I recently read Paul Graham’s essay on economic inequality and struggling to fit some of my thoughts into 140 characters on Twitter decided to write a more detailed perspective especially given the article’s core premise is a straw man argument. The core of Paul Graham’s message is captured in the introduction and

Since the 1970s, economic inequality in the US has increased dramatically. And in particular, the rich have gotten a lot richer. Some worry this is a sign the country is broken.

I'm interested in the topic because I am a manufacturer of economic inequality. I was one of the founders of a company called Y Combinator that helps people start startups. Almost by definition, if a startup succeeds its founders become rich. And while getting rich is not the only goal of most startup founders, few would do it if one couldn't.
You can't end economic inequality without preventing people from getting rich, and you can't do that without preventing them from starting startups.

With the above sentences, Paul Graham frames any complaints about income inequality in the United States as an attack on the culture and economic processes which have given us companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon which while minting a bunch of super-rich billionaires have also greatly improved the lives of their customers and employees. Since I work in the tech industry this sort of argument should naturally appeal to me but things are never that simple. Paul Graham has attacked a straw man and never really talks about why income inequality has been described as a problem.

Income Inequality: The Pie Fallacy

One part I did find particularly eloquent in Paul Graham’s essay was his description of the pie fallacy of income inequality which is excerpted below

The most common mistake people make about economic inequality is to treat it as a single phenomenon. The most naive version of which is the one based on the pie fallacy: that the rich get rich by taking money from the poor.
Usually this is an assumption people start from rather than a conclusion they arrive at by examining the evidence. Sometimes the pie fallacy is stated explicitly:

...those at the top are grabbing an increasing fraction of the nation's income—so much of a larger share that what's left over for the rest is diminished.... [1]

Other times it's more unconscious. But the unconscious form is very widespread. I think because we grow up in a world where the pie fallacy is actually true. To kids, wealth is a fixed pie that's shared out, and if one person gets more it's at the expense of another. It takes a conscious effort to remind oneself that the real world doesn't work that way.

He’s right, income inequality isn’t occurring because the rich are stealing a larger slice of the economic pie from the middle class and the poor. Growing income inequality is a natural aspect of the way capitalism works. This recently has come to the forefront of current economic thinking due to the book Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty which spends hundreds of pages providing details of how this has occurred over the past few decades.

The chart below shows the savings rate of various income levels in the US broken into 20% buckets (i.e. quintiles).

The thing to note here is that the bottom 40% of earners in the US saved about a tenth of a percent of their income. Given that the median income in the US is about $50,000 it is unsurprising that people making less than that basically end up spending all of their income with nothing left over to save. On the other hand, the top 20% of earners are saving/investing about a quarter of their income while the top 1% are saving/investing pretty much half their income.

Over time, it’s quite obvious that the net worth of the rich will grow at a higher rate than the net worth of the poor & middle class who are not saving & investing the same proportion of their income. This is further perpetuated over time by the rich then handing off their wealth to their children via inheritance.

The bottom line is that income inequality growing over time is the natural consequence of the rich having more money to invest & save over time than the middle class and poor. One extreme example of this is that Bill Gates money is growing so fast due to growth of his investments is that he has more money now ($79B) than when he started promised to give away all his money in 2008 ($58B)

Again to repeat, the natural state of a capitalist system is that the rich will get richer over time at a rate faster than the poor & middle class given investments and the fact the stock market has effectively grown over time despite massive crashes every few years.

Why Income Inequality is a Problem

For some, the fact that income inequality exists is a sign that capitalism is unfair and fundamentally broken. One of the responses to Paul Graham have basically argued this point including using the example of the inherent unfairness of a school teacher struggling to pay rent while Candy Crush Saga generates billions for investors and shareholders. I’m not going to make that argument.

There’s a great interview with Thomas Piketty on the Wealth Divide where he addresses the specific question of why income inequality is bad

Q. What are the risks from allowing an ever-increasing concentration of wealth and incomes? Is there a point when inequality becomes intolerable? Does history offer any lessons in this regard?
A. U.S. inequality is now close to the levels of income concentration that prevailed in Europe around 1900-10. History suggests that this kind of inequality level is not only useless for growth, it can also lead to a capture of the political process by a tiny high-income and high-wealth elite. This directly threatens our democratic institutions and values.

This is a very important distinction. Income inequality is basically how capitalism works and overall the system is working as designed. However as we create a world where the super rich get even richer over time, there is an increasing risk of these rich people using their vast resources to subvert the political process to protect their interests. There are obviously tons of examples of this occurring in America today.

One example of this subversion is that income from investments (i.e. how rich people primarily make their income) is taxed at a lower rate than income from salaries (i.e. how the middle class and poor make their income). This is described fairly well in Mark Suster's response to Paul Graham's essay 

3. Both of these privileged, very small group of people in 1 & 2 [Ed: founders & investors], have much better tax rates than say, the third employee at a startup who might have joined 3 months after the founders. That employee was given “stock options,” which pay the exact same rate of taxes as income. In California considering state, federal and local taxes that can be as high as 56%. Think about it – if the first two employees work 6 years and sell a company while employee 3 works 5 years and 9 months … should they really pay grossly different tax rates? Of course if an employee “exercises” his or her options AND holds the stock more than one year then they are eligible to earn long-term capital gains. But this often requires relatively large sums of money and it implies writing a check in a company whose future is uncertain. That might actually seem fair. But ask yourself why employee three (and four and four hundred) has to write the check while employees 1 & 2 do not?

I wish founders, startup employees and VCs all paid the same rate of taxes. I also wish we paid the same amount of taxes as nearly any employee earning above-average income. But we all don’t and we’re not likely to fix any of that.

This dual tax system gets even more sophisticated for the billionaire class as described in this recent New York Times Article; For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions which begins

The hedge fund magnates Daniel S. Loeb, Louis Moore Bacon and Steven A. Cohen have much in common. They have managed billions of dollars in capital, earning vast fortunes. They have invested large sums in art — and millions more in political candidates.

Moreover, each has exploited an esoteric tax loophole that saved them millions in taxes. The trick? Route the money to Bermuda and back.

With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.

“There’s this notion that the wealthy use their money to buy politicians; more accurately, it’s that they can buy policy, and specifically, tax policy,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who served as chief economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “That’s why these egregious loopholes exist, and why it’s so hard to close them.”

It’s an open secret that politicians consider courting the super rich and their money as key to winning elections. In many cases, the assumption is that getting money from the super rich is tantamount to winning an election. This conventional wisdom has been recently put to the test in the presidential elections with the surprising rise of Donald Trump as detailed in the article One year, two races: Inside the Republican Party’s bizarre, tumultuous 2015

“Shock and awe” is how it came to be called, to the chagrin of Bradshaw and others. Still, it was a genuine blitzkrieg. Bush’s advisers established Right to Rise, a super PAC that could accept unlimited contributions, and it vacuumed up big checks by the day. On Jan. 9, it received its first $1 million contribution, from Los Angeles investment banker Brad Freeman. By February, Bush was averaging one fundraiser a day and regularly headlining events with a minimum price tag of $100,000 a person, such as the Feb. 11 gathering at the Park Avenue home of private-equity titan Henry Kravis.

Longtime Bush family fundraiser Fred Zeidman recalled: “Everyone was enthusiastic, everyone was writing checks. That had always been the benchmark. Money has been the way you keep score.”

The intense early pace startled Bush’s likely opponents. “I think everybody was a little surprised as to not just the timing but how successful he was early on,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recalled later.

I could go on but the point should be clear enough. If you have more I’d also suggest reading Anatomy of the Deep State which gives a lot more food for thought on how the super rich can and have subverted the democratic processes in many parts of American life.

In summary, the primary problem caused by growing income inequality is that it perpetuates the creation of a separate class of people whose wealth allows them to control politicians and influence legislation in ways favorable to them and potentially unfavorable to the middle & lower classes. This manifests itself in lots of ways from obvious things like different tax policies for investments versus wages to using affluenza as a legal defense for crimes committed by children of the rich and more.


Piketty’s Solution to Income Inequality

Since Thomas Piketty deserves the credit for bringing these ideas to the forefront in recent years we should take a look at how he proposed addressing this problem. As covered in the Guardian’s review of his book his idea is straightforward

Piketty's call for a "confiscatory" global tax on inherited wealth makes other supposedly radical economists look positively house-trained. He calls for an 80% tax on incomes above $500,000 a year in the US, assuring his readers there would be neither a flight of top execs to Canada nor a slowdown in growth, since the outcome would simply be to suppress such incomes.

This is why I called Paul Graham’s argument a straw man. High tax rates on top earners are not the same thing as preventing people from becoming rich or stopping the creation of startups. The US tax rate was at 70% or higher between World War II and 1981 when the Economic Recovery Tax Act was made law. During this period of high tax rates on top earners a number of startups that went on to change the world were founded including Apple (1976), Intel (1968), Microsoft (1975) and Oracle (1977) as well as a bunch more which aren’t here today but had a huge impact during their hay day (e.g. Digital Equipment Corporation).

One could ask the question as to whether Mark Zuckerberg would still have created Facebook if he knew that his tax rate would be 80% (Piketty’s goal) if he became a billionaire versus 40%-50% (current tax rates) and  I suspect the answer for most founders would be Yes.

How Piketty’s Solution Impacts Tech Startups

That said, Piketty’s solution would have a material impact on one of the most important aspects of tech startups; hiring. Many high earning tech hires getto make the choice of working at a big established company like Microsoft, Facebook or Google versus working at an up and coming startup like Slack, Snapchat or Zenefits. As Dan Luu pointed out in his excellent post on Big Company vs. Startup Work and Pay it is not unusual for a top performer

The numbers will vary depending on circumstances, but we can do a back of the envelope calculation and adjust for circumstances afterwards. Median income in the U.S. is about $30k/yr. The somewhat bogus zeroth order lifetime earnings approximation I’ll use is $30k * 40 = $1.2M. A new grad at Google/FB/Amazon with a lowball offer will have a total comp (salary + bonus + equity) of $130k/yr. According to glassdoor’s current numbers, someone who makes it to T5/senior at Google should have a total comp of around $250k/yr. These are fairly conservative numbers1.

Someone who’s not particularly successful, but not particularly unsucessful will probably make senior in five years2.
If you’re an employee and not a founder, the numbers look a lot worse. If you’re a very early employee you’d be quite lucky to get 1/10th as much equity as a founder. If we guess that 30% of YC startups fail before hiring their first employee, that puts the mean equity offering at $1.8M / .7 = $2.6M. That’s low enough that for 5-9 years of work, you really need to be in the 0.5% for the payoff to be substantially better than working at a big company unless the startup is paying a very generous salary.

There’s a sense in which these numbers are too optimistic. Even if the company is successful and has a solid exit, there are plenty of things that can make your equity grant worthless. It’s hard to get statistics on this, but anecdotally, this seems to be the common case in acquisitions.

Moreover, the pitch that you’ll only need to work for four years is usually untrue. To keep your lottery ticket until it pays out (or fizzles out), you’ll probably have to stay longer. The most common form of equity at early stage startups are ISOs that, by definition, expire 90 at most days after you leave. If you get in early, and leave after four years, you’ll have to exercise your options if you want a chance at the lottery ticket paying off. If the company hasn’t yet landed a large valuation, you might be able to get away with paying O(median US annual income) to exercise your options. If the company looks like a rocketship and VCs are piling in, you’ll have a massive tax bill, too, all for a lottery ticket.

As someone whose talked to a number of friends and coworkers who’ve weighed the cost of switching from a my employer (Microsoft) to a startup, I have seen first hand that the cost of going to a startup versus staying at a big company is something like $50,000 – $100,000 per year in lost wages for people with 5 – 10 years of experience. So startups sweeten the pot by giving people stock options which if the company is reasonably successful, makes up for the lost wages.

For example, a senior developer making $250,000 at a company like Google would likely take a haircut to about $150,000 to work at Pinterest. Pinterest would have to give this developer enough equity such that if they stay about 3 – 4 years at the company, they’d earn back the $300,000 – $400,000 that was foregone plus some interest given they’d likely expect a promotion or two if they had stayed at Google. Note that this isn’t about getting rich, this is just breaking even on income. So it isn’t unusual for someone in this situation to get $500,000 – $1 million in options/restricted stock depending on their seniority and the potential the company sees in them over time.

If Piketty has his way then the tax bill on those options would shoot way up and makes sticking it out at a big company more attractive for top tech hires.

Stagnant Wages: A Related but Different Problem

One problem that is regularly conflated with income inequality as described by Piketty is stagnant growth of wages in America especially as companies are making record profits. With the rise of 401Ks, the influx of more money in the stock market from the Reagan tax cuts and the cult of maximizing shareholder value (Thanks Jack Welch) there has been a lot of pressure for companies to make as much profits/dividends for shareholders as possible while extracting as much as possible from employees. CEOs and executives are especially incentivized to do this since they get huge payouts as shareholders for managing these numbers. US companies have gone to great lengths from outsourcing & increased use of automation to union busting to avoid increasing expenditure on labor thus limiting wage growth.

Stagnant wages over the past few decades further exacerbates income inequality but are not the fundamental cause. Even if wages had been rising over the past few decades at the same rate as before, there is no historical precedent for them to have risen faster than the US stock market which means those with investments would still be seeing their wealth grow over time faster than those earning paychecks.

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Categories: Ramblings

Last week Joel Spolsky wrote a blog post entitled The Duct Tape Programmer where he praises developers who favor simple programming practices to complex ones. This blog post strongly resonated with me and made me recall some related thoughts on complexity and solving problems in software projects. Some key excerpts from his which I'll use as a jumping off point are below

Jamie Zawinski is what I would call a duct-tape programmer. And I say that with a great deal of respect. He is the kind of programmer who is hard at work building the future, and making useful things so that people can do stuff.
Duct tape programmers are pragmatic. Zawinski popularized Richard Gabriel’s precept of
Worse is Better. A 50%-good solution that people actually have solves more problems and survives longer than a 99% solution that nobody has because it’s in your lab where you’re endlessly polishing the damn thing. Shipping is a feature. A really important feature. Your product must have it.

One principle duct tape programmers understand well is that any kind of coding technique that’s even slightly complicated is going to doom your project. Duct tape programmers tend to avoid C++, templates, multiple inheritance, multithreading, COM, CORBA, and a host of other technologies that are all totally reasonable, when you think long and hard about them, but are, honestly, just a little bit too hard for the human brain.

The urge the reduce the complexity of the tools used to solve software problems is one that every software developer should share. However even more important is reducing the complexity of the actual solutions that are delivered to your customers at the end of the day. End users can't tell if you used complicated C++ techniques like template metaprogramming and mixins to build the application. They can tell when your application fails to solve their actual problems in a straightforward way or is so late to ship due to project delays that they lose interest in waiting for you to solve their problems.

There are many famous and everyday examples of this culture of complexity in software projects which are eventually trumped by solutions that solve 80% of the problem in a simple way. My favorite example is contrasting the World Wide Web invented by Tim Berners-Lee with Project Xanadu as envisioned by Ted Nelson.  Today the WWW is used by over a billion people to enrich their lives in myriad ways on a daily basis and has created hundreds of billions dollars in value by minting an entire new industry. Project Xanadu is a sad footnote spoken about in hushed tones by fans of hypertext who bewail the success of the Web and how it has forced us to settle for less (i.e. Worse Is Better).

If you aren't familiar with Project Xanadu you can think of it as a networked system of hyperlinked documents and media just like the WWW which had to satisfy the following seventeen rules

    1. Every Xanadu server is uniquely and securely identified.
    2. Every Xanadu server can be operated independently or in a network.
    3. Every user is uniquely and securely identified.
    4. Every user can search, retrieve, create and store documents.
    5. Every document can consist of any number of parts each of which may be of any data type.
    6. Every document can contain links of any type including virtual copies ("transclusions") to any other document in the system accessible to its owner.
    7. Links are visible and can be followed from all endpoints.
    8. Permission to link to a document is explicitly granted by the act of publication.
    9. Every document can contain a royalty mechanism at any desired degree of granularity to ensure payment on any portion accessed, including virtual copies ("transclusions") of all or part of the document.
    10. Every document is uniquely and securely identified.
    11. Every document can have secure access controls.
    12. Every document can be rapidly searched, stored and retrieved without user knowledge of where it is physically stored.
    13. Every document is automatically moved to physical storage appropriate to its frequency of access from any given location.
    14. Every document is automatically stored redundantly to maintain availability even in case of a disaster.
    15. Every Xanadu service provider can charge their users at any rate they choose for the storage, retrieval and publishing of documents.
    16. Every transaction is secure and auditable only by the parties to that transaction.
    17. The Xanadu client-server communication protocol is an openly published standard. Third-party software development and integration is encouraged.

Reading this list is like going through a list of places where World Wide Web fails. Rule #14 which implies every document on the network is redundantly backed up in disparate locations so they can always be is something the WWW doesn't do today which is why we have broken links and 404s all the time. Rule #9 implies that not only is copyright respected and tracked throughout the system but there is even a micropayment platform built in. All the discussions on micropayments saving newspapers would be moot if Project Xanadu ruled the world since it would have existed from day one. Rule #16 on transactions being secure and auditable sounds like Nirvana in today's world of botnets, malware and phishing scams which plague the Web.

Yet despite the fact that the forty year old Project Xanadu is a more compelling vision than were we are today it failed and Tim Berners-Lee's World Wide Web succeeded. In practical terms, Project Xanadu was trying to solve too many complex problems in a v1 product. In contrast, Tim Berners-Lee focused on the most valuable problems to solve for end users which was sharing documents and media with anyone on the Internet and punted on a bunch of the hard problems that would require a more controlled and tightly coupled network as well as a ton of more code. Tim Berners-Lee solved less than half the problems Project Xanadu set out to solve but has changed the world immeasurably for billions of people by providing simple solutions to complex problems and running away from trying to create complex solutions to complex problems.

The bottom line is that a lot of the time it's OK to create a solution that solves 80% of the problem. Always remember that shipping is a feature.

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Categories: Programming | Ramblings

Several months ago, danah boyd wrote a rather insightful post entitled one company, ten brands: lessons from retail for tech companies which contained the following pieces of wisdom

Lots of folks are unaware that multiple brands are owned by the same company (e.g., the same company owns Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy). Consumer activists often complain that this practice is deceptive because it tricks consumers into believing that there are big distinctions between brands when, often, the differences are minimal. Personally, while I'd love to see more consumer brand awareness, but I think that brand distinctions play an important role. I just wish that the tech industry would figure this out.
Unfortunately, I don't think that many companies are aware of the limitations of their brands. When they're flying high, their brands are invincible and extending it to a wide array of products seems natural. Yet, over time, tech companies' brands get entrenched. Certain users identify with it; others don't. New products using that brand enter into the market with both cachet and baggage. Yet, tech companies tend to hold onto their brands for dear life and assume users will forget. Foolish.
teens also have plenty to say about the brands themselves. Yahoo! and AOL, for example, are for old people. When I asked why they use Yahoo! Mail and AOL Instant Messaging if they're for old people, they responded by telling me that their parents made those accounts for them. Furthermore, email is for communicating with old people and AIM is "so middle school" and both are losing ground to SNS and SMS. While Microsoft is viewed in equally lame light amongst youth I spoke t with, it's at least valued as a brand for doing work. Yet, even youth who use MSN messenger think that msn.com is for old people. Why shouldn't they? When I logged in just now, the main visual was a woman with white hair sitting on a hospital bed with the caption "10 Vital Questions to Ask Your Doctor."
I would like to offer two bits of advice to all of the major tech companies out there: 1) Start sub-branding; and 2) Start doing real personalization.

If you're creating a new product, launch it with a new brand. Put your flagship brand on the bottom of the page, letting people know that this is backed by you - this is not about deception. Advertise it alongside your flagship brand if you think that'll gain you traction. But let the new product develop a life of its own and not get flattened by a universal brand... If you're buying a well-established brand, don't flatten it, especially if it's loved by youth. Kudos to Google wrt YouTube; boo to Yahoo! wrt Launch. Even at the coarse demographic level, people are different; don't treat them as a universal bunch, even if your back-end serves up the same thing to different interfaces.

As danah boyd points out above, as companies enter the new markets they bring their baggage brands along with them. When the brand doesn't mesh with the target audience then it is hard to get traction. Creating new brands that are distanced from the established brand is often a good idea in this case. An excellent example of this is Microsoft's branding strategy with XBox. With XBox, Microsoft created a new brand that distanced itself from the company's staid office productivity and accounting software roots but still let people know that the software powerhouse was behind the brand (notice how there is no mention of Microsoft until you scroll to the bottom of XBox.com?) .

But why did Microsoft need to create a new brand in the first place? Why couldn't it have just been called Windows Gaming Console or "Microsoft Gaming Console"? You should be able to figure out the answers to these questions if you are familiar with the 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. I particularly like laws #2 and #10 excerpted below

The Law of Contraction: A brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus. By narrowing the focus to a single category, a brand can achieve extraordinary success. Starbucks, Subway and Dominos Pizza became category killers when they narrowed their focus.

The Law of Extensions: The easiest way to destroy a brand is to put its name on everything. More than 90% of all new product introductions in the U.S. are line extensions. Line extensions destroy brand value by weakening the brand. The effects can be felt in diminished market share of the core brand, a loss of brand identity, and a cannibalization of the one's own sales. Often, the brand extension directly attacks the strength of the core brand. Does Extra Strength Tylenol imply that regular Tylenol isn't strong enough?

Historically, the software companies have built brands based on what their customers want to do instead of who their customers are. So we've ended up with a lot of task based brands like Google™ for Web searching, Adobe Photoshop™ for photo editing, or Microsoft PowerPoint™ for creating presentations.  These brands come from a world where software is utilitarian and is simply a tool for getting things done as opposed to being an integral part of people's identities and lifestyle. This means that a lot of software companies don't have experience building brands around people's personal experiences and background. With the rise of social software, we've entered a world where software is no longer just a tool for individual tasks but a key part of how millions of people interact with each other and present themselves every day. The old rules no longer apply.

In today's world, the social software you use says as much about you as the brand of clothes you wear or the kind of watch you rock. The average LinkedIn  user is different from the average Facebook user who is different from the average MySpace user even though they are all social networking sites.  Like weekend warriors who work a boring 9-5 during the week and get crunk on the weekends, people who utilize multiple social networking sites often do so to express different sides of their personality or to interact with different sets of friends as opposed to going back and forth based on the features of the sites.

This means that he utilitarian software brand doesn't really work well in this world. It isn't about having the best features or being the best site for social networking, it is about being the best place for me and my friends to hang out online. When put in those terms it is unsurprising that social networking sites are often dominant in specific geographic regions with no one site being globally dominant.

All of this is a long winded way of saying that sticking to a single brand, even if it is just the company name, gets in the way of breaking into new markets when it comes to "Web 2.0". Slapping Google or Yahoo! in front of a brand may make it more likely to be used by a certain segment of the population but it also places constraints on what can be done with those services due to people's expectations of the brand. There is a reason why Flickr eventually killed Yahoo! Photos and why it was decided that Google Video be relegated to being a search brand while YouTube would be the social sharing brand. The brand baggage and the accompanying culture made them road kill.

This is one situation where startups have an inherent advantage over the established Web players because they don't have any brand baggage holding them back. It is easy to be nimble and try out new things when there are no fixed expectations from your product team or your users about what your application is supposed to be.

With their recent acquisitions the established Web players like Yahoo! and Google are learning what other industries have learned over time; sometimes it pays to have different brands for different audiences.

NOTE: Creating different brands for different audiences is not the same as having lots of overlapping brands with  unclear differentiation.

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Categories: Ramblings | Social Software

  1. Bigger disappointment: Clerks 2 or Idiocracy?
  2. Why is Carrot Top so buff?
  3. Best way to introduce my fiancée to the greatness of giant shape shifting robots: Transformers: The Movie (1986) or Transformers: The Movie (2007)?
  4. Was this article meant to be a joke?
  5. Best way to complete this sentence without the help of a search engine: Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering? I think so, Brain but...?


Categories: Ramblings

Thanks to books like the Innovators Dilemma it is now an oft repeated bit of business lore, especially within the technology industry, that you should kill your cash cows before two guys in a garage do it for you. The skeptic in me suspects that this bit of industry truism is part of The Halo Effect at work. People have sought out examples that confirm this statement and ignored the hundreds of counter-examples that show how dangerous this kind of thinking can be to a business.

Recently I wrote a blog post entitled Arguing Intelligently About Copyright on the Internet which addressed some of the most common anti-copyright arguments you see on the Web on sites such as TechDirt. Mike Masnick of TechDirt, took umbrage at my post and followed up with a comment to my post as well as a TechDirt article entitled The Grand Unified Theory On The Economics Of Free. In the article, Mike Masnick makes a number of assertions that are similar to the truism around killing your cash cows.

Mike Masnick writes

First off, and this is key, none of what I put forth is about defending unauthorized downloads. I don't download unauthorized content (never have) and I certainly don't suggest you do either. You may very well end up in a lawsuit and you may very well end up having to pay a lot of money. It's just not a good idea. This whole series is from the other perspective -- from that of the content creator and hopefully explaining why they should encourage people to get their content for free. That's because of two important, but simple points:
  1. If done correctly, you can increase your market-size greatly.
  2. If you don't, someone else will do it correctly, and your existing business model will be in serious trouble
If that first point is explained clearly, then hopefully the second point becomes self-evident. However, many people immediately ask, how is it possible that giving away a product can guarantee that you've increased your market size? The first thing to understand is that we're never suggesting people just give away content and then hope and pray that some secondary market will grant them money. Giving stuff away for free needs to be part of a complete business model that recognizes the economic realities. We'll get to more details on that in a second.

As a business, increasing your market size is nice but maintaining your profits is even nicer. If you have 200,000 customers and make $80 profit per customer, would you be interested in doubling your customer base while making $20 profit per customer due to lowering your prices? The point here is that simply increasing the size of your market or the number of your customers does not translate to increasing the business's bottom line. As for the second point listed above, healthy paranoia is good but it shouldn't replace good business sense. After all, the list of successful fast followers includes some of the biggest companies in the world. If it worked for Google and Microsoft, it can work for your business.

Mike Masnick also outlines his business advice for purveyors of intellectual property digital content which is excerpted below

So, the simple bulletpoint version:
  1. Redefine the market based on the benefits
  2. Break the benefits down into scarce and infinite components.
  3. Set the infinite components free, syndicate them, make them easy to get -- all to increase the value of the scarce components
  4. Charge for the scarce components that are tied to infinite components
You can apply this to almost any market (though, in some it's more complex than others). Since this post is already way too long, we'll just take an easy example of the recording industry:
  1. Redefine the market: The benefit is musical enjoyment
  2. Break the benefits down (not a complete list...): Infinite components: the music itself. Scarce components: access to the musicians, concert tickets, merchandise, creation of new songs, CDs, private concerts, backstage passes, time, anyone's attention, etc. etc. etc.
  3. Set the infinite components free: Put them on websites, file sharing networks, BitTorrent, social network sites wherever you can, while promoting the free songs and getting more publicity for the band itself -- all of which increases the value for the final step
  4. Charge for the scarce components: Concert tickets are more valuable. Access to the band is more valuable. Getting the band to write a special song (sponsorship?) is more valuable. Merchandise is more valuable.
What the band has done in this case is use the infinite good to increase the value of everything else they have to offer.

The implicit assumption that Mike Masnick makes here is that losing the profits from cheaply copyable and easily distributed digital content will be made up by selling goods and services that is related to the digital content. I am highly suspicious of the theory that replacing the profits CDs, digital music and ringtone sales with the profits from increasing concert ticket prices ends up being a net positive for successful musicians.  The key reason for this is that,  there are physical limits on how many concerts a band can have or how many people can attend in a given location but such limits barely exist with regards to distributing digital content.

A concrete example is comparing the relative profits of the proprietary software companies with the Open Source software companies. In a recent blog post entitled The 'we win by killing' days are passing Tim O'Reilly wrote

1. Pure open source software businesses are orders of magnitude less profitable than their closed source brethren even as they close in on them in terms of the number of customers. (Compare Red Hat and Microsoft, MySQL and Oracle.) Meanwhile, companies built on top of open source but with new layers of closed source (iconically, Google) are building the kinds of outsized profits that once were the sole province of old style software companies. As growth slows, as it inevitably will (even if it takes another decade), these companies too will seek to maintain their outsized profits.

2. Outsized profits come from lock-in of one kind or another. Yes, there are companies that have no lock-in that gain outsized profits merely by means of scale, but they are few and far between.

The experiences of the software industry seem to contradict Mike Masnick's diagnoses and recommendations for the music industry. Giving away your most valuable asset and hoping to make it up by selling peripheral services and add-ons is more likely to destroy your company than become your redemption.

Counter arguments welcome.


Categories: Ramblings

December 5, 2006
@ 02:53 PM

I'm a big fan of alcopops but it seems like everytime I settle on one I like, it stops being carried in my local grocery stores. Here's my list so far

  1. Mike's Hard Iced Tea [relegated to urban legend]
  2. Brutal Fruit [discontinued]
  3. Bacardi Silver O3 [tasty and hard to find]
  4. Hornsby's Amber Hard Cider [so far so good]
This is just my way of warning you folks out there that if you like Hornsbys Amber Hard Cider you better stock up because given my luck it's going to be discontinued in the next couple of months. :)

Categories: Personal | Ramblings

A couple of days ago Ross Mayfield started a blog post entitled Abundance, and Five Years of Blogging with the following

When I sat down in my first economics class at UCLA, the professor wrote on the blackboard all we would learn, in really big letters:


I've been blogging for five years as of this month, and here's what I've learned:


From this intro, he directs us to a blog post by David Hornik entitled Chris Anderson Strikes Again: The Economy of Abundance which contains the following excerpt

Continuing in his role as shirpa of the new economy, Chris has moved on from the Long Tail to a related but distinct idea that he is calling the Economy of Abundance. In a talk he just gave at the PopTech conference (a fantastic event in the unbelievably beautiful but remote town of Camden Maine), Chris described this new economy. The basic idea is that incredible advances in technology have driven the cost of things like transistors, storage, bandwidth, to zero. And when the elements that make up a business are sufficiently abundant as to approach free, companies appropriately should view their businesses differently than when resources were scarce (the Economy of Scarcity). They should use those resources with abandon, without concern for waste. That is the overriding attitude of the Economy of Abundance -- don't do one thing, do it all; don't sell one piece of content, sell it all; don't store one piece of data, store it all. The Economy of Abundance is about doing everything and throwing away the stuff that doesn't work. In the Economy of Abundance you can have it all.

The same businesses that are the poster children for the Long Tail, are the poster children for the Economy of Abundance. And the same businesses that are the victims of the Long Tail are the poster children for the Economy of Scarcity. With bandwidth and storage approaching free, iTunes can offer three million songs (P2P offers nine million). In contrast, with limited shelf space, Tower Records can only offer fifty- or sixty-thousand tracks. The end result, consumer choose abundance over scarcity (something for everyone) -- Tower Records gets liquidated while iTunes grows dramatically

All this talk of Abundance being the new Economy misses the point that Scarcity is still what drives all economic endeavors. What has happened with the advent of the Web is that certain things that were traditionally considered scarce are now abundant (e.g. shelf space, editorial content, software, etc) which means that the new economic lords are those that can exploit scarcity along another axis.

Most successful Web companies today are exploiting the scarcity of attention and time that plagues all humans. In a world where there a hundred million websites the problem isn't lack of content, it is finding the right content. Similarly, in a world where there are competing media for people's attention from television and radio to the Web and print magazines, advertisers need to be able to find the right audience and medium for their sales pitches. Both of these are examples of scarcity that companies like Google have exploited in the 'new economy'. Scarcity of attention also points to how companies like eBay and Amazon have risen to the top not 'abundance of shelf space' because simply having infinite shelf space doesn't explain why eBay and Amazon have been more successful than Yahoo! Auctions and Barnes & Noble online.

Even the example of the iTunes Music Store is another story of the economics of scarcity. The key to its success has been the fact that it is tied to the iPod and is the only music store that is tied to the world's most successful portable music player. The economics of abundance is a good fairy tale to scare people in traditional bricks & mortar businesses like Tower Records but at the end of the day simply moving online does not change the fact that you are always battling scarcity when you are engaging in business. Just ask the folks at MSN Music how the economy of abundance worked out for them.


Categories: Ramblings

August 31, 2006
@ 06:48 PM

I've slowly begun to accept the fact that the term Web 2.0 is here to stay. This means I've had to come up with a definition of the term that works for me. Contextually, the term still is meant to capture the allure of geek-loved sites like Flickr and http://del.icio.us. Being "Web 2.0" means having the same characteristics features of these sites like open APIs, tagging and AJAX.

One of the things I've realized while reading TechCrunch and sitting in meetings at work is that there is a big difference between folks like Caterina Fake or Joshua Schachter and the thousands of wannabes walking the halls in Redmond and Silicon Valley. The difference is the difference between building features because you want to improve your user's experience and building features you've been told those features are how to improve your user's experience.

Everytime I see some website that provides APIs that aren't useful enough to build anything interesting I think "There's somebody who heard or was told that building APIs was important without why it was important". Everytime I see some website implement tagging systems that are not folksonomies I think "There's somebody who doesn't get why tagging is useful". And every single time I see some site add AJAX or Flash based features that makes it harder to use the site than when it was more HTML-based I wonder "What the fuck was the point?".

I guess the truth is that TechCrunch depresses me. There is such lack of original thinking, failure to empathize with end users and just general unawareness of the trends that led to the features we describe as being Web 2.0 in our industry today. Sad.


Categories: Ramblings

Recently I was reading an email and realized that I'd dismissed the content of the email before I'd finished reading it. I wondered why I had done that and after performing some self analysis I realized that the email contained several instances of certain phrases which caused me to flip the bozo bit on the content of the email. Below are my top 5 'bozo bit' phrases which automatically make my eyes glaze over and my mind shut off once I see them in an email I'm reading

  1. synergy: This is usually a synonym for "we've run out of ideas but think integrating our products will give us a shot in the arm". Classic example of synergy at work is the AOL/TimeWarner merger which turned out to be such a bad idea that Steve Case apologized for it last week.

  2. make(s) us more agile: I usually have no problem with this word if it is used by people who write code or at best are one level removed from those who write code. On the other hand, whenever I see a VP or middle management wonk use "make(s) us more agile" they not only show an ignorance of the principles of the agile manifesto but often propose things that make developers less agile not more.

  3. innovative: This one bothers me on multiple levels. The first is that many people fail to realize that new features aren't innovation, every idea you've had has already been had by someone else. You are at best just executing the idea a little differently. Just this weekend, I looked at Digg for the first time and realized that all the hubbub was about a knock-off of Kuro5hin with a more charismatic project leader and accompanying podcast. Another thing that bothers me about 'innovative' is that it is often about using technology for technology's sake instead of providing actual value to one's customers. A classic example of this comes from my first internship at Radiant Systems, when the company announced a partnership with AOL to provide email access at gas pumps. The stock actually jumped for a day or two until people realized what a dumb idea it was. Who's going to spend time logging into a terminal at a gas pump to check their email? People hate spending time at the gas pump. Can you imagine waiting behind a car at a gas station while the person in front of you was spending time deletiong the spam from their inbox at the gas pump? I think not.

  4. web 2.0: I realize this is flogging a dead horse but since this is the phrase that inspired this post I decided to include it. What I hate about this phrase is that it is so imprecise. I have no idea what the fuck people are talking about when they say Web 2.0. Even Tim O'Reilly who coined the term had to use a five page essay just to explain What is Web 2.0 which boiled down to Web 2.0 was a grab-bag of the key features of websites popular among the geek set regardless of whether they'd existed since 'Web 1.0' or were just new fads trends. It gets even better, earlier this month Tim O'Reilly published Levels of the Game: The Hierarchy of Web 2.0 Applications which establishes levels of Web 2.0 compliance. MapQuest is at Compliance Level 0 of Web 2.0 while Flickr is at Compliance Level 2 of Web 2.0 and Wikipedia is at Compliance Level 3. If this all makes sense to you, then I guess I'll see you at the invitation-only-yet-still-costs-thousands-of-dollars-to-attend Web 2.0 conference this year.

  5. super excited: This one may just be a Microsoft thing. The reason I can't stand this phrase is that it is an obvious overexaggeration of how the person feels about what they are talking about since it often is associated with information that is barely interesting let alone super exciting. Do you know what would be super exciting? Getting a phone call from Carmen Electra telling you that she was using StumbleUpon, found your blog and thought you sounded cute and would like to meet you. That's super exciting. Your product just shipped? Your division just had another reorg? You just added a new feature to your product? Those aren't even interesting let alone super exciting.

What are yours?


Categories: Ramblings | Technology

I have a Dell laptop which was recently purchased and thus as a consequence of the Google<->Dell deal comes with a bunch of Google utilities installed such as the Google Toolbar and Google Desktop. In addition, it had http://www.google.com/ig/dell as the default home page. One thing I've noticed is every once in a while when I type a URL in the browser address bar, instead of going the web page I get search ads instead. Below is a screenshot of what happened when I typed http://www.apartments.com/ in the address bar recently.

Weird huh?


Categories: Ramblings

One of the interesting side effects of blogs is that it tells you more about people than you can ever learn from reading a resume or giving an interview. This is both good and bad. It's good because in a professional context it informs you about the kind of people you may or should want to end up working with. It's bad, for the same reasons.

Blogs Make Me Sad
I find all the "Web 2.0" hype pretty disgusting. Everytime I read a discussion about what makes a company "Web 2.0" or not, I feel like I've lost half a dozen IQ points. Everytime I see someone lay on the "Web 2.0" hype I mentally adjust my estimation of their intelligence downward. The only folks this doesn't apply to are probably Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle because I can see the business reasons why they started this hype storm in the first place. Everyone else comes of as a bunch of sheep or just plain idiots.

Some folks are worse than others. These are the self proclaimed "Web 2.0" pundits like Dion Hinchcliffe who's blessed us with massively vacuous missives like Thinking in Web 2.0: Sixteen Ways and Web 2.0 and the Five Walls of Confusion. Everytime I accidentally stumble on one of his posts by following links from other's posts I feel like I've become dumber by having to read the empty hype-mongering. Russell Beattie's WTF 2.0 shows that I'm not the only person who is disgusted by this crap.

I was recently invited to Microsoft's SPARK workshop and was looking forward to the experience until I found out Dion Hinchcliffe would be attending. Since the event aims to be audience driven, I cringe when I think about being stuck in some conference hall with no way to escape listening to vacuous  "Web 2.0" hype till my ears bleed. If I had any sense I'd just not attend the conference, but who turns down a weekend trip to Vegas?

If not for blogs, I wouldn't know about Dion Hinchcliffe and could attend this workshop with great expectations instead of feelings of mild dread.

Blogs make me sad.

Blogs Make Me Happy
One of the things I loved about working on the XML team at Microsoft was all the smart people I got to shoot the breeze with about geeky topics every day. There were people like Michael Brundage, Derek Denny-Brown, Joshua Allen, and Erik Meijer who I felt made me smarter everytime I left their presence.

With blogs I get this feeling from reading the writings of others without having to even be in their presence. For example, there are so many lessons in Shelley Powers's recent post Babble that a summary doesn't do it justice. Just go and read it. It made me smile.

Blogs make me happy.


Categories: Ramblings

February 21, 2006
@ 06:05 PM

Mike Gunderloy hits a number of my pet peeves in his Daily Grind 823 post where he writes

The Problem with Single Sign-In Systems - Dare Obesanjo attempts to explain why Passport is so annoying. But hey, you know what - your customers don't care about the technical issues. They just want it to work. Explaining how hard the problem is just makes you look like a whiner. This principle applies far beyond Passport.

Pet peeve #1, my name is spelled incorrectly. I find this really irritating especially since anyone who is writing about something I blogged about can just cut and paste my name from their RSS reader or my webpage. I can't understand why there are so many people who mispell my name as Dare Obesanjo or  Dare Obsanjo. Is it really that much of a hassle to use cut & paste? 

Pet peeve #2, projecting silly motives as to why I wrote a blog post. My blog is a personal weblog where I talk about [mostly technical] stuff that affects me in my professional and personal life. It isn't a Microsoft PR outlet aimed at end users. 

Pet peeve #3, not being able to tell the difference between what I wrote and what someone else did. Trevin is the person who wrote a blog post trying to explain the user experience issues around Passport sign-in, I just linked to it.


Categories: Ramblings

February 6, 2006
@ 11:00 AM
I just spent 35 minutes working on a post on RSS and Email only to lose it because Firefox crashed. The main reason I started composing my blog posts in Firefox was because I had lost some posts due to crashes in Internet Explorer. I guess it's back to writing my blog posts in Emacs.



Categories: Ramblings

January 6, 2006
@ 07:10 PM

It's a new year so it's time to make some more promises to myself which I'll likely break in a few weeks. This time I thought it would help if I wrote them up in public so I'd be better motivated to actually achieve them.

  1. Learn a New Programming Language: When I was in school, I got to explore a new programming language every couple of months. I used C, C++, Java, Smalltalk, JavaScript and Lisp while in school. In recent years I've been programming exclusively in C# although I've started toying with JavaScript again due to the AJAX hype. I've decided that I want to learn a dynamic programming language like Python or Ruby. Given that the .NET Framework now has IronPython, I suspect Python is what I'll end up picking up. Since we plan to greatly improve the plugin story for RSS Bandit, I may get some practical experience by building new plugins for RSS Bandit using IronPython.

  2. Write More Articles: Looking back on various articles I've written it's clear that since joining MSN and getting a new girlfriend my output has reduced. I only wrote two articles last year compared to a minimum of five or six in previous years. I've already tried to start on the right foot by promising an article on my Seattle Movie Finder page for the O'Reilly Network. My big goal is to update my C# From a Java Developer's Perspective article to account for Whidbey (C# 2.0) and Tiger (Java 5.0). The article still gets thousands of hits a month even though its over four years old.

  3. Come Up With New Career Goals: When I was in school, my dream was to become a well-known technology guru like Don Box or Scott Meyers then get paid consulting gigs to be the hero that comes in to fix peoples problems and tell them how to build their software. Since then, I've seen a lot of the people who I once idolized end up working in the b0rg cube. In conversations with Don Box, he's mentioned that the life isn't as glamorous as I assumed.

    It's coming on my fourth year at Microsoft and I'm not clear what my long term career goals are anymore. I love my current job; I get the build cool stuff that impacts millions of people and work with a bunch of smart people. However I don't have a clear idea of where this leads. In recent months I've gotten pings from recruiters from AMZN and GOOG, which I've discounted but the funny thing is if I was looking to leave I probably couldn't articulate what I was looking for to a recruiter.

    The only thing I am sure of is that I'm not going to get my MBA after all. My main motivation for getting it was "to do it now before it got too late" but that's enough of a motivator to put in the effort since I don't know what I'd do with it once I got it. 

    It's going to be time for my mid-year review and discussion with my boss in a couple of weeks. I hope I have a clearer idea where I want to go by then.

  4. Piss of Less People with my Writing: Whatever. I've already gotten two angry emails from different folks at work about stuff I've written online and it isn't even the first week of the year. Maybe next year. ;)


Categories: Ramblings

I've been surprised by how often movies with similar themes end up being released at roughly the same time by Hollywood studios. Since it takes several months to shoot a movie this means that somewhere along the line some Hollywood exec hears about a rival studio producing a movie and decides to produce a movie with a similar theme. Some examples that come to mind are

I'm sure there are dozens of examples like this from across the years. What I wonder is whether I'm right that Hollywood execs just have a "follow the leader" mentality and decide that if a competitor is shooting a disaster movie for summer of next year that sounds like a hit then they need to shoot one as well. Or is there some more sophisticated reasoning at work?


Categories: Ramblings

I've been surprised to see several weblogs report that MSN Spaces 27 million blogs with over 7.6 million active bloggers. What I found surprising wasn't the inaccurate data on the number of weblogs or active users that we have. The surprise that these accurate sounding numbers were 'interpreted' from an off hand comment I made in my blog. The source of this information seems to be this post in the Blog Herald entitled MSN Spaces now has 27 million blogs and over 7.6 million active users: Microsoft which states

Microsoft’s blogging service has grown from an estimaited 18 million blogs in October to 27 million blogs and at least 7.6 million active bloggers, according to Dare Obasanjo from Microsoft in a post discussing server issues.

The service still remains in third position amongst blog providers, with Xanga and MySpace both believed to be hosting 40 million blogs each.

(note: calculations based on this line: "I never expected [Spaces] that we'd grow to be three times as big [as Live Journal] and three times as active within a year.")

I've been pretty surprised at the number of blogs I've seen quoting these numbers as facts when they are based on such fuzzy techniques. For the record we don't have 27 million blogs, the number is higher. As for our number of active users, that depends on your definition of active. Using one definition, we are over three times as active as LiveJournal. That's what I meant. 


Categories: Ramblings

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, I've spent the past day and a half with a large variety of young people whose ages range from 11 to 22 years old. The various conversations I've participated in and overheard have cemented some thoughts I've had about competition in the consumer software game.

This series of thoughts started with a conversation I had with someone who works on MSN Windows Live Search. We talked about the current focus we have on 'relevance' when it comes to our search engine. I agree that it's great to have goals around providing users with more relevant results but I think this is just a one [small] part of the problem. Google rose to prominence by providing a much better search experience than anyone else around. I think it's possible to build a search engine that is as good as Google's. I also think its possible to build one that is a little better than they are at providing relevant search results. However I strongly doubt that we'll see a search engine much better than Google's in the near future. I think that in the near future, what we'll see is the equivalent of Coke vs. Pepsi. Eventually, will we see the equivalents the Pepsi Challenge with regards to Web search engines? Supposedly, the Pepsi challenge shows that people prefer Pepsi to Coke in a blind taste test. However the fact is Coca Cola is the world's #1 soft drink, not Pepsi. A lot of this is due to Coke's branding and pervasive high quality advertising, not the taste of their soft drink. 

Google's search engine brand has gotten to the point where it is synonymous with Web search in many markets. With Google, I've seen a 7-year old girl who was told she was being taken to the zoo by her parents, rush to the PC to 'Google' the zoo to find out what animals she'd see that day. That's how pervasive the brand is.It's like the iPod and portable MP3 players. People ask for iPods for Xmas not MP3 players. When I get my next portable MP3 player, I'll likely just get a video iPod without even bothering to research the competition. Portable audio used to be synonymous with the Sony Walkman until the game changed and they got left behind. Now that portable audio is synonymous with MP3 players, it's the Apple iPod. I don't see them being knocked off their perch anytime soon unless another game changing transition occurs.

So what does this mean for search engine competition and Google? Well, I think increasing a search engine's relevance to become competitive with Google's is a good goal but it is a route that seems guaranteed to make you the Pepsi to their Coke or the Burger King to their McDonalds. What you really need is to change the rules of the game, the way the Apple iPod did.

The same thing applies to stuff I work on in my day job. Watching an 11-year old spend hours on  MySpace and listening to college sorority girls talk about how much they use The Facebook, I realize we aren't just competing with other software tools and trying to build more features. We are competing with cultural phenomena. The MSN Windows Live Messenger folks have been telling me this about their competition with AOL Instant Messenger in the U.S. market and I'm beginning to see where they are coming from. 


November 23, 2005
@ 02:13 PM

I got the feedback from Bill Gates and his TA about my Thinkweek paper this morning.

They liked it. :)


Categories: Ramblings

October 29, 2005
@ 04:33 PM

Yesterday I was at a Halloween event at a local grade school and I was peeved by at least three things I saw

  1. The lunch menu had "pizza", "cheese sticks and sauce" and "mini cheeseburgers" on it. Feeding growing kids junk food for lunch on a regular basis just seems like starting them off on the wrong foot nutritionally.

  2. The whiteboard in the gym had a list of reasons to excercise and on it cardiorespiratory was incorectly spelled as cardiorespitory several times. .

  3. There were a few bean bag toss games set up. Each kid got the same prize independent on how good or bad they did. The kids who got the bean bag through the difficult holes all 3 times got the same amount of candy as the kid who missed all three. That seems to send the wrong message about competition.

I could actually see myself complaining about one or more of the above if I was a parent with kids at the school. It looks like I'm going to be one of those parents when my time comes.


Categories: Ramblings

October 17, 2005
@ 04:51 PM

Every week or so I get a complaint from someone using Safari on Mac OS X complaining about the fact that my blog looked wacky in their browser. I finally got around to fixing the templates used by my blog and now it should look fine in Safari.

The following sites were helpful in showing me what my site looked like in Safari; http://www.danvine.com/icapture/ and http://www.fundisom.com/g5/. Thanks to Martin Dittus for pointing me out to these sites without which I wouldn't have been able to confirm my changes.


Categories: Ramblings

I've been to two O'Reilly Conferences this year and both times I've been struck by the homogeneity of the audience. Most of the speakers and attendees are white males in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. There are few blacks, women, indians or east asians. Much fewer than I'm used to seeing during my typical workday or at other conferences I have attended. Shelley Powers has mentioned this before in posts such as Maids, Mommies, and Mistresses  but today was the first time I've seen this commented on by one of the folks I'd consider to be in the 'inner circle' of the O'Reilly Conference set.

In his post What it's like at Web 2.0 Anil Dash writes

So, there's the Old Boy's Club. And surprisingly, there's a 50-50 ratio of wanna-bes to real successes within that club. But the unsurprising part is probably what the makeup of that club looks like. Web 2.0 might be made of people, as Ross Mayfield said, but judging by the conference, Web 2.0 is pretty much made of white people. I'm not used to any event in a cosmopolitan area being such a monoculture.

Now, the folks who organized Web 2.0 are good people whom I genuinely believe want their event to be inclusive. But the homogeneity of the audience doesn't just extend to ethnicity, it's even more evident in the gender breakdown. There are others who've covered this topic better than me, but it's jarring to me not merely because the mix was such a poor representation of the web that I know, but because I think it's going to come back and bite the web in the ass if it doesn't change eventually.

See, it's not just making sure the audience and speakers represent the web we're trying to reach, but the fact that Bay Area tech conferences are so culturally homogenous is dangerous for the web industry. When people talk about buying a song on the iTunes music store, they're still using some tired Britney Spears example, or if they're under 35 or so, they might mention Franz Ferdinand. This is not an audience in touch with Bow Wow or Gretchen Wilson, even though they've sold millions of trackcs. When they talk about television, they're talking about broadcasting Lost or Desperate Housewives, but they're not aware of Degrassi or Ultimate Fighting. Worse, I met a number of people who were comfortable with being culturally illiterate about a great many people who live right here in the U.S.; I can't imagine how they would reach out to other cultures or countries.

I've been quite surprised by how much O'Reilly conferences fail to reflect the diversity of the software industry as I've experienced it, let alone the Web at large. This is "Web 2.0"? I surely hope not.


Categories: Ramblings

August 13, 2005
@ 03:30 AM

I'm back in Seattle and may have already beaten jet lag by having never switched my watch from west coast time. It feels good to be back in my apartment. The five flights back were pretty uneventful. The only noteworthy event was that I saw Forest Whitaker in the upper class lounge of Virgin Atlantic at Heathrow airport. I was going to walk up to him and tell him how much I loved The Crying Game and Waiting To Exhale until I realized that would have made me sound like a jerk. I doubt that people in the movie business like being told their stuff rocked...a decade ago.

PS: If you are ever in the UK and you hear someone described as being Asian, it means they are from India not East Asia as is the case in the US.


Categories: Ramblings

July 24, 2005
@ 02:40 AM

I'll be leaving for Nigeria in the next couple of days and should be gone for a few weeks. Going home is always fun, I'll have my mom asking me when I'm going to settle down with a nice Catholic Nigerian girl while my dad wonders when I'm going to stop goofing off at Microsoft and go back to school to finish my education.

Of course, the best part about going on vacation is the mountain of email and spec bugs I know will be waiting for me when I get back. :)



Categories: Ramblings

July 12, 2005
@ 02:14 PM

My usage of Wikipedia as an online reference has continued to grow over the last couple of months. Although in general most of the entries are well written I've seen a couple of entries that need a bunch of work. Some of these I could actually help with but just don't have time right now. I have a list of these entries and thought it might make sense to post them on my blog on the off chance that someone reading my blog may be interested in updating these entries. 

The entries I'd like to update if I had some time are

All of these are entries that I consider incomplete and believe I could flesh out. Also some of the writing is extremely sloppy but I guess that's what you get when anyone with a pulse can edit an entry. 


Categories: Ramblings

It's been hard to escape coverage of the Live 8 concerts since that's all MTV showed over the weekend and the news channels have been covering it in the mornings while I work out. Events like Live 8 always make me end up feeling ambivalent. One the one hand it is great to see people trying to help with the problems people are facing in Africa and on the other it perpetuates the notion that Africa is the world's charity case. After some consideration, I definitely think my feelings about the concerts are mostly positive. 

I've seen some blog posts complain that not enough African artists were included in the concerts and others criticising the concerts by asking what good will a rock concert end up influencing the members of the G8.

My thoughts are similar to those David Weinberger expressed in his post Live 8: Cause or fashion statement? where he wrote

For me it comes down to this: I can't imagine that people going to a big rock concert will change the mind of any G8 leader, but if Live 8 makes debt relief trendy, I'm all for it. After all, trendiness seemed to have an effect on ending Apartheid in the 80s.

In a similar vein I echo the sentiment's from the post in Brian's Black Star Journal entitled Development issues and celebrities where he wrote  

I remember back when Princess Diana got involved in the landmine question. I wondered how those ordinary activists felt. They worked on the issue for years to little effect but then this fancy royal flies in and suddenly it's the cause célèbre du jour.

But on the other hand, at the end of the day, the Ottawa treaty banning landmines was signed. Most countries (not including the US) do not use landmines anymore. Is it really important who gets credit? As an activist, is it about you or the cause? Do you think any anti-landmine activist would say, "I think we should revoke the Ottawa treaty because it wouldn't have passed without star power"? I hope not. If so, they are not real activists.

Despite these sentiments I agree with the economists and aid groups cited in variousnews storiesabout Live 8 that at the end of the day what African nations need more than aid and debt cancellation is better governance and to participate more fully in international trade. Better governance simply cannot be overemphasized. In certain nations African governments have really, really screwed things up. For many nations, without regime change, giving more aid is just sending in good money after bad.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.


Categories: Ramblings

June 14, 2005
@ 02:32 PM

So it looks like I'll be attending Gnomedex 5.0 next week. I had expected to sit it out but a chance to attend fell in my lap last week so I took the opportunity. The conference will be in walking distance from my apartment and will be all about blogging & RSS related topics so it is doubleplusgood that I'll get to go.

I exchanged some mail with Nick Bradbury and Chris Pirillo about being part of an aggregator developer get together during the conference so that should be fun too. I'm looking forward to meeting a bunch of folks who I've only exchanged mail with over the past few years.



Categories: Ramblings

June 6, 2005
@ 12:43 AM

A few years ago I decided to relocate to Seattle and take a job with Microsoft. One of the things I knew I was going to miss was the Atlanta night life and all the various clubs that played crunk music. As luck would have it, I moved here around the same time that music from the Dirty South started to gain national prominence. I'm still taken aback sometimes when I hear Lil Jon played at the average yuppie infested club or bar in downtown Seattle when back in my college days you had to go to clubs outside downtown Atlanta if you wanted to hear Oomp Camp, Lil Jon, Pastor Troy, Ying Yang Twins or any other crunk local acts.

Of course, not all the good crunk stuff gets radio airplay despite how much Lil Jon is being played these days. Below are some of the songs that have been getting regular play as part of my daily routine. Depending on where you live some of it is mainstream while some of it isn't. Enjoy.

  1. Give Me That - Lil Boosie & Webbie (Featuring Bun B)
  2. I Smoke I Drank (remix) - Body Head Bangerz (Featuring Youngbloodz)
  3. Still Tippin' - Mike Jones (Featuring Slim Thug And Paul Wall)
  4. Girlfight - Brooke Valentine (Featuring Lil Jon & Big Boi)
  5. Some Cut - Trillville (Featuring Cutty)

If you have some suggestions for new tracks I should check out, post a comment below.


Categories: Ramblings

In his post Reconsidering blogrolls (and what the heck are "folks", anyway?) Uche Ogbuji writes

In Shelley Powers entries "Ms Pancake" and "Let’s keep the Blogroll and throw away the writing", I've learned that there is some controversy about blogrolls. When I threw together Copia I tossed in a blogroll, which was just a random list of blogs I read. I hardly worried that the list would grow too long because I have limited time for reading blogs.

Shelley's posts made me think about the matter more carefully. To draw the basic lesson out of the long and cantankerous points in her blog entries (and comments), a blog is about communication, and in most cases communication within a circle (if an open and, one hopes, expanding one). Based on that line of thinking, Chime and I had a discussion and thought it would be best if rather than having a "blogroll" list of blogs we read, we had a list of other Weblogs with which we have some more direct and reciprocal connection. This includes people with whom we've had personal and professional relationships, and also people who have taken the time to engage us here on Copia. There is still some arbitrariness to this approach, and there is some risk of turning such a listing into the manifestation of a mutual back-slapping club, but it does feel more rightly to me. We do plan to post an OPML as a link on the page template, so people can check out what feeds we read (if they care); this feels the right compromise to me.

I was going to write a lengthy counterargument to the various posts by Shelley Powers about blogrolls then wondered whether the reason I even cared about this was that her writing had convinced Uche Ogbuji to drop me from his blogroll? Wouldn't I then be justifying some of the arguments against blogrolls? It's all so confusing...

While I'm still trying to figure this out, you should read Shelley's original post, Steve Levy, Dave Sifry, and NZ Bear: You are Hurting Us and see whether you think the arguments against blogrolls are as wrong as I think they are.


Every once in a while I find myself still having to check a few websites directly instead of reading them in my favorite RSS reader. The top 5 sites I still check by hand which I'd love to see get RSS feeds are

  1. The Latest Editorial Cartoons of Clay Bennett 
  2. Paul Graham's Essays
  3. The Misanthropic Bitch
  4. The Tucker Max Stories
  5. Malcolm Gladwell's Articles

What are your list of sites that should have RSS feeds but don't? Maybe we can get together and sign a petition. :)


April 10, 2005
@ 04:47 PM

There are some words that when I read in prose, such as blog posts, immediately let me know the author is either a pretentious windbag or just plain clueless. The most recent addition to this list is Web 2.0. For an example of what I mean, read Technorati, Bloglines, and The Economics of Feeds.

I suspect a lot of the people yacking about Web 2.0 now are the same ones who were gushing about the New Economy a few short years ago.

Despite my dislike of the term, it is likely I'll be at the Web 2.0 Conference this fall.



Categories: Ramblings

I just stumbled on a post by Phil Gyford entitled With great audiences where he discusses whether bloggers have a responsibility to do more fact checking once they grow to having a large audience. Phil writes

With this greater audience comes a greater responsibility. If 100,000 people are reading your words you need to be more certain about what you say than if it’s just for a bunch of mates. I can’t help feeling that Boing Boing has stepped past the hazy mark where it can get away with publishing off-the-cuff posts about events in the world without spending some of the time and money we assume those ads are generating on checking facts. Let’s look at a couple of examples that might have benefited from more research.

In January there was a post about a man who was arrested for attempting to hack a tsunami appeal website. For Boing Boing the juicy story wasn’t that the man was arrested (as reported by BBC News a week earlier) but that he was arrested for using an unusual browser, which the company managing the donations mistook for a hacking attempt. It’s a great story, but Boing Boing’s basis for this report comes from a source on an unnamed mailing list. Cory’s introduction to the mailing list quote reports the event as fact, not rumour, and this no doubt contributed to hundreds of other weblogs in turn reporting the event as fact.

Leaving aside the mindless gullibility of all these other webloggers, when readers start assuming what you post is fact this is probably a sign that you should be checking those facts a little more.

The second example is Boing Boing’s post about a high-school principal who “banned blogging” because it “isn’t educational”. Part of the blame lies with the source story at the Rutland Herald whose over-eager sub-editors misleadingly headlined the story “High school bans blogging”. In fact the school banned a single website and the principal simply issued a sensible warning about children weblogging — as with any activity online, kids should be careful with the information they make public.

But Boing Boing got carried away with the newspaper’s headline, repeating it in theirs even though a cursory read of the newspaper article reveals that no one “banned blogging”. The newspaper claims the principal doesn’t think blogging is educational, and Cory could certainly have criticised him for this alone, although it would make for a less dramatic post. The repetition of the lie about the principal banning blogging, rather than his apparent opinion, is possibly also what prompted a reader to suggest people should email the principal to complain.

A professional publication should have called the school to verify the story before simply republishing it. Otherwise the publication would, perhaps, end up criticised on Boing Boing like the Indian news agencies that blindly repeated a hoax in February.

I found Phil's post via Clay Shirky's post Banning blogging, 'Toothing, and Yoz. Clay Shirky seems to agree with Phil and goes one step further to admonish bloggers who simply echo what they read on the Web without applying critical thinking to what they are reading. He also points out that Boing Boing is not alone in this behavior by writing

My employer is a victim of the half truths and rumors Slashdot spreads on an almost weekly basis. There are lots of stories about Microsoft that are now part of the IT culture which are mainly rumors started on Slashdot. A few months ago the MSN Spaces team was the target of a flood of critical posts in the blogosphere after a misinterpretation of the terms of use for the service were posted to Boing Boing. This doesn't seem much different to me than supermarket tabloids that are always reporting rumors about  Brad & Jen, Nick & Jessica or J-Lo & P.Diddy. 

The most interesting response to Phil's post I've seen is Danah Boyd's post in defense of BoingBoing (or why i'm not a journalist) which argues that Cory and Xeni (Boing Boing editors) are simply blogging as a form of self expression and the fact that they have a large readership should not be considered a responsibility by them.

Maybe I'm just a corny comic book geek but I've always felt "With great power, comes great responsibility". To each his own, I guess.


Categories: Ramblings

I woke up this morning to find an interesting bit of Web history posted in a comment in response my post SOA, AJAX and REST: The Software Industry Devolves into the Fashion Industry by Adam Bosworth. He wrote

I actually agree with the post and I could care less what it is called (Ajax or DHTML or ..) but I thought I'd correct a couple of historical points. We (I led the IE MSFT 4.0 team which shipped in the fall of 97) called it DHTML because we introduced the read and writable DOM so that Ecmascript could dynamically modify the page to react to fine grained user actions and asynchronous events. That really was new and inventing this and the term occured simultaneously. Scott Isaac drove this work and worked tirelessly to get it into the W3C. We (MSFT) had a sneak preview for many developers in the fall of 96 actually showing things like pages expanding and collapsing in the gmail style and Tetris running using Javascript and DHTML in the page. Before then, javascript could hide/unhide items and react to some coarse events, but that was about it. We added the XMLHTTPRequest object (Chris Lovett actually did this) in IE 5.0 when we wrote the auction demo to show how XML could be used with IE to build a new interactive client. If there was a pioneer for Ajax, I'd argue that the auction demo was it.

I am surprised by how familiar I am with some of the people he mentions. Chris Lovett is currently an architect on the XML team at Microsoft and was the person who gave me the Extreme XML column on MSDN when I was still fresh out of college in my few months at Microsoft. Scott Isaacs is an architect on the MSN Spaces team who I've been in a few design meetings with so far. Cool.

I also see that Adam is back posting to his blog with his post Tensions on the Web. He mentions our conversation at ETech, specifically

I haven't posted for quite a while because my last posts caused unfair attacks on Google by twisting the words I'd used in my posts and attributing my posts to Google. I want to be really clear about something. The opinions I express in this Blog are my own. They have nothing to do with Google's opinions. Google only asks that I not leak information about future products. Period. But despite that, recent blog posts of mine were used to attack Google and this upset me deeply. Much to my surprise, Dare Obasanjo came up to me and told me, after some fairly vitriolic complaining from me to him about this earlier state of affairs, that he wished I'd continue to post. I thought about this over the weekend and decided that to some degree, you have to take your chances in this environment rather than just hide when you don't like the behavior and that perhaps I was being over sensitive anyway. There are too many interesting things going on right now anyway.

Adam's blog postings have been somewhat inspirational to me and part of the reason I decided to move to MSN (in fact, I'd considered leaving Microsoft). They also led to the most popular entry in my blog, Social Software is the Platform of the Future. It's good to see that he's back to sharing his ideas with us all.

Welcome back to the blogosphere, Adam.


Categories: Ramblings

A few days ago I wrote a post entitled Bringing Affirmative Action to Blogging where I jokingly asked whether we would need a blaggercon conference for black bloggers. Less than a week later I found out there was a blogging while black panel at the SXSW conference via Nancy White's blog. The blogged transcript of the panel interesting.

Another thing I found interesting was the ratio of men to women at the panel which Nancy White put at 28:80 (35%) which is quite impressive for a technology conference. This compares unfavorably with the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference which a number of women in technology have criticized for being heavily male dominated. These posts include SXSW, why i attended and marginalized populations by Danah Boyd, why sxsw by Liz Lawley and Number 9 Number 9 Number 9 by Shelley Powers. These posts mainly point out that given that both ETech and SXSW were being held at the same time, it seems many women chose the latter over the former. Funny enough, while I did get the feeling that there were way too many white guys at ETech even for a technology conference I wasn't thinking "where are the women?" but instead "where are all the Indian men?". I guess that reveals something about me.

Speaking of conferences,  I did find Dave Winer's post on two-level communities to be quite interesting. Specifically

Last week there were two conferences that I didn't go to but followed through the Web. I could have gone to either of them in person, if I had been willing to pay their fees, and been willing to be in the audience or the hallways, at all times. In other words, I would have to accept my place as a second-level person, an outsider, in the presence of insiders...I remember well what it was like going to Esther's conferences in the 80s, when the insiders all had someone to eat with, and I was paying thousands of dollars for the priviledge of eating by myself because I didn't know anyone.

There's also a post in a similar vein from a participant at SXSW entitled How it feels to be an outsider which goes into more detail about what it feels like to be an outsider at one of these conferences.

Personally I got a lot of value out of ETech. From a technical perspective, I got first hand proof that REST is sweeping SOAP+WSDL as the technology of choice for building Web services from a diverse and knowledgeable set of folks.  From a personal networking perspective I got to chat with Sam Ruby, Steve Gillmor, Anil Dash, Brad Fitzpatrick, Ben Trott, Erik Benson, Adam Bosworth (the conversation was very interesting, expect more about this in a later post), Marc Canter, Kevin Marks, Jeremy Zawodny, Nelson Minar and a bunch of other people. Then there's the fact that I got to spend time hanging out with folks from work outside of meetings and email discussions.

I find it surprising that there are people who go to conferences to attend talks and 'eat by themselves'. However thinking about it now there definitely is a certain clique-like feel to the entire technology conference scene which I'm sure extends to academic and professional conferences as a while.


Categories: Ramblings

Charlene Li has a post entitled Bloghercon conference proposed where she writes

Quick – name me five woman bloggers. You probably came up with Wonkette, and if you’re reading this post, you’ve got me on your list. Can you come up with three more?

This is why Lisa Stone’s suggestion to develop Bloghercon is such a great idea. (Elisa Camahort has a follow-up post with more details here .)

It’s not that there are no women bloggers out there – it’s that we haven’t built up a network comparable to the “blog-boy’s club” that dominates the Technorati 100 . This is not to presume that there’s a conspiracy – just the reality that for a number of reasons, woman bloggers have had difficulty gaining visibility.


Interestingly enough I actually counted 10 women bloggers I know off of the top of my head without needing to count Charlene or knowing who this Wonkette person is. My list was Shelley Powers, Julia Lerman, Liz Lawley, Danah Boyd, Rebecca Dias, KC Lemson, Anita Rowland, Megan Anderson, Eve Maler and Lauren Wood. As I finished the list lots more came to mind, in fact I probably could have hit ten just counting women at MSN I know who blog but that would have been too easy.


I am constantly surprised by the people who read the closed circle of white-male dominated blogs commonly called the A-list who think that this somehow constitutes the entire blogosphere (I do dislike that word) or even a significant part of it.


I wonder when the NAACP or Jesse Jackson are going to get in on the act and hold a blaggercon conference for black bloggers. Speaking of which, it's my turn to ask "Quick – name me five black bloggers". Post your answers in the comments.


Categories: Ramblings

March 8, 2005
@ 03:39 PM

A couple of days ago I was contacted about writing the foreword for the book Beginning RSS and Atom Programming by Danny Ayers and Andrew Watt. After reading a few chapters from the book I agreed to introduce the book.

When I started writing I wasn't familiar with the format of the typical foreword for a technical book. Looking through my library I ended up with two forewords that gave me some idea of how to proceed. They were Michael Rys's introduction of XQuery: The XML Query Language by Michael Brundage and Jim Miller's introduction of Essential .NET, Volume I: The Common Language Runtime by Don Box. I suspect I selected them because I've worked directly or indirectly with both authors and the folks who wrote the forewords to their books, so felt familiar about both the subjects and the people involved.

From the various forewords I read it seemed the goal of a foreword is twofold

  1. Explain why the subject matter is important/relevant to the reader
  2. Explain why the author(s) should be considered an authority in this subject area

I believe I achieved both these goals with the foreword I wrote for the book. The book is definitely a good attempt to distill what the important things a programmer should consider when deciding to work with XML syndication formats.

Even though I have written an academic paper, magazine articles and conference presentations this was a new experience. I keep getting closer and closer to the process of writing a book. Too bad I never will though.


Categories: Ramblings

March 1, 2005
@ 04:01 PM

The past two months was hectic for me at work but things have started to calm down. It's been great learning about the MSN communications infrastructure and working on the design for our next generation of communications services for end users. Of course, now my extracurricular activities have begun to pile up. Below is a brief list of things I plan to begin and/or complete before the end of the month

I'm sure there is something I've forgotten from this list. Anyway, I am pretty excited about everything on the above list and even moreso about work especially since most of the extracurricular stuff is related to my day job. I guess that turns the Sex & Cash Theory on its head.


Categories: Ramblings

Saturday was musuem day for me. I visited both the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle and the Museum of Glass in Tacoma. The entrance fee for the Science Fiction Museum $12.95 which is a bit overpriced considering what one gets out of the tour. The musuem is primarily a collection of old science fiction books and magazines as well as props from various movies. Some of the props are quite cool such as the alien queen and Ripley's construction suit from Aliens while others such as the collection of phasers from the various Star Trek movies failed to light my fire. At the end it seemed more like I'd just been shown some geek's private hoard of science fiction memorabilia than I'd been at an actual musuem or hall of fame. I probably would have felt less ripped off if the cover fee was $5 instead of almost $13.

The Museum of Glass was more satisfying although it also felt like it was over too soon. The  Einar and Jamex de la Torre: Intersecting Time and Place was amazing although a bit gory. The artwork by the Torre brothers had demons, exposed human organs and catholic religious relics as a recurring theme. It led to some interesting artwork which I could see some of the parents with younger children had difficulty explaining to their kids. The Solid Cinema: Sculpture by Gregory Barsamian was also impressive. They were mechanical animated pieces illuminated by strobe light. There were only three pieces but they were extremely well done and I spent some time scratching my head trying to figure out how they worked. The Museum of Glass was definitely worth the $10.

The next local museum on my list is the Museum of Flight.


Categories: Ramblings

February 7, 2005
@ 02:24 PM
If you're black Iraqi, you gotta look at America a little bit different. You gotta look at America like the uncle who paid for you to go to college ... but molested you."

The above sentence, slightly modified from a quote in Chris Rock's Never Scared, sums up my thoughts on the elections in Iraq.


Categories: Ramblings

January 19, 2005
@ 04:36 PM

The New Yorker has an article by Seymour Hersh entitled THE COMING WARS: What the Pentagon can now do in secret where he discusses alleged plans the US administration has for invading Iran in the near term. To article is scary reading but the part that had me the most stunned is the following excerpt

In my interviews over the past two months, I was given a much harsher view. The hawks in the Administration believe that it will soon become clear that the Europeans’ negotiated approach cannot succeed, and that at that time the Administration will act. "We’re not dealing with a set of National Security Council option papers here," the former high-level intelligence official told me. "They’ve already passed that wicket. It’s not if we’re going to do anything against Iran. They’re doing it."

The immediate goals of the attacks would be to destroy, or at least temporarily derail, Iran’s ability to go nuclear. But there are other, equally purposeful, motives at work. The government consultant told me that the hawks in the Pentagon, in private discussions, have been urging a limited attack on Iran because they believe it could lead to a toppling of the religious leadership. "Within the soul of Iran there is a struggle between secular nationalists and reformers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the fundamentalist Islamic movement," the consultant told me. "The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapse"—like the former Communist regimes in Romania, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz share that belief, he said.

"The idea that an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would produce a popular uprising is extremely illinformed," said Flynt Leverett, a Middle East scholar who worked on the National Security Council in the Bush Administration. "You have to understand that the nuclear ambition in Iran is supported across the political spectrum, and Iranians will perceive attacks on these sites as attacks on their ambitions to be a major regional player and a modern nation that’s technologically sophisticated." Leverett, who is now a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, at the Brookings Institution, warned that an American attack, if it takes place, "will produce an Iranian backlash against the United States and a rallying around the regime."

This sounds suspiciously like the same reasoning that claimed that Iraqis would welcome the US led invasion with open arms. I know the saying "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it" is a cliché but this is getting ridiculous. Maybe someone should get these folks a copy of DJ Green Lantern's Shade 45: Sirius Bizness mixtape and put on track 10 where Immortal Technique opens up the second verse with

They say the rebels in Iraq still fight for Saddam,
But that's bullshit i'll show you why it's totally wrong,
Cuz if another country invaded the hood tonight,
It'd be warfare through Harlem and Washington Heights
I wouldn't be fightin' for Bush or white americas dream,
I'd be fightin' for my peoples survival and self esteem,
I wouldn't fight for racist churches from the south my nigga,
I'd be fightin' to be keep the occupation out my nigga,

It doesn't take an expert in Middle East history with a Ph.D to figure this stuff out. The continual waste of life and resources going on in the Middle East due the Bush administrations misadventures completely turns my stomach.


Categories: Ramblings

January 18, 2005
@ 04:44 PM

After several months of waiting for The Game's new album, The Documentary is finally out. I knew subscribing to Amazon's RSS feeds would come in handy.



Categories: Ramblings

December 12, 2004
@ 06:56 PM

I was just completely freaked out a few minutes ago. All of a sudden in the middle of editing some XSLT stylesheets I started to get a resonating hum similar to electronic interference in the base of my skull at regular intervals. I was about to call 911 when I realized it only happened when I was near my monitor or television and stopped when I turned them off. I called a friend and she mentioned that she'd heard that this sometimes happened to people with silver fillings in their teeth. Since I'd just got some dental work done about a week and a half ago I guessed this might have been some static electricity buildup. So I brushed my teeth and now I don't have the weird hum in my head while using the computer anymore.

Unfortunately I couldn't find anything on Google about this.


Categories: Ramblings

November 29, 2004
@ 03:09 AM

Before Jay-Z: Independent Women & Bills Bills Bills

After Jay-Z: Cater 2 U


Categories: Ramblings

November 26, 2004
@ 03:58 PM

Thanks to my sister coming over for Thanksgiving I find out that G-Unit will be performing in concert in Nigeria. The interesting bit for me is that since my mom works for a TV station back home she'll get to meet 50 Cent and crew personally. While talking to her on the phone this morning it took all my restraint to not ask her to get an autograph for me.

I felt like I was twelve years old. :)


Categories: Ramblings

November 23, 2004
@ 04:17 AM

For the past few years I've used the citation search feature of CiteSeer to look for references to papers or articles I'd written and could only come up with one; Concurrency And Computation: Practice And Experience . Running the same search on Google Scholar comes back with 12 papers which reference articles or papers I've written. 

As I expected my C# vs. Java comparison was my most referenced article. Speaking of which it looks like it is about time I got cranking on updating the document to take into account Tiger and Whidbey. All I need now is some Java expert [preferrably a Sun employee] to agree to review it from the Java perspective.

I am definitely curious as to how Google could come up with a more extensive database of published papers than CiteSeer. Interesting.


Categories: Ramblings

November 19, 2004
@ 08:33 AM

My XML in the .NET Framework: Past, Present & Future talk went well yesterday. The room was full and people seemed to like what they heard. The audience was most enamored with the upcoming System.Xml.Schema.XmlSchemaInference class that provides the ability to generate schemas from sample documents and the new XSLT debugger.

It was nice having people walk up to me yesterday to tell me how much they liked my talk from the previous day. There were even a couple of RSS Bandit users who walked up to me to tell me how much they liked it. This was definitely my best XML conference experience.

Arpan did comment on the irony of me giving more talks about XML after leaving the XML team at Microsoft than when I was on the team. :)


Categories: Ramblings | XML

November 17, 2004
@ 01:13 PM

Recently I've been having the same problems with my iPod that Omar Shahine described in his post PlaysForSure

So, here is the landscape today. I have an iPod, it's beautiful, small, light and has a great out of box experience. I plug it into a Mac or a PC with iTunes installed and the rest is mostly magic. iTunes can automatically communicate with the iPod, sync all my music over firewire and charge the device at the same time. However, my iPod seems to think that after hours and hours of charging the battery is half full. As you use it though the battery meter increases before it decreases. If I leave the iPod sitting for a few days, via osmosis or some process, the battery drains. So most of the time when I want to use it, I can't cause it's dead. It also won't even last for a complete transatlantic flight.

I love my iPod but this is beginning to get old. It looks like it's time I replaced my battery, at least the price seems to be only about $30.00. Anyone out there have any experience with replacing their iPod battery?


Categories: Ramblings

November 1, 2004
@ 03:02 PM

Yesterday I found out my car had been broken into the previous night. I can't get over the fact that I had my car parked on the street at Pioneer Square until almost 2AM on Sunday but it gets broken into in the supposely secure underground parking garage of my apartment complex.

The wave of emotions washing over me this past 12 hours has been interesting. The ones that have stuck so far are the sense of violation and the anger. I've learned the hard way to never leave anything important in my car thinking that because its in the trunk it'll be "safe" .

Bah, I need to get ready for work.



Categories: Ramblings

In his post The gender profile of Wikipedia Joi ito writes

I haven't conducted any scientific analysis or anything, but Wikipedia seems much more gender balanced than the blogging community. I know many people point out that ratio of men at conferences on blogging and ratio of men who have loud blog voices seems to be quite high.

The core mistake in the assumption Joi Ito makes here is in assuming that participation is equivalent to talking about participation. I've seen several statistics and surveys on blogosphere (God, I hate that word) participation which all seem to point to the same conclusion; the number of female bloggers tends to outnumber the number of male bloggers.

For example, according to the LiveJournal statistics page there twice as many females blogging as males in that community. Given that LiveJournal is one of the oldest and largest blogging communities with almost 2 million active blogs (and almost 5 million user accounts) I think this counts for a lot more than claiming that a lot of women aren't seen at geeky conferences like Web 2.0 or Tim O'Reilly's FooCamp.   

One thing I've found interesting is wondering why if there are more female bloggers than male bloggers, lists such as the Technorati Top 100 are dominated by male bloggers. On Friday I attended a talk by Susan Herring which shed some light on the issue entitled Conversations in the blogosphere: An analysis "from the bottom up." where she discussed some research she and her colleagues had undertaken to discover the nature of conversations in the blogosphere. Interesting data points from her presentation include

  • Blogs with more outgoing links tend to be more linked to
  • Women tend to link less than men (even in women-centric blog circles such as homeschooling the rate of linking is comparatively less than male-centric blog circles like warblogging)
  • Linking doesn't tend to be reciprocal
  • Small percentage of blogosphere is interlinked.
  • 67% - 75% of blogs surveyed don't link outwards to other blogs
  • 95% of blogs surveyed have less than 10 inbound links from other blogs

Some of the data points from Susan's presentation gave me some ideas as to why the various lists of popular weblogs always seem to be male dominated.

The methodology and results of Susan's research can be obtained from her paper, Conversations in the blogosphere: An analysis "from the bottom up."


Categories: Ramblings

I've been trying to come up with a list of the most disappointing movie sequels or prequels of all time. So far I've come up with three the got stuck.

  1. Phantom Menace, prequel to the Star Wars Trilogy
  2. Matrix Revolutions, sequel to Matrix Reloaded
  3. Escape from LA, sequel to Escape from NY

I'm curious as to what suggestions others have for filling out this list. There is one rule that has to be obeyed in submitting entries to this list. Sequels that went straight-to-video do not count. So the various Disney sequels to their major hits like Aladdin or Beauty & the Beast don't count nor do movies like Cruel Intentions 3 or Children of the Corn 7.

So which are your nominees for most disappointing movie sequel?


Categories: Ramblings

In a recent post on James Robertson's blog entitled Re: This is interesting he wrote

In this post, I was stunned by the notion that an air traffic control system might be on win 95/98. Commenters pointed out this link, which indicates that the more likely explanation is this:

The elapsed time is stored as a DWORD value. Therefore, the time will wrap around to zero if the system is run continuously for 49.7 days.

This is just too amusing for words. A multi-hour shutdown caused by static typing, and the fact that many typing decisions in languages that require it end up being essentially random. Note to static typing advocates - had they used Smalltalk, this kind of problem would be impossible....

As pointed out by several of the comments in his post the problem had nothing to do with static typing versus dynamic typing. Instead the problem is that when the type overflows instead of erroring it simply wraps around. Whether the name of the type is known at compile time or not (i.e. static typing) really doesn't come into the question.

James Robertson is a Smalltalk advocate and just like every other advocate of a niche programming language (e.g. Lisp advocates)  he spends lots of time ranting about how every problem that exists in programming languages today was solved 20 years ago in his language of choice. The main problem with James's post isn't that he incorrectly judged the root of the issue.

The main problem with his post is that even though many people corrected his error, he has stubbornly stuck to his guns. Now instead of just seeming like he made a mistake which was pointed out by his readers he now looks like he either (a) twists issues to fit his agenda regardless of the truth or (b) is unknowledgeable of the topics he is trying to argue about.

If you are trying to convince people to come to your side in a technical discussion, refusing to admit flaws in your arguments is more likely to lose you supporters than gain them. Stubbornly sticking to your guns after being shown the error of your ways may work for the Bush administration when it comes to the War on Iraq but it doesn't win you many technical debates.


Categories: Ramblings

October 2, 2004
@ 05:46 AM

It's always interesting to me how the same event can be reported completely differently depending on who's reporting the news. For example compare the headline US army massacres over 100 civilians in Iraq from Granma international where it begins

BAGHDAD, October 1 (PL).—, More than 100 Iraqi civilians have been killed and some 200 injured in Samarra and Sadr City today during the cruelest retaliatory operations that the US occupation forces have launched do date.

According to medical sources quoted by the Arab TV network Al Arabiya, 94 people died and another 180 were injured when soldiers from the US 1st Infantry Division attacked a civilian area of the city of Samarra with heavy weaponry. 

In the Sadr City district, located in west Baghdad, US soldiers massacred nine civilians during an operation to eliminate militia forces loyal to the wanted Islamic Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr. Another three people were seriously injured.

to the following description of the same events reported by the Telegraph entitled '100 rebels dead' after US troops storm Samarra where it begins

American forces have stormed the rebel-held town of Samarra, claiming more than 100 insurgents killed, as coalition forces try to establish control in the Sunni triangle.

The US military said 109 fighters and one US soldier were killed in the offensive. Doctors at Samarra's hospital, said 47 bodies were taken in, including 11 women and five children.

An Iraqi spokesman said 37 insurgents were captured. During the push, soldiers of the US 1st Infantry Division rescued Yahlin Kaya, a Turkish building worker being held hostage in the city.

The operation came after "repeated attacks" on government and coalition forces had made the town a no-go zone, the US military said. Samarra lies at the heart of the Sunni Arab belt north and west of Baghdad where many towns are under the control of insurgents.

So was it a 100 civilians killed or a 100 insurgents? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Iraq is becoming even more of a giant Messopotamia. So far I can only see two choices for the US in Iraq over the next year; pull out or attempt to retake the country in force. Either way there's even more significant and unnecessary loss of life coming up.

All this because of some chicken hawks in the Bush administration...


Categories: Ramblings

September 26, 2004
@ 05:42 PM

As I mentioned in my post News Aggregators As Denial of Service Clients (part 2) 

the weblog software I use, dasBlog, does not support HTTP Conditional GET for comments feeds so I'm serving dozens of XML files to each user of Newzcrawler and SauceReader subscribed to my RSS feed every hour.

It also turned out that the newest version of dasBlog also stopped supporting HTTP Conditional GET to category specific feeds when I upgraded from 1.5 to 1.6. This meant I was wasting a huge amount of bandwidth since thousands of RSS Bandit users are subscribed to the feed for my RSS Bandit category.

I decided to download the dasBlog source code and patch my local instance. As I expected it took longer to figure out how to configure ASP.NET and Visual Studio to allow me to compile my own blog software than it did to fix the problem. I guess that's a testament to how well the dasBlog code is written.

Mad props go out to Omar, Clemens and the rest of the dasBlog crew.


Categories: Ramblings

September 15, 2004
@ 02:52 PM

Yesterday in my post Killing the "WinFS is About Making Search Better" Myth I wrote

Now this isn't to say that there aren't some searches made better by coming up with a consistent way to interact with certain file types and providing structured metadata about these files. For example a search like

Get me all the songs [regardless of file type] either featuring or created by G-Unit or any of its members (Young Buck, 50 Cent, Tony Yayo or Lloyd Banks) between 2002 and 2004 on my hard drive

is made possible with this system. However it is more likely that I want to navigate this in a UI like the iTunes media library than I want to type the equivalent of SQL queries over my file system.

I just found out that I can already do stuff like this today in iTunes. I can create a playlist by querying based on artist, song name, genre, year, rating, album and a lot more. I've been wishing for this functionality ever since I bought an iPod. Apple fucking rocks. I'll never use WinAmp again.


Categories: Ramblings

September 14, 2004
@ 08:35 AM

I installed Windows 2003 Server on the machine that this weblog runs on this morning. This should get rid of those pesky "Too Many Users" errors due to connection limits in Windows XP Professional which was the previous OS on the machine. It took me all day to figure out how to give ASP.NET write permissions for my weblog so if you attempted to post a comment in the past 24 hours and got an error message I apologize. Things should be fine now.



Categories: Ramblings | RSS Bandit

September 10, 2004
@ 04:17 PM

I've been a loyal user of WinAmp for several years. I am a big fan of skins and my favorite is currently MMD3. However I recently got tired of using the file system to navigate my music collection and sought out a change. I'd tried iTunes in the past but was underwhelmed by its lack of skinning functionality.

In the past few weeks I've given iTunes another shot and it is now my favorite player. It has a few elegant features that make it a killer app for organizing your music. The UI for navigating your music selection is straightforward and reminiscent of the iPod's. I also like the the built in playlists like 'Recently Played', 'My Top Rated' and 'Top 25 Most Played'.

The only downsides have been that I've had to update ID3 tags for my MP3s to get the most out of the music library UI and I miss some of the killer visualizations in WinAmp skins like MMD3. However this won't stop me from relegating WinAmp to the back burner and making iTunes my music player of choice.


Categories: Ramblings

Yesterday I installed .NET Framework v1.1 service pack 1 and it messed up my ASP.NET permissions. I decided to use this opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. My weblog is currently hosted on my Windows XP machine using IIS meaning that there are several limitations on the web server. The limitation on number of connections means several times during the day people get "Too Many Users" errors when connecting to this website.

I decided to install Apache and try out Movable Type 3.1. That led to a wasted morning trying to install various Perl modules. I tried some more when I got back from work and eventually gave up. Torsten gave me some tips this morning which fixed my ASP.NET permissions and my weblog is back up.

In the mean time it turns out that the v1.2.0.114 SP1 installer for RSS Bandit turns out to have had a number of  issues. If you're an RSS Bandit user please upgrade to v1.2.0.117.


Categories: Ramblings | RSS Bandit

August 30, 2004
@ 04:21 PM

Today I was going to release the RSS Bandit v1.2.0.114 service pack 1. However I will not be able to because even though everything worked fine when testing the application the moment I decided to build the installer and run it for the first time on my machine it crashed. The only difference I could tell was that while testing it I created 'Debug' builds but for the installer I created a 'Release' build. Even more annoying is the exception that occurs. It seems having an empty static constructor is causing a TypeInitializationException but only in 'Release' builds.

I hate this shit. I'll have to look into this when I get back from work this evening.

On the positive side, it looks like the RSS Bandit road map is on schedule. SP1 for v1.2.0.114 is basically done once I can track down the TypeInitializationException issue and then an installer should show up shortly afterwards. We've started the refactorings needed for NNTP support this weekend and should be done later this week. It's funny, I used to think the code was well factored because the infrastructure for supporting multiple  syndication formats was straightforward and flexible. Then supporting NNTP comes along and a lot of the assumptions we made in the code need to be thrown out of the Window.


Categories: Ramblings | Technology

August 11, 2004
@ 06:26 PM

Working at a software company (i.e. around geeks with disposable income) and living in the yuppie part of downtown (i.e. around yuppies with disposable income) I see a lot of people driving around in expensive cars that have a popular brand name but not the quality associated with that brand. Such people would have gotten more value for their money by buying equivalently priced cars from other manufacturers but decided that riding around in a big name brand was better. Examples of such vehicles include the

  1. Jaguar X-Type

  2. Hummer H2

Some others come to mind but I won't mention so as not to risk offending people I know. I always shake my head when I see people driving around in these cars.


Categories: Ramblings

August 4, 2004
@ 04:13 PM

I've always been under the impression that there were SEC rules that prevented senior executives of companies from making declarations that could affect the share price of their companies or their competitors without certain disclaimers in place. So I was very surprised to see Jonathan Schwartz's post entitled IBM is in a Pickle (Again) which seemed to imply that IBM had some strategic weaknesses that could be exploited by some entity acquiring Novell. This posting in combination with some statements Schwartz made to ZDNet fueled a bunch of speculation online including a jump in Novell's stock price.

Anyone who looks at his statements critically should realize they are divorced from reality. I was going to write up some criticisms of his arguments but others have beaten me to the punch. Read the Business Week article Don't Quote My Blog on That . The article is subtitled 

A Web musing by Sun's president fueled rumors of a possible Novell acquisition. Nice idea, but no panacea for his struggling outfit.

That summarizes the situation nicely. Jonathan Schwartz's post seems like a lot of wishful thinking as opposed to musings rooted in reality. I also like the verbal upraiding that James Robertson provided to Schwartz's ideas in his post Still Whistling. I was going to post an excerpt but his post is worth reading in its entirety. It is definitely amusing to see Sun scramble to stay relevant as they realize that their hard ware is overpriced and they can't figure out how to make money from Java's popularity. If not for the billions they have stashed this would definitely be a company in its death throes.


Categories: Ramblings

I was reading USA Today at lunch today and noticed that for the first time in decades a presidential candidate hasn't received a rise in the polls after a national convention. In fact, in some polls Kerry is actually doing worse now than he was 2 weeks ago. I flipped to the back of the magazine to read the weather section and something else caught my eye. Besides listing the temperature and possibility of rain the USA Today weather section also displays the Air Quality Index (AQI) of 36 cities. I noticed that only 2 cities had a rating of unhealthy, Houston and Dallas-Forth Worth. The description of the unhealthy rating advised avoiding strenous excercise in the open air and the like. Then I thought to myself, “Wasn't GW the governor of Texas just a few years ago?”.

Part of me is confused and dismayed by the fact that here's a president whose administration started a war under false pretences that has left thousands dead, under whom severe disrespect to the rule of law and the US constitution have been perpetrated,  and significant leeway has been given to corporations to abuse the environment and the American  people but yet it looks like he has a good chance of being re-elected. Then I talk to a couple of people who plan to vote for Bush this year and things become clearer. Like Doug Purdy mentions in his post U.S. Presidential Election II , many people in my field who make as much as I do care more about tax breaks and the like than any of the things Bush has done wrong or failed to do correctly. I even have a friend who's going to vote for Bush because he doesn't like Kerry's stance on gun control.

I'm curious about the various reasons people have for deciding to vote for Bush instead of Kerry in the coming election. I've listed two reasons above but imagine there are lots more that I can't see. Help me see things from your perspective.


Categories: Ramblings

August 3, 2004
@ 08:17 AM

I was reading Hugh Macleod's post on How To Be Creative which currently has 13 items on the list and was struck by some of what he wrote on point number 7, don't quit your day job, where he explains the The Sex & Cash theory

7. Keep your day job.

I’m not just saying that for the usual reason i.e. because I think your idea will fail. I’m saying it because to suddenly quit one’s job in a big ol' creative drama-queen moment is always, always, always in direct conflict with what I call "The Sex & Cash Theory".

THE SEX & CASH THEORY: "The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task in hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended."
A good example is Phil, a NY photographer friend of mine. He does really wild stuff for the indie magazines- it pays nothing, but it allows him to build his portfolio. Then he'll go off and shoot some catalogues for a while. Nothing too exciting, but it pays the bills.
Or geeks. You spend you weekdays writing code for a faceless corporation ("Cash"), then you spend your evening and weekends writing anarchic, weird computer games to amuse your techie friends with ("Sex")
I'm thinking about the young writer who has to wait tables to pay the bills, in spite of her writing appearing in all the cool and hip magazines.... who dreams of one day of not having her life divided so harshly. Well, over time the 'harshly' bit might go away, but not the 'divided'.

"This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended." As soon as you accept this, I mean really accept this, for some reason your career starts moving ahead faster. I don't know why this happens. It's the people who refuse to cleave their lives this way- who just want to start Day One by quitting their current crappy day job and moving straight on over to best-selling author... Well, they never make it.

That blog post sums up a lot of my thinking recently. Designing the classes in System.Xml is a decent day job but I only really light up in front of a computer when I'm fixing bugs or adding features in RSS Bandit. One pays the bills, the other allows me to express myself without artificial limitation in my medium of choice.

If you have time you should read Hugh's entire list, its actually quite insightful.


Categories: Ramblings

August 1, 2004
@ 02:45 AM

The August issue of Playboy magazine has an article entitled “Detroit, Death City” which cites some depressing statistics about this once great city. Excerpts from the article include

“Beyond the murder rate, there are three statistics that tell you a lot of what's happening in Detroit,” says Wayne State's Herron. “More than half the residents don't have high school diplomas, 47 percent of adults are functionally illiterate, and 44 percent of the people between the ages of 16 and 60 are either unemployed or not looking for work. Half the population is disqualified from participating in the official economy except at the lowest levels.”
Married couples head only 36.9 percent of Detroit families. Single fathers head 8.2 percent, single mothers 54.9 percent.

Detroit is 82.8 percent African American, second only to Gary, Indiana. Livonia, nine miles from the city is 96.5 percent white.

Detroit is the nation's number one city for auto arson. In 1999, more than 3300 cars were torched, costing insurers $22 million.

In 1950 Detroit's population was 1.9 million making it the fifth largest US city. By 2000 its population was 950,000.

Detroit's yearly pedestrian fatality rate is the nation's highest at 5.05 per 100,000 residents. New York City's rate is half that.

The author of the article tells the story of his father in-law, a 1960s revolutionary who became a well-known figure in the fight to save Detroit, and his brother-in-law who became a drug dealer. I found the juxtaposition of the life of the father and the son presented an interesting contrast. The article was definitely one of the better things-are-really-screwed-up-in-America's-inner-cities style articles  I've read in a while.

There's also an interview with Spike Lee in this month's issue. This subscription is definitely working out.


Categories: Ramblings

July 17, 2004
@ 02:40 AM

Dave Winer writes

Russ Beattie says we should be careful not to give the Republicans ammo to kill Kerry. I am sorry Russ, I'm not worried about that. I'm more worried that the Dems are too flustered by the hardball tacticts of the Reps to fight back.

The only time I tend to watch regular TV that isn't TiVo is while working out in the morning at the health club. I've noticed that while John Kerry's ads tend to be about the qualities that  make him a good candidate for president, George Bush's ads have mostly been negative ads attacking John Kerry. Personally I would love it if Kerry's campaign continues to take the high ground and shows the Republican party up for the rabid attack dogs that they are. The problem with this is that negative ads work and some people tend to look at not hitting back as a sign of weakness, which is what it seems Dave Winer is doing.

Whatever happened trying to change the tone in Washington and elevate the discourse? Just another case of "Do what I say, not what I do" I guess.



Categories: Ramblings

July 10, 2004
@ 06:09 PM

While reading Dave Winer's blog today I stumbled on a link to the New York Times editorial on the Sentate Intelligence Committee's recent report. Below is an excerpt

In a season when candor and leadership are in short supply, the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the prewar assessment of Iraqi weapons is a welcome demonstration of both. It is also disturbing, and not just because of what it says about the atrocious state of American intelligence. The report is a condemnation of how this administration has squandered the public trust it may sorely need for a real threat to national security.

The report was heavily censored by the administration and is too narrowly focused on the bungling of just the Central Intelligence Agency. But what comes through is thoroughly damning. Put simply, the Bush administration's intelligence analysts cooked the books to give Congress and the public the impression that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons and was developing nuclear arms, that he was plotting to give such weapons to terrorists, and that he was an imminent threat.

These assertions formed the basis of Mr. Bush's justifications for war. But the report said that they were wrong and were not a true picture of the intelligence, and that the intelligence itself was not worth much. The freshest information from human sources was more than four years old. The committee said the analysts who had produced that false apocalyptic vision had fallen into a "collective groupthink" in which evidence was hammered into a preconceived pattern. Their bosses did not intervene.

The report reaffirmed a finding by another panel investigating intelligence failures before the 9/11 attacks in saying that there was no "established formal relationship" between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. It also said there was no evidence that Iraq had been complicit in any attack by Osama bin Laden, or that Saddam Hussein had ever tried to use Al Qaeda for an attack. Although the report said the C.I.A.'s conclusions had been "widely disseminated" in the government, Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have repeatedly talked of an Iraq-Qaeda link.

Sadly, the investigation stopped without assessing how President Bush had used the incompetent intelligence reports to justify war.

It is now quite clear that GW Bush and his cronies started a war that has claimed the lives of hundreds of Americans and thousands of Iraqis, cost the US and Iraq billions of dollars, and has increased the negative feelings towards the US across the world [especially in the Middle East] for no just cause. What I'd like to know is if anyone is going to go to is what the legal punishment for their transgressions actually will be.

Growing up in Nigeria, I saw first hand what happens when the government commits crimes against the people with no fear of accountability. Lack of accountability seeps into the national fabric and varying degrees of corruption follow. Hopefully, America won't follow the example of the tin pot dictatorships across the third world where everyone knows the governments lie and are corrupt but shrug it off as being a way of life.

Bush and his cronies are destroying America and everything it stands for one day at a time. I pray we don't get four more years of this disaster.


Categories: Ramblings

I often think to myself that there is a lot of background racism in the United States. By background racism, I mean racism that is so steeped into the culture that it isn't even noticed unless pointed out by outsiders. One example sprang to mind after reading Robert Scoble's post Did China beat Christopher Columbus by decades? where he writes

Speaking of Chinese, I'm reading a book "1421 The Year China Discovered America" that makes a darn good case that Christopher Columbus didn't discover America. He's done a ton of work that shows that the Chinese were actually here 60 years prior and that Christopher Columbus actually had copies of their maps!

That basically throws out a whole ton of history I learned in elementary school.

What I find interesting is this concept of "discovering America". There were already people on the North American content when Columbus [or the Chinese] showed up in the 15th century. So "discovered" really means "first European people to realize the American continent existed". Now every child in America is brought up to believe that Europeans showing up on some land that was already inhabited by natives is "discovering America" and introducing it to the world. 

This makes me wonder how much the history lessons I received growing up in Nigeria differs from the version British kids got about the African colonies. Perhaps there is also some white guy celebrated for having "discovered Africa" and civilizing the black savages who he met when he got there. At least whatever tribes that welcomed whoever he was aren't extinct today, too bad you can't say the same for the tribes that greeted Columbus.    


Categories: Ramblings

July 3, 2004
@ 06:49 PM

I just got back from vacation. A week on the beach, sans laptop, sipping mai tais is good for the soul.

Whenever I travel by air I try to use the flight time to catch up on reading popular fiction. This time around I planned to do something different and finish reading Michael Brundage's XQuery: The Xml Query Language but forgot it in my mad dash to the airport. I decided to fallback on a tradition I started a few years ago and searched for a book by Terry Pratchett at one of the airport bookstores. In the past year or two I have noticed that I have been unable to find books by Terry Pratchett in airport bookstores in the United States although I did buy some of his books at Heathrow airport last year. At first, I thought it was because he hadn't published anything new recently but I noticed books from authors that are much longer in the tooth like Jeffrey Archer, Jackie Collins, Robert Ludlum, Sidney Sheldon, Mario Puzo, Danielle Steele and Anne Rice. The conclusion I can draw is that there is some Clear Channel-like company that owns a majority of the bookstores located in airports in the United States which has placed an embargo on the works of Terry Pratchett. I ended up settling for the turgid prose of Anne Rice's Memnoch the Devil and Scott Adams' excellent The Dilbert Principle.

Memnoch the Devil was disappointing. I'd enjoyed the previous books in the series (Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned) although I did find the subsequent book in the series, The Vampire Armand, quite dreadful and threw it away without finishing it. The book was fairly unimaginative [especially compared to what authors like Neil Gaiman have done with similar themes], predictable and most annoyingly inconsistent with the very religious works it was supposed to be based on.

The Dilbert Principle was very entertaining and had me introspective about work. I definitely feel there's a lot in the book that rings through about Microsoft as is probably true with any large company. I did find some of his ideas on how to create an enjoyable and challenging workplace spot on although I doubt they'll ever penetrate the consciousness of Corporate America.


I now need to catch up on email. Over 500 messages in my Yahoo! inbox (over 450 from the atom-syntax mailing list) and about 700 in my work inbox. Then there's the 1000 unread blog entries in RSS Bandit. Welcome to information overload...


Categories: Ramblings

June 24, 2004
@ 06:21 AM

Few things are as nice as spending all day writing about XML technologies while sipping Belvedere and listening to G-Unit mix tapes interspersed with Bon Jovi's Crossroad album.

Definitely a good day.


Categories: Ramblings

From the Showbox calendar

Friday June 25th - House of Blues presents D12 with SLUM VILLAGE and BONE CRUSHER and KING GORDY. $35.00 advance and day of show at TicketsWest and all outlets. Doors at 6PM. All ages. DRESSCODE ENFORCED!

I was planning to be out of town that day but this is a very, very tempting reason to hang around the S-town for an extra day or so. 


Categories: Ramblings

A few weeks ago I mentioned I was considering writing a current and future trends in social software, blogging and syndication as part of a Bill Gates "Think Week" paper. Well, it looks like someone beat me to the punch and he already got one as part of the most recent "Think Week". The person who submitted the paper shared BillG's comments which were pretty insightful about some of the issues facing syndication technologies today and some that will loom once their usage becomes more widespread. I have lunch scheduled with the author of the paper so I'll definitely try and exchange some ideas.

In the short term this means I'll probably put any plans of writing such a document on the back burner at least until the end of the summer. Given my current workload at my dayjob (7 hours of meetings tomorrow, didn't get in until about 11PM tonight)  as well as the fact that there is significant work I want to do for the next release of RSS Bandit this probably is for the best anyway.


Categories: Ramblings

I was pleasantly surprised today when I logged in to my Yahoo! Mail account and found out they've made good on their promise and now my mailbox size has gone up to 100MB from 6MB. I hope the folks at Hotmail are paying attention and upgrade the measely 2MB of space that they currently allocate to their free users.


Categories: Ramblings

June 14, 2004
@ 09:53 AM

For the past few weeks my friend Chris has had an open invitation for me to play Settlers of Catan with him and couple of other guys in the U-district. Today I finally accepted and when I got there it turned out that one of the guys was Evan Martin, one of the devs for LiveJournal. It turns out Evan just graduated from college and this was his last weekend in Seattle before moving to the Bay Area to start work at Google. Once we were introduced he mentioned that he knew of me and in fact that I was the reason he unsubscribed from the atom-syntax mailing list. It seems in one of the early discussions about Atom I wrote something which he felt was a technically valid point but was delivered in a scathing manner (i.e. punctuated with a flame) so he decided to bow out of further discussions about "RSS with different tag names". This reminded me of a comment by Robert Sayre in Joshua's weblog

OTOH, your post was free of insults, hyperbole, and condescension. Dare is usually right when there is an actual technical issue, but we're talking politics

My level of exasperation with a lot of what was going on with the Atom effort made me more scathing than I tend to be in usual email discourse. This is one of the reasons I unsubscribed from the list but it seems I hurt a couple of people's feelings along the way. Sometimes it is easy to forget that the people on the other end of an email thread aren't former denizens of git.talk.flame who relish technical arguments spiced with flame. My apologies to any others that were as significantly affected by my comments.

Anyway, we all (Jag, Chris, Evan and I) played a three hour game of Catan while partaking of some of the nice Bourbon thoughtfully provided by Chris. Evan seems like he would have been a decent guy to talk to about blogging and syndication related technologies. I hope he enjoys his new job at Google.

TiVo calls...


Categories: Ramblings

June 13, 2004
@ 04:10 PM

I just found out that Lloyd Banks is about to drop an album, Hunger For More, all I can say is G-G-G-G-G-Unit. Cop that shit.

By the way if you haven't copped Twista's Kamikaze, you should. It's not as gangsta as Adrenaline Rush, instead its more radio friendly, but still off the chain. Almost every track sounds good enough to be a single, definitely all killer no filler. 


Categories: Ramblings

June 6, 2004
@ 04:41 AM

Tim Bray has a post entitled Whiskey-Bar Economics where he writes

As an added bonus, in the comments someone has posted a pointer to this, which (if even moderately accurate) is pretty astounding.

I'm not sure what is pretty astounding about CostOfWar.com. The Javascript on the site seems pretty basic, the core concept behind the site is opportunity cost which is explained in freshman economics class of the average college or university and the numbers from the site actually seem to be lowballed considering all the headlines I seem to read every month about the Bush administration requesting another couple of billion for the Iraq effort. For example, according to a USA Today article entitled Bush to request $25 billion for Iraq war costs, the US congress had already approved $163 billion for the War on Iraq when the another request for $25 billion showed up. Yet at the current time CostOfWar.com, claims that the war has cost $116 billion.

On the other hand, I think this is pretty astounding.


Categories: Ramblings

June 3, 2004
@ 07:19 AM

I've been thinking a bit about false goals and software projects. Often decisions are made about the design of a technology or product early in the life of a software project that are based on certain assumptions about the software landscape. However in many cases these design principles lose relevancy as the project goes on but rarely are the original design principles of the project questioned. This leads to members of the project chasing goals that actually aren't beneficial to the product or to its customers and which in fact may be detrimental, these are false goals.  

Always remember to question everything.


Categories: Ramblings

Yesterday I went to the Apple store in the Bellevue mall to replace the headphones on my iPod which had begun to fray. When I walked up to the counter and told the girl there what I wanted she ushered me to a customer service desk claiming that if my iPod was under warranty I could get the headphones replaced for free. I was highly skeptical of this since I didn't buy the iPod at the Apple Store but at Best Buy and didn't even have my receipt anyway.

Waiting at the customer service desk I got to soak in some of the ambiance of Apple Store. It is definitely a cool place, I liked the flat screen TV over the customer service desk with quotes from luminaries across history such as

  • Plato is my friend, Aristotle is my friend but my best friend is truth - Sir Isaac Newton
  • We must be the change we wish to see in the world - Mahatma Ghandi

When it was finally my turn, my name was displayed on the flat screen TV above the customer support desk and I walked up to be served. I told the guy behind the desk that I needed some new headphones and the girl behind the counter had directed me to him to see if I could get them replaced by the warranty. I explained that I thought this would be unlikely given that I bought the iPod at Best Buy not the Apple Store and didn't have a receipt. To which he replied “It's an Apple product right? I'll just check the serial number”. To my surprise he did just that and I walked out of there with brand new head phones. To cap the experience he also fixed some weird issues I'd been having with my iPod by pointing me to the recent iPod firmware update.

That's what I call fantastic customer service. I felt so good about Apple afterwards I felt like going back to the store and buying some Apple stuff but there's nothing I need right now.  


Categories: Ramblings

Every couple of months someone asks me why I haven't written up my thoughts about the current and future trends in social software, blogging and syndication as part of a Bill Gates "Think Week" paper. I recently was asked this again and I'm now considering whether to spend some time doing so or not. If you are unfamiliar with a "Think Week", below is a description of one taken from an interview with Bill Gates

I actually do this thing where I take a week and I call it "Think Week" where I just get to go off and read the latest Ph.D. theses, try out new technologies, and try and write down my thoughts about where the market is going. Things are going fast enough that instead of doing one think a year, last year I started doing two a year. And that’s one of the most fun parts of my job. So, you know, not only trying things out, but seeing how the pieces fit together and thinking ahead what kind of software will that require, that’s a big part of my job. And I get lots of great ideas coming from the people inside Microsoft, whether it’s sending e-mail, or meeting with me, and it’s important for me to synthesize that and so there’s a lot of thinking that I’ve got to do. And, you know, that’s fun.

I have been balking at writing one for a few reasons. The first was that it seems like a bunch of effort for relatively small return [the people I know who've written one first hand got the equivalent of a "virtual pat in the back"], the second was that I didn't think this topic would be interesting enough to get past the layer of VPs and technical assistants that probably screen these papers before Bill Gates reads them.

After thinking about this some more it seems that I was wrong about whether BillG would be interested in this topic given his recent endorsement of blogging and syndication. I still don't think much would come out of it but I've now see myself bursting with a lot of ideas about the current and future landscape of blogging and syndication technologies that I definitely want to write something down anyway regardless of who reads it. If I write this paper I plan to make it available online along with my other writings. The question is whether there are any folks out there interested in reading such a paper? If not, it is easier for me to just keep notes on the various ideas and blog bits & pieces of the ideas as I have been doing thus far.

So what do you guys think?


Categories: Ramblings | RSS Bandit

Scoble has a misleading post entitled Microsoft attending Atom meeting

Microsoft attending Atom meeting

Some people have already tried to paint me into a corner when it comes to RSS vs. Atom. Just to be clear. Microsoft's Chris Sells and George Bullock, of Microsoft, are attending the June 2 Atom group meeting.

These post reads like official representatives of Microsoft are attending the Atom conference. Considering that Chris Sells and George Bullock are MSDN folks it is highly unlikely that they are going to be representative of all of Microsoft or of the major parts of Microsoft that would be interested in Atom. I work with standards and product groups every day and I always try to make the distinction between official Microsoft position and personal positions. Even then official Microsoft opinion may vary from product group to product group (it is really a bunch of small companies in here).


Categories: Ramblings

I collect about half a dozen comic book titles and I've noticed a growing trend in blurring the line between the secret identity of a super hero and their super hero identity. In the old days, a super hero had a regular dayjob with coworkers, girlfriends and bills to pay and put on his or her tights at night to fight crime. Nowadays I read comics about the same characters I used to read about as a child who now either no longer hide their non-super hero identity as a secret or have had their secret identity revealed to so many people that it might as well not be a secret.

This trend is particularly true in Marvel's Ultimate universe. If you are unfamiliar with the Marvel Ultimate universe here is a brief description of it from the Wikipedia entry for Marvel Universe

A greater attempt has been made with the Ultimate titles; this series of titles is in a universe unrelated to the main Marvel continuity, and essentially is starting the entire Marvel Universe over again, from scratch. Ultimate comics now exist for the X-Men, the Avengers, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. Sales of these titles are strong, and indications are that Marvel will continue to expand the line, effectively creating two Marvel Universes existing concurrently. (Some rumors exist that if sales continue to increase and more titles are added, Marvel may consider making the Ultimate universe its main universe.)

In the Marvel Ultimate universe the Avengers (now known as the Ultimates) are government agents who treated as celebrities by the tabloids and whose non-super hero identities are known to the public. The Ultimate X-Men appear on the cover of Time magazine and have met with the president several times. The anti-mutant hysteria that is a mainstay of the regular Marvel universe is much more muted in the Ultimate Marvel universe (Thank God for that, they had gone overboard with it although classics like God Loves, Man Kills will always have a special place in my heart). The identity of Ultimate spider-man isn't known to the general public but it is known by his girlfriend (Mary Jane), an orphan adopted by his aunt (Gwen Stacy), the Ultimates, all of major villains spidey has met (Doc Ock, Green Goblin, Kraven the Hunter, Sandman & Electro) as well as most of the staff of S.H.I.E.L.D. 

This has also spread to the regular Marvel universe, most noticeably with Daredevil. His secret identity was known by the Kingpin for a long time and eventually was an open secret to most of the Kingpin's criminal organization. In recent issues, Daredevil has been outed as Matt Murdock in the tabloids and has to deal with assassination attempts on him in his regular life as well as when he is Daredevil.

DC Comics is also playing along somewhat with Batman. Although it isn't common knowledge that Batman is Bruce Wayne there are now so many heroes (the entire Justice League, Robin, Nightwing, Spoiler, Batgirl, Huntress, Oracle) and villains (the Riddler, Hush, Bane, Ra's al Ghul) that it might as well be public.

I suspect that one of the reasons for this trend is a point that the character Bill makes in Kill Bill vol.2 towards the end of the movie. He points out that most super heroes are regular people with regular lives that have a secret identity as a super hero while Superman was actually a super hero who had a secret identity as a regular person. Getting rid of the artificial division between super hero and alter ego makes sense because we tend to look at them as different people (Bruce Wayne is nothing like Batman) when in truth they are different facets of the same character. The increased connectedness of society as a whole has also made it easier to blur the lines between various aspects of one's character that used to be kept separate. I think comic book authors are just reflecting this trend.

Speaking of reflecting current trends in comics I was recently disappointed and then impressed by statements made the Ultimate version of Captain America. In Ultimates #12, Cap is fighting the apparently indestructible leader of the alien invasion army who's just survived getting half his head blown off by an assault rifle when this exchange takes place

Alien Leader: Now let's get back to business, eh, Captain? The world was about to go up and you were about to surrender in these few brief moments we've got left. Let me hear you say it. “I surrender Herr Kleiser! Make it quick!”.

Captain America: *head butts and then starts to beat up the alien leader while saying* - Surrender? Surrender? You think the letter A on my head stands for France?

This issue came out when the "freedom fries" nonsense was still somewhat fresh in people's minds and I was very disappointed to read this in a comic book coming from a character I liked. However he recently redeemed himself with his line from a conversation with Nick Fury in Ultimate Six #7

Captain America: You know, being a veteran of war it occured to me, that really it's men of influence and power that decide what these wars will be about. They decide who we are going to fight and how we will fight them. And then they go about planning the fight. In a sense, really, these people will the war into existence.

I remember thinking the same thoughts as a preteen in military school trying to decide whether to follow in my dad's footsteps and join the military or not. I fucking love comics.


Categories: Ramblings

I'm sure many have already seen the Google blogs. Below are a few suggestions to the various Google folks suggesting ways they can improve the blogging experience for themselves and their readers

  1. The blogs currently don't have names attached to each post nor do they have a way to post comments in response to each entry. The power of blogs is that they allow you to have a conversation with your users. An anonymous weblog that doesn't provide a mechanism for readers to provide feedback is little more than a corporate PR website. Currently I don't see much difference between the Google Press Center and Google Blog besides the fact that the Press Center actually has the email addresses of real people at Google on the page while the blogs do not.

  2. Pick better URLs for your articles. An example of a bad URL is http://www.google.com/explanation.html which provides a link to Google's explanation of the Jew Watch fiasco. Why is this URL bad? Well do you think this is the only explanation Google will ever give? Does the URI provide any hint to what the content is actually about? I suggest the folks in charge of managing the Google URI namespace take a gander at the W3C's Choose URIs wisely and Tim Berners-Lee's excellent Cool URIs Don't Change

  3. Either explain to your bloggers that they should use their common sense when blogging or come up with a policy where blog posts are reviewed before being posted. Google is about to become a multibillion dollar company whose every public utterance will be watched by thousands of customers and hundreds of journalists, it can't afford PR gaffes like the one's described in C|Net's article Google blog somewhat less than 'bloggy'.

  4. Provide an RSS feed. I understand that Evan and the rest of Blogger have had their beefs with Dave Winer but this is getting ridiculous. Dave Winer has publicly flamed me on more than one occassion but I don't think that means I shouldn't use RSS on the MSDN XML Developer Center or remove support for it from RSS Bandit. If an evil Microsoft employee can turn the other cheek and rise above holding grudges, I don't see why Google employees whose company motto is “Do No Evil” can't do the same.

  5. Let us know if working at Google is really as cool as we all think it is. :)


Categories: Ramblings

April 30, 2004
@ 04:33 AM

Breaking up with someone is another way of saying "I'd rather be alone than be with you".



Categories: Ramblings

I saw the trailer for the movie I, Robot last night when I went to see Kill Bill Volume 2. For a few seconds into the trailer I thought it was the movie treatment of Caves of Steel, but shortly realized that Asimov's 3 laws of robotics had been turned into scaffolding to hang a stereotypical Will Smith action movie off of (Bad Boys with robots).

They could have done a lot more with the mountains of material Isaac Asimov produced. What a disappointment.




Categories: Ramblings

April 13, 2004
@ 05:26 PM

Yesterday, I decide to work from home since it's a nice day and I have a bunch of documentation to write. Halfway through the day I get a number of emails that require me to connect to work via the VPN. In trying to do soand spending some time with folks from the MSFT HelpDesk I managed to hose my Windows box and require a reinstall.

So I spent half of yesterday getting my machine back up to speed and I'm still not done. I just figured out the IIS permission issues and got my blog back online. I still need to figure out how to get both versions of Visual Studio back online. Then there's the fact I never got the stuff I needed to get done at work or finished writing the documentation I was planning to in the first place.

Mondays really suck.


Categories: Ramblings

I was reading Mark Pilgrim's ariticle entitled The Vanishing Image: XHTML 2 Migration Issues and stumbled on the following comment

You (the author of this article) have a valid point when you say people will want to upgrade to XHTML 2, against the HTML Working Group's expectation/intention. From the tone of this article, one would assume you find this a bad development; I however disagree: I think people should update their website to comply with the latest standards. Authors will have to rewrite their pages into XHTML 2.0, but, with server-side scripting and CSS in mind, this should be a not so very difficult task.

I'm always surprised when I see web design geeks advocating the latest and greatest standards with no indication of what the real benefits are besides the fact that they can place meaningless badges such as   on their website. Technology standards are a means to an end not an end in themselves. The purpose of having well specified technology standards is to guarantee interoperability between software and hardware produced by different vendors. In the case of XHTML, many who have looked at the situation objectively have failed to find any reasons why one should migrate to XHTML 1.0 from HTML 4.01. Arguing that people should migrate to a version of XHTML that isn't even backwards compatible with HTML seems highly illogical since it runs counter to the entire point of standardizing on a markup language in the first place, interoperability. 


Categories: Ramblings

April 3, 2004
@ 06:53 PM

It seems the more popular hip hop gets the more I hate the stuff that gets played on the hip hop radio stations. I particularly cringe whenever I hear J-Kwon's “Tipsy” or Kanye West's “Through the Wire”. It seems I've begun to retreat into the past or listen exclusively to mix tapes. Select tracks from the following albums have been playing semi-regularly on my iPod in the past few weeks

A friend of mine suggested picking up a Linkin Park album but I'm not sure where to start. I have heard their collaboration with the X-Ecutioners on It's Goin' Down and I liked it. So the question is whether to go with their last album or their first album.


Categories: Ramblings

I heard D12's My Band on the radio and was wondering if this is the harbinger of a new album by Em or D12. The song is the typical kind of over-the-top rap you get from D12, the premise is that the rest of D12 is jealous of Em cause he gets more money and fame then them.  

I guess I need to swing by a CD store and see if I can get any news that way.


Categories: Ramblings

As a lead developer with an Open Source project on SourceForge and a program manager at company that produces software commercially I have used private and public bug databases. Sometimes I've wondered what it would be like if the users of Microsoft products had access to our bug databases and could vote for bugs like in Bugzilla. There are two main things that decide if and when a bug will be fixed when bugs are being triaged at work. The first is the priority of the bug but how this is determined varies from component team to component team and is more a holistic process than anything. The second is how much work it would take to fix the bug and whether it takes up too much of the schedule ( a bug that takes a week to fix will less likely be fixed than 4 bugs that will take a day a piece). I've always thought it would be interesting if one of the factors we used to determine the priority of the bug included direct customer feedback such as the number of folks who'd voted for getting the bug fixed.

There are down sides to every proposal and I discovered this post from Matthew Thomas (who seems to have abandoned his Phraswewise.com blog) entitled discussions in unwanted places where he lists some of the problems with public bug databases that the Mozilla project has faced. It should be noted that the Mozilla project is probably the largest and most significant instance of a software project with a public bug database. Matthew writes

While none of these channels may be intended as an avenue for discussion, humans have frequently demonstrated that they will try to converse even in areas where discussions are not wanted.

The saddest example I know of is Bugzilla, a Web-based system originally developed to track bugs and requests for enhancement for the Mozilla software, and now used for a variety of other projects as well.

By default in Bugzilla, when someone adds a comment or makes any other change to a bug report, everyone associated with the bug report will receive an e-mail message: the reporter, the assigned programmer, the QA contact, and anyone else who has registered their interest. This can result in a lot of e-mail being sent.

It’s not so much of a problem when Bugzilla is used by a small or professional team, because participants have social or disciplinary incentives (or both) to ensure everything they do in the system is productive. But when Bugzilla is used by a large mostly-volunteer team, as it is with the Mozilla Project, you get problems. People argue about whether something is a bug or not. They argue about its severity. They argue about its schedule. They plead for the bug to be fixed soon. They throw tantrums. They make long tedious comments no-one can understand. In short, they treat Bugzilla as a discussion forum.

As a result, over the past few years several of Mozilla’s best programmers have begun to ignore most or all of the e-mail they receive from Bugzilla, for the good reason that they’d rather be fixing bugs than wading through Bugzilla discussions. The correct response from Bugzilla’s maintainers would have been to make Bugzilla harder to use as a discussion forum, but instead they made it easier. They added linkable numbers for comments, making it easier to reply to them in new comments. They made the comment field larger, aiding long and rambling comments. They added a mechanism for quoting a previous comment when replying, aiding long and rambling conversations. And they could have turned off the quoting feature in the mozilla.org installation, but they left it turned on.

Each of these decisions appeared to be good and proper, as it improved the usability of Bugzilla for those writing comments. But the purpose of Bugzilla is not to collect comments, it is to track bugs. And the resulting blizzard of comments has made Bugzilla less useful for tracking bugs.

It seems obvious that having a public bug database leads to information overload but what is surprising is that the problems don't come from too many spurious or duplicate bugs being entered [as I expected] but from people actually using the bug database how it is intended.

Well, looks like another idea I had turned out not to have been as good as I first thought.


Categories: Ramblings

March 26, 2004
@ 06:08 PM

This month's issue of The Source magazine asks the following question on it's cover, “Are Rappers the New Target of America's Criminal Justice System?”. In article entitled “Operation Lockdown” there is a spread on various rappers who've had trouble with the law. They include

  1. Jamal Barrow aka Shyne: Assault, Gun Possesion and Reckless Endangerment, sentenced to 10 years at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.

  2. Corey Miler aka C-Murder: Second Degree Murder, awaiting sentencing but facing a mandatory life sentence.

  3. Michael Tyler aka Mystikal: Extortion and Sexual Battery, sentenced to 6 years in prison.

  4. Ricky Walters aka Slick Rick: Attempted Second Degree Murder, Self-Deportation and Illegal Reentry, served 5 years for the former and 17 months in an INS detention center for the latter.

  5. John Austin aka Ras Kass: Driving Under the Influence sentenced to 16 months at the California State Prison in Corcoran.

  6. Dwight Grant aka Beanie Sigel: Attempted Murder and Gun Possession, awaiting trial.

  7. Chi-Ali Griffith: Murder and Gun Possesion, awaiting trial after being on the run for two years and being profiled on America's Most Wanted

  8. John Fortè: Drug Possession with Intent to Distribute, sentenced to 14 years.

  9. Patrick Houston aka Project Pat: Aggravated Robbery and Parole Violation, sentenced to 51 months.

  10. Warren McGlone aka Steady B and Chris Rony aka Cool C: Murder and Armed Robbery, Cool C was sentenced to death by lethal injection while Steady B was sentenced to life without parole

  11. Chad Butler aka Pimp C from the group UGK: Aggravated Assault with a Weapon, sentenced to 8 years.

  12. Marion Knight aka Suge Knight (CEO of Death Row Records): Firearm Trafficking, Assault, Parole Violation and Other Charges, currently serving 10 months for parole violation

  13. Shyheim: Armed Robbery and Gun Possesion, sentenced to two years.

  14. J-Dee of Da Lench Mob: Murder, sentenced to 25 years-to-life.

  15. Ronald Blackwell aka Spigg Nice from the group Lost Boyz: Conspiracy to Commit Bank Robbery, sentenced to 37 years

  16. Marvin Bernard aka Tony Yayo from the group G-Unit: Gun Possession and Probation Violation, served a year.

  17. Peedi Crakk of the group State Property: Gun Possession, sentenced to 11 to 23 months.

  18. Big Lurch: Murder, sentenced to life.

  19. Styles P of the Lox: Assualt, served 9 months.

  20. Ol Dirty Bastard:Probation Violation and Drug Possession, served 20 months

  21. Lil' Troy: Drug Possession, served 18 months.

  22. Flesh-N-Bone: Threats with a Deadly Weapon, sentenced to 12 years.

  23. Keith Murray: Assault, sentenced to 5 years.

  24. Capone from the group Capone-N-Noreaga: Gun Possession, served 27 months.

  25. Tupac Shakur aka 2Pac: Sexual Assault, sentenced to 18 months to 4.5 years.

The above list doesn't include various rappers that got probation or were put under house arrest for their crimes such as Jay-Z, Trick Daddy and Coolio. Going back to the original question asked on the  cover of the Source as to whether the criminal justice system is targetting rappers, it seems to me that if anything it seems rappers are just going out of their way to tangle with the criminal justice system by committing crimes. Of course, there is the fact that young, black males are more likely to be harshly sentenced for a crime than their caucasian counterparts but this is different from the criminal justice system going out of its way to target rappers.

I find it sad that a lot of these folks whose music I've bought in the past made it out of the hood just to screw their lives up by doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.  


Categories: Ramblings

March 26, 2004
@ 04:47 PM

The following are excerpts from the interview with 50 Cent (multi-platinum hiphop artist, highest album and single sales for the year 2003) in the April 2004 issue of Playboy.  

Playboy: When you started dealing, at 12, where did you get the drugs?

50 Cent: I was uncomfortable asking my grandparents for certain things. They raised their kids at a time when ProKeds cost $10. When I was a kid the new Jordans were more than $100. The people I met while I was with my mother, they had jewelry and nice cars. They gave me three and a half grams -- an eight ball. That's the truth. The same money I would've paid for those Jordans. Sometimes when you ask for fish people give you a pole.

Playboy: You did buy-one-get-one-free promotions.

50 Cent: And I only called it “buy one get one free” because they were calling it “two for $5” on the next block. I was trying to make it different. I was marketing! Fiends want something free , so use the word free. It's better than “two for $5”

Platboy: Did it work?

50 Cent: Hell, yes, it worked. And I made the pieces bigger. Some guys made small pieces and figured they'd make a huge profit. But it takes longer to sell the pieces. I made the pieces huge, and they started coming from down the block. All the pieces would sell the same dat and I'd accumulate more money.

Playboy: This seems pretty heavy for a teenager.

50 Cent: Older dudes in our neighborhood were way worse. They were robbing banks; they would kidnap each other. They tried to rob me one night in front of my grandmother's house. I was 19 and had bought a 400 SE Mercedes-Benz. I got to the front door, and the sliding door of a cargo van opened. They had a shotgun. I jumped over the porch and ran for a gun in the backyard. Pow! I got away from them, though. There's a strong possibility they would've killed me.

Playboy: Did you ever use the gun you hid in your grandmother's yard?

50 Cent: The first time I ever shot somebody, I was in junior high school. I was coming out of a project building -- I ain't gonna tell you where. I was going to see this girl. I had my uncle's jewlery on, and two kids decided to rob me. This kid was like “Yo c'mere, let me holler at you”. As I turned they all started pouring out of the lobby. It had to be 15 people stepping to me to rob me. I had a little .380 six-shot pistol, and I didn't even look. I just spun around bangin'. Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop! Shot and just kept running.

Playboy: Did you hit anybody?

50 Cent: Yeah, I hit one of 'em. And that encouraged the next situation. After that, you just get comfortable shooting. The first time, you're scared to death, as scared as the guy you're shooting at. Then it grows easier for you. Everybody has a conscience. You say to yourself, Man, he was gonna do something to me. Then it's like, I don't give a fuck, whatever. After a while the idea of shooting somebody doesn't bother you.

Playboy: When you were signed with Columbia, you decided to quit dealing. Then what happened?

50 Cent: I got a $65,000 advance; $50,000 went to Jam Master Jay, and $10,000 went to the lawyer to negotiate my contractual release from Jay and do my contract with Columbia. I had only $5,000 left. I had to be able to provide for myself so I took the $5,000 and turned it into 250 grams.

Playboy: You went back to dealing.

50 Cent: I had no choice.

Playboy: Do you think Jam Master Jay ripped you off?

50 Cent: He didn't he took what he felt was his. I was never bitter at Jay, because what I learned from him is what allows me now to sell 10 million records. He groomed me. That's worth $50,000

There were a bunch of other questions but most of them focused either on his violent past or his publicized beef with Ja Rule and Murder Inc. Two things struck me as I read the interview. The first was how people could live in the same country and in some times the same city yet exist in totally different worlds. The second is that America is truly the land of opportunity.


Categories: Ramblings

I recently read Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right which was a very interesting read. It was definitely partisan but in this age of blatant lying by practically every highly visible member of the Bush cabinet and the Republican media boosters on Fox News, it's hard to be objective when describing some of the things they've done.

Al did a lot of research for the book, thanks a team of 14 graduate and undergraduate student researchers he got from Harvard.  There are extensive end notes and some thorough disection of the lies of the usual suspects in the conservative media like Sean Hannity, Bill O'reilly and Ann Coulter. There was also a personal account of behind the scenes of the political circus that was the memorial service of the late Senator Paul Wellstone. An interesting data point is comparing the coverage of the memorial service on CNN the shortly after it happened where they wrote, thousands pay tribute to Wellstone, to the coverage the day after once Republican talk show hosts had put their negative spin on it. The story became tone of Wellstone memorial generates anger. Al gives a blow by blow of how this happened from behind the scenes and exposes a lot of the half truths and exagerations that led to the media reports.

Another thing I found interesting was chapter 16 of the book which was entitled Operation Ignore which described the Bush administration's attitude to terrorism which was to consider a lower priority than the previous administration. A lot of the stuff I've read online about Richard Clarke's testimony to the independent 9-11 commision was stuff I'd already seen in Al Franken's book. I'm just glad it is getting wider coverage in the mainstream media instead of just being available to the few people who bought Al Franken's book.

I pray we don't get four more years of this shit...


Categories: Ramblings

My homegirl, Gretchen Ledgard (y'know Josh's wife), has helped start the Technical Careers @ Microsoft weblog. According to her introductory post you'll find stuff like

  • Explanation of technical careers Microsoft.  What do people really do at Microsoft?  What does a “typical” career path look like?  What can you do to prepare yourself for a career at Microsoft?
  • Sharing of our recruiting expertise.  Learn “trade secrets” from Microsoft recruiters!  What does a good resume look like?  How can you get noticed on the internet?  How should you best prepare for an interview?
  • Information on upcoming Microsoft Technical Recruiting events and programs. 
  • I hope Gretchen dishes up the dirt on how the Microsoft recruiters deal with competition for a candidate such as when a prospective hire also has an offer from another attractive company such as Google. Back in my college days, the company that was most competitive with Microsoft was Trilogy (what a difference a few years make). 

    I remember when I first got my internship offer and I told my recruiter I also had an offer from i2 technologies, she quickly whipped out a pen and did the math comparing the compensation I'd get at Microsoft to that I'd get from i2. I eventually picked Microsoft instead of i2 for that summer internship which definitely turned out to be a life altering decision. Ahhh, memories.    


    Sam Ruby writes

     Ted Leung: If I'm looking for thought leadership from the community, in the Java community, I'm looking towards the non Sun bloggers -- these are the folks doing AOP, Groovy, SGen, Prevalence, WebWork, etc. This shows the rich ecosystem that has grown up around Java. If I look at the .NET community, I pretty much look for the MS bloggers.

    Let's not confuse cause and effect here.  There used to be plenty of .Net bloggers who didn't work for Microsoft. 

    It seems Sam and Ted have different ideas of what thought leadership is from me. When I think of thought leadership I think of ideas that add to the pool of common practices or impact the way developers work and think. Examples of thought leadership are the ideas in the GoF's Design Patterns or the writings of Joel Spolsky.

    I read a lot of blogs from Microsoft and non-Microsoft people about .NET development and I see more thought leadership from non-Microsoft people than I do from Microsoft people. What I see from Microsoft people is what I'll term accidental thought leadership. Basically if I'm the developer or PM that designed or implemented component X then it stands to reason that I'm better placed to talk about it than others. Similarly if I'm one of the folks designing or implementing future technology Y then it stands to reason I'd be the best placed to talk about Longhorn/Indigo/Avalon/WinFS/Whidbey/Yukon/etc. Also the other thing is that it more interesting to read about upcoming future technology than it is to read about how best to use existing technology which is why people tend to flock to the blogs of the folks working on future stuff and ignore the Microsoft bloggers talking about existing technologies until they need a workaround for some bug.

    Personally, the only real thought leadership I've seen from the 200 or so Microsoft blogs I've read have come from folks like Erik Meijer and Don Box. I see a lot of Microsoft people blogging about SOA but to me most of them are warmed over ideas that folks like Pat Helland have been talking about for years. When I think of thought leadership in the .NET world I'm more likely to think of Sam Gentile or Clemens Vastersr than I am to think of some blue badge carrying employee at the Redmond campus.  

    What I do find interesting is that a Sun employee, Simon Phipps, is actually trying to use this to score points and claim that the lack of Sun bloggers with insightful posts is due to a "wide community as you'd expect from the openness of the JCP". When Microsoft folks weren't blogging and directly interacting with our developer community people railed because they felt the company was aloof and distant from its developers. Now we try to participate more and it is a sign that “it's a closed-source dictatorship - no amount of pushing up-hill will fix that”. I guess you can't win them all. :)  


    Categories: Ramblings

    March 7, 2004
    @ 12:07 AM

    For the past few years I've had my taxes done by H & R Block and each year their prices get steeper. This year the price tag would have been a bit shy of $200. Considering that all the tax preparer did was enter some values into some fields after being prompted by the tax preparation software that seemed a bit steep. A couple of folks have recommended TurboTax so I've decided to give it a try this year. At a cost of about $30, it seems this year I'll not have the ripped of feeling I usually do after filing my taxes.



    Categories: Ramblings

    March 5, 2004
    @ 02:18 AM

    I became addicted to reality TV after I watched a 2 hour block on Fox that ran between 10 PM  & Midnight consisting of Elimidate, 5th Wheel, Blind Date and Change of Heart. My experience mirrors that of Justin Berton who wrote in his article Embracing the Idiot Box

    So far, in my month long experiment with the set, all the shows I expected to be good are bad, and all the bad ones are really good. In this peculiar calculus, nothing is worse than the reality dating show genre. And lowest of the low is Elimidate, which, of course, makes it the best thing on TV.

    There's no irony here. A dude goes on a date with four women. They drink lots of booze. As the date goes on, the dude eliminates one girl per round.

    I'm now a reality dating show junkie although the stuff on prime time (e.g. the Batchelor and Joe Millionairre) are a bit to sophisticated for my tastes.


    February 27, 2004
    @ 11:36 PM

    I've been watching the online discussions about the proposed constitutional ammendment to ban gay marriage with bemusement. It is such a classic sleight of hand trick. If I was a sitting president who'd been discovered to have started a war that cost thousands of lives primarily to enrich my defence contractor buddies and had the opposition party's presidential candidates polling better than me I'd want to come up with a way to focus the public discourse away from these issues. Perhaps with controversial proposed legislation that would be a hot button topic but most likely wouldn't get passed anyway? Yeah, probably.  

    It is unfortunate that such political games end up affecting people's lives and preventing the pursuit of happiness. At least it's not another phony war.


    Categories: Ramblings

    February 22, 2004
    @ 09:08 PM

    Yesterday my mom and I went on a train ride that is often billed as being a way for couples to spend a special occassion. The train was full of couples celebrating anniversaries, birthdays and other special occassions. Quite a number of couples were making out openly at the end of the train ride whose main features are a picturesque dinner on the train and a stop with a tour of a local winery.

    One of the less romantic aspects of this train ride is that for the most part you have to share a table with another couple facing them. this means they get to overhear your conversation and interrupt yours. The couple we shared our table with were celebrating the guy's birthday and his girlfriend was treating him to a special day out that ended with the train ride. After we got back on the train from the winery tour the unexpected happened. They were engaged in conversation and he was comparing her favorably to ex-girlfriends, then all of a sudden he got down on one knee and pulled out a box with a ring in it. After a stunned silence she took it, said some words softly then said “I appreciate the sentiment but the timing is inappropriate” and handed it back. This was followed by her voicing her concerns about his ability to support them and him rattling of how much he made a month plus various bonuses, etc. I think it went downhill from there.

    All through this I was staring out the window trying to make small talk with my mom but failing miserably. If and whenever I do end up proposing to someone I've definitely learned a thing or two about what not to do.


    Categories: Ramblings

    I just saw an entry in Ted Leung's blog about SMS messages where he wrote

    [via Trevor's ETech notes]

    become rude to make a phone call without first checking via sms. [this is becoming more and more the case in europe also]

    I would love it if this became the etiquette here in the US as well. For all telephone calls, not just cell calls. People seem to believe that they have the right to call you simply because you have a telephone.

    The so-called SMS craze that has hit Europe and Asia seems totally absurd to me. I can understand teenagers and college students using SMS as a more sophisticated way of passing notes to each other in class but can't see any other reason why if I have a device I could use to talk to someone I'd instead send them a hastily written and poorly spelled text message instead. Well maybe if text messages were free and voice calls were fairly expensive but since that isn't the case in the US I guess that's why I don't get it.


    Categories: Ramblings

    February 14, 2004
    @ 09:03 PM

    A couple of days ago I wrote about The war in Iraq and whether the actions of the US administration could be considered a war crime. It seems this struck a nerve with at least one of my readers. In a response to that entry Scott Lare wrote

    Today, between Afganistan and Iraq there are approx 50 million people who were previously under regimes of torture who now have a "chance" at freedom. Get a grip on reality! Talk about missing the point and moronism.

    I find it interesting that Scott Lare sees the need to put chance in quotes. Now ignoring the fact that these “regimes of torture” were in fact supported by the US when it was politcally expedient the question is whether people's lives are any better in Afghanistan and Iraq now that they live in virtual anarchy as opposed to under oppresive regimes? In a post entitled Women as property and U.S.-funded nation-building he excerpts a New York Times opinion piece which states

    Consider these snapshots of the new Afghanistan:

    • A 16-year-old girl fled her 85-year-old husband, who married her when she was 9. She was caught and recently sentenced to two and a half years' imprisonment.

    • The Afghan Supreme Court has recently banned female singers from appearing on Afghan television, barred married women from attending high school classes and ordered restrictions on the hours when women can travel without a male relative.

    • When a man was accused of murder recently, his relatives were obliged to settle the blood debt by handing over two girls, ages 8 and 15, to marry men in the victim's family.

    • A woman in Afghanistan now dies in childbirth every 20 minutes, usually without access to even a nurse. A U.N. survey in 2002 found that maternal mortality in the Badakshan region was the highest ever recorded anywhere on earth: a woman there has a 50 percent chance of dying during one of her eight pregnancies.

    • In Herat, a major city, women who are found with an unrelated man are detained and subjected to a forced gynecological exam. At last count, according to Human Rights Watch, 10 of these "virginity tests" were being conducted daily.

    ... Yet now I feel betrayed, as do the Afghans themselves. There was such good will toward us, and such respect for American military power, that with just a hint of follow-through we could have made Afghanistan a shining success and a lever for progress in Pakistan and Central Asia. Instead, we lost interest in Afghanistan and moved on to Iraq.

    ... Even now, in the new Afghanistan we oversee, they are being kidnapped, raped, married against their will to old men, denied education, subjected to virginity tests and imprisoned in their homes. We failed them. 

    To people like Scott I'll only say this; life isn't an action movie where you show up, shoot up all the bad guys and everyone lives happily ever after. What has happened in Afghanistan is that the US military has shoot up some bad guys who have now been replaced by a different set of bad guys. Short of colonizing the country and forcing social change there isn't much the US military can do for a lot of people in Afghanistan especially the women. I accept this but it really irritates me when I here people mouth off about how “life is so much better” because the US military dropped some bombs on the “bad guys“.

    As for Iraq, John Robb has a link to an interesting article on the current state of affairs. He writes

    Debka has some interesting analysis that indicates that the US is in a bind.  The recent moves to empower Iraqi defense forces to take control of city centers is premature (as proved in the brazen attack in Fallujah yesterday).  At the same time the US is committed to a shift of power this summer and the UN is talking about elections this fall.  There are three potential outcomes for this:

    • A full civil war that draws in adjacent powers.
    • Democracy and stability under Sunni leadership. 
    • More US occupation but with increasing resistance.

    How would you assign the odds (in percentages) for each outcome?

    Considering the animosity between the various factions in Iraq, democracy and stability may not go hand in hand. Being Nigerian I know first hand that democracy doesn't automatically mean stability, I guess that's why some refer to us as The New Pakistan


    Categories: Ramblings

    February 10, 2004
    @ 05:59 AM

    As Joshua wrote in his blog we had lunch with Dave Winer this afternoon. We talked about the kind of stuff you'd have expected; RSS, ATOM and "social software". An interesting person at lunch was Lili Cheng who's the Group Manager of the Social Computing Group in Microsoft Research*. She was very interested in the technologies around blogging and thought “social software“ could become a big deal if handled correctly. Her group is behind Wallop and I asked if she'd be able to wrangle an invitation so I could check it out. Given my previous negative impressions of Social Software I'm curious to see what the folks at MSR have come up with. She seemed aware of the limitations of the current crop of “social software” that her hip with some members of the blogging crowd so I'd like to see what she thinks they do differently. I think a fun little experiment would be seeing what it would be like to integrate some interaction with “social software“ like Wallop into RSS Bandit. Too bad my free time is so limited.

    * So MSFT has a Social Computing Group and Google has Orkut? If I worked at Friendster it would seem the exit strategy is clear, try to get bought by Yahoo! before the VC funds dry up.


    Categories: Ramblings

    I've seen a lot of the hubbub about Janet Jackson's "costume reveal" at the Superbowl and tend to agree with Dan Gillmor that was just one in a series of classless and crass things about the Superbowl. However I've learned something new about Janet Jackson I didn't before this incident, she's dating Jermaine Dupri. Now I'm not one to knock someone's lifestyle choices but come on, Jermaine Dupri? That's almost as stunning as finding out that Whitney Houston ended up with Bobby “3 baby mamas” Brown.  


    Categories: Ramblings

    February 4, 2004
    @ 05:52 AM

    Based on recent reports it looks like Colin Powell is practically admitting there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in pre-war Iraq although this was the primary justification for the US invading the country in an action that has left an estimated 8000 civilians dead. That's quite a number who've lost their lives over a clerical error which happens to have spiralled the US deficit and made a few defence contractors richer.

    I was curious as to whether I could look up the definition of “war crime” and see if starting a war for bogus reasons qualifies. My search lead me to the Crimes of War project and an article entitled Who Owns the Rules of War? which had these interesting paragraphs

    The enduring law established at Nuremberg has thus turned out not to be the ''crime of aggression'' but a reaffirmation of war crimes as traditionally understood -- with two important innovations made necessary by the Nazi death camps: genocide and crimes against humanity. Nuremberg also had serious gaps. Most significant, it failed to address the terror bombing of civilians and the deliberate consuming of whole cities (Dresden, Tokyo) by fire -- the most enthusiastic practitioners of the latter being the Allies.

    The failure to prosecute the Allies for firebombing cities is one of the strongest arguments today for why war-crimes tribunals should not be conducted by the victors. Many regard this argument as so clinching, in fact, that the mere charge of ''victor's justice'' is enough to end debate.

    That clarified things for me. The definition and prosecution of a “war crime” is really up to the victors so the answer to my question is that it is highly unlikely that the events leading up to the debacle in Iraq will ever be considered a “war crime”. The rest of the article goes further in convincing me that the term “war crime” is a mostly meaningless phrase which has never been uniformly applied and for which there are very few if any useful metrics.


    Categories: Ramblings

    I've been trying out Orkut some more and I'm now pretty sure I think it is lame. There is the problem I mentioned previously in that it doesn't provide a way to create a hierarchy of friendships (i.e. differentiate friends from acquintances, business partners from co-workers, etc) which by the way Don Park has an interesting solution for called Friendship Circles. The other reason I've decided it rubs me wrong is that it tends to encourage the collapsing of the various facets of a person's s social life as pointed out by Warren Ellis along  with other criticisms which I agree with. Warren Ellis wrote

    Right now, it looks pretty much like an iteration of the Tribe.net system, with an eye on Friendster's apparent main function as a dating system. (Which means, oddly, it requests your business profile at the same time as it's asking you where you like to be fingered.) (Okay, maybe not.)...

    My current list of friends is mostly folks I know through geeking at work or on the Internet. Some I'd call friends and some I'd call acquaintances. Particularly interesting to me is the stark contrast that would show up if I actually had some of the folks I actually consider my close friends up there next to folks who's primary connection to me is work or being subscribed to the same mailing lists. It would be folks with completely different, contrasting sets of people.

    However this isn't what I found interesting. I noticed that folks could form groups or communities on Orkut about specific topics and one of the ones I found by exploring the various friend-of-a-friend links was the Legalize Marijuana community. Considering that the various links I followed were mostly professional relationships I thought it was particularly bold and mayhap foolhardy for folks to do the equivalent of labelling themselves as drug users or at least “pro-drug”. I find this aspect of social software fascinating. I have already begun to notice how a blog collapses the various facets of one's character as one tries to serve different audiences including from friends & family to co-workers & customers.  Adding to this delicate dance by exposing ones relationships from the mundane & innocent to the illicit & illegal to all and sundry including your boss, co-workers, business partners and any random person with an Orkut account is probably more than I can stomach. That doesn't change the fact that there is somewhat of a voyeuristic thrill navigating some of these relationships. I just wonder how many private and business relationships have been or will be started or ended on the strength of some of the things discovered by navigating the various friend-of-a-friend links between various individuals.

    By the way, the rest of Warren Ellis's criticisms of Orkut are also ones I share so I'm including them below instead of repeating them myself in poorer prose

    It's coping pretty well as it starts taking the weight of several thousand early explorers. Most of whom, if they follow the accelerating process that's left Friendster a relative wasteland and given Tribe a bit of an echo, will be out of there again in a few weeks. It's faster than Fuckster and Tribe, but it shows that all these friend-of-a-friend things have really hit a wall. I mean, what can you actually do aside from invite all your friends and piss about on a couple of small message boards? Message boards that, unlike Tribe, allow anonymous postings and therefore devalue the message board experience? What happens after that? After you've gotten all your friends in -- whom you send email to or IM regularly in any case, presumably. That's it. All done. Until, I guess, yet another social network system opens and you start all over again. These things want to be a hub for your Internet community experience, but they're just not necessary enough. Tribe gets closest, but it's nothing you're going to leave as an open window on your desktop all day. The first new social network system that builds an IM program into its structure may have a shot...

    And that has to be their goal. I mean, who builds a social network system that doesn't want people to use it all the time?

    If services like Orkut and Friendster were part of portals I was already using such as Yahoo! or MSN then I'd probably stick around but as standalone sites they just don't make much sense. Maybe part of their goal is to get bought by bigger companies who hopefully can figure out what to do with them [which seems to be the case with Orkut] in which case it looks like the dot bomb era isn't quite dead yet.


    Categories: Ramblings

    February 3, 2004
    @ 06:22 AM

    My work machine has a toasted harddrive, my TiVo's hard drive is also toasted which will cost $100 to get replaced under warranty, my cable splitter is busted so I can either watch cable TV or use the Internet but not both, I've had to manage the fact that first feature I designed from scratch for the next version of System.Xml was optimized for the wrong scenarios and should probably be pulled from beta 1 of the .NET Framework, and I just found out the Deli next door simultaneously stopped carrying both Mike's Hard Iced Tea and Bacardi Silver O3 since it looks like I was the primary customer buying either beverage.

    I fucking hate Mondays.


    Categories: Ramblings

    Robert Scoble, my favorite and most prolific pro-Microsoft blogger is at it again. His latest rant that's drawing a bunch of eyeballs online is his recent post where he tries to argue that iPods are a poorer choice than portable music players that use Microsoft's music formats. Specifically he writes  

    OK media consumers, let's look forward to 2006. It's always good to look at where you'll end up when you consider buying into a platform of any kind -- and both Apple and Microsoft want you to look at their offerings as just a piece of their platform offerings. It's sort of like picking a football team -- if you're gonna be locked into a team for a few years, wouldn't you rather pick a Superbowl winner than someone who'll go 1-18?

    Over the next three years, it won't be uncommon for many of you to buy 500 songs if you want to buy legitimate music from legitimate sources (translate: official services approved by the recording industry like Napster or iTunes). That'll cost you $300 to $500. It's pretty clear that the world will come down to two or three major "systems." Disclaimer: MSN is rumored to be working on such a system. See, when you buy music from a service like Apple's iTunes or Napster (or MSN), it comes with DRM attached.

    When you hear DRM think "lockin." So, when you buy music off of Napster or Apple's iTunes, you're locked into the DRM systems that those applications decided on. Really you are choosing between two competing lockin schemes.

    But, not all lockin schemes are alike, I learned on Friday. First, there are two major systems. The first is Apple's AAC/Fairtunes based DRM. The second is Microsoft's WMA

    Let's say it's 2006. You have 500 songs you've bought on iTunes for your iPod. But, you are about to buy a car with a digital music player built into it. Oh, but wait, Apple doesn't make a system that plays its AAC format in a car stereo. So, now you can't buy a real digital music player in your car. Why's that? Because if you buy songs off of Apple's iTunes system, they are protected by the AAC/Fairtunes DRM system, and can't be moved to other devices that don't recognize AAC/Fairtunes. Apple has you locked into their system and their devices. (And, vice versa is true, as any Apple fan will gladly point out to you). What does that mean if you buy into Apple's system? You've gotta buy an FM transmitter that transmits songs from your iPod to your car stereo. What does that do? Greatly reduces the quality. How do I know that? Cause the Microsoft side of the fence has FM transmitters too. I saw a few on Friday. But, what we have on our side is a format (WMA) that's already being adopted by car stereo manufacturers. So, now when you buy a new song on Napster, it can play on your car stereo, or on your portable music player. Is the choice to do that important to you? If not, then you can buy an iPod and music off of iTunes.

    I'm not going to be too critical about Scoble's post since he's basically doing his job as an evangelist and the last thing I want is yet more hate mail from folks in the B0rg cube who believe that every personal blog by a Microsoft employee should be a mini-pep rally for Microsoft products. But I do want to point out some counter arguments that I believe people on both sides of the debate [especially in the B0rg cube] should pay attention to. The first is Cory Doctorow's rant Protect your investment: buy open . He writes

    Well, says Scoble, all of the music that we buy from these legit services is going to have DRM use-restriction technology ("See, when you buy music from a service like Apple's iTunes or Napster (or MSN), it comes with DRM attached."). So the issue becomes "choosing between two competing lockin schemes."

    And in that choice, says Scoble, Microsoft wins, because it has more licensees of its proprietary, lock-in format. That means that when you want to play your music in your car, it's more likely that you'll find a car-stereo manufacturer that has paid Microsoft to play Microsoft music than that you'll find one that has coughed up to Apple to play Apple music.

    And this is the problem with Scoble's reasoning. We have a world today where we can buy CDs, we can download DRM-music, we can download non-DRM music from legit services, we can download "pirate" music from various services, and we can sometimes defeat DRM using off-the-shelf apps for Linux (which has a CD recovery tool that handily defeats CD DRM), the Mac (with tools like AudioHijack that make it easy to convert DRM music to MP3s or other open formats) and Windows (I assume, since I don't use Windows, but as Scoble points out, there's lots of Windows software out there.).

    In this world where we have consumer choices to make, Scoble argues that our best buy is to pick the lock-in company that will have the largest number of licensees

    That's just about the worst choice you can make.

    If I'm going to protect my investment in digital music, my best choice is clearly to invest in buying music in a format that anyone can make a player for.

    I have an iPod and I have to agree with Cory. I don't buy DRMed music but I do buy CDs and sometimes look for remixes of singles not available in stores anymore on Kazaa. I use a tape deck connector to plug my iPod into my car stereo and it often sounds better than CDs. An argument about how many devices can play Microsoft's file formats versus Apple's sounds silly to me given that I'll only ever use one player at a time. Scoble's argument [which I hope isn't a marketing strategy that Microsoft is seriously going to pursue] is that folks will transfer music between multiple players during regular usage which in practice just isn't likely. And even if it was, the best bet for people in such cases would be to use the most widely supported format in which case it would be the MP3 format. Either way an iPod still seems like an attractive buy. Arguing about music file formats for portable music players is like arguing about formats for address books in cell phones and trying to make the fact that you can move your address book easily between two cell phones that run the same OS than others is some sort of selling point that is of interest to regular people.

    The saddest part of all this is watching Scoble describe feedback from people pointing out the obvious holes in his sales pitch as hate mail. It isn't his fault, we all act that way once we've been assimilated. :) I just don't see this "more choice" argument convincing many people. Scoble is better off focusing on price points and design aesthetics of competing media players to the iPod than the artificial differences he's trying to construct. I was particularly fond of his statement

    It's interesting the religiousness of the debates. Brings me back to when I was a Macintosh fanatic back in the late 1980s. Oh, if only religious support won markets. Course if that were the case, I'd be working for Steve Jobs now in Cupertino, huh?

    When last I looked iPod sales had surpassed two million. Looks like religious support does win some markets, huh? ;)


    Categories: Ramblings

    I just registered into Orkut (Google's version of Friendster according to Slashdot), thanks to an invitation from Don Park -- thanks Don. Part of the registration process contained one my pet peeves, a question about ethnicity that had [african american (black)] as one of the options. As if both terms are interchangeable. I almost picked [other] since the designers of the software seemed to think that people of African descent that aren't citizens of the United States weren't a large enough demographic to have their own option in the drop down list. I ended up going with [african american (black)] since I didn't want to confuse people who'd be looking up my profile.

    Checking out a couple of people's friend networks it seems the misgivings I had about Friendster which kept me from using it when I first heard about it are accurate if Orkut is anything like it. Online folks seem to have a weird definition of friend. When I think friend, I think of someone you'd give a call and say "Hello, I just killed someone" and after a pause their response is "Shit, so what are we going to do about the body?" That isn't to be taken literally but you get the idea. A friend is someone you'd go to the ends of the Earth for and who'd do the same for you. People with whom my primary interaction involves reading their weblogs and exchanging mail on various mailing lists don't really fall into the "friend" category for me. Lumping those people together with folks I've known all my life who've been with me through thick and thin who've done things like let me hold their bank card with the PIN number to use in case of emergencies when I was broke, trusted me to come up with my share of the rent and bills when I had no job and no prospects because I gave my word, and helped me get out of trouble when I thought I was in over my head just seems wrong to me.  

    There are acquaintences, friends and folks I'd die for. Lumping them all into one uber-category called friends just doesn't jibe with me. I'll play with the site some more later today but I doubt I'll be on it for long. I've got some stuff coming in from IKEA this morning.


    Categories: Ramblings

    January 23, 2004
    @ 05:05 PM

    Theres been some recent surprise by blogcrazy about the recent democratic party caucus in Iowa in which John Kerry won 38 percent of the state convention delegates, with 32 percent for John Edwards, 18 percent for Howard Dean and 11 percent for Gephardt. Many had assumed that Howard Dean's highly successful Internet campaign with its adoption of blogging technologies and support by many bloggers were an indication of strong grass roots support. Yeah, right.

    Robert Scoble wrote

    Along these lines, by tomorrow, I'm sure there'll be more than one person that will gnash their teeth and write "weblogs failed Dean."

    Well, the weblog hype did get overboard the past few weeks. Weblogs do matter. Why? The influentials read weblogs. The press. The insiders. The passionate ones.

    But, the average Joe doesn't read these. Come on, be real. Instapundit gets, what, 100,000 to 200,000 visitors a day? I get 2,000. That's a small little dinky number in a country of 290 million.

    Weblogs and online technologies have helped Dean and others collect a lot of money, but you still gotta have a TV persona that hits home. Just reality in 2004. I'm not bitter about that.

    The lessons for big-company evangelism (or small company, for that matter) are the same. If your product isn't something that average people like, it doesn't matter how good the weblogs are.

    Considering that Robert Scoble is one of the weblog hypesters who may have gone “overboard“ as he puts  it I find his post particularly telling. Folks like Robert Scoble have trumpetted that weblogs would be triumphant against traditional marketting and in many posts he's berated product teams at the company he works for [Microsoft] that don't consider weblogging as part of their marketing message. Weblogs are currently a fairly low cost way of communicating with a certain class of internet savvy people. However nothing beats traditional communication channels such as television, billboards and the print media for spreading a message amongst all and sundry.

    Don't be blinded by the hype.

    There's one other response to the recent events in Iowa that made me smile.  Doc Searles wrote 

    I see that my positive spin yesterday on Howard Dean's "barbaric yawp" speech got approximately no traction at all. Worse, the speech was (predictably) mocked by everybody in the major media from Stern in the morning to Letterman and Leno in the evening. 

      Clearly, its effects were regretable. It hurt the campaign. But it was also honest and authentic, and in the long run that can only help, for the simple reason that it was real.
      So. What to do? 
      Here's my suggestion... Look at media coverage as nothing more than transient conditions, like weather. And navigate by the stars of your own constituency.
      The main lesson from Cluetrain is "smart markets get smarter faster than most companies." The same goes for constituencies and candidates. Your best advice will come from the people who know you best, who hear your voice, who understand the missions of your campaign and write about it clearly, thoughtfully and with great insight. They're out there. Your staff can help you find them. Navigate by their stars, not the ones on television. 

    I've always found people who espouse the Cluetrain Manifesto as seeming particularly naive as to the realities of markets and marketing. Telling someone to ignore media coverage and keep it real is not how elections are won in America. Any student of recent American history knows the increased significance of the media in presedential elections ever since the televised Kennedy-Nixon debates in the elections of the1960s.

    Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.


    Categories: Ramblings

    January 16, 2004
    @ 02:37 AM

    From Yahoo! News we learn Outsourcing Contributes To IT Salaries' Downward Spiral  

    Overall, the premium paid for IT workers with specific skills was 23 percent lower in 2003 than in 2001, and the pay for certification in particular skills dropped 11 percent, Foote Partners LLC said.
    In a yearlong study of 400 Fortune 1000 companies, researchers found that by 2006, the organizations expected from 35 percent to 45 percent of their current full-time IT jobs to go to workers overseas, David Foote, president and chief research officer for Foote Partners, said.

    "That showed a definite declining onshore workforce--fewer jobs for IT people in this country," Foote said.

    Perhaps it is time to go back to school and get started on my backup plan of being lawyer specializing in intellectual property law.


    Categories: Ramblings

    Just saw the following headline at SoufOaklin.com Disgruntled Asian Tattoo Artist Inks His Revenge  

    Pitt junior Brandon Smith wanted a tattoo that proclaimed his manliness, so he decided to get the Chinese characters for “strength” and “honor” on his chest. After 20 minutes under the needle of local tattoo artist Andy Sakai, he emerged with the symbol for “small penis” embedded in his flesh.

    “I had it for months before I knew what it really meant,” Smith said. “Then I went jogging through the Carnegie Mellon campus and a group of Asian kids started laughing and calling me ‘Shorty.’ That’s when I knew something was up.”

         Sakai, an award-winning tattoo artist, was tired of seeing sacred Japanese words, symbols of his heritage, inked on random white people. So he used their blissful ignorance to make an everlasting statement. Any time acustomer came to Sakai’s home studio wanting Japanese tattooed on them, he modified it into a profane word or phrase.

         “All these preppy sorority girls and suburban rich boys think they’re so cool ‘cause they have a tattoo with Japanese characters. But it doesn’t mean shit to them!” Sakai said. “The dumbasses don’t even realize that I’ve written ‘slut’ or ‘pervert’ on their skin!”

    I'm surprised that reports of actions like this are not more widespread. I keep waiting for someone to start the Japanese version of Engrish.com that makes fun of all the folks in the USA who have misspelled Japanese characters on their T-shirts or tattoed on their skin the same way Engrish.com does for misspelled, grammatically incorrect English that shows up in Japan all over the place.

    I've always thought it was really ghetto (i.e. ignorant) to have characters in a language you can't freaking understand tatooed on your skin. Anyone who's ever done this needs to be awarded 100 ghettofabulous points when they pass Go! and should also collect a free copy of Kardinall Offishall's UR Ghetto. Dang!


    Categories: Ramblings

    January 15, 2004
    @ 07:00 AM

    My boss, Mark Fussell, just purchased a Smart Watch with MSN Direct and I got to see one of them up close. In his post entitled Not an iPod Sheep [which is a reference to the fact that more and more folks on our team are geeking out Apple's lil' marvel] he writes

    Today I picked up my rash and purely impulsive Christmas buy, a Fossil Wrist.NET Smart watch. It was probably sub-consciously induced by the new kid who came to our school (around 1977) with a calculator on his watch. No matter that it was impossible to press any of the buttons to do even the most simple sums and that this was tremendously useless, the fact that it was on a watch with a calculator built in made it ultra cool and an instant friend maker.

    Now that I have my smart watch up and running (I had to leave the building and drive halfway home before it picked up a signal) I will say that it has some value. The #1 killer feature has to be the syncing with your Outlook calender appointments.... Of course having a wireless PC to look at the news and weather pretty much makes the other features on Smart watch useless, but “hey” I've just been told that George Bush wants to build a moon base by my watch - Wow! Now I can tell everyone all sorts of useless information. The #2 killer feature has to be the atomic clock accuracy, not that this is that necessary, but timing between meetings is everything. The #3 feature is the ability to send short (15 word?) instance messages to it.

    Having a handy device that syncs to my Outlook calendar is something I definitely like but I consider a watch a fashion accessory not something that is primarily a gadget. The geek appeal of the watch is definitely high but I suspect I'll end up getting a SmartPhone instead. The main problem is that I'd like to be able to sync with Outlook when away from my work machine which may turn out to be quite expensive based on current cellular plans compared to having something like a SmartWatch.


    Categories: Ramblings | Technology

    A couple of months ago I read How to Ignore Your Best Customers, the TiVo Way (Part 1)  which begins

    We’re big TiVo fans, and have been for three years.

    There’s tens of thousands of us who evangelize the company’s precedent-setting digital video recorder and how it has changed our lives. Online, 40,000 of TiVo’s customers have self-organized the TiVo Community forum, which we joined a year ago. The group is Beyond Thunderdome-loyal.

    Browse the forums and you will find spirited discussions on topics as varied as these:

    • Why TiVo customers often take over for a hapless retail store salesperson

    • How-to guides on the best ways to convince a loved one to buy and keep a TiVo

    • The May 2004 conference in Las Vegas for TiVo enthusiasts that forum members are organizing

    For most companies, a self-organized community of 40,000 passionate fans is unfathomable—a Holy Grail and marketing nirvana that many wish for but few attain.

    The interesting thing is that I find myself to be one of these people. Whenever I start talking to someone who doesn't have a TiVo about owning one the conversation eventually a sales pitch. I've found that talking to people about the iPod to be the same way. Halfway through the conversation there's the frustration that washes over me because I can't seem to find the words to truly express to the person I'm talking to about how much the iPod or TiVo would change that aspect of their lives.

    Watching TV hasn't been the same since I bought the TiVo and I can't imagine ever going back to not having one. Now I have my iPod I can't imagine what would possess me to buy a CD ever again yet I can listen the almost any song I've ever liked from James Brown to Metallica to 50 Cent anywhere I want, whenever I want.

    I can't remember any technology ever affecting me this significantly. I believe when I first got a broadband connection it was the same thing and before that probably the first time I got on the World Wide Web. Before that nothing...


    Categories: Ramblings

    January 9, 2004
    @ 05:27 AM

    For the last couple of months I've noticed a rather annoying bug with my cellphone, an LG 5350. Whenever I enter a new contact it also copies the person's number over the number of an existing contact. If I later delete the new entry it also deletes the copied over number from the other contact. I've lost a couple of folk's phone numbers due to this annoyance. I'm now in the market for a new phone.

    The main features I want besides the standard cell phone features (makes calls, addressbook) are the ability to sync with my calendar in Outlook and perhaps the ability to get information on traffic conditions as well.   

    I'm currently torn between getting a SmartPhone and a Pocket PC Phone Edition. Too bad stores don't let you test drive cellphones like they do cars.


    Categories: Ramblings

    January 5, 2004
    @ 08:22 AM

    Nick Bradbury recently posted an entry entitled On Piracy which read

    Many people who use pirated products justify it by claiming they're only stealing from rich mega-corporations that screw their customers, but this conveniently overlooks the fact that the people who are hurt the most by piracy are people like me.

    Shareware developers are losing enormous amounts of money to piracy, and we're mostly helpless to do anything about it. We can't afford to sue everyone who steals from us, let alone track down people in countries such as Russia who host web sites offering pirated versions of our work...Some would argue that we should just accept piracy as part of the job, but chances are the people who say this aren't aware of how widespread piracy really is. A quick look at my web server logs would be enough to startle most people, since the top referrers are invariably warez sites that link to my site (yes, not only do they steal my software, but they also suck my bandwidth).

    A couple of years ago I wanted to get an idea of how many people were using pirated versions of TopStyle, so I signed up for an anonymous email account (using a "kewl" nickname, of course) and started hanging out in cracker forums. After proving my cracker creds, I created a supposedly cracked version of TopStyle and arranged to have it listed on a popular warez site....This cracked version pinged home the first time it was run, providing a way for me to find out how many people were using it. To my dismay, in just a few weeks more people had used this cracked version than had ever purchased it. I knew piracy was rampant, but I didn't realize how widespread it was until this test.

    The proliferation of software piracy isn't anything new. The primary reason I'm bothering to post about it is that Aaron Swartz posted an obnoxious response to Nick's post entitled On Piracy, or, Nick Bradbury is an Amazing Idiot which besides containing a "parody" which is part Slippery Slope and part False Analogy ends with the following gems

    Nick has no innate right to have people pay for his software, just as I have no right to ask people to pay for use of my name.

    Even if he did, most people who pirate his software probably would never use it anyway, so they aren't costing him any money and they're providing him with free advertising.

    And of course it makes sense that lots of people who see some interesting new program available for free from a site they're already at will download it and try it out once, just as more people will read an article I wrote in the New York Times than on my weblog.


    Yes, piracy probably does take some sales away from Nick, but I doubt it's very many. If Nick wants to sell more software, maybe he should start by not screaming at his potential customers. What's next? Yelling at people who use his software on friends computers? Or at the library?

    Aaron's arguments are so silly they boggle the mind but let's take them one at a time. Human beings have no innate rights. Concepts such as "unalienable rights" and documents such as the Bill of Rights have been agreed upon by some societies as the law but this doesn't mean they are universal or would mean anything if not backed up by the law and its enforcers. Using Aaron's argument, Aaron has no innate right to live in a house he paid for, eat food he bought or use his computer if some physically superior person or armed thug decides he covets his possessions. The primary thing preventing this from being the normal state of affairs is the law, the same law that states that software piracy is illegal. Western society has decided that Capitalism is the way to go (i.e. a party provides goods or services for sale and consumers of said goods and services pay for them). So for whatever definition of "rights" Aaron is using Nick has a right to not have his software pirated.  

    Secondly, Aaron claims that if people illegally utilizing your software can't afford it then it's OK for them to do so. This argument is basically, "It's OK to steal if what you want is beyond your purchasing power". Truly, why work hard and save for what you want when you can just steal it. Note that this handy rule of Aaron's also applies to all sorts of real life situations. Why not shoplift, after all big department store chains can afford it anyway and in fact they factor that into their prices? Why not steal cars or rob jewellery stores if you can't afford them after all, it's all insured anyway right? The instant gratification generation truly is running amok.  

    The best part of Aaron's post is that even though Nick states that there are more people using pirated versions of his software than those that paid for it Aaron dismisses this by saying that his personal opinion is that there wouldn't have been many lost sales by piracy then it devolves into some slippery slope argument about whether people should pay for using Nick's software on a friend's computer or at the library. Of course, the simple answer to this question is that by purchasing the software the friend or the library can let anyone use it, the same way that I can carry anyone in my car after purchasing it.  

    My personal opinion is that if you think software is too expensive then (a) use cheaper alternatives (b) write your own or (c) do without it after all no one needs software. Don't steal it then try and justify your position with inane arguments that sound like the childish "information wants to be free" rants that used to litter Slashdot during the dotbomb era.


    Categories: Ramblings

    January 2, 2004
    @ 09:55 PM

    It snowed yesterday in the Seattle area. It was nice watching the snowflakes fall and afterwards I had the first snowball fight of my life. Then I got in my car, turned on the heat and drove a few blocks to the video store. By the time I got out of the store there was a crack almost a foot long on the driver's side of the windshield.

    Crap. Crap. Crap.



    Categories: Ramblings

    Just stumbled on the following article entitled So, Scrooge was right after all

    Conventional economics teaches that gift giving is irrational. The satisfaction or "utility" a person derives from consumption is determined by their personal preferences. But no one understands your preferences as well as you do.

    So when I give up $50 worth of utility to buy a present for you, the chances are high that you'll value it at less than $50. If so, there's been a mutual loss of utility. The transaction has been inefficient and "welfare reducing", thus making it irrational. As an economist would put it, "unless a gift that costs the giver p dollars exactly matches the way in which the recipient would have spent the p dollars, the gift is suboptimal".

    The big problem I've always had with economics as I was always taught in school is that the fundamental assumption underlying it is that humans make rational decisions when buying and selling goods and services. This is simply not true. The above example is a good one; it makes more sense for everyone involved in the annual gift exchange that is Christmas if people just gave checks and gift certificates instead of buying gifts that the recipients don't want or don't need. Yet this isn't how Christmas gift giving is done in most cases. Then there's the entire field of advertising with its concept of lifestyle ads which are highly successful and are yet another example that human buying decisions aren't steeped in rationality.

    What a crock...


    December 27, 2003
    @ 07:37 PM

    Slashdot has posted a link to Eric Sink's "Make More Mistakes" article on MSDN. One of the anecdotes from the article reads as follows

    Circa 1998, betting on Java for a graphical user interface (GUI) application was suicidal. The platform simply didn't have the maturity necessary for building quality user interfaces. I chose Java because I was "head over heels" in love with it. I adored the concept of a cross-platform C-like language with garbage collection. We were hoping to build our Java expertise and make this exciting new technology our specialty.

    But Java turned out to be a terrible frustration. The ScrollPane widget did a lousy job of scrolling. Printing support routinely crashed. The memory usage was unbelievably high.

    I should have gotten over my religious devotion to semicolons and done this app in Visual Basic.

    Lesson learned: Be careful about using bleeding-edge technologies.

    There are some on Slashdot who think that Eric learned the wrong lesson from that experience. This post entitled Alteration of rule is from a developer who was in a similar circumstance as Eric but had a different outcome

    I built a Java/Swing app around the same time. It was a pretty complex user app, not just a simple program - and we managed to completely satisfy the clients and make the program perform acceptably on a very low-end target platform (PII-133 with 32 MB of memory). For what he described (replacing a complex spreadsheet) he should have been able to complete the task.

    Why did our app work and his fail? Because we knew Java and Swing well by that point, and knew what was possible with some time spent optimizing. We had a plan in our head for how to reach a target level of performance that would be accepted and more than met that goal.

    The lesson he should have learned was "Know your technology well before you embark on a project". The reason why it's so important to learn THAT lesson is that it applies to any project, not just ones using "bleeding edge" technologies. The only difference between an established and bleeding edge technology is the level of support you MIGHT be able to find. And that is not enough of a difference to totally affect either failure or success.

    I tend to agree with the Slashdot post. Learning on the job is fine and all but when big bucks is on the line its best to go with what you are familar with especially if it is tried and tested.


    Categories: Ramblings

    December 27, 2003
    @ 07:29 PM

    I was talking to some friends of mine over Christmas who happen to still be in college and I learned about a drinking game they played in their sorority house that actually requires sports equipment and hand eye coordination. I am speaking of Beer Pong, the description of Beer Pong at Barmeistrer.com reads 

    The materials you need for this game are some cups of beer, a ping pong ball, and a table. The game is best played with either two people or two teams of two.

    Arrange the cups of beer on either side of the table like you are setting up bowling pins. You should have at least six cups on both sides. Each team takes a turn by trying to get the ping pong ball into the other team's cups. If they succeed the other teams must drink that cup. The cup is then removed and the rest of the cups are rearranged so that they are close to each other. Each team alternates turns like this.

    When all the cups on one side have been cleared the team that cleared them wins and the other teams must finish any cups remaining on the winning team's side

    My friends and I would have loved this game. I wonder what else I missed out on by going to a geeky technical college and shunning the few social activities that occured on campus.

    Categories: Ramblings

    December 16, 2003
    @ 06:52 AM

    Robert Scoble writes

    Here's what I'd do if I were at Harvard and in charge of the RSS spec:

    1) Announce there will be an RSS 3.0 and that it will be the most thought-out syndication specification ever.

    2) Announce that RSS 3.0 will ship on July 1, 2005. That date is important. For one, 18 months is long enough to really do some serious work. For two, RSS 3.0 should be positioned as "the best way to do syndication on Microsoft's Longhorn." ...

    3) Open up a mailing list, a wiki, and a weblog to track progress on RSS 3.0 and encourage community inclusion.

    4) Work with Microsoft to ensure that RSS 3.0 will be able to take advantage of Longhorn's new capabilities (in specific, focus on learning Indigo and WinFS)...

    5) Make sure RSS 3.0 is simply the best-of-breed syndication protocol. Translation: don't let Microsoft or Google come up with a better spec that has more features.

    I'm terribly amused by the fact that Robert Scoble likes to claim that he doesn't represent Microsoft in his blog then posts items where he basically acts like he does. An RSS 3.0 that competes with Atom is probably the worst possible proposal to resolve the current conflict in the website syndication space and a very clear indication that this is all about personality conflicts. The problem  with the Atom syndication format is that it is an incompatible alternative of RSS 1.0/RSS 2.0 which provides little if any benefit to content producers or news aggregators consumers. Coming up with another version of RSS doesn't change this fact unless it is backwards compatible and even then besides clarifications to the original spec I'm unsure what could be added to the core although I can think of a number of potential candidates. However this still would be a solution looking for a problem.

    While talking to Tim Bray and Sam Ruby at XML 2003 last week I stated that a number of the problems with syndication have little to do with the core spec and most aggregator authors wouldn't consider any of the problems harped upon on the Atom lists as a big deal. The major problems with syndication today have little to do with the syndication format and more to do with it's associated technologies. 

    As little interest I have in an Atom syndication format I have an order of magnitude less interest in a new version of RSS that exists solely to compete with Atom..

    PS: Am I the only one who caught the trademark Microsoft arrogance (which really comes from working on Windows[0]) in Scoble's post? I especially liked

    "Here's what I'd do if I were at Harvard and in charge of the RSS spec...Work with Microsoft to ensure that RSS 3.0 will be able to take advantage of Longhorn's new capabilities (in specific, focus on learning Indigo and WinFS). Build a prototype (er, have MSN build one) that would demonstrate some of the features of RSS 3.0 -- make this prototype so killer that it gets used on stage at the Longhorn launch

    I literally guffawed out loud. So if Harvard doesn't tie RSS to Windows then all is lost? I guess this means that NetNewsWire and Straw should get ready to be left behind in the new Microsoft-controlled RSS future. Hilarious. 

    [0] When you work on the most popular piece of software in the world you tend to have a different perspective from most other software developers in the world including within Microsoft.


    Categories: Ramblings

    I accidentally caught Al Sharpton on Saturday Night Live last night and it was a horrible experience. Not only was the show as unfunny as getting needles shoved in your eyeballs  (why the fuck do good shows like Futurama and Family Guy get cancelled but this turd continues to stink up the airwaves?) but our pal Al keep fumbling his lines like he'd forgotten them and kept having to surreptituously read them from the teleprompter. What a joke.

    Definitely a horrible way to end a Saturday night.


    Categories: Ramblings

    The BBC has a contest to vote for the Ten most embarrassing political moments. Funny enough they don't have the my favorite, the projectile vomitting incident involving George Bush senior and Kiichi Miyazawa of Japan.

    When Mr Bush's father attended a state visit in Japan in January 1992, he responded to the arrival of Japanese beef steak (French-style) with a projectile vomit into the lap of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa.

    Suffering from flu at the time, George Bush Senior then slumped under the table before getting up a few minutes later and announcing he felt great. 

    Too bad there isn't an option for a write-in vote.


    Categories: Ramblings

    Halley Suitt writes

    Employers are about to lose a lot of "loyal" employees who have been sticking around through the bad economy, but are more than ready to jump ship as the job market snaps back.

    Business Week wrote about this in October, but I think it's coming on even stronger now. BW suggests employers are in for a rude awakening:

    I get the same feeling while walking the hallways of the B0rg cube. I suspect that if this becomes a problem in the near future the B0rg will try to adapt as it always has.


    Categories: Ramblings

    December 1, 2003
    @ 12:38 PM

    Doc Searles wrote

    Britt Blaser is a techblogger who will never be a warblogger because he's been there, done that, and collected a lot more than a t-shirt: namely, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, including one for the legendary Fire Flight at Katum.
      His latest post is Voice of Experience:
      This post will make the most sense for those who have witnessed war and are not freaked out by the cold calculus of accepting death as a constant and the loss of buddies as gut-stirring but as inevitable as taxes. Most of the rest of the world has been forced to experience war first hand. Perhaps that's why the rest of the world is unimpressed with this administration's gung-ho attitude, so typical of raw recruits and so uncharacteristic of adults who've peered into the abyss and lived to describe it..
      I hate to diss fellow bloggers, but the warbloggers seem to have a paucity of combat experience. We would never entertain the views of programmers who've never hacked code, or historians who've never read history. Why would we listen carefully to warbloggers who've never watched tracers arcing toward their position?
      Every warrior knows that perfect safety is a fool's paradise. The premise of the current war on terror is that we can entertain our way out of the terrorist threat. It's entertainment to feel an illusory omnipotence that will hunt down every evil-doer and infidel­a kind of adolescent road rage, really. The old heads in your squadron know to protect such greenhorns from their enthusiasms, at least until they learn or die. "There are old pilots and bold pilots. There are no old, bold pilots."

    The more I think about it the more I tend to feel that GW Bush's reelection is in the bag. Posts like the one linked above from Britt Blaser cement this feeling. I deeply suspect that, from the perspective of the average "man on the street" in the US who felt rage at the events of September 11th 2003, the US government has delivered in spades; retribution has been wreaked across two continents with minimal losses to US forces, the message has clearly been sent that if you screw with the US you get burned, and there have been no significant terror attacks on US soil despite several threats from terrorist organizations. This opinion is based on the general sentiments I get from reading open forums were people from diverse backgrounds discuss current affairs such as the Yahoo! Message Boards.

    The position of this mythical "man on the street" is very difficut to assail even with well written posts such as that by Britt Blaser. No matter how much one disagrees with the decisions the current US adminsitration has made as part of its "War on Terror" it is hard to argue with the fact that so far it has seemed relatively successful in the ways that are immediately noticeable. The various counter arguments to this position I have seen online usually sound like Britt Blaser's, they tend to argue that the current course of action is wrong but do not provide alternatives or they claim that there will be negative consequences for the current course of actions but none of the consequences are immediate.  These arguments don't hold up well compared to the aforementioned successes of the "War on Terror". If people feel safer, regardless of whether they are actually safer or not then it is hard to convince them otherwise especially when there isn't any concrete way to justify that position one way or the other.  


    Categories: Ramblings

    November 30, 2003
    @ 06:39 PM

    The reviews are right, this game is the shit. It's been a while since I've actually said "Wow" out loud several times while playing a video game. A truly excellent game.


    Categories: Ramblings

    November 23, 2003
    @ 01:11 AM

    Last night a went to an Irish bar with a couple of friends to watch the Rugby World Cup. It was a well-fought match that went into overtime with a number of tense moments eventually resulting in England being victorious over Ireland Australia . The price of admission was a bit steep ($20) but raucous bar atmosephere was a fun way to watch my first rugby match. It reminded me of American Football with no pads and soccer-isms like "offsides", "throw ins" and "free kicks". The fact that the ball could only be moved forward by running or kicking which explained all the backward passes was also quite different from American Football. Definitely an interesting experience.

    Last weekend I was at the Drunk Puppet Nite which also turned out to be an interesting experience.  Although, the fliers make it seem like it's all puppet shows there were at least three dramatic pieces without puppets of the nine or ten I saw. The quality of the show ranged from very good to abysmal. Some of the puppet shows were funny because they were well done (the one with the kid whose talking toilet convinces him to steal laxatives so he can get to "eat some butt chocolate")  while others were because they were so poorly done (two guys who seemed to have been tripping off of acid with hand puppets arguing about who ate what from who's refridgerator) . Other aspects of the show were just plain weird, for instance the scene that consisted entirely of two matronly women at a church service [complete with choir music in the background] who ate bananas in a very suggestive manner. The show cost $15, considering that this is the price of two movie tickets or three movies from Blockbuster I'd say that price was a little steep and $10 would be more fair. In definitely, beat sitting around the house though.

    On an unrelated note, one thing that connected both nights in my mind was that at both events I was the black guy. Just me, no other persons of African descent were in the audience. I'm completely used to it now but often wonder if it shouldn't bother me in some way.  

    Anyway, I'm off to get a haircut.


    Categories: Ramblings

    November 18, 2003
    @ 08:46 PM

    Robert Scoble writes

    Rob Fahrni answered back and said "Scoble's on one of the best teams inside Microsoft." I've landed on a good one, yes, but I totally disagree that it's the best. I've seen tons of teams that are doing interesting things. By the way, he says Visio is a failure? Well, does the Visio team have any webloggers? Does it have an RSS feed? How are you supposed to sell software if you don't have a relationship with your customers?

    On the surface it reads like Robert Scoble is claiming that if you don't have a blogger on your team nor an RSS feed then you don't have a relationship with your customers. This is probably the funniest thing I've seen all week.

    Scoble's post reminds me of the Cult of the Cluetrain Manifesto article by John Dvorak. It's always unfortunate when people take a bunch of decent ideas and turned them into near-religious beliefs. Being in touch with your customers in an informal and accessible manner is nice but it isn't the only way to communicate with your customers nor is it necessary to make you successful.

    I love my iPod. I love my TiVo. I love my Infiniti G35. I love Mike's Hard Lemonade and Bacardi O3. None of these products have official webloggers that I'm aware of nor do they have an RSS feed for their websites that I'm subscribed to.  Furthermore, if competing products did it wouldn't change the fact that I'd still be all over the my iPod/TiVo/G35/etc.

    Blogging and RSS feeds are nice, but they are the icing on the cake of interacting with and satisfying your customer needs not the end all and be all of them.


    Categories: Ramblings

    November 17, 2003
    @ 04:30 AM

    I just finished watching a TiVoed episode of Justice League where a character died in battle. The character had been a moderately recurring one who was given some depth in the preceding episode before being killed in the following one.  Coupled with Disney's Brother Bear in which  a major character that's just been introduced ends up dying and another whose significance we learn later dies as well it seems like death in children's cartoons is no longer taboo. 

    I remember  watching cartoons like Voltron & Thunder Cats as a kid and thinking that the fact that the major characters were never at risk of death made rooting for the good guys or against the bad guys a waste of time. Of course, I was one of the kids who was deeply affected when Optimus Prime bought it in Transformers: The Movie. That death was a solitary event in the cartoon landscape which didn't lead to the start of a trend as I expected and itself was diluted by the fact that they kept bringing Optimus Prime back in one shape or form every other episode.

    This trip down memory lane makes me feel nostalgia for old episodes of my favorite cartoons. Time to go bargain hunting on Amazon.




    Categories: Ramblings

    Robert Scoble writes

    Microsoft has 55,000 employees. $50 billion or so in the bank.

    Yet what has gotten me to use the Web less and less lately? RSS 2.0.

    Seriously. I rarely use the browser anymore (except to post my weblog since I use Radio UserLand).

    See the irony there? Dave Winer (who at minimum popularized RSS 2.0) has done more to get me to move away from the Web than a huge international corporation that's supposedly focused on killing the Web.

    Diego Duval responds

    Robert: the web is not the browser.

    Robert says that he's "using the web less and less" because of RSS. He's completely, 100% wrong.

    RSS is not anti-web, RSS is the web at its best.

    The web is a complex system, an interconnection of open protocols that run on any operating system
    Let me say it again. The web is not the browser. The web is protocols and formats. Presentation is almost a side-effect.

    Both of them have limited visions of what actually constitutes the World Wide Web. The current draft of the W3C's Architecture of the World Wide Web gives a definition of the Web that is more consistent with reality and highlights the limitations of both Diego and Robert's opinions of what consititutes the WWW. The document currently states

    The World Wide Web is an network-spanning information space consisting of resources, which are interconnected by links defined within that space. This information space is the basis of, and is shared by, a number of information systems. Within each of these systems, agents (e.g., browsers, servers, spiders, and proxies) a provide, retrieve, create, analyze, and reason about resources.

    This contradicts Robert's opinion that the web is simply about HTML pages that you can view in a Web browser and it contradicts Diego's statements that the Web is about "open" protocols that run on "any" operating system. There are a number of technologies that populate the Web whose "open-ness" some may question, I know better than the cast stones when I live in a glass house but there are a few prominent examples that come to mind.  

    The way I read it, the Web is about URIs that identify resources that can be retrieved using HTTP by user agents. In this case, I agree with Diego that RSS 2.0 is all about the Web. A news aggregator is simply a Web agent  that retrieves a particular Web resource (the RSS feed) at periodic intervals on behalf of the user using HTTP as the transfer protocol.


    Categories: Ramblings

    It looks like its confirmed that I'll be attending XML 2003.

    Should be fun.


    Categories: Ramblings

    November 11, 2003
    @ 03:40 PM

    From the Memory Hole

    The Memory Hole posted an extract from an essay by George Bush Sr. and Brent Scowcroft, in which they explain why they didn't have the military push into Iraq and topple Saddam during Gulf War 1. Although there are differences between the Iraq situations in 1991 and 2002-3, Bush's key points apply to both.

    But a funny thing happened. Fairly recently, Time pulled the essay off of their site. It used to be at this link, which now gives a 404 error. If you go to the table of contents for the issue in which the essay appeared (2 March 1998), "Why We Didn't Remove Saddam" is conspicuously absent.

    Ever since September 11, 2001 the news continues to sound more and more like excerpts from George Orwell's 1984. All is not lost though, it has been heartening to see that some teachers are using this incident as a way to teach their students about media literacy. My favorite is Rewriting History: The Dangers of Digitized Research by Peg Hesketh 


    Categories: Ramblings

    I always love the Top 50 IRC Quotes. Warning, some of them are a bit risqué.


    Categories: Ramblings

    November 10, 2003
    @ 03:40 AM

    I saw the Regina Carter Quintet at Dimitrou's Jazz Alley last night and I must say I never thought a jazz violinist would sound so good. If you live in the Seattle area and have never checked out the Jazz Alley you need to give it a try. It's definitely the place to go for a nice night of good music and good food with a loved one.



    Categories: Ramblings

    The one where I find out why I'm getting so many referrals from InfoWorld's website.

    Categories: Ramblings

    November 5, 2003
    @ 02:51 AM

    The following screenshot reminded me of recent comments by Robert Scoble on blogs and conversational marketing


    Categories: Ramblings

    November 3, 2003
    @ 04:04 AM

    I just spent two hours trying to figure out why a chunk of code was throwing exceptions when compiled and run from my command line application but similar code worked fine when running in Visual Studio. The problem turned out to be a bug in the .NET Framework's XslTransform class which existed in v1.0 of the .NET Framework but not v1.1. Since I was using Visual Studio.NET 2003 [which uses v1.1 of the .NET Framework] to run my test app but compiling my actual application with the compiler for v1.0 of the .NET Framework I wasn't actually doing an apples-for-apples comparison when running both apps.

    I'm tempted to uninstall v1.0 of the .NET Framework from my machine so I don't end up with facing this problem again. What a waste of time.



    Categories: Ramblings

    October 29, 2003
    @ 12:49 PM
    Beware the Hoover Dustette

    Categories: Ramblings

    Randy Holloway writes

    This session was set up as an open conversation, with only one concrete agenda item.  That being RSS versus Atom.

    Interesting, a bunch of developers get together to discuss weblogging technologies and they discuss the most irrelevant piece of the puzzle. For those not keeping track, there are two primary weblog syndication formats in popular usage; the RDF-based RSS 1.0 and Dave Winer's RSS 0.91/RSS 2.0. Developers tend to prefer Dave Winer's specs to the RSS 1.0 branch but due to various interpersonal issues with Dave Winer (unsurprising since he can be quite trying) a bunch of people decided to create a third syndication format (Atom) which duplicates the functionality of the other two primarily to get around the fact that Dave Winer controlled the spec for the most popular feed syndication format. This third format adds little to the table besides fragmenting the feed syndication world which already has to deal with RSS 1.0 vs. RSS 0.91/RSS 2.0 issues. In fact, this redundancy is currently being debated on the atom-syntax list.

    There are three major technologies (i.e. XML formats) in the blogging world; feed syndication (RSS), blog editing (Blogger API & MetaWeblog API) and feed list information (OPML). Dave Winer's specs are dominant in all three areas given that he is the author of both the MetaWeblog API and OPML spec. Of the three of the them, RSS is probably the best of the specs and meets the needs of most users except for the Semantic Web folks who want an RDF-based format (i.e. RSS 1.0). On the other hand, there are significant deficiencies in both the MetaWeblog API and OPML. I have blogged about What is wrong with the MetaWeblog API as well as mentioned some of the problems with OPML as a format for storing information about subscribed feeds.

    Given that RSS is the best of the weblog related technologies while the blog editing and feed list formats are actually the technologies with problems one might wonder why there is so much energy invested in fixing what isn't that broken instead of trying to tackle actual problems that affect developers and users of blogging tools? One of the answers to this question comes from a comment that Randy Holloway says someone made during the Weblogging BOF

    "We don't solve problems, we just talk about them." 

    Most of the people engaged in the discussions don't actually write any code or at least not any weblogging related code, so they are unaware of the real problems but instead focus on simple yet irrelevant issues that are easy to grok. This is definitely a case of bike shedding. [Hmmm, I love the term "bike shedding" so much I dug up  the original source of the phrase]

    Speaking of Atom, I'm curious as to how all the XML Web Services folks at the Weblogging BOF felt about the fact that the current drafts of the ATOM API uses just HTTP and XML instead of the XML Web Services buzzword soup (SOAP, WSDL, etc) meaning they won't be using Indigo to code against it just plain old System.Xml and System.Net. If ""XML-RPC is a fantastic solution... from a while ago"  I wonder what they think of using just HTTP with no fancy object<->XML mappings, positively prehistoric :)


    Categories: Ramblings

    According to C|Net News

    Amazon.com on Thursday unveiled a new service that lets bookworms search through pages of thousands of books available on its online store.

    The service, dubbed "Search Inside the Book," lets people type in any keyword and receive results for all the pages and titles of various books that contain that term. In the past, Amazon customers could search only by author name, title or keyword.

    I am impressed by how in one move Amazon made their search feature utterly useless. I just tried to search for "open source xml" and "java xml" books on Amazon it and it was a fucking disaster. Even the top 10 hits that were returned were polluted with books that simply had the words "Java" or "XML" somewhere in the book. In fact almost every search I tried returned Oracle9i JDeveloper Handbook  in the top 10. If ever a feature needed to be turned off by default it is this one.


    Categories: Ramblings

    October 23, 2003
    @ 06:42 PM

    Every once in a while I notice links from educational institutions that use my writings for their classes in my referrer logs. It gives me the warm fuzzies to know that I'm actually [indirectly] teaching a generation of CS geeks. In the past month I've seen the following referrers/references to my writings

    My corrupting influence spreads...


    Categories: Ramblings

    October 23, 2003
    @ 05:56 PM

    I picked up a Belkin Mobile iPod FM Transmitter. on a whim last night. At first, I had issues with the amount of static and feedback that were being emitted from the speakers but once I figured out that I was supposed to turn down the volume on my iPod and turn it up on the car stereo it was heaven. Since this was an impulse buy I didn't shop around but if I had I may have decided on an iTrip instead since there are no dangling wires and batteries are not required. I'll see how I feel about the Belkin device in a week or so.

    According to Slashdot, B0rg Central didn't have anything nice to say about the launch of iTunes on Windows. Looking beyond what seem like obvious sour grapes it is a bummer that iPods don't support the WMA format.

    My favorite B0rg hater, Russell Beattie, has this to say about the iPod

    So here's my thoughts: 1) The current iPod needs a successor and soon because consumers will start to balk at the B&W interface. 2) With the color screen and all that storage, it'd be dumb not to show multimedia like Photos and Video. 3) If Apple's going to show multimedia, they'll probably want to use Quicktime to do it... 4) If they're going that route, they'd need a Mobile OS to run it on. (Not to mention for other needs like supporting Wireless access to the iPod via WiFi or Bluetooth).

    I guess I'm about the reveal myself as being a Luddite but I have no problem with the B & W iPod interface nor am I interested in taking pictures or playing videos on my music player. This annoying convergence of features has not interested me in my cell phone (which happen to have lost useful features over time like password protected address books for frivolous shit like games, web browsing and taking pictures) and I definitely don't want it in my music player especially if it keeps the price high instead of allowing it to drop to a more reasonable amount so I can pick up a few as Xmas gifts.


    Categories: Ramblings

    I found a link to an article entitled The Great Walmart Wars via a link on Robert Scoble. The main thesis of the article is that although consumers like Walmart it is actually bad for the overall economy of a region, they don't their employees that highly and they drive smaller competitors out of business leading to homogenization.

    I wasn't really interested in the veracity of the claims or otherwise. Instead what I found interesting was the overlap the article had with similar screeds I'd seen against large booksellers like Barnes & Nobles and Borders as well as a number of the rants on "Why Microsoft is Evil" style websites such as What's So Bad About Microsoft? on the No Pity For Microsoft website. The complaint about driving smaller competitors out of business seemed to be an underlying theme in such diatribes.

    It seems that at a higher level the problem people seem to have is with the inherrent competitiveness of the capitalistic system. Few would argue that consumers have chosen with their feet that they prefer the goods and services of Walmart, Barnes & Nobles and Microsoft to those of their competitors due to being happier with their prices and convenience compared to alternatives. However the inherrent nature of competition is that there will be winners and that there will be losers. In a way, competition amongst producers in capitalist systems is a Zero Sum Game.

    I am curious about examples of companies that have grown dominant in their particular markets without there being parties that complain about similar damage to the ecosystems of those particular markets. This would prove enlightening.


    Categories: Ramblings

    October 18, 2003
    @ 02:33 AM

    Elizabeth Spiers writes

    If Markoff thinks all (or even most) bloggers are keeping diaries online, then Jarvis is probably right: he doesn't read blogs—which seems ironic, given that he's the technology reporter for the Times

    I find her quote puzzling. From what I've seen the average weblog is an online diary. In general weblogs take the form of diaries, commentaries, link collections or some combination thereof. The most common form is the online diary which can be confirmed by selecting any dozen blogs at random from the hundreds of thousands at Blogger, LiveJournal or Xanga and examining the writings. The fact of the matter is that for every blog that is enlightened commentary about technology or politics there are a dozen blogs by some high school girl complaining about pimples and boys.

    I find it amusing that the "blogs will change everything" hype crowd try to deny this. That's like denying that for a long time the only way to make money on the World Wide Web was with pr0n or that the driving incentive for broadband is copyright infringement and pr0n. Let's not forget that lots of innovation on the Web was driven by pr0n sites.

    The blogerati need to accept the fact that their medium of communication is also the favored way for teenage girls to carry on in the grand tradition of "Dear Diary". Remember , just because IRC is mainly the haven of script kiddies and w4r3z d00ds doesn't make it any less useful nor does the predominance of email forwards and spam make email a pointless technology. Blogs are the same way.  


    Categories: Ramblings

    October 17, 2003
    @ 04:30 AM

    After Joel Spolsky's recent post on exceptions which generated lots of dissenting opinions he has attempted to recant in a way that leads one to believe he is bad at accepting critical feedback.

    In his most recent posting Joel writes

    And Back To Exceptions

    There's no perfect way to write code to handle errors. Arguments about whether exception handling is "good" or "bad" quickly devolve into disjointed pros and cons which never balance each other out, the hallmark of a religious debate. There are lots of good reasons to use exceptions, and lots of good reasons not to. All design is about tradeoffs. There is no perfect design and there is certainly never any perfect code.

    His response is a cop out and not something I'd expect from a professional software developer who had been shown the errors in his proposed solution. This non-recant actually lowers my opinion of Joel in ways his original post did not. At least the original post could be based on past experience with bad uses of exceptions or usage of exceptions in programming languages where they were bolted on such as C++. His newest post just sounds like he is trying to save face instead of critically analyzing the dissenting opinions and showing the pros and cons of his approach and that of others. The best part is that he picks perhaps the worst defense of using exceptions to counterpoint against

    With status returns:

    STATUS DoSomething(int a, int b)
        STATUS st;
        st = DoThing1(a);
        if (st != SGOOD) return st;
        st = DoThing2(b);
        if (st != SGOOD) return st;
        return SGOOD;

    And then with exceptions:

    void DoSomething(int a, int b)

    Ned, for the sake of argument, could you do me a huge favor, let's use a real example. Change the name of DoSomething() to InstallSoftware(), rename DoThing1() to CopyFiles() and DoThing2() to MakeRegistryEntries().

    Since I'm always one to take a challenge here goes how I'd probably write the code

    void DoSomething(string name, string location)


      }catch(SoftwareInstallationException e){


      }catch(FileIOException fioe){



     }catch(RegistryException re){





    DisplayInstallationCompleteMessage(name, location);


    or even better

    void DoSomething(string name, string location)


       }catch(Exception e){

         throw InstallationException(e, name, location);


    DisplayInstallationCompleteMessage(name, location);


    Of course, you could ask what happens if a rollback attempt fails in which case it either should catch the exceptions in itself or throw an exception. Either way, I prefer that the above approaches to littering the code with if...else blocks.


    Categories: Ramblings

    October 13, 2003
    @ 11:23 PM

    Joel Spolsky writes

    The reasoning is that I consider exceptions to be no better than "goto's", considered harmful since the 1960s, in that they create an abrupt jump from one point of code to another. In fact they are significantly worse than goto's:

    1. They are invisible in the source code. Looking at a block of code, including functions which may or may not throw exceptions...
    2. They create too many possible exit points for a function. To write correct code, you really have to think about every possible code path through your function...

    A better alternative is to have your functions return error values when things go wrong, and to deal with these explicitly

    Whoa, this is probably the second post from Joel that I've completely disagreed with. Exceptions may suck (unchecked exceptions especially) but using return values with error codes sucks a lot more.

    Categories: Ramblings

    October 12, 2003
    @ 10:08 PM

    From the Reuter's article Suspected Penis Snatcher Beaten to Death.

    BANJUL (Reuters) - A 28-year-old man accused of stealing a man's penis through sorcery was beaten to death in the West African country of Gambia on Thursday, police said. A police spokesman told Reuters that Baba Jallow was killed by about 10 people in the town of Serekunda, nine miles from the capital Banjul.

    Reports of penis snatching are not uncommon in West Africa, with purported victims claiming that alleged sorcerers simply touched them to make their genitals shrink or disappear in order to extort cash in the promise of a cure.

    The police spokesman said many men in Serekunda were now afraid to shake hands, and he urged people not to believe reports of "vanishing" genitals. Belief in sorcery is widespread in West Africa.

    This particular urban legend was quite common back home in Nigeria and every couple of years there'd be "seasons" of mass hysteria where people got beaten up for allegedly snatching penises. There was always some story of "a friend of a friend" who got his penis snatched by some lady/gentleman/witchdoctor who they bumped into in a crowded street but managed to confront the person in time and request their penis back. 

    I never realized this urban legend/mass hysteria  was widespread across West Africa. You learn a new thing every day.


    Categories: Ramblings

    Aaron Swarts has an interesting post entitled Shades of Gray where he asks the following questions
    1. What do you do when someone says something obviously false? Do you correct them? Do you ignore them?

    2. What if they continue to repeat it? Are they malicious? Misguided? Simply taking another, but still reasonable, point of view?

    3. What if they get people to agree with them? Are they a conspiracy? Biased? Driven by other motivations? Amoral? Immoral?

    4. What if everyone starts to say it? Do you question your belief? Your sanity? Your life?

    Below are some thoughts that surfaced when I read his entry and the followup post

    Categories: Ramblings

    October 10, 2003
    @ 10:27 AM

    Since I moved websites I'd like people to access my dasBlog RSS feed as opposed to my old RSS feeds. However whereas getting a web server to send a 301 (Moved Permanently) result to a client is a piece of cake in Apache (simply edit some config file) it seems to be a bitch and a half in IIS.

    If anyone has any tips or tricks as to how to setup IIS 5.1 running ASP.NET to send 301s I'm all ears.


    Categories: Ramblings

    October 8, 2003
    @ 06:02 PM

    I was at Sam Goody again this past weekend where I picked up the Tenth Anniversary Edition of Ninja Scroll and where'll I'll probably soon be returning to once they get the Ninja Scroll Series. I couldn't help but notice the disparity in the way entertainment media like console games and movies are sold compared to music CDs. Sam Goody had an "under $10" rack where one could buy big budget movies from a few years ago for less than half their original price at the time they were first released. Similarly various video games were being sold at half price because they were "platinum sellers". On the other hand I still have to fork over $20 after taxes if I want to pick up a CD over a decade old like NWA's second album. What seemed quite absurd was that it was possible  to buy a DVD for half the price one would have paid for its accompanying soundtrack on CD. There is clearly a problem here yet the RIAA continues to act like the problem is with music fans and not with them. Being blinded by greed is an unfortunate thing.

    Phil Greenspun has a post entitled RIAA, friendship and prostitution where he states

    In the bad old days of Napster you kept your MP3 collection on your desktop.  Today, however, an MP3 jukebox with enormous capacity can be purchased for $200.  It won't be long now before average people carry around their entire music collections on their cell phones.

    Consider this scenario.  You are sitting at Starbucks and see a friend.  He is not inside your Starbucks but across the street in the other Starbucks.  You walk across the street.  Both of you happen to have your MP3 jukeboxes your pockets.  He says "Have you heard the latest Britney Spears song?  It reminds me so much of the late Beethoven Quartets with some of Stravinsky's innovative tonality."  You haven't?  Just click your MP3 jukeboxes together and sync them up.  Any tracks that he had and you didn't you now have.  You're using a digital audio recorder; the device won't do anything except record music.  You're not paying each other so it is noncommercial.  Under Section 1008 what you're doing is perfectly legal in the United States.

    <snip />

    What is the point of Internet file sharing when people can, perfectly legally, copy as much music from each other as they could reasonably want?  Only a person with zero friends would want to bother with file sharing.

    This is an interesting point and one I've heard expressed before by one of my friends who owns an iPod. It takes about 10-15 minutes to push an  album's worth of songs to an iPod. Nowadays when someone tells him about a good album they just bought, he doesn't even have to borrow it for more than 15 minutes to have all the music on his iPod. The problem for RIAA is that unlike listening to music on your PC which could be considered "try before you buy" since the PC is not the main music device of a large number of the population, an iPod is likely to be the main music player of a lot of people and once music is on it there is little incentive to go out and buy it.

    Once the next generation of iPods (and other hard drive based digital music players) show up with wireless file sharing (just beam that song Scotty) this trend will be significantly accelerated.

    Personally, I hope the music industry adapts but I definitely hope that during the adaptation process we lose the RIAA.


    Categories: Ramblings