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Kindle redux
2009-07-09

In case you thought my last review of the Kindle was a bit harsh, I do like my Kindle quite a bit. I purchased the Kindle 2 as soon as it came out, and downloaded the Kindle App to my iPod Touch as soon as available as well. My wife is now using my old Kindle 1.

The Kindle 2 fixes a lot of my issues with the Kindle 1. The next/prev buttons are much better, I don't accidentally page anymore. The display is faster, though it could still be faster. There still aren't page numbers, still only location numbers. The progress bar is now very understandable. The on/off switch is now on the top, which is a better location, though its actually only a standby switch. The wireless switch is now a soft-switch. The Kindle 2 is also smaller, which is nice. I still think it wastes way too much real-estate on the keyboard, if the device was the same depth but only a little larger than the screen, that would be pretty nice.

Newspapers on the Kindle 2 are better, you can now skip to the next article from within the article, for instance, and you now get more images.

Since I got my Kindle, I've only bought books on the Kindle. It works well, and the convenience is unprecedented. The two biggest problems I have are availability of books on the Kindle, and the fact you can't read your book during take-off and landing because its an electronic device.

I also said last time that I wouldn't use a separate device if there was a reader for the iPod Touch. There is the Kindle App for the iPod Touch now, and I've used it quite extensively. One limitation is that they don't do periodicals on it, which is annoying. Otherwise, the page flipping is easier, its in color, its very nice. It doesn't have a built in store like the Kindle, but it does link to the web browser for Amazon's iphone store. One annoyance: the kindle version of books is only available this way, if I browse the mobile store from my Pre or G1, the Kindle version of books isn't offered. Obviously the battery life is much shorter, and the screen size is much smaller, and its an active display instead of the e-ink. That said, it also fits in my pocket, which is a big plus.

I have no particular interest in the Kindle DX, I've never felt that I needed more screen real estate.

The DRM issue is still annoying. We debated having Courtney keep the Kindle on my account so we could share books, but decided not to since we don't share that many books anyways.

Overall, highly recommended.

muni & nextbus
2009-02-11

Nextbus for Muni would be the greatest thing since sliced bread... if it was more accurate. Maybe because the stop I get on from work (Folsom/Embarcadero) is only 3 stops from the beginning of the run, but the "next" times often seem random. They'll start at 4 minutes, cycle down to 2, then jump up to 6, cycle back down to 2, then jump again. I've seen it say 25 minutes (and I took the other train), but I hate waiting 20+ minutes when I expected to wait <5. I especially like how the other line running on the same track is sometimes slated to come later than my line... but arrives earlier. How is that even possible... well, it means that my line is stuck at the first stop, where it can be passed.

Ranks right up there with having the train not stop because the driver thinks its full... or having the N inbound turn into a J outbound at Church/Duboce. Thanks for forcing the entire train to disembark and have to hop on the next already full train.

Or the retards who insist on crowding onto the train during rush hour who end up breaking the door. Then the train goes out of service, everyone has to get off, and it takes like 4 more trains to even hope of getting everyone on these full trains.

The new translink is pretty cool, though it took me two trips to Walgreens to purchase one. The second time, I had 4 managers trying to figure it out before they finally called some customer service number to walk them through it. Only annoying thing: at my height, I can't read the display when I swipe my badge, so I have to stoop down to read it. Also, surprised that you can buy a fastpass for the translink... do you need to swipe your card then?

Amazon Kindle
2009-01-05

My parents gave me an Amazon Kindle ebook reader for Christmas this year. I hadn't previously purchased one because I'm unsure of the whole ebook reader thing, and every once in a while I don't buy the latest gadget when I'm not sure about the utility of the whole market. Plus, there's the whole DRM aspect of ebooks that I'm not that happy to support. Hey, if I bought every gadget that came out, then I'd be like a junky with a habit, but if I (very) occasionally think first, maybe I don't have a problem...

One solution for that is gifts, then its like a free hit, and who can say no to that? I hadn't actually asked for the Kindle because they'd been out of stock and were expected to be out through the holiday season. My guess is they have a new version on the way, but missed the holiday deadline and got caught between models, which I'm sure sucks for Amazon. I had neglected that my parents shop really early, however, so my parents managed to pick up three Kindles for the kids this year.

I started out with a test subscription to the New York Times newspaper. At the airport, I was reading Google Reader on my G1, and came across a book recommendation, so I used my Kindle to buy the book and started reading it on the plane. I continued reading it on my walk/subway to work this morning. The Kindle is fairly easy to use and pretty easy to read on. My notes so far:

  • The "next/prev" page buttons are really annoying. As in, there's almost no way to hold/move the Kindle without hitting these buttons. Once you have the Kindle in your hand and are reading, they're really convenient and work well, but you will hit them at in-opportune times and have to go back.
  • The display is really really slow to refresh. Flipping a page on a book isn't that fastest either, of course, but I have a completely different speed expectation here, and its not met. Combined with accidentally hitting the next page button, it makes it all that more annoying to wait to flip back. Another odd thing about this is that it feels slower to flip the page on the reader than actually going from page to page on the internet... though maybe not on my mobile phone, definitely on the computer.
  • The built-in web browser is next to useless. I'd rather use my G1, and did this morning (to check NextBus). Well, maybe if I was comparing it to any mobile browser besides Android or the iPhone...
  • Documents are partially hyper-linked, but poorly, partially because using the links is very slow (See slow refresh) and partially because the weird jog-dial to menu interface. With the newspaper, there are links to the next article, to the article list, and to the section list, but no easy way to jump to the next article when I'm "done" with an article half-way through, and going to the article list starts me back at the beginning of ~10 page list (see again the slow page time)
  • No page numbers. I have no idea how long the article I'm reading is, how far though the newspaper or book I've read. There are some bizarre numbers and progress meter on the bottom of the screen, but I certainly can't understand them by using the device, maybe I'll have to look at the guide to figure it out.
  • No clock. Seems silly, but so's having an electronic device in front of me and not being able to get the date/time from it. Ok, it does have it on the settings page, maybe that's enough.
  • Battery life seems fine. It lasted the first week on the charge from the factory, and that was with reading the newspaper every day.
  • On/off switch location, which is on the back, is weird, especially if you're using the case that it comes with. Just having to use the on/off switch seems weird, this thing should be almost no power even with the screen on, and it could just sleep completely. Instead, it has a screensaver which changes every couple minutes, which seems even odder.
  • Pricing. These things aren't cheap, and books on them aren't cheap either. Amazon is still discounting them (they show the publisher's digital price compared to their $9.99 price), but $10 for a book you can only read on their device seems expensive. I don't have access to any of the books I've recently purchased, I can only buy them through Amazon. The NY Times sub is $15/month, which is probably higher than its worth (when I'm not on vacation, I get all of my news from the web), but I'm happy to help subsidize the times. You can use the Kindle as an RSS reader, but at $1-2/mon per feed, that seems insane. You can send images and documents to your Kindle via email... but it costs $0.10 per document.
I'm most weirded out, still, about the DRM. The book I bought, if I'd bought the actual book, my wife might have read it next... or I might have passed it on to someone in my family. Can I do that with the ebook? No. And why isn't Amazon becoming the defacto ebook store instead of going the iTunes locked route? I guess it worked well for Apple, except they claim that less than 5% of music on ipods is from iTunes.

Overall, my main need for "real" books and the Kindle is that over half of my commute is underground, and I have no internet access there. Or, the rare times I'm on a plane, no internet access and often no electronic devices. So the Kindle was only partially good for the plane ride (well, 5 hours out of 6, so mostly good). I still feel that if there was a good e-reader solution for my G1 or iPod Touch, I'd probably never buy a specific e-reader, even though clearly the Kindle is better for reading large amounts of text than either of the smaller devices. The thing is, I always have my phone with me, though. Anyways, I'll probably continue to use the Kindle for a while, and if you have the money to spare, it might be worth your while to try it out.

Soda Selection
2008-12-18

If you were to reduce the soda selection at a location to just three options, which one's would you pick?

Our new vendor here at work chose Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Canada Dry Ginger Ale.

Um... wow, that really wouldn't have been what I would have expected. Supposedly, this was done based on both a survey of the office and the stats from the old vendor on what was drunk. The old vendor had 20 different soda options, which was probably excessive.

Possible reasons for this choice:

  1. Some sort of weird "too many choices" voting issue where the 20+ options before hugely skewed the numbers such that the actual most used don't represent the overall preference.
  2. The new vendor has a special deal with Canada Dry
  3. The choices actually represent the new vendor's preferences
  4. Ginger Ale was the most popular caffeine free choice... but they weren't picking a most popular non-diet...
My old preference was actually for Caffeine Free Diet Coke, but I'm fine with just Diet Coke, but it just seems so strange.

Toddler Lock
2008-12-18

One of the engineers here at Google developed an application for Android called "Toddler Lock" which turns the phone into a toy... and prevents the toddler from doing something like calling 911. Nolan played with it for almost 30m the first time we gave it to him. Highly recommended and available from the Android Market.

crush your enemies
2008-12-03

What is best in life:

Crush your enemies
Crush your enemies
And see them driven before you!
Original quote from Ghengis Khan:
The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters.

support and free/ad supported services
2008-11-24

The support conundrum, or why a smaller company can have better support than a larger company. If you're an ad supported service, I'd say you're lucky if your company makes $1/year per user. A back of the envelope calculation for a friend's ad supported company puts that number closer to $0.04/year per user, so $1/year may be high.

Providing support is expensive. A support person is going to cost minimum $40k/year in the Bay Area, though maybe cheaper elsewhere. That means, one support person can support 40k people. We'll say that a support person working 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year works 120k minutes, so they can spend 3 minutes on every user. In practice, only a fraction of users will need support, but they'll need way more then 3 minutes of it.

When a company is small, they'll start out with a small number of support people, say 1-4. They'll also start out with a small number of users and a small number of support questions. Those support people will work closely with the engineers, and problems will be quickly solved. As the number of users grow, they'll quickly out-grow the ability of a small staff, and the support department will grow... but eventually, someone realizes that support doesn't scale.

This is a fallacy, of course, support does scale linearly. What they're actually noticing is that support costs quickly overrun their business model. A single user without a real problem, just unable to understand the product and want severe hand-holding, could take 30 years to make back the support investment. A single real or perceived bug can result in a backlog of support tickets that can take days just to find and close as "known issue".

Or, they're noticing that even with linear scaling, they'll need 10k support personnel to support a million or 10 million users, and they object.

Its at this point, that changes are made to the support organization. Attempts are made to make even lower cost support, switching to email, hiding phone numbers, grading support on how many responses they can do instead of quality, trying to force users to figure out their own problems by reading the FAQ or having forums where they can pow-wow with other users to get the help they want. They'll switch from email support to web forms where they can try and force the user to read the documentation, or at least provide all of the information necessary to debug their problem in one shot, instead of a bunch of "please provide this" replies.

Often lost in this is how to get real bugs reported back to engineers, especially since companies as they grow are less and less likely to want to admit to the possibility of bugs, much less be open about their existence and fixing them.

Eventually, users will start to complain, they'll say there's no support available, they'll grown that they can't get someone on the phone, they don't have a way just to email their problem to someone... and they're right. They don't understand the support conundrum, they think the ads pay for everything.

The odd thing, to me, is that companies which do make real money off of customers, companies selling >$100 boxed software, or charging you $30-$60/month, are also incapable of providing support. That's probably due to another effect, which is the idiots drown out everyone else. They aren't trained to give support to people with real problems, they're giving support to people who think the mouse is a foot switch, or who can't be told that something isn't plugged in, they have to ask them to unplug and plug it back in.

voter guide inspiration
2008-10-25

I wonder what it would take to get a ballot referendum passed in CA requiring any referendum that amends the state constitution to require a super majority. Say, 66%, at least.

Allowing a simple majority to take away rights from a minority... that's one of the reasons we have a republic in the first place.

Extra points for making all referendums require that. Remember, the default vote on any referendum should be no.

Licensing balooey
2008-09-17

One for the pet peeve pile: tv networks who can't keep to a schedule, and so DVR users get the first couple minutes or last couple minutes cut off.

And that's just the ones who don't do it on purpose. A pox on the networks who do it on purpose to try and make you watch the show live. As if I'm going to correlate that this always happens with this show, therefore I'm going to start watching it live. Not.

A double pox on those networks who randomly make one of their episodes run 5 minutes late in a lame effort to make me miss whatever other show I might be watching/recording next and watch their next show instead.

This tirade brought on by the fact that the premier of House last night went about 30s too long, and so the big revelation at the end was cut off. But, that's old news. This time, I figured I could go online and watch the end. First, I tried Hulu, no luck. A bunch of episodes from last season, but not the new one. Fine, its too new. Next, try Fox.com. Nope, they want me to install some specialized player. Not. They didn't have the episode anyways. Try again today, now Hulu tells me the new episodes won't be online until 8 days after they air "streaming restrictions require an eight-day delay for this series." Lets ignore for the moment that its not streaming restrictions, its that the license under which they get this content has these streaming restrictions. So, in theory, its Fox that's retarded, and not Hulu. For some reason, they don't want you to be able to catch up on an episode you missed... before the next one airs. So, we'll try Youtube. Success. Pretty crappy version, from someone else who didn't get the end on their Tivo. Probably got it from Bittorrent or who knows where else.

So, congrats to Fox. You just had to get that one last commercial in, so your hit show got cut off for everyone not watching it live, and then you couldn't be bothered to make it available online, so the internet routed around your idiocy and made it that much less likely that you're attempts to work with the internet to work.

And to top it off, I think all I actually missed were two words and House watching Wilson walk away, hardly worth the effort.

Speaking of VC equipment...
2008-08-21

At Google, a majority of our conference rooms are equipped with some pretty top of the line VC equipment. Someone once told me that all new conference rooms had to be VC equipped, but maybe that's just a rumor. I do know, that once you start using VC, audio conferences seem like the stone age. I looked into personal VC equipment last Christmas when my newborn son made it clear I wasn't going to be traveling home for Christmas for the first time in my life. The professional stuff is outrageously expensive, making the dual projectors seem like a cheap part of the standard big room VC equipment at work. Even a "TV Top" setup runs to $1500 to $2500.

This struck me as insane. Practically everyone I know has a large flat screen TV and broadband. Webcams are $100 and PCs are $400. The latest Webcames from Logitech claim "HD" quality, and I can tell from experience tha their RightLight technology works amazingly well. A consumer level device should be easily under $500, possibly half that with work.

I only found one consumer level device at a reasonable price point, the D-Link i2eye DVC-1000. It was a piece of crap, partially because its a little old at this point. It didn't support upnp, so I had to manually open wholes in my firewall... and then help my Dad do the same on his end. Then, the picture was crap. It desparately needed the RightLight style auto-contrast fixing software that my Logitech Webcam has. Even after that, the picture quality was poor and the frames per second was near useless. Instead, we used Skype video chat and just hooked PCs up to the TVs. That ended up not working so well either, though we've routinely used Skype for video chat other times without issue. Skype mostly just works, though its interface is too focused on audio... time to make the switch, Skype.

Going back to the conference room equipment, it has one major failing: the software sucks. They get the video and audio quality right, but two things are major fails: the addressbook and the layout choices. The default interface is to dial a number... right. Instead, try to use the addressbook. We have 40+ offices, thousands of conference rooms and people's desktop computers... and it present it all as a very slow alphabetical list. No hierarchy. You can prefix search, sorta. You can bring up a search box which does substring search... except random strings can't be searched for. It should take an engineer a week to fix this.... The other major issue is layout. You can have multiple locations called in, plus locations can project a separate screen (usually a computer). And one quirk of current VC, you really kind of need to see yourself, to make sure you're on camera, or that the group of you is on camera. With the equipment we have, you can keep hitting the layout button to shuffle all of these things on screen, but it never does what you want. I don't need to see myself twice (one local, one echo), and I certainly don't need my picture to be the largest. In some modes, it tries to make the currently talking location the largest, but often it fails to do that. It has no concept of room size or anything, so often a single person location is as large or larger than a location with 20+ people. White boards really don't work, since either their "off screen" to one side or the other, or they're at the far end... and you either zoom in on that and ignore all the people, or you see the people and can't see the whiteboard. And then someone taking minutes decides to project... and you lose half your screen real-estate to something you don't care about, and you can't tell the VC equipment to minimize or hide anything.

All of these are fixable, though some are harder than others. The hardest is that everything should just work, as easy as the telephone, at least. Some things, like the white board and large conference rooms probably require multiple cameras, possibly even cameras which automatically focus/zoom in on the speaker. If you've ever seen a broadcast conference... or awards show, what you basically want is multiple camera angles and intelligent cameras, but all automatic, no one working all of that. The AV crew for our larger "all hands" style multiple location conferences is easily 5-10, what we need is software intelligent enough to give us a close approximation. And for the prices of this equipment, that's what I'd expect.

But personally, all I need is a box that has an HDMI output, a good wide-angle camera with intelligent assist for contrast, that can auto-scale picture/audio quality based on connection speed, and a good intelligent mic with echo cancellation, etc... for about $250-300. I even debated started a company just to do it...

What if raising fuel prices kill flying?
2008-08-21

Generally, I've felt that raising fuel prices are mostly a good thing. The higher price makes fuel closer in cost to the actual environmental cost, which does more for decreasing usage than any international agreement on greenhouse gases. There are downsides, of course, in terms of cost pressure on those least able to absorb it, or even food problems... though those may be more due to stupid government subsidies for idiotic things like corn-based ethanol.

But in the back of my mind, there has been one big fear of high fuel prices: the end of air travel. No one likes flying on commercial airlines, but people do love what air travel does give them: far flung vacations, trips back home for the holidays, trips far from home for the holidays, face to face business meetings, Amazon prime and other next-day shipping.... The New Republic has an article on The End of Aviation, which discusses this very possibility. The author seems to think that greenhouse/carbon taxes are more likely to harm airlines than fuel prices, but anything like this is such a radical change to our way of life that who knows how it would actually shake out. If kerosene based fuels are really the only way to economically fly, would jets be the last thing we'd spend our "limited" fuel on? If we do succeed in creating cheap alternative energy, and use that for the majority of our transportation and other needs, would that actually cause the price of oil to drop as our need for it dried up? I'm sure that think tanks and policy houses can create scenarios and studies of whether these are possible.... I'm generally an optimist, usually in the "ingenuity" and "technology" category mentioned at the end of the article, so I'm not too worried about it happening.

I will say this, there is a very big opening for some real video conferencing solutions.

Photo tagging conundrum
2008-07-30

So, there's a couple standards for tagging photos, IPTC and XMP. The benefits of the standards is that many photo sites and software support them. They work by storing the data in the photo (usually jpeg/exif). This is good, because then the data is stored with the photo, they can't get separated.

But... it violates one of the other precepts I like to have, which is don't modify the photo. Manipulating a photo file may break something, may lose existing data, make the photo not compatible with some software, etc. It also make the synchronization problem harder, by which I mean I have multiple computers, with my photos spread out amoung them. My wife and I routinely both upload the pictures from our phones, cameras, etc to our computers, and I try to maintain a central repository of our photos, backups, etc. Some of this is based on the photos keeping the same names, but names collide with multiple cameras from the same company, reseting camera counters, etc. The other thing that stays the same is the file size/checksum. Changing data in the file makes that more challenging, it means I have to do checksums or fingerprints based on the actual image data, and not the raw file data.

I could do a compromise, I could keep an archive of "original" files, and then have a separate or connected archive of "modified" files, that would allow me to keep the write once data, and the "updated" stuff, but that does double disk space... which is cheap, I guess, but our photo data is over 30GB now, its already getting a bit big for having a full copy on our everyday laptops... though maybe that's just an excuse to upgrade.

I need a better solution to the synchronization problem anyways...

SF's fantastic food scene, but...
2008-07-30

Yes, the food here in San Francisco is really good, but I have a complaint. San Francisco is also known for sourdough bread, and I'm sick of it. I don't really like it, I don't know why its so famous, I just don't get it. I go to a good restaurant in SF... and they serve sourdough bread.

Closing Market St. to Cars
2008-07-23

Apparently, Supervisor Chris Daly, whom I rarely agree with, has proposed closing Market St. to cars. Its somewhat odd that his proposal is to do so all the way to Octavia. I would have though Van Ness was the obvious choice, or even 10th St. Blocking off the section that turns onto Franklin seems like a bad idea.

I've mentioned this to friends in the past, mostly because there is almost never a good reason to drive on that part of Market St. Its two lanes in each direction, you can't turn left anywhere, and the interior lane is supposed to be for Muni only, and the right lane is often blocked by people attempting to turn right... who are held up by pedestrians. And then there are the delivery trucks/vans, and the cabs, which can block part of the right lane (or just pull up onto the sidewalk, even more fun).

I figure most of the cars on that section of Market are tourists or other people who just don't know any better, and then they're stuck on it, unable to get off.

Of course, closing it down presents problems, probably the largest is with deliveries to businesses along Market. I wonder if you could solve most of the problems just with signage, ie "No turns except Muni/Cabs/Deliveries" or somesuch. That would be helpful to those who don't know any better, though they'll probably just go WTF? It wouldn't allow you to transform the street, however... imagine turning it into just a single lane in each direction for Muni, for example.

Anyways, here's hoping that whatever comes out of this isn't a really bad idea... I'm guessing there's an 80% chance that nothing comes of this, and a 20% chance that something bad comes of this, that's about how politics in SF goes...

Finally, url support for Putty
2008-06-09

I was downloading putty while using my Mom's laptop, and of course just did a Google search for it. I wondered if other types of putty made the first page of search results, so I scanned down the page... and stumbled upon Putty Tray, a weirdly named fork of the putty code base, named after a feature where you can minimize putty to the icon tray in windows... but it also finally supports hyperlinkikng of URLs. This has been a feature of various xterms and clones for years that I've come to depend on, especially since I use a console mail client. I use it often in gnome-terminal, but often have fun cutting and pasting urls in putty, especially multi-line ones. Its been on the wishlist for putty for years, marked as tricky and oddly behind adding scripting support. In any case, my first url click worked great, I might just be updating all of my putty installations to putty tray.

Oh, and there's only one non-putty ssh client related link on the first page of search results, for Putty World. This could be because I prefer putty the ssh client (I search for the download link probably a dozen times a year at least) and the "personalization"... but usually its from a new computer without being logged in, so maybe not. It could also be because the URL for putty is so non-memorable.. if it was just www.putty.org or something, I'd never search for it.

Has BS jumped the shark?
2008-05-29

I'm a pretty big fan of Penn &s; Teller's Bullshit on Showtime. I don't always agree with them, sometimes they even change my mind. Sometimes, I think they're rather dickish to those representing the opposite viewpoint... ok, often, that's kind of the point. Sometimes, they seem to go too far. I'm just making my way through season 5... and the episode Nukes, Hybrids &s; Lesbians... it didn't even seem like they were trying. The "lesbians" angle was just silly and pointless. The nukes part.. sure, nuclear power has been given the shaft in the US... but the hybrids segment? Ugh.

Current hybrid cars are amoung the most fuel efficient cars available, but a good diesel can generally do as well or better. They do cost more to make, and they often won't make back that cost in fuel savings. They involve more parts, and some eco-challenged materials like batteries. The batteries themselves are expensive and need to be replaced more often than similarly priced parts of the car. All of these are good reasons to think that hybrids are not the answer to the oil supply and global warming problems.

Instead, we get a Prius raced against a Corvette in the 0-60, and a packing challenge which makes it "clear" that a Prius can't handle a family of four for a driving vacation. A Prius is a compact car. Comparing its acceleration against other compact cars would be more reasonable. A Toyota Matrix, which is somewhat similar in size, has a 0-60 time of 9.5s, which is a full second faster than the Prius... but that's only about 10% faster. It only gets 26/32 MPG though, compares to the Prius 48/45 MPG. 80% better fuel economy for a 10% hit. I saw a review of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid where they actually "drag raced" against the non-hybrid version, and they both had almost identical times. This review shows the Toyota Camry hybrid with a 0-60 time of 8.6s, better than the 4 cylinder Camry (10.3s), slower than the V-6 Camry XLE (6.5s). Still, in an acceptable range.

As for the family of four vacation... its a compact car. In the US, a family of four has two cars: if they need to fit for vacation, it'd probably be the other one. Or they could rent something bigger. The chart here shows an average annual hybrid gas savings in the $500-$600 range, which would pay for a $75 rental for a week. Of course, then you won't make up the extra cost of the hybrid.

They do cost more, of course. Edmunds has an article on how long it takes the extra cost of a hybrid to break even. For a hybrid Toyota Camry (my personal choice if I was in the market for a sedan), its only 1.6 years at 15k miles per year (that's probably a little higher than average, so maybe 2 years). For other cars... 7, 12, 16 or even 69 years. Granted, the 69 year Lexus LS sedan is one of the "performance" hybrids, the point of the hybrid is better performance, not fuel efficiency.

So, unless you're an early adopter, or buying one of the cars at the top of the list, you're probably better off choosing a better mileage non-hybrid, smaller cars/suvs like the Civic, Golf, or even Rav-4.

speaking of video conversion
2008-04-22

Now that I'm using a Mac Mini and FrontRow as my media center, there was one last thing I'd love to be able to do. I wrote a quick script to automate some backups of data off my Tivo, and it would be great to be able to play them from FrontRow. With tivodecode, you can quickly convert the .tivo files to an MPEG2 stream... but one that Quicktime can't play, even with the MPEG2 plugin. My efforts to convert them to a format that Quicktime can handle met with the same annoyance as with the DVDs, lots of time and effort, and all for crappy results. Maybe ffmpeg just does a crappy job of encoding, after all the conversion to iPod portable quality mpeg4's by the Tivo Desktop software was pretty decent.

Initial DVD rip complete
2008-04-22

9 months and nearly 3TB later, I've finished ripping my DVD movie collection. For storage, I used 2 Infrant ReadyNAS NV+ (it would probably have fit on 1 4TB unit, which is about 3TB after RAID, but it wasn't out yet when I started). For ripping, I used Slysoft's AnyDVD. My desktop box happened to come with both a DVD and HD-DVD drive, so I could rip two discs at once. I just used the built-in "Copy DVD to Drive" function for one drive, and Vista's file explorer to copy the other. Some discs needed to be ripped by "Copy" to work, and it has the nice property of stripping the "no forward" and other DVD annoyances, but it was slower than the simple copy. I initially tried a couple others, but AnyDVD was the best and worth the money. There were still about 4 movies that wouldn't copy, a fairly random selection (not the biggest blockbusters, or even the newest discs).

I had initially figured I would convert the discs to H.264. I spent a lot of time playing around with settings for HandBrake, trying to get a "good" conversion. Basically, video conversion sucks. The setting options are amazingly complicated, and greatly effect how long the encoding takes... but the output almost always looks like crap. Another consideration is that a lot depends on the quality of the player. I found that VLC usually did a good job, even on "ipod quality" videos up-rezed to HD. On the other hand, the Quicktime players in both the AppleTV and MacOS were pretty crappy. I eventually settled on a "hi-res ipod" level that at least would be portable... but neglected to test it. I let my linux box churn for about 3 weeks converting around 100 DVDs, and would up with files playable by my AppleTV, but not by the ipod. I think newer HandBrake versions have an easy setting that should work, but I haven't decided to burn the processing time yet. I just decided to keep the DVDs online instead.

I haven't decided whether I'm going to rip all of my wife's TV show DVDs or not. A lot of space, and I'm not sure we'd ever watch them a second time...

A pet peeve: asking for my zip code
2008-04-02

I hate web properties which ask for my zip code before showing me what I'm looking for. Big offenders here are the cell phone companies, the cable companies (Comcast at least), and the various car websites.

Cell phones and cable might be at least partially specific to zip code, though Sprint (which prompted this rant) has always claimed to have a Nationwide network that I would assume is pretty uniform. Perhaps their rate plans aren't exactly the same across the country? Why don't these companies just use geo-ip data? Its available, it might not be as accurate all the time, but I'm betting a bunch of people just flat out lie when prompted anyways (90210 anyone?).

But the biggest offenders are the various car research sites that all want your zip code so they can try and shove you into a specific dealer. Yes, I'm sure you get a lot of money for lead generation, but I don't want to give you my zip code.

These types of sites lead to a more generic class of problems with sites: when its easier to find information on a specific site by doing a site based search on Google then by navigating/searching on the specific site. If this is the case, you're failing the #1 point of the web: if you said marketing and making money, you've failed. Its finding information, the point of your site is information, you make your site easy to use, contain useful information, and make it easy to find that information, and boom, you have users ... which is the biggest step towards monetization.

Or maybe I'm mis-using these car sites, perhaps they exist more form comparison shopping of cars by "exact" value, and comparison shopping deals for one car from multiple places.. but I'm always using them for information way before I care about the price. They should be helping me investigate cars, and when I've made my decision on which car I want, then maybe I'll be interested in finding the best deal on that car. Forcing me up-front to think about actually buying isn't going to help.

Oh, and on a semi-related rant, why is it that Car websites make it so hard to investigate the interior of their cars? Its easier for me to go to a local Automall and take in all of the available cars in a class then to try and one-by-one figure out what the interior space is like visually online.

The rise of the colonies
2008-03-26

Poor brits, first Ford bought Jaguar and Land Rover, now they're going to India's Tata Motors. Or should the be the "passing" of the colonies from the old to the new or somesuch?

Too bad for the Ford execs, back to buying Lincolns I guess.

Clubman Flux
2008-02-29

Is it just me or was this new MINI Clubman commercial done by the same people who did the Aeon Flux movie?
If the youtube folks get around to deleting it, look for [mini pinball].

I have no idea what to think of the Clubman. Its a mini, but its bigger, but not much, and its funky... Maybe I should go smaller.

Silly Tivo Tricks
2008-02-18

While I was playing with the new AV setup, and my Ipod Touch, I started thinking about grabbing videos off of my Tivo for various reasons. I played with the Tivo Desktop, and I played with Galleon. They were nice and all, but not quite what I was looking for. Tivo Desktop will only downconvert videos for portable video devices, and is rather limited in terms of automation, and I didn't want to run my windows box all the time anyways. Galleon had more options, but still wasn't quite what I wanted. So, I wrote my own... or started to. I haven't done much more than just archive a bunch of shows, but I figured I'd release the python module I wrote to allow me to script archiving the video. I uploaded it to a project on Google Code Project Hosting (ugh, long product name):

TivoAccess.

Its got my current ridiculously simple archive_tivo.py. I've got plenty of ideas, but I mostly decided it wasn't all that important. It was useful to be able to pull the video off from some important NHL games.

One idea I considered: having my computer maintain an ipod format copy of all of the videos currently on my Tivo. This makes it as easy as possible to just drag what I want to watch onto my ipod before running out the door. Well, easier would be if it synced magically... or I just used my slingbox to my TreoCentro instead. I could probably write an Android app that watched for the device being on my local wi-fi and synced the videos down, but even over wi-fi that'll take a long time, probably not great for battery life. And assuming Android devices will have wi-fi.

While working on this, I wasted another couple days trying to get "good" video conversion. Quicktime requires a paid plug-in for mpeg2, and supposedly can't handle the Tivo mpeg2 stream anyways (looks like Tivo uses some allowed by unusual features of mpeg2). I wanted to convert the mpeg2 stream to an h.264 stream to save space and to make it possible to play the videos in FrontRow. You'd think "same quality" conversions would be easy... not. Using ffmpeg's -sameq flag generates an h.264 video that's almost 2x the size of the mpeg2 video, and isn't as good. Interlacing is the enemy there, I think, but in general, the best I could do was a "pretty good" copy using mpeg4 (h.263) and getting about 80% of the space of the mpeg2. Didn't seem worth it, another reason I haven't really finished this project.

Questions a parent has at 3am
2008-02-08

Can my infant sleep too much? (10hrs at <3 months)
Can my infant go horse? (maybe I just didn't hear his crying?)
Should I wake the sleeping baby?

Today's post is brought to you by the letters R, S and V
2008-02-05

I'm not sure why, maybe it was the decision to have a kid, but I got back into peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the past couple years. Maybe it was seeing Marissa eating one at the Google cafeteria, an absurdity that just made me go "hmm, that sounds good, actually". In any case, it came in handy when raiding the pantry here in the pediatric ward trying to make dinner. Seems our generally late eating habit combined with our minds being elsewhere didn't combine well with the early hours of the cafeteria.

Anyways, it looks like Nolan should be going home tomorrow. Wonder if we've got any peanut butter at home?

Don't lie to me like I'm Montel Williams
2008-02-01

Or maybe, "Get off the cross. We need the wood." would be a better title. In any case, Tim Goodman, local TV critic for the SF Chronicle has an awesome rant against the Parents Television Council ("People Without Remotes"). Seriously, if you feel that some stuff isn't fit for your kids, don't let them watch it. If you don't like it, change the channel. And if your the FCC, how about not fining TV channels for something that happened 5 years ago, jeez.

A modern pet peeve
2008-01-28

With caller-id and "missed" calls on just about every phone, both home and cell, not leaving a message is just annoying. Who were you, why did you call, even if "I'll try you at home", something. I know you called, and I'm left wondering why. Doubly true for people I don't know.

internet software distribution, or who needs cd-rom drives
2008-01-24

Several years back, I chose a Thinkpad X31 as my work laptop. It was in the nature of a trial, I thought the smaller laptop might be interesting, and I didn't really think I'd need it that much, so if I found it annoying, wouldn't really matter. The X31 didn't have an optical drive, though my work did provide me with a docking station that has one built in. I've almost never needed the drive, as it turns out. I don't install much "big" software on this laptop, since its my work laptop and work provides me with the software I need generally from a central server. Most software I install are small things I just download and install, and even some hardware, like my Cingular wireless card, I just found the OEM version of the software on the manufacturers website.

There are exceptions, though. I just bought a new Palm Centro phone, and went to use the install cd... and found that I'd left a cd in the docking station from the last time I'd used it: the install cd for my old Palm Treo 700p, from almost 2 years ago. So, there's an indication of just how often I've needed the cd-rom on this machine.

Not that I'm going to get rid of all of them. My desktop box at home has two DVD drives in it, which I'm using quite a bit to rip my DVDs. I've also needed those drives for games, either because they're huge (MS Flight Simulator was two DVDs) or because they require the disk to be in the drive to play for copy protection (really annoying). And I even wrote a DVD recently when I upgraded my home linux server, and needed a DVD drive to do the upgrade. But when you have multiple computers, you can definitely get away without having an optical drive.

On the other hand, my wife appreciates that my personal laptop, a Sony Vaio TZ, has a dvd drive, since she uses it as a portable DVD player on trips. One device is better than two in a lot of cases.

Managing my DVD Collection
2008-01-11

Over time, I've managed to collect a decent number of DVDs. They're an easy gift to receive for someone who's hard to buy for, plus I've taken advantage of a number of "sales" like Tower Records going out of business, so the average cost per DVD isn't too bad. Some of my friends definitely think it silly, knowing that eventually all media will be available for easy download/rental, or just usually not caring to watch something over and over again. I figure two tickets to the theatre is now around $20, hotel on demand movies are $10-$15, two rentals is around $10, and those three netflix DVDs I kept for 6 months were about $30/each... so $10 or less for a DVD is a pretty good deal.

As for the HD-DVD/Blue-ray debate... I don't actually own either player. Just like when DVDs came out, the studios think they can charge more for the "better" format. I'm not going to pay $35 for a blue-ray disc, period.

Currently, I'm storing my DVD's on an Infrant ReadyNAS NV+, and playing them with a Mac Mini. Check the jump for the road to this. Also, I've now got a bunch of scripts to manage this, which may or may not be useful to anyone else, feel free to email me for some pointers.

When we moved into the new house, and as the collection grew, we didn't really want to devote an entire wall to the collection. We weren't particularly enamored with any of the various cabinets either. My father-in-law mentioned that his friend had a system in his ski house where all of his DVDs were available over the network to every TV, but it cost something like $30k. I'm pretty sure that's Kaleidescape. Sounds nice, but it just didn't seem like it should cost that much. A friend of a friend had done some work on his own system, using DVD43 to copy the DVDs onto drives, and Windows Media Center and MyMovies to play them. I played with it a bit, but MyMovies was pretty primitive back then (about 2 years ago), and more importantly: DVDs average about 8GB of data. Back then, $1/GB meant you'd be spending $8 to store your $10 DVD, not particulary cost effective. That's when I stumbled onto the Sony 400 disc DVD changer (CX777ES), hooked up to a Control 4 system at a local furniture store. It was hooked up with an Escient Fireball. A quick internet search showed a local "pro" AV shop was a dealer for Escient, so I took a look. At the time, the cheapest Escient Fireball with Video was $2000, and each of the Sony DVD changers was $500... if you maxed the system out, 3 DVD changers and the Fireball, that'd be $3500 for 1200 DVDs, or almost $3/DVD. Better, but I didn't even have 400 DVDs. With one changer, that'd be $6/DVD. I kept looking.

I eventually found the Sony Changer at the Good Guys going out of business firesale for about $400. Someone had reversed engineered the serial commands to control it, so I hooked it up to an HTPC and started inserting discs. Of course, the HTPC was at least as expensive as the Fireball, so I didn't save any money afterall, and it was a lot less useable than the Fireball as well. Eventually, MyMovies supported the external DVD changers, but getting my movie collection into MyMovies sucked. They've made some improvements, mostly for on-disk collections, but it still is just not a system designed to import 200+ discs at once. I found some free DVD data at hometheatreinfo.com, loaded it into MySQL, wrote some scripts to scrape a website which used the data to go from UPC to amazon/imdb IDs, used the amazon ID to scrape amazon's for the cover image. I wrote a quick command line tool that let me put in the UPC code for the disc and the location, and it would download the cover and add the dvd to the my table. I then figured out the DVD Profiler XML format so I could generate it so I could import my collection into MyMovies. It ended up being way too much work, and pretty annoying to add a single disc (with the export/import part), but it worked. Of course, the DVD changer didn't fit in my AV cabinet, so it sat on top. Ugh. It did work pretty well for about a year, though. I even imported the movies into my Harmony Remote at one point, so I could choose from there... if I wanted to scroll through 10 at a time in alphabetical order based on only the first 8 characters of the title...

When I hit 300 DVDs, and the house remodel required I disassemble my AV setup, I decided it was time for a change. There was no way I was adding another DVD changer to the top of our AV cabinet, and the 777 model was becoming hard to find since Sony came out with a newer model (the 997) which didn't have the serial port for control on it. Sony did come out with a 200 disc firewire DVD-ROM changer, which I briefly borrowed from Fry's... I returned it because it was loud, barely worked, and crashed. It was also as big as the 400 disc changer but only stored half as many discs... no good. I also hoped I could use it to rip DVDs in batch... which I probably could have, if it was stable, but it wasn't.

I'd bought a NAS (Infrant ReadyNas NV+, now owned by Netgear), and I decided to start ripping DVDs. I also started playing with converting them to h.264 to play on my AppleTV. DVD43 has been superceded by SlySoft's AnyDVD, which works fairly well. My new computer happened to have two DVD drives, so it was actually fairly easy to just rip discs while I was sitting at my computer doing other stuff. In no time, I had about 70 discs ripped, and then I spent a long time playing with settings for HandBrake, trying to get something that would play well on the AppleTV.

Why does video encoding have to be so hard? There's about a gazillion different settings. On top of that, it turns out Quicktime is a pretty poor player. It sucks at de-interlacing, it can't handle MPEG-2 without spending $70, and even then it can't handle that wide a variety of MPEG-2 videos. It only supports a sub-set of MPEG-4. Also, ipods and the AppleTV are also severely limited in terms of what resolution/bitrate/features of MPEG-4 they can handle. VLC is a much better player, but its just not integrateable. I looked at hacking my AppleTV and using NitoTV, but that seemed like a lot of effort for something that wasn't that slick. I ended up running a batch run of conversions of my 70 discs at a resolution I thought would look ok on the AppleTV but still play on ipods (since I couldn't seem to get something that looked better), but they were actually ipod compatible. Oh well. Took about 3 weeks to convert the 70 discs on my old dual Opteron box. Ouch. Averaged about 1GB per movie, which wasn't too bad.

So, I was debating what would be my front-end for the ripped DVDs. Option 1 was to use a stock AppleTV, rip and convert all of my DVDs to h.264 and import them into iTunes and stream them over the network. This just didn't work that well. I had to have the computer on and itunes running, and then I was going NAS->Computer->AppleTV, which caused occasional network jitters. Worse, displaying the list of ~100 movies on the AppleTV took forever to load. Also, iTunes doesn't provide any bulk-import interface (drag & drop worked best, but still wasn't great) and it would have take way too long to use iTunes to add cover-art and information to all of the m4v files.

Next option was hacking an AppleTV and using NitoTV. Didn't look to be that much fun, I figured it would be easier just to a Mac Mini and FrontRow. I have a Mac Mini.. but its the old G4 version, and was running Mac OSX 10.3.x, so no FrontRow, and no infrared. I looked into various options for remotes, including using my Palm using Sailing Clicker over blue-tooth. It was pretty cool. The final straw was that the network port on the back broke, and it just wasn't reliable to stream wirelessly. Also, I'd wanted HDMI...

So, I started hunting for HTPCs with HDMI. For some reason, everyone makes HTPCs which are the most powerful over-the-top boxes. They usually cost more than $3k, they have 600-1000 watt power supplies, and they usually aren't small. Sony had one, the VGX-TP1, that was "smaller", but still over-priced. I started playing with the latest version of MyMovies... and importing discs was better, but still sucked. It auto-imported my 100 discs, and got about 10 right. Telling it that it was wrong was annoying, and there are way too many steps involved in importing a single DVD, even with the new online service to share data. I wasn't looking forward to going through all of this again.

I went looking for regular consumer devices instead of PCs, but few of them could play DVDs over the network. I bought the Zensonic Z500 because it could. It can, when it works. It refused to work with my wireless network, the interface is horrible, it takes >60s to start up.

Then, Mac OSX Leopard came out. Someone pointed out to me that the new FrontRow 2.0 in Leopard can play DVDs in VIDEO_TS format. Perfect. I bought a new Mac Mini and set it up. The Mac Mini does have digital audio out, though you need a mini-Toslink connector, and its the same plug as the analog audio. Best part is, you can have directories and symlinks. So, I wrote some more scripts to generate a directory hierarchy for 'By Genre', 'By Decade' and 'By Title'. Now, I've got about 200 DVDs online, and everything works really well. I just use the Mac as my DVD player as well. It was a bit annoying to get the Mac to mount the NAS on startup, but otherwise, pretty flawless.

So, the Mac Mini replaced my Oppo upscaling DVD player, my Sony 400 disc DVD changer, and my Windows MCE box, its a fraction of the size, and its easier for my wife to use.

Why I leave my wireless network open
2008-01-09

I've thought about writing an article about why I leave my wireless network open, but Computer Security guru Bruce Schneier beat me to it, and much more elegantly: Steal This Wi-Fi.

To his list of reasons, I would add compatibility and ease-of-use. The number of devices on my home network is now over 20, most of which are wireless. Most don't support the "really secure" new protocols like WPA, and configuring them to work with security is usually either annoying or futile.

I've debated just having two networks, one secure and the other open. The article points to Fon having WAPs which do both. That's better than buying multiple WAPs, especially since I already have two in my house to get full coverage.

Update: Ok, most of the devices probably do support WPA, though even one that doesn't is enough to be annoying.

What they didn't tell me about newborns...
2007-12-05

So, sure, they sleep all the time, except when they're eating, which is every couple hours. Especially when they're a little preemie like Nolan. So, not much sleep, sure. I'm a night owl anyways, I keep telling my wife "I'll take the midnight til 3am feedings, you can take the one's after that".

Except, newborns are normally nocturnal. They are most awake at night, supposedly they sleep during the day in the womb as mommie is moving around, and they wake up at night when things are quiet. So, a feeding that might take 20 minutes actually drags on for an hour or more of trying to get the kid to go back to sleep. In Nolan's case, he's happy to sleep in your arms, but not so happy to sleep in his crib... only at night. And I can't really sleep with him in my arms. Or rather, I probably could sleep, but it would be a really bad idea.

So, instead of 2.5 hours of sleep every 3 hours, its more like 1 hour of sleep every hour. Doesn't make for much sleep.

Haven't really found any solutions for the "only sleeps in my arms" part.

Apple iPhone
2007-06-08

So, I'm definitely not an apple fanboy. I own a plethora of ipods of various screeds, a mini and an apple tv, but most of those have actually been gifts (thanks to those who support my gadget habit). They all work reasonably well. I mostly use the ipods either when I'm traveling, or as an mp3 player for my car. The mini is sitting a shelf at the moment, it was my desktop machine for a while, but being the G4 version, its just too slow, and was from the moment it came out. I love the form factor, and if it had the remote that the new one has, I'd probably throw it on my entertainment system. The Apple TV works reasonably well, the video quality is kind of annoying but it can be convenient. I don't agree with some friends that its lack of being able to buy things on the tv is a problem. Maybe it would be nice to do something like "get a season pass for this show" or "get the next episode of this show", but honestly, it takes too long for shows to download, and the interface is too limited for me to really pine for it. Its not like laptops are ever that far away in our house.

When the iPhone was announced, I took a look and said "cool, but". I'm a Treo 700p user, I upgraded almost immediately from my 650 for the faster network connection, and I'm pretty happy. Most cell phone interfaces suck, but I'd say that the Palm interface is the best of a sad lot. So, I'm certainly happy that Apple is taking its hand at things, hoping this will breathe some life into this space.

But... my qualms are probably the same as most people, and this possible first review mostly confirms them. The connectivity is too slow, especially with the high price, and a 2yr contract with Cingular for that price? Ugh.

I've had two cell phones before, back when I was too reluctant to give up my StarTac, and the best connected pda available was the Danger Hiptop, and it was limited to T-Mobile. But, the hiptop was a fad for me, because the connectivity sucked: T-mobile used Cingular's GPRS network. Now, I'm sure the connectivity has improved in the years since then, but the speed hasn't.

And its probably worse, since the data plan cost from Cingular is even more expensive now than my old t-mobile plan. So, I could think about buying an iPhone as a replacement iPod, but for $600 plus at least $30/month for 2 years... $1320 for an ipod? Not. If I could get it without any wireless service and just use the wi-fi, then its just a double the price zune with probably a much better interface. If my work gave me one, I wouldn't turn it down, I guess, but it just seems highly unlikely that I'd buy one.

Privacy in the modern age
2007-06-01

What is it about privacy that confuses people so much? People have this need for privacy, which I well understand. What is more surprising to me is how they react when their illusion of privacy is shattered. Dating back to the unique id feature of the Pentium 6, which got everyone up in arms about... even though every computer with a network card has a unique MAC address. Or that a computer reading your email to show you ads was more "spooky" than reading your email to classify spam. Or that ads related to what you're reading right now are somehow worse than ads which are based on tracking your interests over time (ie gmail vs Y!Mail).

This week, we have DRM free downloads from Apple. The fact that these tracks, which are licensed only for your own private use, contain personally identifying information about you shouldn't be much of a problem, should it? Now you've got a stake in illegally lending such music to other people, eh? Do you worry about the privacy implications of putting your kid's name in his underwear? Or in your wallet?

And then there's Google's new "sidewalk view" photo service. You might be able to barely see a cat in the window! Or some other things. This isn't new, after all. It may be better than existing products, but A9 had this a year ago, and even Microsoft has a pretty close zoom level for some areas. Its a car going down a public street. Even Lauren Weinstein, whom I rarely agree with on privacy issues, doesn't think this is a big deal.

And this stuff is really just the tip of the iceberg. Camera phones are already bringing us closer to some of the realities of someone always watching like in David Brin's Earth. And that's nothing compared to some of Brin's predictions about The Transparent Society.

Yes, I work for Google. No, I don't speak for Google.

Something else that annoys me
2007-04-30

Certainly, the list of things that annoys me is large, and growing. One such thing: the SciFi channels love of "marathon" sessions of shows. For instance, I hadn't gotten around to watching last Friday's Stargate Atlantis episode on my Tivo yet... and today, its gone. SciFi showed 7 episodes in a row this morning, which my Tivo dutifully recorded... but I only have it set to keep 5 episodes (the default) and so the one from last friday is gone.

Now, I could set up my recordings to only records "new" episodes... except I often record episodes on repeats because there was some conflict with the original time, though this happens less with the new dual tuner Tivo I've got.

Oh well, I wasn't that interested in watching it anyways.

Subprime mortgage lenders
2007-04-08

Some people have been gleefully predicting the end of the housing boom. Others have been lambasting mortgage lenders for being to lenient, and to lending to people who can't afford it. They also complain that mortgage lenders have come up with predatory loans like adjustable rate mortgages, or even ARM's that have below interest monthly rates for the first several years, so the principle grows over time.

Now, I'm not going to defend them. In some situations they will allow people to own a home who might not have been able to otherwise, and people will actually survive these loans and even prosper. There are also going to be plenty of cases of people falling on their swords in predictable fashions.

What confuses me, is that these bad loans cause these lenders to declare bankruptcy and go out of business.

Sure, the obvious reason is that that people they lent money to are unable to pay. Clearly, the subprime lenders were playing a game where they were attempting to make money by balancing higher paying loans against people more likely to default, and they lost, mispredicted, etc. Based on the anecdotes that the news is reporting on, the number one reason for the defaults is the rising ARM of the mortgages. You'd thik there would be an easy response to that: Doesn't the lender choose the when to apply the new rate? Can't the lender decide to not raise the rates that force these people out? Can't the lender re-negotiate instead of foreclosing? I'm sure there are complications, reasons why this doesn't work, but it just seems odd to me.

Hmm, I guess they are, according to this article. I guess its just hard work?

Aeon Flux the movie
2007-01-05

I finally got a chance to watch the Aeon Flux movie last night. I thought it was a good movie, fun to watch. I can understand how it didn't do so well, though. On the one hand, I have to commend them for keeping a lot of the Aeon Flux series and making an explanation for the whole thing that makes sense. On the other hand, making Aeon Flux make sense probably goes against what made Aeon Flux so "cool" and fun in the first place.

Truth be told, I'm not that much of a critic when it comes to action movies. I'm sure I could find some problems with it if I looked, but it was just fun.

UCLA tasering
2006-11-17

I'm sure most people have seen the news coverage and/or video, witness accounts etc.

The video isn't that good, more because the cameraman wasn't that close to the action then the actual quality of the cell phone video. The response from the police is very obvious "ass covering". The whole thing is kind of sick, especially if the guy was tasered multiple times after being cuffed, and even more so if the account on the above page is accurate.

Of course, the LA story points this as the third recent event of a video of "police brutality", and it also prompted a number of other events (even some years old) on reddit. Its interesting to sit and watch or record these things happening and all, but... shouldn't someone DO something, and what can they do? If I saw some random person threatening some other person, or tasering them for no reason, I'd certainly try to intervene. From the video, it certainly appeared that there were sufficient numbers of people to stop the police, for instance. I'm not one to immediately defer to the police in any situation, but it certainly seems like the law is on there side, even in cases like this. The whole concept of "interfering with a police officer" or "resisting arrest" being crimes seems odd to me. It assumes that the officers aren't abusing anything. Hell, you could be innocent of any crime, and guilty of those, for instance. What if the people watching the UCLA incident hadn't held back? What if they'd jumped the cop brandishing the taser, or even struck back with pepper spray or something? I'm pretty sure the law answer wouldn't be good for the person trying to help the victim in this case, and I'm sure the "blue line" would mean that the cops would gang up even if the original cop was in the wrong, but it must be painful to watch a guy get it and not be able to help.

Groups3
2006-10-04

So, we've released a new version of Google Groups today, available over at groups-beta.google.com. This release sports a new look, with more of a separation between the Search aspect of the service, and the actual Groups themselves. And, it brings to the plate a feature that was meant to make it into the new version 2 years ago, but didn't make the cut: a wiki per group. We call it Pages, to be consistent with Google Page Creator (with whom we share the editor), and also to be less "techy" (though Wiki has definitely gotten more mindshare in the past year, mostly through Wikipedia).

There's still more to come, so stay tuned over the next several months.

The new beta exists in parallel with the existing service, but eventually it will replace the existing interface. So, if you have any concerns, please let us know over at Google Groups Guide.

What "High Occupancy Vehicle" carpool should mean
2006-01-11

A woman tries to say she can use a 2 person carpool lane because she's pregnant? Gimme a break.

Actually, I think that carpool lanes are mostly a scam. If the reasoning behind carpool lanes is to increase the number of people on the road by reducing the number of cars on the road, then an HOV lane should require two people with drivers licenses and cars. Ie, it should mean that someone who could be driving, is instead not driving. Sorry, mommy and her baby in a child seat doesn't count. Daddy and his car full of the girls jv soccer team doesn't count.

Granted, the point of HOV lanes may be to encourage a variety of behavior, as can be seen with the recent electric car and hybrid car access permits. In that case, I can see "filling gaps in public transportation" would allow for the types of carpool pickup/drop offs that are common for the SF Bay bridge and in DC (pick up a stranger).

Hmm, this NCDOT study gives the following objectives for HOV lanes:

  1. Provide a faster, more reliable trip for people ridesharing or using transit
  2. Encourage motorists who would otherwise drive alone to choose to rideshare or use transit
  3. Increase the person-carrying capacity of highway corridors
  4. Reduce or defer the need for roadway widening
  5. Improve the efficiency and economy of transit operations
  6. Reduce fuel consumption
(numbered by me so I can talk about them). #1 & #2 are the same things, one is what, the other is how. #1 does provide limits, though, in that if there are too many users, #1 fails, so you have to up the number of people required. #6 means "fewer cars", and is the justification for allowing fuel efficient vehicles. #3 means more people.

So, #2 and #6 follow my point. Now, #3 might hold for non-driver passengers in the case where you otherwise wouldn't "fill" your HOV lane with those meeting #2,#5 & #6.

Of course, for some people you can just be willing to pay the fine. Which is why I sit in the 3rd lane and watch all the non-carpool cars in the carpool lane.

The economic risks of the modern family
2005-11-15

I was listening to NPR last weekend, and there was a bit about the changes in family economics in the past 30 years, and the squeezing of the middle class. The part that jumped out at me, however, was the increased economic risks that modern families undertook.

I think its pretty safe to say that up to a certain income level, Americans will spend approximately as much as they make. Some will spend more on credit, and some will actually save a little, but in general we're not known for saving money. The American Dream seems to equal consumption. In the piece on NPR, they claimed that the fundamentals had gone from 46% to 75% of a family's income, but thats actually fairly irrelevant to me: if people have money, they will spend more of it, they will buy more expensive cars, live in more expensive houses. The bigger issue they pointed out, to my thinking, was that over the last 30 years, most families have gone from one income to two. This has increased the economic risks, because if there is a surprise problem, such as one member being laid off, or being unable to work due to a health condition, there is no backup. Before, there was the possibility of the other spouse stepping in, even at a lower income level, to help the family out. Now, the family is used to surviving, and in fact has made economic obligations on the basis of the dual income. The risk that a family will have a major problem has doubled since they now require two incomes to survive. Ouch. Unintended consequence, that is.

A side note that amused me was that this person on NPR was commenting about how family incomes, adjusted for inflation, had gone up by a very good amount, almost entirely due to the addition of a second income. They then commented out the fundamentals made up a larger portion of that income now, as I mentioned above. Of course, inflation is basically the aggregate/average/indexed value of how costs of goods have increased, so what you're actually talking about there is how the cost of some things increased a lot more than the aggregate did. It might mean that the calculation of the aggregate isn't correct, actually, ie that housing and cars don't play a large enough role in the determination of calculated inflation. It should also be said that plain old economics will tell you that adding a second income will certainly put you at an advantage to those families who don't have one, but as soon as everybody's doing it, the playing field has been re-leveled, and scarce goods like real-estate and housing will certainly inflate to meet the purchasing power of the doubled available income.

benefits of government health care and pensions
2005-11-15

Capitalism, and the market, is a wonderful thing... but there are some "leveling the playing field" benefits of single payer systems. For one, if you have multiple companies competing in a cut-throat market, they will be forced to look at cutting employee benefits to gain advantage. Walmart, for example, uses labor practices that force a large percentage of their employees onto the public health care rolls. Another more obvious example is the problems some older companies are having with pensions. United ditched their pension obligations under bankruptcy protection, and now there are stories of GM looking at the same thing. When GM competes with a company in a country that has a single payer system, GM may be at a disadvantage, depending on the relative costs of taxes vs. health care. In addition, a company like United was at a disadvantage to a newer company like Jetblue because they have legacy pension obligations that Jetblue won't have for 50 years. And now that United has ditched its pension obligations, other older airlines like American are at a disadvantage because they still have their pensions to maintain.

One might argue that if none of these single payer systems existed, their wouldn't be this pressure for the US to have one as well. Granted, it would be reduced. But good luck getting other countries to ditch their single payer systems.

Another aspect of company systems is discrimination against those who are likely to cost more. That discrimination is probably mostly age discrimination, but it can also be weight or lifestyle based (obesity, those who are fans of risk taking sports) or even against those with families. The recent Walmart health care memo lead to this type of speculation, for example. We may be a way from Gattaca style discrimination, but its still there. And I'm not saying that companies will discriminate, but as long as their is economic benefit to doing so, some will be tempted.

There are, of course, problems with single payer systems as well, and generally no one is happy with the level of service of their government, but addressing the above problems in some fashion would definitely be useful.

f*cking ny times
2005-10-27

As if their normal "registration required" crap wasn't enough, apparently the NY Times op ed columns now require a "New York Times Select" account, where you either have to get the newspaper or pay. Often, its easier for me to go to bugmenot than to remember what my login is for various sites, or easier just to look for other places for my news (or even just go to Google News which has some magic to get past the registraction).

I get the newspaper, or rather my wife does. Now I get to try and figure out what my home delivery ID is, and hope that both of us can actually use it on separate accounts. And of course I can't read the article I wanted _now_, since I'm not at home and we only get the weekend papers anyways.

Does the NY Times just want to fade into nothingness? Apparently your subscription gets you access to 100 stories from their archive, which also seems odd. Didn't most of their money come from that in the past? Are you telling me they think they'll get more money from people signing up to read their op-eds than they made on their archive? Or do most of the archive readers need access to more than 100 stores a month?

It should be about influence peddling, about eye balls, about getting people to your site so they can see the ads. Kos has a graph about the waning influence in the blogosphere of the top NY Times op-ed columnists because of this.

Presumably, they know their business and they know what they are doing, but this armchair quarterback thinks this is a really bad idea.

makes no sense to me
2005-09-14

Our process for placing a judge on the US Supreme Court seems heavily flawed to me at the moment. After Robert Bork, in particular, we've come to the point where the President searches for someone with no known record. That person then goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee where he won't answer any questions about his opinions, especially if they might pertain to cases that could come before the court. And barring anything unforseen, they get placed on the court.

Arguably one of the most important, longest lasting and most far reaching positions of power in the US, and only a handful of people know anything about how they'll make decisions. Seems fairly flawed to me.

And perhaps, the way judges are supposed to work, they do the right thing by refusing to answer those questions. But if thats the case, it is the duty of the senators voting to approve the nomination to reject candidates with no record. Only by reviewing the candidates judicial record, and perhaps law review articles, etc, can they make an informed decision. There is no guaruntee, of course. There are examples of judges who have shocked everyone with their departure from their record, but its the only valid mechanism we have to actually know what we're in for. But we should know what we're getting.

Listening to some of the testimony of John Roberts, he claims that every case is unique, and he can't comment on vague questions, and he can't comment on things that are likely to come before the court, etc. Being a judge, to him, means taking the context, the laws, and the precedents and the history and rendering an opinion. Except his opinion does influence his decisions. The Supreme Court is seldom unanimous.

Not that I don't expect Roberts to get approved. But we need to change how we're doing this, which mostly requires the senators to not accept this type of nominee. We need nominees with more judicial experience, so we have a record on which to judge them.

Things that make you go hmm
2005-09-12

Today, there were two large tech company acquisitions: eBay bought Skype and .

Now, the deal for Siebel makes a great deal of sense, unless you're worried about Oracle becoming more of a monopoly. The current market cap for Siebel is $5.39B, and they have $2.24B in cash on hand. They had revenue of $1.32B for the last year, and $883M in profit. This makes the $5.85B price Oracle agreed to fairly reasonable.

eBay is paying $2.6B for Skype, with another $1.5B offered for meeting financial targets. Skype seems to be a stretch for eBay because it doesn't seem to fall into the eBay business, but it could indicate a desire to move beyond just auctions. Skype isn't public, but some information was given out, they expect revenue of $60M this year, and $200M next year, but is not profitable. 54 million members, expected to double in a year, puts it at between $1-$2 dollars in revenue per user per yer, a very low number.

Now, Siebel is an older company, and its not going anywhere fast. Its been pretty flat for the last 2 years, and about equal to mid-99 before the bubble. Its a very obvious deal for Oracle and a fairly easy to understand price. Oracle is currently valued at $69B, has revenue of $11.8B and profit of $9.15B, so its about 10% of its value for about 10% more in income/profit, though I'm not sure how much of its own business would be cannibalized.

eBay is worth $53.1B and has $3.86B in revenue and $2.66B in profits. The only way this makes sense is if VOIP is on the verge of taking off, and Skype stands to be the largest player in the space... and that there is profit enough there in the business of undercutting the current telecoms. It seems like it may be a stretch to me. The potential is there... but its a risky move on eBay's part. No points for being risk averse, though.

Job-based health care
2005-06-24

A Reuters article about the flaws in job-based health care is some interesting reading. As an employee (and former employer) in the Bay Area who switches jobs often, I've often complained about the fact that my health care is attached to my job. Every time I switch companies, I have to redo my health care, I may have to change doctors if they aren't in the plans I'm offered, I may have hassles from the insurance company about covering pre-existing conditions. And if I want to start my own company, I have to pay COBRA fees to keep my existing coverage, or get my own personal coverage, or get my startup to offer health care.

One idea some friends of mine kicked around was starting a Credit Union or Professional Organization (or using one of the existing ones) to provide health care for its members. Increasingly, however, I'm thinking the only way to really do this is universal care. I know its going to suck, but when you look at all of the competing pressures, I don't know how else to do it. For instance, younger single people have few problems, so they are more likely to opt-out of the system. But if they do, that leaves just the more expensive people in the system, raising rates for everyone. Maybe individual coverage (like auto insurance) would work if we have laws requiring people to have health coverage, but then you might have companies which target "good health" people like some insurance companies target "good drivers". Where "good health" doesn't just mean "in good shape, doesn't smoke", but could mean "has good genes" or "is single under 30". Universal coverage means "everyone gets coverage" and payment is based on taxes, which means "ability to pay", and that ends up being pretty "fair" as these things go. Of course, then you get crappy government service, and crackpots (some are even doctors) in Sacramento or Washington determining what health care is good for you, and want "violates the sanctity of life" or they just don't want to provide because keeping some military base open (that the military wants to close) is more important than health care.

Why is broadband so annoying?
2005-06-20

You'd think that broadband would be designed to be easy to use. After all, the average person using broadband these days is not a computer user. I know network setup isn't completely obvious, but DHCP certainly goes most of the way there. Having now used both Y! SBC DSL and Comcast High Speed Internet, they both make the process really annoying and practically spyware in their install kits.

Take Y! SBC DSL. They use PPP over Ethernet (PPPoE). This has something to do with their provisioning and usage logging. I'm willing to admit that they know their business better than I do and there may exist reasons for using this that outweigh the "plug and play" ease of use that the system would be without it. But on top of all that, they require you to use their software to set the account up. They mostly ignore the case of using a cable/dsl router. The software setup is actually half a series of web pages, and half built into their software (if you know the right web address, you can access their sign up process at around stage 4). Part of their software then installs a whole bunch of Y! software crud including Y! Messenger, Toolbar, their own browser in the newer versions, etc. Courtney really appreciated all this when I did it with her work laptop last time (since I didn't have a Windows machine at the time to do it from). I don't need nor do I want all of this bundled crap. At least, after the annoyance of figuring it out, it actually worked flawlessly for 2 years.

At the new place, I got a Comcast cable modem instead. Mostly because SBC claims it takes a week to get DSL service, whereas Comcast offered installation on Saturday and Sunday. Comcast uses a system more like that used by hotels and other "sign-in to use" services where they intercept all web traffic (and block other ports) until you register. On the surface, sounds better than the software route used above, except instead of the simple web registration that you'd get in a hotel or anywhere else that used this method, all you get is a "download this software to register". Windows software, I might add. 22MB of download. The page uses relative URLs for images, so if you go to some url that isn't at the top level of a domain, all of the images in the page fail to load. And they don't use a fully qualified domain name for the download link, just "cdn", so that fails as well. Or maybe there was some other failure going on there, since it worked later on. If you pop in the CD they give you, it has the 22MB registration software on it. So, you pop it in and register, and away you go. They make you reboot your computer (which shouldn't be involved at all, I have a gateway router/NAT), and the modem, and bam it works. Except it stopped working 20 minutes later. Reboot the modem, it works again until I try it next, and then I couldn't get it to work until I called Comcast support, they had me reboot my computer, the router and the modem, and it works (and he was connected to my modem and didn't understand why it didn't just work before). I'm expecting to go back home tonight and find it doesn't work. And to top it all off, they replaced the rotating World IE throbber with the C in the Comcast logo. How nice. Luckily I don't use IE. Unlike the Y! crud, which I could uninstall, I don't see anything in the list of programs to uninstall to fix that.

You'd think a little bit of software to set your computer to use DHCP would be fine. Or even instructions. They have instructions on their site on how to set your computer to use DHCP (they don't call it that, of course). Can they really not have made whatever provisioning/registration/whatever crap done on their end?

In my old age, I'm beginning to be less and less willing to deal with all of this stuff.

Itching to pick up a box
2005-06-20

This past weekend, we hired the Delancy Street movers to pack and move into our house. Efficient, professional, I'll recommend them. The oddest feeling though, was to sit there and watch them move everything (and answering the occasional "where does this go?"). If I didn't need to direct it, maybe it wouldn't have been anything special (it wasn't as odd when they were packing, for instance). I did manage to sunburn the back of my neck, though.

Anyone for serial A/V connections?
2005-06-20

Someone needs to come up with a simple widely adopted standard for serial cables to connect all A/V equipment. Maybe it won't do everything (video separate for now?) but after tearing apart two stereo/tv/dvd systems and pondering having to set them up in the new place, I'd really love being able to run just one cable from each device to the closest device, and have every cable be the same. Instead I have the weird chain of different cables for the video signal (with splitting/etc) and then the one to many for the audio (receiver to everything else). And on top of that are the computers...

Maybe I'm just a luddite that I thought "serial" and not "bluetooth"...

Neal Stephenson on Star Wars and Engineering
2005-06-17

Hmm, this article by Neal Stephenson is an interesting counter-point to the earlier article by Ted Rall that I picked on. He basically equates the Jedi with the engineers and scientists who make the world we live in possible. His point is interesting and somewhat accurate, though equating engineers with Jedi would confer on us more power and coolness than we actually have. In reality, engineers and scientists tend to be masters of small domains, and modern society depends on many of these domains working in concert.

On the other hand, as Lazarus Long (no relation) said, specialization is for insects.

Which lead me to an interesting article about how to fix the software complexity problem. His claim is that every part of a system should be able to charge for its use. That is one way of solving the problem. The other is libraries, of course, which developers do exchange, sometimes for money, sometimes to encourage use of the system, and sometimes for free because it also doesn't cost us anything to share something after we've built it.

How Best Buy lost my business
2005-04-27

I've been a some what fan of Best Buy for a while. Its not Fry's Electronics, but it has a reasonable selection of stuff at reasonable prices, and when I want something "now" and don't want to wait for an on-line order, its great. I've bought some ridiculous percentage of my Christmas gifts at Best Buy over the last couple years, for instance. I've used their "performance" guaruntee stuff for things like digital cameras, or when buying gifts that I don't want the giftee to worry about, despite the annoying pressure sales tactics they use for them (and they are not alone in this). I've been annoyed at the whole rebate thing, since I almost never fill out rebates, especially on gifts for others (where I won't have the stupid UPC or whatever they require), but convenience and price have kept me coming back.

That all changed last week when I attempted to buy one of the new Sony PSPs for a friend for his birthday. I should have ordered it online, but I was running late, and most of the online stores had these stupid bundles or where charging a premium anyways, so I went looking around and a Best Buy on my way home had some in stock.

They also had an annoying 'bundle', which was poorly explained to me, but I had to buy two "accessories" and two games along with the unit. Fine. They were mostly out of accessories, but I picked up some $10 case that was clearly never going to be used, and a memory card and two games, which were fine. The salesman had also said something about a free AOL subscription and a free subscription to the "netflix" for games, but I figured these were just the usual "free cd's" or whatever that I could ignore. He pressured me for the performance guaruntee, tauting it especially for the dead pixel problem the PSP has, and was more annoying than usual about it. Especially when I talked with a different salesman and he also tried the hard sell for the performance guaruntee.

I get up to the counter to buy this stuff, and I'm buying like $130 worth of stuff above the $249 PSP just so I can get the PSP, when the guy at the counter asks for my credit card for the AOL subscription. I said, what? Apparently, not content to just hand out their stupid free CDs, they actually wanted me to sign up for AOL right there, and I'd have to cancel the subscription later after the free hours if I didn't want to continue using it. The idiot at the counter couldn't really explain this, because he couldn't really speak. Couldn't really do math, either, since he claimed the bundle was giving me one of the games for free because there was $20 off... except the games were $40 each, and when I pointed this out, he then said "ok, that makes it $10 for the game then"... right, and I didn't even mention having to spend $130 to get $20 off... so he goes looking for a manager at my insistence, and the manager explains that "this is how we've chosen to sell these" and no doubt it was working, since they claimed to only have 4 left (and there was someone in line behind me buying one). I just said something like "fuck it" and walked out of the store without the PSP.

This is a new low in dirty annoying retail tactics. The whole "free until we start charging then you have to call us up to stop" tactic is one of the lowest forms of scams that I expect from places like "free" porn sites, and not places I would ever choose to spend my money. That AOL uses this tactic, I'm not surprised. That Best Buy would force their customers to sign up for this at the store, especially to wring a few extra dollars out of the sale for a high demand item is beyond the pale for me. If they had any balls, they would have just done what the online stores did, over charge for the damn PSP.

They've lost my business. And all extol my opinion to my friends as well. We spend a lot of money there, relatively, but I'd be surprised if that affects as much as $10k of their yearly business, which is no doubt a drop in the bucket for them, so they can feel free to ignore my boycott. If I had a great deal more time, I'd be sending them a paper letter and starting a boycott best buy campaign, but as it is, this blog post on the subject is already 8 days behind.

As for my friend, well, he got a book about Italian Wine, some Italian Wine, and a gift certificate for Wine. Yes, my wife's idea. And one of his other female friends had the same idea.

Google
2005-04-01

I work for Google, you may know. A big company with a "don't be evil" motto makes an easy target, it seems. I like working here, for a number of reasons. I wish we'd be more public about a whole bunch of things we do, but secrecy is good for the soul and the bottom line. I've seen us go from being a darling to being a darling with a bunch of Google playa-haters (some of whom even have the gall to suggest they should be hired to fix our "problems". Hah!) And we don't really respond, because its really not worth it to respond to the stupid things, and even on the big things most people aren't really listening, they have already made up their minds. Still..

But sometimes, we respond with style. And thats another reason to love working for this company.

Now if I can just convince them to open a San Francisco office, it'll be perfect...

And to quote a competitor's #1 blogger, we're hiring.

and in other news... And I thought the gmail team was joking about that last week. Gmail, the April Fools non-joke continues...

I'd also like to point out that $500 million buys a lot of computing power[1]. Wouldn't you like to play with that? Or the joys of receiving an email about how there are only a couple terabytes left on a cluster, can people please clean up some space?

[1] Or computing that takes a lot of power.

Y! Groups has a new look
2005-03-25

Last couple of times I've talked with my friends still working on Y! Groups, they mentioned they had finally gotten the ok to do a UI change. Well, its finally out. The new look is pretty clean, though I long ago used adblock to block all the annoying ads on the site, so maybe thats part of it. They do take up a lot more space with some stuff, and have some problems with vertical scrolling (this seems normal now for y! properties, they have so much room on top for the larger banners that it pushes the content down enough that you always have to scroll the top part off the screen). They have message summaries on all messages, not just the last 5 now, and I think searching may be better, but I haven't extensively checked. It looks pretty nice.

An aside, I haven't actually used the site itself that often recently, mostly using it via email, and I hadn't noticed that one of my "anyone can post" groups was just chock full of spam. I'd either deleted it one by one in my inbox without noticing it was on the group, or my own spam/virus filters caught the messages. Its nice that they make it so easy to delete messages...

Just Married.
2005-03-07

So, on Saturday February 26th at around 4pm, in what has to be one of the shortest ceremonies on record, I was married by my Uncle Hap to the love of my life, Courtney Minick.

After that, I'm not entirely certain where the rest of the day went.

Pictures, the cocktail hour, the introduction, speeches, dinner, the first dance, dancing, cutting the cake, more dancing, and then some hazy part where I was drinking directly from some wine bottles. I guess I felt the bar was too far away. We didn't seem to have time for the whole table by table talking to our guests, so I'm sure I didn't get to thank everyone for coming. Everything went pretty well, with only a couple problems. I'd say we learned for next time... but there will never be a next time. It was certainly my favorite wedding, but I look forward to future weddings that I'm less involved in.

BTW, all the credit for the wedding actually goes to Courtney, with ample help from her mother Karen and her sister Meg.

After the wedding, it was off to Kaua'i (Hawaii), where we stayed at the Hyatt Regency. Mostly, we laid by the pool. Nothing particularly special in the food department, though we did eat some Puka Dogs, which were quite yummy. And I had quite a bit of Lappert's Ice Cream. I also had quite a few "Lava Flows", a Pina Colada on top of a strawberry puree.

We never did make it to the Na'poli Coast, I was thwarted first by the helicopter, and then heavy seas prevented our dinner cruise from going. Perhaps we'll have to schedule another trip...

Comcast's Video on demand service
2005-02-12

Anyone else try the new Comcast video on demand service? If I was them, I'd be ashamed at releasing such a crappy product. It does come with a new theme for the comcast guide, so its not quite so ugly anymore, and it even feels a bit less sluggish, but that doesn't really matter. Just turn to channel "1" and try any one of the ondemand videos available. Its like the old bad days of video over the internet, all you get is really jittery video with horrible mpeg artifacting. The dating on demand service didn't work for me at all, it just gave me a bunch of mpeg artifacts. And they expect me to pay $4-9 for the privilege? Not likely. I can only imagine that it works better with the newer cable boxes or maybe in places with fewer cable modem subscribers. Or maybe my cable line is bad. In any case, its pretty pathetic.

The first rule of driving is...
2005-02-11

... no touching. Violated that rule today, or rather, had it violated for me. See, there's a reason to be glad I don't have a new car, or I'd be really pissed when someone hit it.

The accident was fairly typical for high traffic. In the left lane of 101, everyone starts slamming on their breaks, I just avoid the car in front of me when I'm hit from behind, causing me to hit the guy in front of me. Real cause of the accident is a ladder in the left lane about a quarter of a mile in front of me.

CHP arrived while I was still on hold with 911, not sure if someone else got through to them first. Interesting, they were very concerned about getting us all of the highway as soon as possible, for safety reasons. One car was in the middle of the accident but avoided it, and the CHP officer told the driver that he was standing in the "worst place", that he was likely to lose his legs if a car hit him while standing there. Weird. I tried to point out that there was something in the road ahead of us, and the officer asked if it was right here, when I said no, look, he was very dismissive about it. They took us off the highway to gather information. As we drove to the off ramp, I could see the ladder, and the break marks from someone else who slammed on their breaks. Apparently they saw it too, and I guess they sent someone to clear it off. First question was "were you wearing your seat belt", second was "were you on your cell phone".

Apparently, they'll send me (or I have to get from them) the information about who was there, etc, from some Collison Report Form that will be available in 10 days (and costs $10!). Of course, I have to fill out a DMV SR-1 form within the next 10 days, so I guess a bunch of it will be blank. Got into work, downloaded the SR-1 form from the DMV website, filled out the online accident claim form for my insurance company.

I'm guessing, if there has to be fault, that the guy in the BMW who hit me from behind is going to get it. Following too close, violation of the basic speed law, something like that. Its weird, I was so encompassed in avoiding hitting the guy in front of me, and when I finally stopped and hadn't hit him, I had a sigh of relief, and then bam. But the bam was like "and now the guy behind me hit me", I was practically expecting it.

I get into the elevator at work, and this other guy goes "How's your day?" and I go "Pretty shitty so far."

Congrats to Mark and Bloglines!
2005-02-09

By now, everyone knows that Ask Jeeves has purchased Bloglines. I'm still getting over my disappointment that it wasn't Google (don't know if we even tried, not my department) and my surprise that Mark actually wanted to go down that path again. But that doesn't change the excitement and validation that comes from doing the deal.

So congratulations are certainly in order. Huzzah!

On the flip side, I've never paid much attention to Ask Jeeves before. I guess I missed when they acquired iWon (which means they have Excite and MyWay).

Bachelor's party at Mardi Gras
2005-02-09

Its good when your friends know you well enough to plan your last big harrah in New Orleans, home to my favorite food genre. And even better when it just happens to be Mardi Gras. Dinner at Commanders Palace, which was worth having to dress up for. Our own balcony on Bourbon to throw beads from. Other, less refined, delights.

BTW, if you don't like crowds, I'd recommend a less busy time of year... Its good to be big, sometimes, like when the entire street decides to shift down one balcony, and you're trying to go the other way.

Chicago style pizza coming to my neighborhood
2005-01-31

Finally, "real" Chicago pizza in SF, and in Hayes valley! In news thats probably not good for my waistline, I passed the former location of Powell's Soul Food on Hayes near Octavia, and there was a sign in the window for "future home of Patxi's Chicago Pizza. (hmm, its the picture here used for Yoga Tree, the paper'ed up store front between Yoga Tree and New Leaf) Patxi's makes a Giordano's style pie, like Zachary's Chicago Pizza of Berkeley/Oakland. Its not my favorite type (Lou Malnati's, Nancys, Pizza Bakery, etc), but its a close second. Patxi's recently opened in Palo Alto, and is pretty good. There's no information on their website about the new location, yet. Frankly, Zachary's missed the boat on this one, I'm sure they could have expanded beyond their two stores, but they've been stagnant for too long, so Patxi's is going to try it instead.

There is a "Pizz'a Chicago" in SF at the Wharf, but they're pretty far from being an accurate rendition of a Chicago Pizza (decent meatball sub, though). There was a chain Pizzeria Uno Chicago Grill on Lombard, but it recently became an SFO something (similar signage, UNO->SFO, and recent enough that the yellow pages and the picture at Amazon are of the older one). The chain isn't that much like the original, and the original isn't my favorite, but if you got the Classic it was an ok pie (did I mention I was a gourmand, not a gourmet?). older one

yellow pages with pictures
2005-01-31

Last week, Amazon's A9 search unit came out with their new Yellow Pages service which has actual ground level pictures of the storefronts in 10 cities across the US. Its pretty cool, at least in theory, but there are quite a few errors in the data, for instance my first search was for Memphis Minnie's, my favorite local BBQ place, turned up a picture of a boarded up building a block away. Other things I tried didn't really have any good picture, or turned up just pictures of intersections. If you click through to the Amazon page, however, you can suggest a better picture, which is a cool. The whole concept of the 'yellow pages' having a full amazon page where you can post reviews and feedback is definitely cool, and adds to the existing service where you can find restaurant menu's on amazon as well. On the other hand, the a9.com interface is apparently too "complicated" and "magic", since it basically wouldn't work on my treo when I tried to show it to some people, and forwarding the url didn't help much either (http://a9.com/memphis obviously doesn't include much information, such as the location you searching or what "modules" are enabled, so the person won't get the local search results for my section of SF).

There is an article on USA Today about the service, which brings up some "privacy" concerns that the service works for "abused women's shelters, abortion clinics and adult video stores". Now, if there are actually recognizable pictures of people in the pictures of those places... I can see there is a privacy implication, but that's not what the article mentions as a complaint. They point out complaints about those places being in the data at all. Now, are we trying to hide abused women's shelters from abused women? Is the security of these places based on needing to know the secret handshake or the right person to find them? That hardly sounds like a real solution. Its the off-line equivalent of "securing" your content by having it on a "secret" url and telling people not to link to it or share it with others. Ie, it doesn't work. Hopefully this is just a case of sloppy reporting, since the partial quote they include from Pam Dixon implies the problem of the photograph containing a picture of the abused women, and not the location (though as quoted, its still not clear).

got me a new Treo
2005-01-11

So, after sticking with my Startac for nearly 6 years, and enduring months of people telling me it was time to upgrade, I finally took the plunge. With the new year, I replaced my Startac with the new Palm Treo 650 (still with Sprint). I've also had a Danger Sidekick with T-Mobile as a portable web terminal for over a year.

I was almost scared away from the device by the sales reps at the Sprint PCS store. They claimed that when the device losses power (by taking the battery out or letting it die), you can lose some of your contacts, or the entire phone can be reset and need to be re-programmed by Sprint. I couldn't find any mentions of this particular bug on the web, though there were clearly a lot of other bugs out there. They were also careful to tell me about the 30 day return policy on the phone, and told me not to buy accessories in case I return it, etc.

My main concern was actually how well the phone would work as a phone, and that is still my main concern after having it for nearly two weeks. I liked my Startac in that it was a natural phone form, and the speaker wasn't very directional. I've tried to use friend's Nokia phones, and felt I had to hold the phone at exactly the right point to hear it. I've felt some of the same with the Treo, but not as bad. I think part of it is the Treo speaker isn't "crisp", at leat not at high volume. Its also uncomfortable on the ear for long discussions, so I've bought a headphone piece for it (and noticed it came with one) so we'll see how that goes.

Dialing while driving is definitely out. With my Startac, I could dial by feel, or I had memorized the right steps to certain people in my phone book, and a quick glance would be enough to know I had the right person and call. Not being able to dial in the car might be a good thing, or I might get the voice dialing working (but you have to pay extra for that? What?)

Speaking of "paying for it", I was somewhat surprised by the software CD the Treo came with, in that it had a bunch of software on it, some was labeled as requiring purchase, some that was just demo software but wasn't labeled as such (10 games on Tetris? Come on), and some that wasn't Palm software at all, like Realplayer, Quicktime and Windows Media Player 9. I need to get suggestions for software.

The only bug I've hit to date is trying to set up VersaMail. Its buggy, that's clear from all the forums. For me, it resets the device after it finishes syncing to my IMAP server. The "push" mail application on the Sidekick is clearly superior in most respects to VersaMail, from the interface to the fact that I don't have to "choose" how often to sync my mail, it just always arrives. Setting VersaMail to sync more often than once an hour causes it to warn you that you might shorten your battery life. Well, maybe that explains why the Treo lasts for days, and the Sidekick is lucky to last 36 hours.

As for web browsing, the Treo beats the Sidekick in almost all categories. Some of this is because the Sprint 1xRTT network is much faster than the T-Mobile GPRS network, and its very obvious while using the device. The Sidekick does do a better job navigation wise, with the roller for scrolling and the back button to go back. I haven't quite figured out how to use Palm hotkeys on the keypad for easy back. On the other hand, the Treo also feels faster because it does this two level render, where it first renders the html in a very basic format, and then fills it in after it gets most of the images. This allows for much more efficient browsing of sites which have way too many images, especially ones before the content of the page. On the Sidekick, you have to wait for the images to load, and it usually doesn't let you scroll beyond them. Also on the Treo, you can switch to a "full view" instead of the optimized view, so you can use websites and tables which just can't be compressed (by allowing horizontal scrolling). The Blazer browser on the Treo also supports javascript, and in generally just feels faster to start fetching a page. There must be something about the proxy/rewrite model the Sidekick uses which just adds latency, which is noticeable even beyond the latency of the network... or the network is just that bad.

My only other beef so far is with the SMS messaging. There is this confusion between email and SMS messaging, but I don't really "text" anyone (couldn't really on my Startac) but I use it heavily as a pager (I'm oncall at work) and my pages are all email... but I want to be able to respond from the phone, and the SMS client really doesn't want to respond correctly. It doesn't follow the Reply-To of the email, it doesn't let you edit the To address (unless you add a voice/image message.. but you have to add the voice/image attachment). On the Sidekick, I couldn't use the email as a pager, since I didn't want to be notified on every new message, and I can't use that on the Treo since VersaMail sucks and its not push. So, no replies from the phone.

I haven't been able to get bluetooth syncing to work, though I have used the infrared fairly easily. My laptop found the Treo, and my Treo found my laptop, but wouldn't sync. Dunno. I could have used the Treo DUN Hack when I was in a hotel in Tahoe without internet connectivity, but instead spent my time browsing the web via the Treo. I also found the pssh client to work amazingly well, and haven't had the annoying constantly dropping connections that I've had with the Sidekick's Terminal app.

Overall, I'm fairly happy. I haven't quite figured out how to answer the phone when its in my pocket (I keep answering it while getting it out, and then hanging up when I go to answer it). We'll see how it lasts. I don't think it will last 6 years...

And yes, I was tempted by the Startac 2004, but $1600? That's a bit much...

Earthsea mini-series
2005-01-11

I guess I should point out, I watched this thing over the holidays, and it was horrible. If you've read the books, avoid it. If you haven't read the books, read them instead. The first three books are fairly simple and straight forward, and skip a lot of things that I thought could have been fleshed out well in the mini-series, but instead we got a wishy washy forced combination of the first two books that seemed like an overly obvious attempt to shoe horn Earthsea into the same "formula" as the Harry Potter movies. Jeez.

We're getting married...
2005-01-11

Check it out: www.courtandbrandon.com. Thanks to Jack for the design.

Things to come
2004-08-21

So, recently I've taken to watching Stargate SG:1 (and the new Stargate: Atlantis shortly after that). For whatever reason, I hadn't succumbed to my normal impulses for the x number of years its been on. Recently, I re-evaluated that decision in the midst of the TV summer doldrums, and admitted to myself that I've watched far crappier SF TV in the form of such grand shows as the last season of Earth Final Conflict, Andromeda, or even on ocassion Mutant X, so why should I stay away from Stargate?

This isn't a post about that, however. While breezing through some episodes on the Tivo, I've seen some commercials for some upcoming shows on the SciFi channel, including a Farscape movie/mini-series, a Battlestar Galactica series, and an Earthsea mini-series.

I was a fair fan of Farscape, though I joined it late as well. I'm glad to see it coming back, even if only for a short time. This may work out ok, though given the somewhat rocky Babylon 5 "movies", I won't hold my breath. At least we'll have an answer to the cliff hanger finale.

I did like the Battlestar Galactica mini-series that SciFi did earlier. I wasn't such a big fan of the original that I had hate for the remake, mostly because I was 6 when it was originally out. I did have the Dagget action figure, and a Viper (which Mom hated because it actually shot something). And the mini-series definitely had that "this is only the beginning" that had "pilot" written all over it. At least I didn't miss the second half like some friends did (poor guide listings by SciFi meant that the Tivo didn't realize there were two episodes, and I had to force it to tape the second one). So, I'm happy to watch some more of it.

Earthsea... I read it as a kid, and remembered liking it. When Tehanu came out, it seemed to miss me for some reason. It had been many years since I'd read the original trilogy, but Tehanu seemed to have more adult attitudes, or maybe I was just more of an adult. For whatever reason, I hadn't re-read the series like I had re-read so many others. Perhaps it is time to re-visit the series. Apparently, there are a couple more books to the series as well.

Worth watching, I think. And hope that the SciFi channel isn't only going for that monsters/horror or whatever schlock that people were afraid of.

nostalgia
2004-08-17

Been running programs a lot in gdb recently, and it just occured to me that I haven't spent this much time typing "run" since my Apple ][ days.

In another bit of nostalgia, celebrated three years of dating at Tequila 2004 by passing out on the couch. You'd think I was much younger...

RSS as DDoS
2004-07-22

A followup to an early article about RSS Growing pains. It makes it prety obvious that serving RSS with straight Apache for popular sites is probably a bad idea, but you won't know that until you "hit the wall" as he states.

RSS is too dumb to do anything to really stop this, but you would think that aggregators would be a bit smarter. Clients could just have a random walk setting in their fetcher, so it wouldn't fetch every hour on the hour, for instance. If the load was evenly distributed throughout the hour, you'd still have (clients * 24) extra load on your systems, but it could be as much a couple orders of magnitude less "pop".

Fixing the protocol, one could imagine server side aggregators (hmm, that is confusing terminology) which could combine multiple feeds, and then a client could request all of the feeds from the single source. This could be combined with pingers such that these "clusterers" (ugh) would get pushed updates from the people publishing the feeds. The original feeds could even contain pointers to clusterers which support their feed.

In a perfect world, those writing these clients would actually support their own clients in this fashion so their clients wouldn't wreck havoc on the world. They don't have to handle all the feeds, just the most popular ones. Ie, the client would fetch the feed from the primary source, tell the mother service all the feeds it fetchs (anonymously, of course), and then for any feed with more than say 1000 subscriptions, the mother service would tell the client to fetch the feed from them instead. Good citizen and all that. Plus, it would allow the client software to report aggregate statistics about subscribership across the rss world, much like Bloglines does now.

The next step after that would of course be some sort of P2P mechanism for distribution, hijack one of the existing protocols (BitTorrent has been mentioned in the past, but that seems too one shot to me, but I'm not an expert), though you should run this service maybe separate from the primary one (different ports or whatever, no need to clutter the service with rss feeds).

The most obvious answer from a server side is to serve your RSS feeds off of something like squid. It can handle a much larger number of simultaneous transactions due to its async nature, and the caching isn't a bad thing either. It might also help when you have a really large number of feeds. It should be interesting if the GG2 feeds become very popular, for instance. Well, interesting to me, since I'll have to fix the problem...

Krystal burgers?
2004-07-21

While in New Orleans, I just had to try Krystal Burgers, which appear (and taste) nearly identical to White Castle.

No clue about this movie.

Someone else's opinion on the difference between the two.

Hmm, here's a supposed recipe for White Castle Cheeseburgers, i'll have to try that...

The big treat in Vancouver though was DQ. Hmm, not the new Grill & Chill, though. And they didn't have Chocolate ice cream, in either the express or the full store. Yes, we had it twice in two days...

Silly Disclaimer
2004-07-21

A Volvo commercial which features a computer animated car, talking about "when the new blah blah starts showing up in video games", has a disclaimer that states "Animated Car on an Animated Course".

Further disclaimer at the end of the commercial states "Car is a rendering for illustrative purposes and does not precisely depict the Volvo product."

Just in case you weren't sure about those things.

Back from Vacation
2004-07-20

Took a last minute vacation last week (the Fiancee[1] and I determined rather late that it was the only time we could take a vacation all summer due to prior (mostly wedding related) commitments). We went to New Orleans, and then Vancouver. I know, an odd combination.

In New Orleans, we wondered around in the heat and drank cold beverages and ate good food. First night we ate at Olde N'awlins Cookery, which we just wandered into. It was surprisingly good. Second night we ate at Bayona, which was also quite tasty. Third night was Emeril's, though the chef was no where to be found. All around good food.

Vancouver was beautiful (well, except for the patch between Gastown and Chinatown that we wandered through, which seemd to include a crack alley). Seemed like as many homeless people as in SF, though their routine was a bit different. The weather was perfect.

You know, this trip made me think of showers in hotels. For some reason, showers in hotels are generally bad. I'm not sure if this is just a hard thing (plumbing for so many), but being tall and liking hot showers with lots of pressure, I'm usually disappointed by hotel showers. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton Maison in New Orleans, and the shower was fabulous, while Courtney loved the oversized bath tub (complete with candles, no less). The shower in the Pacific Palisades in Vancouver on the other hand... the shower head was too low, the pressure was ok, but the temperature kept varying from cold to scalding hot. Unpleasant. It was better than our hotel in Monterey last year where some crap bubbled up through the drain.

The other amusing thing to note is how the prices of hotels don't vary all that much. You can spend $150-200 on a crappy hotel, or on the Ritz Carlton Club hotels, depending entirely on fate. Did I mention I hate airline pricing too?

[1] Weird, didn't know that there were two ways to spell fiance, one male to female the other female to male. Definition

More bad reporting
2004-07-20

Over the last week, I found a couple more examples of biased reporting. The first was from the NYTimes in an article about John Edwards earning release, where they tried to paint a picture of tax evasion by the use of a "so called S corporation". S Corporations aren't rocket science, they are one of several types of incorprations allowed under most states. These types include partnerships, sole proprietorships, LLC's (a relative new comer in the states), S Corporations and C Corporations. Most big companies are C Corps, and lots of small businesses are S Corps. Neotonic was actually a C corp, though we debated being an S Corp instead. An S corp is limited to 25 share holders, so it only works for small companies, but it allows you to "pass through" the income of the company to the shareholders, so you don't have to pay taxes twice (ie, the company and you pay taxes in a C corp, but only you have to pay taxes in an S corp). The main thrust of the NY Times article was that Edwards "avoided" paying about $500k in Medicaid taxes by using this scheme: he only took $360k in income and had the rest paid in dividends from the company. I didn't know that Medicaid taxes applied to your full income, I assumed that it stopped around $70k like FICA, but we'll assume they are correct. But, it seems perfectly reasonable to me to have a salary of $360k (I know, it sounds like a lot, but this is a personal injury lawyer), and then any profits of the company would be distributed as dividends, which are taxed at a lower rate (and apparently don't apply to FICA & Medicaid). That's not "tax avoidance", that's just following the tax rules and running a company, something a lot of people in the US do.

The second was from USA Today (I was in a hotel, of course), where an article about people still using P2P services called them "unauthorized services". There is no "authorizing" authority for software, unless you're talking about the "Made for WinXP" label or something. You might be able to use eDonkey and Kazaa to get unauthorized copies of movies, music, or software (or knitting patterns, for that matter), but that doesn't make the software itself "unauthorized".

Unbiased reporting...
2004-07-05

How's this title grab you: Group of Lawyers Seek to Overturn 10 Patents-Report. Yes, that's actually the Electronic Frontier Foundation, defined on their own page as "a nonprofit group of passionate people - lawyers, volunteers, and visionaries - working to protect your digital rights". Guess whomever wrote the Reuters article just stopped at the "lawyers" part. Could you imagine a news organization saying a "Group of Lawyers" when talking about the RIAA or the MPAA? Or the Cattleman's assocation or even the American Bar Association?

So, is this biased reporting, or just plain bad reporting?

Welcome to planet Earth
2004-06-18

Nathanael Robert Herman, 6/16/2004, son of Stacie Michelle Long Herman and Jason Herman.

Passing...
2004-06-18

Morgan Le Faye Minick, 6/1998 - 6/11/2004

What the hell is type punning?
2004-06-18

All of a sudden, everyone is complaining that clearsilver doesn't compile, or at least gives bad sounding warnings about type-punning. I don't even know what that is, but all of the discussions I've read make it sound like I'm the only one who doesn't know what that is. Apparently, I missed a memo. Here's a usenet summary that says "Type punning generally means treating an object, particularly a pointer, as an object of a different type." for the example: (int*)ptr_to_void.

The problem seems indemic to the my generic collections, where I get data out of the collection by passing in a ptr to void *. Apparently, this doesn't work:

  struct tm *foo;
  uListGet(mylist, 1, (void **)&foo);
but this does:
  struct tm *foo;
  void *ptr;
  uListGet(mylist, 1, &ptr);
  foo = ptr;
That's annoying. This also compiles:
  struct tm *foo;
  uListGet(mylist, 1, (void *)&foo);
which I'm not sure why. You can't do &(void *)foo, so maybe its just an ordering thing?

Here's off to change all the calls in my code. Ugh.

Google acquires Neotonic redux
2004-06-08

Last friday, news.com.com discovered that Google bought my company. Well, they mentioned Dave at least. My Google News Alerts caught the story with-in 10 minutes (pretty cool, that). Cooler would have been if they'd actually done some investigation to see when it actually happened, which was April of 2003, more than a year ago. Someone must have clued them in, since the stories gone now, but a friend saved it for me for posterity. The first comment was "Actually, that was April 2003". Guess that was enough for someone to notice and take it down. Its the first time our acquisition was given by name, though there have been other stories which hinted at it before (without naming our company, just "an email company").

That little project I've been working on
2004-05-26

As most of you know by now, we finally released the beta of Google Groups about 2 weeks ago, after a marathon final stretch of coding which nearly brought the service to beta readiness. Nothing a couple of post-launch days of coding couldn't fix...

So far, the response has been fairly good, though of course we have the usual complaints that always accompany change. The feature set is definitely not complete at this point, but apparently future speculation is a definite no-no under SEC quiet period rules, so you'll just have to speculate yourselves.

The launch itself was kind of weird, given the labs nature of the launch, and the fact that it coincided with the Image Ads announcement, and came on the heels of the new Blogger redesign. We got some hype right away over our support of ATOM feeds, but its not like Mark is a disinterested party.

Of course, there were some, um, "easter eggs" (yeah, that's it) in the product. My email address was the bounce address for the first couple of days for invites, for instance, and Dave's address is still hard coded in the promotion boxes (that'll be fixed soon, honest). The bug list is getting shorter though, honest.

Some might note the similarities between Groups2 and Archive, a technology demo we did over at Neotonic.

Lastly, I'd like to put a shout out to my friends still laboring on Y!Groups. It may look like nothing much has happened with it, but still working despite the growth is a testament to their prowess.

So, hopefully you'll like some of the new features and things we've attempted with Groups2. I like the one about the "cross between a blog and Usenet" myself, though all the "portal wars" talk seems silly to me.

If politicians were really honest...
2004-04-18

... then the Onion just scooped their campaign strategy:
"The Medicare drug bill is a triumph of right-wing ideology masquerading as moderate reform. The pharmaceutical-drug and insurance industries are tickled pink. Guess who's paying for it? You. Congratulations, moron. I'm John Kerry and I approved this message."
and on the right...
Are you going to vote for a candidate whose campaign promises would cost America $1.9 trillion over the next decade? Of course you aren't. You aren't going to vote at all. In the last election, half of you didn't even show up. So, on Nov. 2, just spend the day right there at your dead-end office job, talking to your coworkers about your new sweater and e-mailing your friends photos of your stupid 2-year-old daughter you shouldn't have had. You make me sick."
Though, don't tell my Dad that "Owning A Boat Not Worth It":
YONKERS, NY.According to a study published in the April issue of Boating Magazine, owning a boat is not even close to worth it. "Our study proved conclusively that boat-ownership is primarily an inconvenience and a monetary black hole," editor Roger Bernbaum said. "We found little to no reason to keep that thing sitting in a shed all winter just so you can tow it to the lake and pay outrageous docking fees three weekends a year. It'd be much more cost-efficient to don a yachting cap and hang out at the dockhouse." The May issue of Boating promises to explore the financial viability of seaside vacation homes.

On a heavier note...
2004-04-14

Just in time, the New York Times has an article on Chicago Food. On sunday, I invited over a gang of folks, many ex-Chicagoans, for some gourmand Chicago food. The pizza and hot beef sandwiches were birthday gifts, ordered from the Gourmet Food section of Amazon, whereas the Vienna Beef hot dogs and polish dogs came from Moishe's Chicago deli in our neighborhood. We had to forgo the sport peppers, the nuclear green relish and poppy seed buns, but otherwise a good time was had by all.

As for the Time's journalist who doesn't like Chicago pizza... well, what do you expect from a New Yorker?

On a lighter note...
2004-04-08

Ok, this first one I don't know what to make of: Subservient Chicken from our friends at Burger King. Its kinda like Chicken Porn.

This second one came from Our Big Fat Fear, about putting a cat on a "Catkins diet". That's just wrong. The rest of that article is pretty spot on, however, and worth reading.

GMail
2004-04-07

Well, its out. And to my friends, nope that isn't the project I'm working on. I'll be happy to invite you all as I get more invites.

A disclaimer: I don't speak for Google, and my views aren't those of my employer, and if I was smart I wouldn't say anything, but I figure what the hell.

What the hell is up with this whole GMail is bad thing? I know that Orlowski is giggling with glee as the rest of the world joins him with his idiot Google bashing, and I was amused as always by the "OHMYGOD" of Google Watch (links left off since I'm certainly not helping their pagerank), but so many others have also jumped on this bandwagon... though, why should I be particularly surprised that people with an axe to grind and an agenda would slant the story to benefit themselves.

I'm sure part of the problem is lack of access. We announced the service and are slowly rolling it out, so all people have to talk about is the privacy policy and the features instead of actually talking about the service itself.

As near as I can tell, there are two major complaints that people have. One is with the privacy policy, a clearly marked work in progress that solicits feedback right at the top. The most controversial part states "Residual copies of email may remain on our systems, even after you have deleted them from your mailbox or after the termination of your account." The reason of course is right there before it: "backing up your email". Despite Orlowski's amusing statement about finding "rm", maintaining a large read/write storage in the face of storage failure involves a lot of copies. It is certainly not possible to delete all copies of a message in the time that an web page returns. Even on your local hard disk if you want to actually make something disappear forever you have to do some industrial scrubbing of the drive, something that takes a good long time. This is not surprising, and other websites have similar language.

The second major complaint is that GMail targets ads based on the contents of the email you are reading. Doing this is somehow worse than targeting ads based on all of your previous history with the website, which is how portals like Y! target ads. As near as I can tell, there is a creepiness factor here, possibly caused by the immediacy of the results. Somehow when you get ads for mortgage companies on a website, you don't relate it to the searches/page views you were previously doing on that site for mortgage information because that was days ago... yet if you and your SO are emailing back and forth about mortgages and home buying, having an ad on that page for mortgages and realtors is creepy? A can tell you at least one benefit: the immediacy means that we don't have to store anything about you to do it. Just take the information at hand in the email message and query the targeting servers. To show you targetted information the other way means storing everything you do and running gobs of data mining on all the information and then storing information about what each user is interested in and then using that informtaion to do ad targeting... that sounds worse to me.

There are other complaints that I've seen, of course. The above two at least have some sort of reasonableness to them, if you look at them cockeyed and out of context, but the people who complain that GMail is "every message you send, every message you receive in ONE PLACE, tagged and sorted and indexed...", I can't rightly figure out. So, because GMail provides more storage and better search, its more evil than any other mail provider? Who knew that small mail quotas and poor search were such defenders of privacy and freedom?

In any case, I would think that most of these issues come down to trust: do you trust Google or not? Has Google ever done anything that made you not trust them? Do you believe the Google "do no evil"? As someone on the inside who's seen the code and heard the open discussions amoung the employees, I do. But don't take my word for it, look at our record and make your own decision.

And I'll leave my pet peeve about how "private" email really is for another time.

Bliss...
2004-03-28

Well, its been a little over a week and I've done my best to inform people the hard way ("Thanks for calling instead of sending an email"), I might as well let the world know.

On Friday March 19th, I proposed to my girlfriend Courtney, and she said yes. The story is amusing, be sure to ask me the next time you see me and I'll be happy to elaborate.

The exact wedding date hasn't been set, but we're thinking late next February (her spring break), so clear your calendars. We don't yet have our wedding website (her idea, not mine, honest), but for now you can check out Kelly & Alan's.

Outsource your research intelligence
2004-02-27

A friend of mine started a company based around his newsletter turned slashdot-esque news blurb site (ie, what is now called a blog) Techdirt. And, he just got mentioned in this month's CIO magazine. We used his services at Neotonic (and I can even tell you his enterprise blog software uses ClearSilver), and its a very useful way to keep abreast of your industry. Check out the Wireless site for an industry wide example.

More on marriage
2004-02-25

Marriage's lineage a bit convoluted notes amoung other things that polygamy was big in the old testament, with multiple wives and concubines: "Solomon who had 200 wives and 600-and-some concubines." That's way too many. But is that what they are actually scared of? And Bush called for an amendment today to save "the most fundamental institution of civilization." I wouldn't have placed marriage at the top of that list. How about child rearing?

Ok, that last SFGate article says that Bush gave the speech "Standing in the same spot where President Bill Clinton asserted: 'I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky'". That's an interesting thing to add. Reminds me of the Daily Show sketch monday night where it was suggested that maybe adultery is a bigger threat to marriage.

It certainly seems unlikely that a constitutional amendment would pass Congress, most of the polls seem to put support for the amendment at far less than the required two-thirds.

Update: Here are some amusing marriage requirements from the bible: Department of Faith and The Sanctity of Marraige, though that last one may be a stretch as it relies on this bit of biblical incest.

Or how about, "All marriage is same sex marriage...the same sex, over and over and over again."

You know its time to wash the car when...
2004-02-24

I was just writing out a check for my latest parking ticket when I noticed that they had marked the color of my car as "gray". My car is supposed to be black. Guess its time to wash the car.

I'd also like to state that $1/half hour with a half hour max is a f*cking rip-off for a parking meter. After days of having to go fix my computer when it was rooted, I was mostly out of change, only enough for 27 minutes. I got out at about 29 minutes to see the DPT cruising away. But hey, its part of the city living tax, right?

Bioterrorism in your Swiss Chocolate?
2004-02-17

In the further attempt to annoy the rest of the world for the slight possibility of more safety for the US, we apparently passed The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. According to this article, in order to ship foodstuffs from foriegn countries to the US, you have to register with the FDA (on the Internet, no less, and apparently with later versions of IE only) and register each foodstuff you send. Well, unless you make it yourself. Or its beef or poultry (since those aren't regulated by the FDA, they are regulated by the USDA). So, in this age of mad cow and the bird flu, you are still free to ship meat to the US without any problems, but just in case you were planning on killing us with a box of Swiss chocolate or Greek Ouzo, you've got to register first.

I guess we should be happy they don't require fingerprints. How long until the rest of the world follows Brazil's example and starts throwing these stupid regulations back in our face? And we get more diplomatic farce like large fines for giving officials the finger. Apparently we already have that in common: airport security officials have no sense of humor.

T-minus 3 days til 30.

Linux virus?
2004-02-03

I've just spent the last three days trying to get my machine back up. I was away at the Google Ski trip on Thursday/Friday, and I came home Friday night when my machine went zombie... I could ping it, I could connect to it, but nothing would ever respond. Through a combination of complete errors[1], it took my 3 days and many hours to fix the damn thing, but as near as I can tell, my machine got a virus sometime thursday morning, while I was not logged in (I was on a bus to Tahoe).

I know, a Linux virus? Its technically possible, see The ELF Virus Writing HOWTO, but actually getting infected should be nearly impossible (you'd have to run an infected executable, as root no less). This virus modified most of the files in /bin, and then used chattr to set all the ext2 attributes on the files (so they couldn't be deleted). It also managed to attach itself to every process I ran (I think), and a good deal of the one's I just looked at with an infected ls.

Other symptoms, it seemed to fork a process to do this work, so ps would report two copies of everything running. I'm not sure what the other process did, but it was apparently the parent, and didn't exit or wait(2) for its children, so I started getting zombies everywhere. Which I should have noticed more because I had trouble booting the machine, it would hang trying to egrep /etc/conf.modules... At one point INIT completely stopped reaping processes.

I managed to brut force copy and re-install rpms (and play with chattr myself) to get myself mostly back to the point of things running, at least until I can re-install the damn box.

So, that was my wasted weekend. The box was running linux firewall, though it did have wu-ftpd open, in addition to late model opensshd and httpd and named. I didn't think any of those had known exploits, but its possible that the firewall was down (I occassionally disabled it when I needed to open something up temporarily). I'm not all that thrilled to figure it out at this point, this has already caused me enough trouble. No doubt its still got software with the virus in it, or some exploitable stuff still installed. I did notice that my wtmp file for the month of january disappeared...

[1] Errors? Well, I couldn't see what was on the screen, I thought that was due to the machine being dead and the screen blank on, so I hard rebooted it... only to realize I'd plugged the keyboard into the wrong machine, so who knows if I could have unblanked the screen. Because of the zombie state, I figured it was a bad drive, plus I've been getting all sorts of disk errors on this box, so I tossed one of the drives. It probably wasn't bad. Then I thought it was a memory problem (I did get a console message saying NMI received, and the weird INIT behavior...), so I ran around trying to find low profile PC133 memory (after stealing some memory from another server and finding it was too tall), and then still having trouble... albeit not too much. Then I finally noticed some executable file oddities (thanks rpm --verify and md5sum). I also spent a huge amount of time doing an rsync of everything off the box so I could re-install it (since I can only have one set of drives on the 3ware card... I think its a 2 port limitation).

How Fast Food is good for your Diet
2004-01-23

This article about the Fast Food Diet illustrates a point I've made before: Fast Food, because they publish information about the dietary contents for each thing they make, is better for your diet than regular restaurants. At regular restaurants, you never know when they've dumped an entire stick of butter into that pasta dish, or those mashed potatoes. Or creme fraiche, etc. In many cases, the number of calories a meal at a restaurant has is twice what you may think it is. This is part of the energy density problem.

But, at least at fast food places, you can look at the dietary information and choose foods that meet the correct calorie requirements. When we were in Japan a couple years back, a lot of restaurants had the calorie counts for each dish on the menu (including Dennys). There has been some push in this country to require that as well, though of course the various restaurant associations all cry foul at the thought.

some funny sh*t
2004-01-21

Hadn't quite finished all of the further research on the moral fashions stuff, one of Paul's links was to Hays Code, circa 1930. Its some pretty funny stuff. Hmm, there's no comment on that site about how their opinions on the code, but it is a Christian site... we'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Moral Fashions
2004-01-21

Paul Graham latest piece is on What You Can't Say. In it, he talks about heresy and moral fashions. I haven't heard the term before, but it fits quite well with some thoughts I've been having recently. For instance, listening to NPR today talking about Pres. Bush's State of the Union speech. In it, Bush hits on a lot of the moral fashions of the Republican party, (abstinence, drugs) and even introduced some more (steroids?). And of course, the big one (it even got its own section on the CNN transcript): same-sex marriages.
Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people's voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.
Yeah. Look how easy it would be to re-word that paragraph with one supporting "separate but equal" or any other out of date moral fashion. Those damn judges, doing what they think is right, despite the majority being wrong. That is one of their appointed tasks in this democracy: prevent the majority from preying on the minority. And arbitrary? Come on, I doubt the Massachussets court decision was arbitrary.

Regardless of my opinion on the issue, I take a much harsher stand against amending the Constitution. Amending the Constitution every time there is another moral fashion is a very nasty business. It means when we finally grow up, we have to go back and repeal it. Note that the only amendment concerning a moral fashion that has passed (Prohibition) was repealed. Well, in theory women voting or reducing the voting age to 18 could be moral fashions, but they are broadening amendments, and not restricting amendments, which seems like a distinction worth using to place the restricting type in the moral fashion camp. So flag burning amendments, or "marriage is hetereosexual" certainly fall in the "restricting" camp of moral fashion.

BTW, since when did marriage become some great institution? It started out as practical slavery with women as chattel so cheap they had to throw in some cattle to make the deal (you know, dowry, what a father had to pay a man to take his daughter off his hands). Through the 1950s, it was hardly much better. Hell, that wonderful institution has a better than 50% failure rate, and I'm betting that if there wasn't such a huge "married for life" religious institution, there would be even more divorce. Granted, marriage is a sacrament, which means its at least as sanctified as death, but given that most religions with sacraments don't like homosexuals anyways, who cares?

Or, as John Stewart asked, what exactly are people afraid of? That allowing homosexual marriage is going to force the heterosexuals to take it up the ass? I somehow doubt that most people who seem to be against same-sex marriage are actually afraid that it will lead to other "different" marriages, such as polygamy or line marriages or any of the other bizarre things that were a mainstay of Robert A. Heinlein's novels. Though, Senator Santorum did try to equate sodomy with incest...

One last aside, at the bottom of Paul's essay is a link to Michael Crichton's essay on Aliens Cause Global Warming that I talked about earlier.

Slashdotted by proxy, almost?
2004-01-19

This story is just weird. It looks like they combined every rumor about email they could, and threw them all together. We've been trained with the "No Comment" pretty well, but I've got to believe that "Google last year purchased an e-mail management software maker" has to refer to their purchase of our company, Neotonic. What Neotonic has to do with the email theme of their article isn't really clear, however. A trip to the WayBack Machine would have made it obvious what our Email Management software did. But hey, the above quote also made it to Slashdot...

They could have at least mentioned our name. They mentioned the name of Jim's company (Outride) when they quoted him.

Or maybe they were refering to something else. Like I said, the whole thing was confused...

Presidential candidates quoting Frank Herbert?
2004-01-17

I'm a bit behind, but I was watching Wednesday's Daily Show and Carol Moseley-Braun was on. John asked her about the proposed Mars trip, and she made the Vulcan peace sign and muttered "Live Long and Prosper", which is weird... but a bit later she then said "Fear is the mind killer" in reference to the whole war on terror and the Bush administration. Its the second line of the Litany against Fear from Dune:
"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
George says she dropped out of the race because she admitted to being a geek. These one two figure that she's a Bene Gesserit. The second one draws further parallels including that Osama bin Laden is the Muad'Dib... hmm.

Back to the Moon
2004-01-15

So, Bush wants us to go back to the Moon and then on to Mars. I think the most amusing of this is that he wants us back to the moon by 2015... that's 11 years out... apparently in 1961, we were able to do it "before this decade is out", about 8.5 years.

I've been a fan of the space program for some time, though its glory days were before I was born. I'd love to see us working to get out there, and most of the statements against Bush mentioned in the Chronicle article were pretty useless: a "lunar outpost could be used ... by corporations eager to make a profit in space." Oh no, you mean we might actually have a profit motive to get into space? That would actually be a good thing, since it would get us up there a whole heck of a lot faster, especially given their complaints about the cost. Having a $500 billion deficit is bad, but adding another billion isn't going to change things one way or the other.

Personally, I'd be more worried about the self serving aspects of it, the fact that Florida and Texas are the main states that will benefit from the increases (though CA won't be far behind). Also, most of the cost estimates I've read have been much higher than what he's actually proposing, which could mean this is just more politicking and not a real initiative. The Chronicle article says "hundreds of billions" which is a far cry from an extra billion a year, even if they don't make it to Mars til 2030. Also, there was a bit about shelving the space station after 2010, which seems odd. Unless the current design of the station is useless for the role, I'd think a way station in earth orbit would be useful. Of course, given NASA and the budget cuts they've gotten year after year, I wouldn't be surprised if the space station was useless for most things.

More links:

The Things Some People think are Important
2004-01-14

A Reuters story about the FCC and some congress-critters pushing for higher fines for "TV indecency". Apparently due to the use by Bono of the word Fuck at last year's Golden Globe Awards.

You've got to be shitting me. We seem to be heading back to the evil days of Morality Enforcement, we'd probably already be there if it wasn't for the slight detour this administration has had to take to think about combating terrorism instead.

The Web is a Small Place
2003-12-25

So, while writing the last article on junk science, I did some searching on second hand smoke, and the first Google hit was this site. A couple minutes later, I'm looking for information about the dishnetwork DVR, specifically how it compares to the TiVo, and I get this site which leads me to this rant against the TimeWarner Cable DVR... which just happens to be by the same person as the second hand smoke site. Its a small internet. The first time I got that impression was about 7-8 years ago, when I was reading the newspaper (probably the Chicago Tribune) and some opinion piece on the editorial pages pointed to a website of an organization I didn't think would have a web presence, so I said something about the Quakers probably having a website, and sure enough they did. More bizarre was that that website was run by Russell Nelson, recognizable to me at the time as the guy who wrote the Crynwr packet drivers, ethernet (and SLIP/PPP) drivers for DOS that one used with NCSA Telnet and other programs (including some early versions of Winsock, the Windows Socket interface).

If you were wondering, both of these topics were actually inspired by reading Slashdot. And the rant against the TW DVR mirrors both some of my own issues with being an un-witting beta tester of the AT&T Digital Cable box, and some of the problems I have with my ReplayTV. As for the actual dish network dvr 921, it seems primitive as well, albeit way more geeky for HDTV nuts. Though, reading the lastest replay vs tivo comparison, it sounds like the latest replaytv software is getting better, though I'll never see it on my 4500. I'd love to get a second TiVo and be able to transfer recordings between the two, but since that requires the home media option, that would mean I'd have to buy two tivos, and two home media kits, and pay the monthly service for both, so instead of paying just $10/month for my replay, I'd have to drop $600 on new tivos and pay $24/month... not going to happen. Methinks this is part of TiVo's problem. They should be encouraging me to spend more money with them, but that's a huge incremental cost. There was a deal to upgrade your TiVo, but it just wasn't cost effective: they should give free upgrades, though given the number of TiVo failure stories I've heard, maybe its a surprise that I still have a flawlessly working one after 4 years, since when it dies I'm going to have to replace it. If I get rid of my old Thinkpad 560, the TiVo will be the oldest computer in the apartment...

P.S. Merry Christmas.

Junk Science
2003-12-24

I've recently read two articles, Aliens Cause Global Warming and Remarks to the Commonwealth Club, both of which, it turns out (I should have noticed), were by Michael Crichton, and I guess he's writing a new book on the subject. These also gelled with some posts I read by Eric Raymond on his blog, and I also looked up some of the information in the Commonwealth speech, which lead me to JunkScience.com.

The point of the two articles is that science is supposed to be a fact based and provable in the real world, and that instead we see instances, not only in environmental causes, where opinion and politics override the actual facts. Although I inherently believe what he is saying, and would have agreed with the premise without examples (who doesn't believe that politicians use science as part of their agenda?), I was shocked when many of the false science examples he slays were things I thought were true. DDT was before my time, but I had never heard any of the negative press about it before, but second hand smoke and global warming.... Its time to be more vigilant. And possibly time to read The Skeptical Environmentalist.

Note that in the case of second hand smoke and global warming, the "consensus" science might not actually be wrong: I think Crichton's point is more that on such highly politized topics, a lot of the "evidence" and "science" is questionable, and that further unbiased scientific investigation is going to be difficult in this environment. Both of these things make sense in an intuitive manner, and it might behoove us to actually study them scientifically, especially global warming, since the results of being wrong could be disasterous to the human race, but allowing the (possibly) fraudulent science stand, even if it is the right thing to do, drags science down to the level of belief, which could be equally disasterous.

Another one for the "everyone is a criminal" files
2003-12-08

Did you know that if you are a single parent, or divorced, or just happening to be traveling with your child without the other parent, you often need a notarized letter from the other parent signifying that you have permission to travel with the child? International child kidnapping must be really bad for this to be a necessary requirement for ALL parents traveling with kids, huh? After all, if one really wanted to do smuggle a child across the border, one wouldn't fake such documentation or just have someone else travel with them to be the "other" parent. Sheesh.

Man, its worse than that, read some of the examples parent's have had, including parent's suing over the documentation, suing that the kids gone out of the country, never married or divorced and changed their name back to their maiden name, dead beat parent's trying to leverage giving permission to not pay child support... The documentation is easy enough if you are still married and traveling separately, but try getting the documentation in a nasty divorce, or if you were never married, or even if you have a restraining order against the other parent. Go Nanny State!

Hah!
2003-11-17

The Onion strikes again, this time its Mom Finds Out About Blog.

Religious Icons
2003-11-12

Tonight on the Daily Show, they had a segment on Religion entitled "This Week in God", they went through a series religious images in a "wheel of fortune" style selection, and just before the ones they actually "stopped" on, they showed some rather amusing "other" religious icons: John Travolta from Battlefield Earth, Dr. Phil, and the Starbucks logo. Ah, the trappings of modern life... one of the segments they showed was about a tree stump which looked like the Virgin Mary, reminding me of The Gospel According to Biff.

TIVO!
2003-11-12

Back at eGroups, everyone on the Onelist-eGroups integration team received a Tivo, complete with life-time subscription. The Tivo is the most amazing device ever created, at least in terms of TV. But its not without its downsides, as this article points out. Before, I'd get home, flip through the channels for 15 minutes or so before giving up and doing something else. Instead, now I have 30 hours worth of TV waiting for me when I get home. (Yes, only 30 hours, I have an old Tivo, and I didn't even upgrade it!). Well, less since I'm now sharing it with someone, but the point is, there is almost always something to watch. Oh, the horror!

Btw, I bought a ReplyTV more recently, and the Tivo is much better.

  • More stable
  • Easier to schedule programming
  • Season Pass makes it easier to record episodes of a show
  • The remote is much better
Though, the DVArchive tool for ReplayTV is pretty damn cool (I guess you can do something like this if you pay the extra $99 and have a Tivo2).

Other things I like better... the "fast forward" over the commercial skip. The commercial skip in the Replay isn't all that good (and often skips part of the actual show), and using the 30s skip is also difficult. The fast forward on the replay isn't as good as the Tivo's, and besides, the fast forward allows you to see the commercials that might be interesting (and skip the ones you've seen constantly or just suck almost as fast as the 30s skip). I've really come to love the "green progress bar" on the Tivo, to let you know where you are in the show (and its somewhat sick to be able to tell exactly when a commercial is going to come on when they schedule them always at the same time in a show). I really like the guide on the Tivo, even though its not in the standard block layout (other Tivos do have the block layout, and I don't think its as good). And you can actually remove channels from the guide that you never watch, as opposed to the stupid Comcast digital cable box. The built-in tuner of the Replay is nice, so you can still channel surf on it, you can't really channel surf on the non-DirectTV Tivos. Of course, you can't really channel surf on the Comcast digital cable box either since its so slow to switch channels (especially the digital ones).

And when I'm somewhere else, say in a hotel room on vacation, and I'm without a Tivo... it sucks. You can't just pause or rewind the TV. And when I'm listening to the radio in the car, I wish I could rewind what I'm listening to if I miss something. Everything should work like a Tivo.

Another good webcomic
2003-11-11

This week, Sluggy Freelance is being guest drawn by Rob Balder of Partially Clips. Partially Clips is pretty damn funny, almost reminds me of The Parking Lot is Full (may it rest in peace) though not quite so ... sick.

Speaking of which, I wonder when Patrick's new project is going to be done?

Shamed by my country's actions
2003-11-08

The latest crap in this "war on some terrorists" is the story of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen that the US deported to the Syrians to be tortured. Obviously its possible that the reporting so far is biased, but frankly deporting any citizen of one country to another country, especially to a torture state like Syria, is gross negligence at a minimum. I know we're not playing with the nicest people here, but there seems to be little difference to me between torturing someone during interrogation and sending him to somewhere else to be tortured. For more information:
- Maher Arar: statement[ copy]
- Canadian passport protected Arar from more severe torture, experts say
- Chretien Protests Deportation of Canadian
- America's Shame . Delivering Humans Into Torture

More on Diebold
2003-11-08

Well, the NYTimes finally has a story on it.

Matrix Revolutions
2003-11-05

Ok, I haven't seen it yet (later today), and the reviewers don't like it, but I now know it'll be a disappointment because of this reader comment:
You mean it doesn't end with Keanu Reeves waking up, turning to Alex Winter and saying "Bill, I just had a most excellent dream!"? Shame.
Simon,UK

Diebold, Microsoft & Google
2003-11-05

Heh, this UserFriendly comic hits on both the whole Diebold voting machine problems, and of course the latest "journalistic" sludge about my employer.

As a meager engineer, I only have "No Comment" to say.

The Meatrix
2003-11-05

Heh, The Meatrix. Watch out for those factory farms!

You know, its not like I don't know that feedlots and such are noisome and have some definite problems, even beyond the possible animal cruelty aspect, but do we have the space or can we afford the price if all animal products came from "family" farms? I don't want the self-righteous indignation, I want the facts on other workable possibilities.

Well, that and I want the end to farm subsidies. I understand that there needs to be subsidies in the form of balancing (otherwise farm product prices would vary too greatly, and too many farmers might go out of business) but the current subsidies benefit the few way too much, and get us in trouble with other countries over that whole free trade thing.

Halloween 2003
2003-11-02

Another Halloween has come and gone, and fun was had. I couldn't find the things I needed for a costume this year, so I went with the old black suit, black shirt, red bow-tie, top hat and cane again, which worked fairly well. Here's a list of costumes I saw, in no particular order:
  • The Verizon Wireless "Can you hear me now?" Guy
  • The Banana from "Peanut Butter Jelly Time"
  • Roy of Siegfried & Roy (complete with Tiger and bite-marks)
  • Lumberg from Office Space
  • Charlie's Angels (in a latex version of the racing jumpsuits from the first movie)
  • Clark Kent (with Superman costume showing underneath)
  • The Iraqi Information Minister
  • A Lego guy (with the big yellow round head)
  • Women from Girls Gone Wild (ie, topless with "Censored" stars in the right places)
  • Catholic School Girls (always popular in the Castro...)
  • Catholic Priest (with little boy)
  • The Punisher
  • Green Lantern
  • Wonder Woman

Number Portability FUD
2003-11-02

The wireless companies have been fighting number portability (the ability to take your phone number to a different wireless company) for years, but its supposed to go into affect this month.

I found this article amusing as a last ditch PR effort against it. Oh no, people will be switching companies and throwing out the phones! And that's anti-environment!

Personally, I've been having trouble with my Sprint phone recently, and my gf is trying to get me to at least buy a new phone, but all the new phones are these crappy things with cameras. Where's the nice solid usable phone that'll match my StarTAC? Not on Sprint, at least. And I can't really justify the $600 for the Samsung Palm PDA phone, especially after buying a Danger Sidekick earlier this year (which I can't imagine using as a real phone, hence I still have my startac).

Maybe I should just buy a used startac on ebay...

Netgear Problems
2003-11-02

So, when I moved into my latest apartment about 10 months ago, I bought a netgear firewall/dsl router, the FR114W. After being an idiot (its actually wireless ready, not wireless, so I had to buy a wireless pcmcia card for it. I just didn't read the packaging well enough), it worked fairly flawlessly. Ok, so the stupid sign-up process for SBC's "Yahoo" DSL sucked ass, with the stupid installation process forcing you to use their version of IE6 (since I was installing on my girlfriend's work laptop, she was less than thrilled, as was her IT dept, sorry it didn't work on my Linux laptop). Anyways, besides all that it worked fine.

Eventually, I got a new laptop, and then my girlfriend got the new T40 Centrino Thinkpad, and that's when our troubles started. It appears that using the T40's internal Intel wireless card causes the Netgear to lose the PPPoE connection, and not be able to get it back. She turns on her computer, and we lose internet connectivity. No problem with using the wireless, just no external connectivity. Huh? Isn't modern hardware fun? Tried upgrading to the latest beta firmware, no joy. So, she's been using my old Lucent wireless card, and having to reboot the router every time she comes home (since she uses the built-in card at school). I tried using the web-form on the netgear site to register a bug (they use eGain, btw), and it didn't work on Mozilla (huh?), so I ended up sending a blank report, and then I filled one out in IE just fine.

Two days later, I get a "huh, your email was blank" message for the first one, and nothing to the second. I pointed them at the second one. I've never heard back from them again (its been months at this point). So, I bought a new Linksys wirless dsl router, and it doesn't have a firewall (probably overkill anyways), but it only works for about 5 minutes, then it stops working. So it goes back, and they didn't have another in stock, so I just stuck with the one I've had. More time passes.

Finally, today, I was at Best Buy (Courtney had to buy a floppy drive for her laptop... it appears that Santa Clara has the students take their tests on the computer... but the test software requires a floppy drive, which almost no computers (especially laptops) have today... it would almost be cool if the used something like the USB keychain drives...), and I picked up a new Netgear WGR614 (I know, I'm a sucker to buy another one when the last one didn't work), and set it up in about 2 minutes, and everything works fine. I even suckered myself into the 802.11g version, even though all of the cards and laptops I own are only 802.11b.... But, it works.

Same-sex family values
2003-10-27

Salon is running this article about Same-sex family values. They basically look at two women and their daughter who have moved to a small town in California from the Bay Area, and the impact they have had moving there on their neighbors and church. The most interesting part to me, are the quotes from a couple who live down the street, who apparently occasionally baby-sit the daughter, and the wife says she doesn't think same-sex couples raising children is "right" and the husband says they are moving because of their presence. How would you like to learn those tidbits about your "friendly" neighbors?

You know, I've mentioned this before, but living in the Bay Area certainly colors one's perspective. Its as if you're surrounded by so many people and opinions that are so liberal, that you imagine the whole country is centered much farther to the left than it actually is. After all, in the last real CA Governor's election, the Green Party candidate got a larger percentage of votes than the Republican candidate...

Electronic Voting
2003-10-20

You know, it sometimes sounds like people are pushing the panic button on this one, and I'm usually one to give people (and things) the benefit of the doubt, but the number of stories I've read about how bad electronic voting machines could be, and how right wing those who run the companies are (hardly surprising for heavy government contractors, I'm sure)... the more scared I get. Not enough to think that the elections they've been talking about are actually rigged... but you know, the country seems way too balanced, so its not like you have to rig it far to make a big difference... and I am from Chicago, after all (vote early, vote often, vote in alphabetical order). I first read an article from a Moscow newspaper, but then a couple articles from the BBC and the Telegraph in the UK, and they tend to be fairly reliable sources... Here are some links to help you if you haven't noticed this yet: All the President's votes? - Slashdot Articles

How hard is Iraqi reconstruction?
2003-10-20

This quote from General Garner's FrontLine interview gives me some perspective:
Did you plan for looting?

Well, yes and no. I felt sure there would be looting, but I didn't think the looting would have the impact that it did have. When we went up north in 1991, there was looting up there. The looting up there was going into a building, taking everything, stealing everything in it, taking everything out of it, and that was it. So that when we went up north, we just took the building, put furniture in it, put people back in there.

What happened in Baghdad is not only did they take everything out of the buildings, but then they pulled all the wiring out of the buildings, they pulled all of the plumbing out of the buildings, and they set it on fire. So the buildings were not usable at all. In fact, some of them probably are not structurally sound enough to ever be used -- they'll have to be torn down and rebuilt.

I recommend reading the full interview. It makes it sound as if they weren't prepared for the following reasons:
  • They expected a humanitarian crisis: it never happend. Therefore, they had to move on to the next step (rebuilding) but they weren't ready for that yet.
  • The war was over faster than they expected. They weren't ready yet.
  • They didn't have the contractors ready for the rebuilding, because they couldn't get the appropriations signed. Hard to get the appropriations signed if you haven't gone to war yet. It takes the contractors 30-70 days to get ready and trained after the contracts were signed.
Of course, who knows what the situation is actually like over there, given that our wonderful "news" sources here report nothing but the bad and sensational news. I mean, I read Salam Pax's blog on occassion (until I heard him on NPR (ok, he doesn't have an RSS feed, that's the main reason I don't read it more often. I wish Blogger would hurry up and add that to the free version)) but that's still only part of Baghdad, and Iraq is larger than just Baghdad. But its good to know they have one of the 10 most popular Burger King franchises in the world.

More Hardware Solves the Problem
2003-10-20

I was just doing my daily BlogLines reading, and stumbled across this article, and I was amused by the comment about using his laptop to use Google to calculate when he should start his bread machine, and his quote "there are fields, endless fields, where Google servers are no longer born, they are grown". The answer to his question is: lots, but less if we can tell its just a calculation and not perform the actual search... its actually really impressive, but you'll just have to take my word for it.

General Tso's Chicken
2003-09-08

So, one of my favorite Chinese dishes, the dish that started me on the road of spicy food, is General Tso's Chicken. Now, I don't think I've had good General Tso's anywhere here in the Bay area, and no two restuarants seems to make it the same, but this article will tell you a bit about it.

A great lament it is that I can't find the chinese food of my youth here... apparently midwestern chinese food has little in common with the real thing... and they have the real thing here in spades. Oh, what I wouldn't give for those double fried egg rolls of my youth, instead of the wimpy fried "spring roll" version that seems to be all I can find here.

The trolley barn
2003-08-22

Today was the Google Picnic down at Kelley Park in San Jose. While there, I visited the Trolly Barn , which contained a bunch of different Antique vehicles. Its pretty cool. They even had an electric car from 1916, which got 70 miles to the charge, with a max speed of 20 MPH. They also had a gasoline powered car that got around 25 mpg. So, our cars go faster, they're more reliable, but they don't get better gas mileage... I guess that just wasn't important.

Power out at Navisite
2003-08-19

So, Neotonic's servers are located in SF at a cololocation facility formerly known as ClearBlue, now owned by Navisite. I was amused to just get their August Newsletter where they were so proud that none of their colos in the affected Northeast power outage lost power. That's nice. It would be nicer if our colo in SF hadn't had a power outage about a week before, which was attributed to a security guard hitting the big red "emerygency power off" button, which not only turned everything off, but broken one of their UPSs, so when they tried to turn it back on later they had a second outage. Of course, I was on vacation at the time, but I was still getting paged, and I couldn't even get somewhere to turn off the paging. 300 pages later (which is about $30 on Sprint's wonderful plan), everything's back up and serving.

They claim the security guard thought it would shut off an audible alarm. I'm betting it did. And the switch even had a mollyguard.

Right Wing Kook
2003-08-19

So, I recently added this new script to my site to capture referals to my site (just another aspect of the egotism of self publishing), and what do I see but a referal from an old high school friend, and apparently Right Wing Kook, Matt Crandall. Ok, so that's a bit harsh, after all how right wing can you be if you bought a Japanese Hybrid car. By the way Matt, leftist is so 1970s, the proper term is now leftist liberal.

He did give CA his blessing on secession from the Union, though.

F*cking virii!
2003-08-19

So, I wake up this morning to the sound of my pager (still oncall for Neotonic, of course) and our monitoring software is complaining about our MX machines. Groggily wander over to my computer, and sure enough we're getting inundated with mail. A quick random check of the contents, and a Google search or two later, and lookee, we have sobig.f@MM. Run a manual update to get the latest virus files, manually delete all messages in the queue with details.pif, and go back to sleep. The joy of supporting installations with millions of email customers, when a new email virus spreads, you get DoS'd.

Of course, when I wake up again and check my own email, I've been bombarded with bounce notices and the like from people who think I've sent them the virus. Now, I haven't seen a virus in quite a while which actually uses the email address of the infected user as the sender, but I don't pay that close of attention, largely because there are no known virii for mutt. So, I get to delete bounce messages all day that aren't helping anyone. Trakken, by default, is set up to just delete messages with viruses, because doing anything else isn't going to help. We actually get more virus mail than spam mail, accounting for 5-85% of the email volume, depending on the client.

At least we didn't have to worry about the Blaster virus. We need more non-email virii!

So long Trustic, hello Bloglines
2003-08-07

So, my friend Mark shut down his trust network based anti-spam blacklist Trustic, claiming that it just wasn't working. That's too bad, it was indeed working somewhat (from my own spam logs), but I can hardly fault him, running a blacklist is a thankless job where even if its "just the computers decision", you are likely to bear the brunt of abuse of those who don't want to be listed. Spam advocates on all sides seem to be zeolots, and dealing with that can't be fun. Its war, after all, right?

But, before he shut it down, he launched a news aggregator, BlogLines. The interfaces looking eerily similar. It also uses ClearSilver (shouldn't you?). Its pretty simple, and yet amazingly effective. I just had to go and build an RSS feed for my psuedo blog software (hey, its entirely static.cgi, look at the power!). One of the cooler features I noticed about BlogLines, it tells you how many subscribers you have to your feed in the UserAgent header when it fetches your feed. Yeah, that's what one notices when one spends too much time on ones own webstats (some sort of ego stroking, no doubt). Did you check out my new references?. Generated with a simple python script, which dumps information into an HDF file, which of course the template can just use...

Georgy For Governor
2003-07-26

If you've been living under a rock (or somewhere where you don't care about California politics), you may not have heard that we're having a recall election for Governor Gray Davis.

Now, I'm not that much of a fan of his... but I don't really see how this is all his fault, either. All this being the economy, I'd guess (poor CA dropped from back below the entire country of France recently it terms of GNP or GDP or something), and the state is some 35+ billion dollars in the hole. Well, we would be if we actually had a budget, which we don't, which definitely isn't Davis' fault, near as I can tell.

Anyways, with just 900,000 signatures (out of 35 million people in the state) we have a recall election coming up, a 35 million dollar boondoggle. And on top of that, apparently you only need 65 signatures and $3500 to get on the ballot. So, on top of the 10+ candidates from both the Democans and the Republicrats, everyone else is throwing their hat in the ring as well. My favorite so far: Georgy Russell, a 26 year old local woman in tech, with her own blogs and Georgy for Gov thong underwear (from CafePress, where you too can get whatever logo you want on underwear).

So, vote for whomever you want! Its not like it matters, right? I think that its on election, and you vote for whether to recall and the replacement at the same time, and I haven't seen any polls where the recall actually wins... so maybe its actually safe to "throw your vote away" (thank you Kang).

Google!
2003-07-22

So, back in late April, Google gave us an offer we couldn't refuse, so we let them have Neotonic. This being the post dot-com era, we also pledged to them our souls. Just kidding. We are now employees, however, and so far its pretty cool. Especially since the garage on my apartment is finished enough to park in, so I can actually drive to work without spending 40 minutes looking for parking when I get home. As for what we'll be doing... that's the surprise, but ClearSilver will continue to be free, at least.

Its weird to be back at a company with a large enough following that it creates "psuedo" experts, opining about things they know nothing about. I haven't felt that in years.

Diet Calculators
2003-04-15

I know, I've been ranting a lot today. I really need a way of capturing the rants in my head that I usually have while I'm exercising or lying in bed before/after sleeping, but that'll just have to wait on Neural Implants of some kind or another.

Anyways, recently I've been putting together yet another diet calculator program because I hate the ones that are out there. Since I'm so bad at listening to my body (read: I never feel hungry, and I rarely feel full, and only when its too late anyways), I wanted a better way to keep track of how much I'm eating. What I really want is the opposite of BodyMedia's Sensewear Armband, which monitors how many calories your body burns automatically. I want one that measures how many calories you ingest (well, and the one that measures how many you burn). So, until someone invents that, I'll have to rely on keep track myself.

Now, when I've kept track in the past, I either used a simple paper chart, or just a text file. Both of these had the benefit of ease of use: you just write/type what you ate. Usually, I included some round estimates of how many calories things were.

Now, my estimates don't seem that accurate, and its mostly a matter of memorization, and the accuracy has always been questionable. So, I figure there's got to be a better way, so I downloaded a bunch of programs for keeping track of what you eat, and they all suck.

Now, I'm sure they work for some people, but on the "accuracy vs. ease of use" spectrum, they are all clearly way to far in the accuracy camp. They are usually based on the USDA Nutrient Database, but the problem with that database is that 95% of it is just ingredients and not dishes. Usually these programs have a mechanism for creating a "Recipe" out of the ingredients, but its amazingly cumbersome and none of them came with any of them.

I'm willing to give up some accuracy for speed. I don't care about all of these random nutrition information that is in the database, I really only care about calories. I want to be able to type in a recipe as I see it in a book and have it calculate the approximate calories for me, without having to perform some complicated searching for each ingredient in the database of 6200 ingredients. I want to have a huge database of recipes/dishes, so maybe I type in "Fettucine Alfredo" and I get a range of possible calories per serving (and maybe it prompts me with what a standard serving size is so I can say that the restaurant gave me 2 servings worth).

None of this is rocket science, its just a matter of taking the various sources out there and putting it together with a decent user interface. Well, in my copious free time (HAH!) I think I'll be doing just that.

Now, people tell me I should just use Weight Watchers instead, since their huge books is more like this, in that it has a lot of specific restaurants and specific foods in it... but where's the fun in that?

ClearSilver!
2003-04-15

So, I've been doing a bunch of work on ClearSilver recently. First, I had to make it work with autoconf, to make it easier to compile on various platforms, and make it easier to add/subtract different modules (especially with Dave's insistence on a working version for Windows.)

Then, we needed hash tables for HDF so we don't have to walk long linked lists when people load way too much data into a single level of HDF.

And I figured, since I got autoconf working, I should try the new release on as many platforms as I could get to. I don't have as many platforms to play anymore as I got rid of my Solaris and Linux/alpha boxes a while back, and just about everyone I know is running either Linux of FreeBSD. So, I decided to try and install Solaris 9 for x86 on my VMWare installation.

Now, I've been using VMWare for quite a while now. Until I got my recent laptop, I was running entirely on Linux for a number of years, but I still needed access to Windows for a couple things:

So, I just purchased VMWare 4 the other day, but I've been running it since v1. Most of the information on installing Solaris on VMWare talked about it being sometimes flaky but otherwise usually no problem. It took a while to download the 4 CDs from Sun, then even longer to figure out a way to get them onto the one box in the office with a CD-R drive (I learned latter I could have just mounted the iso files directly, darn). And installing took forever.

Now, I don't even remember the old Linux installers from SLS and others being as bad as the Solaris installation. I was using the console based one, since it didn't recognize the VMWare VGA card and I just figured that'd be easier. It kept asking the same questions about the network settings and the timezone, etc. In the end, networking just wouldn't work, so I gave up. This was with VMWare 3.2, I guess I could try again with v4, but I just decided it wasn't that important.

I then asked some friends for a login for FreeBSD, and got one and it compiled practically out of the box on there (though I had to add a check for the apache version, since our apache module doesn't support 2.0 yet). And one of those wacky FreeBSD people suggested I make a Port, so I've been working on that as well (and an rpm too, since I already know how to do that and its practically the same thing). Of course, ports and rpms and packages all mean it has to be installed, where clearsilver to date has been designed more as a part of your build tree (since that's the way it works here at Neotonic). Fun Fun Fun, I guess.

Anyways, the first version just with autoconf and the hash table stuff is available, its 0.8.1. And 0.8.2 will be coming soon with a new ClearSilver.h file, an install make target, and hopefully a FreeBSD port and a Linux RPM. And I should really talk to that guy about the Ruby module, and hassle Dave about the C# module.

Playing with a new (sorta) browser
2003-04-15

So, on the heels of the Mozilla Roadmap telling me that Mozilla as the all in one browser is likely to go the way of the dodo, I downloaded and installed the latest build of Phoenix sometime last week, and have been using it as one of my browsers since.

Given that its largely based on Mozilla, it works fine, the major differences are in the theme, some user interface elements, and its lack of other components. Now, I've been doing the "full install" of Mozilla and Netscape Communicator before it for as long as I can remember, but I don't use any of other components on a regular basis. I'll use the Mail client to send some mail in Korean or run other tests, but for everyday use I'm still using Mutt, so its not like I miss any of the extra components.

I also haven't ever noticed the supposed slowness of launching new windows in Mozilla because of the "bloat". My slowest desktop machine is an 800MHz PIII, and I'm usually under Linux, but new windows of Phoenix and Mozilla load as fast as I can possible need them to. Yes, starting Mozilla on my XP laptop from scratch takes a bit of time (like seconds instead of a second), but I practically always have it running, so its no big deal.

There's one big difference that I'm surprised took me so long to notice: there's no throbber. The only indication that a page is loading the non-greyed out stop button and the hourglass next to mouse cursor (well, and any visible rendering). Now that I've noticed its gone, I've had occassion to want it (is this thing loading?), but I guess my usual internet experience doesn't involve much waiting on pages to load (we have a 100MB Cogent line at work, and SBC DSL at home, I've been modem free for a very long time). The built-in search box is very useful, though I don't really like how you switch between "in page" and "internet" but I'm not sure how to make that better (the Google Toolbar is enter for one, click the icon for the other, which has some benefits). I like'd this search box when Mozilla Mail introduced it, since its largly the closest to the "limit" feature in mutt.

Also, Phoenix now supports "Open in Tabs" for the bookmarks toolbar, so I can open an entire bookmarks folder at once. I do this for my daily browsing, and had been using Galeon instead of Mozilla for just this part of my browsing experience because of that feature (I haven't quite figured out a better way to handle my daily browsing tasks, though I guess an RSS aggregator would get me close).

I don't like the "file this where?" dialog that comes up when you try to bookmark a page, however, as its just annoying. I tend to bookmark things and then occasionally manage my bookmarks, that dialog is just too annoying to use in my "do what I want" standard.

Its supposed to be sorta fixing what remains as my last really annoying habit of Mozilla, and that's the fill-out forms stuff (particularly the login/password stuff). Does anyone use the fill-out forms for anything else? In any case, I really prefer IE's drop down of previous terms, which works a lot like the URL location field and even the search box on Phoenix, but instead on Mozilla/Phoenix you get this pop-up, often before the page is even rendered, asking you to select one. And when you fill out a login, it asks you if you want to remember it (and even on pages which aren't login pages, which is even more annoying). Probably the hardest to fix aspect of this is what to do when you don't remember your login/password... do you tell Mozilla to remember what is potentionally the wrong one?

Oh, and one last problem with Phoenix... I can't seem to make it so that the middle mouse button launches the URL in a new window and not a new tab. I really want that back!

So, mostly thumbs up so far.

This guy needs a better hobby
2003-04-15

Did you ever notice that success can be a two edged sword? Not only does it engender a bunch of competitors who want part of what you have, but it also brings on a bunch of gadflys who seem to think that they know everything and that they can uncover your secret attempts at world dominiation. Recently, Andrew Orlowski as been writing a series of articles over at the Register in just this vein, with his target being Google, the seemingly only remaining darling of the Internet era.

Besides taking almost childish delight in exposing *gasp* bugs in the Google software, he also apparently doesn't believe that Larry & Sergei (the Google founders) have been to Burningman. Now, I've only been to Burningman twice, and the last time was 3 years ago, but Larry & Sergei were there both times, and this was after Google started. In fact, I seem to recall some scheme to project Google searches in the desert in much the same way they do at conferences and in the Google lobby.

The other big bug up Andrew's butt has to do with Google News including press releases. Personally, I think that's pretty useful, assuming they are marked as such, since you can then see the news articles the releases spawn. So, that's useful for the marketing/PR types, but its also useful for the rest of us to see where they hype's coming from (or, you could just signup with Techdirt's Corporate Intelligence, but I digress).

As to why people like David Krane, Head of Corporate Communications at Google, would bother giving this punter the time of day, I can only assume that David's a really nice guy... and its his job.

For the record, Google uses Trakken, and so should you.

Worse than being listed in an RBL
2003-02-10

Ok, there are things worse than being listed in SPEWS. At least with SPEWS, if you can manage to contact them and get the problem resolved that got your ISP listed, you have a chance of getting out easily, and you'll get out with everyone who listed you. Lo unto those whose IP is listed for good reason...

As I mentioned before, our new ISP/address range for Neotonic was blocked by SPEWS. At first, I thought this was just more collateral damage. It wasn't. In fact, the previous owner of the range we received was a spammer. We were unlisted by SPEWS fairly easily/quickly (in less than a month)... but we still can't send mail to random domains, including such stalwarts as Xerox and Sybase most recently. This is because many mail admins have blocked us themselves. There is no way for us to notify everyone saying "We aren't them, please unblock us" so we just have to watch the bounces for our customers and individually mail each postmaster and hope our mail gets through, and that the postmaster bothers to do anything about it. I'm beginning to think we should have demanded a different address range from our bandwidth provider...

The Law against SPEWS
2003-02-05

It seems that someone with some money has hired a lawyer (I think in the UK) to sue SPEWS, according to the Register. Good, I hope they get them. In the war on spam, they are the annoying ones. Or maybe I just think that because my ISP is listed in SPEWS because Topica is hosted there, and their doesn't seem to be a good way to be a legitimate bulk mailer and not be listed in SPEWS. One of the reasons why I continue to keep our CRM company out of the bulk mail business, which I guess makes them affective.

Civilian Cops?
2003-01-23

Something I hadn't heard before came out on the Politech mailing list... a response to a rather bizarre case where some cops killed this families dog. One Harvey Silverglate recommended a concept of civilian police... that some decent percentage of police ranks should be filled with people of limited tenure... people who would only be cops for a term like 5 years. This would keep a certain amount of "civilian" mentality in the ranks, preventing abuses by balancing the lifers. I'm guessing the only way to do that would be by a draft or service requirement of some sort, though 5 years is pretty long. Reminds me somewhat of Heinlein's Starship Troopers, though I don't recall this being one of the arguments of the book, in fact the book made it sound more like people who went through the services came back with a fairly military point of view. And if you think I'm talking about the movie, forget it. Although I am amused by the movie, it comes off as being written/directed by people who disagreed completely with the premise of the book, and wanted to make fun of it. It's sometimes campy fun, but I would read the book to get the real story, as it were.

A lot of countries in the world today have service requirements... I'm not sure I would have been thrilled by the concept myself, since most of these strike me as "character building" and "stifling", rather than outlets for creative people who don't take direction very well. Certainly the crush them under the boot heel variety from Full Metal Jacket wouldn't be overly fun. I think my main problem with Silvergate's idea of a draft police force or draft armed forces being safer is that we know all to well the training techniques to make even part timers nearly as bad as the lifers.

More Spam...
2003-01-06

Reading Declan's Politech list today, I was pointed to this article here about the problems with RBLs... which I heartily agree with. Our company, Neotonic, is blocked by SPEWS due to them blocking our entire colo, so we went to another colo... and by the time we had the colo set up (2 months or so), the new IP address range we were given was also SPEWS blocked. Of course, SPEWS is an unknown quantity at the best of times, given their anonymous nature, but "they" are always telling you on NANAE that the correct thing to do is to choose an ISP that doesn't get listed... but that doesn't seem to be possible. Vigilantism at its best...

Interesting...
2002-11-15

I was pointed at this from an unapproved submission over at Plastic, its a column about a polyamory relationship. I was amused by the comment "How often does monogamy work?" in particular. Other recent discussions with my tribe have brought up the concept that most relationships can only last so long... a period of time often shorter than "til death do us part", for instance. This article does bring up some good points, though, about the difficulties of managing a relationship with more than two parties. It makes one wonder how the hell line marriages and the other shenanigans in Heinlein's Science Fiction would ever work... but maybe that's the fantastical part.

Irradiated Food
2002-11-11

Reading a recent article about irradiated food, I can't help but be amused at the way people cry foul at the slightest industrial change to their products, whether it be irradiation, genetically modified organics, whatever. Today, the opponents of these changes all seem to be from the "liberal" side, which is amusing in and of itself, liberals opposed to change...

From the article, we have opponents cite things like the chemical changes in the food, which seems less important once one reads studies about the chemical changes that occur when any food is cooked, for instance this article points out that slow cooking at lower temperatures is safer than faster cooking at higher temperatures... which of course one could take as saying that no cooking is probably even safer, given the proponents of diets like "The Zone", one could even say that the way we evolved to eat was diets of raw food.

Of course, this begs the question of those of us raised on microwaved food (not to be confused with microwave meals, my mom's a fine cook and a master of the microwave)... is that not irradiation of one type? And haven't we been playing the GMO game to one extent or another for centuries in terms of our food supply, albeit at a much slower pace?

Would today's hippy descendents at Public Citizen be aghast at the concept of pasteurization of milk? We have people pointing to the complicated drug interaction problems with fen-phen as a reason not to trust things that have been tested safe... one could wish that this healthy dose of skepticism was better directed.

I for one would be thrilled by the "unnatural" effect of keeping my food free of E. Coli and other pathogens. Not that I wouldn't mind if my meat wasn't quite so industrialized, hell I'd even love it if my meat was automatically generated out of the relevant molecules a la Star Trek, but American's like their beef... and they like their food cheap.

Those wacky Libertarians
2002-08-26

Ok, I admit it, every once in a while, I want to be a Libertarian. The world seems so much simpler from that point of view: every person for themselves, and form whatever group you want to force whatever issue you want, and it doesn't sound all that different from what we've got (on the face of it).

For instance, you have good ideas like Lewis Napper's Bill of No Rights which is a nice counter point to the occassionally insane aspects of our current Judicial system.

On the flip side... if everyone in this world is an idiot (except me, of course) then how the hell can I expect them to take care of themselves? This is usually the case with children (after all, we have to save them from themselves) but it doesn't take a genius to realize that being 18 years old doesn't actually prove anything about a person's ability to be a functioning citizen and member of society, especially in this day and age when (in the First World, at least) making it to your 18th tells us almost nothing about your Darwinian survival potential (but virtually guaruntee's your gene's will survive... damn).

What's my point? I don't really have one, actually. I'm sure Suck said it better at some point. I miss Suck.

880 Ton Crane
2002-08-18

Ok, so I've lived in the bay area now for almost 5 years, and in San Francisco itself for over 3... and I've always wondered about this really large red platform like object sitting in the bay at Hunter's Point near Candlestick/3-COM park. I was finally able to figure out what it was by asking on tuna (sorta silicon valley/west coast UIUC ECE/CS alumni group...) and got an answer... its not a platform, its a crane, an 880 ton crane to be precise, part of the Hunters Point Shipyard, and apparently the largest crane this side of the Mississippi. Apparently, there are some slight EPA problems at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. Yeach. A picture of the yard (converted from a MIL PDF). Ah, here are a bunch of old photos of the shipyard [1] & [2] including this one that might be the crane, and this one that might be the crane being built. The first one seems to have a picture of some state/federal like building super-imposed, probably for size perspective...

eGroups! (oh and Onelist)
2002-08-07

Just to offset the lopsided Onelist view of things over at Mark's Winged Pig. Just kidding. He's got a bunch of cool things online about Onelist, both before and after the merger between Onelist and eGroups. For those not in the know, I was one of the early engineers at eGroups (founded by Scott Hassan and Carl Page. We merged with out #1 competitor, Onelist (founded by Mark Fletcher), and later sold to Yahoo!, where the product exists today as Yahoo! Groups. I'm sure the story is similar to hundreds of other companies in the Internet boom, but it certainly was fun while it lasted...

Why SPAM is bad for Marketing
2002-08-02

Over here at Neotonic, we're in the middle of trying to drum up sales for our advanced customer support software, Trakken. In talking with a number of technical marketing people here in the bay area, the obviously most cost effective marketing tactic for lead generation at this stage of our company and with our limited budget is email based direct marketing. This isn't spam, this isn't UCE, this is an attempt to get information about our product out to people who might be interested in it via opt-in email lists that do their utter best to live by the best practices of such things.

There are number of reasons to like email based direct marketing. Sure, its cheaper than dead tree direct marketing via snail mail... and yes, it suffers from the same problem as UCE in the form of costing those receiving it some amount (very small, but not zero) of money. Having read David Brin's Earth[amazon], I personally can't wait for the day when non-package postal delivery goes the way of the dinosaurs, and that goes double for the vast majority of dead tree junk mail, some large percentage of which ends up in our land fills without doing anything useful except pay for the postal service itself. That's my way of saying that email based direct marketing is more environmentally friendly... and easier to ignore and get rid of.

The problem with SPAM is that it drowns out the more legitimate direct marketing. How many viagra/university diplomas/mortgages/stock scams/diet scams/etc do I delete on a daily basis? And do the people who send those things actually enjoy their work? The 500th time the university diploma idiot figures out a way around the Yahoo! Mail spam blocker to spam all of those accounts again... does he get that many responses to justify what he's doing?

And the relatively new crop of supposedly "opt-in" lists... which I appreciate because I can more easily filter them, but they are merely capitalizing on the fact that so many web sites these days add you to one marketing list or another during registration that maybe, just maybe, people will actually believe them. Just more crap to be deleted...

Combine this with all of the legitimate marketing email... I now get about 10 messages a week from various airlines or ticketing websites that I actually signed up for... and where is the space for the few offers that might actually be useful?

One possible solution is IronPort's Bonded Sender program, of course. It would help eliminate the junk bulk mail and allow through stuff that people in theory want... but it won't solve the problem of what happens when every vendor you've ever registered with wants to send you marketing material on a frequent basis. I'm not sure what the solution to that is... but I guess I'm going to be adding to the noise.

So long HTML2
2002-08-02

Having been on the web since the early versions of Mosaic/X while still at the University of Illinois, and coded my first HTML not so far long thereafter... it occurs to me that its about time to throw some of my early adopter crumudgeon-ness to the curb... in much the same way I did for MIME and other "end of the world as we know it" technologies. Hell, HTML4 has been a specification since 1998... and HTML3.2 since 1995... but until recently, I'd avoided nearly all usage of these "advanced" features on the basis of "there is no need" or the fact that some percentage of users wouldn't be able to use them.

The fact of the matter is, those days are long gone. Sure, WebTV suckers are probably still using IE3 based browsers... and people on hand-held devices are stuck in the suck of WML or some bastardization... but the prevalence of IE5 and higher and the recent release of Mozilla 1.0 means that we no longer have to constrain ourselves to such limited effects any more... sure, you should still make a small effort to make your site useable for the less enlightened, but its long past time to start taking advantage of what we can do. At eGroups, we even had to contend with people using email to web gateways... but even Yahoo! has a new version of their mail/addressbook/calendar interface with dynamic html and javascript.

So here's to the brave new world... and to those of you still complaining about HTML in your mail or people forwarding Word Documents... go right ahead. But you should be using mutt and catdoc anyways, and leaving your stress for things that might actually matter.

Time for a blog format...
2002-08-02

I figure, it's high time that I use a blog-like format for my home page... after all, it seems to be a very natural format for something which changes over time... for instance, my "About Brandon" seems a bit dated, and has been modified a number of times... how much easier if the original data was spread over an entire blog... and besides, just the other day was I was cleaning up my home directory, and came across the detritus of 5+ incarnations of my home directory lurking in various nooks, crannies and sub directories... as the site now says, "A Fake Internet Presence since 1994"... (well, technically before that... but fiction.net in the form of fiction.isdn.uiuc.edu since about then.) I think I'm using too many ellipsis....

Anyways, I'm not using any particular software at this point, just some templates and data files using ClearSilver and vim... maybe that'll change later.


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Well, except my own company, but that's gone now.