Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Many people on the Internet love to play "Let's you and him fight". This is a game where somebody with nothing to lose eggs on aggressive behavior on the part of somebody who has something to lose. On the Internet it frequently takes the form of urging legal battles. Penny Arcade recently posted a funny satirical comic on the Strawberry Shortcake character by American McGee of American Greetings. PA was asked to remove this comic from their site by lawyers for American Greetings. So of course loyal Penny Arcade readers boiled into a frenzy suggesting boycotting American Greetings cards and other products (they're a huge company), suggesting petitions, getting the ACLU and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund involved and "raising awareness" (=="ranting").They even got Scott of PVP into the action for some reason asking him to post on the subject (which he did but in a dampening fashion). Meanwhile PA took down the comic and went on with their lives which is the only sane thing to do when a couple random dudes might face legal action. I guess that's why organizations like CBLDF exist but they also need to choose their battles.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

An interesting graphic from David Isenberg shows how voice is already there on the Internet. The text accompanying the chart says that by 2006, 50% of voice calls will go over the Internet. That will only come true through user behavior changes if voice calls over the Internet become as easy, or easier, than picking up the phone and dialing. There are of course costs with traditional voice calls but I can't imagine that accounts for 50%, to the point of making users switch to something unfamiliar, daunting and less accessible than a phone with 12 buttons.

The other way for calls over the Internet to become easy is for the regular phone to remain our voice call appliance and to work the same way it does now, but for the phone companies to route over the Internet. I don't know as much about that business to know how it will work, but something tells me entrenched interests will resist that.

A friend of mine is being asked to wear one of these dresses as a bridesmaid. It's the white one. Whoever heard of bridesmaids being made to wear white? I consoled her with images from the link Ekr posted a few days ago to It could be so much worse.
A cool bit of email fiction. At least, one really really hopes its fiction, because it bears an all-too-sinister relationship to reality. To get one of the in jokes: Building 7 does not exist (at Microsoft).
An ex-Microsoft employee writes:
Digging in against open source commoditization won't work - it would be like digging in against the Internet, which Microsoft tried for a while before getting wise. Any move towards cutting off alternatives by limiting interoperability or integration options would be fraught with danger, since it would enrage customers, accelerate the divergence of the open source platform, and have other undesirable results. Despite this, Microsoft is at risk of following this path, due to the corporate delusion that goes by many names: "better together," "unified platform," and "integrated software." There is false hope in Redmond that these outmoded approaches to software integration will attract and keep international markets, governments, academics, and most importantly, innovators, safely within the Microsoft sphere of influence. But they won't .
The Agitator, past couple days posts, reminds me of high school. So smoking regulations have pushed people outside to smoke? There was a U-shaped semi-protected area between two buildings and the walkway between them where all the high-school smokers congregated to puff. Since there was no overhead shelter it was frequently miserable (this was in Canada where it is miserable 10 out of 12 months), but since high school was all about being cool even if it meant being cold, they all stood out there without coats. Of course the smokers were highly segregated from the non-smokers. You couldn't be friends with smokers during school hours unless you were willing to stand with them in the smoke, in the cold.

Next, the star of the "bomb reality movie Cancun" (I assume in this context bomb means bad) says "I'd rather be known for this instead of being smart or something." Well, so did all the girls in high school. They'd rather be known for anything instead of being known for intelligence -- whether that was excessive drinking and puking, slutty behavior, or getting in trouble with teachers.

I don't know what's been reminding me of high school so much lately but I find vivid memories popping up: eating Vachon snack cakes (Jos Louis, Caramel), the girl whose extreme posture turned size C breasts into a shelf-like protuberance making her very popular, the student council president election for one of the only black kids in the entire school where his campaign posters ran on reverse racism: "Black is Better". I don't miss high school, but I guess you can never leave it behind.

Wish I could be there: a Presence panel at Networld+Interop next week. It includes a couple friends so I'll try to get the low-down.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Throw away the Internet to improve security? Well, that would do it, but it's as drastic as cutting out your eyes to reduce glare. The article is really stupid -- e.g. SMTP already has a certificate infrastructure in S/MIME, and there's no need to rip out IP (see IPSec).

Rescorla is soon to give a talk at Usenix entitled The Internet is Too Secure Already which points the finger not at the user (it's pointless to blame them) but at the incentive structure which encourages people to spend too much time making sure that systems are impregnable against high-end attacks. The field is full of papers perfecting stuff that's already really good rather than fixing the stuff that's really bad. Usually the real problem is we don't have a deployable, usable system which integrates the good-enough cryptography into our applications and networks. Companies may now finally be willing to pay for that, which they haven't in the past, out of their own needs and new government regulations (like HIPAA).

Update: I previously said that Ekr already gave this talk but he's in fact going to give it in August.

Colby Cosh rants today about Edmonton's civic leaders and their ideas for a new slogan. It reminds me of people naming companies these days. Very silly. But I wonder if Palo Alto's recent activities top Edmonton for silliness: the City Council is drafting rules about frowning. This is hardly a scoop -- Floyd McWilliams and LawMuse also blogged about this on Apr 21 and Apr 8.

Another antic I heard about recently concerned Palo Alto and extremely nitpicky noise regulations, applying not only different decibel limits to different zoned areas and different times but also to different frequencies. This is usually done with respect to noise from airports and leaf blowers, but in this case allegedly the city hired analysts to measure the noise level of skateboarders to see if skateboarding ever exceeds the decibel limit, which it didn't (barely). Somebody is so keen to get rid of local skateboarders that he's attempting to get the noise regulations changed to use frequency-dependent adjustments for the sound frequencies generated by skateboarders. I'll take bets that frequency-dependent adjustments will never lead to increasing the noise permitted at any frequency -- this is all about making regulations more stringent. Sorry I couldn't find exact references to the skateboarding hater.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Michael Moore is planning a new documentary about the Bin Laden and Bush families for release before the 2004 elections (link via Michael). It seems likely to be immensely popular but divisive and polarizing. Some hope it "works" in the sense that it discredits G. W. Bush sufficiently so that he isn't reelected. That may backfire depending on how it polarizes.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

A Sunday Herald article (link via Michael) indirectly accuses US of plans to loot Iraqi antiques. While the article doesn't say anything outright, it implies that because the US administration met with a group of wealthy art dealers before the war so that the group could "offer its assistance in preserving the country's invaluable archaeological collections". Note that this is inconsistent with the other accusations being made that the US military is negligently not protecting certain sites, thus allowing random looters (locals/Iraqis) to grab these antiques. If there was some pre-war plan approved by the administration to benefit from Iraq's antiques, why would that looting have been allowed?

Update: Michael thinks these aren't inconsistent, that the US administration did not approve a plan to formally loot the antiques but may have hinted to these art dealers that the valuables would be unprotected, thus allowing these dealers to send in their agents. Still seems unlikely to me:

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell vowed that the United States will aid in "recovering" and "restoring" the lost treasures. (ref)
Den Beste makes fun of the new French "pragmatism". Apparently the White House doesn't know what this means:
Colonna said Chirac had informed Bush of France's desire to "act pragmatically and case by case," especially on issues such as Iraqi disarmament, handling of sanctions, interim government, oil resources, administration and reconstruction.

The White House expressed puzzlement at the what Chirac meant by a "pragmatic" role for France.

"It was an interesting choice of words. I don't know exactly, literally, what to make of it. I think that's something that France can explain. I think that they may be seeking to find what role they may be able to play," Fleischer said.
Like Den Beste, I think "acting pragmatically" means "don't hold a grudge". From the same ABC News article, however: "It did not appear that Bush was ready to let bygones be bygones".
This Novell strategy article is amazing (link via Ditherati. Novell should fire their CEO Jack Messman. His contributions to the article:
In the short term, the advantage to CIOs is with NetWare, they have a more mature and robust operating system. Over time, that gap will diminish.
Great, so the CEO is telling customers that his company's software is only a short term advantage.
... an opportunity to answer the question as to what the migration path is for NetWare. Because people said, 'It's a dead-end path, so maybe I ought to switch.'
Now he's telling us his own customers consider NetWare a dead-end path.
... the non-Novell IT community's biggest misconception about the company was that it was " legacy and disappearing", which he blamed on the company's poor marketing.
Messman, don't you run marketing (since 2001 he has been CEO, president and chairman of the board)?
We were an engineering-focused company. We never listened to the customer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Bill at work asked after my quilting, and I promised to get a picture of my recently completed quilt. I'm embarrassed it's not square, but other than that I'm quite happy with the effect on the wall. It's sparkly because of using several kinds of sparkly thread and glass beading.

The quilt started off pretty flat and rectangular, but it got bumpy when I added the thick threads through machine quilting (with thick threads in the bobbin). That quilted out a bit with the hand quilting, but it got worse again with a poor binding job I intend to redo someday. Let this be a lesson if you're a quilter - stop when your quilt starts getting unsquare and figure out why. Here are some more images of it:
  • Large and medium resolution versions of exact same picture
  • Detailed image from top center and bottom center
  • Extremely detailed picture of bottom center, showing a bunch of quilting and beading. The quilting includes grey hand stitching parallel lines at top, silver hand stitching inside curve; machine stitched thick glittery thread straight across and thick variegated cotton yarn in the curve (both done in the bobbin of the machine).
The last extremely detailed picture is why I bought the camera I did (Minolta Dimage 3.2 megapixel).
Here are some more quilt picture links for Bill:

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

As I discussed a couple days ago, my Mom thinks China is deterred from invading Taiwan at least in part through the pressure of the international community to respect sovereign boundaries. Dan Simon thinks "China is ... largely immune to American military pressure, because of its large army and nuclear deterrent." Ekr thinks China is completely held back by fear of American military retaliation -- that without the 5th Fleet in Asia, China would long ago have invaded.

Personally, I don't know enough to know why China hasn't invaded Taiwan. I don't know that much about military deployments or about what kind of things the Chinese government fears. But basic logic tells me you'd have to come up with a good reason why China is deterred from doing something it has clearly stated it wants to do ("liberate" Taiwan) if you assert that American might is not the reason.

Dan's comment was a throwaway in a much longer post mostly not about China, so he probably means that American military pressure has only certain effects on China. Presumably China can get away with a lot without fear of any US action, but knows where the lines in the sand (or sea) are drawn.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

I had a great discussion with my Mom today on why as a Canadian (even though she isn't habitually anti-American), she has always opposed the war (even though she is glad it seems to be ending so quickly and cleanly) and therefore she is still glad that Chretien (even though she is habitually anti-Chretien) took a principled stand and kept Canada out of it. Basically, she fully supports a world governing body, and believes that the only legitimate reason to invade a sovereign nation is with the support of the UN. I think she and I agree that the UN ought to have done something about Iraq but she still feels that the US should not have acted without the support of the UN.

Part of what's fueling her position is that she talks a lot of foreigners, particularly Chinese but also many others. In her work she talks to them quite often about current events. Since she's Canadian, these people are quite ready to express their hatred of the US. Some of her Chinese students explained to her that the Iraqi ringleader in the famous footage of toppling the Saddam statue was an exiled Iraqi opposition party leader who had just been flown in from the US by the US armed forces in order to encourage "spontaneous" anti-Saddam demonstrations. Even though my Mom tends not to credit such conspiracy theories, she does take the stories as evidence of very strong anti-American feeling which is getting continually stronger to the detriment of global cooperation in future actions (e.g. potentially North Korea). Not only that, she says, but a unilateral US invasion only encourages other countries, such as China who might want to "liberate" Taiwan.

I have mostly seen anti-American sentiment expressed as extremely strong anti-Bush sentiment from Americans, but then again I'm not in the same situation as my Mom. I don't discuss current events routinely with foreigners and even if I did they might be uncomfortable expressing their hatred to a US resident on US soil.

Monday, April 07, 2003

I have an article in Network World Fusion! I didn't do all the work -- Quinn Daly did a significant amount of the work to get this article to press.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Just think of what developments like these could mean to victims of major natural disasters like mud-slides, earthquakes and hurricanes. From Tech Central Station:
In the past, the wounded were stabilized with first-aid and transported far to the rear to field hospitals for life-saving surgery. But now, recognizing the importance of early intervention, the surgical teams are being brought to the wounded... Special operations medics can carry enough equipment on their back to start intravenous lines, secure compromised airways, and do minor surgery in the field.
We ought to create an infrastructure such that teams of these kinds of medics and more can be dropped within eight hours anywhere in the world. Now that would be worthwhile. The article also mentions some war-proved advances in bandages and clotting. The technical descriptions make me shudder, particularly the thought of zeolite crystals sprinkled on an open wound. But hey, it's nice they can be used for more than just metaphysical healing.
PMStyle has a post on how wireless kills some bad meetings, with an entertaining list of meetings. He forgot one: the review. This can be the meeting where you review somebody's code, somebody's specification, or the famous "post-mortem" review meeting where blame gets assigned for any failings the last project had. Now wireless doesn't get you out of these reviews, but it's not so bad. After all, you can have a lot of fun at most review meetings -- you're usually there to criticize the specification or code, which can be entertaining. And wireless can help you dig up more information to damn the stuff being reviewed. "Did you know that all the functionality you have been coding for the past three weeks is provided by a free library I just downloaded? Oh, I guess you didn't, too bad you wasted all that time." Does it ever make you think of Mao's communist party criticism meetings?
Confirmation bias may be one of the most pernicious effects in social or democratic decision making, turning a crack into a chasm whenever people feel differently about a complicated or emotional issue. On Light of Reason Silber has a lengthy post on this (link via Kleiman). CalPundit Kevin Drum says that frequently one hears complaints that "all the other guys are biased".

I've been noticing this recently myself -- I recently had a discussion with somebody quite anti-Bush who believes Bush has gotten a free pass from the press until recently. However I also recall Clinton haters who believed that Clinton got off too lightly. More generally, the shouts about a "liberal media" or a "corporate controlled media" show a perception that any evidence we don't like disturbs us and tends to make us look for conspiracy. This speaks to Kleiman's point that there is an "eagerness to attribute differences in perception to ill-will".

What to do? Kleiman suggests that he looks for disconfirming evidence, rather than confirming evidence. Silber and Drum both look at antiwar and prowar information sources, and Silber argues persuasively that a responsible person ought to look for and disseminate information on what's going on, rather than evidence that they were right. It's been suggested that scientists should "discard a pet hypothesis every morning before breakfast" to get used to not holding unconfirmed opinions so close to the heart.

So far so good, but I worry about a fragmentation of our news sources making confirmation bias worse. Now that we bloggers have lists of blogs we like and visit frequently, are we in an ever-increasing spiral of confirming our own biases? The filtering function of blogs means that there's an amplification of the tendency to notice only confirming information. I don't intend to point a finger only at blogs. For example, Canada now has the National Post (right wing and more pro-American) allowing the Globe and Mail to potentially be more left wing -- and allowing Canadians to confirm their own biases via their preferred national paper. We have increasing numbers of sites like IndyMedia and Reason and most of us don't visit both. An explosion in news sources may be a good thing overall, but its worthwhile being aware of the dangers too.

Here's an even worse thought, in its way. Taking a public stand is known to increase one's commitment and increase one's desire to remain consistent with that commitment (Cialdini, Influence). Bloggers, anti-war protesters and people who write letters to the editor are all ordinary people taking very public stands. This can be good -- it increases the participation in public discourse. But it can also be bad, making these very people extremely reluctant to change their views. For example, the environmentalist and peace movements both do a great job of getting people active and on the record for supporting the environment and peace. Once people are on the record -- even if it's only a letter to the editor exhorting better recycling in your community, or attending one peace rally -- these people are now less likely to notice information that indicates that a particular invasion might be justified, or that certain kinds of recycling are a waste of resources.

Update: An interesting paper on confirmation bias in anti-biotech sentiment suggests that the structure of the Internet worsens confirmation bias -- people may avoid clicking on links that could disconfirm their position. Too bad the report writer didn't try to disconfirm that hypothesis itself, e.g. through testing.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Catching up on my Colby Cosh reading, I find this gem:
Like most protests, it is--by the kindest interpretation--a self-involved, essentially childish exercise, a dumbshow designed to appeal to wholly ignoble collective sentiments.

Yes, it is a premise of democracy that if plenty of people agree with you, you're quite likely right. But it is a premise of liberal democracy that we will use rational persuasion and balloting to resolve issues. No one has yet explained to me what marching and shouting has to do with that...

Buttafly says something similar:
I figured this [SF protest] would be the perfect opportunity to hear a summary of the anti-war position to help me make up my mind once and for all. About 20 yards and 10 minutes into the protest I realized that it wasn't going to happen. I wasn't going to be able to consider the merits of the anti-war arguments because none were being made.
Even reasonable people who are against war (Sorenson in SFGate) may not like or approve of anti-war protests:
Marching in San Francisco to stop a war in Iraq is a fine, fine example of wasted energy. Protest marches, like petitions, are exercises in futility.

I saw a April Fool war protest in San Francisco last week - the sign that caught my eye was "More Blood for Oil" then "Gays for War" or something like that. It was a surreal little parade and not immediately obvious. At least the small crowd (30?) waited for street lights and didn't obstruct traffic or destroy anything as far as I could see. Apparently one happened in Portland too, better photographed.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Gonzo was a character on the Muppet Show. Gonzo also means beserk, or kamikaze, almost. Now there's gonzo journalism, gonzo marketing and gonzo programming. What came first, the muppet name or the word? I must know. Merriam-Webster doesn't know, but A Word A Day says "Perhaps from Italian gonzo (simpleton) or Spanish ganso (dull or fool, literally a goose)." It also says that Bill Cardoso coined the word in 1971 and Hunter S. Thompson was the first to use it.

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