Passion and Gibson

Suddenly, the controversy over Passion makes more sense, now that I know that Mel Gibson is a traditionalist, pre-Vatican II Catholic. While our history books are peppered with references to many of the major moments in Catholic history; I have always been surprised at how modern historians ignore and downplay what was perhaps the most significant event in Christian history in the last 250 years: Vatican II. Not only the historians, but even the Catholic church itself seems to want to pretend that there is little fundamental difference between the church before and the church after Vatican II, and pretend that traditionalists do not exist, while at the same time working actively to eliminate the traditionalists. It was interesting to note that the archdiocese of Los Angeles refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Gibson’s church, while Gibson’s church believes that it is a legitimate member of the Catholic family because “under some conditions it is acceptable to give Latin mass”. In a period of a generation, the church has gone from demanding that masses be given only in Latin, to actively discouraging the use of Latin. Not quite as extreme as Gibson’s case, but we used to have a single church in the Seattle area that gave Latin mass. The church tolerated it, because the priest giving the mass during the early morning mass was old and nobody wanted to publicly fight him, and during other mass times the other priests used English. However, it was clear that the old priest was seen as being a bit “tainted” with traditionalism, and the parishoners who fought for his right to give Latin mass were painted as a band of traditionalist malcontents. When he died, the last tattered remnants of his traditionalist flock had no choice but to assimilate under the remaining priests, and the Vatican II transformation was complete in yet another archdiocese. This pattern has been repeated in every archdiocese across the globe, and the more I’ve read about the various local histories and how the process took place, the more intrigued I’ve become. Of course, if it was just about Latin vs. English, I probably would not be so fascinated. But Vatican II was about much more than language; it was the moment that everyting changed, and it set in motion a series of shock waves that few people today acknowledge. I believe that it’s all but impossible to return to the situation prior to Vatican II, and I tend to believe that the goals of having a universal secular political organization are impossibly contradictory with the goals of maintaing a universal and unchanging faith. So I’m interested, not because I wish to “fix” the situation, but rather because I believe that we have underestimated the magnitude of what has happened, and we won’t fully be able to guage the impact until the history texts are written a few generations from now.

Speeding XML

For the second time in a row, I am linking to Sun’s website. Sun has posted an article claiming that Java is faster than .NET for processing XML. I was interested in the article, since beside having been the PM for the APIs discussed, I have in the past conducted my own comparisons using Xerces and have always found it to be much slower. I don’t have the code that Sun used to test to verify that it’s a fair comparison, and I don’t have the numbers to judge the reported difference, but I do have a few comments:

  • First, it would be a welcome development, if indeed the Java XML processing APIs are finally competetive with .NET on performance. In the past, poor XML performance on Java has been an adoption blocker, and has led Sun to propose solutions like IIOP, RMI, and ASN.1 which have a much higher cost of interoperability. If performance is removed as an adoption blocker, more people can benefit from the interoperability benefits of XML, and everyone wins. Isn’t this what XML is all about?
  • Next, although we were very proud of our industry-leading performance when we shipped System.Xml a few years ago, we have always acknowledged that XML has much room for improvement. We feel that the industry should continue to improve and compete on XML performance, and we have put our money on this by investing heavily in performance for our next version of the APIs. We feel that our next release of the APIs, which previewed at PDC, will make huge gains in parsing, generation, and transformation performance; and will again set a bar that will be very difficult for Java to match. And ultimately, we are convinced that this competition and investment in XML performance will prove to yield processing which is far superior to any other alternatives being fronted. We are happy that our investment is validated by this attention from Sun, and we hope that Sun continues to focus on improving and competing in this area rather than attempting to divert customers to complex and proprietary “alternatives” under the guise of better performance.
  • Finally, I would agree with Sun’s advice that customers should prototype with both to validate for themselves. I would only suggest that customers prototype with .NET first, and then attempt to prototype with SAX, since the .NET solution will be much quicker to develop and test, and if they are unable to figure out how to get SAX to do what they want, their efforts will not have been in vain.

Better Programming Metaphors?

If you follow the rumor mill, you may have heard of X# or “Xen”, the crazy next-generation programming language that was reportedly being cooked up by people on my former team. I won’t say what they all are working on now, but some more of them have started blogs.

Victoria Livschitz of Sun discusses some ideas she is having more generallyabout improving software construction. She tends to be relatively non-partisan, and as usual, she raises some good points that need to be raised. Software is really not living up to its potential, and I’m doubtful about any imminent breakthroughs. This means that there is plenty of opportunty left for smart people in the software industry. With the return of Gosling, and Victoria doing interviews like this, it appears that Sun is still taking software seriously.

Anyway, I’m fairly utilitarian in my approach to programming languages and OO, but I was struck by the comment “An enormous mess of XML documents that are now being created by enterprises at an alarming rate will be haunting our industry for decades”. XML is for data what Java is for programming; very exciting, and definitely an improvement, but no panacea; and no breakthroughs on the immediate horizon. Both coding and data management have a long way to go.

Trolling EFNet, or Promiscuous Memories

This site records and indexes the conversations on a bunch of IRC networks, and lets people search. This gets to a point I’ve been planning to write about here, regarding semantic web and shared memories. Two basic points for starters:

  • Some people deride “metacrap” and complain that “nobody will enter all of that metadata”. These people display a stunning lack of vision and imagination, and should be pitied. Simply by living their lives, people produce immense amounts of metadata about themselves and their relationships to things, places, and others that can be harvested passively and in a relatively low-tech manner.
  • Being able to remember what we have experienced is very powerful. Being able to “remember” what other people have experienced is also very powerful. Language improved our abilityto share experiences to others, and written language made it possible to communicate experiences beyond the wall of death, but that was just the beginning. How will your life change when you can near-instantly”remember” the relevant experiences of millions of other people and in increasingly richer detail and variedmodality? How will concepts of privacy and individualism change as more of our memories become collectively shared?

Here is a thought experiment: Suppose you drive the same route to work every day, and happen to notice a particular house — you notice there is blue car parked in front, with license plates ‘123XYZ’. You also notice that the address of the house is ’13 Front Street’. Now, imagine that you go into work one day and find yourself parked next to that same car, and see the driver enter your office building. You might think to yourself, “there goes the person who lives at 13 front street”. So far, there is nothing extraordinary about this; in fact, you have probably experienced situations like this.

But now, take it a step further. Suppose that you are talking to a friend in the phone, and your friend complains that “Some jerk in a blue car cut me off today! I think the plates were 123XYZ.” You might reply, “yeah, that person lives at 13 front street”. This would be a bit coincidental, but still conceivable.

Finally, extend the idea just a bit more. Suppose that your car comes equipped with a digital camera, and your car automatically snaps pictures of other cars on the road, cars parked nearby, etc. and records information such as speed and GPS location for these cars (not unlike “Carpool Cheats“). OCR extracts the license number from the plates, when available, and the information is all indexed somewhere. Now, when you see a car on the road, you can automatically “remember” everywhere that you’ve seen that car before. You can allow your friends to access your indexed data, and given a modest-sized network of friends similarly equipped, you can almost instantly know the home address of nearly any motorist you encounter on the road.

Admittedly, the example might not be interesting to you, but the general trend is inevitable. As storage becomes cheaper, and recording devices smaller, people will be able to passively record increasingly greater amounts of their experience digitally. Recording the experience digitally means that this experience can be indexed and converted to metadata, and memories will be sharedamong people in ways that we cannot yet imagine. Another crude example; imagine that everything you hear is constantly being recorded, passively, and your computer extracts voiceprints from distinct conversations that it is able to filter out. Now, suppose that your friend is also equipped in this way, and you have chosen to make your voiceprint indexes available to one another. One day, you are sitting at a cafe having a conversation, and you overhear a stranger ordering a drink. Your computer calculates a voiceprint passively, and notifies you quietly that the voice matches that of a person who was in the sameTai Chi class as your friend just yesterday. You probably don’t approach a complete stranger and say, “I couldn’t help but notice your voice; how do you enjoy Tai Chi?”.

Anyway, you can easily come up with more examples; some that are reality today (the guy who takes pictures of crack house patrons and posts them on the community bulletin board to shame people into reform; Ashcroft’s ill-fated TIPS program, and the list goes on), and others that would require significant leaps in technology. But these simple thought experiments are really just a tiny introduction to a much bigger theme which I don’t have time to develop at length right now. The basic idea is something I have been meaning to rant about for quite some time, so the IRC thing was a good excuse to get started.

Dave Winer at Microsoft

Today is Dave Winer’svisit to Microsoft. I was able to get some time chatting with Dave, Scoble, Lili, Curtis, Dare, and Ned Friendabout business models for aggregation, potential integration with other tools, and so on. Some of the ideas discussed were really eye-opening. I consider myself to have thought through these issues more deeply than most people, particularly things like semantic storage and knowledge interchange. However, it was clear that there are far more interesting possibilities than I have been thinking of, especially from the larger perspective.

Now, Dave is speaking to a fairly large crowd at MSR invited speakers series. Here are my notes:

  • First, a few people in the audiencemade comments about SharePoint which were a bit wrong. To set the record straight, SharePoint can produce RSS feeds, we have real life customers who do this, and some people internally have even run blogs on SharePoint. It’s not the best RSS source, but there is absolutely nothing about SharePoint that makes it fundamentally incongruent with RSS. SharePoint is a collaboration server, and has features for hierarchy, full-text search, and chronologically-ordered posts.
  • No slides
  • Theme that blogs democratize news gathering; you can aggreagate small sources with big sources, and small sourcescantriangulate with big companies
  • Reporters personalize the story; blogs appear more honest, because bloggers admit to personal bias while journalists deny it
  • Now on to blogging impact on political campaigns. First, pointed out that blogs may have helped Dean to rise, but TV and papers very clearly decided to “end his candidacy”, and they had the power to do so. So doesn’t think blogs will get someone elected, however, thinks someone who happens to be a blogger will get elected, at least on local level very soon.
  • Thinks blogging can become a voter support system; people get more passionate about election cycles because they feel they are more involved, rather than just seeing it as a horse race; allow people to access varied perspectives. Expressed optimism that most voter “bad decisions” can be helped through better information.
  • Now on to impact of blogs on workgroups. Themes of “learning organization”, thinks workgroups naturally have information stewards, who could act as information collectors, distributors, historians.
  • Q: how is this different from department web site: A: it’s not
  • Q: How is this different from SharePoint? A: open formats
  • Q: Do you see trend toward structured blogs? A: Nothing preventing it other than tool support (to some extent categories might solve this, but question seemed to mention XML, shared schema, etc.)
  • comment: SharePoint doesn’t need RSS, it’s different. A: OK, not everything is a blog.
  • comment: Is it correct to say RSS is about chronological content?A: Yes, exactly, information accessed in three ways: chrono (blog), search (google), taxonomy (filesystem/sharepoint) — RSS is just automated web browsing
  • Q: Blogs are niche, geek — what tipping point to get widespread adoption? A: it already has widespread adoption; it’s growing. Besides, Word Processor vendors didn’t look for a “tipping point”.
  • Q: Multimedia or Voice blogs? A: Hard to say; have tried it, it might catch on. No strong opinions yet.
  • Q: How do you expect a candidate to ever be honest? A: They *should* be honest; it’s got to change, at least I hope so.
  • Q: We used to think of Internet as wide open, democratic; then big media moved in. How do you expect blogs to be any different? A: The big media should move in; they belong there too. But we have to be good, and make sure to keep access for the smaller voices. Blogging not a panacea.
  • Q: Do you see any need for group blogging? A: No; admits he’s got different opinions than some people about this though. If I can subscribe to the individuals and make my own group, why do I need to have you make the group for me?
  • Q: I have 200 feeds, but 1000 seems the upper limit — I lay awake at night scared I might miss a good feed. Seems the pattern of establishing 1:1 relationships has scale limits, and clusters or cliques form. A: Yes, the cliques just happen; that’s life. Sometimes people can bridge between cliques, Glenn Reynolds example of bridging to warbloggers clique.
  • Q: Is LiveJournal really blogging? A: Well, it’s not always “public”, but yeah, it’s blogging.
  • Q: Where do comments fit in? A: I don’t do comments, because there are too many flames. Yeah, lots of people have comment boards, but comment boards are not necessary to be called a blog. Flames are fine; it comes with the territory when you write for public consumption, but I didn’t feel like running them on my page.
  • Q: I’ve seen some crappy blogs; you said blogs are about unedited voice, but some people need editors. A: Yeah, sure. Editors have a place. Younger generation is good at writing.
  • Q: Are there better reputation models other than how often they get linked? A: John Perry Barlow never had a blog until a month or so ago. He rose quickly to the top of lists, because he is compelling. “Established” authorities like New York Times, maybe raise in authority through word of mouth. Not a software problem.
  • Q: What do you want IE to do? A: Two main things: 1) Make it easy to subscribe to a feed with a single click, regardless of users choice of aggregator. Needs browser support, cooperation of aggegator vendors.2) Also make it easier to create posts from within browser, regardless of choice of blog server.

What About SPOT?

Mark got a SPOT watch a few weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about getting one ever since. At first I was very skeptical about the usefulness of SPOT, but after seeing with my own eyes the way that it syncs with the Outlook calendar, I’ve changed my opinion. Nearly every day, I end up wasting a few minutes wandering the hallways and booting my laptop or checking my PocketPCto find out what meeting room I am supposed to be visiting next. The PocketPC is actually quite easy, but it’s not always convenient or polite to whip it out and start poking buttons. On the other hand, you can glance at your watch in almost any situation, and a glance at the watch can even serve as a polite way to signal that a meeting should be wrapping up to make room for the next. And my PocketPC tends to have all sorts of old or cancelled meetings that show up, something that SPOT doesn’t do (AFAIK, it’s not storing a copy of your calendar, just upcoming appointments).

So far, however, I have resisted the impulse. The reasons:

  • I consider my watchto bejewelry. Fossil stuff looks good, but I don’t want to give up my current watch, and I’d look strange wearing two watches.
  • If the main problem with my current scheme is the bogus meetings on PocketPC, Ishould justfigure out what’s wrong with ActiveSync and get my PocketPC to get rid of the bogus meetings. This one is unfortunately unlikely, though.
  • If I can’t even mentallykeep track of where I am supposed to be and when, then I’m probably not managing my time appropriately, or else I’m succumbing to intellectual laziness. Scheduling is not rocket science; I should have the mental horsepower and discipline to keep track of my calendar mentally.

Movie Review: Lost in Translation

Lost In Translation has Bill Murray as a Japandering American has-been going through a midlife crisis who has a brief fling with a fresh-faced young American girl while both of them are stuck in Japan and avoiding their spouses.

It didn’t take me long to see why this movie was such a hit with the critics. On the surface, it’s a complete ripoff of American Beauty. A show about a middle-aged guy who discovers that he can still be interesting to a hot young girl, hang out with the dope-smoking crowd, and generally have his cake and eat it too; is sure to be a hit with movie critics who tend to identify with Murray/Spacey’s characters. A number of sub-themes seemed to be ripped from American Beauty, too. Lost In Translation has the additional advantage of playing heavily on western fantasies and clichesabout oriental sexuality, nearly as blatantly as Jeremy Irons in Chinese Box.

On the other hand, once I got past the crass critic-fishing techniques, I discovered that there was more to this film than formula. For starters, the music was fantastic. And the composition, tone, and expressiveness of the cinematic technique was really good. There was not a single jarring or incongruous scene. Even the obligatory club shots, so in-your-face in movies like Blade or Matrix, were smooth and subtle, with room for emotion.

The events of the film take place in Japan, so they are different, but at the same time very normal. The characters react and behave believably, and nothing happens that could be considered to be incredible or extraordinary. To some, this could seem to be boring or slow-paced. However, the tension in the film is provided by the developing relationship between the two main characters. The two characters dance delicately around their situation, and the true meaning of their hearts is never known or expressed definitively. But the uncertain nature of the relationship is juxtaposed by the magnitude of its potential consequences, both brutal and magnificent. The drama never happens, but the real drama is in what might happen. It was a masterful and impactful rendition of an experience that rarely gets captured properly on film.

The focus on the subtle emotional interplay of an otherwise mundane situation, wrapped in the context of being displaced in a new and foreignlocation, reminded me a bit of the Malcom McLaren “Paris” emotionalized recollections. So I was not surprised to find that Sofia Coppola intended Lost In Translation to capture some of her memories of working in Tokyo when younger. I don’t know how accurately it captures her memories, but it certainly reminds me of how I would be remembering something if I was remembering that.

There were tons of interesting cinematic devices listed. A couple mentions. Long stretches being unable to understand anything, surrounded by thousands of voices but all unintelligible,shifting between local and global focus, at the same time isolated and crowded. Another, the focus on Bill Murray’s tired, drooping face — everything pointed down, looking in mirrors, a reminder of his reality and the weight of his age — this was used very effectively to highlight his conflicted approach to the developing relationship.