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November 30, 2002

"The Exclusive Right to Invention [is]... for the Benefit of Society"

Today's quote is from Thomas Jefferson, from a letter to Isaac McPherson written in 1813:

It would be singular to admit a natural and even an hereditary right to inventors... It would be curious... if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property. If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody... The exclusive right to invention [is] given not of natural right, but for the benefit of society.
In these days of business process patents and endless copyright extensions, it would be useful for politicians to keep this in mind -- the last sentence above all.

November 29, 2002

The Shadows Social Phenomena Cast Across the Internet

From a story on Google in the New York Times:

The logs team came to work one morning to find that "carol brady maiden name" had surged to the top of the charts.

Curious, they mapped the searches by time of day and found that they were neatly grouped in five spikes: biggest, small, small, big and finally, after a long wait, another small blip. Each spike started at 48 minutes after the hour.

As the logs were passed through the office, employees were perplexed. Why would there be a surge in interest in a character from the 1970's sitcom "The Brady Bunch"? But the data could only reflect patterns, not explain them.

That is a paradox of a Google log: it does not capture social phenomena per se, but merely the shadows they cast across the Internet.

"The most interesting part is why," said Amit Patel, who has been a member of the logs team. "You can't interpret it unless you know what else is going on in the world."

So what had gone on on April 22, 2001?

That night the million-dollar question on the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" had been, "What was Carol Brady's maiden name?" Seconds after the show's host, Regis Philbin, posed the question, thousands flocked to Google to search for the answer (Tyler), producing four spikes as the show was broadcast successively in each time zone.

And that last little blip?

"Hawaii," Mr. Patel said.

Via Howard Rheingold.

Thanksgiving Grades

After writing earlier about my Thanksgiving dinner plans, I thought I should provide some self-assessment grades and comments:

  • Turkey: A-. Using the V-rack and following the timetable (for temperature changes and turning) from The Best Recipe gave an excellent result. The turkey browned nicely without resorting to foil, paper bags, or other enclosures, and the meat tasted just right. I graded myself down because there was a patch of skin on the breast that was over-browned. Other than that, I was quite happy with the results.
  • Stuffing: B+. The onions, apples, and bacon gave a great variety of flavors and textures to the stuffing. Still, though, there was something missing -- I can't put my finger on what. It was good, but not up there with the best stuffing I've ever had.
  • Mashed potatoes: C-. I over-mashed the potatoes and ended up with a dish that tasted good but had an almost doughy consistency. All my fault.
  • Gravy: B. I didn't think to buy a fat skimmer and didn't realize how necessary it would be to this recipe -- the book didn't mention buying a utensil for this purpose, nor did it provide (as far as I could see) any clever fat-skimming techniques. With the fat mostly gone, though, the gravy was very good. It was also a lot of work -- three distinct steps over the previous night and Thanksgiving morning.
  • Carrots: C. Not bad, but the brown sugar sauce ended up too watery and didn't stick to the carrots -- instead, it collected at the bottom of the serving bowl and had to be re-spooned over the course of the meal. One of two dishes not drawn from The Best Recipe.
  • Cranberry sauce: A. Adding orange rind and Grand Marnier to the recipe gave the cranberries just the right edge. This would have been an A+ if I had added nuts of some kind.
  • Dinner rolls: D-. Dough made using my bread machine, with the recipe drawn from that book. All my fault. Forgot to glaze the rolls before cooking them and then left them in the oven too long. The only reason I'm not flunking myself on this one is that my son Cameron ate two of them.
  • Pumpkin pie: C+. Tasted good, but leaving the pies in the oven long enough to cook the filling caused the crust to burn somewhat. I should have made my own pie crust instead of buying pre-made, and I should have used glass pie plates instead of disposable pie tins.
An overall grade point average of 2.59 -- between a B- and a C+. I'd like to get up to a 3.0 next year. Thanks to my family for serving as guinea pigs!

November 28, 2002

Being Thankful

As I mentioned in an entry yesterday, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It has been so for as long as I can remember. To me, Thanksgiving isn't just about the family, the friends, the food, and the football... it truly is about giving thanks. So what am I thankful for this year?

  • I'm thankful for my children and the opportunity to be with them so much of the time. We spent over a year and a half living apart, and it was one of the most difficult periods of my life. Now we live a couple of miles apart as the crow flies, and they're with me every other week. As I write this, my older son Duncan and my daughter Kelsey are playing cards while I write, all of us at the kitchen table. Being in their presence is a simple pleasure, but one that I appreciate now.

  • I'm thankful for my co-founders. While it's true that being a co-owner of a startup certainly motivates me to do whatever is necessary to make it succeed, it's the chance to work with people whom I've counted as friends for 10 years or more that excites me to come into the office every day. Richard, David S., David E. Greg, Scott, and Tim, it's an honor to work alongside each and every one of you.

  • I'm thankful for my friends. Better late than never, I've come to understand that lifelong friends are rare; friends on whom one can absolutely rely are rarer still; and friends who provide unconditional love and support are the rarest of all. I am fortunate to have friends of this sort and determined to do all that I can to give them even a fraction of what they have given me. To call out two, but with the wish to slight none: Eve, you're the least judgmental person I've ever known -- thank you for your constancy over the years. And Tina, you were loyal to me when others might have turned away -- thank you for your acceptance and your support.
Looking over the list I've just written, I find it interesting that I am most thankful for people above all else and not things. When I was younger, I thought things were important. The older I get, the less vital they seem -- especially in comparison to friends. Does this mean I'm growing up?

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

November 27, 2002

It's About Time [Islam] Grew Up

The deputy governor of an Islamic state in Nigeria has issued a fatwa against a journalist there for her story on the Miss World pageant:

"Just like the blasphemous Indian writer Salman Rushdie, the blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed," Zamfara Deputy Governor Mahamoud Shinkafi told a gathering of Muslim groups in the state capital, Gusau, on Monday.
The fashionable thing seems to be to blame the writer instead of the violent rioters who killed 200 people:
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo... told CNN that "irresponsible journalism" in Nigeria was responsible for the violence.

"What happened in Nigeria obviously could have happened at any time that such sensitive and irresponsible remarks are made, at a time like this -- particularly at a time like this, in Nigeria," he said...

[The] chairman of the Miss World competition vigorously denied the beauty pageant had caused the riots.

Julia Morley said the contest had been used as a "political football" and blamed the Nigerian journalist, who wrote the Muhammad article, for inflaming the situation...

At a news conference, Morley said: "It was not a mistake to hold it in Nigeria. What was a mistake was a journalist making a remark he shouldn't have made.

So what was it that Daniel said that supposedly led the Nigerians to the rioting and, finally, the fatwa?

The demonstrations came in apparent response to a Nov. 16 ThisDay article about the Miss World contest, which began earlier this month and was to conclude on Dec. 7 in Abuja, Nigeria's capital. The article, written by Isioma Daniel, a style reporter who has since resigned, questioned the sincerity of Muslim groups who had attacked the pageant as indecent.

"The Muslims thought it was immoral to bring 92 women to Nigeria and ask them to revel in vanity," the piece said. "What would Muhammad think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from one of them."

That's it. That Muhammad "probably would have chosen a wife" from among the Miss World contestants. I'm not a particular fan of beauty pageants, but my impression is that the contestants are often intelligent, well-educated, talented, and, yes, beautiful. I can't see what is so inflammatory about the statement. Further, even if the statement is inflammatory, what gives any individual the right to impose a death sentence on the person who wrote it?

As a reader on Plastic wrote:

Islam is one of the world's largest religions, it's about time it grew up and stopped trying to kill people who disagree with it.
Well said.

Thanksgiving and Cook's Illustrated

I'm fairly excited about Thanksgiving Day tomorrow -- not just because it's my favorite holiday, but because for the first time, I'm doing all the cooking myself. In the past, I've often cooked the turkey, but never the side dishes. This year I'm doing it all.

I'm relying heavily on the people at Cook's Illustrated magazine. (They also put on the television show America's Test Kitchen.) My sister-in-law Karin (yes, for the observant, I have both an ex-wife and a sister-in-law named Karin), who is an outstanding chef, turned me onto Cook's Illustrated. If you're at all scientifically minded, it's definitely the way to go. The writers experiment extensively -- by controlling certain variables and varying others -- to find the best recipes for basic dishes. In the current issue, for example, they cook over 35 rib roasts to find the best recipe for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and they cook 50 batches to find the best recipe for sugar cookies.

The Cook's Illustrated people have published a number of books, including The Best Recipe. It's what I'm using to plan and cook Thanksgiving dinner. Note also that they operate a Thanksgiving cooking advice site, Turkey Help.

I'm flying solo tomorrow, with just The Best Recipe to help. I'll report back here on how it goes.

November 26, 2002

Owning a Word

As of today, searching for the word "pseudorandom" on Google turns up my blog as the first result. Cool!

419 Gets Personal

My ex-wife, whose maiden name is of Czech origin, received this message the other day and forwarded it onto me:

Date: Wed, 20 Nov 2002 21:35:38 +0100 (CET) From: tony_williams@post.cz Subject: GET BACK TO ME name To: tony_williams@post.cz

Dear name

I am Barrister TONY WILLIAMS, a solicitor at law. I am the personal attorney to Mr.Tom name, a national of your country, who used to work with shell Development Company in Nigeria. Here in after shall be referred to as my client. On the 21st of April 1999, my client, his wife and their three Children were involved in a car accident along Sagbama express-road. All occupants of the vehicle unfortunately lost their lives.

Since then I have made several enquiries to your embassy to locate any of my clients extended relatives this has also proved unsuccessful.After these several unsuccessful attempts, I decided to track his last name over the Internet, to locate any member of his family hence I contacted you. I have contacted you to assist in repatriating the money and property left behind by my client before they get confiscated or declared unserviceable by the bank where these huge deposits were lodged. Particularly, the Eco Bank International where the deceased had an account valued at about Seven million United States Dollars (US$7,000,000:00) has issued me a notice to provide the next of kin or have the account confiscated within the next ten official working days.

Since I have been unsuccessful in locating the relatives for over 2 years now I seek your consent to present you as the next of kin of the deceased since you have the same last name so that the proceeds of this account valued at $7,000,000:00 can be paid to you and then you and me can share the money. 60% to me and 40% to you I have all necessary legal documents that can be used to back up any claim we may make.

All I require is your honest co-operation to enable us seeing this deal through. I guarantee that this will be executed under a legitimate arrangement that will protect you from any breach of the law.

Do send your reply to my email:tony_will@go.com

Best regards,
TONY WILLIAMS Esq

This is obviously a 419 scam letter, but it looks like a new twist on the 419 scam (though I'm certainly not an expert on the subject). Now the story involves a deceased person with the same surname as the recipient -- a surname that is easily traceable to a particular country. The scammers get free e-mail accounts from the country in question to make themselves look slightly more legitimate. Clever!

Thanks to Karin for giving me permission to post this.

November 25, 2002

The "Finer-Grained Sensibilities" of Women

Today's quote is from Tom Robbins, in an interview with High Times magazine:

I cherish women and have always preferred their company, reveling in their perfumes, their contours, their finer-grained sensibilities, lunar intuitions, nurturing instincts and relatively unfettered emotions -- although I'm certainly not unaware that there are plenty of neurotic, uptight, stupid women in the world.
Via life's little intricacies.

November 24, 2002

No Sonic Cruiser After All

From the Economist, news that Boeing's Sonic Cruiser may not come to pass after all:

Officially no decision has been taken, and Boeing is still showing airlines pictures of three versions of its high-speed "sonic cruiser", the futuristic aircraft it unveiled in March 2001. But the sonic cruiser is not going to take off. Boeing may make the formal announcement before the end of the year. By March, it will unveil plans for a more conventional 250-seater jet, to take the place in the middle of the market of both the ageing Boeing 757 and the wide-bodied 767, two workhorses of the world's airlines. Out goes the sonic cruiser. In comes the decidedly less-catchy "super efficient" aircraft, a sort of cut-down Boeing 777...

An executive of the oneworld alliance, which includes American Airlines, British Airways and Cathay Pacific, this week described the number of sonic cruisers these airlines would buy as "a very round number", meaning zero. Lately Boeing has taken instead to showing airlines its early plans for its new conventional 250-seater.

The same technology of new composite materials and advanced computer-aided design that would have created the sonic cruiser will now be employed to produce efficiency rather than speed. The choice comes down to 20% more speed, at the same fuel-burn rate and operating cost; or the same performance, with 20% less fuel and a lower operating cost. Although a few airlines are still dazzled by the possibilities of the fast sonic cruiser, there are not enough of them to persuade Boeing to launch it. Most airlines are now keener to save money and repair their profits.

What a shame. You'd think that given the intensely cyclical nature of the airline business, they would remember that what goes down comes back up, and companies that invest for the future during bad times prosper during good. Watch as the economy recovers and airlines sign up for the Sonic Cruiser II, just in time to take delivery during the next worldwide slowdown.

Thankfully, hope exists yet for radical new airliner designs.

November 23, 2002

The S-Word? The B-Word?

Via Plastic, a story in the Guardian on the de-vulgarization of the f-word. In the story, the BBC's chief advisory on editorial policy mentions that over 50 percent of people surveyed believe that words that should never be broadcast include (among others) the c-word, the n-word, and the mf-word -- but the f-word apparently isn't bad enough to make the list. Interestingly to this American, one of the words on the "never broadcast" list is "spastic." How did that get there?

Of course, they missed the very worst word of all:

In today's modern galaxy there is of course very little still held to be unspeakable. Many words and expressions which only a matter of decades ago were considered so distastefully explicit that were they to be merely breathed in public, the perpetrator would be shunned, barred from polite society, and in extreme case shot through the lungs, are now thought to be very healthy and proper, and their use in everyday speech is seen as evidence of a well-adjusted, relaxed, and totally un(bleep)ed up personality.

So for instance, when in a recent national speech the Financial Minister of the Royal World Estate of Quarlvista actually dared to say that due to one thing and another and the fact that no one had made any food for a while and the King seemed to have died and that most of the population had been on holiday now for over three years, the economy was now in what he called "one whole joojooflop situation," everyone was so pleased he felt able to come out and say it they quite failed to notice that their five thousand year-old civilization had just collapsed overnight.

But though even words like joojooflop, swut, and turlingdrome are now perfectly acceptable in common usage there is one word that is still beyond the pale. The concept it embodies is so revolting that the publication or broadcast of the word is utterly forbidden in all parts of the galaxy except one where they don't know what it means. That word is 'belgium' and it is only ever used by loose-tongued people like Zaphod Beeblebrox in situations of dire provocation.

My guess is that the word in question was so offensive that the people surveyed by the BBC couldn't even bring themselves to utter it.

(Thanks to the late, great, and much-missed Douglas Adams.)

November 22, 2002

Xbox Live Selling Out

Via PlanetXbox:

Xbox Live is popular; it appears to be the understatement of the century today as Microsoft has officially announced that over 150,000 Xbox Live Starter Kits have sold during its first week of availability. The service, which is the first broadband service to surpass 100,000 subscribers, has serviced over 200,000 gamers due to its multiple players on one account feature since release...

Due to the strong sales of the Starter Kits, Microsoft continued to announce that all retail outlets have sold out, but that new shipments are on the way and will continue to ship throughout the holiday season. Moreover, Microsoft stated that Xbox Live-enabled game sales shot up 120 percent during the week, with Xbox hardware sales jumping 18 percent week-over-week.

I've felt for some time now that Xbox Live would do well. Broadband multiplayer gaming is one thing; broadband multiplayer gaming on a $200 console with real-time voice chat and no game installation hassles is quite another.

Is Microsoft actually creating a 1.0 version of a product that's worth using?

Digital Camera Proliferation

Earlier this week, I attended an offsite meeting with partners of ours at a lake house kindly loaned to us by a friend. Eight people arrived the night before the meeting. Of the eight, five of us had brought digital cameras:

The S100 and S300 are part of the same series of small, all-metal body, retracting lens cameras. Pure coincidence, or is the PowerShot S series truly that popular?

It was interesting that more people are picking up the document-your-life-with-your-digital-camera meme. All of us who brought digital cameras were taking photos throughout the meeting -- as if we were photojournalists recording the event for a future chronicle.

November 21, 2002

From the Country with the Longest Coastline in the World...

From November 2000 to March of this year, I worked for a company based in Vancouver, British Columbia. For the first ten months, I lived in Seattle and commuted back and forth each week, but then spent the last five months living in Vancouver full time. My then-girlfriend was Canadian, and between working for a Canadian company, spending most or all of my time in Canada, and dating a native, I was fairly immersed in Canadian culture. I can name all the provinces and territories, know what the Canadian Shield is, and have an ongoing love of Canadian snack foods.

With time, though, I find I'm not keeping up with news from Canada as I once did. It's a wonderful country, I like the people, and Vancouver is surely one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but I have enough else on my plate as it is. I try to check in every so often on Vancouver's bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympics (which, if there is any justice in the world, they should win), but other than that, it's once every week or two that I make the effort to check out Canadian news sites. When I did so recently, I found this story from the Ottawa Citizen:

A warning that the cash-strapped Canadian Coast Guard could get caught with its pants down is coming closer to the literal truth following an internal directive issued last month to personnel on the West Coast.

Members have been bluntly told that any requests for new uniforms to replace worn or torn official clothing will be rejected pending an internal review of the Pacific region's financial status for the current fiscal year, which ends on March 31.

"Your patience, understanding and co-operation to this matter would be greatly appreciated," wrote Greg Locke, supervisor of logistics, in an e-mail directive issued on Oct. 28.

Canadian Alliance MP John Cummins, who was leaked the e-mail, said the inability to adequately supply the coast guard with uniforms makes a mockery of the position taken recently by Fisheries Minister Robert Thibault...

George Horel, the coast guard's director of operations for the Pacific region, said management is taking steps to deal with a financial squeeze.

"Our budget is tight."

And this from the country with the longest coastline in the world.

There's an old saying, "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." I don't know that Canadian schools get all the money they need, but it seems like -- at least in the case of their Coast Guard -- they may need to start asking people to bring in cookies...

November 20, 2002

IDC on the Wireless Gaming Market

IDC has a new forecast for the wireless gaming market in the US:

The U.S. wireless gaming market is emerging as a viable long-term opportunity for game developers and publishers, wireless carriers, and wireless handset providers. According to a new study from IDC, Are We Having Fun Yet?: U.S. Wireless Gaming Forecast, 2002-2007, the number of total U.S. unique wireless gamers will climb from nearly 7.0 million in 2002 to 71.2 million in 2007.

The development of the U.S. wireless gaming market requires the successful triangulation of mutually dependent players, including handset providers, wireless carriers, and game developers and publishers. “Wireless gaming represents tremendous opportunity, but in order to reach its full potential, there must be cooperation among the three benefactors to work out key issues such as business models, the handset, and designating the appropriate content for the target demographics,” says IDC’s Schelley Olhava, program manager, Interactive Gaming.

Currently, domestic wireless carriers are pursuing 2.5G and 3G network upgrades to deploy next-generation wireless services that include wireless data applications. “Wireless games are a perfect example of the type of content that carriers are looking to offer,” says IDC’s Dana Thorat, senior research analyst, Wireless and Mobile Communication. “Gaming is ready to transition beyond the confines of the home to a truly mobile platform, and the emergence of next-generation networks and improved handsets make wireless gaming a reality.”

Let's hope they're right. I for one am ready for high-quality, mobile, multiplayer gaming. Why? Because I want to reduce my personal-time productivity to absolute zero. :-)

November 19, 2002

"It Is Not the Critic Who Counts..."

Today's quote is from Theodore Roosevelt. It was part of a speech, "Citzenship in a Republic," that he delivered at the Sorbonne 23 April 1910:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
Thanks to Richard Boyd for passing this along.

November 18, 2002

Haven't We Heard This Before II

Via KurzweilAI.net, a story in Computerworld on DARPA's call for cognitive systems for the military:

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is accepting research proposals to create the first system that actually knows what it's doing.

The "cognitive system" DARPA envisions would reason in a variety of ways, learn from experience and adapt to surprises. It would be aware of its behavior and explain itself. It would be able to anticipate different scenarios and predict and plan for novel futures.

"It's all moving toward this grand vision of not putting people in harm's way," says Raymond Kurzweil, an artificial intelligence guru and CEO of Kurzweil Technologies Inc. in Wellesley Hills, Mass. "If you want autonomous weapons, it's helpful for them to be intelligent."

Haven't we heard this before?

                TERMINATOR         In three years Cyberdyne will become the largest         supplier of military computer systems. All         stealth bombers are upgraded with Cyberdyne         computers, becoming fully unmanned, Afterward,         they fly with a perfect operational record.

                SARAH
        (getting behind John)
        Uh huh, great. Then those fat f***s in
        Washington figure, what the hell, let a computer
        run the whole show, right?

                TERMINATOR
        Basically.
        (starting the engine, backing
        out)
        The Skynet funding bill is passed. The system
        goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions
        are removed from strategic defense. Skynet
        begins to learn, at a geometric rate. It becomes
        self-aware at 2:14 a.m. eastern time, August 29.
        In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

                SARAH
        And Skynet fights back.

I have a bad feeling about this...

November 17, 2002

Smart Mobs Website

Concurrent with the launch of his book of the same name, Howard Rheingold now has his Smart Mobs Website up and running.

As one would expect from Howard, the site has great information on the latest developments in mob-like developments, both technological and sociological. Recommended.

November 16, 2002

Delta's New Information Displays

Via Dave Winer, a great entry by Jon Udell on Delta's cool new gate information displays for passengers. Not only do these displays show the usual information -- flight number, destination, departure time -- they go on to show seats checked, reserved, and unclaimed by class; standby passengers; standby passengers cleared to board; status of requested upgrades; and estimated boarding times by row of the cabin. Wow. American Airlines needs to get on this now.

November 15, 2002

"Total Information Awareness"

From William Safire's latest column in the New York Times:

If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you:

Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend — all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as "a virtual, centralized grand database."

To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you — passport application, driver's license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance — and you have the supersnoop's dream: a "Total Information Awareness" about every U.S. citizen.

This is not some far-out Orwellian scenario. It is what will happen to your personal freedom in the next few weeks if John Poindexter gets the unprecedented power he seeks.

In the words of Howard Rheingold, William Safire is "not exactly your radical commie pinko alarmist."

This needs to be stopped. "Total Information Awareness" makes Operation TIPS look almost innocent by comparison.

November 14, 2002

Take Two Minutes and Do This Now

Via Slashdot:

DarkSparks writes "The EFF is urging everyone to contact their Representatives and ask them to co-sponsor Representative Rick Boucher and John Doolittle's recently introduced Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act (DMCRA, H.R. 5544), which would introduce labelling requirements for usage-impaired "copy-protected" compact discs, as well as make several key amendments to the DMCA, including affirming the right of scientific research into technology protection measures and affirming the right of citizens to circumvent technology measures to gain access to copyrighted works they've purchased."
I just did this -- it's literally two minutes to read through the letter, fill out your name and address, and click to either e-mail or fax it to your Representative.

November 13, 2002

Legitimizing Our "Overwhelming Might"

A typically good column by Thomas Friedman in yesterday's New York Times:

When all 15 members of the U.N. Security Council, including Syria, raised their hands in favor of a U.N. demand that Iraq submit to unrestricted inspections of its weapons arsenal or else face "serious consequences," it was the first hopeful moment I've felt since 9/11...

How did it happen? Well, the short answer is that we learned something surprising this past week -- that in the world of a single, dominant superpower, the U.N. Security Council becomes even more important, not less. France, Russia and China discovered that the most effective way to balance America's overwhelming might was not by defying that power outright, but by channeling it through the U.N. And the Bush team discovered that the best way to legitimize its overwhelming might -- in a war of choice -- was not by simply imposing it, but by channeling it through the U.N.

When Congress debated authorizing the use of force to disarm Iraq, I thought long and hard about it. I ended up deciding that Saddam Hussein is the type of person who only responds to believable threats of force, and that for such a threat to be believable, we would have to be fully prepared to follow through on it. Having said that, I'm glad that Colin Powell won the day and convinced President Bush to give him the time to pursue a Security Council resolution. I hope it doesn't come to war, but if it does, we have created a far more defensible position for ourselves.

Now, everyone who thinks the Security Council would have passed this resolution -- or that Iraq would have accepted it -- without the credible threat of attack from the US, raise your hands.

November 12, 2002

Our "Schizoid" Relationship with Animals

There's an extensive article on animal rights in the latest issue of the New York Times Magazine, "An Animal's Place." Near the beginning, the author makes this observation:

There's a schizoid quality to our relationship with animals, in which sentiment and brutality exist side by side. Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us pause to consider the miserable life of the pig -- an animal easily as intelligent as a dog -- that becomes the Christmas ham.

We tolerate this disconnect because the life of the pig has moved out of view. When's the last time you saw a pig? (Babe doesn't count.) Except for our pets, real animals -- animals living and dying -- no longer figure in our everyday lives. Meat comes from the grocery store, where it is cut and packaged to look as little like parts of animals as possible. The disappearance of animals from our lives has opened a space in which there's no reality check, either on the sentiment or the brutality.

I asked my kids what they thought of this. Duncan had the strongest opinion:

Well, it's a nice thought, but we're only raising the pigs to be killed. They really don't know any better. There's nothing more to them than that. That's their place in life. The author talks about savagery, but we could just go out with knives and kill wild pigs that do have freedom instead.
I spent a few years as a partial vegetarian, eating fish but no other animals. I took up eating poultry about a year ago -- it can be hard to eat healthy at times without having chicken as a choice. Lately I've taken to eating the occasional steak or other beef -- perhaps once every couple of weeks or so -- and even the rare serving of bacon. Sometimes I wish I was still mostly vegetarian, but I do enjoy the range of options available to me now. I wish, though, that I could easily find meat that has been raised and slaughtered humanely.

November 11, 2002

Welcome to North Carolina

From Peter King's latest edition of his wonderful Monday Morning Quarterback column:

Driving to Ericsson Stadium yesterday morning around 9:30, I turned the AM radio on and pressed scan. Nineteen of the 26 audible radio stations aired religious programming.
Tell me about it. I drove back to Raleigh-Durham from Charleston yesterday myself. Where NPR stations should exist at the low end of the FM dial are religious stations -- lots and lots of them -- except for a very small sweet spot in South Carolina where three NPR stations can be heard simultaneously.

November 10, 2002

An Early Winter Wonderland

Last Sunday, I flew to New Mexico for meetings in Los Alamos. I was planning on flying out Tuesday morning, and hoping to perhaps fly out as soon as Monday afternoon, but ended up having to stay through Thursday morning, because we woke up to the following scene on Monday:

(Photograph courtesy of Dave Pickering.)

Los Alamos is at 7,200 feet, so surprise early-season snowfalls aren't uncommon, I suppose. Six inches of snow shut down most of the town for the morning, leading to delays that cascaded through the week. But it was certainly beautiful there...

November 09, 2002

In Charleston

I'm spending the weekend in Charleston with two of the coolest people in the world, Eve and Jon Blossom:

After brunch with friends, Eve and I spent the afternoon talking over coffee and cheesecake. If you had been at the cafe while we were ordering, this is what you would have heard:

Frank: I need caffeine and sugar. Did I mention that I need sugar?

Eve: Okay, coffee, and what should we have for dessert? I don't know what's good here.

Frank: How about the cheesecake?

Eve: Right. How can it be bad? It's cheesecake.

Afterwards, Eve and I walked a few blocks to watch Jon taking a class on stone carving sponsored by SoBA, the School of Building Arts, where Eve is VP of Development:

First interactive toys, then computer-controlled tiki music boxes, and now stone carving... I'm now suffering from a case of making-tangible-things envy after being around Jon. There has to be something I can make...

November 08, 2002

Pardon Me?

Another story from yesterday's USA Today sports section (I was on an airplane and unexpectedly out of battery power). Unavailable on the Website, this is about Dusty Baker stepping down as manager of the San Francisco Giants.

Baker's contract expired Wednesday without progress in negotiations, at which point general manager Brian Sabean ended talks with the three-time National League manager of the year.

"It became apparent for whatever reason that Dusty was interesting in exploring other opportunities," Sabean said.

So far, so good. But then...

"We couldn't seem to surround the situation, and in some cases Dusty was reluctant to embrace it."
Pardon me? I realize that last sentence was grammatically correct, but for the life of me I can't understand what it means. Why do some people talk like that? When they do, why do some reporters print it without commentary or explanation?

November 07, 2002

McPaper States the McObvious

Just when I was beginning to think a bit better of USA Today, along comes an article today on how NFL teams who switch between quarterbacks win fewer games than those that don't:

NFL teams that struggle with their quarterbacks usually struggle in the standings, too...

The 15 teams that have started two or more QBs either because of injuries or poor performance, are winning at a .431 clip using 34 different QBs. Only three of the 15 have winning records.

In other words, the teams who lose games and switch quarterbacks as a result tend to lose games.

In other news, USA Today reports that the sun will be rising tomorrow. Stay tuned for details on this fast-breaking story.

November 06, 2002

"Professional Management"

From a couple of weeks ago, a wonderful column by Robert X. Cringely, "The Case Against Professionalism."

It is easy to forget that professionalism is the enemy of the high-tech startup. If these companies were operated by professionals, they would never have been founded. Nor would a professional tolerate the conditions necessary for startup survival. Michael Eisner never emptied a wastebasket at work, but I'll bet Walt Disney did.

Here is a scene that happens at some point in almost every young company. The founder/CEO/technical visionary meets with his board and finds him or herself out of a job. How could this happen? Well, the company has grown to the point where the board feels that "professional management" is required, so they are bringing in a new management team. The new team is composed of old friends and classmates of the board, and the new team costs five to 10 times as much, but that's okay because the company is "hiring for growth." This new team cuts staff, cuts costs and outsources everything that can be outsourced, with the result that earnings are improved and the stock goes up or the company makes itself look better for an Initial Public Offering. The professional managers get big bonuses, they exercise mountains of stock options, sell those option shares, then go on to some other, even bigger, job having "saved" the company, which then stagnates, goes into a slow decline, and is eventually acquired by a competitor.

In the PC industry, this is the path followed by almost every company. On the software side look at Borland, Broderbund, Personal Software, Lotus, WordPerfect and hundreds of others. The similarly afflicted hardware companies are so many that the names become a blur. All these companies, even though some of their names may remain, are effectively dead. Certainly, they bear no resemblance at all to what they once were. And every one of these companies had something else in common: At the time their management was displaced, they were profitable and had money in the bank.

This is reminiscent of conversations my co-founders and I had when starting up AirEight. We had all been exposed to the unspeakable evil that is "professional management," and we were all resolved not to experience it again. When I go into work every day, I'm going to work with people whom I've liked, trusted, and respected (with apologies to Alex Osadzinski) for 10 years or more. I'll take that over "professional management" any day.

November 05, 2002

Heard Last Night

A conversation between the cashier at the Quizno's Subs in Los Alamos, New Mexico and me as I was paying for my sandwich last night:

Cashier: You probably get this all the time, but you look just like a celebrity.

Me: Really? Which one?

Cashier: He's an actor. He always plays villains. Tim something. Tim Murray?

Me: I don't know him.

Cashier: Have you seen Muppet Treasure Island?

Me: Oh, Tim Curry.

Cashier: Right. But you must have heard that a hundred times.

Me: No, never before.

Cashier: Really?

Me: No, but a friend of mine used to say that I looked like the love child of Richard Branson and Eric Clapton.

Cashier: I don't think I want to know how that could happen.

Me: Sure, but you have to admit, if it did, it would be big news.

Tim Curry? That's the nicest thing anyone said to me all day.

November 04, 2002

Epinions + Match.com Redux

David Easter visited my office the other day, after I posted my previous entry on combining Epinions and Match.com.

So, Epinions plus Match.com? With Epinions, when you try something and like it, you want to share what you've found with others...
Point taken -- the tendency could be toward negative reviews, whether legitimate in origin or not. However, it seems to me that if one meets someone online and is in the midst of some sort of relationship with them -- whether purely online or in the physical world as well -- then they would be motivated to write well of the person. Returning later to write a negative review would seem suspicious to readers.

I suspect that checks and balances -- as with eBay's rating systems -- could be devised to help deal with the situation and make the idea viable.

November 03, 2002

Too Good -- or Bad -- to Be True

An amazing bit of information from last Wednesday's episode of the public radio show Marketplace:

So, there's a publication called CFO Magazine. Every year, it gives out Excellence Awards to truly exemplary CFOs. Listen to who got the CFO Magazine Excellence Awards in 1998, 1999 and 2000: the WorldCom guy, the Enron guy, followed by the Tyco guy. And, what name was among the winners in 2001? Kenneth Lonchar, the former Veritas Software CFO without a Stanford MBA. But wait, there's more: CFO's Excellence Awards in 2001 were sponsored by accountants Arthur Andersen.

Figuring we had a leading indicator on our hands, we looked into the 2002 winners, but could find no record. A call to CFO Magazine confirmed its awards competition is on hiatus and may need to be retooled.

Was there anyone who didn't buy into the bubble?

November 02, 2002

Dissembling, But Not Necessarily in a Bad Way

I was thinking the other day about how people use certain phrases to signal --wittingly or otherwise -- that they mean the exact opposite. For example, when a particular friend of mine says, "That's all I have to say about that," in fact he means the exact opposite but awaits questioning to draw out the details. For me, it's when I say, "It's not my place to say," which in fact means I secretly believe it is my place to say, but am biting my tongue in the interest of harmony.

I'd like to compile a list of these sorts of phrases. What is it that you say when you mean the exact opposite? Let me know, and I'll post the results in a future entry.

November 01, 2002

More on Seahawks Stadium

A few weeks ago, I posted a picture of Seahawks Stadium in an entry in my extended family blog from my trip to Seattle. A friend of mine from Seattle, Kathryn Baker -- actually, she's a hero of mine, though she won't know that until she reads this, and I'm sure she'll be terribly embarrassed by it -- wrote to me to say this:

I was at Seahawks Stadium on Opening Day -- saw the game (very, very sad) and the awesome fireworks. The stadium can't hold a candle to Safeco Field in terms of a great all-around stadium, but it is fairly nice. One very bad thing -- if you get the cheaper seats (by that I mean the $30.00 ones) you end up in the last rows waaaay up at the top of the stands and under the roof. This is fine if it's raining, but truly sucks as far as sound goes. That roof creates a huge echo chamber and the sound of the fans increases by about 100 and drowns out any commentary that comes out over the loudspeakers. Plus you are very far from the field so the view isn't that great.

The best seats are the cheapest ones, which are the bleachers at the end zone. But that leaves you uncovered in the event of bad weather. If you're going to go, spring for the good seats closer to the field so you can actually see the game.

Another beef I have with that stadium -- they boasted about all the monitors all over the stadium so that you never miss a play. There are monitors at all the bars and food stands, but they have commercials and menus on them -- at least they did on Opening Day. Maybe that's changed or they got the linkup so that the game is broadcast on them now, but when I was there, all I got to see were some terrible commercials and the overpriced menu displayed over and over again.

Plus, they messed up my order at the food stand...

Thanks, Kathryn!