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January 24, 2009

25 Years of the Mac

Via many sources (MacRumors, TUAW, AppleInsider, Macworld), today is the 25th anniversary of the Mac.

In January of 1984, I was still in the US Army, stationed in Würzburg, Germany, nominally as a Russian interpreter but rarely having any exposure to Russian. Frustrated by spending my time doing make work, and fascinated with computers, I had talked my way into a programming class and been assigned a job programming Apple II computers.

In those days long before the Internet, I was following computing developments in the US as best I could from afar, which meant via magazines, especially the great, long-lost BYTE. In 1983, BYTE had published a lengthy technical overview of Apple's Lisa computer, and the moment I read the phrase "data-as-object metaphor", I was hooked. At the end of the article, the writer alluded to Apple's plans to make a cheaper version of the Lisa (which cost $10,000 at introduction), and I knew it was something I would want -- just the idea of a reasonably-priced graphical user interface-based computer from Apple was all I needed to know.

Steven Levy wrote a story for Rolling Stone on the Macintosh that appeared around the time of its introduction. I can't find it online, but I recall that he cast the team of people creating the Macintosh as the last, best hope against a tide of soulless IBM-compatible PCs running DOS. For a 21-year-old dreaming of a degree in cognitive science and then a career figuring out how to make computers more intelligent and easier with which to interact, it was profoundly moving stuff.

I got out of the Army in June of 1984 and the first place I stopped was Providence, Rhode Island, to visit with a friend of mine who had gone home before me. I got in late one evening and the first thing I did the next morning was to get dressed and walk to the nearest computer store that carried the Macintosh. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

I bought my 128K Macintosh from another friend from my unit who had bought one for himself but then realized he was overextended and needed to sell it. It was literally the only thing of value I owned. I didn't have a car, but I had my Macintosh. It could be frustrating at times, as any Macintosh owner back then will tell you. One could copy only a windowful of graphics from MacPaint at a time. Duplicating a 400K disk with 128K of memory was a seemingly endless series of disk swaps. There was hardly any software available, and of those programs that could be bought, many were bad, thanks to developers who failed to fully embrace the Macintosh method of development. But none of this diminished my affection for the Macintosh.

I upgraded my Macintosh to 512K of RAM, and later to 1MB. I added a SCSI interface to it and a hard drive. I used it actively for about seven or eight years. At home, a Macintosh LC finally took its place, and I still remember how excited I was to get my Macintosh IIci at work. I had PCs at home and at work starting in the early 1990s, but it wasn't until 1998 or 1999 that I wasn't using a Macintosh on a regular basis. Apple had gone downhill and I had made the switch to Windows, though I was never truly happy about it. In as many ways as the Macintosh seemed elegant, Windows seemed clumsy, even after 15 years of development.

In 2005, I finally came back to to the Mac, buying an iMac for home use and figuring I'd gradually move my life back over to it. I bought my MacBook Pro two years later and it's one of the best computers I've ever owned -- so much so that when I travel for work and so must carry a PC laptop, I carry both.

This seems like as good a day as any to reflect on the profound impact the Mac has had on our world. Was the idea of a graphical user interface original to Apple? Absolutely not. But the Macintosh team took a brilliant idea that had been a commercial failure (at both Xerox PARC and with the Lisa) and made out of it a computer that literally changed the world of computing forever -- not just by making it less expensive, but more importantly, by giving it a sense of style, a consistency that inspired belief in its metaphors, and by making it fun in a hundred little ways.

Eventually, some sort of graphical interface would have replaced DOS. It was inevitable. But looking back at the contenders -- Windows, GEM, AmigaOS, and others -- we should all be profoundly grateful that it was the most elegant of them all that shaped how we interact with our computers today.

July 15, 2007

Power and Its Limits in Today's World

Retired British Army general Michael Rose recently wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times comparing the effect on Britain of its loss in the War of Independence to the possible effects on the US of either withdrawing from or hunkering down in Iraq. You know where he's going from the title, "How a Revolution Saved an Empire":

Britain was near bankruptcy when peace with America was officially signed. [William] Pitt [the Younger], however, realized that because of industrialization his nation was about to experience unprecedented economic growth. He rose to prime minister in 1783 and set about creating the necessary economic conditions for Britain to become the workshop of the world.

Pitt also passed the India Bill in 1784 -- thus ensuring that the sort of poor administration that had soured relations with the American colonies would not be repeated in Britain’s other territories...

Most important, Pitt set about rebuilding the British Navy and Army, for he could see that war with France was looming once again. He would often visit the yards to ensure that ships were being constructed on time. Under the energetic direction of the Duke of York, the king’s second son, the army was reorganized and retrained. New commanders were appointed for both services -- men like Nelson and Wellington -- who were determined not to make the same mistakes as their predecessors. It is hardly an overstatement to say that had Britain not ended the American War of Independence when it did, it could never have been in a position to defeat Napoleon.

Rose then goes on to draw an explicit parallel with the United States in 2007:

Today, of course, the United States finds itself in much the same position as Britain in 1781. Distracted and diminished by an irrelevant, costly and probably unwinnable war in Iraq, America could ultimately find itself challenged by countries like China and India. Unless it can find a leader with the moral courage of Pitt, there is a strong probability that it will be forced to relinquish its position as the global superpower -- possibly to a regime that does not have the same commitment to justice and liberty that the United States and Britain have worked so hard to extend across the world over the past two centuries.
There are a variety of forms of power that states wield to advance their goals: not just military, but economic, intellectual, and even moral. After 9/11, the Bush Administration made the conscious decision to fight terrorism primarily with military power. We even have a "War on Terror", which Jerry Brown insightfully called a "war on a strategy".

Rose is absolutely right to point out that the United States has challengers coming on strong. Could we take any country in the world in a stand-up fight? Of course, but then we should expect nothing less given that we spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined (or we did the last time I checked). But that's today.

We've lost the moral power we had prior to and even immediately after 9/11 -- after invading Iraq on false pretenses, and then showing disregard for our own standards of civil liberties, who takes our President seriously? If I don't believe him when he talks, how can I expect someone in Europe to do so -- much less someone in, say, the Middle East? Without that moral power, we may find that we don't have quite so many friends ready to help us when we need it -- and note that we are working with much of NATO just to deal with the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Economic power? Yes, we're still the greatest economic power in the world. But the massive deficits we're running are creating a hole out of which our children and grandchildren will have to dig themselves, just as China is becoming directly competitive with them on virtually every front.

Intellectual power? The US is in many fields still the preeminent source of innovation in the world today. Thank goodness for our university system and our venture capital community, as well as our inherent risk-taking, fault-tolerating, entrepreneurship-celebrating national psychology. But in certain fields, we could find ourselves lagging, if we're not doing so already. Restrictions on stem cell research mean that some of the best work is being done overseas. Failure to enact useful environmental legislation is causing us to fall behind in green technologies.

So if our moral power is nearly gone, our economic power on a long, slow, deficit-induced decline, and our intellectual power inconsistent across industries, what does this mean for us? The days of relying on military power alone to maintain one's position in the world are long gone, for a variety of reasons. One is that the world economy is so interconnected that for one major state to attack another would rightly be seen by all sides as self-destructive, and so highly unlikely. Another is the law of accelerating returns (per Ray Kurzweil): with the rate of progress itself progressing, very slight advantages become dramatic. Technology in the year 1007 AD looked nearly identical to technology in the year 987 AD. But look at how profoundly technology has altered our world in the last two decades. If we fall behind our competitors even by a few years, we could find ourselves at a serious disadvantage.

Rose doesn't offer any prescriptions beyond an implied recommendation that we extricate ourselves from Iraq. That's a good start, one that I believe would make the US and its allies safer almost immediately. But there needs to be much more than that. We need to reiterate -- through actions, not words -- our commitment to human rights and the rule of law. We need a government that brings its fiscal house in order and returns to the budget surpluses of the 1990s. We need to ensure that in every critical industry, we're doing everything we can to be the most competitive nation in the world.

For the sake of the US -- and the rest of our interconnected world -- I hope our next president and the congress he or she inherits are up to these tasks.

June 23, 2007

"Simulation-Based Training: The Evidence Is In"

Earlier this year, I spent some time researching the question of hard evidence for the effectiveness of simulation-based training. I was expecting to find such evidence, but in doing my research, what surprised me was the breadth of research across a variety of industries, all pointing to the same conclusion: enhancing traditional training with the use of simulations resulted in improved performance. I documented my research in an article, "Simulation-Based Training: The Evidence Is In", which has just been published on the Website of Chief Learning Officer magazine. Here's the original, unabridged version of the article:

Simulation-Based Training: The Evidence Is In

Introduction

Preface

Pouring money into a theory is risky, especially when there is no documented evidence at hand to support that theory. An associate of mine who works for the Department of Defense was in search of evidence that proved simulations, games, and related training technologies improved performance in live situations. He was suggesting to his superiors -- both civilians and military officers -- that they spend precious research and training dollars on what appeared to them to be unproven ideas. The fact that these "unproven ideas" seemed, to my acquaintance, to quite obviously work, simply wasn't good enough.

As the co-founder of a firm that focuses on simulation-based training and serious games, I felt sure that hard facts existed regarding the effectiveness of using computer-based simulations for training. I began to survey literature in preparing to write this article, and what surprised me the most was not that I found exactly the kinds of research for which I was looking, but rather the breadth and sheer volume of such research. In every industry I examined, I found that people had already studied the use of simulations for training. In the reports I read, the results ranged from guardedly optimistic to wildly enthusiastic.

Having conducted the literature survey for this article, my belief is that, over the last few years, as simulation-based training has made the transition from high-cost, dedicated hardware systems to inexpensive, PC-based, virtual training solutions, and as a whole new generation of developers and managers has entered the industry, often with backgrounds in video game development, we have been unaware of the considerable research already in existence, documenting the effectiveness of what we were building.

Note

This is not a comprehensive survey of the literature on the effectiveness of simulation-based training -- such a survey of only one industry, such as medicine, would have to cover dozens upon dozens of citations. This article is instead a quick overview of a dozen or so citations that demonstrate the breadth of research in this area as well as its surprisingly long history. To read more about this topic, use the references section for articles cited at the end of the article.

Studies

Pilot and Aircrew Operations

The Naval Training Systems Center conducted a meta-analysis (Hays, et. al. 1992) of 247 published articles, research reports, and technical reports studying the effectiveness of simulation for pilot training. Of these, 26 experiments were identified as having sufficient information for statistical meta-analysis, and 19 of these experiments focused on jet pilot training. Among jet pilot training studies, more than 90 percent of the experimental comparisons favored simulator and aircraft training over aircraft training alone.

In a study (Nullmeyer, et. al. 2006) of the effectiveness of virtual training for crew resource management (CRM) conducted with the U. S. Air Force 314th Airlift Wing, a low-cost, PC-based simulator using Microsoft Flight Simulator was designed to elicit the communication and crew coordination behaviors associated with instrument and visual airdrop missions. Treatment group students received a four-hour training profile before their first airdrop flight while control group students did not. CRM performance ratings during the first subsequent airdrop flight were significantly higher for treatment group students than their for control group peers. Higher performance grades in training records were also observed for treatment group students in all CRM skill areas through subsequent flights, with fewer sorties to criterion for communication, crew coordination, task management, and decision making for both navigators and co-pilots. For the two targeted skill areas of communication and coordination, simulator-trained student navigators required, on average, 10.2 sorties to achieve proficiency, compared to 11.8 sorties for their control group counterparts -- a reduction of 13.6 percent.

Medical Specialties

In 1969, a study (Abrahamson, et. al. 1969) conducted at the University of Southern California School of Medicine evaluated the use of a physical patient simulator, Sim One, in training anesthesiology residents. The study demonstrated that simulator-trained anesthesiology residents required a mean number of 9.6 endotracheal intubations to achieve a skill level high enough to perform four consecutive professionally acceptable intubations, compared to 18.6 intubations for residents not trained on the simulator to reach the same standard. The same study showed that simulator-trained residents achieved the most exacting evaluation criterion applied in 55 days of training, compared to 77 days for their non-simulator-trained counterparts -- a savings of 22 days, or over 28 percent.

More recently, a randomized, double-blind study at the Yale University School of Medicine's Department of Surgery evaluated (Seymour, et. al. 2002) residents trained in laparoscopy using a virtual reality (VR) system, Minimally Invasive Surgical Trainer-Virtual Reality, from Swedish firm Mentice AB. The study found that VR-trained residents performed significantly better during cholecystectomy (gall bladder removal) surgery than a control group not trained using the VR system. VR-trained residents worked 29 percent faster than control group participants and errors were six times less likely to occur during their surgeries. Control group participants were five times more likely to injure the gall bladder or burn non-target tissue and nine times more likely to fail to make progress for a minute or longer at some point during surgery.

Equipment Maintenance

A researcher at the Institute for Defense Analyses extracted 11 studies in which simulated equipment was used to train maintenance technicians (Fletcher 1998). These studies compared instruction with the simulators to instruction with actual equipment, held overall training time roughly equal, and assessed final performance using actual (not simulated) equipment. Over the 11 studies, the use of simulation suggested an improvement from 50th percentile to about 66th percentile achievement among students using simulation. The initial investment for simulated equipment averaged 43 percent of that for actual equipment, while the operating costs for simulated equipment averaged 16 percent of that for actual equipment.

At the request of the Canadian Air Force, the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering conducted a study (NGRAIN 2006) in which it adopted a virtual training system for what had been a two and a half day training course instructing students in the maintenance and removal of propellers for C-130 aircraft. The virtual training system consisted of CAE Simfinity's Virtual Maintenance trainer and NGRAIN's Virtual Task Trainer. After one day of study, all students passed the practical examination with an average score of 94 percent. This represented a 60 percent reduction in training time. Commenting on the study, a Canadian Air Force officer said, "Trainees can acquire knowledge faster when 3D equipment simulations supplement traditional methods."

Military Combat

The U. S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences and the University of Louisville examined (Shlechter, et. al. 1995) the instructional effectiveness of the U. S. Army National Guard's (ARNG) Reserve Component Virtual Training Program (RCVTP) -- structured exercises conducted in a simulation training environment, the SIMulation NETworking (SIMNET) training system -- to provide ARNG armor units with intensive training experience during their weekend drills or annual training periods. After 12 hours of training using RCVTP, units took 46.1 percent less time to complete their tasks while making 76.1 percent fewer errors and requiring 84.4 percent less coaching.

In 1991, the U. S. Army Research Institute compared (Bessemer 1991) results from 714 platoons that received conventional training in the Armor Officer Basic Course with 39 platoons that received training based on networked simulation using SIMNET and found that networked simulation both improved field performance ratings by 25 percent and saved 20 percent of time in the course.

Education

Researchers at Rice University conducted a study (Lane and Tang 2000) in which the effectiveness of simulations for teaching statistical concepts was compared to the effectiveness of a textbook. Subjects trained with the simulation, developed at Rice, outperformed subjects trained with the textbook on seven out of eight critical questions, and were more able to recognize the key elements of ill-defined problems embedded in various real-world situations and apply the relevant statistical principles. According to the authors, "this provides support for the thesis that simulation is effective for training on educational and cognitive tasks (as opposed to tasks such as flying an airplane where simulation has been shown unequivocally to be effective)."

Law Enforcement

The Justice and Safety Center at Eastern Kentucky University studied (Eastern Kentucky 2003) the use of a mobile, trailer-housed firearms and judgment simulation system, Professional Range Instruction Simulator (PRISim) from Advanced Interactive Systems, for training law enforcement officers. After two hours of training using the system, officers placed an average of 31.6 percent more of their shots on target, and were 52.9 percent less likely to fire their weapons without justification. In the words of the authors, the system "appears to be beneficial in building and/or enhancing skills that are arguably the most important for the safety of the officer and others, i.e., accuracy, effective use of cover, avoiding the unintentional shooting or endangering of innocents and ensuring the shooting is justified."

Driving and Trucking

Long-haul trucking firms have been adopting simulators for training and are quantifying the results, according to an article in Heavy Duty Trucking magazine (Lockridge 2006). One firm, Schneider National, saw a 21 percent reduction in preventable accidents in drivers' first 90 days after simulation-based training, and its vice president of driver training and safety remarked that "one hour of training in the simulator is equivalent to three or four hours of training over the road". Another trucking firm, Bison Transport, saw its accumulated safe driving miles increase by 50 percent after adopting simulators for training, and its CEO noted that his firm had observed "an 83 percent improvement in mean time between incidents after simulator training for preventable accidents". Both firms use the Mark III and TranSim VS simulators from MPRI.

The University of Utah conducted a study (Strayer, et. al. 2004) of a pilot training program at the Utah Department of Transportation developed for snowplow operators, using the Mark II and TranSim VS driving simulators. The authors stated that, in the six months following training, "the odds of getting in an accident were lower for the group of drivers who received training compared with a matched control group who did not receive it". They also noted a 6.2 percent improvement in fuel efficiency for drivers receiving the simulation-based training.

Conclusions

In every survey and every industry examined, simulation-based training was seen to have a positive effect. In every case in which simulation-based training was directly compared to traditional methods, simulations were observed to be superior on some or all criteria. In every case where the costs of simulation-based and traditional training were compared, simulations were found to be less expensive, whether due to lower acquisition costs, lower operating costs, or lower costs resulting from more effective or faster training. In every case in which the author(s) of a study made a recommendation about the use of simulation-based training, they recommended its ongoing or expanded use.

In short, simulation training has demonstrably reached the point where questions of its fundamental effectiveness should no longer play a part in evaluating its potential use for any given project. In conducting such evaluations, the basic usefulness of simulation training can now be taken as a given, allowing project planners and decision-makers to focus their attention on their specific applications and how best to utilize simulation training in the most useful and cost-effective manner.

References

Abrahamson, S., J. S. Denson, and R. M. Wolf. 1969. Effectiveness of a simulator in training anesthesiology residents. Journal of Medical Education 44: 515-519. Reprinted in Quality & Safety in Health Care 2004 13:395-397. http://qshc.bmj.com/cgi/reprint/13/5/397.pdf (accessed January 10, 2007).

Bessemer, David W. 1991. Transfer of SIMNET training in the Armor Officer Basic Course (ARI Technical Report 920), Alexandria, VA: Army Research Institute.

Eastern Kentucky University. College of Justice and Safety. Justice and Safety Center. 2003. The evaluation of a mobile simulation training technology—PRISim. http://www.jsc.eku.edu/reports/PRISimReportFINAL.pdf (accessed January 10, 2007).

Fletcher, J.D. 1997. What have we learned about computer based instruction in military training? In R.J. Seidel and P.R. Chatelier (eds.), Virtual Reality, Training's Future? New York, NY: Plenum Publishing.

Hays, Robert T., John W. Jacobs, Carolyn Prince, and Eduardo Salas. 1992. Flight simulator training effectiveness: a meta-analysis. Military Psychology 4(2): 63-74. http://www.leaonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1207/s15327876mp0402_1 (accessed January 10, 2007).

Lane, David M. and Zhihua Tang. 2000. Effectiveness of simulation training on transfer of statistical concepts. Journal of Educational Computing Research 22(4): 383-396. http://baywood.metapress.com/link.asp?id=w9gw5m9cuqvt1e0r (accessed January 10, 2007).

Lockridge, Deborah. 2006. Simulated training. Heavy Duty Trucking, October. http://www.heavydutytrucking.com/2006/09/044a0609.asp (accessed November 29, 2006).

NGRAIN (Canada) Corporation. 2006. NGRAIN and CAE help Canadian Forces increase training throughput. http://www.ngrain.com/solutions/casestudies/articles/NGRAIN-CDN_Forces_Train_60_percent_Faster.pdf (accessed January 9, 2007).

Nullmeyer, Robert T., V. Alan Spiker, Katharine C. Golas, Ryan C. Logan, and Larry Clemons. 2006. The effectiveness of a PC-based C-130 crew resource management aircrew training device. Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) 2006 Conference Proceedings. http://www.iitsec.org/documents/Trng_2807.pdf (accessed January 9, 2007).

Seymour, Neal E., Anthony G. Gallagher, Sanziana A. Roman, et al. 2002. Virtual reality training improves operating room performance: results of a randomized, double-blinded study. Annals of Surgery, October 236(4): 458–464. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/picrender.fcgi?artid=1422600&blobtype=pdf (accessed January 11, 2007).

Shlechter, Theodore M., David W. Bessemer, Paul Nesselroade, Jr., and James Anthony. 1995. An initial evaluation of a simulation-based training program for Army National Guard units. Research Report 1679. U. S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences. http://handle.dtic.mil/100.2/ADA297271 (accessed January 10, 2007).

Strayer, David L., Frank A. Drews, and Stan Burns. 2004. The development and evaluation of a high-fidelity simulator training program for snowplow operators. Proceedings of the Third International Driving Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training and Vehicle Design: 464-470. http://ppc.uiowa.edu/driving-assessment/2005/final/papers/68_DavidStrayerformat.pdf (accessed January 10, 2007).

Turpin, Darrell and Reginald Welles. 2006. Analysis of simulator-based training effectiveness through driver performance measurement. Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) 2006 Conference Proceedings. http://ntsa.metapress.com/link.asp?id=ebe0e1hlf6adc67q (accessed January 10, 2007).

June 11, 2007

Tragedy, Guilt, and This Strange World in Which We Live

Certain aspects of this story have me walking along two lines, one being that of what I'm comfortable writing about when it comes to my personal life, and the other being protecting the anonymity of a dear friend of mine. I've tried my best to tread carefully down those lines here, balancing storytelling with privacy, but if my storytelling seems awkward at times, blame a writer on unfamiliar ground.

Tragedy

M is one of my best friends in the world. We've known each other only a couple of years, but I think we both realized early on that we'd be friends for life. She's smart as hell, one of the funniest people I know, and a kind soul, but for me the clincher is how we tease each other relentlessly and without mercy. I don't know how to explain it -- it's just how we relate. When she becomes sincere on occasion, and tells me how much she cares about me as a friend, the first words out of my mouth are, "Do I have cancer?" (She says something similar when I'm sincere with her.) She had a rough few years there, but her fortunes are looking up -- she recently married a great guy and has a beautiful new baby daughter. I think of her as my sweet, sharp-tongued kid sister.

While I was in Whistler last week, M's best friend from childhood, J, died. Not of some disease that gave everyone time to say goodbye, but unexpectedly and to the shock of everyone who knew her.

M was devastated and drove to her old hometown the next morning to be with J's family and friends. M and I talked while she was on the road, and I've never heard her so upset. She'd get a sentence or two out, cry for a moment, pull herself together, then start all over again.

J was young, M's age, in her late twenties. I didn't know her, but M had told me about her in the past. From what little she had said, I had a picture of someone attractive, intelligent, and loving, trying to move past hard times in her life. Since J's death, M has written more about her, and I can see from what she has written that my impression was accurate. M posted a photo of J, and when I look at it, I see a beautiful dark-haired girl, relaxed, comfortable with herself, yet sad somehow.

The funeral was held a couple of days ago. I spoke with M afterwards, and from what she said, it was understandably emotional. I haven't had a loved one die unexpectedly as J did, so I don't know how hard that must have been for everyone. I don't want to find out.

Guilt

The night before J died, she talked with M. J had been engaged some years before, and it ended painfully for her. She had recently been reminded of the engagement, and was hurting. When M asked, it turned out that J still had a number of mementos from her ex-fiancé -- pictures, journals, clothes, and the like. They discussed it and decided together that J should burn the mementos to put him behind her. M suggested waiting for a little while, so that she could come up with a cleansing ritual, and they could do it together on her next trip home.

J died when her house burned that night.

I know what I've said to M. I know her friends have said the same things. I know she's told herself the same things. She suggested waiting. She didn't mean for J to do it on her own. She wouldn't have done it in the house. It's all true. It wasn't M's fault, not in the slightest.

But I also know how I'd feel in M's place. I'd feel that it was absolutely my fault. I'd feel that my friend was dead because of me. Even if all her friends and family, and all my friends and family, were telling me it wasn't true, even if I rationally knew it wasn't true, I'd still feel that it was my fault, without question. I know that. But again, I don't know how hard this must be for her, and I don't want to find out.

So now M is dealing with both the sadness at the loss of her best friend from childhood and the guilt over feeling that the responsibility was hers. And I know that there's nothing I can say or do that will really, truly help. I can tell her how sorry I am, tell her that it's not her fault, ask her if there's anything I can do. But no one, not me, not even her husband, can make this better. Only time can.

This Strange World in Which We Live

M told me about the fire and its cause over the weekend. I thought about it often until we talked again earlier today.

"This may sound macabre," I said, "but I'm surprised you didn't introduce us."

By way of background, my relationship with my long-time girlfriend ended permanently a few months ago. (The term "long-time" is an oversimplification, but it will have to do here.)

The more I thought about it over the weekend, the more I read and re-read M's words about her friend, the more I wondered why she hadn't tried to set us up. I can't point to anything specific about J that made me feel that way, like her enjoying the same food as me, having similar goals in life to me, liking the same music or movies as me... it wasn't anything like that. It was just something in the way M wrote about J, something in how she described her attitude towards people and her outlook on life.

"I actually thought about it," M said. "I really did. Don't you remember me talking about her?"

"I do, yes." She had mentioned her briefly during a conversation a few weeks ago after a trip home -- nothing special, just in passing while talking about her visit.

"I had thought about setting up the two of you. I just didn't get around to it."

M knew that I was fairly fresh out of my relationship, and that I was deliberately taking some time to reconsider my priorities and to focus on myself -- not in the sense of buying myself this or treating myself to that, but in the sense of thinking first about living the best life I can, as opposed to thinking first about making a relationship work (which can come once again down the road).

I don't think it was that M "didn't get around to it". I think she felt -- rightly -- that I wasn't quite ready to launch into another serious relationship. Given time, would she have tried to introduce us? I think so.

It's not that I think, "there but for tragedy goes my would-be love", not at all. Had M eventually introduced us, I don't know whether J and I would have been available, whether we would have been interested in each other in the slightest, whether we would have hit it off. I don't know and I never will. And since I don't know, it's not something I'm pining over -- which would in any case be self-indulgent of me given the pain my friend is in. So I'm not pining.

But I do wonder.

June 03, 2007

Consistency and Exercise

Four months ago, I decided it was time to do something about my diet and fitness. Over the prior six months or so, I had lost track of these issues, eating food that was bad for me (and too much of it), and exercising inconsistently at best. I can't say what led me to make the change, but looking back, I'd say it was a feeling that grew, the growth unnoticed like a child you see every day until suddenly you look up one day and realize they're taller than you. I woke up one otherwise unremarkable day and knew it was time.

Starting that day, I began rigorously keeping track of my diet and staying within guidelines I set for myself. I also began exercising five days a week, a mix of cardio work at the gym, a weekly soccer game, a weekly bicycle ride with my daughter, the occasional long walk, and lifting weights here and there. The results were good, but after a few weeks, I began to think I might feel and do better if I could exercise every day.

For as long as I can remember thinking about exercise, I've always assumed that days off were necessary components of an fitness regimen. Everything I can remember reading about exercise programs preached the idea of days off for all except elite athletes. But is that really good advice? Do we really need days off? I found myself not so sure, and wondering what would happen if I exercised daily without fail for an extended period of time. And I had always assumed that if I tried to exercise every day, I'd be setting myself up for failure. But is that true?

As it happens, other people have been thinking similarly. One blogger writes:

The first few times I tried to install exercise habits, they fell apart. Attempting to exercise three or four times a week, simply didn't stick. What eventually did the trick was making it a daily habit. It may seem counterintuitive that exercising more frequently is an easier habit to install, but when you look into the mechanisms that create habits, it makes sense.
And other blogger writes:
The problem with trying to make exercise a habit, and it's something that we've all faced, is that you usually try to exercise 3 or 4 times a week... and that makes creating a new exercise habit difficult. The reason is that the more consistent an action is, the more likely it is to be a habit.
These entries were written after I made my decision, but it was nice to see people agreeing with me after the fact.

So, 12 weeks ago, I began exercising every day. I didn't make any other radical changes to my exercise habits, with the exception that I set a goal of lifting weights three times a week as part of my program. A typical week might look like this:

  • Monday: soccer game
  • Tuesday: weightlifting, elliptical trainer
  • Wednesday: elliptical trainer
  • Thursday: weightlifting, elliptical trainer
  • Friday: elliptical trainer
  • Saturday: weightlifting, elliptical trainer, walking
  • Sunday: bicycle ride
(I should note here why it is that running isn't a part of my program. I enjoy running, and ran my first half-marathon early last year, but have been suffering from a persistent case of tendinopathy in my left knee since then. Supervised physical therapy hasn't helped. After reading through the latest medical journal articles, I'm trying eccentric patellar strengthening at home, which seems to be helping, but very slowly. Until it's better, my orthopaedist's advice is to avoid impact activities as much as possible -- so the only running I do is during my soccer games. which I refuse to give up.)

At first, my goal was to see if I could go three weeks in a row without missing a day -- I couldn't remember doing that since I was in the Army over 20 years ago. When I reached three weeks, my goal became eight weeks -- I figured the longest stretch of daily exercise I might ever have had was that long, while I was in basic training back in 1980. Now I'm at 12 weeks and figure it's time to blog about what I'm doing.

So far, the results have been great. I'm losing a pound a week. I'm wearing clothes I hadn't put on in a few months. I have more energy. I'm sleeping more consistently. I'm feeling faster during soccer games and on bicycle rides -- I assume partly because my cardiovascular fitness is improving, and partly because I have less weight to move around.

I've also seen good results from the weightlifting. I had been lifting now and then for a couple of years, but never with consistency, and never tracking what I was doing. Now I'm lifting three times a week, and keeping a log of everything I do. I push myself to make progress -- even a little -- every session. I think I'm stronger than I've ever been, and I'm starting to see muscles appear in new places, which is nice.

All that said, I think the most important change has been in my attitude towards exercise. I don't think of it as something that I need to try to work into my day; I think of it now as a given, as something I will do no matter what. It's not always easy, I have to say. It means going to the gym at 5:00 AM because I know I'm going to be busy all day, or going at 11:00 PM because I've just flown in from a long trip. It means planning ahead, ensuring that no matter where I am, no matter what I'm doing, I have the opportunity and ability to exercise. Sometimes it just means exercising when I what I really feel like doing is going home, having dinner, and crawling into bed. But I always feel better for having exercised, both physically and mentally.

I wrote about the goals I've had: three weeks in a row, eight weeks in a row. I find myself no longer thinking in those terms. I don't feel like I need a goal like that to motivate myself on a daily basis. As one of the bloggers mentioned above wrote, "the more consistent an action is, the more likely it is to be a habit". Daily exercise is a habit for me now, something I don't consider skipping. Of course, the day will come when I'm sick or injured and simply unable to do anything physical. I'm not looking forward to that day, but at the same time, I don't worry about it being the first step down a slippery slope. If I can't help missing a day or two, I believe I'll get right back out the next day and keep going. It's what I do now.

June 01, 2007

Remembering Shasta

Shasta

Shasta, Christmas Day 1999.

My ex-wife Karin had our Siberian Husky, Shasta, put to sleep yesterday. It was for the best. Shasta had a cancerous growth on her leg that kept regrowing and wouldn't heal, was partly blind and deaf, and lately was having a great deal of trouble just moving around the house. The veterinarian recommended that Karin make the decision, not only for these reasons, but because he found fluid in her lungs as well -- she didn't have long left to live, and would have suffered greatly.

But I'm writing this entry not about Shasta's death, but rather about her life.

In the mid-1990s, Karin and I were still married and had just bought a house here in North Carolina. We knew we wanted a dog, and Karin was researching possibilities. She found a no-kill rescue shelter in Nebraska that seemed like our kind of place, and the shelter had recently taken in a female Siberian Husky. This dog had wandered into a little town, malnourished but just as friendly as she could be, wandering down the sidewalks, into and out of shops, and responding warmly to people. The people at the shelter took her in and started looking for a home for her. It was clear from talking to them that this was a dog they all wished they could keep for themselves.

From the photos, we could see that the dog was beautiful, though still gaunt from her time on her own. They estimated she was a year old, though they couldn't be sure how long she had been fending for herself. They interviewed us, decided we were a good match, and we made arrangements to adopt her. There was a direct flight from an airport in their region to Charlotte, so they shipped her there rather than to Raleigh-Durham (which would have meant changing planes). Karin and I made the drive down in our van to pick her up.

In Charlotte, when we took her out of her crate, we saw she was even more beautiful in person. Being underweight made her look dainty, in a way, and I always thought of her that way as a result. She hopped up in the van and seemed delighted to be with us -- many huskies remind me of bottlenose dolphins in that they look as if they're always smiling, and I suspect that perhaps they really are, that it's not just an accident of the evolution of their facial structure.

We named Shasta after a husky we had met years before at a party held by acquaintances of ours in San Diego. They had a husky named Shasta, but who was often called Shasta the Wonder Dog for various reasons, notably her habit of 'speaking' when spoken to. We always remembered Shasta the Wonder Dog, and when we got our own husky, we never seriously considered any other name for her.

That first night with Shasta, before turning in for the night, we were talking about whether we should allow her to sleep on the bed when, out of the blue, she hopped up there on her own and made herself comfortable. She had a habit of crossing her paws when she laid down, which seemed very ladylike and never ceased to amuse me. Karin and I looked at each other, looked at Shasta, and I think it was me who said, "Well, it looks as if she made the decision for us." With her crossed paws, and smiling up at us, we couldn't imagine refusing her anything. In the end, though, she decided she was more comfortable on the floor, and always slept there, not far from us.

In all the time I was with her, I have only one memory of Shasta being aggressive with any of us. It was in the first day or two after we brought her home. I can't remember what I was doing, but it was something she didn't like, and she turned to yelp at me. When she did so, her teeth grazed my hand. It was nothing, but I decided to be firm with her, and alpha-rolled her on the spot. She responded perfectly and she never did anything of the sort ever again -- despite the presence of our three kids, whom I'm sure tortured her when we weren't looking.

Shasta wasn't aggressive, but huskies have reputations as big babies, and she was no different. Someone would barely step on her tail and she'd cry out like they were ripping it off whole -- though she wouldn't nip at them. I took her in to have her tattooed for security purposes, and it took four of us to hold her down, and you would have thought she was having surgery without anaesthaesia from the way she was crying. The veterinarian, the staff, and I were all laughing, actually, at how much she complained.

Shasta was incredibly intelligent. We knew she was smart, but we didn't know quite how smart until the first or second Easter after we adopted her. We hid eggs for the kids around the house -- both hard-boiled eggs and the hollow plastic kind filled with miniature candy bars (the little ones from Hershey). We tracked down all the real eggs, but missed a few of the plastic versions. We left Shasta at home and went out for part of the day. We came back to find plastic eggs popped open and empty candy bar wrappers nearby -- not torn-up wrappers, mind you, but unfolded wrappers with their candy missing. It was hard to believe a dog was capable of such a thing. We decided to see how she did it and placed more candy in plastic eggs and set them out in front of her. In our presence, she acted innocent, as if she had no interest in them. We had to leave the room and spy on her to see how she did it. After she thought we were gone, she carefully picked up an egg in her mouth, gently bit down until it popped open, fetched the miniature candy bar out of it, then used her paws and her teeth to carefully unwrap the candy.

Shasta didn't 'speak' like her namesake, but sometimes, if I pretended to howl, she'd howl along with me. I wondered if she dreamed of running with huskies, or hunting with wolves. I'll never know, though I do know that when we tried hooking her up to a sled one winter to see if she'd pull one of the kids, she acted like we were from another planet. So much for having sled-pulling in her genes.

With the cats in the house, Shasta was always gentle and tolerant. We brought home a rescued longhaired kitten named Saffy for my son Duncan, and once she came out from beneath Duncan's bed -- which took a while -- she gravitated towards Shasta. They became friends and always were until Saffy died a few months ago.

Somehow, as with so many dogs, Shasta was perfectly capable of distinguishing between friends (like our cats) and prey. She didn't have much opportunity to hunt, because we didn't have a fenced yard most of the time we owned her, but we did when we lived in California in the late 1990s. The kids were out back and yelled for me to come. Shasta had caught a squirrel and had it in her mouth. I was actually proud of her for catching it, but the kids didn't want to see her eviscerate an animal, and I was worried about parasites and disease in any case, so I had her drop it and led her away. But when she had the squirrel in her mouth, she looked more than ever like she was truly smiling -- like she was the happiest dog in the world.

I knew that Shasta wasn't going to be around much longer. I had offered to be the one to take her to the veterinarian, but it was easier for Karin to take her. Writing this, I wish I could have been there for her, too. I'm sorry she's gone, but I'm glad she's not suffering, and I'm very glad she was able to die peacefully, with dignity, and with a loved one there.

I haven't owned a pet since I moved out eight years ago -- I've moved too often, and even when I've been settled for a while (as I am now), I'm on the road too much to have a pet as a single person. I do want a dog again someday when the time is right. I don't know what kind of dog I'll end up with, but I know that if that dog is as beautiful, as happy, and as loving as Shasta was, I'll consider myself lucky.

May 01, 2007

Boosman versus Searls on the Future of Blogging, Revisited

In 2002, I wrote an entry on the subject of selective privacy for bloggers (for which I created the term 'privacy rings'). After discussing some of the complexities of selective privacy, I wrote:

This problem is difficult enough today when the vast majority of the content created for blogs is created by bloggers themselves. It will grow exponentially worse when we carry devices capable of posting continuous streams of updated data to our blogs (if we call them that). Imagine your cell phone after next uploading GPS coordinates, the names of nearby detected devices, call records, pictures, audio and video clips, and so on. How will we control access to such information?
Doc Searls read my entry and wrote:
I never liked the "It's the ______ (economy, war, oil, user, rules, latency, research, sex, games, runtime, comedy), stupid" line. But it's a good working cliché;, so let's add one more log to its fire: writing.

This morning I came to the conclusion, after reading Frank Boosman's pseudorandom blog, that blogging is about nothing more than writing -- and that more of us will be writing to more people, with more effect, because of it.

I replied:

As for Doc's thesis... as much as I respect Doc, I disagree with what he's saying here. To me, it's akin to someone in 1993 saying that the Internet was all about Usenet newsgroups. Like many other early Internet users, I posted regularly to newsgroups back then, but as new types of Web-based services became available, not only did many new Internet users not seek out newsgroups, even some existing newsgroup users like me gravitated away from them.

It's true that, today, blogging is about writing. The 500,000 (or so) people currently blogging are, for a variety of reasons, heavily biased towards expressing themselves through words. But I don't believe this will remain true for long. Though there will always be a core of bloggers who are passionate about writing (including me), I believe that most of the growth in blogging -- which I expect to be two or three orders of magnitude within five years -- will come through people who blog from mobile devices and who do so mostly through rich media such as pictures, video, and the like.

First, was I correct about the growth rate of blogging? According to Technorati, as of March 2007, there were 70 million blogs, with the number of blogs doubling every 320 days. In other words, when the five-year anniversary of my post rolls around this December, there should be something like 110 million blogs. I predicted there would be somewhere between 50 million and 500 million, so I'm comfortable with that.

Now, though, to the central issue: was I right about where the growth in blogging would come from? Technorati tracks blogs, which I think generally fit Doc's text-centric definition of blogging. Could it be, though, that the growth of non-text-centric blogs is higher? The New York Times suggests that perhaps it is:

The social networking phenomenon is leaving the confines of the personal computer. Powerful new mobile devices are allowing people to send round-the-clock updates about their vacations, their moods or their latest haircut.

New online services, with names like Twitter, Radar and Jaiku, hope people will use their ever-present gadget to share (or, inevitably, to overshare) the details of their lives in the same way they have become accustomed to doing on Web sites like MySpace.

Unlike the older networking sites, which are still largely used on PCs, these new phone-oriented services are bringing the burgeoning culture of exhibitionism to more exotic and more personal locations. They are also contributing to the general barrage of white noise and information overload -- something that even some participants say they feel ambivalent about.

The article uses Kyte, Twitter, and Radar as examples of services that fall into this category. Interestingly, the article doesn't refer to this as blogging, but as social networking. But I doubt the everyday users of these services think of what they're doing as 'social networking', much less 'blogging'. Is there a name for what they're doing? I ask because I've predicted privately (at least I can't find a reference in my blog archives) that blogging might not be called blogging when it becomes about sharing streams of one's life.

So there are 70 million blogs, and for the sake of discussion, let's say that they're all text-centric. But how many Twitter accounts are there? 60,000, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. How many Kyte or Radar accounts? What about a service such as Snapvine? More broadly, how many people use Flickr? According to this graph, as of November 2006, Flickr had 20 million users. That's one photo sharing service alone that is 28 percent as large as the entire blogosphere. How many people have posted a video to YouTube? I don't know, though I do know that as of late last year, YouTube users were posting more than 65,000 new videos per day.

My question was, was I right about where the growth in blogging would come from? If you use Doc's definition as blogging being about writing, then no, I wasn't. We have over two orders of magnitude more bloggers than we had four and a half years ago, but those blogs are typically text-centric. But I wasn't using Doc's definition: I was using my own, broader version of the term. So by my definition? I'd say the jury is out. I don't know of an authoritative source for tracking the broad community of people who 'blog' without writing traditional blog entries, whether using pictures, videos, audio, or other rich media. If I had to guess, I'd say that as of today, there are fewer people doing so than people who blog by writing. But I'd also guess that the growth rate of non-text-centric blogging is much higher. It may well be that as of the five-year anniversary of my prediction, there will be more rich media bloggers than text-centric bloggers.

So the answer for my specific prediction is that we don't know yet. What about Doc's more general assertion? He wrote that "blogging is about nothing more than writing". Was he correct? I can't see how this can possibly be true, unless you adopt a narrow definition of blogging, in which case, it's a tautology. (In other words, if one defines blogging as 'writing an online diary', then Doc's statement equates to 'writing an online diary is about nothing more than writing', which says exactly zero.)

I'll see what I can do to track down better statistics and revisit this issue later this year.

March 09, 2007

Thoughts on the Game Industry from GDC

It's the final day of the Game Developers Conference. I'm not blogging individual sessions as I did last year (search this blog for "GDC 2006"), though I will post pictures from a couple of noteworthy talks. I did, though, want to post my thoughts on the evolution of the game industry -- thoughts that have been forming for a few months now, and that have coalesced during my week here.

It's an axiom of the gaming industry that new platforms fuel surges in creativity, as game designers and developers imagine and then create new game experiences that wouldn't have been possible with previous platforms. Our industry is in the early stage of a new platform cycle, and as ever, this new cycle is fueling innovation and creativity. However, unlike previous platform cycles, the amazing new technical abilities of the most advanced consoles -- the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 -- aren't driving innovation. Yes, developers are taking advantage of these consoles, and they are producing some very cool new games. But these new games aren't radically innovative. They're shinier than their predecessors, to be sure: better graphics, better audio, larger worlds, you name it. But if anyone can point to something fundamentally new about them, I haven't seen it.

The Wii is definitely enabling -- demanding, even -- innovative game design. Nintendo has shown that they can be successful with an approach that combines low-end, low-cost hardware -- basically, graphics that are last-generation plus just a little bit -- with radically new controller design. I believe the Wii will do extremely well for Nintendo, and I think we're going to continue to see cool new games for it. But I don't see the Wii Remote as appropriate for every kind of game, and I don't want to wave my arms around to play every new game I buy.

To me, the enabling platform for the industry's next surge in creativity -- which is already underway -- isn't the 360 or the Playstation 3 or even the Wii. In fact, I don't see the platform as any one piece of hardware or software. It's a collection of technologies, design techniques, and business practices, all centered around the transformation of the industry from a hits-driven model to one in which independent, innovative game development is seen not as a labor of love, but as a profitable pursuit.

A friend of mine here at GDC put the argument this way: in the 1990s, Hollywood went through a transition from its pure blockbuster model to a model that preserved the blockbuster, but also enabled the profitable creation of independent films, such as short films, foreign films, story-driven ensemble films on the cheap, documentaries, short animation, you name it. Just look at the state of documentary films today: 8 of the 10 highest-grossing documentaries of all time have been released since 2002. It's now possible to make documentaries that make money. Generally speaking, that wasn't the case 10 or 15 years ago. How did this come about? I'm not a Hollywood expert, but my impression is that it was a variety of changes, from new methods and sources of financing to new distribution mechanisms (new cable TV channels, 'long tail' DVD buying on the Internet, short film Websites, etc.), from a new understanding of techniques for writing and directing documentaries that viewers would find compelling to the evolution of a new audience of consumers hungry for more good documentaries.

This same sort of thing -- the rise of indie-style development and distribution -- is evolving right now in the game world. I'm not talking about cheap, imitative casual games. "It's bowling, but with penguins." "It's miniature golf, but in outer space." "It's a match three game, but with glowing alien fruit." Yawn. I'm talking about truly innovative game design: games that aren't large and expansive, but that within their limited scope, offer new types of gameplay and new experiences for their players.

Put another way, I believe there's a creative high ground in game design, between the ultra-low budgets of most of the PC casual games industry and the ultra-high budgets of the console and PC AAA-level games industry. At the low end, budgets are so small that they constrain innovation, leading designers and developers to think first of imitating successful competitors (because they don't have the money or time to do anything else). At the high end, budgets are so large that they, too, constrain innovation, leading publishers to avoid taking risks (because failure would be devastating).

Where is this creative high ground, this sweet spot for innovative game development? There's no hard and fast rule, but I'd say that game budgets between $100,000 and $1,000,000 sound about right. It's possible to create games for less than this that bring it all together (DEFCON comes to mind), and there are games with larger budgets that nevertheless have an independent feel to them (see LocoRoco), but in general, a budget in this range is large enough to enable creativity and innovation while staying small enough that risk-taking is still possible.

I described the platform driving innovation as a collection of technologies, of design techniques, and of business practices. There's no such thing as a definitive enumeration of these components, but we can point to a variety of things that play a role. Low-cost, high-performance game engines such as Torque make it possible for developers to create compelling games without spending half their budgets on engines. Financing schemes such as project-specific LLCs make it possible for developers to find the money for their projects without going to traditional publishers (often losing creative control and ownership of their intellectual property in the process). Community-based game sites such as Kongregate make it possible for developers to find an audience while retaining more control than would be possible with traditional casual game portals. Console game download systems such as Xbox Live Arcade give console owners a continuous stream of fresh new games, most costing $5-10, as a complement to their high-profile AAA-level titles that cost $50-60 (and that cost $5-25 million to develop).

The result of all this is that I do believe we're in the early stage of a huge creative surge in the game industry, but one unlike any of the platform-driven creative surges we've seen in the past. It will change the industry for a long time to come, if not permanently, and this change will be for the better.

February 28, 2007

On the Future of My Blog, Part 2

In my last entry, in mid-December, I wrote:

[I]if I'm going to continue to blog, there needs to be a point to it other than keeping a public record of things I find interesting...

If I focus on my personal life and the things that would be interesting to my friends and family, then where do I blog about the things I find interesting about the world at large?

If I focus... on semi-random bits of trivia, then where do I blog about my personal life? And more importantly, does anyone care about semi-random bits of trivia anymore?

I've been thinking about this question for the last two and a half months. I've wanted to blog on many occasions, but held off because I promised myself I wouldn't write another entry until I had figured out what I wanted to do.

I've figured that out now.

When I went through old blog entries of mine, the entries I was the most proud of weren't the semi-random -- or perhaps I should say pseudorandom -- bits of trivia (though these have their place). Nor were they the long quotations from other sources, with small amounts of commentary added (though, again, these can be useful). Instead, they were the essays, on subjects as diverse as a science fiction author's views on gay marriage, the Pledge of Allegiance, the murder rate in Baghdad, and, pre-invasion, my opinion of war with Iraq. (In the last case, I'm proud of the thought I put into my position, but not of the position itself. I was terribly, terribly wrong.)

I was also reminded of my time at Be Inc., when our CEO, Jean-Louis Gassée, would write a weekly column for our e-mail newsletter. I had tremendous respect for this, because his columns were, on the whole, well-written and thought-provoking. That took a tremendous commitment and effort on his part, given his day job. (Sadly, it's difficult to find his columns online now. They're an interesting perspective on that time in the computer industry, and it would be useful if they were collected in an easy-to-use resource. Pending that, many of them can be found via this Internet Archive page.)

So essays it is. Not that the the other entries -- the bits of trivia, the personal items -- are going away. But the one thing I will try to do without fail is to post essays here on a regular basis. If I do nothing else but write one thought-provoking, long-form entry a week, I'll consider that a great success.

I considered focusing on a specific subject, and I'm sure that, over time, that would probably be the best way to increase readership of this blog. But though I'm as much of a sucker for traffic statistics as the next person (especially after, say, being Slashdotted), in the end, I've never wanted this blog to be about anything other than what's important to me. If that happens to coincide with the interests of a group of people in the larger world, that's great news and I'll run with it. And my interests are wide-ranging.

I'm in the process of spinning out a new business, a business for which I serve as CEO, and I considered creating a CEO blog. However, the business isn't a Web 2.0 business where we're hungry for every scrap of publicity we can get. Our primary relationships and projects are things we won't be able to talk about for many months. That's not to say I won't occasionally blog about my business, or about issues related to what we're building, but I don't want to commit myself to regular, in-depth blogging on a subject with so many disclosure restrictions.

So in the end, I'll write essays on whatever it is that interests me -- though if I had to guess, and based on what I'm thinking about these days, I'd guess I'll be writing about entrepreneurship, venture financing, game design, social networks, the videogame market, aspirational marketing... and, yes, travel, relationships, human rights, you name it.

Another of my concerns in my last entry was the issue of how to target my blog at different audiences:

I'm thinking about splitting my blog into two halves. One half would be personal and probably interesting only to friends and family. The other half would be completely new and would be focused on a subject that is personally interesting to me, that is of interest to an audience in the larger world, and that I'm qualified to discuss...

If I create two new blogs, then I'd have to decide what goes where. Do I retool this blog to be personal or to be popular? Or do I close out this blog and create two new blogs?

In the end, I've decided to keep one blog, but to offer three different feeds, tuned to three different audiences:

  • If you're interested in reading the full stream of everything I say, you can continue to access a feed of every entry here.
  • If you're only interested in the long-form essays I write -- which I hope to publish on a weekly basis -- you'll find an essay-only feed here.
  • If you're only interested in personal news from me, and not the technical, political, or other general entries, you can subscribe to a personal-only feed here.
I hope that these three choices will make it easy for my readers to focus on their specific interests. (Note that the three feeds aren't mutually exclusive; for example, there can and will be entries that are both personal and essays.)

Thanks to the people who commented and who wrote to me privately on this issue -- especially to my friend Michael Morrissey, who sent me a long, eloquent, and incredibly kind message. I truly appreciate all your input.

And with that, back to the blogging...