Primates are Here to Help

I recently remarked on this blog that the SUO debates can sometimes be absurdist. But day-to-day reality provides plenty of such absurdities. One of the most surreal to observe has been the transformation of western Christianity over the past few decades. Although I have been actively observing foronly 20 years, it appears to me that the transformation beganin earnest about 40 years ago, with Vatican II. Surreal that the once-mighty Catholic church has imploded in sex abuse scandals. Surreal that the sexual orientation of a bishop becomes a matter of public discussion for millions of Christians. Surreal that the same church who brought us Vatican II and Malinga now sends Ratzinger to offer moral support to conservative episcopalians. These are things that would have been unimaginable 40 years ago, and still it seems very unreal to read the news. Today I read that Kendall Harmon, one of the conservative episcopalians at the summit,argues for churchunity, saying “the primates are serious in trying to help you.” As if it’s not strange enough to be arguing that moral authority is subordinate to good intentions, but do they really have to call their leaders “primates”? Could you write better fiction?

Elevator Design

When I first interviewed tojoin MSFT,I was asked to describe how I would design an elevator scheduling system. Prior to joining MSFT I worked on a couple of traffic flow sensor systems for roadways, so it was easy to make up some convincing suggestions, but I’ve often wondered about how it’s really done with elevators.Now I am learning more than I ever wanted to know about this problem– right at this moment I’m sitting in a presentation being given by a researcher who works for the industry and he is going into serious detail about some projects they did to track pedestrian traffic, optimize elevator schedules, and so on. Who ever knew there were so many things to think about when designing a building? Not intending to give it all away, but some simple notes:

  • Don’t optimize for minimized wait time necessarily; the people who pay for the building care more about efficiency.
  • Efficiency involves size of elevator shaft, energy consumption, etc.
  • Most algorithms schedule based on past history of temporal events (floor 1 called from floor 5), etc. Lots of IP in this area
  • Tracking pedestrian traffic can find some significant patterns, and provide better results than just button-based predictions. Suggests that this is cost-effective

Words Mean Things

An article running on Slate today makes the case that “no means no”:

“The problem is not one of nomenclature. Words signify concepts and “no” still signals the concept of non-consent, for 100 percent of the world’s English-speaking population, 100 percent of the time.”

The author is reminding us that, while convention and context can influence meaning, the primary meaning of a word is usually not more complicated than what you read in a dictionary. Additionally, the author is reminding us that ethical people respect words and their precise meanings. This is my favorite rant about semantics; words mean things.

On the other hand, it’s true that convention, context, and other factorscan influence meaning. But this does not mean we are free fromour moral obligation to use words properly;it simply means we have to take extra care withcertain words. One of these factors is connotation bleed, withhomonyms and words with multiple meaning being one interesting case. For example, “words mean things” is not so far from “words; mean things”. In this case, potential connotation bleed might not work in our favor. We usually try to use connotation bleed when it strengthens our desired meaning. For example, I could say “the proposal is imprecise”, but would be better to say “the proposal lacks precision”, since “lax” ishomonym for “lacks” and happens to trigger a set of associated connotations that strengthen the desired message. Even beyond homonyms, there are plenty of other words that affect similar connotation bleed based onsound similarity and fuzziness in the mind of the listener.

Switching ISPs

I’m now using GearHost, based on recommendation from Omar Shahine. It’s about $500 per year less than I was paying at Verio (on FreeBSD), offers more transfer per month, .NET hosting, and runs dasBlog. Now I can dynamically generate the MSFT blogroll in different formats and do some other experimental things I’ve been wanting to try out.

Scoble Party

Note to self: next time Scoble throws a party, bring business cards.


I was interested by the account of the BTS 2004 session at Edge on Jon Box’s blog. While everyone else is sitting around belyaching that there is no value left in IT, this guy is rocking on with EAI and BI, two of the three biggest areas of IT spending right now (consolidation is the third). Things like .NET Framework tend to get most of the hype from people dealing with MSFT technologies, but as far as I’m concerned Biztalk and Analysis Services are the most strategically central products we ship.

If You Can’t Accept Quarks…

This is one of the funniest e-mails I’ve seen in awhile:

“Compared to anything that is likely to come out of this group (or any other ontology group in the world, for that matter), quarks are on a rock solid foundation.”

Sometimes these SUO discussions read like a Beckett play. The struggle between clarity and ambiguity becomes absurd and leads to some rewarding punch lines.