Monthly Archives: March 2006

Another addictive wordplay

I have previously blogged the furiously addictive word game Weboggle. Babble is another game of the same variety, but with a different twist: Rather than quick keyboarding, the game rewards a large vocabulary. Plus, there is a whole community of people who chat during the game, dropping hints, writing help pages and trying to get to the top score via a crib sheet called Babblers Anonymous.

And, like I said, addictive…. 

Dell making Alien less alien?

Dell is buying Alienware, which Nicholas Carr interprets as a deviation from Dell’s traditional business model.

I am not so sure. I see it as the disovery (by Dell) that the gaming machine market is not only large, but ready for folks that want the speed and the graphics and perhaps also the cool design, and want that in a package that does not require them to build the machine themselves or deal with smaller vendors with less global reach. Imagine a WoW environment with ads for Dell Computers inside, in many languages and delivered all over the world. Dell delivers in Norway, for instance, but I don’t think Alienware does.

So in my book, this is Dell taking their business model to the gaming market, which still wants to maximize performance for a given budget (which Dell is masterful at) and still demands customizability (as opposed to more and more of the business or private PC market, where any machine off the shelf is pretty near good enough.)

Move to where the money still is, in other words. 

12 reasons to choose math

A few weeks ago, I wrote a Norwegian-language article for the newspaper Aftenposten, called 11 reasons to chose math (11 grunner til å velge matte). I aimed the piece at parents who need to convince their teenagers that doing math in high school is smart, even if you don’t want to become an engineer or a math teacher. It was rather successful, as these things go, here in Norway: I had more feedback (all of it positive) than anything else I have written, have been invited by the Department of Education to plan strategies for getting more youngsters into the natural sciences, and the piece itself was on the top 10 list of most forwarded articles in this newspaper for three weeks running (I picture parents frantically forwarding this to MSN and Yahoo accounts.) I think one reason was that I actually said right out that if you learn math, you will, on average, make more money. Something you don’t say out loud to young people in a country as obsessively egalitarian as Norway.

So – I translated it, padded it out with an additional point (on math as creativity) by Jon Holtan, a mathematician, and it has now been republished in ACM Ubiquity as Why you should choose math in high school. For your forwarding pleasure – should you have a petulant teenager aiming for an education of the softer kind, sic this thing on him or her.

At least you tried.

Update March 28: In addition to having been blogged by Cory, the essay was briefly mentioned in New York Times online.

Update, much later: …and, eventually, quoted by Tom Friedman in the 2nd edition of The World is Flat.

A post to savor

Jeff Jarvis whips out his keyboard and gives a commenter a piece of his mind about what to do when you are working in a sinking industry…. I love it.

I recently did some speaking at a conference of writers and publishing people, and the sentiments are the same – "we are too valuable to have to deal with the vagaries of the market or think about what value we provide to our customers" – so it is nice (and inspiring) to see someone nicely keeping the gloves on, carefully picking the opposition’s arguments apart, before delivering the knock-out.


Via the BBC comes a link to a fantastic article in the Chicago Tribune about how you can find CIA agents and installations by searching the Internet.

This is actually not a new problem – the fact that by searching for behaviors in many databases at the same time, you can uncover patterns that point to people. The term when I heard if first – in the early 80s – was Rasterfandung, which is German and means something like "sieve finding". The story was that the police in one city in Germany was looking for a terrorist, and used a number of computerized registers to focus in on people of the right age group who had recently rented an apartment, hired a car, etc. The police then charged one specific apartment and found the terrorists inside.

The problem, of course, is the perennial one of false positives – what if you are a fairly innocent person cleaning a hunting weapon when the police comes barging through the door? Anyway, the way to mitigate against this kind of searching is, as the corporate blogosphere is beginning to pick up, to flood the net with false positives. I wonder how the CIA (or anyone else) can do that?

Now, THIS is what I call characterization…

Paul Kedrosky has been to a Google analyst meeting

Here is today’s Google Analyst Day, the shorter version:

  • We don’t give guidance
  • We are going to insert ads in more of our products
  • We don’t give guidance
  • We are going to do products in more languages
  • We don’t give guidance
  • New products are really cool

As an aside, can anyone out there provide me with personal and direct evidence that Google CEO Eric Schmidt is real? Because the more I see him (he increasingly strikes me as a less spontaneous & convincing Al Gore  — yes, I know that is hard to imagine), the more I think that Larry and Sergey created him from spare parts as a grad-school engineering prank to convince Kleiner and Sequoia that Google had adult leadership.

I’ve met Schmidt. He is very real. On the other hand, I also think that Al Gore occasionally has interesting things to say (with humor, even), which may be one reason I am not a venture capitalist.

Anyway, good to see an original characterization. Now, let’s see how good Schmidt is on repartee.

Adsense sweatshops

Via Nick Carr refers to an article by Lee Gomes in the WSJ about search engine ginning as a response to news events. I suppose we had it coming, but shouldn’t Google and others be able to counter this with pointer weighting?

The conclusion, of course, is that the Hawthorne effect is alive and well, even if the original never was . Or is this Heisenberg applied to the Internet?

Cracking Enigma, SETI style

This is great fun. I have downloaded and installed the software for the M4 project – this sort of research is intriguing. And the cost is zero, unless this is a Trojan, in which case my innate trustfulness has received yet another blow.

Update March 3: Had to shut this down – not because it isn’t well behaved (it is), but because the  processor load generates heat, which starts the fan in my home workstation, which is irritating in a home office environment. I will install it on a PC I have in my work office, though – that machine has a fan going all the time anyway.