Critical Section

Archive: April 25, 2018


Archive: April 16, 2017


Sunday,  04/16/17  01:29 PM


Happy Easter!
may you spend it peacefully with your family and those you love



space-ing out

Sunday,  04/16/17  04:39 PM

Happy Easter everyone, hope you're having a nice day.  I slept in, watched Amstel Gold (congratulations, Phillipe!, wow), and have been working away here quietly, awaiting the familial invasion a bit later.

While I was out not blogging there was a bunch of stuff that happened in and around space, so I thought I'd space out a little bit...

National Geographic: colonizing MarsNot least among the interesting space stuff, National Geographic published a phenomenal supplement on the subject of colonizing Mars.  Check it out in case you're thinking of going there :)

Astonishing video from NASA/JPL: Four days at Saturn.  Wow.  Yes, you must watch it full screen.

UranusFrom NASA: the Shakespearean Moons of Uranus.  I think sometimes Jupiter and Saturn get all the press, but Uranus is actually pretty amazing.  It has 27 [known] moons, including Oberon and Titania, which are larger than all of Saturn's moons other than Titan.  And Uranus does have rings like Saturn, and does have a bright spot like Jupiter.

Titan's methane lakesAnd speaking of Titan, it has liquid lakes! - but they're filled with methane, not water.  And yeah, they could support some weird "life".

If any more were needed: Another good reason to sail the seas of Titan.  (life!)

But just so you know: We're probably imagining aliens wrong.

I thought the aliens in Arrival were pretty cool.  From Stephen Wolfram: How might the Alien spacecraft work?

NASA's New Horizons set to explore the Kuiper Belt.  Cool!  This is an encore performance for the space probe, after having sent those incredibly detailed pictures of Pluto.  Onward!

Juno enters orbit around JupiterMeanwhile, after 1.7B miles, Juno nails its Jupiter orbit to within ten miles.  Pretty good shot :)  The burn time was 35 minutes, and it was off by one second.

Sadly: Juno was a success - but there is precious little coming after it.  "The party is just about over. NASA, and more particularly the Obama administration, have failed to invest in future planetary science missions."  It is my sense that like a lot of the Obama administration, NASA substituted PR for accomplishment.

Andoria - NASA's second favorite Star Trek planet (but it's a moon)From NASA: Top 10 Star Trek planets chosen by our scientists.  This would be cute if there were manned launches taking place every few months, but since we are now relying on Russian rockets to visit the ISS, it's pathetic.  I think NASA thinks we don't know the difference between what they should be doing and Star Trek.

PS their #1 was Vulcan, showing a shallow familiarity with the Star Trek universe...

PPS their #2 was Andoria, a good choice, but a moon, not a planet...

NASA fantasy: a moon-orbiting spaceportSee now this is just sad: NASA just unveiled plans for its moon-orbiting spaceport.  What moon-orbiting spaceport?  There is NO plan to create a moon-orbiting spaceport, and in fact, no plan to create a rocket capable of reaching the moon from Earth.  Our tax dollars at work play.  Sad.

Apropos, from science fiction author chrishanger: Stupidity on Space.  "... if you genuinely care about Earth’s ecology, moving into space is the best possible solution.His blog has become a favorite of mine...

SpaceX to Mars!Meanwhile, there is hope: Elon Musk and SpaceX announce details of plan to colonize Mars.  In seven years!

Teslarati: the challenges involved in a mission to Mars.  News you may be able to use :)

Earth in high def, viewed from the ISSCloser to home (well, depending on where you live :), here's an ultra high def view of Earth, from the ISS.  Most definitely best full screen on a huge monitor.

RIP: John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, dies at 95.

Parenthetically, I thought Missing Figures was one of the best movies I've seen recently... and Glenn was apparently accurately portrayed.

And finally, here we have the USS Enterprise in mind-blowing detail.  To boldly go everywhere.  Will we be alive to see it?  I hope so!

USS Enterprise - click to enbiggen
(click to enbiggen amazingly)



Archive: April 25, 2016

points of view

Monday,  04/25/16  10:30 PM

points of viewI'm been ruminating on points of view.  Everyone knows that people see things differently, but is that because they literally see the same thing and perceive it differently (sometimes) or are they viewing the same thing but seeing something different ... because they have a different point of view.  A lot of the work in understanding something is moving to different / better points of view.  So if you want to know a lot, you have to move around :)

If you're wondering "how could anyone ever support X", where X is one of the current presidential candidates, consider their point of view.  They are probably seeing different things than you are, rather than perceiving the same things differently.

Try ... if you can ... playing the "under the skin" game.  The other person is usually more rational than you thought, and you are often less rationale when seen from another person's point of view.

Tesla gigafactory as seen by a droneSpeaking of points of view, here we have the Tesla Gigafactory as seen from a drone.  Wow.  It's hard to comprehend just how large this building is...

Not surprising to me: Human intelligence is declining according to Stanford geneticist.  "I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas, and a clear-sighted view of important issues."  Clear evidence for Unnatural Selection.

Life in 2016: How White Castle will adjust to a $15 minimum wage.  A minimum wage is one of those issues where people definitely have different points of view.  If you're poor and struggling to live on a minimum wage, you will think this could help.  And if you're an economist or student of history, you will think this can only hurt.  The challenge is not figuring out who's right, but how to we get the right thinking implemented.

Victor David Hanson: The next President is going to be hated.  Yeah.

Alpha Centauri - target for Yuri Milner's probeSome people would say this is a waste of time and money, but not me: Yuri Milner is spending $100M on a probe that could travel to Alpha Centauri.  I saw Yuri speak at a Caltech event recently, and he's level headed and constructive about this.  Most impressive.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the political spectrum, Bernie Sanders is now calling for a nationwide ban on fracking.  See, to me, he *really* doesn't understand how things work.  But to you, maybe this makes sense.

on identity: is this 5'9" white guy really a 6'5" Chinese girl?A sad aspect of today's political environment is that people can't say what they think anymore.  Don't believe it?  Check out this video, in which a 5'9" white guy challenges people to say he isn't a 6'5" Chinese girl.  This is not proof of people seeing things differently, it's evidence that people don't feel comfortable saying what they see.

I'm not one of those people: I see crap, and I call it crap:  Brutalist websites.  This is a variation of my "patience" rant; people can whip out something ugly, call it style, and move on, instead of taking the time to make something worth making.  And once again let's not confuse simplicity (which is good) with brutalism or as I might call it lazyism (which is bad).

10,000 days of MathematicaAn extraordinary read: Stephen Wolfram, my life in technology.  Stephen is one of the people I admire most, a thinker who is also a doer, and who has thought and done some amazing things.  Mathematica and the Wolfram Language are two of the marvels of our time.  From any point of view :)

I'm going to wrap up with this, which is ... great, 1986 in photos.  Talk about having a different point of view, imagine how differently you would have reacted to these pictures thirty years ago (or forty years ago!).  And how we will look back and view the events of today.  As you look at these pictures, which one strikes you?

Donald Trump in 1986




Archive: April 19, 2015

Sunday,  04/19/15  10:14 PM

mobile worldThe Ole filter makes a pass ... curiously, it's not all happening, very little seems to be going on for some reason...

I have been self-analyzing myself, watching me not preorder an Apple Watch.  I just don't want one.  Maybe I don't think the learning curve on how to use another device is worth it, or maybe ... I just don't want one.  Huh.

New Horizons: PlutoNASA captures first color image of Pluto.  "The New Horizons probe, which is bearing down on Pluto, has captured its first color image of the distant dwarf planet."  Excellent.  It's truly amazing that we can launch satellites so far away and retrieve images from them.  It takes 4.6 hours for a photon to travel from the spacecraft back to Earth!

Star Wars VII - trailer IIA new trailer for the new Star Wars movie is up, and it looks ... great.  Cannot wait to see it, although I guess we all will; it is schedules to be released on December 18.  I love the way the Internet is trying to reverse engineer the plot from the trailer teases.

BB-8 the rolling droidOh, and remember the little round droid BB-8 introduced in the first teaser trailer?  Apparently it really exists!  Wow, what cool technology.  Sort of Segway-ish.  I would have thought actually building it would have been harder slash more expensive than just generating it on a computer screen, but surely it's more fun this way.

the crab camAnd here we have the crab cam.  Of course...


Archive: April 10, 2014

Political correctness run amuck

Thursday,  04/10/14  10:04 PM

I've been watching the whole Mozilla / Brendan Eich thing with great interest.  Seems to me we've reached a new low in the political discourse of the United States, that a CEO could be forced to resign because of his alleged political views.

You know the story; Brendan Eich, a legendary software developer (creator of JavaScript while at Netscape) and a founder and longtime Mozilla employee, was promoted to its CEO.  Mozilla is of course the company behind the Firefox web browser and other open source projects.  Shortly after his promotion news broke that back in 2008 he had contributed $1,000 to support California's Proposition 8, which specified that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."  (Voters passed the amendment but it was overturned by a court in 2010 as unconstitutional.)  This was translated into "Eich is anti-gay", there was a sizeable uproar including companies redirecting users who surfed with Firefox to special anti-Eich pages, and after a couple of weeks Eich chose to resign rather than fight.

Voltaire: I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say itA new low.

You may know, I'm an ardent libertarian, and to me the salient point is not whether Eich is anti-gay (turns out, he's not) or anti-same-sex-marriage (turn's out, he's not anymore*), but whether the prevailing political winds should determine whether someone is fit to be an executive of a company.  We should defend people's right to have whatever view they want, especially on something as controversial as same-sex-marriage, even if we disagree with them.  We should not shut down public discussion of such issues by forcing a prevailing view.  And we especially should not confuse an individual's personal views with their fitness and performance as an executive of a company.

Lest you think this is an isolated example, there have been serious suggestions that other executives who have contributed to unpopular / un-politically-correct initiatives be "purged".  That's pretty scary, don't you think?

I think we should support different points of view and open debate, especially since the political winds can shift so quickly.  While support for same-sex-marriage is now pretty strong, it wasn't too long ago that it was "politically correct" to have an opposite view.  Consider the matter of abortion, which is not yet settled.  Having either a pro-life or pro-choice view is okay for a CEO, today.  But what about in five years?  What if one of these positions "wins"?  Should we then criticize or censure the people who had an opposite view today?

Pretty scary.

* BTW many notable public figures have changed their mind about same-sex-marriage, including President Obama. 


Thursday,  04/10/14  10:51 PM

Minion!Multithread city over here, I have been courting investors, coding, team-building, and assembling a sales plan all at once.  And I need help, so I've also been making Minions =)

Biggest news the last couple of days has been heartbleed, the webserver bug (in OpenSSL) which is so bad it has it's own name (and logo).  Server admins all over the world are scrambling to apply patches, and users everywhere are changing passwords.  Crap.  So, does this refute Linus's Law?  (That with many eyes, all bugs are shallow.)  Nope. 

Land Rover's virtual transparent hoodThink Visual Search is flying under the radar?  No such luck.  Facebook's face identification project is accurate 97.25% of the time.  That's amazing.  And Twitter adds photo tagging.  It isn't automatic - yet - but imagine how cool when it will be.  Won't be long, check this out: Impala lands on Android to herd more cat pictures.  And there are applications like this: transparent Land Rover hoodOnward!

Seth Godin: Not even one note.  "We opt for more instead of better.  Better is better than more."

Cancellara just ahead of Boonen in the 2014 Tour of FlandersI've been remiss in my cycling commentary, which for some of you is just fine and others a travesty.  We're in the middle of the "classics" season, and next Sunday is the most classic classic, Paris-Roubaix, featuring a head-to-head battle between Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen.  In the last ten years Boonen has won four times, Cancellara three, including last year.  My money's on the Swiss time machine; he looked pretty amazing winning the Tour of Flanders last weekend...  (That's him leading Boonen in the Ronde.)

Office for iPad: it's here!So, Microsoft have announced Office for the iPad, or rather, Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.  Early reviews have been uniformly positive and the products are already very popular though some pundits seem to feel this is only for business customers.  No, it is nothing less that a grand repositioning of the company away from desktop toward mobile; a great move, IMNSHO.  Good for Satya Nadella: Who are you, and what have you done with Microsoft's CEO?

Meanwhile, Microsoft's OS Chief Terry Myerson does not get it, per this interview with Mary Jo Foley.  "How the Windows experience spans these form factors and is familiar across them - that's what we need to deliver if we're going to delight people in the whole ecosystem."  That's old school thinking; I predict he will be gone soon...

Amazon's Fire TVMeanwhile, Amazon launches FireTV, their answer to AppleTV, Roku, and Chromecast.  Coolest differentiator is the voice-controlled remote, which apparently actually works.  That would be cool.

Oh, and they also launched Dash, which is a combination barcode scanner and voice recorder to help you order from Amazon Fresh.  Quite interesting.  I could see this making a difference in convenience...

finding flight 370 ... the depth of the problemSo, we still haven't found Malaysia Flight 370 :( despite an incredible effort.  At this point the most likely scenario all along seems the only scenario; the plane had trouble and crashed into the ocean.  The Washington Post created this illustration of how difficult it's going to be to find it.  It's not going to be easy to find the black box at the bottom of the ocean, as this illustration shows.

esr: Zero Marginal Thinking (Jeremy Rifkin gets it all wrong).  A thorough fisking.  Whew!

You, too, can be a Glasshole! (On April 15, one day only)Do you want to be a Glasshole, too?  On April 15 - for one day only (tax day!) - Google will sell one to anyone.  A mere $1,500 and you too can take pictures by winking.  Go for it!

And finally: how to flirt, according to science.  A big key is maintaining eye contact.  So Glass is great for flirting :)


Archive: April 25, 2013


Archive: April 20, 2012

Zeno's paradox

Friday,  04/20/12  10:39 AM


at 53 I feel like this has been going on for a while
so far it hasn't caught me yet :)



Archive: April 25, 2011

I think therefore iPhone

Monday,  04/25/11  02:41 PM

iPhone self-portrait :)I did it!  I bought my own iPhone and decommissioned my Palm Pre.  (...and so goodbye Sprint, hello Verizon...)  If you've been following along you know I've had an iPhone from Aperio for a while, using it for demoing digital slide viewing, and then a couple of weeks ago while in Canada I was forced to use it as my actual phone, and I've been using it ever since.  I haven't looked back.

I still like the Pre and still like its physical keyboard and webOS, but the iPhone is just way better.  It's way faster, for one thing, and way more responsive, and the screen is way better, and the camera, and I'm getting used to Mail and Messages and Safari and the virtual keyboard and it all just works.  Every day brings a new App too; even when the Pre had an App it was an afterthought, e.g. the Facebook App on the iPhone is much better, the Open Table App is too, the LinkedIn App, the Moviefone App, oh and now I have Google Goggles and how cool is that! 

I feel kind of silly now that I didn't get an iPhone long before.  None are so devout as the converted :)  Onward!

(Oh, and I like having a front-facing camera too, makes taking self-portraits easy :)


Archive: April 25, 2010

Wildflower Ride

Sunday,  04/25/10  07:15 PM

I rode the Wildflower Century yesterday.  This is a wonderful ride staged by the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club in the rolling meadows SouthEast of Paso Robles.  The entire ride takes place on quiet roads winding through the silent fields, with beautiful views of wildflowers (!) and vineyards and big mansions and wineries.  There are 50 and 75 mile versions of this ride too; if you ever want to participate in a really beautiful ride, check it out.

Seeing those acres of vineyards and beautiful wineries really made me want to live like that.  I could definitely see retiring to a great house in the middle of a nice vineyard, in a beautiful area like that.  Well let me rephrase, I could see living like that; I'm not sure I can see retiring, ever...

Oh yeah as usual, pictures...

the route: 100 miles, 6,500', through the rolling meadows SouthEast of Paso Robles

starting off in the early morning mist... wet and cold and where are the wildflowers?

but the sun came out and there they were, brilliant and beautiful

the amazing vineyard properties were a highlight of the ride for me

mile after mile of quiet road threading between silent fields - good think time
(and music listening time :)

yay, another century
(and yes my brain was cleared out some...)

See you out there!


Sunday,  04/25/10  09:40 PM

A weird day today; I was upset and stressed.  Spent much of it sitting on the deck in my blogitorium, but I was not blogging; I was working on, well, work.  It was a beautiful day, perfect weather, watching my dogs run around the yard, but somehow I couldn't enjoy it.  I had a great day yesterday too; nice ride, great dinner with friends, but my mind woke up cloudy today.  Too bad.  Some days are like that, but perhaps tomorrow will be better!

...and so now I am in my office, done working, and blogging...

Timed for Earth Day 2010, Fortune debunks 25 green myths.  Among them, "bottled water is safer than tap water", "buying local food is better for the environment", "organic foods are produced without pesticides", etc.  Green is good, but not everything people call green is good.

redesigned $5 billIf you travel outside the U.S. you will be struck immediately by how much more attractive other countries currencies are than U.S. greenbacks.  Here's a hypothetical redesign by Michael Tyznik.  Pretty nice, but then, it's a low bar...

reading on the iPad... as good as a Kindle?Good to know: Reading on iPad before sleep can affect sleep habits.  "Devices like the Kindle... use a technology called e-paper.  The iPad... contains a touchscreen liquid-crystal display that... emits light.... direct exposure to such abnormal light sources inhibits the body's secretion of melatonin, say several sleep experts."  I have been experimenting with using my iPad to read instead of my Kindle, and I don't like it as well.  The iPad screen is backlit but not as crisp, and it's much heavier than the Kindle.  On the plus side, I can check my email when I wake up without getting out of bed :)  Maybe that's not a plus, however...

fridgehenge!Brought to my attention by Shirley: Fridgehenge; Stonehenge reproduced in a city dump using discarded refrigerators.  How cool is that?

Michael Arrington: The Age of Facebook.  I must say with Facebook there is a there there, a real thing.  I check Facebook daily as do you (!) as do we all; it is a great way to stay abreast and in touch with your friends.  And I have no doubt that each person's friend network ("your graph") can be leveraged for all sorts of commercial purposes; targeted ads, recommendations, etc.  Your friends like your music, your sports, your blogs, etc. :)

Alexander Vinokourok wins Liege-Bastogne-Liege!Unbelievable!  Vino wins L-B-L!  Yes indeed, Alexander Vinokourov has come back from ignominious suspension during the 2005 TdF, served his two years, and now wins Liege-Bastogne-Liege, one of cycling's greatest classics.  What a victory!  And what a comeback...  and lest we forget, he is on Astana, that would be Alberto Contador's team.  This year's TdF is shaping up to be one of the most interesting ever!

John Wilcockson notes Vinokourov's Unpopular Victory.  Might be unpopular with Belgian fans, but man, you have to respect Vino.  I think what we're learning about doping in cycling is that yeah, it helps, but it doesn't help that much, and great riders like Vino and Millar and so are great even without doping.

Dave Winer's Three Laws of Standards:

  1. A standard may not injure users or, through inaction, allow users to come to harm.
  2. Standard-compliant software must obey any orders given to it by users, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A standard must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Are these excellent or what?


nice view

Sunday,  04/25/10  09:55 PM

Wow.  That's just about all I can say.


Archive: April 24, 2009

Friday,  04/24/09  04:59 PM

(Blogging after dinner #1 and before dinner #2.  Final approach for the Wildflower :)

Don't know why but I feel listless.  (What does that even mean, literally "without lists"?)  I've been eating and drinking and had some good meetings and got some things done, and overall nothing bad happened, but, well, blah.  So be it, sometimes that happens.

My excellent experiment with Tweetdeck is over.  I like the app, I don't mind the CPU and memory it hogs, but following twitter all day just isn't my thing.  I can just feel the brain cells oozing out of my head :)

If you know what I mean, or even if you don't, you'll enjoy this: explaining twitterspeak to others.

Where does our power come from? Hopefully, nuclear reactors...Inhabitat kicks off their Energy 101 series by asking where does our power come from?  ("First thing I remember, was asking poppa where...")

MySpace has a new CEO, Owen van Natta, a former Facebook exec.  This sounds promising: "One person close to the situation described the firing of DeWolfe and the hiring of Van Natta as resembling “retarded drunk people riding bumper cars.”"  Great theater, even if it doesn't result in better products.  Personally I think Facebook is taking a random walk down product lane; I find it noticeably less interesting now than six months ago.  Perhaps MySpace will fill the void, we'll see...

Good news!  Ford loses $1.4B.  This quarter.  No really, that is lower than expected, and much better than GM and Chrysler...

Pork, Inc.: The Airport for Nobody.  Disgusting.

ZooBorns: baby Guinea HogsZooBorns of the day: baby Guinea Hogs (not to be confused with Guinea Pigs, mind you, nor with John Murtha...)

Okay, on with dinner #2, and then sleep, and then riding...


Archive: April 25, 2008

Friday,  04/25/08  10:05 PM

Greetings...  I am in the middle of a hard drive recovery, so if I seem a bit snippy you'll understand.  On the other hand it was a gorgeous day and I had a good ride, and my daughter Jordan is visiting, and other good things happened, so how bad is it really.  I'm listening to old Trower today.  As Joe Walsh says I can't complain but sometimes I still do :)

So as part of my hard drive recovery I visited the candy store Fry's Electronics today, and found a 1TB external USB2 hard drive for $189.  Yes this is not a typo, that is 1TB for $189.  Wow.  There was one per customer so I bought two :)

acomdata 1TB external driveThis is what 4,000 digital slides looks like!  The little blue light along the front even flashes purple when the drive is accessed, so you get a light show to go with your inexpensive bits...

HancockLooks like I'm going to have to see Hancock...

Brad Feld nails it: Why more stress is not inevitable.  "As I look back over the past decade, my intensity level hasn't changed much since the turn of the century. However, my stress level has changed dramatically."  Me, too.  Cycling is the key for me, YMMV...

But here is something you can get stressed out about: the Columbia Tariff Ticker.  Not much of a Heh for this one, I'm afraid; this deal makes all kinds of sense, except maybe in an election year...

The latest in the Microsoft - Yahoo saga - Microsoft announces flat revenues and a big drop in profit.  Still, as long as there are no other bidders in the fray, this deal seems inevitable.  I am not rooting for it, however; I think Yahoo will deliver more cool stuff outside the borg than in it.

Chilirec - Tivo for Internet radio.  I've often wondered why nobody had done this, maybe there's no business model.  Although that doesn't seem to stop people from doing stuff...

The Scientist reports Darwin hits Dating.  "Web sites attract beautiful people who use 'natural selection' to eliminate the imperfect."  Um, not.  This would be artificial selection, right?  You would expect The Scientist to get this right.

wine-a-bitMy new motto.
[ via ]

I really wasn't snippy at all, was I?

Have a fantastic weekend, and see you on the other side :)




Archive: April 25, 2007


Archive: April 25, 2006


Archive: April 25, 2005


Archive: April 25, 2004

Sunday,  04/25/04  11:26 PM

Sorry for the break - work got in the way - must...adjust...priorities...

USA Today: "Internet cafes seemingly dot every block in Baghdad, and new ones open often. That has led to a new phenomenon here: bloggers."  Excellent.  [ via Dave Winer ]

Andrew Sullivan posted an interesting (and encouraging) letter from Fallujah.

LGF notes the Media Mask slips.  "Falling all over themselves in an unseemly and ghoulish haste to publish photographs of American soldiers arriving home in coffins, the Washington Post, CNN, AP, and Reuters all ran pictures of Columbia shuttle disaster victims - wrongly identified as Iraqi war dead."  That's terrible.

Victor Davis Hanson recounts more Iraq myths.

David Burbridge reports DNA: a new twist?  "A few years ago in southern England a drunken teenager threw a brick at a truck.  The brick hit the driver's window; the driver had a heart attack and died.  The police forensic services obtained a DNA sample from the surface of the brick, but could not find a match.  Then last year the Forensic Science Service told the police that the newly developed process of 'familial searching' might help.  The police listed close relatives of the partial match, identified a likely suspect, and obtained a DNA sample from him which proved to be a perfect match.   After initially denying all knowledge of the crime, when confronted with the DNA evidence the suspect pleaded guilty to manslaughter."  Way cool.

the Red Line - Los AngelesRobert links the Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California.  Awesome website.  I love this stuff.  And people say Los Angeles doesn't have any history!  What's weird is that 100 years ago, L.A. was a leader in public transportation, and today everyone takes a car everywhere...

Ottmar Liebert notes the SUV challenge.  "Isn't it outrageous that I could have a twenty-something thousand dollar tax credit for buying a Hummer vs a measly $1,500 tax-credit for a Hybrid car?Yes, it is!  This is a problem for Arnold :)

orange Empire State BuildingAdam Curry observes that on April 30 the Empire State Building will be lit orange, in honor of Dutch queen Juliana, who passed away recently...  That's cool.

Here's an interesting twist on the "are bloggers journalists?" debate: Time Magazine launches a blog.  "TIME's Eric Roston gives a daily commentary on the technology that will carry us through tomorrow - and the stuff that keeps us stuck in yesterday."  So be it.

Of course we're all waiting for Alien vs. Predator, and in the meantime we can contemplate the new Star Trek prequel.  What could be better than that?

Mark Cuban, founder and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, blogs about Success and Motivation.  "I did it too.  I drove by big houses and would wonder who lived there.  What did they do for a living?  How did they make their money?  Someday, I would tell myself, I would live in a house like that."

Man, this pisses me off.  Compression Labs has filed a lawsuit against 31 major companies for violating its patent, due to their use of JPEG compression.  These patent suits are ridiculous.

Ottmar considers the creative collective.  "I believe William Burroughs said once that an idea, any idea, doesn't belong to a person, but to a time period."  Exactly.  But with patents, the idea can belong to a company.  Which can then sue and stifle creativity.

This is pretty funny.shitbegone toilet paper  "Jed Ela exhibited a single role of a toilet paper he had thought of as a joke, called ‘Shitbegone’.  The exhibit was a great success, and Ela realized he could actually make money by mass-producing Shitbegone and selling it in stores.  What differentiates this from the sale of other artistic reproductions is that Ela markets Shitbegone as toilet paper, not as art: he sells it by the case ('96 double rolls for $44.99. That's 47 cents per roll!').  What started as something like Warhol’s soup cases turns into an idiosyncratic case of the product development and marketing of a basic essential commodity."  But that isn't the best part.  Now Michael Pulsford has analyzed 'shitbegone' in a business case study.  I am not making this up :)


Archive: April 25, 2003

Friday,  04/25/03  08:29 AM

Well, after about a week of using SharpReader, I'm giving it up.  It is a fine application, I didn't have any problems with it.  I just don't like viewing websites this way - it is like reading Reader's Digest, or something.  Plus, it creates pressure for me to read "everything".  I don't want to read everything, I just want to surf around and find interesting stuff.  The best way for me to interact with the blogosphere is to make a pass through my blogroll, picking sites I feel like looking at and clicking around...

The weekly Carnival of the Vanities is up.  This is a good way to find new blogs, check it out.

Solonor comments on, well, comments:  "The main way we introduce ourselves in the blogosphere is by commenting on someone's writing.  It seems a little rude at times.  We walk in the door of a stranger's house, criticize the furniture (even if it's a good comment), and invite ourselves back over whenever we feel like it."

Congratulations to Lee Hood, the smartest person I ever met, for winning the 2003 Lemelson-MIT Prize.  (Dr. Hood was my pre-med advisor at Caltech, in 1979, two or three lifetimes ago.)  "No single person has done more to create the genomics era than Leroy Hood."

C|Net has a feature on "the cars of tomorrow".  But they totally miss the most important feature - the ability for cars to spontaneously organize themselves into caravans, speeding traffic flow.  A few high-end cars have this technology now - some Mercedes have it, and some Lexus' - but it is positioned as a safety feature ("smart cruise control") rather than a traffic optimizer.

Just in case you thought the dumb "throw money at anything" attitude of the late 90s was gone forever, Shazam Entertainment just closed a $6M funding round.  What they do: if you're walking around and you hear a song you like, you dial Shazam from your cell phone, and their music recognition service will tell you what the song is.  Now that is a terrific business, isn't it?  (Almost like automating pathology, but different.)



Friday,  04/25/03  09:08 AM

The idea: Caravans

I thought about this a bit on my drive home, in traffic.  I was trying to think, what could I do, by myself in my car, to make traffic move along faster.  I think the best thing you can do is tailgate as closely as possible, without actually risking hitting the car in front of you, and track your accelerations and braking as closely as possible to the car in front of you.  A virtual towing rig, essentially.  This minimizes the space your vehicle uses on the road, minimizes air resistance, and maximizes your speed for the cars behind you (by yourself, you can't do anything to speed up the car in front of you). 

I've discussed this with a few friends, and they all have the same reaction.  Paraphrasing, their reaction is "when I get in traffic, I just relax and slow down, and try to drive along smoothly without tailgating".  This is what I do, too.  I don't want to get too close, because then I have to pay attention, and do a lot of stopping and starting.  But this strategy minimizes traffic efficiency!  It allows large gaps to open in front of you, "wasting" freeway space, and all the cars behind you can go no faster than you are going, regardless of the speed at which the cars ahead of you are traveling.

Okay, so what if you built a feature on a car that automatically kept you as close as "safe" to the car in front of you?  {"Safe" would be determined by your current speed and your car's braking ability, and assuming the car in front of you has really good brakes.}  Call this "caravan mode".

How it would work

It seems like this would be technically possible, with a radar or some sort of distance sensor in the front, and a tight feedback loop with your accelerator and brake. 

SO, you merge onto the freeway just like always, get into the lane you want, and hit a switch to enter "caravan mode".  Your car goes into a sort of autopilot, accelerating and braking to keep you as close as possible to the car in front of you.  You are not prevented from accelerating and braking normally (doing so automatically disengages caravan mode, as with cruise control), or from changing lanes, or anything else.  You are not restricted to a particular lane, and you are not dependant upon support from the road or other cars to make this work.  If there is only one car in the whole world with this feature, you still benefit.  For one thing, you don't have to pay attention (!), you won't hit the car in front of you. 

NEXT imagine several cars in a row each with "caravan mode" enabled.  They would travel more efficiently than without caravan mode.  The lead car would set the pace, subject to traffic, road conditions, other traffic, etc.  The other cars would be "towed" along at the same speed, very efficiently.  A long caravan of 100 cards would be WAY better than 100 cards acting independently.  (Interesting to try to model this in a spreadsheet or something.)

Some possible problems and solutions:

  1. What if the lead car travels too fast for one of the other cars?  The solution is simply to have an adjustment for the maximum speed you're willing to go.  Just like a cruise control, essentially.  If the car in front goes faster than this, you fall back and leave caravan mode.  As soon as you get close enough to a car in front, you reenter caravan mode.
  2. What if you follow too close?  As with the maximum speed, there would be an adjustment for this - turn the knob to select.  Some people are more comfortable being further back - the driver decides.  Leaving a bigger gap is safer and less aggresive, but also less efficient.
  3. How do other cars merge into a caravan?  This is a tough problem, because each car in the caravan is automatically trying to minimize the gap to the next car.  In the early days of this feature few cars would have it, so caravans of more than a few cars in a row would be rare and merging would not be too hard.  If the feature is successful and many cars have it, long caravans would form, and merging would become difficult.
    A couple of possibilities for this:
    1. The human driver could notice that a car wants to merge (blinker, etc.) and touch their brake to slow down.  This would open a gap, and the car could merge in.  Once the merge is complete, the driver re-engages caravan mode, and life goes on.
    2. If the human driver doesn't slow down, and a car "sticks their nose in" anyway, so be it; the caravan sensor notices the new car, slows down (to maintain a safe gap), and the newcomer joins the caravan.  If the new car doesn't have caravan technology it becomes a new lead car.
    3. If the car merging in was equipped with the caravan feature, it could electronically signal the cars in the caravan.  This would cause the nearest car to slow down automatically to make room.  In the coolest case the merge would happen automatically with no human intervention required by the driver making room, but perhaps s/he has to reengage caravan mode manually after the car has merged.  {One pleasant attribute of this solution is that it creates additional incentive for people to add caravan mode to their car, so they could merge into existing caravans...}
  4. What happens when the lead car exits the highway?  Nothing!  This is a not a system for steering, it is only a system for controlling speed.  The lead car changes lanes, exits the highway, etc.; so the second car becomes a new lead car.  It will speed up to the maximum level set in its cruise control until it gets close to another car, at which point the car in front becomes the new lead car.  {An interesting attribute of this approach is that lead cars will most likely not have this technology.  So cars which have caravan technology will "draft" cars which don't...}


This solution has some pretty properties (W=UH):

  • No road modifications are required.
  • It appears technically feasible at a reasonable cost per car.
  • Cars with the feature can coexist with cars that don't have the feature.
  • Cars with the feature benefit even if very few other cars have the feature, but the more cars have the feature, the valuable the feature becomes.  (Leading to a classic "network effect".)
  • It is a safety feature.  Really!  You will not be able to hit anything in front of you while in caravan mode...  At the very least it is safer than cruise control, which is installed in just about every modern car.

More complexity

Here's a v2 feature:  Cars in a caravan “communicate” with each other, via a wireless network (802.11, anyone?).

The primary benefit of the caravan is that it eliminates the “lag” in human reaction from the time the car ahead of you changes speed to the time that you do.  However, there is another lag caused by the inherent momentum of the car.  Even if the caravan electronics instantly detected a change of speed in the car ahead and instantly changes your car’s acceleration or braking, your speed would not change instantly.  Sure, eliminating the human lag is great – by far the main part of the overall lag – but eliminating the “acceleration lag” would be even better.

If the car ahead could signal that it is braking or accelerating before it actually does so, your car could anticipate the change and compensate automatically.  The next level of improvement would be a signal from the car ahead of the car ahead – anticipating adjustments by the car ahead before it actually makes them.  Perhaps the added complexity of this solution would not be worth the limited benefit.

Another idea – have predictive software in the car which anticipates acceleration changes.  This could be a learning algorithm, so your car gradually becomes more familiar with the behavior of the car ahead.  This has the advantage of simplicity (no communication with other cars required) and can also be done in “what if” mode, without actually changing acceleration, to see if it would help.

Even more complexity

Here's a v3 feature:  Regional networks.  Cars with caravan technology could "subscribe" to a service which helps them locate caravans to join.  This network could also signal weather, accident information, and traffic conditions.  {In addition to being useful, this is also a recurring revenue opportunity...}

A little off subject:  I have a little GPS map unit in my car, I love it.  The one thing it lacks which would make it totally great is information about traffic conditions.  It will pick a route it feels is optimal but which I know involves the Sepulveda Pass at 8:00 in the morning.  I’ve often thought it would be cool if all people who had such a unit were connected through a two-way network, probably piggybacked on the two-way paging networks.  Each car would contribute its own traffic conditions (just its location and speed, otherwise anonymous) in exchange for realtime traffic information from other cars in the vicinity.  There are enough people driving around with GPS units that a reasonable picture of realtime traffic on major streets would result.  Something I would gladly pay monthly for…

Your comments and suggestions are eagerly solicited...

[ This article was originally an email thread; Greg Crandall, Chris Prajzner, Kevin Schantz, Nick DeNicholas, Russell Bailinson, and Ramon Kurkchubasche each contributed to these ideas. ]

[ Later: the Caravan Fallacy... ]

[ Even Later: Caravans Revisited - the future is here! ]

[ Much Later: Caravans cont. - back to the future ]


Friday,  04/25/03  10:25 AM

There are few things I really hate, but one of them is applications whose uninstallers don't work.  I recently tried Synapse, a new music player which supposedly "learns" the music you like and suggests playlists.  I didn't like it - too much of a beta, I think - so I tried to uninstall it.  Well, the uninstaller didn't work, so I ended up using Explorer and Regedit to find "everything" and clean it up.  What a pain.  Why don't developers just use a standard installer like InstallShield or Wyse so they get working uninstallation for free?

Actually one of the things which turned me off about Synapse was the smugness of the GUI.  "Like, we're so cool, and we know we're cool, don't you think we're cool?"  No, I don't think you're cool; your app is sucky and your uninstaller is broken.  Back to coding, please.

Back in Iraq is back!  Back in the U.S., that is.  Christopher Allbritton is the reporter / blogger whose readers raised enough money to send him to Iraq.  He has come back and the experiement is ending.  Overall I enjoyed his writing but I didn't find it dramatically different or better or unusual compared to "the media".  In the end he was one guy in one place, and could only reports things he saw from where he was.  The advantage of the media is they have many people in many places, and can report from all over, giving some perspective.  Of course each media outlet has a spin, so then you have meta-media like the Command Post which integrate over all sources (including independents like Christopher) to give the big picture...DNA Helix

Today is the 50th anniversary of the discovery by James Watson and Francis Crick of the double-helix structure of DNA.  This comes only days after the publication of the first human genome.  Dr. Watson: "The pace of discovery is going unbelievably fast."  Dr. Crick: "Did we appreciate how important DNA was? Yes we did."

It is interesting the way memes replicate through the blogosphere.  I have been thoughtful about this all along, but it was really borne in on me when my Tyranny of Email article crested a wave.  Now, more recently, the silly "Fehlervorhersagefreude" meme is making a wave of its own.  I recently found a great post by John Hilar called The Tipping Blog, which relates blogospheric meme propogation to The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell's terrific book about how ideas propogate in the real world.

I'm not going to do Malcom's book justice, but essentially he observes that ideas are spread by people, and that all people are not the same.  Certain people behave in ways that cause them to be especially important in the spread of ideas:

  • Connectors - People who know lots of other people, and spread ideas rapidly.  They are important because they connect different groups of people together.  In the real world these are people like stockbrokers, tennis pros, and hairdressers.  In the blogosphere they are people like Glenn Reynolds and Chris Pirillo.
  • Mavens - People who are subject matter experts.  They are important because their opinion is respected.  In the real world these are people like technical experts, religious leaders, and media columnists.  In the blogosphere they are people like Dave Winer and Steven Den Beste.
  • Salespeople - People who persuade other people.  They are important because they reinforce a point of view about something: "this is cool", "this is bad", "this is important".  In the real world these are people like politicians and newscasters.  In the blogosphere everyone is a salesperson!

There are a relatively small number of connectors, mavens, and salesmen, but they are the gatekeepers for ideas.  The rest of us are simply the consumers.


About Me

Greatest Hits
Correlation vs. Causality
The Tyranny of Email
Unnatural Selection
Aperio's Mission = Automating Pathology
On Blame
Try, or Try Not
Books and Wine
Emergent Properties
God and Beauty
Moving Mount Fuji The Nest Rock 'n Roll
IQ and Populations
Are You a Bright?
Adding Value
The Joy of Craftsmanship
The Emperor's New Code
Toy Story
The Return of the King
Religion vs IQ
In the Wet
the big day
solving bongard problems
visiting Titan
unintelligent design
the nuclear option
estimating in meatspace
second gear
On the Persistence of Bad Design...
Texas chili cookoff
almost famous design and stochastic debugging
may I take your order?
universal healthcare
triple double
New Yorker covers
Death Rider! (da da dum)
how did I get here (Mt.Whitney)?
the Law of Significance
Holiday Inn
Daniel Jacoby's photographs
the first bird
Gödel Escher Bach: Birthday Cantatatata
Father's Day (in pictures)
your cat for my car
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world population map
no joy in Baker
vote smart
exact nonsense
introducing eyesFinder
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where are the desktop apps?