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

rain and a movie

iceage01.jpgLast night Deep Impact was on TV, and while I didn't see it (I prefer the all-out crazyness of Armageddon to the pretend-seriousness of DI) I suddenly remembered that The Day After Tomorrow had opened last friday. So this morning I took a half-day break from work and went to see it. It was entertaining, yes, but in part an empty exercise as well. In recent days there have been comments to the effect that the science of the movie is flat-out wrong--which is surprising considering that many of those commentators say also that we don't know enough--but was most vexing I guess wasn't effects were right or wrong, but how they were not only limited to the northern hemisphere, but also how everything just seemed to be hunky-dory after the population of half the planet had either been killed or dispersed, leaving the North uninhabitable and the South--well, nothing bad at all happened in the South! That more that anything, I think, took the legs out from under the tone of pretend-urgency of the movie.

When I was getting to the office from there it started to rain, and I mean, really rain, and I was soaked and cold in no time. So I just got home, dried out (hopefully fast enough to avoid a cold) had something to eat, and stayed here.

Anyway, I think that I prefered Ice Age, since at least it had that little rat that kept destroying glaciers and mountains when chasing after nuts. :-)

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on May 30, 2004 at 7:09 PM

the end of the US TV season

So with this week comes the closing courtain of the US TV Season. Yesterday night was the season finale of 24, which, while reasonably good, still didn't nearly match the first season. Salon has an excellent review (warning, spoilers abound). According to the rumors, Jack Bauer's daughter, Kim, will not be a regular character in the next season. To which I can only say: Finally! If all that's been achieved this year is to get that character off our TV screens, then it's been worth it, virus or no virus. (Oh, and somebody please talk to the CTU people, they've been having trouble lately with keeping a secure environment, what with all the babies and distraught wives... sometimes 24 seemed like an episode of Friends with codeword clearance).

And speaking of Friends... it ended as well, this time for good. Now do we want to guess on the number of people that didn't know how it would end?

The West Wing season finale was last week, with two excellent episodes that reminded me of the quality of the first two seasons. While TWW clearly struggled to regain its footing this year after creator Aaron Sorkin left presumably seeking greener pastures (or something), the last two episodes (and some in between) are an almost complete redemption. The West Wing is possibly one of the best shows in the history of TV and I'd hate to see it butchered. Here's hoping they keep it up starting next September.

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on May 26, 2004 at 10:00 PM

not aliens--just some wireless sensors

[via Slashdot] Area 51 'hackers' dig up trouble. Quote:

[...] it turns out the truth really was out there, and the government didn't appreciate Clark digging it up.

Clark didn't find the Roswell craft or an alien autopsy room -- in fact, while officially shrouded in secrecy, the 50-year-old base is generally believed to be dedicated to the terrestrial mission of testing classified aircraft. "The U2 spy plane, the SR-71, the F-117A stealth fighter, all were flight-tested out of the Groom Lake facility," says Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. The myth of Area 51 memorialized in films, T.V. shows and novels is a function of the secrecy that surrounds it. "It is a concrete manifestation of official secrecy at its most intense, and that invites a mixture of paranoia and speculative fantasy that has become ingrained in popular culture," says Aftergood.

Even without aliens, the facility has its secrets, and last year while roaming the desert outside the Groom Lake base Clark stumbled upon one of them: an electronic device packed in a rugged case and buried in the dirt. Marked "U.S. Government Property," the device turned out to be a wireless transmitter, connected by an underground cable to a sensor buried nearby next to one of the unpaved roads that vein the public land surrounding the base. Together, the units act as a surveillance system, warning someone -- somewhere -- whenever a vehicle drives down that stretch of road.

Makes sense of course. I think similar technology is used around other high-security facilities, like Cheyenne Mountain (NORAD's Operation Center). Speaking of NORAD, recently I read that NORAD is a binational military organization, and its commander is appointed by (and responsible to) both the US President and the Canadian Prime Minister. Although it's the North American Aerospace Defense Command, that surprised me for some reason...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on May 26, 2004 at 4:25 PM

on spam

Lately I've been more irate than usual at the increasing volumes of spam my server (and inbox) has to deal with. A couple of interesting articles on News.com recently on this topic: Who owns your email address? and Attack of Comcast's Internet Zombies, which give their take on different parts of the problem.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on May 26, 2004 at 11:46 AM

strange news of the day

Quote:

[...] The peace agreement, reached over the weekend, involved members from several factions and laid out a 10-point plan including an immediate cease-fire.

[...]

Under the truce, gang members also vowed to designate places like schools, churches and parks as neutral zones and to avoid encroaching on each other's territory without notice.

Where did this happen? Lebanon? Somalia?

Try Newark, New Jersey.

Here's the CNN/Reuters article.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on May 26, 2004 at 11:40 AM

muglia on longhorn

This also interesting from last week: a CNET interview with Bob Muglia, Senior VP at Microsoft, on Longhorn Client, Server, and almost everything in between. A little more information on WinFS (to add to my comments last week): apparently WinFS will be on Longhorn server, but it's unclear that it will show up on the client. The more I see the progression of the backtracking of announcements, the more it seems to me that the problem is that the initial announcement was too vague. Maybe MS would do well to not talk so much about features that haven't coalesced yet.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on May 25, 2004 at 6:49 PM

china rising

Something I read last week that has stayed with me: an article in the Washington Post, Booming China Devouring Raw Materials. Quote:

The China Syndrome, as it known, explains why as many as one-fifth of the bulk freighters in the world are effectively unavailable on any given day and why the cost of moving bulk freight has more than doubled in just over a year. The same ships that sit stranded outside Newcastle, or at iron ore ports in Brazil, India and western Australia, must line up again for as long as three weeks to unload at congested Chinese ports such as Qingdao and Ningbo.

The construction frenzy that is crowning China's cities with skyscrapers and laying the works for modern industry has transformed it from a minor consumer of raw materials into a country that -- according to its official statistics -- absorbed roughly half the world's cement production last year, one-third of its steel, one-fifth of its aluminum and nearly one-fourth of its copper. Last year China eclipsed Japan to become the world's second-largest importer of oil after the United States.

Wow. A couple of weeks ago The Economist had an article on this from another point of view: The greal fall of China, which started with "If China's soaring economy has a hard landing, the rest of the world will feel the bump". One way or another, we're in for an interesting few years...

Oh, and related (and a little alarming): China warns over Taiwan moves.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on May 25, 2004 at 6:44 PM

movies

A couple of movies I've seen recently that went uncommented-upon in the midst of my no-blog-status.

21 Grams: Very good. Very good. Heavy. But good. Did I mention it was good?
The Last Samurai: Not bad (surprisingly). Pretty accurate, at least broadly, in historical terms, and Tom Cruise manages a good performance. Plus I have a thing for Bushido, so...
Thirteen: Good as well. Also (relatively) heavy, but it felt ever-so-slightly contrived since nothing irreversible happens (some would argue with that I imagine, but given the situations in the film there are lots of possibilities for Really Bad Things, a sort of tension that never gets resolved. Now that I said "irreversible"... now that's a movie that is truly harsh. Saw it a while ago.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World: Not so good. Science Fiction movie set in the past pretending to be a historical movie (not unlike Troy, from what I've read, I mean, come on, no Gods?). Russell Crowe is always good but the premise of the movie is hard to believe (unless the French captain in it has GPS and Radar technology available that is). It tries for epic but ends up falling somewhere between the trailer for Finding Nemo and a chase scene of Miami Vice. Okay, maybe I'm being a bit too harsh, but the setup of the movie is so expansive but it's difficult not to be disappointed (particularly in retrospect) when you realize it's just two ships running around in the middle of the Pacific. It was entertaining though. :)

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on May 25, 2004 at 6:38 PM

no news?

Hey.

No, it's not that there aren't any news. First, I still haven't recovered my blogflow. I have tried to locate it using various techniques, including breadth-first search (for the CS people out there) and tiny keychain flashlights (don't ask).

We are working ALot/7 to get the new, fully public release of share out the door. We are making quite a lot of changes based on the feedback of the invitation-only beta. We've run over some deadlines(TM) but since it's not by too many days and it's in the name of peace, prosperity, and stability, it's all a-ok.

So, there will be news Soon(TM), and after that maybe I'll sleep or something.

PS: "Soon" and "run over some deadlines" are Registered Trademarks of Microsoft Corporation.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 25, 2004 at 6:23 PM

pearpc

PearPC, a PowerPC architecture simulator for PCs. (News.com article). Check out the screenshots as well. Speed is of course a problem, and it stands to reason that simulating a RISC architecture on a CISC processor would naturally be worse than simulating CISC over RISC (as Virtual PC does on the Mac). The News.com article notes that speed is about 2.2 percent of the machine it runs on. But it's still cool. :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on May 20, 2004 at 9:58 AM

two steps forward, one step back

Reading this News.com article ("Longhorn goes to pieces"), any number of paragraphs stand out, for example:

Advanced search features that Gates has termed the "Holy Grail" of Longhorn, the next major version of Windows, won't be fully in place until 2009, Bob Muglia, the senior vice president in charge of Windows server development, told CNET News.com.
And I immediately remembered my post from last year on Cairo and WinFS, where I said:
Seriously now: To anyone that might say that the technology could not be built... please. Microsoft is one of the top engineering organizations in the world. NeXT could do it. Why not Microsoft? The only reasonable explanation, as far as I can see, would be a realignment of priorities and the consequent starving of resources that go along with it (which is what killed both OpenDoc and Taligent, for example). Which is all well and good.

But then the question is: could it happen again?

Probably not--then again, never say never.

2009? Wow. I keep wondering if this is because they start in a direction and realign the schedule, or simply because there are parts of the vision that are spoken out loud but never properly defined.

But another possibility that comes to mind is that Microsoft's intent of Windows vertical integration that it makes it harder to build these components. Wouldn't it be an idea to work on this thing as a completely separate component, and then let the features percolate upwards into the UI over time? (Of course this idea must have been considered, but put another way, is there any technical reason why it shouldn't be done like this? I can't see one.)

I say this because monolithic design is a tendency difficult to avoid, and this has been very much on my mind lately. You start pulling pieces together (for different reasons) at compile-time, and before you realize it you en up with a set of highly interdependent binaries. (Regardless or language or platform, all modern platforms support dynamic binding to different degrees). And it's deployment where things start to slip, because it's there that the potentially different versions of a component have to be reconciled. In other words, deployment is one of the largest half-cracked nuts in software development.

What I realized recently is that deployment is not a separate problem within an application's life-cycle, it is integral to the UI of the app. Deployment should be properly defined from day one, and the goals set for it have to be pursued in parallel with the rest. An installable app or system should be the target from day one. Because, from the moment a user sees your screen, it's your UI. What they have to do to keep up to date, to install or uninstall components or the whole system, and so on. Java for example has a problem in this sense, but no platform is perfect.

Anyway, just a thought for the day. :)

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on May 15, 2004 at 11:30 AM

the incredibles

Just watched the trailer for Pixar's new movie The Incredibles. Now that looks good!

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on May 14, 2004 at 8:03 PM

from analog to digital

News.com: Using high-energy physics to preserve old records. Quote:

Haber and Berkeley Lab colleague Vitaliy Fadeyev are working on a breakthrough way of digitizing and archiving old recordings, such as wax cylinders and traditional flat records, that are too far gone for a standard stylus. If successful, the pair may be able to help archivists at The Library of Congress and elsewhere rescue swaths of recorded musical and audio history that are today in danger of being lost.
I always wonder about the fragility of the digital medium (i.e., sans technology, a CD is simply a nice shiny coaster, and recovering information from digital mediums when their platforms and formats are long-gone is as hard, if not harder), but recovering really old analog information is also important. Reminds me of The Long Now as well.

Categories: science
Posted by diego on May 13, 2004 at 3:54 PM

today's reading...

...The 1992 Winner of the Strategy Essay Competition at the US National Defense University: The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012, by Lt. Col. Charles J. Dunlap. (Awarded by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell). Quote:

The letter that follows takes us on a darkly imagined excursion into the future. A military coup has taken place in the United States--the year is 2012--and General Thomas E. T. Brutus, Commander-in-Chief of the Unified Armed Forces of the United States, now occupies the White House as permanent Military Plenipotentiary. His position has been ratified by a national referendum, though scattered disorders still prevail and arrests for acts of sedition are underway. A senior retired officer of the Unified Armed Forces, known here simply as Prisoner 222305759, is one of those arrested, having been convicted by court-martial for opposing the coup. Prior to his execution, he is able to smuggle out of prison a letter to an old War College classmate discussing the "Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012." In it, he argues that the coup was the outgrowth of trends visible as far back as 1992. These trends were the massive diversion of military forces to civilian uses, the monolithic unification of the armed forces, and the insularity of the military community. His letter survives and is here presented verbatim.

It goes without saying (I hope) that the coup scenario above is purely a literary device intended to dramatize my concern over certain contemporary developments affecting the armed forces, and is emphatically not a prediction. -- The Author

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on May 13, 2004 at 3:47 PM

code that kills

Tangentially related to my ethics and computer science rant from some time ago, Scott Rosenberg has an interesting article in Salon on the problems of software on military systems. Quote:

"When everyone decides for themselves what frequency to use, what protocols to use, what standards to use, then you get systems that don't talk to each other. And it's killing us."

That sort of lament is a staple at technology conferences, and its dire language is usually a matter of executive hyperbole: Somewhere in corporate America, perhaps, a bottom line is breathing its last, and we're supposed to care.

But when the speaker is in uniform, and the incompatible systems he's describing belong to the armed forces, then you sit up straight in your seat and realize that the words are meant all too literally. As Adm. Michael Sharp of the U.S. Navy went on to say, in a talk last month in Salt Lake City, "Software errors, timing errors, can get real critical -- killing the wrong people, or not killing the right people and leaving our people unprotected."

Here's David Cook, senior research scientist at Aegis Technologies: "It has been said that, without software, the F-16C is nothing more than a $15 million lawn dart. There are stories that I know for a fact of airplanes that have been flying cross-country that land at a base that's not where they're supposed to land, and while they're there, somebody modifies the software. And the airplane flat stops in midair when they turn on the radar unit. Why? Because there are incompatible versions of this certain piece of radar software, one of which they never thought would be on that particular model."

$15 million lawn darts indeed. Tiny problem is, lawn darts usually don't run around at Mach 2, or come loaded with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. And that's just one example...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on May 12, 2004 at 12:14 PM

controversy and ticket sales

Related to this post (and this one), the New York Times today has an article on the, um, "controversy" surrounding the movie. Funny (but not ha-ha funny) that a crucial element isn't mentioned at all: that Fox might be glad that groups are fighting each other over this movie, creating free publicity and so on, or that maybe they even fostered it a bit. Hm.

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on May 12, 2004 at 10:54 AM

back, yes, maybe

As I continue struggling between recovering my workflow and just plain working, yesterday I paid a bit of attention to the weblog and I noticed that there were a couple of spam comments, and I deleted them. But then Movable Type's feature of "show last x days" bit me back. Now when I checked there was only a blank slate (Last post was 8 days ago). Which is appropriate I guess.

So let's try this again, shall we? :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 12, 2004 at 10:47 AM

kapor on the google IPO

Mitch Kapor writes about the terms of the Google IPO. A good read.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on May 2, 2004 at 12:54 PM

forget oil

Today I read this article on water problems in the North American West. And it reminded me of this, this, this and this. Something to keep in mind...

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on May 2, 2004 at 12:52 PM

one of those really good moments in 'the west wing'

"[What they saw on the radar] was not a spaceship from another planet, just another time. A long-since abandoned Soviet satellite, one of its booster rockets didn't fire and it couldn't escape Earth's orbit... a sad reminder of a time when two powerful nations challenged each other... and then boldly raced into outer space.

What will be the next thing that challenges us ...?

...that makes us go farther and work harder?

Do you know that when smallpox was eradicated it was considered the greatest single humanitarian achievement of the century?

Surely we can do it again... as we did in a time when our eyes looked towards the heavens, and with our stretched fingers... we touched the face of God."

Jed Bartlet, in Episode 5, Season 1, "The Crackpots and These Women".

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on May 2, 2004 at 12:24 AM

the devil is in the details

In one of those random occurrences that are bound to happen everyday I notice there's a strange referer in my long. It looked something like this (And yes, it's not my typo):

http://ww.google.de/...
So I think about it for a second and I realize that this is something eminently reasonable for google to do, namely, make sure that common mispellings are taken care of so that users can get to what they want instead of seeing an unnecessary error. But then I got curious.

As we all know (?), DNS resolution depends on the dots of the names to separate host name from domain from master domain (e.g., .com or .org). If the machine name isn't configured in the DNS server then it will fail. So it requires a conscious act to support multiple (apparenlty invalid) domains, such as ww or w or whatever. But how where different systems dealing with this? How pervasive was the practice?

Google, for example, supports w.google.com, ww.google.com, but strangely, not wwww.google.com (which seems to me to be another possible common misspelling). Microsoft, in what would have to be characterized as their (perceived) usual disregard for end-users, supports none of the variants, either for their main site or for msn.com. So if you make a typing error, even a common one, such as leaving one "w", MS doesn't help you at all, you just get a browser error telling you the site doesn't exist (just like Google failing with four "w"s). Teoma supports all w, ww, www, and wwww (+1 for Teoma!).

Both Google and Teoma, however, leave you at the "wrong" address, which in my mind seems, well, wrong. Yahoo! goes one step further and redirects you to www.yahoo.com no matter what (Yahoo!, however, only supports ww, www and wwww, while sending you to an error page for only one w used). Overall, Yahoo wins in my book.

However, I wonder, is it really wrong when a user types it with one or two or four "w"s? Yahoo!'s behavior is to gently "correct you", but if you got to where you wanted, does it really matter? Hm.

Nevertheless, interesting stuff. The details, always the details...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on May 1, 2004 at 11:31 PM

EU++

eu-logo.jpg
Today the EU is admitting ten new member countries (Here's a guide from the Guardian with more information on EU enlargement). It is both a day of celebration and of pause. It is also a day of protests (almost predictable as well, I must say) from people that, sometimes, strike me as hypocritical in denouncing something from which they benefit greatly. "Something" in this case equals globalization, more porous borders, and a more integrated and (hopefully) peaceful Europe. The hypocrisy comes from a collusion between ideas and actions. The protesters, to organize, use the Internet, cellphones, and so on, and some of them are quite good at using the media as well. The same Internet that was originally created by the US DoD. The same cellphones that are built using rare minerals from Africa, exported from war-torn regions. Many of them shop at stores that sell the products they claim to abhor. They move from place to place to protest using mostly air travel, based on freedom of movement that, it appears, should only be restricted to certain things (such as protesting). They are middle class, sometimes upper-middle class, a middle class that exists because of the economic results of policies and political decisions and markets that they deride. And, in fact, many times you have people standing together protesting against the same thing and organizing for exactly the opposite reason, such as the protests in Seattle a few years back when you had anti-globalization protesters that wanted better treatment for workers in third-world countries together with Union representatives from the US that wanted third-world countries to be taken off the table completely so that their own workers would have a better chance at getting a job. Right now, here, you have people that oppose globalization on the grounds that it's unfair to poor countries in the same camp as those that think that the poor should stay home in their poor countries and not be admitted entrance at all.

The same hypocrisy, of course, is present on the other side, for example when rich countries proclaim free trade all the while they maintain outrageous farm subsidies that do nothing except sustain industries that should be better served by poorer countries that haven't developed high-tech industry yet. (Did you know that the subsidies that the US and Europe give to their farm industries basically equals the amount of aid they send to countries that can't sell their product because of high-prices that are sustained in those countries precisely because of those subsidies? Isn't that a bit, um, iffy?)

Now, this is not to say that the EU or the WTO or globalization are perfect, far from it. But they have happened without a master plan, these organizations have been created and evolved in response to very specific problems (to which I'll get in a minute), and pretending that someone can pull the strings in a world as chaotic and unpredictable as ours, with so many opposing forces, all with their own agenda, is just to engage in a ludricous paranoid conspiracy.

Governments deal with practical (and political) needs, but idealism can't. Otherwise it's not idealism.

I am all for trying to improve what we have, and for not forgetting the many, many, many people that don't have freedom, or food, or even water to drink. I would dearly like to know how we can move to sustainable farming and industry, and to know how we can have a world that gives real meaning to the word "equality." But I will not say that everything we have now is a disaster. What we have is the best that people, most of them with good intentions, many of them brilliant, have attempted as a solutions to the problems they've faced.

Nobody, least of all me, knows if an experiment like the EU can work, if we can see past our petty differences and to the greater things that unite us. If we can stop with the senseless cycles of destruction that we, humans, sadly seem to be so fond of. But shouldn't we try? Shouldn't we try, in spite of all the problems we see? Idealism is great, but the world has become too complicated to simply extol Marxism or Capitalism or whatever. We know that these linear theories don't work. We know we need better answers. And that's what we should be striving to find. The soundbite solutions proposed by some governments are as useful as the soundbite complaints of some protesters.

About those "specific problems" I just mentioned. At the beginning I said "a time for celebration and pause." Celebration, because the conditions for EU membership contain a number of items that have more to do with acknowledgement of basic human rights, and the fact that these countries have passed it under whatever arbitrary yardstick the EU has set can be nothing but good news.

But then there's pause, because we also forget. We forget that the EU was created on the ashes of a Europe utterly destroyed by the worst war this planet has ever known, one that even saw the use of Nuclear Weapons and mass extermination on a scale never seen before or since. We forget that one of the central aims of the EU was to drive Europe closer together economically and politically so that something like that could never happen again, ever, and that a united Europe could be, if possible, an example, and its troubled past a cautionary tale. We forget that many "solutions" have been tried before, with disastrous consequences.

Will it work? Maybe not. But we have to try.

Because we forget.

Let's try not to do that, shall we?

ps: since Ireland is holding the 6-month rotating presidency of the EU many ceremonies are happening here today, which also means many protests happening here today. Many streets and shops were closed in anticipation of them, and in the end I can say that nothing happened. At the beginning it looked as if I wouldn't even be able to get out of my apartment (thanks to some less-than-enlightened property management) but then that was eased--probably someone that used their brain. I wandered off into the street this afternoon and mostly it looked like a rally of policemen (Gardai here). There was no one else. In fact, most of the police presence was located in a pub across the street, maybe on a mission to verify that no one unsavory was consuming beer. Anyway, nothing happened. Media hype works both ways...

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on May 1, 2004 at 11:21 PM

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