my online notepad


past static

The irrational Serbian appeal to history, the subject of my 3-19-1999 rant, is targeted with apt satire by the Onion:
Single Marine Sent Back In Time To Resolve Kosovo Crisis
Will Assassinate Ottoman Emperor In 1389 A.D.

Good photography teachers start with the study of light and follow its path through the lens and onto the film, later explaining how you can modify this path using a camera. HTML coders often start manipulating the camera's controls and never learn the foundations of their art, missing great opportunities to improve their work. HTTP, web server functions, and other elements between the HTML file and the web browser complement each other so well it's a shame the disciplines aren't intertwined. Maybe I'll write an article.

The New York Times created this for the layperson with great success.

Law Lords refuse Pinochet immunity from extradition. Either through prosecution or eternal legal battel Pinochet will probably spend what's left of his life in jail. Given that other countries are getting in line to request extradition (e.g. Canada), I'm sure other murderous heads of state are watching this case closely.
Also see: The Fiftieth Anniversary of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

"Its been called an exegesis of an exegesis..." by someone who probably thought that's a good thing. The technical specification for XML (a markup language for exchanging data) was too difficult to understand, so it was annotated. But if you need to explain your explanation then something is wrong.

What you probably have here is a subject with at least two different audiences - one is a technically-minded audience building XML tools that needs the technical specification in all its accurate, complex glory. The other production-minded audience that is writing XML code needs a tutorial. These two audiences are better off with two different documents since they have different skills, knowledge, and goals. This explains the popularity of the unfortunately named ...for Dummies book series.

Sometimes it's the little things in life that give me hope, like the person who is spending $35/year to reserve schmoop.com for the rest of us to use. Thanks!

"Next-Bench Methodology" is a usability term I hadn't heard before. Robin Jeffries of Sun Microsystems writes:
I know of examples where the engineers were specifically thinking of people just like themselves, and other examples where they just assumed there was only one way to design something. At HP, this even has a name: "next bench methodology" -- meaning testing out your design by seeing if the guy at the next bench (notice the hardware bias) likes it. They consider this a feature.
The user-side equivilent to this is "Hey-Joe/Jane Support" in which productivity suffers because instead of receiving or seeking proper support, users turn to the person next to them ("Hey Joe/Jane") and both users suffer through a problem.

Jakob Nielson's work on user interface design is certainly world class. I gained an appreciation for his intense (though terribly dry) approach while using his Usability Engineering text back in grad school. There was no question about the methods he used, everything was thought out like a doctoral thesis and verified by controlled experiment. But since he's become an Internet rock star, he's relying much more on empirical knowledge. I think factoring our intuition into our decisions is good practice (and I agree with 90% of Nielson's intuition). But actually publishing that intuition without testing it can be misleading, especially when you're so influential.

The affirmative action debate seems to be getting more thoughtful, with common ground surfacing at times. The excellent Fred Friendly Seminar on PBS managed to avoid irrational outbursts (or at least none made it past the editing phase). The fact that some outspoken minorities are coming out against "plus factors" based on race may signal the shift of assistance based on class instead of on race. Some of the smartest commentary on the subject has been offered by John H.McWhorter and the responses from Howard Gardner and others at The Edge.

The Lego Watch System. Lego is picking some melodramatic names these days (e.g. "Mindstorms") for a company known for cute and educational toys. Summed up in this review, mine has garnered more attention than expected, even before admirers knew it was a Lego brand watch. The only place I've seen it for sale is on British Airways and Disney. They're not stupid by concentrating on new toys for kids, but there's obvious memerobilia/nostalgia appeal for Lego-built Adult toys.

Gov. Ventura's Internet campaign tactics apparently received some notice, and he plans to keep up the agressive use while in office. They even go so far as to say, "Without the Internet, we would have lost the election." While you may or may not agree with his policies, his egalitarian approach to his constituents is admirable.

It's amazing other politicians aren't using the Internet as progressively. The two most effective ideas served to cut out the fuzziness and subjective views of the press: using the web site to immediately communicate with voters ("rumor control"), and the publishing of position papers to clearly state the candidate's views.

Bandwidth does not equal brandwidth says a researcher from Jupiter, meaning ads sucked through cable modems and xDSL are not necessarily better than smaller ads sucked through a modem. I'm guessing that it matters who's seeing your ads: the 'net savvy or TV refugees?

Roberto Benigni's Oscar acceptance speech.. Could anyone who wasn't a foreign national (or Italian) pull this off?
...it is a colossal moment of joy so everything is really in a way that I cannot express. I would like to be Jupiter and kidnap everybody and lie down in the (inaudible) making love to everybody because I don't know how to express - it's a question of love. You are really, this is a mountain of snow, so delicate, the suavity and the kindness, it is something I cannot forget...

SOHO sound editing for the Mac was never better than with the shareware SoundEffects. Micromat has bought the program, renamed is "SoundMaker" and is selling it commercially. Since I was a good boy and paid my $15 shareware fee, Micromat is giving me SoundMaker for only $30. Their prompt response and reasonable offer tempts me to switch from Norton Utilities to Micromat'sTechTool Pro.

Combine SoundMaker with the more academic but also cheap SoundHack and you've got a lot of digital sound processing power for very little cash.

FreeBSD Instead Of Linux? I like deviating from the crowd, so this is an attractive option. Given the similarity between the two operating systems, the mountain of Linux development results in leverage for the FreeBSD folks. FreeBSD rises with the Open Source tide. Unfortunately FreeBSD is not resume-buzzword compliant.

Why should Hillary Clinton be elected Senator from New York? Because it doesn't matter where you're from, anyone can represent New York. Because being married to the President automatically qualifies you for the position. Because we feel sorry for her. Because she has so much experience in a political office. Because she's an outsider that isn't caught in the tangled web of Washington politics.

The Serbs are rolling back the clock on civilization. They make lame accusations of bias and blame American negotiators - a tired approach. When every other nation on earth has changed bounderies since founding they're still citing a 600 year-old war as their claim to land.

It's amazing these articles do not mention the concept of racism even once. Racism after all is what this conflict is about. Instead the term "ethnic cleansing" is repeated without the sardonic tone it deserves.

With NATO bombings, their country will return to a primitive state of living that corresponds with their idea of what it means to be civilized. Too bad the point has to be made that way.

When Minnesota elects a former pro wrestler as Governor, people are going to make jokes about him. Of all those that do, the Governor should be honored when the satire comes from Minnesota's greatest humorist. MN Public Radio paints Keillor to be an admirer of Ventura's, but they didn't include this wonderfully subtle Keillor quote:
The Gov has begun his term by pursuing a number of small personal goals, including reducing the license fee for jet skis and removing the state funding for public broadcasting and getting himself permission to carry a concealed weapon in the State Capitol...Eventually, when the Governor's personal goals are met, we trust he will get around to larger issues.

The BrowserSpy gives you a good idea what web servers know about you (this doesn't include your name or what you're interested in buying, which is all we really care about). It's also an example of a site that's been-there-done-that with the retro-psuedo-70's-space-theme (e.g. projectcool) and is now content to wow us with great functionality.

"Aha!" said two different folks from the Boston Consulting Group. I was starting to think the "Aha! moment" was an elite consultant excitement-generator that I didn't know about, but it turns out even Yahoo! is using it. Where have I been?

Time-based competition was Boston Consulting Group's mantra back when I was there circa '94 (these days it's "insight"). As expressed by George Stalk Jr., time-based competition boils down to not wasting time. Updated to account for digital speed, he says those who leverage IT to gain a speed advantage will win. What he doesn't address is the constantly climbing learning curve and the amount of time adapting to all the change in lifestyle that change in technology ushers in.

I agree that both companies and consumers get more accomplished, but what aren't we doing now that we were doing then while waiting for information and service delivery? Was that leisure time or time with friends and family that is now spent figuring out the best place to buy a book or sorting through gobs of price comparisons? I'm afraid we'll hit a wall of maximum efficiency not too long from now and more technology won't give us any more hours in a day. At that point we may have to rely on good old fashioned creativity, but we may to too busy to let our creative minds flourish.

The Mac OS is still pushing the frontiers of the personal computer interface, this time with audio. Mac OS 8 lets you turn on audio cues that accompany actions such as opening folders or clicking the mouse. I wrote about the advantages of this back in '94.

Not surprisingly, Apple isn't making a big deal of it (it's absent from the features list). Researchers at Apple had actually developed this many years ago (an article about it is in this book), but processing power couldn't be spared for audio back then. Now of course we have the butt-kickin' PowerPC. Still, Apple isn't hyping this feature, probably because they figure the public will perceive the sound as more toy than tool. Chances are Apple will gradually improve the audio interface until other operating system designers (e.g. Microsoft) realize its benefits and steal it, just as they did with the graphical interface.

One of the requirements for e-commerce is trust worthiness, because the customer can't kick the tires or hear the tone of your voice over the Internet. Stores like Amazon.com have worked hard to overcome their lack of bricks-and-morter. But others, starting with a negative perception, will have a harder time. For example, I barely trust headhunters to send me qualified candidates or relevant job leads, so why would I get a loan through them?

NEW SERVICE Introducing the HomeShark Home & Loan Center available through Futurestep's Life & Career. Here you can shop for homes and home loans, get neighborhood information and find your home's value.

The Edge is finally getting some press. I'm impressed, floored even, by their arsenal of intelligent writers. But there's a clique-ish quality that seems to say, "Are you smart and cool enough to be here?" The entire site is broken out into three types of thinkers that are smarter than intellectuals, hipper than beatniks, and more connected than the wired. They are great because "They give each other permission to be great."

Operation Re-Information has created a simple but awesome little sound program for the Mac. Using an on-screen interface to control samples that are triggered with the keyboard, this brings an enormous amount of fun electronic performance cability to anyone with a Mac - no midi, no sound cards, no other hardware or software needed. All for $20.

Turns out St.Patrick was Scottish. The same page mentions that the whole banishing-the-snakes tale is legend and also attempts to explain snakeless Ireland: "chances are that there never have been [snakes in Ireland] since the time the island was separated from the rest of the continent at the end of the ice age." We can credit Patrick with forcing Christianity upon the Druids, although the "official" St. Patrick site (sanctioned by Rome or St. Pat??) mentions he was able to do this without killing anyone, all very nice of him.

I sincerely do like the history of the shamrock, which is almost Zen-like: "Preaching in the open air on the doctrine of the trinity, he is said to have illustrated the existence of the Three in One by plucking a shamrock from the grass growing at his feet and showing it to his congregation."

The http://www.st-patricks-day.com/ site puts this holiday in perspective...

...Being a religious holiday as well, many attend mass, where it is the traditional day for offering prayers for missionaries throughout the world, before the serious celebrating begins in earnest.
Here in New York City we tend to skip all that silly praying and head straight for the "serious" celebration - getting stupid drunk.

In all this hype about MP3 files, I haven't seen anyone criticize its lossy compression. Remember when the Philips Digital Compact Cassette (obsolete now, I assume) and the Sony MiniDisc were first released? There was quite a bit of doubting and disbelieving that their lossy compression schemes could sound as good as compact discs. Now MP3s, which use the same fundamental technology are hyped as the greatest thing since electric guitars, with folks placing blind faith in the methods used to compress the sound. Perhaps when the MiniDisc came out we were still too close to the digital vs. analog debate. Perhaps people were more skeptical when they were laying down cash for the MiniDisc, whereas people aren't looking in the mouth of the free, great sounding MP3s gifthorse .

Don't get me wrong, I love MP3s too, I just haven't lost my critical facilities. Way back in 1994 I wrote a paper on this technology, Perceptual Coding, and hoped something like MP3 would come along:

...Other applications include stand-alone converter modules for conversion to any media and, eventually, software encoders. The need for standardization soon becomes apparent, and hopefully it will be met...

The Sweetest Thing: U2 releases an example of the polished, agressive R&B sound and lyrics from their Rattle and Hum days.

Another Horsedreamer's Blues: Some of the best lyrics around, great even by Counting Crows' standards:
Margery's wingspan's all feathers and coke cans, and
TV dinners and letters she won't send, and
Every race night is shot through with sunlight
Trying to hit the big one one last time tonight for
Drunken fathers and stupid mothers and
Boys who can't tell one girl from another

"Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more and all good things are yours."
- A Swedish proverb that Sarah sent to me

With search engines like Google that rank a site based on how many other "high-importance" pages link to it, they're turning the web into a popularity contest ("Grammy-syndrome"). In Google's world, importance=popularity. These days, it's mostly search engines and advertisers that are doing the linking. The days are fading when every individual's home page had an obligatory list of favorite links (consider my home page and this weblog a holdout), and even if they do, not many sites link to these personal pages.

These days many quality sites don't link offsite for fear of losing eyeballs, so only their advertisements link offsite. By considering the advertisers "high-importance" sites Google blows away the egalitarian nature of the 'Net and replaces it with a lot of commercial links. I foresee sites that use this method of determining importance to become the tabloids of the web.

Two Googlers respond lamely:

Date: Tue, 16 Mar 1999 00:47:53 -0800
To: csilvers@google.com, victorlombardi@yahoo.com, page@cs.stanford.edu
Subject: Re: popularity=quality?

I don't think we will turn into a tabloid. But, time will tell.

As you can imagine, our opinion is somewhat different. :-) We are certainly aware of the increasing commercialization of the web, and as we work to improve the quality of our search this is one factor we keep in mind.

Thanks for your input!


Of all the things one could horde before Y2K, seeds looks like the best bet so far. This plan will undoubtably cost U.S. farmers more money, which will go to the seed companies. Because the government already subsidizes farmers, those subsidies will have to increase in order for the farmers to stay in business. So the government will be indirectly sending those subsidies to the seed companies, on top of helping them increase their profits at the expense of farmers. And we'll probably see more big farming operations buy up the bankrupt small farmers.

I don't think any law requiring farmers to buy "terminator" seeds will stand; I'm sure the ACLU is already waiting to sink their jaws into this one. If the law doesn't fall by way of business law, I think it will fall under weight of popular fear of screwing up our own seed supply. As the Prince of Wales said, "this kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God, and to God alone." Witness the frenzy in England over genetically modified foods. This story has been covered in America, but for whatever reason it hasn't caused nearly the same uproar. By going down this path, the USDA is tempting fate. I doubt U.S. citizens have a lot of sympathy for the USDA or big seed companies, but they sure do have sympathy for farmers.

Of all the domain name pointing/redirecting services, mydomain.com looks the cheapest, at least until you want to ditch them, when they sock you with a $35 move fee. If you're pretty sure you won't move it for two years then it works out to be a good deal. Their "stealth redirect" keeps your domain name in the browser location window even after redirection...neat.

Some creative job titles. Traditional titles like Director and Vice President have lost much of their meaning, only signifying anything in a company-specific way, and usually that's just prestige. Functional titles seem to make more sense, and aptly represent the knowledge the person is paid for (see Paul Strassmann ideas below).

I wonder if Apple's "evangelists" started this trend?

Though StoryServer is not as bad as others, these long application server-generated URLs are useful for the server, but not for humans. We actually look at these ugly strings, and email them to our friends, and watch them get mangled in email messages. Like it or not they've become part of the user interface of the Internet. It'd be nice if an effort was made to shorten the URLs or avoid them altogether.

Update 3-21-1999: Great minds think alike.

Just a matter of time before somebody registers weputthedotin.com and sells it to Sun.

Lensworks' prints They rave about their new process but don't actually tell you how they do it. They do tell (and show) you enough to get excited. Very clever marketing/intellectual property protection!

It's too bad the concept of Intellectual Capital isn't catching on faster (I don't mean in business schools or business magazines where it's been hyped ad nauseum, but in actual everyday business), but like interface design I think it's neglected because the return on investment is too amorphous, and practicing it still the provence of intellectuals or quasi-intellectuals. Strassmann sums up the amorphousness: "It is now widely understood that the costs of acquiring knowledge and the profit-generation potentials of such knowledge are unrelated. The value of intellectual property is in its use, not in its costs." ...and using it (tapping your employee's knowledge) is easier said than done. But it seems obvious given the last 150 years of industrial and technological progress that problems were solved and solutions improved as the result of good ideas.

For some reason intellectual capital is sometimes associated with computerization (which is not necessarily productive), whereas it should focus on people and the value of their knowledge.

Strassmann says,

The cost to develop information workers, which I define as an overhead expense for acquiring company-specific knowledge, is very often much greater than the depreciation of the fixed assets and greater than profits for most corporations. The time has come for enterprises to manage knowledge capital as perhaps their most significant asset.
(and to reduce company-specific knowledge as much as possible, e.g. use popular open-source software when possible). He eloquently explains what I felt when I wrote my new media company rant, that staying at a company when you're not learning is deadly to your self-worth (and with the size of this log today you've go to wonder about me).

Other points:

  • increase the overhead-to-asset conversion efficiency (aka knowledge recycling)- you'll get more return on your investment in knowledge capital if that capital can be used in the long term so "accumulated knowledge can be reapplied without further expense...The company does not have to pay for all of it in every fiscal year"
  • "one has to understand that Knowledge Capital does not need to reside exclusively in the heads of employees. It also occupies the mindshare of customers who have expended their own time and money to became habituated to [your] products." Not sure how to capitalize on this, but it's worth more thought
  • "Software expenses are now wasted because management uncritically accepts the view that software is largely unrecoverable every time technology, the organization, or business practices experience major changes." Software must be designed for the long run, or else it becomes the biggest computing expense. This is another argument for scripting over low-level programming: it's easier to maintain.
  • "The information age is now a reality, because information management can now be planned, budgeted, and controlled as a corporate input and not merely as a technology investment." This challenges the financial-only view of the corporation. It's interesting that as investing in the stock market becomes a matter of easy and extensive exchange of information, there is a natural migration from valuing a company based on traditional assets to valuing it based on its intellectual capitial as well. So the change takes place inside the company as well as out (hopefully).

Is anyone practicing human resources in a holistic, innovative way? It seems if it was done right then intellectual capital would be more the rallying cry of HR than of upper management. I imagine a company where HR is not some person or department separate from the rest of the company, but involved enough to know the hour by hour concerns of the employees. Using this new perspective they customize not only the benefits and career planning, but also the general wellness of the employees. When it comes to exercise and nutrition, don't merely kick in part of their gym bill; help them plan an excercise routine, provide good things to eat. This is more than just proactive, it's immersed HR. I expect we'd have to call it something other than HR for it to be accepted well.

The goal should be: zero unwanted turnover. When someone approaches an employee with a job offer, the employee's response will be, "Are you kidding? I love this place, I can't imagine leaving."

Is this expensive? Of course it is. You'll see a lot of return on this investment in low turnover and productivity (riffing on the above idea, turnover results in lost company-specific knowledge capital), but I wouldn't claim it would be an economically profitable venture. It would profit in health and happiness. Then again it might be profitable, as Paul Strassman writes:

If organizations spend their money well, employees with 10 years of accumulated knowledge will be worth more than what the company pays them. In that way, the company will be recovering the investment on its knowledge capital as incremental profits.
This reinforces my belief that prestige titles (VP, President, etc) are meaningingless and harmful because they place value based on prestige, not on knowledge and ability. All titles should describe a person's function and/or company-specific work or knowledge.

colorize A nice intro to color, with a helpful list of links.

domainsurfer So far the best WHOIS replacement I've seen. But what will be really helpful is when someone compares the dictionary and two- and three-letter acronyms with WHOIS and gives you an alphabetical listing of available domains, because with 4,681,917 records it's getting to the point where all the good ones are taken.

Learning XML is easier with these MS tutorials (requires IE 5.0)

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