Sunday, March 27, 2011

Skimmer: The HTML 5 version of the NYT

The NYT is experimenting with HTML 5 at I tested with Safari, the site stores 10MB locally to begin services.

I didn't like the way the fonts rendered on OS X Safari, but Windows users will probably do better (sadly, Windows' font technology is better than Apple's). The site is very responsive; it caches many page ingredients locally.

This is hardly revolutionary. In the days of 2,400 bps modems AOL was responsive because all the graphics elements ran off a 3.5" 720K diskette. It's taken a long time, but HTML 5 has brought us back the late 80s.

I had no trouble highlighting text and creating a blog post from the text. I suspected that might be blocked, but for now copy paste works.

The site is not glitch free. If a page doesn't render, don't wait. Hit refresh.

Worth a look.

Naked Emperors: where are all the connected people?

A NYT headline says half of all American adults have Facebook accounts [4]. Twitter-like valuations are leading to tech bubble denials. Social networks, we are told, led to the Egyptian revolution [1].

Except, I don't see it here among school parents, sports team families, tech company colleagues, and upper-middle-class neighbors.

True, I live in the midwest, but by all metrics Minneapolis is a snowier version of Seattle-Portland. If not here, then where?

I don't see feed readers in use outside our home [3]. Almost nobody subscribes to calendar feeds. Very few of my sample [5] use Twitter. Most of my friends who once used Facebook have stopped posting or even reading. Even texting isn't universal. Everyone has 1-2 email addresses and can use Google, but that's as far as it goes. Forget Foursquare.

I see more iPhones every day, but they're not used for location services, pub/sub (feeds) or even Facebook's user-friendly pub/sub. Around here iPhone communication change has been limited to faster email responses.

There is change of course, but it lags about 5-10 years behind the media memes. Dial-up connections are mostly gone, though I still see AOL addresses [2]. Texting is becoming common. Old school email is now universal, though many (unwisely) still use office email for personal messaging.

It's frustrating for me; all of the school, sport, community organization and even corporate collaboration projects I work with would go better with pub/sub in particular. I've learned the hard way to dial back my expectations, and to focus on 1990s tech.

So is Minneapolis - St. Paul strangely stuck in the dark ages? Or is there a gulf between the media portrayal of American tech use and reality --  a gulf that will lead to a big fleecing when Facebook goes public?

My money is on the fleecing - and a faint echo of the 90s .com bubble.

[1] The same nearly-free-to-all worldwide communication network that Al Qaeda used effectively in 1999-2000 is now celebrated by us for its benefits in Egypt. Technology has no values, only value.
[2] I assume about half those are dial-up. 
[3] Google Reader is astounding. Just astounding. Nobody mentions this, everyone talks about Twitter (not useless, but weak). Weird.
[4] Not actually using FB mind you, just have accounts.
[5] Ages 8-80.

Update: An hour after I posted this I thought of one remarkable exception: LinkedIn. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn has a non-predatory business model. They have been relatively careful not to infuriate their users. LinkedIn continues to grow, and I don't see any true attrition. It will be interesting to compare their valuation to Facebook's.

Friday, March 25, 2011

21st century TV - preying upon the weak

Our kids love family road trips. They love that they can watch motel TV - cartoons and "reality" shows on logging and mining.

Their TV fest is my window to an alien world. As best I can tell, morning cartoons are funded by fleecing the weak. They don't sell to kids, they market adult good and services that are at best a waste of money. Their target market is the weak and uneducated; like lotteries they take money from those who need it most.

This is so 21st century America. We live in a nation where GE doesn't pay taxes (the best investments are Senatorial), Goldman Sachs uses the mafia's operations manual, the GOP has lost touch with Reason, and it's open season on the weak.

How did we end up here? Is it all the fault of aging boomers with rampant pre-dementia? I don't get it...

Update 3/26/11: The morning after I wrote this the NYT found that someone was imprisoned for his role in vast mortgage fraud enterprise of the past decade. A penniless guy who lied on his "liar loan". Is there a rehab program for a nation?

Update 3/27/11: After today's farewell NYT OpEd by Bob Herbert I'm tagging this post as "meme watch". Zeitgeist in action.

Quantized scent detection isn't quantum computing

Towards the end of my comments on a  BBC news article titled "quantum physics explanation for smell", I started to have second thoughts about how "quantum" these results were ...

Gordon's Notes: Quantum computing in the nose

... If these results are replicated, then Turin gets a Nobel.

If noses use these 'quantum' effects, then it's pretty much certain that neurons do as well.

Does that mean our brains are 'quantum computers'? I need help from Aaronson. This 'quantization' sites on the micro-macro boundary. Not all quantized vibrations are quantum physics....

I asked Scott Aaronson, MIT prof of computational physics [1] and famed blogger if he'd consider a comment on the original article. Instead he replied by email, and gave me permission to quote ...

These look like *really* interesting experiments!  And it's a priori plausible that smell would involve some quantum effect -- we already know that ... photosynthesis and bird navigation do.
If true, this doesn't IN ANY WAY imply that the brain is a "quantum computer" in the sense of using quantum coherence to speed up computation.  That's a separate question, and any such suggestion would still need to overcome the problem of how entanglement could survive in the brain for any appreciable length of time.
So while we do have evidence that natural selection has made use of some aspects of quantum physics, we have no evidence (yet), that it has made use of entanglement, the spooky action that motivates research into quantum computation. So the nose may be doing quantum physics, but we have no evidence that it's doing quantum computing. [2]

[1] Born in 1981, when I left college. Sob.
[2] Incidentally, if I read Aaronson correctly, he suspects quantum computing is possible, but it won't solve radically new problems (and thus won't destroy the world economy if it works).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Quantum computing in the nose

Smell, aka the application of algorithms for molecule classification, uses "quantum" effects ...

BBC News - Quantum physics explanation for smell gains traction

... in 1996, Luca Turin, now of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, suggested that the "vibrational modes" of an odorant were its signature.

Molecules can be viewed as a collection of atoms on springs, and energy of just the right frequency - a quantum - can cause the spring to vibrate.

Since different assemblages of molecules have different characteristic frequencies, Turin proposed, these vibrations could act as a molecular signature.

The idea has been debated in the scientific literature, but presentations at the American Physical Society meeting put the theory on firmer footing.

Most recently, Dr Turin published a paper showing that flies can distinguish between molecules that are chemically similar but in which a heavier version of hydrogen had been substituted...

If these results are replicated, then Turin gets a Nobel.

If noses use these "quantum" effects, then it's pretty much certain that neurons do as well.

Does that mean our brains are "quantum computers"? I need help from Aaronson. This "quantization' sites on the micro-macro boundary. Not all quantized vibrations are quantum physics.

Update 3/25/11: I forgot to change my title when doubts crept in. My mistake!

Friday, March 18, 2011


Only a few thoughts on Japan that have not been said better elsewhere.

  1. Japan is a wealthy high tech manufacturing nation. Is the best way to help the Japanese people to buy something manufactured in the north of Japan? A Canon camera? An Apple iPad with expensive Japanese made components? A Subaru? If Yellowstone burped, and Minnesota somehow survived, I might prefer Japanese people buy our goods rather than send donations.
  2. Our family offsite backup is located about five miles away. There's a nuclear reactor about 45 miles south of my home. I used to think our biggest regional risk was Yellowstone, and if that blew without warning I wouldn't need to worry about my backups. Fukushima makes me think the ideal offsite backup is in orbit.
  3. Several bloggers I trust say the best place to follow the Fukushima nuclear plant story is Wikipedia.

I'm surprised Japan's most recent disaster has not brought more attention to New Orleans. Six years after Katrina the non-flooded areas of New Orleans are estimated to exceed their pre-Katrina population. I was unable to find any persuasive discussions of the current state of New Orleans, and how its recovery has evolved. I have read that the region of Japan hardest hit by the tsunami was, like pre-Katrina New Orleans, relatively poor and elderly (though far less prone to looting than New Orleans). The Northeast of Japan may recover more like New Orleans than like Kobe.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Canine companion culture and disability

Enjoyable article on cultural attitudes towards "companion animals" ("pet" is out of fashion. but is used throughout the article [1])

... as a rule, people fall into one of three broad categories of beliefs concerning pets. Members of one group, which he labels “dominionists,” see pets as an appendage to the family, a useful helper ranking below humans that is beloved but, ultimately, replaceable. Many people from rural areas — like the immigrants Dr. Terrien interviewed — qualified.

Another group of owners, labeled by Dr. Blouin as “humanists,” are the type who cherish their dog as a favored child or primary companion, to be pampered, allowed into bed, and mourned like a dying child at the end. These include the people who cook special meals for a pet, take it to exercise classes, to therapy — or leave it stock options in their will.

The third, called “protectionists,” strive to be the animal’s advocate. These owners have strong views about animal welfare, but their views on how a pet should be treated — whether it sleeps inside or outside, when it should be put down — vary depending on what they think is “best” for the animal. Its members include people who will “save” a dog tied to tree outside a store, usually delivering it home with a lecture about how to care for an animal...
Obviously a simplistic distinction, most of us are somewhere in the midst of this triangle. Things get sensitive, and even more interesting, when you line up these cultural attitudes alongside cultural attitudes towards cognitively and/or physically (relatively) "impaired" humans. I think we could plot a 100 year migration of euro-American cultural attitudes towards both dogs and "the disabled" across this triangle and see some similar trends.

Personally I'm somewhere between 'humanist' and 'protectionist'. I don't treat Kateva (the canine) like a human child -- her needs, wants and interests are not the same as most humans. Besides, she's middle-aged.

On the other hand, I don't consider her as "inferior" to me, though, like me, her needs fall below those of Emily and the kids. She and I are happy servants of the pack with occasional opportunities for personal fulfillment. We are working animals.

[1] I don't like "pet", but "companion animal" is way too long. I'd go with comrade.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Isn't this what the GOP really thinks?

Martin Harty, a NH state rep tea partier, is 91 years old. If he were younger he'd be more discrete ...

... A Republican in the New Hampshire House of Representatives regrets telling one of his constituents that the mentally challenged and other "defective" people should be sent to Siberia so they don't stand to inherit control of the world.

"The world population has gotten too big and the world is being inherited by too many defective people," Rep. Martin Harty told one of his constituents. "I mean all the defective people, the drug addicts, mentally ill, the retarded -- all of them."

Asked what should be done with those people, Harty said, "I believe if we had a Siberia we should send them to this and they would all freeze and die and we will be rid of them...
Ironically, Harty is obviously cognitively defective; almost all 91 year olds are. He'd be aboard his Siberian train. That's not just darkly amusing, it's important.

I've written recently about how attitudes towards "the defectives" defines America's cultural and political divide. The Right side of the divide includes ...
... The strong should not help the the weak because ...

* I am strong because I am of the strong tribe, non-tribe is non-person -> Weak person, in denial...
Harty is a weak person who dreams he is strong.

More importantly, he's saying aloud what many right wingers, including the respectable "school voucher" sort, whisper among themselves. Social Darwinism (forgive me Charles) is not dead, it's alive and well in today's GOP.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Legless and the Lazy - a parable

There are two racers.

Jane is legless. Since the age of two she has excelled.

Jill is apathetic. She has trouble getting started. She gives up easily. Jill is lazy.

Each is invited to race one mile without devices. Jane rolls. She somersaults. She walks on her hands. She is relentless. The odds are invigorating.

Jill is disinterested. She starts slowly. She complains about her sore foot. She stops to rest. She doesn't like her shoes.

Jane finishes bruised, scraped, dirty and sore. Jill finishes first.

Who is the better person? Who do we praise?

Jane and Jill are identical twins. Jane lost her legs after a childhood infection. Jill's personality changed after a brain tumor was removed at age 17. Jill has spent years relearning speech and ambulation.

Who is the better person? Who do we praise?

Jane and Jill are not identical twins. Jill was born lazy.

Who is disabled?

Jack is a sociopath. He was born unable to form connections to other persons ...

See also ...

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Tools I use: iOS

When I write about software tools and services, I usually write about what's new or what's broken.

I don't write much about the tools I use all the time. Tools that work at least well enough.

I'm not alone in this. It's unfortunate, because Tools that Work are what I'm really interested in! There's an information-market failure going on.

In the spirit of lighting a single diode, I'm going to write periodically about the Tools I Use (see tag). I'll start with the tools I use on my iPhone. Most of these are on the start page of my iPhone, though a few there are still experimental. (On first posting I've no links here, I'll add those later.)

Calendar: I use iOS Calendar with my employer's Exchange Server and with Google's ActiveSync server. I currently use 13 distinct Google managed calendar feeds out of the @18 feeds registered with my Google Calendar.

Voice Memos: I've tried several alternatives, but Apple's version does what I need well enough. Most of all, on an iPhone 4, it loads quickly. Most competitors take too long to load. I like the integration with the iPhone earset controls.

Camera+: I like the speed of image acquisition, and especially the ability to quickly specify focus and exposure targets. I sync it with ToodleDo. is very fine; ToodleDo is an odd mixture of excellent and inadequate.

Spotlight: I wish it searched more things, but I rely on it more and more.

iPod: Especially In Our Time podcasts. If only Apple would fix the 3 year old $!$#@ last listened bug.

Google Voice: I have used it about five times a week for years to call Canada from my cell phone. The quality is now, usually, excellent. It costs nothing. GV alone pays for my iPhone.

SimpleNote: I'm very glad I get to pay yearly for their sync service. I want the vendor to stay healthy. I sync it to Notational Velocity on OS X and ResophNotes on XP.

Contacts: My iOS Contacts app syncs to my employer's Exchange Server and to MobileMe Contacts. It's a long story. My Contact sync setup is complex and perhaps impossible to replicate, but it works across multiple OS X instances, Gmail, and my iPhone.

TWC: The weather app that works well enough for me. I could see replacing it, but there are no ads in the one I own. I need to move this to my main screen.

Clock: I use the iOS Timer app very frequently. It's a kid thing.

LED Light: Replaced my venerable copy of

Night Stand: Beside alarm clock when traveling and iPhone powered.

Latitude: My son likes to know where I am. I think Emily will start using this too.

Facebook: FB is more evil than most, but I like to see what my friends are up to. It's a vice.

Reeder: I used to use, but I've switched to following NTY feeds via Reeder. Not perfect since they're partial feeds, but better than For every other feed source Reeder rules. Reeder generates the Google Share notes that also create my Twitter stream. I use this a lot.

Google News: The only web-app I regularly use. Works very well.

Maps: This iOS app is underrated. It's deep and subtle. It is strange, however, that Spotlight offers options to do searches via Google and Wikipedia, but not via Maps.

Mail: This iOS apps syncs via ActiveSync to Google Mail and to my corporate Exchange Server. Having corporate mail on my iPhone has been a dramatic help.

Messages: I resisted texting because I hated paying the super-high-margins fee to AT&T. We tried IM for quite a while, but it didn't fly. So now I text. Frequently.

Safari/ Inevitably. I find the voice search and search history on Google App marginally interesting, and it speeds access to Google Docs (though I very rarely use that).

1Password: I wish I had an encrypted database app that would painlessly sync to FileMaker. I don't, so this is the next best thing.

i41CX+: The HP41C that dare not speak its name. (Trademark.) The work of a madman who benefits all.

I have many more apps on my iPhone, but the above are 90% of what I use all the time. (Links coming later.)

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Business startups - being cheap

I keep my eye on startup advice -- even though I'm about 25 years past prime startup age. It's long been Plan B. (Plan C is being a Doc again. There are also Plans D through K ...)

I liked this article ...

46 Ways To Start A Business With No Money

... An LLC is probably the best business structure, but don’t worry about incorporating until you’re earning money, just do a sole proprietorship, you can always incorporate later (you can get it setup with the IRS in just a few minutes by calling them at 800-829-4933) ...

Personally I'd prefer to incorporate earlier, if only for the liability protection (nothing to sniff at if you have family assets).

Based on my own past experience, incidentally, I'd pay for a bookkeeper even if I had no money. I know I won't do bookkeeping, but if you don't know your cash flow situation then you're doomed.

Won't someone please take my keys away?

Things were bad around 2007. I carried an ancient PalmOS device, an iPod, keys and wallet. I didn't have enough pockets.

Post-iPhone I'm one device down. That's good. My wallet is unchanged. That's okay. My keys though ...

My keys keep getting clunkier. Our $@%@ insane Subaru Forrester requires a fat (chipped) key and an iPhone sized key fob. I need a backpack to carry my keys.

Forget using Near Field Communications (iPhone 5 the rumors say) to replace my wallet [2]. I don't care about my wallet. I can live with it. I want something to replace my $#@$ car keys ...

GadgetX - Blog - NFC Smart Locks

... NFC could also allow our phones to interact in new ways with old objects, like say, a door lock. You would hold your phone close to the lock while turning the knob. An electromechanical power circuit converts that turning force into enough energy for about about 300 miliseconds, or about 1/3 of a second processing time. A low power microcontroller within the lock accesses a connected NFC chip containing the locked/unlocked status of the lock. This NFC chip would receive it's power over the air through the short range RF interface with the phone's corresponding NFC device, relaying the unlock code to the lock's microcontroller. The balance of the doorknob turning force would then be used to mechanically move the bolt, opening the door. ...

A vehicle solution doesn't need this an OTA RF powered unlock code though, it can take power from the battery like it does today. Either way, I like the idea of shrinking my key chain.

[1] What sadistic madman devised that system? If I lock the door with a key, then open it with a key, the alarm goes off? WTH is this supposed to be protecting against? We bought a dealer used car, so we didn't have  choice on the system. We need to use the remote to safely unlock our car; the remote is bigger than my iPhone. Oh ... and the key. It's chipped. It can't get wet ...

[2] Anyone remember when the IR port would eliminate keys and wallet? Then RFID? Bluetooth? I'm really not all that hopeful.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Making better predictions

I was sure iPad 2 wouldn't need a computer companion.

...  the 2010 iPad is more than $500 - but by 2011 the device will sell for under $500 with 3G-equivalent capabilities. An additional $15 a month will provide basic VOIP phone services ....

... By 2011 the combination of a $400 iPad (and iTouch for less) and $15/month VOIP access will start to replace a number of devices that are costly to own and acquire, while providing basic net services ...

Wrong. [1]

I figured no moving part netbooks would be selling for under $100 by 2011, finally following the trajectory of calculators [2].

Wrong again.

Maybe I shouldn't take this so hard. After all, even the pros have a hard time predicting the near future. On the other hand, honesty compels me to review how a few of my past non-obvious expectations turned out ...

1970s [4]

  • Eight track tape would go away. [3]
  • Information technology would lead to mass middle class unemployment. Maybe, but it's taking a long time.


  • Email would replace the fax machine. It's still not dead yet. I think I will die before the #$@#$ fax.
  • The net would kill the post office. True, it's dying now. But it won't die completely for decades. See fax.
  • CD ROM would revolutionize worldwide knowledge access. Well, maybe it would have. It did cut the cost of sharing knowledge dramatically. Except a few years later we had the net ...


  • Palm type devices would show up in cereal boxes. Again, I was fooled by the calculator. I mean, these things were cheap to make...
  • IBM's OS/2 would crush Microsoft's crummy Windows 3. Pathetic. I liked GeoWorks too.
  • The web would destroy most universities. Instead tuition skyrocketed. How wrong can you be?
  • American health care would collapse within a decade. It survived long enough to be saved by ObamaCare.
  • Modems would be gone by 2000, fiber to the desktop. We really believed that. Vast businesses were based on this premise. It's 2011, and there are still a few modems around.
  • Phone calls would be too cheap to meter. My voice services still cost a fortune.
  • Free WiFi would be city wide everywhere: Technology issues and business issues killed this one.
  • Credit card security failures would force industry reform: Twenty years later credit card fraud is institutionalized.



  • China's bubble is going to burst before 2012. Given my track record, this is probably wrong.

That's a pretty long list for a few minutes of thought. I hope I'm mostly remembering when I was wrong, and of course I'm not including obviously correct predictions like "Gopher will change the world forever" [5].

I'm not going to give up predicting of course. That would be boring. Going forward though, I'll try to keep these lessons in mind ...

  1. Choose your models carefully. No technology has seen the price crash of the calculator [6]. Several of my mistakes came because of my early experience with calculators; that was probably a major anomaly.
  2. In period of rapid innovation "winners" (CD ROM, Gopher) can have very short lifespans. The shape of the winner is more predictable than the details.
  3. Big, integrated enterprises take a very long time to die. Years ago I called this Canopy Economics.
  4. We are embedded in a complex adaptive system with gobs of inertia. Our world has a strong tendency to return to its historic trend; and to delay big disruptions by hook or by crook.

I'm not bad, I think, at predicting the future. I'm just bad at predicting when the future will arrive ...

- fn -

[1] Charlie Stross says I was almost right, but the death of a talented data center architect set back Apple's MobileMe plans. It's also true that 2011 isn't over yet. But I'll take the hit anyway.
[2] My first four function calculator was a lot bigger than a modern laptop, required a plug, and cost more than $400 in today's money [8]. I am old. Before that I had a slide rule. Really old.

[3] Ok, so that was a gimme. I include it only because I wanted an example to show that "tools never die" ain't true.
[4] I'm sure I had a lot more, but that was a long time ago. 
[5] Gopher was revolutionary. It would have changed the world, but a few years later we had Mosaic ...
[6] Perhaps because IP enforcement was weaker then?
[7] A post 9/11 meme of mine. My premise was that technological progress was making it possible for small organizations to purchase large amounts of havoc. Bioweapons, dirty bombs and so on. The cost of anonymous attack was falling quickly, but the cost of defense was falling more slowly.
[8] I originally wrote $200. I later read that a 1974 $1 was the equivalent of about $4.30 in 2010. So I adjusted the number.

See also

I did not expect this ...

Al Franken, heir to Paul Wellstone, is one MN's two very fine Dem senators ... and a legendary enemy of Rush Limbaugh.

So this I did not expect ...

Star Tribune: Franken hosts first mentor meeting with Rand Paul | Al Franken - U.S. Senator, Minnesota

... Sen. Al Franken kicked off his mentorship of freshman Republican Sen. Rand Paul on Thursday as the pair met for their first official mentoring session.

While Franken and Paul may not have much political common ground, they have struck up one of the more unlikely bonds of the 112th Congress...

Franken and Rand Paul?

On the bright side, Limbaugh must be having kittens. On the other hand, this is weird.

Median male earnings - declining since 1969?

(via DeLong and Leonhardt)

Interesting results when one looks at median (not mean) inflation adjusted wages for men aged 25-64 over the past 45 years ...

Have Earnings Actually Declined? - Up Front Blog - Brookings Institution

0304 jobs greenstone looney chart1

The red line looks only at employed men. The blue line includes men who are not working [1], so there are more people with 0 wages.

The post-industrial age has not been kind to most men. This is why I call our time the age of mass disability.

PS. Man, the late 90s were good times.

[1] Some will be be earning money they don't want to admit of course.

See also:

Teachers in the crab bucket

There's a lot of hating on teachers lately ...

Must Watch | Talking Points Memo

... This is the best Jon Stewart segment in a long while: Fox's double standard on compensation for Wall Street CEOs and public school teachers. Watch....


Proposed Cuts Strike Teachers as Attacks on Their Value to Society

... The jabs Erin Parker has heard about her job have stunned her. Oh you pathetic teachers, read the online comments and placards of counterdemonstrators. You are glorified baby sitters who leave work at 3 p.m. You deserve minimum wage...

I figure it's boomer demographics. Lifelong teachers can retire in their mid-50s, while my generation is looking at a decade long slog towards a Walmart job. We can't get at Goldman Sachs, but teachers we can reach. Pratchett said it best ...

Crab Bucket « The Practical Dilettante

“Oh, you can keep crabs in an open container, because as soon as one starts to climb out, the others all drag them back in.”

Thursday, March 03, 2011

iPad 2 - why I'm disappointed

iPad 2 is out. It's a wonderful bit of tech. I have no problems with the device hardware and software decisions.

I'm still disappointed. Maybe because I was wrong.

I was confident than iPad 2 would not require a companion computer. I expected full Cloud integration, including device backup. I expected the base device would provide 3G access and come with affordable (capped) data plans that would allow basic email and net use (but not media consumption).

A year ago I expected that iPad 2 would be (net) "computing for the rest of us". I thought it would return to the lost promise of the original Mac vision, updated for the net world. I thought I'd buy one for my sister, and connect her to a world she's increasingly divorced from.

That didn't happen.

I'm disappointed.