The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Snowstorm!  We usually get to have at least one snowball fight per year on campus, but this year we got a demolition derby.

Right at rush hour, the whole area was hit with a massive snow dump.  Normally, the technique for snow driving in Seattle is to just avoid people with BMWs or Mustangs.  But that’s impossible in Redmond; especially since we’ve hired so many new people in the past 2 years.  People from California don’t like AWD Volvos and Audis, so they go flinging around like pinball marbles on a snowy day.

It’s no exaggeration to say that I saw more accidents today than in my entire life prior to today.  I saw at least 8 crashed/stranded BMWs including some spectacular live-action wipeouts, and got rear-ended twice.  I even held a five-car pileup from moving into the intersection; my trusty XC “is nice”.  Nobody told the buses to park, so the route home was littered with abandoned buses blocking traffic.  Everyone seems to have been surprised and gotten into the most awkward circumstances before realizing that they couldn’t drive, so there were cars everywhere sitting helplessly like stunned rabbits.

I live 9 miles from the office, and it took me 3 hours to get home.  It would have taken 4, but I parked my car and walked the final 2 miles; getting home at almost the same time as my wife, who left an hour earlier than me. 

The freeways were already choked off when I made it home, and shortly after, the Seahawks game finished, letting out 70,000 more people to jam the freeways.  And the roads are getting worse; not better.  I guarantee there are thousands of people who aren’t going to make it home tonight — they’ll either pull over and sleep, or drive until morning to make the few miles home.

Arnoldo Talisman and Shockin’ Nigerian Hip-Hop

Dave Winer is lamenting that it’s not too easy to find cheap/free firewood nearby.  He makes some great points.  Eric Schmidt of Google says it right; we are still in the infancy of this technology.

But it’s getting better every day.  For years, I have been trying to locate information on UGO, a Nigerian rapper who made waves in Detroit around the same time that Eminem was coming up.  Now, he’s on the Internets!  The song I remember is “Earthquakin’ Afrikan MC”, but all of them are good.  He’s kind of like a mix between X-Clan and Will Smith — sort of like Hieroglyphics but way better.

UGO reminds me of Dare’s old rap partner, Big Lo.  It’s great when we can see music videos from all around the world.  Kimberly at Bix says, “you can do a music video in like, 3 minutes”.  The barriers come crashing down.

But we have a long way to go.  The other day, I was at a party where the VJ played some videos from Cuba.  One very cool one, “Ay, Juana!” by Arnoldo Talisman struck me.  Good luck finding it on the Internets.  If you find it, please let me know 🙂

 

 

Walk the Line

The Levi’s commercial covering ‘Walk the Line’ is presumably a light piece about young love, but it’s got an undercurrent of ‘suffocated love‘ that’s undeniable.  The phrase, “because you’re mine” has always been jarring to me.  I remember one woman I knew many years ago, who explained to me “I want to have a baby, because then I will have something that I know is all mine.”  I’ve known others since who felt the same way — something I never understood, since I see a parent’s role being to train a child to be independent.

It’s a romanticization of possessive codependency, and disturbing on many levels.  But it’s gripping, and appeals to a large swath of their audience.  There are no doubt large numbers of people who see it and think, “how sweet!”; who would wonder how I could possibly see anything wrong with it.

Judgment that relies on saying, “those poor people are stupid” is no judgment at all.  So rather than attempt to defend my own alien perspective, I’ll try to understand the person who says “how sweet!”

My best defense of the “possessive codependency is sweet” comes from C. S. Lewis, in “The Four Loves”.  He quotes Chesterton, who quotes Kipling:

“If England was what England seems
‘Ow quick we’d drop ‘er.  But she ain’t!”

Lewis explains, “Love never spoke that way.  It’s like loving your children only ‘if they’re good’, your wife only while she keeps her looks, your husband only so long as he is famous and successful.  ‘No man’, said one of the Greeks, ‘loves his city because it is great, but because it is his.'”

Despite the fact that we live in an age that is suspicious of patriotism, we can see the essence of Lewis’s argument.  He is very persuasive.  He argues that a love which is conditional on particular attributes of the beloved is no love at all. 

We can understand this; and there is no more certain way to make your lover insecure than to blame your love on some fallible asset she possesses (and will most certainly lose).  This is even more deadly than blaming your love on an asset which is non-unique and shared by many others.  Tell a woman, “I love you because you are young, and youth is beauty”, and see how stable a pairing it produces.

From this, he jumps to “ownership” as the only truthful measure of love.  I get it.  But for a good liar, many other things will do.  Length of shared history, commonality of interests, and so on.  Does a father “own” a son, or for that matter a son “own” a father.  I am my father’s son, and he is his son’s father — in both cases, the possessive phrase is used, but it doesn’t necessarily connote possession.

But then, “walking the line” because you’re “mine” could simple mean “mine” in the (healthy) sense of a father and son.  At last, I’m at peace with Johnny Cash.

~

And what would happen to the human race if we all were logical?  Romantic relationships progress with both sides moving forward on unrealistic expectations.  When we’re lucky, we have built something worth keeping when the mutual delusions subside.  Who’s to judge the youngsters moving forth on possessive codependency?  Perhaps we all owe our own existence to hundreds of generation of our ancestors doing the same.

Yahoo! Peanut Butter?

Everyone is chattering about the Yahoo! Peanut Butter Manifesto.  Every BigCo has problems of overlap, lack of accountability, and people who think those problems are worse or better than they really are.

In this case, though, I’m a bit confused by the memo.  Everyone knows that Flickr and Delicious are tiny compared to the competing Yahoo! properties.  But they are undisputed #1 in their respective spaces in influential mindshare.  Every company wishes that they could appeal to 50 million normal people *and* the 57,000 who read TechCrunch.  Yahoo! has succeeded at this in two important categories.

I mean, is Joshua Schacter’s org *that* expensive?  Are they really causing chaos with the other teams?

And while the memo lacks specificity and reads like a “phone in” complaint, there is something more disturbing about it, IMO.  Why was it leaked?  And why are people making such a big deal of it (no doubt the one is related to the other)?

 It’s true that our industry is becoming more “Hollywood”, but it is getting ridiculous.  Brad and Jen split?  Calcanis dis’d Digg!!  TomKat married?  Diller and Murdoch are duking it out again!  There’s a new bond girl?  A Yahoo! VP is a straight-talking big gun taking on the establishment!

When people who are supposed to be making good technology and business decisions start playing to the adoring/ignorant public, you have to question their motives (not that Garlinghouse did this deliberately; I don’t know).  It’s great for Zhang that gold-digging province girls know his name and availability — but less so for Garlinghouse.  Unlike Zhang, he has bosses who look bad with a memo like this.  Whether he released this deliberately to make a name for himself, or someone released it to get him in trouble, it’s not too good for him.

 

Electric Light

AUX 88’s song Electric Light, (from Xeo-Genetic) is one of my favorite electro techno songs.  The intro starts with:

“Momma told me there would be light at the end of the tunnel.  But she never told me it would be …”

Then the chorus, “if you can see, what I can see, then you will come with me — into electric light.”

~

When the battle of wills between Tesla and Edison transformed the world, we truly entered the “electric age”.  We’re still there.  Growth in electric generation is almost perfectly correlated to a nation’s economic growth; and this picture of North Korea’s darkness relate more than just visually.  More than 10 years ago, I did some work on trading floor systems for the electric “grid”, and have been fascinated ever since by the intersection of economics, computing power, and electricity.  It is no coincidence that top economists are taking jobs at companies that mine human behavior and host massive software “utilities”.  People who have been making predictions about the future of “grid” computing have often been scorned and treated as crackpots (Joe Firmage, founder of USWeb and UFO-hunter; and the folks at Enron among others).  When Amazon first launched EC2, the reaction was similarly skeptical.  But it wasn’t long before people realized something was up.

~

Last month, I ended up sitting next to Dr. Albert Schweitzer on a few hours flight.  Not the nobel prize winner, a living breathing Albert Schweitzer.  I saw his passport, and that’s his name.  He’s a retired chemist from Exxon/Mobil who now advises former central economies on building chemical production plants.  I picked his brain mercilessly for three hours and learned many things, but he had some really interesting data relevant to this discussion.  In mass production of a chemical like Ammonia, it is a competetive necessity to build next to a coal source and generate your own electricity.  In fact, for a number of chemical processes, the company will generate electricity, and feed that electricity back to the electric company when it’s more profitable than using for chemical processing.  In making certain types of polymers for which hydrocarbons are input, the chemical plant takes product from the oil companies and processes — but there is always a risk that new technology would enable to produce those chemicals cheaper and they would transfer a lot of profits from the chemical company to themselves.  Projections of electrical generation technology lifespan play a big part in deciding whether or not to build a particular chemical plant.  Tiny fractions of pennies per gallon make the difference between life and death for the plant.

I’m fascinated that something which might as well be free can exert such leverage indirectly.

~

Of course, electricity is a commodity.  Computing power (on the server) is about to become a commodity.  One beam of light shooting up into space like a beacon, maybe two or three.  When that happens, then what?  For the past two hundred years, knowledge about human economic behavior in aggregate (economics) has been a public good; available to all.  But this is incredibly valuable information, and our wealth of knowledge is exploding dramatically.  We have unprecedented ability to test, mine, and model.  Who owns these models?

 

Dawkins is an Ass

Dawkins and Collins, two preeminent geneticists, are arguing God vs. Science.  I think Collins makes some flying leaps and panders slightly, but Dawkins is out of control.  He’s close to understanding the entire universe in his own mind.  I have a little parable from his own field of study to instruct those who care about “truth”.

Imagine a million or more years of evolution, where we now know that humans evolved for monogamy and equal division of labor between male and female.  By the time we develop language, perhaps 150,000 years ago, there is no question but that man and woman are meant to be equal partners.

But humans have always been scientists — people who seek to understand the immutable laws of the natural world, and who want to use those laws to better themselves and their society.  Perhaps the greatest first victory of these scientists was agriculture.  With agriculture, mankind was at last free from scarcity, and was able to accrue abundance and argue about how to distribute that abundance fairly.

Enter the “hate the father” scientist.  These are scientists who look back at the past as if it is a mistake, who seek to erase it and replace it with the new “truth”.  They attribute negative motives and seek to debunk, rather than rooting out the deception or error in their own ways.

Soon, one scientist observed: All life springs from the earth.  All life springs from woman.  Thus woman is the life-bringer, the superior of man.  Clearly, this was the only logical explanation, with our new understanding of agriculture.  The old way was an evil aberration; a naive mistake.  Enter the Gaia cults.  Hierarchy was necessary to manage larger societies, and priestesses ruled the new order.  Thank Goddess for science!

But man’s animal nature is to lek.  And soon, some scientist perfected the theory of “seed”.  You see, the earth is dead — it does not live.  The plant consumes the soil and makes it alive, so the plant is superior to the earth.  In fact, the seed is simply the plant’s mechanism of replicating itself!  It is a curse that man needs woman instead of earth to replicate; this half-alive temptress!  At last, a superior understanding of the laws of nature gave us a reason to overthrow the priestess cults and establish male-dominated hierarchies.  It was a very short time before we had kings with harems numbering in the thousands.  Thank God for science!

The male-dominated cults relied on the concept of “transubstantiation” — the living makes the dead alive by consuming it.  So instead of the female cults of life-giving and cycles, we have male pyramids of domination.  It is only natural that cults of animal sacrifice (the gods must also consume!) and human sacrifice (especially virgins, who are as dead as earth with no seed) and cannibalism sprung up.

It took a very long time before people rejected the idiocy of the death cults, pyramid cults, and inequality.  In fact, the death blow probably came when Pythagoreans and Dualists combined and we saw the premier seed-oriented male pyramid cult inverted — it’s messiah a man who was born without a y-chromosome, refused to have children, and died to save those of other races than his own.

This didn’t exactly end the nattering about whether “the laws of nature” intended man or woman to be boss.  Scientists and philosophers have made convincing arguments on both sides for the following 2,000 years.  Amazingly, it’s only with an understanding of DNA and very modern approaches to evolutionary theory that you can *prove* to the idiot scientist that men and women were meant to be equal partners.

Dawkins, in fact, started this revolution; with his observation that “humanity is just DNA’s mechanism for replicating itself”.  (Of course, I note that all human societies develop idols and idolotary — and Dawkins so eloquently argues that a blind watchmaker could easily recreate humanity by setting a few variables.  So cleary, DNA is idols’ way of replicating themselves.  Soon all of the matter in the universe will be transmutated into a massive golden calf.  The idol cults were right — DNA may sit above man, but idols sit above us all.)

In any case, you cannot help but be stunned by the power of DNA theory to prove every other debunking scientist of the past wrong.  In fact, there is no possible way to refute the arguments of those earlier debunkers without DNA theory.  You would have been laughed out of the scientific establishments to make such a declaration, since there was no scientific proof.  Someone prior to 1965 saying, “you know in your heart that men and women are meant to be equally yoked” would only attract scorn from someone with the rigorous doubters method of Dawkins.  He won’t believe what he hasn’t seen with his own eyes.

So we’ve suffered from several thousand years of nasty cults because people like Dawkins urged us to ignore our hearts and focus on what “logic” and “science” said; and he wants us to assume that this time, he’s got it all figured out?  He’s observed the whole universe?

This is my beef with people like Dawkins, Sagan, and Chomsky.  They discover one universal truth (out of perhaps an infinite store), and they spend the rest of their careers trying to prove how stupid God and everyone else are.  Maybe if they would spend a bit more time looking at the beam in their own eyes, God would let them in on some more universal truth.  If I’m betting on who gets further revelations, my money’s on Collins.

Indentured or Bound?

The legal concept of “bond”, or “binding contract” denotes lack of freedom, hardly different from “bonds of slavery”.  Generally, we consider a bond ethical if there is consent, and if the person consenting is judged of sound mental state with sufficient information to choose.

It’s a nice concept, but it’s not as simple as declaring a blanket “age of consent” and saying “don’t lie in a contract”.  People are crafty enough when it comes to real property exhanges, but when it comes to binding another human’s fealty and freedom of movement, human treachery knows no bounds.

Pope Ratzinger is saying that human trafficking today is worse than it was when the west trafficked (mostly African) slaves.  That’s true, of course.  But it’s a bit nastier today.  Today, many of the slaves will tell you that they are indentured, not bound.  Some will talk of severe penalties, risk to their families, etc. if they default on their loans (and these are the ones that the newspapers run stories on).  But most feel as if there is at least some element of their own choice (or their parent’s choice) to blame for their desperate situation.

Of course, even if many will argue that it’s their own fault, the Pope is right to call it evil — and comparable to slavery.  These people don’t normally have good role models for money management, so they stay in debt indefinitely.

It’s interesting that colonial America was largely populated by white indentured servants, and the practice continues today with H1-B visa.  While the Chinese “snake heads“, Mexican “coyotes” and others smuggle in menial laborers at financial terms that often drive their clients into slavery to crime syndicates, the U.S. government signs skilled workers to indenture that leads to mistreatment and drives them to go back to their home countries and start businesses that compete with ours.  There is obviously no equivalence between the H1-B situation and the human smuggling — but they lie on the same continuum between consent and compulsion.

MIX07, Office 2007, and Vista

Today you can start registering for MIX07.  I have no idea why the early bird specials extend to March 15.  That basically means we’ll sell out long before the “regular” price is ever invoked, and we’ll be too full to let the full-price people in anyway.  Don’t count on getting in at full price.

Also today, Vista released to manufacturing.  Office 2007 also released last week; so I am writing this blog post from my laptop running Vista and Office 2007 final versions.  It beats the heck out of XP.

Funny story about Office 2007:  all the artsy people who saw early versions of Office 2007 raved about the ribbon bar; “such an innovative UI!”.  I have been using dogfood versions of Office 2007 for close to a year, so I got used to the ribbon bar.  But I could NEVER find the menu to print a word document.  Sometimes I could get it to accidentally print, but mostly I just didn’t print.  I didn’t raise too much fuss, because I figured I must just be stupid.  Anyway, in the last couple of months, I have been a bit more aggressive.  Whenever someone raved about the ribbon bar, I said “it’s nice, but how do I print?”, secretly hoping someone would explain where to find “print” in the ribbon bar.  Nobody ever told me how; but now I know they listened…

On running Word 2007 final version for a couple of days, I noticed some strange flashing in the UI.  The big round button shaped thing where the Windows 3.1 era “double-click to close” button once sat, would flash and pulse.  I ignored it, continuing my paperless office existence, but wondering “why do they pulse the close button?”  Finally, I decided to click it.  It looks like a push button rather than a “double-click” button like it was in 3.1 (that’s known to designers as an “affordance”).  It looked like it afforded “push”, so I “pushed”.  I CAN PRINT!!!  The “close” button is now called the “Office Button” (it looks kind of like a Staples button you see on TV) and it has all of the most common functionality like printing.  At first blush, it seems rude to hide all of the functionality behind the most dangerous button on the window; but I suppose that previous function (close the window and trash my data) is only embedded in old people’s brains.  Kids who had the right-hand ‘x’ since Windows 95 won’t have the mental aversion.  The best part: double-clicking the Office button still closes the window.