic.  Yeah, and people over 30 should be dead.

Remember the Island Chronicles?  Mark Frauenfelder and Carla Sinclair moved from Los Angeles to the South Pacific, bringing their two young daughters with them.  Mark just posted Happy Holidays:

On January 1, 2003, Carla and I decided we would sell our house and move with our two daughters to the South Pacific.

Five months later, we were on a plane bound for Rarotonga.  It was wonderful (no stress, living in a house next to the ocean and walking barefoot everywhere) and awful (the baby got antibiotic-resistant pneumonia and the hospital sucked, lice, tropical sores, ceaseless weeks of rain).

Four and a half months after that, we were back in Los Angeles.

Now we're in our new house, surrounded by boxes, and I feel like I haven't been anywhere or done anything.  Rarotonga, Aitutaki, New Zealand, and Australia seem like a daydream I had while shuffling around these boxes.

Wow.  And I thought I had an eventful year!

Here's a useful page: links to every Newspaper website in the U.S. and the world.  Amazing and impressive!  [ via Doc Searles ]

Microsoft has announced a creative solution to the problem of spam: "For any piece of e-mail I send, it will take a small amount computing power of about 10 to 20 seconds.  When you see that proof, you treat that message with more priority."  The idea is that it imposes a cost on the sender, but instead of money, you pay with computer time.  This is quite clever; I sure hope it catches on...  [ via Dave Winer ]

This is just so I can find it later (if you're not a geek, please ignore this): in order to make useable CDs from the ISO files on the MSDN distribution DVD, they must be burned in "disk at once" mode.

While I'm nerding out, here's a great step-by-step description of how to install Linux on a PowerBook (alongside OS X).  [ thanks, Ottmar! ]

Okay, back to real life.


Saturday,  12/27/03  09:34 AM

Well, you knew this would happen, a Slashdot poster notes GM's Onstar System Hacked.  If you own a GM car with Onstar, you can find step-by-step instructions on the 'net.  Why do it?  To get around the $400/year service fee, of course...

Apple store in Palo AltoRobert Scoble spends three hours at the Apple store in Palo Alto, and comes away impressed.  The interesting thing about Apple is that while there is always a discussion about whether they're successful as a business, there is no question that they create value.  Their products are cool and useful, their marketing is interesting, and even their sales delivery channels are worth studying :)

Doc Searles notes:

Last week we had an earthquake in Big Sur that hit 6.5 on the Richter Scale, killed two, and dropped several buildings in downtown Paso Robles.

Yesterday we had another quake of exactly the same size in Iran.  It killed twenty thousand or more and destroyed the ancient city of Bam, which comprised perhaps the largest mud brick structure in the world.

Talk about terrorism.  Mother Nature gives us the real deal.


Ottmar LiebertOttmar Liebert posted interesting thoughts about ownership of music, and artists allowing their listeners to copy music.  "I can actually sell you the right to copy the music and no-one can stop me.  And that is exactly what I intend to do.  Watch me....I am going to do it....yes, Sir..."  He also discusses why MP3s are popular and DVD Audio is not, despite the higher quality of music DVDs.  "It is an easy way to carry music around with us, it is a great way to organize our music, and it sounds fine for running around and listening to stuff...  Good music shines through regardless of the medium it is presented in."  Talk about an artist who gets it...

The MPAA (movies) isn't as heavy-handed as the RIAA (music).  CNet reports In chasing movie pirates, Hollywood treads lightly.  "'I'm not ruling out anything, but at this moment we don't have any specific plans to sue anyone,' [MPAA President Jack] Valenti said.  'I think we have learned from the music industry'."  That's a good thing.

toaster!Stay tuned for this: Firms team up to create more web-linked appliances.  Toshiba, Sharp, and Sanyo have formed a standard called iReady which enables household appliances to communicate wirelessly with each other.  Is this the next big thing or the next big dud?  I can't see where my toaster needs to be on the 'net, somehow...


Simple is Good

Saturday,  12/27/03  03:22 PM

I always have so much to do in December, don't you?  So many social events, Christmas shopping, year-end deadlines.  But somehow I love it.  The cold crisp air, lights everywhere, a sense of excitement, music...

And since I have so much to do, naturally I'm procrastinating by working on something I don't have to do at all.  Yep, I redesigned my blog.  And you probably can't even tell!

If you're a Critical Section regular, you know I like frames, and for most of this site's existence the default view was a frameset.  Then recently I ran a survey, found hardly anyone liked my frames (!), and made "no frames" the default.  In the month since, only 40 visitors ever selected the "(frames)" option, out of about 34,000.  (I get around 1,000 pages views per day.)  Meanwhile I had a lot of residual complexity from supporting the "(frames)" option, much of it hidden; for example correctly computing page views when you have a frameset is nontrivial (you don't want to count each frame as a seperate page, that would be misleading).  And we all know that complexity is bad (W=UH).  Not to mention, I'm plotting further changes which probably will be visible, and continuing to support frames as an option just makes everything harder.

Simultaneously, I decided to get rid of an ongoing ugliness in my permalinks.  You may be aware of Brent's Law: The more expensive the CMS (content management system), the crappier the URLs.  Well my CMS is free, but the URLs all started with this funky "index.cgi" (or worse, "noframes.cgi"!).  I finally learned enough about Apache's mod_rewrite to eliminate the CGI from the URL.  (It took about ten minutes :)

So - poof! - no more frames.  At all.  Even as an option.  And - poof! - no more funky URLs.  You might notice that things load faster.  And you might notice that something is broken (!), if so, please let me know.

Simple is Good.  Okay, now, back to work :)


The Future of People

Sunday,  12/28/03  10:33 AM

A few weeks ago I posed a series of "order of magnitude" thought experiments about the future of people.  I didn't get much response, probably because they were thought experiments, and not multiple-choice surveys where people could just click to vote.  Also asking people to think rationally between Thanksgiving and Christmas is always a challenge :)

But let's consider them together.  They all have the following schema: What if xWould things be better for you, or worse?  Choices for x included:

  • What if the world had {2X, 4X, 10X} more people in it?
  • What if everyone made {2X, 4X, 10X} more money?
  • What if everyone was {2X, 4X} bigger?
  • What if everyone was {10%, 20%} smarter?

What's interesting about these questions is that although there were posed hypothetically, there are definite trends.  From the recent past (say 100 years) through today, the following are unequivocally true:

  • The world has far more people in it (about 8X in the last 100 years).  The trend is that in the next 100 years, this growth will continue but at a slower pace.
  • The world is far more productive (about 4X in the last 100 years).  The trend is that in the next 100 years, this growth will continue and perhaps even accelerate. 
  • People are much larger (about 30% by weight and 20% by height, in the last 100 years).  The trend is that in the next 100 years, this growth will continue but at a slower pace.

The last question is less clear; have people become {less intelligent, more intelligent} in the last 100 years?  An open question, I would say; the Flynn effect indicates "more intelligent", while population analysis suggests "less intelligent".  And in the next 100 years, will the trend be up, or down?

You know what I think, but what do you think?  Here's today's survey:

In the next 100 years, will people be more intelligent, or less intelligent?

People will be more intelligent

People will be less intelligent

People's intelligence is irrelevant

total votes = 116

  (ended 01/05/04)


Monday,  12/29/03  09:52 PM

Okay, I have a question.  This is only if you have a Y chromosome (if you don't know if you do, please skip this paragraph).  Do you find that women do not "get" thermostats?  The concept seems to evade them, and they seem to opt for manual on/off control.  I'm just curious to know...

The NYPost reports the Miracle of Baghdad.  "Startling new Army statistics show that strife-torn Baghdad - considered the most dangerous city in the world - now has a lower murder rate than New York."  I don't know whether this means NY is dangerous or Baghdad is safe, but it seems like good news...

Want to know how desperate this kind of good news has made the Democratic candidates for President?  Democrats criticize administration over mad cow.  I swear I am not making this up.  Sigh.

I like this comic a lot.  And no, it isn't funny.  At all.

Looking for a honeymoon location that's out of this world?  Want to join the 240-mile high club?  Then Russia's space program has just the thing - a honeymoon on the Mir space station.  "The international space station is as large as a football field.  There are plenty of nooks and crannies where a couple could hide."  And at $48M, the price is pretty reasonable...

aircraft carrier at auction on eBayAnd if that doesn't work, then perhaps this decommissioned aircraft carrier up at auction on eBay would be of interest...  (Current bid, $6,001,200)

I just came across Eric Sink's blog (which I recommend highly), and found he's published three interesting articles for Microsoft Developers:

Great stuff - check 'em out. announced the ten top new words of 2003.  #2 is blog :)  [ via Scoble ]

Steve Gillmor considers the iPod's future: iPod, Therefore I Am.  Is it a music player, or a platform?  Both.

USB alarm clockHere we have a USB-powered alarm clock.  Perhaps the first USB gadget which actually makes sense!



Wednesday,  12/31/03  03:58 PM

With 50 votes in, my Future of People survey has "People will be more intelligent" at 34%, "People will be less intelligent" at 48%, and "People's intelligence is irrelevant" at 18%.  Interesting and about what I expected.  Please vote if you haven't already...

Victor David Hanson hits another nail on the head: The Western Disease.  "Is it weird that Western perks like tenure, jet-travel, media exposure, and affluence instill a hatred for the West, here and abroad?"  I think it is.  It's easy to be liberal if you don't have skin in the game, but if your own well being is at stake, you become far more conservative.

Related: The CSMonitor reports A continent at peace: five African hot spots die down.  Now that's good news.  Too bad the war on AIDS isn't going as well.

L.T.Smash (now Citizen Smash) considers The Longest Year.  Interesting post from this blogger who was posted in Iraq.

Spirit - Mars roverYou'll remember the poor little Beagle 2, which at this point must be presumed lost...  It isn't the only Mars mission underway; reports NASA Adjusts Course of Mars-Bound Rover ("Spirit").  "Spirit is being sent to Gusev Crater, a depression the size of Connecticut that scientists believe once held a lake.  It is set to land Saturday.  Spirit is one half of a $820 million double mission to Mars.  Its identical twin, Opportunity, is scheduled to land Jan. 24."

AlwaysOn lists the top ten trends for 2003.  #1 is the awesome gain in U.S. worker productivity.  And #2 is the massive export of white-collar jobs.  Interesting combination, eh?

Steve Gillmor has posted his best and worst of 2003.  #1 best is RSS!  and #1 worst is SCO.  Hard to disagree...

The most popular search item in 2003?  Britney?  Harry?  Aragorn?  Nope, BBC says it's Kazaa.  Amazing.

John Dvorak has a new trend to rail against: Cell Phone Hegemony.  "Cell phones now rule the world's collective unconscious in untold ways.  What astonishes me about all this is the sociology that has crept up on us."  He has a point, but is it really that bad?

John Perry Barlow iChats with Joi Ito, and enters CasualSpace.  "I think this is different.  It certainly felt different to me.  I had the same shiver of the New that I got years ago the first time I ever used telnet and realized that I could get a hard disks to spin in any number of computers thousands of miles away just by entering a few keystrokes."  Might even be combined with cell phones :)

RedHerring considers VoIP in Japan: VoIP for the Masses.  "With its new three-digit telephone exchange, Japan has become the largest country to have federal regulators endorse mass migration to Internet-based telephony."  This could end up being the biggest technology trend of 2004.  You do have a Vonage phone already, don't you?

Wired considers the 100-Megabit Guitar.  Not only electric, but networked.  It will be interesting to see what Ottmar Liebert thinks about this :)

Wired also reviews satellite radio.  It might be great, but is it better than custom playlists on your iPod?  I don't think so.  I'm not sure how big the market for digital radio can be.

Considering starting the year with a new video board?  Check out Tom's Hardware's roundup of 46 different boards.  Whew.

Another possible "biggest trend" in 2004 will be HDTV.  After years on deck, it may finally come to bat.  Here's an external USB HDTV tuner.  So that's what you need to power your new 100" plasma display - another possible "biggest trend" :)

My favorite new site in 2003?  Hand's down - The Command Post.  I was visiting them hourly during the Iraq war early in the year, and have found their reporting and commentary to be first-rate.  Better than any "big media" site.


Happy New Year!

Wednesday,  12/31/03  05:07 PM

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to Everyone!

May peace reign on earth...


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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?