Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
  Avoid users as long as possible
Paul Graham has a great article, on what makes a language popular, and why Lisp never achieved critical mass. One comment I found particularly funny:

choose your users carefully, and be slow to grow their number. Having users is like optimization: the wise course is to put it off as long as possible.
As a writer of routines, libraries, and even programs that others have had to use, I can completely empathize with him. But as a user of other's routines, libraries and programs; I would borrow from Einstein and say: put it off as long as possible, but no longer.
  Ooops, I dropped my satellite
I still shake my head when remembering this:

As the NOAA-N Prime spacecraft was being repositioned from vertical to horizontal on the "turn over cart" at approximately 7:15 PDT September 6th, it slipped off the fixture, causing severe damage.

The mishap was caused because 24 bolts were missing from a fixture in the “turn over cart”. The article goes on to mention that the bolts were missing because they had been borrowed by another team (which hadn't documented the removal), and that the NOAA team had failed to verify that the bolts were still there (since they had used them two days before).

The shock and vibration of the fall undoubtedly caused tremendous damage.

Now obviously the NOAA team screwed up, assuming that something was in the same state they had left it; and the other satellite team screwed up borrowing the bolts without filling out a 27B/6.

But the real screwup, is the bureaucrat that decided that they could save money by cutting back on bolts. Now I know this is not your regular five & dime bolt that you get at Home Depot. Its probably hand machined out of some ridiculously expensive high grade steel, with every bolt x-ray'd for defects, and half the lot destruction tested, but I'm sure that 24 of these bolts cost much less than a whole satellite. In fact, I'm sure that one satellite crash has cost Lockheed Martin more money than has been saved on every "cost cutting" measure thought up by this bureaucrat or his entire department. If anyone should be sacked, it should be that group.

Original nasawatch pictures and report at Space Ref.

  Things to fix in C++
Besides the obvious fixing of *p++ to not be horribly expensive, I was thinking today about invariant objects (borrowed technique from java).

Usually I have something like:

class simpledata {
    simpledata(int v1, int v2) : m_v1(v1), m_v2(v2) { }

    const int m_v1, m_v2 ;
} ;

This way I can let others see m_v1 & m_v2 and not worry about the values getting modified. Unfortunately it doesn't work with char[].

class simplestringdata {
    simplestringdata(int v1, char * s1) : m_v1(v1)
      strcpy(m_s1, s1) ;	// XX - not allowed

    const int m_v1 ;
    const char * const m_s1[MAXSIZE] ;
} ;

My solution is let const members be modified in the constructor. It seems the right thing to do, after all you can do it in the initialization list, why not the constructor. Maybe special case it to only allow it for const int members at the same level, ie you can't modify const members of your parent. (Or maybe you could ...)

And no, the answer is not to use the 'string' class.

  Geek Art.
Don park does it again with a link to Leviated's exploration of computation and interactive paintings. They're very cool. You can waste time playing Maeda Path, or generate your very own Emotion Fractal.

Here's mine,

Don Park's Levitated: Awesome entry.

  Excitement in the air (jets)
The aeronautics fields is still a pretty exciting field. A few startups have surfaced in the last couple of years to build new commuter and executive jet type aircraft. Despite the setbacks, such as trying to use a low cost jet engine designed for cruise missiles (sorry, a MTBF of 50 hours isn't going to cut it), aircraft companies like Eclipse Aviation, Adam Aircraft, and Farnborough Aircraft are shaking things up and pushing the envelope of commercial aircraft.

Unfortunately, while each has managed to create a prototype and get it into the air, these guys have no track record or experience with creating a production line and turning hundreds or thousands of these things out. Even if I had $2-3MM these things are going to cost (which is a tenth what a private jet costs now adays), I'd still adopt a wait and see attitude. But then, another competitor entered the field, sort of. Back in December, Honda not only announced that they had been playing with engines and jets, but they had a public test flight of their jet. And the range of technological innovations was stunning.

This thing has the engines nacelles mounted up on pylons (kind of like the star ship enterprise), uses custom engines they designed themselves, and featured all kinds of novel structural engineering, from the large carbon composite cabin area, to the stiffened aluminum main wing. And the aircraft is far more efficient than its traditional counterparts.

At the time of the unveiling, Honda did not have any plans for a commercial roll out of any of this (plane or engine), and in fact was passing it off just as an intellectual exercise designed to keep their engineers happy. Yah, right.

This last week, Honda and GE announced they were forming a strategic alliance to build business jet engines. The engine itself has been in development for the last four years, and has more than 1,400 hours of run time (with 200 hours in the air); so its mostly a tooling and certification issue (something GE should be good at); and then its off and running.

Any bets on how long it is before the Honda CivicJet is announced? Or maybe they'll call it the Airlude. Personally, I'd be happy with commercial service out of Flagstaff to anywhere besides Phoenix, which is the only place AmericaWorstExpress goes.

I lay 3:1 odds that Honda ships something before the Moller Skycar ships its first craft.

Adam Aircraft, making a prop (A500) and jet based (A700) executive aircraft.
Eclipse Aviation, Eclipse 500 Jet
Farnborough Aircraft, turboprop F1.
Times Online industry analysis of Honda/GE partnership.

  Things continue to look up
Just this morning had another old client call up and let me know that their CG feature length film project has been green-lighted. I'm going to go from bored, to innundated. I hate it when that happens.
  Things are looking up
I've been hunting around for some contract work recently, and things are definitely improved from two years ago (when I was last seriously hunting). While I would like to continue to dedicate myself to the startup full time, my finances do not permit it, so I've been trying to do some freelance on the side.

The projects haven't been very big so far, but there's been some work which is always good. I've been hunting around on which seems to be the insider's job market at the moment, and responses to inquiries there have been far more positive.

Two years ago, I probably sent out > 100 queries, with specific targeted cover letters, to projects that I was qualified for. Out of all that effort, I think I got one or two automated responses along the lines of: "thank you for your submission, we have received your email and it will be processed in the order received ..." After about a month of that, I quit scanning the boards, got out my old phone list, and called absolutely everyone I'd ever worked with before. That got me a five month project, paying pretty well.

This time around its completely different. I get lots of personal emails, thanking me for applying. People that want to keep my resume on file even when they've filled the position. Personal notes from the CEO, saying he's looking at candidates. Callbacks. Even headhunters are calling.

Today was quite unusual, I had the headhunter call me three times. First to confirm I was still interested, then to check on general availability for a phone interview, then to call back with a specific time. Disney is taking months to fill this position, its pretty unbelievable. Mike (the headhunter) was explaining that they're too busy to do any hiring for the next several weeks. Gee, sounds like they need to hire somebody ...

Also did a phone interview with a poker site startup. These guys called me after I sent in a three page cover letter and no resume. It sounded informal and my response turned out to be appropriate. Ended up about 20 minutes me selling them and 30 minutes them trying to sell me. Lets see, no industry ties/experience/contacts, will have to build market share from scratch, business plan doesn't have clear exit strategy so no real VC interest, and no defensible differentiation. And they want me to work for a mix of equity/cash, leaning towards equity. Hmmmm.

Here's to a better 2004 and beyond.

  Weapons of Mass Destruction in Texas
This is a story about someone who had assembled massive armaments, illegal chemical weapons, and was a key figure in an organization dedicated to targeting others.

The terror threat at home, often overlooked, christian science monitor.

But what is more frightening is that this is a non-story. No mention in newspapers, radio, TV ... anything. It was covered in the local town it occurred in, but that's it. This is simply frightening. Having 500,000 rounds of ammunition is not illegal (god bless america), but having a sodium-cyanide bomb certainly is. If this guy was in Iraq, his capture would be on the cover of Time magazine by now.

Count another (partial) victory for the blogsphere.

  I am sooo jealous of the Japanese.
They are making a movie from my favorite manga: Appleseed. Created by Masamune Shirow, it is about life in the post-apocalyptic world in which civilization is just starting to pop back up again. The leads are Deunan (a soldier) and her cyborg friend Briareos.

There were four volumes put out by Dark Horse, and the detail, environments, and personality of the main characters were just astounding. The preview that just came out indicates that they have captured the vastness of detail from the comic, as well as an intensity and extreme pacing that fits.

Here's the official Movie Site. Unfortunately its mostly in japanese, but there is enough english to do basic navigation and get to the trailers. Looks like release is April 17th.

I am so jealous.

A brief history of Appleseed.

  Now for some blogspot stupidity.
I started off with the default setting in blogspot that carriage returns matter. Blogger would take my text and insert breaks and paragraph marks automatically. I probably should have switched this immediately, but I didn't and I went on writing for a couple of weeks with it. But its annoying. The text edit window is already too small, so I do all my composition elsewhere, and having to re-edit it several more times to get spacing right was getting to be tiring. So I switched over to doing it myself. Now all my old posts are munched. I'll have to go back and put [p] and [br] marks everywhere, and then re-check them. I would have preferred a "convert" option.
  Some improvement.
My phone works today, that's something. I guess I'll let it live, for now.
  SprintPCS startup service is messed up.
I missed going to the store (obviously), and this thing is still not working. Ok, I'm going to call Sprint. But I can't find their number on their web page. I try the "contact us" link on the front page (seemed obvious); but all that does is take me to the "shopping" tab where I can look up coverage or browse features.

Sorry, I need a human. Its not working like it's supposed to, and if nothing else I need someone I can vent at.

Try the "personal" link, since this wasn't a business phone. (I tried using my business FedID instead of my SS#, since that's an enormous risk to give out; but I only qualified for one phone with a $250 deposit. With my SS# I can have five phones with no deposit. So much for modern technology.)

Opening line on the "personal service page": Now that's unbelievable!

I agree!

No contact number or even a likely link that would lead me there. Truely unbelievable.

Click "welcome" on the left. Its that offly helpful Sprint guy again. I wish he'd come to my house and fix my cellular miscommunications. Heck, I'd be happy with any communications. I just want my brand new toy that I spent way too much money (that I can't really afford) on, to do something.

Sure, its easy if you're Brian Baker.

Click "help". I don't really need help, I know what I'm doing. Its Sprint that needs help, they're the ones that messed up! But ok, I'll hit it anyway. AHA!. A phone number. (And not the one that was on the previous shopping page for making purchases.)

Call them. Not too long on hold, connects me through to india pretty quick. "Hello, I spent a bunch of money, signed up for two years of service, and Sprint hasn't delivered on its promise to have me up and going in a reasonable amount of time. Its been over eight hours (not three), and my phone still won't connect."

"I'm sorry," the support droid says back to me with very good english diction and only a slight indian accent, "the computers are down for maintenance and won't be back up again till 5AM tomorrow morning. We can't really look into anything or help you in any way until then."

The silence is broken only by a the sound of a pin dropping.

This is a telephone carrier (ok, cell phone, but still), and their ability to respond to any type of technical problem is offline for the next six hours? That's insane. And this started before 11pm (Mountain time) which would be 10pm (Pacific time). Nobody in California needs technical help after 10pm on a friday night?

  Not happy waiting for cell service.
Ok, its three hours later (or slightly longer). My wife's phone can now make calls, but mine can't. Can't call in, can't call out, and can't do the "vision" thing (web/email/internet). This is annoying. I wonder how long the Sprint store is open tonight so I can go back and complain later.
  Getting a new phone.
My old cell phone is a dinosaur, and has not taken the years of abuse very well. My friend who is a cell phone nut loaned me a Sanyo phone with Sprint service, and I was having fun with it. Phone coverage is good, and we were having fun messaging each other (and talking since he has free sprint-to-sprint calls). Finally, my contract with AT&T ran out, so I went and got a new cell phone. Its pretty cool:

I didn't really want a clamshell design because I don't like fumbling to open those things up, and most of models available right now like that look like one drop to the sidewalk would take them out entirely. This thing looks more like a cell phone stuck in a Fluke Multimeter protective clamshell.

(These things are nearly indestructable)

Anyways, I got another one (not the same model) for my wife, and now I just have to wait for them to start working. Hmmm. I remember my AT&T phone worked out the door from when I bought it. Not having these things work for the next couple of hours is annoying, and not very "new customer" friendly.

  Did you want those well done?
Stored Bullets Explode in Wis. Oven

The husband had put ammunition and three handguns in the oven before the couple left on a vacation, supposedly, so that thieves would not find it in case of a break-in.

After returning from their trip Tuesday, the wife turned on the oven to prepare dinner and the bullets went off. The man and his wife ducked behind a refrigerator when bullets began exploding in their oven. No one was hurt.

Original Story

  Just like camping.
Cold hot dogs are ok, but they're best roasted over a campfire. Because its the middle winter, I didn't want to go outside and cook, and the whole yard is a muddy mess so it wouldn't have worked very well anyways.

Luckily I have a wood stove which was going this morning because it was overcast, so I just pumped up the coals a little by letting some air in through the bottom grate. Then I was ready for my weenie roast.

They were yummy.

  Avoid energy conversions.
Over on wastewatts someone was suggesting building solar collectors for the likelihood of future energy shortages. Besides the fact that he was suggesting using old 7' satellite dishes (which wouldn't work mechanically), I had to point out the biggest problem: converting the heat generated during the day into something useful.

Sure, the sun puts out a tremendous amount of energy: a kilowatt per square meter (about a square yard). But don't expect to plug your computer into that, you've got to convert it, and today's prospects aren't very good. Solar cells are typically in the single digits for efficiency, and running a turbine with steam or something else is a huge, complicated (and dangerous) mess. Solar Stirling engines are pretty cool, but stirling engines end up with efficiency issues just trying to move heat from one place to another. (There's something like four heat exchangers in a typical stirling engine, but despite the complexity, people keep trying to build them anyways.)

Even plants don't do that well. Your standard corn crop converts about 1-2% of the sun to sugars and oils, while sugar cane beats everything else while still only converting 8% of the light absorbed to chemical energy (mostly sugar).

There's also the problem that the sun is only out during the day, and in the winter time when you might be able to use the heat directly, the sun isn't out very much. So what starts out sounding great: 5 hours * 4 square meters * 1kWh/m = 20 kWh, ends up being butchered down to something much less impressive.

This led me to an aha realization: "Most people don't understand that changing energy from one form to another involves losing some of that energy in the process."

"Making" hydrogen from water using electricity, is not the great idea people think it is. Electric heat is about the worst way to warm yourself when you start including the losses that went into generating the power. Combine efficiency issues with a lack of understanding about thermodynamics and conservation of energy, and you get people designing yet another perpetual motion machine, vortex generator, or some other free energy machine in their backyard.

Based on my informal study of the field (this wasn't my major in college), here's my rule of thumb for conversion efficiencies (thermal to electrical to mechanical to potential to chemical to whatever):

Category 1: Low (5-10%)
Do it yourself (homebrew/tinkering) and products where efficiency isn't important. The electric light bulb? about 5%. The motor in your desk fan? Maybe around 10%. The little wall wart down-converting line power to 6V for your cordless phone? As low as 0% (These things waste power even when the device that uses them is off. Electric company surveys usually identify 5-10% of household power is wasted by these things.)

Category 2: Medium (35-60%)
Machines industry creates when profits are on the line. Large trucks these days probably get 35-40% of the energy in the gas translated into mechanical acceleration. Of course you throw it all away when you step on the brake. Modern power generation ranges from 40-55% depending on whether there is a second stage steam turbine using reclaimed heat. Cell phones do pretty well in extending talk time by using power smartly.

Category 3: High (85-98%)
This is the domain of R&D and exotic technologies. Magnetically suspended high vacuum flywheels (energy storage), custom wound pancake motors with rare earth magnets, rocket motors, fuel cells, etc. Lots of exciting things there, but not within reach of consumer. At least, not for the next 10-20 years.

Obviously there are a few exceptions, but in general its a far better idea to avoid any and all conversions when possible. Two conversions (home brew) leaves you with less than a quarter of a percent of what you put in, and three conversions leaves you with 0.01% (or 8kW in for every 1W out).

So when someone talks about taking an old windmill used for pumping water about a hundred years ago, and using it pressurize air, which will then spin a generator on demand ... I'd shake my head and not loan them any tools or parts which I wanted back.

And don't even ask them about maintenance efforts and costs on that contraption.

A lot of people are predicting the end of cheap energy. Some see chaos resulting, but others see us tightening our belts and using technology to help us do more with less. I hope the later are correct. Understanding conversion efficiencies, and avoiding them where possible would be a start.

Why Study Photosynthesis, Arizona State University, 1996.

  Pitching to customers, investors, and anybody else.
Over at marketingShirpa, they recently wrote a great article about pitching stories to the press, but I think their three points applies to any situation: potential customers, investors, prospective employees, your spouse (when she asks for the Nth time when she might expect you to start getting a paycheck) ...

> Tip #1. Targeted email subject lines

(general version) Have a focused and short message that resonates with your audience.

This is especially hard for me, as our startup is about multiple things. We're providing business tools for IM, but so are over 50 other competitors. We have a better "vision" but that doesn't count for much. We have some features that the others don't, but that's not the whole story. We are also offering the software as a utility, sort of the ASP model, but with the equipment located on the customer's premises. So our "value proposition" is a mess. I'm still working on that.

> Tip #2. Give reporters the tools to pitch your story

(general version) Even if you convey your message to your recipient, the battle isn't over.

Once we've explained what we do to the IT manager at a prospective client, the sales cycle isn't over. He has to have the right information when he takes the request to CIO. After pitching your plan to one partner at a VC firm (hopefully the Senior Partner, and yes your first meeting will most likely only be with one person), they'll need something to present to the other partners in their weekly meeting. Even your spouse needs information to be able to speak "with authority" as she answers questions from the family about how "the startup" is going.

I wasn't up on this, but luckily our CEO drew on his business development background and nailed this one squarely. Our sales material, presentations, etc are all geared to not only convert the recipient, but give them the ammunition they need to continue telling the story to others.

> Tip #3. Case studies

You've got to have a product, you've got to have users, and you really need a customer that will step up and say, "we needed this and it really works."

New customers (beta testers, lets be real), feel a lot more comfortable if they're not the first. Being able to point at a handful of existing users, and running systems that have stood up to actual use will make them feel a lot better. And VCs aren't going to take your word that the market exists or that your product is the best at targeting the market. They're going to want to see customers.

As they said in the article:
If your client can't come through with reference accounts, understand that you may only get coverage in mediocre media.
"A brave PR person will stand up and say, I can't pitch the publications you want."

Same thing for customers, and doubly so for investors. "No customers? No thanks." Well, really they never say no; they just won't return your phone calls after that.

The original article is here, but was dated 2/13 and may not be accessible after ten days (or so).

  At least I don't live in Massachusetts
Betsy Devine points out that at least I'm not living in Cambridge MA, where I'd be picketed for trying to do one milliwatt of co-generation. Then I'd have angry neighbors with signs like:

"Unfair to electrons"
"Keep our city peaceful"
"co-generation discriminates against degeneration"

(Thanks to #joiito ... I think.)

  Power Generation Limits
Once apon a time I lived in California. Now I live in Arizona. California is good for a number of things, but living there is not really one of them. I was born there, but my wife was from the east coast and so she was not that happy about living there. In the early 90s we had a peak in CA events that led to our exodus (things like the Rodney King riots, and the Whittier Earthquake), and I haven't really looked back since.

Pretty much everything is better in Arizona than in California. The taxes are lower (income and sales), land and houses are cheaper, the air is cleaner, there are seasons, we avoid commutes, there are trees (ok, I'm talking about northern Arizona, not Phoenix). I was pretty happy here and would regularly thumb my noses at my old California friends.

Then I read this: State Net Metering Rules.

Applicable Sectors: Commercial, Residential
Limit on System Size: 10 kW

Applicable Sectors: Commercial, Industrial, Residential
Limit on System Size: 1 MW

Dang it. I really wanted to build a megawatt windfarm ...

  Lost In Translation
We saw Lost in Translation tonight. It was ok. Bill Murray was very good in it. Having been to Japan and other asian countries, I saw some truths in it (distorted by the hollywood lens, of course), but I didn't see any great disrespect for japanese like some do.

JoiIto wrote that he initially enjoyed it, but is becoming concerned about the points made by such campaigns such as Lost in racism. But I think these points are off base.

I've been in japan with other "redneck" americans, and I've seen their discomfort in situations they didn't understand at all, and I've see them act the same way, covering up confusion and fear with blustering humor. I've seen others mistakenly ignore cultural differences and try to treat their hosts like americans, to everyone's detriment.

Personally, I look for the differences in culture, and study the different points of view. The Asian Wall Street Journal is so fascinating because its coverage so different. There's a whole nother world out there, and we kid ourselves in the US that we're plugged into it.

Anyways, the story is about going somewhere and being struck with an unexpected sense of foreigness. Are the japanese over the top? Sure, but its all about making the experience just so "foreign" for american viewers. The joke about the director talking for ten minutes and then the english translation being three words is a gag as old as the hills (actually came from english dubs of chinese kung-fu movies).

I remember when Disney came about with Pocahontas, and the native americans were complaining that it wasn't historically accurate. Mel Gibson responded with the question "what level of realism should we really be striving for in a cartoon with a talking tree?"

Joi mentioned that a lot of scenes take place in obscure locales that most japanese would ever know about/see. But that's what Hollywood does, is amplify the unique (when its not out-right inventing a fantasy).

Anyways, as I commented over there; life is seldom portrayed accurately in hollywood films. While there's some little truths in LIT (like the part about how children change your life), in general its a film, and its views are the views the story teller created to tell the story.

  Giving blood
Today was blood drive day. It occures about once every two months, which is slightly longer than the manditory 56 days you must wait between donations.

Now most of giving blood is pretty boring. You read the same forms as last time (except for some subtle change that they don't point out), then they take your blood pressure and stick your finger to get a red blood cell reading. Then they ask you the same 37 questions as last time (have you ever taken bovine insulin ??) which you have to answer from scratch because some bureaucrat decided that people were too dumb to read the questions themselves.

Then they have something really peculiar. They give you a sheet with two stickers (both barcode). One signals that your blood should be used, and one says, don't use it. Once you're alone (the tech leaves), you pick one sticker and put it on your sheet, and put the other on the discard square of the instruction sheet, and then you move forward.

What's this for? Peer pressure. In certain circumstances, guys at work will round up their buddies and drag them all down to the donation center to give blood. Copping out doesn't look good, and revealing some bizarre medical issue is even worse. So the red cross lets you go through the whole procedure and then will dump the bags, just to protect your privacy. All very convoluted.

Finally, you get your empty bags, and you head to the chair. I've learned to deal with someone sticking me with a needle. Its not pleasant, but I can live through it. One rule is--never look. You don't really want to know, and you definitely don't want to tense up. (I have an old experience as a kid with a tetanus shot that taught me that one.)

So they clean up the area, give you a little squeeze ball to play with, and then they stick you. It stings, but if they're good, its over in a moment and its not too annoying after that. Unfortunately, one time I brought my wife who not only watched, but offered a commentary on the process.

"Oh my gosh", she says, "That's not a needle--that's a trocar!" At which point they get into a discussion about how large red blood cells are and how they could never fit through anything as tiny as a needle. Needless to say, I could have gone without having learned any of that.

What does work extremely well is taking something to read and keep your mind off what's going on. Humor works great here, you don't want something serious. A collection of Dave Barry stories, or your favorite comics. Personally, I take along a Foxtrot anthology, and I'm always in stitches the whole time.

I think it lightens up the room too. Otherwise everyone is so somber.

  There goes a motorcycle.
One of Max's favorite movies is Dave Hood's there goes a truck (and a plane, and a bulldozer, and a spaceship, and a race car, etc etc.) There's like twenty different subjects. We started out getting them from the library, but they were so popular that several DVDs are part of our regular collection.

One of the movies is There Goes a Motorcycle, and the first thing that motorcycle rider Dave (and his trusty pall Becky) do, is go to a motorcycle store where they have lots and lots of motorcycles, to pick out riding outfits and a bike.

So when we went out wandering to the east side of town by the mall, I was looking around and I saw some motorcycles outside of the old ToysRUs building. Not having anything better to do, I stopped and told Max, "Hey, there's some motorcycles, lets go check them out." Boy did he have fun.

First we had to look at every motorcycle out front. Then we had to go around to the side and check out the trailers. Then we went inside and he was jumping up and down--he was so excited. We checked out the motocross bikes (they even had little ones his size). Then we saw some racing bikes. Then we saw quads, and light utility quad/trucks. Then we saw some snowmobiles, then more motorcycles, then jet skis. He was all over that store, from top to bottom, and then back to top.

For an adult, you can see over the motorcycles, so you can sort of take it all in pretty quick. But for a three year old, the motorcycles are taller than you are, and so its like running around through a forest of the coolest machines on earth. There's no end to it. We peeked in the saddle bags on the touring bikes, we tried on helmets, we looked in the back where they have the extra parts and fix motorcycles, we climbed on the quads and found the small ones that are just the right size (for ages six and up, so I have a little time). We checked out everything.

Finally, an hour and a half later, they were getting ready to close, so we had to say goodnight to the motorcycles. We walked out side, and then watched them move all the motocross bikes in for the night. And then it was finally time to go home for dinner.


Dave Hood Entertainment, creator of the real wheels series.

  Old Spy Stories.
This is pretty cool, even if it isn't true.

US Blew Up Soviet Pipeline with Software Trojan Horse

William Safire tells a story in his column in the New York Times. He says that in the early 1980's, the U.S. government hid malicious code in oil-pipeline control software that the Soviet Union then stole and used to control a huge trans-Siberia pipeline. The malicious code manipulated the pipelines valves and other controls in a way that caused a huge explosion, ruining the pipeline.

After that, Safire reports, "all the software the had stolen for years was suddenly suspect, which stopped or delayed the work of thousands of worried Russian technicians and scientists."

There is some question about the source and validity of this story, but some of this is also mentioned in a CIA report: The Farewell Dossier, though it is not clear there whether it was control software or defective turbine designs that did the pipeline in.

Originally read at: Freedom to Tinker

  RIAA Radar
I don't know if you still buy music (I'm old enough that I don't really listen to radio anymore, and all the good stuff as far as I am concerned came out in the '80s), but if you're interested in the war against the war against music piracy; they've started up something called the RIAA radar.

Basically, its a database to check to see if the album you are sort of thinking of buying will be used to fund lawsuits against 13 year olds, and lobbying in congress for further monopolistic rights and the use of tax dollars to hunt down people exercising "fair use" on the internet.

Of course, in order to use it, you have to be shopping on the web, or have one of those really cool web-phones with a big enough screen to be useable (like a $600 treo), in which case you're probably too rich to even care. But hey, just it case, check it out. Or just go see this other site: What a Crappy Present.

  Maintaining my weight.
Well, weighed in today at 185 pounds. Compared to months past, this is pretty good; but its up a pound from last week. And I still want to get it down further as my BMI is still 24.7 which is at the upper limit of the normal range.

On the other hand, thin for me would be like 148, which seems insane. The last time I weighed less than 150, I was 17 and in the hospital for three weeks and had no appetite (nor the desire to use a bedpan, so they put me me on a liquid diet). Everything tastes bad in a hospital. They bring you these menus the night before and it has all kinds of choices, and you pick something, thinking, "maybe this will taste good ..." But the next day it arrives in a sterile stainless steel medical tray, and you look at it and just go "blah".

  Too much soda.
I just finished off a whole 24 pack of Dr. Pepper. Doesn't seem like that long ago when I opened it. That can't really be that good for me. Better go back to 12 packs ... I didn't feel so guilty about drinking one of those in a day or two.

  Bucking authority.
In the Perils of Obedience, Stanley Milgram describes an psychological experiment in which subjects administered electrical shocks to their "victim" in order to assess the effects of negative stimulation on learning. Reminds me of the opening of Ghost Busters.

What was really happening, was that the subjects were subjected to an authority that pressed them to up the voltage higher and higher, while an actor played the victim and complained louder and louder until reaching a point where the victim was silent. The test would continue up to an absurdly high voltage (450 Volts) at which point the experiment was ended. No one was really shocked, but the subject had no way of knowing this.

The consensus across all groups of people (psychiatrists, lay people, students, etc.) was that most people wouldn't go through with this experiment to the end, in fact, most people would quit quite early. The actual results are very frightening: in experiments carried out across the globe, people carried through to the very end 60-85% of the time.

Now I like to think of myself as an independent thinker, and one who lives by his own rules, but I have no idea how I would have actually done in a case like this. (And I can't really take the test now that I know what's being tested.) I'd like to think that I would have quit early.

What I can do however, is make sure my kids grow up strong enough and independent enough that they would do the right thing in a test like this. The article notes that in Germany during WWII, with the concentration camps, the situation had been so compartmentalized that no one was responsible (ultimately) for the execution orders. Bureaucrats just pushed papers around, and the workers pushed buttons on orders from the bureaucrats. As the paper states: The person who assumes responsibility had evaporated. Perhaps this is the most common characteristic of socially organized evil in modern society.

Original article: The Perils Of Obedience

  The Audience is not listening.
I hate powerpoint. Communicating with other people is not my strong point to begin with. Coming up with the ideas is one thing and forming them into a coherent presentation is pretty hard (like a business plan or an executive summary).

Its taking the final step: draining all life and expression from these ideas and arranging them like dead animal heads on the wall--bullet points on a screen for someone with the attention span of a nat. That's really de-motivating. And its worse now, because I've presented to venture capitalists. The last one went something like this:

Us: "So Instant Messaging is being used in business, and its becoming critical for businesses to manage it."

Them: "We're in Email already, and we don't see IM being used for important business communication."

Us: pointing at market research, "Instant Messaging is in the top three initiatives that businesses are addressing in 2004."

Them: yawn

Us: "While the competition is still pursuing a limited compliance market, we are using operational efficiencies to bring the costs down and package our solution for a wider market, including small and medium sized businesses."

Them: "Do you have revenues?"

Us: "No"

Them: "Well, we'll let you know ..."

I'd be a lot happier if I didn't waste all that time flying out to meet with someone who's only interested in companies with customers and revenue already. I probably wouldn't have spent four months polishing a business plan that nobody is ever going to read. (And don't tell me that a business plan is SOOO important--the ideas were there before, they just weren't elegantly stated with pretty formatting and pictures.)

My next business plan is going to be text--no InDesign, no Word, no fancy formatting--just ideas. That's all I need.

  Hubris vs Reality
Driving to class last night I was scanning the freeway and noticed where a vehicle had left the road and knocked over a sign. Not one of those wimpy little single pole signs, but a massive, twelve foot wide, eight inch letters and giant shield for the freeway number, giving distances to the next couple of states; sign. I also noticed several nearby trees no longer had any bark facing the freeway and there was cross on one.

This is not an isolated incident up here. My old partner used to live outside of town and drive in every morning, and he would count up to seven cars in the center divider on snowy days. For some reason, people think that buying a sports utility vehicle with four wheel drive, traction control, anti-lock brakes, snow tires, etc. makes them immune to the laws of physics. Anti-lock breaks don't do any good when your traveling sideways.

While I've had a few accidents in the rain back in california, I've always been cautious with snow. My first snow trip involved a road trip from LA to Boulder in February. Finding chains in LA was a challenge, putting the chains on in the middle of a blizzard was another. After suffering through a seven hour delay and forty mile detour due to the main freeway being closed by an avalanche, you'd think I'd be pretty anxious to get on with the trip, but instead, there I was, over in the slow lane doing 35 mph with my chains going thwap-thwap-thwap.

I'm better in snow now (and can put chains on better too), but I keep the experiments confined to my driveway where I don't have to deal with other cars and am only going to run into a two foot snow drift. On the road I keep it safe and slow. People that don't, often find themselves at odds with reality, and reality always wins.

Life in the middle of nowhere, remote programming to try and support it, startups, children, and some tinkering when I get a chance.

January 2004 / February 2004 / March 2004 / April 2004 / May 2004 / June 2004 / July 2004 / August 2004 / September 2004 / October 2004 / November 2004 / December 2004 / January 2005 / February 2005 / March 2005 / April 2005 / May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / October 2007 / November 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / August 2008 / February 2009 / August 2009 / February 2010 / February 2011 / March 2011 / October 2011 / March 2012 / July 2013 / August 2013 / September 2013 / October 2013 / November 2013 / December 2013 / December 2014 / February 2015 / March 2015 / July 2016 / September 2016 / December 2016 / April 2017 / June 2017 / July 2018 / November 2018 / January 2019 / February 2019 / April 2019 / December 2019 / March 2020 /

Paul Graham's Essays
You may not want to write in Lisp, but his advise on software, life and business is always worth listening to.
How to save the world
Dave Pollard working on changing the world .. one partially baked idea at a time.
Eric Snowdeal IV - born 15 weeks too soon, now living a normal baby life.
Land and Hold Short
The life of a pilot.

The best of?
Jan '04
The second best villain of all times.

Feb '04
Oops I dropped by satellite.
New Jets create excitement in the air.
The audience is not listening.

Mar '04
Neat chemicals you don't want to mess with.
The Lack of Practise Effect

Apr '04
Scramjets take to the air
Doing dangerous things in the fire.
The Real Way to get a job

May '04
Checking out cool tools (with the kids)
A master geek (Ink Tank flashback)
How to play with your kids

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