Sunday Jun 22, 2008

Bloggers and the MSM

In the online age, does print have a future?  I mean real ink-on-paper print, not just text. I sure hope so, because lately I've been managing to get my name in the Mainstream Media papers, and not by holding up liquor stores. 

I've found that the same skills we use in blogging to make our entries concise and interesting translate well to writing print articles. Here's the latest one of my masterpieces to appear on a piece of pulped pine tree:

The next time you feel you've written a nice blog entry that might be of general interest, you might try sending it to your local paper's editorial page. Just make really, really, really sure you've got the facts straight, because the MSM still maintain standards of factuality that are far higher than the expectations of the blogosphere.

 Good luck! I have to tell you, there is a thrill you get from holding the piece of paper in your hands with your name on it that is quite different than seeing your name on a blog. 

Thursday May 29, 2008

Gee, maybe Peak Oil isn't a myth after all

World oil exports DROP in the face of a 57% price rise: 

Who do techies like for President?

I endeavor to answer this question in an op-ed published in our local paper:

Also available in podcast format here:


Tuesday Oct 09, 2007

In the midst of life

It's always a shock to lose one of our number. One of my product management colleagues from my days on Java CAPS, John Hardin, died suddenly over the weekend of natural causes. He was about 40 and left behind his wife Meggan, and two children from a previous marriage. John was a good man and a talented product manager. He brought a lot to Sun, and he will be missed. A fund has been set up to assist Meggan with making arrangements. Contributions may be sent to Judy Myers in Mon01.

Update: If you are outside Sun, contributions should be sent to

Judy Myers

Sun Microsystems

800 Royal Oaks Drive

Monrovia, CA 91016

Checks should be made payable to Meggan Hardin

Wednesday Oct 03, 2007

AT&T digging up the neighborhood

A contracted telco crew put fliers on everyone's house in our neighborhood today. They said, "There will be buried utility placing operations in this community from 10-4-07 to 10-31-07 appx. This project is to provide enhanced offerings and services to customers of AT&T."  Egad! Could this be the advent of fiber optic cable in our neighborhood? One can only hope. I called the contractor for confirmation, but they haven't called back yet. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Update: I went outside just now and talked to the young guy running the jackhammer. He pulled his earplugs out, and confirmed that they're laying fiber optic cable. He said he has it in his house, and it's like lightning. Awesome. I can hardly wait. It also shows that fiber isn't just for geeks.

Thursday Aug 23, 2007

Other cool ticker symbols

By now, everyone has heard about us changing our stock symbol from SUNW to JAVA, a very shrewd move, very smart in my opinion. And it's not a new idea, either. Smart companies have been doing it for decades. It's very prestigious to have a single-letter symbol, for instance, so Citigroup grabbed C when Chrysler let go of it. US Steel was always X, symbolizing power and uniqueness. And using your flagship brand as your symbol has a long history, too. Perhaps the most famous: Anheuser-Busch's ticker symbol is BUD.

Some other cool tickers:

Southwest Airlines -- LUV

The Cheesecake Factory -- CAKE

The Boston Beer Co. (maker of Sam Adams beer) -- SAM

I got this info from this excellent 2005 article by Dan Fitzpatrick of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Wednesday Aug 22, 2007

Kotatsu vs. SunRay

I've been working at home this summer, and it has been hot. We try not to run the air conditioner too much, out of ecological guilt. This afternoon I was really sweating, and had to put the air on in the room where I work. BW was kidding me gently about the room where she was not feeling warm at all, and suggesting that maybe my overeating at lunch was making me sweat. 

Later, I had to call one of my colleagues up in the Bay Area, and while I was complaining to her about the heat, I began to realize that most of the heat in the room was emanating from my laptop. It was actually quite painfully hot in some spots. I told her about it, and she smugly replied that her SunRay draws very little current, and thus is quite cool. This is what happens when you complain to a female engineer.

Anyhow, she got me thinking about my laptop's excessive power consumption, and the heat it throws. I started looking at it closely, and it appears that the heat is vented to the front, directly under my chin, whence it rises to bathe my face in extra warmth on a hot day. Gaahh!

It occurred to me that in the winter this would be quite pleasant, rather like a kotatsu, the Japanese combination of card table, heat lamp and quilt that my sister had told me about. She goes to Japan every year, and is quite fond of the communal kotatsu, where everyone gathers in the winter to play cards, talk and stay warm in poorly heated Japanese houses. So I guess I should switch to a SunRay in the summer, and save my laptop to serve as a kotatsu in the winter. Might save on the heating bill, but it lacks the conviviality that a true kotatsu would provide.

Sunday Aug 19, 2007

This guy owns 100 Apple computers

What a cool guy. He owns 100 Apple computers.

Gee, I don't even own one.

Thursday Aug 16, 2007

Software Experience Group at Sun

Software usability engineers are the kind of cool people I like to hang out with. They're an interesting hybrid of developer, visual artist and psychologist, and they're responsible for the great, easy-to-use pieces of technology that everyone raves about, like the Mac.

Sun has its own usability crew, known as the xDesign group, and it includes a couple of my buddies, Loren Mack and Leon Barnard. The xDesigner team has a cool group blog,  where they talk about some of the things they're working on, like the redesign of the web site, and the OpenDS directory server installer.

Currently, Loren Mack is blogging  there about the redesign of  one of the products I used to manage, eIndex(TM) Single Patient Identifier, and there's also a great article about the construction of the Sun usability lab in Prague. Check it out!

Thursday Aug 09, 2007

Cassette tapes are ice cool

Management consultants have a saying: "The last iceman always makes money." The last company in a dying industry has a very profitable niche for a long while. There was a neat article in the Los Angeles Times Thursday about the last US manufacturer of cassette tapes. They're making money, even though sales of music on cassette only amount to about 700,000 tapes a year, down from 442 million in 1990. The company, Lenco-PMC Inc., actually makes 22 million cassettes a year. It seems that they have advantages over CDs that make them quite popular among certain segments of the population, for reasons you might not think of. Blind people like them for talking books, because they can be labeled in Braille, something you can't do with a CD. Also, for any user of an audio book, they have the great advantage that they start in the same place they stopped when you move from one player to another. They're also popular with court reporters and religious publishers.

This is the same reason that I advocate supporting old releases of software much longer than conventional wisdom dictates. If a customer keeps using an antiquated piece of software, there must be a powerful reason that may not be readily apparent. Why not keep cashing their support checks? The last iceman always makes money.

Wednesday Aug 08, 2007

Free the fonts! Free the colors!

I've been reading Winston Churchill's magnificent history of the First World War, and I noticed that in one of the chapters he uses a seemingly archaic stylistic device -- he capitalizes important words, as in "And behind smoke lay a more baleful development -- Poisonous Smoke: smoke that would not only obstruct the vision, but destroy the eye...."  For those of us admonished by 20th-century grammar school teachers to only capitalize proper nouns (names) this is anathema, but perhaps something has been lost by enforcing such an austere style.

In the eighteenth century, great prose stylists used capitals freely: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Is it "right" to use typography as a stylistic device in literature? One of the few examples of this that still seems to be within bounds is to use italics for emphasis, though magazines like Cosmopolitan are often derided for overdoing it.

All the other arts eagerly embrace technology. The invention of oil-based pigments revolutionized painting. The computer and video transformed filmmaking. And note that these technologies were not used to do the same old thing more efficiently, but to create wonderful new effects that had hitherto not been possible. Computerized typesetting now gives us the power to use hundreds of different fonts in the same document, if we so choose, or to print text in multiple colors. Why shouldn't we? Is there some purity of plain text that makes prose more "artistic," and that must be preserved at all costs? Is it something about our era that abhors decoration? We now believe that those revered, pure white marble statues of the ancient Greeks were actually painted in their day, so it seems clear that the ├Žsthetic of purity is something that evolved in the West in our own era, not something timeless. Closer to our own time, the monks of the Middle Ages illuminated their manuscipts with colored inks and gold leaf, and used wonderful stylistic devices like ligatures.

The invention of movable type, and later machine typesetting, made possible the explosion in publishing that underpins our civilization, but also destroyed the use of most typographical enhancement in literature. With the advent of the computer, encoding systems like ASCII, with their very limited character sets, reduced the possibilities even further.

But the computer long ago gave enhanced typography back to us. TeX has existed since the late seventies. Why do we insist that only black and white, single-font type may be used for serious literature? It's not due to an economic or technical constraint: pick up any magazine and you'll see black and white text set next to garish color advertisements.

It seems clear then that our insistence on plain text is purely ├Žsthetic. But this may be slowly changing. A serious novel, Gould's Book of Fish, uses the device of printing each chapter in a different color to reflect the different fluids that its prisoner narrator is forced to write with, for instance. As we do more and more of our news and information reading from screens, where hyperlinks are colored and underlined, and all kinds of embedded hypermedia objects are considered perfectly acceptable, perhaps our own internal ├Žsthetic view of what literature should look like will change.

Update: Now that I view my own text as published, I see that most of my embedded experiments with colors and different fonts didn't come thorough. Gaah! We artists are always being thwarted.

Sunday Jul 29, 2007

Technologies that are almost gone

I've been thinking about great technological innovations that are obsolete now, and may soon vanish. There are reasons I will miss them.

AM radio -- so simple you could make a receiver out of a razor blade, and a signal that could carry across five states. Nothing like the thrill of hearing a 50,000 watt signal from half a continent away in the middle of the night. They're actually talking about getting rid of it to free up spectrum.

Telegrams -- nothing could scare you as much as getting one unexpectedly.

Dial telephones -- hmmm, why did I like them? I still have one in the garage. There was something soothing about the little string of clicks, shorter or longer, depending on what digit you dialed.

Fire alarm boxes on downtown telephone poles -- they'll still work even after the terrorists have blown up the cell phone system.

Wireless telegraphy and Morse code -- I had to learn Morse in Boy Scouts. Now you don't even have to know it to get a ham radio license.

The revolver -- when it HAS to work, you know it will, every time.

Wednesday Jul 18, 2007

The Doomsday Algorithm

As I get older, I make efforts wherever I can to keep my mind sharp. Working for Sun is pretty intellectually demanding, but there's no harm in doing a few extra exercises to keep in shape, right? I never store a phone number in my cell phone, so that I'll be forced to use my memory. Seems to work -- people are often surprised at the phone numbers I have rattling around in my skull. It helps to use mnemonics, too. For instance, one seldom-used phone number I've remembered for years is 223-0454. That's easy: .223 is a common rifle bullet caliber, and 454 is the number of cubic inches in a storied big-block Chevy engine.

For dates, I use the Doomsday Algorithm. It's a simple, clever mnemonic and once you know it, all you have to do at the beginning of each new year is to check the day of the week that the last day of February falls on. Then you're set for the rest of the year with the ability to quickly calculate the day of the week corresponding to any date. Thanks to its inventor, the mathematician John Horton Conway, I'm keeping the little gray cells in fighting trim.

Saturday Jul 14, 2007

Another Windows XP annoyance

Two days ago, as I was logging off my Windows machine, I got one of those easy-to-overlook messages: Install updates and shut down? My finger automatically hit the Return button. Arrgh! Now, whenever I use Internet Explorer, all my Favorites are listed en masse, in alphabetical order, instead of a nice manageable number of the most viewed ones. Dammit! I hope IE is just counting page views until it can start ranking them by frequency again. Bah. I think I'll go play on my Solaris machine. 

Update: The most-viewed list is back. After a couple of more days, it returned, thank God. Every time I accessed Favorites, I was getting more annoyed. Blood pressure is now back to normal.

Sunday Jul 01, 2007

SiCKO -- you'll laugh, you'll cry

BW and I saw Michael Moore's SiCKO this weekend and I have to tell you, every American should see this film. It's a devastating critique of the so-called US healthcare system, filled with heart-wrenching stories of good people denied coverage, bankrupted and even killed. It's not shrill -- it doesn't have to be. The stories speak for themselves. It's also hilarious in parts, as when Michael tries to sail a boatload of ailing 9/11 heroes into Guantanamo Bay, in hopes of getting the same free healthcare that our government provides Al-qaeda suspects there.

After years of hearing our craven legislators shill for the health insurance companies by claiming that the Canadians, British and  French are fed up with "socialized medicine," I was overjoyed to see ordinary people in Canada, Britain and France talking about how much they like their systems, how good the service is, and how short the waiting times are. I used to manage a piece of Sun software that is a mission-critical element of the British National Health Service, and I can tell you I have never seen such a rigorous testing and implementation process used by any client. Those folks are dedicated.

Thousands of Sun employees outside the US are covered by government health care systems. I'd love to hear your comments (good or bad) on what you think of these systems.




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