Viral Words

Daypop “word bursts” is an interesting idea. The implementation seems to be rather naive at the moment, though. It would be great to be able to quantify and track various viral phrases. For example, I’ve noticed a resurgence of the adjective “super” around Microsoft; particularly “super” with at least one other adjective (“super slick”, “super cool”, etc.) Another example: after the 2000 presidential election fiasco, the incidence of the phrase “rule of the law” made a stunning statistical jump (and is still way more common than before, as far as I can tell). And has anyone else noticed how widespread the phrase “make no mistake” became after 9/11/2001?

These are all the sort of things that a reasonably smart computer could clue us in to. The computer could recommend that you use a phrase that is at the cusp of becoming popular, or warn you when you use a phrase that is trending hyperbolically to becoming cliche.

This is no different from concerned parents who analyze the past 100 years of census data to select a child’s name that will be most auspicious when the child reaches maturity and to avoid names that are trending toward obsolescence. Most parents do that, right?


Whoa!Did I just seesome guy explaining to Greta van Susteren that “the CIA has done Bayesian analysis to predict with 85% certainty that Saddam will launch a pre-emptive terrorist strike on the U.S.”?I wonder what they used as inputs for their analysis, considering that nobody even knows what Bin Laden or his crew have been doingfor the past year and the weapons inspectors haven’t been able to find any of the weapons that Saddam is hiding. Apparently Bayesian techniques are so powerful that actual information is unnecessary.I wish we had known about this magic technique before! Hurry up!Let’s run a Bayesian analysis to tell us where Bin Laden is!

Exit Interviews by Gallup

Marybeth is skeptical about a call she got from Gallup, ostensibly to conduct an exit interview about her leaving MSFT. It could very well be legitimate. I blogged about this two years ago, and I still think it’s a good idea; especially in cases like Marybeth’s, where the employee is otherwise hesitant to be candid.

On the other hand, just because someone has your phone number and claims to be from Gallup doesn’t necessarily mean that they are legitimate. Not everyone who cold calls me at home is a criminal running a scam, but I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything special by acting as if they are.


Marybeth’s story and some of the responses in blogland have spurred me to collect my thoughts on the topic of “difficult work situations”. I’ve written about the subject here in the past, but would like to post something more comprehensive. Hopefully soon…

Caste Transportation

This article about London’s commuter toll is inexplicably positive. The plan is passed off as pro-environment, pedestrian’s revenge on fat cat car owners, and apopulist scheme to get more money for public transportation. But the way I see it, here is what happened — traffic was bad, and someone had the brilliant idea “things would be a lot better if we pass a law that says poor people are not allowed to use the roads” — and they passed a law.

Evenin Singapore, where permits to drive in the city cost something like$25,000/year, the permits are assigned by lottery. So even if you have the money, you don’t necessarily get to drive.

Seattle Vegan

We have lots of vegetarian, and even pure vegan, places out here on the granola coast. Good vegan places learn how to get the most from the food, and are great for fresh tastes. They’re also good when you’re looking for a place to meet with people who require Kosher meals. Here are four of my favorites:

  • Cafe Flora -Lots of really good recipes. Creative alternatives for standard non-vegetarian dishes.
  • Teapot Vegetarian – Chinese vegan place; great place to meet before or after an event at UW
  • Bamboo Garden – Another Chinese vegan place, birds nests and tofu. Across from the opera hall.
  • Carmelita – Similar to Cafe Flora; creative alternatives to meat.


Today we met with an ISV who develops ERP software in China. There are many new manufacturing groups in China, and the demand for first-time ERP installations is large right now. My first real job was writing code for an MRP systemat a manufacturer in Detroit. That manufacturer has now started outsourcing some of their manufacturing to China, contributing a bit more demand for ERP in China. When I was at Tech-Ed Beijing in September, I talked with a lot of people who were working on various ERP/MRP rollouts, and had a chance to ask about their businesses.What I found wasvery striking– China is predictablycontinuing to growdomestic manufacturing competency, but is also making serious strides toward having a domestic businesssoftware competency. This stuff is really good, and they are running serious business on it. I find it hard to believe that Chinese companies will ever be persuaded to switch to using one of the big foreign ERP vendors; there won’t be a big enough gap in capabilites between products like SAP and the domestic packages.

V-Day Notes

I recently played with a copy of Paolo Marcucci’s “.NET Notifier Client and Server“. Think of it like MSN Alerts, but totally open and handled through a few simple SOAP interfaces. I was really impressed at how easy it was to subscribe to notifications, and sending is painless — Paolo obviously has experience with distributed architectures and has spent a lot of time polishing the UI. The WSDL interfaces are pretty self-explanatory. Currently the actual transport is via HTTP polling, but the service could layer on top of any transport including Jabber or MSN Messenger. I have a feeling that this thing will really blow up when someone hooks it up to Jabber.


Today at work we signed off on a QFE for a customer in Japan. QFE process is basically an extremely compressed code/test/ship cycle with lots of process and bad consequences for screwups. It went pretty smoothly, so now I am breathing easier.


Tonight the wait for a table at Todai was 1.5 hours, so we spent an hour shopping. The impulse hasn’t waned since Christmas, so I went ahead and bought the Xbox Live starter kit and Ghost Recon game. Too bad “Hit Man 2” doesn’t have an Xbox Live version. I would love to play where you get to station the bodyguards and other players have to get past your guard to kill the targets. This stuff is too cool. I think it’s only a matter of time before we have a multiplayer game where you can play part of a gang arranging bank robberies, hits on other gangs, and so on.


Apparently, the very idea of Microsoft speaking about “shared source” has terrified some of the open source zealots. Stallman is deliberately confusing the issues by implying that speech from Microsoft must by definition be anti-open-source; or that “open source advocacy” must by definition be anti-Microsoft.

The organizer is for now resisting the pressure to censor Microsoft, pointing out that “we can’t bow to political pressure to silence one side unilaterally, under any circumstances”. But that is precisely the point — anyone who thinks that the (sogenannte)FSF is about freedom (freedom of speech or otherwise)has swallowed the (sogenannte) FSF message without examining their agenda. The agenda has nothing to do with freedom, and the messages about freedom are simply a means ofpushing the agenda.


Speaking of censorship, I think that most of the bloggers who happen to work at Microsoft are getting very nervous about some of the recent visibility they’ve gotten. Nobody wants to be mistaken for an “official” representative of their employer, but despite the disclaimers, people get worried. And of course there is some introspection about “if we are afraid of being seen as official spokespersons, why mention the ‘M’ word at all?” People are smart enough to avoid discussing NDA things, abstain from being generally disagreeable and so on — but even beyond that there is a real instinct to self-censor and go completely underground. I can’t speak for others, but I can explain why I added a blog roll of others who work in the same mileu.

For illustration, I’ll quote again from the open source article. “These guys aren’t pink with polka dots,” Stanco said of Microsoft employees he’s talked to. “They’re regular people.” A company is nothing more than a group of people working toward common goals, and the characteristics of the individual members are reflected in the character of the group as a whole. Common sense, right? Unfortunately, people are suckers for anthropomorphisms (“corporation” is from the latin word for “body” after all), and it makes for exciting journalism to personalize and villify well-known organizations. Microsoftis often referred to as the”borg”, but it’s reallymore like a herd of cats(Intel is the borg, in case you were wondering). The people who happen to work at Microsoft are pretty immune to broad-brush stereotypes, and getting to know them as people is the best antidote to the seductive spielmeisters who tell bedtime stories about zombie borgs. That’s why I’ll keep pointing to Doug Purdy’s blogabout Macintosh and Religion rather than his “work-related” blog.It’s Doug the person, not Doug the PR image, which is most useful for understanding the cat-herd nature of a place like Microsoft. Blogs are about people, period.

Sources of Power

Ari Pernick reviews the recent “why the death tax is good” presentationon campus. I saw the presentation, and am somewhat sympathetic to the arguments. Miguel also reviews a recent presentation by Robert Fisk, pointing to this interview where Fisk claims that the job of a journalist is to monitor sources of power.

The general premise of both is that isolated aggregations of influenceare anathema to freedom. This is not a new meme. The problem I have with both Fisk and Collins is that they present an incomplete view, and deflect attention away from some of the very problems they claim to be exposing.

To begin, the media institutions that Fisk serve are a significant source of power in modern democracy. Since Fisk’s article is published on Chomsky’s mouthpiece, zmag, readers should note the connection between Fisk and Chomsky’s rants about the tyranny of the media. Fisk is predictably reticent about who should monitor the media. If Fisk asserts loudly and often enough that he is the very instrument of accountability, perhaps nobody will ever think to demand trasparency and accountability from him. If the remaining few media conglomerates continue to “expose” abuses of power, perhaps people will not notice the power accruing unevenly to those who control them.

This sort of self-righteous resistance to transparency is the norm for the otherrarely-noticed source of power in America today; the foundations. Foundations have in recent decades become more concerned about cultivating a positive public image, reminding people that “yes we have influence, but it is good.” Check out the theme from last year’s “Council on Foundations”, “Preserving the Public Trust: Responsible Use of Private Wealth for Public Good“. The conference was packed with sessions intended to communicate a sense of benevolent stewardship and leave the 2,000 attending organizations with a better self-image. If only the founding fathers had been so clever! We could have eliminated all sorts of redundancy, checks-and-balances, and transparency requirements in our government by simply having our leaders self-host a yearly conference on “how to be responsible”. Come to think of it, the Chinese Communist Party does this every couple of years, too.

Of course, I’m not arguing against a healthy suspicion of government; nor am I arguing that foundations and the media do not serve useful social functions. But secrecy and lack of accountability are an even greater threat to freedom than is power disparity, and I think that many “activists” (and especially journalists, who should know better) have their priorities reversed by failing to realize this.


Anita Rowland is recommending a favorite Pho place in Seattle. It’s a good place. Pho is perfect for these cold, gray winters we have. Just in the past two years, it seems like the number of Pho places here has tripled, and now I’m always within ten minutes of a great bowl of soup. Too bad I got in a fight with the owner of Pho Hoa in Bellevue (he tried to overcharge me for extra bo vien twice in the same week, and I had to scold him), so now I get my Bellevue Pho at Crossroads. Nicely, a new place is opening in Redmond soon.

Tonight I made chana dal for the first time. Chana dal has the lowest glycemic index of nearly any carbohydrate. I’m not actually diabetic, but I have been intrigued by low-glycemic index foods lately. Interesting that both chana dal and basmati rice are both at the low end of their respective food categories for glycemic index, and are both staples in India. Trust thousands of years of vegetarian diet to figure out which carbohydrates are least likely to lead to an early death. Pumpernickel bread is another new acquaintance – funny how something with molasses can have sucha small effect on blood sugar.

Semantic Web Reportage

San Francisco Chronicle is reporting on TimBL’s speech to NSF. The article makes a few implications which I think are misleading but common. First, the title “could improve web searches”really misses the point. You could have said the same about the original WWW, and one imagines a 1992 San Francisco Chronicle article headline heralding “CERN researcher aims to improve scientific publication searches”. The second gripe I have is with their gratuitous quote from a token nabob saying “nobody will add the markup to their web pages”, which completely misses the point. Semantic Web isn’t about adding META tags to your HTML pages; such arguments are ignorant straw men.

But there were some nice things in the article. Tim made the point that “web services” are about performing remote operations. When viewed in high contrast, “web services” build a web of interconnected verbs, while “semantic web” builds a web of interconnected nouns. It was encouraging to see a journalist relaying the message that the two worlds will be complimentary, rather than succumb to the typical Zoroastrian storyline.