In response to the Davos Forum's review of the "age of digital Darwinism," where "(t)he key to winning in business today is adapt or die, get wired or get killed, work 24 hours a day from everywhere or be left behind..."
Howard Stringer, chairman of Sony America, stood up and said: "Doesn't anyone here think this sounds like a vision of hell? While we are all competing or dying, when will there be time for sex or music or books? Stop the world, I want to get off."
-- from Thomas Friedman's NYTimes column, "Cyber-Serfdom."
Still paying more attention than usual to inner stimuli. But I did get out long enough to find three very funny quotes from Davos.
"We share half of our genome with the banana, a fact more evident in some of my acquaintances than others." Sir Robert May, president, The Royal Society, UK
Go see Lance Knobel's site for the other two. You can also read about "rolls and rolls of barbed wire" and police "kitted out in full riot gear."
So which do you think is worse - that John Ashcroft apparently "supports a radical evisceration of rights as we now know them," (according to Laura Murphy, the director of the ACLU's Washington office), or that in his hearing he made nice and pretended that his personal views wouldn't affect his job performance?
Murphy was one of several authors of the ACLU's report to the Senate, Not Moderate, Not Compassionate, Not Conservative (23 pg. PDF file).
Jeanette wanted to know who this overdue Christmas with the Dallas postmark was from. I don't know anybody in Dallas... turns out it was from our long distance service, VarTec. No monthly fee, 5 cents a minute in and out of state, but a 10 minute minimum. The card was because they'd noticed we hadn't made any calls lately, and wanted to remind us they were still there.
Interesting marketing - the envelope hand-addressed, the card annotated by hand, with a ball-point pen. Not like it will change our usage or anything, but the simplicity and low rate suits us. It's a bit of a gamble that you'll get an answering machine and have to pay 50 cents for a half-minute call, but we make it up in the half-hour-plus conversations. Why can't the big companies offer simple in/out of state rates and compete? Regulation? They don't have to?
Anyway, if you're shopping, 10-10 rates is the place to go to check out the competition.
The first of many opinions about how Bush's friends have benefited and/or will benefit from his being in the White House. What on earth did people think the election was about, anyway? Follow the money...
Maureen's view is of Cats, Dogs and Grifters, times of danger and opportunity in transition. I find out that W. and we have something in common: we lost a cat during the campaign, too.
It's been a low-blog week, as one of those medical conditions I didn't used to have to care about became of interest. Nothing major, but it's funny how little it takes to disrupt the routine.
The arc of time: my first image of Maya Lin's wonderful granite clock in front of the David Packard Engineering Building on the Stanford Campus.
Have you ever given a speech you didn't write? That question occurred to me as I read George W. Bush's inaugural address, and thought about how high and mighty it sounded.
I have no idea what it would be like to speak another's words as if they were my own. I can imagine acting and reading lines from a script, and trying to become a character someone else has drawn. But that's not the same as passing myself off as that character.
Is this an inherently dishonorable thing to do? Or merely expedient? Of course, it's the stock in trade of our and other political systems.
The speech is pretty well-written, and has the stirring quality we get from The Star Spangled Banner even as we acknowledge that it's not the greatest music. I understand that God must be invoked in these things, even as I think about how unnecessary the references are. "(W)e are guided by a power larger than ourselves who creates us equal in His image." Or not. Justice and opportunity for all are still worthy goals.
Nor does the citation of "church and charity, synagogue and mosque" sound ingenuous, with the "honored place in our plans" likely being to pick up the slack from planned abrogation of governmental responsibility.
We are supposed to maintain "hope and order in our souls," even as we proliferate prisons? This disturbing, confusing, and unnecessary sentiment could have been elided.
The notion that "an angel rides in the whirlwind, directing this storm" is especially disturbing; beware the powerful and self-righteous who argue that God is on their side. No doubt Saddam Hussein could smoothly incorporate this same sentiment in a stirring speech to his people, for example.
I'm happy to see that when they flipped the Whitehouse site they made the font resizeable.
We all (well some of us) joked about having "binary days" when 01/01/00 and its similar ilk came around. This month had several (the 1st, 10th, 11th) but now we have to wait until October for a few more, and after November 11th, it'll be more than 8 years to the next one. With a four-digit year, we can have genuinely base-3 (ternary? trinary?) dates a-plenty. Today, for example, is a fine one: 2001-01-21, in ISO 8601 format. So, enjoy.
The letters to the New York Times about California's energy crisis strike me as consistently missing the point. This is not a simple matter of demand growing and supply failing to keep pace.
The particulars of how California sought (and failed) to deregulate the industry have led to the collapse. Companies (and municipalities, for that matter) with generating capacity are profiting handsomely. They can be expected to have little interest in an improved outlook for consumers, beyond what it takes to squelch talk of eminent domain or other unpalatable state actions. Those in the market will benefit from limiting supply, just as OPEC does. They've learned how to follow the rules, and milk the ISO for all it's worth, and then some. Paul Krugman notes that mandating a rate cap would likely increase production. Instead, Bush's first salvo was to use the situation to promote his own agenda - unfetter, drill, dig, develop. He'd be happy to show us what deregulation really can do.
Even without (needed, imho) environmental regulations, building a power plant is a big undertaking, requiring lots of money and time to come on line. Electricity customers want plenty of capacity (just not in their backyard, of course), to ensure that rates stay low, and the lights stay on. They don't want to have to pay for it up front, either.
The "market solution" isn't going to provide what they want, it'll provide what the companies doing the marketing want.
Short attention spans, and getting shorter, this time interrupted by an inexcusable and inexplicable blue screen. "My" computer fails me.
The discursion eventually led to another of Ellen Ullman's fine pieces in Salon, "The dumbing-down of programming." It's not so much dumbing-down, though, as the way our algorithmic world works: what you don't need to know, you don't pay attention to. Good software "just works," and you use it for other things. Ants "just work" too, and they don't have any idea what ant algorithms are. They just do it.
Speaking of just doing it... the New York Times Magazine feature piece on Ecstasy had an accompanying photo of a variety of pills, one of which had the familiar swoosh. Good pun. If you're interested in pill art, or perhaps poison control you can check out this photo gallery (which doesn't show the particular graphic in question).
I'm too old to have participated in this latest drug craze, and while the article is fascinating, what speaks most clearly to me is the little snippet from Andrew Weil: I feel as though I've done all the "quick and effective" I have coming. Nevertheless, it has a sense of déjà vu about it, with a relatively benign drug going from "new and unregulated" to Schedule 1 with no stops between, and the "big lies" from the drug warriors, trying to rein in the phenomenon with misinformation. How much better would it be to tell the truth? Lies simply will not stop drug use, and the liars lose what influence they might have had.
Well here it is the end of the Clinton era. Er, the Clinton 8 years. Not 24 hours after I observed that this electricity crisis in California would be the first test of Bush's presidency, he tells us that laissez faire should rule the day. California screwed things up, they'll have to straighten them out.
Reading some of the articles from the North County Times (San Diego), though, I see an element of truth to that view. The California legislature has most assuredly screwed things up, and for as much as a quick fix federal patch might seem like a good idea, this needs to be cleaned up from the root level. The background pieces they ran around Christmas are particularly worth reading, starting with Deregulation works - for the power companies. And from the Christmas day article, "Power companies learned how to extract billions": "Skillful power traders have been able to overwhelm the state's power manager, provoke panic buying and defeat federal price caps."
As an engineer, I can't help but think that a regulated, engineer-run system is exactly what's needed for electricity generation. Market competition, and complexifying regulations that lead to day-to-day auction markets subsceptible to gaming are not a good idea.
L.A. making money off of Southern California Edison, megawatt-hours being "laundered" by out of state trades, and an auction market that awards the highest price accepted by a buyer during each hour to every supplier in the auction; is it any wonder this system is profoundly broken?
The politicians who came up with this scheme 5 years ago, the upper management that reaped the windfall profits from shuffling assets between corporations, and other culprits are beyond the reach of retribution, most likely, but we have to look forward. What we have is not "deregulation" by any stretch of the imagination, but perhaps its being called that will allow the wisdom of proper regulation to resurface.
Paul Krugman rips into Bush's senior economic advisor:
It was a remarkable display of bogus economic analysis. It would be alarming if the new chief economist believed any of the things he said. But we needn't worry; this was merely a cynical attempt by someone who knows better to build support for that tax cut.
Gail Collins' take on the State of the States is way funnier than any one of the 50 speeches was (I'll bet). She doesn't quite get the "something from every state" approach of USA Today but two of my 3 states made the cut.
Second day running of stage III power alerts, and now the real thing, rolling blackouts in California. It isn't that there isn't enough generation capacity, it's just that those who own it don't want to sell to California's utilities any more!
I guess Southern California Edison lost the game of "chicken."
How are we going to get out of this mess?!
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Yesterday's service at
commemorated it, with a readings and a sermon about Nelson Mandela.
The music was remarkable, starting with Yoland Rhodes' rendition of
the startling song by Abel Meeropol (under the pen name Lewis Allan),
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
It was all the more powerful for me, hearing it for the first time, in spite of its fame since Billy Holiday debuted it in 1939.
The congregation sang We Shall Overcome for the first hymn, and after a weak attempt, I stopped trying to sight read the tenor part, closed my book and just sang the melody with the memory going with my parents to civil rights events in Milwaukee in the 1960s. There was (and I imagine still is) a lot to overcome then, and my protected north-suburb upbringing made me intellectually open but viscerally fearful. (You want to understand fear, go back and listen to Allen's song again.)
The choir followed with our director's arrangement of the ancient Irish song, Be Thou My Vision. He'd written some mp dynamics in places, but demanded more than that, throughout. I can never tell what it sounds like to the congregation, but it felt big and powerful to sing it.
Then Ms. Rhodes again, in front of Ric Louchard's deft accompaniment, for the traditional hymn Wade in the Water, the congregation singing Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing and Ms. Rhodes' beautiful soothing soprano voice for Balm in Gilead to close.
My only regret is that enthusiastic applause seems to be an expected "benediction" for the musicians. Yes, it's a performance, but not the same sort as you hoot and holler and stamp your feet for. For me, it's more powerful when followed by reflective silence. But even when "no applause" is a local custom, it's hard to enforce, and there's no sign of support for a change of custom here.
Jeanette asked if I'd heard of Theatre X in Milwaukee. I have, because they'd moved into the building on 1245 N. Water St. that used to be the home of Walthers' Trains, the company my grandfather started. I'm happy to see the theater group is alive and well.
Aaaahhhhh, it's quiet again. Just spent $12 at Fry's for a new box fan, and replaced the one that was going resonant on us, growling at startup and times of stress. I think it died after I'd blown some dust bunnies out of the box and into its bearing.
Kudos to the case design team, at least: the standard 92x92x25mm box fan is held with a snap-together plastic cage that snaps into the back of the PC. The only tool I needed was a small screwdriver for leverage, to bend the plastic enough to figure out what I was dealing with. Too bad the fan designers didn't figure out how to render that immune to bunnies.
Visiting Fry's is an amusing tour into the world of nerds, but not always pleasant as shopping goes. The last couple of times I've been there, I've left without buying anything. But today they had just what I needed, when I needed it, for a fair price.
Looks like their ISP business is offering a great deal, too. $10 a month after 3 free months for dialup accounts that include 1 GB of web space. Too bad the POPs are only around the Bay area. But hey, if they can serve a limited market and serve it well at that price, more power to 'em.
Bill Hewlett died in his sleep, at 87. The passing of a great man reminds us that life is short, and we should make the most of it. The example of his life inspired me to write down my thoughts about his legacy.
Surfing the news, and visiting the California Independent System Operator's site, I found a pointer to an interesting news site. It looks like a weblog for "California public policy and politics," and goes by the cute name of Rough & Tumble.
The NY Times tries to follow the money in the power crisis, notes "Since deregulation was first approved four years ago, all of the players have pursued their self-interests." Gee, that's supposed to work, isn't it? The invisible hand and all that?
In Phil Gramm's moronic and self-righteous statement that the taxpayers shouldn't bail out California's misguided politicians, perhaps he overlooked the fact that "Reliant Energy, a Houston utility whose wholesale energy unit owns several plants in California, said it made $90 million in operating income from California alone during the third quarter of 2000 — more than twice what the entire subsidiary made in the period the year before."
They could've done better, you'd think: three aluminum companies in the Pacific NW made more than 5 times as much by shutting down their production and selling "their" cheap contracted power to California.
The LA Times had a small graphic on the state's transmission lines in one of their stories. The state has various maps available on the web. This one showing transmission lines with color for 9 different utilities and "all others" is very cool.
California may not have near as much power generating capacity as its demand, but this map suggests characterizing it as "classic NIMBY" is a bit too simplistic.
Our last binary day until October. (Call it 11.01.001, if you prefer.)
Interesting point from Clay Shirkey's essay on the death of micropayments:
Indeed, even as the micropayment movement imagines a world where charging for resources becomes easy enough to spawn a new class of professionals, what seems to be happening is that the resources are becoming cheap enough to allow amateurs to easily subsidize their own work.
Now is this pronounced "suk oh me tr" or "suk AH mi tr"? I rather like the second choice... Here's the one for operating systems with pointers to others.
Yes, I like Gilbert and Sullivan, too. This little ditty doesn't always scan easily, but it works for me. "He is the very model of a candidate Republican."
First Monday piece on the expansion of the patent system:
Conceptual patents refocus competition on securing broad business monopolies and away from competition at a technological level - the traditional domain of the patent system. Despite this radical expansion into cerebral subject matter, the U.S. patent system remains "one-size-fits-all." It treats software just like chemicals, and it treats business concepts no different than pharmaceuticals.
Lester Thurow, in his book Building Wealth argues that effective intellectual property rights worldwide are essential to advancing capitalism. Without them, we'll have "a mad scramble among the powerful to grab pieces of intellectual property."
I agree that we need a better fit, I just don't see how the heck it's going to happen.
Salt Lake Tribune: "A bipartisan Idaho Land Board took the Clinton administration to court Tuesday, saying the legal process is finally to the point the state can challenge the preservation of roadless federal forest land."
Huh, bipartisan? I didn't know we had any of that in Idaho.
USA Today reports on Babbit's warning to Bush not to overturn Clinton's environmental legacy. Remember all those red and blue states on the election coverage? The red states might like W. opening up the public trough a little wider. The blue states won't.
Sheesh, are there any politicians who haven't had illegal aliens at their houses?
10+ months of bicycling to work, going through the California Ave. Caltrain underpass most every day, twice a day. The signs say Walk Bikes and the steel wickets enforce a ~0mph speed limit at two choke points.
But I do not walk my bike.
It's most often empty or uncrowded, and a bit of attention to timing, at most, avoids conflicts. When there are more than 2 or 3 people traversing the tunnel at the same time, courtesy may be called for at the wickets, since they enforce "one at a time," and a walking cyclist has a bit of a maneuver to do. The first couple times, I had dabbed, or grabbed the railings, or pushed off the wall, but with a week or two of practice, I was going through on a roll, no touches, most of the time.
At school-traffic times, it can get more interesting, with commuters and students crossing paths, the occasional rush for a train, scooters, bikes, maybe an errant stroller thrown in.
This morning, I came through around school-time, and there was a gaggle of costumed teens at the north end. The usual cloud of tobacco smoke circled the group, and I appreciatively admired their creativity with black leather, steel accessories, pink hair dye and piercings as I rolled by them. The underpass was clear, though, so I shifted to middle-first, grabbed both brakes for the downhill wicket jiggle, and rode down.
The pseudo-authoritative, boy-man command voice came after me: "Walk it!" then "Walk your bike!" as another caught on, and the first more insistent, "Walk it!." No chance to show them my delighted smile, unfortunately, although I did consider going back up and having a little discussion with them.
A few blocks on the south side, I thought of what my gambit could've been: "Ok, how many of you here are smokers? That's cool. I'll make you a deal: If you promise to quit smoking right now, and stay quit, I'll walk my bike through the underpass, from now on."
But a pity, I thought of it too late, and could only privately enjoy the poignant irony of rebellious teens in their designed-to-shock "school clothes" insisting on someone else following an arbitrary rule.
Close to 9 feet of snow and counting in Buffalo after 24 consecutive days with measureable precipitation. "Still, you would be hard pressed to find anyone complaining without a hearty dose of good-natured bravado."
Mike Dombeck must be bucking for early retirement, after 120 days in the new Administration as head of the Forest Service. "In the future, we will celebrate the fact that national forests serve as a reservoir for our last remaining old- growth forests and their associated ecological and social values."
That is, unless (until?) Bush turns things around. But... I thought he was a conservative. :-/
Floyd Norris gives the "get government out of the way and build more power plants" view of the solution to the electricity crisis.
I can't figure out what's where on Zot! Online but I don't care - everything there is so wonderfully done.
Not quite as light: The Sacramento Bee's archive of articles about California's energy crisis.
Interesting to read Marc Andreesen's POV on boom and bust these days. "When we started Netscape in '94, the basic idea of starting a company was, make a product, sell it to somebody and get enough revenue where you're able to cover your expenses, so you don't have to raise cash. Netscape, for example, went cash-flow positive in early 1995." The old-fashioned way.
Great music from within and without, good company, provocative discussion of Fowler's Stages of Faith, pink roses and orange rose hips. I really enjoyed the service today at UUCPA. Preparing us to sing Gounod's Hosanna in Excelsis Deo, Alva recalled the words of Maria Callas: "You must prepare the music first in your soul and then on your face."
From "Hi Neighbor 1958: Fun and Folklore from Five Countries being assisted by the United Nations Children's Fund":
Malaria is one of Paraguay's worst problems. Her government has joined the worldwide program to get rid of this disease forever. About 700,000 people live in areas where there's a great deal of malaria. UNICEF is sending spraying equipment and DDT to help the government. Every place in the whole country where the mosquito might live must be sprayed with DDT. No house — inside or out — can be missed. And every place will have to be sprayed several times. UNICEF, WHO and the government think it'll take five years to get rid of malaria completely. In 1957, 80,000 Paraguayans were protected from malaria. The target for 1958 is to reach all 700,000 with the first round of house spraying. Because Paraguay has so many rivers, UNICEF is sending outboard motors for the spraying teams to put on boats. WHO is helping by sending experts to teach Paraguayans about malaria and how to get rid of it. Other countries in South America are also fighting malaria right now so that malaria cannot be carried from country to country.
43 years later, 400 million people get malaria each year, and we're still debating whether dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane is OK to use.
Fascinating story about the battle of the two newspapers in Salt Lake City.
During a radio talk show interview in the midst of the trial, The Tribune's feisty editor, Mr. Shelledy, said, "We believe in separation of church and state." His host rejoined: "They do, in that country," referring to the rest of the United States as if it were a country apart.
Paul Krugman teases apart the sources of California's power crisis: "Then California began growing faster than anyone had thought possible." The utilities sought price protection to keep prices from going down, from oversupply, and didn't hedge their bets against supply running short. The suppliers are happy to have supplies run short: no capital expenditures required, and their income goes up.
The simplest option would be for California to deregulate all the way — and let the prices to final consumers go as high as necessary to persuade them to limit their demand to the available supply. This would work; it would be efficient; and it would also transfer tens of billions of dollars from California consumers to eight lucky power companies.
We'll see what comes of W.'s "close personal ties to some of the companies that are making such huge profits."
Epiphanies and weblogs seem to be natural partners. Here's one: Tom Stein writing about VCs weather the perfect storm (RedHerring):
It's likely that these sell-out specialists may be busier than traditional venture investors in the coming months and year. But they will have their work cut out for them, especially since large corporations -- also bitten by the economic downturn -- have the luxury of demanding rock-bottom prices.
A great opportunity ("fire sale") for large, stable corporations to accumulate the best of what the dot-coms produced. If you think that's horribly mercenary, consider the alternative for dot-coms that have run out of gas: heat death.
Paul Andrews, writing in the Seattle Union Record ("A website and newspaper created by the striking workers of The Seattle Times"), Was 'free' such a good idea? I wrote a brief piece, Land of the Free, in January 1998 when Netscape dropped their browser's price to match Microsoft's. I agree with Andrews - it wasn't a good idea.
Moreover, "free" gave software makers an excuse to ship incompletely tested, bug-ridden, half-done products.
That is another unpleasant side effect. (But was software really "completely tested, free of bugs, and completely done" before the advent of free browsers? And since when has a sticker price guaranteed we'll get what we pay for? Read any good disclaimers lately?)
Yahoo! gives in to France, it seems, although they said it was just "housekeeping." Are we headed for a "lowest common denominator" of freedom? It's hard for me to imagine nation-states resisting the democratization that comes with the 'net.
A very interesting day in politics, the eve of the Epiphany. The Missippi delegation to the Senate is now split on the McCain-Feingold bill for campaign finance reform, which "has majority support but year after year has been kept from coming to a Senate vote."
The Republicans in Congress made good on a 1994 promise to limit the terms of committee chairmen. Thirteen new committee chairs! A snippet on the Newshour made me realize how big a deal this is — the committee meeting rooms have the portrait of the Chairman (I didn't see any women) hanging on the wall. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) decided he'd rather not stay in Congress if he couldn't have his own committee. See ya, Bud.
The fight over the National Forests gets interesting. with Idaho's senator Larry Craig, and governor Dirk Kempthorne in the vanguard of the opposition to Clinton's executive order protecting 60 million acres.
A coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans increasingly has opposed road-building in federal forests, said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. As to those who want to overturn Clinton's plan, "they better bring their lunch to that fight" because it will be intense, said Miller.
And the Senate agreed to 50-50 rules, in spite of their tie breaker with Cheney as V.P. Equal committee membership, parity in hiring staff. They'll either have to work together, or not get anything done. Hard to make a wrong choice there!
CNN's report noted that "Senators and aides from both parties said the power sharing negotiations were just about the hardest thing Lott and Daschle have ever had to deal with."
Inside Ashcroft's history, someplace we'd rather not go. Is the man as racist as Bob Herbert makes it sound? Hard for us to say, but the record stands on its own.
There will be many sources of incredulity in this administration's actions, I expect. The nomination of John Ashcroft for Attorney General is just one of the first.
This is it, then, the new millennium. No more '000' for us. After one last paroxysm, let's have no more of these pedantic lectures on what year actually starts the new whatever. For 99 years, at least.
We flew out of Boise's dull snowless, fogless, frostless gray and up into the mezzanine, a layer of clear air between thin stuff at cruising altitude. "As usual," but nonetheless amazing to see, the inversion layer covered the Snake River and Boise River drainages in one smooth sea from Boise front to the Owyhees.
Between here and there, there were some unsettled air masses, and lot of jostling around, but by the time we circled the South Bay, it was smooth as silk, and the gentlest of landings.
Crisp here, we could see our breath on the walk to the terminal. We had a relaxed connection from VTA #10 to Caltrain, and discovered that there is a bus from the California Ave. station to where we live, #88. It was parked right there at the stop! Because it's a holiday, and there's no holiday service.
Oh well, a beautiful morning for a walk as the sun warmed the day, with flowers to enjoy along the way. Among many others, there were a couple trees with cherry blossoms if you can believe that. Cherry blossoms on New Year's Day!
Providing a significant service to the residents of 3 states, John Van Dyk shows us where Iowa is. And Idaho. And Ohio. Thank you, John.
The end of the free internet as we've known it. Free up to 40 hours seems reasonable enough to me. And paying for better service than Juno's "free" stuff seems like a no-brainer. I stayed connected over a Juno account the last couple of days. The response was so horrible, I did the bare minimum (and wrote with Notepad - yuk!) to keep my blog up. I can't imagine surfing the web for pleasure with that kind of connection.
Advertising — and especially dot-com bubble advertising — simply can't carry the load anymore:
Shares of Juno, which traded at $41.63 in January, closed under a dollar last week. NetZero was also under a dollar, down from a 52-week high of $36.38.
Here's a direct link, For 5 censuses, no less! Great stuff.
Well, the graphics anyway. They've got the goofy annotation that "Nevada grew the most" on the latest one. Look at the cartograms, and see for yourself what grew the most!
More census data from the NYTimes (and window fork fixing), regional shifts in Congress. Look how steady the South has been for two centuries!
Tom von Alten firstname.lastname@example.org