Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

the meaning of blogging

What we're doing when we blog is a great summary of what blogs are and what drives them Dave also had something to add to it.

On the other hand, Shelley Powers's last entry, is good to note both the good and the bad of blogging.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 31, 2002 at 7:59 PM

Australia launches scramjet

A big step forward in ramjet-powered flight was taken yesterday when scientists successfully launched a scramjet-powered rocket. A ramjet rocket has no moving parts, and it uses the speed of the jet itself to compress air into the engine and uses it to ignite hydrogen.

NASA is also developing a scramjet-based jet but its last test failed. They might try again soon though.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 31, 2002 at 7:17 PM

irrational exuberance

Back in December 1996, the DJIA stood at around 6400 and NASDAQ at 1300. It was then that Alan Greenspan made his famous remark about the markets's "irrational exuberance." The remark made the markets go down, but not for long. In three years, the DJIA almost doubled and the NASDAQ almost cuadrupled.

Now, Mr. Greenspan made the comment after meeting with a Yale economist, Robert Schiller, who is now predicting that things have to go down even further to reach historical levels. Those ultra-simplified calculations I made a few days ago might turn out not to be too off the mark after all.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 31, 2002 at 12:39 PM

how the postman almost owned email

A really interesting story at the MIT Technology Review. Back in the late 70's no one could predict the impact of the Internet and electronic messaging. A law giving USPS control over electronic delivery would have probably stifled development for years. Hard to imagine what the world would be today.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 31, 2002 at 12:22 PM

ireland's offshore windfarm

A company called Airtricity will soon start construction of an offshore wind farm on the coast of Ireland that will generate 520 megawatts, or enough energy for half a million homes. Impressive.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 30, 2002 at 7:04 PM

open source and corporations

Related to my previous entries (here and here), an article today tries to gauge Real's chances of success with its recent move to open-source its streaming technology. Not hard to guess what their conclusion is.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 30, 2002 at 3:01 PM

.NotYet and Palladium

A really interesting article in Infoworld about the current state of .Net (which I commented on a few days ago). Most interesting of all is how part of their focus turned on to Palladium at the beginning of this year.

Palladium is a Microsoft/Intel attempt to turn the PC and all digital communications into a completely locked-in environment, with the excuse of "improving security". Potentially scary stuff.

Some Palladium info links: here, here and here.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 30, 2002 at 10:49 AM

microsoft's shared source

Microsoft seems to be scoring some points with its shared source strategy. It shouldn't seem strange however that a University would endorse working with them: they likely provide money, software and support. This might be simply PR hot-air, of course. But maybe but the end of the year it will be more clear whether shared source is working for them or not.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 30, 2002 at 9:41 AM

brazil in trouble

Related to my previous entry on the crisis in latin america... yesterday the dollar shot up in Brazil along with the premium the country pays (above the US costs) for loans. The premium went up to almost 25% annually. Such a premium is patently ridiculous, and it only creates a cash problem for Brazil that then forces it to default and then... the premium actually makes sense. Quite similar to what happened to Argentina a year ago. The question is whether this time the US (through the IMF and the World Bank) is planning to do anything to stop it.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 30, 2002 at 9:21 AM

narrative and weblogs

Plan B -- a blognovel is an experiment I started on narrative and weblogs, and whether they can fit together (previous related entries here and here). That is, whether good narrative and weblogs can fit together. Many interesting technical questions have sprung up. What kind of UI elements are necessary to make this a good story? How is it possible to convey the idea that this is not something that's supposed to replace conventional (ie., print, ebook) narrative?

So far, no clear answers to these questions, but the feedback on the story has been good. Stay tuned.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 30, 2002 at 12:36 AM

success and sustainability

How does one put together success and sustainability? In our "globalized" world, anything that is even remotely appealing to the masses seems to fall prey to franchises and mass marketing. Even things that are designed specifically not to be that way. Case in point: organic farming. When will we learn to live in balance with our environment?

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 30, 2002 at 12:31 AM

radio userland and multiple machines

I started Plan B -- a blognovel a couple of days ago, on Salon Blogs. It uses Radio Userland, which is ok. The software is good. But it annoys me to no end that I can't easily update the blog from two different machines. Hopefully at some point Userland will provide a solution for this. Here is the entry on Plan B from my other, "general interest" weblog.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 29, 2002 at 6:21 PM

blognovel

Last friday I started an experiment on writing I called Plan B -- a blognovel. The idea is to see what are the constraints the structure and qualities of a weblog places on narrative, and whether an interesting story can be written. It has gotten a few hundred hits so far, which is encouraging. I've been posting impressions on ideas on What is Plan B? and The Plan B F.A.Q. I will post more here in the future.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 29, 2002 at 5:15 PM

apocalyptic fiction

Salon has an interesting article today on the famous "Left Behind" series. The series is about the end of days, told in a clancy-esque way. I haven't read any of the books, but I've always kept them in my radar. The idea that it's these kinds of books that are the biggest bestsellers says a great deal about humans in general and americans in particular.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 29, 2002 at 12:52 PM

government oversight

An opinion piece in today's New Tork Times sports a strange mix. It has a good idea at the core (regulatory oversight is necessary) but a lot of its argument is supported in statements that are either incorrect, or simply idiotic. For example:

How often do you hear about [corruption, bribery, etc] being exposed in Mexico or Argentina, Russia or China?

The article confuses "hearing about" with "prosecuting." In Argentina, for example, it is generally known who did what. They are not prosecuted, and that's the main difference with the US. Notably, it was the US who only a few months ago forced Argentina (through the IMF) to strike down a law that allowed it to prosecute bankers, corporate officers and financial managers for mismanagement as a condition of giving loans that the country still hasn't received. In the meantime, the US has passed its own law, targeting... the same group of people. Hardly what the piece says:
America's moral authority to lead the world derives from the decency of our government and its bureaucrats, and the example we set for others.
.
Yeah, right.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 29, 2002 at 1:05 AM

news.com.com?

News.com now has internal links that point to "news.com.com". It started a few weeks ago. I keep wondering why did they make that change. Going to www.com.com, I found that this is the home page for all of CNET's properties.

com.com??

The name sounds cool, but you think about it a bit and it feels like one of those names that are only thought to bring readers, something a multi-level marketing company would come up with in '99. The domain com.com has been owned by CNET since 2001, according to whois. Why did they make the change now? How is the marketing idiot that thought "com.com" was a good name? The mysteries of the post-bubble Internet.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 28, 2002 at 9:52 PM

the origins of blogging

An article by Willam Safire in today's New York Times magazine talks about the term blog, what blogging means, etc.
Given the blogging community's propensity for self-referencing and interests in anything that has to do with blogging and what blogging is, I expect this article to be referenced ad-nauseam (and I'm doing my part, of course. Everything for the cause :-)). For the moment, I've already found it referenced in Scripting News.

The New York Times. Newsweek. Blogging is definitely mainstream.

Now, to really grow up, blogging only needs to get over its "it will kill mainstream media" phase.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 28, 2002 at 2:06 PM

StarOffice for MacOS X

According to an article in News.com, Sun will do a port of StarOffice for MacOS X. This is interesting: it could signal yet another change in the relationship between Apple and Microsoft. So far, Microsoft has supported OS X, but if Apple keeps antagonizing them they might stop doing it. Since at the moment they control the most important office product, they have Apple in a corner. So Sun's entry might shake things up a bit, if they do the job right and on time.
I only hope that Sun is going into this to provide a good office suite, not simply to attack Microsoft. If it's the first, it will work. If it's the second, it won't.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 28, 2002 at 1:55 PM

on writing

This afternoon I finished reading Stephen King's On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft. It was excellent. Although a lot of what he proposes is very subjective (waiting six weeks between finishing the first draft and the beginning of the second draft is one example) he never pretends to have The Truth. He gives no formulas, except the most basic: if you want to write, you need to do two things: 1) read a lot, and 2) write a lot. And always remember that "life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

The book starts with an autobiography of sorts; something that gives you a bit of the background that created him as a writer. As for the rest, I think the following paragraph sums up quite well most of what he says about writing:

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness., excitement, hopefulness, or even despair---the sense that you can never put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must never come lightly to the blank page.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 28, 2002 at 2:21 AM

pynchon

I read Gravity's Rainbow more than 3 years ago. Since then, a week doesn't go by without "a screaming comes across the sky..." appearing in my head. The complexity of Pynchon's work has inspired many websites that, thankfully, are not just your usual fan-babble but contain useful and interesting information. One of my favorites can be found here. Another site (less nice, but with more links) can be found here.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 27, 2002 at 8:15 PM

blogstreaming

Today I found a (for me) new term: blogstreaming, which is defined nicely and concisely here. I've grappled with these questions myself, and the evidence is that I have two weblogs instead of one with categories. Separate weblogs seem to me a better solution, but maybe a future blogstreaming tool will make it easier to merge them into one.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 27, 2002 at 7:55 PM

the bright side of the crash

Bill Keller's op-ed piece in the New York Times today talks about "the bright side" of the current problems in corporations, and their consequences. Very interesting. A quote:

"The truth may empty your pockets, but it will also set you free. Over the past decade we have been absurdly captivated by the stock market. The Dow became our national mood ring. Investing went from being a form of savings to being a kind of lottery. We became a nation lined up on its elliptical trainers, pedaling to nowhere while staring blankly at the market ticker on CNBC. [...] The fact that Americans are losing faith now is no bad thing; we've been worshiping in a casino."

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 27, 2002 at 5:19 PM

the US and the UN

The US has lately been dismissing international treaties apparently faster than others can start working on them. The latest relates to a modification to the UN convention against torture that would allow observers to monitor prisons in countries that accept the protocol. The US, in not accepting it, has sided with countries like Iran against almost everybody, including its allies. The usual complaints are there: too intrusive, conflicts with local law, etc.

What is amazing to me is not so much that this happened, but that, in the US, it doesn't seem to be newsworthy anymore. So far, I've found it mentioned only in European newspapers and magazines.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 27, 2002 at 2:18 PM

the doubling of internet traffic

During the late 90's, there was a famous statistic that we've all heard at least once: Internet traffic was doubling every 100 days. The claim was made in a report by the US Department of Commerce, but, according to a recent article, the figure did not come from internal research by the DoC. It came from a company: Worldcom.
UUNET, a unit of Worldcom, handles about 50% of the Internet traffic. So when Worldcom executives, including its CEO, presented the figure, everybody assumed it was right. Competitors, when seeing their traffic far below Worldcom's numbers, internally assumed that they had to catch up with them, but externally they inflated their own traffic numbers as well.
Over time, people apparently started to confuse growth in capacity with growth in traffic, and routinely quoted growth figures of 1000% annually.
And to think that so many business plans where funded with astronomic sums on the premise that traffic was growing on that scale...
A tiny error. Just like the one they made on their accounting books. "Nobody Knew," right?
Will this be Arthur Andersen's fault as well?

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 27, 2002 at 11:07 AM

no free music at microsoft

News.com reports that Microsoft sent an email yesterday warning employees not to use the company's networks for file swapping of any kind. Now, I wonder, was this an internal initiative, or was there some pressure from the record companies and such to make the move, as a sort of "public statement"? The record companies recently had talked about moving against individual users and companies that allow file trading, and given that Microsoft wants to win their favor for their own media formats push, it makes sense, even as a preemtive move. Also, there's the legal effort to make hacking PCs that would make legal to hack machines that engage in file trading, and Microsoft might be reacting just to that.
Maybe in some future trial the emails will come out and we'll get to know what really happened.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 8:44 PM

the hype of open source

This week's Economist has an article on open source and how things in the open source community have changed since its heyday (which one could argue happened around the time Red Hat went public). Many open source firms have gone bust, and others have "gone hybrid" such as Red Hat, which is selling a special high-end version of linux with some proprietary elements. Open source might also have become, maybe, too much of a buzzword for its own good, ready to be twisted by corporations looking for some publicity, among other things, as I mentioned earlier.

Yet the idea behind open source is too powerful to collapse along with the bubble. Open source is usually better, more secure and robust, than proprietary code. And if it can survive Microsoft and its attacks (such as its shared source program) it can survive anything.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 5:28 PM

the US Congress's "crackdown"

The Economist has an article out that does a good job of summarizing what the US Congress has passed to enact "corporate reform." There is also mention of the broader international impact of the bill, in particular regarding the European Union, which every day surprises me for not reacting more strongly to the US's protectionism and insularity (e.g., rejecting Kyoto, rejecting the ICC, giving more protections to farmers and steel, to name just three.)

Congress passed it, true, and some things they did are important. But it is obvious how much they are still beholden to corporate interests. They needed Enron, Worldcom, Adelphia, Xerox, and all the others to really pile up before they acted. Maybe, with a few more scandals, they will finish the job.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 5:19 PM

argentina and latin america

Yesterday the government in Argentina released the latest employment and salary statistics.

  • 21.5% unemployed, which only considers those who are actively looking for work.
  • 15% are "sub-employed," meaning that they have part-time jobs or jobs that don't pay enough.
  • Half the population lives below the poverty line.
  • 25% of the population is "indigent," which means that they don't have enough money to buy simply enough food per month to cover the daily calorie requirement.

All of these indicators where at least at half that as recently as 2-3 years ago. This is not unique to Argentina in Latin America, but it's most visible there.

This social turmoil also surfaces in crime statistics. In Buenos Aires, once considered the "Paris of south america", a new wave of criminals specialize in "express kidnappings," targeting the few remaining middle class, not the rich. In Venezuela, the homicide rate has jumped 50% in three years. In Brazil, security has been one of the foremost problems for years.

In the meantime, in Argentina, the rich only care about getting more money into their pockets. The politicians squabble over the ruins. The IMF, the World Bank, the EU, and everybody else, sit back and watch, happily letting the country collapse.

Suddenly there are no new "solutions". In the 70s, the answer of the rich countries was to democratize (never mind that in many cases the US itself had helped install the dictatorship in question). In the 80s, the answer was "market-based reforms" and "improved democracy". In the '90s, Privatizations and further opening of the markets. Now, there are no more answers. It's always important to remember that the cracks in any system always begin in its weakest points. Not that the US is being treated nicely by the financial markets recently...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 2:11 PM

me and microsoft

Yesterday I was told that this weblog appears to be slightly... umm... anti-Microsoft. I realize that I never expressed exactly what I feel about the People of Redmond, so I'll give it a try now.

For starters, I am not anti-Microsoft. I am not pro-Microsoft either. Microsoft is neither good nor bad. It is ridiculous to assign moral categories to things that don't have it. (Example: that is a bad ant. Doesn't that sound ridiculous?).

Microsoft is a metahuman entity, a creation of the Capitalist system, and it might even be the best corporation ever created. They have (so far) escaped government regulation (although nothing is certain, let's remember how long AT&T's monopoly lasted) while accumulating the biggest cash-hoard in history (38 billion dollars in cash and short-term securities). Microsoft has enough cash to buy AOL-Time Warner at today's prices without needing financing. They have more liquidity than many banks. They have an unchallenged (as yet) monopoly in a market that frequently grows by double-digit percentages. And the list goes on. I'd say, then that Microsoft is a pretty successful corporation by most standards. What they have achieved, they have achieved out of work and cunning, and sometimes bending the rules. But everybody does that. So as a business I think Microsoft is quite impressive.

But then there's the other subject: technology. Microsoft is a technology company. And its technology is has many problems. True, many of them are derived from the fact that they are the most widely used platform in the world. Still, they could do better. They could stop adding features mindlessly and focus on improving what they have. They could stop releasing FUD and vaporware simply to prevent other companies from doing things that might compete with them. They could focus, for once, on usability. They could be much more open, and compete on the basis of the quality of their products instead of helping themselves to more monopoly pie. And this brings me to my last important point.

Microsoft behaves as if it was a tiny company, and they are not. They defend every inch of territory fiercely. They destroy competitors using every tactic available. This, standard capitalist behavior, might be fine for a small company, but on a company their size, with such a set of monopolies (Windows, Office) it seems to do more harm than good. They stop innovation in certain areas (try and get a VC to fund a word processing software company). They lock customers in. They maintain prices artificially high with the excuse that they keep the price stable but add more features (the problem, of course, is that the new "features" are frequently useless). (A similar argument, by the way, can be made of the power of the US, but that's a topic for another time).

Then again, it's hard to blame an ant for being an ant, and similarly it's hard to blame Microsoft for trying to hold on to their space and growing. It's what companies do. It's the essence of capitalism. But at least, in terms of technology, they can be criticized. They can be pushed to do better things, perhaps simply by introducing better products than them and forcing them to catch up.

One thing is for certain: because they have interests seemingly everywhere in software, and because they are so big, it's natural that they will be a common topic, just like the US and its policies will be a common topic in any political discussion, simply because of its power and its reach.

Memories of Douglas Coupland's Microserfs...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 11:27 AM

Mulholland Dr.

Yesterday I watched Mulholland Drive, which, apart from being an excellent, excellent movie, is a good example of what I was mentioning before about structure in art.

In Mulholland Dr., however, Lynch uses our expectation for structure in reverse. We go into the film with a certain idea of how things should happen in a movie, and when they don't turn out that way we are confused. Then it's a great experience to unravel the puzzle, only to see that it wasn't a puzzle at all. The puzzle was in our own views of how the story should have been told (or how we are used to being told stories, specially through movies).

The other notable thing about Mulholland Dr. is how good it is cinematically: It's one of those movies that is a movie, and would never work well as, say, a novel, as much as Ulysses is a book. When an artform is being used to its limits, it stands on its own and it can't be replaced.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 10:25 AM

death by overload

Salon today has an interview with Esther Dyson defending ICANN, sort of. Sort of, because she doesn't really defend it, she keeps talking about "changing it from within, blahblahblah" which if I'm not mistaken means that there is something that should be changed. This follows another article some time back where John Gilmore argued that ICANN should be dissolved (which, incidentally, is quite interesting for what it says about the mechanics of the deals that went on between the US government, Network Solutions, and others).

All of this discussion, simply for the matter of names. Sometimes I think that for all the talk of corporations killing the Internet, Microsoft killing the Internet, or governments regulating the Internet to death, what's really going to kill the Internet is not any of those things: it's bureaucracy. Commitees having endless meetings about issues that nobody cares about, long after technology has left them behind. Similarly, access to information will not be controlled: we will simply be so overloaded with information that it won't matter anymore. Call it Death by overload.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 12:32 AM

structure and interpretation in art

Today I was at a presentation/discussion related to how interpretation and structure affect literature (and art in general, music was also mentioned). In particular the discussion centered about a piece of prose published by Beckett in 1969 (in French, then published in English one year later, with the translation made Beckett himself).

The piece in question is Variations on Lessness. It is composed of of 24 paragraphs and 120 sentences. The whole of the work is divided into two parts, and each sentence occurs twice: once in the first half and once in the second. Beckett later explained to a friend that he had determined the order in which the sentences appear by randomly drawing little slips of paper out of a hat. The work is very dense, rhytmical. It is apparent that there is some structure, but it feels elusive. I couldn't read it all while in the meeting, but later I did. It creates a strange feeling.

Apparently there has been some discussion as to whether Beckett really did put the sentences together purely randomly or not: sometimes sentences seem to have more meaning than randomness would imply. This is, however, beyond the point. Whether it is completely random or random/modified, the piece stands as a great example of how most of what we do, and our perception of art in general (and literature in particular) is interpretation. As much as something feels meaningless, we still want to find some underlying order in it, and Variations... provides enough "hooks" for our brain to keep trying to find a meaning all the way. It keeps you engaged, right until the end.

This discussion led to talking about the structure/underlying patterns of works in general and how much of the structure a work of art (specially the ones that can have strong sense of time and space such as literature and music) can be manipulated, and whether that manipulation can actually convey something more, such as the idea that, rather than the "medium is the message," it's more as if "the viewer creates the message." Interpretation is not just an assignment of categories.

I think that the manipulation of the underlying structure or style has to be done for a very good reason, or not at all, such as the evolution of the use of language and narrative in Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where they are synchronized with the evolution of the character itself (in a rather astonishing fashion, by the way).

One thing I was reminded of today, though: that the structular/stylistical manipulation of the work does not have to be explicit, and sometimes it works better when it isn't. Some people (few, granted) will appreciate those things, but for most it will be much more enjoyable or preferrable for the underlying ideas to filter through unconsciously, letting the reader or listener enjoy it without being aware of it, just like we enjoy similar patterns in nature without seeing what they are: let the unconscious appreciate and recognize the pattern and whisper: I know this.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 12:21 AM

2 years of .net vaporware

It has been 2 years since microsoft announced .Net, and still nobody really knows what it is, but Bill has no problem saying that, whatever it is, it's slow in becoming a reality. True, there is a new language (C#), new tools (Visual Studio .Net) and a bunch of new features on their toolkits and OSes, and there's WinXP. But has anything really changed? All of those things would have been made simply to counteract the effect of Java, web applications and web environments, and the growth of Linux.

Scott Rosenberg defined .Net as vaporware in Salon, right after it was announced. It still is. But it doesn't matter. Microsoft is still dominant, and its competitors are in trouble. They are still making money from Office and Windows, and no serious threat to them has emerged from the web. Microsoft has little pressure to change the status quo. And .Net and its FUD will keep some people from switching over to other products for years to come, even if it never delivers what it promises.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 25, 2002 at 2:16 PM

air density

Today the atmosphere is heavy and damp and the sky is bright-gray. At least the wind downriver gives some relief.

Yesterday was a big day in the stock markets and in politics at once: (some) politicians claimed victory as some big-name executives were arrested (Adelphia's CEO and his sons), a lot of people lost and made money. The Dow ended up 488 points, 6.4%. Today (predictably, and continuing a trend that has been growing for the past few days) newspapers are filled with stories about how this is exactly what happened in '29. I wonder what "the average person" really thinks about this. The "average person". What an oxymoron.

The summer is only mid-way, and I feel it's been here forever. Not in a bad way... the days just seem to stretch endlessly into the past and into the future, a continuum. A sign of balance, or imbalance?

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 25, 2002 at 12:07 PM

another '29

in his his weblog entry in Salon today, Joe Conason mentions the paralells between Hoover and Bush in how they are handling the collapse of the stockmarket. Maybe some of the numbers I mentioned a few days ago will come true after all.

The Wall Street Journal today ran an article as well doing similar comparisons and considering whether the public anger will turn into sweeping new legislation. It doesn't seem likely. Money is too entrenched in politics these days for something like that to happen.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 24, 2002 at 7:37 PM

news bombardment

The things that happen everyday on this world are beyond belief. At times I feel as if somebody had splashed sulfuric acid on my soul and the liquid was slowly corroding it, yet my reaction to that is not just pain, but pain mixed with preternatural amazement, a twisted kind of understanding and acceptance based on detached subjectivity.

So many things these days deal with a single news item, such as terrorists, or their possible attacks, or the US, or its attacks, or corporate corruption and how it affects government, and the subsequent corporate collapses, and the "aftermath" --what's MATH got to do with any of this is beyond me-- of any of those things... They are doing a really good job of desensitizing me, even though I don't watch much TV so my exposure is orders of magnitude less than for many people, who are bombarded every day, sometimes looking for something that will help them understand what's going on and finding mostly empty ideology instead of true opinion or analysis.

And on it goes. A crash today, a bubble tomorrow. Will we ever go beyond wars and money? We should at least take a break and build a few pyramids, like the Egyptians did. Maybe they did it to get out of a recession, some kind of public-works project? Was the pharaoh a slave to the stockmarket too, reading newspapers chiseled every day in the rocks around him? And maybe, just maybe, that's were the "wall" in Wall Street Journal comes from, (instead of, say, some reference to a street in lower Manhattan).

History repeats itself.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 24, 2002 at 6:36 PM

hacking as defense

Hollywood and the recording labels have succeeded in their lobbying efforts to introduce a bill in the US Congress that would allow them to hack machines if they are suspected of participating in piracy. The bill has just been introduced, so it's far from clear what will happen, and even maybe unlikely that it will pass, but I think that, rather than doing what the RIAA says, "fight fire with fire," they are actually doing something more along the lines of "fight fire by breaking into the house, stealing everything, and jailing the owner." I wonder what they are doing to influence things internationally, particuarly in the European Union.

When are they going to realize that if only they provided a good, reasonably inexpensive way to share media, people would use it? Most people that use P2P have fast connections, large amounts of storage, and good machines, which means they are, on average, affluent. Therefore, they could pay, and would, if the price was right, if the service was good.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 24, 2002 at 4:22 PM

corporations and open source

Today I realized that there is an exception to the rule regarding control of open source projects that I mentioned yesterday. The question was how much can an open source project be controlled, the answer was: not much. The exception is: unless you're a corporation.

Corporations manage to keep tight control of their open source projects when they want to, not because their programmers have more Vitamin B and excercise often, but because they create their own open source license. Everybody seems to have an open source license these days. With their proliferation (examples: the OpenOffice License, the Mozilla/Netscape Licenses, etc, etc.) I imagine this must be a profitable niche for lawyers by now. With special licenses they control how much things can change, and although of course once the code is out there anybody can use it for something else, it would be illegal.

Their main reason for "open-sourcing" things seems to be publicity and trying to stop Microsoft from crushing them, not in that order. Real's recent move to open-source part of its software is a good example. Microsoft, as usual in anything that deals with business matters (ie not technical) is way ahead of everybody else and has been perfecting its strategy of perverting open source licenses for its own uses.

Most of these phony initiatives wither and die, since usually there is nobody from the developer community behind them (except a few open source "gurus" that always come out and say that anybody that uses open source is a Good Thing). Hopefully in the long run more good than bad will come out of these initiatives.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 24, 2002 at 1:11 PM

the neutrality of the internet

I recently read an article that discussed how filtering might reduce or wipe out the end-to-end neutrality (in other words, the "openness") of the Internet. It's not the first time this argument has been made: that the Internet knows no barriers, that nobody should control it, or the information in it, that this "natural neutrality" is being lost to the control of corporations and governments, and on and on.

What I wonder is, when exactly did this fantasy begin? At the early stages the Internet wasn't owned by a corporation, it was owned by the department of defense! Whatever perception we had of "openness" was clearly a dream. The US military (or that of any other country for that matter) is not precisely in the business of supplying tools to make libertarian utopias a reality. In Capitalism, ownership implies something physical to own, and information doesn't fit that category, so ownership of the network falls on whoever controls the software, the access points, the routers, the cables. Information seemed to "know no boundaries", but it was an illusion. The owners of the infrastructure were only asleep at the switch.

True neutrality on the Internet is not being lost. It never really existed.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 24, 2002 at 12:37 PM

blindness

Today I finished reading Ensayo sobre la ceguera (Blindness) by José Saramago. It was excellent. An metaphor about the world we live in, and "the responsibility to have eyes when others have lost them." The white blindness ins the book is, in my opinion, the overload of information that blinds us today, something that brings out the worst, and sometimes (although not often enough) the best in us.

The prose is close to perfection, often weaving images, feelings and meaning with the context and composition of the text itself. For example, When the only woman that is not blind is told that she is beautiful by three of her friends, women who have never seen her, she is "reduced to tears because of a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, mere grammatical categories, mere labels, just like the two women, the others, indefinite pronouns, they too are crying, they embrace the woman of the whole sentence, three graces beneath the falling rain."

I think the closest thing to it that I can remember is Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch, which I read about a year and a half ago. Similar both in its intensity and its insights into the human condition.

A paragraph stays with me:

"I think we didn't become blind, I think we are blind. Blind people who see. Blind people who, seeing, don't see."

What Ursula K. Le Guin said of Camp Concentration applies just as well to Saramago's book: "It is a work of art, and if you read it, you will be changed."

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 23, 2002 at 11:13 PM

Mideast violence

Strike kills Hamas leader, 14 others says the headline. Now, I might be wrong, or from a different planet, but in presenting the news, I'd worry first about the 14 innocent people (including 9 children) that were killed for no reason. By the way, the Israeli government called the operation "a success", although it is just pointless punishment. Hamas vowed to retaliate. Another day, no surprises.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 23, 2002 at 7:30 PM

why work

This morning I was reading yet more news about the brouhaha over the bubble collapse, the fall of share prices, and how they are affecting "normal" people (i.e. not bazillionaires or CEOs).

I was wondering exactly what all the fuss was about, since the main discussion centered around money (less money, more money, etc.) and therefore simply the power to buy or not buy that yacht that they wanted (since it's not as if the fall in mutual funds is going to affect the people that make $7.95/hr at McDonald's).

If the discussion is about money, it all goes back to the idea of people doing things they don't like so they can buy stuff they don't need. Yachts are nice, but not necessarily a survival item.

Then I thought, what does this say about work itself?

And I suddenly remembered a scene from the Simpsons, when Homer became smart (his IQ shot up to 105), and he sent a report on safety at the nuclear plant to the NRC, which resulted in the plant being closed and everybody fired until the place could be brought up to code. After Mr. Burns announces the layoffs, the following conversation happens:

Lenny (at Homer): Thanks a lot, Brainiac. You cost us our jobs. Which we need for working.

Carl: Yeah, not to mention driving to.

Enough said.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 23, 2002 at 5:06 PM

the politics of open source

There is an interesting discussion going on in Slashdot regarding the politics of open source. It deals with questions like how to manage unwanted submissions, or things that deviate from the "mission" of the project.

I've asked myself similar questions often, in somewhat different contexts (i.e., for personal projects, company projects, etc), and I always come to a similar conclusion: when you open source a project, the genie is out of the bottle, and with it, your ability to maintain tight control over it. Certainly, some level of control can be achieved, as in the Linux Kernel for example. A good example of what happens with open source is Gnutella, which was created (and swiftly killed) within AOL by the Winamp group, but since it was open sourced it didn't die (and indeed, thrived). In all cases, an "antidote" to the project going astray from its 'vision' is to release working code (beta quality or higher), since when the program is already running the discussions over what it should or should not do would be much more specific.

As an alternative, somebody proposed: "Just add a line to the GPL that states that 'contributors who violate my 'vision' will be attacked by electric weasels'. "
Now that's a good idea.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 23, 2002 at 12:46 PM

on blogging

Yet another article on blogging, yet another moot argument as far as I'm concerned. Blogging might be growing, but it can't grow forever. At the same time, news organizations embrace it as one more tool. And by its nature, blogging can't be co-opted by the news organizations, it emerged precisely as an alternative. Even if news organizations use or link to blogs, they will remain blogs.

Now, a university course on blogging (in UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism no less), that's a truly stupid idea. Maybe the course is on how to use a web browser?

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 23, 2002 at 10:09 AM

animals with human DNA

From today's New York Times: Interview with a humanoid, on cloned animals whose DNA has been modified to include human components.

Now, since animals appear to be more in balance with their surroundings, maybe at some point we could "import" some of the genes responsible for that into us. Unless we also remove the human gene that loves money, though, it probably won't work.
Or maybe a monkey tail would be useful. For weekend trips to the woods, you know.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 23, 2002 at 9:57 AM

.net and cloning

For a few weeks now I've been trying out C# and the new MS development environment, Visual Studio .NET. It is a definite improvement over Visual Studio 6. where the integration was everywhere on the marketing brochures but nowhere on the software.

Apart from new versions of most of the tools the main addition is, clearly C#. (the other notable thing disappearance of Java, which they will include again, apparently, but only for Java 1.1 and only for a limited time to appease lawyers somewhere)

C# is basically a clone of Java with the option of disabling a lot of the features that make Java a safer language. Bill Joy wrote an excellent article back in February this year that analyzed why .NET in general (and C# in particular) are unsafe, or at least potentially less safe than Java. ("Potentially" should be "almost certainly", given the stupidity that characterizes us humans in general).

Now, as I was trying some things on vs.net today, I remembered what Bill Gates said about software cloning and I wondered how that idea applies in this case. Cloning implies matching feature by feature and then adding a few more on top (or change another variable, e.g., lower the price) so that people will feel compelled to switch products. In the case, however, the switch to .NET is not competitive (as cloning usually is) but rather defensive, to protect the Windows franchise from the Javas and the Linuxes of this world. When cloning is done by a monopolist, is it cloning? Probably not. What then? And what are the implications of making a clone for the franchise itself (in this case Windows)? Let's keep in mind that the last time they cloned something (a web browser) they almost destroyed the franchise they were trying to protect in the process.
Strange how the rules change when you have 95% of a market.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 22, 2002 at 11:18 PM

the importance of high-level semantics

Today I was in (yet) another discussion over why somebody would use something like RMI or XML-RPC when it was possible to do the same thing in Perl, and using less code. My argument was (as usual) that the line of Perl code might be simpler to write, but then, maintenance is much harder.

This boils down to the discussion of whether high-level semantics are important or not. For example, object orientation provides an abstraction more complex (thus higher-level) than, say, procedures. Objects are harder to write, but they are easier to maintain (if properly written in the first place). Also, because the structure of the code itself conveys more meaning, they require simpler documentation (again, depending on a good design).

Another, less noted, but also important reason, is that they make life easier, in large part because their behavior is more complex. Lots of problems are already solved, and in many cases the programming language can then verify that certain things are done properly (like for example, encapsulation). It is possible to redo these things in "lower-level" languages such as C or Perl, but it takes longer to write, longer to debug, and the end product is much more complex.

On the other hand, it is tempting to just use Perl or C because using them is typically simpler at first: just write code and compile. OO tools and distributed systems sometimes require multiple steps in compiling, or the use of different tools, which creates a problem for casual users.

Hopefully in time better OO-design tools will exist (particularly for distributed programs) to make them useful not only for complex development but also for more casual use.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 22, 2002 at 7:39 PM

worldcom's bankruptcy

So finally the rumors became a reality... Worldcom filed for bankruptcy today. Now there's the question of what will happen to UUNET and with it a full 50% of the Internet traffic, not to say anything about its 20,000,000 long distance customers and its tens of thousands of business customers. A total shutdown is a remote possibility as I mentioned before, but I would be surprised if there were no glitches.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 22, 2002 at 1:43 PM

terrorism in argentina

An article in today's New York times connects Iran with the bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires eight years ago. The participation of Iran had always been suspected, but there were several "problems" in the investigation: proof vanishing, people disappearing... now the testimony of an Iranian defector that says that's because Iran had paid $10,000,000 to the argentinian government at that time has resurfaced. Not surprising at all. Menem's government was involved more in dirty businesses than in actually running the government.

It seems that part of the information was leaked to the New York Times from Argentina, since people there are terribly frustrated that the government still maintains the cover-up. It will be interesting to see how this develops, in light of the US's "war on terror", since Menem is now preparing to run for president again (even though he is despised by most argentinians) and he has often presented as an advantage his close ties with the Bush family (particularly with Bush Sr.) Will the Bush family finally cut off their ties given that Menem would now appear to be a "sponsor" of terrorism?

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 22, 2002 at 1:30 PM

pointless punishment

An Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post this sunday made the same argument I was making in an earlier entry on the current cycle of violence in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Retaliation and repression will not work. Somebody will have to give in.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 22, 2002 at 1:15 PM

roll-up displays

Now this is something I'd like to have: a roll up screen. Now, they talk about "roll up TV" but that's a stupid idea. Who'd want to roll up the TV, and then walk around the house with a 25-inch roll of plastic? But for portable applications... certainly somehing like a newspaper could easily be replaced by a roll-up plastic display... better ebook readers... thousands of uses, like the ones imagined for the roll-up displays the characters had in the movie Red Planet...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 20, 2002 at 8:32 PM

the ethics of life-extension and other technologies

Suppose that within the next 25 years life-extension technologies develop to the point where they can be mass-marketed. (I mention life-extension because the consequences are easier to see, but I think that the same can be said for things like information technology, finance, etc). For simplicity of the argument, let's assume that the technology we are talking is based on biotechnology (e.g. Telomerase-based), not micro- or nanotechnology, or any other possibility such as "virtualization" of a human being into a computer environment.

Furthermore, suppose that this particular technology that we're talking about, that can be mass marketed at a relatively cheap price and has no major side-effects. Suppose that the technology both rejuvenates you and adds, say, 25 years to your life, and it can also be used to cure degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. These would be the perfect conditions for a technology like this. Realistically, more than one will not be present. To simplify this argument even more, let's ignore the social, legal and economic consequences such a shift would create. (Holy Fire, by Bruce Sterling explores the impact of this technology in a "developed" society.)

So, who gets it?

"First World" countries would be the first in the list. Europe, the US, Japan, all have ageing populations that would benefit greatly from this. Many people would also be quite happy to extend their life for the simple reason that even longer lifespans can be achieved down the road, which can then help wait until Immortality comes knocking.

But what about the rest of the world? In "Developing" countries in particular, birth rates are high: the more children you have, the more likely it is that many of them will survive, and they can help support you. With high birth-rates, and very young populations, the introduction of such a technology in poor countries would create chaos. Massive social unrest would explode across the world. Not a good idea. Then, what? Would these countries and their people be denied the chance to extend their lives, simply to avoid them becoming miserable and, for example, attacking the rich countries?

Every day it seems that the future presented by H.G. Wells in The Time Machine becomes more and more likely: a large underclass that work like slaves supporting the rich, and the rich living in constant terror of the poor...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 20, 2002 at 8:24 PM

day of '24'

I just finished my day of '24'. I watched all 24 episodes of the first season of the series in a single day, starting yesterday at 6 am. In all it was about 20 1/2 hours, including "stops". It sounds sick to be watching TV for 20 hours in a row, but this series allowed for it with its realtime format. It gives incredible "immersion" into the story, and I wanted to study it and analyze it, in particular plot problems and reinforcements (necessary of course since you have to tell the story over so many weeks).

Yes, that excuse will do for now.

Anyway, as Homer would say: can't talk now. Experiment successful. Many insights. Must sleep. More later.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 20, 2002 at 2:37 AM

brain sync

I was just watching a VideoCD I recorded from a DivX-encoded AVI file. As it happens, the AVI file had the audio slightly out of sync with the video, about 100 milliseconds. I didn't want to go through the re-syncing, so I left it like that.

Only 100 msec and yet the brain manages to pick it up properly, and you can see the difference between the image and what's being said. And then eventually you ignore it automatically, and everything is allright again. Amazing.

Yet I can't help thinking that this incredible biochemical machinery is the same that can in some cases watch Jerry Springer every day or think that a Windows PC or a wad of green paper or an ICBM are the pinnacle of civilization.

All of which proves, I guess, that our "superior" brains are the source of all our problems and all our solutions...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 19, 2002 at 12:10 PM

ayn rand

I keep coming back to the idea of corporate greed and where it comes from. I read Ayn Rand's For the new intellectual a few years ago, along with parts of The Fountainhead. The books are full of interesting concepts, but while at the time I thought I agreed with most of them, I find that's not true anymore. Rand's absolutist philosophy of complete self-reliance and its subsequent emphasis on greed (endorsed by some prominent people such as Alan Greenspan) might be good for the individual, but it's definitely not good for society.

Greed, in Rand's terms, was in a sense the essence of society's path to advancement. In retrospect, her thinking seems to entail a pretty childish and naive view of the world. Self-reliance and personal responsibility are good, but they can't be everything, not when society by nature forces us to depend on others. I guess it's simply a problem that absolutism never works, no matter in which direction you take it.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 19, 2002 at 9:50 AM

on economic "belief systems"

Consider Capitalism: With a totally free market, we would naturally gravitate towards monopolies... which then negate the ability of free markets to function... but then Capitalism's "endgame" and how it affects its progress is never much of a discussion-item, since Governments usually step up and provide regulation and sometimes financial relief for Capitalism's excesses, therefore hiding its flaws in part.

Socialism (and communism!) didn't work quite right either... and let's not even talk about Fascism and the like...

So isn't it time for something truly new to appear? Economics is a completely man-made concept... and as such it should be very malleable, and yet Physics, which is supposed to reflect the laws of nature rather than the ideas of man, has changed much more in the last hundred years than economics has... too many vested interests, probably...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 18, 2002 at 9:50 PM

the telecoms crash

related to my previous post, an article in this week's Economist, The Great Telecoms Crash, gives a bird's eye view of what could be the biggest bubble in history, both in absolute and relative terms.

Maybe now, after all the hype, the initial public offerings, the parties, and the bankruptcies, people we'll be able to go back to the basics and start using all this overcapacity for some cool things...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 18, 2002 at 9:48 PM

java & security

The security scheme of Java 1.2 (which exists on all JDK versions above and including 1.2) is too fine-grained for many applications. It's hard to see how the use of the java.policy file makes things easier or more secure. It seems like the worst of both worlds: it's possible to override all security with the appropriate settings, but simple things (like the RMI requirements to be able to open sockets to listen for connections) require special settings in the policy file, or an additional policy file included with the program.

The process is always the same: I'm doing something that is not allowed by default in the policy file, so I have to look up the privileges that are needed, add those privileges into a policy file or the JDK policy, then try again. Sometimes the policy file might be in the wrong directory, so I have to specify its location to the java interpreter... then I get it working and I forget about it. It's little things like this that make Java programs harder to deploy than native programs (and let's not even mention how cumbersome it is to create a signed Java application accessible through Java Web Start). Now, I'm not saying that Java should revert to the windows technique of allowing any program to wipe out the machine without problems if they wanted to, but maybe a healthy middle ground would be nice.

At the very list, these tasks should be properly automated in the major IDEs...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 18, 2002 at 4:46 PM

future and past selves

Dylan posted a cool entry to his weblog yesterday regarding how our sense of 'self' is so anchored in the present that our past and future 'selves' amount almost to different people, the only difference between them and any other person being that, in the case of our 'past selves' our current self is dependent on their actions, and our 'future selves' are completely dependent on our actions.

Many times I've thought along those lines, particularly when I find something that I wrote many years ago and I find the ideas, or opinions, different, strange, ridiculous, or naive (which is the lesser evil I suppose). I remember why I used to think in this way or that, but I can't put easily myself again in a position where I could believe what I wrote. This feeling increases the more we learn: we find things we did, clumsily, years ago, and we are amazed at how bad they are, and yet at the time we felt it was the best thing ever done. In moments like that, I am confronted with a stranger: myself.

Last night I realized that this is simply showing us how little we know ourselves, even in the present. We do things, most of the time, in a sort of automatic pilot, carried along by our prejudices and preconceptions, only occasionally taking new paths. We don't usually stop to think why are doing things, so naturally, when we look back at them, we sometimes find the behavior of our "past selves" a bit puzzling. It's another of the paradoxes of life: Knowledge changes us. So each time we increase the knowledge of ourselves, we change what we are, and we no longer have knowledge of who we are, but of who we were.

Now if we could just learn to accept it...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 18, 2002 at 4:43 PM

the last tycoon

An article on what has changed (and what hasn't) in hollywood. Specially good is the summary of the situation the different studios find themselves in these days, having been swallowed up by giant media conglomerates that were supposed to deliver the much-hyped "convergence" but failed, and how these huge empires are floundering for all the right reasons.

The article seems to suggest that since the idea of conglomerates have failed, it might be time for a diaspora. Let's see... The big six media conglomerates splinter, hundreds of their siblings free to create and compete... hmmm... not bloody likely.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 18, 2002 at 1:13 PM

errors and messages

It's late, and you still have to get those files copied. The modem can't seem to connect. Against all your instincts, you dig up a floppy disk from a drawer, and insert it in the drive. You open an explorer window, and drag the files into the icon of the floppy. Friendly, friendly icon.

The files begin copying, relatively slowly, and you can confirm this is happening because pieces of paper are breezing through the screen, from one folder into another. There they go... One, two, three-- what?

"Not enough space to complete operation."

Now here we are, finally, in the 21st century. We talk about cloning, stratospheric jets, maybe artificial intelligence... and yet the most widely distributed software in history can't yet check to see whether there is enough free disk space to complete a copy operation. A better example of Windows' stupidity is this: suppose you have a 20 Gb disk, with about 15 Gb of data. Naturally, Windows reports 5 Gb of free space out of 20. In explorer, if you selected all the directories in the drive, and pressed Ctrl+C, then Ctrl+V, Windows would begin the copying process.... and fail.

When confronted with these kinds of errors, the vast majority of users blame themselves. "What did I do?", or "I didn't realize there wasn't enough space" or "I am such an idiot." This is unique in software. For example, when the TV doesn't work, what you'll hear the most is "what is wrong with the TV?" You will not hear the person blame him/herself. This is good product design (let's sidestep for the moment the issue of whether what the product does is good...).

I wait for the day when, after a program locks up for no good reason, the user looks at the machine in disgust and says, "Now, what is wrong with this software?"

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 18, 2002 at 11:07 AM

inside the mind of a maccommunist

This article discusses the MacCommunist, a writer from New York with a unique spin on MacMania.

A reader (obviously not a Mac user :-)), tired of his Marxist views, wrote: "Macs appeal to socialists because Apple is the model of a planned economy,Totally anti-free market (no clones). No free choice of Mac supplier…. No free choice of hardware configuration. You get what the central planners (aka Steve) say you need and don't ask for nothing different…. Yep, Apple is for socialists."

This guy seems to ignore the fact that if you replace Mac with Windows and Apple with Microsoft, you get a much better analogy, since Windows really controls the market... but Bill Gates is, no doubt, one of the foremost examples of capitalism at "its best" and most fierce. So maybe analogies are not all that useful when contexts change so rapidly.

Or maybe we should start looking beyond worn-out hundred-year old ideas ...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 18, 2002 at 10:28 AM

the purple rose of cairo

The best "movie on movies" I've seen. Incredibly good on many levels: the analysis of fiction and its place in "reality," the question of creation, how much of art is in the viewer, and ... the warm feeling only good art can create, all in one. A movie to see more than once.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 18, 2002 at 10:27 AM

moon rings

It's a beautiful night, a bit chilly, a soft breeze across the river, and the clouds are just right for that great effect of moon rings. Moon rings are coronas, or disc of light appear around the moon (or, more commonly, because of its brightness, the sun), and they are created by refraction through middle height clouds.

Unlike some people, I enjoy all kinds of climate. Rainy days in particular... not just because they are beautiful in themselves, but also because they give meaning to sunny days. If there was no rain, how could you appreciate the sun?

Something to watch for on those overcast nights...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 17, 2002 at 11:07 PM

american mujahedin

Interesting pair of Salon articles on Aukai Collins, who converted to Islam and fought in Chechnya, Kashmir, and other places during the 90s.

The first article talks about his book, 'My Jihad' where he describes his experiences, and the < a href="http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2002/07/17/collins_interview/index.html">second article is an interview with him.

For some reason reading about this leaves me with a strange feeling... and from what we can see from the interview, the guy's views seems to be pretty balanced, specially considering his history.

But... wait a minute... I'm confused... this guy is American... which is "good" but a muhajedin... which is "evil"... and fought in Chechnya, and Kashmir... which is "evil"... and then worked for the FBI and the CIA...which is "good"... so what is he? "goovil"? "eood?" "e) none of the above?" George W., help me out here! I need your flair to stomp the "malfeance" out of this world that resists definition!!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 17, 2002 at 10:48 PM

geekier than microsoft

A couple of articles related to the current MacWorld coverage. Jobs pulls out all the geek stops where the highlight is Jobs' (true, if surprising when you think about it) assertion that Apple is now the biggest supplier of UNIX-based operating systems in the world, and are Mac users smarter? discussing a Nielsen/Netratings poll that shows that Mac users are on average wealthier and better educated than Windows users. Is this an obvious consequence that the Mac is not only more expensive, but also that Windows has a monopoly? With 95% of the market, isn't it to be expected that you'd have a user group more representative of the population at large? Which is the cause, and which the effect?

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 17, 2002 at 8:08 PM

the Internet's resilience

How resilient is the Internet to the collapse of the companies that control its basic services? The article Is this lights out for the Internet? from the Guardian Online analyzes this question in moderate detail. In case you're wondering, the answer is: No. Very enticing name for the article, suggesting that a "shutdown of the internet" is possible in light of the WorldCom collapse. Enticing, but not accurate, which for me reflects badly on the article itself, which actually does a reasonably good job of explaining why it would be very difficult for the Internet to fail. (I mentioned the issue of 'headlines and the web' on a previous post in no comment).

If there was a LOT more consolidation, then the backbone would be left in the hands of maybe 2 companies... a "backbone blackout", at least temporary, could be possible...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 17, 2002 at 7:57 PM

TV drug of a nation

Often I think about both Brave New World and 1984. It's quite amazing how most of what those two books predicted has come to pass, not explicitly, but implicitly.

For example, 1984 shows us a government reinventing history every few hours, but that isn't necessary: the media is bombarding us with so much information at such a high rate that things fade quickly. Doublethink is unnecessary when thinking is a rare commodity, and History is obsolete. Brave New World presented a future in which most of the people are controlled through drugs, without being forced. This is true today even without considering illegal drugs, such as Heroin or Cocaine. I'm not even talking about alcohol. I'm talking about Television.

In 1992, the group Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy released Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury, (possibly the pinnacle of hip-hop as a form of protest). One of the songs in that album was Television, the Drug of the Nation, which I think brilliantly makes my point. These are the lyrics:


Television, the Drug of the nation

One nation
under God
has turned into
one nation under the influence
of one drug

(chorus)
Television, the drug of the Nation
Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation

T.V., it
satellite links
our United States of Unconsciousness
Apathetic therapeutic and extremely addictive
The methadone metronome pumping out
150 channels 24 hours a day
you can flip through all of them
and still there's nothing worth watching
T.V. is the reason why less than 10 per cent of our
Nation reads books daily
Why most people think Central Amerika
means Kansas
Socialism means unamerican
and Apartheid is a new headache remedy
absorbed in it's world it's so hard to find us
It shapes our mind the most
maybe the mother of our Nation
should remind us
that we're sitting too close to...

(Chorus)
Television, the drug of the Nation
Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation

T.V. is
the stomping ground for political candidates
Where bears in the woods
are chased by Grecian Formula'd
bald eagles
T.V. is mechanized politic's
remote control over the masses
co-sponsored by environmentally safe gases
watch for the PBS special
It's the perpetuation of the two party system
where image takes precedence over wisdom
Where sound bite politics are served to
the fastfood culture
Where straight teeth in your mouth
are more important than the words
that come out of it
Race baiting is the way to get selected
Willie Horton or
Will he not get elected on...

(Chorus)
Television, the drug of the Nation
Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation

T.V., is it the reflector or the director ?
Does it imitate us
or do we imitate it
because a child watches 1500 murders before he's
twelve years old and we wonder why we've created
a Jason generation that learns to laugh
rather than to abhor the horror
T.V. is the place where
armchair generals and quarterbacks can
experience first hand
the excitement of warfare
as the theme song is sung in the background
Sugar sweet sitcoms
that leave us with a bad actor taste while
pop stars metamorphosize into soda pop stars
You saw the video
You heard the soundtrack
Well now go buy the soft drink
Well, the onla cola that I support
would be a union C.O.L.A.(Cost Of Living Allowance)
On television

(Chorus)
Television, the drug of the Nation
Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation

Back again, "New and improved"
We return to our irregularly programmed schedule
hidden cleverly between heavy breasted
beer and car commercials
CNNESPNABCTNT but mostly B.S.
Where oxymoronic language like
"virtually spotless", "fresh frozen"
"light yet filling" and "military intelligence"
have become standard
T.V. is the place where phrases are redefined
like "recession" to "necessary downturn"
"Crude oil" on a beach to "mousse"
"Civilian death" to "collateral damages"
and being killed by your own Army
is now called "friendly fire"
T.V. is the place where the pursuit
of happiness has become the pursuit of
trivia
Where toothpaste and cars have become
sex objects
Where imagination is sucked out of children
by a cathode ray nipple
T.V. is the only wet nurse
that would create a cripple

(Chorus)
Television, the drug of the Nation
Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation

Television, as it exists today, fits both the information overload necessary to replace the history rewriting of 1984, and the trivialization of everything into a form of numbing entertainment, to 'pass the time', similar to Soma in Brave New World. As always, reality is stranger than fiction, and some times even hard to believe. Would Brave New World be as good if the drug was Jerry Springer instead of a chemical?

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 17, 2002 at 7:51 PM

testing and user interfaces

The importance of testing has recently been highlighted by the rise of Extreme Programming, which advocates extensive use of unit testing, and a philosophy of "test before you write," which essentially means that the tests are written before any code exists. I used XP in a project and it was excellent: it helped us create large amounts of C++/Win32 code with very few bugs, and a good design. XP works, and "constant testing" works very well in many circumstances.

Automated Testing in general (and unit testing in particular) is great for algorithms, isolated functions, server/processing code and the like, but it hits a wall when confronted with user interfaces. Sure, some things in UIs can be tested, in particular the data. When using the MVC (Model-View-Controller) programming model, most of the tests therefore can be done at the model-level, and some at the Controller level, but testing the View is much more difficult. There are some UI testing tools, but they are expensive, clumsy, and/or not too flexible, and then, they can't alert you to visual UI problems, such as a button looking stretched or something of the sort. Additionally, part of the UI is the user, so testing of a UI by necessity involves the users themselves. What is appropriate for one person might not be appropriate for another.

Maximizing Windows is an interesting article on UI testing and its perils. The reader comments to the article are quite good too.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 17, 2002 at 3:00 PM

on maps

I enjoy maps immensely. I particularly like studying maps of a given part of the world at different points in history. Europe is possibly the place that has changed the most, but sometimes it's surprising to see the evolution of other countries, such as the United States, which reached its current size over more than a century, and that even by 1825, a full 50 years after its foundation, still had less than one-third of its current size. Compare for example the US territorial maps for 1775, 1820, 1850, 1900 and 1920.

Map sites I frequent include Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at the Library of the University of Texas, and the David Rumsey Map Collection.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 17, 2002 at 1:52 PM

more on yahoo filters

What I posted yesterday after receiving it through email is suddenly on several news sites...

News.com reports on the problems with Yahoo! Mail filters. Not a lot of new information in the article, but some other links and short comparison to similar systems in Hotmail. ZDNET also has an article on this subject today.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 17, 2002 at 12:48 PM

land, war and civilization

For those of us that thought that fights over meaningless scraps of land are a thing of the past, here's something to bring us down to earth: Tension grows between Spain and Morocco over tiny island.

This is not an isolated incident. Border (or outright land ownership) disputes are at the core of most of current or recent conflicts/disputes, sometimes mixed with religious conflict, including Kashmir (disputed by India and Pakistan), areas of the West Bank (Israelis and Palestinians), Cyprus (Greece and Turkey), areas of the Andes (Ecuador and Peru, and Argentina and Chile), The conflict in the Balkans (with everybody from NATO to Russia to locals involved in its latest incarnation in 1998, and the dubious honor of being the most recognizable "trigger" of World War One), and the list can go on...

One would think we should have reached some level of stability in borders, at least in 'first world' countries... and that the Internet's promise of "dissolving borders" would come to fruition at least in part. We are still very much a bunch of warring primates...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 17, 2002 at 12:30 PM

telecom deregulation

Too much "market freedom" when laws are inadequate (think The Telecom Act of '96) and when natural monopolies are easy to defend, can be a very, very bad thing. On that topic Salon's Deregulation's Big Lie talks about how, under Michael Powell, the FCC seems to be ready to go back to the age of huge monopolies with little regulation.

The article makes the point that hasty, case by case "solutions" (like the one seemingly proposed by Powell where a Baby Bell would take over WorldCom) will create only more problems in the long run. From the article:

"[this is] too important to let some huge new zillion-dollar corporation be formed, and then say: "Well, we'll take this up in a few years." By then that lobby will be so strong, they'll be flossing their teeth with politicians' underpants. You've got to do it now, ahead of time."

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 16, 2002 at 9:05 PM

yahoo mail replaces words

Yahoo Mail, in an incredibly clumsy effort to to avoid so-called "script hacks" has been replacing words inside HTML emails. I have some more information in this posting in my "technical" weblog, here. Here is a ZDNET Article with more information as well.

So if you are sent "medieval" and you receive "medireview" in Yahoo Mail, now you know why...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 16, 2002 at 5:34 PM

stupidity @ yahoo

Unbelievable. Has anybody at Yahoo ever taken a course on compilers or parsers?

In an incredibly stupid attempt to avoid scripting attacks, Yahoo Mail has been doing some filtering on HTML emails received in their accounts. Apparently, they are replacing words that could potentially be a script with their own idiotic versions that are not in JavaScript. So, for example, I just sent the following HTML email to myself:

blahblah medieval blahblah
blahblah mocha blahblah
blahblah evaluate blahblah
blahblah free expression

and this is what I received in my yahoo account:
blahblah medireview blahblah
blahblah espresso blahblah
blahblah reviewuate blahblah
blahblah free statement

We can see that the super-smart parser at Yahoo has decided that, for example, 'eval' is a really dangerous combination of letters, therefore changing it to the less threatening 'review'. The full list of words that are changed is:
eval => review
mocha => espresso
expression => statement
javascript => java-script
jscript => j-script
vbscript => vb-script
livescript => live-script
link => xlink
script => cursive
object => xobject
embed => xembed
body => xbody
iframe => xframe
layer => xlayer
applet => xapplet
meta => xmeta
form => xform

This has been going on for quite a while apparently (RISKS noted it more than a year ago, and it also appeared in this ZDNet Article). The really interesting thing is that a search in Google for "medireview" turns up hundreds of documents, including Resumes, University course lists, and discussion lists. Some people in the discussion lists ask about the origin of the word, and why it is used as a replacement.

When seeing things like this, one has to wonder how the "bubble" (since it was based on the "unprecedented innovation" that was happening) didn't burst sooner...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 16, 2002 at 5:26 PM

microsoft and "software cloning"

There is an excellent book on the inside workings of Microsoft titled Breaking Windows, How Bill Gates fumbled the future of Microsoft written by David Banks (reporter for the Wall Street Journal). The book is interesting because Banks draws on Microsoft internal memos and emails (that were made public during the recent antitrust trial) and his own experience reporting on the company for the WSJ to back up his argument that Bill Gates is partially fossilized and quite possibly wrong in his insistence that nothing Microsoft does or supports (including the Internet) should threaten Windows.

On it, there was an interesting discussion regarding cloning, particularly because it affects how Microsoft behaves, regardless of the market power they obtain.

"[Gates] made no apologies for Microsoft's efforts to clone Netscape's features. Cloning was a common industry tactic, he explained. Microsoft had cloned the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet to create Excel. Word had mimicked every feature of Wordperfect. And Microsoft itself had faced clones of MS-DOS.
Gates treated his audience to a remarkably frank lesson in software economics. "There are always businesses that start up to build clones of that software," he said. "If they catch up, then the value of the software becomes zero." Now Microsoft would clone Netscape's browser, and when it did, Netscape's advantage would evaporate."

For recent examples of this behavior, we have recent announcements on future versions of Windows XP (attacking several competitors, including Apple) and other announcements that included details of Windows Media 9 (with Apple and Realnetworks on their sights).

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 16, 2002 at 4:19 PM

technology and life

I've been trying to define exactly what this weblog will contain, and I usually end up defining it as "my private slashdot" or something of the sort. no comment, my other weblog, seems to satisfy part of my need to document what I think about non-technology issues that affect our lives (or that I find interesting!). Technology is part of our lives, true, and as such some of it will appear in no comment. But there is a lot of technology, and software development in particular, that most people don't care about.

In fact, they shouldn't care about it. Whenever users have to be aware that there is such a thing as JavaScript or VBScript, or a Virtual machine, we, who create this technology, have failed. We're moving in the right direction, for the most part, but it's slow progress. Let's see where we end up...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 16, 2002 at 4:12 PM

War and Terror

Every time I hear the phrase "war on terror," I cringe. To begin with, war is terror, as far as I'm concerned. A "war on terror" is an oxymoron.

Assuming we ignore the apparent distaste for semantic coherency displayed by the Media and most governments, it is still difficult to accept that this "war" is a war at all.

We could note, for example, that wars end. One of the results of war is that the population of the countries involved feels the pain, and therefore pressures the government to compromise on a solution, and this happens either because of social or economic pressures. If the government is a dictatorship, and thus able to ignore or repress the population, the country might self-destruct, as it was the case with Germany in World War Two. But today, when wars can be fought by remote control and media access is carefully controlled and regulated, can war have its effect in pushing the population to press for change? And if not, doesn't this "war" become less of a conflict than a permanent state of affairs?

There is also the matter of what a war means, or at least what it meant until a few months ago. Take World War Two. In the siege of Leningrad alone, which lasted almost two years, more people died than the casualties for both the US and the UK for the entire war combined. In the winter of 42-43, the famine in Leningrad was so terrible that people ate anything they could find. Soap was a common meal. This was a single episode of the war. Dozens like it existed around the world, and they went on for five years.

Now, how can we say that World War Two and this "War on Terror" are both "Wars"? How can we accept those terms? We can't. By accepting it, we are not only minimizing and trivializing the tragedy of the past into a ten-minute CNN segment and a documentary in the Discovery Channel. We are also setting ourselves up to accept so-called "assymetric conflict" as the state of affairs in the world, ignoring that while military intervention can be, sometimes, necessary, most of these problems can be solved by building schools, factories and hospitals, not tanks and aircraft carriers, in other words, by reducing hunger, and disease and inequality world-wide.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 16, 2002 at 3:31 PM

THX 1138

A couple of days ago, I watched THX 1138.

God, it was awful.

The first full length feature by George Lucas (and produced by Francis Ford Coppola, no less), THX 1138 is an example of how Lucas' trademarked ability to "lift concepts" from other works and reapply them can have disastrous consequences. THX 1138 has as background a society in the future that feels like a mix of what we see in Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984.

The movie is slow, pretentious, and boring. Similarly the score (good at times) pretends to be oppressive and starts being annoying halfway through the movie.

Its vision of the future is not "explained": we are never told how the world got to be what it is. For whatever reason people refer to each other (and to almost everything else) by alphanumeric combinations ("THX 1138" is the name of the main character). I suppose this passes for symbolism of how the "electronic age" would take away all humanity. People somehow seem to remember these 7- or 8-digit sequences effortlessly, I suppose the better memory displayed by these opressed humans is on account of being drugged all day with tranquilizers and such?

Even though most society has gone (again, for no apparent reason) underground, when THX 1138 (the character) is imprisoned, the prison is a huge, seemingly endless white space with no doors. The character, dressed in white, his head shaven, is almost invisible in the sea of whiteness. Visually, it's very impressive, but it makes little sense that a prison this size (and an underground prison, no less) would be used for a single man. Whatever happened to sensory deprivation? It would certainly be cheaper, and all that empty space could be used as a dance floor or as a big lounge with sofas and coffee tables with water and cookies for all visitors who wander into this fortress of despair.

The movie has aged badly, and its "vision of the future" is simplistic, almost childish, particularly considering that it was released about two years after 2001: A Space Odyssey and they could have drawn some inspiration from that movie on how to look at the future. A small bugdet was almost certainly a factor in the low quality of the costumes, etc.

On a lighter note, there are a series of appearances by groups of "robot-cops" with hilarious metal masks (I think they are supposed to be threatening, but I couldn't help laughing) and long black sticks that, when used to stun people (by contact) they produced a sound very similar to the Star Wars lightsabers....

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 16, 2002 at 10:15 AM

paraguay in trouble

Another Latin American country in trouble: State of emergency declared in Paraguay.

Given that Uruguay is also close to the brink of financial dificulties... Brazil might default by next year... and Argentina is still in the tatters... it doesn't look good at all for South America as a whole... might it finally be time for the macro-economic-oriented economists at the IMF and the World Bank (as well as the major banks, who do nothing but squeeze money out of these countries) ... maybe they will realize that caring only about high-level economic indicators is useless: the cost of credit doesn't tell you how many children starve, just as the unemployment index doesn't tell you how many people have given up trying to look for work. Outrageous...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 15, 2002 at 10:43 PM

how low can it go?

Today most stock indices are in the red, many of them by more than 4%. How low can they go? History might provides an interesting indication.

Many of the conditions seen in the 1990s where a replica of what happened in
the 1920s:

-a technological revolution with the subsequent feeling that "everything has changed". In the 20s it was the radio, massive conversion to the Ford production system, cars, and others.
-unequal distribution of wealth and income. The inequality in wealth and income distribution seen at the end of the 90's had never been as high since the 20's
-unequal distribution of corporate power, which reduced competition through massive consolidation (usually done at extremely high prices, which later became a liability in the consolidated balance sheets).
-relaxed banking rules. In the 20s, banking regulation was low. In the 90s, even though banks where well regulated, many other entities became investment vehicles with poor or no regulation. Hedge Funds (like the Long Term Capital fund, that crashed in '98 creating a mini-crisis) are an example.
-unequal foreign balance of payments.
-overspending and low saving rates by consumers, and by corporations as well.
.
A great book on the crash is The Great Crash 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith.

So, let's consider the market value for the Dow Jones Index (at the close of trading) for the period that covers the crash of '29 and and the depression.

1929

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 15, 2002 at 7:58 PM

minority report

Some comments on the movie I wrote down a few days ago.

Overall, very enjoyable, lots of action. Huge disappointment at the way they
ended it. I guess Cruise/Spielberg can't help being Hollywood creatures...

As an editing decision alone (ie. not involving a change in the story), I would have finished the movie when Anderton's boss shoots the gun.

Vision of the future: It thought it was very good, precisely because most of the movie is not futuristic in its environments.
Think about it: which places are "futuristic"?

-The office, at the beginning (which, together with saying "the year: 2054", creates the impression that we're going to see some weird things)

-The highways.

-Anderton's apartment. Although it's more an issue of "cool gadget
population" rather than construction. (Even today, the trend is going
towards more use of metals in construction)

Everything feels more "futuristic" because we are left with the high expectations from the office and the cool 3D interface that manages the precognitions. When the new super-futuristic environment doesn't materialize, we are slightly disapponted. The problem, IMO, is being presented with the office at the beginning. After they leave the office, the main thing that stands out is the highway. I bet that if they had started somewhere else (maybe with Anderton running and obtaining his daily drug supply), the mood would have been different.

There is very little apparent change in society. I think this is correct. To extrapolate so far into the future, the best thing to consider the past: How has the world changed in the last 100 years? the last 50?. Dramatic change usually boils down to two things:

-A need to solve a problem. Example: apartment buildings. As people arrived in cities, the situation got worse and worse. Eventually the need to provide inexpensive housing to lots of people in cities created the apartment building. Buildings were not born of innovation, but of necesity.

-A disruptive invention. For example, the car appeared at the turn of the 19th century. Still the roads used didn't differ that much from what where
used for horses. It took more than 60 years to "invent" the concept of a
highway. Ditto with airplanes, phone, even the internet...

Let's consider the second point. The main "agent for change" that we can expect in the next 50 years is molecular nanotechnology. Without it, we will be hard pressed to turn the world into something completely unrecognizable. There is an excellent split-second (on the subway) where we see on USA Today that molecular nanotechnology has just been "announced" as working. So the world we see is PRE-nanotech. They are thus taking what is considered the high end of the range for predictions that deal with "when will nanotech come about". (that is, there are people that say it will never happen. But of those that do say it will happen, nobody gives a later date than 2050). We could argue that biotechnology would change things too, but almost certainly this change would not involve cities, rather, it would mean different kinds of drugs, longer lifespans, implants... all things relatively "personal" in scale and certainly less visible.

So, if the world does not yet have nanotech, then the world is almost guaranteed to be very, very close to what we have today. Given this, the main reason for change would be to solve problems. So when we see things on screen, to gauge whether they have been "properly" extrapolated, we should ask: would they need to change this today? Change comes at a price, so we need good reasons to force it. And always we should remember that things in society at large change very slowly. So now we can compare this theory with some examples from the movie:

The Office: Need to change: yes.
To handle such advanced technology (interfacing with the precogs and such), you need an environment that is also advanced. (We get the hint that a lot of the technology used in the precrime unit is custom made, so it's really bleeding edge). The new UIs are cool, but they are MDM (Movie Designer Masturbation) if you ask me. It's all very impressive but it doesn't seem to be very practical, and it has many flaws (for example, when the Justice Dept. agent comes in, Anderton has the rig on and he turns to shake the guy's hand, swatting away all the images with the movement. CONTEXT-AWARENESS PEOPLE!! (that's me screaming at the designers). It's done more and more and everybody knows that it's the key to more natural interfaces. Also, suppose you have to work with that a couple of hours; what about RSS? I mean, you'd have to be Muscle Tom there to now get tired by flapping your arms about all the time... And then to transfer images from one interface to the other they have to use this kind of "transparent floppy disk"... did networking technology disappear by 2050?
So that particular design for a VR-interaction system is in many ways utterly ridiculous and stupid. I'd like one if they are selling them though. It does look really cool. Some points to the MIT Media Lab people (who did consulting) on that level at least. :)

The Highway: Need to change: Yes.
Transportation is a huge problem today and it is angling up to be one of the
biggest problems of the next few decades. Responsible for pollution, the collapse of infrastructures, city gridlock, you name it, transportation is something up for renewal and even though it implies huge costs it will definitely have to change. The solution proposed in the movie (cars that are automatically controlled while on the highway to optimize traffic, while they are autonomous while out of it, and more "3D" use of the space) is not too radical and similar systems have been discussed for several years no. And no flying cars. :)

The Mall: Need to change: No.
Malls have been around for decades. More the reason for them to change, you say! Well, maybe, maybe not. The concept of a department store has existed for more than a century largely unchanged. If you took a (rich) person from 1902 and put them in a bloomingdale's today, they wouldn't be confused at all (except for the TVs and such :)). Department stores have been slowly pushed to the fringe, but they're still around. So it's not ridiculous at all to think that a mall would survive largely unchanged, specially when considering that the alternative is the internet, and that's not a full replacement for the "mall experience". Now, you might say, well but something should have changed.
But what? Malls are places for shopping, period, and quite well "evolved" as such. There aren't many ways to do a mall... Think back. 40 years ago, people went to malls and bought things, just like today. They didn't have email. They didn't have mass air travel. The mall looked the same though. It's so bland, so devoid of feeling, that it can't easily change. Now there is something interesting that happened to me in that scene. When I go to a Mall today, I don't particularly like it: it's too artificial in a bad way, pretentious and cheap at the same time. Now in the movie scene, I felt the same thing, but for different reasons (ie because the contrast with our expectations for the future is too great), and I think that it was done on purpose:
you see the mall there... in 2054... just like today. You think "oh how sad
and depressing". And yet, it's just like today. So it is sad and depressing
today, no? If it's not intended, it's a nice side-effect.

Anderton's Apartment: Need to change: Not necessarily. But it makes sense. The same logic of why the Mall shouldn't change applies to homes. Except for Anderton's apartment, which looks more "futuristic". Reasonable, since apartments are newer than houses, they usually look more in tune with the times. They get refurbished more often. And the apartment itself doesn't look so new. You could almost have an apartment like that today. Use of metal is more pervasive, but that's a a current trend as I mentioned before.

Miscelaneous Good moments/things:


- Anderton trying to turn off the commercial in the cereal box. Hilarious. And very plausible!

- The 3D extrapolation of the video of Anderton's wife/kid.

- The "spiders" (cool) and Anderton's solution to them (COLD!!)

- Jetpacks. Weeee!

- The people in the "VR-o-rama". "I want to kill my boss". Reminded me of "Strange Days".

- The plants in the house of the woman that "invented" the precogs. Very creepy.

Miscelaneous Disappointments:


- no fat people, which is ridiculous, considering current US
statistics (or maybe they assumed they'd all be dead by then?). But then this is a problem with hollywood movies in general.

- the whole precog theme is hanging by a thread. I mean, how can you "go
national" with just three precogs? Hundreds of murders a day....
plus, why they detect muders within a certain range is never explained, much
less how the hell that range corresponds exactly to the district covered.
Even more, they have no clue WHY they dream murders... so once they are
dead, what? You shut down the whole precrime system? No crime for the next
40 years, but then better dust off those NRA membership cards? Gross error.

- The span of precognitions. With most precognitions we see, they seem to
cover quite a while after and before the crime. In the case of Anderton's
murder, we only see exactly the moment where he pulls the trigger. If we'd
seen just 2 seconds BEFORE that, there'd be no movie, since the "set up"
would be spelled out. Mmmmm....

- The doctor that changes Anderton's eyes. If I understood correctly,
Anderton had put him away for a while. Him repaying Anderton with great
service and lots of help is an insult to my intelligence and to any good writer that ever lived.

- Anderton had to remove the bandage of one eye before time and was flashed with an intense light. AND? Nothing? No blindness?

- The car factory. Apparently a "smart factory". However, if two 180-pound
loads (Anderton and the Justice Dept guy) suddenly fall in the center of the car-in-progress, nothing happens. No sensors go off. Good! For example, the roof could be falling down, and the robots would go on merrily building. Yes, and the factory is unlocked. Kids can go play in there. No problem. Enough said.

- And what was up with the wife suddenly turning into sherlock-holmes-lady-in-shining-armor-point-a-gun-at-warden and saying "I'd like to talk to my husband". Pffft. Besides, what husband? weren't they divorced? Maybe it's a new, mid-21st century kind of divorce.

- The ending, which I've already mentioned. I would have liked the bad guy to win, Tom Crooze to end up in prison rotting for ever and the wife taking up drugs ("continuing her husband's life work"). At a minimum, don't give me that "everybody was happy everafter" crap... Probably the single biggest problem with the whole movie.

The movie is certainly good enough to be analyzed at this level... but it remains less impressive (in all levels: consistency, plot, characters, etc) than Bladerunner. Hopefully Spielberg will continue in this direction...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 15, 2002 at 2:52 PM

china unplugged

An article in Time Asia about China's recent crackdown on illegal Internet cafes.

From the article:

In late May, [Chen] spent 32 hours straight in the illegal Internet café, working his way through six packs of Double Happiness cigarettes and relieving himself in a bucket by the stairs. "When our parents were young, they spent their spare time in Communist Youth League meetings," says Chen, eyelids puffy from lack of sleep. "We fill our emptiness by living in another world."

Incredible. 32 hours straight? Doing what exactly?

Another strange thing is the incredible amount of "unlicensed" Internet cafes: 150,000. It really puts into doubt how much "control" the Chinese government is really excercising over the Internet... since somebody must be selling Internet access to all of these illegal Internet cafes. It seems that this is another case where the Chinese government leaves the illegal activity largely untouched to help it relieve "social pressures," while doing the occasional crackdown to appear in control.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 15, 2002 at 1:46 PM

from the radio

Q: If you believe that the Bible is the word of God, explain this one to me:

"It is better to dwell on the corner of a housetop than with a brawling woman ... in a wide house."

A: God said it, I believe it, and that settles that.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 15, 2002 at 12:58 PM

The BBC and Homer's DVD Q&A

The BBC has arrived at a ridiculous conclusion regarding Homer's "comments" on DVD on a Simpsons FOX UK website." In one part Homer advises you to "get a multiregion DVD player" (when it's studio policy that multi-region is bad. Yes, it's a stupid policy, but the whole DVD region thing is not terribly smart either.) Well, bizarrely enough, BBC concluded that "buying a multiregion DVD player" somehow qualifies as hacking your DVD player. Even more, the article has the tagline "Homer Simpson: Husband, father and cyber-anarchist."

cyber-anarchist?? For recommending a multi-region DVD player? What the hell?

As far as I can see, either the Tech writers and editors at BBC are now officially braindead, or it's an article designed to get people to the Simpsons website... neither of which speaks well about the BBC I guess. On many levels, this sort of ties in neatly with my previous post about sensationalist headlines, doesn't it?

Now, as for that website itself, sure, it's a marketing gimmick, but it's still funny. The Simpsons have always managed to use marketing tools to sell merchandise or shows while mocking the practice at the same time. Some of Homer's comments from the site:

"DVD discs are played on a DVD player, which is a very lucky coincidence."
"You don't need a widescreen TV and special audio player to benefit from DVD. In fact, you don't need a TV at all!. I Find that DVDs make excellent frisbees or coasters. And their shininess mesmerizes me."
"The most exciting thing about this technology is you don't have it. Or, if you do have it, your model's just become obsolete. If you don't get down to the nearest electronics store within the next five minutes, there's no hope for you. Really, I mean it."

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 15, 2002 at 1:07 AM

headlines and the web

I was in a store today, waiting in line, and I noticed all the headlines in the newspaper next to the counter very vividly, as if the only thing that was there were headlines, as if the papers had no real existence except to promote the headline, like "dog with one ear found whimperning in corner: police investigates!"

The idea that the headline was more important than the news hails from the turn of the nineteenth century, and it was probably W. R. Hearst (immortalized by proxy in Citizen Kane) who did the most to popularize this form of "infotainment." This has been avoided by a few newspapers, notably the Wall Street Journal and in lesser degree others like the New York Times or The Washington Post. It's sort of an inverse relationship: the less "respected" a newspaper is, the bigger the headlines. That goes all the way to the tabloids, where it's common to read "ALIENS FOUND IN POPE'S CLOSET!!! (more on page 2)" in 72-point type, colored in blood-red.

In a newstand, headlines obviously matter, as does color: you want to grab attention. On the web though, a headline is useless to get you to go to a particular website; if you see the headline you're already there. So one would think that headlines would become less pretentious or "explosive" on the web, but that hasn't really happened. At least we got rid of the huge type... for the most moment at least. Just wait until each journalist is paid "per impressions" instead of a flat-fee more or less, and then attention-grabbing headlines will be with us again. (I think this was tried on some sites at the height of the bubble... but there was a too much resistance from the writers and the sites backed away... I wonder if there is any website or information source that keeps track how journalists get paid... and by whom.)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 14, 2002 at 4:18 PM

more woody

I just watched Hannah and her sisters: Brilliant.

Possibly the most unambigously "happy ending" in Allen's movies (that I've seen so far).

Every time I see one of Woody's "New York Movies" I get all melancholic about NY, recognizing places and streets... it's strange how a city can get under your skin. (and not in a bad way!)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 14, 2002 at 4:08 PM

corporate greed

The current fixation on 'corporate scandals' is interesting on some level... Why does everybody act so surprised? Capitalism without restraint is even worse than "survival of the fittest," it's "survival of the few that control money and/or information." Positive feedback loops grow unchecked without government intervention (and then come crashing down just as spectacularly).

And every time I hear about a new 'corporate scandal' I see Gordon Gekko in his thousand-dollar suit, his oiled hair, saying "Greed is good. Greed works" Oliver Stone certainly nailed it in Wall Street...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 14, 2002 at 11:11 AM

night thoughts

I think about the countless deaths and births, all the laughs and the spit and blood and suffering and joy that has brought us here.
I think, or I pretend to think, since it is seems impossible to actually think about it without becoming certifiable. Certifiable, not as in what we do to letters we send halfway across the world.

I pretend I am in the middle ages. Just a little food each day, maybe some bread if I'm lucky. A twelve hour workday, because my master felt gracious today and told us all to go to sleep early. Next week, I'm heading out to some remote place called "Jerusalem" to fight for it. The priest is sure we'll win. God is with us.

Now I'm in the 20th century. Just a little food each day, because I'm on a diet. A twelve hour workday because the deadline has been pushed back again, the master schedule has moved. Next week, we are going to give a presentation to some hotshot bankers in new york. The CEO is sure everything will go as planned. We are the best.

It's not that different, then. We live longer, only to discover the limits of our own lives. Was it Graham Greene that said "we don't live longer, it just seems that way"?

Somehow we've managed to "advance" enough so that, with enough money, we can push away external threats to our lives, like famine or disease, so that we can pretend they don't exist, and then we can worry more freely about creating our own.

I think we need the fear.

I keep seeing these images of dinosaurs riding on SUVs and sunbathing on the beach, even as the asteroid crashes into them. A baby dinosaur playing with Dino-barbie, happily looking up at the strange sound that will end up consuming her and all the world.

I think about Death, and its sister word, Inevitability. Sister word, or sister concept.

I think about ribbons and tears, about what we are and why in the hell we keep looking for things that aren't there.

I feel stupid because I can't bring myself not to think about these things. I feel sorry for myself for thinking. Guilty. Then I feel guilty for feeling guilty about such stupid things. Millions of people are still starving. Then I feel guilty about feeling guilty about feeling guilty, and so on. I stop at some unknown point, when my brain isn't able to handle the recursive factor anymore and it gives up and I go back to being a helpless mamal surrounded by cement, blazing tungsten peering at me through the distorted glass of a light bulb. It looks at me, but I can't look back, or I'll go blind.

Being blind is bad, they tell us.

Pain might be good, for all we know. It might be our salvation, and some sick gene keeps making us think that we have to escape it. Maybe we should seek pain just as we seek happiness.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 13, 2002 at 10:22 PM

a bit of poetry

by Rainer Maria Rilke

Everything beckons to us to perceive it,
murmurs at every turn, "Remember me!"
A day we passed, too busy to receive it,
will yet unlock us all its treasury.

Who shall compute our harvest? Who shall bar
us from the former years, the long-departed?
What have we learnt from living since we started,
except to find in others what we are?

Except to re-enkindle commonplace?
O house, O sloping field, O setting sun!
Your features form into a face, you run,
you cling to us, returning our embrace!

One space spreads through all creatures equally -
inner-world-space. Birds quietly flying go
flying through us. O, I that want to grow!
the tree I look outside at's growing in me!

I have a house within when I need care.
I have a guard within when I need rest.
The love that I have had! - Upon my breast
the beauty of the world clings, to weep there.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 13, 2002 at 10:11 PM

life vs. art

Life imitating art (and then laughing about it): A Mob Case, and a Scene out of Hollywood

"[...] bugs planted by federal and state agents later recorded a reputed Gambino family captain and soldier laughingly comparing the scene to the movies and joking about how they had shaken up the 6-foot-4 Mr. Seagal, a martial arts expert who is a practicing Buddhist."

And yes, to top it off, it involves Steven Seagal, making it even more ironic. So the article implies that Seagal's movies had been bankrolled by the Mafia... maybe that accounts for their quality...


Reminds me of the "hollywood influence" that Vito Corleone exerts in The Godfather (through the unions). Interestingly, the term "Godfather" was never used in organized crime, Mario Puzo invented it, and it took its place in popular consciousness, without basis of fact.
Another thing that has no basis. Apparently Seagal's buddhist friends had advised him to stop making violent movies to avoid affecting his karma:

"Mr. Seagal's Buddhist advisers [...] drew Mr. Seagal a chart warning him that his violent movies and even his family members stood in the way of felicitous reincarnation."

Memo to the "buddhist advisers":

1) There is no such thing as a 'buddhist adviser'.

2) The violence in Seagal's films is even less realistic than Itchy & Scratchy in The Simpsons. The universe can certainly handle a bit of fake blood and makeup.

3) What the universe can't handle would be Mr. Seagal doing anything other than pretending to be a tough guy, speaking softly, and acting badly. Please don't push him to do anything stupid, like turn to drama or comedy. The shockwaves could anihilate all life in the solar system.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 13, 2002 at 9:56 AM

The coming plague

Recently I read The Coming Plague, by Laurie Garret. This is a non-fiction book, it provides a history of diseases in the past 50 years, in particular how the violent changes introduced in the environment and local ecologies (due to different factors such as World War 2, the expansion of agriculture, new pesticidies, new antibiotics) have accelerated the emergence of new and more virulent germs. She also talks about previous plagues, such as the Influenza epidemic of 1918 and the Plague in Europe in medieval times.

The book is not only good because of what it describes from the past, but from what it says about the future. By tracing the causes for the appearance of a new disease (of which we've had quite a few in the last half-century) she describes a pattern of emergence of new epidemics and the perils of half-baked (though possibly well-intentioned) interventions to "eradicate" certain diseases, since those efforts can backfire and expand the epidemic even more, in the process making the bug resistant to treatment, as it was the case with Malaria in the 60's and 70's. Despite being published in the mid-90's it hasn't dated at all. It also contains tons of references for further reading.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 13, 2002 at 9:26 AM

zelig

I just watched 'Zelig,' and it's amazing how good it is. Truly a work of genius. The theme of the movie, that of conformity and its risks (and the many subthemes such as the relation between conformity, the need to belong, and mass movements that supress individuality like Facism, is excellent. One of Allen's best movies.

At the beginning of the movie there are all these references to the "roaring 20's" and their aftermath, and you could easily replace 20 with 90 and it would apply perfectly to what we are living today. The parallels between our 'age' and that of the 20's/30's has been been documented, but Allen is be able to capture it with a few frames, a few words, a few photographs. Spareness without losing the message, the mark great art.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 13, 2002 at 12:24 AM

anthrax

It was about nine months ago that the Anthrax Scare started. I was reminded of it by this Opinion piece from the New York Times. 


I remembered several articles that dealt with the suspicious "inability" of the FBI to find the culprit:



  • Analysis of the Anthrax Attacks. This analysis in particular is important since the author is a respected scientist that doesn't commonly babble conspiracy theories.

From Salon:



Information would then point to a disgruntled USAMRIID scientist based in Fort Detrick. The FBI shouldn't have trouble finding him... unless they didn't want to find it. I read somewhere one of the slightly crazier conspiracy theories: that the Anthrax had been mailed by a CIA agent in a mission to "test" the response of the US public healthcare system (and indeed of society as a whole) to a bioweapons attack.


Regardless of who did it, it's difficult to believe that the FBI doesn't know who he/she is... and if that's the case, then why don't they take action?


In any case, if nothing else happens on that front, it will probably be forgotten in the midst of some accounting scandal or White House press conference...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 12, 2002 at 10:09 PM

a big fat lie?

I've seen discussion in several sites about the NY Times Article: "Has it all been a big fat lie?"


This just in: regardless of whether you eat carbs, fats, kitchen cleaner or hardwood, what matters is not what you eat, but how much you eat. If you eat less than you need, you'll lose weight. In a six-page article, just one sentence (and a muddled one at that) makes mention of this apparently irrelevant fact.


The article (and its previous incarnations), seems to alternatively blame doctors, the governments, the FDA, McDonald's, or all of them at once for the "obesity epidemic" now firmly established in the US.


Now, when will somebody, at some point, consider saying that it's the people who are responsible for their health and their weight? Otherwise it seems that a society supposedly capable of freely electing representatives is, at the same time, unable to choose a proper diet.


Wait a minute, I just remembered that the current president did not actually win the popular vote... but was chosen by a group of fosils in a decision split along partisan lines.


Hmmm... Maybe this whole discussion does have a point then...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 12, 2002 at 8:58 PM

the long war

From The Economist: The Long War

"Just a reminder. Some 40m people are infected with HIV, the AIDS virus. Another 20m have died of it already. Around 3m more will do so over the next 12 months. That is nearly 9,000 a day—three times as many people as died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre last September. Every day, 15,000 more people are infected. Unless things change a lot for the better, almost all of them will die of it, too"

AIDS is certainly the worst problem (in health terms or otherwise) in the world today, and it's getting worse. As the article says:
"At the moment, the worst affected countries are in Africa. Some places have infection rates that are above 30%, or even 40%, of the adult population—and still rising. Cynics in the West might write Africa off. Are China, India, Indonesia and Russia to be written off as well?"

Rich countries in the West might have no problems "writing Africa off". But what will they do if HIV mutates and becomes airborne, for example? Even without such an event, HIV infection rates in the US have stopped the downward trend of the last decade and are inching up again. What will it take for the world to react?

Pandemic: Facing AIDS is another good source of information, supported by UNAIDS and several other groups, foundations and corporations.

Sesame Street will apparently try a new strategy to educate kids on at least some of the issues related to AIDS. I say "some" because while a puppet might be a good way to show that people with HIV are no different than any other people and should not be treated differently it seems to me that it would create quite a confusion on the transmission side of the disease. I mean, how does a puppet get AIDS? Do they think that kids are stupid, that kids think that puppets have blood, saliva, etc?

Oh, and, by the way, this is for South Africa and other "developing" countries only. Kids in the western cultures apparently grow up with a perfect understanding of HIV, AIDS, and they have no prejudices whatsoever.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 12, 2002 at 5:08 PM

3 movies

On movies:

The teaser for The Two Towers, Part 2 of the Lord of The Rings trilogy, was released recently. I find it disappointing that in it they give away the fact that Gandalf comes back. For everybody out there that hasn't read the book, it's a major spoiler. Gandalf's return was one of the best surprise elements in the second book, and one of the few glimmers of hope in an otherwise dark and oppresive section of the story.

Another new Teaser Trailer is the one for Terminator 3. This one truly qualifies as insubstantial hype, if not outright garbage. The movie is set for release a year from now. Principal photography has barely begun (and it shows. The teaser has no footage). This movie will be dangerous for the "terminator" storyline. James Cameron is not involved in the project (he was outbid when trying to buy back the rights for the story, which he had originally sold to Carolco), and almost certainly means that the quality of the script and the difficult issues involved with story-coherence and time-travel will be ignored in the name of hollywood dollars. Too bad.

A more tantalizing teaser: Solaris Produced by James Cameron and directed by Steven Soderbergh, and (one would expect) based on Stanislaw Lem's classic novel of the same name. Cameron is one of the best for Science Fiction, and Soderbergh is one of the best directors out there... hopefully they will do right by one of the most original SF novels ever written.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 12, 2002 at 2:21 PM

legal insanity

An interesting story on Salon about parents that sue (or threaten to sue) their child's school if the child doesn't get good grades. It reminds me of another recent story on Salon as well. The reader replies to that story where quite good, in particular:

"Heck, why stop there? Birth is a leading cause of eventual death, and every one of you who's alive is costing us every damned day! We won't stand for it. Sue everyone, all the time!"

It amazes me the level up to which Americans are prepared to forgo any sense of rationality and let a judge and a bunch of lawyers take over a process that would usually be solved by a converstation. It's commonly said that the US has more than 50% of all lawyers in the world, I'd say that this actually understates how much they do. I would not be surprised if the US accounted for 75% or more of all the lawsuits on earth as well.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 12, 2002 at 2:19 PM

cities, humanity and bombs

It's not uncommon for me to wake up to the distant rumbling of machines, construction crews, trains. It doesn't bother me; I feel comforted by it. Somehow growing up in a big city makes you need its sounds and rythms. It is definitely a welcome change from the friendly, quiet, politically correct. bleach-cleansed Silicon Valley suburb where I was holed up until a few months ago.

The grittiness of cities reflects, maybe, the underlying dirt present in this world.

Images of planes flying over Afghanistan. Some of them drop bombs, others, food. "Humanitarian aid," they call it. What is more human? To blast your enemy with a grenade and then give him a band-aid? Or to just kill him outright?

I desperately windows in my apartments. I need a view to look at at night, something to escape from the walls when they close in, as they do sometimes.

Weird. Would I survive in Jail? Probably; human beings can take a lot of pain, much more than they think. We are dividided in two: those who suffer real hardship (think no job, disease, seeing your child die of malnutrition) and those who suffer MTV-CNN-Induced-Suffering Syndrome (think envy for Britney Spear's new outfit, or --a more bening form of the disease maybe-- suffering because other people suffer and you can't do anything about it). Maybe this division will always exist, at least until some nutcase creates a virus to kill us all, or somebody presses the oft-mentioned button (The Button) that will set off world war three.

Either way, the universe won't notice.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 11, 2002 at 9:47 PM

defining suffering

from the let's-spend-some-time-with-the-dictionary dept.

Pain is a physical reaction. You cut your finger, it hurts. Simple.

Suffering, on the other hand, seems to be less physical than psychological. Complicated.

People "suffer" without apparent reason. Rich people get depressed when they should be happy they got tickets to the Opera.

Suffering is more like resistance. It hurts, and I don't like it, therefore I suffer.

The second definition for "suffer" of the Oxford English Dictionary says:

"undergo, experience, or be subjected to pain, loss, grief, defeat, change, etc."

In general terms, then, it seems accurate to define suffering as the degree of resistance to that natural phenomenon we call life.

Read it again: undergo, experience, or be subjected to pain, loss, defeat, change, etc.

The more aware you are of life and its consequences, the more you suffer.

I wonder if somewhere in the planet the word "suffering" has a good connotation, just like in some cultures death is accepted and even celebrated...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 11, 2002 at 5:25 PM

how real is reality?

How much of our world is real? Reality seems to be malleable enough so that it can support (for example) two groups of people where each presumes itself to be the only defender of all that's good and pure, the guardians of peace, etcetera, and that they're willing to go to war and obliterate the other to prove it.

A less trite example: the Peters Projection.

It's an "area accurate" map, as opposed to other maps that might, for example, maintain latitude lines equidistant. All two-dimensional maps will be, by necessity, inaccurate, since we are losing one dimension of information.

We are trained to think that the world is contained in the map, so to speak. We assume (implicitly) the map represents "reality" accurately, somehow, even though when looking at different projections we see how ridiculous this assumption is.

So, how much of our world is real? Probably anything that cannot be argued is real, to begin with. Like death, or life. Or a tree. Now as for the color of the tree.. 

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 11, 2002 at 5:01 PM

first post

Ok... let's see...

We pull this lever here... press a button... this is supposed to be really easy...

Now check the gas... Hm. No gas.

Menu confusion...

I suddenly wonder: who invented ping-pong?

No time for that now, must set up weblog. Must post. Must press the button.

Go!

I mean... Post!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 11, 2002 at 4:31 PM

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