Hear Ye! Since 1998.

Archived Posts for January 2010

Please note: The posts on this page are at least 3 years old. Links may be broken, information may be out of date, and the views expressed in the posts may no longer be held.
30
Jan 10
Sat

  stuloh ran 3.1 km on 1/30/2010 at 5:30 PM with a pace of 5'31"/km http://bit.ly/aPd5Vy

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28
Jan 10
Thu

… and that’s 12 years of blogging

I know that there are several active, continuously-running blogs out there that are older than mine, but I don’t really know how many there are, or indeed, what the oldest one is. So, I went out looking for them.

There are two issues I encountered with this. Firstly, the definition of a blog in the late 90s was hazy, so there are some websites that don’t fit today’s standard format that may or may not be regarded as blogs (at the least, they are precursors to blogs). Secondly, what makes a blog “continuously running” and “active”? If there’s a hiatus of 3 years in the middle, it’s not really an unbroken run. Or if there is one post every three months, is the blog actually active?

My first port of call was Wikipedia’s Blog entry. Apparently Justin Hall started blogging in 1994, but has since stopped. Writer Jerry Pournelle’s Chaos Manor is also held up to be the oldest active blog. It appears to be still active today, but the design is stuck in the 90s and it’s hard to tell from the archives when his first post was. Scripting News is still running and has comprehensive archives. I then recalled visiting longstanding sites like Robot Wisdom, Peterme.com and Everything But Gaming. Robot Wisdom stopped publishing in its original form, and became something else. Peterme.com is still active. It only has archives back to March 2003, but I’m sure that it is much older than that – at least 1998. Then there were gaming sites like Blue’s News which used to cover lots of Quake-related news. (I am surprised to see is still running – it has archives back to mid-1996.) A Google search turned up this article, which claims that a few ZDNet writers used to keep an online diary (ie, a blog). However, it’s difficult to verify given that the archives aren’t really available. In any event, those writers aren’t keeping that diary anymore.

So it turns out that it’s not as easy as I thought as it would be to identify what the oldest active blogs online are.

I started compiling a list, but I didn’t get very far. My totally arbitrary criteria for what qualified included: the post archives are still available somewhere (even on archive.org), it’s updated multiple times a month, it exists on the web (as opposed to a .plan file… after all, a blog is a weblog), and posts originate on the blog (and aren’t transferred in from some other medium like a paper diary or news articles published elsewhere first).

I am sure that this list is far from complete, so drop me a note if you know of any others:

Have you been reading Hear Ye! for a long time? Post a comment and let me know how long!

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27
Jan 10
Wed

iPad impressions

At the risk of adding to what’s already been said on the net all day today, I join the crowd which is thinking, “Is that it?”

To be sure, the iPad is a very nice product. But, for all the incredible publicity the device received over the last several months, the expectation was set that the device wouldn’t just be “very nice” – that was a given – but it would be “magical and revolutionary”, as Apple’s own advertising copy trumpets. That it would be a game changer. It’s not a game changer. Therein lies the disappointment.

The iPad is a luxury device. It’s the middle-class family’s replacement for the Sunday morning paper at the dining table; the magazine on the coffee table next to your soy latté; the paperback novel next to the toilet; the remote control for the 60″ LCD TV; the photo album you hand over to friends when they come over after you get back from your trip to the Caymans; and the laptop you sit up in bed with, browsing through Facebook. It’s something you can chill out with on the couch, in front of the fireplace, by the poolside, standing in a queue, or sitting on a plane. Or of course in a big comfy armchair like the one Steve Jobs plonked himself in today.

"My precious!"

But it’s not a killer app. It’s not a must-have, in the same way that a computer, or a mobile phone is a must-have. It’s kind of like the Macbook Air. Neat in theory and if you have some spare cash, but ultimately a luxury.

The iPad is essentially an iPhone with a 10″ screen.  Without a camera, it doesn’t even have all the features an iPhone has (and you obviously can’t use it like a phone by holding it up to your ear).

A market killer?
Despite a claimed 10 hour movie-playing and 1 month standby battery life, this device was never truly going to compete with the Kindles and the Nooks. The color screen will be difficult to read outdoors, and be harsher on the eyes than e-ink is over long periods. I haven’t read this anywhere, but as is usual for Apple, I doubt the battery is replaceable. Over time, the battery life will degrade, and that will hamper the utility of the iPad for battery-intensive applications (my 18-month old Macbook Pro now barely gets 75 minutes on a full charge, down from 4 hours when new, and my 18-month old iPhone 3G needs to be charged daily if it’s used even a little bit during the day).

I doubt it will destroy the netbook market either. The iPad can’t at the moment handle Microsoft documents, which is what most of the working world uses. So it’s not so good for professionals who need mobility, but also something which runs a normal O/S. And as good as the on-screen keyboard may be, nothing beats the tactile feel of a real keyboard, even if it’s not full-sized. (What happened to those rumors of haptic feedback?) However, it might be good for a backpacker, or a transcontinental bicyclist, who wants something slim and light, with near-universal net connectivity.

Apple’s stock trended down during the iPad announcement, until the price was announced. The stock shot up, mainly because – as I’ve written before – the market expected a price range of $600-1000, and the price beat market expectations. Stock price is all about expectations. However, $500 is for the entry model, and $500 is still expensive when I can get a decent netbook for half that price. Add 3G and a bit of flash memory and you’re looking at something within sniffing distance of a Macbook.

People have been disappointed at the lack of features: no multitasking, no built-in SD card slot (you’ll need to buy Apple’s overpriced proprietary adapters for that), no camera, no Flash support (although Adobe says it will happen) and so on. Also, the relationship between Apple and AT&T appears to have solidified, rather than to have dissolved as was widely rumored. A $30 unlimited data plan is quite good though, given it provides universal net access. (If it permitted internet tethering, that would be a big drawcard for it, but as we know, AT&T outrageously doesn’t support tethering.) On the other hand, the iPhone SDK now allows apps to make voice calls over 3G, and not just WiFi, so we’re seeing a change now. Should at least take some of the heat off them as far as the FTC is concerned.

What about the name?
It’s pretty blah, and very similar to iPod. But we’ll get used to it. More interestingly (for lawyers at least), is the IP strategy that Apple used in connection with the iPad. It appears to own no iPad domain names – which implies to me that Apple regarded name secrecy was more important to it than IP protection. They don’t yet have a registered trademark for iPad, but they’re probably in the process of obtaining one. A search on the PTO’s website shows that the IPAD word mark has been registered in a variety of other classes, including class 25 (clothing) under a US subcategory including “Bras, Lingerie, Panties, Pads for Use in Bras”. So I guess the joke about MaxiPads isn’t that far off.

Speaking of MaxiPads, the iPad’s looks are questionable as well – the bezel is too big, and the 4:3 non-widescreen ratio makes it look squat. That said, I still think the iPad will be extremely fun to use and the UI is more than just simply pleasant.

Not that it won’t do well…
Let me get this clear: I will be surprised if the iPad flops. The device is sure to sell very well, and add another healthy channel of revenue for Apple. It just won’t be as important as the iPhone. However, I do have the feeling that we will see some very creative apps developed for the iPad that will make it a much more useful, cool, and valuable tool than a lot of people give it credit for today.

Paired with iTunes, iBooks, and other applications that content providers will eventually create, it will also be a great media library device (although there’s no video output jack).

Ok, so my overall verdict? If someone bought me one as a gift, I’d be over the moon. But I’d find it difficult to swallow the price and fork out $850+ (with 3G data) of my own to buy the top of the line model, whereas I didn’t hesitate to shell out for the iPhone, or even the high-end Macbook Pro.  (I wonder if this means that Macbooks will start to get equipped with A-GPS or 3G capabilities? My guess is that although Apple could go this way, it won’t because it might cannibalize its iPad market.)

  9:58pm  •  Consumer Electronics  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Air New Zealand to Offer Beds in Economy

Air New Zealand will offer beds in economy class on their California to Auckland route. Now this is a game-changer. Adjoined sets of seats can be converted into small lie-flat beds. If you are travelling with someone else, you can purchase the third seat for half-price, which enables you to get a bed. (I wonder if you still have to buy a seat if the flight is not at full capacity?) But it does look like you need to be travelling with another, though. And it looks a little cramped if you don’t want to spoon.

Sorry Qantas, I’d be willing to connect through NZ if it meant I could get a good night’s sleep on the 12 hour trans-Pac flight – even though it adds a couple hours to the trip back to Sydney. (United can just go jump.)

  9:54pm  •  Travel  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

  stuloh Hah, someone put up a picture of Moses holding two iPads on one of the network status monitors here.

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Apple event – summary

Will compile a summary of the main points from the liveblogs, as it develops.

  • iPad
    • 9.7″ tablet, 0.5″ thick, 1.5 pounds (less then 700g)
    • multitouch,1GHz Apple A4 chip
    • 16-64 gigs flash storage
    • 802.11n, bluetooth 2.1 + edr
    • runs iPhone apps, but also has a separate set of iPad apps
    • speaker, microphone, accelerometer, compass
    • 10 hour battery life (playing videos)
    • Kinda sounds like a big iPhone
  10:02am  •  Consumer Electronics  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
26
Jan 10
Tue

Money and Privacy talk (liveblogged)

Liveblogging for this post has now ended. Please start reading this post from the bottom.

06:21:05 pm: Audience question: concerned about add-ons to Firefox. [Reminds me about Chrome extensions – they disclose what information an extension will have access too, but one of the descriptors is “this extension will have access to all your private form data”. Which is kind of alarming because it sounds like the extension could sniff passwords out. If that’s not true, they need to rephrase it.] Ryan is plugging What App which is a service that rates app security. [I love the security paranoids who won’t use credit cards online in this day and age.] Ok, wrapping up now.

06:16:02 pm: Audience comment: internet searches on job applicants for screening purposes. Big issue for employer data collection.

Gin: In some ways, government regulation won’t be enough in the long run. Technology will need to fill in the gaps.

06:11:34 pm: Mozilla sometimes takes a minimal approach when it comes to data. If you don’t keep user data, a government can’t require you to deliver up what you don’t have.

 

06:06:52 pm: LinkedIn believes it needs to be very clear about what information it collects, and how readers can control their personal information. LinkedIn is very clear about monetization – describing what users get if they pay the subscription fee. Trust is key for their professional networking site. [Giving users the control helps a lot, apparently.]

06:02:05 pm: Gelman: user information is valuable. Is there a business strategy that leverages that? Sure, but it puts privacy on the line. [It’s a big balancing act. Depends on business model, whether it’s against your overall company mission, how will your customers feel? etc. Consent is a big thing… if users sign up to something knowing what they’re getting into, then less risk re violation of trust]

05:58:47 pm: Fourth issue: do you think there’s a tension between monetization [chasing revenue] and privacy? [This question reminds me of the Rapleaf story.] Gin: sure. His company could have gone down the route where consumer information was exploited. But he wanted a tool to help consumers, not the other way around.

05:54:52 pm: Should be an internal process to address UGC which violates that user’s local laws.

05:53:35 pm: Mozilla finds it very difficult to keep up with privacy regulations across the world. They want to crowdsource legal compliance similar to how they develop Firefox with an open source model.

Mozilla has several PPs broken down by product, not by countries. Firefox.de no really within German jurisdiction.

LinkedIn: “mission is to connect professional worldwide”. One PP, one TOU. By law, some provisions may or may not apply in different jurisdictions, so there are country-specific addenda to customize them. LinkedIn has a single “server” accessible worldwide. [single domain?]

Question from audience: rush to the bottom? Catering to the lowest common denominator? Isn’t that what happens if you only have one policy? How do you deal with different regimes?

Martin: It’s tough. It’s a big issue especially with user-generated content. [Now we’re getting into thorny jurisdictional issues in internet business.] Martin mentions differing free speech standards as an issue.

05:48:34 pm: Ryan draws analogy with Google in China – actions overseas can have a beneficial reputational effect back at home as well. Could also apply to privacy issues.

05:45:51 pm: Third issue: how do you deal with consumer expectations overseas? [They have different cultural views – eg, Europe is tougher.] Martin: Mozilla benefits from users around the world. Firefox has over 50% market share in Poland. Big share in Germany too. Users and governments there are more savvy about demanding more privacy protections there. Plays into the competitive issue – how it can be used for competitive advantage. Eg, they felt Firefox is more secure, so it gave Firefox an uptick in market share. German data protection authority issued statement that people need to be aware of certain ads – picking the right browser can help with this. People in Europe really care about this stuff, more so than US. Ryan: So you actually got a market share boost from a government statement on privacy! Martin: we had a 4-5% jump [!]

05:42:43 pm: Gelman mentioning Mint again – they are prime because they collect really juicy information (financial info across all your fin services providers). So from day 1, they need to get security and privacy right, even if they’re small, because they are a huge hacking target. [ie, Why do you rob banks? Because that’s where the money is. I guess start-ups like this need a lot of initial capital.]

05:39:37 pm: Ryan: What about Twitter? They were taken down last Thursday by an attack. Is there a point where you can get too big and not have enough? Gelman: Need to identify what data is at risk and adjust your investment in security accordingly. [Aren’t these points kind of obvious?] Ryan: If you’re a start-up, and you don’t have the resources to secure things… it’s tricky because you still need to do it. Like if you want to process credit card transactions. Rottenberg mentioning PayPal as an example. [the acoustics of this room are terrible, I’m missing comments…]

05:36:11 pm: Issue 2: relationship between size of company and security. Ryan asking Sitejabber – does the privacy policy disclose the security policies and risks?

Gin: of course, if you’re bigger, you’re a bigger target. In any event, you can’t guarantee 100% security.

Rottenberg: agrees. And that PPs should be written in plain English. LinkedIn making significant investment in IS security. As they’ve grown, they become a bigger target, so they have to scale security accordingly.

05:32:04 pm: Audience comment: what about teenagers? Can they understand privacy in a meaningful way? Doesn’t this affect how you can use privacy for competitive advantage?

05:30:02 pm: Rottenberg: FB just refreshed their privacy policy (default privacy setting to “everyone”). Lots of scrutiny. Martin: people only became aware due to the changes – without the change and surrounding publicity, no one would really notice.

LinkedIn uses a popup to notify of PP changes. As does FB. [So change events are particularly crucial.]

05:28:15 pm: LinkedIn currently reviewing privacy policy: “I can’t tell you how many eyeballs have looked at it.” It’s gotten a lot of feedback, and they’re taking it very seriously. Not aware of any violations of it. The user-company communication channels are important.

Gelman jumping in: but what about small companies which don’t have the resources? Those ones who just rip off eBay’s policies? It’s like everyone know they have to have one, but no one knows what it means. Stanford student start-ups will just throw up a policy without even customizing it.

For LinkedIn, you can use it as a “thinking document” [mapping out information flows].

05:24:05 pm: Rottenberg: even small start-ups need to consider this [I guess you need to build user trust from day 1].

05:21:29 pm: Gelman: depends on business type. If you’re CEO of Mint, you need to know how to talk about the intricacies of privacy to your investors. Rottenberg: it’s also a big trust issue. Privacy interests of LinkedIn are aligned with those of users. Zero incentive for LinkedIn to do otherwise with privacy.

05:17:33 pm: Gin: probably not a big an advantage from a competition perspective, but it’s still an important part of the overall mission of companies.

05:14:54 pm: Q&A format. Privacy & competition is the first issue up. How much is privacy a part of company strategy? Are people using privacy to compete? Mozilla: Bing seems to be attacking Google using privacy-related tactics. Eg, Bing giving logs after 6 months, vs Google’s 9 months.

05:08:32 pm: Ryan’s kicking it off now.

Intro: I’m attending a talk on privacy at SLS. No special reason I’m liveblogging this apart from me itching to give this liveblogging functionality a try. The talk is relevant to what I’m doing at work at the moment. The panel today comprises: Erika Rottenberg, General Counsel of LinkedIn;
Julie Martin, Associate General Counsel of Mozilla;
Jeremy Gin, Founder of Sitejabber; and
Lauren Gelman, Privacy Expert from Stanford’s CIS.

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25
Jan 10
Mon

Profile on David Tepper

Bloomberg profiles David Tepper, who runs Appaloosa Management, which is responsible for managing the best performing hedge fund (with AUM of $1 billion) over the first ten months of 2009.  During that period, the flagship Appaloosa fund returned over 117% (an appaloosa is a type of horse).

Tepper has lived with his wife, Marlene, in the same spacious, stone-faced contemporary house in a nearby town since 1991. He owns no vacation homes. His three children either graduated from or still attend local public schools. He coached their softball, baseball and soccer teams. …

While Tepper is pleased to have done so well in 2009, he remembers the mistakes of 2008 just as vividly [when his fund lost almost 30%]. …

David Alan Tepper started modestly. He was born in Pittsburgh in 1957 to Harry Tepper, an accountant, and his wife, Roberta, an elementary school teacher. He grew up in a redbrick house in the neighborhood of Stanton Heights. One of his hobbies was collecting baseball cards — and impressing his friends by spouting statistics on the local Pirates and other teams.

“My memory is almost photographic, not quite,” Tepper says. “It drives my analysts crazy.”

Nevertheless, he was an indifferent student at Pittsburgh Peabody High School, he says, and something of a class clown. He remembers being kicked out of one class and told by the teacher, “Go roam the halls and act like the animal you are.”

Tepper began buying penny stocks in high school, sometimes conferring with his father on the subject. As a student at the University of Pittsburgh, he got more sophisticated, developing a system for options trading that helped pay his expenses.

He graduated with a degree in economics in 1978. Later he enrolled in Carnegie Mellon University’s Graduate School of Industrial Administration. At his first presentation, in front of 150 classmates and the dean of the school, Tepper explained how changing one input variable wouldn’t affect the outcome of a particular equation.

“I don’t give a shit what you put in here,” Tepper told the class, tapping on the blackboard.

After a pause, his fellow students burst out laughing. At the annual student follies, they composed a song to the tune of the Dr. Pepper advertising jingle: “I don’t give a shit. Be a Tepper. Be like Tepper.”

  6:32pm  •  Business & Finance  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Academic Earth

Described by TechCrunch as “Hulu for Education”, Academic Earth catalogs videos of talks and lectures given at some of America’s leading universities on a huge array of subjects. There are also a large number of complete courses available.

You can hear people like Jeffrey Sachs talk on the Future of Globalization, or Larry Brilliant lecture on Strategic Philanthropy, or John Doerr speak on How to Negotiate Valuations.  Fantastic resource.

  11:19am  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
24
Jan 10
Sun

  stuloh ran 3.52 km on 1/24/2010 at 5:13 PM with a pace of 5'42"/km http://bit.ly/5cxNB6

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Apple’s week ahead

Big week ahead for Apple. Tomorrow (1.30pm PST) it announces its Q4 2009 (fiscal Q1 2010) financials. The effect of earnings announcements on stock prices is all about market expectations. It seems that Apple is typically conservative when issuing profit guidance (or perhaps more accurately, infamous for low-balling). Analysts caught on long ago and have adjusted their expectations accordingly, but it will be interesting to see how well Apple actually did.

Here is an interesting article about Apple’s price movements at market close last Friday, and an even more interesting one on shorting of Apple stock.

On Wednesday, Apple is expected to release its tablet. Analysts have forecasted a tablet product could add several billion dollars to their top line. People will be looking at pricing point of the tablet and what it actually does on Wednesday (10.00am PST), but the bar set pretty high. Let’s hope it doesn’t cost $1000.

Apple needs to pull something out of the bag with this one. People are expecting a larger, cooler iPod – all the rumored features are nice and modern, but not revolutionary. The iPhone already does a lot. It needs to be more than an iPhone with a bigger screen.

Perhaps they are focusing more tying lots of licensed content into it, since it seems to be a media device that is aimed at tackling the Kindle market (and more), and that will enable them to do really cool stuff – a universal media library. Perhaps they have a new UI. Perhaps will be able to sense certain proximate devices like Microsoft Surface.

I expect to be able to use the tablet as a universal remote, as a substitute for the morning newspaper, watching  TV on the go, an exercise book in meetings. I expect to be able to hang the thing on a wall and hook it up to something which reports real-time information (like Seesmic Look, a Flickr feed, or a stock ticker). I expect to be able to use it for even cooler augmented reality applications (especially games!).

23
Jan 10
Sat

  stuloh This is outrageous, Tony Abbott. Because, y'know, non-migrants don't break the law ever. http://bit.ly/8o8Zes

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21
Jan 10
Thu

  stuloh The #deepend, the new TV series about 1st year biglaw associates, is a total car wreck. Really accurate rep of life as a corp lawyer. Not.

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The Mpemba effect

Can hot water freeze more quickly than cold water? Of course, when you pose a question as absurd on its face as that, the answer is going to turn out to be yes.


 

This phenomenon is called the Mpemba Effect, after the Tanzanian high school student who observed it.

In the demonstration video above, I thought that the near-boiling water froze more rapidly because when it was thrown up in the air, it dispersed into smaller particles of steam or vapour (I’m not sure why this happens, but there are videos showing people emptying containers of boiling water in Antarctica, only to have the water go up in vapour before any of it hits the ground). Despite having a higher initial temperature, these smaller particles are much easier to freeze due to the greater overall surface area to volume ratio. On the other hand, the cold water comes out as one body of water.

While that was probably one contributing factor, the same effect is achieved if you place two containers of hot and cold water into a freezer without disturbing them. So, it turns out that the answer is not quite so simple.  Wikipedia says:

According to an article by Monwhea Jeng: “Analysis of the situation is now quite complex, since we are no longer considering a single parameter, but a scalar function, and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) is notoriously difficult.”
This effect is a heat transfer problem, and therefore well suited to be studied from a transport phenomena viewpoint, based on continuum mechanics. When heat transfer is analyzed in terms of partial differential equations, whose solutions depend on a number of conditions, it becomes clear that measuring only a few lumped parameters, such as the water average temperature is generally insufficient to define the system behaviour, since conditions such as geometry, fluid properties and temperature and flow fields play an important role. The counterintuitiveness of the effect, if analyzed only in terms of simplified thermodynamics illustrates the need to include all the relevant variables and use the best available theoretical tools when approaching a physical problem.
  5:25pm  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

The Economist reports on professional services industries

This Economist article opens with:

What do you say to a recent law-school graduate?

“A skinny double-shot latte to go, please.”

Ouch.

Though the best will gain at the expense of the rest throughout professional services, the legal profession seems likely to undergo the most profound structural changes. For the first time—long after IT and finance departments went through the same experience—the corporate legal departments that hire law firms are under great budgetary pressure, and are thus demanding much better value from them.

In a recent paper, “The Death of Big Law”, Larry Ribstein, a law professor at the University of Illinois, argued that after decades without changing, law firms are likely to have an outburst of experimentation with different business models: even the venerable and lucrative “billable hour” method of charging clients is in doubt. The experimentation may include more firms abandoning their traditional partnership model to go public, following in the footsteps of an Australian law firm, Slater & Gordon, which went public in 2007.

  5:03pm  •  Law  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
20
Jan 10
Wed

Best of Reddit 2009

List is here. For those who aren’t redditors, the IAMA, AMA/AMAA (I am a …, ask me (almost) anything) community is pretty darn fascinating. In there, people from absolutely all walks of life open themselves to questions from everyone. Some examples:

Some incredible information in there, from people who have been through some very socially taboo experiences to world-famous people.

Oh, although he’s commenter of the year, you’ll want to avoid bozarking’s posts if you have a weak stomach (he seems to have deleted his account, but his legacy remains).

  9:15pm  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Ad for Glee in Japan

Glee is being aired in Japan and this is the ad they had for it. It’s umm… very Japanese, and it features Akebono – the former yokozuna – who is seen here breaking out into a rendition of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’. (I highly recommend Glee, btw. It’s a fun show to watch.)

  8:48pm  •  TV  •  Tweet This  •  Comments (1)  • 

Testing out liveblogging (liveblogged)

Liveblogging for this post has now ended. Please start reading this post from the bottom.

02:23:09 am: Ok, I think we’re done for the night. I better sleep now…

02:22:27 am: Testing auto-line breaks.

Testing Twitter #hashtag auto-linking, and @username auto-linking.

02:21:19 am: Testing minor formatting fixes.

 

02:13:16am: Testing AJAX auto-refresh.

02:10:19am: Testing image uploading.

Intro: New feature, under testing. Couldn’t find a decent liveblogging plug-in for WordPress so I had to make my own.

  2:06am  •  Liveblog  •  Site News  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
19
Jan 10
Tue

  stuloh Definitely the start of the rainy season in the Bay Area.

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Moscow’s Stray Dogs

The Financial Times has a report on stray dogs in Moscow. It identifies an interesting link between the changing state of the Russian economy to how the strays developed. The article is also answers questions about stray dogs in general – where do they come from? Are they any different to pet dogs?

Neuronov says there are some 500 strays that live in the metro stations, especially during the colder months, but only about 20 have learned how to ride the trains. This happened gradually, first as a way to broaden their territory. Later, it became a way of life. “Why should they go by foot if they can move around by public transport?” he asks.

“They orient themselves in a number of ways,” Neuronov adds. “They figure out where they are by smell, by recognising the name of the station from the recorded announcer’s voice and by time intervals. If, for example, you come every Monday and feed a dog, that dog will know when it’s Monday and the hour to expect you, based on their sense of time intervals from their biological clocks.”

  12:22am  •  Miscellaneous  •  Tweet This  •  Comments (2)  • 
18
Jan 10
Mon

Slate Magazine’s Explainer column

Pete tipped me off about Slate Magazine’s wonderful Explainer column. It’s got some great articles, including:

Plenty more there, so check it out. It reminds me of Patrick Smith’s Ask the Pilot column in Salon, except that it’s for everything.

  4:25pm  •  Miscellaneous  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Liveblogs of Apple’s 27th media event

Here are some sites that will be running liveblogs of Apple’s media event on January 27 (10am EST, 1pm PST, 6pm London):

Keep an eye on Apple’s stock price.

The iSlate (or whatever it will be called) announcement will be an expectation. I’m hoping they also announce a Macbook Pro refresh. I need an upgrade right about now.

I’m not so sure about the success of a tablet computer that costs as much as its rumored to cost ($600 or $1,000, depending on who you ask). If it sells well it will be because (a) it has the Apple aura, and (b) Apple has worked out a way to give it a kickass UI. Personally speaking, I’m not sure that there’s any situation where I would find a tablet useful. Between my iPhone and my MBP, the only other device I would need in another context is a netbook – for when I go traveling and I need to travel light (and do some basic photo and word processing), or for somewhere I wouldn’t feel comfortable whipping out a MBP. If the tablet can do what a netbook does, but better, then they may be onto something. Otherwise, it’s kind of a luxury device.

  4:24pm  •  Computing  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
17
Jan 10
Sun

Communication protocols and management

I’ve been noticing that some people have written themselves a page of Communication Protocols. These detail media through which a person can be contacted and their preferred method of contact depending on the context of the communication. The best-known set of comms protocols is Tantek Çelik’s. Several people have derived inspiration and made up their own, such as Lisa Brewster, Eston Bond, Kevin Cheng and Carla Borsoi.

At first blush, the idea has some kind of aura of coolness behind it. We have so many channels of communication these days that it’s confusing (face-to-face, phone, post, e-mail, IM, social networking services, etc). As the number of channels increases, the convenience of being more available to be contacted is quickly offset by the time-consuming nature of trying to keep track of it all. With too many channels, communication actually becomes inefficient – the overheads of checking each different form of media pile up, and messages get lost or overlooked.

Çelik’s stated aim is to capture and collect “some notes on [his] experiences with human to human communication protocols and mediums from [his] perspective … what works well and what doesn’t work so well, and why, in the hopes of maybe helping to uncover and define more efficient habits for purely factual communication between humans.” This is all fine and good, but his page is actually just a list of ways you should contact him depending on what sort of information you want to send him, and his rationale behind it all.

Unfortunately, the page is almost 4,000 words long, which makes the process of just figuring out how to communicate with him highly inefficient. The irony is overwhelming. Let’s say I want to contact him to run a business proposal by him. Firstly, people get scared or turned off when they first seek that comms protocol page. The impression is that if you don’t use the right method, you’re going to annoy him and get snubbed. Not very approachable. Secondly, the summary is confusing. So if I want to write to him (why do Americans drop the preposition “to” after the word “write”?), and I see “personal site, wiki, data-type specific website…” I haven’t a clue what this means. And it doesn’t sound like any of these media are private. Thirdly, I’m not going to wade through the rest of the document. I’m going to get frustrated and either give up or fire off a message on a random assortment of those channels. It’s self-defeating.

I suppose the whole protocol imposes a barrier to entry – if you really want to contact him, you’ll figure it out. I’m sure he’s a busy man. But turning people away at the gate is not really increasing how good a communicator you are.

The protocol pages of others fare a bit better, but not by much. Carla Borsoi’s and Eston Bond’s pages are shorter, but they still contain a glut of text in prose. Are people really going to read through all of that just so they can have the privilege of making their life easier? Lisa Brewster’s page is more streamlined – it cleanly states that her preferred input methods are, in order, Twitter, Blog, Email. Kevin Cheng is even more concise.

But the problem with all of these communication protocols is that they dictate how people should contact them. It somehow smacks of self-importance. I think that being a good communicator is about you yourself being the good communicator – not imposing requirements on everyone that they be good communicators (which is essentially what those communication protocols do). Çelik admits that his protocols are personal in nature, geared to the way he lives, so it’s not like it’s a manifesto for how everyone should communicate with each other… which is what communication protocols really are (think: diplomatic protocols and computer communication protocols).

If you’re some type of counselor and you’re dealing with a patient or client, that person may be a terrible communicator. As someone trying to improve how they communicate, the onus is on the counselor to adapt to the other person, not to impose unfamiliar communication protocols on them. I found it stunning that Kevin Cheng wrote “Telephone: Use Rarely … it’s extremely interruptive and nearly always rude. Txt first.”

As a lawyer, we are our clients’ punching bags when it comes to communications. However a client wants to contact us – email, phone, even dropping by the office unannounced for a surprise 8.30am meeting – we make ourselves available. This can be extremely disruptive, but as long as they aren’t violating etiquette or some social norm (like that surprise morning meeting), it just means you have to adapt yourself accordingly. Things can still run smoothly. (Granted, it does get out of control sometimes.) If you’re in a meeting and you can’t take a phone call, then turn your phone off and let it go through to voicemail. But why should I have to ask permission to call you before I call you?

Of course, we do have communication protocols with our clients, but these are always mutually agreed upon – never unilaterally imposed without an opportunity for input from the other side.

A communication protocols page would be an excellent tool if it was used for getting your own thoughts down on paper – seeing what channels of communication you use, and figuring out how to re-organize the way you do things. As a set of rules for you to follow and not a set of rules for others to follow, they can be very useful instead of being self-indulgent.

One side observation – I don’t understand the fascination with Twitter on these protocol pages. Twitter sucks as a tool for directed communications – talking to someone, as opposed to announcing stuff into the ether. You can’t and shouldn’t really do anything important on Twitter (like telling your daughter that her grandmother died on the weekend), but it has its uses given the right context. Twitter’s great for instant factual reporting, but not analysis or discussion (that’s meaningful, at least).

So, how do I manage my communications?

My input channels include:

  • real-time voice (mobile phone, Skype, GChat);
  • short/instant messaging (SMS, Skype, GChat, Live Messenger, Twitter, Facebook, other services like FourSquare, etc);
  • stored voice (voicemail); and
  • stored messaging (email, Facebook, Hear Ye! comments).

The key to managing all of these is to centralize the place where I deal with all of them. So, the number of input channels doesn’t matter as long as I can deal (ie, read and respond) with them all in the same place. This is how I centralize things:

1. Almost everything forwards to Gmail. My primary email account is my fissure.org address because I’ve had it for yonks, and it’s under my ownership so I can always control where it goes. However, it, and almost everything else, forwards to Gmail. Gmail labels emails by the address they came in from and acts as a central repository for all my emails. When I’m traveling, I only have to check one place for all my correspondence. My iPhone hooks into Gmail via IMAP, so it gets everything as well. Gmail’s search function also is brilliant for searching through the 5 years’ worth of mail stored in there.

I was doing some contracting work recently and the client asked me – I have several email addresses for you, which one do I use? I just answered, “Any of them, it won’t make a difference.” Makes things easy.

2. Outlook as primary mail client. I primarily use Outlook as my client for several reasons. Firstly, it’s great at workflow management. My inbox acts as my to-do list, and I try to keep it as empty as possible. I often work on replying to multiple emails at once (I rarely write long emails in one sitting), so each reply window is its own action item. The folder hierarchy is great for sorting mails. It has good calendar/task integration. I can modify the subject lines of emails to things that are more descriptive. Secondly, it’s an offline client, so it works in the increasingly rare occasions where I don’t have net connectivity (offline Gmail doesn’t quite cut it). Third, it acts as a local backup of all my mail. Unfortunately, Outlook can be pretty slow and its search function is atrocious.

3. Sent items are also captured everywhere. When I send emails from Outlook or my iPhone, Gmail captures these in its “Sent Items” folder too. When I send emails using Gmail, it sends a copy to Outlook. Everything is synced. You can even reply to Facebook messages via return email now.

4. No need to centralize voice and IMs. If I miss a phone call or IM, that’s fine because people get instant feedback about whether they got through to you and will try something else if they don’t get through. (Not always true with IMs – I’ve known Skype to mysteriously delay delivery of messages for days where the sender thought they got through - but nothing’s perfect.) E-mail and voicemail is different because people don’t normally acknowledge receipt and senders assume it’s got through. Therefore, it’s more important to keep a good handle on those channels of communication.

5. Residuals. Not everything fits with email. I use Google Reader for RSS feeds (which would otherwise clog up my mailbox), and a Twitter client for my desktop and iPhone (which I use rarely). I try and link everything up so I don’t have to duplicate posts (eg, how Hear Ye! pushes out tweets automatically).

Google Wave needs an email hook, like Facebook has (or even an IM hook). I don’t want to have to check another website on a regular basis – I want things pushed out to me. Then if I need to respond, I’ll hop onto the website to do it, if I can’t do it by email/IM.

In summary: My communication protocol

  • Contact me by the way with which you feel the most comfortable.
  • If you need an immediate response, then use a method which demands one, like the phone!

Chocolate Crackles recipe

I haven’t eaten chocolate crackles for ages. There are two reasons for this. The first is that it’s been a long time since I’ve been 12 years old. The second is that one of the key ingredients doesn’t seem to exist in the States: Copha.

Like Violet Crumbles, Cherry Ripes, and Musk Sticks (my supplies of which have sadly all run out), it is one of those Australian things that I find myself missing. But the other day I happened across a Copha-substitute at Dittmer’s in Mountain View. That’s Dittmer’s Gourmet Meats & Wurst-Haus, which is better known for being a deli popular with ze local Germans. They sell Palmin, a German manufactured version of Copha which is essentially coconut fat (or Kokosfett, as the packaging says). It’s not cheap, but at least now I’ve managed to satisfy my cravings. Here’s the quick ‘n’ super-easy recipe:

Chocolate Crackles

Ingredients:

4 cups Rice Bubbles

1.5 cups icing sugar, sifted (powdered sugar, or confectioner’s sugar in America)

3 tablespoons cocoa

1 cup desiccated coconut (optional)

250g Copha (or Palmin)

1. Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.

2. Melt Copha over low heat. Let cool slightly.

3. Pour liquified Copha onto dry ingredients and mix well.

4. Spoon into paper patty cases.

5. Chill until set.

Makes 24.

  12:09am  •  Food  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
16
Jan 10
Sat
15
Jan 10
Fri

The story behind large-denomination currency

This is still legal tender:


You wouldn’t want to drop it.

Mental Floss writes:

In 1928, the federal government overhauled its system of printing banknotes. It shaved about an inch of length and just under a half of an inch in width off of the bills and issued the new smaller bills in the $1 to $100 denominations with which we’re familiar. However, the Treasury also issued larger denominations. They featured William McKinley ($500), Grover Cleveland ($1,000), James Madison ($5,000), and Salmon P. Chase ($10,000). …

When the Treasury discontinued the bills, they rapidly fell out of circulation. However, a few are still lingering; as of May 2009, there were still 336 $10,000 bills at large. At the same time, Slate reported that there were also 342 $5,000 bills and 165,732 $1,000 bills still floating around.

The large bills are now worth more than their face value, of course.

There was also a $100,000 bill that was printed, but it wasn’t put into general circulation.

  11:14pm  •  Business & Finance  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Embed Tweets in real-time into your Powerpoint preso

These days, it’s pretty standard for presentations at conferences to have a “second track” of chatter going on behind the scenes. If you look around, you’ll mostly find people on their laptops with Tweetdeck or some other Twitter client, repeating whatever the speaker happens to be saying at the time and adding a hashtash. I always thought it would be interesting to have a second screen showing the talk’s real-time Tweetstream (or an IRC channel) next to the person’s slides. Very distracting, and potentially opens the speaker up for heckling, but interesting nonetheless.

Timo Elliott, a coder at SAP (the ERP company) has now integrated a Twitter feed directly into a Powerpoint presentation so Tweets appear in realtime within a presentation. It can interface with TidyTweet for automatic or manual comment moderation. It also has an “AutoTweet” tool where you can send preset tweets during your presentation(!).

The other neat things you can do with the Twitter interface are to create a real time graph showing audience voting via Twitter, or even a worm.

Very neat stuff. Then, combine it with MightyMeeting, and you’re all set.

  11:00pm  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
14
Jan 10
Thu

  stuloh ran 3.57 km on 1/14/2010 at 6:53 PM with a pace of 5'41"/km http://bit.ly/5lSl8l

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13
Jan 10
Wed

Covering the Decade

2000-2009, recounted in magazine covers:

  8:33pm  •  Current Affairs  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
12
Jan 10
Tue

  stuloh The Blind Side: 4.5/5. Made me feel good, it's well done, Bullock gave a great performance & it's based on a book by one of my fave authors.

  10:56pm  •  Tweet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

River Crab Society

A close friend of mine, an Aussie stock picker living in Beijing, has a new blog called River Crab Society. It promises to be an interesting mix of cultural quips and financial insights about China (if the rodent manages to keep the thing regularly updated).

China’s online travel penetration rate is only 5%. cTrip.com has a 50% market share of China’s online travel market. China’s travel market is going to be massive, so stock up on those overnight adult travel nappies!

  10:30pm  •  Business & Finance  •  Culture  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Big changes in Google’s China strategy

Google China apparently was the target of a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack” on their corporate infrastructure last month which was successful in the theft of some Google IP. Google claims that the attacks were targeting the information of Chinese human rights activists. Significantly, TechCrunch has reported that:

In light of the attacks, and after attempts by the Chinese government to further restrict free speech on the web, Google has decided it will deploy a fully uncensored version of its search engine in China. This is a major change: since January 2006, Google has made concessions to the Chinese government and offered a censored (and highly controversial) version of its search engine at Google.cn. Google isn’t playing that game any longer. Should the Chinese government decide that an uncensored engine is illegal, then Google may cease operations in China entirely.

Google has clearly had enough and has decided to take a stand. Google’s CLO has written:

We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.

The last paragraph appears to be an attempt to provide some sort of protection from persecution for Google employees on the ground in China. Sinister.

China is a tough market. I can’t think of a single US internet company that has successfully broken into China – not Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Facebook, or Twitter. China has its own version of each of them (often very similar in look and feel to its US compatriot) and one can’t help but suspect that China is also wielding its censorship laws as a form of protectionism against foreign internet companies. My flatmate is a Chinese national who works as a software engineer for one of those US net companies, and he told me that Chinese companies are known for engaging in dirty, underhanded tactics against American competitors. These tactics are as direct as hacking a website, to more sneaky approaches, such as manipulating search engine results to get a company like Google in trouble with the government censors. These tactics are, of course, unavailable to the US company.

Update (11.10pm): Additional commentary by CIS’ Lauren Gelman and on Chinese Law Prof Blog (via @avstand), and a semi-contrarian view by River Crab Society who thinks that “China is far too big a market to ignore”.

Of course, Google has historically struggled against Baidu in China. If they’ve had enough of the foul play from its competitors and want to exit from the market, then this is a great way to do it – exit not with its tail between its legs, but exit gracefully by making a statement that will resound with the civil liberties people all around the world.

Also, the elephant in the room that no one has called out explicitly (surprisingly) is that the cyber attacks mounted against Google (and other corporates) may have been at the instigation of the Chinese government itself.

  7:49pm  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Comments (2)  • 

A conversation with an anonymous Facebook employee

This conversation transcript has some pretty fasinating details about some inner workings at Facebook. Looks like we are the beneficiaries of this potential breach of a couple of NDAs.

The amount of data and metadata they generate is mindboggling (essentially logging every click). And hugely scary from a privacy and security perspective. Imagine the datamining you could do on that data.

Some choice quotes:

Rumpus: When you say “click on somebody’s profile,” you mean you save our viewing history?

Employee: That’s right. How do you think we know who your best friends are? But that’s public knowledge; we’ve explicitly stated that we record that. If you look in your type-ahead search, and you press “A,” or just one letter, a list of your best friends shows up. It’s no longer organized alphabetically, but by the person you interact with most, your “best friends,” or at least those whom we have concluded you are best friends with.

Rumpus: In other words, the person you stalk the most.

Employee: No, it’s more than just that. It’s also messages, file posts, photos you’re tagged in with them, as well as your viewing of their profile and all of that. Essentially, we judge how good of a friend they are to you.

Employee: No, not in our office. Absolutely not. We have four data centers around the world. There’s one in Santa Clara, one in San Francisco, one in New York and one in London. And in each of those, there are approximately five to eight thousand servers. Each co-location of our servers has essentially the same data on it.

Employee: We track everything. Every photo you view, every person you’re tagged with, every wall-post you make, and so forth.

Employee: … The one comment I would make about that, is that we’ve definitely tried to continue expanding to 3rd- world countries. Take Iran — well, Iran is not a 3rd world country — but when the Iranian elections came up, and then the disputes, we found out they were using Facebook as a tool to organize themselves and expose their qualms and discontent with the government. So publicly we translated the entire site into Farsi within 36 hours. It was our second right-to-left language, which was actually really difficult for us. Literally the entire site is flipped in a mirror. The fact that we did it in thirty-six hours — they hired twenty some-odd translators, and engineers worked around the clock to get it rolled out — was pretty fucking phenomenal. We had at least three times as many user registrations per day the first day it was out, and it has been growing. So we’re definitely still serious about foreign outreach. And the thing is, we have such a gigantic market share in the larger sections of Europe, in Australia, in Mexico, in the States and Canada, and that’s where 99.9% of our ad revenue is and probably will be always — or at least will be the next five, ten years. So the fact that we’re breaching into these other markets mostly means just allowing family and friends to connect even more deeply, which is really our ultimate goal.

Rumpus: So tell me about the engineers.

Employee: They’re weird, and smart as balls. For example, this guy right now is single-handedly rewriting, essentially, the entire site. Our site is coded, I’d say, 90% in PHP. All the front end — everything you see — is generated via a language called PHP. He is creating HPHP, Hyper-PHP [a compiled language form of PHP], which means he’s literally rewriting the entire language.

Rumpus: Any changes in atmosphere after the move?

Employee: It was just nice to have everyone in one office. Before, any meetings that happened were inconvenient for most people. I mean, engineering was split up into three offices. It was a pain. Now there’s more unity, more ease of communication. Everything feels more internal. It’s super-friendly. I think the coolest thing about the work environment is the trust. They don’t care what, where, how, when, as long as you get your shit done. If you want to work at a bar, the ball game, a park, the roof, they don’t give a fuck. Just get your shit done. Hence I was able to ditch work, come have two pitchers with you, and I will literally be able to go back and get my work done. And it goes a long way. Because I know I can get these things done. I know I’m going to have to go back. And I may be there until ten or eleven tonight.

  7:23pm  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
11
Jan 10
Mon
10
Jan 10
Sun

Virtuoso pianist

Last year, 21 year old Nobuyuki Tsujii won the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, tying with Haochen Zhang. The pieces he performed for the competition included Chopin’s Twelve Etudes, Liszt’s La Campanella, a couple of Beethoven’s Sonatas, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (below) and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

Nobuyuki Tsujii was born blind.

  10:34pm  •  Music  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

  stuloh ran 3.13 km on 1/10/2010 at 10:20 AM with a pace of 5'41"/km http://bit.ly/6D5mmm

  11:46am  •  Tweet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
9
Jan 10
Sat

How to live longer, healthily

Dan Buettner gives a really fascinating TED talk on longevity.

The initial premise is that the human body is biologically engineered to live about 90 years, but average life expectancy in America is about 78 years (give or take). The missing 12 years is primarily due to lifestyle and environmental factors, rather than genetics. So, the goal of longevity is not to extend the 90 years, which is currently unattainable for those of us currently living, but to try and access these missing years.

Buettner then describes a research project which identified several “blue zones” throughout the world, in which the people there lived for materially longer lives than the rest of the world. The amazing thing is that these blue zones contain a large amount of people who live beyond 78 years, but the 80-, 90- and 100 year old people there live healthy, active lives. The blue zoners had a tendency to remain healthy and free of chronic disease in their old age and, appealingly, to die peacefully in their sleep.

The most significant factor is having family and friends close by, and belonging to the right community (of like-minded people). Buettner drops in an anecdote of an Okinawan group (moai) of five elderly women who have been together for 97 years and have an average age of 102. He also mentions an amazing array of people over than 90 who are still doing things like heart surgery, or karate.

Other factors include an ongoing purpose – a reason why you look forward to waking up the next morning – and in part this links in with community. So when you retire, you still need something to do – something to look forward to.

Interestingly, diet and exercise play a lesser role, and the role they play is different to what you might expect. People in blue zones actually don’t regularly exercise, although they do have lifestyles which keep them “naturally active” – which means something as simple as walking around throughout the day. They have a diet which is weighted towards vegetables and they don’t overeat.

So there’s no silver bullet, no single fix or magic diet – it’s a total lifestyle approach. But the thing is… it sounds like a pretty darn appealing lifestyle. No starving yourself, no brutal workout regime.

This video reminds of one time when I was in Hong Kong. I was staying over at a friend’s house, which is a 3-storey building, with a steep wooden staircase connecting each floor. My friend’s grandfather stays there, where he lives on the top floor. Every day, he treks up and down those stairs without a walking stick, and every few days he will go out to yum cha with his friends. He is about 90 years old.

The video is 20 minutes but is well worth it.

  10:52pm  •  Life  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
8
Jan 10
Fri

Top Gear Bolivia Special

Top Gear occasionally puts together a special episode where they drive through some weird place. They’ve driven to places such as the North Pole and through the Sahara. Their latest one, driving through Bolivia and Chile is fantastic. Dumped on a river bank, they drive through the dense Amazonian rainforest, over gullies, through rivers, across the Andes on Yungas Road (nicknamed “Death Road”), into La Paz, across the Altiplano and a high mountain road pass (over 5km high) near an active volcano, across the Atacama Desert (the world’s driest place), and down a massive sand dune to the Chilean Pacific coast. All in really dodgy cars they bought off the internet, sight unseen.

It’s great watching, and there are several occasions where Clarkson and crew are in genuine peril. The scenery is also extraordinary. Driving that high mountain pass would be an awesome experience… I’d love to do it one day (in a newer car).

  11:45pm  •  TV  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

My thoughts exactly

Was browsing through the Stanford Classifieds and noticed that someone was selling off a 2001 Porsche Boxster. Not something you see everyday on a student trading post. With about 100,000 k’s on the odometer, it was going for under $10k. Cars are so cheap in the US! But the thing that cracked me up was this part of the ad:

Not so good things about the car:
* Got keyed on the surface–some guy carved “Rich Stanford” on its back :( (decent paint job can be done with ~$1000, if you do care a lot)

Click through to see the pictures.

  11:24pm  •  Life  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
7
Jan 10
Thu

Intentional mortgage defaults

Unlike Australia, many mortgages in the US are no-recourse. This means that if a homeowner (the mortgagee) defaults on their loan, they can just give the bank the house keys and walk away without suffering any other penalty. In a market where a homeowner’s home loan costs more than the value of their house, it can make a lot of financial sense to voluntarily default and then walk away from it all. But there’s a stigma against this, despite this sort of call being made in the corporate world all the time. The New York Times examines this state of affairs in an interesting article.

Of course, from one point of view, a contract is a business deal and there should be no moral stigma attached to breaking it, because as a legal instrument, the innocent party has avenues of redress which theoretically compensate them for their losses. “It’s just business, not personal,” as they say. In the case of home loans, the “innocent party” is a big lending corporation which is knowingly bearing the risk of making loans which are no-recourse.

There are two reasons why so-called strategic defaults have been considered antisocial and perhaps amoral. One is that foreclosures depress the neighborhood an drive down prices. But in a market society, since when are people responsible for the economic effects of their actions? Every oil speculator helps to drive up gasoline prices. Every hedge fund that speculated against a bank by purchasing credit-default swaps on its bonds signaled skepticism about the bank’s creditworthiness and helped to make it more costly for the bank to borrow, and thus to issue loans. We are all economic pinballs, insensibly colliding for better or worse.

The other reason is that default (supposedly) debases the character of the borrower. Once, perhaps, when bankers held onto mortgages for 30 years, they occupied a moral high ground. These days, lenders typically unload mortgages within days (or minutes). And not just in mortgage finance, but in virtually every realm of our transaction-obsessed society, the message is that enduring relationships count for less than the value put on assets for sale.

  5:50pm  •  Business & Finance  •  Tweet This  •  Comments (1)  • 

  stuloh found a copha substitute in a store in Mountain View! Chocolate crackles, here I come.

  2:18pm  •  Tweet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
6
Jan 10
Wed

Difficult languages: Tongue twisters

The Economist examines the question, “What is the most difficult language in the world?” I would think the answer is, of course, the one which is structured in the way that is the most foreign to your native language or languages. But what attributes make languages different from each other?

The article delves into a mix of different grammatical aspects, like verb conjugation, consistency of noun pluralization, genderization of words, predictability of spelling (“English is a relatively simple language, absurdly spelled”), case-marking nouns (Estonian has 14), aspect, and level of agglutinization.

It also considers oral aspects, like vowel tonality (like in Chinese dialects), consonant pronunciation (egressive, ingressive, ejective, pharyngealised, palatised, non-pulmonic clicking, etc) and the number of existing sounds (the now-extinct Ubykh has 78 consonant sounds). Then there is encoding, in which concepts are embedded in words depending on their forms.

Here are two punchlines to the article if you don’t want to read the whole thing:

For sound complexity, one language stands out. !Xóõ, spoken by just a few thousand, mostly in Botswana, has a blistering array of unusual sounds. Its vowels include plain, pharyngealised, strident and breathy, and they carry four tones. It has five basic clicks and 17 accompanying ones. The leading expert on the !Xóõ, Tony Traill, developed a lump on his larynx from learning to make their sounds. Further research showed that adult !Xóõ-speakers had the same lump (children had not developed it yet). …

With all that in mind, which is the hardest language? On balance The Economist would go for Tuyuca, of the eastern Amazon. It has a sound system with simple consonants and a few nasal vowels, so is not as hard to speak as Ubykh or !Xóõ. Like Turkish, it is heavily agglutinating, so that one word, hóabãsiriga means “I do not know how to write.” Like Kwaio, it has two words for “we”, inclusive and exclusive. The noun classes (genders) in Tuyuca’s language family (including close relatives) have been estimated at between 50 and 140. Some are rare, such as “bark that does not cling closely to a tree”, which can be extended to things such as baggy trousers, or wet plywood that has begun to peel apart.

Most fascinating is a feature that would make any journalist tremble. Tuyuca requires verb-endings on statements to show how the speaker knows something. Diga ape-wi means that “the boy played soccer (I know because I saw him)”, while diga ape-hiyi means “the boy played soccer (I assume)”. English can provide such information, but for Tuyuca that is an obligatory ending on the verb. Evidential languages force speakers to think hard about how they learned what they say they know.

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5
Jan 10
Tue

Year In Review (Part 5)

This is the fifth and final post in a series. The previous post is here.

7. The LLM Experience

At the end of my time at Stanford, I decided to put together a photo book. The project quickly ballooned, and the book become much larger than I initially intended. With the inclusion of infographics, charts, collages, stories, and lots of other stuff, the book turned into a yearbook of sorts. (I say “of sorts” because it was put together from my point of view alone.) I made it available in hard-copy format through Blurb. You can also download a low-res digital copy of it here (sans cover).

8. A New Decade

2010 marks the start of a new decade. I entered the last decade as an 18 year old and left it as a 28 year old. It is sobering to think that — at least in terms of age — these were the so-called prime years of life. It’s been quite a ride. I’m not going to sum the decade up, so I’ll just leave you with a few miscellaneous statistics and images that represent some aspects of my noughties. You can click most of them to view them full size.

Flight map

A map of the flight routes I’ve taken.


Where I was during New Year’s Eve over the last decade:

My photo album histogram

This is a portion of the frequency histogram showing the number of photos in my photo album by month. (I use Photoshop Elements to organize my photos.) As you can see, I didn’t get out very much during 2007. Such was the life of a banking and finance lawyer.

Hear Ye! Statistics

I last generated these graphs in 2006.

I like this graph. The stream of posts that form a vertical line in the graph was a 24-hour posting streak for Blogathon.

I'm hoping that 2010 will be more active than any of the last 5 years.

You need to click on this to see what it's about.

And that’s all folks!

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4
Jan 10
Mon

It’s the little things…

I love flying Virgin America. And they currently have free Wifi! Which I am using! Joy!

Interesting note on how the planes provide net access (I thought it was by satellite, but it’s not):

WiFi on Virgin America is powered by Gogo® Inflight internet. Here’s how Gogo turns a plane into a flying hotspot. When you’re using a mobile phone in your car (hands free of course), your phone continuously searches for the strongest connection. As you move, your phone switches cell towers to maintain the best signal.

Gogo has built a mobile broadband network of ground towers covering the entire sky above the continental United States to do the same thing for a plane. Equipment onboard continuously selects the strongest connection from the towers below. With nothing but air between these towers and your plane, it’s possible to get a strong connection even at 35,000 feet.

2
Jan 10
Sat

Year In Review (Part 4)

This is the fourth post in a series. The previous post is here.

6. A tale of three and a half startups & the major lessons I learned

In a nutshell, “venture capital” refers to money and other resources (capital) which are given to new businesses (ventures) in order to help them grow. Venture capitalists, or “VCs”, refers to the people who decide which ventures this capital should be allocated to. Similar to a private equity fund or a mutual fund focused on equities, VCs raise money from investors who want to invest in a particular type of investment. In this case, the start-up industry (young, small companies). VCs put this money into a VC fund which is then invested in a portfolio of start-up companies. In exchange, the VCs take ownership of a part of the start-up and therefore partake in any of its growth.

Silicon Valley is home to the largest VC industry in the world. And since start-ups go hand-in-hand with VC, the Valley is a hotbed of entrepreneurialism. This is not merely a catchphrase, but something which pervades the area. It’s not just that the Valley is inhabited by a mix of intelligent and ambitious people, or that it provides access to a lot of money, or that it contains a world-class university pumping out motivated grads and producing useful research. It’s also that the culture of entrepreneurialism – including its ups but also its downs – is embedded in the very culture of the place.

This is a rare environment. A smaller version exists in Israel, and I suspect China has a rapidly growing VC-funded industry. No place like this exists in Australia. I had the opportunity to get some exposure to the world of start-ups and there are two things I observed that nicely demonstrate this “culture of entrepreneurialism” to which I refer.

Let’s say someone asks you what you do for a living. You tell them that you work for a “start-up”. They do a bit more digging and it turns out that you are working out of your apartment with two other guys, not getting paid anything, and are currently going around asking people for money so you can launch your product, which is a website that allows people to do stuff. In most places in the world, the reaction you’d get would vary from dubiousness to disdain. In contrast, the reaction here is quite different – usually one of genuine interest in what you’re doing. The powerful result of this near-universal social validation is that joining a start-up is a perfectly valid career path here. It encourages people to take risks that they would not have otherwise been taken if these social support structures not been there. The heightened risk appetite that exists in human capital therefore enables start-ups to source talent for less cash (in exchange for equity or the future promise of equity in the form stock options).

The second aspect is that failing holds little to no stigma in the Valley. The vast majority of start-ups fail. And the entrepreneurs who have succeeded often have been previously involved in failed ventures. Instead, the focus here is not on the fact that someone failed, but on the reasons why they failed, and what they learned from the experience. It’s a very supportive atmosphere, and that’s what you need to foster entrepreneurialism.

» Continue reading whole article »

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1
Jan 10
Fri

Year in Review (Part 3)

This is the third post in a series. The previous post is here.

4. Getting a job (or at least trying to)

It was 4.00am on a Friday morning in October, and I was bearing witness to carnage.

Having just flown in from San Francisco a few hours ago, I was sitting in my hotel room bed, wide awake and trying in vain to shake off the jetlag before an interview that was only about five hours away. Only a month after arriving into the US, in early September 2008, I had been invited to interview with a major US law firm. They had offered to fly me, along with about a hundred other LLM students from universities around the country, up to New York for the weekend and had booked us all into the downtown Hilton. I had never been the beneficiary of such corporate largesse, and it seemed that things were still going well in corporate America.

» Continue reading whole article »

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Year in Review (Part 2)

This is the second post in a series. The first post is here.

2. Getting to know some very interesting people

The most valuable thing I got from Stanford was the contact with so many interesting people.

Starting with my coursemates, I had never been exposed to people who were nationals of so many different countries in the same place before. The admissions committee did a great job of getting together such a diverse group of people. And what was remarkable was that everyone was nice. No one really had an ego, and I’m really sensitive to people with overblown egos.

» Continue reading whole article »

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