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