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

new flash memory from motorola

Motorola will show prototypes of Flash memory chips built with a new kind of nanocrystal, allowing the same storage density in half the area. Cool.

Categories: science
Posted by diego on March 31, 2003 at 2:33 PM

SCM and TCO

Murph posted a good comment on my previous entry on SCM systems:

Hmm, coming from an MS background I know and, more or less, understand VSS. But that costs if you can't afford a sufficiently serious MSDN sub (I can) so I too have looked. I've been somewhat blinkered by the desire for IDE integration but think I'm going to have to give up on that )-:

Perforce is seriously not cheap (even by the heady standards of version control software...)

I might have taken a punt on subversion if a) I hadn't quite given up on IDE integration and b) I hadn't discovered that I already have CVS on my server (!)

CVS... well there is a certain weight of argument and an abundance of tools available across several platforms. Time will tell...

Cost can definitely be a problem, and it's one of the variables I'm looking at. I've used VSS in the past and I'd choose CVS over VSS any day of the week, even though both integrate with the tool I'm using (IDEA). What I want from a SCM system is some advanced features, such as proper branch management, distributed development and so on. We'll see how they compare after I do some testing.

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 31, 2003 at 2:19 PM

so the lawyers didn't use vmware

Over the weekend I "discovered" a copy of Windows 98 Second Edition (sometimes looking through my stuff feels as if I'm on an archeological dig). While I was trying to install it on VMWare Beta 4, setup kept failing after the "setup wizard" had been "prepared" (whatever that means). I tried different settings and still no luck. Changed drivers on the boot disk. Prepared the drive in different ways. Nothing.

Then I realized that the floppy from which I was booting had been prepared for an IBM Thinkpad laptop, and it contained DR-DOS 7.0.

Ah, DR-DOS. I remembered the trial (although I don't remember what happened with it in the end, and I don't even want to spend time looking more, the last piece of news I found on it is here) in which Caldera, who eventually ended up owning DR-DOS, was suing Microsoft for modifying Windows to fail with DR-DOS. I needed an original Microsoft Win98SE bootdisk. So I looked online and got a version from here. Created the disk. Booted.

Installed without a hitch.

Score: Monopoly 1, Little guy 0. I wonder why Caldera's lawyers had a hard time proving Microsoft's behavior. Seems pretty obvious to me.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 31, 2003 at 2:09 PM

more on version control

Still checking to look at the recent advances in source control management (SCM) systems. I began looking about two months ago and at that time I saw BitKeeper and subversion. Then Chris Bailey from CodeIntensity and Dylan both recommended Perforce. So now I've downloaded both Perforce and Bitkeeper. Installed Perforce, created a repository, etc. Still not installed BitKeeper. Will post impressions of both systems once I've given them a workout, which is not so hard since I already have a source structure that is reasonably complex.

Categories: clevercactus, soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 31, 2003 at 10:52 AM

SARS fears spread

All but forgotten in the midst of the War coverage, SARS seems to be spreading, slowly but surely. CDC has warned that it seems to spread through contact and repeated exposure, and might even be airborne. The death rate related to the disease has remained around 4%, but since there's no cure, it can only be stopped by treatment, in many cases requiring mechanical respirators. It seems to me that if this hits an area with insuficient resources it could create a real health crisis. Even more, since they still aren't sure of how it spreads, every time there's an outbreak they have to quarantine everyone in an area, and this means hospitals will be the hardest hit, for obvious reasons. Today a hospital in Canada had to shut down and place everyone inside under quarantine.

As if humans weren't creating enough problems, now this...

Categories: science
Posted by diego on March 30, 2003 at 6:26 PM

Java to be bundled on PCs

According to this article, Sun expects that some major PC makers wil "soon" will begin bundling the JVM with their installations. About time. Once the JVM is widely deployed, then the "JVM gap" will disappear. Hopefully before (or soon after) that happens, Sun will come up with a proper mechanism for handling Java versions (as I've expressed before... I don't quite like the idea of 100 million PCs with two or three different versions of Java installed and the consequent potential for confusion among users that could create.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 30, 2003 at 12:30 AM

a dick tracy world

Mobitopia

wristphone.jpgNTT Docomo has shown a preview of a wristwatch phone:

The "Wristomo" PHS handset, which is designed to transfer data at speeds of up to 64 Kbit/sec, is compatible with the "PALDIO E-mail" service, which enables users to connect send/receive e-mails up to 6,000 alphanumeric characters over the Internet without having to sign up for a provider.
I've heard of several "intelliwatches" over the past 2-3 years, that is, watches that provide PDA-like capabilities, but I think I never heard a cellphone provider talking about it, much less including support for high-speed data connections. With the push towards video adding a camera and video playback would be expected as soon as the obvious battery (and in less measure, display) issues are solved. The hardware user interface for the phone seems appropriately sparse, since there really isn't much real estate, but I wonder how that affects navigation in the software UI. It seems that it has sync-capabilities with outlook, but no bluetooth! You have to sync over the internet or through a cable (!?!). Poohey. dt.jpg

And another thing: once the phone is in your watch, it's unlikely you'll ever leave it (or easily ignore it when it's ringing), so there better be a simple way (ie., one-click) to turn the phone functionality off or at least switch it to silent mode. Sometimes we forget that the "off" switch is one of the most important elements of any technology. :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 29, 2003 at 6:18 PM

synchronizing to multiple data sources

One of the most important questions remaining for spaces is the definition of how multiple sync sources are managed. In the current version (alpha 1.8) it is possible to synchronize a single space to an RSS feed. The mechanism is extensible: the context menu for a space includes an option "Space sync settings" that lets the user "attach" an RSS feed to the space. For a while I've intended IMAP to use a similar mechanism. Aside from the IMAP Folder Selection dialog, available when configuring an IMAP account (which creates a corresponding local space for each folder), there would be the possibility to sync a space with by using the context menu, attached to a particular IMAP account. So far so good.

The problem is that IMAP constantly synchronizes content to the server. Therefore, when moving content in and out of a space that is synchronizing with IMAP, it is useful that the user is aware of what is being done, preferably in a non-intrusive way.

A similar problem applies to synchronization with mobile devices. An eminently useful feature would be to synchronize a particular space with a particular mobile device, so if you have a personal mobile phone, you can synchronize your "Personal" space to it (and thus the contacts, calendar items, etc, that belong to it) and then synchronize the "Work" space to your PDA, which you use for the office. However, again, there must be some visual feedback that this will happen. So how to do it? The solution I am currently working on is shown on the screenshot below.

sync-prototype.png

The idea is that sync sources can be displayed next to a space with an icon: mobile device, IMAP server, LDAP, RSS, whatever. To reduce load, each sync setting can be hidden, with appropriate defaults. For example, IMAP synchronization would appear, because it implies sending data to a server (potentially bad, since, for example, we might be sending content to a server that is not secure, or that belongs to the company), while RSS would not, since it is read-only (a space with RSS sync settings that allow weblog postings are another matter). A mobile device sync icon would also appear by default, because, again, the content is being synchronized "out" of the program, and so it makes sense for the user to be aware of that. Certainly power-users might prefer not to see all those icons, or be aware only of a few. Users that don't need IMAP would never have to deal with those options.

Also, note that the icon has the added advantage that it provides quick access to the configuration: when the mouse is over it a pull down is shown (see the screenshot). Access to the configuration would still be available through the context menu for a space.

As far as IMAP is concerned, there is another nice side-effect: transparent IMAP configuration. A big headache in IMAP systems is how to manage the server. With this interface if a space is created locally, and then attached to an IMAP account, a corresponding IMAP folder would be created in the next IMAP sync, carrying along its contents.

I hope this description was clear enough. I'd like to hear your comments, or questions.

Thanks!

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 29, 2003 at 12:36 PM

onward!

I want to thank everyone who sent their opinion to my entry yesterday 'to be or not to be, either in comments or to me personally by email. I really appreciate it.

Positive and encouraging comments overall, even those raising words of caution. I'd say there were three common themes, some comments talking about all of them, most about one or two:

  • Building a company is a lot of work, but also very rewarding. I agree. :-) I was the first engineer in the previous company I worked for in the Valley, and I have some first-hand experience of how it goes. Hearing it from others is always a good reminder.
  • Come up with a licensing decision soon. Mainly this reflects the dilemma of 'to open source or not to open source.' I think this decision doesn't necessarily have to preclude the idea of the company itself, but it certainly affects the business model, and other things like early adoption, developer community and how it is formed, and so on. Apart from the open-source decision, even going for binary-only raises some questions: there clearly has to be a free version, since as it was pointed out several free products exist, but going beyond that there are many variables to juggle, such as adversiting-supported or not for the free version, paid (and how much), a combination of those, and so on.
  • Competition. The third and possibly most influential point (in terms of making anybody think twice) was about competition. In general entering what is already an established market is always hard, in any product area, but I really think that innovation in this area is long overdue not just in terms of features but also quality, and I thinks spaces is a good base to build upon, and, relief! several comments agreed on this. Cristian mentioned quite specifically in an email that users must have a good reason to switch, and innovation and quality are big parts of that (price also counts). Bob raised the issue of Microsoft, which is clearly unavoidable to any company, large or small, operating in basically any area of the sofware business and to some hardware manufacturers as well. Mark pointed out that spaces would also be competing with Chandler from OSAF. Also important, and my comment on this is only that Chandler was as much potential competition to spaces before I started along this path as it is now.

Russ posted a cool comment on his weblog. There is one particular sentence he wrote that stuck:

[...] my thoughts are simply this: If you're thinking about starting a business, you must want to. If you want to, then you should.
I can't add much to that, except to say: Onward!

:-)

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 28, 2003 at 10:05 PM

The design of Nokia's 3650

Mobitopia

Russ was just wondering if Nokia's design decisions for their 3650 mobile phone were inspired or nuts, in particular regarding the round keypad.

I think that Nokia got it right, and not by accident. I am sure that they've done a lot of user testing, but they don't have to. Circular user interfaces have long been considered superior to "linear" UIs (e.g., menus). Why? Several reasons, but for starters, look at your hand.

Our hands are better suited for rotation rather than linear precision movements. Receivers, amplifiers, and so on, have dials for selecting volume, and one reason for that is that we have higher degree of "fine control" over rotational motion with our hands over linear motion.

Because of the nature of rotational movement, it's also better suited for learning/remembering than linear or arbitrary positioned interfaces. Why? Consider that with a circular/rotational interface, the "center of gravity" of the interface, the location to which movements are relative, remains fixed (as far as the user is concerned): it's the center of your hand. On a linear interface, meanwhile, the center varies depending on the current position of the device or the function selected in the user interface. This makes it much easier to activate functions by direct motion rather than having to look at what the interface is doing.

One disadvantage that circular interfaces have is extensibility: since the space you have is limited you can't create menus with a bazillion options (like some software companies like to do). On the plus side, this means that the designers really have to think about how to create the UI, rather than piling up stuff on already-overcrowded menus.

Circular menus should become more common as we understand better how to use them, even in the context of PC user interfaces. One great example is Pie Menus for Mozilla.

Another comment on the nokia design: the teardrop shape seems to me more comfortable for holding: again better adapted to our hands.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 27, 2003 at 5:04 PM

look and feel, part 3

On the previous entry about my search for a different Swing L&F Mark posted a reference to JGoodies Looks. Nice! Another one to consider.

In another comment Roberto was wondering what are my thoughts on SWT (I've made some comments/references before on the state of Swing here and here). I have several reasons, not the least of which is that the idea of using an SDK that is more recent (and therefore more buggy) sounds a bit risky, but the main one is this: objects allocated in SWT have to be released "by hand". To me, this is unnacceptable. I don't want to go back into the having to find memory leaks. If they fix that, I might reconsider :-).

Categories: clevercactus, soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 27, 2003 at 4:56 PM

to be or not to be

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And, by opposing, end them?

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1

Okay, so maybe Shakespeare didn't quite intend it for what I mean.

Poetic license aside: I'm thinking of starting a company based on spaces and its related technologies. I have been talking to someone here who has experience with other companies, we've discussed possible names, how it would be done and so on.

Why?

Well, for one, to let spaces prosper and grow faster, and make it a more visible contender in what is becoming a highly competitive field.

To make sure that a free version can be supported by a structure that companies can be comfortable with, and would be willing to pay for.

To be able to get some sleep.

And so on. :-)

Regardless of my decision, I'd like to get other opinions.

Comments? Ideas? Questions? I'd like to hear what you think. Leave a comment on this post, or

Thanks!

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 27, 2003 at 2:05 PM

bowden on iraq

An article by Mark Bowden on the strategy apparently being used by Iraq and its consequences for an invasion of Baghdad. Bowden wrote Black Hawk Down (which before being a movie, or the book on which the movie was based, was a Philadelphia Inquirer series, online here) and Killing Pablo.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 27, 2003 at 9:41 AM

looking for a new look and feel, cont.

A couple of comments on my previous entry about my search for a new look and feel. Matt commented that the Alloy L&F is quite good (also a comment here. I agree (I had mentioned it in passing in my entry), but as I said I find it slightly outdated in some sense I can't quite describe. I should try it a bit more though.

Aside from noting my search, Cristian said:

Decent font rendering by the Java VM is what I hope Sun will provide, sooner or later.
I couldn't agree more. Although font rendering improved vastly with the addition of Java2D, there are still holes. In particular, an easy way to turn on anti-aliasing would be a godsend (right now the only way to do it is to redefine the paint() method of a component by subclassing and change the parameters on the Graphics2D object that is received). Well-designed, platform-independent font management would also be an important step forward.

Categories: clevercactus, soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 26, 2003 at 8:46 PM

new machine, cont.

Arcterex was asking the specs of the new machine I got. I thought about posting them and then I forgot. Here they are:

  • Pentium 4 2.4 GHz
  • 1 GB RDRAM
  • ATI Radeon 9700 TX w/ 128 MB DDR RAM
  • 120 GB 7200 RPM disk
  • DVD/CDRW
  • Sound Blaster Audigy, and
  • A Dell 1702 FP Digital/Analog LCD Display
The other machine, the one on which all the initial development for spaces was done, is a Thinkpad T21 P800 with 32GB disk and 384 MB of RAM. The speed of the new machine is a welcome change, but the display is a really welcome change. The display on the laptop wasn't so bad (14 in, 1400x1280) but at such high resolution with less area I was forced to zoom the system font a lot (one reason why spaces behaves nicely with different font sizes :-)). We tend to forget about the display, but that's really what we're looking at all day, and so the difference in price (not so much, BTW) is IMO more than justified.

The installation of the new environment is mostly done, and copying of files from the notebook is also largely complete. I've spent most of the day working on a new Look and Feel for spaces, adding a couple of new context commands for Contacts, and setting up some VMWare virtual machines. I just run the spaces beta in Linux/Gnome (Red Hat 7.2) and it looks great (More on my impressions on running linux again later). Screenshots are forthcoming shortly :-).

Categories: clevercactus, technology
Posted by diego on March 26, 2003 at 8:29 PM

using all those GHz and MB

Now that I have a machine that can handle more than two applications at once, I installed VMWare Workstation 4 (Beta). Such an amazing application. So well done, so simple and powerful. I've already installed W2K Server in one VM, now I'm going for Red Hat 7.2 in another. Testing spaces is about to get a lot easier.

Something else that I've been looking at, in the interest of making life easier for users, is InstallShield multiplatform, which builds native installers for multiple target platforms from a single build configuration. Still haven't tamed it (somewhat non-intuitive at times) but getting there. In the end, for Windows installs the Multiplatform product might not be the best idea since the installation doesn't look too good. But for targeting multiple UNIX environments, plus MacOS and Windows, it's great. Then again, many people that use UNIX don't have much use for installers. ;-)

Categories: clevercactus, soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 26, 2003 at 5:20 PM

looking for a new look and feel

As part of changes for the beta I've been exploring the area of Pluggable Look and Feels for Java. There aren't that many really, and most are not very complete. Javootoo is a good listing of the best-known (there are several more out there, like the Alloy L&F). One that I found that looks really good is the Skin Look and Feel. Alloy also looks nice, although a bit dated. Oyoaha is also interesting. And finally, the Simple L&F. I've been modifying one of the L&Fs from Skin, and it looks good.

It's possible that a different look and feel might be the default for spaces, always having the option for reverting to "native" L&F. I think that wouldn't be too much of an impact for users, who are by now more used to seeing different UIs (Winamp, Quicktime, Media Player, games...)

Categories: clevercactus, soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 26, 2003 at 2:44 PM

cristian's new design

Cristian's weblog has a new design. Nice!

Later:I noticed Karlin also updated her weblog design recently. Very cool as well.

And... I just realized that today it's one month since I did the redesign. It must be the season... :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 26, 2003 at 1:19 PM

new machine

Busy day today. Got a new machine (weee!) so now I can run Eclipse or even IDEA 3.0 without having to stare at the hourglass for what seems like weeks before anything happens (I know, I've got a talent for exaggeration), or VMWare to test spaces with different versions of Windows or Linux. But first, of course, I've got to install Eclipse, or IDEA, or everything else for that matter.

So I've spent the last few hours installing software, downloading some small programs through my modem connection (painful excercise) and trying to get my old machine connected to this one. I tried crossover Ethernet, but for some reason the connection kept doing weird things. I tried serial connection but came to the conclusion the wires weren't inverted. So I fired up a Linksys Wireless Access Point that I brought here from the US, connected the desktop through Ethernet to the WAP and the notebook through 802.11. Finally! Now everything seems to work, although some files refuse to be copied for some reason. I wish Windows Networking behaved less randomly.

So now a long night ahead, installation after installation and testing different things. Not a lot of fun, but at least now IDEA loads in about 5 seconds, and Eclipse almost instantly. How forgotten how that felt. (Relieving!). Also, now that the development environment installation is almost complete I'll be able to continue working while the rest of the stuff is copied/installed in the background.

More later on my install/migration adventure.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 25, 2003 at 11:23 PM

the real face of war

An article on media control and the war.

Categories: art.media, geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 24, 2003 at 10:34 PM

the influence of wireless

Mobitopia

CNET's Michael Kanellos asks:

Will wireless computing fundamentally change the relationship people have with their computers, and allow them to hurdle over one more barrier presented by the physical world--or will it mostly be a hobby for techno nuts?
I don't think there's any doubt whatsoever that wireless will become a force for change. It already is, but it will grow. Kanellos' article focuses mostly on Intel's recent move into wireless.

I'd say another thing about the article. He says "The future of the PC market hangs on that question." I think that what's really exciting about wireless is that it is a new market. Sure, the PC market might be temporarily "reinvigorated" by wireless, but that's not the point. Forget the PC market. PCs are being transformed, and wireless is only one of the drivers for change. New devices are better adapted to particular functions, and they use wireless to provide seamless communication.

Hang on to your hats, the post-PC era is arriving. (Yeah, a bit of hype, but what can you do... :-)).

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 24, 2003 at 8:14 PM

that microsoft thing

Russ responds to a comment by Robert Scoble regarding his anti-Microsoft tendencies:

I have no problems admitting that I hate all things Microsoft. You can check my weblog for a variety of rants against the company and their technology. Institutionally the company lies and cheats. They use their illegal monopoly to manipulate smaller companies, developers and customers. They copy great technology and ideas (WIMP, Netscape, Java) and then use their financial power to muscle the originator out of the market. Microsoft's dominance of the industry is literally a crime. There is NOTHING to like about that company.
I disagree. I don't like Microsoft's aggresive behavior, and I think their products aren't as good as they should be, and I agree that some of the things they do are inexcusable. They do stifle innovation. But, that doesn't mean that they are "criminals". As I've argued before, I think that they are simply better than many others at playing the game of Capitalism. Their monopoly is not illegal (monopolies per se aren't illegal, and in fact network effects tend to dictacte that monopolies happen more or less "naturally" in market economies), but the use Microsoft gives to their monopoly is illegal in many cases.

Yes, my view is possibly overly "darwinian", but I think that's the way things are. It's not Microsoft's fault that monopolies encourage this kind of predatory behavior, that free-markets-for-all policies squash the little guy, and so on. It is their fault that, having so much power they don't rise above that and become a more "benevolent" force, but hey, they're human after all. They have the power and the money to create better things from the start, instead of playing the waiting game and doing things only when it's absolutely necessary, but they don't do it. How many others, in their position, wouldn't defend it at all costs? I'm not sure. It's easy to be on moral high ground when there's nothing to lose. I like to think that I'd personally would not behave like that, but I don't think I can say that my own principles are above others. They're just my own.

Russ then goes on to say:

There is no middle of the road here. If you don't actively oppose Microsoft then you are just conceding them whatever market they want and this will directly affect you sooner or later. If you're one of the millions of Java programmers you need to actively oppose ANY Microsoft advancement into your company, otherwise your time and effort learning Java will go straight in the trash. I don't mind competition - Java is improving already by the presence of Dot Not for example - but Microsoft doesn't compete, remember? They use their monopoly advantage to take over whichever market they set their eyes on. And this means that whether you're a Java programmer or a mobile developer, Microsoft is actively planning to make your skills and livelihood obsolete. Don't forget it.
It's true. They are always a serious threat, and no one should forget it or dismiss it. That doesn't mean that we have to consider them to be evil, or despise them.

Now, I don't know if my argument qualifies for "middle of the road" or what. The problem I see with saying "you're either with us or against us" is that it polarizes the argument unnecessarily. For example, I find many things from Microsoft impressive: their single-minded focus, their ability to somehow make their products work in spite of the size of their market and of their code base. Windows XP is more than 35 million lines of code. And it still works (more or less). Now, to me, that says that there is a really good development organization in place, and that many of their people must be talented. They are in more software markets than anyone else and they have products in many areas. They weren't always so powerful; keep in mind that through the 80s the biggest software company in the world was Lotus. So they are doing something right. Whether it's moral or not is another matter.

The argument that, more often than not, bully their way into markets using their monopoly position is true, but then we should remember that all the companies that have been crushed by them have made fatal mistakes along the way. Those that haven't have survived. Intuit survived Microsoft's determined attack into end-user accounting/tax products in the late 90s. AOL survived the bundling of MSN into every consumer version of Windows since Windows 95. In fact, not only did AOL and Intuit survive, they also maintained their market dominance. How? Better products, better prices, better understanding of what the customer needed or wanted. And, each in their way, through innovation. This is not to say that Microsoft behaved lawfully in the Netscape case, for example, but Netscape compounded Microsoft's onslaught with its own set of crucial errors (can you think of anyone that considered Communicator 4.0 anything other than bloated, buggy software?). Additionally, a monopoly doesn't include any guarantees. Microsoft keeps moving: slowly, making many mistakes along the way, sometimes behaving in a predatory manner, but they keep moving. Many companies had monopolies in the past, and some lost them because they couldn't adjust. Take IBM, for example, who invented the PC only to see it erode its own market dominance. Sure, the antitrust trial that ended at the beginning of the 80s had an effect, but when the company's leadership thinks that "there is probably a worldwide market for 5 computers." (As Watson had expressed at the end of the 50s) it's not a surprise that when they created the PC they didn't know what they had. Compare that to Microsoft's mission statement for its first 20 years "A computer in every desk and in every home." They had this since the mid-1970s. Now we take it for granted, but saying that back then was truly crazy, as it was thinking that they could build a business selling only software, at a time when people saw software as an "add-on" to hardware sales. So there was some vision in place, even at the beginning, and Gates deserves some credit for that.

My point is: sure, we don't like their tactics and we certainly don't like their dominance. But that doesn't mean that everything they do is absolutely bad. I think that there are many things that can be learned from Microsoft, and the only way to do that is to acknowledge where they have been successful, and why.

PS: Russ's comments about all weblogs being subjective are right on the mark. And isn't that why we like weblogs? Because of their inherent subjectivity?

Categories: soft.dev, technology
Posted by diego on March 24, 2003 at 6:52 PM

a random touch of the oscars

Yes, it's close to 4 am (!), and I've just finished running some tests on a new fix for spaces. I'm going to sleep, but for some reason I turn on the TV for a moment, not that I expect that I'll find anything, and there is U2 going into the initial chords of The Hands that Built America I think, WTF? (This tends to happen to me for some reason. Walk into a bar, hear a U2 song, things like that). Then I realize it's the Oscars! Had seen no mention in the media about them in a while and with so many things going on I had completely forgotten that they even existed. (And rightly so).

Anyway, Bono gave one of the best vocal performances I've heard him give in a while. Amazing. It moved me. I wasn't the only one I guess. At the end of the song, they focused on Daniel Day Lewis, who had tears in his eyes. He's an excellent actor, but they seemed real.

So, unexpectedly heard a really good version of a really good song and now I'm going to sleep. For a while. :-)

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on March 24, 2003 at 3:59 AM

office 2003 and macro viruses

So Microsoft's Office 2003 now apparently lets you embed macros anywhere in the document, making it much harder to scan for viruses, that without mentioning that since the format is more free-form than before, it's more difficult to parse as well for hostile code. Regardless of how clear it is that they can fix this now, instead of later, we can look forward to Office 2005 claiming to be "more secure" by removing some of the obvious security holes they appear ready to leave in the current product.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 24, 2003 at 12:08 AM

the truth isn't out there

An article on some possible psychological reasons why people tend to believe in conspiracy theories. Main conclusion: the bigger the event, the bigger the reason must be. We humans tend not to accept that some things just are, that is, happen randomly (and let's not get into the discussion of whether randomness is a law of nature or not), and so we look for the "logic" behind it.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 23, 2003 at 4:22 PM

a year without rebooting

Today it's been 365 days since I last rebooted the machine that hosts this site.

Linux Rocks.

Need I say more?

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 23, 2003 at 1:32 PM

everything but the kitchen sink

Mobitopia

I'm not a fan of products that pack so many functions into them that they become a nightmare to use. Yesterday I had the opportunity to play around with one that included an impressive range of functionality: the Archos Jukebox Multimedia. The design of the device is a bit on the bulky side, certainly bulkier than an iPod, and a bit heavy (about 300g, or 10oz). But its functionality is pretty amazing.

First, as other products like the iPod it functions as an external hard drive (20GB) as well as an MP3 player. But it also comes with a tiny 237x234 Color TFT LCD, and it has a DViX decoder as well as an MPEG decoder/encoder. This means that not only you can listen to music, you can watch DViX videos on it, and the 20 GB of space means quite a lot of movies and songs. You can watch videos on the built-in LCD, and the resolution is not that bad, the decoding quality is good and you can actually read subtitles if the video has them. If you don't like concentrating on a 2-inch screen (and who would?), it also has A/V output, so you can connect the device directly to the TV and/or music system and use it directly as a playback device. Notice that I mentioned it can do MPEG encoding, which is useful when using the optional digital camera (1.3 megapixel), which is a tiny add-on that attaches to the bottom of the device that lets you take still and videos, but it doesn't have a built-in flash (so taking pictures at night would be pretty much impossible). Finally you get USB 1.1/2.0 connectivity.

But ... it's too difficult to use, and the UI feels primitive. The navigation buttons up front are confusing, and the menus are, well, a nightmare, in large part a direct consecuence of the amount of functions built into the product, but with better design it could be improved. And while it is still a bit too heavy and bulky for my personal preferences, it is definitely portable. I wouldn't buy this device for those reasons, but at its price ($339) there's definitely going to be some market for it.

What I find interesting about it is the video playback ability and connectivity to TV/audio. This is definitely something that I'd like to see added to a mobile phone. Phones already have playback functionality. This doesn't mean the phones would have to get bigger, they could use boatloads of Flash memory, or a Microdrive (originally designed by IBM Storage, now a Hitachi unit). And it doesn't mean that the phone would have to get more complicated: I could carry my entire collection of movies and music on my phone, backed up from my PC, and it could use Bluetooth to transmit the contents to a nearby device that is better suited for it (e.g., a TV). Everything happening transparently and automatically.

Now, that I'd buy. :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 23, 2003 at 1:23 PM

the costs of upgrades

Some more information has been published about how the new licensing structure created by Microsoft is affecting costs. No surprises there.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 23, 2003 at 3:27 AM

rattling the cage

Scott McNealy says that ""I can't worry about skepticism. If there's no controversy, and everybody buys into our ideas and follows them, there is no chance of making money. The question is whether we have a controversial and right strategy. If so, we'll make a lot of money." And interesting theory. Being "controversial" might not be necessary, but certainly controversy means that you're going out on a limb in some sense, and if you're right, it's probably gonna pay off.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 23, 2003 at 3:24 AM

reference handling in JNI

As I was working on memory optimizations for spaces I was also trying to fix a memory leak that seemed to be coming from the DLL used to import data from Outlook. Of course, this would only affect the Outlook import process, but it was nevertheless an important part. So I started looking at the JNI code.

The Outlook DLL import reads Outlook information using MAPI (actually wrapping the MAPI objects with ATL) and creates string pairs (field/value) that are then passed to Java. The C++ call looks like this:

jniEnv->NewStringUTF(fieldValue)
Where fieldValue is a char pointer. Now, the JNI documentation doesn't say anything at all of having to release strings or data created with this particular method, but they have to be. The way to do it is by calling
const char* reschr2 = jniEnv->GetStringUTFChars(fieldName, JNI_FALSE);
jniEnv->ReleaseStringUTFChars(fieldName, reschr2);
jniEnv->DeleteLocalRef(fieldName);
Now, once we've seen this code it sounds straightforward, but the JNI documentation does not specify that calling the ReleaseStringUTFChars and DeleteLocalRef methods is necessary, or, in fact, required to release the object allocated. Online discussions in various places are also silent on this. The JNI tutorial doesn't mention it when talking about how to create strings from the C/C++ side. Which raises the unsettling thought that there are thousands of JNI apps out there that almost certainly have memory leaks of this type in them, because unless you're creating tens of thousands of objects, it becomes difficult to see that the memory leak is actually there.

Anyway, the bug is now fixed and I just did an import from Outlook into spaces of 10,000 items (emails, calendar items, contacts, etc.) with the default memory settings for the JVM (64 MB max heap), and it worked fine, finishing in 20 minutes. According to different tests I've done that speed is linear, so about 500 items imported per minute. At some point I should create a bigger Outlook database to see how far it'll go.

Categories: clevercactus, soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 22, 2003 at 6:47 PM

back

More or less...

Good progress on the integration of the new storage code. Still some problems to fix but I could do an outlook import of 10,000 items within 128 MB of RAM on the VM (there's a leak in the DLL which is what causes the memory usage to be more than it should be). Also, some more optimizations remain to be done for reading data from the indexes. More testing to follow. New UI elements will be added on the next few days, and then I'll post some screenshots.

In any case, I'm a bit more relaxed now, once all the pieces are connected it's easier to find problems and improve things... doing those tasks in a vacuum is really difficult, since perception of what a particular optimization might do is usually out of sync with reality. It's really easy to get fooled into thinking that a certain optimization or improvement will be really important when actually it won't be--because the code "above it" uses it in a particular way. Good progress being made though.

Categories: clevercactus, personal
Posted by diego on March 21, 2003 at 2:54 PM

gore and apple

Al Gore has been appointed to the board of Apple computer (more coverage here). He's an advisor to Google too. I didn't know that.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 20, 2003 at 1:58 AM

getting there

Still on the testing and final integration phase, but the main pieces of the new storage system for spaces are in place. Today I made an import of 5,000 items from Mozilla in 5 minutes, and at the end the default VM memory configuration (64 MB max. heap) reported 35 megs free of RAM. Not bad.

In the meantime, I check the news at times. I feel it's the worst form of voyeurism, but I can't help it. I could put it down on uncertainty, but that can't be true. It's pretty certain war will probably start in the next few hours.

Anyway. Will take a few hours off, and then back to work.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 19, 2003 at 10:05 PM

deep fog

So suddenly I notice, out of the corner of my eye... a glow. Faint. I turn my head, and instead of seeing the train station across the river, or the night sky above it, there's just... white. Well, light gray actually.

Fog. The desnsest fog I've seen in my life, or that I remember seeing at least. Imagine: Heuston station across the river has lights on all night. Big, powerful floodlights. I can't see them. There's only faint traces of them if you know where to look, but that's about it. Probably about 150 meters out east there's a set of even more powerful floodlights that I think are currently used for some construction that's going on at the station. There are stadium-kind lights, they are that intense. They are on a pole maybe 20 meters above the ground. I can only see them as a spot of brightness behind the mass of uniform color, but their light refracts through the fog and turns everything around them into a color close to that a really cloudy day.

On top of that I'm listening to the Bladerunner soundtrack, and the atmosphere in my room, with the glow of the LCD and a single desklight, fog outside, and the music, is just ... surreal. I can almost see those huge buildings towering into the smog above Los Angeles in 2019, the hovercars cruising quietly in the distance.

Deckard might just be around the corner.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 18, 2003 at 12:29 AM

blogging on not bloggging

It sounds slightly daft to me to write an entry about how I don't have time to write an entry. But that's what I'm doing. I've done it before. I think it was Sam Shepard that said "right in the center of a contratiction, that's the place to be, that's where the energy is." I agree, but it probably doesn't apply to this self-referential contradictory blogging excercise.

So, what's happening? Just lots of work, closing in on the final integration of the new storage system into spaces. Looong days. Regardless, against the pull of the keyboard, I just went out for a long walk in the park. The weather here is excellent now, has been all weekend.

Spring is coming. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 17, 2003 at 2:54 PM

raging platypus

Through Boing Boing I found the Raging Platypus blog, which (in title and initial content at least) is a spoof on the sneaky "viral marketing" 7UP campaing for its new drink Raging Cow (no, I'm not gonna link to it).

Raging platypus also has a hilarious FAQ. Sure, for all I know this could actually be a real product, and it the author's blog. Or it could just be a blog with a clever "delivery system". I don't care. Hats off to the Plat: It made me laugh. :-)

Categories: art.media, technology
Posted by diego on March 16, 2003 at 2:04 AM

if netscape had won

CNET's Charles Cooper ponders what would have happened if Netscape had won the "browser war". Some good points I guess. He doesn't mention that Netscape was headed in a bad direction, specifically in terms of code and developer support. Netscape Communicator was horrible software, and Netscape produced it at its apex, so that didn't bode well. In any case, Netscape surviving would have been good, if only to maintain competition.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 16, 2003 at 1:37 AM

modern plagues

Last year I read The Coming Plague by Laurie Garret and it scared the hell out of me. Today I saw this WHO travel advisory that reminded me of it. Not being an alarmist, I took it in stride, but it made me wonder about the kinds of new diseases that we'll see in the next few years, and how fast they will spread. We definitely need some new thinking on how to approach disease and health care in general.

Categories: science
Posted by diego on March 15, 2003 at 5:47 PM

more on the spaces storage changes

farnsworth2.gif

"Good news, everyone!"

Okay, so the basis of the new spaces storage system changes seems to be working, basically within the bounds that I wanted. The next couple of days will be spent integrating the new code back into the program, and in the process trying to optimize (memory-wise) things in the interfaces between the storage system and the UI. After that, UI changes and bugfixes and an initial beta release will be ready (no, I'm not forgetting about IMAP!).

Note to self: remember IMAP. :-)

I'll post another update as soon as the integration is done.

ps: Futurama rocks.

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 15, 2003 at 12:07 AM

europe and america, part 2

Continued from here. I read this excellent essay by Brian Eno on the European Edition of Time magazine and posted it, then kept on writing somehow.

Eno looks at the situation from more of a cultural perspective, which is a welcome change. And here is a counter-essay from Christopher Caldwell (Editor for the conservative US magazine Weekly Standard), who writes much less with "longing for change" (as Eno does) than with spite for Europe and disregard for its opinions as "the result of specific historic experience". Caldwell's argument is slightly childish (bragging that "European food is no longer better than American food" (something that could be argued a bit) and then at the end, with a last paragraph that could apply to the US as much as it could to Europe:

that is what George Bernard Shaw was talking about when he defined a barbarian as one who mistakes the customs of his tribe for the laws of nature.
I tend to think that no side really has the upper hand in this debate (if that's what it can be called). There is too much irrational crap being thrown around. Both the US and Europe are being unreasonable, although to me the "unreasonability" of Europe is more palatable since it doesn't imply war. That is not to say that war can't exist, although if humans were less selfish (or is it less stupid?), it shouldn't.

What I do find interesting in these discussions is that the "America" that people talk about is that of its leaders, while the "Europe" is that of its people. When Chirac or Schroeder go against the war, they do it in part simply for political gain. All European countries, including the UK, have 60% or more of their population against the war. But in the US the percentage is around half. So "American behavior" should not be measured by what Bush does. Problem is, of course, once hostilities begin Americans are less divisive and tend to fall behind their leadership, defending it even if it's wrong (it took years of slaughter in Vietnam for that to change for that particular war). So then the "America" being discussed, that of its leadership, becomes that of its people.

I don't know. It vexes me that arguments as simpleminded as "our food is better" can really influence these kinds of decisions, later snowballing into real problems and even stupid things like "french fries" becoming "freedom fries". All countries have their good and bad things. Some have things that I agree with more, but there are no absolutes. My paradise could be someone else's hell. And many these ridiculous arguments reek of absolutism. Jason has some good comments on this (and on this subject in general) on a recent entry.

But what pisses me off more than that is the hypocrisy, and I think that's also what angers most people. Bush saying "we are defending freedom and the rule of law" and then dismissing out of hand international treaties and putting people in jail without due process is not a recipe for being respected. Saying that they care about democracy while being cuddly with Saudi Arabia, or changing their argument for war every five seconds isn't either. Chirac's position is more palatable since it implies peace (at least until yesterday--apparently they might be shifting their opennes to conflict), but it's still difficult to see how they can defend that "war is not okay now, but it would be okay in three months." Their shifts and counter shifts smell of political maneuvering, not of real conviction.

The absolutism implied in the positions of this whole discussion has the additional bad side-effect of artificially polarizing the discussion, which creates emotional rather than rational responses. In this sense I think that the US in general is overreacting a bit (more than Europe). All this talk about how "the US saved the French in world war two" is pretty strange as I mentioned before, since nobody seems to remember that the French helped the US in their war of independence against the British, and in both cases the one that "came to the rescue" had its own reasons for doing it aside from "defending freedom" or whatever it is they loftily declared.

We should be more open to listening to what others say, on both sides. Criticizing one thing in particular doesn't mean that you are criticizing everything. And honest criticism is always good.

When writing (or creating anything) it's difficult to take criticism at first, since you take it personally. Over time I learned to separate criticism of the things I do from criticism of me as a person (which also makes it easy to know when someone is actually criticizing me as a person). People, organizations, countries, etc, they all change and learn, and what I did yesterday might not be what I will do tomorrow. I think that if that could be applied to other situations, the world would be a bit better.

I hope this makes some sense. Too many ideas in too short a space.

Anyway, back to spaces.

Categories: geopolitics, personal
Posted by diego on March 14, 2003 at 7:27 PM

on categories

Back at the end of February I started off a thread on categories, how useful they were, and so on. Now with a couple of weeks of real usage under the belt, it's time for an update.

Overall, I think the experience is good. It's freed me from the questions of "does this comment belong here or not," knowing that people only interested in spaces can get a certain feed/page. At the same time, if they want to see other things that I talk about, they can.

But the spaces issue was clear back when I started I think. What is important I think is that the few categories I've created so far have been enough for most of what I post. This has helped me see more clearly what I blog about. Even though the term "category" for me is quite loose, things still fall in their place without a lot of "impedance". So, there is some logic to what I like to blog about. Nice to know.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 14, 2003 at 6:00 PM

some cool features of JSE 1.4

Roaming the net while I was waiting for a performance/memory test of the the spaces database to complete, I found this old article from O'Reilly Network: Top Ten Cool New Features of Java 2SE 1.4. The features they list are:

  • Parsing XML
  • Transforming XML
  • Preferences
  • Logging
  • Secure Sockets and HTTPS
  • LinkedHashMap
  • FileChannel
  • Non-Blocking I/O
  • Regular Expressions
  • Assertions
You might argue whether some of then belong in the "top ten" or not, but they are all extremely useful and important additions since JSE 1.3. How important? Looking over the list I realized that basically all of them are in use one way or another in spaces, and not just because they are new--it's because they are necessary. Or at least, once you've done something using them, you'll never want to go back to the old workarounds again.

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 14, 2003 at 3:22 AM

North Korea and movies

A truly bizarre story about a South Korean filmmaker that was kidnapped by the North... to make movies for them. Life is always stranger than fiction.

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on March 14, 2003 at 1:41 AM

don't go there

From Wired news:

Despite being asked not to, people went there anyway. They came, they saw, some of them pondered and then, with a quick click, they opted to send the website to its death.

The creator of a website called Don't Go There, launched Wednesday, purposefully programmed the site to survive a mere hundred hits before it automatically shut itself down. It was up to site visitors to either prolong its life or to kill it off quickly.

Very cool. However I think he underestimated the response, only a hundred hits seems quite low. But it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway.

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on March 13, 2003 at 7:50 PM

duz txt msgN mAk U :-) o :-( ?

Mobitopia

frm d Economist:

R U wurEd dat d eng lngwij wil bcum cor^ted & unrEdabl, dat kds wont no how 2 spL? olds got ^set rEsntlE wen a 13-yr-old :o)3 in w scotl& rOt a skul SA in txt. she sed it wz EZer thn writN all d borN lng wrds. it Bgan: “my smmr hols wr a CWOT. B4, we Usd 2go2 NY toC my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kds FTF. ILNY, it iz a gr8 plc.” d Tcha sed he c% dnt BlEv it, it wz fulla hIrOglifs he c% dnt transl8

bt dnt fret. d sAm sorta shrt& n tLegrams o cAbls (remMbR dem?) didnt dstroi eng. kds txt (nOt d nu verb) Ech uthR cuz itz :) & chEp. 4ling mob fone chRjs & nu typz of mob fones mA mAk vox cmUnik8shn populR agN

txtN wil stil survIv, bt az a ritN dialect, jst az spOkn dialex survIvd Tchaz F4tz 2 frash dem outa :- kds. so cheer ^!

PS if U cant rEd dis go 2 www.transl8it.com or Rsk yr chldrn

LOL!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 13, 2003 at 5:15 PM

the road to war

An excellent Salon article: Sleepwalking toward Baghdad. A cogent analysis (with--quite literally-- a bit of poetic license) of most of the arguments for and against war. A few of the analogies are a bit stretched, but whether you agree with it or not, it makes you think, which is what really matters.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 12, 2003 at 12:50 AM

books for today's hectic lifestyles

Every few months I remember to re-read stuff from the great Book-a-minute. They do "ultra-condensed" versions of books. For example, this is the Book-a-minute version of 2001: A Space Odyssey:

2001: A Space Odyssey
By Arthur C. Clarke
Ultra-Condensed by David J. Parker and Samuel Stoddard

HAL


I'm evil. (kills astronauts)

Dave Bowman

I must shut you down now, HAL.

HAL

Daisy, Daisy...

Dave Bowman

Now I must finish this mission alone.

(STRANGE THINGS happen, and they MAKE SENSE.)


Reader

Wow. I understand the movie now.

THE END

Hilarious. There's also Movie-a-minute if books are not your thing. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 11, 2003 at 4:25 PM

growth in mobile phone sales

Mobitopia

The first big piece of news that came out of CeBIT (mentioned by Russ a few days ago) comes from a new study by Gartner group that says that:

In 2002 a total of 423 million handsets were sold, up 6% from 400 million units in 2001. Growth has been driven by consumers who replace their old handsets with new ones with new features. Finnish mobile phone producer Nokia is still market leader with 36.8% of the sales compared to 36.9% a year before. At second place is US-based Motorola with 15.6% en number three is Korean Samsung with 9.8%.

Link here, More details here.

6% growth is good, but I don't know if I'd call it "soaring" as the article does (or other articles that mention it). Certainly it leaves little room for all the players to grow without cannibalizing each other (or their own sales). Still, it doesn't yet answer the main question: namely, what I was wondering if the new handsets were selling well. The jury is still out it seems, since as the Yahoo! News article notes, most of the sales happened in basic handsets rather than the new ones, although the advertising campaigns for the new handsets were what drove customers to the stores in the first place.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 11, 2003 at 2:45 PM

the cluetrain manifesto

Was re-reading the cluetrain manifesto. Many things in it keep ringing true. Others are nice ideas that haven't really happened yet (although we can wish they had...) although they talk about it as actual facts rather than wishes. Always good to read it again nevertheless.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 11, 2003 at 2:22 PM

Java garbage collection algorithms

[via Matt]: an article on the JDK Garbage Collection algorithms. Interesting

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 11, 2003 at 1:01 PM

An Office 2003 review

A short review of Office 2003 by PC World. More focus on OneNote than on InfoPath it seems. Probably because it is much more approachable.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 11, 2003 at 12:47 PM

Intel moves into wireless

A bit of hype from News.com on Intel's new wireless chip, Centrino. Obviously Intel is looking at WiFi with interest, but between that and presenting it as if it's something so crucial? C'mon. Intel is a huge company.

They do face some risks though, as a related Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) says:

Ten years ago this month, Intel Corp. thrust the word Pentium on consumers who had never cared about a computer chip. The company soon learned the perils of becoming a household word, after a mathematical flaw triggered harsh publicity and a costly recall.

Wednesday, Intel will take another risky step in brand-building. With Centrino, its moniker for a new bundle of chips for notebook computers, the company is linking its reputation to one of the most problem-plagued facets of modern computing: connecting to the Internet over a wireless network.

"If we do our jobs, you won't have to fiddle with it for an hour to make it work," says Andrew Grove, Intel's chairman. "It's pretty ambitious."

And pretty scary. Computer users are rapidly upgrading their laptop machines to use a new wireless technology, dubbed Wi-Fi, that is being installed in airports, cafes and other public places. But many encounter some sort of technical hassle along the way. Linksys Group Inc., a big seller of Wi-Fi networking devices, says three out of five customers call its technical-support line seeking help.

Yet Intel is betting that it can create a new image for reliability, and bring Wi-Fi to a much broader audience. That means heading off an array of potential headaches -- not just in its own chips, but in products and services from many other vendors that shape the wireless experience.

The effort combines ample supplies of cash and an army of engineers. Intel plans to spend more than $300 million to build the Centrino brand, including a flood of television ads based on the theme "unwire." Intel also is offering advertising and marketing subsidies to computer makers and wireless-service operators that submit to tests to show that Centrino-based laptops, which are available starting Tuesday, can easily connect with public Wi-Fi access locations, known as "hot spots."

Wireless is a good opportunity for them, they might make inroads by leveraging their PC hardware platform. What? If that is legal? Errr... well, it depends on what the meaning of the word is is ...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 11, 2003 at 9:48 AM

telling it like it is

Found this through Russ's blog: Arrest me, by William Rivers Pitt.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 11, 2003 at 1:57 AM

selling gene pools

A slightly unsettling (creepy even maybe?) Salon article:

The newest resources "discovered" in Estonia are the genes of its 1.4 million citizens. The country's government and a Silicon Valley start-up called EGeen International are treating the Estonian gene pool as a commodity to be exploited for medical research and profit.

EGeen owns the exclusive commercial rights to data from the Estonian Gene Bank Project. In March the bank will begin a full-scale effort to collect blood samples and medical histories that will help scientists understand Estonians from the inside out.

Selling exclusive access to their gene pool? That sounds quite ridiculous. Setting aside the ethical implications, we could just question the issue of "gene ownership". Aren't my genes my genes? The mix between biotech and "free markets" is certainly creating some strange creatures. And just wait for nanotechnology to be a real force...

Categories: science
Posted by diego on March 10, 2003 at 8:08 PM

staroffice goes after the consumer market

[via Erik]: Sun aims StarOffice PC Bundlers at Joe user. Nice to see this is finally happening.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 10, 2003 at 6:04 PM

watch out for the chinese

Mobitopia

This article from The Economist covers the rise of local Chinese handsets over the established international players:

ONLY last year, the bosses of global mobile-phone companies active in China were still laughing at the handsets offered by TCL, a Chinese manufacturer of television sets that started making mobile phones in 1999. To most foreigners, its faux-diamond ornamentation is egregiously kitschy. But the Chinese love it, and so TCL has passed Siemens and Samsung to become China's third-largest handset vendor after Motorola and Nokia, two firms that it now has in its sights.

Suddenly, nobody is laughing at local brands such as TCL and its two main rivals, Ningbo Bird and Amoisonic. In 1999, they had less than 3% of a fairly small market. Now the market is the world's largest—with about 200m subscribers and 60m handsets sold last year—and domestic brands have 26% of it, according to estimates by Adventis, a telecoms consultancy. Several foreign brands, including Sweden's Ericsson, have all but vanished; America's Motorola and Finland's Nokia still dominate, with half the market between them, but they are rapidly losing share. As if to sum it up, Motorola itself has started copying the diamond-studded decoration it used to deride.

Wow. Very impressive. The article also mentions that there are now thirty-six handset providers in China, and growing. Because they use mostly technology that they buy from European or US companies, their R&D outlay is quite low. Obviously this will have at some point impact on the international markets, increasing competition and lowering prices. Whether it will actually accelerate innovation is another matter, since that is usually bound to the telecoms actually deploying the services that make the handsets useful.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 10, 2003 at 5:55 PM

an update on spaces

So I missed my self-imposed end-of-february deadline for the release of the spaces beta. I'm not terribly happy about it, and I want to apologize to those users that have been waiting for it. But there wasn't much I could do. Let me explain.

On one hand, there have been several things going on besides spaces. For example, the term at Trinity (where I am a teaching assistant in the CS department) just ended (last friday, yay!), and it was slightly crazier than usual; because of the way the course is organized this term is the one where the students have to hand in most of their work, and that means a lot of bureaucratic crap to deal with, not to mention having to correct dozens of 20-page assignments (not fun).

On the other hand, my thesis work was on the forefront at the end of january (as I was releasing alpha 1.8) and at the beginning of february. Usually I manage my time reasonably well and balance between the different things I do, but this time the thesis got to the point where I needed one last big push to get the code running. And it did! The first complete version of the code ran for the first time in the second week of february.

Now, those weeks where the thesis took overriding priority over everything else (namely, sleep, eating, and so on, with many 16 or 18-hour days) are the main factor that accounts for the beta not being out by now. There's another however.

The other factor is that I've decided that the beta would have to include the memory/storage optimizations that have been waiting on the wings since the alpha release. The goal would be for spaces to run comfortably under the default settings of the JVM (usually 64 megs of maximum heap, although on I've seen some installations where it defaults to 128 megs). This applies to all operations, including import. Simply put, I wanted the "java.lang.OutOfMemoryError" messages to be a thing of the past. Also, reliability had to be rock solid. Many people are already using spaces for their everyday mail, and although they know it's alpha, that's no excuse. It should be fixed. And the time is now.

The original version of the storage system that underlies spaces alpha 1.x was optimized to minimize disk usage and maximize performance, at the expense of memory. To update it, I am rewriting several components that will change the equation to minimize memory usage and maximize performance. The new version will take up maybe 10-20% more on disk (with a higher peak usage as well), but will have upper bounds on the RAM used. The goal is, again, never to breach the default maximum JVM heap of 64 megabytes when the number of items stored (email, RSS, calendar entries, etc) is 100,000 (yes, one hundred thousand items). It should use less memory than 64 megs, probably in the neighborhood of 32, but 64 is the upper bound. This would mean that spaces will run in about the same memory other programs currently demand under similarly heavy use. In the process, I am adding more features for stability, reliability, and storage management, and preparing the core to support versioning of items, which will be necessary in the near future.

Now, the storage system change is well underway. I've already been running preliminary tests on it with 100,000 thousand items inserted into the database, and memory usage has decreased by a factor of ten in some cases. It's amazing how changing the focus on optimization can affect different measures of performance: the original design of the storage had in mind a few tens of thousands of items, rather than hundreds of thousands. And even though not that many people will deal with hundreds of thousands of items, RSS Feeds create large numbers of items, so tens of thousands of items for a user is not a ridiculous idea.

After the storage change is complete (probably in the next couple of days), I will finish work on the IMAP implementation and make the UI changes that were planned for beta 1, which include making a space more "malleable" by allowing various types of sorting and filtering to be used. I will post more information on these changes for comments as as soon as there is something that others can actually see, or try out.

So that's about it for the moment, more to come in the next few days!

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 10, 2003 at 5:46 PM

the tyranny of email

[via Scripting News]: A post by Ole Eichorn on the dark side of email. Loosely related to this previous post of mine. A good read.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 10, 2003 at 1:03 PM

a short article on spaces

Spaces was reviewed in a short article on the online edition The Hindu. (Well, maybe it's also on the printed version, but I have no way to check :-)). Cool.

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 10, 2003 at 10:06 AM

the influence of regulation

Mobitopia

Wow! Such an original statement! (the title of this entry I mean)

I won't even go into how I got to thinking on what I'm about to write. I've been up to my neck in B-Tree algorithms in the past two days and these ideas have sort of been seeping in the background.

It's been told many times how ARPA (now DARPA), and by extension the US Government, was really the driving force behind the Internet. The US Government in fact had another, less known influence on the Internet as we know it today: between 1993/94 it "opened it" for businesses (Al Gore was the main proponent of doing this, hence his oft-spoofed claim that "He invented the Internet"). The Internet had been around for a while by then, but it wasn't until the regulation permitted it that its full potential was exposed, and could then be exploited. Had the US Government kept control at that time, we'd probably be using MSN or AOL and thinking that it was the coolest thing in the world.

These days the main force of innovation is coming in terms of mobility, both at the protocol level (e.g., Internet-based P2P networks) and physical (e.g., various wireless technologies). Now, innovation happens more often than not at the edge of the network. Think of the things that you consider "innovative" from the past ten years. Chances are, pervasive email access, web Browsers and instant messaging are in that list somewhere. These things rarely happen on the server; although they might require a server component to work, their power comes from exposing information to clients (which sit at the edges of the network).

Yes, there is a point to this rambling discourse.

Since wireless has a tendency to be at the edge of the network, it's what's got more potential than anything else right now to inspire significant innovation. But because it's basically an open field, regulation still can stop new things from happening, or slow them down significantly. As an example, consider what happened with original wireless communications. As this brief history of cellular phones mentions:

In 1947, AT&T proposed that the FCC allocate a large number of radio-spectrum frequencies so that widespread mobile telephone service would become feasible and AT&T would have a incentive to research the new technology. We can partially blame the FCC for the gap between the initial concept of cellular service and its availability to the public. The FCC decided to limit the amount of frequencies available in 1947, the limits made only twenty-three phone conversations possible simultaneously in the same service area - not a market incentive for research.
It wasn't until 1968 that the FCC changed those rules. Poof. Twenty years of potential growth and experimentation for mobile technologies down the drain.

And it could happen again. Decentralized technologies in general (both at the logical and physical level) and wireless technologies in particular have huge potential but also pose huge risks for incumbents as the fight of the RIAA with P2P networks shows. For example, the handset companies are stumbling over each other to provide GPRS, 3G, you name it, along with high-end multimedia input/output capabilities. But once you've got high-speed internet access and SDKs for those devices, what's to stop someone from providing Internet Telephony on your mobile? Technologically, nothing of course. Whether the phone companies would let it happen is another matter entirely.

Another area that is up for contention is software radio. Here is an entry I wrote last december linking to an article on GNU Radio, the most prominent of the software radio projects out there. Software Radio essentially uses general purpose processors (or, alternatively, programmable DSPs) and a DAC connected to a wireless receiver/transmitter to allow a device to support any frequency, and by extension, any system that uses it. The GNU Radio project already supports receiving TV, FM Radio and HDTV on your personal computer, provided you have the proper hardware. And a lot more are coming. The FCC has been looking at how to regulate this area for about two years now (this speech by the Chief of the FCC's OET shows that they immediately "got it") and in 2001 it started to adopt rules that seemed to be "Software Radio friendly". But a lot of that was pre-change in the US Administration, as well as pre-9/11 with its subsequent tightening of security and increase of influence of military/intelligence agencies. So last year the tide started to change, not just because the leadership at the FCC had changed, but also because the companies woke up to what SR really meant for them, but also because of "security concerns", namely, that since software radios are so flexible, you can use them both for interception and attack of wireless communications. As it usually happens these days, everything is more connected than you think, and the "problems" (I'd call them opportunities, but what can you do...) created by software radio extend to other areas, as this article from Richard Stallman explains:

The media companies are not satisfied yet. In 2001, Disney-funded Senator Hollings proposed a bill called the "Security Systems Standards and Certification Act" (SSSCA)[1], which would require all computers (and other digital recording and playback devices) to have government-mandated copy restriction systems. That is their ultimate goal, but the first item on their agenda is to prohibit any equipment that can tune digital HDTV unless it is designed to be impossible for the public to "tamper with" (i.e., modify for their own purposes). Since free software is software that users can modify, we face here for the first time a proposed law that explicitly prohibits free software for a certain job. Prohibition of other jobs will surely follow. If the FCC adopts this rule, existing free software such as GNU Radio would be censored.
In conclusion: as everyone knows, regulation can help or hinder technology, but those of us that are involved in creating the technology usually ignore that. We shouldn't. And we should keep moving as fast as we can, after all, once the cat's out of the bag...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 9, 2003 at 5:52 PM

there's always a first time for everything

It's been probably four years since I started using Google and I had never seen it fail... until today. I took a screenshot of the page to immortalize the moment.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 9, 2003 at 5:26 PM

the ascent of software

A New York Times review on a new book on the history of computing.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 9, 2003 at 4:29 PM

office as a 'platform'

With the introduction of InfoPath in the upcoming Office 2003, Microsoft has started to leverage the idea that Office can be a "platform" beyond Windows, something that is relatively well covered in this News.com article. The problem of complexity is a big one, however. Office is already a huge beast, not easy to work with, and extremely insecure as an environment. On the other hand, I've got to admit that it's quite powerful.

It's been known for a while that it's Office, rather than Windows, that delivers the biggest portion of Microsoft's huge profits. The importance of Windows, however, is not proportional to its profits, since it's the lever Microsoft uses to keep dominance in other areas. It seems that they are finally starting to use Office in the same way (overtly, rather than covertly as in the past), particularly as a platform for business applications. But precisely because they are trying to establish it as a platform they are in a sense competing with Windows itself. Difficult to know if they will have any success at all. Not that Office needs success as a "platform" to maintain dominance, that's pretty much guaranteed with Office's 90%+ market share.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 8, 2003 at 12:35 AM

a bit of levity

Count on The Onion to put some humor to any situation. Bush offers taxpayers another $300 if we go to war:

Under the Bush plan, single taxpayers would be eligible for a $300 rebate, married filers $600, and heads of household $500. Attached to the proposal is a rider, penned by Bush himself, stating, "Plus, we also will invade Iraq right away, everyone promises."

Pending passage of the bill, titled Economic Growth And Tax Relief Reconciliation Act Of 2003 And We Bomb Iraq (H.R. 1936), some 91.3 million checks could be mailed as early as March 31.

"The plan is almost identical to the tax rebate offered in 2001," Bush said. "With the minor exception, of course, of the provision that Americans react favorably to the deployment of 210,000 troops to the Persian Gulf."

"Which reminds me, have you seen these new iPods?" added Bush, pulling an Apple-brand MP3 player from his pocket and holding it up to the crowd. "It costs $299 for one of these little buggers, but it holds a thousand songs. They're amazing."

Hilarious.

And speaking of hilarity. Here is a New York Times review of a new Bruce Willis picture that I hadn't heard about, Tears of the Sun:

Unfortunately, the movie's real setting is a sentimental fantasy world, and its story is a spectacularly incoherent exercise in geopolitical wish fulfillment. Bruce Willis, with the weary, haunted stoicism that has been his trademark since he gave up the smirky frat-boy bonhomie that made him a star, plays A. K. Waters, a Navy Seals lieutenant dispatched into the jungle to evacuate Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci), an American doctor who tends the wounded at a remote and vulnerable mission. In no uncertain terms, the doctor, whose khaki blouse appears to be missing its top three buttons, informs her would-be rescuer that she will not leave the refugees behind. She slaps the lieutenant and spits in his face, which helps to spark a crisis of conscience. He tells the rescue helicopter to turn around and, in direct violation of orders, to take the youngest and frailest Nigerians to safety.

[...]

The audience's tears are more likely to result from boredom, irritation at Hans Zimmer's wretched fake-world-music score and inadvertent amusement at the thunderously earnest dialogue and Ms. Bellucci's awkward line readings. (She has now made movies in three languages; whether she can act in any of them is an open question.) One of Waters's men (Eamonn Walker), who is African-American, declares, "These are my people, too," and urges his commander to persevere on their new mission. When the mission is almost over, a grateful African woman says: "We will never forget you. God will never forget you."

Hollywood never fails to reach new depths of unrealistic sappiness. Oh well. At least reading the review was fun.

Later: A couple of days later, actually... I found this Salon review of the same movie, also very good, and a bit more serious than the one from the New York Times. The movie was directed by Anthony Fuqua! I thought he did a great job with Training Day, but this new movie looks like a bomb (no pun intended). As I said at the end of the previous paragraph: Oh well.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 8, 2003 at 12:19 AM

on tabbed browsing

Dave Hyatt, the developer of Tabbed Browsing on Mozilla, Phoenix and Chimera, talks about his views on tabbed browsing, different usability issues that affect them, and other related things. Very cool.

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 8, 2003 at 12:05 AM

C# vs. Java: A debate

A debate on Builder.com about C# and Java. A little "light" and short, but still interesting.

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 7, 2003 at 10:49 PM

Cringely on Advertising

Collateral Damage or Why Most Internet Advertising Doesn't Work and What Little Does Work Is Killing Us.

Categories:
Posted by diego on March 7, 2003 at 10:02 PM

You own your data

On an entry from a few months back, Jonas recounts his recent outlook migration experience. A sobering read, and one I can relate to, and not just from a user's perspective. The outlook import in spaces is by far the most complex of the imports, since it requires a native library to work.

Jonas ends the entry with:

ps. What are they (Microsoft) thinking? Why do they lock their users? Why aren't they embracing open standards? When will I be trusted with my own data?
He's right. At the moment spaces does a full XML export of your data, but that's not enough. In the future, standards such as iCal or MBOX will also be supported for exports.

We own our data, and our software should acknowledge that.

Categories: clevercactus, technology
Posted by diego on March 7, 2003 at 8:02 PM

our small world

I was reading Bernie's and Cristian's comments to my "mood-post" from yesterday and started to think about my own feelings with regards to the song. It's not personal for me in the sense of being linked to a person or place, but it evokes something...

Then I thought (for the millionth time): It's cool that we share this collective consciousness through art and the technology that made possible its seamless transfer. Before email, the Internet, and all the latest buzzwords, the "global village" had truly arrived without anybody noticing. Sure, we had the connection probably since humans "climbed down the trees" (the quotes because, catchy phrase as that might be, there aren't many trees in the African plains) and started to talk, but before the connection was faint, unseen. And I'd submit that when the connection becomes visible, the nature of the connection changes.

Anyway, nothing new in what I'm saying. Just thinking out loud. And still listening to the song. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 7, 2003 at 7:58 PM

pink floyd state of mind

This is how I feel right now:

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell,
Blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

And did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange
A walk on part of the war
For a lead role in a cage?

How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl,
Year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.


Wish you Were Here, from P.U.L.S.E. (1995)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 6, 2003 at 9:35 PM

leaving reality behind

Andrew Leonard's review of a new book on the boom and bust:

The best book yet about the dot-com years shows how the battle between etoy and eToys.com encapsulated the idiocy -- and the idealism -- of that weird era.
Sounds interesting!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 6, 2003 at 3:03 AM

the first one is free

A good rant by Dylan on the business models for printer companies, and why low printer prices are not what they seem. What the printer companies do is a timeless trick. If I remember correctly, John D. Rockefeller used this technique to enter the Chinese market, selling Kerosene lamps at cost, with only one fill of the fuel. And, of course, Standard Oil Co. was the only one that could sell you what was needed to use them after that.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 5, 2003 at 9:36 PM

the US and Europe

Karlin on the "US v. Old Europe" undercurrent that seems to be growing in the US Administration and media. Quote:

I am really saddened by the pathetically childish comments some Americans are making about "The French" and "The Germans" (as if the tens of millions of people in these two extremely diverse nations are somehow two undifferentiated lumps). I gave some examples of the kinds of things that I have been hearing to a dear German friend who came to stay with me for the weekend (including the accusation that the French have made no contribution to civilisation except wine and perfume and pastries. Good grief, the FRENCH -- no contribution?! This, as I read the biography of American patriot John Adams and his no-nonsense wife Abigail, two solid New Englanders who were struck and entranced by the intellectual life of France back in the late 18th century -- the talk, the theatre, the literature, the philosophers, the food, the granting of an intellectual life to women).
Full entry here.

And, I would add, that's not even going into the whole issue of the rethoric claiming that the US went into WW2 to "save" Europe, when in large part the US was also interested in protecting its own strategic interests from the Axis menace, and even so did not enter the conflict until it was attacked by Japan, two full years after the war had started, when most of Europe had been conquered and Russia was already under attack, and millions of innocents had been slaughtered? And even if the US had in fact gone into WW2 to "save Europe" why would that mean that because of that countries should blindly do what the US says?

On the other hand, much of the anti-American rethoric in Europe is also overly simplistic and often misplaced.

The Economist this week puts it well I think in the article (aptly titled "Enough, Children."):

THE spoof Google search doing the rounds in Washington, DC, runs: “Your search—French military victories—did not match any documents. No pages were found. Did you mean French military defeats?” An affable Frenchman might merely find it odd that Napoleon is unknown in America, despite selling a chunk of it to Jefferson, but other barbs will hurt. “What do you call a Frenchman advancing on Baghdad?”“A salesman.” On American talk shows, it is open season on continental Europeans, especially those “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”.

Politicians seem to have caught the tabloid spirit. “I am particularly disgusted”, thunders a California congressman, “by the blind intransigence and utter ingratitude of France, Germany and Belgium. The failure of these states to honour their commitments is beneath contempt.” Richard Perle, a Republican hawk, now says that France should no longer be considered an ally. The speaker of the House mutters about boycotting Beaujolais.

[...]

[...] American anti-Europeanism [is] different in scope from its opposite across the pond. It is more marginal, indifferent and shallow. But that does not make it irrelevant. At a time when many Americans and Europeans disagree about basic strategic assumptions, the current vitriol is disturbing. Opinion polls show a sharp drop in American fellow-feeling to Europeans in general and the French in particular. That can be put down to the quarrel over Iraq. But the polls also show a more gradual decline in Americans' perception of their “vital interest” in Europe, and this trend may prove harder to reverse.

The most dangerous part of America's anti-Europeanism, just like its mirror-image in Europe, is its willingness to ignore specific facts for the sake of a good stereotype. “The current stereotype of Europeans”, writes Robert Kagan in his new book, “Of Paradise and Power”, “is easily summarised. Europeans are wimps.” Which is all very well—except that half the members of the European Union and almost all the applicant members support a tougher line on Iraq than France and Germany do. European peacekeepers hold the Balkans together and form much of the Afghan peacekeeping force. Those cowardly French, like the rest of NATO, invoked Article Five, offering military help to America after September 11th.

Another problem with the anti-European rethoric in the US (compared to anti-American rethoric in Europe) is that it seems to be happening at much higher levels and more consistenly. There are other points in the article, some with which I don't totally agree (for example, it mentions that the Americans could claim that "they started it", but I think that Bush's treatment of the UN Security Council would inevitably create that response). In any case I think the title of the article says it all.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 5, 2003 at 7:49 PM

Microsoft's P2P Breaks Windows

In a comment to my earlier post on JXTA, RefuX had said that his experience with JXTA had been very negative. Mine weren't very good for the initial releases as well, but it's gotten better.

Part of the problem, IMO, is that, P2P APIs being new, we haven't yet quite figured out what works and what doesn't. Regardless of the API, what's cool about JXTA is its API-, Platform- and Language-independent protocol, based on XML. It has improved a lot over the past two years. I don't want to sound like an apologist, JXTA still has a ways to go, but when something new is being done problems are to be expected.

Microsoft, that recently announced some P2P apps and protocols, has had a few problems of its own:


With this week's unveiling of threedegrees for MSN Messenger and the Windows XP Peer-to-Peer Update, users got a taste of Microsoft's plans in the P2P space. But the experience quickly turned sour for many who were left with broken Internet connectivity or an inability to reach certain Web sites including those of AOL and retailer NewEgg.com.

A bit more serious than I'd expect though... after all, P2P should be a layer on top of all the other standard services of the OS, right? And this isn't even a toolkit, it's an application that should not affect other apps in the system. I guess that this the bad side of Microsoft's taste for "ultra integration" of everything into the Windows core.

Categories: soft.dev, technology
Posted by diego on March 5, 2003 at 5:13 PM

on Sun's Orion

An InfoWorld article with some more details on Sun's new Orion offering. Going for a really close integration between software and hardware it seems, and hoping to make its N1 strategy (and the rest of its updates more predictable.

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 5, 2003 at 4:57 PM

Mobile Phones and MP3 Players

A few weeks ago my Rio player stopped working properly... and today as I walked back home I really started to miss it. Walking along the river, sunny day, cool breeze... no music. I started to think about what had become of the MP3/Mobile phone combinations. I've looked at those devices from time to time, but I hadn't seen anything on that since the GPRS phones started appearing about a year ago. So I looked around for a bit, and here are the results, in a post to mobitopia.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 5, 2003 at 4:52 PM

one million JXTA downloads!

A press release from Sun announces that:

one million developers have downloaded Project JXTA from the Sun Web site. JXTA is the only open source, standards-based, peer-to-peer technology that supports collaboration and communication on any networked device anywhere, anytime. Sun also announced that the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Convenience Stores are implementing JXTA-based applications and that InView Software and Internet Access Methods have released commercial products based on JXTA.
Impressive. Microsoft is a little behind the curve on this one, no?

Categories: soft.dev, technology
Posted by diego on March 4, 2003 at 5:47 PM

mobitopia

Mobitopia has gone live! Great work Russ. Here's my first post with a short intro to ad hoc networks.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 4, 2003 at 4:34 PM

believing your own hype

From Wired: Segway's Breakdown:

Before he'd sold a single one, Kamen blithely forecast that by the end of 2002, his enterprise would be stamping out 10,000 machines a week. Meanwhile, his best-known backer, venture capitalist John Doerr, predicted Segway would rack up $1 billion in sales faster than any company in history.

Segway's breakout year wasn't even a few months old before bad news started to hit. Kamen was pushing the scooter to corporate customers amid a period of belt-tightening that has yet to let up. Supposedly obvious buyers like Federal Express said no thanks, and others offered nothing but mushy maybes. A smattering of government agencies and corporate clients are testing the vehicle, but none have agreed to any bulk purchases. Kamen's largest customer last year was Walt Disney, which ordered four dozen machines for its theme parks and cruise ships. Meanwhile, the company decided to delay offering its überscooter to consumers until safety and training issues could be ironed out.

Segway officials acknowledge their factory sat largely idle last year but refuse to disclose specific sales or production figures. "My sense is they're producing 10 per week," University of Pennsylvania professor Karl Ulrich estimated near the end of 2002. Ulrich is nominally a Segway competitor - he's cofounder of a company that manufactures electric motorbikes - but he shares suppliers with Kamen and respects his work.

Segway is still pushing its scooter to the corporate market, but the great hope now is everyday consumers. Inside headquarters, a redbrick former mill along the Merrimack River in downtown Manchester, employees remain stoically upbeat. In November, the company announced that consumers could purchase a Segway on Amazon for $4,950. But at that price, the scooter seems doomed to life as a yuppie plaything.

Ah, the hubris. Only someone that lives in one of the affluent spots of the US could think that a device that costs $5000, for which no infrastructure exists and that goes directly against the idea of walking would sell "10000 units a week". Segways are truly something for the priviledged few. Even if they were cheap, they would create huge problems if you have more than one or two per block. Oh well.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 4, 2003 at 4:24 PM

the funny side of Win95's stability (or lack thereof)

I remember having a good laugh when this little piece of news came out three years ago. Some justification for the hilarious 10-second appearance of Bill Gates on the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 4, 2003 at 12:15 AM

games and performance art

A New York Times article on the unlikely marriage of the TV series 'Friends' with Quake. Choice quotes:

n a coming episode of the television show "Friends," here's what might happen. Ross arrives and starts to whine. Suddenly an armor-clad warrior rushes in and with a blast from a space-age weapon reduces Ross to a pile of twitching viscera. But the show must go on, so Ross pulls himself together and rises to complete his sniveling soliloquy. Just as he finishes, he is slaughtered again. Call this episode "The One Where Ross Is Repeatedly Annihilated by a Plasma Rifle."

Except that this full-combat "Friends" takeoff will be seen on the Internet, not on television. And rather than a cozy New York cafe built on a Hollywood sound stage, the show's setting will be the futuristic digital scenery of "Quake III Arena," the ultraviolent computer game.

[...]

Mr. DeLappe said he was motivated to combine the brutal "Quake" and the genteel "Friends" because both are pop-culture creations that "present a fantasy, a simplistic view" of the world. He said the "Friends" characters' happy life in New York is "this perfect existence, and it's totally fake." To him the "Quake" violence is equally phony. "You're killed but you're instantly O.K.," he said. "There's no real consequences to it."

There are other similarities as well. Both "Quake" and "Friends" take place within tightly defined universes. The action on "Friends," such as it is, rarely occurs outside the characters' apartments or the Central Perk cafe, while "Quake" shoot-outs are confined to their computer-generated environments.

Nor is it obvious whether it is "Quake" or "Friends" that can claim to have the most three-dimensional characters. Both function on a set of predetermined rules. So just as we can predict that an opponent will need to reload at a certain point, we also know that Joey won't get the joke. As for character development, neither Phoebe nor the gun-toting skeleton has matured much since we first met them.

Quite funny.

Categories: art.media, technology
Posted by diego on March 4, 2003 at 12:10 AM

bound to happen

The blogsphere has been discussing this for days, but finally News.com caught up with the turn of the tide in terms of how people view Google. Actually, instead of "turn of the tide" it's more like "navigating the waters that were just around the corner anyway". Turn of the tide has a nicer ring to it though. :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 4, 2003 at 12:04 AM

spaces web access as default windows client

Spaces eventually will use native libraries to insert hooks into Windows and other OSes so that it can function as the default email client on a system. For the moment, though there's an alternative.

John Rubier posted to the spaces dev list this tip for making spaces web access the default mailto: handler. Here are his instructions:

To use Spaces as the default mailto: handler, we can use the Spaces Web Access feature. (I've modified his instructions to account for the VBS script being downloaded).

Setup:

  • Download the file mailto.vbs into the Spaces directory. (If you use IE, to avoid it from running the script from the browser use Shift-click to request a Save As dialog).
  • In the registry go to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\mailto\shell\open\command
  • Make a copy of the contents of the "(Default)" value just in case you want to put it back the way it was (make a new value called "original" and copy/paste the "default" string into it.
  • Edit the contents of the "(Default)" string to be (include the quotes (") as-is)

    "c:\winnt\system32\wscript.exe" "d:\java\spaces\mailto.vbs" "%1"

    Of course, substitute the appropriate paths for your system. You don't really need the quotes (") around the paths if there are no spaces/special chars in the paths but the "%1" should stay as-is. You can also use cscript.exe instead of wscript.exe but you'll see an ugly DOS box flash on the screen every time the script runs.

  • Edit the URL in the script to match your Spaces Web Access setup only if it's not localhost:80 (the default).
You're good to go.

Notes:

  • Any subject and body parameters are parsed and passed but only the to, cc, and bcc fields will be filled out. Unfortunately, the Spaces web form doesn't take body or subject parameters at this time.
  • Spaces must be already running.
  • Web Access must be enabled.
  • Watch that when you copy/paste the script that lines don't get wrapped.
  • No warranty, expressed or implied on the script!
  • Not guaranteed to handle all permutations of RFC2368.
Also, It should be possible to restore the old mailto: handler by going to Control Panel/Internet Properties/Programs tab and selecting the email program you want to use. This is a temporary solution, but useful if you want to connect IE to spaces alpha 1.8. Of course, be really careful and be sure to know what you're doing, since editing the Windows Registry might create problems. So use at your own risk. As John said, this code and instructions are provided "as is", with no warranty expressed or implied!.

Anyway, thanks John!

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 3, 2003 at 10:17 PM

linux and windows

An article on the new versions of Linux designed for low-end computers, from Lindows and Lycoris. I can't really make up my mind about these new products. On one hand, giving Microsoft some competition is good. On the other, the focus on just creating an inexpensive Windows clone feels wrong. Linux provides a good base to start making things easier for users, for example by doing a proper UI on command-line tools like apropos and, specially locate. The much-discussed search capabilities of the next version of Windows would be covered in large part by doing a deep integration of locate into the Gnome or KDE windows managers. Then users wouldn't have to worry about their filesystem. Just providing an alternative is not enough, we should be trying to fix the problems that we have long complained about, and make software easy to use and predictable for once.

I just realized that I had written a long entry on Apple and Microsoft, commenting on their (apparent) future plans and now it doesn't seem to be there. I have no idea what I did with it. Guess I'll have to rewrite it! Would have been good to have it to link from this entry though.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 3, 2003 at 12:00 PM

mobile mesh == ad hoc networks

Now, this really, really pissed me off.

Russ pointed to an article/press release on Mistubishi, about a technology they "developed". Here is an excerpt:

What Mitsubishi has developed, is the prototype of a relay-type mobile communications technology, called Mobile Telecommunications Radio and Relay Network (MOTERAN). The basic patent has been already granted in Europe and Japan and has been applied for in major countries around the world. Unlike conventional mobile communications, MOTERAN allows each terminal to act as a relay point communicating with other terminals without the requirement for infrastructure, such as base stations or switches. This could be known as peer to peer networking.
Russ's comments are good. My problem has nothing to do with his post of anything he said.

What pissed me off is the article itself, and Mistubishi's pretense that this is new, or innovative or whatever. In fact, what Mitsubishi describes there is an ad hoc network. (Disclaimer: part of my PhD thesis has to do with ad hoc networks.) Mitsubishi's work is derivative (friendly term for "outright ripoff") and they should acknowledge it, but of course they don't, going as far as using buzzword-terms to deflect attention and get media interest. On top of that, they got a patent on it! I wonder what the patent says. Here is the original press release from Mitsubishi, which says that "the technology on which their development is based was invented in Germany in 1996." Really? Here is a link from CiteSeer for a paper that described DSR (Dynamic Source Routing protocol), one of the best known dynamic self-organizing protocols for ad hoc networks. And the paper is... from 1996. This wasn't the first paper on the topic, no (See below).

Ad Hoc Networks have been under development for several years, both in universities and corporations such as Ericsson (as part of research efforts and commercial efforts as well). There's an ACM Conference, MobiHoc (which has existed since the year 2000), that deals specifically with the topic of ad hoc networks. Ad Hoc routing protocols have been under heavy R&D since the early 90s. The idea that any one person or company can get a patent on something as generic as what is described in the "article" is laughable. Sure, they might patent some work based on it, maybe even some particular algorithm (although my understanding is that actual algorithms can't be patented--only copyrighted, and that what you can patent is the process described by the algorithm if anything. I might be off-base with that). But patenting the concept? David Johnson, one of the researchers who created DSR, has a page with previous publications on the topic of ad hoc mobile networks that date back to 1994, which proves that the research was ongoing well before that date.

In fact, hey, why talk about "pie-in-the-sky" research at all? IETF has a group called Mobile Ad Hoc Networks (MANET) which has been working for years on standarizing protocols for dynamic, self-organizing routing. The earliest posts for IETF drafts date back to late 1997!

Okay, okay, maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe they never claimed to have invented the whole field. But they make it sound like it. It's disgusting when a company does that. It's even worse when trade publications repeat their news releases like parrots, confusing everybody, without even checking the facts.

Categories: science, technology
Posted by diego on March 2, 2003 at 11:30 PM

Microsoft's P2P Toolkit

Almost two years after JXTA got going, Microsoft has announced the availability of a P2P software development kit for Windows XP. Some or all of the APIs included in the Kit are expected to make their way into Windows. No hope that they would use the JXTA Protocol for that uh?

Categories: soft.dev, technology
Posted by diego on March 2, 2003 at 10:03 PM

RSSLibJ

In a comment to a previous entry about more RSS fixes, Joseph pointed out that:

You might want to look at RSSLibJ, which takes a common object model (items/channels/etc) and renders an RDF/RSS stream according to the type you want, so you can change a string and get a completely different (valid) feed.
Nice! I didn't know RSSLibJ could do that, though I was aware of its existence, for some reason I thought that it was "just" a Java library to parse RSS files, but it's more than that, in fact, the FAQ points out that it is primarily intended for writing RSS feeds rather than reading them.

As a sidenote, my main complaint was that all of these versions of RSS have to be supported at all. One should be enough, either 1.0 or 2.0.

Pointless griping, I know. Just venting.

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 2, 2003 at 7:44 PM

no cure for stupidity

From this New Scientist piece: "Stupidity should be cured, says DNA discoverer":

"If you are really stupid, I would call that a disease," says Watson, now president of the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory, New York. "The lower 10 per cent who really have difficulty, even in elementary school, what's the cause of it? A lot of people would like to say, 'Well, poverty, things like that.' It probably isn't. So I'd like to get rid of that, to help the lower 10 per cent."

Watson, no stranger to controversy, also suggests that genes influencing beauty could also be engineered. "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great."

Can you say "Eugenics"?

Of course there must be a genetic component to "stupidity" (whatever that is--I'm sure that many people Watson would consider "stupid" live happy, productive lives). chaplin-dictator.jpg But then the world is an imperfect place. Once you "fix" that "lower 10%" you get a new 10% at the bottom. Why not "fix" that too? And, as Watson so eloquently puts it, let's "make all girls pretty" in the process. I wonder, pretty according to what measure? Would he like a society of Barbies and Kens? (oh, sorry, no Kens. He didn't say that men should be "pretty".) Is Barbie "pretty"? Watson seems to think that "prettiness" as well as a number of other traits can be objectively defined, and then imposed on society at large. Hitler would be proud.

The other day I was reading on an op-ed on the Washington Post that 6 out of 10 children of age 10 in the Washington D.C. area can't read. But hey, no problem, Watson would say.... these guys are lost, but we can "fix the next batch" right? Just let me tweak this little gene here and everything will be just fine...

I think that since Watson dismisses environmental factors such as poverty and education and "things like that" out of hand, he should watch Gattaca to see a plausible endgame for his ideas. But "things like that" would never happen right? After all, humans are so great at dealing with this kind of power.

Or maybe there's a gene for intolerance that we can "fix" as well?

Categories: science
Posted by diego on March 2, 2003 at 3:39 PM

conservatives in US Media

An interesting article from Salon's editor in chief, David Talbot. Salon does feel like a voice in the wilderness. In light of their current financial problems (which aren't new by the way) one can only hope that it will survive.

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on March 2, 2003 at 3:12 PM

some movies

I was reading about David Cronenberg's new movie, Spider (starring Ralph Fiennes), when I came across this paragraph:

For the guy across the aisle from me at a Times Square theater for "Crash," in 1997, the sadomasochism was OK, the open-wound sex and disability fetishism was not a problem, the "autoeroticism," ha ha, was fine and dandy. But when James Spader and Elias Koteas embarked on some same-sex probing in the back seat of a 1963 Lincoln Continental (the precise model in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated, naturally), he was out of there. He was a large man, and he unfolded himself to his full height and girth to address the audience as he stood up. "No, no!" he said. "Nuh-uh! I ain't sitting here for that."
This is exactly what I saw when I watched Crash at a theater. I could tell from their sighs and oomphs that many in the didn't care about (or like, or appreciate, or even see) the deep, dense web of correlations between technology, sex and death that the film exposed through the actions of that merry group of twisted sociopaths. And yet the people endured it. Right up to the point in which Spader's and Koteas's character get it on, when many decided to leave. To me that was immensely hypocritical, I thought 'So all the other stuff was fine, but this is not?' and 'This is Cronenberg. What the hell did they expect?'. Although sometimes Cronenberg can make you cringe a bit too much, he always (certainly in all his movies after the early 80's) makes you think. Art (specially good art) will inevitably provoke a profound reaction of some sort. It goes to the core of what we are. If it doesn't, IMO, it's not art.

I can't wait to see Spider. From what they talk about in the article/interview, it seems its themes follow the lines of Memento in that it explores the relationship between memory and identity in some unsettling ways, from a different perspective, into the territory of the artist (or failed artist) as a central character, and how art is communicated:

Here's the point: It's a subjective movie. You are seeing it from Spider's point of view. So he doesn't explain stuff that's obvious to him. When he's confused, we the audience are also confused. When he's hallucinating, we are hallucinating. And the nature of hallucination is that it feels real. The main hallucination in the film is the only one that I thought was necessary.
Exactly how it should be.

Speaking of movies... some movies I saw recently:


  • The Weight of Water (Sean Penn, Catherine McCormack and Elizabeth Hurley). Directed by Katryn Bigelow (an underrated filmmaker if you ask me, having directed movies like Point Break and Strange Days). Great photography. The atmosphere is very tense, but the ending is slightly disappointing... probably because all the tension built up before doesn't really seem to have a "hollywood conclusion." Sort of like Neal Stepheson's Snowcrash... I enjoyed it a lot though.
  • Tape (Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman). Indie, minimalist movie shot digitally, based on a stage play. Everything happens in "real-time" in a single room. The first ten minutes are strange, maybe even slightly boring. Then suddenly it gets interesting, and you can't get off your chair. Same as The Weight of Water regarding the ending. No happy hollywood ending there.
  • Monster's Ball (Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton). Thornton is great as usual. Berry is good too. But to be honest, after all the hype (from recommendations, the Oscars, Berry's histerics when receiving the awards...) it wasn't too satisfactory. The ending was lame; compared to the previous two, this was a Hollywood ending. Reminds me of one of Eddie's (played by Sean Penn) lines in the excellent Hurlyburly: "No guts! No originality, no guts!".

    Hollywood ending. Haven't seen that Woody Allen film yet. And I'll write some more about Hurlyburly later.

    Categories: art.media
    Posted by diego on March 2, 2003 at 1:28 PM

on time and blogging

Cristian is wondering 'where do we find time to blog' in a recent blog entry. Good question. I am not sure. My guess is that I spend anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour a day, depending on what I'm writing about. One thing I do over the day is to leave open several mozilla tabs as I find things that I'd like to link to... and then I let the ideas evolve through the day. At some point I just post the comment...

I don't think that time is the problem, rather, it's a question of how we like to express what we think, and if we are naturally inclined to write. Some people find it easier than others I think, and for many it's actually part of the thought process.

That little calendar on the top does seem to create a certain pressure to "produce" though, which I think is bad. Blogging should be fun, as Russ said recently. And that means it should be done at your own pace. I've been noticing that more blogs are dispensing with the calendar, and I think that's a good alternative when posting is sparse. Quantity can never replace quality, specially when "quality" is measured by how much we enjoy the process.

As usual when I write about blogging, I end up with the feeling that I'm not even scratching the surface. All sorts of ideas come to mind, connections, and so on.... leaves me a bit unsatisfied, but I guess that's good. We are only scratching the surface. Since what "blogging" means is constantly evolving, our understanding, expectations, and ideas of it also change quickly. We'll just have to keep on riding the wave.

Categories: personal, technology
Posted by diego on March 1, 2003 at 3:31 PM

the rise of inktomi

Over the past two weeks or so, Inktomi slurp, the Inktomi spider, has massively increased its activity. Over a few days, it quickly outstripped the activity of Googlebot in my server, while only a few weeks ago Googlebot was indexing the site about 10 times more often than the nearest competitor (which was, as it happens, Inktomi), now Inktomi is indexing with twice the frequency of Googlebot on average--only for today, for example, my stats page reports 318 hits from Inktomi slurp while Googlebot has no hits at all.

It seems that Yahoo! is gearing up for a fight with you-know-who... (not entirely unexpected, althought there are some doubts).

Has anyone else seen this? Or is it just a stats-induced hallucination?

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 1, 2003 at 12:48 PM

quote of the day

"Fuck the regulations!"

--From The legend of 1900.
So much of this movie keeps resonating long after you've seen it (not my case, I saw it again a few weeks ago). I've had this line (and most of the movie actually) in my head for days. It doesn't want to get out! Let's see if writing it down can exorcise it.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 1, 2003 at 11:34 AM

high security?

A Wired article on the security problems of Los Alamos National Laboratory:

There are no armed guards to knock out. No sensors to deactivate. No surveillance cameras to cripple. To sneak into Los Alamos National Laboratory, the world's most important nuclear research facility, all you do is step over a few strands of rusted, calf-high barbed wire.

I should know. On Saturday morning, I slipped into and out of a top-secret area of the lab while guards sat, unaware, less than a hundred yards away.

A few weeks ago, The Economist ran a related article on Los Alamos with the headline "Next stop for Blix? - Even America has a hard time keeping track of its arms programmes", and said:

IT BUILDS weapons of mass destruction. And it cannot account for dozens of computers and hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of other equipment. Were the goings-on that have lately been exposed at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to be uncovered in Iraq, the United Nations weapons inspectors would pounce on them with a furious cry.

Los Alamos, where the first atomic bombs were built, is in as bad a crisis as it has known since the end of the cold war. This time the concern is not about its fundamental job; indeed, the realisation that the world has not been made safe by the collapse of communism, and that there are still explosive dangers out there, has put a spring back in the step of nuclear-weapons designers. The current trouble is about that familiar old villain, simple mismanagement.

Categories: geopolitics, science, technology
Posted by diego on March 1, 2003 at 9:25 AM

editing -- or lie?

Via an entry from Scott, I found out about an ongoing discussion regarding an email sent by Laurie Garret (Who wrote The coming plague, an excellent book on which I commented last year) to her friends reporting 'candindly' (to say the least) about what she saw and heard at the World Economic Forum at Davos. The main problem seems to be that Garret wasn't willing to actually publish the contents of the email--or that's what it appears since she was apparently outraged that what she said was being made public, rather than the text itself. As Scott puts it:

I'm sure it was upsetting to Garrett to find that words she intended for a small group got broadcast online. I don't envy her. But I think what irked a lot of people on the Net was the feeling they got that the story she told her friends was very different from the one she was likely to tell readers of her "official" work.

Rightly or wrongly, a lot of people feel that reporters know a lot more than what they actually put in their stories -- that the "real story" of our times is the one that reporters tell each other over beers, and in for-private-distribution-only e-mails, rather than the one they tell in their formal stories.

The Garrett episode seemed to confirm that. Here was a journalist returning from "hobnobbing" with the global elite and announcing that "the world isn't run by a clever cabal. It's run by about 5,000 bickering, sometimes charming, usually arrogant, mostly male people who are accustomed to living in either phenomenal wealth, or great personal power."

Her e-mail is a casual, unvarnished and sometimes blunt assessment of the poor state of the world ("The global economy is in very very very very bad shape"). With a little editing, it could have turned into a good magazine column. For all I know, that was Garrett's intention. But her reaction of outrage and violation at the viral-like spread of the e-mail suggests otherwise -- and reinforces readers' hunch that they've just gotten a fleeting glimpse of how journalists talk to each other when they think the mike is turned off.

Indeed.

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on March 1, 2003 at 8:58 AM

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