Thursday, December 28, 2006

Stage Check, Take Two

I tried to take my first stage check last week, but I was foiled by the weather -- it was raining lightly and looked like some nastier weather was going to move in, and I didn't want my first practical flying test to be in marginal weather. So we completed the ground portion of my stage check (apparently acceptable), and put off the flying part.

The reschedule flying portion should be tomorrow, and as of now the weather for tomorrow looks good -- plentiful sunshine, winds N at 5-10mph.

We'll see how the weather actually turns out, but I'm hoping for the best -- I'm trying to get a little extra flying in over the Christmas break.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bah Humbug

'Tis the season, with all the usual reminders of Christmas cheer -- people putting little bow ties on the front of their diesel trucks, abnormally low temperatures (i.e. approaching freezing), obnoxious songs on the radio, 1.8M people trying to cram themselves into Valley Fair Mall over the weekend, and, last but not least, my favorite December activity -- trying to cram a month's worth of work into two weeks.

Needless to say, I have not completed my Christmas shopping yet.

In somewhat related news, the Sweaty Ball is coming up friday, which promises to be a fun event. The planners are pretty much evenly split on worrying that too many people will show up and worrying that not enough will show. Jon manages to worry about both at the same time -- I think this is a skill you learn in project management.

In aircraft news, I'm coming up on my stage check, where my flying progress will be evaluated. If I pass that, then I'm ready to do my solo flight, which is my first major milestone in flight school.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Flying Instructions

Basic flying instructions:
  • Try to stay in the middle of the air.
  • Do not go near the edges of it.
  • The edges of air can be recognized by the appearance of ground, buildings, sea, trees, and interstellar space. It is much more difficult to fly there.
Found while reading the 2005 Nall Report summarizing aircraft accidents. Original source of quote unknown.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I took a business trip to Israel a week ago, but I've been so busy since then that I haven't had time to write anything about it. Most of my trips I don't get the chance to see much of anything outside the hotel lobby, but on this trip I was in the country on the weekend (Israel takes friday and saturday off instead of saturday and sunday), so I got the chance to do a little tourism.

Awais wanted to visit the Al-Asqa mosque, so he gathered up a couple of our local co-workers and we drove out to Jerusalem. It wasn't very far, a little over an hour drive from our hotel in Hertziliya. It's something that's a little tough to get used to -- pretty much everything in the country is less than two hours drive from Tel Aviv.

We spent the day touring the old city. The old city is, by definition, the portion of Jersusalem contained in the city walls. These walls were built by the Ottomans in the 16th century (or thereabouts), so they're in pretty good condition.

As soon as we entered the city we were in the middle of a market. We spent the first part of the day in the Muslim quarter, where pretty much every available square inch is used for retail purposes. The way to the mosque was packed with people and hemmed in on both sides by stalls.

As we got close to the mosque, a group of Israeli police motioned me over. They asked about, roughly, my ethnicity (I said I was American), and then asked if I was a Muslim. I said no, so they replied that they wouldn't let me in ("Maybe on a weekday"). Awais said I should have said I was Muslim -- "they can't tell" -- but one of our friends in Israel said that they've been known to issue a pop quiz on the Koran if they doubt you. Which I would have failed miserably, of course.

Awais went in and I wandered around the city for a while. I went and saw the Christian quarter (no security guards there, but then again it wasn't Sunday), and then wandered into the Jewish quarter.

The Jewish quarter seemed pretty quiet, except for a couple tour groups. At one point we did hear someone around the corner launching into an angry tirade of some sort, but didn't investigate that. In the afternoon, the whole city shut down, which put a pretty effective end to our outing -- we had already walked around the city, seen the city walls, and visited the West Wall of the temple of David, so shopping was about all that was left to do.

I found Jerusalem to be a fascinating city. I wasn't as impacted by the religous aspect, since I don't participate in any of the three religions which vie for control of the city (or any other religions, for that matter, unless "Linux" counts), but the whole city oozes history. The four-hundred year old wall surrounding the city is new.

On saturday my stomach didn't feel very good, so I cancelled my plans to go see Tel Aviv. I spent the day hanging out in my hotel room and on the beach in front of my hotel.

Weather was nice -- I was worried about getting a sunburn while I was on the beach. Security wasn't too bad, although Awais was detained for 5 hours while they ran a background check on him. My biggest problem was getting the customs official to actually pay attention to me. They don't pretend to be even-handed on security, and aside from the beard, I look pretty darn white.

I actually ran into much stiffer security on leaving the country, where they gave me a short (6-7 question) interview on why I was there, who I visited, if I had friends the country, etc. They appeared satisfied that I only associated with co-workers and let me through.

Flights to and from Israel were long, but I actually managed to get some sleep on the plane there and back, so it wasn't as gruelling as previous trips. I was tired but functional by the time I showed up on both ends. Which is good, because it looks like I'll be going back.

Friday, December 08, 2006

On Our Way

Got out of work a little later than I would have liked -- didn't manage to really hit the freeway until after 6pm. We got caught in 680 traffic headed northbound, which wasn't a surprise, but it starting moving OK once we got over the hill.

Had dinner at In-n-Out in Fairfield -- let's hear it for road cuisine. It was sprinkling lightly as we walked back to the car after dinner, and it started picking up as we went from I-80 to I-505. By the time we were on I-5 north it was a full-fledged rain.

Started to feel a bit tired as it passed 10PM, so drove until we hit Redding and stopped for the night. Joahnna was already asleep by the time we got to the motel, so woke her up long enough to get her to the room, where she curled into bed and promptly went back to sleep.

Going to hit the sack after I finish posting and brushing my teeth, as we still have about 9-10 hours of driving to do tomorrow.

Driving to Seattle

I decided to donate my old truck to my high school in Seattle, so Joahnna and I are going to spend today and tomorrow driving up I-5. Hopefully this will be a reasonably adventure-free road trip, but I have packed the chains along just in case we hit snow along the way. That and I figure they'll do the new owner more good than they will me.

I got back from Israel last week, but despite the fact that it was a work trip, there was still somehow a week's worth of work backed up for me once I returned, so I haven't had a chance to write it up or post photos. I'll try to find some time this weekend to upload photos and write it up this weekend.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Tel Aviv or Bust

I'm leaving for the airport in a few hours to fly to Tel Aviv for a week. It's mainly a business trip, but I hope to have some time on friday and saturday to do a bit of sightseeing (Israel does not work on fridays).

This trip has been scheduled a couple times before but called off. The joke has been that I won't believe I'm going until I'm actually walking down the jetway, but I'm pretty close to that now.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Who Shot JFK?

I'm in Dallas for a few days to attend a conference, and ended up with a bit of free time. I don't have a car, so it's tough to get very far from the hotel, but I did walk over to the 6th Floor Museum to check that out.

The museum is interesting mainly because you get to put yourself at the actual scene of the shooting, and see Oswald's point of view. The rest of the museum was interesting, with exhibits about the shooting, the immediate history afterwards, and some of the conversy surrounding the shooting, but it's nothing you haven't seen before on the History Channel.

The part of downtown that's within walking distance of the hotel rolls up the streets at night, so it's not a very interesting area for cuisine. We did take a cab the other night to a place called the "Cosmic Cafe", which is a Hare Krishna-esqe Indian restaurant. It's more like a funky hippy reinterpretation of Indian food, but it was good and pretty spicy. More interesting than eating at the hotel restaurant again, in any case.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

High gas prices? What high gas prices?

An article from Fortune about how domestic car buyers have apparently entirely forgotten that gas was well over $3 a gallon this summer, and are shunning fuel-efficient American cars and chalking up record sales of big SUVs. The author blames this on "amnesia" and says that as soon as high gas prices went away, middle America went straight back to their big, fat cars.

While I can't argue against the truth of this, I think there's something he's overlooking about the trend in Ford and GM purchasing.

Basically, small American cars suck.

U.S. manufacturers small cars are invariably their cheapest models, and feel like it as soon as you drive one. There is no U.S. equivalent to the Honda Civic or Mazda '3' -- small, efficient cars that are actually fun to drive, instead of being basic transportation. No one wants to drive a car that makes the statement "This is all I could afford."

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Gone Hiking

Went for a hike with Joahnna on sunday, around Rancho San Antonio. The day started out looking a little gloomy, but burned off quickly into a nice day. We took the Rogue Valley trail up and connected to the PG&E trail on the way back, which works out to around 6 miles.

Afterwards we were ravenous, so we stopped by the Los Gatos Diner for bacon cheeseburgers. So much for that exercise...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Great Wall of Texas

Bush is apparently trying to work on another facet of his Legacy, by creating a 700-mile fence between the U.S. and Mexico.

Apparently the legacy he's working on is Political Backfires That Cost A Lot Of Money. In what should be a familiar theme, it is ineffective (Border Patrol officers estimate that a fence will only slow people down by a minute or two), expensive (estimated price tag: $2.5B dollars), and has been most successful so far at pissing off people that were previously reasonably friendly to the U.S.

Keep up the good work!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Voter Apathy

This article on CNN pretty much sums up how I feel about the upcoming elections. Democrats will likely win a bunch of seats, but it's not because they really have a good plan, but simply because they're not Republicans.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mark's Wedding

Went to Minnesota for Mark and Sarah's wedding last week. The St. Paul Cathedral was a beautiful locale. I was drafted to shoot video of the ceremony -- fortunately it was not a full Catholic mass, after 50 minutes of shooting hand-held my arm was cramping up in a bad way.

The reception was a few blocks away at old Victorian house. We used the first and second floors, along with the (furnished) basement, and found out later that the owner and their family still live on the third floor.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Wipe That Drool Off Your Chin, Soldier!

I was reading this article about lowering the recruiting standards for the armed forces in order to make recruiting targets (now why would we have to do that? Doesn't everyone want to help bring freedom to the Iraqis?), and could help but be reminded of an article I read in The Onion a few years back:

Clinton Deploys Very Special Forces To Iraq

Morale is said to be high among members of the very special forces, who were flown Monday from Sheppard Air Force Base to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in a squadron of specially modified C-130 "short planes." Upon arriving, the troops were given a thorough mission debriefing by Gen. James Herzog and a butterscotch-pudding snack cup. Each soldier was then issued an AR-15 rifle, three clips of NATO 7.62 mm rounds, a combat helmet with a velcro safety-strap, and a fanny pack with his name written on it in black magic marker.

(Follow the link for the full article)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Google Transit

Spent a couple minutes playing around with the "Google Transit" tool. It's like Google Maps, but it shows you what sequence of buses will get you from point A to point B, as well as breaking down the ride times for each bus and when they arrive.

An improvement over the "maps" tool is that it seems to be better about picking up non-street-address locations. I punched up some directions for Seattle (Bay Area isn't supported yet), and asked for a bus ride from the Space Needle to Sea-Tac. The results are pretty good: it figured out where the space needle was, and that "SEA" was the airport abbreviation. It also can take an arrival time and back-calculate when you need to leave (although that's also obvious by the departure time of your first bus).

Now, if they wanted to make money on it, they should make it so you can do it from your mobile phone. Maybe call up a phone number, talk to an automated search engine, and have it send you back a text message with the instructions and itenerary.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

NIE Wake-Up Call

The recently declassified NIE sounds like interesting reading, if this article is at all accurate about it's contents. I'm interested to see what sort of reaction it gets, since the author points out what the government goes great lengths to avoid talking about -- that general Muslim sentiment about the U.S. is a reaction to its policies around the world, and not some sort of relgious crusade against freedom.

In some ways this article really surprised me. This is a view that's been frequently expressed by some of my friends, but rarely examined by mainstream media. It's occasionally admitted that U.S. support for Israel might be a reason for some anti-U.S. sentiment, but even more so than anti-U.S., reasons for anti-Israeli feelings are never to be examined. The implications are always that it's because there are no reasons, just a vague, irrational hatred that can't be appeased.

After all, if there were reasons for these feelings, you could do something about them, couldn't you? And that would be a far more difficult situation.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Walking Around York

I spent some time yesterday and today walking around York, which, like many old European towns, is wonderful for walking, because it was designed for it (as much as it was designed for anything). Inside the old city (York still has intact city walls), many of the roads are closed to vehicle traffic.

I went to see York Minster, which is one of the oldest (and most-visited) cathedrals in England. The cathedral is very impressive, with enormous ceilings, and an organ mounted mid-way down the main corridor (I'm sure there's a better term for it than that). I won't try and describe it, but I did get some inside photos that I'll try and upload. Connections are iffy here in the hotel.

The photos from inside the cathedral came out slightly blurry, because the lighting inside was fairly dim, and the flash isn't remotely able to light it up.

After walking through there, I wandered around the rest of town, managing to find a small shop selling adapters for the massive U.K. electrical plugs, so I can recharge my laptop. I also spotted a used bookstore, which I will probably hit prior to my return flight.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Travel to York

9/24/06, 10:45am PST

I’m flying to York today on business, which basically means I’m spending the next day and a half in various airports. I flew out of Santa Barbara this morning at 8:20, having dragged my grandparents out of bed early to schlep me to the airport. The hour-long flight left me with several hours to kill until my London connection, which I decided to spend “productively” creating blog entries. Besides, I have power here in the airport, so I can spend as much time as I want on the laptop (I decided not to buy an inverter to run the laptop on the plane. I’m already carrying around enough crap).

6:15 pm PST

I tried to sleep on the plane, with no real success. I think I might be able to if it was actually time for me to sleep, but I think my internal clock still knows it’s too early to be hitting the sack.

Foiled in the best available time-waster, I also tried looking at the in-flight video/movie selection. They have some 40-odd channels available on the in-seat video system, but they have apparently decreed that now is sleepy time, so they’ve killed all the video feeds as well. Joy.

At this point all I have left is trying to read some engineering specs. They’re dull as dishwater even when I’m bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, hopefully a few paragraphs of spec-language can knock me out.

8:42 pm PST

I have reached the end of the Internet. Or, at least, the end of the programming cycle for the plane’s 5 or so channels of entertainment. The spec turned out to be dry as dust, but completely ineffective as a sleep aid. I am considering filling out my U.K. immigration form, which they helpfully provided at the beginning of the flight, giving me adequate time to fill out the 6 items of information which are, um, exactly the same as those on my passport. Couldn’t they just take a photocopy? It would undoubtedly be more legible than my handwriting.

Hmmm. I just discovered that Windows comes with games other than “Solitaire.” Perhaps I have found my next diversion.

12:15 am PST

I have successfully navigated customs (I went through a detailed interrogation this time – they actually asked *what sort* of business I was on in the UK), and made my way to the gate. By some miracle, it appears my laptop may have actually picked up a public access point, which would allow me to post my thrilling dialog shortly. As soon as I find out what time it is.

Whoops, ix-nay on the access-point-ay. It did pick up an access point, but it’s T-mobile, and again I’m not paying however many pounds for the 15 minutes I’ll be sitting here. Posting of my magnum opus will have to wait.

~ 3 AM PST

Arrived at the Manchester airport, collected my baggage and made my way over to the train station for York. Picked up a train ticket and had a relaxing 2-hour ride through the English countryside, which made me appreciate, among other things, why people talk about taking a relaxing ride through the English countryside. Quite pleasant, with rolling hills and little farms dotting the view. Well, quite pleasant once you get out of Manchester, that is.

~ 5:30 AM (PST)

Have arrived at the Monk Bar Hotel, in York, which is where I’m staying for the week. I'm now working on what could be my most challenging task of the day, which is staying awake until sometime vaguely around bedtime, so my clock is sync'ed up in the morning.

Air Combat

I woke up bright and early yesterday for Air Combat school. Keith picked me up at my grandparents’ house and we headed over to the school, which was flying out of the Santa Barbara airport.

The pre-flight briefing was pretty short. First they gave us a couple of flight suits (well used, and mine a bit short in the legs. I’m a little tall to be a fighter pilot). Nails, the chief pilot, gave us a brief run down on the safety equipment (parachute and Mae West vest), and the bail-out procedures for the aircraft. Afterwards he grabbed a couple aircraft models and briefly discussed the maneuvers we would practice in the morning session, which were the high and low yo-yos.

Afterwards we hung around the facility (a receiving area for private/corporate jets) and waited for the aircraft to come in from the previous session. The aircraft we would fly in the day are Marchetti combat trainers, which are propeller aircraft built to handle more like a jet fighter.

For the morning session, Keith flew with Nails, and I flew with Obie, a former F-16 pilot. We practiced some formation flying on the way out to the practice area (out over the water), and I immediately found that the Marchetti is far more sensitive than a Cessena. The smallest movement sent me drifting towards or away from the other aircraft, and I had to learn to make very small corrections to keep in place.

Once at the practice area (an arbitrary dot in the middle of the ocean), we set up drills. We would take turns being the bogey (target) and the fighter (aggressor). The bogey aircraft would fly in a constant bank turn, and the fighter practiced high and low yo-yo maneuvers, which allow a faster plane to maintain separation while setting up a good position on the tail of the bogey. The idea of the yo-yo is that you go high and then low (high yo-yo) or low and then high (low yo-yo), and turn tighter than the bogey during the low-energy part of the maneuver. At least I *think* that’s the idea of it. In light of the fact that both Keith and I are engineers, Nails told us during our briefing to “just do it” and not over-analyze what was going on.

After our drills we flew back to the airport, again in formation, although I got to try a barrel roll back on the way in. Fun.

The afternoon was the “practice” part of our theory & practice setup, so after flying out, we spent just a short amount of time running drills (I did two more yo-yos, and then a barrel roll on to target), and then we went on to the real thing. Or the simulated real thing, at least. We swapped up instructors – Keith flew with Obie, and I flew with Monk, the third instructor who was present that day.

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they’re different.

The dogfights were tough work. The basic idea is you line up and head at each other, with the opposing aircraft on your left. As soon as you pass, the instructor calls “fight’s on!” and you immediately go into a maximum-G left turn and try and turn in behind the other fighter. If you can turn faster than the other plane, you keep doing this until you get behind him and line up a shot. Once the shot is lined up, the instructor radios “guns guns guns!,” the target aircraft pops smoke to acknowledge, and you set up the next engagement.

The first engagement was short and sweet. I turned, but not at max rate, and Keith dropped in behind me and got the kill. Note to self: turn harder.

The second engagement lasted longer – I kept pulling hard, and we spiraled around until we hit the soft deck, at which point I backed off and Keith tagged me.

The third time, having lost twice in a row, my instructor had me try something new. Instead of doing a hard left turn, I pulled straight back into a loop, then rolled out into a turn. At this point I had a few angles on Keith, so I kept doing yo-yos to work the angles down. Eventually he flew straight into the sun, but I managed to line up a shot on him anyways and ended the engagement.

The fourth and the fifth engagements were similar – more difficult fights, as I started to figure out the dynamic. One win each for me and Keith’s plane (now flown by the instructor, as Keith was feeling a little green).

The final engagement was the longest and most difficult of the bunch. I managed to get an early angle advantage, but Keith’s plane still had altitude on me, and our speed was low. We started with a hard bank, I think we did a loop in the middle (it’s a sign of how much attention you’re paying to the dogfight when you suddenly find yourself inverted, and only know you are inverted by feel), and then we got an angle advantage and started doing yo-yos to work it down. The problem was at this point I was about 50-100’ lower, and slow, so every time I tried to pull up to make the shot the plane would start to buffet (edge of a stall). So at that point we would have to dive and turn it into another low yo-yo. I finally managed to line it up and end it, but everyone was pretty beat by that time.

I had chatted some with Monk about my (limited) time in the Cessena, so he had me fly the approach into SBA while he worked the radios, finally taking the aircraft about 500’ from the runway to flare and land. By this point I had become somewhat accustomed to the Marchetti, so I was no longer weaving about like a drunken sailor trying to maintain a heading.

It’s hard to describe feeling of doing the dogfights. For starters, I would say that it’s way, way, way cool, except that that’s not enough “way”. It’s also seriously hard work. Once the fight’s on, you’re pretty much pulling 2-4Gs until you win (or lose), because if you’re not doing a max-rate turn, you’re toast. Also, if things are going OK, the opposing aircraft is directly above you, so you’ve got your head cranked all the way back to keep him in sight while you’re loading on the Gs (if it’s *not* going well, of course, he’s *behind* you, and even harder to see). And the plane is moving all over the place, as you do lots of maneuvers to try to line up or shake the other guy. Fortunately, I’m nearly immune to motion sickness, but anyone with any susceptibility is likely to get queasy.

We have the whole dogfight on video, so I’ll be editing up something as soon as I’m back from traveling, but as I have nearly four hours of footage to sort through from the two planes, it may take a while.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Learning to Fly

I have ranted in the past about the silliness of the recent "binary liquid explosive" scare and the resulting ban on any sort of liquid in aircraft. After this, and the complete lack of any significant criticism of the decision by our lawmakers ("Hey, we're doing someting" does not constitute criticism), I figured the situation about airline travel was only going to get worse before it got better.

So, with option A ("don't fly") not particularly practical, and option B ("submit oneself to personal indignity and unpredictable delay in the name of security") getting worse, I decided to look into option C -- fly yourself there.

Is it a practical alternative to airline travel? Not really. But I've been fascinated by flying for forever, so it didn't take much of a push to convince me to learn.

Today I just completed my third lesson. Highlights of today's lesson were that I performed two unassisted take-offs, and landed the plane with only minimal assistance. I also started learning how to say all that cool airport talk.

I've been trying to get one lesson in per week, although upcoming travel is going to cause problems with that. By the official plan, that gives me 17 lessons left until I test for my license (VFR), although I suspect in reality it will take more than that. Which is fine, I'm not in any hurry.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Changing the Standard

Q: How many Microsoft employees does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: None. They declare darkness to be the standard.

In a fine example of reality imitating, well, reality, it turns out that the U.S. Military has made significant progress in controlling the insurgency in Baghdad, having cut the murder rate to one-half its rate from the previous month. And they accomplished this significant feat as a result of a security operation by U.S. and coalition forces.

Oh, and somewhere in there they redefined what "murder" is.

This has apparently led to some confusion inside Iraq. They seem to be a bit off-message. Perhaps no one sent them the memo. Or maybe they're just confused, because approximately the same number of people died of violent causes in August (1536, for those counting) as died in July.

When confronted with this curious statistic,
Johnson would not provide the figures used to calculate the percentages and said the military would not give detailed information about trends because that could provide "our enemy information they need to adjust their tactics and procedures to be more effective against us."

Which, though it sounds a bit odd, makes perfect sense when you connect that statement with Rumsfeld's revelation that the enemy is, in fact, the liberal media and unpatriotic Americans who have the temerity to question their fearless leadership.

See? It all makes sense if you think about it long enough.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

True Colors

Excellent Washington Post article analyzing Rumsfeld's American Legion speech. In some ways it was quite refreshing -- after all, this is the Rumsfeld that many of us suspected was there, and he's starting to reveal his true colors. Namely, that while he knows all the proper catch-phrases and hot-button adjectives, he doesn't really believe in democracy.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Register Pours Cold Water on Liquid Bombs

When I first read about the dastardly plot to blow airliners out of the sky using some handy bottles of hair gel and sport drink bottles, my little engineering BS-detector went off. This is the little warning that goes off in my head that says "This is too good to be true, so it probably isn't".

However, as with most everything reported on terrorism and security these days, the articles were rather short on facts and long on "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!".

Fortunately, The Register, my favorite bastion of sarcasm, scorn, and skepticism, wrote this article on the subject, which says, basically, that it's not as easy at it sounds.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Autonomous Flight

I ran across this paper while doing some random Googling today. It's an interesting research report about the development of a prototype UAV.

The ultimate development target was a cargo UAV capable of autonomous takeoff, flight, and landing from land or water. The research was stopped after development of the initial prototype, but the journal of the development efforts makes for interesting reading. At least, it does if you're an engineer.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Battered from the Weekend

Had a fun weekend, but I was pretty sore walking into the office on monday. Drove up friday to Loon Lake, and camped out there friday night (well, saturday morning, really, since we showed up at the campsite at 1AM). Woke up bright and early on saturday and headed out to the Rubicon Trail and onwards from there to some single track further back in the forest.

My 600 proved more than capable over the big rocks on the trail and out on the slab (I did not bring a camera, which is a shame, but the terrain was pretty rough), but I had trouble on some steep single track, and got stuck several times. Eventually Adam swapped bikes with me, and he was able to get my 600 up the track. Once I got it started -- Adam's bike has an off switch, which foiled me for some time -- I was able to get his bike up the hill without a problem, as well.

After that I was pretty tired, having fought with my bike and Adam's for several hours, so we headed back to camp, and I relaxed and slept for the rest of the day.

Sunday morning we packed up early and headed back to the bay area. Got home a little after noon, unloaded the bikes, and kicked around for a few hours before my two hockey games in the evening. We won both games, so both teams advance to the next round of the playoffs, but I took a little bit of a beating in the second game.

It's nice to go in to work. It gives me a chance to rest from the weekend.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Scariest News Item Today

Opened up the news sites today to read about the latest terrorist plot that has been foiled. No more water on planes, apparently. Pretty soon we'll have to fly naked.

But for me, that wasn't the scariest item in the news today. No, that item was an extract from the Anderson Cooper blog by a reporter in Lebanon. The reporter, Jim Clancy, was talking with a cab driver on the way to a funeral, and the cab driver shared this:
Near the end of the interview, he shared a thought about how the present in Lebanon will affect the future in the Middle East. He told me his 7-year-old son, Mohammed, approached him last night to announce that when he grows up he's going to get a gun and go fight the Israelis.

At seven years old you're still supposed to be thinking about toy guns.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Dirt Bike Drama

I went riding a couple weeks ago and Adam and I swapped up bikes. He's been trying to convince me that I have so much trouble on single track because my XR600 is just too big and heavy.

To make a long story short, he was right. I hopped on his bike and all of a sudden the sections that had been giving me so much trouble weren't that bad any more. So we went bike shopping.

Last weekend I picked up a 2004 XR250 from a guy in Santa Cruz. Shook hands on the deal and then he tossed in "Oh yeah, there's no pink slip for the bike." Grrr. But he told me who he bought it from and the name of the dealer, so I didn't think he was trying anything too shady.

I called the dealer today and, far from being surprised that my bike had no title, the sales manager there said they had had a rash of bikes with no titles over the last few years. Said that someone at the DMV blew a gasket and just dumped the paperwork, so now they've hired someone to go over recent sales and figure out what happened.

Hopefully this paperwork problem will be cleared up before the weekend, when we're supposed to do a two-day dirt-biking extravaganza. Otherwise I may be back on the XR600 due to the lack of a green sticker.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

On The Midway

Took a brief tour of the Midway while I was in San Diego. In addition to some nice sunburns, I got a good impression of how big (and how small) an aircraft carrier is. For such a large vessel it's quite cramped inside:

There was a wide variety of aircraft parked on the flight deck. I was quite surprised at how small the Huey was; I always got the impression that it was a much bigger aircraft.

I took this photo of one of the nuclear carriers moored at San Diego (I think it's the Ronald Reagan), framed by the flight deck of the Midway:

Sunday, July 23, 2006

CoinStar Sucks

I had used the CoinStar counting machine once before, to count up my pennies when I had a bunch of them accumulated. They charge 8% of your change value for the convenience of counting it, which I considered a little steep, so I had the rest of my change counted somewhere they don't charge you anything (South Lake Tahoe).

However, I'd seen ads about using the machines to convert change into gift cards (with no fee). And I figure I hit Starbucks often enough to justify getting a card. So I went in today with my accumulated change, dumped it in (about $65 worth), and picked "Give me a new Starbucks card".

The machine took about a minute or two grinding away thinking about it, apparently couldn't contact the mothership, pope, Grand Poo Bah or whatever controlling entity it uses, and said "Nope. Can't do it. I'm giving you cash instead."

And they charged me the 8% fee. No choices, no options, no "choose another gift card", no "give me my change back".

Needless to say, CoinStar is now on my black list.

Still Warm

It's 2:30 in the morning and it's still 84 degrees inside my house. I've had the fan running since 6pm and it barely made a dent. I like warm weather as much as the next guy, but this is just silly.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bad Day

My plan for today was to get a haircut and have new tires put on my car for the track day on monday. Unfortunately it seems like I got a bit too much sun in San Diego, and came down with a bit of sun/dehydration sickness.

And, let me tell you, today was a lousy day to be sick.

My house has no air conditioning. Most days that isn't a problem; Mark put in sufficient insulation to keep the temperature down to a reasonable level for most of the year. Excepting those few days where it gets really hot.

For those of you that haven't guessed by now, today was one of those days when it got really hot. And instead of doing what I normally do on those days, which is either going in to work or finding some excuse to hang out in the mall, I was either on my couch or in my bed trying to sleep.

I have a fan set up that's pulling some air through the house, giving me a little bit of a breeze. It seems like it's pretty ineffective -- the thermostat inside the house says it's 92 degrees -- until you go outside the house, and realize that, yes, it's effective. Because outside it's a balmy one-oh-three.

Fortunately I'm feeling a bit better now (I'm complaining, which is a sign of good health), so it may be time for a quick jaunt to, well, anywhere that has AC.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Sunny San Diego

I'm in San Diego for a conference, which has more or les swound down, so I got a little bit of time today to play tourist. I went and toured the Midway, which has been turned into a museum. For such a large vessel, it's amazingly cramped. Apparently by the end of its service it was carrying almost a thousand more crew than it was designed for.

I took a bunch of photos, but I'm waiting until I'm back home (tomorrow) to dump them on to my computer.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I'm now linked

Sachin just shot me an invite to LinkedIn, a business-oriented social networking site. Of course, I probably don't need to tell you that, because apparently I'm the last one in the world to create an account there...

I've spent a couple hours that I could have spent productively checking my email or reading news online (well, I suppose I could have worked, but that just doesn't sound nearly as appealing) sorting through my contact list and seeing who had an account there. The answer: pretty much everyone.

The answer? Pretty much everyone. The only ones I found who didn't have an account were Jeff and Adam. Even Grace had an account.

I'm so behind.

Friday, July 07, 2006

What I Want for Christmas

I need one of these. Seriously.

MS Selling Spyware?

A recent class-action suit filed in Washington and California is suing Microsoft for violating the spyware laws of those states. This article in the Register about the "Windows Genuine Advantage" (a.k.a. "cripple your computer if you're using a non-verified copy of Windows") program talks about what MS says WGA does, and what it actually does (a lot more).

One of the interesting parts of this was the relevant portion of the Washington state anti-spyware law that's being used:
(1) Induce an owner or operator to install a computer software component onto the computer by intentionally misrepresenting the extent to which installing the software is necessary for security or privacy reasons or in order to open, view, or play a particular type of content; and

(2) Deceptively cause the execution on the computer of a computer software component with the intent of causing the owner or operator to use the component in a manner that violates any other provision of this section.

I'm sure they'll manage to weasel their way out of the "intentionally" part through a finely-developed case of corporate amnesia ("We did what? I'm sorry, we deleted all records of everything we did more than 30 days ago. I forget. Next question?"), but perhaps a little bit of public shame would clairify things.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Pointing Out the Obvious

Microsoft and Cisco are backing a patent challege based on the "obviousness" clause of patent law, which states that an invention must be non-obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the art. It's been appealed to the Supreme Court, in the hopes that the court will put some teeth into the "obviousness" clause and stem the tide of 1-Click patents.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Murder Mystery

I just finished reading "The Black Dahlia" by James Ellroy, an author who was recommended to me. The book is set in post-WWII Los Angeles, and depicts a gritty, hardnosed police department with some shady mob connections, that isn't afraid to bend the rules every now and then to get a conviction.

The book is an engaging read, especially since you never actually meet the title character. Her life is revealed through interviews with her friends, associates, and ultimately with her murderer. There are no innocents in Ellroy's story -- all the characters have significant lapses in moral character, and even if the guilty are punished in the end, justice is not necessarily served.

This is the first book in a four-book series set in the same period (the most famous being "L.A. Confidential"), so I'll probably plow through the other three fairly soon.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Julia's Bike

Adam and I went dirt bike riding for the first time in about a month and a half. Had a good day (i.e. no one got hurt), then when we got back and put the bikes in the garage, we realized that Julia's bike (which has been living in my garage for the last few months) hadn't been started in a while, and she probably wouldn't be able to ride until she recovered.

Poor bike.

So we pulled the bike out and started it up. It was unhappy from sitting and had to crank for a while, but eventually it fired up. And then we figured we'd ride it around a little bit to warm it up. It's not a street bike, though, so where to do this?

We clearly needed to ride it around the back yard.

Hey, I wonder if you can do wheelies on this thing? Let's find out...

Why, I do belive you can.

Rest assured, Julia, your bike is in good hands.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Ethanol Wars

A CNN article with a new take on Ethanol -- according to the article, the adoption of ethanol is a foregone conclusion, and the only debate is over what it will be made from. The most straightforward answer -- sugar -- is apparently complicated by subsidies and the corn lobby, which make it too expensive to import sugar (it competes with high fructose corn syrup. If you wonder why every soft drink and candy bar contains it, that's why).

But corn is not efficient to use as a fuel. It's a high-maintenence crop -- you burn around a gallon of ethanol to create a gallon of corn ethanol to the pump.

So companies are looking into other ways to produce ethanol. Importing refined sugar ethanol from Brazil is one possibility, but might run afoul of the corn lobby, again. The big-bet alternative seems to be making ethanol from the non-edible portions of plants (or non-edible plants). This is where the President's oddball comment about "switchgrass" in his state-of-the-union address comes from.

Also interesting is that the increased ethanol content in new gasoline has apparently doubled the price of fuel-grade ethanol.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Broken Skate

I managed to break my hockey skate at a game the other night. In my first shift, unfortunately, which pretty much canned the rest of the night for skating. I did a pretty good job of it, too:
You can see the whole frame has separated from the bottom of the boot. You can't really see it here, but all the rivets that hold the frame on have rusted completely through, and snapped. Also, there's a little crack in the frame around the third rivet.

I think I got my money's worth out of this pair.

"Interest Tapering Off"

According to a recent article I read, interest in embedded Linux is "tapering off". Which just goes to show that sometimes it doesn't matter so much how many design wins you have, as who those wins are.

Witness this article which said that:
Vodafone, NTT DoCoMo, NEC, Samsung, Panasonic and Motorola are joining forces to work on an open source operating system for mobile phones based on Linux.

To me, this says two things: first, that the handset manufacturers see that the money is in services and applications, and not as much in the handset or its operating system. Second, that they have no interest in paying per-set royalties so that all phones run on WinCE.

Interesting to see that Nokia, which is also interested in Linux for mobiles, isn't on the list...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

New Blog

I've created a 12 Shots Blog for discussion/announcements, since it seems like we're on track for that...

Monday, June 12, 2006


The ACLU has brought a lawsuit against the U.S. government over its warrantless wiretapping program. The government has sought to have the case dismissed on the rather disingenuous grounds that the plaintiffs aren't sure they're directly affected by the program.
Coppolino said that the plaintiffs' beliefs that they are among the likely targets are insufficient to establish that they have been directly affected by the program.

"You don't get standing by saying the president has a program, and I'm concerned it might cover me," he told the judge.
Of course they aren't sure. You won't say who's targetted and who isn't. By that logic, conveniently, no one has grounds to challenge the program because no one can be sure they're on the list.

Creative lawyering is bad enough when it's being used to, oh, say, get O.J. off the hook for killing Nicole. But it's really disturbing when it's used by the government to pass of its activities as legal.

E85 Hits the West Coast

A gas station in San Diego has started selling a wide variety of fuels, including E85 (85% ethanol/15% gasoline) and BioDiesel. Once you get over the heart-stopping price of high-grade gas ($3.73, read it and weep), a couple interesting things come out of the sign: bio-diesel is only $.10 a gallon more expensive than dino diesel, and E85 is a whopping $.74/gallon cheaper than high-grade gasoline (a fair comparision, since E85 is about 100-105 octane).

Of course, at present, the only cars that can use E85 are cars that come dual-fuel from the factory, or pre-'74 cars that have been modified to run on ethanol. But it's a start.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Banlieu 13

Saw "District B13" tonight, which is a French maritial arts/action film. Adam and I laughed at the plot synopsis, since it's basically a re-done "Escape from New York". But it was a well done film, and enjoyable as such -- lots of long-running chase scenes, mostly on foot. Parts were very similar to this Russian Climbing video. If reading subtitles doesn't bother you (and it's an action film, so you can probably figure out what's going on anyways), then I'd recommend it.

The backstory of the movie is that a neighborhood is so full of undesirables and criminals that it gets walled off from the rest of the country, and services within the wall are gradually cut off. Then the government "loses" a low-yield neutron bomb and sends in a super-duper SWAT guy along with a local Robin Hood-type character to get it back.

Proof that you can still make a good film without spending $100M or blowing up everything in sight. Come to think of it, nothing blows up in the entire movie...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

12 Shots Rides Again

Had lunch with Jon and Ethan (and Ethan's minion) today, and around stuffing our faces with burritos, Jon raised the prospect of ressurecting 12 Shots as a charity event. His reasoning was that the original charter of 12 Shots as a big house party had run out of steam as the organizers got older (and got married, chimes in Guy), and that we needed a different motivation to bring people together. A charity event, where people give $10 or so at the door, and the proceeds go to someone relatively noncontroversial, seems like a good thing to organize around.

Personally, I think people could be talked out of $20 for a charity event. Since 12 Shots XII finished up with roughtly 800 people, and we didn't really have any desire to throw an event that size, I don't have any problem upping the donation amount a wee bit. Besides, you feel better if you can say you rounded up $4000 for charity...

Also, after some reflection, I realized that getting drunk for charity has a long and honorable tradition. It's just that people usually dress better when they're doing so.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Spectrum Plot

Ran across an article for the GnuRadio project, an open-source software radio implementation. One of the most interesting things was seeing a spectrum plot of the radio frequencies between 0 and ~450kHz, and which ones are used and unused.

The theory of a software radio is you could put a single, fairly simple chunk of hardware on your computer, and at that point it could transmit and receive pretty much anything -- walkie-talkies, AM/FM radio, GPS, HDTV, you name it.

All of a sudden a few geeks have scared the crap out of the FCC and MPAA. The FCC because, well, airspace is their turf, and the MPAA because they see control of transmission mediums as a way to prevent "piracy".

Anyways, the spectrum plot is interesting because, among other things, it shows how little of the existing broadcast spectrum is being used in everyday life. Software-defined radios are already here in a number of commercial products -- we'll see if open-source SDR results in cool new tech or nasty new leglislation. Or both.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Those Who Ignore History

I've just gotten to the part of "Cobra II" where the U.S. has declared, by executive fiat, that major combat operations are over in Iraq, and it will be transitioning to post-war operations. Rumsfeld is putting significant pressure on Franks to not only stop deployment of further units to Iraq, but to plan for removing the units already there. Franks' plan (or, more accurately, guidance from the administration) is that the existing 140,000 troops would be reduced to somewhere around 30,000 within six months (that would be November 2003), and reduced further to a skeleton advisory force afterwards.

For those of you wondering how well this plan turned out, here is a chart of the strength of U.S. ground forces in Iraq from 2003-2006.
"Do not innovate on business models. " -- Guy Kawasaki, presentation at TiEcon 2006
This is something I've run across in the start-up world, and it's as true there as it is in politics. If someone tells you that the rules have changed, the old rules do not apply, and everything is going to be different this time, do not walk to the nearest exist. Run screaming in fear.

At its heart, this is the one, basic mistake the administration made -- the assumption that they could sufficiently control the conduct of the war so to simply lop off the head of the Iraqi government and leave the body intact, thus entirely eliminating that mess post-war operations phase. Administration planners, instead of starting with assumptions and working towards a goal, started with a goal and worked backwards to find their assumptions.

It's not that people didn't know that these requests were illogical -- Jay Garner, McKiernan, the Joint Chiefs, and most of the rest of the people tasked with implementing the war and the post-war knew there were serious problems with the assumptions being made. However, with the administration's mind-set firmly fixed, information only flows one-way, and the commentary that "Hey guys, this isn't going to work" never got back to the president.

Admittedly, hindsight is 20/20, but sometimes reading this book so painful I have to, well, put it down and rant for a while.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Hang Together

In the early days of the Iraq war, Dave Williams' Apache helicopter was shot down, and he was taken prisoner. After a few days (and nearly getting hit by a friendly airstrike) he was placed with some of the survivors of the 507th Maintenence Company.

He has an interesting anecdote about talking with one of his Iraqi guards:
"The Iraqis had a hard time understanding something," Williams recalled. "Shoshana is Panamanian. Edgar is Hispanic. Joe is Philipine, and Patrick is from Kansas. The Iraqis could not conceive how we could all have been in the same army and not fight one another. One Iraqi said to me, 'You no fighting each other? Why?' "
-- From "Cobra II"

Friday, June 02, 2006

Strange Lawsuit

Those who have known me for any length of time are usually aware that I'm not a big Microsoft fan, but the latest lawsuit against them by Adobe has left me scratching my head. Adobe has been promoting PDF has a de facto standard for some time now, to the point that Massachusetts adopted it as such in its requirements for official document formats. There are many non-Adobe products which create PDFs, including a variety of open-source products, OpenOffice, and Mac OSX.

Which is why Microsoft was a little surprised when Adobe threatened to sue them for antitrust for including PDF creation in the next version of Office. After all, it's no more than what's being offered by their chief competition. Adobe apparently feels that this would kill the market for Acrobat.

They might find some sympathy in Europe, but my feeling is that Adobe just got hit by the law of unintended consequences. They opened up PDF as a format to drive adoption, effectively making it a standard. And if it's a standard, anyone can implement it -- even if they have 90% market share. Standards are explicitly exempt from the rules of anti-trust, since it is in the public interest that companies comply with them.

Sorry, Adobe. Of course, if you're looking for more product revenue, there's a big Linux market that would probably be interested in Flash creation and video editing...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Testing useless tech. Post by

Testing useless tech. Post by email allows me to post from my phone. If i ever travel where my phone it could be a neat feature.

Update: The main drawback to the feature is that, on my current V710, it's so clumsy to send a message by banging away on the number keys that it would effectively prohibit me from posting anything of consequence. For example, it probably took me almost two minutes to pound out the simple test post above, but only 30 seconds or so to type in my much-longer update on the computer...

Blog Guilt

Mark and I were IMing the other day, and talked about a shared phenomenon we've experienced: blog guilt.

Blot guilt is that mild guilty feeling you get when you haven't updated your blog in a while. For me it usually kicks in after about a week without a post. For me it's usually a realization that I haven't posted in a while, followed by the nagging question, "Is my life really so dull that I haven't come up with anything blog-worthy in an entire week?"

Sometimes I console myself by saying that, actually, all sorts of interesting things are going on, but some of them are in the if-I-told-you-I'd-have-to-kill-you category, so they just can't be put up here. So this week I'm assuaging my guilt by meta-blogging.
There is no problem in computer science that cannot be solved by an extra level of indirection --David Wheeler

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Davie Goes to Hollywood

Dave has hit the big time. Our man with the blue hair got the lead quote in an article from the Cannes film festival:
"Other companies are working on it (the idea), but at the moment they are too expensive, and the rights protection is too strict. We are also building a community feature into the site, and I think we are going to be the first out of the gate," said Dave Le, Jaman's senior designer.
All that and he still had time to shoot a few virtual rolls of film, too. Still waiting for the photo with Angelina, though.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Difference About Iraq

"I've got mixed emotions about this. We've conquered a country today and for the first time we started it." -- Lt. General Michael "Buzz" Moseley, Bagdhad, April 2003

Monday, May 29, 2006


My old computer died on me, so I splurged and got a good game-capable machine to replace it. I bought the components from Central Computer instead of going to Alienware or somewhere similar; it's really not that difficult to build a high-end machine. Mainly because there are very few choices -- you pretty much go in and say "What's the best X. Okay, I'll take that. What's next?"

The only difficult was that they didn't have the CPU I was looking for (Athlon FX-62) in stock, so I had to get another CPU (3400) to fill in until they come out in a couple months. But other than that, it has a GeForce 7900 GPU, a 750GB hard drive, and an Asus motherboard with all the bells and whistles on it. It claims to have built-in wireless, but I haven't managed to get it to work yet.

So, naturally, I can't let all this CPU power go to waste, so I picked up a copy of Battlefield 2 and started playing. BF2 is a full-battlefield first-person shooter, so not only do you have soldiers running around, but the maps are huge, so you pretty much need vehicles to cover them. And they have a big selection, from tanks, jeeps, APCs to helicopters and jet fighters.

I've spent the last day trying to learn to fly a helicopter. BF2 has a simplified model of how helicopters fly, but it's still considerably more realistic than any non-flight-sim I've played, and as a result the easiest thing to do with a 'copter is crash it. Even getting off the ground and hovering is no small feat, and being able to land where you want to (say, in a small confined space) takes some serious tap-dancing on the keys.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Grace's Blog

Oh, and I managed to convince Grace to get a blog, as well. Now we just need to goad her into actually posting something...

Shoot, between Grace, Danger, and Mark, we could have our own little blogosphere going.


I've been getting a good kick out of the danger blog. Don't know where Katie comes up with this stuff. My favorite is this one:
I have a new goal in life: be larger than the cat. Boo outweighs me by several pounds. If I am to conquer of the world, I am going to have to be bigger than the cat.

I think Danger has a good handle on life. Start small, work your way up.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

To Live and Shop in L.A.

I flew down to L.A. this weekend to visit with Grace and do a little shopping. We did a whirlwind tour of the local mall, and picked up a pretty good new collection of clothes. Then we headed down to Melrose to fill out my growing collection with a few more shirts and some cool shades.

Nate stopped by on Saturday night and we tried to go out to a couple local bars. Apparently L.A. has developed a charming habit of holding people outside the bar even when the bar isn't full, in order to create the illusion of exclusiveness. So after a couple of tries we gave up and went back to Grace's place.

We knocked back some scotch there while discussing various abtruse theoretical concepts. It is Nate, after all.

On sunday Grace and I went to breakfast at a charming little restaurant. On the way back from breakfast we passed Maria Shriver heading into Starbucks (Grace spotted her, I was oblivious). As soon as she pointed her out, I looked up and saw about 8-10 guys from her personal protection unit, complete with black Tahoes, earpieces and don't-fuck-with-me expressions.

Grace thought they were Secret Service, but I figured they were employed by the state, since the Gubernator is a state and not a federal employee. Turns out they used to be part of the State Police, but they got merged into the CHP back in 1995.

That's right, the Terminator is being protected by John and Ponch.

Friday, May 19, 2006

And on a less serious note

Another article from Spiegel magazine, this one about the sex research industry. Sex and money have always gone together, but for years this natural pairing was hampered by the restriction that, in most societies, you couldn't actually sell sex.

Then, in the late '90s, researchers stumbled across a drug that could give even an old senator a rock-hard jimmy, and all of a sudden big pharma saw money in sex. And not just in the traditional drape-supermodels-over-it-and-it-will-sell marking type money, but in making an actual dollar profit off each individual act of sex.

And people have a lot of sex. That's a lot of money.

What's frustrated these guys for years is that Viagra only really works for men. And, well, men already want sex all the time, which kind of limits the market for Viagra to people where the equipment has a hard time working. The real market is women. As the old joke goes:Now, if you could make something that could turn women on, then that, as they say, would be money. And that's apparently what researchers have found. So now it's not can we, but should we?

The Worst Possible Answer

I read in the English version of a German online newspaper that a US judge has dismissed a case against a Khalid al-Masri, a German national, on the basis of national security. According to the article,
A US federal court in Alexandria, Virginia rejected the case he brought against former CIA director George Tenet and other spy agency employees involving kidnapping, torture and mistaken identity. The court argued the case would risk exposing national security secrets that are key to Washington's efforts to battle terrorism.
Now, the only reason I can see that a case like this would "expose national security secrets" is that if some of the allegations made by al-Masri were true. And if that's the case, exposing secrets is the least of our problems. If the only way we can figure out how to win the "war on terror" is to kidnap and torture every Arab-looking man we can find, then the terrorists really have won.

Because these are not the actions of a rational society. When people can look at actions like these and say, "Well, maybe thats okay, given the heightend circumstances", what they're really saying is that collectively, Americans are just scared shitless.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Stupid Pump and Dump

So, I checked my Yahoo spam-catching account, as I do periodically, and found about 15 emails all telling me how incredibly hot this "Riverbank Invt Corp" (ticker: RRBK) was. The dumb part is, it's not listed on any major exchange -- it's a penny stock. I'm sure that makes it easier to run a scam like this, but anyone stupid enough to fall for a scam like this probably isn't smart enough to be able to figure out how to find a penny stock, much less trade in it.

Oh, and in the interest of fair reporting, the company denies it had any part in the scam.

Patent Grendels meet Beowulf

A recent Supreme Court ruling appears to give large manufacturers a stronger hand against "Patent Trolls" by establishing a higher bar for issuance of a preliminary injunction. A new four-factor test now requires a plaintiff to show that harm to their business outweighs harm to the defendant in order to receive the injunction.

Since most patent-portfolio companies have no business (other than enforcing patents), this makes the likelihood of receiving an injuction much less, meaning corporates now have much more incentive to let it play out and go to trial.

This is good news for big corporates and cross-licensing, but bad news for patent reform.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Computer Security Becoming Pervasive

An interesting article (especially for Keith) on stealing cars shows how computer security as a topic is becoming increasingly pervasive. There is anecdotal evidence that some new cars (BMW X5s are mentioned in the article) that use keyless unlock and start mechanisms can be spoofed by a sufficiently intelligent attacker.

The article mentions laptops being used for this, implying that any off-the-shelf laptop would be capable of this, although this seems unlikely -- the radios in standard laptops are set up to run in the 2.4Ghz range (both Bluetooth and 802.11 operate in this frequency band), and I believe the BMW keys operate at around 300Mhz.

Bad security or urban myth? Hard to say at this point.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Rumsfeld's War

I've been reading more of "Cobra II," covering the time leading up to the invasion of Iraq. The theme from the beginning of the book has been clear and consistent, and the cast is surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly) small. The major player is, of course, Donald Rumsfeld, who has had a personal hand in much of the invasion planning to date (we're in late 2002 now), to a degree probably unprecedented by any civilian save possibly Robert McNamara. The other main player to date is General Tommy Franks, the CENTCOM commander responsible for the invasion.

Franks comes off as being somewhat cocky and unimaginative in the book. While CENTCOM is the logical command to oversee the invasion, as it is the theatre command, none of the command staff have any experience in occupying and reconstructing a nation and from bottom to top there is a clear lack of appreciation of the tasks involved. The expertise for this does exist in the military, in the European command responsible for peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans, but there is no interest from either the administration or CENTCOM in tapping this knowledge. The Joint Chiefs do try to make several recommendations about force levels, as well as suggestions based on experience from the Balkan conflict, but Rumfeld sidelines the JCS as irrelevant and deals directly with CENTCOM.

The post-war occupation and administration of Iraq is referred to throughout the military as "Phase IV," but almost no effort is put in to it. Word comes down from the administration that Phase IV will be handled by other parts of the government, so Franks assumed it was someone else's problem. The clear warning signal, to those familiar with the dynamics of large organizations, was that no individual was actually tapped to lead the effort. Throughout this entire period, as well, Franks is engaged in a constant struggle with Rumsfeld to get commitment to use the forces the military wants for the invasion. Rumsfeld wants to use as few troops as possible, and constantly questions deployment orders and schedules in an effort to pare down the size of the invasion force.

Phase IV plans are further muddied and hampered by Rumsfeld's ongoing power grab to consolidate as much under the Department of Defense as possible. It is around this time (again, late 2002) that post-war administration will be handled by the DoD instead of the State Department, which traditionally takes on these duties.

The final element confusing all of this is a terrifying lack of intelligence about the situation and events occurring inside of Iraq. The CIA has almost no human assets inside Iraq, let alone ones at the policymaker level, and makes all its assessments based off of inferrence, satellite imagery, and some intercepted communications. This leads to intelligence analysis somewhere in the realm of a wild-ass guess. And, unfortunately, they're completely off base.

The funny part (that's funny boo-hoo, not funny ha-ha) about this is that everyone is convinced that President Bush knows something they don't, and that's the basis for the invasion. And I mean everyone.
'Abd-al-Tawab 'Abdallah al-Mullah Huwaysh, who oversaw Iraq's military industry, had no idea what America was talking about; he was not aware of Iraq's possessing any WMD and he was in a position to know a great deal. But the charges leveled by Washington had been so unqualified and persisten that he started to wonder whether Saddam might not control a secret cache after all. "I knew a lot, but wondered why Bush believed that we had these weapons," he told his interrogators after the war.
The assumption that Iraq possessed WMD was so fundamental that it was never seriously questioned. The unfortunate side-effect of this is that a great amount of planning on the military side was devoted to how to contain and react to the threat of Saddam's non-existent WMD, while little attention was paid to the large caches of small arms created throughout the country to support the activities of the Fedayeen (government-backed militia), or to Phase IV planning.

Reality Distortion Field

I was reading an article this afternoon regarding some performance benchmarks for Mac OS X vs. Linux and Windows (short version, OS X has some problems with its memory manager), when I encounted an amusing reference to the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field. It cannot be summarized, it's best to just read the article. When you're done with that, there's another amusing anecdote about how to combat the effects of the field.

Friday, May 05, 2006

OO Takes Advantage of the BSA

On a somewhat-related note to the previous article, OpenOffice has started an ad campaign taking advantage of a recent BSA (Microsoft's jackbooted-thug license-enforcement arm) crackdown on less-than-legal copies of Office. They even have a neat little logo:

According to the article, there's a £20,000 reward for ratting out your friends. Hmmm, maybe we can pirate some software and turn ourselves in?

Antitrust in Europe

I got a few chuckles this morning reading an article in the Wall Street Journal on Microsoft's problems with the European Commission on documenting its server protocols. The amusing part is that Microsoft has finally run into an opponent that it cannot coerce, wheedle, smokescreen, bully, blackmail, or bribe, and yet it cannot bring itself to do the one thing which would get it out of the situation -- honestly comply with the EC directive.

To date, Microsoft has created a "manual" that is some 12,000 pages long. That, by itself, would be an unmanageable monster, however, every outside expert that has looked at the document to date has said it's so much unorganized gibberish. This was the opinion of the engineers from Sun, Novell, and RedHat that first looked at the document, and the opinion confirmed by a computer scientest chosen from a Microsoft-provided list.

Then, they tried political pressure (the U.S. government has "warned" the EC not to be "unfair", whatever that means), and doing an end-run through the U.S. court system (all three courts refused, saying it was outside their jurisdiction).

The problem for Microsoft is that the EU has figured out it has no real interest in making Microsoft happy. Europe's native software industry is oriented around Linux, applications, and embedded devices, and an increasingly nationalistic Europe sees little distinction between MS and the U.S. government. Both of them you deal with, because they're too big to ignore, but you don't have to like them.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Motorcycle Crash on Helmetcam

Was browsing through Google video today and found this video with a bike that runs into a car. Not clear why the car suddenly spins, which is probably why it came as such a surprise to the rider, who unfortunately supermans over the car's hood.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

More From "Viper II"

I've been continuing to work my way through "Viper II," the history of the invasion of Iraq, and more and more it reads like a treatise on the dangers of New-think ("We're operating under a New Paradigm, none of the old rules apply") and Group-think. Mainly one gets a picture of an administration almost completely disconnected from the thinking and advice of the individuals tasked with the actual problem of conquering and securing Iraq.

It's also interesting to note some parallels between Iraq and the Bay of Pigs invasion -- in particular this recurring, irrational belief that the repressed citizenry of the nation will a) greet an American invasion with open arms and b) rise up in popular support. Get over it, guys. It happened once, due to a unique set of circumstances, and it's never happened since then. It's long past time to stop building it into your war plans.


I watched "Scarface" last night, which is the first time I'd seen the film. The message of the film is delivered fairly early on, from Tony's first boss, which is "Don't want too much." Tony, of course, wants everything, which sets the stage for his spectacular rise and fall.

So, now I know the scene behind the "Say hello to my leetle friend" quote, and I also realized that much of GTA: Vice City was, in fact, an homage to Scarface, including the mansion that eventually becomes your home base.

I also wasn't aware of the apparently-famous "Cuban crime wave" that forms the backstory for the movie -- Casto decided to take advantage of the U.S. open-borders policy on Cuban refugees to clean out some of the scum that had been clogging up his jails, and dumped some 25,000 hardened criminals on Miami. Clearly the law of unintended consequences was in effect.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Fun with SketchUp

I've been having fun with Google SketchUp. Spent a few minutes today working through the tutorial, and after that I managed to do a passable re-creation of the monitor that sits on my desk.
It remains to be seen what else Google is going to do with this, but I definately have to say this is the easiest-to-use 3D drawing program I've ever encountered. I've used tools like Blender to do entry and found that the learning curve for getting the tool to do what you want it to was very high.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The French They Are a Funny Race

They fight with their feet, and... they build funny little cars that drive backwards with two steering wheels. Check out this video -- in one part you can see one guy sits facing forward (that would be towards the rear of the car) and has one steering wheel, while the other guy sits backwards and controls the other pair of wheels. The video has some surprised crowd shots as the hacked-up car zips around half-sideways.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Marketing to the Clueless

Spotted the following quote in an article about Intel's vPro technology:
Along with management and security features, Conroe gets Intel back to Basics. It's a very fast chip. Intel officials said Conroe-based desktops will run productivity applications over twice as fast as systems purchased last year based on the company's mainstay Pentium 4.
Hello? When was the last time you heard someone say, "Man, Word is really a dog on my machine. I'd really like for the red squigggly to show up faster when I mis-spell a word." Who cares how fast productivity applications run? And since when did their execution speed become a benchmark?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Two and a Half Percent

Awais and I were discussing Microsoft's annual revenue, which is apparently around $39 billion dollars. And, of course, they don't make physical products, unless you count the paper manuals, so their COGS is probably somewhere well south of $1B, leaving the greater part of that as play money.

We were curious as to how that compared to the Federal budget, so we looked it up. The (estimated) tax revenue from 2004 was $1,365B. Or, in other words, the money MS made was approximately 2.8% of the Federal revenue (not the budget, of course, because the U.S. spent $1,847B that year. Microsoft revenue was a mere 2.1% of that number).

Awais pointed out we would be better off simply levying an additional 2% tax on each citizen and having Microsoft give away their software for free.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rummy Under Fire

I read the following quote from this article in the Tracy Press :
Yet, three times as many troops should have been deployed to Afghanistan, and later to Iraq, to provide adequate security to these new democracies and to snuff out any remnants of insurgency. This is a textbook strategic blunder that haunts the Bush administration. But is Rumsfeld to blame?

The answer is, in a nutshell, yes. I've been reading the book Cobra II, about the planning for and execution of the invasion of Iraq. It starts off with the back-story of the war, so to speak, and early on, the military had estimated a force of 500,000 troops would be required to secure the country, based on existing doctrine and experience with past conflicts.

Rumsfeld unilaterally stated that that was far too large, and that a force of no more than 125,000 troops should be required.

The book promises to be interesting; I'll probably post more snippets as I work my way through it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Proud Parents

Went to the hospital over lunch to visit Keith and Katie and young Danger, now roughly six hours old. Parents were doing well, although Mom was still a little rocky from the after-effects of surgery.

Keith mailed out a photo with everyone still in their scrubs this morning; I expect it will show up on Danger's blog soon. After all, they have a laptop in their room, and the hospital provides wireless access... Ahhh, technology.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Criticism is Not Allowed

From an article on CNN:
Retired Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the retired generals' criticism is "inappropriate, because it's not the military that judges our civilian bosses."

So, let me get this straight -- our president engages in hare-brained military adventurism, and the people most qualified to give feedback on the effectiveness and execution of said adventures shouldn't comment, because it would be inappropriate??? Inappropriate for a retired General (that is, in other words, a civilian) to comment on the operation of a civilian government?

Okay, I give, Richard. What is the list of "appropriate" people that are allowed to comment on how well our government is working?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sunny Day

It's warm and sunny outside. I'm not sure what's wrong. It's supposed to be raining.

Had lunch with Marcus, an old college buddy of mine. He's moved back to the bay area from San Diego to work for a new start-up. Everybody's working for a start-up. If that isn't an indicator of the next boom cycle, I don't know what is.

Oh, and Keith brought his new Dell laptop into our office and left it on the desk next to my Powerbook... The thing is ginormous -- looks like a Star Destroyer sitting next to my 12". I look at these massive laptops and wonder who really wants to lug one of these monsters around, just to have a little bit more screen when you get there?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Impressions of Americans

Wonder what other people think of us? This video clip of "man on the street" interviews with the question "What are Americans like?"

The answer, overwhelmingly, is that we're loud, self-confident, and friendly. The word "brash" was used by almost a third of the people interviewed. Oh, and as the girl closes with, we're fat.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Picked up this interesting article off of Google News. It's an editorial from the heartland, and it sums up much of the discontent Bush is feeling from his own party. He's running into trouble because of the same factor that got him elected:

"The Base" doesn't like politicians.

In particular, they don't like slick-talking big-city shysters that twist words around, say one thing, and do another. Bush's appeal was that he was a straight-talking down-home country boy -- a man of the people. Now he's been outed doing the one thing that, according to the base, set him apart from his predecessor: using his office for personal gain.

(Related article from the Christian Science Monitor)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Debate on Roles in Marriage

Interesting article about a recent study coming out of the University of Virginia. One of the most contentious parts of the study, surely, is the assertion that an egalitarian, feminist marriage does not lead to greater martial satisfaction.
[The study] found that "traditional wives," who have lower expectations of marital equality in the household division of labor, are happier than wives with "gender egalitarian" ideals.

Would be interesting to read the original study. If I wasn't buried eyeball-deep in legal documents, that is.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Goodbye, Tom

Rep. Tom DeLay announced today that he will not be seeking re-election in november, and blaming the entire affair on liberal Democrats out to discredit him. Right, Tom. Your own actions had nothing to do with it. Your aide received illegal contributions from Abramoff without your knowledge, possibly while you were off contemplating how to re-draw the lines for the 22nd district to insure your re-election.

The Economist once reported DeLay as the dirtest man in American politics, based on the amount of contributions he received (Sen. Feinstein was also highly cited in the same article, demonstrating that this definately crosses the aisle. Also it appears times, or reporting, have changed since then, as Feinstein has raised more than twice as much). Apparently he was also famous for knowing where skeletons were buried and using those to keep his party in line.

So it's with a heavy heart that I watch DeLay go, not so gently, into the good night.

First Cloned Organ Transplant?

This article reports that Dr. Anthony Atala successfully created a replacement bladder from tissue samples of the patient's original bladder. The bladder was grown in a laboratory, on top of a biodegradable scaffold, and then surgically implanted in the patients, solving tissue-rejection problems found with transplants, as well as suitability problems found with creating replacements from other body tissues, such as intenstines.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Caveat Geek

Or, "Novel Uses for Network Diagnostic Tools". According to the Register, a column-writing programmer became suspicious that his partner was cheating on him, and used the Ethereal packet sniffer to monitor her online activities. The article is somewhat vague on exactly how, but presumably the tool found evidence of guilt.

The man offered this sage advice to would-be cheaters:
"If you plan to use technology when cheating it's probably best to understand the technology involved better than the person that you're cheating on,"