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

rebooting...

macshutdownIcon128.png
Tomorrow, July 11, is the 5-year anniversary of my blog.

5 years! And over 2,000 posts!

Anyway, I thought that this would be a good time to start--again. I've been slowly (given that Ning takes up 99% of my time -- and a fun 99% it is!) building up a new blog to reboot. For the moment it has a basic template and there won't be much stuff there. I've also decided to keep this blog in place for now. I may add 301s for the feeds soon, but I'm still thinking about the rest.

The new blog is at blog.diegodoval.com. Here is the link to the new Atom feed. Update your bookmarks!

And see you on the other side. :-)

Categories: personal, soft.dev
Posted by diego on July 10, 2007 at 11:03 PM

d-day!

Happy birthday me! I was reading last year's birthday entry and I ended up amazed at how little I've blogged since then. I do seem to be picking up the pace though. I have in fact 2-3 entries almost written that apparently refuse to be posted. "Final touches" and all.

Unrelated -- CNN permalinks stop working after a while. How to solve that? (see last year's entry)

And this year is the 5th anniversary of this blog! Surely I can come up with something special for that one. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on June 6, 2007 at 6:37 PM

a space odyssey

2001monolith.jpg

This is entry 2001.

PS: I couldn't resist. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 20, 2007 at 2:05 PM

comments back up

Just a quick note, comments are working again (they were broken until yesterday), part of the incremental fixes I'm doing--plus I upgraded to MT 3.35. As usual, the first ones to notice where spammers, but MT's spam comment features work pretty well so I only have to deal with those when deleting them. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 17, 2007 at 1:38 PM

there and back again

3 years ago I switched to a G5 powermac at the office.

3 Months ago I got fed up with Windows. I mean, really, really fed up. Coincidence?

I'd been trying Vista for a long time (I first installed it a year ago, before the first full betas).

I installed the final version (from MSDN) as soon as it came out last year and I was really astonished at the amount of stuff that was either broken or didn't work right. UAC was still there, as bad as ever. Weird incompatibilities abounded. And using Office 2007 was such a strange experience (what with the different UI for Outlook and the rest of the apps and all) that slowly but surely I got fed up.

Then I read more in depth about the various security layers and DRM mechanisms that Vista has put in place to make sure you can't the see content that you'd paid for unless you have an "approved" device. Because, you see, surely you must be a digital thief if you want to use unencrypted digital paths!

So over December I planned the switch. In Jan I got a Macbook and later when we did a refresh of machines at the office, I got a Mac pro. Then I used Parallels to suck down the windows installs I had into nice little comfortable VMs that now sit on my desktop -- Vista included.

No doubt I may get tired of OS X later for some reason -- everything has its quirks, but for now, and for the last three months, I've been happy as a clam.

I started thinking about this as I wondered how to start writing again, and then it hit me that the switch probably was part of the reset process in my brain. The last several months I've been slowly (VERY slowly, about half an hour a week :-)) making tiny changes to my hosting infrastructure to make it easier to manage and cheaper -- I'll talk about that later.

Lots of other changes planned (in the same small increments!) including a redesign, a domain switch and so forth.

But for now, this is a good start. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 15, 2007 at 6:18 PM

happy new year!

What? Me, posting? Does that mean I'll start blogging again? It's a mystery.

In the meantime: have a great 2007 everyone!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 1, 2007 at 11:06 AM

d-day!

It's my birthday again. :) This one, according to CNN, is special: maybe the world will end, or maybe nothing will happen. Thanks to CNN for the insightful article.

Last year's birthday I was still in Ireland, a few weeks later I posted about the "controversy" around a certain stealth startup called 24HL, now, of course, Ning, where I work :) -- then left Dublin slightly more than a month afterwards.

Quite a ride. I can't believe I've been back in California for almost a year. Wow.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on June 6, 2006 at 6:25 AM

weeds!

Let me get this straight... my last post was... April 9? Where did these two months go, exactly?

Hm. I've literally have stayed off the blog and the site, completely wrapped up in Ning work (there's a whole lot of cool stuff coming down the pipe... just a little more patience!). But... as time goes by, blog posts start to accumulate in my head (the title for this one has been bouncing around for weeks). In the meantime, a lot of stuff happened: Russ stopped blogging, at least for a while :), E3 and the PS3 stuff, Vista getting delayed, Yahoo! and eBay, Google & Dell, more web 2.0ish activity that can be described in a long series of posts, including the whole O'Reilly web2.0-trademark-brouhaha just a couple of days ago, and a lot more.

Comments accummulated on various posts... backups lagged... etc. Weeds! Go get the lawn mower! Prepare the tools!

Ahem.

Now somehow I fell into it, just writing again. Feels good!

Btw, mentioning Russ is not random, aside from him being a good friend I think I've been going through similar soul-searching as it relates to the blog and what exactly I want to say or express with it. No, I'm not quitting, I feel I've been comfortable enough with taking these "breaks" from it as they come. This is one of the key things of a blog as opposed to something else -- it's gotta be done with passion, and you have to be able to walk away from it, otherwise it's just another fancy trap we have built for ourselves.

One of my not-really-earth-shattering conclusions from my thinking about this is that we need new tools -- the tools dictate a lot of what we say, and how we say it. We need tools that stream with us, from tiny snippets of text, thoughts, links, comments, to entries, multi-part entries, and then articles. Right now, it's not that easy to move seamlessly from one to another. And that hampers expression.

Anyway, these are just disconnected thoughts right now. We'll see if I get into a new kind of groove for blogging. Anyway, for now at least, I'M BACK! The 4-year anniversary of my blog is in just over a month. Quite an occasion to start things up again. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 30, 2006 at 7:05 PM

da flu (or something)

Heh. Just as I was getting back into my blogging mood, I came down with some kind of flu or flu-like virus and there went everything. I spent the last week mostly in bed, and mostly sleeping. Tired as hell and all sorts of weird symptoms (dizziness, aches of various sorts), but now I seem to be getting better. At least I can stay at the computer for more than two hours without getting exhausted :)

Anyway. Let's see if I can get back in the fray.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 2, 2006 at 10:37 AM

happy st. patrick's day!


It's still the 17th here in the West Coast, and I'm reminded of things that happened to me while in Ireland. You know, stuff like this. One thing that's cool about St. Paddy's in Dublin is the sheer size of the festivities. In recent years, about one million people congregated in the center of the city for a really cool fireworks show. Of that million, I seem to remember that about half were tourists from various spots of the world, the rest of Ireland, etc. For a city of half a million plus people, that's definitely quite an influx over a few days. :) Anyway, here I am, raising my virtual pint of Guinness. Hope everyone had a good day!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 17, 2006 at 9:35 PM

into the desert

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It's been a hectic few weeks, with a new release of Ning (which I'll talk about in a minute) and a 2-week visit by my brother and his wife. Last week we took a four-day road trip down the coast to LA (through Route 1, which is astonishingly beautiful), then to Las Vegas, and finally back home through Death Valley National park. I've wanted to go to the desert for a while now, and now that I've been there I know I'll be going back soon. On the Nevada-California border we stopped for a bit and there was no wind, which created perfect silence. Awesome. Highly recommended if you're ever looking for a cool trip through the area.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 20, 2006 at 6:38 PM

happy birthday russ!

Happy Birthday!. One suggestion: give the mid-life crisis thing a few years more, that way you have a healthy set of neuroses to choose from at that point. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 20, 2006 at 10:05 AM

today's randomness

First off we lead with critically important news, something with potential to affect everything from the Middle East peace process to how we manufacture high-end microprocessors: Researchers breed fluorescent green pigs. Awesome.

Then an article that's actually interesting about the early days of Sun also over at News.com. I got registered with the Computer Museum here but I keep forgetting to check their schedule. Something to keep in mind.

The Acme Coffee Challenge was not completed as expected, Mike has more details here. It was a good showing though. 75 cups. Definitely something interesting to experience but not something that I'd personally like to repeat anytime soon. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 12, 2006 at 3:15 PM

acme coffee challenge!

We've begun! 100 cups of coffee in 48 hours. Can it be done? No one really cares, but hey, we're following a honorable tradition of people that play the Banjo with Cobras or Jump into a box full of scorpions. Okay, maybe nothing so radical. Here's Mike's post on the topic.

The truth is that we are working on some new stuff at the office and, well, the coffee will come in handy. :)

PS: we started at 5:30 PM, Sunday Jan 8th.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 8, 2006 at 6:04 PM

acme coffee challenge... or something like that

acmerocketsled.jpg
I agree with Mike: when trying to imitate a cartoon it makes perfect sense to use the Internet, and more specifically Wikipedia, as a source of rock-solid facts to prove that nothing can possibly go wrong.

Next up: I demonstrate the feasibility of this approach with my newly acquired Acme(TM) Rocketsled. Wish me luck!

PS: I was in fact in awe of Mike's goal for a while, for sheer bravery if not originality. I thought: I may consume copious amounts of coffee, but 100 cups in a day! Ah, pure genius. "I will stay alert to Mike turning into a blur and report accordingly if it happens" I said to myself. Then I realized he planned to drink 100 cups over 48 hours. Treachery! I sweat coffee at that rate. I eat entire coffee plants for breakfast! Bah!

PS2: Yes. I am kidding. I don't eat coffee plants for breakfast.

PS3: Although... the general tone of this post is making me reconsider how much coffee, in fact I am ingesting. Needless to say, it's all Mike's fault.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 5, 2006 at 1:14 PM

happy new year!

Hey, better late than never no? :)

I got back a couple of days ago from a 5-day visit to Victoria, BC (Canada). This was more than a visit, in fact it was an actual vacation (gasp!) involving almost no use of computers and barely checking any email (twice in a week!). Quite amazing actually.

I made the decision a few days ago to start blogging again. 2005 was a year were blogging proceeded in fits and starts, and the year just flew by, what with all the moves across continents and such.

So here we are. Have a great 2006 everyone!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 5, 2006 at 1:07 PM

the dog days of summer

While normally this would mean (cue dictionary) "a period of stagnation or inactivity," in this case it means that I can't seem to get off the ground blogging with any regularity again. Lots of work (enjoying it like crazy, btw), and about 6 posts (yes, six) that remain half-written or almost-done but never quite get there, and loom larger in my mind than they should. Which convinces me, as if I needed any convincing, that you post when you write, or you never post. Unless you're focused on getting something written, posts don't just happen over weeks--at least not for me.

At least I seem to be getting much better at my "blogging about not blogging" posts. Heh.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 14, 2005 at 7:41 PM

three and a half weeks

Nearly settled now after my arrival in mid-July, I'm starting to regain my balance. Now I've got a house, a desk, the ability to make coffee, and the rest of the things that make it possible to, well, write. Work continues apace of course, but for some reason this kind of moving around consistently throws my writing off-balance. Moving as in moving from one life to the next, those moves that feel perennial even though nothing is.

I finally got a car yesterday, and even though now there are a couple of things missing (landline, cable) it's starting to feel more stable now. Doing it all in less than a month ain't bad either. Full speed ahead!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 7, 2005 at 4:57 PM

hello, bay area!

Wow, the last few days have been quite something.

No, it didn't take me a week to get from Dublin to Palo Alto (that only took 20 hours) but it did take me a week to regain my footing somewhat. I'm still looking for a place to live, and there are tons of logistic details to finish, but things are definitely moving along.

Once things stabilize I definitely want to get back on the blogging bandwagon. Get some sleep too. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 20, 2005 at 4:44 PM

goodbye, dublin

I'm in Dublin Airport now, waiting for the plane to start boarding. The last 3 weeks may have been a bit crazy, but the last 5 days were downright insane. Packing, moving, cleaning... I lived in the same apartment in Dublin for more than 3 1/2 years and there was stuff in every corner and crevice. I haven't been able to do much work, or anything else for that matter, just getting everything ready (and, as it happens, during three of the hottest days of the year. Nice weather if you're sitting and relaxed... but if you're lugging around 40-pound boxes, well, not so much).

I returned the apartment yesterday, and have been staying at a friend's since Monday, doing things in the city. And what a great city Dublin is. Definitely one of my favorite cities in the world. I've had a great time here, I've met some really cool people and had a good time, even if I was working in one thing or another for most of it :). Many of us in tech are privileged to work on what we love, and a lot of times work doesn't really seem like "work" at least not according to whatever weird measure I have inside my head.

So: Goodbye, Dublin, and thanks! And (more importantly) thanks to all the people that were there along the way. I'm sure I'll be back sooner or later.

At a minimum, for a fresh pint of Guinness. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 14, 2005 at 10:17 AM

preparing...

...to move back to California soon. I got back my passport today, visa and all, and I'm packing and wrapping (and sending) and getting other things ready. Last week was extra busy, which accounts for the sudden lack of posting (again... I know). This week will be no different. Moving is a bit exhausting, emotionally as well as physically, and at the same time it's exciting, so there's a certain schizo-undercurrent to the whole thing... plus you end up feeling that you're rummaging through your life and all sorts of things come back.

The last few weeks have been slightly crazy. So much stuff going on. But it's fun! And it's only the beginning. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 4, 2005 at 7:49 PM

24 hour laundry: the view from inside

Well, well, well. :)

There's been a lot of discussion recently about a certain new startup called 24 Hour Laundry. It pretty much got started with this CNET article, then as highlights we've got Om, Mark. Even (perhaps predictably) Slashdot.

24HL, as it happens, is where I work. Remember this?

Yep. It's true. Aaaaaall this time and I didn't say anything. Outrageous! How could I?

Well, that's kinda the point.

You see, we didn't want to make any noise. CNET decided that they wanted to "scoop" a story that didn't exist (and is still not all that exciting at this point). We didn't have anything to do with that article.

Then, in the process of not asking for any press and minding our own business, we get branded a certain way, and told we are doing something wrong by focusing on our product.

What is confusing to me is that some of the comments out there begin with "Well, I don't know what they're doing but [insert your thought about why it's wrong here]".

It is one thing to speculate (which we all do a lot of, don't we) and draw tentative conclusions based on that, but it's another to take those assumptions and then categorically "paint a picture". I know: to a certain degree, these are the rules of the game. But there is a difference between saying "If X is doing W, then here are the problems I see" and saying "X appears to be doing W. They're crazy!" This was partially Russ's point with his great post yesterday. (Update 6/23: Jeff Clavier also makes good points on the topic).

For example, Mark Fletcher said:

[...] But creating a new web service is not rocket science and does not take a lot of time or money. My rule of thumb is that it should take no more than 3 months to go from conception to launch of a new web service. And that's being generous. I'm speaking from experience here. I developed the first version of ONEList over a period of 3 months, and that was while working a full-time job. I developed the first version of Bloglines in 3 months.

In other words: "whatever it is you're doing, you should be able to do it in three months."

Ah, those pesky generalizations--but this is actually an interesting point to bring up. Last year, it took me about 3 months to write the first version of clevercactus share, which didn't just include a website/webservice, but also an identity server, a relay server (to circumvent firewalls) as well as a peer to peer client app that ran on Windows, Mac and Linux.

One person, three months. Webservice, servers, clients, deployment systems, UI/design, architecture, code, even support.

Which proves... absolutely nothing.

You have to fit the strategy to the company and not the other way around. In our case, we're doing something a little different (not better, just different) than the next web service, so we're just trying to keep our heads down until we have something that makes sense.

Of course we want to release as quickly as we can. Of course we know that when we launch there will be dozens of features we wanted to add but didn't have time for. Of course we keep in mind that we can't release a "perfect" product.

We absolutely want to involve users in the product's eventual evolution. We just want to make sure that we have a few things figured out before we start sending out press releases to announce our video-blogging social scooter company.

We appreciate the patience, and the interest (even if in some cases it's a bit misguided!). We are working as hard as we can, as fast as we can, to come up with a good product.

Sounds reasonable? :-)

PS: this may be a good time to add "This is my personal website and blog. The views expressed here are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer."

Categories: personal, soft.dev, technology
Posted by diego on June 20, 2005 at 11:17 PM

D-day

It's my birthday!

Having a late night coding session right now--been working a lot recently, but things are going great. We've got an internal milestone coming up today at work, and after that I'll try to relax for a bit, and spend some time finishing the corrections for my novel which have been waiting for the right moment to present itself. It should be a good change of pace, at least for a few hours. Plus a good Pint of Guinness. Definitely.

Plus, I'll do some more blogging. I've been slacking on that front. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on June 6, 2005 at 2:19 AM

"surprisingly real"

"Nicole Kidman talks about her surprisingly real life." is what the magazine says on the cover. There are tons of magazines in the rack at the shop across the street from my apartment, and through this week my eyes keep drifting towards that sentence.

It seems to me that this simple sentence encapsulates so well the trappings of our celebrity-centered culture. Because the implication is, obviously, that Kidman's life should not be "real" (otherwise how could it be "surprisingly real"?). Therefore what must be real is our lives, that of those that don't appear in magazines. And yet the focus is on what is apparently not real. That's were we project ourselves, or where the media would have us project ourselves. Reality TV, after all, perfectly sums up the notion that we want to see "real" people but not quite--since immediately we assign them celebrity status, turning them into "not-real".

A welcome change would be for everyone to appreciate their own lives, and accept that actors, politicians, and so on are also people, like everyone else. Better known, with more money, sure. To get away from our focus on surface.

Which also reminds me of:

"Remember when they were interviewing the pilots, when they came back from the bombing raids in Iraq, in Baghdad? I remember, one guy, in the debriefing, they were asking him about his experience, you know, in a real war-zone. I mean, he'd only seen his targets through night-sights, and scanners, and on video screens. And they asked him, what did it feel like. And his only comment was: 'it's very realistic.'

Well... that's kinda where ZooTV is coming from."


Bono, on an interview in Zoo Radio during the 1992 ZooTV tour.

ps: btw, ZooTV? Best. Rock. Tour. Ever. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 28, 2005 at 5:05 PM

the friendly skies

"Due to our policy of overselling flights, this flight has been oversold"

An airplane PA announcement in The Simpsons.

The woman next to me has been getting a tiny little bit more hysterical every second that passes. The UA employee is trying to calm her, babbling the usual airline non-denial denial ("it's not our fault"). The woman is all dressed in gray, her hair knit into a ponytail so tight it looks as if it's painted on her head.

Then she starts sobbing. "But I was in line," she says, looks down to the floor.

I suddenly remember the scene in Airplane when a line forms in the aisle of the plane, with people waiting for their turn to calm one of the passengers. The nun! I chuckle.

Meanwhile, the UA employee commiserates, but only the right amount.

The woman looks up, and says, "I really wanted that upgrade."

That's right. The woman is crying because she's not gonna get "her" upgrade to Business. She'll have to fly "Economy Plus". Eventually she gathers herself and valiantly makes across the room, to the gate, into the plane.

Me? I'm not flying at all.

I've been "rejected."

The three phases of rejection

I experienced this in United, but by no means it is restricted to them. When a Crappy Airline (TM) rejects passengers because to an oversold flight, they go through the three steps of passenger rejection, as outlined by Freud in his short treatise Commercial Flight, the Super Ego, and the influence of tiny complimentary Shampoo bottles:

  1. Denial with Observation. This is apparent in the typical pre-departure announcement "We are looking at an oversold flight tonight."
  2. Acceptance. A corageous employees, hidden behind the counter, announces "We have an oversold flight tonight."
  3. Juggling. "We will need to find new flights for these fifteen people."

At one point I almost went up to the counter to ask them whether this mess was ever their fault. All of their statements implied they looked at these things as act-of-God kind of situations more than the result of the company's own stupidity, or crappy software, or whatever reason there may be for them to oversell more than 20 seats in a 300-seat airplane.

But I digress. The plane is now majestically backing from the gate. I'm most definitely not in it.

It's 7:30 PM.

I had been packing and arranging stuff since Friday night, and Saturday both Martin and Russ helped a lot (Thanks guys!) with packing/moving stuff. I had miscalculated a bit the amount of stuff I had to pack/clean up and without them it would have been much more difficult.

Back to the airport, and the plane backing up. At this point I've been at SFO for three hours, arriving two and a half hours before the scheduled departure of 7 pm (and three hours before the actual departure) but that doesn't seem to matter. That I bought the ticket over three months ago doesn't seem to matter, either. They had already been looking for "volunteers" to fly the next day, in Business class. But, like in the movies, once they fell short of volunteers they just drafted a bunch of us.

So we get some vouchers for a Crown Plaza SFO and for dinner and breakfast. The value of the meal voucher? $15. For a hotel restaurant! Clearly these people haven't eaten at any hotels recently. $15 may be enough to pay for the mini packet of ketchup.

Problem is, the paperwork takes time. Suddenly it's 8 pm. Then it's 9pm. We have to go from one counter to another. I seem have packed a black hole in my bag, since it appears to be getting heavier by the minute. I look around but spacetime does not appear to be collapsing into it. Hm.

They also give me a UA coupon/cheque which I promptly cash. I eventually get to the hotel at around 10:30 pm.

At this point, my anger at being treated like space-age cattle has subsided a bit. Business class, some cash... it's not that bad! I follow this line of thought for a few moments until I remember that when I was asked to "volunteer" for exactly the same thing, I didn't. Hm. What was I thinking!? Maybe that losing a day was not a good option given my schedule next week. Maybe that I shouldn't have been left with no information whatsoever waiting at the gate for hours, with all the UA people stonewalling. Maybe I was thinking that, Business class or not, the new flight next day required a change of planes in JFK, which exponentially increased the probability for something else to go wrong, which brought me to the most important point: my visa was a little more than a day from expiring. Any extra delay and it could be a problem. Not good.

On the way to the hotel I keep humming Show me the way to go home/I'm tired and I want to go to bed/I had a little drink about an hour ago/and it's gone right to my head. But this being just the beginning of the trip, and having had nothing to drink, is clearly out of place. I stop humming. :)

the next day

I wake up at five, having finally been able to go to sleep about four hours earlier. My new flight leaves at 9. By now I'm a bit paranoid about this stuff, but I have time. I eventually get to the airport around 7. I have some breakfast. I go to the gate. Around 8 am, they change gates.

Then they start announcing that the flight has been oversold, and they are looking for volunteers.

Oh-oh. I walk up to the counter, and double check that I'm in. Yes. Good. So me and my fellow stranded travellers have used up a number of tickets on this flight, resulting in other people getting "rejected". I begin to wonder if the problem with my flight yesterday actually started, say, in the late 1990s and they've just been pushing people forward since then. Why get more planes when you can just keep delaying passengers ad infinitum?

The flight to JFK is pretty good, actually. They give me a portable DVD player to watch movies, and both the movies and the DVD player explain in large, friendly letters, that they only work with each other. Meaning: if you steal me, I won't be useful.

We get to JFK barely 15 minutes before the connecting flight to Heathrow starts boarding. That goes well, and as I settle down in my seat, the pilot waxes lyrically about getting to London an hour early. We proceed to sit on the tarmac for the next hour and a half, and eventually take off, at which point the pilot tells us that, well, we will actually be getting to Heathrow half an hour late. The Business class seats on this 777 are still lavish compared to economy but are relatively small. I notice there's another type of seat, another class, between where I'm sitting and First. What the...? I suppose there's always a way of getting more money out of your customers.

The movies on this flight are all terrible, and the outlet that my seat has (which I was counting on) requires a special plug, which I don't have, and which the flight attendant doesn't have either. I can't sleep. I start doing some stuff, predictably with the power options to the wrong setting, and my battery's gone in a little more than an hour. And no Internet either.

the last leg

London's Heathrow Airport was designed by a group of super-smart chipmunks with the purpose of driving passengers mad, or so I've heard. I mean, an airport where the Terminals not only have some hallways that hundreds of meters long, but are themselves separated by a few kilometers... (and no, I'm not exaggerating).

Particularly for international flights that connect to another UK/Ireland destination, every time you land at Heathrow you should be ready to spend the next hour or so walking (or running) from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1, with (if you're lucky) a bus ride in between (no luck? got lost? more walking!), plus another security check because all the back and forth forces you to leave the secure part of the terminal. I finally get to the gate, completely exhausted, a few minutes before they start to board.

From there, it's another short delay: another full plane. so everyone's forced to check in their carry-ons. By now I'm oblivious. An hour later I'm in Dublin. My bags get there with me (phew!). I was supposed to arrive here almost 24 hours ago. I Take a taxi, I get a bit overcharged but I don't worry too much.

Then, eventually, home. Happy at that, even if I know that the next few hours will be spent with chores: dusting, getting food, cleaning....re-connecting, and getting some work done. I have no idea if I'll synchronize properly with GMT, but the crazy schedule of the last two days certainly bodes well for that.

In retrospect it wasn't as bad a situation as it could be. I ended up getting home with all my stuff and my schedule is now a wreck (plus I'm more tired). But the real problem is that the airline, in this case United, sucks so badly at giving information to its customers. Had they said at checkin that this was an issue (right after I got to the airport on Saturday) I may have changed plans then. Instead they stonewall and make up excuses and keep you waiting, leaving you in the dark. They still don't get it. Information is good. Telling your customers what's going on is good. A bad situation is made worse by lack of information; people get more stressed and confrontational when they don't know what's going on. When will they learn? Yeah, I'm not holding my breath.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

ps: loong post! Wow. I kinda cheated by "writing it" in my head while I was traveling yesterday. And there's more. But it'll have to wait. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 24, 2005 at 6:23 AM

back to dublin

In a few hours I leave California, back to Dublin after my three month stay here. What a rocking three months. A lot of work, but a lot of fun too.

I have a few posts that I started in the last couple of weeks but didn't get to finish (if there's something I learn from that it's 'post right away' because if you wait you never get back to them). I don't have much hope to get them finished on the plane since the tiny seats don't allow for much space for the monitor to be open, but we'll see. I definitely want to get them posted when I'm back in Dublin.

Also, I've been working bit by bit (almost literally :)) on a small project that Erik proposed back in mid-April. I completely underestimated how busy I'd be and so I haven't had time to release it yet. But it's pretty much done, so I want to get that out there as well (and be able to avoid telling Erik that I'm 'almost done'! Luckily he's patient. :)) Hopefully that will change next week!

This week we did make some time for a couple of outings: H2G2 and Star Wars Episode 3. I hadn't been to the movies in months, so it was pretty good in and of itself. More on the movies themselves later.

Whew. Ok. Back to packing. Catch you on the flip side!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 20, 2005 at 8:44 AM

the 25th hour (the hour, not the movie)

And we return to that age-old ritual of computer geekdom in which a day turns into night turns into day... and we keep working.

I'd been getting into the groove gradually in recent weeks and months, but only tonight I broke the 'trip to Australia' mark. Now that I think of it May seems like a common month for me for this kind of thing.

Yeah, yeah, I know. After last year's burnout, in theory this isn't something that I should be relishing. In theory. But as Homer says, "In theory, communism works." Plus, you know, after a burnout or writing block or something of the sort you kinda wonder if you have actually burned out some circuit somewhere...

But what of the sense of enjoyment at getting stuff done at warp speed, being so much into something cool, and getting it done, that you don't really care for sleep. (The phrase "I'll sleep next month" is a favorite).

All the while the Scorsese fan in the back of my mind keeps bringing up Paul Newman's Fast Eddie in the last scene of The Color of Money, grinning as he breaks, and says: "I'm BACK."

:)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 10, 2005 at 5:46 AM

three weeks?!?

Unbelievable. I blink and three weeks go by. You get emails and IMs wondering what's going on, and say (and think) you'll get back to blogging in no time. Then there's never enough time somehow... all's well though--time flies when you're having fun!

PS: Thanks to Don for the final wake-up email. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 1, 2005 at 10:04 PM

so what's going on?

No posting for days! Days! What is going on here?

What's going on is that I'm leaving the world of technology. No more software, no more startups. I'm done with it all.

I have been reading some stuff by Lord Kelvin and have come to the conclusion that there is nothing interesting going on right now, and that nothing interesting will ever happen again. (For those scratching their heads, Lord Kelvin was the one who stated that "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now, All that remains is more and more precise measurement.").

The signs are all there. Google is adding more and more disk space to Gmail, indexing more pages, and creating new software that, just by virtue of being used by Google affiliates, covers more than 100% of the market. At this rate of growth, all our personal hard drives and processors will be consumed by Google software by 2007. Not only I will not have any privacy or property of any kind, I will still be unable to find anything, just like today, but I will be able to do it while looking at funky Google logos, which is a plus I guess.

Then there's Microsoft, who has enough cash reserves to purchase a small country, but is actually rumored to attempt the purchase of Washington State soon and then leave the continent (no, not leave the Union, leave the continent: split the state from the continental shelf and turn it into a solar-powered island).

I could go on. From Electric cars that run slower than the V12s of yore, or faster computers for lower price, this curve is clearly unsustainable. We would quickly end up with cars that consume nothing by standing still, and free computers that can run infinite loops in only a few seconds. We will be reduced to spend our days wondering when the next iPod will be released, or something of the sort.

So I have purchased a cottage in the Alps and I plan to spend the rest of my days skiing and foraging for food in various high-end tourist resorts. I plan to periodically re-emerge from isolation to remember the hectic pace of modern life, read news, what have you.

And to get some M&Ms. I like M&Ms. (Not such a fan of the yellow ones for some reason.)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 1, 2005 at 11:56 AM

inertia breaks

It begins: "this would be interesting to blog about." Some notes are made. Thoughts organized. In-brain sessions held, middle of the night, smoke-filled-backroom-atmospheric-like. Then nothing happens: you're too busy. Busy, busy, busy, busy. "Tomorrow," tou think. Tomorrow turns into Tomorrow again. Ideas accumulate. Things you wanted to comment on further start to become stale. Events pass you by. There's another earthquake! Grokster v. MGM is in play, and everyone talks about it, even if a decision is not expected until June or thereabouts. Services launch. Get invited to some of them, use them. Even more things to talk about. Even less time.

Comments are posted, page rebuilds, and MovableType's all-seeing all-knowing configuration with its "show posts for last seven days" (which you keep forgetting to find some way around) suddenly yields an empty page. Blank.

But a blank page is full of possibility too. Like a desert.

And hey, Spring is here!

Inertia breaks.

Sort of. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 29, 2005 at 5:26 PM

quote of the day

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Harry S. Truman

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 19, 2005 at 3:52 PM

a st. patrick's day story

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

Since this is the first time in three years that I'm not in Ireland for St. Patrick's, I thought I'd do a little blog-remembrance while having a Guinness.

While in Dublin it is common to come across groups of drunk people late at night in the weekends (and sometimes during the day!) it becomes even more common during this holiday. Many of those are not necessarily Irish, mind you, since there's a huge influx of tourists during this week every year (between half a million and one million if I remember correctly).

Now, in St. Patrick's day, 2003, I was heads-down working on what would shortly become clevercactus pro. It was a night of deep fog, and I was working quite late (as usual). Around 3 am, I hear sounds coming from the door. Sounds that indicated that someone was trying to open the lock. Coming out of flow state, slightly confused, I walk to the door and look through the peephole. A man is standing there, looking with confusion at a set of keys in his hand, with which he had evidently tried to open my door.

"Hello?" I venture, non-committal.
The man's head jerks up. Now I can see his eyes, glazed.
"Open the door" he says, in what semantically registers as an order but with a tone that makes it sound more like a plea.
"What?" I say.
"Come on, let me in." Definitely pleading now.
I chuckle under my breath. "I'm sorry, but you don't live here."
"Come on, let me in," he repeats, this time less sure of his request.
"Go away," I say, then laugh. I can't believe this guy.
He stands there for quite a while, undecisive, until he suddenly turns away and I see him go to the door of the apartment in front of mine. Problem is, he doesn't live there. I observe him. Again he tries to open the door with his keys, and I go back to work. I hear him make more noise further away, presumably trying to open the final door in the group, again with no luck.

Now, all the doors in the complex look alike, so I understand some level of confusion. But you really have to be wasted to not remember what apartment number you live in.

I assume he eventually went through all the apartments and found his, after all, there was only one more floor to go.

Unless he was in the wrong building of course. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 17, 2005 at 6:00 PM

back into the flow

I've been really busy the last few days, and blogging has suffered. Oh well. I expect this will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. :)

I am really enjoying the weather here. Truly fantastic. One thing I miss, though, is Webvan, which was really great. I have to try out Safeway and see how it goes--otherwise shopping is kind of a pain since I don't have a car yet. But, you know, biking back and forth to the office actually makes up for it. Particularly in this weather.

Did I mention I'm enjoying the weather? :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 8, 2005 at 3:20 AM

the valley!

W00t! Here I am! :)

I was going to post before leaving Dublin but as it turned out I didn't have time. Too many things to prepare.

I'm totally psyched, even after not sleeping much for the last few days, and for the most part in "automatic mode" until I can manage to settle a bit. I arrived at SFO last night around 5, after leaving Dublin in fairly intense cold and hopping at Heathrow in the middle of an on-and-off snowstorm. Things ready for the most part, in a nice apartment, although no phone or Internet access yet (which is why I'm writing this offline, at 6 am in between software installs, organizing stuff around the apartment, and having some coffee :)).

More later as I start having persistent connectivity along with time to write!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 24, 2005 at 1:57 AM

packing

So, you're going to be away for about 3 months, around 5,000 miles from the apartment where most of your stuff is stored. What to pack? The answer: not much. A few books. Some clothes. All of my data (portable hard drives come in handy for that). This is the first time in many, many years when I'm traveling without a notebook --- my data will be a couple of portable drives, and I plan on getting machines (note the plural! --that was unconscious :)) in Palo Alto when I get there.

I'm leaving in 8 hours or so. I don't expect to sleep much. There'll be time for that next month. Or next year. :)

PS: Thanks to Russ, Matthew, Erik, and everyone else who's left comments on my commencement news. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 22, 2005 at 12:06 AM

and now...

Still thinking about what I wrote here, and comments/pingbacks about similar ideas. Wondering if something like this little box works... problem is that the RSS feed won't know how to represent it (if you're looking at this through an RSS reader, click here to see what I'm talking about).
It's a couple of days of backups, small-scale internal bickering about what to pack and what not to pack, and so on. To simplify, I'll be traveling only with a couple of portable hard drives, and that means making sure that I really have everything I need with me. Just a few books as well. Oh, and ripping a few CDs that I haven't got around to yet, just so the collection in the iPod is really complete.

It's a beautiful day out today, Dublin seems to have decided to give me a preview of Palo Alto. A bit colder, and more cloudy, perhaps. But similar. :)

I'll be there Tuesday. Yes!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 20, 2005 at 12:23 PM

beginnings

comm-1.pngYesterday was Commencement.

It's not every day that you get to participate in a ceremony that dates back hundreds of years (around 400 in this case, at least certainly for parts of it). The entire ceremony is in Latin, except for a few words here and there, and with a well-defined structure. Now, I am generally skeptical of rituals, since in many cases the ritual itself has both outlived the need for it and any knowledge of why it was being done, leaving only an empty shell of repetition. What's interesting is that, in this case, skepticism or not, I was eventually pulled into it. The slow but determined pace, everything in Latin (in which, to someone who doesn't know Latin, even the menu for a restaurant sounds portentous), the process by which the degrees are conferred, where a sort of conversation is pretty much "enacted" between the Proctor and the University's Senate, where the Proctor "presents" some people for conferring and requests that the Senate recognize them and award them the degree (which they do of course, although I suppose that theoretically someone could throw a tantrum and deny it!). More subtle things are also interesting, PhD candidates enter last guided by a guy with a scepter or something (I still don't know what that was for), in essence being guided into the ceremony by someone external. But when it's done you leave following the Provost and the Senate, pretty much declaring that you're now "part of the team" to a certain degree.

The colors of the gown (or the "technical" term I prefer, "cape" :)) were, um, slightly unexpected. Having no idea about these kinds of things, I was completely surprised when they it handed to me. The red and yellow colors of the PhD gown are for Trinity College Dublin, and each College has its own colors (and this applies to other Universities in Ireland and in the UK, like Oxford and Cambridge on which TCD was modeled). There are more "rules" related to the gown's colors (e.g., a Professor's gown is based on the colors for the Ph.D. I think) but I'll have to find a good historical guide for all that eventually, it sounds like there should be some interesting stories behind some of these things. The weight of the "cape" is something to behold and after a while you can't help but feeling different just by wearing it. Which I guess is the point!

One more thing, a small matter of language. I think it's great that this ceremony is called "commencement," which aside from its meaning as the ceremony itself or the day for it, also means a beginning, a start. In a sense, the ceremony celebrates the new stage that's about to follow. The formal Spanish term for Commencement is "colación" which, in Spanish, pretty much sounds like a mix between "collating" (a good translation for one of the meanings of the word) and flushing something down a toilet (yeah, not a nice image, I know). In fact, "colación" comes from "colar" which aside from meaning "the conferring of a degree" also means "to pass through a tight space, to pass liquid through a filter" and even "sneak through." Anyway, aside from the imagery, all terms in Spanish refer to the fact that you're finishing something rather than starting a new phase, more of a looking back than the looking forward implied by "commencement". I wonder if similar things happen in other languages.

So afterwards (cue Monty Python) "there was much rejoicing", then Dinner at the Commons Hall with my parents (a tradition that's 200 years old too) and then, of course, off to the Pub with Philip, who was also graduating, and others from NTRG, in a ... tradition... that is... probably as old as humankind itself. :) At some point during the night I learned the slang "fair fucks to ya" which means something like "way to go" but much more, um, endearing (how could I graduate without knowing that?! Shocking!). Then I said goodbye and walked back home, through cold wind and clear night. It was a good day.

To beginnings...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 19, 2005 at 7:46 PM

a week of many

Things? Events? Happenings?

Friday is Commencement, wherein I will wear a suit, gown and funky hat, and receive the degree, apparently with stuff written in Latin. Hopefully they will also provide translation, or maybe I will find subtitles somewhere for download. Btw, I prefer the term "cape" instead of "gown". Or "cloak". Or something. My parents are arriving today for a few days, with the intention (aside from just visiting of course) of attending the event.

Then next Tuesday it's leaving on a jet plane, for a couple of months or so in Palo Alto. Where the weather has been unusually is bad (rain all week). Not as cold as here though. I'll work on fixing the rain problem when I get there. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 16, 2005 at 9:42 AM

today is saturday?!?

So I'm on the phone with a friend this morning and I'm asking if he's ditching work today (since he's telling me how he's going to the beach with wife & family and all) and he laughs quietly. "No, I'm not working today." A few confused moments later and it turns out that this is reasonable, you know, because it's Saturday!

Damn. So I tell him how yesterday night I had ordered some stuff through the internet from Tesco (big items that I can't carry easily, paper towels, that sort of thing) and how I was pissed at them because they had only set a Saturday delivery date for me. I spent the entire day yesterday absolutely convinced that it was Thursday. And this entire morning convinced that it was Friday. Plus today I was even more confused since I went to sleep at 2 am and woke up at 5 , then unable to sleep just got to work and chat with Russ, who was recovering his system from an attack yesterday morning (and hopefully he'll be back up soon).

Then after some well-deserved heckling my friend says, "well, you should know the date because of your blog. You post there after all." But then, in one of those moments when the words are out of your mouth before you know what you're saying, I reply: "my blog knows the what day it is. *I* don't."

We depend on software do we not. And there's the extent to which it is true.

Plus: if anyone can tell me what happened to last week, I'd be grateful. January, too.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 29, 2005 at 12:23 PM

and the next big thing is...

Errrr... can't say yet. Stealth-mode and all that. :)

Okay, I'll leave this topic for now. Other things to blog about. I've been incredibly busy the last few days, but that's how it goes. More in a bit.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 25, 2005 at 11:57 PM

in a letter I received today...

"Trinity College Dublin / University of Dublin

Dear Mr. Doval,

I am pleased to inform you that the University Sub-Committee of Council and Board at their meetings of 18 January 2005 have accepted the recommendation of the examiners that you be awarded the degree of Ph.D."

Yes!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 20, 2005 at 5:13 PM

</trip>

Got back to Dublin yesterday night, after a fairly exhausting 20-hour trip (lots of waiting around for planes. For example, I got to Heathrow at noon but arrived in Dublin at 6 pm!). It didn't take long to start missing CA weather... now I'm battling the usual post-travel cold+jetlag that follows traveling east across more than 4 or 5 timezones (and wondering what jetlag will feel like once we start with interplanetary travel).

A few things to comment on today, mostly what I didn't get to write during the trip (the "radio silence" of airplanes isn't a big problem--until you have to travel several days a week that is).

So: more throughout the day. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 19, 2005 at 8:08 AM

a quick update

I'm now in LA (Pasadena actually) in between meetings, and I have a few minutes so I decided to post something because clearly I'm not going to have time until next week to really sit down and collect my thoughts on all that's going on. So this is going to be one of those "weather reports" kinds of posts.

I was in the Bay Area until yesterday leaving pretty much with the rain (was that crazy weather or what? Thunderstorms in SF last Saturday! mudslides in LA! Today though it's clear skies and 60 F so it's all a-ok :)), flew down to LA and I'm here until tomorrow, when I fly up to ... Seattle. Yeah, Seattle! And the weather forecast says that it'll be sunny then (I said I was going to talk about the weather didn't I...) which is not what you'd expect from Seattle. :)

Then from Seattle on Saturday back to the Bay Area and back in Dublin next week. Yes, the schedule became more packed than was originally intended, and it all happened in the couple of days before last thursday (when I left). Very intense. Now I'm running up and down the West Coast and it's just crazy the amount of activity I'm seeing, even in the limited time I have and only talking to what are relatively small groups of people. The boom might not be back, but things are definitely happening.

I took a couple of pictures that I'd like to upload at some point but now I'm out of time. Maybe later I'll be able to log in from the hotel, but I'm not holding my breath: signal strength was pretty bad last night, and I couldn't get online, and when I do get online I need to do things more urgent than this. I ocassionally use the phone to check things, but it's both slow and expensive, so that's kept to only the minimum necessary.

More later, hopefully before next week. Tons of things I've wanted to blog about, including Apple stuff and other things. Stay tuned. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 12, 2005 at 11:20 PM

in the bay area this thursday!

I'm going to be traveling to the SF Bay Area this Thursday for a few days (I'll be there until early next week). I'm going to, um, interview with a certain company :), but that aside, I'm traveling with a bit of slack to actually spend some time with people. I'm really looking forward to it. And no, not only because I expect the weather to be much better than Dublin. :)

PS: who else will be there around that time? Let me know, I'll try to make time at least for a coffee and a chat.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 3, 2005 at 5:13 PM

meeting martin

So yesterday evening while I was waiting for tech support to reply and in the midst of work I took a break and went up to the Gravity Bar, in the Guinness Storehouse (part of the tour thingy), and met fellow mobitopian Martin and his girlfriend for a drink. (Interestingly enough, I was supposed to pay for entering, a tiny fact I remembered after I got there, but I must have walked in with such determination that they let go by even as they stopped other people to ask for "tickets"). Anyway, we had a good chat and it went by pretty fast. We were there for about an hour, and it seemed like a few minutes! Excellent. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 3, 2005 at 9:12 AM

mini-outage

Yesterday I had a strange outage on the site, connection started to get really slow until it was impossible to connect. Ping was reporting 85 percent packet loss. And so on. I tried a few things, stopping and starting services, to no avail (nothing seemed to be wrong *in* the machine). In the end I just contacted tech support at my hosting company and in a couple of hours they figured it out (all the signs pointed to some problem just "before" my machine). Then I spent some time last night restarting the stuff I had stopped and checking nothing bad had happened. Now it's all back to normal. "Or as normal as it gets..." :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 3, 2005 at 9:10 AM

2K5!

Happy new year everyone! :)

skynyd.jpg

Day's been tempestuous so far... cold, gale or near-gale force winds, and lots of rain... but sometimes it clears up for a while and the sky turns into deep shades of blue, like in the picture.

Today I'll be working for a good while, but then I'll take some time to read, catch up with some weblogs, make backups (yes, make backups!), write, and hopefully go out for a walk, assuming it's not too cold. The world feels quiet. Kinda nice.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 1, 2005 at 9:17 AM

end-of-year thoughts

What a year.

So many things happened.

On my personal sphere, I defended and submitted my PhD, released one product (share) and re-released another (pro), and then only a month ago we ran out of money...

We also had the US presidential election, which energized pretty much everybody, and lots of contentious issues, the ongoing struggle in Iraq, the "war on terror," with another terrible attack, this time on European soil, Madrid on 3/11, by crazed nihilistic psycopaths that somehow think that killing produces anything aside from death and suffering. Only a few months ago the Beslan Massacre and related terrorist attacks gave a terrible excuse to Russian president Vladimir Putin to tighten his grip on power in the country.

Then, this week brought us a tragedy of a different kind, the Earthquake/Tsunami in Asia, which will probably end up costing a quarter million lives and untold social and economic damage. This was just one region, 11 countries, and, in a global scale, comparatively "few" people affected, and even so the international aid system is under severe strain. You better hope that global warming doesn't materialize, or we're in for a lot more than this. Then just a few hours ago, in Buenos Aires, a massive fire in a crowded club has produced one of the worst results (in terms of casualties) on record for indoor fires.

And on and on.

Other things, like tech, picked up steam this year, even as economies everywhere kept giving conflicting signs. The tech revival was partly embodied by Google's IPO, partly by some resurgence in Silicon Valley, the definite establishment of weblogs, more WiFi everywhere, the smartphone explosion, distributed technologies, and the promise that the convergence of those things brings. But then a tsunami hits and all of that kind of goes away, doesn't it. And in the end it seems to add up to a gloomy year, and maybe it wasn't in the top ten... but...

But this week I've been thinking about how much the media is biased to report "bad things" and how we as consumers of that media seem biased by a morbid curiosity to follow them.

We don't get front-page news that say "50,000 people happy after concert ends without incident," or "millions of parents proud of children" or whatever. It's all about what went wrong, what didn't go well, and how people should be kept "safe" (when absolute safety is clearly impossible).

For everything that goes wrong there are things that go right, but we don't seem to linger on those. We tend to remember the bad, and shrug off the good. But the measure of our response to adversity has to reside partly in how we appreciate when things go our way, not just how we respond to disasters.

We still all could do better, and must do better. But that's life, both sides of it: joy, pain, love, anger, suffering, compassion, and even redemption. It wouldn't be worth living otherwise.

So: here's to the good things that happened this year, to my family and friends (past and present, "virtual" or not :)), to the spirit of good people everywhere, and to the millions of small acts of kindness and compassion that are all around us, every day.

"All things are inconstant except the faith in the soul,
which changes all things and fills their inconstancy with light"

-- James Joyce

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 31, 2004 at 1:09 PM

merry xmas!

Well, technically not Christmas here yet, but it's certainly the right time somewhere in Asia.

Cold day, mostly overcast, but by sunset Dublin was given a feast of lights against the cloudcover that had broken up a bit. It looked great.

Aside from tons of phone calls, I'm spending today (and most of the next few weeks) working, as I said in the previous entry.

Also: I'm re-reading KSR's Red Mars. Such a good book. Makes exploration bubble up in my veins. :)

And with that, signing off for today.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 24, 2004 at 4:54 PM

working holidays

Throughout the next few weeks I'm going to be doing freelance work for Nooked (which simplifies RSS publishing for corporations), desigining and developing a new web application for them. This will help pay the bills while the search continues for the next big thing. Should be interesting. I spent most of the day yesterday and today checking up on the latest Struts changes, project settings, tests, and other preliminaries, all of which will no doubt continue through the weekend. Target release is around mid-January, so the mystery won't last long. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 24, 2004 at 4:44 PM

a manifold kind of day

I'm about to go out for a bit, but before that, here's what I've been talking about for days now: the manifold weblog. (About my thesis work). The PDF of the dissertation is posted there (finally!), as well as two new posts that explain some more things:

as well as the older posts on the topic, plus a presentation and some code in the last one. Keep in mind that this is research work. Hope it's interesting! And that it doesn't instantaneously induce heavy sleep. :)

diggin'

After the attack on clevercactus last week, most of the service is back up. Some things are still missing (e.g., forums). In the meantime, I'm doing other stuff, talking to people, and preparing the blog/site for my thesis so I can stop mixing everything up here (I can already see entries with nothing but "just posted on...").

Blogflow is clearly erratic. Must be the cold. We've had our first subzero days recently.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 20, 2004 at 5:53 PM

back on planet earth

That's me yes. The one who's back, that is.

As a way of, um, relaxing, I've spent part of the last two days coming up with a simple code sample that can show how one of the algorithms of my thesis works. This is one of those things that should be simple but isn't--I had to run in circles for a while before I could unwind the thought process behind it, at least enough so that whatever code I posted wouldn't be completely incomprehensible.

I finally got it done a couple of hours ago, and I spent a bit more time adding some more information to the output. No, I'm not going to post it in this entry, I definitely want to create a site to gather all this stuff, otherwise it will end up scattered all over this weblog. That's what I'm doing now.

So, what else? Um. I have to do some more work on the conversation engine. I'm still considering what to do next. Mostly I want to do the upgrade that will allow it to actually be useful, by spidering many more sites and going further back in time to find more conversations.

That, and blog about a couple of other things. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 14, 2004 at 5:07 PM

the final submission

Today I finally submitted the final, approved, (did I say final?) version of my dissertation! There was missing signature somewhere on the paperwork that finally showed up, and it was a go. I didn't have full confirmation that I could do it, but I just showed up at the Graduate Studies office on campus and it turned out I could. So I turned in the copies, one for the University library, one for the Department library, gave one to my advisor and kept one for myself (with the nice binding and all that).

There's one more thing that has to happen though (of course! always something else!), when "The Council" gets together and gives a final seal of approval to the theses that were finally submitted in the previous month. Or something like that. Plus I have to register for the ceremony, etc.

The whole thing has taken quite a bit longer than normal, but now it's really, really done. Next step, as I said, will be to post the full dissertation and continue talking about the algorithms, etc. I'm definitely thinking about creating a site for that to put all this stuff, including code, etc. More later.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 8, 2004 at 6:51 PM

humbled...

....is how I feel, btw, after the response to my post on clevercactus. I want to say thanks to everybody. Those that have posted about it offering help or referrals, like Erik, Russ, Scoble, Dave, Om, Frank, James, Cristian, Volker, Daniel and many others, and those that have sent emails or put me in touch with people. I don't know what to say (aside from this). Thanks again all!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 1, 2004 at 5:31 PM

where to begin?

I've been up for more three hours now (woke up at 5 or so, that's what I get for going to sleep at midnight), and I've been thinking more about what to write and/or do in the next couple of weeks, aside from looking for the next big thing. As you can imagine I'm sort of in a bit of a hole right now and I think the best way to climb out of it is to get moving.

So... let's see.

  • I want to talk about my thesis work, now that the whole process is basically over (I picked up the bound copies of the dissertation last Friday, they look great). There's a ton of stuff there, but to begin with, the title of the thesis, is Self-Organizing Resource Location and Discovery. :)
  • Ideally I'd spend a bit of time coding something interesting and totally, absolutely, positively unrelated to what I've been doing for the last two and a half years. Reading (and re-reading) weblogs today, looking for some inspiration, I came across this post from Don Park in which he talks about the idea of creating a conversation category, to formalize (structure? make more "solid"?) a bit the tenuous links between cross-weblog conversation threads. I need to think a bit about that today. Anne's Forgetting Machine concepts are enticing, and with a cool name to boot, but when I think about that my brain keeps dragging itself into Gibsonesque (or maybe Stephensonesque) vistas of the datastream where bots run around forgetting where they've been and asking for directions. Entertaining, but not something I'd be able to code in a few days.
  • I'd also like to write up what I've learned, what my experience was with clevercactus. But I need a few days for that. Minimum. Will revisit that next week.
Okay. That sounds like a good starting point no?

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 30, 2004 at 7:09 AM

looking for the next big thing

So. A week has gone by with no posting. Lots has happened, but more than anything it's been a time of consolidation of what had been happening in the previous weeks. First, the short version (if you have a couple of minutes, I recommend you read the extended version below): tomorrow is my last day working for clevercactus. And that means I'm looking for the next thing to do. So if you know of anything you think I could be interested in, please let me know.

Now for the extended version.

For the last couple of months (and according to our plan) we have been looking for funding. Sadly, we haven't been able to get it. This hasn't just been a matter of what we were doing or how (although that must be partly a problem) but also a combination of factors: the funding "market" in Europe and more specifically in Ireland (what people put money into, etc), our target market (consumer) and other things. Suffice it to say that we really tried, and, well, clearly it was a possibility that we wouldn't be able to find it.

On top of this, I haven't been quite myself in the last few weeks, maybe even going back to September (and my erratic blogging probably is a measure of that). By then I was quite burned out. Last year was crazy in terms of work, and this one was no different: between January and the end of July I only took two days off work (yes, literally, a couple of Sundays) and the stress plus that obviously got to be too much. I see signs of recovery, but clearly this affected how much I could do in terms of moving the technology forward in recent weeks. Since there's only two of us, and it's only me coding (my partner deals with the business side of things), this wasn't the most appropriate time to have a burnout like that. I screwed up in not pacing myself better. Definitely a lesson learned there.

At this point, the company is running out of its seed funding and we don't have many options left. Even though it's possible that something would happen (e.g., acquisition), what we'll be doing now is to stop full time work on the company, which after all won't be able to pay for our salaries much longer, and look for alternatives since of course we need to, you know, buy food and such things. The service will remain up for the time being, and I'll try to gather my strength to make one last upgrade (long-planned) to the site and the app, if only just for the symmetry of the thing. Plus, you can't just make a service with thousands of users disappear overnight. Or rather, you can, but it wouldn't be a nice thing to do.

Now I have a few weeks before things get tight, and I'll use that time to get in the groove again and hopefully find something new to do that not only will help pay for the bills but is cool as well. Who knows? I might even end up in a different country! As I said at the beginning, if you know of something that I might find interesting, please send it my way. Both email and comments are fine (my email address can be found in my about page).

In the meantime, I'm going to start blogging more. No, really. I have some ideas I want to talk about, and maybe I can get back into shape by coding (or thinking about) something fun and harmless.

Or, as the amended H2G2 reads: Mostly harmless. :)

done!

Today I got the final approval on my Ph.D.! As I mentioned back in August, after I defended it I had to do a final submission taking into consideration the suggestions and comments of the examiners. They were generally small things (explain why you did such-and-such more clearly) and one relatively big example that had to be added (along with a misplaced section) that, I must say, definitely improved the readability of the dissertation.

Now to print a few copies, get them nicely bound and do the final submission.

And, one more thing: :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 12, 2004 at 8:17 PM

winedt

tex.jpgI keep forgetting to mention this, so here it goes. :) I wrote my dissertation in LaTeX/TeX. Which, as any sentient mammal knows, is the best system for writing papers and scientific documents ever concieved in the history of the universe (it's good for everything else too).

Okay, maybe I exaggerated a little bit. But I do like it a lot. :)

Anyway, the editor I've used throughout these last couple of years has been WinEdt, an excellent, excellent LaTeX editor which integrates seamlessly with MikTeX, IMO the best LaTeX/TeX distribution for Windows. If you must use Windows and need a good LaTeX editor, the MikTeX/WinEdt combination can't be beaten.

ps: and is the TeXbook a great read or what? :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 4, 2004 at 11:52 AM

on travel

I wake up this morning and there's this image, in my mind's eye, of the tiny LCD screen on the back of the 777's seats, a tiny map of the world in it and the tiny airplane approaching Europe, nearing the end of an imaginary line that, if it were high-res, would seem to be lifted from the well-known "travel sequences" of the Indiana Jones movies. I thought about this image and I wondered if this fixation with modern planes of showing us maps doesn't have a lot to do with what I think is a widespread confusion these days between the map and the territory.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, when globalization started revving up, fueled by worldwide trade and mass migration flows, traveling implied a transition that is hardly visible today. Any meaningful distance required weeks, sometimes months. You literally lived in a well-defined transitional stage, in some cases in relatively alien environments (such as spending weeks at sea). When you crossed oceans then, there was no denying that something big was happening. The transition for each trip was as different as each starting point, and destination. Map and territory where clearly different.

But now that distinction has become less visible ... I have this recurring question in my head of how modern travel has affected our idea of "place", since the transition phase of travel has become a well-orchestrated, relatively fast and almost boring, endlessly repeated and repeatable, predictable event (delays included), the transitions as uniform and similar to each other as lines drawn on maps. Or how fast travel affects our expectations for the culture we are about to encounter (if new to us) to re-engage in (if known). Or how we transfer our idea of self between the place we left yesterday to the completely new place we arrived today, twelve thousand kilometers away.

I wonder how much this is (and has been, for a few decades now) changing the way we deal with reality, especially when you couple it together with video-game like real-time news coverage and such. (Or whether we are dealing with reality at all.)

What also I noticed this last trip was that for the first time the Internet became, in my mind, a separate place, somehow. Another place that, unlike my surroundings, remained constant no matter where I was. What triggered the change? I'm not sure, but the feeling was definitely there, subsumed in the currents of the everyday.

Anyway. Enough philosophical pondering for one day no? :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 21, 2004 at 9:23 AM

back, sort of

I got back to Dublin yesterday, after a trip that was ok but tiring as usual, with the added bonus of having either a cold, or the flu, or both, which didn't particularly help matters for stabilizing my jetlagged body once my feet touched the ground again.

Plus, I had not checked email (or anything else) in days, and it turns out that the web server had crashed for some reason on Saturday, probably just about the time I stopped checking email (and everything else). Predictable.

Right now I feel terrible, but I'll be doing some stuff throughout the day anyway, including answering some of the email that has been waiting "in the queue" for way too long. I also have to get going that server upgrade/transfer/whatever thing before the month is out. This last server crash was a good reminder of how inadequate what I'm running now is.

ps: and thanks for additional comments (via email) from readers regarding my comment spam problems. Once the server switch is done hopefully I will be able to reactivate comments---even if I have to deal with comment spam rebuilding the site should be manageable until I settle on a solution. Of course, I'll post about whatever solutions, be them temporary or otherwise. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 19, 2004 at 7:57 AM

!here?

Reason for not blogging this past week or so: officially: travel and such. Unoficially: blog-rest. Even more unoficially: blog-sloth.

Eternal Sunshine... is, btw, a fantastic movie. Not surprising it's the same writer as that of Being John Malkovich (another all-time favorite).

For some reason I decided to look up synonyms of sloth (see two paragraphs up). You've got (predictably) "laziness", "sluggishness", "lethargy", "indolence". But you've also got (less predictably) "spring fever" and "lotus-eating."

Lotus-eating? What the...?

"slothfulness" is, btw, another synonym for sloth.

And I'll stop with the synonyms already.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 1, 2004 at 1:28 PM

and I just remembered...

That I really, really need to get comments fixed. I've been thinking about switching blog systems, or versions, or moving machines, but haven't done any of them. Hopefully the next few days will bring some time in which to do one, some, or all of those things.

Another thing I just remembered: I turned on the TV for a bit this afternoon. Tuned on CNN. This is what I heard: "...Hurricane Ivan's path of destruction. Also, violence in Iraq continues rising, with kidnappings and more deaths. Stick with us for that, next."

And as I turned off the TV, I couldn't help wondering: "Stick with us for that"???

That's modern "news" for you.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 17, 2004 at 10:05 PM

russ.search()

Things happen fast in blogland sometimes, and I've been quite the busy bee since yesterday, so this is a bit late: Russ is again a free agent and looking for funding and/or a job (If it's mobile and edgy, he's your man!). With all that seems to be going on, he hasn't been much online online lately, but follow-up blog entries assure us that he is well and presumed inspired. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 17, 2004 at 9:47 PM

holy security breaches batman!

So Batman shows up at Buckingham Palace, and all I can think is, good thing Robin's not around.

And, too bad that guy, whoever he is, doesn't have a WiFi handheld with him. Blogging off a ledge in what is supposed to be one of the most secure sites in the world while dressed as Batman would sure get you some hits. Don't count on sponsorship from Warner or DC Comics though.

This reminds me of the time a few months ago when some guy dressed up as Osama Bin Laden (and quite convincingly too) slipped into a party on the gardens of the Palace and walked around for a while... using the 60's Batman outfit is clearly a superior choice though, as far as looking ridiculous is concerned.

All of which brings me to my point: I was sitting down to blog a bit myself when I saw this stuff on the news .... and that was that.

I mean, who can concentrate on babbling irrelevant when things like these happen in the world?

Seriously.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 13, 2004 at 3:50 PM

PostEuroFoo

Damn, I'm still in Wiki mode.

Which is, by the way, more than a pun. For some reason I keep thinking of EuroFoo as a sort of meatspace Wiki. A space where people come and go, asking questions, sharing ideas, showing what they've done or are doing or are about to do, and having fun while at it.

Backtracking: I got back yesterday night, exhausted but extremely happy. Ideas swarming in my head. The urge to code. Many, many thanks to everyone and especially Tim O'Reilly for organizing it. It was truly a great experience.

Today, mostly a day or readjustment to reality (as much as that's possible). In my head there's still an image of which I actually took a picture (which I'll look for later), of the bar at the EuroFooHotel at 1 a.m. on Saturday: soft light reflecting warmly on the wood all around us, at least fifty people still there, the tables a sea of coffee cups, beer mugs, cables and laptops (mostly powerbooks), with something fascinating happening at every table.

Okay. Next up: atomflow.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 23, 2004 at 9:11 PM

randomness

Still a little dizzy by the seemingly sudden occurrence on Friday. Thanks to everyone who sent their congratulations, through blogs like Russ and Haiko, left comments (Frank, Chris) or emailed, IM'ed, or Voice'd :).

Took yesterday off. Second day off for the year! Whew! I'm a party animal!

Did not really pay much attention to the machine except ocassionally as I was doing some housekeeping on the drive, backing up, removing duplicate files (some of them, eventually I gave up and am now thinking of an automated solution), etc. Since I didn't really got down to it, it's still not really done. But getting there. A few days ago I got a Western Digital external 160 GB drive (USB2/Firewire) to actually make the backup, and even though it's not really portable (it weighs some 4 pounds with power adapter!) it has worked out really well so far.

I've been reading books again, too. The last 3-4 months I hadn't read a single book, and I was beginning to worry about that. But then last week I picked one up and started. Then another. As it always happens, the more I read the more I want to write, but I keep that idea in check--no time for it now. Maybe in a few weeks, after I submit the final revision for my dissertation and release the new version of share.

Another random thing that happened last week was that I was under a massive blog-spam attack. Hundreds of comments. The only recourse was to restore an old copy of the DB and rebuild (it was either that or spending hours deleting comments). As a result I am now backing up the DB more frequently and often disabling the comment script altogether, until I come up with a good solution. Maybe moving off movabletype, maybe moving to another machine (since rebuilds take so long on this one), I don't know. I am not too thrilled about the idea of wasting a day on that, but I'll have to do it at some point.

Today is digital day: reply to emails, to comments from users, reply to messages in the clevercactus forums, blog some.

More later then. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 15, 2004 at 12:12 PM

d3r

"Dr. Diego". That honestly sounds weird to me, but it was on one of the emails I got today.

Backing up. :)

In a slightly out-of-the-blue way (like this entry), it finally happened, I defended my thesis this morning (the Viva, or Viva Voce).

I passed!

With comments, that is.

That means that the examiners give me a report with bufixes and I re-submit version 1.01 when I'm done (estimate is a couple of weeks). Changes are generally details, like whether a certain function is an automorphism or has to satisfy less restrictive conditions, and one slightly bigger where I misplaced a particular section (as well as mucking it a bit), completely breaking the flow of the explanation, making it pretty difficult to follow. One or two examples missing. Things like that.

Since we had rescheduled it some three times by now, I didn't want to get my hopes up, but on Wednesday it was pretty much confirmed (with final confirmation last night). Two years to do it. One year (almost) to defend it. In terms of defense-wait/thesis-work ratio it's gotta be some kind of record. :)

I actually didn't know what to expect. A Viva here is quite the unstructured affair. It turned out to be a two-and-a-half hour grilling that went through all of the work. I did have in mind what parts might be more contentious or require discussion, but I was wrong, most of the conversation centered in areas other than those I thought.

But nearing the end, a feeling of exhilaration had started to build up. Big ideas being discussed matter-of-factly, formulas bandied about. Strong arguments. Not just of one or two points on a ten-page paper, but of an entire body of work, its assumptions, its implications. What science is really about. Of course, the day-to-day grind is still necessary, but this was unexpectedly refreshing.

Now for a bit of downtime. I've been pretty much offline the past few days, too busy between work (new version of share coming next week) and the thesis.

Tired, but happy. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 13, 2004 at 8:23 PM

lost in the datastream

It's pretty obvious that I've lost all blogflow ain't it? Well. Lots of work, on a new (and important) feature of share. What are you gonna do...

I've been prowling through cyberspace lately. During breaks, or late at night before I go to sleep. And the feeling has been growing on me that we are at a threshold, where information really begins to take shape on its own.

Cyberspace. How long has it been since we've used the term as Gibson intended? Databases rising up like skyscrapers against a virtual horizon?

And it's not the web, not really, or rather, it's not just the web. Distributed networks, things like Project Gutenberg too. The web seems too much a world of its own, disjoint, bereft of solid footing. But all taken together takes on another quality, like a foundation. Not sure foundation for what, but it's definitely happening.

I have no idea why it seems to me that way now and not, say, at the peak of the "web bubble" in 1999/2000. Maybe because the web on its own appears too much like a monoculture, something too uniform in shape to be anything other than a static repository. But now, with these massive alternate mechanisms of information flow (say, BitTorrent) things are starting to look different to me. I might be wrong.

Anyway. Back to work.

PS: funny that whenever I post something like this I immediately start thinking of other things to write about. Writing begets writing. And so every entry that says that I've lost my flow ends up being the first in a stream. (Okay, enough with the blog-recursive thoughts.)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 2, 2004 at 12:40 PM

burnout? no, just busy

So yesterday as I'm pondering why I haven't posted anything in a few days I read this wired article on blogger's burnout. Although I've experienced lack of blogflow before, this time it was something different: just being too absorbed into what I was doing to do anything else.

So what was I doing? Simple: working on a new release of clevercactus pro. Not that share is taking a back-seat or anything, mind you, this is something that we had planned for a while and finally there was time to do it. (The release will be out sometime next week).

Anyway--I have had a couple of posts swirling in my head for a couple of days now, so I'll get to that now. :)

Categories: clevercactus, personal, technology
Posted by diego on July 9, 2004 at 12:54 PM

D-Day

Listening to All That You Can't Leave Behind which seems to be a (-n entirely unintended) mini-tradition of sorts by now. It's a beautiful day, too!

And still within the 5-bit boundary... :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on June 6, 2004 at 1:43 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

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

somebody help me, I'm being spontaneous!

So about 2 weeks ago I was supposed to take a break from work and everything else. Not blogging for a while seemed like a good idea as well. What ended up happening was that I didn't completely stop working but I did stop blogging, and my absolute lack of blogflow has remained a constant since then except for a couple of posts here and there.

Now since yesterday night (late at night) I've had in my head this sequence from The Truman Show in which Truman is on a roundabout randomly moving back and forth different roads and screaming "somebody help me, I'm being spontaneous!". And in some weird way it feels like that.

Sure, work is a factor, but yesterday I realized there's something else going on too, and honestly I don't know what it is.

Having issued this clarification (?) maybe we'll now return to our regular (?) programming (!).

:-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 23, 2004 at 11:50 AM

the definition of a hellish night

2:30 AM: Go to sleep, or try to, after working for some 16 hours.

3:00 AM: Wake up to noises in the hallway. People talking loudly and banging on walls. Identify them as drunken slices of humanity coming home after spending hours in a pub following Ireland's win against Scotland in some Rugby match or other. Finally fall asleep again after 15 minutes.

3:30 AM: Wake up again to noises, this time coming from a nearby balcony. Identify them as possibly the same group of drunks. Get to sleep again after another 20 min.

4:30 AM: Wake up again, this time to the building's fire alarm. Wait for a few seconds. Get up. Get dressed. Go out and see what's happening. Be greeted by a wave of dense air smelling like burned-out bacon and possibly eggs. Hear a (possibly the same) group of drunk creatures laughing in the hallway of the floor below. Walking down, I am stopped by people going up, who, as they walk past me, greet me like a long-lost friend (I've never seen them before). I curse under my breath and go back to my apartment. The alarm keeps blaring for 30 minutes more, restarting intermittently. Look at the watch for a long time, consider just getting up, finally fall asleep again at some point.

5:30 AM: Wake up again to more noise, the same people as before or maybe new ones. Curse again. Ponder at length whether it would be too difficult to just pack up and leave Ireland for a few days for events like this (Rugby... St. Patricks' Day...).

6:00 AM: Noise continues. Continue musing about getting on a plane, but wonder if they would be full of Scotsmen in a similar state. And, while having no opinion in particular about Rubgy before, I quickly get to the conclusion that it should be banned from Earth. Finally fall asleep again.

8:00 AM: Wake up to a horrible headache. Not surprising. Gulp down some aspirin and get to work.

Funny isn't it? The rest of Dublin gets drunk, and it's me who has a hangover. Damn.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 28, 2004 at 3:03 PM

the best sight in dublin

When you're in Dublin (as a tourist) much is made of the Tower, next to the Jameson Distillery, where you have a nice view of the city. This is what I know from reading countless brochures, mind you, as I've never been there. )I generally don't, um, peruse, the tourist sights, although I've been more than once to the Joyce Tower, where Ulysses starts, for other reasons :)). But the tower is probably nothing compared to the Gravity Bar, at the Guinness storehouse, particularly at night.

I've just come back from a Digital Depot party (or is that "networking event"? Who knows... what with all our modern ideas...) and it was fantastic. I think you might not be able to see it at night through the tour (probably closes too early, although maybe not in winter). It's a beautiful place, especially at night. I wish I had had my digital camera with me. The "walls" are made of glass, and each wall that is in the direction of a Dublin landmark (say, Trinity College), has quotes from James Joyce that reference the place in question.

Excellent. Not to sound like a corporate advertisement, but, if you're in Dublin, don't miss it. Just the sight and the "free" pint is worth the 7 Euro. And, needless to say, it's a great pint as well. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 16, 2004 at 9:50 PM

flashes of poetry

Sleep
Sleep tonight
And may your dreams
Be realized
If the thunder cloud
Passes rain
So let it rain
Rain down on him
So let it be
So let it be

Sleep
Sleep tonight
And may your dreams
Be realized
If the thundercloud
Passes rain
So let it rain
Let it rain
Rain on him

MLK, From U2's The Unforgettable Fire.

Poetry in my head tonight for some reason. I kept seeing flashes of Yeats as I listened to this song. So. If you'll excuse me, I'll take leave of my senses for a while. :)
"Now I may wither into the truth."
Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 8, 2004 at 12:50 AM

and last monday...

...I talked, over lunch, with Dr. Eugene Wong. So busy I forgot to mention it! It was a great conversation. (This was in the context of an open meeting at TCD, so I ended up talking to him by chance). We talked for about an hour, and it went by in a breeze. When he introduced himself he mentioned he was a Professor at Berkeley (Professor Emeritus, it turned out) and one of the creators of the INGRES database engine (which immediately in my head flagged that he was a pioneer of many of the concepts of relational databases that we take for granted today), and I was of course duly impressed and humbled. Only later I found out about his other activities (e.g. NSF Director). The most striking thing was when we were talking about research in the US, and in replying to a question of his I mentioned I had worked at IBM Research in Yorktown heights in the late 90's. To this he said, "Oh, I worked there too. When they had just opened the building."

In the early 1960s, that is.

So. Much. History.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 4, 2004 at 1:07 AM

link from places unexpected

Just looking at my referers, I see a link that looks a bit strange. I go there. It turns out it's MIT's Research and Innovation project to help MIT's faculty, staff, students and researchers, pointing to my introduction to weblogs. It made me feel good to see a small contribution of mine being useful, even in environments like MIT where they have so many resources at their disposal. :)

Reminds me of the truism that content, especially digital, has a life of its own.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 25, 2004 at 8:12 PM

and the 'ethics' rant...

...leaves me incredibly mixed feelings. I don't like the idea of questioning, questioning, questioning, without any clear answers, but that's all there is in this case, or rather, all I see.

This topic has been brewing in my head for some time, and I think it was the open-ended nature of it that kept me from mentioning it. It is easy to misconstrue (or misinterpret--both failures of this writer's limited abilities, and not of the reader) the ideas as a rant against software, or technology, or nuclear weapons, or whatever; when the point is most decidedly not whether these things are good or bad but whether we have some ideas and some ground covered before we turn them into reality or we're always left scrambling after the fact.

Even as it is, in some senses, personal, limited, and introspective, its scope and scale are still daunting.

The good news is: that's never stopped us before. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 23, 2004 at 10:37 PM

the G5 has landed

g5-small.jpg

(click on the image to see a larger version).

Deja-vu.

More later. :-))

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 20, 2004 at 5:08 PM

why we do what we do

Over at Anne's weblog an interesting conversation developed, and I thought that my latest comment there merited an entry here (ie., post here a slightly edited version of what I wrote over there). We were talking about how we look at design, and in one of her comments Anne said:

And here's another context issue: Diego runs a business and wants to build "useful" things right now.

Anne is right about my context, but just as a clarification, the situation is actually the other way around. That is, I don't think like this because I'm building a company, rather, I'm building a company because I think like this.

A company shouldn't, can't, be an end in itself (As I've said before). A successful company (IMO) is not one that only makes money (although that's important of course) but also contributes to the life of its employees, its community and society, and does its part, to put it simply, in making things better.

What I probably didn't make quite clear (as usual :)) is that I do agree with taking a long-term view of things, doing basic research, and generally pushing boundaries. (Plus, I enjoy these things immensely). But as a history buff in general (and tech history buff in particular) I also think often of the hundreds of great ideas that have fallen by the wayside simply because they never left the lab, and not because they were "bad" ideas but because of external market factors (price, availability, compatibility, etc). I'm often frustrated with how little of all the great research actually reaches most end-users. My (possibly misplaced) personal brand of idealism (or is that pragmatism?) pushes me to try to reconcile far-out concepts with the reality of markets--which inevitably leads to compromises of one sort or another.

If I could only make small, incremental changes that make things a bit better and help simplify our lives in some way, I'd take them any day of the week. But these conversations are hugely important to me because they are a good reminder of how far we have yet to go before we definitely leave behind us this Era of Crappy Software (TM!) from which we can't seem to escape :).

Plus, it is my opinion that lots of the "new breed" of companies (particularly those that deal with blogging, search, collaboration and social software) have similar goals, implicitly if not explicitly. I don't want to name names :), but don't hide, you know who you are. Which makes me feel as less of a crackpot in saying all of this. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 6, 2004 at 6:13 PM

tired (!wired)

Yes, the !wired reads NOTwired.

tired.bed.gifI went to sleep late today as usual but I had this idea that I'd actually have a decent sleep this time, "like eight hours or something like that" (I thought). Well, my biorhythm thought otherwise, and I woke up two hours later and immediately was wide awake. So I got up and started working. What else could I do? (Don't say "go back to sleep" :)). The plus is, I've been listening to Rachmaninoff (and some Beethoven) which I can't do while asleep, not enjoying it consciously at least. :)

And, yes, the title is in reference to this. (But you knew that, didn't you).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 2, 2004 at 10:37 AM

weblog changes

I spent a couple of hours today updating the templates and doing some design changes, colors location of elements on the page, link updates, things of that nature (a refresh or hard-refresh on the page might be necessary to get the new stylesheet). I've removed the calendar, since it seemed that it was taking up space more than doing anything useful (I can't remember the last time I clicked on it, I generally just search for whatever I want to find), this seemed reasonable to do but I'd be interested in hearing other opinions on the matter :). I linked the headings for each days to the content posted for that day both on the main page and the category index. Finally, I changed the category name "spaces" to "clevercactus", to make it more relevant. At the moment I've just launched a full rebuild which will take a while to complete--in the meantime pages will be in flux.

This image:

julia-set.gif

(that now appears at the top-left of the blog) is of a Julia set. Julia sets are quadratic maps ("quadratic" because they are based on quadratic functions) of the form z^2+C, where C is a complex number and the function is applied recursively. Since you can use any complex number to start the iteration, there are an infinite number of Julia sets. Now, wouldn't it be nice to have time to spend a few days writing code to generate a new fractal automatically every week or something. :)

Okay, back to the real world.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 1, 2004 at 8:40 PM

dsl half-broken, again

For the last couple of days I've had the same problem I saw about two weeks ago with my DSL connection. Some sites were unreachable while others worked fine. So I bit the bullet and called up support (again) and this time I got some more details. Apparently Eircom added a pool of IPs recently and one of their transatlantic provider (AT&T) doesn't know about them yet. So whenever you go through them, they drop the packets. After some changes and trying out other usernames, it started to work again. Hopefully this problem with AT&T will be solved soon (they said this week, I'm skeptical); for some reason I keep getting assigned to that broken pool and half the internet is innaccessible for me (and people can't reach me either, which is bad for P2P apps). We'll see.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 25, 2004 at 3:08 PM

still some server problems

I woke up this morning to find the site down (again), this time because the server rebooted overnight (again) and there is some problem with the init scripts (again). Same thing that happened yesterday, and a few days ago. Damn. I have no idea what might be happening, I wonder if it's a hardware problem, or a software problem, or a reaction to some kind of attack, or just the load on the server that is straining things.

At least now I've got the routine down cold: "start this, start that". I need to sit down for a bit and fix it. Hopefully this will stop soon... or at least the server will decide to reboot when I'm awake (this shouldn't be hard, since I don't sleep much).

Apart from that, I was planning to go see LoTR RoK last week but didn't. I was planning to see The Last Samurai but didn't. I wanted to go see Paycheck, but didn't. I was planning to work a lot, and that went fine :).

What else. Yesterday morning I took a break from what I was doing and wrote another application (yes, the whole thing), just for fun. It might sound strange, but to me it is actually relaxing to spend a few hours coding something completely different, especially if it's simple and well-defined. In the process, I managed to fix several problems that I had with the other app, mainly framework and UI things. Funny how changing the context sometimes makes difficult problems seem easy. Archimedes probably knew that, didn't he, when he went to take that famous bath.

I also took yesterday as an "offline" day. No IM. No IRC. No weblog. It's not some kind of master plan, but it just happened. Another way of taking a break for me.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 18, 2004 at 12:16 PM

half-oops

I don't know what happened but the server rebooted overnight, and some services didn't come back up, in particular naming, so some machines might have failed to resolve this domain. All seems to be well now. It seems this has been one of those weeks...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 16, 2004 at 10:45 AM

all entries restored

Okay, all entries since last thursday have been restored. Coming up: the story of an outage.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 14, 2004 at 3:53 PM

alarm! alarm!

I was woken up this morning (before 7 am) to the horrible screeching of the building's fire alarm (yes, the building's not my apartment's). It's a pretty bad way to wake up. I was about to go down and see what was happening when it stopped. This has been a problem once before in the past. Needless to say, I couldn't go back to sleep, and it took me a while to get the sound out of my head and to quell a rising headache. Then I got to work, write a bit, etc.

A few minutes back I was right "in the zone" and the alarm went off again. Damn. I went down. "They are fixing it". Right. Then it stopped.

About 10 minutes ago it started up again and they are stopping it and starting it intermittently as they try to fix it. It's impossible to concentrate. If this keeps up, I'll go for a walk. And hopefully they'll get it fixed for the rest of the day at least, so I can get some work done!

Ah, the wonders of technology.

Later: The Alarm stopped. I went out for a walk anyway. Brrr it's cold. Weather.co.uk says "5 C, feels like -1 C". I believe it. Plus, the weather's crazy, there's very strong winds so whole stormfronts move in and out of sight within minutes (I'm not exaggerating). When I got back the alarm started up again. Still fixing it, it seems, and we building-dwellers can do nothing but wait (and complain :)).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 11, 2004 at 3:04 PM

spambots get smarter

Since today started as a "spam kind of day"...

Something I noticed over the last few weeks is that I've started to receive spam that is way more targeted than before. In what sense?

Well, let's say this: I'm getting spam that not only knows my full name, but also my address. Okay, not my current address, but I've already gotten spam that explictly mentions both my New York address (from 5+ years ago) and my SF Bay address (from 2+ years ago). This is bad, not only they know my email address, but they also know where I live(d)! Yes, we know that with time and money you can get a lot of information on anyone, but this has to be done automatically and massively, or otherwise it wouldn't be a practical option for spammers.

Clearly, one way this could happen is if someone (say, buy.com) has been selling their customer information. Since I usually take care of buying online only when my privacy is more or less protected, this is unlikely, though certainly possible.

There's a more likely way in which this connection was made: Google.

Google not only knows the web, it also knows other information... like phone numbers (at least in the US). Jon mentioned this some time ago.

A spambot to get "connected information" would work like this. Say you write an automated script to go through phone numbers on Google. Then the script takes the address data and the person's name, and then googles the person's name. It takes the first few results (or maybe only the first one) and scans the resulting pages to match an email's name to the person's name. Sure, this won't be 100% correct, but spammers don't care about that. And Google's reach makes it reasonable to think that you'd have a reasonably high hit rate. You could even write a program that uses the GoogleAPI for it.

Sure, we could say, as Scott McNealy does, that "you're privacy is gone, get over it". Even if you agree with that statement (and I don't, at least I want to resist it!), this is nevertheless disturbing. And the question that follows is: does Google have any responsibility for this? They'd probably say that they're providing a service by integrating yellow pages information, which would be true.

I'm not picking on Google, rather Google is the example here because of its reach and pervasiveness, but I'm sure that similar things can be done with other search engines and if not it won't be long before you can. Can we fix this at all? If so, how?

Since this is the tip of the iceberg, my main thought at the moment is that I'm a character from Lost in Space and all I hear is "Danger Will Robinson! Danger!".

Categories: personal, soft.dev, technology
Posted by diego on January 6, 2004 at 5:10 PM

connection problems

While I finished deleting the spam comments a few hours ago, the Internet connection problems remain. I can't reach several sites, including news sites and weblogs, and neither IM or IRC can connect. Other sites, both in Ireland and abroad, work fine. Definitely weird.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 6, 2004 at 4:15 PM

a spam kind of day

Feeling better today. For some reason I'm having trouble at the moment reaching several sites on the Internet. Unclear if this is a widespread problem, or just one of my provider. Plus, as if mail spam was not enough, this morning I woke up to a barrage of spam comments posted on this weblog, more than sixty in total. I've been deleting them for the last hour (halfway through now) since movable type doesn't have (that I know of) a "master" comment list where I can delete all at once and rebuild all the entries in a single clikc. Plus, it's slow to rebuild on this machine (which means that posting all those comments must have taken a good time). Nothing wrecks workflow like having to deal with enormous amounts of spam. As I'm deleting comments I'm also closing comment threads to prevent more spam postings. Sigh.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 6, 2004 at 11:51 AM

more or less

Here, that is. More or less here. In body, definitely, but in mind it's still "more or less". I have been battling a cold for the last couple of days, ups and downs and still adjusting after so much travel. All sorts of "--aches" and general dizziness. Waking up this morning was truly a hellish experience. It took me half an hour to feel even remotely normal.

So.

I've been reading some interesting stuff, mostly as I can, since it's hard to read on the screen or even a book with a headache always there about to break out. But this fast company article on Apple and "innovation" caught my eye. Interesting, though I don't agree with all of its conclusions. On CNN I saw this mention of new search interfaces, which also seemed interesting.

And as far as books, I'm re-reading Chesterton's The man who was Thursday, which is of course fantastic.

Anyway, hopefully by tomorrow I'll feel better, and be able to getting back "into it" ("it" being, well, everything!) ... there are a number of cool things coming up this week--and many ideas and thoughts that have surfaced in the last few weeks of non-Internet life.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 5, 2004 at 5:29 PM

happy new year!

I got to Madrid okay yesterday, but, in the end, I couldn't get the modem connection to work properly... and in truth I didn't spend that much time with it (I fixed that a few minutes ago problems with a DHCP connection that required some fixed TCP/IP settings)...

... but now we're about to leave, so I'll be brief: Happy 2004 everyone!

PS: Digital life resumes tomorrow afternoon, after I get back to Dublin. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 1, 2004 at 2:25 PM

take off

I've had a great time these last few days (and I hope everyone had a great christmas!). So much so that even after that timid e-restart last week I simply tuned out again, not even turning the computer on. In a few hours I'm flying back to Europe, first to Madrid, where I'll spend New Year's Day, and then Dublin by the end of the week. Which means it's unlikely there will be much posting until then. Apologies for not replying emails, hopefully I'll get back up to date by the end of the week. Maybe if there was better connectivity through the trip... US airports might have WiFi all over the place, but that's not the case in Europe, at least not that I know of. Anyway. More on the other side of the Atlantic, 2003 ain't over yet!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 30, 2003 at 11:40 AM

tiptoeing back on to the grid

Hey, hey!

Yes, this appears to be yet another blog entry in which I blog about not blogging.

Well, actually, it's a bit more (just a bit). For the past two weeks it's been really more of a matter of not even reading much news or blogs at all. Not that it's a bad thing, but even though I thought I didn't want to do it it turned out I did want to do it. That is, get away from it for a while. Not just reading, but of course writing as well. Sure a couple of times I got the itch, but I could restrain myself in time. :) Inertia notwhistanding, by last week I was barely looking at news at all.

Was that last paragraph clear at all? A bit convoluted, no? Rusty fingers. Or rusty braincells. Or both.

And this was good how? Well, if a large part of work is now online interaction, then it follows that a vacation might actually benefit from cutting down on online interactions (d'oh!). And the last two weeks (and last week in particular) I've felt increasingly more relaxed. I'm actually beginning to feel as if I'm taking a few days off, which wasn't part of the original plan for the trip (the plan was, more or less, not to rest through the trip. Yes, I should have my head examined). In the end, it seems to have been good for me.

I've read a couple of interesting books recently, first: The Villa, The Lake, The Meeting: Wannsee and The Final Solution by Mark Roseman, which is an analysis of the events leading up to and following a crucial meeting in the Nazi's plans for genocide. The book, brief but well written and documented, attempts to trace the path that educated people (mostly men) followed over the course of a few years to distance themselves so far from humanity as to get to the point of discusssing genocide over cigars and liquor. Must read.

The other book is Amusing Ourselves to Death, Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, which is a great book by Neil Postman (originally published in 1985, one of those still-relevant classics) on which I'll comment more in a few days when I'm done ... err.. "processing it". As I took some distance from weblogs, etc, I've spent some time thinking about the nature of the blogs, (thinking of blogs as epistemology, mirroring Postman's analysis on the book for TV and Media in general) and how this affects discourse through the blogsphere. Another of Postman's points, that it was Huxley (with Brave New World) who was right about the future, and not Orwell (with 1984), with comments like: "Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance." Okay, I'll stop now before I get carried away. But definitely more on this later.

Expect sporadic updates through the next few days as activity slowly increases. Plus, I have to get up to speed on my email. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 23, 2003 at 1:53 PM

net-less

outtolunch.jpg
Trip was ok (thanks for the emails! -- sorry for the lack of updates). I've spent maybe 1 hour online during the past week, if that. I have Internet connection, I'm just not using it. Enjoying the change of pace. Very much so.

Hence: back in a few days! :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 12, 2003 at 2:03 PM

traveling

I'll be leaving in a few hours... so the last couple of days have been a mix of work and preparation.

The worst part is choosing which books to take. If it was up to me, I would just take them all. Sure, I'll read maybe one or two, but which two? Arrrgh!

ebooks are ok, but I still want books. Paper. Hardcovers. Not even fancy e-ink systems would do. But, for a trip, if I could just dump all my meatspace library into a single e-volume and take that, it would be great. Every book should come built-in with a digital version. So how about it? One of those 2.5 inch CDs behind every book's cover? Now that's multimedia that I'd buy.

That aside, I've got a good assortment of videos and music on the notebook, so I won't have to fear lame in-flight movies either.

More tomorrow, after the timezone change (transatlantic trips going west never fail to leave me a bit frazzled--on second though, going East as well :)).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 7, 2003 at 2:36 PM

I second that emotion

Karlin talks about the main downside of working at home: DIY neighbors. Yep. In my case, neighbors (particularly the apartment upstairs) have sometimes been a pain, but the worst for me is Heuston train station (across the river from my apartment). They've been doing expansions and repairs to it for more than a year and a half and sometimes they use pneumatic hammers (is that the right term?) for long stretches, even at ridiculous hours like at one or two in the morning. This very morning I was woken up by the racket of concrete being smashed... or whatever it was. Good thing I don't sleep much anyway. All in all, however, the advantages make it worthwhile when you work on your own.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 2, 2003 at 12:51 PM

I mean it this time

So I didn't stop with Microsoft as I said I would. I got carried away by conversation with other blogs, etc. But as I'm writing a reply to Robert's comment on my previous post about XAML, I just came to a simple realization.

I suddenly saw that what I was asking is sort of a pointless question. It's interesting to speculate, yes. It's also useless.

Yes, my point was... err... pointless.

When Longhorn ships, we might be able to look at this in a new light. Right now it's complete extrapolation, in this case on my part, guided by what I see and by previous MS behavior. Robert keeps saying (as I understand it) that MS is not out to "kill the web", etc. Many people (and to a degree myself included) think that isn't true, based on previous "attempts". Now, Microsoft may be trying for something different this time, or it might not. Either way, we'll see in a couple of years. In the meantime, talking about the potential market effects of a technology that hasn't yet been finished, running on a platform that won't be released for at least two years, with some components that don't yet exist, is an excercise in futility.

I can avoid jumping the gun by waiting until it is actually released and people start using it for actual applications. Until then, two words should be enough to stop myself going down this road further: "Netscape Constellation."

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 2, 2003 at 2:16 AM

mail server problems

I've just discovered that my mail server was being overzealous in rejecting messages... I've tweaked the configuration and things should now be ok. If you've sent me an email in the last week or so and you've seen rejects, please try sending again, this time it should work (otherwise leave a comment in this entry). Thanks.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 1, 2003 at 1:08 PM

timeless

My brain still is out to lunch, camping happily in code-la-la-land, unable to say much of substance (hence the lack of posting the last couple of days). In the meantime, my body's been fighting a cold. Everything hurts, etc.

However :) I've been thinking about a number of things. Let's see if I can mention a few today.

Starting with the obligatory reference to how quickly time passes: December! It's good that we have so many calendars in our computers. The same mechanism that lets us forget about time is an excellent system to keep track of it. It loses meaning though. Weekend is just a word. Night == day, and so on.

Okay, with that out of the way...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 1, 2003 at 11:52 AM

the antidote...

...you know, for when the night is going down for whatever reason...

U2 Live From Slane Castle, recorded 1 September, 2001. The boys might be Southsiders now, but they've still got Northside painted on their soul. Nice combination. (You wondering where that came from? Me too. But what the hell.) :)

And I still haven't replied to those comments. Damn. Blog procastination.

...We're gonna go over to London... ...and we're gonna score ourselves a record deal... ...And when we get our record deal... ....We're not gonna stay in London... we're not gonna go to New York City... ....We're gonna stay and base our crew in Dublin! .... ...'cause these people... ...THIS IS OUR TRIBE!...

I've got big ideas, I'm out of control!

Yes, this has got to be the best version of 'Out of Control' I've ever heard.

Ok, enough with the Momentary Lapse of Reason (hey, that sounds like a good follow-up). Back to worky.

Later: And, btw, what is up with 'Where the streets have no name' giving me goosebumps every single time I listen to it performed live? Some switch failing in my head, I'm sure.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 27, 2003 at 12:23 AM

coincidences

Yesterday, late at night, on a break, I suddenly remembered this short story I wrote a while ago. A few months back I printed it out and made some corrections, then put it away. It resurfaced on Monday after I put some order to the living room (sometimes I can't believe how messy things can get on their own). It resurfaced, but I left it aside, and forgot about it again for a few hours.

Then it's on my mind again, and I open the document and start correcting it (in automatic mode). I stop for a moment. Remember the corrections I've already made. Go look for the paper copy. Changes I've just made are the same as those I did months ago, as if whatever is there of the story is already there and time won't change it (this has happened before, a number of times). Anyway, I finish with the changes, then look at the time. A little past one. I wonder. When did I write this? I check out the versioning information on the document. Created on 24 November, 2000, and once I substract the timezone difference (I was on PST when I wrote it) I realize it's been three years, exactly. To the hour.

Jeez.

Then later today (yesterday) I decide I want to watch a movie. I rent 25th Hour, incredibly good. Too good maybe. I'll have to see it again to confirm I wasn't hallucinating. Set in Manhattan, post-September 11. Some of the themes in the movie reminded me of the story (after having set it aside, again). Or the general feeling. Or (more likely) I fancied they did.

In case you want to take a look, here is the story.

That aside, there are a number of other comments to previous posts that I wanted to follow up on. I'll leave those for later today.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 26, 2003 at 1:40 AM

fall is beautiful

No question. Fall is my favorite season, especially if it's not too cold. :) Just for the colors... a certain warmth. Like the world cuddling under the covers, ready to sleep.

Dublin in the Fall reminds so much of New York it's scary. Makes me miss it a bit. Strolls across Central Park, drives up the Hudson Parkway, or walking down Fifth or Third, the city seemingly extending forever (especially when looking South). Sometimes I think of Dublin as a 1/10th model of New York for some reason (or is New York a 10:1 copy of Dublin rather?). Phoenix Park is way bigger than Central Park though, and it's impossible to beat the combination of trees surrounded by skyscrapers, but the woods and ponds and trails make up for it with natural beauty. It's like two sides of the same coin.

Here are some of the pictures I took last weekend (click to see a larger version). Is that sky unreal or what?

flag-small.jpg

leaves-small.jpg

park-small.jpg

sunset-small.jpg

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 21, 2003 at 1:27 PM

will I stop with Microsoft? and other things

Short answer is, yes. :) Even though I'm fascinated by all of this (When I put on my history buff hat, almost everything is fascinating, but this more than many other things!) I think I will let it rest for a while. I'll wait and see before saying more. (And I think that last post drained me out a little :)).

That aside, tonight I took a break to watch (on TV) Remember the Titans. Like with Any Given Sunday, the movie is still effective for me even though I have absolutely no idea of what is going on with the game. I don't understand the plays, the code words, I don't understand anything at all. "56! 7! 56! Huh! Huh! Huh!" or whatever. That kind of thing. I have watched parts of actual games and I find them absolutely, stunningly boring. It's like watching a Sumo match, a lot of jockeing around for position, a lot of posturing, and bursts of furious and violent activity. But on movies, American Football looks great (when it's well done of course). I understand that it's a game with a heavy strategic and tactical tilt, and probably that helps--kind of like a movie about war. Regardless, I was repeatedly amazed at how this happened (of me not understanding anything and still somehow relating).

Entertaining.

I still haven't posted the pictures I took on Saturday. I've been looking at them, there's a couple I really like. Tomorrow then (why not now? Because I don't want to start checking JPEG compression sizes at the moment).

I should also be blogging more about what I'm doing, what's going on with clevercactus and so on. Mea culpa. I find it difficult to discuss things mid-process for some reason. Nothing comes out. It will come in time I guess.

Now to read a bit, and then a brief slumber.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 20, 2003 at 1:00 AM

"it's full of stars!"

orion.png

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. :)

Before going back to read a bit, before sleep, I just went out to the balcony to feel some of that cool (or cold) early morning fresh air and I saw something I haven't seen in a while: stars.

What a rush. You sort of forget about them since it's not really that common to see them, with the light going up from the ground, fog, clouds (lots of that here in Dublin), but tonight's surprinsingly clear, and Orion right "outside" my window, so I took a long exposure shot of it and here it is. Obviously I can see more stars than those that appear in the shot (the whole constellation, including the "left elbow" of the archer) but not that many --in fact the shot looks kind of lame, doesn't it? Oh well. That's city life. Note to self: travel out to the country for a night at least and spend some time looking at the galaxy that's out there.

I took a couple of nice pictures at sunset yesterday that I'll post tomorrow or at some point during the week as well. And some comments to reply to--will leave that for tomorrow. I mean today. Later. After sleep that is. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 16, 2003 at 2:40 AM

self-organization, cyberspace, and conspiracy theories

I was just reading The Sword and the Shield: The Secret History of the KGB by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, when I came across this passage:

Until almost the end of the Cold War, no post-war Soviet leader, KGB chairman or foreign intelligence chief had either any personal experience of living in the West or any realistic understanding of it. Accustomed to strong central direction and a command economy, the Centre [KGB Headquarters] found it difficult to fathom how the United States could achieve such high levels of economic production and technological innovation with so little apparent regulation. The gap in its understanding of what made the United States tick tended to be filled by conspiracy theory. The diplomat, and later defector, Arkadi Shevchenko [noted]:
Many are inclined to the fantastic notion that there must be a secret control center somewhere in the United States. They themselves, after all, are used to a system ruled by a small group working in secrecy in one place. Moreover, the Soviets continue to chew on Lenin's dogma that bourgeois governments are just the "servants" of monopoly capital. "Is not tha tthe secret command center?" they reason.
However much the Centre learned about the West, it never truly understood it. Worse still, it thought it did.
As soon as I read this I was struck of how true this is in general, applied to almost any situation where a "reason" is not readily identifiable. Especially with "artificial" constructs (governments, corporations, whatever) but with the world itself as well, we tend to imagine someone is pulling the strings. It's comfortable, in a way, it defines whatever it is that we are seeing, regardless of whether the reality, most of the time (if not all the time), is that things happen through simple rules that determine the self-organization of groups. Birds fly in recognizable flock patterns not because there's an AWACS bird that flies higher up and directs them using a wireless microphone, but because they use simple local rules (say, "stay no less than 2 feet and no more than 4 feet from the next bird, and never be surrounded by more than 4 other birds"). Simple rules, applied locally and consistently on groups generate incredibly complex behavior. With humans, the rules aren't simple, and they aren't applied consistenly. More complexity. We see something we can't put our finger on and we go the easiest route: someone must be behind it. Purposefully. Because the option seems to be that things happen "by themselves". But that's a false option. Things don't happen "by themselves" but there doesn't have to be a master plan either. Groups and individuals, going in similar directions, sometimes closely aligned, sometimes not, sometimes at odds with each other, sometimes not even aware of what the other is doing---this is the essence of most events that tend to be "explained" by conspiracy theories.

But we don't like that idea, do we. It takes away part of our cherised egotism. It places success, in part, in the unseen dynamics of groups. Dynamics that are, at the moment, more or less beyond our understanding. Suddenly "what makes things tick" is no longer individual actions, or plans, but interactions. What's in between. Just like in a phone conversation, when you are talking to someone, where is the conversation actually taking place? In your head? The other person's head? The phone line? The switches? Of course not. But without each component there is no conversation, yet it's not contained in any of them. It's not about the sum being greater than its parts, it's about the sum being something altogether different from its parts. A phone conversation is fundamentally meta-human (sure, this applies to a "regular conversation as well since air is just another medium, but it's easier to see with a phone I think).

But we've had a word for that "place" where conversations or more generally data exchanges and interaction happen, for twenty years now: Cyberspace. And just now I saw that this concept of the land of meta, all those things that emerge as entities on their own from a group of apparently disconnected parts, is a very similar concept, but applied to everyday life, less bound by the digital.

Just an early Sunday blinding flash of the obvious. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 16, 2003 at 1:45 AM

3 am

Suddenly everything looks bigger. The monitor. The walls around you. The sky outside has no end; you can't even look at it.

The cup, half empty, is still steaming. You pick it up. You look at it. You set it down again. Slowly. No sounds allowed now.

These moments can come at any time, day or night, but especially at night. When the city sleeps, its only sounds remote sirens that come and go rhytmically like the pulse of a slumbering giant.

Head spins. You are about to turn on some music, but the finger hesitates over the play button.

You wonder.

It's a good feeling, almost mystical. You wish for a moment that it would never go away but quickly change your mind. It's because these moments are rare that they are precious.

Soon, it will be sleep, and, for a while, darkness. And silence.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 13, 2003 at 2:59 AM

and in yet other news...

... my blogbrain is still a bit frazzled from writing the two pieces (articles?) on intro to blogs. Not even two full days out, and I've gotten great feedback and tons of links. Thanks all! Glad it was useful. I'll try to reply to some of the comments (and email) tomorrow as well.

Just writing them was quite an experience. It is quite amazing how easily we get used to things and we end up thinking they're obvious--only they're not. Once you start to peel back ideas and concepts, things that we (some of us) use and work with and talk about every single day, like "RSS", or even "server". The main thing I've learned all over again writing those posts is that we need to do better. Way better. Come up with examples. Simpler software. And so on.

Coincidentally, Dave points to a tutorial that he wrote back in May last year: How To Start a Weblog (For Professional Journalists). Very cool.

I'm wondering what other things seem obvious but are not, and might be a good topic for another introduction. For example, there are some things that I didn't go into detail in the articles, like blog posting from other clients...

That aside, today was a beautiful day, just a bit cold (not as cold as yesterday, when it was really cold!), sunny, breezy. I went out for a walk... and... I got ticket for Matrix Revolutions. Wednesday. November 5. At 2 pm. Yay!

Yes, that's when it opens. Supposedly it's synchronized worldwide: the first showing of the movie starts everywhere in the world at about the same time. 2 pm GMT... (I assume that in California they'll start at 12:00 am or 1 am at most. Kinda like they did with Star Wars Episode 1).

Going to sleep now, or rather, to read for a while. Lots of things today. A bit tired. Not bad for a Sunday! :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 3, 2003 at 12:39 AM

and in other news...

...Happy Birthday to my brother Sergio, who turns 24 today! When we talked today he said, so, you're not saying anything on your blog? I started mumbling stuff about not wanting to invade his privacy and so on. But it didn't work. :) He was having a good time, my parents, sister and his fiancee (yes!) were there.

Too bad I can't be there too, but I'll be seeing all of them soon... Travelling in December!

Anyway, again: happy birthday little brother! :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 2, 2003 at 11:47 PM

1,032,473...

...is the number of page views on this little weblog since the beginning of the year, as of right now.

My reaction when I saw this number a few minutes ago (a.k.a.: "Diego's ten easy steps to freaking out in private"):

  1. [Warm fuzziness]
  2. Cool! One million page views!
  3. Holy cow. One million page views.
  4. Aieee! One million page views?!?
  5. [Panics]
  6. [Runs away]
  7. [Looks from behind the door at the monitor]
  8. [Waits for signs of untoward activity]
  9. [Nothing happens]
  10. [Reluctantly walks back]

Yes. I need to get a life. :)

Thanks to everyone for reading, linking & commenting!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 30, 2003 at 11:20 AM

mind backlog

I have a couple of things I wanted to write about. I thought of them on saturday, sunday, and yesterday. And then I become enveloped in what I'm doing again. So what is it I'm doing? Here's a clue. :) Coming up: more thoughts on Microsoft's announcements from yesterday, and Linux, Microsoft and such.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 28, 2003 at 12:50 PM

the sound of music

No, it's not about the movie :)

The last couple of days I've been working a lot and as usual I fall into patterns. Patterns allow me to forget about whatever (example, food) since you do them sort of automatically when the time comes and it's one thing less to think about. A good example: I can listen to music most of the time while I'm coding except when I have to figure out a relatively complex set of correlations and events between classes. I've been counting and it's usually when more than 20 objects are involved in the event loop, reacting to each other, when I have to stop humming to the music for a while until I get my bearings again (Example: an event is stopped by the user, the panel has to update, notify its listeners, the listeners react and trigger other listeners and stop or start threads and so on). Weird. Anyway. Even when I am listening to music, I need to be listening to music that I already know very well, well enough so that it doesn't distract me), something along the lines of being able to hum along to the song unconsciously while I am debugging an algorithm or things of that nature. The only exception to these two rules is Beethoven or Mozart, which for some reason have no interference whatsoever with my brain activity when I'm thinking but still let me enjoy the music.

The result of this is that through different periods I end up listening to the same few playlists over and over. I imagine that if a neighbor can hear they must think I'm nuts, since I probably listen to the same song maybe three or four times a day. My current two favorite playlists are:

One: The Hard Rock/Hip Hop/Rap/Grunge playlist

  • Happiness is a Warm Gun (The Gun Mix) Cover by U2 of the classic Beatles Song
  • Sympathy for the Devil
  • All my Life (Foo Fighters)
  • My Generation (Limp Bizkit)
  • Take a Look Around (Limp Bizkit)
  • He Got Game (Public Enemy)
  • Sing for the Moment (Eminem)
  • Stan (Eminem Ft. Dido)
  • Lose Yourself (Eminem)
  • Heart-Shaped Box (Nirvana)
  • The Man Who Sold the World (Nirvana's Cover of Bowie's song)
  • Pennyroyal Tea (Nirvana)
  • Lithium (Nirvana)
  • You Know You're Right (Nirvana)
Two: The Depeche Mode playlist -- nearly all songs live from either the 101 album or the In Your Room EP:
  • Death's Door
  • Barrel of a Gun
  • In Your Room
  • Policy of Truth
  • World in my Eyes
  • Never Let me Down Again
  • Strangelove
  • Stripped
  • Somebody
  • Just can't get enough
  • Everything counts
Three: The Beethoven playlist:
  • Piano Sonatas No. 14 and No. 21
  • Symphony No. 5 in C Minor Op. 67
I hadn't listened to Depeche Mode in quite a while. I like rediscovering things. Their lyrics are a lot deeper than many people think, particularly since they were branded as "music for dancing" at some point, but they're quite dark (which I like) and they show true expression. If nothing else, I deeply respect any artist whatsoever that truly talks about what's happening to them, more so if they can do it in a way that allows others to contextualize it within their own experience. All great artists have this, and the best of them can even survive the machinery of marketing and mass consumption that inevitable snaps into action when something becomes sucessful or connects with people (By "survive" I mean their art survives. Sometimes the artist doesn't survive...). I find that all the bands I keep listening to, all the writers I keep re-reading, all the movies I see more than once, all of them have this deep element of personal subjective truth.

In closing (?) :-) a verse from Public Enemy's He got game that feels as it fits here for a number of reasons:

It might feel good
It might sound a little somethin'
But damn the game if it don't mean nothin'
What is game? Who got game? Where's the game
--In life behind the game behind the game?
I got game
she's got game
we got game
they got game
he got game,
It might feel good
it might sound a little somethin'
but fuck the game if it ain't sayin' nothin'
Yeah!

Categories: art.media, personal
Posted by diego on October 25, 2003 at 5:30 PM

a great day...

...of rain and electrical storms. It barely rained this summer (maybe 2-3 days in all) and even after the summer ended there were a couple of days with some clouds and mostly timid showers. Yesterday it started raining, it went on through the night and aside from a couple of dry spells here and there it was a massive waterfall all day, with lightning as a bonus. It's really, really cold though, close to zero centigrade now.

Enough with the weather report. It was a good day for work. Made the most of it too. Not much sleep though. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 22, 2003 at 8:44 PM

dublin bloggers meeting

So yesterday I went to the Dublin bloggers meeting with my friend Chris (who is visiting for a couple of days, and is thinking of restarting his short-running weblog experiment at some point in the near future-- hint hint nudge nudge :)). There was Dave, Bernie, and Karlin, along with others. Chris and i stayed for almost two hours (we got there first) and then we left to see Kill Bill (more on that later!). It was an interesting conversation, revolving, among other things, the different weblog services and how easy or hard it is to get started, devices, trends, etc. I realized that while there are scattered "how to" docs there isn't anything (as far as I know!) comprehensive that describes all the choices that a person face when starting to blog and which one is better for them based on their needs. Unless I find a document like that within the next couple of days I'll write one, so hopefully it will be online for the next meeting, posted in some kind of semi-permanent area that has to do with the meetings--Which should be useful to introduce new people to blogging. Bernie did some moblogging, taking pictures with his array of devices and then uploading them using an uber-cool Nokia 9210i. With him, I talked for a bit about the new Symbian devices and what's coming down the pipeline.

The Octagon bar, in the Clarence Hotel (owned by Bono and The Edge), was a little too expensive (Euro 4.20 a pint) but ok. Mid-meeting I realized that I was actually wearing a U2 Elevation tour hat (one of my favorite hats by the way, which I got in the San Jose show of Elevation, April 19 2001) and I thought that I must look like a U2-nut. Oh well.

Anyway, until the next meeting!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 19, 2003 at 12:41 PM

tonight's ingredients

a) Frozen pizza (it's not as bad as it sounds)

b) Bananas (for dessert)

c) A rented copy of Matrix Reloaded on DVD. (The release was... today).

Mmmm... pizza....

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 10, 2003 at 6:20 PM

no thought was put into this

Zapp Brannigan: "Captain's journal. Stardate 3000.3."

Kif: "Who are you talking to sir?"

Zapp: "You! Aren't you getting this? [Kif sighs and scurries to a typing machine. Zapp dictates.] We have detected a vessel attempting to brek the security cordon around Vergon 6. I'm anticipating an all-out tactical dogfight, followed by a light dinner. Ravioli, ham, sundae bar."

Such is Futurama's take on the Star Trek "log entries". Kinda like a weblog wasn't it? In concept at least. It wasn't really personal, and then the entries seemed to be logged at random dates. Plus by the time Kirk or Picard or whoever finished noting the date I was already lost (and why exactly would you need to say the date out loud if you're dictating into a computer!?).

I kinda feel like I should write something of the sort to account for the last few days. "Victory once again after our random encounter with the Borg in the Pentium Galaxy"... or something. Sheesh. So derivative. No-go on that one.

The other (was there a first?) thing I was wondering about this morning was where, exactly, did the week go. I mean, it's Thursday for crying out loud. There's a weird blur in my head, an IM-less, IRC-less, blog-less, or, in essence, Internet-less void that can't be easily explained. Well, okay, it can be explained... but the explanation is irrelevant.

What's this?

Information overload, is what this is. Compartimentalization doesn't help blogging. As it probably doesn't help anything. Except if you work for a three-letter agency or something. But hey, wait, I got a new complaint (was there an old complaint?): I analyze every second I exist. Why's that?

Our problem, it seems to me, is that we want answers when the questions where invalid in the first place. That ever-present streak of Western Philosophy can have its downsides.

Okay. Enough with the stream-of-consciousness thing---We now return to our regularly schedule programming. (guaranteed!)

PS: the person who can identify the three songs (two from the same band) referenced in this entry gets a free URL to a JPEG of Zapp Brannigan (guaranteed!)

PS2: [fine-print-type-low voice] (warning--nothing guaranteed).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 9, 2003 at 10:44 AM

weekend review

Well, not much to "review" per se, but...

I've spent the last few of days mostly between working and being with my friends, Dylan and Tracey, who came on a vacation to Ireland two weeks ago. They stayed for a couple of days in Dublin and then they left to roam the South and West coasts while I finished my thesis and released the new internal beta of cactus (btw, I've just realized that I didn't mention that, did I? That was about a week and a half ago). I was going to join them on their trip but the thesis deadline messed up our plans, since I could only submit the thesis on Sep. 30, but anyway. In the end they came back on Thursday to Dublin and since then we've had a blast. They left this morning...

Work is picking up... and will continue to do so this week. Friday and Saturday were kind of mini-vacations for me. :)

The other thing that I'm doing is, every day, deleting spam comments on old entries on this weblog. These are entries that typically are reached through some google keyword, and these astonishingly stupid people go in an type in a comment that doesn't mean anything, using a URL that is pointing to the site they want to promote, clearly in the interests of using a highly ranked page to go up in the rankings. I can't believe anyone would go through this, since it's very time consuming (my comments posting is slow too--combination of MT and the machine on which it's hosted). But in the last two weeks there have been at least two of those a day. With some luck, eventually they'll read my comments policy, or they'll realize that it's not economic to do this (and--useless, since I'll begin closing the comments sections on most of the old posts) and that will be it.

A few interesting things have happened in the past week, but I still haven't had time to think too much about any of them. Tomorrow will be busy so updates are doubtful, but after that the coast should be clear for a bit. It takes a while to get back to normal (whatever that is) after a couple of weeks of crazy activity go by.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 5, 2003 at 7:34 PM

topic inertia

I guess that it will be a couple of days until I stop talking about the thesis and so on.

SMACK! SMACK!

Okay, that didn't work.

Seriously though. I will probably babble on about this for a while. I think I find it a bit hard to talk about what I'm doing as I'm doing it, not because I won't talk about it but rather because I'm usually barely aware of what's happening at all (things happen too fast!). It takes a while for thoughts to settle. And then I think "ah, that's what it was all about. Fantastic."

Example: what happened regarding the writing style of the thesis. I was going to write about this at some point, and then it just didn't happen.

My supervisor had said (at one point) that there was little clarification of the thinking process behind the ideas. I was just presenting problems and solutions. I had kept the style dry on purpose because otherwise I get too relaxed and I start cracking jokes in the text, etc, and it wouldn't look good. So I rewrote a huge chunk, but as I did it I ended up with a sort of formal/informal/personal hybrid that was a bit weird. When my advisor reviewed it he said (in good humour of course) "Too chatty. We don't want your life story!"

Heh. Right. It's a thesis not a blog. I had to go through several restructurings of the text and this morning I realized that the reason is hyperlinks. The web. I was thinking (and still do, except that now I can see it) of the document as a set of hyperlinked pieces, rather than as a big linear thing. "Jumps all over the place" Was a comment in one of the early versions. Of course it does, and if I can't find something on it I do full text search and... At every turn I wanted to insert hyperlinks into the text, and I wanted to write with whatever structure I thought best, and I wanted to add a Dilbert cartoon because I thought it was appropriate, make it more... personal I guess. Why does science have to be impersonal? Why do we think that someone adding a subjective opinion is badbadbad (of course, it has to be clearly identified as such...)? With research, the process, and I mean the subjective process is very important. What didn't you do? What did you try and failed so miserably that you wouldn't mention in a typical text? Did you ignore a given area because of lack of time, or funding? All of those answers would be valuable for people who would like to understand better the work itself, or continue adding to it, or improve it, or go in different directions...

Then again the Universities probably wouldn't like things like lack of funding discussed in PhD theses...

My mind is blog-warped, I know.

Maybe someday people will, instead of submitting their thesis, email a link to their weblog to the department of graduate studies, with a query that essentially says: "here, all entries for category thesis between such and such a date". And that will be it. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 1, 2003 at 8:32 AM

looking for a reader

Question: does anyone know of someone that might be interested in being an external reader for my thesis? I am looking on my own, of course (it's my responsibility, not the department's), but any ideas would be welcome. Requirements are apparently PhD, academic background (although not sure if this has to be current), and someone working on networks, preferably P2P or self-organizing networks... Since they'd have to travel here for the defence (or "viva voce" as its called here) I think someone from Ireland or the UK would be more likely to be able to do it without serious disruption (the university pays for the trip though :)). If you have any ideas, please leave a comment or

Thanks! And, thanks to everyone for your comments/emails/etc. Much appreciated. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 1, 2003 at 7:59 AM

guinness++

I had to do it. I just went across the road to Nancy Hands and had a Pint of Guinness. Sooo good....

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 30, 2003 at 7:08 PM

...and done!

Yay! thesis submitted!!

So left everything ready, slept a couple of hours and went out in the morning to submit the thesis. Before that (at around 5:30?), something interesting that happened was my alarm clock breaking. I had bought the clock two years ago almost to the day when I just got to Dublin, and today the night light, that is supposed to turn on when you change a setting and then off after a couple of seconds, just stayed on. Which meant that the battery wouldn't have lasted long. Funny how the clock that I got when I started the thesis stops working the exact day that I'm submitting it. Anyway, I ended up using the alarm on the cell phone. Not that I needed it much... (the alarm I mean).

So I got to campus, rain was on and off throughout (the weather seems to have returned to normal a bit, at least for now). Bound the two copies of the thesis and got to the Graduate Studies office around 10:15 (they are open only between 10:00 and 12:00 and 2:00 and 4:00--go figure-- and considering that I could only submit it today getting the timing right is about as difficult as planning a space launch. I didn't get ESA involved though).

So, submitted it. Got a yellow slip that I had to fill out by hand with my student info, thesis info, etc. The woman receiving it sent me to some Fees Office to which I've never been before outside of campus. Got there. Guard on the entrance. Can I help you? Yes, I'm looking for the fees office, I say. Okay, take a seat. I complied. Waited. Nothing seemed to happen. The guy was sitting there and not calling anyone, or doing anything in particular, and I started to wonder how I was supposed to know when it was my turn.

As it turns out it was basically Token Ring (haven't they heard Ethernet won?). They had one "pass" card that you got and went up to the office. Then once the previous person was done they gave the card back to the guard, who gave it to you, and up you went. And so on. So I went up. Got the piece of paper stamped. (This whole runaround with the paper-stamping business really put in perspective the fact that my work is on self-organization of large scale networks!). Went back to the GSO. By then it was pouring, but I almost didn't notice. Gave the woman the piece of paper. She folded it, put it in an envelope.

"Well, that's it! Congratulations!" she said.

"That's it?" I said, thinking, no rite of passage? Nothing? Then I said: "This is a bit ... anticlimatic..."

"Yes. Heh." She said. "Well, congratulations again. Go have a pint."

Ah, right. Ireland. That's the rite of passage. :-))

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 30, 2003 at 4:53 PM

ready...

... to submit my thesis. In the end a bit more work than I thought due to ... unforseen circumstances. All printed. Will bind it shortly before submission. Crossing my fingers so that they don't come up with any strange objection to the format, the font, or something of the sort. Now off for a couple of hours of sleep--and then into the city. Almost there! More later.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 30, 2003 at 4:42 AM

catch-22

The novel catch-22 by Joseph Heller is a masterpiece of literature, funny, and simply a great piece of writing.

It's also about a concept that, sooner or later, we all encounter in our daily lives.

The concept of catch-22 is, in a sense, another expression of the chicken and egg problem. The book makes references to this constantly. Example: During war, you've got, sometimes, pilots flying missions that no sane person would agree to. Therefore, the pilots must be, in some sense, "insane". On the other hand, no one would give control of an airplane to an insane person...

Or: there's an officer in the book that only agrees to meet with you in his office, but only if he's not in his office. If he's in the office, you can't meet him. If he isn't there, then you can.

And so on, and so forth. :)

Today, I had my own tiny catch-22. It's like this: at Trinity, you cannot do a PhD thesis by research in less than two years. It's the minimum time: a year in the Masters program, then another year in the PhD program.

The deadline for submitting the thesis is September 30, right before the new academic year begins in October. If you are doing it in two years, you cannot submit the thesis before September 30, because the minimum required period wouldn't have passed. On the other hand, you cannot submit it after September 30 either, because then you'd be into the new academic year which means you'd have to pay fees for the whole year.

There's usually the possibility of getting a short extension to the deadline (generally a month).

Now here's the thing: you can only get an extension after you've completed the minimum period for a PhD. That is, two years. Getting an extension in, say, your 3rd year is a simple process. Getting it when you're doing it in two years (when one would argue that a small extension would make the most difference) is simply not possible. All the deadlines come together.

Catch-22.

In fact, submitting a thesis after only two years is only possible during the day of September 30 of the second year. Not before, not after. Well, not after, that is, if you don't want to pay for another year's worth of fees.

My thesis supervisor had suggested I request the extension so that we could iterate a couple of times more over the text. No can do. Everything will have to happen this week. By next Tuesday, it will all be over.

Should be fun! :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 23, 2003 at 4:12 PM

paper rocks

Today I completed the final draft of my dissertation (deadline for submission is September 30).

At peace. For a few hours at least. :)

The past few weeks have meant a lot more juggling than usual between the thesis and clevercactus, as I double-checked the theory and performed additional simulations and such. I had started the previous revision cycle at the beginning of August, after the public release of cc beta2, and back then I had to reorganize the document structure that I had completed by the beginning of July (refactoring). What's interesting about this (yeah, I was wondering too) is that I ended up doing the core of the document-refactoring work on paper. For the math part, I would have expected it, since when working with equations nothing beats pen and paper. But for the document outline itself...

Yes, I know there is outliner software. Yes, I tried it. Yes, it didn't work.

And no, it wasn't a problem with the software, but rather with the hardware.

That is, the main reason why it didn't work is because, to be able to connect all (in my mind) the pieces into a... err... "coherent narrative", I really needed to look at everything at once. And given that the final document is 3 parts, 12 chapters and two appendixes, well, doing it on-screen would mean a lot of scrolling up and down or a really tiny font. I couldn't deal with either. So what I did was write down different parts of the contents on paper and organized them and reorganized them on the wall (invisible tape to the rescue) , redoing some of them, until the structure was finished...

For example, this is how part of my living room wall looked a couple of weeks ago (since then, most of those papers have migrated over to a wall my room, where I can look at them sitting on the computer).

I don't know if it was an efficient solution or not, but it worked pretty well for me. And I have to say, I learned all over again (as it happens every few months when I pick up pen and paper) that when you can't just press Backspace to delete what you just wrote you think a lot more carefully about what you're going to write. It forces in a sense to pace yourself since you can't write as quickly as you think, whereas in the machine you can type before you've even thought about what you're saying! Okay, okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but you get the point. :-) All of this was, in this case, was a big bonus, and a big help in the process.

Conclusion: barring blackboards (even the fancy ones that transmit data to a PC, or print the image on the board), wallscreen (preferrably touch sensitive) displays, or holographic projectors that can express my thoughts, paper is still the best choice. Portable. Low power (very!) and user-friendly.

So today when I finished (sometime ago) I went out for a Pint of Guinness at Nancy Hands (a great pub across the street--okay, one of the four great pubs across the street :)) and watched the sun setting filtered through the hues of the pub's windows. Then back home and cooked a good, wholesome, healthy dinner: cheeseburgers and fries. Ah. Heaven.

Now off to disconnect my brain for a while. A sort of Pavlovian self-reward. Watch a movie. Or something. Read a book. Ah, yes. I'm reading this incredibly great book on the history of the KGB called The Sword and the Shield: The Secret History of the KGB but I obviously haven't been paying much attention to it since after a few fits and starts I really started it about a week ago and I'm still only 150 pages into it. The book is based on actual KGB files stolen by an ex-KGB agent (okay, he wasn't an ex-agent when he stole them!) and smuggled out of Russia after the Wall fell. It covers basically everything from its post-revolutionary beginnings (Lenin's Cheka) to today's SVR (the resulting foreign-intelligence arm of the KGB after it was split in the early 90's along CIA-FBI or MI5-MI6 lines)--although information on the SVR is understandably thin, the book constantly traces past events back to the present, along with the "official" SVR story surrounding them. Who needs spy novels when you can read about the real thing?

Anyway. Back on Planet Earth tomorrow.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 16, 2003 at 8:35 PM

dublin skies

sky-small.jpg

When I was coming to Dublin I was "warned" to no end by friends and acquaintances about the "terrible weather" that was expecting me in Ireland in general and in Dublin in particular. "Awful weather" they'd say. "It rains all the time" they'd say. "It's always cloudy" they'd say. When I got here, I was warned again by both Irish and non-Irish alike.

Well, I, for one, like rain a lot. I like the cold too. I like sunny days. And hot summer days. In fact, I like equally both rainy and sunny days precisely because their opposite exists. Variability lets us appreciate what's good (and bad) about the alternatives. Without changes, there would be nothing to like about, say, sunny days. And actually, one of the things that sometimes (only sometimes) irritated me a bit about California (and the Valley in particular) was that the weather was... well, always so damn beautiful. Clear skies and beautiful days were so common that you just stopped appreciating them (hard rain, however, when it did arrive, was just great).

Anyway, what I found after living here is that I really, really like the constant change of Dublin climate. Dublin is right smack in the middle of the Gulf Stream (which crosses the Atlantic) and weather "moves" incredibly fast: what is mostly low grassland can't slow down the currents, so it's very windy (okay, in the Winter, with the cold, I do suffer it more, but so what). I have quite literally seen the weather go from sunny (no clouds) to cloudy, to dark clouds, to rain, to hail, on to snow (!), then back to cloudy, then no clouds again---all in the space of twenty minutes! Isn't that great? (This was in February last year, btw).

And, constantly shifting cloud-cover makes for absolutely astonishing sunrises and sunsets. Like the image above (click on it to see a full-size version).

I took that picture last saturday at dusk, from my balcony, and I tell you: If the price for having sunsets like that every other day is sometimes-unpredictable-and-maybe-irritating weather, let me say: I pay it gladly.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 15, 2003 at 2:59 PM

remember

wtc.jpg
Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 11, 2003 at 9:54 AM

happenings

yes, that's it, that's a good title...

So what is happening? Well, workload is up, blogging is down, that's for sure :-). I guess one thing I've learned over time is not to go crazy when I can't blog. Blogflow returns on its own good time. (Just sitting down to write is always good however, just like with fiction).

First, I got an email from Anthony who just moved his weblog to a new location (and to MovableType!). Gotta update my blogroll... anyway, he also posted a lengthy review of clevercactus beta2. Thanks! I replied through email asking for more details on some of the problems, and left a comment on his weblog.

Second, Sam replied in a comment to my posting the other day on adding Atom support to the google-feeds bridge. Regarding RFC dates, I think he (and Murph adding to it later) makes a good point. My viewpoint is from Java, from which parsing and generating RFC 822 dates is easy, and ISO 8601 dates is hard. No big deal however since once you've got the code it's all a-ok (as much as the code is a hack in Java). If it's easier for a majority of languages, all the better. Then, regarding the content-type issue on content for a feed, Sam again makes a good point. Specifying what you mean is good. What I would add though, is that maybe a baseline content-type (say, text/plain or text/html) always be present. If that's not the case, we could easily end up with feeds being generated only in types that half the aggregators don't understand, which would be a compatibility nightmare (for the aggregator-writers :-)). In any case, thanks for the comments, Sam.

That aside, I am taking a look at (gasp!) SWT, my misgivings about going back to chasing memory leaks notwhistanding. More on that soon. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 8, 2003 at 5:16 PM

one/There's a long, ragged trail of light that disappears into the distance, reflections of lamps hunching over the wet streets that seem to move away from where I'm standing, away from me. And yet there's no rain; there hasn't been a lot of rain this summer. I wonder why. Global warming, pollution. Natural cycle. It's always been this way, we just don't remember it. All of the above. Pick your favorite.

two/The sun plunged into those buildings and trees standing over the horizon a while ago: the sky is dark blue, turning darker. A blur of clouds insinuates itself in front of the moon. There are no noises, only the distant sounds of the city as it falls into a superficial sleep. Traffic. Sirens that come and go. Voices heard or imagined.

three/I suddenly realize that I've never seen a bird sleep. My mind pulls out pseudo-knowledge out of nowhere: Birds don't sleep, or rather, they sleep while flying. I could look it up, but I dont' want to. Instead, I wonder: if so, do they dream while sleep-flying? Do they dream of standing still?

four/Reading about post-modernist deconstructionists that say, for example, that everything is ideology or everything is politics, a question pops into my head: How exactly does Missy 'Misdemeanor' Elliot fit into that picture?

five/Nominee for Greatest invention of the century: the OFF button.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 4, 2003 at 10:07 PM

time off...

...from blogging, or so it seems. Lots happening. Heads-down working on a number of things (around 6E10 things or so). Lately I've been writing longer entries, with a lot more detail, and I've liked it. Problem is, they take time (even if it is 20 minutes...). Now I don't have time, and yet I can't seem to go switch into "link-only" mode. Oh well. More comments later.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 1, 2003 at 5:14 PM

viruses, OSes, and videotape

viruses

virus.gifI was reading today this article from Salon about Microsoft's approach (or non-approach) to security. Some good comments in there, which reminded me of a piece by Cringely from last year on Palladium and what he called TCP/MS. Re-reading it now in the face of what happened in the last couple of weeks is quite enlightening, particularly when you think that MS is considering making automatic updates mandatory. How difficult would it be for MS to do what Cringely was talking about then, in the name of security (hey, not even that, they can say it's a bug. It seems to have worked fine so far...). Through Jon Udell I got to this entry by Chris Brumme, who works at Microsoft (unrelated topic: look at the permalink in Chris's entry. Damn.). Near the end he talks about security, and I can't help but thinking that if Microsoft as a company had his attitude, things would be better. I am sympathetic to him as a person caught in all of this, as I guess I'd be to other MS employees. But the company as a whole needs a change in attitude, and in priorities. Forget about conspiracy theories (after all, greed is always a more plausible reason), this is a problem that needs to be fixed, and now. Some of what I mentioned last week should work, properly applied, and it's not even new, as Cringely's article this week demonstrates in the section where he discusses the worms. It's not a technology problem. It's a problem of priorities, and company culture.

If you don't think it's company culture, consider this article from Fortune magazine. I'd call that article "the return of clipit". Of special note is the attitude of the Microsoft person that the author talked to. It was always "no, you don't get it at all".

My view is the opposite: if a person that is obviously interested, educated and motivated to look at your software doesn't "get it at all" for something so simple as auto-case-modification then, something's wrong with the software, not with the person!

And so the worms and viruses spread. In the past 48 hours my postfix filters have rejected more than ten thousand infected emails. So I guess it's stabilizing at about 5000 a day (!). Update: Others are reporting similar continuing problems, though not in the scale I'm seeing--I wonder why. It seems that mileage varies widely. Matthew who created and runs AlienCamel mentioned through email that they've seen quite a lot of traffic from it, and the CS servers of TCD they've stopped about 10,000 copies over the weekend, but for the entire department. Dave had 600 messages accumulate overnight, rendering his email useless. Wilson has also seen some traffic bumps, but not much. Grant hasn't been hit at all. I wonder if it has to do with who is running your server, whether you're (unknowingly) protected by other SMTP relays with checks along the way, instead of, for example, my case, where I run my own SMTP server. Hmpf.

In my idle moments I been thinking often about the issue of liability, which has been raised more in the last few days, as in the Salon article mentioned above, or on this News.com article specifically on the topic. Liability in some form might sound like a solution, but a closer look reveals many thorny questions. For example:

  • If, like in my case, I am being seriously affected by a virus but I am not using the Microsoft product that has failed (Outlook, Outlook Express, etc), is Microsoft liable, or is the sender? In the real-world analogy, if a car breaks down and a pedestrian gets killed, then the driver is sued. However if the accident is due to a sistemic failure a class-action lawsuit would make the company pay, rather than the individual drivers
  • And if such where the case, how do we determine the balance of bug/feature/error, plus the inevitable claims of misuse?
  • Even more: in the case of the virus, if Microsoft was found guilty, couldn't Microsoft accuse all other OS makers of not being prepared to handle the situation created by the bug (on the grounds that "it could be reasonable that no system is bug-proof)? In a distributed system, is the sender less, as, or more responsible than the receiver?
Okay, these are only some of the issues, but I think it's clear what I mean. Digital communications and distributed systems create problems beyond what we've known in the past. It's going to take a while to figure out how to apply our laws (in some form) to them, and it would take even longer if something like Law 2.0 is needed.

OSes

Yesterday I spent most of the day working on the Linux machine. A real treat. Been using IDEA, Dia to create diagrams (some things, like font settings, are primitive in it, but it works) and then OpenOffice. I saw the Gnome desktop crash a couple of times (particularly when accessing network resources through SMB), but it recovered on its own with no problems. Tried out KDE, as Nex6 recommended, and installed the Windows true type fonts, as Juan Cruz recommended, both of them in comments to yesterday's linux entry. KDE does seem to be more solid, but it's also a bit less polished. Will play more with both though.

Configuring a remote printer (an HP deskjet shared on a Windows XP machine) on the Linux system was a breeze. Simple, fast, and it just worked. I loaded a PDF and pressed print, and nothing seemed to happen. I pressed again. Then I hear the printer in the other room. Oops. I hadn't expected it to work silently and transparently like that. Very cool.

What's weird is that Windows is actually getting more complex than Linux. Why? Because Windows is, at heart, a system designed for a disconnected world, while Linux (even though not fully a "networked OS" like the Spring Research OS was in the 90s) is much more aware and ready to deal with those things. Transparent firewall, IP routing, NAT, DHCP, etc, etc. All of that has been making the rounds on Linux for ages while Microsoft is just adding it now to Windows. The conclusion is that the playing field is leveled in that sense. Red Hat 9 already provides an easier (and a LOT more clear) way to configure the system's firewall than Windows XP does.

gimp-read.gifAlso, I've been using GIMP a bit; I can't help it, I am graphics-dependent, and even for simple cases I end up doing image manipulation that is always better done with a good program (scaling algorithms are not all the same, you know :)). Found this really useful site on it and Gnome in general (including for example this nice GIMP tutorial).

And I still haven't commented on how cool (and useful!) the miriad of useful applets are in the Linux desktop. For later then...

Unrelated (more or less). I found Contiki. Useless for serious work, sure, but probably useful in many situations... and in any case, isn't it cute?

videotape

Right. Let's forget about the videotape for now. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 27, 2003 at 1:35 PM

one/Walking across the park along one of the less-traveled roads, I see a bird flying. The bird flies perpendicular to the road I'm on, on a trajectory that will cross mine, approaching, losing altitude. The bird touches down right on the curb opposite mine, walks across the street, tiny steps, and when it gets to the other side, only a few meters away from me, it takes off again, continuing along its original path. I stand there, looking at it until it becomes a point in the sky, then dissapears.

two/At a convenience store, getting some milk and bananas, a magazine in the newsstand reads, in bright, big type: "My husband's lover hired hitman to murder me." I keep thinking I need to get a blender.

three/Deep in work, I find an interesting paper titled "A Euclidean Ramsey Problem" by Geoffrey Exoo. I read it. It's more than useful. And yet all I can think of is how Exoo is a really cool name if you want to be, say, a topologist.

four/A song keeps playing in my head. It's Bad, not the studio version, but the one that is in Wide Awake in America. Then A sort of homecoming, which follows it. I listen to both. Repeatedly.

five/There is a spoon. But no one really knows who, or what, if anyone, or anything, put it there.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 18, 2003 at 8:30 PM

and the blog forecast...

... for the the next couple of days is: light and breezy, improving at the beginning of next week. There is a high-pressure system of things like "Hamming distances" and "Measure Polytopes" (I swear I'm not making this up, I'd link to google but I'm lazy at this particular moment) and "Hamiltonian Graphs". In other words "2-ary, n-cubes with 2n nodes and sub-logarithmic distance properties".

Enough thinking, typing and hair-pulling should clear this high-pressure system to ensure a smooth going during the next blog-week.

And now, back to our regular scheduled programming.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 9, 2003 at 8:22 PM

washing blankets

No, it's not the name of a hip rock band.

There are a number of things that have to be done only every once in a while that always, always make me wonder Is there a better way to do this?

Washing blankets is one of those things.

Given the heat, today I decided I should wash one of my blankets (I have two). Now, some people might argue that blankets are not meant to be washed (actually, I don't know. This is not a common topic of conversation!). Even if it shouldn't be done, I do it anyway. I go through this process every once in a while, and I always end up thinking that I'm doing my own private Monty Python skit. This is the kind of knowledge that is best obtained by asking our elders (read: parents, or grandparents if possible) but that I prefer to discover on my own.

My process is: First I dust it, of course, I pound on it to get some of the dust out.

Obviously, the blanket does not fit in the washing machine (and even if it did, I probably wouldn't wash it in it--too heavy). So how to do it? What I do is: put some soap on the bathtub; fill the bathtub with warm water, put blanket in bathtub.

So far so good. I'm cruising. The water is getting dirty (interpreted as a good sign in this context). Mhhmm... ok, let's turn it around... damn this thing is heavy now that it's wet... ok... water is splashing... let's see... done.

Meanwhile, I'm remembering some dialogue from Fight Club:

Tyler: Do you know what a Duvet is?
Jack: Comfort...
Tyler: It's a blanket. It's just a blanket (Jack Nods.) So, why do guys like you and I know what a Duvet is? Is it essential to our survival, you know, in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word?
Jack: No...
Tyler: No. What are we then?
Jack: We're... consumers.
Tyler: Right. We're consumers. We're the by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty -- these things don't concern me. What concerns me is celebrity magazines. Television with five hundred channels. Some guy's name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra.
Jack: Martha Stewart.
Tyler: Fuck Martha Stewart. Martha's polishing the brass on the Titanic. It's all going down, man! So fuck off with your sofa units and your green stripe patterns. I say, never be complete. I say, stop being perfect. I say, let's evolve, and let the chips fall where they may.

But I digress. Back to the blanket.

I turn it around a couple of times. Then empty the tub. Then add more water. Repeat a couple of times until the water is basically clean.

Not bad! Okay. Now... to dry it...

Uh-oh.

Start a long, arduous process through which water slowly seeps out of the blanket. But for that I really have to lift the blanket, which is by now really heavy. Water pours down my arms. My chest. Then on to the floor. Then the floor gets slippery. Wooow.... I almost fall down. Regain balance. Regain traction. Ok. Ok. Situation under control. Finally I decide that the only way in which this thing is going to dry, is to take it out into the balcony. Get a couple of chairs out into the balcony.

Then, back to the tub, get the blanket I wrap it in a huge towel and take it out.

This is harder than it sounds. The blanket, soaking, is getting compressed as I grab it. More water beings to drip. In a series of movements that are difficult to describe I end up with the blanket against my face and covering half my body, dripping water all over me. I'm soaking. I suddenly realize how I must look, and I start to laugh. This does not improve things, since the laugh-induced movement (me, plus the blanket) only releases more water. I laugh harder.

So, I'm soaked. So what, it's a nice summer day. Okay. Move along... carry soaking blanket across the house. Miraculously, the floor doesn't get wet. Okay, no miracle is involved: it's my clothes who are absorbing all the water. By the time I hang the blanket between the two chairs, half the water is already on me.

So.

The blanket is now happily drying outside. We'll see how long it takes. The sun gets to it, there's a nice wind, shouldn't be long.

I wonder, how is this done, really?

I mean, there has to be a better way to do this. Maybe this is what dry-cleaning is for. Maybe you should only dust them. Maybe there's some magical potion that you put on blankets and they clean themselves.

This system seems to work relatively well though. I'll just have to remember to wear a bathing suit the next time. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 7, 2003 at 2:53 PM

too late to raise a white flag

So I wake up and I discover that a mini-flamewar of sorts had broken out in the comments to my post on yesterday on formats. Too late to stop it, and unsure of how to deal with it (I really need a "comments policy"). Anyway. Everyone seems to have had a chance to reply. I've closed the comments now, to avoid further bit-throwing.

Peter's comment --the last comment added-- was interesting; re: the comparison with HTML, and the idea that multiple broken implementations of RSS might have been better than different standards well implemented--particularly since I just happened to find, while doing some random blog-surfing, an interesting interview that Mark gave a couple of months ago, with some comments on the XHTML2 standard process. Playing "what-if..." in my head might not be terribly useful, but maybe I'll learn something new.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 7, 2003 at 10:06 AM

light blogging

There will be light-blogging today. Lots of things to do. There is something I want to add on the topic of RSS/Pie/Atom/Echo, but later. In the meantime, some good reading: the essay-entry "There is No They" by Phil Ringnalda is a must-read [via Sam].

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 5, 2003 at 3:38 PM

summer pays a visit

Warm today (20 C). Hot, possibly, tomorrow. Bank holiday, a day in which to rest for no reason (other than it's the middle of the summer and it's cool to get a Monday off I suppose). Wonderful. Difficult to concentrate, as the brain seems to want to do anything at all except think. Some work done, however. Read some news, as well, and thought about commenting but couldn't come up with anything remotely coherent to say: ideas seemed small and unimportant.

The sky now isn't blue: just clouds that seem to melt into a blueish white. Very bright. Not much wind.

Memory flash: yesterday night, walking home after dinner, a great view of the sky as night fell: deep metallic pure blue. Peaceful. At peace.

Now off to the park for a bit. More later.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 4, 2003 at 2:40 PM

and about that redesign thingy...

...that I mentioned off-handedly a few days ago. One of the things I wanted to change was to move from a three-column layout to two-column, creating a separate page for archies and links to other feeds (leaving the link for the main feed as it exists now). All was going well until...

Well, what happened is, I hit a wall. One of those virtual walls that suddenly are built up in our heads. Nice brickwork and everything.

The machine on which this blog runs isn't all that powerful, and doing a redesign of the blog implies doing a full rebuild. Doing a full rebuild takes forever. (Forever, in this case, meaning a couple of hours.) So it can be done only when all's ready to go. MovableType is great, really flexible, etc, but the templates include XML code that only makes sense (design-wise) after a rebuild. Maybe I'm missing something, but as far as I can see the only way of doing a full redesign (barring moving the weblog to a much faster machine) is to:

  • Install apache/MT/etc in your local machine
  • Create another copy of your templates and a few sample entries in your local machine
  • Play with the design doing local rebuilds on small test datasets until you're happy
  • Move the new templates to the live weblog
I don't see a way out of these steps in my case, so I got to the point where I didn't want to do all that yet. No time. The redesign will have to wait...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 1, 2003 at 10:35 AM

is that...?

As I walked through Dublin today I noticed ads everywhere for the upcoming release of Legally Blonde 2. No, I don't give a damn about the movie, but something seemed strange about the ad. Finally I realized what it was: in it, Resse Witherspoon appears to be an exact replica of Barbie. Am I wrong?

My twisted mind then ignored all the warning signals going off regarding corporate manipulation, media, women's issues, etc, and simply decided that it would be cool if Mattel sued the MPAA or whoever for this "infrigement", just for the fun of it. At this point all of these big companies must have a staff of lawyers on call. You never know when you need to sue someone.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 31, 2003 at 5:25 PM

weirded out by newsstands

Often I'm next to a news stand and I can't help but wondering at the bizzare (at times alarmingly so) sight of all those magazines lined up, smiling faces on them. If a face is not smiling, it's guaranteed to be that of a celebrity or semi-celebrity in some (real or imagined) stressful situation. Example: "Madonna horrified at the price of lettuce!!" or some such tripe.

I look at the smiling faces and I wonder exactly why the smile, or the laugh, or the happiness. Who hit on the facade first as a magazine-selling mechanism? Is it a selling mechanism? Do the people that work designing the covers, a new smiley face every week enjoy their job? Do they find it fulfilling?

Wondering about all of this doesn't really give me any good answers (particularly since I ask these questions to myself :)), but at least it seems to relieve the weird-out effect and then I can go on and ignore the news stand and its printed, smiling faces until the next time it happens.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 30, 2003 at 4:40 PM

backblogging

All right. Over the past couple days I've sort of been ignoring emails, and blogging only sporadically. I had a sort of mini-personal crisis to deal with too, an MTV video sort of crisis, intense, short-lived, and, while apparently meaningful, actually superficial. This, plus the release and a cold, left me a bit exhausted. A number of things to do... I think I'll start with a small redesign I wanted to do for the blog...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 26, 2003 at 9:51 AM

busy busy

Been out of, um, cyberspace for a bit. Not really paying much attention to the news even. Mainly working on public beta 2 of clevercactus, which should be out in a few hours. That is, Thursday at some point. Thursday GMT.

I did try to pay attention to the news today for about 10 seconds. Problem was, it wasn't enough. Most of it just seemed a bit superfluous. Even the supposedly important stuff.

Partially I feel a bit like when I look at the dials for the washing machine. Someone, at the very least those that designed it, apparently see it at something very complete, well-thought out, and apparently terribly useful. Then again, I can always set it at seven and it seems to work, except when it doesn't. Then clothes shrink, major fashion disaster in the making, horror! What to do.

Well, nothing, really. It's just a shirt, or whatever, in the end.

(some time passes, during which diego listens to Massive Attack's Protection, featuring Tracey Thorn, ponders how appropriate Everything but the girl was as a name for Tracey Thorn's band, and then suddenly remembers that he was actually writing something, and looks back at the screen, hands over keyboard).

Right. I'm reading what I just wrote and it sounds slightly strange. Luckily, it's oblique enough so that I can pretend it does make sense. In the meantime, I think the decongestants I'm taking (oh, I forgot, I'm not feeling too well. cold. bad yesterday. better today. a little) might be affecting my normal blog, I mean, er, thought processes.

Anyway. We all hope that a return to the original programming is imminent.

...Who says/ that's not the way/ it should be...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 23, 2003 at 11:23 PM

so it is

"Ernest Hemingway once wrote: 'the world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.'

I agree with the second part."

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 18, 2003 at 5:44 PM

rain!

Ah, sweet, sweet rain. What a relief. The past couple of days have been a bit hellish: high humidity, hot... lots of sun... work during the day wasn't terribly pleasant, but it had to be done anyway. Today it's been great though. Complete cloud cover, gray skies, raining all day (raining pretty hard too, at the moment). Temperature's nice, cool wind... perfect conditions.

For work that is.

Isaac Asimov said once that he preferred rainy days because then he could write ten hours a day without anyone pestering him about "going outside". I'm sort of in that camp :), both for writing and coding, but I also enjoy rain (and climatic variety in general) because they are part of enjoying sunny days more (and viceversa). After all, if every single day it's beautiful and nice, then it's more difficult to appreciate it. Besides, rainy days have a sort of melancholic quality that I find irresistible.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 17, 2003 at 1:43 PM

cc beta2 r2 & other things

Just released to the devlist a new rev of beta2, this one fixing two important problems that appeared since the first rev yesterday (those are: layout changes, and the vanishing of the "new weblog entry" button).

In a comment, Jamie was asking me to stop stonewalling and start talking already about my experiences with Symbian/J2ME (of course, he was a lot more diplomatic :-)). That's definitely coming up, I've been reading up on the subject, and I'm getting a better understanding not only of some of the strategies (e.g., the whole idea of Profiles in J2ME, or why PersonalJava was canned) as well as the development tools, etc. Cool stuff. Comments will follow. :-)

Categories: clevercactus, personal
Posted by diego on July 15, 2003 at 7:03 PM

1 + 2 = 367

I knew this would happen. I just knew. Subconsciously, maybe I even did it on purpose, so then I'd have to explain. And, hey! More blogging about blogging!

Friday, July 11, marked one year of blogging for me. I realized that on thursday (yes, the 10th) and I had this need to write something, and so I did. But what then? Publish it right at that moment? Didn't seem right. At all. I had transported my head to the next day somehow, to feeling whatever the "one year mark" meant, and I was back, but I couldn't set the entry to publish in fire-and-forget mode at later day. MovableType is wonderful, but it doesn't have that feature yet. So I saved it as a draft, and left it there, unpublished. For the next day.

Trouble is, the next day I didn't look at the list of drafts. I post mostly from cactus, ocassionally from the web, and both ways let me get directly to what I want to write.

Conclusion: draft went unseen. I forgot. Completely. Then today I was running, and I remembered.

I'm babbling about this because often I've started posts that maybe took a bit to write, and so were left in draft state, but when I finished them I simply saved them again without changing the publish state... and so I got to thinking that maybe there should be a way to associate a calendar event with a certain post. Would be useful for a number of things too... sounds like something interesting for cactus.

Random mindjump: I've been thinking about doing a small redesign to the blog, starting with removing the calendar widget. Can't seem to remember the last time I used it, on my site, or in any other site. It seems to me that if you tend to post more or less every day, it becomes a bit irrelevant.

Okay, back to the entry: I've just published it, and that's why it's showing up now (luckily MT keeps the dates for the drafts too).

And here is the link. Just in case. Anyway, I like the title of this entry at least, understatement, accuracy, hidden meaning, and a touch of math, all in one. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 13, 2003 at 5:17 PM

hmpf

I just posted two entries in a row but there's a ton of other things I wanted to comment on... Symbian and what I think is its achilles heel, J2ME, MIDP 1.0, Symbian/J2ME SDKs, prototyping of network apps with RMI, RMI/UDP/TCP and Internet connections, and a number of other things. No time though.

Much to do... must... go... back.... to work...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 12, 2003 at 4:35 PM

A year of blogging

A year.

Sounds like a lot, sometimes.

On the other hand, calendars feel more anachronistic to me by the day. I'm not really affected about crop-cycles anymore (although, to think that this is also true for everyone, or even for a majority of a population of the world, would be self-delusion of ridiculous proportions). But it's a fun tradition, so hey, keep it up then.

Come on, stop with the cynical socio-historical commentary. How is it so far? The whole blogging experience?

Good, good! (whistles, attempting to look busy).

That's all you're going to say?

Apparently, yes.

Poohey. Whatever happened to self-expression, the free exchange of ideas, and so on and so forth?

Oh, come on. What can I say? The usual? About how blogging has affected my life? How I've found new friends through it? How I think that what we thought was cyberspace, that first look at a webpage downloading, wasn't? That is was just dead information, bits that glowed static on the screen? How I think that only now, that our digital life is coming on its own, related but independent of the rest, is when cyberspace is really happening?

How I still can't explain what the hell blogging is, exactly, and yet I can't seem to stop doing it?

Well, everybody knows that. And if they don't, they should. I should too. I tend to forget sometimes (they tell me that's not so uncommon). I tend to be so immersed in other things that I sometimes, just sometimes, forget about what's going on inside myself. Or that's what it wouldd seem. Other times, I realize that maybe the world is changing so radically that the pervasiveness, the ease, of communication, is reshaping not just our sense of community, but also our sense of self. As if we didn't have enough problems...

Hey, you're getting a little preachy there...

Who isn't preachy? But okay-- point taken. To let someone else do the talking, here's a piece of monologue from the movie Hurlyburly (which can be easily mistaken for a misoginistic/misanthropic movie, but that, on closer inspection, reveals that not only it really cares, but that it also longs for a world were those two words, among other things, are turned into historical artifacts).

We've got Eddie (played by Sean Penn), ripped and totally drunk, rambling:

I mean... the Aborigines... had their problems too. Sure. You know... tigers in the trees... dogs after his food... and in the middle ages... everybody really had to worry about ... witches and goblins. But we have this stuff eating at us. We've got stuff we don't even...

I mean, why do you think that all the warlords of the world are so anxious to get their own personal little stash of chemical weapons? They call them weapons of mass destruction, but they're not. They are very, very selective. Chemical weapons are very careful about what they destroy. They anihilate ...people... and preserve... things. They loooove things.

You and I would be dead. Gas. Puke. Gone. Whereas, you know, other, earlier, older people... the ancients... could look to the heavens... which in their minds was inhabited by this ... thoughtful, meditative, you know... maybe a trifle unpredictable and wrathful... but nevertheless up there... this divine onlooker.

We've got... anchorpersons and... talking heads. We've got politicians who decide life and death issues on the basis of their media consultants. That's what we've got.


To which Bonnie (played by Meg Ryan, in one of her few non-insipid roles) replies, a little later:
You know if your manner of speech is any way a reflection of what goes on inside your head, you're lucky you can tie your shoes.
Okay, so can you tie your shoes?

I was taught how to do it, like everyone. But then I lost track somehow. Discovered other methods. Engaged in shoe-tying research. At some point (years ago) I used those fancy ones with Velcro, which I later found out to be made in sweatshops around the world and consequently grew disgusted with, and threw away... and I ended up slightly disgusted with the whole shoe-tying experience. Like everyone else, I still have to tie my shoes once in a while, but when I can I use loafers.

I definitely prefer loafers.

You know what I meant. I wasn't talking about shoes.

Me neither. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 11, 2003 at 5:05 PM

summer night--almost

Really humid, and warm. Is it high pressure, or low pressure? One of those. The air feels dense, recycled, and I'm right next to the river, which tends to be a sort of high-speed wind corridor. I imagine that a couple of blocks from the river it must be even worse. On the plus side, this kind of weather is not conducive to sleep, which helps, since I wasn't planning to sleep much tonight. :) I assume that by around 4 am it will be better, since I can already feel a slight cool air current.

Okay, enough with the weather report. It's just that it's been a year since I've "seen" this climate here, and it doesn't happen often anyway.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 8, 2003 at 11:43 PM

champagne and a limo

So I'm out for my run, about two hundred meters from the (south-east) entrance of Phoenix Park, and there's a white limo there, 30-feet long maybe, the driver is standing outside of the car, mobile glued to his ear. This is around 3:30 pm on a monday, mind you, so it's a bit remarkable, but I don't dwell on it. I keep running.

About half an hour later, I'm coming back, and the limo is still there. The driver is still on the phone.

On the other side of the road there's a group of several people talking animatedly. I slow down, and watch more carefully. I notice a man on my side of the road, walking next to the limo back and forth, apparently measuring its length. The driver's back is to us, and I'm no longer running, just walking fast. This is getting weird, I think.

Across the road, I notice movement again. A car just missed someone. Focus there.

Three girls: two of them teenagers, the other maybe twelve years old or so. The three dressed in white. All of them beautiful. The hurry across the road as a car gives way. Then I notice the two older girls are holding something... the one in front has two champagne glasses, half-full. The other one has two bottles of champagne, open, also half full. I can hear the clinking of glass against glass. The younger girl runs ahead of them, jumping ocassionally, for a few metres, then stops. Next to the limo. When I look again for the man that seemed to be measuring, I see him walking away.

Through all this I keep walking, so now my neck is rotated some sixty degrees and it's getting to be too much, but for whatever reason I don't stop.

I hear them laugh. The driver turns around, says something. Opens the door. The girls get in the limo, the clinking glasses and the bottles getting in with them, and the driver closes the door behind them.

I keep walking, now looking ahead, but every once in a while, until I reach the park's entrance I look back at the limo, still parked there. For a moment I have this strong feeling that I've suddenly walked into a David Lynch movie. I keep walking...

Hallucinations? Too much coding perhaps? Lack of oxygen supply to the brain?

I'm all for the universe being weird, quirky and/or unpredictable, but this is too much. I demand an explanation!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 7, 2003 at 3:56 PM

heads down

Close to a new release of cactus, I tend to run the latest version on my own datastore (a way of catching problems early, as well as eating my own dog food (unline others) and this sometimes has the effect that I'm not checking my email (or getting RSS feeds, or seeing calendar events) as often as it would normally happen.

Well, one of the reasons for having a calendar is so that you can simply forget about upcoming things and there is less pressure in your mind to remember things. This is not a problem for me generally because I remember everything anyway, unless...

Unless I'm working, or writing. If I'm in the zone, hours can go by wihtout me noticing at all. Today, it happened. I'm working (since I woke up relatively early), and I decide to take a break. I fire up cactus.

Bing!

Event. I don't even have to look at it. I know. The Dublin bloggers meeting for this month. I look at the watch.

4 pm.

Damn! I really wanted to go.

Until August then. :(

Anyway, I'm going to have dinner soon. While concentrated, aside from ignoring events, I also tend to ignore ages-old survival habits (in the hunger-gatherer sense of the word). You know. Like eating.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 5, 2003 at 6:10 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?)

Heh.

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

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

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

D-day

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...

...it'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

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

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

st. petersburg's 300th anniversary

Speaking of cities, the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg is being celebrated this week, and apparently it's quite a celebration. When I get to visit Russia, St. Petersburg and Moscow will be destinations for sure.

<diatribe>

During World War II Leningrad (the name given to the city after Lenin died, changed again after the fall of the Soviet Union) was, with Stalingrad, one of the focal points of resistance against the Nazi invasion. 1.25 million residents died during the almost-3-year blockade after Operation Barbarossa began in '41, and ten thousand buildings were destroyed in the fighting. (Stalingrad, on the other hand, was leveled outright, mostly by the Luftwaffe, and two million people died there). This is very much on my mind as I keep thinking about the claims (pre-Iraq war this year) comparing Saddam to Hitler and talking about how "the US had stopped a tyrant before". If anyone stopped Hitler, it was the Russians, who lost 20 million people in WW2 (about 14 million military and 7 million civilian). Compare that to a total of 300,000 US casualties (only military), or 400,000 British (about 300,000 military, and 100,000 civilian). Sure, the Russians were badly prepared, and I'm not saying a third of a million people is a small number or that the other Allies didn't also pay with their share of blood, but in comparison...

The Russians wiped out some of the Wermacht's best divisions, and forced the 6th Army into surrender. It was the Russians that gave the Allies enough maneuvering room so that they could crack Normandy, since the bulk of the Wermacht was on the eastern front, which stretched the western Nazi offensive/defensive capabilities.

Of course, no one "stopped Hittler," reality is never that simple. Hitler himself contributed in many ways (not least was, of course, opening an eastern front, although it could be argued that it would happen sooner or later).

And this is not "anti-Iraq war" rethoric, mind you (which I consider a separate matter). These comparisons have been used freely by all the parties and the media (except the Russians, of course), nor is it just limited to geopolitical matters, just like the word 'hero' is used all too easily these days.

I find it troubling that we seem to have fallen into the habit of twisting semantics to make ourselves feel more important, instead of doing things that would deserve it (say, a mission to Mars) we hype every stupid thing we do comparing it to the level of great achievements in the past. If anyone is a hero, then heroism loses meaning no? And if a tyrant in a run-down country is Hitler, then we also lose perspective of what those who came before us suffered to give us what we have, and what suffering really is.

And by losing sight of that, it's more difficult to define what's important and what's not, and suddenly we are surprised when we find elation in meaningless, superficial things like finding a special 25% off when buying the latest T-shirt from The Gap.

Anyway.

</diatribe>

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 30, 2003 at 9:17 PM

the two-week summer

The weather has been improving the last few days, and today we had a great summer day (not summer yet of course, but I'm told these two weeks in mid-May are always the best of the year, something that my limited Dublinesque experience seems to confirm). It was warm (say, 20 C) with a cool breeze and few clouds. I was around town most of the day, and at the TCD campus, and the tourists still haven't overrun the place, which is nice.

What a great city.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 30, 2003 at 9:13 PM

go

goboard.png
Today I was thinking of looking for something to relax the mind a little...

There aren't that many games that I find interesting (that includes computer games too). Chess is ok, but mostly I find it too structured and relatively predictable (meaning: often boring--and please no flames from Chess fans, that's just my preference :-)). But a few years back I discovered Go and it immediately became my favorite game. I used to play it back in California with a friend during lunch-breaks; it was a blast. If you have never tried it, I recommend it highly. My favorite program to play against is TurboGo, but the British Go Association mantains a useful list of versions of Go for different platforms. For Windows, Wulu is also good, I haven't yet tried any of the Mac games.

In any case, when playing Go nothing beats having the board and the stones in front of you--the sheer simplicity of it, along with its seemingly unending possibilities for different games (that I mentioned a few months ago). We'll probably have to wait until immersive VR becomes a reality to be able to match the full "experience"... (now that would be funny: using fully immersive VR only to... play Go. :-))

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 20, 2003 at 12:17 AM

a day of rest

Slowing down a bit from the rush of the cactus release--not easy. Caught up with some news, and read emails (read, not replied--that's for tomorrow morning), but not much else. Thought I'd go watch a movie, but nothing much on theaters to go see, I snuck in two hours last Saturday in the middle of work to watch X-2, which was good, very much like the first movie (looking forward to the third). And Matrix Reloaded is coming up this week--but I'm not sure if I'll see it right away, probably too many people will go in the first few days, and it will be difficult to get a good seat.

In the meantime, I'm reading Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor, which is excellent, and lined up after that I've got Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix which comes highly recommended. I really liked Sterling's Holy Fire but not so much other stuff he's written. We'll see.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 17, 2003 at 8:34 PM

IM-alone

A strange occurrence: it's past 4:30 am and I look at my IM and out of a couple dozen contacts in about 8 or 9 different timezones, no one is online. Feels weird. Can't remember the last time this happened.

Or maybe it's a really, really strange hallucination. :)

Oh, and the clevercactus public beta is coming. Only a few hours away...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 16, 2003 at 4:16 AM

coffee attack!

It doesn't happen often, but when it happens...

I'm concentrated, coding away, or looking at test results, or something of that nature. I move suddenly, turn, or raise my hand for some reason and in between the origin of the movement and the destination, some part of my body hits a half-full cup of coffee.

Splat. Crash. (In the best style of the old Batman series).

Oops.

This has happened to me four times in all in the past, two with "catastrophic" consequences. And one of those was tonight. The end result is more or less constant: I end up covered with coffee, along with the chair, floor, with other alternatives (random, to spice it up :-)): keyboard, mouse, or even CPU for example. Coffee cup ends up on the floor, possibly broken in pieces (like tonight), and I have to be careful even to move to avoid making even more of a mess. Flow destroyed, whatever I was thinking is gone and then I have to spend half an hour cleaning it up. Good thing I don't drink coffee with sugar, otherwise everything would end up coated with a layer of sticky goo for ages to come. (The first time it was coffee with sugar. That took a while to clean up.)

Maybe I'm clumsy. Maybe I'm just not paying attention. Whatever. What I want is nanotech cups that will detect my approaching self (when at speed/distracted, not when I'm going to pick them up) and instantly change their molecular structure into a gas (including the liquid contained), then reform themselves back into a solid when the danger has passed. Probably not likely to happen soon, eh? Okay, I guess I'll just have to be more careful then. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 15, 2003 at 2:08 AM

weird day

For whatever reason I woke up before 6 am, even though I had gone to sleep at 2:30. So got to work early. But then, it's only 3:40 pm and I've had this feeling in my head that it's past 5 pm.... since at least 1 pm! I guess that since I woke up before dawn my perception is totally confused. Interesting though. The day seems interminable! Good when you've got a lot of things to do. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 15, 2003 at 3:27 PM

acting and writers

In a little bit there's Nora on RTE, a movie about James Joyce's wife, Nora Barnacle, or possibly their relationship, with Ewan McGregor playing Joyce. I was thinking (yeah, it happens once in a while, what can you do): when an actor is playing a musician, say, a piano player, they can do some camera tricks to convince you that the actor is playing. Which, if the actor is acting properly, goes a long way towards creating character. But with a writer, it's just all in the head. Flunting pieces of paper around won't do. Which brings me to my point: how is it that people that have never written (fiction in particular) relate to that? Is there some kind of society-wide mental image of what a writer must be? And how does that affect the price of potatoes in the winter?

Anyway.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 5, 2003 at 8:11 PM

spring nighttime bliss

It's one of those nights... cool outside, the train station across the river relatively quiet. A soft breeze comes in through the window. I'm working (slightly) and listening to Stay (Faraway, So Close!) (I don't really have to say performed by who, do I?) and the music seems to be written for this moment. The music, not the lyrics, mind you. Okay, maybe part of the lyrics...

Faraway, so close Up with the static and the radio With satellite television we can go anywhere Miami, New Orleans London, Belfast and Berlin

And if you listen
I can call
And if you jump
You just might fall
And if you shout
I don't believe you

If I could stay... then the night would give you up

Three o'clock
in the morning
It's quiet
and there's no one around
Just a bang
and a clatter
as an angel runs to ground

Just the band and the clatter
as an angel
hits the ground

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 5, 2003 at 8:07 PM

a great day

Busy, yes, but great. No clouds, warm sun and a cool breeze that came and went, just at the right moment. Normally here in Dublin you get days like these around the first two weeks of may (Last year my advisor said "Did you like the past two weeks?" I said, yes, then he said, "Good, because that was summer."). Heh. Anyway, we've had two or three days like these in the last couple of weeks, but today was the best. Very cool.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 4, 2003 at 5:25 PM

the truth isn't out there

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

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

back

More or less...

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

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

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

getting there

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

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

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

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

deep fog

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

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

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

Deckard might just be around the corner.

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

blogging on not bloggging

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

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

Spring is coming. :-)

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

europe and america, part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, back to spaces.

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

on categories

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

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

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

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

books for today's hectic lifestyles

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

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

HAL


I'm evil. (kills astronauts)

Dave Bowman

I must shut you down now, HAL.

HAL

Daisy, Daisy...

Dave Bowman

Now I must finish this mission alone.

(STRANGE THINGS happen, and they MAKE SENSE.)


Reader

Wow. I understand the movie now.

THE END

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

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

our small world

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

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

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

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

pink floyd state of mind

This is how I feel right now:

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

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

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


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

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

on time and blogging

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

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

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

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

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

quote of the day

"Fuck the regulations!"

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

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

redesign comments

On a comment, Bernie asked me to write updates on how the use of the new design progresses, how I find categories and so on. It's a good idea, and I was definitely going to do it anyway--I'm learning a lot and coming up with new ideas when going through this process. Definitely recommended! So this entry contains some comments along those lines. (Greg also had some comments earlier regarding this subject.

Russ commented that he likes the new design. Thanks!! He adds:

I think anyone who's blogged for a while does this - I did it the other day myself. Sometimes it calls for a major redesign to get you back on track, sometimes it just takes a reminder of what your spending so much time doing and why. My redesign earlier this month really energized me. It just felt fresh and that was great - but then I got into a rut a few days ago, and worked my way out of it by remembering that what I'm doing is supposed to be fun... That always helps.
I agree completely. I guess it's easy to get into routines and be relaxed about it. And a redesign (CSS and reconfiguration pain notwhistanding) is really refreshing and it made blogging feel 'new' again. In my case, I was also increasingly feeling that having two blogs was becoming a bit of a straitjacket, but this is related to his next paragraph, were he makes an interesting point regarding categories:
My opinion on categories is quite firm and very simple: it's all me. I have no desire to start dividing up what I'm talking about so that someone can filter out half of what I'm saying. It doesn't work that way. Categories always comes up after I start one of my anti-Republican rants (reminder: they still suck) and I get comments or emails about how I should have categories so they can edit these types of opinions out. Yeah right... if you like what I have to say about tech or mobile or culture or family you can't just suddenly decide I'm an idiot when it comes to other important issues. What do you think my brain stops working suddenly? Bozos... Okay, sorry. I'm getting hot under the collar again. Anyways... categories are out.

Diego, however, and a lot of other people feel the need to have them. I can see how they're useful for dividing up topics especially when you have a project that you're supporting like Spaces.

Mostly, I agree with Russ. Blogs for the most part are personal and that means you have to take the good with the bad. When I started blogging, I started off with one blog (no comment) and then instead of creating categories I started another one (Abort, retry, fail?). For whatever reason as time passed having two distinct blogs to write on just created confusion. So Russ's approach is right, I think, not just on first principles but for practical reasons as well: it preserves blogflow. There's no decision to be made. You just write. Regardless, I do think that we by nature "filter" what others say, categories or not. I'm used to that from writing... and I think it's a bit inevitable.

But aren't two blogs just like having categories? No, IMO. Categories are a looser way to separate and connect things. The main blog is still "all me" as Russ says, but it can be separated, particularly for different "threads of thought" in a relatively non-intrusive way. More importantly, if I'm using the blog partly to talk about spaces (or whatever other specific project), they are very useful I think (we'll test this hypothesis in the next few weeks/months, though...). Crucially, RSS feeds can be created for each category, so if there's something definite that people want to know about, such as spaces they can look at those entries and subscribe to that feed only (something that Russ mentions as well). Also, some thematic blog-hubs like javablogs work better if the people that are contributing only post about things in a certain category. It seems that there can be a fine line between "blogging" and "discussing topic X", and for the latter it seems that maybe a mailing list, specifically targeted, would potentially be a better fit. But blogging is better. More open, more flexible, and so on. So the tendency to mix them is potentially what creates confusion (both in the writer and readers).

Anyway, I don't know if all of this makes a lot of sense. I guess I'll have another crack at these ideas later.

Categories: personal, technology
Posted by diego on February 28, 2003 at 10:42 AM

new design, new content, new name

Phew! Okay, where to begin?

I guess it started a few days ago when I was thinking about how I blogged and what about, and its consequences to the structure of my blog(s). I came to a few conclusions. The main ones:

  • I needed to integrate my blogs into one
  • I needed to start using categories
  • ...

But yesterday I was feeling terrible (flu, or something. Bones and muscles hurt. Throat hurts. Head hurts. That kind of thing). I thought, tomorrow. Today I was feeling terrible too, but I decided to ignore it (disregard for physical discomfort, now, that's the spirit!). So I dug in.

First in the list was a long-delayed update of MovableType, to version 2.63 (Which has many new cool features such as built-in support for RSD and Creative Commons Licences, which I haven't had time to configure yet). That went smoothly. Before that I exported all my entries from both blogs anyway.

The export actually came in handy when I had to re-create the blog and its entries with categories. To start with, I created two categories: Personal and Technology. MovableType allows to assign one category for imported entries, so I imported all the contents of "Abort, Retry, Fail?" into Technology and all the contents of "no comment" into Personal. I also created other categories (not used yet), including one for spaces. As time passes I'll assign categories to older posts. For the moment this will do.

Another task that is not done for the moment is creating multiple feeds for each category.

Once that was done I had to come up with a new design. This involved getting into CSS. Tables are much simpler to use for layout, but there are some strong arguments for why they shouldn't (be used for layout that is). I looked at manuals, references and howtos, but in the end what helped me the most were the CSS included in MovableType themselves, and these two articles (one, two) from W3C on using CSS for layouts. It's still not perfect (in particular, there is not a lot of entry text when the window is not wide enough) but it should do for now. The conclusion of this is just a resurfacing in my mind that the idea of CSS (of separating content from presentation) is good, but the implementation is awful.

Then there was the question of 'migration': how to deal with the links into the other blogs in a reasonable way, and in particular how to deal with the issue of RSS feeds. I thought: mod_rewrite could help. But I dread mod_rewrite. So I thought: maybe there's a better solution.

I remembered that a few months back Jon Udell had the same problem, but when I found this blog entry that referred to it, it didn't provide any solutions. Jon, however, was limited in what he could do on the server, since he apparently didn't have access to its configuration. For me it was back to mod_rewrite again (this brief howto was useful as a starter as well, btw). It took a couple of tries, but In the end the following three added lines into the virtual server conf in Apache did the trick:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule /~diego/weblogs/arf/(.*) /d2r/$1 [R=301]
RewriteRule /~diego/weblogs/nocomment/(.*) /d2r/$1 [R=301]
This seems to work both for servers and aggregators (although I have to say I only tested the RSS aggregator in spaces with it). I will probably make a few posts now and then to remind people to change their URL for the feeds anyway, since I assume that at some point the redirect won't be there anymore.

So all is well and good.

Ah, yes, the matter of the name. Since so many things were changing, why not change the name, too? d2r is something I've had in my head for a while and that I used years ago in my first homepage. It's supposed to read "detour" along with "d2" being "d d"... (yes, geekindex = off the charts!). I'll have to add this info into the 'About this blog" link (non existent for now) on the right. A couple of lines from Gone come to mind: You change your name but that's okay/It's necessary/and what you leave behind you don't miss anyway.

Finally, comments on the new design, problems with the redirect, etc, are welcome!! Just post a comment or send me an email.

Off to relax for a bit now... try to shake this flu off. On the upside, working on this has made me forgot that I felt awful. Tinkering with your blog (or programming, or writing, both of which are partially contained in 'tinkering with your blog) are better than aspirin. At least for a while :-)

Categories: personal, technology
Posted by diego on February 27, 2003 at 10:21 PM

more on how history repeats itself

Another NYTimes article with another take on how we've been through all this before. Just like what I linked to a couple of days ago...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 25, 2003 at 11:22 PM

bloggers on news aggregators

JD recently posted a two part article on bloggers' thoughts on news aggregators. Links: Part One and Part Two.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 25, 2003 at 12:13 AM

gibson on 9/11

Today William Gibson posted a short piece he wrote on 20/9/2001 entitled 'Mr. Buk's Window.' Must read.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 24, 2003 at 9:57 PM

i feel random

A couple of articles that I found interesting in the last couple of days: one, a 'Repress yourself', which talks about how in many extreme situations people that repress emotions do better than those that talk about them (or are forced to by psychiatrists or psychologists that assume that talking about things fixes the problem.

Meanwhile... ah, yeah, the randomness. Weird. Some movies I've wanted to see but haven't had time yet: 1) 8 Mile, 2) The Ring, 3) Daredevil... Maybe this weekend there will be some free time for that.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 24, 2003 at 8:30 PM

a drug user's guide to not writing

A Salon interview with Essayist Geoff Dyer on "the difference between fiction and nonfiction (none), the usefulness of marijuana, and the importance of doing nothing" Amusing and at times insightful, with small jewels like "There's that nice line of Thomas Pynchon's: 'Marijuana -- that useful substance.'".

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 24, 2003 at 8:09 PM

history repeats itself

Here's an interesting op-ed from today's New York Times. Quote:

ith our troops massed against Iraq, Americans are apprehensive and divided. The polls show us still torn between containment and war, between the instinct to give it time and the yearning to get it done. We worry about civilian carnage, American casualties and terrorist reprisals, about further shocks to a shaken economy, about being a nation alone. The Pentagon is ordering body bags by the thousand.

President Bush has enlarged the war agenda: we are not just eliminating a threat, we are delivering a promise of democracy to a region steeped in tyranny. Many, though, remain suspicious of his motives. "No Blood for Oil," the protest placards insist, and others mutter that this is somehow, too much, about Israel. The question of what comes after war has revived our longstanding fear of getting bogged down in unfriendly places.

Colin Powell, after trying to slow the march to war, has fallen loyally into step with his commander in chief. But the world, whose collaboration we crave, is in no hurry. The Germans are paralyzed by war angst. The French, deeply invested in Saddam and always happy to tweak the Americans, have been maddening. Democrats are straining for a way to be patriots without forfeiting independent judgment. The pope is calling for more "dialogue." Susan Sarandon is rallying opposition outside the United Nations. Saddam watches it all on CNN, and assures us we will be bloodily humbled.

Ah, the memories. The paragraphs above are constructed entirely from coverage of our national mood in the winter of 1991. Reading those old files made me wonder if maybe George Santayana was only half right: even those who remember history are condemned to repeat it.

Spooky.

Related to this, a Salon article that talks about the "human shields" positioning themselves on Iraq.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 22, 2003 at 3:41 PM

a journalist infiltrates terrorist groups

From CNN: Journalist penetrated Islamic extremist groups in Paris.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 20, 2003 at 11:56 PM

a bridge with a dark side

Found this strange and interesting New York Times article on Toronto's "suicide magnet" bridge. Quote:

The structure became a literary landmark as well in 1987 when Michael Ondaatje described the construction of the double-decker bridge in exquisite poetic detail in his novel "In the Skin of a Lion," marking it as the epitome of this city's latent but limitless possibilities in the collective imagination of Torontonians.

But the steel-arched bridge, spanning the Don River and Don Valley Parkway with a 12-story drop, also has a dark side, one Mr. Ondaatje suggested in his novel by describing how a gust of wind blew a nun off the bridge before she was scooped up in midair by a construction worker suspended on a rope.

Reality has been less kind. More than 400 people have jumped from the bridge to their deaths, including 100 over the last decade, lending the viaduct the morbid nickname of "suicide magnet." Only the Golden Gate Bridge has been the site of more suicides in North America, according to mental health advocates here.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 19, 2003 at 12:39 AM

more 24

So, tonight I took a short break and watched the 3rd hour of the 'second day' of 24. Finally, this is the series that I like! I have to say that the first two episodes had been a bit underwhelming. Too many disconnected things going on and not enough tension. I was expecting it to be a slow starter, and it was. When this episode finished I wanted to see the next one immediately, something that didn't particularly happen with the first two, but that always happened with the first series.

Related to 24, James said that the "I'm gonna need a hacksaw" quote should be more like the quote for the entire two series, rather than just my 'quote of the day'. I agree. It's rare that a single line defines a character so well, in so many dimensions (given the context of the situation, of course).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 18, 2003 at 11:13 PM

the simpsons turn 300

Tonight is the US airing of Episode 300 of The Simpsons. Many of the last episodes haven't been that good, but once in a while they still deliver. Hopefully they go out at the top instead of milking the show to death though...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 17, 2003 at 1:32 AM

the power of propaganda

Now, this article is a bit scary:

At the end of the first week of January, the Princeton Survey Research Associates polled more than 1,200 Americans on behalf of the Knight Ridder newspaper chain. They asked a very simple question: "To the best of your knowledge, how many of the September 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens?"

It should be impossible for a person who has lived through the last 16 months not to know the name and face of Mohamed Atta, believed to be the lead hijacker, and to have at least some nebulous sense of the identity of the hijackers. For much of this time, the nation in toto was umbilically joined to the media's saturation coverage, with hourly "terror alerts," scrolling "terror" news tickers, and panoplies of talking heads sprouting a confetti of 10-second sound bites. Surely some information must have been imparted.

The Knight Ridder survey appears to reveal a quite different reality. Of those surveyed, only 17 percent knew the correct answer: that none of the hijackers were Iraqi. Forty-four percent of Americans believe that most or some of the hijackers were Iraqi; another 6 percent believe that one of the hijackers was a citizen of that most notorious node in the axis of evil. That leaves 33 percent who did not know enough to offer an answer.

Big Brother would be proud: Doublethink is among us.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 6, 2003 at 2:08 PM

quote of the day

"I'm gonna need a hacksaw"
--Jack Bauer in the 8am to 9am episode on the new series of 24.
Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 4, 2003 at 11:11 PM

hunter S. thompson

Salon has an interview with Hunter S. Thompson that is excellent. Fear and Loathing! :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 3, 2003 at 12:12 PM

golf and the environment

A really interesting (if disquieting) article by Jake Tapper on Salon about the golf industry, its growing power and how massive its effect on the environment is compared to the few people that practice the sport.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 3, 2003 at 12:13 AM

on speakers and speeches

An interesting Salon article that compares Bush to other 'great speakers' of the 20th century, and Bush's state of the union on Tuesday to some great speeches of the past. Along the way, he gives a few interesting tidbits of what makes a good speech.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 30, 2003 at 11:34 AM

mcfrankenstein

So, it seems the judge threw out the case in which a man was suing McDonald's for making him fat. Reasonable? Partially. The judge also left an open door giving a possible strategy that might work. Ridiculous. Not that McDonald's is a nice corporation or anything, but a lawsuit like that seems crazy, but it's certainly part of the US trend of lawsuits of personal injury. I've always found it weird and contradictory that in a country that prides itself on individuality and self-reliance some people can get away with spending so much time and energy trying to blame others for problems that in many cases they themselves caused. These people say: if it's good, I did it. If it's bad, someone else must have! And lawyers are happy to oblige since they make tons of money...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 26, 2003 at 12:15 PM

bush and reagan

An interesting analysis from the New York Times comparing George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 25, 2003 at 3:15 PM

norman mailer

A NY times interview with Norman Mailer. Executioner's song is rising on my "to read" pile... hopefully I'll get to it soon. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 22, 2003 at 5:05 PM

Salon gets pessimistic (or realistic?)

A series of articles of Worst case scenarios:

The economy is crumbling, the planet is heating up, war with Iraq looms. What if something REALLY goes wrong? Six nightmares for George Bush -- and everyone else.
Good (if a bit depressing) reading.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 22, 2003 at 1:14 PM

no to war!

Salon covers the marches in Washington and San Francisco against war with Iraq.

I have this strong feeling of deja-vu...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 20, 2003 at 2:09 PM

a george orwell essay

[via Scott]: Politics and the Enligh Language. A must read.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 17, 2003 at 4:07 PM

looking for weapons

So, it seems that the UN inspectors in Iraq have found something relatively incriminating. I was thinking, what a thankless job that must be. Can you imagine? You find something, it's evidence that there will be a massive war. In the normal case you find nothing and you avert a war, but in this case you find nothing, and the US also takes it as evidence.. that you haven't found what they expected and that is there anyway. Whatever you do, there is little that can change. Awful...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 16, 2003 at 8:11 PM

empire

A New York times article about the challenges that faces the US, and a (partly) related Salon article on the "celebrity anti-war movement".

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 13, 2003 at 1:02 PM

television & society

Yesterday we were talking with Dylan about how strange things seem these days. On one hand, the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket: wars, rumors of wars, disease, poverty, you name it. There is a vast divide between poor and rich, and it's growing. Already, what Bono said in 'God Part II' is not just true, it's a given: "The rich stay healthy, and the sick stay poor".

Cue in television (and the media in general): There the world seems to be a landscape of celebrities and their amazing lives. The masses are enthralled by it. Celebrities are being created out of thin air, some people become celebrities appearing in shows designed to create celebrities (and then control their cash flow), other people were celebrities and now appear in shows that are appealing because you can see people that used to be celebrities in 'everyday life'... turning them into celebrities again (think: The Osbournes'). TV in particular seems to be obsessed with stupid, inconsequential bullshit.

Mmm, I feel a Fight Club moment coming...

Yesterday, for example, I turned on the TV for a moment during a break in work and there is Britney Spears in concert. I was watching it with no sound to try to understand the coreography (I couldn't) and then I noticed that the giant screen that is supposed to give people in the back of the stadium a better view was blasting images at high speed, zooming in and out every 1/2 a second and moving like crazy, which of course made it impossible to see anything. This is not new, there is a TV channel that has literally pioneering this kind of television: MTV. So now there the concerts for the "post-MTV generation" are done in a way so that they look like television. Reality becomes irrelevant, a live show is nothing more than a souped up video. Yikes.

But that's not all. The song ends. The image cuts from the concert arena to a sentence "The million dollar smile". I think "WTF?". I turn on the sound.

The sentence changes to an image of a building, and zooms in until you can see a plaque on the outside. It's a dentist's office.

Cut to the face of a woman, saying: "Yes, that's what I do. I design smiles. I designed Britney Spears smile, which is literally a million-dollar smile. But she's the most famous example of what we do here everyday."

Let's ignore the fact that a dentist is not "famous" because she can drill holes in your mouth or apply a whitening solution.

I mean design smiles??? That is just messed. And this is the kind of "entertainment" that is provided 24/7, along with other kinds of "entertainment" like news coverage on wars, famine, corruption....

What's the endgame for all this? Nuclear war? Nah. More likely, just further sinking into a pile of inconsequential garbage. Like TS Eliot said: "This is how the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper".

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 12, 2003 at 2:08 PM

diasporas

An interesting article from The Economist on the effects of emigres on their countries of origin, even while still living away from them.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 8, 2003 at 11:06 AM

the two towers

So, I finally saw The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers yesterday.

I have, very, very confusing feelings about it. On one hand many of the sequences were excellent, specially the battle sequences. The Ents were great. But... but... the overall 'product' left me disatisfied. At times I felt as if -gasp!- I was about to fall asleep!. It seemed soooooo looong. I think the story suffered from the chop-and-dice work they did on it to adapt it to film: the second book is actually divided in two, with the first part dealing with Aragorn, Legolas, Merry, Gandalf, etc, and the second part dealing with Frodo, Sam and Gollum/Smeagol. In the book, this keeps the action running along really fast, and you can't wait to turn to the next page. In the movie, the mixing of these two stories into one only makes everything muddled and slow: the pace is completely lost. There is no time to perceive the 'atmosphere' of each of the stories. Frodo's journey becomes incredibly dark close to the end of book 2. The movie doesn't do justice to that at all.

Finally, the end was cut off at a different point. I didn't like that either, but I think in movie terms it makes some sense at least. Not too great overall. We'll see how they end it. Everything depends on the next and final installment of the trilogy. In any case, we'll always have the books :-).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 6, 2003 at 11:57 PM

'the shield' & 'Taken'

Just watched the last episode in the first series of The Shield. Absolutely, incredibly excellent television. I can't wait for season 2. To me, it seems like a TV version of Training Day which is probably the best movie I saw in all of last year. Meanwhile, the second season of '24' still hasn't started here in Ireland. Oh well.

I also saw (last saturday) the first episode of Taken, produced by Steven Spielberg. It was excellent. Finally a science fiction tv-show that is worth calling 'science fiction'. Between Taken and Band of Brothers Spielberg is really doing its part to revitalize TV.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 6, 2003 at 11:42 PM

the lying game

From an article in the New Yorker:

These days, if you’re looking for a bunch of New York writers, magazine editors and publishing types on a Friday night, track down Mr. Lethem, who has become a kind of mob boss among an ever-growing salon of poker-faced literati obsessed by the spiky parlor game they call Mafia. There’s no money involved, everyone stays clothed, and the alcohol intake is surprisingly moderate—but to witness Mr. Lethem’s disciples in the throes of their favorite game is to know that the stakes run high.
Having played roleplaying games in the past, this sounds like a lot of fun!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 4, 2003 at 4:34 PM

heavier than heaven

In the last couple of days I re-read Heavier than Heaven, a biography of Kurt Cobain by Charles Cross (just as I wanted back at the end of September). Such a good book. It's one of the best books I've read in a while, and certainly one of the best biographies I've come across. Sometimes he drifts off into fictional territory (in particular, when describing Cobain's actions just before he shot himself, with details such as where he sat as he wrote the suicide note, or what song of REM's Automatic for the People was playing on the stereo as he finished writing it) but it doesn't matter: it feels true. And it doesn't change the essence of the Cobain's story.

Now I should go back to finishing Molloy and Dispatches but for some reason I am tempted by The Great Gatsby. We'll see.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 4, 2003 at 12:44 PM

the responsibilities of writers

An article from The Guardian. I agree with some of the things he says, but I think he ignores the side of writing that is simply entertainment (and, in these days, "commercial events" such as the release of a book by, say, Michael Crichton). Entertainment-oriented writing will be not necessarily be art, and it might not necessarily have a message beyond "some people are bad." The portion of the article I like best is when he describes how the story carries the writer forward, rather than the other way around: it's definitely true.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 4, 2003 at 12:36 PM

the fires of war

From CNN:

In Kuwait, the Persian Gulf War left behind heavy environmental damage. Day vanished into night, black rain fell from the sky, and a vast network of lakes was born ... lakes of oil as deep as six feet.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 4, 2003 at 12:34 AM

literary criticism

An article from Salon:

The legendary American literary critic Leslie Fiedler talks about his encounters with Hemingway and Faulkner, his falling out with Bellow and which contemporary novelists will last.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 3, 2003 at 2:34 PM

and the future brings...

Higher temperatures, it seems, and almost certainly not entirely from natural sources:

Some of the warming could be the result of natural climate variation, but the experts say it is almost impossible to explain without including the heat-trapping properties of rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by smokestacks and tailpipes.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on January 1, 2003 at 10:48 PM

the cult of the gym

A good article from the Economist.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 29, 2002 at 3:42 AM

selling environmentalism

Was reading today this article on the Wall Street Journal. Quite interesting:

Last year, Americans spent $2.6 billion on birdseed. That's more than twice as much as they spent on prepared baby food, and two and a half times as much as they spent on food for needy nations. They shelled out a further $733 million on feeders, houses and baths for birds.

Most people think all that largess helps the birds. But many ornithologists and wildlife biologists say it does very little good -- and even does some harm. Attracting wild birds to feeders spreads disease, aids predators such as house cats, and lures the birds close to houses and roads where tens of millions of them fly into windows and cars. House cats and hawks treat feeders as fast-food outlets, snatching birds from perches or the ground below.

2.6 billion dollars spent on bird seeds. Wow. Talk about waste. Maybe after the people in poor countries have starved to death the birds can take over there... they'll have a lot of space.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 28, 2002 at 8:54 PM

another movie to see

Review: The Hours:

Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore bring dignity and Oscar-worthy performances to "The Hours," a lovingly crafted meditation on death, loss and literature.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 28, 2002 at 3:09 AM

all in the name of freedom...

From the Washington Post: Torture is not an option.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 27, 2002 at 10:09 PM

tv in the US

A Salon article looking back at TV in 2002:

Sure, TV in 2001 got all serious and stuff. This year we reconnected with what's really important: Hard bodies in hot tubs, public humiliation and more "Law & Order" spinoffs.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 26, 2002 at 1:09 PM

the knife under the tree

A New York Times op-ed:

As The Washington Post reported yesterday, people are trading up on cosmetic presents. Instead of a massage, manicure, facial or spa weekend, Santa's sleigh is brimming with gift certificates for the knife, the needle, the laser and the vacuum pump.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 26, 2002 at 1:19 AM

religion

From this article in the Economist:

Do you believe in God? If you are European, you probably shuffle your feet, look mildly embarrassed, and mutter, “Well, it depends on what you mean by God.” Or something of the sort. In Western Europe, a mere 20% of people go regularly to a service; in Eastern Europe, only 14%. But if you are American, the answer is almost certainly an unabashed “Yes”. Only about 2% of Americans are atheists, and a startling 47% tell pollsters that they go to a religious service at least once a week. Even if that is an over-statement, the broad difference between continents is clear.

To most Europeans, it has seemed obvious for the past century and more that modernism is the foe of religion, and of Christianity in particular. But religion is flourishing in both the developing world and America. The reason is largely the powerful evangelism of new denominations that sprang up in America in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 25, 2002 at 1:09 PM

new WTC plans

Finally remembered to look for this site: the New World Trade Center Site Design Concepts.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 24, 2002 at 7:30 PM

the state of music

Yesterday I was talking to my brother on the phone and we were saying how amazing it is that Kurt Cobain's music remains so powerful and current after 8-10 years. Then I realized that it's not much of a question of Cobain's music remaining current but a question of the rest of the music world never having innovated much past Nirvana's Grunge aesthetics and soft/loud dynamics. Older bands (U2, Depeche Mode, etc) went along their own evolutionary (and sometimes slightly revolutionary) paths, but nothing really new/refreshing appeared after Nirvana. Think about it: what did we get? Soft (crap) pop (The Spice Girls, Christina Aguilera, Ricky Martin, Britney Spears...) and a few bands that were reasonably good (Limp Bizkit) but not really revolutionary. Too bad. On the other hand, revolutions (even ones limited to something like music) can't happen all the time, can they? :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 24, 2002 at 4:08 PM

kala azar outbreak

An outbreak in Sudan of the Kala Azar virus is threatening thousands of people, specially children.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 23, 2002 at 6:11 PM

winter!

The 22nd, here it is! Past the shortest day of the year now... was going to see Lord of The Rings Pt. 2 yesterday but then realized I didn't have the schedule... and didn't really want to go. It was raining quite a lot.

In any case, I want to see it but for completeness more than anything else. Although I haven't read LOTR in about 3-4 years now, before that I read the the Trilogy many, many times (more than 10) along with a few readings of The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lost Tales series, The books of the 'History of Middle Earth' series (edited after Tolkien's death by his son Christopher), the Atlas of Middle Earth (no... not by JRRT)... even role-played "in middle earth" for a few years, and yes, I can still write my name in ancient Elvish... so the movies don't really provide anything new. For example, I had already "seen" the Balrog many, many times before last year's movie. That's a good point about it though: it matches what you expect if you know the story and you have internalized it, not a small feat for such a complex work of literature. So I'll probably go one of these days to see the Two Towers, maybe even tomorrow, and spend a good couple of hours with those fictional friends from the past.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 22, 2002 at 2:48 AM

falcone

Just saw Falcone, an HBO movie starring Chazz Palminteri and F. Murray Abraham about the Italian judge that took on the mafia. Pretty good (except for the accents, which were at times terrible). I knew that the judge had been killed in the end, years after he had resigned (after they took away his power in all but name) and I thought it had been with a car bomb. Boy, was I wrong. The mafia blew up an entire 50-foot section of the highway as his car was passing through it. Unbelievable. And this, after he hadn't been involved in the case against them for a while (although he was returning to Palermo to start again, presumably). 'The mob never forgets'... indeed. In the end though, his death and that of his friend and fellow judge Paolo two months later (killed with his 5 bodyguards) ended up creating a massive government crisis that was called 'Mano pulite' (clean hand, if I remember correctly) and ended up with many government officials charged (including the prime minister) and some of the biggest mafia bosses in jail. So it wasn't for nothing. He did did pay the highest price though...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 21, 2002 at 2:04 AM

scorcese interview

An interview of Martin Scorcese, coming on the heels of the release of Gangs of New York.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 20, 2002 at 8:06 PM

a year ago on this day...

...Argentina's president resigned after massive riots (that had started a on Dec. 19) that ended up with 19 dead and eventually pushed the country over the economic abyss, from the edge where it had been hanging for such a long time. The Wall Street Journal has an article today on how the people have been coping with the situation.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 20, 2002 at 5:58 PM

looking back

The Economist has a couple of articles that look back at 2002. Their conclusion: it was better than expected for the West (and in general regarding the risk of terrorism, war, etc...), although pretty bad in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 20, 2002 at 12:19 AM

oh, and...

... the other thing I've been having trouble with is the separation between this weblog and abort, retry, fail?. For some reason the past few weeks it became hard to know what to say where. Just as strangely, I've been able to write here again. Maybe it has to do with the focus of what I'm doing at the moment... in any case, strange. I've toyed a few times with the idea of simply merging both blogs... but I am reluctant to do it without knowing why. I need a blog-therapist I think. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 20, 2002 at 12:08 AM

picking up speed

Picking up speed on other things (apart from my research) after I finished the new book last week. Of course, 'finished' here is a difficult term to apply: I've been revising it since then. It's hard to do, but I have to do it now when most of the book is fresh in my mind and details can be checked... it's mostly a problem of getting the 'little things' right... back-references in the story of who said what when, and such.

Funny thing: these past days as I was writing I kept wanting to insert hyperlinks referencing back as I've been doing in Plan B... it happenned a few times, I'd be selecting the text to set as link and then I'd realize that this would end up as paper... but that will certainly be possible one day... maybe even common.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 20, 2002 at 12:03 AM

adaptation

A cool new movie by the makers of Being John Malkovich. I can't wait!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 6, 2002 at 9:22 PM

The day kissinger cried

Another excellent Salon article this one on the inimitable Dr Strang... I mean, Henry Kissinger.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 5, 2002 at 11:52 PM

falling arches

A Salon article on the woes of McDonald's.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 5, 2002 at 4:38 PM

The decline and fall of the american empire

An article from Salon:

An expert on geopolitics says forget Islamic terrorism -- the real future threat to America's supremacy will come from Europe.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 2, 2002 at 9:48 PM

15th annual World AIDS Day

40 million people infected today with HIV, and 60 million more in the next ten years if we can't stop it. Bill Clinton has an excellent op-ed in today's New York Times on it.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on December 1, 2002 at 6:57 PM

a continent of orphans

[From The Economist] AIDS in Africa:

Just as the bubonic plague upturned the social order in medieval Europe, AIDS will reshape Africa. But how?
[...] Among the many ways that AIDS is destabilising the continent, perhaps the most worrying is the exploding population of orphans. Those who die of AIDS often leave children behind, most of whom are not infected. Counting all those under 15 years who have lost at least one parent, Africa already had 34m orphans last year. By the end of the decade, that is predicted to rise to 42m, half because of AIDS.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 28, 2002 at 11:50 PM

why the war plans are public

Scott Rosenberg speculates on why the US's administration war plans for Iraq are being distributed through the media as if it was something 'normal'. Right on the mark.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 28, 2002 at 2:24 AM

the US and Canada

A Salon article:

A top Canadian official calls Bush a "moron" -- and her countrymen cheer. Why the US's northern neighbors think the president is a chimp?

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 26, 2002 at 5:50 PM

war and the meaning of life

A Salon review on the book "What is a force that gives us meaning." A good analysis. For some time, the main organizing principle of society (implicit or explicit) was war. We thought we had gone beyond that, but it's clearly not the case. Humanity has advanced mainly because of war rather than peace, in fact every single technological advance in the past 50 years can be traced back to a wartime invention or development. We seem to be ready to continue along this path for some time...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 26, 2002 at 8:07 AM

massify!

Maureen Dowd comments on this op-ed piece in the New York Times on the massification of Eminem's "rebel attitude"--which of course spells out the end of its rebellion. It's hard to be a rebel when everyone thinks that what you are doing is so cool that you become mainstream.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 24, 2002 at 3:22 PM

eco-marketing

A Salon article:

Two adventurers leave their jobs and embark upon a global journey of eco-discovery.

...And they don't seem to have any problems of getting money from Sony while doing it. A fine example of doublethink.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 23, 2002 at 8:08 PM

weblogs and stories

Matthew has found a fictional blog and is wondering if anyone would try creating an entire fictional world through a weblog. Plan B is similar to what he describes (but not quite the same). I have often thought of going in the 'pure blog' direction with Plan B. Maybe I'll do it once the novel proper is 'finished'...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 22, 2002 at 4:23 PM

Cobain's Journals

I just got Kurt Cobain's Journals. Having read Charles Cross's Heavier than Heaven twice my head was full of quotes from the Journals, to which Cross had access during the preparation of his book. Good reading for a rainy day. (Granted, nothing uncommon here in Dublin :-)).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 15, 2002 at 4:07 PM

songful

I got the new U2 CD The Best of 1990-2000 Special Edition on Monday (the release day!) and it's excellent. The new mixes of several of the songs from POP are excellent, specially Gone. There's also a new song in it, previously unreleased from the soundtrack of the upcoming Gangs of New York, The Hands that Built America:

Oh, my love,
it's a long way we've come
From the freckled hills
to the steel and glass canyons
From the stony fields
to hanging steel from sky
From digging in our pockets
for a reason
not to say goodbye

These are the hands
that built America

Last saw your face
in a watercolor sky
As sea birds argue,
a long goodbye
I took your kiss
on the spray of the new land star
You gotta live with your dreams,
don't make them so hard

And these are the hands that built America
America

Of all the promises,
is this one we could keep
Of all of the dreams,
is this one still out of reach

Halle, holy

It's early fall,
there's a cloud on the New York skyline
Innocence dragged
across a yellow line

These are the hands that built America
These are the hands that built America
America

As someone who has left his native country, right now this song feels really close to me. After a few 'emigrations', after years of jumping from country to country and city to city... suddenly you stop belonging anywhere. And the song captures that too, in a way: the reminiscence of old places, the promise of the new, the ache, the future...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 7, 2002 at 10:48 PM

strange, strange...

California Doctor's Suicide Leaves Many Troubling Mysteries Unsolved:

"[...] Police and federal investigators began to unearth evidence that Larry Ford had another life — that he was not just a brilliant, if somewhat geeky, gynecologist who hoped to develop a device to protect women from AIDS.

Buried next to his swimming pool they found canisters containing machine guns and C-4 plastic explosives. In refrigerators at his home and office, next to the salad dressing and employee lunches, were 266 bottles and vials of pathogens — among them salmonella, cholera, botulism and typhoid. The deadly poison ricin was stored, with a blowgun and darts, in a plastic bag in the family room. A compartment under the floorboards held medical files on 83 women."

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 3, 2002 at 1:56 PM

the new nirvana album

Just got the new Nirvana album, a compilation of some of their best songs (a few newly remixed, such as the excellent Pennyroyal Tea)and the new track You know you're right, the last song recorded by Kurt Cobain. Excellent.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on November 1, 2002 at 8:39 PM

prisoners ... of war?

From the New York Times: Afghans Freed From Guantánamo Bay Speak of Heat and Isolation

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 29, 2002 at 10:23 PM

back to writing

Plan B is back after a mini-hiatus of about a week. Hopefully now working on spaces and the Thesis won't interfere again... it's always a question of adapting to how the change of work-requirements on one daily task affects the others, and sorting it out. Problem is, it takes a while...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 27, 2002 at 2:30 PM

the new season of '24'

A New York Times article on '24': the challenges and implications of using the real-time storytelling format.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 27, 2002 at 10:35 AM

more on plan b

Two comments: by the nextelblogger, birth of the blognovel and at sigsegv.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 27, 2002 at 2:39 AM

plan b

Plan B has crossed the 30,000 hits "line". Cool.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 25, 2002 at 8:30 AM

no comment linked

The following article on weblogs for Telepolis links to //no comment under the International Weblogs section (on the right). Gracias!.

Related to that, weblogs haven't made a huge dent in Latin America, although they are making waves in Spain. In the case of Latin America, people have more immediate worries: poverty, unemployment, and such. It's a difficult and unstable time for the subcontinent, and cool technologies are not, shall we say, top priority (even though the improved communication they bring might help solve some of the problems).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 24, 2002 at 8:16 PM

unsafe at any speed

A Salon interview with the author of a book on SUVs and the problems they have, and their rise in popularity in the US. Highlight:

There's another advantage for the full-size SUVs. If you get a vehicle that weighs more than 6,000 pounds when fully loaded, then it is subject to more lenient environmental rules and it can be written off against your taxes. It's a big loophole in the American tax code. If you're a realtor and you buy a luxury car, you can only write off the first $17,500 of its value against your taxes and only over five years. That's a pretty limited deduction if you're buying a $50,000 car. If you buy a $50,000 or $75,000 luxury SUV that's over 6,000 gross vehicle weight, you write off the whole thing. It's a rule written for farmers to write off farm equipment, but any light truck qualifies and all these SUVs do. It's an example of how the federal government, with lots of lobbying from the auto industry, has tilted the playing field against cars and in favor of less safe, less efficient, more polluting vehicles like the SUV.
Jeez...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 24, 2002 at 5:56 PM

Cobain's journals

A review of the recently published excerpts of Kurt Cobain's Journals, which will be put in print later this year.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 23, 2002 at 11:15 PM

why, why oh why?

Publisher to commission 'Godfather' sequel.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 22, 2002 at 9:00 PM

cold cold cold

The winter hasn't even really started but the cold these past few days has been a bit extreme. The rain doesn't help much. In any case, I've been working a lot, so the climate helps. With storms racing over the island every now and then it makes for great skylines though. Every cloud does have a silver lining.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 22, 2002 at 8:59 PM

A.I.

Yesterday I watched Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence again, and I looked at it a bit closer. I noticed several interesting things, but the most striking of all was to see how good Haley Joel Osment's acting is. It's spooky. For example, throughout the entire film, he doesn't blink once. This attention to detail is of course the responsibility of the director and producers as well as of the actor. I'm pretty sure I found a slip-up however: at the end, the narrator says: "And so as the light outside dimmed David drew down the shades without even being asked." Yet one of the final images is the house, seen from outside, and the shades are not down at all.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 22, 2002 at 3:42 PM

challenging the growth gurus

An article about Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-prize winning "arch-enemy" of the IMF.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 21, 2002 at 5:54 PM

ireland says yes to EU expansion

The results are in: 'Yes' won in yesterday's referendum here in Ireland.

Not that this will solve the governance issues of the EU, which are many likely to get more complicated with more countires in the mix. Well, at least the Yes/No campaigns here will stop with their vitriol.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 20, 2002 at 7:11 PM

a lover of literary puzzles

An article on Umberto Eco on today's New York Times.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 19, 2002 at 8:37 PM

electrical storm single

Just got the new U2 singles Electrical Storm. One of them is a DVD, with the video of the song, the others are standard CDs. Funny thing, they are supposed to be released on the 21st but HMV had them today!! One of the advantages of living in Dublin I guess. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 18, 2002 at 6:47 PM

the rules of attraction

Bret Easton Ellis' The Rules of Attraction has been made into a movie by the writer of Pulp Fiction and Killing Zoe.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 17, 2002 at 10:54 PM

blogs in class

Just saw that Plan B is being referenced as a "resource" for an assignment in the "Core Seminar in Knowledge Media Design" at the University of Toronto's Knowledge Media Design Institute. Cool.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 16, 2002 at 8:02 PM

"elections" in iraq

From CNN:BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Saddam Hussein won another seven-year term as Iraq's president in a referendum in which he was the sole candidate, taking 100 percent of the vote, the Iraqi leader's right-hand man announced Wednesday.

All 11,445,638 of the eligible voters cast ballots, said Izzat Ibrahim, vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council that is Iraq's key decision-making body.

"This is a unique manifestation of democracy which is superior to all other forms of democracies[...]"
100%... they had millions of voters with paper ballots... it must be the most efficient vote counting system in the entire world... although that wouldn't be surprising, given that it's the only dictatorship I know of that calls itself a democracy.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 16, 2002 at 1:50 PM

going to war over an asteroid

It could happen...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 14, 2002 at 11:40 PM

Atlantis or Anomaly?

From the Washington Post:

Images of Massive Stones 2,000 Feet Below Surface Fuel Scientific Speculation.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 14, 2002 at 5:31 PM

texas on the tigris

A good summary of the contradictions that are now raging through the US's political system.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 13, 2002 at 9:27 PM

salon stops bad reporting

An interesting story has been developing for a while, Salon had to withdraw an article they had published (written by a freelance reporter and published by Salon). It seemed a relatively simple problem. It's not, it seems the most explosive claims in the article where simply a full-out fabrication by this guy. Here is Salon's story of what really happened.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 12, 2002 at 9:05 PM

another movie

A review of 'The man from the elysian fields.' Sounds interesting. Too bad US releases are usually happen earlier (sometimes much earlier) than the releases in the rest of the world.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 12, 2002 at 7:59 PM

this morning

trees-small.JPG

Phoenix Park, Dublin. Here is a larger image (200 Kb).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 12, 2002 at 11:59 AM

a new movie from the director of "Magnolia"

The Salon review of a new movie by Paul Thomas Anderson. Seems good. After what he did in Magnolia and Boogie Nights I wouldn't have expected less.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 11, 2002 at 9:02 PM

worldwide literary network

Cool: A "virtual" network of literary artists... created by a single man. First thought that comes to my mind: The context of art, rather than art itself, can be as important as the art itself, enriching it. Good art, however, should stand on its own.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 11, 2002 at 7:52 PM

a platform for closed minds

An attack on artistic freedom through lawsuit and media persecution: Prize-winning French novelist Michel Houellebecq is being sued by four Islamic organisations while being disparaged in the media and in public for the behavior of a character in his latest novel and some personal remarks made during an interview.

Salman Rushdie comments on the matter with his excellent Guardian op-ed A platform for closed minds.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 11, 2002 at 8:02 AM

note on a book

Karlin Lillington comments on a book and mentions that by 1910 the Catholic church would have excommunicated any Catholics that graduated there. Interesting.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 10, 2002 at 8:51 PM

when magazines were literature

A great article on Salon by Charles Taylor, about the time when magazines where for more than eyeballing.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 9, 2002 at 8:03 PM

the weak link...

....or one of the many at least. I thought this would get solved quickly, because of its implications, but it hasn't. A dispute of union workers at west coast ports is causing tons of damage to the US enonomy, not to mention the other economies, particularly in Asia, that are having problems over this. Some of these dock workers make more than 100,000 dollars a year in base salary, so I thought they were already a bit greedy. No one seems to care about how this affects poor nations. Goes to show how fragile "globalization" is.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 8, 2002 at 9:26 PM

saddam's puzzle

A New York Times Op-Ed on Saddam Hussein's contradictions and manias.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 8, 2002 at 2:11 PM

the shield

Just watched the first episode of The Shield.

Wow.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 7, 2002 at 10:50 PM

greed and materialism in the 90s

A big part of the background of American Psycho (previous entry here) is the rise of Wall Street as the definitive center of power in the world economy and the appearance of all sort of financial manipulations--the creation of money out of thin air, so to speak, but hedge funds, mergers, acquisitions and so on. It was the time of the "Masters of the Universe" depicted on the excellent Wall Street by Oliver Stone.

Now, the late 90s were, on the surface, different. "The world was going to be changed" according to what most people felt or said, and therefore the speculation, the instant millionaires and the resulting crap was somehow justified. In the new world order, everyone could, and would, be a millionaire.

Or so the excuse went.

I realize now that it was an excuse because what was being done, for the most part, was a replica (amplified) of what went on in the late 80s. In the 80s, however, there was no pretense, it was just the race for money at any cost and with no need for reasons. Money for money, Greed driving it all as the "greed speech" of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street explained: "Greed is good."

By the 90s we had "learned" to hide the greed behind a slick veneer of world-changing proclamations, and we convinced ourselves that money was a by-product, and no one talked about greed. Yet Greed it was, and nothing can prove it better than the current world-wide financial crisis (which is hanging in the balance right now, and anything --say, a war?-- might tip the balance over and make things a lot worse).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 6, 2002 at 7:16 PM

american psycho

Ten years ago I read Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho when it just came out. At the time, I could only marginally understand the harsh criticism to the 1980s and american consumerism, partly because I was a teenager with science fiction and fantasy on my mind, partly because I really didn't know a lot of the things the book talked about. As far as I was concerned, a lot of what was said there was fiction. Regarding the violence in it, I remember at times getting so disgusted that I just skipped entire pages.

About 4 weeks ago I wandered into a bookstore and found it, somehow buying it without thinking. Now I could read it as it was meant to, with full knowledge of the society (and particularly, a certain strata of society) the book was talking about, and I just finished reading it.

And what a read. The gems are many, from the obsession with designer clothing to the fact that everyone looks so much like everyone else that they spend most of the time confused, talking to people thinking they are someone they are not, waving to acquaintances that are total strangers. The chasing of reservations at cool restaurants, the 90-dollar pizzas, the constant working out to appear perfect since appearance is everything.

The violence (and the sex) are possibly the most explicit that have been included in a serious book (even Fight Club published a few years later, pales in comparison). At times it is sickening. However, because of the banality of the context and the people that surround the narrator, the lack of real humanity, the trap that he is in, it is probably necessary to go to such extremes: anything less and it would be put in the "thriller" or whatever.

Maybe it will be another ten years until I read it again. It would be interesting to see what my view is then.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 6, 2002 at 3:23 PM

going to extremes

Two editorials (one from the New York Times, the other from the Washington Post) today about the recent attacks on Islam by the Christian far right in the US.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 6, 2002 at 9:42 AM

bureaucracies

If you believe conspiracy theorists, there is "something" behind the failure of the US Government to study the survivors of the Anthrax attacks. My opinion is that it's simply bureaucratic stupidity. Dangerous bureaucratic stupidity, true. But is there any other kind? I suddenly have an urge to watch Brazil again...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 5, 2002 at 11:54 PM

tigerland

Just watched Joel Schumacher's Tigerland again. What a movie. Shot like a documentary, with a lot of use of handheld cameras (and apparently sometimes digital cameras as well--or maybe it's all shot digitally?) with excellent photography, and a great story. Hopefully Schumacher will do more films like this (or even the not-too-bad A Time to Kill or Flawless).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 4, 2002 at 9:09 PM

clinton's speech to the Labour conference

This Salon article has the transcript for the entire speech Clinton gave to the Labour conference in the UK. Very, very good speech. Here is reaction from The Guardian and The Mirror (linked from the article as well).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 4, 2002 at 3:43 PM

double check before pressing ENTER

A slip of the finger... and there go four billion dollars.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 3, 2002 at 5:11 PM

brazil's elections

Brazil will hold presidential elections on October 6. This article from The Economist talks about what is expected and what might happen given different outcomes. Given Brazil's weight in Latin America, elections there are quite important for the whole subcontinent, and could have a direct effect on Argentina's situation.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 3, 2002 at 3:26 PM

emerging (?) markets

A good article on the problems emerging markets face. Having been in Argentina only a few days ago, and having seen the latest iteration of the destruction that is happening in the country, it seems to me that the international community isn't really owning up to its part of the problem.

The World Bank and the IMF are interested in getting their money back first, and then they might consider worrying about the effects they are having on the population (but it's not entirely their fault of course, there are many other factors, such as local history, corruption, etc). In particular, Argentina should have a deal in place before November 5, because if it doesn't, and it is forced to make some payments owned to the IMF and the World Bank at that point, it would have to deplete its hard currency reserves completely to do so.

Conversely, if it doesn't pay, then the World Bank would be "bankrupt" (!) since it would have to mark the whole of Argentina's debt unpayable, which would make its credit rating fall creating a domino effect on the rest of its debt. A bad outcome either way.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 2, 2002 at 7:51 PM

canada and immigration

An article on the latest attempt of the Canadian government to spur immigration.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 2, 2002 at 3:48 PM

plan b -- part 2

Now that I'm back from traveling I've begun writing Plan B -- a blognovel again. Scott Rosenberg notes the appearance of the newest episode here.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 2, 2002 at 10:51 AM

Rhizome.org

Today I found this New Media/Arts community site: rhizone.org. Still have to explore it more, but it looks interesting.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 1, 2002 at 7:55 PM

secular humanism

From an excellent Salon article on Salman Rushdie (with a related Interview):

Rushdie the cosmopolitan is a defender of an idea even less fashionable, at the moment, than moral relativism -- secular humanism. It's a cause some of our best thinkers, such as Hitchens and Martin Amis, are increasingly taking up. Though hardly politically expedient, the fight against religion's tyranny makes intellectual and emotional sense right now. It could even replace the struggle against first-world imperialism as the organizing principle of radical thought, encompassing as it does the fight against the lunatics of al-Qaida, the butchers in Gujarat, the hard-line settlers in the West Bank, the rapists in the Catholic Church, the bombers of abortion clinics and, of course, our own attorney general.

Amis said it best in a June essay for the Guardian: "Since it is no longer permissible to disparage any single faith or creed, let us start disparaging all of them. To be clear: an ideology is a belief system with an inadequate basis in reality; a religion is a belief system with no basis in reality whatever. Religious belief is without reason and without dignity, and its record is near-universally dreadful." Rushdie echoes this sentiment -- as he writes in an enraged reaction to the killings in Gujarat, "[I]n India, as elsewhere in our darkening world, religion is the poison in the blood ... What happened in India, happened in God's name. The problem's name is God."

But elsewhere Rushdie goes beyond mere denunciation, turning atheism into a celebration rather than a rejection. In a delightful 1997 letter to the newly born 6 billionth person in the world, he encourages us to join Voltaire's battle, "the revolution in which each of us could play our small, six-billionth part: once and for all we could refuse to allow priests, and the fictions on whose behalf they claim to speak, to be the policemen of our liberties and behavior." He ends hopefully, "Imagine there's no heaven, my dear Six Billionth, and at once the sky's the limit."

Right on!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 1, 2002 at 1:51 PM

last DM single

I've just discovered that Depeche Mode released a new single this past February.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 30, 2002 at 3:05 PM

poverty in the US

A New York Times article from a few days ago on the increase in poverty in the US. One million new poor, and a wider gap between rich and poor. Not unexpected in a recession, but still something that makes you think. If Capitalism doesn't work in the US, its highest exponent, where then? Capitalism works for some things though, and anyway we don't have a better alternative yet. We have to keep looking.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 30, 2002 at 1:13 AM

the Press in China

An article on the battle of China's government to keep their press under control. Interesting read.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 29, 2002 at 8:26 PM

the last nirvana song

The last song Nirvana composed will finally be released. About time!

On the topic, Charles Cross's Biography of Kurt Cobain, Heavier Than Heaven is excellent. I want to read it again soon.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 29, 2002 at 12:52 AM

high-altitude rambos

Having been on several plane flights this past month, this article caught my attention. I traveled within Europe and to Latin America and I didn't notice any of the paranioa the article mentions (or that mentioned by other related articles recently in the US press). Although of course the issue of security featured more prominently (specially in the excuses for delays given by the airline) it was fairly relaxed in that sense, which is good: the overreaction in the US to Sept. 11 has been ridiculous adding security where it's not needed and prohibiting all sorts of things on planes.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 28, 2002 at 6:41 PM

art and life


Transgenic art:
Rabbits, fish, plants and mice that glow in the dark – not because
they are virtual or digital but because they are genetically engineered
to do so. These synthetically luminescent life forms share
their environment with a biobot, a robot whose actions are controlled
by a colony of amoeba acting as its brain.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 20, 2002 at 7:46 PM

telemachus

A couple of days ago I finished reading the Telemachus episode of Ulysses (the 1922 Text, linked is one of the references that seems to be quite complete, but in a topic with as many experts as Ulysses and Joyce, I will have to compile a list of links as well as the 'offline material' I'm reading). Stylistically what I keep thinking about is the internal dialogue and how it's done. Wondering whether to use it and trying to define exactly the limits placed by "X thought..." and their comparison to internal dialogue.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 20, 2002 at 6:51 AM

the crying of lot 49

Just as Gravity's Rainbow is always in the background of my mind the Crying of Lot 49 is another book that keeps coming back, over and over. Structurally and conceptually simpler (a lot simpler) than GR, tCoL49 nevertheless displays many of GR's traits in a way that V didn't. V was more personal in terms of story and underlying symbology, tCoL49 has the scope in symbolism and narrative that GR displays, but for a single plotline, while GR is ... well... everything. Because it's simpler, tCoL49 is more approachable as well, maybe even more so than V, because of its size. I have to read V again soon, before re-reading GR.
On a related note, I found this article from 4 years ago about Pynchon's letters to his agent, their publication, and the resulting mess. Really interesting.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 18, 2002 at 9:39 PM

incredible

The Washington Post has some astonishing news: In an Iraqi War Scenario, Oil Is a Key Issue. Wow. I am shocked! Shocked I tell you!!!
Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 18, 2002 at 2:10 PM

the long arm of...


Weird: Right after 9/11 last year, Bin Laden's family members in the US where helped by a concerted effort from the Saudi Arabian and the US Government to leave the country.
Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 17, 2002 at 4:03 PM

information overload


This past week I've been reading more than writing. Part of it is the trip: visiting family and friends gives me little time to reflect much on geopolitics and whatever and makes me focus on the immediate. The other part however is that there has been a lot of opinion pieces and commentary on the press this past week. Here are some of them, with different viewpoints and ideas on what happened, what will happen, and how to make things happen:
I might be a news junkie and so predisposed to read op-ed after op-ed, but for most people it is almost impossible to read everything and make any meaningful assesment of all the sides and live a life outside them. 
All of these articles have common themes of course: September 11, one year on, and the coming US-Iraq conflict. This debate is good: that's how democracy is supposed to work. But.... but.... there is so much information and so many ideas and opinions... how can people keep up with them? It seems to me that the press and politicians and "policymakers" are talking to each other and they rely on polls to know what the people think. The people, meanwhile, are basically told what to think  by what they read and see on TV. Unbiased and unadulterated information is rare. Such a vicious cycle of "decision making" sounds seriously broken to me. Wrong, wrong. And this is just one topic.
The question is, how to change it?
Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 16, 2002 at 7:38 PM

Klein on the Earth Summit

Naomi Klein on the recently completed Earth Summit. Many good points.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 16, 2002 at 1:47 PM

strategy or fumble?

The confusing message of the white house in the past few months 'making the case' for war on Iraq. Was it the plan all along to create a perception of unilateralism so that then mild multilateralism would seem acceptable to the international community? A summary from Salon.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 15, 2002 at 3:57 PM

the lessons of 9/11

Dave is right. 9/11 was horrible. But everywhere in the world, 9/11 is being replayed all the time, everyday... without CNN watching.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 15, 2002 at 12:03 AM

killer houses

Incredible article: houses that are so badly built that they release toxins that kill or seriously injure their inhabitants through release of toxins into the internal atmosphere of the house.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 14, 2002 at 12:30 PM

purchasing grief

From Salon: the selling of 9/11. The article is good because it talks about something that the (US) media barely mentions, but seems to be a bit apologetic about the marketing of a tragedy, trying to explain that 'americans deal with tragedy by coopting it trough marketing.' It sounds like a bit of a stretch. I think that kind of 'co-opting' minimized reality and turns it into a product, with the consequence that nothing is more than something to be bought or sold, no matter how horrible or beautiful. The article mentions this, but I think it doesn't make it clear enough.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 12, 2002 at 2:49 PM

war PR management

Via Scott Rosenberg: a story on the NY Times about how the whole "we're looking at all the options" thing of the Bush administration has been managing the PR side of it rather than actually 'thinking' anything:

"From a marketing point of view," said Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff who is coordinating the effort, "you don't introduce new products in August."

The "product" here, mind you, is war. How can you have people talking about "selling" something like a war, and getting away with it?

And Scott's comment is right on target. If it's so urgent, how come they can wait until "the product" can be "introduced"? And wait around for the President to have a nice vacation?

Hearing Cheney speak two weeks ago something gave me the impression they might even launch an attack or at least try to escalate the conflict before the elections in November. Yes: October. Just a thought. But think about it: they might even ride the surge of "patriotism" post Sept. 11 anniversary. It would be on the one-year anniversary of the attack of Afghanistan. They would probably get a boost in the polls, could get them the House and maybe the Senate. And in their view, they would be doing it before the difficult part of the Winter comes. Hey, they might even be thinking they could even be back home for Christmas.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 9, 2002 at 12:17 AM

hate, american style

From the New York Times op-ed page, a somber look at hate organizations in the US.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 8, 2002 at 12:26 AM

'Survivor' -- Argentine Style

From CNN: What the current economic crisis has created in Argentina. Difficult to know how to react to this.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 7, 2002 at 10:22 PM

tv's fading influence?

Scott Rosenberg comments on a New York Times article about the slow fading of TV's influence in politics. But, I wonder, if TV stops being that useful, what will they do with the tens of millions of dollars the parties raise every year?

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on September 5, 2002 at 9:05 AM

travel

Getting ready for my trip tomorrow to Sardegna (Italy). The flight will be slitghtly nightmarish (three planes, four airports, just to do 1200 miles or so). Still, the fact that I don't have to worry about currencies, exchange rates, and then disposing of the miriad of coins that you inevitably end up with is refreshing.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 31, 2002 at 4:08 PM

how the world didn't change

After Sept. 11 the phrase on the tip of everyone's tongue was "The world will change." How did we succumb to such wishful thinking? This op-ed from the New York Times reminds us of all the things that were supposed to change, and haven't, and of all the things that have in fact taken a turn for the worse, like the reduction of civil liberties.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 31, 2002 at 3:35 PM

the politics of isolation

A Salon article on how the US administration is playing the isolationist game by ignoring international forums such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development (a.k.a. Earth Summit) this week. From the article:

"Not only have delegates repeatedly been quizzed on U.S. policy and its impact, but some of the most vocal criticisms have in fact been delivered in American accents. Furthermore, instead of asserting America's independence, its refusal to agree to any binding commitments here has suggested to many participants that it is suffering a bout of myopia."

One would wish it was only myopia and not arrogance or maybe even ignorance on the part of some US decision makers...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 31, 2002 at 12:59 AM

WTO slaps $4Bn tariffs on the US

From CNN-Money: WTO defines Tariffs in EU-US trade dispute. Expect another round of "outrage" in the US at the role of international organizations, simply because this time it's going against the US...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 30, 2002 at 6:21 PM

rushdie on anti-americanism

Salman Rushdie writes in an op-ed for the washington post today: Double Standards Make enemies. My point exactly.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 28, 2002 at 9:05 AM

water

Related to "monkeys, sticks and water", here is a Salon interview with the author of Water Wars. In my previous entry I referenced the New York Times article on Argentina's problems with "privatized" water, and here is the link to the full series of articles.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 28, 2002 at 8:56 AM

in Yoda we trust

In Australia, more than 70,000 people responded to last year's census stating their religion as "jedi". Hilarious.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 27, 2002 at 11:49 AM

argentina

An article that talks about a potential "secessionism" in Argentina. There is talk, true, but what the article doesn't examine is the wider political picture. The rest of the country would never let that separation happen, Patagonia has too many natural resources and no people. On the other hand, any move in this direction might be instigated by people who don't want Patagonia to separate, but who actually want the government to respond. Such a move would likely mean the rise of a dictatorship to quash the "rebellion"... and maybe even civil way.

And all of these thanks largely to importing the concept of a "market economy" without being able to grow into it, like the US (and in smaller measure, Europe) did, and without the power to control the corporations that come with it.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 27, 2002 at 6:44 AM

pakistan

Via Instapundit: Pakistan observations.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 26, 2002 at 8:48 PM

electrical storm

The new U2 Single was broadcast yesterday for the first time in BBC1. Here's U2Log's entry about it, including links for downloading.

"Dreaming it all over again".

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 26, 2002 at 7:58 PM

monkeys, sticks and water

Poor countries are usually called "developing countries" in the West. They have been "developing" for quite a while apparently. What they don't say is developing into what. Mass graves?

It's all about money. The money that most people don't have.

Half the planet's population lives on less than $2 a day.

About one fifth of the population lives on less than $1 a day.

In Kubrick's 2001 the monkeys with the sticks controlled the water supply. The ones that didn't have weapons would eventually starve and die. It's a parable of man, but I wonder if Kubrick would had been surprised at how close to reality it would be, two years after Discovery was supposed be orbiting Jupiter.

About half the population of the planet doesn't have access to running water.

One fifth of the population doesn't have access to clean water.

It's not a coincidence these people are the same that live on $2 and $1 a day, respectively.

If you average the consumption of US citizens and compare it to an average of the rest of the world, americans consume 10 times more water, coal, oil, or electricity than the rest. The next year, the US will spend close to 400 billion dollars "defense," more than a billion a day. Half of the military spending in the world.

Just monkeys, sticks, and water.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 26, 2002 at 7:31 PM

A weblog for the Earth Summit

A weblog on the Earth Summit starting today.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 26, 2002 at 4:51 PM

the row over ICC

More US pressure on Europe to get exemptions from the International Criminal Court. "We can judge others, but no one will judge us." Similar to this.

I wonder, is this what they mean when they talk about "asymmetric conflict"?

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 26, 2002 at 7:36 AM

the fall of enron

A Washington Post series on one of the greatest business falls in history.


Part 1: Coming Storms


Part 2: Warnings


Part 3: Cutting Losses


Part 4: Crisis


Part 5: Catastrophe


About the Post Series

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 24, 2002 at 6:51 PM

the earth summit

The Earth Summit gets under way on Monday, August 26th in Johannesburg. This article from The Economist has some interesting comments on it, for example:

"Environmental groups have already been heavily critical of the summit’s size, noting that the numbers going to Johannesburg will ensure it has a damaging impact on a region already facing huge environmental problems."

or
"[...] even with caviar and champagne off the menu, the contrast between the well-fed delegates and the millions of people in southern Africa now starving, as their region is caught once more in the grip of a famine, will be striking."

I don't doubt that the people behind the Summit have good intentions at heart, but Maybe it's time to rethink how we achieve consensus on things like the environment, where local policies alone aren't enough. Not that I have good answers... but at least we should be asking these kinds of questions more often.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 24, 2002 at 6:12 PM

the destruction of the amazon

There's been some progress in reducing the rate of destruction of the Amazon, but economic forces could easily reverse it, as this article in today's New York Times clearly shows.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 23, 2002 at 10:00 AM

the west wing

what is it exactly about The West Wing that makes it so good, I wonder? Almost every episode I've seen so far (maybe 10? 15? mostly from the second season) is excellent. Great writing and acting. Great photography.

It doesn't compare to the intensity of 24 true, but it's just as good.

I guess TV is good for some things.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 22, 2002 at 11:56 PM

bizarre

It turns out the NRO had scheduled an excercise last year in which an airplane crashed into a building after a mechanical problem, to test their response to the emergency.

The date? Sept. 11, 2001.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 22, 2002 at 8:15 AM

"quick! grab him!"

The FBI is looking for a Saudi apparently connected to the Sept. 11 Hijackers. And only a year or so after! But that's okay, this guy probably spent a whole year doing nothing and waiting for them to catch up...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 21, 2002 at 4:46 PM

a simple question

A thought: scientists are trying to extend life (e.g., telomerase research) and create better quality of life (e.g., cancer research). They are trying to push the lifespan of humans to more than a hundred years.

Personally, eternal life (a very distant but not ridiculous possibility) and very long life (a not so distant possibility) seem to me to be slightly undesirable even. I mean, can you imagine living forever? Pain multiplied by infinity? And even if we find a way to live with our demons, where, exactly, are humans going to live if nobody is actively trying to maintain a reasonable environment? H.G. Wells might have gotten it right with the Morlocks...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 21, 2002 at 12:23 AM

the economics of ecology

A Salon article on the area of "ecological economics" which tries to measure ecological impact in purely economic terms (and therefore tries to make more obvious what impact environmental changes have in the economy). I have my doubts about some of the analysis they mention (I am skeptical of anything that puts a certain value in, for example, "weather patterns") but as a counterpoint to the idiotic view that "it can't be measured at all, and therefore it doesn't matter" it's certainly interesting.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 21, 2002 at 12:19 AM

it's not just the weather

This article from the Economist lists some reasons that contributed to the harm created by the recent floods in Central Europe, including lack of maintenance of flood defenses that were in place, simply because floods hadn't appeared in a while. Global warming might be proved to play a part in this, but local factors are certainly at work here as well.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 20, 2002 at 3:46 PM

humans and the environment

Two examples of how we affect our environment; regardless of whether we are trying to fix a problem (e.g., anti-whaling laws that can end up letting a species become too dominant) or simply behaving like the stupid primates we are, and then destabilizing local ecologies that can end up creating what could turn into global epidemics.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 20, 2002 at 3:33 PM

Risk and reward: the state of music

Would the rise of a band like U2 be possible today? Industry experts at a world music conference reply unanimously: no.

So sad. To think that most of the new music that should rise in the future will be robbed of its place in the spotlight by a bunch of well-groomed idiots chosen simply because they fit some market-based profile.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 20, 2002 at 12:21 PM

fear of criticism

From Salon: Too hot to handle. How the media has failed to ask the right questions about the problems the NY Fire Department had on Sept. 11, and why problems that had already surfaced in the 1993 bombing hadn't been fixed by last year, possibly ending up costing dozens if not hundreds of lives.

This is part of the more general problem in the US post-Sept. 11 where people are wary of criticizing the government, as if criticism would be equated with supporting terrorism (a line that the Bush administration has been happy to use time and again to stop honest questioning). Why is it so hard to some people to see that precisely it's things like these that make democracy good?

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 20, 2002 at 11:33 AM

latin american backlash against "free markets"

The Economist has an article this week about the perceived backlash in Latin America about free markets. As they say, its it's not that simple. But there is a lot of suspicion for IMF-led policies that have obviously not worked in the past and that many times are geared more to helping banks (US-owned mostly) and target abstract "macroecnomic" goals rather than trying to make better the lives of the people. That's the real problem. Purely macroeconomic approachs just don't work. Time for new ideas.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 19, 2002 at 11:19 PM

refugees, terrorism and the US

An article on the situation of refugees and how the new "security measures" put in place after Sept. 11 have impacted on their lives (basically making them much worse, and slowing down the rate at which the US accepts refugees).

Funny. One would think that the US should be actually increasing its speed to make refugees feel better, and so avoid turning them to desperation and terrorism. But I guess that's just me.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 18, 2002 at 10:01 PM

Iraq and Russia close to signing agreement

CNN reports Iraq and Russia are close to signing an economic cooperation agreement worth $40 billion through 5 years. If they sign it, one has to wonder what will Russia do then if the US eventually attacks Iraq. Would they just stand by the wayside and see $20 billion go down the tubes? Don't bet on it.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 17, 2002 at 7:32 PM

health care for the poor

A survey that analyzes what changes would be possible in health care in poor countries with only a bit of money, and how to give good use to the limited resources they have (by targeting specific disease groups that are more prevalent, or adapting treatments geographically)

In Tanzania, for example annual health spending is about $10 a head (five years ago it was $8). Shows what a really small world-wide redistribution of wealth would really do.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 16, 2002 at 8:22 AM

9/11 families sue for $1 trillion

It's finally happened...

There is something about this that gives me a deep sense of unease. Why look for money? Will $1 or $1 trillion give people anything back of what was lost? Yes, the standard line is "we want to bankrupt the terrorists." But given that the only thing they might bankrupt (if they win) is a few banks, who are they kidding? Is feels like a morbid extension of the US's obsession with lawsuits...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 15, 2002 at 11:48 PM

floods in central europe

More on the floods that are making their way south through Central Europe. Prague water level is now falling, but Dresden might suffer the worst tomorrow. (Previous entry on this here).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 15, 2002 at 9:13 PM

u2log

I just found u2log.com a "u2 weblog". It should get interesting with the impending release of the new album (rumors put the radio release of the single at 15 september, and then release of single in October with the CD following a few weeks later). The first two songs are said to be called Electric Storm and The hands that built America.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 14, 2002 at 9:19 AM

Prague under water

Prague is in danger of being buried by floods. Global warming or natural cyclical behavior? Maybe a bit of both.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 13, 2002 at 2:23 PM

the madness of war

We'd all heard about the man in the Highlands who was "building his own gook," parts were the least of his troubles. In Chu Lai some marines pointed a man out to me and sweore to God they'd seen him bayonet a wounded NVA and then lick the bayonet clean. There was a famous story, some reporters asked a door gunner, "How can you shoot women and children?" and he'd answered, "It's easy, you just don't lead them so much." Well, they said you needed a sense of humor, there you go, even the VC had one. Once after an ambush that killed a lot of Americans, they covered the field with copies of a photograph that showed one more young dead American, with the punch line mimeographed on the back, "Your X-rays have just come back from the lab and we think we know what your problem is."

on the Vietnam War, from Dispatches by Michael Herr.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 12, 2002 at 8:43 PM

plan b

The Plan B experiment continues, and I am compiling a list of things that seem to constrain the narrative. It's been interesting so far... A few minutes ago it passed 20,000 hits total in the Salon Rankings page(accumulated in a little more than two weeks), with the Slashdot effect accounting for about 60% of that, in only two days. Many good ideas came out of the slashdot discussion.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 12, 2002 at 6:38 PM

portable pollution

The UN Environment Programme released a study of a cloud of gases hundreds of square miles in surface and two miles thick, which could travel around the world in a week, doing everything from affecting temperatures and crops to creating acid rain. Just send your request and they'll send some pollution your way...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 12, 2002 at 11:24 AM

the cost of IMF policies

How IMF aid affects brazil's future, from today's New York Times. Nothing new here, this has been going on for years but only now (post-bubble) it has been clearly identified as a problem: IMF policies and large dependence on external investment, in developing countries, mean high instability and loss of control over their economies.

Time to start rolling back a bit?

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 11, 2002 at 2:58 PM

more on the US and the middle east

Related to my previous posting, interesting articles from Time Magazine here) and The Economist (here) on various aspects of the possible invasion of Iraq and US views on the Middle East, and from the Washington Post (here) on the "saudis as the enemy" view.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 10, 2002 at 2:11 PM

why not gore

"We love you, you're perfect, goodbye" an op-ed in today's New York Times argues for Gore not running in 2004. Aside from the good arguments and summary, a phrase caught my attention:

When was the last time that, two years before the election, the assortment of candidates didn't make your heart sink a little? You want Martin Sheen, but he's not the president, he just plays one on TV. Let Mr. Gore stand down, and one of the others will rise to the occasion.

Somebody should try running the Bartlett campaign for real, using the fictional characters and everything. They could then record it (think The Osbournes) and broadcast it as a series. At the very least, the actors in The West Wing appear way more professional at their jobs than most government officials these days.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 10, 2002 at 10:42 AM

with surgeons like these...

A Boston surgeon walks out of surgery to go to the bank. Back in a Jiffy! he said. He was operating again in only 35 minutes. Not bad. He could be a marathonist too, while he's at it.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 9, 2002 at 8:04 PM

america's prisons

From an article in The Economist this week:

"Some 600,000 inmates will leave prison this year—more than the population of Washington, DC. After quadrupling its imprisonment rate in just 30 years—America now has 700 people in every 100,000 under lock and key, five times the proportion in Britain, the toughest sentencer in Western Europe—the world's most aggressive jailer must now confront the iron law of imprisonment: that those who go in almost always come out.
The result is a society that, statistically at least, is beginning to look a little like early Australia. Nearly one in eight American men has been convicted of a felony—and thus, in many states, has been automatically deprived of numerous rights, including the right to vote. One in 20 men has been to jail. The average is much higher among some groups (one black man in five has been to prison, one in three has been convicted of a felony)."

Related to this one, another article focuses on "life after prison" or lack thereof.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 9, 2002 at 4:32 PM

nation building lite

I just found this report on Afghanistan's current situation, published in the New York Times Magazine. Shows why "nation building" is an oxymoron. Nations are not "built," they grow by themselves or not at all.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 9, 2002 at 12:45 PM

work hours in Europe and the US

The Wall Street Journal today compares the environment for employees in Europe and the US (e.g., number of maximum work hours per week, vacation time, sick time, etc) and arrives at the conclusion that Europe grows less than the US simply because people are working less, because of the new laws.

I don't think this is the whole story, but I agree that this is certainly an issue. All things being equal for a particular company or industry, whoever can produce more with a similar number of employees is going to win.

However, one could say that the people in Europe will have better quality of life, because they are more relaxed. But then, if that more relaxed quality of life results in higher unemployment, lower economic growth and eventually lower quality of life, what's the right answer?

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 8, 2002 at 10:04 AM

appeasing warbloggers

Dave Winer explains a bit more about earlier comments on the war on Iraq, and why some people have gotten confused about what he was actually saying.

This is one of the things I like about weblogs: they allow you to have a truly civilized conversation. No flaming. And even if there is flame, people will eventually have to click on the site that originated it, and the flame will be gone, in the previous webpage. Gone long enough for the readers to form an opinion without having to deal with the fire raging around them.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 8, 2002 at 1:41 AM

friends and allies

from a speech by Bush today:

"Before any action is taken, Mr. Bush said, "I will promise you that I will be patient and deliberate, that we will continue to consult with Congress and, of course, we'll consult with our friends and allies."

In this particular case, who exactly is a friend and not and ally? Maybe he's saying "friends and allies". So every friend is also and ally and every ally is a friend. So is Saudi Arabia a friend? Pakistan? Anybody that pledges "friendship"?

Wouldn't it be nice if speechwriters would stop beating language to death in the hopes of sounding grandiose and intimidating?

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 7, 2002 at 11:29 PM

the US and iraq

Scott Rosenberg referenced a discussion that has been recently going on regarding the reasons for the interest of the US in creating "regime change" in Iraq. They are discussing mainly whether the reason for an invasion is simply to humiliate Islamism.

I think it has nothing to do with Islamism, or humilliation, or anything like that. There are four main reasons why the US cares about Iraq:

  • Oil.
  • Oil.
  • Oil.
  • Security (which concerns middle east stability which in turn, coincidentally, then affects Oil) rather

Yes, this statement is rather simplistic, but the question is what is the main reason. You don't go to war over an idea. You go to war over territory, or money, or goods, or oppression, or all of the above. Iraq controls one of the biggest Oil reservoirs in the world after Saudi Arabia. Now, if the US had a friendly (i.e., puppet) government in Iraq, they could ignore Saudi Arabia and maybe even stop treating them with kid's gloves, something they are forced to do now.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 7, 2002 at 3:30 PM

health forecasting

This article discusses an upcoming implementation of a "health forecast" system. The idea would be to forecast the incidence of certain ilness after for example temperature drops or raises dramatically. Since I am always affected when that happens (specially when the temperature drops quickly at night and I have the windows open) I know that this is a real problem.

What we really need however, is some device to tell us what to do to avoid getting a cold for example based on the evolution of the climate and our own propensities. I'll have to keep waiting for that one, though.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 7, 2002 at 1:43 PM

an opportunity lost

Time magazine today published an article with extensive research on the plans the Clinton administration had prepared to stop al-Qaeda. Joe Conason and Scott Rosenberg commented on it (links here and here). Very interesting.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 5, 2002 at 9:40 PM

rebuilding history

An article in today's Wall Street Journal talks about the increasingly bitter fight in Greece over the reconstruction of the Partenon. Apparently some elements are being replaced with new materials outright, and even some new statues are being put in place. Other strange "compromises" are being made:

Mary Ioannidou, director of the Parthenon Restoration Project, wanted to re-erect each of the six columns that once graced the east porch, while minimalists argued for only one. The council decided three would be recreated and three left as stumps. The three new columns were recently raised, and now workers are experimenting with tea, mud and a ferrous-oxide solution to age the new marble.

This is ridiculous. It's one thing to restore a painting by cleaning it (as it was done with the Sistine Chapel), it's another to simply rebuild something and pretend you are recovering the past. When you rebuild it, you lose what made it impressive. Even its destruction was a part of its history.

Erasing history like this, basically in the name of tourism, is idiotic. However we can all look forward to the time when the whole world looks like some kind of twisted theme park.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 5, 2002 at 4:12 PM

and on it goes

More middle east violence, as two terrorist attacks today killed a dozen people or more and injured more than 50. This is clearly a"response" to the Israeli airstrike that killed a dozen innocent Palestinians about a week ago. Now we can certainly expect another "response" from Israel...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 4, 2002 at 4:06 PM

human rights and the US

A few days ago an egyptian "court" sentenced a man to seven years of hard labor. His crime? Teaching university students what a ballot was, and other crazy ideas. Like in Saudi Arabia, the US seems to condone anything and everything as long as it doesn't collide with its strategic interests (usually, oil).

On this subject, T. Friedman writes in an op-ed piece in today's New York Times (quoting a human rights activist from Sri Lanka):

"America as an idea [...] is critical to the world — but [...] Americans seem to have forgotten that since 9/11. [Americans] stopped talking about who [they] are, and are only talking now about who [they] are going to invade, oust or sanction."

Well, not all Americans. But its government (and maybe a growing percentage of the population) is certainly following that path.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 4, 2002 at 12:16 PM

fast-food lawsuits

Related to my previous entry The Economist this week has an article commenting on fast food lawsuits. About two months ago salon ran a story on the same topic.

In essence some idiot is suing the fast food industry accusing them of selling him (and getting him "addicted" to) food that made him fat. Sure. Did they force-feed it into him too?

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 3, 2002 at 8:16 PM

magnolia

Just watched Magnolia for the ... third time I think. Such an incredible story. So well done.

Why is reality stranger than fiction?

Hard to say more. The images and emotions are too immediate. Maybe more tomorrow.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 3, 2002 at 12:34 AM

you can't run

(via Scripting News): Burning Bird is back. (and I only found out two days ago that she'd "left"!)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 2, 2002 at 8:23 PM

bailout for brazil and uruguay

The 'gaffe-a-minute' US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill announced yesterday that the US would not oppose efforts from Brazil and Uruguay to obtain more money from the IMF to stabilize their situation. Argentina was purposefully ignored, after the country has been chasing the proverbial carrot-on-a-stick for the better part of the year. At least the European Union should take action...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 2, 2002 at 11:59 AM

uruguay's crisis worsens

This hasn't really made news in the "international" sites, like CNN, but it's on latin american news sites like Clarin. Uruguay, which had to declare a bank holiday to avoid a run on banks, has suffered its first attacks on supermarkets by poor people trying to get food. The tension is building up to be something similar to what happened in Argentina last year. And Brazil might not be far behind.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 2, 2002 at 12:32 AM

feuilletons and Plan B

In the recent slashdot discussion about Plan B a few people have compared it to serialized novels, also refered to as feuilletons. Some famous serialized novels include works by Dickens (Great Expectations), Tolstoy (Ana Karenin) and Joyce (A Portrait of the artist as a young man).

In the discussions on Plan B, some people have said that it's impossible to create good serialized work, or that before serializing it they must have had it written in advance. I know that this is not the case at least in the A Portrait..., a novel that contains incredible style and technique aside from being an excellent read.

At the slashdot comment related to this discussion I posted the following:

"The connection with serialized works is strong yes, but I sense the blog structure might have other things to add to it. In any case, the idea is not to replace a novel. You can't replace a print novel with anything, not an ebook, not hypertext novels, not websites. Each has its category. In blogs (as in webpages) the content mixes in part with the user interface, and this is probably where the most interesting things are to be found: how navigation changes content, and viceversa."
.

It seems to me that in the 100-year period starting around 1820 (when the first serialized works appeared) it was much easier to reach a large audience through newspapers rather than through books. After all, how many people could afford a library, much less books? Newspapers, on the other hand, are cheap, and common. Also, newspapers of large distribution were a relatively new medium then, which also increased the interest of people.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on August 1, 2002 at 9:09 PM

the meaning of blogging

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

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

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

irrational exuberance

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

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

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

ireland's offshore windfarm

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

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

brazil in trouble

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

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

success and sustainability

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

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

blognovel

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

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

apocalyptic fiction

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

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

government oversight

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

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

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

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

the origins of blogging

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

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

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

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

on writing

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

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

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

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

pynchon

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

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

the bright side of the crash

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

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

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

the US and the UN

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

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

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

the US Congress's "crackdown"

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

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

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

argentina and latin america

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mulholland Dr.

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

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

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

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

structure and interpretation in art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

air density

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

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

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

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

another '29

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

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

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

news bombardment

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

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

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

History repeats itself.

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

the neutrality of the internet

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

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

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

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

blindness

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

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

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

A paragraph stays with me:

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

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

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

Mideast violence

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

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

why work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carl: Yeah, not to mention driving to.

Enough said.

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

animals with human DNA

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

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

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

terrorism in argentina

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

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

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

pointless punishment

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

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

the ethics of life-extension and other technologies

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

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

So, who gets it?

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

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

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

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

day of '24'

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

Yes, that excuse will do for now.

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

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

ayn rand

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

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

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

on economic "belief systems"

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

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

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

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

future and past selves

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

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

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

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

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

the last tycoon

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

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

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

the purple rose of cairo

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

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

moon rings

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

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

Something to watch for on those overcast nights...

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

american mujahedin

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

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

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

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

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

TV drug of a nation

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

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

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


Television, the Drug of the nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

on maps

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

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

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

land, war and civilization

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

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

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

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

yahoo mail replaces words

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

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

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

War and Terror

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

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

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

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

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

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

THX 1138

A couple of days ago, I watched THX 1138.

God, it was awful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

paraguay in trouble

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

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

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

how low can it go?

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

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

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

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

1929

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

minority report

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

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

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

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

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

-The highways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miscelaneous Good moments/things:


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

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

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

- Jetpacks. Weeee!

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

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

Miscelaneous Disappointments:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

china unplugged

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

From the article:

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

Incredible. 32 hours straight? Doing what exactly?

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

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

from the radio

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

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

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

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

The BBC and Homer's DVD Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

headlines and the web

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

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

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

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

more woody

I just watched Hannah and her sisters: Brilliant.

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

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

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

corporate greed

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

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

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

night thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

I think we need the fear.

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

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

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

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

Being blind is bad, they tell us.

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

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

a bit of poetry

by Rainer Maria Rilke

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

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

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

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

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

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

life vs. art

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

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

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


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

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

Memo to the "buddhist advisers":

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

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

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

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

The coming plague

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

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

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

zelig

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

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

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

anthrax

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


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



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

From Salon:



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


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


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

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

a big fat lie?

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

the long war

From The Economist: The Long War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 movies

On movies:

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

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

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

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

legal insanity

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

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

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

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

cities, humanity and bombs

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

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

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

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

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

Either way, the universe won't notice.

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

defining suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

how real is reality?

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

A less trite example: the Peters Projection.

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

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

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

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

first post

Ok... let's see...

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

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

Menu confusion...

I suddenly wonder: who invented ping-pong?

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

Go!

I mean... Post!

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

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