Monthly Archives: May 2004

Moore’s law in practice

Wikipedia is updating its servers after a very successful drive for contributions. The page describing the hardware of Wikipedia is very interesting, especially the list of transactions per second, which is very similar to what SABRE (American Airlines famous CRS) had in the early 1990s (about 250 transactions per second). Highly unscientific and all that, but SABRE was the largest real-time system (unless, I think, you count the SACs SAGE system) in the world at the time and Wikipedia is a non-profit, run-by-volunteers encyclopedia.
It is easy to see the effect of Moore’s law on your own laptop or in the proliferation of single computers, but Wikipedia is a demonstration of the concequences for centralized computing. Neat.

Blogspammers and other environmental hazards

I just installed MT-Blacklist to get rid of an increasing amount of blogspam – we’ll see if it helps. I think the MT-Blacklist approach should work, at least until the number of blogspams increase to regular spam levels and we have to shut down the comment feature, meaning that only people with blogs can discuss with each other (via trackback) or discussions have to move to the closed forum of email.
Spammers – and we are beginning to see these bozos (such as Multicontesta) even in small, overviewable Norway – are really an environmental problem, and should be treated as such. Hiding behind a misinterpretation of the right to free speech and pursuit of riches, they pollute common resources for shortsighted gain. Incidentally, in Norway you are rather well protected as a consumer against these creeps, but not if you run your own company. This has led many small companies, including mine, to forgo having a fax, since most faxes are offers for catalogue entries or display material or other “business services”, anyway.
I am beginning to think that the right governmental agencies to deal with the problem perhaps are those that regulate pollution. The problem is very similar in structure and consequences – and at least in Europe, the environmental authorities are pretty good. And nobody respects a gratuitous polluter.
(This entry was meant for my Norwegian blog, but I misposted. Easier to translate than to fiddle with trackback recalls. My own sort of pollution, perhaps. Apologies – it was inadvertent.)

Don’t buy Gevalia coffee

I just received a spam from Gevalia coffee (PDF here) – courtesy of spammer Optinrealbig, who tells me that I receive that message because I somehow have registered for it. I have never registered to receive junk mail about coffee, of course (in fact, I have never registered that email address for anything).
But how to get rid of this problem? I can, of course, follow the link to opt out of something I have never opted in for. But I think we need to simply hit back. As long as advertisers pay spammers, spam will proliferate. So here is my suggestion: Boycott any identifiable company that use email marketing, opt-in, opt-out or not.
So please, fellow bloggers and Internet users:
Their seemingly legal use of email marketing encourages pollution of inboxes all over Internet. Just get some other coffee. It’s easy….just spread the word!
(update below)
Update Aug. 8 2006: Before you start posting comments here, note the date of the initial entry – and read Will’s comment of Aug. 8 2006.

Continue reading

Tony as columnist

My former and occasionally current colleague, friend and partner in highly vocal discussions (we were once asked to pipe down by an intimidated colleague who thought we would go for each other’s throats, when we both thought we only had a friendly exchange of views) Tony DiRomualdo has snuck off to become a columnist at the Wisconsin Technology Network. Tony’s articles reflects his deepfelt passion for giving people a fair deal in a world that is increasingly globalized and outsourced – without denying the economic benefits of sensibly done outsourcing. A much better argument than a lot of the populistic protectionism that seems to dominate politics these days – this middle ground is what we need if we are to make sense of globalization and offshoring, rather than make wars about it.
Tony is also a gourmet (responsible for a number of travel allowance discussions at our former place of work) – and he does talks, too….. Make sure dinner is included, and you might learn something, and not just about the food.

Gladwell’s articles

After reading about Malcolm Gladwell, the author of The tipping point (a great explanation of network externalities), in Dan Bricklin’s blog, I discovered that he had a website with an archive of his articles in the New Yorker. Well worth a visit – great stuff on the myth of talent management (or, rather, why what worked for McKinsey did not work for Enron or, for that matter, for Swissair), on recognizing whether people are lying based on their facial microexpressions – and why SUVs are a bad thing because people think they are much safer than they are. Excellent writing, as with most things in the New Yorker, highly recommended.

Paul Graham with new book

Wired has a review of Paul Graham‘s new book Hackers and Painters. The book is (apparently, since I haven’t read it yet) a collection of Paul’s essays, some of which have been available on his (stylish and minimalistic) web site for some time. Paul Graham, of course, should be a hero to every Web user for his popularization of the “Bayesian” spam filtering technique, now employed in Mozilla and almost every other email reader.
I haven’t managed to get hold of the book yet, but Paul’s essays are great – and you really can’t beat a quote such as “If you think you’re designing something for idiots, odds are you’re not designing something good.” Far too many applications today are user-friendly rather than usable (Blackboard, which I currently suffer to reach my students, is one example, though less bad than ClassFronter, which is too awful for words and what grade school teachers in Norway are forced to use).
So this just might be a book to get. Or, at least, a reason to go back to Paul’s site (which does not offer an RSS feed) and reread some of his excellent writings.

Set it and forget it

When in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I bought a Buffalo Linkstation which I finally got around to install. Before buying it, I had a lot of trouble finding out whether it would work in a European context, even calling tech support at Buffalo. They said it needed a 110V connection, so I resigned myself to having to get a transformer. Then it turns out that it is 110/220 autoswitchable, so basically it was just plug it into the power slot, connect it to the router – and presto, 120Gb of file server. Truly a set it and forget it device, now hidden away in my home network closet. Excellent.
I haven’t tried out its print server facilities yet, but will do shortly. In the meantime, European friends, this is the thing to get for your small network the next time you are over in the States. It is not available this side of the pond – or at least not in Norway, as far as I know. And Buffalo said they were not going to sell it in Europe (then again, they told me it only would work in the States…..).
This is, incidentally, my first “production” Linux computer – that is, the Linkstation runs on (as far as I know) a limited version of Linux. (I have had a few PCs with Linux to play with, but haven’t really used them.) At the recent CIO Staff call on Open Source, this way of using Linux – device frosting – was seen as one of ways Linux will make it into the mainstream. The TIVO is running on Linux in the same fashion – so you may run Linux and not even know it.
Ahhh. Technology. Sometimes it Just Works.

Moore’s Law and economics

Bob Cringely is arguing that Moore’s Law will slow down, not as a consequence of technology limitations but because further extension after a certain point becomes too expensive. So, rather than demanding a faster processor, just get more of them – or perhaps it is time to start fiddling with software to make it faster again.
Makes sense to me – interestingly, this is one of the chief threats to Dell Computer, whose business model is founded on customers demanding technology that is up to date and customizeable. When the demand for more processing power diminishes, so should the demand for customizability – people can add stuff to their computers rather than getting new ones. Will take some years, though, but the signs are definitely there.

Economics and philosophy

Brad DeLong is thinking about a course in economics and philosophy, soliciting ideas for a reading list, leading to a number of comments. Some of the commenters argue that Marx should be on the list, but I wonder if not something history-oriented, would serve better. My chief quibble is the lack of a technology perspective on the list – so here are my two cents’ worth of additions:

  • Landes, D. S. (1998). The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. New York, Abacus. Best explanation of the linking between government policy, culture and economic development I have read (but see below)

  • Diamond, J. (1998). Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies. New York, Norton. Preparation for Landes, interesting argument about technology evolution and how technology evolves both as cause and consequence of changes in society.

  • Hobsbawm, E. (1994). The Age of Extremes. New York, Vintage Books. (or, though much of that is covered in Landes, Hobsbawm’s The Age of Revolution or The Age of Capital may be referenced as well. “Extremes” is very good in its analysis of communism’s promise and failures, however, making the point that communism was really designed for German society, not Russia – and underscoring its historical context.

  • Bolter, J. D. (1984). Turing’s Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age. Old Woking, Surrey, UK, Unwin Brothers Ltd. Discusses the evolving concept of man as a consequence of evolving technology – humans have always pictured themselves in terms of the technology of the times.

  • Utterback, J. M. (1994). Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation. Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Press. Excellent on the mechanisms of technology evolution and how it affects markets, the historical backdrop to Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma.

  • Beniger, J. R. (1986). The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press. Excellent on how technology has evolved to allow us to have more control – and hence, larger and more structured organizations. This is definitely a book to read before you start thinking about why mobile phones are popular and what their impact on society will be, for instance.

Oh well, is this economics and philosophy? Maybe I am just adding books I like and think everyone should read…..

Software as bottled water and the importance of open file formats

The CIO Staff call on open source software (previously blogged here) turned out to be a lively and very instructive teleconference – it is my distinct impression that Open Source software is turning into a real factor in corporate IT, and that the next year will see some very interesting developments that should give a number of proprietary software vendors reason to start thinking about their value proposition. There are a number of large international corporations that are trying out Linux on the desktop as a new standard, a number of software platforms and packages are expected to go open source, and the legal situation (which, indidentally, is the major reason for delaying open sourcing of existing stuff) is getting disentangled.
Bill Vass had an interesting analogy to open source software: Bottled water. You can bottle your own water if you like, but if you buy it from a company you get the guarantee that it is OK by their standards. And you get someone you can sue.
Most of all, I think the difference between Open Source software and free software (i.e., that one is not necessarily the other) is increasingly understood in large corporations. Secondly, the very key point that having open file formats – and everyone toeing the line and not creating proprietary or undocumented extensions to them – is more important than open sourcing of the programs themselves.
Other little tidbits:
– beware of companies offering software that will only run under certain versions of Linux – that probably means they have proprietary extensions to Linux that can lock you in later
– indemnification is important – a serious Open Source vendor will guarantee you that their “IP is clean”, to quote Eirik Chambe-Eng
– China has purchased a staggering number of Linux “seats”
– The development model works in some cases – the spell checker for was proprietary for a while, until a Taiwanese university wrote oen (in several languages) as a graduate CS student excercise
– otherwise, don’t expect the community to develop the software for you (but they will do QA)
– Linux is showing up in a number of devices, such as the TiVO or the Buffalo Linkstation – one question is whether this furthers the development of the software, since most users of these devices won’t even know that they are running Linux
To me, this looks like the year of Open Source and Linux. Or maybe next year, again. But this is definitely coming…..