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July 31, 2003

Anti-Gay Republicans

From an article in the New York Times, "Bush Looking for Means to Prevent Gay Marriage in U.S.":

President Bush said today that federal government lawyers are working on legislation that would define marriage as a union between a man and woman.

"I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and I believe we ought to codify that one way or the other, and we have lawyers looking at the best way to do that," Mr. Bush said at a news conference in the Rose Garden.

The president's comments, coming only a few weeks after the Supreme Court overturned a Texas law banning sodomy and holding, in effect, that whatever consenting adults do in private is their own business, seemed likely to reignite issues that have deep social and political implications.

Mr. Bush was responding to a question premised on the assumption that many of his political supporters believe "that homosexuality is immoral" and has been given too much cultural acceptance.

"As someone who's spoken out in strongly moral terms, what's your view on homosexuality?" a reporter asked the president.

"Yeah, I am mindful that we're all sinners," Mr. Bush replied. "And I caution those who may try to take the speck out of their neighbor's eye when they got a log in their own. I think it's very important for our society to respect each individual, to welcome those with good hearts, to be a welcoming country.

"On the other hand," Mr. Bush continued, "that does not mean that somebody like me needs to compromise on issues such as marriage. And that's really where the issue is headed here in Washington, and that is the definition of marriage. I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman. And I think we ought to codify that one way or the other. And we've got lawyers looking at the best way to do that." ...

Mr. Bush's declaration that marriage is properly defined as a union between a man and a woman was not new in itself. His former spokesman, Ari Fleischer, reiterated that very point on July 1, when the White House declined to endorse the idea of a constitutional amendment that would effectively ban gay marriage.

But Mr. Fleischer declined at that time to say whether the president supported a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, as proposed by Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican majority leader.

Senator Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who angered many gays earlier this year with his remarks linking homosexuality to polygamy and incest, wrote to constituents last year to express support for what has been dubbed the Federal Marriage Amendment by its backers.

Let's be clear about this, shall we?

Anti-gay Republicans are pursuing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage because a) court decisions on gay rights have gone against them (and may well continue to do so), b) they believe they may have enough political support to enact such an amendment, and c) they know their opponents can't muster a comparable level of political support. Were the tables turned -- were court decisions going their way but political support for them waning -- anti-gay Republicans would be crying "states' rights" and demanding that legislative bodies stay out of the fight.

Don't Let the Dogs Eat the Dog Food

Via Xeni Jardin, a great quote from a recent Wall Street Journal article on privacy concerns around phonecams:

Samsung Electronics, the world's third-largest maker of cell phones, has forbidden staff and visitors (effective July 14) from using camera-equipped phones in most of its semiconductor, flat-panel and electronics factories and research facilities, for fear that they could be used for industrial espionage. This from the company credited with developing the first camera handset. On its Web site it enthusiastically envisions "a time when camera phones will become not only a novel option and nice-to-have feature, but a mandatory function, a permanent requirement of the global mobile consumer." Except in its own factories, apparently.
Good catch there by the Journal.

July 30, 2003

Evil Construction

If you're an evil supervillain, and you want to build a rocket base inside a dormant volcano, or a supertanker that can disable and swallow ballistic missile submarines, or any sort of grandiose structure along such lines, how does it get built? I mean, sure, workers build it, but whose workers? Do you put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for your evil facility? Is there some sort of Evil RFP network? How do evil contractors find out about it? How do they join? Is it "low bid wins," or something more like "most evil bid wins"? Once you select a contractor, how do they manage all the logistics? I mean, a rocket base inside a dormant volcano? That sounds like 10,000 construction workers. Where do they all reside? What happens to them after the project? Are they killed to ensure their silence? If so, where do you find your next batch of workers?

It's funny how this kind of stuff doesn't occur to you when you're 10 years old, or even 20, but you're considering it at 30, and then at 40 you can't watch an old favorite without thinking about it. Or am I the only one?

July 29, 2003

"A Kind of Cockamamie Sincerity"

Last weekend, I saw Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Afterwards, my kids asked me what I thought of Johnny Depp as "Captain Sparrow." I said that I had no idea what he was doing, and yet whatever it was, I couldn't stop watching it. Roger Ebert was somewhat more eloquent than me in his review:

And yet the movie made me grin at times, and savor the daffy plot, and enjoy the way Depp and [Geoffrey] Rush fearlessly provide performances that seem nourished by deep wells of nuttiness. Depp in particular seems to be channeling a drunken drag queen, with his eyeliner and the way he minces ashore and slurs his dialogue ever so insouciantly. Don't mistake me: This is not a criticism, but admiration for his work. It can be said that his performance is original in its every atom. There has never been a pirate, or for that matter a human being, like this in any other movie. There's some talk about how he got too much sun while he was stranded on that island, but his behavior shows a lifetime of rehearsal. He is a peacock in full display.

Consider how boring it would have been if Depp had played the role straight, as an Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks (Sr. or Jr.) might have. To take this material seriously would make it unbearable. Capt. Sparrow's behavior is so rococo that other members of the cast actually comment on it. And yet because it is consistent and because you can never catch Depp making fun of the character, it rises to a kind of cockamamie sincerity.

Another reviewer wrote that Depp seemed like someone who had ridden too many roller coasters, which sounds about right.

If, six months ago, you had asked me about the prospects for a movie based on a theme park ride, I would have laughed. But Pirates works and was great fun, if 20 minutes too long.

July 28, 2003

The Next Big Thing in Movies?

From a story on 3-D in feature films in the New York Times last week:

"Whenever Hollywood is at a point where things are getting desperate, 3-D seems to be the first rabbit they try to pull out of the hat," said Robert Thompson, professor of media and culture at Syracuse University.

Perhaps desperation is too harsh a word for the nervousness now spreading through the studios, but it's not far off.

The big-budget franchise films -- the sequels, prequels, remakes and the like -- that have proved to be the most reliable bets for studio executives in recent years are suddenly not performing as the marketers and the numbers-crunchers expected, from "The Hulk" to "Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle." Both box office revenue and attendance are down significantly this summer, despite a steady churn of these movies.

The computer animation that created a revolution in special effects, allowing directors to recreate ancient Rome or insert an army of 10,000 at the click of a button, had been helping to keep franchise fever alive. But now there is a growing sense that audiences have seen what this new technology can do, and nothing deflates Hollywood hype faster than "been there, done that."

A result is that the heavily courted under-25 audience has become apathetic, some might even say discerning. So perhaps 3-D will do the trick. "Three-D has always been something we, in the audience, have been particularly interested in," said Jeanine Basinger, chairwoman of the film studies department at Wesleyan University. "Let's face it, those of us who are film nuts want to get up there in the picture."

This isn't going to happen. As long as 3-D requires distracting glasses and causes headaches, it's going to be a novelty at best. IMAX would be a better choice to provide enjoyable immersion, but of course would require completely new theaters be built, which also won't happen.

My theory is that the next big thing in movies will to make them without any computer graphics at all. As the article above points out, "there is a growing sense that audiences have seen what [computer animation] can do, and nothing deflates Hollywood hype faster than 'been there, done that.'" Imagine, though, going to see an action movie where you knew that everything in it was real. Imagine directors working to create amazing shots without any help from 3ds max or Maya. Imagine looking at someone apparently risking his or her life in a shot and knowing that he or she really did so. Though this approach would only be possible for certain types of movies, when used, it could bring back a sense of exhilaration that's quickly fading as we watch movies knowing exactly how artificial they are.

July 27, 2003

Animals, Limbs, and Memory

When a reasonably intelligent animal -- say, a dog or a cat -- loses a leg in an accident, does it forget it ever had it, or does it always remember that it once had four legs? If it forgets, what about if it has a dream in which it has four legs? Does it wake up believing it has four legs and then have to readjust to reality? Would that trigger a memory, even temporarily?

Galactus and Andromedax

From The Book of Ratings' entry for Marvel supervillains, part one:


Stan Lee thinks big. He came up with Galactus, a massive purple guy who eats entire planets. That's menacing! To get any more epic in scope, you'd have to have Andromedax, The Galaxy Who Shoots Other Galaxies With A Big, Galaxy-Sized Bazooka. Even better, Galactus isn't some sort of hand-chafing nefarious schemer. He's just very large, very hungry, and loves the great taste of ecospheres. A+

My son Cameron, who wants to rule the world, has now decided he wants to be "Andromedax, The Galaxy Who Shoots Other Galaxies With A Big, Galaxy-Sized Bazooka." I can relate to this.

July 26, 2003

More on Push-to-Talk

More on the push-to-talk controversy:

Nextel Communications Inc. isn't backing down in the face of yet another challenge to its push-to-talk services from Verizon Wireless.

Verizon's latest complaint filed in federal court objects to Nextel's trademark of the words 'push to talk' and 'PTT.'

Nextel shot back that it is fully secure in the trademarks of those words. 'We are as confident in Nextel's trademark rights for Push To Talk and PTT as we are in our technological leadership. The U.S. Patent and Trademark office's approval of these marks indicate we're not alone in this belief. We're certain the courts will agree, too,' it said in a statement.

Citing a USPTO approval to defend your position is like saying you're good looking because your mother says so. Sure, it may be true, but since almost anyone can say it, it doesn't matter.

July 25, 2003

Cringely Goes Off the Deep End

Via Slashdot and boing boing, Robert X. Cringely's latest idea:

Without having been truly tested, so far I have yet to find a lawyer who sees a serious flaw in my logic...

I call my idea Son of Napster, or Snapster for short...

Snapster is all about ownership. Snapster will be a company that buys at retail one copy of every CD on the market... Snapster will also be a download service with central servers capable of millions of transactions per day...

Snapster has to be a public company. It would have its IPO as soon as possible after all those CDs have been delivered. It must be a public company right from the start of operations... What is critical here for the business success is not the price per share but the broadest possible ownership of shares...

Each Snapster share carries ownership rights to those 100,000 CDs. You see, Snapster is a kind of mutual fund, so every investor is a beneficial owner of all 100,000 CDs. Each share also carries the right to download backup or media-shifting copies for $0.05 per song or $0.50 per CD, that download coming from a separate company we'll call Snapster Download that is 100 percent owned by Snapster...

What I have described is legal, it just leverages technology in a way that has never been done before. There are precedents for group ownership of recordings and certainly the law of mutual funds is very clear. Of course, the RIAA will have a response. They will file suit, probably claiming restraint of trade, but this simply will not stand and it is impossible to believe they could get any form of retraining order. Still, Snapster must have funds to support a vigorous defense -- a defense that has been planned well in advance. The RIAA will also try to have laws passed making Snapster illegal, so an anti-RIAA lobbying effort would also be a good idea.

Either this is an April Fool's joke that's off by a season, or it's the dumbest idea I've ever heard from a high-profile technology columnist.

If Cringely's theory were correct, then corporations could buy one copy each of Microsoft Windows, Adobe Photoshop, or any other copyrighted software title, then load them on a server and allow all their employees to "download backup or media-shifting copies" at will. The answer is that they can't, because to do so wouldn't be fair use, it would be outright theft. No judge in this country would allow a service like this to go forward. Though he writes, "it is impossible to believe [the RIAA] could get any form of retraining [sic] order," a restraining order is exactly what any judge would be legally compelled to provide.

As a Slashdot commentator wrote:

"Would it replace a sale" is a shorthand way of saying, "would you normally need to buy it to do what you're doing?" The relevant law is 17 U.S.C. 107 [cornell.edu], "Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use":
In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include...


the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

I'd say his idea is a slam dunk not-fair-use under section four, as (he freely admits) it would "destroy the potential market for...the copyrighted work." Not fair use, not legal, not a good business idea.
The truly frightening thing to me is Cringely's statement, "I have yet to find a lawyer who sees a serious flaw in my logic." What? Is he serious? If so, I'd like a list of these lawyers published so that I can make sure to never, ever retain them.

July 24, 2003

Joi Ito in the New York Times

From a story in the New York Times on instant messaging and blogging during classes, conferences, lectures, and the like:

Joichi Ito, a venture capitalist and former chief executive for the Japanese branch of the Internet service provider PSINet, opened a chat room for back-channeling during Supernova, a communications conference held this month in Crystal City, Va., just outside Washington. But Mr. Ito readily acknowledges the downside. "There is definitely a lot less focus in the room," he said, "but I think we were already starting to suffer from that."

At high-tech conferences where everyone is already wired to the gills with BlackBerry pagers and cellphones and can cope easily with constant connectedness and streaming information, the concept of multitrack communication channels almost seems matter-of-course. "This is not something that is going to go away," Mr. Ito said. As many technology experts point out, if laptops were banned, people would use cellphones. If wireless Internet access were not officially available, networking gurus would find a way to create ad hoc connections.

Some observers say that the multitrack channels will simply be considered a given by a young generation that has honed multitasking to a fine art and grew up on VH1's "pop-up" videos, in which commentary about the artists pops up on the screen during the song.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ito is already creating a new riff on the concept. He said he was working with a group on designing a "hecklebot," a light-emitting diode screen that displays heckling messages that are typed during online chats at conferences. "I want to make something that I can put in a suitcase and take to conferences," he said. He describes it as a subversive device that will get people thinking about the significance of the back channel. From the chat room, he said, "you could send something like, 'Stop pontificating.' "

If back channeling improves the quality of speeches during conferences -- many of which can be stultifying -- then I'm all for it.

From Majors to Discounters

The Wall Street Journal's Scott McCartney wrote a recent column on the shift in traffic from major airlines to their discounter rivals:

Fewer passengers are going to the old-line hub-and-spoke airlines. More passengers are choosing low-fare carriers. And, at least in the month of June, if you look hard at the numbers, you'll see there's a one-for-one ratio in the shift.

In June, the six biggest full-service airlines domestically flew 1.2 billion fewer revenue passenger miles than in June 2002. That same month, the nation's eight low-fare carriers flew 1.2 billion more revenue passenger miles than a year ago. A revenue passenger mile is the industry's standard measure of traffic, one paying customer flown one mile...

June, it turns out, was a great illustration of the shift that is going on in air travel. JetBlue Airways saw 63% growth in passenger traffic; ATA Airlines and AirTran both recorded traffic increases of more than 20%. Southwest Airlines, already the fourth-largest domestic carrier, notched growth of 5.2% in the month.

At the same time, AMR Corp.'s American Airlines saw its domestic traffic drop 4.1%. UAL Corp.'s United Airlines fell 2.6% domestically; Delta Air Line's traffic declined a hefty 5.3% domestically, and Northwest Airlines recorded a 4.3% drop in domestic traffic. US Airways had the biggest decline at 11.7%; Continental was the only full-service carrier to see its domestic traffic grow in June, with an impressive counter-trend gain of 3.4%.

Add it all up, and the shift is basically one-for-one. What the full-service carriers lost, the discounters gained. Anecdotally, we know lots of travelers say they have switched.

I've flown mostly American for the last 16 years. I have 1.5 million lifetime miles and currently hold Platinum status (I've been Executive Platinum in the past, and at 1 million miles became Gold for life). I've been a paying member of the Admirals Club for most of that time -- at least 11 years, I think. It used to be that all this counted for something. I'm not sure it does anymore.

Earlier this month, using frequent flier miles, I flew from Raleigh/Durham to Seattle and back for my vacation. Here's a quick summary of my experience:

  • Although I didn't want to spend the miles to do so, I had to fly first class because of a lack of coach seats -- and then had only one option on my requested dates in each direction.
  • At the Seattle check-in counter, the automated check-in line was considerably shorter than the first class line. Due to a change in my ticket, however, I couldn't use automated check-in, and instead of having someone simply fix my problem on the spot, I was sent down to the ticket purchase line.
  • When the pre-meal service started on the Seattle-Chicago flight, I was especially hungry and so asked for a second bowl of nuts. Nope, I was told. American used to stock extras, but no more -- now it's only enough for one small bowl for each first class passenger.
  • I try to avoid caffeine. American used to stock Caffeine-Free Diet Coke and Diet Sprite. Now, due to cost-cutting, they don't stock either. If I want a diet drink without caffeine, it's water or club soda.
  • The Admirals Clubs still stock the same old lame snacks, one snack per club. They still force members to go across a large club to a bar and ask for soda, rather than stocking open refrigerators (as do international clubs and some clubs of domestic airlines, like Alaska's).
  • As, I suppose, perverse compensation for the lame snacks, Admirals Clubs now offer overpriced meals -- in other words, members pay to belong to the club and then have to pay again to eat anything beyond snack mix. Of course, bringing food from the outside is banned, giving them a semi-captive audience.
The major US airlines are cutting service to the bone to bring their costs in line with the discount airlines. But if they continue down this path to its ultimate conclusion, they'll end up with horrible service, yet they'll never be able to match the low cost and flexibility of the discounters' non-unionized work forces. In other words, they're on a path to failure.

I'm not anxious to start flying Southwest Airlines. If I fly a lot, and give an airline a lot of business, I'd like my seat selection to reflect that, rather than being based on how early I arrive at the airport. But if JetBlue served Raleigh/Durham, I'd be taking a serious look at it.

July 23, 2003

Taking Medicines for Granted

My friend, the talented Cory Doctorow, writes today about switching to a new, much cheaper drug to treat his acid reflux condition. By way of introduction, he writes:

I take a pill every day, one of a class of drugs called Protease Pump Inhibitors (PPI), for acid reflux (really wicked-bad heartburn). There are a lot of different ones -- Nexium, Prilosec, Aciphex, and so on -- but they all do the same thing: keep me from being in intense pain for more than half my waking hours. They're also all horrendously overpriced -- $3-5 a pill. I have health insurance, but my monthly co-pay is $25/month, and every single time I refill my prescription my asshole insurance company gives me some kind of run-around: I have to call them, call my doctor, whatever.
I'm going to call Cory on this. PPIs "keep [him] from being in intense pain for more than half [his] waking hours," but at the same time are "all horrendously overpriced -- $3-5 a pill." What am I missing here? If I had a condition that caused me to be in intense pain for more than nine hours a day, $3-5 per day would seem eminently reasonable to relieve the pain.

Put another way, if I had Cory's condition, PPIs didn't exist, and a pharmaceutical company said to me, "We think we can develop a drug to relieve your pain, but it will cost you $3-5 per day," I'd sign up in a heartbeat. But human nature being what it is, we take for granted that which we already possess, and so once I had the medicine, I'd probably grumble about the price, just as Cory is doing.

(By the way, I believe Cory meant to say proton pump inhibitors, which are used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease. Protease inhibitors are used to treat HIV.)

July 22, 2003

RAVE Act Abuse

From a story on AlterNet last month:

Only two months after the RAVE Act was passed by Congress it has been used by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to intimidate the owners of a Billings, Montana, venue into canceling a combined benefit for the Montana chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). One of the biggest reasons activists waged a national campaign to stop the RAVE Act was the fear that it would be used to shut down political events like this.

On the day the fundraiser was set to take place a Billings-based DEA agent presented the venue owners with a copy of the RAVE Act warning them that they could face a fine of $250,000 if illicit drugs were found in the premises. The bands -- most of which regularly played at the venue -- were also approached and warned that their participation in the event could result in a fine.

Rather than risk the possibility of enormous fines, the venue decided to cancel the event. This blatant intimidation by the DEA was obviously designed to shut down the marijuana reform fundraiser. Unless the American people speak out against this attack on free speech, the DEA will be emboldened to use the law against other events they do not like, such as all-night dance parties, hip hop concerts, hemp festivals, and circuit parties...

The RAVE Act expands federal law to make it easier to jail and imprison event organizers and property owners that fail to stop drug offenses from occurring on their property -- even in cases when they take serious steps to reduce drug offenses. It applies to "any place", including bars and nightclubs, hotels, apartment buildings, and homes. Legal experts warned that the law was so broad that it could be used to shut down not only raves and electronic music events, but also Hip Hop, rock, and country music concerts, sporting events, gay and lesbian fundraisers, political protests, and any other event federal agents do not like.

On May 30th an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told managers of the Eagle Lodge in Billings, Montana that the Lodge could be fined $250,000 if anyone smoked marijuana during a planned benefit to raise money for a campaign to change Montana's medical marijuana law. After consulting their attorneys, the Eagle Lodge canceled the event.

Using anti-drug laws to make it more difficult to organize opposition to anti-drug laws? That's clever. It's not right, but it's clever.

The Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund's page on the RAVE Act (technically the "Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act") can be found here. (By the way, I tried to find a pro-RAVE Act Website to provide the other side's opinion, but after sifting through 30 pages of Google entries, couldn't do so.)

July 21, 2003

The Birth of Acrobat

In his entry on our lunch together last week, Robert Scoble wrote:

[T]oday I had lunch with Frank Boosman, who was one of the original program managers for Adobe Acrobat.
At first I was just going to write an entry saying that I was the original product marketing manager for Acrobat, but later thought that perhaps I should use this opportunity to tell the story of how Acrobat came to be.

From late 1998 until its acquisition by Adobe in early 1990, I worked for Emerald City Software, a 15-person firm focused on Adobe-related utlities. Founded by Randy Adams, Emerald City's first product had been Lasertalk, a development tool that used proprietary code licensed from Adobe to read the raw image buffer of a PostScript printer. The resulting program enabled programmers to execute PostScript programs and then view the results. At the time -- prior to the availability of Display PostScript on desktop PCs -- this was quite unique.

Later, Randy started thinking about using this same technology to provide a graphic arts utility with high-quality preview. (Keep in mind that at the time, graphics libraries for Macintosh and Windows were extremely limited.) I was at Mediagenic (a short-lived name for Activision, followed by an even shorter-lived name for the applications division, the truly horrible "TEN-point-O") and, having met Randy at a local event, was discussing with him the idea of publishing such a title. Eventually I decided to leave Mediagenic, Randy decided to self-publish his program, and I joined Emerald City Software as its first product manager. We shipped the product, Smart Art, early in 1989.

(By a complete coincidence, at Mediagenic I was the product specialist (i.e., product manager) for Open It, a Macintosh software product that enabled print-to-disk and document viewing -- Acrobat Light, in essence. Open It was written by Randy Ubillos, who went on to create Adobe Premiere and Apple's Final Cut Pro, but that's another story.)

Soon after shipping Smart Art, we learned that Adobe was going to ship a new type utility for the Macintosh, Adobe Type Manager (ATM), that would provide high-quality scalable typefaces on-screen and on non-PostScript printers. We also learned that a proprietary backdoor interface into ATM would enable us to render not only scaled text, but rotated and sheared text as well. Randy had the idea to create an Macintosh desk accessory that would enable users to draw text on a curve, distort it, and then paste it into word processing or drawing documents. (I'm sure this all sounds quite straightforward, but at the time, it wasn't even clear this was possible until Randy coded a proof-of-concept version.) We shipped this product, TypeAlign, on an amazingly short schedule -- nine weeks from proof-of-concept to golden master -- in order to ride the wave of ATM publicity.

Another PostScript-related product followed, and by early 1990, we were in serious discussions to be acquired by Adobe. The acquisition happened around February of 1990.

Immediately after the acqusition, I was actually quite concerned about what I was going to be doing at Adobe. I looked around and saw product marketing managers working on extremely high-profile products, whereas I was working on a proposal to update SmartArt using the Adobe Illustrator rendering engine. It felt... well, small, actually. The proposal was made in April of 1990 -- without me, as it turns out, as my daughter was being born -- and accepted. I came back to work and settled in to do the real work of product planning.

After having been back in the office a couple of months -- it was around June or July of 1990, I think -- Randy, who had been made VP of engineering for the applications division -- called a meeting without saying what it was about. I showed up to find him and a group of engineers -- mostly ex-Emerald City engineers, including Ed Hall, Mike Diamond, Mike Pell, and Bill Woodruff -- but also including joe holt, an old friend of mine whom I had helped recruit to Adobe.

Randy opened the meeting by saying something like, "John Warnock has an idea for doing platform-independent documents." That was the first I had ever heard of the concept behind Acrobat. According to Randy, we had two weeks to get a demonstration version ready. Bill came up with the code name Carousel, which stuck for the first couple of years of the project.

As I recall, joe and Ed did most of the engineering work, while I designed the user interface. Of course, with only two weeks, we had to cheat. I designed pages of content and stored them at Macintosh PICT resources. We created documents with sequences of these PICT resources, then loaded them into a viewer one at a time. It was, in some sense, too effective a demonstration: we were showing documents that were basically pre-rendered, whereas with the real product, we would have to do all the rendering ourselves, making viewing slower. We spent much of the Carousel/Acrobat development cycle trying to live up to the speed and fluidity of that first demo version.

In any case, we had the meeting with John, who liked what we had done and gave us the go-ahead on the project. Most of the team went back to their original duties, leaving Mike Pell and I as the only full-time team members for the first few months, until others within Adobe began to understand how important the project was and its need for resources. And that's how Acrobat began.

By the way, if anyone on the project reads this, I'd love to hear your recollections as well.

July 20, 2003

Airlines, IDs, and Slippery Slopes

Via boing boing, a message by John Gilmore posted to Declan McCullagh's Politech list:

My sweetheart Annie and I tried to fly to London today (Friday) on British Airways. We started at SFO, showed our passports and got through all the rigamarole, and were seated on the plane while it taxied out toward takeoff. Suddenly a flight steward, Cabin Service Director Khaleel Miyan, loomed in front of me and demanded that I remove a small 1" button pinned to my left lapel. I declined, saying that it was a political statement and that he had no right to censor passengers' political speech. The button, which was created by political activist Emi Koyama, says "Suspected Terrorist"...

The steward returned with Capt. Peter Hughes. The captain requested, and then demanded, that I remove the button (they called it a "badge"). He said that I would endanger the aircraft and commit a federal crime if I did not take it off. I told him that it was a political statement and declined to remove it.

They turned the plane around and brought it back to the gate, delaying 300 passengers on a full flight.

We were met at the jetway by Carol Spear, Station Manager for BA at SFO. She stated that since the captain had told her he was refusing to transport me as a passenger, she had no other course but to take me off the plane...

She said that passengers and crew are nervous about terrorism and that mentioning it bothers them, and that is grounds to exclude me. I suggested that if they wanted to exclude mentions of terrorists from the airplane, then they should remove all the newspapers from it too.

I asked whether I would be permitted to fly if I wore other buttons, perhaps one saying "Hooray for Tony Blair". She said she thought that would be OK. I said, how about "Terrorism is Evil". She said that I probably wouldn't get on. I started to discuss other possible buttons, like "Oppose Terrorism", trying to figure out what kinds of political speech I would be permitted to express in a BA plane, but she said that we could stand there making hypotheticals all night and she wasn't interested. Ultimately, I was refused passage because I would not censor myself at her command.

John has been making a principled stand against airlines' policies to demand identification for domestic flights (news here and here; FAQ here). For this international flight, he was willing to show his passport, but not to withdraw a political statement. I applaud him for his devotion to his principles.

While I understand why airlines might want to require IDs, I nevertheless believe that John is onto something important here. In the Soviet Union -- and presumably continuing in some countries today -- citizens were required to carry internal passports. Domestic travel was a privilege, not a right. Given the Bush administration's attitudes towards civil liberties, we could find ourselves on a slippery slope that leads to US citizens being required to show ID in order to travel anywhere.

Ask yourself: would you be shocked if a state were to require IDs for drivers and passengers to enter it? It's not a huge stretch: California, for one, already has checkpoints at many crossings, built for agricultural inspections but easily repurposable. I'd be angry, for sure; outraged, probably; but shocked? No.

July 19, 2003

Cameras on Airliners

From a Wired News story:

Southeast Airlines said it plans to install digital video cameras throughout the cabins of its planes to record the faces and activities of its passengers at all times, as a precaution against terrorism and other safety threats.

In addition, the charter airline, based in Largo, Florida, will store the digitized video for up to 10 years. And it may use face recognition software to match faces to names and personal records, the airline said.

"One of the strong capabilities of the system is for the corporate office to be able to monitor what is going on at all times," said Scott Bacon, Southeast's vice president of planning. "From a security standpoint, this provides a great advantage to assure that there is a safe environment at all times."

How exactly will having cameras "assure that there is a safe environment at all times?" I understand the theory behind surveillance cameras: to enable a limited number of security personnel to effectively guard more territory than would otherwise be possible. But on an airplane? They're tiny spaces, with at least three flight attendants each on standard jets. What will the cameras show that the flight attendants won't be able to see with their own eyes?

The article goes on:

"We can install up to 16 cameras that can be located throughout the plane and could be covert or overt," said David Huy, SkyWay vice president of sales and marketing. "It enables us to monitor the activity in the aircraft in real time. We feel this will be very important. The federal government is looking at mandating some camera security and surveillance."
Now, of course, we know that airlines have been highly resistant to potential safety and security mandates. Are we to believe that an airline wants to spend money on such measures before being forced to do so?
He conceded the system would not prevent determined terrorists from sabotaging a plane, as the terrorists of the Sept. 11 attacks did. The purpose is to help law enforcement identify criminals and keep track of their whereabouts.
Their whereabouts? The criminal is on a plane! It's going from Point A to Point B! He can't get off!
Pilots could check the cabin before opening the cockpit door during a flight.
So I guess the viewing ports in the new reinforced doors are useless.
And, airlines could use the records to defend themselves in lawsuits over situations like air rage.
Now this is starting to sound more like a reason an airline would install cameras. But I don't think it's the real reason. The real reason is that this is a publicity stunt. Southeast is a tiny airline, classified as a charter service. They're looking for a way of bringing themselves some publicity -- and it has worked. Unfortunately, if prods the federal government into requiring such cameras -- "hey, look, the airlines are doing it on their own -- let's mandate it!" -- then Southeast will have done a great disservice in the pursuit of their own ends.

July 18, 2003

Why Free Wi-Fi Would Benefit Starbucks

From an article on Wi-Fi in the New York Times earlier this week:

"There is a lively debate going on," [said Alan Reiter, publisher of Wireless Internet and Mobile Computing, an industry newsletter based in Chevy Chase, Md.], "over whether Wi-Fi should be free or not."

He pointed to examples of some chains that have decided to use the service as a loss leader. Evidence supporting the powerful attraction of Wi-Fi comes in reports that both Schlotsky's Deli and the Wyndham hotel chains have recently claimed that free Wi-Fi has measurably increased business.

By the same token, because more than 60 percent of Starbucks' business comes before 9 a.m., he said, the company may be able to use Wi-Fi to help lift sales during less-busy times of the day.

"They have plenty of room after 9 a.m. and they think they can use Wi-Fi to drive traffic," Mr. Reiter said.

Come to think of it, why isn't Starbucks using demand-based pricing for its Wi-Fi service? They should lower the price (possibly to zero), perhaps in conjunction with a purchase during their slower hours -- say, from 9:00 to 11:00 AM, and again from 2:00 to 4:00 PM (I'm guessing here).

To answer the obvious objection that this strategy will leave money on the table when it comes to people who are using Starbucks as their office during the day, would a 30-minute voucher for free Wi-Fi with a purchase really make that much difference? If you're using Starbucks as your office, then you're probably going to spend more than 30 minutes on Wi-Fi, unless you're a writer who doesn't need Internet access or can pick up a free Wi-Fi signal from elsewhere. In either case it wouldn't matter. Meanwhile, Starbucks is selling more coffee. I presume coffee has a very low variable cost, so Starbucks' overriding interest has to be to sell as many additional cups of it as possible.

July 17, 2003

The Downward Spiral of Reality TV

In its July 2003 issue, Vanity Fair published an article (unavailable online), "Reality Kings," on the people leading the development of new reality television programs. There's a great quote near the end of the article:

"The problem for these types of shows is you can't do the same trick continually, so each time there has to be an escalation of whatever the trick is," says retired NBC president Don Ohlmeyer, who has become a critic of reality TV. "You finally get to the point where the only trick left is self-immolating monks in Times Square. The question becomes: How far does the sequence go before you reach Times Square?"
Whatever the path may turn out to be between Joe Millionaire and Hunka Hunka Burnin' Monks, we at least know the next few steps along it, courtesy of the article: 101 Things Pulled from the Human Body, Miss Dog Beauty Pageant, and so on.


July 16, 2003

Lunch with Robert Scoble

Still catching up on my meetings from Monday...

Robert Scoble and I met at Joi Ito's party in Palo Alto earlier this year. After his move to Microsoft, we made plans to get together the next time I was in the Pacific Northwest (where I have family and friends).

We met for lunch on the Microsoft campus. As he said in his entry, there wasn't a single theme, but rather just an interesting discussion. We talked about trusted computing, messenger spam, the environment at Microsoft, the viability of Linux on the desktop, user interface evolution, and probably some other things that I'm forgetting.

One thing that came up was lobbying Joi to hold his next party in Seattle. Joi, consider this the start of the lobbying. Robert and I are volunteering to help with venue selection, and I think Robert might be able to pull something interesting out of his Microsoft hat as well...

July 15, 2003

Meeting John Ludwig

I'm finishing up my Pacific Northwest vacation. Yesterday I met with John Ludwig of Ignition Partners. I came to know John when he linked to an entry of mine on his blog. The idea of a venture capitalist with a blog sounded very cool -- it just didn't fit my usual profile of VCs. We traded messages and agreed to get together the next time I was out in Seattle. It turns out that John is just as interesting as one would expect from reading his blog, and a genuinely nice guy to boot.

An ex-Microsoft executive turned VC who's a really nice guy? Next someone is going to tell me that the best golfer in the world is black, or that the tallest player in the NBA is Chinese...

July 11, 2003

Union v. Charter

Via Mickey Kaus, a column from the Sacramento Bee:

The [Sacramento school] district has been trying to re-invent Sacramento High School, a troubled school... officially on the list of the state's "low-performing" schools and [facing] a possible state takeover.

Instead, the district school board voted earlier this year to close the campus and hand the grounds to a nonprofit corporation headed by former NBA basketball star Kevin Johnson, who graduated from Sacramento High... Johnson... is using his money and connections to try to spur an economic and spiritual resurgence in the area...

Sacramento High would be a public charter school, meaning it would get its funding directly from the state and escape many of the rules and regulations that weigh down traditional public schools. It would be held accountable for its results rather than its processes -- and the students would be expected to meet clear academic and behavioral standards. At least at the start, the teachers would not be members of the local union, the Sacramento City Teachers Association.

That's the problem. The union could not accept the loss of membership and control, and has done everything possible to stop the school's rebirth...

Once the school board voted narrowly to move ahead, the local union, with the backing of the California Teachers Association, took the district to court. The teachers' claim: The school was illegal because it wasn't really new but only a conversion of the old campus. State law, the union insisted, required the support of half the school's teachers for a conversion. If the school was closed and reopened, parental backing would be sufficient.

The first judge who heard the case rejected the union's request for an emergency order blocking the move and told the plaintiffs they had little chance of prevailing at trial. So the union used a legal maneuver to dump that judge for another.

The new jurist... issued a ruling blocking the school district from moving ahead... Her ruling, now under appeal, seemed to suggest that if the district left the campus shuttered for a year or so, all would be forgiven.

Now Johnson's St. HOPE Corp. is calling parents of more than 1,000 students already enrolled for the fall and circulating new petitions... The union is vowing an all-out fight and is pressuring the school board to cave and return the campus to traditional status...

Despite the uncertainty, the school's founders are moving ahead and have hired dozens of teachers and a corps of well-regarded administrators. Even more heartening, the community isn't giving up on St. HOPE. The nonprofit just announced it has received commitments for more than $1 million in new donations and scholarships. A local developer, a building supply company and a private law school were among the donors. This comes on top of $1 million already pledged by another developer and the UC Davis Medical Center, and $3 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The reborn Sacramento High School has the leadership and the support it needs to soar to new heights on behalf of the capital city's most disadvantaged students. All the school needs to do now is shed the teachers union that is fighting to keep it tied down.

As Mickey wrote, "Note to California Teachers Association: You can't buy bad publicity like that!"

July 10, 2003

Super-OS Layers for Mobile Devices

In a recent exchange on the unwired mailing list, Tom Hume wrote:

With the advent of licensed "reference designs" like Nokia's Series 60, isn't the underlying OS less important than ever?
I replied:
I couldn't agree more with this. Honestly, device OSes are yesterday's battles. They all do pretty much the same things. They all cost money (to Microsoft, Sun, PalmSource, Symbian, a Linux integrator, or your own Linux team). The interesting battles are going to be in the software layers above the OS. We've only just begun to scratch the surface of what we can build in terms of collaborative mobile applications, and there are fortunes to be made in providing those capabilities.

Arguments over OS-level APIs aren't quite as tired as arguments over big-endian versus little-endian byte order, but they're close.

In reply, David Enzer wrote:


Building applications in these handsets even where they support a standard is a major undertaking and time commitment. They all use different code, dsp's and mcu's... getting them to run in real time -- always -- takes a lot of dough and engineering strength.

I answered:

It seems obvious to me that, for the foreseeable future, there will be no clear winner in mobile OSes. Java, Palm OS, Windows for Mobile, Symbian, BREW, Linux, and some others I'm probably forgetting will all have meaningful market shares. The reality is that application developers are going to have to live with a highly fragmented mobile platform for years to come. So does it matter whether Carrier A says it will support OS 1, or whether Carrier B says it will support OS 2? No, it doesn't.

The absence of a single dominnant mobile OS means that super-OS layers will take on even more importance. If, for example, one is building an application for mobile collaboration, then a software layer supporting that, running on a wide variety of mobile OSes, suddenly becomes quite important -- more important, I would argue, than how one draws to the screen or manages memory.

I don't mean to understate the difficulty of making mobile applications really sing. Before switching focus, our company spent over a year working on a mobile client-server-based imaging solution. I know how much work it was to get it to feel right in the user's hands. But we didn't spend a lot of time worrying about OSes -- we picked the two OSes that were right for us, abstracted as much as we could, and built multi-platform from the start (because, as a friend once said, there's no such thing as portable code, only code that has been ported).

It bears repeating: in the mobile device world, super-OS layers will take on increasing importance. From a developer's perspective, the mobile device market isn't just fragmented, it's a sorry mess. We have at least six major OSes and virtually as many provisioning services as there are carriers. Unless the consolidation fairy comes along and waves her magic wand, we (in the US, at least) will be living with this for years to come. Therefore, abstraction layers focused on high-value interactions are where the action will be -- mark my words.

July 09, 2003

In Vancouver

I've been in Seattle and Vancouver the past week, enjoying the outrageously perfect weather and keeping my laptop shut for the most part. I was too busy before leaving to prepare any non-time-sensitive blog entries for use during my trip, hence the lack of new postings. I'll try to rectify that in the next few days -- certainly by Monday of next week.

July 02, 2003

It's Official!

The 2010 Winter Olympics have been awarded to Vancouver!

Congratulations to the people not only of Vancouver, but of British Columbia and all of Canada. I'll see you there in about six and a half years.

Going to Vancouver!

Speaking of Vancouver, I'm off to that part of the world later today, for a much-needed break. I'll be blogging from Vancouver, and later from Seattle, through 16 July.

Today's forecasts:

  • Raleigh, NC: High 84, humidity 100 percent
  • Seattle, WA: High 68, humidity 64 percent
  • Vancouver, BC: High 67, humidity 68 percent
Yeah, baby!

PS -- If the US invades another country while I'm gone, would someone send me an e-mail to let me know? Thanks.

Go Vancouver!

Today is the day that the International Olympic Committee decides on and announces the venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The three final candidates are Vancouver, Canada; Salzburg, Austria; and Pyeongchang, South Korea.

As I've written before (here and here), I think this should be an easy decision. Vancouver is friendly, clean, inexpensive, and has perhaps the most beautiful natural setting of any major city in the world. It also happens to have one of the world's three largest ski resorts an hour and a half north in Whistler.

The IOC announces its decision at 0841 Pacific Time today. If you're in Canada, you can watch the ceremony on CBC, CBC Newsworld, TSN, CTV, Global BC, and probably the Weather Channel for good measure. (GamesBids.com has a complete schedule for the day's events here.)

Go Vancouver!