December 29, 2004

Another Collapse

Huge smashing noises woke us up at 1am this morning as the rainstorm turned violent, with wind gusts that had to be well above 60 mph. The smashing noises were the table and chairs on the back deck, being thrown around like toys. In fact some were thrown right off the deck.

The noise woke the dog up, and my wife decided to take him out for what has become his routine 2am tinkle. When she came back in she led him into the kitchen to let him have some water. I'd gotten up to go into the office and shut down computer equipment, having learned that in weather like this, the power always goes out.

Suddenly I heard a kerthump and my wife calling out that Jesse had collapsed. I ran down the hall to the kitchen and there he was, he'd landed on his left side on the hard floor of the kitchen. He his coat was cold and wet from the 30 seconds' exposure outdoors. Unlike before, he hadn't passed out this time, but he just lay there, unable to move, slowly breathing with a confused look on his face like, "what is happening, Mom & Dad?" He yawned a couple times (sure indicator that he was out of oxygen) and began breathing normally. Then, as if nothing had ever happened, he just jumped up off the floor and wanted to go right back to sleep. In fact he pulled really hard on the leash. We put him in his bed under his blankets and he went to sleep right away.

The words from the veterinarian keep echoing in my mind... "he could go at any time". It is difficult.

Posted by brian at 08:27 AM | Comments (0)

December 28, 2004

Hurricane Craig

Newspaper article on how Craigslist has cost SF-area newspapers "untold millions" in "damages" to their classified advertising revenue. It almost reads as if "Craig" were the latest hurricane or something....

Link to story is here.

Wake up, papers, it's only going to get . . . even more challenging . . . in the next couple of years.

Posted by brian at 04:59 PM | Comments (0)

eBay's Want It Now

It's WebSwap (anyone else remember that 1999-era startup that raised $14M in venture money?) all over again, only this time the idea's been dusted off and given a new name, "Want It Now" by none other than eBay.

Some initial thoughts:

  • I like that posting is simple and extremely easy -- it's like typing an email. Just a block of text, pick a category, a subject, boom, done.

  • At least with the Safari browser on a Mac, the font is way way way WAY too small to be readable on the actual Item View pages for Want-It-Now items

  • I am very surprised that for commodity products there's no integration with the half.com UPC code databases --- if there is a particular CD that I am trying to find, or a rare book, then I ought to be able to type in the ISBN or UPC like one used to be able to do on half.com. Having such a capability would make it a cinch to find stuff.

  • I wonder if there's a My eBay "Watch List" capability for things I "want now"...

  • Browsing Want-It-Now is weird. It's unclear if the results are "haves" or "wants". It seems all are wants. But what about haves? Maybe a "have" is a standard eBay seller (I guess it is, just double-checked), with an item listed in the conventional eBay way. That's an unfortunate limitation if true. I oughta be able to post a big long list of stuff I have that I want to get rid of, without going through the whole eBay Sell Your Item process. Mighty unlikely that's gonna happen, I guess.

  • Another thing that's missing from the product offering: an RSS feed and some AdSense-style Javascript. As a Want-It-Now buyer or seller, I ought to be able to post, say in a sidebar on my blog here, a list of my "haves" and a list of my "wants", all automatically updated on a regular basis. The RSS feed would be handy for sellers to track if there's any interest from buyers in certain things you might have, and from buyers to be alerted (outside of pesky phish-laden, spam-ridden email) that things you want are finally available for sale.

Posted by brian at 04:47 PM | Comments (0)

Identified Flying Objects

I love the Floating Logos art project. Clever use of Photoshop.
Posted by brian at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

December 27, 2004

Science-Fiction-Schriftsteller Becomes Provocateur-in-Residence

Bruce Sterling announces he's becoming "Provocateur-in-Residence" at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

From the recorded video (WMP and QT formats available) of his recent lecture in Germany.

A few quick quotes:

I am becoming an academic this year. It's a miracle. During the year 2005 I will be a design professor at the Art Center College of Design in California, and I move there next month, and my official title is Provocateur-in-Residence. That's my official title. After twenty years of writing novels I have an official job, ladies and gentlemen! I even have a salary!"

. . .

I need to study objects, with a designers' intensity. I don't often make things, but I do want to understand what kind of new things might be made in the future.

. . .

Now I see six major trends at work today. I've been aware of all of these technical trends for some time, but recently these six trends seem to be converging. They're becoming integral parts of a larger general concept.

. . .

1. Interactive chips that can label objects with unique identities

2. Local and global positioning systems that can determine the location of objects in space and time.

3. Powerful search engines.

4. 3D virtual design of objects, models of objects.

5. Rapid prototyping and production of objects, Computer fabrication of objects

6. Cradle-to-cradle recycling. Zero-emissions manufacturing, design for disassembly. A new kind of death for objects.

. . .

My suspicion, my theory, is that we're almost about to give identity to everything we make.

. . .

RFIDs behave like bats. They have "radar", that can be heard in total darkness. You can hear them while they move. you can beam radio across vast numbers of them all at once, in massive flocks of RFIDs. And machines can hear them, and keep track of them.

. . .

Ten meters might not seem a very long range, or very useful. But imagine if RFIDs had a long range, say, a kilometer. Then, thieves could build an RFID reader inside of a van. And those thieves with that reader could simply drive through the streets of Munchen looking for wealthy people with a lot of RFID-tagged goods. Thieves could simply stand outside the rich person's house, beaming some radio in, and every object in the house would tell the thieves what it was!

. . .

What is the most useful service on the Internet? It is Google. Which is a search engine. Along with the internet of things you have a search engine for physical objects. And what good is that? Well, you don't have to remember where you put things anymore. You don't have to use your brain! You simply ask a voice recognition system with a search interface, "Where are my shoes?" "Your shoes are under your bed." That's simple. You may not think that's a useful service now. But wait until you're seventy-five years old.

I added the bold emphasis above because I had that very same thought the other day. I was walking along the La Jolla shoreline with my wife, and I noticed right away that everyone had a camera. Maybe not everyone, but enough people that it seemed like everyone. Video cameras, digital cameras, 35mm cameras. And everyone was taking pictures. Pictures of everything and everyone. La Jolla attracts a lot of tourists, particularly along the road that winds its way along the shore to the Cove. Lots of tourists speaking many different languages. The one thing they all had in common: cameras.

It struck me that with cameraphones and ubiquitous photography and Flickr-type services with their user-generated tagging, we're getting to the point where you won't have to remember anything anymore. You won't have to use your brain. And you certainly won't have to go to La Jolla to see and experience the beach at La Jolla.

You'll be able to see your own photos, but you will also be able to see yourself in the backgrounds of photos taken by complete strangers. Once cameras start storing GPS information (along with the direction you're facing), then we have the beginnings of reconstructing the visual world from all angles. In time, over a period of years, when services like Flickr (Flickle?) archive many billions of images, then we have a searchable index of the world, and every person place or thing in it.

I don't look forward to such a world, this searchable "internet of things".

Posted by brian at 11:16 AM | Comments (0)

December 24, 2004

Pop Map

I love maps like this. Found on The Conglomerate blog. Click on it to see it in its full glory. The site it originates from is called PopVsSoda.com:

It depicts how people in different parts of the country refer differently to "pop" or "soda" or "coke".

I'd love to see a similar map done for "sack", "bag", and other terms to describe bags. It took me a long time to figure out what this "sack" thing was grocery store clerks were asking about when I moved west in the 80s. "Sack it?" they'd say, and I'd be like, huh? :-)

This also reminds me of the reactions Jesse creates whenever anyone sees him. I've written about it before here in the blog: some people excitedly exclaim, "Spuds McKenzie!" While others exclaim, "That's the dog from Patton!" Just recently I finally had someone go, "There's the Target dog!" I'd love to see an English Bull Terrier map of the US....

Posted by brian at 06:39 AM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2004

ACLU and Privacy

Well, well, well, look who's in the news (link goes to a NY Times story from Dec 18th... also reprinted in many other publications including this one here).

The article begins:

The American Civil Liberties Union is using sophisticated technology to collect a wide variety of information about its members and donors in a fund-raising effort that has ignited a bitter debate over its leaders' commitment to privacy rights.

Gosh, what a surprise.

In September 2003 I began an effort to convince the ACLU that it should improve its website and privacy policies. I was concerned that they were being poor role models in protecting people's privacy. If one ought to be able to trust one group it ought to be the ACLU....

Over the course of several months, I corresponded with Anthony Romero, ACLU's executive director, and Nadine Strossen, ACLU's president. I blogged everything here, here, and here.

After a few months I was able to get them to fix their site.

I remember when the good news came in December 2003, I told several New York Times reporters about it, but the story never went anywhere.

Another case of the blogs scooping the media by many months. I wonder if NYT reporters use Google?

Posted by brian at 08:58 AM | Comments (0)

December 21, 2004

Customer Hierarchy of Needs

Interesting graph mentioned at Seth's blog today:

It's from an outfit called The Phelon Group. The full PDF of the report from whence the graph came from is here.

Posted by brian at 06:55 PM | Comments (0)

Trying CrispAds

This post should contain an embedded ad from CrispAds, a new company serving AdSense-like ads for RSS feeds. Hey they have their own blog.

This is just a test. Please remain seated. Some settling of contents may occur during shipment. Void where prohibited.

"

Posted by brian at 05:35 PM | Comments (3)

Battle of Comment Spam

Had to shut down comments to 98% of the posts in this blog, because I was getting hundreds of comment spams per day and I couldn't keep up anymore (and MTBlackList was too slow and cumbersome to deal with it all). It's a shame, but that's that.
Posted by brian at 10:27 AM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2004

Out-Powering Austin Powers

There's a notorious lowball comedy scene early on in the original Austin Powers film where Powers has been thawed out of a deep freeze after some 30 years in suspended animation, and the first thing he has to do is, well, pee. And the comedy of the scene is that he goes, and goes, and goes, and, well, you get the idea. Mike Myers said they wanted to make it the longest such scene in movie history -- just when you thought it couldn't go on any longer, it goes on for another half minute or so.

Ever since Jesse started taking the diuretics and other medications, he's been out-Powering Austin Powers. Jesse historically is the kind of mellow mild-mannered dog who partakes in one meal around 5pm each day, and drinks a little water each day, and that's it. He's been that way his whole life. Until this week.

Now, he goes through 2-3 bowls of water a day and 1-2 cans of the prescription dog food per day. And he has to relieve himself outside every four hours or so, all day and all night long. After he's done peeing in one marathon session, he'll cross the driveway, find another piece of shrubbery, and open the floodgates again for another 30 remarkable seconds. Then, on to another plant or bush, and the floodgates are open yet again. It's like he's able to unload at least a gallon of liquid every time we take him out. We've asked the vet, "are you sure this is normal???" and the vet says oh yes, no problem, perfectly normal, etc etc.

Wait a sec -- he just barked. A single "woof!" as in, "hey!" He wants to go back out.

(10 mins later)

I'm back. I put his leash on, took him to the front door, opened it, and he pulled me out, right into the bushes where he lunged head-first and then, well, irrigated the plants, Austin Powers-style. When he was finally done there, he backed up, then pulled me to another spot, did another Austin Powers performance, then went to the edge of the driveway, looked around the cul-de-sac and up the street, contemplated the universe, and then found another place to do one more Austin Powers performance for good measure. Then, done with his business, he pulled me back to the front door, into the house, and, continuing to pull, right into the kitchen where he walked to the water bowl, stopped, turned to look up to me, and said, with his silent expression, "um, water, please." (Ok, I admit it. There was no "please.") I dutifully refilled his dish and he gobbled half of it down, and went back to his couch.

He's good until midnight, maybe two a.m.

Posted by brian at 08:51 PM

December 15, 2004

Stabilizing?

Jesse seems to be responding to the medication. The EKG showed a heart rate returning to normal. The ultrasound revealed that his left ventricle is enlarged, and there's seepage through his mitral valve. He has progressive heart disease and it's unlikely it's going to reverse itself. But we're a little less alarmed about Jesse's could-go-at-any-time state than we were this morning when he got dropped off at the vet.

UPDATE 18:00: When I got home, Jesse was snoozing on his bed. It was only later when he came out to the family room while we were having dinner that I noticed the 6x6" bald square on his right side: they shaved his hair off so they could do the ultrasound. So now he has this strange square bald spot on his body. Ah well, he doesn't seem to mind (or notice).

Posted by brian at 03:01 PM | Comments (4)

December 14, 2004

Lunch with Jesse

The blog's going to be about Jesse for a while, can't help it, he's on my mind. Even with a lot going on at the startup (we were mentioned in a press release today for the first time, as founding members of CalConnect), Jesse's part of the family. I'm making an effort to go home and spend time with him during lunch as often as I can. Today it was really nice outside, classic December La Jolla weather, almost summer-like with a low fog over the ocean down below. Jesse's happiest in the sun, so he sat and basked in the sun's rays on the back deck while I woofed down lunch.

Even inside the house, he finds the little triangle of sun and sits in it to "cook". (This is the same sun spot mentioned a long time ago in this blog.)

Tomorrow he goes in for his cardiac ultrasound test. We're hoping for the best.

It is a blessing that dogs don't worry, have very short memories of misfortunes and discomfort, and always remember the good things. Humans could learn from them.

Posted by brian at 06:02 PM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2004

Eyesores

Can't believe I didn't know about this site sooner: James Howard Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month: a brilliant, funny, curmudgeonly commentary on the dismal state of architecture in the United States. Kunstler does to architectural design what Jon Stewart does to media and politics: he tells it like he sees it.

An excerpt, from October 2004:

The new Marriot Courtyard in Saratoga Springs, a hotel designed to look like a forensic pathology lab. You can practically smell the formaldyhyde out in the parking lot. Now some folks might say, "no fair, that's the side of the building." Yes, it is, but it also happens to be most conspicuously visible side from any possible vantage point. This building was rigorously vetted by the city planning board and design review commission. We are hostages to our own miserably low standards.

If only Kunstler's output was more frequent than once per month. I'd prefer once per day, and surely there's enough material across this great land to provide inspiration. (Perhaps someone could create an "Eyesore of the Day" photo group on Flickr where interested parties could share their miserable findings...)

p.s. actually there's more on his site than just Eyesores. For instance, his newsletter, Civitas, whose current issue goes into more detail on the Marriott Courtyard mentioned above.

Posted by brian at 10:59 AM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2004

Jesse

Jesse, our 9-yr-old English Bull Terrier, had a heart attack this morning.

We were getting ready to go for a walk, and he was all excited and playful. We ran around the house a bit and he was having a great time scurrying like a much younger bull terrier and then all of a sudden when we got to the family room, he put his front paws out full stretch like he was slamming on the brakes, his head went up in a grimace, and he went perfectly and unnaturally stiff, and then he literally tipped right over on his left side, legs outright and stiff, as if a slight breeze had knocked him right over. His eyes went up and he was out cold.

We were right there when it happened. We knelt down to see if he was still alive. He was still breathing, and his heart was beating furiously. In a few minutes he started breathing more normally, and he acknowledged our concern by managing to work up the strength to give us one thump of his tail. A few minutes later he managed to make another thump with his tail. Ten minutes, and he was up, a quick wiggly shake as dogs are wont to do, and he climbed up into his couch.

We took him to the vet where he spent the whole day.

Tonight, he's home, frisky and enthusiastic as ever.

However, he is a very sick dog, we've now learned, and probably doesn't have many more months to live. The vet showed me four X-rays of Jesse and basically, his heart is twice its normal size, and he has pulmonary edemas, and his liver is 1.5x normal size due to poor blood flow into the heart. Basically, the pump's broken, and it has been growing to try to compensate for leaky valves.

The vet said yes, basically, Jesse had a heart attack today.

Vet: "Basically, if Jesse were human, he'd be a candidate for a heart transplant."

Also: "Face it, Jesse's a 1995 model, and male bull terriers live about ten years..."

If Jesse were healthy, his heart rate would be 120 beats/min; the EKGs showed abnormalities and rates between 160 and 180+.

But, he's home now and seems ok for now. It's remarkable if you think about it, twelve hours ago he was out cold on the family room floor, and as we knelt beside him, we feared for the worst.

"Ok, I might have had a heart attack this morning, and I might've spent the whole day in the pet hospital, but I am home now and I am a hungry dog, and like, where's dinner?" (Photo taken last night after we got Jesse home from the vet -- moments after this photo was taken, he devoured his new prescription dog food).

Now he's settled for the evening on his couch, as if it was just another typical day. He's one tough dog.

The vet also said that his heart problems explain pretty much everything: the dog's inability to go for even short walks anymore, plus his frequent discomfort when lying down on his couch in the evening. His pump just can't handle any exertion anymore.

I hope Jesse lives to his 10th birthday (April 19).

He has to go on a salt-free diet, a bunch of new prescriptions for his heart, and back to the vet's this Wednesday for an ultrasound, and then for an appointment with a heart-specialist vet who has had a lot of luck with some sort of experimental Canadian heart drug (not even on the market yet in the US) which apparently is able to reduce the size of the heart and relieve some of the problems.

Fingers crossed...

Posted by brian at 08:05 PM | Comments (9)

Hozle on Google

Somehow this event completely slipped by my radar, even though it happened in my backyard: Urz Hozle of Google gave a lecture on Google's hardware, software, and infrastructure back on Nov 8th at UCSD here in La Jolla.

The good news: the lecture was recorded and is available in a high-bandwidth RealVideo right here. Running time: ~60 minutes.

Tidbit I didn't know before: typical Google data center has 2000 servers. I would have thought more. If it's just 2000, then they have to have an awful lot of data centers...

Posted by brian at 12:43 PM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2004

Nothing Ever Goes to Waste

Attended a TIE San Diego meeting featuring B.V. Jagadeesh, CEO of NetScaler on Wednesday night.

Before NetScaler, Jagadeesh was co-founder and CTO of Exodus. Remember Exodus?

Jagadeesh spent a lot of time talking about the dot-com bubble burst in general and Exodus' decline in specific. Some data points:

  • Exodus founded 1994, 2 employees, $10,000 personal savings
  • Went from 2-4000 employees in less than 5 years
  • At its peak, Exodus served 40% of the Internet's traffic
  • $0.00 to $1,000,000,000.00 in annual revenues in 5 years
  • 80 square feet to 5,000,000 square feet of leased space in 5 years thanks to all the data centers
  • At its peak, Exodus commanded a $28 billion market cap.

Jagadeesh said the straw that broke the camel's back for Exodus was its ill-fated acquisition of Cable and Wireless in early 2001, when signals were already strong in the market that a massive correction was underway and yet they went ahead and did the deal.

He also spoke of the incredible push to build more and more data centers all over the country and the world, at a time when the data centers averaged only 20% occupancy rates.

One particular data center he mentioned: Atlanta. He couldn't understand why they built this huge data center out in the middle of nowhere.

Well, fast forward to today.

Nothing ever goes to waste. Google now occupies the data center.

Battelle mentioned it here and over here is a local Atlanta newspaper story about it (annoying but free registration required). Google's trying to keep mum about its new Georgia presence (well, except in Craigslist).

Posted by brian at 11:17 AM | Comments (2)

December 09, 2004

Woot

I love woot.com, the online store where they only sell one thing per day, and once the day's over, that's it, and you don't know what tomorrow' items will be until the midnight clock strikes. Brilliant way to create scarcity.

Here's an interesting recent Dallas Observer article that goes into some detail and background on the site.

I've never bought anything at woot, I may never buy anything there. When you're in bootstrap startup mode you tend to stop thinking of buying anything anymore, unless it's beneficial to the company.

But then, today's woot item, a Uniden TRU4485-2 2.4GHz Dual Handset Speakerphone Digital Answering Machine looks cool! And all that for $34.99!

Be sure to read the Woot's FAQ. It's a hoot. To boot:

I see only 1 item, do you sell anything else?
No. We sell 1 item per day until it is sold out or until 11:59pm central time when it is replaced (see next entry for details). However, each item we sell is in stock and ready to ship that day. Our warehouse manager thinks we are insane.

. . .

Will I receive customer support like I'm used to?
No. Well not really. If you buy something you don’t end up liking or you have what marketing people call “buyers remorse,” sell it on ebay. It’s likely you’ll make money doing this and save everyone a hassle. If the item doesn't work, find out what you’re doing wrong. Yes, we know you think the item is bad, but it’s probably your fault. Google your problem, or come back to that product's topic in our community and ask other people if they know. Try to call the manufacturer and ask if they know. If you give up and must return it to us, then follow on to the next FAQ entry.

Posted by brian at 02:55 PM | Comments (4)

December 08, 2004

Flickr Name Tags

First there was googling your name. How about flickr'ing your name?

There are currently 585 Flickr photos with brian as a tag. A random sample of other names:

To find out your own Flickr Name Tags, just replace the yourname part of this URL:

   http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/yourname

If the name of the game in google naming is, when you type in your first name in google, is your website/blog the first search result... then perhaps the name of the game in Flickr name tagging is, is one of your own photos the first photo!

p.s. As Stewart Butterfield points out: "xeni" gets 0, but "xenijardin" gets 1, and it's of Xeni...

Posted by brian at 04:13 PM | Comments (0)

It's TV, stupid.

Great interview by Matt Haughey with Margaret Schmidt, TiVo's Director of User Experience.
Posted by brian at 10:49 AM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2004

Ranting and Raving about PDFs

Doc Searls, Jeff Jarvis, and others have been raving like lunatics about how much they loathe the PDF format chosen for the ChangeThis publication. There's a whole crowd out there insisting that Seth Godin reconsider PDF and support HTML as well. Seth's not buying it so far, arguing that ChangeThis articles (or "Manifestos" as the ChangeThis people prefer them to be called) are more like books, and less like web pages.

A lot of the ranters are complaining that PDFs aren't searchable. Since when? I search PDFs all the time, no problem. Of course, I'm using Preview.app, the MacOS X application that among other things does a fine job presenting PDF files. In fact, I prefer it greatly over Adobe Acrobat.

Setting aside these issues, I have to agree with the ranters that ChangeThis ought to be available in a more open format --- keep the PDFs around for the PDF purists, but for the bloggers looking to read, study, link to, copy, and paste text, give 'em HTML. Geez, one would think that a Manifesto is supposed to be read far and wide. Here's a bunch of blogger enablers who would voluntarily help with the "far and wide" part. One would think Seth and Company would embrace their offer...

Posted by brian at 11:14 AM | Comments (2)

December 04, 2004

A Failure to Communicate

When it comes to startups, one thing one learns, forgets, relearns, re-forgets, and so on, is that stuff happens. Things break. Despite careful planning, meticulous attention to detail, things go wrong.

For instance, we posted our first-ever job announcement on craigslist yesterday. 11:32AM it went live.

By 4pm I was beginning to think something was wrong: not a single email response to the job announcement. My experience listing jobs in Craigslist in the past has always been the same: a steady flow of resumes beginning just minutes after the post goes live.

Was the San Diego market really that dried up? No way.

So I started thinking, perhaps our mail server was rejecting emails. Or perhaps Craigslist's mail server wasn't sending them (I'd decided to use the "anonymized email" option when posting the job announcement, so the email for candidates to respond to was something like job-1234567890123@craigslist.org). Maybe Craigslist's email server wasn't redirecting the inquiries to my company's server?

I emailed Craig directly at 16:43 to inquire about my email concerns and damn if he didn't respond within 60 seconds, at 16:44. Talk about superb customer service! He forwarded the issue on to his tech team, and they got back to me at 17:30 saying it sounds like a problem with my company's server.

We set out to investigate, and discovered that there were several problems. It appears that Craigslist's server sends out mail with the To: line still being the job-1234567890123@craigslist.org. Certain mail servers and list managers don't like receiving essentially Bcc'd mail and that's what was happening with our server. It was assuming this was not legitimate email and was bouncing back to Craigslist.

Theoretically, there's a chance that many companies with similar mail server setups who have listed jobs on Craigslist and used the popular email anonymizer option have run into similar email problems -- perhaps not even knowing it. It's also possible that people who submitted resumes to the anonymized craigslist account never were told that the email bounced and never reached its destination.

Needless to say, I went and edited the job announcement on craigslist and put up my own company's jobs email address (spammers, start your engines).

I then went and posted the job on my startup's website. Are you a PHP guru? Looking for a golden opportunity? Click here and read on. . .

Posted by brian at 09:56 AM | Comments (5)
brianstorms is Brian Dear's weblog. Non-spam email:

Be sure to take a look at these other fine websites:

Copyright 2002-2004 Birdrock Ventures. brianstorms is a trademark of Birdrock Ventures.