Wednesday, December 31, 2003

"As to diceing, I think it becommeth best deboshed souldiers
to play at on the heads of their drums, being only ruled by
hazard, and subject to knavish cogging; and as for the chesse,
I think it over-fond, because it is over-wise and philosophicke
a folly." -- Henry VIII, quoted in The sports and pastimes of the people of England, A new edition, with a copious index, by William Hone.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes,
That have been so bedazzled with Sun

   (apologies to Shakespeare).

OK, well it's certainly not the first time Sun has been perceived as an enemy of open source, and apparently there is good reason:

Sun should have owned Linux and should have owned the community. It is Unix, and all Unix developers should have been Sun developers with Linux.
This is from Ed Zander who just left Sun after being second to Scott McNealy for 5 years (ref).

Thursday, December 11, 2003

If you've got IE, click on this link to "CNN" to see an interesting exploit. It's not new, but I'd never heard of it. The URL uses the username portion to fool the browser into displaying a string that isn't where it's being sent (forwarded from Keith Wannamaker).

Saturday, December 06, 2003

My favourite charity has just posted their year-end appeal. I donate to Deep Roots because I think it's pretty close to maximizing my leverage: by funding the education of kids in some of the poorest countries of the world, I hope my donation will help these students out for life. Deep Roots has less than 10% expenses (verified by GuideStar) so a US dollar donation of only $75 can easily fund a kid's basic school education in Namibia for a year.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

I just finished another knitting project, striped socks, so I updated my knitted projects page. I put up another couple old projects on the page, ones that I did years ago but didn't get pictures until recently: a mauve sweater and a pillow knit in part from handspun natural wool.

Monday, December 01, 2003

It's interesting how Bush's free-trade position, his steel tariffs, the WTO appeal and finally the repeal of said tariffs, may all have contributed to strengthen the idea of WTO-moderated free trade. The blog postings have been unanimously positive about the repeal (exhibits A, B, C, D). The obvious lessons to draw from the sequence of events are:
  • The WTO can act quickly (15 months, I think) in its rulings

  • The rules are effective, if even Bush must cave

  • The rules are principled, because Bush's argument for the steel tariffs was based on convenience. The excuse for the tariffs was that they were only temporary. When you argue for such a weak exception to a rule, that can reinforce the principle beind the rule.

If Bush had never put the temporary tariffs in place, there wouldn't have been this clear an opportunity for the WTO to strengthen its hand.
The Kyoto agreement was dealt an unexpected blow or two in the last month, from Russia, casting a shadow on this week's discussions in Milan. I'm behind on this news but, intrigued, I spent some time trying to figure out exactly who said what. A condemnation from Putin could in fact trigger support in many other places depending on how poorly it was worded. Instead, the Russian opposition seems broad but reasonable: Putin mostly complains that Kyoto won't work, and would "doom Russia to poverty, weakness and backwardness" (ref). In some places Russia's recent response is described as "Russian officials’ outright rejection of the global warming theory" (ref), but that seems to be exaggeration because this article has more detail indicating that the head of RAS only described the "theory of rapid, catastrophic global warming" as inaccurate. However, Russia hasn't definitively said no - this could be pre-election posturing for the Russian public, and Russia could still sign on after the elections.

Seablogger has a good post on the event, including notes on the difficulty of agreeing that Kyoto is good even if we all agree that global warming exists.

A TCS article by Iain Murray includes this tidbit:
There are plenty of reasons people are proposing these new commercial ventures, however. One proposed wind farm in West Virginia, would cost $300,000,000 to build, but would recover those costs and then some through various tax shelters and subsidies equaling $325,434,600. In many cases, the profit from this government largesse exceeds the income generated from electricity sales. Wind farm owners enjoy windfall profits at taxpayer expense. Green is very attractive when there are greenbacks involved...
The article overall is whether wind farms are in fact an environmental win over gas consumption. It's a difficult issue, and often involves comparing apples to oranges (noise and bird death to chemical pollution, for example). But it certainly clouds the issues to have such large tax-payer-backed government subsidies. Just think how much that $325 million in subsidies could have done if it had gone directly to protecting wildlife or unspoiled areas.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Voting is, apparently, one of those "grass is greener" things. People are very aware of the drawbacks of whatever voting system they have, and idealize the voting system they don't have. I've tried to explain to friends what Dan Simon explains in a recent blog post -- that no voting system is immune from manipulation and disconcerting results. In fact, in any systematic voting system, one ought to expect unusual results every so often. If the US, with its electoral college system, never had a case where the winner of the popular vote lost the election, one ought to wonder if the system were broke in some way.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

More evidence that Microsoft is insular: its security experts think security is uncool.
Microsoft security architect Carl Ellison said that one popular culture problem is that security just isn't considered cool. (ref)

That's not borne out by the security experts I meet outside Microsoft who revel in their elite status among geeks. Among sites like SlashDot security is very cool - "black hats" and "white hats" find and identify bugs for the coolness factor. There are also many, many books on security, including some really bad books - an indicator that the publishers are so hungry for books on the topic that they'll publish garbage and people still buy it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

One of the quandaries of modern technology and the modern economy is figuring out what it's buying us. Wireless is fun, but it will be even better if it improves productivity. Here's some pretty good evidence it is:
San Mateo's putting a wireless umbrella over the whole California county so that the cops don't have to come back to the police station to synchronize. They say they were spending as much as three hours per day driving back and forth to the police station. It completely changes things. (ref)
I'm sure out of those three hours gained, one is lost again browsing the Web and another is lost again in IMing with buddies, but that's still a significant productivity gain.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

I talked with my Mom about violent movies recently. She can't watch movies like Reservoir Dogs at all. Movies I find innocuous she finds violent (she found my description of Office Space made it sound too violent for her). She made the inevitable complaint that these movies are trivializing violence and desensitizing us to brutality, blood and death.

I'd like to take the contrarian view that this isn't true but I'm not sure. I first argued weakly that perhaps we weren't really getting desensitized, that she had a sample size of one looking at herself and her reactions to movies and TV news. But I didn't really believe that argument myself - it seems obvious that if you see all of the Terminator movies you're not going to be shocked by Total Recall. My next ineffective argument was that perhaps video violence serves a useful purpose - that we're less likely to panic the first time we see somebody get in a car accident in real life, and we can respond more effectively. But that argument is actually the opposite of my first argument, assuming that desensitization does happen. Apparently studies have been done but I haven't seen anything particularly convincing either way.

It does occur to me that perhaps desensitization isn't the problem we think it is.

  • How broad an effect does desensitization have? If you can watch Lethal Weapon and cheer when Riggs kicks the drug dealer in the nuts and breaks his arm (scene 19C), does this mean you'll cheer when you see somebody do that in the street? Not bloody likely (pun intended). Without the setup of movies, seeing this for real would be terribly upsetting, shocking, and not likely to make you cheer. So maybe desensitization is not that transferrable.
  • What effect does desensitization have? Sure, we don't feel so much like vomiting after years of watching gut-churningly violent movies. But does it necessarily make us approve? Or does a movie like The Gift make us consciously condemn the wife-beater even though that role is played by Keanu Reeves?
  • How does violent entertainment affect us differently? Surely there are many factors that change how violent entertainment affects us, such as age, upbringing, gender and personality. So I've watched a bunch of Jackie Chan movies, and now I take karate class and love it. I don't think I'm more likely to hurt somebody else now though, except in self-defence, and maybe not even then. Is it only a minute fraction of the population that is more likely to commit violence through exposure to violent entertainment?
After three years of effort, my book is out! Thanks to:
  • Eric Rescorla for everything

  • Jim Whitehead and Greg Stein for getting me started, reviewing chapters and writing blurbs

  • Clay Shirky and Larry Masinter for writing more blurbs
  • Radia Perlman for encouragement and having me in her series

  • Brian Korver, Elias Sinderson, Andrew Sieja, Yaron Goland, Geoff Clemm, Terence Spies, Kevin Dick, Gary Gershon and Andrew McGregor for technical reviews and advice

  • Peter Raymond and Rick Rupp for diagram ideas, Keith Ito for his tracer tool

  • Everybody on the various WebDAV mailing lists

  • Rachel Gollub and Rob Alvelais for friendship and support

  • Prentice Hall editors and production staff: Mary Franz, Noreen Regina and Anne Garcia and Techne Group's Dmitri Korzh (for their patience)

  • My mom and dad

My amazon sales rank is 863,536 so far. Whatever that means.

Friday, October 31, 2003

I've got some updates on the SUV-hating thing.
  • My anonymous SUV-hating lunch buddy would like to assure NIH readership that he does not like Jeeps. He disapproves of unnecessarily high gas consumption and thus, on being informed of the gas consumption numbers, disapproves of the Wrangler more than the Rav4.

  • OTOH, it appears there are some social communities where wimpy SUVs are disdained. Steve at PMStyle tells me that in certain Seattle 'burbs you'll get criticized for owning a lightweight SUV because it's wimpy, not because it's a SUV. If you care what your friends think the Rav4 is a bad choice either way.

  • A friend of a friend just bought a H2. Apparently it's already gotten keyed just sitting parked in Palo Alto.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Yesterday at lunch with three others, I said something totally inappropriate for polite company. I said I was considering buying an SUV. I immediately was criticized by two of the other three: SUVs waste gas, SUVs create more pollution, SUVs cause more accidents of all kinds, more rollovers and more deaths in accidents, and if that's not enough, people will honk at you more and 'key' your SUV. Also they asked me, why should anybody ever need to buy an SUV unless they live at the end of a hilly gravel road in wintry country -- if you need a vehicle capable of bringing around your stuff, get a station wagon or a minivan. And finally, you can't park SUVs.

The first ironic thing is that none of these issues were brought up earlier when the fourth luncheon eater said he was considering buying a Jeep Wrangler. Apparently that's free from the Yuppie taint on SUVs.

The next ironic thing is that I specifically mentioned the Rav4. This is an SUV built on the Toyota Camry (Celica?) frame, which I pointed out early in the conversation. Yet that didn't save me from the parking/gas/pollution/accident critiques. In fact it was difficult for the anti-SUVers to believe that any SUV could be small, safe or have good mileage. In fact, the Rav4 gets 24 MPG in the city and 29 in the country, according to the US government. That's better than any of the minivans, and better even than many of the station wagons listed (for example, the Audi line of station wagons gets no better than 18/25 MPG city/country, and although the VW Jetta gets good gas mileage the VW Passat gets no better than 22/31 or worse depending on the model. And also it's pretty obvious that if a Rav4 is built on a Camry frame, it's no harder to park than a Camry, and I'll assume (correct me if I'm wrong) that the pollution is no worse. BTW, the Rav4 isn't the only SUV doing this - the Honda CR-V gets similar gas mileage and is a similar size.

Next the safety critique. It's true that the media loves to criticize SUV safety, but although the headline of this CNN article is "SUVs pose danger to cars", but further in you get a more nuanced view:

The group's report, an analysis of government safety data, will show that sport utility fatality rates have fallen sharply in recent years and are now almost even with passenger cars.

But O'Neill said the analysis will also show that because of their size and weight, sport utility vehicles can cause considerable damage to smaller passenger cars in side-impact crashes.

Does the overall SUV safety record apply well to a small SUV like the Rav4? There are a few ways to look at it.

  • The theory/testing bsed scorecards from give the Rav4 a poor score on side impact but otherwise good. Typically station wagons seem to be good all around, generally safer than the Rav4. But minivans and the Jeep Wrangler get worse safety ratings here.

  • Another safety rating method is based on actual insurance claims for injuries (to vehical occupants), and vehicle damage. By this rating, the Rav4 is worse than average for injury claims but average on vehical damage. Heavier SUVs are all much better than average, protecting you from both injury and vehicle damage, but interestingly a couple light SUVs rate well (Honda CR-V again or Ford Escape). With claims-based ratings, the numbers can be biased by type of driver. So if the Rav4 attracts young dangerous drivers, while the Ford Windstar (minivan) doesn't, you'd expect the Rav4 to have more claims even if the vehicle itself is safe.

  • It seems really hard to get data about danger to other vehicles. Still, if the theoretical objection that SUVs can kill the occupants of other vehicles due to their size, high center of gravity and high bumpers, then the Rav4 should not offend too badly. Its bumper may be higher but not as high as that of a transport truck, and it's just as light as a car.

So if you care both about safety and gas economy, but care a little about driving a cool vehicle and having room for bikes too, a Rav4 or CR-V seems a reasonable compromise. If you're a good driver and wear your seatbelt you might decide that the overall safety risks in SUVs are reasonably mitigated (personally, I haven't been in an accident in 10 years). But apparently this kind of choice is socially unacceptable. You're better getting a Jeep Wrangler which gets worse mileage and has a poorer safety record but at least your friends won't shun you and strangers won't honk at you.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

I figure farm subsidies are one of the most pernicious US government programs around, causing more world-wide poverty than any other active program I can think of. Third-world countries tend to agree, and have started pushing the US and Europe to cut these subsidies in return for reduced trade barriers in other areas. So far, this pressure has had little effect, likely because elected US politicians pay more attention to campaign funding from special interest groups here, than to third-world trade negotiators. Is there anything that can be done to increase the pressure to drop these subsidies? I've done some looking, but I haven't found a charity or lobbying group yet that specifically opposes agricultural subsidies. I haven't even run across a lobbying group that opposes trade-distorting programs in general. Any pointers, anybody?
New finished work (rayon shawl) in knitting page.

Friday, October 24, 2003

This is neat. I just started reading Greg Bear's Vitals last night -- so far it's about a scientist working on extending human lifespan by tweaking genes and protein signals between bacteria. Today I ran across a news article announing that this approach, or one nearly like that, already works on worms.

One of the side topics of Vitals is the existence of widespread and aggressive opposition to lifespan-extending research. This is something I don't understand, that I've always considered to be a crazy position based on either religious belief (don't offend God) or an extreme conservatism like Rousseau's where anything remotely new, man-made or technological is worse than man's "natural state" (note this is often an environmentalist/green position, so although I call it conservatism it's not necessary what you'd think of as the right end of the political spectrum).

A last note on Vitals is that it's set in Seattle and San Francisco (so far - only 100 pages in). I'm a sucker for settings I recognize. I like Monk and Charmed especially when they show places I know.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Surgical robots are getting cooler. I heard about the da Vinci system on the radio and looked up more info. It can be used to remove tumors inside the rib cage without disrupting the ribs, or perform heart valve repair with only tiny incisions.

Just think of how much more accurate a surgeon can be on immobile objects (say, your bones or joints when a limb is immobilized during surgery). If you work on something like embroidery with your own hands it's hard to get things exactly where you want them and magnification of your view can only help so much. Consider in contrast working on an image in a program like Photoshop where you can magnify the image on screen, affecting not only your view but also the size of mouse movements required to draw a given line. These surgical assists must work a lot like a zoom function, where not only can the doctor enlarge the view of what they're looking at but also translate gross hand motions into tiny robot motions.

Another cool thing is the ability of the robot/camera system to compensate for motion far faster than a human can. In theory (I don't know if da Vinci does this yet but there are hints it does), the surgeon can select a recognizable feature inside the patient and instruct the system to compensate for motion. Then the surgeon would see a steady image from the camera, but also the robot arm performing some action would compensate for the motion with the same algorithm, also compensating for the surgeon's tremor.

The literature describes more benefits: the ability to work through much smaller holes in your outer skin (under one inch rather than 8-10 inches), which has just got to be an improvement. The claim that they can cut recovery time from 12 weeks to a day or so is an incredible deal in reduced hospital costs (decreasing surgery time, reducing hospital bed and medication usage during recovery). Since each day in a hospital costs so much, it seems easy to imagine saving 10,000 per surgery (that's only a couple weeks of hospital recovery, I estimate). Thus in 100 surgeries, possibly under one year, the machine pays for itself.

FDA approval for some types of surgery happened in 2000, and today according to the radio ad these systems are available in my area, so they're not just research any more and I'm behind the times already. I know this is gushing, but I love technology like this.

Friday, September 26, 2003

There's an odd article on defending a liberty that few care to defend these days, the right not to associate.
Suppose a beautiful woman wants to date me, but I don't want to date her. It might be for a good reason, bad reason or no reason at all. Should I be free not to deal with her? Similarly, you might want to come to my party or enroll your children in my private school, but I don't want to deal with you. My refusal might be for any arbitrary reason, including your race, sex or religion, or because I don't like your looks. Should the government force us to associate with those we wish not to associate?

The article is all about the slippery slope, which is a fine thing to point out, although the presence of a slippery slope doesn't mean we shouldn't draw a line somewhere. I'm more annoyed by the articles' refusal to take a stand, instead it slides you down the slippery slope with questions then insinuates an answer based on consistency arguments.
Isn't there a general principle here? Namely, that if one cherishes freedom of association, is there a logically consistent argument for permitting it in some areas of our lives and not in others? ... The bottom line is that the true test of one's commitment to freedom of association doesn't come when he allows people to associate in ways he deems acceptable. The true test comes when he's willing to permit others to associate in ways he deems grossly offensive.

(Note that the author does entirely defend laws against discrimination in publicly-financed activities -- this point was lost on me in my first reading).

Anyway, this part reminded me of a plan of my Mom's from way, way back:

Today, most Americans would be offended by any law that banned blacks and whites from playing tennis together or marrying one another. Wouldn't it be just as offensive were there a law requiring blacks and whites to play tennis together or marry one another?
My Mom suggested when I was writing a high school paper on some history or social science topic, that the government should reduce racism by offering a miscegenation bonus, possibly linked to the number of mixed-race babies produced. Marriage and reproduction are already part of the government program in any country that taxes married couples less (or more) than the same two individuals because of their legal status, and in every country that has a baby bonus as part of its tax program. Historically, these programs have had a significant measurable effect on peoples' behavior. When Lower Canada decided to improve its economy and political weight by becoming more populous, it did so in part by offering a generous new baby bounty program but only if the children did not become priests or nuns (presumably this political weight therefore came partly at the expense of the Roman Catholic Church). This program coupled with catholic birth control practices (i.e. none) led to families routinely of sizes from eight to fourteen children. Likewise, a miscegenation bounty would hasten the day when we're all kind of coffee-coloured and one-sixteenth of everything you can think of.
The jobless recovery has been in the news a great deal lately. I've been thinking about how this relates to my industry, software/computers. Part of the blame for the job losses is attributed to this industry because the astounding productivity gains (annual rate of 6.8%) come in part from much improved communication and publishing software. It's hard to put a finger on exactly what is improving productivity, but clearly tools allowing virtual meetings on the Web cut down on travel, and the still-spreading use of the Web to allow people to do paperless and people-less paperwork (like my latest car license renewal online) must be making a difference.

Ironically, the software/computer industry is suffering from the jobless recovery too. Although I don't know many peers currently out of jobs, it's not as easy to find a job as it was during the boom, even though (anecdotally) quite a few peers seem to have left the industry to return to school or to jobs in other fields. You'd think that if companies were buying software products to fuel their productivity improvements, then the software business would recover quickly from the bust and be hiring again by now (this may soon happen in telecoms). On the other hand, perhaps the productivity improvements affect this field more than any other (techies are more likely to be able to use Web sites to complete paperwork, and more likely to be able to use videoconferencing to reduce travel). And the current attitude of economists seems to be that job recoveries will usually lag economic growth: "Companies lag in rehiring laid-off workers or in hiring new workers until they see concrete, undeniable evidence that their own businesses are growing." (ref).

Are there any other factors? I've been looking for evidence to either prove or disprove my hypothesis: that techie salaries rocketed too high during the boom. Companies hired at unsustainable salaries, compared to the benefits these programmers were generating. Now, due to a ratcheting effect, salaries have not yet dropped to a reasonable level. If salary expectations dropped some, perhaps we'd see a more vigorous job market for techies again. That would require that the demand for techies is elastic with respect to salary, so one of the things I'm looking at is whether anybody has looked at labour elasticity for the tech labour market. Pointers from readers are welcome, or stay tuned for more posts on this subject.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

I've been watching Charmed reruns in the past few months. It's not on as much as Law & Order, but it's on often enough that I've sampled all the seasons, those with Shannen Doherty (ugh) and then those with her replacement, Rose McGowan (yay!). Alyssa Milano has been there the whole run, and she's OK -- she generally plays a hassled but kick-ass young career woman. Her character, Phoebe, gets to be childish at times, outlandish at times, independent at times, and then finish off an episode with leaping karate kicks to incapacitate a demon so they can then vanquish him (well, almost always the evil guy is "him"). Cool. I like her even if her fashion taste seems a bit questionable at times.

Holly Marie Combs has also been there the whole life of the show: initially as the middle witch sister, then when Shannon's character was killed off, as the eldest living witch sister. Her character Piper is "earthy", the one who cooks food and nags her more footloose sisters to wear a sweater. She runs a club with cool music, which is supposed to make her character cool, but since she's often whining about problems at the club, it doesn't in fact make her seem cool and hip. She frets about her boyfriends or her husband, or her pregnancy, or her baby (depending on where you are in the long story arc) with the same whiny tone. In short, she's often a bitch, and she's rarely cute (like Alyssa/Phoebe) or funny (like Rose/Paige). Ekr frequently points out how nagging and demanding she is of her husband and how unsympathetic she is.

So I have two questions after thinking about this show, its writing, and its appeal to me. (1) Why, if Holly Marie Combs is the producer, and her character sometimes gets the "plum" parts in an episode (like being temporarily the nature goddess in last season's finale), is her character allowed to come across as a bitch? Is this an unremediable impression whenever HMC acts? (2) Why do I care about her character anyway? My hypothesis is that it's an endearing character flaw, to women, at least. She frets and worries and cares about the people around her even as she whines and complains and nags and demands. So maybe we understand that worry sometimes brings out the worst nag in all of us. I know it's not just me, although you find people obsessed with just about any major TV female character.

Friday, September 19, 2003

I've heard both sides of the arguments on minimum wage, many, many times. How about some actual numbers?
During the 1990-1991 wage increases - of those who earned between the old and the new minimum $3.35 and $4.25 only 22% lived in poor families. All told including no or small employment effects [reduced employment due to higher wages] only 19% of earnings increases went to poor families, mostly going to workers in non-poor families. Seems like a blunt instrument to fight poverty (ref)
Now, you might think it's OK that it's such a blunt instrument. The legislation does put some money in the pockets of the poor. The wasted money goes to the non-poor (probably teenage children or other dependents in non-poor families). The cost of the program is hard to say but it is highly likely to involve both loss of some jobs (both for the poor and for non-poor working near the minimum wage), and in higher product prices (which may affect poor or non-poor). However it becomes harder to justify the costs of the program since so many of the possible benefits of the program are wasted.

Another rationalization would be to say that the raise in wages to the non-poor working near minimum wage is still a real benefit. Still, it's worth considering whether that benefit is worth the cost. Personally, I prefer programs that help the poor but also have very low waste and market distortions. A tax credit only for the poor would probably fit that description.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

For knitters, I've got new pics up of koolaid-dyed wool and some new knitting projects. For WebDAV afficionados, I just uploaded pictures from this weeks' interop event at UCSC. For everybody else, let's see... here's something. The Verisign move to direct you to advertising pages for unregistered domain names is causing a bit of a furor. Some random guy (a Melbourne IT consultant) said in response:
It's certainly a very self-serving move, and a body such as VeriSign should have followed the accepted process for peer-review, perhaps in conjunction with an IETF working group.
Yeah, I don't think so. The IETF is a technical body and very poor at non-technical decision making. We have a hard enough problem doing IM protocols and getting AOL to participate -- even harder to do political/commercial work and get Verisign to participate. Any other suggestions, or does international society just not have a way to deal with this? I guess under US law it might be anti-competitive. However, there are completely non-legislative, non-discussion-based and yet still consensus-oriented ways to deal with this. A smarter sysadmin said
Developers were likely to respond by patching the software for DNS services ... so that false results pointing at VeriSign's servers were discarded.
This I agree with. (quotes from Sydney Morning Herald, link via Ditherati.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

I have to admire Scott McNealy for expressing such strong support for strong competition in this interview.
Market discipline is very aggressive, very strong and very precise in who it clobbers -- those who don't perform. There's only one blemish in capitalism and that is when market discipline is lost to a monopolist.
Still, he wants the law to help him against his major competitor, so it's a convenient position in his case. The interviewer rubs this in a little, saying "You talked about the beauty of the Darwinian marketplace and right now the market is beating you up. " It's a fairly interesting interview ranging from technology execution and vision through stock prices to the recall election. Although why it matters what Scott McNealy thinks of the recall election, I don't know. My favourite bit is his answer on employing programmers:
Q: I'm wondering who's going to employ all the American workers.

A: You sound like a piano player in the old days when there were 35,000 piano players playing in the front of every movie theater when they had silent movies. You're saying, "Who's going to employ all of us now that they have sound embedded in the films?"

Gang, we've got brains. There'll be lots to do.

Monday, September 15, 2003

I admit I have not been following free trade negotiations very closely lately, but I had thought that the negotiations would fail because US/EU would be unwilling to reduce their subsidies and tariffs on agriculture at the behest of the poorer countries. I didn't think it would be the other way around because the poorer countries suffer more from first-world tariffs and barriers than even from their own. However, I'm guessing that there are a couple really bad but powerful reasons why poor countries are keeping their tariffs and subsidies:
  • to show a tough negotiating position at the WTO, not to seem like the first world is pushing around the third world
  • to keep around their own popular tariffs and barriers, which benefit only special interest groups, but are politically popular

I'm basing this analysis on columns by Richard Tren in Tech Central Station and Ron Bailey in Reason, and Alan Wheatley (Reuters via Forbes) who calls it a "pyrrhic victory". (Coverage is divided though -- Globe and Mail writer Steven Chase puts the blame on rich countries, calling their concessions "timid cuts", and Lori Wallach blamed the rich countries for insisting on their own agenda). Some say the EU showed remarkable willingness to liberalize agricultural trade but never even got to the negotiating table.

This is sad, but the saddest thing is that we shouldn't even need to negotiate to liberalize trade. If the EU would liberalize its own agricultural trade practices, unilaterally, overall EU participants would benefit. If any poor country were to liberalize its own agricultural trade practices unilaterally it would benefit. Yet each group demands the other back down first. This is an example of "I'm going to continue hurting myself until you stop hurting yourself!" And the poor-country negotiators believe this to be a strong position, one that shows how they can win at the WTO. I don't see how good can come of this. High status as a tough negotiator is not worth several more years of increased poverty.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Wow, I'm prescient! Or at least a mind reader. From a TCS article:
The Europeans [delegates at WTO Cancun] have happened upon a simple solution. Rather than supporting prices for agricultural products and inducing overproduction, they propose to just give farmers the money at least for some of their spending.

Kevin Hasset explains the whole logic better than I did.
A pro-free-market group CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) pokes pointed fun at Greenpeace, EU and the Malaysia-based Pesticide Action Network, in a mock award ceremony for promoting and ensuring lasting poverty.
  • Greenpeace's award was for opposing any technology and economic development that could improve the lives of the poor. This is not the first time Greenpeace has received an award for this.
  • EU's award was for laws, tariffs and subsidies that prevent poor countries from trading in the global market.
  • PAN's award was for opposing the pesticides and biotech that could provide more food for poor people in their own region.
I'm sorry they missed the US in their awards list, I don't know if it's an equal offender with the EU on everything, but I think it is on agriculture at least (see previous rants). Another free-market stunt:
" is planning to sell soft drinks to protesters on Saturday that will feature two prices for the same drink - a cheaper 'Free trade' price and a more expensive 'fair trade' price."

Thursday, September 11, 2003

More ranting inspired by WTO Cancun. From Reuters:
"If we are going to tell our farmers to cut their subsidies, we are going to need to bring something else back to the table," deputy U.S. Trade Representative Josette Shiner told journalists.

That's just not true. Farmers would be happy enough if the same dollar amount that currently goes into subsidies simply went straight into their pockets, instead. It would be less paperwork for them and they might still be able to grow some crop (perhaps the same one, perhaps different) that they can sell on the world market without the crutch of a subsidy and further enhance their revenue. Replace the subsidy with a handout of equal value and call it a "Post-agricultural welfare cheque". Continue writing the cheques yearly for life, to individuals, or for 10 years, to companies. Then they're gone and in the meantime the rest of the world has a chance to grow cotton or beans and make a living.
From a National Post article on WTO Cancun:
The U.S. government spends US$3.6-billion a year on its 25,000 cotton farmers, depressing the world price to the point the African countries cannot export their main crop at a profit."

I calculate that's $144,000 per cotton farmer per year. That's quite a bit more than I make. It's also 320 times the average per-person GDP of $450/year in sub-Saharan Africa (according to this Reason article also on WTO Cancun). So if the US removed its cotton subsidy and gave it directly to sub-saharan Africans instead, it could double the yearly product of 8 million Africans. Or if only the US removed its cotton subsidy and instead paid its cotton farmers the same amount regardless of what they did, then the price of cotton would not be distorted and African cotton farmers might have a chance on the world market and enrich themselves with no help from us. It's insane what we do to hurt poor people in other countries.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

I don't have much to say lately, and I don't really know why, either. I'm busy but that can't be all. I'm not completely single minded, however: I did dye some fabric on labour day.

More images and info here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

I have gathered my crafts pics together in two stand-alone pages, one with knitted stuff and one with everything else. I also finally took pictures of many things made before I had a digital camera but hadn't given away, so there's plenty of new old stuff.

Friday, August 15, 2003

I have real problems with Cella's TCS article on the prescience of Chesterton's and Belloc's views of Islam. His views are carefully couched to seem inoffensive but the more I reread the article the more deeply I disagree.

First, Chesterton and Belloc allegedly did "not delude themselves that all other peoples are just bourgeois Westerners in costumes." Although this sounds good, in fact Cella doesn't make the point that Muslims aren't the same as bourgeois Westerners in the important respects. Don't we on average enjoy the comforts of life much the same? You find sects and individuals rejecting bourgeois values throughout the world -- Mennonites in South Ontario, for example. And, you find astute traders and practitioners of commerce (bourgeois) throughout the world, too. Cella's argument is that the Muslim population cannot be understood as having the same motivations as Westerners, but this argument will lead to a greater rift and distance rather than greater understanding.

Next, Cella argues that our modern values of tolerance and plurality are "bluster" and "narrow". I don't think that's right. Although I agree that tolerance can harmfully take the place of judgement -- I don't tolerate a murderer, for example, I judge him -- I still think that tolerance is a virtue. It also seems pretty obvious to me that our increased modern tolerance is more than simply bluster, and that it isn't very narrow either. (It also seems self-contradictory to both argue that our "bluster about tolerance" is narrow and also argue that our tolerance goes too far.)

I won't go through the whole article looking for these kinds of things but finish by pointing out what first started to make me feel uncomfortable. Cella's basic point of admiration for Chesterton and Belloc is that they felt the heresy of Islam was dangerous. This is, as Cella admits, a deeply unmodern viewpoint and I'd prefer it stay that way. Chesterton and Belloc wouldn't have considered Ireland's Catholic Church as heretical, yet that didn't stop it from imprisoning young women and profiting from their labour as recently as the 1980s, as portrayed in The Magdalene Sisters.

Perhaps we do need to take into account the power of faith in driving people to suicide bombings and enslavement of others. However, we do not need to approve, nor does it help for some of faith to accuse others of heresy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Brian Micklethwait thinks the way I do, or perhaps to be more modest I strive to think the way he apparently does in this long blog entry on lawyers. I know so many people who view the actions of the other side (whether that other side is Al Qaeda or the Republicans, it doesn't matter) to evil intent and conspiracies. Instead, as Brian points out, "It's the good people you have to really look out for, if only because they are so much more numerous, and so much more persuasive." In order to understand all sorts of odd or even bad human actions you have to take into account sloppy thinking, sloppy execution, blinkered vision and mere accidents, far more often than conspiracy or a stand-alone desire to harm other people.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Jacob Levy wrote this on the Volokh Conpiracy yesterday:
It's hard to devote as much attention, as constantly, as is warranted to the issue of rich-country agricultural subsidies and protectionism.
Yet he does a good start making up for this with the directness of his explanations:
The policies... destroy an appalling amount of wealth and potential wealth in the developing world.
I agree wholeheartedly; it's hard to devote as much attention to this as it deserves, because nothing ever gets changed. You can't even get people to argue with you about this. You can foam at the mouth and rant that US corporate agro-business is stealing bread from the mouths of the poor in third-world countries, and even the softest-hearted left-winger shrugs and says "Yeah, but what can you do about subsidies for farmers..." Why is there so little upset over this? To me it seems more obviously unfair and more destructive than potentially invading a third-world country. At least if you get invaded by the US you get a fair chance of getting a reduction in tariffs from the US, but of course those agricultural subsidies and textile protections are still there.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

This article comparing Rush Limbaugh to bloggers really annoys me. I wouldn't post if I simply thought the author Dr. David Hill were wrong in his conclusion, but I find his arguments deeply stupid. For example:
Rush is almost always armed for his shows with reams of data and analysis from a wide variety of news and information sources. [...] By comparison, many bloggers’ preparations for their stream-of-consciousness commentaries seem limited to reading the ruminations of other bloggers and scanning Internet news.
This quote illustrates the first time where Dr. Hill compares the most successful talk-radio host ever to an unnamed cohort of "stream-of-consciousness" bloggers. Sure, some bloggers don't prepare before they blog. I'm sure some unsuccessful radio hosts don't, either. Dr. Hill does the same thing comparing Rush Limbaugh's production technique to the Web designs of "most bloggers... Few seem to care about the principles of effective Web design. Some even seem to consider the primitive style of their blogs a badge of honor. " And some have incredibly good Web design despite the Web's serious usability drawbacks.

He does it a third time: "Some bloggers use humor effectively to punctuate their commentaries; few exhibit Limbaugh’s comedic skill, timing and wit. " Well if a few bloggers do exhibit Limbaugh's comedic skill, timing (on a blog?) and wit, then isn't it possible that bloggers overall are comparable to talk-show radio speakers overall?

Then the howler: "Fourth, Limbaugh builds bonds with his audience. He provides enough details about his personal life that loyal listeners know something about his parents, brother, wife..." Ok, enough. This guy clearly doesn't know what he's talking about. We've even seen pictures of the Instawife and we know the day-to-day progress of Lilek's darling Gnat.

Dr. Hill concludes with "The bloggers have a lot of work to do to catch up with or surpass Limbaugh’s excellence in broadcasting and political communications." First, this conclusion but also the whole piece makes me wonder if Dr. Hill didn't get the article written for him by a Limbaugh publicist, it has that kind of all-positive feel. But with respect to the content of the conclusion: Although "broadcasting" isn't exactly what bloggers do -- it's more like publishing -- give them a few years. After all, Rush, and talk radio as a whole, has had a bit of a head start.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Which of these domain names links to a porn site, and which links to a blog?

Click here to find out safely.
I'll have to learn not to do this: When I'm jetlagged and have a cold, don't ignore the dizziness and blackouts that I periodically experience when I stand up quickly. This is what happens when you faint and hit the floor chin-first.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Good Experience had a recent column on the bad Web sites designed by large organizations. Readers responded agreeing and pointing out that it's not just Web sites. The discussion reminded me of Microsoft, where it seemed that the hierarchical distance (follow up the management chain and back down again, counting people as you go) between two teams was a huge factor to determine how well those two teams worked together. Physical distance was also clearly a factor but it wasn't enough to be in the same building if you didn't have the same management.

Take Office, for example, where it's a benefit to users (particularly a user who knows Word but doesn't know Excel so well) when the Office programs share many of the same controls, idioms, shortcuts and functions. Before the days of Outlook, Office users were very frustrated because the Exchange email client didn't feel like an Office application. The reason for that was clearly that the managers of the Exchange email client weren't the same as the managers of Office, so the teams couldn't work together and share ideas effectively.

In that case the problem was solved because Outlook was developed as a rival client by people much more closely tied into the Office software group management. Only that codebase developed different problems over time -- Outlook didn't work as seamlessly with the Exchange server, causing disruptions that frustrated users in different ways. Clearly this was because the Outlook managers had only distant links to the Exchange server management.

When Microsoft actively deals with this it's often through reorganizations. Clients are thrown together with clients in one reorg, regardless of the functionality. Then in a later reorg groups are made along functional lines, e.g. with Web technology in one area including both client and server. Each reorg causes huge disruptions and has high costs but eventually leads to better integration among the groups working closely together. The inherent problem of large organizations is that you can't have 40000 people working closely together. You must draw lines, only wherever you draw lines you are bound to create chasms.

In the email server group we heard reports of this problem from large companies who were customers. One customer quoted the figure of 70 feet -- the distance over which you couldn't work effectively with somebody else, the point in the graph where the efficiency most sharply degrades (although it continues to degrade as you increase distance, from one city to another, and again from one timezone to another). Of course our customers were looking to email technology as one way to address this problem but it was ironic that in developing this technological aid we were subject to the exact same problem.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Ahh, the pleasures of catching up on others' blogs: a sustained does of new (to me) Cosh posts. This made me splurt in laughter:
Newsday's Ellis Henican writes "This was an idea so patently gruesome and spectacularly stupid, when I first heard it I thought it had to be a hoax." I felt the same way when I heard there were newspaper columnists who heard new ideas and were incapable of forming any impression of them beyond their instinctual reaction. Hey, if I want to see a dumb animal recoil from a stimulus, I won't buy a newspaper--I'll throw firecrackers at my cat!
I concur in being unimpressed by peoples initial gut reactions, although it has become a philosophy unto itself in the hands of Leon Kass as "the Wisdom of Repugnance" and also to Friends of the Earth: I think people have an inherent gut level response to wanting to protect the natural environment, and I think that people have an inherent gut level reaction against genetic modification of people, plants and animals (Larry Bohlen, quoted by Mark Mooney).

Counting on one's reflexive reaction can be just plain wrong. Hmmm, here's a link to something that's been bothering me all week: my interactions with the black male population in Vienna. Travelling around Vienna alone for a week, obviously a tourist, I had several interactions with black male Austrians. It started with the guy on a bench in the park calling out to me about how I was, then what I might be interested in doing. It culminated with the one who stood too close to me on the escalator and noticed I was reading in English, then proceeded to ask many questions about where I was staying in Vienna and wouldn't I be interested in staying with or near him. While I didn't feel endangered and have no difficulty saying "I'm not going to answer that question" and "No, thank-you, good-bye now" I did start to feel my overall politeness wearing thin as I had to turn impolite in order to get rid of each of these importuners. My gut reaction on catching the eye of the black guy at the airport hotel would therefore have been to prepare myself to ignore him, not to hear him, or to move away so he didn't have a chance to say anything. However I'm glad I didn't trust my gut reaction, I forced myself to remain open minded. He politely asked which way the elevator was and politely told me how nice my skirt was, and then politely allowed the converation to end rather than attempt to force it to continue. How nice he was, and how wrong my gut reaction would have been.

I'm catching up on blog reading, and there's a lot about outsourcing increasingly high-paying jobs (here and here to get started). I know something about this. I'm an imported worker myself (thus my visa problems this past month) because I was a highly qualified, ambitious and skilled (and humble) computer engineer in a country that did not have a great opportunity for me (Canada). Now I work for a company where half the development is done offshore.

I'm not going to say anything definite about outsourcing good/bad. Sometimes outsourcing reduces the cost but also reduces the quality of the product or service, but sometimes it even increases the quality as well as reducing cost. It depends on the situation.

No, what I think is left unsaid in this discussion is that any trend in who is doing what jobs where is not inherently good or bad but just part of a global economy. "What goes around, comes around" one way to put it. I had employment for several years working on email software, thus my job surely contributed to the loss of mailroom jobs all over the world. Now that some of those potential mailroom employees in India and elsewhere are highly trained programmers instead, there's a theoretical risk that I could lose my job to them in return. I'd have to figure out some new way of providing a service or product that consumers are willing to pay me for.

I know this is highly obvious to some, yet it seems to be morally repugnant to others. I've never understood why. If you argue that my job should be protected from outsourcing, surely that also argues that those mailroom jobs should have been procted from email technology even earlier. Many industries *do* have regulations or other artificial barriers impeding the entry of new technology (the classic example is longshoremens unions opposing the introduction of container shipping). But if that email software had been illegal the world over to protect the jobs of mail room employees, then my job would not have existed, and those offshore programmers would not now have a chance to make a much higher salary programming in outsourced projects.

Now all of this has happened in only seven years (since I personally began working in the communication software field). The pace of change is itself frightening. It would take me several years to completely "retool" myself through obtaining a bachelor's degree in a completely new field or a master's degree in a related field. The disruption is painful. People's salaries have a ratchet effect because we come to rely on a high salary rather than treat it as a bonanza which may end, and we make commitments like large mortgages based on temporarily high salaries. I wonder if we'll ever accustom ourselves en masse to a more dynamic career trajectory where a typical person would go through several fields of employment, self-employment, and an income which could go down as well as up in a given period (obviously some adaptable people are already accustomed to that -- anybody who runs their own business, or sales people whose commissions vary widely by quarter).

Anyway, to try to sum up what strikes me about the outsourcing discussion is how quickly we see a situation as a given. We who joined the Silicon Valley boom accepted salaries which doubled in only a few years and moved to some of the most expensive areas in the world. The Times article that seems to have sparked this blog storm says Since [being laid off], Maglione has been able to find only temporary work in his field, taking a pay cut of nearly 30% from his former salary of $77,000. For a family and mortgage, he says, "that doesn't pay the bills." Obviously this is true given his family, his spending habits, and his mortgage. But taking that $77,000 salary for granted doesn't seem far-sighted, especially given that Maglione himself had his job producing software that automated keeping track of insurance agents -- thus reducing the demand for middle managers to keep track of those same agents.

One thing I am sensitive to is that the pace of change can be harsh. However, given how slow it seems for new technology to actually catch on (I've been watching Instant Messaging deployment for six years now and still hear managers complain about it and misunderstand it), I don't think we need many artificial governers to keep the pace down. Besides, those governing agents tend to turn into brakes very easily and they *still* don't work, they just make the change more abrupt when it finally happens. The pace is what it is, and we have to be adaptable.

So I'm in the Munich airport for a seven-hour layover. The good news: it's got wireless access, free during this trial period. The bad news: it has has only about one power outlet per 200 seats, and that outlet may not even be switched on. Oh, and forget about any power outlet being anywhere near any seat. Somehow the lovely fast free wireless makes the power situation seem all the more annoying.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

The Russian restaurant Wladimir, near Westbahnhof (Burgerspitalstrasse 22) is a memorable place to visit in Vienna. It has been so particularly for me, since on July 18 my Mom arrived from Canada, we picked out this restaurant, and invited a few IETF friends to join us -- a lovely way to spend the evening.

If you visit this restaurant, you will want to order what the proprietor tells you to order -- it makes it so much easier. The proprietor is a Russian native from Wladimir, 80 km north of Moscow, who speaks German, Russian and very functional English (who knows what other languages as well). His advice on what and how to order is given rather commandingly (at least in English) but his advice is worth following anyway. He will advise you to start with the Russian salad -- a layered salad with shredded carrots, some marinated fish and other ingredients. We really could not tell all that was in it but we all liked it, the tastes melded and balanced well. After that, if you order Borscht or Varyniki this is OK with him, as long as you all choose the same number of courses. Varyniki are what Ukrainians and Canadians call pyrogies, these are like wontons, but they stand on their own as an entree. When they arrive the proprietor will instruct you how to eat them, whole with the wooden spoon which holds a single varyniki.

You can drink wine or beer, but if you seem to have difficulty choosing the proprietor will instruct you to order Kvas and this is again an excellent choice. It seems to be blackberry cider, sweet and light, and after a few sips the sweetness becomes less noticeable and it's just the light berry flavour you notice. Finally, the proprietor will recommend Wladimir's signature dessert, an almond torte (flat cake) comprised of light thin layers of cake and almond icing, with sugared slivered almonds and whipped cream garniture. I came back tonight because I couldn't manage the dessert last time, and I also tried the kvas and they went fine together.

If you're really lucky, the proprietor will tell you jokes. I didn't get any jokes tonight, just questions about US locations, but we got two jokes two weeks ago.

Joke #1 (a tchok-tchak is apparently a russian equivalent of an Eskimo):

A tchok-tchak and his wife receive some presents. They unpack a framed mirror and hang it on the wall. Then the husband looks in it and calls out, "Wife, wife! Look, my brother is coming!" His wife runs over and looks too. "And that slut with him!" she replies.

Joke #2:

A man from St. Petersburg visits Moscow for the first time. He is splashed by a vehicle on the streets and gets upset, saying "Moscow is bad, bad, bad." A passerby hears him and says "Isn't St. Petersburg the same?"

  The man replies "No, in St. Petersburg the driver would have apologized. He would have taken you home, washed your clothes, and ironed them. He would have invited you to stay the night while your clothes dried, and given you breakfast in bed."

  "Did this really happen to you?" asked the passerby...

  "No, but it happened to my wife three times!"

Monday, July 28, 2003

Here's a few pics - highlights of travel so far.
  • In Venice we happened to catch the Redentore celebration, including fireworks to welcome us the evening we arrived in Lido from the airport via boat. This traditional temporary bridge is created yearly so the faithful can attend special services marking the end of the 1575 plague in a church in an island which is not normally connected to the main Venice islands.

  • In Verona we saw and loved the Castelvecchio. We didn't leave nearly enough time to explore its museum and galleries. Mom and I both loved the heavily updated interior by Scarpa.

  • Bratislava, Slovakia: saw two cute kids who were kind enough to pose beautifully. Wish I had their parents' email address! That's not so farfetched, because...

  • Not only coca-cola, but also broadband Internet has come to Slovakia. This bus was advertising/informing outside the cafe where we had lunch.
I just stumbled across this blog post on the use of the bust of Nefertiti in the Hungarian national pavilion exhibit at the Venice Biennale. The bust was nowhere in sight, only the body missing its head, and a video of how they had been joined and then separated. Although I didn't find the art terribly exciting, it wasn't the worst I'd seen this trip, and it did excite my interest in the bust -- where it came from, was it a real archeological find, where was it displayed. So I see benefits in the exhibit, and I don't see real issues behind either of the complaints -- there was no evidence to support Cronaca's complaint that the bust was put at risk, and absolutely no way to imagine how this defames Egyptian history as the Egyptian Culture Minister claimed.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

I should mention that Internet cafes seem to be lovely places to get a drink, go to the bathroom, get out of the sun for a few minutes. This one is clean, cool, the staff (of one) is helpful and speaks English.
My conference in Vienna two weeks ago was followed by a planned vacation with my Mom in Italy, and now by unplanned vacation as I get my visa situation sorted out. I took a day trip today to Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. The old town is beautiful, full of twisty cobbled streets between old palaces for aristrocratic families. Now the old palaces are either restaurants with outdoor tables and umbrellas, or embassies, art galleries or museums. However there are very few customers in any of these lovely cheap places. What a contrast to Venice where we were sometimes blocked from moving by a mass of bodies in St Marco Piazza. Still we've enjoyed our whole visit so far.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction? Link via Andrew, idea by Tim Shepard.

Friday, July 11, 2003

We bring you this important summer alert on place names in products, thanks to the EU, where names like Parma ham and Parmesan cheese, as well as Champagne and Bordeaux are being avidly protected.

Be particularly careful at picnics this summer. You may not eat hamburgers, franfurters or wieners unless they are actually made in Hamburg, Frankfurt, or Wien (Vienna). You may have hot dogs in buns but only on a normal bun, not a French loaf or Dutch crunch unless the bread comes from France or Holland. If you serve grilled ground beef patties in a bun, that's what you'll have to call it. "Sandwich" is a place in England. You also can't use Salisbury steak.

You can have ketchup and mustard on your hot dog or on your grilled ground beef patties in a bun, but if the mustard is called Dijon it must be made in the Dijon region. Since the French would never produce Mayonnaise mixed with mustard, I'm guessing that Dijonaisse will no longer exist. Not to mention that Mayonnaise must be produced in the obscure Port Mahon on Minorca. Hollandaise and Worcestershire sauce must be imported.

If you want cheese on your burger make sure your cheddar or gouda is imported. Of course if you wish to put american cheese on make sure it is not imported. Monterey Jack cheese must presumably be made in Monterey, California. Camembert, Gruyere, Edam, Brie, Swiss, Gorgonzola (in Italy), Limburger (Belgium), Gruyere (in Switzerland), Havarti (name of a farm) and even mozzarella may even be threatened even though some give the etymology of mozarella as arising from a noun 'to cut'.

Also on the grill: beware Texas BBQ unless you live in Texas. No Buffalo wings outside Buffalo. No turkey anywhere in this country. Since Hoagie is the name of a shipyard where subs were made, bread resembling those subs may not be called a 'hoagie' unless it is made in that shipyard. No Phillie cheesesteaks.

Summer side dishes are fraught with danger, particularly salads like the nicoise. No locally-produced feta cheese, balsamic vinegar, champagne vinegar, parmesan, asiago, romano cheese, romaine lettuce, mesclun, boston lettuce, belgian endive, italian parsley, french or italian dressing. No brussel sprouts. No jalapeno peppers (Jalapa, Mexico), habanero peppers (Havana, Cuba) or scotch bonnets. No Boston beans or Yorkshire puddings or english muffins. Your italian bread and french bread won't be so fresh any more. Of course, since jerusalem artichokes are not a product of Jerusalem but a misspelling of 'girasole' we will have no jerusalem artichokes.

Drinks: Sherry (misspelling of Xeres in Spain), Port, Madeira (an island), Cognac, Mocha (town in Yemen), Amaretto (Saronna, Italy), Marsala (Sicily, Italy), Chianti, Chablis, Champagne, Bordeaux, Angostura (Venezuela), grenadine (Grenada, caribbean) Curacao (Caribbean island). No turkish or greek coffee. I'm not even going to get into mixed drinks like Cuba Libre or irish coffee.

Desserts: No Neapolitan or French vanilla ice cream, no baked Alaska, no Bavarian cream, no Devonshire cream, no creme anglaise, no chantilly cream, no Boston cream pie or Key lime pie. No cantaloupe -- that's a village in France. No Genoise unless it's made in Genoa. No Nanaimo bars unless they're made in Nanaimo, BC, Canada.

Orange county is applying for the naming rights to the fruit, as well as the drink and anything of the colour.

Thousand Island and Black Forest names may be disputed by more than one claimant.

Note that derivative place names may be threatened. After all, any tourist traffic to Venice Beach clearly threatens the touristic value of the real Venice. Expect upheaval if these places must be renamed: New York, London Ontario, Paris Ontario, Paris Texas, Rome Georgia, Athens Georgia.

What is still quite unclear are non-comestible products, items or activities. Denim may only be made in Nimes, France. We'll keep you posted on Chinese checkers, Roman candles and French braids. Of course, the French themselves will have to think of a new name instead of "tresses africaines".

With help of and

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

I have more finished knitted items to display. It's been a good week for finally finishing things (though many projects remain in many stages of incompleteness) and for photographing them.

This is another in the set of shawls that was woven on the same warp, but this time the weft is a jade green rather than mushroom beige. I liked the shawl much more after it was done but I didn't leave enough warp ends for a satisfying built-in fringe so I looked around for other treatments for the ends, where I had to cut across the warp threads. I found an article in issue 104 of Handwoven by Kim Marie Bunke with a beaded fringe of similar type -- a set of dangly columns of seed beads, terminating in a large bead. In Bunke's shawl the large bead was a leaf shape, but I chose new jade beads which matched the colour of the shawl perfectly. The beads are a little noisy clinking against each other (maybe I should have made the columns of seed beads staggered lengths to minimize that) but even the sound makes me happy. BTW the fiber is Zephyr Wool-Merino.
shawl -- closeup

My next item I recently reknit the collar (so I wouldn't bend my glasses putting it on) and I think I'm satisfied now although I may redo the waist someday as it's really too bulky. This started as beautiful possum yarn which my SO brought back from New Zealand for me (without prompting!). It feels lovely, warm and thick. I swatched it up a bit and realized it would make terrific cables because the nature of the yarn makes very well-defined cables -- they pop out in relief with strong shadows. Somehow the yarn fuzziness even seems to make the cables even better defined, rather than obscuring the pattern. So I looked around for any aran pattern in the right gauge, and the closest I could find among the books/magazines I owned was a Balmoral Tweed pattern by Kim Hargreaves in The Kim Hargreaves Collection. I modified the pattern several ways:

  • by omitting some of the side patterns to make it less wide (fewer stitches across)
  • by doing a simple short collar rather than a roll or turtleneck collar
  • by doing plain cast-on sleeve cuffs immediately into the cable pattern, no rib cuff
  • by doing a fold-up edge at the bottom waist of the sweater, which I may later take off as it's too bulky.
The inset in the image below is from a fuzzy image I took without flash, because I thought the flash made the yarn look greyer than it really is.

Monday, July 07, 2003

More info on the Iranian siamese twins. Iranian doctors also refused to operate, and this time the reasons were clear: "According to local laws, a surgery with possible fatal result could be considered as homicide and the surgeon could therefore be arrested on such charges".
I've been thinking about this wierd situation all weekend, ever since I heard a brief NPR bit on it. 29-year-old Iranian sisters, siamese twins joined at the side of their heads, want an operation to separate them. They are now getting that operation (in fact, it may even be proceeding as I write this). Ananova seems to be posting on this frequently (search on singapore iranian siamese twins, for example).

One interesting aspect is that "German doctors refused to operate". "German doctors told the twins in 1996 that the shared vein, which drains blood from their brains, made surgery too dangerous". I'm curious about that. How many doctors refused? Did they refuse because of personal reasons (I can easily imagine not wanting to perform an operation that carried such a risk of killing the patients, out of concern for my own mental health). Or did they refuse because they felt that the sisters, otherwise healthy if unhappy, should not choose to undergo such a risky operation? Did the doctors' refusal have anything to do with their being German, by which I mean are there national laws about what risks may be taken in surgery? Where does a surgeon draw the line? I assume most surgeons would refuse to perform trepanation. I bet most people would disapprove of a surgeon who did agree to perform trepanations. This situation has some eery similarities.

I hate to think of what the womens' life is like. "After a lifetime of compromises on everything from when to wake up each day to what city to live in, the pair have decided they would rather risk death - or being left brain dead - than go on living joined together." They're both lawyers. Of course they would have to have the same degree from the same school. How did they pick law? I hope they both liked it! Now they are "very keen" on the separation so they can pursue ambitions in separate cities in Iran. Best of luck to Ladan and Laleh.

Friday, July 04, 2003

I found the magazine with the pattern for the "Orenberg Lace Triangle" I knitted, in the summer 2000 issue of Interweave, in white. It was supposed to be 42" along a side only mine is 66" due to the larger gauge. Why do I always have a larger gauge than others do, even with the same wool (even though that wasn't the case with the shawl)? Anyway I've gotten used to adjusting patterns as I go for my gauge.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

I have been making shawls lately. I don't wear them with great frequency, but I love them, and when I do wear them I enjoy it. The black one in this image is knit from a magazine pattern based on Orenberg lace, Interweave I think but I can't find the issue right now. The beige one is woven from a pattern in "A Handweaver's Pattern Book" with my own design for the borders.

Both shawls, and detail of the lace and the fringed corner.

Friday, June 27, 2003

I'm published again, another WebDAV article, this time in an email newsletter called DM Direct. I had help though - Scott helped rewrite it and Quinn managed the process (thanks!)

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

One of the nice things about growing up Canadian is that in addition to American culture we also had Canadian culture available. This wasn't necessarily true the other way around.

More ways to know if you're Canadian.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

I may not be a crank, but I'm certainly a geek. I put this together today after some Web surfing:
The English language teams with homophones. Although orally the same (yew cant here a difference), these pears of words halve discreet spellings. These duel-purpose words are a valuable cash of subtle variations to say exactly watt wee mien. Why should we mints words, or make English moor baron, when we can yews thee most precise whirred ware we knead it?

Many homophones are plane, route words from Old English. However, many more currant words are baste on foreign words or holey imported from other languages. Sum were originally alternate spellings witch became unique words over the aegis. Each word adze to the weighs wee can chews to express ourselves, and aides inn specificity. On the other hand, if you altar the spelling of a word so that it is now spelled the same as an existing word, the reader loses valuable clews and mite confuse its meaning.

Has this become a dyer problem, a sine of undo ignorants, or is it just a faze? It's hard to gage. I sea a grater incidents of these airs online, for instants on message boreds, web sights and in electronic male. It's knot a meer laps in spelling skills, though poor spelling may be the corps caws. Our dependents on spell checkers works four most spelling issues and even helps with use of capitol letters and the mane points of grammar butt we mussed learn homophone spelling ourselves.

I've even scene college graduates spell homophones wrong with offal frequency, which doesn't seam to bowed well four are complaisant English educators. The thyme is passed for patients. We knead to insure students are taut these words in the coarse of there English lessens, starting with grayed won. It's callus and crewel to leave the student to the booze of rued critics, embarrassed buy miner problems.

If eye may bee sew bowled, ide like to ask, pleas he'd yore spelling when you ewes homophones. You will urn my gratitude at leased. I weight with baited breath.

This essay contains 100 misused homophones. Inspired by Marilyn Bogusch Pryle's article, with reference to an online list of homophones.
I'm not the only one particularly enraged with peek/peak/pique. See, Ekr, I'm not a crank.
I'm sorry, I have to say this. I'm sure you would never make this error, but I've seen it made. It really drives me nuts when people write something like "The interpersonal drama in issue 37 really peaked my interest".
  • I'm sure most people know what 'to peek' means -- to look furtively, to peer through a crack or a hole. "He peeked curiously through the shades." Thankfully, I rarely see "this really peeked my interest" -- and if I do see that I assume it's simply a spelling mistake or typo, not an indicator of sloppy English thinking.

  • We also usually know what 'peak' means as a noun. As a verb, it is related: it means to reach a maximum. So why isn't it right to say that "the interpersonal drama peaked your interest"? Because the verb 'peaked' doesn't take an object. This sentence would be complete as "The interpersonal drama peaked." Or to be clearer, "In issue 37, the interpersonal drama peaked." Got it? It's the subject of the sentence that reaches its peak, not the object. The phrase "peaked my interest" tacks an object onto a verb that doesn't take an object and is meaningless. Worse, it causes confusion. As a reader, I can't tell if your interest was aroused and may have grown after issue 37, or if your interest was at a maximum in issue 37 and declined thereafter. It's an important difference.

  • The word we need here is "pique". It means to prick, to arouse, to excite (among other things). This verb takes a subject, the "interpersonal drama" for example, which is pricking, arousing, exciting something. What is the interpersonal drama piquing? It's piquing one's interest -- the object of the verb. So the correct sentence is "The interpersonal drama really piqued my interest." Sadly, this meaning seems to only be used in the context of interest or curiousity. I did look around and find that one's prospects can be piqued by a change in the situation, and one's career can be piqued by a trip abroad.

  • What if you really do mean to say that your interest reached a maximum? Just make your interest the subject of the sentence. For example, you could say "My interest peaked when the interpersonal drama intensified in issue 37." Just remember that implies the maximum, that after issue 37 your interest declined. That's because 'peaked' also means to dwindle away. If you mean that your interest began to grow after issue 37, then you must use 'pique'.

  • Another interesting meaning of 'piqued' is annoyed. When a person is 'piqued', we can tell what the word means in this context because the subject is a person, not a quality which can increase or decline or be aroused. But you'd better not say "I was piqued by the interpersonal drama in issue 37" unless you mean that it annoyed you.

This matters to me because English (or any other language, for that matter) is full of subtlety. "Pique" implies either aroused or annoyed, and "peak" (as a verb) means maximized, and the language is richer for having all these meanings. We can communicate with each other more effectively if we understand and make use of these subtleties. Language is already ambiguous enough without choosing the wrong spelling.

Definitions taken from Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.

Update: With sophisticated understanding of word meaning, we can have fun. The article about a man's career piqued by a visit to the Spice Islands is a cute pun because it makes me think of 'piquant' which means 'spicy'. A poem with the title "Piqued" could have three meanings. Is the poem about somebody who is annoyed? Or is it about somebody who is aroused? Without either a subject or an object in the title, the meaning is left ambiguous. Perhaps it's even a homonymic reference to 'peaked' as well, since the poem says "I was once a strong man... the clock has kept on ticking, ticking | and, I cannot stall the decline of me." Well that's a good example of somebody who has peaked. Whether or not the author intended all meanings in the title I can enjoy the wordplay. Or look at this quilt, which uses peaked points (a specific technique in quilting which creates triangles like peaks) but the quilt is named "Piqued", a reference perhaps to emotions either inspired by or having inspired this quilt. And this work is just beautiful -- I've never seen a poetic work that was created simply by highlight certain meanings from two words a dictionary and using those two words together in a bittersweetly ambiguous phrase.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

The Agitator posts on why he's leaning more to the left these days. Among other things:
But I think my growing sympathy for the left grows largely from my belief that the right right now poses a greater threat to freedom than the left. Since I discovered my libertarianism, I've always justified my votes for Republicans on the grounds that I thought there was less chance of a worst-case Republican scenario coming to fruition than a worst-case Democrat scenario. That is, I thought there was a greater likelihood that our economy would degenerate into European socialism than that we'd become a police state, or an almost-theocracy. I still don't think the latter has much chance of happening, but the former certainly does, if it hasn't started to already.
He may be right, but I'm not sure there's a whole lot of evidence for that. I at least am not hearing anything from the Democratic party these days. So it's easy to see concrete actions by Republicans or Republican-directed offices and see the limitations on freedom, then a combination of wishful thinking and criticism from Democrats leads one to feel that Democrats don't limit freedom as much.

On much of the rest I agree -- the Patriot act is scary, an increasing number of crimes are being federalized, etc, and I don't like any of that.

Friday, June 20, 2003

It's always been difficult to identify the real loonies. Now cell phone headsets are so innocuous you might not be able to see them. Somebody with long dark hair and a dark shirt or coat might seem to be talking to themselves, but if you look real closely you might see the thin black wire dangling from their ear to a clip on their front before disappearing into a pocket. But who knows if it's really on? Maybe he is just talking to himself. Dummy cell-phone headsets would give the San Francisco street schizos a whole new credibility.
Ahh, the good ol' days (ref):
One time, a group of us were standing around in the atrium of ArsDigita HQ, and Philip was holding court. (As you may know, Philip is a talented public speaker with an exceptional ability to entertain an audience.) This time, Philip was describing how cool it would be to have a koi pond suspended from the ceiling of the atrium, so you could see the fish swimming from beneath and from all sides. Brian Stein replied, "You know what would be even better? A solid-gold trash can, burning cash 24/7." I don't think we would have laughed so long and hard if Brian had not struck a chord.
To be honest, I don't think I directly experienced those particular good ol' days. Working at Microsoft in 1996-1999 was fine, but it was also in this period that the famous "shrimp vs. weenies" phrase was in common use (possibly originated by Mike Murray in 1993-94, ref). Then joining a startup in 2000, just as the boom was crashing down, getting a minimal amount of VC funding in the nick of time a year later, there's obviously not a lot of money to throw around in those circumstances. I've travelled around the world on computer industry business but stayed in a Hilton or equivalent luxury hotel only once, and flown first-class only once (on Microsoft's tab, due to somebody else's reservation, and I hear he got in trouble for providing our group with first-class reservations). Still, I'm not complaining, it's a fun business and a lucky way to see a few far-flung places even without daily shrimp cocktails.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

David Gelernter suggests that the next great American newspaper will be on the Web (link via Oxblog). However, with this attitude, it won't be David himself who successfully produces or designs it:
The web is a medium young readers can manage. Young people don't read newspapers; chances are they don't even know how. But they know how to play with computers. (Possibly this is the only thing they do know. Or almost the only.)
The other assertion that made me snort in disgust was that "The tycoon who founds America's next great newspaper will help save the computer industry too." David justifies this statement because he believes the next great American Web newspaper will require so much more computing power and storage space that it will drive consumers to upgrade their computers. As if.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

The Protato (amaranth protein genes spliced into a potato) is one of those issues that have the precautionary principle proponents up in arms. I've been looking around for some facts, and some commentary.

The Facts:

  • The Protato was invented in New Delhi by Indian scientists working for the government.

  • It was created by inserting one gene from the amaranth plant, another native American plant.

  • This food might be given poor children as part of the government's free midday meal program for schoolchildren.

  • It contains substantially more lysine. A lack of lysine can affect brain development.

The Commentary:

  • Biochemist Govindarajan Padmanaban... hopes Western-based environmental groups and charities will not demonise the project in the same way as they did AstraZeneca's golden rice. "I think it would be morally indefensible to oppose it." (GENET)

  • "Padmanaban who as director of India's prestigious Indian Institute of Science had signed a secret deal with Monsanto which even his fellow scientists of the Institute knew nothing about. ... genetically engineered potatoes will in fact create malnutrition because they will deny to vulnerable children the other nutrients available in grain amaranth and not available in potato. ... India is nutritionally better off without the pseudo solution to hunger offered by Datta & Padmanaban and the biotech lobby." (Hartmut Meyer on GENET)

  • Greenpeace: "Years were spent in a lab trying to lever protein into potatoes, while cheap, protein-rich pulses grow abundantly all over India" (via Guardian. Devinder Sharma said the same thing: "What this country needs is pulses. They contain 20%-26% proteins..." [So what if cheap, protein-rich pulses grow all over India? They are either not cheap enough, not protein-rich enough, or not well-enough distributed, or else there wouldn't be a malnutrition problem.]

  • Sharma again: "[India] is saddled with over 50 million tones of wheat and rice whereas some 320 million people go to bed empty stomach". [And the relevance is... ? How is this an argument against a protein-enriched potato?]

  • Guardian: "New Delhi ... is also believed to have one eye on the £116bn global potato market." [That seems like a good thing to me. Why shouldn't India export potatos on the world market? That trade will benefit both India and the purchasers of the protato and may eventually pay for its development.]

  • Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign ... says the team's goal is far more worthy than, say, creating crops resistant to a company's own weedkiller. "If you're going to use GM at all, use it for this," she says. "India's problem is that we're vegetarian, so pulses and legumes are the main protein source, but they're in short supply and expensive. The potato is good because it's cheap." (GENET).
  • "since regular potatoes have very low protein, 30% more is still very low protein. 30% per cent more of not much is still not much." (Metafilter)
OK, first there are the economic issues that the commentators tend to ignore. There is malnutrition. The existing food distribution system is not solving the problems of these starving people. The existence of pulses that would be even better for their diet is not a reason to argue against a lesser improvement as long as it is still an improvement. Arguing that people who are malnourished should simply diversify their diets is irresponsible stupidity. These people wouldn't be malnourished if they had the ability to diversify their diets. And as Suhai pointed out, it can be hard to get enough protein in vegetarian diets. The potato is not only cheap it's also easy to keep and cook.

We've already tried various "natural" schemes to get extra protein to malnourished children. "None of the various schemes to provide such [protein-enhanced with peanut flour] bread to malnourished children since the 1960s has survived." (GENET).

Next point seems to be that this GM food is unnatural and constitutes a change -- and according to the precautionary principal change is always bad. Don't forget, the potato is not itself indigenous to India, or for that matter, Europe. It came from America. That importation caused a much larger change in agriculture, diet and the environment than the importation of a foreign gene into the potato genome.

Is 30% more than not much still not much? The potato arrived in Ireland a few hundred years ago and became popular in time to feed a growing and impoverished Irish population. Irish families subsisted on the outcome of their hand-tilled potato fields and nearly nothing else. While this wasn't a very balanced diet it did allow survival. Potatos with even a little extra protein and amino acids ought to be even better as a subsistence diet for the extremely poor.

Update: Found another link with some sensible commentary: "The nutritional value of potato proteins is high because its amino acid composition is balanced, containing the right amounts of lysine and methionine. It is not clear that the increased essential amino acid content is the result of the increased protein content or not."

Blog Archive

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.