Ted Leung on the air
Ted Leung on the air: Open Source, Java, Python, and ...
Mon, 28 Feb 2005
Try this with your kids - How to Purify DNA Using Common Household Items

Meredith Patterson put up instructions on how to "How to Purify DNA Using Common Household Items". She did this live at CodeCon a few weeks ago.

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Fri, 25 Feb 2005
It is all about trust...

Gianugo's experience with a "flat tyres (sic)" reminds us of the importance of the "trustworthiness" factor in doing business:

He makes the analogy to open source soft

It feels good to imagine that honesty, cluefulness and competence can be key drivers again and a foundation for a business model in the software services industry: I'm sure this can be one of the reasons of success of Open Source and it will pay off in the end

People want to deal with trustworthy organizations. Now, not all companies are untrustworthy and not all open source projects are trustworthy. But it seems to me that if open source projects are run in a transparent manner, then people can make up their own minds about whether the project is trustworthy or not, whereas most companies are not going to let you see the details. Building anything worthwhile, whether a business or a piece of software is partially an exercise in building up trust.

[00:30] | [computers/open_source] | # | TB | F | G | 3 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Thu, 24 Feb 2005
The Future of Work

If you've been following my recent set of postings on books, you might have noticed a trend (more on that in another post). Here's the latest installment in the series.

I first heard about Tom Malone's "The Future of Work: How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style and Your Life" via the IT Conversations recording of his SuperNova presentation.

Malone observes that the introduction of various communications technologies influences the way that we structure work and organizations. He follows this trend from the pre 1800s when "most businesses were organized as small, local, often family affairs", through the introduction of broadcast communications capabilities in the 1900s, when "the telegraph, the telephone, the typewriter, and carbon paper finally provided enough communications capacity to allow businesses to grow and centralize on a large scale, as governments had begun to to do many millennia earlier". Which brings us the present day and the central assumption of the book:

Just as new technologies helped spur the rise of democracies, reversing the long trend toward centralization in societies, today's technological advances are beginning to spur a similar reversal in business. With new communication technologies like e-mail, instant messaging and the Internet, it is now becoming economically feasible -- for the first time in history -- to give large numbers of workers the information they need to make more choices for themselves. Today, many more people in business can have the kinds of freedom that used to be common only in small organizations. And that can be very good news for both productivity and quality of life. When people are making their own decisions, for instance, rather than just following orders, the often work harder and show more dedication and more creativity

Even as they encourage greater freedom, however, these new decentralized businesses can escape the limitations that hampered small isolated businesses in the past. Because the new organizations have access to the best information available anywhere in the world, they retain many of the advantages of large organizations. If there are economies of scale in parts of their business, for instance, they can find the best suppliers in the world to fulfill their needs for those raw materials and components. They can also find customers all over the world, using electronic reputation systems to establish credibility with them. And if someone on the other side of the globe has figured out how to do a particular activity or process in a better way, the businesses can tap into that person's expertise too.

The first three chapters examine the trends and so forth behind these paragraphs. The remainder of the book is broken into two parts. Part 2 looks at ways for structuring decentralized organizations: one chapter each on loose hierarchies, democracies and two on markets. In each chapter, Malone uses several organizations as examples of the structuring mechanism and then draws some conclusions about the form. I was particularly interested in the examples of the W.L Gore company, and the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (MCC) in Spain's Basque region, both in the chapter on democracy. In the Gore section, a team leader says

I'm a leader only if there are people willing to follow me

This is closer to my notion of leadership. Giving someone a title doesn't make them a leader; it's their ability to persuade, motivate, etc which truly makes them a leader.

The MCC has a very interesting structure where "lower level" cooperatives own the larger corporation instead of the other way around. Individual members/owners of a cooperative elect that cooperative's governing council (which among other things, hires and fires the CEO) and participate in a general assembly where they vote on relevant issues. The cooperatives are grouped by industry sectors, and each sector also has a governing council and generally assembly. The standing committee (the governing council of the MCC itself) is similarly determined.

MCC also uses a financial compensation structure which grants individual employees ownership and profit sharing in a way that seems much better than most other companies.

One interesting idea from the democracy chapter is the notion of approval voting, where voters can vote for as many candidates as they want. The person with the highest number of approval votes wins. The notion of continuous approval voting in which voters can change their votes and thereby change a person's standing in the rankings is also kind of interesting. Approval voting and the single transferable vote (STV) system that we use at the ASF has got me interested in learning about other voting mechanisms (pointers appreciated).

The first chapter on Markets included a few sections on a freelance or e-lance economy.

In an e-lance economy, the fundamental unit is not the corporation, but the individual. Tasks are not assigned and controlled through a stable chain of management, but rather are carried out autonomously by independent contractors. These freelancers join together into fluid and temporary networks to produce and sell goods and services.

He makes the connection to the physical construction industry (just like Doc)

The construction industry is often organized this way, too. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and other specialists, many of whom work independently or for small companies, join together to make a building. When the building is finished, they regroup in different ways to make other buildings

This is the way that our current home was built back in 2000-2001, and before I joined OSAF I was one of those independent specialists. I was fortunate to have a good web of relationships that made it easy to find jobs and also work with others to do larger jobs than I could do myself. So I was glad to see a section entitled "Taking Care of People: The Guilds of the Future":

Growing out of tradesmen's fraternities and mutual assistance clubs, medieval guilds served a number of functions: They trained apprentices and helped them find work. They cemented social bonds -- guild members worshipped together and marched as a group in town pageants. The offered loans and schooling. And if misfortune struck, they provided an income for members' families.

I have yet to see an organization that operates the way that I think a modern day guild ought to. As Malone points out, there are many organizations that provide some of the functions of a guild, but none that provide all of them.

The second chapter on Markets talked about the use of Markets inside of organizations, which is a topic that I was not as interested in. There was some overlap in material with Suriwieki's treatment of markets in "The Wisdom of Crowds". The last chapter of section two covered the question "When Should You Decentralize"? The top level criteria looked like this.

  • Decentralize when the motivation and creativity of many people is critical
  • Centralize when resolving conflicts is critical
  • Centralize when it's critical to have lots of detail -- down to a very low level -- united by a single vision
  • Centralize when only a few people are capable of making good decisions

I found it interesting that there are more points dealing with centralization than for decentralization. In the context of open source projects, I think that it is useful to look at how these criteria match up against the various open source projects. (That's probably a topic for a whole post by itself).

Malone also makes a prediction for how decentralization will proceed:

These then, are the three main ways that decentralization with spread: First, senior executives of centralized firms will voluntarily make their hierarchies looser. Second, decentralized competitors will take market share away from centralized firms. Finally, centralized firms will outsource more of their work to decentralized ones. Even though the transitions to decentralization will be far from easy, they will happen, as managers and entrepreneurs discover and exploit the places in the economy where decentralization is most useful.

The last part of the book s devoted to the change in mindset that management must undergo in order to be effective in the decentralized world: moving away from a command and control mindset and towards a coordinate and cultivate mindset.

To coordinate is to organize work so that good things happen, whether you're in control or not. Some kinds of coordination are centralized, others are decentralized. Either way, coordinating focuses on the activities that need to be done and the relationships among them. Cultivation, by contrast, focuses on the people doing the activities: what they want, what they are good at, and how they can help each other. To cultivate is to bring out the best in people through the right combination of controlling and letting go.

Here's a smattering of related quotes on coordination:

For incentives to help coordinate a group's actions, they have to be coherent. If everyone has incompatible incentives, even a team of highly capable, highly motivated people won't achieve strong results. The various incentives, therefore, need to be tied to and support overarching goals shared by the entire group
The final key to coordination is good connections between activities and information

Transparency, or the open source way.

right standards in the right parts of a system can enable much more flexibility and decentralization in other parts of the system.

He calls these standards, I call them culture.

As the preceding section explained, coordination means managing dependencies between activities.

One of the problems of coordination is determining whether or not work has been done in a satisfactory manner. Malone proposes the use of independent rating services analogous to Consumer Reports or J. D. Powers. Now you know part of the reason that I'm interested in reputation and recommendation systems.

And here are a few quotes on cultivation:

To cultivate something successfully -- whether it's your farm, our garden, your child, or your organization -- you need to understand and respect its natural tendencies at the same time that you try to shape it in ways you value. More specifically, you try to discover and encourage its positive potential and limit the harm caused by its negative tendencies. Rather than impose your will on the system, you try to balance he right kinds of control with the right kinds of letting go.
This conflict between centralized and decentralized control -- between being in control and being out of control -- will increasingly be one of the fundamental tensions of organizational life.

Malone also outlines "Principles for Cultivating Organizations"

  1. Harness People's Natural Tendencies
  2. Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom
  3. Encourage Cross-Fertilization
  4. Improvise

In addition he outlines four "Core Capabilities for Distributed Leadership"

  1. Visioning
  2. Sense-Making
  3. Inventing
  4. Relating
  5. (Managing your own time/priorities)

The last chapter is titled "Putting Human Values at the Center of Business". There's a tie here to "The Soul of Capitalism", which I reviewed earlier this month. One point that he makes is

As more businesses try to pursue noneconomic goals, one of the most obvious dangers is that some people will cynically try to exploit others' good intentions. Malone believes that increased transparency is the only way to combat this danger, and cites IdealsWork as an example of an independent web site that

helps consumers compare the social and environmental performance of thousands of product brands according to the user's own individual values.

Malone wrote the following about cultivating one's own values particularly in the realm of business.:

If you are trying to control a system, you apply all your effort to making the outcomes of the system be what you want. If, on the other hand, you are trying to cultivate a system, you are not attached to the outcomes in the same way.
Similarly, in business, if you try too hard to accomplish particular goals you think are good, you may fail to see even better things that are emerging.

This is true in realms besides business as well.

Overall, this is an excellent book. If you are interested in commons-based peer production (open source) I think that you'd be well served by giving this book a read and then thinking about its relevance to that topic.

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Wed, 23 Feb 2005
RSS Aggregators are the killer app

Scoble asked me to write this post, so here goes. I don't mean that RSS aggregators are the kind of killer app that sells a billion computers and creates new markets (there is that possibility, though). I mean the app that does so much that it consumes all available CPU, memory, network, and disk. Perhaps I really mean that they're the "killing my computer" app.

If I take out software development activities, the application that is pushing the limits of my hardware is my RSS aggregator. This is not in any way a slam on NetNewsWire, which is very, very, fine application. It's a reflection of the way that my relationship to the web has changed. I hardly use a standalone browser anymore -- mostly for searching or printing. I don't have time to go and visit all the web sites that have information that is useful to me. Fortunately, the aggregator takes care of that. Once the aggregator has the information, I want it to fold, spindle, and mutilate it. I'm at over 1000 feeds, and on an average day, it's not uncommon to have 4000 new items flow through the aggregator. It takes 25 minutes (spread out over two sessions) just to pull the data down and process it -- and I have a very fast connection. NetNewswire uses WebKit to render HTML in line -- a feature that makes it easy to cut through piles of entries, but one which is demanding of CPU and memory.

But that's just the basics. What happens when we start doing Bayesian stuff on 4000 items a day? Latent Semantic Indexing? Clustering? Reinforcement Learning? Oh, and I want to do all of those things on all the stuff that I ever pulled down, not just the new stuff. What happens if I want to build a "real-time" trend analyzer using RSS feed data as the input? The processor vendors should be licking their chops...

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Chris Pirillo's Seattle mailing list

If you live in or around Seattle, and want to hook up with other people, you may want to subscribe to Chris Pirillo's Seattlist.

If there are other useful Seattle lists, please feel to say so in the comments.

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Tue, 22 Feb 2005
Northern Voice 2005 Recap

My experience at Northern Voice was different than most conferences that I attend, where I'm either speaking or have a bunch of people what I'm intent on meeting. This weekend, I was showing up mostly as Julie's spouse/tech support/childcare worker. Of course, I was interested in meeting other bloggers, and hearing some of the talks, as well. This was also the first conference that we've taken the girls to. They've been to some blogger meetups, and are reasonably comfortable around adults, but a day long conference is another thing entirely.

We arrived in plenty of time to register and we snagged a comfortable place along the walls of the auditorium, which had the standard rows of seats in the main area, and a stepped floor on either side. This gave us a nice perch, able to see, but also with enough space for the girls to spread out their amusements. They made it through the two keynotes, and then it was off to the room for Julie's talk. The girls ended up in the back row, and the older two were paying pretty good attention to their Mom's talk. The fact that Julie's entire presentation is all photographs (think 110MB PowerPoint file) certainly helped. Elisabeth had a tougher time of it. She'd gotten up early, sat through two long (for her) keynotes, and now she was separated from Mom by a decent sized crowd of people. It wasn't until about 3/4 of the way through that she started getting itchy. Then she wanted to go up and see her Mom, and I had to tell her that she need to stay in the back with us. She was (understandly) not happy about that, but she went along with it, and when the Q&A started, I let her wander up to the front, and Julie answered questions with Elisabeth in her lap and on the floor, and ... You get the idea. We took the rest of the day a little easier, which meant we missed a session here or there. But the girls did quite well, caused no major disturbances (that I'm aware of) and made some new friends. They've added some entries from their experience to their blog.

Julie did fantastically well. Yes, I know that I'm biased, but I'm not the only one who thinks so. When she told me that she was going to do a presentation that was all photos, I got kind of nervous, because I think that those are really hard to do well. A few nights before, she gave me a run through, and was pretty nervous about it -- giving the run through to me, that is. I was really impressed with what I saw, but I didn't get as excited as I actually was inside, because I didn't want to create any pressure for her. As it got closer to starting time, it looked like the room was about one-third full, respectable, but a little disappointing. I had to get the kids setup (we started behind the glass wall upstairs and ended up in the back row downstairs), so I lost track of how many people were in the room. As Julie got going, I noticed more people coming in, and we ended up with almost all the seats full, and people standing along the wall and sitting on one of the staircase up to the "balcony". Now I was nervous for a different reason: I started looking around the room: Tim Bray, Lauren Wood, Chris Pirillo and Ponzi, Marc Canter and his wife Lisa, Robert and Maryam Scoble, and some other familiar and famous faces -- yikes! Julie totally kept her cool. Photos flashed by, synchronized with personal stories, quotes from other bloggers, and some principles for making the private public. The applause was warm, and there were some questions, although I know Julie wanted to have a little more give and take. I was relieved that we had gotten the big event over with, and happy that people seemed to like what they had seen and heard.

The night before Julie and I agreed that we might use the session after hers as some decompression time for the kids, and that turned out to be a smart plan. They needed a little snack and some time to blow up all that kid energy that didn't get dissipated while they sat through three hours worth of presentations. We did end up with some nice hallway conversation, including a nice conversation with Julie Szabo (Darren Barefoot's wife) who is a very accomplished ice skater. We got invited to go to $.99 sushi (well, a piece), which is where Michaela's little demonstration for Chris occurred. Our lunch ended up cutting into the next session block, although we did sneak into last half of the panel on building blog traffic.

Julie was up for the next panel block, so we stayed put for that. As panels go, it went the way that a good panel ought to. The panelists spoke very briefly, leaving most of the time for questions from the audience. There were a bunch of questions around splitting up your online identity -- multiple blogs, how personal to be, etc. I don't really understand these questions because one of the whole points of blogging is to integrate all of that stuff.

I wasn't all that enthused about seeing the tools lightning talks, especially since most of the talks were on Windows. The presentation on Qumana definitely got my attention, because it looks like a fantastically nice interface for making posts. Maybe even nicer than Ecto, (which didn't get shown during David Shea's Mac tools talk). Then Nancy White got up and gave one of the most amazing 5 minute talks I've ever seen. She must have put a lot of thought into it because she gave a devastating critique of the usability barriers faced by people who need to somehow learn about RSS, trackbacks, HTML blog templates, blogrolls, and all the other stuff that experienced bloggers take for granted. And she did it in a light, funny, and warm way. I was definitely impressed, and it gave me a lot to think about.

Marc Canter persuaded us to go to Guu for dinner (Marc can be very persuasive). What a treat that turned out to be! I think I could almost convince myself to move to Vancouver just so I could eat there. Julie and I both just loved it. This probably one of the few West Coast restaurants that has elicited this kind of reaction from both of us. Boris Mann and some of the guys from Bryght showed up, and promptly proceeded to charm my older two daughters. Incidentally, I love the city of Vancouver. This is only my second visit, but there's just something about the place that I really like. I suspect we'll be trying to find more excuses to go up to Vancouver. And now, we even know a whole pile of people there.

From Guu, we walked over the the party. Abigail and Michaela attached themselves to Boris for the walk, which left Julie and I to talk a little while Elisabeth rode along on my shoulders. On the last block before the Take 5 cafe, the front portion of the party (including Boris and the two older girls) crossed the street, while the back portion missed the traffic light. Julie and I stood on the curb watching Boris, Abigail, and Michaela receding into the distance and then into the door of the cafe. We look at each other and thought of the slide in her presentation that is a bunch of balloons flying off into the air. The commentary on the slide talks about releasing yourself into the internet -- and here we were, watching our daughters head off to a blogger party with one of our newfound blogger friends. Maybe you just had to be there. The length of the day meant that we were not long for the party, but I did get a chance to make a few more virtual to physical connections, with Dethe Elze, and Suw Charman. By the time we got back to the hotel and put the girls to bed, we were beat. In fact, both of us just fell asleep, which if you follow the times that we post, will seem highly improbable.

I haven't mentioned the two keynotes -- they've gotten a lot of coverage, so I'll be short. Tim Bray did a very solid and accessible talk on blogging principles. One of his principles stuck out to me -- "Flame judiciously". You may be seeing a bit more of that in coming days. I was curious to hear what Scoble had to say -- we've talked a few times at Seattle meetups and geek dinners, but I was curious to see him talk about his workflow, especially since I'm over the 1000 feed mark myself. The trend analysis that he's doing is in a slightly different arena than me, but it's interesting that t we're both interested in doing similar kinds of things. Both he and Tim emphasized the listening aspect of blogging, which is not being discussed enough.

Dim Sum on Sunday morning was fun. I wish that we could conveniently go for Dim Sum on weekend mornings -- another reason to like Vancouver. I found myself at a table with Seb Paquet, Boris, Nancy White, Phil Wolff, Abigail, and Michaela (Julie and I split the kids). The girls of course, were ecstatic that Boris was at the table (they did wander off to greet other folks that they knew). Conversation was good, and at one point, Nancy and I were on the floor between tables talking to Chris and Ponzi. What is it about Seattle people that they have to go somewhere else in order to get together and talk? This happens with a few of my other Seattle friends as well.

After that it was off to the Vancouver Aquarium for a little family vacation, followed by the drive home. Or as Elisabeth likes to say: "Drive, Drive, Burger King". We did manage to find a BK to dine at -- we hit McDonalds on the way up, and the kids really wanted Burger King. Also during the course of the drive, I did manage to cram in a few IT Conversations podcasts, keeping up the pretense that someday my queue might go to zero.

One that stuck out to me was the TechNation interview with Frans Johansson. Apparently Johansson's "The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures" is about breakthroughs as a result of mingling diverse viewpoints. In his other post on Northern Voice, Tim Bray wrote:

I think I’ve never previously been to a blogging conference. The whole idea seems somehow ludicrous.

The thing that I appreciated about this blogging conference was the opportunity to get together withe people from diverse backgrounds (i.e. not all technology people), and spend some time mixing it up. The organizers did a great job -- there wasn't chaos, but things weren't over produced, either. By keeping the conference affordable, they made it possible for a different type of person to show up and find out what all the fuss was about. Northern Voice also reinforced my conviction that the smallest conferences are the best. I know that I'd show up for another one.

[ update: fixed Qumana link ]

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Sun, 20 Feb 2005
Back from Northern Voice

We're back after a fun but tiring weekend at Northern Voice.

Some of you may have noticed that Julie's blog and my blog were down last night and most of today. I discovered late last night that the server was wedged. Of course, we were all in Vancouver, so there was no one to reboot the machine, which was pingable but unresponsive to network services. Did I mentioned that I was horrified, since Julie's talk was well received, and now her blog was off the air?

I discovered a pile of

dst cache overflow messages

on the console when we got home tonight. There were also a bunch of

syslog-ng[14436]: Error accepting AF_UNIX connection, opened connections: 100, max: 100

messages. If anyone can accelerate my learning process on this, it would be a big help.

Details on Northern Voice will be up tomorrow.

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Thu, 17 Feb 2005
On Finding Your Tribe

Julie is getting ready for her Northern Voice talk, and she wanted to know if I had a post about tribalism that she could quote. I've been filling her ear with my nonsense about this for quite some time, but I've never really posted about it before.

I don't consider this to be an earth-shattering concept, but some people that I've tried this out on have had a strong reaction to it, so...

The basic observation is that human beings are members of tribes. I hope that this will be a surprise to no one. In fact, according to the loosest definition of a tribe:

a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest

people belong to many tribes. If you look at the Apache Software Foundation (ASF), I think that you'll find that it's composed of tribes. The broader open source community isn't really a single community but a community of communities -- or a tribe of tribes. I suppose that my association with the ASF is what biases me towards tribe as a word for describing all this. The first time that I really thought about tribes in this way was when some ASF friends started the Tribal Knowledge Group. I thought this was a really cool name, and it was probably around that time that I started going on about tribes (Sorry Marc, it was not tribe.net).

Here are some other tribes that I'm a part of:

  • Depressed realistic Lisp Hackers
  • Mac OS X freaks
  • Male Figure Skating Lovers
  • Deborah Henson-Conant Lovers
  • Pragmatic (as opposed to Ideological) Open Source developers
  • Bainbridge Island "Geeks"

I'm sure all of us can come up with a number of tribes that we are in -- at least in spirit. Our membership in tribes is an expression of ourselves. I want to find other people who are in the same tribe . When I arrived at MIT as a freshman, I felt a sense of connection with many of my fellow students (more so than most of my life to that point). It was like coming home, or being with "my people". I had found my tribe, or at least one of them. As I progressed through my college years, that big tribe turned out to be composed of many smaller tribes, and I had that experience of finding my place in some of those smaller tribes as well.

As we grow up (yes, I'm including myself), we learn about ourselves and the tribes that we are a part of. Sometimes we have to be with a group of people in order to know whether we are in the same tribe or not. The difficult thing about our human tribalism is finding out what tribes we belong to (a function of ourselves) and then finding other people that are in one or more of our tribes.

Getting involved with open source software has been a major source of my tribe finding interactions, probably the largest since I left the university environment. Writing this blog has been a even larger source. If you want to find out who's in my tribe, see who's linked to me or commented/tracked back. Those references have crossed into the physical world, and I've been fortunate enough to meet people in real life at conferences and other meetings. That wouldn't be happening without my blog.

Tomorrow we're heading up to Northern Voice, which is (partially) billed as an introductory blogging conference. I suspect that the organizers were thinking about people finding their voice when the came up with the name. All I know is that as I sit in the auditorium on Saturday, I'll be finding my tribe as well as my voice.

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Wed, 16 Feb 2005
Missed the Lisp User's Group

Unfortunately, I missed last weeks Seattle Lisp Users Group (I didn't know about it, and I was in San Francisco anyway). One of these days it would be fun to hook with these folks.

[23:28] | [computers/programming/lisp] | # | TB | F | G | 1 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Tue, 15 Feb 2005
More CodeCon pictures

David Reid has put up some more codecon pics.

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Mon, 14 Feb 2005
Etymotic ER6i Isolators

Last year I wrote about my experience with the Shure E3C headphones, which I ultimately returned. After my adventures at Zeitgeist, I decided that I had worked up enough courage to try the Etymotic ER6i headphones. A number of people have written that these headphones are much better at blocking out noise, so I've been curious. I did try on a pair of the Bose noise canceling headphones at an Apple store, and they didn't seem to block as much noise as I would have liked, and they have the drawback of being quite large and requiring a battery. So, I ended up back at Microphone Solutions, which matched Buy.com's lower price, and whom (despite last year's experience) I knew would honor the 30 day money back guarantee. I got the ER6i's which are tuned for small MP3 players like the iPod, and claim a higher degree of noise isolation (compared to the regular ER6)

The sound isolation is very good at home. On the day that I got them, I had Michaela jumping up and down and yelling right in front of my face, and I didn't hear her at all. The iPod was set on a low volume setting, which seemed promising. The acid test was last week's trip to the Bay area, which included trips on ferries and airplanes, and a stay in the OSAF offices, which are a large open area. I was listening to a lot of IT Conversations, which has the pauses in conversation, during which I was able to pick up noise from my surroundings. Playing music at a relatively low volume took care of most of those noises. I noticed significant (to me) reduction of airplane noise just by having the phones in the ears. I've gotten over the hurdle of licking the flanged ends to get a better fit, and I haven't yet tried the foam earpieces, but so far I'd have to say that the noise reduction is better than the Shure's. I think that the Shure's had slightly better sound, but I'm willing to accept the tradeoff. The Etymotics seem to insert more easily (although the fit is still not perfect -- I really need to try the foam earpieces) and I haven't developed any pain like with the Shure phones.

At this point, I think they're a keeper.

[23:29] | [gadgets] | # | TB | F | G | 3 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
CodeCon 2005: Day 3

[ This post courtesy of the WSF, Mobiilsa, and unfortunately, Alaska Airlines ]

Here's my report on the last day of CodeCon:

Wheat is a language/runtime/server environment that tries to work the way that the web works -- to the point that you have to deal with it via a web server. As a language there are a number of unusual features:

  • Every object has a URL (the url may not be public, but everything has an URL). A goal is to be able to address anything on the Internet. This also means that when you instantiate objects into the URL space
  • Objects exist in a tree (like web pages) not in a heap. There is a notion of weak pointers (kind of like symlinks, and perhaps related to XPath) that provides the ability to designate in the way that pointers do. Also because the object graph is strictly a tree, the claim is that you need a garbage collector.
  • The object model is prototype based, not class based
  • The surface syntax reminded of Dylan
  • There is a builtin template system, and sort of reminded me of a mix of the EnhydraC approach, mixed together with Dylan macros.

During the Q&A, someone pointed out that Wheat seems quite similar to Zope.

Incoherence is a very cool system for visualizing music. The interesting thing about it is that it visualizes the frequency of the sounds, and the position of those frequencies in the stereo field. A sizable portion of the presentation was essentially a history of how people have used the stereo field. The presenters played tracks and used the Incoherence visualizations to show how the field was being used. I found this to be more interesting than the details of the visualizer itself. Incoherence is available as plugins for iTunes, WinAMP, and xMMS. The authors plan to do plugins for digital audio workstations (hopefully GarageBand) so that the stereo field information would be available at mixing time.

I was really looking forward to this talk, because I'm very interested in identity (which I see as a basic building block for reputation, among other things). Unfortunately, I didn't get a good sense of how the technology worked. The speakers said that their Powerpoint slides were initially aimed at money people, which might explain my confusion. I also tried to find the source code that they claimed was up on SourceForge/Subversion, but to no avail. I hope that all of will sort itself out given a suitable amount of time.

The presentation for SciTools began with a demonstration of how to purify DNA using common household items. Some of the items used included meat tenderizer and a vegetable spinner. Meredith demonstrated kind of tools available in Scitools by demonstrating how you would use them to design a a blocker for the BRCA1 breast cancer gene. Now, I remember the basics of DNA and RNA transcription from AP biology, and it was easy to follow the presentation, and I'm married to a microbiologist. Nonetheless, I found it quite amazing to watch genomes being cut and pasted between websites and seeing the explanation of what would happen inside the cellular machinery. At the beginning of the talk, Meredith compared the state of biology to the state of computer science when assembly language was the only tool that we had for programming computers. I believe she made a comment about needing a Lisp for biology. The world is definitely shaping up to be an interesting place.

Sadly, I had to leave early because the conference was running late and I had a flight to catch, so I missed the last talk on OzymanDNS. Somewhat predictably, I arrived at the airport only to discover that my flight was delayed by an hour, so I probably could have caught the last presentation. United, the airline I normally fly, would probably have paged my phone and let me know of the delay, but Alaska/Northwest did not. At least a fellow CodeCon attendee gave me a ride to the ferry terminal, where I am waiting for the 12:45AM ferry

On the whole, I enjoyed the CodeCon experience, and I think the goal of providing a place for people to talk about nascent projects is a great idea.

[00:24] | [computers] | # | TB | F | G | 1 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Sat, 12 Feb 2005
CodeCon 2005: Day 2

Here's my roundup of CodeCon for today.

The most interesting talks that I saw were on the UltraGleeper, and H20.

The UltraGleeper is recommendation engine for web pages. The key idea was to interpret links as recommendations (and yes, "nofollow" did come up.). Instead of asking a user to fill out a questionnaire about their preferences, or do a bunch of up front ratings, the UltraGleeper uses a person's weblog and del.icio.us bookmarks as the "seed" for web page content that the user likes. After this, the usual feedback style of rating kicks in -- something familiar to many recommendation engines. It's good to see work on this sort of thing going on. At some point I think that it would be cool to have recommendation engine style functionality available in Chandler, but that's something for the future.

H2O is a system that was built at Harvard Law School to create a good environment for university classes. The point that stuck out to me the most was the throttling system that they built in order to regulated both the rate/tempo and structure of electronic discussions. The goal of this was to level out the playing field for discussions so that early and/or loud voices didn't dominate, as they are prone to do. Having recently commented on a discussion of small group dynamics on "The Wisdom of Crowds", I was predisposed to see the value of this design choice in H2O.

I viewed the talk on Mappr as a good example of the usefulness of folksonomies (even though they weren't perfect). I think it's also an example of the success of web services (in the most general sense of the term).

Kevin Crowston is here observing as part of his ongoing research on FLOSS. Kevin and his team have become a fixture at ApacheCon, and it was good to see him. We had a very interesting discussion on our perceptions of CodeCon versus ApacheCon and the respective communities.

The small size of CodeCon makes it somewhat less about the presentations and more about the people. I'm grateful to some of the great introducers who have been helping me meet interesting people in the CodeCon community. It's such a helpful thing when people are thoughtful about doing this. I want to build a stronger habit of doing this when I'm able to.

[23:44] | [computers] | # | TB | F | G | 2 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
CodeCon 2005: Day 1

So today was the first day of CodeCon... This (cell phone camera) picture gives you an idea of the atomosphere...


CodeCon is definitely a coder's conference. It starts at noon, which gives the nocturnal hackers (such as myself) a chance to get some decent rest. No presentations are allowed without running code, and the content so far is highly technical.

There's a decent number of ASF folk here. Ben Laurie and David Reid gave a presentation on the new certificate authority that they are working on for the ASF. I paid a decent amount of attention because I'm going to be a user of the system once it goes into production (I also submitted my request for a cert)

I was interested in the talk on the Aura reputation system. I'm going to take a closer look at this -- reputation systems are something that I'm very interested in, so it was good to see that people are out there working on them.

My powerbook decided to crash very hard right at the beginning of the ArX talk, so I only heard parts of the talk, since I spent most of it with CliffClassic doing deep surgery on the machine. Fortunately, Cliff knows his Powerbook kit, and he got me back up and running. It's a mystery to me as to why the machine decided to just lock up and die, but that's what happened. It has been behaving oddly -- the Cylon like sleep LED has been working incorrectly or not at all since December, and I discovered that the keyboard backlight was not working right (although Cliff's Powerbook-fu seems to have gotten that going again). Cliff also thinks that I need a new inverter for my LCD because a portion of the screen is dimmer than the rest -- I'm reluctant to give up the machine to get it repaired -- and of course, I live a goodly distance from an Apple store.

I missed much of the OTR presentation, but the parts that I did hear seemed like they have something really useful (at least if you value your privacy). I'm especially interested in their proxy for iChat. I'll be interested to see the demos tomorrow.

Reusable Proofs of Work (RPOW) seems like an interesting method for doing resource allocation (and/or payment). Unfortunately, it seems like it will be some time before RPOW tokens could be used in the real world.

[00:18] | [computers] | # | TB | F | G | 2 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Wed, 09 Feb 2005
mmv on OS X

mmv is a really useful utility that I've used for a long time. On Debian there are packages for it, but there aren't fink packages or other prebuilt binaries for OS X. So yesterday I got fed up with not having mmv on the Mac, so I went to the Debian package page for mmv
and grabbed the sources for the Debian package (I had a devil of a time finding the sources elsewhere). After that it was

gcc -o mmv mmv.c

and I was in business.

[23:43] | [computers/operating_systems/macosx/tips] | # | TB | F | G | 0 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Tue, 08 Feb 2005
No more Gillmor Gang

I was really disappointed to learn (via Doc) that the Gillmor Gang is taking a break. The high quality of the Gang was one of the things that pushed me over the podcasting hump. Fortunately, there's still lots of great content over at IT Conversations, but I certainly hope that the new incarnation shows up soon.

[23:50] | [computers/internet/weblogs] | # | TB | F | G | 0 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Sun, 06 Feb 2005
This post courtesy of WSF and Mobilisa

WiFi on the Bainbridge Island ferry run is now official...

It looks like the problems with getting to my website from the ferry wireless were due to the rfc1918 rules in shorewall.

[14:57] | [computers/internet] | # | TB | F | G | 0 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Sat, 05 Feb 2005
The Soul of Capitalism

Back in October, Mitch Kapor did an audio interview with William Greider about his book, "The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy" (discussion forum here). It's taken a while to get the book from the library, make my way through it, and post this review.

Greider is in search of a way to reinvent capitalism so that it accomplishes social purposes as well. Here are some quotes that stuck out to me:

p. 84

1. the natural rights of people are inescapably violated by the enduring master-servant relationship
2. universal ownership (...) is not only more just, but is necessary to prevent an eventual economic and political crisis for the present system
3. businesses perform better when employees share a stake in the ownership

Having owned my own business for a while, I'd have to agree with these points.

p. 159

usufruct - "take what you need, leave the rest for others"

This speaks to me about the notions of a commons, one of my favorite topics, and related to innovation, which appears below

p. 205

The corporation's legally privileged structure and unbounded scale generate a different kind of corruption -- the irresponsibility of concentrated, self-aggrandizing power. The commanding heights of corporate control belong to management insiders, and the large-bloc share owners who together are able to impose a narrow-gauged understanding of economic purpose on their own organizations and on the larger society. Given this closely held power, a successful company may remain oblivious to social injuries or the country's neglected priorities, but may also be blind to the corporation's essential purpose: creating real wealth for the future, the material gains that sustain a civilized society.

Greider re-images the corporation as a positive social force.

p. 228

The corporation may be thought of as a kind of protected cloister for sustained economic development, the place people gather to collaborate in complex, long-running processes of innovation and production

I like the focus on innovation.

p. 232

The essence of the successful corporation, as O'Sullivan explains in a telling phrase, is its function as a "learning collectivity". Only through continuous, collective learning among participants and managers is the company able to innovate, to discover new insights about itself and its objectives. And only innovation gives it the ability to survive and flourish; that is, to produce genuinely new value that can compete with others trying to do the same. Innovation, in these terms, simply consists of discovering new methods or products that deliver greater quality or cost savings or advanced capabilities over what existed before.

Innovation requires learning. I like it.

p. 233

This quality -- the capacity for innovation -- ought to be the first, most important social test of corporate governance. Regardless of how the firm is organized, does its organizational control system inspire innovation or suppress it? Do the "strategists" commit capital to innovative priorities because they are steadily informed by the "learners" scattered throughout the company?

p. 235

In sum, if O'Sullivan's "learning collectivity" becomes the standard by which corporations are judged, then the system for corporate governance has to be refocused on a different set of values, with more intrusive questions, but also more human-scale content.

p. 239

(Charles) Perrow's "Organizing America : Wealth, Power, and the Origins of Corporate Capitalism" (Charles Perrow) larger point is that the corporation is a social organization itself.

The "learning collectivity" is further threatened by the question of scale. ... When a corporation becomes a conglomerate of many unrelated businesses, the collective learning process becomes so tenuous it often disappears.

In other words, bigger is not always better.

p. 242

For the long term, imagine that antitrust law is transformed into a broader, more effective legal doctrine called "social trust". This new approach would start by reestablishing the original presumption that very large business organizations are inherently suspect - not good for us - because their concentrated power undermines democratic society as well as the learning-and-innovating capacities of the economy.

p. 243

But one of the most troubling failures of the existing corporate governance system is that a "white hat" company can morph into a "black hat" without disturbing its bylaws or legal obligations.

This definitely troubles me.

p. 258

I identify six essential social purposes that, contrary to conventional dogma of American capitalism, are not inherently incompatible with successful enterprise and, in fact, should reinforce a profitable, innovative corporation. These qualities have largely been excluded from the standard corporation by design or popular default to the existing power alignments. Think of these as six key steps towards establishing self-enforcement within a responsible business organization.

1. The Corporation must produce real new wealth, profit in the narrow meaning but also genuine value added to the material basis for sustaining a civilized society

2. The active objective of the corporation is to achieve harmony with nature, instead of borrowing assets from the future, with the understanding that disturbing nature is inescapable, but destroying it is neither required nor free

3. The system of internal governance reflects a democratic understanding that one way or another all of the company's insiders "own" it and together accept the risks and responsibilities for its behavior, and that the governance mechanisms ensure participatory decision making and the equitable adjudication of inevitable differences.

4. The corporation, in addition to its standard obligations to investors or creditors, undertakes concrete covenants with the communities that also support it in different ways (perhaps even granting forfeitable performance bonds that will serve as formal instruments of mutual obligation and trust)

5. The company's mission includes promoting unbounded horizons for every individual within it, whatever their personal potential and ambitions might be.

6. The corporation commits to defending the bedrock institutions of the society, from the viability of family life to the integrity of representative democracy

These purposes aren't perfect, but they seem a lot better than most of what is out there today.

[23:01] | [books] | # | TB | F | G | 7 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Fri, 04 Feb 2005
A new NetNewsWire public BETA

Brent has released the latest public beta of NetNewsWire. I believe that in this version he's taken care of the last bugs that were annoying me in my daily work flow.

Remember, THIS IS BETA SOFTWARE. Before you download, backup your existing data files, and be aware that things may be unstable. I haven't found that to be the case, but you might have a problem, since there are some features that I don't use. Click here to go the the beta page.

[23:32] | [computers/operating_systems/macosx/tips] | # | TB | F | G | 0 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
iPulse in the menu bar

For those of you that like iPulse, the latest version can put up a display in the menu bar (the leftmost stuff):


I didn't like MenuMeters because my menu bar is too full when I'm using the PowerBook display. This is the best of both worlds...

[23:22] | [computers/operating_systems/macosx/tips] | # | TB | F | G | 0 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post

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Ted Leung FOAF Explorer

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