June 29, 2003

Harnessing Light

Significant discovery w/ photonic crystals "shocks physicists":

Claims of "unexpected and stunning new physical phenomena" are rare in the abstract of a reputable scientific paper. But the latest report by photonics crystal pioneer John Joannopoulos and his group at MIT, soon to be published in Physical Review Letters, does not disappoint.

The researchers document the ultimate control over light: a way to shift the frequency of light beams to any desired colour, with near 100 per cent efficiency. "The degree of control over light really is quite shocking," comments photonics expert Eli Yablonovitch at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Read the article at NewScientist.com. [Thanks to jleft for mentioning this].

Posted by brian at 10:25 PM | Comments (0)

Google Infrastructure

Here's an interesting IEEE article (in PDF format) on the system architecture and infrastructure at Google, Inc. It's from the March-April 2003 issue of IEEE Micro.

Posted by brian at 06:57 PM | Comments (1)


Saturday saw a revival of sorts for Denounce Newswire. Two new stories posted there in the past 24 hrs. The first, Internet Pundit Fantasy Camp, got written up by a number of internet pundits, including Doc and Dan. Traffic spiked wonderfully as a result. The second article, "National Do-Not-Vote List Registers 1.2 Million People on its First Day," is a bit more political (and a bit darker in a Handmaid's Tale kind of way), but what the heck.
Posted by brian at 12:14 AM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2003

Early Adopters

I remember the first time seeing the famous Crossing the Chasm curve, suddenly thinking back on my first startup, and having a Homer Simpson moment of "D'Oh!" Suffice to say, my first startup specialized in early adopters, technology enthusiasts, and visionary customers. Chasm? What chasm? Oh. That chasm.

Image from Don Norman's essay cited below.

We're all early adopters of some things, sometimes even extreme technology enthusiasts of some things. Think about it. We're also pragmatists, late majority conservatives, and even laggards or skeptics of other things.

One might say the entire Apple Macintosh market is confined to that small sector of the curve to the far, far left. But then, as a Mac OS X user, the main things that keep bringing me back to Mac are the solutions and convenience. Stuff just works. No blue screens of death. No loss of data. No hardware incompatibilities. It is ironic indeed, how the Mac is better suited to the market majority to right of the chasm, while Windows is better suited to damn-the-blue-screens-of-death, full-speed-ahead crowd to the left of the chasm.

What am I a laggard on? Well, I don't own a cell phone with a camera built in. I see no value in and am not a customer of digital cable TV. I've been aware of and have tracked the Sirius and XM satellite-radio ventures for years, but I'm not now and have no plans to be a customer. I've yet to purchase an iPod (I would love to own and use one, but I won't pay what Apple wants me to pay for it). I haven't rushed out to buy a new iSight to use with iChat AV, but the iSights sure are cool and I'm sure I'd love to use one, but it's gonna have to wait. I've yet to buy a flat-panel plasma television. I probably never will buy one. It doesn't give me the solution I want, which is a super-high resolution wall display. I'll rush out and buy that technology that the moment it's available. I'm a laggard, indeed, a skeptic, on Harry Potter. Went to the movies, didn't like them much at all. Have yet to read any of the books, and have no plans to.

I was a laggard on address-book software until 2003. Had always kept contact info in a text file thank you very much. Now I use MacOS X's built-in address book because it's so well integrated into other apps. (Solutions and convenience, once again.) I lagged on instant messaging mainly because I'd been there and done that with TERM-talk a generation ago and IRC a decade or more ago as well. I've always avoided PIMs for some reason. Until recently. I'm using Apple's iCal and find it a poor piece of software (functionality-wise, design-wise) that I grudgingly continue to use because, well, it's there.

I was an early adopter of laser printers. Been using them since 1984. I early adopted SUVs: I drove an Izusu Trooper back in the early 90s, because I had so much equipment to haul around (multiple 21" CRTs, boxes of computers) to trade shows, I couldn't fit it all in the Taurus anymore. Which reminds me, I was a super-early adopter of the Ford Taurus. Bought one of the first ones off the assembly line back in 1985. People used to stop me in the parking lot to ask questions and marvel at the car ("that is a Ford? really?"). As for ever getting another SUV? Doubtful: the gas mileage is simply too poor.

I was a super-early adopter of bandwidth. Paid UUNET a fortune for a dedicated 56k frame-relay line to the house back in 1995. It was a pain, but it was worth it. Owned multiple class C address blocks back in early-to-mid 90s. (Where'd they ever go, anyway?) Registered my first domain in 1989, so I guess I was early there.

Signed up with eBay in 1998 to sell stuff, found no buyers, remained skeptical for another 3 years before I sold stuff again and made over $5k and was very happy with it. Been relatively active in eBay ever since, because it works, and there are buyers and it's worth the hassle.

See Don Norman's essay called The Life Cycle of a Technology: Why it is so difficult for large companies to innovate that goes into these areas in more detail.

By the way, Amazon.com runs an interesting section (reminds me of the "Fetish" section of WIRED magazine) of their site called, what else, Early Adopter with new products from all kinds of areas --- weird-looking vacuum cleaners, cell phones, you name it.

So be an early adopter: click on the Comments link below and tell me what you've early and late adopted.

Posted by brian at 08:28 AM | Comments (2)

June 26, 2003

WiFi Speed Spray

Funny denounce-style product spoof: WiFi Speed Spray. "Do you live in a polluted environment such as Los Angeles? If so, you've probably experienced the heartbreak of data transfer slow-down. WiFi Speed Spray™ can overcome the effects of pollution, increase fidelity, and provide you with the fastest wireless data transfer possible. Approved by the FCC, and 802.11b compliant! Compatible with Windows and most versions of Linux."
Posted by brian at 11:24 PM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2003


Interesting new open-source project at MIT called Haystack, billed as a "universal information client." Overlaps in functionality with OSAF's work on Chandler. It's good for there to be some competition.

The UI for Haystack reminds me of the various my.* personalized sites. I'm skeptical I'd use it as is, but it's a noble effort which I'm glad to see people engaged in.

I've long thought that desktop computing is based on the wrong metaphor: files and documents. I think a richer metaphor is one where people and conversations come first. Sure, people may generate and share files and documents, but the people and the conversations come first. Imagine if an OS were entirely oriented around very simple but very sophisticated buddy lists. "Social software"? How about "social OS'es"? Scary or intriguing?

Posted by brian at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2003

Segways Attack La Jolla, Film at 11

Saw my first Segway today. This guy comes out of nowhere, cuts *diagonally* across one of the busiest 4-way-stop intersections in downtown La Jolla, disobeying who knows how many traffic laws, then zigzagged down a busy sidewalk at what appeared to be the Segway's top speed. When one of these Segway drivers whacks one of the many super-wealthy super-elderly LaJollites on one of these streets or sidewalks, I suspect that might be the end of Segways in La Jolla. Bicyclists running through stop signs and red lights is bad enough; now we've got Segway nuts to deal with too. Feh.

Posted by brian at 05:16 PM | Comments (1)

Net Peeves

Here's one curmudgeon's list of 33 things he hates about the Internet. Not a bad list, actually.
Posted by brian at 10:29 AM | Comments (2)

June 23, 2003

Blood Gulch Chronicles

I know, I'm probably the last person to hear about this. But in case there are a few who are even slower than I: check out The Blood Gulch Chronicles. Brilliant use of computer games to create a a very funny story.
Posted by brian at 09:24 AM | Comments (0)

June 22, 2003

The eBay Phenomenon

Occasional visits to Medved Quote Tracker's eBay Auction Charts are always instructive, to see how eBay's doing. "Doing," in eBay's case, always equates to "growing", because that, simply, is what eBay does. It just grows. And grows. And grows.

What's especially fascinating is the predicable patterns of eBay's marketplace activity. Every year, without fail, the market quiets down dramatically on Christmas Day. It's eBay's worst day of the year. And yet, the week or two after Christmas are, invariably, eBay's best weeks of the year, thanks to people selling all those junk items they received as gifts all over the world.

But what's even more fascinating is that as eBay's market continues to grow, the Christmas drop-followed-by-spike pattern continues to amplify each year. Just look at what happened in Dec. 2002 versus Jan 2003. Spectacular rubber-banding. You can almost hear the boiiinnnnnnnngggggg as the market pulled back, then snapped forward, then settled back into its steady climb. It's like watching a heartbeat that gets louder each year.

It's an extraordinary chart, and it shows no signs of changing. And yet, it could change. If someone offered a faster/cheaper/better online marketplace, and enough sellers migrated to it, attracted by far-cheaper fees, for instance, it might put a dent in the eBay monopoly. But sellers value buyers more than they do low fees. So eBay keeps growing. (Just imagine if eBay eventually wins over legislators to the point where it can start selling... houses. As in, takes over the MLS that is so coveted, and controlled, by realtors. Don't think it will happen? We'll see. It sure would add a few more $billion to eBay's bottom line.)

Must eBay be the only marketplace we ever see online anymore? Is there room for competition still? Sure, why not? It would be hard as hell, but doable. I suspect a new competitor to eBay would not start from scratch the way eBay did, but rather would be well-funded from the get-go, buying up every niche online marketplace in sight to jump-start itself. For example, it'd probably want to buy GEMM, the Global Electronic Music Marketplace, which continues to chug along, mostly unnoticed by non-record-collectors, but a valuable, vibrant marketplace for music buyers and sellers. It currently claims to offer 16 million CDs, LPs, and 45s from sellers all over the world, and in recent years has expanded into books and videos. And perhaps this woud-be competitor to eBay would partner with newspapers who, through their combined classified ad listings, probably outnumber eBay's listings even in 2003, though I'm not sure.

Probably the most amazing thing for me about eBay, and GEMM, for that matter, is that the user experience on these sites remains so iffy, the quality of the production so uneven, the navigation so confusing, the chances of user success so 50-50, and yet, they continue to grow. Having worked at eBay, it was an eye-opening experience to discover that had we completely fixed the system, made it much more intuitively easy to use, that might have actually hurt the marketplace, by making it too efficient. If sellers have too easy a time listing items for sale, then that would create a glut of items for sale, disturbing the supply/demand balance. Likewise, make it too easy for buyers to find things and buy them, and once again, you diminish supply, drive prices up, and scare off future buyers. And so the site retains a mishmash of styles, with agonizingly slow progress on improving the quality of the fit and finish, and continued unpredictable success on transactions between any one buyer and seller. And yet the growth marches on. Any serious future competitor to eBay is going to have to take all this into consideration.

Posted by brian at 04:45 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2003

Harrison Ford's fingers

Yes! Finally! Someone else on the planet besides me has noticed Harrison Ford's trademark fingerpointing and built a web page offering the proof. Unfortunately this site doesn't mention the other finger trick Ford does in many of his films, ever since Blade Runner's scene with the broken fingers. Oh well, can't have everything. Someone add this to the web's to-do list.

While we're at it... where's that Robert Redford's Top 100 Double-Takes movie clip gallery...

Posted by brian at 05:58 PM | Comments (0)

Fotologs of the homeless

While so many others (including me, I'll admit) are uploading travel and pet and flower and landscape and abstract and other artsy pictures into the wildly-successful Fotolog.net site, one photographer named "mashuga" has been quietly building an extraordinary collection of photos of homeless people he's encountering in New York. The whole collection is worth perusing as are the captions included with each photo.

Posted by brian at 10:32 AM | Comments (0)

June 19, 2003

CinemaDisplay 80

Imagine... an 80" CinemaDisplay. Resolution of 16,000x12,000. 32 million colors. Touch-sensitive. Writable like a whiteboard. So what if it cost $19,999.00. So what if it weighed 500 lbs, and required a 240-volt dedicated electrical line. It would be cool, dammit. :-)

Posted by brian at 05:16 PM | Comments (2)

June 18, 2003

Jobs and Bezos meet Ginger

An interesting excerpt from Steve Kemper's new book, Code Name Ginger: The Story Behind Segway and Dean Kamen's Quest to Invent a New World from Harvard Business School Press. The book hasn't gotten good reviews, but this excerpt is interesting in that we get to see Jobs in action.

Posted by brian at 11:07 AM | Comments (0)

June 07, 2003

Jet Engine tutorial

Nice flash presentation of how modern jet engines work. General Electric engines to be precise. The video of the 747 with a test version of the 777's GE engine mounted on its wing is very cool. Thanks to Steve Jasik for mentioning this URL.

Posted by brian at 09:50 AM | Comments (0)

June 06, 2003

iTunes for Indies

Excellent summary of yesterday's Apple meeting with indie record companies by Derek Sivers, head of CD Baby. If you're following the Apple Music initiative, it's worth reading.

UPDATE 1034am... looks like Sivers pulled the page. Maybe Apple didn't like his giving all the details away.

UPDATE 2:24pm: Here's a copy of the pulled CDBaby report, courtesy of Gnutella News: http://www.gnutellanews.com/article/6830

Posted by brian at 09:56 AM | Comments (2)

MP3.com Spam

One of the umpteen-gazillion spams I get each day arrived this morning in my Inbox. For this particular email account, for which I use Pine to read mail, I receive lots of "Partner Announcements" from MP3.com. In other words, spam from companies who have cut deals with MP3 to use their fabled spam cannon.

Now, I have no idea what this looks like in HTML, since one of the reasons I have much of the spam go to this account is because I use Pine, a VT100-old-school-style mail reader, to read the mail.

The first question that comes to mind from this spam is, who goofed on the spelling of the partner's name? "MUISCMATCH"? And it wasn't enough to make the typo once, or even twice: try eight times. Yelling at you! Get MUISCMATCH Jukebox now! Fool, I'm talkin' to you! Go get MUISCMATCH now before I break out this can o' whoop-ass! Do it! You listening to me? I pity the fool who fails to download MUISCMATCH Jukebox right this very second!

Out of curiosity, I forwarded this multipart-MIME email to another of my accounts, one which I read using Eudora. I was curious to see what the message looked like in Eudora. It turned out to show something completely different there. The message reads, in part:

Subject: It's Your Music. Play it. Rip it. Burn it.

MP3.com Partner Product Announcement


Download MUSICMATCH Jukebox Plus 7.5

>> Burn at Speeds of up to 40x

>> Faster MP3 Recording

>> Enhanced Super Tagging

PC Magazine Editors' Choice:
Best Music Player - 4 years in a row!

Fine. Only, MusicMatch just recently released, with much fanfare, version 8.0... why promote the old version? Somebody oughta let this particular bumbling MP3.com Partner know. But then they might fix it, and where's the fun in that?

By the way, typing in www.muiscmatch.com takes you not to MusicMatch, but to MP3-Network.com. Good for them. I bet they get a ton of traffic out of it.

Posted by brian at 09:14 AM | Comments (0)

June 05, 2003

The Economists

Fascinating but creepy Flash trifle: The Economists.
Posted by brian at 06:16 PM | Comments (0)

Geek Test

Uh-oh. I scored 60.15779% on the Geek Test. Must. Get. Away. From. Computer.
Posted by brian at 11:32 AM | Comments (0)

June 02, 2003


It was bound to happen. With the arrival of Friendster, it was only a matter of time before someone set up Enemyster. And Fiendster.

If you think about it, which would be more interesting to know? Who considers whom a "friend", or who considers whom an "enemy"? Perhaps there ought to be a "Fawl.com" for every Ryze. A Web of Distrust to go along with the Web of Trust...

If done right, I bet such a service would generate more traffic and usage than all the Friendsters and LinkedIns and Ryzes combined. Of course, this would not be a good thing, but it might be amusing... :-)

Posted by brian at 09:39 AM | Comments (0)
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