Friday, September 30, 2011

The Matter at Hand

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Master of Your Domain

Despite all the lame attempts to hype .co and other top-level domains, the king is still .com  It can't be touched for recognizability and respect.  If you're serious about your on-line presence, you have to own a .com domain, even if you're not commercial.

However, since there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 million .com domains, it's getting very hard to find a name that isn't already taken.  So businesses are looking for evocative but meaningless names to register.  These are names that sound like actual words, but aren't.

The usual practice is to combine two or more words, as follows:
  • Verizon = verity or veracity(?) + horizon (or possibly verify + horizon)
  • Wikipedia = wiki (Hawaiian for quick) + encyclopedia
  • Microsoft (not qualities most males would want to be associated with, but derived from microcomputer + software)

Another approach is corrupt spelling:
  • Netflix (and its spin-off, Qwikster)
  • Sporcle (from oracle)
  • Google (from googol, itself a made-up word.) 

It's fun to try to come up with these.  Using the combined words approach gave me things like:
  • Digifaction
  • Docurity
  • Infortress

However, all of these were taken.  Perhaps I should then run the spelling corrupter to get names like:
  • Dijifakshun
  • Dokuritee
  • In4tris

I'm not even bothering to check these.  You can have them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

About Time

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pioneers and Arrows of Outrageous Fortunes

There's an old saying that you can recognize a pioneer by the arrows in his back. If the arrows had been in his front, you'd think the pioneer had taken risks and suffered the consequences.  Arrows in the back, however, can only mean one thing: friendly fire. The pioneers have taken a beating at the hands of their own followers.

Think about it.  How many of these products have you heard of?  Used?  Owned?
  • Xerox Star
  • Visicalc
  • WAIS
  • pen PC
  • AudioHighway Listen Up
  • WebCrawler

On the other hand, how familiar are these?
  • Apple Macintosh
  • Microsoft Excel
  • World Wide Web
  • Apple iPad
  • Apple iPod
  • Google

Each of these household words is really just a later version of some earlier product that's now extinct. Why have these derivative products and technologies had such a lasting effect, when the true originals disappeared? Did the imitators offer some vital improvement?  Did they just do a better job of marketing?  Did the public need time to assimilate the idea?  Who knows?  There's really only one lesson we can definitely take away from this...

Don't be a leader.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Going With the Flow

Computers have not only sped up traditional workflows.  They've also completely changed how those workflows ... uh, work.  For example, here's the traditional workflow for publishing a book:

And here's what that workflow looks like now:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Bond Market

Goldfinger is one of the better James Bond movies.1 To aid in the assault on Goldfinger's headquarters, Her Majesty's Secret Service issues Bond a sports car, an Aston Martin DB5, with a slew of special gadgets and features. These include: a slide-up rear bullet-proof shield, front-mounted machine guns and rear-mounted smoke screen, oil sprayers and nail spreaders to thwart pursuers. The pièce de résistance is an ejection seat to launch unwelcome passengers through the roof of the car.

Bond uses every one of these gadgets in a single 5-minute chase scene during the movie. But despite all this high-tech weaponry, he's captured anyway! That's because the British Secret Service's gadget group, headed by Q, has designed and built the whole thing without doing any user studies.

As presented in the Bond films, Q and his department dream up all kinds of exotic weaponry, and then build it and test it in the lab on wooden dummies, ersatz espionage agents and pseudo-supervillains. Then these gadgets are issued to field agents like James Bond, with no more instruction than a quick demo. The agents are expected to rely on this equipment in life-threatening situations. It's no wonder Bond always has to fall back on his sex appeal in a pinch.

A more effective head, lets call him R, would have field agents involved from the concept stage. Bond and his colleagues would be specifying what devices they need, and how they should work. R would then bring the agents back in for prototype testing, which might require multiple iterations. Only when these gizmos have been thoroughly tested and approved would they be put to work in real assignments.

Then maybe 007 wouldn't wind up strapped to a table with a laser beam aimed at his groin.

1From Russia With Love is the best one.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011

We the People

Every so often, it's amusing to re-examine the U.S. Constitution. From an engineer's point of view, the Constitution is like a design document. It describes the overall parts and organization of the machine, and leaves the details up to whoever has to make it work.

The first interesting part of the Constitution is the Preamble. This basically sets out the point of the exercise ... why did they bother to write the thing in the first place? The specific goals mentioned in the Preamble are:

  • form a more perfect Union

Before the Constitution, the U.S. was defined by the Articles of Confederation, which basically said the states were just in a "league of friendship". The states had almost ALL the power. The only things the Congress could do were declare war, set standard weights and measures, and act as a kind of final court. So almost any kind of union would be "more perfect" ... the bar was set pretty low.

  • establish Justice

Given that the Constitution only applied to white males of voting age, the idea of justice was a little weird. At the very least, it means having some kind of criminal justice system to punish wrong-doers, etc.

A more general view of justice is people getting what they deserve. This is a slippery slope. Our system rewards people who are wealthy. If you define "deserving" to mean "rich," everything works.

  • insure domestic Tranquility

No, this was not about preventing wife-beating. (Actually, the Founding Fathers probably would have been okay with wife-beating.) Domestic tranquility was about keeping peace within the U.S. ... preventing civil wars. Well, we know how well that worked out.

  • provide for the common defence[sic]

This is what led to the famed military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned about. To defend the country, we need a big ass military, and that, of course, needs equipment and supplies from independent companies. That's why the best remedy for a depression is a war.

  • promote the general Welfare

This one's a biggie. What do they really mean by "general welfare?" Not Welfare in the sense of people on Welfare, though that's part of it. In simplest terms, it means things shouldn't suck too much. The Constitution should help make life good. Of course, that means people who already have it good think the government should do nothing, while people who are struggling could use some help. It's been over 200 years, and we're still trying to figure this one out.

  • secure the Blessings of Liberty (to ourselves and our Posterity)

Blah, blah, blah. Some people only remember this one. Liberty this and liberty that. They think government is the opposite of liberty. Well, sometimes.

Anyway, despite the fact that it was only supposed to be about adult white males, it's hanging in there.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011

It's the Jobs, Stupid

President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress last night, outlining his $447-billion proposal to alleviate unemployment in the U.S. The speech had been re-scheduled from Wednesday to avoid a conflict with the all-Republican edition of Last Comic Standing. Even so, the speech was scheduled to end in time for the somewhat less contentious Saints/Packers game.

Obama outlined a series of measures which have had bipartisan support in the past, urging Congress to pass them "right away." Highlights include expanding existing payroll tax cuts, and allocating $140-billion for infrastructure work on schools, roads and bridges. The President assured Congress the large cost of the proposal would be borne by Warren Buffet.

Mr. Obama remarked that he'd be taking his message to "every corner of this country." Republicans were quick to point out that the country lies on the surface of a sphere, and therefore doesn't have corners in the Euclidean sense. However, Sarah Palin later refudiated this statement, saying the round earth idea was "just a theory."

Otherwise, Republicans gave the speech an uncharacteristically conciliatory response. House Speaker John Boehner said it "didn't totally suck", prompting Majority Leader Eric Cantor to retort "Yeah, well you only saw him from the back."  In particular, Mr. Obama urged Republicans who have taken the "no tax increases" pledge not to break that pledge now, triggering a torrent of tax increase proposals from the GOP.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Misdemeanors Against Humanity

We all know the term Crimes Against Humanity is reserved or the really big stuff ... genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, etc. But there are lesser evil deeds which still affect vast swaths of the population, and should perhaps be considered Misdemeanors Against Humanity. And definitely at the top of my list are unforgivable technology failures.

For example, did you ever have an appointment reminder pop up on your screen when you're in the middle of typing something important? The reminder ''steals'' the keyboard, so suddenly you're typing your job application cover letter into your doctor's appointment reminder. Ghastly.

There should be a special place in hell for those folks who turned Skype into nag-ware.  Can you imagine if your cell phone kept jumping out of your pocket and yelling "Isn't it time you called your friends?"  (I shouldn't have said that.  Now someone will make just such a phone.)

How about Facebook's continual revision of privacy policies, requiring you to modify your settings repeatedly to avoid having your personal information go out on WikiLeaks?

And of course Facebook also brings this perennial favorite:

Of course, Adobe Photoshop also gives us helpful messages like this one:

And let's not forget all Web sites that start blaring audio as soon as you land there.  Mandatory sentencing. Likewise for sites that require you to download and open a PDF to find the information that should have been on a Web page in the first place!

As for punishment, I kind of lean towards the stocks, or some other form of public humiliation.

I'll add to this list as I think of more.  Feel free to comment with your personal favorites.