hijacking metadata

Hijacking MetadataComet cursor has signed a deal to pop up a window showing Orbitz fares whenever a user searches Expedia or Travelocity for fares. Orbitz claims that this is no different than Expedia or Travelocity paying search engines for prominent listing. But this is, in fact, remarkably different. When a user searches on a search engine for “cheap airfare”, they are probably not looking for a particular service. But when they go to expedia.com, there is a pretty good chance that they really want to go to expedia.com. Furthermore, one could see this as an invasion of privacy. Does the man looking for tickets to Paris during the time he is supposed to be at a conference in Los Angeles really want Orbitz to know about his travel plans? Does he really want his system’s browser cache to contain evidence of his fare search beyond that which he’s expecting from expedia? Admittedly, this scenario is a stretch, but Comet Cursor is definitely taking some significant steps forward in the use of metadata. This goes significantly beyond what google or Microsoft Smart Tags have done in the past, and is even more invasive than gator. People are sure to complain. Such a thing would likely not have even been considered had x10.com not numbed our minds to pop-up and pop-under ads. With all of that said, you might be surprised to know that I am very happy to see such a kick-ass new development in metadata land. Larger companies like IBM or Microsoft could probably never get away with selling the rights to users’ metadata like that, but the use of metadata on the web evolves with smaller, more daring companies like comet cursor. As a consumer and clue-train reader, I find this particular example to be of concern. But as a techie and true believer of the semantic web’s potential, I find it just plain wonderful.

submerge

Submerge – On more than one occasion I’ve heard a Microsoft executive claim “We are always just 18 months away from extinction”. To most here, that is stating the obvious, but sometimes such comments are used to convey a sense of urgency to new recruits. Certain journalists and authors will tell you that this mentality is a paranoid delusion that is not suitable for an established and respectable company. But always remember that they don’t work at Microsoft every day, and they don’t really know. Every day is a matter of survival.

Last January, many of these same journalists were talking about how bright Enron’s future was. George Bush had just taken office, and if any company expected a quid pro quo, it was Enron. Enron’s president is a long-time personal friend of G.W. Enron’s revenues far exceeded Microsoft’s, and Enron had no massive lawsuits tying it down. Enron was based in a fairly stable industry sector, less prone to volatility like the tech sector. Enron was hugely multinational, having a near monopoly in energy trading in certain parts of Europe. And mergers and acquisitions in the energy sector were driving journalists into apoplectic frenzies about the lack of competition. With all of these advantages, Enron was seemingly unassailable in it’s position as 7th largest corporation.

Now fast-forward less than a year. If you had put a million dollars into Enron just six months ago, you would not even be able to buy a good bicycle today. Nobody even wants to do business with Enron, let alone acquire the company. Enron has been dumped from the prestigious S&P 500 and is now a penny stock. All of this in less than a year.

So what happened to all of the quid pros? Why were we misled by the conventional “wisdom” about oil companies and Texas Republicans? You can count on this; when the journalists finally come up with their explanations, they’ll probably be just as wrong as they were when they claimed that Enron had cemented it’s dominance by buying a throne for King George. The sad fact is, most of the commentators don’t know the slightest thing about Enron’s business. They don’t work at Enron, they don’t have to take responsibility for satisfying Enron’s customers, and they don’t have to take responsibility for delivering profits to shareholders. Heck, it looks like the executives at Enron didn’t even have a very tight grip on what it takes for their business to be successful. So how could we expect a poli-sci/english major who writes copy for a living to know better? The main goal of the analysts and journalists right now is going to be defending their own damaged credibility. This won’t be too difficult, considering that they own the conversation; and Enron is constrained by law and professionalism from talking about many of the things that the pundits speculate so freely on.

The answer is, we can’t and we shouldn’t. When career commentators and storytellers explain to you the ramifications of something regarding Microsoft, remind yourself that they don’t work at Microsoft, and they don’t know the impact that such things are already having every day on people’s work. The trade rags are replete with speculation about various legal settlements, usually from commentators who cannot resist framing an agreement in terms of “victory” or “defeat”. These pundits know rhetoric, but don’t mistake that for knowing business or law. And, above all, don’t make the mistake of thinking that they have any firsthand experience of what sort of impact people within Microsoft may or may not be feeling.

contest

Contest – Looks like we are finally doing a “web services contest” for developers to show off their web services skills. It’s amazing how long this idea floated around internally before something was done about it. Here is a cool web service, if you have been wondering how to get your applications to read Quran.

Steve Gibson is the guy who has been claiming that Windows XP raw sockets are a national security threat, and who has annoyed a number of hackers who say he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Now it appears that some in the hacker community are trying to discredit him by proving him to be a hypocrite. I really don’t think that Steve Gibson is a national security threat, but it is dumb to argue with people who value being right above all else.

Here is some beautiful music, sent from heaven.

Regarding XML database support, it seems that The Register screwed up again. They call their piece an “analysis”, but apparently they just paraphrased what they read in an article by The Standard. The Register gives the impression that Microsoft won’t be shipping XML support until Yukon release, but at least The Standard points out that the XML support has been integrated with the database engine since SQL Server 2000, even quoting a fellow from Rolling Stone who has been using the stuff:
“Some users are already starting to reap the rewards of XML. New York-based Rolling Stone magazine, for instance, has been using SQL Server 2000’s XML capabilities to stream data from its database out to its Web site and to more than 60 business partners. “We use XML generation across the site and that has definitely improved performance,” said Andy Rice, director of technology at Rolling Stone.” And the independent sqlxml.org site is built entirely on top of XML database support built into SQL Server.

ai

AI – Artificial Intelligence has been an elusive goal of computer science, but the ChomskyBot shows how trivial it is to create an Artificial Intellectual; in this case a perfect clone of Noam Chomsky. Hit refresh a few times, it’s fun!

Ejaz Haider says to his fellow Pakistanis, “it is good to see so many people who are so eager to listen to Noam Chomsky. That means there is hope still for us. But we should be wary that … we are not doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.” This is an intellectual’s way of saying “I am but dung compared to the intellectual purity of Noam Chomsky, but the rest of you are dung compared to my intellectual purity.” How much happier Mr. Haider could be if only he knew how easily he could lift himself to be an equal peer of Chomsky simply by reading aloud pages from the ChomskyBot!

In 1946, George Orwell wrote an essay called “Politics and the English Language”. It’s purely common-sense, but you will never read the writing of certain “intellectuals” the same after reading this essay. If you took any random Ralph Nader speech, and modified it to deliberately violate all six of Orwell’s basic rules of language, you would have a Chomsky piece. Chomsky is a linguist who loves to spout opinions about politics, so why does he so blatantly violate such common-sense advice about politics and language? He can’t be stupid, so maybe he is cynical. Or maybe he has come unhinged. Or maybe this whole “Chomsky” thing is a conspiracy. It mystifies the mind! Maybe we should just ask him about it.

contraction

Contraction – Twice now I have overheard airline gate attendants discussing what they were going to do now that they have received layoff notices. They seemed quite worried and uncertain. Boeing sends out another round of layoff notices tomorrow; the first round of layoffs take effect just before Christmas. Boeing’s competitor to the north, Bombardier, just fired 4,000 people. Washington State is predicting tax revenues will be shorter than expectations by $800 million this year, blaming the shortage largely on uncertainty spawned September 11. But the dotcom layoffs have been going unabated here for at least a year, and the Boeing move to Chicago predates September 11. So I suspect that September 11 has little to do with the fact that Washington now has the highest unemployment rate in the country. Our state senator Maria Cantwell (formerly Real Networks) has proposed a nationwide sales-tax free shopping holiday period of ten days to kick-start the economy after Sept. 11. Of course, states that don’t have a sales tax are asking what’s in it for them. But with the sales tax around here being somewhere between 8 and 9 percent to compensate for our lack of income tax, such a holiday would be a big stimulus. Microsoft just bought another 40 acres in Issaquah to build more office space, but even Issaquah is feeling the pinch. We went shopping yesterday and were shocked to find that one of our favorite stores is closing down.

Another thing I’ve noticed since Sept. 11 is a lot more traffic congestion during rush hours. I’m not sure why, but I am guessing there is something to do with fear of air travel and fear of layoffs. I wonder if the traffic in areas toward Boeing is lighter these days? I could probably figure out, since the DOT here provides FTP feeds of traffic congestion information. There is still a high correlation between home games for the local sports teams and congestion; it would be interesting to see what other correlations exist.

One way to avoid automobile traffic congestion is to trade for bicycle congestion. Is seems like most of the population of Seattle is within a short distance of the Burke-Gilman/Sammamish Trail. From University of Washington to Microsoft’s Redmond campus is a 20 mile bike ride, almost entirely on paved off-road trails. Many people use these trails to commute to work, even during Seattle’s rainy winter. I’m very tempted to try this out; theoretically I could be to work in less than 30 minutes at a relaxed pace. Of course, I would have to take a change of clothes and get a shower in the building 2 locker rooms when I got in. More importantly, I would have to buy a bike. And even more importantly than that, I would have to get in shape. Well, one can always dream…

ouch!!!

Ouch!!! – What a sight! Rahman knocked out in the fourth, centered artistically over the Don King emblem and across the Budweiser logo. . People are complaining that the fight should have lasted longer for the $50 pay-per-view fee. But it’s the knockout that counts. The Tyson-McNealy fight had to be one of the shortest pay-per-view events ever, but it was still spectacular. Now let’s get Tyson and Lewis in the ring together!

Bill Gates admits this week that software usability still sucks. This shouldn’t be news to anyone; software is still so far from delivering its full potential that it’s not even funny. We need more people just digging in and working to unleash software’s potential, and less people and politicians promising panaceas. There is an interesting internal essay at Microsoft where Jim Allchin rants about complexity and rips on the design flaws in many Microsoft products. I don’t think it is public, although it’s a favorite topic for Allchin. I found a page that lists a bunch of notable people all saying that software sucks. No need to be defensive about it; we still have tons of work to do.

contrary

Contrary – I think I was wrong about the Anthrax; now it seems the letters were the work of someone who was not an Islamist. It also seems that the airplane crash may have been an accident, after all. And worse yet, there already is a Krispy Kreme in Detroit, and everyone I know there loves it!

Today we visited Mount Ranier, a trip made more exciting by a very contrary and combative little infant. Total driving time of about 6 hours, and in return we got 3 hours worth of sightseeing and other activities. I’ve been spending a lot of time in airports the past week as well. Thankfully, Wayport (the biggest wireless SP, now that Mobilestar is folding) is offering free 802.1x access at airports to people with Windows XP. I have been using the service heavily. The signup screens are pretty cool; the whole service experience is well-designed.

I’m eagerly anticipating the combat between Rahman and Lewis. Rahman seemed to be avoiding Tyson and Lewis, but Lewis was able to fight through the courts to get another chance with Rahman. That ruined the plans for back-to-back Rahman fights in Beijing and Nigeria, but it gives Las Vegas another big event. Lewis needs this win badly, and it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll be able to defeat Rahman this time (I’m betting not).

The papers reported an interesting speech given by the DOJ antitrust chief. He reportedly said that the case was simply about “middleware, middleware, middleware” and nothing else; and said “I don’t think we have ever had competitors be quite so aggressive in asking that we serve their interests.” AOL is definitely proving that they know how to compete the old-fashioned way this week. Harry Potter has set a new record for single-day movie receipts. Now if only we could get the schools and companiews to let people off for the day so they could go buy an Xbox. We were playing “Dead or Alive 3” in the meeting room friday; it reminded me of playing “Virtual Fighter” in the arcade. The graphics and gimmicks on “Dead or Alive 3” are not as cool as Halo or the NFL Football game for the Xbox, but it’s still my kind of game.

At work, we are getting close to having good specs for our project. I really ought to be finishing them up right now, which is why I am so deperate to find excuses to procrastinate. After spec complete, we start back into the coding phase and aim for code complete in another 6 months or so.

Reports that Microsoft Gulf Coast has just been re-organized. The article gives the impression that this could be perceived as a snub on Saudi Arabia. Since so much of the Microsoft people there were based in Dubai for so long anyway, and Dubai is so close to Saudi Arabia, I have to imagine that this is not really such a big deal. For quite awhile, the Microsoft’s USA Central Region was headed out of Mississauga, Ontario in Canada, because the guy who ran it didn’t want to move to Chicago. And twice before Microsoft I had the pleasure of having a group manager who lived far away from our group. So I would assume this is common.

Saudi Arabia is getting some serious snubbing from Russia, though. Does this mean that Opec’s stranglehold on oil prices is over? Probably not. But Russia is now second only to Saudi Arabia in oil production. And Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics that need a stable Afghanistan for oil pipelines combine to have even more oil. This is extremely bad news for Opec influence in the world. It might not be all good news for the U.S., though. We are still going to be vulnerable if we do anything that both Moscow and Opec find disagreeable. The only solution to that problem is to get the environmentalists to stop buying SUVs and let us start drilling in Alaska.

And finally, it looks like the contrarians are attempting to provide “balance” by speaking out against whatever it is that happens to be in the news. The use of military tribunals to try non-citizens suspected of terrorism seems like a totally boring issue to me. We take away the right to vote of people who are citizens when they get convicted of a felony. Disenfranchising citizens who are likely to be unhappy with the system is an interesting issue. And heaven knows there are plenty of other things that are far more interesting about the civil liberties situation in the United States. So why the heck are people freaking out over such a silly thing?

This will be a challenge for the President. Now that the Taliban have taken their war to the hills, people are starting to believe that the “war on terrorism” is over, or at least “under control”. The President’s political opponents will challenge every action he takes, saying “these actions are too X, and obviously unnecessary since we are already winning the war.” But of course, when things fail, who will get blamed? All of this politicking is made possible by the fact that people now think we are winning the war, and the “moment of crisis” is past. In fact, we are not very close at all; this is just the beginning of the beginning of a very long war.

I also wonder how logical it is to claim that violations of civil liberties had no positive impact on previous war efforts. Prevention is not objectively measurable. Statistics can show how many times guns were used to commit crimes, but the statistics do not show how frequently a gun is used as a deterrent to keep a crime from entering the statistics logs. The history books tell how many Japanese-American citizens were put in camps during World War II, but those history books can never tell how many (if any) attacks on Americans were prevented by this. That’s the point of prevention, isn’t it? On the other hand, taking this logic to its extreme is stupid. We could save 50,000 lives every year by setting the speed limit to 10mph, since the vast majority of auto fatalities take place at speeds higher than 10mph. Every situation is different. I wish the papers would do a better job of explaining the unique aspects of the military tribunals situation, and discuss the pros and cons of this specific situation rather than try to build some pavlovian association to some previous thing the journalists read about in college.

vote for doc

Vote for Doc – I think Doc’s guess is the most likely cause of the plane crash. The symptoms match. There are piles of evidence that such an attack is possible; our “buyback” program failed dismally, and we have seen recent video footage of fighters in Afghanistan carrying the things. The government admits that we have no clue where these things are. And from my personal experience, it would be brain-dead easy to ship one of these things air cargo from a place like Nepal.

Of course, if no more planes get knocked down like this, then the stinger theory is probably disproved.

Speaking of lax security on planes; we checked baggage on our flight from Saint Louis to Seattle a few days ago, then missed our flight. The baggage went on ahead without us, which is mildly disturbing. They made me open my latte at the security checkpoint so they could look inside, so I guess I feel better about security now ??

Speaking of Doc, I am currently listening to the audio version of his book “cluetrain manifesto” during my drive time (I first picked up the book long ago when it first came out, after hearing Steve Ballmer quote it in a presentation). I picked up the audio book after encountering some clueless behavior by American Airlines at the Saint Louis Airport. It was bad enough that the area inside security did not have a single place serving espresso drinks; American Airlines had a huge invasive booth out into the walkway from which they were pushing their credit card. And even when people walked far to the other side and avoided eye contact, AA salespeople were venturing out into the path and trying to directly confront people with their pitch. Since this was an area that only paid and ticketed passengers could be, it was particularly rude. What’s next, time-share salesmen in first-class?

stream

Stream – The comdex site should soon have the billg keynote up. I’m very interested to see what Sony’s Kunitake Ando has to say tomorrow, too. One of the best streaming media sites for tech people is the DDJ site. I haven’t seen any other sites that compare.

After Dim Sum this morning, we went to the mall and right into the middle of a frenzy of kids all trying to participate in Disney Channel’s “Playhouse Disney Live”. It was unbelievable – I think most of the kids will have hangovers in the morning.

The buzz around here is about “Krispy Kreme” donuts. Seattle doesn’t have donut shops. People here in Seattle are accustomed to SBC, Tully’s, and a zillion independents; so are bemused when a new Starbucks somewhere across the world is met with long lines of customers and protests by others. And I am skeptical about Krispy Kreme’s prospects in areas that have vibrant donut competition. Their web site announces plans to build a store in Metro Detroit, but no amount of video footage of peculiar Pacific Northwest consumers flocking to a Krispy Kreme store is going to prompt Detroiters to abandon the donut shops they visit every morning and go to Krispy Kreme instead. Marketing through “bandwagon appeal” is often successful, but I don’t think it’s going to work for donuts. Krispy Kreme is going to have credibility issues against established brands elsewhere. Their only hope in Michigan would be to target Ann Arbor, Birmingham or maybe Royal Oak; where the “retro chic” appeal might keep them alive. But with the proposed cities on their web site, I give them less than a year before they fail.

Speaking of “bandwagon appeal”, this is an especially successful marketing technique for asian demographics. Uwajimaya in downtown Seattle has pursued this strategy to perfection. They’ve grown continuously, and their newest facilities are like a self-contained city with multiple restaurants, apartments, groceries, books, makeup, and more. The place has always been bustling, but it’s starting to get really crazy. We went to the Kinokunya bookstore there today to pick up a book, and I found myself wondering if enough people packed together can cause a fusion reaction.

Yesterday, we tried Acropolis Pizza on the recommendation of some friends who claimed this is the best Pizza in Seattle. I have to admit, everything was delicious, and the prices were low. I have heard Pagliacci here is good as well, but haven’t tried yet.

In the understatement of the day, the papers are reporting that Poverty is a Breeding Ground for Terrorism. Argentina’s President says, “unequal distribution causes frustration and despair.” Actually, I think that neurotransmitter levels in the brain cause frustration and despair, but he is probably right that unequal distribution is a factor in terrorism. The words I learned as a child to describe the emotions linked to “unequal acquisition” were “envy” and “jealousy”, though. Rewarding flawed scarcity thinking through appeasement seems to be the response that some of these nations are advocating. That can’t be smart…

iqbal day

Iqbal Day – Today was “Iqbal Day” in Pakistan: a national holiday to honor the nation’s poet. Allama Muhammed Iqbal was a man firmly opposed to secularism. He once said, “the biggest blunder made by Europe was the separation of Church and State.” He also claimed that “it is obvious that the only way to a peaceful India is a redistribution of the country on the lines of racial, religious and linguistic affinities.” He used claims of mystical “enlightenment” ala Aliester Crowley to justify his positions; and he grasped onto any event of modest importance to “prove” his theories (“The war of 1914 proves that my psychic prophecies were true”). A tireless self-promoter, and his ideas were actually not so absurd for his time (he died in 1938). But the years immediately following 1938 are ample proof of how screwed-up things can be when nationalism and ethnic or religious lines converge. Isn’t that what Hitler was all about? Now that we’ve had 100 years to see just exactly how stupid his ideas were and to watch Europe’s secularism leave Islamist isolationism in the middle ages, it is really surprising that anyone would still want to celebrate this guy’s legacy. As far as I can tell, Iqbal has far more in common with Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri than with Musharref. Maybe this is just some cynical joke that Musharref is playing on the people of Pakistan…