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

the standards debate

Jon has a summary of the state of the discussion, and I mostly agree with his conclusions. I think there's no doubt that Echo's happening, which is good. Also, there's no doubt that, ideally, it would be better if the process involved less infighting and was more evolutionary. But as Jon says (and as I've said before) that the cost of switching RSS formats won't be as high as in other cases.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 30, 2003 at 8:28 PM

the three-pane question

Software that deals with information in general, and with email (or RSS) in particular, has, over the past few years used a relatively standard three-pane interface, as shown in the following sketch:

The new interface that has been appearing more often contains essentially the same components, but in a horizontal layout:
Used where? I've noticed it in several new programs (or new revs of old programs), but here are a couple of concrete examples: the RSS aggregator for IDEA, FeedDemon and, more importantly for wide adoption, the next version of MS Outlook.

The "all horizontal" mode is better IMO, since it gives you more space to view information (which is typically "long" rather than "wide"). It also makes it easier to follow the progression of "contained" information: as you move along the x axis to the left, you increase specificity--this consistency can then help in other areas of the UI. Apple for example has used the all-horizontal paradigm for one of the settings of the file browser in the Finder, and it's much, much better than the alternative. Simple and easy to use.

The all-horizontal mode has one drawback: You need a bare minimum of 800x600 to be able to use it well. (or maybe 1024x768?). This limits it mass appeal a bit, but it's probably safe to say that people that use 640x480 are probably late adopters, and not likely to be trying out new software anyway.

So I'm considering making the horizontal view the default for the next beta of cactus, and it might even be useful to allow in-place editing of some elements (say, contact or task information). Comments?

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on June 30, 2003 at 1:47 PM

invisible features

[via Erik, Charles]: Joel gets it right in his short comment about invisible software features:
Unnecessary UIs [...] that pop up to brag about a cool feature the developer implemented are a little bit obnoxious. Too many software developers just can't bring themselves to implement completely invisible features. They need to show off about what a great feature they just implemented, even at the cost of confusing people. Really great UI design disappears. It's a matter of taking away, not adding.
I agree 100%.

This is really hard to do, and it definitely takes discipline. For example, a lot of work in clevercactus has gone into creating deep integration without forcing abstractions, a bit like playing around with puzzle-pieces until they fit. The result is that, if you look at a screenshot, cactus looks very much like an email reader. This is both good and bad.

It's good because there is less cognitive overload (in UI-speak), and because features "appear" when you need them, and can be ignored when you don't. It's bad because users might tend to focus on one feature alone, and not see the other features at all. And, this not by any fault on the user's part, but because the program doesn't expose them properly.

For example, a couple of weeks ago Francois posted a comment about cactus on his weblog that is a good example of what I mean. He discovered things incrementally, things that were "invisible". Francois knows software, and he can poke around the program and understand what he's seeing. Most users, though, won't. They probably won't get to the point where they have to ask themselves "What is this weblog posting thing he's talking about?". They won't see it at all. And, arguably, no one should have to spend time discovering features.

So cactus needs more work in creating "soft exposure" of features that are available. A short tutorial would be useful, but the UI needs soft clues to show the user what the program can do. Clues that are soft enough so they can be safely ignored, but also visible enough so that if the user is curious, and has some time to spare, the feature can be checked, help on it obtained, etc.

Which brings me back to Joel's example.

Apparently, this is not necessarily the case Joel was mentioning. His example is a feature where there should only be one behavior, and so asking the user is overkill (and/or showing off). The feature should be invisible, yes. But somehow the user should be made aware of it. Why? Well, for starters, it's good to know what your software is doing to your data (if the data was created by for program for internal use it's a different matter), and then we have the more prosaic case in which a user wonders "I know this site changed its URL, I wonder how did the program deal with it". Giving information in this case seems eminently useful. So how to do it? In this particular case, in my opinion the URL should update itself in the bookmarks with no message, but the next time the user opens the menu the bookmark will appear with a different color and maybe with a temporary submenu or other UI widget to "learn more" about what the color means. The temporary UI widget would explain what changed and why. User satisfied, feature exposed. But only if necessary.

Categories: clevercactus,
Posted by diego on June 30, 2003 at 12:40 PM

the theology of google

An op-ed by Thomas Friedman in today's New York Times wonders: Is Google God?.

That's right boys and girls, all of you who had, up to this point, found solace in the quiet reverie found in a church, or a synagoge, or a mosque, those of you who had hoped to reach enlightenment and be up there with Buddha, those of you who thought that God couldn't exist, because if he did he would be a masochistic, spoiled brat, those of you who sat squarely on the agnostic camp and said, "There's no data either way", and those of you who worship or live by any other beliefs, or those of who who just have no idea of what's going on on this planet, well, it seems it's all over.

Kneel before your monitor, pray to the spirit of TCP/IP to deliver you from Evil, because Google is here.

What a load of crap.

How does he reach the conclusion, you ask? Well, apparently Google+WiFi means access to "all information", anywhere, anytime. This would seem to equal God. Never mind that the least of what's happening today is "Google+WiFi", never mind that the pervasive decentralization that is happening at all levels signals a shift at many levels on how we understand (and use) computers, networks, the Internet. Nevermind that Google could easily be obsolete in five years (and Google knows that, too).

It doesn't matter that google doesn't show you "all information" but what it thinks is more relevant. It doesn't matter that google's index can easily get swamped by new information, and therefore it sucks at finding old information that is quickly overrun. Google indexes the web today, not as it was last year, and therefore it's impermanent, real-time if you will, and it has an attention span equal to that of the people that put their information on the web, which isn't saying much. That is good for many reasons. It's useful. Sure.

Google is a good company, it takes good care of its employees and it truly cares about what it does. Its main product is enormously useful. The company excels at what it does.

Does that turn google into a deity? Nah. But it does make it a good lever on which journalists and other hypemeisters can lean on to extol whatever idea they have in their head. If it's after a complimentary tour of the company, all the better--which is of course no coincidence. In the past few weeks I've read of several people that have "taken a tour" of the company's headquarters, as if it was a modern Mecca of some kind. Make no mistake, Google's appearance is carefully crafted. From its minimalist website design, to its low profile in general (and its resistance to going public). I'm sure the PR guys at google work hard to create good publicity, but this is too much (and, almost certainly, unintended: after all, how do you control delusional journalists that happen to have a big bullhorn?). Googlers reading the article must surely feel happy and proud (and rightly so), but I imagine that a tinge of uncertainty and fear must be mixed in as well.

After all, if people talk of you as God, is there anywhere to go but down? (Since you're not, and you know it).

I'll go along with the idiotic google-is-god meme just for a second, to add this: No one likes a Messiah that gets to live to old age and retire peacefully. And martyrs are always popular, even in the tech industry.

Just ask Netscape.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 29, 2003 at 4:42 PM

so that's why...

A couple of days ago I linked to and commented on a Wall Street Journal article on RSS. In my comment I noted that the article was low on hype (and high on substance). It did sound kind of weird, after all, while accounts of weblogs have been showing up more and more in the mainstream media, it's still common to see the usual mantras repeated (you know... "just personal diaries".... "journalism is dead"... and so on), so it did strike me as interesting that this account was well written, and well-informed.

There's a reason: Jeremy Wagstaff, who wrote the article, has a weblog, and although it seems it might have been set up relatively recently (the archives go way back, but the old posts contain --as far as I can see-- only versions of his newspaper columns), so he actually knows what he's talking about from first-hand experience.

And here's a link to an entry he wrote related to the article, where he mentioned cactus. :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 28, 2003 at 5:08 PM

woody's quote of the day

There's an old joke: Two elderly women are at a Catskills mountain resort, and one of 'em says: "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know, and such small portions!" Well, that's essentially how I feel about life. Full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly.

The other important joke for me is one that's usually attributed to Groucho Marx, but I think it appears originally in Freud's wit and its relation to the unconscious. And it goes like this--I'm paraphrasing: "I would never wanna belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member." That's the key joke of my adult life in terms of my relationships with women.

You know, lately the strangest things have been going through my mind, 'cause I turned forty, and I guess I'm going through a life crisis or something, I don't know. I, ... and I'm not worried about aging. I'm not one o' those characters, you know. Although I'm balding slightly on top, that's about the worst you can say about me. I, uh, I think I'm gonna get better as I get older, you know? I think I'm gonna be the balding virile type, you know, as opposed to say the, uh, distinguished gray? Unless I'm neither of those two. Unless I'm one of those guys with saliva dribbling out of his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria with a shopping bag screaming about socialism.

From Annie Hall (1977)

Posted by diego on June 28, 2003 at 4:38 PM

in the land of guantanamo

From the New York Times: an in-depth article on the prison camp the US has created in Guantanamo, how it's managed, and how it has evolved since it began as "Camp X-Ray".

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on June 28, 2003 at 12:19 AM

J2SE 1.4.2 and the J2SE roadmap

[via Matt]: A Roadmap for the Java2 Platform, Standard Edition. Some good information there.

Also, the J2SE v1.4.2 has been released. I've been using the beta for the past couple of months, and it's quite good (I do have some issues with the installation system though... we'll see if they've been addressed), particularly the WinXP L&F (clevercactus looks exactly like a native WinXP app with it). Oddly enough, the download page includes as a first set of options the JDK plus the Netbeans IDE, which might be interesting to developers (well... theoretically at least) but will be confusing for users. Bad choice of ordering I think. Anyway. Great to see the release happening on time!

Posted by diego on June 27, 2003 at 8:13 PM

cracking the code

I was thinking about WASTE and I went to the nullsoft homepage to see what else was new. They had ripped everything out and let something that looked strangely like a code (here is a screenshot, for posterity). I looked at it for a couple of minutes, and it was a code indeed. Not hard to crack (program ended up being quite short), and there's a message inside. Very cool. The things that we find entertaining...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 27, 2003 at 8:06 PM

echo and RSS

Sam responds to Dave's comments on Echo in this entry. The discussion has been quite civilized up to this point (although there were some close calls in the last few days) and it's clear where everyone stands. With Echo endorsed at this point by most of the developers in the space (with the caveat that Dave's endorsement is tentative), I think it's clear that it will be widely adopted, which is great.

Jon Udell gives a good summary of the Echo/RSS situation in his Conversation with Mr. Safe. He sticks pretty much to the line that it is a political problem, which I think is only partly true. If people can't agree to move forward a spec technically, it is indeed political, but mostly those involved claim technical reasons for that. So it's a muddle. While Jon makes a good point about the simplicity of RSS, he doesn't go further in noting that, differently than other formats, RSS is mostly used for "impermanent" things--not for archives (at least not publicly). So a migration won't be like, say, changing Ethernet for Token Ring or whatever. This is key, since it changes the cost of evolving the standard in non-compatible form. Additionally, in the RSS world "non-compatible" already has no meaning, since almost all tools have to support both RSS 0.91/2.0 and RSS 1.0 (RDF), they are already prepared to deal with another similar, yet incompatible, format. This affects the timeframe required to support the standard across the board, which will be measured in months, not years.

The other important element is that Echo will also provide, first a properly specified system (which doesn't exist today) and, two, a common weblog API based on that standard specification, which is extremely important for future evolution of distributed tools based on the evolving read/write web.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 27, 2003 at 4:16 PM

unmetered internet access in Ireland? Not really

Yeah, right.

Karlin mentioned this a couple of days ago, and today the BBC is running with it as well. Note the Jupiter numbers on the article: 1% of Irish homes have broadband. That has to be on par with various group of fish that live in deep trenches of the Atlantic ocean. Or maybe they can get broadband from submarines...

This is a PR stunt, plain and simple. UTV's "unmetered" access is actually limited to 30 hours a month (for the cheapest option, the other one is 180 hours). So they are only changing the "meter" from bandwidth to time. The result of the equation remains the same: X Gigabytes for Y Euro. How is that different from Eircom giving you DSL but limiting transfer to 4gig a month? It's not. Unmetered access usually means unlimited transfer in a month for a flat fee. This is a flat fee, but not unlimited. So the typical result of unlimited (bringing down the cost of transfers to a numer low enough so that internet use becomes pervasive) doesn't happen here. The point of unlimited access is precisely that you leave the machine connected all day and the internet becomes woven into the fabric of life. UTV's offer, just like any other offer for access today in Ireland, only lets you only knit the Internet to one of your coats. Shame on the operators, and shame on the government that doesn't fix it.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 27, 2003 at 12:25 PM

better than a pyramid: a pyramac!

[via Wired News] A Seventh Desktop Wonder:

It took the Egyptians hundreds of years to build the pyramids, but Kent Salas built his in six months. Plus, his glows in the dark.

Salas' Pyramac is a unique case modification -- a hand-made, translucent, pyramid-shaped Mac that glows vividly under ultraviolet light.


Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 26, 2003 at 6:31 PM

apple and microsoft

This Businessweek article on Apple's future as measured by MS's commitment to keeping Office for the Mac alive. I think this is a non-issue: Apple already has Safari, and the presentation software they announced a few months ago. You've got OpenOffice for the mac an other alternatives, and, hey, clevercactus runs on OS/X too. :) Office vanishing from the Mac would be a blow, but not the killer blow that the article makes it out to be. The Web (including weblogs) and messaging of all kinds are becoming more important than office apps. And then Apple is recreating itself as a "digital lifestyle" company....

Then, another take on what was mentioned in the Google/Microsoft article that I pointed to yesterday, this article from Fortune by someone who is completely unimpressed by the idea of Longhorn. It depends, really. If Longhorn is well done, a certain inflection point could be passed, and the computer will suddenly look very different. Whether that is enough not to be "bored" (considering that we can already "see" that kind of information space on the web) is another matter. But the effect on Google, and all other search engines for that matter, shouldn't be underestimated.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 26, 2003 at 6:26 PM

not email: RSS!

This article in the WSJ (registration required) talks about RSS as an alternative to email. Quote:

[...] Look at it like this: E-mail is our default window on the Internet. It's where pretty much everything ends up. I have received more than 1,000 e-mails in the past week. The vast bulk of that is automated--newsletters, newsgroup messages, dispatches from databases, press releases and whatnot. The rest is personal e-mail (a pathetically small amount, I admit), readers' mail (which I love, keep sending it) and junk. While it makes some sense to have all this stuff in one place, it's hard to find what I need, and it makes my inbox a honey pot for spammers. And when I go on holiday, it all piles up. Now, what if all that automated stuff was somewhere else, delivered through a different mechanism you could tweak, search through easily, and which wasn't laced with spam? Your inbox would just be what is e-mail, from your boss or Auntie Lola.

Enter the RSS feed. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, Rich Site Summary or variations of the two, depending on who you talk to. It's a format that allows folk to feed globs of information -- updates to a Web site, an online journal (a Weblog, or blog), news -- to others. These feeds appear in programs called news readers, which look a bit like e-mail programs.

This also makes sense for those folk who may not subscribe to e-mail alerts, but who regularly visit any number of Web sites for news, weather, movies, village jamborees, books, garden furniture, or whatever. Instead of having to trawl through those Web sites each morning, or each week, or whenever you remember, you can add their RSS feeds to your list and monitor them all from one place.


Part of it means throwing away what we traditionally think of as "news." Corporations are beginning to sense that blogs make an excellent in-house forum for employees. Small companies have found that running a blog for their customers -- say a real-estate agent sharing news and opinions about the neighbourhood property market -- pays better than any newspaper ad. Individuals -- consultants, columnists, one-man bands -- have, through well-designed, well-maintained blogs, built a critical mass of readers, some of whom become paying customers or subscribers. Teachers are finding RSS feeds useful for channelling subject matter to classrooms and sharing material with other teachers.

Nothing new, really, but interesting in that the summary is quite on the mark, and with little hype. RSS is definitely a candidate to replace email, but it's not going to go away anytime soon. We can chip away at the edges of it though, particularly for one-to-many (not one-to-one, or many-to-many) communication.

Later: I guess my brain blocked it out at first, but I just noticed that clevercactus gets mentioned in the article as one of the tools to try to get started with RSS in the "for more information" sidebar. Cool!.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 26, 2003 at 10:56 AM

DNS turns 20

This week marked the 20th anniversary of DNS. Here is an interview with Paul Mockapetris, one of DNS' creators, where he looks at the past and the future. Finally, here is a classic paper on its development an architecture (a bit on the technical side though).

Posted by diego on June 26, 2003 at 9:34 AM

google's news

Several google-related items of note. Where to begin...

Frist, An interesting article from Salon: The google backlash.

Second, Aaron talks about the google AdSense program here and finds it interesting.

Third, reports on the recent moves by Microsoft and concludes that Microsoft and Google may go head to head. Well, now, that's an original conclusion. MS goes after anything that is a big market, end-user, and with low "revenue scalability requirements", and, more importantly, anything that threatens the Windows Platform. As Google does. (Anything on which you spend too much of your time does). Aside from the ultra-obvious conclusion, the article has some interesting information in it.

And, last but definitely not least, Google has release the new Google Toolbar 2.0 beta with --surprise, surprise-- a quick "BlogThis!" link. I'm sure it's only the first of many features that will tie blogs more deeply into the fabric of google. It's Blogger-only though, which isn't so great. Sidenote: The "autofill" feature sounds simple, and something the browsers already do. It's not. I'll talk more about its ramifications later...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 25, 2003 at 8:47 PM

decentralized media, contd.

Related to my previous discussion on "decentralized media", Grant posted a followup with many good comments and Rahul, in the comments, added a link to his BlogNN idea.

And--what do you know. Today William Gibson (only two days ago I was commenting on the excellent Pattern Recognition...) has an op-ed in the New York Times that is about other ramifications of this topic: The Road to Oceania. Quote:

Orwell knew the power of the press, our first mass medium, and at the BBC he'd witnessed the first electronic medium (radio) as it was brought to bear on wartime public opinion. He died before broadcast television had fully come into its own, but had he lived I doubt that anything about it would have much surprised him. The media of "1984" are broadcast technology imagined in the service of a totalitarian state, and no different from the media of Saddam Hussein's Iraq or of North Korea today — technologically backward societies in which information is still mostly broadcast. Indeed, today, reliance on broadcasting is the very definition of a technologically backward society.

Elsewhere, driven by the acceleration of computing power and connectivity and the simultaneous development of surveillance systems and tracking technologies, we are approaching a theoretical state of absolute informational transparency, one in which "Orwellian" scrutiny is no longer a strictly hierarchical, top-down activity, but to some extent a democratized one. As individuals steadily lose degrees of privacy, so, too, do corporations and states. Loss of traditional privacies may seem in the short term to be driven by issues of national security, but this may prove in time to have been intrinsic to the nature of ubiquitous information.

While his article is more tilted towards privacy, the discussion on decentralized media meshes with it. Ramifications can probably be found for most things, although information dissemination and privacy are the most pressing matters at the moment (only until we've gotten used to the new situation though :)), and this is a consequence of Media being not just an ever-growing part of life but, in some cases, or for some people, more important than life itself. And if you don't think that's possible, consider how media (before, during, and after the Iraq war) has affected people's lives beyond their involvement, even beyond their knowledge.

Posted by diego on June 25, 2003 at 5:20 PM

standards at internet speed

On the Echo Project (I was mentioning earlier -- that's right, the consensus for the moment seems to be that Echo is the way to go). I've been checking consistently through the day (and commenting when I can add something I think is useful) and tons of things are getting done. For example, check out this minimal entry of Echo which, as of this morning, didn't exist. :) Of course, a lot of things remain to be defined, even some items in that entry will probably change, and eventually we'll have to move on to other "missing pieces" (e.g., the EchoAPI). But it's happening.

Btw, Jon Udell has something to say about it, too.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 25, 2003 at 4:42 PM

ashton tate and SCO v. IBM

Regarding the SCO/IBM lawsuit (previous comments here and here), Robert X. Cringely has (as usual) a few interesting and well informed things to add. Quote:

Ashton was a macaw that lived in the lunch room at George Tate's software company, Ashton-Tate, home of dBase II, the first successful microcomputer database. There is a lot about that long-gone company that was unusual. There was the macaw, of course, which was named for the company, not the other way around. There was George Tate, himself, who died at his desk when he was only 40, but still managed to get married two weeks later (by proxy -- please explain that one to me). And later there was Ashton-Tate's copyright infringement lawsuit against Fox Software that pretty much destroyed the company when it became clear that Ashton-Tate didn't really own its database. NASA did, which meant that Fox had as much right to dBase as did Ashton-Tate. All this came to mind this week while I was thinking (still thinking -- this story seems to never end) about the SCO versus IBM lawsuit over bits of UNIX inside Linux. There is a lot SCO could learn from the experience of Ashton-Tate.
Great article.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 25, 2003 at 1:10 PM

NGOs or GOs?

Naomi Klein writes for The Guardian on the pressures that USAid is putting on NGOs. Weird.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on June 25, 2003 at 12:43 PM

echo or pie?

The Wiki for the "conceptual model of a log entry" that Sam Ruby started a few days ago (as I was mentioning here) has been gathering speed. After reading through most of the material I started contributing some of my thoughts today (after all, this is exactly what I wanted).

Here's an article by Tim Bray in which he talks about the effort, why it's needed, and where he'd like it to go. Another interesting piece of information in it is that Sam told him that he'd gotten permission from IBM to work on it full time, which is great news.

And, both Six Apart and Blogger support the effort.

Sam has said that he'll be discussing one topic a day on his weblog in detail. Current topic is linkage.

Finally, the name: there's an ongoing poll in the wiki. The options for the moment are Pie, and Echo. I like Echo better, plus eventually we can use something like "EchoFeed" for, well, feeds, "EchoAPI" for the API, and so on. (Echo is for now just the name of the project, nothing else).

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 25, 2003 at 8:34 AM

IEEE article on overlay networks

Here's an article (PDF, 190KB) I wrote which will appear in the July/August issue of IEEE Internet Computing. (IEEE Copyright Notice: Personal use of this material is permitted. However, permission to reprint/republish this material for advertising or promotional purposes or for creating new collective works for resale or redistribution to servers or lists, or to reuse any copyrighted component of this work in other works must be obtained from the IEEE.)

As usual, comments welcome!

It's a short introduction to overlay networks and how they compare to "standard" flooding-type P2P networks (ie., Gnutella-type). Overlays are also discussed in the literature as distributed hash tables. (Because of the way they allow exact key/value pair mappings to be done over a network, and because they support basic hashtable operations: put/get/remove). It's written more for developers (or, if you will, for a general audience with technical proficiency) rather than researchers (not enough space to go in depth into the subject for that). It's quite something to write with limited space and for a subject like this one, that tends to be err... "mathematical". I end up feeling that not all the possibilities/ambiguities are explained, that sometimes in simplifying people will get the wrong idea, etc. This always happens, on any topic, on any magazine, or journal, or even when presenting for a conference (the typical 12 or 15 page limit sounds like a lot--it isn't). In the end the only way to scratch this particular "completeness" itch is to write a book.

It was an interesting experience, spanning several months: from initial draft, review, approval... a short period of quiet and then a flurry of activity in the last week or so, where we went from ugly zero-format Word document (using the Track Changes feature in word to collaborate with the editor) to nicely finished final layout-version, ready for inclusion in the magazine. The article's editor, Keri Schreiner was great to work with, and I learned a lot from the process. There are several "Editors" involved in the magazine of course, Lead Editor, Department Editor, and so on... when you think about it, it's fascinating, a process that might take say, six months in total (from idea to camera-ready copy), happening in parallel for a set of articles that will appear in a single magazine. It's a top down process mostly. It got me thinking about how it could be done in a less centralized way, which would improve feedback for all parties. I won't go into this in more detail now, though, I still have to post a follow up on the decentralized media discussion. :-)

Categories:, technology
Posted by diego on June 24, 2003 at 8:40 PM

So long, PocketPC, hello WM2003SPocketPC


So Microsoft released a new version of PocketPC and changed its name to (gulp!) "Windows Mobile 2003 Software for Pocket PC". Holy Cow. Sounds like someone wanted this one to be a Really Important Upgrade. Also, considering that only two revs ago PocketPC was Windows CE, we could get to the conclusion that their branding wasn't working. Mobile devices are proliferating in type, and this new rev of MS's handheld OS aims to combine both the PocketPC and Smartphone OSes under one brand, among other things. What's notable about this is the implied convergence that Microsoft sees as handhelds acquire phone functions, and viceversa. Note, however, that only the "Windows Mobile 2003 Software" part is what is generic to both PocketPC and Smartphone. I assume that the new Smartphone release due later this year (which will include support for the .Net compact framework, MS's clone of J2ME) will be "Windows Mobile 2003 Software for Smartphone". Nothing new as a concept, of course, but interesting since, for example Palm/Handspring seem more intent on adding phone features to palms than to support the whole range of form factors under a single "brand umbrella".

Regarding the Microsoft news, however, it's also interesting to note who are the partners with MS on this launch, and what products they are announcing. Basically PC Makers, and basically handhelds, except for Panasonic, who isn't really announcing anything.

A final note: Dell's announcement (in the article) is scary. Quote:

Dell doesn't plan to introduce a new model, but does plan to upgrade its existing Axim X5 product with the new operating system as well as offer a custom version of McAfee's VirusScan PDA (personal digital assistant) software
We've heard of a few occurrences of TXT viruses and things of the sort before, but until now I hadn't realized the havoc that could be created if you have, say, a hundred million MS-powered phones out there, loaded with personal information, maybe even e-payment information, and... full of security holes. Keep in mind that C#, which Microsoft says is as secure as Java, actually lets you access low-level routines if you want, thereby breaching the protection the VM would normally give you. This article does a good job of explaining the security model of Smartphone, and it can be summarized in two words: Code Signing. Which brings up two other words, the name of other widely deployed software whose security depends on Code Signing: Internet Explorer. Enough said. It's true that operator-controlled code signing has the potential to be more secure, since the operator could be monitoring in real-time the appearance of malicious software on the network and revoking execute privileges network-wide when that happens (as the article mentions). That assumes, however, that, a) the execution environment itself has no bugs (right...) and that b) the operators will invest in the infrastructure that this represents, both in terms of equipment and manpower. Don't hold your breath for that either. Conclusion: unless security is improved, as soon as a critical mass of Smartphones is deployed, we can expect the appearance of W32.Klez.Smartphone and similarly named e-vermin.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 24, 2003 at 5:49 PM

pattern recognition v2

I've finished reading it. Left the last 25 pages or so for pre-sleep time, although now, having read them, past that theoretical pre-sleep time (miscalculated actually, since I rarely go to sleep before early AM), I'm uncertain if I'll actually get to sleep tonight, with the sea of words that's taken over my head.

Will take some time to process. Off for now.

Posted by diego on June 23, 2003 at 11:40 PM

pattern recognition

Yes, the book. By William Gibson. Which I received as a gift from Dylan and Tracey (can't thank them enough for it), and my copy is signed by the man himself.

I haven't finished it yet. I started it Saturday and to say that I couldn't read more than a sentence without fainting would be exaggerating, but not by much. JFC. Didn't get past page 50. Left it on the bed next to the pillows.

Today I was working on cactus database access optimization, and juggling different algorithms in my head, and I needed a break. Allow the subconscious to do its parsing. The book was there. Waiting. I started reading again maybe three hours ago. I can't stop now. Screw dinner.

It's definitely his best work since Neuromancer. Not that other books, say, Idoru, or All Tomorrow's Parties are inferior, it's just that this one is so right on the mark, and so surprising in how Gibson's voice shows us the present that it's nothing short of astonishing. His two-page description of 9/11 is the best one I've read, fiction or non-fiction (as much as a real event can be fictionalized, you understand), by a mile. Two miles. Whatever.

I'm posting this, by the way, as a sort of therapy, some reason to pull me out of that book, of the trance in which it has enveloped me, for a few minutes, and walk around the house, do whatever. Some way to reclaim the "real world" a collection of feelings and sounds that has receded into something possibly more distant and certainly less lyrical than the quasi-reality of the book.

Even if at the end Cayce discovers that the footage is being created by a disgruntled teenager from Singapore and applying the watermark by way of a Russian mafia ex-boyfriend, I won't care. Page 300 or so, and it's already way up there with Gravity's Rainbow, Ulysses, and, of course, Neuromancer.

Okay. Okay. Breathe deep. Back to it...

Posted by diego on June 23, 2003 at 6:24 PM

decentralize media, but how?

In reference to my post a few days ago on "politics, media... and war", Grant said:

This is kinda where I'm at, with one important question - how does decentralised media get to the broader audience, or the "mob" as Diego refers to them? That's where it gets kinda tricky IMO.
One clarification: when I said "the mob" I wasn't talking about "the broader audience", which usually has implications of social layers, class if you will. Put it another way, I wasn't talking about intellectuals and non-intellectuals, involved or not involved, concerned or apathic, etc. Not that Grant said this, but I think it's within a hair of going in that direction.

In the post I said:

Individuals want depth and objectivity, and if necessary complexity. The mob prefers shallow, subjective, easy-to-understand soundbites.
I didn't say it explicitly, but the mob is composed of exactly those individuals. The mob is dynamic; we are all part of it at some point. We can't really escape it in a sense. There are mobs of various sizes, world-sized, country-sized, city-sized, and smaller too. But it's the ones of large size (those that comprise the elusive "markets") that influence media into pushing A or B or C until we can't take it anymore because "the public likes it". The mob has a mind of its own, composed of invidual trails, actions and interactions. The mob cannot be "reached" by media in the way we understand it, media can only reach the individuals in ways that make each individual push the mob in a particular direction. "Making the mob move" is what can create a super-hit in movies or music, but it's an indirect process that implies creating something that affects individuals in a way in which their subsequent actions will say something both individually and aligned with the mob. In a sense this mob-concept I'm referring to has more to do with "public opinion" than with "audiences". Mobs are dynamic opinion groups, decentralized, and self-organizing, although they can and do react strongly to centralized influences when the conditions are right.

Enough on the mob-concept for the moment. I'm beginning to realize that maybe it's less obvious and more abstract than I thought. I'm sure I'll come back to it at some other point. I think I didn't do a good job of explaining what I mean.

Regarding Grant's specific question ("how does decentralised media get to the broader audience"). If by "broader audience" we mean a particular category of people that rely on mass media and nothing else (which is, note, different from my mob-concept), then it's unlikely that it will happen. But if by "broader audience" we mean mob-concept-units, then my take is that it will happen as media merges, and the web, tv, etc, can be seen through one channel. Google on your TV. Your TV on your PC. The web on your fridge, and so on. So then channel-surfing is web-surfing as well, and game-surfing, and any other kind of info-navigation you could think of. Once that exists people will be exposed to new ideas, since subscribing to an RSS feed will be like switching to channel 34. (the first kind of people I mentioned in this paragraph wouldn't, though, because they rely on particular media channels and they wouldn't watch, say, anything other than NBC even if they were offered the choice, and that is usually mixed with the idea of the "broader audience" IMO). I am a bit optimistic in that I think that given choice people will embrace it, comparatively reducing the power of big media outlets.

If that ever happens though, we'll have to deal with "community loopback" effects in which people only listen to specific information streams from like-minded people, and all society ends up as islands of disconnected ideas and opinion. The myth of the Tower of Babel, Reloaded.

I'm rereading what I just wrote and I'm wondering if it's at all understandable. So many ideas at once. That's another advantage of weblogs: the whole point is that I can try again tomorrow. :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 22, 2003 at 9:52 PM


A couple of interesting articles on IBM/SCO/Linux-UNIX. The first one looks at how competitors (IBM's competitors, that is, SCO, barely has any market share, let alone competitors) are trying to leverage it to scare customers away from Big Blue. Also on IBM/SCO is this opinion piece from, interesting mostly in that it raises some interesting questions.

Finally, another Economist article talks about the current IBM strategy, and how it's leveraging its vast R&D to deliver integrated solutions. I saw this first-hand a few years ago when I worked for IBM Research, and even then (when the strategy had been in place for only a couple of years) it was quite impressive to see how current advanced technology, ongoing research and "old" (ie. mature) technologies were combined to deliver new solutions. The only problem one could see with this strategy is that it requires ever-increasing employees, since it's human intensive (at least for the moment), something that Bill Gates famously abhorrs, but as long as IBM maintains its lead in this area this "problem" should remain contained. Besides, with IBM Research being one of the leading nanotech-research facilities in the world, it wouldn't be surprising if they ended up owning a very large, very lucrative market in, say, 10 years' time. And then, who'd care about the consultants?

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 22, 2003 at 3:12 PM

the longest day

The longest day of the year! Summer's here! (okay, enough with the rhyming! Does he not have enough with the senseless rambling?)


23:10, and the sky behind the clouds is still tinted dark blue. The last of the day's light is quickly disappearing.

Anyway, I was watching on and off the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics. The Corrs were great, as was Riverdance (never seen that many dancers all at once! I was so surprised at how fast they appeared--there must have been some 200 dancers on stage). And at the end, of course, U2, which gave good performances of One and Pride (In the name of Love). Through Pride Bono replaced a number of verses with references to the Olympics, and June 21st (at which point I realized the date!) and then at the end he walked off the stage leaving the band in a holding pattern and he escorted Nelson Mandela to the stage (with some very serious-looking security guard walking close behind). A great moment, in the trademark Bono style.

I walked in town on silver spurs that jingled to...


Categories: personal
Posted by diego on June 21, 2003 at 10:53 PM

well formed log entries

A few days ago Sam started a wiki to discuss what constitutes a well-formed log entry. Already lots of good information and discussion in it.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 21, 2003 at 3:12 PM

Google, Rules, and IPOs

Some of the changes that a Google IPO will have to adjust to, when it happens. Interesting, but I'm skeptical that suddenly everyone is going to be playing by "the rules". Looks good on paper though. :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 21, 2003 at 1:27 PM

rogue code, or just sloppy programming? reports: Mysterious Net traffic spurs code hunt:

Worm? Trojan? Attack tool? Network administrators and security experts continue to search for the cause of an increasing amount of odd data that has been detected on the Internet.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 21, 2003 at 1:20 PM

waste and encryption

Regarding WASTE (weird, it happened two weeks ago and it feels like last year's news, doesn't it?), Ray Ozzie has an intriguing take (different, from, say, my name-related machinations) on why it had to be pulled out: encryption controls, and the license needed for them (or lack thereof). Entries here and here. Personally, I still think it had more to do with Nullsoft's rebelliousness and Nullsoft releasing something that AOL didn't want to let out (for whatever reason), but there might be some of those legal considerations involved as well. In any case, something to keep in mind as encryption becomes more pervasive.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 20, 2003 at 8:52 PM

politics, media... and war

A fascinating (and scary) summary and analysis from Salon's Jake Tapper of how the rethoric of politicians in the US shifted as the Iraq war drew closer. I say "fascinating" in how the media and the power of institutions is "managed" to adjust the public's reaction; in its end result it is, of course, worrying, if not really new. One conclusion: decentralized media (of which weblogs are the tip of the iceberg) will have to thrive to counterbalance these forces, since "big media" is out of the game of "objectivity" at this point. And it's not just about those dreaded "special interests" controlling media; another big factor is that these days it's easier to form feedback loops between content consumers and providers, and so the focus of mainstream media is following the fickle interests of the mob (note: the mob, not the individuals that compose it). Individuals want depth and objectivity, and if necessary complexity. The mob prefers shallow, subjective, easy-to-understand soundbites. Weblogs are the best tools of individuality at the moment, but they're just a start.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on June 20, 2003 at 8:08 PM

back to "normal"

My parents left yesterday evening. I showed them around Dublin (they loved it), and we had a good time in general. Now it's back to busier days (I was working only a few hours a day when they were here). Lots of things to do, including complete an IEEE article I've been working on, my thesis, and of course work on the next beta of clevercactus. The nice weather helps, I sleep (even) less with long, warm days, and it's not getting dark until around 11 pm. Good stuff. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on June 20, 2003 at 7:55 PM

downloading, but not music

Dylan has an interesting take on the whole 'we'll-destroy-your-PC-if-you-download-music' theme. :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 19, 2003 at 8:27 PM

next u2 album for march 2004 - maybe

According to this information, the next U2 album might be called "Solar" and it could be released on March 8, 2004. I guess we'll have to wait. The image of the poster is almost certainly bogus, since I had that exact same image as a screensaver a few years back (I got it from a NASA archive I think, and here is a similar image found after a search in google images), and it's unlikely they will do something with zero artwork (The fonts on the poster are suspicious too). Original rumours put the album's release before the end of this year... so who knows. Btw, U2Log has some more rumours on the album here. Anyway. Back to waiting. :-)

Posted by diego on June 19, 2003 at 8:21 PM

java moves - an analysis

From Fortune magazine: Sun seeks a boost from stronger Java. Interesting.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 19, 2003 at 7:42 PM

what the...?

I should have a category called "flights of idiocy" for this kind of thing: Senator endorses destroying computers of illegal downloaders:

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Tuesday he favors developing new technology to remotely destroy the computers of people who illegally download music from the Internet.


"I'm interested," Hatch interrupted. He said damaging someone's computer "may be the only way you can teach somebody about copyrights."

The senator acknowledged Congress would have to enact an exemption for copyright owners from liability for damaging computers. He endorsed technology that would twice warn a computer user about illegal online behavior, "then destroy their computer."

"If we can find some way to do this without destroying their machines, we'd be interested in hearing about that," Hatch said. "If that's the only way, then I'm all for destroying their machines. If you have a few hundred thousand of those, I think people would realize" the seriousness of their actions, he said.

Do these "lawmakers" even use computers? Do they realize the kind of damage that "destroying the computer" could do to a person's life, just to "teach them about copyrights"? Assuming that it was a "teaching" problem (which it isn't), why not improve the famously flawed education system instead? Okay, I'll stop. This kind of pronouncement doesn't even qualify for a rebuttal. (On the other hand, it should be rebutted, otherwise they will pass this legislation). Hopefully Europe's lawmakers won't get any brilliant ideas like this any time soon.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 18, 2003 at 11:27 AM

spy game

A couple of weeks I was wondering about "cold war relics" (right...) of a sort. And here's something new about that other kind of "cold war relic", the spy business:

When Moscow revealed last week that a Russian intelligence officer who had settled in the United States had been lured back home and arrested, the news was the talk of American and Russian veterans of the intelligence battles of the cold war, who viewed the incident as evidence that an old-fashioned spy war has quietly flared anew.
At least this is less dangerous that that other thing...

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on June 18, 2003 at 1:28 AM

blogtalk photos

Haiko has posted some really cool pictures of the Blogtalk conference -- and cool pictures of Vienna too!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 18, 2003 at 1:06 AM

clevercactus versioning information

There were a couple of comments by Greg and Dan to last week's entry on cactus' html editing (thanks!). Dan in particular raised a good point that I want to clarify. Dan said:

I keep checking the clevercactus website for an update. But, the beta page doesn't mention anything about versioning. Is there a good place to go to check for future versions, or can I just assume you'll blog about any updates?
For the moment, yes, I'll post information about cactus releases on this weblog (under the spaces category, which has its own feed to which you can subscribe, links on the right navbar of the page as well--I know I've got to change the name of the category but I didn't want to deal with the URL redirection config just yet). Another option is to subscribe to one (or both) of the clevercactus mailing lists, clevercactus-info in particular is for announcements only.

That said, with the next beta we'll start a clevercactus-only weblog that will be used for announcements and other things. As always, if there are comments or other ideas for improving this, I'm all "ears". :-)

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on June 17, 2003 at 3:23 PM

socrates was a hacker

I enjoy philosophy immensely, and yesterday my parents gave me as a present a book called The Great Philosophers edited by Ray Monk and Frederic Raphael, which is excellent (I have to say I picked it :-)). It has essays on the most influentials philosophers in history: Socrates, Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Russell, Heidegger, and so on, even Turing. Each essay balances their philosophy with their life as well... The first one (appropriately enough) is on Socrates. Had he lived today he would definitely have been a hacker, (I mean hacker, btw, in the original sense of the word --not a cracker, or a phreaker, etc) as the following excerpt shows:

His friends told stories about how strange he was. After dinner one night [...] a young man who had been on military service with Socrates recounted how Socrates had
started wrestling with a problem or other about sunrise one morning, and stood there lost in thought, and when the answer wouldn't come he still stood there thinking and refused to give it up. Time went on, and by about midday the troops... began telling each other how Socrates had been standing there thinking ever since daybreak. And at last, toward nightfall, some of the Ionians brought out their bedding after supper... partly to see whether he was going to stay there all night. Well, there he stood till morning, and then at sunrise he said his prayers to the sun and went away.
Another friend described how, on the way to the dinner party at which the above story is told, Socrates fell 'into a fit of abstraction and began to lag behind'. Socrates then lurked in a neighbour's porch to continue thinking. 'It's quite a habit of his, you know: off he goes and there he stands, no matter where it is.' His other regular habits did not include washing; even his best friends admitted that it was unusual to see him freshlyl bathed and with his shoes on. He was shabby and unkempt, never had any money or cared where his next meal was coming from. [During his trial] he admitted to the court that 'I have never lived an ordinary quiet life. I did not care for the things that most people care about -- making money, having a comfortable home, high military or civil rank, and all the other activities... which go on in our city.' But Socrates did not think that any of these trappings of a conventionally successful life were bad in themselves. Neither was he an ascetic in the ordinary sense of the term. He never preached abstinence (he could, said his friends, drink any of them under the table, though he was never seen to be drunk), nor did he urge others to live as simply as he did. A hard and preoccupied man, he was just too busy to pay much attention to such things as clothing, food or money.
Sound familiar? :-))
Posted by diego on June 17, 2003 at 3:04 PM

steve gillmor on convergence... and windows

[via Scripting News] Steve Gillmor: "The Jim Allchin Tax", or how the Windows franchise pulls back development of other products, in this case the next generation of communication/collaboration tools (this article is part three, parts one and two are here and here). Good summary of a subject that has taken more than one book (of which "Breaking Windows" is one of the best I've read). A number of familiar ideas in the article, too. :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 16, 2003 at 10:05 AM

private space travel

A new way to escape the gloom of the IT industry. Go into space. Tiny requirement (at the moment at least): a bank account with a lot of zeros west of the decimal point. :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 15, 2003 at 11:43 PM

javaone wrapup an article on Scott McNealy's keynote and some of the announcements made at the conference. Specially interesting is the mobile stuff, and the HP/Dell announcement that they will ship updated JVMs with all their machines. Finally!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 15, 2003 at 2:24 AM

surprise, surprise

Microsoft has announced they would halt the development of IE for the Mac. Yikes. Who knows how many thousands of developers are left in the cold by this move. I first read it in a WSJ article today, but here's a article on it from yesterday, and the predictable slashdot thread. Interestingly, Microsoft justifies the move because of Apple's Safari browser, but when Apple announced Safari it was clear that they started working on it precisely in case IE for Mac was killed (something that became a more concrete prospect with the "unofficial" news that Microsoft would stop development of IE as a separate product for Windows).

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 14, 2003 at 2:25 PM

sun's challenges

A good Wired article on the challenges facing Sun.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 13, 2003 at 8:52 PM

oracle, peoplesoft... and microsoft

An analysis and opinion piece on the Oracle bid for Peoplesoft, and why this is more about Oracle v. Microsoft than about Oracle v. JD Edwards:

The headlines from the last week shouting about the rivalry between Larry Ellison and Craig Conway overshadowed the real subtext to the struggle for PeopleSoft: the coming competition between Oracle and Microsoft for who's going to be No. 1 with enterprise customers.
In the Wall Street Journal there has been some interesting analysis (some links here and here, reg. required) of the Peoplesoft-Oracle deal particularly in how hostile takeovers have, until this case, been avoided in Silicon Valley for fear of the technical talent "fleeing" the company afterwards. The fact that this takeover offer has been made at all signals a shift in perception at least inside Oracle that this wouldn't happen or that if it happens it doesn't really matter, in both cases because the (at least enterprise) tech market is reaching a different stage. Interesting.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 13, 2003 at 5:59 PM

clevercactus WYSIWYG HTML editing

I've been using the new clevercactus build (internal build, that is) to post weblog entries and edit them using the new WYSIWYG editor. The difference is amazing. Editing raw HTML can be a real pain, and it's easy to make mistakes. It also becomes much easier to comment on RSS feed entries. Still some problems to work out (Java's EditorKit package is really powerful, but incredibly confusing and hard to use, and with few examples for HTML editing) but it's already reasonably functional.

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on June 12, 2003 at 11:44 AM

a visit

My parents are visiting this week. Dad arrived yesterday and mom arrives tonight... This means that my at-times-strange working schedule and not-much-need-for-sleep pays off :-). I can be with them during the day and work at night (okay, late at night). They've never been to Dublin before, so it should be fun!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on June 12, 2003 at 11:26 AM


EasyJournal, another weblog tool, with a seemingly mysterious "viral" feature, which seems to be the relations between you (the weblog publisher) and your friends. As far as I can see, it's to what LiveJournal does with its "friends" feature, albeit done in a silghtly different way...
Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 12, 2003 at 11:17 AM

moore's law: the facts, not the legend

A article on Moore's law, and how it is often misunderstood.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 12, 2003 at 10:34 AM

the world is a complicated place

From one of my favorite comic strips, Calvin and Hobbes:

Calvin is talking to his dad.
Calvin: Dad, how come old photographs are always black and white? Didn't they have color film back then?
Dad: Sure they did. In fact, those old photographs are in color. It's just the world was black and white then.
Calvin: Really?
Dad: Yep. The world didn't turn color until sometime in the 1930s, and it was pretty grainy color for a while, too.
Calvin: That's really weird.
Dad: Well, truth is stranger than fiction.
Calvin: But then why are old paintings in color?! If the world was black and white, wouldn't artists have painted it that way?
Dad: Not necessarily, a lot of great artists were insane.
Calvin: But... but how could they have painted in color anyway? Wouldn't their paints have been shades of gray back then?
Dad: Of course. But they turned colors, like everything else did in the '30s.
Calvin: So why didn't old black and white photos turn color too?
Dad: Because they were color pictures of black and white, remember?

(Later, Calvin is alone with Hobbes in a tree)

Calvin: The world is a complicated place, Hobbes.
Hobbes: Whenever it seems that way, I take a nap in a tree and wait for dinner.

Posted by diego on June 11, 2003 at 4:16 PM

a new java resource

New for me that is... :-) Even more interesting, they have a weblogs section which includes a link to James Gosling's weblog. Cool!

Posted by diego on June 10, 2003 at 9:34 PM

blogstreet post analysis

Veer sent me a link today over IM: a new feature they've launched for Blogstreet called Blogstreet Post Analysis. Blogstreet is already a "blog crawler" that finds correlations between blogs, but BPA breaksdown those connections to the level of individual posts, and the finer-grained view clearly will be more useful when doing analysis (and then, potentially, search). Very cool.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 10, 2003 at 7:39 PM

coming up: javaone

JavaOne begins today, and lasts until friday. As usual, a barrage of announcements are expected, particularly in the area of J2ME and development tools, along with a new branding campaign. I imagine there will be some discussion on JDK 1.5 ("Tiger") as well, maybe even an estimated release date (and for JDK 1.4.2 as well). Should be interesting!

Posted by diego on June 10, 2003 at 2:57 PM

a cactus update

A short status update on clevercactus: lots of work in progress to improve current features and add some other important missing elements. On the works:

  • HTML Editing, particularly important for weblog postings
  • Bugfixes for mail connection/parsing classes, especially IMAP
  • Initial P2P sharing implementation
  • Bugfixes for calendar views
  • Improvements in speed and memory usage
...among other things. A new beta version will be released before the end of the month, and after that version 1.0 should be forthcoming. Getting there!

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on June 9, 2003 at 8:14 PM

new java logo

Russ posted screenshot of the new Java logo. Nice!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 9, 2003 at 2:10 AM

the rise of dell

An interesting story from on Dell, and how it became the biggest vendor of PCs. Quote:

In 1994, Dell was a struggling second-tier PC maker. Like other PC makers, Dell ordered its components in advance and carried a large amount of component inventory. If its forecasts were wrong, Dell had major write-downs.

Then Dell began to implement a new business model. Its operations had always featured a build-to-order process with direct sales to customers, but Dell took a series of ingenious steps to eliminate its inventories. The results were spectacular.

The story doesn't completely oversimplify what happened which is good. (However, in these accounts, I'm always amazed that they completely ignore the errors of a company's competitors, which play a key role in winning anything). Interesting.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 9, 2003 at 1:59 AM

the strange complaint that wouldn't die

Andrew Orlowski seems to be bent on "proving" that weblogs are bad for google and that they should be removed from the main index somehow. Ridiculous. Forget about the obvious technical problems in defining what is a weblog from the POV of a bot (for example, if a company is updating information frequently on a 'news' page, is that a weblog, and if so, how would google know? Because it has an RSS feed? would that remove the NYT or too?)

Weblogs are what makes the web what is is today. If you remove weblogs from google, you remove the web. Think about it. We'd end up with the same static environment we had 5 years ago. Google indexes the web today. If the web today is dynamic because of weblogs, then that's how it should be. The "fact" that weblogs are "polluting" the rest of the results is because a lot of
"respected" news sources have their archives closed. Furthermore, webloggers know how to get around that when they have to; and besides, who's to say when a result is the right result? Isn't that completely context dependent? What the query "mobile phone" means for me might be diametrically different from what it means for someone else. Who's to say who is an authority on something after all, particularly on topics that are new and on which there's not a lot of information? Weblogs give you timely, updated information on things that (often) mainstream media doesn't care about. Why is that a bad thing again? And why shouldn't it be at the top of google? Isn't the context of the search what defines when a result is correct? If anything, we have to go further in providing contextual, "semantic" search, and I'm sure google and the other search engines are working on that.

Dave said, if you want to be on google, you gotta be on the web (More info here). Dave's opinions are sometimes contentious, but I think that everyone would agree that on this one he is absolutely, 100% right on the mark. Weblogs are part of the web. There isn't any way around that. And if you don't like it, well, fine, get a weblog and complain about it. :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 8, 2003 at 11:46 PM

donnie darko

Yesterday (or early today, to be more precise) I watched Donnie Darko. Overall: Wow (Here is the Salon review, with which I agree in all counts). It's an excellent, excellent movie, that evokes a few other movies in how it treats its characters, not as cardboard cuts or stereotypes, but as real people (even though the movie is basically slightly surrealist science fiction, which puts a strain on the "real people" part). The main other movie it evokes is Rushmore and parts of the excellent Election (although election is much more cynical in its satire). Elements of classics such as Fight Club or American Beauty (in the sense of honest looks at US society, "growing up" and so on) abound. And it centers around one of my favorite subjects, time travel. In all, really well done. For me, an instant classic.

Posted by diego on June 7, 2003 at 2:50 PM

radiohead's new album

Time has an article this week on Radiohead's new album, Hail to the Thief subtitled "How Radiohead learned to stop worrying and enjoy being the best band in the world". I don't know if 'the best', but definitely way, way up there. :) An interesting read.

Posted by diego on June 7, 2003 at 2:07 PM

and interview with bruce sterling

Sterling's fiction sometimes doesn't quite convince me, but his commentary is always excellent. Here is an interview with him about this new book "Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years". Quote:

Q: But you're not anticipating what David Brin would call a transparent society?
A: David thinks this is great. David is a technological determinist. He thinks that we understand the trend and we need to hop on it. I don't have any such illusions. Just because it's the space age, it doesn't mean we're all going to end up in space.

Just because it's the atom age, it doesn't mean we'll all have a private atom-powered helicopter. Just because it's the information age, it doesn't mean we're all going to profit or be made happier. It has secondary and tertiary effects that cannot be predicted. You don't envision a phone answering machine and predict the Lewinsky scandal--even though one is impossible without the other.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 7, 2003 at 1:49 PM


No... this is not about Normandy...

today is my birthday!

Yesterday I was in a philosophical mood, thinking about things such as how the world has changed since I was born twenty-eight years ago...'s obvious that the world has changed. So what. Life is change (and no change is death one way or another) and yet we are always surprised when it happens...

...and so many changes this past year...

...for me, for all of us.

But my philosophical mood was yesterday. Today I'm having trouble writing this down. My mind is ... blank.

I keep looking out the window. It's a beautiful day outside, blue skies and huge white-gray clouds on the horizon, moving East...

...I've been listening to All that you can't leave behind. Such a great album.

I'm going out for my daily run now.

And, you know what?

I'm happy.

How about that. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on June 6, 2003 at 1:05 PM

blogging APIs update

It's been a little over a month since I wrote up my review of blogging APIs, which caused a bit of a stir in blogging circles (not necessarily because of its contents, but because it revived a subject that has been contentious for a while). I wrote a couple of followups (here, here, here and here) which contain links to comments and information from others in the community.

I decided to wait for a bit before commenting further, and now it's time :).

A couple of weeks ago Timothy posted some good comments on his O'Reilly weblog and that resulted in further discussion with Dave.

The discussion expanded to include some of the limitations of the XML-RPC spec, in particular those that deal with internationalization. Dave's contention is that because the API is so widely deployed it can't be changed, and people have found ways of doing i18n on their own anyway. In my opinion, however, it would be extremely useful to formalize those workarounds for the simple reason that if, anyone that wants to use i18n has to find a workaround on their own it is extremely likely that they will end up with similar, but slightly incompatible versions of the same thing (pretty much the state of blogging APIs at the moment). The same applies to any limitation, not just i18n, but i18n is a clear problem that will grow as people from the other parts of the world start using these tools (and eventually they will outnumber english-speaking (or should I say ASCII-speaking?) users).

Point in fact: At the moment the weblog posting feature of clevercactus implements Blogger and Metaweblog, along with a couple of MovableType API extensions for dealing with categories. For both Radio and MT I can use the same method call from MetaWeblog to create posts. But, I'm not dealing properly with i18n, which MT supports. So now I will be forced to completely splinter the implementations and the slight advantage that I could see in implementing MetaWeblog for both MT and Radio vanishes, so cactus will be better off using the tool's specific API in each case. Which brings us back to the need of having a single API that is extensible and, preferably, transport dependent (ie., the API has been defined without relying on XML-RPC, SOAP or REST, or anything else, and there are several "transport-specifications" for it). After all, we are trying to define the what that is transfered, not the how.

The same applies to RSS, on which there has been some movement. Dave proposed that work should start on a common profile, Sam agreed, and good discsussion followed on his post, and then it went on from there. (Timothy has a good summary of the RSS core profile here). It seems that it is easier to get to agreement on RSS than on the APIs, which gets back to my point: RSS is a data format specification, while the APIs mix both data and transport. If data and transport could be separated in the API spec I think it would be easier to move it forward.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 5, 2003 at 3:09 PM

microsoft moves

A couple of interesting news-items: a more detailed analysis of the recent "announcement" (between quotes because it was entirely unofficial) of Microsoft dumping IE as a standalone product, and of increased noises of "cooperation" between AOL and Microsoft on the IM side of things after their recent settlement.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 4, 2003 at 7:49 PM

palm buys handspring!


Wow! Surprising in its timing (if not in content, I guess that it had always been a possibility) because of the relatively weak strategic positions of both companies at the moment. It was announced early today before the beginning of trading. Coverage from and CNNmoney. It makes sense, since handspring has been moving further out than Palm into the area of "communicators", leaving "pure" handheld organizers behind, at the moment the product lines of both companies complement each other quite well. Whether the handheld-organizer-only side will survive the current trend that integrates communication (data+voice) functionality with the organizer functionality is another matter.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 4, 2003 at 2:19 PM

grade school CMS lessons

A presentation by Jon Udell given at OSCOM 2003 (here is his entry linking to it, and a follow up). Great stuff.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 4, 2003 at 1:31 AM

bloggers meeting

Back from the dublin bloggers get-together, where I met David, Karlin, Tom, Diane and her husband, Antoin, Jamie, Damien and Deidre (I remember their URLs but I must have heard wrong, because they don't work :)) among others. We need a list of some sort, if you were there please drop a comment with your URL in this entry! (BTW, Bernie didn't make it).

Got there about ten to eight and had to leave around ten, and most were still there. One thing that was funny (or weird. Or scary. Depends on how you look at it) was that we could recognize each other in some cases by URL rather than by name. The exchange would go "Hi I'm so and so. Ah nice to meet you. And what's your URL? oh, it's such and such. Ah, yes, I read you!". Since [at least there's the illusion that] you already know the other person in part, the conversation moves much faster. Next time, we all need a way to exchange URLs reliable. Tags or cards would do, but a high-tech solution would be better. :)

And if only seating arrangements were as flexible as a chain of links to maintain a live conversation... :-)

PS: thanks to Karlin for organizing it! I was great fun. Hopefully we can make it something more regular, say, once a month...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on June 3, 2003 at 11:36 PM

but the cold war's over... right?

If you feel like a few chills up your spine, instead of watching some cheap horror flick you can simply read this summary of the status of US Nuclear Forces for this year, published in the bulletin of atomic scientists. Some nuggets of information from the report follow (this is all public information regarding US nuclear force status, btw). The US has:

  • 384 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), Trident I and II types (about half of the operational strategic nuclear arsenal) are deployed in 16 nuclear-powered submarines (2880 warheads in total).
  • 500 Minuteman III missiles with one or three warheads each deployed on land
  • There are three types of nuclear-delivery capable bombers: B-2B (15-20), B-52H (around 100) and B-1B (Although according to the report the B-1B wasn't supposed to be nuclear-capable, there are over 90 of those in operation and close to "retirement"). The bombers can deploy gravity bombs, "bunker-buster" nuclear weapons and cruise missiles (the latter only on the B-52H platform).
  • Over 1,100 non-strategic nuclear weapons (ie., tactical nuclear weapons. The bombs dropped Hiroshima and Nagasaki qualify as tactical).
Which gives a grand total of some 7650 warheads, give or take a few, including strategic and tactical devices.

According to the report they are deactivating 50 MX/Peacekeeper ICBMs (which are relics pretty much). Sounds like good news? Not really. The warheads will be redeployed to Minuteman III missiles.

Also interesting are the time-frames established for "retirement" of some of the technologies, warheads and delivery platforms (ie., missiles, planes, submarines, etc), and plans for their upgrade and/or replacement.

And I don't even want to know what's on the Russian arsenal...

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on June 3, 2003 at 5:08 PM

dublin bloggers meeting

Dublin bloggers will meet tonight at 8 pm (in the Central Hotel). I'm going of course :). Here it rained all day today (and it's cold too) but it looks that the evening/night might be dry, which is good news for me since I prefer walking.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on June 3, 2003 at 4:22 PM

SCO v. Linux cont'd

This Salon article has some good comment and analysis on the SCO-Linux lawsuit. More speculation about why SCO would do this (along the much-discussed lines of "they're desperate" and/or "they want to force IBM into acquiring them"), but mainly background on how the lawsuit came about and opinions from others in the community.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 3, 2003 at 1:47 PM

mars express on its way

I guess that since fast-food culture calling an interplanetary mission 'mars express' was coming at some point... (but doesn't it matter that it will take more than six months to get there?) the mission left for Mars yesterday, featuring both an orbiter and a lander. It will be interesting!

Categories: science
Posted by diego on June 3, 2003 at 2:23 AM

what does it take to destroy something good?

[via Erik]: David E. Kelley to produce next season of '24'. David E. Kelley is the producer of such shows as "Ally McBeal" and "Boston Public."

So, of course, the move is natural. From Ally McBeal to 24.

Say what?

Yes. Exactly. This has to be a joke.

What follows is a couple of quotes from the article. They don't contain spoilers that I can see (I have seen Season 2 up to about 7 episodes from the end I think), but be warned nevertheless.


[..] Kelly [sic] revealed some changes he has already considered for the program as well as some other eye-raising decisions he has already made.

"A new agent for CTU will be Kim Bauer, played by Elisha Cuthbert. Kim's budding skills and obvious inheritance of her father's ability to maneuver difficult situations makes it a natural transition for the program and a realistic way to keep a much-loved character involved," Kelly said. "She killed Megan's abusive father. She escaped from Ira Gaines. She escaped from a police officer's car. All of these things qualify Kim for a promotion."

Kelly stressed that he was not ending the other characters' lives, with the possible exception of David Palmer, in order to allow them a chance to return in future seasons. He also provided other hints about where the show is headed.

"We will dive into the courtroom," Kelly said. "I figure it is time to look at how a high profile case is tried. The nation is aware that Sherry Palmer betrayed her husband. The way the trial will play out will obviously be interesting to the audience, especially since the death penalty is being requested."

He also hinted at an ominous villain's return.

"We haven't seen the last of Nina Meyers, either," Kelly stated. "This season we will find that she has been placed in the witness protection program as a cabaret singer in the Midwest. This has obvious ramifications when they need her as an immediate emergency witness for the trial."

WHAT?!? A courtroom drama? Kim Bauer an agent? Kim Bauer can barely make a move without requiring her diapers changed. At least bring Jeniffer Garner, from "Alias". And Nina in a cabaret? Musical numbers?


As I said, this has to be a joke. Considering that the article is to shoddily written that it incorrectly refers to David Kelley as David Kelly everywhere but in the title, it's a big possibility. If it's this is true, however, we can safely say that the adrenaline-pumping days of '24' are over.

Posted by diego on June 2, 2003 at 6:36 PM

more bluetooth and java

Jamie has some good comments to my previous post on blueetooth and java:

I could just find that Symbian OS roadmap which showed that Symbian 8 will include the Java Bluetooth API (JSR-82). Oh, and you could you use JNI (Java Native Interface) from PersonalJava and access the Bluetooth API but C++ programming on Symbian is not an easy experience. It produces great stable applications for the user but headaches for the developer (from what I remember, there are macros surrounding everything and errors are produced if the application doesn't release 100% of it's memory on exit - no mem leaks). Good but tough.
So PersonalJava does support JNI. That's good (J2ME most probably doesn't, which limits the usefulness of this to PersonalJava devices, of the new Symbian mobiles I think the SonyEricsson P800 is the only one that supports it). Jaime also talks in more detail about similar concerns regarding how flexible the API is, another important factor that I was mentioning.

Posted by diego on June 1, 2003 at 12:49 AM

4G coming up


The Economist has an interesting article this week on "4G":

Even as “third-generation” (3G) mobile networks are being switched on around the world, a couple of years later than planned, attention is shifting to what comes next: a group of newer technologies that are, inevitably, being called 4G. More hubris from the technology-obsessed industry? Not exactly. Some 4G networks are operating already, with more on the way. A technology once expected to appear around 2005 is here now.
While, as opposed to 3G, there is no clear definition of what 4G is (as the article correctly notes), in general I've always heard of 4G considered in the context of mobile service (mobile in general, not just for mobile phones) that runs on a data backbone, and voice is considered just another kind of data to be transported, and using data transports end-to-end. Essentially, the IP backbone replacing the voice backbone of the operators which, besides from making a lot of sense (especially considering that after the bubble-burst there is a lot of backbone capacity just waiting to be used), should also prove to be more cost-effective, hopefully resulting in lower charges to end-users (note the mention in the article of flat-rate pricing).

All things considered, it makes a lot of sense for '4G' to win over 3G, particularly if the operators can use the same spectrum licenses that they have obtained for 3G. Eventually there should be enough choice so that we can use cheaper (and possibly faster) connections when possible and let the connection speed/quality degrade gracefully as the infrastructure degrades (say, as you move out of the city).

It's happening!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 1, 2003 at 12:38 AM

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