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July 31, 2002

An MTV Approach to Life?

The Washington Post has an article out on smart mobs (via Xeni Jardin). Much of the piece focuses on the social aspects of smart mob behavior, which the author dubs "social swarming." The interesting part of the article is in the examination of the dark side of social aspects of smart mob behavior:

There can be a dark side to all this. Swarmers can have difficulty living in the present. They run the risk of never really connecting with the person physically in front of them. They're always wondering if there isn't somebody better they should be talking to at the next place. How's the party? Is it any good? This sucks. Should we move on? Is there any food? Are the girls prettier where you are?...

Swarmers run the risk of skittering like water bugs on the surface of life. By being quickly and constantly connected, they can avoid deep contact in a time-consuming and meaningful way. "It gives you more opportunities, but it takes you out of the now," says Michael Reed, 34, an entertainment producer.

"If I've shown up and not found the love of my life, not had a love-at-first-sight experience," at one location, "then I have the opportunity to find out if there are other events going on where that might happen," says Bernardo Issel, a writer.

"It distracts you from real life that you're engaged in," says Issel. "You're flitting from one place to another. You're more likely to pursue superficial engagements rather than deep pursuits.

"It contributes to this certain MTV approach to life where you engage in something for a few minutes and then there's a commercial."

The end result is that swarmers do indeed end up with "a more abrupt attention span," says [Anna] Boyarsky [21, an intern at National Geographic]. "But you have to have a grip on reality to feel it. Unless you know what is real -- what is a real friendship and relationship -- neither can have an effect on you. If you know what is real, then you know that the cell phone is not a real relationship. It's a connection, but not a person. It allows you to connect to other people, but it's not them, and not you.

What are the long-term implications for human behavior as smart mobs proliferate? Are our friendships destined to become greater in number but shallower in depth?

July 30, 2002

Found on the Web

I generally don't post blog entries consisting of links without detailed commentary, but for this morning, here are three links that don't seem to call for much more to be said about them:

  • Brooks Brothers' E-Tailor. I wonder how broad the selection of styles and fabrics is?
  • Airline Meals (via The Study of Design). I wish I knew why I find this interesting.
  • halfbakery. See my first posted idea here. It turned out to be baked already, so no croissant for me.
Back to normal programming with my next entry.

July 29, 2002

The Meaning of L

This month's Scientific American column by my favorite skeptic, Michael Shermer, is on Drake's Equation, and specifically on estimating the lifespan of civilizations. Drake's Equation for estimating the number of technological civilizations that reside in our galaxy -- "in science there is arguably no more suppositional formula," writes Shermer -- is written as:

N = R fp ne fl fi fc L
Check the links above for a full description of the equation. For our purposes, we're concerned only with L, the lifetime of a communicating civilization, and this is Shermer's focus as well:
Mars Society president Robert Zubrin says that "the biggest uncertainty revolves around the value of L; we have very little data to estimate this number, and the value we pick for it strongly influences the results of the calculation." Estimates of L reflect this uncertainty, ranging from 10 years to 10 million years, with a mean of about 50,000 years...

I find this inconsistency in the estimation of L perplexing because it is the one component in the Drake equation for which we have copious empirical data from the history of civilization on Earth. To compute my own value of L, I compiled the durations of 60 civilizations (years from inception to demise or the present)...

The 60 civilizations in my database endured a total of 25,234 years, so L = 420.6 years. For more modern and technological societies, L became shorter, with the 28 civilizations since the fall of Rome averaging only 304.5 years. Plugging these figures into the Drake equation goes a long way toward explaining why ET has yet to drop by or phone in. Where L = 420.6 years, N = 3.36 civilizations in our galaxy; where L = 304.5 years, N = 2.44 civilizations in our galaxy. No wonder the galactic airways have been so quiet!

I admire Shermer greatly, but I think his reasoning here is faulty. Looking at the context of the equation, by "lifetime of a communication civilization," I believe Drake was trying to ask this question: "Once an intelligent species acquires radio technology, how much time will pass before it permanently ceases radio transmissions for any reason?"

I don't think it's particularly instructive to look at civilizations on Earth for the answer to the question of L. Shermer himself notes 60 civilizations that have fallen, yet technological usage and progress has continued mostly unabated -- especially if one looks at such usage and progress on a planet-wide geographic scale, on a Long View time scale, or both.

It seems to me that we will only be able to reliably estimate L once we have empirical evidence that extraterrestrial intelligence has existed or does exist.

July 28, 2002

Rheingold on Mobile Virtual Communities

Howard Rheingold has a good article on mobile virtual communities up at The Feature. Rheingold tells us:

Virtual communities are:
  • Organized around affinities
  • Many to many media
  • Text-based, evolving into text plus graphics-based communications
  • Relatively uncoupled from face to face social life in geographic communities
Mobile communications are:
  • Organized around known social networks
  • Acessible anywhere, anytime, are always on
  • Text-based evolving to text and sound and graphics-based communications
  • Closely coupled to the behavior of people in physical space
Mobile virtual communities are:
  • Many to many, desktop and mobile, always on
  • Used to coordinate actions of groups in geographic space
  • Game environments, social arenas, artistic media, business tools, political weapons
The article is a front-line report from Scandinavia -- can we go ahead and anoint Helsinki and Tokyo as joint world capitals of mobile phone innovation? -- on the latest uses of mobile wireless devices to create labile communities of people across time and space. Recommended.

July 27, 2002

Scent of a Blog

Sid Stafford of Silflay Hraka (written about earlier here) has written a blog entry comparing blogs and other Internet entities to smells. Google is "vanilla ice cream and licorice." Amazon is "Home Depot." InstaPundit is "sawdust, split beer, salted peanuts and cold hard gold." Clever.

According to Sid, my blog smells like "glossy paper." I think that's a good thing -- hey, I could have been "halftime in the men's room at Yankee Stadium," like AOL -- but I have a question: what is the scent of glossy paper, anyway?

July 26, 2002

joe holt on Smart Mobs

A friend of mine who appeared earlier in my blog, joe holt, wrote to me with an interesting story about smart mobs:

"Smart Mobs" reminds me of just how fundamental communication is to the human animal. At the root of so many amazing inventions (from written language to the cell phone) lies the desire to keep in touch. It's democratizing and soul-filling. Do you remember that I took a year away from hi-tech and worked at a middle school? I became friends with most of the students at the school, and I still keep in touch with many of them (they're going to college soon!). I knew the computer geeks and geekettes, of course. I taught a C programming course and tutored several of them personally. But I also became friends with the other stereotypes. (And in middle school all you have are stereotypes.) The actions of one group in particular intrigued me. They were the Popular Girls with Pagers. What on earth did they use pagers for? Boyfriends? Drug dealers?

One of the Pager Girls worked for me during a prep period, and I asked her one day. We were good friends and so she let me in on the secret -- which teachers and -- forbid! -- parents were never to know. First of all, boyfriends and drug dealers are nowhere in the picture. As you can probably guess, they used them to keep in touch with one another. But what no grown-up really appreciated was the extent to which they used this technology. Each girl has a numeric signature, and the group developed a medium-sized vocabulary of numeric phrases and messages which can be strung together to form entire sentences. So that after lights out, for example, one could sneak onto the phone and say "Thinking of you, I had fun today. Love Christie." And it would look like 042-99-22-82-112. They would do this all day long. They would get out of class under the pretense of using the restroom, then sneak over to the office and say "Don't worry, it'll get better" or "I hope you do well on the test." Pagers were officially banned from the school, but the girls managed to keep them hidden and out of the awareness of school officials. I was amazed. I felt like an anthropologist. And remember, these are not the Geekettes.

It's easy to imagine teenagers around the world -- a few years ago inventing and memorizing numeric codes to communicate via pagers -- now creating their local versions of the oya yubi sedai (thumb tribe), pecking out text messages on alphanumeric keypads at high speeds.

[By the way, I've seen two Japanese terms for "thumb tribe:" oya yubi sedai and oyayubi-zoku. Could one of my Japanese friends illustrate for me the difference and let me know which one, if either, is more correct?]

Problems with the Sonic Cruiser?

The Economist has a story in the current issue on future airplanes from Boeing. Apparently the Sonic Cruiser may be in trouble:

The real barrier the Sonic Cruiser faces is not aerodynamics, but gloomy airlines. To begin with, there was some enthusiasm for a plane that could lop an hour off a transatlantic flight and three off some transpacific ones. But in their present slump, most airlines would probably prefer to see the technological tricks in the Sonic Cruiser (lightweight composite materials and so on) used to make planes that are more economical, rather than faster. Although the Cruiser would be no thirstier than an existing jumbo jet, that might still be too expensive in the future. Sir Richard Branson, boss of Virgin Atlantic and an early supporter, seems to have changed his mind. A few days ago, he poured cold water over the idea at the Farnborough Air Show, in Britain, saying that the Airbus A380 double-decker aircraft was the way of the future.

The Sonic Cruiser may thus be a victim of bad timing. Indeed, Boeing now admits that it is talking to the airlines about 250-seater planes of a more conventional design to replace the firm's ageing 767. These aircraft would deploy the same weight-saving technology as the Cruiser, but in pursuit of economy, rather than speed. Boeing will have to choose which way to jump in the next few months, based on the reaction of a group of key airlines.

It would be a shame if the Sonic Cruiser doesn't fly. I've spent enough time over the Pacific to know how nice it would be to make it to Tokyo in nine hours instead of twelve. As for the A380, though Airbus promotes it with promises of sleeper cabins, business centers, nurseries, and the like, all historical evidence suggests that airlines will instead use the extra space to pack in more people. Flying overseas with 554 other people doesn't strike me as something I'm eager to experience.

By the way, if you read the Economist article, note that the picture of the Sonic Cruiser they include is out of date. (This is strange, given that the story explicitly mentions recent design changes.) Here's a more up-to-date rendering:

July 25, 2002

Life Imitates the Onion, Part II

From a story on Fox News today:

A New York City lawyer has filed suit against the four big fast-food corporations, saying their fatty foods are responsible for his client’s obesity and related health problems.

Samuel Hirsch filed his lawsuit Wednesday at a New York state court in the Bronx, alleging that McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC Corporation are irresponsible and deceptive in the posting of their nutritional information, that they need to offer healthier options on their menus, and that they create a de facto addiction in their consumers, particularly the poor and children...

The lead plaintiff, 56-year-old maintenance supervisor Caesar Barber, ate at fast-food restaurants four or five times a week and blames his fatty diet for his obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol and the two heart attacks he has suffered.

"I trace it all back to the high fat, grease and salt, all back to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King – there was no fast food I didn't eat, and I ate it more often than not because I was single, it was quick and I’m not a very good cook," Barber said in an interview with Foxnews.com.

"It was a necessity, and I think it was killing me, my doctor said it was killing me, and I don't want to die."

From a past story on the Onion:

In one of the largest product-liability rulings in U.S. history, the Hershey Foods Corporation was ordered by a Pennsylvania jury Monday to pay $135 billion in restitution fees to 900,000 obese Americans who for years consumed the company's fattening snack foods...

The five-state class-action suit accused Hershey's of "knowingly and willfully marketing rich, fatty candy bars containing chocolate and other ingredients of negligible nutritional value." The company was also charged with publishing nutritional information only under pressure from the government, marketing products to children, and artificially "spiking" their products with such substances as peanuts, crisped rice, and caramel to increase consumer appeal...

"This is a vindication for myself and all chocolate victims," said Beaumont, TX, resident Earl Hoffler, holding a picture of his wife Emily, who in 1998 succumbed to obesity after nearly 40 years of chocoholism. "This award cannot bring Emily back, but I take some comfort knowing that her tragic, unnecessary death did not go unpunished."

Hoffler's teary-eyed account of his wife's brave battle against chocolate was widely regarded as the emotional high point of the trial. First introduced to Hershey's chocolate as a young trick-or-treater, Emily quickly developed a four-bar-a-day habit, turning in adulthood to Hershey's Special Dark, a stronger, unfiltered form of the product. By age 47, she had ballooned to 352 pounds and was a full-blown chocoholic. What little savings the family had was drained by Weight Watchers memberships, Richard Simmons videotapes, and Fat Trapper pills, all of which proved futile and only prolonged the Tofflers' agonizing ordeal.

I suspect that, as I write this, huckster attorneys are trawling through Web satire, fishing for innovative ideas to launch bold new class action lawsuits.

Modulated Reflectance

The new issue of Wireless Business & Technology is running a story on modulated reflectance, a new technology under development at Los Alamos National Labs. The idea is simple in concept: a base station-wireless node link in which the wireless link transmits by reflecting a modulated version of the base station's signal back to it. Los Alamos' name for this technology is INFICOMM:

I first learned of this scoop from an old acquaintance named Ron Dennis who's consulting at Los Alamos...

Today, Wi-Fi uses radio frequency (RF) technology to interact. A base station pings my notebook computer using its power source. My WLAN card takes a big toke on the notebook battery, then replies...

INFICOMM promises to replace RF with something the scientists call modulated reflectance. A modulated reflectance­-equipped base station will be able to signal your INFICOMM wireless device, which in turn reflects back to the base station without using a single microwatt of your device's battery.

"If you're looking at a rose with a flashlight in the dark," Ron illustrates, "the rose isn't transmitting."

Los Alamos has a document (PDF format; Google's HTML version is here) that goes into more detail:

The fundamental principle of modulated reflectance works much like sunlight reflecting off of a mirror. A transmitter-receiver base unit emits carrier waves of RF energy, and each remote wireless device (a receiverreflector) would modulate these waves to correspond to the voice/data signal and reflect them back to the tower. The transmitter-receiver base unit would then receive these modulated waves. Thus, half of the duplex "conversation" is transferred from the remote unit to the base unit using modulated reflectance, while the other half is transferred from the base unit to the remote wireless unit using conventional RF energy techniques.
The document goes on to describe two forms of modulated reflectance. One form is a "pure system," in which "the remote wireless unit requires no transmitter power," but which requires changes both to the base station and mobile device. The other form is a "hybrid system:"
In this design, a cellular telephone uses modulated reflectance to reduce the power consumption of the battery but also retains standard transmission modes of operation, much like a standard cell phone, as a supplement to the reflected signal. Enhancement of the battery-charge life is expected to be highly significant and radiation exposure to the user is reduced. All of the "magic" in this system is in the handset.
Could this be the breakthrough we so desperately need for mobile wireless battery life?

The Coming Glut of MMOGs

According to an article in Salon, there's a glut coming in MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games) and their siblings MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games):

If they don't, it won't be for lack of trying. Virtual worlds expected to go online this year or next include (by no means a complete list): 3rd World, Ages of Athiria, Asheron's Call 2, A Tale in the Desert, Black Moon Chronicles, Caeron 3000, Charr: The Grimm Fate, Citizen Zero, City of Heroes, Darkfall, Dragon Empires, Earth and Beyond, El Kardian, Endless Ages, Eve Online: The Second Genesis, Horizons, Lineage II: The Chaotic Chronicle, Myarta, Myth of Soma, PlanetSide, Quest of Ages, Realms of Torment, The Rubies of Eventide, Shadowbane, The Sims Online, Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft.
Whew! Something tells me some game developers are going to lose some money. Not all of them, of course. The already popular MMOGs -- Ultima Online, Everquest, Asheron's Call, and Dark Age of Camelot -- should motor along just fine with their current fan bases. And I agree with Salon when they write:
In the short term, the real battle for an online audience will most likely come down to two games in a clash of true titans: Star Wars Galaxies and The Sims Online.
I wouldn't bet at all against either of these titles. But as for the rest, I couldn't agree more with Will Wright:
"I think they're all kind of mining the same hardcore group," says Will Wright, chief designer at Maxis Studios, speaking of the current roster of MMORPGs. "I don't think they're bringing a lot of new players in."
Indeed. How many multiplayer games does the world need in which geeks and near-geeks can indulge their medieval and science fiction fetishes?

I don't mean to insult MMOG players -- far from it. As has been established, I'm something of a geek myself, and will admit to my interest in science fiction (though I'm more selective now than I once was) and medieval history (though I haven't bought a book on the topic in at least five years). I can imagine myself playing an MMOG if I had the time, but between starting a company, playing with my kids, and blogging, my days are pretty much spoken for. Besides, I stare at computer displays enough as it is.

No, I'm not questioning the motives of MMOG players, but rather questioning the judgement of so many companies building me-too MMOGs. In the end, though, the only judgement that will matter will be that of the market, which will punish those who fail to innovate.

July 24, 2002

WIC 2002

The Wireless Industry Congress 2002 is going to be held in Ottawa 26-27 August:

WIC2002 will provide coverage for all areas of wireless communications, including wireless mobility, wireless LAN/MAN/PAN, ad hoc networks, broadband fixed access, and satellite hybrid systems. The topics presented will cover software, chipsets, board & network equipment, applications, services, spectrum, network plans, business, financing, mergers and acquisitions.
I'll be attending as the chairperson of panel C5, "From Cell Phones to Smart Phones and Personal Connected Devices," to be held 09:00-10:20, 27 August. This is the synopsis for my panel:
The last year has seen the launch of wireless devices with advanced functionality -- combining elements of cell phones, personal organizers, and even the PC -- from Handspring, Kyocera, Nokia, Samsung, and other firms. New devices expected soon from these vendors and others - including Audiovox, Sendo, and Sony Ericsson -- will further advance our view of what a mobile wireless device can do. What exactly are smart phones and personal connected devices? How has the market accepted such devices to date? What are their future prospects? What new features and functionality can we expect from them? This panel will answer these questions and more.
When my panel members and presentation are finalized, I'll post information on them here. In the meantime, if you have thoughts on this topic, don't hesitate to contact me.

July 23, 2002

Xbox Sales Gains

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Xbox sales rose dramatically after Microsoft cut the price to $199:

Xbox sales jumped 131% in the two months after the software giant slashed the price $100 in May, according to NPD (www.npd.com). Although all three major game-console manufacturers announced price cuts in May, Xbox had the largest percentage gains in sales.

Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., has also fared well on the software front. According to NPD, Xbox sold more than 10 million units of software world-wide in the first eight months the console was on the market in the U.S., which is the most software ever sold for a new videogame system in the U.S. in that period of time. The Xbox videogames "Project Gotham Racing" by Microsoft Games Studios and "Dead or Alive 3" from Tecmo both hit the one-million mark in world-wide sales.

In an earlier story, the Journal reported on the Xbox-derived Freon:

What Freon stands for is a souped-up successor to the Xbox console -- capable of playing games but also offering television capabilities, such as pausing live TV and recording shows onto a computer hard drive, say people familiar with the effort. Though it is unclear whether such a product will ever be built, its core concept appears to have the backing of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who wrote in an internal memorandum in January that he was a "big fan" of a machine that would combine video services with gaming.
I see arguments both for and against Freon. On the one hand, it could damage the Xbox's growing reputation as a great pure gaming console to begin building versions that try to do other things. Also, Microsoft would have to be extremely careful to ensure that no matter what else a Freon device was doing at any given time, gaming performance would remain identical to that on a stock Xbox. On the other hand, I can imagine some very cool entertainment experiences that one could build on an Xbox-type platform with both TiVo-like functionality and full matte and alpha blending capabilities.

Leaving Freon aside, Microsoft is legendary for taking three major versions to get a product right. Knowing, though, that there's no such thing as 2.0 (or even 1.1) of a video game machine, Microsoft got it right on the first try. In conversations with friends in the video game industry, the feeling is that Microsoft did so by listening to developers and building the product they asked for. It's not a revolutionary concept, but it works.

Ding, Dong, TIPS is Dead

From an article in the Washington Times (via boing boing):

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, in his markup of legislation to create a Homeland Security Department, yesterday rejected a national identification card and scrapped a program that would use volunteers in domestic surveillance.

Mr. Armey, chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, included language in his markup of the legislation to prohibit the Justice Department from initiating the Terrorism Information and Prevention System, also called Operation TIPS....

Since the announcement earlier this week of its creation, Operation TIPS has attracted criticism from across the political spectrum...

Civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Rutherford Institute, said Operation TIPS could turn ordinary citizens into "government-sanctioned peeping Toms." The U.S. Postal Service also said this week that it would not allow letter carriers to be involved with the program.

Yesterday, the groups praised Mr. Armey's decision. "Majority Leader Armey has taken a courageous step in insisting that we protect our privacy in the fight against terror," said Rachel King, an ACLU legislative counsel. "There is no place in America for either an internal passport or for utility workers and cable technicians to become government-sanctioned peeping Toms."

With all the terrible lawmaking of late, it's reassuring to see something go the right way for a change.

July 22, 2002

The Times on Smart Mobs

The New York Times has an article out on Howard Rheingold's "smart mobs" concept and book (written about earlier here), "Motivating the Masses, Wirelessly". (Link courtesy of Howard on Joi Ito's blog.)

Mr. Rheingold can recognize a revolution. He published "The Virtual Community" in 1993, long before corporate America realized that the killer app of the Internet would be the connections that the Net allows between people. He sees a similar shift with smart mobs and what he calls swarming.

"It took me eight years to find something that seemed that significant to me," Mr. Rheingold said...

Mr. Rheingold argues that the convergence of wireless communications technologies and widely distributed networks allow swarming on a scale that has never existed before. He envisions shifts along the lines of those that began to occur when people first settled into villages and formed nation-states. "We are on the verge of a major series of social changes that are closely tied into emerging technologies," he said.

Of course, lest he be accused of writing a puff piece, the reporter had to find someone to throw a bit of cold water on things:

"What he's talking about is real," said John Seely Brown, the former director of Xerox PARC. "The thing that surprises me is that he is casting this as so new."
I'd like to see Brown talk about specific examples of the type of wirelessly-enabled smart mob behavior in the real world described by Howard that are more than two or three years old. I can't think of any.

Nokia 7650 Review

Jørgen Sundgot of infoSync has posted a review of the 7650, Nokia's new phone with a color screen, integrated camera, slide-out keypad, and Bluetooth. The 7650 is based on Symbian OS, incorporates J2ME, and runs Nokia's Series 60 interface. As you'd expect from Jørgen, it's as detailed and thorough an article as you're likely to find.

Sadly, the 7650 isn't the killer device I had hoped it would be. Here are some of the problems I would have with it:

  • WAP browsing only -- no HTML browser built-in
  • Extremely slow synchronization
  • Only SMS/MMS messages can trigger audio or vibration alerts
  • No auto-checking of POP3 accounts (manual only)
  • Phone module can't be switched off independently (no in-flight usage)
  • No support for Bluetooth headsets
Granted, the 7650 has some commendable features, most notably the fact that Nokia has included such extensive functionality in such a small and well-integrated package. However, until the problems noted above are fixed -- especially the first four -- the 7650 will remain, for me, intriguing but fatally flawed.

July 21, 2002

Doonesbury and Wardriving

Wardriving has officially arrived.

Thanks to David Brake for the pointer.

"I Hate Them!"

While driving to dinner with two of my kids last night, we were talking movies and discussing how, in Attack of the Clones, we loved the scenes with Obi-Wan and yet couldn't stand the scenes with Anakin. "Remember," I asked, "the scene where he comes back after killing the Tusken Raiders?"

ANAKIN hurls something against the wall. He suddenly breaks down, tears forming in his eyes.

        Annie, what's wrong?

        I....I killed them. I killed
        them all. They're dead, every
        single one of them. Not just
        the men. The women and children
        too. They're like animals, and
        I slaughtered them like animals.
        I hate them!

"Imagine," I said, "if Anakin was saying that to Han Solo." We all started laughing. The consensus was that Han would have slapped Anakin in the face, which was what he would have deserved.

As for what George Lucas deserves for writing dialogue like this, that's another matter. I, for one, am through cutting him slack for having made The Empire Strikes Back.

July 20, 2002

More on Rendezvous/ZEROCONF

The Idea Basket has an interview with Stuart Cheshire, Chaiman of the ZEROCONF Working Group. Stuart's vision for Rendezvous/ZEROCONF is far-reaching and compelling:

Rendezvous is not just about making current networked devices easier to use. It is also about making it viable to put networking (i.e. Ethernet) on devices that today use USB or Firewire, and it is also about making it viable to use networking in areas that you wouldn't have even considered before Rendezvous. Imagine a future world where you connect your television and amplifier and DVD player with just a couple of Ethernet cables, instead of today's spaghetti mess of composite video, S-Video, component video, stereo audio, 5.1 Dolby, Toslink optical audio cables, etc...

My long-term goal, from before I even started at Apple, is to eliminate the need for disparate incompatible technologies on your computer. Right now your computer may have SCSI, Serial, IrDA, Bluetooth, USB, Firewire, Ethernet and AirPort, all communication technologies that each work a different way.

My hope is that in the future -- distant future perhaps -- your computer will only need one wired communication technology. It will provide power on the connector like USB and FireWire, so it can power small peripheral devices. It will use IP packets like Ethernet, so it provides your wide-area communications for things like email and Web browsing, but it will also use Zeroconf IP so that connecting local devices is as easy as USB or FireWire is today. People ask me if I'm seriously suggesting that your keyboard and mouse should use the same connector as your Internet connection, and I am. There's no fundamental reason why a 10Mb/s Ethernet chip costs more than a USB chip. The problem is not cost, it is lack of power on the Ethernet connector, and (until now) lack of autoconfiguration to make it work. I would much rather have a computer with a row of identical universal IP communications ports, where I can connect anything I want to any port, instead of today's situation where the computer has a row of different sockets, each dedicated to its own specialized function.

One row of identical ports, connecting everything from mice and keyboards to digital video and audio? That would be a huge leap forward in ease of use.

July 19, 2002

Digital Consumer.org

Do yourself a favor. Take five minutes from whatever you're doing and visit Digital Consumer.org. Read why the "Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act" is a bad thing, then fax a pre-written letter to your Representative and Senators. Now fax another letter asking them to enact a Consumer Technology Bill of Rights.

Do you want Fritz Hollings (D-Disney) deciding the future of digital rights? I didn't think so.

Mobile Game Projections

Two new forecasts of the mobile gaming market are out today:

  • Datamonitor
    • 157 wireless gamers today, rising to 500 million in 2006
    • $17.5 billion wireless gaming market in 2006
  • Frost & Sullivan
    • $436.4 million wireless gaming market in 2001, rising to $9.34 billion in 2008
Add these to other recent forecasts:
  • Analysys
    • 2.7 billion euro wireless entertainment market in Europe for 2002, rising to 23 billion euros for 2007
  • BWCS
    • 200 million mobile gamers in 2007
    • $104 million mobile gaming market in 2002, rising to $7.76 billion in 2007
Note the variance even in the analysts' forecasts of the market today. BWCS says it was only $104 million last year. Frost & Sullivan says it's $436.4 million this year. Analysys says the European market alone is 2.7 billion euros this year. Is this due to differering definitions of mobile gaming, or are the current estimates really that far apart?

Is mobile gaming a "zero billion dollar industry," as (I believe) John Sculley once referred to the PDA market?

July 18, 2002

Rendezvous, AKA ZEROCONF

In an earlier entry, I wrote:

In the end, I suppose my prediction is that if the 802.11 software layer improves rapidly, then Bluetooth is doomed. If this doesn't happen, though, then Bluetooth has a good shot -- not because it's cheaper or consumes less power, but because it's easier to use among mixed devices. If anyone is working to universally solve the 802.11 high-level software issues, then I'd like to know about them.
Ask and ye shall receive.

An old friend, joe holt, wrote to let me know about something along these lines. joe has been at Apple for some years now. Back in the mid-1980s, we got to know each other within the San Diego bulletin board crowd. joe is one of the best programmers I've ever known. He could -- no exaggeration -- write 6502 assembler code from scratch about as fast as I could type, which is in the 40-60 words per minute range. He also has the ability to pull back and look at the big picture; his ideas about the future are always well-reasoned and thought-provoking. (Okay, there's the first person on my next "five people I'd like to see write a blog" list.)

Anyway, joe wrote to let me know about Rendezvous, announced by Apple this week as part of Jaguar, version 10.2 of OS X. Rendezvous is Apple-speak for ZEROCONF, which refers to both an IETF working group and a series of protocols:

The charter of the ZEROCONF Working Group is to enable Zero Configuration IP Networking. That means making it possible to take two laptop computers, and connect them with a crossover Ethernet cable, and have them communicate usefully using IP, without needing a man in a white lab coat to set it all up for you. We're not limiting the network to just two hosts, but we want to take that as the starting point.
Apple says it well on their Rendezvous page for consumers:
Rendezvous lets ordinary users create an instant network of computers and smart devices just by getting them connected to each other. The computers and devices take over from there, automatically broadcasting and discovering what services each is offering for the use of others. The network could be as simple as two AirPort-equipped PowerBook users sitting in a hotel meeting room miles from the nearest AirPort base station with some large files they need to share. Before Rendezvous, frustration. With Rendezvous, their computers would discover each other making the file sharing completely simple.
Apple also announced that Epson, HP, and Lexmark would be supporting Rendezvous in future printers.

The more I learn about Rendezvous/ZEROCONF, the more I think it's the most significant announcement Apple made this week, along the lines of their popularization of the 3.5-inch floppy disk, FireWire, and most recently WiFi. Apple has taken a promising new technology -- in this case, one with the IETF already behind it -- and promised to deliver it to their customers in a short time frame. They've also done a good job of rounding up initial third party support.

Rendezvous/ZEROCONF doesn't necessarily all the problems I enumerated. For example, once devices have discovered one another, they need protocols for communicating specific types of data, and to do so as simply as possible. If you're trying to build an 802.11-based wireless headset, you'll need not only an IP stack and discovery services, but voice encoding and transmission protocols as well... and all this needs to be fairly lightweight. Still, Rendezvous/ZEROCONF could be a big step forward.

International Blog MEETUP Day

Today was International Blog MEETUP Day (discussed earlier here). In Raleigh-Durham, we had five bloggers RSVP, but only two showed up -- Sid Stafford of Silflay Hraka and I. Here's Sid:

As I predicted, one of the topics of discussion was the reliability of Blogger. Both Sid and I have experienced a variety of problems with the software -- Sid has lost archive entries, while I've had trouble editing and publishing at various times. Sid is considering a number of alternatives, including Movable Type -- something I've thought about, but fear the "who do you call when it goes wrong" problem. I'm going to stick with Blogger Pro for now and give Pyra time to improve it.

We talked about how to draw traffic to one's site, and I learned about the fine art of blogger fishing -- not to be confused with monkey fishing -- which is drawing looks at one's site by visiting other blogs from a relevant article in your archive and hoping to pique the interest of the other blog owners (who are presumably keeping watch on their site traffic).

Though there were only the two of us, it was a good evening. With luck, we'll double our attendance every month for a while. It feels like blogging as a whole is on an exponential path at the moment, so that doesn't seem so ludicrous.

Liver or River?

There's an interesting article in this month's issue of Scientific American on recent research into the organization of neural networks for phoneme recognition:

Some neuroscientists think they are close to explaining, at a physical level, why many native Japanese speakers hear "liver" as "river," and why it is so much easier to learn a new language as a child than as an adult...

Paul Iverson of University College London presented maps of what people hear when they listen to sounds that span the continuum between the American English phonemes /ra/ and /la/...

What emerged was a map of how our experience with language warps what we think we hear. Americans labeled half the sounds /la/ and half /ra/, with little confusion... But the map for Japanese speakers showed an entirely different perceptual landscape. "The results show that it's not that Japanese speakers can't hear the difference between /r/ and /l/," Iverson says. "They are just sensitive to differences that are irrelevant to distinguishing the two" -- differences too subtle for Americans to perceive. Japanese speakers, for example, tend to pay more attention to the speed of the consonant.

Frank H. Guenther of Boston University reported building a neural network model that may explain how phonetic categories arise naturally from the organization of the auditory cortex. In his simulation, neurons are rewarded for correctly recognizing the phonemes of a certain language...

When trained using Japanese speech sounds, the model neurons organized very differently from those trained on English. A pronounced dip in sensitivity appeared right at the border of /ra/ and /la/. This may reflect how "our auditory systems get tuned up to be especially sensitive to the details critical in our own native language," Iverson says. "When you try to learn a second language, those tunings may be inappropriate and interfere with your ability to learn the new categories."

If you haven't tried to learn Japanese, then you might not know that the Japanese pronounciation of /ra/ lies somewhere in between the English pronounciations of /ra/ and /la/. (It's often described as saying /ra/ while tapping the tongue on the upper palate just behind the teeth.) For many English speakers -- myself included -- it's a difficult thing to get right, just as it's hard for many Japanese speakers to correctly say the English /la/.

Reiter on Project Rainbow

Alan Reiter has written a detailed analysis of the prospects of Project Rainbow (found via 802.11b Networking News):

A nationwide 802.11 network run efficiently, with thousands of hotspots, efficient billing and the right pricing certainly would be a great service. But this is easier said than done, and time and time again the wireless industry has tried to create nationwide or worldwide wireless data ventures and has gotten into serious trouble...

One huge part of the value chain: the hotspots! Project Rainbow participants still have to negotiate with the "landlords" to get hotspots into hotels, conference centers, airports, coffee shops, etc. Of course, it is possible to buy your way into coverage -- but only to a certain extent...

But even if Project Rainbow could purchase every public hotspot in the U.S., it still wouldn't be enough...

Project Rainbow could be good news. It could provide valuable 802.11 services across the country. It could be a big boon to travelers.

It could also take a long, long time to implement, and that implementation process could be stymied by hype.

A well-written, thoughful piece -- so much so that I've waived my usual evaluation period and am adding a link to Alan's site to my sidebar immediately. It's an excellent source of wireless news analysis.

As for Project Rainbow, I continue to be encouraged by the fact that it is being discussed. Alan rightly points out many issues that must be addressed before such a service could truly be useful. That doesn't mean, though, that solutions to those issues don't exist.

Some months back, I sat next to the employee of a major technology and system services corporation on a flight down to Orlando for CTIA. During our conversation, he claimed that his company was in discussions with both McDonald's and Subway to install a network of 802.11 access points in their stores nationwide. Whether true or not, it's an interesting idea.

According to their respective Websites, there were 13,099 McDonald's restaurants in the US as of the end of 2001, while Subway currently has 13,822 US restaurants. That's a total of 26,921 locations across the country. That would be a pretty good start. My hunch is that in many densely urban areas, the combination of the two might give near-blanket coverage. Coverage would obviously be less continuous in suburban and (especially) rural areas, but imagine driving down the highway, seeing the Golden Arches -- typically the highest sign at any given exit -- and thinking, "Food, folks, fun, and 11 megabits!"

July 17, 2002

Smart Mobs

Howard Rheingold has announced his forthcoming book, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, to be published later this year. From a preview of the book by John Brockman:

In 1999 and 2000, Howard Rheingold started noticing people using mobile media in novel ways. In Tokyo, he accompanied flocks of teenagers as they converged on public places, coordinated by text messages. In Helsinki, he joined like-minded Finns who share the same downtown physical clubhouse, virtual community, and mobile-messaging media. He learned that the demonstrators in the 1999 anti-WTO protests used dynamically updated websites, cell-phones, and "swarming" tactics in the "battle of Seattle," and that a million Filipino citizens toppled President Estrada in 2000 through public demonstrations organized by salvos of text messages. Drivers in the UK used mobile communications to spontaneously self organize demonstrations against rising petrol prices. He began to see how these events were connected. He calls these new uses of mobile media "smart mobs."
In his own description of the book, Howard concludes with this wonderfully optimistic paragraph:
Mobile communications and pervasive computing have the potential for magnifying cooperation far more powerfully than previous technologies; coupled with new knowledge about the social dynamics of collective action, smart mob technologies could make possible improvements in the way billions of people live.
Howard is onto something... well, beyond big. He's onto something huge.

I'm thinking much about what all this means and where it's going. I'm convinced there's a Grand Unified Theory of Collaboration, and from what I've seen of Howard's book, I think he may have just accomplished the equivalent of a few years of accelerator runs at CERN. I'm sure I'm not the only person who will be poring over his particle traces as soon as they're available, looking for hints of the underlying principles.

For more on this, check out the entry and discussion in Joi Ito's blog. You can also find Howard's page on the book here.

Operation RATS

A parody of Operation TIPS. As the headline says:

"A national system for paranoid nuts to report neighbors they don't like."
Well worth a visit.

"Operation TIPS... is Utterly Anti-American"

From the closing paragraph of an editorial in today's Boston Globe:

Ashcroft's informant corps is a vile idea not merely because it violates civil liberties in a narrow legal sense or because it will sabotage genuine efforts to prevent terrorism by overloading law enforcement officials with irrelevant reports about Americans who have nothing to do with terrorists. Operation TIPS should be stopped because it is utterly anti-American. It would give Stalin and the KGB a delayed triumph in the Cold War -- in the name of the Bush administration's war against terrorism.
I wouldn't go quite as far as the Globe, but I'm glad to see that TIPS won't get a free pass. It may be implemented, but at least Congress will pay a bit of attention to it -- now they have no choice.

You can find previous entries on this topic here and here.


MEETUP is a new Website that enables Internet users with shared interests to meet in the real world. It's a clever idea, and I find myself surprised it didn't happen sooner. Evite could have easily built this sort of thing on their infrastructure, but they stayed focused primarily on indviduals arranging events with people known to them.

The idea is of MEETUP is simple: Users identify a topic of interest. The MEETUP staff selects a week, day, and time each month when people interested in that topic will gather. People register for topics and then vote on meeting venues. Whereever enough people RSVP, a meeting is held. Meetings occur at the same local time around the world.

I've signed up for four interest groups: blogging, Wi-Fi, French, and Japanese. I'm especially interested in promoting the last as I was one of the people who suggested it, and it was just formed yesterday. So, whereever you are, if you're interested in Japanese (or, as I write this, any of 426 other topics), have a look, register, and get out from behind that monitor!

July 16, 2002

"Hucksters Turned Preachers"

In this week's leader (subscription only), the Economist brings a welcome perspective to the current corporate scandal crisis in America:

It is true that bosses of companies such as Enron and WorldCom violated investors' trust and brought ruin on their companies' owners. It is right that, having been found out, they should be punished, not excused. But everybody should at least bear in mind that these benders and breakers of the law had lots of help -- not just from the auditing profession, which stands alongside them in the dock, but from many of the same people now crying out for retribution.

Hucksters turned preachers
If you think back to the mood, pre-bust, you will recall that every kind of analyst (with a mere handful of noble exceptions) was cheering the market on, creating an atmosphere in which anything less than double-digit growth in profits was regarded as a sign of timidity. The media stoked the fires of impossible expectations with an unfailing supply of corporate hero-worship; with their mindless praise for innovation (however worthless); with news for day traders, new-economy stockmarket indices and the rest; with their idiotic dedication to the maxim that you either get it or don't get it. At critical moments even the Federal Reserve added fuel. And investors themselves were so entranced by their surging wealth that they more or less willed companies to lie to them. “Pro forma” earnings? Fine. Bald-faced deception? Pile it on. Whatever it takes to keep the good news coming.

While the American media are shocked, shocked to learn about these problems, the Economist rightly points out how so many people -- media included -- were at the very least accessories to deception.

At a conference a couple of years ago, I heard Eric Schmidt (then of Novell) joke about a new accounting term: "Earnings Before Expenses." If the bubble had persisted, would a firm have actually tried it (or something only slightly less ridiculous)? Once so tried, would an analyst have endorsed it? Once so endorsed, would investors have bought it? I think we all know the answers.

Argument Against the Man

OpinionJournal, the Wall Street Journal's blog, weighed in on Operation TIPS (which I noted here) in yesterday's edition:

Sounds more like Neighborhood Watch than the Stasi -- and indeed, Neighborhood Watch is another program of the Citizens Corps. So who is this Ritt Goldstein? From his bio in the Herald: "Ritt Goldstein is an investigative journalist and a former leader in the movement for US law enforcement accountability. He has lived in Sweden since 1997, seeking political asylum there, saying he was the victim of life-threatening assaults in retaliation for his accountability efforts." Sounds like a really reliable source of information.
Is Operation TIPS the equivalent of the Stasi? No, for the simple reason that its members are publicly known. At the same time, though, the Journal's response is mostly just an ad hominem attack on the author of the article. Is that the best they can do?

If the Journal wants to argue that TIPS is the equivalent of Neighborhood Watch, fine. That's their business. I don't see it that way. I think people keeping an eye out for potential criminals in their own neighborhood is fundamentally different from having four percent of the US population looking for terrorism everywhere they go and reporting anything they find suspicious. Persons of reason can disagree about this. But ad hominem attacks have no place in this or any other debate.

Project Rainbow

The New York Times has a story out today claiming that major technology and communications firms have been talking for eight months now about creating a nationwide 802.11-based network:

The Intel Corporation, I.B.M., AT&T Wireless and several other wireless and Internet service providers including Verizon Communications and Cingular are exploring the creation of a company to deploy a network based on the increasingly popular 802.11 wireless data standard, known as WiFi, according to several people close to the talks.

The discussions, which are code-named Project Rainbow and have been going on for the last eight months, envision a nationwide service that would provide on-the-go professionals and other Web surfers a unified way to reach the Internet from a wide range of "hot spots" like airports and other public places. It is not intended to supply broadband connections to customers' homes, an executive involved in the discussions said...

There have already been a number of ad hoc efforts and several national start-ups trying to lash the hodgepodge of 802.11 networks together into a usable national network. Companies like Boingo Wireless and Joltage Networks are trying to sell services that would let a computer user sign up once and use wireless access points around the country.

But the companies involved in the talks anticipate a more ambitious effort based on building a new wireless communications infrastructure that would also tie in the nation's cellular carriers, offering a seamless transition from low-speed cellular data standards to 802.11.

If true, and if Project Rainbow moves forward, it's significant. Boingo offering hundreds of access points is nice, but I'm in their core target market and even I haven't signed up yet -- I can't justify the price and the coverage is just too spotty. If coverage was ubiquitous, though, and especially if I could seamlessly roam between WANs (such as GPRS and 1xRTT) and 802.11 nodes, that would be a different story...


Eclipse Aviation just unveiled their new $850,000 business jet this past weekend. In the Wall Street Journal's coverage, they note:

When Eclipse announced its plans in 2000, most people in the aerospace industry gave it no chance of succeeding. After repeatedly encountering skepticism, the Eclipse design team, which includes about 180 engineers, coined an acronym to describe their reception: WCSYC (pronounced "wick-sick), for "We couldn't, so you can't."
Helping start a company in the wireless space these past few months, I've heard that plenty of times, along with the variant, TDSYW, for "They didn't, so you won't." I love Eclipse's attitude. It's much easier to take pot shots at innovators than to innovate oneself.

July 15, 2002

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Ashcroft

The Sydney Morning Herald is running a story in today's edition, "US planning to recruit one in 24 Americans as citizen spies". The allegations in it are astonishing:

The Bush Administration aims to recruit millions of United States citizens as domestic informants in a program likely to alarm civil liberties groups.

The Terrorism Information and Prevention System, or TIPS, means the US will have a higher percentage of citizen informants than the former East Germany through the infamous Stasi secret police. The program would use a minimum of 4 per cent of Americans to report "suspicious activity"...

A pilot program, described on the government Web site www.citizencorps.gov, is scheduled to start next month in 10 cities, with 1 million informants participating in the first stage. Assuming the program is initiated in the 10 largest US cities, that will be 1 million informants for a total population of almost 24 million, or one in 24 people.

Are these allegations true? Yes, they are, as can be seen from the government's own information. From the Citizen Corps Website's page on Operation TIPS:

Operation TIPS -- the Terrorism Information and Prevention System -- will be a nationwide program giving millions of American truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, utility employees, and others a formal way to report suspicious terrorist activity. Operation TIPS, a project of the U.S. Department of Justice, will begin as a pilot program in 10 cities that will be selected.

Operation TIPS, involving 1 million workers in the pilot stage, will be a national reporting system that allows these workers, whose routines make them well-positioned to recognize unusual events, to report suspicious activity. Every participant in this new program will be given an Operation TIPS information sticker to be affixed to the cab of their vehicle or placed in some other public location so that the toll-free reporting number is readily available.

Everywhere in America, a concerned worker can call a toll-free number and be connected directly to a hotline routing calls to the proper law enforcement agency or other responder organizations when appropriate.

Yes, our government is recruiting 1 million people in the 10 largest cities... and I'll take the Herald's word for it that those cities total 24 million people. 1 in 24 people as informers. Assuming for a moment that this is the misguided effort of people with basically good intentions, have they stopped for a moment to think about the implications of what they're doing? Have they stopped for a moment to think about how such a system could be misused?

I Don't Get It

Dave Winer has posted a brief blog entry extolling the virtues of a five-year-old piece on Apple by Denise Caruso for the New York Times:

On this day in 1997 Denise Caruso wrote a kickass story about Amelio's Apple in the NY Times.
I've met both the principals here. I've known Dave since the Living Videotext days. We met at his offices then, and then again years later over breakfast at Buck's. As for Denise, I met her during, I believe, my time at Be. When she was writing for the Times, I was a religious reader -- she's one of the sharper commentators on our industry.

All that said, and even knowing the character that Dave is, I just don't get this. Why would he sing the praises of something so wrong? In her original piece, Denise's comments on CEO exit packages -- especially for the likes of Mike Spindler and Gil Amelio -- were right on. Then, though, she went on to write:

And speaking of the incredible, why has Apple's board re-admitted Steven Jobs, the company's mercurial co-founder, to the inner sanctum by making him its trusted adviser?

Apple watchers found it surreal enough that Amelio agreed in December to buy Jobs' unsuccessful company, Next Software Inc., for more than $400 million plus stock options -- then made its software the cornerstone of Apple's new operating system strategy...

But looking upon the record of both Jobs and Markkula -- Jobs picked Sculley, and Markkula kicked out Jobs, then kicked out Sculley, then hired and dismissed both Spindler and Amelio -- raises the question of whether Apple can endure another chief executive selection (and severance package) engineered by the two of them.

Imagine what the company might have done with all that money -- almost $20 million in chief executive severance pay alone, plus millions of dollars in stock options, and more than $400 million for Next.

Dave Winer, an on-line columnist and president of Userland Software Inc., which develops programs for the Apple Macintosh among other computing platforms, recently wrote an essay about Apple called "The Sure Road to Bankruptcy".

In it, Winer contends that the $400 million spent on Next might have done more for the Macintosh had it gone to capitalizing 100 start-up software companies. But Apple's executives, he wrote, were "unwilling to open their eyes and look outside for new direction."

At this point, it is unclear whether Apple's new direction will be much the same as the old -- a continuing downward spiral. But if survival is even possible, it may hinge on whether Apple's board of directors can hire a chief executive without promising to give him a king's ransom if he fails.

Denise strongly implied in this piece that bringing Jobs back was a bad thing. I myself admit to having reservations at the time -- especially about the price paid for NeXT. But I was wrong, and it ended up being the best thing possible for Apple and the industry. From a product standpoint, Apple is undeniably resurgent under Jobs. From a shareholder return standpoint, well, take a look at this five-year graph of AAPL:

On 15 July 1997, the date of Denise's story, AAPL had an adjusted close of 7.97. As of last Friday, it closed at 17.51 -- a gain of 119.7 percent. At its peak to date under Jobs, on 22 March 2000, AAPL had an adjusted close of 72.10 -- a gain of 804.6 percent. Clearly Jobs has been spectacularly successful leading Apple. So what's up with Dave's piece?

Atkins Versus Ornish: This Time, It's Personal

Dr. Dean Ornish, he of the ultra-low-fat vegetarian diet, has written a New York Times op-ed piece, "A Diet Rich in Partial Truths". It's apparent he's feeling the sting of the recent cover story of New York Times Magazine questioning the wisdom of low-fat diets. Dr. Ornish comes out swinging:

The high-protein diet (which is almost always high in fat), for example, has become very popular; just about everyone knows someone who has lost weight on this kind of diet. Given the American epidemic of obesity, isn't that a good thing?

Not necessarily. You can lose weight with fen-phen, too, but that doesn't mean it's good for you. When you go on a high-protein, high-fat diet, you may temporarily lose weight -- but you may also mortgage your health in the process. The only peer-reviewed study of the effects of a high-protein diet on heart function found that blood flow to the heart actually worsened and heart disease became more severe.

Comparing the Atkins diet to fen-phen is serious stuff.

I'm not qualified to comment on the science of this issue, but I will make two observations:

  1. In Ornish's world, it's easy to stick to his diet. In the real world, it isn't. On the Atkins program, you can walk into almost any restaurant and find something to eat. Even in a nutritional slum like Taco Bell, you can order chicken soft tacos and discard the tortillas. Try finding ultra-low-fat, vegetarian, oil-free food anywhere outside your own kitchen. It isn't easy.
  2. From an evolutionary perspective, Atkins' ideas seem make sense. Before the advent of agriculture (and, correspondingly, the effective end of evolution by natural selection among homo sapiens), we ate what we could hunt (meat) and gather (fruits, nuts, and seeds). It's not precise, but Atkins' diet roughly parallels that eating pattern. Ornish would have us switch to foods that human beings have only begun to eat recently (given a long view).
More to come on this topic, I'm sure.

July 14, 2002

Blogged for the Very First Time

Joi Ito, whom I've mentioned in this blog more than once, has written the first blog entry about my blog. It's an interesting experience to be, well, reviewed in that way. Given the nature of blogs, it's a much more personal experience than having your software product reviewed, which has happened to me hundreds of times. Unless your blog is pure news gathering, with little or no commentary, it's almost as if you're being reviewed as a person.

Frank, who told me, "Oh No. Now all you'll be thinking about is whether something will be material for your blog," when I told him about my blog, has started his own blog.
I specifically feared a variant of Amway Syndrome. From what I've seen, Amway Syndrome proceeds in two stages. In the first stage, everyone begins looking like a potential Amway distributor (therefore building up the pyramid of people feeding one commissions). Social interactions of almost any duration become opportunities on pitching people to become distributors. In the second stage, one selects social interactions based on the likelihood they will offer additional pitching opportunities.

With respect to blogging, I can't speak for Joi, but I think I've leveled off at stage one. I do certainly look at both information on the Web and social interactions from real life as potential blog material. I don't think it's such a bad thing. (It's certainly less evil than Amway.) I honestly can't see myself proceeding to stage two, but if I did, given that the criterion for evaluation is "how interesting would other people find this," it probably wouldn't be an awful thing.

I met Frank through our mutual friend Hiroshi Lockheimer when they both worked for Be Inc. Frank was in charge of marketing and communications and they asked me to be on Be's advisory board. I was the first and last advisory board member I think. Anyway, since then we've kept in touch and Frank co-founded AirEight with his old pals from Virtus. I'm on the advisory board for AirEight as well. Looking at the web page, you might think that all they do is sponsor race cars, but they are actually doing some cool things. ;-)
Note to self: add recent news stories to the AirEight site. I meant to get that done last week. That will teach me.
Frank has a very geeky style that is really my favorite part of the US technology entrepreneurship thing, but he seems to feel a bit self-conscious about it.
Isn't the idea to be a geek but not look like (or be otherwise instantly recognizable as) one? Take a look at the picture of Neal Stephenson on the back of Cryptonomicon for an example of this.
Another mutual friend we have is Michael Backes who David Smith describes as the only person he knows with terminal ADD.
This is amusing, in the sense that someone on chemotherapy would say "You're dying sooner than me!" to a friend in a hospice.
They both worked at Virtus. There something about people who worked at Virtus that I can't put my finger on... They are all have kind of a wacky sense of humor and seem to be part of some big long drama that reminds me of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or something.
If we're all out of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, to which character does each of us correspond? I'm going to have to think about that.
Anyway, Frank's blog should be fun. I look forward to tracking it. You saw it here first. My first scoop. I blogged a blog first.
So now I know what it's like being blogged. I'm glad a friend blogged me first. Thanks, Joi.

More on Bluetooth Versus 802.11

There's a good article on Bluetooth-versus-802.11 at 802.11b Networking News.

On the more practical side, Bluetooth is ad hoc from the ground up. Two people meet, don't know each [other], and can exchange data with minimal fuss. (Critics of the current generation say that's not so, but I've been doing essentially that with various Bluetooth devices in my office for WEEKS.) It'll get easier than it is today when it's in the Mac and Windows OS like Wi-Fi...

The folks who are anti-BT like the fact that Wi-Fi does so much, but there are degrees of trust that are extremely difficult to embed in small, low-power, simple devices when you're working with Wi-Fi...

The most idealistic folks I hear from say, sure, but you can just change Wi-Fi: make a low-power alternative, change the spec, add another kind of protocol that runs over Wi-Fi, etc.

Yeah, yeah, and it's taken almost two years to fix the broken WEP (wireless equivalent privacy) encryption layer in Wi-Fi, and we're still looking at maybe March 2003 for ratification and probably six months before the firmware updates for OLDER devices roll out.

So anyone who says, just change the spec, hasn't read the committee meetings from the IEEE, which I have. They need to go and read these public documents from several meetings and understand the number of players and the degree of collegial and non-collegial accommodation that happens to make even the tiniest of change.

So in essence, Glenn is saying that of my two scenarios, the "802.11's software layer gets better" scenario is highly unlikely to happen in any sort of reasonable timeframe. I see what he's saying. He could well be right.

July 13, 2002

Soon, We'll All Work as Baristas at Microsoft

The current Fortune magazine cover story, "All You Need Is Love, $50 Billion, and Killer Software Code-Named Longhorn", referred to earlier in this blog, has a good inside look at Microsoft's scenario-based product conceptualization process. Longhorn is the code name for the next major version of Windows:

At its simplest, Longhorn can be thought of as the next generation of Windows. But it is no mere upgrade. Bill and his teams are starting with a clean sheet of paper, rethinking what a computer operating system actually is, from the way documents and other data are stored and shared to the way people interact with the machine.

That's just the beginning. Because Gates' geeks are completely overhauling the operating system, they'll also have to redesign most of the company's other software products and services to take full advantage, including the MSN online service, its server applications, and especially Microsoft Office, the productivity suite that accounts for nearly a third of the company's sales and profits. If this enormous undertaking succeeds, it will make computers more personal than ever. Equipped with Longhorn, your PC will keep track of how you work, whom you talk to, what sites you look at, how you make documents and whom you share them with, which data on the network are yours--making all those things easier.

But the most interesting part is how Microsoft -- especially Gates himself -- is going about designing Longhorn:

What [Gates is] focused on now is translating his ideas into "scenarios" for developers. When mouthed by a Microsoftie, "scenario" means not merely a real-world setting in which a software feature or capability might come in handy, but how it will change the user's life. Every Microsoft product has its genesis in a list of transformative scenarios...

Gates' scenarios usually take the form of surprisingly simple questions that customers might have. Here's a sampling from our interviews:

  • Why are my document files stored one way, my contacts another way, and my e-mail and instant-messaging buddy list still another, and why aren't they related to my calendar or to one another and easy to search en masse?

  • Why can't my computer protect me from distractions by screening phone calls and e-mails, and why can't it track me down when I'm out of the office or forward things to me automatically?

  • Why can't our computers arrange conference calls and online meetings for us?

  • Why is it so hard for a soccer mom to set up a simple Website and e-mail group to keep people informed about who's driving and who's bringing treats?

  • Why can't I tap into all my stuff at home or at work from any device that's mine, and have it just be available because it knows I'm me?

  • Why can't I read digital versions of magazines on my portable computer that look the way they're supposed to look?
I'd say that if you're a Microsoft fan, this is all good news. If you're not, you may be in for trouble. While the Linux crowd is congratulating themselves for getting more drivers done and having office applications that look kind of like Word and Excel, Microsoft is rethinking the entire operating system and applications layer above it.

At this point, we're completely dependent on Apple for competitive innovation in operating system design at the user interaction level. Apple clearly has a vision of the future that revolves around becoming a hub for collecting, editing, and publishing media. It's a useful vision. Microsoft has a different vision based on universal access to one's own data and automating common tasks. Are both companies right, or three years from now, will one model clearly be superior? I don't know. What I do know is that one of the world's smarter people is thinking about this issue every day. As Fortune notes:

Three years ago Gates decided for the first time in his life that less could be more. He turned over the CEO title and all that organizational stuff to his old pal Steve Ballmer and dubbed himself Microsoft's chief software architect. Friends, relatives, and associates -- heck, even Bill himself -- all think it may be the smartest thing this famously smart guy has ever done. Which should send shivers down the spine of every competitor. Yes, Mr. McNealy, Mr. Ellison, Mr. Case, and Mr. Idei, we're talking to you.
Personally, I want both visions in my operating system. I want my operating system to be a great media hub and a great daily task automator. All other things being equal, for competition's sake, I'd rather see someone other than Microsoft deliver it -- even if that means I have to switch away from Windows and pay for the privilege. But if I can only get it from Microsoft, I will. Yes, Mr. Jobs, I'm talking to you.

July 12, 2002

Soon, We'll All Work as Baristas

Asahi Shimbun reports that the Tully's, Starbucks, and Doutor coffee chains in Japan are expanding into all sorts of new areas: subway stations, corporate offices, gas stations, and more:

Japan's leading coffee chains are hatching plans that will soon have the habit-forming drink under the nation's nose at every turn: in subway stations, conference rooms and company foyers. Even at the gas station, freshly brewed lattes and mochas will be beckoning for customers' loose change.
Life is once again imitating Web satire, as in this Onion article (sadly no longer available on their site):
New Starbucks Opens In Restroom Of Existing Starbucks

CAMBRIDGE, MA--Starbucks, the nation's largest coffee-shop chain, continued its rapid expansion Tuesday, opening its newest location in the men's room of an existing Starbucks. "Coffee lovers just can't stand being far from their favorite Starbucks gourmet blends," said Chris Tuttle, Starbucks vice-president of franchising...

According to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, the new location represents the beginning of a long-term expansion plan. "Eventually, Starbucks rest rooms everywhere will sell coffee," Schultz said. "But that ambitious scheme is at least five years down the road. In the meantime, we plan to open an additional location in this Starbucks' ladies' room within months, and are already drafting plans for a fourth restaurant along the corridor leading from the main seating area to the rest rooms. At some point a 'Starbucks Express' window will eventually open in the walk-in closet of the men's room Starbucks."

"Drink our coffee," Schultz said. "Drink it."

As far as I've seen, the peak of the real-world Starbucks phenomenon is in downtown Vancouver, where the Robson I and Robson II stores are located across an intersection from one another. And yes, I've had coffee at both. But not on the same day. I have my limits.

Top Five Blogs I'd Like to See

Now that I'm hooked on blogging, I find myself wishing that interesting people I know would themselves keep blogs. Perhaps if I list them here, it will in some small way nudge them towards doing so:

  • Eve Blossom. Eve and I have been friends for 15 years now, and she has a wonderful ability to connect to people of all ages and cultures. Eve is probably the most widely-traveled person I know, and she and her husband Jon aren't letting marriage slow them down -- in fact, they spent their recent honeymoon in Paris, Bhutan, and Southeast Asia. Eve, if you start a blog, we want pictures!
  • Richard Boyd. Richard is CEO of AirEight, the company of which I'm a co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer. He's not on this list because he's the CEO, or because we've been friends for a decade now, but because he has such good stories to tell and is so good at telling them. Richard is one of those people to whom amazing things happen on a reasonably regular basis.
  • Reid Hoffman. Reid is EVP Business Development of PayPal (soon to be part of the growing empire that is eBay). Imagine someone incredibly smart, with a master plan for life, and whose mind is always running as if he's just finished a Venti No-Foam Triple-Shot Latte. Reid is one of those people who could sit in an empty, windowless room and still have an interesting blog.
  • Joi Ito. Oh, wait. Joi already has a blog. Whew.
  • Alex Osadzinski. Former VP Sales & Marketing at Be, then at Vitria, now at Trinity Ventures. One of the best people for whom I've ever worked. Smart, funny, and always a pleasure to be around, even at the most difficult of times. Besides, I'm across the continent and so am less likely to become the target of one of his practical jokes (again). (Hint: If Alex offers to teach you how to play blackjack in Las Vegas, caution is in order.)
To the people listed above, if you're reading this, at least think about starting up blogs. The world needs more blogs by smart people with interesting things to say.

July 11, 2002


First, the obligatory blogchalking text:

Google! DayPop! This is my blogchalk: English, United States, Apex, Waterford Green, Frank, Male, 36-40!
So what is blogchalking, anyway? It's the first rough attempt to create a worldwide mechanism for bloggers to designate their geographical locations and then to enable users to search for blogs based on this location data. As I said, it's the first attempt, and it's a rough one, but it's a clever extension of the warchalking idea. Within a few months, it's a good bet we'll be able to search for blogs with parameters such as, "Find all the blogs within five miles of my current location," and get back reasonable results.

NYC Bloggers is much better implemented, but restricted to New York City. Will NYC Bloggers expand to take over the planet, or will its quality level be matched by blogchalk? Or, on the other hand, will hundreds of NYC Bloggers-like sites pop up to cover specific geographical areas in detail?

Where Credit is Due...

If I'm going to complain about Blogger when it fails me (as I've done before), it seems only right that I should compliment it -- and the team at Pyra -- when it works well.

After not receiving a response to support inquiries, I finally posted a message on the bloggerDev group on Yahoo -- though as I learned later, the bloggerPro2 group would have worked even better. Within an hour, Bill Lazar of Pyra had responded in the forum. I e-mailed him more details on my issues, and within another 30 minutes or so, everything was fixed. Way to go, Bill!

Bluetooth: Threat or Menace?

Two very different takes on Bluetooth. infoSync's editor, Jørgen Sundgot, editorializes:

For the last few months, I've been using Bluetooth extensively, but never as much as in the course of the past 14 days - and I thought I'd share my story with y'all, to let you know how much I've grown to love the very limited capabilities of peer-to-peer (P2P) communications and personal area networks (PAN) I've been toying around with. And just so someone doesn't choke on me not using 802.11b as an example; it's far from as easy as Bluetooth -- say what you want, but I've tried both and will take Bluetooth over 802.11b for P2P and PAN functionality any day (you thought I was going to say something nice about 802.11b now, didn't you).
And in the other corner, Bob Frankston writes:
I've written a lot about Bluetooth and don't want to revisit it again but will risk some short and brief comments. Bluetooth reminds me of the story of the blind men and the elephant -- each feels a part and presumes that it represents the elephant. People find some claim about Bluetooth they like and assume that it is the best way to get that particular aspect. But Bluetooth is like the days of dedicated word processors -- they couldn't compete with the ability to quickly evolve products on generic PCs.
Interestingly, at a recent mini-conference on wireless networks and PEDs (Portable Electronic Devices) hosted by the US Navy, we learned that the Navy's newest security guidelines specifically prohibit the use of Bluetooth. At the same time, the Navy is installing 802.11b networks aboard ships. I got the distinct impression that the Navy's computer security people feel they simply don't yet understand all the implications of Bluetooth and related PAN technologies. They feel they understand 802.11 -- its strengths, its weaknesses, and how to secure it -- and so they're comfortable with it.

Personally, I go back and forth on Bluetooth. When I'm in Japan with a friend who pulls out his Sony CLIE with Bluetooth Memory Stick module and shows me how he can connect to the Internet by remotely activating the phone in his pocket, I think, "Wow, this is pretty cool. This could take off." On the other hand, when I think about the momentum of 802.11 -- and I have to agree with Frankston on this one; the two technologies are competitive -- then I wonder how much of a role Bluetooth will truly have. If you crank down the power and ratchet up the production, 802.11 seems to -- at the hardware level -- to be able to take on Bluetooth. What 802.11 doesn't have is the software layer that it needs. Right now, 802.11 is purely about IP transport. Auto-discovery of devices, protocol negotiation, standards for media transport (e.g., voice from cell phone to headset) are all the sorts of things lacking from 802.11 and present in Bluetooth. This, of course, is fixable, at least in theory.

In the end, I suppose my prediction is that if the 802.11 software layer improves rapidly, then Bluetooth is doomed. If this doesn't happen, though, then Bluetooth has a good shot -- not because it's cheaper or consumes less power, but because it's easier to use among mixed devices. If anyone is working to universally solve the 802.11 high-level software issues, then I'd like to know about them.

Is Everything Backward?

From an op-ed piece by Scott Adams in today's New York Times:

Apparently, without anyone's noticing, our entire universe collapsed into a black hole and emerged in another dimension where everything is backward: Bill Gates (who used to be evil) is spending billions to vaccinate children in third-world countries, while the Catholic Church (which used to be good) is defending priests accused of molesting children. The stock market (which used to go up) now only drifts downward. And the surest way to lose respect is to mention you started a dot-com.
Indeed. In the cover story of the current issue of Fortune magazine, we learn of Microsoft's Chief Software Architect:
Friends and relatives say it's the experience of having kids that has most profoundly influenced how Bill is living his life and spending his vast fortune. Only after he had his own toddlers did it sink in how tragic and dicey life is in the developing world, where millions of small children die each year from AIDS or tuberculosis or malaria. "When I looked into it, it surprised me to see such a systematic failure in world health programs.... Those lives were being treated as if they weren't valuable," he says. "Well, when you have the resources that could make a very big impact, you can't just say to yourself, 'Okay, when I'm 60, I'll get around to that. Stand by.' " So now when Bill talks about changing the world, he's talking about doing it not only with software but also with vaccines and food supplements and scholarships.
Next I'm going to hear that a Republican President is pushing protectionist trade laws and expanding farm subsidy programs. Oh, wait...

July 10, 2002

A New Low for the Web

Actually, I don't think it's a new low... I have the feeling this page is a few years old. It's new to me, though. It's the Petition to Repeal the Nineteenth Amendment.

At first I was mildly amused by the inanity of it. After all, it's hard not to chuckle when you begin reading how women's suffrage is linked to increased murders, low SAT scores (interesting, that one), the decline of US banks, drunk driving fatalities, and so on. After reading through the petition, though, and scanning the rest of the site, the level of misogyny on display is breathtaking. Do people exist who believe this? The author of the site must, unless it's subtle parody. The signers of the petition must, unless they were joking.

It's frightening to think that people exist who believe this stuff. I presume there aren't many of them, but that there are any is scary enough. We need a word that goes beyond "misogyny" to describe this.

Star Wars = C-SPAN?

In an otherwise mildly funny recent piece on The Onion can be found a great summary of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones:

...there were all these long, boring scenes where these space senators were going on and on about trade-federation rules... It was like watching C-SPAN on some other planet.
Probably the most accurate and concise review of the film I've read yet.

July 09, 2002

If People Start Disappearing...

boing boing has a note today on the Time Travel Fund. The idea is that you deposit a dollar into a trust fund that survives your death. Over the centuries, your investment grows thanks to compound interest -- into the billions of dollars given enough time. This money will then be given as a reward to anyone who successfully uses time travel to bring you forward in time.

The site is unintentionally hilarious, and well worth a read, but one section deserves particular note:

We establish a fund in current time. You make a small contribution to the fund, and in a few hundred years that small amount grows to a very large amount. From that fund, moneys will be taken and used to retrieve you, perhaps seconds after you join, perhaps even moments before your recorded death, perhaps some other point in your lifetime.
So, if contributors to this fund begin mysteriously disappearing "seconds after" they join, and you're seriously interested in the future, you might want to invest the ten dollars. Of course, as Greg Rivera suggests, it might be a "To Serve Man" sort of future, where you're brought forward, your trust fund is cleaned out, and then you're served up with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

July 08, 2002

Atkins Revisited

There's a long, extremely detailed, and wonderfully informative article on low-fat versus low-carbohydrate diets, "What If It's All Been A Big Fat Lie?", in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Has the medical establishment failed to properly investigate the type of diet originally advocated by Dr. Robert Atkins in 1972? Can we trace our current obsession with low-fat diets not to medical evidence but to a Senate committee's decision?

If the alternative hypothesis [that low-fat diet contribute to obesity] is right -- still a big ''if'' -- then it strongly suggests that the ongoing epidemic of obesity in America and elsewhere is not, as we are constantly told, due simply to a collective lack of will power and a failure to exercise. Rather it occurred, as Atkins has been saying (along with Barry Sears, author of "The Zone"), because the public health authorities told us unwittingly, but with the best of intentions, to eat precisely those foods that would make us fat, and we did. We ate more fat-free carbohydrates, which, in turn, made us hungrier and then heavier. Put simply, if the alternative hypothesis is right, then a low-fat diet is not by definition a healthy diet. In practice, such a diet cannot help being high in carbohydrates, and that can lead to obesity, and perhaps even heart disease. ''For a large percentage of the population, perhaps 30 to 40 percent, low-fat diets are counterproductive,'' says Eleftheria Maratos-Flier, director of obesity research at Harvard's prestigious Joslin Diabetes Center. ''They have the paradoxical effect of making people gain weight.''
Is this true? I've believed in (and usually followed) the low-fat theory for years now, usually (though not always) with success. After losing a good deal of weight 12 years ago, I've kept most of it off most of that time... though it has certainly been hard. When Ray Kurzweil wrote glowingly of ultra-low-fat diets in The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life, I thought I had all the validation I would ever need. Could it all be wrong?

At last, multiple studies of Atkins-type diets are underway. Though some early results have been reported, we may not have reliable, reproducible results from large-scale tests for another five years or more. What do we do in the meantime?

Hotmail Versus Spam

There's a brief article in today's Wall Street Journal on Hotmail's anti-spam efforts. Not a lot of detail, but it does note that:

  • Hotmail has 110 million users (I suppose that means 110 million accounts)
  • Hotmail receives nearly 2 billion messages per day
  • 80 percent of Hotmail's incoming messages are spam
  • Hotmail's message volume has tripled in the last year
For me, the most interesting paragraph in the article was the following:
Internet arithmetic favors spam. Type "bulk email" in Yahoo; you'll see a long list of offers to sell you millions of addresses for a few hundred bucks. That means the tiniest acceptance rate puts you in the black. And so the contemporary spammer is not some shadowy pornmonger, but a debt-plagued middle classer who decides to try spam instead of, say, Amway.
So we have seen the enemy and the enemy is us?

One hopes our elected representatives, having read this article, will take time out from the critically important issues of banning flag burning and enshrining the Pledge of Allegiance as a constitutional amendment and do something about this.

July 07, 2002

Oh, Those Wacky Japanese

Two pictures taken on my recent trip to Japan that defy explanation. The first was taken at a restaurant (unsampled) between Kappabashi and Akihabara:

The second was taken on a street in Akasaka:

I'm not sure that either picture can or even should be explained. Just the same, when the Blogger engine supports comments, I'll be interested to hear what my Japanese friends have to say...

Following New Zealand's Lead

Less than two months ago, President Bush signed a new farm subsidy bill that will cost over $190 billion over the next 10 years. This would seem to be the final nail in the coffin of the efforts begun in 1996 to gradually wean US farmers off subsidies.

Except for purely short-term political reasons, I'm at a loss to understand why Bush signed this bill. I consider myself neither Republican nor Democrat. Nevertheless, when Bush was elected, I thought that no matter what, at least he would impose fiscal discipline and promote free trade. In fact, he has done the exact opposite on multiple occasions -- and managed to spend recklessly and threaten the cause of free trade all at once by signing this bill.

Meanwhile, in the wake of this awful legislation, more and more commentators have noticed the New Zealand model. In 1984, New Zealand's government ended all farm subsidies, with a phase-out period of only one year. What happened next?

Forced to adjust to new economic realities, New Zealand farmers cut costs, diversified their land use, sought non-farm income opportunities and altered production as market signals advised -- for example, by reducing sheep numbers and boosting cattle ranching. Farmers were aided on the cost side as input prices fell, because suppliers could no longer count on subsidies to inflate demand. The striving for greater efficiency also supported environmental protection as marginal land farmed only to collect subsidies was replaced with native bush, and overuse of fertilizers ended when fertilizer subsidies were removed. The Federated Farmers of New Zealand believe their country's experience "thoroughly debunked the myth that the farming sector cannot prosper without government subsidies."
The result of all this was that the value of New Zealand's farm output has risen 40 percent in constant dollars since the 1980s. New Zealand's average increase in farm productivity per year has risen from one percent before reform to six percent since.

While the US radically increases farm subsidies -- and while Europe debates extending its massive Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to new European Union applicants -- New Zealand motors along, spending nothing on subsidies and enjoying more efficient farming as a result. In a report on French shepherds broadcast on NPR's All Things Considered (available only as RealAudio), commentator Nancy Coons recounted the following comment made by a French shepherd on a sheep drive:

"We must all [drive sheep across southern France] every year, for no other reason than to say, 'We're here. If you continue to buy the lambs shipped in from New Zealand, we won't be here any longer.'"
The irony of this is palpable. Billions of dollars in farm subsidies, and still French shepherds are increasingly unable to keep pace with competitors halfway around the world -- not low-cost Third World producers, nor massively subsidized farmers, but highly efficient, unsubsidized, First World competitors.

For more on this issue, see the Cato Institute's excellent Washington Post editorial here.

July 05, 2002

Pledging Allegiance to Symbols or Systems?

So we're in an uproar because a federal appeals court has ruled the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional as an endorsement of religion, thanks to the words "under God." Predictably, our lawmakers couldn't move quickly enough to denounce the ruling. That bastion of piety, the US Senate, voted 99-0 to proclaim that we are, indeed, "one nation under God." The Senate chaplain went further in his prayer before the vote, saying "We acknowledge the separation of sectarianism and state, but affirm the belief that there is no separation between God and state."

I was at a Girl Scout event with my daughter shortly before this happened. She noticed that I didn't recite the Pledge and asked why. Was it, she asked, because I don't believe in God? (Technically, I consider myself agnostic.) "No," I said. "It's because I don't believe in pledging loyalty to a flag."

In The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan wrote about the Pledge, suggesting (among other ideas) that it be directed at the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Compare the Oath of Office sworn by incoming presidents...

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
...to the Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I explained this to my daughter. "What's the difference," she asked, "between pledging allegiance to a piece of paper instead of to a piece of cloth?" Good question.

Flags are symbols without inherent meanings. We ascribe meanings to them based on our culture. One presumes a typical Palestinian's view of the US flag would be somewhat different than that of an American citizen's. Even within the United States, we hold wide-ranging views on the nature and purpose of the government and nation symbolized by the flag. If I pledge allegiance to it, I'm pledging allegiance to something that might have very different meanings for other people.

The Constitution, on the other hand, specifies a system of government -- an imperfect system, to be sure, but one that has worked, more or less, for over 200 years. Keep in mind that the first duty of the President of the United States is to "support and defend" it. Why shouldn't that be the first duty of all American citizens?

Sexism and Soccer

I took my children and ex-wife to see the Carolina Courage play last night. The Courage is one of the eight teams in the WUSA, the Women's United Soccer Association. It's the premier professional soccer league for women in the world.

The Courage set a franchise and stadium attendance record tonight. I can't remember the precise figure, but it was somewhere in the range of 6,000. I'm at a loss to understand why this number is so low. Of the Courage players:

  • Danielle Fotopoulos has won a World Cup with the US national team.
  • Carla Overbeck has won two World Cups and an Olympic gold medal with the US national team.
  • Birgit Prinz has won three European Championships with the German national team and was 2001 German Player of the Year.
  • Hege Riise has won a World Cup and an Olympic gold medal with the Norwegian national team.
  • Tiffany Roberts has won a World Cup and an Olympic gold medal with the US national team.
It's rather like going to see Manchester United play: you look out over the field and see world-class player after world-class player. Yet this is in our own backyard, with seats available at every game, no seat costing more than $24.

I don't get it. Women's professional soccer should, by all rights, be far more popular. As the premier women's professional league in the world, the WUSA attracts the best players from the best national teams. They all come here to play. Is their relative lack of popularity due to nothing more than the fact that they're women? If so, that's sad.

My older son, who is something of a sports fan, played his GameBoy during the match, looking up only when the crowd became excited. My younger son read a book. Why? They claimed it was only because the match was boring, but it sure didn't seem that way to most of the fans there. I find myself worried that my own boys may have a sexist attitude when it comes to sports. If true, it's a disappointment, especially in myself -- after all, I've helped raise them and been the primary parent to expose them to sports. If attitudes towards womens' sports are going to change, that change must start at home.

By the way, it was a great game. We played the San Jose CyberRays, who won the league championship last year. Here's a shot of famous penalty kick taker and sports bra wearer Brandi Chastain:

The Courage won 2-1 on a goal in the 88th minute. What a treat!

July 03, 2002

Blogger Frustrations

I'm upset with Pyra. I've e-mailed two technical support questions to them -- one advertised address bounces, and other results in no response. I posted a question in the discussion forum -- it was lost somehow. I've now submitted a question through the online help system; hopefully that will work.

As it stands, I'm stuck simply updating a blog file that isn't posting properly. I should console myself with the knowledge that it doesn't matter, as I haven't made this public yet -- I'm still in the process of resolving my domain situation. I placed an order with WestHost today, and with luck, I should have boosman.com rehosted within 48 hours. WestHost was ranked highly by WebHost Magazine, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

WAP Versus i-mode

In a column for infoSync yesterday, Oliver Thylmann states plainly his opinion that observers have given i-mode too much credit and WAP too little:

I've read this over and over and over again, and I am starting to get really sick of it -- it's just like how some people can't seem to comprehend that WLAN and Bluetooth are similar technologies, but don't compete with each other head to head... NTT DoCoMo has a head start at the moment and is pulling a tremendous load by creating the market, but other carriers aren’t at a standstill. They know this is useful and they’re doing everything they can to build a very good solution. What they’ve learned though, is that they’ll make the most money if the solution they come up with works across a wide range of mobile phones and carriers. This has become very obvious through the recent introduction of the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), which we reported about recently. This new alliance was partly born out of the WAP Forum, and it's also worth to keep in mind that NTT DoCoMo, the company that created i-mode, is part of the OMA. Anybody involved with anything wireless does not want the interoperability mess that occurred when Nokia created its proprietary SMS solution for allowing logos and ringtones to be sent to their mobile phones and none others again -- and that's what the OMA is all about, put in the most simplistic way.
Interoperability is a worthy goal, but Oliver misses the network effect of i-mode. By shipping 35 million handsets that all support not only the same content rendering standard, but an open billing system as well, DoCoMo has created a unified market. Will the various handset vendors supporting WAP 2.0 all support precisely the same content standard? The same user interfaces, including device button layout? Will there exist a unified provisioning model? A unified developer reimbursement model?

While I disagree with Oliver on the importance of i-mode, the article is extremely useful from the standpoint of understanding the relationships between different mobile content standards. He succinctly captures information that can be difficult to track down.

The Other Other White Meat?

From an article in the Wall Street Journal today on an outbreak of a disease deadly to domesticated rabbits:

In the U.S., rabbit breeding gained momentum out of necessity during World War II as food -- "the other other white meat," the American Rabbit Breeders Association likes to call it.
Hasn't that title already been taken?

July 02, 2002

Consumer Wireless in the US and Japan

There was an interesting article in the Seattle Times last Sunday, Japan and the United States worlds apart on wireless. The author gets right two key aspects of the Japanese consumer wireless data phenomenon that are often missed by Western writers: tailor-made phones and markets for application developers:

The Japanese carriers were helped by their ability to develop tight relationships with manufacturers such as NEC, Panasonic and Sharp.. A carrier can specify a phone with a camera inside and then launch a photo service to its subscribers. U.S. carriers, on the other hand, have relied on the market leaders like Nokia, which develop their phones independently. It's ready-to-wear versus haute couture. If you deal with Nokia, then you buy off the rack. The carriers in the U.S. have little say on what's built into the phone.
This is true, but beyond being able to specify the feature set of phones, through large volume orders, Japanese carriers specify the very design of their phones, which enables consistent user interfaces and, therefore, consistent interaction with wireless data services. Shops in Akihabara and Shinjuku carry dozens of DoCoMo cell phones, all more or less differentiated, but all featuring the same button layout and same screen resolution. Any i-mode or i-appli (DoCoMo's version of J2ME) service will work identically across these phones. The importance of a stable platform for both consumers and developers can't be overstated.
Japan's carriers set up a business model in which content providers -- the ones who develop the ring tones and games -- could make money. When users choose to play games, a monthly charge of $2.50 or less shows up on their phone bill. The carrier takes a small slice, but about 90 percent goes to the game developer. The result is that 56,000 content sites are available to i-mode subscribers. So far, most of the U.S. carriers have not allowed content providers to assess charges, leaving little incentive to create any compelling content.
This is absolutely correct. DoCoMo makes it easy for application developers not only to develop software and services, but then to deliver them to consumers and receive payment in return. Steps toward such provisioning are happening in the United States, but only slowly. Until carriers here see it as a win-win to enable developers to make money from their customers, the applications won't be there, at least not in significant volume.

July 01, 2002

Foghorn Leghorn's Home?

In the course of events at work today, I accidentally rhymed, and almost without thinking said, "I made a funny," in my best Foghorn Leghorn imitation -- 'best' being a relative term, of course. I suddenly wondered, where is Foghorn Leghorn from, anyway? We know he's from the South, but where in the South? As I was standing in the office of Richard Boyd, a long-time Southerner, I asked him.

Me: "What state is Foghorn Leghorn from?"
Richard: "Mississippi."

The interesting thing was that there was absolutely no delay in his answer. He didn't have to think about it for more than a couple of tenths of a second.

Me: "How do you know that? His accent? His vocabulary?"
Richard: "His speech mannerisms."

Richard thought about it a few seconds more and said, "Alabama. He could also be from Alabama."

A bit of Googling led to the Foggy FAQ, which had the following to say:

Where does Foghorn Leghorn live? Some assume that he must be from the south -- because of his southern mannerisms and such, but in reality he appears to move around. For example, his address is Cucamonga, California on a telegram from Rhode Island Red, however in Dixie Fryer he flies to south of the "Masie-Dixie line" to get "out of the deep freeze and into the deep south" indicating he is from the northern half of the US, and not Cucamonga. In at least one other cartoon he talks about going south to get warm, and in yet another Weasel While You Work he seems at home in winter weather. And of course, he is driven to woo Miss Prissy in order to get into her warm henhouse before winter arrives in both Strangled Eggs and Little Boy Boo. So in conclusion, while he may have been born and raised in the south, he seems to move around during the various cartoons.
Not really much of an answer. I'm going with Richard's theory that he's from Mississippi or Alabama.

Interestingly, my small sampling of Foghorn Leghorn-related Websites had an astonishingly high level of annoyances per site -- pop-up ads, Comet Cursor installation dialogs, and the like. Is there a correlation between Foghorn Leghorn fans (which I, despite having written this, am not to any special degree) and this sort of behavior? When it comes down to it, Foghorn is generally a fairly obnoxious fellow. Does this tell us something about his most rabid fans? (Please, before I get hate mail, I'm just offering a theory here.)

Earthlink Woes

This is frustrating. Instead of writing away, knowing that my blog is going live, I'm still dealing with technical and other similar issues.

After two contacts with Earthlink support representatives this weekend, ending with the determination that I needed to have my domain hosting account reactivated, I called this morning and spoke with a customer service representative who couldn't even find my account. I gave up and IM'd my brother, who works for Earthlink, and asked him to help. No problem. He did some investigation, made a phone call, and transferred me to a customer service representative. "Great," I thought. "This will be fixed soon!" Not so fast. She told me that she needed to transfer me to yet another representative. There's a pause. Someone new answers and says that he has been told that I'd like to "discuss domain hosting options" with him. That's it. No mas.

I have officially given up on Earthlink as a domain hosting service. I'm going to try to find a provider with better service, and hopefully lower prices to boot. If I can do so, then all will end well... but it's still fairly frustrating at the moment.