Critical Section

Archive: November 21, 2018


Archive: November 21, 2017


Archive: November 9, 2016

a new beginning

Wednesday,  11/09/16  09:03 PM

return of the elephants

Yesterday, the American people sent a strong signal.  They didn't vote for President-elect Trump or the Republican party, and they didn't vote against Hillary Clinton.  They voted for change.  They did not like where we were headed, and they said so, loudly.

In 2008 after Barack Obama was elected President, the Democratic party controlled both houses, 29 governorships, and 27 state legislatures.  But in the four elections since the Democratic party has moved further to the left and left America in the middle.  Now Donald Trump has been elected President, the Democrats have lost both houses, and they are left with only 18 governorships and 12 state legislatures.  *That* is change you must believe in.

I didn't see this coming.  I don't like Donald Trump.  But I am delighted that the era of liberal policies, free-spending big government, victimology, and sanctimonious political correctness may be brought to an end.  We have serious problems and we need serious solutions.  We cannot expect our government to provide those solutions, we can only hope that they get out of the way.  Obamacare is only the latest in a long serious of fiascos where the government attempts to manipulate a market, and causes incredible damage.  (For an earlier example, see the government's subsidy of subprime loans via FNMA and FDMC, which caused the disastrous housing bubble of the mid-2000s.)

I would guess that 75% of you, my friends and readers, are more liberal than I am.  Many way, way more.  (You are great friends for all that.)  Same for the bloggers I follow (great bloggers), my Facebook and Twitter feeds, etc.  Since last night there has been a vast outpouring of anger and frustration and denial.  It will take time to understand what happened.  But I hope those who are angry and frustrated will take that time. 

This was not about race, not about gender, not about multiculturalism, not about trivial considerations of social correctness.  You and I, we live in a bubble.  We cannot easily identify with those who cannot find work, who see their towns shrinking, their kids growing up worse off than they were, the way of life they love slowly eroding.  But that is reality for millions of people, and those people voted for change.  They are Americans of all races, genders, and cultural backgrounds (check the stats, Trump received more minority votes and more support from women than Mitt Romney).  They want to make America great again.

Let's work together and make that happen.  We learn from the past, take all the best ideas, and move forward.  I am not angry or frustrated, I am excited and energized.  It is a new beginning, let's make the most of it!



Archive: November 21, 2015


Archive: November 17, 2014

the Silent Captive

Monday,  11/17/14  10:14 PM

Magritte: the Silent CaptiveSeth Godin asks: Is a photo of a Magritte painting better than the original?

At right, one of my favorite pieces of art, Magritte's The Silent Captive.  Is this a painting of a painting?  A picture of a painting of a painting?  Or simply an idea, visualized?

Seth wraps up with "When the idea is famous enough, what is the original, anyway?"  Hehe...  BTW I must tell you Seth is one of my favorite new bloggers.  New to me, anyway.  Subscribed!

Kottke: the Work of Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction.  "Last year, Greenheart Games released a game called Game Dev Tycoon in which you run a company that makes video games. As an experiment, they secretly released a cracked version of the game for pirates to download...with one small difference: players in the cracked version would always go bankrupt because of piracy issues."  I love it.  Be sure to check out their message board posts :)

Am I the only one who sees The Silent Captive idea in this scenario?

the Made in Space printer ... now at the ISSBut of course: there is now a 3D printer in the International Space Station.  I wonder if it can print itself?

This is quite interesting on several levels: the Desk App, a desktop app for blogging.  For OS X, and compatible with most blogging platforms.  Of course I blog on Windows and have a home-grown kludgy system which isn't compatible with anything, but ... that could change.  And in the meantime I'm fascinated by desktop apps!

In the healthy spirit of dogfooding, I see the Desk App has a Desk App Blog.  Well of course.  Awesome!  (and ... subscribed!)


Archive: November 21, 2013


Archive: November 21, 2012


Archive: November 21, 2011


Archive: November 21, 2010

blogging while low

Sunday,  11/21/10  11:00 AM

Boston common: two paths diverged in a wood...Yikes, another week past without blogging.  Will you forgive me?  I could tell you I'm feeling a bit down, but that's no excuse; in fact you might argue - convincingly - that I should blog my way out of it.  So be it.  Here goes...

Oh by the way I spent the week in Boston, attending a Personalized Medicine conference in Harvard, and *that* was fun.  Learned a lot and enjoyed Boston, always a great place with some nice memories and doubly nice in the Holiday cold.

Scott "Dilbert" Adams: the waiting room is your doctor.  What part of this future is unlikely in 200 years?  (What part in 20?)

can marketing data predict life spans?Wow: Can marketing data predict people's life spans?  "Life insurers are testing an intensely personal new use for the vast dossiers of data being amassed about Americans: predicting people's longevity."  This would not surprise me in the least.

ISS astronaut watches Earth - would make a great sci-fi novel cover, but it's real!Cory Doctorow observes this picture would make a great cover for a science fiction novel.  And he's right.  But even better, the picture is *real*; an astronaut on the ISS watching Earth.  How cool is that!

Where do I sign up?  Scientists propose one-way trips to Mars.  This totally makes sense, the expense of ensuring a safe return makes space travel prohibitively expensive.  Not to mention, if you are not coming back, your attitude about working with your coworkers and making a new life for yourself is going to be quite different.  Sort of like the Wild West 200 years ago :)

heavenly showerPicture of the week, from Michael Yon: Heavenly Shower.  Awesome.

From John Gruber: OpenTable from a restaurant's perspective.  I gather it is expensive for them, but I must tell you, as a user I love OpenTable!  Just this week in Boston I used it three times to find great / perfect places to eat.

Another thing I love / use all the time: Kayak files for $50M IPO.  I wish them well, and use them often.

Apropos: Frank Quattrone observes It's easier to go public than be public.  Not sure about that; if you're an entrepreneur or investor, it's easier to be public than not to be - and worry about liquidity...

Ars Technica review Facebook's new messaging system.  Count me among those who have not been affected.  Don't get me wrong, I love FB and visit it daily, but it is not going to replace email and text for me.  Yet anyway.

Beatles arrive in the USAnd so Apple are now selling Beatles tunes in iTunes.  Not sure this is a world changing event, more like a recognition that a world changing event has already occurred.  I see where next year Apple are projected to become the #1 retailer for music.  Done deal.

I think this was a bigger deal for Steve Jobs than for me, but hey, he is the guy who made it happen, so he should get to enjoy it!

dead downwind, faster than the windDead downwind, faster than the wind.  I don't know how it works either, but it seems to work well.  The physics of this are fascinating...

An important general principle: the toy will win.  "Toy [noun]: A technological product which is simple and fun to use, and which may be criticized by some people as being weak and not suitable for serious work."  I absolutely believe this.

Related: iPad may replace computers and textbooks in schools.  Yeah, I can see that.  The computer part, but also the textbook part.  What part of this seems unlikely in 20 years?

Do you think Steve Jobs saw this coming?  The whole iPod -> iPhone -> iPad thing?  I don't...  I think he believed in the iPod to distribute music, that led him to the iPhone, that led to a new computing paradigm (I don't think Jobs or anyone saw the App Store success coming) and that led to the iPad.  That's what I think anyway :)

A great web-based ebook from the Google Chrome team: 20 things I learned about browsers and the web.  In order to explain things this well, you have to understand them well.  Cool.

I love this: even if HTML5 doesn't give you much, it's buzzword status can still help your UI.  Basically, HTML5 provides a useful shorthand for "modern web browser".

Renovo wooden bike = way coolFrom Wired: Wooden bike like riding a perfect piece of furniture.  Hey, that's my next bike!  (Christmas is coming... I've been a good boy, right?)

Zooborns: black and white Jaguar twins!ZooBorns of the week: Black and white Jaguar twins!

Well and so do I feel better?  Um, yeah.  Not great, but better.  Onward!


Archive: November 21, 2009

Saturday,  11/21/09  04:47 PM

A nice day of football watching, working, hanging out, and cycling...  what could be finer?

Cyclelog: Rockstore, 28 miles.  Tenth day in a row.

Well okay, two things could be finer, going out to dinner with Shirley, and going to our friends' Beaujolais Nouveau party.  And both are on tap! 

...but first, this...

fake animated progress barThings I hate: fake progress indicators.  You know what I mean, right?  Some kind of animated GIF or something, which makes you think something is happening, but it isn't really?  These seem to be cropping up all over, replacing actual progress indicators.  The animated mouse cursors in Windows 7 are a good example.

Oregon 44, Arizona 41, in OTDid you catch today's Oregon - Arizona game?  Wow, what a great game.  Unbelievable.  It seemed like Arizona had the upper hand all game but the Ducks hung around, and then at the end they tied it (!) and then they won it in overtime.  Wow.  I guess we're going to see the Ducks against Ohio State (who mauled hapless Michigan today) in the Rose Bowl.  So be it.  Quack!

PS too bad Stanford couldn't beat Cal, but that's the way the Pac10 has rolled this year, everyone is tough.  The best conference in the country.  It is so great that everyone plays everyone, and there's no bogus conference championship tournament.  As it should be.

SecondLife: "sorry, we're closed"The BBC wonders What happened to Second Life?  "Once upon a time Second Life had a Twitter level of hype.  Even those without a cartoon version of themselves couldn't plead ignorance due to blanket coverage in newspapers and magazines."  Turns out it was all just a game.  A good game, but no substitute for first life.  Nothing to see here, move along...

my amazing long days' journey into the Lagos de CovadongaI am very excited about this: the 2010 Vuelta is returning to Covadonga.  Way back in September 2007 I myself rode and watched a stage of the Vuelta on the amazing Lagos de Covadonga climb: long day's journey into LagosOne of the most amazing days of my life, and it was fun to relive it rereading this post.  I cannot wait for the Vuelta, how excellent!

ZooBorns: tiny sea turtlesZooBorns of the day: tiny sea turtles!


Archive: November 21, 2008

Friday,  11/21/08  05:32 PM

Today was better...  much better.  Got a lot done, and took a ride mid-day; Rockstore, did it in 1:46 too, my best for quite a while.

And tonight... we're going to the always-fabulous Christmas Tree Lighting at the Promenade Shopping Center here in Westlake Village.  We'll have carol singing by school kids, speeches by local politicians, a corny skit featuring Santa Claus, and finally the giant 60' tree will be lit, followed by a respectable fireworks display.  We've seen it all before and we'll enjoy it anyway :)

Powerline: How Obama got Elected.  No surprise to me, but a Zogby poll apparently showed that most people who voted for Obama had no idea of his policies or experience, and no idea of McCain's either.  And 57 percent thought the Republicans still control Congress.  I think those people's votes shouldn't have counted, but what do I know...

Coleman vote?Speaking of votes which shouldn't have counted, the recount presently going on in Minnesota for the Senatorial contest between Norm Coleman and Al Franklin is really something; for example, Franklin has challenged the vote shown at right.  Currently Coleman leads by 136 votes.  File this as "yes, your vote does count".

Seems like so far Obama's choices for his cabinet are pretty good:

Obama has apparently selected Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.  I must say he could do worse.  And I'm glad she chose to accept.

Another good choice: Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano to lead the department of Homeland Security.

And another most crucial choice, NY Federal Reserve President Tim Geithner for Treasury Secretary.  A good sign: when this rumor began today, the market rallied.

Oh, and meanwhile, Victor Davis Hanson asks What Went Wrong?  I don't think this election was about the failure of conservatism, it was about change.  The pendulum will swing back.

Shai Agassi of Better PlaceRemember Better Place?  Well according to CNet they're coming to Silicon Valley...  with a $1B electric car network.  How excellent... and a perfect place to gain a foothold, too.  They're swimming against the economic tide right now, of course, but let's hope they make it.  ArsTechnica has more.

woolly mammothRemember the premise behind Jurassic Park?  In the book / movie scientists cloned dinosaurs from DNA found in ancient mosquitoes trapped in amber.  So apparently that wasn't so farfetched, because apparently scientists believe they can resurrect a woolly mammoth from hair found in frozen fossils.  (And it will only cost $10M!)  Wow, how cool is that?

Hey guess what?  You know my famous W=UH formula, in which Ugliness correlates to Wrongness?  Well now mathematicians have proven that beauty is truth in mathematical intuition.  So be it.  I knew it was right, it was too beautiful to be wrong :)

bear diving into the arctic seaPhoto of the day: this bear diving into the arctic sea.  Excellent!

anarctic iceberg tunnelGoes well with this photo montage in the Boston Globe: Scenes from Antarctica.  Just stunning, amazing and beautiful.





Archive: November 21, 2007


Archive: November 21, 2006


Archive: November 21, 2005

back in the saddle

Monday,  11/21/05  07:40 PM

Okay, I'm back!

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

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

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

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

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


second gear

Monday,  11/21/05  07:55 PM


Second Gear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



moving backwards?

Monday,  11/21/05  10:16 PM

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

Am I moving backward?

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

Am I moving backward?

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

I'm not moving backward.


Archive: November 21, 2004

That's Incredible

Sunday,  11/21/04  04:33 PM

The IncrediblesI saw The Incredibles with Megan this afternoon.  I thought it was - excellent.  I can't wait to see it again, and to have the DVD.  I'll say what everyone else always says about Pixar movies, it isn't the animation or the technology, it's the story.  And this was a wonderful story.  I mean, how great was it that the "supers" were retired by liability lawsuits?  And I loved the line "when everyone is super, nobody is", and the graduation from 4th grade to 5th grade.  A politically incorrect but terrific statement, embedded in an action movie disguised as a kid's cartoon.  The whole thing just worked.

One suggestion for the Pixar team, not that they need it; in the sequel, it would be great if there was a "super" who wasn't genetically super.  Sure, some are born with "special powers", but you can be super through hard work and determination, too.

I can't wait for Incredibles, Too.


plaintext email is obsolete

Sunday,  11/21/04  04:56 PM

It's Sunday afternoon, I'm sitting in front of the fire, watching football, so it's time for a rant.  Let me just say, that in 2004 plaintext email is obsolete.

First and foremost, if you cannot see HTML-formatted email, then you're using the wrong email client.  Don't send me email (plaintext or otherwise) extolling the virtues of pine or eudora 1.0 or your favorite program from 1993.  If your client cannot display formatted email, then you're totally behind the curve.  This is a platform-independent observation, it doesn't matter whether you use Windows or Mac or Linux or whatever - I promise there is a client that can render HTML email.  Heck, my Treo phone can render formatted email.  You don't watch black-and-white TV, do you?

Next, if you don't send HTML-formatted email, then you're behind the curve.  You don't have to use eight different fonts and colors and lines and boxes (although it might help you communicate).  You don't have to include diagrams and pictures (although it might make your email more interesting).  But you need the basics; paragraphs, italics, underlines, proportionally spaced fonts with serifs.  How lame is it when you get a plaintext email and the lines wrap in funny places for no reason?  You don't type memos on a typewriter, do you?

The most common objection to formatted email is that it isn't compatible.  That was perfectly valid in 1997.  However in 2004 that argument is ridiculous.  It is like optimizing video for viewers with black-and-white TVs.  (Yeah, I know, home teams still wear white.  That's dumb, too.)

Then there is the objection that plaintext email is cooler.  Well maybe to you.  To me, handwriting is cooler than printing, stereo is cooler than mono, color is cooler than black-and-white, 3D is cooler than 2D.  And formatted email is cooler than plaintext.

Some will tell you plaintext email is faster.  That was true with 9600 baud dial-up.  With broadband, it is a specious argument.  (You do have broadband, don't you?  You don't!  Okay, then it doesn't matter for 56K dial-up, either.) 

Even free online email services like Hotmail and Yahoo let you send and receive HTML-formatted email (sometimes they call it "rich text").  Heck, even AOL lets you format email.  It might not be the default - you might have to change your options to turn it on - but you should.  If you're sending plaintext email you're sending the wrong message.

Okay, back to football.


(new yorker, 11/22/04)

Sunday,  11/21/04  06:38 PM

CSI Tulsa


language talks

Sunday,  11/21/04  08:01 PM

One of the really great things about blogging is picking through your referer logs.  Because you serendipidously discover all kinds of great stuff "out there".  The blogosphere is already way too big to grasp, and coming across links to links to links is a great guide.

Anyway, today I found Paul Graham's site; it is not a blog, more an old style home page with a collection of essays.  Among them was Great Hackers, which is quite thought-provoking.  Among the interesting ideas is the notion that when starting a project, or a business, the choice of language limits the quality of programmers.  Paul doesn't think too much of Java:

When you decide what infrastructure to use for a project, you're not just making a technical decision.  You're also making a social decision, and this may be the more important of the two.  For example, if your company wants to write some software, it might seem a prudent choice to write it in Java.  But when you choose a language, you're also choosing a community.  The programmers you'll be able to hire to work on a Java project won't be as smart as the ones you could get to work on a project written in Python.  And the quality of your hackers probably matters more than the language you choose.  Though, frankly, the fact that good hackers prefer Python to Java should tell you something about the relative merits of those languages.

Paul is also biased against Windows:

A couple years ago a venture capitalist friend told me about a new startup he was involved with.  It sounded promising.  But the next time I talked to him, he said they'd decided to build their software on Windows NT, and had just hired a very experienced NT developer to be their chief technical officer.  When I heard this, I thought, these guys are doomed.  One, the CTO couldn't be a first rate hacker, because to become an eminent NT developer he would have had to use NT voluntarily, multiple times, and I couldn't imagine a great hacker doing that; and two, even if he was good, he'd have a hard time hiring anyone good to work for him if the project had to be built on NT.

I'm not sure I share his biases against Java or Windows.  (Although I must say for myself, if I have to build something, I wouldn't choose either one.)  Anyway I fully agree that in choosing a platform, you are choosing a culture.

This is particularly relevant to me because I'm embarking on a new project.  I have the opportunity to begin from scratch, with any language.  I need to build programs which are clients and servers, and I need to build an interactive website.  I want at least some of the stuff to be cross-platform.  So what do I use?  ASP?  C#?  Java?  I don't think so.  Perl?  PHP?  Maybe.  C++?  Python?  Very likely.

This isn't just about me.  I'm going to be working with others...  And like Paul points out, this is not just a choice of programming technique, it's a choice of culture.  Language talks.


Archive: November 20, 2003

Thursday,  11/20/03  11:32 PM

Wow.  AT&T sues eBay, PayPal over patent.  "The patent, according to an AT&T release announcing the suit, describes 'transactions in which a trusted intermediary securely processes payments over a communications system such as the Internet'."  Am I the only one who thinks this business process patent IP stuff is completely out of hand?

Want to know where candidates are getting their money?  Here you go, maps!  [ via Dave Winer ]

David Burbridge goes Once more into the breach, and counterfacts the message of IQ and Populations by arguing that international comparisons of IQ do not necessarily indicate genetic differences between populations.  David knows more about this than I do, but I still think there's ample evidence for the hereditability of IQ.  (At best he weakens the case.)  I do agree that "nation" is a bad unit for studying populations, given the immense social and genetic differences between people within some nations.

This is cool: New Whale Species Announced by Japanese Scientists. "According to the description in Nature, B. omurai has an adult body length of less than 40 feet (12 meters) long, a relatively broad and flat skull, and a mouth that tapers from its base."  The last new whale species was discovered in 1913!

Andrew Anker's version of Future Shock: Accelerating Acceleration.  A good summary and I found this interesting, "Early adopters will become a big enough group to serve on their own."  Bodes well for Tivo, for example.

And in fact, Loss shrinks, sign-ups grow for Tivo.  Are they crossing the chasm, or just milking early adopters?

Matt Webb is excited about Me++.  "A couple of things that really got me: Cyberspace bleeding into the physical world, the undermining of physical distance, and the new ethics that come out of this."  Excellent stuff.

Jens-Christian Fischer finds Interesting things happening on the AI front.  You never know when you'll meet a salacious 'bot in a Yahoo chat room...

Lore Sjöberg notes Science According to Google.  "By averaging the Web's consensus, we can state unequivocally that Jupiter has 15.7075 moons."  I love it!

Jon Udell discusses Working with Bayesian Categorizers.  Excellent stuff.  If you suffer from spam all you need to know is "buy Matador" (or some other Bayesian filter).  But if you are interested in probability distributions (e.g. if you work on image pattern recognition :), check out Jon's article...

[MPAA President] Jack Valenti Predicts Movies Online by 2005.  He obviously hasn't discovered MovieLink or CinemaNow (to say nothing of Kazaa); Ole predicts movies online *now*.

binary clockUSB watchDo you have a geek on your Christmas list?  (Or are you a geek making a Christmas list?)  Then check out Scientific American's Sci/Tech gift list.  I like the binary clock :)  And of course there's always the USB watch...

CNet: .NET explained again - and again, and again...  I am not making this up.  Sigh.


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
to space
where are the desktop apps?