Friday, November 28, 2003

Opte has released the latest maps of the Internet.

MIT Technology review highlights seven hot (and crucial) new technology projects:

Automatic speech translator
Spinal-cord trauma treatment
Blocking spam
Miniature ultrasound device
Chip-to-chip communications
Streaming media
Piezo fuel injection

7 Hot Projects

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Another nail in DRM's coffin? Jon Lech Johansen is the same technologist who introduced DeCSS, the first app to strip DVD's of their copy-protection mechanism. And for his encore performance...

QTFairUse breaks Apple's iTunes DRM protection layer... is that a trumpet I hear in the distance, heralding the death of YAFF (yet another file format)?

My belief is that trying to protect streams of 1's and 0's is, ultimately, futile. Can we protect the bit sequence "01"? No. Can we protect "0100"? No. Repeat until you have 4 Mb MP3 files or 800 Mb vids. You get the picture.

- - -

Family Survivor night: Sam, Jake, Aly & Ben in town for Thanksgiving... and Survivor on HD! You'd think Survivor would be generating enough of a margin to facilitate the use of hi-def cameras, right? Wrong - Pearl Islands is still using the same old vid technology... grrr!

Anyhow, Johnny Fairplay pulled one of the greatest scams in the history of the game (I'm guessing - I haven't seen all of the shows, but this seemed to rank pretty high). He had pre-arranged with a friend that if the friend was brought onto the show, they would pretend that John's Grandmother had died. The result: sympathy, special treatment, the works.

And, surprisingly, they pulled it off perfectly. I can't wait to see the reaction of the other players when that juicy tidbit is revealed.

Split decision from the local viewing audience: about half thought it was bust-worthy (i.e., host Jeff letting in everyone in on the secret during tribal council); the other half thought... why not? What are the rules? Something about outwitting. These aren't some mutual fund managers ripping off the public. These are simply some money-motivated individuals trying to scam a million bucks. And all the players want to carry Johnny along with them because he seems so... beatable!

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Woo-hoo! Fantastic week in the NFL... the stat-crunching must be working. Two absolute nail-biters with the Bucs hanging on for a 1/2 point win and Detroit also covering by a half.

Pick Sprd Opp Result
was + 6.5 MIA W MIA 24-23
TB - 5.5 nyg W TB 19-13
chi +10.5 DEN W chi 19-10
ATL + 7.0 tn P tn 38-31
oak +11.0 KC W KC 27-24
det +10.5 MIN W MIN 24-14
Week: 5-0-1 Total: 22-11-2

Monday, November 24, 2003

Ever tried to sell a diamond?

"De Beers' advertising slogan, 'A Diamond Is Forever,' embodied an essential concept of the diamond invention. It suggested that the value of a diamond never diminishes and that therefore a diamond never need be sold or exchanged. This precept, of course, is self-fulfilling: As long as no one attempts to sell his diamonds, they retain their value (assuming the cartel controls the supply of new diamonds). When, however, an individual is forced to defy this principle by attempting to sell diamonds, the results can prove illuminating. Consider, for example, the case of Rifkin's Russian diamonds.

In the fall of 1978, a thirty-two-year-old Californian computer wizard named Stanley Mark Rifkin discovered an ingenious way to become a multimillionaire overnight. While working as a consultant for the Security Pacific National bank in Los Angeles, he had learned the secret computer code that the bank used to transfer funds to other banks telegraphically at the end of each business day. With this information and his mastery of the bank's computer, he realized that he could transfer tens of millions of dollars to any bank account in America. The problem would be withdraw the money from the system. In early October, he devised a plan for siphoning this money out of the bank and converting it into Russian diamonds."

Edward Jay Epstein's The Diamond Invention - Have you ever tried to sell a diamond?.

Technology also threatens the diamond industry... check out Wired's How to make a diamond.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

This is a tad frightening.

NARRATOR: Yellowstone is America's first and most famous National Park. Every year over 3 million tourists visit this stunning wilderness, but beneath its hot springs and lush forests lies a monster of which the public is ignorant.

PROF. ROBERT CHRISTIANSEN (US Geological Survey): Millions of people come to Yellowstone every year to see the marvellous scenery and the wildlife and all and yet it's clear that, that very few of them really understand that they're here on a sleeping giant.

NARRATOR: If this giant were to stir, the United States would be devastated and the world would be plunged into a catastrophe which could push humanity to the brink of extinction.

PROF. ROBERT SMITH (University of Utah): It would be extremely devastating on a scale that we've probably never even thought about...

BBC Horizon - SuperVolcano Program Transcript

Saturday, November 22, 2003

What were the marketing geniuses at Volkswagen thinking with their introduction of the 2004 VW Phaeton? A luxury four-door sedan priced at between $64,600 and $79,900, the Phaeton "...represents [VW's] first foray into the luxury marketplace... execs believe the Phaeton will appeal to those drivers who want an 'unpretentious' luxury [vehicle]..."

Folks: it's... a... Volkswagen. Do you really think I'll spring for a Phaeton when I can buy a Lexus LS430 for nearly $10K less? What are these people thinking?

If they had done their homework, they would have realized the American market requires careful staging for these product intros. Hyundai is slowly but surely creeping upmarket, just as Honda (Acura), Nissan (Infiniti), and Toyota (Lexus) did so long ago. It's about perception, branding and creeping incrementalism. VW would have been far better off introducing a Phaeton W8 at a price point in the high 30's. Perhaps it wouldn't be a hand-built car, or have every bell-and-whistle. Perhaps their margins would be thinner. But they would be able to sell Phaetons, which is something I suspect will not happen today.

To wit, here are some selected luxury four-doors you can purchase for less than the Phaeton's MSRP's (source of prices is MSN's Auto site). All are luxury V8's that I would consider 'upmarket':

VM Phaeton W12 $79,900 <==
Mercedes S430 $72,600
Range Rover HSE $71,585
BMW M5 $70,400
BMW 745i $68,500
Audi A8 $68,500
VW Phaeton W8 $64,600 <==
Mercedes E500 $55,550
Lexus LS430 $55,125
BMW 545i $54,300
Lexus GS400 $47,825
Cadillac Seville $45,825
Infiniti M45 $38,990 [Est.]

My prediction: complete, humiliating disaster for the exec's responsible. Jobs will be lost, heads will roll. We can be sure of three things: death, taxes and the Phaeton not selling at these prices.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Having VPN problems? A new set of appliances is beginning to attract mainstream attention: SSL VPN's. This class of device removes the need for any client-side software. On the client, only an SSL-capable browser is required.

External users (employees, business partners, etc.) authenticate through the browser and surf the intranet as if they were inside the firewall. Strong authentication (e.g., token-based, biometric, etc.) is supported, but weak auth (user-name and password) is an option as well. Windows file shares and other non-port 80, non-port 443 traffic can be supported, depending upon the vendor.

The leader in this space (and entrants seem to be popping up daily) is Neoteris, recently acquired by NetScreen for approximately $200 million. If you're looking to reduce VPN-related headaches, this class of appliance could ease your troubles considerably.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

IDC is reporting an ominous (and obvious) trend in IT. Outsourcing (and offshoring) will continue for the foreseeable future. "'However, though the delivery of IT services will increasingly come from offshore, much of the spending will continue to be captured by locally based vendors who build up their offshore delivery resources."

This trend is disturbing, especially to the truly talented developers who preceded the dot com frenzy and understand a wide range of systems and applications. The commoditization of high-end skillsets will not lead to business success for one simple reason: software development is still an art, not a science. The most talented developers will outperform the least talented by several orders of magnitude.

Thus, a company that demands a $30-an-hour Oracle DBA with ten years of experience may get what they ask for... but it will likely come at the price of failed, late or dramatically over-budget projects. Luring a top-notch Oracle DBA, who might require $80/hr, could mean all the difference. Bringing creativity to bear upon daunting business and technical problems is the domain of the most talented resources.

That's not to say that many aspects of IT should not be commoditized. Running a service that cuts payroll checks; monitoring network uptime; some BPO and many call-center/support operations; all are good candidates. They do not require the highest levels of cooperation with the business, creativity or exceptional problem-solving skills. But if you're a data-mining expert who works well with the business... then, my suspicion is that you will command high rates and deserve them. One keen insight into the data could mean the difference between a failed initiative and a successful one. And this can translate to tens or hundreds of millions of dollars for large companies.

Related, interesting article: Half of all outsourcing deals failing. Reading between the lines - organizations need damned good technical architects, business analysts and project managers to help manage the outsourcers.


On a sports-related note, those of you who know me are aware of my belief that one of the finest sports tacticians of all time is Robert Montgomery Knight. His teams are beautiful to watch. Fundamental execution is paramount, discipline both on and off the court are required. His approaches to both defense (man-to-man with strong help principles) and offense (motion offense stressing screens _away_ from the ball) revolutionized basketball. And that's certainly not an overstatement... the statistics highlight the pre-RMK and post-RMK era in the Big Ten in stark contrast.

That being said, I am baffled by his lack of NCAA success since the advent of the 35-second shot clock. If you look back, I believe his teams have won a total of two NCAA games since that time. The shot clock was 45 seconds when introduced in 1985-86 (apparently to prevent stalls like UNC's four corners). The clock was reduced to 35 seconds in 1993-94.

In any event, does the clock relate to Knight's reduced results? My contention is: probably. As I understand RMK's original system, players were drilled in receiving a pass and waiting two seconds for screen-based motion to unfold before dishing, driving, etc. In the pre-clock days, RMK's teams would run motion for two, three or more minutes, especially in a tight game with a small lead. His teams didn't lose very much under those conditions. Those types of rules are less valuable when a two-second delay is a large percentage of your possession time.

Can he adapt? We'll see. Certainly he ranks among the finest minds in sports ever. His teams are still a thing of beauty to watch. My hope is that he finds another clever wrinkle in the game with which he can drive a competitive advantage. What a wonderful way to cap his already steller career... defeating his nemesis: the 35-second shot clock.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

"A decade after Dave Raggett began drafting the HTML+ specification, his work has become critical to an effort by the Web's founder and standardbearers to 'prevent substantial economic and technical damage' to the Internet. Documents written by the British pioneer are being cited by The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in urging US officials to invalidate a controversial patent which could cover key Web functionality, including the Internet Explorer web browser and several tags in the HTML standard.

The patent in question is held by the University of California and licensed to Eolas Technologies, which in August won a $521 million court judgment against Microsoft after a jury found that the Internet Explorer browser infringed the UC/Eolas patent."
"In my emails and in the HTML+ spec, I described the idea of using dynamically loaded libraries for extending browsers to add support for new data formats without the need to modify the browser's own code," Raggett wrote. "A common API would be needed for the control path between the browser and the extension. This was later realized by Marc Andreessen when he moved from the NCSA Mosaic project to Netscape, in the form of the Netscape plugin API."
"If the patent is upheld, it could also affect HTML tags (including APPLET, OBJECT and EMBED) and force developers to modify any web sites that used them."
Netcraft: Eolas Patent 'A Well Known Idea'.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

One of the funniest ad campaigns in recent memory has to be Bud Light's Real men of Genius series. While I can't seem to find a cache of MP3's, the next best thing are the published "lyrics" on

Bud Light presents Real American Heroes
Singing: (real american heroes)
Today we salute you, Mr. putt putt golf course designer
Singing: (Mr. putt putt golf course designer)
Through the magic of astroturf and animatronics, you've taken the time honored game of golf, and made it fun again
Singing: (keep on strokin)
They said a three foot putt wasn't a challenge, so you added windmills
Singing: (china windmills)
While lesser men wasted time with fairways and sand traps, you had visions of fiberglass volcanos and giant clown heads
Singing: (clowns freak me out now)
So crack open an ice cold bud light mr. putt putt golf course designer, because you and i know that a round of golf should always, always include indian teepees.
Singing: (mr. putt putt golf course designer)"

8:13pm - Urgh, rough week in the NFL:

BUF - 7.0 hou L hou 12-10
MIA - 5.5 bal L MIA 9-6
CHI + 6.5 stl W CHI 21-20
jax +10.0 TN W TN 10-3
min + 5.0 OAK L OAK 28-18
det +11.0 SEA L SEA 35-14

Week - 2-4 / Overall - 17-11-1

Friday, November 14, 2003

"Imagine that you have apples and bananas. Your apples and bananas are in one pile, but you want them to be in separate piles. You don't want to pay some worker to separate the fruits, so you're building a machine to do it. This machine only has two pieces of information about them: their size and how yellow they are. What it needs is a function to discriminate between apples and bananas, so that it can sort them.
One way to find a function to discriminate between two classes of things is to use a perceptron. A perceptron is a simple iterative algorithm for finding a discriminant function; in other words, it can find a function to separate our apples and bananas. Although they can only separate two classes of data, and have some other limitations, perceptrons are still an interesting introduction to learning techniques." - Perceptrons: Intro to Machine Learning

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Certainly one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of the citizen to keep and bear arms. This is not to say that firearms should not be very carefully used and that definite rules of precaution should not be taught and enforced. But the right of the citizen to bear arms is just one more safeguard against a tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible.

—Hubert Humphrey, 1960

"For the nation’s elites, the Second Amendment has become the Rodney Dangerfield of the Bill of Rights, constantly attacked by editorial writers, police chiefs seeking scapegoats, demagoging politicians, and most recently even by Rosie O’Donnell, no less. It is threatened by opportunistic legislative efforts, even when sponsors acknowledge their proposed legislation would have little impact on crime and violence.

Professional champions of civil rights and civil liberties have been unwilling to defend the underlying principle of the right to arms. Even the conservative defense has been timid and often inept, tied less, one suspects, to abiding principle and more to the dynamics of contemporary Republican politics. Thus a right older than the Republic, one that the drafters of two constitutional amendments - the Second and the Fourteenth - intended to protect, and a right whose critical importance has been painfully revealed by twentieth-century history, is left undefended by the lawyers, writers, and scholars we routinely expect to defend other constitutional rights."

Robert J. Cottrol's essay on the right to keep and bear arms is the single finest work of its kind I have ever read: A Liberal Democrat's Lament.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Have interest in management of the software development function? Joel on Software is a thoughtful blog which has gained acclaim for its insights into the care and feeding of programmers. The brainchild of ex-Microsoft manager Joel Spolsky, JOS serves as a marketing gateway to Fog Creek Software, his small development company. Technical interviewing, software design, and graphical user interface (GUI) issues are all discussed in lengthy (and compelling) detail.

NFL, another good week for my "system".

Pick Sprd Opp Result
PIT - 7.0 ari W PIT 28-15
STL - 7.0 bal W STL 33-22
phi + 5.0 GB W phi 17-14
atl +11.0 NYG W atl 27-7
cle +10.0 KC L KC 41-20
Week 4-1 Total 15-7-1

I haven't discussed my system before, but here's a brief intro: I did a computer analysis of every game since 1994 along with the Vegas spread and Over/Under. I found some interesting patterns, in which a bettor could achieve a statistical advantage over the house. Not for all games, but for a select few games (e.g., usually I would feel comfortable locking in on two to six games a week).

Monday, November 10, 2003

In the automotive world, Nissan and its luxury division, Infiniti, are on a roll. Their mid-market offerings and, specifically, the G35 family are dominating the competition and for good reason. The G35 Coupe is spectacular - a Porsche 911 drive-a-like priced at the low-to-mid thirties. The G35 Sedan is the first true competition for BMW's 3-series in a long, long time.

In addition, Infiniti's radical-looking SUV's - the FX35 and FX45 - seem to be selling well, providing outrageous horsepower (280 and 315, respectively) and sports-car-like handling at much lower prices than the European luxo-makers.

If you're investigating the purchase of a Nissan or Infiniti, is the ultimate set of resources, including one of the busiest communities of automotive consumers anywhere on the web.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Google AdSense is an advertising program for webmasters that truly represents breakthrough stuff. For example, say you have a site on the history of Indiana Basketball. If you placed an AdSense banner on your site, it would generate contextually correct advertisements: autographed Isiah Thomas posters, Bobby Knight memorabilia, etc. It's a two-fold win for advertisers and publishers: the former get their targeted audience automatically (without having to pick among thousands of placement options) while the publishers get higher revenue because of superior clickthrough. As an aside, BadBlue's free version is currently generating around 300,000 AdSense impressions a month.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

A few hours ago, I was discharged from the hospital. Yes, hard to believe that a guy who once bench-pressed 540 at a body-weight of 178 would ever be in the hospital, but... whoops, did I say 540?

Anyhow, yesterday I had a cervical discectomy with fusion at C4-C5. Effectively, this means the neurosurgeon intended to open up the front of my neck, push around the trachea and such, remove the offending disc, put in a polymer replacement disc and then fuse the top and bottom vertebrae together with a cardboard (or perhaps titanium) cage. However, as I understand it, Dr. Schwetschenau discovered - once he was able to see everything - that the disc had already ruptured, pieces of disc were scattered everywhere and there was not enough room for the cage. So he put the polymer plug in a much tighter-than-normal space and sewed everything back up.

I'm guessing the whole thing took about three hours, and my wife was fortunate to have Candy, Lori, Phyllis, Julie, her Mom and probably a few others there to lend support. After all, it's not like we're talking about neurosurgery or anything... oopsie!

I just remember the surreal experience of being wheeled into the O.R. and staring up at these two giant, steel rhododendrons suspended from the ceiling. I guess they were some kind of super-focused lighting systems for those tough-to-reach spinal cord areas. I remember saying hi to the Doc and than - lights out - I was waking up a while later in the recovery room.

After a bit, I got rolled up to my room, which was the size of large phonebooth where I was surprisingly coherent. Amy, Joanne, Tudy, Tommy, Marc, and Rick all stopped by at some point. I was able to call Mom & Dad and Gerry to check in. After the drugs kicked in, I was able to crash for a while, and 2AM found me attempting to get my bladder to work correctly to avoid the threatened "straight up catheterization". Luckily, my bladder came around.

So, why did I have this surgery? Me, the notorious "walk it off, bitch" guy? Well, in August sometime, I was hit pretty hard on the top of the head while playing basketball. A little bit later, during the game, I felt shocks run down both my arms. Generally, I think that's a bad sign. I just thought it was a fluke, and I played ball the next week as well. Same thing happened while running downcourt... shocks running down both arms. Then the tip of my thumb started going numb.

Visited the G.P., who diagnosed cervical radiculopathy. This is usually a situation where a nerve is getting pinched at the foraminal opening; where the responsible nerve exits the spinal cord. This often happens with a herniated disc (also called a 'slipped disc', 'ruptured disc', etc. - for some reason the medical community hasn't standardized their disc lingo). He was sufficiently concerned to order up an MRI.

The MRI - taken in September - showed a "moderate" compression of the spinal cord at C4-C5. Often times, this is not that big of a deal, if symptoms are nonexistent or very mild. Problem was, I started feeling the tip of my _right_ thumb going numb. Then, a few weeks later, the most disturbing aspect occurred. Driving to work one morning, I started feeling a burning sensation on my right shin and thigh. Uh oh.

Over a relatively short period of time, my toes, feet, thighs, shins and even crotch area experienced durations of tingling, numbness, burning and a whole range of other, somewhat unpleasant symptoms. Once these symptoms started, we were fortunate enough to get a quick-react visit with a neurologist, Dr. Schmerler (whom I would highly recommend). He took one look at the MRI and said, "Uh, yeah, you need surgery." He walked over to the neurosurgery practive and, lucky break, there was a cancellation with one of the surgeons, who are notoriously difficult to schedule an appointment on short notice.

At a subsequent visit with Dr. Schwetschenau, he reviewed the symptoms and then brought us into an MRI viewing room. As he looked at the C4-C5 disc complex where the spinal cord was getting pinched, I said, "isn't that just moderate cord compression?". He looked back at me skeptically and said, effectively, I wouldn't call that moderate. He showed us the white spot on the cord which would indicate either permanent or temporary loss-of-signal. While not a medical professional, I suspect that's not a _good_ thing.

He felt that surgery was needed ASAP. Again, through a stroke of good luck, Mary Ellen - his head of nursing - was available to give us a pre-op briefing. When she opened her office door, a schedule was taped on it. Surgery was on Monday! And this was Wednesday. One could hardly ask for a faster turnaround. Like I say, we were very lucky.

At 11:15am, we were at the OR waiting room. At 11:20, we were in pre-op. And the rest... you already know. So it's the day after - as I write this - so I think I'll go and rest for a while. Anyhow, thanks to all of the docs, nurses and staff of River Hills and Bethesda North. I'm sitting at home, preparing to rest, and the only pain I seem to have is... swallowing, from the manipulation of the throat and the intubation.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Talk about your disruptive technology... Skype is a peer-to-peer Internet telephony application for PC's. No centralized infrastructure, no expensive routers or switches, no administrators or operators... just a set of PC's cooperatively exchanging voice-over-IP (VoIP). As of this writing, over 2.2 million copies downloaded.

On a completely different topic, my NFL picks so far this year:

9/13/2003 Picks
Pick Sprd Opp Result
car + 9.5 TB W CAR 12-9 1-0

9/20/2003 Picks
Pick Sprd Opp Result
nyj + 6.5 NE L
SF - 7 cle L 1-2

9/27/2003 Picks
Pick Sprd Opp Result
det +12.5 DEN W DEN 20-16 2-2

10/4/2003 Picks
Pick Sprd Opp Result
cin + 8.5 BUF W BUF 22-16
SF - 7.0 det P SF 24-17 3-2-1

Pick Sprd Opp Result
hou + 9.5 TEN L TEN 38-17
ARI + 6.0 bal L bal 26-18
DEN - 7.0 pit L DEN 17-14 3-5-1

Pick Sprd Opp Result
sd + 5.0 CLE W sd 26-20
dal + 3.0 DET W dal 38-7
SF + 3.5 tb W SF 24-7 6-5-1

Pick Sprd Opp Result
ARI + 6.5 sf W ARI 16-13
buf + 6.5 KC L KC 35-6?
hou +13.5 IN W IN 30-21 8-6-1

Pick Sprd Opp Result
gb + 4.5 MIN W gb 30-27
BAL - 7.0 jax P BAL 24-17
HOU + 6.5 car W HOU 14-10
SEA - 4.5 pit W SEA 23-16 11-6-2

I'm on a roll, all thanks to the "Ross System" (more on this later...).