Critical Section

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back in the saddle

Monday,  11/21/05  07:40 PM

Okay, I'm back!

Maybe for a little while, maybe for a long time, who knows, we'll see.  I haven't posted now for three months, my longest gap ever. 

The new ScanScope CS!The biggest reason has been my little company Aperio, which is poised to become a lot bigger; we settled a patent lawsuit, launched a cool new product (pictured at right), and then closed a nice financing round.  In between we hosted our first customer conferences.  Having lived it thrice before, I'm braced for the whiplash of shifting gears from frugal bootstrapping to aggresive growth.  It's all good and all time consuming.

Amazingly, Critical Section still gets traffic; there are a lot of old links lying around out there, and new ones created all the time (thanks, Scott).  And I keep encountering new cool stuff every day; I now have a backlog of over 200 RSS items I've kept as worthy for future linking.

That said, I'm going to try to be a bit less of a linker, and a bit more of a thinker.  There are so many good linkblogs around now!  And with RSS, it is easily possible to monitor hundreds of feeds and skim them rapidly for content.  So.  My utility as a filter is probably reduced :(  But my utility as a thinker might be increased :)  We'll see.

I'm going to start with something I've been wanting to post for a while, an essay I wrote 15 years ago, called Second Gear.  That'll be a nice way to get started, and after that, we'll see.  Enjoy!

 

second gear

Monday,  11/21/05  07:55 PM

 

Second Gear

I reach the base at about 10:00, lean my bike against a rock, and stop to drink some water.  Looking up I examine my nemesis before joining battle.  How will I feel today?  Will I struggle early, and wonder if all the junk food, lack of sleep, and bypassed workouts have caught up with me?  Or will I charge ahead, feeling the thrill of strong muscle and efficient lung joined as a team?  There is no way to know - I feel good, but I always feel good at the base.

It is already a warm day; the puffy clouds sliding over the steel blue sky do little to shield the sun.  Will the heat be a factor?  Nah, it really isn't that hot.  I can smell Eucalyptus trees along the road.  Will I smell them further up?  Of course not - there aren't any trees.  Besides, I'll be much too intent by then to notice.  There is a house all by itself at the start of the grade - an old farm house by the look of it, the fields overgrown, the fences fallen into disrepair.  Who lives there?  Don't worry about that - it doesn't matter.  OK, enough thinking, do it!

I begin as I always do, slowly, trying not to extend myself on the lower grades.  My strategy down here is to use the highest gear I can get away with.  I shift only grudgingly, each gear left behind a tacit admission that the grade is getting steeper, a reminder that my foe will be stronger at the top, while I will be weaker.  I breathe easily, smoothly.  I look around and take in the simple beauty of the mountains: grey rocks amongst brown bushes, green trees sprinkled with white blossoms.  Maybe I'll be OK.  Maybe all the many battles have toughened me, and finally this will be easy.  I round the first bend and the real hill begins.  I have to shift.  Maybe this will be harder than ever, as usual.

The Santa Susanna Pass is an old mountain road, steep, windy, and lightly travelled; a relic from an earlier day when highways bowed to nature instead of vice-versa.  As such it has found new life as a test track for bicycle riders.  On most weekends the rusted cars and discarded washing machines watch silently as a steady trickle of brightly clad riders glide by.  No more than five miles to the summit as the crow flies, it is nonetheless a tough stretch of real estate for earthbound creatures to navigate.

Lately it has become my routine to ride up to the summit each Saturday morning.  It is a tough challenge for me.  The mental battle is worse than the physical.  I know my body can do it - but can my mind?  There is always the fear of failure - stopping to rest, or [worse!] giving up before reaching the summit.  The road is ideally suited for the test - it gets steeper and more menacing as you approach the zenith.  But reaching the top gives me a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.  Coasting back down I feel a gentle sense of self-worth which completely compensates for the pain.  The minor accomplishment of reaching the summit inspires me to hunt more significant goals.

The road straightens and I ride on, legs pumping slowly.  My breath comes faster now.  I keep my head down, watching the patched cracks and broken bottles slide by.  Every so often I look up to review my progress.  I try desperately to remember landmarks which designate shift points.  Did I reach that bend before shifting from fourth last time?  I can never remember.  I'm sure I was past that bend though - I must have been.

The overall goal is constantly divided into little sub-goals, each delimited by the road visible at some instant.  “If I can just reach that next curve, the grade eases slightly.”  Then I reach the curve.  “Now if I can just make it to that old bed.”  The rusted bed comes and goes, a silent witness to my struggle.  My legs are beating a steady time, punctuated by my breath. I count.  One, two, three, four...  Another pile of junk is past.  I am now on a particularly bad section of road, the surface patched many times, and finally left broken.  I must look carefully to avoid the potholes.  Ninety-one, ninety-two, ninety-three, ninety-four...  Someday I’ll count the exact number of strokes it takes to reach the top.  Yeah, sure.

The road is constantly getting steeper.  (Or am I constantly becoming more tired?)  I recognize the halfway point - a section where the road has been cut into a hillside, exposing a rocky face on which a few plants struggle to survive.  I’ve made it half-way!  This isn’t so bad.  I’m going to make it.  Exiting from the cutting, I round a bend and the grade becomes steeper yet.  This is a shift point I recognize all too well.  This is it, the critical transition.  I reach down slowly and caress the lever.  I don’t want to do it, but my legs tell me I must.  One more stroke, one more, yet another one more.  NOW, I must do it.  Quickly, I yank back the lever.  I am now in second gear, and I have only one gear left.

The gears of a bike are like tools; each has its appropriate purpose.  Like the clubs in a golf bag, there are powerful gears and subtle ones, those which require power and those which need finesse.  Typically a rider uses roughly the same “pace” regardless of gear.  As the terrain becomes more difficult (or the rider less powerful), lower gears are used.  I mount a ten-speed touring bike, fifteen years old, a veteran horse which has seen many battles.

Mentally I subdivide the trip to the summit into several distinct parts.  First there is the bottom, the “easy part”, in which I can pretty much relax.  In this part I rotate down through the higher gears, ultimately ending up in third.  The first section ends when I am forced into second gear.  Over the course of many battles I have extended this point further and further up the hill.  The timing of this moment has become a tangible measurement of my progress, and it gives me great satisfaction to delay it ever so slightly longer.

Second gear is definitely my favorite.  The transition from third to second is a sudden relief; my legs stop hurting, and my lungs stop gasping. I can lean back and relax a little.  There is far more to this than mere sprocket ratios, though.  Second gear is very symbolic.  I live in second gear.

The key attribute of second gear is this: when you are in second gear, you are flat out, working hard, struggling - but you have one gear left.  No matter how bad things get, you can always reach down and pull that lever.  This is how I like to feel about myself - I live flat out, work hard, struggle - but I have something in reserve.  Of course, this cuts both ways.  It gives me confidence in many situations, because I sense that whatever happens I can always pull the lever.  But sometimes when I’m really tested by a situation, I’ll back off.  I guess I’m afraid that I’ll pull the lever and discover nothing happens.

On and on I ride as the road stretches up forever.  This is the really tough part.  Why do I do this?  The doubts begin to creep into the open from the subconscious crevices of my mind.  How easy it would be to stop, catch my breath, and then go on.  What am I trying to prove?  I’ve done this before, there’s no need to do it again.  I deal with each unwanted suggestion in turn.  “Concentrate on the road, blank your mind, think about something else.”  I can think about each ‘something else’ for about five seconds before the fire in my legs and the sound of my breathing tear me back to reality.  At this point the demons of doubt play a very strong hand.

As I’m thinking about stopping, and not stopping, I’m also thinking about something else - when should I make the final shift?  I know I’ll have to do it; I have to pull that lever and call on my final reserve.  This journey demands it.  If I do it now, riding will suddenly be much easier physically.  My legs and lungs are pleading with my mind to do it.  But the transition from second to first is very different from the transition from third to second.  Once in first gear there is nothing left but failure.

Now my body, my mind, and my soul all have completely separate identities.  My body is pain: legs, chest, neck, arms, hands all complaining; they all crave first gear.  My mind is doubt; it fears first gear and argues the security of second.  My soul is me - the decision maker, the judge and jury in this court.

At about the three-quarter mark, just as my last resolve to remain in second gear has been exhausted, the road itself gives me a break.  There is a small, straight section of lesser grade, a traverse across the top of a grassy knoll.  Fate has placed it here as a minor concession.  The critical decision can be postponed.  The brief respite is wonderful - the pain in the top of my legs goes away, my breathing settles down, the heavens open, and birds start to sing.  There even seems to be less trash piled along the shoulder.  But all too quickly the knoll is left behind, round the bend I go, and the grade is steeper than ever.  The dull pain returns, and with it the debate - isn’t it really time to shift now?

Over time I have concluded that my mind is a worse enemy than my body, and I delay shifting into first gear as long as possible.  There is always a moment when it seems I really cannot go on; the tops of my legs are on fire, my calves are beginning to tighten, I am panting like a dog, and I can feel the blood surging in my temples.  It comes fast.  One minute I am riding along smoothly, the next I must shift.  It really does not call for a decision at all.

This treacherous road is impossibly long - surely I should have reached the summit by now.  As I round each bend, I visualize the final straight section leading to the summit, and look up eagerly to see it.  But at each turn anticipation yields to disappointment, and I look back down at the road, concentrating on my stroke, ignoring the surroundings.  I constantly tell myself I feel good, this is going to work, I’m going to make it.

Round one more turn, and THERE IT IS, the summit.  New life flows into my legs.  I virtually sprint up to the top, all thoughts of stopping beaten back.  I push myself up the final straight section, a rocky slash into the hillside.  I seem to make no progress, but suddenly there I am.  I have made it!

This is a special moment, and it has a definite ritual.  I slowly dismount and lean my bike against the battered green sign which announces “Rocky Peak Road”.  I pull my water bottle out and squirt my head in celebration.  I walk across a dirt clearing to the edge of the crown which defines the summit, and lean against a large rock placed by nature specifically for me to rest on.  From this vantage point I can survey my beaten foe in all its glory, a descending series of hilltops stretching down into the valley below.  Gradually my breathing returns to normal, and the blood stops pounding in my neck.  I stretch luxuriously like a cat.  Once again I have done it, I have defeated my own doubts.  I have successfully shifted beyond second gear.

 

 

moving backwards?

Monday,  11/21/05  10:16 PM

So having once posted it, I reread Second Gear for the umpteenth time, and I wonder, could I write this today?  (As noted below, I am absurdly proud of it :)  Or is it really true that I was capable of things at 30 that I am no longer capable of today, at 46?

Am I moving backward?

Clicking through my little One Year Ago link, I came across four posts from November 21, 2004.  They're good.  We had a pithy review of The Incredibles (it is incredible to think a year has passed since that movie came out), an excellent rant against plaintext email, the obligatory New Yorker cartoon, and a thoughtful analysis of a Paul Graham essay on computer languages and development culture.  Not bad at all.  Could I write these today?  Or is it really true that I was capable of things at 45 that I am no longer capable of today, at 46?

Am I moving backward?

In a year - hopefully not after a three-month absence from posting - I may consider today's posts.  Will I think they're good?  Will I think, "is it really true that I was capable of things at 46, that I am no longer capable of today, at 47?"  Nah.  It might be true, but I don't want to believe it, so I won't.  And honestly I actually don't think so.  Sure, there were things I did at 30 that were good, and sure, there were things I did at 45 that were good.  And maybe I wouldn't do those things today, because I'm not in the same place I was then.  But by the same token there are things I can do today that I couldn't do at any other time.  I've learned more and I've evolved, and I'm in a different place.  Because I keep moving.  And...

I'm not moving backward.

 

thanksgiving overflow

Thursday,  11/24/05  10:12 AM

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

glass half full? or half empty?I think Thanksgiving is one of my favorite "days".  (Odd, isn't it, this need we have to order things according to Earth's trips around the sun?  What would we do if a year was ten times as long?  Anyway.)  I have a lot to be thankful for, but I don't often stop and smell the roses.  I'm kind of a "glass half empty" kind of person, almost like noticing the glass is also half full would jinx things, and cause the glass to empty completely.  Thanksgiving gives me permission to concentrate on the full half of the glass, and maybe even to find that the glass is more than half full.

I have to start with my wonderful wife, Shirley.  (I don't like the word "wife".  It is such a crappy sounding word for such a wonderful thing.  Why don't we have a beautiful, melodic, inspiring -sounding word for this concept?  (Like "concubine".)  Or something.  Anyway.)  Shirley is not only a huge part of the full part of the glass, she is also the reason for other big parts of the fullness, my kids.  All of them are wonderful, amazing people - and you couldn't find more different people, amazingly, although they are all women - and I am very thankful for them.  And they, together, are responsible for another big part of the fullness of my glass, my life at home.  Which is wonderful.  Most of the time.  Certainly more than half of the time.  Especially right now, with my little dogs chasing my cat up the stairs :)

And then there is my work.  (I don't like the word "work".  It is such a stark, bare, unexpressive word for such a wonderful thing.  Why don't we have a noble, full, inspiring -sounding word for this concept?  (Like "endeavor".)  Or something.  Anyway.)  I am fortunate to live at a time when the intellectual effort of teaching machines to do stuff is valued.  And I am especially fortunate that the particular machines I am teaching to do stuff are helping us in such valuable ways.  I get up in the morning knowing that what I need to do that day matters.  And that is something for which I am very thankful.

overflow!And it is a beautiful day.  Bright and sunny, crisp.  As I sit here watching Tivo-ed football, typing on my laptop, a glance out the window calls me.  A bike ride is indicated, I think.  The exposure to the outside world will be good, and the exercise will be good, too, helpful in anticipation of serious food consumption ahead.  Now that is something to be thankful for...

My glass is actually overflowing. 
Odd that I notice that so seldom. 
Wow.

 

coffee notes

Friday,  11/25/05  09:49 AM

Random notes while drinking coffee this morning.  First note: I love coffee.  A lot.  Second note: it is a beautiful day.  Really gorgeous.  I think I am going to use it for my annual brush with death: putting Christmas lights on the house.  I was going to do that tomorrow, but today seems perfect.

An increasing number of my neighbors are hiring firms to put lights up for them.  I am not going to criticize them for this; many of them are older than I am, or have never put up lights before, so I understand and support this.  But I just want to say, there are very few activities more satisfaction-inducing than putting lights on your own house.  All through December, every time you drive up to your house, and see that wonderful warm glow, the sense of satisfaction returns.  I recommend it highly to everyone.  (Providing, of course, that you don't fall off the roof :)

I need to be rather ruthless with myself over these RSS items I've saved to post about.  Currently I have about 200.  Do you want to read about 200 old and odd things that I've collected?  No, you do not.  I might just dribble in the most interesting ones, though.  While commenting on current events, you know.

Kwajalein atoll, aka Dr. Evil's IslandI often have posted about SpaceX, the latest in a line of interesting and successful companies founded by Elon Musk, who was my boss for a brief while at PayPal.  (Elon founded a company called x.com which merged into PayPal, and ended up as PayPal's CEO - for a time.  Yes, he likes the letter X.)   SpaceX aims to be a private supplier of space transportation, at first for satellites, and later for people, and given Elon's track record and personal resources you cannot bet against them.  I've enjoyed their periodic progress reports greatly, and now they are on the cusp of a great moment: their first launch, from a Pacific atoll named Kwajalein.  It was originally scheduled for today but has been postponed last-minute by the Army until tomorrow.  Elon's brother Kimball has begun a blog entitled Dr. Evil's Island about the launch experience; do not miss it!

FuturePundit has Objections to Multi-generational Space Exploration.  Personally I don't think the moral issues matter much.  This will happen, it is only a matter of time.  Insisting that travel to anywhere take only one human lifetime is a pretty artificial limit.

Have I mentioned reddit.com yet?  I like it.  A lot.  But their RSS feed is links-only, so you have to actually visit every site.  Kind of a step backwards.  I find myself filtering heavily based on entry title - it is all you have to go on - and so am probably missing stuff.  So be it.  Still worth it :)

the license plateSuppose, as Gerard Vanderleun did, that you had to find the license plate at left in a 2.5 gigapixel panorama.  How would you do it?  Brute force would work, but it might take a while.  And for a human it would be boring, although computers don't get bored.  You could scale down the license plate to a teeny picture, and scale down the image by the same amount, and then find possible matches of the teeny license plate in the smaller panorama, and then check them at full resolution.  That would be faster and less boring, and this technique is the key to pattern recognition in Pathology, too.  Of course Pathologists don't know exactly what the license plate looks like, and they have two orders of magnitude more pixels...

One of the important things that happened during my blog-posting holiday was the introduction of the videoPod, aka iPod video.  We all knew it was coming, and now that it's here, wow, it's cool.  (Although I must say the Steve-note was a bit disappointing.)  Of course content for the little thing is still lacking; the major Hollywood studios have not signed up to deliver their content.  Yet.  In the meantime Mark Pilgrim shows us how easy it is to rip a DVD for viewing on an iPod.  Think people won't do this?  (Even from their Tivos?)  And share the results?  Then you haven't been paying attention.  This genie is not going back in the bottle.  [ via Boing Boing ]

And we do have video podcasting, in fact, we had it before we had the iPod video.  I personally think this is even nichier than audio podcasting.  At least with audio podcasts you can listen to them in your car, or while flying, or something like that; kind of like the way people listen to the radio (another thing I don't do).  But when are you going to devote time to watching a video podcast?  It better be really interesting and/or really professionally done, preferably both, if it is going to get my attention.  (On this I disagree with Russell Beattie, who I link here to give you the contra point of view.)

If you're going to have an iPod video, naturally you'll want to connect it to your TV, right?

Motorola MoxiI think Tivo has officially jumped the shark.  If you look at their current product lineup, they do not have any models which support HDTV.  None.  Now I happen to be in the market for an HDTV; I am tired of watching ESPN and realizing that I could be watching ESPN-HD.  I have made the considerable investment in understanding the difference between 720p and 1040i, and between plasma and DLP.  (In case you're wondering, "the answer" is 1040p DLP.  At least today.)  So why doesn't Tivo support HD?  I have no idea.  I only know that my next TV is going to be HD, and therefore my next DVR is going to support HD, and therefore it will not be a Tivo.  Rats.  (I actually think it will be a Moxi, now from Motorola, as offered by Adelphia.)

Apropos, Matt Haughey reviews the Comcast HD PVR: "the good outweighs the bad but after using a TiVo for so many years, the Comcast box just barely works enough for me to keep using it".  That's what I'm afraid of, I'll love HD, but hate the GUI of the box.  I want everything, and I want it now!

One more apropos, back in August I saved a link to an Engadget story about a 71" Samsung DLP TV.  Wow, I thought, that is the TV for me, even if it did cost more than $7,000.  Now three months later I'm considering buying a 72" Toshiba DLP TV which is less than $5,000.  Now that's progress.  The biggest challenge is all the cabinet editing necessary to get Shirley to accept this monster device as part of our household :)

Jeff Atwood, whose every post seems worthy of a link, considers Undocumentation.  This is so true, and I hate dislike it intensely.

Rendezvous!Let me leave you this morning with Rendezvous, a one-take 10 minute movie shot from the bumper of a Ferrari blazing through Paris in the wee hours of the morning, ending with, well, a Rendezvous.  Excellent.  The initial 200+mph run up to the Arc d'Triomphe is heart stopping.  Apparently now, nearly thirty years after the movie was made, Google maps has been used to map the drive.  Also excellent.  [ via Ottmar Liebert ]

 

to look or not to look

Saturday,  11/26/05  10:59 AM

Great shape - can I look?Okay, I need help with something.  I'm a man, and I like looking at women, particularly attractive women.  So, is this okay?

Here's the situation.  Women do everything they can to have great-looking bodies.  Then they dress to accentuate their great-looking bodies.  But it feels like it is not polite to look at them...  Why is that?  It is considered okay to look at a woman's face .  But is it okay to look at her breasts, even if they are beautiful, and even if she is wearing a low-cut tight top that screams "look at these"?  Is it okay to admire her legs, or her bottom, even if they are amazing, and even if she is wearing a short skirt or tight low-cut jeans?  Not clear.  So I'm asking you, what do you think?

I am a woman (or a homosexual man)

I am a man (or a homosexual woman)

I think it IS okay
to look at a woman's body
12%

I think it is NOT okay
to look at a women's body
0%

I think it IS okay
to look at a woman's body
80%

I think it is NOT okay
to look at a woman's body
6%

P.S. I do not think this is symmetrical between men and women.  It seems more acceptable - and unusual - for a woman to look at a man's body than vice-versa.

total votes = 146

  (ended 12/04/05)

 

Saturday,  11/26/05  11:45 AM

Can't really call these coffee notes, because I've already had my coffee.  In case you're wondering, yes, I did put up our Christmas lights yesterday, and yes, I did not fall off the roof.  It wasn't raining and it wasn't windy, so this year was easier than some.  (Of course there was a light string which worked perfectly in the garage, but failed when attached to the gable on the second floor, with me standing on the sloping roof, changing bulbs, trying to find the bad one...)  Anyway, here's what's happening...

Woken FuriesI am reading Woken Furies by Richard Morgan.  Almost done with it.  I love it, this is his best yet.  (The third in a series which began with Altered Carbon and continued with Broken Angels.)  And I am so happy because I really loved the first two books in this series, but then Morgan wrote Market Forces, which wasn't part of the series and which I didn't like at all (and didn't even finish), and so I didn't think there would be more books in the series.  But there are, so yay!

My favorite and weirdest part of this book is where Morgan describes huge vertical structures on alien planets.  (Morgan's planets were formerly occupied by "Martians", who flew, and who left behind amazing "buildings" made of inexplicable materials with unexpected properties.)  Somehow their verticality really confers alien-ness, I can feel my vertigo as I read the words.  Great stuff.

Saturn's moon HyperionSpeaking of science fiction (we were), did you catch this picture of Saturn's moon Hyperion?  Now that is cool.  How did those craters form?  What a mystery.  Almost like something from a Richard Morgan book :)  Cassini is awesome!

Christmas Cards are on my mind today.  Today is the day I must compile a collage of pictures of my kids, so we can print them, so they can be included with our Christmas Cards, so you-all can see how beautiful they are!  Seriously it sounds like a fun project, and it is, but having today as the deadline makes it a bit less fun.  I wish I'd done it, like, last weekend.  But I didn't, and so here we are.  Weird the way that works...

A little while ago Wired ran a story called The Silence of the Leaf Blowers.  With which I so agree.  I hate that sound - especially on a Sunday morning, or a Saturday, but all other times as well - and I wish there were a good alternative.  He who invents a quiet powerful motor will reap great rewards, and not only financial ones.  Talk about a problem worth solving!

This problem doesn't only affect yard equipment.  How about off-road bikes?  Or snowmobiles?  Or outboard engines?  There are a lot of recreational vehicles which make a ton of noise, and wouldn't it be great if they didn't?

Today is the day for SpaceX.  Finger's crossed, good luck, guys!  Although they don't need it.  I'll be monitoring Kimball's blog all day...

 

Web 2.0, "Live" and other meaningless jargon

Saturday,  11/26/05  12:42 PM

Do you hate business jargon as much as I do?  Blech.  Stephen Baker of Business Week's Blogspotting wants to Rid the World of "Solutions", and I heartily agree.  One of the first things I do when I encounter a company is check whether their website has a “products” page or a “solutions” page.  Products = good, this is stuff they make and sell.  Solutions = bad, it is sometimes impossible to tell what is being made or sold, besides marketing hype.  As an example, I received an email from a company called BSIL, and this was on their home page:

"We are a global, end-to-end IT solutions provider with a global delivery footprint.  With over 20 years of experience, we understand our customers’ needs better and provide a portfolio of services, using robust processes, which enable them to leverage their IT investments."

Do you have any idea what these people do?  Nor do I.  (Apparently they "provide solutions" :)

Is this Web 2.0?A classic example of meaningless jargon is "Web 2.0".  Nobody knows what it means, it doesn't mean anything.  It is simply buzzword-compliant crap to put in a marketing plan.  Or for naming a conference.

(And don't tell me it means "web applications built with AJAX", because that is not what it means, and anyway "web applications" and "AJAX" are two other examples of bogus jargon.  (meta-jargon, anyone?))

I'm not the only one to think so, there seems to be backlash forming:

Xeni Jardin spots trends before most of us: Web 2.0 cracks start to show.

Joel Spolsky's reliable BS meter reports: The Architecture Astronauts are Back!

And not only is "Web 2.0" itself jargon, it has spawned other jargon; check out this page, which allows you to create your own Web 2.0 company.  The general schema, "X via Y", is a great clue to the cluelessness of it all.  Truly interesting concepts are just "X", the "via Y" part is mere implementation...

Hey, and we even have Web 2.0 Bingo!

For an unbelievable example of jargon run amuck, consider Microsoft's recent "Live" announcement.  Talk about meaningless blather.

Bill Gates announces Microsoft "Live"Just look at this diagram, does this make any sense at all?

I happen to think Bill Gates is incredibly overrated as a smart guy.  He is a lousy presenter, and really smart guys give good, focused presentations that make you realize they are really smart.  Steve Jobs would be an example.  Kip Thorne - now he's a smart guy.  Or how about Richard Feynman; in addition to being interesting, he exuded intelligence and deep understanding.  Bill Gates may be a great businessman, but he is not a great technologist.  And he is not a really smart guy.  Sorry.

If you disagree, please refer back to the picture.  Would a really smart guy stand in front of that diagram?  (Click for a bigger picture, or see Niall Kennedy's Flickr photo, which has a great comment thread.  Via Tom Coates, who comments: "God, does anyone have the slightest idea what Microsoft are on about?")

We've all become a bit immunized to Microsoft's jargon; the reaction to the "Live" announcement was fortunately muted and mostly negative:

Steve Gillmor: Beep Beep.  "Remember Wily Coyote?  He's the Roadrunner's nemesis, chasing him out off the cliff's edge.  Then there's that exquisite moment where he stands on thin air, about to realize he's got nothing.  That's Microsoft, folks."  Ouch.

Joel Spolsky's BS meter pegged immediately: Massive Frontal PR is Incompatible with Ship Early and Often; a wonderful roasting even though it lacks Joel's usual pithy title.

Robert X. Cringley had Deja Vu All Over Again, in which he notes Microsoft's "Live" reaction to Google is analogous to Microsoft's "Active" reaction to Netscape.  Perfect; neither "Active" nor "Live" have any content at all.

Mary Jo Foley: Hailstorm take 2.  (You know you're in trouble when your new jargon is seen as the second version of your old jargon.)  "When you get past the marketing fluff of 'sea changes' and '21st century Internet,' Microsoft did not announce a lot of new deliverables."  She did go on to write, "We didn't notice a single mention of Web 2.0 during Chairman Bill Gates and Chief Technology Officer Ray Ozzie's remarks.  That earns Microsoft some big points in our book."  Okay, I'll give 'em that.  They piled on their own jargon, but steered clear of everyone else's...

Poor Robert Scoble was left to respond: "I don't think it was clear."  (D'ya think?)  "This was the beginning of a major rudder turn on Microsoft."  Iceberg ahead.

The "Live" demo itself was as lacking in content as the concept; Dave Winer liveblogged:  "An hour into it they finally start the demo.  The screen is blank, the guy is talking.  It's live.com.  The demo didn't work.  A total demo disaster."

(Gates' performance prompted Dave to link his classic Demoing for Fun and Profit, from 1995; as true and relevant today as it was then.  Perhaps Gates should read it.)

Even if the demo had worked, it would have been unimpressive; to my eye live.com is pretty uninteresting.  Okay, we have a personalized portal.  What is this, 1997?  Not to mention, it is not even a good personalized portal; maybe they should have visited My Yahoo! or NetVibes, or even their own Start.com.   Cue the clowns.

Perhaps we need some new jargon, a word which means "a word which actually means nothing".

 
 

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