Critical Section

Archive: May 11, 2021


Archive: May 10, 2020

2020 explained

Sunday,  05/10/20  01:26 PM


2020 is not messing around


Archive: May 11, 2019


Archive: May 11, 2018


Archive: May 11, 2017


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: May 11, 2015

Cruising Conejo

Monday,  05/11/15  10:00 AM

Last Saturday I rode the Cruising the Conejo century, a nice little 104 mile jaunt around the neighborhood, featuring 6,000 feet of climbing.  I managed to finish in a respectable 6 hours, with 5:46 riding time; my best century time in five years.  Yay, me.  It was even (gasp!) fun.


the route ... 104 miles 6,000 feet, a nice ride along the ocean, and spelunking around the hills

festival area; quiet before the start, raucous later

assembling to start

Rockstore! - my favorite climb was part of this ride (20:19 if you must know)

descending Encinal Canyon to the ocean

cruising PCH ... could have used a bit more sun, though

Mugu Rock - and the sun pokes through

USMC Missle Park

the finish!  yay

This marked my third century in three weeks.  Next Saturday I'll be riding the l'Etape California, a chance to ride the same stage 7 course as the pros competiting in the Amgen Tour of California, including the final climb to the finish at Mount Baldy.  Yippee.



Archive: May 11, 2014

Happy Mothers Day!

Sunday,  05/11/14  10:24 AM




filter pass

Sunday,  05/11/14  08:43 PM

everyone's ready! to celebrate Mother's Day :)Hi all hope you had a great Mother's Day!  At the end of the a nice long weekend, the Ole filter makes a pass...

browser window widthHave you noticed that more and more websites are targeting "wide" browser window widths, to the point where content doesn't even display properly in narrower windows?  Not good.  I understand that lots of people maximize their browser now, and use tabs, but lots of people don't, too.  Websites should work no matter what.

Another whiny observation: Now that computers are so fast, how come applications take *forever* to launch?  I was playing on an old Win XP machine and double-clicked a PDF, and poof! Acrobat Reader launched and poof! the file was displayed.  On my Win 7 machine I double-click a PDF and (yawn) it takes forever for Adobe Reader to launch and display the file.  Not sure whether to blame Win 7 or Adobe Reader, probably both.  Cruft!

iBackupBot - to delete your IOS Message AttachmentsSo you can use it (and I can find it later): Here's how to clear out all your Message Attachments to reclaim a ton of space on your IOS device.  I just removed 3GB from my iPad.  It works.

Danny Crichton: A personal reflection on Google+.  Seems my sloth in ignoring Google+ has been rewarded.  Honestly Google+ was never something I didn't get, but it was always something I didn't want.

In which Robert Scoble restarts blogging: Knock, knock, is this thing on?  I went through the same loop - blogging, blogging+Facebook, Facebook only, and back to blogging+Facebook - albeit less publicly than Robert.  Welcome back to the blogosphere :)

the ISS, home of ... people!Awesome: America's next fleet of spaceships will have to double as lifeboats.  Amazing that there are six people living in the ISS and we hardly ever hear about it.  Might make an interesting reality show?

Uranus, seen from SaturnUranus, seen from Saturn.  And no, this is not from a movie.  Cassini seems to be the space photography gift that keeps on giving.

I actually don't think this will happen: Apple buying Beats could radically transform the music business.  When was the last time Apple did anything like this?  And when did we ever hear about it beforehand?

Did you enjoy Draft Day?  I did.  And did you enjoy the real draft day?  Seems like it was even better than the movie.  Who would have predicted that Cleveland would end up with Johnny Manziel, on the 22nd pick?

Yeah?  When did guys start talking like valley girls?  Stop, like, using like, dude.


spherical cows

Sunday,  05/11/14  09:16 PM


The sacred, spherical cows of physics
I love it.




Sunday,  05/11/14  10:09 PM

Voronoi-zation - here's how you do it*.

0) Download and install Meshlab, an awesome open source program that let's you do all kinds of amazing transformations on meshes.  What's a mesh?  Any collection of vertices and faces.  In particular, any object you might want to 3D-print, or any object you might create with a CAD program like Tinkercad.  STL files contain meshes.

1) You need a starting point, the object to be "Voronoi-ed".  For example, here we have a 3D object which is the famous "Love" sculpture.  Launch Meshlab and perform File | Import Mesh to load the object.

2) Next we have to make sure there are hundreds of thousands of vertices in this object.  Perform Filters | Remeshing | Subdivision Surfaces: Loop.  Click Apply repeatedly and watch the number of faces multiply.  you might have to change the Edge Threshold from 1.0% to 0.5%, to get to 300,000 or so vertices.  You'll note that in the process some of the hard edges of the object are going to get softened, and that's good too.

3) Okay, now we cover the surface of this object with points, randomly.  These are going to be the centers of the little holes we will remove later to create the Voronoi effect.  Perform Filters | Sampling | Poisson-disk Sampling.  You might have to play with the number of samples; the more complicated the original shape, the more points you'll want.  For this example I've chosen 250, for a simpler object like a donut, maybe 100 would be okay.  You can see the points as white dots.

A little digression; Meshlab does not have "undo".  However in this case we are creating a new mesh from the old one, and we can delete the new mesh and create another, repeatedly.  Select View | Show Layer Dialog and you'll see each of the meshes separately.  You can right-click on the Poisson-disk Samples and select Delete Current Mesh if you want to retry.

4) Time to "Voronoi".  Perform Filters | Sampling | Voronoi Vertex Coloring.  Click BackDistance, and then click Apply.  The original mesh will be colored based on how far each vertex is from the points in the random Poisson distribution.  The far away areas are red - these are going to be the bones of the final object - and the close areas are green - these are going to be deleted.

At this point if you want to redo the operation, you can.  Simply delete the Poisson-disk samples, create a new random distribution of points, and perform the Voronoi Vertex Coloring again. 

5) Time to modify the mesh and create some holes!  First, perform View | Show Layer Dialog if you haven't already, right-click on the original mesh, and select Flatten Visible Layers, then click Apply (accept the defaults).  At this point the coloring is going to disappear, but the points are still there and the vertex distances from the points have been saved.

6) Next perform Filters | Selection | Select Faces by Vertex Quality.  The term "quality" here really means distance from the points.  Click "Preview" so you can see the vertices which have been selected; they'll be red.  Slide "Max" all the way to the right.  And now play with "Min" until you have the pattern you want.  You might have to type values if the slider is too granular.

Note this step just "selects" vertices, so you can play around until you get it the way you want.  In the next step we delete vertices and faces, and that's undoable.

7) When you've got the pattern just the way you want it, perform Filters | Selection | Delete Selected Faces and Vertices.  You've cut away the mesh now, and we're well on our way to Voronoization.

8) Now it's time to cleanup the cut away mesh; as you can see, the pattern is rather jagged.  Select Filters | Smoothing | Laplacian Smooth, and Apply a few times.  Each time you apply the pattern will be smoother, and you'll also notice the holes get rounder in the process, making the object more spidery.

9) Next comes the crucial step; we're going to make a 3D object out of this!  Right now the surface is the right pattern, but it has zero thickness, and that's not what we want.  Select Filters | Remeshing | Uniform Mesh Resampling.  Check the Absolute Distance box.  There are two parameters here, and they're both important.  The Precision value controls the level of detail, I usually set this to about 0.3.  And the Offset value controls the thickness of the new object.  You can play with this, I usually set around 0.5.  You want the object to be reasonably thick so it will print properly; also, that makes it look cooler.

This process can take a long time (minutes rather than seconds), and it creates a new mesh from the old one.  That means if you don't like the result, you can delete the mesh (right-click, select Delete Current Mesh), and try again.

10) Yay we have a 3D object!  Now we want to clean it up.  We have two tools for this; first, the Filter | Smoothing | Laplacian Smooth we used before in step (8), and second, the Filter | Remeshing | Subdivision Surfaces: Loop we used in step (2).  The Laplacian Smooth moves vertices, while the Subdivision Surfaces adds them.  Here's what the example looks like after a bit of smoothing:

11) And then after some Subdivision Surfaces to add vertices:

12) Awesome, right!  Now we just need to reduce the number of faces.  This figure currently has over 400,000, and while that makes for good definition, it's going to slow down our slicer amazingly when we try to print.  Perform Filters | Remeshing | Quadric Edge Collapse Decimation.  (Did you ever think you'd actually use a tool with that name? :)  This allows you to reduce the number of faces.  The target depends on the complexity of the object.  For this case, I chose to reduce to 150,000.  You probably won't even be able to tell the difference.

13) That's it we're done.  Now just select File | Export Mesh As and save as an STL, and you'll be able to print the Voronoi-ed object.  How cool is that?


* What is Voronoi-zation, you ask?  Well, it's the process of taking an object and creating a new object from it with a bunch of cool holes cut into it, useful for making interesting 3D-printable shapes.  Voronoi was a mathematician who studied surfaces; if you have a surface and imagine some selected points sprinkled over the surface, then for any point on the surface it is closest to a selected point.  You can score all the points by how far they are from the closest point, and that defines a pattern.  This pattern can be used to cut holes in an object.  Once you've cut the holes, you can then make the surface three dimensional, and poof! you have a Voronoi object.


Archive: May 11, 2013


Archive: May 11, 2012


Archive: May 10, 2011

X, actually

Tuesday,  05/10/11  10:51 PM

The Most Human HumanSo I'm reading The Most Human Human, a *great* book (honestly it is the closest thing to a sequel to Godel Escher Bach I have yet encountered) and the book makes the most interesting point that interesting comes from surprise.  If you already know what's going to happen, that's boring.

And what's the most commonplace question everyone uses to start a conversation?  "How are you?"  You are showing interest and caring and hitting the ball cleanly over the net.  But now what, how do you reply?  If you say "good", bssssp, that's it, rally over.  How about "good, actually"?  In fact, adding ",actually" to any reply makes it more interesting.  There's a surprise factor, a hint of something more.  You are returning the serve with topspin.

I love the idea that being interesting comes from being surprising.  If you know me at all, you know that one of my favorite questions is "what was surprising to you?"  If you went to a meeting, if you attended a conference, if you had dinner with someone; that's what I would ask.  And I now realize this was a proxy for asking "what was interesting?"  What differed from what I was already expecting.  Viewed this way, conversation is not only asking for and providing information, it is asking about and explaining what was different from expected

I love it, actually :)


the balancing barn (NY110411)

Tuesday,  05/10/11  11:09 PM

most excellent
(click to enbiggen)



Archive: May 11, 2010

Tuesday,  05/11/10  09:03 PM

In which your blogger got a lot done, and washed his car, and fixed his bike, and did a little BD, and a little marketing, and coded pretty much all day in between, and then ... blogged.

Gravity is talking, LISA will listen - testing relativity with three spaceships and lasersTesting relativity with three spaceships and lasers.  Awesome project, awesome tagline ("gravity is talking, LISA will listen"), and awesomer headline, but shouldn't that be friggin' lasers?

Eric Raymond: Android Rising.  "The news comes to us today that in 1Q 2010 Android phones outsold Apple’s iPhone by a significant 7%. As it said on the gunslinger’s gravestone, 'I was expecting this, but not so soon.'"  Interesting.  Will Google's Android be Windows to Apple's iPhone's Mac?  Could be...

Oatmeal: eight websites you need to stop buildingThe Oatmeal: Eight websites you need to stop building.  Hilarious!

Interesting; Amazon's Kindle showing promise as means to access medical literature.  "One advantage the Kindle has over the iPad, and just about any smartphone, is its free mobile Internet access... With the help of a federal grant, Duke medical librarians converted textbooks and clinical guidelines for use on the Kindle and added functions to search PubMed and the Internet. They gave the devices to various medical students and preceptors for their rotations in primary care. Though the device is much slower than a full-powered computer, it scored high in terms of reliability and usability."  Excellent.

BTW I stumbled across another Kindle value the other day; A friend is reading Ken Follett's [awesome] World Without Ends, and she said she loves it on the Kindle because the book is so large!  And it is.  Whereas the Kindle is pretty much the same size and weight when loaded with 100 books :)

photo gallery: handmade hobbit holeFrom CNet, this is pretty amazing: A photo gallery of a handmade hobbit hole.  The attention to detail is amazing.  How great would it be to live in one?  I like round doorways :)

A U-2 in flight - still in use today!NYTimes: Flying with the Dragon Lady.  "Fifty years ago today, the Soviet Union announced that it had shot down an American U-2 spy plane and that its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was alive.  It seems like a long-ago event from the cold war.  That may be why, in this era of satellites and drones, most people are surprised to learn that the U-2 is not only still in use, but that it is as much a part of our national security structure as it was a half-century ago."  I'm surprised!  Wow, U-2s are still flying, who knew?

Okay, back to coding... :)


Archive: May 11, 2009

Monday,  05/11/09  07:31 PM

ZZZzzz...  what?  Oh, I have to post, yeah, right.  Nodding off here for some reason, too much sleep over the weekend I guess...  and too much work today as a result.  And looking at my schedule I have two solid days of meetings coming up.  Whew.  Well too much work is better than not enough.

StarTrek the movieI am hoping to escape my schedule briefly, to see Star Trek.  Too many nice things have been written about it, looks like a must-see, and in fact a must-see-in-a-theater-with-DLP-projection :)

From the New Yorker's 5/11/09 issue, one of their most interesting for quite a while: How David beats Goliath (Malcolm Gladwell analyzes how underdogs win, basically, by working harder and being unconventional), The Fifth Blade (ruminations on marketing in the canonical razor / blade market), Brain Games (an interview with unconventional neurophysiologist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran), and my favorite, the controversial and thought-provoking The Instigator, about Steve Barr's Green Dot charter schools, which are slowly "taking over" Los Angeles and which [under Obama's administration] might become a nation-wide phenomenon.  Much food for thought... no wonder it takes me an hour to shave every morning :)

Howard Kurtz thinks Lack of Vision to blame for Newspaper Woes.  Weeell...  is it really lack of vision, or just changing times?  Could a forward-thinking newspaper really do anything to prevent being replaced by electronic online media?  Any more than a forward-thinking buggy manufacturer could have done anything to prevent being replaced by cars?  I honestly don't think so, newspapers are old tech, and they won't survive.  I used to think books and magazines might make it, but now I think their days are numbered too, the Kindle and its brethren will see to that.  One day there will be no physical media left.

Da Vinci surgical robot enters the Robot Hall of FameThe Robot Hall of Fame is expanding to include Da Vinci, Terminator, and Roomba.  A worthy selection, the Da Vinci surgical robot especially (my daughter Megan had heart surgery performed by a Computer Motion robot which was the Da Vinci forerunner).

Shuttle Atlantis lifts off to repair the Hubble TelescopeThe Shuttle Atlantis has a perfect lift-off, on its way to repair the Hubble Telescope.  Although we don't necessarily think about them that way, the Atlantis and the Hubble are "robots" too, and one is being used to perform "surgery" on the other :)  We are surrounded!

Jeff Atwood: the browser address field is the new command line.  And that means Google is the new operating system.  Which is not too far from the truth, and getting closer all the time...  His post has a great list of various shortcuts showing how Google can parse what you enter:

weather San Francisco (weather report)
CSCO (stock symbol)
time London (time conversion)
san francisco 49ers (sports news)
5*9+(sqrt 10)^3= (arithmetic)
Henry+Wadsworth+Longfellow (people)
earthquake (topical news)
10.5 cm in inches (unit conversion)
population FL (information lookup)
Italian food 02138 (business search)
movies 94705 (movie search)
homes Los Angeles (real estate listings)
Seattle map (map)
Patent 5123123 (patent lookup)
650 (area code)
american airlines 18 (flight information)
036000250015 (UPC code)
JH4NA1157MT001832 (VIN number)

Things I hate: when web designers use fancy techniques to create unconventional user interface conventions.  For example, if you want a button, use a button which, when clicked, works like a button.  Don't make a graphic which looks like a button and which, when clicked, somewhat acts like a button, but somewhat doesn't.  Facebook, are you listening?  (probably not :)

I've found the worst offenders to be sites afflicted with AJAX, because they are so browser dependent; half the time they don't test with Firefox, and half the time Firefox doesn't do what IE would do, so a quarter of the time badness results.  Flash is unconventional but [at least, mostly] consistent.

LaCie RAID array - 10TB for $2,000Things I love: LaCie RAID arrays which hold 10TB for $2,000 and which look like HAL.  I mean, how awesome is that, both the price point and the design?  What's interesting to me is that this is a classic attack from below, these storage arrays are designed for consumers and sold at consumer prices, but they pretty much duplicate the functionality of "commercial grade" arrays which cost an order of magnitude more.  Yeah you can talk about MTBF and all, but let's face it, these drives will be obsolete before they break.  Remember 200GB drives?  I have one in my closet, sitting next to an 80GB drive, and both are awaiting their next use as doorstops.  They were superceded long before they stopped working.

No word on whether, when you go to switch it off, it says “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t let you do that”…

Since I have nothing better to do, I am contemplating switching to Windows 7.  As in, installing the RC right on my main computer, and living with it.  I've run it under a VM enough to believe I could live with it, and perhaps over time could learn to like it if not love it.  I need a reinstall anyway, my XP has become excessively cruftified.  Stay tuned...


Archive: May 11, 2008

one of their kind

Sunday,  05/11/08  02:13 PM

Today I did another great ride from Amsterdam, this time West through the extended estuary to the coast at Sandvoort, then South a bit and back via Schiphol airport.  At some point my philosopher iPod dialed up Santana's You Are My Kind, which was amazing because I was ruminating on the Dutch, on being Dutch, and on how, despite never having lived here, nor having any plans to live here in future, I feel more comfortable here than anywhere; truly I am one of their kind.

If you are a regular reader you know I place significant stock in genetics; not that genes are destiny, but they are certainly part of it.  In today's weird liberal ethos this point of view is considered "bad" - since all men are created equal, we must pretend that all men are created the same, which is foolishness - but I prefer honesty to political correctness.  Whenever I am in Holland the culture embraces me with its familiarity.  And that culture (like all cultures) is born of its people; the libertarian social approach (not to be confused with liberal), the steadfastness and self-reliance, the competitiveness, the entrepeneurialism combined with enlightened altruism, the easy acceptance of sex and sexuality, the embrace of family and quiet religion undertones.  It all feels comfortable, there isn't the tension between the people and their way of life you feel in America.

I suppose a key element of this cultural feeling is the underlying homogeneity, which can't be found in larger countries like the U.S.  Certainly the sizeable Muslim immigrant population in the Netherlands doesn't feel comfortable; they haven't integrated very well with the Dutch and their imported culture clashes at many levels; a problem which is being exacerbated by their much higher birth rate.  It is reminiscent  but perhaps worse than the situation created by the large influx of Mexican immigrants in the Southern U.S.

Anyway it is really nice to be here, even if only temporarily.  I can soak up the feeling and carry it around with me.  You can take a Dutchman out of the Netherlands, but you can't take the Dutch out of him :)   Ik ben echt wel Nederlands.


Archive: May 10, 2007

New Yorker 5/14/2007 - the ascent of man

Thursday,  05/10/07  10:19 PM

You may know, I'm a huge fan of New Yorker covers, and for this week's "innovation" issue Bruce McCall has added to their legend with a fantasic three-cover cover:

the ascent of man
"the ascent of man"
(click for larger pic)

These covers overlap, so you can just see the edges of covers 2 and 3 peeking out from behind cover 1.  Innovative - and awesome!


Archive: May 11, 2006


Archive: May 11, 2005

location free TV

Wednesday,  05/11/05  07:34 AM

I've been testing a Sony Location Free TV.  The concept is really cool - you have two parts, a video server and a wireless video receiver.  The server sits in your home entertainment center, and the receiver can go "anywhere".  Well, it doesn't work.

Sony Location Free TVAfter playing with it for a while I have a bunch of quibbles, but at the highest level there is only one problem, the receiver cannot be far from the server.  The server itself acts as a wireless hub, using either 802.11g or 802.11a, but either way the range is about 30'.  When running this way the picture is perfect, but 30' just isn't useful.  I wanted to put the server in my family room and use the receiver in my kitchen, but the range just wasn't good enough for that.

You can also transmit video over your WiFi network, or any other network for that matter, but when you do that the picture quality is rotten.  I have 802.11g WiFi in my house and have good reception "everywhere", as measured with my laptop, but in this mode the picture was pixilated and the frame rate inconsistent.  No good.

I also found the device complicated; I could set it up, even enjoy the complexity, but this is not a device for the average consumer.  They also tried to do too much; you can use the receiver to surf the web and exchange email, but who wants to do that?  Anyway this is a first generation product, I have no doubt there will be many "location free" video devices in the future, and they will work.  Sony is on the bleeding edge with this one and it just isn't quite there.

So this device goes into the "dancing bear" category; it is cool that it works, but it doesn't work well enough to be useful.


As the laptop turns - episode 8

Wednesday,  05/11/05  09:00 PM

The saga of my laptop trouble continues...  (Links to 1, 2, 3, 3.5, 4, 5, 4.5, 6, 7)  Here is episode 8...

-----Original Message-----
From: Ole Eichhorn []
Wednesday, March 16, 200512:56 PM
Subject: episode 8 - as the laptop turns

You knew, knew, that saying “we have a happy ending” was reckless precelebration, right?  Right.

So yesterday I’m at Clarient, the first time I’ve had my laptop on the road since the repairs.  And sadly, I discovered a whole series of little problems.  First, the display “goes white” randomly.  This seems to be triggered by the presence of a customer attending a demo.  Second, the display has a slight flicker.  Again, this seems exacerbated by digital slide demoing.  Perhaps it can read minds, and was responding to the black thoughts I was thinking about it when it “went white”.  Also, the WiFi adapter in this model is built into the laptop’s cover.  Not a bad idea from an antennae exposure standpoint, but a bad idea from an “affected by display replacement” standpoint.  Yes, you guessed right, the WiFi adapter’s connectivity is intermittent, and yes, you guess right, this seems to be guided by Murphy’s law of demoing.  (Perhaps proximity to St. Patrick’s Day makes Murphy’s Law even more relevant than usual?)  Finally the power button on the laptop no longer works – apparently an attempt to defend itself from being turned off in disgust when the other problems mentioned above manifest themselves during a demo.

So last night I left a little voicemail for my buddy at HP laptop support.  I just spoke to him and they’re now planning to replace the laptop entirely.  So be it.  This takes a week so I’ll be living with my present unit a few days longer.  The replacement laptops are “reconditioned”, not new, and they may replace my model with another model with “equivalent” specs, so it is now way early to say “we have a happy ending”.  As always, stay tuned…


Continue to episode 9...


Wednesday,  05/11/05  09:27 PM

I find this to be so cool; Inforedesign.  Here we find The Tyranny of Email, translated to Russian.  More proof, if any were needed, that you can find anything on the web :)

Another Tyranny linker: Coding Horror (".Net and human factors").  Some useful extensions: "There are a few ways that laziness can be harnessed to work for you, if you let it:"

  1. Choosing what not to do.
  2. Balancing communication with isolation.
  3. People don't scale.  (Truly lazy developers let their machines do the work for them.)

Some great posts on this blog; e.g. The Start Menu Must Be Stopped.  Indeed.  Subscribed and in the blogroll.

In case you think the whole "Tyranny" think is a joke; FuturePundit reports Work Distractions Lower Effective IQ.  "Getting interrupted a lot by email and other messages has the equivalent effect on work efficiency of a 10 point IQ drop."  I believe it.  And speaking for myself, I don't have 10 points to spare :)

Paul Graham: Hiring is obsolete.  Man he is batting 1.000.  Read this now, it is long, but it is good.

Junxion boxJunxion.  "With the Junxion Box, people can connect their devices to PC Card modems from wireless carriers using common interfaces like Ethernet and Wi-Fi."  This seems like a big seller.  A really low-end way to create wireless access points anywhere.

Did you see this?  CNet reports Toshiba announces 45GB next-gen DVD.  So that's pretty cool, 45GB on one disk.  Good for backups?  It definitely won't be used for media, because [as Mark Cuban opines] DVDs are dead.  The biggest problem isn't capacity, it isn't even that the media uses atoms; the biggest problem is that manufacturers insist on including some kind of obnoxious DRM.  And the 'net will route around it. logoHave you ever wished you could just "print stamps"?  I mean, this is the 2000s, right?  How silly is it that you have to go to the Post Office to buy postage.  I guess you can buy it online and have it dead-tree-mailed to you, but that requires forethought.  Okay, so there's  Perfect solution, right?  Well, no, it is no solution at all.  Although lets you print stamps, you have to print them on special serial-numbered stock.  By the time you've purchased the stock and had it dead-tree-mailed to you, you might as well just have bought postage.  How silly is that?

the M-sorterEngadget: The M-Sorter, a gadget that can automatically sort M&Ms by color.  Well that's certainly useful!  Some people have too much time...

BTW, I usually read Engadget from their RSS feed, but if I ever go to the site boy am I ever glad I have Firefox with Adblock.  That site would be unreadable using Internet Explorer.

Superfriends do Office SpaceThe Superfriends do Office Space.  I love it!  (But alas, no red stapler...)  [ via Kehaar ]

Hell frozen!From The Horse's Mouth, comes this evidence of global cooling...

This sounds like an Onion story, but it's not: Service Helps Dog Owners Interpret Barks.  "Users must first connect to Internet with their cell phones, and then register information of their dogs such as the breed and age.  The service will then record the dog's bark.  The owner will receive text messages telling them how their pet is feeling, such as 'I am happy' or 'I am frustrated.'"  I am speechless.



(new yorker, 2/28/05 - shades of gray)

Wednesday,  05/11/05  10:24 PM

J.J.Sempe - untitled



Archive: May 11, 2004

Fire Season

Tuesday,  05/11/04  09:34 AM

This is very cool - NASA's Earth Observatory has a satellite picture of fire season in Central Africa.  [ via Adam Curry ]  Here's the high-resolution version (250 meters per pixel):

Fire Season Roars to Life in Central Africa

(click image for full-size interactive viewer)

Be sure to hit F11 to maximize your browser's window so you can see as much of the image as possible.

As usual, I upsampled the image and am serving it with Aperio's image server software.


Archive: May 11, 2003

Google and Blogs

Sunday,  05/11/03  11:26 AM

There's been considerable discussion in the blogosphere about Google "dropping blogs" from search results.  Dave Winer linked Andrew Orlowski's article about Eric Schmidt's comments; more recently Dave links Evan Williams' reply that Orlowski is full of crap.  So what's the truth?  Unlike Evan, I have no inside knowledge (Evan is the founder of Pyra, makers of Blogger, which was recently purchased by Google), but here's some educated guesswork...

First, Google is all about delivering accurate search results.  If they thought dropping blogs would help, that's why they would do it.  (Not because they dislike blogs or have some philosophical axe to grind.)  So we need to think about whether blogs improve search results or not.  Second, Google has a history of separating search domains in their GUI (images, groups, directory, news).  Each of these domains have different characteristics, and when a user searches they generally know which domain they want to search within.  It is reasonable to assume that rather than dropping blogs altogether, Google would establish a new domain for them.  So we need to think about why they would do this and how it might work.  Finally, Google works great for most sites, but the way they index blogs could be improved.  So we can think about how blogs could best be indexed.

Dave asked "how will it [Google] tell the difference [between blogs and everything else]"?  I'm not sure how they could tell, there are gray lines between news sites, personal home pages, company sites, e-commerce stores, blogs, etc., but there are technical ways to distinguish (blogs ping, they have RSS feeds, etc.).  More on this below, but for now let's think about the differences a search engine would care about:

  1. Blogs' content changes frequently.
  2. Blogs are link-rich and content-poor.
  3. Blogs contain personal opinion

If you think about it these things all make blogs less useful to search engines.  Let's consider them in turn:

Blogs' content changes frequently.  Blogs are chronological diaries; many bloggers post at least once a day and some post multiple times a day.  Each post usually has a "permalink" (a URL which always links to the post), but the blog itself has a constant URL, and the content of that URL is always changing.  Consider my little blog; I post about once per day, and Google's spider visits me about once per day.  It takes Google some time before their spider's data are indexed and absorbed, so most of the time what Google "thinks" is on my blog's home page is only accurate for a few hours.  This is shown vividly by looking at my referer logs; Google often directs people to my home page based on content which is no longer there!

Blogs are link-rich and content-poor.  Many posts on a blog simply link to other posts on other blogs, perhaps adding some commentary and/or associating multiple posts with similar content together.  Not all blogs are that way - this is the "thinkers" vs. "linkers" distinction I've mentioned before - but overall if Google directs a searcher to a blog, they're more likely to find links than the information itself.  There is value in having the links aggregated by the blogger, but that's what Google does anyway.  So most blog posts are not very good targets for a search, even if many other bloggers have linked to them.

Blogs contain personal opinion.  By their very nature, blogs are one or a small number of people's thoughts about their world.  Blogs which blandly report news are uncommon; most blogs are full of philosophy, politics, sociology, and general spin.  This is what makes them interesting and fun to read, but it isn't clear this is helpful for someone searching for information.  If you are searching for "George Bush landing on the U.S.S.Lincoln", that's what you want to find, not 1,000 bloggers' personal opinions about George Bush's landing.

So I can see why Google might want to exclude blogs from search results.  By the same token, blogs have information that can't be found anywhere else; they are an incredible source of information.  The information takes several forms:

  • Firsthand accounts of news events.  Frequently bloggers "are there", and contribute detail and insight (and photos) unavailable anywhere else.
  • Links connecting information together in virtual threads.  The interconnections between blog posts are amazingly informative.  Consider the brief thread I described above: Dave Winer -> Evan Williams -> Andrew Orlowski -> Eric Schmidt.  Each added information to the overall picture, but I never would have found these connections by simply searching Google.
  • Personal opinions.  I noted above that if you are searching for information about George Bush's landing blogs would not be helpful.  { Except for a firsthand account, of course, what if a Navy seaman blogged about the event! }  But if you wanted to know what people thought about the landing, checking blogs is absolutely the thing to do (as opposed to, say, taking CNN's or Fox's word for it).
  • Discussions.  In addition to one person's opinion, you have the give-and-take between many people.  Frequently blogs have comment threads which host the discussion.  Or bloggers may link back and forth on their own blogs, perhaps connected by trackbacks.  The discussion is often more illuminating than the original information.

So I can see where Google would definitely want to continue presenting blogs' information, but segregated into a different search domain.  They would do this for another reason, too - to improve the presentation of results.  Google News results are different from Google Web results, and they are presented differently too, as a reflection of the underlying differences in the content.

There is no doubt Google's approach to indexing web sites made a qualitative improvement in web searching.  But there are ways blogs can be indexed which would be a big step forward:

  • Use for currency.  Most blogs "ping" whenever their content changes.  Google could use this to determine when blogs' content have changed and schedule their spiders accordingly.  By the same token any site which pings should be considered a blog.  If Google did this, everyone with a blog would want to ping.

That's the answer to Dave's question "how will it tell the difference?" - it will ask the bloggers!

  • Use RSS feeds for content.  Most blogs have RSS feeds which abstract their content.  Google can use blogs' RSS feeds to determine what posts are at which URLs without laboriously spidering each blog every time it is updated.  If Google did this everyone with a blog would want to have an RSS feed.
  • Model the interconnections between posts.  The multithreaded world of links between blogs contains a mine of information - as shown by Technorati, Dave Sifrey's terrific search engine.  If Google could provide a way to find and display these threads, it would be really cool.  Currently we have comments, trackbacks, links between sites, etc. - all valuable and all different - and it is tough to get the big picture without a lot of clicking around.
  • Aggregate opinions.  The magic of Google is that they use links to index pages, instead of the contents themselves.  ("You have what people say you have.")  This technique applied to blog posts could be very valuable, use links to categorize an expressed opinion, instead of the opinion itself.  ("You think what people say you think.")

No doubt there are other ways, too.  By segregating blogs and treating them differently, Google could improve the blog searching experience.  Which in turn would make the information on blogs more valuable.

Wrapping up, here are my conclusions:

  • Google might want to exclude blogs from search results.
  • Google would definitely want to continue presenting blogs' information, segregated into a different search domain.
  • Google could improve the blog searching experience by leveraging attributes of the blogs themselves, such as, RSS feeds, comments, and trackbacks, and by applying their technique of using links to categorize content.

Those are my thoughts, I'm sure you'll have others.  I'll search for them :)

P.S. Click here for a Technorati search for blogs which link to Orlowksi's article.  There are 195 listed, each of which has other inbound links, comment threads, trackbacks, etc.  Amazing!



Sunday,  05/11/03  11:06 PM

It's all happening... (seems like a good name for a blog :)

I've ignored the whole Jayson Blair / NYTimes thing; but of course I have a strong opinion.  So does Glenn Reynolds!  Anyone who thinks this isn't affirmative action-related is not paying attention.  The worst part of this whole affair is the way it taints the work of any other minority reporter; people may question their veracity based solely on race.  (In the same way that an Ivy-league degree means less if you're a minority.)  So we see that affirmative action actually hurts minorities in their struggle for credibility.  I hope the folks at the University of Michigan who are fighting to preserve their admission policies think about this.

Bush and Blair have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.  Makes as much sense as anyone else...  This prize just doesn't have the luster or credibility of, say, the prize for Chemistry.  I mean, Yasser Arafat has won it.

There's a lot of discussion in the blogosphere about "social software".  The Guardian wonders "is it the next big thing or just hype".  I think - just hype.  Tools for communication are what people really need.  Don Park has misgivings about it...  Don't worry, Don.  It is what it is.  If there's a "there there", it will emerge from human-to-human communication, not because it is forced.

I think about "social software" as I think about "the semantic web".  I don't really get it, because there isn't really anything to get.  Dave Winer agrees.  And Scoble goes further and claims "the whole metadata movement is over-hyped".  I agree completely.  Raise your hand if  you enter keywords for your Word documents so you can categorize them later.

People will do the minimum *now* if there isn't a payoff.  This is why the best GUIs are as simple as possible.  Consider Google - one input field.  We discovered this big-time at PayPal, make the sign-up process as simple as possible, and more people will sign-up.  (Asking even one more question measurably reduced the completion rate.)

Metadata is best thought of as an emergent property, not an explicit one.  Tools which manage emergent metadata are very useful - Google is a perfect example.  Tools which require explicit entry of metadata are not...  RSS feeds work precisely because nobody has to do much to create them ("Real Simple Syndication").  If I had to go and tag every post in my blog with metadata, I would never do it.

Wired looks for A Tivo Player for the Radio.  Me, too!  Bottom line - the killer product is not out yet.  When it is, you'll know it.

Another new online music service: Magnatune.  [ via Cory Doctorow ]  "We are an Internet record label which sells and licenses music by encouraging MP3 file trading and Internet Radio."  Interesting, but of course only "unknown" artists are represented...

I finished Michael Crichton's Prey.  Not that good.  Yeah, the nanotechnology ideas were there, and the genetic programming algorithms, and of course as usual he creates interesting characters and a sense of tension.  But unlike some of his other novels it all seemed too farfetched, the science was far away from what's actually possible.

To see what is actually possible, check out the Avida project at Caltech.  This software is designed to model systems which feature self-reproduction, genetic algorithms, mutation, etc.  Really cool.

Also related - here's a great overview of grid computing from IBM.

Between the advances of nanotechnology, genetic algorithms, and grid computing something like Crichton envisions will exist, but dust clouds of nanoparticles spontaneously emulating people?  No.

With the Matrix Reloaded on tap (three more days!) consider The top 10 things I hate about Star Trek.  I'm going to reverse the polarity of this website right *now*; watch out!


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Unnatural Selection
On Blame
Try, or Try Not
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IQ and Populations
Are You a Bright?
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The Joy of Craftsmanship
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Religion vs IQ
In the Wet
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
to space
where are the desktop apps?
still the first bird
electoral fail
progress ratches
2020 explained