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unraveling

30.June 2001

Half the year gone by (within a day or two)! Still waiting for morning wind to kick in. Maybe for the holiday week.

Pale blue violets in our yard, spring 2001

One more line to Microsoft decision meta-analysis, from Salon. You'd think the relatively straightforward result would be apprehended by now: they threw out the remedy to the split the company in two, they affirmed that Microsoft has a monopoly and used anti-competitive behavior to maintain it, they reversed the decision that Microsoft attempted to monopolize the browser market (irony of the justice system, eh? The government didn't prove they attempted to monopolize, even though they've succeeded), they remanded the decision on whether MS illegally tied the browser to their O/S, and they disqualified Jackson for the continuing District Court proceedings.

But when even the CEO of the convicted company can't (or won't?) figure it out, I guess it's clear there's a complexity problem.

With all the criticism of Jackson, I haven't seen an account yet that acknowledges the truth of what he had to say. It's so easy to pronounce that judges just have to keep their mouths shut, but the provocation was considerable: Microsoft coming in with ludicrous arguments, trying to contradict facts in evidence with outright lies and shoddy stunts, and sabotaging negotiation when it was in everyone's best interests that a settlement be reached.

Finally got around to reading the 50-page printed version of Fast Forward, the "true" story of the how the myth of the Rocket Car started. If it's not non-fiction, it's well-written fiction, and entertaining either way.

Looking to the future, everything is fiction, but Ray Kurzweil's book précis for The Singularity is Near has the feel of non-fiction most all the way. The "singularity" is technological change so rapid and so profound that it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. He predicts that nonbiological intelligence will exceed that of the whole of the human race sometime in the middle of this century, along with quite a number of other interesting things that follow from exponentially increasing exponential growth rates in our technology.

As he says in his closing, "plan to stick around." This should be interesting. It's rather like Ed Regis' Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition : Science Slightly over the Edge, written by someone who's been working in the field for a few decades. We're 11 years closer to the edge now.

Oh this is cool. Powers of Ten on the web, from 10 million light years to 1 fermi, 39 orders of magnitude. (Thanks to photodude. And of course to Charles Eames.)

29.June 2001

Ballmer, in the Sun-Times: "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches."

Hmm, one could make a stronger argument about Microsoft software in that regard, I think. Custom extensions to HTML, incompatible Java, MSWord the default editor for email...

But Microsoft says he mispoke, he was really only talking about the GPL terms. Linux, Gnu Public License, so easy to confuse them.

Better reports on the Microsoft verdict than mine: from Kuro5hin, The Standard, including the first wave of meta-coverage, in "Supersize It"), and an appropriate extrapolation from SatireWire.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's view (from Steve "Linux is a cancer" Ballmer) is that the "cloud of breakup" has been cleared away, the tying claim was reversed and the court "clearly states that we did not attempt to monopolize the browser market."

He must have seen the version of the judgment that had been sweetened up with Smart Tags. He got the first point right, but the tying claim was remanded not reversed, and the "clear" statement about the browser market was that the plaintiffs failed the requirement to demonstrate that there was such a thing as a browser market, or that the barriers of entry were significant enough to create the possibility of a monopoly.

To Ballmer, "the Court was clear that there was not a pattern of anticompetitive behavior," to the rest of us, the broad "Course of Conduct" charge of anticompetitive maintenance of their monopoly was reversed because the plaintiffs did not make a strong enough case of particulars. They didn't detail a series of slightly harmful acts, just the 5 very harmful acts that were upheld in all but one subsection.

Ballmer still "respectfully disagrees" that Microsoft has a monopoly in PC operating systems. As Dan Gillmor puts it, the bottom line is "Full speed ahead, and the hell with the law."

Sheesh, time for a different subject, eh?

When matter becomes code: "If we took your entire genome and burned it onto a CD, it would be much smaller than Microsoft Office." (No really, it's a different subject!)

Also by Steve Jurvetson, The new convergence: Infotech, biotech and nanotech "The best way to create a large and complex system is to grow it." Many of us undertake this very activity, two by two. We aren't going to wait to perfect the "old technology" task before applying the idea to "new technology."

28.June 2001

Well, it goes to show how wrong I can be: my prediction from April 2000 that Microsoft wouldn't win any meaningful points on appeal was off the mark.

More than 60 pages of legalese tells us that they threw out the Final Judgement, and are remanding chunks of the case back to a new trial and a new judge.

Dan Gillmor finished reading it before I did, though, and notes that the Appeals Court let the Findings of Fact stand. In particular, they found that Microsoft does have a monopoly, and that it has engaged in anticompetitive behavior to maintain it. (The earth is round, the sky really looks blue, and the sun appears to rise in the east, in other words.)

More from me about the verdict...

In an unrelated (?) surprise from Redmond, Microsoft has decided to forgo Smart Tags, at least in the initial roll out of WinXP.

The persistent mystery is how such a savvy business organization can be so fundamentally clueless as to how their behavior comes across. Allchin reports "we got way more feedback than we ever expected" from people who didn't care to have MS post-edit the World Wide Web, with "helpful" links back to the mother ship.

27.June 2001

A dark and stormy afternoon, wouldn't you know that the rain was heaviest right when it was time to ride my bike home? Oh well, once I got past a certain degree of wetness, I didn't care about my lack of fenders, and it wasn't so cold that it was unpleasant.

Plus, the desert smells sooo nice when it's wet! We can use the water, as always. (Maybe that's why Capitol High School and Bayhill Springs subdivision had their sprinklers on this morning AND this evening...)

Countdown to the eXPerience of consumer-grade compromised security of the internet... Who would you believe, the P.R. team from Microsoft, or Steve Gibson? (That page prompts MSIE v5.5 to ask me if it's OK to run some activeX stuff? I say "no," as usual. Then a few Javascript errors...)

Maybe they should read their own news team: "More than 4,000 denial-of-service attempts launched weekly." (MSNBC).

In other Microsoft news, an offspring of RealMedia's attempt to enforce a patent strikes terror into the heart of the beast. (That's what they mean by calling it terrorism, isn't it?)

Hey, cool, something from ZoneAlarm - it blocked internet access to my computer (UDP Port 6970) from bloembergen.prognet.com. Just what the heck was that machine trying to do?! Audio.npr.org wanted in there, too, when I asked to hear some Fresh Air. (I was really after Harry Shearer's hilarious sendup musical, J. Edgar Hoover, Part II, but haven't found it yet. I did find Part 1 which I haven't heard yet.)

On the other side of the truth, a penitent ex-conservative tells how he worked to destroy Anita Hill's credibility to help the confirmation of our esteemed Supreme, Clarence Thomas. As Gomer Pyle would say, "surprise, surprise, surprise!" Justice Thomas had no comment. A lifetime appointment means never having to say you're sorry.

My other favorite NYT columnist, Paul Krugman, describes the good news from California. It turns out that conservation and government regulation aren't such a bad idea after all. Here it is June and the lights are still on.

22.June 2001

A Microsoftie responds to the general outrage about their Smart Tags idea. "To suggest that the author knows best how to write effectively to each individual reader is silly, yet that's what I understand of you position." Meaning that Microsoft's position is that they're providing a service to all of us struggling authors, improving our work?

It just gets more and more frightening.

Chris Kaminski delves into the subject on A List Apart.

21.June 2001

Plenty hot today, to make us feel like it's the solstice. Good day to get up before sunrise and go windsurfing!

The two big local stories on the nightly news right now are the Rainbow Family gathering up in Bear Valley, and the Boise River Festival. The former has all the law enforcement for 3 counties (at least) apoplectic. Maybe I've never been this close to a Family gathering, but it sure seems like the immune response may be causing more harm than the actual gathering. Somebody figures it'll cost a million bucks to look after them... But the Family tells it a little differently.

As usual, the truth is somewhere in between. This would be a good time to listen to the Missoula Independent about how last year's gathering site fared: "Given Racicotís policies on game farms, toxic wastes, mining reclamation, stream restoration, water quality, and a host of other environmental issues, it seemed only logical that if the National Guard was called out to protect the environment, they ought to start with the Governorís Office." Or try the Missoula Standard which tells essentially the same story, even if their best compliment is backhanded.

And I wonder what the cost of the River Festival is. Oh wait, that brings in paying tourists, so it's OK. They need a lot of extra police, they're even using volunteers to patrol the Greenbelt. Lots of volunteers get sucked in to the main event, too. What's the value of all the volunteer hours spent to launch 50 or 80 balloons every morning, and stand 'em up for the Night Glow? Or for the spectators who are instructed to find their viewing spot two hours before the event?

Oh, but you can't compare the happy anticipation of thousands of people getting ready to watch grownups play with propane burners to a gathering of countercultural anarchists in the forest, now, can you?

Hello, Lowman? Can you say "outfitting opportunity"? Sure you can. They may eat weird stuff, but they gotta eat, and you could have found out what, and got it in stock, and done some good tourist business. If the past is any guide, there won't be much of a cleanup industry after they're gone: they leave a clean camp.

20.June 2001

Mr. Bush goes to Washington and finds out about realpolitik, but it still takes the FERC to bail him out. Whatever. It had to be done, and everybody's glad the bureaucrats did the right thing , so that the politicians didn't have to act. (Everybody except the energy marketers and producers, that is.)

The web as global bandwagon: instead of a multiplicity of scientific approaches, greater homogeneity. Isn't that what globalization is all about? Welcome to the blender.

Will no permit stop the Rainbow Family from setting up camp north of Lowman? Doesn't seem likely. I sorta thought they cleaned up after themselves, but recent news stories don't make it sound that way. What's the truth?

Speaking of the truth, we're all waiting to hear about what our mayor was doing at 4 in the morning last week. He's sorry about it, and emphatically denies he's having an affair with his spokeswoman, whose neighborhood he just happened to be in. Maybe late night walks would be better than late night driving around and parking.

Time to check in and see where Winer will point me. Here's an error page I wish I'd written. Oh yeah, and zdnet saying all that needs to be said about SmartTags. And JD joins the chorus against font sizing in CSS.

19.June 2001

Finished my illustrated account of the 3rd Owyhee Rendezvous. A bit over 300 kB, but worth the wait.

17.June 2001

Further up Cottonwood Creek canyon than I went

Home from the third Owhyee Rendezvous, a southwest Idaho get-together of environmental fellow travelers. Bicycling through herds of cows, listening to presentations about birds, bats, legislation, corporate branding of outdoor recreation, inventoring vehicle tracks in wilderness study areas, climbing and hiking in an amazing little canyon above the North Fork. More when I get the pictures done...

Having looked at a few of them, I see I'm still struggling against the limitations of this Nikon Coolpix950. Can't get the macro to focus on what I want, the white balance goes inexplicably purple in some scenes, backlit edges tend to get weird color separations (more purple), and scenes with light and shadow keep getting the shadow too dark.

At least the last of those seems an inherent limitation of digital with "only" 24-bit color, but maybe some other cameras handle the problem better. If you know about one, tell me.

13.June 2001

Pre-candidating for the Darwin Awards.

Or, if you like pictures (and lots of blinking ads), try the original on space.com.

Dick Tracy's watch radio, or a camera, or GPS, or stock quotes... it all fits on your wrist. (Funny, the time of day seems enough for me.)

Combination device for handwriting capture and transfer to a PDA from Seiko, about which iGo (?) writes: "SmartPad is the first product that lets you capture anything you write or draw, with the natural feel of pen on paper."

Almost: the CrossPad and IBM Ink software came out 3 years ago.

Given how hard it is to find anything current about the products, it appears that they've failed, and Cross is back to just selling pens. The domain name for the Cross Pen Computing Group, http://www.cross-pcg.com/, is now unresolved. The only thing electronic from Cross these days looks like the :Convergence ("you will not find it in stores" - as if that's a good thing?!), a combination with the unfortunate CueCat scanner.

One of the interesting things about nifty widgets is that hobbiests dig into them. Here's a MATLAB code interface to the Crosspad, for example. DigitalConvergence.com foolishly tried to fight the CueCat hackers... They didn't want to lose the chance to capture consumer information for their database.

In other scanning news, the Supremes came down with a remarkable and far-reaching decision, summarized by Wired's headline, Can't Scan Without a Warrant.

10.June 2001

The genetically modified genie is out of the bottle. That didn't take long. I guess we'll find out if a Roundup™-ready world is a good thing or not. The story of Pandora's box didn't translate into language that Monsanto, Aventis and Syngenta could understand.

I had to go back to the store today, after some shopping yesterday. I remembered that the general area was where a pickup truck driver assaulted me some years back. Hadn't thought about that for a while, but I did reflect yesterday on how the neighborhood around the Boise Towne (sic) Square mall has become more and more godforsaken.

I had three stops to make along Milwaukee, and it was "sort of" along my way, coming back from the airport, where I'd taken Jeanette for her flight to Portland to visit her mom. I resolved to stay calm, even while waiting at a stoplight next to someone with their radio turned up so high I couldn't hear mine, and had to roll up the window with no A/C on a warm, sunny day. All things shall pass.

I parked at Staples, bought some paper and loaded it into the trunk. Then I flip-flopped through the parking lot, over the canal (inviting, rushing cool water) and along the sidewalk, noting that there were no crosswalks between traffic lights, in spite of several side streets coming and going. Eventually I played jaywalk dodge-em cars with the queue at Emerald, to save some extra distance. Bought a couple items at REI, backtracked, and drove the short jaunt to Home Depot because it was in the right direction. All that silliness to avoid turning left off of, and then back onto Milwaukee, maybe 5 minutes queueing. My small part to make the Milwaukee corridor a slightly more pleasant place.

On Thursday, a friend asked "how was that?" about our stay in Palo Alto, and I said it was alright. Lots of people, but we didn't have to drive much. He said, "the people aren't the problem, it's the cars that are the problem!" So true, and Boise has car trouble just like the Bay area; it just doesn't cover as much area. What it does cover can be every bit as obnoxious.

For as pedestrian hostile as that piece of Milwaukee is, it has been slightly improved for bicycling. There's actually a striped bike lane, even if it's substandard narrow and along the gutter. They've shaved the nasty hump by the curbing a bit, and the northbound entry to the Fairview intersection is clearly marked, giving that "this is my place" feeling in the sea of cars.

What are we going to do? Just let more and bigger cars dominate ever more of the world we live in? It makes me sad.

Sketch of the defective belt end

My shopping trip yesterday had an 88% success rate - one of the handful of items had a design defect I didn't detect until I put it on this morning. REI's outdoorsy knit belt had a sewn-on end tab intended to stiffen it and ease the entry into the buckle. But belts are two-way devices, and it has to be easy to take the end out of the buckle too.

The gal asked me "did you use it?" to determine whether it would go back to the "new" or "like new" pile, I suppose. I said "I put it on, which is when I discovered it was defective." Oops, that wasn't quite accurate. It was when I wanted to take it off that I discovered it was defective.

Of course, the right thing to do would be to send it, and all the other ones like it that they have back to the manufacturer, and tell them they were no good. I don't guess they're going to do that.

7.June 2001

Yet another brilliant idea from those innovators in Redmond, Smart Tags. They'll enable us imagination-limited web page writers to have a page full of links, even if that's not what we had in mind.

Links to Microsoft sites. Lovely.

Jonathan Rauch explores "one of the more majestic artifacts of industrial capitalism" in the January Atlantic.

6.June 2001

I'm back from 24 commuting trips to Palo Alto, plus the one year stay. It's a wonderful place to visit, I wouldn't mind living there (especially if someone else would pay for my lodging), but it's gonna be great to stay at home for a while.

The Google juggernaut: 8000 Linux servers, a petabyte of storage. I hope they have a business model that works, because it's great technology!

Firewalls are of renewed interest. Turns out they're not just for big corporations anymore, as Steve Gibson's experience illustrates. Two programs recommended by colleagues in this context are Zone Labs' ZoneAlarm, a free firewall (and a non-free "Pro" edition with more security features), and Ad-Aware from Lavasoft for spyware/cookie filtering.

The business world's " Woodstock of online collaboration experiments." 62,000 Big Blue people phone home.

Bruce Perens (et al.) make a go at the last word on Microsoft's FUD attack on Open Source.

IBM's work in carbon nanotubes includes the creating of a ten-atom diameter semiconductor that acts as a transistor.

Ray Kurzweil on what this (and other technology development) is likely to bring about:

In line with my earlier predictions, supercomputers will achieve one human brain capacity by 2010, and personal computers will do so by around 2020. By 2030, it will take a village of human brains (around a thousand) to match $1,000 of computing. By 2050, $1,000 of computing will equal the processing power of all human brains on Earth."

..."Ultimately, nonbiological intelligence will dominate because it is growing at a double exponential rate, whereas for all practical purposes biological intelligence is at a standstill.

"Exponential growth in the RATE of exponential growth" is one of the ideas behind his upcoming book, "The Singularity is Near." Ever generous in his written output, a "précis" is on the net, at (I had to look that up - it may well be a "concise summary of essential points," but if so, concise doesn't mean short; it runs 57 pages.)

I got bogged down in his voluminous 19?? work, The Age of Intelligent Machines, figuring I should read that before diving into his 1999 work, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence."

Sounds like I should skip ahead to the new book when it comes out. Or maybe the précis is the right size for me.

Later in the RCFoC, a pointer to Caveo technology, and their development of MEMS motion sensors and technology that uses them. Lots of interesting possibilities, some of them tossed out in a short brainstorming session.

You think California's got it bad... check out Brazil! 90% of their generation is from hydropower, and they're having a drought. (NYTimes)

Here's a book after my own heart: The Botany of Desire (reviewed in the NY Times). The reviewer says the treatment of the potato is a highlight, so it fits right in...

3.June 2001

The Science News article about underwater refuges meant more to me after I'd swum with the fishes a while. A paradox of the commons: restricting access leads to more abundance for all. This is really the central message of environmentalism, and fisheries should provide an object lesson that all sides can understand and appreciate. The problem, of course, is that individual fortune can always benefit from nibbling at the margin.

(That link is to the resources / other reading list of the article, all that's online in their partial archive. If you're a subscriber, you can now get the whole article including pictures online! Perhaps I can donate my multiyear collection of back issues now....)

I took the book The Inmates are Running the Asylum on vacation with me, but after landing on Kaua'i, it seemed too close to work to continue reading. I finished it this week, back in Boise. His list of "what makes software polite?" is worth considering for person-to-person interactions, as well as person-to-machine ones:

"Polite software is interested in me, deferential to me, forthcoming, has common sense, anticipates my needs, is responsive, taciturn about its personal problems, well informed, perceptive, self-confident, stays focused, is fudgable, gives instant gratification, and is trustworthy."

See chapter 10 for the expansion of each of those ideas. Another point that I wish more software would reflect is that "less is more":

Thos gadget-obsessed, control-freak programmers love to fill products with gizmos and features, but that tendency is contrary to a fundamental insight about good design. Less is more.

When an interaction designer has done a particularly good job, the user will be quite unaware of her presence. Like service in a world-class restaurant, it should be inconspicuous. When the interaction designer has accomplished something really good, users won't even notice it.

More news of the weird from Idaho, as yet another standoff ensues between isolated countryfolk and the law. This one had a happy ending, though, apparently without any shots fired. (Not bad, considering the kids turned a bunch of dogs loose on the police.)

The TV news media used plenty of the helicopter video footage, but I never heard them report on how the noise from the helicopter intefered with a potentially crucial negotiation between a priest and the children. (That report came over NPR.)

Paul Krugman lays into the Bush administration on California energy: "I am actually somewhat surprised by Mr. Bush's obtuseness on this whole subject."

Just what is sociology, anyway? The French are duking it out with a thesis on astrology as the fulcrum.

Trent Lott, ever gracious in defeat, apparently sees himself at the forefront of our democracy, and those who would oppose him as enemies of the state. Is there another way to read the snippet "the impetuous decision of one man to undermine our democracy" quoted in The New York Times? Or did they take that out of context?

His arithmetic is interesting, too -- the Democrats now have a "plurality" as a result of Jeffords "coup of one," as opposed to the Republican "majority" brought to you by the "will of the American votes" (sic). Hmm, 50 + Veep = majority, and 50 = plurality. Mighty fine dicer that guy has. Elsewhere, "we were elected by the majority," another interesting distinction. I don't suppose pointing out that his party's President was elected by a minority of the voters would be greeted in a friendly way?

Our Idaho boy, Larry Craig, shows up on Chuck Hagel's short list for Lott's successor, but that would have to be a friendly accession, wouldn't it? They're singing buddies after all. Er - oops! Jeffords was in the quartet, too, and it's his home page serving up the RealAudio. Or at least it used to... Maybe it just wasn't the same after Ashcroft lost his re-election bid, and moved into the Attorney General's office.

Joel Spolsky almost makes me want to try reading Porter's Competitive Strategy again. (I didn't get through it the first time for the reason he cites.)

The Scobleizer gets mired in flamage, blather and spew, as we used to say. Or should it be foamage for a train simulator fan site? Usenet was ever thus, and with a widening community in a widening net of forums, we will repeat the experience over and over and over.

At least Usenet has a mature interface for readers. I have yet to find a web-based discussion forum that takes advantage of all those problems that have already been solved. Not that it was easy learning the 3 or 5 different interfaces I've used, just that I did it long ago that the knowledge is all tacit now.

Woody's Office Watch checks in with the sort of piece I did when Office2000 was new, back in 1999. Sounds like same ol', same ol', although he says I should run to upgrade from my dowdy old Office97. Last time I called IT support at work, they had trouble believing I was still using that old version, and logged the call as "request for help upgrading to O2K" in spite of me wanting no such thing.

Funny that he recommendes O2K SR1 or SR1-a over SR2. It's getting worse? Oh I see, it can't attach files to email as a "fix" to Outlook's and scriptable apps' vulnerability to viruses. (So I should believe XP is better still? Bah.)

As one of the "does wrong" examples, I'm rather stunned to read how badly the voice recognition works out of the box. Our three-year-old copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking sounds significantly more mature. And the fact that the email is setup by default to use Word for editing shows continued "inbreeding," as Woody puts it.

Reading about all the whizzy new features gave me a flashback to the mid-1980s, when I learned Slate and TDP on HP minicomputers, and figured out how to get graphical stuff and other whizzy formatting out of high-speed laser printers. The novelty of learning new ways to do old tricks has pretty much worn off for me after the 6th or 10th time. In that light, the irony of WOW using Courier for its font is amusing.

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Saturday, 08-Dec-2001 19:09:35 MST
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/200106.html